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Fourth International, September 1942


American Labor on India


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.9, September 1942, pp.276-282.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


There has long been widespread sympathy in the United States for India’s struggle for independence. So much so, indeed, that as late as Cripps’ arrival, the All-India Congress leaders had high hopes that their demands would be backed by American pressure. This illusion has since been shattered by the viciously pro-British line of the American press and radio, and Secretary of State Hull’s speech of July 23, which in essence repeated the British formula, telling the Indian people that they must first support the war and thus “by their acts show themselves worthy” of post-war freedom. Illusions in India about support from American capitalism and its government resulted from a failure to analyze two very different currents in the traditional American sympathy for India. American imperialism wished to end British political control of India in order to replace it by the more subtle but equally imperialist penetration of the dollar; hence the “sympathy” of dollar imperialism for Indian independence. A very different, and genuine sympathy was that of large sections of the American working class and farmers, which has of course been most lively among the 13 million Negroes. The Indian nationalists made the mistake of not distinguishing between these two fundamentally different currents of sympathy. More accurately, the India League here has largely ignored the American labor movement and sought “friends of India” in Washington and the bourgeois press, and now can only wail as the bourgeois “friends” become enemies.

American imperialist plans for “helping” India have been set aside now for more propitious times; for the present, the British ally must be helped. Hence the gigantic press and ra-dio campaign of lies and slanders against India’s present struggle. Among the American masses, however, sympathy for India’s struggle is, if anything, livelier than ever before. American Ambassador Winant recently warned a meeting of British businessmen that Britain’s colonial policy is the cause of serious “division of opinion” here. The financial weekly Great Britain and the East (April 18) especially hoped that the Cripps mission “has enlightened the American people, who in the past have been woefully misled as to British policy in India.” But since then Cripps and Amery have felt compelled to make special broadcasts to American audiences. The very strenuousness of the anti-India campaign of the American press and radio indicates that the actual tide of mass public opinion is running the other way.

Yet, so far, working-class sympathy for India’s fight for freedom has been expressed very little, and then in distorted forms. Nor is this surprising. The workers can express themselves only through their organizations; and their leaders are locked in “national unity” with the Roosevelt administration. Especially on international questions they echo Washington, instead of declaring the international solidarity of the workers and oppressed peoples. When they are surrendering the rights of American labor, they will scarcely stand up for the rights of the people of India. Their crimes against India are but a reflection of their crimes against the interests of the American workers.

Nevertheless, even the labor lieutenants of the Roosevelt war machine are compelled to take notice of the sympathy for India among the American workers. This will be seen as we survey the stand taken by the various sections of the labor movement. Quite apart from this, such a survey provides, as it were, an international microscope under which to examine the American labor movement.

The Position of the Auto Workers

At the closing session of the UAW-CIO convention on August 9, it adopted a resolution on the struggle in India. The key paragraphs were

“The aim in this struggle is to secure the independence necessary to make India a full-fledged ally of the United Nations. The claim of the Indian people to their independence to a just and democratic one, fully in accord with the liberating and democratic aim of this war.

“It is the wisest course to come to a mutually satisfactory agreement with the Indian Congress, instead of allowing the con-flict to flare into civil war.

“We urge upon President Roosevelt that he request the British government that it take steps necessary to win the support of the Indian people and to avert civil strife in India.”

The most notable point is the favorable characterization of the present struggle of India for immediate independence. This was taken by the delegates to be the heart of the resolution, and that is what they voted for primarily. There were no dissenting speeches and very few dissenting votes. It was to be expected, of course, that the union leaders, in drafting the resolution, would put in a boost for “the liberating and democratic aim of the war,” and put the fate of India into Roosevelt’s hands. Nevertheless, they also had to declare for India’s immediate independence. In a word, the resolution reflects the sympathy of the militant auto workers for India’s fight, distorted into “respectable” form by the union leadership.

Capitalist lies about the “backwardness” of the Indian masses are refuted by the personal experience of many auto workers. One of the largest communities of immigrants from India in this country is in Detroit, and many of them are auto workers. Though prevented from becoming citizens by the Oriental Exclusion Act, they are among the best citizens of the UAW-CIO. They have proved their loyalty to the working class in the shops and on the picket lines. It was in the spirit of an elementary duty to these union brothers and their people that the convention declared itself for immediate independence for India.

The AFL Resolution

As the auto workers’ resolution led the way for the CIO, so the utterly reactionary soul of the AFL bureaucracy was expressed in the resolution adopted August 19 by the New York State Federation of Labor and broadcast by short wave to India.

The resolutions committee recommended rejection of a proposal to support the demand of the Indian Congress for immediate independence. Instead it brought in a resolution flatly opposing independence now. All it offered, in terms entirely acceptable to the British Tories, was the usual promise of post-war independence:

“We pledge to you that at the hour of our victory, we shall do everything in our power to help you realize your rightful claim to independence.”

Until then, the AFL bureaucracy demands that India remain subservient to British imperialism:

“The New York State Federation of labor, representing 1,500,000 organized workers, sends fraternal greetings to the people of India and urgently appeals to them to abandon the ill-timed and ill-advised civil disobedience campaign, which cannot but injure India’s own rightful cause.”

And if India does not accept the “fraternal” advice of the AFL bureaucrats? Then, the resolution threatens:

“Today we are at war. India’s position is not a question of principle but of geographic and military reality.

“There must be no misunderstandings between us. The workers of America, and the American people as a whole, stand solidly behind President Roosevelt in iron determination to fight this war anywhere and everywhere circumstances should make it necessary. We are committed to destroy the Axis, and we shall not stop, and we shall not be stopped until we have carried this war to a successful conclusion.”

The resolution could hardly have said more plainly: We are fully prepared to join in crushing the Indian struggle if our masters give the word. It goes far beyond anything the Roosevelt administration has said; the AFL bureaucracy is like the dog which, sensing the mood of the master, growls threateningly at his opponent while the master is still using fair words.

The AFL resolution is not only brutal. It is also stupid. With a fatuous ignorance exceeding even its impudence, it says precisely the two things which assure the resolution a contemptuous reception in India:

“We are glad, and we are proud, that our brothers in the British Trades Union Congress have taken a stand against imperialism and for an independent India.”

“Do not compromise the cause of China and all the peoples of Asia, by indulging in ill-advised obstructionist tactics which can only alienate India’s true friends.”

Every peasant in India knows what the AFL bureaucrats don’t know: (1) that the British trade union bureaucrats have never been friends of Indian independence and (2) that all China is wholeheartedly in sympathy with India’s present struggle.

It is difficult to believe that the AFL bureaucrats seriously considered that their resolution, broadcast by radio to India, would have any persuasive effect there. The British government will, however, find it useful in England as an international labor endorsement of its colonial massacres.

The Stand of the Negro Workers

The Negro masses have always looked upon the dark-skinned people of India as their racial brothers. They are thrilled by the present struggle; they understand that success in India will be reflected here and everywhere. Walking through the seething streets of Harlem in the first days after the arrest of the Congress leaders, everywhere the talk was of India – and how fiercely partisan was the talk! The Negro delegates at the UAW-CIO convention were one of the main forces pressing the leadership for support of India’s struggle, and it will be likewise in all the CIO unions.

So far, the Negro press has but dimly reflected – and distorted – this intense sympathy for India’s fight. It is curious to note that before the civil disobedience campaign began, the Negro press wrote in detailed and decisive terms in support of the struggle but, since it began, has written relatively little and that in cautious language.

The most significant statement thus far has been that of A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (AFL), on behalf of the March on Washington movement, which is today unquestionably the organization closest to the Negro masses. The statement begins as follows:

“The March on Washington movement hails the militant, noble and persistent struggle of the people of India for freedom and independence from the brutal tyranny of Great Britain.

“Negro people of America, the West Indies and Africa should support this grim, determined and courageous battle for freedom under the gallant, wise and dauntless leadership of Mohandas K. Gandhi far they constitute one of the great oppressed and exploited sections of the darker races of the world, seeking their liberation from ruthless British imperialism!”

Having thus expressed the attitude of the Negro masses, Randolph characteristically goes on to distort it. Side by side with correct proposals that Negro organizations demand freedom for India, the release of the Congress leaders, to send expressions of sympathy to India – Randolph asks Negroes to appeal to Churchill for India’s independence on the grounds that this would be in the interests of Britain. The “brutal ty-anny of Great Britain,” the “ruthless British imperialism” of the first two paragraphs of the Randolph statement, turns up at the end as India’s potential liberator. Having advised India to continue its struggle, Randolph rushes over to the other side to advise British imperialism. Randolph’s attempt to straddle the barricades is the inevitable result of his political support of the “United Nations,” including India’s oppressor. That Britain is fighting precisely to retain its oppression of India – that Randolph conceals from the Negro workers he misleads. We are confident, however, that these Negro workers will go on to support India completely, dragging Randolph along with them or discarding him.

The Social Democratic Federation

As one could have predicted in advance, the vilest slanders against the Indian struggle came, not from the bourgeois press or the trade union bureaucrats, but from the “socialist” New Leader and its parent, the Social Democratic Federation. The senile conservatism of the septuagenarian leadership of the Federation has been combined with the hysterical frenzy of the Social Democratic refugees to make the foulest brew that has ever been labelled “socialism.” Here is a sample from the formal statement on India issued by the Federation:

“American Social Democrats deplore and condemn the action of Gandhi-Nehru and their associates in plunging India into turmoil at a moment when such a course plays directly into the hands of the Japanese and German enemies of world peace and freedom. Whether they are actuated by blind fanaticism, by personal ambition or by fifth-column corruption, the results will be the same.

“In the United States as well as in Great Britain, public sympathy with Indian aspirations for independence has been rudely alienated. No one need wonder if the British governi-ment and people consider themselves absolved from their promise of self-government after the war.

“... These demagogues are betraying China in her hour of need ...

“Our propaganda against imperialism, as a part of our whole propaganda for democratic social progress toward a classless society, has everywhere contributed to the gradual and orderly abandonment of imperialistic policies in which Great Britain and the United States have taken a leading part.” (New Leader, August 15.)

Satire stands defenseless before this preposterous nonsense. Even more vicious, however, because much more plausible to uninformed readers, is an article in the same New Leader by an “expert” on India, one Harry Paxton Howard. “He spent 24 years in China and Japan as an educator and editor, returning here two years ago.” After reading his article, one would like to know just who employed him during those years in the Orient. With a great show of learning, he pictures the present struggle in India as designed to perpetuate the Hindu caste system, untouchability, child marriage, the oppression of the peasants by landlords and moneylenders. How, then, explain that hundreds of millions of peasants and workers are fighting and dying under the slogans of “Long Live the Revolution” and “Liberty or Death”? Here is the explanation of Howard and the New Leader:

“There are, however, scores of millions of lower-caste Hindus, still backward and benighted, who meekly accept the leadership of high caste Hindus such as Nehru and Gandhi. These are the ‘masses’ of whom the Congress Party leaders speak. They will starve to death rather than kill a cow. They will, indeed, kill a starving Moslem for killing a cow. They ‘purify’ themselves with cow’s urine. Their girls are married – so far as the British Indian Government has not interfered with this ‘quaint’ custom – at the age of ten or twelve, since ‘every men-struation is a murder’ to the orthodox Hindu. They accept and cooperate with the herding of the ‘untouchables’ – poor proletarians like themselves – into the unspeakable ghettos of Indian towns and cities. They are the most degraded, superstitious, backward mass in the world.

“... The ‘revolutionary mass movement’ of which they speak is, simply, race hatred ... Hindu landlords and money-lenders, cruelly plundering their peasant victims, are anxious to divert the attention of the latter to their British ‘exploiters’ much as Hitler and his Nazis, determined to plunder not only the Germans but all Europe, singled out the minority of Jewish capitalists as ‘exploiters.’ The ‘revolutionary mass movement’ led by the Congress Party machine is as unscrupulous and ruthless in its exploitation and cultivation of race hatred as is the anti-Semitism of Adolf Hitler.” (New Leader, August 15.)

For the United States, this is a new kind of attack on the Indian struggle. In England, however, it is very familiar; it is the old stock in trade of the British Labour Party bureaucrats, who have made an art of attacking the All-India Congress in pseudo-socialist terms. Every one of these statements in the New Leader has been conclusively refuted a hundred times by Indian nationalists and revolutionary Marxists; but British apologists go on repeating them. A hundred times it has been established that the Congress has infinitely more following among the Untouchables than the British agents who parade as their leaders; yet Howard and the New Leader still write that “Their outstanding leader is B.R. Ambedkar, recently appointed Labor Minister in the Indian Council.” The Sarda Act, prohibiting child marriage, was supported by the Congress and other Indian groups, but was long opposed by the British government and its agents for fear it would disrupt the status quo. Precisely at this point of actual struggle against British rule, the landlords and moneylenders – a class created by the British – are supporting the oppressor against the Congress. To characterize as “race hatred” the anti-British sentiments of the oppressed is to repeat the identical language of the American Bourbons in the South who call every Negro protest “race hatred.”

One could go on for pages, refuting the deliberate falsehoods of this New Leader slander against the Indian masses. Before we turn away from this foul brew, let us note its political essence. It is as “socialist” as the Feudal Socialism which Marx and Engels analyzed in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. The aristocracies of France and England, bitter at the new capitalist class which was displacing them, took revenge by exposing what the bourgeoisie was doing to the new proletariat. It did so, not for the sake of the proletariat, but to perpetuate the feudal remnants. So the New Leader and the British Labour Party, in the service of the imperialists, denounce the Indian bourgeoisie, only in order to perpetuate imperialist rule in India. And, just as the aristocracy consoled itself by amalgamating with the new capitalist class against the proletariat, so British imperialism and its labor lieutenants have combined with the Indian landowners and capitalists against the struggle for freedom.

The Norman Thomas “Socialists”

The author of the New Leader article cited above, Harry Paxton Howard, appears in the pages of Norman Thomas’ The Call as “Comrade Harry Paxton Howard,” “The Call’s expert on Far Eastern affairs” (August 14 issue). The same week, however, The Call’s expert went to the New Leader and, from there, to the Catholic Commonweal (August 28 issue) where he is explaining the superiority of the pro-British Moslem League as due to the fact that Moslems are “democratic and anti-caste, recognizing the equality of all men under God.” Thus bereft of its expert, The Call fell back on the renegade Jim Cork (ex-Lovestoneite) and its own Norman Thomas.

Those who do not read The Call learned of Norman Thomas’ activities for India when the bourgeois press published a “report given to newspapermen by Norman Thomas immediately after a conference with Secretary of State Cordell Hull ... The Socialist leader thought it significant that Secretary Hull had recalled his own long-standing support of independence for the Philippine Islands.” (N.Y. Times, August 18.)

Mr. Thomas was seeing Hull on behalf of a group of liberals (including ex-Lovestoneite Bertram D. Wolfe) appealing to President Roosevelt to mediate the British-Indian crisis. The letter of the group expressed their satisfaction over the State Department’s announcement that no American forces would be used against the Indians, and added:

“It will be even better it you make a similar statement emphasizing the fact that neither directly nor indirectly will American troops or arms be so used. To do less would be to make a mockery of those great ideals in whose behalf you have so eloquently assured us that this war is being fought.”

