Revolution Through the Lens of Agricultural Industrialization
The revolutions in Cuba, Mexico and Brazil Bahia as described and detailed in the three text From slavery to freedom in Brazil Bahia, 1835-1900 by Dale Torston Graden, Insurgent Cuba race, nation and revolution, 1868-1898 by Ada Ferrer and The Mexican Revolution: 1910-1940 Dialogos Series, 12 by Michael j. Gonzales all tell varied stories regarding the thematic development of revolution and change. Each has a different story to tell about labor, free and slave, politics, race and freedom yet underlying each of these themes is a current that is not only consistent but largely underdeveloped. This theme is agricultural and its changing labor and production practices. This work will analyze and compare the treatment of agriculture as a theme associated with each local. Each nation demonstrates the story of profiteering through agriculture in varied ways, and the rejection of it.
In each work a large group of individuals was exploited in some manner by agricultural practices. These agricultural practices and the labor utilized to develop them were exploitative and developed for the profit of the elite. The laboring classes, no matter their origin, be it slaves forcibly imported from Africa or Indigenous peoples were not offered the opportunity to labor to grow their own food and develop their own livelihoods. Instead they were forced through legal means and/or necessity to labor for the profit of others in agricultural endeavors that were far different from the subsistence agriculture they had known before.
In Brazil Bahia, the largest entrance point of African slaves in the Americas slaves were the main labor force producing all the regional colonial profit crops; sugar, coffee, tobacco and even cocoa. (Torston Graden xix) In Mexico indigenous peoples were forced by necessity to stop their own agricultural and other subsistence endeavors to work on the land of the elite (both foreign and domestic) who usurped their own ability to subsist by changing the land and planting cash crops like corn and sugar. (Gonzales I) While in Cuba enslaved Africans labored on sugar plantations, which were still in operation long after the revolutions of other colonial strongholds had forced their end. (Ferrer 1-2)
So in many ways one can look at the three nations and the strife associated with each as a revolution of agriculture, as cash crops replaced subsistence agriculture and those who labored on these cash crops were exploited to varying degrees into complete and total dependence upon the individuals and/or groups whose main goal was to strip the process of every penny of profit for their own use. Some might argue that looking at these varied revolutions through the development of agriculture is flawed in that each form of agriculture exposed ultimately resulted from direct colonial influence or indirect colonial examples and therefore colonialism and its profit making ways is the theme in question. Yet each of these examples also demonstrates the development of agricultural themes and practices, some of which are still dominating the regions in question and many postcolonial societies in general, namely the development of unsustainable agriculture, monoculture for transport and profit. (Gonzales 28) (Ferrer 28, 160) (Torston Graden xx, 214) Until such time as the laborers were allowed to rekindle the traditional forms of agriculture of the region, such as subsistence agriculture with the diversity associated with provisional agriculture as a means to produce locally everything that a family and/or a region needs, independent of cash each region was encapsulated fully in the possibility of revolution. (Torston Graden 214)
When historians look back on revolution they often point to it as a product of politics, laws, regime change, violence and to some extent the attempted attainment of rights and/or freedoms of a disenfranchised, often majority population. These issues are significant, and are often the underlying fabric of revolution and change yet they are also themes associated with colonial ideals of dominance and political control. Politics are variable and ever changing in most cultures, which is true in all three of the examples in these works. Laws are only a very small aspect of real social, political and economic change as; one they often serve as outcomes to change rather than the reverse, two they rarely dictate actual social change on the street level and three they often serve as a nominal capitulation on the part of the ruling government, party or elite body. Regime change can be a significant aspect of revolution as it is often a result of revolutionary actions but it also often followed by worse social, political and economic treatment of the peoples who usually fought to make it happen. Violence is usually fleeting and though meaningful and affective, especially on a personal/psychological of street level involvers and innocents it often serves only as a token of resentment. Lastly, the attainment of "ideals" like rights and/or freedoms of a disenfranchised population which are always ideals and usually dependant on every other aspect of the results of revolution, and especially those listed above. (Torston Graden xv,37, 45, 68, 127,) (Ferrer 109, 188) (Gonzales 73-75)
In Ferrer the concept of ideals is associated with Cuban nationalism but is described by the local level Spanish officials in ways that are completely contrary to the ideals of those who were at the seat of the revolution and who were actually the source of the so called nationalistic concepts;
In reporting on such incidents, local level Spanish officials drew attention to what they identified as the emergence among the people they governed of the sentiment of shared Cuban National itty, or lease a sentiment of shared identity in opposition to Spanish Authority. They identified the threat vaguely as "sentiment" but described it concretely, recounting periodic encounters, confrontations, and diatribes staged in small rural towns. What is striking in the complaints of the officials and in the behavior they described is that the statements made against Spain and its colonial intermediaries shared little in style in form, was national as writings coming out of Cuban and exile centers of intellectual and political activity. Unlike patriotic reading circulating in Havana and elsewhere in this period, the speeches, outbursts, and attitudes described above are not explicitly about the heroism and bravery of four or about abstract ideals of freedom or equality. (108-109)
In other words everything about the intellectual and social ideals associated with revolution, "freedom," "equality," "bravery" and "heroism" as well as the concept of nationalism is clearly subjective and varies in its real representation. There is in fact very little about revolution that usually ends up being an instantaneous betterment for those who have usually provided the greatest sacrifices associated with it. The kind of revolutions that have to take place to demonstrate real change for the people have to occur at a social and economic level quieter and yet infinitely more meaningful to the people on the ground.
One example of this sort of quiet revolution surrounding agriculture and the ability of individual men to have the right and freedom to feed their families on their own terms can be found in Torston Graden's work about Brazil where he says that;
Throughout the state, expansion of subsistence agriculture by former slaves represented an important social transformation in the aftermath of emancipation. Within a few days of emancipation, freedpersons sought access to land previously in excess bowl on which to cultivate food and other crops. One shocked in haven't noted that "armed freedman have returned [to the engenhos] demanding to remain on the property, without employment and without renting the land, not interested in any arrangement with the owner, only desires of the promised abolition of private property to the exclusive benefit of the freedman." (214)
In this statement there is a clear sense that regime change and changes in laws and standards associated with revolution were only the license that individuals needed to make a real change happen. The actual real change was the social and economic transformation that allowed freedmen to develop and cultivate land to feed themselves and their families in the "freedom" associated with subsistence agriculture. Some might also say that subsistence implies that individuals are not prospering but are simply getting by. Yet in reality local subsistence agriculture is one of the only forms of true freedom that was possible for these populations. Individuals in revolutions are often seeking the simple right and freedom associated with independence in a very practical sense, the independence to labor for their own subsistence and gain. In Gonzales' work he notes;
The unrelenting spread of sugar plantations had shattered villagers' economic subsistence and political autonomy. Their grievances against the regime festered, waiting to erupt. Revolutionary leadership numbers from within these communities whose cohesion was an "established ideal." In other regions of Mexico, preconditions for revolution also stemmed from rapid commercialization of agriculture but with significant variations. For example, planters in the Laguna region of North Central Mexico, bridging the states of Coahila and Durango, developed prosperous cotton a straight through massive irrigation projects modern technology and the…