Cynthia McClintock, Peasant Cooperatives and Political Change in Peru: Review

By N. H. Gill
            (March 11, 2019) – Cynthia McClintock’s monograph, Peasant Cooperatives and Political Change in Peru, looks at the social and political effect of the agrarian reforms of the Velasco administration between 1968 to 1975. Focusing closely on the 1969 hacienda expropriations and subsequent implementation of self-managing agrarian cooperatives, McClintock uses a series of social surveys, carried out by Cornell University and the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos before and after the reforms to ask, essentially, whether peasant attitudes can change.

Based on these surveys, McClintock develops a four-part analysis covering changing political culture, changing attitudes within agrarian enterprises, the national importance of agrarian cooperatives to the economy and polity, and a series of conclusions, including a comparison to similar cases in Chile and Mexico. Together, the four parts provide one of the earliest and most thorough data-based historical analyses of the effects of the Velasco reforms.  

McClintock argues that while the agrarian reforms hurt the hacendados severely, they were of limited benefit to peasants.[1] In social terms, she says that that the creation of agrarian cooperatives did increase political activity and social cooperation within cooperative units, but did not create increase collaboration with other cooperatives or foster greater participation in national politics. Even so, she highlights the proactive role of peasants in the self-management of agricultural sectors, their internal organization strategies, and the positive effect of their cumulative political successes on later movements.[2] These agricultural cooperatives also helped undermine historical patron-client between hacendados and campesinos, spurring important changes in social attitudes.[3]

Published in 1981 shortly after the outbreak of the internal war with Sendero Luminoso, McClintock’s work also touched on key concerns in the larger field of peasant studies that grew out of the Vietnam War and other anticolonial struggles of the second half of the twentieth century. For example, her work sheds light on changing peasant political consciousness and capacity for self-organization, two themes also touched on by Howard Handelman’s Struggle in the Andes. In contrast to that work, McClintock places more emphasis on the internal process of self-organization as a catalyst for greater political development, saying, “self-management emerge[d] as a powerful agent of change in patterns of political authority and social solidarity.”[4] Yet, she argues, the Velasco administration’s hesitancy to embrace the cooperatives as a political force ultimately limited their efficacy to him. Handelman on the other hand seems to put more weight on the influence of urban and external forces as a catalyst of peasant political struggle at this time.


[1] Cynthia McClintock, Peasant Cooperatives and Political Change in Peru (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1981), 62. [2] McClintock, 168. [3] McClintock, 217. [4] McClintock, 319.

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