Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav
Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist
Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India
Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229
Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India
Russian Revolution and Mahatma Gandhi
Some of his American friends wrote Mahatma Gandhi that, in the name of religion, he was probably introducing Bolshevism into India. These gratuitous “friends” obviously taking their cue from the spokesmen of Anglo-Saxon Imperialism (who often masquerade as pacifists), depict the revolt of the Moslem peoples as a menace to the world, because this revolt is supported by Bolshevik Russia. It should have been very simple for Mahatmaji to give a fitting reply to this impudent communication. He could have told his “responsibly (?) foreign friends” that the Moslem peoples have legitimate reason to revolt, and that any political doctrine or government supporting this revolt is to be considered favourably by all apostles of freedom. Besides, he could have requested his American friends to get busy at home, if they sincerely dreaded any menace to the world. What is menacing the world more today than American Imperialism? Is the revolt of the Moslem people more sinister than the Ku-Klux-Klan and the American Legion?
Is Bolshevist atheism more godless than the anti-Asiatic spirit of the American democracy? The Mahatma, however, did not give such a direct answer. He preferred to justify himself to absolve himself from any possible suspicion of Bolshevist tendency. But the curious thing is, that although by his own confession he did not know anything about Bolshevism, nevertheless he was extremely solicitous to disown any leaning towards it, so sure is his instinctive antipathy for it. In an article in Young India he writes: “In the first place I must confess that I do not know the meaning of Bolshevism.” This is indeed a very damaging confession, in view of the fact that it is made by one standing at the head of a great popular movement. The Mahatma said in the same article that he knew that there were two opposite pictures of Bolshevism, “one painting it in the blackest colour, the other hailing it as a deliverance for the downtrodden masses all the world over.” But he does not know what to believe. Here again he could follow a simple human course. He could easily find out who paints the first picture. It is done by those who are ruling over the world with the policy of blood and iron. In deference to his scruples of impartiality, he might not believe those giving the second picture; but certainly Mahatmaji does need to be convinced that the first party is not the friend or deliverer of the human race. Therefore when they depict a thing in the blackest colour, the oppressed section of humanity can instinctively sense some sinister motive, they feel that the “blackest colour” is for deceiving them. By this unerring instinct, Indian nationalists during the War used to read two German victories in the place of each allied victory cabled by Reuter, and the Mexican peon calls himself proudly a Bolshevik, for the simple reason that the American capitalists are so much against Bolshevism.
But I suppose, the mentality of a Mahatma is too complicated an organism to admit of such a simple instinctive process. Since the deplorable ignorance of Bolshevism is not the Mahatma’s alone, but is shared by many in India, and since this ignorance does not preclude them from forming an opinion on the subject, it may not be uncalled for to say a few words about this “monstrous” doctrine. It is the more called for, in view of the fact that Bolshevism (which, by the way, is not the result, as is commonly believed, but the basic principle of the Russian Revolution of 1917) is the most dominant political factor of the contemporary world. Just as the great French Revolution of 1789 affected the political thought and life of Europe at that epoch, the Russian Revolution is bound to play the same role in our time, with the difference that the geographical situation of Russia, coupled with the principles of her revolution, will bring wider spheres, including Asia and Africa, under its sway. This is the case, despite the explicable apprehension and righteous indignation of the pacifically minded ladies and gentlemen, whose good faith is taken for granted by Mahatmaji, but is seriously doubted by more practical men of the world.
Now, as far as Mahatmaji is concerned, the main principles of Bolshevism will not be anything new. He himself will think so. But principles become a bundle of dead formulas if they are not put into action. By his own declaration, the Mahatma desires to see the masses freed from the domination of capitalism. Well, Bolshevism does not propose anything more monstrous. The Bolsheviks are generally in agreement with Mahatmaji when he says, “the greatest menace to the world today is the growing, exploiting, irresponsible imperialism which is threatening the independent existence and expansion of the weaker races.” But the difference between Mahatmaji and the Bolsheviks is that in the hands of the former, this gospel of freedom loses all practical value, being subordinated to an intricate conception of morality, religion and God, while the latter do not permit their vision to be clouded by illusions, and deal with the world as it is. The result is, that while Bolshevism forges ahead, breaking one link after another of the mighty chain of time-honoured servitude, in the face of united and determined Opposition of the powers that be, Gandhism gropes in the dark, spinning out ethical and religious dogmas, that only prevent the masses from developing the will to fight for freedom. It can be taken for granted that Mahatmaji is acquainted with the general principles of Socialism; not the Utopian brand of St. Simon, Thomas More, Tolstoy, etc., but that formulated on the basis of scientific knowledge and economic facts by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The principles of Socialism are
(1) to overthrow the capitalist system of production;
(2) abolition of private property;
(3) reorganization of the means of social production and distribution on the basis of communal ownership and
(4) transformation of the class-ridden society into a human fraternity.
These are also the principles of Bolshevism, the latter being Socialism in its militant and initial stages of victory. The term “Bolshevism” which has come to be associated with bloodshed, destruction, terror and what not, is very harmless in its meaning. It is derived from the Russian word bolsheviki, which is the synonym for the adherents of the majority. The term was first used when the Russian Socialist Democratic Labour Party split in 1903 into two factions on the questions of programme and tactics. The programme and tactics advocated by the majority, led by Lenin together with others, came to be known as Bolshevism; and since the Russian proletariat scored the victory in October 1917, having fought according to the programme and tactics advocated by the majority of the party ever since 1903, the October Revolution is called a Bolshevist victory, which means the first triumph of Socialism. What are the concrete results of the Russian Revolution?
(1) A corrupt, irresponsible despotism was overthrown.
(2) The bourgeoisie, which under the guise of democracy, sought in conjunction with foreign powers to deprive the Russian masses of the benefits of the Revolution, was also overthrown.
(3) The landed aristocracy, the mainstay of the Czarist despotism, was destroyed, land declared to be the property of the entire nation and distributed among the cultivators.
(4) Large industries were nationalized.
(5) Foreign trade made a State monopoly.
(6) All legislative and administrative power was transferred to the overwhelming majority of the people, namely, the workers, peasants and soldiers, who exercised this power through their councils (soviets).
(7) All right of private property and the class privilege accruing therefrom was abolished. These in general are the principles of Bolshevism, applied practically in Russia in consequence of the Revolution.
Now that he knows what Bolshevism is, what is the attitude of the Mahatma towards it? It will be interesting for India, as well as the whole world, to know the reply. Now comes the thorny question. Mahatmaji might not take exception to these principles, but he would certainly make many a stipulation as to the method of realizing them. For him there is only one touch-stone for everything. If Bolshevism is atheistic, he is against it. That is all. Well, there we have given him a definition of Bolshevism in a nutshell. It is for him to pronounce whether it is a negation of God or what. He cannot maintain that it is a negation of God, unless he holds private property and vested interests to be a divine ordinance, because Bolshevism is certainly a negation of private property and vested interests, which from the dawn of civilization, have been the curse of human society.
In the practical programme of Bolshevism there is no question of God or religion. It is neither theistic nor atheistic. It concerns the worldly life of man. The possible conflict with God and religion occurs only when the latter stands in the way; when the conception of God or religion clashes with this practical programme. In that case, Bolshevism does not hesitate to take up the challenge even of the supposed Almighty, and become atheistic, thus running the risk of forfeiting the approbation of the Mahatma. But by doing so, it not only becomes the champion of the material rights of the masses, but holds up as well the torch of intellectual and spiritual emancipation to dissipate the gloom of ignorance and superstition in which the masses have been kept for ages by the dominating class.
The programme of Bolshevism, which Mahatmaji cannot deny to be humanitarian (unless he chooses to take up openly the cause of the upper class) is, however, not easily put into practice. The reign of terror and devastating civil war, that undeniably took place in Russia after the revolution, owe their origin to the fact that a brutal resistance was put up to prevent the realization of this programme. Not only the Russian aristocracy and bourgeoisie, who naturally frantically tried to regain their lost position, put up this resistance; they were openly backed by the international bourgeoisie, who saw in the Russian Revolution the first breach in their vital citadel. A part of this ceaseless campaign was the picturing of Bolshevism in the darkest colours, which did not altogether fail to impress even the Mahatma. Now what were the Bolsheviks to do in that situation? There were two alternatives: to call upon the Russian workers and peasants to be godfearing and meekly slip back into the bondage they had so heroically broken or to keep on fighting even against God anal religion, if they stood in the way, to protect and consolidate the freedom won. Bolshevism was obliged to accept the second alternative, because not only all available material forces were concentrated in order to force the Russian workers and peasants back under the capitalist and Czarist tyranny; all the arms of God and religion were also mobilized for the same purpose. Bolshevism is not a gospel of God: Bolshevists are not angels.
