The connection established: England and India in the vi
early seventeenth century 37
3 British imperial rule begins: Bengal 1750-1800 86
4 England in India: Seringapatam to the Great Revolt
5 England in India: The Great Revolt to World War I
6 England out of India: 1947 and after 212
7 Imperialism as inequality 239
In writing this book I am doubly presumptuous, first for addressing the matter of imperialism about which in the last century there has been a crescendo of commentary and learned exegeses and, second, for looking to India’s history for the institutional substance of my argument when I have neither the formal credentials of an Indian scholar nor the insouciant assurance of James Mill that that is all to the good. My argument, however, addresses an aspect of imperialism that has been neglected, namely its coercive impact on the imperialized. This neglect, oddly enough, reflects the tendency of the theorists and historians of imperialism to assume that its grim underside is self-evident and what needs explanation is its causes.
I come to this matter from a long-standing interest in political economy. I believe Carlyle’s characterization of it was well-founded in that resources are made scarce by the demands imposed upon them and that however societies resolve the consequent choice dilemmas they must in some degree constrain individuals. Outside the Garden of Eden coercion is at a discount. My assessment of it in imperialism therefore starts
from the premise that we are concerned with a special manifestation of a general problem.
My choice of the British in India for the historical basis of my argument needs no defense. It is a long and varied history of the encounter of quite different peoples in vast and changing settings which has generated an inexhaustible literature the reading in which is its own reward. My obligation to the legion of Indian,
African, and Asian scholars, both in the East and West, who have made that history so vivid is profound. Without them it would have been impossible to season the insights of economics with non-western experience. Of that splendid host I am especially indebted to three persons who read previous drafts of the entire manuscript. A. G. Hopkins of the University of Birmingham rendered me invaluable service by calling attention to problems I had overlooked and the references which helped me cope with them in revision. John R. McLane of Northwestern University gave me the careful reading of an Indian scholar of Bengal. He also was extremely generous in sharing with me the extensive resources of his personal library. Rhoads Murphey of the University of Michigan, whose knowledge of Asian, especially Chinese and Indian, institutions has been enriched by intermittent residence in various parts of Asia going back to the middle years of World War II, was at once supportive and insistent that the development of my thesis needed greater focus and coherence. Needless to say, none of these scholars is responsible for the way in which I have responded to their criticisms.
It would have been very much more difficult for me to do the reading and write the initial draft of the manuscript had I not had a leave of absence from Northwestern University during the aca-demic year 1978-9. 1 am grateful to Dean Rudolph H. Wein-gartner of the College of Arts and Sciences and Dean David S. Ruder of the Law School for releasing me from my normal academic obligations and financing the `leisure’ for the enterprise. My thanks also to Ved Mehta for permission to quote an extensive passage from `City of the Dreadful Night’; to the New Yorker Magazine where it first appeared; and to Farrar, Straus & Giroux who reprinted it in his Portrait of India in 1970. Finally, I thank V. S. Naipaul for permission to use a similarly long passage from `India, New Claim in the Land’ and the New York Review which
published it in June 1976.
KARL DE SCHWEINITZ JR.
On 13 April 1919 General Reginald Dyer ordered British troops in his command to fire upon a crowd of some jggo Indians who had gathered peaceably in an open area in Amritsar
called the Jallianwala Bagh to listen to nationalists speak about independ-ence, a goal whose time appeared to have come. The command was not preceded by a warning or an order to disperse. Nor did General Dyer call a cease-fire, when men, women, and children in their frenzy to escape the fusillade piled up at the bottlenecks of the narrow alleys which were the only means of getting into and out of the Jallianwala Bagh. The firing started at 5 .00 p.m. and stopped at 5.15 p.m., by which time the Indian sepoys had exhausted their ammunition. The troops then withdrew, leaving behind, accord-ing to the official report, ; 79 dead and at least 1200 wounded, none of whom was given medical assistance. In testimony before the Hunter Committee that was subsequently appointed to investigate the matter, General Dyer acknowledged that had he been able to maneuver the machine guns of his detachment through the narrow alley leading to the Jallianwala Bagh he would have deployed them too for maximum effect.
