Bolivia's vice-president on the course of revolution

By Álvaro García Linera, vice-president of Bolivia

Translation, notes and introduction by Richard Fidler

The following article, based on a speech given in December 2007 but only recently transcribed and published in Spanish by Bolpress on May 12, 2008, is an important statement by a leading member of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ government on the political situation in that country in the wake of the Constituent Assembly’s vote on a draft political constitution. The draft constitution is to be put to a popular vote for adoption later this year.

Álvaro García Linera, Bolivia’s vice-president, is a former leader of the Tupac Katarí guerrilla army. He was subsequently employed as a university sociologist. He is also a prominent Latin American Marxist, strongly influenced by post-World War II European non-Stalinist Marxist currents inspired by the ideas of the Italian communist leader and political theorist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci, who died in 1937, was an innovative Marxist thinker who wrote extensively on the concept of cultural hegemony and its role as an ideological mainstay of capitalist societies.

Some readers may be surprised by García Linera’s frequent invocation of Gramscian ``hegemony’’ in the Bolivian context, as that concept is often associated primarily with Marxist attempts to explain the particular problems of mass consciousness as they arise in the complex class societies of the imperialist countries. However, there is a long line of thinking among Latin American Marxists influenced by Gramsci; it goes back to José Carlos Mariátegui, the Peruvian communist who lived in Italy for a period during the 1920s and was acquainted with Gramsci’s writings. These Latin Americans, like Gramsci, also drew on the early Communist International’s use of the concept of hegemony in analysing the relationship between the minority proletariat and the non-proletarian (largely peasant) masses in the colonies and semi-colonies. That theoretical legacy was explained more than three decades ago by Perry Anderson in a seminal article in New Left Review, “The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci” (NLR 100, November-December 1976), which bears re-reading today (see especially pp. 15-18).

García Linera’s title, in the original Spanish, is ``Empate catastrófico y punto de bifurcatión’’. He attributes the expression ``empate catastrófico’’ to Gramsci. The ``empate’’ (blockage, standoff, deadlock or impasse), as García Linera uses the concept, appears to refer to Gramsci’s use of the concept of ``equilibrium’’, often conjoined with the adjective ``catastrophic’’, in his Prison Notebooks; it denotes a sort of stasis in the configuration of the class struggle, when neither of the major contending class blocs has the ability to establish its hegemony over the other, a situation that can endure (as García Linera says) for months or even years. See also the interview with García Linera in the Argentine on-line periodical Renacer, ``Del empate catastrófico al desempate conflictivo’’.

Suggestions for further reading: ``Neo-liberalism and the New Socialism – Speech by Alvaro Garcia Linera’’, Political Affairs (see first comment at the end of this article), January-February 2007,; and

``Marxism and Indigenism in Bolivia: A Dialectic of Dialogue and Conflict” (see second comment at the end of this article), See also Indianismo and Marxism: The mismatch of two revolutionary rationales.For more articles on Bolivia, click here.

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Catastrophic equilibrium and point of bifurcation

By Álvaro García Linera, vice-president of Bolivia;

Presentation in the Escuela de Pensamiento Comuna, December 17, 2007.

I will provide a short explanatory outline of some events of recent years in this country that, I believe, will help to link and give some sort of intellectual coherence to these events, which are infinitely more complicated than what can be processed by our thinking. It is possible to define at least three major stages (perhaps a fourth, ultimately) in a process of state crisis that is transforming the organisation of the state in its content, its social nature and its institutionalisation.

The state crisis and our ability to visualise it

A number of Comuna comrades have been working for some time on the idea of the crisis of the state. In various writings in 2000 or 2001 we characterised what was going on in Bolivia as a crisis of the neoliberal state. There were distinct interpretations of how to understand the crisis but fundamentally we argued that this crisis occurs when there are problems in the correlations of forces within the state, that is, in the structure of forces with a capacity for decision making, in the set of dominant organising ideas in the political life of the society that allow a moral correspondence between the dominated and the dominators, and in the range of institutions (procedures, norms, offices) that objectify the correlation of forces and ideas.

We were beginning to experience this crisis of the state in 2000. The correlation of forces with decision-making capacity was beginning to come apart. The dominant ideas of the business bloc that is linked to foreign investment interests, the agro-export industry, banking and the political elite formed around them were losing the capacity to define the public policies of our country in a stable and straightforward way.

That was also the year in which we entered a crisis and the dominant ideas that present foreign investment as the engine of the economy, globalisation and exports as an unassailable horizon for our modernity, and the coalitions of political parties as a condition sine qua non in defining governability, understood as the common sense of politics, were no longer attractive to the whole of the society. The same thing was occurring in the institutions. The parliament was no longer a place for political debate, which had been expropriated by the executive power. The executive, in turn, was being expropriated by the foreign business lobbies and hard-line political elements. And in turn this intransigent core was finding itself expropriated by foreign investment and a pair of embassies that were defining the situation in the country. An initial stage in the state crisis, in 2000, was its visibility.

A state crisis does not necessarily lead to a new state; there may be internal adjustments in forces, alliances and policies and there may be a reconstitution of the old state. For example, the national revolutionary state of 1952 had stages of internal mutation and reconfiguration that enabled it to survive a bit longer, amidst the military authoritarianism of the nationalist state. It was the same nationalist state, with only a few adjustments, internal linkages and partial changes in content.

Catastrophic equilibrium and construction of hegemony

Any state crisis, then, may be reversible, or it may continue. If the crisis continues, a subsequent stage is the catastrophic equilibrium. Lenin spoke of a revolutionary situation, Gramsci of catastrophic equilibrium, both referring to the same phenomenon albeit in distinct languages. The catastrophic equilibrium is a phase in the state crisis, if you wish, a second structural moment that is characterised by three things: a confrontation of two national political projects for the country, two perspectives for the country, each with a capacity for mobilisation, attraction and seduction of social forces; a confrontation in the institutional sphere — it might be the parliamentary arena or the social sphere — of two social blocs shaped by a will and ambition for power, the dominant bloc and the ascendant social bloc; and, thirdly, a paralysis of the upper echelons of the state and a failure to overcome this paralysis. This equilibrium might last weeks, months, years; but a moment will come when a breakthrough, a way out, is achieved.

The way out of the catastrophic equilibrium or deadlock would be the third step in the state crisis, which we will call ascendant hegemonic construction. This is characterised by unrest and, generally speaking, upsurge. Marx’s writings on the political crisis of 1848 and 1849 are highly illustrative of this idea of waves of unrest that come and go: stability, unrest, stability, unrest.

This ascendant hegemonic construction, in turn, will have three stages and four other sub-stages. The first is the preponderance or partial victory of a national political project with a capacity for attraction and social mobilisation. In the case of Bolivia, this preponderance presents various moments or sub-moments; the consolidation of the October agenda[1] is one, because it marks a social horizon that can attract the support of plebeian, indigenous, peasant, community, worker and middle-class elements. And the institutionalisation of the October agenda, so to speak, is the election victory of 2005.

This crisis, of necessity, must end at some moment; no society can live permanently in mobilisation (as the anarchists hold) or permanently in stability (as Christians believe). There may be instability, struggles, but at some point an orderly structure must be consolidated, which will continue to experience internal conflicts, of course, but later it will be possible to say: ``From this moment on, we have a reconstituted neoliberalism or we have a national, indigenous, popular, revolutionary state.’’

We have termed this historical, precise, datable moment the point of bifurcation.

The point of bifurcation means that either there is a successful counterrevolution and a return to the old state in new conditions, or a new state is consolidated, with conflicts still but in the context of its stabilisation. The counterrevolution, to obtain international support or a collapse of the command structure and leadership of the revolutionary bloc, will require a hegemonic re-articulation of regional resistances with a capacity for regional or national expansion.

I would illustrate this idea of the point of bifurcation with the crisis of the latifundist mining state, which actually began in 1944 or 1945; the Movimiento Nactionalista Revolutionario (MNR) won the elections in 1951, but its point of bifurcation is not in that year but in 1952. The April insurrection is the moment of bifurcation in that the state, with the characteristics and qualities of the worker, productivism, homogenisation, was consolidated and was to enjoy a relative stabilisation until a time of internal renewal, internal metamorphosis, with the presence of the military. But the nationalist state lasted until 1985.

A second moment of point of bifurcation may have been in 1986. The national-popular state went into a crisis in 1977. Coup d’état, elections, coup d’état, elections, elections, coup d’état, democratic government, problems, early elections. The right wing won the elections in 1985, but the point of bifurcation occurred in 1986, with the March for Life[2], when the nucleus of the old state, the social nucleus and the social thinking of the old state collapsed, surrendered, in the face of the force, the vitality, the discourse and the coercive and cohesive capacity of the new neoliberal state.

The points of bifurcation may be insurrectional, they may be a display of force or (as a working hypothesis) they may be resolved democratically. In any case, the idea of the point of bifurcation is the following: first, it is a moment of resolution of the stabilisation of the structure of the new state; secondly, a point of bifurcation is inevitably a moment of force; and thirdly, it is a moment in which politics actually becomes the continuation of the war by other means. It is a moment in which Nietzsche and Foucault are right.

A point of bifurcation is, basically, an act of force in the practical mediation of things. It is an act of leadership, of hegemony in the Gramscian meaning of the word, of moral leadership over the rest of society. Thus, if the Indigenous peoples want to consolidate themselves as a nucleus of the state, they have to demonstrate that they are capable of handling and advancing the interests of the middle class, of the Bolivian business world, and isolating a very few, the implacable ones, but depriving them of their social base. To do this, it is important to talk with the adversaries; the Indigenous were required to talk with them.

In the case of Bolivia, it may seem that we are coming closer to the point of bifurcation. It may be a question of months or days — this is merely a reflexive intuition — but it cannot drag on much longer. The interesting thing is that today, in 2007, when we see ourselves confronted by the new political constitution of the state and the autonomy statutes, when the Constituent Assembly is being challenged by the autonomy referendum, it may seem that we are repeating the history of 2005; it may seem that history is repeating itself, but in reality this is not the case. In 2005 the Constituent Assembly confronted the state as a demand by the society and the response of the decadent bloc of the state to the society was the autonomy referendum. Today the reverse is the case.

Society’s proposal to the society mediated by the state is the new political constitution, and the response of the bloc of the displaced, now coming not from the state but from a part of the society, is the autonomy statute. It may appear to be the same thing, but the location of the social subjects has altered by 180 degrees.

Theoretically, then, we must be approaching the point of bifurcation. In the last 100 years, the primary experience with a point of bifurcation has been armed insurrection. The second experience of a point of bifurcation, the March for Life, was not an armed experience, but an exhibition and a measurement of political, military and moral forces between the contending blocs and, without firing a single shot, the point of bifurcation was consolidated, a new state was stabilised.

Third form of point of bifurcation

In actuality, the government is betting on another, a third form of point of bifurcation, which would be a sort of democratic resolution through a form of iteration, that is, of successive approximation. The idea is that through various democratic actions the tensions between contending forces will be resolved. This is one of the possibilities that has opened up and the one that the government will be trying to promote. The idea is that the point of bifurcation will be resolved neither through insurrection (the hypothesis of civil war, which is always latent) nor through a show of force and the political and moral defeat of the adversary, but through the repeated manifestation of the sovereign power based on the relocation of powers, of local and regional forces, and the use of surpluses.

A referendum will determine how many prefects [governors] remain, or a referendum will determine whether the president and the vice-president continue to govern. A referendum will determine the viability of the new political constitution, which is reorganising the state. Another referendum will determine the type of autonomy that will be implemented in the country. In other words, the three moments of force — how to resolve the state architecture between the national and sub-national levels, how resources are to be redistributed, and how the institutional level of the state is organised — will have to be determined through electoral action, if it comes to that.

Now basically I would say that this is a time of truce that may be broken when the time comes to implement the Renta Dignidad, which redistributes the 60% of the IDH [Impuesto directo a los Hidrocarburos – direct tax on hydrocarbons] from the prefecturas [departmental governments]. Or, depending on the particular strategy of the right wing, it may not be until the referendum on autonomy, on their autonomy statute, is held. That referendum must go to the parliament and if parliament amends or rejects it, they are going to try to hold a referendum for a decision by their regional autonomous assembly and if this happens, they are going to want to apply their statute, and in trying to apply it without the corresponding legality, they are going to come into confrontation with the structure of the state. That may be another moment.

What else can happen in the days to come? A territorial counter-offensive in two dimensions, which is already happening in fact. The central government with the departments, and the confrontation between the departmental level and the sub-departmental, regional and municipal levels which, under the new political constitution, have the right to a type of autonomy in which resources and powers will be subordinate to the Departmental Council.

The Indigenous peoples will therefore look for their powers to the central government and will have to draw on it for their resources, while the regional and provincial autonomies will have to derive their resources and powers within the departmental limits. Hence there is going to be rising tension from regional forces and local elites that will extend to the prefecturas and, in turn, to the central government. So there will be rising tension among the territorial levels of the state.

In some of these moments, the deterrent capacity of the new social power bloc will probably be put to the test, and this will illustrate its ability to make decisions based on its capacity for social mobilisation at the national, departmental and fundamentally regional levels, which in turn will reveal its capacity to maintain command, control and compliance with the structures of legitimate coercion in the hands of the state, that is, the national police and armed forces.

That is more or less the panorama for the months to come. I am sure this initial reading will be modified week by week, because this is a time in which politics has again assumed a condensed form, and the correlation of forces is changing to a large degree within a very short timeline. Again, there is a condensation of politics in space and time, and this will oblige us to modify our modes of interpretation.

New political constitution of the state

The reading Raúl Prada has made of the Constituent Assembly as a social project and a collective myth[3] should really be fully incorporated here. But I include what I say, simply situating it at a merely instrumental level of objectification of the new programming of forces. In its own way, this new constitution provides for an Indigenous popular nucleus, but it adds other sectors as well. The concerns of the middle class. Will I or will I not be able to send my son to private school? I can. Will I be entitled to hold my religious beliefs? I have that right. Can I inherit? I can. Can I invest in the country without the risk of being nationalised? If I pay taxes and comply with the rules, I have that right and no one should expropriate me.

The businessperson, too, can feel he or she is recognised in the new constitution. This sector may have preferred the old constitution and the old bloc, when, in order to negotiate a line of credit, there was no need to wait six months to have a meeting with Evo Morales. In the past, deals were settled over a weekend coffee or in a tennis game; now this is no longer the case, because Evo Morales never goes to tennis games or the embassies and he does not do deals in that way. But this constitution incorporates them, as well.

I think this is a demonstration of the possibility of exercising moral and intellectual leadership over the rest of society. As Raúl Prada says, it is a constitution of transition that has had to be adaptable, that has had to incorporate other things without which it would be a constitution solely for the poorest of the Indigenous and without appeal to the average Indigenous person. To be a constitution for the mestizos, the middle classes, the businesspeople, as well, and not for only one group, it had to be adjusted accordingly.

What group is not incorporated here, in the decisive referendum? The referendum question says: Do you agree that the extent of the lands be 5000 or 10,000 hectares? Who own more than 5000 hectares: 8000 families. But only 400 families have upwards of 10,000 hectares. It is a powerful blow against the large landowners; clearly there is not much to negotiate with these gentlemen so let’s proceed with the referendum. I am sure the option of not extending it to more than five thousand hectares will be adopted, defining the irreducible core that will not be renegotiated.

It is possible that by the time the referendum is called, the Congress will negotiate 5000 or 10,000, but it is clear that there is a core of major landholdings that have been defined in isolation from the rest of society. However, attempts were made to dialogue with them, because politically one should exhaust all channels for dialogue before making a tough decision. As any military strategist will say, take all possible steps, and once they are exhausted, the next step is justified. And here we have had to try again and again, not out of weakness but because we are obliged to dialogue and to listen, and in the worst of cases, after having exhausted all options, it is possible to define things by another route. That is why we have to dialogue.

Nationalisation of natural resources protected

On the subject of natural resources, we have given constitutional protection to the nationalisation of hydrocarbons. This means that no one can legally re-privatise above- or below-ground gas and petroleum, the refineries or the ability to make decisions, to market and to set the price of hydrocarbons; this is now under lock and key. [Former Bolivian president] Sánchez de Lozada, with the old constitution, which declared that the deposits (but nothing else) belonged to the state, privatised everything. With that experience, we say here: the gas and oil in the deposits and in any of the states where they are found belong to Bolivians through the national state.

The state determines the volumes, the marketing, the prices and terms of export. No one can adopt a re-privatisation law without changing the constitution, which would take 15 years. So if Sánchez de Lozada were to return in 2010, God forbid, but if he were to return, it would take 15 years to go back to privatising the resources. It cannot be done instantaneously, as he did. And the same applies to the forests, water and minerals. Concerning the protection of national resources, the constitution is very strong.

Applying the new political constitution of the state to the fight against corruption, we establish for the first time that the law is retroactive, that not only is there no limitation period on prosecutions for stealing from the state but such prosecutions can go back in time. No one is immune, all the presidents, vice-presidents and ministers preceding the new constitution are subject to investigation and, if subsequently convicted, are subject to imprisonment for their corruption.

So no one is immune now from prosecution and incarceration for stealing a fountain pen, or a million dollars, from the state. I think this is the only legislation in Latin America that allows for this kind of retroactivity, because the present constitution is retroactive in regard to workers’ rights and prisoners, as long as it favours them, but never in regard to the fight against corruption.

Missing from this analysis are the nature and characteristics of the consolidation and articulation of the new right-wing forces in the country that have now displaced Podemos as a project and that have new leaderships such as Branco Marinkovic, Mario Cossio, Rubén Costas[4], as well as the civic committees, a nucleus of mass mobilisation and a youth strike force that we have to get to understand. This is not explained in this outline. It would require an analysis of the new right in its capacity for social mobilisation, but I think that in general terms the chessboard is moving in that way.

