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Workers’ International News, January 1943


Ajit Roy

Friends of India


From Workers’ International News, Vol.5 No.8, January 1943, pp.8-9.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


That theory and practice go together is a fundamental proposition of Marxism. And in the working class movement muddle-headedness and woolly thinking, albeit coupled with the noblest of intentions, can produce more harm than a deliberate reactionary policy. Nowhere is the need for clear theory and precision in policy more imperative than on the Indian question.

For, the truth is that the so-called well-wishers of India in Britain have probably done more to prevent in this country a true appreciation of the Indian problem than even the propaganda of Churchill, Amery and the true-blue Tories. Each Indian crisis has produced its inevitable crop of sympathisers and well-wishers of the Indian people – pacifists and parsons, journalists and writers, professors and philosophers, ex-civil servants, Liberal and Labour MP’s, leaders of the ILP; a motley collection of individuals have grouped themselves together under the somewhat derisive title, “Friends of India”. And the current crisis has been no exception. At the present moment, these “Friends” are to be found gathered round the “Aid to India Committee” sponsored by the ILP and the Pacifists, and the “India League” supported and dominated by the Stalinists.

The basic characteristic of all these “Committees” and “Leagues” is the extremely modest requirements for conditions of membership. They do not demand that one should be opposed to imperialism as such; but if one is so opposed then it is not held against him as a crime! You can be Tory, Liberal, Labour, Stalinist or a member of the ILP; you can be pro-war or anti-war; these differences are of little consequence so long as you are prepared to “express” your sense of horror at what is taking place in India. In these assemblies, therefore, one finds as rich a collection of diverse political tendencies as ever gladdened the heart of a Stalinist functionary hunting for “unity” and “broad movements”.

Here, sitting next to Brockway, Mr. Edward Thompson, the Liberal journalist, gives sober advice to the Tories on the desirability of reopening negotiations with the Congress leaders in order to save British rule from the twin danger of foreign invasion and a Red Revolution. In a paper Free India, published and issued by the “Indian Freedom Campaign Committee of the British Centre Against Imperialism” Thompson refers to the war as “our war”, talks about “our propaganda on India” and declares that “everything now depends on the new Viceroy and his instructions”. But neither his unconcealed imperialist outlook nor his malicious jibe at the socialist organisations in India, prevent in any way the professed anti imperialists represented by Reginald Reynolds, Brockway and other ILP leaders from solidarising with him in the same organisation. Lack of principle, apparently, is the basic feature of these types of organisations. And since this unprincipled unity would be shattered at the very mention of a concrete policy to help the Indian struggle, policy discussion is not encouraged. As Reginald Reynolds declared: on the Indian question it is desirable and possible to have the widest form of unity of all sections of opinions and one must beware of the activities of splitters who would disrupt this unity.

But more lamentations about either British censorship or British butchery in India can bring no help to the struggling masses of India. The exploitation of the Indian masses is the corner-stone of British imperialism. It is for the maintenance of their hold over the millions in India, Africa and the Far East that Churchill and the ruling class are fighting. The battlefields of Tripoli and Tunisia may be far removed from the Indian scene but it is India, Burma, Malaya and China which invest these battles with their historic meaning and significance. The suppression of the Indian masses and “the war for Democracy” are part and parcel of one and the same process. Those who cannot see this can see nothing. Imperialism in India cannot be fought and real aid delivered to the Indian masses except by irreconcilable struggle against British capitalism represented by the Churchill government. Only by participating in the socialist task of mobilising the British workers against capitalism and for workers’ power can the “Friends of India” prove their genuineness and sincerity. An alliance between socialist and capitalist elements, sacrificing as it inevitably does, the principle of class struggle can at best be a fraud against not only the Indian masses but also the British proletariat.

But then, we may be asked, does not propaganda mean something? Surely men of different opinions can write to make known to the British people the truth about the British Raj. Is not ignorance one of the main obstacles to the establishment of a solid bond of unity between the workers of Britain and the people of India?

