Bhagat Singh
Original publication: shahidbhagatsingh.org
Editing: Roderic Day

Our Opportunity (1931)

These are notes published in relation to Bhagat Singh’s death-row letter. [1] That letter should be read first, since it provides important context.

This RS edition of said notes is significantly edited, and somewhat censored content-wise. The headings and their location were all shuffled around, and one became the document title. Some specific instructions given by Singh were removed, some grammatical changes were made, and some insights from Appendix A and Appendix B were brought inline. I made these edits with the goal of maximizing readability. Please examine the linked original source if referencing this document. — R. D.


Contents

Gandhism and Terrorism

Indian freedom is not perhaps any longer a far distant dream; events are moving apace and it may become a reality sooner than we expect. British Imperialism is admittedly in a tight corner. Germany is about to topple down, France is tottering, even the United States is shaky. And their difficulty is our opportunity. Everything points to that long prophesized eventuality — the ultimate and inevitable breakdown of the capitalistic order of society. Diplomats may agree to save themselves and capitalistic conspiracy may yet keep the wolf of Revolution away from their doors. The British budget may be balanced, the moribund Deutschmark granted some hours of respite, and King Dollar may retain his crown; but the trade depression if continued — and continued it must be, we know the ranks of the unemployed are being multiplied daily as a result of the capitalistic race in production and competition — is bound to throw the capitalistic system out of gear in the months to come. The Revolution is, therefore, no longer a prophecy and prospect, but “practical politics,” for thoughtful planning and remorseless execution. Let there be no confusion of thought as to its aspect or as to its immediacy, its methods and its objective.

We should not have any illusion about the possibilities, failures and achievements of the Congress movement — which should be better stamped Gandhism, as it is today. It does not stand for freedom avowedly; it is in favour of “Partnership” — a strange interpretation of what “complete independence” signifies. Its method is novel, and but for the helplessness of the people Gandhism would gain no adherent for the Saint of Sabarmati. It has fulfilled and is fulfilling the role of an intermediate party of Liberal Radical combination, fighting shy of the reality of the situation, and controlled mostly by men with stakes in the country, who prize their stakes with bourgeois tenacity. It is bound to stagnate unless rescued from its own fate by an infusion of Revolutionary blood. It must be saved from its friends.

Let us be clear on this thorny question of terrorism. The cult of the bomb is old as 1905 and it is a sad comment on Revolutionary India that we have not yet realized its use and misuse. Terrorism is a confession that the Revolutionary mentality has not penetrated down into the masses. It is thus a confession of our failure. In the initial stages it had its use: it shook the torpor out of the body politic, enkindled the imagination of young intelligentsia, fired their spirit of self-sacrifice, and demonstrated before the world and before our enemies the truth and the strength of the movement. But by itself it is not enough. Its history is a history of failure in every land — in France, in Russia, in Balkan countries, in Germany, in Spain, everywhere. It bears the germ of defeat within itself.

The Imperialist knows that to rule 300 million he must sacrifice 30 of his men annually. The pleasure of ruling may be bombed out or pistoled down, but the practical gain from exploitation will make him stick to his post. Even were arms as readily available as we hoped for, and even were terrorism pushed with a thoroughness unknown anywhere else, it can at most force the Imperialist power to come to terms with the party. Such terms might amount to a little more or less, but must fall short of our objective — complete independence. Terrorism thus hopes to wring out what Gandhism bids fair to attain — a compromise and an instalment of reforms, a replacement of a white rule at Delhi by a brown rule. It is aloof from the life of the masses, and once installed on the throne it runs the risk of being petrified into a tyranny.

The Irish parallel, I have to warn, does not apply in our case. It was not sporadic terroristic activities Ireland witnessed; it was a nation-wide uprising, the rank and file were bound by an intimate knowledge and sympathy with the gunmen. Arms they could have very easily, and the American–Irish poured out their money. Topography favoured such warfare, and Ireland after all had to be satisfied with an unaccomplished movement. It has lessened the bonds but not released the Irish proletariat from the shackles of the capitalist, native and foreign. Ireland is a lesson to India and a warning — a warning of how nationalistic idealism devoid of Revolutionary social basis, although with all other circumstances in its favour, may be (has?) lost itself in the shoals of a compromise with Imperialism. Should India still imitate Ireland if she could?

In a sense Gandhism, with its counter–revolutionary creed of quietism, makes a nearer approach to the Revolutionary idea, for it counts on mass action — though not for the masses alone. They have paved the way for proletarian revolution by trying to harness them, however crudely and selfishly, to its political programme. The Revolutionary must give to the angle of non-violence its due.

The devil of terrorism needs, however, no compliments. The terrorist has done much, taught us much, and has his use still, provided we do not make a confusion of our aims and means. We want to assess its proper value from the standpoint of the proletarian Revolution. At desperate moments we can make of terrorist outrages, but it is none the less fireworks, and should be reserved for a chosen few. They may divert the attention of the party and the masses from militant mass action to sensational stirring, and they may supply the enemy with cause for striking at the root of the whole party. In either case they do not advance the cause.

Let not the revolutionary be lashed round and round the vicious circle of aimless outrages and individual self-immolation. The inspiring ideal for all kinds of workers should not be that of dying for the cause but of living for the cause, and living usefully and worthily.

Secret military organization is, however, not an anathema. Indeed, it is the front line, “the firing line” of the Revolutionary party; it must be linked with the “base” formed by a mobile and militant mass party.

