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
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
Many people in
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.
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
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?
course, is full of successful and unsuccessful peasant revolutions. Eric Wolf
(1969) examined successful peasant-inspired revolutions in
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
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.
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
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
reasons for the growing inequality
of income is agricultural changes wrought by the green revolution. In 1966
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
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
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?
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
Toward the end of the nineteenth
century most of East Africa became an economic battleground between
the largest cultural group in
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
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
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
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
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
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
In 1925 the Kikuyu Central
Association (KCA) was formed, and Jomo Kenyatta became its general secretary. Kenyatta was sent by the KCA to
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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.
activity spread to neighboring
To end resistance in
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
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
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
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.
advice of British psychiatrists in
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.
At the time of the Mau Mau
rebellion colonial rule was being threatened elsewhere in
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
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
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
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.
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 Rebellion in
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
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
The succeeding government of
Porfiro Diaz, which ruled
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
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
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
As in the case
base is largely in eastern
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).
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
Economic inequality was
aggravated by the economic boom of the 1960s and 1970s in
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
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
NAFTA was negotiated and approved. Free trade in itself might not have damaged
the economic prospects of
increase in American beef
imports, ranchers in
As James D.
Nations (1994:33) put it, it is little wonder, therefore, that some
It is not difficult to imagine a
Tzeltal or Tojolbal farmer sizing up his choices: he can move to
The Revolt and the Reaction of the Mexican Government
James Scott pointed out that
poor farmers in
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
(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
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.
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
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.
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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