The Agrarian Question and Food Sovereignty Movements: A Comparative Analysis of Capitalism, the State, and 'Peasant' Class Dynamics in Bolivia and Nepal

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    Beginning in the 1990s, many states in the global South experienced a ‘second wave’ of popular protests, ostensibly against neoliberal policies deriving from the global Northern imperium, but actually directed in a more profound sense against long-standing social inequities and political marginalization arising from entrenched oligarchical power and failed ‘pro-peasant’ agrarian reforms at the level of the state (albeit situated within the international context of ‘centre-periphery’ relations). What was distinctive about these protests was their broadly agrarian character and their ‘peasant’, and frequently indigenous, complexion. While re-affirming the anti-imperialism and national sovereignty claims of the ‘first wave’ of anti-neoliberal protests of the 1980s, the ‘second wave’ was remarkable for its articulation and valorization, in opposition inter alia to both ‘orthodox’ neoclassical ‘developmentalism’ and ‘progressivist’ Marxism, of a pro-peasant positionality, often in combination with a new concern with indigenous and gender rights, and environmental sustainability. These protests suggested that the agrarian question was far from dead, and that rumours to the contrary were premature if the peasant protagonists themselves were to have any say in the matter. These agrarian-based protests often coalesced around the notion of food sovereignty, and the first decade of the new millennium witnessed some remarkable political gains both nationally and internationally, the latter often propelled through the new global network of ‘peasant’ organizations, La Via Campesina. Perhaps the most remarkable political successes, however, particularly given the near universal dominance of neoliberalism until the turn of the millennium, have occurred at national level with the election of a significant number of left-leaning regimes and the adoption in their new or interim national constitutions of formal commitments to food sovereignty. Since about 2010, however, a common trend in these states has been a disappointing lack of progress in the translation of such formal commitments into substantive policies and change ‘on the ground’. The states that broadly embody these trends include Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela in Latin America, and Nepal in Asia.

    The current paper, taking two of these states – Bolivia and Nepal – as case studies, seeks both to understand the key dynamics of this remarkable phenomenon of ‘peasant’ protest movements against a backdrop of neoliberal globalization, and to delineate salient lessons from it as we enter a period of deepening economic, political, and agricultural/ecological contradictions both of and for global and national capitalisms. Specifically, the paper seeks to understand:
    • The political economic (and ecological) basis of these ‘peasant’ protest movements;
    • The reasons for their selective political success embodied particularly in the constitutionalization of food sovereignty;
    • The reasons for the general failure substantively to build on these successes in the period since 2010 by reference to the interplay of class, state, and capitalist dynamics;
    • Whether the original aims and objectives of these protest movements remain relevant and feasible today, and if so, how, politically and agro-ecologically, they might be revived and (re)-enacted.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Future of Food and Challenges for Agriculture in the 21st Century International Institute of Social Studies International Colloquium, 24-26 April, 2017
    Place of PublicationThe Hague
    PublisherInternational Institute of Social Studies
    Number of pages25
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017
    EventThe future of food and challenges for agriculture in the 21st century: International Institute of Social Studies International Colloquium - Europa Congress Palace, Álava, Spain
    Duration: 24 Apr 201726 Apr 2017

    Publication series

    NameInitiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies International Colloquium
    PublisherISS, The Hague


    ConferenceThe future of food and challenges for agriculture in the 21st century
    Internet address


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