Historical Challenges for Peasant Movements around the World

Presentation by Joao Pedro Stedile at the 8th International Conference of La Vía Campesina

Bogotá, Colombia, December 5, 2023

In these two days we did a collective exercise to diagnose the situation and now we are going to debate what to do for the next 5-10 years, so I wanted to ask for your attention to bring some reflections that can help systematize common elements around the world.

We have to make an effort to understand what the global issues are, as they confront us and affect everyone.

I am going to divide my reflection into 3 chapters:

I- Our historical, political and programmatic contribution in these 30 years

Our historical contribution in these 30 years was of significant value for the working class, peasantry and humanity. La Via Campesina became the organic intellectual collective of the world’s peasant class according to Gramsci’s concept and with a permanent debate process we managed to build unity of thought on 5 major themes:

  1. Defense of food sovereignty, understanding the need to feed all the people, so that each town has the conditions to produce all the necessary food. On the other hand, we define that food cannot be a commodity, as capitalism wants.
  2. The necessary defense of nature and water, we have been building this idea for 30 years now, which now becomes evident due to the climate changes that affect the entire world. Defending nature, seeds and water is defending life.
  3. The fundamental idea that farmers should control the seeds. We have always rebelled against GMOs, pesticides, etc.
  4. We incorporated gender equality as a principle of life, so that women peasants had equal participation in the organizations. We build this systematized idea of popular feminism that opposes this individual middle-class feminism that only proposes the individual freedom of women.
  5. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants was a very important achievement of La Vía Campesina.

These 5 themes were a historical contribution of La Via Campesina, in our countries, organizations and throughout the world.

II- The current context of the class struggle

We arrived here in Bogotá in December 2023 and what is the current context? What is the current context built in these two days with the companions who helped us understand the class struggle in the world, in each region and country? Yesterday we heard the important contributions of the realities in the regions.

Of all these analyses, what are the common themes around the world? Those are the ones we have to identify. These issues were not present at the beginning of La Via Campesina but now they have a fundamental presence, and they influence what we are going to decide or do.

1.Structural crisis of the capitalist system.

It fails to resolve the needs of the population. The way it is advancing and organized does not manage to meet the needs of the population. No economic system has a future if it does not solve the problems of the population. That’s why it has no future. The world is increasingly dominated by a dozen millionaires whereas millions of people live in poverty. Capitalism represented a way of life for the future, especially in the 70s-80s.

2. Decline of American imperialism and its allies.

Loss of hegemony in the world, in contrast other economic and political forms emerged, which oppose each other, especially Eurasia, BRICS.

3. There is a very serious environmental crisis that puts the different forms of life on the planet at risk, and puts the lives of human beings and the lives of millions of different living beings at risk. This environmental crisis is caused by the aggression of capital, we cannot say that it is the aggression of human beings, no, millions of people live in harmony with nature. The attacks are caused by the capital, the capitalist way of consuming and appropriating the goods of nature.

4. There is a worsening of physical violence, hatred, racism and femicides throughout the world that did not occur in other periods of humanity.

5. Our youth from the city and the countryside have asked for the future. Youth has no prospect of improving their lives, they have no further plans for the future. As a consequence of the crisis of capitalism, it does not even need to exploit us. In most of our countries youth unemployment is 40%, they are excluded from society.

6. Accompanying the crisis of capitalism are extreme right-wing ideas, the resurgence of fascism of all kinds, as an alternative to the bourgeoisie. Every time capitalism enters into crisis, it is capitalism itself that creates fascism, fascism was created as an alternative. The bourgeoisie ideologically controls the poor.

Fascism was born as a method to control the poor.

III- The political and programmatic challenges that can help us debate regarding what to do

If we look at the past and the current reality, we can debate a third chapter: what are the programmatic political challenges for the future that La Via Campesina must face, whose responsibility is even greater since in these 30 years we have managed to build a very important unit.

1. The fight for agrarian reform continues. It is an agrarian reform of the new time. Now we are talking about a comprehensive, territorial, popular agrarian reform. To give meaning to the agrarian reform, it is not only about defending the land, but also nature, seeds, etc.

2. Food Sovereignty: it is not enough to have food for everyone, but we need adequate food, that is why we have to fight against genetically modified seeds and agrotoxic products, we have to produce adequate food and this is a revolutionary task because it gives energy for life. The peoples who fail to produce their own food will be enslaved.

3. This should be at the heart and center of our struggles to confront environmental crimes. 24,000 people are in Dubai without deciding anything.

But we have to play our role, do what we can against climate change. We peasants must be the guardians of nature.

4. We must incorporate the different ideas about agroecology, but we must take a step towards massive agroecology. Carrying out massive agroecology requires control of seeds, organic fertilizer factories and biological defense. We will have to create agroecology schools in all countries. In all regions we have to have an agroecology school, because every region is different.

So we are building an international coordination of technological exchange for agroecology that we have called BAOBAB (like the African tree). It is an articulation to promote the exchange of technology and experiences in agroecology.Korean women say that agroecology is above all feminist, and this is true because women are the main protagonists of agroecology.

For agroecology to produce this change, it has to increase productivity, work and we have to produce more on less land, that is what technology is for and that is why we need machinery, organic fertilizers for peasants, and thus strengthen the proposal of agroecology.

5. We need to have and master renewable energies. Solar energy is a possibility and that is why we have to master the techniques that already exist and make it a real alternative to produce. In China they already use solar batteries for their agricultural machines. We have to see which renewable energies do not pose a threat to the environment.

6. We have to dedicate more effort towards cooperative agroindustry, because the cities are increasingly further away from food. We need to bring adequate food to the cities, without agrochemicals. The peasant cooperative agroindustry is fundamental for the peasants.

In our movement in Brazil, farmers do not like to work collectively in the fields, since each one has their own way of working the land, but they have to work collectively in agroindustry and they will only be able to produce well if they organize and divide the work, which will raise awareness. Agribusiness is fundamental, strategic, and only in this way can work be generated, producing money for young people and women. Without agribusiness we will not have the energy to offer good employment to young people and women, and as peasants we have to create alternatives.

7 Fight against imperialism and international companies. WE CANNOT continue using dollars, because DOLLARS ARE THE INSTRUMENT OF CAPITALIST DOMINATION IN THE WORLD.

We have to confront fascism and conservative media outlets, not only for the peasants but for the entire working class. We have to build a peasant movement that defends the rights of peasants and without the working classes of the cities we will not defeat the transnational companies.

We have to consolidate the International Peoples’ Assembly, because for the first time we have managed to build a new articulation in which political parties, unions, trade union centers, the Women’s March, young people, environmentalists, etc. participate. This process, which we did not have, is important. 30 years ago we did not have these alliances. Each one worked separately.

The International Peoples’ Assembly, IPA, is not a bureaucratic apparatus for disputing positions, it should allow us to articulate ourselves between all forms of class organization and carry out the mass struggle together, against capital, imperialism, patriarchy, and for the defense of our historical project of a just and egalitarian society.