Shapurji Saklatvala

The Indian Round Table Conference

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 12, December 1930, No. 12, pp. 720-724, (2,312 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

And so the Round-Table Conference has come at last, after a dozen years of travail, of intrigue, of moves and countermoves, but true to its original prophecy of coming with the accompaniment of bloodshed, bombing, daily baton charge’s and arrests by the score.

In the dark days of the world-capitalist War, Lloyd George’s intriguing mind was the one constant glimmer of hope and eventual escape for the capitalist land-grabbers and Imperialist war-lords of Britain. Round him came drawn lesser satellites with a second-rate genius for plotting and intrigue. Declaration to the Jews to repossess the Promised Land, and counter-pledges of freedom to the Arabs, alluring promises to Irish Americans to get into the War and Black and Tans in Dublin and Cork. Arthur Henderson’s mission to Kerensky to keep up the blood-bath and promises of peace and plenty to the Poles and Czechs, and finally—India. A Round-Table Conference was to be set up somewhere to do something somehow. One Lionel Curtis went across to India, to promise good things to the Indians in return for their share in the bloody orgy of world power for Britain and British financiers. Unto his bosom he took James Meston, a “sympathetic” official, and William Marris, the Inspector-General of Prisons in India, to hammer out a charter of freedom and liberty. Mysterious documents were prepared and printed with the utmost secrecy, and some benevolent “Round-Table” movement was preparing Britain to grant something to the Indians in response to their clamour for Bread and Liberty.

It was mentioned in the secret document that the Indian Princes and Bourgeoisie would be placated with political sops, a few high offices and “Reforms,” and talk of “Dominion” goals, but for the masses, for the hungry and exploited workers and for the enslaved peasantry there would have to be application of “law and order,” stricter discipline and ultimately unavoidable bloodshed. When this “Round-Table” Magna Charta for India became prematurely known, Meston apologised, Marris explained away his part, Curtis got away from the Indian public gaze and there emerged a smug and well-polished document as the Montagu-Chelmsford Report, and the “Round Table” was driven into obscurity.

The “Reforms” came on with all the trumpet blowing of hollow hypocritical Parliamentary democracy. The Indian National Congress, as predicted by the “Round Table” of Lionel Curtis, walked into its snare and sent a weighty deputation of which the ornamental leader was Tilak and the brain power was Vithalbhai Patel. When, at a public meeting of Indians in London, I moved an amendment to reject all Parliamentary Reforms, to severely boycott the proposed new Legislative Assembly and Councils, and to get on with the work of organising Labour and the Peasantry towards the establishment of a Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic, I was denounced and defeated, and after a lot of “buts” and “ifs” and bluff and thunder the Congress leaders did in fact accept the Reforms, as a germinal start of Dominion Status. The Indian Proletariat had to pay for it with their blood in order to fit themselves for a place “within the Empire,” and there followed the butchery at Amritsar, the Rowlatt Acts, the massacre of the Moplas and shootings at Bombay, Jamshedpur, Ahmedabad and other industrial centres.

The Congress accepted, rejected, again accepted and then once more rejected the Reforms. They saw no inherent objection to a system of ruling the peasants and workers from above through a dictatorship of plutocracy, but they mainly attacked the system of dyarchy. There was no cry of Land for the People, but for remission of tax on land-owners, rich as well as poor, there was no stand for a human wage of seven rupees a day instead of seven annas for the industrial serf, but there was a surging demand for tariffs, protective duties and safe-guarding of dividends. Three or four people picturesquely renounced British titles and 300 to 400 more begged for them and acquired them with gratification and gratitude twice a year. The need of organising the masses and working for a peasants’ revolution was distinctly felt, but the dread of the ultimate power of workers and peasants over a society of vested interests made the Congress leaders decide to go so far and no further, and the first great betrayal at Bardoli was the result.

