Robbins Chapter 10 Peasant Protest, Rebellion, and Resistance



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Robbins Chapter 10

Peasant Protest, Rebellion, and Resistance


Overview 1

  • In this chapter we look at peasant protest.

  • Small-scale agriculturalists have been among the groups most affected by the expansion of the culture of capitalism.

  • The questions we need to address include:

  • 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 is filled with successful and unsuccessful peasant revolutions.

  • Eric Wolf examined successful peasant-inspired revolutions in Mexico, Russia, China, Algeria, and Vietnam.

  • In the vast majority of such rebellions, the rebels gained little.

  • Also, the more subtle forms of rebellion are often overlooked (such as simply moving away).

  • The study of peasant societies has a long history in anthropology.

  • How do peasant societies function? One example, German farmers in 1400 C.E. gives us an idea.

  • At that time the production of grains averaged 10,200 pounds.

  • How was the grain used? There are several funds that were tapping into the resource.

  • The replacement fund was the stash of seed needed for next year’s planting.

  • The fund for rent is just what it sounds like, the payment to be able to use the land given to the landlord.

  • Only 1,300 pounds remained for the family. So other resources were used, such as livestock or gardens. Also the ceremonial fund, the sharing of resources supported the family.

  • Other funds not mentioned (or not labeled) in the book include: subsistence fund (the resources needed to survive, such as the 1,600 calories used on a daily basis) and the social fund (resources used to establish and maintain social ties).


Overview 2

  • How was the grain used? (continued)

  • Together these funds demonstrate the central role of the land to the peasant’s life.

  • This means that all peasant revolts in some way are a struggle over land.

  • How the protest is conducted, the form of the protest and whether it involves collective and/or violent action depends on a number of factors.

  • Looking at several protests allows us to examine:

  1. Non-violent protest and reaction to the Green Revolution (Malaysia).

  2. Violent rebellion (Kenya).

  3. How globalization of the world economy can affect the lives of peasants (Chiapas, Mexico).


Malaysia and the Weapons of the Weak 1

  • James Scott studied the plight of poor Malaysian peasants.

  • He points out that we focus on violent protest and ignore everyday resistance to oppression.

  • The question: How do the relatively powerless resist oppression of the relatively powerful?

  • Open revolt and resistance can be foolhardy.

  • More subtle ways are often used instead.

  • The ways in which the less powerful resist are called ‘weapons of the weak’ by Scott.

  • Malaysian peasants and the Green Revolution

  • Before the Asian economic collapse of 1997-1998, Malaysia was in excellent economic shape.

  • Tropical hardwoods, oil, tin, rubber and palm oil spurred an annual growth of 3.9%.

  • But this income was not evenly distributed.

  • Agricultural incomes were lowering. One contributor to the decline was the Green Revolution (at first a success).

  • The World Bank backed the construction of the Mudra irrigation project.

  • Twice a year planting of rice (double-cropping) increased the rate of return form 19% to 18% and new prosperity hit the villages.

  • But it was the richer villagers who were benefitting, not all the villagers.

  • As monies were flowing in, many peasants lost their land and ownership stabilized Another consequence included stigmatizing the poorest.

  • This social inequality spurred by the Green Revolution is seen by the example of Razak.


Malaysia and the Weapons of the Weak 2

  • Malaysian peasants and the Green Revolution (continued)

  • The example of Razak (continued)

  • In the past, farmers could not farm all the land, so they rented out the excess.

  • The rents were negotiated after the harvest so that in bad years the rent was less.

  • The land owners had needed the land-less for labor so that the poorest could supplement their garden resources.

  • Finally, the rich and poor were bound together by gift-giving and ceremonial exchanges. In the village of Sedaka there were 3 types of gifts:

  1. Zakat is the giving of alms, voluntarily.

  2. Derma gifts which is the sharing by the rich to the poor in order to cleanse the poor of envy, hatred and resentment.

  3. Ritual feasts.

  • Gift giving was reciprocal in nature; the poor repaid with loyalty and an obligation to help during the harvest season.

  • In the past, the rich justified their status by saying they benefited the poor. They rented land, hired labor, and distributed gifts and gave feasts.

  • The agricultural changes resulted in the following:

  1. The use of double-cropping and increased yields made the land more valuable. Competition for land occurred and rents went up.

