“The peasant movements of the second half of the nineteenth century lacked a positive conception which would unite the people in a common struggle on a wide regional and all-India plane and help develop long-term political developments.” Critically evaluate. ©selfstudyhistory.com
After 1857 Revolt, Princes, chiefs and landlords having been crushed or co-opted, peasants emerged as the main force in agrarian movements. They now fought directly for their own demands, centered almost wholly on economic issues, and against their immediate enemies, foreign planters and indigenous zamindaris and moneylenders.
The peasant movements of the second half of the nineteenth century lacked a positive conception:
- Peasant’s struggles were directed towards specific and limited objectives and redressal of particular grievances.
- The territorial reach of these movements was limited. They were confined to particular localities with no mutual communication or linkages.
- They lacked continuity of struggle or long-term organization. Once the specific objectives of a movement were achieved, its organization, as also peasant solidarity built around it, dissolved and disappeared. Thus, the Indigo strike, the Pabna agrarian leagues and the social-boycott movement of the Deccan ryots left behind no successors.
- They did not make colonialism their target. Nor was their objective the ending of the system of their subordination and exploitation. Consequently, at no stage did these movements threaten British supremacy or even undermine it.
- There was lack of an adequate understanding of colonialism — of colonial economic structure and the colonial state — and of the social framework of the movements themselves.
- Peasants did not possess a new ideology and a new social, economic and political programme based on an analysis of the newly constituted colonial society. Their struggles, however militant, occurred within the framework of the old societal order.
- They lacked a positive conception of an alternative society — a conception which would unite the people in a common struggle on a wide regional and all-India plane and help develop long-term political movements. An all-India leadership capable of evolving a strategy of struggle that would unify and mobilize peasants and other sections of society for nation-wide political activity could be formed only on the basis of such a new conception, a fresh vision of society.
- In the absence of such a flew ideology, programme, leadership and strategy of struggle, it was not to difficult for the colonial state, on the one hand, to reach a Conciliation and calm down the rebellious peasants by the grant of some concessions (like passage of the Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885 after Pabna Revolt) and on the other hand, to suppress them with the full use of its force.
These weaknesses were not a blemish on the character of the peasantry which was perhaps incapable of grasping on its own the new and complex phenomenon of colonialism. That needed the efforts of a modem intelligentsia which was itself just coming into existence. In fact there was the growing involvement of the educated middle class intelligentsia as spokespersons for the aggrieved peasantry which added new dimensions to their protests and linking their movements to a wider agitation against certain undesirable aspects of colonial rule. For example in Indigo Revolt (1859-60).
We also find a greater awareness of colonial policies, laws and institutions among the peasantry. And some of them even embraced those institutions, the law courts for example, as an extended and legitimate space for venting their anger or for seeking redress to existing injustices. For example in Pabna Revolt and Indigo Revolt.
Most of weaknesses were overcome in the 20th century when peasant discontent was merged with the general anti-imperialist discontent and their political activity became a part of the wider anti-imperialist movement. And, of course, the peasants’ participation in the larger national movement not only strengthened the fight against the foreigner it also, simultaneously, enabled them to organize powerful struggles around their class demands and to create modem peasant organization. ©selfstudyhistory.com