Venezuela is paramount because it is the battle of this century: João Pedro Stedile

João Pedro Stedile of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) talks about the recently concluded International Peoples’ Assembly, the assault on Venezuela, and the battles against imperialism and the right wing in Brazil and across the world

March 13, 2019 by Resumen Latinamericano

After the International Peoples Assembly (AIP) in solidarity with the people and the government of Venezuela that was held in Caracas recently and attended by over 500 delegates from 90 countries, activist and journalist Carlos Aznárez of Resumen Latinoamericano spoke with one of the key people involved in the process, João Pedro Stedile, the leader of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil.

Why now an International Peoples Assembly?

The efforts we are making with this organization, including all parties and trade unions, are in order to bring together all the popular forces to promote common struggles against the common enemies, the imperialists. This is the main reason for seeking new forms of international coordination that promote struggles and try to unite various spaces and forms of organization in our countries. Due to the degree of conflict in Venezuela, since it is currently the epicenter of the world’s class struggle where imperialist forces want to topple the country, this first assembly had, as a primary task, to return to our home countries with an agenda of mobilizations and of denunciation, to help our movements develop in each one of the countries that we are here from.

Often, when such meetings are held, proposals are made to coordinate actions but they are not carried forward or the documents and resolutions are shelved due to internal issues in each country. Why do you think this time it is going to succeed or would have to succeed?

This is our self-critical reflection: we have to get out of paper work and try to promote more actions. I believe that we must promote concrete struggles and actions because the people’s forces that are here are already familiar with the processes of organizing people in their countries. They are more prepared to build united and social struggle processes. In other words, this not a bureaucratic meeting that comes with the acronym or the party. The people who have come here are involved in their countries in real processes of struggle. So, we are confident that when they will return to their countries, they will put the issue of Venezuela, the issue of internationalism, as a permanent part of their agenda in the national struggles they are already leading.

Venezuela is a game changer today in the anti-imperialist struggle. How do you think it is more valid or more efficient to show solidarity with Venezuela in the continent?

It is true that there is a lot of confusion and that is why Venezuela is a key point, because even some sectors of the Latin American and European left wing are influenced by what the bourgeois press says. We had invited several forces from Europe who refused to come to Venezuela because they believed that there was no democracy in the country. Look, a country that has held 25 elections in 20 years, where the majority of the media is private, where the opposition carries out marches whenever it wants – how anyone can say that there is no democracy in this country? These bourgeois ideas have affected the left and most institutional sectors, which are then moved only by the electoral logic. So if they are in the election year, they believe that they should be close to Venezuelans because they are very radical. This is how in the past they had isolated Cuba, but Cuba is there, after 60 years of resistance and now its people are happy and educated.

So, Venezuela is paramount because it is the battle of this century. If the empire manages to topple Venezuela, it means that, it will have more strength to topple Cuba, Nicaragua and all the processes that propose change, even this institutional left that only thinks in elections.  With a defeat of Venezuela, they will have more difficulties in winning elections. So, even for the institutional or public struggle, it is very important to defend Venezuela and to transform it into a trench of resistance and to make here the tomb, at least, of Trump’s government.

In your speeches and statements, you often criticize the mistakes of the neo-developmental governments, but there is a tendency whereby in order to get out of this imperialist offensive, there is [a call for a] return to social democracy. How do you see this? Is it valid or should we define it more clearly by suggesting the way to socialism?

The assessment we make is that there is a deep crisis in the capitalist mode of production and the exit that they are seeking to solve [the problems of] their companies, their accumulation, is taking over the natural resources in an even more offensive form, be it oil, mining, water and biodiversity. There is also the increasing exploitation of the working class by taking away the historical rights that we have conquered throughout the decade after the Second World War. In ideological terms, what the capital is pushing is the recovery of the far right, as happened in the crisis of 1930s, when it resorted to fascist and Nazi ideas.

The advantage we have now is that this scheme cannot be repeated as a right-wing proposal because they do not have mass movements in the working class as fascism and Nazism did, and this gives us security. But on the other hand, as they do not have masses, they wage an ideological struggle and use all the weapons they have – television, internet, networks, fake news – to defeat us in ideology.

In this plan of capital, they themselves have already defeated social democracy. In Latin America, Europe and the whole world, social democracy was a way of humanizing capital, but capital no longer wants to be human. Capital, in order to recover, has to be the devil, go to farthest extent, either in terms of manipulation of the State or of super-exploitation of nature and human labor.