British repressions, Thomas told the reporters, would “be injurious to the war effort of the United States” (N.Y. Times, August 18).

In The Call, Mr. Thomas added a few details:

“Mr. Hull professed his profound concern over India’s problems and his willingness to help. That willingness, many prominent Americans are now urging upon the President, should go to the length of a formal offer of good services, if possible in cooperation with the Chinese and Russians.

“... Unless this can be done, the question ‘where are we going in this war?’ will become tragically clouded.” (The Call, August 28.)

It is, then, as supporters of the war of the United Nations that Norman Thomas and The Call appeal to Roosevelt. The general outlook from which they speak is indicated by the following words in the same article by Thomas reporting his visit to Hull:

“Of course the picture [in Washington] is not all black. There is a great sense of vitality and achievement in Washington, symbolic of the vigor which America is showing. Unquestionably Americans have proved their capacity to produce and to fight. This country is, or is on the way to being, the most powerful single nation in the world. What is not at all clear is whether it is using its power intelligently, or whether any power can accomplish the tasks the President has assumed without a strategy of war and peace not now in evidence.”

Since it is “not at all clear” whether the government “is using its power intelligently,” Mr. Thomas went to Washington to advise Roosevelt and Hull how to use it in connection with India. Having swallowed the camel of the war, Mr. Thomas scarcely strains at the gnat of advising the imperialists how to conduct their war. The Call writes: “The Socialist Party urges readers of The Call to write or wire immediately to President Roosevelt urging him to help win a real victory for democracy by mediating with Britain, America’s ally, for immediate independence for India.” If the government of American finance capitalism can conduct a war for democracy, even easier can it win “a real victory for democracy” in India. Thomas writes of Roosevelt in this connection: “I like to believe that we may expect it from him as a matter of course.” He glows with the thought that “our President” can play “a role which might make him hero and spokesman in behalf of the silent peoples of the earth.” (The Call, August 21.) The iron logic of support of the war is exhibited in the microcosm of the Socialist Party just as much as in the macrocosm of the trade union movement.

The Call may retort: “But the All-India Congress, it is clear, will welcome mediation by Roosevelt. Why, then, shouldn’t we urge him to do so?” The fact that mediation will be welcomed by the Congress is irrefutable. That is no reason why people calling themselves socialists should support such mediation. For mediation implies that India can win its independence as a gift at the hands of Churchill and Roosevelt. Whereas the bloody lessons of centuries of British oppression of India, plus the latest lesson of the Cripps mission, is that India will win its independence only with arms in hand, overthrowing the British Raj. This lesson the Congress Party, a movement dominated by the bourgeoisie, does not teach and, indeed, conceals from the Indian masses. It is one thing to support the tiniest step of the Congress against British imperialism; it is entirely wrong to support the Congress in its compromises with British imperialism and its failure to take to the road of revolution. Mediation will be accepted by Britain and offered by Roosevelt only after a prior understanding with the Congress for a compromise. He who supports mediation thereby commits himself to a compromise – i.e., to abandoning the struggle for independence against British imperialism.

Nor is only the question of India involved. In Latin America, Roosevelt plays the same essential role as Churchill: dollar imperialism, supporting the regimes of a Vargas in Brazil, Batista in Cuba, etc., has as bloody hands as British imperialism in India. To paint up the Chief Executive of American imperialism as conceivably playing “a role which might make him hero and spokesman in behalf of the silent peoples of the earth” is to betray Latin America’s fight for freedom.

And if Roosevelt can lead the colonial masses to a new life, why not America’s sharecroppers and Negroes and workers and farmers? Why, then, does the Socialist Party exist, if a capitalist president can do these things? Why, indeed? Trotsky once said that Norman Thomas calls himself a socialist as the result of a misunderstanding.

