It is a subject that has been little discussed. And whatever that has been discussed has been confined in the guarded portals of the academic realm.  It was never taken into public memory. This unspoken dark secret is the embedded racism that resides at the core of Marxist ideology and practice. While in the case of Nazism its evil is explicit. It is easy to dismiss its pseudo-scientific racist claims. But even then the common psyche of Europe needed a Second World War to realize and dismiss the evils of racial constructs, that too only in European context.

But in the case of Marxism this explicit identification has never happened. In the minds of both ordinary persons as well as educated intellectuals, Marxism stands for raceless internationalist equality of all humanity. There is a considerable section of critics of Marxism who would say thus: Perhaps a failed utopian dream, but what Marxism conceptualized was worthy of dreaming and striving for… it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all…a grand failed experiment but it nevertheless it is a goal aimed at common goodness unlike the evil Nazi idea of future…is it not?

Or is it?

A study of the literature of Marxism at its formative stage through the writings of Karl Marx and Engels, reveal something contrary. Of course today we know that Marx and Engels were Euro-centric. But a third-world Marxist scholar would tell you, nevertheless despite their conditioning by the time and clime they lived in, Marx and Engels gave us tools to understand history and society with which we can understand humanity and its development scientifically. Individual pathos of scientists like Darwin or Einstein seldom come in our way of accepting their scientific discoveries and the same rule applies to Marxism – the science of human society.

How correct is this apologist argument? What we shall explore here is the connection between what Marx and Engels wrote as part of Marxist perception of history and how that correlates with the implementation of Marxism as a state ideology by latter day saints of major denominations of Marxist creed.

Justifying the Colonization of India

That both Marx and Engels were Euro-centric is well known. They were convinced that non-European cultures could not possess anything of innate value. And whatever of value non-European cultures might have had, they had been surpassed in the march of history by Euro-American culture. However in the writings of Karl Marx, one finds a soft corner for Indians when compared to what he thinks of Slavs. The reason is not far to seek. Marx finds Indian communities to be racially connected to dominant European nations. Writing in 1853 Karl Marx stated:

The Indians will not reap the fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the British bourgeoisie, till in Great Britain itself the now ruling classes shall have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat, or till the Hindoos themselves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether. At all events, we may safely expect to see, at a more or less remote period, the regeneration of that great and interesting country, whose gentle natives are, to use the expression of Prince Soltykov, even in the most inferior classes, “plus fins et plus adroits que les Italiens” [more subtle and adroit than the Italians], a whose submission even is counterbalanced by a certain calm nobility, who, notwithstanding their natural langor, have astonished the British officers by their bravery, whose country has been the source of our languages, our religions, and who represent the type of the ancient German in the Jat, and the type of the ancient Greek in the Brahmin.[1]

The sympathy Karl Marx has for Indians is essentially because he perceived them to be a fallen European master race. But even that sympathy would not stop Marx from envisioning the destruction of Indian industry by British colonialism as a much needed progressive march of history. So in the same article Marx wrote:

England has to fulfill a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying the material foundations of Western society in Asia.[2]

Earlier the same year, in a letter to Friedrich Engels Marx rejoiced the destruction of Indian industry. He saw Indian villages as ‘idyllic republics’ offering ‘solid foundation for stagnant Asian despotism’ and hence the native industries should be destroyed to pave way for ‘Europeanization’ of Indian society:

I do not think anyone could imagine a more solid foundation for stagnant Asiatic despotism. And however much the English may have hibernicized the country, the breaking up of those stereotyped primitive forms was the sine qua non for Europeanisation. … The destruction of their archaic industry was necessary to deprive the villages of their self-supporting character.[3]

Marx was well aware of the human misery including repeated ravaging famines that the collapse of Indic system by British colonialists, wrought on Indians. Yet the civilizational devaluing of India made him accept such human miseries as necessary price to be paid for the societal evolution on European lines. Marx showed nothing but contempt for Indian religion:

We must not forget that this undignified, stagnatory, and vegetative life, that this passive sort of existence evoked on the other part, in contradistinction, wild, aimless, unbounded forces of destruction and rendered murder itself a religious rite in Hindostan. We must not forget that these little communities were contaminated by distinctions of caste and by slavery, that they subjugated man to external circumstances instead of elevating man the sovereign of circumstances, that they transformed a self-developing social state into never changing natural destiny, and thus brought about a brutalizing worship of nature, exhibiting its degradation in the fact that man, the sovereign of nature, fell down on his knees in adoration of Kanuman, the monkey, and Sabbala, the cow.[4]

Yet paradoxically in the very same essay, Marx acknowledges that these very Indian weavers living ‘undignified, stagnatory, and vegetative life’ had produced such ‘admirable textures ‘ and had sent them to Europe making Europe to send ‘in return for them her precious metals’.[5]

In other words the denunciation of Indian villages come from a civilizational bias rather than from an objective analysis based on economic productivity. Curiously, overlapping the period of observation made by Marx, in the span of just ninety years -from 1765 to 1858- India, coming under the grip of East India Company, had experienced twelve major famines and four ‘severe scarcities’ and for the first time India started experiencing famines not limited to small geographical regions but affecting a wider area and taking a heavy toll of life.[6] Ultimately Marx pronounces the historic verdict:

England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfill its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.[7]

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Aravindan Neelakandan

Co-author of acclaimed book "Breaking India", Aravindan Neelakandan has worked for the past decade with an NGO in Tamil Nadu serving marginalized rural communities in sustainable agriculture. He is also a popular science writer in Tamil and is part of the editorial team of highly popular Tamil web portal

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