So, it would be a mistake for the left to think that in order to win elections again, it is important to be more social democratic. Now, we have to try to do grassroots work again, fight the ideological struggle and recover our social foundation that is the working class, which is displaced, precarious, and faces many problems. But we have to reorganize it in other ways that are not just trade unions and parties as we were accustomed to, but in new forms and with new movements that have a social base that brings to the table even participative democracy, because only winning elections is not enough, as was proven in Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina. Of course, it is important to win elections, but if we have accumulated forces, they will achieve structural changes in the economy and in the political regime.

The phenomenon of the Yellow Vests movement is gaining a lot of attention in Europe. Interestingly, that wave comes from Europe and not Latin America and it has an anti-system perspective. Do you think that this phenomenon could succeed in fighting the Empire?

No doubt. It calls us a lot of attention and we are very interested in their organization process. We will try to send our people, so that they stay there a while and learn with them the forms that they have adopted. It caught our attention because they are part of the working class, not a small bourgeoisie movement or disillusioned students’ movement like ones in Europe that camped in public squares and had a little touch of left. We notice that there, they promote the initiatives of the poor working class that was outside the unions and the parties, but that reacted against this contradiction on observing that capitalism no longer solves their daily problems and they adopted this form that we find very interesting.

However, it is not a form that we should apply in each country because the important thing is that they were creative and discovered a form that serves the French reality. That is what we have to look for in Brazil, in Argentina and in every country. In other words, encourage a debate among the popular forces to seek new forms of struggle that will curb capital and harm them, because only with demonstrations, slogans of command, rallies, etc., capital cannot be curbed. I hope that the French left learns from them from the methodological point of view of organizing the masses.

How is the MST fighting at this time in Brazil? Lula continues to be in prison and there are contradictions with the government but are the rights and achievements of workers still being attacked?

The MST is now in a very complex situation since we have to double-down our work and our efforts, because our movement has a peasant base, with a developed experience of class struggle in the field against the big landowners and agro-capital, which are the big transnational corporations. There, we train, politicize and understand how agrarian reform is not only land for those who work on it as the Zapatista ideas were defended in the 20th century, but is also a fight against international capital, against its transgenic and agro-toxic technology. It was that struggle that politicized us to extrapolate what the classical peasant movements were.

Faced with the defeat of Lula’s imprisonment and Bolsonaro’s victory, new challenges were posed on us that extrapolate the struggle for agrarian reform. At the same time, to take forward the agrarian reform we have to win the political struggle. So, the MST has to advance in the struggle for agrarian reform more carefully because the right is ready for us to fall into a trap and defeat ourselves. Now, in the field, we have to act with much more wisdom to protect us from the repression that is coming.

In political terms, what we have to do and what we are currently preparing our militancy for, is to try to go to the city with our activism, our experience, and develop a movement that brings together the peripheral sectors and the people’s forces. To do this we have created in Brazil a broad unitary front of the popular movements called Frente Brasil Popular. We are developing a proper way of doing grassroots work that we call the People’s Congress, it’s a bit of a pompous name, but its tries to challenge, to go house to house to talk to people, ask about their problems, and motivate them to go to a people’s assembly in their neighborhood, parish, local work spaces.

After these assemblies where people share their problems, we are trying to hold assemblies at the municipal level, then at the provincial level. Soon, maybe next year or by the end of this year, at the national level, a National People’s Congress will be held as a way to encourage people to participate in the politics, to recover new media, distribute our newspaper, discuss it with people, use internet networks, do cultural events, reach people through music, theater, and not just through a political discussion that no one hears. We have to use other means of mass pedagogy so that the masses understand what is happening in Brazil using the creativity that I was talking about.

Will Lula and his freedom remain a central point on the MST’s agenda?

This is the second major issue of politics. Lula’s freedom is at the heart of the class struggle in Brazil. There is no successor to Lula because it is the people who choose the popular leadership, not the parties, that is why, it is called popular leadership and Lula is the people’s leader of Brazil.

It is a fundamental task for the class struggle to liberate Lula so that he becomes the main spokesperson. He is the one who has the capacity to help conduct mass mobilization against the system and the project of the far right. That is why the far right is scared and even prevents him from speaking and giving interviews, something that goes against the constitution. Any Brazilian drug trafficker can speak on the national television networks, but Lula cannot give an interview, not even to a print media journalist.

So, we are in this fight for Lula’s freedom that will depend on two important factors. One is international solidarity. That’s why I take this opportunity to ask everyone to help us. There is a massive signature campaign calling for the nomination of Lula for the Nobel Peace Prize. The second factor is national mobilization. From Brazil, we are working to promote Lula’s campaign with a concrete struggle so that the people begin to realize that they will have to mobilize against the measures of the neoliberal government, in defense of the historical rights of the working class that they are now trying to eliminate.


Original text in Spanish by Carlos Aznarez for Resumen Latinoamericano. Translation to English by Tanya Wadhwa.