R. Palme Dutt
Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 10, June 1928, No. 6, pp. 323-341
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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.
Indian Awakening—New Questions—Imperialist Policy—Post-War Basis—Economic Check—Political Hardening—Is Policy Changed?—Industrialisation—Not Only War Policy—Fiscal Commission—Imperialism and Proletariat—A Temporary Phase—Deflation Policy—British Financial Hegemony—Agricultural Concentration—British Home Problems—Problem of Economic Dyarchy—Industrialisation Perspective Unchanged—Friction with Indian Bourgeoisie—Madras Congress—Independence—Independence Not Enough—Workers Advance—Workers’ Political Rôle—Government and Reformist Trade Unionism—British Reformist Touts—True Unity with Indian Workers.
The great industrial conflicts now developing1 in India, as well as the intensified political situation, alike point to the opening of a new period of sharpened struggle in India, which is likely to become one of the central factors of the world situation in the next few years. The transformation of the situation in India which has been taking place during the past five years, since the collapse of Gandhi and the Non-Co-operation Movement, has been developing for the most part beneath the surface; and it is only when the factors and forces governing it are surveyed as a whole that the full extent of the transformation can be gauged. The India of Gandhi is dead and belongs to the past (despite the recently announced attempt of Gandhi, after numerous solemn renunciations of politics, to proclaim his return). A new India is coming into being. The rising consciousness and action of the industrial workers, the growth of Republicanism and victory of the independence slogan at the National Congress, the growth of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party, the foremost rôle of the workers in the demonstrations against the Simon Commission—all these are signs of the new India that is coming into being. The painful and difficult interim period of outer political stagnation and inner growth of new forces beneath the surface which is reaching its close. The new period, in which the leading rôle of the workers and peasants in the national struggle comes ever more clearly to the front, has now already proclaimed itself. This new period in India raises questions and problems as urgent and vital for the British working class as any on the “home” front; for it cannot be too often repeated that the fifty millions in Britain and the three hundred millions in India are natural allies, and the strongest forces in the single fight against British Imperialism.
This transformation of the Indian situation, which is still only at its earliest stages, is the most important general characteristic of the present period in India. At the same time certain developments and modifications have taken place in the rôle and policy of imperialism, in the rôle of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie, and in the inter-relations of the bourgeoisie and of imperialism, as well as in certain important factors of the general political situation, especially with reference to the growing importance of the war question and external relations for India, which need to be taken into review. Questions have been raised with regard to the rôle of imperialism in India in the present period, in the light of recent evidence, which require to be discussed. In order to gauge the principal changes which have taken place, it will be necessary to survey briefly the developments in the rôle of imperialism, in the rôle of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, and in the rôle of the workers and peasants. Finally, it will be necessary to survey the rôle of the British working class and of the existing leadership of the British working-class movement as it is developing in relation to India.
The policy of imperialism in India has undergone some modification in the past few years. The rapid progressive policy which marked the end of the war and the first post-war period, the policy of economic transformation and industrialisation combined with liberal constitutional reforms has met with an arrest and slowed down very considerably. The basic outline of the new epoch of policy which was initiated by the Industrial Commission of 1916, the Montagu Declaration of 1917, and the Montagu-Chelmsford Report of 1918, and the far-reaching transformation that it meant of British policy in India, is sufficiently familiar. The essential character of this policy was that, economically, British capitalism in India advanced from the use of India primarily as an agricultural and raw materials reserve and outlet for British manufactures, with the consequent deliberate restriction of Indian industrial development to the direct industrial opening up and exploitation of India under the control of British capital; politically, British rule in India advanced from basing itself primarily on the support of the big landlord class and ruling princes, to the new objective of winning the co-operation of the rising Indian bourgeoisie in administration through the form of Dyarchy advancing to Dominion status. The essence of the new imperialist policy was thus the taking of the Indian bourgeoisie into junior partnership, economic and political. Its cornerstones were industrialisation and Dyarchy, advancing to Dominion status.
