FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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:

March 20, 2019
Elliot Sperber
Empedocles and You and Me 
March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
Dean Baker
In Praise of Budget Deficits
Howard Lisnoff
Want Your Kids to Make it Big in the World of Elite Education in the U.S.?
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Foreign Policy is Based on Confrontation and Malevolence
John W. Whitehead
Pity the Nation: War Spending is Bankrupting America
Priti Gulati Cox
“Maria! Maria! It Was Maria That Destroyed Us!” The Human Story
Missy Comley Beattie
On Our Knees
Mike Garrity – Carole King
A Landscape Lewis and Clark Would Recognize is Under Threat
Robert Fantina
The Media-Created Front Runners
Tom Clifford
Bloody Sunday and the Charging of Soldier F
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail