THE late Mr. Walter Leaf published more than one attractive and convincing volume devoted to proving that the siege of Troy by the Hellenes was directly due to trade rivalries, and there has been a school of historians during the last half-century or more which has interpreted not only recent history but almost every war in the world from the fall of Nineveh to the fall of Constantinople as economic phenomena. It would be strange if, viewed from such a standpoint, present political conditions in India could not be made to explain themselves as the outcome of economic discontent and maladjustment.

Many explanations are at hand to suggest a close association between post-war unrest in India and economic conditions. Slowly but remorselessly the west is penetrating deeper and deeper into India. The movie and the motor-car are gradually if almost imperceptibly changing Indian village life, and broadcasting by radio is bound to come soon and prove a powerful solvent. Hundreds of thousands of Indian peasants have returned to their villages up and down Hindustan and especially in the Punjab from war service with the army outside India, and have brought back with them incredible memories and vivid stories of life and manners in other countries. Their minds and desires, and those of their fellows, have been stirred by pictures of unbelievably well-tilled fields and well-filled stomachs in other lands. All this is making for unrest. Or at least it is hard for a westerner to believe that it is not. Again, there are all the fruits of the educational history of India under British rule. Only very recently have primary education and the education of girls begun to receive adequate attention, and the difficulties of finding teachers are enormous. The provision for secondary and university education is still out of proportion to what is being done and what can be done for primary schools. Year by year tens of thousands of young men are turned loose on to the market with matriculation qualifications or university degrees, often, indeed, in possession of the barest smattering of book learning, but in very many cases with real capacity and with sufficient preliminary instruction to fit them to take a useful part in industrial and commercial life. All of them compete for a very limited number of places in government service, or for private employment in the comparatively few cities of India. Their education has unfitted them for the agricultural pursuits which their fathers have followed for centuries; and they are certain to be married -- probably were already married long before they went to the university -- to Indian women who have been remorselessly shielded from contact with western ideas, and in most cases excluded altogether from any opportunity for education of any kind. The unrest which has been endemic in Bengal for the last three decades is undoubtedly to some extent an economic phenomenon, and this economic background is responsible for some of the bitterness which characterizes political unrest not only in Bengal but in India generally. For political unrest in India is largely middle-class in character. The unemployed Bhadralog, the middle-class youths of Bengal who have had some opportunity for education on western lines and can find no outlet for their energies in the economic life of their country, are a direct and potent cause in creating much political unrest. They crowd into the law-courts, but even the appetite for litigation in India is insufficient to provide a livelihood for the enormous crowd of budding lawyers.

Nevertheless it is difficult to be convinced that Indian unrest is in general economic in origin. First of all, what is really meant by unrest in India? During the last ten years it is possible to single out at least three manifestations of different kinds which merit the name of unrest. There is the non-coöperation movement, associated with the Khilafatist and Akhali Sikh agitations of the years 1919 to 1924. There is the Bengal revolutionary conspiracy movement, with ramifications in the United Provinces and elsewhere, covering much the same period. The so-called Bengal Ordinance, which marks the end of the peak period of this movement, was promulgated in 1924. Thirdly, there is the existing communist trouble, which began to assume its present proportions about eighteen months ago. All these are quite distinct types of unrest, springing from different causes and pursuing different objects.

Non-coöperation was Gandhi's answer to the events in the Punjab of 1919. It is true that it was the fruit of contact between two conflicting civilizations, and in Gandhi's mind, if not in those of most of his supporters, the ideal in view was the ideal of "Erewhon," the abolition of all machines and all western progress and a return to primitive village conditions. The movement attained its truest contact with economics in its call for the reestablishment of village handicrafts and industry which were and are being submerged by machine-made products, not only imported, but manufactured in the mills of Bombay, Anmedabad and other Indian cities. Nevertheless, the non-coöperation movement was definitely a racial and political movement of middle-class origin, owing some of its importance to the chance which associated it with the Khilafatist movement and the temporary coalescence of Hindu and Moslem anti-British feeling. It was not Gandhi's economics but his asceticism which caught the fancy of the masses, and his supposed invulnerability. His power over them disappeared in a moment with his arrest and imprisonment. Non-coöperation was not in any true sense an economic phenomenon.

The Khilafatist agitation was started as a purely political movement by professional agitators such as the Ali brothers, but it drew its strength solely from the slogan of "Religion in Danger." The Moslems of India were told that the British were aiming at the ruin of Turkey as a preliminary to the total destruction of Islam, and for a brief moment the Hindu-Moslem feud was subordinated in the mind of the Moslems to their dream of again establishing a Moslem Raj in India. As the fearful episodes of the Moplah outbreak showed, there was no real intention in the Moslem mind of accepting their Hindu allies as anything more than temporary equals. The movement had no economic significance.

The Akhali Sikh movement began as a genuinely religious movement among the Sikh peasantry to reform the management of the Sikh temples, but was quickly seized upon by urban political agitators and turned into an anti-British movement. There were possibly some economic factors which entered into the Akhali agitation and increased its momentum, such as the ill-adjustment between agricultural and industrial prices in the years immediately following the war, the recurrence of bad seasons and the general rise in the cost of living in India. Moreover it had its roots back in pre-war history, and was not unconnected with the story of the Sikhs in California, and the refusal of the United States and Canada to admit them as settlers and allow them a share in the material progress of the New World. But the movement itself was definitely religious in origin and political in direction, and not inspired by economic motives.

The origins of the Bengal revolutionary movement are somewhat more difficult to trace and define. It was to a large extent a revival of the pre-war agitation which had reached its period of maximum violence during the campaign against the partition of Bengal, announced during the late Lord Curzon's Vice-Royalty and eventually rescinded in 1912, simultaneously with the removal of the capital of India from Calcutta to Delhi. The object of the Bengal revolutionary movement was the expulsion of the British from India, and the replacement of the British Raj by a Hindu Raj, presumably in the main a government composed of Bengal Bhadralog. The movement appealed to the idealism of the young Bengali, and to the inspiration of the Nationalist ideal with its cry of "Bande Mataram" ("Hail, Mother"), a purely western ideal which nevertheless evoked a sincere response from the western-educated youth of Bengal. Unquestionably, however, the Bengal revolutionary movement drew a large part of its strength from the desire of its participants for a government of their own which would give them all the good jobs and means of patronage for their relatives and friends. Curiously enough, the political bias of the movement came rather from the United Provinces, as a reflex result of the extension into that quarter of an agitation which was primarily economic in origin. It is the unemployed propertyless Bengali youth who makes the Bengal revolutionary movement possible. It was not a movement which had its roots in the mass of the population. Indeed, it derived a large part of its funds from the proceeds of dacoities committed upon the houses of wealthy villagers, post offices, and so on, thus making itself an intolerable nuisance to the general public. There would be no impulse to revolution in Bengal if jobs in government service, or other suitable occupations other than agriculture, were freely available to Bengali matriculates. To this extent, therefore, it may be said that the Bengal revolutionary movement depended on economic factors, but they are factors applying only to a small and specialized class in Bengal, and not to the great mass of the population in India or even in the Presidency of Bengal.

Communism is an importation from outside India, and as a doctrine or theory of life is completely unintelligible to Indian thought. It contains, however, one feature, its cult of hatred against Britain as the arch-enemy of Bolshevism and the protagonist of the almost mystically conceived satanic bourgeoisie, which has made it possible for some of the extreme leaders of the spirit of revolt against the west to regard communism as an ally, in spite of themselves and of their utter aversion for all that it implies except this one feature. Moscow has not been slow to see the possibilities of advancing her own aims by playing upon the anti-European feelings of Asia as a whole. In China she seemed at first to have achieved a measure of success, and in so far as her object was to sow confusion and thereby damage the trading interests of the rest of the world, she did secure results. But when, after a previous failure in Java, Moscow found China turning upon Bolshevism and rending it, she not unnaturally advanced upon India with renewed hope and remarkable energy in organization; and for the moment she undoubtedly is having some success. There are political extremists in Hindu India who are ready to convince themselves that it is safe to encourage communism as one among other means for bringing about a Brahman Swaraj government. Their support is purely political in motive, and their whole conception of life with its rigid social system and its tyrannous attitude to the non-Brahman and the depressed classes makes it certain that they would be as swift to repudiate Bolshevism as China was, though they might not be so successful in repressing it if by any chance they reached the stage of dispensing with it as a weapon against the British Raj. Even as things are, the large majority of the Swarajists, themselves a small minority among the intelligentsia of India, have refused to toy with communism.

