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The Peasantry December 17, 2005 by RedStar2000


Marxists are commonly charged with "prejudice" against the peasantry.

In my opinion, that's true. We are prejudiced...and rightfully so.

These posts discuss some of the reasons for our "prejudice".


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quote:

And what is the deal with the Marxist prejudice against the peasantry?


Has it escaped your attention that the most reactionary part of any given country's population are always its rural inhabitants?

Rural life has been closely associated with ignorance, superstition, and gross servility from the era of classical antiquity to the present day. It seems to be an "inevitable" attribute of class society.

Marx did not refer to "the muck of rural idiocy" because he liked the sound of the words.

Consider the small peasant land-owner and what he perceives to be in his class interests.

By exploiting the labor of his wife and children, he raises enough food to feed himself and his family; whatever surplus is produced, he takes to a village market and sells to the public...for as much as he can get, of course. The money he acquires may be used to purchase commodities that he cannot "make for himself"...or for the purchase of additional land.

Successful peasants acquire more land...which they must either hire labor to work or else lease the land to landless peasants in exchange for a substantial share of the crop.

In either case, peasant society "naturally" differentiates itself into sub-classes of exploiters and exploited.

With the rise of capitalism, this differentiation accelerated. A successful peasant can become a "food wholesaler" to urban grocery stores and restaurants...transforming himself into a capitalist.

Thus, a portion of the successful peasantry become important supporters of the bourgeois revolution against feudalism...the transition to capitalism allows them "more economic room" as the landed aristocracy is broken up and their great estates "go on the market".

Many poor peasants also support bourgeois revolutions. It's their only chance to escape their genuinely miserable situation by acquiring more land...other than moving to the city, of course.

In the advanced capitalist countries, the only peasantry left are now modern petty-bourgeois or heavily exploited immigrant laborers.

In both cases, they're among the most reactionary portions of the whole population.

How a modern proletarian revolution will handle this situation is not easy to anticipate.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 10, 2005
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quote:

During a bourgeois revolution, if not elsewhere, [peasants] can potentially be the most progressive section.


Well, maybe. But I'm rather skeptical of that proposition.

Why? Because the peasant "world outlook" is so constrained by ignorance and superstition.

They can't really see "beyond" the breaking up of the great landed estates and the redistribution of land to themselves. And, where applicable, the driving out of the foreigner who threatens their own holdings.

They have a very "narrow horizon".

I think it could be shown with considerable consistency that the "most progressive" elements of any particular bourgeois revolution are not only city-dwellers (including recently urbanized peasants) but "proto-proletarian" elements and artisans who raise the most "radical" demands.

Modern guerrilla "liberation movements" seem to begin when a small number of radical city-dwellers "go to the countryside" and "rouse the peasantry" against the old regime.

This is not to suggest that peasants "can't rebel on their own"...they can and have.

But it's instructive to note what happens when such rebellions succeed -- the leaders of the victorious rebellion promptly set themselves up as a new landed aristocracy.

When you are a peasant, it's almost impossible to "see the world" in any terms other than the accumulation of land.

Being determines consciousness.

As to the "collective tradition" in pre-capitalist peasant life, I agree that such a thing existed on a wide scale.

But it was not "collective" in the sense that we would use that word. As I understand it, the periodic re-distribution of land was actually determined by a small hereditary elite of "village elders"...who "rewarded their supporters" and "punished their enemies".

Thus, however egalitarian "in form" it might have been, I strongly suspect that in practice it was not very egalitarian at all.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 11, 2005
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quote:

So do it. For simplicity, let's limit it to the Mexican & Chinese revolutions.


Come now, I'm not a professional historian with ready access to vast amounts of primary and secondary material.

About Mexico, my ignorance is total.

In China, the "communist" movement began in the cities and I have little doubt that many of the cadre during the "people's war" came from an urban background...though it's also been suggested that many of the leading cadre came from a "middle peasant" background -- like Mao, young sons exposed to "city ideas".

And, at least in my understanding, the most "radical" expression of Mao's "cultural revolution" was the "Shanghai Commune"...which may have even been a kind of proto-proletarian revolution.

quote:

These repartitional communes aren't perfect, but they have the potential to serve as a springboard into the kind of collectivism we would both prefer.


Well, Marx thought so too...at the very end of his life. And parts of rural Spain during the "anarchist period" suggest that "more is possible" than my outlook on the peasantry would permit.

Jared Diamond has proposed an idea that makes a great deal of sense to me with regard to the phenomenon of "peasant conservatism".

He points out that peasant life is extremely ecology-dependent. When peasants settle a "new territory", they learn rather quickly "what works" and "what doesn't work". The practices that seem to work well at the moment become "traditional" and innovation is strongly discouraged because it's perceived to threaten survival.

So "written in stone" do those traditional techniques become that even at some later time when those practices have actually wrecked the local ecology, peasants would rather die than abandon them.

I also think there's another "psychological" factor at work in "the mind of the peasant". Peasants depend on the vicissitudes of weather in order to survive. I think this dependence "generates" an attitude of submission.