In the days following the massacre at Amritsar martial law was imposed there and throughout the Punjab until 6 June. As the top military leader in the district General Dyer was thus not restrained by the rule of law. His hostility to the local population had been exacerbated by the disorders that preceded his ill-fated command, especially an attack on a European woman - a Miss Sherwood - apparently for no other reason than that she was European. He
a The rise and fall of British India
ordered any Indians that entered the street where the attack occurred to crawl on their hands and knees.1
The occasion for these actions by a member of the British Imperial Command in India was real enough, at least as seen through the eyes of imperial proconsuls who had been governing India for the British Crown for more than sixty years and were the successors to the servants of the British East India Company which had played the critical role in the establishment of Great Britain’s imperial presence in India. World War I and the rhetoric of self-determination propagated by Woodrow Wilson stimulated the expectations of Indian nationalist leaders for independence that had been nurtured in the development of the Indian National Congress. The exigencies of waging the war, however, had led the British government to enact in 1915 the Defence of India Act, which among other things restricted civil liberties and increased the authority of the Indian government to deal with subversion. Upon the expiration of the Act at the end of the war, the British government recommended that these restrictions be continued and in March 1919 they were duly embodied in the
Rowlatt Acts. The response of the Indian nationalists was immediate. Gandhi, whose satyagraha movement later became such a powerful force in the mobilization of nationalist India, called for a hartal, a day of non-work in mournful commemoration of the British frustration of nationalist hopes.2 In some parts of India, including the Punjab, there were disorders and clashes between Indians and civil authorities, leading to bloodshed and a number of deaths. For some of the English, these events raised the specter of the Sepoy Mutiny of 18 5 7 and the fear that these disorders were not merely spontaneous riots, but the early warnings of rebellion. Apparently one of this persuasion, General Dyer seemed to believe that forceful action at Amritsar would cool the ardor of Indian nationalists for disobedience to the British Raj.
One century earlier on 16 August 1819, yeomanry charged a large crowd of men, women, and children that had assembled peaceably at St Peter’s Fields outside Manchester, England to listen to Henry Hunt, a radical orator of the day, speak on political issues that were aggravating the unenfranchised classes. Although those
responsible for organizing the meeting had received no word from the local authorities that it was an illegal gathering and indeed had gone to great lengths to ensure that the crowd was orderly and well-behaved, the authorities, fearing that Hunt was a threat to the peace of the community, ordered the yeomen to arrest him. While making their way through the crowd to the platform, they apparently lost their nerve and rode into it swinging their sabers with abandon. Eleven people were killed and more than 400 injured, the massacre at Peterloo, as it came to be called, no doubt doing more in the long run for the democratic cause than anything Hunt might have said in his oration.3
Amritsar is a page from the history of imperialism, Peterloo from the history of the British democratic movement. There are many other obvious differences. The assembly in the Jallianwala Bagh was very much smaller and the casualties there very much higher than the assembly in St Peter’s Fields. General Dyer consciously used his overwhelming fire-power to teach the Indians a lesson; the yeomanry may really have been panicked by the tremendous multitude.4 The English were not much concerned about the massacre at Amritsar since many of them thought General Dyer was protecting the legitimate imperial interests of Great Britain in India; they were outraged by the massacre at Peterloo. Both, however, were incidents in the effort everywhere in all societies for governors to use force in the control of people they believe or fear
are dangerously hostile to the values they serve, an infinitesimal sample of an infinity of such historical events, many of which may never be known, but all of which survive in the memories of their victims and those who identify with them.
These brief accounts of Amritsar and Peterloo underscore my concern for imperialism as an aspect of a general problem, namely the use of force or coercion in social organization. Traditional analyses of imperialism stress causal factors in the explanation of why, for example, the British governed India in the nineteenth century or the European powers competed so vigorously for the territories in sub-Saharan Africa during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Some of them find the explanation in econ-omic factors and others in non-economic factors. Whatever caused
4 The rise and fall of British India
imperialism, its agents coerced subject peoples in varying degrees and thus depressed the latter’s sense of well-being and/or freedom. Coercion, however, is a ubiquitous phenomenon, as we have every reason to know in the twentieth century. It may be gratuitously random or originate in the intimacy of personal relationships. It may be directed against traditional or established institutions by those who themselves feel unconscionably constrained by their norms. And, as our opening vignettes of law and order show, the officers of the status quo may demonstrate their forcefulness to those they suspect of wishing to break down those norms. Moreover, if there are many occasions for the use of coercion, it may manifest itself in many ways, from the physical threat to life and limb to the withdrawal of love or other highly regarded values. Imperialists hardly coerce societies that otherwise would be free of it. Among its many roots, none can be deeper than the scarcity of
resources which afflicts all societies. We therefore start our analysis of imperialism by assessing the role of coercion in economic organization.