In any case, looking at this from the government’s point of view, the following steps have to be taken in its ability to articulate social mobilisation around very concrete objectives such as, for example, the new constitution, and the ability to maintain control over the structures of legitimate coercion in the hands of the state: justice, police, armed forces. And it also depends on what moves the right wing makes. Whatever the case, either this point of bifurcation is resolved through public support and its pressure in the voting and the referendums that settle the consolidation of the new state, or there will be some type of confrontation and a test of forces for which, I hope, we are prepared.

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[1] October agenda: The main demands of the social movements arising from the October 2003 rebellion that removed Gonzalo Sánchez de Losada from the presidency: nationalisation of gas, a constituent assembly and trial for those responsible for the massacre of over 60 civilians during the uprising.

[2] In 1986 the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) sponsored a mass ``March for Life’’ to frustrate government plans to restructure Comibol, the nationalised mining company, and to halt mass firings and raise salaries. A deal under which the government conceded many of the COB’s demands subsequently collapsed, the mining sector was restructured and the radical labour leaders were ousted at a COB convention.

[3] Raúl Prada is a sociologist and professor at the Universidad Autónoma Gabriela René Moreno and the Universidad Mayor Real. He is also a Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) delegate to the Constituent Assembly from La Paz and a member of Comuna. See, for example, his essay “Encrucijadas de la asamblea constituyente (un balance necesario)”,

[4] Respectively, president of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee, prefect of the department of Tarija, and prefect of the department of Santa Cruz.


Neo-liberalism and the New Socialism – Alvaro Garcia Linera

Online at:

Neo-liberalism and the New Socialism – speech by Alvaro Garcia Linera


1-14-07, 8:00 p.m.

Introduction - W. T. Whitney Jr

Since the fall of the Soviet Bloc, new questions as to the nature and evolution of socialism have circulated. The election of Hugo Chavez to Venezuela’s presidency in 1998 has given rise in Latin America to the notion of “socialism of the 21st century.”

A remarkable speech delivered October 29 by Bolivian Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera suggests not only that socialism does have a future, but that new ideas of working class identity are putting a new face on Latin America’s version of socialism. And Garcia is convinced that “Our America” – that America south of the Rio Grande espoused by Jose Marti - is now the world’s main stage for revolutionary change.

The 44-year old Garcia, vice president in Bolivia’s first indigenous government is well equipped for such analysis. He joined Central American solidarity campaigns while studying in Mexico City 1980-85. In Bolivia, he worked with tin miners who joined an indigenous peasant movement to form the Tupac Katarí Guerrilla Army in 1990. Charged with armed revolt, he and other leaders were in jail from 1992-1997. The titles of some of his books testify to his political interests: Critique of the Nation (1989), Re proletarization (1999), Condition of workers (2001), and Multinational State (2005). Prior to becoming Vice President in January, 2006, he articulated the cause of Bolivia’s worker, peasant, and indigenous movements in articles and on radio and television.

In an April 2006 interview, Garcia admitted to preoccupation with the role of indigenous peoples in national development. (Página/12) Long ago he “began an obsession with finding the thread leading from Marxism to the indigenous theme, believing that Marxism might be able to take into account the … potential of the national and ethnic demands of indigenous peoples.” He suggested that “The Indian presents himself as an autonomous political subject proposing an expansive nationalism, a nation ‘with unity in diversity’”

Garcia’s efforts to apply Marxism to Latin American realities are not new. Theoretician and organizer Jose Carlos Mariategui founded the Peruvian Communist Party in 1924. Famously, he adapted concepts derived from the industrial, urbanized working class to a Peru still stuck in the feudalism of gigantic landholdings owned by so-called colonizers. “The propagation of socialist ideas in Peru,” Mariategui noted, “brought about a strong movement of indigenous commitment. The new Peruvian generation …knows that progress in Peru will be fictitious [if] it does not deal with the welfare of the Peruvian masses that are four fifths indigenous and peasant.” He discovered “the survival of the community and elements of practical socialism in indigenous life and agriculture.” Mariategui pioneered processes of inquiry and action that Garcia is pursuing

Interviewed on BBC December 23, Noam Chomsky asserted that the “election of Morales reflects the entry on the political scene in the continent [of] calls for an “indigenous nation.” The indigenous peoples, he continues, “represent a serious threat for Washington’s plans to gain access to natural resources in the Western Hemisphere.”

Thus Alvaro Garcia Linera is well placed to analyze the contest between indigenous demands for power and constraints imposed by transnational capitalism. A socialist, he is well suited to lead discussion on the “new socialism,” especially as it materializes in the global south. In their time, priorities for Marx, Engles, and Lenin lay closer to home.

A few far-left Bolivians have charged Garcia and the Morales government with reformism and half measures. They point to Garcia’s efforts in December, 2006 to compromise with separatist opposition forces in Eastern Bolivia fronting for rich landowners and business interests. Youth shock troops in Santa Cruz have carried out vicious, racist attacks on indigenous people. Garcia’s approach, manifested in the speech below, is criticized for having “permitted the counter-revolution to get oxygen, regain strength, and go on to destabilize the indigenous administration.” (Cesar Zelada,

Garcia’s speech served as the closing event at the First Gathering of Peoples and States for the Liberation of the Patria Grande in Sucre, which, according to observers, was a gathering of Latin American social movements and heads of states of epochal proportions.

Alvaro Garcia Linera

Vice President of the Republic of Bolivia

(translated by W. T. Whitney Jr.)

Companeros and Companeras: Permit me to bring you the most affectionate and fraternal greetings from our president Evo Morales. He has followed this continental gathering step by step, has followed your discussions with rapt attention. Because of complicated work - pending negotiations on petroleum and minerals – he could not be here with you. He sends a grateful, fraternal, and affectionate greeting to all of you.

Allow me to cover three areas with you: how to distance ourselves from neo-liberalism, how the state relates to social movements, and socialism.

1. The four pillars of neo-liberalism

Over the past five - seven years, peoples on the continent, worthy people, working people, oppressed people have slowly begun to initiate processes of mobilization, struggle, and confrontation against what we call neo-liberalism. Latin American people without a doubt are in the vanguard of the struggle against neo-liberalism that has materialized and taken root all over the world in the last 25 years.

Paraphrasing Marx, one can say that the specter of anti-neo-liberalism or of post-neo-liberalism is stalking the continent, from Oaxaca in Mexico, through Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, etc, to Tierra del Fuego in Chile. The continent serves as the vanguard of reflection and planetary mobilization responding to neo-liberalism and its effects. To look into this, to know why we are fighting, it’s important to remind ourselves of the 3-4 main points as to what neo-liberalism is.

First off, neo-liberalism signifies a process of fragmentation - structural disintegration - of support networks, solidarity, and popular mobilization. Throughout the whole world, especially in Europe, Latin America, and Asia, neo-liberalism has grown out of the pulverization, fragmentation, and disintegration of the old workers’ movement, the old peasant movement, and the urban mobilizations that developed in the fifties and the eighties.

The fragmentation of society and the destruction of both solidarity networks and the fabric of cohesion have fostered the consolidation of neo-liberalism.

Secondly, neo-liberalism has taken form, advanced, and imposed itself on the world through privatization, i.e. private appropriation of collective wealth and public properties, including public savings, land, minerals, forest, and pension funds. Neo-liberalism developed through privatizing those resources.

Thirdly, The introduction of neo-liberalism was accompanied by reducing the state and deforming it, especially that aspect of the state relating for better or worse to the collective or to ideas of commonwealth. Neo-liberalism set out to destroy this notion of the state as collective or commonwealth in order to impose a type of corporate ideology calling for appropriation and squandering of collective wealth accumulated many times over by two, three, four, or five generations.

Fourth, the implementation of neo-liberalism led to limitations on people’s political participation; democracy was ritualized into casting a vote every four years. The citizen voter no longer takes part in decision-making. Tiny circles of the political elite take it upon themselves to represent the people. These then are the four pillars of neo-liberalism - fragmentation of the laboring sectors and worker organizations, privatization of public resources, the diminished state, and impediments to people’s decision making.

How to dismantle the four pillars of neo-liberalism - what to substitute

If there are four items, four pillars of neo-liberalism that have created so much poverty, marginalization, and misfortune in the country, then clearly we have to remove them. We must substitute other structures, other mechanisms, by which society, nations, and poor working people might regain the right to decide their own destiny.

Bolivia exemplifies the workings of social fragmentation. But we can also look at Mexico, Ecuador, and Argentina. The best way to resist neo-liberalism is through consolidation of the social movements. These include popular networks and autonomous organizations of men and women, youth, workers, peasants, professionals, students, and indigenous peoples. Organization, i.e. the re-establishment of civil, popular, peasant, and indigenous society, becomes our first pillar for dismantling the neo-liberal regimen. That means organizing the hardest hit sectors of the last 25 years, the working class, women workers, the indigenous, peasant, and youth sectors, all of them, fragmented, weakened, and marginalized, their rights abused. The task today is to devise new methods of worker organization that correspond to the prevailing style of fragmented production work, work that is no longer concentrated in big production centers, organization also of peasants and indigenous people defending their rights to take back land. Young people need to be mobilized to pursue real citizenship, so that they no longer turn into economic exiles in Europe or North America. This work – reconstruction from below, from the base – is the first great task we have to undertake to bring down the neo-liberal regimen. We have taken steps along these lines here in Bolivia, and we are very pleased. We look to the world in a direct, respectful way as we offer a body of experience toward remaking the social fabric – less now in the workplace, and more where people live - around quite specific issues, water, land, hydrocarbon. These are the vital, basic points of unification essential for reforming networks of popular, worker, peasant, and indigenous groups that have been dismantled over the last 25 years.

Secondly, struggle against neo-liberalism implies a return to socialization of the collective wealth, restoring to the rightful owners what belonged to all before it was privatized over the last decades by small family groupings. And that means recovering natural resources, hydrocarbons, water, land, and forests. Only by means of social re-appropriation of wealth common to us all can we go about dismantling the neo-liberal core. Experiences throughout the continent and in Bolivia particularly indicate this to be the road by which people will be standing up for themselves. People at the base have been thinking and pondering in directed, independent ways. Here in Bolivia, mobilization was based on defense of the coca leaf, defense of water, of land, and gas and oil. These were the axes around which society recovered confidence and regained capacity for mobilization, leadership development, and building networks to unify city and country. Thanks to that we can now say that in Bolivia we have a government of social movements.

The third mechanism for struggle against neo-liberalism relates to empowerment of the state. Why the state? Why is it important to build up the state now? Situations of adverse international context and state take-over go together, especially when political regimes that disregard national borders are involved, or foreign companies with more economic and political power than two, three, or four states together. The purpose of consolidating a state with economic, cultural, and political strength is to provide a protective shield for the social movements, an international armor for growth of the social struggles. Yes, reinforce the state, but not in the sense of the old state capitalism, which was a way to privatize public resources. It’s a subordinated state that has to be strengthened, one always controlled and permeated by the demands, activities, and insurgency of the social movements, which exist to keep the state from serving as an alibi for new entrepreneurs and new privateers.

And a fourth feature of this struggle against neo-liberalism is the introduction and unfolding of democracy in ways that place personal destiny in one’s own hands. Democracy is not just casting a vote every four years. Rather it’s having the capacity to participate in what’s happening in the country, from the matter of municipal investments to deciding if a petroleum contract should be signed or not signed. And in Latin America we are full of experiences of democracy at the base, what with our indigenous communities, urban neighborhoods, workers’ districts, and groups of unemployed. There are many seeds of real democracy, direct democracy, democracy in the community, and participatory democracy. These are the necessary settings for development, initiatives, proposals, and realization of rights. People have to fight for their rights in order that rights sanctioned by law and the state can gain legitimacy. .

So this struggle against neo- liberalism is based on four fundamentals: varying forms of democratic expression (community-based, territorial-based, direct, and participatory), the recovery by society of its collective wealth, the reinforcement of the state – subordinated to society – for the sake of international protection, and, lastly, unification of the social movements. Country and city come together, also indigenous people and peasants, young and old workers, the unemployed and the homeless, and the landless and the destitute.

Latin America – the vanguard of the construction, discussion, and organization of post- neo-liberal societies.

Having taken these four items into consideration, I don’t have the least doubt that the consolidation of whatever follows neo-liberalism, or replaces it, will take place initially on this continent, and from there extend to other continents, if we have the strength and capacity. May Latin Americans stay in the vanguard of the construction, discussion, and organization of post- neo-liberal societies.

2. Dialectic between state and social movements.

But a question arises here, one implicit in the name of this gathering: how does the relation between state and social movement work? At first glance they appear to be contradictory notions. The idea of state implies the concentration of decision making; the state has a monopoly in that area. The term social movement signifies diffusion of decision-making, socialization of the process. This is a tension that we have to deal with, and that will take practice. State as centralization, movement as socialization: it’s a permanent tension.

And I am describing the experience of our own government, that of permanent tension between mandates from the social movements – choosing a person for the state bureaucracy, for example, or the elaboration of a law – and, on the other hand, decisions to be imposed upon opposition forces in society. This is an old discussion that goes back to the Paris Commune, is taken up by Lenin’s soviets, by the Hungarian Councils in Europe. Here in Bolivia there’s a long experience from Catavi, from the “’52”, and is being repeated now. How to build a state managed and led by social movements would seem to be contradictory. But no. Perhaps it’s this very tension, between socialization and concentration, between democratization of decision making and monopoly, through which revolutions of the 21st century will have to proceed.

The social movements here bear significant responsibility. In resolving this tension we Latin Americans may even become able to conceive of and propose other social movements elsewhere in the world.

Until the year 2003, the discussion was about social movements being separate from the state. Or, as the old left would have it, the state had to be under the control of one party separated from the social movements. The 21st century would seem to be setting off on another route, one derived from our experience as Latin Americans, that of permanent tension and ongoing dialectic between the state and social movements, between socialization and concentration. Here the social movements take on the challenge of how to achieve social leadership. Because it’s not enough to be part of the state and make decisions. For those decisions to gain legitimacy you have to depend upon backing from other sectors in society, not solely from social movements, workers, and indigenous people. And in Bolivia the challenge for our indigenous movement is being able to appeal to, attract, and win over the unorganized middle classes, how to attract the professional sectors that aren’t mobilized, indeed how to win over 90% of society. If we can do that, Companera Silvia, success is guaranteed, because not only will there be a government of social movements but there will also be a State of social movements able to articulate and unite the homeland in its entirety, society in its entirety. (Garcia is addressing Silvia Lazarte, President of the Constituent Assembly)

After Neo-Liberalism – Socialism of the 21st century

The question remains; what comes after struggle against neo-liberalism; what does post neo-liberalism have to do with socialism? Does post neo-liberalism necessarily imply a type of socialism? That is another discussion, among social movements, intellectuals, and leaders – and a discussion too inside our government.

It’s clear that socialism, understood as a society of overall well being, where the people recover control of their economic, cultural, and political decision making in a community-based way is not something built up in a year, or ten years, or even 50. Nor is socialism anything defined by decrees. It’s part and parcel of the struggle against neo-liberalism. We revolutionaries have to transform tendencies into practice and deeds, not just on paper. Within our own society we have to strengthen the organizing capacity of indigenous communities. They are besieged, fragmented, and oppressed by colonialism, but internally have the potential for incorporating wealth, production, the use of land, water, skills, and materials into the community. Revolutionaries have the duty to harness the struggle against neo-liberalism with the movement toward a socialism based fundamentally upon the collective and social re-appropriation of our wealth. This movement is embedded in our indigenous communities in Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala, Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. We need to waken it, propel it, and expand it into a proposition that extends far beyond simple neo-liberalism.

The new workers movement and the indigenous – peasant movement could generate on the continent the potential for real socialism of the 21st century.

There are two other considerations. The old workers movement based on unionization of big companies is gone, but the working class has not disappeared. There are more new workers now than ever before, but most of them are young people and women, their rights gone; they are unorganized, unassociated, fragmented, and dispersed among tiny work places. Finding a new discourse, revolutionaries have to re-articulate a new workers movement composed of women and young people that have other perspectives. They have to be grouped by neighborhoods, districts, and occupation, no longer by work place. Now there are five workers here, ten there, 20 there, 30 over there. They don’t make up a tight community. We have to devise methods to empower a powerful continent-wide workers movement. It appears that on the Latin American continent the virtual union of the indigenous-peasant movement together with the new workers movement may be able to generate here the social potential for a socialism of the 21st century.

The Socialism of the 21st Century as a planetary structure

There is then, companeros and companeras, a lot to do. We undertake these tasks in one’s own country, district, union, or university. But the struggle of one person alone is not enough. For one district, one region, one province, one state, or one country to fight alone is not enough either. That’s because neo-liberalism, and capitalism even more so, is a planetary construct. And the only way to transcend a worldwide system is to invoke another one, specifically an expanding worldwide struggle for rights and for making good on basic needs.

Your struggle is also ours

Your presence here provides cheer. We are not alone. And we are grateful that you came to our country to tell us: “Bolivians, You are not alone.” Thank you very much for coming. Everyone knows that your struggle is also ours. We know ourselves that we won’t be winning if you don’t triumph – and you, and you! Either we all win or we all lose. That’s the plan for the 21st century. That’s why – What does the Companera say? (Silvia Lazarte) – We are obliged to globalize the struggles in order to be able to win where we are. And there has to be an articulation of the social movements and progressive states to allow ties of solidarity to keep on expanding.

And it’s very important, companeros, that we understand your struggles. It’s very important you are here and teaching us what you are doing – what’s going on in Ecuador, Argentina, Mexico, and in France. We need to learn, and we’ll be able to share it not with just a few intellectuals. We have an obligation today to each peasant, indigenous person, and worker who are eager to learn and eager also to collaborate with projects in the future. Companeros and companeras, in the name of the President of our Republic, in our name, we thank you for your presence here.

We ask you not to abandon us. And be assured that we will not abandon you in any one of your initiatives, or your struggles, or any one of your victories.

Thank you very much.

