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James Burnham

Their Government

(27 October 1939


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 82, 27 October 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

During the past year and a half, in the Socialist Appeal and the New International we have been publishing considerable material dealing with India. Many of our readers were unable to understand this preoccupation; some even complained, and insisted that we should get down to more practical matters.

The first seven weeks of the second world war already make clear that nothing could be more “practical” than the Indian question.

We know little enough, it is true, of what is actually going on now in India. But let us review what we can piece together from the heavily censored dispatches. And let us do so against the background of India’s relation to the last war.

India Fights for Democracy

India, with its 350,000 inhabitants, is the richest of all Britain’s possessions, the key and crux of the Empire. No shred of independence or democracy has ever been allowed to disturb London’s steady exploitation of its great human and material resources.

During the course of the last war, it was not, then, so entirely simple to persuade India to line up actively on the side of her democratic dictator. But vague promises of independence or at least dominion status to follow the war, the treachery of the native bourgeoisie and of its spokesman, Gandhi, together with the inexperience of the masses, put the fraud across.

India sent approximately 1,400,000 soldiers to Britain’s battlefields to fight Britain’s war – all of them,by a crowning irony, equipped and paid by India (just as the civil servants, retired to England have their pensions paid by grateful India). Besides these soldiers, India poured material goods and wealth into the British war machine.

The war was won, and Britain’s phrases about democracy and independence were put in mothballs against the next rainy day. Bombers strafing the native villages took the place of promises.

Another Day, Another Way

But these matters, alas for London, were not altogether forgotten. Came a new war. The papers joyously announced that India had promptly followed the British parliament in declaring war against Germany. But it was Lord Linlithgow, the King’s viceroy, not India, that had spoken.

Again the promises: as soon as the war is over, the problem of India’s independence will be taken up. But, of course, not now; now there is business to be done, and all talk of independence must be dropped while hostilities last.

The promises no longer have power to charm. Day after day we read of the negotiations between the Viceroy and the leaders of the great Congress Party. Gandhi and his associates have tried hard enough to be loyal servants of British imperialism, but it is toomuch even for them. They are “anti-fascist” and especially “anti-Hitlerite,” they want “the democracies to win the war against fascism,” they proclaim; but they are “gravely disappointed over the white paper.’’If the war is for democracy, they find themselves asking, then why not democracy for India? They cannot “actively support” the war on the basis which Britain proposes.

A few days ago they took the first decisive step. They called upon the local governments of eight of the provinces, controlled by the Congress Party, to resign. These resignations will be an open act of non-confidence in the war.

What is Behind These Events?

Is it too much to believe that the resignations of the provincial governments will turn out to be the first preliminary act – distorted, timorous, unsure as it is – in what will broaden into the Indian revolution? The call for the resignations was, from what of it has been reported, a most cowardly document. It warned against any civil disobedience, any active opposition to the war. But in spite of all limitations, it was a heavy blow against the war and the Empire whose life is now staked on the war.

The Indian revolution begins, as have all colonial revolutions up to the present, under the leadership of the native bourgeoisie, represented outstandingly by Gandhi. From this follows the shamefaced, whining character of this first stage. The native bourgeoisie in reality wants only a larger share for itself of the profits sweated from the Indian workers and peasants – that is the concrete meaning of “independence” or “dominion status” in its mind.

But at its back the native bourgeoisie hears the awakening thunder of the masses. Its recent moves are its vacillating attempts to keep at the head of the coming movement of the masses, in order not to be overwhelmed. What have the masses been doing since the war started? Are they only half-consciously preparing, or are there already great strikes and demonstrations? The censorship does not let us know, but the comparatively drastic nature of the call for resignations seems to indicate broad and open activities.

The Shoals Ahead

The Indian revolution has a stormy course to steer,but if it drives through it can set the world on fire. The outcome will depend upon the ability of the proletariat to organize itself independently, and, drawing the peasantry with it, to assume undisputed leadership in the struggle. This means an end to the dominance of Gandhi and those for whom he speaks.

But there are other very dangerous lines now cast in these troubled waters. The German and Russian agents, now working as a team under the Hitler-Stalin alliance are not idle. They are, for their own ends, making their efforts to guide the developing struggle into their own channels. They will be compelled to increase their intervention. An India divorced from London must mean, for them, an India attached to the camp of Berlin-Moscow: they fear a free and socialist India no less than London.

Their intervention, propagandistic now, will therefore have to be translated into arms when the time comes: which, because of the strategic situation, means Stalin’s regiments in India.

But the future has ample promise that against every force of reaction the workers and peasants of India will conquer.

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