Yet communism has without question made considerable strides among the urban proletariat in India, and for the reason that the mass of Indian industrial labor is fertile ground for the communist seed to thrive in, owing to the miserable pay and standard of living among the Indian landless workers. The industrial workers are at present an entirely unnatural excrescence on Indian soil. Of the 318,000,000 people in India and Burma at the census of 1921, less than eight and a quarter million lived in cities with a population of 100,000 and upwards, of which there were only 35. India is still so overwhelmingly agricultural as to make it almost impossible for a western mind to comprehend what its economic conditions are. The urban workers, in Bombay for example, are almost exclusively composed of villagers recruited from upcountry, who drift back to their villages in vast numbers as soon as a strike takes place. They are unbelievably inefficient in their labor, and all but immune against any appeal based on the basic principles of western civilization, the appeal to enlightened self-interest, the belief that given reasonable opportunity to better himself and his conditions a man will willingly work harder and make an effort to improve his own efficiency.

Much has been done in the last three decades with a view to improving the conditions of the industrial workers. The jute mills in Calcutta very wisely used some of their exceptional earnings during the war for expenditure on better housing, better sanitation and medical care and better factory conditions for the operatives. The Tata Iron and Steel Works at Jamshedpar have at times strained their financial resources in accepting responsibility for the erection of dwellings for their employees and for the maintenance of the whole of the public utility resources of the municipality. The position has admittedly been more difficult at Bombay, where owing to inexperience the cotton mill owners and managers, in the main Indians, dissipated an undue proportion of their wartime profits in big dividends. Yet few employers of labor in India fail to recognize that their labor is not cheap, in spite of the low wages paid. The difficulty is that experience has proved that increased money wages, so far from increasing efficiency, lead at once to increased absenteeism. The wage-earner does not want to become a more efficient urban industrial worker. His one ambition is to become the owner of a small plot of land, from the produce of which he can supply himself and his family with the minimum quantity of food necessary for subsistence with the maximum amount of leisure and idleness for himself. Any material change in this attitude and in these conditions can come only very gradually. There is no lack of eagerness among the officials, European and Indian, and among the Indian politicians, to find a solution, and increasing attention and expenditure are being devoted to what are rather pathetically styled the "nation-building services," the medical and sanitary services, primary education, education for girls, services aiming at the improvement of agricultural methods and credit. But it is and must be a long and slow process. Some of the attempted remedies, such as the extension of industrial productivity, urgently necessary as it is in India to have a better balanced economy, if openings are to be found for skilled Indian engineers and in general for the unemployed Bhadralog, not only of Bengal but of India as a whole, tend to increase the problem by increasing the number of the industrial workers. It is not surprising that clever emissaries of Bolshevism should find the urban industrial workers of India ready to listen to incitements to destroy their employers and the whole system of capitalist production, and find a swift remedy for their sufferings in universal chaos.

The communist movement, then, whatever its original source, is a form of unrest which is clearly economic. Thus far, however, it has not extended much beyond the urban proletariat, but it is capable of appealing to the Indian peasant. If the strong hand of the British were withdrawn, the Indian ryot would murder his landlord as readily as the Russian peasant. It is significant that hitherto its leaders are being drawn not from among the Indian peoples but mainly from Britain. Moreover, it repels rather than attracts the majority even of the extreme elements among the political opposition to the present government of India. Its danger lies in the appeal which it seems to be making to the leaders of the "Youth Movement" in India, with idealists at its head such as that very remarkable leader, Jewahurilal Nehru, who is genuinely in sympathy with the downtrodden masses of India and quite impervious to argument based on the necessity of proceeding cautiously towards a goal not immediately realizable.

