Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indian National Congress

Nehru Tue, 19 May 2015

Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indian National Congress

Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), was the first and foremost Leader of the Indian National Congress, who proved himself instrumental in making India embark upon the path of socialism. It was due to his untiring efforts since late 20’s that socialism, Nehru and Congress - the three words, became inter-linked and dominated the political scene of India. His powerful oratory, art of presentation, non-violent approach and dashing personality put him at the apex among the socialists in India. 


Nehru became interested in the philosophy of socialism from an early period in his life, while studying law in London, he was “vaguely attracted to the Fabians and socialistic ideas.”01 But such ideas on socialism were formed mainly from books, and not from practical experiences. In 1920, Nehru visited some of the villages in U.P. This adventure was a revelation to him. Until now, he was ignorant of village-life and the dumb-misery of the starving peasants who were clad in rags, hunger and emancipation. 

It was a novel and eye-opening experience for him and he has recalled in his ‘An Autobiography’: “Looking at them and their misery and overflowing gratitude, I was filled with shame and sorrow, shame at my own easy-going and comfortable life and our petty politics of the city which ignored this vast multitude of semi- naked sons and daughters of India, sorrow at the degradation and overwhelming poverty of India. A new picture of India seemed to rise before me, naked, starving, crushed and utterly miserable.”02 Such a horrible scene shook his bourgeois political outlook, and gradually he looked moving towards the path of socialism. In 1926, he visited many European countries. This visit left an imprint on Nehru’s outlook. While in Europe, he attended the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities at Brussels as the representative of the Indian National Congress. At the Brussels Congress, he saw the inner conflicts of the western labour world on the one hand and straight-forwardness of the communists at other side. 

This left bitter impression on Nehru regarding Communism, which he has recorded in the following words: “They gave me also an insight into the inner conflicts of the Western Labour world. So I turned inevitably with goodwill towards communism, for, whatever its faults, it was at least not hypothetical and not imperialistic. These attracted me, as also the tremendous changes taking place in Russia.”03 After the Brussels Congress, Jawaharlal Nehru visited U.S.S.R. alongwith his father, Motilal Nehru and sister Krishna Nehru. Motilal Nehru “found it hard to understand the new Russia and the collective idea of the Soviets.”04 But Jawaharlal was greatly impressed by the tremendous changes taking place over there, Nehru has recalled: “My outlook was wider, and nationalism by itself seemed to me definitely a narrow and insufficient creed. Political freedom, independence, were no doubt essential, but they were steps only in the right direction; without social freedom and a socialistic structure of society and the state, neither the country nor the individual could develop much. In Soviet Russia, despite certain unpleasant aspects, attracted me greatly and seemed to hold forth a message of hope to the world.”05 This visit of the Soviet land left a profound impression on Nehru’s mind. Socialism was his new creed now, and the Soviet Union was seen as the land where such a creed flourished, despite many drawbacks.

“I must confess” he wrote, that the impressions I carried back with me from Moscow were very favourable and all my reading has confirmed these impressions, although there is much that I do not understand and much that I do not like or admire.”06 The admiration he developed for the Soviets was obvious in all his writings and speeches of the time. In his book he did assert that “no one can deny the fascination of this strange Eurasian country of the thrones of the mighty and upset the best-laid schemes of mice and men,” and he added: “If Russia finds a statutory solution of these (problems). Our work in India is made easier.”07 On his return to India, while addressing the All-Bengal students Conference at Calcutta on September 23, 1923, he once again reiterated, “I do believe in communism as an ideal of society,” and in the same speech declared: “And Russia, what of her? An outcaste like us from nations and much slandered and often erring. But in spite of her many mistakes she stands today as the greatest opponent of imperialism and her record with the nations of the East has been just and generous. Russia goes to the East as equal, not as a conqueror or a race-proud superior, Is it any wonder that she is welcomed?”08 Nehru was a man of strong likes and dislikes. 

As he was impressed by the new system of Russia, he took keen interest in spreading” the ideology of socialism especially among Congress workers and the intelligentsia, for these people, who were the backbone of the national movement, brought largely in terms of the narrowest nationalism.”09 While preaching the gospel of socialism, Nehru realized that “a vague confused socialism was already part of the atmosphere of India but Marxian theory was influencing them increasingly, and a few considered themselves as hundred percent Marxists. This tendency was strengthened in India, as in Europe and America, by development in the Soviet Union, and particularly the five year plan.”10 By this time the creed of the Congress was simply politicalthe demand for freedom. But socialistic influences compelled Nehru to think in terms of economics too. He realized that society would not improve unless justice was done with the “have-not” class. Thus, he declared forcefully in his presidential address at Lahore in 1929: “The Congress, it is said, must hold the balance fairly between capital - labour and zamindar- tenant. But the balance has been and is terribly weighted on one side, and to maintain statuesque is to maintain injustice and exploitation. 

The only way to do right is to do away with the domination of any class over another.”11 Again in the same speech he stressed that: “Our economic programme must, therefore, be based on a human outlook and must not sacrifice man to money. If an industry cannot be run without starving its workers, then the industry must be closed down. If the workers on the land have not enough to eat, then the intermediaries who deprive them of their full share must go. The least that every worker in field or factory is entitled to is a minimum wage which will enable him to live in moderate comfort, and humane hours of labour which do not break his strength and spirit.”12 Nehru realized that the root cause of India’s poverty was the system introduced by the British imperialists. He knew that the whole setup of the British Government had been organized on the principle of exploitation. Thus, the pledge of Independence on 26th January 1930, which was drafted by Nehru, clearly denounced the British Government. It goes: “The British Government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually.”131n such a situation he perceived that: “India’s immediate goal can, therefore, only be considered in the terms of the ending of the exploitation of her people. Politically it must mean independence and the severance of the British connection, which means imperialist domination must go. 

It meant the ending of all special class privileges and vested interests. The whole world is struggling to this end; India can do no less, and in this way the Indian struggle for freedom lines up with the world struggle.”14 The nature of Nehru’s socialism has been a great riddle. The reasons are obvious. First of all, Nehru did not belong to any distinct school of socialist thought. His ideas were fusion of several schools of thought of Western and Eastern traditions. Secondly, he wanted to introduce socialism in accordance with the traditions and necessities of India. Thus, in a sense, Nehru’s socialism became a compromise between Marxism and Gandhism, between Leninism and liberalism, between proletarian socialism and nationalistic bourgeoism, between highly advanced industrialism and rural cottage industrialism, between violent revolution and non-violent revolution. It was on this ground that Nehru’s socialism has been condemned as “compromise” and “confusion”.15 To yet others, because of this type of socialism, Nehru was “out of place everywhere, at home nowhere.”16 On the other hand, Nehru has been applauded as “the harbinger of the socialist trend in Indian national movement,”17 and “the white hope of world socialism”.

18 “There can be no doubt, however,” maintains Dr. V.P. Varma, “that Nehru has the dominant place in putting socialism as a concrete social and economic objective before the Congress and the country.”19 As Nehru’s socialism has been condemned and applauded alike, it is essential to judge his concepts on marxism and communists, socialism and socialists, Gandhism and Gandhians, and finally Congress-ideology and Congressites. It is only in this way that Nehru’s socialism will receive fair deal from us.