Latin American Politics & Society 46.2 (2004) 176-181
[Access article in PDF]
Sinclair Thomson, We Alone Will Rule: Native Andean Politics in the Age of Insurgency. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002. Illustrations, maps, figures, bibliography, index, 399 pp; hardcover $55, paperback $24.95.
Sinclair Thomson has written a splendid book about one of the most important (and most neglected) periods of revolutionary mobilization in [End Page 176] the Atlantic world. As Thomson notes, the "age of revolution" historiography devotes little attention to the turbulent events of the late eighteenth century in the Andes, when a wave of indigenous rebellions threatened to topple the Spanish colonial state decades before the ("white") creole-led Wars of Independence. Though some social scientists outside the field of Latin American studies have noted the importance of these uprisings--Benedict Anderson, for example, observes in his influential Imagined Communities (1983) that indigenous rebellions of the 1780s, along with the slave uprisings of Saint Domingue in 1791, injected fear, caution, and conservatism into the nineteenth-century projects of "liberators" like Bolívar and San Martín--this dramatic period of contentious politics has, with few exceptions, not been part of the universe of cases with which scholars have theorized revolution or its mirror image, state formation.
As both a political history of local Andean community politics and a social and cultural history of anticolonial resistance, this book reveals just how much scholars have missed. To my eyes, which admittedly are more accustomed to political science than historiography, Thomson's book appears as a welcome work of Andean political history from above and below. It belongs in the tradition of such pathbreaking scholarship as that of Karen Spalding and Steve Stern, yet it also speaks to a broad, interdisciplinary audience. While Thomson, a historian at New York University, does not seek to craft new social scientific models or theories, his exploration of colonial Andean politics in what is today Bolivia and Peru is a thrilling example of comparative history, full of insights for all those interested in colonial rule, indigenous resistance, and (post)colonial statemaking.
The book tells its story not only from the vantage point of the colonial administrators and indigenous rebel leaders but, more impressively, from the perspective of local peasant communities that pushed and pulled at the colonial apparatus in a remarkable number of ways. The first part of the book is a detailed account of the "legitimacy crisis" that plagued a central institution of colonial politics, the cacicazgo, or office of the Indian community governor. Working from archival materials located in Bolivia, Argentina, and Spain, Thomson focuses mainly on Aymara communities in the region of La Paz to trace in vivid detail the decay of cacique rule. As this institution was both an extension of Indian nobility and part of the Spanish system of indirect rule, historians have long noted the Janus-faced nature of cacicazgo as a structure of representation and mediation. While building on earlier efforts, Thomson argues that scholars have neglected the crucial issue of the political decline of this institution in the decades before the uprisings of the 1780s.
While Thomson, as a good historian, is nervous about providing a single, sweeping explanation for a dynamic and variegated Andean [End Page 177] world, one could say without distorting his story too much that caciques fell into crisis largely because their communities saw them as serving outside interests rather than local communal ones. The crisis became particularly acute as Spanish agents implemented the repartimiento de mercancías, or forced distribution of goods. As caciques became part of an increasingly unjust system of economic extraction, forcing peasants not only to provide labor and tribute but also to purchase overpriced and inferior products, communities began to turn against their caciques. One local Aymara peasant, speaking of his cacique, put the point in no uncertain terms: "He does not defend the Indians of his moiety; instead he has rebelled against them" (p. 105).
It is worth noting in passing that one of the strengths of the book is the clarity...