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Peasant Protest, Rebellion, and Resistance

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Peasant Protest, Rebellion, and Resistance




The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instru­ments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.

—Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party

The cruelties of property and privilege are always more ferocious than the re­venges of poverty and oppression.

—C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins

On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista Army of Liberation (EZLN) announced its existence by briefly occupying highland towns in the state of Chiapas in Mexico. In its declaration of war against the government, the Zapatistas claimed to represent the indigenous people of Mexico. It is unlikely that the Zapatistas, a group of poorly armed peasant farmers, had any hope of fighting and winning a revolution against a Mexican military equipped with modern weapons supplied largely by the United States, but they did threaten a guerrilla war in one of the most inaccessible areas of the country.

The Zapatista protest, which we will examine in more detail below, is but one exam­ple of social resistance, protest, and rebellion that mark the expanding culture of capital­ism. Social protest in the form of marches, worker's strikes, religious and social movements, terrorism, and revolution seems an endemic feature of our emerging global culture. There are few days that one cannot find media reports of people protesting against a perceived injustice at the hands of some group, corporation, or state. It is difficult to say whether our period of history is more prone than others to nonviolent and violent protest. Historians Charles, Louise, and Richard Tilly (1975) referred to the years 1830-1930 in Europe as the 'rebellious century,' and historian Eric Hobsbawm (1964) called the period including and following the French Revolution the Age of Revolution. But our own period of history has its own claim to these titles.

Many people in the United States are actively involved in or support some protest movement: a civil rights organization, an organization protesting religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination, a group protesting against corporations and the state for environmental


destruction, a militia group protesting what they see as illegal government actions, a reli­gious group protesting the increasing secularization of society or what they see as threats to the traditional family, and so on. If we add to this people's day-to-day acts of resistance, even just symbolical ones, against what they consider oppressive conditions or excessive demands made by others in such everyday settings as the workplace and school, we begin to appreciate how much of our lives involve, in one way or another, social protest.

How can we begin to make sense of these actions? Who is protesting? Against whom is the protest directed? What are the conditions that are being objected to? What form does the protest take? Finally, what is the reaction to the protest?

One way to make sense of social protest, at least from a global perspective, is to ex­amine the extent to which it is a consequence of the globalization of capitalist culture. We have already seen how many people have benefited from the spread and expansion of cap­italistic trade. Some people enjoy lives that were unthinkable 600, 300, even 100 years ago. But not all people benefited from the development and expansion of trade. Farmers and peasants who lost their land and were made dependent on sporadic wage labor are not better off; women, certainly in the periphery, may not be better off; the quality of the lives of children in many countries declined with the globalization of the economy; indigenous peoples have not fared well; those condemned to live in conditions in which disease thrives, those suffering because of environmental degradation, and those forced by the segmentation of labor to work for less than a living wage cannot be said to be better off.

In many ways, the central role of trade in the culture of capitalism has increased the gap between the rich and the poor, creating conditions ripe for the emergence of social protest. Thus conflict and protest represent not an occasional tear in the fabric of capitalist culture; protest is woven into the fabric as an intrinsic part of the way of life. As Karl Marx and Frederick Engels suggested, it is capitalism that is revolutionary, constantly changing patterns of work and social relations in search of profit and producing protest against those changes.

What leads people to protest, riot, or even revolt? There has been a tendency for social scientists and others to see in these actions a breakdown of some sort in the social order. So-called functional theories of protest assumed that in the normal workings of so­ciety protest is unnecessary and unhealthy. Order, rather than conflict, is the normal state of affairs. According to this popular framework, when protest, especially violent protest, is present, we will find uprooted, marginal, and disorganized people. This framework has often been applied in U.S. government-sponsored reports about the urban riots of the 1960s and 1970s. The reports concluded that the disruptions were the result of the mar-ginalization of the poor, of the breakdown of social order.

Another perspective, however, suggests that the constant changes inherent in capi­talist production, distribution, and consumption makes conflict inevitable: there are always changes taking place in modes of production and organization of labor, in market mechanisms, technological innovation, and so forth. Since all such changes bring some form of social and economic dislocation, we can expect protest to be the 'normal' state of affairs. Furthermore, protests are not spontaneous uprisings but movements that bring to­gether in organized fashion people who share certain interests, and who organize to ex­press those interests. Generally, these movements develop from sustained resistance of some sort. Finally, when such movements involve violence, the violence is generally ini-


dated by those against whom the protest is directed (Tilly et al. 1975:243). Thus while a labor strike may turn violent, in most cases the violence is initiated by the government, company or private militia, or police.

In this and the next two chapters we will examine the phenomenon of social protest, the different forms it takes, and the groups it most affects. In this chapter we will focus on peasant protest. Small-scale agriculturists have been among the groups most affected by the expansion of capitalism. As agriculture becomes more mechanized and landholdings concentrated in the hands of a few, more peasants have been driven off the land and forced to seek wage labor on the larger farms or in urban areas. Many resist this change in their living conditions. The question is, how are we to understand the actions of peasant farm­ers who wish to resist or take up arms against a heavily armed and obviously superior op­ponent? Can they hope to win?

History, of course, is full of successful and unsuccessful peasant revolutions. Eric Wolf (1969) examined successful peasant-inspired revolutions in Mexico, Russia, China, Algeria, and Vietnam. China, Russia, and England were the scene of thousands of peasant uprisings from the twelfth century onward. Yet in the vast majority of such rebellions, the rebels gain little. And we rarely see the more subtle forms of everyday resistance that serves to protect peasant interests and prevent excessive exploitation. For example, in many societies, peasants could protest simply by moving to a new landholding or aban­doning farming.

Peasant societies have long been a major focus of anthropological study. It was soci­eties of small-scale agriculturists that generally preceded the emergence of industrializa­tion around the world, and peasant societies today are still being modified by globalization of the capitalist economy. Billions still try to survive by growing their own food, and the balance of their lives is often precarious. We can get an idea of how peasant farms work by looking at a typical medieval German farm. A forty-acre farm in northeast Germany in 1400 produced 10,200 pounds of grain crops. Of this 3,400 pounds was set aside for seed and 2,800 pounds went to feed working livestock. This is referred to as the replacement fund, the output needed to continue the cycle of agricultural production. Of the remaining 4,000 pounds, 2,700 pounds was paid to the lord who held domain over the land. This con­stituted the fund of rent. Thus of the 10,200 pounds produced, only 1,600 pounds of grain remained to sustain the fanner's family. With an average-sized family that amounted to only 1,600 calories per day (Wolf 1967:9). Consequently, the family needed to seek other food sources, perhaps a garden or livestock kept for food. In addition, some of what is pro­duced often goes into what Eric Wolf called a ceremonial fund, produce that is shared, gen­erally at ritual occasions, with others in the community. The ceremonial fund may be used to give dinners or feasts or to contribute to community-wide celebrations.

While there is wide variation in the structure of peasant societies, the division of produce on medieval German farms into replacement funds, ceremonial funds, and funds of rent gives us a good idea of what is required of the produce of the farm. It also demon­strates the centrality of land to peasant life; obviously what is produced depends largely on the amount and quality of land available for production. For this reason virtually all peasant protest focuses in some way on the struggle over land. How the protest is con­ducted, the form of protest, and whether it involves collective and/or violent action de­pends on a number of factors.


Let's examine three twentieth-century cases of peasant protest, all focusing on land and changes in the peasants' relationship to it. In a case of contemporary peasant protest in Malaysia we will examine nonviolent resistance and the ways poor peasants try to deal with the impact on their lives of the green revolution. We will examine a case of violent rebellion in Kenya inspired largely by British colonial policies during the first half of the twentieth century. Finally, in a case of peasant protest in Chiapas, we can appreciate how the globalization of the world economy can affect the lives of peasant farmers and precip­itate a revolution. In all three cases the protest was clearly related to global factors: the protest of Malaysian peasants was a consequence of the spread of high-technology agri­culture, the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya a result of British imperialist expansion of the late nineteenth century, and the protest in Chiapas a direct consequence of the globalization of the modern economy.

Malaysia and the Weapons of the Weak

In his study of the plight of poor Malaysian peasants, James Scott (1985) made the point that we have for too long focused on violent forms of protest and have neglected to study everyday resistance to oppression or just excessive demands. How do the relatively power­less resist oppression of the relatively powerful? Because open revolt and resistance can be foolhardy, people find more subtle ways of resistance. We can see this in our everyday be­havior. Anthropologists who have studied the culture of grade school and college class­rooms have noted the different ways that students resist classroom discipline. For example, students may slump in the chairs designed to force their bodies into positions of upright compliance, refuse to participate, talk to other students, or read or sleep in class as forms of resistance to what they perceive as attempts at cultural domination (Alpert 1991).

Subtle and nonconfrontational forms of protest are common in situations where those with little power want to register their resistance to what is forced on them. In the context of peasant society, Scott (1985:29) referred to these kinds of actions as the 'weap­ons of the weak.' This resistance stops short of any kind of collective defiance; it is more likely to consist of such things as foot dragging, dissimulation, false compliance, pilfer­ing, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage, and so forth. These actions, like those of the slouching, nonattentive student, require no planning or collective effort and avoid direct conflict with authority. But, said Scott, it is important to understand these weapons of the weak if we are to understand peasant resistance and begin to understand under what conditions these forms of resistance give way to outright rebellion.

Malaysian Peasants and the Green Revolution

Malaysia of the 1990s was, until the Asian economic collapse of 1997-1998, an excellent case of a country doing well economically. Its revenues from tropical hardwoods, oil, tin, rubber, and palm oil led to an annual economic growth rate of 3.9 percent from 1960 to 1976 and a per capita income twice as high as any other Southeast Asian country. But as in most Asian countries, the income is highly maldistributed, with agricultural incomes declining and many peasants finding their livelihood threatened. Ironically, one of the


reasons for the growing inequality of income is agricultural changes wrought by the green revolution. In 1966 Malaysia, with the help of the World Bank, began the Mudra irrigation project on the Kedah Plain. It involved building two large dams that increased irrigation, permitting peasants to plant and harvest twice each year rather than once. Double-cropping of rice was extended to 260,000 acres. By 1974 the project was de­clared an unqualified success by the World Bank; it more than doubled production, re­duced unemployment, and raised the rate of return on investments from 10 percent to 18 percent. There is little doubt that collectively the Malay peasantry is better off than be­fore, and little doubt that if one wishes to be a rice farmer in Southeast Asia, the Kedah Plain is the place to be.

Scott said the changes in villages since the new prosperity are striking: there are new shops, roads, motorcycles, and mosques, and corrugated tin and plank siding has re­placed attap roofs and siding. Peasants with the smallest plots can grow enough rice to feed their families. Infant mortality and malnutrition were cut by half. With securer in­comes, fewer peasants have lost their land, and ownership has stabilized. Thus there was much good news following the green revolution in Malaysia.

But there is bad news as well, largely in the growing inequities in land access and income. The rich in the village (most still poor by greater Malaysia's standards) were get­ting richer and the poor poorer. What does it mean to be poor and held in little regard by others in a peasant village? One of the poorest villagers in Sedaka was Razak. His home was so decrepit that he avoided asking people inside. His children were poorly fed, and one died while Scott resided in the village. Others in the village avoided and ridiculed Razak, and Scott was regaled with the stories of Razak's unabashed begging, his fraudu­lent dealings (e.g., selling a pile of wood to two people), and his seeming lack of concern with village gossip about him.

The plight of poor villagers such as Razak was worsening because the traditional ties of dependence between rich and poor were being eroded by the green revolution. In the past, land-owning peasants could not farm all their land, so they rented it to land-poor tenants who worked the land for a rent. While the rents may have been exploitative, they were negotiated after a harvest; after a bad harvest the rents could be negotiated down­wards, and after a good harvest rents would be higher.

In addition, traditionally the landowners needed the labor of the poorer farmers for plowing, transplanting the young rice plants, gathering the rice, and thrashing rice grains from the stalks. While the wages were low, land-poor villagers could count on the income to supplement whatever they could grow themselves.

Finally, the land-rich and the land-poor farmers were bound together by gift giving and ceremonial exchange, with the rich expected to give gifts and charity to the poor. There were traditionally three forms of ritual giving in Sedaka: the Islamic zakat, alms that are given voluntarily; sharing of wealth by the rich with the poor, to cleanse the poor of envy, hatred, and resentment; and derma gifts and ritual feasts. Gift giving was a recip­rocal arrangement: the recipient was obliged to return the gift at some later date. Since the poor were not expected to return charity, they repaid the rich with loyalty and an obliga­tion to help with the labor of planting and harvesting.

In the past, then, the well-to-do villagers had justified their superior positions by claiming they benefited the poor; they rented land to them, paid them for their labor, and


distributed gifts and gave feasts for the whole village. In effect, they legitimized their su­perior position by citing their services to the poor and claimed in return the poor's grati­tude, respect, and deference. These traditional arrangements of dependency were disrupted by the agricultural changes that occurred in Sedaka, which operated virtually to make poor peasants superfluous.

First, the introduction of double-cropping and increased yield made the land more valuable. One effect of this was to change the conditions of land rental and tenancy. Be­cause land was more valuable people from outside the community offered to rent it at higher prices than local land-poor peasants could pay. Moreover, since the land was more profitable many richer peasants chose to farm it themselves, rather than renting it, or they might give it to family members. To make matters worse, rent began to be paid in ad­vance, not after the harvest, and there was no longer rent adjustment in the event of a poor harvest. As a result, the poor peasants of Sedaka found their access to land much reduced after the introduction of double-cropping.

Second, with the increase in the value of land rich farmers were able to take advan­tage of new technologies, specifically mechanical harvesters and broadcast sowing. The harvesters, which could bring in the rice harvest quicker and with little or no increase in cost compared with human labor, greatly reduced the number of jobs available to poor farmers and their family members.

Third, in addition to the loss of land and labor, the poor found that traditional gift giving and charity of the richer members of the community declined. The motivation for gift giving was likely always the need of the rich to cement the obligations of the poor so the rich could call on them for labor when it was needed. With mechanical harvesters available to do most of the work, farmers were no longer dependent on local labor.

Thus in the course of a few years, the poor peasants of Sedaka saw their opportuni­ties for land, jobs, and charity dramatically decreased. The social and economic ties that bound different levels of the community to each other began to unravel, and bonds of ex­ploitation that tied the poor to the rich were freed, but, as Scott (1985:77) noted, 'this is the freedom of the unemployed, the redundant.'

The wealthier farmers, of course, were simply playing the economic game as it is played throughout the world. They took advantage of the increased value of land by rais­ing rents, saving money and time with the use of mechanical harvesters, and redistribut­ing less of their profit to others in the form of charity, gift giving, and ritual feasting. The problem is that their new behavior violated the old norms of the society, in which they were expected to rent land at prices people could afford, hire the poor to plant, harvest, and thresh the rice, and give charity, gifts, and feasts. These norms were once the basis of their authority. One of the accusations of the poor that rich must defend against is that they are failing to live up to their traditional obligations (Scott 1985:184).

In sum, advances in agricultural production wrought by the double-cropping of rice, made possible by the green revolution and the World Bank, increased the gap be­tween rich and poor and, more important, weakened the social and economic ties between the various economic classes of the village. One solution available to poor peasants was flight; they could simply leave the village and migrate to another village or, more likely, to the urban centers to search for jobs. But for those unable to flee, there were few choices.


The question is, what could the poor do to alleviate their condition ? Was it possible to gain back what was lost?

Fighting Back

The first question we might ask is, what is resistance? Scott (1985:290) defined it as

any act(s) by member(s) of a subordinate class that is or are intended to either mitigate or deny claims (for example, rents, taxes, prestige) made on that class by superordinate classes (for example, landlords, large farmers, the state) or to advance its own claims (for example, work, land, charity, respect) vis-a-vis those superordinate classes.

Traditionally peasants have found various ways to express their sense of being ex­ploited or to resist directly what they see as excessive demands placed on them by land­lords, the state, or others. As Scott (1985:300) pointed out, much of the folk culture of peasant societies legitimates resistance. Peasant folklore, for example, is full of stories of evasiveness and cunning, represented in Malaysia by the figure of Sang Kancil, a mouse deer figure—a small, weak being who survives and triumphs over more powerful figures using only wits and cunning. In the United States there is the figure of Br'er Rabbit. The myth and folklore of virtually every peasant society has a Robin Hood figure, a local hero who defends the peasant from the elite or represents the peasant who is willing and able to fight back. As Eric Hobsbawm (1959) pointed out, the bandit is almost always some­one who is wrongly accused and convicted of a crime who then attempts to shield the peasants from their oppressors. In these ways peasant culture underwrites and legitimizes resistance.

As James Scott (1985:301) pointed out, however, the goals of peasant resistance are generally modest.

The goal of most resistance is not necessarily to overthrow a system of oppression or dom­ination, but, rather, to survive. The usual goal of peasants, as Hobsbawm has so aptly put it, is 'working the system to their minimum disadvantage.'

One of the ways the poor of Sedaka worked the system to their 'minimum disad­vantage' was through gossip, or character assault. But the gossip was of a particular sort, essentially an accusation against the rich that they were not living up to the rules of be­havior the rich themselves had previously used to justify and legitimate their social posi­tion. It attempted to emphasize the apparent hypocrisy of the rich, much as American civil rights advocates of the 1950s and 1960s highlighted the ethical contradictions of racial segregation in a supposedly free society or as Solidarity members in Poland of the 1970s used the existence of worker repression in a supposedly worker state.

Poor peasants in Sedaka used Islamic law and traditional relations between rich and poor to put pressure on the rich to live up to their obligations to those less fortunate. For example, in Sedaka Haj Broom was notorious as a miser who, some people say, acquired his land and wealth through shady business dealings. For the poor of Sedaka, his name was synonymous with greed and arrogance, and the low esteem in which he was privately


 (never publicly) held served as a warning to other wealthy farmers of behaviors to avoid. Put another way, gossip represented an appeal by the poor to previously held norms of tenancy, generosity, charity, employment, and feasts taken for granted before double-cropping (Scott 1985:282). Gossip chipped away at the reputations of wealthy farmers much as theft chips away at their wealth. Gossip is also a relatively safe vehicle of protest, since its author is generally unknown. The rich responded to these attacks by blaming the poor for their own plight, often using Razak as their example of the poor. Gossip, said Scott (1985:22-23), functions like propaganda and embodies whole stories. The mention of Razak's name by the rich conjured up visions of grasping and dishonest poor; the men­tion of Haj Broom by the poor incited visions of the 'greedy, penny-pinching rich.' The former represented to the rich where the poor were heading, as the latter represented to the poor the increasing violation of village standards by the rich.

In addition to gossip and an appeal to tradition, there were other ways the poor of Sedaka resisted their condition, such as theft. While not as common as it once was, when rustlers stole water buffalo, theft was relatively common. Stolen items included water bot­tles left out to be filled by the government water truck, bicycles, motorcycles, fruit from trees, and, fairly commonly, sacks of rice left out in the fields. Most of the theft was be­lieved to be done by the local poor, and the victims were almost without exception the wealthier members of the community.

There is some evidence that the poor viewed such theft, especially of rice, as a sub­stitute for the charity that was less forthcoming than in the past. And while the losses were not great for wealthier farmers, the gain by the poor was, for them, substantial. The wealthy farmers reacted to theft with a combination of fear and anger, yet no rice theft has ever been reported to the local police. And people didn't report a theft from a neighbor even if they knew the identity of the thief, for fear of having their own rice stolen in retal­iation. Another act of resistance was the killing of livestock of the rich by the poor, espe­cially when the livestock posed a nuisance, as when they pecked open a rice sack and ate the rice.



Sabotage was a weapon of the poor used in Sedaka, specifically against the me­chanical harvesters that were taking their jobs. Combine parts were smashed, sand and dirt were put in gas tanks, trees felled to block their progress. The owners of the com­bines, generally Chinese businessmen from urban areas, occasionally posted watchmen to guard the harvesters when they were left in the fields, but in one incident a watchman was forced to climb down while protesters set the harvester afire.

Most of the protest in Sedaka was the acts of individuals, but there was some collec­tive action, mostly by the women of the village. Women in Sedaka worked in crews that were hired by farmers to plant and transplant rice seedlings, something the combines could not do. While the women would not openly tell a farmer that they would not be available to transplant if he used a combine to harvest, they could 'let it be known,' as they said, that they were upset at the loss of work. If they did 'strike,' they would not call it that; they would simply tell the offending farmer they had other work that had to be completed before they could get to his fields. In this way, the women avoided any open confrontation that might result in their loss of jobs while putting pressure on farmers to abandon the mechanical combines. The farmers retaliated by threatening to bring in out­side laborers to transplant, and some in fact did so, and the threatened boycott collapsed.


Farmers in other villages faced similar strikes that created a worker shortage, and women from Sedaka would go there to transplant fields. This 'strike breaking' behavior under­mined the larger effort, but made a point to the women's immediate bosses.

The people of Sedaka, thus, attempted to register their protest to the changes that affected their lives. Were their protests effective? To some extent they were. Some farmers hired people rather than use machines, even though they might have gotten their crops in quicker with the harvester; other farmers continued to lease their land to the poor when they could probably have gotten more money by renting it to outsiders or by fanning it themselves. And some farmers still gave ritual feasts, thus honoring the traditional norms of the village rather than seeking to maximize their monetary gains.

Obstacles to Resistance

While their income was declining in the face of agricultural change, there was little the peasants of Sedaka could do other than make use of the weapons of the weak. There were obstacles to more open resistance, not the least of which was a fear of losing what little was left. The rich were still powerful enough that gossip about them had to be done behind their backs. Moreover, the rich still had enough control over labor to maintain a viable threat. Thus when the women 'let it be known' that they wouldn't harvest unless wages were raised, the richer farmers, in turn, 'let it be known' that they would bring in outsiders.

Furthermore, the change wrought by the green revolution was relatively slow. Changes in land tenure and technique did not hit all the poor and did not hit at once. For example, landlords began to collect rents before rather than after the harvest only gradu­ally, the complete change taking several seasons. Had it been done by one landlord to many tenants, there might have been open protest. The loss of tenancies to landlords who wanted to rent to outsiders, to farm themselves, or to give to children happened gradually, as did the raising of rents. The only thing that happened quickly was the use of combines to harvest, but that was an ambiguous change and many middle-class peasants took ad­vantage of the speed, as did even a few of the poor. Even they were torn between getting the crops in fast and the loss of some wage labor for themselves or their children.

Moreover, the changes did not involve more exploitation of the poor, it meant cut­ting off relations with them. Thus wages weren't reduced, they were done away with alto­gether; the poor were removed from the productive process rather than being directly exploited. In fact, it removed points of conflict: there was no longer a need to haggle over the end of harvest rent or over wages for harvesting or transplanting. And once the strug­gle in the realm of production is severed, so is the conflict in the realm of ritual. As Scott (1985:243) suggested, if the rich had increased their profits by demanding more from their tenants, rather than just dismissing them, the protest would have been far more dra­matic. The sites where class conflict had historically occurred had been bulldozed. The plight of the Malaysian peasants, Scott (1985:243) said, is analogous to that of the re­cently fired American factory worker who remarked, 'The only thing worse than being exploited is not being exploited.'

Finally, in addition to normal constraints against openly protesting or resisting, such as the fear of losing work, tenancy, and charity, there is the routine repression of


arrest and persecution. While the situation in Malaysia is not nearly as bad as in neighbor­ing Indonesia, where killings, arrests, and repression from paramilitary units are more routine, there is in Malaysia still the real threat of arrests and persecution initiated by local political leaders.

Protest and Change

One of the great strengths of the modern capitalist economy is its adaptability, its ability to seek out sources of capital accumulation, that is, ways to make profit. However, while this may strengthen national economies and provide better lives for some, it can also dis­rupt the lives of others. We see this in the United States as thousands of people are thrown out of work by factory closings as corporations take advantage of cheaper labor in other countries. While this provides jobs for others and lower-priced goods for American con­sumers, it creates hardship for those whose jobs have been replaced. We see the same thing happening to the poor villagers of Sedaka. Capitalist agriculture may grow more rice and make greater profits for some landowners and farmers, but it also undermines the economic base of others. Whether their lives or the lives of their children will be im­proved as a result is, of course, another question. It is the disruptions of the short-term that the poor are attempting to resist. Thus, from the perspective of the poor, while they might have been exploited under the traditional system of land tenancy, labor, and charity, now they have been cut adrift into uncertainty.

The precapitalist norms of the village emphasized relations between rich and poor that involved what might be called a 'politics of reputation.' The rich employed the poor, rented their land to them, gave them charity and gifts; in return the poor supplied their labor and their respect. It was a system in which the rich benefited more than the poor, and which they had a major hand in constructing. But this is the very system the rich have had to violate to take advantage of new opportunities. Put another way, it is the capitaliza­tion of agriculture that has revolutionized life in Sedaka; the poor, rather than being revo­lutionary in their resistance, find themselves trying to resist a revolutionary social and economic order. Again, as Scott (1985:346) said,

It has been capitalism that has historically transformed societies and broken apart existing relations of production. Even a casual glance at the record will show that capitalist devel­opment continually requires the violation of the previous 'social contract' which in most cases it had earlier helped to create and sustainThe history of capitalism could, in fact, be written along just such lines. The enclosures, the introduction of agricultural machin­ery, the invention of the factory system, the use of steam power, the development of the as­sembly line, and today the computer revolution and robotics have all had massive material and social consequences that undermined previous understandings about work, equity, se­curity, obligation, and rights.

In the case of Sedaka, we see peasant farmers trying not to change a system but rather to defend and maintain a social order that, while exploitative, nevertheless looked better than what the green revolution ushered in. Whether they were correct is another matter. It may be that as they lose access to land and labor, they will find something better. But the point is that their efforts at resistance were largely conservative, an attempt to pre-


serve or return to previous forms of dependence. They accused the rich not of making ex­cessive profits but of violating the very behaviors that the rich previously used to exploit the poor.

Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Rebellion

The everyday resistance of Malaysian peasants to their worsening economic situation was largely individual resistance, and it was generally nonviolent. But peasant protest some­times involves collective action and sometimes results in violent conflict. We need to ask at what point does resistance take on a more collective form, and what are the conditions that result in peasant protest turning violent? Furthermore, what is the reaction to pro­test? The case of the Kikuyu in Kenya is instructive.

From 1952 to 1956 the British struggled to repress a rebellion by mostly Kikuyu peasant farmers. By the end of the revolt they had taken the lives of over 11,000 rebels and had forcibly detained nearly 100,000 people, while 200 Europeans and some 2,000 Afri­cans loyal to the British were killed by the rebels. The Mau Mau rebellion was only one of hundreds that took place as Europeans attempted to assert colonial control over peoples of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, but it serves as a good example of the conditions under which a group is willing and able to go from passive resistance to active and even violent resistance. The Mau Mau rebellion also reveals the psychology of oppressors as they strug­gle to understand why they are objects of protest. Finally, it is important because it has been considered the first great African liberation movement and, according to Robert Edg-erton (1989), was probably the most serious crisis of Britain's African colonies.

The British in East Africa

Toward the end of the nineteenth century most of East Africa became an economic battle­ground between Germany and England, each attempting to control the resources of the area. To avoid conflict, the two countries met in Berlin in 1884 to carve up much of East Africa among themselves. Kenya was to be included among Great Britain's 'sphere of in­fluence.' Their efforts to control the economic life of East Africa were, of course, often resisted by Africans, sometimes violently. But British military actions, often ruthless, soon subdued most resistance (Edgerton 1989:4). Kenyans not only had to deal with the British invasion, they also were decimated by plagues of locusts, prolonged drought, cattle disease, and an epidemic of smallpox. Contemporary estimates of the number of Kenyan deaths during that period range from 50 percent to 95 percent of the population. When white settlers, at the encouragement of the British, arrived in 1902 to claim land, much of the territory seemed to them to be empty.

The Kikuyu, the largest cultural group in Kenya, reacted to the invasion by attack­ing settlers, prompting further British military expeditions and more Kikuyu deaths. In their rage, in early September 1902 the Kikuyu seized a white settler, pegged him to the ground, and wedged his mouth open with a stick; then an entire village urinated into his mouth until he drowned (Edgerton 1989:5). They cut off his genitals, disemboweled him, and defecated on his body. The British reacted by surrounding the village at night and


massacring everyone, including old men and women, sparing only the children who had hidden in the forest.

The Kikuyu in many ways had the most to lose from the British occupation. They subsisted on a combination of horticulture and livestock-raising on communally owned land, governed by a council of elders soon to be replaced by the British with appointed chiefs. Consequently the Kikuyu continued fighting the British, using spears and poi­soned arrows. Their courage greatly impressed British officers, but by 1904 the resistance had ended. Other groups in Kenya, such as the Luo, Kamba, and Nandi, fought the British but with no more success than the Kikuyu. The cattle-herding Maasi, considered the most imposing warriors in Africa, fought alongside the British against the Kikuyu.

