Did Moscow play fraud on Marx?–IV
Marx welcomed British conquest of India
By Devendra Swarup
QUITE naturally, with this adverse view of India’s social and religious systems, Marx was ready to welcome any effort to overthrow them and he saw the British conquest of India in that light. In his view England was “causing a social revolution in Hindustan, …..Whatever may have been the crime of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution” (Historical Writings, p. 597). He was happy that “these small stereotype form of social organism have been to the greater part dissolved…” and in his view the dissolution of “these small semi-barbarian, semi-civilised communities, by blowing up their economic basis” has “produced the greatest, and, to speak the truth, the only social revolution ever heard of in Asia.” (ibid, p. 596). He was overjoyed to see that “England has broken down the entire framework of Indian society, without any symptoms of reconstruction yet appearing. This loss of his old world, with no gain of a new one, imparts of particular kind of melancholy to the present misery of the Hindu and separates Hindustan ruled by Britain from all its earlier traditions, and from the whole of its past history.” (ibid, pp. 592-93).
Quoting a poem of German poet Goethe, Marx expresses his conviction that any crumbling of an ancient world must be accompanied by some torture and bloodshed. (p. 597).
Marx does not see in the British conquest of India a catastrophe or an act of imperialist exploitation, rather he welcomes it for two reasons. One, it is India’s destiny to be invaded and conquered. Marx is convinced that “…the whole of her past history, if it be anything, is the history of successive conquests she has undergone. Indian society has no history at all, at least, no known history. What we call its history is but the history of successive intruders, who founded their empires on the passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging society, (ibid, p. 598). And for these foreign invasions and conquests, India has to blame herself not the invaders because, Marx believes, “A country not only, divided between the Mohammedan and Hindu, but between tribe and tribe, between caste and caste, a society whose framework was based on a sort of equilibrium, resulting from a general repulsion and constitutional exclusiveness between all its members. Such a country and such a society, were they not the predestined prey of conquest?” (ibid, p. 598).
For Marx, “the question, therefore, is not whether the English had a right to conquer India but whether we are to prefer India conquered by the Turk, by the Persian, by the Russian, to India conquered by the Britain.” (p. 598). And, of course, Marx stands for conquest by Britain, because, he says, “Arabs, Turks, Tartars, Moghuls, who had successively overrun India, soon became Hinduised, the barbarian conquerors being, by an eternal law of history, conquered themselves by the superior civilization of their subjects.” (ibid, p. 599) (Here Marx is contradicting himself because earlier he had painted a very degenerate, stagnant picture of the Hindu society.) Exhibiting his Euro-centric approach Marx says: “The British were the first conquerors superior, and therefore, inaccessible to the Hindu civilization. They destroyed it by breaking up the native communities, by uprooting the native industry, and by levelling all that was great and elevated in the native society.” (ibid, p. 599).
In fact, in Marx’s view, “England has to fulfill a double mission in India, one destructive, and the other regenerating—the annihilation of old Asiatic society and laying the material foundations of Western society in Asia.” (ibid, p. 599). For him, the introduction of steam had brought India into regular and rapid communication with Europe… and ‘the day is not far distant when … that once fabulous country will thus be actually annexed to the Western world.” (p. 600)
Marx gives us a list of works of regeneration begun by the British rulers in India. They are:
a. political unity—“Unity imposed by the British sword, will now be strengthened and perpetuated by the electric telegraph.” (p. 599)
b. creation of the native army
c. the free press
d. introduction of steam and railway, and above all,
e. emergence of an English educated class of Indians.
Describing this class, Marx writes: “From the Indian natives, reluctantly and sparingly, educated at Calcutta, under English superintendence, a fresh class is springing up endowed with the requirements for government and imbued with European science (p. 600). Here, Macaulay is speaking through Marx. Sometimes it is difficult to separate an Europhile imperialist from a ‘revolutionary’ Marx. When Marx says: “The introduction of rail roads… will afford the means of diminishing the amount and the cost of the military establishments.” (ibid, p. 601) is he not supporting the military rule of Britain?
Perhaps, out of his intense hatred for Indian civilization and pride for Western civilisation, we find Marx—the ‘rational’ and ‘revolutionary’—speaking the language of a Christian missionary. Castigating the British government for not propagating Christianity in India, Marx says: “While they combated the French Revolution under the pretext of defending ‘our holy religion’, did they not forbid, at the same time, Christianity to be propagated in India and did they not, in order to make money out of the pilgrims streaming into the temples of Orissa and Bengal, take up the trade in the murder and prostitution perpetrated in the temple of Juggernaut? These are the men of Property, Order, Family and Religion!” (ibid, p. 604).
Marx believed that “the railway system will… become in India, truly, the fore runner of modern industry. (ibid, p. 602) and “Modern industry resulting from the railway system, will dissolve the hereditary divisions of labour, upon which rests the Indian castes, those decisive impediments to Indian progress and Indian power” (p. 602). Again, time has proved Marx a false prophet, because expansion of railway network all over the country during the last one-and-a-half century, has instead of obliterating the institution of caste, only strengthened it.
To sum up, Marx’s perception of India in 1853, just before the 1857 Revolt, was:
* India’s social, economic and religious institutions based on village communities and caste are stagnant, semi-barbaric and decadent. They ought to be destroyed completely.
* India’s economic system resting on agriculture and cottage industry should be dissolved and give way to modern large-side industrialization.
* Inferior Asiatic civilization must be supplanted with the superior Western civilization. India should be annexed to the Western world.
* British conquest of India is a blessing for India. Britain has double mission to fulfill, one, to destroy the old and second, to build new.
* Britain has started the process of regeneration by giving India (a) political unity (b) free press (c) introducing steam, electric telegraph and railway (d) building a native army, and finally (e) by creating a new English educated class imbued with Western science and administrative acumen. The process of regeneration has just begun, it should be carried further and not reversed.