The reasons behind the policy were three-fold. First, it provided that the in any case inevitable process of industrialisation, which could not be indefinitely held up from developing in India as in the other extra-European countries, should by a skilful volte-face in policy be actually taken in hand and turned to the profit of British capital. Second, it provided that the already dangerously threatened and shaking political structure of British rule in India, faced with a growing national movement, should save itself by the familiar manoeuvre of buying off a section of the opposition, and seek to build for itself a new social and political basis of support in the rising bourgeoisie by taking them into a joint sharing of the spoils and developing a common interest of exploitation against the masses. Third, it provided an outlet and line of expansion corresponding to the general needs and stage of British capitalism as a whole, which was increasingly finding the basic home industries less profitable and offering diminishing scope, and was interesting itself in the industrial development of the colonial and new countries. These basic driving forces behind the new imperialist policy are important to remember now, when we are having to consider the fresh problems of a further phase in its development.
To-day we are faced with a noticeable arrest in the development of the policy. The export of British capital to India, which reached an extremely high level in the years 1921-3, has fallen to a very low level. The figures are sufficiently striking to be worth setting out in full:—
|Year||British capital exported to India £ (millions)||Total British capital New Issues £ (millions)||Percentage to India|
After making all allowance for necessary criticism of the basis of figures of capital issues as an incomplete index of all movements of capital, the general tendency revealed remains unmistakable. Are we then faced with a reversal of policy, or does this represent a temporary phase within the general policy, and if so, what is the significance of this phase?
Coincidently with this, we find a significant change in the political line of the British Government. The line has again moved to a conservative trend, though still within the framework of the new policy. The reforms are minimised; the supremacy of the Executive is mainly stressed; the rate of progress is no longer spoken of in sanguine terms, but with heavy stress on the slowness and doubtfulness of any further advance. A Montagu is succeeded by a Birkenhead. The tone in relation to the Nationalist Movement is one of open contempt and indifference. There is a noticeable, hardening against concessions and conciliation towards the Indian bourgeoisie. In the appointment of the Simon Commission, above all, there is a deliberate demonstration of power against all sections, driving into opposition at the outset even the most servile moderate sections which only seek for any excuse to be conciliated, and revealing a manifest aim to display the undivided absolute character of British rule. Again we have to consider how far this represents a reversal of policy, or how far a phase within the general policy.
A critical view of the whole process of industrialisation and of the rôle of the British Government in relation to it has been expressed by E. Varga in an important recent survey (“India the Focus of the British Empire” in the International Press Correspondence, German edition, February 15, 1928; English edition, March 14, 1928). Comrade Varga raises the question whether the extent of industrialisation has not been exaggerated, whether it is correct to speak of an economic policy of industrialisation on the part of the British Government in the present period, and whether what has taken place as regards Government policy has not been rather a temporary wartime policy undertaken for special reasons, military and political rather than economic, which are now no longer operative. Consequently, he puts forward the suggestion that the period of industrialisation policy which opened in 1916 may have come to an end, that we may be now confronted with, not merely a temporary deflection within the general policy, but an actual change of policy and new period, and that, with changing conditions, “there is the possibility of a complete return to the old policy.” The suggestions here thrown out, though only in tentative form, open up such a fundamental revision of our whole line in relation to the Indian situation as to demand careful consideration.
On the question of the extent of industrialisation there is no dispute. Comrade Varga shows that, although the rate of industrialisation has been extremely rapid during the past fifteen years (the census period 1911-1921 showed for the ten years a 25 per cent. increase in the number of industrial workers in enterprises employing over twenty workers, a 35 per cent. rise in textiles, 130 per cent. in metallurgy, 100 per cent. in chemicals, &c.), nevertheless the absolute degree of industrialisation is still very low—less than Russia at the end of the nineteenth century (10.7 per cent. of the population engaged in industry in 1921, as against 17.4 per cent. in Russia in 1897, or 14.6 per cent. in Spain in 1910; and within this total the proportion in larger industrial enterprises very low, and in particular iron, steel and engineering industry very little developed). All this is undoubted; and, indeed, the whole policy and propaganda of industrialisation in India starts from the fact that India is relatively backward in industrial development compared to other countries at a comparable stage of development and with anything approaching similar resources (so the Industrial Commission Report which exposes very sharply the failure and neglect of industrial development, and similarly subsequent reports).
But when Comrade Varga proceeds from this to question the rôle and policy of the British Government in India in relation to industrialisation, and in particular to raise the question whether the Government can be correctly said to be pursuing an economic policy of industrialisation apart from the wartime emergency measures, his line of argument becomes more open to dispute. Comrade Varga argues that the industrialisation policy which opened in 1916 was due to four reasons: (1) home political reasons, i.e., the danger of the political situation created by the war and the necessity of winning the support of the Indian bourgeoisie; (2) military reasons, to secure war industrial supplies; (3) economic reasons, to meet the war inability of Britain to supply the Indian market and prevent the Japanese industrial invasion; (4) foreign political reasons, to make a show of a liberal policy to India for war propagandist purposes. These four reasons, it will be seen, are all directly connected with the war situation. But while these circumstances were certainly the immediate circumstances giving the stimulus to the change in policy in 1916, it is very strongly open to question whether these reasons can be accepted as a complete account of the reasons behind the industrialisation policy of the Government, especially as it has developed since the war (tariff policy).