Scarcity, force, and freedom
The wants of society are greater than the capacity of resources to satisfy them. This primary assumption of economic analysis is not a figment of the economist’s imagination. For most of history and in most parts of the world, poverty and subsistence have been unpleasant facts of life which few people expected to transcend. In the western world these limited expectations were given powerful doctrinal justification in the stern Old Testament injunction to Adam, `In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’5 Whether
or not this grim wisdom eased one’s passage through a subsistence world, it was not more ineluctable than eastern wisdom in these matters which enjoined Hindus, for example, to abide by the rules of caste, however frugal or limiting they might be, if they wished a better incarnation in the next transmigration of souls.
Poverty is not synonymous with scarcity. When in the late
eighteenth century and with increasing vigor in the nineteenth century economies in northern Europe and North America began to industrialize, there was a promise of an end to the former but
little reason to believe that the latter would be relegated to the dustbin of history. As per-capita output increased, the wants of society increased in at least equal measure. Many of these new wants may have been less urgent than subsistence needs and some no doubt were frivolous. None the less, their satisfaction required the utilization of scarce resources and thus confronted society with the continuing need to organize itself for making difficult economic choices.
The necessity for deciding what to produce, how to produce, and for whom raises difficult ethical and political problems. If there is not enough to go around, on what grounds does one decide who shall receive what? And having decided that question, how does society ensure that its decisions are accepted by those who have received less than they want?6 Economics projects a picture of active, Promethean, calculating decision-makers who endlessly scan relative prices as they search for better means of maximizing utility and profits. Why should such people live comfortably with the constraints of scarcity? What makes them observe the rules that must be laid down to abort the chaos of a Hobbesian war of each against all?
In a preindustrial world where the rate of economic changes is slight, the economy overwhelmingly agrarian, and subsistence the norm, expectations may be very limited. A hierarchical social order may forestall those Promethean drives that we associate with economic growth, as the great majority of people defer to the few in authority who monopolize its economic and non-economic perquisites. Economic decisions are made implicitly in the tradi-tions and rituals of social organization, whether class, caste, or guild. The economic order is difficult to distinguish because there is little differentiation of function. Work and leisure do not have the same meaning as they have in industrial society since they are intertwined in the geographical propinquity of home and work-place, into both of which religious observances and social obligations readily enter. Here the coercive impact of scarcity
6 The rise and fall of British India
part sublimated in traditional relationships, which have as their rationale the repetition of historically sanctioned behavior including collective welfare through kin groups. It also may be manifest in the demands for service and tribute from headmen, princes, and kings. And in its grimmest, most fateful materializ-ation, it takes the form of famines and plagues which periodically vent their Malthusian spleen.
In a world of economic change that has overcome subsistence and in which there is great differentiation of activities both among and within the subsystems of society, economic decisions no longer are made implicitly. Nor can they all be made in a small setting of face-to-face relationships. Rather an economic system must be organized which allows society explicitly to address the choices that scarcity entails and makes possible accommodation of production and consumption. When these do not occur at the same time or place, it requires an extraordinary flow of information and an extraordinary adjustment of individual behavior to match them. The price or market mechanism is, of course, one such system.
In contrast to a command economy in which a central planning authority articulates a public interest in complex planning docu-ments and then contrives administrative means for accommodat-ing individual behavior to those purposes, the price system depends upon exchanges of goods and services among individuals whose preferences for work, leisure, and commodities are the primary guides to resource allocation. The gross national product (GNP), which embodies the public economic interest, is, then, the summation of the many decisions made by individuals in firms and
households and can be viewed as an additive function of their utilities.
In a perfectly competitive world in which individuals are highly mobile and informed and make decisions without regard to their impact on market prices, the GNP from an allocative standpoint is optimal. Households and firms maximize utility and profits in exchange, thereby indirectly maximizing society’s benefit. Consumers achieve peak satisfaction from their limited money income by buying that combination of present and future goods
and services which make their marginal utilities proportional to their prices. As owners of resources, they sell their services for the highest money income consistent with their preferences and capabilities.
