Álvaro García Linera: A message to the left of Europe and the world

Álvaro García Linera at the congress of the European left in Madrid on December 14, 2013.

By Álvaro García Linera, translated by Marie-Rose Ardiaca

Transform! Posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission-- The vice-president of the Multinational state of Bolivia Álvaro García Linera gave a speech at the fourth congress of the Party of the European Left, which took place in Madrid on December 13-15, 2013.

* * *

Please allow me hail this meeting of the European Left and, in the name of our President, of our country and of our people thank you for inviting us to exchange a whole body of opinions and ideas on the platform of this most important Congress of the European left.

Please allow me to be blunt but also to put forward proposals.

How do we see Europe from the outside? We see a Europe that is flagging, we see a demoralised Europe, withdrawn and turning inwards yet very self-satisfied, and we see a Europe rather apathetic and tired. These are very ugly and harsh words -- but that is how we see Europe.

The Europe of the Enlightenment, the Europe of revolts and revolutions is very far behind us. Far in the past is the Europe of great universalisms that made the world move, that enriched the world and enabled the peoples of many parts of the world to be endowed with hope and to mobilise behind this hope. The great intellectual challenges are far behind. In the light of recent events, the interpretation that the postmodernists made and are making regarding the aims of great accounts only seem to apply to the masters of the major corporations and of finance.

It is not the European people who have lost the virtue and hope, because the Europe to which I am referring, the tired, exhausted inward-turning Europe is not that of the people. The only Europe we see in the world is that of big business, the neoliberal Europe -- that of the markets, not that of labour. Lacking alternatives, of horizons and hopes we only hear (to paraphrase Montesquieu) the lamentable sound of petty ambitions and big appetites.

Democracies without hope and faith are beaten democracies. Democracies without hope and faith are fossilised democracies. Strictly speaking they are not democracies. There cannot be any real democracy where there is a routine commitment to fossilised institutions, where people practice rituals every three, four or five years to elect those who will come to decide our destiny at our expense.

We all know -- and on the left we more or less all have the same opinion on the subject -- how we have reached such a situation. The research workers, the academics, the political discussions offer us many lines of reflection on the disastrous situation in which we find ourselves and on its causes.

Modern capitalism

A first shared opinion on the reasons for this situation is that capitalism has acquired absolute geopolitical dimensions. The whole world has become a big world factory: a radio, a television set a telephone does not have any precise origin of manufacture. The whole world has become the origin of their creation. A chip is manufactured in Mexico, the design is done in Germany, the raw material is in Latin American, the workers are Asian, the packaging is done in the United states, and the sales are planet wide. This is one of the characteristics of modern capitalism. Undoubtedly that is the starting point from which we all must act.

A second characteristic of the last 20 years is the return to a perpetual primitive accumulation. Karl Marx's writing described the birth of capitalism in the 16th and 17th centuries, which describe the present. We are faced with a permanent primitive accumulation that is reproducing the mechanisms of slavery, the mechanisms of subordination, of precariousness, or fragmentation so well described by Marx.

Modern capitalism is updating primitive accumulation, it is broadening it and spreading it into other territories to extract from them more resources and more money. In parallel to this primitive accumulation, which will define the characteristics of contemporary social classes -- in your countries as much as in the whole world, because it is reorganising the division of labour locally and on a planetary scale -- there is also a kind of neo-accumulation by expropriation.

We are dealing with a predatory capitalism that is accumulating, in many cases by producing in strategic areas: science, telecommunications, biotechnologies, the motorcar industries. Moreover, in many of our countries, it is accumulating by expropriation -- that is by occupying common areas: biodiversity, water, ancestral knowledge, the forests, natural resources. This is a case of accumulation by expropriation -- not by producing wealth, but by the expropriation of common wealth that becomes private wealth. That is the logic of neoliberalism.

If we are criticising neoliberalism so much it is because of its predatory and parasitical logic. Rather than produce wealth, rather than developing productive forces, neoliberalism is expropriating productive forces, capitalist or not -- collectives, local ones and those of societies.

Moreover, there is a third characteristic of modern capitalism. It is not just a case of permanent primitive accumulation and of accumulation by expropriation -- there is also the subordination of knowledge and of science to capitalistic accumulation -- what some sociologists call “knowledge society”. These are, undoubtedly the most powerful areas and those most likely to develop the productive forces of modern society.

Finally, there is a fourth characteristic, which is every day more conflicting and dangerous. This is a real carve-up of the whole system of the planet's life -- that is of the metabolic process that exists between human beings and nature.

These four characteristics of modern capitalism redefine capital's geopolitics on the planetary level. They redefine the composition of classes within society, they redefine the class composition and the composition of social classes in the world.

