America needs more peasants
By JEFF LANGAN
Student activists have recently raised concerns about sweatshops. Sweatshops, they tell us, are nothing but trouble. But if sweatshops are a problem, they only point to a deeper problem, capitalism. Progressives and liberals have shown themselves, for better or for worse, unable to break capitalism's grip on American life. Neither political party nor most of you opposing sweatshops are willing to buck the capitalist system, so sweatshops go on. The real solution is the resurgence of peasantry in America.
Peasants, you will say, are ignorant. Our forefathers and mothers came here to get away from their lifestyle. Nevertheless, in the age of alternative lifestyles, the peasant lifestyle has often been overlooked. Peasants, you will say, are medieval, rude, dirty, stubborn and, worst of all evils, insensitive. They are all that, but they also own land. Their attachment to the land gives them a view on life, along with a certain liberty, that immunizes them from things like political correctness. It also keeps them independent of political parties who are on the dole. The peasant lifestyle is the real alternative to savage capitalism.
The real problem with capitalism is that it leads to the centralization of wealth and power. This leads to abuses akin to the ones our friendly protesters think occur in sweatshops. Of course, their solution, protesting, does nothing to actually make the lives of the oppressed any better. Once the sweatshops are closed down, the workers will go on to become migrant farmers, or some other under the table transitory cog in the capitalist machine. Meanwhile, wealth will continue to concentrate, power will further centralize and monopolies will continue to grow.
In fact, the solution of the sweatshop protesters would only further exacerbate the problem of the workers. They would probably be willing to advocate some form of socialist style government program to alleviate the situation of the workers, but this solution again fails to give the workers more liberty. The socialist alternative only further concentrates wealth and power into the hands of fewer people. Instead of being oppressed by the man, the worker becomes a puppet of the state.
At this point, politicians remain unwilling to really do anything about the workers in the sweatshops, and why should they? Who keeps the politicians in office? Besides the Chinese, Hollywood, Wall Street and big corporations seem to be doing a fine job of that. Do we need to do away with Hollywood, Wall Street and big corporations? Outside of our own refusal to buy products from Wal-Mart, I do not see a way out of the current problem.
Nevertheless, we could do much to encourage a significant minority of the population to become peasants. Many of the people who end up working in sweatshops, for example, would be more than happy if they were given 10 or so acres in small town, U.S.A. They could use their little farm to grow food, raise chickens and sell homemade products in the local market. We could even offer the same option to many of the current slum dwellers in the big cities, and the homeless, too, for that matter.
Of course, this would have to be a voluntary program. Some of the larger landowners would have to agree to sell part of their land to those who are, at the moment, not so well off, but the banks are always able to work something out. Perhaps we could make yet another loophole in the tax law that would allow for significant tax write-offs for the wealthy who finance a small farm or two. There are so many loopholes for them as it is, what's one more.
So, what's the payoff? Peasants would provide this nation with a real cultural, political and economic alternative to the status quo. Peasants depend on the land, not capital. They will still grow their food in a recession. Money is not their only concern. Yes the peasant life is a difficult one, but I fail to see how it is more difficult than the life of a homeless man sleeping on concrete every night, or the life of a migrant worker or a worker in a sweatshop, who never have the security that the house they live in, the land they live on, or the tools they work with are their own.
Moreover, a peasant class would offer political benefits. In every country that traditionally had a peasant class, the major parties or wealthier classes had to accommodate the peasant class to keep power or prevent revolutions. The peasant culture would also be an alternative to the current superficial sex-crazed culture that America is pushing all around the world. Peasants have their own traditions of song, dance and entertainment that would add to the cultural diversity in this country.
So perhaps the PSA should change its name. The progressive movement, which has really been in action for a hundred years, is a zero. It has probably brought further centralization of power and wealth, and has left capitalism, its main foe, healthier and happier than ever. The progressive student alliance needs a new cause.
May I suggest the Peasant Student Alliance?
Jeff Langan is a graduate student in the department of government and international studies. His column usually appears every other Friday. He can be reached at Jeffrey.J.Langan.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Monday, September 20, 1999