Analysis of the Current Conjuncture: Crisis in the proceso constituyente

Raul Prada Alcoreza

[Note this is the first part in a series of translations from a longer piece by Prada; Crossroads in the Constituent Assembly. This section deals with some recent history so we are publishing this part first before publishing the start of the article, which we hope to make available very soon]

What is the relationship between the events inside and outside the Constituent Assembly? This question needs to be responded to by analyzing the current conjuncture.

When did the constituyente process begin? We could make various cut off points, or if you prefer, various disarticulations, in the short cycle, the medium cycle, speaking of recent history, or, in the case of the long cycle, speaking of history in the full sense of the word. Making a retrospective analysis, starting with the present in order to overcome the past and from there return to the present in order to comprehend the genealogy of power at the moment. We can start from the recent cycle of social struggles, which begin with the first water war (April 2000) and moved forward until the second gas war (May and June 2005). This cycle of social struggles emerged from the crisis of the neoliberal model, which can also be understood in the global context, as the crisis of privatizing globalization. This crisis is certainly accompanied by others, the crisis of the formal democratic system, which is to say, the crisis of the party system, or in other words the crisis of representation. This last aspect is seen clearly in the emergence of the construction of a self-representation of the social movements and organizations.

From the perspective of the crisis of the neoliberal model, the social movements see their political objective as the recuperation of natural resources, which have been privatized. Priority is given to the task of the nationalization of hydrocarbons, as well as avoiding the privatization of water and its subsequent transnationalisation. From the perspective of the crisis of the state, the social movements see in their horizon a proceso constituyente [constituent process] converting itself into a poder constituyente [constituent power], made concrete by the slogan of the Constituent Assembly. The two slogans, the nationalization of hydrocarbons and the constituent assembly, are converted into popular bias, into ideological synthesis, elaborated out of the labour of the social movements, into ideological synthesis and articulators of the different local, regional and national movements.

In the medium cycle, we can look at the crisis of the state accumulation model, which corresponds to the different variants of state interventionist Keynesian approaches or, as per the European experience, the welfare state and in Latin American slang, the populist state, designed to plan out and implement development models, based on import substitutions. This crisis explains the intrigues of the processes and outcomes that led to the fall of the popular front, Unidad Democratica y Popular (UDP, Democratic and Popular Unity), which was a desperate attempt raise once again the banners of April 1952 (National Revolution), or to give continuity to what was referred to as la revolucion inconclusa [the unfinished revolution] [1] and deepen it, accompanying this historic relationship with a socialist tinge, which was nothing more than words. The vacuum left by the fall of UDP and the collapse of the model of state accumulation was filled by the neoliberal project in the context of globalization and framed within the domination of the new world order. This crisis in the historic medium cycle has not been taken up fully in the social consciousness of the present, it does not form part of the critic of the populist cause [3]. In the medium term memory, a critical reflection on the development model, in its different forms, has not been worked upon - there is nostalgia for the past popular state. This is one of the reasons why there is an attempt to reproduce the call for a popular front, the alliance of classes, amongst new populist political phenomenon, although with fragmented and disperse characteristics.

The case of Concienca de Patria (CONDEPA, Conscience of the Homeland) is an example of this [4]. Part of this nostalgia was transferred to the recent cycle of social struggles, overall in the social memory and within the proletarian and urban popular subjectivity. That is the reason why various sectors, organizations and coalitions are once again taking up the slogan of nationalization from the perspective of putting hydrocarbons under state control, reproducing the institutions of administration and management of state accumulation model, such that they were constituted and developed in a scheme that we could call a clientalist plan. MAS itself has in its program for government and in its National Development Plan proposals that are directed towards reproducing the developmentalist and industrialization model within the framework of what has become called the interventionist state.

Is it possible to do this in the context of globalization and at this stage of the global capitalist cycle, a capitalism which functions as a network and in a de-territorialized manner? Is it possible to do this particularly as a collective intellect and self-determinate social conscience is emerging; when from the bowels of the social movements the possibility of an autonomous society is emerging? In these conditions, the restoration of the state accumulation model or the developmentalist model does not seem plausible to me. The historical, economic and political conditions of the present have open up other horizons of possibilities, parting from the forms of counter power unleashed by the social movements. This horizon of possibility is one of autonomous societies, of societies against the state, of societies without a state or, if you like, in the displacement of differences, of societies that subsume the state in the exercising of practices and the renewal of structures of participatory assemblies. We are no longer dealing with development but rather the occurrence of harmony in biodiversity and in the occurrence of a multiplicity of singularities. We are not dealing with state accumulation, nor with capitalist accumulation in the context of globalization, but rather the emergence and concreteness of distinct forms of social potential and social production, without the private appropriation of collective labour nor the dialectical synthesis of domination - social potential without alienation, social production without dehumanization.

In the long cycle, the crisis of the republic dovetails with the history of its institutions during the distinct periods of the republic’s political life. The birth of the republic was questioned by the big indigenous majorities - they were not present, they were not actors – who comprised the demography of the Charcas Audience, of the birth of the Republic of Bolivar. The constitution written by Simon Bolivar and approved by the Congress was nothing more than a legal and political illusion in a country were a Spanish estate was inherited by the criollos, where the indigenous peoples moved from being vassals to the Crown to being the bosses pongos or, in some cases, communities that continued to pay an indigenous tribute - in both cases without citizenship.

After the tremendous and theatrical inauguration of the republic (1825), the brand new state was engulfed by a struggle of attrition between different caudillos, referred to by one sociologist and historian as the learned barbarians [5]. This political crisis was resolved by mutinies or military rebellions. The political vacuum left by the colonial administration was filled by rifles. From the liberal perspective this phase could be classified as the relative of an absolute absence of institutionalism. We are talking about a republic without consolidated institutions. Democratic practice was the most alien thing to these wannabe coup plotters.

After the Federal War (1898-1899) came the liberal period (1900-1952). Democratic practice in this period was reduced to consecutive elections and a meager modernization of the state, a localized education reform and focusing of debate in the legislative power. Voting was restricted to men, owners of private property and learned people. Women, and once again the indigenous majorities, were left aside. This apparent liberal regime was sustained on a dream of progress, whose symbol was the railway lines, which in practice transported minerals in bulk to the Pacific ports. The institutional crisis passed over into the crisis of the liberal party, which split in two, giving space to the republican party. The liberal expressions never finished escaping from the ghosts of its split and, coming out of its fragmentation, representation was constructed by whites and mestizos [mixed blood] - the indigenous majorities found themselves without representation.

The liberal period can be divided into two phases: before and after the Chaco War. Before the war, expressions of liberalism dominated the political sphere; after the war new political parties were born, the most significant ones linked to the workers and the proletariat, above all the miners. These parties were the Partido de Izquierda Revolucionario (PIR, Party of the Revolution Left) and the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR, Revolutionary Workers Party). The ideology of these parties was based on agreement with different Marxist currents. The Chaco War opened up cracks in the liberal state; out of the trenches of Chaco surged a national consciousness. Rene Zavaleta Mercado speaks of the formation of a national consciousness [6].

Another political expression that emerged out of the crisis of the Chaco War was revolutionary nationalism. Based on this ideology, a multi-class party, the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR, Nationalist Revolutionary Movement), was formed. Another party that emerged in the postwar period was inspired by fascist ideas; the Falange Socialista Boliviana (FSB, Bolivian Socialist Phalange). In these conditions, the crisis of the state manifested itself directly in the political forms of class struggle, but also in what Carlos Montenegro called the contradiction between the nation and the anti-nation [7].

The liberal period was closed off with the National Revolution of 1952. This revolution took four transcendental measures that changed the political configuration, that affected the structure of the state. One of these measures had to do with the universal vote, which implied the incorporation of indigenous peoples and women. The other measures had to do with the nationalization of hydrocarbons, agrarian reform, and educational reform. The incorporation of indigenous peoples with the right to vote affected the order of representation, since now they formed a part of elections, and formed part of the construction of legitimization. This fact undoubtedly signaled a change in the exercise of democracy, however one thing is participation in eligibility, and another thing altogether is being effectively represented. The indigenous peoples were part of the electorate, but they did not form part of the state; they were not the state. The crisis of the national state was expressed, in this case, in the unconcluded synthesis of the state. The popular state did not achieve the integral synthesis of society, it did not achieve subsuming the complexity of the social formation, and it did not express the indigenous character of the social matrix.

Therefore, we are not only dealing with an unfinished revolution, as Liborio Justo referred to it, but rather an unfinished nation-state. This political partiality, this incompletion, did not succeed in resolving the crisis of the colonial state, on the contrary, it intensified it, because the ideology of revolutionary nationalism had illusions in an alliance of classes and el mestizaje [people of mixed blood] as a cultural synthesis. In other words, colonialism continued via other means. The fall of the populist governments of the national revolution in November 1964 by an abrupt coup – created by the CIA, in complicity with part of the MNR and a conglomeration of organizations from the left and also the right, as well as social organization - ended up beheading the bruised body of a revolution on its knees [8].

What came after the fall was a succession of military governments - a form of prolongation of the defeat and the beginning of a timid restoration of the mining oligarchy. The military dictatorships also formed part of the extension of the cold war to Bolivia between the capitalist powers and the system of socialist states, between NATO and the Varsovia Pact. Under these conditions, the state accumulation model resulted in an obscene clientalism. The military elites shared around the profits and distributed land to family members and friends. The crisis of the state in turn converted itself into an institutional crisis, into a crisis not only of legitimacy but of legality. The state of law was suspended.

The arrival of UDP to power, via three consecutive elections, two of which were fraudulent and the third resulting in an undeniable victory for the popular front, seemed to herald the return of the banners of April 1952, with the objective of giving continuity to the unfinished revolution, with the objective of deepening the revolution that was left behind. Nevertheless, in this new scenario, after 30 years, the popular front could not reverse down the path to find itself at the popular insurrection of 1952. On the contrary, it lost itself in digressions into reformist discourses without daring to put forward a program of nationalizations. It did not take long for the internal contradictions to play themselves out; it also did not take long for the contradictions between the popular government and a congress dominated by a right wing opposition to manifest themselves. The popular government finished caving in on itself without being able to sustain a coherent policy, trapped between two fronts. The crisis of the state converted itself at this point into a crisis of the left, divided between reformism and revolutionary positions, basically circumscribed written a project of nationalizations. The most coherent position was put forward by the Partido Socialista-Uno (PS-1, Socialist Party-1), which proposed a program of nationalization, under the slogan of let’s nationalize our own government.

The UDP was forced to bring forward elections and shorten its term in office, in a climate of political crisis sharpened by a economic crisis that was galloping away, the most alarming symptom being hyperinflation. The lessons of this defeat have to do with the fact that one cannot resume a revolutionary process without a revolutionary conviction. The pronounced reformist formation was not a good companion to transformational tasks, it was less than the will for popular change. The other lesson has to do with the political expression of katarismo, which formed part of the popular front. The indigenist project can not serve as a simply adornment in the exercising of popular government. The perspective of political decolonialisation can not be restricted to the symbolic, because this means nothing more than to convert the indigenist proposal into folklore.

These lessons are nothing foreign to what is occurring in the popular indigenous government of Evo Morales Ayma. The analogies reappear despite occurring in a different historical-political scenario. The emergence of the current popular indigenous government does not begin with the resistance to the military dictatorship, rather from the cycle of social struggles against globalization, privatization and neoliberal policies. The form of the coalition of forces is not a front of parties, rather a political instrument that responds to the organized will of the trade unions and social organizations. The axis of the popular movement is not the worker-campesino alliance rather a communal framework that crosses over the countryside and the cities like a network, articulating ayllus and tentas [forms of indigenous community organizations] with neighbourhood committees.

Despite its name, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS, Movement Towards Socialism), the Instrumento Político por la Soberanía de los Pueblos (IPSP, Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples) is not involved in a socialist project, rather in an indigenous revolution, that understand the mestizos. This implies aiming towards a deep process of decolonialisation and a new institutional map, named by the indigenous, originarias, campesino, colonizers and the movimiento sin tierra [landless movement] as a Plurinational State. These differences qualify the analogies, which despite everything, including the relativity of the circumstances, impact on the present political tendencies.

The indigenous-popular government has initiated a symbolic revolution to reverse the representation of the order of power relations. The presence of an indigenous president expresses the inversion of this symbolic expression of power. However, this symbolic inversion, this revaluation of values, cannot but have repercussion in the field of practices and the structures of power. As we said, the most important processes initiated by the government, the nationalization of hydrocarbons, agrarian revolution, educational revolution and the constituent assembly, have continued to remain at their initial starting act, without being able to pass over to their second act, without being able to construct the political plan, contained within the camp of possibilities.

The government finds itself at a crossroads, as do the processes in march, above all, the constituent assembly. It finds itself between the conservative front of the civic committees of the so-called autonomist departments and the political demands that emanate from the same intimacy of the processes involved. In order to give them continuity, revolutionary conviction is required. To wager on nationalization is to give space to a process of expropriations, be it immediately or deferred; to wager on an agrarian revolution is to expropriate the illegal lands from the hands of the large land owners and the mortgage banks; to wager on the educational revolution is to approve laws which regulate and cover the appropriateness of pedagogic institutional changes; to wager on the constituent assembly is to give free reign to the constituent power of the social movements, both inside and outside the constituent assembly, to not inhibit the process, nor control it with the zeal of the constituted power.

Raul Prada Alcoreza is one of the most well known leftist political commentators inside Bolivia. He is an academic at Universidad Major de San Andres and author of numerous works studying the recent cycle of social struggle in Bolivia since 2000. He is currently a MAS delegate to the Constituent Assembly.


Footnotes [numbered as in original article]

[2] La revolucion inconclusa. Title of the book written by Liborio Justo, also known as Quebracho, dedicated to the Bolivian national revolution of 1952

[3] Ernesto Laclau has written a suggestive text, titled La razon populista. Certainly it is not a title that recalls Emmanuel Kant’s Critica de la razon pura, it has nothing to do with the conditions of possibility of knowledge, nor does it have anything to do with the conditions of possibility of morals and customs in Critica de la razon practica. A diagnostic of populism is carried out from a psychoanalytical perspective, once again taking up the investigations of populism. Ernesto Laclau: La razon populista. Fondo de Cultura Economica. Buenos Aires 2005.

[4] CONDEPA was an emergent and circumstantial populist phenomenon, let loose in the west of Bolivia, basically hemmed in within the department of La Paz; its period of emergence coincided with the neoliberal period (1985-2000).

[5] The sociologist and historian is Alcides Arguedas. See his Historia de Bolivia

[6] Formacion de la consciencia nacional: title of the book by Rene Zavaleta Mercado. Los Amigos del Libro, La Paz.

[7] See Nacionalismo y Coloniaje by Carlos Montenegro

[8] In his book Requiem para una republica, Sergio Almaraz Paz puts forward a forceful phrase which fully characterizes the fall of the national revolution; referring to the few militias that attempted in the hills of Laikacota to defend the little that was left of a revolution already lost. He described the drama of this useless defence: “Laikacota, sepelio of a revolution on its knees”. Los Amigos del Libro. La Paz


Tony L. said...

Could you give the original citation of this article? Thanks.

Bolivia Rising said...

Having first received the submission by email, it has come to our attention that the full spanish version of the article is available at

Bolivia Rising