The bewildered politicians thought of another “Round-Table Conference,” but different in kind from what Lionel Curtis and the Inspector-General of Prisons had devised, though not different in nature. The main idea prevalent in the minds of Indian politicians in 1924 and 1925 was that it was dangerous to organise masses and to lead them to a revolt to establish mass freedom as against Imperialist terrorism, for after all, Imperialism was only an extended and intense form of Capitalism.

It was therefore considered impolitic to organise a nation-wide fight socially, economically and politically against the Imperialist boss, and it was considered safer and more diplomatic to get round a table with the enemy of the masses and to come to a new compromise, mainly for abolishing dyarchy without destroying British Imperialism. The British Imperialists soon saw through the self-confessed weakness in this proposal of the Delhi Assembly for a Round-Table Conference; they saw in it the Indian bourgeoisie’s resolve not to “play with fire” in the shape of a workers’ and peasants’ movement. So after a couple of years of defiance, bluff and palaver the British Imperialists produced the Simon Commission, and when unsuccessful in placating political leaders, tried to attach to it an Indian counterpart of chosen men from the Assembly at Delhi.

In the meanwhile, the mass spirit was mobilising and mass determination was hardening. The strikers on railways, in cotton mills, in docks and in mines were showing a new spirit, an inherent organisational strength of their own, and the workers began to march on with a swing and a jolt that dazed their bosses. The Indian leaders produced an exclusively Indian Round-Table Conference of their own to minimise their own internal differences, and with an unexpected harmony and forensic ability, they did produce the Nehru Report as a forestalling of and counterblast to the expected Simon Report. The Nehru Report did make the Simon Report a discredited document in advance.

The workers and peasants saw more value in the Girni Kamgar (Millworkers’) Union than in any other organisation, they were being helped to understand that the Tax Gatherer and the Rent Collector were both one common enemy, and the Police Officer and Mill Manager stood united together against the right of the workers, and so did the moneylender and the bailiff with his eviction warrants. The men who were soon to become the Meerut Prisoners spelt a more immediate and effective danger to the British Raj than the Nehru Committee or the Congress camp of those days, and with fixed bayonets and trumped-up charges they were put under arrest and still continue to be so after 18 months.

The Congress leaders saw the gathering force of mass opinion; and though in their annual resolution they proclaimed themselves ready to be partners in a terrorist, militarist, land-grabbing, exploiting Empire, they put it forward as a revolutionary sounding ultimatum with a 12 months’ limit.

The Congress came out with a separatist demand, under the old leaders with the added new blood of Jahwarlal Nehru, but this time led more from the bottom than from the top. The campaign that was launched out as a pacifist prayer-reciting movement of holy resisters to technical forms of law, soon developed into a fighting movement, and Chittagong, Mymensingh, Peshawar and Sholapur became the landmarks of the people’s real revolt.

The mutiny of the Gharwal troops and the open attack of the Afridis gave a formidable appearance to the Congress movement, which in itself under its orthodox leadership would have confined itself to experimental technical breaches of the law. Strenuous efforts were made by MacDonald and Irwin to restore the pacifist leadership of the Congress to its predominance, but no sooner did the leaders seek for rapprochement with Irwin than the push from behind, proved too strong.

MacDonald and Irwin had to invoke the aid of the twice-killed Round-Table Conference. It was to have the appearance of the Nehru Round Table, but it was to have the Imperial nature of the Curtis-Marris Round Table of a dozen years ago. And so here we have it!

Three blind mice See how they run!! They sit around a circular table. MacDonald, the Great Moghal, and his British Courtiers occupy the centre. Around them sit a Princely India, a Mahomedan India, and a British India, divided into a dozen different interests. The King, in his speech, gives to the Simon Report a place which no one else is expected to give it at the Conference. Then poor Irwin is forced to issue an unintelligible dispatch to unsay what he has said in the past, a document which is framed by at least five different minds.

