Tyler Cowen
Creative Destruction

Although Gandhi complained that British imports were damaging the Indian textile industry, Indian producers had practiced a comparable form of cultural imperialism for centuries. The Indians flooded southeast Asia with their high-quality textile products, starting as early as the first century A.D. and continuing through the present day. India was dominant in the African trade as well, especially after the slave routes opened up. The development of Indian handwoven textiles relied on 'exploiting' these external markets.

Indian penetration of other Asian markets was so strong that some of them erected import barriers against the Indian products. Thailand, for instance, enforced import restrictions and sumptuary laws to the detriment of the Indian trade. The British had once sought protection against Indian cloth as well. In the eighteenth century, Indian cloth was greatly popular in Britain. Hand-painted cotton chintz was very popular in European markets, especially in England, and revolutionized European textile styles. An English ban on chintz failed to keep the product out, just as a 'buy domestic cloth' movement, an English precursor of Gandhi's Swadeshi movement, failed. The textiles were so highly demanded that they entered England through the Netherlands. These forms of cultural imperialism, as practiced by Indians, supported the industries that Gandhi later claimed were victimized by British cultural imperialism.

The very notion of Gandhi's Swadeshi movement was based on foreign influences. The Swadeshi writers had been strongly influenced by John Ruskin, William Morris, and the nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts movement of Great Britain. These individuals decried the effects of commerce on art and called for a return to the indigenous production of national handicrafts. Yet the Arts and Crafts movement borrowed from foreign influences heavily. William Morris, who produced some of the finest carpets in British history, looked to Persian weaving for inspiration about design.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.