Who is and who isn't a "peasant"?

Usage of the term “peasant” as an insult illustrates the low regard English speakers (mostly American?) have for their agricultural workers (mostly non-American?). The UN certainly wasn’t being insulting when they adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants in 2018.

If you call someone a peasant it says more about you than them.

I’ve always been suspicious of the UN, and I would strongly prefer for America to withdraw from it, and expel it from our shores… But their use of “peasant” is a non-issue for me.

Let’s avoid political comments in GQ.

General Questions Moderator

Regardless of what you think about the UN, it’s clear that they were not attempting to insult the people they were calling peasants. So peasant is not automatically a derogatory word.

England didn’t ever have a European or Eastern European peasantry. The society was always more mobile than that. The same is true at the other end of the scale: when you look at how incredibly class-bound England is/was, it’s amazing to realize that France and Russia are the result of revolutions in societies that were even more stratified.

Marx was partly responsible for inventing modern ideas of ‘class’, and, as I recall, his original idea was that ‘peasants’ were incapable of revolution, almost as a kind of definition: the peasants were the ones who by reason of culture/class were incapable of revolution: their political stance is defensive and local.

So calling someone a ‘peasant’ has, at least since Marx, been equivalent to calling them ignorant and politically naive.

Except that there’s a long history of peasant revolts.

“Peasant Food”, that’s the term the lady chef character spits out in the film “Ratatouille”.

There was a television cooking show in Canada titled “The Urban Peasant”. So at least Canadian Broadcasting Corporation didn’t have a problem with it.

I was able to find a posting of collected Canadian broadcasting, that includes one Urban Peasant episode (towards the end):VHS Tape - 1997.12.12 - KOMO - 20/20 - CBC - Let It Snow, The Best of Canadian Gardener, The Urban Peasant with James Barber : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

In much of medieval history, at least in Germany, the opposite occurred in many cases: Peasants would go to the city precisely because they were unfree and sought freedom. Medieval Europe had a legal principle known as “urban air will make you free”: A peasant who was tied to a landlord as a fief would gain freedom if he stayed in a city that was independent from feudal rule for a year and a day.

In English, a person bound to the land is called a “serf”. They cannot be removed, but cannot leave. A “peasant” is free to leave, but can be forced out. Of course in reality there was often not much difference, but those are the connotations in the English language.

Does German have words with similar distinctions?

The etymology is that the word “pagus” in Latin means “outlying agricultural district”. Then the word “pais” in French came to mean “country”. From this is derived the word “paisant” in the fifteenth century. It could mean any kind of agricultural worker - slave, serf, or free tenant. From this was derived the English word “peasant”. In the Middle Ages, 85% of the population were agricultural workers, so most people then were peasants. Read the Wikipedia entry for “peasant”.

Yes, the equivalent to “serf” is Leibeigener, the term implying that the body of the person is owned by someone. The status of being a serf is Leibeigenschaft. For the non-serf peasants, the word would be Bauer, which is the generic term (still today, and with no particular derogatory connotation) in German for a farmer. If you’re talking in an historical context that makes you want to emphasise the non-serf status of that person, you might combine that word with the adjective “free” (frei).

Incidentally, Hayek’s libertarian classic “The Road to Serfdom” was translated into German as Der Weg zur Knechtschaft. It’s not a very fortunate translation, as Knechtschaft simply describes a person (Knecht) who provides menial services for someone else, without implying a particular legal status - you can be a free wage-earning Knecht. The status Knechtschaft carries a connotation of slavery, but I think it doesn’t quite capture the associations of “serfdom” in English that Hayek wanted to convey.

Interestingly the English word “boor” once meant peasant or farmer, but now means a rude and unmannered person. It apparently is derived from the Old French bovier, “herdsman,” although influenced by the Dutch boer, which is related to Bauer.

Her name is ‘Colette’. She is a protagonist. The main human character in the movie falls in love with her, his name is Linguini. All in all a fun movie for any age.

Even Marx developed his ideas of ‘peasants’ from his starting position, and it was further modified by his successors in the Marxist tradition.

Are Chinese “peasants” the same thing as European peasants? Conversation seems euro centric.

While China has grown by leaps and bounds there are still many millions which I would call “peasants”. Not sure what the Chinese word for it would be.

In China there were land-bound agricultural workers. However, the Wiki article on peasant contends that it’s not accurate to refer to these workers as peasants.

It’s interesting who gets called a peasant. It’s applied historically to Europeans, and more recently to Latin Americans and East Asians. I have rarely if ever heard Africans or South Asians referred to as peasants.

The Wikipedia article for Peasant movement includes both India and Zimbabwe.

Informative. Not sure if my curiosity was based on anti communist propaganda or Maoist propaganda but I do recall chinese peasants being a thing

My understanding is that the problem Marx had with peasants was that he felt they were too socially isolated to function as a class. Urban workers lived and worked in large groups; they were constantly surrounded by people like themselves and this made them more aware of their collective membership in a class. It also meant that ideas could far more easily be disseminated among urban workers than they could among rural peasants.

Lenin strongly pushed the idea that it was urban factory workers, not rural peasants, who were the heart of a communist revolution. (Not surprisingly, as Lenin and the Russian communists had their main strength among the urban workers rather than the rural peasants.)

Mao later reversed this and claimed that it was the rural peasants who were the heart of a communist revolution. (And again, Mao’s supporters were rural peasants rather than urban workers.)