It is only necessary to consult the Government’s own reports to see very clearly set out the more permanent economic reasons consciously underlying the whole policy of industrialisation. This applies not only to the basic Industrial Commission Report of the war period, where the situation is examined under very much wider conditions than the immediate war crisis, but also to the post-war literature and inquiries. Reference may be made to such a standard document of post-war economic policy as the Fiscal Commission Report of 1922, especially to Chapter IV, “The Importance of Industrial Development.” The Commission reached the conclusion (p. 54):—
We have considered generally the advantages and the possible disadvantages which would attach to considerable development of Indian industries. We have no hesitation in holding that such a development would be very much to the advantage of the country as a whole, creating new sources of wealth, encouraging the accumulation of capital, enlarging the public revenues, providing more profitable employment for labour, reducing the excessive dependence of the country on the unstable profits of agriculture and finally stimulating the national life and developing the national character.
Here there is no longer question of the special wartime emergency considerations, but of a permanent economic policy, “accumulation of capital,” “more profitable employment for labour,” “enlarging the public revenues,” &c. And in fact Government policy since the war, although undoubtedly very inactive and stingy in any constructive work, and putting on the shelf most of the Industrial Commission recommendations, much the same as the “reconstruction” policy in England since the war, has nevertheless followed this general aim in its economic policy, as seen in its imposition of tariffs, bounties to the iron and steel industry, &c. (appointment of the Tariff Board, 1923; Steel Protection Act, 1924; total suspension of the cotton excise duty, 1925; bounties to the iron and steel industry, 1924-7).
Indeed, the Fiscal Commission went so far as to consider not only the general basis and grounds of a permanent policy of industrialisation, but even the problems and dangers arising in the creation of an industrial proletariat. It declared:—
Industrialisation will however, bring new and real problems, arising from the aggregation of population in large towns, and these will involve new expenditure. The administrative control of a population of 100,000 in a town is a more elaborate and expensive business than the control of the same numbers scattered through a countryside. Law and order are preserved less easily, the neglect of sanitary rules brings a severer penalty, the necessity for education is more urgent. Poverty and unemployment may assume forms hitherto unknown in India, and may demand new machinery to cope with them. These are possibilities which should not be ignored. But so far as they will involve additional expenditure, they may be set off against the additional revenue which industries will bring.
The menace to the existing order from the creation of an industrial proletariat is envisaged. But it is considered that a little “additional expenditure” will meet the problem, i.e., expenditure on police, administration, social legislation, suitable education, secret service and corruption of labour leaders, after the recognised fashion of the modern industrial state. The whole problem is turned into a profit and loss account; the “additional expenditure” will be more than counterbalanced by the “additional revenue which industries will bring.” Thus, the sapient Government Commissioners patiently tread the wheel of history, with the carrot of profit dangling before their eyes.
What, then, is the basis for the interruption or slowing down of the process visible during, the past few years, since there is no ground for assuming a conscious reversal of policy? An examination of the evidence will show that the interruption is fully explicable, through certain specific reasons which belong to a temporary phase, and which, so far from representing a reversal of policy, are actually in great part bound up with the whole process of British capitalist industrialisation in India. The first and most general reason is not peculiar to India or the Indian situation, but lies in the cessation of the post-war boom, and the reaction after the feverish speculation of the first years following the war. This general factor is common to the wider world depression, but is complicated and intensified in India by special conditions closely bound up with British policy. These special conditions, which constitute the second main reason for the slowing down, lie in the British financial policy in India in the present period.
