peasant rebellion in comparative historical perspective l.
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Occurred in Burma and Vietnam. Rice prices, which had been increasing ... In the Saya San revolt in Lower Burma, nearly 3,000 peasants were injured or ...

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peasant rebellions in se asia
Peasant Rebellions in SE Asia
  • Study of Upper Burma and Northern Vietnam
  • Much of the area was prone to droughts and famines
  • Result: recurrent subsistence crises
  • Site of large rebellions in the 1930s and, of course, the Vietnam war in the latter half of the 20th century
the moral economy
The Moral Economy
  • Fear of food shortages gave rise to a “subsistence ethic” in peasant society
  • Focus of peasant households was on making income stable in order to avoid starving to death in droughts
  • Comprised of both technical arrangements and social arrangements
technical arrangements
Technical Arrangements
  • Used cropping and agricultural techniques to make the harvest as reliable and stable as possible
  • This was important because the demands of the state (i.e., taxes) could not be changed by peasants
social arrangements
Social Arrangements
  • Norms of cooperation between members of the peasant community
  • Examples:
    • Reciprocity
    • Forced generosity
    • Communal land
    • Work-sharing
moral economy and peasant rebellion
Moral Economy and Peasant Rebellion
  • Scott argues that the moral economy is the key to understanding peasant rebellion
  • This subsistence ethic means that peasant households are not “profit maximizers”
  • Rather they are risk averse and try most often to minimize losses rather than maximize gains
  • This is a “safety first” principle
how the moral economy worked
How the Moral Economy Worked
  • Social pressure put on rich peasants to be charitable, sponsor festivals, give generously to local shrines and temples
  • Effect was to help redistribute some wealth
  • In times of hardship landlords might reduce taxes
moral economy under strain
Moral Economy under strain
  • Two factors put the moral economy under strain in the 1930s
    • Capitalism
    • Development of modern nation state under colonialism
  • Transformed land and labor into commodities that were for sale
    • Villagers no longer enjoyed control of land
    • Rise of a class of wage laborers with no land
    • Greater fluctuations in the market prices of agricultural products
the state
The State
  • Provided legal basis for capitalism
  • Enforced capitalist system through coercion
  • Demanded fix tax rates based upon population (head taxes) and land holdings
    • More stable than tax on actual income
    • Easier to assess
  • Capitalism and the state undermined the “moral economy”
  • Made more serious the problem of having securing a “minimum income”
  • Explains the two main themes of peasant protest
theme 1 taxation and minimum income
Theme 1: Taxation and Minimum Income
  • The tax demands (or rent demands) of landlords, moneylenders or the state were never legitimate when they infringed on the minimum culturally defined subsistence level.
theme 2 distribution of income
Theme 2: Distribution of Income
  • The products of the land (especially rice) should be distributed so that all in the village could subsist
the depression rebellions
The Depression Rebellions
  • Occurred in Burma and Vietnam
  • Rice prices, which had been increasing in the 1920s, fell in the 1930s
  • Peasant incomes fell dramatically with the decline of rice prices
  • State demands (taxes) stayed basically the same
why didn t the state reduce taxes
Why didn’t the state reduce taxes?
  • At least one colonial official proposed a tax cut that would have reduced state tax revenue yields by almost 20%
  • Rejected in favor of a small increase in taxes
  • Reasons:
    • Great Depression led to decline in incomes from customs duties
    • Smaller government revenues would mean cutting officials from payrolls
    • Had coercive power to enforce tax collection
tax collections
Tax collections
  • Tax revenues fell from 22 million in 1929 to 17 million in 1931
  • State and landlords forced auctions of peasant belongings
  • More peasants jailed and beaten to force them to pay taxes
landlords under pressure
Landlords under pressure
  • Many landlords in this period were themselves in debt
  • Falling rice prices also squeezed their profits
  • Previously lent money to peasants to pay their head taxes and land taxes and to plant their crops
  • Now under pressure from moneylenders at the very least refused to do this
peasant responses
Peasant responses
  • Tenant peasants confiscated crops before the harvest or attacked grainaries
  • Increase in social banditry
  • Attacks on police stations
  • Often tried to burn tax records
increasing pressure on peasants
Increasing pressure on peasants
  • Communal lands disappeared as a result of corruption among mandarins and local notables
  • Tax burdens increased because of local corruption and became higher than mandated rates
  • These factors further undermined the moral economy
result rebellion
Result: Rebellion
  • Several revolts took place in rural Vietnam and Burma during this time, the largest of which had as many as 20,000 participants.
  • Many seemed to participate because they supported the Communist program of lower taxes
  • In the Saya San revolt in Lower Burma, nearly 3,000 peasants were injured or killed
criticisms of the moral economy
Criticisms of the Moral Economy

