This pandemic is the most tragic expression of the current phase of capitalism, says Stedile

Tuesday, April 14, 2020
Info Source: 
Erick Gimenes |Brasil de Fato | Brasília (DF) | Editor: Rodrigo Chagas |

The MST coordinator launches a book on agrarian reform in the world and proposes that in Brazil it should be based on agroecology

The death of 19 landless workers in Eldorado dos Carajás, Pará, in 1996, gave April the title of the month of  the campaign of struggles for rural movements. The tragedy reinforced the importance of the movements of peasant seeking land distribution and giving workers the conditions to produce food and live with a minimum of dignity. The step forward to winning agrarian reform in Brazil, however, never existed.

In addition to the country never having managed to promote agrarian reform, the debate on the subject here was held back, since research and debates were taken out of books and universities by the imposition of neoliberal hegemony, from the 1990s.

In addition to the fact that the country has never managed to promote agrarian reform, the debate on the theme here was fought, since research and debates were removed from books and universities due to the imposition of neoliberal hegemony, starting in the 1990s.

Thinking about the historical failure of knowledge distribution, João Pedro Stedile, member of the national leadership of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), decided to write Historical Experiences of Agrarian Reform in the World - Volume I, published by Expressão Popular.

In the series of reports on agrarian reform in the world, the author succinctly seeks to shine light on experiences in countries that have lived through the process. By showing examples, Stedile points out that it is impossible to want to copy models, because each country has a correlation of specific forces and struggles with its own characteristics.

In an interview with Brasil de Fato,the Coordinator of the MST states that, given the moment in which we live, the new mission of the peasants is that of "caretakers of nature". According to him, the focus of the rural workers now should be on the production of healthy foods for the whole society, based on agroecology.

For agrarian reform to happen in fact in Brazil, it is necessary that all the popular forces of society are united in one purpose: to make available the goods of nature to all without destroying it.

Read the full interview:

Brasil de Fato: What do the experiences of agrarian reform narrated in the book teach us for the present?

João Pedro Stedile: The main objective of the book is to educate the Brazilian public, whether activists or not, about the main experiences of agrarian reform in the world, in a succinct way, with its main characteristics.

In Brazil, Latin America and around the world, there is a great lack of this type of literature, especially due to the imposition of neoliberal hegemony in universities and publishers, from the 1990s, which removed agrarian reform from research and discussions. Thus, I have devoted myself in recent years to collecting writings, reports and documents about the various experiences in order to systematize them.

On the other hand, also motivated by the discussions in the peasant movements in general and in Via Campesina International [an organization that brings together agrarian movements from around the world], I created a systematization of my own, classifying the different types of agrarian reform between classical reforms, reformists, radical reforms and popular reforms. In this first volume, I tried to publish one or two countries of each type, so that the reader had a general idea of how they happened.

It is impossible to want to apply in the present or want to "copy" anyone between the different types of agrarian reform, because they are the result of the historical experience of social struggle and the correlation of forces that occurred in each country, in each society, when they were carried out.

We in Brazil have tried in various historical periods to implement classical agrarian reform, which was carried out under the hegemony of the industrial bourgeoisie in other countries to develop capitalist productive forces. But we've been defeated in all of them. We had the first opportunity when we were getting out of slavery, but we denied former slave workers the right of access to land, unlike the United States, for example, or Haiti.

Then, in the phase of industrial capitalism, we again preferred to adopt the system of large properties producing exports to meet the import needs of the industrial bourgeoisie. Finally, when in the 1960s the industrial model went into crisis, we again lost the opportunity for a classic agrarian reform, with the proposal of Celso Furtado, who was defeated by the corporate-military coup of 1964. After that, we only had specific, partial, experiences with settlements and not broad experiences of agrarian reform.

How can the discussion about agrarian reform spread and deepen in the bases of the countryside, especially in places far from the major centers?

Although not the object of the book, the discussion about the need for agrarian reform in Brazil is now going through other parameters. In the past, with the concrete proposals and experiences of agrarian reforms, whether classical, radical or reformist, the goal was, on the one hand, to democratize access to land as a natural resource for the working masses, and, therefore, to guarantee the right to land to those who work on it, which was the great demand popularized by the Mexican revolution with Emiliano Zapata. On the other hand, to create a large domestic consumer market on the part of the mass of peasants, inserting them into the production of goods for the market, and in this way developing internal productive forces and industrial capitalism.

Now, the paradigms to be solved by agrarian reform are of another kind. The bourgeoisie has no interest in democratizing the right to land, nor does capitalism need peasants. So what is on the agenda now is the production of healthy foods for the whole society, based on agroecology, a way of using natural resources (land, water, biodiversity, ores, energy) so that they are available for the common good, of the whole society and, with this, the new mission of the peasants must be of caretakers of nature. These three conditions - capitalist farmers, agribusiness as a model and capitalism as a mode of production - can no longer solve it.

Thus, we will be facing a new type of agrarian reform here in Brazil, in Latin America, and in most countries in the southern hemisphere, which have not carried out any previous popular agrarian reform. The name, the label, it doesn't matter, the most important thing is that it solves the paradigms pointed out above. Therefore, the current agrarian reform depends not only on the peasants, but on the entire people, on the popular forces in general.

"The current agrarian reform depends not only on the peasants, but on all the people, on the popular forces in general."

With the processes of land redistribution stopped by the government, how should the popular movements and the peasants themselves act? Is the best bet to go with radical and popular reforms?

Here in Brazil we have never had a broad agrarian reform process of any kind. Not even the reformist kind, which were experiments carried out in some Latin American countries that democratized the ownership of the land in a partial or localized way. We had only policies of colonization on public lands, mainly on the agricultural frontier of the Legal Amazon, and settlement policies, when social conflicts were established arising from the struggle of peasants.

Now, in view of the new needs, as peasant movements we need to follow the ongoing process of organizing our bases, raising political awareness and the cultural standard, so that everyone can realize the new characteristics of agrarian reform.

At the same time, to bring the discussion and the whole process to the popular movements, to the political forces of the left, so that they understand the stage of the social struggle in which we live, which imposes the need to discuss a new popular project for Brazil. It is not just a question of the agrarian issue. We need to discuss the national issue for all Brazilian people.

This month we remember "Red April", in memory of the 19 workers who were murdered in Eldorado dos Carajás (PA). What can we learn from this pain that began 24 years ago today?

In the history of peasant struggles in Brazil, unfortunately the oligarchies, the ruling class, have always acted with extreme violence seeking to stifle the struggle for the social rights of the majority of the rural population. Thus the slave workers were repressed every day in the pillory or with their slave catchers to prevent escapes. This was when the peasantry arose at the end of the 19th century, with Canudos (BA), Contestado (PR/SC) and Caldeirão (CE), which were the best known mobilizations. But in every state there were riots and massacres.

Then, throughout the 20th century, many peasant struggles were repressed by the bullet. There was repression against the peasant leagues and in the corporate-military coup of 1964 there were many dead, imprisoned and tortured, from the peasants in leagues, movements and unions up to their leaders, such as Gregorio Bezerra, Francisco Julião, Clodomir de Moraes, Padre Francisco Lage, João Sem Terra, Lindolfo Silva, Zé dos Prazeres, etc.

With the redemocratization starting in 1984 the peasant movements resurfaced. All peasant, popular and trade union movements have always suffered repression from the ruling class when they want to organize and struggle. There are numerous individual cases against leaders or collectives. In these 40 years of fake democracy, more than 1,600 comrades and companions were murdered in the countryside. Fewer than a hundred cases have been prosecuted.

It is in this context that we must analyze the massacre of Carajás, a crime which remains unpunished today, as the two military police commanders sentenced to more than 200 years in prison are still in their homes, by preliminary court measures. To the activists of the countryside and of all society, we cannot be silent. We must always denounce, make use of the dates, in addition to honoring the memory of the martyrs, to serve as a warning and denunciation for all society. As the poet Pedro Tierra said of the massacres that have already taken place: "If we are quiet, even the stones will scream!"

"To the activists of the countryside and of all society, we cannot be silent."

Do you believe that the pandemic of the new coronavirus  can somehow change relations in the countryside? If so, how?

The coronavirus pandemic is the most tragic expression of the current stage of capitalism and the crisis of civilization that we are experiencing. First, because there are many scientific studies demonstrating that the outbreak of several new viruses, previously unknown, is part of the consequence of having thrown the forces of nature off balance, with the model of industrial agricultural production on a large scale. Most new viruses have spread through large-scale breeding of animals, poultry, pigs, cattle, etc.

Second, in the face of the outbreak of crises such as this, the importance of our thesis that we must defend food sovereignty is evident. That is, each people, in each region, needs to have autonomy over the production of their food. Global trade in agricultural commodities has failed. If China stops buying soybeans for two weeks, Brazilian agribusiness breaks down, such dependence and its fragility as a model. If a truckers' strike lasts two weeks, chicken is missing in the supermarkets of Belém, supplied from Chapecó hundreds of miles away.

"Global trade in agricultural commodities has failed."

So the pandemic will help to put the issue of food sovereignty, healthy foods, agroecology and the need to produce close to the consumer market on the agenda. This is only possible through family and peasant farming. In this crisis, what is the point of saying that we are the largest exporters of soybeans, corn, ethanol, sugar and cattle?

What can urban citizens do to encourage the strengthening of agrarian reform? What's their role in the struggle?

As I said before, now agrarian reform is no longer just a peasant issue. It is of interest for all the people, and so we say that it has turned into people’s agrarian reform. Because the changes that must be made will not only be the structure of land ownership, but paradigms, the protection of nature, to avoid climate change, the lack of water in the city and the production of healthy foods. For this, everyone will have to mobilize through all their organizational forms, from neighborhood associations, feminist movements, movements of youth, blacks, churches, trade unions and political parties.

At the same time, agrarian reform will only take place in the run-up to structural socioeconomic changes throughout Brazilian society. The activists need to study, know, discuss a new project and organize the people to fight for structural changes.

How to achieve space for government change in the presence of an ultra-neoliberal and anti-popular government?

The deep economic crisis of the current stage of capitalism, the environmental crisis we are immersed in, and the resulting social and political crises have shown that we also need changes in formal bourgeois democracy and in the pattern of governments.

The bourgeoisie also tried to impose on us neofascist, authoritarian governments in several countries. However, they all failed. Most of them have already fallen or are also in crisis. The government of Hungary, Trump and Bolsonaro were last in line. Their ultra-neoliberal proposals and neo-fascist methods of application, with threats and fanciful theories, are being maligned around the world.

In Brazil, social and political forces that have realized that the Bolsonaro government is co-responsible for deepening the crisis are increasing. Therefore, that government is an obstacle to the change that we need to save the people and improve living conditions. Capitalists will not be able to get out of the crisis alone, throwing all the weight on the people. Mr. Guedes's economic policy did not work in Chile, in the United States, much less in Brazil. Bankers and transnational corporations are being condemned around the world because they are responsible for this situation. It may take weeks, months, but as a hegemonic proposal to guide society, they're over.

"Capitalists will not be able to get out of the crisis alone, throwing all the weight on the people."

We still lack the capacity to organize and mobilize the people who join forces around a new project for the country. I hope that after the coronavirus, the people will rise. We are in a historical period, described by analysts as the situation in which the old man has not yet died and the new one has not yet been born.