Tuesday, February 15, 2011

LJA: Engaging the leftists and progressives

Thus far we have paid more attention to "vidya" in lokavidya, as compared to the "lok." Looking at society from the perspective of knowledge (as opposed to property, income, caste, race etc) we arrive at a classification that is intimately connected to colonial history. This is because the colonial encounter represented a massive reorganization of the world of knowledge. The knowledge hierarchy is of course related to other hierarchies in society, but it is not simply derivable from them, it is not reducible to any other hierarchy.

Because knowledge has to do with representation and understanding of the world around us, the hierarchy of knowledge is built upon claims of greater understanding or better representation. Because knowledge also has to do with the fulfillment of human needs, knowledge hierarchies are also built upon claims of greater usefulness. Knowledge that is called "scientific" has been deemed to be on top, both because it gives us the most reliable understanding of reality and because it is most useful (because it is the most productive). One claim is epistemological and the other is social/technical, the two are of course related. It is then "common sense" that the more superior kind of knowledge be the basis for the (re)organization of society. Which means that the holders of this knowledge should be given the initiative in shaping society. The lokavidya perspective challenges this view. The Lokavidya Jan Andolan (LJA) will be the first social movement which publicly and directly questions this view.

Capital sometimes appears to challenge knowledge hierarchies. It appears to support lokavidya because capital cares neither about epistemology, nor about usefulness or productivity. It cares about value (in the sense of surplus value). Thus any knowledge, whatever its source or social location, if it can produce value, will be used by capital. Neither epistemological nor technical objections will be raised. Hence the paradox we see today that progressives and leftist stand opposed to lokavidya, while capital appears for it. But the support of capital is fickle. It lasts only as long as the market trend. The immediate problem before us as we embark on the LJA is, how do we speak to progressives and leftists, who are still in the "Science mode," about lokavidya? To many people the concept of a knowledge hierarchy and knowledge struggle may sound abstract. What is the concrete manifestation of it in society? It may also sound removed from the "bread-and-butter" concerns of jal/jangal/zamin, wages, working conditions, civil liberties etc. How does the knowledge question relate to these pressing concerns? We will have to address all these issues in a clear manner.

A series of short pamphlets will have to be prepared which take one conventional platform of a social movement (say displacement or civil liberties) and show how they relate to the knowledge question and how they are strengthened by connection with the knowledge issue. If we can do this task adequately, we will be able to build the necessary connections.
What is the "lok" in lokavidya? It is not the same as the "working class" or "the poor." It is that majority of society which keeps showing up in Government surveys as "uneducated" or lacking in any formal training. These are the "masses" who need experts to organize their life, because they are deemed incapable of doing it themselves. But this is only a negative definition (such as the definition of a proletarian as one without property). This is the definition one arrives at through conventional leftist thinking. Positively, the "lok" is the subject created through lokvidya, through the knowledge it possesses. This is not tautological. A community of scientists not only creates scientific knowledge, but it also in turn created by that knowledge. Its modes of life and thought are shaped by the knowledge it creates. The same goes for the "lok." The "lok" is the vast majority of society whose life and work are organized on the basis of knowledge that is produced in the course of living itself. The lok is that section of society who has living knowledge, knowledge that is tested on the anvil of experience. It is the possessor of specialized knowledge of work, production, the arts, and general knowledge of morals and values. The first contribution of the lokavidya perspective is that the lok, the majority, is not defined through lack of knowledge, but the presence of it.

The lok has endured centuries of subjugation and has revolted through those centuries as well. It is the claim of the LJA that the basis of its revolt has been lokavidya. Every so often, whether it is via bhakti or via Gandhi, an assertion of lokavidya takes place against the pretensions of elite knowledge, be it Brahaminism or Science. Even today in its defeated and exploited state, the lok retains this power. Even when it organizes life on a daily basis, in the presence of extreme uncertainty and hardship, the lok is believed to be in need of intervention and guidance from outside. Not an infusion of knowledge as it deems necessary on its own initiative, but rather intervention in a pre-determined form, by others who have decided what is good for the lok. Constant schemes, suggestions, projects, programs and interventions are its lot. Because it is not believed to be capable of thinking for itself.

The lok, defined through lokvidya also has many internal divisions and hierarchies that weaken it. Though it constitutes the majority, the minority can keep it subjugated by splitting it along caste/occupation, gender and religious lines. It is deemed incapable of resolving its own problems, although if we look in history, it is the lok and not the elite who has sustained the Hindu-Muslim syncretic culture of North India, it is the lok which has revolted again and again against the hierarchies of caste. It still carries the capacity to do so, but it lack the cohesion and organization needed for the task.

This is the task of the Lokavidya Jan Andloan. We need progressive people of all colors to join. In the beginning they may not agree completely with the points laid out above. It is not necessary that they do. It is only necessary that they see the lok as the possessor of knowledge, and as a class in society which can lay the foundation for a society based on equality. It is only necessary that they reject the urban, university-educated class to be the one which deserves the final word on everything. If they can do this much, they can contribute fruitfully to the LJA.

Amit Basole

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