The Role of the Stalinists

The Stalinist line is identical with that of the Social Democrats, but is infinitely more dangerous, since unlike the Second International of open labor lieutenants of imperi-alism, Stalinism has parties in India and the other colonial countries. The Stalinist line ostensibly, is that it is for immediate independence and against the present struggle, on the grounds that independence can be secured through mediation by Roosevelt. Even more fundamental to the Stalinist line, however, is unconditional support of the war and, as a corollary, unconditional support of the trade union bureaucracy which supports the war. Thus, for example, at the New York State Federation of Labor convention, the Stalinist delegates voted for the AFL resolution (described above) which opposes immediate independence. And the Daily Worker whitewashed the reactionary resolution by reporting it as follows:

“A further expression of the convention’s war consciousness was the statement it approved for a shortwave broadcast to the people of India, supporting their fight for independence, condemning imperialism, and calling for an end of the civil disobedience movement.” (The Worker, August 23)

Embarrassed by the fact that, unlike the Soviet Union, the Chinese press and government circles are supporting, not only the principle of immediate independence for India, but also the present struggle for it, the Stalinist press in this country has simply suppressed this news so vital to rallying support for India.

These two examples characterize the real content of the Stalinist line. Infinitely more able and flexible than the doddering Social Democrats, the Stalinists do not print a Harry Paxton Howard. Far more sensitive than the AFL bureaucrats to the actual sentiments of the American workers, the Stalinists sponsor “Win the War, Free India” rallies. The essential difference, however, is between a clumsy and a skillful execution of a political line: the basic line is the same – opposition to India’s fight for freedom.

The Stalinists in India are opposed to all strikes – whether for economic demands, for independence or for the release of the imprisoned Congress leaders – as hampering the war effort of the “United Nations.” Despite the Stalinists, a great strike wave has broken out. The facts are known, although British censorship and cooperation of the American press and radio are suppressing the news. Even a Louis Fischer and Raymond Clapper are lifting the veil a little. But not the Stalinist press. Through Soviet and GPU agencies, the Stalinist press has sources of information infinitely superior to the ordinary newspaper, and has often used them when it saw fit. But it has joined the conspiracy of silence against India.

The Stalinist press has concealed the reactionary character of the Cripps proposal. In this it was following the Stalinist line in India where “the Communists urged Congress and the Moslem League to unite in order to achieve a settlement on the basis of the Cripps proposals.” (Daily Worker, August 4, 1942.) The Stalinists slander the Congress struggle as “playing into the hands of Japan.” The Stalinists were the only group in the Congress, except for a few extreme right-wingers, who voted against launching the struggle. “The 13 who voted against the Gandhi non-cooperation proposal were for the most part Indian Communists.” (Daily Worker, August 9)

The only road to independence proposed by the Stalinists is independence as a gift from Churchill-Roosevelt. They condemn any refusal to cooperate with the British: “To persist in the policy of non-cooperation with or neutrality toward the government war effort or their defense measures is to betray the sacred cause of the defense of India.” (Daily Worker, August 5.)

The Stalinists are today the most powerful agency within the American labor movement dragging it away from support of India’s struggle for independence. They are doing so with infinitely more consciousness and deliberation than the AFL and CIO bureaucracy.

As India raises its voice, it also makes clear the fundamental cleavage of interests between the American working class and the imperialists of Britain and America. The American workers have no interest whatever in supporting the continued enslavement of India. On the contrary, the interest of the American workers is bound up with freedom for every people. The “socialists,” Stalinists and trade union bureaucrats who oppose India’s struggle for independence do not represent the interests of the American working class. Their attitude toward India reveals their role as agents of the imperialists. India is one more touchstone by which the American workers can determine which workers’ organizations and leaders are loyal to the interests of the working class.

It is a fact that the only workers’ political organization which meets this test is the Socialist Workers Party, the Trotskyists. That is one more proof that the Trotskyists are the authentic representatives of the historic interests of the world working class.

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