Revolution

What we mean by Revolution is quite plain. In this century it can mean only one thing — the capture of political power by the masses for the masses. It is in fact the Revolution. Other risings attempt a mere change of your lordships, trying to perpetuate the rotting capitalistic order. No amount of profession of sympathy for the people and the popular cause can ultimately hoodwink the masses about the true nature and portent of such a superficial replacement. In India, too, we want nothing less than the regime of the Indian proletariat in the place of the Indian Imperialists and their native allies who are barricaded behind the same economic system of exploitation. We can suffer no black evil to replace the white evil. The evils would do any such thing due to their community of interest.

The proletarian Revolution is the only weapon India has to dislodge the Imperialist. Nothing else can attain this object. Nationalists of all shades are agreed on the objective — Independence from the Imperialists. They must realise rebelliousness of the masses is the motive force behind their agitation, and militant mass action alone can push it to success. Having no easy recourse to it, they always delude themselves with the vision of what they consider a temporary but quick and effective remedy, i.e., overthrowing the foreign rule by an armed opposition of a few hundreds of determined idealist nationalists and then reconstructing the State on socialistic lines.

They should see into the reality of the situation: arms are not in plenty, and in the modern world the insurrection of an untrained body isolated from the militant masses stands no chance of success. The nationalists to be effective must harness the nation into action, into revolt. And the nation are not the loud-speakers of the Congress — it is the peasants and the labourers who formed more than 95 per cent of India. The nation will stir itself to action only on assurance of nationalisation, i.e., freedom from slavery of Imperialist-capitalists.

What we need to keep in mind is that no revolution but the proletarian revolution can succeed, or is to be desired.

The Programme and the Revolutionary Party

The need of the hour is therefore for a clear and honest programme for the revolution, and determined action for the realization of said programme.

In 1917, before the October Revolution had taken off, Lenin, still in hiding in Moscow, wrote that for a successful revolution three conditions are essential:

  1. A political-economic situation,
  2. a rebellious mass mind, and
  3. a party of revolutionaries, trained and determined to lead the masses when the hour of trial arrives. [2]

The first condition has been more than fulfilled in India; the second and third yet await finality and completeness. To mobilise masses is the work before all workers of freedom, and the programme should be designed with that end in mind. The following is an outline.

The foremost duty before workers is to mobilise the masses for militant mass action. We need not play on his blind prejudices, sentiment, piety, or passive idealism. Our promises to him are not mere sops or half a loaf. They are complete and concrete, and we can be with him sincere and plain, and should never create in his mind any miasma of prejudices. The revolution is for him, to name only the prominent headings:

  1. Abolition of Landlordism
  2. Liquidation of the peasants’ indebtedness
  3. Nationalization of land by the Revolutionary State with a view towards improved and collective farming
  4. Guarantee of housing security
  5. Abolition of all charges on the peasantry except a minimal unitary land tax
  6. Nationalization of industries and industrialization of the country
  7. Universal education
  8. Reduction of the hours of work to the minimum necessary

The masses are bound to respond to such a programme — we have only to reach them.

The duties of the General Committee are many. A country-wide youth league chain has be linked together for the purpose of recruitment. It shall closely co-operate with schools, colleges, gymnasiums, clubs, libraries, study circles, welfare associations, and even ashrams. For propaganda, the press is the best medium, but in rural areas the town platform is to be utilized. Nothing is so helpful for workers and the masses as cheap, plainly written periodicals, whether books or leaflets. A warning is to be given against the present supply — the stuff we consume. Saying what one has to say and making others hear him is an art, and not an easy one. Recruiting from the military should be assigned to experienced workers. As a general policy, bureaucratic authority should be substituted by that of the masses. They must prepare for their eventual capture of political power.

Through no artificial barrier is recognized between men and women, for the sake of convenience and safety of the party there should be for the time being such a Women’s Committee entirely responsible for its own members. Women should also form the majority of the Finance Committee. On it rests the most difficult of all tasks and hence it should receive unbegrudging help.

The underground Action Committee will focus on matters of militance such as surveying and procurement. Its membership is bound to be not large but efficient. It should insist on a rigorous discipline.

Revolution is the creation of hard thinkers and hard workers. Unfortunately, the intellectual equipment of the Indian Revolutionaries is often neglected, which has made them lose sight of the essential goal of revolution, as well as of the proper bearing of their actions. A revolutionary must make of his studies a holy duty. An intensive study of politics, economic problems, of history and social tendencies, of current diplomatic relations, of the progressive sciences, and the science and art of modern warfare.

The party, it is clear, can in certain matters act openly and publicly. It should not be secret insofar as it can help it. This will disarm suspicion and will bestow on it prestige and power. The party will have to shoulder high responsibilities, so it will be convenient to divide it into certain committees for every area with special tasks allocated to each of them. The division should be flexible, and according to the needs of the hour. All sporadic actions or disintegrating factors are to be checked, but over centralisation is not feasible, and hence better not be attempted yet.

It might be concluded from the programme outlined that there is no shortcut to Revolution or freedom. It cannot “dawn on us one fine morning” — that would, were it possible, be a sad day. Without the base work, without the militant masses and the party ready in every way, it would be a failure. So we have to stir ourselves. And we have to remember all the time that the capitalistic order is drifting ahead for a disaster — the catastrophe will come off perhaps, in course of two or three years. And if we still dissipate our energies or do not mobilize the revolutionary forces, the crisis will come and find us wanting. Let us be warned and accept the two and three year’s plan of Revolution.


  1. Bhagat Singh, 1931. Letter To Young Political Workers. [web] 

  2. V. I. Lenin, 1920. “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder. [web]