Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, March 1942


Editorial Comment

[“Democratic#8221; Enemies of India]


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.3, March 1942, pp.67-73.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


The Opponents of India’s Freedom Aid the Axis Powers – What Independence Really Means – The Anti-India Proposals of Churchill, the British Labor Party and the “Left” Laborites – The Counter-Revolutionary Role of Stalinism and Chiang Kai-shek in India – Japanese Imperialism and the Colonial Peoples – The Indian Bourgeoisie vs. the Masses – The Necessity for a Socialist Britain

The eyes of the whole world are now turning to India. That enormous colony of 400 million oppressed people has become veritably the key to the international situation. What will happen there during the next few months may very well determine the fate of the East, and of the world, for decades to come.

Yesterday the average worker in the United States hardly thought of India as existing in the same world with him. Today, in the factories and the streets, American workers are discussing whether India will get its freedom. The workers have grasped the essential fact that if British troops succeed in preventing Indian independence then in India there will be duplicated on a grandiose scale the events of Malaya, Burma and the Netherlands Indies. Reports of recent days indicate that the American workers understand that no greater aid can be rendered to the Axis powers today than to obstruct independence for India. The attitude of the Churchill government toward India is one of the main sources of the rapidly growing anti-British sentiment which is causing so much concern in Washington.

Britain’s Slaves Will Not Fight for Her

It is now obvious that the British ruling class cannot mobilize its colonial slaves for the war. It was able to do so during World War I, when it conscripted two million soldiers from India alone. But that was before the Russian revolution of 1917, and the enduring inspiration it gave to the Arab Middle East, to the great Chinese revolution (1925-1927), to India’s unceasing struggle for national liberation. The colored peoples put into uniform and armed by Great Britain and France during World War I, instructed how to overcome “enemy” white men, learned their lesson well and returned home to fructify the incessant battles for national freedom. The years between the two world wars have been years of colonial uprisings and never-ending struggles for national freedom against the great imperialist powers.

Hence in World War lithe British have not even dared to recruit mass armies from the colonies. In India the last official figures from Sinila (last September) recorded some 700,000 Indian troops, mostly still under training – and even of these a large part were from the so-called “warrior races,” the Ghurkas and Sikhs, privileged groups equivalent to the Cossacks of the Czar. Contrast this figure with the two million Indian troops who fought in the last war. Moreover, very few Indian troops have yet seen combat. In Hongkong, Malaya and Singapore, the British recruited no native troops at all. The situation was only slightly different under the allegedly “better” rule of the Dutch in the Netherlands Indies: no specific figures for colored troops are available, but the total armed forces, both brown and white, were 100,000 out of a native population of seventy millions – obviously a small hand-picked force because the Dutch dared not raise a mass army among politically maturing masses who have revolted so often. In seething Burma the British, for very good and sufficient reasons, made no attempt to recruit.

And in all these colonies the peoples have utilized Britain’s difficulties in the war to wreak vengeance upon their oppressors. Some of the British capitalist newspapers, as we reported last month, complained when Malaya fell that the natives should have been recruited; even the spokesman of the overlords in the colonies, the Singapore Free Press (but only when the Japanese were already certain to take Singapore) called for arming the natives. After the events in Burma, however, it is unlikely that any bourgeois British paper will again indulge in this form of hypocrisy. “Natives in many districts have rebelled and are killing unarmed Britishers ... All over Burma it is dangerous for foreigners to move around unless they are armed, and in some districts the Burmese have even attacked armed Britishers ... Rangoon is a horrible place. Foreigners risk their lives when they walk in the city, which is completely in the hands of looters and killers who are running amok.” These are the words of an American pilot, reported in a February 28 UP dispatch.

These events in the smaller colonies have posed the question of Indian independence as a life-and-death question to the 45 million people of the British Isles. The 400 millions of India must be permitted to transform themselves from bitter slaves into free and powerful fighters against fascism, or else conquering Japanese and Nazi armies will meet in the Middle East, with the people of the British Isles caught in a watery trap. Every thinking worker in Britain cannot fail to see this prospect as an imminent danger. If British capitalism will not free India then to save their lives the British workers must put an end to capitalism.

Increasingly the British and American workers are asking: Why doesn’t the British Government grant the demands of the Indian people and win them as allies? If Churchill won’t do it, let him be replaced by somebody who will – why isn’t that being done?