So far only incidental mention has been made of the main body of political agitation in India, which is probably what most people have in mind when they speak of Indian unrest. When Mr. Edwin Montagu was advocating the big constitutional reforms which eventually took shape in the Government of India Act of 1919, he publicly expressed the hope and desire by means of constitutional reforms to shake the Indian peasant out of his pathetic contentment with his lot. It was clearly his aim by giving constitutional powers to the Indian peoples in the form of Legislative Councils in the provinces and attached to the Central Government, with elected majorities and the beginning of responsibility, to create an economic basis for the political unrest which already existed and which was rightly expected to be increased by the reforms which he was inaugurating. It is one of the not very numerous evidences of successful results thus far attained after some years' experience of the reforms that the professional politicians have everywhere given lip-service to the demand for improved economic conditions and have in many cases sincerely advocated and worked for them. In the Indian States where there has been least economic progress there is no political unrest. Further, in various instances, notably in the work done for village uplift by Mr. F. L. Brayne in Gurgaon, proof has been forthcoming that, under sympathetic stimulus and advice, the Indian peasant will welcome efforts to improve his lot and will himself take a part in the necessary campaign, even to the extent of inviting extra taxation provided it is spent on local services whose beneficial effect he can see and appreciate.

In general, however, it has to be confessed that the professional politicians of India are largely innocent of genuine economic motives. They are in the main drawn from the urbanized middle classes, a large proportion of them being lawyers who have vainly struggled for employment in the overcrowded ranks of their profession. Most of them have far less knowledge of the economic conditions of the Indian masses than the District Officers, Indian and European, whose ceaseless work for the people of their District is one of the most admirable features of government in India, and is in constant danger of being hampered by the efforts which are being made under the Reforms to further self-government and representative institutions. The British District Officer and the army officer, who is in close contact with the family life of his sepoys, know far more of the mind of the masses of India than either the Indian politician or the average official, British or Indian, in the secretariats at headquarters. Inevitably, also, the politicians are to a large extent Indians who have been influenced by western thought and knowledge of the English language, and their vision of the future of India in too many cases ignores the 300,000,000 out of the 318,000,000 people in India who are outside the intelligentsia, who for the most part are unconscious of the existence of Legislative Councils and Assemblies, and who are aware of the Reforms only to the extent of uneasy wonder whether the Pax Britannica may not shortly end with the withdrawal of the British from India and the return of the era of disorder and insecurity which the age-old philosophy of the Indian masses regards as normal.

The Swarajist or Congress Party is in reality the right wing of the non-coöperation movement. It is the party of direct action as against Gandhi's policy of non-resisting inaction, a clear proof that it is under the influence of western, non-Indian ideas. It broke away from Gandhi's leadership at the end of 1922, with the professed object of destroying the reforms, not by passive non-coöperation, but by taking a place within the new Legislative Councils and undermining them from within. Its hope was that the British would thereby be induced or compelled to concede the larger demand for full self-government. This party is at bottom entirely opposed to Mr. Gandhi's ideal and remains in nominal accord with him only by a series of meaningless compromises. Westernized in education, though not perhaps in outlook, and divorced from the life of the masses, its aim is to secure the transfer of power and patronage from the present British Raj to a Raj controlled by the Brahmins and other caste Hindus, but supported by the British army and the troops drawn mainly from the martial peoples of Northern India. Gandhi's ideal was quite different -- the rejection of the west and a return to an idealized mediæval village life. There is nothing economic in the political unrest associated with the Swarajist opposition. The root cause is the clash of an alien western civilization with the Hindu social system, and the predominating motive is racial antagonism. It has been well said that of all the cultures with which Hindu civilization has been brought in contact, the western is the first which it has been unable to assimilate, and it is now suffering from an acute attack of indigestion.

