Friday, June 14, 2024

India To-Day. (1931)

From the June 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from May Issue.)
''India   is   now   one  of  the   eight  most important  industrial   areas   in   the  world" (Simon Report, page 23).                                 
India's industrial importance is the basis of the present strife there. The conditions of the workers in the industrial centres are admitted by all to be terrible, but endeavours are being made, with some success, to direct their discontent into a channel that will not interfere with the continued accumulation of the huge profits that are being made out of their industry. The Nationalists and the Imperialists each seek the support of the Indian worker for their particular brands of exploitation.

Connection with Western culture and Western markets has gradually taught the more fortunate of India's millions the essentials of capitalist enterprise. Native Indian capitalists have acquired large fortunes and have gradually taken a more and more important part in the exploitation of India's resources and of their fellow-countrymen, and they now thirst for unshackled political dominion.

India is predominantly an agricultural country, but its size and population are so huge that the industrial portion, though only just over 10 per cent. of the whole, has an important effect on world industrial relations. The total population is 319 millions, of which 32½ millions belong to the towns.

Bombay and Calcutta, each with a population of over a million, are at present the two principal industrial centres, but other towns are rapidly rising to challenge them in industrial importance.

Bombay is the greatest centre of cotton spinning and weaving in Asia, and the trade and industry of the city are now predominantly Indian. In fact, the pioneers of the textile manufacturing industry were Indians and the first mill was set up by an Indian. The textile industry was originally built upon yarn of low grade, as Lancashire monopolised the trade in higher quality cloths. China and the Far East had supplied India's market. Of recent years the Japanese have gradually captured this trade, mainly by means of the cheap products of their Chinese mills. The Bombay mills, therefore, turned over to the manufacture of cloth. In the new trade, factories also arose in the interior of India, at Ahmedabad, Sholapur, and Nagpur. These new factories offer serious competition to Bombay and tend to expand at its expense. As one writer puts it : "These conditions explain why Bombay, struggling for its life, is the centre of the industrial politics of India." It may be added that India is the largest single import market in the world for cotton textiles. Owing to the native and Japanese grip on the India market, the lifting of the boycott will not go far to restore Lancashire's lost trade.

Calcutta, in Bengal, is the centre of the jute industry. The Bengal production of jute is so great that India holds the virtual monopoly of this trade. Originally the trade was in the hands of Europeans, but most of the share capital of the jute mills is now in native hands. This is also true of the tea gardens of Assam and elsewhere, which were first established and developed by the British. They are now carried on side by side with many that are Indian-owned. In fact, all over India, commercial enterprise is failing more and more into Indian hands.

The iron and steel industry offers yet another important example of native progress. The native-owned Tata Iron and Steel Company, founded by J. N. Tata (a Bombay Parsee who made a fortune in the cotton mills of Bombay and Nagpur), built a steel city in the jungles of Northern India near the coalfields of Bengal and the port of Calcutta. The works produced at full pressure during the war, supplying the essential needs of India and the armies which fought in Egypt, East Africa, and Mesopotamia. Its products are exported to Pacific markets as far east as Japan. British and native steel now divide the home market, but native steel is steadily gaining.

From the above it will be seen that industrial progress is pushing forward rapidly in India and that its principal requirements are being met more and more by the products of native industry. This being so, the native manufacturers are offering greater opposition to the competition of foreign concerns, and more particularly the British competitor who seeks to use his political ascendancy to further his economic interests. Where the natives secure a tariff against the foreign importer, the British firms demand and obtain preferential treatment.

The Indian demand for dominion status or independence rests on the economic interests of the native capitalists. The basis of the British opposition has been briefly put by the Manchester Guardian as follows :—
There are two chief reasons why a self-regarding England may hesitate to relax her control over India. The first is that her influence in the East depends partly upon her power to summon troops and to draw resources from India in time of need. This power will vanish when India has Dominion status. The second is that Great Britain finds in India her best market, and that she has a thousand millions of capital invested there.—(December 30th, 1929.)
It will be noticed that the grounds for and against Indian independence have no connection whatever with the general well-being of India's millions, yet the protagonists on each side pour forth idealistic phrases by the shoal to induce the belief that the special interest of each is a movement for "spiritual and moral'' uplifting. The furtherance of capitalist exploitation has always been bolstered up with similar nebulous nonsense.

There are a multitude, of economic interests involved in India, some of which cut across each other. We can only mention a few of them to illustrate the complexity of Indian affairs.

The most important element is the native Indian manufacturer, faced by severe competition of the highly organised Eastern and Western industries, who demands protection. He sees Indian products being-shipped abroad, to return manufactured and sold in competition with his own goods.

Many native merchants have amassed considerable wealth and have built up extensive selling organisations in India. For long they have been dependent upon the agents of British firms. They now want freedom to make direct foreign connections and cut out the cost of and dependence upon .the middlemen.

Foreign firms, on the other hand (particularly Japanese and American), are establishing their own selling organisations in India and endeavouring to cut out the native merchant altogether. This, together with foreign competition and the development of hand weaving in the villages, supplied the enthusiasm for the boycott of foreign goods, and the sudden cult for village-made cloth, etc.

The educated Indians (the "intellectuals"), who have shared professorships, judgeships, etc., want to keep their lucrative connections. On the other hand, they see a tendency to open these professions to a larger group of people than formerly. Educated Indians (whose education has been obtained at considerable cost) find their number accumulating at a far greater rate than the openings for employment. Consequently, as a mass, they are changeable. Those who have security in the Government service want a continuance of the British occupation; those who cannot get a job, favour the other side; those who are in and out, divide their support accordingly. The recent constitutional reforms give more scope to this group and promise opportunities of a political career. On the other hand, some see in Indian self-government still greater opportunities for employment and advancement. This explains why they are probably the most vocal and most fickle element in Indian politics.

There is a large body of natives that act as agents for importing firms. Where there is little danger of the business being taken out of their hands by direct representatives, they favour a continuance of the old regime.

There are also, of course, the wealthy Indian Princes, who still draw enormous revenues from India and are dependent upon the British occupation for a continuance of their lazy and luxurious modes of living.

Another considerable element in the situation is the conflicting interests of British merchants themselves. The following quotation from No. 11 of "Studies in World Economy," issued by the Carnegie Endowment, will make the position clear:
The large British trading companies in India typically are influenced less by sentiments of nationality than by commercial considerations. Many of them claim to be, and are, strictly international in their trade policy and outlook. It is for this reason that considerations of profit rather than of nationality determine their actions. British officials have frequently called attention to the fact that American manufacturers often have been able to use British houses of established influence to promote the trade of American manufacturers because the American exporter was able to enlist the service of the British house by offering larger commissions, by sending auxiliary salesmen and technical experts, and, in general, by providing greater opportunity for profit than was furnished by manufacturing exporters in the United Kingdom. (Page 149.)
Over 70 per cent. of the Indian population draw their sustenance from the soil. The peasant problem, therefore, has a considerable influence in some directions on the course of affairs. The demands of the peasants for manufactures are few, but there are so many millions of peasants that the aggregate of these demands amounts to a considerable proportion of India's total needs. The vast majority of the peasants live in debt to the moneylender. Their household requirements are supplied by a shop or two in the village, whose owners frequently provide the first market for village produce and add to their earnings by moneylending. Rises in prices immediately affect their demand for goods owing to the fact that the "standard of living is at the very margin of subsistence " (page 158, "Studies in World Economy"). Their small holdings do not provide them with occupation for more than half their time, and consequently they provide the manufacturing districts with a floating supply of labour.

