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Henry Judd

“Quit India!” Cry Angry Masses

(4 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 9, 4 March 1946, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The long-talked of crisis has finally burst out openly in India, and that nation’s 400,000,000 people are moving into action in their demand to enforce their “Quit India” slogan upon the detested British occupants.

At the head of this movement today are the thousands of Indian sailors of the Royal Indian Navy who are, in the harbors of Bombay, Karachi and in the military centers of New Delhi and Poona, in open revolt against the British authorities. These revolting seamen are fighting for, according to reports, “swifter demobilization, pay raises, assurances regarding their economic future, as well as better food.” But it is important to note that in Bombay they have raised the Congress Party flag of freedom on their ships, after hauling down the British flag of slavery and national oppression. This proves that the struggle of the Indian seamen is highly political in character – that is, a conscious effort on their part to assume their place with the people of India. The Bombay population has understood this, for, according to reports, they have demonstrated in great masses around the besieged Castle Barracks in the city, to prove their solidarity with the sailors.

Previous naval and sailors’ revolts come immediately to mind. The famous revolt of the seamen of the Russian Czar’s Navy, headed by the crew of S.S. Potemkin; the mutiny of the German sailors at, Kiel in 1918; the revolt of the sailors at Cattaro; the French revolt in the Black Sea in 1921, etc. Each of these dramatic events heralded great mass actions on the part of oppressed peoples – the Russia revolution of 1905, the overthrow of German Kaiserism in 1919, the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It may well be that the present struggle of the Indian seamen will precipitate great struggles on the part of India’s workers and peasants.

The response of the British government has been, of course, similar to their action in Palestine, Indo-China, Indonesia, Malaya and every other section of the Empire where the colonial peoples are demanding liberation. Declare a state of “open mutiny,” rush in soldiers, tanks and airplanes, and shoot them down!

The “Labor” government of Attlee and his fellow British imperialists is well on its way to establishing the bloodiest and most reactionary reputation of all recent British governments with respect to the people of the Empire. Already, its hands are blooded with the lives of thousands of Javanese, Jews and Arabs, Indians and Indo-Chinese. If the revolt of the Indian sailors should spread, we can rest assured the British Will utilize every method of terror warfare to suppress it.

What stands behind these events? The situation in India is undoubtedly confusing in many respects, but certain things are clear. The conclusion of the war has led directly to a period of open revolt on the part of colonial people everywhere (Palestine, Indo-China, Java, etc.). This movement has now extended to India, where it is first beginning. The conclusion of the war has also resulted in great unemployment among the Indian war workers, with rising prices to offset any gains they had made. And, finally, there is the great famine threat in the cities and provinces.

The Viceroy, Viscount Wavell, has added to this threat by announcing to the people a cut in rations to a level of twelve ounces of grain per day – not even a pound of food to eat per day! (We must remember that grains are the bulk of the Indian people’s diet.) The Viceroy admitted that India is short millions of tons of food, and that mass starvation is imminent unless help comes immediately.

The people responded to this starvation proposal (“share the hunger”) by mighty demonstrations. Over 180,000 met in Cawnpore; a general protest strike was held in Allahabad, where 50,000 workers paraded through the streets. In the cities of Meerut, Calcutta, New Delhi, Bombay, etc., similar demonstrations took place. The people are obviously not prepared to accept starvation. Even Nehru, support of the conservative Gandhi in the Congress Party, has called upon the peasants of United Provinces, Madras and the Punjab to revolt rather than face hunger. “If people die of hunger,” he said, “their deaths will be avenged.” But meanwhile a continued drought in the Punjab has further worsened the food situation and its prospects. This wheat center of India is now expected to produce only half of its annual 4,000,000-ton crop.

Furthermore, there has been the whole issue of the Indian National Army to further complicate the situation. This is the army organized by the former Congress leader, Subhas Bose, who became a supporter of the Japanese. He formed the army from those Indian soldiers who had surrendered to the Japanese at Singapore and Hong Kong, demagogically distorting the desires of these soldiers to help participate in India’s freedom fight. Now many leaders and men of this Indian National Army are being tried and sentenced by reactionary British court-martial boards. This has aroused great feeling, particularly in Calcutta, where Bose was the traditional popular leader. In that city great demonstrations were held against the British, to protest these sentences. Over 45 were killed and 400 injured (including 37 American soldiers) in violent fighting. An important aspect of this affair is that the Moslem people (majority of the Calcutta population) led it, thus belying the traditional propaganda that the Moslems are “for the British” because they fear the Hindus.

Labor Action’s demand that all American troops be withdrawn from the colonies and foreign areas is right to the point now, particularly since the American Army leaders arc ready, without hesitation, to help their British “comrades” quell any nation-wide revolt. The time is here to remove every last American GI from India!

What is happening within the Indian national political front? Here the story is still vaguer, due to lack of information and press censorship. The conservative Congress leaders, still anxious for a “deal” with the British, are nevertheless aware of the demand for action that exists among the people.

Nehru, the middle-class “socialist” Congress leader, tours the country, making radical speeches and announcing to Attlee that the first requirement is “recognition and proclamation of India’s right to full independence.” But the next moment both he, Gandhi and Azad, president of the Congress, join together in statements denouncing the masses of the great cities for their violent action, offering to cooperate with the British authorities to “Solve the food crisis,” and offering themselves, finally, as mediators between the British rulers and the revolting Indian seamen.

These leaders, who run the Congress Party today, desire nothing more than a settlement, a “deal” negotiated in peace, between themselves and the Labor Government imperialists. Their last wish is to see a mass revolt of the people; they can be counted upon to do everything possible to prevent this.

In addition, there is the Moslem League, headed by M.A. Jinnah, which claims to speak, for India’s 90 million Moslems. While it cannot be denied that Moslem “communalism” and “nationalism” have grown in the last years, there is no truth whatsoever to this claim. It must be noted that at the very moment when Hindus and Moslems are participating in mass strikes and actions, side by Side, against the common British enemy, Mr. Jinnah utters dark threats about civil war between Hindu and Moslem, if independence is won. These threats sound strikingly welcome to British ears at this crucial time! The issue of Moslem-Hindu can only be settled properly AFTER the expulsion of the British.

While these political leaders and parties maneuver about, negotiate and plot against one another, the real struggle takes place in the cities and villages. Now a new Cripps mission is being prepared to leave for India shortly, to continue the endless negotiations. We freely predict it will not succeed, and India will once again bid goodbye to Mr. Cripps. For today there seems one thing on which the vast Indian masses – workers and peasants, Hindus and Moslems, students and middle class – are united. They are fed up with 200 years of British rule and determined to enforce the “Quit India” slogan.

Labor Action and the Workers Party, complete supporters of the Indian seamen and the people who stand behind them, will follow this struggle as it unrolls and do all in their power to bring the true story to the American workers.

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