R. Page Arnot
Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 22, September 1940, No. 9, pp. 495-498 (2,126 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2010). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
The Viceroy, on August 8th, once more offered to sell a pig in a poke to the people of India. There were no buyers. The Indian National Congress which, at the 1937 elections, despite the restricted electorate and heavily rigged arrangements for privileged constituencies, nevertheless obtained at overwhelming majority, is not so easily to be duped. Indeed, the British Government, which authorised the Viceroy to make his statement, can hardly have expected to get from India any response, apart from the ready applause of its own clients and confidants: Nor can they have been altogether surprised when the Muslim president of the Indian National Congress Manlana Kalam Asad, coldly declined to enter the game. From the impudent opening claim that “India’s anxiety at this moment of critical importance in the world struggle against tyranny and aggression to contribute to the full to the common cause and to the triumph of our common ideas is manifest” to the flowery statement of “the intentions of His Majesty’s Government” the device was altogether too transparent. These intentions turn out to be reiteration of the “full weight” which British Imperialism will lend to and minority to thwart the decisions of the majority of the Indian people; the “revision” (which may mean on the precedent of the Simon Commission either extension or restriction) of the present “constitution” by some third and presumably hand-picked Round Table—provided always that safeguards are maintained for and by the British Imperialists; and that in any case this must all be put off till after the war. Negatively, this means the rejection of the Congress demands for unequivocal recognition of national independence, for self-determination, for the future of India to be decided by a democratically elected Constituent Assembly, and for immediate setting up of a National Government with ministers responsible to elected bodies. The Indian National Congress in the last ten months had asked the British Government to define its intentions towards India: in order that the Indians might judge of the claim that this war was being waged for democracy and freedom. Through the mouth of the Viceroy the reply is hereby given and the Congress leaders are now invited to behave like their predecessors in the war of 1914-18, in return for which they are informed that the principle of “divide and rule” will continue to be operated, that they had better drop their present programme, and that they would do well to accept a post-dated cheque for a new constitutional scheme, “after the war.”
In these circumstances, the reason for the Viceroy’s statement, followed by the parliamentary debate of August 15th, must be looked upon as the preparation of public opinion at home and in the U.S.A. for the further steps the Government will take to deal with the Congress and the whole liberation movement of the Indian people. Already there have been many arrests, especially of leaders of the Indian working class: and new repressive ordinances (e.g. against defence volunteers) have been issued. Moreover, as Jawaharlal Nehru stated in a recent telegram, the closing of the Burma Road to China (with other steps for the appeasement of Japanese Imperialism), is directly opposed to the interests of the Indian people, who have expressed their solidarity with the people of China. Talk of “common ideals” cannot hide this conflict of interests; and in it there lies a threat for the future. But British public opinion, as voiced in the press, as well as the debate in Parliament, appeared to accept without question the Government statements. The press telegrams to India will say that there is “unanimity” behind the Government and the possibility of friendship between the peoples of Britain and India that could develop from an acceptance of the Congress programme will be made more remote. This is a prospect full of peril for the people of this country: and the sooner there is an awakening to this danger and a widespread understanding of India to-day, the sooner the working class and the people of this country will be in a position to solve their own problems.
Precisely at this time the publication of R. Palme Dutt’s book on India gives everyone the opportunity of acquiring a full understanding, a criterion by which to judge vice-regal statements and an equipment for participating in the struggle for Colonial liberation, as part of the real “common cause” of the working class and the oppressed peoples against Imperialism.
India To-day is the most important book about it since the time the peoples of India first became subject to the domination of the British capitalists.
It is the best book written in this country on the Colonial Question. It is a profound Marxist study that lays bear the working of Imperialism.
So far, its reception at the hands of reviewers in the Capitalist press has been in inverse proportion to its importance. Handed out to the readers of the Left Book Club on a pair of tongs by Professor Laski, the ideologist of the Labour Party Executive Committee (odd resemblance between the churchmen who “edited” Gibbon to minimise the damage his history might do to their altars and Laski’s careful attempt at “decontamination” in the Left News) it has since—apart from one or two hostile notices—received scarcely a single serious review. Under the circumstances of the present war, threatening to involve the whole of mankind, it is noteworthy that the best Marxist work in Western Europe for many a year should be met by a conspiracy of silence. All the more then the working class of the English-speaking countries should make up their minds to get this book and equip themselves from it.
