THOSE who have devoted themselves to studying the attitude of the American people towards the issues now generally described as "imperialism" and "colonialism" will agree on the difficulty of estimating the strength of the interest which they actually possess for the public at large. But no one could avoid the conclusion that in many quarters they do arouse a serious concern. This may at times find expression in an idealism which appears to overlook the realities of the situation, or in terms which suggest that prejudices born of a distant past are being unnecessarily revived. There are occasions when it may be proper to give to arguments so based the answer they invite and indeed deserve. But those are the dialectics of the market place. They do not touch the substance of the problem. That it arouses a genuine concern among many thinking people, who are neither unduly idealistic nor unreasonably prejudiced, is a matter which cannot be disregarded by those who seek a better understanding between the United States and Great Britain -- for it is, of course, the British who fill for Americans the most significant rôle as an "imperialistic" people, and it is Britain which in their view occupies the most conspicuous position as a colonial power.

Though Britain may feel that it is not entirely reasonable that she should be singled out for this rôle, she would be illogical if she failed to appreciate the real cause for America's interest in the matter. The merits of "internationalism" have before now been an issue of purely domestic politics in America; they may become so again; and American party politics is a field from which the British are well advised to stand studiously aloof. But whatever may be the play of domestic forces which will in the end influence America's attitude on the issue of internationalism, there clearly exists today an almost universal feeling that world security can only be achieved in the future by some form of collective action among its more enlightened peoples. It is immaterial at this stage whether this is to be sought through an organization which will provide the force needed to curb aggression, or through mutual understandings as to the precautions to be taken against its recurrence. It is more important that many do not limit their view of security merely to the provision of measures against disorder. They feel that it is essential to attack the causes of insecurity -- the internal tensions arising from disabilities and inequalities within the nations themselves, and the differences in national status which have subjected weaker peoples to the political control or economic pressure of stronger or better organized nations.

The ambition to readjust these conditions takes a range so wide that it may need to be corrected by a more realistic appreciation of the problems involved. But whatever the measure of success which it may be expected to achieve, collaboration will have to be sought first and foremost from Great Britain. It is the sense of the importance of the contribution which she can make that is the fundamental cause of such anxiety as may be felt about her outlook on world affairs. The people of America are more conservative in some of their own habits of thought than they perhaps appreciate. Because Britain still retains institutions which have a "feudalistic" form, she is assumed to be controlled by ruling classes which must inevitably have a predatory outlook not only in domestic but in foreign policy. Because she has large overseas dependencies, it is assumed that alike in the desire to maintain her control over them, and in the policy of their administration, she must be swayed mainly by her economic interest in them. If all this is true, then it may affect the quality of her collaboration in the more far-reaching measures by which world security is to be achieved. The case is sometimes put in terms which would seem to assume that America herself has always been in the highest degree coöperative in world affairs, and that her foreign policy has invariably been conducted on a plane of the highest moral rectitude. But the best thought in America does not take that attitude; its anxiety regarding the coöperation of Britain in postwar policy is genuine; and it is not too much to say that it would welcome anything which would dispel it.

It is unfortunate that the American public has been unable to see the realities of British life behind the historic forms which some of its political institutions still retain. So long, however, as there is a House of Lords the mass of the people in the United States will not easily be persuaded that British policy is not controlled by "ruling classes." Yet the substance of the anxiety about the outlook of Britain does not in fact lie in the impressions formed of her domestic policies. It is even doubtful whether her attitude towards weaker but independent peoples comes into the account. With the example of Egypt and China before them, Americans find it difficult to argue that in modern times British policy has failed to show due respect to the status of such peoples. True, the position of Hong Kong still presents a difficulty; but that is a point regarding which Britain has not yet declared her final policy. India and the colonies constitute the real stumbling block.

Of the two, the relations with the colonies now appear to count less in the argument. The claim once made for the "instant liberation" of all dependencies has given place to a recognition that this would in fact be injurious to many of them. It is now more usual to find the demand that they must be given a "graded political education" which will fit them for self-government. But it is added that this must be given under a form of trusteeship in which the trustees will be free from the temptation to prolong political control by the fact that they can draw any economic advantage from its retention. The doctrine of trusteeship has long been the accepted watchword of British colonial policy, and whatever the shortcomings in the manner in which it may have been implemented, there can be no doubt that it supplied a moral standard which has had great value in humanizing administrative policy. But in the British conception, trusteeship was mainly directed to the protection of the native from abuse or exploitation. It has today a different meaning for Americans. It suggests for them a stewardship, for the conduct of which the steward must hold himself accountable to some other tribunal than his own conscience or judgment.

Whether this is to be best secured by placing the colonies under some form of direct international administration, or subjecting the controlling Powers to outside supervision, or requiring from them an undertaking as to the policy they should follow in administration, is not a point on which there seems any general agreement in America. It is probable that the British would not be averse from accepting the principle of "accountability," in so far as it is represented by the institution of Regional Councils, which would by joint deliberation seek to coördinate economic and other policies, and would make periodical reviews of the political and social progress attained by each unit. But it may be said that one of the reasons why the colonies appear to attract less general interest than India lies in the difficulty of reducing to any simple issue the problems which they present.

There are in the world some 120 units under colonial governments. They present a great diversity of physical and social conditions. They are in the hands of at least nine controlling Powers, who have differing aims for their future and follow different systems of rule. Out of a total population of over 250 millions, Britain is responsible for only some 67 millions. The British have admittedly followed the principle of promoting self-government in their colonies, and some of the more advanced areas have made very considerable progress toward attaining it. But those who feel that the tempo of advance has not been sufficiently rapid have to recognize that the introduction of the institutions of self-government presents unusual difficulties in communities which may have no common ties, no political experience, and a social organization very different from that which has elsewhere supported the structure of democracy. That the British, like any other colonial Power, derive some economic advantages from the possession of their colonies is not open to question. But in their case the advantage derived must be seen in its true perspective. With the exception of a small military contribution by three of the colonies, they make no direct payments to the British Treasury. Only about 12 percent of Britain's overseas trade is with her colonies. For over fifty years her free trade system involved the maintenance of the Open Door in colonial trade, and the introduction of a system of preferences after the last war did not mean that she created an exclusive market for her own trade with them. Only 24½ percent of the total imports into the colonies comes from the United Kingdom. That her colonies present some advantages as a field for private investment is also obvious. But here again, the extent of the investment proves to be less than had been commonly believed. The amount of the "listed" investment is estimated at $1,044 million dollars, or only from 6 to 8 percent of the total overseas British investment before the present war. None of these considerations are decisive, but they suggest complexities which make the disposal of dependencies far from a simple issue.

India, on the other hand, seems to present a relatively simple problem. The British have, indeed, themselves gone far to simplify it for the American public. As Americans view the situation, Britain announced in March 1942 her intention to give India her independence, if she so desires it, after the war, subject to an agreement between her major political groups as to the form which her constitution is to assume. But the political groups are ranged in strongly antagonistic camps, and it may be foreseen that they will have great difficulty in reaching any decision as to the form which the constitution shall take. Many Americans are therefore inclined to ask whether the more straightforward course would not be for Britain to announce now that she will withdraw from India after the war, and leave the contesting groups to find their own solution of their problem. They are, it is said, unlikely to do so, so long as Britain remains and "keeps the ring." Or is it not the fact that she expects that the dissensions between the Indian political groups will enable her to maintain her political control for a prolonged if not an indefinite period? Is not her economic interest in India so considerable that she cannot contemplate withdrawing her control over the country?

These questions may appear to take an unduly simple form, yet they are not illogical. In approaching them, the British must face one initial difficulty. Most Americans have little knowledge of the background against which Britain carried out the administrative reorganization of India in the nineteenth century, or of the stage actually reached by the political achievements of the twentieth. The significance of the administrative record lies in the extent to which it has secured the financial and economic independence of India, and has given some conception of unity to her, as a necessary preliminary to the grant of political independence. Something needs to be said, therefore, on this point. Americans are not unaware of the history of the Mogul Empire, of its stately Court, its flourishing arts, and of the great monuments which record its past glories. But they do not know so well that when the East India Company began to extend its commercial activity in India the Mogul Empire was already in disruption. Its capital, Delhi, was sacked by Afghan invaders; large parts of lower India were devastated by marauding bands of Marathas; captains of fortune were carving out principalities for themselves; on all sides there was disorder, plunder and pillage. Macaulay hardly exaggerated when he said that the task of the British in the nineteenth century was the "reconstruction of a decomposed society which knew nothing of government but its exactions."

To bring order into this scene of chaos did not involve merely the preservation of peace. There existed few of those private or non-official agencies for organizing the social or economic life of the community which have been the chief instrument of progress in European countries. There was no agency other than the British administration for the provision of systems of education, of medical and agricultural services, for the extension of communications and of irrigation, or for relieving scarcity. Courts of justice had to be created, and adapted to the usages of personal law among a great variety of peoples. It fell to the administration to survey the innumerable cultivated holdings of India, to define the titles of the individual holders, and to assess the value of their outturn for the purpose of land revenue, the main basis of taxation. The work of the administration was therefore all-pervading; and the country became largely dependent on it for much of the advance made in the organization of its life.

