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Institute of Pacific Relations

The RSS: Militant Hinduism

Author(s): Jean A. Curran, Jr.
Source: Far Eastern Survey, Vol. 19, No. 10 (May 17, 1950), pp. 93-98
Published by: Institute of Pacific Relations
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3023941
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The RSS: Militant Hinduism

Banned after the assassination of Gandhi, this aggressive "cultural" organization has since recovered both legal status and popular appeal.

where he soon abandoned any idea of practicing medicine and instead plunged wholeheartedly into nationalist
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National
agitation. He participated in the first non-cooperation
movement led by Gandhi, but when the movement be?
? Voluntary Service Association) is a Hindu organization whose nature and activities have aroused congan to fail he withdrew, apparently disillusioned by the
way it was being conducted.
siderable controversy in India. It has been characterized
on the one hand as a reactionary group of Hindu
communal riots in Nagpur in the early 1920s
atics with Fascist tendencies; and on the other as a
had made a deep impression on him; his strong Hindu
cultural organization dedicated to restoring and revital-sentiments were quickened by an awareness of the disizing the moral and spiritual traditions of India, which organization of the Hindu community and its inability
are being destroyed by contact with the alien West. to cope with such crises. He therefore formed the RSS

The organized defense of Hindu and other nonwith the purpose of organizing Hindus to protect themMoslem refugees conducted by the RSS during parti- selves. Volunteers received regular training in the art
tion is well remembered in India. At the same time,
of defense. When the next riots occurred, the Moslems
many Indians cannot forget that the organization con- were confronted by a well-disciplined Hindu group
tributed to the spread of communal hatred which, they which was able to control the situation.
believe, indirectly inspired the murder of Gandhi. But
Hindu nationalism certainly influenced Hedgewar
as the memory of Gandhi's death faded from the public and his followers, but their anti-Moslem bias was later
mind, this prejudice against the RSS diminished, and strengthened by Congress Party attempts to cooperate
it was further reduced by the growing tension between with the Moslem community in the interest of national
India and Pakistan. The difficulties encountered by
non-Moslem minorities in Pakistan have caused deep
resentment in predominantly Hindu India, and in conMAY 17, 1950 VOL XIX No. 10
sequence the moderate Hindu element has become more
tolerant of the RSS.1

The RSS was founded in 1925 by a Brahmin of Nagpur, Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. While a student at
? The RSS: Militcint Hinduism
Poona and Calcutta, Hedgewar dedicated himself to
the emancipation of his country from foreign rule. After

receiving his medical degree he returned to Nagpur,

Mr. Curran, a Research Associate of the Institute of Pacific
Relations, is now in India engaged in a study of modern
Indian politics and government.
1 This article was written before the agreement on treat-

ment of minorities signed by India and Pakistan on April

by Jean A. Curran, Jr.

? Nosaka and the Cominfornri

by Rodger Swearingen

? Public Opinion Polls on Japan

by Arthur N. Feraru

? 93 ?

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are often decried as purely opportunistic. It seems

probable, however, that they were based on completely
In 1940 Hedgewar died and was succeeded as leader honest convictions, even though the RSS could hardly
of the RSS by Sri Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, whosefail to recognize a situation favorable to the spread of
unity and by increasingly insistent Moslem demands

for Pakistan.2

home is a small village near Nagpur. Golwalkar did

idea of a united Hindudom.

not enter the RSS until 1931, having previously been

a teacher of zoology at Benares Hindu University. Role in Gandhi's Death

Swayamsevaks (RSS members) usually refer to him One result of this agitation was to inflame men who
as Guruji, or spiritual teacher, a title given him by
were critical of Gandhi to the point where they were
some of his students at Benares. Since 1942, partlycapable of taking his life. The assassination aroused

because of his leadership and partly because of circum-such nation-wide revulsion that the wave of anti-Mosstances, the RSS has attracted national attention. The lem feeling quickly subsided. Those who had helped
majority of nationalist Hindus were Congress support-inspire the murder of Gandhi were violently denounced

ers; but after that date, when the Congress leaders

In a communique of February 4, 1948, the Governme
were in jail and the party was unable to function ef-of India declared the RSS unlawful and stated its defectively, the RSS gained new membership and populartermination to uproot the hatred and violence that w
threatening India's freedom. Public sentiment mad
ban a logical step; if most of the important RSS le

