On the 60th anniversary of the assassination of Gandhi by the forces of Hindu Communalism

The Fundamental Paths of Socio-Economic Development of Colonial India
and the Class Roots of Gandhism

Y. Roslavlev

After the analysis of the theory and practice of Gandhism it is incumbent upon us, even if briefly, to analyse the basic directions of economic and class development of India as ultimately it is in the specifics of economic development that we could find those co-relationships which conditioned the origin of the ideology of Gandhism, its flowering during the stormy days of 1919-1922 and its later decline. Consequently, in the analysis of economic specifics, configuration of Indian society and the co-relationship between its struggling class elements lies the elucidation of the question as to why such decadent philosophy and tactics could, even if temporarily, take along in its wake huge sections of the Indian peoples’ masses who were fighting not for the abstract ideals of Gandhi but for basic human existence during the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolution.

Gandhism – a teaching linked from beginning to end with religion and to the core idealist and metaphysical, ‘idealises’ (for definite ends) the old Indian society that was reactionary in comparison with capitalism, negates scientific proletarian socialism and class struggle as the motive force of social development, propagates passivity of the exploited and of those masses who are denied all protest and remonstration and are suppressed by the colonial rule, and ideology that plays the role of a peace-maker between the struggling forces, preaching the principle of harmony of interests and at every step camouflages the surrender of the interest of the working masses in favour of the bourgeoisie, and stands up at critical moments for the protection of the exploiting classes.

India is not a victim of passivity; it is being terrorised by imperialism without any resistance from her own socio-economic and class forces. The first force that has always strongly resisted imperialism is the Indian economy itself and the working masses that stand by it, objective co-relationships and tendencies of her internal growth, different productive forces of India represented by definite classes, who cannot but resist the colonial regime. To the extent the Indian economy got bourgeoisified through the consequential path of capitalist development brought into life by the penetration of the British, to that extent India also developed modern class contradictions. In the first period of the struggle against imperialism the internal class contradictions between bourgeoisie and the proletariat were submerged in the deliberate united and universal national front from where, even in the first stage of political struggle and in direct proportion to its span, the character and level of participation of the masses was evident. Gradually and step by step different segments of the bourgeoisie fell out (of the national front) till in the end on the whole the bourgeoisie was not noticeable. They were so much politically discredited that the masses started to unite with the Indian working class. In the end, to the same extent to which the united national front got broken down and more class contradictions between the capitalists and the workers started to surface sharply, to the same extent, first, either overtly or covertly under the protection of Gandhist slogans and tactics, some went to the side of the reaction, and later the singular bourgeois intelligentsia, to the same extent and to well-defined stance, stood up to offer decisive and fundamental resistance to imperialism and their camp-followers, i.e. it joined the Indian working class struggling for its hegemony in the revolution.

The Indian peasantry, though by itself comprising 9/10 of India, due to its economic strength, neither earlier nor now could independently solve the problems of Indian revolution. Under bourgeois leadership or under the leadership of those social groups akin to it, the peasantry is doomed to ‘eternal sorrow and weeping, dreaming and useless howling’ and in the best of the situations to ‘separation’ and ‘betrayal’ in the spirit of the ideology of Gandhism, but not to active and forceful actions of a revolutionary class which is explicitly not tolerated by the bourgeois Gandhian leaders. Only under the leadership of the proletariat it can play its gigantic role of the moving force of the revolution as only the hegemony of the proletariat can provide solidity and decisiveness of leadership and unity, with clear economic and political perspective of the struggle.

This is why the entire political history of India during the past period appears to us as history that is developing in these general directions. The native bourgeoisie, depending on the well-known stages of objective remonstration of productive forces of India against the imperialist politics, could periodically confront imperialism. However, now this role has come into the hands of the young Indian proletariat. A decade-long struggle was required for this transition and Gandhism as the ideology of Indian bourgeoisie is one of the stages of this struggle.

With the occupation of India and the entry of British capital, the capitalist development of India is accelerating in an unusual manner. It developed, and is developing, side by side with the continued existence and strengthening of the colonial monopoly of British capital as the main direction of economic and political domination of Britain. British capital is destroying the Indian society based on feudal foundations. While at one place it introduces trading and monetary relations, at other places it expropriates the feudal crest, and at yet other places, depending on political understanding, preserves it, and in third places it goes for compromise with feudal interests while in almost all places placing the peasant masses under the power of the landlords or themselves becoming landlord by directly getting land rent from the peasants.

