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Abstract

The socialist left played an important role in shaping Indian politics in the twentieth century, foremost as a major voice of anti-imperialism in the colonial era, and then as the main parliamentary opposition to the National Congress in the decades after decolonization. Yet socialism is believed to have arrived late to India. It is commonplace to date the origins of socialist thought in India after 1917, when the success of the Bolsheviks inspired Indian anti-imperialists to look to the new Soviet republic as their lodestar in the East. The objective of this dissertation is to chart the depth of the conversation between Indian radicals and international socialists in the era before World War I to reconstruct the prehistory of Indian socialism. As early as 1905, Indian radicals recognized British socialists as their natural allies and identified the fate of a future independent India with the success of a democratic-socialist revolution in England. In a sense, socialism was the specter weighing on Indian radicals from an early date. Indian radicals took their case before the Socialist International in 1904 and 1907, but in the decades before the Great War, the International was reluctant to consider colonialism separately from the issue of capitalism. Rebuffed by the International, Indian radicals looked primarily to the Liberal Party, not to socialists or Labour, in the hope that the established Liberals were better situated to benefit the Indian cause. The dissertation maps the shift of the geographical center for Indian radicals from India and Britain to the other side of the Atlantic, with New York quickly giving way in importance to the West Coast of the US and Canada, where thousands of Indian migrants, primarily Sikh men from the Punjab, had newly settled by 1910. Through their experience of racism on the western slope and involvement with the Industrial Workers of the World and the Canadian Socialist Party, Indians on the West Coast were radicalized in an altogether different direction politically than their counterparts in India and Britain. The Indians on the Pacific Coast eventually formed the Ghadar party (the party of “revolt” or “revolution”), headquartered in California, which undertook an intrepid but ultimately vain attempt to overthrow British rule in India amidst the chaos of the First World War. Given the subsequent development of the anti-colonial struggle and the strife-ridden aftermath of decolonization on the subcontinent, it seems salient to remember the example of the Ghadarites, who, in spite of their impractical schemes, had reached the conclusion that, if there were echoes of freedom to be heard in India, this was foremost an indication that the clarion of freedom had sounded its call to arms globally. , ,Although the Ghadar radicals were, without a doubt, strongly invested in gaining independence from British rule, their imagination of the future of India was never limited to an assertion of its sovereignty as a nation-state. Relevant, then, is the fact that the Ghadar party had antipathy even for many of their contemporaries, even those motivated by anti-imperialist aims. The Ghadarites criticized the narrow autarkic concerns of the Indian National Congress, as one example, while also rejecting the sectarian outlook of the Khilafat Movement that sought to restore the Ottoman Caliphate. ,After the Great War, with their aspirations of an anarchistic revolution sobered, the Ghadar party ramified. The cascade of rivalrous nationalisms witnessed in the war had marked the defeat rather than the triumph of the Ghadarites. With hindsight, their schemes would appear to have been follies. A Ghadar veteran reflected after the war that hitherto Indians had looked upon Germany as their champion against British imperialism, but now the cry “Berlin to Baghdad” struck a sinister note. The editor of the Ghadar newspaper, Hardayal, partially retreated into a defense of the British Empire, while other party members subordinated themselves politically to mainstream nationalism. Another group continued to stake a claim to the mantle of the Ghadar party and reoriented it by projecting the Ghadarites into the orbit of international socialism. At least until the mid-1920s, the largest group of Indians to study socialism at the University of the Toilers of the East identified themselves as Ghadar communists, who had made the circuitous journey to the U.S.S.R. via the West Coast. A campaign for independence in a still-developing nation such as India, the Ghadarites believed, was destined to become politically isolated and ineffectual if it could not find its complement in the heart of the metropole. Meanwhile the Socialist International was set to reach the opposite conclusion in the mid-1920s by adopting “socialism in one country” as its official standard. It is this conundrum that forms the literal red-thread of this dissertation: Did the Indians come to socialism only when socialism itself turned nationalist? ,The central aim of this dissertation is to do more than retell the story of the Ghadar party. There are already a number of marvelous histories; rather, the objective is to use the shift within Ghadar party, from a form of anarchism to an embrace of Marxist socialism, as a vehicle to explore the complex relationship of Indian nationalism to the international Left in the era before the First World War. What made the switch from anarchism to socialism politically compelling to Indian revolutionaries? What kind of relationship, if any at all, did Indian radicals have to the international socialists before the Great War? Did the failure of the Ghadar of 1915 shape the conditions of possibility for such changes in outlook? Furthermore, in the final analysis, was their conversion to socialism more than a tactical move to achieve Indian independence?

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