On the Understanding of History

This is Jawaharlal Nehru's 'Foreword' to the book 'Samrajyavad Kya Hai aur Kaise Phaila' by Mukundolal Srivastava, published in 1933. The foreword was written on 8 October 1933. Originally, the foreword was written in Hindi.  

When my friend and colleague, Acharya Narendra Deva of Kashi Vidyapeeth, asked me to write a foreword to this book, I hesitated a little. I had little rime and having recently come out of jail was very busy. Then I saw what the book was about and I gladly agreed to write something. After reading part of the book I became more convinced that I should write because I desired that this book should be widely read. I have not finished reading the book as yet and therefore do not want to say anything about it in detail. But I have seen enough to know that Shri Mukundilal Srivastava has written extremely well on various aspects of imperialism and has thrown considerable light on a major problem of our present-day world.

There are several ways of reading history and understanding it. One view is that a variety of events takes place, and great men appear and leave their powerful impact on the country and on the world. Any event is not specifically related to any other; sometimes events occur suddenly and sometimes they are coincidental. The other interpretation of history is that events are all closely inter-related. One event affects the other and if all the developments of world history are taken together then some sort of laws and causes emerges and we can understand the course and significance of world history. By knowing this, some light is thrown on all the events of world history and we can see our course ahead.

In our country and in many others, history is still mostly interpreted in the first way. Everywhere are to be found people who consider their own country the best, and regard it as sacred soil. They study their ancient history and award it a high place—it becomes Satyayug or Ramarajya; and the hope remains that the same may be restored. They do not ponder over the real reasons that cause national progress and decline and revolutions. But the advanced communities in Europe do not now understand history in this way. They prefer the other viewpoint and thereby gain a proper understanding of history and the present-day conditions of the world.

Many people in India these days are perplexed as to what to do and how. The present-day world and the condition of our country look strange and meaningless to us. The reason for this confusion is that we have not understood the real meaning of history. When we secure this understanding our way will be clear and no event of today will seem meaningless.

In this book an attempt has been made to view history in a new perspective. There have been vast empires for thousands of years, but modem imperialism is a new concept developed for the first time in recent years. At present almost all the countries of the world (except Soviet Russia) are in its grip. We fight against it in India and want to be free of it. But very few of us have understood its real import and often mistake it for the imperialism of old. Unless we understand this new imperialism properly and discern its roots and branches, we cannot grasp the conditions of the present-day world and cannot properly wage our battle for freedom.

So, because the various aspects of modem imperialism are explained in this book, I welcome it. This is not a book for a few persons or even for one or two thousands, but for millions. Anyone who works for the country should pay attention to this issue and understand it.

I am, however, sorry that the language used in this book seems a bit too difficult and many people will not be able to understand it. I could not understand many words but, unfortunately, I am almost illiterate in Hindi. It seems to me that such books should be written not for a few scholarly persons but should be such that a person with very limited reading—a farmer or a labourer even—should be able to understand it. Unless the masses understand it, our labour will be in vain.


Note: With the object of providing higher education, through the medium of Hindi, to students who had left government-recognised institutions, Shiv Prasad Gupta started the Kashi Vidyapith. It was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1921. Dr. Bhagavan Das was the first chancellor and Acharya Narendra Deva, the first principal.

Previous Post Next Post