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An Indian Politician Debates the Limitations of Communism

Writing from a British prison in 1941, Jawaharlal Nehru, the future post-Independence prime minister of India, attempts to explain his political outlook. In these excerpts, Nehru gives particular vent to his thoughts on Communism and the Soviet Union. Nehru's views on Soviet Russia typify those of many post-colonial leaders, who admired the Soviets' command economy but were wary of domination by either the Soviet Union or the West. As India's first Prime Minister after independence, Nehru attempted to define such a "third path" for his country, adopting elements of socialism but avoiding direct alignment with either the U.S. or U.S.S.R.

I had long been drawn to socialism and communism, and Russia had appealed to me. Much in Soviet Russia I dislike—the ruthless suppression of all contrary opinion, the wholesale regimentation, the unnecessary violence (as I thought) in carrying out various policies. But there was no lack of violence and suppression in the capitalist world, and I realized more and more how the very basis and foundation of our acquisitive society and property was violence. Without violence it would not continue for many days. A measure of political liberty meant little indeed when the fear of starvation was always compelling the vast majority of people everywhere to submit to the will of the few, to the greater glory and advantage of the latter. 

. . . With all her blunders, Soviet Russia had triumphed over enormous difficulties and taken great strides toward this new order. While the rest of the world was in the grip of the depression and going backward in some ways, in the Soviet country a great new world was being built up before our eyes. Russia, following the great Lenin, looked into the future and thought only of what was to be, while other countries lay numbed under the dead hand of the past and spent their energy in preserving the useless relics of a bygone age. . . . [T]he presence and example of the Soviets was a bright and heartening phenomenon in a dark and dismal world. . . . 

It seemed clear to me that nationalism would remain the outstanding urge, till some measure of political freedom was attained. Because of this the Congress had been, and was still (apart from certain labor circles), the most advanced organization in India, as it was far the most powerful. During the past thirteen years, under Gandhi’s leadership, it has produced a wonderful awakening of the masses, and, in spite of its vague bourgeois ideology, it had served a revolutionary purpose. It had not exhausted its utility yet and was not likely to do so till the nationalist urge gave place to a social one. . . . 

[I]t is absurd to say that the leaders [of the Indian movement] betray the masses because they do not try to upset the land system or the capitalist system. They never claimed to do so. Some people in the Congress, and they are a growing number, want to change the land system and the capitalist system, but they cannot speak in the name of the Congress. . . . 

I write this sitting in a British prison. . . . I dislike British imperialism, and I resent its imposition on India; I dislike the capitalist system; I dislike exceedingly and resent the way India is exploited by the ruling classes of Britain. But I do not hold England or the English people as a whole responsible for this. . . .

Source | Jawaharlal Nehru, Toward Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru (1941), excerpted in Michael H. Hunt, The World Transformed: 1945 to the Present (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004), 121-122.
Creator | Jawaharal Nehru
Item Type | Biography/Autobiography
Cite This document | Jawaharal Nehru, “An Indian Politician Debates the Limitations of Communism,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed July 18, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1574.

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