THE REVOLUTION IN INDIA:
Its Tasks and Dangers
We have transcribed this article from the third volume of Trotsky’s Writings on Britain, edited by R. Chappel and Alan Clinton, New Park Publications, London, 1974. It can also be found in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1930) by Pathfinder Press in a somewhat different translation. We have amended some obvious misprints and made a few changes based on comparison with the Pathfinder version. Inserted notes taken from the New Park edition appear inside quotation marks; all other text within brackets has been added by us.
India is the classic colonial country as Britain is the classic metropolis. All the viciousness of the ruling classes, every form of oppression that capitalism has applied against the backward peoples of the East is most completely and frightfully summed up in the history of the gigantic colony on which the British imperialists have settled themselves like leeches to drink its blood for the past century and a half. The British bourgeoisie has diligently fostered every remnant of barbarism, every institution of the Middle Ages which could be of service in the oppression of man by man. It forced its feudal agents to adapt themselves to colonial capitalist exploitation, to become its links, its organs, its convoys to the masses. The British imperialists boast of their railroads, their canals and industrial enterprises in India in which they have invested close to four billion gold dollars. Apologists for imperialism triumphantly compare present day India with what it was prior to colonial occupation. But who can doubt for a moment that a gifted nation of 320,000,000 people would develop immeasurably quicker and more successfully were it freed from the burden of systematic and organized plunder? It is enough to recall the four billion gold dollars which represent the British investment in India to imagine what Britain extracts from India in the course of only some five or six years.
Allowing India carefully weighed doses of technique and culture, exactly enough to facilitate the exploitation of the riches of the country, the Shylock of the Thames could not however prevent the ideas of economic and national independence and freedom from penetrating more and more widely into the masses.
Just as in the older bourgeois countries, the various nationalities that exist in India can only be fused into a nation by means of a binding political revolution. But in contradistinction to the older countries, this revolution in India is a colonial revolution directed against foreign oppressors. Besides this, it is the revolution of a historically belated nation in which the relations of feudal serfdom, caste divisions and even slavery exist alongside of the class antagonisms of the bourgeoisie and proletariat which have grown greatly in the last period.
The colonial character of the Indian revolution against one of the most powerful oppressors masks to a certain extent the internal social antagonisms of the country, particularly to the eyes of those to whom such masking is advantageous. In reality the necessity of throwing off the system of imperialist oppression, with all its roots intertwined with the old Indian exploitation, demands the greatest revolutionary effort on the part of the Indian masses and by that itself assures a gigantic swing of the class struggle. British imperialism will not abandon its positions voluntarily; while dropping its tail before America, it will direct the remains of its energy and its resources against insurgent India.
What an instructive historical lesson it is that the Indian revolution, even in its present stage, when it has not yet broken loose from the treacherous leadership of the national bourgeoisie, is being crushed by the ‘socialist’ government of MacDonald [James Ramsay MacDonald of the British Labour Party, Prime Minister in 1924 and 1929-35]. The bloody repressions of these scoundrels of the Second International who promise to introduce socialism peacefully in their own home countries represent so far that small deposit which British imperialism brings in today on its future accounting in India. The sweet social democratic deliberations about reconciling the interests of bourgeois Britain with democratic India are a necessary supplement to the bloody repressions of MacDonald, who is of course ready, between executions, for the thousand-and-first commission of reconciliation.
The British bourgeoisie understands too well that the loss of India would not only mean the crash of its sufficiently rotted world power but also a social collapse in its own metropolis. It is a struggle of life and death. All forces will be set in motion. This means that the revolution will have to mobilize irresistible energy. The many-millioned mass has already begun to stir. They showed their half-blind force to such an extent that the national bourgeoisie was compelled to come out of its passivity and master the movement in order to break the edge of the revolutionary sword. Gandhi’s passive resistance is the tactical knot that combines the naivete and self-denying blindness of the disunited and petty bourgeois masses with the treacherous manoeuvres of the liberal bourgeoisie. The fact that the chairman of the Indian Legislative Assembly, that is, the official organ of the machinations with imperialism, gave up his post to head the movement for the boycott of British goods, is of a deeply symbolic character. ‘We will prove to you,’ say the national bourgeoisie to the gentlemen on the Thames, ‘that we are indispensable for you, that without us you will not calm the masses; but for this we will present you with our own bill.’
