By Jeff J. Brown
Pictured above: Dr. John M. Hobson and his outstanding book, “Multicultural Origins of the Global Economy: Beyond the Western-Centric Frontier”. It helps explain many of today’s geopolitical and economic headlines.
Sixteen years on the streets, living and working with the people of China, Jeff
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Original audio and video interview:
I am truly honored to again have Dr. John M. Hobson on the show today. First, a little bit about John,
John Hobson FBA is Professor of Politics & International Relations at the University of Sheffield, having taught previously at the University of Sydney (1997-2004) and La Trobe University (Melbourne, 1992-1997). He has written 9 books to date, with his most recent one just coming out this September entitled, Multicultural Origins of the Global Economy: Beyond the Western-Centric Frontier (Cambridge University Press). His research since 2000 has focused on the critique of Eurocentric world/global history, which is the subject of Eastern Origins, and Multicultural Origins, as well as the critique of Eurocentric international theory in his book, The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
I just finished reading John’s thought provoking and enlightening book, “Multicultural Origins of the Global Economy – Beyond the Western-Centric Frontier”. This was a follow-up to his previous book, “Eastern Origins of Western Civilization” whereupon we had a wonderful interview. Incredibly, in spite of its academic bent, our discussion and the transcript have amassed 36,000 visitors to my website. So, go figure! China Rising Radio Sinoland fans must be enlightened…
I look forward to checking out John’s 2012 “The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics”.
I strongly recommend reading John’s “Multicultural Origins of the Global Economy”. I finished it much wiser. You don’t even have to buy it. Just ask your local library, school, university or place of worship to get it for everyone’s benefit. They may even already have it.
John’s contact, journalism and book information are listed here,
Contact email: J.********@sh*******.uk
Enjoy a wonderfully informative conversation.
Jeff J. Brown (Host): Hello, everybody. This is Jeff J. Brown China Rising Radio Sinoland on the beaches of Normandy, and I am truly honored to go a few hours across the channel where John is. They call it the English Channel, but we don’t call it that in France. We call it La Manche. Anyway, go north into England, up to Sheffield and I am truly honored again to have Dr. John M Hobson on the show today. How are you doing, sir?
John Hobson (Guest): Good, thanks, Jeff.
Jeff: It’s really wonderful to have you back. And we’ve had our technical difficulties getting this done. But anyway, let me tell you, I had him on the show, gosh, maybe last year. I can’t remember exactly when about the book, his previous book. And then I got his new book and read it and was blown away. And I said, I’ve got to get this guy back on. So let me read his wonderful short CV.
John Hobson FBA is Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Sheffield, having taught previously at the University of Sydney [1997 to 2004] and La Trobe University and Melbourne 1992 to 1997. He has written nine books to date with his most recent one just coming out this September entitled “Multicultural Origins of the Global Economy Beyond the Western Centric Frontier”, which is what we’re going to be talking about today. Cambridge University Press.
He did his research since 2000, the year 2000 has focused on the critique of Eurocentric world global history, which is the subject of “Eastern Origins” and “Multicultural Origins. Eastern Origins is the previous book that I had read, and we talked about, as well as the critique of Eurocentric international theory in his book, The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics, Cambridge University Press 2012 and fans out there. I just finished reading John’s thought provoking and enlightening book, “Multicultural Origins of the Global Economy Beyond the Western Centric Frontier”.
And this is a follow up to his previous book. And unfortunately, I’m traveling. And so, I actually have both books, and I was going to be very proud to hold them up and show you all. But I do have them, but I’m traveling, so I couldn’t put them in my suitcase. And this is a follow up to his Eastern origins of Western civilization. And we had a wonderful interview talking about your previous book. And incredibly, in spite of its academic bent, our discussion and the transcript have amassed 36,000 visitors to my website. I mean, it’s just like, go figure, John, China Rising Radio Sinoland fans must be enlightened. So, good to have you on the show.
John: A pleasure, Jeff.
Jeff: And I do look forward to checking out John’s 2012, the Eurocentric conception of world politics. And I do really recommend that you pick up his new book, Multicultural Origins of the Global Economy. I finished it much, much wiser, and you don’t even have to buy it, you know, just ask your local library, school, university or place of worship to get it for everybody’s benefit.
And they may even already have it. And librarians love it when somebody comes in and asks that a book be bought, you know, it makes them really feel like they’re helping their communities. So do go to your library and ask for it. I’m not going to read it out here, but I have John’s email, website, blog, YouTube, etc. So, sir, are you ready to get ready? Are you ready to get going? I mean.
John: I’m ready to rumble, Jeff.
Jeff: Question number one, after I wrote my first book, 44 Days Backpacking in China, I realized I had made historical errors about the Mao era, which I corrected in my next work, China Rising. But it all only involved a few pages of book number one. We had a great discussion about your previous book, Eastern Origins of Western Civilization, and your new book, Multi-Cultural Origins of the Global Economy is not just a few changes, but it’s a really serious attempt to step beyond your earlier work and take a look at history with a wide-angle lens. And I thought it took a lot of courage for you to do that. Tell us about your journey of discovery and why you thought it was so important to set the record straight, so to speak.
John: Yeah. No, it’s as usual, Jeff, it’s a really preceptive question. And yeah, I guess after these Norton’s came out, you know, I saw all manner of critiques. I had the Marxist saying that there just wasn’t enough on kind of social process, on class, on the mode of production which I took to heart. And I think it’s a really good point and I’ll tell you why I think it’s a really good point. Because of what you get in Eastern origins and in fact, what you get in the California school that Jack Goldstone talks about, you know, Andre Gunda Frank and Kenneth Permanent.
So should kind of Inverse diffusion model. So now we’re all critical of Eurocentric Western diffusion models, where modernity emerges in Europe, you know, magically and then diffuses out. Well, all we were doing was inverting that, and that’s not really an answer. And it leads you into all sorts of problems of occidentalism and so on and so forth. The great thing about stuck work that was brought into my production, I’m thinking of a book, Sangiovese and Careme Fallaleo.
They do a lot of non-Eurocentric work, but they also got stuff on class and production. And what I like about it is that if you just focus on external factors in explaining, say, the rise of global capitalism, you end up with a model that can’t explain anything because there has to be something going on. Say, in Europe that contributes to this. Otherwise, it’s just another. It’s an Asian miracle story.
John: It’s satisfied me. So, it forced me into a valley, into another space where I had to confront the hardest question. Which is how, you know, because I’m a social scientist. How do you retain a non-Eurocentric account in this case of the rise of the global economy? And looking at what the Europeans did, did right, or however you want to phrase that did wrong, whatever. But what their input was now non-Eurocentric avoid that like the plague. They don’t want to go there because then you’re starting to what they think you’re doing is you’re going into that whole kind of Eurocentric chamber.
John: European exceptionalism. And they want to kick that out. But I’m saying that if you kick it out, you lose an explanation. It’s not really going to work. So, then you have to navigate that. And chapters 11 and 12, where I’m looking at the rise of modern capitalism, particularly in Britain, gee, those were hard things I’ve done. And I just, you know, I remember little quips about the book, you know, some of those biting reviews on Amazon.com, where you get somebody saying, oh. Hobson, you know, here we go with a diatribe about the West is bad and the East is good. And that kind of struck home, actually, I have to say. And so, you know, as you will know from the book.
John: I try and break down that binary and I find that that binary is there in a lot of postcolonial work. And so, in a way, using my own book as the target of critique felt safer for me than targeting a whole lot of other names that I don’t really want to besmirch.
