Joseph Hansen

Freedom Revolt Flares in India

British Commander Labels Navy Strike “Open Mutiny”

(2 March 1946)


Source: The Militant, Vol. X No. 9, 2 March 1946, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2018 by Einde O’Callaghan.
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A fiery slogan is sweeping India. “Long Live the Revolution!” Harbor men lining the rails of Indian Naval small craft at Bombay shouted this slogan on February 21. On this same day British Commander Sir John Godfrey characterized the strike of seamen in the Royal Indian Navy as “a state of open mutiny.”

Two days later on the opposite side of India, 600 striking Indian navy men paraded through the streets of Vizagapatam shouting, “Long Live the Revolution!” And in distant Singapore, Indian nationalists echoed the cry that is bringing the oppressed masses of the entire colonial world to their feet: “Long Live the Revolution!”

The people of India themselves have thus placed the label of “revolution” on the staggering blows they dealt imperialist Britain’s despotic colonial rule during the past week. Their battle for India’s independence is shaking the British Empire to its foundations.

Although the British have clamped down a tight censorship, they cannot conceal the fact that uprisings are occurring in all India’s major cities. The last issue of The Militant reported the mass demonstrations in Calcutta, India’s largest city, which brought to a new high the series of demonstrations that have swept this sub-continent of Asia since November. This week Bombay, India’s second largest city, came into the limelight.
 

Strikers Demonstrate

The workers are moving to the forefront in the unfolding crisis. In Bombay 60 textile mills and other factories were struck on February 22. The strikes extended to railway workers and plane mechanics. These strikers marched through the streets, demonstrating for India’s independence. In Calcutta, the following day, 300,000 workers declared a sympathy strike.

The Bombay events began when the British rulers confined members of the Indian Royal Navy to Castle Barracks to prevent them from joining civilian demonstrators. When the men responded with a strike, the British posted armed guards. Apparently this occurred on February 17.

The besieged naval strikers tried to get out into the streets. When they were threatened by the British with violence, other members of the Navy seized the ships in the harbor and prepared to retaliate if shots were fired at their comrades in the barracks. They maneuvered nine warships into battle position. On February 21, 1,000 Royal Air Force men struck in sympathy.

British Prime Minister Attlee admitted 7,000 men were involved in these demonstrations. Other reports say 12,000. The entire Navy has only 30,000 men. From long experience in suppressing colonial rebellions, the British understood only too well the revolutionary implications of the strike and the seizure of warships. London resorted to the sword.
 

Appeals for Aid

The heroic Navy men organized a Central Naval Strike Committee. This Committee issued an appeal to the Indian Communist (Stalinist) Party and to the Congress Party for aid. The Committee declared that the strikers “have been suffering untold hardships regarding pay, food and most outrageous racial discrimination.” It reported that British use of machine guns “forced us to use arms to defend ourselves.”

Despite hunger and thirst, the besieged Naval strikers held on until February 23. Then the Committee ordered the men to surrender to the superior military forces of the British after leaders of the Congress Party and the Moslem League assured them that their many grievances would be investigated and that they would try to stop the British from taking reprisals.

On February 24, after the surrender, the Committee issued a forthright warning to the British: “The Navy will not hesitate one moment to come out on strike again if the authorities make any attempt to victimize a single striker.”

Meanwhile the civilian population had come out into the streets in tremendous demonstrations of solidarity with the striking Navy men. All reports agree in their descriptions of the anger and power of the masses in the streets of Bombay.
 

Street Barricades

The British brought in paratroopers, planes, armored cars, tanks, artillery and warships. They sent withering blasts of machine gun fire into the densely packed masses of human beings. But the demonstrators fell back only to re-form as quickly. They erected street barricades to block the British and to protect their own ranks from the murderous fire.

The British-owned Times of India admitted the casualties of February 22 were the “greatest ever inflicted in a single day’s rioting.” The conservative N.Y. Times correspondent listed 250 dead and 1,500 wounded for the week.

The masses were not at all “mobs” filled with blind destructiveness as pictured by the British murderers. In their objectives, the people of Bombay followed the traditional pattern of a popular uprising. They demonstrated against the banks of London and Wall Street. Grain warehouses were another objective. In India 10,000,000 people face death from the approaching famine for which the British bear full responsibility.
 

Masses United

The unity of the Indian masses against the British exploited was proved by a number of incidents. Seamen ran up both the Congress and Moslem League flags on the warships they seized. Marchers carried both flags side by side. Striking drivers festooned seized buses with both flags. The British did not discriminate, but shot down both Hindus and Moslems. Thus with blood the colonial despots gave the lie to their propaganda about having to stay in India to keep Hindus and Moslems from attacking each other. The masses proved in action that religious differences do not prevent them from uniting in the common struggle to free India.

 


Last updated on: 18 October 2018