J.R. Johnson

What India Means to the American Working Class

The Role of the Indian Capitalist Class

(4 January 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 1, 4 January 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Continued from last issue)

It is this increasing bankruptcy of the Indian peasant eepnomy which is the real drive of the nationalist movement. The unrest, the growing revolutionary feelings of the masses of peasants, the conditions of the proletariat, all this gives enormous power to the movement to throw out the British who are mainly responsible for what is essentially an economic question.

The leaders of this movement, however, are none other than the representatives, associates, friends, sometimes themselves members, of the Indian landlord and capitalist class. For these people to throw out the British they need the assistance of the Indian peasant and the Indian workers because intellectuals, landlords, politicians, writers cannot throw anybody out of anything. For that you need force. That force they do not have.

Force exists either in an organized army or in organised masses. They have no army, Britain sees to that. But if they organize the masses for the purpose of throwing the British out their sources of revenue, their control of labor, the very ground on which they walk, will be broken up under them. It is for this reason that Gandhi and Nehru and all those who support them are continually vacillating between playing at revolution on the one hand, and running to negotiate with the British on the other. They see the misery of the country. They see the economic mess that it is in. They realize quite clearly that something has got to be done. But they can do nothing except play see-saw between the masses on the one side and the British on the other.

Now Churchill and the British government have watched these Indian nationalists carry on in this way for the last twenty to twenty-five years. They are not afraid of them. We do not deny that there are different types of nationalists; on one hand, landlords and money-lenders, who are very satisfied with the British government; on the other, Indian capitalists, who wish to get more opportunity for Indian capital and who are more or less hostile to British capital, and students, intellectuals, etc., who cannot get work to do. We are dealing obviously with a situation that has many more aspects than can even be touched upon in an article of this kind. The basic question, however, is, as we have explained it, the economic situation of the peasantry, on which the whole Indian economy rests.

What is the solution? If you have correctly diagnosed a disease, you are half way on the road to cure. The solution is the destruction of all the burdens that rest upon the peasants. And, with this, the creation of conditions which, will give the Indian proletariat an opportunity to form trade unions and develop itself freely in a nation-wide association of workers who will work and develop themselves in accordance with the possibilities of modern production. But British imperialism in the town as in the country is in a united front with the Indian exploiters to keep the workers down.

If the Indian disease is an economic disease, then the ideas around which the appeal to the peasants and workers should be made must have an economic character. The peasants should be told that their struggle would mean the abolition of debt, the abolition of the landlords and the money-lenders, and the reorganization of agriculture by means of modern technology. The workers must have the eight-hour day, workers’ control of production and the freest democracy.

But only a fool will expect the All-India Congress to agitate on such a basis. The Indian congressmen talk always about nationalism in the abstract and the necessity of throwing out the British but never, never, never do they ever raise on a national scale such slogans or ideas which would mobilize the masses around the things that are really pressing them. If the Indian Congress could do that, or had wanted to do that at any time during the last twenty years, the British would have been out of India already.

Willkie’s Hypocrisy

In the article which will follow this, some attempt will be made to show the possibilities of and the methods by which the economic situation in India can and will be changed. We want here, however, to link the economic situation we have described with the noisy “anti-imperialism” of Willkie.

At the present moment it is an undoubted fact that a substantial proportion of the miserable Indian production goes to Britain as profit and as payment of debts. Some of these debts are absurd to the last degree because every time Britain fought a war to add to the British Empire in India, they put the debt on the Indian budget. Once they entertained a sultan of Turkey or Egypt or somebody like that in London, said that it was for the benefit of India, and added the expenses to the Indian budget.

The British army in India eats up, some people say, 30 per cent of the Indian budget – others say 60 per cent. It is difficult to tell, because Indian investigators say that many expenditures that go for roads, railways, etc., have no relation whatever to the Indian economy or the Indian people, but are built for the sake of the British army and the British administration. These, however, are not placed under military expenditures so as to fool the people. Now, it is certain that if the Indian nationalists could get into power, Britain’s chance of getting interest on these debts would be very, very small. An Indian government would refuse to pay.

But what will happen? The Indian nationalists will make some loans from the United States. But it is impossible for any loans to make any serious change in the Indian economy as long as that basic situation which we have described exists. The result of any such transformation will simply be that what was going to Britain will now go to the U.S. That is all. When Churchill says: “We’ll hold our own,” all he is saying is that if any loot is going to come from India, he will see to it that it goes to London and not to Wall Street.

The basic economic situation will not be solved. Moreover, while there might be a growth in industrialization for a period and to a small degree, the misery of the peasant millions will be intensified to an extraordinary degree.

The only way out of this, and its close connection with the American working class, will be the subject of the next and concluding article in this series.

Last updated on 30 September 2014