- Pakistan’s Elections
- Tolstoy and Urbanization
- Oscar Lewis
Teheran, December 27, 1970
Last July the FAO’s director general, Dr. Addeke H. Boerma, warned the Second World Food Congress as quoted in a previous newsletter – that unless the agricultural revolution in the poor countries was carefully managed the result might be “a conflagration of violence that would sweep through millions of lives.”
What is happening now in West Pakistan, the show piece and trail blazer in the so-called “green revolution” in dwarf strains of wheat end rice and fertilization, is a case in point.
I have just completed a two-week visit to West Pakistan, which I frequently covered as a Delhi-based correspondent in the early sixties but had not visited since 1964. My intention was to spend some days in the village where the subjects of my study of the green revolution on the Indian side of the Punjab plain – Charan and his Sikh community – had lived before India was partitioned in 1947. I assumed quite mistakenly – that little had changed in six years and had almost reached the village near the university town of Lyallpur before I was discouraged from going further on the grounds it was not a good time to visit the Punjabi villages and for an American journalist might even be dangerous. Unfortunately, and quite by coincidence, I arrived in Karachi the day before Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and-his leftist Pakistan People’s Party swept West Pakistan in the first general elections in Pakistan’s 23-year history, virtually eliminating the conservative Islamic parties and surprising everybody.
Bhutto once studied at the University of California at Berkeley and as a former foreign minister steered Pakistan on its present coarse of friendship with China. He campaigned with sweeping, land-to-the-tiller promises to peasant tenants and landless laborers and with a call for confrontation with India over Kashmir. During the five-month campaign, he also frequently attacked, “imperialism” and “capitalism”‘ linking, as does China, Russia with America as an “imperialist” power. I was told many of his statements were specifically directed against the United States[Bhutto’s pro-Peking and anti-American stand appears to be based almost entirely on each country’s stand on the Kashmir issue.] Western press criticism of West Pakistan’s military leaders over their handling of the East Bengal cyclone relief operations, especially in Time and Newsweek, seemed also to have aroused considerable bitterness against foreign journalists (although some of the most angry letters to the newspapers denouncing the American press, I was told, originated at the Soviet Embassy.) This general atmosphere was not lightened when Bhutto, a day or two after his election victory, warned of a “foreign press conspiracy” against himself and his victorious party.
While Bhutto was hailed in the Pakistani press as the “unquestioned popular leader” of West Pakistan, he is still far from assuming the political power this would seem to imply. Sheikh Mujib-ur Rahman and his Awami League of East Pakistan, who campaigned on a straight regional autonomy issue, won a majority in the 313-seat constituent assembly which has three months to frame a new constitution. President Yahya Khan has stipulated that the constitution must establish a parliamentary form of government and that while it can give East Pakistan greater autonomy, it must not break up the country.
If all goes smoothly, Sheikh Mujib may emerge as Pakistan’s next prime minister by summer with Bhutto as leader of the opposition. (With both leading regional blocks, however, this could put an unbearable strain on a new parliament.)
Mujib, like Bhutto, is nominally a social democratic centrist. But, unlike Bhutto, his party routed a challenge from the maoist radical left rather than from the conservative Islamic right. Far from desiring, a confrontation with Kashmir, Mujib wants to restore trade with India which has been cut off since the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict. Moreover, with maoist extremists creating as much trouble in East as well as West Bengal and Calcutta, Mujib does not share Bhutto’s affinity toward China (nor its concommitant anti-Americanism.)
Most of the Western press reports I saw attributed Sheikh Mujib’s victory to his demand for East Pakistan’s autonomy in everything except foreign affairs, defense and currency. And Bhutto’s victory to his promises to the poor and his militancy on Kashmir.
But I think a case can be made that these, the other major election issues and even the question of whether Pakistan will stay a united country are but surface reflections of the fundamental economic and social changes that have occurred since the new dwarf strains of wheat and rice were introduced on a large scale, in Pakistan just five years ago.
Of Pakistan’s total population of 123 million – alas – it used to be 90 million when I used to cover it some 56 per cent are crowded into comparatively small, densely-populated, Bengali-speaking, impoverished East Pakistan. East Pakistan is part of Monsoon Asia and grows rice [West Pakistan is much closer to the Middle East in atmosphere and its farming is largely irrigated not rain fed.]. The new rice strains have not been successful there. Most of East Pakistan is subject to flooding and when it goes under water, so does the dwarf rice. In result, East Pakistan’s agriculture, which provides a livelihood for at least 85 per cent of its people, has pretty much stagnated. Sheikh Mujib is, generally acknowledged to have a good case that East Pakistan’s export earnings for jute and other cash crops should no longer be used to finance development in both wings of the country.
In contrast – and in purely economic terms – the transformation of West Pakistan’s agriculture in the last five years is a remarkable success story; today Pakistan ranks seventh, following Japan, Iran, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and Spain, in the rate of growth of its gross national product. (A rate that could be spectacularly quickened if, as is anticipated, a vast oil field exists, from the Indian border as far north as Rawalpindi; Pakistan now spends almost $100 million a year on oil imports.) Part of this economic boom is due to former President Ayub Khan’s emphasis on maximizing growth by giving private enterprise its head (and it was sad to hear that Ayub is forbidden to leave the country and may, if some of Bhutto’s followers have their way, be put on public trial.)
But the real basis of Pakistan’s economic prosperity has been the spectacular success of the new dwarf strains of wheat and rice in West Pakistan.
The new wheat, with seeds imported from Mexico, was first introduced in West Pakistan on an experimental ten-acre plot in the winter growing season of 1964-65. The next year it was planted on 11,000 acres, then 600,000, then 3 million and this year covers 6.5 million acres. Within another year or two it is expected to cover some 10 million acres or all of West Pakistan’s 15 million acres of wheat land that is irrigated rather than rain fed. Which means there is still plenty of scope ahead. The hope is to triple current, fertilizer usage, exploit the 50 per cent of West Pakistan’s 40 million acre feet of underground water still untapped by tube wells, further mechanize beyond the 70,000 tractors, 7,000 threshing machines and 100 combines introduced during the past five years.
The new dwarf, stiff-stemmed wheat which takes heavy doses of fertilizer without lodging under its own weight, has made it possible to grow one ton of wheat per acre instead of half a ton as before. Wheat production in West Pakistan has doubled in five years, from 3.8 million tons in 1964-65, to 7.3 million tons in 1970, rising 50 per cent in a single year alone, from 4.2 to 6.3 million tons in the 1967 harvest. Rice production in West Pakistan has risen equally spectacularly, from 1.4 million tons during the 1967 harvest to 2.1 million tons a year later, largely by increasing the area sown in dwarf IR-8 “miracle” rice from 10,000 to 850,000 acres. This is more than enough to make up the deficit in East Pakistan and make the country as a whole self-sufficient in wheat and rice production.
What has gone wrong? Before addressing ourselves to this question, let us look briefly at the Philippines, the only other country where the new rice, rather than wheat, has been so successful. In1968, 25 per cent of the Philippines’ total rice acreage was sown in the new varieties making the Philippines self-sufficient in food and an exporter of rice for the first time in its history. Yet rather virulent anti-Americanism, as in West Pakistan, has grown apace in the Philippines.[Where an inequitable distribution of land is notorious] The pattern of rapid gains in agriculture occurring, together with growing disenchantment with the United States, also appears in Turkey and, to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan. And yet in other regions where the new wheat and rice are transforming agricultural most notably in the Indian half of Punjab and Indonesia, the settings of my studies this year, and here in Iran, the green revolution does not produce this kind of social phenomenon.
A completely satisfying answer would be, of course, very complex and would have to take-into account the decline of American prestige and influence in Asia because of failure in Vietnam, the possible permanent end of dependency on PL480 wheai4 the seemingly historic a-ad inexorable southern spread of Russian influence into South Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Middle East, the effects of the British labor government’s East of Suez withdrawal policy and many other factors. Specifically in the case of West Pakistan one must take into account the failure of the policy sponsored by former ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith and the Kennedy administration to try and arm India against China after the Himalayan fighting of 1962, creating a power imbalance in South Asia and leading, since no effort was made to settle the Kashmir issue, directly to the India-Pakistan war of 1965. Parenthetically, it must be said that Kashmir for every reason, geographically, culturally, economically and religiously really belongs with Pakistan and not India; I have never had any reason to doubt that Jawaharlal Nehru, when as Chester Bowles put It, he was “face to face with God” in his dying days, fully intended to try and settle the issue by forming a condominium with Pakistan over Kashmir. Whether Mrs. Gandhi likes it or not, that was what the Kashmir chief minister told me Nehru had informed him just before he died (This episode and my report on it are described in Gunnar Myrdal’s definitive “Asian Drama,
But in looking for reasons why the green revolution produces stability and happiness in one region and instability and unhappiness in another there are two consistent patterns. The first is land distribution. The second is the relative wage scale of rural landless, farm workers.
In the relatively “happy” Indian Punjab, Java and the wheat-growing regions here in Iran, a rather thoroughgoing land reform took place well before the new seeds were introduced. In India’s Punjab, land reform took place in 1951 and 1958, abolishing absentee landlordism entirely and limiting the land one farmer operator could own to thirty acres of irrigated land. Though two brothers sometimes combined for a fifty to sixty acre farm – witness Basant Singh, the wealthy, progressive farmer in Ghungrali who ran a 54-acre farm with a brother – farms over twenty to twenty-five acres were rare. In the five months I spent in the Punjab, I only ran into two or three farms of the 100-acre class and their owners seemed affluent indeed with large modern bungalows, tractors, cars, farming equipment – one even had a swimming pool. In Java, land reform took place long ago under Sukarno and the problem was way too many people for the small, usually one or one-half acre farms that existed. In Iran, the Shah’s “white revolution,” establishing a 50-acre ceiling, has ended up with each strip of land in the villages generally owned by those who actually farm it and is perhaps the best example of enlightened land reform in modern times. But even so the Iranians, perhaps casting a nervous glance elsewhere, seem to be introducing the dwarf strains very cautiously.
It will be remembered that Charan, the main character of my Punjab study, owned only fifteen acres and rented three more. Yet he owned a tractor, could afford to send his children to a town high school and planned to send them to college, and made a comfortable living. With 54 acres, Basant Singh was rich enough to buy one of the first twenty combines in India.
Yet in West Pakistan there are 15,000 farmers with holdings over 150 acres of irrigated wheat land, most of them in Punjab and with a very large number owning spreads of l,000 to 1,500 acres. There is also a great deal of absentee landlordism.
Moreover, the landless laborer fares ever worse than his untouchable Sikh cousin across the frontier in India. In theory, both the Sikh and Moslem religious stress the equality of man and forbid caste. In practice, there were three clear castes in the Sikh village and their members could not marry or even dine together. I was told by Westerners who have lived in Punjabi villages in Pakistan that while untouchability is not codified, it exists in the form of an unmistakable landless underclass of laborers.
These have fared poorly. In Indian Punjab a farm laborer, except in harvest season, received four rupees a day plus lunch and tea. In Pakistan Punjab, he gets only three.[as opposed to two rupees a day on both sides of the border before 1965- a rupee is worth between 14 and 20 cents.]
During the harvest; in pre-1965, pre-green revolution days, a laborer on both sides of the Punjab frontier traditionally received one out of every twenty bales harvested; this provided him and his family with their basic food supply for the year. It will be remembered that the crisis came in the Sikh village when the farmer-owners, due to the changed economy of growing wheat with heavy fertilization, tube well irrigation and modern machinery, decided to give their laborers only the 30th bale. The laborers refused to accept this, demanding what they considered was a more equitable share in the prosperity brought by the transformation of the village’s agricultural production. The Sikh Punjabi untouchables, of course, were strengthened at least morally by the existence of liberal socialist government in Delhi which at least paid a great deal of lip service to helping the poor or landless farmer even if these ideals were not always practiced.
In Pakistan, Ayub Khan’s policy in agriculture, as in industry, was to maximize growth in virtually untrammeled free enterprise. And it should be noted that this policy was and is endorsed by most of the Western agricultural technicians on the scene. (During a trip to some villages near Lahore, a Mexican plant geneticist, during a conversation on the elections, bemoaned the possibility that land reform would probably slow up West Pakistan’s agricultural advance since the most eager and successful innovators were the bigger land owners. The Western agricultural technicians working in West Pakistan are an impressive lot, enthusiastic and dedicated to refining and spreading the new technology as fast as possible. I was reminded of the equally high-minded and dedicated American military officers in Vietnam, who with the noblest of intentions seemed almost blind to the social, cultural and political consequences of what they were doing.[or put more fairly, they were not blind but failed to co-relate their activities to what was going on around them.] It does not take too wide a stretch of the imagination to image Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Nobel peace prize-winner who saw how the dwarf strains could take heavy doses of fertilizer and save the world from a Malthusian crisis in the 1970s,being set upon during one of his annual trips to West Pakistan by a mob of angry farm workers who would not know who he was.)