The Political Economy Perspective

popkin the rational peasant
Popkin – The Rational Peasant
  • Starts with a criticism of the Moral Economy perspective
    • peasants aren’t risk adverse and trying to ensure subsistence, they try to maximize long term income
    • Peasants often benefit from markets because it reduces their dependence on landlords
    • What determines the subsistence level?
    • how are competing claims for resources assessed?
rational peasants
Rational Peasants
  • Peasant behavior governed by “investment logic”
  • When contributing to village project, peasants consider:
    • The amount of resource expenditure required
    • Positive rewards
    • The probability of success
    • Leadership viability and trust
why use an investment logic
Why Use an Investment Logic?
  • Many peasants are free riders
  • Would prefer not to contribute to village social insurance systems if they can still reap the benefits
how can peasant rebellion be explained
How can peasant rebellion be explained?
  • Popkin argues there was no connection between subsistence crises and collective action
  • The key is organization – particularly by “political entrepreneurs”
  • In Vietnam these were Catholics and Communist cadres
what did political entrepreneurs do
What did political entrepreneurs do?
  • Provided selective incentives to participants (courts for dispute resolution, social insurance, moral codes, even religious salvation)
  • Provided credible leadership
  • Focused on small projects first
  • Built a “revolutionary surplus” they could use to finance further projects
rare rebellions
Rare Rebellions
  • Although spectacular, peasant revolts are usually rare
  • But this doesn’t mean that peasants do not resist authority or that they accept the government or upper classes as legitimate
  • Rather they tend to engage in “everyday forms of peasant resistance”
everyday forms of resistance
Everyday Forms of Resistance
  • Examples:
    • Foot dragging
    • False compliance
    • Feigned ignorance
    • Manipulation
    • Flight
    • Slander
    • Theft
    • Arson
    • Sabotage
    • Murder passed off as crime

Everyday resistance stops short of overt resistance (such as rebellion)

  • Under most circumstances rebellion could be suicidal
  • Those who practice it try to hide their resistance
  • Relies upon a “conspiracy of silence”
  • But everyday resistance can undermine the goals and plans of states and authorities
a challenge to dominant ideology
A Challenge to Dominant Ideology
  • Everyday forms of resistance represent a challenge to the dominant ideology that is used to justify the repression of peasants
  • But peasants don’t accept this
  • No “false consciousness”
  • Instead they see through the ideology used to repress them
how effective is everyday resistance
How Effective is Everyday Resistance?
  • Three main advantages
    • Can help peasants enhance their material welfare
    • As more and more participate in everyday resistance, it can erode unpopular laws, norms, practices or policies and in the extreme can even erode the regime
    • Practices of everyday resistance can lay the groundwork for more overt resistance
everyday vs outright resistance
Everyday vs. Outright Resistance
  • Everyday
    • Desertion
    • Squatting
    • Pilfering graineries
  • Outright
    • Mutiny
    • Public land invasions
    • Open attack on markets
why it goes undetected
Why it goes undetected
  • Everyday resistance is small scale
  • Covert
  • Relies on cooperation of others
important forms of everyday peasant resistance
Important forms of everyday peasant resistance
  • Poaching
    • Most common crime in England for hundreds of years
    • Originated as a subsistence strategy
    • Became illegal because of changes in property rights laws
    • Capital offense (“Black Act”)
    • Peasants were complicit in poaching – by refusing to testify against poachers or even identify them
tax resistance
Tax resistance
  • Very common form of resistance to Islamic tithe in Malaysia.
    • Originally were voluntary, but then made mandatory by the state
    • Strategies:
      • Refusing to register cultivated acreage with tithe agent
      • Underreporting cultivated acreage
      • Delivering less rice than required
      • Handing over grain of poor quality
results of tax resistance
Results of Tax Resistance
  • Actual percentage of tithe paid 2% (as opposed to the 10% mandated by law)
  • At an individual level may seem insignificant
  • When occurs in mass numbers can undermine armies
  • In the American civil war, poor white farmers deserted in mass numbers from the Confederate Army
kerkvliet discussion questions
Kerkvliet discussion questions
  • What are everyday politics?
  • Why are they important or powerful?
  • Why were collectives implemented in Vietnam starting in the 1950s?
  • How was collectivization viewed early on by villagers?
  • What were the problems with it? (no incentive to work hard, no disincentive for bad farming, collective property not well cared for, living conditions stagnated, administrative deadweight, undermined family as production unit)

How did peasants respond to collectivization?

  • How did central authorities view the performance of the collectives?
  • As we move into the 1980s what do we see happening in the agricultural sector in terms of state policy?
  • How can we interpret these changes?
  • What can this process tell us about state-society relations?

How might things have been different if it were an organized group of peasants trying to resist collective farming?


How is rightful resistance different from everyday politics or everyday resistance?

  • What kind of claims is rightful resistance based upon?
  • How does rightful resistance work?
  • What are some examples of rightful resistance?
  • What changes have made rightful resistance possible?