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On 13 April 1919, at 4.00pm, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer led a contingent of 50 troops through a narrow passage into the walled garden of Jallianwala Bagh, a stone’s throw from the Golden temple in Amritsar, Punjab, British India, where he had learned that a public meeting was in progress, in defiance of British orders.
The meeting, held on the day of India’s spring festival, Vaisakhi, had attracted a large crowd of 20-25,000 from Amritsar and the surrounding villages. They were hindu, sikh and muslim; men, women and children. Speeches were being given, denouncing the repressive Rowlatt legislation, the arrest of local political leaders and the recent British shooting upon unarmed crowds, which had taken place over the preceding days not only in Amritsar, but throughout Punjab and across India.
Without pausing to listen, and without any word of warning to those assembled, General Dyer gave orders to his troops to form ranks and then, within 30 seconds of entering the garden, to fire. His troops shot their Lee–Enfield .303 repeating rifles with murderous effect, directing fire towards the thickest points of the surging crowd. They did not pause until they had exhausted their ammunition, discharging 1,650 rounds.
The assembled crowd of British subjects had nowhere to run, their exit being barred by their assailants. Upwards of 1,000 were murdered, and over a thousand more fell injured. A curfew was swiftly imposed preventing the relatives of the injured from recovering their dead and wounded relatives, who were left to swelter, suffer and bleed in the 40C heat.
Reporting his actions to his superiors, Dyer was to write: “I fired and I continued to fire till the crowd dispersed, and I considered that this is the least amount of firing which would produce the necessary moral and widespread effect it was my duty to produce if I was to justify my action. If more troops had been at hand the casualties would have been greater in proportion.
“It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but one of producing a sufficient moral effect, from a military point of view, not only on those who were present, but more specifically throughout the Punjab.”
In the face of criticism, Dyer was not only supported by his superiors, the British administration in India and the British House of Commons, he was lauded as a hero of the empire and a collection was taken up in his honour.
One hundred years on, we remember the Jallianwala Bagh massacre as a stain on human history; not as an exceptional or aberrant crime, but as a representative act of British colonial cynicism and racist arrogance, exemplifying the crimes that the wealthy are prepared to commit against the dispossessed in order to reinforce and extend their obscene wealth.
The Rowlatt bills, the Amritsar massacre and the martial law in Punjab that followed were a slap in the face of the Indian people, who had sacrificed so much to back the ‘imperial mother country’ in WW1, and had expected at least an increased measure of self-governance in return.
The wanton mass murder of a peaceful and defenceless crowd raised the Indian masses to consciousness of their subject and inferior status, and, for that reason, signified the beginning of the end for the British Raj in India. The Indian people found their fitting reply to this barbarous massacre in the heightened tempo of the freedom struggle and their ultimate independence.
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre is a crime, like the Bengal famine, of such magnitude that it cannot be wiped clean by a mere apology, however insincere and hypocritical the words would be on the lips of Britain’s current prime minister. But it is not for her benefit, or for the benefit of the Indian people, but rather for the benefit of the British workers that such an apology would be most useful, even today.
It is a shame to say that British workers have almost no knowledge – and therefore no care – for these events, so seminal in the making of their own history.
We believe that in order to build an egalitarian society in which all can realise their potential, we must cast out our ruling class, whose vast capital and power remains suffused with a brutal imperialist culture of racist arrogance, which persists to the present. Their cruel cynicism is reflected in in all our government’s policy decisions, which serve the capitalist elite and attempt to dig their banks and industries out of the world economic crisis at the expense of the mass of the working people – in Britain and across the world.
While many have quietly given up ‘grandiose’ schemes to address the ills of the oppressed classes and peoples, the neocolonial countries and impoverished masses of the world, we in the CPGB-ML remain committed to socialism, which we understand can only be won by revolutionary means – by a mass movement of the workers themselves. Despite all reverses, we believe that such a movement is not only possible but an urgent necessity.
As we look back, 100 years on from this crime of the British ruling caste, and drawing inspiration from the freedom struggles of India, of Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh, of the Russian and Chinese peoples, we remember that oppression breeds resistance, and that no tyranny can withstand the force of history – the force of a united and determined people when they set their minds to throw off the shackles of slavery.
With this in mind, the Stalin Society strives to help create the conditions for a broad and effective anti-imperialist and socialist movement. We must fight fiercely against all those who directly and indirectly spread the influence of imperialism in the working class: against communalism, racism and other forms of identity politics that serve to keep working people divided and subject. Our future lies together.
Join us to mark the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. A presentation to the Stalin Society by Comrade Rango of the CPGB-ML.
The Jallianwala Bagh (Amritsar) massacre
About the society
The Stalin Society was formed in 1991 to defend JV Stalin and his work on the basis of fact, and to refute the capitalist, revisionist, opportunist and Trotskyist propaganda directed against him.
Stalin’s name is synonymous with communism, the October Revolution, and the overthrow of capitalist exploitation and imperialist tyranny. For this reason, the international bourgeoisie have spearheaded their attacks on working and oppressed peoples by slandering Stalin and the Soviet Union.
They have employed a variety of tactics to this end over the last 90 years, but have been guided to a large extent by dissidents who betrayed the Soviet people, most notably Leon Trotsky. The powerful US-based Hearst press, sympathetic to Hitler, was a pioneer in these methods, but the rest of the capitalist world’s media and political elites have not lagged behind.
All welcome to this meeting who are genuinely interested in the content, ready to listen respectfully to the speaker and wishing to take part constructively in the discussion that follows.