Agroecology and Organized Anarchism: An Interview With the Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro

Published January 8, 2021

Agroecology and Organized Anarchism: An Interview with the Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro

In response to the industrial and capitalist model of food production that has decimated rural livelihoods and our mother earth, social movements around the world have identified agroecology as their alternative proposal for rural development. Based on peasant and indigenous knowledge, struggles for food sovereignty and agrarian reform, agroecology is understood by social movements as “a tool for social, economic, cultural, political and ecological transformation of communities and territories.

This interview, which Black Rose conducted in the summer of 2020 with a member of the Frente de Lucha Campesina of the Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro (FARJ), explores her work with some of the Brazilian social movements fighting for agroecology and food sovereignty. Coming from a context with highly developed peasant social movements, the FARJ shares important ideas that can inspire anarchist militancy.

BRRN: First of all, could you give us a general description of the type of social work in which militants of the FARJ’s Frente de Lucha Campesina are involved? What are the movements and organizations in which FARJ militants participate/collaborate? Who are the protagonists of these movements and organizations?

FARJ: Initially the Front was called “Anarchism and Nature”. Some of the members were students from the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro. Starting with a university agro-ecology group, the GAE (Ecological Agriculture Group), they sought to carry out social work in agrarian reform settlements in the state of Rio de Janeiro and with small farmer families. And the space that articulated these activities was called Articulação Agroecológica de Rio de Janeiro.

From this process and in frequent contact with the settlements, the MST (Movement of Landless Rural Workers) got to know the way of working of our militants, until one of them was invited to join the movement, contributing mainly to the organization processes of the cooperative work in the Baixada Fluminense region. One of the results of this work was the contribution to the organization of a sales and distribution cooperative for an MST settlement in the metropolitan region of the state of Rio, around 2008. As time went by, more militants joined the Front; some from rural areas, from the MST, or students from the agronomy field.

Around 2012 the MPA (Small Farmers’ Movement) arrived in Rio, and we have some militants from our front contributing to the movement and its development in the state. We also have a comrade who works in the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).

Our work in the movements and rural spaces is related to themes such as rural education, political formation [ formação 1], communication, production, sale and distribution, and human rights. We always seek to maintain a link with the bases of the movements, including those militants who live in the state capital or in the city. We seek to contribute to the accumulated knowledge of the FARJ and the historical experiences of organized anarchism in the peasant struggles, with our concept of social work and militant style, pursuing the development of popular power. We stimulate the political participation and the protagonism of the bases in the processes of daily struggle of the movements. We also seek to promote alliances and joint actions between rural and urban movements where we also operate or that we support, such as solidarity actions, actions of exchange of experiences between the bases of the movements, visits and campaigns, among others that allow contacts between the bases.

Today we have militants in the MST, MPA and CPT. The protagonists are the landless workers, the small farmers and the Quilombola communities [descendants of Maroons or former slaves who escaped to the forest]. Many in the settlements, for example, came from the sugar cane industry, slave-like jobs, slums, or were precarious workers. A good part of the bases of the movements are black, young and female.

BRRN: Can you tell us how you personally came to be involved in peasant movements and movements for food sovereignty and agro-ecology? Why do you think it is important for anarchists to be involved in these struggles? What is the importance of these struggles at this time of the Covid-19 global pandemic in particular?

FARJ: My militancy was in the Community Front, in the Grassroots Organizing Movement (MOB), which currently works in the Center for Social Culture and in the Morro dos Macacos community. Since 2013, I have supported the MST with graphic design for the Cícero Guedes State Agrarian Reform Fair, an annual 3-day fair in the center of the city of Rio de Janeiro with the products of the state, the southeast region and partners of the city. and other movements. Around 2014, MPA and MST started a biweekly farmers’ market at the Praia Vermelha campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which also supported with communication and other activities. So from these relationships and contacts came the possibilities of contributing from the capital, either with the tasks of communication and propaganda, or contribute to the organization of spaces for the sale and distribution of products of the movements in the city and always trying to maintain the connection with their bases.