British officials made little effort to hide their intent to seize African land, confine the Africans to reserves, and use them as cheap labor. There was some protest registered in England to British actions and intents in East Africa. Sir William Harcourt (cited Edg-erton 1989:3), a past professor of international law, exclaimed that 'Every act of force you commit against a native within a sphere of influence is an unlawful assault; every acre of land you take is robbery; every native you kill is murder.'

Settlement continued, however, and advertisements appeared in British newspapers at home and in British colonies describing the economic virtues of Kenyan settlements. Many of the settlers were South African, others came directly from Britain, traveling by ship to Mombassa, then taking the newly built Uganda Railroad to Nairobi, where they went by oxcart with their belongings to the farmland they had claimed. Many of the set­tlers were offspring of wealthy British lords sent to Kenya to make their fortune, some re­ceiving title to over 100,000 acres. Even people of limited means, such as the father of British writer and aviatrix Beryl Markham, were able to save enough by working for the wealthy to buy a thousand-acre farm. The often elaborate lifestyles of the white elite, es­pecially in a part of the highlands called 'Happy Valley,' consisted of well-publicized drinking and drug parties, polo matches, and sexual escapades. A standard joke in Britain at the time was, 'Are you married or are you from Kenya?' (cited Edgerton 1989:17).

To succeed, however, settlers both rich and poor needed African labor, and the Af­ricans were not anxious to work for wages, and those who did hardly displayed the work ethic and discipline the settlers had hoped for. The Kikuyu soon learned the value of money and would walk 300 miles to Mombassa to work, but the settlers were not willing to pay the wages available in Mombassa.

To solve the problem of getting the Africans to work for settlers the government in­troduced a hut and poll tax that forced Africans to work for wages to pay the taxes; at the same time, they prohibited them from growing cash crops, such as coffee, sisal, and maize. Africans were also forced to carry a pass (kipande) that bore their name, tribal af­filiation, fingerprints, work history, and, later, photograph. The kipande had to be worn around the neck in a metal container (Edgerton 1989:15). Any White could virtually ruin an African's prospect for employment by writing such descriptions as 'lazy' or 'arro­gant' on their pass.

To administer their colonial holdings the British developed a system that became known as indirect rule. They assumed, wrongly, that every African group must have a ruling chief, so they appointed someone from each group to the position of paramount chief and to serve as an intermediary between colonial administrators and his group. The


Kikuyu, for example, had no paramount chief. The major ruling body among the Kikuyu was the ciama, or council of elderly and respected people, who dealt with all aspects of life from settling disputes to circumcision (required for both boys and girls), marriage, and other rituals. They had the power to levy fines on wrongdoers and force them to pay compensation to victims, usually the sacrifice of a goat that would be eaten by the mem­bers of the council. The British practice of appointing paramount chiefs had the effect of creating a ruling elite with special access to the wealth and privilege that the colonial gov­ernment had the power to bestow. Thus the power of the chiefs originated in and de­pended on the armed might of the British. They used this authority to extort money from whomever they could, whenever they could, appropriating livestock, demanding land, and ordering women to have sex with them. If anyone protested the chief's behavior, he or she was killed. A chief could cane a person who did not remove his hat and bow to him or arrest someone who coughed while he was speaking at a meeting.

The British also selected and trained Africans to staff, under White officers, the police and their African army. These people also became part of an African elite generally loyal to the British.

The Mau Mau rebellion began in 1952, led largely by peasant agriculturists evicted from lands that they had worked, along with a disenfranchised urban group and others re­stricted to reserves that were soon unable to hold the growing African population. Proba­bly the biggest role was played by peasants who had lived in the White Highlands, an area of fertile agricultural land on which British settlers were given farms.

The White Highlands

To take advantage of their domination of Kenya the British seized land held by Kikuyu in some of the most fertile areas of the country, such as the White Highlands, and distributed it to British settlers. The settlers were required to pay the sum of three rupees (approximately one dollar) per acre to the Kikuyu owners. Since the settlers required laborers to work the land for them, and since the peasants required income to pay the newly imposed taxes, the people from whom the land was forcibly purchased were urged to remain in the Highlands and work for the new settlers. In exchange for three to five months of labor per year, each family was given six to seven acres (much of which had been theirs) on which to grow their own crops and graze their cattle and sheep (Kanogo 1987). They were also given a small wage, rarely ex­ceeding fourteen shillings (about fourteen American cents at the time) per month. By way of comparison, the poll tax was twenty shillings and a cheap shirt cost four shillings.

At first the Kikuyu who remained in the White Highlands working for the settlers adapted quickly to their situation. The squatters, as they were called, were free to raise crops, cattle, and sheep and to support family members, many of whom did not work for the settlers. If a settler tried to limit the amount of land a squatter worked or to evict rela­tives who were not workers, the squatter was free to move to the land of another settler. The labor demands were relatively meager and could be met by a man's wife, children, or relatives. Moreover, the squatters could favorably compare their lives with those of other Africans working on farms for wages only.

More important for the Kikuyu, their livestock herds—cattle, goats, and sheep— thrived. Cattle and goats were particularly important for the Kikuyu. They represented


wealth and were used in all kinds of ceremonial and economic exchanges. They served as brideswealth, presentations made by a groom's family to the bride's family at marriage. They were important in ritual observances and constituted a financial reserve that could be sold for cash to pay taxes or school fees or purchase consumer goods.

The squatter arrangement worked also for many of the European settlers. While many were wealthy, a large number had little capital to pay workers but could acquire land cheaply enough to exchange for the labor they needed. In addition, many settlers al­lowed Africans to work land in exchange for cash or a portion of the produce, thus secur­ing crops that they themselves might be having trouble growing. Thus within twenty years of the British takeover of the White Highlands many Kikuyu had been converted from land-owning peasants to squatters working the same land in exchange for their labor and, occasionally, a portion of their produce. The squatters were able to sell their surplus produce and build up sizable herds of cattle and sheep.

But the settlers were not content with this arrangement; they wanted to limit squatter cultivation and livestock raising to what the squatters needed for subsistence. In effect, the settlers wanted to reduce the Kikuyu to dependent laborers by removing the peasant op­tion. Thus the period from 1920 to 1950 was marked by repeated attempts by the settlers to reduce the amount of land and livestock available to Kikuyu squatters. For example, by 1920 the settlers had convinced the colonial government to pass legislation requiring squatters to work for Europeans 180 days per year and allowing settlers to call on the labor of women and children during times of peak labor demand. In 1930 the government, at the settlers' urging, initiated what the Kikuyu called kifagio, or 'sweeping away,' when squat­ter stock was reduced from an average of several hundred head for each laborer to about five per family with no corresponding increase in wages. The losses in wealth to the squat­ters were considerable; some squatters had accumulated as many as one thousand goats.

In 1937 the colonial government passed legislation that, in effect, gave the settlers the authority to reduce or eliminate squatter livestock and regulate the number of working days required of each squatter. The settlers reacted to this new authority by increasing the number of working days to 240 and then 270 per year. They passed regulations regarding the livestock squatters were legally able to keep; these regulations eliminated all cattle and goats, allowing each family to keep only fifteen to twenty sheep. The settlers enacted these regulations without increasing wages (which remained at about fourteen shillings per month) and against the advice of the colonial government (Kanogo 1987:63).

In addition to reducing the land and livestock held by squatters, there were other forms of squatter oppression. A settler might graze his animals on the African's fields or just destroy the crop, or might evict the squatter before he could harvest his crop, keeping it for himself. Thus as the squatters struggled to remain economically viable and relatively independent, the settlers did all they could to turn them into dependent wage laborers.

The Kikuyu resisted the constant modifications of their relationship to the land and livestock and, consequently, each other in ways peasants had always resisted oppression. They failed to show up for work, settled illegally on unused land, tried to organize strikes, killed or maimed settlers' livestock, or fled to the forests, reserves, or the cities. But the campaign to drive the Kikuyu off the land was highly successful. By 1948, three thousand Europeans owned more arable land in the highlands than was available to the more than one million Kikuyu on their reserves.


The Roots of the Rebellion

Organized political resistance to British colonization of Kenya began in 1922, when a Kikuyu named Harry Thuku organized the Young Kikuyu Association to protest the poll tax and kipande identity containers and preached that the British had stolen Kikuyu land. He was quickly arrested, and a crowd that included the future first president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, surrounded the jail. When a woman named Mary Nyanjira raised her dress over her head and insulted the manhood of the guards facing the crowd, they fired, killing her and 25-250 people, depending on whose accounts you believe. It was reported that Europeans dining on a verandah opposite the jail also fired into the fleeing crowd. Thuku was never put on trial, but he was exiled for nine years.

In 1925 the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) was formed, and Jomo Kenyatta became its general secretary. Kenyatta was sent by the KCA to England to be educated because they saw him as a future leader. He traveled to Russia, became a skilled orator in English, married an English woman (in spite of a pledge to the KCA that he would never marry a European), studied anthropology under noted anthropologist Bronislaw Mali-nowski, and wrote a competent, if idealized, ethnography of the Kikuyu, Facing Mount Kenya (1962). He is pictured on the cover holding a spear.

Realizing that a successful movement would need to involve more than just the Kikuyu, Kenyatta organized the Kenyan African Union (KAU). To assure the loyalty of members and to establish a sense of solidarity and purpose, he used a traditional Kikuyu device, an oath. Oaths among the Kikuyu were common and used to prove one's inno­cence in legal cases, to pledge loyalty before going to war, to show devotion during reli­gious services, or to prove they had not impregnated a particular woman. The Kikuyu believed the violation of an oath, like lying after swearing on a bible, could kill you; the KAU oath (cited Edgerton 1989:48) stated simply:

If you ever argue when you are called

If you ever disobey your leader,

If called upon in the night and you fail to come

May this oath kill you

Seemingly typical of colonial regimes, the British either did not recognize or re­fused to admit that their African subjects wanted to drive them out. Even on the eve of the Mau Mau revolt the retiring British Governor of Kenya, Sir Phillip Mitchell, announced in 1952 that all was well in Kenya.

