Ted Grant

British Refuse Arms to Indians

“Live more frugally” says Lord Linlithgow!

Written: June 1942
Source: Socialist Appeal, vol. 4 no. 9 (June 1942)
Transcription: Harry 2007
Markup/Proofread:: Emil 2007

The threatened invasion of India by Japanese imperialism has brought the question of India as a burning issue before the working class of this country.

The policy of British imperialism, and the present mood among the Indian masses, can best be understood if the conditions under which the Indian workers and peasants are compelled to exist under British imperialist rule are known.

The British imperialists squeeze £150,000,000 a year out of the Indian people in tribute. This is obtained at the expense of the misery and suffering of the masses of the people. After 150 years of British rule 90% of the people cannot read or write. The average income of the masses of the peasants amounts to less than 2d a day. The conditions of the workers are not much better. Crowded five, ten, and even twenty people living in one room, compelled to live on a diet which in 1927-28 (since then the conditions have if anything worsened) the Medical Officer of Health in Bengal recorded in the following terms: “The present peasantry of Bengal are in a very large proportion taking to a diet on which even rats could not live for more than five weeks.” Tens of millions die every year from diseases of malnutrition and starvation, malaria and other diseases which could be prevented by decent food, proper sanitation and drainage.

The peasants’ income is so low that the average peasant family is five years’ income in debt to the moneylenders and landlords. The peasants pay land revenue while the landlords’ incomes are exempt from income tax. They are born, they live, and they die in debt. The industrial workers are more “fortunate”. They are merely in debt to the extent of 6 months’ wages.

Upon all these burdens is superimposed the burden of taxation. Today when the British workers have legitimate cause for complaint and feel the exactions of income tax, they can well imagine the position of their Indian brothers who do not receive more than 1/- a day on the average and who are paying more than a third of their income on taxes.

Due to these terrible conditions the dissatisfaction and unrest among the Indian masses is intense. The Japanese imperialists have been playing on this in their propaganda to the Indians in attempting to win the Indians over to their side. Subhas Bose, former Congress leader who went over to the Japanese, is using this skillfully in his wireless broadcasts from Japan.

The British press has time and again pointed to the measures which Hitler and his quislings in the occupied territories have taken to prevent news from the outside reaching the occupied countries. Among the desperate measures resorted to was the prohibition of listening to foreign broadcasts and the confiscation of wireless sets.

Great play has been made of the fact that such prohibition was not necessary in the “democracies” where complete freedom of thought was permitted. But in India the reply to Japanese propaganda—the imperialists cannot make any other reply—has been the same as that of all oppressors: wireless sets have been confiscated.

The real position in India has been underlined by a speech of the Viceroy in Delhi at the beginning of May on the question of arming the population to resist the Japanese.

“I have often heard it said lately: ‘We are unarmed. What can we do? What can we do? Let the Government put arms in our hands and we will spring to the defence of India like one man!’ Here is my answer to that:

“Were the people of Great Britain armed in June 1940? Were the people of Russia armed on June 9th, 1941? During the long agony of China have the ordinary men had arms in their hands?

“The answer is ‘no’. The mass of the people have never carried arms in any country or in any modern campaign…”

Lord Linlithgow ended with an appeal to the Indian masses to “use less of everything and to lead more frugal lives”!

This speech is the only answer the imperialists have to the demand of the Indians for arms. It is of course, untrue, because to a large extent the resistance of Russia and China has been due to the arming and organising of large sections of the masses of the people. Even in Britain, at least one in ten is in the armed forces. In the same proportion this would mean the arming of 40,000,000 or more of the Indian people. Yet only a million Indians or less are even organised into the Regular Indian Army.

The farce of “defence of India’s freedom” is underlined by the fact that the Viceroy is compelled to resort to such arguments to bolster up the refusal of the ruling class to arm the Indian masses. Point is given to this inability by the importing of tens of thousands of British and American troops who have been pouring into India. Now news comes that native troops from East Africa are being sent to India! That it would be technically possible to arm millions upon millions of Indian workers has been demonstrated by Tom Wintringham in an article written in Picture Post where he points out that in the last three to six months enough tommy-guns and munitions could have been produced to arm such a force without any difficulty whatsoever. The industrial capacity to produce the machines is there. But the political question is what determines the position of British imperialism.

The Viceroy’s speech is an indication of the insolence and arrogance of the ruling class. To ask the workers and peasants who are not even able to get one decent meal a day, to live more frugally is to add insult to injury. This from the Viceroy who has spent thousands of pounds on 100 lavatories for his palace.

This is the real reason for the refusal to place arms in the hands of the masses. They dare not do so. The contrast between the squalor and misery of the workers and peasants and the huge tribute of £150,000,000 a year drained from these poor workers and peasants is too great. It is clear that the masses would not stop at throwing out the Japanese invaders but would throw out the British invaders as well. It is clear that rather than arm the Indian people and risk India falling into the hands of the Indians, the British imperialists would prefer it to fall, temporarily, into the hands of the Japanese.

The Indian capitalists are not much better than the British rulers themselves. The Congress has refused to wage a struggle against British imperialism despite the pressure of the masses. For fear of the repercussions among the masses, they have been compelled to reject the proposals of the British Government brought by Cripps. In their treachery they are only surpassed by the Indian “Communist” Party which, though formally illegal, has completely capitulated to British imperialism. Its activities are openly carried out and tolerated by the police. Their campaign for a “National Government” of landlords and capitalists, imperialists and workers and peasants, of Congress, the Princes and the Moslem League is a craven capitulation to British imperialism which evens the Congress leaders were not prepared to do.

India’s freedom can only be obtained and the terrible conditions of the masses alleviated by the workers of India taking power into their own hands and assisting the peasants to seize the land. This would be the means of rendering India impregnable to any foreign invader. It would shatter Japanese and world imperialism and the Indian and British workers could march together on the road to Socialism and freedom.