Identitarian Contention Within the MST : An investigation of the tension over issues of identity and the transitioning membership in the Brazilian Landless Movement
MetadataShow full item record
One can easily forget about modem day peasants, if one is aware of their existence at all. Their livelihood is often misunderstood as a relic of the past, while the peasants are often perceived as subjugated individuals with limited access to resources, education, or power. The word itself can have a pejorative connotation. Peasant uprisings, for centuries, amounted to sad affairs easily squashed by the reigning forces of the time. Nevertheless, the peasant today is not necessarily a sad or powerless individual, especially in the case of the peasants involved in Brazil's Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST). The MST, also referred to as the Landless Movement, is a movement centered on agrarian reform throughout Brazil. Created in the 1970's, the movement has persevered through changing contexts, violence carried out by the state and landed elite, membership decline, and wavering public support. Throughout all of this, the landless leadership has striven to uphold the promise it originally made to its followers, the promise of land ownership realized through land occupation and the creation of settlements. Although the MST is generally considered to be one of the largest and most successful social movements in Latin America, it is not immune to the foibles that movements so often generate over time. The focus ofthis study is just such a weakness in the Landless Movement of today. As the movement grew older, the MST found itself subjected to periods of stagnancy as the result of membership decline. With this issue in mind the Landless Movement began recruiting in urban areas, in the hopes of pulling formerly rural Brazilians back into the countryside and into the arms of the movement. In the Brazilian newsweekly, Veja, an investigation revealed that some 60 percent of MST members are former farmers while the rest formerly inhabited cities and chose the settlement over the hardships of an urban existence (de Almeida & Sanchez 2000, 15). While the MST opened up access to struggling rural and urban members alike, this ultimately created a division within the base. From such a split came the added contention between the base and the movement's leadership. In this monograph I examine why this tension exists and what it means for the Landless Movement. I will develop my analysis of the internal tension through the use of three standard explanatory metrics of social movement theory: organizational structure, framing, and collective action.