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S. Stanley

White Sahibs

(March 1938)

From New International, Vol.4 No.3, March 1938, p.94.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The White Sahibs of India
by Reginald Reynolds
xiii+410 pp. New York, Reynals and Hitchcock, $3.00.

The overwhelming bulk of books on India are paeans to the glorious and civilizing virtues of British rule. For this reason Marxists can especially welcome a book containing a serious analysis of British imperialism – particularly when it is written by an Englishman. This is just such a book.

Reynolds, not merely a theoretical opponent of the British “Raj”, but one whose personal experiences in India itself have made him its bitter enemy, gives an account of the subjection of India by the British, from the earliest days down to the new “Slave” Constitution. There is an excellent historical background, bolstered with quotations (invariably from official sources), describing the conquest of India. Here Reynolds gives a rounded picture of how Britain’s needs in India have largely dominated England’s foreign policy for 150 years, including present “life-line” politics. There are revealing chapters on Indian Criminal Law as transplanted to supersede the “barbaric” Hindu law; the employment of forms of perpetual martial law against nationalists; the complicated and miraculous debt system by means of which English imperialists accrue all the profit and the Indian masses all the debts.

It would be hard to imagine a more devastating picture of the incalculable ruin brought upon the Indian people than Reynolds gives us. Each chapter is replete with pitiless quotations and documentation that make a mockery of England’s “civilizing” claims. Each chapter is carefully worked out and summarized by numerous source references.

But in his efforts to suggest a program for India’s problems, Reynolds stumbles badly. A supporter of the British ILP, he exhibits more than the usual errors of that party. Reynolds does state that the socialist revolution alone is capable of giving the decisive reply to India’s needs, but he is unable to pass beyond the limits set up by the Indian Nationalist Congress (INC). His description of recent nationalist history is filled with blunders, misunderstandings and proposals for downright false policies.

Thus, Reynolds doesn’t grasp the role of Gandhi as Britain’s “most successful” policeman in India. He vaguely defends him as a “blunderer”, but Gandhi’s whole career belies this. Gandhism is counter revolutionary as its practical politics of betrayal eloquently reveal.

Reynolds defends the INC, specifically its “left” section, the Congress Socialist Party (CSP). This party aims at turning the INC into a “Workers and Peasants Party”. With the permission of the INC’s dominating bourgeois wing? Would this new, two-class party differ programmatically from the present reactionary, bourgeois INC? These and other questions are carefully avoided. How can one approximate political correctness with such an utter lack of perspective? Instead, the author seeks justification for the INC in his defense of M.N. Roy, the Indian Lovestoneite. But Roy, as shown by all his recent writings, has abandoned any former pretense at being a Marxist and has embraced the ideology of petty-bourgeois nationalism. Even the CSP has sharply criticized Roy – from the left! Roy demands organizational liquidation of the CSP, acceptance of office by its leaders – in a word, adoption of the INC right wing program. If Reynolds is unaware of these facts and his suggested program is based (as it appears to be) upon sentimentality, then his ambiguous ideas regarding an Indian Peoples’ Front can readily be understood.

He categorically opposes an English People’s Front. A British People’s Front regime would mean, for India, a repetition of the MacDonald Labor government experiences. Then, how can Reynolds defend the INC which is not only a continuation of previous Indian government, but a precursor of a future English People’s Front? The INC, today wielding power in 7 provinces of India, has shown its true worth. In People’s Front fashion, it smashed the general strike in the jute industry, continued persecution and arrest of its own members, refused amnesty to political prisoners, accepted Indian re-armament in accord with British demands, etc. Reynolds had prophesized that the INC would reject office and carry on a mass struggle against the new Constitution! But instead, Britain uses the INC as an effective weapon for retaining its grip upon India. And the “revolutionary” CSP pathetically limps along after the INC, accusing its right wing of betrayal! (How reminiscent of the Stalinists in their 1927 dealings with Chiang Kai-shek!) We must ask Reynolds if the INC, which now rules so well for British imperialism, is an example of that class collaboration which, according to him, is “purely oppositional” in India.

Despite these serious errors, there is reason to believe that Reynolds will learn from the experiences contained in present Indian events themselves. A revolutionary party in India must be built up against the INC. The INC will not mobilize the workers and peasants for a revolutionary war against British rule. Reynolds partly understands this because he realizes that only the socialist revolution can achieve even the simplest democratic demands. Not without importance is it that Reynolds’ work does not contain that treacherous cynicism so characteristic of the Lovestone-Thalheimer political groupings. Above all, he is seriously concerned with finding the correct revolutionary solution for India’s momentous problems.

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