But all was not well. First, the peasant squatters were continually being squeezed by the settlers. The colonial government had tried to help by opening a resettlement area called Olegurone for Kikuyu who were evicted from the highlands and who had settled on Maasi land, sometimes marrying with Maasi. But the government insisted that the land was owned by the government and could only be used, not owned, by the Kikuyu. Fur­thermore the government dictated inheritance patterns of anyone on the land, allowing a man to pass along his right as tenant only to the eldest son of the eldest wife, instead of dividing the land among children as Kikuyu had done traditionally. They also set strict rules over what could be planted, where it could be planted, and how it was to be farmed.





When most Kikuyu refused to accept British directives on the control of land and agricul­tural activities, they were evicted and sent back to the reserves.

But the reserves were another flashpoint for revolt. Ignored and virtually never en­tered by settlers, the reserves had become overpopulated, and the resultant overplanting had eroded most of the land. Hunger was widespread, as the British should have realized since they rejected 90 percent of Kikuyu recruits for the British Army at the start of World War II because of malnutrition. When the government introduced modern agricultural methods to the reserves, they never bothered to consult with the Kikuyu. One of the colo­nial government's pet projects was terracing the land to prevent erosion. This project re­quired the chiefs to round up laborers, mainly women, to do the work. Not only did the Kikuyu not understand the need for terracing, many assumed the work was being done to prepare it for British settlers.

As a result of the situation on the reserves, thousands of landless Africans fled to the cities in search of jobs. Few found them, and the cities became home to thousands of unemployed people. In Nairobi, the fortunate few who found shelter were living fourteen to a room, four to a bed; the less fortunate slept under buses, cars, or wherever they could find shelter. In Nairobi many Kikuyu organized themselves into gangs that roamed the streets, robbing non-Kikuyu Africans and Asians. The most powerful Kikuyu gang, called the Forty Group because most of its members were circumcised and initiated in 1940, controlled prostitution. But they also had decided that all Europeans had to be driven out of Kenya, and some took a secret oath to obey orders and kill if asked. One prominent gang leader was Fred Kubai, who would play a major role in the development of Mau Mau and later claim it was his brainchild (Edgerton 1989:35).

In addition to the poverty and the loss of land, the Kikuyu were split between those who benefited from and those who suffered under colonial rule. In fact, in many ways the coming rebellion resembled a Kikuyu civil war, with the rebels directing much of their rage against those who remained loyal to the British and continued to profit from the pa­tronage they received.

Finally, another reason for protest was the color bar and racism. The British, espe­cially the settlers, considered Africans to be one step removed from savagery, saved only by the thin veneer of civilization brought to them by the British. Settlers considered Afri­cans to have the intelligence of twelve-year-olds, claimed they did not feel pain as Euro­peans did, and believed they could even will themselves to die. While beating and killing of Africans by Whites was not uncommon, it was not until 1959, after the rebellion, that a White was convicted of killing an African, and even that conviction shocked and out­raged the White community.

The Rebellion

The Africans resisted these conditions as best they could. For example, women refused to work on new agricultural projects imposed by the colonial government; the labor unions in the cities called strikes; and more and more people began to take the Mau Mau oath. The oath had become more demanding over the years and was accompanied by an elabo­rate ceremony. Fred Kubai was in charge of administering the oath and executing anyone who violated it (cited Edgerton 1989:52-53):


If you ever disagree with your nation or sell it, may you die of this oath.

If a member of this Society ever calls on you in the night and you refuse to open your hut to him, may you die of this oath.

If you ever sell a Kikuyu woman to a foreigner, may you die of this oath.

If you ever leave a member of this Society in trouble, may you die of this oath.

If you ever report a member of this Society to the government, may you die of this oath.

The ceremony was patterned after the Kikuyu male initiation ceremony; it involved slaughtering a male goat of one solid color if possible and collecting its blood in a gourd bowl and cutting out its chest. Those who took the oath were cut seven times and their blood mixed with that of the goat. (This cutting was later stopped because the scars were conclusive evidence to colonial authorities that a person had taken the oath.) The initiate was asked, 'What are you?' After answering 'I am Kikuyu,' a cross standing for Kikuyu and Mumbi, the mythical parents of the Kikuyu people, was made on the initiate's fore­head with the blood. Then the initiate ate the goat's meat, which was dipped into the blood seven times; taken into a hut; and lectured about the oath and the 'movement' (Edgerton 1989:53).

Later, when the violence was about to begin, the rituals became more elaborate and the oath included promises to kill Whites and steal their guns and valuables and to kill anyone opposed to the movement. The British found out about the oath and reacted with horror. The secretary of state (cited Edgerton 1989:61), on hearing it, said,

The Mau Mau oath is the most bestial, filthy, nauseating incantation which perverted minds can ever have brewed. I am not unduly squeamish, but when I first read it I was so revolted that it got between me and my appetiteI can recall no instance when I have felt the forces of evil to be so near and so strong.

The British government knew of Mau Mau but thought it was a religious move­ment. But, as we shall see, the oath obsessed Kenyan Whites, and they believed, or wanted to believe, that it was responsible for the entire rebellion.

As the rebellion was about to occur, as thousands of Kikuyu were fleeing the re­serves for the Kenyan forests that were to become the rebel base, and as hundreds of thou­sands of Kikuyu were taking the Mau Mau oath, Jomo Kenyatta was kept ignorant about the Mau Mau plans. The militants in the Kenyan African Union, which included most of the Mau Mau leaders, did not trust Kenyatta; they knew he was opposed to violence and that the British had sworn to arrest him if he did not publicly denounce Mau Mau. Yet Whites in Kenya never doubted that Kenyatta was the 'evil genius' behind Mau Mau, its 'puppet master,' as writer Elspeth Huxley called him (cited Edgerton 1989:55).

Members of the movement did not call it Mau Mau, and there is no agreement on where the term originated. They called themselves 'the movement,' 'the African govern­ment,' or other native names, but the term 'Land and Freedom Army' became the most common and survived the end of the rebellion. The British probably maintained the term Mau Mau because it conjured up images of a secret society and hid the fact that it was a


rational political organization fighting for land and freedom. The British government and the police did everything they could to make sure Mau Mau was depicted to the world media as a group of criminals leading an irrational attack against the forces of law and order.

But the rebellion had been carefully planned. The central planning committee con­sisted of twelve members. Another group of thirty members directed the taking of oaths and shielded the central committee from the police. The committee was in charge of re­cruiting government employees who could provide information on British plans, setting up networks for food and provisions for the rebels in the forests, and acquiring weapons. This proved particularly difficult. The British had long banned Africans from owning guns, and those owned by Whites were locked in 'gun safes' when not in use. One method of obtaining guns was to attack police officers, steal their weapons, and dismem­ber and hide their bodies. This worked so well that the British thought that the disap­peared police officers had just gone home, until they discovered the dismembered foot and boot of one victim. Later the rebels secured arms by raiding police stations and army posts of the government's African soldiers. Rarely did they attack the well-armed British soldiers sent in to quell the rebellion.

Kikuyu women were to play a major role in the revolt. Women had already orga­nized district committees to fight for land and become active in political processes. While Kikuyu women traditionally never administered oaths, before and during the rebellion women became oath givers (Presley 1992:129). It was largely women who organized and ran the networks that supplied the rebels in the forests with food, medicine, guns, ammu­nition, and information. And while only about 5 percent of the rebel forces in the forest were women, many took active roles in military actions.

'State of Emergency'

Isolated attacks against Whites and Africans loyal to the British began in September 1952, but the act that precipitated the British declaration of a 'state of emergency' was the assassination in October 1952 of Senior Chief Waruhiu when he left the Native court where he presided. The sixty-two-year-old chief was with two friends in his Hudson sedan when it was stopped by three men wearing police uniforms; one approached and asked if Senior Chief Waruhiu was in the car; when the chief identified himself the man shot him in the mouth and three times in the body, leaving the two friends and the driver unharmed. One of the first government acts after the emergency was declared was to arrest Jomo Kenyatta, certain he was the mastermind and believing his arrest would end the rebellion.

The leaders of the movement targeted Kikuyu such as Chief Waruhiu who had co­operated with and, in some cases, benefited greatly from collaboration with the British. They also targeted settlers, causing outrage when they killed Roger Ruck, his wife Esme, a doctor, and their six-year-old son Michael. Kenyan and international newspapers gave great attention to the details of the killings, and Kenyans were particularly horrified when the man who confessed turned out to be one of Ruck's Kikuyu servants who had cared for Michael. International press reports about rebel attacks on settlers and Kikuyu loyal to the government appeared under headlines about 'helpless' or 'heroic' Whites being slaugh-


tered by 'fanatical,' 'bestial,' 'degraded,' or 'satanic' 'gangsters' or 'terrorists.' Unre-ported were the stories of Kikuyu captives who were stripped of their clothing and possessions and machine-gunned to death as White officers looked on (Edgerton 1989:80).

