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Fourth International, April 1942


Editorial Comment

Why India Spurned the Cripps Plan


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.4, April 1942, pp.99-101.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


The Indian People Have Answered Cripps – Washington’s Campaign Against India – What the British War Cabinet’s Proposal Really Means – How the British “Protect” the Minorities – The Rising Tide in the East

The “No!” to Cripps came from the great masses of India. The “No!” would have been a thousandfold more firm and vehement had the toilers been given the opportunity to express themselves directly, in mass meetings in the cities and villages, or in a vote by universal suffrage. But neither the British nor the bourgeois leadership of the Congress wanted to consult the masses; on the contrary, as far as possible, Cripps and Nehru joined in barring the Indian people from learning the content of the negotiations. During the first week of the negotiations the British War Cabinet’s “offer” was not revealed to the public; during the next two weeks Nehru and his associates concealed from the Indian people whether they were accepting parts of the British plan and what counter-proposals they were making. It is clear that Nehru very much wanted to arrive at an agreement with the British, and indeed was almost on the point of doing so, as was indicated by the semi-official report on April 9 from New Delhi that “The plan was reported to be acceptable, with the exception of a few minor adjustments.” The Congress leaders have made such rotten compromises with the British more than once. One has only to recall the provincial elections of 1937, when the Government of India Act of 1935 went into effect despite Indian protests; the Congress candidates ran on a pledge to reject and combat that new constitution and swept the elections almost everywhere; then, in direct violation of their election pledges, they formed provincial ministries under the new constitution. They abandoned those shiny portfolios reluctantly only after Britain declared India in the war without consulting the Congress or anybody else ... If these habitual compromisers, these would-be junior partners of imperialism, had to reject the Churchill-Cripps plan, the masses of India must be surging a never before.

Pressed by Cripps and Roosevelt’s special envoy, Louis Johnson, Nehru longingly reached out toward the ministerial portfolios – then looked back fearfully over his shoulder. He told Leland Stowe in an interview that he might be accused of “selling out.” What a revealing phrase! Can one imagine genuine revolutionists – Lenin, for example – worried about the masses suspecting a sell-out? Nehru and his bourgeois group have sold out more than once; the only limit to their treachery is their fear of losing all influence over the masses – the influence which is the stock-in-trade which they have for sale – and when they reject a proposition from the British overlords it is not the Nehrus but the masses who are resisting.

Perhaps the most remarkable indication of the new tide of national self-confidence of India in facing the imperialists was Nehru’s statement about Roosevelt and the United States press on April 9, the eve of the breaking off of negotiations. The Indian bourgeoisie has long understood that the United States is becoming heir to the British Empire, and has welcomed it; the Nehrus think they will fare better as junior partners of dollar-diplomacy and have been servile in their praise of Washington. Yet now Nehru spoke in a new tone:

“... I must say that many American press comments have amazed me and I can only understand them on the basis of American ignorance of the conditions in India.

“We have had long homilies and patronizing advice as to what is good for us and what is not. There has been sometimes the element of a threat in case we do not accept that advice.

“The advice of friends is always welcome and worthy of consideration, but we are not used to patronage from any country or people and we do not shape our policy on the basis of superior homilies or threats.

“I want to make It clear that we issued no appeals to anybody nor asked for anybody’s intervention.

“For my part I admire President Roosevelt ... but reports that we have asked his Intervention in our problems are incorrect, for we realize the burden is ours and we must shoulder it.

“We have shouldered it against the might of a great empire during these last twenty-two years and we have not bowed down to superior might, despite the pains and penalties. We propose to stand erect in the future also, whatever happens. We realize that the achievement of freedom for India, which we have desired so passionately and worked for these long years, is our business. If we are strong enough to achieve it we shall do so; if not, we shall fall.

“We rely ultimately upon ourselves only and no others ...”

