A. N Bhaduri

British War Preparations in India

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 9, September 1927, No. 9, pp. 537-545
Transcriptionp: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

India has always been the strongest base for British imperialist wars during the last hundred years of world history. To mention only a few, the three Afghan wars, the Boer war, the Boxer uprising in China, the two Burmese wars and the last world war, were waged with Indian men and money. In Mesopotamia, Palestine, Persia, Turkey, Africa, Egypt, Nepal, Tibet, Indian mercenaries and resources were used for the imperialist expansion of Great Britain. Hong Kong was wrested from the Chinese with the help of Indian soldiers; opium was thrust down their throats with the help of the Indian police, and even in revolutionary China of to-day, Indian soldiers are mobilised in order to drown in blood the Chinese struggle for freedom. India has only too often stood in the way of human freedom, though generally against her own will. The vast reserve of Indian men and money and the strategic value of the occupation of this continent, largely helped the British capitalist class to win its dominant position in the world, to maintain which another war, more sinister than ever, is again being organised.

This “war of civilisation” against Soviet Russia is a question of life and death for the cause of Indian freedom. The declaration of war against Soviet Russia, who makes no secret of her moral and material support for the struggle for freedom of the Asiatic nations from the yoke of international imperialism headed by Great Britain, is as a matter of sheer logic, a declaration of war against revolutionary Asia. India forged in 1914 more strongly on her own neck the chains of political and economic slavery by strengthening with life and money an arch-reactionary force in the world, British imperialism—the most perfected stage of world capitalism. Indian middle-class nationalism, by supporting a decadent culture of vested interests and by assisting British militarism, which is the mainstay of the huge irresponsible bureaucratic machine in India, is bound sooner or later to drag the Indian people into a criminal war against the aspirations of Asia and against the exploited workers of the world. Indians who have nothing in common with the interests of the imperialists must work to prevent this crime of declaring war against their own interests, a war for swelling the pockets of their own oppressors, a war that is prepared to lower their already miserable standard of living.

But the murderous war plans in India are organised on the certain support of the privileged ruling class of India. The Conservative Government of England is feverishly seeking to foment a war against Soviet Russia, after being sure of the help of the Indian bourgeoisie in her military operations in India. The buying up of the Indian bourgeoisie for the stabilisation of British capitalism and the winning of them over to her sinister war plans is an important chapter of Indian history of recent years. It is worth while studying the history of the bourgeoisie in a fairly industrialised Asiatic country like India, where the interests of this class are interwoven with the interests of the British imperialists.

The world war, which revolutionised Britain’s economic relation with India, brought the Indian people almost to the brink of a social revolution. The new imperial policy after the suppression of this mass discontent, is a policy of “economic concession and political repression.” The new phase is marked by the growth of Indian industries and by a new agricultural policy (the new Viceroy being an agricultural expert and ironically called a peasant-viceroy), and the export of British capital with increasing rapidity in order to industrialise India with the help of Anglo-Indian capital and thus to restore with the help of Indian cheap labour, raw materials and the Indian market, Great Britain’s badly shaken industrial monopoly in the East. The removal of. duties on imported machinery, the removal of the cotton excise duty of 31, per cent. and the raising of the duty on imported cotton goods from 7 to 11 per cent., the enormous bounty from the Government to the iron and steel industry, political pseudo-reforms, the recognition of the Government prize-boys in the League of Nations, in short a junior partnership in the exploitation of the masses, and lastly the fear of a social revolution, all these causes have driven the nationalist leaders (since they come from the land-owning industrialist class) to the side of the Government, and have led the to carry out the British imperialist policy both inside and outside India with little or no resistance. The following opinion of one of the most prominent spokesmen of the bourgeois nationalists Mr. B.C. Pal (once in the camp of the Bengal revolutionaries), will clearly expose the betrayal of the nationalists and the trend events in India:—

Economically, Britain’s possession of India is also a very great asset to herself and her overseas empire. India’s raw material, cheap labour and huge unprotected markets offer almost incalculable opportunities of exploitation to British imperial industries, trade and commerce.

The attainment of a national government in India by timely and friendly compromise with the representatives of British imperial interests will alone provide for the adequate protection of these very large interests which the British have acquired in this country.

A possible revolution will be the greatest conceivable menace to those interests, and British statesmanship, therefore, must put forward its best efforts to secure the timely and friendly compromise, but before this compromise can be effected the British will naturally want reasonable guarantees for peace and good government in India which is essential for the protection and promotion of their special interests.

This speech is addressed to the “representatives of British imperial interests” showing the advantages of a “timely and friendly compromise” with the Indian bourgeoisie for the united exploitation of the “unprotected market, cheap labour and vast resources” of India. This classical, frank and conscious statement from one of the prominent mouthpieces of the Indian upper class proves most conclusively an open betrayal of the nationality movement. With this certain and important support, the British imperialists can afford to prepare another bold crusade against Soviet Russia. It is worth while also noting the statement from the report of the Fiscal Commission, consisting largely of a radical section of the Indian bourgeoisie, which was appointed in October, 1921, with the object of examining the tariff question:—

It is mere commonplace to say that a rich India is a tower of strength to the Empire, while an economically weak India is a source of weakness ... India would have been of far greater help to England during the war if the policy of protection had been adopted at least a generation ago . . . This (revision of the tariff policy) would have been to her great advantage and would have been beneficial to the Empire . . . .

No further comment is necessary to prove the object of the era of Protectionism in India. In order to realise England’s further war-preparations in India it is necessary fully to understand its economic basis. That there is a systematic preparation for war is self-evident in view of the fact that more than one-third of the Indian revenues are still used for the military budget. The war preparations in India are of various kinds and have recently grown rapidly in size and intensity. They can be divided into several categories.

Political Preparation for War

The main political object of the British Government is to buy up the Indian leaders in time, in order to be sure of their help with men and money, when declaring war against Russia. After the Indian revolutionary movement had made some attempts to create revolutionary risings in 1915, the Home Rule movement was organised throughout the country and the British Government promised the leaders constitutional reforms in August, 1917, in order to secure Indian men and money and support in the war against “barbaric Germany.” To-day, after the mass movement of 1921 and the Chinese revolution, Britain again finds it essential to buy up the upper class by two arguments:—

(a) The argument of offering a substantial share in the government of the country, that is to say, a share in the exploitation of the people.

(b) The argument that the upper class must be protected against Bolshevist Russia which threatens private property.

Since all the Indian leaders come from the landowning or industrialist class, it is not surprising that they are ready to use these arguments for their own political benefit. All the Indian leaders are, in one form or another, negotiating with the British government and some of them are even now (June-July) in London in order to fix the terms of the betrayal. The coming reforms of 1929 are a very important step in the war preparations of England just as the 1917 reforms substantially helped England in the war against Germany.

It must be remembered that it is only British India that will get reforms, and that it is the policy of the British Government to divide India into two parts, viz, (a) the so-called Swaraj India, and (b) the India of the Princes. A study of the negotiations of the government with the Council of Princes shows that it is the intention of the Government to make the Princes responsible to the Government of Great Britain and not to the Swaraj Government of India, so that if Swaraj India were to go against England in her war plans, the Princes’ India may be used for the purpose of supplying troops and money not only against Russia, but also to crush any attempt at revolution in India. The facts regarding the anglicisation of the armies of the Indian States, the increase in the number of troops in the States, the more effective control of the armies, the occupation of the posts of military ministers and the training of the sons of the Princes in England under the control of English agents, all point to the conclusion that the States are being specially and rapidly prepared for rendering service to Great Britain in the coming war.

The ideological propaganda which is being conducted by the Press agencies, by the information departments of the British Government in India and by members of the British Labour Party, is clearly directed against Russia. By continual reiteration of the Russian menace to the safety of the Indian people, England is creating a fear of Soviet Russia. The propertied class is to be frightened into helping Britain against the U.S.S.R. by being told that the Bolshevik movement intends to seize their estates. The Hindus, especially in the Punjab, are being told that Soviet Russia is helping Afghanistan in order to set up Islamic rule in India. The Mohammedans are being told that Bolshevik Russia is an enemy of the Islamic religion and of all religions. In this manner the help of all groups is being secured.

War Preparations in Industry

The establishment of the Tariff Board, besides having the object of buying the nationalist leaders as has been already mentioned, is intended to facilitate the production and storing of war materials in India. The industries which were practically called into being and enormously developed during the war for the supply of war materials, especially the iron and, steel industry, are now technically well equipped through “subsidies” and “protection,” and in the event of a war, will represent an important technical basis for British militarism in India.

This is remarkably confirmed by the evidence given before an official commission last year, when a representative of one of the Indian steel producing firms said that his firm received “from time to time” orders from the Ordnance Department of the Government of India “for various parts of gun mountings and other munitions” as their plant was “particularly well-adapted for the manufacture of a large variety of castings for munition purposes.” The same firm was also asked to undertake the “manufacture of aerial bombs weighing respectively 5 cwts., 1 cwts., and 20 lb.” The probable number required was stated to be 5,000 or more per month. The representative of the firm further said that “in the event of war, a vast quantity of special steel for manufacture of high explosives and shrapnel shells, gun tubes and jackets, ribs, barrels, &c., were certain to be required at a very short notice. Their works could be turned to this class with little or no delay.” This vast storing of war materials in India, which is surely also going on from many other sources unknown to us, most conclusively proves that the British government intends to wage a war in which India will play an important part.

Among other industrial war preparations may be mentioned the following:—

(a) The participation of Indian capitalists in the building up of Indian industries and protection given to steel, paper, cement, mining and other industries, whose products, though alleged to be Indian, are used largely for the manufacture of munitions and war material and will be used in future solely for war purposes.

(b) Freedom from customs duty for motor lorries. The importance of this will be seen from the fact that special motor-lorry transport service is being arranged between Karachi and Peshawar. In the last war the motor-lorry (armoured cars) transport was a very important factor in the military success of the French and British armies. It must be remembered that a railway strike would endanger the transport of munitions and therefore the importance of motor lorries is increased. Military motor transport roads are also being made in the Burmese frontier region.

