Which historiography..In search of the Unknown worker.

Just as every country has a tomb for the unknown soldier, every country should have a tomb for the unknown worker.  As part of exploring “Everyday history” to understand reality of working people in terms of their concrete lived experiences, we examined the theme of peasant consciousness. On the occasion of Naxalbari day-(25th May is observed as Naxalabari day by  revolutionaries in India)  a landmark in peasant struggles in India. The issue of consciousness of peasants took us into the issues of historiography. In this three part blog series we will discuss different issues relating to effects of colonialism on peasant struggles, lessons we can draw. This is especially relevant in the context of today’s Arab Spring where we saw in Libya how the genuine people’s struggle for freedom had a much altered dynamics due to protracted bombing by NATO.

To see articles relating to ground level view from perspective of common people

See articles:  Tripoli is “Free” http://epw.in/epw/uploads/articles/17458.pdf
Friends of Bouazizihttp://www.chowk.com/Views/World/Friends-of-Bouazizi

Peasant struggles and consciousness were the focus of our discussions. A Canadian of Iraqi origin was explained the context of the peasant’s struggles in India in response to extraction of surplus, rack-renting by landlords, moneylenders and the state.  He could empathize with this and said that he had such examples in his home country Iraq. The Aali-azarchi movements which lasted about 3 years before being violently suppressed were a constant headache for the semi-feudal landowners and the state. The nine-day strike of Kirkuk oil workers in 1946 was suppressed brutally.1956 (Suez Crisis) had a massive impact on Iraq, with demonstrations against the Iraqi regime who were seen as British stooges. The Palestinian issue also helped radicalisation. Some still wonder why there wasn’t a revolution in 1956!

( http://www.reocities.com/pract_history/scud.html)

The Marxist historiography viewpoint

Marxist literature has contributed to the debate of peasant consciousness. According to Marxist definition, consciousness is not something temporary or transient. It is a historical consciousness generated by long –term class exploitation of the peasantry. Those who support this theory of peasant consciousness have their own followers.However, given that peasants can come together and raise the banner of revolt on certain issues, have factions and fight with each other and are also differentiated even when considering a narrow category such as “middle peasantry” , terms such as peasant consciousness’ have to be used with considerable care keeping in view the situation and context

The viewpoint that peasant struggles took place in response to extraction of surplus based on Marxist theories of class conflict treated caste as temporary aberration. Sociologists who have studied caste in rural India have argued that caste has taken new forms and have been strengthened in certain contexts.

( L.S.Vishwanath-Peasant movements in Colonial India. An examination of some conceptual frameworks)

The Subalternist historiography viewpoint

The paper by L.S.Vishwanath also discussed in detail the second major conceptual framework for understanding peasant movements put forward by Ranajit Guha. Guha argues that in what he terms “primary” and “secondary” discourse, the elite have appropriated to themselves the historiography of the peasantry.

Primary discourse- The colonial rulers presented their own viewpoint describing the peasant revolves as “terrible insurgencies” which should be crushed immediately.

Secondary discourse: The Indian elite appropriates to itself peasant

history by putting forward its own view and claims credit for providing the leadership.

Tertiary: Guha also puts forward the view that there is a third type of discourse, namely, ‘tertiary’,

in which the radicals appropriate peasant history to their ideology.

(Ranajit Guha: The prose of counter insurgency:Subaltern studies Volume II-page 15)

History from below

In other words, the main thrust of Guha’s argument is that instead of the elites (Indian or foreign) and radicals appropriating peasant historiography, the ordinary peasants should be allowed to project their own viewpoint. In the whole tenor of Guha’s formulation, it is implied that a historiography of ordinary peasants is necessary and this will give an impetus to peoples’ historiography or history from below.

Rejecting text book view of society

Efforts of scholars like Guha to write peoples’ historiography as distinct from elite historiography is somewhat similar to the efforts of social anthropologists to study social institutions, politics, rural economy, etc, from below at grassroots level through village studies. The ‘textbook’ view of society is rejected by such exercises.

(summarized from L.S.Vishwanath’s article


What is the history of your organization or community?

Is the history of your organization or institution just a rhetoric of what certain “Board members” say or do? Does the common patient have any say in your institution’s running? Does your institution ever survey them for opinions?

Is our history in Arab spring only limited to what some “Big Leaders” said or did? How many million dollars were transferred? Or do you know of a Teddy bear which a child left behind while fleeing the conflict?

These are some questions which we will examine as we go through paths -commemorating the heroic sacrifices of peasant martyrs in India. These links are international, worldwide and enduring. One has to search for the links.

In next blog we will examine some critics of the different theories and related discussions.

Through these discussions we seek to explore the meanings and hopes for the Unknown Worker.


About prashant bhatt

A psychologist, interested in mindfulness practices. I practiced medicine as a radiologist for 23 years in India and Libya as a radiologist before shifting to Canada. A regular diarist, journaling since 1983 Reading journal : gracereadings.com
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4 Responses to Which historiography..In search of the Unknown worker.

  1. Pingback: Revisiting perspectives on Gandhi Jayanti « Prashantbhatt’s Weblog

  2. Pingback: Reflections on our Republic Day « Prashantbhatt’s Weblog

  3. Pingback: Mutual Improvement Societies | Prashantbhatt's Weblog

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