“... we must not forget that these idyllic [sc. Indian] village-communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath traditional rules, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies. We must not forget the barbarian egotism which, concentrating on some miserable patch of land, had quietly witnessed the ruin of empires, the perpetration of unspeakable cruelties, the massacre of the population of large towns, with no other consideration bestowed upon them than on natural events, itself the helpless prey of any aggressor who deigned to notice it at all. We must not forget that this undignified, stagnatory, and vegetative life, that this passive sort of existence evoked on the other part, in contradistinction, wild, aimless, unbounded forces of destruction and rendered murder itself a religious rite in Hindostan. We must not forget that these little communities were contaminated by distinctions of caste and by slavery, that they subjugated man to external circumstances instead of elevating man the sovereign of circumstances, that they transformed a self-developing social state into never changing natural destiny, and thus brought about a brutalizing worship of nature, exhibiting its degradation in the fact that man, the sovereign of nature, fell down on his knees in adoration of Kanuman, the monkey, and Sabbala, the cow.So who was it?
England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.”
None other than Karl Marx in this source:
Marx, Karl. 1853. “The British Rule in India,” New York Daily Tribune, June 25, 1853.Today it would be regarded as extremely politically incorrect, but that doesn’t worry me, since I don’t have much respect for political correctness.
What does interest me is this:
(1) for all his sympathy with the plight of suffering people in India, Marx was clearly saying that (1) the worldwide communist revolution required the sort of social and economic breakdown in India that he also described in this article, and that (2) British imperialism was unwittingly bringing this about and that in the grand communist scheme of things, it was a good thing. How is this not apologetics for British imperialism?To make my position clear, I think British rule in India was a terribly mixed bag.
(2) as a pure counterfactual argument, let us assume that the Western European powers of Marx’s time had become communist, how then would the communist revolution have been achieved in the non-Western world? For example, say that Britain had been taken over by communists in 1848–1850. Such a government would have inherited the British East India Company’s rule in India. Would a British communist government have set India free or imposed direct British communist imperial rule in India? If the latter, what would a communist British Empire have looked like?
The outstanding problems were these:
(1) British rule brought about the de-industrialisation of large parts of India, as I have shown here.However, would communist rule have been better or even worse?
(2) British incompetence, callousness and fanatical adherence to laissez faire brought about quite preventable famines in late 19th century India, as shown by Mike Davis in his book Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (2001).