Economic Exploitation of Bengal

(1981, Calcutta) – According to Karl Marx, the creation of surplus value is the source of economic exploitation. Capitalists convert the surplus value into money value and that is how they accumulate profit. After analysing the capitalist economy, Marx reasoned that all profit is exploitation because profit means the denial of the legitimate right of the working class to the wealth they produce. Consequently, profit is nothing but the exploitation of labour. Marx concluded that the creation of surplus value will stop only when economic exploitation ends.

All communist states, including the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam, have rejected Marx’ theory of exploitation. According to these countries, the creation of surplus value in the economy is an indispensable part of national prosperity. In repudiation of Marxist ideas, profit is not considered exploitation. If Marx made the first attempt to analyse and define exploitation, then it must be said that his work is not free from defects. This is because Marx tried to interpret exploitation only from the economic point of view.

According to PROUT, economic exploitation involves the unrestricted plunder of the physical and psychic labour of a particular community together with the natural resources in their local area. In PROUT’s view, exploitation is not confined to only economic exploitation, but includes psychic and spiritual exploitation as well.

Economic exploitation has various forms and includes colonial exploitation, imperialist exploitation and fascist exploitation. There are similarities and dissimilarities in both the principles and characters of these forms of exploitation. Let us examine each of these three forms of exploitation by taking the example of Bengal.

Colonial Exploitation

In the case of colonial exploitation, the exploiters first capture a market and then gain control of all the raw materials available in that area through monopoly rights. They produce finished goods out of the raw materials in their own factories within their own region, and then sell the finished goods to the people in the occupied market. Thus, they get double the opportunities to misappropriate wealth – the exploiters deceive the local population while procuring their raw materials at cheap rates, and then they sell their finished products in the same markets at exorbitant prices. By capturing the local market, the colonial exploiters succeed in totally destroying the local industrial system.

The first part of British rule in Bengal was a period of colonial exploitation. The British capitalists, in order to capture the markets of Bengal, systematically destroyed all Bengal’s industry and forced the local manufacturers and skilled labourers to work in British owned factories.

The British East India Company used to collect raw materials by looting and intimidating the local people. It contracted a pledge from those who worked in cottage industries that they would buy raw materials only from the company, and sell finished products only to the company. The company used to sell raw materials at high rates, and buy finished products at twenty-five percent below their actual market price. The manufacturers who refused to agree to the terms of the company were handcuffed and publicly flogged, and the thumbs of many weavers who resisted the demands of the company were chopped off to destroy their capacity to weave fine cloth. Because of this kind of oppression, the weavers of Bengal could not compete with the weaving industry which was being developed in Manchester.

Within ten years after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, most of the important industries in Bengal such as silk, cotton, sugar, salt, colour dyes, machine parts and shipbuilding had been systematically destroyed. The manufacturers and skilled labourers who had been employed in various industries for generations were uprooted from their natural source of livelihood and pushed towards agriculture. The inevitable result was the catastrophic famine of 1770. Thus, Bengal was converted into a supplier of raw materials and a market for British products. This type of economic exploitation is called “colonial exploitation”.

Even thirty years after Indian independence, the vestiges of colonial exploitation have not been obliterated from Bengal. Rather, exploitation by the Indian capitalists has been deepened and widened. These Indian capitalists are outsiders who have not identified their own socio-economic interests with the interests of the local area. Today they look upon West Bengal and its adjoining areas as merely a source of raw materials. These capitalists purchase the agricultural, mineral and forestry resources of Bengal at cheap rates and convert them into manufactured goods in their own factories in Gujarat, the Punjab, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, and then sell the finished products in the Bengal market at high prices.

Almost all items of daily use in Bengal are manufactured outside Bengal, but sold in the West Bengal market. At the same time, Bengal’s own industries have either been paralysed or destroyed so that the goods produced in Bengal can never compete with those of the Indian capitalists produced outside Bengal. This is the reason that West Bengal does not get the chance to establish new industrial enterprises. The Punjab and Harayana have been turned into monopoly centres for the leather industry, but strangely, in both these states, hides are scarcely available. Industrialists from these states procure animal skins from the forests of Tarai and Duars in North Bengal and the deltaic region of the Sundarbans in the south of the state, and sell their finished leather products in Bengal. West Bengal has no hide industry to supply finished products to its own market. Only a small percentage of the leather shoes produced in Batanagar is supplied to the West Bengal market, and the largest percentage is exported to foreign markets. The same situation prevails in the sports goods industry. Needless to say, the owners of most of the essential industries in West Bengal are outsiders. To them West Bengal is merely a colony to acquire raw materials as well as a vast market for the sale of finished goods which are manufactured in their own regions. All these outsiders are guided by one psychology: “As we have come to a foreign land, let us try to loot as much as we can.”

Imperialist Exploitation

Next comes imperialist exploitation. In this case the exploiters fully exercise their political and economic power for their own economic exploitation. The second half of British rule in India was characterized by imperialist exploitation. In fact, the imperialist exploitation of Bengal can be traced to the rein of the Mughal Emperor Akbar about 400 years ago. There is a reference in the book Ain-E-Akbari [The Laws of Akbar] that Bengal had to supply 23,301 cavalrymen, 801,159 infantrymen, 4,400 ships, 4,260 cannons and 108 elephants to the Mughal army. Bengal also had to pay a large tribute to meet Akbar’s military expenses, supply provisions to the Mughal army, and pay taxes to offset the losses incurred in Akbar’s campaigns. And when Aurangzeb deployed a large Mughal army to suppress the Marathas in the Deccan, Bengal again had to supply a large part of the provisions and running expenses of his army. In the process, the economy of Bengal was completely drained and the people impoverished. As a result of the Mughal exploitation, Bengal was confronted by a series of economic disasters and famines, and the Mughal rulers, with the help of their functionaries, ruthlessly suppressed all local revolts.

The Mughal misrule of Bengal was closely followed by the British colonial and imperialist exploitation. When Clive left India, he took away millions of rupees in cash. The East India Company and its employees took a bribe of thirty million rupees to carry out the exploitation of Bengal, and the British officers looted and plundered a vast amount of wealth from the palaces of the indigenous rulers.

As a result of the devastating famine of 1770, about ten million people died, including artisans, skilled labourers and farmers. Before India entered the nineteenth century, all of Bengal’s important industries had been destroyed. Dhaka, a most prosperous city, was a famous weaving and commercial centre, but it lost its pre-eminence and the population declined because the people were uprooted from their traditional means of livelihood. The unemployed skilled labourers left Dhaka and travelled to the countryside in search of new occupations, and finally took to agriculture. Naturally, these new workers became landless labourers and the agricultural sector became overcrowded. This was how important industrial centres such as Murshidabad and Pandua lost their economic prosperity. Innumerable unemployed youth were created in the industrial sector of Bengal’s economy, and they had no alternative but to resort to agriculture.

After completely destroying the industries of Bengal, the British capitalists turned their attention to the rural sector. In 1779 the British colonialists forced the Bengali peasants to cultivate indigo in their paddy lands because there was a great demand for colour dyes in the European market. The problem was that once indigo was planted it took two to three years to mature, and in this time no other crops could be cultivated. The peasants refused to cultivate indigo instead of paddy, and consequently they were subjected to inhuman torture and oppression. This continued for eighty years, then the people of Bengal revolted and the cultivation of indigo stopped.