Such strong language toward the great imperialist powers, and especially toward Washington, is strange on the lips of the spineless Nehrus. And in truth it is not their language. Their words are but the muted reflection of the angry and terrible voice of a great people determined to put an end once and for all to foreign oppression. It is the voice of the Indian revolution.

Washington’s Campaign Against India

Nehru’s protest against United States press comment understated the reality. He explained it by “American ignorance of the conditions in India,” but the systematic character of the press campaign, the fact that practically the entire press voiced the same opinions, indicates a conscious design. Washington, knowing the usual servile sensitivity of the Indian bourgeoisie toward the United States, undoubtedly inspired a pressure campaign in the press. Nor was Washington’s activity limited to the press and to Louis Johnson’s teamwork with Cripps at New Delhi. In the army camps the American troops were being shown British motion pictures about India which pictured a divided” country united thanks to the white man, and army colonels were lecturing the troops along the same line. Can this have any other meaning than that these troops are being propagandized to shoulder the “white man’s burden” in India?

On March 29 Cripps made public the text of the British War Cabinet’s proposals. Thereafter, day in and day out, the United States press – Republican and Democratic, liberal and Stalinist – painted up the British “offer” so that blame for no agreement should fall upon the Indian people. Seldom has there been such unanimity in the press – and such brazen falsification of the plain facts. Typical was the New York Times editorial (March 31): “British rule in India, if only India herself so will it, has come to an end. No other meaning can be read into the text ... There is no room for doubt if they refuse this gift of freedom they will lose the offer of American comradeship that is now theirs for the asking.” The liberal New York Post editorial (March 31) ecstatically proclaimed: “Britain is giving up ‘the brightest jewel in the crown of Empire’ to beat Hitler. Those isolationist newspapers which have been throwing dead cats at England ought to stand for a moment of silence while they think that one over.” Time magazine hailed “India’s Magna Charta.” The Stalinist press published the completely pro-British UP dispatches and editorial comment of the same stripe. The “left” liberal Nation hysterically urged India to accept what Norman Thomas’ Call pronounced to be “liberal proposals.” And so it went, this vile chorus.

None of these papers submitted the Churchill-Cripps proposal to an analysis. The United States press is “free” but a totalitarian press could have scarcely been more successful in concealing from the American people the obvious facts about the British proposition.

What the Cripps Proposal Means

Leaving aside the proposals for ruling India between now and the end of the war – which the British themselves admitted were less “generous” than the post-war proposals – what kind of regime would be set up by the Cripps plan?

The so-called Native Princes, who autocratically rule over 93 million Indians, maintained in power only by British bayonets, would continue to do as they pleased. If they feel like it, they can appoint (no elections of any kind) 25 per cent of the delegates (in proportion to their population) to the “constitution-making body” which Britain will convene after the war, but they can also (after wielding that bloc of 25 per cent of the votes in the service of their British masters) reject the constitution and remain outside the Indian Union, serving the same foul role in India as British-controlled Ulster does in Ireland.

The “Native” Princes are Britain’s most venal agents in India, maintained consciously for that purpose since the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. That revolt alarmed the British and led them to seek bases of support within the country; Britain abandoned its previous policy of successively annexing Indian states whenever a pretext arose and instead proceeded to guarantee the feudal rulers of the remaining states their paraitic positions in the innumerable petty principalities, protecting them from the masses and receiving in return the support of the princes for Britain.

Anybody with the slightest acquaintance with India knows that the princes would be toppled from their thrones the moment British soldiers ceased to uphold them. Even the New York Times reported from India on March 22, 1942: “The Princes fear that if the British-Indian link is broken, they will ultimately be swept away.” Even the ex-Viceroy of India, Lord Halifax (in his April 7 speech in New York which constituted an official British explanation to the American people), who brazenly lied about practically everything else, could make no other claim for the princes except that “the independence of the princes is enshrined in solemn treaties between them and their [British] King-Emperor” and “to scrap them unilaterally would be to scrap one of the principles for which we went to war with Germany.” Lord Halifax here says more than he intended: Britain fights not for the right of universal suffrage and the right of self-determination of nations but for the “right” of Britain’s puppet princes to oppress the masses.

The text of the Congress statement makes clear that more than anything else the retention of the Native Princes made it impossible for the Congress to go along with Britain. Already the Congress’s failure to combat the princes has led to a situation where powerful State Congress movements in the “native” states have bitterly criticized the Nehru-Gandhi leadership as hostile to freedom for those states. In the face of this situation the Congress leadership did not dare sign a plan underwriting the continued rule of the princes.

British imperialism can be measured by this standard: the continuation of the autocratic rule of its puppet princes over 25 per cent of India weighed more in the scales than an agreement with the Indian people. Not even the greatest crisis that ever shook the British Empire, not even the proximity of the Japanese threat, could induce the imperialist bulldog to relax his grip on the throat of India. At all costs Downing Street would retain its suzerainty over the “native” states, where it could maintain British armies and thus maintain its will over the rest of India. The basic assumption of this line of reasoning is: if Japan invades India, Anglo-American forces may eventually dislodge the Nipponese, but if India wins real independence then the British are dislodged from India forever. Churchill-Cripps would much rather lose this war with the chance of fighting another and winning back India than to win this war and surrender India to the Indian people.

All this is obvious enough, but not a hint of it has appeared in the Republican, Democratic, liberal or Stalinist press which, on the contrary, has deliberately whitewashed the British “offer.”

How Britain Protects the Minorities

Cripps, Churchill and Lord Halifax have proclaimed that their plan is designed to protect the minorities – the 80 million Moslems – the 50 million of the Depressed Classes (the Untouchables). Almost all the Moslems are poor peasants, the Depressed Classes are proletarians and landess peasants: from the point of view of misery and oppression one should also list the great masses of the Hindu peasantry (70 per cent of India’s 400 millions are peasants) among the “minorities.” The character of Cripps-Churchill “protection” of the minorities is indicated by the franchise system dictated to India for provincial elections by the Government of India Act of 1935. The franchise is limited to those with property and education; the great masses are not permitted to vote; only 36 million out of a population of over 300 million in British India were enfranchised voters in the provincial elections of 1937, as compared to 44 million voters out of a population of 130 million in the United States (where millions of Negroes and poor whites in poll-tax states are still disfranchised). The property-education qualifications disfranchise an even larger proportion of the Moslems about whom Cripps is so solicitous: out of about 80 million Moslems only 7 million could vote in 1937. And practically all the 50 million of the Depressed Classes are disfranchised. This is how England protects the poor minorities!

The entire press – including the Stalinists – has concealed the fact that this is the franchise system under which the provincial assemblies would be elected which in turn (this was the method which used to make the United States Senate notorious as the Rich Man’s Club) would choose British India’s delegates to the “constitution-making body” of the Cripps plan. Even if there were not a bloc of 25 per cent of the delegates appointed by the Native Princes, the body chosen thus indirectly by the propertied minority would give short shrift to the interests of the Hindu peasantry, the Moslems and the Depressed Classes. Yet this is palmed off by Cripps as a plan for protecting the minorities!

The Moslems of the Arab Middle East, who have so vainly sought freedom from British domination, must derive bitter humor from Britain’s solicitude for the Moslem minority in India. Lord Halifax, pointing to the profound difference in the Hindu and Moslem religions as the source of conflict, flatteringly discovers that the differences are all in favor of the Moslem faith: “The outlook of Islam, practical, realist, democratic, is poles asunder from that of Hinduism, mystic, introspective ... Hinduism represents a static conception of society ... Islam on the other hand is completely out of sympathy with a system that seems to fetter human freedom ...” It follows – naturally that Britain must protect this admirable Moslem minority which has a “fundamental antipathy” to Hindu religion ... The truly impenetrable mystery is why Lord Halifax never proposed that the Moslems should be permitted to rule themselves without British troops in Palestine, Egypt, etc. Or are those Moslems not as democratic as Lord Halifax terms them to be in India?

