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Henry Judd

Colonial Rebellions Sweep Asia
to Drive Out New Imperialism

(3 February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 5, 3 February 1947, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SINCE the formal conclusion of World War II, movements on a vast scale have stirred the entire colonial world of Asia and Africa. The populations of these subjugated nations, victimized for centuries by European imperialism, refused to participate in any active sense throughout the seven years of war. Only as passive victims, did their work and energies have an indirect effect upon the outcome of the war.

But, almost as if by pre-arranged signal, the colonial masses of Asia and Africa began to fight back against their exploiters from the moment the war ended. In country after country, they utilized the collapse of the Japanese Empire and its brand of imperialism as a favorable moment for exerting themselves. They rushed into the vacuum created by the Japanese surrender and challenged the right of the former white masters to return to power and carry on as before.

Passivity and indifference passed over into activity and open revolt. Java and the Indonesian islands, Indo-China, Malaya, China, India, Ceylon, Palestine – the list includes, to one degree or another, all the colonial dominions and oppressed nations. One half the world, comprising 1,000,000,000 peoples, have been engaged for almost two years in a struggle with imperialism – and the story of this struggle is far from over. But certain conclusions can be drawn at this point about (a) the character and pattern this struggle has taken; and (b) its future and possibilities of arriving at the goal of freedom and a democratic regime for the colonial peoples.

The instant the. war ended, the great colonial powers of yesterday (Great Britain, France, Holland, Belgium) were determined to reconquer and reestablish their rule over those areas of the world they had lost to Japan and her satellites. These “mother” nations had suffered extensive losses during the war. The colonies, so they thought, were the source of economic recuperation; a super-exploitation was planned. Visions of revived sources of raw materials, of rubber, tea, sugar, etc., plantations back in operation, of renewed export markets and opportunities for profitable investments, these visions filled the minds of Europe’s post-war governments and ruling classes. But things had changed considerably.

The motherlands were infinitely weakened by contrast with their pre-war status, particularly those nations (France, Belgium and Holland) that had suffered outright defeat and occupation at one stage of the war. Overwhelmed with home problems of reconstruction, they could not be so violently exacting as on prior occasions when their colonial slaves pressed them for concessions. Furthermore, the colonies had for the most part experienced a definite economic and industrial growth during the war. The factory proletariat of India had doubled, reaching the enormous figure (for that country) of 5,000,000 industrial workers in basic industries. India now has one of the world’s greatest iron and steel works. And England had gotten into debt to the extent of $1 billion To India, formerly its greatest debtor!

In a word, an entire new relationship of forces between the colonies and the motherlands now existed! This held true even for those colonial lands where no significant economic development had occurred. Whereas, before the relationship between the homeland and the colonial had been clear and fixed (just as is the relationship between a prisoner and his jailer), this no longer held. A new relationship had to be established. What would it be? This was the basic problem, in imperialist terms, so far as the colonial world was concerned.

Other changes, to be sure, had taken place. Two great, hungry, grasping imperialist powers had emerged as undisputed victors during the war – America and Russia. Neither of these powers had previously held great colonial territories, but both now had ambitions. Neither proposed to create empires along the old style, but both had developed new techniques and methods.

America, with its economic weight and power and Russia with its political exploitation of oppressed peoples and its social demagogy, immediately began to move in on the old colonial empires. The very existence of this competitive force compelled the old masterlands to reconsider their original plans and to revise their tactics. In the world of 1946 and 1947, the old methods could not work.

Finally, and from our standpoint most significant of all, a tremendous political, ideological and spiritual change had occurred in the mentality and thinking of the African and Asiatic peoples. They had seen the white man, the arrogant and lordly ruler, driven in utter humiliation from his former positions. They had seen his defeat, and secretly rejoiced in it. Now this same man sought to come back, to pick up the traces he had dropped as though nothing had happened! But hold on – not so quickly! The answer to this attempt on the part of yesterday’s rulers to walk back into power was mass revolt in Java, in Indo-China, in Burma and the beginnings of revived popular movements in India, Ceylon and the colonies of the Near East and Africa.

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