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Henry Judd

Colonial Imperialism Remains
Despite Political Concessions

(10 February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 6, 10 February 1947, pp. 3 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

IN last week’s article on the colonial rebellions that have passed over Asia and other areas of the colonial world since the end of the war, we described the basic factors behind these mass uprisings by colonial peoples – the weakening of the traditional imperialist powers (England, France, Holland); their necessity to come to some terms with the peoples they formerly held in outright servitude; and the awakened nationalist consciousness of the colonial masses. The answer to the efforts of the old imperialist masters to reinstate themselves in their former ruling positions was mass revolts in Java, Indo-China, Burma, Palestine and the beginnings of a revived popular movement for independence in India, Ceylon and the colonies of the Near East and Africa.

Headed by the 40,000,000 Javanese and the 25,000,000 Indo-Chinese, the first stage was open, armed rebellion that took on the aspects of widespread warfare. The guns of the half-trained but determined fighters of Java and Indo-China soon punctured the imperialist illusion that the down-fall of Japan, automatically re-established white imperialism in its former positions. The fierceness of the resistance forced a sharp change in policy and removed any illusion that the former colonies could be reconquered by force. Instead, after bloody fighting, imperialism approached the conference table and sought allies among the conservative elements of the native resistance and independence movements. It found these elements in the native capitalists, merchants, landowners and middle class intellectuals who, for the most part, stood at the head of such movements as the Javanese liberation front and the Viet Minh Party of Indo-China.

Attempt to Compromise

In other colonies, where open rebellion did not yet exist, imperialism hastily approached similar conservative forces in the nationalist movement (Congress Party of India, Wafdists of Egypt, Arab League in Palestine, etc.). Everywhere efforts were made to evolve agreements and compromises, based on concessions that would halt the rising wave of rebelliousness. Imperialism cleverly carries its own logic and leads, or tends to lead, to social revolution – that is, the destruction not only of foreign imperialism, but native tyranny in the form of landlordism and capitalism.

The first efforts on the part of the colonial peoples were only partly successful. They were not sufficiently strong nor did far-sighted revolutionary leaders stand at their head to lead them to national independence. Their leadership, on the contrary, was national bourgeois (India), or at best, radical middle class and democratic (Indonesia). In other instances, the Stalinists played a sufficient part in the movement to call it to a halt before it went “too far” (Indo-China).

The imperialist powers, thanks to the help of America with materials and supplies, rallied sufficient forces to push back the uprisings; imperialism joined hands to hold down the Indo-Chinese in 1945 and 1946. The first wave of struggle came to a halt – truces and agreements were on the order of the day.

A Junior Partner

In those colonies where there had not been open rebellion (India, Ceylon, Egypt, etc.), the imperialist power entered into negotiations with the conservative nationalist movements. The pattern was the same everywhere – an effort to make a “deal,” by which imperialism gave up something to the native capitalists and feudalists, in exchange for the right to continue as ruler of the people. Expressed differently, imperialism offered to make the native capitalist class a junior partner.

Such is the character of the various agreements reached, or in process of being reached, in Indonesia (establishment of an Indonesian Republic within the Dutch Empire); in Egypt; in Indo-China at one period when the Viet Nam government was recognized; in India and Burma, where efforts are still going on. These agreements are far short of – in fact, have nothing in common with – real independence. They are structural changes in the previous setup, new arrangements due to a change in the relationship of forces. Imperialism can no longer exist without finding solid and loyal supporters among the colonial bourgeois elements. It must pay a price for this, however.

Thus, the nationalist movements came to a halt under their conservative, capitalist leadership while lengthy negotiations went on. Under cover of these negotiations, efforts were made to destroy the radical wing of the nationalist movements – to drive out the revolutionists and those who wanted to continue the struggle to the end. Men like the Javanese revolutionist Tan Malaka were jailed; the Indo-Chinese bolshevik leader Ta-Thu-Thau was murdered. But, of course, the movement could not be halted so easily, since its momentum and its inner forces were powerful. The present rebellion in Indo-China, in this sense, is probably the beginning of a new stage of militancy and revolutionary activity.

Agreements Unworkable

In Indo-China, an agreement had been made. But the Viet Nam government found it could not halt at this point, that it must carry on the fight for the right of the people in Cochin-China to join up with Viet Nam, a right that had been promised by the French. By the same token, French imperialism found that because it had yielded a hand, after sharp fighting, an entire arm was now being demanded. It is safe to predict that none of the other agreements arrived at will have any durability; all will prove unworkable in practice because the dynamics of the forces involved are too powerful to be contained by any “deal.” Likewise, those colonies that have not yet had open rebellions will find themselves inevitably forced to take that path, if they are to gain their freedom. Imperialism has had its day. The questions is – what shall replace it?

If imperialism is to have its way, then a modified form of the old colonial system will be created: a neocolonial system under which the old imperialist master remains in control, but gives an increased share of power and profits to the native reactionary classes.

Role of Colonial Workers

But if the masses of colonial peoples are to have their way, then we shall witness an increased tempo in both the scope and rate of the colonial movements of revolt, leading finally to the achievement of complete freedom from any type or form of imperialism. The primary meaning of the events of the past two years, in the colonial world, is the reinforcement and vindication of the Fourth Internationalist idea that ONLY the colonial working class, together with the masses of poor peasants who are united together under the leadership of a revolutionary political organization, can achieve even the democratic revolution. The growth of the Fourth Internationalist parties in India, China, Indo-China, Ceylon, etc., is essential for this.

The democratic revolution in the colonies means the winning of national independence. But the “democratic” bourgeois leaders (Nehru, Gandhi, Soekerno of Java, Ho Chi Minh of Indo-China, etc.) have shown again they cannot accomplish this. The winning of national freedom – the ending of colonialism of the old and new type – depends entirely upon the revolutionary activity of the workers and peasants. The next stage in the evolution of the colonial world will see the transformation of the struggles, after many difficult obstacles are overcome, into broad and even more popular struggles, nationalist and social in character.

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