Halifax may be “sincere” in uttering this tripe about religions as a source of conflict; he is a hide-bound Tory whose every word is weighed down by outlived traditions. But Cripps, says Cripps, is a Marxian socialist, and he certainly is educated in the findings of modern historians. Undoubtedly he could lecture competently on how the progressive struggle of the rising bourgeoisie against the feudal lords was clothed in the religious forms of Protestant-Catholic conflicts. Every English schoolboy knows that Cromwell’s Bible-toting Presbyters represented the merchant capitalists in crushing the absolute monarchy and its feudal Church of England defenders. Cripps should know that in Czarist Russia Moslem-Christian riots were a commonplace, not to mention the Black Hundred pogroms against the Jews, and that all this disappeared when the October revolution wiped out the Czarist instigators of the riots and pogroms and the economic roots of division. In fact, if time permitted, we are sure that we could dig up something by Cripps (who was very radical in 1935 when the last Moslem-Hindu riot occurred) which would show that he knew that it was essentially a riot of Moslem peasants against Hindu landlords and that the British divide-and-rule policy has instigated Moslem-Hindu conflicts. Cripps knows very well that the so-called Moslem League of Jinnah represents only a small group of ultra-reactionary landlords and industrialists who make capital out of trying to keep the Moslem masses separated from the Hindu masses; and that the Moslem League was repudiated decisively at the 1937 elections when it won only 104 out of the 480 seats reserved for Moslems in the provincial legislatures and received only 300,000 votes out of the 7 million cast by Moslems.

So it is not possible to believe that Cripps believed it when he said on the breakdown of negotiations that “The War Cabinet was in a position rather like an arbitrator who tries to arrange a fair compromise between conflicting points of view” of Moslem and Hindu. Cripps lied and knew that he lied.

The Moslem peasants want the land and the Depressed Classes want social, political and economic freedom; these they will achieve, and there will be an end to religious and national friction in India, when the Indian revolution, like the Russian revolution, successfully develops into a proletarian revolution. That is the only solution, both for the minorities and the great masses. All other proposals are deliberate falsehoods.

The Rising Tide in the East

The 400 millions of India are not alone in their growing national self-confidence. The same spirit of national liberation pervades the 450 millions of China. On April 10 Raymond Clapper sent a significant dispatch from China, which said in part:

“India is by no means the only great nation that has a self-rule issue with the United Nations.

“Talks with top-flight Chinese leaders here have made it clear to me that when this war has been won, China will never submit to a resumption of the foreign controls that were exercised over her affairs for so many decades before the war.

“Chinese leaders emphasize specifically that they cannot submit any longer to extra-territoriality – the fight of foreign powers to operate their own courts in China – or to treaty port concessions, or to foreign control of customs.

“China has been to some degree in the same fix as India, except that India has been dominated by Britain alone, and China by a number of powers. There has been a growing pressure for years to throw off this control. Today China feels that her resistance to Japan has further strengthened her claim to real freedom in practice.”

Such strong language toward the “democracies” is as strange on Chiang Kai-shek’s lips as on those of Nehru; in Chiang’s case, too, it is but a muted expression of the angry voice of the great masses.

India and China shall be free. And in smashing their shackles, these 950 millions – more than two-fifths of the human race! – will be striking perhaps the greatest blow for the freedom of the entire world. “Labor with a white skin cannot emancipate itself where labor with a black skin is branded,” said Marx. He was writing of chattel slavery. His words apply equally to colonial slavery. The revolutionary flames in the West in 1917-1923 provided the sparks that brought revolution in the East – in Turkey, Afghanistan, the Arab Middle East and above all in China in 1925-1927; and now the revolution in the East will rekindle the flame in the West.

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Last updated on 13.9.2008