Sent from Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil
Exclusively for United World, João Pedro Stédile, leader of the Landless Movement (MST), analyzes the history and current situation of the Brazilian peasant movement, as well as the current political situation in Brazil, on the eve of the electoral campaign that heralds the return of Lula to the presidency of the South American giant.
In 1984, João Pedro Stédile was one of the founders of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST, in Portuguese); ever since, he has remained as one of its main leaders. Today, speaking with United World about the MST and the political situation in Brazil, he is optimistic for two imperative reason: First, this 2022, the MST celebrates the 38th years of resistance, struggle and victories. Let’s remember that we are talking about one of the largest social and political movements in all of Latin America. Secondly, Inácio Lula da Silva, is months away from making the impossible possible: commanding -once again- the destiny of the South American giant with a popular and Latin American perspective, all of which would continue to contribute to a new reconfiguration in that region.
In 1984, Joao Pedro Stédile was one of the founders of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST, in Portuguese); ever since, he has remained one of its main leaders. Today, while talking to United World about the MST and the political situation in Brazil, he is optimistic for two imperative reasons: first, this year, in 2022, the MST celebrates 38 years of resistance, struggle and victories; let’s remember that we are talking about one of the largest social and political movements in all of Latin America. Secondly, Inácio Lula da Silva, is months away from making the impossible possible: to commande -once again- the fate of the South American giant with a popular and Latin American perspective, all of which would continue to contribute to a new reconfiguration in that region.
During the end of March and April, United World had an incredible opportunity to share the intense political agenda of Stédile, National Coordinator of MST, accompanying him through various locations in Rio Grande do Norte (RN), one of the most representative states of the Brazilian northeast. Meanwhile, the leader of the MST carried out several highly relevant political activities, so we were able to ask him some of the following questions that we can share with you now.
UWI: Before getting into what is happening in Brazil today, could you tell us a little about the origins of the MST, what were its historical references?
JPS: Between 1945 and 1964, in Brazil, it was a time of democracy in our country, of formal democracy, although illiterate people could not vote: 30% of the Brazilian population was illiterate. Therefore, the poorest were excluded in that institutional democracy. So, that period was actually a time of strong class struggle and apparent formal democracy. It was a particular and special moment for the peasant movement, because the majority of the population was still living in the countryside… This was the moment when the Brazilian peasant movement gained its class ideology. In other words, there was no peasant class organization in Brazil until 1945.
As a consequence of class consciousness, the national organization of Brazilian peasants arose. And, as the peasants become class conscious, the political parties began to have a significant influence on the peasant class. The Communist Party of Brazil (PCB) called the peasant movement as the ‘Union of Farmers and Agricultural Workers (ULTAB)’. The Brazilian churches also organized peasant forces under their own structures, some were of right-wing ideology, and were sponsored by the Catholic Church. In southern Brazil, there was a movement influenced by the Brazilian Workers Party (PTB), which was called the Landless Farmers Movement (MASTER, in Portuguese: Movimento dos Agricultores Sem Terra). And, finally, we had the “Ligas Camponesas” (Peasant Leagues), a movement influenced by the left in general, whose main leader was deputy Francisco Julião, a member of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB).
So, at that time, we had four great peasant currents. It was a time of great political effervescence that ended violently with the arrival of the military dictatorship which lasted from 1964 to 1985.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the peasant movement reemerged, the MST was born. The MST, which was founded as an organization between 1984-1985, was born inspired mainly by the Ligas Camponesas, from the Brazilian northeast, and the MASTER movement, from the Brazilian south.
If we return to the present: How would you analyze the current political situation in Brazil?
In the first place, our reflection is political and our analysis of the situation is not academic, it is a reflection of our reality to turn it into political actions. In that sense, we must take under consideration that we are going through the worst crisis in the history of Brazil. The new generation is facing an unprecedented historical moment, and I think that perhaps they are not aware of its relevance.
When I say that it is the worst crisis in Brazil, it’s because we are facing a crisis of the capitalist mode of production, which affects the public life in our country life; it affects the economy, politics, environmental crimes – an aberrant fact like any other – and civilizational values that guide societies. It’s all together and mixed. This means; we are living in an era that, if continues like this for a long time, as our dear Rosa Luxemburg warned, it can turn into a total barbarism. But, at the same time, this moment can and should be seen as an opportunity for the people of Brazil and the world. Because in this context, we can beat capitalism and advance our just demands.
