In-depth Interview with João Pedro Stédile by Rafael Silva
What does Bolsonaro's victory at the polls mean for social movements?
There was an electoral victory that was a project of finance capital, allied with foreign capital, supported by right wing activists militancy embedded in the PMs [Military Police], in the Armed Forces, and in the Freemasonry. This victory was only possible because they illegally used the support of powerful foreign computers to systematically spread lies through social media, especially WhatsApp and Facebook.
Now we will have a government of a neo-fascist nature, with an ultra-neoliberal economic plan, that will increase people's hardships even more, and deepen the economic crisis in the country. This project is solely for the benefit of large capital, and so it will give total freedom to the markets, with privatizations, the dismantling of public services, that will generate more money for interest payments, and the subordination of our economy to the interests of US based capital.
And for those who do not agree with his project, Bolsonaro has promised repression, as he said in the campaign: he will massacre the minority.
French historian Maud Chirio stated, in an interview with the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, that what can be seen as brash statements or threats in Bolsonaro's speech are, in fact, a system of thought. She believes that the election of the PSL [Social Liberal Party] candidate represents the end of the New Republic and predicts that social movements like the MST and the MTST will be declared terrorist organizations and that the PT [Workers' Party] will be outlawed. How do you see this analysis?
Of course, his brash statements are part of a way of communication with his supporters, and with a dispersed social base, that is anti-capitalist, pro-irony, and that is anti-PT (anti the Workers Party.
But this discourse has no real organized social base in Brazilian society. So it's already changing. The discourse was only a smokescreen, to avoid discussing the antagonistic projects that were in dispute during the election. As historian Murilo de Carvalho said, if he transforms the campaign discourse into political practice, it would be stupidity and suicide.
Popular movements in general, and in particular the MST and MTST, are founded upon constitutional law, freedom of expression and organization, to organize our people to solve their concrete problems of housing, work and access to land. We are protected by the Constitution and by society. If he commits the foolishness of criminalizing us, he would isolate himself from society. And he would have to tear up the Constitution.
It seems that at least the future Minister of Justice already understood this, and has publicly opposed criminalizing popular movements.
Social and collective struggle is the only democratic and civilized way for the people to confront and solve their problems and the need to improve living conditions. Beyond this, it is barbarism, free-for-all, save yourself if you can.
What is your opinion about Judge Sérgio Moro's going to the Ministry of Justice?
I thought it was a mockery, a complete cynicism, a slap in the face of the Brazilian people. Because it was clear that the judge’s actions were aimed at preventing Lula's candidacy the whole time. Because Lula would have won in any other scenario, and thus he acted to benefit Bolsonaro. In a democratic society, where legal institutions functioned in a neutral way, this electoral process would be investigated and annulled.
But here in Brazil, the Judiciary, made up mostly of the sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie, who have not been legitimized through a popular vote, who hide behind public appointments , fake, (because according to the constitution authority cannot come from the public appointments, , and thus all power including the Judiciary should emanate from the people). And the people, society, has no social control over the Judiciary, which does what it wants, as it wants. This has been shown in this affront of the housing aid, of the vacations, and of the high salaries. And now the STF [Supreme Court] increased their own revenues by 16%. Why not apply it to all workers then?
General Mourao, vice-president elect, should explain how, if the 13th month salary, a historical achievement of the workers movement, is a burden for the businessmen, (which is a lie) he should explain how we should classify the high wages and privileges of the untouchable powerful people in the Judiciary? At some point in our history we will have to make a political reform to the model of application of democracy that includes a reform of the Judiciary.
A common feature in the electoral process this year is the discourse of relativization and even disrespect for human rights. This rhetoric was adopted by candidates in different spheres of power, from candidates for the presidency to candidates for the state legislature, and proved victorious in many cases. Do you believe that we are moving towards a systematic disregard for human rights by State agents?
I don’t think so. Brazilian society is not only organized through the state. The government, the Judiciary and police forces may be more repressive, but there are other forms of social organization in Brazilian society that will serve as a barrier, resistance and shield against this conservative offensive. In addition, there are contradictions that exist within the elected government itself and its allies. Will it continue to discriminate against Blacks and indigenous peoples, when most of the members of the military police and Armed Forces are Black and indigenous peoples? Will it continue with homophobic discourse and practices, and what will it look like when meeting with elected governors who are homosexuals?
After four victories in a row, the Workers Party (PT) was defeated. How goes the field of Brazilian left after this failure?
The Brazilian left has many problems. Evidently, it made many mistakes in its governments, and it did not know how to recognize them and do the self-criticism. But fundamentally the left lost the ideological battle with the right, when the right, using all its economic power, the media and the Judiciary, imposed its narrative on society.
For example. We are facing a historic, structural and international economic crisis. These crises are in the nature of the capitalist system, just as it happened in the 30s, 60s and 80s in our country. But now the right has said that the blame for the crisis belongs to the PT governments. Corruption is part of the toolbox that capitalists use to seize public resources and that's why they pay kickbacks to some political operators. The two largest parties in number and volume denounced in the Carwash were the PP [Progressive Party] and the MDB [Brazilian Democratic Movement]. However it only appears that Lula is to blame.
PT governments were neo-developmental governments, somewhat below the classical European social-democracy. The right was able to brand them as Communists, that they distributed gay kits, and bottles of all kinds, etc. and unfortunately, given the power of capital and the media, the people believed this and handed the victory to Bolsonaro.
However, now the left has to carry on a profound strategic discussion. Return to grassroots work to raise awareness and organize the workers. Prioritize work with their own communications networks and media, and think of new forms of popular struggles that improve the living conditions of the people.
The left cannot think only of winning elections. It must have as its fundamental goal to organize the people, and to recover the hegemony of the ideas of the working class in society, recover humanist and socialist values, and practice them, such as solidarity, the defense of social justice and equality among all human beings.
Led by Ciro Gomes and the PDT [Democratic Labour Party], a new front intends to counter the role of the PT on the left. How do you see this movement?
This is natural, but it is a movement for parliamentary, institutional, coalition only. As grassroots movements, we need to help organize a BROAD DEMOCRATIC FRONT, where all democrats and progressives can participate, churches, intellectuals, without the political parties being at the forefront. We must form these fronts in each state, to be a resistance and to denounce the fascist initiatives and the withdrawal of workers' rights. A front that has the defense of democracy, national sovereignty, social rights, plurality of ideas and defense of environment as a platform.
Consolidated political leaders such as Geraldo Alckmin, Marina Silva and Ciro Gomes have had bad results in this electoral process. Which leaders, not only on the left, have been strengthened in this election?
Leaders who wanted to defend a center-leaning proposal were defeated because the election turned into a class struggle between two projects. A project of large capital and a project of the working class. Those who stayed in the middle did not have any space, regardless of their trajectory, nature or political will. Also defeated were all politicians identified with Temer's coup government. The people did not forgive the coup. All of them were defeated, Perondi, Juca, Magno Malta, Eunício de Oliveira, etc. In the electoral framework, several important cadres were elected on the left, the center and the right. And therefore, from the electoral point of view, they came out victorious. There were victories from all over the ideological spectrum.
On the right, there was the replacement of old cadres by new cadres, who are even more reactionary, with some originating from within the police and military forces, without any experience in the institutional political struggle.
On the left, I think that the election of 12 governors in the Northeast, which forms a geographical arc from the [State of] Pará to the [State of] Espírito Santo, was very important. And among them the victory of Fatima Bezerra, in the [State of] Rio Grande do Norte, is a breath of fresh air. Because she defeated an oligarchy that controlled the state for 400 years... and became the only female governor in the country. I am hopeful that there will be very important, positive changes there.
For a long time, the MST was viewed with great interest sympathy in the public opinion. In recent years this perception has changed. What happened?
The MST only exists because Brazilian society supports us, defends us and understands our historical struggle. In a society that took 400 years to defeat slavery which we had newspapers, such as Estadão, that in its beginnings sold people through its classified ads ... the fight to democratize land ownership is a historical struggle that will take years ... which, by the way, already has been ongoing for decades, since the fight of the Quilombolas, Canudos, and peasant leagues, up to this day.
