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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.1 (2002) 185-187

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Book Review

The Seed Was Planted:
The São Paulo Roots of Brazil's Rural Labor Movement, 1924-1964

The Seed Was Planted: The São Paulo Roots of Brazil's Rural Labor Movement, 1924-1964. By CLIFF WELCH. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999 . Photographs. Maps. Tables. Figures. Appendix. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xxi, 412 pp. Cloth, $65 .00 . Paper, $25.00.

Cliff Welch takes on a worthy and challenging topic in The Seed Was Planted. He attempts to write the history of rural labor in São Paulo during a formative period in the state's and nation's industrial relations system. Moreover, he has chosen a state, which, despite its massive agricultural output, is more studied for its industrial than rural workers when questions of labor are addressed. Welch has two provocative theses in the book: first, that recent rural protests throughout Brazil can trace their genesis back to São Paulo in the 1924 -64 period; and, second, that the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) was the vanguard of rural organizing and protest in the period studied and is thus the progenitor of recent rural activism by the Workers Party (PT).

Welch has set himself a difficult task. Because there is so little written on rural labor movements in Brazil, he was forced to provide the basic chronology of events, in addition to analyzing them. There is not a broad literature on the PCB in the rural sector, and much of what we have is on the northeast. Welch therefore had to study the PCB's goals and policies as well as how militants actually operated in the field. He also had to examine the lives of the state's rural workers and how they reacted to PCB militants and their politics.

Given the difficulties of navigating among all the requirements of analyzing São Paulo's rural labor movement, Welch was forced to focus on only a few aspects of the topic. He chose to make the book a political rather than a social history. That is, Welch has written a history of PCB organizing in São Paulo. This is a welcome addition to the literature, given the focus on the PCB's activities in the urban setting. But the book's concentration on party activists tells us little about how they and their politics were received by the state's rural workers. The decision to focus almost exclusively on PCB militants prevents Welch from studying the lives of rural people or providing much information about how they viewed politics. Instead, he relies on a series of oral histories with former PCB militants to analyze how these outsiders looked at work and politics. This leads Welch to reproduce the PCB's perspectives on rural folk. He conflates or massifies all paulista agrarian life into the world of the "rural worker."

Although Welch notes that work and land tenure patterns differed by region within the state, he treats all his subjects as undifferentiated proletarians. He ignores differences in experiences, aspirations, resources, and so forth between those who had a stake in a particular piece of land (for example, people involved in the colonato) and day laborers or migrants. There is no analysis of the work itself. He primarily studies the coffee economy in and around Ribeirão Preto and seems [End Page 185] to generalize all rural life and work from that one region. He largely ignores, for example, sugarcane production until the very end of the study. There is no mention of how harvests of different crops (coffee, sugarcane, oranges) may have affected organizing and protest activities. There are no discussions of migrations to and from the urban sector. There are no discussions of family labor arrangements or of issues related to gender. Welch does not analyze differences among workers, by nationality. The state's massive Japanese population is mentioned once as potential strike breakers, and differences between Italian immigrants and Brazilian nationals are not mentioned at...


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pp. 185-187
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Archived 2004
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