What Independence Really Means

The fundamental answer to these questions is provided in a very clear and authoritative manner by the thesis which we publish in this issue of Fourth International, entitled The Classes of India. The Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, our Trotskyist co-thinkers, wrote this document about 10 months ago; this editorial is designed merely to deal with the events since then.

As our Indian comrades explain, real independence for India means above all the agrarian revolution – land and freedom from usury, indebtedness and murderous taxation for the 280 millions, the 70 per cent of the population of this predominantly agrarian country who live under conditions which beggar description. For these great masses the replacement of the Viceroy and his mixed Council by an Indian Viceroy or Prime Minister and an Indian Council would have little meaning. To be free means to the peasant to be free of the landlord. This is what independence has always meant for the Indian masses, no matter how politically backward; that is why their delegations have always come to the sessions of the Indian National Congress bearing the banner: “Down with serfdom!” Only thus do they understand independence.

But that would mean an end to the zamindari (landlords), including the native princes who rule over 25 per cent of the Indian population. And the ruin of the landlords would drag down with them the native bourgeoisie, inextricably linked to the landlords through the banks, mortgages, loans, etc. And the fall of the native parasitic classes would have to be preceded by the downfall of the British armed power which has been the sole prop of the landlords. British investments and holdings and income from taxation in India are greater than that of the native owning classes combined. In short, freedom for India means the destruction of the political and economic power of the three parasitic classes which benefit from the perpetuation of the misery of the Indian masses.

Now it is easy to understand why the British Government doesn’t grant freedom to India! No ruling class in history has ever voluntarily expropriated itself, every ruling class in history has been ready to murder as many people as necessary in order to maintain its privileges. In India nothing less than a victorious civil war – civil because waged also against the native parasites – will shake off the death-grip of British imperialism.

Churchill Speaks for Capitalism

Who is Churchill and why is he at the head of the British Empire in its greatest crisis? The liberals and “socialists” who tell us that this is a war against fascism have written millions of words of clap-trap about Churchill. To them he is the ex-reactionary who transcended his previous limitations. Among the more “thoughtful” of such “socialists” is the Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr; recently in The Nation, after wildly praising Churchill as the indispensable leader of the war effort, Niebuhr concluded with the pious hope that the indispensable war leader would also find within himself the additional greatness to step aside at the victorious conclusion of the war and let more liberal people establish the post-war world; Niebuhr was particularly thinking about Churchill’s attitude toward India. Within a few short weeks, however, this “post-war problem” turns up as the most vital question of the critical stage of the war. Before long the Niebuhrs will be bewailing the unutterable tragedy that Churchill, so great in all else, should be so narrow on the problem on which, it so happens, the fate of the war turns.

The truth is of course that Churchill took the helm because he is the most authentic, the most resolute, leader of the capitalist class of Great Britain. In its moment of greatest need, Churchill came forward to lead his class. In defense of what? In defense of its empire, India. That is what this class is fighting this war for. Once this is understood, Churchill’s policy, including his policy toward India, is clear, consistent. The “paradox,” “tragedy,” or what you will, is only in the vile heads of the Niebuhrs.

Churchill has not always been able to convince his class that his policy is the correct one for the time. In 1930 he vainly called for a perspective of crushing the Indian National Congress, instead of granting minor concessions. Again in 1935, when the Government of India Act was adopted under which India is now being ruled, and under which provincial “autonomy” was conceded (leading to Congress-led Provincial Ministries during 1938-39), Churchill led a die-hard opposition against any concessions. He was brutally frank about his motivation: two out of every ten Englishman live off India (an understatement) and concessions would in the end lead to losing everything. Those were the years when Churchill was also making his “prophetic” speeches about the rearming of Germany and the need to prepare for war, which are now remembered with such awe. His proposals for India were, however, an integral aspect of his war perspective. Crush India well before the war comes, then there will be no colonial problem amid wartime difficulties – this was Churchill’s consistent outlook.

