Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement

Introductory Note

The Landless Workers Movement (MST) demands land (the means of production), agrarian reform (infrastructure), and social transformation (a solidarity economy).

Workers in Brazil began occupations of agricultural land in the early 1980s, inspired by liberation theology and Marxist struggles. These communities coalesced under the MST starting in 1984, when the country was under an anti-communist military dictatorship. A new constitution was established in 1988, which requires that unproductive farmland be expropriated from landowners and redistributed. Since then, over 2 million workers have received access to agricultural land, pressuring the government to fulfill its redistributive obligation through occupations by working families. 

Internal Education

The MST’s National Education Sector was founded in 1987, citing a need to grow worker literacy and political consciousness at a pace the state education system would not allow.

MST education follows three pedagogical/theoretical traditions—Paolo Freire, Soviet and Cuban pedagogy, and the movement’s own organic practices.

They engage in five categories of pedagogical practices: work, social struggle, collective organization, culture, and history.

The Florestan Fernandes National School was founded by MST for training of working class organizers and educators from across Latin America and the world. The school is organized around four practices in this space. Leaders study various Marxist traditions and the history of worker struggles around the world. They prepare and present misticas, cultural performances investigating themes of struggle. Finally, the students participate in manual labor to build the campus, to feed the community, to care for children of students in residence, and to fulfill all maintenance tasks. There are no employees at the school, and the students collectively organize the work, which every student participates in daily. 

External Education

Schools in encampments offer essential childcare and development of literacy for youth, as well as adult literacy and agroecology. In addition, the workers study methods of participatory democracy. Educators aim to develop necessary technical and organizational skills for the workers to manage their own production collectively when they achieve control of the land.

MST campaigned for public schools to be built in their communities, but found that the state-administered curriculum contradicted their socialist politics and was increasingly controlled by capitalists. Following years of student protest, some states fulfilled their responsibility to provide education access by funding “itinerant schools,” based in encampments and adaptable to the changing situations of the occupations. The schools have faced political attacks from landholders in all the states they were established in, and at present itinerant schools only operate publicly in one state. The movement continues to demand self-governance in public education, an essential element of the movement which allows young people to stay in the camps while studying and prefigures the community autonomy they hope to develop.

—Mark Maxwell
Chicago DSA

Further Resources

Rebecca Tarlau, Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers Movement Transformed Brazilian Education

BRASILWIREA, Space for Rebels: MST’s Florestan Fernandes School

Rebecca Tarlau, The Social(ist) Pedagogies of the MST: Towards New Relations of Production in the Brazilian Countryside, UC Berkeley

Friends of the MST

YouTube, Escuela Nacional Florestan Fernandes, una escuela para l@s trabajador@s del mundo La Educacion en Movimiento

Supplementary Resources

Caio Fernandes Barbosa, Political Education in the Brazilian Workers Party