The bourgeoisie, the elites, of course, always fight with all their arsenal, media, governments and the Judicial powers, against any initiative of the people to liberate themselves and democratize land, water, etc. But society defends us. See, we hold agrarian reform fairs with agro-ecological products in all states. The support is impressive. Here in Sao Paulo every year we hold the national agrarian reform fair. In the last one, held in May 2018, 150 thousand people passed through the park. I think that now, in addition to the democratization of the right to land, which is a democratic banner that all developed countries have upheld, we are moving forward and helping the population to understand that the model of capital for agribusiness cannot produce healthy food. It can only produce with pesticides, and by evicting the population from the land. We advocate agro-ecological production, to ensure healthy food, and to preserve people's health, keep balance with the environment and create more jobs in rural areas. Fortunately, we are already finding allies among the elite as well, who know that pesticides generates cancer, diseases ... and some of them are already producing in this way, such as businessman Paulo Diniz and his wife.
The MST is doing very well, thank you. What is not doing well is the agrarian reform, as a process of democratization of land ownership …
We are experiencing a period marked by the massive distribution of fake news and character assassination via social media. How does the MST prepare to deal with lies about the movement disseminated in the virtual environment?
This is really a very serious problem. See that even Justice Rosa Weber, who pathetically said that there was nothing to be done ... since she knew that the lies were being sent by powerful computers from abroad, from reactionary forces that supported Bolsonaro from the United States, Israel and Taiwan.
The challenge of popular forces and Brazilian society is how to protect themselves from this avalanche of lies. And that will continue. The scheme continues to be set up, as revealed by a businessman from the South, from the Freedom Institute. They will now use it to convince the population of the necessity for pension reform, the pressure on the parliamentarians, etc.
We need to find ways to block the lies, to counteract with the truth, and this must be done in all spaces, be it in social media, but also and especially in the grassroots work, in from house to house conversations, in the workplace, schools, and on the streets.
And I hope that the Judiciary, in particular the TSE [Supreme Electoral Court] shame themselves into hiring experts to block the use of Facebook and WhatsApp in spreading these lies.
I recommend that readers read the book HYBRID WARS, published by Expressão Popular, written in 2014, which describes in detail these methods as part of the new strategy of the United States government and of international right-wingers, to control governments. And it has already been applied to elect Trump, the Brexit in England, in India, and now in Brazil. One of its mentors, Trump's adviser, Bannon, has already announced that these new reactionary forces have been joined together in a coalition called "The Movement" and that they will hold the first meeting in January in Belgium, to counterbalance the Davos meeting of the capitalists. That is to say, they are even more reactionary, than the 500 most intelligent capitalists who gather every January in Switzerland, in Davos, to discuss ways of continuing to accumulate capital, and they are also neo-fascists.
The MST has completed 34 years of operations this year. What were the biggest mistakes and biggest successes of the organization?
We try to adopt the methodology of always making internal evaluation of our mistakes and successes. As a way of correcting and moving forward, and that is why we have been strong for 34 years. No peasant movement who fought for agrarian reform has survived in Brazil for so long.
There are issues that we try to maintain internally, so that it cannot be used as ammunition by our enemies, the reactionaries of the large land estates.
Among our successes has been the focus on education, and the understanding that it is not enough to have land, it is necessary to have knowledge. And so we incorporate in our struggle the struggle to obtain education at all levels. From adult literacy in our base, to the winning, even back under the Cardoso government, of the right of peasants to enter university in special courses, in a special program called PRONERA. And we have already trained more than 5,000 activists in higher education courses, and hundreds of masters and doctorates.
We also got it right, albeit belatedly, to adopt agroecology, as a set of agricultural techniques to produce food in a healthy way in harmony with the environment.
What has changed in the MST's agrarian reform project during these years?
We adjusted our agrarian program at the last congress, in 2014, when we collectively formulated the idea of popular agrarian reform, which now needs to serve the interests of all people, not just landless peasants. For this, we need to democratize education, disseminate agroecology, organize agro-industries to industrialize food and add income. We need to build, with other sectors of industry, new agricultural machinery that is suitable for the peasants and for smaller production units, as they did in China and Germany.
To advance the culture of our people in the settlements, and ensure a good life in the countryside, to create a future for our youth and children, without the need to migrate. We are still struggling for the democratization of land, but we have incorporated a new paradigm in our struggle. Our main goal is to organize agricultural production, to produce healthy food for all people.