After a number of uprisings, agrarian upheavals and for unhindered exploitation of raw materials, it entered into a certain giving in to the peasantry by creating very different forms of bequests, temporary and life-long, of agricultural taxes. It subjugated to its interests the goods exchange apparatus of the Indian trading capital, winning out of it a solid section of devoted comprador bourgeoisie. Its political economy provided a big impulse to the development of a subordinate trading capital. It constructs railway lines as the highways for the military and raw material movement. It is destroying handicrafts by separating them from agriculture and flooding the country with cheap foreign goods, forcing millions of handicraftsmen to either tramp the roads of India or die a slow death. It converts the land into its own property as an object of buying and selling, and in a very large volume expropriates the peasantry. It crushes the peasantry under the pressing machine of debt of tenancy and compulsorily confiscating its land and attaching it to the supremacy of money and rent on which in its turn dominate small but highly organised forms of capitalist organisations of auction-houses and purchasing counters. It converts agricultural regions into monoculture thereby compellingly developing the production of industrial raw material and partly of semi-manufactured material. It encourages the growth of agriculture based on big landlords and simultaneously by its agrarian politics permits amazing fragmentation of land and astonishing pressure on land leading to the pauperisation of the peasantry through their taking land on the highest rent, facing various types of most barbaric suppression and labour conditions. It keeps one third of Indian territory in the hands of the princes who are its most reliable vassals, permitting there large-scale slavery and domination of feudal social relations. It organises plantation economy on the basis of contractual semi-slave labour. Ultimately, in the end of the second half of the last century it started developing capital that in the main occupied banks, insurance, trade, transport organisations and especially as state credit, thus creating the multi-million state debt of India, that is partly encouraging the growth of capitalist production on Indian soil, further stimulating capitalist development, thus creating the modern proletariat.

While doing all this, the British are subordinating the economy of the most far-flung corners of the country, keeping agriculture on the lowest ladders of technological development, not reorganising technologically but shamelessly exploiting and forcing the country to levels of starvation and epidemics that took away the life of millions of people, the like of which is not met with anywhere. They intensively developed raw material culture and its export abroad and thus offered before the Indian peasantry a forced path which broke the Indian masses into three basic directional elements: working force, the object of labour and production material, which went to the extent of permanent structural crisis of economic life. At the time of war it opened the umbrella of its suffocating political economy, presenting the yet unseen perspective of capitalist development. War and two three post-war decades is the period of a convulsive jump of the whole economy on the capitalist path. The proletariat grows amidst the horror of the breach of old relations, traditions, way of living, to a level that is observed anywhere else; millions of village and city craftsmen and peasants are thrown off the production process, their major portion being pauperised, only very few of them become proletarians. The bourgeoisie enriches and accumulates, the masses turn poorer and broken. A sharper class polarisation emerges. The revolution matures.

In the first stage of British domination over India, to the extent that they destroyed the old Indian social order: society, Asian feudal despotism of the centralised type that was spread over whole of the country or separate states of feudal despotic variety, the British, in spite of their harshness and ‘piggishness’, being the ‘unconscious instrument of history’, performed, in well known but very limited sense of the word, a progressive role, pushing India on the path of capitalist development, awakening her from ‘vegetative existence’. In spite of the colossal contradictions of its politics in India in the early stages of colonial conquests, this historical, partly progressive role could be assigned to Britain.

After the economic co-relationships of the specifics of Indian development led to the establishment of the local big industry, national bourgeoisie and the proletariat, in one word, after the well-known conditions for the independent economic development of the country were created, the British rule, in spite of the fact that it was accompanied by the construction of railway, ports, mines etc., unconditionally turned regressive and reactionary because the direction of the political economy of Britain led to the slowing down of the independent industrial development of India while protecting their colonial monopoly. It turned more intolerant when a new class entered the arena of political life, the proletariat, the only one correctly and consistently expressing protest of the productive forces against disruption of their political economy and against the obsolete social relations of production.

The major contradictions of the present day economy of India are approximately perceptible in the following form:

1. Objective tendencies of the development of productive forces while preserving and further strengthening the colonial monopoly of imperialism in the economic and political spheres of the country.

2. Capitalisation of economic relations and pre-capitalist technology.

3. Export of finance capital and almost complete absence of the progressive effects of capitalism.

4. Massive expropriation of the peasantry and handicraftsmen; extremely weak process of proletarianisation.

5. Stratification of peasantry on the basis of usurer-monetary relations and absolutely weak development of capitalist agriculture. From this emerges the growth of money lending and hoarding capital and pre-capitalist stratification.

6. Domination of the big capital and most backward villages.

7. Domination of big landlords in agriculture and very small holdings of the peasants that work the land.

8. Domination of moneylenders and hoarders in the market relations of the village, huge accumulation of usurer-trade capital and absence of wide passages of its transition into industrial capital.

The Indian village is subjugated by landlord and usurer-trader capital while the suppressed peasantry goes on clinging to its dwarfed economy. Hence, from this emerges the possibility of the exploitation of the peasantry on the basis of pre-capitalist technology not by the sale of products of its labour – the product being its labour power itself. However, as the impoverishment reached this level of development then a large part of peasantry is forced to get alienated from his land and sell not the product of his labour power but the labour power itself, i.e. become proletariat, the usurer-trader capital and the landlords are forced to retreat to an organisation of agriculture on capitalist foundations, functioning and accumulating now not in the sphere of trading or monetary market but in the agricultural production rooted in industrial capitalist principles. However, this has yet not taken place in the Indian village, because the Indian peasantry, most widely pauperising under the impact of three forces: British imperialism, national industrial capital, local usurer-trade capital and landlords, does not find a market for the sale of his labour power, because there is no rapport between the size of the pauperising peasantry and handicraftsmen and the level of the transformation of usurer-trader capital into industrial capital and the landlords into agricultural capitalists. The reason for this symptom first of all lies in the colonial domination of imperialism. In this manner the transformation of money into capital in Indian agriculture is mainly taking place without any wide organisation by the wealthy of mechanised capitalist agriculture, based on hired labour. This is the most important characteristic of the colonial countries.

In this manner the capital of the metropolis holding back to itself through the mesh of agricultural production of India attaches to itself the products of the peasantry, mainly through usurer-traders, landlords and exploitation by taxation, not reorganising agriculture through technology, developing productive forces not in the colonial countries but in the metropolis, forcing the colonies to creeping economic paralysis.

Does it not mean that the capital of the metropolis is leading the country oppressed by it on to the capitalist path of development (commodity-money economy, development of trade capital, developed commercial agriculture, separation of crafts from agriculture), giving her economy a commodity-money basis and capitalist form, permitting her to take a few next steps on the path of capitalist development though only to the extent which is beneficial to the oppressing country under changing conditions of its domination (war, revolutionary movements), while preserving in all possible manner the parasitic-exploitative essence in the relationship with the colony – retarding her own very early stage of capitalist development by many decades?

Does it not follow from it that the negative aspects of capitalism multiply in colonial countries to an extent to which level these did not replicate themselves anywhere else in any country, that this reproduction of the negative after-effects of capitalism is continuing over an extremely long period of time?

Does it not follow from it that the pre-capitalist technology of production being coincidental with commodity-money economy becomes the specific character of this agrarian country?

Does it not follow from it that now industrial development of this country is determined, first of all: by the level of quick profit from this suffering nation which is speedy and cheaper to export through railway, ports and through light industry, and secondly: through the vigour of the pressure of internal capitalistic tendencies, and thirdly: by the characteristics and forms of struggle against other imperialisms that trying to establish their domination on this given colonial country belonging to colonial monopolists like England? These, approximately are the limits of the economic development of India and specifics of her capitalism.

The medieval economy of India with the domination of feudal and royal relationships could be formulated in the words of Lenin cited from his writings against Struve and the Narodniks: ‘Trading-usurer capital attaches to itself labour from every Russian village though not converting the producer into hired worker, takes away from him not less additional value, than what the industrial capital takes from the worker. Capitalist production starts from that moment when the capitalist stands up between the producers, even if he only buys from the independent (apparently) producer of the finished product; and from the Russian free-producers it was not only easy to find such persons who do not work for the capitalist (shop-owner, hoarder, kulak’).1

This is why one should not approach India as a purely feudal country, because ‘capital – is a well known relationship between people that is identically established both in big and small levels of comparing category’.2

Similarly it would have been wrong to look at India as a formative capitalist country, as ‘Subservience of labour to capital from trading capital to the British form takes very long and different stages’.3

If we look from this point of view on the situation of Indian agriculturist and handicraftsman then the difference between them and the proletariat of Bombay shall be that the usurer-trader capital does not directly subordinate the Indian peasant and handicraftsman through direct purchase of their working power but subordinates them as sellers of their products, binding them more strongly to the ‘usurer press’, exploiting them in most unprotected regal forms, tying them to itself as bankrupt borrowers, taking away not only their additive labour but also a big part of their essential labour, throwing them out of the production process whenever it suited them, and wrapping their consciousness with lies about ‘good wishes’ which presumably he shows towards them.

When tremendous growth of commodity-money and capitalistic relationships during the entire British rule started to tear the linkages of the peasants and of the handicraftsmen with their profession, with land, very widely freeing them from the feudal way of production, destroying their natural life, linking them to the trader and hoarder, and in some parts of India with new landlords created by the British, raising their personal well-being by the rise in market prices in world economy, tearing them away from long-time living localities and compelling them to take loans from either usurers or from workers employed in factories, baring before them class exploitation and by this inviting them to their own complex socio-political life wherein from one side oppressed peasantry and craftsmen started to become, an active political force in the first stages of struggles and the unorganised standing up against feudal-imperialist pressures, and on the other hand, they could not conciliate with the aggressive and well-organised capitalism as it compulsively pressed them towards further expropriation, to the rule of a handful of the rich over the mass of the poor. It was then that the Indian bourgeoisie found in Gandhism that flexible weapon which was indispensable for it for its meanderings between immature revolution and imperialism.

However, as we have seen during our analysis of Gandhism in its practice, it never reflected the objective and progressive efforts of the Indian peasantry directed to the abolition of feudal remnants in the economics and politics of the country. Gandhism never reflected the real labours of the Indian peasantry that under conditions of colonial rule, under conditions of adjustment between national bourgeoisie and feudalism and their links with imperialism, was objectively a persistent supporter of a bourgeois-democratic turn in the country.

Most characteristic feature of Gandhism is the absence in it of a sharp revolutionary criticism of the land structure of India wherein goes on an all-sided pillage of the peasantry, its exploitation by landlords and by usury-trader capital, oppression of the government staff, of police imperialist courts and the double-facedness of the church, in one word, in its totality of a type that has been criticised by Tolstoy, who at a well-known stage, as Lenin has pointed out, expressed ‘extremely strong, unusual and honest protest against societal lies and cheatings’.4 Gandhism like the Indian bourgeoisie is very decent in its relationship with imperialism. This is why Gandhism is not like the ideas of Tolstoy; and from this point of view all comparisons between Gandhism and the ideas of Tolstoy are entirely wrong.

The basic tactical forms of Gandhism are: boycott, civil disobedience and non-payment of taxes. As an obligatory pre-condition for its continuation it demands unconditional acceptance and practice of the reactionary tactics of ‘non-violence’. The last is put forward by Gandhism as the requirement accompanying the organisation of boycott, civil-disobedience, and non-payment of taxes and it shuns higher forms of mass revolutionary movement in the form of general strikes, armed rebellion and open revolution. Obviously, such types of organisational forms of the movement and the traitorous tactics of ‘non-violence’ flow out of the class position of the Indian bourgeoisie which, due to its class location, is incapable of leading the anti-imperialist (meaning thereby also agrarian) revolution. Even ten years ago in the conditions of an absence of an experience like that of the Chinese Revolution of 1925-1927, with serious political immaturity of the workers and peasant masses of India, this class position of Indian bourgeoisie was such an all-embarrassing factor in the determination of its political policies towards the imperialist-feudal bloc that even then, due to the ‘traitorous’ tactics of the National Congress that have been discussed by us, the movements could not be widespread (not counting the extensive boycott of foreign textiles in which the Indian textile bourgeoisie was especially interested). Non-payment of taxes is a more radical step that could be taken up by the Indian bourgeoisie and has always been taken up, and is yet being systematically taken up by the Indian peasants even in face of the opposition of the National Congress.

Gandhi is neither Sun Yat-sen nor Kemal or Amanulla. The Indian bourgeoisie never played that role in the national liberation movement of India which in its time was played by the Chinese and Turkish bourgeoisie in the national liberation movement of China and Turkey. The path of the Kemal type of national liberation struggle consists of the fact that the bourgeoisie of this or that colonial country attains power in an anti-imperialist open revolutionary armed struggle for formal political and state independence, though not having the necessary revolutionary persistence, not solving the agrarian question, or the decisive questions that were left behind by the imperialist powers in the field of economy due to not having sufficient internal resources. Step by step they capitulate before imperialism, either openly or secretly. The Indian bourgeoisie never opted for open armed struggle against imperialism. This is why Gandhi is no Kemal and no Sun Yat-sen. Comparing Gandhi with Kemal Pasha or with Sun Yat-sen is a great deal distant from the truth as the Indian bourgeoisie manifests exactly such characteristics which they did not possess and because of its class position, it does not have.

