Nationalism, Socialism, Sarvodaya-Anarchism






The development of the nationalist idea right from the early days went through an intricate course.

Dadaibhai Nauroji

Veneration of the British empire was strikingly articulated by Dadabhai Nauroji in 1885 at the first session of the INC (Indian National Congress) in the following words: “What makes us proud to be British subjects, what attaches us to this foreign rule with deeper loyalty ….. is the fact that Britain is the parent of free and representative government ….

This was a dominant idea, in varying degrees among the intellectuals and leaders of early nationalism. They realized the economic ruin and immunization of Indian people as a result of British rule.

Indian economy according to Dadaibhai Nauroji was subjected to heavy ‘drain’ of resources. This, he considered, the outcome of what he called “drain” theory. In fact, his critique of Indian economy was based on factors independent of British rule: dependence on agriculture, lack of capital, antiquated credit system etc. He therefore advocated commercialization of agriculture and industrialization.

Aurobindo Ghosh & S. N. Banerjee

It was only later that Aurobindo Ghosh and S. N. Banerjee developed a case for self-government. Such an idea was never on the agenda of earlier nationalists, whose main emphasis was on reforms. Essentially the debate was whether social reforms should precede political reforms or vice versa.

  • Banerjee thought self-government would increase efficiency in administration. Moreover, he believed it to be India’s mission to be the spiritual guide of mankind, which could not be fulfilled unless India itself was free.
  • Aurobindo Ghosh considered that a foreign government by its very nature was bound to deny freedom to the individual to develop self-expression. He also considered self-government essential for completeness and full development of national strength. Nationalism to him was a ‘religion that has come from God.”

Swaraj – Extremists

Swaraj became the clarion call of later nationalists i.e. the ‘extremists’, though they still defined swaraj as self-government within the Empire.

  • Tilak took up the theme of the country’s economic drain once again, which he wanted to be stopped forthwith along-with revival of industries killed by foreign competition.
  • Radical nationalists led by B. G. Tilak, Aurobindo Ghosh and B. C. Pal, advocating direct methods of boycott of British goods and passive resistance denounced the colonial rule and gave the call of Swadeshi. In reaction to liberal glorification of colonial rule, they emphasised the achievements of Ancient India.

Indian Political Consciousness & Colonial Reforms

To meet the challenges of nationalist political consciousness, colonial rulers introduced an elective element into the legislature through the reforms of 1892, 1909 and the Government of India Act 1919. The radical nationalists opposed the reforms, but by and large it was received well in the beginning. Gandhi, who had initially supported the idea of cooperation in working the reforms, had changed his opinions by 1921 and declared that the reforms “were only a method of further draining India of her wealth and of prolonging servitude.”

Anti-colonial ideas started gaining immense strength in the aftermath of the first nationalist movement of an all India character, the non-cooperation movement in the early 1920s.

The loosely connected Left-Wing of the Congress launched vigorous anti-imperialist campaign and advocated an uncompromising rule in bringing about the political and administrative unification –

  • the country and arousal of political consciousness;
  • recognition of Western values of knowledge and their substantiation by ancient Indian scriptures;
  • need of a national movement across the barriers of race, caste, religion and sex;
  • advocacy of regional and religious symbols for political mobilization.

Gandhi’s concepts of ‘Swarajya‘ (self-government), ‘Swadeshi‘ (Indian) and Bahishkar (boycott of foreign goods) provided the future programme for the anti-colonial struggle.

It can be seen therefore, that what can be called Indian Nationalism composed of innumerable streams of thought.

Moderate, Militant And Revolutionary Nationalists

The first assertions of nationalism in India were mixed with a strong sense of religious revivalism – an appeal to the past, a fervent call to revive the pristine glory of the Hindu Golden Age.

This was preceded by the moderate nationalists whose main critique of colonialism was against either the economic impact of British rule, or against the “bureaucratic aspects” of it. The methods of this school of moderate nationalists were constitutionalist, limited primarily to issuing appeals and petitions.

The militant nationalists, on the other hand, grasped fully the contradiction between the Indian people and colonial rule, and therefore advocated a more decisive break with colonial rule. They were however, thoroughly imbued with religion, which made use of religious ceremonies for mobilizations. The student religiosity of such nationalism alienated the Muslims from the nationalist movement.

The militant nationalists also drew great inspiration from the life of Mazzini and the history of the Italian Risorgimento.

The third stream of nationalists, i.e. the revolutionary nationalists were also for the most part ideologically revivalist who believed in Swaraj, and sought to achieve it through any means, including revolutionary violence. Their chief source of inspiration ranged from the Russian Narodinka to Mazzini.



The post non-cooperation period witnessed a rapid growth of socialist ideas and emergence of numerous Socialist and Communist groups. There were two factors responsible for the development of radical politics in the twenties.

