Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 9 No. 4
Tomorrow is Ours
Charles Wesley Ervin,
THIS book has grown from an article in Revolutionary History entitled Trotskyism in India: Origins through World War II (1935–45) (RH, Vol. 1, no. 4, Winter 1988–89, pp. 22–34). But it is more than just a history of Indian Trotskyism, however illuminating. As the author explains,
The first chapter attempts to briefly summarize how the British conquered and transformed India, how the Indian nationalists responded, and how the Marxists analyzed and intervened in that long, complex and fascinating process. (p. iv)
As such it forms, with the rest of the book, an admirable introduction to the history of modern India. A lucid exposition of the actions and effects of British imperialism in India in the 19th Century CE is followed by a succinct summary of the rise of Indian nationalism and the responses of European socialists to the “colonial question”. There is an excellent section (pp. 29–38) on the work of the neglected Indian Marxist M.N.Roy, who
showed that the Indian bourgeoisie emerged not in opposition to the landed aristocracy, as in Europe, but through the system of landlordism that the British created. (p. 33)
(This fact goes far to account for the subsequent political development of this class). Also included is a lot of useful material (plus extensive bibliographical references) on the question of the exact mode of production prevailing in India prior to its appropriation by the British Raj, i.e. the ongoing dispute between those who view this as a form of feudalism and those who see it as an example of the so-called “Asiatic Mode of Production”. Various facts adduced by Charles Wesley Ervin would appear to support the latter contention.
The bulk of the book deals with the early leaders of the LSSP, its formation and subsequent history up to 1948, but in the context of the decision to found the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India (BLPI) in 1941. Philip Gunawardena and his co-thinkers reasoned that an effective working class movement against the Raj needed to be organized on a sub-continental basis. The party was launched in time to intervene in the mass struggles which developed around Gandhi’s call to the British to “quit India”, which he issued following the dramatic victories won by the Japanese against Britain in 1942. The party urged support for any action against imperialism decided upon by Congress, but warned (correctly) that Gandhi might compromise. (Reading the descriptions of Gandhi’s relations with the Indian masses throughout the period covered by the book, one is reminded of James Connolly’s observations on Daniel O’Connell in Labour in Irish History.) There was, on the part of certain comrades, however, a tendency towards an exaggerated optimism – see Ervin’s comments on an article by Ajit Roy in 1943. (p. 130)
Some of the best reportage in the book can be found in Chapter Five, where visits to India by certain British Trotskyists in uniform in the Second World War are described, such as, e.g. the following encounter:
Later that day Manickam took Scott to meet some of the party’s sympathizers from the Perambur railway workshops. They met in a hut in the slums. None of the Tamil workers could speak English. Manickam translated. Scott saw what it meant to be a Trotskyist in India. Here, in a hovel, lit only by flickering candles, the BLPI was teaching Marxism to illiterate workers who had just come off a 12-hour shift. (p. 150)
However, the author rightly refuses to confine himself to mere description of events, but makes criticisms where he believes they are justified, such as, for example, in the run-up to independence in 1947, when quite clearly the danger threatened of a deal between Gandhi and Congress, on the one hand, and the British Labour Government on the other, over the heads of the masses. Ervin writes
The Trotskyists wanted Congress to ‘return to the road of struggle’. But Nehru cast his lot with Gandhi. The BLPI directed biting propaganda at the Congress Socialists, pointing out their contradictions. The Socialists wanted struggle, but refused to break with the ‘bourgeois’ Congress. But these barbs, fired from afar, carried little sting. If the Trotskyists had been working in the Congress Socialist Party, as Philip Gunawardena had urged all along, they might have been able to influence a chunk of the Congress left. (pp. 173–4)
I really do not wish to say much more about this wonderful book: read it yourself, and learn, and decide. The only other thing I would like to draw attention to is Appendix B, which contains the 1942 Programme of the BLPI. This, in my view, is an educational document of very great importance. An introductory section on early European capitalist penetration of India leads into a discussion of British imperialism and its effects in India, leading to the conclusion that
The industrialization of India, on which her future depends, cannot be carried out without the overthrow of Imperialism and a sweeping transformation of agrarian relations. (p. 286)
This is followed by a survey of the various Indian social classes. The programme is then summarized in five points (p. 310) and set out in detail in the succeeding section (The Programme of Transitional Demands). The document concludes with a section devoted to international issues – the imperialist war, the Soviet Union and the various existing internationals.
Particularly useful is the section on trade unions, which surveys the whole range of institutions developed by the working class in this field up to and including sit-down strikes, factory committees and directly political soviets. (see pp. 317–324).
Whatever one might think of the Fourth International’s 1938 Transitional Programme and its demands, there is no doubt that the BLPI’s 1942 Programme was a highly competent adaptation of such politics to the contemporary Indian situation, one which deserves serious study.
The author alludes to the possibility of a sequel to the work which would cover the period from the mid-1950s onwards. The appearance of such a volume would be very welcome.
1. Available from C. Chrysostom, 43 Harrold House, Finchley Road, London NW3 6JX.
Updated by ETOL: 31.10.2011