The Gandhian mode of relationship between the colonial country and imperialism consists in the fact that the colonial bourgeoisie of India is extremely strongly bound with the pre-capitalist exploitation of the peasantry and with imperialism; it is in a state of active conflict with the proletariat. This is why it is incapable of leading an armed anti-imperialist struggle. Hence it consciously shuns the tactics of revolutionary force, tries the corresponding path of the conscious use of mass movement while subjugating it to its own traitorous leadership, to step by step negotiate concessions with imperialism and come to ‘respectable agreement’ with them while remaining under the overall rule of imperialism that protects it from revolutionary masses. The peaceful attainment of ‘Swaraj’ is the ideal of Gandhism which means self-rule within the British Empire. The slogan of complete independence raised by Gandhism has never been seriously accepted by the Indian bourgeoisie and is only among those slogans through which, firstly, it was possible to slow down the moving away of the mass movement from national-reformism and, secondly, as a reserved price for coming to an agreement with imperialism. This is why all who categorise Gandhism as an ideology reflecting the desire of the Indian peasantry commit a big political mistake.

It may be said that Gandhism is the ideology of the colonial bourgeoisie that exploits the revolutionary discontent of the displaced and uprooted peasantry, small producers, elements of the urban small bourgeoisie, feeding them on hatred of capitalism but at the same time being unprepared and improperly organised for struggle against well-organised financial capital at a stage when the Indian proletariat has yet not established its hegemony in the revolution, though the contradictions between imperialist and colonial countries has put the revolutionary overthrow of the colonial domination by imperialism on the order of the day.

The life of Gandhism and its betraying manoeuverability depends on the level of the maturity of capitalist relationships in the overall economic relationships of the country and mainly from the significant role that the proletariat plays in the revolutionary movement, from the level of the political influence of the proletariat on the peasantry. The weaker the role of the proletariat, its political weightage and leadership, the stronger the leadership of the Indian bourgeoisie and the influence of its ideology – Gandhism and the more Gandhism exploits, in the interest of the bourgeoisie, the discontent of peasantry the more it betrays the latter, the more and the better it fulfills the social demands of the national bourgeoisie. In this lies the criteria and understanding of the longevity of Gandhism, its relative political capacity for survival. Even though today when the proletariat has independently started on the path of the struggle for its hegemony but yet not having its own structured organisation, it is compelled to take into account the dying but yet alive Gandhism. This is why the most important task of the revolutionary working class movement of India is to finally expose Gandhism which is a necessary precondition of the struggle for the hegemony of the proletariat and for the victory of the anti-imperialist revolution.

Thus, the class essence of Gandhism and the class nature of its political programme and of its tactical steps is to be looked for not in the prevailing situation among the peasantry but in the situation of the national bourgeoisie and its desired direction along with all the linkages and characteristics of colonial limitations, cowardice, strong economic linkages with feudalism, with the political and economic apparatuses of the British finance capital.

This is why Gandhism from beginning to end is a reactionary factor and a better servant of the Indian national bourgeoisie and of British imperialism.


1. Lenin, vol. 1, p. 332.

2. Lenin, vol. 1, p. 127.

3. Lenin, vol. 1, p. 371. We consider it necessary to specially underline the stipulation that, though Indian economy as a whole cannot be looked upon as purely feudal, the extremely dangerous ‘populism’ (Narodnichisto) may in practice bring incalculable harm to the revolutionary struggle. Hence, it is necessary to fight against it in the most decisive manner. However, on the other hand it is necessary to categorically reject all attempts to present India as an already established capitalist country, because even such a point of view leads to no less damaging results in the process of a revolutionary struggle.

Besides the comments of Lenin cited by us underlining the development of the struggle and the process of transition to capitalism, the criteria for an understanding of contemporary social structure of India also is the following interesting comment of Marx:

‘Industrial capital is the only form of the subsistence of capital under which the function of capital is not only appropriation of surplus value or surplus labour but also their creation. This is why, specifically their transfer into capital determines the capitalist character of production; specific existence of industrial capital postulates class contradiction between the capitalists and hired labour. To the extent to which it embraces social production, it leads to transformation in technology, and in the social organisation of labour and along with it in the economic and historical type of the society’ (emphasis added) (Marx, Capital, vol.1, p.29).

4. Lenin, vol. XII, p. 332.

Roslavlev, U., ‘Gandhism’, Chapter IV. Fundamental Paths of Socio-Economic Development of Colonial India and the Class Roots of Gandhism, Nauchno-Issledovatelskaya Assosiatsia Instituta Vostokovedeniya pri TsIK SSSR, Gosudarstvennoe Sotsialno-Ekonomicheskoye Izdatelstvo, Moskva-Leningrad, 1931, pp. 64-78 (Scientific Research Association of the Institute of Oriental Studies under Central Executive Council of USSR, State Socio-Economic Publishing House, Moscow-Leningrad 1931, pp. 64-78).

Translated from the Russian by Tahir Asghar

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