Activities During Partition

The organization continued to grow throughout the

war; wherever Hindu-Moslem riots occurred, its preaching of Hindu unity was the more readily received. From
1946 until the late fall of 1947, a period of uncertainty,

panic, suffering, and hatred in India, the RSS was abie

to present its activities in the full view of the Indian
public. It had created a hard core of reliable supporters
in the areas most affected by the process of partition.
Under an anti-Islam banner, RSS units in such areas
were able not only to rally large numbers of young
men but also to gain the benevolent support of many
responsible Hindu citizens, who believed that this group
of organized patriots should be given the utmost backing in order to protect the helpless civilian population
from the hideous consequences of religious warfare.
The RSS did do remarkable work in protecting Hin?
dus during partition. The fact that its activities were
not always merely defensive is perhaps understandable
in view of prevailing conditions. Its prestige was high
in the non-Moslem communities affected by partition.
Immediately after partition it continued to fan communal hatreds; many persons, including top Congress
leaders such as Gandhi and Nehru, were vilified for
their attempts to pour oil on troubled waters and to
have Pakistan recognized as an accomplished fact. This

last was considered blasphemous acquiescence in the

tearing apart of Mother India. The actions of the RSS
2 It is almost impossible to find concrete evidence of RSS

activities between 1925 and 1942 or 1943. Apparently the

present leaders of the organization were being carefully
trained by Hedgewar and sent to organize sympathetic Hindus
in other provinces, particularly in those troubled by Hindu-

Moslem conflicts. RSS members explain the lack of public

information about these years by the fact that the government

was considered to be so pro-Moslem that the RSS could not
afford to attract attention.


had not been detained in jail, they might have

short shrift from an outraged public. Many respon

persons accused the RSS of direct implication in
murder. Although this accusation does not appear
today, the propaganda of the RSS and other orga
tions undoubtedly bore indirect responsibility.
The government ban continued until July 1949.
members and sympathizers repeatedly questioned
validity of the ban and demanded that the govern
prove its necessity in a court of law. Golwalkar, relea
from jail in August 1948, wrote to Nehru and Pa
requesting repeal of the ban and permission to v
Delhi for personal talks with the two government
ers. To the government this request apparently m
that Golwalkar might be willing to conflne RSS ac
ities to "non-harmful" channels in order to have the

ban lifted, and in November Patel granted him two

interviews. The results were negative, however, fo
Golwalkar refused to accede to any governmental lim

tations until the ban was removed, and the government

after consulting the provincial governments, found itse

unable to accept this stand. In mid-December the R

attempted to register its protest by means of pass
resistance. Again there were wholesale detentions o
the members involved, the majority of whom wer
college and university students, although numerou
civil servants, clerks, and other subordinate personn
were included. By the end of the year the moveme
had lost most of its momentum, and in January 1
Golwalkar called it off.

At that time Golwalkar was drawing up a form

RSS constitution, a document said to have been requested by the government as a prerequisite for removal
of the ban. The RSS itself has stated that this formal

creed was not formulated under pressure, but was in

tended to prove that the organization had nothing t

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be merely the formal publication of principles to which

dard of average man culturally must be our aim. The

stage when an average man of our country resembles

the RSS had always adhered.

in type the great men, . . . that is what the Sangh means

hide from the government and the people. It was to

by cultural revival and cultural unity."3 These stateRSS Constitution

ments in no way contradict the RSS constitution as
A draft constitution was sent to New Delhi in March
cited above, and, as far as the writer has been able to
discover, all official RSS pronouncements use the same
1949 and was made public soon afterward. Its most
general cultural approach.
important principles were open membership to all Hin?
dus, tolerance of all faiths, cultural rather than political
"Unofficial" Attitude
aims, and the freedom of its members to join any politi?
But a narrower, more intolerant, and less cultural
cal party they wished. In July, after considerable nego-

is revealed in some RSS literature, especially

tiation over the constitution, the ban against the mentality
the weekly and monthly periodicals. These papers conwas lifted; the government was evidently satisfied that
stantly express violent opposition to such measures as
the organization would remain loyal to the national
the Hindu Code Bill;4 they deplore materialistic thinkflag and the national constitution, that its work would
be cultural only, and that it would avoid violence ing
and in India, the government's failure to establish Sansecrecy. Golwalkar said afterward that there wereskrit
no as an official language, the "un-Indian" origin of
commitments which would in any way compromise the
RSS Republic's constitution; they devote a great deal
of space to the Pakistan enemy and its "fifth column,"
ideals. No longer barmed, the RSS has rapidly regained
strength, and today, under its formal constitution,the
it Indian Moslems. They have accused Kidwai and
Azad, two nationalist Moslem leaders who are India's
conducts its activities throughout the country.
Ministers for Communication and Education, of inThe official policy of the RSS is embodied in Articles
3 and 4 of its constitution. Article 3 states:
dulging in traitorous activities by aiding in the encouragement of Islamic studies.5 Prime Minister Nehru
The Aims and Objects of the Sangh are to weld together
is repeatedly criticized for "favoritism" toward Indian
the diverse groups within the Hindu Samaj [society] and to
revitalize and rejuvenate the same on the basis of its . . .
Dharma and Sanskriti [roughly, religion and culture], that
it may achieve an all-sided development of the Bharatvarsha

Moslems, who are described as untrustworthy members of

society. RSS members disclaim any official backing

for these papers, but the fact that they are either run

or controlled by members would seem to classify them at

least as representative of unofficial RSS policy. Certainly the public statements of RSS offlcials contain no such
(a) The Sangh believes in orderly evolution of the Society
intolerant opinions.
and adheres to peaceful and legitimate means for the realiza?
tion of its ideals.
Support for the "unofficial" view seems to come from
(b) In consonance with the cultural heritage of the Hindu
a book written by Golwalkar himself before the publi-

Article 4 proclaims the following policy:

Samaj, the Sangh has abiding faith in the fundamental

of the RSS constitution. The fact that RSS mem?

ciple of tolerance towards all faiths.

bers still consider the book a standard text shows the

The Sangh as such, has no politics and is devoted to purely

of the ideas expressed in it:
cultural work. The individual Swayamsevaks, however,
join any political party, except such parties as believe In
in fine,
or the idea contained in the word Nation is the com-

resort to violent and secret methods to achieve their ends;

persons owing allegiance to such parties or believing in such
methods shall have no place in the Sangh.

pound of five distinct factors fused into one indissoluble whol

The famous five "Unities"?Geographical (country), Racial

(race), Religious (religion), Cultural (culture) and Linguist

It is interesting to speculate, in the light of events Hindustan is the land of the Hindus and is the terra firma
that have occurred since the inauguration of this con?for the Hindu nation alone to flourish upon. . . .7
stitution, how closely the actual attitude of RSS leaders . . . We must bear in mind that so far as "nation" is conand members adhered to the announced policy. What cerned, all those who fall outside the five-fold limits of th
constitutes "purely cultural" aims appears to be subjectidea can have no place in the national life, unless they a
to almost irreconcilable interpretations. The policy of
3 An Epoch in Karnatak, Prakashan Vibhag R.S.S. (Kar
non-political, non-militant Hinduism has been enunnatak, Bangalore, November 1949), pp. 44, 45, 19.
ciated repeatedly by Golwalkar in speeches throughout
4 A bill to modernize Hinduism, e.g. with regard to th

the country. At Belgaum in Karnatak he recently stated: status of women, etc.

"Our nation should be made to stand with self respect 5 The Organizer, December 14, 1949.

and honour. This can only be done by organizing the 6 M. S. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined (19
Hindu Society which is like the backbone of our coun?earlier edition 1939), p. 22.
try. . . . " At Mangalore he said: "To raise the stan7 Ibid., p. 50.
MAY 17, 1950

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don their differences, and completely merge themselves in the

