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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Thursday, February 06, 2003

Remora

And now, for an entre-act in LI's unremitting stream of anti-belligerent propaganda:

There's a nice essay about Kipling in Hudson Review -- one with which LI disagrees mutitudinously, but one which we urge our readers to look at. Or those of our readers who have read Kipling. The concentration here is on Kim, but we must admit never to have finished Kim. Our Kipling is the Kipling of the short stories. We were recently reading the short stories again (background to our endless paper about James Fitzjames Stephen) so that we came to the Hudson Review essay with some thoughts of our own.

Every essay about Kipling begins with the same note: he was a secret pleasure, for political reasons, of the dominant literary class. His art, by achieving an uncritical popularity, became, perforce, suspect among those who were popular only, sometimes, among the critics. He was admired by Eliot, Orwell, and Wilson. The politics of these tropes goes back to that certain pall of resentment that seems to hang over the rightwing writer --- as though, having once and for all dissented from the pursuit of happiness (that liberal buNch of bunk), he were virtuously intent on the pursuit of gloom. Recently, Weekly Standard writers like Christopher Caldwell have pondered the reversal of fortune between left and right -- pointing out how much happier, and more fun, right wing publications are than left wing ones. There is some justification for this -- the left has its puritanical side, as well as its factious inquisitions, and cycles through periods of paranoid dread, and the right, with reason, believes itself politically dominant right now -- but in the sphere of culture, the right is far from happy and gay. One has merely to read the New Criterion to discover that the barbarians are at the gates and have the tenure, drat their hides.

Clara Claibourne Park is an exceptionally good writer, however, and goes through the minefield pretty easily. She isn't intent on scoring points -- a rare quality in Kipling scholarship. She takes as her guide to Kipling two studies -- Harry Ricketts� Rudyard Kipling, and David Gilmour�s The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling.

Her comments on Gilmour mix appreciation and disavowal. To our taste, however, there is not enough disavowal. For instance, here:

"Gilmour is not afraid to take on �The White Man�s Burden.� It is important, of course, to correct the common impression that by �lesser breeds without the law� Kipling meant Britain�s colonial subjects. Rather, the phrase was aimed at European imperialists (probably German) less responsible than the British. For �in spite of the prejudice and violence of expression, the message of �The White Man�s Burden� is idealistic.�

'Take up the White Man�s Burden,
The savage wars of peace,
Fill full the mouth of famine,
And bid the sickness cease . . .'

Long before, barely out of his teens, Kipling had written from India a passionate reply to his cousin Margaret Burne-Jones, who had asked, �Do the English as a rule feel the welfare of the natives at heart?� �For what else do the best men . . . die from overwork and disease, if not to keep the people alive in the first place and healthy in the second [?] . . . Do you know how many Englishmen, Oxford men expensively educated, are turned off . . . to make their own arrangements for the cholera camps; for the prevention of disorder; or for famine relief, to pull the business through or die, whichever God wills [?]� Gilmour reminds us that Kipling wrote in a world �without Oxfam or the United Nations�; he leaves it to us to substitute AIDS for cholera, and to recall the disorder unprevented in Nigeria, in Kashmir, and in other places that maps once tinted red�not least Zimbabwe, the land once part of Cecil Rhodes�s dream and now its own people�s nightmare."

This won't do. India, as we know, suffered a series of famines after the Mutiny was put down that are to be measured in the millions of casualties: 6 million, perhaps, for the 1875-1876 famine, and 4 million for the famines of the 1890s, under Curzon. The fact of famine is invariably treated, by the colonial apologists, as a natural given -- something that happened because of the weather. And that the British, heroically gallant, were helping out about. It is never pointed out that the money the British were using was from taxes collected from Indians. It is never pointed out that there is no reason to think that if the Indians had succeeded, after the Mutiny of 1857, in throwing off the British, that they wouldn't have been as successful as the Russians in attracting financing for railroads and other technology. That is, it isn't pointed out by those for whom the British Raj was a pageant staged by PBS. However, as long ago as the 1780s, Edmund Burke was not having this myth of British altruism. As he pointed out in his speech in support of Fox's Reform of the East India Company, hunger that is caused by natural calamity is magnified by political calamity. He describes the Company's policy of invariable greed as having this effect on a (somewhat idealized) countryside:

