[Marxism] need reference re Marx and India

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Dec 1 12:07:21 MST 2013

On 12/1/13 1:54 PM, Andrew Pollack wrote:
> An undergraduate comrade of color has come across for the first time Marx
> on India and as is often the case on such first discovery, called him a
> racist for his labeling of various cultures as superior or barbaric.
> I've got a million references from MIA to provide context and to stress the
> method behind his rhetoric (i.e. showing how England prepared the way
> economically and technically for a unified Indian independence movement,
> which he supported).. But can anyone recommend a single online article or
> even book which takes up this question?

Aijaz Ahmad on Marx's India articles

Aijaz Ahmad's "In Theory: Classes, Nations and Literatures" contains an 
article titled "Marx on India: a Clarification," which serves as a reply 
to Edward Said, who viewed Marx's early India articles as Orientalist. 
Ahmad's main goal is to show the context in which Marx's incidental 
journalistic pieces on India appear. This is totally missing in Said's 
treatment of the subject. Said quotes the famous paragraph from an June 
10, 1853 Tribune piece that described Indian village life as 
superstition-ridden and stagnant. The model that Marx had in mind when 
writing this article was North America. Marx was entertaining the 
possibility of capitalist economic development within a colonial setting 
around this time. (Ahmad reminds us that the gap in material prosperity 
between India and England in 1835 was far narrower than it was in 1947.)

Part of the problem was that Marx simply lacked sufficient information 
about India to develop a real theory. His remarks have the character of 
conjecture, not the sort of deeply elaborated dialectical thought that 
is found in Capital. And so what happens is that enemies of Marxism 
seize upon these underdeveloped remarks to indict Marxism itself.

Ahmad notes that Marx had exhibited very little interest in India prior 
to 1853, when the first of the Tribune articles were written. It was the 
presentation of the East India Company's application for charter renewal 
to Parliament that gave him the idea of writing about India at all. To 
prepare for the articles, he read the Parliamentary records and 
Bernier's "Travels". (Bernier was a 17th century writer and medicine 
man.) So it is fair to say that Marx's views on India were shaped by the 
overall prejudice prevailing in India at the time. More to the point is 
that Marx had not even drafted the Grundrisse at this point and Capital 
was years away. So critics of Marx's writings on India are singling out 
works that are not even reflective of the fully developed critic of 

Despite this, Marx was sufficiently aware of the nature of dual nature 
of the capitalist system to entertain the possibility that rapid 
capitalist development in India could eliminate backward economic 
relations and lead to future emancipation. His enthusiasm for English 
colonialism is related to his understanding of the need for capitalist 
transformation of all precapitalist social formations. His animosity 
towards feudal social relations is well known. He regards them as 
antiquated and a block on future progress. The means by which they are 
abolished are universally cruel and inhumane such as the Enclosure Acts. 
What he is looking for in this process is not a way of judging human 
agencies on a moral basis, but what the dynamics of this process can 
lead to. That goal is socialism and the sole measure of every preceding 
historical development.

A few weeks later, on July 22nd, Marx wrote another article that had 
some more rude things to say about India and England as well. But here 
he was much more specific about the goal in question. He says that the 
English colonists will not emancipate the Indian masses. That is up to 
them to do. Specifically, Marx writes, "The Indian will not reap the 
fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the 
British bourgeoisie, till in Great Britain itself the new ruling classes 
shall have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat, or till the 
Hindus themselves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the 
English yoke altogether."

So unless there is social revolution, the English presence in India 
brings no particular advantage. More to the point, it will bring 
tremendous suffering.

Furthermore, there is evidence that Marx was becoming much more 
sensitive to the imperialist system itself late in life. He wrote a 
letter to Danielson in 1881 that basically described the sort of pillage 
that the socialists of Lenin's generation were sensitive to:

"In India serious complications, if not a general outbreak, are in store 
for the British government. What the British take from them annually in 
the form of rent, dividends for railways useless for the Hindoos, 
pensions for the military and civil servicemen, for Afghanistan and 
other wars, etc. etc., -- what they take from them without any 
equivalent and quite apart from what they appropriate to themselves 
annually within India, -- speaking only of the commodities that Indians 
have to gratuitously and annually send over to England -- it amounts to 
more than the total sum of the income of the 60 million of agricultural 
and industrial laborers of India. This is a bleeding process with a 

A bleeding process with a vengeance? Make no mistake about this. Marx 
did not view England as on a civilizing mission.

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