Opium and Political Economy in Bengal

On why I think Marx’s writing style is misrepresented by the all-too-dour and serious commentators on Capital – you know, the famous ones published by big presses or with online lecture series… :) and anyway wanted to remember and article where I selected a few choice quips by the old beardo. The following is from an essay I called ‘Marx in Calcutta’ for City, in which I had been explaining a path Engels almost chose that would have meant Bengal, not Manchester, was key:

‘Marx’s commentary on Benjamin Disraeli’s ‘awful solemnity’ in a speech on what Marx calls, in an article for the ‘New York DailyTribune‘, the ‘quid pro quo’, and welcome,‘national rebellion’ of India in 1857 (Marx, NYDT, 14 August 1857).’


‘Marx’s articles in the Tribune on EIC opium are where he most clearly expresses his fascination with and condemnation of Clive, ‘the robber baron’ (NYDT, 8 August 1853).’ All this surrounds opium, a trade Clive helped introduce, ‘In Marx’s journalistic commentary he exposed ‘flagrant self-contradiction of the Christianity canting and civilization-mongering British’ in their efforts to ‘affect to be a thorough stranger to the contraband opium trade, and even to enter into treaties proscribing it’ (Marx, NYDT, 28 September 1858). This is the definition of hypocrisy, since despite also forcing ‘opium cultivation upon Bengal’ (NYDT, 28 September 1858) and arranging ‘for private ships trading to China’, the regulations governing this shipping carried a provision which imposed ‘a penalty to them if freighted with opium of other than the Company’s own make’ (NYDT, 28 September1858).’

All this is sort of what I meant in the ‘funny’ quip department, but the bit mentioning “Capital” I was looking for that directly speaks to funny slurs is later in my essay – sorry, could not locate it right away, but eventually did. Here goes:

“[Marx’s] ‘Critique of Political Economy’, is more than a subtitle of the book; it can be read as a sustained commentary on apologists for EIC extortion. His targets are EIC employees, James Mill, John Stuart Mill, and that ‘sycophant and fine talker’ Macauley, or immediate bourgeois critics of the EIC, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke. Then the critique takes as prime targets the apologist ‘learned professors’, those abstemious ‘penitents of Vishnu’ (Marx 1867[1996], 593), who train the EIC officer corps at Haileybury College, ‘population’ Malthus and Sir Richard Jones, both professors of political economy at the EIC training school. Alongside some anonymous—to Marx—texts on the benefits of the East Asia trade to Britain and the like, these are the majority representatives of the political economy he critiques.”

All the paras above are from my 2018 essay ‘Marx in Calcutta’, City, 22:4, 490-509 – you can easily find a pdf on the download page – ^^. But, lest you think I’d neglect the old dart’s opioid pandemic:

The opium trade of course was not something lost on workers in the UK, and Marx also mentions Godfrey’s Cordial which was fed to children so mothers could work. I had searched for a bottle for a while (reseearch purposes) and found an OHIO version of one on ebay – pictured – and where the following decription graces the page:

“Up for auction is a labeled medicine bottle advertising “Great Seal – Godfrey’s Cordial – The Styron-Beggs Co. – Mfg. Chemists – Newark, Ohio” with the original matching box. The label on this bottle and the box read in part “each fluid ounce contains one and three-fifth grains Opium” and then gives directions for use and “Antidote….. tickle palate with feather”. This bottle is embossed “Great Seal The Styron Beggs Co. Newark Ohio”, measures approx. 5″ tall x 2″ wide x 7/8″ deep and is in excellent condition with no damage. The box is printed with nice blue and red lettering with a skull and crossbones graphic and also is in excellent condition as shown. View the pictures carefully as they are part of the description. We will show or mention any notable defects. Please email if you have any questions or need clarification so you can be satisfied with your purchase . We will combine shipping for multiple wins if possible. Guaranteed Old & Original as is everything we sell. PLEASE SEE MORE LABELED MEDICINE BOTTLES (Nice grouping with similar ingredients) THAT WE ARE RUNNING NOW IN OUR OTHER AUCTIONS. Items sold with contents intact are for collecting/display purposes only and are to be handled with care. They are NOT to be ingested or used. By bidding and buying any item with its content you assume full responsibility, agree to these statements, and will deem Nostrums’; Quackery harmless in the event of any problems or accidents should they occur. For those of you who follow our auctions we WELCOME you back. For those of you who are new to eBay or have just found us you will not be disappointed with the service we provide and we hope you are successful in adding to your collections. At the beginning of each year we bring FRESH offerings of UNUSUAL items to eBay and we hope you bookmark us for future auctions for years to come. THANK YOU!” https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/godfreys-opium-cordial-label-bottle-504983523

Meanwhile, Mrs Winslow’s stay stoned in bed soothing syrup – fine for those who can afford velvet curtains and bedding – a little more serious for mums who had to work.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: