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Soviets in the Countryside: The MST’s Remaking of Socialist Educational Practices in Brazil

Part of the Explorations of Educational Purpose book series (EXEP,volume 24)


This chapter discusses the educational initiatives of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST), the largest agrarian social movement in Latin America. Although the MST is famous around the world for its success forcing the Brazilian government to redistribute land, less well known is the movement’s simultaneous fight for access to education in all areas of agrarian reform. Part of this fight is for the movement’s right to develop its own educational pedagogies and curriculum in these public schools. Over the past three decades, members of the movement have drawn on a variety of theorists to develop these educational practices, from Paulo Freire to Soviet pedagogues. This chapter explores two Soviet theorists the movement draws on—Moisey Pistrak and Anton Makarenko—and how these theorists arrived in Brazil and the ways in which members of the movement have adapted these theories to their contemporary context. This argument is based on extensive interviews with MST educational activists as well as visits and participant observation to dozens of schools in MST settlements and camps. In addition to a historical discussion, the chapter also analyzes two schools administered by the MST where the theories of Makarenko and Pistrak are currently flourishing. This chapter argues that the MST’s conscious use of Soviet pedagogies is part of the movement’s overarching goal of creating socialist economic alternatives in the Brazilian countryside through collective organic farming.


  • Educational Initiative
  • Land Occupation
  • Socialist Pedagogy
  • Agrarian Reform
  • Brazilian Government

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  1. 1.

    The English word “militant” is used as a translation of militante, the Portuguese word for an active member or volunteer of a political organization (political party, social movement, etc.).

  2. 2.

    This school is named after the Brazilian author who wrote Geopolitics of Hunger, which analyses the human-made causes of hunger and how these hunger crises are tied to the functioning of the capitalism on a global scale (Castro 1946). While the coordinators of IEJC insist on referring to the school with this formal name, most people know the school by the name of the educational entity that hosts the school, ITERRA (Technical Institute of Training and Research for Agrarian Reform).

  3. 3.

    Quote from a public speech, Veranópolis House of Culture, Rio Grande do Sul, 10/16/2010.

  4. 4.

    I also conducted over 60 interviews with government officials at the municipal, state, and federal level, who have a relationship to the MST and the educational pedagogies the movement is trying to promote. However, this data is not used in this chapter.

  5. 5.

    All translations of interview data from Portuguese to English have been completed by the author.

  6. 6.

    MST “settlements” are areas of agrarian reform where land has been expropriated and given to the MST families. MST “camps” are areas of land that MST militants are occupying, but to which they do not yet have the land rights.

  7. 7.

    The relationship between the MST and different levels of the Brazilian government, in terms of implementing the MST’s educational pedagogies within public schools, is the focus of my dissertation (forthcoming, University of California, Berkeley).

  8. 8.

    PRONERA (National Program for Education in Agrarian Reform) is one of the most important programs that fund the MST’s educational initiatives across the country.

  9. 9.

    The information that follows about Salete Campigotto is from my interview with her in January 2011, as well as a formal published interview with Campigotto (Tedesco 2008). The rest of the history in this section comes from interviews and informal conversations with MST educational militants and analysis of MST publications on education.

  10. 10.

    Liberation theology was a movement within the Catholic Church that believed charity was not sufficient to help the poor; it was necessary to change the structures that kept the poor in poverty. Liberation theology was extremely important for the development of new social movements, NGOs, and women’s organizations in the 1970s and 1980s in Brazil (Berryman 1987). Father Arnildo was part of this liberation theology movement and a very important figure in the founding of the MST.

  11. 11.

    For more detail about the history of these first land occupations in Brazil, see Wright and Wolford (2003), Wolford (2010), Ondetti (2008).

  12. 12.

    For more in-depth reading on Freirean educational methods, see Freire (2002), Gadotti (1994), Hooks (1994) McLaren (2000).

  13. 13.

    Rosali Caldart went on to write many important books about the educational pedagogies of the MST (Caldart 2004; Arroyo et al. 2004).

  14. 14.

    All of the information about Rosali Caldart and her work with the education collective is from my interview with her in January 2011.

  15. 15.

    The original translation was done by Daniel Aarão Reis Filho and published by São Paulo Brasiliense Press in 1981. The publication quoted from in this paper is a 2000 publication printed by Editora Expressão Popular. All quotes from this book are translated into English by the author.

  16. 16.

    All quotes from this book are translations from Portuguese to English by the author.

  17. 17.

    Interview with Rosali Caldart, January 2011.

  18. 18.

    Interview with Edgar Kolling, November 2010.

  19. 19.

    Interview with Luiz Carlos de Freitas, January 2011.

  20. 20.

    Mística is part of the MST’s general organizational structure and is performed before all meetings, events, and conferences the movement organizes.

  21. 21.

    Gritos de ordem are two-line chants that MST militants shout during meetings, marches, and rallies. They can express thoughts about education, revolutionary leaders, fighting for socialism, etc.

  22. 22.

    Informal conversation with Vanderlúcia Simplicio, recorded in field notes, November 2010.

  23. 23.

    Quote from a public speech, IEJC, Veranópolis, Rio Grande do Sul, 10/12/2011.

  24. 24.

    Interview with Izabela Braga, November 2010.

  25. 25.

    Quote from public speech, IEJC, Veranópolis, Rio Grande do Sul, 10/12/2011.

  26. 26.

    All of the following student quotes are from the six focus groups held with 35 students at Institute Educar in January 2011. Quotes included in this article are representative of all six focus groups, unless otherwise indicated as a unique response. All focus group sessions were recorded, and the number of the focus group and the student is indicated after each quote.


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Correspondence to Rebecca Tarlau .

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Tarlau, R. (2012). Soviets in the Countryside: The MST’s Remaking of Socialist Educational Practices in Brazil. In: Griffiths, T., Millei, Z. (eds) Logics of Socialist Education. Explorations of Educational Purpose, vol 24. Springer, Dordrecht.

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