Marxism and Indigenism in Bolivia: Dialogue and Conflict

Marxism and Indigenism in Bolivia: A Dialectic of Dialogue and Conflict


On Sunday morning, April 10, 2005 I sat in the book-lined living room of Álvaro Garci­a Linera's modest La Paz apartment and talked to the former guerrilla and political prisoner - now a mathematician and sociologist - about the Bolivian traditions of Marxism, indigenism, and the contemporary state of the Left and popular movements in the country.

JRW: I'm here in La Paz with Álvaro García Linera. First, what was your personal political formation like? How did you become an intellectual on the side of popular movements?

AGL: I belong to a generation that lived through the last moments of the dictatorships in Latin America. In Bolivia there were dictatorships until 1982, military dictatorships. I was 14, 16, 17 years old. These last moments touched me and therefore I was influenced by these experiences of childhood, of adolescence. However, it also touched me to see, in the struggle against the dictatorships and the re-conquest of democracy, two grand social actors of this epoch.

On the one hand, the miners of the great mines that were the centre of the Bolivian Workers' Central (COB), revindicating democracy. And it effected me to see, between 1979 and 1980 - I was living in La Paz - the emergence of the Aymara Indians that made their first road blockade in 1979, and left isolated the city of La Paz. They fought against the military. And this had a massive impact on me. This was an actor that I didn't know, an actor that was very distant for me. During the blockade of '79 I was 15 or 16 years old. And this, for me, was going to be very, very important.

I had a lot of enthusiasm. My exposure and learning initially was not through practice but through reading, books, or political theory, reading on indigenous history. Who were these actors that had blockaded the city, demanding democracy, talking in a language that I didn't know, with flags that I didn't understand? Who is this? And so, history, the reading of history.

Five or six years after this encounter in my adolescence, and after I'd been to Mexico to study, I had a closer encounter with the leaders of the indigenous movements. From then, 1985, until today, I've read, learned more, looked more closely, I've been learning more. And I found my particular intellectual perceptions, trying to understand this historical experience through my mental schemas and through my practical experience with the sector that is not available in books. But through this intent to understand it through the tools of books and the intent to invent tools that were not in books but came out of these movements' own history.

JRW: You wrote an article recently in Barataria on Marxism and Indigenism in Bolivian history. Can you describe, historically and contemporaneously, what are the contradictions between Indigenism and Marxism, and what are the possibilities of a union between the two?

AGL: Here in Bolivia, Marxism as an ideology is about 60 or 70 years old, with a presence in intellectual circles. In the first period, a very marginal Marxism, whose referent was Tristan Marof, was present in the 1920s. He was very similar to José Mariátegui in Peru toward Indians. According to some historians they were planning an uprising in Sucre, the indigenous people, Tristan Marof, and his four lawyers. It's a very interesting historical presence. And this, this first encounter between Marxism - small, marginal, a few intellectuals - and the practical indigenous movement was broken in the 1940s when two big currents, already much more consolidated, installed themselves here in Bolivia: the Trostkyists and the Stalinists.

They were already political currents with an organizational structure. They had more people, were more inclusive. And they abandoned whatever close connection with Indians, and dedicated themselves to working strictly with workers. That is, if the revolution was to be from the workers, and socialism was what was coming, the task was to look for workers, and the Indians didn't exist, or were petty bourgeoisies, or were slaves who had to be liberated by the workers.

A very primitive reading of the indigenous population, and in this way it broke a fruitful, very beautiful, relationship between Indians and Marxists, opting for another type of Marxism better connected to the workers' sectors. It was an extremely primitive Marxism because it couldn't be a conveyor of critical tools that could help the theory adapt itself to a reality that wasn't Europe, that wasn't Russia, a reality where there were indigenous people, other languages, other cultures, and where workers were a tiny part of the population. In sum, it couldn't succeed.

This distance between indigenous people and Marxism easily lasted until the 1980s. And in these years, during the 1970s, the indigenous movement and its leaders surged forward once again. And these manual Marxists, primitive Marxists, simply saw the Indians as reactionaries because they wanted to talk about historical themes that weren't relevant to social revolution, or they were petty bourgeois, or they were racists. This Marxism lasted from the 1940s until the 1980s, and couldn't get closer to, it didn't read correctly, the indigenous movements, and so the social facts collided. And therefore here the indigenous movement of the 1970s and 1980s rose up in confrontation with Marxism, not only in confrontation with liberal ideologies. No, they also rose up against Marxists because the Marxists considered them to be counterrevolutionaries and racists. As a result, one of the slogans of the indigenists of the1980s was "ni Marx ni menos" or "neither Marx nor less," because there had been a confrontation between them, not recognition.

In the 1980s this confrontation between the two would attenuate because there was a defeat of the Left in Bolivia. These Marxists lost influence in the mines that were closing, lost influence in the factories that were closing, and lost historical legitimacy because of the failure of administration of the UDP (Democratic Popular Union) government (in power from 1982-1985). They became a marginal sector. And the indigenists who had been rising up with force would quickly be coopted by NGOs (non-governmental organizations), or by the state that started a series of reforms under multicultural neoliberalism.

Therefore, in the 1980s and 1990s, to talk of active indianisms and marxisms isn't relevant, because what was prevalent was a debate of modernizing ideologies between liberals. However, small, marginal groups like us, were looking for, continue looking for - very much at the margins, very isolated - an articulation between Indianism and Marxism. Something we did in the 1980s, was an effort to give body to the ethnic demand through a reading of the role of national identities in revolutionary processes, the role of agrarian communities and the possible transformation of capitalism, a study that was detailed, but in these moments was without influence.

We tried to give body to the theme of revindicating nationalities, to transcend mere description of ethnicity and its politicization, like the national identity demand. We tried to transcend mere ethnic discourse to a discourse of indigenous nationalism.

We tried in the 1980s, but without much influence. But these things we worked on in the 1980s - in the distinct scenario of the 2000s, in a scenario of political crisis, in a scenario of the weakening of neoliberal ideologies, and the weakness of the traditional Marxists - were going to find more fertile ground, between certain ideas that we had worked on from the margins, of some Marxists who wanted to dialogue with Indianism. Since 2000 these ideas have had more force. They've succeeded in expanding themselves to other intellectuals, to the level of social movement leaders. And there is a revitalizing of Indianism. But already this was not an Indianism in confrontation with Marxists because the Marxists of the old epoch, who had been enemies, had disappeared.

So, now we are in an interesting process, a new open dialogue not seen since the 1920s, a new dialogue still with reticence, still with a certain distance, and certain skepticism. But a new open dialogue between Marxist intellectuals who critique the primitive Marxism of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s and who approach Indianism not with the intention to control it but to offer tools of analysis, tools of interpretation, to offer tools of comprehension of indigenous social movement. I think we're in a new historic effort after almost 100 years, of a much more fruitful dialogue between the two grand readings of the transformation of Bolivia, that is Indianism and Marxism.

JRW: The uprising of October, 2003 was a very important conjuncture here in Bolivia. From your perspective, who were the principal actors of the insurrection, and what were the most important discourses and demands?

AGL: There were multiple actors. One of the first actors were the Aymara Indians of the countryside, organized in communities, under the form of unions. But the unions (sindicatos), as you know Jeff, aren't workers' unions. It's the historic name of a traditional, communal structure here in Bolivia.

The first actors who mobilized, marched, participated in a hunger strike, then a blockade of the roads in the Lago Titicaca region, were the Aymara indigenous. There was a military intervention with 8 deaths, and these 8 deaths would begin to expand a sentiment of cohesive ethnic identity. Initially they were the first national actor, the Aymara indigenous, around the city of La Paz.

Then, this actor would be accompanied by other urban actors in the city of El Alto. (Ex-president) Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada fell from power on October 17. From the 7th or 8th of October the movement started to incorporate urban actors with a complex, combined identity. They are actors that mobilize themselves under a neighbourhood identity, the federations of united neighbours (in El Alto this refers to FEJUVE), but it depends on their geographic relationships, and their social condition of labour. They are actors who, through this idea of neighbour, recuperate discourses and organizational forms that are more worker-oriented - this is the case for example in the El alto neighbourhood Santiago 2, a neighbourhood of ex -miners - or if you go more toward the zone that exits towards the lake (Lake Titicaca), they are actors that are going to revindicate or mobilize cultural repertoires, some mobilizational repertoires and discourses that are more indigenous.

Something like this is the base of the neighbourhood identity, but with multiple gradations, some more worker, others more indigenous, peasant, or more commercial. This is interesting. Therefore, there was no single actor when they mobilized themselves, or a single identity that mobilized itself in El Alto. Although there is no doubt that El Alto is the most indigenous city in Bolivia. According to the last census close to 80 percent self-identified as indigenous.

But this doesn't mean much in itself. In some cases "indigenous" becomes the identity in discourse, in symbols, and in other cases its "worker", and in other cases "neighbour", and in other cases small business people. These become the mobilized identities.

So, I think El Alto is an interesting mix between a type of indigenous migrant identity of the first generation with a worker-indigenous identity - which is not contradictory, the worker indigenized - and an identity more towards worker-mestizo. There are distinct variations depending to which zone of the city you go.

(Talking again about the central actors of October.) And then of course there is the presence of other actors of more classical workers, coming from Oruro, from the Huanuni mine, from the Concidi (?) mine, and the cooperativsts (also miners). And you have the presence of other peasants, strictly peasants in the classical sense, in Cochabamba. And finally small sectors of the urban middle class that in the end entered a hunger strike, maybe 50-100 people.

So, this is a mobilization that articulated itself in functions of time and geography. There are multiple actors, and multiple identities, flexible identities, porous identities.

JRW: What is the role of natural resources, especially gas and water, in the contemporary struggles?

AGL: The theme of water has been a detonating theme of social mobilization. In the 1980s and 1990s, Bolivia suffered processes of privatization of state public resources. In the middle of a crisis of Left thought, the cooptation of indigenous leaders by the state, a hunger for modernization, the way of the free market, privatizations - and this happened almost without resistance, almost without resistance. Don't forget, Jeff, that between the 1980s and the 1990s the three big parties that had free market proposals obtained 70 percent of the national electorate. There was a cultural and ideological hegemony in Bolivia, of liberalization and modernization.

But there was a moment when this was going to break apart, first it was going to be because there was so much promised with very few results. This was going to be the first symptom that would generate certain malaise at the end of the 1990s.

However the detonator of the mobilization that would convert this malaise into collective action was when the state wanted to begin privatizing non-state public resources, like water. Water in Bolivia is a non-state public resource in the countryside, with systems of traditional administration going back 700, 800, 900 years. The water of the rivers, the lakes, from the summits, is regulated by public communal systems. They are very complicated. The system of water in the agricultural zones is more complicated than the system of land. At the end of the 1990s, in 1999 the intent was to privatize in a manner mediated through concessions.

Land and water are basic, fundamental elements of the reproduction of peasant communities. There is a memory, their histories, their dead, their future. And when it started to be privatized it produced some of the articulations of social mobilization that caused the Water War in Cochabamba in 2000. It wasn't only urban residents but peasant irrigators of the urban periphery. And from here, the rural zones, would be mobilized the most important urban-rural alliance since 1952 (the year of the national revolution).

Then, the second large mobilization based here in the high-plains (altiplano) in October 2000 when, opposing a parliamentary law, the so-called law of water, the Aymara Indians blockaded the city of La Paz for 20 days. And from here surged a leadership, and from there begins this story (of the water struggle).

Water played a role in articulating rural forces, indigenous and peasant, and forces from the urban periphery, and in some case urban sectors, like in Cochabamba, for the defense of the social function, of the value of use over the value of changing this resource. And this would be a unifying, mobilizing, politicizing factor in local structures of daily life that assumed the defense of this resource, and from here the demands would be amplified the horizons of politicization of society: Indigenous, popular, urban.

Hydrocarbons (of which natural gas is the most important) would be the second unifying factor of this society in October, 2003. I think that through hydrocarbons various things were articulated. As in the situation with water, there was an articulation of historical memory, and a condition of autonomy in the reproduction of indigenous communities.

And hydrocarbons articulated another historical memory connected to two things. The Indians were those who died in the Chaco War (1932-1935) to defend petroleum that was supposedly in Tarija. 50,000 people died in this war, and at that time we had a country of about 1.5 or 2 million people. 50,000 is a lot of people! A lot! And the majority of the dead were Indians. To die in lands unknown to them. They were able to die for petroleum - that turned out not to be there - but they went to die. And there's not a peasant family in El Alto, the altiplano, that doesn't have a dead or mutilated grandfather, or a survivor of the Chaco War. This is important, very important. One starts to see the stories of contemporary adolescents who weren't in the Chaco War but who remember that their father went, that their grandfather went. So, there's this.

But also in this theme, the theme of hydrocarbons, there is a species of collective intuition, that the debates over hydrocarbons are playing with the destiny of this country, a country accustomed with having a lot of natural resources but always being poor, always seeing the natural resources serve to enrich others. And I think the people understand it, beyond all the technical debates, beyond all of this. There is a reflection. This is a natural resource. And we've had silver, we've had tin, we've had rubber, and we've always been poor. Enough, I want to say no. With this other natural resource we don't want to be poor! We want it to serve us, to come to our houses (domestic access to natural gas). I want to cook with gas in place of animal waste, or that my son, my daughter can have a job. This is the second historic element.

And a third element, I believe, is that the theme of gas permitted the channeling of a rejection of the free market economic model that served very few of the people. Gas was a pretext. Through the defence of gas, its recuperation, this is a rejection of privatizations, a rejection of foreign investment, as the only factors of economic modernization.

So, I think there are three articulated memories: a memory of the 1930s, a memory that dates back to when Pizarro arrived here, and a memory that is more immediate, resistance to a free market economic model that in the last 20 years has not provided for the welfare of the people. These three things functioned as articulators, politicizers, and mobilizers of social expectations.

JRW: Last question: What are the weaknesses and strengths in this historical conjuncture for the Left, and for popular movements in general?

AGL: It's a moment that we have to view through a historical perspective, with ups and downs, the construction of identities, of force, of discourse. One has to see it in the long historical cycles of the reconstitution of the popular.

Now it's under indigenous leaders, for the last 80 years it was under the leadership of the workers. And it's a process that had more than 10 years of articulation. This process is going to have possibly a cycle of 20 or 30 years more, with highs and lows, failures, and some victories.

At the same time this process of reconstitution is situated in a very particular historical moment: the rupture of conservative ideologies, and the projects of modernization and of power. Lamentably, it has found the popular indigenous movement in its first periods of formation, not in its moment of advanced consolidation. This brings to light many weaknesses. It's almost to wish that the crisis happened at a later time because the indigenous popular movement hasn't had time for the long period of maturation in many areas, and this has weakened its capacity to resolve this crisis.

But history is like that and you can't hope that all the conditions will align in a propitious manner. So, seen through a historical perspective we have 30 years to mature, but seen through a more concrete perspective there are a series of challenges, and weaknesses of the movement to respond to these challenges, so that I'm sure if they can respond. Let's go through them.

The unification of forces is necessary, not under the old vertical form of the COB that was top-down, but a more horizontal formation. Because here no sector wants to dilute itself in another, no sector accepts the leadership of another. This is good, it seems to me. But it's very risky when it paralyzes and prevents the unification of forces.

How do we invent systems of horizontal articulation, thematic, temporary, that don't dissolve the identity of one in the leadership of another? This is a great challenge, and an urgent one, because if they could overcome this challenge now, the indigenous and the popular sectors could easily govern this country. However, they're not prepared for this crisis of the dominant powers. This is the first weakness. They need a capacity of articulation that is much more serious, much more solid, thematic, that breaks with corporatism.

A second weakness is in the following area: to have the capacity to create political structures that permit an alliance with the popular urban social sectors that aren't unionized. When Evo Morales (leader of the political party Movement Toward Socialism, MAS), or Quispe (peasant leader Felipe Quispe) call for actions they can articulate "the popular." But there are large urbanized sectors that are not organized in federations of neighbours or unions... they're individual, and very influential.

The middle class and the ascending part of the popular class that have influence. They are the ones that buy newspapers, that listen to the radio, that appear on television, that drive taxis. And they're influential. This is where there are limitations to bring in our social and popular movements, and political leadership.

It's not enough to mobilize and conquer the unions to govern Bolivia. This also requires the disorganized popular sectors, who constitute the majority at the urban level. This is a second element that the movements have as a challenge; it's a contemporary weakness and a challenge.

A third element is a better clarity of their projects of emancipation. What is possible? What is desirable? What is imaginable today in terms of change? There's a certain ambiguity. And this ambiguity can weaken the movement's relationship to its own base and, what's more, with urban supporters. You're not going to have the capacity to establish hegemony without the city. And what project do the Indians offer to the workers of the giant corporation, who don't identify as indigenous, who don't want to be indigenous, but who are as equally impoverished as the indigenous? What discourse?

What discourse do they have to give to the impoverished middle classes, beyond the recognition of rights, that the indigenous legitimately have conquered? What project for the country? Which projects could be more hegemonic for the country, with the capacity to articulate the indigenous and the popular, not exclusively indigenous, also the people. The idea of hegemony is still weak, I think, in our movements. There have been very vital movements to resist, to oppose, but to lead - which they can do - here there are many limitations, in structure, in discourse, in the clarity of projects.

And a fourth element, but one that is much more in the longer term, is the reconstitution of the proletariat in Bolivia. There are many workers in Bolivia, but the working class is divided into other identities, fragmented, diluted...a working class that identifies as neighbours not as workers, that identify as students, not as workers. There is no autonomous construction of an identity and mobilizing force of workers. There are a few unions here, in Cochabamba, that echo an older epoch. Unions on the defence, tiny, the last of the privileged, preoccupied with defending their work, incapable of looking forward. This is important. We don't have this. We don't have this. To articulate our workers, our adolescents, that are students, are teachers, others that work in small workshops. Thousands, and thousands, and thousands. I did a study in 1999, and I arrived at the conclusion that only 8 percent of Bolivian workers are organized. 8 percent! The rest no. And the rest identify as indigenous, as neighbours, as artisans, as nothing, they don't have unions, they don't have security, they don't have identity, they don't have formation. To reconstruct this workers' fabric is the plank for another type of modernization, through work, that compliments the indigenous project which is more agrarian. This includes their urban force, which is still related to the countryside. This the great challenge that we have here in Bolivia to construct forces of emancipation.

