Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March Book: Landless People: Building A Social Movement

The Danville Prison Reading Group had a another great, and sometimes frustrating conversation about poor people's movements and the role of governments. People were very interested in Jennifer's comments on EOTO, in particular, "victory is in the trying". As in many of our conversations, the book often spurs questions about, what I will call, the politics of care on the inside. Many men thought about the ways in which people they know in prison do or don't help out each other. Many people get money from family that allows them to buy food from the commissary. This is a pretty big deal b.c the food at Danville is horrible and there is even a lawsuit pending about the food situation (several years ago the state cut a deal with a soy corp. to cut something like 70% of all meat products in prison kitchens with soy). So some of the discussion focused around their own ability to eat and share their 'harvest' with others.

As for the book, there were questions, especially from Xavier and Jay about the politics of the book, which they did not like. Through conversation, Xavier's responses went from angry/reactionary to a more multi-dimensional view. We talked about potential to disentangle content, form and ideology to see the value in the MST's persistence and struggle. More of Xavier's comments are below. But I do want to say that this month and last, he got more than at an earful from me and the other men, concerning his views of 'democracy'. He tried to argue "each man according to his ability" instead of "need". Ralph and Daniel said that they lived in a human community, not a financial one, and they felt obligated to others, in a very deep way; their livelihood is bound to the health of everyone else. Roberto (aka Bottles) thought there is possibility in a capitalist society and it is done through hard work. In the end, Xavier said something like this: I sit in my cell all day and read and think about these things. So I have really thought about this. And I come here and have you all tear it all apart." He said this in a half good/half bad way. Good in that he was interested in other people's views, perhaps bad in that he has thought a lot about this and finds that others are not seeing his point of view. This is all my interpretation so please read his piece and take what you can from it.
Some folks last month said they would write review but didn't get around to it. Daniel promised to write a review for the next book-- he is about to finish up a Spanish 101 class that, he said, is consuming him. For now, here are comments again from Cragg and Xavier. I did my best to copy their texts exactly. The emphasis and bold, spelling and grammar are theirs. Any errors are prob. mine!

From Cragg:
"After reading Landless people, I have to say the one thing I found to be the most intriguing was the M.S.T. ideology concerning the education of its' children versus that of the state sponsored model.
I will admit at first I was somewhat biased toward the M.S.T. for this decision. Growing up in America I was taught a universal class system, and education is the primary vehicle that propels an individual forward in this class-based system. The more you have, the better your financial stock is, so to speak.
So I was astonished that this group would deprive their children of this unique opportunity. My view change dramatically once I read about the first school in Anoni, and Professor Nieve explanation for the M.S.T. model, "they taught its' student that reality is something you change."
Any movement for your of people that seeks to change their condition has to start educating its members to those conditions they are seeking to change, and most importantly why they need to change them. Also they must have a goal in mind of what that change should be a reflection of.
That's why they broke away from the states traditional ideologies and customs (which were at the time that of the ruling class-large land owners) and incorporated one of their own. That model was one that: was self-sustaining and efficient to the movement (i.e. the history of the movement, its principles, the comrades who fought heroic for the cause, and he important battles won).
What I found to be exceptional was the gradualism achieved by the children due to their educational model. Like their level of organization skills, management ideals, not to mention how they mirror-imaged the structures of their schools, to that of the camps and settlements they were in. This was done politically as well, i.e. how the children dealt with their principle who made abusive and inflammatory comments about students. Not only did they vote to fire this person, they also voted on their own accord to reinstate the vice principle who was outsted but the fired principle to the position of principle.
This ideology was applied not only to the classrooms, but also in all other aspects of the camps and settlements. I believe that it was the foundation that lead the M.S.T. and kept their group together, united as they battled for survival. Education was also the main architect that guided the M.S.T. in their struggles.
Now looking at the conditions faced by the landless people in South American in parallel to that of the homelessness in North America (primarily the U.S.) I believe the constitution plays a big factor in both countries.
When groups began fighting for Agrarian Reform in South America they were met with fierce resistance format the large land-owners and military dictatorships. Through adversity they persevered and won concessions for Agrarian Reform. In some of their respective countries they had the constitution rewrote to add Agrarian reform for the landless farmer, and in others they fought for legislation for the latter.
In the U.S. the only thing that pales in comparison to this is The Homestead Act. However the majority of that land went to large plantation owners and not the landless farmers who it was designed to help.
Concerning our current homelessness epidemic in the U.S., more is done for advocacy groups and non-profit organizations on behalf of the homeless than is done for the actual homelessness, or to end homelessness altogether. Maybe we need some type of Agrarian Reform here. "

From Xavier
"I admire the initiative and creativity of the MST. I think they did well for themselves in struggling for the land and jobs they believed they deserved. I fully understood their argument concerning the land owned by the large agro-industrial transnational corporations. It seemed ridiculous to have an idle source of labor and unworked land simultaneously. (I must not understand the economics because I can't see how that is profitable).
What I don't like about the MST is their value-system and that they believe that it is the most just and equitable for society.
First of all they advocate a democratic model for society which I pretty much disdain. I don't care if its a capitalist democracy or a communist/collectivist democracy. I think its an injustice anytime an individual's prerogatives are subjugated to a group regardless of whether the group is right or not. Basically I don't think anyone's freedoms should be up for a vote especially an arbitrary vote. I understand why the MST would advocate it though. It is an effective way to create moral authority and superiority where none exists. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with with material gain or owning and renting out land or selling new and complicated agro-techonology. Unless you are a peasant in Brazil in which case this situation is not beneficial to you. So since the majority of people in Brazil are peasants and don't benefit from a relationship with multinational corporations the existence of democratic prejudice would give the peasants moral license to steal what belongs to the corporations.
Thus their statement on page 40 that they are fighting for a just and equitable society is a lie. They are seeking justice and equity for peasants and landless people not society as a whole since there are groups of people who are going to lose out and whose voice the MST is not concerned with hearing. Democracy in this situation, as in all situations, is a convenient implement for the poor to rob the rich.
My second problem with the MST is the values they wish to instill in people, especially their children. They make the statement on page 119 that the government shut down schools in the countryside and encouraged parents to send their kids to schools in the city. But the parents didn't want to do this because they say that the children should learn to be farmers from childhood. Their reason behind this was that peasants will exist in the future.
I would never be so presumptuous as to tell another person how to raise their children but it seems unfair to me to automatically assume that your children what to be farmers.
Also the author states that the MST considered as vices individualism, personalism, self-reliance, adventurism and spontaneousness. I have never heard of anything so totally in favor of turning a human being into a herd animal in my life. Like I said, if the MST wishes to impose these values on those who choose to live in their settlements more power to them. But that these are characteristics be considered harmful to every human being and uprooted from society to me is the equivalent of attempting to reverse 10,000 years of human evolution. It is an attempt to destroy everything noble and beautiful about humanity and I would do everything in my power to see to it that such a movement did not prevail. "

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