Thursday, February 02, 2012

Interesting quote by Engels about Arabs

Marx and Engels didn't share the same views about non-European nations, Marx being much more moderate. Engels expressed a fundamental contempt for peoples trying to obtain independence, and saw subject peoples as being better off absorbed by conquerers because they'd be incorporated into a higher economic civilization.

A few weeks ago I made reference to the non-understanding of the pair of political, cultural, and linguistic self determination by minorities within empires. I have to say that while the policy of the Soviet world in the second half of the 20th century promoting individual roads to Communism and socialism by Third World nations was flawed, it was a great advancement on the ideas that Engels, and unfortunately Marx himself to a lesser degree, put forward. Combining the protection of indigenous culture with socialist policies has much to recommend to it.

Here are Engels' thoughts about Algeria from 1848, admittedly at the start of his career. From The North Star, in an article about current events.

"Upon the whole it is, in our opinion, very fortunate that the Arabian chief has been taken. The struggle of the Bedouins was a hopeless one, and though the manner in which brutal soldiers, like Bugeaud, have carried on the war is highly blamable, the conquest of Algeria is an important and fortunate fact for the progress of civilisation. The piracies of the Barbaresque states, never interfered with by the English government as long as they did not disturb their ships, could not be put down but by the conquest of one of these states. And the conquest of Algeria has already forced the Beys of Tunis and Tripoli, and even the Emperor of Morocco, to enter upon the road of civilisation. They were obliged to find other employment for their people than piracy, and other means of filling their exchequer than tributes paid to them by the smaller states of Europe. And if we may regret that the liberty of the Bedouins of the desert has been destroyed, we must not forget that these same Bedouins were a nation of robbers, — whose principal means of living consisted of making excursions either upon each other, or upon the settled villagers, taking what they found, slaughtering all those who resisted, and selling the remaining prisoners as slaves. All these nations of free barbarians look very proud, noble and glorious at a distance, but only come near them and you will find that they, as well as the more civilised nations, are ruled by the lust of gain, and only employ ruder and more cruel means. And after all, the modern bourgeois, with civilisation, industry, order, and at least relative enlightenment following him, is preferable to the feudal lord or to the marauding robber, with the barbarian state of society to which they belong."

I have to say that Marx showed great sympathy to people in the Third World, but saw the problems as ultimately manifesting in material oppression. Material oppression was what was really at the bottom of the other sorts of oppression claimed. That is more of a philosophical distinction in analysis than a discounting of the oppression itself, which Engels appears to have done.

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