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Sherman Stanley

Major Struggle Ahead in India,
British Reject Freedom Demand

(27 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 82, 27 October 1939, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Indian Nationalist Congress – representing 5,000,000 organized members and tens of millions of Indian nationalists – this week ordered its ministries in the eight leading provinces of British India to resign in protest against British imperialist policy.

These resignations precipitate the first serious political crisis of the present world war. Although the war is a bare two months old, all the conditions for a major revolutionary situation exist in India!

Last week the British imperialist rulers again gave a true indication of one of their reasons for participating in the present imperialist war.

For weeks since the war began, the British-appointed Viceroy of India had consulted with leaders of various political and communal organizations. He had bent special efforts to win over (buy off with concessions) the leaders of India’s Nationalist Congress.

The Premier of the Bihar Congress Ministry stated the position of the right-wing leaders and followers of Mahatma Gandhi in a resolution he introduced in the National Assembly to the effect that England must clearly state its war aims with regard to India.

And then the answer – immediate cause of the present crisis – came in the form of a White Paper issued by the Viceroy.

The answer was a flat refusal to grant the 375,000,000 people of India their freedom and independence, coupled with several exceptionally vague promises.

Lord Linlithgow, the Viceroy answered three specific questions that had been put to him:

(1) What are the war objectives of the British government? To this his reply was that Chamberlain had already given the answer – that is, of “destroying Hitlerism.” His Lordship does not feel it necessary to go beyond this evasive and hypocritical statement.

“See About Future”

(2) What is to be the future of India after the war is over? The Viceroy’s reply was equivalent to the statement, “Well, we’ll see about that when the time comes.” True, some mention is made of a distant “Dominion Status” to be reached by gradual constitutional stages (lasting a few centuries?).

Even in the last war the British made more concrete promises for independence upon completion of the war. This time there was not even a promise upon which the reactionary Gandhi could hang his hat or loin cloth.

The conservative Premier of Madras is quoted as referring to the statement as “deeply disappointing ...”

But it was only a “disappointment” to those who expected something from the British, or aimed at deceiving the workers and peasants into expecting something. The British imperialists give nothing, absolutely nothing – they have long been in the habit of taking.

No Concessions

(3) What plans can be made for future co-operation in the war ? Here the Viceroy gets down to brass tacks and proposes a “united front” of all Indian classes in support of the “common cause.” That is, Indian manpower to die on the battlefields of Europe and Asia to assure a continuous flow of gold for the British money-baggers.

Linlithgow, while openly hinting at the necessity for “Indian unity,” has not as yet swung widely with his imperialist police club. But knowing the bloody history of British rule in India for150 years we can expect full enforcement of the military dictatorship if the Congress leaders do not come to heel shortly.

The tottering British Empire is in such a state of affairs that it cannot even offer a crumb to its loyal servant, Gandhi, and his followers! British imperialism has nothing for its colonies but increased exploitation, conscription into mass armies and brutal police rule.

For the vast masses of British and Native India, Ceylon, Hongkong, Afghanistan, Tibet, Iran,Iraq, Palestine – the story is the same. They will supply their manpower, food products, raw materials, mineral wealth – all to be bombed, sunk and destroyed by Britain’s rival imperialists. The wealth of mighty peoples is to be squandered in a futile attempt to keep alive a dying ruling class and its exploiting system.

The moment it became clear that the endless negotiations had been useless; the moment it became apparent that the British had revealed themselves all over again to be nothing but slave masters – then a storm of protest broke over India.

This bitter hostility was directed not only against the British, but against its would-be supporters and agents – the conservative Congress leaders with Gandhi and Nehru at their head.

These spokesmen for the native, Indian capitalist class have led “Popular Front” ministries in the 8 provinces for 2½ years now. In that time they have conducted themselves as administrators of the British rule, bringing upon themselves the deep hatred of India’s workers and peasants.

Masses Want to Fight

If they act now it is only because (1) the British spit in their faces before the entire world; (2) they were forced to act due to the explosive power created by the population of India who want to fight now for their freedom. These traitors act only under the sharpest compulsion of the workers and peasants, and then only in a limited way.

The leading Working Committee of the Congress in its resolution instructing the ministries to resign made it clear that it wants no mass struggle for freedom at this time (or ever). It is attempting to wring a few parliamentary concessions of a minor nature from the British. Negotiations failed; now they’ll try threats. And so, their resolution warns against mass satyagraha (civil disobedience) and political strikes.

But the resolution of the 375,000,000 Indian slaves reads entirely different! Theirs is a resolution of determined struggle for freedom and independence. Despite the will of the handful of Indian bosses and landlords, the present action indicates the beginning of a revolutionary struggle for India’s freedom. It will not be hard to buy off the conservative Congress leaders – but the workers and peasants can never be bought off. The first potentially revolutionary crisis of the war is at hand. Of that there can be no doubt.

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