This official government policy appears to have inhibited the laborers and strengthened the land owners more than in the Indian Punjab. According to the economic staff of Punjab University in Lyallpur – the oldest agricultural institution in the old India – the traditional 20th bale came out to about two maunds or four bundles per acre for a four man team. Although the average per acre wheat yield in West Pakistan has risen from about eleven maunds to twenty maunds (a maund equals 82 pounds), the four man team of harvest laborers is still getting two maunds. In other words, the landowner-farmers of West Pakistan, by switching from a percentage of the crop to an absolute amount, have managed to institutionalize a system that prevents a landless laborer from benefiting at all in the new prosperity of the past five years. Moreover, West Pakistan, unlike India, has actively encouraged mechanization and although the first twenty combines only reached the Indian Punjab daring my stay there last spring, there were already over a hundred operating in West Pakistan by then. Since a combine requires two men to harvest instead of thirty or forty with sickles if it is done by hand, it means several thousand men lost their livelihood and means of getting food for their family for the year. Although this is many in terms of numbers, word gets around the villages. (Remember how old Chanan, the Mazhbi laborer, immediately understood what the introduction of combines would mean for his caste.)
Another big difference between the Pakistani and Indian sides of the Punjab is literacy, which among the Sikhs was virtually universal. In all of Pakistan, the average literacy rate is 13 Percent, but since it rises to 38 per cent in Karachi and around 35 per cent in Lahore and most of the other cities, it is estimated to be a slow as 10 per cent in the village. But this does not mean West Pakistan’s mass of small farmers and landless laborers represent a sleeping giant. Virtually all listen to transistors and, according to reliable observers, have become highly politicized daring the past year.
It all started during the 17 days of war between India and Pakistan during 1965. The West Pakistani peasantry, many of them refugees with memories still fresh of the holocaust of the 1947 partition in which six million people migrated across the borders and at least a million perished, feared India might invade and try to conquer Pakistan. In two weeks more than a third-of-a-million, mostly cheap, locally made, 80-rupee transistors were sold. Today the transistor habit seems well nigh universal and is much more pronounced than in the Indian Punjab.
Then, as in Java, there is a great intercourse between city and village in West Pakistan. Karachi has grown from almost nothing to 3.5 million people since 1947 and even the little University town of Lyallpur has gone from 70,000 to 700,000 in a decade. Pakistani economists argue, as did Indonesian officials, that modern technology will keep more people on the land, that it requires “more work, more picking, more transplanting, more harvesting,” as one put it. I would not count on it.*
Against this background, it does not seem surprising that Bhutto and his leftist Pakistan People’s Party got twice the number of votes generally predicted. Indeed, it seems surprising that they did not do even better.
For the moment, Pakistan’s political future is very uncertain and all depends on whether Sheikh Mujib and Bhutto can get together on a constitution and how it sits with President Yahya Khan who has to approve it before a new government is formed.
The problem as I see it is not that Bhutto is too radical, for all his anti-American tirades and echoes of Chinese foreign policy views, but that, in terms of the need of West Pakistan if a peasant revolution is to be avoided, that he, is not radical enough.
Bhutto talks of a “Scandinavian type of socialism” with welfare benefits for all and he has hinted he might nationalize the holdings of the twenty families who are supposed to control Pakistan industry. But he himself is a big landlord, the army itself has many close links with the landed families and the Pakistan People’s Party, for all its championing of the peasantry, is largely dominated by landlords. The week after the election there were widespread reports (although not in the newspapers) of peasants all over West Pakistan refusing to pay landlords. So far there do not seem to have been any incidents of forcible seizure of land as has occurred in India.
But one of Bhutto’s top party lieutenants issued a public statement to deny rumors that Bhutto favored a 50-acre land ceiling and said instead the party’s official policy was to support a 150-acre ceiling. Since in a country of 60,000 villages, this would only affect 15,000 really large landowners, it is clearly not enough.
With the new seeds, a farmer in the Punjab can have a good life, with a tractor, an electrified tube well and the prospect of university education for his children, on twenty acres. There is no reason why West Pakistan – two thirds of whose wheat production is in the Punjab – cannot prosper with the same 30 acre land ceiling as exists right across the frontier.
*agricultural modernization has, historically, always led to an exodus from the land.
Bhutto has had a reputation for political opportunism since he served Ayub Khan’s government with seeming loyalty for eight years before helping to bring it down. His attitude toward India, which he has promised a thousand year war if need be to liberate Kashmir, is rather understandable. For eleven days in early 1964 I was the sole foreign witness to an uprising against Indian role by the Kashmiris following the theft of a sacred hair from the beard of the Prophet Mohammed and again was the only foreign Journalist present on the eve of the Indian-Pakistani war a year later when Indian troops were burning down villages in the Vale and Kashmir’s distraught chief minister revealed to me it had been Nehru’s last wish to form a condominium with Pakistan over an autonomous Kashmir. (Although Mrs. Gandhi refuses to acknowledge it, this is true; see the reference to my reports in Gunnar Myrdal’s Asian Drama.)* These experiences left me convinced that most of all the long-suffering Kashmiris would prefer independence, but realizing this would be impossible, they would want to join Pakistan. Had India, with its otherwise more liberal government, treated the Kashmiris better this might have been otherwise. But the repressive military occupation in the Vale the last 23 years remains a dark blot on India’s open system of government (Interestingly, D. P. Dhar, the Hindu Home Minister of Kashmir who ran its Gestapo-like internal security apparatus for many years, is now India’s ambassador to Moscow.)
I am personally annoyed at the affect of Bhutto’s invective against the United States among the illiterate peasant masses since I feel a study of a village In West Pakistan would have considerable relevance beyond its borders. West Pakistan is clearly in the lead as far as the pure technology of the green revolution is concerned. Although I was not convinced, it is difficult to argue with Pakistan officials and professors and Americans too, who warn it would be physically dangerous to live in a Pakistani village at the present time.
And since their sense of security fell apart when the United States started giving India arms in 1962, the Pakistanis decision to take the high ground between the United States, Russia and China probably makes sense although the pro-Peking policy seems to have gone just about as far as it can go in terms of Pakistan’s self-interests.
But if a country ever needed radical land reform and some sort of wage protection for its rural laborers to stave off what Dr. Boerma called “a conflagration,” it is West Pakistan. I remember in one village near Lahore sipping tea with some rich landowners, one of whom owned a thousand acres, and discussing the election results. They seem oblivious to the great social gap between themselves, seated in comfortable chairs and drinking from caps and saucers, and the host’s farm laborers, who squatted nearby on the earth, drinking their tea from dusty, cheap glasses, and with expressionless faces, closely following the conversation. One of the landlords fretted, “We cannot afford to be magnanimous any longer.”
*See I have repeated myself here, in my anxiety to make the point.