John: So, there is a lot going on there. But on the final point, what I’ll say is that, you know, I’ve wanted to write, I have genuinely wanted to write this book all my life. This is the book I wanted to do. Because I’ve always, for some reason, been obsessed with the whole rise of capitalism to late in 1980, I was introduced to it as a student and I’ve always wanted to get that right, and I’ve had many stabs at it actually. But this is the final stab at it. And yeah, I’m happy with it. I’m happy with it.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s a really interesting book. And I have to say, you know, when I read the Eastern Origins of Western Civilization, I thought, yeah, this aligns with my worldview, you know, West bad, East good.
Jeff: And then you had the courage to, you know, question that, that it’s not so black and white and that there was a lot of, you know, cross-pollination and good and bad. And so, it forced me to question my worldview, too. So. And that brings us up to another point. We usually think of the 15th of the 19th century slave industry being West Africa and to the Americas. But 11 to 14 million slaves were stolen from East Africa and shipped to West Asia. Tell us about that. That was shocking.
John: Yeah. I mean, you know, I mean, it’s just axiomatic, you know, with Black Lives Matter and everything, whenever anybody ever says anything about the slave trade, well, we think of the Atlantic slave trade and the horrors of the Middle Passage and so on and so forth. But nobody really certainly not in the public slave ever thinks of the East Asian slave trade, and they call it the West Asian slave trade rather than the Islamic slave trade. Because I don’t think it’s a function of Islam so much. But exactly when it started, I’m not sure because I’m writing a book on the origins of Islam. And it seems that it started even before Islam began.
John: So, this has got this has got a long pedigree. And even that question itself is interesting because I don’t think I gave the impression it started with Islam in the book, you know, and I don’t think that’s right anyway. Yeah, I mean this is in terms of what we just discussed Jeff West bad is good. What you know there’s again there’s a real balancing act. I’m having to navigate lots of balancing act in this book, you know, the balancing act between the internal and the external when explaining the rise of capitalism, for example. Here’s another one, right? So, you know the hardline post colonialists and I have a few of them as my friends who I greatly value and admire what you say to me, John. What are you doing? What are you bringing in all this West Asian slave trade? I mean, all you’re doing, you’re making it look like, well, everyone was doing it. So, what’s wrong with it?
Jeff: Moral equivalence.
John: Moral Equivalent, you know, just letting the West off the hook. Now, clearly, I don’t want to do that. That’s not my aim. And here’s the interesting bit. There’s a guy called Ricardo de Chesney. There’s a whole story behind that one going into it. But the guy lost his job recently, actually. Well, I won’t go into it because it’s sensitive. But he’s you know, he wrote a short piece, basically, basically saying that, you know, well, our stations are the Muslims are doing it, you know, so this you know, he was using it as a way of deflecting the critique from the West. That’s not my aim. This is not.
John: I don’t want to be doing world history that is all about defending the West, nor do I want one that’s just hammering the West all the time and making the non-west look like, you know, pure and virginal or us. I don’t I just I want I’m an academic, not an activist. And so, I’m trying to sort of give as clearer view of the world as I can. And I think it’s my beef is I don’t bring in the West Asian slave trade to use the moral equivalence argument.
I use it in order to point out that, hey, you know, things there were about maybe 12 million ships on the Middle Passage to the new world in the Atlantic, the West Asian slave trade. As I say, I mean, it probably began well before 700 and it ended in the 20th century. And there were probably somewhere around 11 to 14 million slaves that were taken out during that period. Obviously a roughly equivalent figure, albeit over 12 centuries or more, whereas the Atlantic one was, you know, 16, 17, 18th century.
So, it was a very different slave trade. And I think that once you start recognizing all this stuff and opening up the world to this bigger picture, you can start almost doing a kind of comparative analysis. You know, and it’s quite interesting. I mean, most for every one male shipped in the West Asian slave trade, there were two females the other way round in the Atlantic. For every one female, there were two men. And there’s a reason for that. So that in the West Asian slave trade, a lot of the went into harems. A lot of them went into households.
John: And then the men ended up in kind of the army. And whereas, in the Atlantic slave trade, they were shipped over as just human labor fodder.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Backbreaking labor. Yeah.
John: Yeah, we know the story of that. So, if you want to do some kind of moral equivalence, I don’t know if you can, but you know what can you do, what we do now is that you had a life expectancy of seven years in the Atlantic slave trade, and that was okay because you could just replenish your stock by bringing over that Africans.
John: Who cares? But with the West Asian slave trade, you know, young girls, five, six, seven in harems
John: And young boys, you know, who went pole diving and died of shock and no drowning. Yeah. So, I can’t. I can’t. I’m not. I don’t see how you can make moral equivalence stories in any way. It’s just too hard to do. But certainly, there were it was a more humane. Maybe I’m contradicting myself. There were more humane elements to the West Asian slave trade. You could win your freedom. Some of them became powerful. Some of them became rulers of dynasties like the Fatimids.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
John: Yeah, and you could win your freedom. Yeah. It wasn’t going to happen in the Atlantic. So yeah, I think that’s a big story that has sort of been covered up by well-meaning leftists. And but I don’t want to be a bad meaning rightist.
Jeff: Well, you know, the slave trade must have been before because Islam was, you know what Muhammad 746 or whatever it is.
John: 632, he dies.
Jeff: Yeah. And because the Vikings were plundering what is today, Ukraine and Belarus for slaves, you know, and selling them all over Europe. And I suspect, you know, they were some of those slaves who went down into the Levant. I mean, I would have to think they would. I mean, so and then of course, Charlemagne, you know, he was plundering Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus for slaves and bringing them and selling them in Western Europe.
And that’s where that’s where the name Russia comes from is Rus the Viking for Red because a lot of them had red hair. And anyway, I can’t wait to read your book about Islam. You used some terms that I found engaging and I’d like to ask you to kind of parse them for the fans out there. And that is you used eurocentrism, eurofetishism, which is really a good one. And then imperial porn. What is the difference between those three?
John: Yeah, I mean that’s a very pertinent question because the book is framed around a critique of these concepts that obviously it’s important to understand. So, Eurocentrism. Yeah, the notion that the West is pretty well all good is the unique source of progressive institutions, technologies and modern capitalism. And so, a Eurocentric account of the world basically just focuses on the ingenuity and goodness of the West. Eurofetishism is a term I use to capture a certain brand of post-colonial thought.
And it’s not even true to say that it’s postcolonial Marxism, because that’s still not right. It’s a certain brand that is located in the work of Wallerstein, in particular his 1997 article. This is the view that, yeah, the West did make the modern world. It was the sole actor. There is no non-Western agency, just like the Eurocentric saying. But it’s done in order to critique the West. So, its main beef, its main beef is to show that imperialism has been central to the creation of the modern world and that it has been linked to capitalism, and that it has been basically evil and it’s the pure sole product of the West.
But the problem with that is that you then get into all your binaries. Well, I can come back to that. Imperial porn is really what I would say hero fetishists engage in. So, you know, the obvious example is Africa. So, I mean, even today, you know, we have constantly streamed onto our news service, you know, the latest desperate scene in one of the African countries whether there’s some kind of holocaust going on or starvation or whatever. And imperial porn is like poverty porn.
You know, we sort of watch all these hopeless, helpless people and then it sort of elicits the white man’s burden. It elicits a desire in us to go and rescue and save them from themselves. Of course, we know all of that. We had nothing to do with their plight at all. And the irony is that Eurofetishism buys into that. And yet that’s exactly what it shouldn’t be doing it. It should be critiquing the whole notion. So that’s how those three really fit together. I mean, I should say also that imperial porn is fundamental to eurocentrism too. It is this view that they’re hopeless and we’ve got to do something about it.