1. The increasing restlessness among Indian youth and the toiling masses who were being drawn into the national movement was coming to the fore. It was Gandhi’s signal contribution that he made the Congress led movement a full-fledged mass movement. Yet his insistence on non-violence in the face of brutal repression by the colonial government as witnessed in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, or his withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement in the wake of the Chauri-Chaura episode when a mob of peasants burned down a police-station manned entirely by the British led to large-scale disillusionment. Increasingly, it-was being felt that nonviolent methods will not do. Search for alternative forms thus became imperative.

2. This search was decisively influenced by another factor – the victory of the Russian Revolution and the establishment of a socialist state.

  • The first socialist weekly, The Socialist, was started by S. A. Dange in 1923 in Bombay.
  • In Bengal a group of determined organizers led by Muzaffar Ahmed started the foundations of the Communist Party.
  • Earlier M. N. Roy, a revolutionary nationalist, who had left India in search of arms, reached USA and became converted to socialism. Thereafter, in 1921, he along with a band of Mohajirs formed in Tashkent, the Communist Party of India which was affiliated to the communist International. The Mohajirs were those who left the country on hijrat i.e. self-imposed exile – a concept of Islamic faith. In 1924, a number of people, including Dange and Muzaffar Ahmed, were arrested under the Kanpur conspiracy case.
  • Workers and Peasant Parties were formed in Bombay, Bengal and Punjab. They supported the economic and political demands of the workers and peasants and organized them on class lines. They articulated and propagated the programme of national independence and stood for direct action by the workers and peasants. Trade unions were organized and a number of strikes took place.

Side by side, the development of revolutionary terrorism into socialism took place. Bhagat Singh and his Hindustan Socialist Republican Association typified such developments.


Revolutionary Socialism

In 1926, a political forum by the name of Naujawan Bharat Sabha was created with the idea of –

  • educating young people in social matters;
  • popularizing swadeshi;
  • developing a sense of brotherhood;
  • cultivate a secular outlook;
  • cultivate atheism among the youth.

This organization was a fore-runner of the Hindustan Republic Association, which aimed at overthrowing the British rule by insurrection.

  • It had an elaborate organization to carry on its clandestine activities.
  • The Sabha propagated the ideal of equality, removal of poverty and equitable redistribution of wealth.
  • This Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) subsequently changed its name to Hindustan Socialist Republic Association (HSRA).

When the British Government, in its bid to suppress the working class movement, sought to introduce the Public Safety Bill and the Trade Disputes Bill, the HSRA decided to protest by bombing the Assembly when the bills were placed – the action was carried out by Bhagat Singh and Batukeswar Dutta, while many such activities carried on by the HSRA seem, on the face of it, to be conventional terrorist activities and the Naujawan Bharat Sabha functioned with a much broader Background of Social and perspective.

Bhagat Singh clarified in his trial that revolution to him was not the cult Political Thought of the bomb and pistol but a total change of society culminating in the overthrow of bath Indian and foreign capitalism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The assembly bombs were meant to be purely demonstrative to make the authorities see reason.

In a sense the activities of the HSRA exemplified the transition from terrorism to radical socialist politics, as it did for finding the appropriate methods of political agitation.


Marxist Socialism

The first beginnings of Marxist Socialism in India were made by small groups in the Bengal, Bombay and Punjab. These groups –

  • organized the Workers and Peasants Parties in these states;
  • started work in the Trade Unions;
  • started organizing the peasantry.

Parallel to this development was the formation in Tashkent of the Communist Party of India. The CPI’s critique of colonialism was based on its understanding that imperialism was plundering India’s raw materials.

  • The exploitation of the Indian people, particularly the working class and peasantry by the British imperialists would remain as long as India did not fully break away from colonialism and build a society free from exploitation.
  • Behind the utter misery and destitution of the Indian peasantry, the communists saw the exploitation by foreign and Indian capital side by side with antiquated feudal forms of exploitation.

The communists, therefore derided the nationalist leadership for their implicit faith in the British rulers and their hesitation to raise the demand for complete Independence. They were also severely critical of the nationalist leaders for their use of religion in political mobilization.

However, the communists themselves could not really join the mainstream of the national movement till the mid-1930s.

M. N. Roy in his famous debate with Lenin in the Third Congress of the Communist International had held that the leadership of the Indian national movement was reactionary and therefore the Communists should have no truck with it. The implication of such a strategy would have been to isolate the communist movement from the mainstream of Indian politics. Lenin, on the other hand, had advocated a united front against imperialism.

After the Seventh Congress of the Comintern adopted the United front policy in 1935, two British leaders R. P. Dutt and Ben Bradley prepared a statement for Indian Communists. This document, known as the “Dutt-Bradley Thesis” constitutes a landmark, in Indian Communist history, since it brought the CPI into the mainstream of the anti-imperialist struggle. The document helped the CPI to reforge its links with the national movement.

Following this, in January 1936, the Congress Socialist Party, on the recommendation of its general secretary, Jaya Prakash Narayan, decided to admit communists to its membership. Many Communists joined the CSP. From then on, till the eve of World War 11, the Communists and the Congress Socialists, despite differences worked together for radicalizing the Congress from within.

An important aspect of Communist thinking has been in relation to its assessment of the leadership of the Indian National Congress, its class character, and subsequently, the class character of the Indian State.

  • They regarded the Congress as an organization of Indian capitalists and landlords which Gandhi had transformed from an elite assembly to a mass movement.
  • Gandhi, though he initiated the process of turning Congress into a mass movement, was in their view a compromiser determined to stem the rising militancy of national struggle.
  • They also disapproved Gandhi’s non-violent methods of struggle and the use of religious for political mobilization.


Congress Socialism

The decade of the twenties saw a radicalization of Indian youth and their gradual turning away from the Congress fold towards socialist ideas. Following reasons led to this radicalization –

  • disenchantment with Gandhian non-violent methods;
  • impact of the Russian Revolution;
  • the need to evolve the masses of Indian people in the anti-colonial struggle.

As a parallel development, sections of young congressmen increasingly adopted the socialist ideal and from within the Congress sought to influence it in a Leftward direction. They formed the Congress Socialist Party in 1934. Prominent among these were Acharya Narendra Dev and Jaya Prakash Narayan.

  • Both these leaders were profoundly influenced by Marxism and believed that socialism could be achieved only with the socialization of the means of production.
  • Both were for a drastic reorganization of the agrarian economy and land to the tiller.
  • However, what distinguished them from the Communists was that they advocated a cooperative agriculture with a marked emphasis on decentralization.
  • Both believed in socialism but sought to combine it with a humanist ethics.

Ram Manohar Lohia, another member of this group pleaded for greater, incorporation of Gandhian ideas in socialist thought.

Lohia’s insistence on Gandhian ideas was not merely at the level of incorporation of Gandhian ethics, but also in the economic performance of socialism. He advocated a decentralized economy based on a resuscitation of cottage industries. In this sense, his socialism was that of a petty producer.

Lohia believed that the interface of caste and class is the key to the understanding of historical dynamics of India. In his view, all human history has been an internal movement between castes and classes-castes loosen into classes and classes crystallize into castes. Thus, he tried to understand the caste/class dynamics – an issue that has generally been ignored in Indian politics.


Sarvodaya – Anarchism

The political philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi as it developed during the course of his political activities maintained an essential continuity with earlier strands of thought. The essentially Indian spiritual approach to politics, developed by Vivekananda and Aurobindo Ghosh found its continued expression in Gandhi.

In 1909, in Hind Swaraj, he accepted the basic distinctions made between ‘society and state’ & ‘India and the west’.

  • He extolled the spirituality of India and juxtaposed it to the violent, politically corrupt nature of the European state.
  • His comments were reserved for the English parliamentary system – he described all western political power as brute force.
  • His participation in politics was therefore apologetic. “If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircles us today like the coil of a snake ….. I wish, therefore, to wrestle with the snake.”

This being the attitude to politics, logically to Gandhi, the state was by definition abhorrent. It is in this sense, that from a totally different perspective, Gandhism and his Sarvodaya shared its most essential political trait with anarchist ideology.

Gandhi, like Vivekananda believed that if individuals are allowed freedom to express and pursue their interests, then as part of their spiritual unity, they will gradually discover their identity of interests. This he believed gave rise to a human nature that was essentially accommodative and compromising. To this end, he saw like his anarchist counterparts – Kropotkin and Tolstoy – the state as a major obstacle in the realization of individual freedom and social harmony. “The state represents violence in a concentrated form.” He saw it as a soulless machine that can never be weaned away from violence. In his ideal society, therefore, there is no state-political power. Since he saw in the state an essential centralizing tendency that curbs individuality he held that, “if India is to evolve along non-violent lines, it will have to decentralize.”

Following Gandhi, Vinobha Bhave articulated this position as a leading exponent of Sarvodaya ideology. Vinobha visualized a total revolution transforming all aspects of life. The goal for him was – to mould a new man …. to change human life and create a new world. The departure of the British had not brought Indian society any closer to Sarvodaya, the main obstacle to which was the centralized government. “Sarvodaya”, according to him, “does not mean good government or majority role, it means freedom from government, it means decentralization of power.”

Central to Vinoba’s conceptualization of politics and power is his distinction between rajniti”, the politics of power, and lok-niti”, the ethics of democracy. Lokniti strives to use the “potential powers of the citizen” and would abandon political parties and elections, arrive at decisions through consensus, and forge an identity of interest that would ensure continuing social harmony.

Subsequently, Jayaprakash Narayan carried forward the Gandhian – Sarvodaya conception of politics. J.P. as a national leader remained primarily concerned with the abuse of political power in India, and thus found himself perpetually in opposition to the Congress. He, too, was a strong advocate of decentralization of power and expanded and propagated the concept of party-less democracy.



Bibliography : IGNOU – Modern Indian Political Thought

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