Asia after the War

By Lajpat Rai

[The Independent; August 22, 1917]

Events are developing so fast and unexpectedly that any prediction about the war has become risky. The Revolution in Russia, for example, has upset all calculations about the after effects of the war. The area involved is every day increasing. From Europe and Asia and Africa the war has come to America, and the whole world is now engaged in the gigantic conflict. The man must be bold indeed who can confidently predict how it is going to end, and how the map of the world is going to be redrawn after it is over.

That the war is going to make great changes in the political, economic, and social conditions of the world, in ethical values, and in moral standards, any fool can see. And it may also be safely said that the idea of democratic control is going to receive a tremendous impetus, and that Asiatic countries will witness momentous changes in their political status. Moreover, that Japan will be the greatest gainer goes without saying. She has made huge profits, and her army and navy are intact. She is building up a merchant marine which, after the havoc caused in the Allied marines by the German U-boats, might easily rank first among the marines of the world. The financial prosperity brought by the war is bound to give an impetus to domestic reform. What has so far stood in the way of domestic reform in Japan was its financial dependence, in the case of war, on foreign countries. The advocates of internal reforms could easily be silenced by the cry of danger from without and the necessity for unity against the foreign peril. With all her rivals weakened by this war, with Russia a republic, with the fear of foreign aggression almost removed, the Japanese reformer will be able to press his demands for internal improvements more effectively than he could before. The proletariat will demand a share in the prosperity brought by the war, and, unless the Japanese Government creates a situation which will necessitate Japanese patriotism being concentrated on the foe outside, it will have to meet popular demands for change at last halfway. The Russian Revolution will also strengthen the hands of Japanese politicians who are opposed to a policy of aggression and annexation in China. With the fear of Russia eliminated, Japan can have no further justification for active and extended interference in China.

China requires time for consolidation and reconstruction, and if the foreign Powers of the world will leave her alone, neither forcing her to take sides in the war nor compelling her to concentrate all her energies on the mere preservation of her national life, she probably will report good progress towards rehabilitation. Every time there is trouble in China it can be directly traced to foreign interference. China is not in a condition to take sides. She ought to be left to herself and allowed a breathing space to rebuild herself. Recent events all but confirm this view.

Coming to India, we find that the war has affected the country immensely. Her contribution in man power was recently fixed at 1,100,000 men—at a meeting of the Indian Legislative 'Council at Delhi. Her money contribution to England during the war alone approximates $1,000,000,000. This is in addition to the other help which England has had from India in equipment, labor, medical contingents, etc. The movement for the democratization of the government has advanced with rapid strides. All racial, social, religious, and caste differences have been sunk, and the demand for an autonomous form of government has been put forward with a unanimity and force which has compelled attention. A scheme for post-war reforms is said to have been drawn up, though it has not so far seen the light of day. A home defense force is being organized, in which the educated section of the country, hitherto denied enlistment in the army, has been invited to join. An industrial commission has been appointed to make inquiries as how best to develop the home industries. For the first time in the history of British rule in India was the latter allowed participation in the deliberations of an Imperial council sitting in London. This participation was in no way on democratic lines, as the delegates were not elected by the people or by the Legislative Councils of India, but nominated by the Government. Their reception in England and at the conference was, however, cordial. Promises of an autonomous form of government in the distant future are no doubt vague and more or less shadowy, but the importance of Indian participation in the Imperial councils of the future has been recognized in principle. A representative ruling prince who was selected to represent India at the Imperial War Conference has made it clear that the princes of India are not only not opposed to the British government of India being democratized, but that they are eager that the step be taken at an early date. The speeches made by the Maharajah of Bikanir in this connection have removed many misconceptions.

Thus the wind has been taken out of the sails of the reactionary Jingo Imperialist, though nothing has been done to remove the fear of the nationalist that all this may only end in smoke, as it has so often done in the past. Yet one thing is certain—that after the war conditions in India cannot remain what they are now. The nationalists are active and the country is awake. An important section of the British politicians sympathize with their aspirations, and the movement has gone too far to be arbitrarily put down without risk and danger to the Government itself.

The Russian Revolution has removed the incubus from Persia. If the British are true to their word and their declared policy of letting Persia develop on her own lines, she may be able to put her house in order and develop her government on democratic lines. So far one can read the future with a-certain amount of probability—but no farther. What is going to happen to Turkey and Arabia is known only to the gods. The Allies will make a great mistake if they plan a complete and final extinction of Moslem power in the world. The Moslems are so unlike the "mild Hindu" (though even the Hindu is no longer so very mild) that a policy of extermination will rouse them to unity and consolidation, with almost certain disaster to European domination in Asia. If the Allies are true to their own aims, they should be willing to let the people of Asia organize their own governments on their own lines, with such restrictions only as may be absolutely necessary to impose in the interest of the orderly progress of the world. One thing, however, may be noted. Asia is awake, and will not submit to an arbitrary, despotic exploitation of herself by others, whether political or economic. The interests of world peace require that the legitimate aspirations of the Asiatics to manage their own affairs and live their own lives should be respected by all sincere democrats the world over.

The United States has a noble part to play in making the world a universal democracy. It is not enough to make the world safe for existing democracies only. But what is necessary is a general rule of democracy all the world over. That is possible only if the present racial prejudices die out and the right of every people to live its own life and manage its own affairs is recognized more in practice than in theory. The world has had enough of theories. What is wanted, and wanted soon, is practice—righteousness in political relations at home, and righteousness in international relations abroad.

New York City.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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