Как компания построила империю

"Шах Алам передает дар Дивани лорду Клайву" автор Бенджамин Уэст (1765 г.)
Читая свежий номер Financial Times Europe от 31/08 - 01/09, наткнулся на интересную статью про Ост-Индскую Компанию основанную в Британии 19 века, и решил, что подобный перевод будет весьма интересен и для остальных.

К началу 19 века Ост-Индская Компания (далее ОИК) стала, как признал один из ее директоров, "империей в составе империи", обладающей властью вести войну или заключать мир в любой точке на востоке страны.

The EIC had created avast and sophisticated administration and civil service in India, built much of London’s Docklands and come close to generating half of Britain’s trade. Its annual spending in Britain — around £8.5m — equalled about a quarter of total British government annual expenditure. No wonder the Company now referred to itself as “the grandest society of merchants in the Universe”. Its private armies were larger than those of almost all nation- states and its power encircled the globe; indeed, its shares were a kind of global reserve currency. As the parliamentarian Edmund Burke wrote: “The Constitution of the Company began in commerce and ended in Empire.”

The EIC was also the ultimate model andprototypeformanyoftoday’sjoint- stock corporations. No blue plaque or memorial today marks the site of its former headquarters on Leadenhall Street in the City of London, which lies buried be neath the foundations of Richard Rogers’s glass-and-steel Lloyd’s building. But anyone seeking a monu- ment to its legacy need only look around. For the EIC remains history’s mostominouswarningaboutthepoten- tial for the abuse of corporate power — and the insidious means by which the interests of shareholders can seemingly become those of the state.

When people voice fears today about the power of corporations and the way global companies can find ways around the laws and the legislatures of individual nationstates, it is no accident that they sound like 18th-century commentators such as Horace Walpole, who decried the way that EIC wealth had corrupted parliament: “What is England now?” he asked, but “a sink of Indian wealth, filled by nabobs [with] . . . a Senate sold and despised.”

For just as the lobbying of the Anglo- Persian Oil Company was able to bring down the government in Iran and United Fruit that of Guatemala in the 1950s; just as ITT lobbied to bring down Salvador Allende’s Chile in the 1970s and just as ExxonMobil has lobbied the US more recently to protect its interests in Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan, so the EIC was able to call in the British navytoenhanceitspowerinIndiainthe 18th century. And just as Facebook today can employ Nick Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister, so the EIC was able to buy the services of Lord Cornwallis, who surrendered Yorktown to Washington. The EIC, in other words, was not just the world’s first great multinational corporation, it was also thefirsttorunamokandshowhowlarge companies can become more powerful, and sometimes more dangerous, than nationsorevenempires.

История создания Ост-Индской Компании

The history of the EIC began on September 24 1599. While William Shakespeare was mulling over a draft of Hamlet in his house downriver from the Globe in Southwark, a motley group of Londoners gathered barely 20 minutes’ walk north across the Thamesinarambling, half-timbered building off Moorgate Fields.

It was an unusually diverse cross- section of Elizabethan London that came that day to the Founders Hall. At the top of the social scale, hung with his golden chain of office, there was the stout figure of the Lord Mayor himself, Sir Stephen Soame. Accompanying him was the stovepipe-hatted Sir Thomas Smythe, a former auditor of the City of London who had made a fortune importing currants from the Greek islands and spices from Aleppo. A few years earlier “Auditor Smythe” had helped form the Levant Company as a vehicle for his trading voyages; this meeting was his initiative.

Beside these portly pillars of the City of London were many less exalted merchants hopeful of increasing their fortunes, as well as a scattering of ambitious and upwardly mobile men of more humble estate, whose professions the notaries dutifully noted down: grocers, drapers and haberdashers, a “clotheworker”, a “vintener”, a “letherseller” and a “skinner”, not to mention a few scarred soldiers and bearded mariners who described themselves, in the polite Elizabethan euphemism, as “privateers”.

The East India Company remains our most ominous warning about the potential for corporate abuses

The group had gathered with one purpose: to petition the ageing Queen Elizabeth I, then a bewigged and painted woman of 66, to startup a Company“ to venterin the pretended voiagetoye Est Indies and other Ilands and Cuntries the reabouts there to make trade”.

Unlike the Levant Company, which had a fixed board of 53 tightly knit subscribers, the East India Company was from the very first conceived as a joint stock corporation, open to all investors. Smythe and his associates had decided that because of the huge expenses and high risks involved, “a trade so far remote cannot be managed but by a joint and united stock”. Costs, after all, were astronomically high. The commodities they wished to buy were extremelyexpensiveandtheywerecarried in huge ships, which needed to be manned by large crews and protected by artillery masters and professional musket-men. Moreover, even if everything went according to plan, there would be no return on investment for several years.

The idea of a joint stock company was one of Tudor England’s most brilliant and revolutionary innovations. The spark of the idea sprang from the flint of the medieval craft guilds, where merchants and manufacturers could pool their resources to undertake ventures none could afford to make individually. But the crucial difference in a joint stock company was that the latter could bring in passive investors who had the cash to subscribe to a project but were not themselves involved in the running of it. Such shares could be bought and sold by anyone, and their price could rise or fall depending on demand and the success of the venture.

A few decades earlier, in 1553, a previous generation of London merchants had begun the process of founding the world’s first chartered joint-stock company: the Muscovy Company, or to give it its full and glorious title, The Mysterie and Companie of Merchant Adventurers for the Discoverie of Regions, Dominions, Islands and Places Unknown. Such a company was “one body corporate and politick” — that is, it would be a corporation, and so could have a legal identity and a form of corporate immortality that allowed it to transcend the deaths of individual shareholders, “in like manner”, wrote the legal scholar, William Blackstone, “as the River Thames is still the same river, though the parts which composeit are changing every instance”.

In retrospect, the rise of the EIC may seem almost inevitable. But that was not how it looked in 1599. For at its founding, few enterprises could have seemed less sure of success. At that time, England was a relatively impoverished, largely agricultural country, which had spent almost a century at war with it self over the most divisive subject of the time: religion.

In the course of this, in what seemed to many of its wisest minds as an act of wilful self-harm, the English had unilaterally cut themselves off from the most powerful institution in Europe, so turning themselves in the eyes of many Europeans into something of a pariah nation. As a result, isolated from their baffled neighbours, the English were forced to scour the globe for new markets and commercial openings further afield, and to do so they had no compunction but to use, for the first time in history, unbridled corporate violence.

The EIC had been authorised by its founding charter to “wage war” and had been using military and naval power to gain its ends since it boarded and captured a Portuguese vessel on its maiden voyage in 1602. But it wasnotuntil1765 that the Company ceased to resemble a conventional trading corporation, deal- ing in silks and spices, and became somethingaltogethermoreunusual.

In that year, in the Mughal for tofAllahabad, the young Mughal emperor Shah Alam, exiled from Delhi and defeated by EIC troops, was forced into what we would now call an actofinvoluntary privatisation. He was forced to issue anorder to dismiss his own Mughal reve- nueofficialsinBengal,BiharandOrissa and replace them with a set of English tradersappointedby Robert Clive — the new governor of Bengal — and the directors of the Company, whom the document describes as “the high and mighty, the chief of illustrious warriors, the English Company”.

"Лорд Роберт Клайв в военной форме", автор Томас Гейнсборо (1764 г.)

The collecting of Mughal taxes was hence for thsubcontracted to a powerful multinational corporation — whose revenue-collecting operations were protected by its own private army. Within a few months, 250 company clerks backed by the military force of 20,000 locally recruited Indian soldiers had become the effective rulers of the richest Mughal provinces. An international corporation was, for the first time, transforming itself into an aggressive colonialpower.

Using the looted wealth of Mughal Bengal, before long the EIC was straddling the globe. Almost single-handedly, it reversed the balance of trade, which from Roman times on had led to a continual drain of western bullion eastward. The EIC ferried opium east to China, and in due course fought the opium wars in order to seize an offshore base at Hong Kong and safeguard its monopoly in narcotics. To the west it shipped Chinese tea to Massachusetts, where its dumping in Boston harbour led to the American war of Independ- ence. Indeed, one of the principal fears of the American patriots in the run-up to the war was that parliament would unleash the EIC in the Americas to loot there as it had done in India.

By 1803, when the EIC captured the Mughal capital of Delhi, and within it, the now sightless monarch, Shah Alam, sitting blinded in his ruined palace, the Company had trained up a private security force of about 200,000 — twice the size of the British army — and marshalled more firepower than any nation-state in Asia. In just over 40 years they had made themselves masters of almost all the subcontinent, whose inhabitants numbered 50 to 60 million, succeeding an Empire where even minor provincial nabobs and governors ruled over vast areas, larger in both size and population than the biggest countries of Europe. Now almost all of India south of Delhi was by then effectively ruled from a boardroom in the City of London. “What honour is left to us?” asked a Mughal official, “when we have to take orders from a handful of traders who have not yet learned to wash their bottoms?”

"Император Великих Моголов Шах Алам пересматривает войска Ост-Индской Компании в Аллахабаде с генералом Баркером", автор Тилли Кэттл (1771 г.)

