Labour Monthly

The Crisis in India

By Michael Carritt

Source : Labour Monthly  February, 1941, No.2.
Publisher : The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London.
Transcription/HTML : Salil Sen
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2010). 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.

What is happening in India? The most elaborate smoke screen of con-fusion is being put up in Fleet Street, With exaggerated contortions the experts on India create their own picture of the "Indian Problem" and then proceed either to apply their own home-made remedies or to declare the problem insoluble. Mr. Amery, rising from his seat at one of his frequent official lunch parties, proclaims the slogan of "India First" and himself as the saviour of India; he claims that he alone can see what is good for India at a time when all her leaders have been found wanting.

Confusion in the minds of the British people as to the real nature of issues in India is understandable in the light of the contradictory nonsense spoken and written about India in bourgeois circles. Great Britain and the East, an "authoritative" journal on Empire affairs, declares on one page through the mouthpiece of Miss Cornelia Sorabjee (an energetic propagandist of Sir John Anderson's regime in Bengal), that India remains steadfast in her loyalty to the Empire, save for a few Communists, terrorists and other political criminals. A few pages later Sir Alfred Watson, at one time editor of the Calcutta Statesman, discovers that after all India is not united behind the war effort, that the various communities are all at sixes and sevens, and that, whatever the British Government may mean by its offer to form a National Government in India, it would be impossible for the Viceroy to take into his Cabinet "men who were pledged to sabotage" India's war effort -- that is representatives of the Indian National Congress. He admits that if India got a real National Government, democratically elected, she would "go out of the war tomorrow."

In similar vein, whilst Mr. Amery is boasting in the House of Commons that India is morally in support of the British war effort, his own Governor in Madras is forced to issue a strong warning to those who are "sneering at war funds and poisoning the minds of the people". And it is reported from the United Provinces that "the volume of anti-war speeches continues unabated". ( Calcutta Statesman, September 27th).

It suits the imperialists to run this double line of propaganda; on the one hand to create an impression of 380 million freedom-loving people supporting Britain's war against Germany, and on the other an India so disunited, disorderly and generally intractable that at the present time the people are incapable of managing their own affairs even if they were given the chance to do so.

With the prospect of a long and exhausting war ahead, British imperialism is faced with the urgent necessity of mobilizing the vast material and human resources of India for its war effort. This was apparent from the day war broke out; it is a hundred times more clearly so today when the Near East is already ablaze and when the German sea and air blockade is making a dispersal of war industries imperative.

In a world where all could be foreseen (declares the Calcutta Statesman), India would be able to relieve Britain of much of her responsibility for the Mediterranean front. She is the great reservoir of man-power and raw materials for Asia, Africa and the Southern hemisphere. But India is quite unprepared for the taking over of such responsibilities.

Echoing these imperialist sentiments, Mr. Vernon Bartlett says in the House of Commons:

Whereas Great Britain must be the centre from which we fight the war West of Gibraltar, India would be the centre from which we fight the war East of Suez. We cannot afford a breakdown in India.

Lord Strabolgi speaking for the Labour Party in the House of Lords, also agrees with the imperialists:

If India's man power can be mobilised we need have no fear of threats to the Straits Settlements and Burma, and in certain circumstances great help could be sent to Indo-China.

Thus Tories, "Progressives" and Labour Party get together in agreement to mobilise Indian resources for the purpose of protecting the vested interests of Empire in the Mediterranean, Africa and the Far East. And, of course, they are all perfectly clear that this Indian mobilisation for the protection of the Empire is incompatible with Indian independence. The Tories are at least frank about it:

Independence in any real meaning of the word is ruled out by world conditions, (Great Britain and the East, Nov. 28, 1940.)

The Labour Party propagandists are a little less frank. They say that it is necessary to "satisfy India", but some idea of what they mean by satisfaction can be gathered from various proposals, such as those outlined in The New Statesman of December 14th. It would appear that it is imperialism rather than Indian demands that are to be satisfied, for we find (1) the mediation of the Moderates, Sapru and Jayakar, is welcomed; (2) that a new Constitution is promised after the war; and (3) that Dominion Status, not independence, is assumed to be the goal of Indian ambitions.

