Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bringing Back the Old Days of Empire

The idea that the United States should cast itself in the image of the old colonial empires is sprouting like weeds from right-wing journals and think tanks.

One of its most avid exponents is, fittingly, a citizen of a former empire who has some advice on how the U.S. should run its empire. Scottish historian Niall Ferguson, who has written a new coffee-table book entitled Empire, approvingly quotes right-wing author Max Boot, who calls for “the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.”

Just what did Britain’s “enlightened” colonialism entail? We can start with slavery.

In the 18th century, British merchants were the principle shippers of slaves in the world. British colonies in the West Indies brutally exploited slaves on sugar plantations on Jamaica, Trinidad and other islands. It is roughly estimated that 12 million Africans were brought to the “new world” as slaves. The reason the demand of slaves was insatiable is because the slaves were often simply worked to death.

The British slave colonies absorbed 1.6 million slaves in the 18th century. Conditions on the plantations were so horrible that by the time slavery was abolished there were only 600,000 slaves left. This “undisguised looting, enslavement and murder” (in Marx’s words) provided much of the “primitive accumulation” that fueled the industrial revolution.

In India, British conquest and plunder actually set society back–just as the slave trade set Africa back.

The colonizers deliberately destroyed India’s thriving (and superior) textile industry by imposing high tariffs on Indian manufactures. They imposed monopoly prices on goods, which drained India of its riches. “The monopolies of salt, opium, betel and other commodities,” writes Marx, “were inexhaustible mines of wealth.” The British overlords imposed taxes on the peasantry that netted millions of pounds. Farmers in Bengal and Bihar alone paid out 2 million pounds a year in taxes.

Nor was Britain averse to causing famines for profit. Between 1769 and 1770, writes Marx, “the English manufactured a famine by buying up all the rice and refusing to sell it again, except at fabulous prices.”

Marx called the robbery of India’s wealth “a bleeding process with a vengeance.” He wrote that “the bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the plains of India.” As the industrial revolution spread in Britain, India was de-urbanized and turned into a less-developed, poorer and more rural society. Whereas in 1810, 40 percent of Indians lived in towns, by 1900 only 10 percent did.

There was of course nothing enlightened about colonial rule. It was founded upon the notion that the colonizers were racially superior beings destined to rule over, and in some cases, simply wipe out, the “inferior” races.

This justified using the utmost brutality to gain control of profitable raw materials and cheap labor. In Africa, British forces armed with machine guns massacred 10,000 Sudanese in the inappropriately named Battle of Omdurman in 1898–at a cost of only 48 British.

It is true that the British introduced capitalist social relations into India and other parts of its empire. But this would have taken place without conquest as a result of the spread of the capitalist world market, and perhaps had a far less distorting effect. As Vijay Prashad points out in a recent ZNet article, the British built the railroad system in India “to remove raw materials to the coast, ship troops to troubled areas and return finished products to the markets.”

In the end, the greatest “benefit” British imperialism brought to its colonies was the creation of mass movements destined to toss them out. “The Indians will not reap the fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the British bourgeoisie,” wrote Marx, “till in Great Britain itself the now 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.”

PAUL D’AMATO writes for the Socialist Worker.

 

More articles by:
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
Marvin Kitman
The Kitman Plan for Peace in the Middle East: Two Proposals
Weekend Edition
October 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
My History with Alexander Cockburn and The Financial Future of CounterPunch
Paul Street
For Popular Sovereignty, Beyond Absurdity
Nick Pemberton
The Colonial Pantsuit: What We Didn’t Want to Know About Africa
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Summer of No Return
Jeff Halper
Choices Made: From Zionist Settler Colonialism to Decolonization
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Incident: Trump’s Special Relationship With the Saudi Monarchy
Andrew Levine
Democrats: Boost, Knock, Enthuse
Barbara Kantz
The Deportation Crisis: Report From Long Island
Doug Johnson
Nate Silver and 538’s Measurable 3.5% Democratic Bias and the 2018 House Race
Gwen Carr
This Stops Today: Seeking Justice for My Son Eric Garner
Robert Hunziker
Peak Carbon Emissions By 2020, or Else!
Arshad Khan
Is There Hope on a World Warming at 1.5 Degrees Celsius?
David Rosen
Packing the Supreme Court in the 21stCentury
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Threats of Death and Destruction
Joel A. Harrison
The Case for a Non-Profit Single-Payer Healthcare System
Ramzy Baroud
That Single Line of Blood: Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah
Zhivko Illeieff
Addiction and Microtargeting: How “Social” Networks Expose us to Manipulation
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
What is Truth?
Michael Doliner
Were the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a Mistake?
Victor Grossman
Cassandra Calls
Ralph E. Shaffer
Could Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Hearing Ended Differently?
Vanessa Cid
Our Everyday Family Separations
Walaa Al Ghussein
The Risks of Being a Journalist in Gaza
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal and Treachery—The Extremism of Moderates
James Munson
Identity Politics and the Ruling Class
P. Sainath
The Floods of Kerala: the Bank That Went Under…Almost
Ariel Dorfman
How We Roasted Donald Duck, Disney’s Agent of Imperialism
Joe Emersberger
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno’s Assault on Human Rights and Judicial Independence
Ed Meek
White Victimhood: Brett Kavanaugh and the New GOP Brand
Andrew McLean, MD
A Call for “Open Space”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail