Back to All Events

What's left of the MST's peasant alternative to Neoliberalism after 12 years of PT Governments?

  • K6.63, Strand Campus Strand London United Kingdom (map)

Leandro Vergara-Camus is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He holds a PhD in Political Science from York University in Toronto, Canada, and an MA from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México. He has conducted research on the Latin American left, the Zapatista movement in Chiapas and the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil, peasant agriculture, and the history of land struggles over property rights in Latin America. His fields of expertise include theories of development, political economy of development, social movements, and historical sociology of state and class formation. His current research focusing on the internationalisation of the Brazilian sugarcane ethanol industry, the impact of biofuels on small-scale producers, and the agrarian and agricultural policies of left-wing governments in Latin America. Before joining SOAS in 2012, he taught on International Political Economy, Development, Latin American politics, comparative politics, political violence, social movements and social change in several universities in Canada and the Netherlands.

His latest book is Land and Freedom. The MST, the Zapatistas and Peasant Alternatives to Neoliberalism (London: Zed, 2014)

Presentation Abstract

Until the mid-2000s the Landless Rural Workers' Movement was arguably the most combative and successful social movement in Brazil. Its mobilisation strategy, combining land occupations with institutional and extra-institutional forms of pressure in favour of agrarian reform and for funding for family farmers, placed it at the forefront of national rural politics. It's territorial control of encampments and settlements provided it with the ability to politicise and mobilise its grassroots membership, allowed it to constantly intervene in the public debate around agrarian and agricultural issues, and be an effective intermediary with the state for agrarian reform settlements. Moreover, within the left the MST represented the last radical movement that had managed to reject the institutionalisation of social mobilisation and civil society. The MST's strategy however never rejected institutional politics. The Workers' Party (PT), its long-time political ally, was crucial in this strategy, as it echoed the MST's position within the political society and supported its struggle when it was in government at the state-level without coopting the movement. When Lula became President in 2003 this successful mobilisation strategy lost its coherence. The PT administrations (of Lula and then Dilma) slowed down and even stalled agrarian reform, supported agribusiness, designed and developed extensive conditional cash transfer (CCTs) programmes, and moderately increased the funds and the programmes oriented at family producers. Ever since, the MST has unsuccessfully been trying to find ways to regain its momentum. Drawing from the conclusions of the book Land and Freedom, this presentation will examine what made the MST's strategy so successful before the PT took power and explore the challenges that it has been facing and the choices it has made in these past 12 years. The author will offer the hypothesis that the PT governments and the current political crisis in Brazil signal the end of a long cycle of contention that started in the 1980s and the crisis of the strategy of institutionalisation of civil society, as well as that of the MST.

Find out more: Land and Freedom. The MST, the Zapatistas and Peasant Alternatives to Neoliberalism

This talk will be followed by a Q&A and wine.