Along with the cultivation of indigo, the British merchants cast their greedy eyes on Bengal’s jute and tea industries. In order to further increase their profits, they began to exploit these two commodities. In 1793 Lord Cornwallis tried to impose British feudalism on the rural economy of Bengal through the system of permanent settlements. According to this system, zamindars were armed with enormous economic power. They were given the authority to impose revenue taxes on land, evict farmers, arbitrarily sell farmers’ movable and immovable property, and if necessary prosecute farmers and sentence them to death. In exchange for all these privileges, the landlords had to pay a fixed amount of money to the British Raj at the end of each year. If that amount was not deposited in the treasury at the appointed time, the landholdings of the landlord were auctioned. Naturally no landlord wanted his land auctioned, so regardless of the climatic conditions or the size of the crops, he forced the farmers to pay the required taxes. Besides paying their government revenue, the landlords always tried to make a profit, so they collected more than the prescribed amount from the farmers.

The landlords, however, encountered certain difficulties when they tried to collect tax revenues directly by moving from place to place. Consequently, the system of collecting taxes through agents was introduced. These agents gave the responsibility for collecting taxes to another set of people, thus between the landlord and the farmer there were agents of different strata. The agents at the lowest stratum used to deduct a certain percentage of the tax revenue and give the rest to the higher level agents. Thus, the farmers had to bear the brunt of this enormous financial burden. Moreover, the agents did not issue any receipts, so there was no limit to the exploitation and looting of the farmers who were impoverished beyond their means.

Besides the landlords and their agents, another group of exploiters emerged who took advantage of the poverty of the farmers. These were the moneylenders, who lent money to the farmers at exorbitant rates of interest. The farmers were forced to take loans which they could never repay, so they mortgaged their lands. Eventually the moneylenders became the owners of the farmers’ lands, and the farmers were thus converted into landless labourers. Such a huge population of landless labourers was found only in Bengal.

The complement to economic exploitation is political oppression. British political exploitation reduced the number of Bengalees by dividing Greater Bengal into numerous fragments and annexing those areas to adjoining states. The people of Bengal were deprived of the natural resources of those regions which were later formed into Assam, Bihar and Orissa. The ethnic Bengalees of those areas, after only a few generations, became separated from the main stream of Bengali life and culture. The British did not apply this principle of “divide and rule” to any other part of India. Just to perpetuate their economic exploitation in Bengal, the British resorted to political oppression. Bengalees had experienced the tyranny of highly placed people, but they had never before experienced oppression that completely stifled their means of commerce and livelihood, and almost destroyed their very existence.

In 1947, when the British left India, another era of exploitation by Indian imperialists started in the wake of the partition of Bengal. Despite the long period of British exploitation, in the initial phase after independence the state of Bengal was more advanced than any other state in India, and many Bengali industrialists had developed. The outsiders started to systematically eliminate the Bengali industrialists from specific areas of trade and industry. This methodical economic oppression of Bengal started immediately after India attained freedom.

During this period, West Bengal’s paddy land was converted into jute production in order to earn more foreign exchange from jute. The farmers were losers on two fronts. First, their income from paddy was totally stopped, and secondly, they were not given the market value of the jute they produced. The outsiders benefited in two ways. They exported much of their jute to foreign countries to earn foreign exchange, and they supplied rice to Bengal produced in their own areas. At that time there were approximately eighty jute mills in West Bengal, all owned by outsiders who made a total profit of hundreds of millions of rupees per annum. The central government earned a similar amount by exporting jute, and another few hundred million rupees as taxes, duties, etc., on jute products. About twenty percent of India’s total foreign exchange came from Bengal’s jute industry, but Bengal’s indigenous jute farmers were deprived of any profit from jute production.

West Bengal earns no percentage of the foreign exchange acquired from its natural resources. The central government sells cotton to Maharashtra and Gujarat at comparatively low prices, whereas the farmers of Bengal are forced to buy the same commodities at high prices. Naturally the cost of producing cotton cloth and hand-spun clothes is higher in Bengal than in other states. The same thing applies in the case of sugar. Furthermore, Bengal has to sell coal and iron ore to other parts of the country without making any profit, and it has to buy edible oil and other essential food items at extra cost.

Due to this exploitation by outsiders, the economic structure of Bengal has been shattered and a large percentage of Bengal’s population now lives below the poverty line. Tens of millions of rupees are drained out of West Bengal every month by outsiders, and many of Bengal’s own industrial enterprises have been destroyed. The important industrial sectors together with trade and commerce are now in the hands of outsiders. Millions of able-bodied young Bengalees are unemployed, whereas the non-Bengali capitalists employ much of their work-force from outside the state.

Fascist Exploitation

The final and most dangerous form of economic exploitation is fascist exploitation. In order to canvass national support to justify their exploitation, the imperialists popularize the theory of nationalism. They portray their exploitation as rational and constitutional and based on the national interest. The British imperialists, in order to legitimize their exploitation, embraced nationalist theory. Following the example of the British, Mussolini of Italy and Hitler of Germany moved along the same path. When communist imperialism was established after the Second World War, the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin propagated the concept of the Slavic supremacy. Likewise, the Chinese leader Mao Zedong built up Chinese superiority.

As soon as an imperialist power is transformed into a fascist power, it spreads out its tentacles to psychically and culturally oppress a vanquished people. To perpetuate unhindered economic exploitation, psychic exploitation starts almost simultaneously. Where psychic exploitation is used to further economic exploitation, it is called “psycho-economic exploitation”.

At the very outset, the fascist exploiters select a weak community which inhabits a region rich in natural resources. The fascists socially and culturally uproot the victimized community by imposing a foreign language and culture on them. Because the local people cannot easily express their individual and collective feelings and sentiments in a foreign language, they develop a defeatist psychology and inferiority complex with respect to the exploiters. This defeatist psychology destroys the natural spiritedness and will to fight of the local people, and the fascists skillfully utilize this golden opportunity. The primary interest of the fascist exploiters is to gradually suck the vitality of the local community so that they can pillage and plunder their natural resources, but if necessary they will even obliterate the local community from the face of the earth.

During the British rule of India, the Bengalees were the victims of various types of rapacious psychic exploitation by the British fascists. The British adopted several methods of psychic exploitation. For instance, the British exploiters, obsessed with crushing freedom struggles and national revolts, tried to destroy the revolutionary spirit of the Bengalees. To achieve this objective they also started psycho-economic exploitation. Besides this, in order to reduce the Bengali population, they divided Bengal into different regions and annexed them to the adjoining states. A large section of the population became separated from the mainstream of Bengali life and identified with the cultural heritage of the newly formed states. The same approach is being followed even now.

The Indian capitalists followed the example of the British. Their exploitative psychology was clearly manifest in the refugee policy. By the end of 1949 the rehabilitation problem of the refugees who came from West Pakistan had been completely solved, but the refugees who came from East Pakistan were subject to an altogether different policy. The Bengali refugee problem was kept in abeyance. Many Bengali refugees, by dint of their self-confidence, physical capabilities and hard work, still struggle for survival in Tripura, Assam, Bihar and Orissa, while millions of poor and helpless refugees continue to live on the streets in the towns and cities of Bengal, wandering aimlessly in search of food and shelter.

The plan to reduce the size of the Bengali population is being implemented through the systematic destruction of the vitality of the Bengali people. The most powerful means of expression of a people’s collective psychic power is their language and literature. Hence, to try and uproot a people from their culture is a special form of psychic exploitation. The cultural suppression of Bengalees throughout eastern India is rampant. To undermine the morality and integrity of Bengal’s national character, lewd films and books have been spread throughout the state like ulcerous wounds.

In the factories and the rural production centres, the capitalist exploitation of India continues unabated, and the landholders, as the last vestiges of a feudalistic social order, perpetrate their exploitation in the villages. The capitalists and landlords carry on their exploitation hand-in-hand. The survival and social security of the landless labourers depends solely on the whims of the landlords, who can expel the labourers at any time on any pretext.

The exploitation by capitalists and landlords is accompanied by the exploitation by moneylenders. In the rural economy they lend money to the farmers and rural peasants, and are present in nearly every village and hamlet of West Bengal. Where the landlords are not physically present, their loyal agents are very active. The moneylenders have nothing to do with the land – they merely give loans to the poor farmers at high interest. Sometimes poor farmers cannot afford to procure farming implements, hence they are compelled to take loans from the moneylenders. If a moneylender gives one hundred rupees to a farmer, the farmer will have to repay two hundred rupees with interest, but the moneylender does not take back the loan in cash. Instead he realizes the amount in kind in the form of paddy, potatoes, etc., at cheap rates at the time of the harvest. The poor farmer, under the pressure of circumstances, has to accept this unwelcome system. He is a double loser – first, he has to pay more than double the amount of the original loan, and secondly, this amount is paid in kind at the rate of the harvest price of the crop, which is naturally very cheap. This whole process is conducted through agents, who also take their profit. Thus, the peasants and farmers of India are deprived of all their agricultural produce in four to five months of the year to repay the moneylenders, so for the remaining seven to eight months they have to approach the moneylenders again for fresh loans. At first they mortgage their implements, and then they are forced to part with their land. When the amount of the loans with compound interest increases to the point where the interest and the mortgage is equal to the price of their land, the moneylenders confiscate the land of the farmers. Consequently, the farmers get evicted from their land and move from village to village, living on the streets as beggars.

The direct representatives of the capitalist exploiters in the rural economy are the middlemen. They take advantage of the poverty and distress of the farmers and force them to depend on the capitalists for their production. For example, in West Bengal, Calcutta is the main centre of the capitalists, but of course they have subsidiary centres in various parts of the state. For instance, they have centres in Siliguri in North Bengal, Sainthia in Birbhum district, Purulia town in Purulia district and Midnapore town in Midnapore district. From these centres the capitalists, through their agents and middlemen, control the rural economy of West Bengal. The farmers depend on these middlemen not only to procure farm implements, but also to sell their agricultural produce. They also take advantage of the illiteracy of the simple uneducated farmers, collect their signatures or thumb prints for a larger loan, and pay them less than the market value of their produce.

Indian society is basically capitalistic, and the administrative system is a capitalist dominated democracy. It is the capitalists who control and direct the social, economic and political systems of India. The problem of how to remain in power is the most important issue for every political party that comes to power in an election. When political interest is of paramount importance, naturally the government will frame laws to safeguard the interests of the capitalist exploiters. The responsibility of upholding the interests of the exploiters in the name of law and order devolves onto the bureaucracy and police. The political leaders merely engage in internal bickering over their share of the ill-gotten gains.

India’s peasants, under the enormous weight of the exploitation by capitalists, landlords, moneylenders and corrupt politicians, together with the crippling burden of poverty, have been pushed to the brink of death. At any cost, the peasants will have to shoulder the responsibility of freeing themselves from the jaws of destruction. But what is the way out for them? Is sanguinary revolution the surest way of attaining freedom? Is there any other way out? In my opinion, if the path of bloodshed can be avoided by some means or other, and if the exploiters can be brought back to their senses, that would be the most preferable option. But to do this the following requirements would have to be fulfilled.

  1. A decentralized economy which replaces the current centralized economy must be introduced. Economic planning should be based on block-level planning and include every village. This is the only way to put an end to colonial, imperialist and fascist exploitation.
  2. In every stratum of the economy, the cooperative system must be expanded so that no one can take an undue share of the collective wealth produced by the industrial and agricultural labourers.
  3. Moneylending by private capitalists should be banned and provisions must be made to pay loans in advance to the farmers through the banks. This will eradicate the exploitation by moneylenders and political cadres.
  4. The floating population of any state must be either settled where it is living, or made to leave that area and return to its original region. It will have to choose either option.

The progress of history can never be reversed – the current of destiny can never be resisted. The elevated and benevolent intellect is the solution to all human problems.

Copyright Ananda Marga Publications 2012

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