Churchill did not have his way in 1930 and 1935, and he tried to make up for that when the war began and especially when he became Prime Minister. As our Indian comrades record in this issue the war came in the midst of a great resurgence of the class struggle and the national struggle in India, a movement which was mounting ever higher despite the anti-labor and anti-peasant repressions of the Congress Ministries. The British ruthlessly repressed the mass movement under the pretext of wartime necessity. When Churchill became Prime Minister, the news was greeted with dismay throughout India, where, of course, his views were well known. By July 1, 1941, by British official figures, 12,129 Indians were imprisoned for political reasons, including 28 ex-ministers and 290 members of the provincial legislatures. In Ceylon, which had won certain rights, including election of a State Council by universal suffrage, Churchill outlawed the Ceylon Socialist Party (adherent of the Fourth International) and imprisoned its leaders, violating the parliamentary immunity of those who had been elected to the State Council.

That these brutal repressions were not peculiar to Churchill is indicated by the history of the French colonies since the war. Years of national struggle had won certain concessions in Indo-China, including a State Council elected by general suffrage; in the April 1939 elections the IndoChinese party of the Fourth International had won a brilliant victory over the Stalinist-Daladier Popular Front bloc. As soon as war began six months later, the “democratic” Daladier outlawed the Trotskyists and jailed their leaders. When Vichy took over the colony it merely continued Daladier’s repressions. Likewise in Algeria, the war was a signal for persecuting the Algerian People’s Party, the nationalist movement, and when Vichy came it likewise continued that policy; leaders of the Algerian movement who fled to Syria ended up there in the dungeons of the “Free French,” alongside the Arab nationalist leaders. The latest news from Syria (N.Y. Times, March 5) is a “Free French” communique announcing that “professional agitators” – that phrase used by all oppressors! – “have tried to foment disorder,” and the authorities “have evidence” that it is being done under orders from Berlin. The Gaullists have so little faith in their “evidence,” however, that they will not bring the “agitators” before the courts, but are interning the agitators without trial “for the duration of the war.” De Gaulle, Daladier, Petain, Cripps, Churchill, Chamberlain or whoever it is – the colonial policy of imperialism is always the same.

The same – that is, it defends to the death the interests of the capitalist class of the “mother” country. That defense requires different weapons for different times. Churchill since the fall of Singapore is changing his tune, as a flexible leader of British imperialism. He no longer, as in 1935, calls for the crushing of Gandhi and Nehru; now he needs them to use against the agrarian masses of India. Churchill is not changing his mind because of what has happened in Malaya and Burma. The Secretary of State for India and Burma, Amery, who is very close to Churchill, angrily rejects such examples. “It is absurd,” said Amery, “to suggest that some wider measure of local self-government would have made any difference in that respect” (N. Y. Times, March 7). Only one thing is moving Amery and Churchill: the fall of Singapore has broken British armed power in the Far East, they cannot by force hold back the Indian movement, their proferred “concessions” are retreats dictated by a lack of sufficient force with which to hurl back the masses of India.

“After the war,” Churchill now says, India will be offered “dominion status.” The term is an obvious deception. The dominions in the British Empire – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa – are very loosely connected with Great Britain; they contain relatively little British investments, are ruled by strong capitalist classes which are in no sense junior partners of the capitalist class of Britain, in short bear no marks of a colonial character. But “dominion status” for India would leave British investments untouched, i.e., leave unsolved the agrarian problem, and that means leaving everything essentially as before. And even this Churchill merely promises to give after the war!

The British Labor Party’s Proposal

While Churchill delayed as long as possible a formal statement on India, the officialdom of the British Labor Party served as his stalking horse. Lest the Indians have any illusions that a “Labor” Government displacing Churchill would grant more than he, the Labor Party Executive issued on February 27 its “recommendations” to the government of which it is part. It stands with Churchill on the “principle” that Indian self-government must be based on agreement between the “different interests in India” – i.e., agreement between the Native Princes and the other landlords, the native bourgeoisie, and the masses, or to speak more plainly, agreement between British imperialism’s native agents and the masses – and even this is not enough, for “the full settlement of the complex issues of Indian self-government, must await the close of the war.” Meanwhile, it is sufficient that the Viceroy’s Council of 14 – nine of whom are now “Indians,” that is, members of the openly pro-British landlord-and-capitalist Liberal Federation or of Jinnah’s equally pro-British Moslem League – should be changed to make all 14 “Indians”!

