Comparative Studies in Society and History

The Accommodation to Capitalism in Peasant Societies

The Genesis of Capitalism Amongst a South American Peasantry: Devil's Labor and the Baptism of Money

Michael Taussiga1

a1 The University of Michigan

What does wage labor and capital mean to a peasantry that is subjected to rapid rural proletarianization and what is the basis of that meaning?

I wish to discuss an aspect of this question in the light of certain ideological reactions manifested by a South American lowland peasantry as expanding sugar plantations absorb their lands and peasants are converted into landless wage laborers. In the southern extremities of the Cauca Valley, Colombia, it is commonly thought that male plantation workers can increase their output, and hence their wage, through entering into a secret contract with the devil. However, the local peasants, no matter how needy they may be, never make such a contract when working their own plots or those of their peasant neighbors for wages. It is also thought that by illicitly baptizing money instead of a child in the Catholic church, that money can become interest bearing capital, while the child will be deprived of its rightful chance of entering heaven.