De-industrialization of the Indian cotton industry

Bengal industries Industrial Revolution

GMT 06:51 2015 Monday ,18 May

Sriyadithatextile - Bengal industries Industrial Revolution

Bengal Cotton Industry
Courtesy Google

Yet another vice-chancellor has come out with a very significant book on Bengal industries and the British Industrial Revolution. This is one of the most catalectic experiments of British Capitalism on the Bengal economy in the colonial context. We are all familiar with the nationalist debate on de-industrialization in the wake of the British capitalist intervention. In the classical Marxist vein, it is alleged that Bengal was rescued from the stupor of the Asiatic mode of production and geared to the Railway imperialism which inter alia was a pioneer mother industry in India with its sprawling hinterland and numerous ancillaries. According to Russian economic historians of India, it was largely a kind of myth-making to provide burlesque to British rule in India. Chicherov, the leading exponent of the  Soviet school, clearly holds the view that India was on the threshold of the industrial take-off  when  British rule stopped its further progress.

Eric Hobsbawm in his classic Industry and Empire has confessed that the Empire was the supplier of not only the raw material but also capital and the captive market that ignited the Industrial Revolution in England. The British manufacturers had only to convert the raw materials into finished products and send them back to their assumed market. It was no wonder therefore that necessity was the mother of all British inventions which authored the British Industrial Revolution in pastoral economy.   The author deals with the fascinating subject of Bullion Movement to and from Bengal between 1660 and 1860 in the opening core chapter. Time there was when the Plassey plunder and cheating of Chait Singh of Benaras started the bullion flow from Bengal to Britain. But to buy Bengal commodities, there was a drain of wealth from Britain afterwards. To prevent this drain the Raj attempted maximum conquest and collection of revenue with which to buy these commodities. But there was a limit to such expansion and the revenue income was just enough to run the administration. So, cash crops had to be promoted in India starting from tea, indigo, flax and jute and in the industrial sector  coal, iron, mica, manganese, and other ores.   Even this enterprise was not profitable enough. Therefore, after the mutiny, India was directly ruled by the Crown in Parliament and the entire home secretariat was run by Indian revenue home charges. This led to the notorious Indian drain of wealth which caused, according to Naoroji, the chronic poverty of India. The author has lucidly sketched this rogue bullion movement.   He has also examined the intricate cotton textile industry which initially looked like competitive failure due to British Mill production but it was laced by a subtle policy of discrimination due to the Indian captive market for British textile goods in India and discriminatory tariff on fine fabrics entering Britain.  This is known as de-industrialization or ruin of the Indian cotton industry. The same applies to the silk textile industry which, however, survived the shock because of its traditional edge.   The story of the salt industry does not go for competition. It was a ruthless episode of policy discrimination. Though Bengal or India had an enormous coastline and salt was almost a natural product, it was ruined by imported salt at a cheaper price which was actually the ballast of sea-going vessels.  The author does not hesitate to call a spade a spade.   The ship-building industry fared no better. Despite a long tradition and availability of ship-building material, it was also ruined by unfair shipping laws.   Roy finally deals with the decay of the indigo industry, which initially flourished, due to the influx of planter capital coffers of the Union Bank. But over-production due to the use of force on the poor peasants choked its global market, all capital dried up and even the government preferred foodgrains to the dying market of this indigenous dye.    

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