By 1953 there were 30,000 young men and women assembled in the forest, with the active army consisting of 3,000 men. There was little coordination to Mau Mau opera­tions; rebel actions consisted largely of hit-and-run attacks, often on symbolic targets such as the Royal Sagana Lodge where Queen Elizabeth had stayed the previous year on her visit to Kenya. The rebels did not have sufficient weapons to mount a concerted attack on well-armed British positions. Few of the leaders had any education; perhaps as a cari­cature of British titles, they gave themselves such names as General China, General Rus­sia, and General Hitler. Dedan Kimathi, the leader of the rebels in the forest whose capture virtually ended the rebellion, called himself Field Marshall Sir Dedan Kimathi, later adding the title Prime Minister. Most of the rebels were young men and women who joined the rebellion in the forest with the enthusiastic belief that they would drive the Brit­ish out of Kenya and receive land on which to farm.

By the end of 1953, 3,064 of the Mau Mau had been killed and 1,000 captured; almost 100,000 Mau Mau supporters had been arrested and 64,000 brought to trial. Nev­ertheless, the fight did not go well for the British army. They were ill-prepared for forest warfare; they made noise, shot at phantoms, feared attacks from elephants and rhinoceros, and fared poorly in the high altitude of the mountain forests. Soon the British soldiers sent to fight were patrolling the periphery of the forest while African soldiers recruited after the emergency was declared for the 'Home Guard' fought in the forest.

Mau Mau activity spread to neighboring Uganda and Tanganyika, and Mau Mau agitating in Nairobi was widespread. Theft of money and guns increased, and Kikuyu gangs forbade Africans in the cities to engage in such European practices as smoking Eu­ropean tobacco, drinking European beer, wearing hats, and riding city buses. They set up courts and were essentially running the city.

To end resistance in Nairobi, the British surrounded the city and went through it section by section, rounding up Kikuyu and others and sending them to detention camps or reserves. When 3,000 women and 6,000 children were rounded up to be sent back to the reserve on trains, the women threw the food given them at railway staff and out win­dows while singing Mau Mau songs. Thereafter the British put screens on the train win­dows to 'protect the railway staff.'

Finally British power wore down the rebels. They had destroyed the urban base and cut off most communication with the reserves by building a fifty-mile-long ditch be­tween the forests and the reserve with sympathetic Kikuyu. The ditch was ten feet deep and sixteen feet wide in places, filled with barbed wire and sharpened bamboo stakes. It was dug by forced Kikuyu labor—women, children, and the elderly working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. under orders of loyalist chiefs. The British bombed the forests, often with nineteen-pound bombs from small Pipers and Cessnas; before the emergency was over they had dropped 50,000 tons of bombs on the forests and fired two million rounds of ammunition on strafing runs. Finally, the British relocated one million Kikuyu from their scattered homesteads into villages surrounded with barbed wire, where thousands died from hunger and disease. Dedan Kimathi's capture in October 1956 marked the end of the or­ganized resistance.



Suspected Mau Mau rebels detained by the British army in 1953. By the end of the rebellion, the British had arrested almost 100,000 Kikuyu.


The Mau Mau rebellion shook the British, but more interesting was the reaction to Mau Mau violence. There is no question that the rebels committed atrocities, especially against Africans loyal to the British. But if the atrocities committed by the rebels were awful, those committed by the settlers and the African police were far worse. Prisoners were routinely tortured and suspects killed with impunity. Settlers advocated killing all Kikuyu and even using an atomic bomb. Trials were rigged. When Kenyatta was tried on the charge of being the Mau Mau leader, the British judge, carefully selected by the gov­ernor of the colony, guaranteed a conviction in exchange for a payment of 20,000 pounds on which he could retire to England. He received it. When the sole witness against Ken­yatta admitted afterward that he had been bribed with the promise of an English univer­sity education, he was promptly arrested for perjury. Settlers openly 'hunted' Kikuyu, others bragging that they had killed hundreds. Edgerton provided a particularly graphic account concerning two Kikuyu boys who were stopped by settlers reacting to a report of Mau Mau activity in the area. Unable to tell the settlers what they wanted to know, the boys were tied by the ankles to back of a Land Rover and dragged until their faces had been torn off. The men left them in the road and returned home, laughing, to drink brandy. Police came upon one group of Kikuyu and killed them all, later discovering they were loyalist Kikuyu who had huddled together for protection against the rebels. But the most gruesome charges were to come later because of atrocities committed against Kikuyu held in detention camps.


The Oath and the Detention Camps

One of the questions we asked at the beginning of this discussion was how those against whom protest is directed react. Obviously the British and the settlers reacted brutally. Edgerton (1989:242) compared their reaction to that of the terrible vengeance wrought by White slaveholders in response to slave revolts. White Kenyans, he said, always feared a violent uprising but masked their fear with assurances that Africans were loyal, docile, and cowardly. When this illusion was shattered, they felt betrayed and tried to regain their pride, as well as their wealth and privilege, by reacting with torture, massacre, and muti­lation, all to try to demonstrate the futility of protest.

So difficult was it for the British government and the settlers to understand the revolt that they attributed it almost entirely to the Mau Mau oath. They could understand no other reason why loyal retainers might be compelled to take up violence, why 'decent, trusted servants' could turn into what they assumed were inhuman monsters. So fearful were they of the oath that of the first 1,015 Mau Mau who were hanged during the state of emergency, 222 were found guilty of no crime except administering oaths (Edgerton 1989:174). Thus, ignoring their expropriation of Kikuyu land, their racism, and the legis­lation that required Africans to carry identification cards, ignoring the conditions on the reserve, the poverty and destitution in the cities, and the destruction of Kikuyu livestock, they assumed that if they could wipe out the effects of the oath they could once more con­vert the savages into loyal workers and retainers. A thirty-one-year-old settler who was born in Kenya expressed the following sentiment (cited Edgerton 1989:241):

I was raised with Africans, you know. Kyukes mostly. I thought 1 knew what they were like but when the Mau Mau terrorism began I realized I didn't know them at all. They weren't like us. They weren't even like animals—animals are understandable. They're nat­ural. The Mau Mau werewhat's the word? Perverted, I guess. It was the oath you see. Once they took it, life didn't mean anything to them. If we couldn't drive the [Mau Mau] poison out of them by getting them to confess, all we could do was kill them.

Statements such as this echo the European witch trials of the fifteenth through sev­enteenth centuries, when it was believed that only by getting a witch to confess could they be cured.

Following the advice of British psychiatrists in Kenya, the British assumed the way to resolve African protest was to reeducate Kikuyu, and the place to do so was the deten­tion camps. By 1959, 80,000 suspected Mau Mau, Mau Mau sympathizers, or simply oath takers were imprisoned and subjected to everything from Christian schooling to beatings, mutilation, and torture. While the horrendous conditions in the camps—starvation ra­tions, electric shocks, torture, castration, rape, and the like—were reported, little was done until eleven men were killed in a savage attack by prison guards resulting from a plan initiated by a senior superintendent of prisons.

Since the British believed the oath prevented Mau Mau from working for Europe­ans, the superintendent reasoned that if he could force Mau Mau leaders to work, their vi­olation of the oath would release them from its hold. In 1959 he had an officer in charge of one camp at Hola march 85 men into the fields surrounded by 111 African guards to force them to work. Despite their willingness to work, the prisoners were set upon again


and again by the guards, until 11 were beaten to death. The officer in charged later claimed they died from drinking polluted water, not knowing that an autopsy was in progress and that the results would be made public. The outcry, especially in England, over indisputable proof of the conditions in the detention camps caused a political scandal that not only led to canceling the emergency and releasing all detainees but also set into motion a process that would lead to Kenyan independence four years later. What the deaths of over eleven thousand Mau Mau rebels could not accomplish was accomplished by the deaths of the eleven detainees.

Independence

At the time of the Mau Mau rebellion colonial rule was being threatened elsewhere in Af­rica. The French were involved in a long and costly rebellion in Algeria, Ghana had achieved independence in 1960, and Belgium was leaving the Congo. White settlers in Kenya still thought independence and Black rule was at least a decade or two off. But in Great Britain, the government, weakened by economic decline and in no condition to defend the colonies, developed a plan to turn Kenya into a parliamentary democracy and give Africans full participation in the government. Kenyatta was released from detention and soon became the head of the Kenyan African National Union (KANU). The British permitted elections and suffrage, and in a ceremony on December 12, 1963, with Jomo Kenyatta and Prince Phillip representing the Royal family standing side by side, the Brit­ish flag was lowered and the new Kenyan flag raised.

Whites began to leave. Those who remained did so largely because they couldn't sell their land. But Kenyatta did everything he could to allay their fears, proclaiming a doctrine of 'forgive and forget' for both Africans and Whites and trying to steer a course through the fear of civil war among Africans of different ethnic groups such as the one that had erupted in the Congo. We must remember that the European agreements that had carved up Africa into states paid little attention to cultural and ethnic boundaries, and ethnic groups had little opportunity or need to form political alliances or accommodations under repressive colonial rule. Thus Kenyatta had to mold diverse ethnic groups—Luo, Kikuyu, Lao, Kanga, Maasi—into one government modeled after European states. Think of countries such as Canada, which has been trying for hundreds of years with mixed suc­cess to accommodate only two linguistic groups—English and French—and you get an idea of the problems of African states with far greater cultural and linguistic divisions.

Kenyatta granted political office to one person who had tried to kill him while in prison and appointed judges who had been responsible for his detention. But he also largely ignored the sacrifices of the Mau Mau rebels and the allegiance of loyalists to the British. For example, Ian Henderson, a Kikuyu-speaking police officer who had interro­gated and tortured General China in 1954 after his capture, was retained as an officer in the Kenya police. General China was denied a commission in the Kenyan army, being forced instead to enlist as a private and to endure basic training under the command of British of­ficers who had been retained to train the army. In fact, those Africans who fought with the British against the Mau Mau fared far better than those who had fought against the British. Mau Mau veterans claimed they deserved free land and recognition for their sacrifices and even formed a political party to advance their demands, but to little effect. For this Ken-



yatta was severely criticized. He was also attacked for the wealth that he, his family, and his backers accumulated, earning them the nickname 'The Royal Family.'