But such success as it met with could only be attained by securing the coöperation of Indians themselves. The military force was never large; and since its main task was to deal with the warlike tribes across the northwest frontier, the rest of India saw little of it. The European official establishment was also inconsiderable, in view of the size of the country. The superior administrative service -- the Indian Civil Service -- numbered only about 1,300, and though the technical officers were more numerous, the scale was much the same. Obviously this system could not have worked had there not been a general acceptance of its benefits and an acquiescence in the authority of the government. As independent observers have agreed, this was largely the result of two features of the system, both of which were new to India. The introduction of the "rule of law" prescribed not only that a judiciary should be created which was fully independent of the executive, but that the executive itself should be in all its official actions amenable to the Courts of Justice. Further, the administrative services were recruited on a basis which secured not only their competence, but their freedom from corruption.

But it is more important to examine the results, as seen in the India of today, than to detail the process by which they were achieved. The most significant fact is the growth of the population. It is believed to have stood between 150 and 170 millions at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but the first accurate figure is that of the census of 1872. The number was then 206 millions. It is today 388 millions. That India has been able to absorb so large an addition to its population is due partly to the increase of cultivation, and to the improved methods introduced by the department of agriculture, and partly to the extension of irrigation. Today she has the largest irrigation system in the world; her irrigated acreage is more than 22 times that under Federal projects in the United States and 10 times that of Egypt. India's outturn of wheat is about the same as that of Canada; she is the largest producer of cane sugar in the world; she ranks as one of the two largest producers of rice; and she is second only to the United States in the production of cotton.

Though some 85 percent of her population is still agricultural, she has also had of late years a notable expansion of industry. She now ranks among the eight leading industrial countries of the world. She produces over 90 percent of the cotton textiles and nearly all the steel consumed in the country, and the same is true of cement and a variety of other commodities. There are over 10,000 factories of all grades, over 80 percent of which must be owned and managed by Indians. It is even more important that this is due largely to the fact that she has since 1921 been empowered to introduce her own system of protective tariffs, and has used this power to foster the growth of her own industrial development. She has thus gained the substance of economic independence. This has been accompanied by an equal measure of financial independence. Like many other countries in similar conditions, she depended at the outset on external capital for the public works constructed by the state, and on European enterprise for the introduction of some of her major industries. The public loans raised by the government have been expended mainly on providing her 41,000 miles of railway and her irrigation systems. These are not only self-supporting but return a profit to the state, with the result that India is now in the unusual and enviable position of having practically no "unproductive" debt. As her own internal finances improved, the sterling loans raised in Britain were supplemented by rupee loans raised in India, and of late years there has been a gradual repatriation of the sterling portion of the debt by transfer to Indian investors. Today the external debt has been so far reduced that it carries an interest of only 8 million dollars, and a further reduction is in sight. British investors will no longer have any lien on the profitable assets constructed by the aid of the public loans, and India has become a creditor instead of a debtor country.

There has been a similar development in regard to investment in private enterprise. It has been recently stated that the total British private investments, both industrial and commercial, now amount only to about 1,000 million dollars, as against a total foreign investment of 12,960 million dollars before the war. In that case, the investment in India is no more than the total British investment in Argentine rails alone. Some "unlisted" investments by private firms may not find a place in this estimate, but their amount is known to have been greatly reduced by sale of shares to Indian investors. India is reaching her financial maturity far more rapidly than many independent countries.

It would not be proper to close the story here, for it has some other features which are less favorable. Though India has 18 universities and 14 million scholars in her schools, the proportion of literacy is still below 10 percent of the population. Considerable sections of the people are living on the margin of subsistence, and in times of scarcity below it. The expansion of the medical services has done much to curb epidemic disease, but the general standards of health are low. Housing conditions are bad and insanitary in many urban areas. If the upper and middle classes have standards of life which are increasingly comparable with those of some European countries, there are large masses of the population whose conditions fall very far below them.

But not all these things can be laid to the charge of the administration. Its activity has been limited by its resources. In spite of the increases made during the present war, the per capita central taxation is only $1.20; the sums available to provincial administrations for meeting expenditures of all kinds are on an average less than one dollar per head of the population. Agriculture is subjected to the caprices of the monsoon rainfall. The rapid growth of the population has brought its own problems. There is in some parts a congestion of rural population which is only comparable with that of China; and Indian custom has, moreover, led to an almost fantastic fragmentation into scattered holdings of even the smallest properties. The use of credit for the purpose of meeting extravagant expenditure on religious and social ceremonies has placed large numbers of cultivators in economic serfdom to money lenders. There is again much in Indian social habit which is an obstacle to progress. It is difficult to estimate the economic loss caused by the seclusion of women, or the physical results of the practice of infant marriage. The caste system has been as prejudicial to enterprise as it has to the attainment of social equality. No legislation can deal with the unhygienic practices based on custom, or observances which prevent a large part of the people from making use of foodstuffs available for a more balanced diet. These are matters in which reform must come from within Indian society itself.

