News and Reviews
The Hutterites at the Viking Colony in rural Alberta, 75 miles southeast of Edmonton, constantly look for ways to use their business intuition to develop new enterprises. They are also seeking to preserve their unique values as they adapt to new challenges.
Country Guide, a Canadian farming publication, focused an article last week on Paul Wipf, the farm leader at the colony, and the ways the Hutterites there are trying to innovate. With 110 people, the colony runs a variety of businesses, including raising hogs, producing eggs, selling broiler chickens, plus running a dairy, a grain farm, and a custom feedlot. Looking beyond those businesses, they are open to starting new ventures.
Wipf argues that the reason the 10,000 acre colony diversifies into numerous different farming operations is that he wants to make sure the businesses are sustainable. The colony takes care of all of its members from birth to death—a large financial commitment—so it needs to focus on its long-term economic health. Diversification is a practical approach to managing risk, he reasons.
While the individual families don’t build up private savings, they all live reasonably well. To be sure that the colony can continue to care for its members, it realizes it needs to constantly work to build up its assets. Furthermore, the colony has an obligation to help provide at least short-term support for a daughter colony when it becomes too large and decides to split.
Mr. Wipf compares it to parents providing enough resources to help their own offspring get a start in the world, except that the Hutterite colony sees the prospect on a much larger scale. “The whole plan of a colony is to take care of the next generations,” he says.
One of the interesting aspects of the report is the way the colony fosters innovation. Mr. Wipf believes that the colony has an advantage over the typical family farm in that the Hutterites have a lot of people to contribute ideas to the group for everyone else to review. The colony has a lot of “thinking power,” he argues.
Colony leaders typically have meetings in the morning to discuss important issues such as possible business ventures. If the group decides it likes a proposal, they will research the idea and run it past their accountant. If, after further review, they still like it, they will bring it before the membership for a vote. Sometimes, another member will suggest a different idea, which may be a viable alternative for everyone to review and vote on again.
Similarly, they constantly evaluate their present range of products to see how they can improve them. What factors make the chickens they raise competitive over the chickens raised by other growers? Their edge comes from the fact, Wipf maintains, that their chickens are fresher than other birds in the grocery stores.
He also keeps tabs on trends in the larger society. When he realized that people were doing less cooking at home, the colony moved into producing smoked chickens. Furthermore, he is conscious of the fact that the Hutterites have a recognizable brand. “People seem to trust Hutterites and the way that they do a good job of raising their food,” he says.
The leaders of the Viking Colony consult outside professionals, such as nutritionists and agronomists, for advice on ways to improve their farm products. But he talks to the journalist about more than just ways to improve their farming operations. He expresses concern about the importance of raising young people with the character, faith, and morals that the Hutterites prize.
He looks on his farm management skills as very similar to the abilities that parents have in raising children. He tells the reporter that if people have the ability to be good parents, they can also use those skills as farm managers or enterprise leaders. He is familiar, he says, with raising children and the stresses that teenagers experience.
He welcomes youngsters into the working team, both as a friend and as a person who sets expectations, a mentor who will deal with issues that come up. New workers rotate into different businesses run by the colony so they can get a sense of their strengths and interests. He handles problems directly. He says that when people don’t do their work properly, their colleagues will notice and correct them. He encourages workers to participate in decision-making. He doesn’t micromanage the workers or their operations.
Wipf feels that changes no one can anticipate will happen regularly. New colonies may not continue to go into the same types of farming as the older colonies have done. They will have to think in new ways, outside the box, to develop businesses that will be successful. One possible business he suggests for new colonies might be to provide service for equipment, such as personal vehicles or farm machinery. “Where there’s a will, there’s going to be a way,” a truism that he repeats to the journalist.
He does believe that adapting to the inevitable changes in colony businesses will pose challenges to the culture and faith of the colonies. He concludes that the future of the Hutterites will depend on their ability to adapt and modernize their technologies, and yet to keep them in harmony with their commitments to their beliefs and their faith.
The word “redshirt” has very different meanings in the United States and Rural Thailand. In the U.S., student intercollegiate athletes normally are permitted to play on their teams for only four years. If they are in five-year undergraduate programs, during that fifth year (often the first one) they may be part of a team but not actually participate in sporting events. They are referred to as “redshirts.” In Thailand, however, redshirts are supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Members of the so-called “redshirt” movement mounted massive demonstrations in Bangkok in 2010 in an effort to remove the prime minister of Thailand at the time, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and force a call for elections. This movement succeeded in prompting an election in 2011 that brought Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, into office. Yingluck was the leader of the Phuea Thai (PT) Party, which embodied redshirt ideals.
Thaksin became prime minister in 2001 on a platform of supporting changes in Thailand. He said he wanted to develop a new economy and society that would provide more support for the Rural Thai people rather than for Thailand’s urban elites. Thaksin’s initiatives caused him to be ousted by a coup in 2006. After that, the redshirt movement sought to continue promoting this concept of a nation divided by these two classes—rural poor and urban elites.
A recent journal article by Yoshinori Nishizaki seeks to challenge the widely-held notion that the redshirt movement, formally known as the “United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship,” has universal support in Rural Thailand.
The redshirts argue that the rapid economic growth of Thailand since the 1960s has preponderantly benefitted urban elites at the expense of the rural poor. Furthermore, they have sought to convince their Rural Thai supporters that they need to think of themselves in antiquated terms from the 1930s. They label urban elites as ammart, aristocrats, people who conspired to overthrow Thaksin. They describe rural people as phrai, serfs, a class term for downtrodden poor people stuck in grinding poverty because of the urban elites.
The solution advocated by the redshirts: overthrow the system through class struggle. Their arguments have resonated with many rural Thai, for a lot of them turned out wearing red shirts at the Bangkok protests in 2010. The redshirts clearly had a lot of support.
Nishizaki argues in his paper that support for the redshirt movement in Rural Thailand has not been as universal as their promoters would like the rest of the world to believe. He discusses differing points of view held by the Rural Thai peasants in northern Chiang Mai Province where, not coincidentally, Thaksin was from.
The author argues, and provides ample figures to demonstrate, that while the redshirt party may have won elections, the results have not been as overwhelming as their supporters contend. Then, he examines the opinions of the peasants in two small, rural villages in the Mae Ai District of the Chiang Mai Province.
Nishizaki did his fieldwork during numerous visits to the two villages from 2009 through 2012, and he had many opportunities for discussing with the villagers their opinions of the issues being raised by the major parties and their candidates. Since the campaign in 2011 received extensive coverage from the media, the redshirt movement was a constant topic of conversation. Many of the peasants, he found, are strongly opposed to the redshirts.
Nishizaki found that while his informants, all of whom identified themselves as peasants, were significantly poorer than the people of the cities, many of them were opposed to Thaksin and to the redshirt movement. The reasons were that they were critical of the claims made by the redshirts because of their own life experiences. What they have perceived about the redshirts did not square with what they, themselves, have experienced. The fact that they may be poor and relatively uneducated does not diminish their critical faculties in any way, the author argues.
The rural people would not deny that they benefitted from some of Thaksin’s policies. But they also pointed out that some of his policies jeopardized their incomes, such as his decision to sign a free trade agreement with China in 2003. It opened up Thailand to a flood of cheap fruits and vegetables at prices that the farmers in Mae Ai District couldn’t compete with. Many farming people blame Thaksin for deserting them.
Villagers told the author that, while Thaksin claimed to understand the problems of the Rural Thai farmers, he really didn’t. He did not institute any real land reforms, an issue that frustrates them. One informant told Nishizaki that the reason no effective reforms have taken place is that Thaksin, himself, is a large landholder. He is a hypocrite who has vested interests in seeing that the landholding system in Thailand does not change, the informant said.
The informants were also highly critical about the integrity of some of the local government officials who were appointed by the redshirt politicians. They were, critics said, firm supporters of Yingluck’s party in order to channel government development moneys into local coffers so that they could then be redirected into private accounts. These critics also claimed that redshirt activists sometimes funneled money into vote-buying schemes, activities that strengthened their opposition to the redshirts.