Further evidence is forthcoming of just how little the Labour leaders differ from the Tory Imperialists and just how little serious they are when they talk about India presenting a "test" of their socialist sincerity. In December nine members of Parliament signed an appeal to India -- an appeal directed to towards winning Indian co-operation in the Empire's war effort. In this appeal two prominent Labour members, as well as Mr. Vernon Bartlett, were associated with six Tories. Sir John Wardlaw-Milne was one of the Tory signatories. He is a Director of the Bombay, Baroda and Central Indian Railway and a Director of the Bank of Bombay. Before the war he wag supporter of the Anglo-German Review, the official organ of "The Link".

The message sent by this mixed bag of parliamentarians is a masterpiece of diplomatic obscurity -- it declares the "wish" of the British people to set India "free", but it reminds the Indian people that Britain has certain obligations (namely to the Princes and to such vested interests as Sir John Wardle-Milne himself represents). Finally, as a quid pro quo, it calls for unconditional support for the war effort. "Democracy" and "Freedom", carefully left as undefined wishes, are held up as the glittering rewards to be enjoyed after the war in return for co-operation in the fight to preserve the Empire now

But there is no need to argue the point further. The Labour Party's complicity in the refusal of freedom and democracy to India is clearly exposed in a letter from Transport House to Mr. Krishna Menon, Secretary of the India League and one-time Labour candidate for Dundee, in which it is stated that the Labour leaders are sure that:

you (i.e. Mr. Menon) would not claim that, owing to your natural allegiance to India, you can give full support to Labour Party policy.

The all-Party drive towards the mobilization of India's war potential has encouraged in recent months a spate of "suggestions" from imperialist quarters to the effect that Mr. Amery and the Viceroy would do well to cut out any further waste of time in trying to negotiate with the Congress "irreconcilables" and get down to the business of mobilization by means of all the special powers that rest in the hands of the bureaucracy. In actual fact this advice is hardly necessary; the Viceroy has been no laggard, since the days preceding the outbreak of the war, in taking the steps necessary to mobilize Indian war effort even against the will of the people. The speed with which action was taken is an indication that Imperialism was well aware of the deep gulf separating it from the people.

1. The Viceroy was given special executive powers, Legislatures, in the event of an "emergency".

2. A Defence of India Act and Regulations were placed on the Statute Book without even the formality of discussion with the Provincial Governments who would be responsible for administering them.

3. Indian troops were sent abroad against the expressed wishes of the Indian people, and India was declared belligerent without any consultation.

4. On the resignation of the Congress Ministries in protest against these actions, no attempt was made to form alternative Governments from the elected repre¬sentatives, but the administration was taken over by the bureaucracy.

5. Leading Trade Unionists, Peasant Leaders, Congress Socialists and Radical Moslems were arrested and shut away with or without trial. In an official communiqué the Government declared its intention of interning all Communists it could lay hands upon. Sixty per cent of the arrests were of working class and peasant workers. Students were given savage sentences of 18 months for possession of Communist literature. And now, in recent months, we have the arrest of Nehru and other leading Congressmen including the President, Abdul Kalam Azad.

7. Up to July, 1940, 93 newspapers had been penalized and about £10,000 de¬manded as security for "good behaviour" without any judicial proceedings. In the words of the Indian Civil Liberties Union: New interpretations, calculated further to abridge the rights of the people, are being given to obscure sections of the Indian Press Act.... Printing presses have become terror-stricken and they have often refused to print even notices for convening public meetings, let alone the most innocuous documents.

8. A body of Civic Guards has been formed, over 5,000 strong in Calcutta alone, one of whose main duties according to official instructions is to preserve order in cases of communal or industrial trouble. Its first important activity was to help break the strike of Calcutta municipal scavengers and to protect the blacklegs. Towards the end of 1940 a measure of industrial conscription was introduced by Viceregal Ordinance imposing compulsory national service upon certain categories of skilled technicians.

By these methods of repression, familiar to the Police State, and essential for the mobilisation of a people that is opposed to the war, are negative in character. They amount to a progressive repudiation democracy in India, a repudiation which it might have been thought would have been embarrassing to those who still professed to believe that the war was nought for democratic ideals. But they are of no avail to overcome difficulties of another type that stand in the way of the British plan to mobilise India.