The British Government financial policy in India, based on the control of the currency, has passed through a series of crises in the post-war period, which have reacted with ruinous effect on Indian capital and industry. The disastrous attempt under the 1920 Coinage Act to maintain the rupee at 2s. resulted in a deadly blow for Indian exporters (the export surplus of the first half of 1920 passed into an adverse balance in the second half), a windfall for British bondholders, and the paying out by the Indian Government to London of over £50,000,000 in a vain attempt to maintain the rate. Later, the decision in accordance with the 1925-6 Currency Commission to fix the rate at 1s. 6d. has been carried through in face of the strenuous opposition of the Indian bourgeoisie, who have demanded the old rate of 1s. 4d., and protested against the ruinous effects of the policy of deflation. The financial policy of deflation has hit Indian industry hard, and in particular Indian-owned industry. Here, then, it would appear at first sight that British financial policy has gone against the policy of industrialisation and overridden it.
But, in fact, this financial policy is not a contradiction of the policy of industrialisation, despite its immediately damaging effects to Indian industry; it is, on the contrary, an integral part of it. For the whole character of the British policy of industrialisation in India is to secure industrialisation under British control. The financial weapon is the most important weapon for securing this domination. The currency policy is closely linked up with the policy of establishing a centralised banking system under British control (formation of the Imperial Bank of India in 1920 by the amalgamation of the Presidency Banks of Bengal, Bombay, and Madras, with arrangements to open a hundred new branches throughout the country; present arrangements for establishing a Central Reserve Bank). It is necessary to establish the conditions for the complete British financial domination of the whole process of industrialisation and industrial exploitation, which will be carried out mainly with Indian capital, no less than with Indian labour. In the post-war boom Indian capital showed signs of accumulating and expanding too quickly for control. The subsequent crisis has punctured this; the wholesale mortality and bankruptcies of Indian-owned concerns have opened the way for judicious amalgamations with British interests and financial penetration (the experience of Tata’s in the post-war period, the failure of the ambitious Tata Industrial Bank, and the eventual merging with British interests afford a particularly instructive study). Thus, what seems on the face of it contrary to the process of industrialisation is seen on examination to reveal the clearest evidence of the far-reaching and integral character of the whole policy of British imperialism in India in the present period.
Third, Government policy in the last few years has been concentrated, less on the immediate process of industrial development, and more on two corollary processes (1) financial reorganisation and centralisation, as already noted above, and (2) agricultural development. The Linlithgow Agricultural Commission is the distinguishing feature of the present period in economic policy. Indeed, the stages of economic reorganisation may in a measure be traced out through the successive landmarks of the Industrial Commission of 1916-18, the Fiscal Commission of 1921-2, the Currency and Finance Commission of 1925-6, and the Agricultural Commission, appointed in 1926 and still in session. Once again, however, this agricultural concentration is not contrary to the policy of industrialisation, but corollary to it. Already the original Industrial Commission laid down the modernisation of agricultural methods as the necessary foundation of industrial development. Until the bankrupt Indian agriculture is able to provide some possibility of the expansion of the home market, the necessary basis for further industrial development is lacking. The Agricultural Commission is not appointed to solve the agrarian problem; on the contrary, the real question, the question of land ownership, is expressly excluded from its terms of reference:—
It will not be within the scope of the Commission’s duties to make recommendations regarding the existing systems of land ownership and tenancy, or of assessment of land revenue and irrigation charges.
The British Government dare not touch the real agrarian question, manifest and increasing though the crisis is, for its own existence is too delicately bound up with the whole existing rotten structure. Only the peasants’ own revolution, in union with the workers, will solve this. But the Linlithgow Commission’s aim is to discover within the existing structure such means as are possible of raising agricultural productivity and so providing an expanded home market for further industrial development.
Fourth, the British home problem of reorganising home industry, restoration of the gold standard with consequent intensified industrial depression, and rationalisation, has restricted available British capital for export. Hence, above all, the heavy fall since 1923 in British capital export to India. If capitalist policy is successful in increasing the surplus available for export, it may be expected that British capital export to India will again rise rapidly in the future. But the interim process of reorganisation and “rationalisation” both in Britain and also in India (for there are signs of a similar process confronting Indian industry) will have to be gone through first before there is a basis of further expansion. Here, again, we have simply a particular phase of the general policy of Britain in regard to the Empire expressed in The Times City Editor’s statement: “When our export industries are at last placed upon a competitive basis, and we acquire thereby a larger surplus for investment abroad, we shall, of course, as in the past be able to finance all the requirements of the Empire.”—(The Times, July 9, 1925.)