But the working classes, in the sense of mobilized actors, construct themselves in decades, not in a week, nor in three years. They construct themselves in 20 years? If there was a strong articulated workers' movement under the contemporary material characteristics, with the indigenous movement, maybe we would be in much more propitious moments to make massive structural changes in the country.

For the moment, I think we are before changes - using the old language - democratic. That is to say, the decolonization of the state, the construction of equality, the appearance of collective rights, that for Bolivia are a gigantic revolution. For 500 years the indigenous here had been considered animals without rights. This already is gigantic. Seen in the perspective of the world, it's not a big thing, but for Bolivia it's a lot. And the possibility of large transformations more structural in nature, that will irradiate in a historic summation of workers' forces with indigenous-peasant forces. With this... maybe we'll be here discussing things beyond democracy, or capitalism with better distribution, that represent the limited horizon that represents today's reality.


Jeffery R. Webber is a member of the Toronto branch of the New Socialist Group and a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is currently in Bolivia. Thanks to Susan Spronk for helpful editorial comments.

Article/speech by Bolivian Vice-president Álvaro García Linera

First, thanks to Richard Fidler for translating the article/speech by Bolivian Vice-president Álvaro García Linera's on the problems of discerning the relationship of class forces, points of confrontation between opposed hegemonies, and ongoing contradictions in the indigenous-led Bolivian revolution. Second, to Links for publishing it.

The months that have passed since the speech was first delivered resonate with examples of the theoretical generalizations that García Linera makes. It is a forceful contribution to our understanding of unfolding struggle in his landlocked country.

The problem of hegemony and relationship of forces, and points of bifurcation that García Linera outlines have relevance for our current struggle in Nicaragua (always keeping in mind, of course, that every country presents these problems in unique and very concrete ways, and often in ways that are counterintuitive. It is therefore risky to directly extrapolate general processes from one country and apply them to another. Nevertheless, on a less fine-grained level one can’t help but see some lessons from García Linera for understanding Nicaraguan events since the 1990 electoral defeat.

That defeat of the FSLN in 1990 was more a referendum on war that a rejection of the goals of the revolution. Of course it was a historic defeat for the only course that could take the revolution forward. However, the question of the relationship of forces remained unresolved on many levels. The armed forces remained Sandinista.

As it turned out, the country could only be governed (governability, anyone?) by three subsequent neo-liberal presidencies making deals with the FSLN leadership. For the entire period since the 1990 elections no one party has been able to govern without negotiating fundamental issues with the opposition.

That remains true today, with the FSLN managing a minority government through an arrangement with the PLC called "the pact."

The first pact after 1990 was between the government of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro and the FSLN. It was arranged from the FSLN side by Sandinista Army General (now retired) Humberto Oretga and former Sandinista Vice-president Sergio Ramirez. This pact led to a crisis in the FSLN, and the organization of the Democratic Left tendency in the party, led by Mónica Baltodano, Victor Hugo Tinoco, and other compas (comrades). Daniel Ortega came on side by the time of the 1994 Congress, and these forces defeated the right-wing current led by Sergio Ramirez and Dora Maria Tellez. Upon their defeat the vast majority of this current, including the overwhelming majority of FSLN deputies in the National Assembly, split away and formed the social democratic Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).

Subsequently the FSLN, with Daniel Ortega by then back at the helm, formed a pact with the PLC (Liberal Constructional Party [headed by former president, Arnoldo Alemán). At first the FSLN participated in the pact from its position as an opposition party to two different Liberal presidents. Now in office as a minority government, the FSLN has continued this arrangement with the PLC, in order to be able to pass legislation in the Legislature. The longevity of this “special arrangement” has led not a few to fear that a bi-partisan structure will evolve in Nicaraguan politics where only the FSLN or the PLC will be able to capture significant support. That has actually been the situation since at least 1996.

The reality in Nicaragua is that there are two competing hegemonies in terms of electoral politics. On the ideological level the country is still under the domination of neo-liberal concepts and perspectives. Only a minority of the population identify with the original goals of Carlos Fonseca and the FSLN, but a significant minority, waiting to be called to action. There are also important generational gaps. No polls, to my knowledge, exist to verify where youth stand on broader ideological issues; however, my reading is that a majority of youth are bound to pro capitalist notions, but without pro-imperialist leanings. Only ongoing struggles can win the youth to a revolutionary nationalist and anti-capitalist perspective, or rather to the historic program of the FSLN. This must be developed through advancing a program based on concrete demands and proposals that expose the historic inability of capitalist solutions to the country’s impoverishment and imperialist domination. The FSLN government has brought to an end the nation’s semi-protectorate status, but that advance could easily be reversed if the FSLN loses the next national elections. What it cannot accomplish, if it remains trapped in the constraints of an imperialist-dominated economy, is genuine national liberation. That prospect must take the country deeper into the process of regional alliances with countries sharing the same goals, such as Bolivarian Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Ultimately the question of hegemony in Nicaragua can only be resolved on a regional scale and within the framework of a changing international relationship of forces.

The big difference between the Nicaraguan situation and the Bolivian is that the MAS government came to power as the result of a series of ongoing mobilizations prior to its electoral victory. Coupled with the revolutionary nature of the process in Bolivia is the establishment of indigenous majority rule, now under sharp and dangerous challenge from the oligarchy, mainly based in the eastern "Media Luna" part of the county. The Nicaraguan process lacks the factor of mobilization of the masses. Prior to the 1996 election victory, the FSLN leadership acted to hold its base within an electoral framework and effectively demobilized the party ranks.

This is now beginning to change through the formation of the Citizens’ Power Councils (CPCs) that are working at the barrio and district levels in cities, towns and rural areas of the country. The mass base of the FSLN in the CPCs, the unions, the student movement, and small and medium-size producers could be brought into the streets rapidly if efforts to topple the Ortega government become stronger or threatening. We saw a demonstration of the scope, density, and power of this base in the few days immediately following the November 2006 election. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets and stayed there four half a week until it became clear that the USA would accept their party’s victory. The only possible way Daniel Ortega could continue to govern, if the rightwing succeed in uniting their forces in an attempt to checkmate the government, will be to lead a counter mobilization of the Sandinista masses.

This problem would likely lead to important sectors of the oligarchy and the US State Department to reconsider their options.

A mobilization of the Sandinista base could be very dangerous for them. It could only occur around a program a radical demands against the privileges of the rich (radical tax reform, repudiation of a major part of the internal debt that resulted from a banking scam nearly a decade ago, and so on).

The above is only a thumbnail sketch of some of the problems of power relations at the political level in Nicaragua. I find that the García Linera article develops a set of concepts that could, with proper sense of proportion and relevance, be of great utility in analyzing class and national struggles in many countries of Indo-Black-Latin America. I should mention, as well, that the Bolivian V.P. García Linera has had occasion more recently to present talks and articles that describe the ongoing standoff between the oligarchy and the MAS government in more concrete terms. Let’s hope he keeps providing Bolivia’s popular movements and international supporters with his incisive analyses.

Felipe Stuart C.

questions about Garcia Linera's approach

I would encourage comrades to read this speech, as well as the others
with links provided.
I don't know if García Linera is just confused or if, like many Social
Democrats in EuroCommunists when Gramsci was rediscovered in the
1980's, he is purposely trying to confuse his followers. I'm even
willing to say we needn't decide that and will judge him instead by
his actions, in particular what he does when the imperialist stooges
push their "autonomy" moves further. Nonetheless, we need to explain
what is wrong with his arguments and how they could ideologically
disarm the revolution. And on the basis of those arguments I am not
optimistic about him pursuing a path unlike that of Allende.
Just a few comments along those lines for now.
First, his concept of catastrophic equilibrium, which has several
stages, could, if one wanted to be charitable, be understood as a
further specification of the "revolutionary situation" concept he
attributes to Lenin, or of dual power, which he doesn't mention.
He says: "The way out of the catastrophic equilibrium or deadlock
would be the third step in the state crisis, which we will call
ascendant hegemonic construction," a point which represents a
The examples of post-bifurcation states which he gives from Bolivian
history could in no way be characterized as revolutionary. Yet he says
that after bifurcation:
``From this moment on, we have a reconstituted neoliberalism or we
have a national, indigenous, popular, revolutionary state.''
That, he believes, is what exists in Bolivia today.
And that revolutionary state, he says, will resolve the current impasse thus:
"In actuality, the government is betting on another, a third form of
point of bifurcation, which would be a sort of democratic resolution
through a form of iteration... through various democratic actions the
tensions between contending forces will be resolved. This is one of
the possibilities that has opened up and the one that the government
will be trying to promote. The point of bifurcation will be resolved
neither through insurrection nor through a show of force and the
political and moral defeat of the adversary, but through the repeated
manifestation of the sovereign power based on the relocation of
powers, of local and regional forces, and the use of surpluses.
"A referendum will determine how many prefects remain, or a referendum
will determine whether the president and the vice-president continue
to govern. A referendum will determine the viability of the new
political constitution. Another referendum will determine the type of
autonomy that will be implemented... the three moments of force — how
to resolve the state architecture between the national and
sub-national levels, how resources are to be redistributed, and how
the institutional level of the state is organised — will have to be
determined through electoral action...
"In some of these moments, the deterrent capacity of the new social
power bloc will probably be put to the test, and this will illustrate
its ability to make decisions based on its capacity for social
mobilisation at the national, departmental and fundamentally regional
levels, which in turn will reveal its capacity to maintain command,
control and compliance with the structures of legitimate coercion in
the hands of the state, that is, the national police and armed
Again, Garcia Linera believes the Bolivian state ALREADY represents
the national, popular, revolutionary movement: "we can now say that in
Bolivia we have a government of social movements."

