Return of the Peasant Question

Arup Kumar Sen

The eminent scholar of Peasant Studies and editor of the seminal book, Late Marx and the Russian Road: Marx and the ‘peripheries of capitalism’ (Monthly Review Press, New York, 1983), Teodor Shanin discussed in the book how Marx seriously engaged himself with exploring the revolutionary tradition of Russian populism in the later part of his life, in search of an alternative path against capitalist development. Shanin observed: “To the revolutionary populist the peasant commune was the proof of the collectivist tradition of the majority of Russian people, which stayed alive in spite of its suppression by the state”.

We know that comparing 19th century Russia with 21st century India would be anachronistic. But, the ongoing farmer protests in India against the neo-liberal agricultural policies of the State and massive participation of the peasants/farmers in the movement amply testify that the peasant question has returned back to contemporary Indian history unfolding before our eyes.

One can question whether classical category of the ‘peasant movement’ can be used in characterizing the farmers’ movement in contemporary India. Our reply to that hypothetical scholarly question in the present moment of the struggle would be the classic statement of Karl Marx: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it”.

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Dec 12, 2020

Arup Kumar Sen

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