First Published: Finsbury Communist, No.45, October 1968.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
According to the history books tea was £5.6.8. a pound when it first came to London in the 17th century. At that time, of course, the pound sterling was worth much more than it is today.
Today tea costs anything from 5/- to 15/- a pound. There are many reasons for the difference in price between now and the 17th century.
Shipping today is much less risky, for example.
The major factor, however, is the change in the relationship between Britain and India and Ceylon since then.
In the 17th Century India was made up of independent states. Tea was not widely cultivated as it is today. British influence was limited to a few trading posts.
In these circumstances the rulers of India were in a position to demand a fair price for their tea. If it took two Indian workers a year to grow and process a certain quantity of tea, and two English workers, a shepherd and a weaver, say, a year to grow and weave a certain quantity of cloth; then the Indian ruler would expect to receive something like that quantity of cloth for the equivalent quantity of tea.
With the conquest of India and Ceylon by Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries all this changed.
Thousands of square miles of forests in India and Ceylon were devastated to make way for tea plantations. Millions of peasants were dragooned into these plantations to work for a few pence a day.
As a result, productivity went up. But, as tea growing and plucking has to be done by hand, the rise in productivity was not great. In Britain, on the other hand, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, productivity went up by leaps and bounds.
Today, a British worker, for example a car worker, makes something like £1900 for his employer in the course of a year. Of this £1900 he gets an average of about £1300 in wages.
An Indian worker on a tea plantation, however, can work for a year growing tea. The product of his year’s work is sold out of India for about £140 of which he receives about £45 in average wages. Ceylon tea fetches slightly more.
The relative positions of India, Ceylon and Britain have evidently changed somewhat since the 17th century, to the disadvantage of India and Ceylon.
Some Indian historians claim that famine was never known in India until the British took over.
Some Indian rivers are filthy with mud. Ceylon is subject to floods.
Western travel films occasionally imply that this is due to the ignorance of the peasantry. They say the peasants do not know how to cultivate the land. When the rains come, therefore, their gardens are washed into the rivers.
This is adding insult to injury.
Tea is a very peculiar crop. It needs a lot of water. But this water must not be allowed to stagnate around the roots. So tea is best grown on a hillside.
When the British took over India there were large forests growing on the hillsides of India and Ceylon. These forests, with their huge roots, prevented the rain from rushing down the hillsides and devastating the valleys. The forests also held the soil in place.
The British tea planters were responsible for chopping down many of these forests to plant tea.
The root of the tea plant does not hold back the rainwater. Hence the floods and the silting-up of the rivers.
India and Ceylon are at present ruled by governments which are subservient to Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union. Provided the ruling circles can live well, they do not care a damn about their country or the people who live in it.
This will not always be the case. When the workers and peasants take over India and Ceylon they will want a price for their tea equivalent to what Britain charges for its products. This will be in the best interests of 99% of the Indian people.
The launching of people’s war in various parts of India, such as Naxalbari, in the past year or so shows that the overthrow of the Indian government is only a matter of time.
The Communist Party of Ceylon is very concerned about soil erosion and floods, as well as about what Ceylon gets for its tea. This party maintains that many of the hillsides, now covered with tea plants, should be re-forested.
So we can see which way a free Ceylon is going to go.
Many of our comrades say we should not print these facts. They say we should stick to telling the Barts Buildings tenants that we are in favour of pulling down Barts Buildings as we are; the council tenants that we are against higher rents; workers in general that we want wage increases.
Occasionally, a vague reference to Socialism could be made; or we could quote with approval from Chinese, Albanian, Vietnamese and Cuban publications. But never must difficult subjects be mentioned.
Our view is that, unless these difficult subjects are dealt with British communists will never be more than tenants association chairmen, militant trade union officials or parrots.