From Marx to Gandhi: the political world of JP

The genesis of Jayaprakash (JP) Narayan’s passionate pursuit of freedom and a just and fair order can be traced to the political and philosophical spirit of his years of study in the United States (United States), starting at the University of California at Berkeley and later at the University of Wisconsin.

His immersion in the details of Marxist theory began with a reading of Das Capital and the Communist manifesto and a huge body of theoretical work by Marxists such as Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and Karl Kautsky. JP was a prominent Marxist voice on campus.

JP wore his Marxist revolutionary head on his sleeve when he returned to India in November 1929, but for a time got drawn into the maelstrom of the Gandhian freedom struggle. Shifting from theoretical Marxism to a vision of socialism which seemed, at least at first, to complement that of Jawaharlal Nehru, he attacked many blind spots in the Indian National Congress. At Nehru’s request, he took over the new labor research department and attempted to wean unions away from Congress.

The early years of the 1930s saw JP build a large underground movement to ensure the continued work of Congress following arrests of its leaders across the country. Its solidarity with workers’ and peasant organizations and popular movements laid the foundations for a strong socialist core within the Congress.

It was his arrest in 1932 that marked a turning point in JP’s political life. He was held in Nasik Central Prison, where a group of educated and progressive young congressmen who dreamed of a socialist revolution were also housed: Achyut Patwardhan, Minoo Masani, Asoka Mehta, NG Gorey, Charles Mascarenhas, CK Narayanswamy and ML Dantwala.

The doctrinal differences between them were resolved through debates and discussions. Their main objective was to radicalize Congress and keep it on the Marxist-Socialist path of social revolution. Their burning ideas, shared by other like-minded young leaders – including Narendra Deva, Yusuf Meherally, Purshottam Trikamdas, Ram Manohar Lohia, Sampurnanand, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Sri Prakasa, KB Menon and Ganga Sharan Sinha – led to the foundation of the Socialist Congress. Party (CSP) in 1934. JP, who played a leading role from the start, was the first secretary general of the CSP.

JP saw the CSP as the socialist Marxist vanguard of Congress which would play a revolutionary vanguard role. He was aware that in practice this would include both positional and maneuver warfare, perhaps requiring a more radical form of organization.

During the early years of the CSP, JP remained a sharp critic of Mahatma Gandhi. He rejected Gandhi’s tutelage theory and described the Gandhian approach as a compound of shy economic analysis, good intention, and ineffective moralization. He even crossed swords with his fiery Gandhian wife, Prabhavati, for the role of khadi and charkha by resuscitating the villages of India and suppressing the crushing misery of the masses.

Radicalized by his long stays in prison, JP’s political thought took a dramatic turn in 1942 when he turned to a sharper version of Marxism-Leninism and built an underground network of armed revolutionaries called Azad Dasta. His brief flirtation with the guerrilla insurgency ended in his arrest, but he continued to urge his supporters to prepare for the latest offensive – the struggle for freedom, national unity and bread, organized in strengthening peasant and worker unions, volunteer corps, student and youth organizations. , weavers’ cooperatives and other grassroots organizations.

In 1944-1945, JP began to examine Marxism through the prism of the historical developments of the 20th century. The stories of trials and purges in Russia affected him deeply. He began to view the state as a coercive instrument that could be perverted to produce dystopian ends. His own experience with the Indian Communists, who seemed to work under the dictate of the Comintern, filled him with loathing. He considered them to be the fifth chroniclers of Russia.

In the interregnum between Marx and Gandhi came JP’s brief engagement with the mutations of socialist thought. He began to use the term democratic socialism to describe his ideological stance, distancing himself from the mechanical and positivist elements of Marxism. The Socialists split from Congress in March 1948. Even as JP bitterly criticized Nehru for reneging on many of his socialist promises, the Socialist Party, in historic disarray and in free fall, split into the Socialist Party of Praja ( PSP) and Socialist Party of Samyukta. Party (SSP).

In the 1950s, JP explicitly turned to the use of Gandhism to enrich socialism. Gandhi’s critique of the modern state became central in the evolution of JP’s political thought, and his revolutionary practice was fully rooted in participatory popular democracy and the Gandhian economy. He eventually found his starting point in the Gandhian Bhoodan-Gramdan movement and, in a dramatic moment, at a Sarvodaya meeting in Bodh Gaya in April 1954, renounced the politics of power altogether.

The revolutionary cores of the term Total Revolution, which was very much in vogue during JP’s movement from 1974 to 1975, can be found in Gandhian Satyagraha, the nonviolent mass action program that focused on personal and social ethics and values ​​of life as much as economic. , political and social institutions and processes.

Towards the end of his life, all that remained of his dream of revolution was broken shards and the death of promises.

Former civil servant Sujata Prasad is the co-author of The Dream of Revolution: A Biography of Jayaprakash Narayan published by Penguin Random House India. The book was co-authored by his father, the late Bimal Prasad, scholar, diplomat and one of JP’s closest collaborators.

Opinions expressed are personal

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