peasant politics

peasant politics

the political activity and organization of PEASANTS. Until the 1960s the prevailing consensus within the social sciences was that peasants had little or no independent political organization and little impact on state politics. Since then this view has been fundamentally revised. It is now recognized that in the 20th-century the peasantry played decisive roles in the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the Mexican revolution in the second decade and in a variety of anticolonial and national movements in the THIRD WORLD (see Wolf, 1971; Walton, 1984).

Several strands of analysis and questions can now be identified:

  1. Whether or not peasant politics can influence the state without the involvement of other social groups. Scott (1985) argues that peasants everywhere have probably used ‘the ordinary weapons of relatively powerless groups: foot-dragging, dissimulation, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage, and so forth’. This resistance reflects rejection of dominant power groups but lacks coordination. At times this opposition may become more organized, but may be reflected in collective desertion rather than confrontation: MILLENARIANISM AND MILLENNIAL MOVEMENTS have been understood in this way. For confrontation with state and other political representatives, alliances with other groups may be necessary, since these introduce organizational forms and ideologies not generated by peasants. These may take various forms from urban-based political groups and organizations, depending on the historical context;
  2. Whether peasant political activity takes the form of organized opposition to or support for dominant political groupings and organizations, resistance, rebellion or revolution. Recently this has been a major area of investigation. One line of argument is that peasant demands everywhere tend to be limited and once these have been achieved peasants may lose interest in political activity. ‘Land, peace and bread’, or variations, have been common slogans, for peasants since the Russian Revolution. An example is the response of Zapata, one of the peasant leaders during the Mexican Revolution, on occupying the Presidential Palace in Mexico City: he chose to return to his native state since the demand for land rights had been achieved (Womack, 1969);
  3. Another line of enquiry has asked which groups within the peasantry are most likely to be involved in political activities. Alavi (1965) argued that middle peasants with land have enough economic leverage and resources to risk rebellion, whereas rich peasants are less likely to oppose the existing order and poor peasants without land have few resources to mobilize for action.
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Part One traces the evolution of Comintern policy towards the peasantry, including an introductory section on Second International peasant politics.
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