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  • Print publication year: 1978
  • Online publication date: May 2010

5 - The development of the Chilean hacienda system, 1850–1973


The nature of the hacienda system: the conflict between landlord and peasant enterprises

In this paper I shall attempt to explain the changes in the Chilean hacienda system which has dominated rural society since colonial times. Although the hacienda system has until recently retained many of its traditional features, largely by maintaining its economic, social, and political predominance in the countryside, nonetheless it has experienced cumulative changes which have gradually undermined the unity of the hacienda as a system, transforming it from a large multi-farm estate, characterized by a complex of traditional landlord–peasant relationships, to a single-farm estate, characterized by farm manager–wage labour relationships. The pressures for change have come from sources largely external to the hacienda system. Among the important causes of the transformation of the Chilean hacienda system must be mentioned the changes in the market (both internal and external), the growth of the urban population, and the increasing radicalization and political organization of the urban working class and later of the peasantry. This analysis will focus on the changes which these factors provoked in the hacienda system, particularly in its labour structure.

Perhaps I should spare a few lines explaining my conceptual approach to the problem, especially in the hope that other analysts might find it useful when studying landlord–peasant relationships in regions dominated by the large landed estate. I shall adopt the ‘multi-enterprise approach’ first presented by Rafael Baraona in his study on the nature of the hacienda in the Ecuadorean Sierra. The multi-enterprise approach views the hacienda system as a conflicting unity between two types of agricultural enterprise: the landlord and the peasant.