History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1941-1951 - Vol. 4

By Noreen Branson | Go to book overview

6
WARTIME STRUGGLES
FOR COLONIAL FREEDOM

Since its formation, the party had always been involved in struggles for colonial freedom. The subject was treated as a matter of importance at the 1942 conference and at each of the wartime congresses held later.

In 1939 the British Empire covered about 550 million people: one quarter of the human race. Of these, only 70 million white people were self-governing. They lived in Britain or in the Dominions: Australia, Canada, New Zealand. Of the non-whites, much the largest number about 400 million – were in India. The remaining 80 million were in parts of Africa, the West Indies, Burma, Ceylon, Malaya and so on. All of these countries were subject to British rule and though, in some cases, there was a pretence that ‘self-government’ was on the way, in actual fact moves in this direction had been cosmetic.

This was demonstrated in the case of India where, during the 1930s, elections to provincial assemblies had at last been permitted. At these elections, the Indian National Congress, a body fighting for independence, had achieved a sweeping victory. But the powers of these assemblies were severely limited and India continued to be governed from the centre under a ‘Viceroy’ appointed by the British Government. When the war broke out, India was declared to be at war with Germany without any consultation with representatives of the Indian people. The Indian National Congress reacted by asking the British Government to apply to India the principles of liberty and national independence for which it claimed to be waging war. This request was rejected. So, in October 1940, the congress embarked on a civil disobedience campaign – whereupon almost all its leaders, including Nehru, were arrested; by May 1941, there were 20,000 people in prison for their advocacy of the Congress cause.

In August 1941, Prime Minister Churchill and the United States

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