1930s >> 1939 >> no-424-december-1939

Stalin at the Gates of India

The British Empire is in the throes of a metamorphosis, and what is emerging we cannot even dimly discern, our masters are in the same fix as ourselves, the forces of capitalism are far stronger than their puny minds; the British Commonwealth of Nations may shortly assume a form not altogether to the liking of those who live by exploitation, though it may be more in accord with the aspirations of those who at present carry the ball and chain of wage slavery.

The Dominions are now a power in the Imperial sphere: the mother country no longer dictates; she tries to keep harmony in the family, but the rapid growth of her numerous offspring, together with the fetters which capitalism places on production, results in developments which are not perhaps strictly to her liking but which she must accept.

No sooner was war declared than the cry of “Dominion status” was raised in India: the rising capitalist class of India saw their opportunity and seized it. Great Britain finds herself on the horns of a dilemma; to refuse the demands of the dusky inhabitants of this portion of the Imperial domain would be to alienate the sympathy of millions at a time when it is necessary for all to pull together; to grant them would foster the ambitions of those who want India to break away; the Hindoos may get their demands acceded to, with a string attached to them.

Economic evolution in Asia has been rapidly unsettling the social order surviving from unnumbered years. The consequences of the fundamental changes that are now proceeding are looked upon by the Conservative element as the work of the passionate agitator, who gives voice to the discomfort of the masses ruthlessly shifted from their accustomed environment.

The dissolution of the self-contained village communities brought about by the stealthy penetration of exchange economy is bringing results similar to those capitalist development brought in Europe.

Mass production has invaded Asia and set millions of peasants on the move; they are trying to get rich and losing their land; as they come tumbling into wage-slavery and inquire as to the why and wherefore the spies of Stalin orient them to the mecca of Moscow, which becomes more and more their inspiration and their hope.

Moscow has for many years had amongst its many inhabitants those told off to educate the visitors from the Orient; it is interesting to observe in the one-time throne room of the czars how patiently the delegates listen to the remarks of a Hindoo, Malay or Chinaman, and how the Mahommedan visitor is carefully piloted along the path that leads him into the labyrinth of Soviet diplomacy.

Elphinstone wrote in 1819: “If we can manage our native army and keep out the Russians, I see nothing to threaten the safety of our Empire—until the natives become enlightened under our tuition, and a separation becomes desirable to both parties.”

In 1824 another Indian official wrote to the same effect: “We should look upon India, not as a temporary possession, but as one that is to be maintained permanently until the natives shall, in some future age, have abandoned most of their superstitions and prejudices and become sufficiently enlightened to frame a regular government for themselves and to conduct and preserve it. Whenever such a time shall arrive it will probably be best for both countries that the British control over India should gradually be withdrawn. That the desirable change may, in some future age, be effected in India there is no cause to despair. Such a change was at one time in Britain at least as hopeless as it is here. We shall in time so far improve the character of our Indian subjects as to enable them to govern and protect themselves.”

The air of detached superiority pervading such statements enables one to understand why a sensitive people refused to co-operate with those so anxious about their “improvement.”

The intentions of well-meaning men are often fruitless when formulated with an air of condescension; the exploitation of India was undertaken, not for the good of the inhabitants of the country, but in order to benefit the ruling class of Imperial Britain; in spite of this, however, it must be admitted that, of all the conquerors of India, Britain has consciously or unconsciously proved the best from the standpoint of India’s future; the culture upon which British rule has been based and the novelties adopted in the enforcement of the law have put India into the way of ruling itself. Britain has shepherded India into the orbit of modern nations; capitalist development let loose an economic force, the social institutions now being created are to some extent shaped from the ideas generated by British influence.

The reader may form the opinion that the apparently hide-bound caste system would retard or prevent altogether those changes necessary to enable India’s proletariat to get in step with their Western brethren, but this is not altogether as formidable an obstacle as is generally supposed. The caste system does not operate entirely as the Western observer might expect; in some ways it is curiously democratic. Each caste is internally a self-governing and self-ordering community, rather like a guild in mediaeval Europe. It imposes on itself, without the assistance or intervention of the State, its own laws through its own committees and councils, on which each member has a vote. The caste is, moreover, a kind of brotherhood, often stretching over wide areas, within which all caste-fellows are equal, regardless of wealth or position in life. The caste also performs charitable functions, and is bound together by common reverence for the caste deity. And, curiously enough, the whole system, despite its antiquity, is remarkably flexible and adjustable to new conditions. Some castes were originally purely occupational, such as goldsmiths, grain merchants and (lower in the scale) weavers. Still other occupations, such as leather working, are considered degrading; and those who practise them are outside the caste system altogether. The economic factor can be seen working changes in the caste system similar to that which may have taken place in the trade unions; for instance, in some parts of India chauffeurs and electricians are now forming something like a caste, and, true to the old principle of specialisation, are relegating certain duties, regarded as menial, to other incipient but inferior castes. Also, if a caste abandons an occupation which carries some social stigma and adopts another, it tends to rise in popular estimation. An increase in the wealth of a particular caste, due to some change in economic conditions, may also raise its prestige, and it then tends to adopt the social practices of higher castes. Enough has been said to indicate it will not take capitalism long to cause the Hindoos to adapt their caste system to the exigencies of modern wage slavery with its snobbery, etc.—they haven’t even as much to learn, as many people would have us believe, to make them good commodity producers—caste consciousness may be a long way from class consciousness, but the remorseless march of the machine will eventually cause the one to evolve into the other. Before 1918 no trade unions as such existed in India, to-day there are probably a million members of organised trade unions in the country. In the present scramble Indian labour will make its presence felt and in the days to come its voice will be decisive. The revolutionists of India in exile came into contact with the Socialists of other countries and the movement has been enriched by the literature which these Reds have from time to time contributed; students and travellers have also played their part; the one-time Dominion Secretary of the Socialist Party of Canada, a Hindoo named Rahim, proved himself an able and faithful comrade during a trying period; Socialism is at work in India, and although at present confined to a few, conditions are becoming favourable for its growth.

India’s workers have not been allowed to emigrate and settle in the Dominions on the same terms as their white brothers, and this has been one of the causes of friction between the wage slaves of India and the other countries of the Empire. Stalin and Co. have not been slow to take advantage of the situation; the Labour movement of India, as a consequence, is not controlled from London so much as from Moscow; ignorance of this fact by the workers themselves does not detract from its truth.

Many motives induced the demand for a White Australia, but, unquestionably, in addition to racial prejudice there operated most powerfully the economic motive. At the Imperial Conference of 1911 Lord Crewe denounced the attempt of New Zealand to exclude the employment of Indians on any vessels trading to the ports of that Dominion. “There is nothing morally wrong,” he argued, “in a man being a vegetarian and a teetotaller, and his wife and family also, and being able to live very much more cheaply than people who adopt the European standard of comfort. . . . If a man is content to live on rice and water, and does not require pork, beef and rum, he naturally is able to support his family on a very much lower scale.” He wanted cheap labour for his class. The belief that Asiatic workers in general either force out the white workers or compel the latter to adopt the Indian scale is widespread, and in large measure it is justified.

How fervently the belief in the policy of a White Australia is held is proved conclusively by the fact that any hint of the mere possibility of opening up the Northern Territory to Asiatic immigration is deeply resented and the deliberate policy of the Commonwealth is to postpone exploitation and development indefinitely rather than in the slightest relax the strictness of the exclusion principle.

In New Zealand the movement against Asiatic immigration, directed against Chinese and Japanese, and only in a minor degree Indians, was contemporaneous with that in the Australian Commonwealth. Public opinion is unanimous in opposition to Indian immigration. No country has been so anxious to build high standards for their workers as New Zealand, and it is thought that the pressure of competition from Indians would tend to minimise progress in this direction.

Canada has had an unfortunate record in her dealings with the problems. Freda M. Houlston and B. P. L. Bede, in their book, “India Analysed,” point out that it was Chinese and Japanese penetration into British Columbia which aroused the keen anxiety of the people on the Pacific coast. The motive again was predominantly economic. In the lines of occupation taken up by them the white population of the province soon found itself unable to compete, and, great as was the economic advantage to the country as a whole of these busy and effective workers, it has long waged war with the end of extinguishing the competition they create. As against the Chinese, though the trouble is not over, the province has in the main been victorious, for China has no treaty with Canada to impose restrictions on Canadian federal or provincial action. As regards the Japanese, the matter is different, for Canadian need for trade outlets has rendered it necessary to secure Japanese goodwill, and the stationing of a Canadian Minister at Tokyo and the reception of an envoy from Japan at Ottawa are significant proofs of the deep concern of Canada with maintenance of friendly relations. Japan, for her part, has acquiesced in the decision of Canada that immigration on any large scale is banned. A limited number of Japanese can enter the Dominion each year, the whole matter being regulated by the grant of Japanese passports duly visaed by the Canadian representative at Tokyo.

Hindoos in Canada have fared worse than Japanese, although the former are British subjects. It was in part the recognition that the immigration regulations under the Act of 1910 were more unfavourable to British Indians than to Japanese that prompted the effort to coerce Canada into admitting the shipload of would-be immigrants in the “Komagata Maru” about 1914. The result was not wholly favourable to the position of Indians in the Dominions, nor, of course, did it in the least effect the purpose of compelling the Dominion to facilitate entrance. At the Imperial Conferences the attitude of Canada has been at once courteous and conciliatory in tone, but in action it has been adamant against concession of the right of immigration, save in the case of wives and children of de facto monogamous marriages of Indians themselves lawfully resident in the Dominion. Nor has the Federal Government succeeded in persuading the legislature of British Columbia to abandon the needless exclusion of Indians from the right to acquire the franchise. The retention of this attitude cannot be regarded as compatible with the good feeling requisite between parts of the Empire.

