Re: [OPE-L] Review of _Karl Marx on India_

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Thu Oct 12 2006 - 09:32:48 EDT

It's probably true that Marx's understanding of the Indian village
often alternated between romantic longing for a classless social
formation and an orientalist depiction of a static hierarchical East.

Yet  his oriental researches were just as often motivated by the
attempt to uncouple  progressively increasing reproduction with
bourgeois rule and to demonstrate the historical uniqueness of the
securing of reproduction via the capital-wage labour relation.

For example, he writes in KI:

In economic forms of society of the most different kinds, there
occurs, not only simple reproduction, but, in varying degrees,
reproduction on a progressively increasing scale. By degrees more is
produced and more consumed, and consequently more products have to be
converted into means of production. This process, however, does not
present itself as accumulation of capital, nor as the function of a
capitalist, so long as the labourer's means of production, and with
them, his product and means of subsistence, do not confront him in
the shape of capital.*53 Richard Jones, who died a few years ago, and
was the successor of Malthus in the chair of political economy at
Haileybury College, discusses this point well in the light of two
important facts. Since the great mass of the Hindoo population are
peasants cultivating their land themselves, their products, their
instruments of labour and means of subsistence never take "the shape
of a fund saved from revenue, which fund has, therefore, gone through
a previous process of accumulation."*54 On the other hand, the
non-agricultural labourers in those provinces where the English rule
has least disturbed the old system, are directly employed by the
magnates, to whom a portion of the agricultural surplus-product is
rendered in the shape of tribute or rent. One portion of this product
is consumed by the magnates in kind, another is converted, for their
use, by the labourers, into articles of luxury and such like things;
while the rest forms the wages of the labourers, who own their
implements of labour. Here, production and reproduction on a
progressively increasing scale, go on their way without any
intervention from that queer saint, that knight of the woeful
countenance, the capitalist "abstainer."

Marx seems however to have underestimated the level of proto
capitalist development in precolonial China and Mughal India, and he
seems to have had little idea how progressively increasing economic
reproduction had often been in the East--say in the Sung period as a
whole or in the Yangtze valley in particular.

In his helpful review Harman notes:

>Marx showed how the different sections of the upper class in Britain
>used the taxation obtained through such torture to enrich
>themselves, with "no part of them returned to the people in public
>works, more indispensable in Asiatic countries than anywhere else".
>But he also points out that in Britain only one class has gained
>from its empire, rather than the population as a whole. The
>"advantage to Great Britain from her Indian empire must be limited
>to the profits and benefits which accrue to individual British
>subjects", but the cost of the upkeep of the empire is being paid
>"out of the pockets of the people of England".

The upkeep of the empire was also (and mostly) paid for by the
Indians as the older Marx recognized:

What the English take from them [the Indians] annually in the form of
rent, dividends for railways useless to the Hindus, pensions for
military and civil servicemen, for Afganistan 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 value of the commodities the Indians have
gratuitously and annually to send over to England--it amounts to more
than the total sum of income of the 60 millions of agricultural and
industrial laborers of India! This is a bleeding process with a

(check citation later)

Interesting new book is Nicholas Dirks The Scandal of Empire, but it
echoes some of the old ideas of the "drain school" which have been
challenged in recent years. Successfully or not I do not know.


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