The Future Results of British Rule in India

— Marx, Karl The Future Results of British Rule in India” in the New-York Daily Tribune, August 8, 1853; reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 856, August 9, 1853.

Keywords: City, Society and Control

London, Friday, July 22, 1853

I pro­pose in this let­ter to con­clude my ob­ser­va­tions on India.

How came it that English su­premacy was es­tab­lished in India? The para­mount power of the Great Mogul was bro­ken by the Mogul Viceroys. The power of the Viceroys was bro­ken by the Mahrattas. The power of the Mahrattas was bro­ken by the Afghans, and while all were strug­gling against all, the Briton rushed in and was en­abled to sub­due them all. A coun­try not only di­vided be­tween Mahommedan and Hindoo, 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? If we knew noth­ing of the past his­tory of Hindostan, would there not be the one great and in­con­testable fact, that even at this mo­ment India is held in English thral­dom by an Indian army main­tained at the cost of India? India, then, could not es­cape the fate of be­ing con­quered, and the whole of her past his­tory, if it be any­thing, is the his­tory of the 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 the suc­ces­sive in­trud­ers who founded their em­pires on the pas­sive ba­sis of that un­re­sist­ing and un­chang­ing so­ci­ety. 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 Briton.

England has to ful­fill a dou­ble mis­sion in India: one de­struc­tive, the other re­gen­er­at­ing the an­ni­hi­la­tion of old Asiatic so­ci­ety, and the lay­ing the ma­te­r­ial foun­da­tions of Western so­ci­ety in Asia.

Arabs, Turks, Tartars, Moguls, who had suc­ces­sively over­run India, soon be­came Hindooized, the bar­bar­ian con­querors be­ing, by an eter­nal law of his­tory, con­quered them­selves by the su­pe­rior civ­i­liza­tion of their sub­jects. The British were the first con­querors su­pe­rior, and there­fore, in­ac­ces­si­ble to Hindoo 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. The his­toric pages of their rule in India re­port hardly any­thing be­yond that de­struc­tion. The work of re­gen­er­a­tion hardly tran­spires through a heap of ru­ins. Nevertheless it has be­gun.

The po­lit­i­cal unity of India, more con­sol­i­dated, and ex­tend­ing far­ther than it ever did un­der the Great Moguls, was the first con­di­tion of its re­gen­er­a­tion. That unity, im­posed by the British sword, will now be strength­ened and per­pet­u­ated by the elec­tric tele­graph. The na­tive army, or­ga­nized and trained by the British drill-sergeant, was the sine qua non of Indian self-eman­ci­pa­tion, and of India ceas­ing to be the prey of the first for­eign in­truder. The free press, in­tro­duced for the first time into Asiatic so­ci­ety, and man­aged prin­ci­pally by the com­mon off­spring of Hindoos and Europeans, is a new and pow­er­ful agent of re­con­struc­tion. The Zemindari and Ryotwar them­selves, abom­inable as they are, in­volve two dis­tinct forms of pri­vate prop­erty in land — the great desider­a­tum of Asiatic so­ci­ety. 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. Steam has brought India into reg­u­lar and rapid com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Europe, has con­nected its chief ports with those of the whole south-east­ern ocean, and has revin­di­cated it from the iso­lated po­si­tion which was the prime law of its stag­na­tion. The day is not far dis­tant when, by a com­bi­na­tion of rail­ways and steam-ves­sels, the dis­tance be­tween England and India, mea­sured by time, will be short­ened to eight days, and when that once fab­u­lous coun­try will thus be ac­tu­ally an­nexed to the Western world.

The rul­ing classes of Great Britain have had, till now, but an ac­ci­den­tal, tran­si­tory and ex­cep­tional in­ter­est in the progress of India. The aris­toc­racy wanted to con­quer it, the mon­ey­oc­racy to plun­der it, and the mil­loc­racy to un­der­sell it. But now the ta­bles are turned. The mil­loc­racy have dis­cov­ered that the trans­for­ma­tion of India into a re­pro­duc­tive coun­try has be­come of vi­tal im­por­tance to them, and that, to that end, it is nec­es­sary, above all, to gift her with means of ir­ri­ga­tion and of in­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. They in­tend now draw­ing a net of rail­roads over India. And they will do it. The re­sults must be in­ap­pre­cia­ble.

It is no­to­ri­ous that the pro­duc­tive pow­ers of India are paral­ysed by the ut­ter want of means for con­vey­ing and ex­chang­ing its var­i­ous pro­duce. Nowhere, more than in India, do we meet with so­cial des­ti­tu­tion in the midst of nat­ural plenty, for want of the means of ex­change. It was proved be­fore a Committee of the British House of Commons, which sat in 1848, that

when grain was sell­ing from 6/- to 8/- a quar­ter at Khandesh, it was sold at 64/ to 70/- at Poona, where the peo­ple were dy­ing in the streets of famine, with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of gain­ing sup­plies from Khandesh, be­cause the clay-roads were im­prac­ti­ca­ble.”