Other than superstitious ritual, peasants have no control over the weather...and no way to even envision how such a thing might be "done".

City life isolates people from "raw nature"...except during periods of catastrophe. Therefore, that general attitude of submission "withers away"...or at least is greatly weakened.

Moreover, innovation is "valued" in an urban context and often wins considerable financial reward in one form or another.

So...when I look for rebellion that strikes at the root of class society, I look to the cities.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 12, 2005
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quote:

But now, most of those peasant superstitions you have said above are slowly dying or withering away. City life, and with it the city culture, have been penetrating rural life. Peasants today are not that ignorant as you were portraying them.


You could be right, of course...at least to some extent.

But consider this...

quote:

Women 'face worst abuse at home'

A new international study of domestic violence says it is the most common form of violence against women.

The study by the World Health Organization surveyed 24,000 women in 10 countries, among them Japan and Brazil, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

Researcher Lori Heise said it was not clear what was behind the differences between richer and poorer countries, but many of the areas with higher rates were more rural, traditional communities where the problem had remained largely hidden.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/europe/4465916.stm

My comment on this story was this...

quote (redstar2000):

The words "rural" and "traditional" in this context are often regarded as polite euphemisms for religious.

And we know how all the "holy books" regard women, do we not?

When peasants move to the city, their "faith" begins to erode...and domestic violence rates begin to decline.

Coincidence?


How much contact the peasantry today has with "urban culture" obviously differs from place to place.

And there's also a limited amount of "reverse migration"...some economically successful urbanites "move to the country" and take their "urban culture" with them.

Finally, if only "here and there", urban revolutionaries go to the countryside...and while they often shock the peasantry with their "city ways", they also compel the peasantry to realize that there is "a lot more to the world" than they ever realized.

When female Bolsheviks entered the Russian countryside after the October coup, the peasant women first thought they were "prostitutes"...both because of the way they dressed (like men) and because they carried themselves with pride instead of humility.

Those peasant women "learned better" over time...but it took a while.

quote:

The dual character of the peasants in the Third World emanates from the material conditions of their labor - they are the most exploited class; not only in terms of their number but also in terms of the intensity of feudal and semi-feudal exploitation. This material condition is a formidable motive force for revolution. Are we "city dwellers" (your words, not mine) not supposed to mine this formidable force? I say that anyone in the Third World who ignores this class can not talk of starting any revolution.


Well, I cannot dispute your point, of course. Indeed, this was really Mao's fundamental contribution to revolutionary theory...standing far above all his other "achievements".

But as communists, we should realize what a "peasant-based" revolution leads to.

Mao called it "New Democracy" because that sounded better than bourgeois revolution.

But whatever you call it, it's still the same thing.

Keep in mind also that most of the people on this board are not "third world revolutionaries"...hence we are free to speak more bluntly about these things than those who are.

Plain speaking about peasant life does not "offend" a modern urban proletariat...they have largely the same opinions on the subject as we do!

quote:

In the Philippines, we take store by Marx when he said to the effect, "the thing in Germany for the proletarian revolution to start, a second edition of the peasant war is necessary".


I believe he was actually referring to France when he said that.

But either way, I think Marx was confused on this issue.

He seemed to think that the peasantry could be "mobilized" and "led" by a revolutionary proletariat to not only smash the remnants of feudalism but even to "go on" to "strangle capitalism in its cradle" and "create" the "lower stage of communism".

I think this view contradicts the main insight of historical materialism...that epochs of production must "run their course" before it is really possible to replace them with a new one.

The abolition of capitalism requires a level of consciousness far beyond what could reasonably be expected of a peasantry newly freed from the shackles of feudalism.

In Russia, for example, the peasants referred to Lenin as "Our New Czar"...and that was a compliment. To Russian peasants, the czar was "the little father" ("God" was the "big father") who, if he only knew, would "save his people" from the rapacious aristocracy. The Soviet decree that legalized "land to the peasantry" was enormously popular in the Russian countryside...and so was Lenin himself!

quote:

I can't imagine how peasants can depend on the vicissitudes of the weather. They depend on the weather, but not on its vicissitudes because they survive against those vicissitudes.


No, sometimes they don't survive. And even when they do, it's often a "pretty close call".

One historian actually dates the beginning of the Russian Revolution to 1896...when Russia had a "bad year" and famine stalked the countryside.

Every peasant in every country who reaches old age (say 50 or so) remembers "a bad year" or more than one. The threat of crop-failure and subsequent famine hangs over every peasant community...as we see in Africa today.

This is one of the factors that engenders a "whole different outlook" among the peasantry.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 12, 2005
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quote:

What are those quotation marks around third world revolutionaries for, RS? I hope you are not demeaning the revolution in my country and the land that the NPA under the guidance of CPP is giving to peasants in areas under the organs of political power of workers and peasants.


Because while "third world revolutionaries" may sincerely believe that they are making a "socialist revolution", what will actually happen is that they will "clear the way" for the rise of modern capitalism in their countries.

This is what happened in Russia, China, et.al.

The obvious inference is that you can't "skip" an era of modern capitalism in the Philippines or anywhere else.

