Number 184 of Social Scientist was the first number of the double issue on the history of peasants in struggle. The present number carries papers by Partha Chatterjee, D.N. Dhanagare and K. Suresh Singh. The first two authors deal with the theoretical analysis of peasant movements and peasant consciousness, both focussing on the 'subaltern studies' approach though from differing perspectives. The last author discusses the movement of the Tana Bhagats of Chotanagpur.
This journal has in the past carried discussions of the 'subaltern studies' volumes as they appeared. Partha Chatterjee in his paper argues for an 'Indian history of peasant struggle' as opposed to a history of peasant struggles in India. Adopting the framework suggested by Guha (1983), which takes as its analytical focus the 'principle of community as the characteristic unifying feature of peasant consciousness', Chatterjee argues that both the colonialists and the organised political movements of nationalism—whether the Congress or the Left parties—have shared a common premise in regarding peasants as 'objects of history' to be manipulated for certain ends, and have never viewed 'the peasant' as 'an active and conscious subject of history'. While the existence of differentiation within the peasantry is conceded, the stress is on the 'differentiated unity' representing the 'principle of community* which is recognised as the central concept of the theory.
D.N. Dhanagare considers the subaltern studies approach to constitute an important and useful intervention, but is critical regarding its methodological premises. He points out that as regards the emphasis, which is undoubtedly welcome and very necessary, on developing a 'history from below' by utilising the rich storehouse of oral traditions and social customs of the people, this has been a well-established trend in European Marxist historiography; to which he might have added the name of D.D. Kosambi in the case of India.
Dhanagare questions the validity of the notion of ^autonomy of consciousness' of peasants and also the concept of 'subalternity' itself, which is so vaguely defined as to include on occasions not only the rural poor but also rich peasants and landlords. He points out that a number of contributions to the subaltern studies volumes represent a straightforward analysis of the struggles of rural labour and poor peasants, which do not fit into the proposed conceptual framework.