J.R. Johnson

What India Means to the American Working Class

India and Its Relation to the Conduct of the War

(7 December 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 49, 7 December 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Ever since the Indian civil disobedience campaign of 1920–21, the British imperialists have trembled at the thought of having to hold down India through another war and post-war period. This fear for the empire – and India is two-thirds of the empire – contributed more than anything else to the British policy of appeasement.

What was true in 1939 is now doubly and triply true. In a war such as this, all the tendencies which have been developing in previous years are violently brought to a head. The war to date has shown that at a time when India is struggling more determinedly than ever to be free, Britain needs India now and in the future more than ever.

The war so far has shown the powerful tendency of the great national economies to burst their bonds and seek domination of the continental area, not only all over the world, as formerly, but in those areas where they are geographically situated. Thus the United States ensures its domination over the American continent and today Canada, for instance, must look first to America and only secondly to Britain. Japan aims at mastery of the whole Far East, with herself as the center. Germany holds the continent of Western Europe and win hold it or perish.

Britain Looks to Far East

The geographical area to which Britain properly belongs is the continent of Europe. But Britain is too small and too weak to dominate the European continent. It is losing its economic grip over large parts of Latin America, and United States imperialism will never lose that to Britain again. Unable to do in Europe what Germany is doing, and able to hold her own in Europe only as a pawn of America, Britain’s sole hope of imperialist prosperity is now the Far East. India is absolutely necessary as a base, not only for interest on investments, but for raw materials, for people to exploit, as an industrial center, as a military center, as a political base, in the militarized world of the future.

Britain cannot let India go, or loosen her grip. She must, whatever she does, TIGHTEN her grip. An American economic mission already was in India. America is not fighting Japan for the benefit of Britain’s imperialism. America aims at doing in India and China what she does today in Brazil and Mexico. Should Britain weaken her grip on India, then against a powerful competitor like the USA she is lost.

Britain has already made it clear that she is not giving up Hong Kong. But Hong Kong is too small to be a really powerful outpost for the kind of military power on which all capitalist economic and political penetration will rest in the future. Britain will hold India or will exist merely as a little island community off the coast of Europe.

It is this which accounts for the stern attitude of Mr. Churchill on India. Churchill is an imperialist, he is a British Prime Minister and he knows well how to combine conciliatory words in Britain with terror in the colonies. At a certain stage in the Indian crisis a statement was due from him; and it was expected that, bearing in mind that the war was supposed to be for “democracy” and the fact that the whole world was listening, Churchill would be conciliatory. Said the London Economist of July 25:

“Nothing that (anybody) could do could compare with what Mr. Churchill might achieve if he were to address to India this July the same sort of inspired words as he addressed to his own country on behalf of Russia in June last year.”

Churchill addressed the House of Commons in the harshest and most unyielding language he could find. The policy outlined by Cripps, said Churchill, “is the settled policy of the British Crown and Parliament.” Not an inch more. He said that Attlee, leader of the Labor Party, had gone over his speech with him the night before. That was to make it quite clear to whom he was speaking that it was useless going behind his back to intrigue with the Labor Party. And it is the conviction of this writer that Churchill was speaking neither to the British people nor to India but to Franklin D. Roosevelt, leader of American imperialism. Whereupon Roosevelt sent Willkie to deliver some messages, while Willkie waited until he got back home to deliver the most important message of all, the one to India.

The Second Front

Second front or no second front? Obviously a second front is necessary for imperialism. At present it seems that one is in the making.

A military plan is not merely a plan of soldiers seeking the best way to win. It is governed by the economic interests of those who are waging the war. And there is abundant evidence that the divergent economic interests of British and American imperialism caused conflict as to exactly what plan should be followed.

In the summer of this year, Walter Lippman, well informed conservative spokesman for American imperialism, paid a visit to England. When he returned he gave his impressions in the New [York] Herald Tribune of September 29. He found two danger spots: first, a lack of confidence in the government because of too much preparation and no corresponding action; the second problem had to do with “the empire and with the United States ... This question,” he said, “is much too complicated to be discussed or even defined” in a few paragraphs. And there he was certainly correct But he said what the basic trouble was:

“British and American land, sea and air forces are ... being scattered like confetti over all the spots of the earth that national interests, imperial interests and the older professional strategists seem vitally important.”

This he says results in focusing attention on a “vast series of nuisance issues between the parts of the empire and between Britain and the United States.” There is friction as to “what should be defended and why.” The problems “are wrinkling the brows of the Foreign Office and the State Department.” The language was cautious. Obviously the point was a delicate one in the sense that nobody wanted the workers to start thinking about this.

Two weeks later Lippman returned to the attack. His article is headed The British and Ourselves. And its first sentence is worth study. “With the enemy whispering in our ears that we are the catspaws of Churchill and in British ears that Roosevelt is scheming to devour the empire ...” Lippman adds that we must seek the truth “humbly and sincerely.” And the truth? The truth is that the time has come for “the reconciliation of all the English-speaking nations.” They were separated in the past. And what form in this reconciliation to take? “To see the past truly is to, see that what separated us was the empire; and therefore we (must), as much as the British, renounce all the privileges and ambitions of empire in order that we may become trustees, with our allies, of the peace of the world.” This for Britain is death. For America it means the world.

Lippman was very cautious in his expressions. Life magazine was much cruder in the article we referred to in the first of this series. Said Life: “Take this unhappy matter of the ‘second’ front. In a war to hold the empire together a second front might not be so important at this time. But in a war to assure victory for the United Nations ... it does seem to be most dreadfully urgent.”

There are all sorts of military facts, doubts and prejudices that go into any consideration of the second front. It is certainly a very complicated question. But it is as certain, as can be and there is clear evidence to show, that when the British sit down to plan, they plan a war to keep the empire together, for they dare not let it fall apart; while the USA plans to win the war, but so as to be in the best position to swallow the empire!

Should the Japanese strike and there be a repetition of what happened in Burma, the whole world will feel the shock. Churchill knows that not only his government will fall, but the Conservative Party will be in serious danger and the coalition of all parties may split all ways. Victory in the war without keeping India has no sense to the British rulers.

The USA is so situated that Roosevelt can risk a second front and even lose a battle. But if Britain sent an expeditionary force to Europe which is defeated, she knows that this may be the signal for revolt in India, Egypt, the Middle East, and the beginning of the end in Africa. Roosevelt and Willkie, too, want some sort of freedom patched up in the East, some pseudo-constitutions and some promises and strengthen the political offensive in the Far East (and at home), thus cutting the ground from under the Japanese propaganda. Churchill and the British are, up to now, unshakable. That is the real war these gentlemen fight.

Roosevelt’s Plan

Isn’t there some possibility that Roosevelt and Willkie have some real plan which will give real freedom to India? Nothing of the sort. What they are scared of is the Indian masses. They have confidence that they can handle the other parties to this maneuvering – the Indian landlords and capitalists led by Gandhi and Nehru. Anything that can be patched up to look like freedom, with American imperialism and American power as the new masters, would be gobbled up by Gandhi and the right wing of the India Congress. They, too, want Britain to do something now, particularly since in addition to one set of powers – the imperialist armies – they now have another to deal with, the revolting Indian masses.

But aren’t the Japanese afraid of the Indian mass revolt? THEY ARE. They are as much afraid of it as the United Nations are afraid of the European workers’ revolution. But war is war. Roosevelt’s plan is to use the European revolution against the Axis and then suppress it by policing Europe and imposing governments subservient to American imperialism. The Japanese plan is exactly the same, in reverse! To use the Indian revolution against the United Nations, and then suppress it by policing India and imposing a government subservient to Japanese imperialism. As frantically as Roosevelt and Churchill shout “free enslaved Europe,” just as loudly do Hitler and Hirohito shout “free India.” The American worker must watch these things and work out what is going on behind the abominable lies and hypocrisies of the politicians.

These interests are shaping the war. They are shaping your lives and mine, where we shall fight, how long we shall fight. They are also shaping the peace. For the peace is the outcome of the war as it actually took place.

But there is something else to be watched. In this seething mass of power politics, grab for empire and fooling of the people, we must be aware of the fact that force decides, the force of imperialist armies on the one hand and the force of revolting peoples on the other. At the start of the war it is the armies that are most powerful and strike the decisive blows. As the war drags on, the power of the people begins to assume a growing importance. Sometimes, as in Russia in 1917 and in Germany in 1918, it erupts and smashes the army of the imperialist rulers. It is this power in India which we must watch. Sooner or later it is going to tear through its chains and over night change the global war or the global peace.

(Continued in next issue)

Last updated on 30 September 2014