Jeff: Well, one thing for sure, the West is very evangelical, both in terms of culture and religion and economic model. And that brings us to another thing. And this is something that we discussed in our first interview, and I never really got a handle on it. And so hopefully you can help me. Europe began this colonization of much of the rest of the world starting in the 15th century, and it really took off in the 16th century. Yet you say the West did not have real imperial dominance until the mid-19th century, and that just blows me away. So how do you parse colonialism and imperialism? Because for me, they they’re kind of the same thing. But you have a more nuanced interpretation. So please tell us about that.
John: Yeah, I mean, again, here we go with another one of these balancing acts. Another fairly difficult balancing act that I’m having to perform. So, there’s no question, of course, that the Europeans colonized the Americas. And the story unfolds now after 1492. A lot of the coalesced de-colonialists like Walkes and Mignola and that for them this is it. This is the beginnings of the modern world, born in the crucible of imperialism and imperial genocide.
But and then if you go to your standard kind of Eurocentric schooling, you know, your old history lessons back in school, where you learn about Vasco da Gama and, you know, going off to India and setting up the Vasco da Gama epoch. And he landed in Africa, East Africa, set up for Jesus in Mombasa. And the story kind of is of Europe colonizing the world informally in Afro Asia until later and formally in the Americas. But the argument one of the things I’m doing in this book is to cut the West down to size.
I do my critique of Western centrism, therefore, is aimed at Eurosceptics, but also Euro fascists, who all, I think, overexaggerate the centrality and power of the West. And so, when I looked at what was going on in Africa and India and East Asia and the Ottoman and Safavid empires, which are the main areas there, the Europeans had very little power, actually. You know, they groveled to the Japanese empress. They groveled to the Chinese emperors. They never managed to get anywhere vis a vis China. And the Dutch eventually gave up. And just, you know.
Jeff: I remember reading that that was really interesting.
John: You know, I mean, for Westerns that this mighty Western civilization was all powerful. You really do have to explain how the Dutch ended up on a tiny little island in Japan and were beaten like dogs regularly. But took it because, you know, the Trade.
Jeff: There was money. There was money. Money to be made.
John: And so, you know, East Asia was pretty much a no-go zone. They were invited into the Safavid and Ottoman empires for various political reasons on the part of the emperors. They didn’t live a particularly salubrious life there, but they were grateful to be there. You know, they were basically had to, you know, basically slaves, a vis the Mughal emperor for a long time until the Mughal empire started to decline.
And then in East Africa, where you’ve got the Portuguese, as I said, in Mombasa, but the Indians who were there trading the Swahili merchant is carried on as normal, you know, and eventually, the Portuguese were booted out. You never hear much about that, but they were booted out, you know. So, it’s all just, you know, I’m sorry, but it’s been exaggerated. And in the process, it’s kind of flattered, the Western ego that we could go and do these controlling things, you know, I mean, terrible things that supposedly going on.
They would have done a lot worse if they could have, but they didn’t have the power to do so. And it was really the Brits were very lucky to get India. I mean, that was a huge fluke. I won’t go into all that now. But the bottom line is, you know, you think about it, it wasn’t till 1885. But, you know, it was slicing up Africa into colonial territories. It wasn’t until, you know, the mid-19th century that they consolidated their power through luck in India, you know. And yes, intensive empire intensified after that until eventually, of course, it was brought down. But now I think it’s just been exaggerated. I think Eurosceptics exaggerate for a political effect and Eurocentric exaggerated for ego effect.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. In both of your books, your portrait of that part of the world and how savvy the Indians were and how organized the Chinese were and how entrepreneurial the Africans were. And yet it’s almost totally forgotten. You know, the Europeans come in a deus ex machina and save the day like a Greek tragedy. Unbelievable.
Jeff: Tell us a little bit about… and these questions are not in really super order. I just when I read a good book like John’s, I just start taking notes. And so, this is sort of a chronological order in his book. So, they may not make sense in this interview, but it’s just the way he took chapters. And I would just pick out things that really interested me. And one of them that really struck me was the and you mentioned it more than once, I think you mentioned it two or three times. The Zunghar Mongol genocide by the Chinese. I knew the Zunghar Mongols were a pain in the butt for the Chinese for centuries. And so please tell us a little bit just about Chinese foreign policy. Obviously, they wiped out the Zunghar Mongols, but beyond that, just something about China’s foreign policy pre 1911 when the emperors fell.
John: Yeah, I think I talked a bit about the Chinese standard of civilization, etc. in in our last interview. So, I’ll try and keep this as pithy as I can. But China’s foreign policy is interesting. So bottom line is very quickly, some recapping some of this. But, you know, you have the Chinese tribute system, and you had the inner zone and the outer zone. So, the inner zone, Vietnam, Japan, Recues and Korea. They were the most kind of loyal and the closest in Southeast Asia on the outer zone. And I genuinely do believe that relations between all those parties were very peaceful.
It’s just incredible, really, particularly when you compare it to what was going on in Europe at the time. So, they had their standard civilization, China’s most civilized the tribute states were kind of barbaric. And then you had the nomadic societies, which were perceived as savage. And of course, in standard Western thinking, if you’re in Western thinking, if you’re defined as a savage in the 19th century – Houston, you’ve got a problem – you know, you’re going to get invaded and colonized. I mean, it’s coming. It’s coming. Whereas in the Chinese system that I don’t do not believe that was the case. And as you said, the Mongols had been a complete pain up the butt for the Chinese for a long time.
Jeff: Centuries and centuries.
John: I mean, they weren’t major invasions. By and large, they were kind of raiding parties.
John: This kind of thing. But they were linked to Tibet. And there’s a whole story around that. And so, China goes back many, many thousands of years. But, you know, 1683, you know, the whole thing kicked off. And China starts to expand, starts taking over Taiwan and other countries, and then expands north and north westwards. And that’s pretty much complete by 1760. And it’s tapped off its capstone by the Zunghar Mongol genocide. So, you know, they I mean, you know, about 20% of the Zunghar were killed, you know, physically killed in battle.
I think something like 20% died of illnesses and a whole bunch just fled. And I think kind of Russia and, you know, so and that was the final straw. And, you know, one of the things I should say, Jeff, is that when I’m talking about the dark side of non-Western agency and the Zunghar Mongol genocide is one of those moments like the West Asian slave trade is another moment. I take no joy in saying any of this. I don’t enjoy doing this, but I do it because I just don’t think we can go on any longer with this kind of binary view of the world. Yeah, it’s all bad and the East is all innocent. And I don’t want
Jeff: Not only innocent, but helpless.
John: Yeah. But that’s right. That’s the real point.
Jeff: Innocent and Helpless.
John: Helpless, passive, pathetic people. You know, they did all sorts of things and use abuse power.
Jeff: That’s really encouraging.
John: They had power. My God, they had power, you know. But you’d never know that reading the Eurocentric stuff and Eurofetish stuff, you know, they’re just a bunch of innocents just lying around waiting for the West to come along. You know, history was going on out there. Yeah, they went out my friend, you know, so that would just be one instance. And Japanese imperialism, which was racist, patriarchal, 1894 to 1945.
Jeff: The Meiji Restoration.
John: I’m you know, I’m moving beyond the beyond the remit here. But yeah, I mean that was the final kind of piece of that imperial expansion, which kind of, to my knowledge ended around 1760.
Jeff: Okay. You keep talking about agency and I would kind of fall I would think I understood it while I was reading your book. And then I thought, well, maybe I don’t understand it, so please tell us about agency. And we’re not talking about real estate or insurance. Tell us about agency.
John: No, it’s a very important question, that. Absolutely. And I think that that I think really that is where confusion can occur, because when we think of agency, we always associate it with power in some sense, not necessarily power over somebody else, but the ability to do something free of constraint or relatively free of constraint. I’ve got agency in my life means I can pretty much do what I want, albeit within limits. I can’t go out and stab my neighbor who’s been driving me crazy.
Jeff: Even though you’d like to watch.
John: You’ve got great magazines. So just joking. But you know, so you know, you could have a situation where you have agency even when you’re on the losing side of a power relationship which is really, really counterintuitive because if you go back to the kind of post-colonial euro fetishes I’m talking about, they’ll say, well, hang on a minute. You know, the West has been dumped. They’ll say the West has been dominant in the last 500 years.
Here’s John coming along, telling us about the agency of the Swahili merchants and the Indian Gujaratis and all the rest of it. So, what on earth does that mean, that they’re still in a situation now, a structural situation of Western dominance? And, you know, these are fairly meaningless terms, but I’m using agency and quite a broad remit, you know, in the sense that I’m interested in not simply whether who wins a particular power battle, but I’m more interested in it as a means of considering how the world has been shaped.
So, for example, you know, sweet African slavers had an agency in this sense that an agency in the sense that they were able to sort of sell slaves to West Asians and obviously to the Europeans. And actually, the Atlantic was far more important in terms of the first global economy than the West Asian one was simply because the slaves had taken out this new world. They produced all sorts of crucial products which were then shipped back to Europe, which then had an impact there. The individual life of a slave on the slave ships and when they arrived was pretty small.
John: In terms of their life chances. Pretty well. Null and void. They didn’t have any meaningful agency in their lives. But I use it in a more generic sense without the work that those slaves have been put to. Europe would be in a very different place. And so, my point is, we can’t tell the story of the British Industrial Revolution or the rise of capitalism in Europe by ignoring what was going on out there, because this was crucial for the life chances of British industrialization in Europe.
So, I’m using a much more generic sense. And why do I do this? Because if you listen to your eccentrics, they’ll tell you that the West monopolizes this agency by which they mean the West is the one that creates capitalism, and the West is the one that expands it across the world. And the West is the one that produces all the good things in the world, Human rights and the West has done none of this. Therefore, it has no such agency. And that’s what I’m beefing about.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s what we were taught in school right when we grew up.
Jeff: The West is the best.
John: The West is the best. You know, I’m going to get critic saying, oh, God, John, all you want to do is hang it on the West. No, no, I don’t. I just want people to be honest.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You use it more than once. Also, of course, I’m very much into Daoism and Confucianism and I do Buddhist meditation once a week with a group of nice people on the West Coast of the United States every Sunday. And so, I’m very into Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism. And you use Daoist dialectics a lot, yin and yang, you know, tell us how that fits into your worldview.
John: Yeah. So, when I started this long march back in 2000, you know, I was sort of leaning towards this. And then I read a book by Lily Ling, who became a good friend of mine, and we became coeditors of a book series that we set up. And unfortunately, she, she passed away a couple of years ago and she can’t have been more than 56 is terrible. Anyway, Lily Ling. She’s the one who’s done all this work. The Dao of world politics, for example. And she’s been pushing this. She pushed this all her career. So, for her, the yin and yang were crucial because and that’s what’s fundamental to ontologically what I’m doing. Because I’m interested in how the Northwest has shaped the West, how the Northwest is in the West, even though the West wants to pretend otherwise, and how the West is clearly in the non-west.
John: And the non-westerners will clearly admit that. And, and so this is important because it’s a kind of, it’s a way of a healing, healing process. You know, what’s in the end, what’s the point of all this? The point of all this, as far as I’m concerned, is for the West to acknowledge the debt that it owes to the non-west. And, you know, to stop treating it as another, which needs to be either saved through imperialism or it cannot exploit it through imperialism. And you tell me, but whatever. This isn’t going to heal the world. All we’re going to do is carry on with these binaries that have done so much damage.
So, yes, recognizing the non-West in the West, I mean, Eurocentrism is all about forcing the non-west out of the West in a mental sense so that you’d have this pure west. But when they did that, they left us with a dysfunctional West, with a pure hyper rational mechanical notion and the non-west, well, that was the realm of spirituality and superstition, voodoo backwardness. It was humanity in that. And the West evacuated its humanity from its self-identification. So, if you can bring the two together, then you’ve got a chance of not just creating a fuller, better West but better world. You know, I don’t know if it’s very airy fairy, but that is the point of it really.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. You used a lot of terms, John, and I’ve expanded my social sciences vocabulary significantly, reading your books and getting to know you. First and second, global economies again. It was all a little bit fuzzy for me. And for me it’s just global capitalism. So how do you parse global capitalism and the first and second global economies, please?
John: Yeah. Yeah, very interesting question as usual, Jeff. So, I have this thing called the Eurocentric Big Bang Theory, right? It’s a notion. It’s the Eurocentric notion that one capitalism exploded into existence spontaneously as a result of its own rational institutions and ingenuity in Britain, and then expanded outwards. And as it expanded outwards, that was your globalization. And then it created a modern global capitalist economy. And that would be dated to kind of 1752 and then up to 1850. And then after 1850, you got this new shiny global modern capitalist economy.
But what the book is doing is kind of critiquing that notion. And one of the ways I critique it is to say, no, there was a global economy of sorts in place before British industrialization number one. Number two, British industrialization emerged out of that global economy that without that global economy in place, British industrialization might well not have occurred. So that kind of cuts from under the feet of eurocentrism and sort of starts to question the notion that Britain was kind of autonomous, that you could tell if you live in Britain, you’ll see documentaries every now and again, you know, with nice, cheery music, talking about how the Brits came up with British industrialization all by themselves and all the wonderful things they did.
And you go and see a mill and you go to a, you know, a mine and a factory. And, you know, I don’t want to be a kind of nationalist self-flagellation sort of person where I’m just kind of trying to pull down the Brits, you know, which is what some would. But our job is not to defend what goes on necessarily, but to think critically about it. And look, I mean, you know, if it wasn’t for this bigger global economy within which Britain resided, it wouldn’t have happened. Why? Because essentially and this is really the guts of the argument, essentially, you know, for centuries the Indians dominated the Indian cotton textile markets around the world.
Jeff: Yeah, that was an amazing story. And the Africans and the Africans and the Westerners couldn’t even use their gold and silver. They had to do all of their trading using Indian prints. I love that whole deal. That whole deal was just incredible. Yeah.
John: I mean, when I came across all this stuff, it’s unbelievable. You have to ask yourself, well, well, how? Has this been left out? You know what, why it’s been left out? It’s because nobody wants to acknowledge that really because you tell a wonderful story about ourselves and we’re not here to do that. That’s not the point of being an academic. We’re not voice. We’re not spokespeople for the government or for society. That doesn’t mean to say that we destroy everything about Britain. I’m not interested in that either. But just a little bit of honesty. So, what I do is to talk about global historical capitalism and global modern capitalism.
Jeff: You keep going. I’m going to shut the shutter because of this. What’s it called? The curtain.
John: All Right.
Jeff: I’ve got to get in the sun in my face. Keep going for the fans.