And I want to emphasize that this is not just the case of Brazil; as we know, everything that happens in the Amazon has repercussions throughout the world, and likewise, everything that happens in Ukraine has repercussions here in our agriculture, for example. The political analysis of the current situation of Brazil, the responsibility and the opportunity we have as humanity today, can and should therefore be reflected beyond our country, that is, in Latin America and throughout the world.
In this sense, and just months before the next presidential elections in Brazil: what actions is the MST taking to confront this complex situation?
First of all, as we mentioned, the struggle of the peasant movement is historical and we know in the MST that all our demands, all our problems, as a peasant class, will not resolved with Lula’s return to the presidency, in the upcoming elections in October 2022.
Having said that, let’s get to the point. Lula was imprisoned for 580 days in Curitiba, a state of Parana in southern Brazil… MST camped for 580 days to show support and resistance for those who had been unjustly accused – like Dilma (Rousseff) – by the corrupted Brazilian judiciary. At times, the MST camps were the only real pressure on the Brazilian political establishment, therefore were the greatest threat for those turned into real dangers against the peasant movement. That is, the MST did not step in for elections this year, but rather it has remained in the struggle and will do at the forefront at this and the future junctures.
Thus, we, the working class – not just the MST – managed to make a unitary movement that was victorious: we won Lula’s freedom, because if it was up to the Brazilian bourgeoisie, Lula would have died there, in Curitiba. This was part of the plan of the bourgeoisie in our country. But, with the Fora Bolsonaro Campaign, with the Lula Livre Campaign, with the thousands of committees we organized, and with our tireless vigil there in Curitiba, we managed to wrest the coup against Lula and Dilma from the hands of the bourgeoisie. And the victory belonged neither to Lula, nor to the Workers’ Party, nor to the left; it was a victory -in the context of the class struggle- of the working class against the bourgeoisie that had ‘kidnapped’ Lula. That is what they had done to Lula.
No doubt, this popular victory repositions the working class in the struggle for political power. In the MST, we are organizing the Popular Committees of Struggle throughout the Brazilian national territory to support Lula’s re-election and to continue the debates in our social bases. It is necessary to promote a mass campaign to organize people in a common struggle, to discuss what we have and what we want in Brazil, that is, to go beyond these elections, actions of agitation or political propaganda.
What will happen the next day if Lula wins the presidential elections?
Continue fighting for the agrarian and social revolution, which – immediately – means putting an end to “Bolsonarismo”. We will make it clear that Bolsonaro, the current president, is not a bourgeois, but a lumpen. In 2016, the Brazilian bourgeoisie struck a blow against Dilma (Rousseff), and brought Temer, who was then executive vice president. Since Temer was not useful for the bourgeois class, the bourgeoisie united and brought Bolsonaro. However, as a political actor, he has no strength of his own: Bolsonaro is a lumpen and the Brazilian bourgeoisie does not consider him part of their class. However, the bourgeoisie decided to opt for a neo-fascist subject, Jair Bolsonaro, to protect their interests and to lay the burden of the current crisis of capitalism on the working class. Even the international bourgeoisie contributed to the Bolsonaro’s rise to the presidency of Brazil. For examples; of this is that, for the electoral campaign, digital operations centers were used in Taiwan and Ireland, from where they bombarded the Brazilian media with fake news.
That is, there are some specific circumstances that made possible the arrival of Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency; the most retrograde expressions, the most fascist, within the bourgeoisie and Brazilian society, what people now call “Bolsonarism”. In this sense, it was Bolsonarism that made it possible for Bolsonaro to win the elections, in 2018. Therefore, not only Bolsonaro should be removed from the presidency, but also the Bolsonarism that was impregnated in the society and in the enlarged state of our country, as Antonio Gramsci said. Barbarism can also provoke a social revolution.
The men and women of the MST founded the national peasant movement with three main objectives: the land struggle, agrarian reform, and social change in our country. That struggle unites us with the people of Latin America and the world.