Historically, anarchism has been and continues to be present in peasant struggles: China, Ukraine, Spain, Peru and other examples. Anarchism must be part of the struggles from below, and where we have space to contribute our proposals and build popular power. The agrarian, territorial (access to land and concentration of land), peasant, indigenous, black and quilombola question is central in Latin America, despite the demographic concentration in the big cities. In large part we are countries of agricultural exports, where natural resources are tremendously exploited by capital, which has a very strong base of people of indigenous, black and peasant origin, with an extreme concentration of land in the hands of capitalists, latifundiários [large landowners] and foreigners. There are many conflicts in the rural areas, with assassinations of community leaders and militants, land grabbing and evictions. Not to mention the issue of food sovereignty, of food production for the people in opposition to the agro-industrial model that produces commodities for export. So the land issue is very important in Brazil and in the whole continent, and from there we see the importance that we also insert ourselves in these struggles. Understanding that although we have our own goals, rural and urban struggles must be connected.

We also learn a lot in these mass movements, contributing to our political formation as militants, particularly in the work of building bases. Whether in courses, materials, and spaces for political formation in movements, or in the day-to-day work of grassroots.

Today, in the context of COVID-19, rural movements have great importance in producing healthy food for the population, and in leading on issues of the environment, energy and food sovereignty. There are analyses that point to a “pandemic” of lack of food for the population. Many favelas already have people who are hungry. In response, there are many solidarity campaigns and distribution of food boxes to the favela residents and take-out lunches for people living on the streets. Unions and individuals are making donations for the purchase of these foods from rural movements and urban agriculture movements in the city of Rio. In other words, acts of solidarity have multiplied and are organized by the population and by social movements.

BRRN: What has been your experience as an anarchist participating / collaborating with these movements? How do you press within these movements for more anti-authoritarian / anarchist practices?

FARJ: We believe that the experience, here in Rio de Janeiro, gives us the opportunity to influence. One aspect of practical political training as well, through participation in mass movements like these, is to contribute to the organization of collective processes. There is contact with people, with concrete realities and problems, and the need to think of ways to solve problems through organization and grassroots building. There are also formal processes of political formation, such as national and local courses, visits to experiences in other states, and state and national meetings. Specific political trainings on certain themes or simply in daily life, in contact with other militants and comrades.

For example, thanks to the tasks and trainings of the social movements, I was able to learn about communication, agro-ecological management and cooperatives, in addition to the debates around agricultural and food issues. We also took these accumulated skills and knowledge to political organization, in the sense that they characterize and contribute to the accumulation of political formation that we have for all our militancy. In other words, it is a two-way street, a dialectical process, that adapts to the formation and interest of our organization. Therefore, it is important that it is not only an individual accumulation, but that it helps in some way to the formation of the entire militancy of the specific [anarchist] organization.

Here in the state of Rio, I think that most of the challenges common to social movements, both in rural areas and in the city, are due to the difficulty of building bases, often the need for more militants, the difficulty of obtaining resources and structure - organizational difficulties. There are also difficulties in achieving more consolidated articulation between different social movements, which end up being more sporadic or part of campaigns. Faced with a reality of the advance of ultraliberalism and the systematic extinction of rights and social policies, it is a permanent challenge to build processes that are capable of self-management and mobilization of people in communities and places of grassroots construction. But in general, we seek to help organize the disorganized, acting as a leaven in the mass struggles.

BRRN: In the interview that Zabalaza gave to the FARJ, the Association of Autonomous Producers of the Countryside and the City (APAC) was mentioned. I’m very curious to know more about that organization, what they do and how that association builds urban and rural solidarity around issues of food and land sovereignty.

FARJ: APAC played an important role in the production of agricultural implements for small producers. Its origin came from CADTS, the Center for Technical and Social Learning and Development, a group linked to the Social Pastoral that worked with the education of urban workers, providing political training to electricians, seamstresses, machinists, printers, and other professions. This work strengthened their performance in the union and community environment. In order to strengthen solidarity between rural and urban workers, CADTS began a project to develop agricultural implements with technology built together with “land workers”, an expression used at the time. In their visits to rural workers to gather information and design implements, CADTS students decided to structure this work to meet this demand, which they had already met for various groups of farmers throughout Brazil. Thus, APAC was born on May 1st, bringing together not only “metallurgists”, but also farmers, housewives, unemployed, popular educators, etc. with the organicity, inspired by self-management, of an association composed of several working groups that are collectively articulated in a general assembly. For more than 30 years since its foundation, APAC has welcomed many groups of workers. We will mention just a few to illustrate their diversity: from an association composed of several autonomous working groups that articulate collectively in a general assembly. For more than 30 years since its foundation, APAC has welcomed many groups of workers. We will mention just a few to illustrate their diversity: from an association composed of several autonomous working groups that articulate collectively in a general assembly. For more than 30 years since its foundation, APAC has welcomed many groups of workers. We will mention just a few to illustrate their diversity:

Multimetal: Manufacture of metal parts and equipment, from which various tools for the field were made. After a few years it was replaced by OPMAC, which refers to the word "field", these metal design services continued and eventually began to develop projects for urban workers such as wagons adapted for waste recyclers, the manufacture of recycled brooms, etc.

Arte Fuxico : Meeting of artisans who reused surplus fabrics from the garment industry and made customized pieces such as bags, rugs and tools in general.

Pre-vestibular Community Preparatory Courses: Popular education initiative that sought space in APAC to put together a preparatory course for university admission. The core of the APAC course lasted a few years and was part of a network of community courses from different regions.

Auto Mechanics : Auto repair shop that brought together a master mechanic and his assistants. The group provided internal and external services to APAC and played a very important role in teaching the mechanic's trade and attending the association's assemblies.

Printer: A printer who brought together workers mostly from CADTS who developed graphic design projects and edited numerous publications for social movements and various external services.

Our arrival at APAC was parallel to the founding of FARJ, and we have some militants who have had and have closer relations with them, either collaborating on projects or being part of APAC’s management. We have held a silkscreen printing workshop, political meetings, community work groups, political training talks and popular language courses. We will highlight one of the most structured initiatives of our militancy, which was to organize the Cooperativa Floreal de Trabajadores en Agroecologia, where we had great interaction with the internal groups of APAC, bringing agendas discussed with our work with the Forum of Popular Cooperativism, the Articulation of Agroecology of Rio de Janeiro and the sectors of Technical Assistance and Extension. It was a period that encouraged APAC to contribute to issues of agrarian conjuncture, agroecology, urban agriculture, school gardens, popular herbalism, social ecology, rural/urban solidarity and food sovereignty and agrarian reform. This factor strengthened the relationship of our militants with the social movements of the countryside, such as the MST, CPT and MPA, as well as for the use of space as a warehouse or for the manufacture of agricultural implements. But our experience with the popular cooperatives opened the doors for us to contribute to the construction of cooperatives and associations in the movements, as well as for the use of space as a warehouse or for the manufacture of agricultural implements.

BRRN: Are you involved with the Territorial Solidarity Committees, organized by the MPA as a response to the current social crisis? Can you share a little about this project?

FARJ: In this context of COVID-19, rural movements such as MPA and MST, the CPT and urban agriculture groups such as the Urban Agriculture Network of Carioca and Agro-ecological Articulation have developed solidarity actions in the countryside and in the city.

The MPA is with the Territorial Solidarity Committees. With the distribution of agro-ecological food, generating spaces for dialogue and political debate, strengthening the organizational processes between social and territorial movements in the countryside and the city. The actions can occur in different forms depending on the reality and local demands. The movement has continued to provide material support in the city with weekly deliveries of peasant food boxes and donation of meals for the homeless.

The MST has Marmita Solidária, which receives donations from unions and supporters to buy food to prepare meals for the homeless. And the Nós por Nós Campaign, which is part of the Periferia Viva Campaign (“Living Periphery”), in which MPA and other movements also participate. The campaign raises funds to buy agro-ecological products from settlements and small farmers donate to the favelas, and together they support jobs, such as legal assistance for those without identity documents, or other actions besides simply donating food.

For the CAB (the Brazilian Anarchist Coordination) we are organizing the national campaign Vida Digna (“Dignified Life”), against the rising cost of living. There are state and local committees, and we managed to organize a food donation from the MST for two occupations of the Internationalist Homeless Front. CPT also articulated the possibility of providing resources to landless settlements and quilombola communities, among others, in the northern region of Rio state, together with the AMP.

But several similar actions are being carried out throughout the country with our CAB militants involved, seeking to articulate solidarity actions between the countryside and the city, between small farmers and indigenous communities. Actions that bring sympathizers from the city who want to help We hope that all this will help to bring the movements of the countryside and the city closer together, in a more organic way, among the bases of these movements as well. Actions that make the movements think together about forms of daily solidarity, without the need for projects, politicians or public policies.

This pandemic meant that movements and collectives had to create other forms of distribution, other forms of logistics to continue with the production and distribution of their products. And all this could be important in the future, if the movements manage to define the right strategic policies, since we will have fewer and fewer public policies for the countryside from the state. On the contrary, attacks on indigenous peoples, peasants and land grabbing are only increasing.

BRRN: The MST is probably the most famous of the Brazilian social movements worldwide. The organization and its impressive achievements in terms of occupation and redistribution of land to thousands of families, promotion of agro-ecology and food sovereignty, and its contribution to global peasant movements, has been a source of inspiration for revolutionaries all over the world, including many anarchists. From a distance, there seem to be many aspects of the organization’s practices and tactics that align with anarchist principles. At the same time, there are characteristics of the MST, such as its Marxism-Leninism and its relationship with the PT, that may present challenges for anarchists who wish to support / participate / collaborate with the MST. I would love to know what FARJ’s assessment of the MST is, the positive aspects of the movement, any criticisms it has and how it navigates working with the MST.

FARJ: In Brazil, the issue of land, the concentration of land, is central. Today, we are a country that continues to be a peripheral agrarian-exporter of commodities, in spite of being seen by other world powers as a contender, a world player, because of the size and the natural assets it possesses, such as water, oil, mineral resources. etc. That is why we have attacks and coups d’état, which are present throughout the history of Latin American countries. So Brazil has always had strong agrarian and land conflicts, several historical revolts, not to mention the quilombos, the rural workers, the indigenous people.

The MST, like other movements in the countryside, emerges from this accumulation of struggles, conflicts and revolts. Previously, one of the main movements was the Ligas Campesinas (1954-1964). Over time, unions also appeared in the countryside that worked on these labor issues and for salaried workers, employees in the countryside, etc. With the coup d’état and the military-business dictatorship (1964) the militants in the countryside also suffered much repression, with more than a thousand deaths and disappearances, persecuting and repressing the Ligas Campesinas.

Then came the opening and conciliatory transition from the dictatorship to democracy. Unlike countries like Argentina, the military in Brazil was not punished for the crimes of the dictatorship. At that time, several armed leftist resistance groups sought to resist the dictatorship. So the process that followed, in the 70s and 80s, also included the development and participation of labor organizations, culminating in the CUT (Central Unificada de Trabajadores) (1983), in progressive sectors of the church (CEBs (Comunidades de Base Eclesiasticas), the Comisión Pastoral de Tierras y la Teología de la Liberación), rural movements and the PT (Partido de los Trabajadores).

In the CUT was the Rural Department, which brought together rural workers, with an agenda more related to labor rights. And the MST (and later MPA) also appeared to address agendas of rural demands from the countryside that were not only about working conditions, but access to land, credit, and public policies to produce and continue reproducing their rural livelihoods. In other words, the CUT and the rural unions did not cover all the peasant agendas.

The clergy and Liberation Theology played an important role along with the rural movements, doing grassroots work in the communities, mobilizing people and contributing to the social movements that came to occupy the land.

This was the great socially based political “broth” that we address here in a very general way. And all this broth and struggles were accumulated in the so-called Popular Democratic Project, with the PT as a party expression. In other words, some of these great mass movements in Brazil have a very strong historical relationship with the PT. With the arrival of the PT to the government, the movements were also incorporating a political culture of being part of the State, of bureaucracy as well. This resulted in a great weakening of the movements, mainly today, with difficulties in mobilizing the masses and confronting the attacks of the Bolsonaro government of fascist orientation.

In addition, the main organizational reference of these movements is Marxism-Leninism and democratic centralism, although on occasions the movements themselves recognize the need to look for other elements that better address the reality of the peasantry and the subjects of the countryside. Thus, if one works on the mechanisms of political participation, one runs the risk of falling into distant relations between the bases and the leadership of these movements. That is to say, the need for spaces that make possible qualitative political participation from the bases, reflecting on the work in which they are inserted, forming themselves, leading the processes and contributing, from their reality, with the direction of the movement. It also avoids the risks of falling into pragmatism, or the so-called “putting out fires” on a daily basis, which accumulates very little politically and socially, even though a lot is being done.

In our anarchist conception, we believe that the subject of social transformation does not exist per se, but is formed in daily work and struggle, and popular power is built with the political participation of the subjects, assuming responsibilities and protagonism in the struggles. Therefore, the organizational form needs to be aligned with a transforming ideological concept, so that it allows the advancement of non-alienating organizational forms.

Therefore, we also seek to bring and project other historical experiences of struggle and organization of the working class, the peasantry, the native communities. We have examples such as the Mexican Revolution (1910) and the subsequent Zapatista movement in Mexico. The struggle of the Makhnovist army in the Ukraine, in the process of the Russian Revolution, processes with indigenous and peasant protagonism in the expropriation of land and social organization. The collectivization and organization of the productive and social processes in the Spanish Civil War, in the countryside and in the city, with the example of the CNT. Like the Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan, with the organization, self-defense, territorial and labor and productive management in a collective and direct way. Current community experiences in Colombia with the concept of land as a common good, and demanding the permanence and reproduction of forms of community life in the territories. In short, there are diverse experiences, some known by the movements, as well as other references that they also seek, and that we examine in order to study and identify elements that here can contribute to our processes.

Therefore, anarchism also needs to develop concrete tools for intervening in reality, for mobilizing and managing life in its different aspects: social, cultural, productive, economic. In other words, we also need to develop proposals to organize the field and address these problems.

BRRN: The struggles for food sovereignty, agro-ecology and agrarian reform raise some really critical questions for anarchists, particularly because many of the movements and academics who dominate the discourse don’t share our criticisms of the state, electoralism, etc., and often see the nation-state as a vehicle for achieving food sovereignty, agrarian reform, etc. I have not encountered many contemporary anarchist perspectives on food sovereignty, agroecology and agrarian reform, and I am very curious to know your reflections as an anarchist participant in these movements in Brazil, and how you and other FARJ militants in the Frente de Luta Camponesa think about food sovereignty and agrarian reform from an anarchist perspective, Can we articulate a particular anarchist perspective on how to achieve and sustain food sovereignty and agrarian reform that is different from the perspectives of Marxist-Leninist, social democratic and liberal currents within the social movements?

FARJ: We are currently beginning to have this debate in the CAB (Brazilian Anarchist Coordination), within its Agrarian Working Group, among militants working in rural movements, in non-urban indigenous communities, with other movements such as the MAM (Movement for Popular Sovereignty in Mining) and it has a little to do with the previous question. In other words, what are the concrete proposals of anarchism for reality? What is our program of anarchist struggle?

So we are beginning to discuss what concepts are important and central to us. Concepts like Food Sovereignty, Agrarian Reform or Revolution, Natural and Energy Resources. Bem viver (“living well”), as opposed to the logic of development, among others.

For us, these issues must be related to popular demands, to popular reality. For us, agro-ecology should be a tool and a principle for strengthening the struggle and organization of the rural peoples and communities. In other words, we will also seek to apply these concepts and questions as references, within our anarchist conception, based on the popular reality, to strengthen our work of base construction and construction of popular power.

Some of these concepts are also worked on by rural social movements such as food sovereignty, agro-ecology, feminism. But it is clear that we also need to develop our conceptions about them. But we can say, in general, that the left tends to have a very urban reading of reality, valuing more union and urban issues, reproducing this centrality in the urban. And anarchism is not exempt from reproducing some of that as well.

BRRN: It goes without saying that the historical processes of colonialism and capitalist development around the world have left a mess of contradictions for different oppressed classes and communities to navigate when it comes to land issues. Here in the U.S., because social movements are so weak, the discourse and struggles around land and agrarian reform do not seem to be as advanced compared to the Brazilian context. A critical question here in the US and Canada (two European colonial projects located in stolen indigenous territories) is how different oppressed populations are fighting over land issues: indigenous peoples, Afro-descendents, small farmers, migrant farm workers, etc. can be in solidarity with each other instead of confronting each other over the contradictions created by the systems of settler colonialism and capitalism. I am very curious to know where the discourse around these complicated issues is among the social movements you work with and what your perspectives on them are, as anarchists. In Rio de Janeiro, are there promising signs of solidarity among indigenous people, quilombola communities, peasants, and farm workers? Can you recommend some good sources for people who want to learn more about these questions and struggles?

FARJ: Similar territorial problems occur here as well, I believe they are also the consequences of the historical processes of colonialism, structural slavery and patriarchy and the other oppressions promoted by capitalism.

Brazil, being a country of continental dimensions, presents several challenges. For example, there is a reality, a relationship with the land and culture of the people in the south of the country, and there is another of the indigenous communities and other subjects in the north of the country. This already raises several questions for the struggle and the movements as well. For example, the issue of working with the idea of the peasant subject, in the face of these diversities. It also implies knowing and understanding other forms of organization, which can be different from the forms of organization reproduced by the traditional left.

On the other hand, Brazil has this great potential for struggle and for people and subjects in the countryside. Almost 40% of the country’s land is agrarian reform settlements, indigenous lands (recognized or not), quilombos, peasant communities. The powerful know this potential and are afraid. That is why they invest in repression and the dismantling of social rights, land grabbing, paramilitary violence, etc.

It is a social diversity that is a reality in Latin America. The strength of Indigenous peoples in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia. The Mapuche in Argentina and Chile. Colombia is also a very rich and interesting country, with Afro-Colombian communities, diverse indigenous ethnicities, peasants. There is the CNA (Coordinadora Nacional Agraria), an important peasant movement in the country, there is a very interesting debate about “agro-food territory”, for example.

In Rio, the AMP has been making contacts and working with some quilombola communities and now indigenous communities. In the capital there is the struggle of Aldeia Maracanã, which mobilized enough supporters against the speculation and gentrification that the mega Olympic event opened up all at once. There are many possibilities for dialogue between quilombos, indigenous peoples, favelas, rural and urban movements and we can go further. Actions such as community gardens, urban agriculture, are also interesting possibilities for food sovereignty of the inhabitants of the favelas and possibilities for dialogue with rural movements. The organization of consumer collectives in the cities, organizing for access and distribution of healthy food in the countryside. Collective investment groups of sympathizers, making rural production possible. Support relationships between different sectors of the working class, distributors, educators, students. The possibilities of organizing from below are many.

Some websites for reference and more information:

Virtual Library of the Landless Rural Workers' Movement (MST)

Small Farmers' Movement (MPA)

Movement for Popular Sovereignty in Mining (MAM)

National Agrarian Coordinator (Colombia)

Pastoral Land Commission (CPT)

Quilombola Front of Rio Grande do Sul

Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon

Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB)

Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of the Southern Region

Mídia India

Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR)

Articulation of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of the Northeast, Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo (APOINME)

Popular Web (Teia dos Povos)

BRRN: Anything else you’d like to share?

FARJ: We would like to thank you for the space and the opportunity to share experiences and work here. There are other organized colleagues at the CAB who can also contribute their experiences from their states and our work also has contributions from them. We hope to have contributed to Black Rose and help more people to know a little more about the struggles in Brazil and in our continent. We also hope to have more opportunities for exchanges like this with our BR colleagues, who also inspire us. Spaces like this are a must. Up those who fight !!!

  1. There is no direct translation of the term formação , as used by social movements, in English. In this interview I have translated it as “political formation,” although it can be understood more precisely as the collective processes within social movements that include “awareness raising, political education, and leadership development. For more information on the concept and practice of training, see “Leadership Development and Training in the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil” by Dawn Plummer

This interview was conducted by a member of the New York City Local of the Black Rose Anarchist Federation.

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