Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Engels Does Colbert

In 1857-58 Marx and Engels wrote reports on the armed revolt in India for the New York Daily Tribune. In an article in January 1858, Engels covered the relief of the siege of Lucknow. In it Fred discussed the report submitted to the Governor-General by Brigadier Inglis, who commanded the relief expedition. Fred analyzed two of the general’s claims. First that the general and his troops had displayed extraordinary bravery under extraordinary circumstances and second that the British inhabitants of Lucknow had suffered extraordinarily under the siege.

In the following passage, Fred concludes his examination of the general’s remarks on the bravery of the British soldiers and then proceeds to consider the ordeal of the British civilians.

"… all these observations compel us to acknowledge the whole of this report is full of the most glaring exaggerations, and will not stand cool criticism for a moment.

But then surely the besieged underwent uncommon hardships? Listen:

“The want of native servants has also been a source of much privation. Several ladies have had to tend their own children, and even to wash their own clothes as well as to cook their scanty meals entirely unaided.”

Pity the sorrows of a poor Lucknow lady! True, in these times of ups and downs, when dynasties are made and unmade in a day, and revolutions and commercial crashes combine to render the permanency of all creature comforts most splendidly insecure, we are not called up to show any great sympathy if we hear of some ex-queen having to darn her own stockings, and even to wash them, not to speak of cooking her own mutton-chop. But an Anglo-Indian lady, one of that vast number of sisters, cousins, or nieces to half-pay offices, Indian government writers, merchants, clerks, or adventurers, who are, or rather were, before the mutiny, sent out every year, fresh from the boarding-school, to the large marriage-market in India, neither more nor less ceremoniously, and often far less willingly, than the fair Circassians that go to the Constantinople market – the very idea of one of these ladies having to wash her own clothes and cook her scanty meals entirely unaided – entirely! One’s blood boils at it. Completely without ‘native servants’ – ay, having actually to tend their own children! It is revolting – Cawnpore [where after a siege the insurgents killed the European inhabitants] would have been preferable."

I had wanted to post this passage at the same time I posted “Bombard the Headquarters,” but ran out of time. After the discussion of Zizek and Power over the last week, I’m glad I did. One quote, one paragraph of commentary. A critique of bourgeois marriage and the marriage market. A critique of colonial privilege. A critique of masculine self-righteous presumption regarding both. Conceptually connected. And funny.

It’s just not that hard.

1 comment: