The 2nd International & the Doctrine of Self–Determination
Source: Communist International, no.4 (New Series), pp.123-137
Manabendra Nath Roy
One of the prices with which Mr. MacDonald bought the rather dubious Liberal support has been the scrapping of the doctrine of self-determination. This doctrine, invented by ex-President Wilson to justify the depredations of one group of imperialists against another group, was taken up by the moribund Second International as an article of faith. Much breath has since been wasted on this doctrine which is, for all practical purposes, nothing but a piece of bourgeois hypocrisy. In the hands of the Social Democrats, it served the purpose of a very convenient weapon to fight the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Second International kept on talking of the right of self-determination after the Treaty of Versailles had cynically mocked at the unsuccessful prophet of the doctrine. It valiantly fought for the Georgian democracy when democracy had become a sham in the very countries of Europe. The British Labourites led by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald took up the case of “oppressed Georgia” with the spirit of the crusaders, although the people subjugated by British imperialism were counted in hundreds of millions. But Mr. MacDonald told us that he believed in the right of self-determination for all nationalities. It was, therefore, natural to infer that, although Mr. MacDonald and his party did not fight against British imperialism with one-hundredth as much vigour as they fought “Bolshevik imperialism,” the peoples inhabiting India, Ireland, Egypt and the extensive regions included in the British Empire would be given the right of self-determination when the Labour Party came to office. Of course, among the Communists, there has never been much illusion on this score. It was never believed that the doctrine would prove any less to be hypocritical cant in the hand of the reformist Social-Democrats than it did in the hand of the imperialist bourgeoisie. It is a bourgeois doctrine par excellence, and, as such, can never work out in a way which will mean ruin to bourgeois domination.
On many an occasion half-hearted resolutions were passed by the Second International expressing sympathy with the struggle of the opposed people. But never did those resolutions mean anything more serious than an expression of righteous opinion. In short, the Second International never took the question of self-determination seriously. Its vision did not go beyond the narrow limits of the European countries. It believed in the “civilising mission” of European imperialism. When the carrying out of this mission brought in its train brutalities which could not be overlooked, the Second International squared its conscience by passing a resolution. But it never challenged imperialism as such. Had the resolutions passed by the Second International during the last twenty years been anything more than a collection of sweet phrases, the colonial policy of the British Labour Party in office would not be what it is. The politics of Mr. MacDonald, as Prime Minister, stand condemned by the utterances of MacDonald, the Socialist. The Second International never meant to approach the question of self-determination from an angle of vision different from that of the bourgeoisie. Therefore, at the first instance that its most influential section came face to face with the problem, the hypocrisy of its position is exposed.
In some quarters, however, the professions of Mr. MacDonald and his colleagues did arouse hope which has now been dashed to the ground by his action.
Mr. MacDonald wrote much about India. Although nowhere in his writings is to be found anything that can be construed as a commitment to the cause of Indian independence, his professions of sympathy and friendship were so profuse that they could not fail to make him rather a popular figure in Indian Nationalist circles. Mr. MacDonald visited India twice. Once as a simple member of Parliament, in 1910, and then three years later as a member of a Royal Commission to examine the possibilities of reforming the Public Services. On both occasions he expressed himself very sympathetically towards Indian aspirations. In fact, his first visit made him so popular in India that as a sop to the popular feelings he was appointed on the Royal Commission. After his first visit he wrote a book called “The Awakening of India,” which soon incurred the displeasure of the colonial rulers, and was promptly prohibited entry into India. When Mr. MacDonald became the Prime Minister, his book was still under the ban. It was a curious situation: the Prime Minister considered to be an enemy of the Empire! This curious situation appealed to the sense of humour of the Indian Nationalists, but Mr. MacDonald himself chose to overlook obviously in the interests of the Empire.
