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Title: The political and economical roles of the cocoa leaf during the Peruvian transition towards agrarian capitalism
Author: Woods, J. Craig
ISNI:       0000 0004 2704 8282
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis attempts to demonstrate that the transition towards agrarian capitalism, whereupon small peasant farmers are relegated to the dustbin of history either through social differentiation (capitalism from below) or widespread dispossession (capitalism from above), cannot be considered as a process that occurs in a manner as determined as is commonly supposed. To exemplify this malaise in the theoretical literature concerning the 'agrarian question', the various historical and contemporary relations of production surrounding only one crop have been chosen as the object of focus. The coca leaf is the perfect exemplar of the redundancy of economic determinism. During the early colonial period there was no crop cultivated in the whole of South America that g~nerated anywhere near the same levels of profit as the coca leaf, and for which indigenous people in the mountains would risk their lives by descending to the disease infested lower altitudes on the eastern Andes to join the labour force engaged in its cultivation on large estates. Furthermore, to an almost unrecognised degree, indigenous communities would also rapidly expand their own independent levels of production so as to participate in the colonial coca 'boom'. Additionally, miners in Potosi and elsewhere eagerly parted with their share of ore in exchange for coca. As such, no other crop acted as a better medium for the introduction of indigenous peoples in South America to a monetary economy and the initial stages towards agrarian capitalism. This 'boom' came to an end in the seventeenth century on account of the abhorrent levels of depopulation, overproduction and the depletion of the mines. The second coca 'boom' occurred in the late nineteenth century on account of the industrially developed world's sudden fascination for the medicinal properties of cocaine hydrochloride following its isolation from the leaf in the mid nineteenth century. In a country that was suffering from the ravages of a very recently lost war with Chile, many people placed their hopes on cocaine to act as a means by which Peru could begin to produce and export a widely sought value-added product and thereby modernise the economy. Again, independent peasant farmers rapidly flocked to areas where markets for coca were emerging but unfortunately for them, and those engaged in the later stages of cocaine hydrochloride's production process, this second coca boom was short lived. Nevertheless, where coca was being cultivated for the traditional market on the feudal haciendas in La Convenci6n (Cuzco), employing a unique hybridization of feudal labour relations, coca came to form the predominant economic basis upon which a rural petty bourgeois emerged that were no longer willing to have their economic interests constrained by these feudal obligations. After the serfs of La Convenci6n had successfully revolted, it was less than a decade before agrarian reforms were implemented throughout the country, thereby bringing an end to feudalism. As such, coca did eventually serve as the basis upon which the Peruvian economy modernised, although not in the manner that had been originally envisaged by the coastal elites. Thus, just when it appeared that Peru was following some strange variant of eastern and western European 'paths' to agrarian capitalism, coca played a disproportionately important role in confounding the classical preconceptions of political economists. Following the expropriation of the haciendas of La Convenci6n, and their unequal distribution among the erstwhile serfs, the stage appeared to be set for the initiation of the 'capitalism from below' type of transition towards agrarian capitalism. However, rather than a minority of wealthy farmers emerging at the expense of a gradually proletarianized landless mass, the coca producers in La Convenci6n reverted to the utilisation of precapitalistic reciprocal labour relations that is only supported by waged labour when no other option is available. Meanwhile, for producers of coca operating within the illegal economy, not only has the cultivation of coca emerged as something of a last bastion of peasant farming but the full development of the 'capitalism from below' path is circumscribed by the inability of farmers to reinvest profits to expand production beyond a certain level. Therefore again, the cultivation of coca serves as an anomaly among classical conceptions of transitions towards agrarian capitalism.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available