By way of reply, MacDonald puts Gandhi in jail. It is possible that the lackey goes further than the master intends, being conscientious beyond reason in order to justify his faith. It is possible that the Conservatives, serious and experienced imperialists, would not at the present stage go so far with repressions. But on the other hand the national leaders of the passive opposition are themselves in need of repression as support for their considerably shaken reputations. MacDonald does them this service. While shooting down workers and peasants, he arrests Gandhi with an abundance of forewarning such as the Russian provisional government used to arrest the Kornilovs and Denikins. [Tsarist officers imprisoned for leading a counter-revolutionary coup attempt against the Provisional Government that came to power in the February 1917 revolution. They escaped after the October Revolution to command detachments of the White Army.]
If India is a component element in the internal rule of the British bourgeoisie, then on the other hand, the imperialist rule of British capital over India is a component element of the internal order of India. The question cannot at all be reduced to one of the mere expulsion of some tens of thousands of foreign exploiters. They cannot be separated from the internal oppressors and the harder the pressure of the masses will become the less will the latter want to separate. Just as in Russia the liquidation of Tsarism together with its indebtedness to world finance capital became possible only because to the peasantry the abolition of the monarchy grew out of the abolition of the landowning magnates, to the same degree also in India the struggle with imperialist oppressions grows out of the countless masses of the oppressed and semi-pauperized peasantry, out of the necessity of liquidating the feudal landlords, their agents and intermediaries, the chinovniks [“The lower level civil servants of tsarist Russia. The word has much the same connotation as the English phrase ‘petty officialdom’.”] and sharks.
The Indian peasant wants a ‘just’ distribution of land. That is the basis of democratism. And this is at the same time the social basis of the democratic revolution as a whole.
At the first stages of their struggle the ignorant, inexperienced and disunited peasantry which, in single villages, opposes the individual representatives of the hated regime, always resorts to passive resistance. It does not pay rent, does not pay taxes, it escapes to the woods, or deserts from military service, etc. The Tolstoyan formulae of passive resistance were in a sense the first stages of the revolutionary awakening of the peasant masses. Gandhi does the same in regard to the masses of the Indian people. The more ‘sincere’ he is personally, the more useful he is for the owners as an instrument for the disciplining of the masses. The support of the bourgeoisie for peaceful resistance to imperialism is only a preliminary condition for its bloody resistance to the revolutionary masses.
From passive forms of struggle, the peasantry has more than once in history passed over to the severest and bloodiest wars against their direct enemies: the land owners, the authorities and the loan sharks. The Middle Ages were full of such peasant wars in Europe; but they are also full of merciless suppression of peasant wars. Passive resistance of the peasantry as well as its bloody uprisings can be turned into a revolution only under the leadership of the urban class which thus becomes the leader of the revolutionary nation and after the victory—the bearers of the revolutionary power. In the present epoch such a class can be only the proletariat, even in the Orient.
It is true that the Indian proletariat occupy a smaller numerical place in the composition of the population than even the Russian proletariat on the eve of 1905 and 1917. This comparatively small size of the proletariat was the main argument of all the philistines, all the Martinovs [“Alexander Martinov (1865-1935) was a right-wing Menshevik who opposed the October Revolution and joined the Soviet Communist Party only in 1923. He then became a leading opponent of ‘Trotskyism’, using all his old arguments in favour of the ‘two stages’ theory of revolutionary development. He was the main theorist of the ‘bloc of four classes’, Stalin’s justification for the betrayal of the Chinese Revolution of 1927. (See The Third International After Lenin.)”], all the Mensheviks against the perspective of the permanent revolution. They considered fantastic the very thought that the Russian proletariat, thrusting the bourgeois aside, would take hold of the agrarian revolution of the peasantry, would give it a bold swing, and rise on its wave to the revolutionary dictatorship. Therefore they considered realistic the hope that the liberal bourgeoisie, leaning on the masses of the city and village, would complete the democratic revolution. But it turned out that their social statistics of the population are far from measuring the economic or the political role of single classes. The October revolution, by experience, has proved this once and for all and very convincingly.
If today the Indian proletariat is numerically weaker than the Russian this in itself does not at all pre-determine the smaller swing of its revolutionary possibilities, just as the numerical weakness of the Russian proletariat compared to the American and British was no hindrance to the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia. On the contrary all those social peculiarities which made possible and unavoidable the October revolution are present in India in a still sharper form. In this country of poor peasants, the hegemony of the city has no less clear a character than in tsarist Russia. The concentration of industrial, commercial and banking power in the hands of the big bourgeoisie, primarily the foreign bourgeoisie, on the one hand; a swift growth of a sharply-defined proletariat, on the other, excludes the possibility of an independent role of the petty bourgeoisie of the city and to an extent the intellectuals and transforms by this the political mechanics of the revolution into a struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie for the leadership of the peasant masses. So far there is ‘only’ one condition missing: a Bolshevik Party. And that is where the problem lies now.
We were witnesses to the way the leadership of Stalin and Bukharin carried out the Menshevik conception of the democratic revolution in China. [“In this period the Comintern leadership under Stalin forced the young Communist Party to work under the control of the bourgeois-nationalist Kuomintang, then coming under the leadership of the reactionary Chiang Kai-shek. CP members pushed the revolution forward in the cities and were murdered in their thousands by Chiang.”] Armed with a powerful apparatus this leadership had the opportunity of applying the Menshevik formulae in deeds and by that alone was compelled to carry them to a conclusion. In order best to secure the leading role of the bourgeoisie in the bourgeois revolution (this is the basic idea of Russian Menshevism) the Stalinist bureaucracy transformed the young Communist Party of China into a subordinate section of the national bourgeois party. In connection with that, according to the terms officially arrived at between Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek (through the intermediary of the present People’s Commissar of Education, Bubnov), the Communists had no right to occupy more than one third of the posts within the Kuomintang. The Party of the proletariat this way entered the revolution as an official captive of the bourgeoisie with the blessings of the CI [Communist International]. The result is known: the Stalinist bureaucracy slew the Chinese revolution. History has never known a political crime equal in extent to this one.
For India, just as for all countries of the Orient in general, Stalin advanced in 1924 simultaneously with the reactionary idea of socialism in one country, the no less reactionary idea of ‘dual composition worker and peasant parties’. This was another formula for the same rejection of independent policy and of an independent party of the proletariat. The unfortunate Roy [“M.N. Roy was a founder member of the Indian Communist Party in 1924. He became a member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International and an agent of Stalin. Broke from Stalin in 1929 as a Right Oppositionist, but eventually became an anti-communist and an enemy of the struggle against imperialism.”] has ever since that time become the apostle of the super-class and supra-class ‘peoples’ or ‘democratic’ party. The history of Marxism, the development of the nineteenth century, the experience of the three Russian revolutions, everything passed for these gentlemen without leaving a trace. They have not yet understood that the ‘worker-peasant party’ is conceivable only in the form of a Kuomintang, that is in the form of a bourgeois party leading behind itself the workers and peasants in order later on to betray and crush them. History has not yet invented another type of a supra-class, or intra-class party. After all, not in vain was Roy the agent of Stalin in China, the prophet of the struggle against ‘Trotskyism’, the executor of the Martinovist ‘bloc of four classes’, in order to become the ritualistic scapegoat for the crimes of the Stalinist bureaucracy, after the inevitable defeat of the Chinese revolution. Six years passed in India in weakening and demoralizing experiments with the realization of the Stalinist prescription for the two-class worker-peasant parties. The results are at hand: impotent, provincial ‘worker-peasant parties’, which waver, limp along or simply melt away and are reduced to nothing precisely at a moment when they are supposed to act, that is, at a moment of revolutionary tide. But there is no proletarian party. It must still be created in the fire of events and at that it will be first necessary to remove the garbage piled up by the leading bureaucracy. Such is the situation! Beginning with 1924, the leadership of the Comintern has done everything that could be done to render impotent the Indian proletariat, to weaken the will of the vanguard, and to clip its wings.
While Roy and the other Stalinist pupils were wasting precious years in order to elaborate a democratic programme for a supra-class party, the national bourgeoisie utilized this dawdling to the maximum in order to seize the trade unions. If not politically, then in the trade unions, the Kuomintang has been accomplished in India, true, with the difference that the creators have in the meantime become frightened by their own handiwork, and have jumped aside heaping slander on the ‘executors’.
