Karl Marx in The New-York Tribune 1853


Source: the New-York Daily Tribune, August 5, 1853;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.


London, Tuesday, July 19, 1853

The progress of the India bill through the Committee has little interest. It is significant, that all amendments are thrown out now by the Coalition coalescing with the Tories against their own allies of the Manchester School.

The actual state of India may be illustrated by a few facts. The Home Establishment absorbs 3 per cent. of the net revenue, and the annual interest for Home Debt and Dividends 14 per cent-together 17 per cent. If we deduct these annual remittances from India to England, the military charges amount to about two-thirds of the whole expenditure available for India, or to 66 per cent., while the charges for Public Works do not amount to more than 2 3/4 per cent. of the general revenue, or for Bengal 1 per cent., Agra 7 3/4, Punjab 1/8, Madras 1/2, and Bombay 1 per cent. of their respective revenues. These figures are the official ones of the Company itself.

On the other hand nearly three-fifths of the whole net revenue are derived from the land, about one-seventh from opium, and upward of one-ninth from salt. These resources together yield 85 per cent. of the whole receipts.

As to minor items of receipts and charges, it may suffice to state that the Moturpha revenue maintained in the Presidency of Madras, and levied on shops, looms, sheep, cattle, sundry professions, &c., yields somewhat about £50,000, while the yearly dinners of the East India House cost about the same sum.

The great bulk of the revenue is derived from the land. As the various kinds of Indian land-tenure have recently been described in so many places, and in popular style, too, I propose to limit my observations on the subject to a few general remarks on the Zemindari and Ryotwar systems.

The Zemindari and the Ryotwar were both of them agrarian revolutions, effected by British ukases, and opposed to each other, the one aristocratic, the other democratic; the one a caricature of English landlordism, the other of French peasant-proprietorship; but pernicious, both combining the most contradictory character — both made not for the people, who cultivate the soil, nor for the holder, who owns it, but for the Government that taxes it.

By the Zemindari system, the people of the Presidency of Bengal were depossessed at once of their hereditary claims to the soil, in favor of the native tax gatherers called Zemindars. By the Ryotwar system introduced into the Presidencies of Madras and Bombay, the native nobility, with their territorial claims, meras sees, jagheers, &c., were reduced with the common people to the holding of minute fields, cultivated by themselves in favor of the Collector of the East India Company."’ But a curious sort of English landlord was the Zemindar, receiving only one-tenth of the rent, while he had to make over nine-tenths of it to the Government. A curious sort of French peasant was the Ryot, without any permanent title in the soil, and with the taxation changing every year in proportion to his harvest. The original class of Zemindars, notwithstanding their unmitigated and uncontrolled rapacity against the depossessed mass of the ex-hereditary landholders, soon melted away under the pressure of the Company, in order to be replaced by mercantile speculators who now hold all the land of Bengal, with exception of the estates returned under the direct management of the Government. These speculators have introduced a variety of the Zemindari tenure called patnee. Not content to be placed with regard to the British Government in the situation of’ middlemen, they have created in their turn a class of “hereditary” middlemen called patnetas, who created again their sub-patnetas, &c., so that a perfect scale of hierarchy of middlemen has sprung up, which presses with its entire weight on the unfortunate cultivator. As to the Ryots in Madras and Bombay, the system soon degenerated into one of forced cultivation, and the land lost all its value.

“The land,” says Mr. Campbell, “would be sold for balances by the Collector, as in Bengal, but generally is not, for a very good reason, viz.: that nobody will buy it.”

Thus, in Bengal, we have a combination of English landlordism, of the Irish middlemen system, of the Austrian system, transforming the landlord into the tax-gatherer, and of the Asiatic system making the State the real landlord. In Madras and Bombay we have a French peasant proprietor who is at the same time a serf, and a métayer of the State. The drawbacks of all these various systems accumulate upon him without his enjoying any of their redeeming features. The Ryot is subject, like the French peasant, to the extortion of the private usurer; but he has no hereditary, no permanent title in his land, like the French peasant. Like the serf’ he is forced to cultivation, but he is not secured against want like the serf. Like the métayer he has to divide his produce with the State, but the State is not obliged, with regard to him, to advance the funds and the stock, as it is obliged to do with regard to the métayer. In Bengal, as in Madras and Bombay, under the Zemindari as under the Ryotwar, the Ryots-and they form 11-12ths of the whole Indian population — have been wretchedly pauperized; and if they are, morally speaking, not sunk as low as the Irish cottiers, they owe it to their climate, the men of the South being possessed of less wants, and of more imagination than the men of the North.

Conjointly with the land-tax we have to consider the salt-tax. Notoriously the Company retain the monopoly of that article which they sell at three times its mercantile value — and this in a country where it is furnished by the sea, by the lakes, by the mountains and the earth itself. The practical working of this monopoly was described by the Earl of Albemarle in the following words:

“A great proportion of the salt for inland consumption throughout the country is purchased from the Company by large wholesale merchants at less than 4 rupees per maund; these mix a fixed proportion of sand, chiefly got a few miles to the south-east of Dacca, and send the mixture to a second, or, counting the Government as the first, to a third monopolist at about 5 or 6 rupees. This dealer adds more earth or ashes, and thus passing through more bands, from the large towns to villages, the price is still raised from 8 to 10 rupees and the proportion of adulteration from 25 to 40 per cent. [...] It appears the ‘ n that the people [...] pay from £21, 17s. 2d. to £27, 6s. 2d. for their salt, or in other words, from 30 to 36 times as much as the wealthy people of Great Britain.”

As an in stance of English bourgeois morals, I may allege, that Mr. Campbell defends the Opium monopoly because it prevents the Chinese from consuming too much of the drug, and that he defends the Brandy monopoly (licenses for spirit-selling in India) because it has wonderfully increased the consumption of Brandy in India.

The Zemindar tenure, the Ryotwar, and the salt tax, combined with the Indian climate, were the hotbeds of the cholera — India’s ravages upon the Western World — a striking and severe example of the solidarity of human woes and wrongs.

Karl Marx