Working class today

There is not just externalisation to the extremities of the capitalist body of the traditional working class, the working class that we saw appear in the 19th century and beginning of the 20th Century and that is now pushed out to peripheral zones: Brazil, Mexico, China, India, the Philippines. We can also see appearing, in the more developed countries, a new kind of proletariat -- white-collar workers. These are the teachers, research workers, analysts who do not see themselves as members of the working class. They see themselves as small businesspeople but basically they are a new social component of the working class at this beginning of the 21st century.

We can also see appear in the world what could be called a diffused proletariat. Non-capitalist societies and nations are formally subjected to capitalist accumulation -- Latin America, Africa, Asia. We are here talking about societies and nations that are not strictly speaking capitalist but that, taken as a whole, appear subordinated and linked round forms of diffuse proletarianisation. Not only because of their economic quality but because of some characteristics of their fragmented unification or their territorial dispersion. We are faced with a new mode of expansion of capitalist accumulation, but also with a redistribution of classes and the proletariat as well as non-proletarian classes in the world.

The world today is more conflicting. It is also more proletarianised today. However, the forms of proletarianisation are different from those we saw in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. And the forms of organisation of these diffuse white-collar proletariats do not necessarily take the form or trade unions. The trade union form has lost its central place in certain countries. Other forms of unification of popular or worker or labouring strata are appearing.

What is to be done? That was the question Lenin asked. What are we doing? We are sharing analyses about what's wrong; we are sharing analyses about what is changing in the world, and despite this we seem unable to answer or rather that the answers we used to have seem insufficient -- otherwise the Right would not be ruling in Europe. Something was lacking and continues to be lacking in our answers and our proposals.

Five suggestions

Allow me to modestly formulate five suggestions for this collective construction of “what is to be done?” with which the European left is coming to terms. This left cannot be satisfied with a diagnostic or an exposure of capitalism. They are useful for arousing moral indignation, and it is important that this moral outrage spread more widely -- but, for all that, it does not bring about a will to power. It can be its waiting room but it is not a will to power.

Faced with modern capitalism's predatory and destructive capacity, the European left and the worldwide left must come forward with proposals, with initiatives. It is up to us, the left in Europe and throughout the world, to build a new “common feeling”. Because, basically, the political battle consists of struggling for a new common feeling, for an assembly of judgements and prejudices, for the way ordinary people -- young students, professionals, saleswomen, workers, labourers -- perceive the world. It is this common feeling: the basic conception of the world, that which controls our daily life, the way of defining what is fair and unfair, what is desirable or undesirable what is possible and probable. And the world left, the European left must struggle for a new common feeling -- progressive, revolutionary, universalist -- but it must necessarily be new.

Second, we must recover the concept of democracy. The left has always waved this banner -- it's our banner, the banner of justice, equality of participation. However, for all that, we must free ourselves from a purely institutional conception of democracy. Democracy is much more than institutions. It is much more than voting and electing a parliament. It is much more than observing the rules of alternation, of "ins" and "outs". We are prisoners of a liberal, fossilised conception of democracy.

Democracy means the values, the organisational principles of understanding the world, tolerance, pluralism, freedom of opinion, freedom of association. It's true that these are principles, values, but they are not solely principles and values. They are institutions -- but not solely. Democracy is practice, a collective action -- it consists of increasingly taking part in the management of the common areas of society.

There is democracy if we take part in the common good. If our heritage is water, then democracy is taking part in the management of water. If our heritage is a language, then democracy is defending that common good. If our heritage is forests, land, knowledge, then democracy is managing, administering them in common. We must have an increasing participation in the management of forests, water, air, natural resources. Democracy exists, living not fossilised democracy, if the population and the left are taking part in the management in common of common resources, institutions, rights and riches.

The old socialists, in the 1970s, said that democracy should knock at the factory gates. That's a good idea, but it's not enough. As well as knocking at factory gates it must also knock at the doors of banks, firms, institutions, resources -- everything that belongs to people.

I was questioned about the water issue. How have we started in Bolivia? We tackled things at the root: survival and water. Who was polluting the water, a common source of wealth? It was being privatised. The people waged a battle to win the water back for the inhabitants. Then we not only got the water back -- we started an offensive on gas, oil, the mines and telecommunications. Indeed, there are many more things we need to recover. In any case that was our starting point: a growing participation of citizens in the management of the common wealth of the whole of society, of the whole region.

Universal rights

Third, the left must reclaim the demand for the universal, of universal ideals, of common property of politics (which is, indeed, common property), of taking part in the management of this common wealth. It must reclaim common property such as rights -- the right to work, to pensions, to free education, to health, to the protection of Mother Earth and the protection of nature.