This time the centrists jumped, as is known, to the ‘Left’, but matters did not improve by this. The official position of the Comintern on the questions of the Indian revolution is such a tangled ball of yarn which is apparently intended especially to derail the proletarian vanguard and bring it to despair. At any rate, half of it goes on because the leadership strives constantly and willfully to conceal its mistakes of yesterday. The second half of the tangle must be credited to the hapless nature of centrism.
We have in mind at present not the programme of the Comintern which ascribes to the colonial bourgeoisie a revolutionary role, completely approving the constructions of Brandler [“Heinrich Brandler (1881-1967) was a building worker from the Sudetenland. Active in the left wing of the German Social Democratic Party before 1914, he played a major role in the Communist Party from its foundation, assuming the leadership in 1923. Blamed for the defeat of that year, he was removed from his post and spent a long period in Moscow. He set up the Communist Party Opposition, which associated itself with Bukharin’s criticisms of Stalin’s ultra-left turn of 1928. Expelled from the German CP and the Comitern in 1929, he operated as part of an International Right Opposition with Lovestone, Pepper and others, and maintained a political organization, mainly in exile in France, at least until the outbreak of the Second World War, showing little ability to adopt a consistent criticism of Stalinism, particularly over the Moscow Trials.”] and Roy who still continue to wear the Martinov-Stalin cloak. We also do not speak of the innumerable editions of the StalinistQuestions of Leninism where, in all the languages of the world, the discourse on the dual composition worker and peasant parties continues. No. We limit ourselves to the present, to today’s latest posing of the question which is in conformity with the Third Period mistakes [“In 1928 the Stalinists in the Communist International declared that following the ‘first period’ of revolutionary upsurge, and the ‘second period’ of capitalist stabilization, the world was now entering the epoch of the final crisis of capitalism. The policies carried out by the Stalinists at this time included the forced collectivization in the Soviet Union, and ultra-left policies in the capitalist world when the reformists were called ‘social fascists’ and the centrists ‘left social fascists’. The Stalinists thus refused to co-operate with any other sections of the working class movement in the struggle against real fascism and reaction.”] of the Comintern in the Orient.
The central slogan of the Stalinists for India, as well as for China, still remains the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants. Nobody knows, nobody explains, because nobody understands what this formula signifies at present, in the year 1930, after the experience of the past fifteen years. In what way is the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants supposed to be distinguished from the dictatorship of the Kuomintang which massacred the workers and peasants? The Manuilskys and Kuusinens [“Otto Kuusinen (1881-1964) was a Finnish social democrat who fled to the Soviet Union after the collapse of the Finnish Revolution of 1918. He became a Comintern functionary and a consistent supporter of Stalinist policies. He was Comintern Secretary from 1922 to 31. Dimitri Manuilsky (1883-1952) was at one time a member of the independent Marxist organization, Mezhrayontzi, along with Trotsky, and with him joined the Bolsheviks in 1917. In 1919 he became one of the leaders of the Ukranian government. Thereafter he was a supporter of Stalin, being particularly associated with the ‘left’ phases of his policies, replacing Kuusinen as Secretary of the Comintern in 1931, and himself giving way to Dimitrov in 1935.”] will perhaps answer that they now talk about the dictatorship of three classes (workers, peasants and the city petty bourgeoisie) and not four as it was in China where Stalin had so happily attracted to the bloc his ally, Chiang Kai-shek.
If so, we reply, then make an effort to explain to us why you reject the national bourgeoisie in India, that is that ally for the rejection of whom in China you expelled Bolsheviks from the Communist Party and then imprisoned them? China is a semi-colonial country. In China, there is no powerful caste of feudal lords and feudal agents. But India is a classic colonial country with a mighty heritage of the feudal caste regime. If the revolutionary role of the Chinese bourgeoisie was deduced by Stalin and Martinov from the presence in China of foreign oppression and feudal remnants, then for India each of these reasons should hold with doubled force. This means that the Indian bourgeoisie, according to the exact basis of the programme of the Comintern, has immeasurably more rights to demand its inclusion in the Stalinist bloc than the Chinese bourgeoisie with its unforgettable Chiang Kai-shek and the ‘true’ Wang Ching-Wei. And if this is not so, if in spite of the oppression of British imperialism and the whole heritage of the Middle Ages, the Indian bourgeoisie is capable only of a counter-revolutionary and not a revolutionary role—then condemn mercilessly your treacherous policy in China and correct immediately your programme in which this policy has left cowardly but sinister traces!
