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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Thursday, May 11, 2006

More Revolution, Still Untelevised

Via Jesse Walker on LeftLibertarian. Despite Lula's foot-dragging on land reform in Brazil, the Rural Landless Workers' Movement has accomplished a lot outside of state channels.

As Brazil approaches the 10th anniversary of the April 17, 1996 Eldorado dos Carajás massacre, which saw six unarmed land reform protestors shot and thirteen slaughtered with hatchets and machetes at the hands of Brazilain police, attention will again be focused on the disappointing performance of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government regarding this issue. The killings drew international attention to the struggles of Brazilian activists who sought to confront their country’s tremendous agrarian inequalities, and helped to further solidify the political clout of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra). The MST, which was a key player in Lula’s finally victorious quest for power in 2002, has become increasingly dissatisfied with the distance between the president’s promises and his actions....

Despite his leftist rhetoric, Lula in power has governed from the center:

...like many of Lula’s other promises regarding social change, it was soon glaringly obvious that land reform would come second to his administration’s neoliberal economic policies which Lula claimed were essential in order to attract the foreign investment needed to generate funds for his proposed social justice programs....

Many of those who most supported Lula as he came into office have become his most ardent critics: human rights groups, NGOs, and even the Catholic Church accuse him of selling out to big landowners and giant corporations. Disenchantment with Lula’s sluggish role in the realm of land reform has been manifested in a wave of land invasions by former Lula supporters, as they attempt to place the issue in the center of the political debate come October. "This was a government that didn't face up to the powerful rural and economic oligarchies," says Maria Luiza Mendonca, the director of the Human Rights and Social Justice Network, an umbrella group.

Brazil is an extreme manifestation of the "latifundismo" phenomenon:

According to the Brazilian Census Bureau, 1% of landowners currently control 45% of the nation’s farmland, while approximately 37% of Brazil’s 184 million citizens hold less than 1% of land. Meanwhile in Brazil, the so-called “South American breadbasket,” about 4.8 million landless farmers struggle to survive with temporary or part-time work, on meager wages, and under conditions, as reported by the U.S. State Department Human Rights Bureau, as being analogous to slavery....

According to Brazil’s National Institute for Settlement and Agrarian Reform (a public body), 150 million hectares of farmland is presently underused in the country, including 20 million fertile and easily accessible hectares that could be put into production almost immediately. The MST estimates that up to 60% of the Brazilian countryside lies fallow, producing a devastating social backlash as millions of the rural poor join the ranks of the nation’s favela (urban slum) dwellers. “Indeed,” the MST insists, “the wealthiest 20% of the Brazilian population own 90% of the land, much of it being idle, used for ranching, tax write-offs, or to produce crops exclusively for export, while millions starve in the country.”

Or slash and burn rain forests for want of access to vacant land far better suited to farming.

The MST arose in 1984 in response to these conditions. It's probably the most important grass-roots land reform movement in the world. Dr. Miguel Carter of American University, who specializes in Brazilian land reform issues, argues that

MST’s nonviolent tactics – land occupations, marches, road blockades, and petitions – have demonstrably strengthened Brazil’s civil society by incorporating its most marginalized masses into its inner recesses. Perhaps this record of success helps to explain why, despite the fact that the Brazilian media overwhelmingly portrays the group as radical, and therefore dangerous, opinion polls by April of 1997, revealed that 94% of the population felt the MST’s struggle was just, and that 85% supported its non-violent method of land occupations as a proper vehicle for accelerating lethargic government reforms....

And if, under the cumulative effects of neocon propaganda, you've come to identify "civil society" with ice cream socials and bowling clubs, while the guys in suits hold the real reins of power, think again. The Brazilian underclass has succeeded in organizing a civil society of its own, outside of the state capitalist system:

...Often living in tents and armed only with farm tools, landless activists have been able to make impressive gains, acquiring a total land area of roughly the size of the state of Louisiana. Approximately 200,000 landless still wait in make-shift encampments, sleeping under tarps on the sides of highways, or squatting on vacant plots.

While squatters carry out ad hoc land reform, the MST has stepped in with social services where the Brazilian government has failed, both under Lula and his predecessors. The MST draws funding from often creative sources, ranging from 400 farming cooperatives, to its own natural medicine plant in Ceara. Its 1,600 government-recognized settlements, spread across 23 Brazilian states, boast health care centers, 1,800 primary and secondary schools (serving 160,000 children), and a literacy program involving over of 30,000 adults. In 2005, the MST established its first university, Escola Nacional Florestan Fernandes, named after the famous Brazilian intellectual, on a campus outside of São Paulo. In addition, as a method to accelerate the spread of social services, the organization has signed a number of formal agreements with federal government and sub-national agencies to carry out a variety of development projects to provide services, including education and healthcare....

If they keep this up, they may decide they don't need Lula as much as he needs them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn that's inspiring.


May 11, 2006 9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

South of the border there has been a lot that's been going down:



There was a pretty good quote I read in this article:


Oscar Olivera, the social movement leader in Cochabamba, explained: "We aren't fighting to govern, we're fighting to make the government disappear and self-govern ourselves." When asked if he was interested in helping transform Bolivia into another Venezuela, he said: "I don't believe in military leaders, or ex-military leaders [such as Chavez]. Every country is different, and has its own culture and history. Many people in the media treat Chavez as though he were the best thing possible. But the leader is one thing and the people are another."

May 12, 2006 11:47 AM  

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