Much that has been claimed for the administrative record of Britain in India may be admitted; but America is now interested mainly in the question of political status. It is therefore worthwhile to note how far India has already advanced toward self-government, as the result of the series of constitutional reforms which began in 1909. In the central executive, the Governor General's Council, 11 of the 14 members are Indians. The legislative assembly consists of 141 members, of whom 102 are elected by Indians. Its authority extends over all subjects which would elsewhere be described as "federal," except defense and foreign affairs. It has not final responsibility, since it is subject to the veto, but by a well-established convention the veto does not extend to legislation on tariffs or taxation. It is this convention which has enabled India to introduce the system of protective tariffs already referred to.

The 11 provinces into which British India is divided are autonomous in their own internal affairs. They have legislatures based on a franchise of about 30 million Indian voters, including women. Indian Ministers, responsible to the majority parties in the legislatures, control the executive departments of government, including those in which European officers may still be employed. The official services have now been largely Indianized. In the Indian Civil Service there are 632 Indians to 575 British. In the general administrative service the proportion is 8 Indians to one British; in the "qualified" ranks in civil medical departments, 13 Indians to one British, and in the higher grades of engineering departments, 14 to one; and in the higher judiciary the proportion is 10 Indians to one British.

Here there is a near approach to self-government, though it is admittedly not complete. The veto remains, and the Governor General and Governors have certain "reserved" powers for the protection of minorities, the final preservation of order and the like. Nor does this system apply to the whole of India. The Indian States, comprising some 23 percent of the population of India, have control in their own territories. They are in treaty relations with the Crown, and in their internal affairs are not subject to Indian legislation.

It is doubtless to the continuation of this political system, or to a logical projection of it, that the British would look in the event of a failure by the Indian political groups to arrive at the agreement envisaged by the declaration of March 1942. How far is it possible that economic considerations will lead Britain to desire to retain the measure of political control which this system gives her? India makes no payment to the British Treasury. The sterling debt contracted by her has practically been liquidated; the private investments of the British in India now make but a small part of their total overseas investment. The convention which allows India to fix tariffs for the protection of her own industries has already borne heavily on the British manufacturer, and in particular on the textile industry, once the mainstay of Lancashire. In the years 1909-14, some 63 percent of Indian imports came from Britain; they stood at only 30 percent in 1938. In the same year the British trade with the Union of South Africa exceeded that with India by 12 million dollars and that with Australia by 8 million. Clearly the economic stake of Britain in India is less than has been supposed, and the retention of political control would do little to improve the position.

The connection with India has undoubtedly been profitable to Britain in the past. It is still of value today, though not of that dominant value which has been supposed. But the British can claim on their part to have given to India an ordered administration, a sense of national consciousness, the substance of economic and financial maturity. They have brought her within a measurable distance of full self-government. They may now legitimately ask whether it is not to the advantage of India that they should give the political groups an opportunity to combine in some form of constitution which promises a stable government, rather than that they should leave India in the state of dissension and instability, and probably of armed conflict, which would follow their immediate withdrawal.

The gulf between the contesting groups is now admittedly far more pronounced than in the past. There always has been a latent antagonism between the great religious communities, and in the past this at times took the form of violent disturbances. These, however, were local and sporadic. That the communities are now openly ranged in opposing camps is largely due to the substitution of a political for an administrative régime, in which the British held the dominant part and kept the peace. The introduction of democratic institutions, which place a minority under the legislative and administrative control of a majority, has found India still preoccupied by sectarian divisions which are an obstacle to the working of democracy. Yet the position is not necessarily intractable. The educated men of this generation are showing themselves far more interested in the amelioration of social conditions than in making politics the battlefield of sectarian issues. Industrial labor is organizing itself on lines which do not acknowledge religious divisions. India, no less than China, has proved to be capable of rapid change, and the adjustment of the communal differences which now stand in the way of her attainment of political independence may be nearer than many are inclined to believe.

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  • LORD HAILEY, for forty years a British official in India; Governor of the Punjab, 1924-1928; Governor of the United Provinces, 1928-1934; Director of the African Research Survey, 1935; Member of the Permanent Mandates Commission, 1935-1939
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