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Neeladri Bhattacharya


By Bernard Potter
Longman Pearson, New Delhi, 1975, 408, Price Not Stated

VOLUME I NUMBER 3 July - September 1976

The book under review is intended to be ‘a general descriptive and explanatory history of Bri­tish colonialism since the middle of the nineteenth century’. The study is not based on any original research, being an attempt to synthesize all existing historical material of which, in purely quantitative terms, there is no dearth. Neither does the book promise to solve, or even tackle, the complex issues which have been raised in the debates on imperia­lism. The aim, as the author explicitly states, ‘is to avoid biases by short circuiting most controver­sies.’ Such an approach forces the author at times to avoid important issues, at others to make contra­dictory or ambiguous statements. Porter is concerned both with the formal as well as the informal empire: ‘other countries outside the empire could be dominated and controlled by some means or the other from Britain almost as closely as her colonies—more closely than some.’ This domination and control was not necessarily politi­cal: ‘the method was to dominate the world by means of a natural superiority in industry and com­merce.’ Here, Porter parts company with those who view imperialism merely as a political pheno­menon like Langer, Fieldhouse, etc. In fact, Porter seems to begin with the premise that imperialism was the logical outcome of the growth of capitalism: ‘Every year the industrial system devoured more raw materials and turned them into saleable commodities and demanded yet more materials and markets; that its appetite would spread ever wider beyond Britain's national bound­aries was therefore natural.’ He quotes Marx to elaborate the point. The above statement, however, as so many others in the book, conflicts with the author’s major pro­positions and conclusions. He assumes later that there was nothing within the structure of the British economy itself which led to imperialism. Britain, according to Porter, concentrated on ‘profitable foreign market at the expense of an underexploited domestic market.’ Similarly, he refers to the exis­tent possibility of profitable investment at home: ‘the home industry ... was starved of capital.’ Such propositions are derived through an inverted deduc­tive logic. The fact that there was increasing ex­port of product and capital does not necessarily mean that the home market was underexploited and home industries starved of capital. Porter makes no effort to analyse the actual conditions of the economy, i.e., whether the home market was over­...


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