This is the main role of agriculture in any society. Capital, with its model of agribusiness, only wants to produce profit, only wants to produce goods for the world market, which they call commodities. Instead of commodities, food...
Whether for lack of public incentive policies or financial agribusiness, many settled families have been selling their lands in recent years. What does the MST do to stop the practice?
The issue of the sale of lots won in agrarian reform has several aspects that need to be understood. First, the MST and all the movements, we are against the sale of land, and we approved in the Constituent Assembly a law that guarantees the ownership of the lots in the form of concession of real use, that is, the land is destined and occupied by a family, that you can leave it to your heirs, you can even trade with another beneficiary, but you cannot sell or buy. Temer's coup government has tried in recent years to apply a policy to stimulate settlers to accept private land titles in order to stimulate the sale. Under the Temer regime, each INCRA (National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform) employee who managed to convince settled families [to sell] would win a laptop as prize. Can you believe it? Fortunately, the force of our movement is blocking this policy, and besides, Temer is leaving soon, he will have to appear in court, unless Mr. Bolsonaro guarantees him an embassy.
Second, the selling of lots exists, in the national average it reaches 10% of the beneficiaries, which is very low. And it is happening more in the Amazon region, where the pressure of capital is greater, as it is a fast and legal way for farmers to expand their farms, with public lands previously destined for agrarian reform.
Third, society must understand that this process of sale or exchange is normal in any social grouping. Even in middle class buildings, or the program My House My Life [Minha Casa, Minha Vida], there have been changes, sales ... and they don't say it is not worth constructing houses.
We try to avoid selling practices, sometimes helping in the exchange of lots, when neighbors do not understand each other or the beneficiary wants to be closer to other relatives. And we campaign permanently against the sale, which is protected by law. Unfortunately the one who is stimulating the sale is the coup government and its opportunistic bureaucrats.
What is your assessment of the PT years in power regarding agrarian reform? Could more be done?
We have always had a critical attitude to the governments of the PT in the matter of agrarian reform, just follow the historical memory on our website. We continued our fight, had to do many occupations, organized many marches, to keep up the pressure.
There were advances in terms of expropriation of large land estates in Lula's first term, and then there was a paralysis, and in Dilma's last government, agrarian reform stopped. Many factors influenced this: the economic crisis, the lack of preparation of the managers, a very bureaucratized INCRA, the Judiciary always against agrarian reform. And the very nature of the government, which was a government of cross class composition. Many landowners were part of the government and prevented the advancement of agrarian reform.
But the main thing is that the Lula-Dilma governments believed that it was possible to share public policies between agrarian reform and agribusiness. Because agribusiness was inside government too.
We said that the problem was not the coexistence between large productive property and the need for agrarian reform. What the government needed to make clear is that agribusiness is capital’s model of plundering agriculture, and therefore they push for it to remain only within the sphere of the market, which they advocate for so much. . And that public policy, the concerns of the government, should be with the peasants, landless workers and with family farmworkers.
Among the public policies that represented advances in these governments, we conquered, in a collective way, with all progressive movements and parliamentarians, the PAA program a program publically supported of advanced procurement of food directly from farmers for public institutions. The expansion of PRONERA, such as university access, school lunch programs directed to purchase directly from family agriculture and agroecological producers in a farm to table program.
The expansion of PRONAF's credit, which many praise, in our opinion only served the interests of agribusinesses that integrated the peasants, and therefore 75% was applied in the South.
What is your opinion on the choice of congresswoman Tereza Cristina for the post of Minister of Agriculture?
It is natural that with the new correlation and forces coming from the polls, the government would indicate, again, a congressperson who is member of the “ruralist” block that is made up of representatives of agribusiness and the rural oligarchy.
I do not know the trajectory of this lady. All I know is that in parliament she became known as the "queen of pesticides". In other words, she acted in favor of the interests of the multinationals Bayer, Basf, Syngenta and Monsanto, which produce and profit from pesticides.
In the recent past, we had had another "king of pesticides" in the parliament, deputy Moreira, from [the State of] Mato Grosso. Unfortunately he is no longer with us, he died of stomach cancer, probably caused by food contaminated by pesticides.
I only hope that she will realize someday that the primary function of agriculture, the act of cultivating in society, is to produce healthy and cheap food for the whole population. And the agribusiness model cannot and does not want to perform this social function.