In his discussion, Eric Wolf discusses the conditions that beset peasants for them to engage in a revolution. According to the author, it is not often that peasants engage in rebellions and revolutions as the peasants experience difficulty in moving from passive recognition of wrongs to actively participation of the peasants in the fight to set the wrongs right. Wolf argues that the three crises that jolt the peasants to defend their ways of live are demographic, ecological, and authority. Despite the occurrence of the three crises, Wolf proceeds to argue that there are other outlying factors that determine the type of peasants who are involved in a rebellion or a revolution. This discussion takes a key interest in Wolf’s description of tactics, motivations, and profiles which are analysed in contrast to Azuela’s description of the Mexican Revolution in the work The Underdogs.
Wolf argues that the peasants who are involved in revolutions are those in the periphery or what he terms as middle-peasants. These are peasants with access to their own land and often produce for subsistence. According to Wolf, the poor peasants cannot rebel as they are in a position of complete impotence and subject to the demands of necessity (Wolf 176). The poor peasants are often powerless victims and easy targets of political misdoings. As a result, the peasants who are needed for a successful revolution are those who have little tactical control of their resources as it establishes grounds for effective political leverage. From Azuela’s description of the Mexican revolution, is clear that Demetri and his band of rebels and men are middle peasants as it is shown that Demetri owns a dog and food supplies when soldiers kill his dog and demand food from his wife (Azuela 2). Other members of his rebel group also indicate that they also have experienced losses that prompt them to join the rebellion, such as Pancracio. As a result, Wolf’s description of the type of peasants involved in a rebellion is fulfilled in Azuela’s description of the Mexican revolution.
Wolf also argues that peasants alone do not understand the political dynamics and need a counter elite who guides them for their revolution to be successful. The counter elites are officials and professionals who are caught between the rural peasant life and the urban settings. These counter elites act as the revolutionary leaders and they have an intricate understanding of the political sphere that enables them to ensure successful revolutions. In the case of Azuela’s description of Mexican revolution, General Natera comes out as the counter elite as he showcases intellect and ideological commitment to the revolution. Demetri and his band of rebels go and join General Natera’s men in order to fight for his principles which they themselves do not understand.
The other argument by Wolf is that in the case of a rebellion, the peasants need a change in the mindset of the world in which they inhabit (Wolf 180). The peasants need better understanding of their world in order to deeply engage in the revolution. In Azuela’s description of the Mexican revolution, a change in mindset among the peasants was tumultuous. As a result, the peasants in the rebellion were ready to move from their confines of subsistence existence to the larger world of political involvement. However, Demetri’s final question of what they were fighting for casts a shadow on how much of shift in mindset had occurred and if all they wanted was the reversion to their subsistent lives.
Azuela, Mariano. "The Underdogs (Los de Abajo, 1916)." Tr. by E. Munguia. New York: Brentano's (1929).
Wolf, Eric R. "Peasants and revolution." Revolutions: Theoretical, Comparative and Historical Studies (1986): pp.173-182.