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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 42, New Delhi, October 10, 2015

Jayaprakash Narayan and Socialist India

Saturday 10 October 2015

Jayaprakash Narayan (the venerable ‘JP’ of Indian politics) was born on October 11, 1902 and passed away on October 8, 1979. To make his 113th birth anniversary we are carrying the following article.

by Vivek Kumar Srivastava

The initial idea of socialism captivated the mind of Jayaprakash Narayan in his student days when he was engrossed in higher studies; he realised that India was being exploited by the colonial power, a Marxian thesis, which he accepted as the real analysis to the poor status of the country. Manavendra Nath Roy, another impactful personality, exercised his influence on his thoughts. He was attracted towards Russian communism also; Marx and Lenin had their own philosophical charm for him but it was Indian poverty and inequality which fashioned his socialist thoughts in an effective manner.

Jayaprakash Narayan was the analytical thinker of socialism with the focus on creating a good life for all. After having merged himself in freedom struggle, in 1936 he explained the basic premise of socialism. He clarified that there were several offshoots of socialism with extensive domain. “It is a system of social reconstruction. It is not a code of personal conduct; (and) when we speak of applying socialism to India, we mean the reorganisation of the whole economic and social life of the country: its farms, factories, schools, theatres.”1

For India and other poor countries, he analysed inequality. His understanding about India was comprehensive; he found that society was highly unequal. “The first thing that strikes us is the strange and painful fact of inequalities-inequality of rank, of culture, of opportunity: a most disconcertingly unequal distribution of the good things of life. Poverty, hunger, filth, disease, ignorance—for the overwhelming many.”2

He, like Marx, believed that inequality and poverty of the Indian people were due to the reason that the means of production were not in their control. He offered a solution to this evil: the socialist solution: “to abolish private ownership of the means of production and to establish over them the ownership of the whole community”.3

JP was fully convinced that socialism in India could be established if sufficient power was obtained by a socialist party. He was in support of adult franchise on a functional basis, organising cooperatives, strengthening the producing masses with the powers and overpowering role of the state in the economic life of the country. These ideas became the philosophy and objectives of the Congress Socialist Party. He “formed the Bihar Socialist Party in 1934. Other Socialist friends of Jayaprakash like Minoo Masanai of Bombay and Srimati Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay of Maharashtra joined with him and were engaged in spreading the Socialist movement in India staying inside the Congress (and) Jayaprakash suggested to his socialist friends to discuss among them regarding the prospect of working for Socialism inside the Congress. And accordingly he convened a meeting of the Congress socialists during the General Session of the Congress. The response was good. They formed Congress Socialist Party with separate identity. The Party took the decision to fight against all types of exploitations, to fight against the profit-extracting motive of the capitalists in the country, to enforce the distribution of national wealth equally among the people of India. The Party resolved to work for the welfare of all people of the country irrespective of caste, creed, religion and gender.”4

This development was a crucial step in his socialist ideology because it was based upon a scientific deduction, when he contrasted capitalism and socialism. In his opinion, profit-making was the sole objective and life-line of capitalism; also the root cause of its emergence as a social disease because “as long as long as profits are sought, no recovery is possible. The symptoms of the disease will keep reappearing. At the same time if profits are eliminated, capitalism dies. Thus there is a vicious cycle drawn from which socialism alone offers an escape.”5 The establishment of the party was a pragmatic step to implement the ideals of socialism.

He inferred that abolition of capitalism was a positive and mandatory move towards socialism, “but by itself it can hardly be called socialism. It is merely a negative half of which the positive half has yet to be created. In what manner capitalism will be abolished and what will take its place will determine to a large extent the kind of socialism that we are going to have.”6

With this understanding he broadened the philosophy of socialism. As “Socialism is not merely anti-capitalism, nor statism. Nationalisation of industry and collectivisation of agriculture are important aspects of socialist economy; but in themselves they are not socialism. Under socialism there is no exploitation of man by man, no injustice and oppression, no insecurity and an equitable distribution of wealth and services and opportunities.”7

HE was a democrat. For him, “the state in socialist India must be a fully democratic state. There can be no socialism without democracy (and) whether our transition in India from the present society to socialism takes the democratic or dictatorial forms—I personally think it would take the democratic form—it should be remembered that dictatorship of proletariat in Marxist theory does not mean the dictatorship of a single party, such as the Communist Party in Russia. It means the dictatorship of a class, the working class; or in industrially backward countries such as India and post-Czarist Russia, of a combination of the toiling classes, such as workers, peasants and the lower middle class.”8 He thus clarified the true nature of Marxism as well, which has been often misinterpreted by self-serving politicians the world over.

He was convinced that a democratic society offers the chances for socialism to come into existence. Otherwise the bureaucratic state emerges with the support of the capitalist class. At this point people will resort to violent means; hence democracy is the only system for a free, non-violent socialist society. Moreover socialism cannot be achieved without a comprehensive framework of political activism. “I should make it clear in conclusion that the overall requirements for socialism to be achieved is the existence of a well-organised, powerful socialist party, supported mainly by workers’, and peasants’ organisations and organisations of the youth (volunteer, student, etc.) and the city poor.”9

JP was a mass leader, a history-maker and his ideas provided answers to several problems. There is no gainsaying the fact that he was an original thinker like Manavendra Nath Roy. His ideas are relevant in contemporary India where new challenges in the form of inequality of wealth and opportunities have emerged as serious threats to the nation-state.


1. Why Socialism? (Ch. I), published by the Congress Socialist Party, 1936
2. ibid.
3. ibid.
4. Ratan Das, Jayaprakash Narayan: His Life and Mission, Sarup & Sons, 2007
5. Why Socialism? (Ch.II), what the Congress Socialist Party stands for.
6. Draft of a resolution sent to Gandhiji for consideration in Ramgarh session of the Congress, 1940 but it was not discussed, Gandhiji published it in Harijan.
7. General Secretary’s report in English to the National Conference of the Socialist Party, Madras, 1950.
8. ‘My picture of socialism’, article published in Janata, 1946.
9. ‘The transition to socialism’, article published in Janata, 1947.

(All quoted primary reference sources have been taken from Bimla Prasad (ed.), Socialism, Sarvodaya and Democracy, Selected Works of Jayaprakash Narayan, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1964)
Dr Vivek Kumar Srivastava is the Vice Chairman, CSSP, Kanpur. He can be contacted at e-mail: vpy1000@yahoo.co.in