Robin Page Arnot 1940

The Communist Party and the Colonies

Source: International Press Correspondence, Volume 20, no 31, 3 August 1940. Scanned, prepared and annotated for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

One of the greatest obstacles to the emancipation of the British working class has been the fetters that tied it to the Empire, the identification of its interests with those of the imperialist ruling class. One of the greatest weaknesses of the Socialist Parties of Europe was found in their attitude to the national question; which in the question of the colonies became particularly obvious. From this it has been the task of the Communist Party of Great Britain and of the Communist International to rescue the labour movement of Britain and of the other countries.

Already, in the nineteenth century, Marx said of England’s oldest colony – Ireland – that a nation which oppresses others cannot itself be free. Later, Engels was pointing out the effect of Britain’s monopoly of the world market and the colonial market upon the British labour movement, but at the same time prophesying that once the colonial monopoly was broken the working-class movement would develop.

With the development of imperialism, the latest stage of capitalism, in the twentieth century, the ruling class, from its super-profits of colonial exploitation, was able to spare crumbs to the upper section of the labour movement; and their representatives, the reformist right-wing leaders, began to argue on behalf of the maintenance and extension of the whole Empire system of exploitation.

In 1900 Bernard Shaw wrote his booklet Fabianism and the Empire in which the policy of the ruling class in the South African war of 1899-1902 was justified. The German Social-Democrats, a little later, began to argue that since European powers like Germany were so much more advanced in capitalist development than the states of Asia or Africa, therefore the extension of the colonial plunder of the big powers was actually an ‘advance’.

Against this, in 1907 at the Stuttgart International Socialist Congress, the left wing of the International were able to defeat those, including Ramsay MacDonald, [1] who wished to recognise the ‘civilising mission’ of capitalism. But so insidious was the influence of the reformists that nearly 20 years later one of the followers of Ramsay MacDonald, the Rt Hon Tom Johnston, [2] ignorantly arguing in the public press that while he agreed with the Stuttgart resolution, he nevertheless interpreted it to mean the maintenance of the British Empire as a political power for good. So that the more clear it was that one end of the chain of imperialism was laid upon the people of this country, the more efforts were made by the reformists to gild the chain and to claim that it was not a chain of slavery but a bond of amity, justice and what not.

Against this degradation of the labour movement, against this perversion of Socialism into support of imperialism, the Communist Party of Great Britain has fought from its very beginning. It has put forward the teachings of Marx and Engels as developed in the era of imperialism by Lenin and by Stalin (whose writings on Marxism and the national and colonial questions have been circulated mainly by Communists), and has steadfastly fought against the poison of opportunism, and of White chauvinism inside the labour movement. In this it had a tremendous task and was not immune from mistakes: but the error made in 1927-28 in not realising that imperialism always treats colonies as an agrarian appendage and never forwards their industrialisation, was speedily corrected with the help of other parties at the Sixth World Congress in 1928, the correctness of whose thesis, drafted by OV Kuusinen, was confirmed a hundred times by the facts given in RP Dutt’s India Today [3] published a few months ago.

But the struggle of the party for the very soul of the British working class was shown from the earliest.

In the resolution to the Sixth Party Congress in 1924 it stated:

The Communist Party in conference assembled greets the workers and labouring masses throughout the colonies and dependencies of Great Britain now struggling for freedom and independence. Their cause is our cause. The division amongst the oppressed masses is a source of power to the oppressors. Only the united forces of the enslaved masses of the colonies and dependencies with the wage slaves of Great Britain can secure victory...

This Congress, therefore, renews its pledges of solidarity with the struggling colonial workers and promises the fullest possible assistance in the development of their struggle for freedom. It appreciates it as an immediate duty to denounce and expose the treacherous conduct of the Labour Government in this country. This government has since its accession to office not merely allowed but actually excused and condoned the shooting down and massacre of colonial workers. Thousands of workers are in gaol in Egypt and India and the Labour Government does nothing. Not only that, the Labour Government actually initiates the persecution of the pioneers of Communism in India and Egypt, in order to make the Communist Party in India and Egypt illegal. The Congress sends its fraternal greetings to those workers in gaol and struggling to set up a working-class movement in the colonies, and pledges itself to render every possible assistance in their work.

In these last ten years the differences within the Second International between the reformist right wing, corrupted by imperialism, and the left wing, the revolutionary Socialists, representing the true interests of the working class, is now clearly seen in practice. On the one side, the Labour Government of 1929-31, keeping the trade-union leaders of India fast in their Meerut gaol, [4] savagely repressing the great wave of Indian struggle in 1930-31, and since, as a tame opposition, saying ditto to the proposals of Tory politicians, so that everyone knows there is no difference for the colonial peoples between the Labour Party and the Tories in practice.

The culmination is that, when Labour representatives are well inside the Churchill government, then it becomes possible to try ‘appeasement’ on Japan and to institute ‘non-intervention’ against the Chinese people.

On the other hand, look at the victory of scientific Socialism, of the Marxist-Leninist solution of the national-colonial question. The liberated nationalities that are joining the Soviet Union, the colonial peoples whose culture in the Socialist content and national shape is leaping forward by centuries in a single decade, holding out an inspiration to the mass of mankind, and showing the path to be followed.

See the growth of Communist Parties in the colonies and movements for national liberation. In the record of the Communist Party of Great Britain, in its growing influence on the British labour movement, lies the hope of a successful common struggle of the colonial masses and the British working class against the common enemy, the ruling class of the British Empire.


All notes have been provided by the MIA.

1. James Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937) was a founder of the Independent Labour Party and subsequently leader of the Labour Party during 1922-31. He was a Labour MP during 1906-18, 1922-31, and a National Labour MP during 1931-37. He was Labour Prime Minister during 1924 and 1929-31, when he became Prime Minister of the first National Government, resulting in his being expelled from the Labour Party.

2. Thomas ‘Tom’ Johnston (1881-1965) was a Labour MP in various Scottish constituencies during 1922-31 and 1935-45, and Secretary of State for Scotland during 1941-45.

3. Rajani Palme Dutt, India Today (Gollancz and Left Book Club, London, 1940).

4. In March 1929, 31 people were arrested in India on conspiracy charges, most of whom were Indian trade-union activists, and two were CPGB members assisting them. An interminable and farcical trial took place in Meerut, and in January 1933 the defendants were given tough sentences. A lively international campaign led to their being freed on appeal or their sentences reduced.