The Seed Was Planted

The São Paulo Roots of Brazils Rural Labor Movement, 19241964

By (author) Cliff Welch

Paperback - £33.95

Publication date:

15 September 1998

Length of book:

440 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271017891

Until the 1960s, rural laborers and peasants composed the majority of Brazil’s population and yet most scholars have downplayed their influence on the country's history. In contrast, The Seed Was Planted argues that rural labor has been fundamental to the making of modern Brazil.

When the Brazilian military took power in 1964, anarchy in the countryside was one of the problems the conspirators used to justify ousting the civilian government. Cliff Welch examines this claim by narrating the history of rising rural worker activism in São Paulo, Brazil's most influential state.

Between a major revolt in 1924 and the 1964 coup d'etat, São Paulo rural workers gradually gained a place in Brazilian politics by seizing opportunities from ruling class initiatives designed to reform the agricultural economy. Welch shows how laws composed to incorporate rural workers in a controlled way became platforms for unexpected protest and political mobilization culminating in the 1963 Rural Laborer Statute (ETR). The unprecedented legitimacy the law brought the rural labor movement further spurred the agrarian mobilization cut short by the 1964 coup.

Drawing on rural worker letters, court records, news accounts, landlord observations, and government studies, The Seed Was Planted offers a rich and engaging sense of how rural labor politics were structured and experienced during this crucial period of modern Brazilian history. Personal anecdotes gathered in oral interviews with rural workers and their allies add a compelling human element to the book, enlivening such historical abstractions as communism, populism, and rural unionization. This combination of detailed historical analysis and lively personal narrative makes The Seed Was Planted an excellent introduction to modern Brazilian social history.

“Nonetheless, Welch’s contribution to a critical revision of the history of rural workers at a watershed moment in the hisotry of Brazil is well-informed, original, and extremely timely. It is this kind of detailed case study that will prove essential in the re-elaboration of our perspectives on labour’s capacity for autonomy, its limits, and its political implications.”

—Viviana Patroni, Review Historique