La Via Campesina & Erik Olin Framework (EOW)
La Via Campesina (LVC) is a social movement seeking to transform agriculture by changing its focus from profiteering and perpetuating free markets in a capitalistic world to enabling farmers from the southern hemisphere to benefit from possessing the factors of production that would provide them with ‘food sovereignty’ and autonomy (Rosset et al. 895). The mass movement that brings together coalitions of farmers and other vulnerable members of the society drawing their livelihoods from small and medium-scale farming activities aims at instituting popular global agrarian reforms that localise agricultural production and dismantle the longstanding agrifood systems controlled by large multinationals and hegemonic political regimes (La Via Campesina 8). The emancipatory transformative change promised by La Via Campesina would make farmers (peasants) become owners of factors of agricultural production, such as land, seeds, and well-tested agricultural practices (McKeon 242). Consequently, the peasants would transform their socioeconomic and political wellbeing by prioritizing their entrepreneurial and personal needs over those of national governments and the neoliberal world order that promotes free trade of agricultural properties. The current neoliberal world order has disenfranchised many segments of the local and global society, particularly women who are the workhorses of the existing agrarian system at the local level (Sanderson 10). Therefore, the La Via Campesina (LVC) movement aims at championing transformative change that would improve the socioeconomic and political welfare of the marginalised and most disenfranchised members of the local and global societies where a large proportion of the population belongs.
However, the effectiveness of the transformative change promised by La Via Campesina needs to be tested against the Erik Olin Wright (EOW) Framework. The framework is applied to determine how well or deviant La Via Campesina fosters the emancipatory transformative change from the EOW theoretical foundation perspective. Therefore, the ensuing analysis will answer the overarching question about how La Via Campesina is an example of transformative change in EOW’s sense. The La Via Campesina movement as an agent of transformative change is interrogated against the objectives, strategies, and challenges, which are the three components of the EOW framework (Bernstein eta al. 691). Consequently, the case analysis will assess the usefulness of the EOW framework in making sense of the La Via Campesina movement. The scope of analysis will be confined to the agrarian reforms promised by LVC and will not include the other transformative changes spurring the social justice movement, considering that LVC also attends to other issues related to gender and women’s rights.
Analysing the La Via Campesina (LVC) movement against the Erik Olin Wright (EOW) Framework requires interrogating three components that answer specific questions regarding the various aspects of a transformative change. According to the EOW Framework, the first component relates to the goal of transformative change expected from LVC. The pertinent question in this regard is what are the transformative objectives of LVC? The second component is about the strategies used by the LVC movement to realise the transformative change it desires. The strategies are revealed by answering the question, what strategy of transformative change does the LVC movement pursue? The third component evaluates the LVC movement by addressing the challenges experienced by this alternative after identifying its outcomes as an agent of transformative change. Its evaluation answers the question, what have been the outcomes of LVC’s efforts at implementation and what challenges and contradictions does it face?
The Desired Change (Objectives)
The La Via Campesina (LVC) movement seeks to restore the dignity and rights of the marginalised members of society through regaining the factors of production and realising food sovereignty rather than the dominant food security model (Gaarde 9). The ultimate desired state or real utopia envisioned by the LVC movement is a global society founded on social justice and respect for peasants’ rights to replace the current dominant exploitative, extractive, and paternalistic capitalist system (Teasdale et al. 420; Von Redecker and Herzig 659). Therefore, the transformative focus of LVC is changing the existing production relations, which disenfranchise and marginalise the vulnerable members of society, by making them more localised instead of internationalised. In this aspect, LVC seeks to dismantle the current dominant capitalistic order related to food production. These objectives fit the criteria provided by the Erik Olin Wright (EOW) Framework regarding the characteristics of transformative change aimed at promoting community-based economies (Elsen 24). Localising food production and returning to cultural food production practices is an emancipatory transformative change that introduces subtle modifications to how food is produced globally.
The La Via Campesina (LVC) movement uses several strategies to pursue its goals. The multipronged approach to change leadership and multi-sectoral approach to change implementation characterises the arsenal of strategies employed by LVC. Consequently, LVC can address one complex issue using multiple strategies to increase the chances of succeeding in delivering long-lasting transformational change.
For instance, LVC uses global campaigns to advance its ideals and raise awareness about the issues presented by the current capitalistic mind set and worldview. It also uses street rallies to attract attention to pertinent issues encountered by the marginalised segments of society. Similarly, it engages with governmental and nongovernmental bodies to influence policymaking. Notably, LVC has participated in several international forums, including the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). In addition, in 2018, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Living in Rural Areas following successful negotiations in which LVC participated. Likewise, it provides forums and platforms to marginalised society members, particularly from the global south, to air their sentiments regarding the issues impacting their lives negatively.