Neither can Mr. Bhutto. And if he moves farther to the left in serious land redistribution, all one can do is grudgingly wish him luck.
In Christopher Booker’s fascinating study of the revolution in English life in the fifties and sixties, The Neophiliacs (Fontana/Collins, 1969), an evaluation of what he considered the false social values of the rise of Angry Young Men, rock ‘n’ roll, the Suez and Profumo affairs, “Supermac,” the “New Britain of Harold Wilson and the Beatles” – the author sums up near the end what he feels true reality in a human society should be.
I should like to quote him at some length:
“…we can build up an overall picture of what … reality is. What emerges is an idealized portrait of human life and society which, of course, nowhere exists or ever has. It is a society which, like that of the animals, is dedicated to the supreme purpose of carrying on life. It is therefore a society in which no one acquires more of the material things of life than are necessary. It is a society in which no one feels lonely or isolated or bored or insecure or superior or inferior to anyone else, because his chief concern is mutual cooperation and subservience to a common purpose. Inevitably, like many animal societies, it is in some sense divided into classes and hierarchies: but it is not one in which any class, upper or lower, exploits another for its own ends, but in which each has its part to play in the organic whole. Similarly each individual has his own detailed place in the whole. Men and women have their respective roles, again neither being considered ‘superior’ to the other, not considered ‘equal’, in the sense that their different temperaments and functions are ever confused. The old, because they have seen life and learned its patterns, are wise, and because they have fulfilled their task are not reluctant to die. The young, like any young, are exuberant, but respectful, and learn without reluctance how to take on their responsibilities in turn. In fact, as each individual grows up, he gradually builds up an inner picture in his mind, in which his own function, his relationship with others and with the outside world generally, are perfected and securely balanced. The community is thus at all times united, both within itself and with its wider setting of nature. Its life is governed in harmony with the rhythm of the seasons. Disaster, such as illness, flood, earthquake or death, it learns to accept, without fretting, as the lot of all creation. It is a society whose members can never be disappointed or disillusioned, for they never build up any illusions to lose. Above all, they feel the joy of their overriding sense of being bound together in a common task which goes on forever.
It is this ideal unity from which, by his condition, man has been exiled….”
Christopher Booker is very much a man of his time, born in 1937, educated at Cambridge, a journalist who was the first editor of the fashionable magazine, “Private Eye,” and a resident scriptwriter on the hugely successful television show, “That Was The Week That Was,” as well as a columnist for “The Spectator.”
His thesis is that England in the last twenty years has been moving through five-stage fantasy cycles: the Dream Stage, the Anticipation Stage, the Frustration Stage, the Nightmare Stage and the Death Wish Stage, especially centered, in the age of the mass media, on the politicians, pop singers, television stars and “communicators,” photographers, dress designers and events centered in London. While the subject of his study is England, he also draws comparisons with the anticipation and dreams of early Kennedy administration, the nightmare which mounted steadily from the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 to the convulsive years 1965-68, when the Vietnam war, racial violence and youthful unrest were at their height and finally to the desire for quieter times which characterized the return to the White House of Richard Nixon.
What struck me most about the book was the passage quoted above which almost perfectly describes Pilangsari, the Javanese-village where I have been living most of the time from June through November. To a lesser degree it also fits Ghungrali, the Punjabi villages, and Grand Gaube on Mauritius. And, indeed, my own native village off Viola in southeast Iowa (only three miles down a gravel road from Stone City, the subject of Grant Wood’s famous painting, which for many years was also the summer home of Iowan poet, Paul Engle; a country of rolling hills, limestone bluffs and woods, it is perhaps one of Iowa’s poorest farming areas but one of its most romantic and picturesque.)
Booker diagnoses modern society’s trouble as its obsession with fantasy and appearances rather than the eternal truths and realities.
The question of appearance versus reality came to almost wholly preoccupy me toward the end of a three-and-a-half year tour in Saigon covering the Vietnam War. Indeed it got me into trouble during the Buddhist revolt in Danang in the spring of 1966 when I charged the monks had stage-managed a display of dying and wounded for the benefit of American photographers. A congressman accused either the Associated Press, United Press International or myself with “inaccurate or irresponsible reporting” and demanded an investigation. In reply I said the incident pointed up “a fundamental issue in the Vietnam War, perhaps the fundamental issue: How were newsmen on the scene to distinguish between reality and stage-managed appearance? The issue is a profoundly important one in Vietnam and should not be lost sight of in the secondary matter of whether the picture was faked. Of course it was not, and this reporter never meant to imply it was. The stage-managing was done on a much vaster scale and this propaganda apparatus is what should be investigated.” Time magazine quoted me a week later saying, “I don’t think Tri Quang would have really existed without the American press.”
The issue Booker hits on, how a highly technological, Urbanized society with an all pervasive mass media is extremely vulnerable to mass fantasy is, I think, an extremely important one and it would behoove us to learn as much about it as possible. For instance, using the Vietnam illustration once again, North Vietnamese party leader Le Duan makes no secret of his supreme strategy in the war: the careful application of Lenin’s principle of exploiting internal contradictions in the enemy camp. This was successfully done, in Vietnam itself, by exploiting contradictions between Buddhists and Catholics and Vietnamese of northern and southern origin. Much of the trouble in the United States since 1965 has grown up out of exploitation of internal contradictions between blacks and whites, the military establishment and the liberal community, right and left. As I hoped to show in my discussion of Pakistan’s election, the green revolution becomes a very strong force for red revolution if it is introduced in a country where acute social contradictions have not been resolved, as between land owner and tenant, operator and laborer.
Moreover, as Booker reveals so clearly, an urbanized society is much more vulnerable to this kind of exploitation than a rural one, where in a traditional, harmonious culture few internal contradictions exist. One can come back and say, but look at the Indonesian bloodbath of just four years ago when from a third-of-a million to a million people were slaughtered, mostly in rural villages. My answer would be that this was an extreme manifestation of a broad internal contradiction, the division between Westernization, as represented by the Indonesian Communists, and traditional Javanese and Balinese culture, the whole Javanese-Balinese culture complex felt itself threatened and acted in self survival, as it may again against the introduction this time of Western agricultural technology or the green revolution. One might even go so far as to define the contradiction in Javanese society as rural and urban. While high classical Javanese culture was formed in the ancient courts, it is essentially a rural culture and while it lives vibrantly in the villages today it has to struggle for survival against the Westernization of the ruling classes in Djakarta.