Álvaro García Linera on `Andean capitalism' (2005)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Interview with the VP

Many observers have seen vice president-elect Álvaro García Linera as the bridge Evo sought to build with the middle class, the intelligentsia and other moderated circles. However, little was ever told about García Linera other than that he was a guerrillero of the EGTK [1] or an academic of leftist views.

This interview with the daily La Prensa, published a little before he was officially announced to run as Evo’s VP, fills in some of the gaps about Linera’s actual perspectives on socialism, how to conduct the government and deal with leftist groups. These answers become even more relevant today, now that MAS has reached power.

My translation follows:

La Prensa (LP): You have been accused of armed uprising and some candidates say you are a terrorist. How do you plan to address this situation?
Álvaro García Linera (AGL): The candidates who are using that [claim], I see that they do it out of fear of debating. Any candidate who surfaces that out of memory gives me a reference point about his intellectual capacity. Because of that absence of ideas, proposals, projects, introspection and reason….that stigma, denigration and mud slinging surfaces. That a candidate uses that as an argument reflects a terrible poverty of ideas.

LP: Has García Linera been one of the ideologues of the EGTK?
AGL: I have been one of the men who have reflected about the EGTK, and that I have admitted in my [sworn] declarations. I have been a man compromised with the EGTK, and my crime, I publicly admit, has been to think, written and reflected. Thirteen years without a sentence, I hope prove the contrary, and justice cannot give a single step to prove the contrary.

LP: What is MAS’ position? Es it a radical left [party]?
AGL: The position is centre-left, and I have been characterizing it that way for the last two and a half years. Why do I say MAS is centre-left? Because we couldn’t qualify the project of changes MAS wants to take forward as communist or communitarian, it doesn’t have that dimension. An [example of the] radical left is COB [2] or maybe Quispe [3].

LP: Doesn’t MAS want a socialist government?
AGL: No, no way, because –on top of it- it’s not viable. It’s not viable because socialism can only be built on the base of a strong, organized proletarian presence. The socialist utopia is the extreme maturation of capitalism. In Bolivia there’s no capitalism. In Bolivia 70 percent of the urban workers work in the family economy, you don’t build socialism on the base of a family economy; you build it on the bases of industry, which there’s none of in Bolivia. You don’t build socialism on the basis of the 95 percent of rural population living on a traditional communitarian economy.

LP: What kind of system, then, does MAS want to build?
AGL: A type of Andean Capitalism.

LP: What is an Andean Capitalism?
AGL: It’s a capitalist regime where family, indigenous and peasant potentials are balanced and are articulated around a national development project and productive modernization. If you want to build the future, what is the model for Bolivia? A strong State and that is capitalism; the State is not socialism, it’s a strong State in hydrocarbons, foreign investment, local private investment, the family economy and small businesses and communitarian economy. It’s not even a mixed system.

LP: Why didn’t García Linera gain the support of Jaime Solares, of the COB or Felipe Quispe of MIP?
AGL: I proposed to myself to talk with all organizations, included those I had personal differences with. Because of respect to its historical trajectory we went to the COB, despite the behaviors of its directors in recent times. It’s clear that today’s COB is not the COB of the 80’s. The COB is just one more, a small, weak movement. In the other hand, I consider Felipe Quispe to be much more important and not having forged an alliance with Quispe is something that hurts me more, because he represents an indigenous force in the Aymara altiplano.

LP: But, Why haven’t you being able to forge that alliance?
AGL: We first approached COB because of this, because it wasn’t a decisive social movement, important yes, because of its historic relevance which we tried to pull, but it wasn’t accomplished. Why? I would say because of their leadership and the distribution of congressional seats.

LP: Did COB wanted a share of power?
AGL: Everybody wants shares of power.

LP: Did Jaime Solares want to lead the alliance with Evo Morales?
AGL: Solares wanted the COB to have a greater protagonism, to be the organization that summoned [everyone], and I believe that at this stage there’s no single social movement who can attribute itself that power, because there’s no national movements in Bolivia. All social movements are now regional of local. And wanting to assume that attitude of “I’m the one who did something and because of that I have national relevance” doesn’t work anymore; we are not dealing with the COB of the 70’s. Here there’s a sort of melancholy, of a force that doesn’t exist anymore.

LP: Does this mean that you didn’t accept that COB be the one who summoned [the social movements, voters]?
AGL: I tried to reflect that that was impossible, that the possibility of an articulator COB was no longer feasible. That COB is just one more of the movements, and those words involved power quotas, leadership quotas, and definitions of whom would be president, vice president and congress representatives.

LP: And with MIP?
AGL: The same, the same.

LP: So power quotas influenced the process…
AGL: No, not power quotas, because power quotas sound ugly. But electoral power structure; I mean distribution of congressional seats. The important topic was who went first, Felipe or Evo Morales? President Felipe and Evo Morales second? Evo Morales did not accept that because he has more of a national leadership; Felipe has a more regional leadership.

LP: Are the social sectors who have managed to place around MAS sufficient?
AGL: Not everyone, not all [social sectors] went. But it’s not because we had to place actors around MAS, but because the idea I proposed myself was to form a project of united social movements.

LP: But, is the project actually marching?
AGL: I believe there have been plenty of advances. I can point out some sectors, national and departmental. FEJUVE in El Alto, we still need the signature, which depends a little bit of the debate, but FEJUVE has already made its position made.

LP: Is there an issue of distribution of congressional seats and leadership, there as well?
AGL: It has to do with electoral power, but we have advanced a lot.


[1] EGTK or Ejército Guerrillero Tupac Katari is one of the few Bolivian sub-national groups to be classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Government. Its last documented attacks ended in the mid nineties.
[2] COB or Central Obrera Boliviana is the main worker’s (originally miner’s) union of Bolivia, however its power and influence has decreased steadily for the last decades, as it has turned more and more radical. It’s currently presided by trostsky-ite Jaime Solares.
[3] Felipe Quispe, the leader of MIP or Movimiento Indígena Pachacuti, and indigenist/separatist party, Quispe was also a leader of EGTK.

Source: Buitrago, Jaime E. García Linera desnuda los intereses de la COB y el MIP. La Prensa, Agosto 30 2005.

Bolivia: Social organisations expel USAID

Social organisations of the tropics decide to expel USAID from the Chapare <>

Shinahota (Cochabamba), June 24 (ABI) - The social organisations of the

tropics of Cochabamba, represented by the six federations of coca producers

and peasants, together with the municipalities of this region, decided to

expel USAID from this part of the country.

In order to achieve this objective, they decided that the municipalities,

social organisations and non government organisations had until June 26 to

put an end to any agreement they have with this American entity, accused of

conspiring against the government of president Evo Morales.

Starting from Wednesday June 25, each one of the federations will begin to

remove all USAID notices from the different projects done in collaboration

with the municipalities and the social organisations themselves. "Not a

single vestige of this foreign organisatons should remain in all the

tropics" assured the deputy, Asterio Romero, in declarations made to Radio

Kawsachun Coca.

"The Chapare has been dignified at the national and international level

because of its struggle in defence of the homeland and the fact that it has

been consequent with its fight. We have therefore decided to kick out USAID

from the Chapare, by June 26" affirmed the parliamentarian.

He expressed the fact that the coca cultivators and peasants of the region

had decided that, starting from that day, there should not be a single piece

of evidence left of this project financed by the United Status.

"No agreement can remain in place, or one single office, or a billboard, or

absolutely anything that mentions its presence in this region" expressed


Asked about the motives behind this decision, he affirmed that there exist

serious indications that USAID is encouraging and promoting groups such as

the Cruceñista Youth Union that sowed violence and fear in the departments

where consultations on autonomy statutes were held.

"It can not be that, on one hand, they say they are cooperating and, on the

other, they are causing so much damage, fanning confrontations between

Bolivians" he pointed out.

In this context, Romero denounced that USAID now finds itself involved in

the planning of a coup against the government of president Evo Morales.

"They are even looking to end his life, that is why, with that same dignity

with which we have begun to the Democratic and Cultural Revolution, we have

taken this decision" indicated Romero.

*Translated from



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