Karl Marx in The New-York Tribune 1853

The East India Question

Source: the New-York Daily Tribune, July 25, 1853;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.


London, Tuesday, July 12, 1853

The clauses of the India Bill are passing one by one, the debate scarcely offering any remarkable features, except the inconsistency of the so-called India Reformers. There is, for instance, my Lord Jocelyn, M. P. who has made a kind of political livelihood by his periodical denunciation of Indian wrongs, and of the maladministration of the East India Company. What do you think his amendment amounted to? To give the East India Company a lease for 10 years. Happily, it compromised no one but himself. There is another professional “Reformer,” Mr. Jos. Hume, who, during his long Parliamentary life, has succeeded in transforming opposition itself into a particular manner of supporting the ministry. He proposed not to reduce the number of East India Directors from 24 to 18. The only amendment of common sense, yet agreed to, was that of Mr. Bright, exempting Directors nominated by the Government from the qualification in East India Stock, imposed by the Directors elected by the Court of Proprietors. Go through the pamphlets published by the East Indian Reform Association, and you will feel a similar sensation as when, hearing of one great act of accusation against Bonaparte, devised in common by Legitimists, Orleanists, Blue and Red Republicans, and even disappointed Bonapartists. Their only merit until now has been to draw public attention to Indian affairs in general, and further they cannot go in their present form of eclectic opposition. For instance, while they attack the doings of the English aristocracy in India, they protest against the destruction of the Indian aristocracy of native princes.

After the British intruders had once put their feet on India, and made up their mind to hold it, there remained no alternative but to break the power of the native princes by force or by intrigue. Placed with regard to them in similar circumstances as the ancient Romans with regard to their allies, they followed in the track of Roman politics. “It was,” says an English writer, “a system of fattening allies, as we fatten oxen, till they were worthy of being devoured.” After having won over their allies in the way of ancient Rome, the East India Company executed them in the modern manner of Change-Alley. In order to discharge the engagements they had entered into with the Company, the native princes were forced to borrow enormous sums from Englishmen at usurious interest. When their embarrassment had reached the highest pitch, the creditor got inexorable, “the screw was turned” and the princes were compelled either to concede their territories amicably to the Company, or to begin war; to become pensioners on their usurpers in one case, or to be deposed as traitors in the other. At this moment the native States occupy an area of 699,961 square miles, with a population of 52,941,263 souls, being, however, no longer the allies, but only the dependents of the British Government, upon multifarious conditions, and under the various forms of the subsidiary and of the protective systems. These systems have in common the relinquishment, by the native States of the right of self-defense, of maintaining diplomatic relations, and of settling the disputes among themselves without the interference of the Governor-General. All of them have to pay a tribute, either in hard cash, or in a contingent of armed forces commanded by British officers. The final absorption or annexation of these native States is at present eagerly controverted between the Reformers who denounce it as a crime, and the men of business who excuse it as a necessity.

In my opinion the question itself is altogether improperly put. As to the native States they virtually ceased to exist from the moment they became subsidiary to or protected by the Company. If you divide the revenue of a country between two governments, you are sure to cripple the resources of the one and the administration of both. Under the present system the native States succumb under the double incubus of their native Administration and the tributes and inordinate military establishments imposed upon them by the Company. The conditions under which they are allowed to retain their apparent independence are at the same time the conditions of a permanent decay, and of an utter inability of improvement. Organic weakness is the constitutional law of their existence, as of all existences living upon sufferance. It is, therefore, not the native States, but the native Princes and Courts about whose maintenance the question revolves. Now, is it not a strange thing that the same men who denounce “the barbarous splendors of the Crown and Aristocracy of England” are shedding tears at the downfall of Indian Nabobs, Rajahs, and Jagheerdars, the great majority of whom possess not even the prestige of antiquity, being generally usurpers of very recent date, set up by English intrigue! There exists in the whole world no despotism more ridiculous, absurd and childish than that of those Schazenans and Schariars of the Arabian Nights. The Duke of Wellington, Sir J. Malcolm, Sir Henry Russell, Lord Ellenborough, General Briggs, and other authorities, have pronounced in favor of the status quo; but on what grounds? Because the native troops under English rule want employment in the petty warfares with their own countrymen, in order to prevent them from turning their strength against their own European masters. Because the existence of independent States gives occasional employment to the English troops. Because the hereditary princes are the most servile tools of English despotism, and check the rise of those bold military adventurers with whom India has and ever will abound. Because the independent territories afford a refuge to all discontented and enterprising native spirits. Leaving aside all these arguments, which state in so many words that the native princes are the strongholds of the present abominable English system and the greatest obstacles to Indian progress, I come to Sir Thomas Munro and Lord Elphinstone, who were at least men of superior genius, and of real sympathy for the Indian people. They think that without a native aristocracy there can be no energy in any other class of the community, and that the subversion of that aristocracy will not raise but debase a whole people. They may be right as long as the natives, under direct English rule, are systematically excluded from all superior offices, military and civil. Where there can be no great men by their own exertion, there must be great men by birth, to leave to a conquered people some greatness of their own. That exclusion, however, of the native people from the English territory, has been effected only by the maintenance of the hereditary princes in the so-called independent territories. And one of these two concessions had to be made to the native army, on whose strength all British rule in India depends. I think we may trust the assertion of Mr. Campbell, that the native Indian Aristocracy are the least enabled to fill higher offices; that for all fresh requirements it is necessary to create a fresh class; and that

“from the acuteness and aptness to learn of the inferior classes, this can be done in India as it can be done in no other country.”

The native princes themselves are fast disappearing by, the extinction of their houses; but, since the commencement of this century, the British Government has observed the policy of allowing them to make heirs by adoption, or of filling up their vacant seats with puppets of English creation. The great Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie, was the first to protest openly, against this system. Were not the natural course of things artificially resisted, there would be wanted neither wars nor expenses to do away with the native princes.

As to the pensioned princes, the 2,468,969 assigned to them by the British Government on the Indian revenue is a most heavy charge upon a people living on rice, and deprived of the first necessaries of life. If they are good for anything, it is for exhibiting Royalty in its lowest stage of degradation and ridicule. Take, for instance, the Great Mogul, the descendant of Timour Tamerlane: He is allowed 120,000 a year. His authority does not extend beyond the walls of his palace, within which the Royal idiotic race, left to itself, propagates as freely as rabbits. Even the police of Delhi is held by Englishmen above his control. There he sits on his throne, a little shriveled yellow old man, trimmed in a theatrical dress, embroidered with gold, much like that of the dancing girls of Hindostan. On certain State occasions, the tinsel-covered puppet issues forth to gladden the hearts of the loyal. On his days of reception strangers have to pay a fee, in the form of guineas, as to any other saltimbanque exhibiting himself in public; while he, in his turn, presents them with turbans, diamonds, etc. On looking nearer at them, they find that the Royal diamonds are, like so many pieces of ordinary glass, grossly painted and imitating as roughly as possible the precious stones, and jointed so wretchedly, that they break in the hand like gingerbread.

The English money-lenders, combined with the English Aristocracy, understand, we must own, the art of degrading Royalty, reducing it to the nullity of constitutionalism at home, and to the seclusion of etiquette abroad. And now, here are the Radicals, exasperated at this spectacle!

Karl Marx