But neither is Bolshevism the spirit of demons. The Mahatma proposes “to touch the masses through their hearts, their better nature” It is a fascinating proposition, to which Bolshvism would not object, had it been found workable in the practice of liberating the masses from class domination and imperialist oppression. His theory of “discipline” is also very questionable. It may be good for the spiritual well-being of the masses; but it certainly weakens their will to fight for freedom. All these doctrines about “heart”, “better nature”, “discipline” and the like have been adumbrated from time immemorial by those who were the (perhaps unconscious) instruments of class domination. Bolshevism does not shirk any task, however disagreeable or difficult it may be. It challenges the existence of God and denounces all the codes of religion and ethics originating therefrom because in the struggle for freedom they are all found arrayed on the side of despotism, tyranny and oppression. Bolshevism is prepared to leave God alone, if He and His agents on earth agree not to meddle in things temporal. But if they do not agree to be satisfied with their super-material position and seek to make trouble on earth, Bolshevism will preach atheism to liberate the masses from the snare of ignorance woven by religion. 1
In writing of the levelling process I certainly had not in mind the Soviet rule of Bolshevism. It is perhaps somewhat shameful that I have to confess to you that I do not yet know exactly what Bolshevism is for the simple reason that I have not had time to study the inner working of the Russian revolution. The levelling process to me simply means that the system of favouritism on which, as I believe, English commerce has been built should cease and for that purpose a double process has to begin. Favouritism should go and young Indian enterprises should receive State help and patronage. I know that I must not expect to convert you by argument. What I would like Englishmen in India to do is to see them selves as the average Indian sees them and ask themselves why it is that the vast majority of Indians feel as I often write in the pages of Young India. Can it be that what some English economists have written and what most Indian economists, historians and administrators have written is all untrue? The case that I have presented is based upon their testimony and supported by personal experience. 2
There are instances in the history of the Russian Revolution of unarmed masses or workers facing the military forces in face of rifle fire in the hope of winning them over and actually doing so. These I hold to be an unorganized and unconscious adoption of the non-violent technique, by the masses in the streets. But Trotsky’s instance shows that a responsible revolutionary statesman, having nothing to do with non-violence, could, in the light of revolutionary experience, think the ‘silly’ course now advocated by you to be a possible one, and actually experiment with it. Why should not we, with twenty years’ tradition of non-violent action, not only experiment with it, but hope for certain success? I for myself have begun to believe that of all forms of non-violent action, resistance to foreign aggression is the easiest one, and the first one likely to be completely successful. 3
Non-violence is a matchless weapon which can help everyone. I know we have not done much by way of non-violence and therefore, if such a change comes about I will take it as the result of our labours during the last twenty-two years and that God has helped us to achieve it. When I raised the slogan ‘Quit India’ the people in India who were then feeling despondent felt I had placed before them a new thing. If you want real freedom you will have to come together and such coming together will create true democracy—democracy the like of which has not been so far witnessed nor have there been any attempts made for such type of true democracy. I have read a good deal about the French revolution. Carlyle’s works I read while in jail. I have great admiration for the French people. Pandit Jawaharlal has told me all about the Russian revolution. But I hold that though theirs was a fight for the people it was not a fight for real democracy which I envisaged. My democracy means every man is his own master. I have read sufficient history and I did not see such an experiment on so large a scale for the establishment of democracy by non-violence. Once you understand these things you will forget the differences between the Hindus and the Muslims. The resolution that is placed before you says we do not want to remain frogs in a well. We are aiming at a world federation1 in which India would be a leading unit. It can come only through non-violence. Disarmament is only possible if you use the matchless weapon of non-violence. There are people who may call me a visionary but I tell you I am a real bania and my business is to obtain swaraj.
Speaking to you as a practical bania, I say, if you are prepared to pay the full price [of nonviolent conduct], pass this resolution, otherwise, do not pass it. If you do not accept this resolution I won’t be sorry for it, on the contrary I would dance with joy because you would then relieve me of the tremendous responsibility which you are now going to place on me. I want you to adopt non-violence as a matter of policy. With me it is a creed, but so far as you are concerned I want you to accept it as policy. As disciplined soldiers you must accept it in toto and stick to it when you join the struggle. 4
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