For India to become the spearhead of Britain's military power in the East, it is necessary. to expand the Indian Army to a force between 1 and 1¼ million strong. The equipment of a modern army requires the manufacture of some 40,000 articles, some simple and others of an extremely complex and delicate nature. At present India does not produce more than half of these required items of equipment -- and, it may be assumed, the less complicated half. It out of the question for equipment to be provided from England under existing conditions; on the contrary, the hope has been expressed that India will in time be able to equip other than Indian forces in the Middle East.

But war industries cannot be built up in a day -- and all the less so when it happens to be in a country maintained for 180 years in a state of poverty and illiteracy by an imperialism which regards India as a huge raw material producing appendage of its own industrial system. Heavy industry is in its infancy in India; engineering hardly exists outside a few Government Ordnance factories; less than 1 per cent of the population is employed in industry proper; capital investment is for the most part foreign; machinery for industry has been imported from England up to the outbreak of the war, after which it has fallen off.

The Delhi Conference of the Far Eastern Groups of the Empire was called to overcome these difficulties. The Indian "representatives", unlike those from the Dominions, were a purely official panel selected by the imperial power. It is fairly clear that none of the other countries represented will be in a position to supply the technical and material assistance required for developing war production in India. The only solution is for America to supply the machinery and the capital, and, in fact, a start has already been made in this direction. The Government of India has announced that it is "actively interested in a scheme for establishing an aircraft factory in India with American assistance" ( Great Britain and the East, January 2nd, 1940. At the same time it is reported that the assembly of automobile parts and later perhaps their manufacture may be started by an American firm in India. Having thus acquired a foothold, the American capitalists will endeavor to widen the breach, confident in the knowledge that for the time being only they can deliver the goods.

This poaching by Dollar Imperialism within its rival's preserves sharply accentuates the contradictions that are inherent in the policy, born of necessity, of building up war industries in India. It would be a mistake to speak of the "industrialisation of India" as is being glibly done by the imperialists; what is happening is no more than the limited development of war industries -- a very different thing from the planned industrialisation of a country on the basis of its natural resources and for the satisfaction of its social needs. Moreover, according to Great Britain and the East, we learn that the Government has discovered "certain peculiar difficulties connected with the release of the dollar exchange and the availability of machinery". Further ... "The Government would only feel justified in giving support to the scheme [for automobile manufacture, M.C.] if it could be shown that its operation would constitute a direct and immediate measure of assistance to India's war effort. After careful examination of the position the Government has been forced to the conclusion that this will not be the case." (January 2nd.)

If industries cannot be built up in a day, equally an army of skilled workers cannot come into being to-morrow. The arrival of 50 Indian workers in England (to be followed by a few hundred more) and the despatch of the same number of English workers to India as highly paid instructors, are trifling futilities.

Officially the war is supposed to be bringing India unbounded prosperity owing to the golden opportunities for rapid industrialisation. In actual fact, India, like other colonies, is experiencing a serious and developing economic crisis which Britain's war policy only serves to accentuate. The effect of reducing the silver content of the rupee from eleven-twelfths to six-twelfths will have a disastrous effect on already unstable internal prices. And, whilst the jute industry manages to flourish on an apparently inexhaustible demand for sandbags, jute itself is being so enormously overproduced that the cultivator is getting the record low price of Rs. 2s. per maund and the Bengal a has taken the drastic step of reducing the acreage under cultivation by one-third in 1941.

So much for the technical and economic difficulties. There remains the fact that the country which Imperialism proposes to mobilise for its war effort is solidly opposed to the war. Wherever and in whatever way the people are organised they have almost unanimously adopted a hostile attitude towards the Government's policy. The Congress, whom even the Imperialists in their saner moments admit to be the most powerful political organisation in India, and which has a paying membership of several million, demands complete independence from Britain and the calling of a Constituent Assembly to frame a democratic constitution. These demands are supported by the Peasant Movement; by the Student Federation; by the Red Shirts (Frontier Moslems); by the Moslem Ahrars; by the Moslem College of Divines; by the Azad Moslem Conference; by the Indian Christian community which has declared "the moral contradictions of imperialism have landed Britain in crisis. She has sought to justify her own imperialist enslavement of India in sonorous phrases and has sought to stand as the Palladium of Liberty in Europe. And finally, the all-India T.U.C. has unitedly proclaimed that "participation in a war which will not result in the establishment of freedom and democracy in India, will not benefit India, much less will it benefit the working class of India".

