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Land and Freedom

Land and Freedom

Leandro Vergara-Camus


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The Zapatistas of Chiapas and the Landless Rural Workers' Movement (MST) of Brazil are often celebrated as shining examples in the global struggle against neoliberalism. But what have these movements achieved for their members in more than two decades of resistance and can any of these achievements realistically contribute to the rise of a viable alternative? Through a perfect balance of grassroots testimonies, participative observation and consideration of key debates in development studies, agrarian political economy, historical sociology and critical political economy, Land and Freedom compares, for the first time, the Zapatista and MST movements. Casting a spotlight on their resistance to globalizing market forces, Vergara-Camus gets to the heart of how these movements organize themselves and how territorial control, politicization and empowerment of their membership and the decommodification of social relations are key to understanding their radical development potential.
'This book represents an important new take on two emblematic Latin American social movements. While most scholarship has analyzed each of them separately, from a variety of disciplinary viewpoints, few have compared and contrasted them, despite the similar impact they have both had on movement thinking worldwide. This book is particularly refreshing, in that it is perhaps the only major piece of scholarship to compare them through the lens of peasant studies.' Peter Rosset, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), Chiapas, Mexico, and the Land Research Action Network (LRAN) 'Today's historic struggle by peasants, indigenous peoples and rural workers is for an alternative to neoliberal globalization. This book engagingly and vividly gives voice to the subaltern classes and their collective effort to create new communities and solidarity networks. This is indeed a ground-breaking and compelling work.' Cristóbal Kay, International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague 'The appeal of this book lies in its comprehensive comparison of two quite distinct agrarian social movements within the current neoliberal conjuncture. Vergara-Camus casts a critical lens on a grounded historical analysis of these two iconic struggles, their political, economic, cultural and institutional relations, and their successes and failures. This is a path-breaking contribution to the "peasant question".' Philip McMichael, Cornell University, author of Food Regimes and Agrarian Questions 'In this provocative and unique book, Vergara-Camus compares and contrasts the important new models of socioeconomic interaction the rural poor of Brazil and Mexico have developed through collective action. Within the context of capitalist hegemony, unprecedented wealth concentration and the spread of authoritarian regimes, Vergara-Camus demonstrates how two large peasant movements have worked to construct alternative egalitarian societies, where the cash nexus does not reign supreme, making the book essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary radical social change.' Clifford Andrew Welch, São Paulo Federal University 'Land and Freedom offers an original and compelling theory of peasant struggles that challenge neoliberal globalization. Vergara-Camus aptly compares the contributions of MST and EZLN to contest neoliberal hegemony from the ground up. They have empowered the diverse peasant class they represent as educators in citizenship, class power and self-government for the subaltern classes. A must read for students of development.' Professor Gerardo Otero, Simon Fraser University 'This is a fundamental book for anyone who wants to understand the anti-capitalist path created by contemporary peasant rebellions. Vergara-Camus examines the impact of land struggles which, in the 1990s, challenged the "neoliberal consensus" in Mexico and Brazil. These movements have given the world a new political language, and have won a more dignified life for their impoverished members.' Débora Lerrer, Centre for Development, Agriculture and Society, Rio de Janeiro
Leandro Vergara-Camus teaches development studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His work focuses on the Latin American left, peasant agriculture, the history of land struggles in Latin America, and the impact of the internationalization of the Brazilian sugar cane ethanol industry in the global South.

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Front Cover Front cover
About the Author i
More Praise for Land and Freedom ii
Title iii
Copyright iv
Contents v
Abbreviations vi
Acknowledgements viii
Introduction 1
An overview of existing scholarship on the MST and the EZLN 3
Peasant alternatives to neoliberalism 6
Alternative development and alternatives to development 12
Staying with MST and the Zapatista communities 19
Comparing the MST and the EZLN 22
Overview of the book 25
1 Peasant Struggles and Primitive Accumulation 28
Land struggles against neoliberal restructuring 28
Agrarian transitions, struggles over property rights and the development of capitalism 30
Primitive accumulation, class struggles and the different property regimes in Brazil and Mexico 43
The strategy of the Mexican ruling class: state-led development, corporatism and gradual demobilization of the peasantry 56
2 Neoliberalism and New Forms of Peasant Rebellion 63
The crisis of peasant agriculture under neoliberal Brazil and Mexico 65
Searching for a revolutionary subject in the countryside 73
Alternatives to impoverishment and social marginalization 76
The MST and the EZLN: defensive reactions or progressive struggles? 81
Anti-capitalist impulses and different forms of autonomy 84
3 The New Modern Prince and Autonomous Rural Communities 92
The movement as a new type of Modern Prince 93
The organizational structure of the MST and the making of its militancy 97
The organizational structure of the EZLN and the making of its militancy 108
The MST’s democratic centralism and the EZLN’s mandar obedeciendo 124
Gender relations and the political participation of women 133
Autonomy: an alternative form of building people’s power 146
4 Resistance, Alternative Development and The Market 158
Peasant agriculture: moral economy, micro-capitalism or non-capitalist? 160
The meaning of land and nature 170
The movements’ position on property and land tenure 171
Strengthening peasant family farming 189
5 Revolution in Times of Neoliberal Hegemony 216
State power, radical social change and the corporatist legacy in Brazil and Mexico 219
The MST: occupying all possible political spaces 224
The PT in power, neo-developmentalism and neo-corporatism 250
Zapatismo: building ‘another way of doing politics’ 257
A shared dilemma: radicalization in times of neoliberal hegemony 284
Conclusion 289
What do these movements mean for the building of alternatives to neoliberalism? 295
Notes 303
References 312
Index 332
Back cover Back cover