John: Okay. Yeah. So, the general belief is that before capitalism, you had kind of Reaganism and Feudalism and there might have been a bit of trade, but it didn’t what I’m saying is that roughly, you know, between 1500 and 1850, you have this global historical capitalism. And what I mean by that is that if you go to say somewhere like China or India, you’ll find that they’re producing global trading commodities, porcelain, silk, tea and other things in China. And remember, this is before 1850 when they’re supposedly either Oriental despotism on the old Marxist model or whether they’re just basically agrarian structures.
But what we’ve got here is a mixture of relation to production. We have free wage labor in this period. This is not unique to modern capitalism. We have free wage labor. We have wage labor. We have forced labor. We had household labor. All this stuff was going on simultaneously to produce commodities, many of which for the domestic market and some of which were for the global market. And they had rational institutions. To me, that’s basically a form of capitalism, but it’s not modern capitalism. And in the end, it’s not modern capitalism. Not because free wage labor was not the was not the key mode of relations, but because of technologies, because they did not use fully mechanized technologies.
John: I mean, you look at some of those silk frames that the Chinese came up with. My goodness me, these were incredibly impressive things.
John: The mechanized technologies were not alien to the Chinese. They had the big spinning frame for Amy, which was linked to a river just as in Britain, except this happened in the year 1200. And, you know, I mean, according to the Nong Zhou, this produced something like I’m trying to remember how much it was, but it was like a, I think something like £100 of cotton in 24 hours. I can’t remember. I should have checked this. But the bottom line is that even in 1825, when Richard Roberts self-acting mule would come out, it was producing one seventh the amount of spun cotton in a 24 hour.
Now, I think the nonissue I just can’t believe that figure that I can. I’ll be right. Okay. So, let’s say to stick to that figure. It is still as much as a self-acting mule in 80. I mean, this is phenomenal. I mean, now 32 reels, you know, and now the difference between that machine and a cotton spinning machine is the cotton spinning machine you’d have to draw the cotton out. You don’t have to draw the hemp out. You don’t have to do that. They could have added a draw bar, no problem. And if they had done that, they might have had a Chinese industrial revolution. My hunch is that they wouldn’t have because their cotton was very.
Jeff: You see, you talked about the differences in quality were really different.
John: Absolutely right. Yeah. So, I think that modern capitalism and Marxists have forgotten all about this and are so obsessed with free wage labor as their defining criterion of what constitutes modern capitalism. They forget about technologies. And you know, and so, you need fully mechanized technologies. And I suspect that you need that mentality whereby technologies are used to displace variable capital workers over time. Clearly, you didn’t have that in historical capitalism, but for that the similarities were striking.
And the one example I give of that is New World, Caribbean exploitation, the plantations, the mills that they set up that was as close to modern capitalism as you get absent the mechanized technology. Yes, that did start to come in after 1750, but that was an important break. So, there’s a lot of similarities. And so, I think you can talk about capitalism from 1500 to modern period, but I’d say it’s global historical capitalism up to about 1850. And then gradually modern global capitalism supersedes it after 1850.
Jeff: Well, you know, and you did a really good job of parsing this out in your book.
John: That was so hard.
Jeff: Well, the Indians were more capitalist than England and the Portuguese.
John: Everything I should have mentioned.
Jeff: That is just incredibly just real mercantile merchants, you know? I mean, they were incredible, the Indians.
John: Yeah. Yeah. And you look at the Indians and the Chinese today. Now, these people don’t mess about when it comes to capitalism. Yeah, that didn’t just appear recently.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, that’s for sure. Speaking of that, you know, some of your depictions and I didn’t ask about India because I’m more focused on China. But some of your depictions of China’s economic activity, I mean, they defy imagination, like in the 17th century. Now, mind you, the 17th century, that’s the 1600s. The Zheng family had 2,300 ships, 250,000 well-armed soldiers.
And Chinese private trade was 10 to 20 times more than the official Chinese tribute system and possibly up to 30 times. It’s just, it’s staggering. So, you know, taking that kind of magnitude, how do you compare China’s global economic footprint during this colonial period to today, where the China is obviously a massive economic force in a global capitalism.
John: Yeah, I mean, I see what’s going on today as pretty much a return to where they were. So, I do talk about the return of China to near the center of the global economy. And then and then you have to ask yourself the question, given that really up to 1800, you know, the figures are all mind boggling.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s just staggering.
John: Yeah. And you know, even after that, I mean, I think the one that blows me away most is the cotton production.
John: You know, so we’re told that British Industrial Revolution created, you know, the biggest glut of surplus of cotton, textiles and raw cotton the world had ever seen. And, you know, it was dominant after the 1820s. Even in 1900, it was still producing the same amount as China. Unbelievable.
John: They got a lead by about 1913, and then gradually that lead was pulled back. And then by, I think the 1950s, China was in the lead again.
John: They might have been in the lead about 1930s. You know, the real question is how, how was this? What explains the gap between, say, 1850 to 2000? Because, you know, by 2000 thereafter, you know, China’s back.
Jeff: Yeah, roaring.
John: So that’s a whole other story. And, you know, you get your century of humiliation and so on and so forth.
Jeff: Yeah. Which I’ve written a lot about.
John: It’s absolutely it’s mind boggling. I remember when I did Eastern Origins, the mind-boggling figure for me was that China was producing 125,000 tons of iron in 1078, and Britain was producing 76,000 tons in 1788. Yeah, it’s the same kind of thing when you when you look at what they were, I mean actually you know what the biggest one is, what was going on in the lower Yangzi Delta where cotton textiles were producing factories, albeit not with mechanized technologies. That’s true. And they were pumping out 2 billion yards, 2 billion cotton textiles in the sort of mid-19th century. Well, that’s more than the whole of India. I mean, India was the world’s major textile exporter.
Jeff: Unbelievable. Yeah.
John: I mean, it’s incredible. But none of this registers, certainly not mind.
Jeff: In spite of that another amazing thing that you talked about, an amazing factoid is that in 1606, the Chinese tribute system accepted inferior status to the Japanese tribute system. The Japanese were ranked below the heathen Dutch. Tell us about that. That’s incredible.
John: Yeah. This is a really, really interesting part of East Asian history, and it’s very curious and I would like to have done more work on it, particularly because of the Chinese situation. But, you know, I think purists would say that there wasn’t technically a Japanese tribute system, but it was something quite very similar. And again, there’s so little out there on this.
John: It’s really frustrating. So, I’d love to know much more about it actually. But anyway, bottom line is that yeah, there were four groups. I mean, China had like 72 at its height, 72 battles. There were four in the Japanese tribute system which came in, I don’t know, around 1693, I guess. And so, the Koreans were the number one. They were ranked the highest, which, you know well, they were the number one Chinese vassal as well. And you still have a problem, you know.
John: You’ve got the real Qs, which of course became Okinawa, then you’ve got the Dutch and they were always ridiculed and, and treated, as I said earlier, treated like dogs, you know, and then you’ve got these people known as the Chinese at the bottom. We’re told that the East Asian system was dominated by the mighty Chinese. All the vassals, all the states and the system of vassals and all the vassals are akin to satellite bound, which revolved around in the natural cosmos, of which China was center like in the heliocentric theory. No. So, one of the things is that after 1600 1603, if that was true, then how do we explain that A: China was in the Japanese system and B: How its status was pretty lowly in there? How do we can do? And from what I can see, the Chinese accepted it, but the Japanese wanted it because there was a very beneficial trading relationship to be.
