The rise and growth of leftism in the Congress movement


The 1930s witnessed the rapid growth of socialist ideas within and outside the Congress.

In 1929 there was a great economic slump or depression in the United States which gradually spread to the rest of the world.

Everywhere in the capitalist countries there was a sleep decline in production and foreign trade, resulting in economic distress and large scale unemployment. At one time, the number of unemployed was 3 million in Britain, 6 million in Germany, and 12 million in the United States.


On the other hand the economic situation in the Soviet Union was just the opposite. Not only was there no slump, but the years between 1929 and 1936 witness the successful completion of the first two Five-Year Plans which pushed up the Soviet industrial production by more than four times.

The world depression, thus, brought the capitalist system into disrepute and drew attention, towards Marxism, Socialism, and economic planning. Consequently, socialist ideas began to attract more and more people, especially the young. The workers and the peasants.

From its early days, the national movement had adopted a pro-poor orientation. This orientation was immensely strengthened with the impact of the Russian Revolution of 1917, the coming of Gandhiji on the political stage and the growth of powerful left- wing groups during the 1920s and 1930s.

It was Jawaharlal Nerhu who played the most important part in the popularising the vision of a socialist India both within the national movement and in the Congress the left-wing tendency found reflection in the election of jawaharlal Nehru as president for 1929, 1936 and 1937 and of Subhas Chandra Bose for 1938 and 1939. Nehru argued that political freedom must mean the economic emancipation of the masses, especially of the toiling peasants from feudal exploitation.


In his presidential address to the Lucknow Congress in 1936, Nehru urged the Congress to accept socialism as its goal and to bring itself closer to the peasantry and the working class. This was also he felt the best way of weaning away the Muslim masses from the influences of their reactionary communal leaders.

The growth of the radical forces in the country was soon reflected in the programme and policies of the Congress. A major point of departure was the resolution on Fundamental Rights and Economic Policy passed by the Karachi Session of the Congress on the urging of Jawaharlal Nehru.

The resolution declared: ‘In order to end the exploitation of the masses, political freedom must include real economic freedom of the starving millions’. The resolution guaranteed the basic civil rights of the people equality before law irrespective of caste, creed on sex, elections on the basis of universal adult franchise, and free and compulsory primary education.

It promised substantial reduction internet and revenue, exemption from rent in case of uneconomic holdings and relief of agricultural indebtedness and control of money-lending; better conditions for workers including a living wage, limited hours of work and protection of women workers; the right to organise and form unions by workers and peasants; and state ownership or control of key industries, mines and means of transport.


Radicalism in the Congress was further reflected in the Faizpur Congress resolutions and the Election Manifesto of 1936 which promised radical transformation of the agrarian system, substantial reduction in rent and revenue, sealing down of rural debts and provision of cheap credit, abolition of feudal levies, security of tenure for tenants, a living wage for agricultural labourers and the right to form trade unions and peasant unions and the right to strike.

In 1945 the Congress Working Committee adopted a resolution recommending abolition of landlordism. During 1938, when Subhas Chandra Bose was its president, the Congress committed itself to economic planning and set up a National Planning Committee under the Chairmanship of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Nehru and other leftists and Gandhi also argued for the public sector in large-scale industries as a means of preventing concentration of wealth in a few hands. In fact, a major development of the 1930s was the increasing acceptance of radical economic policies by Gandhiji.

In 1933, he agreed with Nehru that ‘without a material revision of vested interests the condition of the masses can never be improved’. He also accepted the principle of land to the tiller. He declared in 1942 that the land belongs to those who will work on it and to no one else.’


Outside the Congress, the socialist tendency led to the growth of the Communist Party after 1935 under the leadership of P.C. Joshi and the foundation of the Congress Socialist Party in 1934 under the leadership of Acharya Narendra Dev and Jai Prakash Naryana.

In 1939, Subhas Chandra Bose had been re-elected president of the Congress even though Gandhiji had opposed him. But the opposition of Gandhiji and his supporters in the Congress Working Committee compelled Bose to resign from the president ship of the Congress in April 1939.

He and many of his left wing followers now founded the Forward Bloc. By 1939, within the Congress the left was able to command influence over the one-third votes on important issues. Moreover, socialism became the accepted creed of most of the politicized youth of Indian during the 1930s and 1940s.

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