B. Traven comes to mind today because of an article in today’s NYT that documents the seizing of unused land from rich Brazilians by the Landless Workers’ Movement (LWM). Active for about 50 years, LWM settles whole villages on fallow land, creating an opportunity for poor people to grow functional farming communities from scratch.
Best known for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Traven was a revolutionary whose radical works included a series of six books in what is known as The Jungle Books, which track the lives of indigenous Mexican wage slaves in the years leading to the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) The fifth book of the series, Revolution of the Hanged Men describes
a rebellion in a debtors labor camp where mahogany was harvested. In a nutshell, the rebellion succeeded, the workers freed themselves,
and the people marched away in search of Land and Liberty.
The LWM has been operating in Brazil for some 40 years and
has been surprisingly successful, given the long history of inequality and political suppression. As LWM's leaders point out, "Occupation is a
process of struggle and confrontation." LWM’s leaders, who call themselves “militants,” have organized hundreds of
thousands of Brazil’s poor to take unused land from the rich, settle it and
farm it, often as large collectives. (Imagine
this happening in the USA.)
Even under Brazil’s former fascist president, Jair
Bolsonaro, there were about 15 successful land occupations undertaken per year. In the first four months of leftist leader Luiz
Inácio Lula de Silva's presidency, which started January 1 of this year, there have been 33 occupations. This poses a dilemma for Lula de Silva, a longtime
movement supporter, who still has to deal with wealthy landowners and
corporations, while maintaining the confidence of his unlanded base.
The LWM can demonstrate some significant achievements. Communities it has built support some 2,000
schools educating children who would never otherwise have an opportunity to get
an education. And the Times highlights
one community that has been legally recognized since 2016, where 227 families,
each owning from 20 to 35 acres, share tractors and plows, and grow organic
fruits and vegetables for themselves and for market.