The firms purchase that combination of inputs - the services of land, labor, and capital - that makes their marginal physical products proportional to their prices - rents, wages, and interest. They then produce
a level of output that equates marginal revenue to the price of the product. Since they do not believe that their decisions affect the market price, price and marginal revenue turn out to be equal. Thus the perfectly competitive firm produces an output that makes marginal cost equal to price.
Finally, all markets, for both outputs and inputs, clear as prices change to make supply equal demand. In the process some industries will expand as firms are attracted to them by profit rates that are above normal and others will contract as firms are driven out by losses. In the equilibrium of the economic system, firms will operate at minimum cost and industries will earn the minimum rate of return necessary to maintain their various capacities. Because all firms have fulfilled the marginal conditions, it is not possible to shift resources from one use to another and raise the satisfaction society obtains from its scarce resources, given technology, tastes, the distribution of income, and the level of income.
While perfect competition may be imagined to operate auton-omously and independently of the state, in fact it cannot do without it. Exchange cannot take place outside of an institutional framework which establishes ground rules for the transactors. We have already suggested that there is a tension between the condition of scarcity and calculating market behavior. One way that this tension may be managed is through the law of property which establishes entitlements in its use and the remedies for owners against those who violate them. The efficacy of law, however, depends on the ability of the judiciary to adjudicate the issues brought before it by the bar and to have its resolution of them accepted in society, all of which depends ultimately on the legitimacy accorded to the coercive powers of the state.
Moreover, exchange in highly differentiated economies and
8 The rise and fall of British India
societies is extraordinarily complex and typically cannot be consummated without there being a contract drawn up which specifies the conditions to which the contracting parties may be held and the penalties which may be exacted for non-performance. There is a tendency in neoclassical economics to view the modal exchange as an instantaneous transaction which requires little or no forethought or planning. One gets the impression that the economy consists of people who are buying and selling bread, aspirin, and similarly uncomplicated commodities. In any event contracts are unimportant in that world or are assumed to be drawn up and performed as quickly as a person can swallow a couple of aspirin.
In so far as economic decisions are not consummated instant-aneously, there are more opportunities for unanticipated happen-ings which impose costs on individuals who may or may not have been part of the original transaction. As an increasing proportion of the GNP is allocated to the production of durable goods, consumption becomes more of a longitudinal phenomenon with a concrete history and an uncertain future. If defective parts of houses, cars, boats, or lawn mowers cause accidents, who is liable for the damages they entail? So torts and the law of liability grow along with the market.
Property, contracts, and torts are not the only armor in the legal panoply encasing exchange systems. Jean Valjean knew nothing of these, but for stealing a loaf of bread suffered the inexorable penalty of the criminal law. While property law may address easement problems and whether owner A may construct a fence so high that it deprives adjacent owner B of a view of a common resource such as a lake, it does not deter burglars who care very little how these matters are dealt with in civil law. In addition to sanctions against theft, the criminal law plays a part in the maintenance of general order in society, the breakdown of which disrupts the environment conducive to exchange. Riots, disorderly conduct, mayhem, and other actions which threaten the person reduce the scope of markets. In the extreme, rebellion and revolution destroy the legal foundations on which economic activity depends.
Moreover, as competitive conditions break down and the micro- and macroeconomic performance of markets becomes less satisfactory, government may be required to do more than maintain the efficacy of the systems of civil and criminal law. If the externalities of market conduct strain the capacity of the law of torts to modify them, administrative means may be used to influence the behavior of firms and households. Or, what historically has been a more important occasion for government intervention, aggregative instability - too much unemployment, too much inflation, or, as we know to our despair today, too much of both -- may cause government to extend the uses of fiscal and monetary policies, incomes policy, or even wage and price controls.
The neoclassical view of freedom and coercion is part of the vision of exchange as a private activity relatively unencumbered by governmental authority. As Milton Friedman has put it so succinctly: `The possibility of co-ordination through voluntary co-operation rests on the elementary -- yet frequently denied --proposition that both parties to an economic transaction benefit from it, provided the