In face of the strength of the popular movement and its support for the national demand for independence, the Imperialists realise the enormous difficulties that lie in the way of carrying out their plans. A Special Correspondent in the Calcutta Statesman has no illusions. He writes:

Britain can get a certain amount of raw material, and a certain amount of recruits from India, while the big political parties remain non-co-operating. But defence today cannot be based upon that sort of indifferent support.

The stress and the intensity of the present situation in India are reflected in the fact that Imperialism has completely failed to find any basis for an agreed compromise with any considerable section of the Indian bourgeosie despite the fact that the Right Wing within the Congress was certainly ready for it. In spite of high hopes no basis for co-operation was found with the result that negotiations broke down and the Congress leadership had to embark upon some form of campaign. Gandhi quite frankly stated that other line of action would have meant the "break-up of the Congress". In these words he admitted the strength of the popular mass pressure that is driving forward the Congress leadership from below.

The complete breakdown of the negotiations with the Viceroy compelled the latter to widen the scope of arrests to leading Congressmen -- including those with whom it had been hoped to reach a compromise. Gandhi opened his campaign of "individual civil disobedience" and drew up a list of "victims". And in the past two months Nehru, along with a number of other well-known leaders, including the President of the Congress, have been arrested and either imprisoned or interned.

But the policy of repression and arrests has to be accompanied by "constructive" proposals for India's future as a background to Mr. Amery's slogan of "India First". What new proposals has Mr. Amery to make? At two of his customary midday feasts, one a "Foyle Luncheon" and the other at the English Speaking Union, Mr. Amery unfolded a remarkable reactionary plan.

In the first place, he suggests that it is necessary, if the deadlock is to be resolved, for India to find new leaders; the old men, representing the Congress and other parties, are too hardened in sin. Mr. Amery did not suggest, as perhaps will done by Indians, that the British people also should get rid of the "old gang" before any fruitful talks can take place; nor did he suggest that the people in the Indian States might well like to get rid of their Maharajahs!

Whilst Mr. Amery is making these comic suggestions, the desired "new leaders" appear on the scene as if by a miracle. But they are disappointing. Mr. Jayakar and Sir T.B. Sapru, those old war-horses of appeasement to Imperialism, come forward with a "let's-all-get-together-in-a-united-effort" plan. But Sapru tried it before in 1929, and failed.

Another rabbit out of the hat of Imperialism is M.N. Roy, describe as the "great anti-fascist", the "friend and coadjutor of Lenin", the much boosted "member of the Committee of the Third International". But this practised renegade, slung out of the Communist International in 1929 and slung out of the Congress in 1940, is a poor tool in the hands of Imperialism hardly deserving of the decorations which, no doubt, will be his for the asking.

Having "solved" the question of leadership, "India First" Amery expounds his new line of thought for India's constitutional future; it is remarkable in its similarity to the fascist corporate state. Instead of the usual democratic forms ("unsuited to Indian conditions") functional representation is proposed, together, perhaps, with an Executive authority independent of the Legislature for the period of its office.

Functional representation is not unknown in India at present. The Lower House of the Federal Government, as planned in 1935, consists of 375 seats only 86 of which are open to general election. Of the remainder a proportion are reserved to special communities, whilst about 162 are reserved for special classes or "functions". Similarly, in Bengal the Assembly has four seats reserved for hundreds of thousands of workers, five for a few score of landlords, whilst the European commercial interests can muster 26 seats. Applied as a general principle, it is clear that functional representation would permanently provide the vested interests with a parliamentary majority. Mr. Amery calls this a new form of democracy! Perhaps the Labour Party calls it Democratic Imperialism. But Mussolini thought of it first.