The book falls into five main parts, together with a preliminary chapter on India in the War and a sixth part drawing conclusions as to the future. In Part I, India as it Is and as it Might Be, there is presented the problem of India, the 370,000,000 human beings, living in extreme poverty, under a foreign rule which maintains by force the social system, and struggling for the means of life, for elementary freedom. The facts are those admitted by Imperialists that “after two centuries of imperialist rule, India presents a spectacle of squalid poverty and misery of the mass of the people without equal in the world”. Nor is it deficiency of resources that explains this; nor long-lasting historic backwardness (for up till the British capitalists came, India was relatively advanced in the world scale of technical development); nor any other specious reason. Citations from imperialist apologists themselves lead to the conclusion that “it is this failure to develop the productive resources of India that finally sounds the death-knell of imperialism in India to-day”; and the necessary transformation, depending on the national movement, on the working masses and especially on the young working class, while having as its first objective the liberation from Imperialism, has then the further issue of the ending of poverty. Before this can be set forth in full, there are necessary sections dealing with the “Silent censorship” over India and the mythologies (“White Man’s burden” in all keys) conjured up by the imperialists and spread by them in this country through every agency of propaganda. In Chapter 3 the terrible paradox of the wealth of India and the poverty of India is followed by a complete exposure of the over-population fallacies, the fantastic nonsense solemnly put forward about the “devastating torrent of Indian babies” in a country whose population increase lags behind Britain. In Chapter 4 there is squarely given the contrast between two worlds, socialism in the U.S.S.R. and imperialism in India over two decades, together with a particular contrast of the Central Asian Republics, where almost everything in the past conditions under the Tsar’s viceroy was strictly comparable with Hindustan a few hundred miles to the south, and where their present position gives a glimpse of India as it might be.
The need of this first part may be illustrated by the British reader from his own experience. To every school-child the story of the “Black Hole of Calcutta” as the origin and justification of British rule in India, is nearly as familiar as the Norman Conquest, while it is not one in ten thousand who would know of the Moplah death train of 1921. But the “Black Hole” never occurred. It is a myth, an invented war-atrocity, a lie which does not take on any aspect of truth by its repetition for over a century and half or by being taught to little children.
The atrocious suffocation of the Moplah prisoners of British imperialism, on the other hand, is something that did take place, and less than 20 years ago: but it finds no mention in the school-books. Even when Holwell’s monument commemorating the imaginary “Black Hole” was removed two months ago by the Bengal Government from a main thoroughfare of Calcutta because it “offended the susceptibilities” of the inhabitants. The Times left it to be inferred that the people of Bengal were unduly sensitive about an episode in their own history and no hint was given that British rule in India came with a lie, or that it was the British who should have felt shame.
In Part II, British Rule in India, an historical analysis reveals the secret of Indian poverty; and therewith discusses the reason for the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century primacy of British capitalism and the course of ruling class politics. An examination of the fertile thoughts of Marx on India is followed by a statement of the stages of exploitation from the policy of plunder under John Company to the exploitation of a market for goods with the industrial devastation of Hindustan and from that to the present stage of finance capital, whose stranglehold is expressed in constitutional form in the Government of India Act of 1935. A hundred facts refute the “industrialisation” fallacy. The argument goes deep and the reader may understand from it not only the complex that is India-England but the whole question of imperialism and the subject peoples, can see wider horizons and come to grasp the last century and a half of world history. British Rule in India confirms the Communist International thesis on the National and Colonial question.
Of particular importance for the British reader is the exposition in Part III of the Basic Problem of India—the Agrarian Problem. Here is not only a clear statement of the process of growing agrarian crisis: the over-pressure of the population on agriculture, due to the continuing “deindustrialisation" of the Indian colony; the stagnation and deterioration of agriculture; the land-hunger of the peasantry, with dwarfish, fragmented and ever-smaller holdings; the whole falling more and more into the maw of absentee landlords; the crushing burden of debt; the expropriation of the peasantry. These developments which have gone on with the remorseless movement of a natural process, which the imperialist rulers of India cannot end without ending their own rule, are now shown to have increased their speed in recent years. Twenty years ago the landless peasants were reckoned at one-fifth of the whole: to-day at one-half. Out of this abyss there is no rescue save in the shape of Agrarian Revolution; and Chapter 9 (“The Burdens on the Peasantry”) in its closing sentences sounds the prelude to Agrarian Revolution:
“Carlyle described the situation of the French peasantry on the eve of the Great Revolution in a famous passage:
The widow is gathering nettles for her children’s dinner: a perfumed seigneur, delicately lunging in the Oeil de Boeuf, has an alchemy whereby he will extract from her the third nettle, and name it Rent and Law.
A more mysterious alchemy has been achieved to-day in British India. “One nettle is left for the peasant; two nettles are gathered for the seigneur.”
Parts II and III, showing the two axes of change in India, the national struggle for liberation from British rule and the oncoming of Agrarian Revolution, give the basis for Part IV, The Indian People in Movement (the rise of Indian Nationalism, the three stages of national struggle, and the rise of Labour and Socialism) and Part V, The Battleground in India To-day. To discuss these two parts together with the conclusions in Part VI would require a full treatment in relation to the new developments in India, and the present world situation. Enough has been said to indicate the scope of “India To-day”, which becomes the indispensable equipment of every revolutionary. For no one who sees the need of a social transformation can afford to neglect the study of this book or fail to gain from its passion of revolutionary thought an understanding and a stimulus for action.