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CHAPTER VII Who RisksChange? INTRODUCTION The analysis in this book has viewed certain inward-oriented peasant villages as effective political and social units. As such, the local community delimited the actions of the individual. The peasant was a person within a polity which had a system of justice and a distribution of values, not at all identical with those of society as a whole. The community had norms and sanctions which made the peasant, whatever his resources, less than an unimpeded actor. The community, then, is a key intervening variable when one attempts to assess who inno­ vates, when, and how. Each village's particular social and political organization related to a wide variety of factors that the community faced —from the insecurity of relations with other classes to the tensions generated within the villageitself. As economic crises plagued the community, the political and social organization did not simply disintegrate in their wake. Peasants did not suddenly find themselves unhindered to seek means of increas­ ing income through outside market involvement. Rather, each social and political organization presented paths and obstacles for the peasants as they faced these crisis-producing forces. The actual results of the interaction process between such village social and political organization and externally gen­ erated forces may be quite diverse. They ranged from the totally tragic to cases where peasants seemed little harmed by the interaction. TRIUMPH OF OUTWARD-ORIENTED FORCES THE INTERACTION OF VILLAGE ORGANIZATION AND EXTERNAL FORCES Some of the most tragic cases have come with outside changes in the land tenure system. In nineteenth century Mexico, for example, the Indians faced disastrous consequences when laws were passed that made the political and social organiza­ tion of villages impotent in insulating and defending the peas­ ants against rapacious outsiders for the Ley de desamortizacion (Law of Expropriations) in 1857 resulted in all com­ munal property being granted to the individual Indians hold­ ing the different plots. With the most basic function of the communal social and political organization, that of land con­ trol, no longer possible, there was an undermining of the sys­ tem of distribution of justice within the villages. The result was that the Indians, dealing in a system of private ownership with which they were unfamiliar, were easily exploited by ready speculators and hacendados. "By 1910 less than I per­ cent of the families of Mexico controlled 85 percent of the land, and 90 percent of the villages and towns on the central plateau had almost no communal land."1 Village independ­ ence was replaced by near serfdom on haciendas located on former village communal lands. Such changes in the system of land tenure have had simi­ larly pernicious effects in other places as well.2 In Saucio, Colombia, the "liberal" laws of the Spaniards which opened the village to private ownership resulted in increased frag1 Robert A. White, S.J., "Mexico: The Zapata Movement and the Revolution," in Latin American Peasant Movements, ed. Henry A. Landsberger (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969), p. 115. 2 Eric R. Wolf, Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), pp. 277-278, cites changes in the land tenure system as one of the most dislocating experiences to the peasant and to peasant social organization. Also see Samuel P. Hun­ tington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), pp. 296-297. WHO RISKS CHANGE? mentation of the land and the selling of plots by hard-pressed peasants.3 Richard N. Adams writes of some cases in Guate­ mala that political action, initiated outside the community, brought about a destruction of or violent alterations in the socio­ political structure (whether purely Indian or Ladino-Indian ) and with this change, the Indian's resistance to culture change began to disintegrate. His insulation was gone.4 In the Middle East, the Law of Tapu in 1858 and in Bolivia, the Laws of Ex-Vinculation had a similar effect of giving large landowners an opportunity to create, new kinds of inequal­ ities.5 In all these cases, those groups outside the village, ready and willing to exploit the new laws, were powerful and quite near at hand. They simply overwhelmed the village social and political organization. Because these new forces were exter­ nally applied and did not result from any building pressures from within the peasant community itself due to long-growing economic crises, there was little chance for any individual peasants to use the new laws for their...


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