The necessity and importance of the widest dissemination of anti-imperialist propaganda cannot be too strongly emphasised. Such propaganda by exposing the brutal realities of imperialist exploitation, helps to destroy the illusions about the Empire which the ruling class so sedulously fosters. Such propaganda is one of the most potent weapons in rousing the anger and hatred of the workers against capitalism. That is why in the revolutionary sections of the workers’ press anti-imperialist news has always occupied, and will continue to occupy, an important place. And that why the reformist and Stalinist press of today is so noticeably silent on Indian and colonial matters. But such propaganda can aid the Indian struggle for freedom only to the extent that it becomes an argument for independent working-class action leading to the overthrow of imperialism. To the extent that the propaganda fails to raise, or blurs over, the fundamental class issues, and degenerates into a demand that Churchill should change his policy, it becomes an instrument of reaction. For it leads to the illusion that it is possible to aid the Indian struggle while congratulating Churchill on his victories, or that it is possible to fight for the national freedom of India within the framework of “national unity” in Britain.

The revolutionary workers within the ranks of the ILP must needs ask themselves “Where does the leadership really stand on the issue of unity with the Indian peoples?” If solidarity with the Indian struggle is to be anything more than a gesture and a doubtful one at that, then the leadership must break with the pro-war “Friends of India”. The ILP condemns the Stalinist leadership for its betrayal of the Indian people; but in what does this betrayal consist? Surely not the reluctance to express sympathy with the Indian people or to condemn the reign of terror. The essence of the Stalinist betrayal consists in their political support for Churchill and the capitalist class. But in what way does the alliance of the ILP leadership with the open imperialism represented by Thompson pr the more camouflaged type represented by Ballard, Secretary of the so-called “British Centre Against Imperialism”, differ in essence from the Pollitt-Churchill tie-up? Both are equally opposed to socialist principles.

But this opportunism of the ILP leaders on the Indian issue is not an accident. It arises from the absence of that deep internationalism which is the basis of all genuine proletarian parties. Internationalism is the core and essence of the proletarian struggle. To Lenin and Trotsky, the unity between the socialist movement of the Western proletariat and the national movement of the colonial countries was of a two-fold character.

In the first place, the struggle of the oppressed masses in the colonies for freedom constitutes powerful blows directed against the entire world-structure of monopoly-capitalism and give immense aid to the working-classes in the imperialist countries fighting for Socialism. In the second place, they regarded the independent political role of the colonial proletariat and its leadership of the national revolution as the pre-condition to its victory. That is why Lenin and Trotsky considered the development of the Communist international in India and the colonial countries as one of the urgent tasks of the Russian and the international proletariat. In their eyes, the strivings and experiences of the Indian proletariat even in its formative period was as much a part of the international proletarian movement as the activities of the mass parties in the advanced capitalist countries. The direct participation of the vanguard of the Western proletariat, represented by the Communist international in the days of its revolutionary glory, in the activities and experiences of the youthful proletarian movements in the colonial countries profoundly affected the rapid development of these proletarian colonial organisations as distinct, from and independent of the reformist organisations of the native bourgeoisie.

The idea that the British workers must not interfere with the internal composition of the Indian national movement or its domestic disputes is completely alien to the spirit and traditions of international revolutionary socialism. Socialists in Britain have the duty and responsibility to intervene in the activities of the Indian proletariat; to advise, and be advised by the Indian socialists.

This is the essence of internationalism. Trotskyism has continued this tradition of Bolshevism, and the result is to be seen not only in the development of fresh and virile organisations of the colonial proletariat out of the wrecks of Stalinism, in Ceylon, China and India, but also in a great strengthening in the ideological basis of the socialist vanguard in this country. When Reginald Reynolds, therefore, brazenly declares that it would be impudent for British socialists to argue over the domestic disputes in the Indian movement for national independence what he really means is that the proletariat in Britain must remain indifferent to the problems of their Indian brothers. This is a complete repudiation of international socialism and is characteristic of that petty-bourgeoisie literary socialism which Reynolds represents. And if today the leaders of the ILP find it so easy on the Indian question to fraternise with men who only an hour before were fraternising with Churchill, it is also because it the absence of that internationalism which is the reflection of the indissoluble unity which has knit together the proletariat of all lands.

It is not an accident that the “sectarian” Fourth International alone of all organisations has succeeded in bringing significant sections of the colonial workers within the framework of one international organisation. It is not the Trotskyists but the compromiser’s who are the real sectarians. For, under the pretext of achieving “the broadest possible form of unity” on the Indian question they have managed to tie themselves up with imperialism, however unwittingly, and built a wall between themselves and the Indian masses. Before the ILP can genuinely fight for unity with the Indian masses it must break with the opportunists inside and outside its ranks.

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