While the small number of Hindoos in Canada render the issue one of academic rather than of practical importance, the issue in South Africa involves large numbers of people whose original home was India and deeply affects inter-imperial relations. In Natal the Indian population was deliberately introduced to build up the prosperity of the country by the use of indentured labour at a time when no other form of labour was available, and that by now the Indians of Natal are largely descendants of those who stayed on with the permission of the Natal Government after the expiration of their indentured service. In the Transvaal the problem assumed another form, which space forbids me to elucidate. Certain concessions were made as regards the proposed setting aside of areas for Indians and a promise made to consider on equitable grounds any cases where hardship would be caused by enforcing the clauses of the Gold Law prohibiting the presence of Asiatics in certain areas.

The right of Indians is denied unless they determine to reach Western standards of living. Competition by Indians with lower standards of living has proved the difficulty for certain classes of Europeans to make a living, and it is hoped to eliminate this pressure by the removal of those Indians whose competition would be formidable.

I have dealt with this phase of the subject at length: the sellers of labour-power compete with one another: the cheapest commands the sale: the discrimination against the Hindoo worker by his white brother has not prevented the development of capitalism or retarded the downward trend: race antagonism has undoubtedly interfered with the movement for class unity, but both brands of labour- power are being forced by bitter experience to recognise that the exploiter can only be successfully opposed when fought from the basis of the class struggle.

The robotisation of Russia has enabled that country to move rapidly along capitalist lines, but the bureaucracy finds itself unable to compete successfully with its opponents of the Western world. It is all very well for its devotees to talk about one-sixth of the earth’s surface being under a Socialist government, these understand neither geography nor Socialism. Most of the Russian rivers run the wrong way; her natural resources, although vast, are not conveniently placed. The rulers of Russia know what they are up against if their dupes do not. It is to be noticed that those industries that enable armaments to be produced have been those that have been principally fostered and developed. From the very first, expansion has been aimed at, the object being to plunder under the banner of Communism those countries to which they could gain access. The tools of the Russian Czar, Stalin, and his Grand Duke commissars have been used to organise groups in all countries that could be penetrated; bodies that would implicitly obey the instructions of the Moscow Mogul. India has been the object of Russia’s ambitions for more than a century, and Stalin is making a bid to carry out the aspirations of his predecessors.

Capitalist Britain is the enemy of Russia. Stalin’s group have for years been busily at work undermining the power of their foe. In the great diplomatic game of the past few years, Stalin and Co. fell victims to the illusion that they had fooled the British ruling class as to their intentions.

Britain was apparently blind to what Russia was doing in Singkiang or even in Canada and every part of the Empire; Communists were apparently allowed every opportunity to get their work in. They did not realise they were being headed off—not until it was too late. Russia strove desperately to get Britain involved in Spain; if only the Western countries were tied up Russia could have a free hand in Asia. Britain did not bite. The Front Populaire failed to function at the critical moment. The French Government was wise, too. Austria and Czechoslovakia were allowed to pass under Hitler’s control, but suddenly, when Poland was invaded, Germany’s bluff was called, and so also was the bluff of Russia. There was hurrying to and fro, consultations, threats and moves in the Baltic. Britain and France countered with the treaty with Turkey. Russia is now desperately striving to obtain defensive and offensive positions in the Baltic, and her dupes in the Far East are commanded to compel Chiang-Kai-Shek to use all his forces immediately against the Japanese, otherwise he will be deposed by Moscow.

Singapore is completed. Britain, Holland and France stand ready. The bear will, for a while, ride rough-shod over certain parts of Eastern Europe. He may even retake Bessarabia, but he will find himself in a jackpot when the revolution in Germany, now within measurable distance, isolates him. Need is compelling Russia to show her hand, to disclose to the observing proletariat of the Western world what she really is. In the Near East and across Asia, through Iran, Irak and in Afghanistan, her spies and agents are actively at work teaching “Communism”; in reality building up an Imperial Russian organisation against Imperial Britain.

Russia is compelled to act now she perceives her enemy has anticipated every move she made, and she fears, unless she strikes now, it may be too late.

The discussion going on re Indian status is apparently outside what I have dealt with above, but it is vitally connected with it. Stalin and his group plan to place themselves at the head of 1,000 million Asiatics and make a bid for control of Asia and the world. In spite of the courage and tenacity of his Chinese Communists, China is still China, and refuses to be Stalinised, and if Russia eventually marches to the gates of India it may be that Britain, by giving the hope of Dominion status and the vision of independence to India has caused Stalin to be opposed, not alone by the armies of Imperial, Britain, but by those whom he was planning to bring under the hammer and sickle.

How fascinating it is to watch the loom of time turning out history! It is good to be alive and to know and feel the full meaning of what is unfolding.

Capitalism is approaching its death agony: the proletariat of the world are gathering around its death-bed.

Charles Lestor