The in­tro­duc­tion of rail­roads may be eas­ily made to sub­serve agri­cul­tural pur­poses by the for­ma­tion of tanks, where ground is re­quired for em­bank­ment, and by the con­veyance of wa­ter along the dif­fer­ent lines. Thus ir­ri­ga­tion, the sine qua non of farm­ing in the East, might be greatly ex­tended, and the fre­quently re­cur­ring lo­cal famines, aris­ing from the want of wa­ter, would be averted. The gen­eral im­por­tance of rail­ways, viewed un­der this head, must be­come ev­i­dent, when we re­mem­ber that ir­ri­gated lands, even in the dis­tricts near Ghauts, pay three times as much in taxes, af­ford ten or twelve times as much em­ploy­ment, and yield twelve or fif­teen times as much profit, as the same area with­out ir­ri­ga­tion.

Railways will af­ford the means of di­min­ish­ing the amount and the cost of the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ments. Col. Warren, Town Major of the Fort St. William, stated be­fore a Select Committee of the House of Commons:

The prac­ti­ca­bil­ity of re­ceiv­ing in­tel­li­gence from dis­tant parts of the coun­try, in as many hours as at pre­sent it re­quires days and even weeks, and of send­ing in­struc­tions, with troops and stores, in the more brief pe­riod, are con­sid­er­a­tions which can­not be too highly es­ti­mated. Troops could be kept at more dis­tant and health­ier sta­tions than at pre­sent, and much loss of life from sick­ness would by this means be spared. Stores could not to the same ex­tent he re­quired at the var­i­ous de­pots, and. the loss by de­cay, and the de­struc­tion in­ci­den­tal to the cli­mate, would also be avoided. The num­ber of troops might be di­min­ished in di­rect pro­por­tion to their ef­fec­tive­ness.”

We know that the mu­nic­i­pal or­ga­ni­za­tion and the eco­nom­i­cal ba­sis of the vil­lage com­mu­ni­ties has been bro­ken up, but their worst fea­ture, the dis­so­lu­tion of so­ci­ety into stereo­type and dis­con­nected atoms, has sur­vived their vi­tal­ity. The vil­lage iso­la­tion pro­duced the ab­sence of roads in India, and the ab­sence of roads per­pet­u­ated the vil­lage iso­la­tion. On this plan a com­mu­nity ex­isted with a given scale of low con­ve­niences, al­most with­out in­ter­course with other vil­lages, with­out the de­sires and ef­forts in­dis­pens­able to so­cial ad­vance. The British hav­ing bro­ken up this self-suf­fi­cient in­er­tia of the vil­lages, rail­ways will pro­vide the new want of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in­ter­course. Besides,

one of the ef­fects of the rail­way sys­tem will he to bring into every vil­lage af­fected by it such knowl­edge of the con­trivances and ap­pli­ances of other coun­tries, and such means of ob­tain­ing them, as will first put the hered­i­tary and stipen­di­ary vil­lage ar­ti­san­ship of India to full proof of its ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and then sup­ply its de­fects.” (Chapman, The Cotton and Commerce of India [pp. 95-97].)

I know that the English mil­loc­racy in­tend to en­dow India with rail­ways with the ex­clu­sive view of ex­tract­ing at di­min­ished ex­penses the cot­ton and other raw ma­te­ri­als for their man­u­fac­tures. But when you have once in­tro­duced ma­chin­ery into the lo­co­mo­tion of a coun­try, which pos­sesses iron and coals, you are un­able to with­hold it from its fab­ri­ca­tion. You can­not main­tain a net of rail­ways over an im­mense coun­try with­out in­tro­duc­ing all those in­dus­trial processes nec­es­sary to meet the im­me­di­ate and cur­rent wants of rail­way lo­co­mo­tion, and out of which there must grow the ap­pli­ca­tion of ma­chin­ery to those branches of in­dus­try not im­me­di­ately con­nected with rail­ways. The rail­way-sys­tem will there­fore be­come, in India, truly the fore­run­ner of mod­ern in­dus­try. This is the more cer­tain as the Hindoos are al­lowed by British au­thor­i­ties them­selves to pos­sess par­tic­u­lar ap­ti­tude. for ac­com­mo­dat­ing them­selves to en­tirely new la­bor, and ac­quir­ing the req­ui­site knowl­edge of ma­chin­ery. Ample proof of this fact is af­forded by the ca­pac­i­ties and ex­pert­ness of the na­tive en­gi­neers in the Calcutta mint, where they have been for years em­ployed in work­ing the steam ma­chin­ery, by the na­tives at­tached to the sev­eral steam en­gines in the Burdwan coal dis­tricts, and by other in­stances. Mr. Campbell him­self, greatly in­flu­enced as he is by the prej­u­dices of the East India Company, is obliged to avow

that the great mass of the Indian peo­ple pos­sesses a great in­dus­trial en­ergy, is well fit­ted to ac­cu­mu­late cap­i­tal, and re­mark­able for a math­e­mat­i­cal clear­ness of head and tal­ent for fig­ures and ex­act sci­ences.” Their in­tel­lects,” he says, are ex­cel­lent.”

