Howe Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

R. Fahan

India: Reports Show New Crisis Is Brewing

(January 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 3, 18 January 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When, six months ago, the British government! offered the Indian people the PROMISE of national independence AFTER the war, but refused to grant that independence immediately, the Indian nationalist masses viewed this attitude with complete cynicism. That cynicism is now being shown to have been more than justified. Recent reports from India and Britain indicate a stiffening of British policy toward India, as well as, the brewing of a new crisis in India, a crisis which may burst, at any moment.

The extremely plausible grounds on which the Indian nationalists based their cynicism may be thus summarized: If Britain, in the hour of its direst imperial crisis, when Japan threatens to wipe out completely its Far Eastern power – if at this time Britain refuses to grant independence to India, then what reason is there to suppose that she will live up to her promise of granting India, freedom in the post-war world, in which Britain’s position presumably would be strengthened and in which she would not need the military aid of India?

This reasoning is now being proved by events. In a dispatch to the New York Times, dated January 2, Herbert Matthews writes:

“The recent Allied victories in Africa and in the Pacific have made the Indians understand that their contribution does not mean as much as it would have meant last spring or summer, and hence their bargaining position has declined. The British all along have been taking the line that they are getting enough support through enlistments and war production to carry on and it is not worth taking the chance (what: chance? – R.F.) of transferring more power to the Indians. With the recent victories that feeling has been strengthened.”

Amery’s Statement on Princes

An even more dramatic indication of this situation is seen in the speech which Leopold Amery, British Secretary of State for India made on January 7 in which he maintained that “the ruling princes of India are an indispensable element of that country’s life” and that “they were bound to play a large part in any modification the constitution might undergo.” Said Amery of the native princes: “Their primary responsibility is the good government of their own people in accordance with such methods as suit the dispositions (sic!) of those people and in accordance with the spirit of the times.”

It is obvious, of course, that six months ago the British would never have dared make such statements; and it is possible that six months from now they will not dare to again. In the meantime, as soon as they feel a little bit more secure in their imperialist domination, as soon as their military position registers the slightest improvement, they immediately revert to their old hide-bound imperialist outlook – and thereby give the lie to all the fancy talk of a few months back with which they tried to delude the Indians into surrendering their fight for national independence and with which they fooled, a good many Americans into trusting their “sincerity.”

But India itself remains a keg of political dynamite. An extremely serious food crisis is now racking the country. As the magazine Time says: “For many Indians the line between perpetual hunger and real starvation is thin. Last week that line was thinner than ever.” There are appalling shortages of India’s three main foods, wheat, rice and millet. So serious is the situation that the Delhi Hindustan Times writes that “Profiteers, speculators, hoarders and the rest of the parasites are fattening on the vitals of the masses. The government has so far done precious little in terms of action to relieve their distress.”

When this conservative nationalist paper writes in such a harsh tone, it is easy enough to see exactly what the rule of British imperialism means to the Indian people.

What Will Phillips Do?

Into this explosive situation there now steps William Phillips, the special American envoy to India. What is he to do? Has he a new offer? No one knows as yet. One thing is certain: Try as he may, he will not be able to straddle the basic issue of Indian independence. The very first contact he had with the Indians must have convinced him of that, when in reply to his statement that he intended to confer with the leaders of all of India’s political factions, an Indian, reporter asked him: “How do you intend to see those who are detained in jail?”

The American liberals, of course, maintain an embarrassed silence on this topic. Their voices are stilled, their tongues tied and their consciences dulled. And then, too, they are too busy trying to explain – or figure out – North Africa and Darlan, without worrying about India as well.

In the meantime the crisis continues. The Indian revolution did not end when the great wave of mass agitation of six months ago temporarily receded. In fact, it has hardly even begun. There is still a great drama ahead in India, one in which temporary defeats may be interspersed with local victories, but one which can end only with the complete victory of the Indian struggle for national independence.

Irving Howe Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 30 January 2015