What happened to Indian capitalism? In fact, it already had an extremely developed ideology: Jainism. But Karl Marx could not see that, for two reasons. Firstly, Jainism was less known, not to say unknown, as it still is today in fact. Secondly, Karl Marx knew an advanced form of capitalist ideology, and Jainism was “democratic” in a very elementary form.
Jainism was born in the same period as Buddhism; its philosophy was very close to it. But if Buddhism was the ideology of the city, of the kingdom, Jainism was directly the ideology of capitalism.
Therefore, Jainism is much more demanding: a person giving food without knowing that it is poisoned would be innocent according to Buddhism, guilty according to Jainism.
If the word Jainism comes indeed from the Sanskrit verb Jin, meaning battle - here the battle against passions and the reality of matter -, the paradox is that Jainism is a highly practical religion.
Thus in the field of science, it is empiric in the traditional primitive bourgeois way: things are considered as having multiple aspects, each person taking maybe a different one, and so any proposition is conditionally and not absolutely true.
This relativism is very useful for capitalism; in fact it is here an open form of liberalism, a call for self-reliant practice without being judged by “supreme forces”.
A Jain had to be reliable, austere; according to Jainism, there was neither castes, nor the possibility of being “perfect” as a living being, only death could bring the final liberation. And early Jainism refused also the worship of images.
It is evident that all this falls under the same function as Protestantism.
And we can see that in this materialist perspective, Jainism rejects the concept of creation of the universe; in the same perspective Jainism refutes the principle that a “supreme force” exists as “organizer” of the world.
What is here astonishing, is that this pre-bourgeois line was so progressive that it openly accepted the materialist conception of the unity of the world. Jainism was the religion which was nearest to considering reincarnation as the eternal development of living matter, through the atomic process.
It went so far that it considered all the living beings as linked; as expressed by the Jain mathematician Umā Svāti in the second century, “Souls exist to provide service to each other”.
Following this recognition of living matter, according to Jainism it is forbidden to harm any living being. In the sacred traditional religious book called the uttaradhyayana sutra, we can read the following:
“From clubs and knives, from stakes and maces, from broken limbs,
Have I hopelessly suffered on countless occasions.
By sharpened razors and knives and spears have I these many times
Been drawn and quartered, torn apart and skinned
As a deer helpless in snares and traps
I have often been bound and fastened and even killed.
As a helpless fish, I have been caught with hooks and nets,
Scaled and scraped, split and gutted, and killed a million times…
Born a tree, I have been felled and stripped, cut with axes and chisels
And sawed into planks innumerable times.
Embodied in iron, I have been subjected to hammer and tongs
Innumerable times, struck and beaten, split and filed…
Ever trembling in fear; in pain and suffering always,
I have felt the most excruciating sorry and agony.”
Today, Jainism still has more than 4 million followers, mostly in India where this religion has always been connected to the merchants; in Belgium the community is famous for its important presence in the diamond trade in Antwerp.
The Jains was therefore so to say integrated as a cast of merchants by Hinduism, of course after having before triumphed over Buddhism, which was the great concurrent of Jainism.
During the Islamic domination, the Jains maintained this role of merchants, and therefore they were protected, and even highly respected by Akbar, the great ruler who wanted to unify the empire, as Ashoka had done.
Akbar, deeply influenced by Hiravijaya ji (1526–1595 C.E), stopped fishing and hunting, became a vegetarian and banned the killing of animals during the Jain festivals of Paryusana and Mahavir Jayanti, banned slaughter of animals for six months in Gujarat, abandoned some taxes, etc.
But this is not all, even after Akbar's attempt at building a new universal peaceful ideology, the Sulh-e-kul, the Jain traders continued to benefit from Mughal protection, even under Aurangzeb. The Jains had freedom of worship, protection of their pilgrimages and a possibility to manage them as they wanted, etc.
Symbol of this freedom of business are the hundreds of Jain temples on the Mount Shatrunjaya in Gujarat, which were built from the 11th century onwards.
The fact that Jainism maintained itself only in the North West of India is of importance. Its political dimension was already erased at the time of the rise of Buddhism; it was only the capitalist ideology of the early period of the rise of the bourgeoisie.
But as Jaïnism already had a very high cultural level, we find moral interdictions that played a great rôle in the failure of Indian capitalism.
Among those prohibitions, we find those connected to living beings. Jains cannot participate in the production and sale of charcoal and timber, they are not allowed to use or sell animals, nor to build or sell carts (because of the wood and the use of animals).
Was forbidden of course the trade with animal by-products like ivory, bones, conch-shells, pelts, lac, but also of alcohol or dangerous articles like weapons, poisons, and also farming implements as they are a threat for the life in the soil (Jains avoid therefore food like onions and garlics, as their removing threats living beings).
In the same spirit, it was forbidden to drain lakes or to clear forests, for example by fire, or to operate mills and presses that crush grain and sugar cane.
Thus Jains were moneylenders, shopkeepers, pawnbrokers, etc. ; they refused to invest in production opposed to the principle of “Ahiṃsā”, i.e. the absence of harm. The Gujarat merchants benefited from international exchange through the sea, as they were present in the ports of Goa, Chaul, and Diu.
We have here the explanation for the failure of capitalism in ancient India.
As Brahmanism was a racist caste system, it was opposed to the individual responsibility and social initiative necessary to the merchants. It was unavoidable then for them to create their own ideology.
But unlike the situation in Europe, the merchants could not coexist with absolute monarchy. Therefore Jainism as a capitalist ideology decayed and became a local religion, and this defeat prevented the building of a strong capitalist ideology throughout the country.
Moreover, the craftsmen were under the yoke of feudalism, and the merchants could not make connections with them.
This was not all, and this other point explained why Karl Marx could not see Jainism. Capitalism is a mode of production, and therefore of reproduction. It means that money must circulate on one side, and that individual workers must be ready to work for a wage on the other side.
It was not only that feudalism blocked the emergence of free workers. It was also that the weak Indian capitalism had no market.
How did the European capitalism develop itself? Through the sale of goods to the bourgeoisie.
But Rosa Luxemburg asked: how can capital widen itself if all the money is in the hands of the bourgeoisie? And she thought that the integration of non-capitalist areas was the key.
The answer is clear with the Indian example: capitalism benefited from the intensifications of animal work and of the sales of addictive products like alcohol, opium, sugar, tobacco, etc.
These sales ermitted to seize all the money, to inject it back into the capitalist system. But in India, Jainism was already a highly civilized ideology.
The very basis of accumulation could not be reached because of that; even the most lucrative trade, the rade of horses, was refused by the Jains. The result was a weak development of the bourgeoisie.
So Jainism could never challenge Hinduism again. And Hinduism became the ideology of feudalism, a feudalism finally seized by the invaders, who only had to maintain things as they were, bringing Indian society to a standstill.