Peasantry, Politics and Historiography: Critique of New Trend in Relation to Marxism
THE PUBLICATION of Subaltern Studies1 is an important event in the writing of the history of colonial India. This is so not just because of the thorough research into the wide range of problems that make up the volume. Nor is it only because the research wants to make us listen to the voice of the exploited and oppressed people. The focus of all the contributors is on the activities of the 'people', in the present volume, the peasants. However, what makes for the difference of approach is that the contributors share a significant presupposition concerning the activities people engage in, which becomes the point of departure of this volume.
The presupposition is as follows: Between the world of politics on the one hand and the economic processes of capitalist transformation on the other, there is a kind of mental space within which the social forms of existence and consciousness of the people are all their ownó strong and enduring in their own right and therefore free of manipulations by the dominant groups. However much the ruling classes may control the themes and content of politics or the sources of history, the subalterns, i e, the people, will always manage to make themselves heard. In other words, this intermediate space represents the subjectivity; the active source of the political activity of the people and therefore the basis on which they act as subjects of history and not just its objects, being merely acted upon. It is the task of people's historians, if I have grasped the argument correctly, always to keep their antennae directed towards the intermediate space from where comes the voice of the people.
All the contributors are therefore convinced of the autonomy of the peasantry and concerned with demonstrating how in their struggles, whether in the sphere of productive activity or in the more directly political sphere of mass upsurges or revolts, the politics of the subalterns2 constitutes an 'autonomous domain'. This theme is central to the arguments advanced in various contributions in this book. Variously expressed, it is almost axiomatic, a kind of meta-theoretical position. Its importance for the evaluation of popular