Bitter stories surfaced, such as that of Wanjohi Mung'au, who was imprisoned for ten years by the colonial government. After his release he attempted to organize Mau Mau veterans into cooperatives to force Europeans off their land; he was imprisoned by Ken-yatta's government for another seven years. Solomon Memia (cited Edgerton 1989:234), a Mau Mau veteran living in the Nairobi slums said,

I regret to state that those of us who fought for freedom were never given a chance to par­ticipate in the present government. The majority of ex-freedom fighters are among those who live here in these shanties, because they have nowhere else to go. We weren't given jobs because it was alleged we were uneducated. The young who were in school during the freedom struggle are the ones who have the say in our government, and they are not con­cerned with our affairs.

Yet Kenya ultimately thrived, as many Whites stayed, with many American Whites joining them. Tourism boomed, and the economy did relatively well. But most Kenyans remain poor, and, with the population now five times what it was when the British arrived, land is scarce.



By 1988, a vast gap had opened between the African elite and the bulk of the Kenyan population. Here is Edgerton's (1989:231) summary:

The Kenya elite live luxuriously in the same neighborhoods that were once reserved for whites. They drive expensive cars, vacation in Europe, and send their children to private schools, and have their needs taken care of by servants. Their life-style resembles those of the wealthy whites who used to live in the same large houses, except that they hire more guards, have embedded more broken glass on top of the walls that surround their estates, and spend more money on electronic security systems. There are many more desperately poor people in Nairobi today than ever before, and they often burglarize and sometimes kill the wealthy 'Black Europeans' (or 'Benzi,' as they are often called after the Mer­cedes-Benz cars they often drive). There are even more poor people in rural areas, many of whom remain landless. Only about 25 percent of Kenya's land is arable, and the fertile land that was once plentiful enough for six million people must now support four times that number. But the vast 'white highlands' that were once a symbol of injustice and dis­possession, are now almost entirely in African hands. Wealthy Africans are the new targets of discontent.


The Rebellion in Chiapas

We saw in the cases of Malaysia and Kenya how global economic developments—the green revolution in the case of Malaysia, nineteenth-century British imperial expansion in the case of Kenya—created conditions that spurred peasant protest. In the case of the Zapatistas, the revolt is clearly related to globalization of the economy. Not coincidentally, January 1, 1994, the day the Zapatistas declared their revolt, was also the day that marked Mexico's entrance into the North American Free Trade Alliance (NAFTA), a free-trade



treaty between Mexico, the United States, and Canada that would gradually phase out pro­tective tariffs in all three countries. That the events were not unrelated in the eyes of the Za­patistas was made clear by the masked Zapatista leader, Sub-Commandant Marcos, when he said, 'NAFTA was the death certificate of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.'

The Zapatista army was named for Emiliano Zapata, one of the heroes of the Mex­ican Revolution of 1910. Zapata led the army of the state of Morelos against the sugar plantation owners in an attempt to gain land for landless peasants. Prior to 1860 most Indian land in Mexico was owned collectively by village communities, but legislation passed under the leadership of Mexico's first president, Benito Juarez, gave individuals title to village land. The legislation was intended to free Indians from the domain of their community and give them control of their own property. But the right to own also in­cluded the right to sell, and over the course of the next fifty years two million acres of communally held land was absorbed into large haciendas or landholdings. In many cases it was pawned to meet living expenses and the expenses of sponsoring religious feasts, from which people gained respect and prestige (Wolf 1969:17).

The succeeding government of Porfiro Diaz, which ruled Mexico from 1876 to 1910, sold huge tracts of state land, mostly to American corporations to attract foreign capital. The result of these changes in land ownership was that by 1910, the year the Mex­ican Revolution began, the vast majority of the Mexican population was landless. For ex­ample, in 1910, in the northern state of Chihuahua, where rebel leader Pancho Villa operated with his revolutionary army, seventeen persons owned two-fifths of the state whereas 95.5 percent of family heads owned no land at all (Wolf 1969:33).





On the left is Emiliano Zapata, Mexican revolutionary leader, from whom the present-day Zapatistas took their name. On the right is the leader of the present Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Sub-Commandante Marcos, and one of his officers.


The Mexican Revolution of 1910 was fought to regain the land that was lost, and the government installed by the victorious rebel armies lost little time in writing into the Constitution of 1917 a law (Article 27) that provided for the redistribution of land held by the state and private owners to landless peasants. The major provision for redistribution required at least twenty people to present a petition to the government for contiguous landholdings (eijidos) that they would receive collectively, with the stipulations that they work the land and they could not sell or mortgage it. Thus the Constitution of 1917 rees­tablished, in part, the collective ownership of land that the government had done away with in the mid-nineteenth century.

Part of the paradox of the Zapatista rebellion of 1994 was that it occurred in a coun­try whose constitution included a provision for land redistribution. To understand this ap­parent contradiction, it is necessary to know a little more about Chiapas, the Mayan Indian population, the globalization of the world's economy, and the Mexican govern­ment's altering in 1992 of Article 27 of the Constitution.

Poverty and Inequality in Chiapas

Chiapas is the southernmost state in Mexico, bordering Guatemala to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is the poorest state in Mexico, with the highest malnutrition and illiteracy rates; 28 percent of the population consists of Mayan Indians. The Mayans are the second largest indigenous group in the Western Hemisphere, second in number only to the Quechua-speaking descendants of the Inca.

Chiapas is a highly stratified society, with a few wealthy landowners at the top, a small middle tier consisting of merchants, small-scale farmers, coffee growers, govern­ment bureaucrats, and political leaders, and a large poor population of small landholders, wage laborers, artisans, and unemployed. In 1994 almost 20 percent of the population had no income and another 40 percent had an income less than the minimum wage.

The societies of Chiapas were always stratified to some degree. Mayan society had its elite, and when the Spanish conquered Mexico they maintained a two-tier society that re­mains in place today, with themselves and later their Ladino descendants on top and the in­digenous people on the bottom. This division is particularly evident in the tropical forests of Chiapas, the area from which the Zapatistas have drawn most of their active support.

While Zapata and Pancho Villa were fighting at the beginning of the twentieth cen­tury for land for peasants in the north, ranchers in Chiapas created private armies, the ma-paches ('raccoons,' so-called because of their habit of raiding fresh corn from Indian corn fields) to suppress any movement for land reform on the part of the Indians of Chia­pas. These ranchers controlled huge landholdings and terrorized the local population, hanging virtually the entire male population (500 people) in one local church during the Mexican Revolution to demonstrate their power. Mapache officers received landholdings in exchange for their services. In 1916 the federal army moved into Chiapas to initiate land reform, but those officers and soldiers who did not take land themselves were driven back by the mapaches, whose acts are still celebrated by Chiapas ranchers. In 1916, 8,000 private landholders owned 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres), virtually all of the good land in the state; by 1993 the number of private landholders was reduced to 6,000, while the Indian population had grown ten times to 2 million (Nigh 1994:9).


As in the case of Malaysia and Kenya, the Zapatista protest concerned relationships within local communities and the divisions of power and wealth. There is in Chiapas a clear economic and political hierarchy, even in Mayan communities, with those at the top supporting the government and the ruling political party, the Partido Revolucionario Insti-tucional (PRI), and the bottom supporting or at least sympathizing with the Zapatistas. Vil­lages, towns, and cities in Chiapas are generally governed by political bosses (caciques) whose authority comes from their position in the ruling party. The caciques generally con­trol such sources of wealth as soft drink and beer distributorships and trucking and com­munication services. These divisions within Mayan communities were clearly evident after the Zapatista began their rebellion and the army moved in to occupy the area. Representa­tives of human rights organizations reported seeing homes flying white flags, signaling the occupants' support for the army, while many homes without flags were empty. In addition, some Mayans formed local vigilante groups, which, along with the private armies of the ranchers, the guardias blancas ('white guards'), attacked and harassed Zapatista support­ers and sympathizers. Thus, as with Malaysian villages and Kikuyu settlements and re­serves, there was a clear division between the well-to-do and the poor and, as in the case of the Mau Mau rebellion, community members who sympathized with the rebels and those loyal to the government. The question is, how did this inequality develop?

The Zapatista base is largely in eastern Chiapas, in the foothills of the central high­lands and the Lancandon rainforest that borders Guatemala. Until the 1950s the rainforest was largely unoccupied. The Chol and Cholti Maya who inhabited the area in the six­teenth and seventeenth centuries were either killed by military and missionary expedi­tions or relocated to work on Spanish haciendas (Nations 1994:31). In the 1950s the government encouraged settlement in the rainforest by Tzeltal and Tzotzil Mayans from the overpopulated central highlands. There the Mayan colonists competed with loggers and ranchers for land. A pattern developed whereby loggers would build roads into the rainforests, take whatever timber they wanted, and be followed by Mayans practicing slash and burn agriculture. However, because of poor planning and limited support from the government, along with the lack of relevant agricultural skills by the new settlers, the soil was soon denuded, and Mayan settlers found it necessary to move to other areas of the forest where the same cycle was repeated (Earle 1994:28).

Furthermore, the government never issued clear land titles to the Mayan farmers, paving the way for cattle ranchers to graze their stock on the cleared forest. As a result of this pattern, two-thirds of the Selva Lancandona has been cleared, leaving only the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve with its original vegetation. In addition, the area's pop­ulation increased from 6,000 in 1960 to over 300,000 in 1994. While some of the Mayans in the rainforest have received title to land (and the leaders of their communities quickly declared their loyalty to the government), the vast majority have not and have continually been harassed by the guardias blancas to move off the land.

