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Sherman Stanley

Bombay Workers Strike;
Fight Against War Gains in India

Textile Operatives Again Take Lead in Struggle;
Masses Pressing Congress Leaders to Take Early Action

(9 March 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 10, 9 March 1940, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Again displaying their position as the vanguard of the Indian people, 185,000 textile workers of Bombay have declared a general strike, demanding a 25 per cent wage increase to make up for rising living costs since the beginning of the war.

These workers represent about 90 per cent of Bombay’s textile mills and come from 45 different mills.

Meeting at Patna on March 1, the Executive Committee of the All-India Nationalist Congress has decided to prepare for the launching of a civil disobedience campaign against British imperialism. In a strongly worded resolution, nationalist India has openly disassociated itself from British rule and its war aims:

“Indian freedom cannot exist within the orbit of British Imperialism, and dominion status or any other status within the imperial structure is wholly inapplicable to India ...”

The preamble of the resolution states that Great Britain is carrying on the war for imperialist purposes and that India cannot be a party to the war. It opposes the sending of Indian troops to parts of the British Empire for war purposes. The resolution concludes, “Nothing short of complete independence will be accepted by the Indians.”

Final Action Postponed

Overriding the opposition of left-wing members of the Executive body, who demanded an immediate launching of the struggle for freedom, Gandhi succeeded in postponing final action until the plenary session of the Congress which is scheduled to convene at Ramgarh on March 17. Gandhi has thus deliberately left the door wide open for a last minute acceptance of any offer that the British might make.

This was revealed by Maulana Abdul Kalan Azad, newly-elected president of the Congress and a conservative follower of Gandhi who stated that, “even one minute before the launching of any movement Gandhi would be prepared to explore all avenues of peaceable settlement with the British Viceroy.”

But the door seems to have been shut by the firm refusal of the British rulers to make the slightest concession that would satisfy the meagre demands of the Gandhi group.

Masses Push Gandhi

For six long months the Indian workers and peasants have been clamoring for leadership and action in the struggle against involvement in the war and for national independence. For six months they have been told to be patient, to bide their time while Gandhi was fruitlessly negotiating with the British Viceroy. Has the time for struggle come now ? So far as the 400,000,000 masses are concerned the answer is yes!

A driving force behind their revolutionary spirit is the rising prices of all foods: that is, hunger and increased starvation. That is what the war has meant for them so far.

Left-Wingers Boo Gandhi

As their anger against the rule of the British has increased, so has their impatience with the dilatory and treacherous tactics of Gandhi and Nehru. In a recent tour of Bengal Province – center of left-wing nationalism and stronghold of Subhas Chandra Bose, the leading left-wing nationalist of the Congress – Gandhi was booed at various meetings, perhaps for the first time in his long career. At one railroad station he was met by demonstrators carrying black flags – a symbolic rebuke of the sharpest character in India. It is to this anger that Gandhi has finally yielded – in part.

What Will Gandhi Do?

How far is he prepared to go? That is difficult to judge at present. Although he is still the dominant leader of the nationalist movement, he cannot endlessly hold in check the social forces of mass unemployment, hunger and unbelievable poverty. His latest move is undoubtedly aimed at stealing the thunder of his left- wing opponents, but such tactics have the dangerous habit of backfiring – that is, getting out of hand.

Gandhi well knows this. If he sees that a struggle is unavoidable at present, he will do all in his power to limit it, isolate it and take advantage of the distrust and demoralization that has resulted from six months of futile talks with the Viceroy.

Above all, Gandhi will endeavor to prevent a mass, revolutionary struggle in which the peasants will begin to take revolutionary measures by seizing and dividing up the land and the workers will begin to set up their democratic workers’ control councils in the cities.

But one thing is certain. The first open, mass revolt against the World War and for peace is about to begin!

Hindu-Moslem unity can now be achieved on the battlefield of common action and struggle. The rallying cry of the Indian people is, “Forward to National Freedom”, and “Long live the democratically-elected Constituent Assembly!”

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