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Revista Interamericana de Bibliografía (RIB)
Número: 1-4
Título: 1997
Sección: Reseñas Informativas / Informative Reviews

Anthony W. PEREIRA. The End of the Peasantry: The Rural Labor Movement in Northeast Brazil, 1961-1988. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997. xxi, 232 p., appendices, notes, glossary, bibliography, index.

The rural labor movement played a surprisingly active role in Brazil’s transition to democracy in the 1980s. While in most Latin American countries rural labor was marginal, in Brazil, an expanded, secularized and centralized movement organized strikes, staged demonstrations for land reform, demanded political liberalization, and criticized the governmental policies which led to the end of military rule in 1985.

In The End of Peasantry, Pereira explains this transformation as the result of two intertwined processes: the modernization of agricultural production and the expansion of the welfare state into the countryside, and explores the political consequences of these processes occurring not only in Latin America but in most of the Third World. During that time, the Brazilian rural trade union movement emerged as a powerful political force, representing millions of rural workers, small farmers and cultivators displaced by agricultural modernization.

The emergence of this movement has no parallel in Latin America. The rural unions in Brazil began at a time when economic policies worked against most of their members and when a military regime suppressed all political activity.

Through evidence from a detailed case study in Pernambuco, the author explains howand why the unions emerged and describes the relationship between the struggle of these rural trade unions and the transition to democracy.

This work spends less time in the dynamics of transition itself and more on gradual, long-term processes that took place below the surface of national politics to shape the rural labor movement. Pereira explains that the importance of the transition remains in how the movement was created and sustained, and how its members’ and leaders’ demands, ideologies and aspirations were shaped by their interests, environment and experiences.

The data collected from the research led the author to analyze simultaneously two processes that are normally studied separately: the development of capitalism in agriculture with accompanying changes in economic structure and class relation, and the expansion of the power of the central state, in this case in the form of new institutions offering welfare benefits to a population previously excluded.

The book is divided into three main sections. The first one (chapters 1 and 2) introduces the topic and gives a historical background of the Peasant Leagues and their influence in the creation of trade unions in the 70s and 80s, specifically in the region mentioned above. The second part of the book (chapters 3 and 4) examines Pernambuco’s trade unions as an embodiment of the peasantry. The last section (chapters 5-8) is an analysis of how the political demands of the rural lower classes in Pernambuco were shaped and influenced by the institutions related to one another and how the local was connected politically to the national. The conclusions highlight the role of labor in democratic transitions.

Pereira’s work is based on four types of sources: surveys to the union officials in Pernambuco, archival sources to reconstruct the history of rural unionism in the region, interviews to individuals involved in Pernambuco’s rural politics and a general bibliography on democracy and transition.

Anthony Pereira, professor of Political Science, provides the reader with a challenging analysis on the processes of transition to democracy not only in Latin America but in the Third World too.


1. Estas reseñas fueron preparadas por las sugientes funcionarias de la Secretaría Ejecutiva para el Desarrollo Integral/These reviews were prepared by the following staff members of the Exeuctive Secretariat for Integral Development: María del Carmen Barreneche, María de Icaza, María Teresa Mellenkamp, y Rosario Villanueva Popovici.