In the newly-elected Indian Legislative Assembly it was asked if the Government was aware of the fact that a book of the Prime Minister was proscribed in India. The Government naturally was placed in a very queer position. It came out of it with the aid of some extremely lame excuse. After some days of delay the government informed the Assembly that there was no such order on record. So, without committing itself and without establishing a precedent in favour of “seditious literature” entering India, the government of India avoided the duty of declaring the Prime Minister an enemy of the Empire. How disastrous would it have been otherwise! All the guarantees given by Mr. MacDonald and his colleagues as to the safety of the Empire in the hands of the Labour Party would have been challenged by this single act!
The Indian Nationalists defended Mr. MacDonald’s right to free opinion against the attacks of his own subordinates, even after he had sent his memorable message to India on the eve of his coming to power. Mr. MacDonald wrote that infamous message to insinuate himself into the good graces of the British bourgeoisie. In writing it he not only forgot all his former profession about self-determination but voluntarily bartered away his Indian admirers. The most significant fact is that that message, which could have been sent by any representative of British Imperialism not excluding Lord Curzon, was not written under the “exigencies” of office, under which the vital planks of the Labour Party in home politics have been rejected, but before Mr. MacDonald became Prime Minister—even before his advent to office was a certainty. In other words, he sent that message when he was engaged in the task of forming the invisible coalition with the Liberals. The latter demanded that he must make his position as regards India clear. He must prove that there would be no weakness on this point during his regime. It was true that he has not written or said anything that could be construed as against the maintenance of the Empire. But his irresponsible talks had raised high hopes in India. These hopes should not be encouraged, particularly at the moment when the Nationalists were threatening to create a deadlock in the government by Parliamentary opposition. The imminence of a Labour Government stiffened the attitude of the Nationalists who counted in their ranks not a few personal friends and many an admirer of the would-be premier. The Liberals point out to Mr. MacDonald that his loose talk about self-determination had been taken too seriously in India and that a halt should be called. If he was ready to sacrifice his Indian admirers, he could count upon the Liberal support. In order to prove that he had not meant anything serious in his previous talks, Mr. MacDonald sent the message to India, as it were, to show that the Labour Party might talk of self-determination in leisure hours, but in the moment of action it could shake the mailed fist in the defence of the Empire just as well as any bourgeois party. Therefore, Mr. MacDonald reminded his Indian friends and admirers that no tampering with imperial hegemony would be tolerated by his government. But what was after all the threatening demand of the Indian Nationalists against which Mr. MacDonald roared so majestically?
It should be remembered that the general elections took place simultaneously in Great Britain and in India. According to the same laws of democracy and constitutional government, which made it possible for Mr. MacDonald at the head of a minority party to form the Cabinet, the Nationalists in India ought to be entrusted with the administration of the country. In fact, they are in a better position. In the Central Legislature the newly-formed Nationalist Party (composed of the Right wing that broke away from the National Congress and the Left wing of the Liberal bourgeoisie) possesses a clear majority by virtue of which it has repeatedly defeated the government practically on every question. But the Government sits tight in its place: and Mr. MacDonald, as the head of the Empire, sanctions this flagrant autocracy, all his professions of democracy, self-determination and constitutionalism notwithstanding. These Nationalists entered the pseudo-parliamentary institutions granted by the Government of India Act of 1919, which Mr. MacDonald glorified as the Magna Charta of India following in the footsteps of his bourgeois predecessors, in order to fight the autocratic government on the parliamentary ground. It was quite a constitutional position to take. We should think that such an eminently respectable and posivitively harmless method of political warfare would not fail to receive the approbation of Mr. MacDonald. But it was not the case. It was precisely against this programme of parliamentary opposition that the anathema of Mr. MacDonald was hurled. He declared that the tactics of parliamentary opposition in India was unconditional and even “revolutionary,” and shook his mailed fist at those who proposed to adopt these tactics, following the traditions of the British Parliament. Even Mr. Gladstone did not consider Parnell a revolutionary, nor did Mr. Baldwin lock Mr. MacDonald up in the Tower of London when he led the Labour opposition against the Tory Government.To appreciate properly to what an extent the Labour Government has violated all codes of democracy and constitutionalism, which are its articles of faith, it is necessary to take a retrospective glance at the political situation in India during the last decade and to have a picture of the present condition of the Nationalist Movement.
In the darkest days of the imperialist war, the British Government bought the support of the Indian bourgeoisie with the promise for a “new spirit in imperial relations.” Had not the loyal assistance of the Indian people been assured, the extensive campaigns in the East could not have been carried on and the consequence might have been disastrous. Believing in the promise of Asquith, the Indian bourgeoisie heartily helped the British authorities to secure by force this valuable loyal assistance when it was not voluntarily given. So, although rather indirectly, the Indian people contributed plentifully towards the noble cause of the war for democracy, and as such they are entitled to a share in its spoils. But they were not even given what was promised to them. The British Government rewarded the Indian bourgeoisie with some concessions in the economic field and with a shadow of political right granted exclusively to the upper strata of the propertied classes, namely, the big capitalists and landlords. The scheme was to drive a wedge in the ranks of the Indian bourgeoisie. The signs of a widespread popular discontent, in consequence of the intensified exploitation during the war and the high prices that, followed, are already in sight. It was to be expected that the native bourgeoisie would not willingly let such a splendid opportunity go by without exploiting it to press their demand, unless some preventative measures were taken. The most advisable step to take was to split up the bourgeoisie and thus to weaken the imminent movement. This necessity gave birth to the famous Montague-Chelmsford Reforms which were embodied in the Government of India Act, of 1919. By these reforms a mockery of parliament was given to India, the franchise extending to less than two per cent. of the population. A very complex system of bureaucracy was introduced in the administration. The object was to make a little room for the upper bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy without affecting in any way British supremacy in every important matter. The new system was called dyarchy. The Provincial Governments were made partially responsible to the Legislatures with a majority of elected members; but the Central Government, in which was vested the supreme authority in every vital question, remained totally autocratic, although the Central Legislature also contained an elected majority. The partial responsibility introduced in the provincial governments were, however, practically nominal. The Governor rules with the help of an Executive Council composed of two or three officials and a Ministry also of two or three chosen by himself from the elected members. These ministers, however, are not removable by a vote of the Legislature. This has been lately proved to the hilt. In several provinces, the government has been defeated repeatedly by the Nationalist majority in the Legislatures: votes of censure have been passed against the ministers: but not in one single case has the government accepted the verdict of the peoples’ representatives. In the Central Government, even this shadow of responsibility does not exist. This brief information about the constitution of the present Indian administration must be given here in order to indicate fully the significance of the attitude of the Labour Government. The Government of India Act of 1919 was declared by the imperialist bourgeoisie to be a landmark in the political progress of India, and it found not a few enthusiastic supporters in the Labour Party, Mr MacDonald himself being one. These very meagre reforms were conceded very grudgingly and from the beginning they have been sabotaged by all conceivable means. Now comes Mr. MacDonald to tell the Indian Nationalists that they should be thankful to imperialism for this Great Charter, but should not insist upon its fulfilment. This is exactly what he and his colleagues have given us to understand since they became the custodians of the Empire.
If we stop to think how moderate is the demand of the Indian bourgeoisie, it becomes clear how atrocious is the attitude of the Labour Government. The self-determination demanded by the Indian bourgeoisie is only the right to a small share in economic exploitation and political administration. In the beginning the Reform Act satisfied practically all sections of the Indian bourgeoisie. Had the government been less miserly in giving that beggar a dole, the non-co-operation movement which shook the country in the years following might possibly have been averted. But the government was mortally afraid of the brewing mass discontent which was an echo of the revolutionary tempest that swept the world in the aftermath of the Great War. Having placated the bourgeoisie, it desired to crush this discontent with an iron hand. The measures taken for this purpose meant taking away many times more than what had been given under the Reforms Act. A commission, presided over by an English judge, was set up to inquire into the causes and possibilities of the “seditious” movement. The commission, as was expected of it, submitted a report in which it was declared that there existed in the country a widespread revolutionary agitation. The report was concluded by two projects of law which would place the entire country practically under martial law for a number of years. The agitation begun against these projected legislations soon revealed to the lower strata of the bourgeoisie the sources of a new force which hitherto had never been brought to bear upon the Nationalist movement. The constitutional agitation was readily responded to by the discontented masses, and, before the leaders had been aware of it, the movement grew too big to be contained within the narrow limits of protest meetings which passed resolutions. The industrial discontent, on the one hand, assumed the shape of a gigantic strike movement which swept the country: on the other hand, agrarian grievances were expressed through a revolutionary peasant movement which at one time came very near to a peasant revolt. The first stage culminated in the Amritsar massacre.