To be sure, you can erect an elaborate stage setting...lots of red flags and "Marxist" rhetoric.

But material reality prevails. Words cannot change that.

What's really happening in your country is 1789...and I wish you every success in your efforts.

If history is a reliable guide, your "socialism" will be a "transitional stage" between colonialism/feudalism and modern capitalism.

That's progress.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 13, 2005
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quote:

Communist revolution is not a revolt of proletarians against capitalists for control of things, but a revolt of the dispossessed lower class against the ongoing violence of the possessing upper class.

Communist revolution is not specifically or uniquely a revolt of proletarians against capitalists. Communist revolution has been attempted many times in the past under many forms of class society.


I think it unlikely that a fruitful exchange is possible between us over these matters.

To me, your approach sounds totally a-historical.

And idealist as well...as if people could "have communism" pretty much anywhere and any time they "really wanted to".

You have every right to your views, of course...but I cannot see any useful outcome of your perspective.

quote:

There is no evidence to support the claim that the accumulation of machines has anything to do with the ability of the dispossessed to successfully revolt.


Those machines do not determine the success or failure of rebellion. They determine what kind of society you will end up with after the rebellion.

The more and better machines that you have (or can learn to build), the better things are going to turn out.

quote:

Today is not 1789 for the Philippines.


As I understand it, Philippine political life continues to be dominated by a few families that own the bulk of the useful agricultural land in that unhappy country.

There is a native capitalist class, but it is entirely subordinate to imperialism.

If the Maoists win in the Philippines, what they will do is smash the political and economic power of both the big landowning families and the imperialist flunkies...and, hopefully, the utterly reactionary Catholic Church.

Afterwards, they will do exactly what the more advanced European capitalist countries did in the 19th century.

They will build schools for nearly all the kids. They will build decent homes for nearly everyone to live in. Clean water will be provided...and electricity. Millions of people there will actually see a doctor for the first time in their lives.

The life expectancy will sharply rise.

And they will, if they are sensible, build up their own economy...learning to make modern products for themselves instead of trying to live on the occasional handouts of imperialism.

After a few decades, the Maoists will naturally "evolve" into a new modern capitalist class ready to take its place in the world market as a real player...instead of a pitiful neo-colonial dependency.

That's what 1789 actually means in today's world.

You are free to reject this thesis...but if you do, then you have to explain why countries like Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba, etc., didn't "go on" and "build communism"...since you evidently think that's always "possible".

Are you going to "fall back" on a "devil theory" of history? The people who led those revolutions were "really all rotten bastards" from the beginning???

Or you can try the excuse "imperialism was just too strong"...an astonishing thesis since all those regimes and parties engendered capitalism from within -- and not as a consequence of imperialist conquest.

I don't think that these are even remotely credible alternatives to my thesis.

But some people like them.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 13, 2005
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quote:

I am not a "Marxist."


Of course you aren't.

Neither are the Maoists, though they persist in claiming otherwise. *laughs*

quote:

Petty-bourgeois "leaders" will be on the scene no matter what. We shouldn't be so negligent as to allow them into workers' organizations.


I believe there are already some small groups that actually follow Marx's recommendation of "workers only".

I think this may be a significant development...especially if it spreads to other advanced capitalist countries.

At the moment, it's "too soon to say".

quote:

Here I add, it is fatalism to say that material conditions are to blame for the failure of uprisings. Those who rebelled deserve the credit for rebelling and deserve the blame for not preparing adequately. People are responsible for what they do.


The word "fatalism" derives from the myth that there is such a thing as "Fate"...which "determines what happens".

To use the word now is archaic.

To suggest that "people are responsible for what they do" ignores both the material constraints and the historical constraints under which they "decide" what to "do".

We "make our own history" but "not under conditions of our own choosing", as Marx pointed out.

To expect peasants to "choose communism" because it's "the right choice" ignores everything about the material realities of peasant life...and their resultant "world-view".

quote:

If class struggle [under feudalism] was an ongoing fact of life, so too was the possibility of class victory by the poor.


I never denied it. I simply pointed out that in those historical cases where peasant insurrections were successful, the leaders of the rebellion promptly established themselves as a new landed aristocracy.

Put it this way: a predominately agrarian society is, of necessity, despotic...there's simply no other way for such a society to survive the inevitable uncertainties of agricultural production on a long-term basis.

quote:

To say that there was not successful communist revolution in the past so it "proves" there could not have been--this is intellectual laziness, a cop out, and a prejudice for one's own culture.


Yes, I am truly a "bad boy". *laughs*

Historical materialism is deterministic...and that doesn't bother me at all -- though quite a few folks seem very upset by it. They think it "violates" their "free will"...or some such metaphysical objection.

And of course I am "prejudiced" in favor of "my culture". As bad as life can be under the despotism of capital, it is obviously far superior to all those forms of "culture" (class society) that preceded it.

I have never "bought into" the myth of a Golden Age...that there was some time in the past where humans lived in "egalitarian bliss".

On the contrary, the past was even more horrible than now...and by a wide margin at that!

As an even a passing acquaintance with human history reveals.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 14, 2005
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