(c) The monopoly and use of the entire rubber industry for war purposes.

(d) The new agricultural policy is clearly intended to win over the peasantry under the small landholders. The biggest zemindars, enjoying an artificially prolonged life, are already slaves of the Government. The establishment of co-operative banks under Government control will assist in solving the problem of food supply in times of crisis.

Military War Preparations

It is impossible to enumerate all the military preparations for war that are now being undertaken. The following are only some of the most important of these measures:—

(a) The Singapore base which serves the following purposes. It controls the Pacific and China, keeps Holland at least neutral, threatens French possessions in the East and makes it difficult for France to go to war against England, threatens the Japanese Navy, and enables the landing of Australian troops quickly in India in the event of a revolution.

(b) The secret naval base in Trincomally.

(c) The construction of the air base at Karachi.

(d) The concentration of the air fleet in the North-West frontier provinces—the probable Verdun of the coming war. This air-craft base is one of the best technically equipped in the world; one of the first duties which the present Viceroy, Lord Irwin, performed on his arrival in India, was an extended tour of this frontier.

(e) The already mentioned motor-lorry transport between Karachi and Peshawar.

(f) The very costly Khyber. Pass railway and the new strategic railways on the Afghan frontier now under construction.

(g) The projected railway to connect Bengal with Burma, and the one between Burma and Siam.

(h) The Royal Indian Navy, whose sole function is to coordinate the action of the Indian Fleet with the British Fleet in the Persian Gulf, which, dominates Mesopotamia.

(i) Lord Haldane’s proposal to transfer the British expeditionary force to India for the purpose of being used in Asia, i.e., against Russia and China. This remarkable proposal for concentrating the British Expeditionary Force in India has been discussed in a leading article in the Calcutta Statesman, which is usually very well informed about official intentions and a strong hint is given that this plan is under consideration by the Government of India and the Imperial Government, and that it is strongly supported by the military authorities. Before the war, it was pointed out, the Expeditionary Force was kept in England because “it was known that it might have to be landed on the continent of Europe.” The question, says the Statesman, arises “whether England is any longer the most suitable place for the whole striking force, where exactly the danger centres are.” It should also be remembered that the growing consciousness of the British working class as witnessed during the last General Strike might endanger the transport of troops in times of crisis. The Statesman dwells further on “danger centres” which leaves no shade of doubt about England’s sinister preparations of war against Soviet Russia and Asia. It is stated that:—

The likelihood of a necessity of shipping the force across the Channel is clearly a good deal less than before the war, whereas prospects that it may have to be employed in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea or the Far East are greater than of old. The last case has in fact arisen and we have now 25,000 troops in China. Of these India has supplied two battalions from her own army and two battalions from the British garrison in India. The bulk has had to be drawn from the expeditionary troops retained at home, and clearly had they been in India they could have been dispatched to China more quickly and more economically.

The journal further gives financial reasons and adds with naïve hypocrisy, that this step will release the serious strain of the military budget on the country!

(j) The modernisation and control of the armies of the Indian native states, as already mentioned.

(k) The establishment of new munition factories in India.

(l) On the pretext of liberating slaves and stopping human sacrifices in the wild jungle regions of Northern Burma, the Government of India is making a military inspection of the frontier between Burma and China. So long as Southern China was a helpless victim of Great Britain’s opium policy and military aggression, the military authorities who are responsible for the “Safety of India” concentrated their sole attention on the North-West frontier. But now that China has resorted to armed resistance to British imperialism it has been suddenly discovered that the wild tribes in the North of Burma were practising human sacrifice (although apparently on a very much smaller scale than the British Empire) and a Captain of the British Army was sent out to bring the tribe to reason. Last winter the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army travelled to Bhamo on the Irrawady, and from there he proceeded, mainly on foot, down the Burmo-Chinese frontier, in order to make an inspection of that imperfectly known region. “We have got the North-West frontier always before us,” said Sir William Birdwood on March 5, 1927, and “and I may say we have to keep strict watch on the North-East frontier also. We know what Bolshevist propaganda is doing not only in Afghanistan, but also in China.” Commenting on this warning the Englishman of Calcutta, a semi-official organ of the Government of India, wrote:—

If India is to be confronted permanently with a hostile China as well as a hostile Russia, additional precautions on the Burma frontier will be essential.

The Calcutta Forward, the organ of the Indian Swaraj Party published an article recently in which it warned the people of India that “the British government was preparing to advance towards China on land.” For this article the Government of Burma has prohibited the Forward to enter Burma, a prohibition that caused great indignation in India.

(m) The increased expenditure on political Secret Service in Afghanistan, Russia, Persia, Turkey and China.

One need not be a Communist to realise the conclusive significance of these facts as revealing a systematic preparation for war against Soviet Russia. A politically and economically enslaved India is the strongest base for British military operations. The subjection of India has kept humanity in poverty, and perpetually on the brink of imperialist wars. We are faced with a situation to-day when we have to decide again whether we can permit this crime against humanity for the sake of imperialist profits.