Workers Vanguard No. 1048

13 June 2014


Correction on Indian Stalinists, Congress and World War II


7 June 2014

Dear Comrades,

I liked Trotsky’s 1939 “An Open Letter to the Workers of India” that you ran in the last issue alongside the front-page India article. However, I think the opening sentence of your introduction to that letter is inaccurate. It says: “With the outbreak of World War II, India’s bourgeois-nationalist Congress Party and its Stalinist sycophants lined up behind ‘democratic’ Britain.”

Britain entered India into the war without even a pretence of consulting its colonial subjects. Congress leaders were initially divided on support to Britain in the war. On the right wing of the party, Gandhi’s position was for unconditional support to Britain, but the “left” wing represented at the time by S.C. Bose was “in favour of an all-out war on British imperialism” (Communism and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1939-1945, D.N. Gupta). But when the Congress Working Committee met in September 1939, Gandhi was not able to win the Congress leadership to his position. Nehru came up with a compromise position between those of Gandhi and Bose. Essentially, it made Congress’ support for the British conditional on a promise of some degree of independence after the war. I think the following statement from our article on the Quit India movement accurately sums up the Congress position. It says:

“For its part Congress’ formal position was that its support to the war was conditional on being granted independence from Britain. What this boiled down to was ‘demanding’ some concessions in exchange for producing cannon fodder for the imperialist war effort. Then, emboldened by Britain’s difficulties as Japan advanced through the Pacific and into Burma and cognisant that they might soon need to deal with another imperialist overlord, Congress went from conditional support to open opposition, seeking to force a settlement with British imperialism.”

—“Stalinist Alliance with Churchill Betrayed Indian Revolution,” WV No. 970, 3 December 2010

With growing sentiment among the masses for independence, and Britain refusing to give an inch, in August 1942 Gandhi launched the Quit India movement. During the war, many Congress leaders were jailed by the British. By contrast, Jinnah and the Muslim League supported Britain unreservedly throughout the war.

As for the Stalinists of the Communist Party of India (CPI), they certainly were slavish in support of “democratic” Britain, but not at the outbreak of the war. Again, as we said in the above article:

“During the period of the Stalin-Hitler pact the CPI as all the other parties of the Comintern (which would be formally liquidated by Stalin in 1943) denounced the ‘democratic’ facade of the British imperialists in their war against Germany…. But when Hitler’s ‘Operation Barbarossa’ was launched against the Soviet Union in June 1941 and the wartime alliance between Britain and the USSR was sealed, the Comintern instructed another sharp turn to the ‘People’s War Against Fascism’ and all-out support for the war effort in the imperialist countries and their colonies.”

Comradely greetings,
E. McDonald