The seduction of Chavismo in Bolivia

Verónica Gago, Brecha

Eight months after having taking over government, Evo Morales is confronted by a scenario of growing polarization; on top of the nationalization of hydrocarbons we can add the autonomist push by the richer regions, Santa Cruz and Tarija, and the polemics surrounding the Constituent Assembly. Bit by bit, it seems as though chavismo is converting itself as a reference point for sorting out the threats to governability.

The Mexican, Raquel Gutierrez, founder of the Centre for Andean and Mesoamerican Studies, has just published a theoretical and political autobiography, written from the women’s prison in La Paz, were she spent a number of years after having been tried for an armed uprising, together with other members of the Guerrilla Army Tupac Katari (EGTK), amongst them Alvaro Garcia Linera (today vice president of Bolivia). In this interview she reveals a sharp analysis of the situation that the country is passing through, and a point of view which is quite uncommon: the dilemma today of the insurgent movements which pushed – via direct action and the struggle on the streets – the radical delegitimisation of neoliberalism and which now have established complex relations with the government of Evo Morales.

How would you characterize the situation of the powerful social movements?

What I perceive is that in whatever scope you look at there is an obstruction of autonomy and a general dispersion of the social movements. The state is not taking the social movements as interlocutors, but is rather subordinating them. And those it does not subordinate, it isolates, or they remain circumscribed in the “projectitis” scope, which is consumed in squabbles for money and installs distrust between people. Those are two problems that appear, beginning with the occupation of the state by the Movement Towards Socialism, and the way in which the capillary vessels of the state network act.

What are you referring to in regards to dispersion?

The movements that use to hold the position that “you can not put yourself in someone else’s shell” today are taking as their own logic that which they previous rejected, or they remain obstructed, carrying out very marginal efforts, without any theorization of what is happening. What I want to say is that the prospect of desiring something beyond the state has collapsed and today, a sadness and great impotence is emerging. This comes at the same time as another dynamic unfolds: a channel of interlocutors with the state, which had been broken, is opening up. And this interlocution is taking the form of a non-horizontal seduction, of an asymmetric seduction between the central government and the movements which now appear as lost points on the map.

Are you referring to a cooption by the state?

I couldn’t say nor think that the companeros have sold out. What is happening is that the logic of the state entraps you, and you have a type of dilemma: either a radical impotence because you could not create a non-state horizon, or the acceptance of an asymmetric seduction. The state took advantage of an extreme deficiency and within this radical asymmetry codified and fixed a relationship with the movements based on subordination. It is clear that many of the movements have remained outside of political activity because today politics has passed over to being centered on a Constituent Assembly which is an absolute replica of parliament.

In what sense?

The Constituent Assembly has been formed as a bipolar partisan confrontation, with confusing discussion about questions of procedure and with a clear drawing back from the debate of deeper issues. It is a Constituent Assembly that the social movements watch on television. The new traditional polarization has reinstalled as central partisan antagonisms. I have to clarify that the government has strengthened the traditional polarization but at the same time this has been expanded because there is a dispute of apparatuses and supporters by the masses. It is lamentable to see this situation today if you take into consideration how the social energy of the struggles had demolished the actual capacity of the state to establish norms. And within this new form that the state is taking it is important to see how much influence the Venezuelan state has.

What are you trying to say?

If in Bolivia for years we have seen the unleashing of the contradiction between the possibilities of self government of society and governability managed from outside from a liberal state apparatus, today we can see how that contradiction has remained settled with the idea of a “progressive” government. The initial sequence was that the movements pressured from below in order to break the classical neoliberal option carried forward by Menem in Argentina, Sanchez de Lozada in Bolivia and Salinas in Mexico, to point out the archetypal figures. In this struggles against structural neoliberal reforms, society put forward a challenge to them and began to sketch out its ambitions of self-government and self-regulation, like the experience of the neighbourhood micro-governments in El Alto of which the sociologist Pablo Mamani speaks of. After this confrontation appeared the “tercerismo” [third way]: a progressive governability from the left under the blessing of Cuba and Venezuela. This tercerismo says that it proposes “state autonomy”, exactly when it has just been seen that this state autonomy had been broken from below, confronting the power of the transnationals. What I want to say is: it was not the force of the nation-state which broke savage neoliberalism, but today it is that state which says it is “autonomous” and with that same argument forces the subordination of the movement.

What is the strategy of the right, keeping in mind that the conflict with the government takes the form of a confrontation between the regional right which is concentrated in the east of the country and an Andean centralism?

That it is now the right who has a critical discourse and calls for mobilizations with words of legality is logically coherent. This opens a space for a dispute between two partisan corporations over the masses. There are segments of the popular population which are participating with some civic committees in a “voluntary” way to create a way out for some problems like the question of the different articulations of the regions in the state. Nevertheless, this would demand a deep state reform. These people find here a confusing space to say why they are discontent: they are people who feel very identified with the anti-centralism discourse but at the same time realize that in those spaces they remain subordinated to the Santa Cruz elites. They are people who feel they have to talk, but they subordinate themselves because they realize their position of weakness and that there is no other way of speaking with the central state. In any case, there is an attempt by the right to reorganise themselves and an offensive by the right which is attempting to break the hegemony of the government’s discourse, trying to corner it with the nickname "totalitarian". Isn’t that what the Venezuelan right did?

Do you see any possibility of secession in the country?

Secession is a possibility, but I don’t believe it is immediately. The campaign of accusing the government of being totalitarian – which the government gives them grounds for them to accuse it of maneuvering and of certain abuses – allows them to continue constructing a political alibi which in the case of a social confrontation reaching military ends, the right ends up with the position of being the “democrats”. That is the dispute today. It’s not that the right is quiet. At any moment in which Evo Morales’ capacity to govern is weakened, the right will take advantage of the situation, and with this way of presenting the contradiction, it will make the government look intransigent and the opposition as those who are “democratic”.

Why is there a promotion of Evismo?

Through Evismo they are presenting Evo Morales as the great giver. When, from the social logic it is totally the opposite: the president has a mandate from the social movements and is there thanks to their push. Evismo, as a term, is concordant with chavismo: it is the idea of a great leader behind which everyone has to jump on board, forming a new segmented and vertical apparatus of control and order of society.

1 comment:

dave said...

This is a very informative blog. In particular you address the big picture of the nature of the current regime.

In that light, comrade Gutierrez is correct to see Evismo as the local Chavismo. Evo like Chavez is a bourgeois bonapart, trying to project himself above the classes in order to reconcile them.

But he can't. The class contradiction is irreconcilable. And because his state is a bourgeois state he must be on the side of the owners, the imperialists and the Bolivian bourgeoisie, and smash the popular movements as he has already begun to do.

It is an illusion to speak of a 'non-state horizon' except in the distant future when state power withers away because class society has withered away.

Meanwhile it is impossible for the landless to get land and state funding to develop it, or the minerals to be genuinely nationalised under the control of the miners, without overthrowing the state and replacing it with a workers and campesino government based on the armed people.

The danger of Chavismo is not just that the people put their faith in a caudillo rather than themselves, but that this stops them from seizing the only alternative that can transform society, workers' and peasants' power.