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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 48, November 22, 2014

Nehru and Socialism

Saturday 22 November 2014

by Mohd. Yousuf Dar

Jawaharlal Nehru was born on November 14, 1889 at Allahabad. He was an upholder of some of the concrete political values. He believed in socialism, secularism, democracy and the modern values of positivism. The contribution of Jawaharlal Nehru is rightly acclaimed as the maker of modern India. Having faith in the Indian people, he sought to build a democratic polity and an economically modernised nation.

He was both a thinker as well as a political practitioner. He was influenced by the develop-ments of the 19th and 20th centuries. Though his was a life of comfort and luxury, his politics connected him to the masses. Nehru was one of the indomitable fighters of the freedom movement and headed the Congress under Gandhiji’s leadership along with a host of others. During the period of the national movement, Nehru suffered imprisonment many a time. He was the Congress President in 1929 when it adopted the historic resolution of Purna Swaraj and during the crucial years of 1946-47 he also headed the interim government. In 1947 he became the first Prime Minister of the independent country and occupied this position till his death in 1964.

Nehru’s interest in socialism can be traced to his Cambridge days when the Fabianism of George Bernard Shaw and Sidney Web attracted him. He was, during those days, attending the lectures of John Maynard Keynes and Bertrand Russell, which influenced his ideas. The fast-changing political, social and economic ideas taking place throughout the world sharpened his socialistic ideals. In 1926-27 Nehru visited Europe and was influenced by the teachings of Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin. In November 1927 he paid a visit to the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and was greatly impressed by the efforts of the Communists to eliminate poverty, disease, illiteracy etc. and evolve a just socio- economic order. He was convinced that “without social freedom and socialistic structure of society and the state, neither the country nor the individual could develop much”.

The deep impact of socialism on Nehru’s thinking was reflected in his Presidential address at the Lahore Congress session in 1929 when he said: “The philosophy of socialism has greatly permeated the entire structure of society the world over and almost the only point in dispute is the pace and methods of advance to its full realisation. India will have to go that way to end her poverty and inequality though she may evolve her own methods and may adopt the ideal to suit the genius of her race.” He reiterated similar ideas at the Lucknow session of the Congress in 1936 and said: “I am convinced that the only key to the solution of the world’s problems and of India’s problems lies in socialism and when I use this word I do so not in a vague humanitarian way but in the scientific, economic sense. Socialism is, however, sometimes even more than an economic doctrine; it is a philosophy of life and as such also it appeals to me. I see no way of ending the poverty, the vast unemployment, the degra-dation and the subjection of the Indian people except through socialism. That involves vast and revolutionary changes in land and industry, as well as the feudal and autocratic Indian states system. That means the ending of private property except in a higher ideal of cooperative service. It means ultimately a change in our instincts and habits and desires. In short, it means a new civilisation radically different from the present capitalist order.” His socialism was not of Marxist or revolutionary type, rather he was in favour of democratic socialism. Nehru stood for attainment of social goals without ignoring the Indian traditions. He said that if socialism has to come to India, “it will have to grow out of Indian conditions.” Nehru’s concept of socialism was not the abolition of private property, but the replacement of the present profit system by the higher ideal of cooperative service. His socialism was not the state ownership of the means of production, but was their societal and cooperative ownership. The essence of socialism, Nehru used to say, lies in “the control by the state of the means of production”, and the idea inspiring socialism was the prevention of the exploitation of the poor by the rich.

Nehru was of the opinion that no ideology other than socialism could fit in the democratic pattern as that of India. He was convinced that no democracy could succeed without imbibing the socialist pattern. He once said: “If an integrated plan for the economic growth of the country, for the growth of the individual, for greater opportunities for every individual and for the greater freedom of the country has to be drawn up, it has to be drawn up within the framework of political democracy. Political democracy must rapidly lead to economic democracy. If there is economic inequality in the country, all the political democracy and all the adult suffrage cannot bring about real democracy. We have to think in terms of ultimately developing into a classless society. That may still be a far-off ideal; I do not know. But we must, nevertheless, keep it in view.” Nehru brought socialism close to democracy.

Nehru’s socialism has the distinctive characteristic of progressive industrialisation through which alone the Indian economic problems (poverty, backwardness, low rate of production) could be solved and through which alone modern India could be built. He strongly believed in industrialisation. “The only solution for this lay in utilising modern science and technology for accelerating the process of industrialisation on which depended also the prospects of agricultural development.”

For industrialisation, Nehru ruled out the capitalistic model and pleaded for the socialist model by limiting the same to nationalisation of certain key industries and the cooperative approach in agriculture while allowing the private sector to participate in industry and agriculture. That was, what one may say, the essence of the socialistic pattern of society, the model which was made to work through (i) economic planning, (ii) mixed economy, (iii) Five Year Plans. Nehru was keenly conscious of India’s grave economic patterns—unemployment, under-employment, rampant poverty, food shortage, high prices, etc. For ending these maladies he accepted and tried to implement the concept of a planned economy.

Under his leadership, the Indian National Congress accepted the ideal of a socialistic pattern of society at the Congress’ Avadi session in January 1955. The socialistic pattern connoted social ownership or control of the principal means of production, acceleration of national production and the equitable distribution of the wealth of the nation. There can be no doubt, however, that Nehru took the lead in putting socialism as a concrete social and economic objective before the Congress and the country. Nehru knew that the socialistic pattern of society was not socialism in its pure form but this form would, he was convinced, lead the country in the direction of socialism. By reason of his conviction and sacrifice he occupied the foremost place among the socialists of India.


1. Nehru, Jawaharlal, The Discovery of India; Calcutta, 1946.

2. Nehru, Jawaharlal, An Autobiography; OUP, London, 1980.

3. Nehru, Jawaharlal, Glimpses of World History, Allahabad, 1934.

4. Brecher Micheal, Nehru: A Political Biography; OUP, London, New Delhi, 1959.

5. Nehru Jawaharlal, India’s Foreign Policy: (Selected Speeches), Publications Division, Government of India, New Delhi. 1961.

6. Pradhan, Benudhar, The Socialist Thought of Jawaharlal Nehru; The Academic Press, 1971.

7. Dutt, R.C, Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru; Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1980.

8. Mathur, Sobhag, Spectrum of Nehru’s Thought (ed.), Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 1994.

9. Gopal, S., A Biography of Jawaharlal Nehru; Oxford University Press, New Delhi: 1974.

The author is a Ph.D student, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar and can be contacted at daryousuf86@yahoo.com