What is a comprador bourgeoisie?

S Chatterjee schatterjee2001 at yahoo.com
Fri Feb 8 16:40:51 MST 2002

--- Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com> wrote:
> Etymologically, it means "buyer". "Comprar" means to buy in Spanish or
> Portuguese. In colonial times, it had a specific meaning according to
> Oxford. It was "the name of a native servant employed by Europeans, in
> India and the East, to purchase necessaries and keep the household
> accounts: a house-steward."

There is another type of "native servant" - the comprador intellectual.
This kind of individual was famously characterized by Malcom X and is one
whose heart and soul has been colonized by the foreign master (or by
European science, as was evident in this list sometime ago) to such an
extent that he hates his own culture, religion and civilization. This
mental colonization phenomenon has been analyzed by Frantz Fanon.

Such a comprador intellectual is described in Rabindranath Tagore's
brilliant novel, "Gora", set in late nineteenth century Bengal. The story
is about Gora ("one who has a light or pale complexion") who, unknown to
himself, is actually English by birth, but who has been raised by a
Bengali Brahmin family. During the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, a pregnant
English woman had taken shelter in the house of Gora's (foster) parents -
mother, Anandamoyi, and father, Krishnadayal. During the night, the
English woman gave birth to a baby boy and then died. This boy, named
Gourmohan (nickname "Gora"), became a defender of orthodox Hinduism when
he grew up, loved India's ancient culture and civilization with his great
heart, and developed a hatred against the English rulers which worried his
parents to no end.

During those days, as one of the influences of European culture, science
and liberal thought, there developed in Bengal what has been called the
"Bengal Renaissance".[The marvellous film "Charulota" by Satyajit Ray,
based on another of Tagore's story, is set in this period.] One of the
offshoots of this was the founding of the Brahmo Samaj by one section of
the Bengali intellegentsia. ("Brahmo", not Brahmin). The Brahmos belived
in one God (like the Christians), had no idol worship or caste system, did
away with the supersitions and beliefs of orthodox Hindu practice,
promulgated women's education and their liberation from the fetters of
patriarchal society. Two of their intellectuals were Keshabchandra Sen and
Debendranath Tagore (Rabindranath's father). [Strangely, Keshabchandra was
also devoted to Ramakrishna - the almost illiterate Hindu priest of
Dakshineshwar, Calcutta, who was the teacher of the Hindu reformer and
monk, Swami Vivekananda.]

In the passage below, where Tagore describes the behavior of such a
comprador intellectual,  Gora has just arrived, in orthodox Hindu dress,
at the house of a Brahmo family. The rather free translation from the
original Bengali is mine - it is difficult to render Tagore'e exquisite
and lyrical language into English. [There already exists a complete
English translation of "Gora" which I do not have at hand.] He is
simultaneously filled with pride in India's heritage, and anger at the
comprador intellectual class who are loyal to the West and despise their
own culture.   

----- Extract from “Gora” by Rabindranath Tagore ----------

"There was a religious mark on Gora’s forehead; he wore a coarse dhoti and
an upper garment tied with a sash and there was a shawl made of rough
cloth on his shoulders, while on his feet were pointed Cuttack sandals. It
was as if an incarnation of revolt against the modern age had arrived.
Benoy (Gora'd friend - translator) had never seen him in such a dress
before. Today, Gora’s soul was burning with the fire of rebellion. There
was a reason for this. 

For journey for the holy bath, a steamer, filled with passengers, had
started towards Triveni early in the morning. In the midst of stops along
the way, it picked up many groups of women, each with one or two male
companions. The crowd pressed together on all sides. With mud spattered
feet, slipping due to the crush of people on the deck, some passengers
fell into the river while some were pushed out of the boat by the deck
hands; others had climbed into the steamer without their companions and
were anxiously looking around for them, while still others were drenched
by occasional bursts of rain, and the seats of the passengers were covered
with mud. Their faces displayed an anxious misery; they were powerless and
the knowledge that no one, from the deck hands up to the captain, would
help them, had instilled a spirit of a frightened resignation in their
gestures. Upstairs on the first-class deck, an Englishman and a
modern-looking Bengali Babu, while holding on to the railing and smoking
their pipes, looked down in amusement at the scene below. Occasionally,
observing the sudden plight of a particular traveler, the Englishman would
burst out laughing and the Bengali would join him.

After stopping at a few ports, Gora could not bear it anymore. Climbing
upstairs he roared in a thunderous voice, “Fie on you! Don’t you have any
The Englishman coldly examined Gora from head to toe. The Bengali replied:
“Shame! One should be ashamed of those animals downstairs!” Gora’s face
turned red with anger: “There is a species below animals –those who are
heartless.” The Bengali angrily exclaimed: “This is not your place, this
is first class.” Gora replied: “That’s correct. We have no common place
together – my place is with those travelers. But before I leave, I would
like to make one thing clear. Don’t make me come upstairs again.”

Gora stormed away. The Englishman put his feet up on the seat and became
engrossed in a novel. The Bengali tried once or twice to re-initiate a
conversation with him, but to no avail. To show that he was different from
his compatriots, he called the steward and inquired as to the availability
of a dish of chicken. The steward replied: “No, we only have bread,
butter, and tea.”

The Bengali, in order to impress the Englishman, commented in English:
“The lack of creature comforts on this vessel is just disgraceful.”

The Englishman didn’t utter a word. A gust of wind blew his newspaper from
the table to the floor. The Babu got up from his seat and retrieved the
paper, but did not receive any thanks.

While alighting at Chandanagar, the Englishman went up to Gora, tipped his
hat a little, and said: “I am ashamed of my behavior. I hope you will
forgive me.” And he hurriedly walked away.

But towards the educated Bengali man, who having invited a foreigner to
laugh contemptuously at the plight of his countrymen and women – anger 
welled up inside Gora. Experiencing all manners of insults and animal-like
treatment, which the people seemed to have accepted fatalistically like a
natural phenomenon – Gora’s heart burst due to this pervasive ignorance of
his people. But what struck him the most was that the educated classes did
not feel the country’s everlasting misfortune and shame. – they were proud
that they had separated themselves from the masses. In order to challenge
their smug book learning and imitation culture, today Gora had put a
religious mark on his forehead, and wearing strange newly-purchased
Cuttack sandals, stood at the gate of a Brahmo house with chest puffed up
with pride.

Benoy understood that today Gora had arrived in his battle dress.” 

    -------- from "Gora" by Rabindranath Tagore


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