Wright Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

John G. Wright

Tasks Of The Indian Revolution

British Bayonets Uphold
Rule of Native Princes

The Brutal Exploitation of the Indian Peasants by the Native Princes
and Landlords Is Maintained by British Imperialism

(28 March 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 13, 28 March 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

To insure their domination and exploitation of India, the English have done everything in their power to preserve and reinforce feudalism there. The Asiatic system still flourishes virtually in its archaic forms throughout the so-called native states whose number is variously estimated from 600 to 700. They range in size from domains as large in area as the state of Minnesota to tracts of a few hundred acres.

These Rajahs, Maharajahs and Nizams include in their ranks the wealthiest men in the world. The Nizam of Hyderabad, Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan, is reported to possess $150,000,000 in jewels and $250,000,000 in gold bars alone. He rules over 20,000,000 peasants (about equal to the combined populations of Texas and New York State). Another fabulously rich prince is the Nizam of Mysore who lords it over an area as large as South Carolina, with about four times the latter’s population. A third – the Maharajah of Gwalior has a domain approximating in size that of Mysore, but with half the latter’s population.

Burdens on the Peasant

They constitute the summits of an outlived barbarous structure. In addition to these bloated parasites there is a host of lesser ones feeding upon the living bodies of more than 280,000,000 peasants. These are the zamindari, or landlords, who number about one million; with their families, eight million, i.e., not more than 2 per cent of the population. Most of them live in the cities; many did not inherit but bought the old feudal titles to the land, Or own mortgages on it.

The zamindari rent out the land to tenants who in their turn sublease to others. Cases are not uncommon where this subleasing reaches as high as twelve (and even more!) stages before an Indian peasant is finally allowed to till the land for all these cannibals.

In order to perpetuate feudalism, the English apply what is known as the Torrence System in their colonies, especially India. According to this system, the old feudal titles remain and are entered into a land register; but the right is given to purchase feudal titles “by voluntary agreement.” In short, a feudal lord can sell his right to a capitalist. In this way, the English have slipped underneath the rotten edifice of feudalism a modernized foundation and at the same time tied the native bourgeoisie to the chariot of the Rajahs, Maharajahs and Nizams. Any blow at the princes strikes also at the pockets of the bourgeoisie. To retain an important part of their capital and their profits, the Indian financiers must of necessity do all they can to retain the princes from whom in the last analysis all the land-titles flow – or, rather, to retain the princes who must hang on to the English without whom their power is so much chaff. And this is one of the reforms England has graciously bestowed on India!

There is still another important measure applied by the English to hold up the feudal system. Jawaharlal Nehru, the present leader of the Indian bourgeoisie, has explained it in his own polished style in his autobiography:

Nehru’s Description

“Most of the Indian states are well known for their backwardness and their semifeudal conditions. They are personal autocracies, devoid ever of competence or benevolence ... And yet their very inefficiency lessens the evils in some ways and lightens the burden of their unhappy people. For this is reflected in a weak executive, and it results in making even tyranny and injustice inefficient. That does not make tyranny more bearable, but it does make it less far-reaching and widespread. The assumption of direct British control over an Indian state has a curious (sic!) result in changing this equilibrium (!?!). The semi-feudal conditions are retained, autocracy is kept, the old laws and procedure are still supposed to function, all the restrictions on personal liberty and association and expression of opinion (and they are all-embracing) continue, but one change is made which alters the whole background. The executive becomes stronger, while a measure of efficiency is introduced, and this leads to a tightening-up of all the feudal and autocratic bonds ...

“To begin with,” continues Nehru, “they, the British, take full advantage of the archaic customs and methods to tighten their hold on the people, who have now to put up not only with feudalism and autocracy, but with an efficient enforcement of them by a strong executive.”

So strong is this executive that, according to official figures, rent and interest charges absorb from 70 to 80 per cent of a peasant’s harvest. After that he pays taxes. That peasant is indeed a favored son of fortune whose families have not died from hunger by the time the zamindar (landlord) and the tolukdar (tax-gatherer) and the usurer – all ably assisted by most modern efficiency – have got through squeezing his shrivelled carcass. In 1918 there were six million hereditary debt-slaves in India. How many there are today nobody knows.

What the Princes Fear

The curtain is beginning to rise on the age-long “mystery of India”, revealing: filth, squalor, degradation, bestiality, every abomination in the dictionary of English colonial rule. Meanwhile, in 700,000 Indian villages the peasants are weighing in their minds a way out of their centuries of grinding poverty, their centuries of living death. Small wonder, that a dispatch from Bombay issues alarm signals:

“There are 600 Indian Princes, ranging from the all-powerful Nizam of Hyderabad with immense wealth and territory as large as Italy, to small landowners with only (sic!) a few thousand subjects. The Princes fear that if the British-Indian link is broken, they will ultimately be swept away.” (New York Times, Mar. 22, 1942.)

Every Indian worker and peasant will agree that nothing could serve their country better than to be rid of both the all-powerful princes and their contemptible “link.” The sooner, the better.


Wright Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 13 April 2022