In those bloody days the British Labour Party had nothing but a few pious words to say. In a manifesto issued over the signatures of several leading British Labourites more concern was expressed for the safety of British women and children in India than for the lives and liberties of the Indians. A new era of constitutional advance, opened with such a blood baptism, has been found by the British Labour Party quite befitting with the doctrine of self-determination.
Hence the “reforms” granted by the Government of India Act of 1919 were very limited in their scope; they did not fully satisfy the lower strata of the Indian bourgeoisie. The latter desired something more, but by themselves were too weak to press their demand. Therefore they reconciled themselves to the situation and gave their adhesion to the Reforms Act in the beginning. So much so that the very men like Gandhi, Nehru, Das, etc., who subsequently headed the non-co-operation movement and some of whom to-day are leading the Nationalist agitation in the Legislature, declared themselves in favour of the Reforms. They even went so far as to accept the clause which conferred upon the Viceroy the right of certification – a clause which subordinated the whole reformed constitution finally to the autocratic prerogative of the colonial proconsul. According to this clause, the Viceroy could pass a certain measure over the head of the Legislature or reject one passed even unanimously by the parliament. The fact that even this was swallowed by the Indian bourgeoisie showed how modest was their aspiration. But the spontaneous growth of a great mass movement changed the situation. It split the bourgeoisie, one faction standing firmly by the government, the other placing itself involuntarily at the head of a gigantic revolutionary agitation.
Then followed the famous non-co-operation movement led by Gandhi. The history of this movement is more or less known and need not be related here: nor can it be done within the compass of this article. After a rather spectacular career that lasted for three years, the movement collapsed more owing to its own reactionary socio-economic tendencies and political contradictions than under government prosecution, which, nevertheless, was also severe. One point, however, must be made clear. It is this. Although large revolutionary elements went into the composition of the non-co-operative movement, its programme and the demands put forward by the leaders have never been of a revolutionary nature. For example, it never stood for separation from the Empire. On the contrary, Gandhi has always been and still is a partisan of British connection. If the revolutionary aspects of the movement became objects of government persecution, they were no less sabotaged, condemned and disowned by the leaders. In fact the revolutionary possibilities of the non-co-operation campaign were ruined by the moderate character of the leaders. Now even this movement, which sacrificed itself on the altar of pacifism, so dear to Mr. MacDonald, and which valiantly struggled against and ultimately killed the revolutionary tendencies in its organism, failed to win the approbation of the British Labour Party.
Col. Wedgwood and Ben Spoor, who are the Indian experts of the British Labour Party and who have expressed more radical sentiments on this matter than any other of their colleagues, visited India during the heyday of non-co-operation. They attended the Indian National Congress at Nagpur (1921) when the non-co-operation programme was adopted. On his return home, Col. Wedgwood expressed himself against the non-co-operation movement and warned the Indians to go slow. In spite of it, he has been looked upon in India as the prospective Labour Secretary of State for India under whose regime self-government would be conferred upon the people of India. This again shows how easily the demands of the Indian bourgeoisie could be satisfied much: but for even this degree of self-determination prove too much for Mr MacDonald. He has declared war upon India.
The non-co-operation programme was divided into three parts which corresponded to the three social elements that went into the composition of the movement. The strength of the movement was in its mass character and in the fact that for the first time in the history of the Indian Nationalist movement, the working class actively participated in it. The masses being the backbone of the movement, that part of the programme which hinged on militant mass action was the most vital part of the programme. But in spite of the mass character of the movement, its leadership was in the hands of the petty bourgeoisie reinforced by a large element of opulent intellectuals who socially and ideologically belonged to the big bourgeoisie, but strayed into the ranks of the non-co-operation movement, hoping that with its help they would be able to wring more concessions from imperialism. In course of time the vital part of the programme, the part calling for militant mass action, was pushed to the background and the other parts corresponding to the spirit of the two bourgeois elements came into prominence. Consequently, the whole movement was placed upon an untenable basis. The economic aspect of the programme consisted of the impossible boycott of British goods and the reactionary attempt to revive backward modes of production, while on the other hand, in the political sphere, the success of the programme depended entirely upon the will of the element that had strayed in the movement from the camp of the big bourgeoisie. The political programme was the boycott of the Legislatures set up by the Reforms Act, boycott of law courts, and boycott of schools. Of this triple boycott only the first was successful, because the first elections to the Reformed Councils took place in 1920, while the non-cooperation movement was pushed ahead by a tremendous upheaval of mass-energy. But this boycott was the first fatal mistake of the movement. It left the field clear for the government. The Legislatures were filled with the representatives of the loyalist landlords and the big bourgeoisie. In other words, the leadership of the Nationalist movement permitted the government to sabotage the Reforms without any serious obstruction.
In course of time the non-co-operation movement went on losing all political importance in proportion as it severed its connections with the masses. By the end of 1922 the National Congress left the government alone and was engrossed in an internecine quarrel. The two bourgeois elements had fallen apart, once the leaven of mass-energy was removed. This quarrel ended in a split, which marked the beginning of a new phase. The cry was to rectify the mistake of 1920. The petty bourgeoisie, who had stood at the head of the non-co-operation movement, was opposed to this new tendency, since it was sure to push them into the background and throw the big bourgeoisie again in the forefront of the Nationalist movement. But separated voluntarily from the masses, thanks to their reactionary character, they could hardly hold their own against the radical intellectuals who were much more advanced politically. So the section of the upper bourgeoisie, that had strayed into the non-co-operative movement, repudiated the boycott of the Legislature and did not hesitate to split the National Congress on this issue. They easily carried the day. The three social elements, that went into the composition of the non-co-operative movement, fell asunder. The most advanced and conscious one, namely the element hailing from the upper bourgeoisie, returned to their spiritual fold. The second split, therefore, undid the previous one that took place in 1920 after the introduction of the Government of India Act and under the pressure of a great mass upheaval.
Five years after the inauguration of the “new era” Indian bourgeoisie stands today determined to make the best of the “constitutional reforms.” And by an historical accident it has fallen upon a Labour Government to fight them. The first touch of reality put Mr. MacDonald to the test and he was found to discard his profession of self-determination without much ado.
The Nationalist bourgeoisie contested the elections of 1923 with the avowed object of demanding self-government. They declared their intention of backing up this demand by all parliamentary means available under the circumstances. They threatened to obstruct the functioning of the government by creating a deadlock if their demands were not granted. For various reasons the Nationalists won more seats than they themselves expected. Though only in one province they got a clear majority, in practically all the importance provinces as well as in the Central Legislature, they acquired a substantial minority. The main cause of this unexpected success was that, owing to the economic development taking place in the last several years, the bourgeoisie today requires a more vigorous representation than could be provided by the Liberals who accepted the Reforms Act and stood faithfully by it when the government sabotaged it all the time and by every conceivable means. The new Nationalist Party reflected the political and economic aspirations of the bourgeoisie much more energetically than the old Moderates who proposed to gain self-government by stages. This fundamental reason aided by many circumstantial stimuli sent strong Nationalist groups in the Legislatures. Consequently a stiff fight was to be expected in the parliamentary field. The situation was the most acute on the advent of the Labour Government. On many a previous occasion Mr. MacDonald had expressed his sympathy for the demands put forth by these parliamentary nationalists. There was nothing revolutionary in their programme. What was demanded was quite within the limits of self-determination as interpreted by the Second International. It was the right of the bourgeoisie to determine how the natural resources and the man-power of the country should be exploited. But the British bourgeoisie had staked its claim prior to that of the sons of the soil. Therefore, the otherwise legitimate demand of the Indian bourgeoisie could not be admitted so easily. The fact that the would-be Prime Minister had formerly sympathised with Indian aspirations for self-government naturally encouraged the Nationalists who, therefore, were in very high spirit. The British government considered this a rather ominous sign. Mr. MacDonald was evidently taken to task for this when he was angling for Liberal support. Therefore, to reassure the British bourgeoisie on the one hand, and disillusion the Indian nationalists on the other, he sent his message to India. In this message he thundered:
“No party in Great Britain will be cowed by threats of force: and if any section in India are under the delusion that this is not so, events will very sadly disappoint them.”