John: Because the Japanese. Yes, there’s this all this confusion, you know, the 1639 ban on foreign trade, which Westerners take to mean that Japan no longer traded abroad. Well, no, sorry, guys, but actually what happened was the Chinese did it on their behalf. And the Dutch continued trading on their behalf in effect. But the Chinese pardon me, with a major player, you know, and they took especially copper out actually, because copper was very lucrative in the Chinese.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. You mentioned that Japan was a huge, huge producer of copper mines.
Jeff: Which was the metal that the Chinese preferred for their coinage.
John: The silver was used for foreign trade. Copper was used for domestic trade.
John: So, you know, we’re told, Oh, well, the Japanese stock trading in 1639. No. That the Japanese merchants did, that they had it done by others. Then there’s this thing about the 1671 ban on silver trade. Well, again, what happened was the Chinese were exporting copper. You know, I mean, who cares what the metal is, right? You know, so a Japan remained open to trade, and it was still trading.
But China was a major player in there. Actually, I think the irony is that what was most sensitive about this is that Korea was the number one vassal in each. If you owe allegiance to China and then you also have to owe allegiance to Japan. It’s a mess. But, you know, the amazing thing about the East Asian system is that for all the bizarre stuff going on and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense, but it was a bizarre system, but it was incredibly successful.
Jeff: Yeah. And profitable and mutually beneficial.
John: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Jeff: Yeah. As you said, you said there was official trade. But private trade was, you know, 10 to 20 times more. And it may be up to even 30 times more towards later on. So, it was almost like the tribute system was a bit of kabuki theater, to avoid wars and avoid, you know, conflict and which is very Confucian. But let’s do some business together.
John: Yeah, and it was a way of a whole tribute system really was just a facade. It was just an illusion. It was just a game. It was smoke and mirrors. The only thing is both sides were playing it. You know?
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s, you know, one thing and this was true in both of your books that just struck me, you know, is how the West likes to project, you know, that warfare, low taxes on the people and limited government and privileged free trade and were people-focused. And but that was China. China had low taxes on the people. China had limited Confucian limited government.
They privileged free trade, very people focused. And the reality is, is that the British wanted monopoly trade, they wanted to control the whole darn thing, not free trade. And they couldn’t stomach China’s, you know, managed liberal trade. And as you pointed out, you know, Britain had high taxes on the people, big government, government monopoly trade and oligarchic bourgeois, you know, a control. So just what can you say about it? It’s just like it’s like everything’s just turned upside down.
John: Yeah. And so, you know, we have our old friend. The Oriental Despotism thesis born pretty much in the 19th century continues on today, albeit in slightly different guise. But the notion is that yeah, Britain industrialized through low taxes and free trade. A fiscally prudent state that didn’t borrow too much. It was China as an oriental despotism that taxes people completely into the dust. That War with all its neighbors.
John: I mean, it is literally the other way round. And, you know, when you know, when I was doing those tables on taxes, the amount that the Chinese I mean, the tax on the peasants, you know, in the late 18th century were, well, like two days’ work a year. It’s just absolutely mind boggling. And then when you look at the money spent on defense and you realize that at its extreme measurement, you know, in the second half of the 18th century, Britain was spending 17 times more in real terms.
You just can’t get your head around it. And if ever there was a myth that needs to be busted when it comes to Eurocentric world history, I would say this was one of the principal ones. But, you know, Eurocentrism is very flexible. It’s like capitalism. It’s very creative. So, somebody like me comes along and says, look, hang on, guys. You’ve got this exactly the wrong way round. They’ll say, Oh, yeah. But according to them, you need low taxes and low spending to get into capitalism. So, then the question is, well, surely China should have got into capitalism, not Britain, right?
According to your liberal logic and no reply by saying, ah, yeah, but you see, without warfare there’s nothing driving technology and adapting and enhancing capitalism in order to be able to go to war. And that’s why China didn’t go into go to war. But they’ve already contradicted Oriental despotism, because Oriental despotism is supposed to be no states that you go to warfare. And they go down the kind of tributary state. Oh, yeah. Okay, well, what’s a single state system? But then they go off into the world and they would start sort of colonizing other countries and then draining them. I mean, it goes round and round. You know, they’re hard to pin down because they don’t want to be pinned down.
John: You can slip the whole time. But yeah, it is absolutely mind boggling that in 1694, China moves to an average 6% tariff on foreign exports, right?
John: Britain had been around an average of 5%, starts to move up. And by 1825, it’s got an average tariff around 55%. Average tariff that’s on all imports. And then we’re told that it was Britain industrialized through free trade and China didn’t because it was protectionist.
Jeff: Yeah, unbelievable. Well, you know, you mentioned this about defense, and which is for me, just a Orwellian doublespeak for war. But it’s just incredible the contrast between the West nonstop wars and Asia’s almost total lack of them. I mean, why?
John: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, as I said before, you know, with the Chinese system, I mean, it was it worked extremely well. So, you had the Chinese tribute system. A lot of states joined that. But there weren’t subservient to China. I think if, you know, little westerners view the tribute system as a kind of imperial system. And States or policies in the region had no choice but to join for fear of being waged war upon. I kind of liken that sort of Argument to whole thing about God. Jesus Christ, the Christian story.
The Christian story would be that why does God never show himself, you know? Well, the reason why is because people have to choose to believe this stuff. They’re not going to be bashed into it or forced into it or persuaded into it like that. They have to decide for themselves. It’s the same with the Chinese judicial system. The Chinese state wasn’t threatening to go to war with the state if it didn’t join. Plenty didn’t join. Plenty did join. Plenty did all sorts of things that irritated the Chinese. They go, you know, most of the time.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. You mentioned that.
John: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff: Very indulgent
John: There system doesn’t last 2000 years if it has to be backed up by the threat of brute force.
John: That’s the lesson for Russia and Ukraine now, that’s the story that’s going to unfold there in the next few years. You can’t force somebody to want to be part of a system just in the end, it’s not going to work.
John: 2000 years this system lasted, you know, so it was incredibly successful. States pretty well were happy to play the game, as I said. Yeah. Then the question is, the real question is why was Europe? So besieged by constant warfare in this whole period, the reasons for war shifted and changed. Territorial land grabs in the 15th century, religious wars in the 16th. I think, you know, it’s a whole mixture of things. But I don’t think I’ve got an answer for you on this one, Jeff. And it’s a great question and it’s something I’d really like to think through more because it might help explain the eternal question of why wars happen and what kind of state system is conducive. So, I’d like to think more about that.
Jeff: All right.
John: Sorry, I can’t answer it.
Jeff: Well, I’m jumping again. I’m jumping around a bit because as I went through the book, I just took notes and then asked them. But one of the incredible things that I just really enjoyed and I’m sitting here thinking about, you know, Karl Lagerfeld and Eve Zoller Hall with all the fashion industry and the modern fashion industry and everything. But you wrote a quite colorfully how changing African fashion tastes had a major impact on global trade for centuries. It was incredible. Tell us about that.
John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I mean, it’s hard to locate the origins of this. But there certainly was Indian cotton textile trade going to Africa as early as 1100. I’ve got a feeling it might have started earlier, perhaps around 900. You know, we don’t have data on all of this, unfortunately, but they certainly became aware of cotton, textiles, an early date and prized them. And yeah, you know, the thing about the changing fashion tastes that amuses me most is that when the Brits went over belatedly, you know, unfortunately, the risk of sounding pejorative. But the Europeans are always late for everything when it comes.
Jeff: A Day late and a dollar short cowboy.
John: It turned up late, you know, when the party was virtually over and claim that, you know, not only that they invited everybody, but that everybody had to come back. It’s ridiculous. So, this had all been going on so that when the when the Europeans, especially the French and the British arrived in Africa, you know, and the French didn’t really develop their own cotton textile industry, but the British, as we know, did. But they were so frustrated because these so-called Manchester cottons just weren’t really selling very well.
And that was the main thing that the African slaves wanted. But the fashion, the cotton textiles weren’t just something that the African slaves wanted. It was, you know, the population in general. It was they were very popular. Yeah. And they were constantly changing. And you know, there’s a passage in the book, there’s a quote that I give that where the Brits would sort of, they didn’t really, they weren’t able to track the changes the way the Indians did it is they had people in the interior.
Middlemen, African middlemen, Pietermaritzburg, who actually went into the interior with these cotton textiles, they often tweaked them at some point. So rapid with these changes. Right? \And then they would basically paint the kind of style they wanted, give them back to the Indian brokers. They would then get them back to India, and then the weavers and the dye painters and so on would then quickly change and then produce for that. And then they go back. The Brits had no idea about any of this. They would wander in there, you know, with their Manchester cottons. And by the time they got to marketplace, the fashions had already changed. They literally had to take them home. They might as well have dumped them off in the channel.
John: And quite a lot.
John: Why Africans fashion tastes were changing so much that I don’t know. What I do know is that they did that. It was a huge problem for the British that the Indians found a way of tacking within. And I think what the other thing that amused me is that when the French fashion tastes change, well, that’s civilization. But when the African fashion tastes change, well, that’s just damned annoying.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, I lived and worked in Africa for ten years, and you travel around Africa and they are I mean, the colors and the patterns and the prints and the batiks and the saris and it’s just a kaleidoscope and I’m sure, you know, it’s still changing. I’m sure, you know, I guess they have very sophisticated tastes, you know, and.
John: Yeah, that’s right. I think that’s important to point out, not as some kind of cringing wokist apologist, but that’s what was going on.
John: We’re told all these were just primitive savages who just wore loincloth.
John: This was in many ways; I call it the Afro Indian pivot of the first global economy for a reason. You know, this is the heart of it all, not Europe. This was where all the action really like the Global economy, kind of revolved around this Afro Indian pivot. And, you know, we need to know more about that. Not but, you know, all that disappears under the carpet of eurocentrism and Fascism, too.
That’s why I take on Walter Rodney there, who’s always seen as the darling of Postcolonialism. He’s the one who said that, you know, well, what did the slaves buy or exchange slaves for when they traded slaves with the British Pots and kettles full of holes. Well, you know, do you really think that these African Slaves who had rounded up the slaves, marched them six, seven, 800 miles overland, paid off local
John: Chief, yeah. To really think they came all that way for pots and kettles full of holes.
Jeff: Unbelievable. Now let’s jump back over to India. Did Britain actively work because their what you did point out there was a time when eventually the Indian Empire, at least in terms of cotton, did Britain actively work to destroy India’s cotton? I forgot. I’m having a brain burp. What is ICT?
John: Indian cotton Textile.
Jeff: Yeah, after 1820 or was it only a question of market dynamics, I understood that the East Indian companies had a large army in India. So, was it just naked? A naked market forces, naked brutal imperialism or was it a mixture of both?
John: It’s a great question. And you’ve clearly read the book. If you’ve got if you got as far as chapter. I think that was chapter 12, wasn’t it? 12. No, chapter 13. Yeah. I had a lot of fun with this. And you know, Shashi Tharoor has done his book on, you know, on the basically the economic rape of India by Britain. What the heck did he call it? It came out a few years ago. Very, very useful little book. Oh, sorry about this.
Jeff: When they buy the book, they can look it up in the index.
John: That’s annoying, isn’t it? I’m frustrated. Anyway, Inglorious empire.
Jeff: Inglorious Empire. Okay, Inglorious empire.
John: And you know, you can get. He’s done these various debates at the Oxford Union, which you can see on YouTube. You just Google it and you’ll find it. And he’s you know, he produces the classic kind of picture that post colonialists and African and Indian nationalists will all embrace, which is that India was a going concern. India was doing well. These awful Brits came along, they colonized India. They screwed it over completely.
Jeff: Raped and plundered it.
John: They industrialized it. And they did it in all sorts of awful ways, cutting people’s weavers thumbs off, spinners thumb off and all this kind of thing. Right? So, this again, is another one of those balancing acts that I’m having to perform here. Now, bear in mind, too, that although I didn’t get into depth when I did my Eastern Origins book, I sort of bought into that classic deindustrialization. Now I’m going back on it. Why? Again, it’s like the West Asian slave trade.
When you bring in this kind of argument, you’re going to be accused of being a British apologist. My argument is I’m not interested in apologizing for what Britain is in India. I have no truck with what they did in India, none whatsoever. I’m not going to defend their presence in India. My argument is that they weren’t quite as powerful as everyone makes them. And the Indians weren’t as pathetic, helpless and useless as the Indian nationalists like to portray them as.
And you are back into that victims-and-villains discourse into that binary. And, you know, the argument is that the Indians were nowhere near as helpless. And, you know, when you crunch the numbers, do all the work, you know, despite the Britain’s best interests to hobble the cotton textile industry, they didn’t succeed. And the fact, you know, so the Indian nationalists like Shashi, who I’ve got a lot of time for, was very nice guy and I support a lot of the spirit of what he says. But I just think that he’s underestimating his own people. That’s what I’m struggling with.
And I don’t want it to be a binary zero-sum game where if you say, well, actually they were more resilient than somehow, you’re letting the Brits off the hook. No, they were doing their best to screw the whole thing over. Right. So, but the Indians were able to resist. So, when you look at those figures that are always trotted out about how sort of in the 19th century after 1820, 1830, you know, British imports into India just were like 58% of the market was British imports that they were basically wiping it out.
Well, yeah, but what they forget to tell you and you’ve got that diagram, you’ve got that figure in there, what they forget to tell you is that production doubled in that period. So that actually Britain, so that in effect Indian production levels pretty well retained their levels throughout the 19th century. There’s a slip off there’s a drop off about 25% in 1870, 1880, and then it recovers. But the notion that the 19th century was just a wipe out by the Brits is not true. But those that get ignored because people don’t drill down into the figures.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
John: And yes, Indian cotton spinners had a hard time, but they also ended up importing British cotton because it was cheaper. Even though it wasn’t as good. Right? It wasn’t as good as the Muslim that was produced in Bengal, but it was cheaper. So, they bought it. You know, and there’s a whole load of arguments there that just do away with this. Again, you know, this notion that Britain, the industrializing India was not on an industrialization path. Now that took me years to get to, Jeff.
John: I was always into that kind of post line argument. Well, you know, they could have done it. You hear Shashi saying, listen, you he’ll talk about this. Well, India was probably on a path. Well, unfortunately, it wasn’t. And unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint. But and then again, he’s trying to have it both ways there because he’s sort of saying, well, you know, we Indians were capable enough to do something like this, but not capable enough to withstand the British.
You know, he’s sort of mixing and matching his agency. Yeah. But no, I think the Indians could have industrialized I think the Chinese could have industrial. There was no need for it. There was no desire for it. The things that push the British to industrialize those conditions did not exist either in China or India. But so, I don’t think that they had any desire or any intention to industrialize. So, they didn’t actually have a modern capitalist industry in cotton textiles.
