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Workers’ International News, April 1940


Mounting Crisis in India


From Workers’ International News, Vol.3 No.4, April 1940, pp.15-16.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The heaviest blows of the war have fallen so far on the other side of the: Suez – on India. There is a famine in India, not a natural one but an artificial one caused by a phenomenal rise in prices which has pushed even the necessities of life almost beyond the reach of the masses.

In several instances, the poor have taken things into their own hands and forcibly seized goods from shops. The Associated Press, Reuter’s Indian subsidiary, reported on January 27th:

“... a hundred and twenty persons were arrested here in connection with the looting of certain shops last night at Nathnager which is being guarded by the police today. Fifteen cases have been instituted against the men under arrest.”

A Calcutta paper reports on the same day:

“... a hundred and thirty seven persons have been arrested in the Central provinces and Berar on the alleged. charge of looting shops at various places on December last.”

Further proof is provided by the measures, futile though they are, to deal with the problem of rising prices. Remission of revenue has been granted to large sections of the peasantry, who in any case were unable to pay it. Another measure adopted is the opening of cheap grain shops under Government auspices. Five such grain shops were opened by the Government of Bombay to sell the coarsest type of wheat, rice and lentils to the city proletariat at uniform prices.

But the half-measures of the imperialist government inspire no confidence in its ability to deal, with a problem which is nationwide in dimensions and daily grows in intensity. Instinctively the masses distrust the government of imperialist finance-capital. The great strikes which are now taking place in all the industrial areas for war bonus, shows that the Indian workers know that the struggles against the sufferings and deprivations of the war does not lie in the direction of petitioning the government which carries on the war, but by mass action against the capitalists. That this struggle brings the masses immediately into conflict with the government is shown by the shootings of Jute workers on strike in Calcutta jute mills last month. Six months of war has produced a state of industrial unrest unparallelled in the history if India.

But to concentrate exclusively on the economic aspect of the struggle against the war is to lose sight of the most significant feature of the anti-imperialist movement in India today – the increasing participation of the masses in the political struggle for freedom. The most remarkable evidence of this mass awakening is provided by the fact that Independence Day on January 26th, was celebrated by the workers by a one-day general strike. In some places, as in Bombay, the workers compelled the mill-owners to declare the occasion a holiday, in other places where attempts were made to keep the factories open, the workers came out on strike. In Cawnpur, according to the Associated Press:

“... a serious situation arose near the J.K. Mills where about 3,000 strikers stormed the Mill Gate, threw stones and smashed window panes when their attempts to induce the workers in the Mill to come out and observe the strike failed.”

Out of the total of 42,000 mill workers about 20,000 were on strike, in answer to the call of the Mazdoor Sabha (Workers’ Committee) following the refusal of the Employers Association to close the Mills in connection with Independence Day.

The general strike of the Indian proletariat on Independence Day and not the individualistic and desperate action of a confused terrorist, is the fitting reply to the reign of terror which the Chamberlain Government has let loose in India. The extent of the terror can be glimpsed from the following incident.

“Mr. D.C. Hunter, District and Sessions Judge, Cawnpur, has convicted and sentenced one Jan Mohammad (55) said to be a communist, to imprisonment for life for conspiracy against the government. The accused had been charged with delivering a speech on September 3rd urging the workers to prepare for armed rebellion against the government.” (Bombay Chronicle, Feb.2nd.)

Thus in the eyes of the Czech and the Polish people for freedom from German domination is worthy of utmost support, but the struggle of the Indian people for the self-same object is treason to be ruthlessly suppressed. In one province alone, the Punjab, according to the statement of its reactionary Premier, 191 persons had been arrested under the Defence of India Ordinances, another 186 imprisoned for political conspiracy, since April last. The repression does not spare even children. In the Punjab, a child of 12 was recently arrested for singing patriotic songs at an anti-recruiting meeting. When our masters here try to arouse our righteous indignation against the cruelties, and oppression of the Hitler gang in Poland and Czechoslovakia, we shall remember the countless arrests, savage sentences, police raids, repressive ordinances in India by the freedom-loving democrats of Threadneedle Street and Whitehall.

As the months pass by, the Indian revolution approaches closer, for, from whatever aspect the situation is viewed the crisis in India is mounting. Zetland’s promise of Dominion Status at the end of the war – an offer on the same level of sincerity as Chamberlain’s offer to abrogate the Trade Disputes Act when the war has been won was repudiated by the resolution of the Indian National Congress, and its declaration for complete independence as its aim is illuminating. It proves not the determination of Gandhi and Nehru who lead the Congress to pursue the professed aim, but the rising tide of mass militancy among the workers, peasants and students who will not tolerate an open compromise with British imperialism. The Indian capitalist leaders, Gandhi-Nehru, whose main aim is to coax the struggle away from revolutionary ideas and methods and ultimately to betray it to Threadneedle Street, are beginning to realise that they must now assume a more leftist and pseudo-revolutionary mask and if necessary initiate another civil disobedience movement.

But any movement led by these agents of British imperialism is doomed to defeat and disaster. Mr. Gandhi will not countenance the class-struggle of the workers and peasants.

“I must at once confess,” says Mr. Gandhi, “that I have in my mind neither strike nor no-rent campaigns as part of the forthcoming struggle.” (Bombay Chronicle, January 23rd.)

But it is precisely because the masses signal their entry into the anti-imperialist struggle by striking at their immediate oppressors, by striking at the foundation of bourgeois leadership, that the Indian revolution can be led only to betrayal by the Gandhi-Nehru bloc. Only the proletariat leading the struggle of the oppressed masses, its spearhead the workers revolutionary party, can lead the struggle against imperialism to a victorious conclusion.

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