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Workers’ International News, May 1940


British Labour and India


From Workers’ International News, Vol.3 No.5, May 1940, pp.9-11.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The basis of imperialist rule over colonial peoples is force. To this the Chamberlain government is no exception. The extensive application of the Defence Regulations, the arrests of hundreds of revolutionary workers, Congress Socialists, Stalinists, militant trade unionists and even of petty bourgeois nationalists and the savage sentences meted out in many cases, such as life imprisonment for making a speech, have been extensively dealt with in previous issues of this paper.

The wave of repression waging throughout India is the greatest refutation of the imperialists plea that the only obstacle to India’s obtaining freedom is disunity among the Indians. The Secretary of State for India, Zetland, stated recently that the British Government cannot divest itself of its responsibility towards the minorities in India and consequently until these minorities were agreeable, not even Dominion status was possible for India. Such tender solicitude for minorities is indeed touching, particularly when it comes from a band which has never scrupled to ride rough shod over both the minority and the majority when it has suited its own interests. The India Constitution Act of 1935 was passed in the teeth of the opposition of all sections of Indian political opinion not excluding the Liberal Federation. The minorities assume importance, therefore, only when they are prepared to make themselves tools of the imperialists.

But who are the minorities who are to be protected against the selfish demands of the majority of the Indian people for freedom? The noble Marquis specifically mentions the Moslem League and the Indian Princes. It is a monstrous suggestion that the British working class should line up behind the great landlord princes of India and the reactionary communal leaders on the pretext of defending the interests of the minorities. The so-called “representatives of minority interests” are in reality the creatures of British imperialism. Every worker who has taken part in a strike knows what use is made by the bosses of the black-legs and their alleged right to earn their living. The minority question in India as raised by the National Government is essentially a question of stooges.

The imperialists would never have succeeded in deceiving the British workers as to the real character of imperialist rule in India without the assistance of the labour and trade union leaders. Remember the noble indignation of these gentlemen at Nazi repression in Czechoslovakia and Poland and contrast it with their complete silence over the repression in India. In a recent speech Mr. Greenwood said that he supported the war because Hitlerism meant the suppression of the labour and trade union movement and that in fighting Hitler, he was defending the Labour movement in Nazi ridden countries. While Mr. Greenwood was indulging in his pious lamentations, Mr. Jai Prakash Narain, General Secretary of the Congress Socialist Party which stands on the same level of reformism as the British Labour Party, was being put in prison. Not a word has been uttered in protest by the Labour bureaucracy. They say they are not fighting this war for imperialist profits but for a new world order rid of Hitlerism and Imperialism. But the thinking worker will judge them not by what they say but by what they do. If they are against imperialism, let them denounce both British imperialism and Hitlerism. Let them come out in support not only of the Czech but also the Indian masses.

The debate on India in Parliament revealed that there is no difference whatsoever between the labour leaders and the National Government. This did not surprise us. As early as October 26th, Mr. Wedgwood Bonn had declared in the Commons that Labour was not going to quarrel with Chamberlain over India. “It is desirable that we should maintain a united policy on the Indian problem.” On April 18th, the same Mr. Wedgwood Benn declared that India was too disunited for self government and that in any case nothing could be done during the war. “We could not legislate during the progress of the war.” What Mr. Benn really meant was that democratic legislation was not possible during the war but that repressive legislation was possible; for on the same night that Mr. Benn spoke, Parliament passed a law vesting supreme power in the hands of the Governors in eight provinces of India.

Any other attitude on the part of the Labour leaders was an impossibility. Since the last world war one European nation after another has gone down under fascism. In Britain the class struggle still remains confined within the framework of the capitalist democratic state. This is made possible principally because of the immense colonial possessions of Britain which enabled the capitalists to carry on without seriously attacking working class standards of living and its rights to organise politically and in trade unions. The Labour and Trade Union bureaucracy, unable to take the road of the socialist revolution which is the only alternative to the eventual triumph of fascism, sees in the perpetuation of the imperialist system a guarantee of immortality. In defending capitalist democracy, they are forced to defend the imperialist system.

