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Sherman Stanley

India and the Third Camp

(April 1940)

From New International, Vol.6 No.3, April 1940, pp.74-75.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“We want neither the rule of London or Berlin; nor the rule of Paris or Rome; nor that of Tokyo or Moscow.” – The Congress Socialist of India, Sept. 1939.

THE MOST SIGNIFICANT and hopeful aspect of this strange Second World War which, with the creation of a new front in the Scandinavian areas, is about to assume a greatly intensified military nature, has been the political and economic actions of the colonial peoples.

In the colonial empires of England and France there live hundreds of millions of native people whose lives and daily activities are molded solely by their foreign imperialist oppressors. These people now find themselves at war. Against their will and with no consultative voice in the matter, they have been drawn into the imperialist struggle in which they are the main bone of contention.

But they have not accepted their fate quietly this time! From the war’s inception, the Third Camp of the colonial people for national independence and peace has begun intense mobilization against both imperialist war camps. Headed by the people of the sub-continent of India, the colonial workers and peasants of French Indo-China, Burma, Ceylon, Cyprus, Rhodesia and the Union of South Africa, British West Indies, Syria, Palestine, etc., have displayed in one way or another their hostility to the war.

The Anti-War Struggle

It has been primarily the 400,000,000 workers and kisans of British and Native India who have led the forces of independent Third Camp action. The series of strikes and political actions that have swept over this country have typified the course of events in the colonies we have mentioned. That is why it is worth describing in more detail the development of the Third Camp in India.

When Chamberlain announced in September of last year that the British Empire was at war, India automatically became a belligerent power.

On that very day began the anti-war fight. A meeting of 100,000 workers in Madras assembled to hear Subhas Chandra Bose, left-wing nationalist leader of the All-India Nationalist Congress, plead for the launching of an immediate anti-war civil disobedience movement. This mass meeting was the signal for similar demonstrations in the provinces of Madras, Bengal and Punjab. The people of India had commenced their reply to the imperialists’ war plans.

Before many weeks went by it became clear how England intended to utilize the man-power and resources of the world’s greatest colony in its war aims. The promulgation of the Defense of India Act by the British viceroy created a military dictatorship over the country. A call for military volunteers was issued and recruiting officers went to work in India’s military areas (Punjab and Northwest Frontier). Large garrisons were rushed to the fortifications on the Northern front and troop transports carried tens of thousands of Moslem and Sikh soldiers to Egypt, Palestine, Aden, France and other areas of the Near East where they swelled the colonial forces of the Empire.

Among the population the effect of the war was instantly felt. Food prices, especially the price of grains and fruits which are the staple consumptions of the people, skyrocketed an average of 25%! The government, however, saw to it that the profit derived from these increased prices went solely to the merchants. The sale price of farm produce was standardized by governmental decree. The net effect was a sharp reduction in the living standards of the Indian workers and the already super-exploited Indian peasant.

Indian industry, which first began during the last war, soon received its war stimulus. An order for 500,000,000 sand bags was placed with the India Jute Mills Associations at Calcutta. The effect of this was a raising of the mill workers’ hours from 48 to 60 per week with no pay increase. In the Chota-Nagpur steel and iron area of Central India, British capitalists poured in millions of English pounds for plant expansion and extension. By December of 1939 the number of peace-time munition workers had trebled! Indian factories can now supply England with the following war products: munitions and airplanes, iron and steel finished goods, jute for sand bags, tents, etc., chemicals and explosives, railway rolling stock and numerous raw materials (rubber, cotton, oil seeds and fats, manganese, etc.). This is exactly the role designed for India by its slave masters – to supply an endless amount of its wealth and products for the imperialists. But the people have said otherwise!

Indian Labor on the March

Beginning with small, local strikes a strike movement has spread rapidly from one end of the country to the other. It has involved hundreds of thousands of industrial workers in the jute, steel, cotton, printing and transportation fields. Cities as far apart as Bombay and Calcutta have been affected. The demands of the strikers have been well summarized in a resolution drawn up at a general conference of 52 unions representing the Bombay Provincial Trade Union Congress. These demands were for (1) 40% war allowance to make up for the rise in food prices; (2) control of food prices; (3) opening up of cheap grain shops throughout the city of Bombay and the Province. A campaign launched by these unions has already forced the opening up of 19 grain shops.

At the present moment, the strikes are fanning out and assuming a more general and nation-wide character. There are general strikes of textile workers in progress in Bombay (185,000), Cawnpore and Allahabad. Steel mill workers in Calcutta and Patna, street cleaners in Calcutta, printers in Cawnpore, etc., are all engaged in strike activity. Although victory has as yet only been attained in the smaller strikes, the desperate Bombay general strike now in progress for 6 weeks is the center of the strike struggle. A victory here would be followed by a series of major strikes all over India.

While Indian industrial labor is on the march, a bitter struggle is under way in the sharply split Indian Nationalist Congress. There are, in reality, two Congress movements in India today. The Compromise wing led by Gandhi has completely capitulated to British imperialism and more openly than ever supports the war of the British. It has been this sabotaging action by Gandhi and his followers that has contributed most to dampening the militancy of the Third Camp. But around the dramatic figure of Subhas Bose, a radical bourgeois nationalist and former president of the Trade Union Congress, a new group of anti-compromise nationalists have rallied. At the recent All-India Congress sessions this group staged an anti-compromise demonstration with undoubtedly good results. Centering primarily in the radical province of Bengal, the Bose “Forward Bloc” is preparing intensified action for Indian independence at the moment. The economic and trade-union activity of the Third Camp is far in advance of its political action today, but it is clear that the Bose Anti-Compromise Congress must soon attempt to give political direction to the spontaneous strike struggles of the Indian workers.

This is India today – world center of the Third Camp, living symbol of independent action of the colonials against imperialism and for peace. The story of India is being duplicated to one degree or another in all the colonial countries of the world. It is these people whom the American forces of the Third Camp must constantly bear in mind and prepare to assist at every appropriate moment.


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