In general, the peculiar character of the problem of British capitalist industrialisation in India consists in this, that the proportion of Indian capital inevitably increases as industrial development goes forward, while the actual British supplies of fresh capital are for home reasons growing more restricted, but that at the same time it is the aim of British capitalism to maintain control of the new industrial era in India and reap the richest profits for itself by use, of its dominant position, banking monopoly, shipping and trading monopoly, international connections and Machinery of State power. This gives rise to a whole series of special inter-relations and interactions of British capital and Indian capital in India, which are also reflected in the political situation. From this peculiar character of the problem follow the apparent zigzags and variations within the general policy of industrialisation.
But this is no ground for drawing from the present situation a conclusion of the abandonment of industrialisation or reversion to the pre-war period, with the consequent political corollary which this would mean of abandoning our central political perspective for India based on the certainty of the growth of the industrial proletariat. On the contrary, from every sign of what is going on at present we can build with confidence on our diagnosis of the continuing capitalist and industrial evolution of India, with the accompanying political revolutionising consequences, and in particular on the growth, both in numbers and in consciousness, of the industrial proletariat, alongside the intensifying agrarian crisis. Once, however, this central perspective is clear, we can with advantage examine the distinctive character of the present phase, which is a phase, of depression, bearing very important political consequences both for the relations of the bourgeoisie with imperialism and for, the development of the working class.
For these contradictions between the particular interests of British capital and Indian capital within the general process of industrialisation lead to a process of renewed friction between the British and Indian bourgeoisie, despite their general basic alliance and partnership as exploiters against the exploited masses. In general, and on all fundamental questions, the rôle of the Indian bourgeoisie since the collapse of the Non Co-operation movement has evolved in the direction of becoming more and more clearly counter-revolutionary. This is seen in the whole retreat from Non-Co-operation, the transition to the Swaraj Party, which was a first veiled step to co-operation, the parliamentary degeneration of the Swaraj Party into lobby bargainings and more and more regular co-operation and complete divorce from any mass movement, and the numerous splits and secessions to the Right and growth of political groupings of open co-operation with British rule. But at the same time, within this general framework of capitulation, there takes place a process of friction and antagonism which has recently grown sharper. This has shown itself most clearly in the resistance to the Simon Commission, which at the outset, before the process of bargaining and capitulation has begun, has united even the Liberals or big bourgeois elements in a single national front. The same opposition has shown itself in several votes of the Legislative Assembly, notably the rejection of the Royal Indian Navy Bill and the rejection of the Reserve Bank Bill, as well as the carrying of the boycott vote against the Simon Commission. Thus the rôle of the bourgeoisie in the national struggle is not yet exhausted, and may even extend under certain conditions; but it remains permanently limited in scope by its fear and hostility towards any wider mass revolutionary movement, and, therefore, very dangerous to the real struggle against imperialism. It becomes the task of the mass movement to exploit to the maximum the opportunities presented by bourgeois resistance, as in the boycott of the Simon Commission, but under independent leadership.
Even among the leading bourgeois elements there is thus a sharpening of opposition as a result of the present situation and tendencies of imperialism. But if we turn to the rank and file of the Nationalist Movement, representing in the main the various elements of the petty bourgeoisie, the sharpening of opposition is much more conspicuous. Here an actual process of revolutionisation is at work among a considerable section, following on the disillusionment after the collapse of Gandhi and Non-Co-operation, and on the economic hardships of the present period. The strength and extent of this process is demonstrated by the advance and victory of the Independence slogan, which has steadily forced its way upwards from below against the official loyalist creed during recent years, and after winning a series of victories or striking votes at various provincial congresses against the opposition of the official plat- form, finally secured unanimous adoption (i.e., with the insincere consent of the bourgeois leadership) at the last National Congress at Madras in December, 1927. The Madras Congress also in other respects took a marked turn to the Left, notably in the resolution of opposition to the British war preparations against the Soviet Union, the demand for the recall of Indian troops from China and Iraq, and the decision of support for the League against Imperialism. All these mark a step forward, on the part of the main body of the Indian National Movement from their former isolation and limitations to becoming a conscious part of the world revolutionary fight against imperialism.
