David Morton writes in The Slate on the land reform movement led by the MST in Brazil, where 2% of the population owns 46% of the land:
The goal of the MST is to force the federal government to speed up land redistribution. Theoretically, the group has the constitution on its side. Much of the privately held farmland in Brazil lies fallow. The government can expropriate this idle land (negotiating a purchase price with the owner) and then settle poor farmers on the property. In practice, though, there’s not much budgeted for the program. What’s more, landowners have little trouble tying up the process in the courts. So, guided by the spirit of the legislation, the movement’s strategy is to break the law. Several hundred families will leave their shacks at the crack of dawn, show up on private land waving hoes and machetes, and start building shelters with whatever wood and plastic sheeting they can carry.
João Pedro Stedile, from the MST executive, puts the achievements and the problem in a broader theoretical perspective:
The MST’s most important achievement has been to organise the poor in the countryside. In Brazil there are five million landless workers, the poorest layer of rural society.We have won land for 500,000 families, some three million people. These families are still fighting on other fronts – for food sovereignty [control over the way food is produced and sold], education and to change the existing agricultural model.
Power is diluted into multiple forms beginning at home, and spreading to the community and society. It is in schools, churches and the media, as well as the state. That is something which we learned from [the Italian Marxist] Antonio Gramsci.
Changes must be made at the base of society. The criticism that we make against the orthodox left parties is that they see power as only being in the presidential palace. But just changing the palace’s occupant does not resolve society’s fundamental problems.
At the same time, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of seeing the problem as just in my family or village and that we don’t have to worry about the government.
An older article on the MST’s direct action mode of land reform.