THE RAJ AND THE REICH
It is noteworthy that a very controversial Conservative Minister in the British government, Michael Portillo, in early 1995 compared one-time British government in India - the so-called 'Raj' - with the Nazi regime. This view is evidently held by quite a number of Indians too, particularly those living within India, including educated persons. While some comparisons can be made, such as to racial attitudes and economic profiteering from the populations of annexed territory - and even direct support of slavery in both instances, I shall illustrate how both principal and practical differences between the two regimes were very great, so that the comparison is really highly misleading as a general standpoint.
The fact remains that British rule in India was largely rule with an iron fist, even though it may most often have been in a velvet glove. Before the arrival of the East India Company, the existing states in India were often very aggressive towards each other, and the brutality was often extreme. The military violence employed by the British was hardly excessive compared with what had been an done by Indian rulers for centuries. As an conquering and occupying power, the British East India Company were largely free from legal control from Britain and could virtually make their own laws to subdue, divide and rule these states and their peoples. These laws were made just as draconian as the demand for control of India's resources, draining its economy for huge profits and ensuring the ascendancy of the British white man demanded. Though relations between the British and the existing rulers and their subjects varied considerably in earlier centuries, when racialist attitudes were evidently much less prominent and widespread, the laws and behaviour of the British came to be founded and practiced strictly on a racialist basis, especially after the so-called 'Mutiny'. The British lived more and more as an isolated ruling caste, with all too widespread disdain and hardened attitudes towards most peoples in the sub-continent. This is perhaps the chief similarity with the ideology of the Third Reich, the British thought and behaved as a 'master race' towards their subordinates.
Among the many sins of the British was the recruitment under false pretences and promises of Indian workers to labour in their other colonies in Africa and the West Indies. Their exile was permanent as they could not get the means to return to India and were exploited thoroughly - bonded labourers under virtual slavery in all but name, often held in their places by systems of unjust debts. This was a major population shift that created the world-wide Indian diaspora today.
Many of the the forms of slavery under the British in India were taken over from their Indian predecessors - the maharajas, other rulers and zamindars - and were sometimes ameliorated, as far as local traditions and the caste system allowed. The kind of serfdom practiced by landowners and industrialists was virtually endemic to the caste system and social organisation, which is shown by the fact that it still exists on a massive scale in India today, after about 65 years of independence. No impartial observer who knows both countries would deny that the human rights situation in most of India today just does not compare for liberality and justice with that in Britain. The only area of relative comparison is the Northern Ireland situation, which bears some general similarities to the Kashmir problem, the Naga and other tribal problems and partly also the Sri Lankan Tamil problem. However, only a handful of I.R.A. terrorists may have been shot out of hand by special forces, which - unlike the vast majority of similar and worse cases in India - was brought to litigation according to the law.
The exploitation of child labour also existed in India before the British and still exists on a huge scale in India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh. On the subject of slavery, one should remember that, though Britishers were once active as slave-traders among people of many other nations - it was the British Empire that first abolished international slavery, following the lead of William Wilberforce and the magnificent exertions in Africa to obviate the slave-trade of Dr. David Livingstone.
The forced labour 'concentration camps' of Nazi Germany, which were really mostly forced labour death camps and often sheer extinction centres, went much further than those the British had introduced in South Africa during the Boer War, officially to concentrate the civil population in controllable areas. The truth about British camps has however been carefully concealed from the public and new startling facts emerged in the 1990s. Due in part to the work of Emily Hobhouse, it has long been widely known in South Africa but only recently in U.K., that 28,000 Boers died while in such confinement, yet unknown until recently is the fact that there were at least 86 camps for blacks. The Boers themselves and historians generally denied or ignored the participation of blacks against the British. But from State archives opened after the emancipation of South Africa in the 1990s, it now emerges that about 26,000 blacks also died in these camps, of which 81% were children. Terrible as this was, it can hardly be compared either quantitively or otherwise, with the concentration camps of the Nazi regime, where sheer brutality, beatings, murder. medical experiements and extermination were the rule.
The truly evil genius of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, ran the concentration camps for forced labour, prostitution and liquidation. The Norwegian researcher Kristian Ottesen as informed officially by the German authorities that there had been 1,632 registered concentration camps! Who can say what was worse: the terrifying 'Nacht und Nebel' ('Night and Fog') policy of 'untraceable disappearances'. Add to that the utterly terrible and thoroughly-documented medical experiments with plague, cancer, nerve gases, decompression etc. etc. on human beings - inc. women and children... often filmed 'scientifically' by the Nazis themselves. The so-called Holocaust systematically dispossessed, transported, tortured and killed over 6 million Jews, nearly all the gypsies in the occupied territories as well as the tartars, the mentally retarded, homosexuals and all remaining political prisoners of the Slavic races after most had summarily been executed by the S.S.
When Hitler heard that surviving Jews were being 'transported' (i.e. force-marched) away from camps soon to be liberated by Allied forces, he ranted and complained most bitterly - not least in the presence of his trusted man, Albert Speer, who later recorded the fact - that his officials had foiled him and could not even eliminate Jewry without bungling it.
The Nazi regime perpetrated massacres across Europe, most notably those of Poland (esp. Warsaw), Ukraine (the infamous mass extrmination of Kiev jewry at Babi Yar) Russia (SS death squads killed hundreds of thousands of prisoners after capitulation and out of in all 5 million prisoners, only 2 million survived in Nazi hands), the Balkans and also in liquidating resistors and fifth columnists in all occupied countries.
British massacres in India pale by comparison, both quantitatively and qualitatively. If one compares the Amritsar massacre with Lidice, for example, many men and women were liquidated in cold blood in both cases. But virtually the entire population of Lidice was destroyed - including children - on the Nazi Head of State's own orders, in revenge for the killing of the real brutal monster and Hitler's nominated future Fuehrer - Reinhardt Heydrich.
Amritsar was mistakenly thought to be a '2nd Mutiny' by a high-class military goon, of whom there were many but who were surely not typical of the whole Raj. Though he deserved much worse, at least General Dyer was censured by the British government. Hitler never censured anyone for their massacres of civilians, on the contrary, he motivated then applauded them!
I think the comparison of the Raj with the 3rd Reich might have more relevance if one goes further back in history to the ravaging of Mysore State and some previous annexations of other states. Yet the documentation is often a major problem in these cases. It still does not suggest atrocities like those, say, in the village of Pisk in the Ukraine, where German forces killed everyone and threw babies into open fires, or set about to eliminate entire races and classes of men.
In the massacre of Cawnpore following what the British defined as 'the Indian Mutiny', the Indian 'freedom-fighters' killed British women and children and threw the bodies down a well, filling it to the rim. The retribution later taken by the British was doubtless equally horrible, if not more so. Yet these standards of warfare had been all too common all over the world for centuries, not excluding India, if one recalls the horrific crimes committed by the Moghul invaders. To avoid such retribution then was regarded more as a sign of weakness than of mercy, and one took advantage accordingly.
The British conquest of India was not a sinister, centrally-planned undertaking, for it took place largely as part of a gradually extending 'trade war' with other European powers and mutually-warring states within India. That kind of warfare and lording it over the conquered was entirely commonplace in conflicts in the world in those times. Many of the Rajas had warred similarly for ages, and many terrible tortures etc. were practiced upon their own people and others by despots who so chose.
The conquest of India proceeded in the main according to opportunity and circumstance, such as when the mere clerk, Robert Clive, himself armed Indian sepoys to fight the French. It was certainly not backed by any such racial and warlike ideology as that of Mein Kampf, nor can even the power politics of Warren Hastings be compared to the Nazi programme, followed up by ruthless power-driven despots like Röhm, Himmler, Goering, Goebbels, Bormann and the megalomaniacal Hitler, not to mention relatively 'minor players' like Eichmann, Mengele and countless SS death squads, all systematically trained to brutalisation and a racism that aimed at "the final solution". Much is definitively known of the history of the Nazi regime, the SA, the S.S. Waffen and the Gestapo.
The Third Reich set new precedents of inhumanity, bombing of civilians, gruesome and calculated tortures and retributive killings of civilians by the Gestapo, the systematic murder of prisoners of war by the SS. These were part and parcel of the State policy, enforced by Hitler with the full backing of the Nazi Party, the SS and many (though not all) leading generals of the Wehrmacht. Hitler publicly stated, for example, that his aim was "to raze the city of Petersburg from the earth. There is no reason for the further existence of this city." More personnel were lost in the siege of Leningrad alone than by the entire Allied forces until then (20,000 forces). Hitler's forces killed 20 million Russians during the war. By comparison, for example, the bombing of Hamburg and Dresden by the Allies were part of a somewhat ill-conceived strategy for the disruption of the Reich's economy and of all the fierce armed resistance in Germany. The precedent was set by Hitler's Luftwaffe's bombing of London, Coventry and other cities and to counter the use of V1s and V2s with which the Nazis were still trying to eliminate English cities.
Albert Speer was undoubtedly Hitler's closest associate for many years, the only non-political figure given constant personal and private access to Hitler. He later became a brilliant minister of armaments through most of the war, which he himself served to prolong considerably through his competent management and his limitation of economic damage from bombing and doubling of armaments output. His monumental autobiography Inside the Third Reich (Macmillan 1970) shows how Hitler's growing and excessive mismanagement of the war came about and how his lunatic goals, when thwarted, resulted in his repeated orders up to the last for the 'scorched earth policy' in the Occupied countries and in Germany itself. Speer's efforts, above all, apparentlz helped hindered the extent of this policy and considerably lightened the Gotterdammerung (German Apocalypse) .
After his release from Berlin's Spandau
Prison in 1965, Speer wrote:
"Today, a quarter of a century after these events, it is not only specific faults that burden my conscience, great as these may have been. My moral failure is not a matter of this item or that; it resides in my active association with the whole course of events. I had participated in a war which, as we of the intimate circle should never have doubted, was aimed at world dominion. What is more, by my abilities and my energies, I had prolonged the war by many months. I had assented to having the globe of the world crown that domed hall which was to be symbol of new Berlin. Nor was it only symbolically that Hitler dreamed of possesssing the globe. It was part of his dream to subjugate other nations. France, I had heard him say many times, was to be reduced to the status of a small nation. Belgium, Holland, even Burgundy, were to be incorporated into his Reich. The national life of the Poles and the Soviet Russians was to be extinguished; they were to be made into helot peoples. Nor, for one who wanted to listen, had Hitler ever concealed his intention to exterminate the Jewish people. In his speech of January 30, 1939, he openly stated as much. Although I never actually agreed with Hitler on these questions, I had nevertheless designed the buildings and produced the weapons which served his ends."
"Hitler repeated the announcement of his intentions on January 30, 1942: This war will not end "as the Jews imagine, by the extermination of the European-Aryan peoples, but the outcome of this war will be the annihilation of Jewry."
Speer (who had himself never actually read Mein Kampf!) further informs concerning the documentation incriminating the defendents at the Nuremberg Trials (1946): "In general the authenticity of the documents presented was questioned neither by the defence attorneys nor by the defendants. Whenever a document was challenged, the prosecution withdrew it from evidence, with one exception: the Hossbach transcript of the meeting at which Hitler announced his war aims. In his memoirs, Hossbach has since confirmed the authenticity of that document."
The sheer madness of the excesses of the totalitarian ideological state of the Third Reich was therefore on a scale that far surpassed anything reliably documented about the British at their very worst (even in retaliation for the massacre at Cawnpore). These facts - and many more like them - are very widely known and appreciated in the West, not least in Germany today. Therefore, to make an actual comparison to the Raj is an exaggeration that cannot pass the muster of the facts.
The chief comparable madnesses and excesses to Nazism - if such comparisons in horror can ever be justifiable - were the USSR from Lenin to Bresjnev and Mao's rule in China, as well as Pol Pot in Cambodia. Anyone who has read The Archipelago Gulag by Alexander Solsenitzyn, will have some idea of the countless unimaginable horrors of the Soviet gulags, though even then it would be impossible to show that they surpassed the Jewish holocaust in sheer brutality and terror. The father of the Soviet H-bomb, who later became the leading Russian dissident, Andrej Sakharov, wrote some very damning tracts on the Soviet system, smuggled out in the 1970's. The autobiography of Stalin's own daughter Svetlana shows the incredibly low level of bestiality Stalin and the other Soviet leaders and the complete rottenness and inhumanity of the Soviet system from top to bottom! Many Russian writers are now at last exposing the vastnesses and terrible depths of the terror machine of Soviet Communism. No intellectual in the West can now be fooled into the slightest tolerance of the 'Soviet model', not even the most thoroughgoing anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist.
In recently published research, the leader of the Hawaiian Peace Research Institute, Rudolf J. Rummel, has shown that Stalin was responsible for around 42 million deaths, Mao for 38 million and Hitler for 21 million. There can be no doubt that the difference between Britain on the one hand and the Third Reich and the U.S.S.R. on the other is about as large as is possible in politics. The latter were totalitarian. with one party, one ideology and one state which controls the economy and society entirely, which system can only rule by terror.
There can be no comparison to speak of between Nazi or Soviet leaders during the war and, on the other hand, Chamberlain, Churchill, Atlee, Beaverbrook, Montgomery, Mountbatten etc. in any of this. The democratic values were observed both in the U.S.A. and Britain and the full support and solidarity of the peoples backed the leaders... unlike in the 3rd Reich, where there was disillusionment with Hitler, greater than came to expression through the attempted coup d'etat etc., due to the total surpression of malcontents. One must also recall that, unlike the rulers of any other major empire known to history, post-war Britain actually gave up all her 20th century colonies one by one without actual warfare. This is to be compared to similar colonial powers in that historical era: the Dutch in East India, the French in Indo-China and Algeria, the Portuguese in Africa, all of whom fought bitterly to retain power and mostly without many humane restraints.
by Robert Priddy (Oslo, Norway. 1996 - partly up-dated 2013)
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