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Workers’ International News, December 1939


India and the War


From Workers’ International News, Vol.2 No.12, December 1939, p.10-12.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The period of three years which intervened between the coming into operation of the 1955 Constitution for India and the outbreak of the Second World War was characterised by extreme political instability. The gradual accumulation of capital in their hands made it increasingly difficult for them to remain reconciled to a system under which the financial and economic policy of India would rest with a federal government which, as it is constituted, could never hope to see a Congress majority and would always remain an instrument of British finance capital.

The leader, of the Indian National Congress (who incidentally are looked upon as revolutionary leaders both by the ILP and the Stalinist International) who represent the economic and political interests of the discontented Indian bourgeoisie, hoped that the outbreak of war and the consequent difficulties of the Imperial Government would enable them to obtain vital reforms. Under conditions of peace they could hope to obtain these reforms only by a renewal of a mass movement which from their previous experience they have learned to dread.

That expectation has not been fulfilled. The British ruling class has declared that the war is no time for reforms and that Mr. Gandhi and his class must wait until the war is over. Mr. Chamberlain is well aware of the advantages of full support from the Indian Congress. But his difficulty is that he cannot rely upon the Indian capitalists to remain satisfied with only a few definite concessions. What guarantee is there, that having received something today, they will not, like Oliver Twist, ask for more tomorrow? That is the principal reason why the protracted negotiations between the Viceroy and the Congress leaders have borne no fruits.

While the Congress leaders were wining and dining with the Viceroy and his officers, the discontent of the Indian masses against the poverty and destitution in which they are forced to live was steadily gathering strength. The new Constitution has fostered illusions among them. They had hoped that under the Congress administrations an era of radical reforms would be instituted in industry as well as in agriculture. But Indian capitalism which had grown up under the sheltering protection of imperialism and in intimate association with feudalism, proved itself as bankrupt in the field of social reform as the old bureaucratic administrations. The Congress ministry neither would nor could attack the privileges of the landlords or the rights of the mill-owners. Even before the world conflagration started, the masses were beginning to take independent action without waiting for the ministries. The famine conditions which prevail today over large areas of India and the new attacks initiated by the mill-owners upon the workers’ standards of living, in the form of wage-cuts, mass dismissals and rationalisation, can only fan the flame of popular discontent. The October General Strike in Cawnpur, the strike in Calcutta of the jute workers, the sporadic strikes among Indian seamen are indications that in spite of rotten leaderships the workers are striking back and are even taking the offensive. In the following press is revealed the temper of the working class, The Associated Press has reported that

“several workers dissatisfied with the settlement arrived at in connection with the General Strike yesterday, raided and captured the Victoria Mills Mazdur Sabha (Labour Union) office and later they mobbed and assaulted Mr. Kapoor, General Secretary of the Mazdoor Sabha. The mob held a meeting near the Mazdoor Sabha Office and passed a vote of no confidence in the present labour leaders.”

The conflict between the interests of the toiling masses and those of imperialism can find no solution along the road of reformism. Far from able to make concessions to the masses, the British capitalist class will be forced to impose heavier burdens on their overloaded shoulders. In anticipation of the inevitable resistance of the masses to these impositions, the Government is preparing well ahead to meet it in the future.

Faced with this rising tide of anti-imperialism among the masses on the one side, and with a blunt refusal from the Viceroy on the other, the leaders of the Indian National Congress are beginning to talk about a new Civil Disobedience Movement. Their present attitude of waiting for events is becoming increasingly untenable. Their bargaining power depends to a large extent on their hold upon the masses and their capacity to rally them behind their own demands. An abject surrender at this stage would divorce them completely from the masses and would facilitate the emergence of revolutionary ideas and a revolutionary leadership.

Moreover, the native bourgeoisie cannot fail to see a menace to its own rights and liberties in the new imperialist assault on the working class. Opposed as they are to the demands of the Indian masses, they yet must preserve their own right to oppose imperialism.

Mr. Gandhi may therefore start another Civil Disobedience movement. But the revolutionary content of the struggle of the masses cannot receive its full expression under his leadership. Inevitably, as in the Civil Disobedience movements of 1920 and 1931, the masses will tend to outgrow the bourgeois leadership. As wider and wider sections of the exploited masses enter the fray, the struggle will overflow the bounds of “peaceful and legitimate” means set, by the Congress leaders. The movement which began as one for the augmentation of the rights and privileges of the Indian exploiters, will begin to formulate itself as one against the entire system of exploitation and privileges. The dynamics of the anti-imperialist struggle will bring to the fore the inherent class contradictions, and the Indian bourgeoisie who began by leading the movement will end by betraying it. Without a consistent revolutionary leadership the Indian masses will meet with only defeats and demoralisation. A revolutionary party of the Fourth International which today leads the struggle of all oppressed and exploited humanity is the call of the hour.

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