These strategies can be considered to be interstitial according to the EOW framework. Interstitial strategies involve actors and agencies outside the state, thus avoiding direct engagements with governments locally and internationally (Otero, Gürcan, and Mackinlay 71). In this regard, LVC seeks to provide alternative solutions to socioeconomic problems afflicting marginalised populations globally outside the state structure and influence, thus ignoring the societal elite that intends to maintain the oppressive status quo structures and systems. However, as the issues faced by the vulnerable members of society evolve and transform, the possibility of deploying symbiotic strategies remains a feasible alternative. Therefore, it is likely that LVC will employ a combination of interstitial and symbiotic strategies in the future as it forges relationships with states and their governments.
Outcomes, Challenges, and Contradictions
Since the formation of the La Via Campesina (LVC) movement in 1993, significant milestones have been notable in instituting popular agrarian reforms in various quarters where the initiative has substantial support. Firstly, LVC has managed to mobilise and enlist 183 organisations from 81 countries across the globe. As such, LVC’s alternative emancipatory transformative agenda resonates with many other marginalised communities worldwide, particularly in the global south. This is a testimony of the globalisation of LVC’s agenda, which is a critical component of forging solidarity among the disenfranchised masses strewn across dispersed locations worldwide. Increased solidarity helps to amplify the voices against the capitalist socioeconomic system that provides a false sense of food security while benefitting only a few capitalists and ignoring the masses that feed over 70% of the global population. The global solidarity forged by LVC creates a platform for lobbying meaningfully and effectively against the current exploitative agro-economic regime.
Secondly, LVC has penetrated Europe by locating its rotational international operative secretariat (IOS) in Europe for a second time. At LVC’s inception, the IOS was located in Brussels for three years. At the end of 2021, the IOS relocated from Harare to Bagnolet in France. The significance of this milestone is premised on the continued collaboration with the global transnational agencies that epitomise the current world order, whose operations are controlled by Europe and other highly-developed nations of the northern hemisphere. Consequently, LVC can place its emancipatory transformative agenda at the doorsteps of the powerful and wealthy countries and the transnational nongovernmental agencies, such as the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) that they use to advance the existing neoliberal, patriarchal, imperialist, and capitalistic agenda (La Via Campesina 8). Interacting closely with the wealthy states and transnational organisations improves the chances of LVC changing their mind sets and transforming the economic and political discourse that these entities control. This development means that LVC is making progress in gaining the attention of global governance institutions that have traditionally protected the current oppressive agro-economic configuration (Rosset and Martinez-Torres 3). This latest achievement augments the influence that LVC has had on policymaking on the global stage. Already, LVC achieved a significant milestone when it helped negotiate successfully for the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Living in Rural Areas by the United Nations General Assembly in 2018 (Claeys and Edelman 4). However, despite these significant achievements, LVC encounters many challenges that undermine its emancipatory transformative agenda.
The LVC movement encounters numerous challenges that undermine its pursuit of social justice and food sovereignty. Firstly, LVC and its members are ostracised by governments, which marginalises further the already vulnerable members of society. Specifically, governments prefer working with large scale farmers instead of small scale producers. Governments create conditions in which market concentration is accelerated, and the commercialisation of products thrives, favouring the large scale producers. The same government formulate policies that promote the privatization of land and natural resources critical for sustaining life and improving the socioeconomic wellbeing of marginalised communities.
Secondly, the LVC activities are frustrated by the suffering meted out to its supporters. States use their monopolies of power and violence to persecute LCV supporters and activists by abusing, arresting and displacing them from their properties and land (La Via Campesina 24). Unfortunately, participation in LVC activities has disconcerted large multinational corporations controlling agriculture and global food chains, and governments who are keen on maintaining the current agro-economic status quo because of the enormous profits it generates for the elite. Thirdly, LVC is against a well-established political and economic system that is difficult to change because it is supported by powerful hegemonies, such as the United States and other highly-developed western countries. These countries advocate liberalisation and globalisation of economic activities that they have become adept at controlling and from where they profit enormously.
The LVS’s alternative emancipatory transformative change presents contradictions that raise pertinent questions regarding the movement’s focus. For instance, LVC’s agenda has broadened over time as it seeks to enlist as many disgruntled constituencies as possible. The popular agrarian reforms agenda is addressed alongside feminism and women’s rights. While these issues are interrelated, their focus differs and is divergent sometimes, disenfranchising a segment of the vulnerable society members. Specifically, although men and women are treated equally under the popular agrarian reform agenda because they share similar disenfranchisement under the current agro-economic model, women’s rights and feminism turn men from victims to villains, thus shifting the emancipatory transformative change spotlight from the males towards the females. This fragmented approach threatens the global and crosscutting solidarity sought by LVC for amplifying the voices of the oppressed coherently.
