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Henry Judd

Attlee Offer to Indians Is a Fraud!

(1 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 13, 1 April 1946, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

So India is to be free! What better news could there be for those who have asked for this for many years? No fuss, no feathers, no trouble, no rioting or bloodshed – India is to be free, and it doesn’t even have to remain in the British Empire if it doesn’t care to. It’s all too wonderful for words, and we have the personal guarantee of Mr. Attlee (he’s the Prime Minister of England, you know, and a very important man) to this effect. Why, said Mr. Attlee, only last week – we know that the people of India want their independence and we’re for it! They don’t have to fight for it – here it is, just take it.

It reminds us of the time Sadsack was “invited” into the Officers’ Club. He wound up cleaning the latrine. And so with Mr. Attlee’s latest announcement to the people of India; the greatest skepticism and caution must be maintained. For 200 years blood has flowed at every attempt of the Indian people to claim their freedom. A phoney declaration doesn’t wipe out history. What is it really all about?

What’s the Hitch?

Are we to believe that suddenly, after fighting with violent might and main, the imperialists of Great Britain are turning loose their precious possession – the wealth, resources, labor and sweat of this nation of 400,000,000 people? And the capitalists of England – those men with their huge investments in Indian plantations, commerce, factories and mines, bank and transportation (valued at over $4 billions before the war began) – are they going to turn all this over to the people of India? You must excuse us while we politely snicker.

What has happened is basically nothing new. The British government has been approaching India for 30 years now with various offers, promises and fancy tales. Always with one eye on the outside world, in an effort to make a good impression, the British have sent missions by the score. The latest Cripps mission now in India has had many a predecessor. Always the story has been the same – so many strings were attached to the “offer” that not a one was acceptable. There is little or no reason as yet to think the present mission comes in any different spirit, or with any less strings attached to it than previous ones.

But, hasn’t Attlee gone further than other Prime Ministers ip his House of Commons statement? Didn’t he talk about complete independence this time? Let’s hold on – not quite!

He made this “offer” with the basic stipulation that all Indians and their parties must get together and agree on the form and content of a new constitution. If they don’t, or cannot, then it’s no soap. This is EXACTLY the condition laid down by every other British government. And who is to decide whether the Indians have gotten together? Why, Mr. Attlee and >his fellow Labor Government imperialists, of course.

And how convenient was the immediate response of the reactionary M.A. Jinnah, head of the Moslem League. He announced that, suddenly, the Moslem people of India had become a “nation” and would accept nothing less than a division of India in two – Hindu India and Moslem India. Without this, Mr. Jinnah threatened civil war (an old threat of his). Never before in the history of Indian nationalism has the claim been made that the Moslems of that country are a separate people and nation! The claim is false from top to bottom and further emphasizes the reactionary role of the Moslem League leadership.

What Is Attlee After?

But, nevertheless, isn’t it true that the British have gone further than at previous times? Aren’t they playing with fire when they broadcast such statements? Undoubtedly this is so. It reflects the increasingly difficult situation of the Empire in the post-war world. The colonies are seething with revolt; America is pressing for commercial entry into India and the Empire markets; the Russians are pressing dangerously close to the Indian lifeline. The offer of Attlee thus recognizes the gravity of the situation and is an effort to find allies for the struggle for Empire preservation.

Whom does Attlee seek as his ally? The Indian Nationalist Congress Party – that is, the political party of the Indian capitalist class. This party, led by Gandhi, Nehru and other spokesmen for Indian capitalism, is in a fine bargaining position today and will drive a hard bargain with Attlee and company. It is not at all impossible that a “deal” will be made, granting important political concessions and giving greater freedom to the Indian capitalists. If this “deal” does not come off, then Attlee will resort to the familiar argument that India is too divided internally to be given independence.

The reactionary Moslem League and its spokesmen, fearful of a deal with the Congress Party over their heads, are screaming their empty threats for this reason. At present it is too early to see the outcome of these new negotiations, but some form of agreement is very likely. In London circles, it is already rumored that the whole matter has been privately arranged and cooked up. The real aim of British imperialism now is to make a ruling bloc with the Indian capitalist and landlord class, since it recognizes that it can no longer hold India without such a bloc.

But such a deal would answer not a single one of the nation’s fundamental problems: the misery of the workers and peasants; the question of who is to own and get the benefits of the nation’s resources and industry; the question of the agrarian revolution and a democratically federated, united India, etc. It would be a mutual accord between the old imperialists and the native capitalists AGAINST the people. It would not mean real freedom.

What Is Real Freedom?

In the first place, what right do the British have to influence or regulate in any way whatsoever the future of India, or the nature of its new Constitution? Independence means that all outside pressures and influences are withdrawn, leaving the Indian people themselves to decide what they want.

Thus Point One in a real independence program requires the British to announce immediately that India is completely free, and to prove this by beginning the immediate withdrawal of all their troops. In a word, to carry out in practice the “Quit India” slogan.

Then there is the question of the new Constitution for India. What right do the British (who allegedly are no longer rulers of a sovereign nation) have to say what kind of a Constitution shall be written and, above all, how the body that drafts this Constitution shall be convened?

Thus Point Two in a real independence program requires the convening, by the Indian people themselves, of a freely elected Constituent Assembly, based on committees of Indian workers, peasants and middle class, and elected with everybody voting as a citizen of a Free India – not according to so-called communal, religious or caste distinctions.

The British must have nothing to do with this Constituent Assembly – either its work or the manner of its convening. This is a basic issue. Let this body decide the proper solution for the Moslem problem and other minority problems. Let this body conduct, if it is found desirable, a popular referendum among the 90,000,000 Moslem people to see whether or not they wish to organize a nation of their own. But any Constituent Assembly touched by the British is bound to be poisoned with imperialism.

And what of British property rights, privileges and wealth? What conditions are placed on this question of questions? It must all be confiscated, expropriated without a cent of compensation and returned to its rightful owners – the masses of India. In other words, real freedom requires the full, unhesitating and ruthless destruction of the whole system of colonial, imperialist exploitation set up by the British.

Is this what Attlee and his commission are offering to India? The question answers itself. India’s struggle for independence goes on. Not the Congress Party (Gandhi), nor the British government (Attlee), nor the Moslem League (Jinnah) can give India freedom.

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