It was not necessary to wait for other events. The message itself was enough for the purpose of disappointing Mr. MacDonald’s friends and admirers in India. The most remarkable thing of the whole episode is the total unwarrantedness of it. Mr. MacDonald set up a ghost of his own imagination in order best to demonstrate his heroic determination to defend the Empire. In composing this message Mr. MacDonald had his own scheme. He was quite aware of the possibility that this would lead to some unpleasant criticism even from the ranks of his own followers. It would be asked: what about the right of self-determination? He manufactured the bogey of the “threats of force” to justify his position. He would argue: “I am not against self-determination. I am against use of force.” But who on earth, ever talked of force in India? In fact, none has sacrificed so much for pacifism as the Indian bourgeoisie. They killed a splendid movement for the cult of non-violence. Now comes Mr. MacDonald to say that the followers of Gandhi were meditating the overthrow of the British Empire forcibly. Let us examine if there were any element of force in the programme and the demands of the Indian Nationalists.
The very fact that the Nationalists participated in the elections proved that they accepted the Government of India Act as a settled issue. Nowhere in the speeches, writings, resolutions and manifestoes of the Nationalists is to be found any challenge to the Empire. What was expressly demanded is the end of the bureaucracy, when the demand was the most extreme. Often the demand was much more moderate. There is not one leading Swarajist who has not on innumerable occasions deprecated the use of force and declared his faith in constitutional methods. The political demand of the Party, as stated in its programme, was Dominion status. None of the party leaders is any more revolutionary than Mr. MacDonald. In fact, there are a few among them who are his political disciples (except for his Socialism).
Now, what are the tactics that they proposed to adopt in order to realise this very moderate and highly constitutional demand? In one word it is parliamentary opposition. The plan was as follows: as soon as the Councils assemble the Nationalists would introduce a number of demands. If the government rejected these demands they would adopt the policy of consistent obstruction by voting against every government measure. In this way they would create a deadlock in the Councils and force the government to consider their demands. It indeed requires a very long nose to smell “threats of force” in this plan of purely parliamentary action.
In the beginning Mr. MacDonald might have seen red. He might have taken the Nationalist parliamentarians of India on their face value. He might have thought that they were going to overturn the Empire. But subsequent events have proved that nothing could be more moderate and constitutional than the demands of the Indian Nationalists. Has Mr. MacDonald been any more sympathetic towards these moderated demands? Has he made any gesture to prove that he has not altogether forgotten what he said previously about Indian aspirations? In short, has he made the slightest effort to meet the Indian Nationalist half way? Has he given any reason for us to believe that he has not totally repudiated his pet doctrine of self-determination? None of these questions can be answered in the affirmative.