The adoption of the goal of “complete national independence” as the official goal of the Indian National Congress is a landmark in the history of the Indian National Movement. It is true that the adoption is still hemmed in by many limitations. The resolution in question qualified its adoption by the reservation that it did “not involve any change in the Congress creed regarding Swaraj” (that Congress creed being “the attainment of Swaraj by all legitimate and peaceful means”—as if Britain would provide India with “legitimate means” to become independent! The Labour Party, not to mention the capitalist parties, have made abundantly clear that they will employ force without stint to keep India in subjection). The acceptance of the resolution by the official bourgeois leadership was obviously insincere; they have not hesitated since to characterise the goal of independence as manifestly outside practical politics (“moonshine,” in Lajpat Rai’s phrase), and to treat the resolution as a “moral gesture” (so also the Daily Herald, which would otherwise be faced with awkward questions) for the purpose of better bargaining with the Simon Commission. Nevertheless the strength of the pressure which was able to compel the acceptance of this goal is a powerful expression of the advance of the national movement, and its victory a big step to the clearing and strengthening of national self-consciousness.
One point on the question of independence may be suggested for the consideration of the National Movement, now that its adoption has been secured. In general terms, the battle between independence and Dominion status has represented the battle between a real break with imperialist subjection and exploitation as against a compromise agreement, representing an improved position for the bourgeoisie, but continued imperialist exploitation under an altered form for the masses. But now that the first step to the recognition of the principle has been won, it is necessary to say that the mere abstract opposition of independence and Dominion status does not yet fully express the principle at issue. It is perfectly possible to imagine a formal recognition of complete independence, in which the reality of imperialist exploitation continues unchanged through Indian bourgeois republican forms if financial penetration and dependence on British capital is already complete and remains unbroken. Comparison may be made of the “independent” South American Republics in relation to the United States. In the last resort, the difference between independence and Dominion status, if taken formally and in isolation, may be no more than a constitutional figment. It is the reality that matters. The reality of independence depends upon the breaking of the power of British capital in India. That is why the real national emancipation of India is inevitably bound up with the social emancipation of the workers and peasants. But this has an immediate bearing for national agitation at the present stage. In order to make clear the real meaning of independence it is necessary that it must be combined with a more concrete demand, expressing its character, i.e., the direct attack on British imperialist exploitation. The demand for independence needs to be combined with the demand for the repudiation of the foreign debts and expropriation of the foreign concessions and capital holdings in India. Then alone will the demand for independence take on its real and living character. This is the next stage to which the national movement needs to advance, following on the recognition in principle of the goal of independence.
But the strongest advancing force of the present situation comes from the growing consciousness and action of the industrial workers. The economic depression is hitting the workers hardest. Successive attacks have been launched and are being launched against their already desperate conditions. The millionaire Indian millowners and their British colleagues are declaring that the only way is to reduce wages. But the attacks are meeting with resistance. Already in 1925 the stand of the Bombay textile workers against the attempted 11 per cent. reduction of wages and defeat of that attempt was an historic event in the battle of the international working class. To-day, the struggles are developing on a still bigger scale. The Government is using every means to reduce the workers to submission, alike through their reformist agents in the trade unions who are using every effort to prevent and restrict the fight, and through direct legal repression and armed violence and shooting. But the struggle of the workers has broken all bounds, and gone forward in face of the opposition, and even sabotage of the reformist trade union officials, and in face of the armed terrorism of the Government. In these struggles the Indian Communists have been able to play an active and influential rôle, and establish in action their claim to leadership. Here in these struggles is revealed the force of the future in India.
Even more significant, the struggle of the workers has already taken on a political, as well as economic, character. In the demonstrations against the landing of the Simon Commission at Bombay, on February 3, in which the British “Labour” representatives had the pleasure of assisting in the shooting down by “their” soldiers of the Indian workers, the leading rôle was played by the workers under their own leadership and behind their own slogans. In defiance of the Government prohibition, 30,000 workers demonstrated in the streets, led by the Central Committee of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party; and their slogans were: “Eight-Hour Day”; “Living Wage”; “Down with British imperialism”; “Nothing Short of Independence”; and “Constituent Assembly.” As against this, bourgeois nationalism attempted no militant demonstration; and its only slogans were: “Simon, go Back”; “No Representation, No Commission”; and “Swaraj is our Birthright.” February 3, 1928, is a powerful first signal of the future form of the national struggle.
Faced with the growing advance to consciousness of the Indian proletariat, the Government is making every endeavour to restrict the workers’ movement to safe legal economic channels of reformist trade unionism, both by its Trade Union Act (nominally legalising trade unions, actually subjecting the trade unions to close Government control and making class-conscious trade unionism illegal), through the development of Labour departments and officials, and through its reformist agents in the trade unions. For the character of these reformist trade union officials, fastened upon the trade unions from outside and maintained with Government assistance, it is sufficient to quote from their own utterances in order to brand their type, that they may be known also to the British workers, and that the intriguings of British reformist leaders with these types may not be mistaken for fraternal solidarity with the Indian workers. For example, the Report of the Secretary of the Trades Union Congress to the Cawnpore T.U.C. in December, 1927, reads:—
During the period under report no strike was authorised by the Executive Council; but owing to very acute industrial conditions obtaining in different trades and in different parts of India, there occurred some strikes and lock-outs in which the officials of the Congress had to interest themselves.
