The Landless Workers Movement and Brazil’s triple crisis

"Agência Brasil. Licensed under Copyrighted free use via Commons –

The global
economic crisis hitting Brazil has serious political
consequences. Cuts in social
programs and infrastructure
are on the agenda. Privatization of education is under way.
States which were in the past showcases
for the Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT), such as Rio
Grande do Sul (now
governed by the Brazilian
Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento
Democrático Brasileiro
PMDB), a center-right party allied
at federal level with the PT) and Paraná
(the governor of which belongs to Fernando Henrique
Cardoso’s  Brazilian
Social Democracy Party (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira – PSDP), are now adopting neoliberal
social and economic policies. And President Dilma Rousseff’s
popularity ratings have fallen below the 10% mark.

Last September 21-25, the Landless Workers Movement (Movimento dos
Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra
– MST) organized in Brasilia
the second national meeting
of Agrarian Reform Educators.
These are teachers from all education levels,
from basic literacy and primary school
to university, who work in MST and other rural
movements’ settlements. Their teaching programs
are supported by the State and they benefit from a
number of collaboration agreements with several State
universities. Tens of thousands
of students have been through this
education system since the scheme was launched in 1998.

The political
dimension of the meeting and its timing was very much in the minds of the attendees. Two cabinet ministers were there at the opening session;
the Minister of Education and the Minister of Agrarian Development.
The latter, Patrus Ananias (PT), former
Minister of Social Welfare
responsible for the programs against
poverty – including the Bolsa
(Family Bag) which provides financial aid to poor families – is supposed
to counterbalance Kátia Abreu, the current Minister of Agriculture, who
represents the big landowners or ruralistas
(ruralist) interests, although Ananias’s budget is only a fraction
of Abreu’s.

MST’s founder João Pedro Stedile
spoke loud and clear about the current socio-political situation: we must fight against neoliberal policies,
he said, because they amount to a
class strategy. The situation, however, is truly confusing since in today's Brazil no social class is hegemonic, and this generates
dubious political alliances and contradictory projects.

Brazil’s triple crisis

According to Stedile, the country is currently undergoing a triple crisis. The
first is an economic crisis emanating from the global capitalist system, which has heightened the dependence of Brazil’s economy in the last
15 years through re-primarization and relative de-industrialization. The
country is not growing anymore. The productive bourgeoisie is now geared towards financial speculation. In no
time, more than 200
billion dollars have fled the
country. Transnational corporations
are reinvesting abroad.

The second crisis is a multifold urban crisis. It has to do with expensive and
poor quality transportation, housing deficits, and
the fact that higher education is absorbing only 15% of secondary level graduates. Every year 40,000 people
– mostly young, poor, and black – get killed in Brazil,
and about 50,000 disappear.
It should also be remembered that Brazilian
society is a society that still suffers from extreme
inequality. The rich live in
another dimension. It is the second
country in the world by number of private helicopters, after the United States.

The third crisis is political. The
current Brazilian electoral system
entails the kidnapping of the
popular will and produces the over-representation of
landowners in Congress. Corruption affects the government parties,
particularly the PT, but even
more so its ally, the PMDB, which
holds the vice-presidency and controls
the Senate leadership. This explains, to
a large extent, the president’s loss of credibility.

João Pedro Stedile
concluded that the people must rebuild their space, in the streets rather than the institutions. A year before, in
its 2014 congress, the MST had already announced the resumption of land occupations. Hundreds
of actions have taken
place in the last months, one of them affecting a cabinet minister’s private property, but fortunately no serious incidents have been reported.

The closing down of thousands of rural schools, Stedile added, will each entail the
occupation of a town hall (prefeitura). He asked for solidarity
with the oil industry workers striking
not for wage increases, but to
defend the share of the oil revenues earmarked for education. He ended up recalling that agro-ecology
constitutes the MST’s basic principle and that the People’s Agrarian Reform is the Movement’s main
objective in its fight against land concentration
and monoculture.

Dilma is no leftist

Coinciding in time, Marcelo Carcanholo, president of the Latin American Society
of Political Economy and Critical Thinking (Sociedad Latinoamericana de Economía Política y Pensamiento Crítico – SEPLA) published an article in the
on-line magazine
Izquierda (Left) under the title: “Why is Dilma’s government not leftist? – The
economic policies of the PT governments” (Izquierda,
57, September 2015, 41-45).

According to this analyst, Lula did not change the economic logic of his predecessor,
so as not to lose market credibility, and he even broadened some structural reforms to their advantage. He took advantage of
the favourable international environment
for raising growth
rates without inflationary pressures
and for developing compensatory social
policies. This was in the
2002-2007 period.

As has been
mentioned, the result was re-primarization
and relative de-industrialization –
that is, great external vulnerability.
The recessionary economic situation of 2007-2008 had instant effects.
Facing the crisis, the government responded with tax
exemptions, credit expansion and the protection of guaranteed markets: a shy countercyclical
policy in a liberal ocean. In the medium term, this resulted in an
increase in the country’s fiscal deficit and greater family indebtedness and paved the way for an eventual orthodox adjustment.

A leftist policy, on the contrary, would have broken the neoliberal
structures and reduced the
external structural
vulnerability by promoting changes in the concentration of income, the broadening of
domestic markets and the expansion
of regional integration beyond trade agreements. It would have also meant
social and public policies transcending compensatory
measures, which are ultimately derived from the widening of neoliberal reforms.

Carcanholo’s conclusion is that Dilma is no leftist, because this was never on the cards and because
the PT’s political and class alliance was never intended otherwise. If some intellectuals
think that this position is too radical, the MST’s experience in the field tends to confirm its relevance.


This article was previously published by Rebelión.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *