The Congress Socialist Party was founded by radical and young Congressmen who during their long terms of imprisonment in the Civil Disobedience Movement came into contact with Marxist ideas.
They had their reservation about Gandhi’s constructive programme. In April 1934, at Banaras, Sampurnananda published a pamphlet in which he stressed the need for the formation of an All India Socialist Party as a wing of the Congress.
The Congress Socialists belonged to the westernized middle class. They were influenced by the ideas of Marx, Gandhi and the Social Democracy of the West. They practised Marxian Socialism, Congress Nationalism and liberal democracy of the West.
The first All India Congress Socialists Conference was convened at Patna by Jai Prakash Narayan on behalf of the Bihar Socialist Party in May 1934.
It was presided by Acharya Narendra Dev. As the organizing secretary, Jai Prakash Narayan campaigned in different parts of the country to organized the provincial wings of the party.
The first meeting of All India Congress Socialist Party was held in Bombay (Mumbai) in October 1934, under the presidentship of Sampurnananda.
The meeting at Bombay adopted a comprehensive programme as the blue print of a Socialist Society in India.
It adopted in principle the development of the economic life of the country to be planned by the State, State monopoly of foreign trade, organization of Co-operative Societies for production, distribution and credit in the unorganized sector of the economic life.
It adopted in principle the redistribution of land among the peasants, liquidation of debts owned by peasants and workers.
To organize the workers and the peasants for their own economic uplift as well as for carrying on the movement for the achievement of independence and Socialism.
It adopted in principle, socialization of key industries-insurance and public utilities, with a view to the progressive socialization of the instruments of production, distribution and exchange. The State was to encourage and control co-operative and collective farming.
The Bombay Session adopted separate programmes for the workers and peasents. For workers the demands were, freedom to form trade unions and the right to go on strikes, living wage, forty hour week, and insurance against sickness, unemployment, accident and old age.
For the peasants the demands were abolition of landlordism, encouragement of co-operative farming, exemption from rents and taxes on uneconomic holdings and abolition feudal levies.
Jai Prakash Narayan said, “Our work within congress is governed by the policy of developing into a true anti-imperialist body.”
There was a mixed reaction among the congressmen to the formation of the Congress Socialist Party.
The Swarajists and many other Congress leaders felt that the formation of the party would divide the Congress organization.
They differed on the question of the Government of India Act 1935, the formation of ministeries in 1937, the organization of Kisan Sabhas, agitation in the Indian States etc.
Jai Prakash Narayan said, “Gandhism has played its part. It cannot carry us further and hence we must march and guided by the ideology of Socialism.
“Mahatma Gandhi was against the Congress Socialist Party and he made it clear that if the Congress Socialist Party gained ascendency in the Congress, he would not remain in the Congress. He did not approve of class war, expropriation and violence.
But the leftist Congressmen like Nehru and Bose welcomed the formation of the Congress Socialist Party, though neither Nehru nor Bose joined the Party.
In the annual session of the Congress, held at Lucknow in April 1936, in his presidential address Nehru said, “I see no way of ending the poverty, vast unemployment, degradation and subjection of the Indian people except through Socialism.
I that involves vast revolutionary changes in our political and social structure, ending vested interests in the land and industry as well as the feudal autocratic Indian states system.
That means ending private profit system by the highest ideals of Co-operative Service.” In 1936, Nehru inducted three Congress Socialists, Narendra Dev, Jai Prakash Narayan and Achyut Patwardhan in the Congress Working Committee, besides another Leftist Subash Chandra Bose.
The Congress Socialist Party wanted to change the society only gradually and by way of introducing social reforms.
They were more under the influence of Western liberalism rather than Marxian Communism.
They did not agree with Marx that reforms and changes can come only by violent means. However, they continued to link their philosophy with Indian nationalism.
They did not support the ideas of the Congress to extend conditional support to the British Government during the Second World War.
They argued that independence could be achieved only by the direct struggle of the masses and the war provided a golden opportunity for the same.
They started mass revolutionary activities and it considerably increased during the Quit India Movement.
The Congress Socialist Party also argued that Hindu-Muslim Unity could be achieved not by compromise but by laying stress on economic issues which equally effect the Hindu and Muslim masses of the country. They did not favour Congress and Muslim League accord on Pakistan.
Though the Congress Socialist Party was not able to have its own way on many important issues but it succeeded in giving radical orientation to the congress policies in certain respect.
The Congress Socialist Party served as a rallying point for all the radical elements and at the same time it organized peasants movement and brought about a union between various trade unions.
Of course, the Socialists in India did not pursue one common ideology because it consisted of Marxist like J.P. Narayan and Narendra Dev, Socialist Democrats like M.R. Masani, Gandhian like Patwardhan and populist like Dr. Ram Monohar Lohia.
Yet, it was due to their efforts that the Indian National Congress decided to adopt Socialist pattern of society after independence.