Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Samuel Popkin. 1979. The Rational Peasant: The Political Economy of Rural Society in Vietnam

Samuel Popkin. 1979. The Rational Peasant: The Political Economy of Rural Society in Vietnam. Berkeley: University of California Press. Chapter 2 (“The Political Economy of Peasant Society”), particularly pp. 35-72 (“Villages”).

Protests are collective actions and depend on the ability of a group or class to organize and make demands. Many movements are a reflection of peasants' growing ability to organize and struggle for rights and privileges previously denied them. Peasant struggles are frequently battles to tame markets and bureaucracies and not movements to restore "traditional" systems.

There is evidence of the struggle to minimize individual shares of external demands on the village in the tax burdens as well as military draft. Tax systems usually emphasized equal payments by all without standard deductions, floors, or progressive rules. It was also common for labor demands and military drafts to be pushed onto the poorer villagers.

The use of common resources was often restricted to the more privileged or well-endowed villagers. Evidence shows that in times of economic need, poorer peasants did not receive welfare from the village, but were instead excluded from it altogether. In many places smallholders, cotters, landless laborers, lodgers, servants and hired hands were excluded from active participation in the management of the community and the privileges that accompanied participation.

Limited and specified reciprocities, low levels of welfare and insurance, and the prevalence of market-determined credit rates (usury for the landless), all challenged the basis of moral economy claims about village welfare and insurance systems. This means that the decay of traditional welfare functions under the stress of capitalism and colonialism does not alone account for the rise of new political and religious movements.

Officeholding offers power, prestige, and a way to make money or protect fortunes; village council members can collude with one another to their common advantage at the expense of the village.The feasts and expenditures required of officials are investments, the costs of which prevent many villagers from assuming and role in village leadership or decision-making, but the investment oftentimes pays off.

Dependence of a tenant on a landlord meant subjugation; it is not the case that if a patron guarantees the traditional subsistence level, peasants will cede him continuous legitimacy. Subsistence was not fixed at a culturally given level; economic shares are based on the terms of exchange and protest frequently occurs when the balance of exchange is improving in favor of the tenant.

The state and the open market can be allies to tenants against the monopoly of power help by landlords. The growth of the market economy does not necessarily result in a decline in peasant welfare.

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