over fifteen years of collective production and self-management at mst co-operative

17 03 2009

The Vitória Agricultural Production Co-operative, belonging to Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) has since 1993 practiced a model of production based on collectivism and diversification. From Passa Palavra.

The Vitória Agricultural Production Co-operative (COPAVI), in Paraná City in the north-east of Brazil’s Paraná state, was founded on 10th June 1993, but its story began in January of that year when several families occupied around 256 hectares and transformed a rugged area of sugar-cane-monoculture land, belonging to one sole owner, into an agro-industrial area with diverse production, securing an alternative – and decent conditions – for more than seventy people.


COPAVI, according to the National Institute of Farming and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), is among the ten most successful holdings in the state. Its collective forms of ownership, production, and management, under the leadership of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Rural Workers’ Movement; MST), are considered a model [1]. It remains symbolic of the landless workers’ struggle in Brazil.

The co-operative, its infrastructure, the houses and the produce on sale are not the property of any one individual, but of COPAVI affiliates; this being so, the co-operative and the goods it produces are the collective property of its members. But not only is the land worked collectively, but everyone also has breakfast together and they lunch together on the farm’s cafeteria (they only have dinner as families). Also as regards pay: for a long time, calculation of hours worked has been central, so that everyone receives the same for time worked, no matter what job they do.

Recently the farmers have experimented with a method copied from a Spanish NGO in which different tokens are given for different activities, such as physical effort, mental labour, etc.; this system was tested for three months and extended three months further with the agreement of all the co-operative members.

After the canvas shacks used in the initial years of the encampment, and the cleaning-up of the whole area, the holding now boasts houses, a bakery, a study, a sugar-cane growth and distillery unit, a dairy, a stables, cabins, and an abbatoir, amongst other infrastructure.

Unlike agribusiness, which is based on the monoculture of large areas, destruction of the environment and human health via the intensive use of chemicals and the super-exploitation of workers, at COPAVI there is a different model of agricultural production based on agro-ecological systems as regards the environment, economic and technological development and distribution of income, and for the improvement of the quality of life in the holdings and of the population therein.

Indeed the food produced at COPAVI – from milk and yoghurt to green vegetables, sugar cane brandy and sugar – are free of chemical toxins and hormones, and are sold at a low price on the market, in despite of the co-operative’s near-monopoly on milk in the region. In the words of COPAVI members, this is due to them producing goods not mainly in order to sell them, but rather so that workers and their families have access to good quality and healthy food at an accessible price.

COPAVI is not meant to be an island of “utopia” in a social ocean where private property, profit, competition and the commercialisation of everything is all-powerful. However, its contradictions, problems and limits, its model of co-operative family-run agro-industries is understood by the MST as a viable alternative for the concretisation of agrarian reform in Brazil, the management of enterprises in the countryside and the production of quality produce in large quantity and at low price for the whole population [2].

[1] Collective ownership does not exist in all MST holdings: in most cases private property persists. That said, we must consider that the co-operative also functions according to the demands of an enterprise – even if collectively managed – with the need to give profits and to be self-sustaining. However, talking with co-operativists, it is clear that the values and principles guiding them are not those of competition and profiteering.

[2] To read more on COPAVI-MST, read the article by Luiz Maklouf Carvalho in Revista Piauí: http://www.revistapiaui.com.br/edicao_21/artigo_648/O_modelo_Vitoria.aspx
For the account of the Political Science professor Antônio Ozaí on his visit to COPAVI-MST:
And an Indymedia editorial on COPAVI-MST:

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4 responses

19 03 2009
Arthur Bough

I have just finished a 4 Part piece on “Can Co-operatives Work” looking at the attitude of the Left to Co-operatives, What Marx and other Marxists inluding Lenin had to say in favour of building Co-operatives, Why the Left is Hostile to Marx’s Ideas – Lassalleanism – and so on. I also look at the experience of a range of Co-ops from the Plywood Co-ops in the US to Mondragon, and the Co-op here in Britain asking what would Marxists need to do to avoid some of the problems. I intended to deal with some of the economic theory of Co-ops, but the document was already too long, so I intend to do that as a separate piece of work. Comrades may find some of the information and references useful.

Can Co-operatives Work Part 1

20 03 2009


though a bit out-dated probably still one of the most insightful texts on “workers’ self-management” at Zanon in Argentina. might contribute to the debate…


29 03 2009
cascadian wobbly

Regarding this passage:

“Recently the farmers have experimented with a method copied from a Spanish NGO in which different tokens are given for different activities, such as physical effort, mental labour, etc.; this system was tested for three months and extended three months further with the agreement of all the co-operative members.”

I’m not clear what’s being described here – is this is meant to be a step towards something like the parecon model (balanced job complexes and remuneration for effort and sacrifice)?

29 03 2009
Arthur Bough

In recent years there have been several experiments with introducing “Labour” money systems in a number of places. The idea being that fiat money is unreliable – inflation – and the only constant measure is Labour-time. Oddly, it has been Anarcho-capitalist Libertarians who have been one of the advocates of such systems.

Of course, they cannot work for the reasons Marx outlined in his Critique of Bray and Proudhon’s similar schema= see “The Poverty of Philosophy”. What is good in the example above is the extent to which a number of areas of production are being brought together reminiscent of the “Balanced growth” models of development put forward by Nurkse et al. But, the Labour Money system still seems to limit this within a small area, whereeas of Co-operative production is to be succesful I would argue that we need to develop it on an international basis. I am in the process of writing soemthing further on this in relation to the way the International Co-operative Alliance, and the Euro Co-op could assist in the development of Co-operative based light industries in developing countries to supply goods that could be sold into European markets via a guaranteed amrket provided by those large Co-operative Retail outlets i.e. similar to Lenin’s suggestion that Producer Co-operatives needed to be linked to Retail Co-operatives so that the latter could provide such guaranteed marekts thereby overcoming the problem of the anarchy of the Capitalist market for producers.


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