In addition, although LVC is against the globalisation concept in so far as globalised trade and agro-economic systems are concerned, its agenda become contradictory when the movement promotes the globalisation of the solidarity of marginalised communities. The social movement employs the same tactics and tools it opposes as the cause of the oppressive environments sustained by the dominant capitalist structure (Gray, Brennan, and Malpas 259). In the same vein, it globalises its agenda by injecting a local character into the popular agrarian reform agenda in the same way that transnational corporations localise their global operations to make their brands acceptable across different cultural settings. In other words, LVC acknowledges that while it seeks solidarity in agrarian reform ideology, it must attend to the unique circumstances and challenges experienced by marginalised communities across different cultural and regional settings. In both situations, globalization is a generic term derived from globalisation and localisation to indicate the emerging trend of universalising and particularising political and socioeconomic systems to accommodate diverse constituencies. These contradictions dilute the focus of the transformative agenda set by LVC initially, which is to deliver social justice and restore human dignity through popular agrarian reforms.
La Via Campesina is a mass social movement intending to deliver popular agrarian reforms as an emancipatory transformative change against a repressive and discriminative dominance agro-economic system. Using the Erik Olin Wright Framework, the analysis demonstrated that the movement was an agent of transformative change because it sought to incrementally transform the lives of a significant population segment and the systems that preserved current socioeconomic structure. Also, the analysis revealed that LVC’s lofty ambitions had been met largely through globalizing solidarity of the disenfranchised members of society and influencing policy related to land as capital and the acknowledgement of peasants as a marginalised group that requires protection from a predatory neoliberal world order. However, the mass movement experienced some shortfalls that undermined its emancipatory agenda. Specifically, enlisting powerful and wealthy governments, and transnational organizations was the biggest challenge causing LVC to use the interstitial strategy to circumvent these hegemonic forces preserving the dominant capitalistic agro-economic system. The social movement also encountered contradictions when it deployed strategies like globalisation to elicit solidarity in the same manner that transnational corporations conducted international trade. Nonetheless, LVC’s aims and efforts address a legitimate global concern that evades many reformists and transformational change agents. In this regard, while LVC has registered minimal success in delivering long-lasting socioeconomic and political change, it has created the awareness critical for prompting serious consideration of the status quo systems.
Bernstein, Henry, Harriet Friedmann, Jan Douwe Van der Ploeg, Teodor Shanin, and Ben White. “Fifty years of debate on peasantries, 1966–2016.” The Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 45, no. 4, 2018, pp. 689-714.
Claeys, Priscilla, and Marc Edelman. “The United Nations Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.” The Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 47, no. 1, 2020, pp. 1-68.
Elsen, Susanne. Eco-social transformation and community-based economy. Routledge, 2018.
Gaarde, Ingeborg. Peasants negotiating a global policy space: La Vía Campesina in the Committee on World Food Security. Routledge, 2017.
Gray, Rob, Andrew Brennan, and Jeff Malpas. “New accounts: Towards a reframing of social accounting.” Accounting Forum, vol. 38, no. 4. Taylor & Francis, 2014.
La Via Campesina. Struggles of La Via Campesina for agrarian reform and the defines of life, land and territories. 2017. https://viacampesina.org/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/10/compressed_Publication-of-Agrarian-Reform-EN.pdf
McKeon, Nora. “La Via Campesina: The ‘Peasants’ Way’ to Changing the System, not the Climate.” Journal of World-Systems Research, vol. 21, no. 2, 2015, pp. 241-249.
Otero, Gerardo, Efe Can Gürcan, and Horacio Mackinlay. “Social movements and the state in the post-neoliberal era.” Buen Vivir and the Challenges to Capitalism in Latin America. Routledge, 2020, pp. 71-91.
Rosset, Peter M., and Maria Elena Martinez-Torres. “La via campesina and agroecology.” La Via Campesina’s open book: Celebrating, vol. 20, 2013, pp. 1-22.
Rosset, Peter, Valentín Val, Lia Pinheiro Barbosa, and Nils McCune. “Agroecology and La Via Campesina II. Peasant agroecology schools and the formation of a sociohistorical and political subject.” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, vol. 43, no. 7-8, 2019, pp. 895-914.
Sanderson, Stephen K. Revolutions: A worldwide introduction to political and social change. Routledge, 2015.
Teasdale, Simon, Michael J. Roy, Rafael Ziegler, Stefanie Mauksch, Pascal Dey, and Emmanuel B. Raufflet. “Everyone a changemaker? Exploring the moral underpinnings of social innovation discourse through real utopias.” Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, vol. 12, no. 3, 2021, pp. 417-437.
Von Redecker, Sophie, and Christian Herzig. “The Peasant Way of a More than Radical Democracy: The Case of La Via Campesina.” Journal of Business Ethics 164.4 (2020): 657-670.