We still talk about the British con- queringIndia,butthatphrasedisguises amoresinisterreality.Foritwasnotthe British government that began seizing chunksofIndiainthemid-18thcentury, but a dangerously unregulated private company headquartered in one small office, five windows wide, in London, andmanagedinIndiabyaviolent,ruth- less and mentally unstable corporate predator — Robert Clive. India’s transi- tiontocolonialism,inotherwords,took place under a for-profit corporation, whichexistedentirelyforthepurposeof enrichingitsinvestors.

Historians propose many reasons for the EIC’s astonishing success: the frac- turing of Mughal India into tiny, com- peting states; the military edge of more advanced European soldiers; and the innovations in governance, taxationand banking that allowed the Company to raise vast sums of ready money at a moment’snotice.Forbehindthescarlet uniforms and the Palladian palaces, the tiger shoots and the polkas at Govern- ment House lay the balance sheets of the Company’s accountants, with their ledgers laying out profit and loss, and the Company’s fluctuating share price ontheLondonStockExchange.

Yetperhapsthemostcrucialfactorof allwasthesupportthattheEICenjoyed from the British parliament. The rela- tionship grew more symbiotic through- out the 18th century until eventually it turned into what we might today call a public–private partnership. Returned nabobs such as Clive used their wealth to buy both MPs and parliamentary seats. In turn, parliament backed the Company with state power: the ships andsoldiersthatwereneededwhenthe rivalFrenchandBritishEastIndiaCom- paniestrainedtheirgunsoneachother.

ButtheCompanyalwayshadtwotar- gets in its sights: one was the lands where its business was conducted; but the other was the country that gave it birth, as its lawyers and lobbyists and MP shareholders slowly and subtlyworkedtoinfluenceandsubverttheleg- islation of parliament in its favour. Indeed, the EIC probably invented cor- poratelobbying.In1693,lessthanacen- tury after its foundation, the Company was discovered for the first time to be using its own shares for buying MPs, annually shelling out £1,200 a year to prominent MPs and ministers. The parliamentary investigation into this, the world’s first corporate lobbying scandal, found the EIC guilty of bribery and insider trading, and led to the impeachment of the lord president of the council, and the imprisonment of theCompany’sgovernor.

Walmart and Google are tame beasts compared with the ravaging appetite of the militarised EIC

Though other companies, such as Cecil Rhodes’ British South African Company, acted as Pied Piper in the marchtowardsexploitationandempire, the EIC’s conquest of India almost cer- tainlyremainsthesupremeactofcorpo- rate violence in history. For all the power wielded today by the largest cor- porations—whetherWalmartorGoogle — they are tame beasts compared with the ravaging territorial appetites of the militarisedEIC.Yetifhistoryshowsany- thing, it is that in the intimate dance between the state and the corporation, while the latter can be regulated, it will useallitsresourcesandpowertoresist.

The 400-year-old question of how to cope with the power and perils of large multinational corporations remains today unanswered: it is not clear how a nation state, especially a fragile or impoverished one, can adequately pro- tectitselfanditscitizensfromcorporate aggression. No contemporary corpora- tioncouldgetawaywithduplicatingthe sheer military might of the EIC, but many have attempted to match its suc- cessatbendingstatepowertotheirown ends. The biggest modern corporations run sophisticated lobbying operations very like those of the EIC, which, in the case of ExxonMobil, is, according tojournalist Steve Coll, staffed by “20 former senators, representatives, legis- lativeaidesandothersundercontract”.

Thankfully, however, there is no exact modern equivalent. Corporations have frequently conspired to make weak governments fall but no modern corporation claims sovereignty over any nation. Neither ExxonMobil nor Shell possesses regiments of infantry, cavalry and artillery, though both have a small army of private security guards. The latter, as Coll has pointed out, earned in one year $228bn in revenues, more than the gross domestic product of Norway; had it been a country, it would have been the world’s 21st-largest economy.

Indeed,with such revenues flowing in perhaps today the most powerful corporations do not need their own armies: they can rely on governments to protect their interests, guard them and bail them out, just as the US did, for example, with ExxonMobil in Iraq. As recent American adventures in Iraq have shown,ourworldisfarfrompost-imperial, and quite probably never will be.

Instead, empire is transforming itself intoformsofglobalpowerthatusecam- paign contributions and commercial lobbying, multinational finance sys- tems and global markets, corporate influence and the predictive data har- vesting of the new surveillance-capital- ism rather than — or sometimes along- side — overt military conquest, occupa- tion or direct economic domination to effectitsends.

Four hundred and twenty years after itsfounding,withacorporatemogulsit- ting in the White House, attempting to usehisdollarstobuywholenations,and with a former chief executive of ExxonMobil recently serving as secretary of state, the story of the East India Company has never been more current. As Edward,FirstBaronThurlowremarked during the impeachment of EIC Governor Warren Hastings, “Corporations have neither bodies to be punished, nor souls to be condemned. They therefore do as they like.”