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Fourth International, September 1945


K. Tilak

The Wavell Plan – A New Form Of Old Slavery


From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.9, September 1945, pp.279-281.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The following article on the Wavell Plan by one of the leaders of Indian Trotskyism was written July 2, 1945 before the results of the Simla conference were known. As the article predicts, the Indian Congress Party accepted the Wavell proposals. However, the conference fell through, we are informed by the press, because of the Muslim League’s insistence on naming all the Muslim members to the Executive Council.

General Wavell is now in London meeting with the newly elected Ministers of his Majesty’s Labor government. Undoubtedly the British rulers are hatching new schemes for the purpose of confusing world public opinion while tightening their hold on India. That is why this analysis of the moving forces of the Indian political scene remains so timely today.


The proposals of the British Government for a solution of the “deadlock” in India, which have been transmitted through the Viceroy Lord Wavell and have come to be known as the Wavell Plan, are being hailed by the world capitalist press as a real advance on the road to Indian independence and an honest attempt on the part of the British Government to meet the national aspirations of the Indian people. This latter contention is tantamount to saying that British imperialism has suddenly decided to give up its richest single field of colonial exploitation, in fact, that it is preparing voluntarily to liquidate itself – a tale that even the most gullible will find difficult to swallow. And as for the Wavell Plan being an advance on the road to independence, the most cursory examination of the proposals is sufficient to dispel this illusion.

In the first place it should be noted that there is no concrete proposal whatsoever for the granting of self-government of any kind to India even after the war-only a re-affirmation of the pious intentions of the British Government in this regard. The Wavell Plan frankly claims to be only an interim arrangement for the war period. And what about the interim arrangement? The only change is that the Viceroy’s Council (which is a purely advisory body), with the significant exception of the portfolio of Defense, is going to be manned by Indians of the principal political parties. And even this is hedged in by the conditions that the selection of the councillors will be made by the Viceroy (from panels to be presented to him by the leading parties), and that the Council itself will be responsible only to the Viceroy and not to the Central Legislative Assembly which will have no power to overthrow it by a vote of non-confidence. But the really important thing is that the all-powerful power of veto of the Viceroy (which can be used not only negatively to disallow but also positively to initiate policy) is to be retained in full. The assurance that it will not be used “unreasonably” (has it ever been used “unreasonably” in the past?) is valueless. And finally, even all these sham concessions are made dependent on full cooperation in the war against Japan. These are the essential features of the Wavell Plan. It is clear that the plan makes not the slightest attempt to transfer any real power at all, but is only an attempt to get the main political parties in India (and particularly the Indian National Congress) to assume the responsibility for the further fleecing and impoverishment of the country in the interests of the war effort. To complete the picture, it only remains to add that the question of the release of the thousands of political prisoners languishing in jail is to be left to the central and provincial governments which will come into existence if the Wavell Plan is accepted. In other words, these men and women are to be held as hostages by British imperialism pending a settlement with Congress.

The Crucial Question

The crucial question in Indian politics at the moment is: “Will Congress accept the Wavell Plan?” for the success or failure of the plan depends on this one fact. As a matter of fact, Congress has already acquiesced. By sending their representatives to participate in the Viceroy’s Conference in Simla, the Indian National Congress already signified its assent to the basic principles of the plan. There only remains to fill in the details, that is, to agree to the specific allocation of seats in the Viceroy’s Executive Council. There is little doubt that final agreement will be reached and that Congress will soon be back in office (which it abandoned after the outbreak of the imperialist war in 1939), only this time it will be in office not only in the provinces but also at the Centre, thus assuming full and complete responsibility for the British imperialist administration of India. Eating its own words in the past, it will be accepting and working under the slave constitution of 1935, and it will be actively supporting the imperialist war which it has hitherto refused to support on the ground that Indian independence was the crucial test of the honesty of the professed war aims of the United Nations.

The plain fact is, Congress has not only compromised, it has abjectly surrendered. This surrender cannot come as a surprise to those who, employing the Marxist method of analysis, realize that the Indian National Congress is the party of the bourgeoisie of India which can only play an oppositional role to imperialism and places itself at the head of the mass movement only in order to strike a bargain with imperialism and betray the movement. Of all political parties in India, the Indian Bolshevik Leninists alone were able to foresee and foretell the event, publicizing their views to the limited extent that their small organization and the conditions of illegality permitted. The changing policies of the Indian National Congress since the outbreak of war have followed with remarkable accuracy the changing immediate interests of the Indian bourgeoisie. It is instructive to recall them.

After the commencement of the imperialist war in September 1939, the Congress, which was then in office in the provinces, resigned, calling for a declaration of Britain’s war aims, meanwhile following a policy of political non-cooperation in the war effort, as well as non-embarrassment of it. In other words, it wanted Britain to state the price it was prepared to pay for Congress support of the war. The reply came in the Viceroy’s declaration in August 1940 – nothing! The Congress therefore continued its policy of non-cooperation in and non-embarrassment of the war effort, but, in order to preserve its prestige among the masses was compelled to embark on the symbolic gesture of selected individuals courting imprisonment on the restricted issue of freedom of speech in relation to the war. The campaign, of course, petered out, and the situation continued, with the Congress still holding out for a bargain. This policy perfectly suited the interests of the bourgeoisie. It stood to gain nothing much by cooperation as things were (the entire economy had not been geared to the war effort by a rigid System of government controls at the time), and on the other hand, the war would continue and the bourgeoisie could wait. All along up to then there was no question of playing with the fire of a mass movement in order to extract concessions. The cowardly Indian bourgeoisie did not even raise the threat of it.

Change in Military Situation

The situation, however, was suddenly transformed by the change in the military situation to the disadvantage of Britain in early 1942, and particularly by the Japanese victories and the threatened invasion of India itself. The bourgeoisie now felt its position much stronger, as indeed it actually was. The Cripps offer represented the urgent desire of British imperialism to come to some sort of settlement with Congress. The Indian bourgeoisie however were not prepared to throw in their lot with British imperialism in a situation where the victory of Britain in the war was by no means assured, except in exchange for a very substantial consideration, which the Cripps offer did not provide. It is this that explains the Congress rejection of the Cripps offer. Now for the first time Congress spoke in terms of a mass struggle and passed the well-known August resolution authorizing Gandhi to commence a mass struggle if his last appeal to the Viceroy failed. As we know, at this stage the Government arrested the Congress leaders, an act which was the signal for a spontaneous mass upsurge in the country. The August struggle was thus never formally launched by Congress, a fact which has enabled the Congress leadership today to disclaim all responsibility for it. But would the Congress have launched a mass struggle (even on non-violent lines) if the arrests had not interfered with the course of events? The writer believes it would have, for the hopes and demands of the Indian bourgeoisie at the time were so high that British imperialism could not have afforded to grant them. But the important thing is, even if Congress had actually launched a struggle, its perspective would have been a compromise with imperialism. It is significant that not even in August 1942 did Congress characterize the war as imperialist. On the contrary, while questioning the validity of the allied war aims, it offered to support the war provided its own demands were met. Thus on the universal question of today, the question of the war, the position of Congress all along revealed the huckstering bourgeoisie behind it.

With the smashing of the August struggle and the growing prospect of victory for the allies, the attitude of the Indian bourgeoisie changed. They now wanted settlement, and settlement at any cost. And they wanted to be back in office. For, unlike in 1939-41, the end of the war was in sight, and, in addition, the governmental stranglehold of the economy was so complete that they wished to be back in office even as administrators, if only to secure some of the minor advantages that such a position would give them. This changed attitude of the bourgeoisie was voiced by Gandhi, who, on his release in early 1944, stated his terms for settlement. Although support for the war was offered, his terms were still too high and the deadlock continued. At the beginning of 1945 Bhulabhai Desai, the leader of the Congress Party in the Central Legislative Assembly, discussed proposals for settlement with the Viceroy (it now transpires that Gandhi had privately given his consent to these proposals). The proposals (with a characteristic imperialist twist) form the basis of the present Wavell Plan, which Congress is in the process of accepting. Thus, the entire policy of Congress since the war, in all its left and right zigzags right down to the present surrender, and with all its apparent contradictions, reveals an inner logic which confirms fully our characterization of the Indian National Congress as the party of the Indian bourgeoisie. What has been the attitude of the other major political parties in India to the Wavell proposals? The Muslim League, the reactionary party of the Muslim landlords, which obtains support from the backward Muslim masses by rousing communal feeling against the Hindus, and which grew in strength under the direct patronage of the imperialists in the war period in which Congress has been in opposition, has also accepted the basis of the Wavell Plan, but is at present engaged in a squabble to secure as many as possible of the Muslim seats of the Executive Council for itself. In fact, it demands all of them, which, at the moment, is the only obstacle in the way of putting into practice of the Wavell proposals. The Hindu Maha Sabha, the reactionary party of the Hindu landlords, which shares equally with the Muslim League the responsibility for fostering communal differences between Hindus and Muslims, is opposed to the Wavell Plan, not, however, because it transfers no real power, but because it, the Sabha, demands greater representation for Hindus in the Viceroy’s Executive than the 50-50 proposition between caste Hindu and Muslims that is proposed in the Wavell Plan. The Liberals, who today represent nobody but themselves, also support the acceptance of the proposals, as do all other sectional organizations of the bourgeoisie.

The Indian Stalinists

The most insistent demand that the Wavell Plan should be accepted comes, perhaps, from the Communist Party of India. In its paper, People’s War it hails the proposals as a “split inside our enemies’ camp, the British ruling class, because behind it is the pressure of our allies, the peoples of Britain and the freedom loving world” (People’s War, June 24, 1945.) Are these people unaware that the Wavell Plan had the united approval of the Conservative, Liberal and Labor members of the late Coalition Government, and is the pressure of the peoples of Britain and the freedom loving world so meagre a thing? Pressure there certainly is, but the only pressure that we can discern behind this proposal to continue to keep India in bondage is the pressure of the British imperialist bourgeoisie. They also urge settlement in India since it would help China in the war against Japan. No mention, of course, is made of Burma, where Indian troops are being used now to bring Burma back under the yoke of British imperialism. One thing can, however, be said for the Stalinists. Their slogan of “National Government” is now in the process of realization. In the period of the August struggle, when the masses were facing British tanks and bullets, and the bourgeoisie itself was in opposition, the Stalinists did their best to sabotage the struggle going even to the extent of betraying militants to the police. They called frantically for a “National Government” on the basis of Congress-League unity to support the war, that is to say, for a united bourgeois-feudal-imperialist oppression of the masses. This is now about to become a fact. A “National Government” is coming into being. Only it will be a National Government against the nation.

How will Congress square its abject surrender of today with its heroic professions of the past? Its leaders have already declared in public that the Wavell Plan is only an interim arrangement for the war period, and that Congress has not ceased to pursue its aim of independence. Jawaharlal Nehru in particular is emerging to the forefront as the chief spokesman of Congress in this regard, and with demagogic praise of those who fought in the August struggle and denunciation of war profiteers, is attempting to palm off the Congress surrender as a step forward. But there are two facts which no amount of quibbling and evasion can dispose of. Firstly, Congress is going to work under the 1935 Act, which it has in the past boycotted as a slave constitution with which it could not have any truck. Secondly, it will unconditionally support the imperialist war, which means it will be assuming full responsibility for the unbearable war burdens imposed on the masses of India and for sending Indian troops to Burma, Malaya, etc., in order to recapture these countries for British imperialism. In other words, no amount of ingenuity on the part of Congress can succeed in convincing the masses that the surrender is anything but a surrender.

This is not, however, to say that there will be any mass opposition to the settlement. On the contrary the first reaction of the masses to the settlement is likely to be one of relief. After having suffered three years of acute repression, the masses are likely to welcome Congress in office, in the hope that things will improve under it. In this they will be disillusioned, but that will be later. The first period will see a growth of mass activity, a revival of the hopes and aspirations of the masses, which they will strive to achieve through Congress. A revival of political activity is already visible among fairly wide strata of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia. This is the other side of the Congress surrender. While on the one hand, by providing a facade for British imperialism, the Congress is postponing the question of a direct mass struggle against imperialism, on the other hand, by the hopes its action creates, it is setting in motion new processes which must ultimately develop to a clash with both British imperialism and itself.

The Congress Left Wing

The situation, however, is a far different one with the militant rank and file of the Congress, particularly with those who took an active part in the struggle or have come under the Congress banner since August 1942. To them the settlement is coming as a sad disillusionment. Already there are signs of opposition among left elements within or owing allegiance to Congress. The entire leadership of the ’so-called Congress Left (e.g., the Congress Socialist Party, the Revolutionary Socialist Party in Bengal) has capitulated to the Congress leadership. But the better elements of the rank and file of the Congress Left are coming together in opposition to me settlement. This opposition by and large appears to be developing at present on the basis of opposition to the Congress leadership and not yet to the Congress itself. But continued opposition to the settlement would mean opposition to the so-called National Government which will be formed by Congress, which would in turn force these elements organizationally out of Congress. How many of them will draw the necessary political conclusions, namely, that Congress is the party of the bourgeoisie and that the need is for building the revolutionary party of the Indian proletariat?

The young Bolshevik Leninist Party, formed only in the middle of 1942, is now faced with its first real opportunity of expansion. In the past, in addition to meeting the full blast of the repression and having to conduct its activities underground, it had to meet, in its efforts at, recruitment, with the difficulty of widespread loyalty to Congress. Also, the apathy and dropping away from politics, which is the aftermath of every great defeat, was visibly present in India, and effectively prevented any significant growth of the party in the lean years of 1943-44. This situation is now changing, and there is no doubt that of all political groups and parties in India, the BLPI stands to gain most from this change.

But most important of all is the possibility of recruitment to the party from among the ranks of the Congress Left, whither, without doubt, a large portion of the best revolutionary raw material in India has flowed since August 1942. Where can the best of these elements, disillusioned today in the Congress leadership and tomorrow in the Congress itself, turn? The Communist Party of India is hated by them with a hatred born of bitter experience. The BLPI alone offers them a clear program and policy, while on the other hand the name of the Fourth International has today a power of attraction for revolutionary elements which flows from an instinctive recognition that it is now the continuator of the revolutionary traditions of the Third. The speed and extent to which these elements will be drawn into the ranks of the BLPI will depend not least of all on the extent to which the BLPI is able to reach them, and on the correctness of its policy in relation to them. At all events, the Indian section of the Fourth International stands on the threshold of a great opportunity, an opportunity of transforming itself from a small, persecuted group with a revolutionary program into a party with sufficient cadres to turn confidently to the next and real task of facing the masses.

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Last updated on 10.9.2008