Which brings us to Tolstoy. Of all the great writers of history, none has been more concerned with contrasting, as planes of human existence, rural and urban life. Critic George Steiner, a professor of mine some years ago when he served for a year at the University of Innsbruck, has said Tolstoy’s concern with the rural and urban “may well be the center of his art;” Steiner goes on, “for the distinction between life on the land and in the city is illustrative, to Tolstoy, of the primordial distinction between good and evil, between the unnatural and inhuman codes of urbanity on the one hand, and the golden age of pastoral life on the other.”
Steiner describes how Tolstoy juxtaposes an immediate scene with a recollection of rural impressions, citing an example, of this technique in Childhood, Boyhood and Youth: A boy has failed in his attempt to dance the mazurka and retreats in humiliation:
“…Oh, it is terrible! Now if mamma had been here, she would not have blushed for her Nicholas…’ And my imagination carried me far away after that dear vision. I recalled the meadow in front of the house, the tall lime-trees in the garden, the clear pond over which the swallows circled, the azure sky with motionless clouds, the fragrant heaps of new-mown hay, and many other, peaceful and bright memories floated through my distracted imagination.”
Over and over in Tolstoy the passage from the city to the land, represents moving from moral myopia to self-discovery and salvation. As Steiner points out, the most articulate version of this theme is the departure of the hero or principal personage from St. Petersburg and Moscow towards his estates or some remote province of Russia. The most famous example of this purgatorial journey is that of Pierre Bezukov when he is led from the charred ruins of Moscow with other prisoners and sets out on a march across, the frozen plains. Pierre has survived the shock of near-execution and sudden reprieve but feels “the mainspring of his life” has been wrenched out and “his faith in the right ordering of the universe, in humanity, in his own soul and in God, had been destroyed.” A few moments later, however, he meets Platon Karataev, the “natural man;” Karataev offers him a baked potato. As Steiner describes it, “it is a trivial gesture, easily intended, but through it is initiated Pierre’s pilgrimage and his sufferance of grace.” The simple peasant becomes to Pierre an “eternal personification of the spirit of simplicity and truth.”
Again, as Steiner brilliantly points out, the contrast between the city and the land is the axis around which the moral and technical structure of Anna Karenina revolves. In Resurrection the return to the land, as the physical correlative to the rebirth of the soul comes when Nekhilioudov resolves to sell his estate to the peasants and follow Maslova to Siberia, In the Tolstoyan dialectic, rural life heals the spirit of man not only through its natural beauties but also in that it opens his eyes to the frivolity and exploitations inherent in a class society. Steiner quotes a draft for Resurrection:
“In town we do not fully understand why the tailor, the coachman, the baker work for us, but in the country we see very plainly why the share-croppers work in their green house and gardens, why they bring in the wheat and thresh it and abandon to the land owner half the produce of their labor.”
As Steiner sums up, “The land is the awakener of the Tolstoyan hero as well as his reward.”
The polarity of city and land in Tolstoy’s novels – (Quotations used are from Steiner’s Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, partly written when we were in Innsbruck) – fascinates me since it has gradually come to be the major theme of my study of world food and population.
Perhaps it as simple as that, that Tolstoy was right in saying that the distinction between life on the land and life in the city was illustrative of the distinction between good and evil, (I write this as I am champing at the bit to get out of Teheran and down to southwest Iran to try and find a village on the site of ancient Mesopotamia.) Certainly most of the Mauritians, Punjabis and Javanese I came to know since I left Washington in September, 1968, felt this way; in “Hello, Mister! Where Are You Going?” it was the dominant theme of Husen’s life. In Java, perhaps influenced by Husen’s philosophy, I cane to have the same aversion to dinner parties, polite society and the theater that Tolstoy describes in his notes. And after nearly a decade covering news events in Delhi, Saigon, Hong Kong and Washington, and then spending the past 15 months in the villages, I experienced a flash of recognition in rereading Natasha’s observation in War and Peace that Pierre had experienced “a moral bath” in captivity. The essential Tolstoyan dogma is described by George Steiner as “While there is life there is happiness.” Substitute “reality” for “life” and we have the highly urbane, twentieth century sophisticate Christopher Booker saying the same thing.
One of the two most interesting people I have had the pleasure to know – Sir Robert Thompson was the other – was Dr. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The acquaintanceship was professional; I had been assigned to cover at the White House and Office of Economic Opportunity the formulation of President Nixon’s domestic program and since Moynihan was the principal architect I came to know quite a lot about him and his ideas, (Moynihan and Sir Robert. only had one thing really in common; they both saw the domestic crisis in the United States as one of internal contradictions. Characteristically, Moynihan once remarked to a press briefing, “Internal contradictions can be politically resolved.” Neither man had much of a tragic sense or sense of the absurd; they took a no-nonsense, commonsense approach to most problems that gave them almost an old-fashioned air.)
Moynihan’s task was to revise the whole social welfare scheme in the United States and to somehow convince the American public and Congress that the country was rich enough to enact a negative income tax. His failure to do so is probably less important than the debate he inaugurated.
Moynihan believed the greatest domestic problem faced by the Nixon administration – this was before the economic turn down – was the social isolation of the American Negro, especially in the great cities of the North and West.
He saw a number of factors creating the problem: the mechanization of agriculture, or the “green revolution” in the American South and the exodus over fifty years of half the Negro population from the land to the cities; post World War II housing legislation for veterans which allowed millions of low income whites to move to the suburbs; the Interstate Highway Act, which led to the suburbanization of much American industry; the bad social engineering of the welfare programs, which encouraged the breakup of the Negro family since only the husbandless and fatherless were eligible for support; racism, which prevented many middle-class Negroes from following the whites into the suburbs.
Moynihan also saw the need for drastic revision of the Johnson administration’s anti-poverty program, which as oft interpreted by the OEO has in effect meant financing radical Negro militant groups in many cities in what was a revolt against the government and, in some cases, terrorism and gangsterism against fellow Negroes in the inner-cities.
Behind the social welfare revision Moynihan eventually produced and Nixon presented to Congress, was a philosophy towards poverty formed by a youth as a stevedore on New York’s tough East Side who rose to become a Harvard professor and eventually one of the brightest minds in the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations. To paraphrase the famous exchange between Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald, the liberals who framed the Johnson administration’s war on poverty contended, “The poor are different from you and me. “Yes,”‘ was Moynihan’s answer. “They have less money.”
The chief authority the liberals fell back on for support was Oscar Lewis, author of “The Children of Sanchez,” “Five Families” and “La Vida,” the compassionate, harrowingly detailed chronicles of Mexican and Puerto Rican village and slum families. Lewis began his work as he put in the introduction to “Five Families,” “to contribute to our understanding of the culture of poverty in contemporary Mexico and, insofar as the poor throughout the world have something in common, to lower-class life in general.”