National Race.8

eighteen who attend daily RSS exercises, the figur

may run to a million and a half. These figures exclud

large number of non-members who are influence
The reader may judge which aspects of RSS the
seem most representative and whether the "unofficial"degree by RSS propaganda.
speaking, the RSS draws most of it
policy agrees with the spirit of the constitution.
those northern areas most afTecte
spite of its avowed Hindu slant, the RSS seems curby
troubles and present India-Pakis
iously un-Hindu in the militancy of its views, and even
active in Bihar, the Unite
more so in the way it has ignored caste and economic
the Central Provinces,
distinctions?for any Hindu, caste or outcaste, can beBerar,
and Bombay. Although
come a full and equal member if he is over eighteen
and subscribes to the RSS ideals.
it had its beginnings in Maharashtra (a region in wes
central India, lying roughly between Bombay and Nag
Sources of Strength
pur), and its top leaders came from that part of the
RSS policies are propagated in various ways. country,
its effectiveness in that area has been
physical fitness of the individual member and the spirit
limited, largely because of a feud between Brahmins
of the unit inspires respect, if not admiration, from and
out-non-Brahmins. The former have given the RSS
siders, particularly from college and university students.
considerable support, while a consequent antipathy to?
This respect explains in large part the amazingly effec?
ward the organization has grown up within the nontive missionary work that RSS units perforrn wherever
Brahmin community of the region. RSS members did
they exist. Each member gives daily service in drills
not begin to work in Assam and Orissa until 1947. Gol?
and exercises, group discussions are held frequently,
walkar explains the lack of success in Bengal by the
and new members are consciously impressed with their
fact that the province is still too absorbed in its own
indispensability to the organization. Disciplined cereproblems; the people are, moreover, suspicious of an
monies are arranged for important members on speaking
organization that is non-Bengali in origin. Progress has
tours; uniformed members take part in these functions.
been relatively slow in the south, both because of the
Literature such as that described above is published
language difflculty and because of friction between
in large quantities. The Organizer, Fanchjanya, Brahmins
and non-Brahmins in parts of Madras; anmonthlies like Rashtra Dharma are circulated widely,
other problem there, however, is the fact that the peo?
together with pamphlets on special problems.
ple in the south have been relatively little concerned
Financial support for RSS operations seems to

Moslem and Pakistan friction.

drawn almost entirely from the membership. At donaThe RSS is often thought of as a youth organization
tion ceremonies on stated days each year, each RSS
University and college students do make up what
member gives whatever he can. There is almost a comprobably the largest single bloc within the organiza
petition to see who can donate the most. One leader
tion. But other important social groups are represented.
of the Congress Party in the United Provinces, a RSS
bit-organizers have been able to appeal to the pent-u
ter opponent of the RSS, admitted that from 1944
of the lower middle classes, the clerk
1948 the Hindus of his own home district had given
and shopkeepers, who are disturbed by rising living
more to the RSS than they had given to the Congress
costs, greater shortages, and limited opportunities fo
in the past thirty years.9 The enemies of the RSS claim
outside diversions. In times past there has been som
that much support comes from industrialists, large landresponse among lower-echelon government servants, but

holders, and other wealthy persons whose conservatism

recently government dismissals have discouraged thei
makes them sympathetic to the RSS program. This active
may participation.
well have been true two or three years ago, but the
The student and lower middle-class groups constitut
present disapproval of the central government has made
the majority of the present membership. The write
most such donors cautious about open financial support.
has, however, talked with a number of important bus
ness men who have been attracted to the RSS either
Estimates of the number of RSS members run anywhere from 40,000 to 7,000,000. On the basis of inforas members or as active sympathizers. This elemen
mation from newspaper files, from RSS members, from
numerically small but socially influential. In some
opponents of the organization, and from independent
they are drawn by the religious emphasis of the
observers, the writer concludes that the number of
inacothers by the sincere conviction that the RSS a
tive members is probably somewhere between 500,000
can effectively protect Hindu customs and tradit
and 1,000,000. If one includes the youngsters under
against alien ideologies, and that it is basically sym
8 Ibid.

9 Shri Govind Sahai, R.S.S., pp. 26, 27.


thetic to the maintenance of the status quo. Altho

the organization's chief success has been in urban a

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RSS units are currently being built up in the country-

side as well, particularly in the United and Central


in turn appoint Organizers for the provincial subdivisions. More often than not, the Organizer holds the

real power at his level, while the Sanghchalaks are

Most individual members have very little voice in the picked for prestige value only.

actual formation and approval of RSS policy. The aver? Centralization of authority is inherent in this orage member seems to have complete faith in the ability
ganizational set-up. The National Herald has observed
of the leadership to work toward goals which he con-that the present leadership, Golwalkar and his immedisiders too fundamental for disagreement. When dis-ate circle, will almost inevitably retain control for some
agreements do arise, the various local units are said totime to come.10 The constitution provides that an RSS
act as a "big family" in the discussion and eliminationmember must have at least one year's standing before he

of uncertainties.

can vote and that any candidate for an elective or appointive post must have been an active member for
Organizafional Structure
at least six consecutive years. Opponents of the or?
The organizational set-up of the RSS is described ganization
have of course criticized its lack of democratic

its constitution, and the writer believes that, except forcontrol. It has been pointed out, on the other hand,

the representational features, approximately the same

that Golwalkar and his followers oppose too demo?
set-up existed before the constitution was written. At
cratic a structure in an organization that is ostensibly
the top of the hierarchy is an official called the Sarcultural rather than political, since the attention of the
sanghchalak, the title now held by Golwalkar. He ismembership might be diverted by scrambles for power.11
nominated by his predecessor in consultation with the Outsiders who recognize the militant Hindu outlook
Executive Committee of the organization. Next in au?
of the RSS and know how it is controlled are uneasy
thority is the Sarkaryavaha or General Secretary, elected
about the future. Such persons feel that, if the RSS
by the all-India provincial representatives, who appoints
succeeds in rallying a majority of the Hindu population
and presides over an Executive Committee of one or
and then feels the necessity of contending for political
more Joint Secretaries, not less than five representatives
power, its ideas about democracy may threaten the

from provincial executive committees, and officers in

future of representative government in India.
charge of physical training, cultural work, organiza?
tion, and finances. This committee, comparable to the
Reverence for Leadership

Working Committee of the Congress Party, is the highWho are the men who control the RSS so rigidly?
est executive authority. Officially it may only implement
The most important is, of course, Golwalkar, an intense

the policies and programs evolved by the All-India

man of striking appearance, full-bearded and with

Provincial Assembly, but in practice the Assembly seems

masses of black hair falling to his shoulders. He is clearly
merely to approve the basic policies formulated by the
regarded with what amounts to reverence by RSS mem?
Executive Committee. Members of the All-India As?

bers. The depth of their regard can be illustrated by

sembly (Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha) are elected
a quotation from an RSS pamphlet describing Golfrom the membership of the Provincial Assemblies
walkar's recent tour through Karnatak:
(Prantiya Pratinidhi Sahhas). Executive divisions, pro?
vinces, and provincial centers are also members of Right
the from the Westernmost point of Karnatak . . . to the
All-India Assembly. This Assembly, over which
the South . . . to the Northernmost part . . . practically
all places were sanctified by Sri Guruji's presence. ThroughGeneral Secretary presides, is required to meet once
out, lakhs [hundreds of thousands] have seen and heard this

a year.

Seer of our Great Nation. . . . His place of stay was a holy

The same general structure prevails on a provincialplace of Pilgrimage for the people and his words inspired
them as a source of life and strength.12
level. In practice, the provincial executive committees
are under the supervision of the All-India Executive
Golwalkar's immediate assistants are Bhayyaji Dani
Committee. Each province and each of its subdivisions
(General Secretary), Bala Saheb Deoras and Appaji
has a Sanghchalak or leader. The provincial leader is
Joshi (Joint Secretaries), and Baba Saheb Apte (Allelected by the Provincial Assembly, and he, in con? India Organizer). They are accorded tremendous re?
sultation with the Provincial Organizer, appoints the
spect, although their position is not comparable to
leaders of his subdivisions. The Organizer (Pracharak)Golwalkar's in the eyes of RSS members. There are

undoubtedly holds the most important subsidiary office

some twenty to thirty other figures of national impor-

within the RSS. He is appointed on the basis of ability,

and serves as a full-time worker without remuneration.

The All-India Organizer, appointed by the General

Secretary, appoints the Provincial Organizers and they

10 National Her aid, June 9, 1949.

11 Hitavada, May 22, 1949.

12 An Epoch in Karnatak, op. cit., prologue.

MAY 17, 1950

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tance, mainly Organizers in charge of provinces. Years

ago these men renounced all other interests to devote
themselves to the furthering of RSS principles.
Gontrary to occasional Marxist allegations, there appears to be no concrete evidence of any sub rosa understanding between the RSS and the Congress government. On November 17, 1949, the Congress Working
Gommittee declared that no Gongress member may belong to any volunteer organization other than those
officially sponsored by the Congress.13 It seems unlikely

that this policy will change in the near future. Most

Congress members would be opposed to any compromise of Congress principles in order to reach a working
agreement with the RSS. Many informed persons, however, believe that there is a small but important group
within the Congress which does not completely agree
with the majority view in this matter. This group wishes

to encourage the entry of such a vital organization into

the Congress, providing the anti-Moslem aspect of RSS
ideology can be de-emphasized. But the possibility of
such encouragement seems remote, in view of the deep
hostility of Congress leaders and the insistence of RSS
leaders upon maintaining their ideals.

The RSS is5 without question, an association of fanatical and disciplined nationalists dedicated to the propagation of a doctrine which, to them, contains the
truest elements of Hindu ideology. Its leaders and mem-

bers believe that their sacred land cannot be developed

successfully until society is based upon their cultural
concepts. They are a minority force today, but circumstances are lending them increasing strength. Economic
difficulties make for mounting discontent which the
RSS, along with other minority groups, is not slow to
exploit. Because of the conservative Hindu sentiment
of a large part of the population, there is a tremendous
body of potential sympathizers, even though the RSS
interprets Hindu ideals and traditions in its own way.
The relations between India and Pakistan., which
increasingly disturb many moderate and tolerant Hindus5 together with the approach of Communism and
the growth of terroristic Communist activity inside
India, may increase the number of Indians who look
with favor on the RSS. If these factors continue to be

a part of the Indian scene, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak

Sangh cannot be ignored as a force of great potential

Nosaka and the Cominforrri

How deep was the recent dispute over Communist policy in Japan? Nosaka's
record suggests that the difference was over timing, not substance.

\/arious interpretations placed upon the recent

thing even more liberal, may be developing in Japanese

Communist circles. A study of this incident and its
background provides little support for such a belief.

The first hint of Cominform dissatisfaction with the

* Cominform denunciation of Sanzo Nosaka, top
Japanese Communist policy-maker, underline the need Party in Japan came on January 6, 1950. "Observer,"
for closer study of the postwar policy, strategy, and the author of a lengthy editorial in the offlcial Comin?
tactics of the Communist Party of Japan. This is espe- form organ, bitterly assailed Nosaka for what was termed
cially true in view of the impending political and eco? "the naturalisation of Marxism-Leninism in Japanese
nomic crisis in Asia and the growing realization that conditions." "Nozaka's theory," the article continued,
the current East-West struggle is not confmed to Eu- "is nothing more than a Japanese variation of the antirope. With the establishment of the People's Republic Marxist and anti-Socialist 'theory5 of the peaceful growof China as a new power center in eastern Asia, it is ing over [sic] of reaction to democracy, of imperialism
essential, in shaping United States Far Eastern policy, into Socialism, a 'theory' which was exposed long ago
to understand the position of the Japanese Communist and which is alien to the working class." It conParty vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and the United States. cluded: "Nozaka's 'theory5 has nothing whatever in
The Cominform attack on Nosaka has given rise to common with Marxism-Leninism. Actually ... [it] is
speculation that some form of Titoism, or perhaps some- an anti-democratic, anti-Socialist theory. It serves only
the imperialist occupiers in Japan and the enemies of
Mr. Swearingen, of the Department of Asiatic Studies at
. . . Consequently, the Nozaka 'theory' is
the University of Southern California, is preparing with Paul

Langer a book on Japanese Gommunism. The present article simultaneously an anti-patriotic, anti-Japanese'theory.' 'n
is a revised version of a paper presented in April at the Second
1 For a Lasting Peace, For a Feople's Democracy, BuchaAnnual Meeting of the Far Eastern Association.
rest (organ of the Information Bureau of the Communist and
Workers' Parties), January 6, 1950.
13 The Hindu, November 18, 1949.


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