There come the Princes with a strange claim. If King George himself will dare to come out to-morrow to assert that he is on the British throne not by the consent and will of the people but by a treaty of support from a foreign monarch, he will discover that to be the quickest way of losing it. Here sits a Labour Prime Minister to say to the 600 Princes of India, that their subjects, a mere trifle of 70,000,000 human beings, count for nothing, but it is the British Imperial power that will keep them upon their throne to bleed and torture their subjects in order to extort wealth out of their toil.

A Parliamentary representation of Britain quickly offers to a bunch of hand-picked place-hunters two alternative systems: Federal or Unitary. A Unitary system may mean an openly-elected Parliament by the common people. The Unitary system is mentioned only to be killed. It did not even receive the importance of condemnation, as in this august assembly of Imperialist buffoons from Britain and India, there has not been one person found to advocate the system of a Central-Legislature freely and entirely elected by the people.

A Liberal from India, a Conservative Prince from India, a Tory peer of Britain all sotto voce decide upon a federal system.

In the past, if a Prince dared to deliver a political speech, he was threatened with dethronement, and the Gaekwar had been the worst sufferer. These very princes have been brought here to-day with rebel speeches prepared for them by their English staffs to impress upon India that their advent into the body politic would be an asset. The idea of ruling India through native agencies and princes with an Imperialist European over-lordship, is not a new one. Dupleix, the French conqueror of India, was very fond of it.

So here will be a Federal Council for India, say of 200 members, of whom 50 might be Princes, then so would be Mahomedan landlords, feudal chiefs and luminaries in higher professions, 25 would be nominated puppets to safeguard the interest of the depressed classes, 15 or 20 would safeguard European investments, the rest would be divided among Hindu millionaires, landlords, Parsi merchants, and bright lawyers. There would be three or four government puppets to protect the interest of Indian Labour.

The main purpose of this Conference, almost the only one, is to lay the foundations of a Federal system as the most effective way of excluding the masses. The Princes and the Mahomedans are to be the trump cards. The capitalist papers are openly advocating the acceptance of the “Moslem Charter,” which is being forged behind the scenes. This Moslem corruption serves another unexpected purpose at the present moment. The leading Islamic representatives are clearly warned to keep off the Palestine question, and if they dare to espouse the Arab cause they are threatened with the complete withdrawal of the “gifts” for Indian Moslems. Of course, if the Arabs are crushed, and the Afridis and the brave tribesmen are once bombed into slavery, the Indian Moslems and Hindu politicians, it is calculated, could easily be kept in subjugation for another century.

In the meanwhile, there are reports of daily shootings and imprisonment in India. Who are those thus dealt with? They are not any of the privileged minorities; they are the completely ignored majority.

The Round-Table Conference is to give a megaphonic expression to the rights of privileges and interests, and like the proverbial ostrich, buries its head in the sand in order to ignore the very existence of 280 millions of suffering and enslaved humanity, living or dying on 6d. a day income.

Constitutions framed in London, and agreements for the division of the spoils arrived at by smug sycophants of a foreign ruler will not affect the mass mentality. The workers and peasants will rise, they are rising, as indeed they have risen. The banner of their revolt will soar above the din of political manoeuvres, and the inevitable mass revolution will sweep all before it. Bombs and bullets, bayonets and poison gas will some day be discovered by the British proletariat to be all the work of their hands, and some day their conscience will prevent them from slaying their oriental comrades.

The Viceroy’s prisons are as full as those of the Czars and his cup of violence has become full to overflowing. MacDonald and Wedgwood Benn are disgracing even the spirit of a Kerensky; they are more the Rasputins attached to an unwary throne. The Indian Round-Table Conference in London seems like the culminating act.

The desperate gamblers are now trying their last throw. It is MacDonald’s last chance to save the Labour Government, the Princes’ last chance to stick to ill-gotten wealth, the Indian Politicians’ last chance to escape from a Workers’ and Peasants’ Revolution! But will they?

Marxism and Anti-Imperialism in India
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