But this does not exhaust the question. If in India you construct a bloc without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie, then who will lead it? The Manuilskys and Kuusinens will perhaps answer with their characteristically gentle ardour: ‘The proletariat, of course!’ Good, we answer, it is quite complimentary. But if the Indian revolution will develop on a basis of a union of workers, peasants and the petty bourgeoisie; if this union will be directed not only against imperialism, feudalism, but also against the national bourgeoisie which is bound up with them in all basic questions; if at the head of this union will stand the proletariat, if this union comes to victory only by sweeping away the enemies through armed uprising and in this way raises the proletariat to the role of the real all-national leader—then the question arises: in whose hands will the power be after the victory if not in the hands of the proletariat? What is the significance in such a case of the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants in distinction to the dictatorship of the proletariat leading the peasantry? In other words: in what way will the hypothetical dictatorship of the workers and peasants be distinguished in its type from the actual dictatorship which the October revolution established?
There is no reply to this question. There can be no reply to it. By this course of historical development the ‘democratic dictatorship’ has become not only an empty fiction but a treacherous trap for the proletariat.
That slogan is correct which admits the possibility of two diametrically opposed explanations: in the sense of the dictatorship of the Kuomintang and in the sense of the October dictatorship! There can be nothing in between these two. In China, the Stalinists explained the democratic dictatorship twice, at first as a dictatorship of the Kuomintang of the Right, and afterwards of the Left. But how do they explain it in India? They are silent. They are compelled to keep silent for fear of opening the eyes of their supporters to their crimes. This conspiracy of silence is actually a conspiracy against the Indian revolution. And all the present extremely Left or ultra-Left noise does not improve the situation one iota for the victories of the revolution are not secured by noise and clatter but by political clarity.
But what has been said does not yet unwind the tangled yarn. No. Here is precisely where new threads are twisted into it. Giving the revolution an abstract democratic character and permitting it to pass to the dictatorship of the proletariat only after some sort of a mystical or mystifying ‘democratic dictatorship’ is established, our strategists at the same time reject the central political slogan of every revolutionary democratic movement, which is precisely the slogan of the Constituent Assembly. Why? On what basis? It is absolutely incomprehensible. The democratic revolution signifies equality to the peasant—above all equality in the distribution of land. On this is based the equality of rights. The Constituent Assembly, where the representatives of the whole people formally draw the balance with the past and the classes actually draw the balance with each other, is the natural and inevitable combination of the democratic tasks of the revolution not only in the consciousness of the awakening masses of the peasantry but also in the consciousness of the working class itself. We have spoken of this more fully with regard to China and we do not see here the necessity of repetition. Let us only add that the provincial multiformity of India, the variegated governmental forms, and their no less variegated bond with the feudal caste relations, saturates the slogan of the Constituent Assembly in India with a particularly deep revolutionary democratic content.
The theoretician of the Indian revolution in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union at present is Safarov, [“George Safarov (1891-1938), an old Bolshevik, was in exile with Lenin and returned with him after the February revolution. A specialist in Eastern questions, he carried out a number of missions for the Comintern, of which he was an EC member. A Zinovievist, he was sent to China and then to Turkey where he carried out secret oppositional activity. Disappeared during the purges.”] who with the price of a happy capitulation transferred his injurious activities to the camp of centrism. In a programmatic article in the Bolshevik about the forces and tasks of the revolution in India, Safarov carefully circles around the question of the Constituent Assembly just like an experienced rat circles around a piece of cheese on a hook: this sociologist does not by any means want to fall into the Trotskyist trap a second time. Disposing of the problem without much ceremony he counterposes to the Constituent Assembly such a perspective:
The development of a new revolutionary ascent on the basis (!) of struggle for the proletarian hegemony leads to the conclusion (whom? how? why?—ed.) that the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in India can be achieved only in the Soviet form." (Bolshevik, 1930, No. 5, page 100).