Another category of Zapatista supporters are Protestant converts who were evicted from their villages in the 1970s and 1980s. They were expelled ostensibly because they un­dermined the traditional religious practices of the largely Catholic population, but most were forced to move because they challenged the traditional political system of local bosses, refused to pay taxes to support traditional religious ceremonies, and refused to consume liquor or beer, an important source of income for town officials (Gossen 1994:19).


In addition to the Mayans who moved into the area in the 1950s and 1960s and the religious and political refugees, there are others that the government encouraged to settle in the rainforests to serve as a buffer against the Mayans from Guatemala, who were streaming across the border to escape the Guatemalan army.

Economic inequality was aggravated by the economic boom of the 1960s and 1970s in Mexico. During that time Mexico borrowed heavily from world financial organizations to invest in energy. Much of the investment went for oil exploration and drilling and hy­droelectric projects in Chiapas. While Chiapas supplies fully 50 percent of Mexico's elec­tricity, almost 35 percent of Chiapas homes have no electricity. The jobs and wealth that came into Chiapas in the 1960s and 1970s were not equally distributed, and one conse­quence was increased village conflict. Furthermore, as some members of the population were earning large sums working on government projects, others were losing their land to cattle and dairy ranchers and to the flooding created by the hydroelectric dams. June Nash (1994), who did field work in a Chiapas village in the 1960s, reported that some poor peasants assumed that the rich had accummulated their wealth through the use of witch­craft, while others believed the wealth was given to the rich by cave dwellers in exchange for their souls. She also reports that interpersonal conflict that took the form of witchcraft accusations or expressions of envy—the evil eye—were settled by homicide.

The rebels, therefore, likely consisted of representatives of different Mayan groups, some religious and political victims of more prosperous Maya, along with some Ladinos. The question is, why did they join in or support the revolt?

The Rebellion and the Global Economy

One of the major reasons for the plight of poor Chiapas peasants is the decline in support for small-scale agriculture in Mexico. The debate over whether Mexico needed peasant agriculture at all increased in 1982 when the debt crisis (Mexico had a $96 million foreign debt) forced Mexico to adopt an austerity budget in exchange for a restructuring of the debt. One of the measures adopted that affected Chiapas peasants was the removal of the subsidy for fertilizer (Collier 1994:16). Cooperatives were formed, and the Indians began to agitate for political and economic reform. They were met by brutal repression from the guardias blancas. Next, believing the world coffee market had stabilized, Mexico ended coffee price supports for farmers. Coffee production was the major cash crop of Chiapas peasants. As soon as Mexico cut its price support, the world market price for coffee plunged, further damaging the livelihood of peasants in the Chiapas lowlands and throw­ing many into bankruptcy (Nations 1994:33).

Then, in the clearest sign of the government's withdrawal of support for small-scale agriculture, they modified Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution so that if landholders agreed, ejido land could be sold. In addition, the government let it be known that there was no more land to redistribute. This ended the land redistribution program, leaving Chi­apas peasants without land or without title to land on which they were squatting.

Finally, NAFTA was negotiated and approved. Free trade in itself might not have damaged the economic prospects of Chiapas's peasants. They might have done well with their agricultural, forest, and handicraft products, but it was clear there was little or no support from the government. Furthermore, with NAFTA signed and dreams of an


increase in American beef imports, ranchers in Chiapas began talking openly of expand­ing their cattle production, which clearly would have required taking over additional peasant land. This meant increased confrontations with the guardias blancas. In fact, many peasants had reportedly begun arming themselves before the revolt to protect them­selves from the ranchers' private armies.

As James D. Nations (1994:33) put it, it is little wonder, therefore, that some Chia­pas farmers began to feel they were victims of a conspiracy, with no market for their crops and no land to grow them on anyway:

It is not difficult to imagine a Tzeltal or Tojolbal farmer sizing up his choices: he can move to San Cristobal de las Casas and sell popsicles from a pushcart, he can work for a cattle­man punching cows, or he can rebel against a situation that seems to have him trapped. That hundreds of farmers chose to rebel should come as no surprise.

The Revolt and the Reaction of the Mexican Government

James Scott pointed out that poor farmers in Malaysia were protesting not so much their traditional position in their villages but rather the worsening of that position as a conse­quence of technological change. The Kikuyu in Kenya were not protesting the initial seiz­ing of land by the British; they had adapted quite well as squatters. Their protest was against the constant worsening of their economic position as British settlers tried to in­crease their economic domination. The rebellion occurred only after the settlers destroyed African livestock and evicted people en masse from their farms. Likewise, the peasants in Chiapas had adapted to voluntarily or involuntarily leaving their villages in search of land in the rainforests of the Chiapas lowlands. Resistance occurred only after a whole series of changes by the Mexican government, culminating in the altering of Article 27 and NAFTA, as it tried to adapt to changes in the global economy.

The Chiapas rebellion reveals another feature of resistance that we saw in Sedaka as well as in Kenya: the attempt of those resisting oppression to use the past ideals and rhet­oric of their oppressors against them. In Chiapas, the Zapatistas used the rhetoric and principles that gave the Mexican government and the ruling political party, the PRI, its original legitimacy, much as the peasants in Malaysia fight the rich with the ideology the rich once used to justify their legitimacy in the traditional social order. The Zapatistas made it clear that the government betrayed the very principles that gave it legitimacy in the beginning, even going so far as to negate the very laws and rationale that the Mexican Revolution was fought for and reinstituting the land alienation that created the conditions for the Mexican revolution to begin with.

Two aspects of the government's reaction are worth noting. First, they seem to have been relatively restrained in their reaction, due in part, no doubt, to the skilled handling of the media and the Internet by the Zapatistas, whose supporters maintained a Web site www.ezln.org to report the Zapatistas's version of events. With the story making interna­tional headlines and the Zapatistas compared with Mexican heroes of the revolution, the government could not move to crush the rebellion militarily. Certainly given the effective­ness of the Guatemalan genocide against its Mayan population, the Mexican army, at least as well equipped as the Guatemalan military, could have, and may yet still, do the same.


The Zapatistas also made skilled use of the Internet to distribute its communiques and report moves of the Mexican military and the guardias blancas. The second interesting feature of the revolt is the reaction of the world's financial community. One of the fears created by the Zapatista rebellion is that it would undermine investor confidence in the Mexican government and investors would either pull their money out of Mexico, causing a further collapse of the Mexican economy, or dissuade them from putting money into the Mexican economy. These concerns were clearly voiced by an advisor to the Chase Bank; Riordan Roett, in an internal memo, advised that if the Mexican government was to retain investor confidence it must 'eliminate the Zapatistas' (Silverstein and Cockburn 1995). Whether by coincidence or not, within three weeks of the memo's circulation, the Mexi­can military moved offensively against the Zapatistas.

James Nations (1994) suggested that there are some real problems for the Mexican government, problems that any government faces if confronted by peasant resistance. First, if the government does react with financial aid it may become just more political pa­tronage and reach only those loyal to the PRI. In addition, if the media—which has served to limit the violence of the government response and prevent it from mounting a geno-cidal campaign as in Guatemala—loses interest, massive repression may result. Some 50,000 Guatemalan refugees still in Chiapas may become targets of violence. Further­more, the factions have been arming themselves. Arms sales have increased and groups are forming to defend traditional rights and powers, reminiscent of the death squads formed by eastern Chiapas ranchers. This factional conflict exploded on December 22, 1997 with the massacre of 45 unarmed Indian sympathizers of the Zapatistas, including 4 pregnant women and 18 children. The killers were apparently pro-government gunman armed with AK-47 combat rifles distributed by a local PRI official (Preston 1998). Fi­nally, the government must find some way to provide additional income and employment, but to do so by increasing the land under cultivation would mean taking land from cattle­men or from the Mayan farmers in the rainforest.

Whether or not the Mexican government can remedy the situation remains to be seen. The response up until now has been a virtual military occupation of the area, al­though the election in 2000 of a new Mexican government and the promise of new nego­tiations may lead to some agreement. The root causes of the Zapatista revolt—the global expansion of capitalist agriculture, the expansion of trading agreements, and the general marginal role of small scale agriculturists—will likely remain, however, leading to the question of the future role of peasants in the world economy.

The Future of Peasants

The central dilemma of peasants in the expanding capitalist world, according to Earle Duncan (1994:27), is whether or not small-scale agriculture has any place in the modern world. Michael Kearney (1996:3) concludes that 'peasants are mostly gone and that global conditions do not favor the perpetuation of those who remain.' The option is the American system, where 2 percent of the population supplies food for the other 98 per­cent. Earle made the point that peasant farmers do and can make a profit, that it is a far more sustainable form of production, and that it does not degrade the rainforest, espe­cially if it is based on coffee production that substitutes coffee plants for bushes under the


rainforest canopy. But even coffee production is changing to a factory-type model, in which it is grown in vast open fields devoid of tree cover.

Another development is the demand in core countries for what are termed nontradi-tional commodities (NTCs), items that have not been produced traditionally in peripheral countries but for which there is a demand in core countries. Thus in Gambia, people pro­duce flowers, a range of Asian vegetables, and eggplants to sell to European and Asian buyers. But even with these commodities, the market is highly concentrated in a few hands, and wages are low (about $0.11 a day in 1994); however, large producers do con­tract out to small farmers (Little and Dolan 2000).

Overall, however, the Mexican government and other governments around the world have taken actions that indicate that their answer is no, there is no place for peas­ants, and that the major question is whether it is best for peasants to move into the cities already burdened with millions living in squatter settlements or to have them in the coun­tryside as laborers.

Conclusion

These three examples of peasant protest and rebellion reveal some of the factors that pro­duce discontent in peasant populations. Peasant protest, however, will likely disappear as the need and opportunity for small farmers disappears. It would take a major overhaul of the world economy to reverse the concentration of agricultural wealth that exists today. However, there remain other sources of discontent, much of it coming from those people or their descendants who were the peasant farmers of past generations.



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