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Henry Judd

Indians Retreat – Temporarily

(11 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 10, 11 March 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The great struggle of the Indian seamen of the Royal Indian Navy has been temporarily quelled by overwhelming force, and the efforts of the Indian people to win their freedom have shifted elsewhere. The seamen have been forced to surrender and return to work, despite the efforts of the people of Bombay, Karachi and New Delhi to come to their assistance.

The revolt has received a setback, but the seamen have not been defeated – they have retreated. The strike committee has announced it would immediately renew the struggle if a single one of their comrades is punished or victimized for their actions. Meanwhile, a general strike in the harbor city of Madras, by the textile workers, took place in support of the Indian seamen, while revolts were likewise reported among soldiers of the Indian army. The struggle for India’s independence is by no means over!

But, at the same time, we must recognize the fact that never was a revolutionary struggle so betrayed and sabotaged as was the week-long revolt of the Indian seamen! The 7,000 sailors who, defying the threats and violence of the British, organized their committees of action, went out into the streets of the harbor cities and demonstrated in face of the police and British troops, these 7,000 sailors were openly sold down the river by the reactionary and conservative leaders of the Congress party and by the Moslem League.

Jinnah, leader of the Moslem League, called no rallies and made no efforts on behalf of the sailors. He stood aside and now offers his services as a lawyer for any Moslem seamen who may be tried by courts- martial! The Congress leaders – including the so-called “socialist” Nehru – went even further.

The Congress offered itself as an “intermediary” between the British and the Indian seamen, at the same time urging the sailors to surrender, go back to work, and “arbitrate” their grievances. The leaders openly condemned the demonstrations, rioting and defensive actions against British brutality on the part of the people. Addressing a crowd of 250,000 people in Bombay, Nehru condemned “last week’s anti-British rioting” and declared that the people who led the movement were “counter-revolutionaries!” What a vile slander this amounts to – the 200 to 300 sailors and workers of Bombay who died under British guns were “counter-revolutionaries,” who – to further quote this would-be Kerensky of India – “were destroying their own goal of independence.”

Instead of supporting the seamen, calling upon the Congress Party masses for demonstrations of sympathy and solidarity – in a word, anything that would help their cause – these leaders, both Congress Party and Moslem League, lined up with the British authorities and openly sabotaged the people’s struggle. This is the basic reason why the British succeeded, once more, in clamping on the lid and why they can report a return to “normality” in the cities. The Congress and Moslem leaders, of course, were particularly anxious to quiet matters because the new Cripps Mission is about due to arrive in India. Since they desire only a peaceful “solution” to the India crisis, they are anxious to have a calm, orderly atmosphere for their political negotiations.

But, as has been demonstrated innumerable times in the past, the underlying factors remain and will not permit such a compromise. The demand for independence, the great misery and poverty of the country, the hatred of the British exploiters, the threat of hunger and famine, the critical land situation, the unemployment of the tens of thousands of workers made idle by the war’s end – all these and innumerable other factors make a revival of the seamen’s mutiny and a continuation of the struggle, inevitable. The revolt of India’s 7,000 sailors will go down as a great event in India’s freedom fight.

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