Fields of Revolution: Agrarian Reform and Rural State Formation in Bolivia, 1935-1964, published in 2021 by the University of Pittsburgh Press is a ground-breaking study of Bolivia’s revolutionary experiment in peasant land redistribution during the second half of the twentieth century. In 1953, the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) began a process of moderate land reform that would become so sweeping it would compete with Mexico and Cuba for reshaping rural social relations in Latin America. In Field of Revolution, Soliz upends scholarly assumptions about where the MNR’s land reform policies came from, how transformative such policies were for the countryside, and how popular forces engaged with the state. Using case studies from three diverse regions in Bolivia’s highlands and valleys, Soliz explores the dialogue between competing understandings of agrarian reform that created a hyper localized and often quite radical process of agrarian change after 1953.
Attentive to the interplay between state policy and local activism, Soliz shows how hacienda workers embraced the nationalist slogan of “land for those who work it” and used existing union structures to connect with revolutionary nationalist politicians. Meanwhile, indigenous communities proclaimed the need to return “land to its original owners” and sought to link the ruling party discourse on nationalism with their own long-standing demands for restitution. Landowners, for their part, embraced the principle of “land for those who improve it” to protect at least portions of their former properties from expropriation. While the MNR tried to coopt and control this process, ultimately, it was indigenous peasants and hacienda workers who drove the pace of revolutionary change in the countryside, controlling and consolidating power in rural space long after the fall of the revolutionary government.
Engaging and incisive, this book is essential reading for scholars of rural and agrarian history, indigenous movements, revolutions, and would make a great addition to graduate and undergraduate classrooms alike.
Carmen Soliz is Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
Elena McGrath is Assistant Professor of History at Union College.