The peasants want their small supplies of manufactured goods at the lowest prices (the foreign product, as a rule), and they want to be free to sell their produce with out the restriction of export duties. In these ways their interests are opposed to Nationalism. On the other hand, they urgently want a reduction in taxation (particularly the removal of the salt tax), and the Nationalist movement for village-made cloth has enabled numbers of them to use their unoccupied time and supplement their meagre earnings by weaving. How little the peasant is really stirred by Nationalist aspirations may be gathered from the following remarks of Lajput Rai, a leading Indian Nationalist : —
The desire for political independence, the sense of shame and humiliation born of being a subject race, of being a political pariah, must, from the nature of things, be confined largely to the educated middle class. Even the mass could not be expected to take a very deep interest in the movement for political independence. Their ignorance, their illiteracy, but most of all the hard struggle they have to carry on for barest existence, prevents them from devoting time or thought to the question. Their time and thought are given to the fight against hunger and want, against disease and distress, against misery and wretchedness. They are easy to please. A slight act of kindness or of consideration makes them happy. They are easily confused on fundamental issues. (Young India, page 31.)
The group we have now to consider is the spectre that haunts the deliberations and celebrations of both Nationalists and Imperialists—the Indian working class. The Indian working class has arisen so recently and is still so much influenced by village associations, that clearness of outlook cannot be expected from it yet. The conditions under which the workers live and work resemble England in the middle of last century. Housing conditions are abominable; 70 per cent. of the tenements of Bombay are classified as single rooms. Their relations with their employers, both native and foreign, have been marked by disastrous strikes. The employers in their unrestricted desire to extract the utmost from the workers have made determined efforts to smash the unions, and there have been bitter conflicts in the. Bombay mills, the Tata Iron Works, on the railways, and elsewhere. As the smashing of the workers' organisations for defence involved too much, an effort is being made to convert them into harmless associations which will eternally bargain (and lose) with the employers—hence the attempt to introduce the Whitley idea into India.

The native Bombay employers have made huge fortunes out of their native workers and they do not want Indian Nationalism to interfere with the continued exploitation of the Indian worker. Their fellow native employers in other industries are at one with them on this point, and their henchmen, the educated professional men, etc. (Lajput Rai's "Middle Class"), are seeing to it that capitalist interests are protected in their programme for independence. The most advanced of the Nationalist programmes, where it refers to the workers, only aims at bringing Indian industrialism into line with modern methods adopted in the more advanced capitalist countries. 

Limitations of space compel us to curtail our further remarks, but before concluding we will quote from an illuminating reply of Gandhi's to a reception given him by the Trade Union of Ahmedabad. From this. it will be seen that Gandhi's sentimental outbursts  are  not born of particular interest in the  Indian worker : —
Your work is making you known throughout the world. The members of your Union are jealous of their rights and are prepared to lay down their lives for them, but their leaders, who guide them, have no ill-will against the capitalists. In their welfare and their power you see your own welfare and power. That is the secret of your strength. Outside people cannot understand your position. They have thought of capitalists and working men as exploiters and exploited. All capitalists, according to some, are born ogres. But there need be no such inherent antipathy between the two. It is an erroneous notion. If the capitalists are apt to be proud of their wealth, the working men are apt to be proud of their numerical strength. We are liable to be swayed and intoxicated by the same passions as the capitalists, and it must be our prayer that both may be free from that passion. I feel that no class war poisons the relations between the millowners and the working men in Ahmedabad. I hope and pray that the present cordial relations may be maintained between them.

. . . . . . . . 

But I do not want to deceive you. I must warn you that I do not bear any ill to the capitalists. I can think of doing them no harm. But I want, by means of suffering, to awaken them to their sense of duty, I want to melt their hearts and get them to render justice to their less fortunate brethren. They are human beings, and my appeal to them will not go in vain. The history of Japan reveals many an instance of self-sacrificing capitalists. — (The Indian Labour Review, April, 1931, p. 19.)
No wonder Bombay mill owners gave dinners to Gandhi !

The foregoing brief review of the position will give some idea of the welter of conflicting interests in India, but, apart from the peasants and workers, they are in agreement on one basic fact—that the Indian worker shall be exploited. The point of contention that is the centre of the turmoil is—Who shall be the exploiter?

To the Indian worker it matters not a jot whether he is exploited by Hindu, Moslem, or foreign capitalists. The Irish have secured a measure of independence, but the Irish worker is exploited just as of yore—only the exploitation has been more intensified. And so would it be with the Indian worker. The interests of the workers all over the world are identical, and opposed to the interests of the capitalists, national and international. When the Indian workers have learned this lesson, they will cease to be led into the blind alleys of Nationalist movements and will concentrate their attention upon the throwing off of capitalist domination, native and foreign.                                 

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