A Freedom article dated December, 1945 denouncing British intervention in Indonesia and Indo-China on behalf of Dutch and French colonialism and calling for solidarity and internationalism among workers. Reprinted in Neither East nor West: Selected Writings 1939-1948.
Our War Minister, Mr. J. J. Lawson, chose the moment British marines, soldiers and airmen were shooting down the people of Southern Asia to pay respect to the British soldier:
It has been said that the British soldier is the best ambassador we have. I think he is better than most ambassadors. By the peculiar nature of his tasks, the British soldier is in some directions a genius. He has certain gifts of his own. He always seemed to make people laugh. I have never known an ambassador who could make people laugh.
The soldiers of the Labour Government of Britain are not ambassadors of laughter. Java is bombed by rocket-firing Mosquitoes and troops are concentrated at key points “ready for anything”. Indo-China is submitted to military rule; Indian demonstrators are fired upon.
The man directing Britain’s foreign policy, Ernest Bevin, who declared at the Conference of the Labour Party in 1939: “I am anxious to prevent the Labour Movement fighting for the preservation of the Paris Bourse, the London Stock Exchange, and Wall Street”, is not only asking British soldiers to die for those Big Three, but also to defend Dutch interests in Indonesia.
Let us remember once again the Big Lie , the principle of the Atlantic Charter, which says “Britain and America respect the right of all people choose the form of government under which they will live, and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.” Millions of people have died thinking they were defending that principle. Now men and women who dare to inscribe that principle on their banners are shot down by the “defenders of democracy”.
There are massacres everyday in Indo-China, India and Java. The men who sit in judgement on the murders of Lidice are ordering Javanese villages to be burnt to the ground as reprisals.
What is the crime of these “extremists”, of these “rebels”, of these “undesirable elements” and “rioters”? Pandit Nehru declared a few days ago in Lahore: “Four hundred million Indians can no longer dominate British domination. We are now very impatient to throw away the yoke of slavery. We are now terribly sick of the British Government; we say ‘go to hell’”.
“Go to hell” echo the Indian masses. “You have robbed us of our riches, you have forced our women and children down the mines.” “Go to hell” echo the Indo-Chinese people, “you are protecting French business people and officials who have starved us for generations, who have poisoned us with opium and alcohol in order to increase their profits.” “Go to hell” cry the Indonesians, “we have worked on tea and rubber plantations at starvation wage, we have been sent to terror-ridden concentration camps in the jungle of New Guinea the moment we dared to protest.”
In 1938 the profits of Dutch firms derived from their richest enterprises were over £25 million. The wages in Dutch concerns for a ten hour day ranged from two shillings and sixpence to seven and six a week. The average income of the inhabitants of the colony was a penny farthing a day. This is not propaganda put out by “extremists”, they are the figures published by the International Labour Office. No amount of bombing of Indonesian radio stations can destroy these terrible facts.
What answer does the Dutch Government give to these accusations of exploitation and oppression? There is Queen Wilhelmina’s sickening, hypocritical speech from the throne at the opening of the Netherlands Provisional Parliament:
I deeply regret the sufferings which inevitably overtakes the population of Java until order has been restored.
We are continuing to try to salvage the future of this ravaged land for the Dutch and for Indonesians – the future of a commonwealth built on voluntarily accepted solidarity of all parts of the empire.
The “voluntarily accepted solidarity” has already manifested itself in thousands of casualties among British and Indian troops and the Dutch and Indonesian civilian population.
The excuse for British intervention – that India, Indo-China and the Dutch Indies are not fit for democracy – is farcical. Is Portugal with its fake elections a democracy? Is Spain with its prisons swarming with political prisoners a democracy? Is Poland, ruled by the G.P.U.? Is Hungary, under the heel of Butcher Horthy? Yet all those countries are recognised by Britain as independent and we are proud to call Portugal our oldest ally!
The Chairman of the Labour Party, Professor Harold Laski, has condemned the policy of the Government in Indonesia and Indo-China. He said: “It makes the British claim to have been engaged in a war for democracy and freedom a hollow mockery all over South East Asia.” If this represents the view of the Labour Party why is a Labour Government ordering British and Indian troops to shoot down and bomb Indonesians and Indo-Chinese? Why is it putting the French and Dutch back in the position where they can ruthlessly exploit millions of people who have clearly shown their hatred of foreign rule?
The shedding of blood in South East Asia must be stopped. No faith can be put in the Labour Government. They have shown themselves cold-blooded imperialists like any Tory Government. America is standing aloof supplying lend-lease weapons to crush the Indonesians, but letting Britain do the dirty work. Russia, so articulate on the question of the atomic bomb, has refrained from coming out on the side of colonial people.
The only effective help has come, and must continue to come, from the workers. The Australian workers who have refused to handle supplies from the Dutch, the British seamen who refused to carry Dutch troops, have shown the way.
When Britain tried to crush the Russian Revolution, dockers refused to load the Jolly George with munitions. Bevin was with the dockers then. Our answer to him now must be in the spirit which animated the dockers of the Jolly George:
Not a soldier – not a round of ammunition – not a machine gun – not a plane for British intervention in Asia.
Originally published in Freedom in December, 1945.