Lewis believed that the difference “between the poor and you and me” was not only because the poor had less money; he maintained they had developed a mentality or what he called the “culture of poverty”, which was deep-rooted and all pervasive and would not be vanquished by such economic measures as a negative income tax or guaranteed annual income alone. Poverty warriors seized on Lewis’s theories to support their argument it was not enough to provide, welfare for the poor, they had to be aroused, organized, and set against the local governments which had too long ignored them and deprived them of their rights.
Thus, in order to understand Moynihan’s ideas you had to understand those of Oscar Lewis, however misinterpreted they were by those who originally set up the OEO. It was in reading Lewis’ 23 books and his technique of “selective eavesdropping” or recapturing their daily life through recorded dialogue that inspired me to undertake this present project of trying to learn more about the true nature of the world food and population problem by studying the daily life of a few individuals, their families and communities. Like Lewis must have felt when he began his anthropological studies, one soon discovers it is like exploring a vast, uncharted and changing continent. There is much to be learned and it would take years, perhaps a lifetime, even to make a substantial start.
Almost at once I discovered how much more you learn and how much more valid your material is through recorded dialogue than the conventional interviewing modern Journalism relies upon. I also realized how superficial ones knowledge of a country is until one actually lives in one of its villages. I learned more about India in the four months I spent in Ghungrali than in all the previous four years I had lived in that country. I had always considered the Indians austere, deeply religious, rather life-negating in philosophy, fatalistic, all the things one thinks of when he thinks of an Indian village. Au contraire, the people of Ghungrali were fun-loving, very materialistic, not at all fatalistic and highly secular and areligious in outlook. The same went for the other villages.
Also I found the Westernized ruling elites of the countries I visited are almost totally ignorant of conditions in their villages. I’ll always remember a rather fastidious-looking Brahmin official of the External Affairs Ministry asking, “But what will you do in the evenings?” If he reads this the answer turned out to be, “Drink.”
Since I am very much in debt to Oscar Lewis for suggesting one way in which journalism can get closer to “reality” and away from “appearances,” it was very sad to learn of his death at age 55 this week. His inspiration started me out on the most satisfying work I have ever done and I wonder if there are not hundreds of others who feel the same way.
In his introduction to “Five Families,” Lewis wrote, “This book has grown out of my conviction that anthropologists have a new function in the modern world: to serve as students and reporters of the great mass of peasants and urban dwellers of the underdeveloped countries who constitute almost eighty per cent of the world’s population. What happens to the people of these countries will affect, directly or indirectly, our own lives. Yet we know surprisingly little about them. While we have a great deal of information on the geography, history, economics, politics, and even the customs of many of these countries, we know little about the psychology of the people, particularly of the lower classes, their problems, how they think and feel, what they worry about, argue over, anticipate, or enjoy.”
Lewis suggested anthropologists should serve as reporters; if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, here is, one reporter trying to serve as an amateur anthropologist. And after this experience I am more than ever convinced, in the words of Alexander Pope, that the “proper study of mankind is man.” I think more is said about modern Indonesia in the mind and words of Husen than any number of interviews with that country in national leaders and top historians, economists and technicians.
When it comes to considering whether my own studies in Java, the Punjab and Mauritius contribute anything useful to Lewis’s research into the “culture of poverty,” as a layman, l am left pretty much in the dark.
Lewis said that while the culture of poverty can come into being in many circumstances it tended to grow in societies where there existed: (1) a cash economy, wage labor and production for profit, which does not describe pre-green revolution subsistence agriculture but does very much describe post-green revolution commercial farming (2) a persistently high rate of unemployment and under employment for unskilled labor, which fits Grand Gaube, Ghungrali and Pilangsari accurately, (3) low wages, which also fits, (4) the failure to provide social, political and economic organization, either on a voluntary basis or by government imposition for the low income population, which fits Grand Gaube but not Ghungrali or Pilangsari, (5) the existence of a bilateral kinship system rather than a unilateral one, (bilateral being the system where descent is traced through males and females without emphasis, as in a unilateral system, on either line) true of Pilangsari in Java and Grand Gaube in Mauritius bat not Ghungrali in the patrilineal Punjab, and (6) the existence in the dominant class of a set of values that stresses the accumulation of wealth and property, the possibility of upward mobility, and thrift and that explains low economic status as the result of personal inadequacy or inferiority. This last is a hard, one since to some degree it held true in all three but was complicated by the Mauritian Creoles, emerging much more recently than American Negroes from a slave culture and by the emphasis on spending for joy-giving ceremonies and entertainments in all three villages, valued more than the accumulation of wealth per se.
Lewis very scientifically lists some 70 interrelated social, economic and psychological traits to be found in the culture of poverty. Here again many hold true and, many do not. He described the culture of poverty as both an adaptation and a reaction of the poor to their marginal position in a class stratified, highly individuated, capitalistic society. Lewis wrote: “It represents an effort to cope with feelings of hopelessness and despair from the realization of the improbability of achieving success in terms of the values and goals of the larger society.” He believed that the culture of poverty tended to perpetuate itself from generation to generation because of its effect on children, who, by the age of six or seven, have absorbed the basic values and attitudes of their subculture. (One of the reasons for the Head Start pre-school education program.)
Significantly, in relation to the green revolution, Lewis believed that the culture of poverty most frequently developed when a traditional social and economic system is breaking down and is being replaced by another – as is happening at the present moment in millions of the worlds villages due to the rapid technological change and monetarization of the village economies due to the green revolution.
Of even more relevance is Lewis’s belief that the “most likely candidates for the culture of poverty are the people who come from the lower strata of a rapidly changing society and are already partially alienated from it. Thus, landless, rural workers who migrate to the cities can be expected to develop a culture of poverty much more readily than migrants from stable peasant villages with a well organized traditional culture.”
Here the difference between Husen and Tjasta and of the development of their character after 15 years apiece in Djakarta comes readily to mind. Tjasta, despite his family’s comparative prosperity, and perhaps because of his prison experience, the trauma of being beaten almost to death by a group of soldiers and later sexually assaulted and forced to become tattooed by his fellow prisoners, comes very close to fitting all 70 traits on the Lewis checklist. Husen does not. In the Punjab setting, only Buldev, the poor landless laborer who is treated little better than a serf by his relatives (see “The Thorn”) comes close to possessing the culture of poverty. In contrast, the Creole fishermen on Mauritius, but not Prem, the Hindu student, also meet most of the 70 traits.
Lewis also studied the culture of poverty from varying points of view: the relationship between the subculture and the larger society, the nature of the slum community, the nature of the family and the attitudes, values and character structure of the individual. (I should point out that during the three village studies, here I made no conscious effort to apply Lewis’s theories, since while applying his means, in terms of the technique of recorded dialogue, I had quite different ends than an anthropological purpose in mind.)
