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Journal of World History 11.2 (2000) 373-379

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Book Review

Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India

Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India. By RANAJIT GUHA. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. Pp. xvii + 256. $ 18.95 (paper).

This book, a compilation of three interrelated essays by Professor Ranajit Guha, an expatriate Indian Marxist historian and the founder of the Subaltern Studies Journal, is an ideological critique of the South Asian colonial and nationalist state and its historiography from the [End Page 373] perspective of Antonio Gramsci's philosophical reflections on "hegemony" and "domination." Its thesis is basically this: The historiography of the Indian colonial and nationalist state is unhistorical, spurious, and tainted with pervasive "elitism." Central to its narrative is the story of the power contest between two dominant elite groups: one representing the bourgeois colonial rulers, who gained political dominance in India by coercion, and the other, the Indian elite bourgeois nationalists "spawned and nurtured" by colonialism itself, who led a passive nationalist movement in order to succeed to the ruling power in the borrowed robes of their colonial mentors. The author contends that neither of these ruling elite classes represented "hegemony" which, according to the Gramscian analysis of Western European history, meant that the state's natural juridical power exercised by the ruling class was obtained by it either through moral and cultural persuasion of the people or derived from their common consent.

What, according to the author, has been missing in Indian colonial and nationalist historiography, rendering it spurious, is the story of the organic, class consciousness of the Indian masses who constituted an autonomous domain of anticolonial and antibourgeois politics of their own, parallel to the domain of the elitist power contest, which often, to the inconvenience of the nationalist elites, burst forth into violent resistance to both the colonial state and the elite nationalist movement in order to realize their political "hegemony." The author argues that these resistance movements, though they were systematically betrayed by the elite nationalist leadership and brutally suppressed by the colonial power, formed the true history of Indian people.

Therefore, Professor Guha calls upon the postcolonial Indian intellectuals to liberate Indian historiography from the pervasive nonhegemonic colonial and nationalist elite dominance and replace it by a systematic documentation of the anticolonial and antibourgeois political and cultural movements of the Indian people. Latent in this call, however, is the author's hope that such documentation will unmask the colonial and the elite nationalist deception and regenerate once again what he calls, toward the end of the book, "the failed agenda" of a few rightly guided intellectuals--the nationalist Terrorists and Marxists, who endeavored to educate Indian masses in insurrectionary nationalism.

Though Professor Guha's writings are not available in any of the major Indian vernacular languages that would make his argument accessible to the Indian masses, they nonetheless have made a radical ideological impact on Indian postcolonial scholarship--now prospering in its privileged Western academic diaspora. For nearly two [End Page 374] decades, Professor Guha and his colleagues have been speaking for crafting a new "interventionist strategy" for writing into history the hegemonic consciousness and political agenda of Indian peasants, urban factory workers, plantation laborers, and rural millenarian visionaries--loosely defined by them as subalterns, whose revolutionary anticolonial and antibourgeois political voices, they contend, were suppressed in Indian historiography first by the colonial writers and then by the Indian elite nationalists who owed their origin and worldview to the West.

Over the years, the result of this endeavor has been the production of an eclectic brand of ideological theories, an incisive critique of the existing Indian historiography, and a renewed theoretical fervor, as this book itself epitomizes, for retrieving the history of the subaltern past--their revolutionary political moments and cultural class consciousness. Interestingly, however, what has remained conspicuously absent in this urban intellectual project are the voices of the "subalterns" themselves who are toiling their lives away in the muddy paddy fields, malarial plantation jungles, and smoke-filled boiler rooms of...