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).
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:
Non-violent protest and reaction to the Green Revolution (Malaysia).
Violent rebellion (Kenya).
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:
Derma gifts which is the sharing by the rich to the poor in order to cleanse the poor of envy, hatred and resentment.
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:
The use of double-cropping and increased yields made the land more valuable. Competition for land occurred and rents went up.
With more monies, the landowners could take advantage of more technologies, such as mechanical harvesters and broadcasters.
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
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.
One way the poor resist is the use of gossip. The focus was on how the rich were not living up to their obligations.
Used Islamic law and traditional relations between rich and poor to put pressure on the rich to meet their obligations.
Another form of protest was theft, especially of rice, as a substitution for charity.
The rich reacted with a combination of fear and anger.