“Left” Laborites and also similar-stripe “socialists” in this country are sadly deploring the British Labor Party’s “mistake.” But this document expresses the very essence of the British Labor Party, which is the classical party of labor agents of an imperialist power. A non-imperialist Britain would not have a British Labor Party of Citrines and Bevins. The party is based on a labor bureaucracy and a labor aristocracy directly feeding on the crumbs from the table of a fat imperialist power. The entire Second International was built on such labor lieutenants of imperialist oppressors of the bulk of the human race. The swine who wrote the British Labor Party “recommendations” on India know that their parasitic existence is at stake in maintaining British repression of India, and they act accordingly.

As for the “left” critics in the Labor Party, what do they propose for India? These “lefts” are, of course, supporters of the war, etc., and their leader, Sir Stafford Cripps, is now trying to sell Churchill to India. They have an organ, the weekly Tribune, and its March 5 issue declared:

“As we write we are told that the Cabinet has failed to arrive at the agreed solution. The Cabinet need not worry. The matter is out of their hands ... No half-measures have any value now. The Indian revolution is on. There is only one possible chance to make up a little of the lost time and still to spike the guns of the Bose opposition.

“Nehru must be asked to become Prime Minister and Minister of Defense with full powers and with a provisional All-Indian Legislative Assembly to act as the representative organ of the State.

“Make no mistake. This is not opportunity knocking at our door – it is history battering it down.”

This proposal certainly indicates a more far-seeing understanding of what is happening than anything publicly said by the British Labor Party or Churchill. “The Indian revolution is on,” that is true enough. But while this revolution is battering down “our door” – a revealing phrase, their door and Churchill’s, their door and also the door of India’s oppressors – the “lefts” propose to re-erect that door as well as possible under the circumstances. They propose “to make up a little of the lost time,” that is, the lost time of British imperialism. A provisional All-Indian Legislative Assembly is is to be the source of power – provisional, that is to say, appointed and not elected by universal suffrage, appointed by agreement between Nehru (the Indian bourgeoisie) and British imperialism. “The Cabinet need not worry. The matter is out of their hands” turns out to be merely a hysterical warning that the Cabinet should hurry, or else the Indian revolution will not be stifled. This, mind you, from the “left wing” of the Labor Party! Fortunately the role of the British Labor Party as the agent of British imperialism is well understood in India and its proposals will be taken there as equivalent to those of Churchill.

Stalinism vs. National Liberation

Unfortunately for India, however, British imperialism has another and more potent labor agency at its service – the Stalinist parties in England and the Far East. Wrapping themselves in the prestige of the Soviet Union and the Red Army’s great struggles, the agents of the Kremlin are instructed to repay Churchill and Roosevelt for the trickle of supplies to the USSR with political services which the “democratic” imperialists could never achieve by themselves.

Stalinism still pays lip service to the Leninist program for national liberation of the colonies. During 1933-39, the Popular Front era, while calling for “struggle for the realization of the right of self-determination of nationalities enslaved by fascist governments,” Communists were instructed, according to Manuilsky’s formula, that in the “democratic” empires they must “subordinate the realization of this right of secession … in the interests of defeating fascism” (Pravda, March 12, 1939). This “temporary” surrender of the struggle for national liberation was dropped as soon as the Stalin-Hitler pact was signed when again Indian Communists could stand for national liberation. But Manuilsky’s formula to “subordinate the realization of this right of secession” became law again for the colonies of the British Empire and the “Free French” after June 22, 1941. Thus the Stalinist parties serve as so many pawns for the Kremlin’s foreign policy.

Stalinism also still pays lip service to the Leninist program against imperialist wars; ergo, while World War I was an imperialist war (Lenin’s writings on this cannot be doctored), World War II is not an imperialist war. Perhaps the most amazing proof offered for this claim is that the British-Ethiopian Treaty, which is a typical imperialist document – leaving Britain in complete control of the armed forces, the police, the courts, etc., of Ethiopia – is, according to Stalinism, a charter of freedom for the Ethiopians! The Stalinists write:

“The colonial peoples are recognizing that the war against Hitler and Japan is their war, and that necessarily its prosecution to success must bring higher status and increased recognition for them as equals. The British-Ethiopian Treaty, recording the expulsion of the Italian fascist murders from this Negro kingdom and recognizing the sovereignty of Ethiopia and Haile Selassie, is a graphic illustration of the character of this war for the colonials, despite the weaknesses of the treaty.

“Colonials and oppressed nations throughout the world can see in the restored independence of Ethiopia ... a profound difference between this and World War I where colonies changed hands without increased freedom for the national populations ... The denial of freedom to the colonial masses, always unjust, is now being recognized in many conservative circles as worse than folly if an adequate force to defeat Hitler is to be mustered.” (Sunday Worker, February 22, 1942.)

If the war of the “democracies” is thus also a war for national liberation of the colonies, how does it happen that India, the West Indies, Ceylon, Syria, Equatorial Africa, etc., etc., are not free? The Stalinist explanation is that, whoever is to blame, nobody who really supports the war is to blame. As the same Stalinist article puts it:

“Yet obstacles to this objective are being stubbornly maintained by the Tories, the appeasers, the fifth columnists and the disguised pro-Hitler elements, who exert their subversive pressure upon the government war leaders to keep the subject nations dormant and divided in the fight on Hitler.”

From this we can predict in advance what the Stalinists will do to resolve the contradiction between their avowal of national liberation and the refusal of the British ruling class to grant freedom to India. When Churchill presents the equivalent for India of the British-Ethiopian Treaty, the Stalinists will peddle it throughout the Far East as a genuine charter of freedom for India.

And if the Indian people reject Churchill’s mess of pottage and launch a direct struggle for national emancipation, including the agrarian revolution as its necessary social content, Stalinism will then attempt to play the same counter-revolutionary role as in Loyalist Spain, slandering and murdering the revolutionaries as “agents of fascism.” Our Indian comrades are absolutely correct in characterizing Stalinism as today the most dangerous influence within the working class of the Far East.

In addition to the Stalinists, British imperialism has the aid of the Chinese bourgeoisie against the Indian revolution. Chiang Kai-shek is not merely an “honest broker”; in India he called upon the people to support Britain’s war effort in advance of any concessions – the surest way to keep concessions down to a bare minimum; and he did not propose independence for India; his formula, “real political power” for the Indian people, is a euphemism for the fraudulent “self-government” or “dominion status” which London is prepared to promise.

Chiang Kai-shek’s Reactionary Role

Not by such methods did China win concessions from Britain. The first step in the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 was an anti-British boycott and strike which broke the back of British hegemony in South China. When the rising revolution developed into an agrarian revolution, the frightened Chinese bourgeoisie and the equally frightened British imperialists patched up their differences and joined together to destroy the revolution, with the aid of the Stalinists. Now Chiang is proposing to the Indian bourgeoisie that they avoid the dangerous stage of anti-British struggles – dangerous because such struggles inevitably develop into class struggles of the great masses directed not only at the imperialists but also at the native oppressors – and go directly into the stage of agreements with the British. But the laws of revolution do not operate that way. The British accepted Chiang as the national leader of China only because the anti-British struggles had destroyed British hegemony and because Chiang had beheaded the social revolution. Only under the same conditions will the British concede to Gandhi and Nehru what they conceded to Chiang in 1927.

Chiang’s role in China reveals the inadequacy of the kind of struggle that the Chinese bourgeoisie is carrying on against Japan. China’s war of national liberation requires the arousing of the entire Far East against imperialism. A liberated India would immeasurably strengthen China’s fight for freedom. Instead Chiang, remembering how close to success was the social revolution in China in 1925-27, helps to stifle India’s fight for freedom. The fundamental contradiction between China’s fight for freedom and the reactionary policies of the Chinese ruling class has been dramatized in Burma, where Chinese troops arrived to aid the British while the Burmese people wreaked national vengeance upon their British oppressors.

What Washington Wants in India

Chiang went to India by agreement between Washington and London. We can well believe, however, that London gave its consent with some reluctance and under pressure from Washington. British imperialism would still like to try to get by without any change at all in India or with the slightest change, fearing that any concession at all means opening the sluice gates to the flood of social revolution. On the other hand Washington considers its own imperialist methods – dollar diplomacy without formal control of the colonial countries and with an only occasional punitive expedition by the marines – as much superior to Britain’s old-fashioned methods; superior because without formal control of its colonies Britain would soon lose their revenues to United States “economic” penetration. In 1940 Trotsky predicted that during this war the United States would seek to strengthen its penetration of the Far East so that, at the next stage, it could enforce Indian “independence” in order to replace Britain. The two stages have now been telescoped as a result of the Far Eastern defeats and the urgent necessity of utilizing India’s manpower and resources for the war. This is expressed in the fact that an American “technical” mission is already on its way to India.

Hence the large-scale campaign in the American press, putting pressure on Britain for a speedy settlement with India. This campaign has produced some astonishingly strong language. Typical of this use of unaccustomed language was that of Walter Lippmann:

“The United Nations have found themselves in a position where they could be accused, not without warrant, of fighting to preserve the rule of the white man over the peoples of Asia and of being committed at fearful cost to a war for the restoration of empire ... The Western nations must now ... identify their cause with the freedom and the security of the peoples of the East putting away the ‘white man’s burden’ and .purging themselves of the taint of an obsolete and obviously unworkable white man’s imperialism.

“... No doubt die-hard Tory imperialism will die hard. But it must die ... If, as we may believe, Mr. Churchill has seen these great truths, this will have been the most critical moment in a career which fixes him already among the greatest of all English statesmen. If now, hand in hand with Mr. Roosevelt, he transcends the imperialist war in Asia and transforms it into a war of liberation, the longer future is ours, ‘whatever the next months may bring.” (N.Y. Herald Tribune, February 21).

The authoritative New York Times joined the campaign, saying when Chiang visited Gandhi:

“Draw a ring around the date – Feb. 18, 1942 ... India and China are no longer suppliants at the white man’s door. Not all the faded trappings of imperialism, not all the pomp of viceroys, not all the arrogance of the ‘old China hands’ has much meaning for them now ... Chiang may have achieved one of the most glittering diplomatic victories in history – a united front of India and China against Japan. Good old Colonel Newcome would turn in his grave at such a vision. Kipling’s soldiers and civil servants would be appalled. But it this combination can exist, it will be acceptable in London as in Washington and it will suffice.” (New York Times, February 19.)

But as the crisis over India developed, it was also the New York Times which (March 5) sharply warned in an editorial: “So long as the British hold India together ... in this crisis a radical solution of its infinitely complex problem would be as fatal as no solution at all ...” Yankee imperialism is as fearful of opening the sluice gates as is the Tory Churchill.

The Colonial Peoples and the Japanese

Tory and Labor press, Chungking spokesmen and American “news” reports all constantly refer to the anti-British activities of the people in Malaya, Singapore, Burma, etc., as “pro-Japanese” activities. There have also been the reports of the arrest as pro-Japanese of U Saw, Burma Premier, and the role of Subhas Chandra Bose as a Nazi agent. Since the charge of being agents of the Axis powers will undoubtedly play a big role in the coming events in India, we must carefully analyze the actual facts.

The Japanese invaders have, of course, secured paid agents in every country. Such individuals must be viewed, however, as part of the espionage system of every country. Is there such a thing as mass aid to Japan in any country?

The Japanese have not hesitated to arouse the anti-imperialist sentiments of the masses in Britain’s colonies. For example, a January 27 AP dispatch reports: “The Japanese air force appeared over Rangoon again last night and dropped vividly colored propaganda cartoons depicting an imaginary massacre of Burmese by British troops. The cartoons exhorted the Burmese to ‘Remember Mandalay,’ which was the scene of a rebellion 10 years ago.” But Japan, in this as in so much else, is merely imitating Lawrence in Arabia, German support of Polish revolt against the Czar, British encouragement to Czech revolts against Austria, etc.

To attribute anti-British mass actions to a desire to aid Japan is, however, a deliberate slander of the colonial peoples. Among the masses there has long been, as numerous observers reported before the war in the Far East broke out, widespread sympathy with the cause of China and Korea against Japanese imperialism. There is no reason to believe that the masses of Burma and Malaya prefer Japanese imperialism to British imperialism.

What is true is that, precisely when the British have been in difficulties, the colonial masses have wreaked vengeance upon them, but this has nothing to do with the masses’ attitude toward Japan. We are, of course, dealing here with a predominantly peasant population, and their anti-British actions – described in the press as “looting,” “running amok,” killing Britishers, etc. – bear the characteristics of peasant warfare against oppressors; some of the incidents reported read like pages out of the peasant wars in Germany or the French jacquerie.

Were the Cuban revolutionaries or the Filipino secret societies agents of the United States in 1898? They ruthlessly settled accounts with the Spanish oppressor during the Spanish-American War, but on the morrow, when the United States merely replaced Spain as the “mother” country, the colonial revolutionaries continued the struggle, this time against the new oppressor. We can say with confidence that the Burmese and Malayan peoples will never submit peacefully to the yoke of Japanese imperialism. In its new colonies Japan will be faced with as ruthless civil war as her armies still face in Manchuria after eleven years of “conquest.”

The Colonial Bourgeoisie and Japan

The anti-British actions of the masses, thus, have no connection with the Japanese. The same thing cannot, however, be said of the native bourgeoisie. It is quite likely that U Saw and a section of the Burma bourgeoisie were in league with the Japanese. We can be even more certain that Subhas Chandra Bose is not an isolated individual but that he represents a significant wing of the Indian bourgeoisie which believes that collaboration with the Axis powers will get more for its class than collaboration with the British. Until he voluntarily left India in 1940 to turn up later in Berlin, Bose was among the principal leaders of the bourgeoisie, former mayor of Calcutta, twice president of the Indian National Congress, etc.

What motivates Bose and his group? The answer will also illumine for us the character of the entire colonial bourgeoisie. Bose is no paid agent of Berlin. He allies himself with the Nazis in the hope that Nazi armies will aid him and his class to take power in India. He understands very well that the Nazis are imperialists. But he believes that to displace Britain, the Nazi imperialists will strike a better bargain with the Indian bourgeoisie than any which the British will agree to. Bose wants a partnership with imperialism. He understands that only with the aid of a great imperialist power can the weak Indian bourgeoisie maintain its parasitic role in India. The last thing any section of the Indian bourgeoisie wants is a really powerful mass movement of the workers and peasants strong enough to drive out all the imperialists. The Indian bourgeoisie understands that such a mass movement would go on also to destroy the native parasites, the landlords and capitalists. Bose therefore aims to oust the British, not through a native movement but through Nazi arms, which will then aid the Indian bourgeoisie in maintaining itself against the peasants and workers.

Nehru’s Present Program

Nehru and Gandhi differ from Bose only in that they still hope to make a good bargain with Britain. Like Bose, they fear nothing more than the great masses on whom they are leeches. The farther East you go, the viler the bourgeoisie, said the Bolsheviks; and India is in the Far East. The document of our Indian comrades is sufficient for an understanding of this class. We need only consider the program Nehru now offers Britain.

At moments when Britain was most adamant and when the national movement was at its lowest ebb, the Indian National Congress pushed the British toward new discussions and concessions by mobilizing the masses under the most radical demands: “Constituent Assembly” – that is the organ of complete national liberation, elected by universal suffrage, which would mean a majority of the peasant poor – and “Agrarian Reform” – a direct threat to the Native Princes and landlords.

Today, however, the spokesmen for the Indian bourgeoisie do not mention anything remotely resembling those bourgeois-democratic demands. Asked what Britain should now accede to, Nehru says:

“In the immediate present a provisional national government should be formed, responsible to the Indian people and not to the viceroy or the British Government ... some time later, an assembly representative of the people to frame India’s Constitution without outside interference.” (AP dispatch, March 5, 1942)

No mention of universal suffrage, and no indication of when a legislative body would be convened. Nehru does not even come up to the democratic level of the Cadets, the party of the Russian bourgeoisie, which never dreamed after February 1917 of publicly denying universal suffrage. But the basic question, in India as in Russia, was the question of actually convening the Constituent Assembly. And here the Indian capitalists merely ape their ill-fated Russian predecessors, who also were ready to have the Assembly meet “some time later” – after a Kornilov had given the workers and peasants a blood-bath. To put off the convening of the Constituent Assembly until “some time later” – that is the classic hall-mark of every counter-revolution.

“Agrarian Reform,” likewise, Nehru now abandons. The Princes, the chief landlords of India, who also rule over States including 25 per cent of India’s population, “will for the present not be interfered with,” say Nehru. He adds that it is “clear that they cannot continue as they are and that Indian freedom will affect their position vitally,” but this vague formula for the indefinite future means nothing if “freedom” is ushered in on a basis which leaves untouched the political and economic power of these feudatory Princes.

