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La Vía Campesina: The Birth and Evolution of a Transnational Social Movement

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The authors analyse the emergence of the peasants movement la via Campesina as a reaction to forms of neoliberal governance. The evolution of the movement is analysed in 5 stages. With the penetration of capitalism in agriculture, peasants did not disappear but organised themselves into sophisticated, transnational organisations responding to neoliberal policies. the institutions that once supported peasants and family agriculture have disappeared in the past 50 years and the reaction of the peasant world has been to unify themselves. despite having local differences depending on the different challenges the neoliberal policies present in different areas of the world, the Via Campesina has evolved as a movement that unifies peasants for their common challenges. It has also developed a new form of relationship between the north and the south, it is autonomous from parties, governments, religious institutions or NGOs and is a pluralistic movement. The authors identify 5 main phases for the evolution of the movement. The first phase from the 80s to 1992: in this period with the SAP the state-society relations are restructured, social movements become more horizontal and autonomous from political parties. In the 80s and 90s the greatest challenge of the peasant organisations was the decline in crop and livestock prices, due to globalisation, SAP and free trade agreements, budget-cutting and free-market conditionality forced on their governments by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and they had to organise themselves in supra- or transnational level. Having the real enemy beyond national borders and is also the real enemy of your peers in other countries, then you must join forces with those peers to fight your common enemy. In these years they learn to develop a counter-hegemonic discourse and the Via Campesina is connected to the 500 years of resistance narrative developed by the indigenous movement in contrast to the state celebration of the arrival of Columbus. In this period the notion of ecological cosmology resisting the market emerges and the peasant movement brings the moral economy concept in the global debate over the future of agriculture. The second phase is the formation of the identity of the movement, that decide not to accept NGOs and organisations that are not the direct expression of grassroots local movements. The counter-hegemonic discourse evolves, reframing the role of peasants within society not as the signal of an economic backwardness, but rather as a pillar to defend food sovereignty and to protect the domestic market. The third phase is identified with the emergence of the Via Campesina as a movement involved in the decision making process and political arena, but also with the decision of the movement not to engage in any confrontation with the WB and the WTO. The fourth phase of the movement is when the movement clearly declares that its enemies are: capitalism, transnational corporations and patriarchy. In this phase, the movement recognises the need to develop itself internationally and to link with other movements, workers, other sectors. The university of the LVC is constituted and an internal educational project undertaken.  

Final Review Date: 
Saturday, April 17, 2021
Publication Year: 
Journal Name: 
The Journal of Peasant Studies