Amazing lines! Martinov multiplied by Safarov. Martinov we know and about Safarov Lenin said not without tenderness: ‘Safarchick will go Leftist, Safarchik will pull boners.’ The above-mentioned Safarovist perspective does not invalidate this characterization. Safarov has gone considerably Leftist and it must be admitted that he did not upset the second half of Lenin’s formula. To begin with, the question of the revolutionary ascent of the masses of the people develops ‘on the basis’ of the struggle of the Communists for proletarian hegemony. The whole process is turned on its head. We think that the proletarian vanguard enters or is preparing to enter or should enter a struggle for hegemony on the basis of a new revolutionary ascent. The perspective of struggle, according to Safarov, is the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. Here, for the sake of Leftism, the word ‘democratic’ is shaken off. But it is not said frankly what kind of a dual composition dictatorship this is: a Kuomintang or an October type. But for that we are assured on his word of honour that this dictatorship can be accomplished ‘only in the Soviet form’. It sounds very noble. Why the slogan of the Constituent Assembly? Safarov is ready to agree only with the Soviet ‘form’.
The essence of epigonism—its contemptible and sinister essence—lies in the fact that from the actual processes of the past and its lessons it abstracts only the bare form and converts it into a fetish. This is what has happened to the Soviets. Without saying anything about the class character of the dictatorship—a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat, like the Kuomintang, or a dictatorship of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, like the October?—Safarov lulls somebody and primarily himself, by the Soviet form of the dictatorship. As if the Soviets cannot be a weapon for deceiving the workers and peasants! What else were the Menshevik-Socialist Revolutionary Soviets of 1917? Nothing but a weapon for the support of the power of the bourgeoisie and the preparation of its dictatorship. What were the social democratic Soviets in Germany and Austria in 1918-1919? Organs for saving the bourgeoisie and for deceiving the workers. With the further development of the revolutionary movement in India, with the greater swing of mass struggles and with the weakness of the Communist Party—and the latter is inevitable with a Safarovist muddle prevailing in its mind—the Indian national bourgeoisie itself may create workers’ and peasants’ Soviets in order to direct them just as it now directs the trade unions, in order thus to slaughter the revolution as the German social democracy, by getting at the head of the Soviets, slaughtered it. The treacherous character of the slogan of the democratic dictatorship lies in the fact that it does not close tightly to the enemies, once and for all, such a possibility.
The Indian Communist Party, the creation of which was held back for six years—and what years!—is now deprived, in the circumstances of revolutionary democratic ascent, of one of the most important weapons for mobilizing the masses, precisely the slogan of the democratic Constituent Assembly. Instead of that, the young Party which has not yet taken its first steps is inflicted with the abstract slogan of Soviets as a form of abstract dictatorship, that is, a dictatorship of nobody knows what class. It is truly an apotheosis of confusion! And all this is accompanied as usual with disgusting colouring and sugaring of an as yet difficult and not in the least sweet situation.
The official press, particularly this same Safarov, depicts the situation as if bourgeois nationalism in India is already a corpse, as if communism either has got or is getting at the head of the proletariat, which, in its turn, is already almost leading the peasantry behind it. The leaders and their sociologists, in the most conscienceless manner, proclaim the desired as the existing. To put it more correctly, they proclaim that which might have been with a correct policy for the past six years, for what has actually developed as a result of the false policy. But when the inconsistency of the inventions and realities are revealed, the ones to be blamed will be the Indian Communists, as bad executors of the general inconsistency which is advanced as a general line.
The vanguard of the Indian proletariat is as yet at the threshold of its great tasks and there is a long road ahead. A series of defeats will be the reckoning not only for the general backwardness of the proletariat and the peasantry but also for the sins of the leadership. The chief task at present is a clear Marxist conception of the moving forces of the revolution, and a correct perspective, a far-sighted policy which rejects stereotyped, bureaucratic prescriptions, but which, in the accomplishment of great revolutionary tasks, carefully adjusts itself to the actual stages of the political awakening and the revolutionary growth of the working class.
Written on 30th May, 1930 and published in Byulleten Oppozitsii, June-July 1930