In brief, Nehru’s program leaves the content of national liberation out, in return for British sponsorship of a bourgeois Indian government. He could scarcely be more open in his betrayal of India’s long struggle for real freedom.

British from the first day of a new alliance between the British imperialists and the Indian bourgeoisie, it will be confronted with the non-confidence and resistance of the peasants and workers. During 1938 and 1939, when the Congress Ministries ruled, the masses were in constant collision with the Nehrus, including the November 7, 1938 political general strike of the Bombay proletariat against the Bombay Congress Ministry’s Labor Disputes Bill, the arrests of peasant leaders and suppression of peasant organizations by the Congress Ministries of Behar, North-West Frontier, and United Province, etc. Despite all repressions important sections of the proletariat and the peasantry have retained their organizations; in these days when British armed power has collapsed in the Far East the trade unions and peasant unions must be growing in geometrical proportions.

From the first the economic demands of the peasant and workers’ unions will tend to fuse with political demands. The Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India is correctly centering its agitation on the slogan of the immediate convening of the Constituent Assembly. The bourgeoisie undoubtedly, under the pressure of the masses, will make many “left” gestures, but under no circumstances will it convene the Constituent Assembly. Only the workers and the peasants will seek to convene it. Workers’ Councils in the cities and towns, constituted not merely by delegates from the existing unions but by delegates elected in the factories and business establishments; Peasants’ Councils in every section and province – these will arise, in one form or another and whatever they may be formally named, to seek the convening of the Constituent Assembly.

To the cry of the British and the Indian National Congress that India must be defended against Japan, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Councils will have an extremely positive answer: “By all means! Give us arms and we shall defend India against all foreign invaders!” Thus the arming of the people, the classical problem of all democratic revolutions, will be immeasurably strengthened by the war situation.

Under these conditions the “freedom” honeymoon between Britain and the Indian bourgeoisie will be of short duration indeed. Either the social revolution in India or the temporary collapse of India under Japanese invasion – there is no stable third alternative.

Only a Socialist Britain Can Endure

Events are hammering into the heads of the British workers the fact that the 400 million peoples of India do not consider themselves allies of the 45 million people of Britain but on the contrary look upon the British as oppressors. No matter what the Churchills do, they will not be able to establish a firm alliance with the people of India. No matter what the concession from British capitalism, the people of India will correctly consider it merely a wartime maneuver which, if Britain is victorious in the war, will be withdrawn leaving India enslaved as before.

Hence a real alliance between the peoples of Britain and India can be brought about only by the establishment of a Workers’ Government in Britain. Only such a government, which can point to the expropriation of British capitalism, can win the friendship of the masses of India for common struggle against capitalist reaction everywhere.

If the British workers do not establish a Workers’ Government, what prospect faces them? In any event India is lost to British exploitation, whether through the Indian revolution, Japanese invasion or later, in the event of “democratic” victory, United States displacement of Britain in the Far East. The “jewel” of the British Empire not only accounted for the higher standard of living of the British workers, especially the upper strata, but also accounted for the vitality of the opportunism represented by the British Labor Party, and the loss of India confronts the British proletariat with socialism as a life-and-death question.

Under these conditions, even without the menace of Hitlerism, what kind of life faces the 45 millions of the British Isles? The most catastrophic decline in the standard of living, the status of a small nation dependent upon the good-will of imperialist powers. This at the best. More likely, the status of a Vichy France, no matter which imperialist power conquers in Europe. These are the prospects, and the only prospects, for a capitalist England, with military dictatorship or fascism at home (democracy is a luxury under capitalism which impoverished nations cannot afford) and the necessity of immigration (where?) for a large part of the population.

The socialist revolution is now an absolute necessity for the British workers. A Socialist Britain can successfully lead the way to the Socialist United States of Europe. A Socialist Britain can inspire the German soldiers and workers to destroy fascism. A Socialist Britain can inspire the entire English-speaking world to follow the same path to the liberation of mankind.

We are sure that in these critical days our Trotskyist co-thinkers in England are bending every effort to bring this message to the British proletarians. We are certain that they are meeting with unprecedented response. What seemed for so long merely a theory, apparently so abstract to the workers, life itself is now urging as a desperate necessity, the only way out of capitalist slaughter and starvation.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Trotskism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Last updated on 20.8.2008