The peasant informants were particularly incensed by the phrai rhetoric of the redshirts. Rural people who have worked hard, saved carefully, lived modestly, and slowly gotten ahead have tended to resent being lumped into this antiquated “serf” category. It is true that Mae Ai was quite secluded and impoverished up until the 1970s, but as roads were built into the remote area, the economy began to slowly improve. People began getting jobs in urban areas and to send remittances back to their rural families. Farmers were able to start planting crops for export, and they began to have more money to invest in additional plots of land.
One peasant that Nishizaki interviewed, Hendee, a staunch opponent of the redshirts, finds their rhetoric about phrai particularly offensive since he and his wife have managed to pull themselves up through their lifelong hard work. They do not see themselves as helpless, rural poor. They now straddle the divide between the lower, poverty-stricken class and the increasingly affluent middle class. The social classes into which they were born do not necessarily represent lifelong shackles.
Nishizaki concludes that his analysis reports on only two villages in a corner of one province of Rural Thailand, so his results can’t be generalized. But they are, obviously, indicative of at least some of the forces at work in the rural regions of the country. Because of the incredible variety of people and situations in Rural Thailand, the situation, he writes, “cautions us not to accept wholesale the prevailing class-based [redshirt] analysis of the movement (p. 24).”
Nishizaki, Yoshinori. 2014. “Peasants and the Redshirt Movement in Thailand: Some Dissenting Voices.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 41(1, 2): 1-28
News and reviews of publications relating to peaceful societies—and sometimes to related topics—are normally posted here on Thursday mornings (U.S. time) and are kept on this page for one week. Older news and reviews for 2015 are listed below, and ones from previous years are listed on the News and Reviews 2004-2005 page, the 2006 page, the 2007 page, the 2008 page, the 2009 page, the 2010 page, the 2011 page, the 2012 page the 2013 page, and the 2014 page. All stories are also included in the News and Reviews Subject Listing. They are listed at the bottom of each society entry in the Encyclopedia of Selected Peaceful Societies, after the heading: Updates: News and Reviews. News and reviews about peacefulness in general are referred to from the bottom of the Facts page, while news stories about this website are linked from the About This Website page. News and Reviews can also be found with the Google search bar.
April 16, 2015. Resettlement Plans for the Malapandaram
April 16, 2015. Hard Hats for Amish Workers
April 9, 2015. Nunavimmiut Face the Future
April 9, 2015. Searching for Life in the Kalahari
April 2, 2015. Oil Palm Prosperity
April 2, 2015. Designs for Energy Efficiency
March 26, 2015. Is Baltistan Peaceful?
March 26, 2015. Semai Place Names Help Preserve Forests—and Peacefulness [journal article review]
March 19, 2015. Paliyans Obtain Better Housing
March 19, 2015. Some Hutterites Use iPhones
March 12, 2015. Archaeological Discoveries and the Media
March 12, 2015. Promises to Nubians in Wadi Qurqur
March 5, 2015. Unicorns, and the Mbuti, Are Troubled by Violence
March 5, 2015. Unicorns, Peaceful Societies, and Peace Systems
February 26, 2015. Paliyans Learn to be Guides
February 26, 2015. Inuit Experiences of Historical Traumas [journal article review]
February 19, 2015. Coltan Mining Fosters Violence
February 19, 2015. Yanadi Economic Tragedies and Successes
February 12, 2015. Human Trafficking in Rural Thailand
February 12, 2015. Donald Kraybill to Retire
February 5, 2015. Publicity for Lepcha Cardamom Crops
February 5, 2015. A French Polynesian Novel Portrays Tahitian Culture [journal article review]
January 29, 2015. A Love Jihad in Ladakh
January 29, 2015. A New Blog about the G/wi
January 22, 2015. The Kadar Preserve their Forests
January 22, 2015. Some Peaceful People Are Birdwatchers [a tenth anniversary reflection]
January 15, 2015. New Opportunity for Paliyan Youth
January 15, 2015. Update on a Birhor Tragedy
January 8, 2015. Review of the Tristan Year
January 8, 2015. Yanadi Woman Advocates Human Rights
January 1, 2015. Piaroa Women Protest Violence
January 1, 2015. Ice Stupas in Ladakh