The Flimsy Bond of Nationalism

Some of the supporters of the movement for Indian independence cherish the illusion that the brutal treatment meted out to them by the British authorities is peculiar to British rule over subject countries, and that such brutality will disappear when Indians govern in India. A wider knowledge would teach them that brutality marks the actions of every ruling class defending its privileges against uprisings from below.

Some of the Irish Nationalists used to talk in similar strain when the Irish movement was being suppressed by the British Government. In their minds the brutalities of the Black and Tans and other British forces were regarded as characteristics of alien rule. In due course, however, the Irish movement split into the Free State Party (the Government) and the Republicans. It was then found that the methods of the Black and Tans were fairly faithfully copied by the Irish in their treatment of each other. When an Indian ruling class gets hold of the reins of government, the Indian workers will find that there is little to choose between the brutality of Indian and English authorities.

A Nationalist publication, the India Bulletin, gives publicity to accounts of the harsh treatment of Indian political prisoners in Indian jails. Quite unintentionally these accounts support our argument and show what the Indian workers may expect at the hands of these wealthy Indians who finance and lead the Nationalist movement.

Like all national movements, the Indian nationalists make use of the cant that the idea of independence is one which binds all Indians in a close fraternity against the foreign tyrant. Yet one of the most persistent notes in the complaints of the political prisoners is that the wicked British authorities actually compel them to associate with their own fellow countrymen, the criminals. One lady writes as follows (Bulletin, June, 1932): —

The fundamental fault lies with the (jail) system, and with a Government which can fling hundreds upon hundreds of well-bred ladies into the class assigned to the lowest criminals of the land.

It is no doubt unpleasant for “well-bred ladies” to have to mix with their less fortunate Indian sisters. But there is nothing to prevent these Nationalists, with their boasted sympathy for the victims of British rule from demanding better treatment for the non-politicals as well as for themselves. But no; the letters in the Bulletin betray not the slightest hint of fellow feeling for the victims of the social system, many of whom have no prospect before them except the choice between harsh treatment in prison and treatment hardly less harsh outside. Gandhi and the other nationalist leaders are as vigorous as the British ruling class in upholding private ownership of the means of life, so the political prisoners make the claim for special treatment as befits the members of a privileged class. They resent having their precious bodies brought into proximity with the victims of the social system from which their privilege is derived, and of which they are defenders.

The Indian workers will discover this when the Indian capitalists enter into unrestricted or less restricted control. The capitalist ladies and their men-folk who have no sympathy for non-political prisoners will not find it difficult to adopt towards the workers the brutality inseparable from the suppression of one class by another. By that time they will have finished using the Indian workers as tools in the campaign against the British Government, and the mask will be taken off.

What the non-political prisoners think of the well-bred inhumanity of the arrogant ladies we do not know.

P. S.