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Henry Judd

Does Britain’s New Offer Mean
India Will Be Freed?

(10 March 1947)

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

THE February 20 announcement of Britain’s Prime Minister Attlee to the effect that, come what may, Britain, intends to withdraw from India by June of 1948, and transfer power into Indian hands (“definite intention to take the necessary steps to effect the transference of power into responsible Indian hands ...”); this announcement has aroused great interest and speculation. Do the British really mean it this time? Are they about to finally leave India? Has British imperialism proven so generous and flexible that 400,000,000 people are, at long last, to be handed their, independence?

Clearly, a significant – if not fundamental – change has taken place in the situation, conditioned by the desperate economic and social plight of England, by the stalemate within India itself between Hindus and Moslems, and by the incessant demand of the Indian nation as a whole that the British quit India. From this point of view, the British announcement is a move forced upon imperialism by forces too powerful for it to control and regulate. It has become mandatory for England to do something about the Indian question.

In the announcement itself there is an implied threat – a threat intended to bring about a compromise agreement between the predominantly Hindu-capitalist Congress party, and the Moslem League. “His Majesty’s Government,” says the announcement, “will have to consider to whom the powers of the Central Government in British India should be handed. over on the due date ...” Since Britain must come to terms with the Indian ruling class, this threat aims to force the Hindus and Moslems into a pact by implying that, otherwise, Britain will deliberately choose one or the other as the recipient of the power it is preparing to abandon.

This is of course a result of the long stalemate, still existent, between Hindu and Moslem political parties. Since the war’s end, British imperialism has had one basic strategy in mind during all its dealings with India – the creation of an agreement, a working arrangement between Britain on the one hand, and the conservative, pro-capitalist and landlord elements in India itself. The purpose of this agreement would be to enable British imperialism to remain in India,although in a modified way, and to continue to exploit the country in partnership with the Moslem League and the Congress Party.

These efforts have, to this point, failed because of the insistence of the Moslem League upon fulfilling its demand for the creation of an independent Moslem states within greater India. Now the British, in a rapidly deteriorating situation both in India and England itself, have issued what amounts to an ultimatum. They hope to force the Hindu and Moslem leaderships to come to terms and then proceed to declare a three-cornered partnership, including the British.

Within India itself, the announcement has had mixed reactions. The Congress Party has welcomed it, and its leader Nehru has indicated his willingness to approach the Moslem League for fresh discussions and possible compromise. The Moslem leaders have blustered about civil war between Moslem and Hindu, have denounced the former British proposal as “dead and incapable of revival,” but have also indicated their readiness to discuss with the Congress Party. A. new round in India’s interminable “deals” and negotiations is about to resume.

As a prelude to this, the Moslem League has created communal disturbances in widespread areas of the country, particularly the important Punjab province. The atmosphere is tense again, and relations between Hindus and Moslems, stimulated by reactionaries on both sides, have deteriorated considerably. It is impossible to predict whether the Congress and Moslem League can come to terms, although such a possibility, certainly exists. This would mean that British strategy had worked out, so far as the conservative forces in India were concerried.

But what about the people – the 400 millions?

Would a British withdrawal in 1948 mean independence and freedom for them? To begin with, it is questionable what the British precisely mean by a withdrawal from India. In the House of Lords, when under attack by the Conservative Party, the Labor Government declared) it hoped to retain a major share in the “defense” of an independent India! That hardly smacks of independence. Viscount Jowitt said, “the continued security of India would be a matter of great interest to the British Commonwealth.” Furthermore, Britain would be “naturally very willing to enter into discussions with India as to mutual assistance in matters of external defense.” And, most important of all is the fact that the present British plan provides that India cannot become free until its provisional government has signed a satisfactory treaty with England. There is, thus, still a long road to the point where it can be said that India is a free, sovereign, independent power.

Nor has the exact content of what the British mean by “withdrawal” been made plain or clear. Withdrawal of their troops and armed forces? When? Withdrawal of all English administrators, officials and bureaucrats? Or only the lesser ones? Withdrawal of British capitalists (and their capital); British plantation owners, etc.? In other words, the expropriation of all British capital investments, the ending of British ownership rights, etc.? Not one of these matters has been touched upon. Yet these are the real issues involved in India’s independence fight – who shall own, control and benefit from the industries, resources and wealth of the country – the British Iniperialisfs, along with their new junior partners of the Congress Party and Moslem League; or the hundreds of millions of workers and peasants.

India has not yet won its freedom, nor will British retreat and concessions (both of which are clearly indicated and guaranteed in the situation) necessarily mean this. Between the old regime of open imperialism and a new workers’ and peasants’ free India stands the native capitalist and landlord class of that country. It will come to terms with imperialism long before it will deal with its own nationals.

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