And this is from the declaration of the President of the Bengal Nagpur Railway Union, speaking at Nagpur on October 11, 1927, when confronted with the struggle of the railwaymen against the Kharagpur lock-out:—
The Government of India as well as the Railway Administration know that I am always against a strike, that our union has always been against a strike. The Government of India know that we have prevented many a strike.
This is the type with whom the General Council members are carrying on backstairs intriguings, and then come home to tell the British workers that they have established fraternal relations with the Indian workers.
And here it is necessary to say something of the rôle of the British reformist leaders in relation to the Indian working class. The British reformist leaders are nowadays taking a great interest in the Indian working class, The old blank indifference and complete apathy and neglect has vanished, now that the Indian workers have themselves begun to become active and show their power to fight and endanger imperialism. During the past few years there has been an ever-increasing activity of countless delegations, individual missions, advisers, and even a little financial assistance; and now there are plans of sending out organisers. Does this mean that the gulf is broken, and a new era of fraternal relations has begun? Not at all (it is only necessary to look at the parallel machine-gun relationship of the Labour Party to see how little there is of fraternal relations). It only means that these agents of imperialism have become aware of the rising menace of the Indian proletariat; they see the growing power that is going to pull down the pillars of the Empire; and they are feverishly exerting themselves to win control of the Indian workers’ movement and keep it safe for imperialism before it is too late. That is the character of their propaganda and activities; their every action is directed, not to intensifying the workers’ struggle and directing it against imperialism, but to confining it to safe channels, to strengthening the Right Wing in the unions, to preaching support of the imperialist Labour Party, and to endeavouring to attach the unions to the Amsterdam International (it is worthy of note that, while all militant working-class literature is forbidden entry into India, the Government encourages the Amsterdam International literature and circulars to be spread broadcast to the unions). The recent invitation of the Amsterdam International to the Indian T.U.C. to join is worth quoting; it says:—
We cannot too strongly urge upon you the advantages which will follow an attempt to bring India into the orbit of European trade unionism.
“To bring India into the orbit of European trade unionism” (how they sink unconsciously into the very language of imperialist diplomacy! Supposing some Gompersites from America were to arrive before the British Trades Union Congress with the solemn announcement of their intention “to bring Britain into the orbit of American trade unionism”)—that is to say, to bring India into the orbit of imperialism.
Even more shameless is the rôle of the Labour Party with its participation in the Simon Commission against the entire Indian nation, and even against the express decision of the Blackpool Labour Party Conference a few months before. But the Labour Party has long committed itself to complete unity with Tory imperialism in maintaining the subjection of the Indian nation by every means of violence and coercion. All their pacifism, all their democracy disappears, when it comes to dealing with India. Of them such a typical, and not at all extremist, Nationalist leader as Ranga Iyer has declared, voicing the opinion of most: “Their policy of lettres de cachet has made British Socialism stink in the nostrils of the Indian people, and shaken their faith once and for all in the so-called Labour leaders of Britain, who, they feel and say, are only imperialists masquerading as Socialists. The difference between the top men in the British Labour Party and the top men in the British Conservative Party is no more than the historic difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” There is no more urgent task than to fight against this shameful misrepresentation of the British workers by the social imperialists in relation to India, which unchecked may work deadly and irreparable damage to international working-class unity and understanding; to make the true voice of the British workers heard for Indian freedom and for the common struggle against British imperialism and its “Labour” agents, and to send true help to the Indian workers in their struggle. It is not the Government-feted missions of reformist leaders that are wanted, but the direct delegations of militant workers to assist the Indian workers in their struggle. The example of such comrades as have gone out from the militant struggle in Britain to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Indian workers in their fight, and taken their sentence of imprisonment which is the Government’s tribute to the true helpers of the Indian workers, shaming by their example the tours of a Purcell and a Johnston—that is the type of example and service which will build the true friendly and fraternal relations of the Indian and British workers.
R. P. D.
1. See separate article for short account of these conflicts.