First, in terms of participation and integration of the poor in the major institutions of the larger society, which Lewis found one of the crucial characteristics in the culture of poverty, it should be noted that perhaps Djakarta is unique, in that probably as many as 80 per cent of its people have virtually no relationship with the institutions of the larger society. Lack of property, ownership, absence of savings, absence of food reserves in the home and a chronic shortage of cash characterize at least eight out of ten Djakartans, which reduces their participation in the larger economic system. There was, as fits the culture of poverty, a high incidence of pawning of personal goods, borrowing from local moneylenders at usurious interest rates, spontaneous informal credit devices organized by neighbors, use of secondhand clothing and furniture and the pattern of frequent buying of small quantities of food many times a day as the need arose. This was also true of the Creole fishermen in Grand Gaube, but not of the two farming communities.
As fits the culture of poverty, none of my subjects belonged to labor unions or political parties nor made any use of banks, hospitals, department stores, museums, or art galleries. Lewis, however, added such qualities as a critical attitude toward some of the basic institutions of the dominant classes, hatred of the police, mistrust of government and a cynicism that extends even to the church. A critical attitude toward the established institutions was very marked among the Mauritian Creoles, where the real income has fallen very precipitously and there is talk of revolution. In Punjab, a sometimes humorous contempt was voiced toward the India government in Delhi. But in the Javanese village, the general attitude toward the government was one of obedience and respect.
In Punjab the Sikhs disliked and feared the police, quite understandably, since they had a habit of beating up a suspect first and asking questions later. In contrast, the Creole constables in Grand Gaube were rather like referees or father figures. Fear, of all higher authority, including the police, was very marked in rural Java, but not in Djakarta, where the betjak men virtually made a game of serenely disobeying traffic restrictions and indeed, the presence of policemen was not very noticeable. In all three villages, “hatred” of the police would be too strong a word; fear, yes, a target for humorous sallies, yes, general distrust, yes, but not hatred. Cynicism toward the church, in this case a Roman Catholic church, a Moslem mosque and a Sikh gurdwara, was true in all three villages; as I have noted before, the secularism of my subjects was one of the big surprises.
As in the culture of poverty, free unions were common in the Creole village, rare in Java where formal marriage and divorce are cheap and often entered into lightly. In the Punjab, marriage was mandatory, usually arranged by parents and more often based on economic and kinship considerations than romance. Perhaps in result, adultery, although it could be harshly punished, was not infrequent and covert prostitution existed even in the village. Possibly because marriage itself was often taken so lightly any form of pre-marital or extra-marital sex was strongly forbidden in the Javanese village and Husen was emphatic that it never occurred (although I suspect it did.) The Sikhs, who talked about sex the most, were the most inhibited when it came to actual practice. Even husbands and wives, according to some government studies, may sleep together not more than two or three times a month, and then may have to slip off to the fields for privacy since it is very rare for them to share a bedroom together. In contrast, virtually all Mauritian and Javanese married couples have a bedroom of their own, and the frequency of marital intercourse is very high indeed. But only in Mauritius does a woman tend to assume major importance in the family as is classically the case in the culture of poverty. (The Sikhs, it should be mentioned, are also affected by the common Indian superstition that sexual intercourse expends the vital life fluids and that, in excess, will harm one’s health.)
On the local community level, poor housing conditions, crowding gregariousness and a minimum of organization beyond the nuclear and extended family was most marked in Java and Mauritius, less so in the Punjab. Lewis wrote that it was “the low level of organization that gives the culture of poverty its marginal and anachronistic quality in our highly complex, specialized, organized society.” He related the esprit de corps in urban slums to a large number of factors but omitted the one which seemed to me the most important in Djakarta: that a sense of ‘community and, indeed, the sense of security and general happiness of a Djakarta slum was directly related to whether its inhabitants came from the same village and how close their ties to that village were.
Where my experience really departs from the criteria Lewis set down for the culture of poverty comes at the family level. He described its characteristics as an early initiation into sex (true in any village where life is close to nature); free unions, a high incidence of abandonment of wives and children, a trend toward, female-centered families and a strong predisposition to authoritarianism. While these traits did not appear strongly in any of the three villages I have studied so far, one additional trait certainly did and always seemed very poignant. This was a strong verbal emphasis upon family solidarity, which was not achieved because of sibling rivalry. In all three Creole, Javanese and Punjabi families a great deal of lip service was paid to helping ones, brothers and sisters but in fact little was done in practice. In contrast great respect and affection was lavished on parents, often, I felt, even when it was not deserved. Charan, in spite of the old man’s laziness and constant complaining and interference with the farm’s operation, loved and respected Sadhu Singh and Husen paid heed to everything his father said, even though he was aware that his father’s experience was conservative and limited.
On the individual level, Lewis believed, the culture of poverty manifested itself in strong feelings of marginality, of helplessness, of dependence, and of inferiority. Perhaps these manifest themselves more readily in the Latin American character of most of Lewis’s subjects. I would not apply these adjectives to Octave, Prem, Charan, Mukhtar, Husen or Tjasta or any of the other subjects of my study. They all did have, as befits culture of poverty traits, a very strong present time orientation, little ability to defer gratification and to plan for the future, some sense of resignation, a marked belief in male-superiority and a high tolerance for psychological pathology; they were provincial, locally oriented and had very little sense of history, except for the tradition steeped Javanese. But they were mainly concerned with their own troubles, their own local conditions, their own neighborhoods, their own way of life and, with the exception of Prem, displayed almost no interest in hearing about my studies in the other two villages. They were not class-conscious but very sensitive to status distinctions; I think it can be said that status, however valued, is what really counts in the villages of the world.
In his writings, Lewis also took pains, to define and describe those people who, while desperately poor, did not have the culture of poverty. As examples, he cited primitive or preliterate peoples with relatively integrated, satisfying and self-sufficient cultures; the lower castes in India such as the Chamars, or leather workers, and the Bhangis, or sweepers (referred to as the Mazhbis in my study), the Jews of eastern Europe and, the poor of such socialist countries as Cuba. Here I can speak only on India, but I would say, drawing from my knowledge of Mukhtar, a Chamar, or an old Chanan, the Mazhbi, that because of the monetarization of values in the green revolution, this is fast changing and even these groups are adapting some of the characteristics of the culture of poverty.
Lewis made the point that while, the Chamars and Mazhbis are poor they are integrated into the larger society and have their own panchayat organization, which can cut across village lines and gives them considerable power. I think the real moral that can be drawn from my study, “Sketches of the Green Revolution,” is that while this was true a decade ago when Lewis made his study of a Hindu Jat village on the southern edge of the Punjab, it is rapidly becoming no longer true. (One must always remember the green revolution, hit India just five short years ago.)