  2. With more monies, the landowners could take advantage of more technologies, such as mechanical harvesters and broadcasters.

  3. The traditional gift-giving and feasts declined as the need to cement the community together was not as important.

  • The Green Revolution broke up the traditional practices and caused social conflict.


Malaysia and the Weapons of the Weak 3

  • Fighting back

  • What can the poor do to alleviate their condition? Was it possible to gain back what was lost? What is resistance? Scott defines 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-à-vis those superordinate classes” (as cited in Robbins, 2014, p. 286).

  • Scott also points out that peasant folklore is filled with resistance stories that give legitimacy to resisting

  • The goal of most resistance is not to overthrow a system, but to survive the system of oppression or domination.

  1. One way the poor resist is the use of gossip. The focus was on how the rich were not living up to their obligations.

  2. Used Islamic law and traditional relations between rich and poor to put pressure on the rich to meet their obligations.

  3. Another form of protest was theft, especially of rice, as a substitution for charity.

  1. Killing of livestock was another form of protest, especially if the animal was a pest to the poor

  2. Sabotage is another method of protest.

  • Most of the acts of protests were performed by individuals, but there were group efforts (usually groups of women).

Malaysia and the Weapons of the Weak 4

  • Obstacles to resistance

  • There were obstacles to more open resistance, so the villagers of Sedaka had no choice but to use the weapons of the weak.

  • Some of the obstacles included:

  • The rich still had control over the land.

  • The changes brought by the Green Revolution were slow, this gradual change made it harder to develop an open protest.

  • The changes were not about additional exploitations of the poor, they were about cutting off relations with the poor.

  • There is a nation-state system of arrests and persecution in place.

  • Protest and change

  • Robbins reminds us that the culture of capitalism is an adaptive one, able to respond and increase profits.

  • But this comes at the cost to pre-capitalist cultures as seen in Sedaka.

  • The norms had emphasized relations between rich and poor, a politics of reputation model.

  • The rich benefited more than the poor, but it was this very system the rich violated to become capitalistic.

  • The poor tried to use traditions to bring the rich back to the norms, but were not successful.


Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Rebellion 1

  • Overview

  • At what point does resistance become more collective and under what conditions does it shift to violence? What is the reaction to the protest?

  • Between 1952 to 1956 the British tried to repress a rebellion by the Kikuyu peasant farmers in Kenya.

  • By the end, the British had killed 11,000 rebels, detained 100,000, while 2,000 Africans loyal to the British and 200 Europeans were killed.

  • This Mau Mau Rebellion was only one of hundreds that took place as indigenes tried to push out the colonial governments.

  • It serves as a good example of the conditions under which a group is willing to go from passive resistance to active, even violent resistance.

  • This rebellion also reveals the psychology of the oppressors as they try to understand why they are the objects of protest.

  • The Mau Mau Rebellion is also considered the first great African liberation movement and may have been the most serious crisis of Britain’s African colonies.

  • The British in East Africa

  • Who were the colonists?

  • At the end of the 19th century, E. Africa was an economic battleground between Britain and Germany.

  • In 1884, the two countries meet, and carved up the region between them.

  • The sources of strive

  • Kenyan resistance was frequent, but the British responded with great military force.

  • Additionally during this time there were plaques of locusts, cattle disease and an epidemic of smallpox.

  • Between the British invasion and these other disasters, the population of Kenya is estimated to have plummeted by between 50-95%!

  • By 1902, when British settlers came in for a land grab, they saw the area as empty of people.


Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Rebellion 2

  • The British in East Africa (continued)

  • Who are the Kikuyu?

  • The largest cultural group in Kenya, reacted to the invasion by attacking settlers.

  • In one case, they captured a settler, disemboweled him and defecated on him.

  • The British response was to destroy their village, killing everyone expect the children hiding in the bush.

  • The Kikuyu had the most to lose with the British invasion.

  • They combined farming and cattle raising on communal land.

  • Their council of elders was soon replaced by British appointed chiefs.

  • By 1904 the resistance ended.

  • The Maasai fought with the British.

  • The British grabbed land without much effort to hide their activities.

  • There were a few British who protested these activities, but to no avail

  • The newspapers and politicians extolled the virtues of the British settlements

  • The farms needed African labor

  • The government introduced a hut and poll tax so that Africans were forced to work for the British

  • The British also prohibited the Africans from growing cash crops of coffee, sisal and maize

  • Next the British implemented a travel pass (kipande) to be worn by the Africans.

  • This pass listed tribal affiliation, fingerprints, work history and a photo

  • The British could destroy a man’s work capacity by labeling his lazy or arrogant.


Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Rebellion 3

  • The British in East Africa (continued)

  • The British used indirect rule to control Kenya.

  • Created a rule that each African group had to have a ruling chief.

  • Assumed that all groups had this political structure.

  • This chief was to be appointed the paramount chief and be the go-between the British and his people.

  • The Kikuyu did not have a paramount chief, they add a council of elders and respected people, called the ciama.

  • The British system created an elite group, who became rich through their connections with the British.

  • As such, they became part of an African elite, bolstered by ties to their colonizers.

  • The Mau Mau Rebellion began in 1952, mostly lead by peasant farmers evicted from their lands, a disenfranchised urban group, and others restricted to reserves.

  • The White Highlands

  • The largest group in the Mau Mau Rebellion came from the White Highlands.

  • The White Highlands were among the most fertile of the Kikuyu holdings that the British confiscated.

  • The white settlers paid 3 rupees/acre to the Kikuyu.

  • The Kikuyu were not asked if they wanted to sale, of course.

  • Due to the new taxes and lack of land, the Kikuyu were pressured to work the very land they had been forced to sell.


Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Rebellion 4

  • The White Highlands (continued)

  • As ‘squatters’ they were allowed to raise crops, cattle and sheep and to support other family members.

  • When a British settler made life hard, the squatters were free to move.

  • The Kikuyu herds thrived, so when compared to wage earners working for the British they were doing well.

  • At first the British saw this arrangement as advantageous, but subsequently tried to limit the Kikuyu farming and ranching efforts.

  • Between 1920-1950, the British settlers repeatedly tried to curtail the Kikuyu.

  • Once effort was a requirement of 180 labor by the Kikuyu for the British.

  • Another effort was the 1930 kifagio (sweeping away) of the squatter’s livestock, reducing stock from hundreds to no more than 5 per Kikuyu family

  • In 1937 the colonial government passed a law that enabled the settlers to require 240 days, than 270 of work by Kikuyu for the British. Livestock quotas were further reduced

  • At first, the Kikuyu used the weapons of the weak to resist these changes.

  • The British just keep pushing the Kikuyu off the land and by 1948, 3,000 Europeans owned more land than the 1 million Kikuyu did together.

  • The Roots of rebellion

  • Young Kikuyu Association

  • As early as 1922 there was organized resistance to the British when Harry Thuku started the Young Kikuyu Association to protest the poll tax and the kipandes

  • He preached that the British had stolen their land

  • During a protest, 25-250 people were killed by the British and Thuku was exiled for 9 years


Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Rebellion 5

  • The roots of rebellion (continued)

  • In 1925 the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) was formed.

  • Jomo Kenyatta became its general secretary.

  • The KCA sent him to England for the education, studied anthropology under Bronislaw Malinowski (very famous!) and went on to write an ethnography of the Kikuyu.

  • Kenyatta broadened the resistance and organized the Kenyan African Union (KAU)

  • He used an oath to create solidarity and loyalty.

  • The British continued to deny that the Africans wanted them out.

  • Trouble was brewing for a number of reasons:

  • Peasant squatters were continuing to be squeezed by the settles.

  • Reserves (same structure as US reservations) served as a flash point for rebellion. The conditions were atrocious.

  • Thousands of landless Africans fled to the cities in search of jobs, but the jobs were not there

  • There some organized in gangs and robbed non-Kikuyu and Asians.

  • The most powerful gang was the Forty Group.

  • One leader, Fred Kubai, became one of the pivotal people in the Mau Mau Rebellion.

  • The Mau Mau oath in part developed with the gang: drive out the Europeans and kill if needed.

  • The Kikuyu were split into the haves and the have-nots, causing major tensions.

  • There was a color bar, based on European racism.


Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Rebellion 6

  • The Mau Mau Rebellion

  • The Africans had tried several avenues of resistance: refusals to work on agricultural projects, strikes in the cities

  • More and more people began to take the Mau Mau oath (which became harsher over time).

  • The oath was patterned on the Kikuyu male initiation ceremony.

  • If you broke the oath you could be executed.

  • As the violence of the rebellion increased, the ceremony became more elaborate.

  • The British had thought that the Mau Mau was a religious movement and were horrified to learn it was an anti-European movement.

  • Kenyatta had been kept in the dark about the rebellion being planned, but in the end the British blamed him.

  • The term Mau Mau was likely coined by the British and had no meaning for the Africans.

  • The rebellion was carefully planned.

  • Thousands of Kikuyu fled the reserves for the forests, which became the base camps of the rebellion

  • There was a central planning committee of 12 members.

  • Others were in charge of gleaning information from the British, setting up communication networks with the forest base camps, and finding weapons.

  • Women were critical to the rebellion.

  • They became the oath givers (traditionally not a woman’s role).

  • They were the primary organizers of the forest network.

  • Many were involved in the military actions.



Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Rebellion 7

  • State of emergency

  • Isolated attacks began in the fall of 1952.

  • What caused the British to declare a state of emergency was the assassination of Senior Chief Waruhiu of the Kikuyu as he had cooperated with the British.

  • Others considered collaborators were targeted also.

  • Settlers were also targeted.

  • Kenyatta was arrested as the British, thinking he was the leader, as an attempt to end the rebellion

  • The press supported the British and vilified the Africans.

  • By 1953, 309,00 men and women were assembled in the forests and they had an active army of 3,000.

  • Efforts were mostly hit-and-run.

  • By the end of 1953, 3,064 of the Mau Mau had been killed and 1,000 captured and also 100,000 supporters were arrested (of which 64,000 were brought to trial).

  • In spite of the deaths and arrests, the British could not adapt to the forest fighting.

  • The Mau Mau activity spread to Uganda and Tanganyika, with Mau Mau agitation in Nairobi was widespread.

  • In Nairobi, the British swept the city, sending some to detention camps or reserves.

  • On the railroads the women throw food and sang Mau Mau songs.

  • Finally, the British squashed the rebellion.

  • The violence on both sides was horrid, but the intensity practiced by the British and the African police was magnitudes more horrendous.


Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Rebellion 8

  • The oath and the detention camps

  • The worst atrocities committed by the British were in the detention camps.

  • The British could not understand the rebellion and so attributed it to the Mau Mau oath; many who were hanged simply for administering the oaths.

  • They decided, with the advice of psychiatrists, that the Kikuyu needed to be reeducated.

  • By 1959, 80,000 suspected Mau Mau were in the camps.

  • To ensure the Africans would work, the British targeted their leaders.

  • Deaths and beatings by the British were rampant.

  • Finally, with the beating deaths of 11 African leaders, the public shifted to sympathy for the independence efforts.

  • Independence

  • At the time of the Mau Mau Rebellion, colonial rule was under attack in many places in Africa.

  • The British government, given an economic decline and the expense of protecting Kenya, decided to cede the country back to the Kenyans.

  • Kenyatta was released.

  • Whites began to leave.

  • Building its own nation was a struggle for the Kenyans.

  • The colonial governments had paid little attention to ethnicity when they carved up Africa.

  • Now the groups struggled with a need to make a cohesive whole from the scattered interests.

  • Update (March 2013) Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Jomo Kenyatta elected president and charged with war crimes by the ICC (International Criminal Court).

  • Update (June 2013): Victims of the Mau Mau Rebellion to receive compensation from Britain.


The Rebellion in Chiapas 1

  • Overview

  • The Zapatistas declared rebellion on the same day as the NAFTA went into effect.

  • The Zapatista army was named for Emiliano Zapata, one of the heroes of the 1910 Mexican Revolution.

  • The revolution was based on land ownership issue.

  • The new constitution provided for the redistribution of land to the landless.

  • The Zapatista rebellion also occurred over land.

  • Chiapas is in the southernmost state in Mexico, and borders with Guatemala.

  • It is the poorest state in Mexico, with high illiteracy and high malnutrition.

  • Mayan Indians represent 28% of the population.