Modern in­dus­try, re­sult­ing from the rail­way sys­tem, will dis­solve the hered­i­tary di­vi­sions of la­bor, upon which rest the Indian castes, those de­ci­sive im­ped­i­ments to Indian progress and Indian power.

All the English bour­geoisie may be forced to do will nei­ther eman­ci­pate nor ma­te­ri­ally mend the so­cial con­di­tion of the mass of the peo­ple, de­pend­ing not only on the de­vel­op­ment of the pro­duc­tive pow­ers, but on their ap­pro­pri­a­tion by the peo­ple. But what they will not fail to do is to lay down the ma­te­r­ial premises for both. Has the bour­geoisie ever done more? Has it ever ef­fected a progress with­out drag­ging in­di­vid­u­als and peo­ple through blood and dirt, through mis­ery and degra­da­tion?

The Indians will not reap the fruits of the new el­e­ments of so­ci­ety scat­tered among them by the British bour­geoisie, till in Great Britain it­self the now rul­ing classes shall have been sup­planted by the in­dus­trial pro­le­tariat, or till the Hindoos them­selves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke al­to­gether. At all events, we may safely ex­pect to see, at a more or less re­mote pe­riod, the re­gen­er­a­tion of that great and in­ter­est­ing coun­try, whose gen­tle na­tives are, to use the ex­pres­sion of Prince Soltykov, even in the most in­fe­rior classes, plus fins et plus adroits que les Italiens” [more sub­tle and adroit than the Italians], a whose sub­mis­sion even is coun­ter­bal­anced by a cer­tain calm no­bil­ity, who, notwith­stand­ing their nat­ural lan­gor, have as­ton­ished the British of­fi­cers by their brav­ery, whose coun­try has been the source of our lan­guages, our re­li­gions, and who rep­re­sent the type of the an­cient German in the Jat, and the type of the an­cient Greek in the Brahmin.

I can­not part with the sub­ject of India with­out some con­clud­ing re­marks.

The pro­found hypocrisy and in­her­ent bar­barism of bour­geois civ­i­liza­tion lies un­veiled be­fore our eyes, turn­ing from its home, where it as­sumes re­spectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked. They are the de­fend­ers of prop­erty, but did any rev­o­lu­tion­ary party ever orig­i­nate agrar­ian rev­o­lu­tions like those in Bengal, in Madras, and in Bombay? Did they not, in India, to bor­row an ex­pres­sion of. that great rob­ber, Lord Clive him­self, re­sort to atro­cious ex­tor­tion, when sim­ple cor­rup­tion could not keep pace with their ra­pac­ity? While they prated in Europe about the in­vi­o­lable sanc­tity of the na­tional debt, did they not con­fis­cate in India the div­i­dends of the ra­jahs, 171 who had in­vested their pri­vate sav­ings in the Company’s own funds? While they com­bat­ted 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 to 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.”

The dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of English in­dus­try, when con­tem­plated with re­gard to India, a coun­try as vast as Europe, and con­tain­ing 150 mil­lions of acres, are pal­pa­ble and con­found­ing. But we must not for­get that they are only the or­ganic re­sults of the whole sys­tem of pro­duc­tion as it is now con­sti­tuted. That pro­duc­tion rests on the supreme rule of cap­i­tal. The cen­tral­iza­tion of cap­i­tal is es­sen­tial to the ex­is­tence of cap­i­tal as an in­de­pen­dent power. The de­struc­tive in­flu­ence of that cen­tral­iza­tion upon the mar­kets of the world does but re­veal, in the most gi­gan­tic di­men­sions, the in­her­ent or­ganic laws of po­lit­i­cal econ­omy now at work in every civ­i­lized town. The bour­geois pe­riod of his­tory has to cre­ate the ma­te­r­ial ba­sis of the new world — on the one hand uni­ver­sal in­ter­course founded upon the mu­tual de­pen­dency of mankind, and the means of that in­ter­course; on the other hand the de­vel­op­ment of the pro­duc­tive pow­ers of man and the trans­for­ma­tion of ma­te­r­ial pro­duc­tion into a sci­en­tific dom­i­na­tion of nat­ural agen­cies. Bourgeois in­dus­try and com­merce cre­ate these ma­te­r­ial con­di­tions of a new world in the same way as ge­o­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tions have cre­ated the sur­face of the earth. When a great so­cial rev­o­lu­tion shall have mas­tered the re­sults of the bour­geois epoch, the mar­ket of the world and the mod­ern pow­ers of pro­duc­tion, and sub­jected them to the com­mon con­trol of the most ad­vanced peo­ples, then only will hu­man progress cease to re­sem­ble that hideous, pa­gan idol, who would not drink the nec­tar but from the skulls of the slain.