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Peasants and Peasantry

Phases Of Historical Study

Meanwhile, in world history in general, the peasantry long occupied the attention of economists, political scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists. The first phase of scholarly interest in the peasantry began with classical economists, such as Adam Smith (1723–1790), who recognized rural workers as a group, but one that was insignificant in the evolving division of labor that he was interested in. Later, Karl Marx also recognized the presence and importance of peasants, but he, too, dismissed them as an economically and politically backward and doomed class, destined to fall into one of the two antagonistic classes of capitalism, namely, the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. Where Smith and Marx had treated peasants as a homogenous mass, the Russian theorist and revolutionary Vladimir Lenin highlighted the existence of peasant class differentiation, identifying three layers, namely, rich, middle, and poor peasants, according to land area, capital accumulation, and wage or family labor and sought to analyze their role in the twin processes of industrialization and socialist revolution.

The second phase of scholarly attention to the peasantry began in the 1960s and 1970s, mainly due to peasant political activism and insurgence in Africa evident in the anticolonial struggles throughout the continent, and in Asia in the form of the Vietnam War and the Chinese Cultural Revolution following the Chinese Revolution of 1949. This second phase is characterized by revived and growing interest by Western anthropologists in the rituals, social structures, and belief systems of peasant societies and the place of poor agricultural areas at the periphery in the world capitalist system with its center in the developed countries. It was a time of peasant activism in the immediate aftermath of the Cuban Revolution in Latin America that led to agrarian reforms that undermined the latifundio agrarian structure in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and other countries. It was also the period characterized by scholarly debates on "articulation of modes of production," of development economists and donor agencies promoting the green revolution and encouraging peasants to participate fully in the world market in the belief that this would modernize "smallholder" agriculture and make rural producers full participants in the world economy.

Meanwhile, the development economists' optimism was countered by some scholars who pointed out that peasants would forever remain exploited because of the problems of declining terms of trade and "unequal exchange." Faced with the failure of the peasantry in the developing world to rise to expectations by raising their food productivity despite the efforts of development specialists to diffuse modern production values to them, Western governments began to blame this on developing country governments' flawed food pricing policies and inefficient marketing structures and to call for economic structural adjustment programs in order to correct these ills. These programs, sponsored by multilateral financial agencies, by ending government subsidies to the agricultural sector, worsened the plight of the peasantry at a time when the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) had exposed peasants to the harsh environment of international market forces.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Overdamped to PeatPeasants and Peasantry - Defining The Modern Peasantry, Phases Of Historical Study, Historical Precedents, Bibliography