The first demand of the Indian Nationalists was a resolution asking for the release of political prisoners or at least a fair trial for those held indefinitely in jail. The government refused to release the political prisoners on the plea that there is a widespread revolutionary organisation in the country inspired and directed by Communists abroad. It also intimated that the men held in jail without trial are arrested for their connection with the agents of the Communist International. Of course, the government could not make a cleverer move to disarm the Nationalists who are no fonder of the “Bolshevik agents” than is the government itself. They did not press the question any further; but the resolution was carried. The government looked upon the matter as an expression of opinion which in no way bound it. What is the crime of these “Bolshevik agents” after all? These men advocated that the Nationalist movement should not neglect the interests of the workers and peasants, and that the latter should organise for the defence of their own economic interests. If this is “Bolshevism,” then the British Empire to-day has a Bolshevik Government. Taking a leaf from his predecessors’ book Mr. MacDonald tells us that the Indian masses require the protection of the British Government. What sort of protection is it which does not permit the most rudimentary signs of working class movement?
After the Labour Government came into office, the Viceroy of India declared in opening the New Legislative Assembly that he would continue to rule India with a firm hand. He challenged the Nationalists. He also talked of the Communist activities and the danger resulting therefrom. Finally came the statement of the new Secretary of State from India, Lord Olivier. In this statement the Indian policy of the Labour Government was formally formulated. The Labour Government backed up the attitude of the colonial pro-consuls. Lord Olivier roundly refused to entertain any proposition to grant further measures of self-government until the Reforms Act has been given a fair trial. It is stipulated in the Reforms Act that not later than ten years from the inauguration of the reforms a Royal Commission should be appointed to consider the grant of further measures of self-government. The sum total of the Nationalist demand has been that a Round Table Conference of the government and the spokesmen of the elected members should be immediately called to consider the possibility of this further grant without waiting the full term of the specified ten years. Lord Olivier categorically declared that such a conference was out of the question. In India the resolution of self-government brought in by the Nationalists was stoutly opposed by the government.
This resolution, which was so resolutely opposed by the Labour Government and the Indian Government, was as tame as it could be. It was so moderate that even the left wing of the Liberals, who had all along stood loyally by the Government, made common cause with the Nationalists. In fact, the resolution was moved by one of them. The Government of India Act was not challenged: only some re-adjustment of relations was requested. Even this failed to fit in with Mr. MacDonald’s notion of self-determination. But in the face of a united opposition of the Indian bourgeoisie, it was not possible to continue inflexible for ever. The opposition has been beaten down for all practical purposes. Now a little weakening could be shown. The Government of India magnanimously informed the Legislature that, without committing itself to any fundamental change in the present constitution, the promise for a departmental enquiry could be given. This is, then, the right of self-determination that has been conferred upon India by the British Labour Party.
Now let us see what sort of protection the Labour Government gave to the Indian workers. 150,000 textile workers have been locked out in Bombay for more than two months. The obstinate attitude of the employers caused the struggle. In the last five or six years, the Indian mill-owners had made fabulous profit. Now the trade is reaching normal level, so the rate of profit must be lowered. The owners do not want their pockets to be hurt. They desired to pass the burden on to the bent shoulders of the workers. The payment of the annual bonus of a month’s wages was suspended. This led to a strike which was replied to by the employers with a general lock-out. From the first day of the lock-out the government sent armed forces to guard the mills: but when requested by the Labour leaders to do so, the governor refused to intervene in the conflict between capital and labour.
The only thing that stands to the credit of the Labour Government is the release of Gandhi. This act of grace was, however, forced upon the government. Besides, there is a deep scheme involved in it. If the Labour Government remains long enough in office, we may expect it to call an Indian deputation to London. Gandhi would be very helpful at the head of this deputation. He is too saintly to forget an act of kindness, and could be depended upon to go back empty-handed, but with a full heart to call upon the Indian people to cultivate brotherly love with the imperialist rulers. Mr. MacDonald’s profession of self- determination will then easily be converted into his passion for Imperial Federation. But he will not have the satisfaction of performing this inglorious task.
The bankruptcy of the programme of the Second International in European politics was exposed by the debacle of the German Social Democrats. The Labour Government in England will have very little new to add on that count. The utter hypocrisy of its humanitarian professions has now been demonstrated by the action of the British Labour Party. The peoples of the colonies cannot have the right of self-determination unless war is declared upon Imperialism. But the stalwarts of the Second International talk of self-determination in theory and become the defenders of Imperialism in practice.