J.R. Johnson

What India Means to the American Workers

India and the International Situation

(16 November 1942

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 46, 16 November 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

An American working man who periodically tries to get events into some sort of perspective must at some time or other reflect on the puzzle of India. Two years ago this sub-continent, with its 400,000,000 people, occupied little part in the American consciousness and in the American press. Then came Pearl Harbor.

As soon as Churchill learned of the disaster that had befallen the American fleet, he saw at once that the whole situation in the Far East had changed. Britain’s Eastern empire was in serious danger. Shortly after, Churchill let Nehru and others out of jail. Something was cooking, though exactly what, it was impossible to say.

After Pearl Harbor followed the catastrophes of Hong Kong, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies and Burma. One thing stood out in all these defeats. The native peoples took not the slightest interest in either British defeat or Japanese victory. In Burma many fought on the Japanese side. Next on the Japanese road was India. At all costs something had to be done in India to prevent a repetition of what had taken place in other colonies and particularly in Burma. This was one of the immediate causes of the Cripps mission. We therefore come to the first point.

It was defeat and fear of further defeat that made the British make some pretense of solving the Indian question. The first shock to the centuries-old British domination came from the armies of a rival imperialist power. War for democracy had nothing to do with it.

India and the American People

By this time the American people were aware of the Indian problem. They began to distrust the British colonial policy, because, first, it was a policy leading to defeat; and, second, it raised the whole question of what the war was about. In the East, at any rate, this was no war for democracy.

It was then that a deafening barrage of propaganda fell upon American ears. During the Cripps negotiations in India, nearly every American newspaper, in news and editorial columns, every radio commentator, all labored to impress the American public that Cripps, on behalf of Britain, was generously offering all that could be offered; only Gandhi’s mysticism and Indian religious and racial disunity could refuse such a generous settlement.

This too was pumped into India as American opinion. Perhaps it went down with the American public as a whole. No one can say. IT DIDN’T GO DOWN IN INDIA. Cripps failed and then, after a steadily growing agitation, there entered on the scene the second real force in all serious politics – THE MASSES OF THE PEOPLE. All over India, the students, the Workers and even some peasants rebelled against the British domination. Nearly a thousand people have been killed, thousands wounded and the wave of hate for Britain has become nation-wide.

No propaganda could camouflage the fact of the Indian revolt. Which brings us to the second point.

Indian Question Is International

First, the Japanese army threatened the British in India and shook up the whole Indian situation. The second force, the masses of the people, have entered and they have shown up not only the Indian but the whole international situation. There is now a crack in British-American relations. It is only a crack, but it widens every day.

So far the Japanese have only threatened. The Indian masses have not yet staged a real revolution. If the Japanese army were seriously to strike and win, or the Indian masses were to burst out in revolution as they did twenty years ago and as they certainly will some time or other, then the reverberations will be heard round the globe. It will shake the American war effort to its foundations. The British government will experience the gravest political crisis of the war.

The war may be shortened; the war may be lengthened. It is impossible to predict. In war it is military victory or mass revolt that is decisive and yon cannot prophesy about these things. But this much is certain: the war will have entered upon a new political phase of incalculable significance. And, as we shall show, nobody knows this more than the rulers of America. The American worker must learn this too. The Indian question is no longer a question over there, in the Far East. It is everywhere, in Washington, in Birmingham, Ala., in New Orleans, in London, in Cape Town, in Berlin and Tokyo.

The United Nations plan of action is to strike Hitler with its mass armies in front and to blow him up from the rear by means of the revolt of the occupied countries. They maintain an incelant propaganda, and they have their “Free” French, “Free” Polish, “Free” Czech and the other governments. The Axis powers are doing precisely the same. They aim to strike the United Nations armies and to blow them up from their rear. .For them the Indian revolution is their trump card. They drown India with propaganda. They have their “Free” India government.

There are, we must remember, 400,000,000 people in India, a greater number than the number in all Western Europe. Furthermore, an Arab leader has put it up to Churchill: Guarantee the freedom of a Pan-Arabian Federation and we will fight with you. And if not? Churchill’s reply is not reported.

Egypt has 50,000 good soldiers who are not used in the desert fighting. Egypt, too, is bombarded with Axis propaganda and Axis agents. A successful revolt in India will wipe out the United Nations from the Far and Middle East. It will have repercussions all over Africa. A revolt, even though unsuccessful, will cripple the United Nations military effort.

It is with this in mind that we must re-read recent speeches by Willkie, Churchill and others. The press is once more almost unanimous: something must be done by the British in India.

America’s “New Line” in India

Willkie went all over the Far East carrying messages for the President. He carried no message to India – a British colony. But when he returned he delivered a message to India. The most pointed parts of his speech dealt with precisely the country he had not visited. Said Willkie: “The wisest man in China (note: the wisest man) said to me: ‘When the aspiration of India for freedom was put aside to some future date, it was not Great Britain that suffered in public esteem in the Far East. It was the United States.’” The point is obvious. Britain cannot sink lower in the East. Nobody expects anything from Britain.

Over and over again Willkie drove the point home in pointed reference to Britain. Note the danger spots he mentions. “In Africa, in the Middle East, throughout the Arab world, as well as in China and the whole Far East, freedom means the orderly but scheduled abolition of the colonial system.” This can mean only the abolition of the British Empire.

Willkie tried to soften the blow a little. “British colonial possessions are but remnants of Empire.” But that is nonsense. India, with its 400,000,000 inhabitants is no remnant. IT IS THE BRITISH EMPIRE. Of his report he said: “Such facts should not be censored. They should be given to us all. For unless we recognize and correct them we may lose the friendship of half of our allies before the war is over and then lose the peace.” More than that: they may lose the war. He concludes:

“They (the hundreds of millions of people in Eastern Europe and Asia) are resolved, as we must be, that there is no more place for imperialism within their own society than in the society of nations.”

In the U.S.A. Willkie’s voice is second only to the President’s. Willkie knew the whole world was listening to what he had to say. He could speak like that to an ally, during a war, only if his government agreed with what he said. And at his press conference the next day, the President, so that there could be no mistake, made it quite clear that he had no serious disagreement with Willkie.

A Challenge to Britain

The challenge to Britain is open and direct. It has been coming for a long time and Willkie’s speech is merely a climax. Once it was clear not only that the Cripps mission had failed, but that the Indian masses were on the move, the American press and propaganda changed their tune with unanimous suddenness. Hans V. Kaltenborn, Raymond Gram Swing, Johannes Steel, the editorials and columns all began to sing the same song: Britain must do something.

The most vicious attack of all came from Life, which on October 12 addressed an open letter to the British people: “If your strategists are planning a war to hold the British Empire together they will sooner or later find themselves strategizing alone.” That was too raw and the threat, besides, was stupid. Luce, the owner of Life, had to apologize. But just one day before, the New York Times, which had slandered the Indian people for months, came out with this. “The lesson of India is mordantly clear. Too late is futile and may be tragic.”

The new line can be quoted to fill whole pages. Only two more need be mentioned. William Philip Simms wrote from Washington on October 1:

“Talks with representative Englishmen and Indians indicate that unless some outside, but delicately wielded influence is soon brought into play, Gandhi’s open revolt in India may yet play havoc with the United Nations chances of victory.”

A dispatch from New Delhi published in the New York World-Telegram reports that “with China’s survival at stake, Chiang Kai-shek is demanding that Churchill accept a compromise settlement to get the Indians to fight Japan instead of Britain.” This is a matter of life and death for Chiang. Now comes Willkie’s carefully prepared blast at Britain, and Roosevelt’s indorsement. Meanwhile the British ruling class is furious and Goebbels and the Japanese on the radio agitate the Indians and the people in the Far East.

Willkie’s speech is undoubtedly spreading like wildfire throughout India, as it was designed to do, What is happening here? Are Willkie and Roosevelt champions of Indian nationalism and freedom for the colonial peoples? NOTHING OF THE KIND! As Hitler has been swallowing Italy and its hopes inch by inch, so America, has been swallowing Britain and all her precious economic possessions yard by yard. First, Latin America, then the West Indies, then Africa.

Britain has been giving way. But Britain will not give way in India. Roosevelt was prepared to wait. The prize would fall to him sooner or later. But the Japanese armies and, infinitely more, the Indian masses, have forced his hand. Roosevelt cannot run risks with the war. Even as it is, not only the political offensive, but the military strategy of the war is being seriously upset by India and the Indian question, and all that is involved in it. How this is so, we shall see in next week’s article.

Last updated on 30 September 2014