The big question about the green revolution is will it turn red and here Lewis is especially enlightening. Marx and Engels, he reminds as in “Understanding Poverty,” a 1968 publication edited by Dr. Moynihan of all people, wrote off the so-called lumpenproletariat as an inherently reactionary and antirevolutionary force but Fidel Castro, like Frantz Fanon, has recognized its revolutionary potential. (Fanon’s experience was in Algeria.)
Lewis quoted Fanon:
“It is within this mass of humanity, this people of the shanty towns, at the core of the lumpenproletariat, that the rebellion will find its urban spearhead. For the lumpenproletariat, that horde of starving men, uprooted from their tribe and from their clan, constitutes one of the most spontaneous and most radically revolutionary forces of a colonized people.”
His own studies, Lewis commented, of the urban poor in the slums of San Juan did not support the generalizations of Fanon. Lewis wrote: “I have found very little revolutionary spirit or radical ideology among low-income Puerto Ricans. On the contrary, most of the families I studied were quite conservative politically.”
In summation of his theory of the culture of poverty in this book, Lewis said, “In effect we find that in primitive societies and in caste societies the culture of poverty does not develop. In socialist, fascist and highly developed capitalist societies with a welfare state, the culture of poverty tends to decline. I suspect that the culture of poverty flourishes in, and is generic to, the early free-enterprise stage of capitalism and that it is also endemic to colonialism.”
Lewis was writing in 1968 before Clifford Wharton, Barbara Ward, Robert McNamara and others began sounding the alarm over the social repercussions of the green revolution; these warnings, which rose to a chorus at the Second World Food Congress at The Hague last July, finally alerting Time, Newsweek and other publications to what was happening in the villages, have still to grasp, as Lewis certainly would have, the enormous cultural implications of each rapid technological change in a large proportion of the villages of the world. For instance, if modern agricultural technology transforms the economy of primitive societies or caste societies (witness Ghungrali) some aspects of the culture of poverty are almost certain to appear. If the culture of poverty especially flourishes in “the early free-enterprise, stage of capitalism” the same must be true (witness West Pakistan) in the early free-enterprise stage of modern agriculture.
Encouragingly, Lewis put the prevalence of the culture of poverty in the United States at about 6 to 10 million people, or about 20 per cent of those listed below the rather generous official poverty line; most of them, he said, were probably Negroes, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, American Indian and southern poor whites. He made the point that this was a positive factor since “it is much more difficult to eliminate the culture of poverty than to eliminate poverty per se.” (A Moynihan would draw no such distinction, saying you eliminate one and you eliminate the other. As someone who grew up in the actual poverty but not the culture of poverty of the Depression-impoverished middle-class – my father, a country doctor, died in 1938 leaving a wife and five children penniless – I would tend to side with Moynihan.)
Lewis pointed out that the culture of poverty has its positive side, citing how the low aspiration level reduces frustration, the legitimization of short-range hedonism makes possible spontaneity and enjoyment, and in some ways its people seem to suffer less from alienation than those of the middle class.
But he described it as “a thin, relatively superficial culture” with a great deal of “pathos, suffering, and emptiness.”
He also asserted that matrifocality, a high incidence of consensual unions and a high percentage of households headed by women, “which have been thought to be distinctive characteristics of Caribbean family organization or of Negro family life in the United States, turn out to be traits of the culture of poverty and are found among diverse peoples in many parts of the world and among peoples who have had no history of slavery.” Perhaps. But in my own study, only the Creoles of Mauritius, who were both Negro and former slaves, had any of these traits and they possessed all three; indeed Creole life, although Mauritius lies just north of the Tropic of Capricorn midway between Africa and India in the southern Indian Ocean, seemed strikingly similar to that of a village I visited near Nassau in the Bahamas, even down to the Calypso.
Lewis also observed “that perhaps Gandhi had the urban slams of the West in mind when he wrote that the caste system was one of the greatest inventions of mankind.” Lewis studied a Punjab Hindu village near Delhi a decade ago before the post-green revolution breakup of north India’s caste structure, which is proceeding, I might add, with the encouragement and active participation of the younger generation of former untouchables.
In discussing the future of the culture of poverty, Lewis rather ominously speculated that while affluent countries like the United States could probably absorb all their poor into the middle classes, the great masses of people living in the culture of poverty in and undeveloped countries might seek a revolutionary solution. (Although this was qualified by his observation the poor tend to be more politically conservative than one would think.)
He wrote, “By creating basic structural changes in society, by redistributing wealth, by organizing the power and giving them a sense of belonging, of power, of leadership, revolutions frequently succeed in abolishing some of the basic characteristics of poverty even when they do not succeed in abolishing poverty itself.” Even though Lewis observed that people with the culture of poverty are less driven and less anxious than the arriving lower middle classes, in the end he came squarely down on the sift of its elimination, cautioning that it would take more than a single generation, “even under the beat of circumstances, including a socialist revolution.”
Here we part company. First, after watching violence increase in Asia the past decade, I am ever more the law-abiding citizen and less the revolutionary. Social reform as Bhutto needs to carry out in West Pakistan, yes; revolution in any form, no.
Second, as the reader can see, I have not been able to tell whether the people of Grand Gaube, Ghungrali or Pilangsari met Lewis’s definition of the culture of poverty or not, and now it is too late to find out. But if they did, I would be the last to want to replace their values with those of the Western middle class, or specifically, as one assumes from reading Lewis, the values of the American middle class.
For whatever their culture represented, whether it was the culture of poverty of Oscar Lewis, or Tolstoy’s rural path to self-discovery and salvation, or Christopher Booker’s “reality,” I found it a more harmonious, satisfying and altogether happier way of life than our own. Now as I journey in the first few days of 1971 to ancient Mesopotamia where it all began 5,000 years ago, I cannot but feel a sense of awe and wonder at the sheer beauty of village life on so much of the earth and a sense of loss that so much of it has been doomed by overpopulation and the need to adopt modern agricultural technology over much of the earth if the coming generations are to be fed. And my mind often returns to that gloriously poignant passage from Ecclesiastes I used to preface Husen’s story, “If ever the silver cord be loosed or ever the golden bowl be broken…”
Received in New York on January 4, 1971.
©1971 Richard Critchfield
Mr. Richard Critchfield is an Alicia Patterson Fund award winner on leave from the Washington Evening Star, Washington, D.C. This article may be published with credit to Mrs. Critchfield, the Washington Star and the Alicia Patterson Fund.