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Nigel Harris

Rural Protest

(June 1975)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.79, June 1975, p.40.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Rural Protest: Peasant Movements and Social Change
edited by Henry Landsberger
Macmillan, £8.00

MARXISTS have always argued that industrial workers must play the decisive role in the achievement of socialism, and that therefore socialism was impossible before the creation of capitalism and a working class. Many socialists and revolutionaries do not agree. Revolution, they say, derives from oppression, and the world’s peasantry has always been more oppressed than the working class. To the Marxist case that there is a fundamental conflict of interest between a worker and a peasant, the non-Marxists reply either that there are only ‘people’ (workers and peasants are the same), or that workers are indeed different: they are corrupted, and a part of the privileged ruling class.

How far does this collection of essays help us in answering some of these questions? It includes ten contributions which the editor aims to measure against the same set of questions. In the first chapter, he lays out the questions, before other authors try to answer them in the rest of the book. In Part 1, we are concerned with the European peasantry in the Middle Ages, the 1381 English peasant rebellion, social banditry, rural anarchism in 1873 Spain, and the Pugachev revolt in Tsarist Russia. Part 2 examines peasant politics in Eastern Europe between the wars, and in Poland from 1895. Part 3 discusses peasants and nationalism in the rest of the world since the second World War. The scope is vast and the results very patchy. Some of the pieces on European history are good and very illuminating, but the closer the book gets to the present, the less satisfactory it becomes. Part 3 is awful – to have one contribution on the peasant movements of Asia and North Africa since the war is a piece of impudence that is quite breathtaking. It has nothing at all to say which is either new or instructive. The last piece on Mexico and Bolivia is interesting, but too slight to do much.

So we do not get much further forward in terms of the contemporary scene, although there is much of value on the past in Europe. But the price is prohibitive.

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Last updated: 16.2.2008