These are the universal rights, the universal common wealth, about which the revolutionary left has concrete measures, objective measures capable of mobilising people into action, to propose. I read in a newspaper that in Europe they used public resources to save private property. This is an aberration. They are using the money of European small savers to save banks from bankruptcy. They are using common property to save private property. The world is standing on its head. It should be the other way round -- use private property to save the common good. The banks must be subjected to a process of democratisation and socialisation of their management. Failing which, they will deprive you not only of your work but also of your house, your house, your life, your hope -- everything. That is something that must not be allowed.

At the same time, our proposal, as one from the left, must demand a new metabolic relation between the human being and nature. In Bolivia, it is part of our Indigenous heritage, that is how we see the relation between the human being and nature. President Evo Morales always says: “Nature can exist without the human beings, but the human being cannot exist without nature”. Yet we must not fall into the logic of the “green economy”, which is a hypocritical form of ecology.

There are firms that come to you, Europeans, claiming to be protective of nature and of the purity of the air. But they are the same people who bring to Amazonia, to America or Asia, all the waste that is produced here. These people claim to be defenders and protectors over her -- but over there they are predators. They have converted nature into just another market. Yet the radical protection of the ecology is not a new marketplace but a new logic of enterprise.

A new relation must be established that will always be tense. Because the is wealth needed to satisfy the needs of transforming nature but in so doing we are altering its existence and the biosphere. But in modifying the biosphere, often in a counter-productive manner, we destroy both human existence and nature. Capitalism doesn't care about this. It is business. But it does matter to us, it matters to the left, to humanity, to humanity's history. We must demand a new logic of relationships -- that they be, I won't say harmonious, but metabolic, reciprocally beneficial between the environment and human beings, labour and needs.

Rebuild hope

Finally, it is clear that we must demand a heroic dimension to politics, the way Hegel saw it. Following his example, Antonio Gramsci said that in modern societies philosophy and a new horizon to life have to be converted into faith in society. This means that we have to rebuild hope -- that the left must be the organisational structure, flexible and increasingly unified, that is capable of awakening hope, restoring a new common feeling a new faith. Not in the religious sense of the term, but a new, widely spread belief in whose name people could be able to stake their lives, their efforts, their space and dedication.

I welcome my comrade's comment saying that today 30 political organisations are meeting. Excellent! This means that it's possible to unite, that we can get out of these restrictive areas. The left, which is so weak today in Europe, cannot allow itself the luxury of differentiating between comrades. There can be differences on 10 or 20 points, but on 100 of them we coincide -- let these 100 be points of agreement, of working closer together. We can set the other 20 aside for later. We are too weak to allow ourselves the luxury of remaining locked in cliquish fights, in little strongholds. We must adopt a renewed Gramscian logic: to unite, coordinate and promote.

We must take over the state's power, fight for the state but without forgetting that the state is more than a machine -- it's a relationship. It is an idea more than just material. The state is essentially an idea -- and a bit material. It is material with regard to social relations, to organised forces, to pressures, budgets, agreements, regulations and laws. But it is fundamentally a belief in a common order, of community feeling. Basically, the struggle for the state is a struggle for a new way of being unified, for a new universal, for a kind of universalism that unites people voluntarily.

This, however, presupposes having first won in the field of beliefs; having beaten adversaries in speech, in common feelings; having already beaten the dominant conceptions of the right in discourse, in the perception of the world, in moral perceptions that we have chosen. All this demands some very hard work.

Politics is not simply a question of the balance of power, of the capacity to mobilise, even though at the appropriate time it will come down to that. It is fundamentally persuasion, clear expression, common consciousness and belief, shared visions, shared judgements and prejudices regarding the world order. Here, moreover, the left must not only be satisfied by the unity of left organisations. It needs to be developed in the unions, which are the bases of the working class and its organic form of organisation.

However we must pay great attention, comrades, to other new forms of organisation of society. The reconfiguring of social classes in Europe and in the world will give rise to different, more flexible forms unification, less organic, perhaps more territorial, less linked to workplaces. They are all necessary. Unification by workplace, territorial unification, unification by issue and subject, ideological unification. There is a whole series of flexible forms towards which the left must be capable of articulating, unifying and make proposals and move forward.

Allow me, in the name of President Evo Morales and in my own name to congratulate you, to welcome this meeting and give you our best wishes. May I also respectfully and affectionately express a requirement -- fight on, fight on, fight on! Do not leave us on our own -- we other peoples who are fighting in isolation in certain places: in Syria, to some extent in Spain, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. No -- do not leave us on our own, we need you. What we need is not a Europe that watches from a distance what is happening in far-off places of the world but a Europe that lights up again the destiny of the continent and of the world.

[Spanish source: ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento, http://alainet.org/active/69962.]