The policies of the rest of the non-revolutionary working class parties in this country in relation to the colonial movement present a spectacle to the workers no less uninspiring than that of Transport House. The ILP leaders pride themselves on their anti-imperialist stand, on their denunciations of imperialist methods in the colonies. But how is it possible to reconcile its policy towards the war with its alleged support of the anti-imperialist movement in the colonies. It is not enough to express indignation and horror over the shooting of colonial workers and peasants, one must have a policy. But the ILP policy which is expressed in the slogan, “Stop the War” is based upon the idea of a capitalist peace to be negotiated by the warring imperialist governments. Such a peace, even if it were possible, would obviously be at the expense of the colonial masses and the Czech and the Polish workers and peasants. Messrs. Brockway and Smith are clever enough to realise this. “It is true,” says Dr. Smith, “that we are demanding of Chamberlain that he sit down with Hitler and work out a peace settlement. But don’t you see that we are calling at the same time for a workers’ conference which will sit next door to Chamberlain and Hitler and work out a socialist peace programme which they will press upon the Munich gang.” But alas, the erudite Doctor forgets one thing and that is: if you press the capitalists too hard they begin to bite. And if it is not possible to press the capitalist governments to make a socialist peace today when they are fighting among themselves, how will it be possible tomorrow when they will be at peace with one another? Besides, the idea that the workers can “press” the capitalists to abrogate their property rights, their imperialist aims, is so absurd, so comical that it would have caused Homeric laughter in the working class movement if the issues involved were not so serious. Those who stand, genuinely for the ending of colonial slavery can take up only one position, that of revolutionary socialism. Not for a capitalist war, not for a “capitalist peace” but for the international socialist revolution. The pacifism of Messrs. Brockway and Smith has unfortunately landed them in the same camp as that of Hitler-Chamberlain. This is a fact, in spite of the fine frenzy of some of the articles on the colonies in the New Leader.

The policy of the so-called “Communist” Party and of the Third International in relation to the anti-imperialist movement in India is even more traitorous than that of the ILP because it is more deceptive. The “Popular Front” is now buried among the antiques in the Kremlin. The Stalinist leaders have suddenly become aware of the fact that the “Democrats” of Whitehall have always behaved like Hitler in their own colonial possessions. A considerable number of articles have appeared in the Daily Worker denouncing British terror in India and advertising the growing mass opposition to British rule. But let no worker be deceived by this sudden change of front into believing that the Stalinists have become genuine anti-imperialists. Their agitation against the imperialist system is on the same level as that of the ILP. “I want to see India independent and free” declared Mr. Gallacher magnanimously in the Commons debate. A noble aspiration, but how is it to be achieved? Can the British workers help to free India by demanding of Chamberlain that he should make peace with Hitler? A peace between Chamberlain and Hitler would have for its motive their joint need to perpetuate world imperialism for another epoch. Only the struggle for the international socialist revolution, for the defeat of both Chamberlain and Hitler at the hands of the international working class can help to free the Indian masses from the chains of imperialist exploitation. Those who are not for the overthrow of imperialism NOW – not in some distant future but NOW are not genuine partisans of the Indian masses but hypocrites and word twisters.

The predominance of reformist and Stalinist ideology in the working class movement in Britain has contributed not a little to the weakness and isolation of the proletarian vanguard in India and the growth in power and prestige of the reactionary native bourgeoisie as represented by Messrs. Gandhi-Nehru & Co, the leaders of the Indian National Congress. Just as the leaders of the IRA are able to pose as the leaders of the Irish People’s struggle for freedom because of the blows which the Irish Socialist movement has received at the hands of the Third International, similarly the tasks of the capitulatory leaders of the Congress has been immensely facilitated by the Stalinist leadership.

The principal tasks of the Stalinists both in India and this country have been to cajole the masses of Indian workers and peasants into accepting the leadership of the Congress leaders, to head off the rising tide of anti-imperialism into the safe channels of Gandhian non-violence and to fight against the efforts of the advanced section of the workers to build up a revolutionary socialist party which alone can lead the struggle for freedom.

But slowly yet surely revolutionary ideas are coming to the fore in India again. A number of small groups, such as the Bengal Labour Party and the Communist League which originated from revolts inside the Stalinist ranks, testify to the inevitable victory of revolutionary Marxism over all the capitulatory tendencies in the movement for national liberation. To the extent that Marxist ideas, the programme and tactics of the Fourth International, penetrate the working class movement in India, to that extent will India’s fight for freedom be strengthened and victory assured.

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