A response to Luke Doyle’s article: “Colonialism: An overwhelming force of evil’- Could not be further from the truth”.
In his article, Mr. Doyle is committed to the idea that it would be unfair to perceive of colonialism as a force of evil. This is because it had wide ranging effects, which according to him, included some “incidental benefits” to the colonies. Moreover, he suggests that judging colonialism according to our “modern standards” would be unfair and calls on us to situate our understanding within historical context. Mr. Doyle’s claims speak volumes on how misunderstood colonialism really is and emphasises the need to set the story straight.
Firstly, I would like to address his view that colonialism should not be judged by our “modern standards” because our current social setting adheres to norms and values that vastly differ from the historical setting in which colonialism occurred. Following his logic, should other historical atrocities such as the slave trade or the Holocaust also not be judged by our “modern standards”? After all, the norms that existed during the periods in which these events occurred were significantly different from our current environment. Anyone with a commitment to social justice would find the suggestion that such atrocities be interpreted in these terms ridiculous and offensive. I am thus unsure as to why colonialism is exempt from criticism against contemporary norms.
Secondly, Mr. Doyle is not alone in claiming that colonialism contributed to the growth of the colonies. In 2014 a YouGov poll revealed that 50% of British people believe British imperialism benefited the colonies. While referring to the case of India, Mr. Doyle suggests that the country’s rapid growth and development may not have been possible without the infrastructure or English language that British rule brought them. At this point, it is vital to question why knowledge of the English language and living according to British institutions, political practices and culture are such glorified concepts. It is precisely because of British imperialism and their imposition of the English language and practices on the rest of the world that adhering to them is basically a requirement today. Why are colonised countries such as India meant to feel grateful for being able to participate in a system in which there is no alternative?
In addition, the commonplace assumption that the infrastructural developments of the colonial period provided any positive contribution to the Indian economy is disturbing and could not be further from the truth. Worse, it detracts from Indian efforts to salvage their country in the aftermath of British withdrawal – efforts which turned the country into an economic powerhouse in only 71 years.
In fact, they probably would have been significantly better off without the British. Consider the trade system initiated by Britain during their rule of India, which is one of numerous ways in which they looted the country of its wealth and resources. This was achieved through the taxation of Indians by the East India Company which then used part of the tax revenue to fund the purchase of Indian goods for British use. This rendered the goods effectively free for Britain and striped India of any profit from the ‘sale’. Some of these essentially stolen goods were used directly by the British while others were re-exported to other countries. These re-exported goods where sold at a much higher price than that the British purchased them for, allowing them to expropriate the profits of Indian production.
Unfortunately, it does not end there. After the British Raj took over in 1858, Indian producers were allowed to export their products directly to other countries. However, these products could only be bought by using special Council Bills, a unique paper currency issued only by the British crown. Traders would pay the British with gold or silver to acquire these bills in order to use them to buy Indian products. However, when Indian producers cashed these bills at the local colonial office, they were ‘paid’ in rupees out of tax revenues – money that had just been collected from them. Ultimately, Indian producers never got paid because Britain ensured that the actual payments for these goods ended up in London.
Cumulatively, the amount of money stolen from trade alone comes to approximately $45 trillion, which is about 17 times the total annual GDP of the UK today. All this money was then used by the British to fuel their own industrial expansion. With this in mind, it becomes almost intimidating to imagine the extraordinary growth India could have achieved had history turned out differently. However, one thing is clear: Britain did not build India; India built Britain.
Furthermore, during the 200 years of British rule in India, there was almost no increase in per capita income and tens of millions died due to approximately ten famines caused by the British administration. When the British left, the life expectancy of Indians was 32 years, the literacy rate was 17% and the poverty rate was 70%. These facts certainly do not indicate that British rule benefited Indians or made any positive contribution to the trajectory of their growth post-independence. Therefore, it is safe to reject Mr. Doyle’s narrative that the outcomes of colonisation contributed to India’s growth in any capacity.
The British exploited their colonies for centuries through sophisticated systems of theft. There was no positive side to it. Mr. Doyle’s view that colonialism was not all that bad is unacceptable and based on ill-informed opinions. The fact of the matter is that Britain, among other European nations that participated in colonialism, funded their expansion through violent theft from other lands and its people. This is completely indefensible. The staggering amount of misinformation on colonial history exposes the underlying issue – the reluctance of many European nations to acknowledge and adequately inform their citizens of the atrocities of their past. Mr. Doyle’s fundamental misapprehension of colonialism underlines the importance and the necessity of setting the record straight.