Get complete information on the definition and identifying the problems of peasantry

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A peasant is an agricultural worker who subsists by working a small plot of ground. The word is derived from 15th century French peasant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district (when the Roman Empire became Christian, these outlying districts were “pagan,” that is, not Christian).

The term peasant today is sometimes used in a pejorative sense for impoverished farmers. Peasants typically make up the majority of the agricultural labour force in a Pre-industrial society, dependent on the cultivation of their land: without stockpiles of provisions they thrive or starve according to the most recent harvest. The majority of the people in the middle Ages were peasants.

Pre- industrial societies have diminished with the advent of globalization and as such there are considerably fewer peasants to be found in rural areas throughout the world (as a proportion of the total world population). Though “peasant” is a word of loose application, once a market economy has – taken root the term peasant proprietors is frequently used to describe the traditional rural population in countries where the land is chiefly held by smallholders.

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It is sometimes used by people who consider themselves of higher class as slang to refer pejoratively to those of poorer education who come from a lower income background.

Support networks. Especially in harder climates, members of the community who have a poor harvest or suffer some form of hardship will be taken care of by the rest of the community.

Peasant societies can often have very stratified social hierarchies within them. Rural people often have very different values and economic behavior from urbanites, and tend to be more conservative. Peasants are often very loyal to inherited power structures that define their rights and privileges and protect them from interlopers, despite their low status within those power structures.

Fernand Braudel devoted the first volume-called The Structures of Everyday Life-of his major work, Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th Century to the largely silent and invisible world that existed below the market economy. Since it was the literate classes who left the most records, and these tended to dismiss peasants as figures of coarse appetite and rustic comedy, the term “peasant” may have a pejorative rather than descriptive connotation in historical memory.

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Society was theorized as being organized into three “estates”: those who work, those who pray, and those who fight in a barter economy, peasants characteristically have a different attitude to work from people in a money economy.

Nonetheless not all the categories can be called peasantry. There are rural categories like farmers and landless labourers. The farmer for example exploits alternative uses of factors of production and is always in search of maximum returns and is subjected to market risk. A shift from the peasant to farmer is not only psychological but also materialistic one. However he becomes another name for peasant as he is also linked to the land.

Agricultural labourers can also be included in the category of peasantry for the simple reason that their involvement in the development of land and its allied products is as important a matter to them as those who own and cultivate the land. The land constitutes a common denominator and any change whether social, economic or technological will affect both the owner/cultivator and the agricultural labourers.

A landless labourer is different from the peasantry for the reason that he is psychologically and behaviourally different. He would prefer standardized wages, standard working hours, adequate educational and medical facilities, and increase in purchasing power.

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Even tribals are treated as peasantry, especially those who have settled down for a long time in a particular area and have been working on the land. Any change in the land structure also effects them equally.

Categories Peasantry

There are large numbers of categories within the peasantry: Small, big, rich, middle, marginal etc. This heterogeneity of categories is done depending upon the economic position including the land holding of the peasantry. Marxists like Engels for example include the classes of feudal peasants, tenants and poor peasants and farm labourers, who respectively perform corvee service to their land lords, make payments of higher rents, cultivate and own small patches of lands.

In a situation of revolution in Russia, Lenin classified the peasantry into five categories- middle, rich, small, agricultural proletariat and semi proletariat. The agricultural labourers were identified as those categories living on hiring out their labour. The semi proletariat were those owning small patches of land, and partly working as wage labourers; small peasants are tenant holders, and living on hiring out their labour. The big peasant, a category of capitalist entrepreneur employing considerable labour. He identified rich with “Kulaks” who are reactionary too. However, the middle peasant is a self supporting, oscillating category who would in due course either be pushed to the ranks of rich peasantry or proletariat category.

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In a situation of revolution in China, Mao classified the peasantry into landlord, middle peasantry, poor peasantry and workers. However he did not use the category of capitalist landlords as it was either too weak or was unable to assert itself as a strong force. The landlord is a semi-entrepreneur who exploits the others by extracting rents. Even though middle peasants can not exploit the labour of others, however this is not the case with well to do peasants. The poor peasants sell their labour power and are subjected to the exploitation through rent, and interest on loan. But workers live by hiring out their labour.

In the Indian situation the same problems are prevailing mainly due to cultural diversities, differences in agrarian structures, land holdings and also due to the prevalence of numerous castes in India. In the Indian context broadly three categories can be made: Maliks, consisting of large absentee land lords and small proprietors who exploit the tenants and sub-tenants by means of rents; Kisans who consist of small land owners and subsistence tenants having property interests and finally Mazdoors who include poor tenants and landless labourers who live on selling of their labour.

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