This object required a command of money; and there was no Pollam, or castle, which in the happy days of the Carnatic was without some hoard of treasure, by which the governors were enabled to combat with the irregularity of the seasons, and to resist or to buy off the invasion of an enemy. In all the cities were multitudes of merchants and bankers, for all occasions of monied assistance; and on the other hand, the native princes were in condition to obtain credit from them. The manufacturer was paid by the return of commodities, or by imported money, and not, as at present, in the taxes that had been originally exacted from his industry. In aid of casual distress, the country was full of choultries, which were inns and hospitals, where the traveller and the poor were relieved. All ranks of people had their place in the public concern, and their share in the common stock and common prosperity; but the chartered rights of men, and the right which it was thought proper to set up in the Nabob of Arcot, introduced a new system. It was their policy to consider hoards of money as crimes; to regard moderate rents as frauds on the sovereign; and to view, in the lesser princes, any claim of exemption from more than settled tribute, as an act of rebellion. Accordingly all the castles were, one after the other, plundered and destroyed. The native princes were expelled; the hospitals fell to ruin; the reservoirs of water went to decay; the merchants, bankers, and manufacturers disappeared; and sterility, indigence, and depopulation, overspread the face of these once flourishing provinces."

Burke put his finger on the essentials of the system. Kipling's India was the result of a revolution. The revolution came from above, through the British administration. Its goal was to create an export economy and a completely monetized internal market. To do this, it was necessary to get the peasantry to think in terms of money, instead of in terms of sufficiency. To effect this, the British demanded their tax in money, not goods. In order to get money, the peasants turned to a new class, the money-lenders promoted by the British with the idea that these money-lenders would invest in the land and become a rural middle class. They didn't. The system of subsistence was intentionally uprooted, and a system put in place that exposed the peasantry to the cycle of the climate, and the possibility of food shortage, without the traditional buffers to hardship. As we've mentioned before, Mike Davis's documentation in The Victorian Holocaust is quite overwhelming. Of the famines that occured in 1876, Robert Conquest's term, terror-famine, seems appropriate. Conquest, setting out the case against Stalin's agricultural policy, says this, in the Harvest of Sorrow: "... in 1932-3 came what may be described as a terror-famine inflicted on the collectivized peasants of the Ukraine and the largely Ukrainian Kuban... by methods of setting for their grain quotas far above the possible, removing every handful of food, and preventing help from the outside..."

Similarly, the much vaunted British technology -- i.e. the trains -- operated, in 1876, to take grain AWAY from effected areas in accordance with the British policy of export; the state operated to ensure a free market by making sure that grain distribution was kept to a minimum -- as Viceroy Lytton put it, the relief camps were like picnics, and so they were made unpleasant places indeed. A pound of grain a day was the amount given to the unfortunates at these camps -- was, indeed, all the food distributed to them, so that they died numerously. As Davis has pointed out, the Nazis distributed food more generously at Dachau. There's no getting over the failure of British policy in India. There is only... forgetting it. So Park can bear with much more equanimity than LI Gilmour's absurd assertions. As in this graf:

"For us, of course, the deterrents to the imperialist worldview are appreciable, to say the least. Current history, however, gives some weight to Gilmour�s observation that �when all appropriate qualifications are made, minorities usually fare better within imperial or multinational systems than in nations dominated by the ethos or ethnicity of a majority,� particularly when we are thinking about Bosnia, or Saudi Arabia�or India and Pakistan."

That India is, if anything, a society in which majorities are vigorously disputed -- much more vigorously than in, say, the apartheid South of my youth -- should be pointed out. As is the fact that the most various multi-national empire in Europe, the Austro-Hungarian one, saw born in it and nurtured by its politics one Adolf Hitler. Not a high recommendation, we'd say.

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