The Swarajist Party is repudiated by all but a small fraction of the Moslems of India. Here comes in another and a secular cause of Indian unrest, the age-old feud between Hindu and Moslem, which dominates the whole political field. It has perhaps been intensified by the Reforms. The Moslem has been slow to take advantage of the opportunities for western education. With the prospect appearing on the horizon of a transfer of power to elected Indian representatives, he has waked up to the risk he runs of becoming the servant of a Hindu Raj, the inevitable sequel to the introduction of the idea of majority rule. The prospect of subjection to his former servants is unthinkable to the Moslem who regards himself as the descendant and heir of the Moguls and other Moslem overlords of India, and dreams always of the day when his glory will return. Economic causes are totally absent from this form of political unrest.

The conclusion must be that present day unrest in India is in the main the outcome of causes which have nothing to do with economic conditions. Racial antagonisms within India (India is a sub-continent far less homogeneous than Europe, with nothing but what Britain has created to make it a unity), the clash between east and west, the secular struggle of Hinduism as a social system to maintain itself against the threat of dissolution, religious hatreds bitter to a degree unknown in the west even at the height of the struggle between Roman Catholic and Protestant -- these are the mainsprings of Indian unrest. It is an article of faith with the ordinary Indian politician that India's poverty is due to western rapacity and the draining of wealth away from India. This belief is exactly contrary to the real truth. British capital and energy have added enormously to India's material wealth. Every penny of India's taxation is spent for India's benefit. But India is and will remain poor as long as she sets her face against all that makes for economic well-being. So far from the political unrest being due to economic causes, it will be a hopeful sign of real advance if and when it can truly be said that economic discontent has begun to make a serious contribution to the factors creating unrest in India.

This conclusion may seem a gloomy one for those who work and hope for the future well-being of India. The Hindu today, while resenting the acknowledged superior power of the west and anxious to wrest its secret from it, rejects the west and all that it offers in the way of material progress, which he declines to call progress. What was said of the urban industrial worker is to a large extent true of the whole of Hindu India. The westerner cannot rid himself of a fundamental misconception when he attempts to understand Indian problems. He knows that Sir William Bragg was right when he said that one simple cause has been continuously operative to create modern western civilization, "nothing more than the urgent wish of the individual to better his own condition." He knows that the motive of enlightened self-interest can be assumed and worked upon throughout the west. He cannot realize the almost complete absence of this motive in Hindu India. It is simply impossible to interpret political unrest in India in terms of economic striving after material well-being. The proverb about cutting off the nose to spite the face has no meaning there.

India is a land of curious contrasts. The vast majority of its peoples live so near to starvation that they can have scarcely a thought beyond the immediate problem of keeping alive. Yet few Indians will exert themselves beyond the point at which their minimum bodily needs receive satisfaction. At the other end of the scale, Hinduism has attained to heights of metaphysical thought not surpassed by any other civilization. Those of us who have come in contact with the higher ranges of Hindu philosophy are often uneasily conscious that there may be something very much amiss in the average western sense of values and its concentration upon material comfort. Yet until the masses of India begin to be aware of the possibilities of a standard of life and comfort immeasurably higher than that based upon their present indigence and their semi-starved frames, the least self-confident westerner cannot refuse to believe that his art of life is superior to that of Hinduism. In this belief he must continue patiently in the laborious and generally thankless task of trying to give to India the foundations, through education and medical and sanitary services, of those western ideals of material progress which have raised his own standards of life to their present levels. In doing this he will not be without hope that a re-invigorated India will in due course help herself and the world to reach a higher and truer sense of values than he possesses today.

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  • SIR BASIL BLACKETT, Finance Member of the Executive Council of the Governor-General of India, 1922-28; now Chairman of Imperial and International Communications, Ltd., and a Director of the Bank of England
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