  • Poverty and inequality in Chiapas

  • The societies of Chiapas were always stratified to some degree.

  • This is a highly stratified area, with a few wealthy landowners at the top, a small middle class and a large poor population of small-land owners, wage earners, artisans, and the unemployed.

  • In 1994, 20% had no income, 40% was below the minimum wage.

  • Historically, the Mayan had been stratified and the conquering Spanish continued with a 2-tier system:

  1. The Latino descendants of the Spanish are on top.

  2. The indigenous people are on the bottom.

  • During the early 20th century as Zapata and Pancho Villa were fighting for peasant rights in the north, the landowners in Chiapas created private armies to suppress the locals.

  • These Mapaches rampaged the people, hanging all the men in one church.

  • The received land in exchange for their service.

  • The Indian population was squeezed out of the land, even as the Mapaches landowners were celebrated. for a successful efforts against the federal government.


Poverty and inequality in Chiapas 2

  • Poverty and inequality in Chiapas (continued)

  • The Zapatistas protest concerned relationships within the local communities and the division of power and wealth.

  • Villages are generally run by political bosses (caciques), with their authority drawn from their position in the ruling party.

  • Support of the Zapatistas is not universal, many continue to support the government.

  • Guardias blancas (white guards), consisting of Mayan and local ranchers attack the rebels

  • Other Mayans support the rebels.

  • The rebel base is largely in eastern Chiapas, the foothills of the central highlands, and the Lancandon rainforest.

  • Until the 1950s this region was largely unoccupied.

  • The Chol and Cholti Maya had been wiped out, and in the 1950s, the government moved Tzeltal and Tzotzil Mayans onto the land away from the areas of overpopulation.

  • Problems results as loggers come, squatters came to ranch and the government never gave clear land ownership to the Mayan settlers.

  • A few have now have titles, but most continue to be harassed by the guardias blancas

  • Other Zapatista supporters are Protestant converts, pushed out of their villages.

  • These refugees have also moved onto the land.

  • Political refugees and other groups were also moved in.

  • The economic boom of the 1960s and 1970s increased economic inequality in the area.

  • The Mexican government took out loans to invest in electricity and the Chiapas produces 50 of it for Mexico.

  • They are not receiving the benefits, though.


Poverty and inequality in Chiapas 3

  • The rebellion and the global economy

  • One of the major reasons for the poverty among the Chiapas peasants is the loss of support for small-scale agriculture.

  • In 1982 there was a debt crisis in Mexico and this issue came to a head

  • A subsidy for fertilizer was removed and the peasants formed cooperatives and agitated for political and economic reform.

  • Price supports for coffee farmers were removed, then coffee prices plummeted.

  • Finally, the government modified Article 27, allowing communal land to be sold.

  • NAFTA represented the threat of more cattle ranching and increased activity by the guardias blancas

  • The revolt and the reaction of the Mexican government

  • Initially the peasants had adapted to being removed from their villages to find land in the rainforest.

  • Resistance began only as the set of changes by the Mexican government resulted in the modification of Article 27.

  • Like the groups we discussed earlier in this chapter, the rebels tried to use past ideas and rhetoric against the oppressors.

  • The government had betrayed the principles on which it was founded.

  • Two interesting reactions:

  1. The government has been relatively restrained (perhaps as the Zapatistas have used the media/Internet well in their efforts.

  2. The financial community became afraid that investor confidence would be undermined, so they pushed for the elimination of the Zapatistas. In reaction, the government went on the assault.


Poverty and inequality in Chiapas 4

  • The revolt and the reaction of the Mexican government (continued)

  • James Nation suggests the government has some real problems:

  1. If it tries to fix things with money, it may enhance the political patronage system at the basis of much of the problem.

  2. If the media becomes uninterested, a bloodbath may occur.

  3. Factions have been arming themselves.

  • The future of peasants

  • According to Duncan Earle, the central dilemma for peasants in the expanding capitalist world is whether there is a place for them.

  • Peasants can, and do, make profits and the system is more sustainable.

  • Another development is that in the core countries, there is a demand for nontraditional commodities (NTCs).

  • These are products that were not grown traditionally, but for which there is a high demand.

  • Flowers are one example.

  • Problem? Access is concentrated in a few hands and most workers make a poor wage.



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