Quid pro quo – talk at Melbourne Uni

“Quid pro quo’: Marx on India, from the Black Hole to the East of Capital”

John Hutnyk

The paper moves from re imagining Das Kapital if the book had been written at a major point of value extraction – Bengal – and follows this drift to the east up to the present day regeneration of the old East India Docks in London by a Chinese Corporation.

Venue: University of Melbourne, Friday 13 December 2013 (2pm-4 in the 4th floor common room John Medley Building)


Abstract: My case is Marx writing on India, examining his theoretical and journalistic work together, each informed by an emergent anthropology, by historical hermeneutics, by a critique of political economy and by attention to a political contest that mattered more than philosophy. Marx reading history, already against the grain and without being able to make actual alliances, is nevertheless seeking allies in a revolutionary cause. Is it possible to observe Marx coming round to realise, after the shaping experience of the 1848-1852 European uprisings, the possibilities for the many different workers of the world to unite? I consider the sources Marx finds available, what he reads, and how his writing practice parses critical support as habitual politics, and how far subcontinental events, themes and allegories are a presence in the key moves of his masterwork Capital almost as if India were a refocussed bromide for Europe, just as slavery is for wages. I will take up four cases – the ‘founding’ of Calcutta by Job Charnock (disputed); the story of Clive sacking Chandernagor and going on to defeat Suraj-ud-duala at Palashi/Plassey in 1757 in retaliation for the ‘Black Hole’ (did it exist?); Disraeli verbosely saying nothing about the so-called Indian ‘mutiny’ 1857 (‘the East as a career’); and the question of legalizing Opium in China and the advent of Matheson-Jardine Company after the East India Company comes to an end (‘quid pro quo’). A coda returns us to London and the redevelopment of the old EIC shipyards in Deptford, returning Capital to the capital.


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