It was a historical capitalist industry which was very, very effective. They didn’t need to. So, this notion of industrializing, again, that’s a little bit of sleight of hand there. There was no industrialization. There’s no industrialized Indian cotton textile sector in the first place to de-industrialize. So, I think there’s a major set of problems, none of which is to let the British off the moral hook, which is always what it comes back to with Indian nationalism and euro fetishism. You know, firing 400 Indians out of cannon for the Indian mutiny is just one small example one could give about the things that the Brits did. But I think they’ve exaggerated the power and force of.
Jeff: All right. One last heavy-duty question is a lot of philosophy here, contemplating war. You talk a lot about the correlation between war, capitalist industrialization of iron and steel and even cotton because of all the uniforms and tents and everything else. With the lack of wars in China after 1368, this while you tie together Britain’s wars and the capitalist class, militarism, industrialization and the amassing of capital for investment. Just to close out this wonderful discussion, just talk about the nexus between all these forces of war, industrialization and capital.
John: Yeah, yeah. It’s a big story. And you’ve given me more time than you probably should have. So let me try and get a grip on this. I mean, if you go back to China during the Song period, you know, this is where an industrialization in terms of iron and steel was entirely plausible. Now, yeah, I mean, they did have. Don’t forget, they did have mechanized production. So, they had water driven. And what you call the air pumps into the furnaces.
Jeff: Of baffles.
John: Well, I think, I’m trying to my brain is just gone. But the point is that they had mechanized those flues.
Jeff: Flues, weren’t they? Flues? Baffles?
John: Yeah, water powered sorry the names just gone. But you know what the pumps the air in to keep the furnace hot.
Jeff: For steel.
John: Yeah, yeah. So, they had all that going and they were producing very large amounts of it, as I said earlier. And of course, the Song period is, is a particularly important period militarily in China’s history.
Jeff: For the fans out there that’s roughly 900 to 1200.
John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. So, you’ve got you know, you’ve got the Jin Dynasty and you’ve got the conflict between the Northern and the Southern Song. And, you know, this is not an easy time, but they led to sort of major conflicts. And so, I think that it’s not a coincidence that there was so much iron production going on. You know, don’t forget, the iron production began back in the time of the warring states period in China, you know, 1500 years earlier.
That’s principally what triggered it. So that was all going on. Now, after 1368, the end of the Mongolian dynasty and the rise of the Ming, these sorts of conflicts went away. There weren’t… these kinds of major conflicts that China faced at any point in time. Yes, they had conflicts with the Mongols, but they weren’t major, sort of. You know, the Mongol warfare was basically, you know, cavalry-based warfare, but not the kind of what you had in Europe with the long pike. They would it was kind of mobile process where they would just use their swords and cut people down. You didn’t have all the cavalry that you had in Europe. So, it was pretty primitive, quite effective mode of warfare, actually, but it was primitive.
It didn’t require any kind of major industrialization whatsoever to meet it. And I think in the end that was the principal difference. But in Europe, you know, you had whole nations going to war with each other, always having to ramp up the mode of warfare and the means by which they prosecuted it. And so gradually, you know, guns came in cannon came in and iron was particularly important for all of this, for bullets and all the rest of it. You know, the Chinese, don’t forget, were the ones who invented the gun.
Jeff: Yeah, 300 years before it was adopted by the West.
John: Well, 75, the first Metal barrel gun firing a metal Bullet. Well, 75 for God’s sake.
John: I mean, always the date given.
Jeff: Maybe it was a hundred years or well in advance.
John: No, the cannon the cannon the first cannon in Britain was pictured in 1326, but that was the same as the Raptor, which was invented in 1290, but actually, you know, more recent because that comes from the Needham stuff. But more recent work suggests that the Chinese have got these sorts of cannon in place by the early 12th century.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, yeah, 1100.
John: Yeah. Now, these are the guys who started it all. And what happened was there was no real need to keep it going. After 1368, the Europeans, however, were constantly trying to.
Jeff: Kill each.
John: Yeah, basically, you know, the Chinese have found a way of avoiding all that nonsense, not the Europeans. So, they were busy trying to chop each other up. And with ever more sophisticated technology. They then took the lead in terms of developing these.
John: And that’s of course eventually culminated with the Arab War and in 1839 and 40, which was the big shock to China. And China had actually been adapting some of the European technologies which were adaptations of the Chinese technology.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
John: But you know, bottom line is in order to be able to pay for all this, yes, you get the national debt, you get the 1594 the Bank of England that’s created the City of London actually is based on military contracts. They would effectively lend the money to the state. So, when we talk about war capitalism, it’s exactly what was going on in Britain. It kind of led the way in this respect. And it also was crucial. It’s a crucial hothouse, as Marx would say, for the development of Capitalism, and then the rest is history.
Jeff: Yeah. Here we are today.
Jeff: Hey, John, this has been wonderful. What are your current plans for writing and research? You mentioned a book about the origins of Islam. I lived and worked in Africa, in the Middle East for ten years. And so, I have a real appreciation for the Arab world and the Islamic world. What else are you going to be doing after we hit the hangout button?
John: Yeah. Well various admin tasks if I’m being mentioned. No but I would say I’m on the final furlong of this book and it’s called “Recovering the Origins of Islam”. And it’s subtitled A Critique of the Radical Revisionist School of Islamic Studies. And bottom line is that, you know, you’ve got all these radical revisionists, Western, Western theorists, who’ve come along and basically said that Islam is a complete hoax.
It was an invention made up either in the late 17th century, 60 or 70 years after Muhammad’s death, or sometime in the past periods Late 8/39, the late eighth, early ninth has been more or less put to bed, but the late 17th century still rolls. So, they say things like Mecca never really existed. Mohammed was not born there. It was later chosen as the holy sanctuary for political purposes that Islam was really born either in northwest Arabia or in southern Syria. It’s all sorts of stuff going on here that will make your average Muslims blood.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
John: Yeah, yeah. So basically, what I’m doing, I it’s absolutely fascinating. This is another one of those detective stories that have gone on where I’m basically just trying to sort of reply to all those things and recover the original story. I mean, I’m not a Muslim, but I’ve got a lot of respect for Islam, and I think Islam is very badly misunderstood in the way if you meet Muslims and you get to know them, you know that they are wonderful people and they will do things for you that even though I’m a Christian, Christians won’t do for you.
Jeff: Yeah, I lived and worked. I lived and worked in the Muslim Arab world for ten years. And so, and then in fact, Arabic is my best foreign language. I mastered it. I mastered reading, writing and speaking. In fact, that was one of the reasons I was kind of burned out on Arabic and wanted a change. And so that’s why my wife and I ended up going to China and that started my whole new adventure. So yeah, I love that.
John: Nomadic existence you’ve lived, Jeff.
Jeff: And we really miss it. We talk about it a lot. How fun, you know, our fondness for the people in that part of the world and Africa too. I mean, just the whole area, the people are just wonderful. Well, listen, in Daoist Buddhist, Confucius fashion, I will give you a nice bow. Thank you so much, John.
John: Oh Thanks, Jeff.
Jeff: And I will get this up and hopefully you can share it with people. Maybe you can even show it as a lecture.
John: Well, not a bad idea.
Jeff: Not a bad idea.
John: That’s the Best people, I’ll send it around. So that’s great. Jeff, thanks so much for reading the book and taking it.
Jeff: Well, we will stay in touch. We have become good across-the-channel friends over the last couple of years.
John: Thanks, Jeff.
Jeff: All right. Talk to you later. Bye-bye.
John: Thanks, Jeff.
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