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Farmer's Alliance






The group hardest hit by the agricultural crisis in the United States in the 1870s was the small-scale cotton and tobacco farmers in the southern states. For they also hadto pay the costs for the civil war and already had a weaker position than the peasants in the comparatively democratic Midwest. While the state prioritized defending the value of the currency, they were driven deeper and deeper into debt.

In 1877, the cotton farmers of Lampasas, Texas, initiated cooperative procurement to reduce their costs and dependence on the local merchant, and it was later expanded to cooperative marketing. It eased somewhat, especially since the initiative spread throughout Texas, but not enough. For the peasants correctly identified their enemies as state, banks and railway corporations, and their oppression could not be overcome with only cooperatives.

That is why they sought allies – they supported the railway workers’ strike in 1886 and generally saw themselves as ”workers”. But the main strategy was to spread the cooperative idea throughout the United States, in order to gain influence nationally.

They had huge disabilities. Black peasants did not dare to fight, even though the Farmer’s Alliance initially invited them into the movement. Political bosses in the southern states could accuse the peasants of betraying the southern front against the northern industrial capitalists when they organized themselves independently.

Farmers in the northern states did not have as great a need – and were in turn accused by the political bosses in the north to go about the affairs of the southern states if they made a common front with the farmers in the south.

In any case, they built strong cooperative movements in Texas, Kansas, Georgia and Alabama, and through these were able to dominate state policy. Based on these, an attempt was made to form a national political party – the People’s Party – and challenge at the federal level and abolish anti-inflationary policies.

This became a disaster. For in all states except the four, the party came to be dominated by professional politicians whose main interest was to be elected. And even though they had no popular base, they could still outvote Texas, Kansas, Georgia and Alabama. In 1896, the People’s Party voted to stand behind the Democrats’ candidates, and the peasants’ political democratic hegemony ambitions were crushed forever. For the last time, someone had challenged corporate power in the United States – and lost.

Lawrence Goodwyn: The populist moment, Oxford University Press 1978



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