But there is no easy possibility of a settlement between Imperialism and the Indian bourgeoisie. Imperialism has made overtures to this class in the past and will continue to make them in the future in the hope of winning them away from the struggle for freedom and playing upon their special "vacillating compromising tendency". But the position of deadlock reached to-day, resulting in a veritable regime of tsarist repression, has in great part been the effect of the mass movement in forcing the Congress to break off negotiations. Gandhi himself, and those whom he represents, does not like any form of mass struggle, but nevertheless he has been forced to sanction some limited form of campaign. All attempts to find some alternative to struggle only have the effect of sharpening the conflict and giving added momentum to the very forces which Gandhi desires to hold in check. Thus, as the mass movement develops it gives rise to problems of growing sharpness, and the militant workers and peasants, by their mass pressure and agitation, are able to influence the direction of the movement as a whole. For behind and beneath the present "controlled" campaign of civil disobedience is the fact that the big industrial areas and the whole countryside are already at grips with the bureaucratic machinery of Imperialism.

Ten years ago, at the Lahore meeting of the Congress, it was the rising militancy of the workers and peasants in strikes, demonstrations and pitched battles, which decided the outcome of that historic meeting and forced the wavering leadership to fall in line with the temper of the masses. And it was the Bombay workers who, on October 2nd, 1939, gave a lead to the whole of India by their declaration of a one-day general strike against the war; it was the villagers in the Malabar district who faced police rifles to demonstrate against the use of the Defence of India Act to suppress their democratic rights; it is the peasants in innumerable villages who are boycotting the war fund collections and organising hunger marches; and it is the workers again, throughout industry, who are pressing forward relentlessly with the demand for "No compromise with Imperialism".

The strike figures for 1939 and 1940 show with what courage the organised working class is fighting back against the lowering of the standard of living and against the whole war policy of Imperialism. Although 1939 shows a record number of strikes, nevertheless in the first three months of 1940, in spite of the most violent police repression and the arrest of all leaders, there were 128 strikes, involving 273,990 workers, and the loss of over 4 million days -- the approximate equivalent of the total number of days lost in the whole of 1939.

The leadership and direction of this great mass movement rests primarily with the illegal and persecuted Communist Party. Increasing numbers of Congress members are turning towards the workers' and peasants' organisations and espousing their cause both within the Congress and in their class battles. And at the same time the influence of the Communist Party grows. Within the Congress they support unhesitatingly the "National Demands" classes and through the consistency and energy of their work (according to alarmed police reports) they have come to occupy numerous positions of trust and responsibility in the Congress organisation.

But at the same time the Communists criticise all signs of vacillation and compromise in the Congress leadership, condemning the refusal of the Congress to support the Anti-war Strike and opposing the appointment of Gandhi as director of Congress policy without any programme of action being mandated to him. At the recent Bombay meeting of the Congress the "Left" vigorously demanded, and won considerable support for, a policy of greater trust in the masses.

Testimony of the strength and the courage with which the revolutionary working class leadership is placing itself in the forefront of the anti-imperialist struggle is contained in the records of the Government itself. The Police Report for Calcutta contains an analysis of Communist literature and publications seized which shows that the circulation of such literature is twice as widespread as in the previous year.

Similarly the Police Report for the rural areas of Bengal states:--

The revolutionary parties have been engaged in stirring up agrarian unrest throughout the Province.... Information in the possession of Government shows beyond shadow of doubt that during the year all the revolutionary parties were being organised under the cloak of the Congress.... There has been a marked increase of Communist activity among the peasantry.

In the light of the great mass movements that are stirring in India, Mr. Amery's constitutional proposals for a government by functional representation reveal their futility even if they are backed up with the might of British bayonets. It begins to look a little foolish, too, for the Labour Party experts to be so free with their promises of everything or anything except what India demands -- namely compete independence from British domination. The real voice of the British people is heard in the message which goes out to the Indian people from the People's Convention. Indian nationalists and the workers and peasants who are fighting in the front ranks of the struggle for independence, will receive tremendous encouragement from the knowledge that the people of Britain too are on the move. And we in this country, as the world crisis develops and the rival Great Powers are locked in their death grip, will begin to see that the Indian masses are coming into the forefront of the great class struggle out of which a new social order will arise and the domination of one nation by another will be ended.