THE CONCEPT OF PEASANT REVOLT IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

Tony Day, Craig J. Reynolds

Abstract


Although James C. Scott may well be right in asserting that "the peasantry, not the proletariat, has constituted the decisive social base of most, if not all, successful twentieth-century revolutions",! it is still not clear what relevance the concept or the practice of "revolution" has to the history of the still largely peasant societies of Southeast Asia. Vietnam offers the only example of what Scott or more recently E.J. Hobsbawm would call a 'revolution'. In every other place and event in Southeast Asian history, notwithstanding the implicit claims put forth by book titles such as Ileto's Pasyon and Revolution or Anderson's Java in a Time of Revolution, some other term, such as 'revolt', 'insurgency', or 'nationalist movement', seems adequate to describe what in one respect or another is a failure of 'revolution' to occur. The failure of subordinate groups to change definitively the political and social structure of society in Java in the late 1940s or in the Philippines at the end of the nineteenth century, marks these episodes as having been less than fully 'revolutionary'. Hobsbawm's comment that 'great revolutions' involve the emergence of "state power devoted to creating a 'new framework' and orientation for its society"2 can only be applied ironically to the authoritarian, modernizing, neo-colonial states of Southeast Asia today. But the historical problem may not simply be that revolutions fail to occur in Southeast Asia. The term 'revolution' itself may fail to represent adequately the nature of significant change in the region.

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