Between Insurrection and Reaction: Evo Morales’ Pursuit of ‘Normal Capitalism

James Petras


Many progressive overseas academics, politicians, journalists and commentators have glowingly characterized the Evo Morales regime as ‘radical’, ‘revolutionary’ and part of an ‘anti-imperialist bloc’. Academics as diverse as Noam Chomsky, Ignacio Ramonet, Emir Sader, Heinz Dietrich, Marta Hanecker and Immanuel Wallerstein have described Evo Morales as part of a new leftist wave sweeping Latin America. What is striking about these academic celebrants of President Morales, is the total absence of any empirical analysis of his recent political trajectory and the socio-economic and public policies implemented during his first 15 months in office.

A first approximation toward an understanding of the Morales regime is to briefly recount the role of Morales and his MAS Party in the period preceding his election and the relationship between the dynamic social movements to socio-political change…

This historical perspective serves to provoke the basis for outlining the theoretical-practical conceptions of Morales-Linera Garcia(Vice-President)which guides their strategy and program of governance.

Once having established the ‘general line’ and strategic goals this provides the basis for analyzing the specific policies pursued in important socio-economic sectors and the tactical-political compromises and alliances, which the regime has put in place.

Morales Regime in Historical Perspective

Contrary to the mythology of many progressive intellectuals, Morales did not play any role in the three major uprisings between 2003-2005, which led to the overthrow of two neoliberal client presidents: Sanchez de Losado and Carlos Mesa. To me more specific, Morales opposed the February 2003 uprising, was in Geneva, Switzerland attending an inter parliamentary conference during the successful uprising(October 2003), which overthrew Sanchez de Losado and did everything possible to undermine the mass general strike of May-June 2005 that drove Carlos Mesa from power. A serious analysis demonstrates that Morales threw all the weight of the MAS Party and its social movements in support of Carlos Mesa’s successful rise to the Presidency, despite having served as Vice President to Sanchez de Losado. Morales intervened again following Mesa’s demise to back neo-liberal Supreme Court Justice Rodriguez as Interim President in the run-up to the Presidential election of December 2005. Subsequently Morales totally transformed the substance of the social movements’ demand for a constituent assembly (CA) to ‘re-found the republic’. The social movements demanded that the election of the CA take place by and through the mass popular social movements. This would ensure that the CA reflected the interests of the workers and peasants. Morales rejected this demand and came to an agreement with the discredited oligarchic parties to organize the CA elections based on territorial units in which the elite electoral party machines would dominate the elections. The result was the almost complete marginalization of the social movements from the CA. After a year of procedural conflict in the CA, Morales agreed to give the oligarchic parties a virtual veto over the new constitution by agreeing to a two-thirds vote to approve all constitutional laws. Further evidence of the divergence of the Morales regime from the demands of the insurrectionary social movements was his appointments to the key economic posts in the cabinet and their continuation of orthodox fiscal policies: emphasizing balanced budget and tight monetary policies over public investment in social programs and substantive anti-poverty programs, for example the doubling of the minimum wage, substantial salary increase for teachers, health workers and other low-paid public sector workers.

Theoretical Consideration

The decay of ‘Marxist’ social thought is very much evident in the discussions of the political trajectory, structure and policy of the Morales ‘movement’ (MAS and affiliated peasant-indian movements and trade unions). The logic and theory propounded by ‘left-theorists’ (LT) is deductive, post-modernist, ahistorical and anti-materialist. Instead of examining the empirical class political practices of Morales and the MAS in order to construct a theory, the LT begin by assuming that being ‘Indian’, of popular origins and having led a popular movement, ipso facto the regime was ‘radical’, ‘revolutionary’, and ‘anti-imperialist’. The deductive logic excludes the whole panoply of class accommodations and class ‘re-locations’ which accompanied the decisive shift from direct action mass struggles to electoral parliamentary politics. Post-modernism focuses exclusively on cultural and symbolical action and ‘political theater’, over and against substantive class struggles, changes in property and class relations. For the post-modernist Morales emphasis on ‘indigenous, identity, his participation in traditional events in native dress, and his verbal assaults and threats to oligarchs and conspirators are expression of a ‘new revolutionary’ way of doing politics. By focusing on ‘identity’ the postmodernists ignore the enormous class differences between malnourished landless and subsistence peasants and upwardly mobile middle class indigenous politicians, leaders and power brokers.

The post-modernists ignore the overt economic collaborations between Morales regime and wealthy ‘white’ agro-export elites, the European and US petroleum companies and the Indian millionaires of the Mutun iron mine complex. The post-modernist obsession with the ‘rhetoric’ or ‘text’ of Morales presentations before mass audiences in which he engages in demagogic linguistic acrobatics blinds them to the actual class and national content of his policy. Hence his ‘revolutionary nationalization’ of petrol and gas was little more than a tax increase on the rate paid by the multi-nationals (MNC) to the state. Not a single MNC was expropriated. Even the price of gas of $5usd per million cubic feet to Argentina was 40% below the world price – and Brazil’s payment, one year after ‘nationalization’ was still the same $4 dollar—in some instances as low as 1.9 usd--- as during the Sanchez de Losado-Mesa period. Theater, textual readings and rhetoric are entertaining and occasionally provide some insight into the style but not the material substance – the political economy of a regime.

The theoretical point of departure to a comprehensive understanding of political regimes starts from a historical-empirical understanding of political action and the constant changing class orientation of political actors as they re-locate in the class structure over time. Historical empirical Marxism examines political-economy – the structural relations between ruling classes and the state and elected regimes and their electoral base.

This ‘materialistic’ approach de-mystifies the real meaning of ‘cultural politics’. For it is well known historically how reactionary and reformist politicians have combined pro imperialist, pro-MNC economic policies with traditional cultural practices.

In Africa, Senghor in Senegal and Mobutu in Zaire emphasized ‘negritude’ as a cultural policy while opening the door to European and US pillage of their economies. Duvalier in Haiti, Haya del la Torre in Peru, Ferdinand Marcos is the Philippines and a number of other rulers combined traditional ethnic and religious identities with reactionary pro-imperialist policies. The fundamental question is what is the political economic property and class relations which frame the recovery of traditional cultural ethnic practices. Too often ethnic rulers manipulate traditional cultural symbolism to distract attention from class collaboration, to maintain or expand imperial domination of the economy and the concentration of land ownership.

I suggest that (Andean Indian) ‘cultural revival’ is an ideological weapon manipulated by Morales and Garcia Linera to create peasant-indian cohesion and support for socio economic policies which favor MNC, agro-exporters, bankers and business elite. In contrast some theorists engage in a historical-comparative classification scheme which places the Morales regime in the nationalist-populist framework of Arbenz of Guatemala (1946-1953), Peron of Argentina (1946- 1955) and Vargas of Brazil. This method of historical analogy has its usefulness up to a point, but it overlooks major divergences. Arbenz expropriated large sections of land from US owned United Fruit Company and distributed it to landless Indians and peasants. Morales has promised repeatedly to defend large agro-business plantations. Peron expropriated petroleum interests and the railroads, funded an extensive social welfare system, doubled the minimum wage and backed the wage demands of labor. Morales has pursued orthodox fiscal and monetary policies. Vargas created a large independent industrial sector, converting iron into steerl.. Morales sold off to the Indian MNC Jindal the vast Mutun iron and manganese mine on the most shameful and ridiculous terms and under conditions of minimum industrialization.

Contemporary positive comparison of Morales’ to Chavez’ ‘nationalism’ is also misplaced. Chavez has expropriated large landed estates and resettled over 100,000 families, expropriated major US power and electrical companies, engaged in massive social spending and created new forms of direct citizen participation. Morales has co-opted social movement leaders and attempted to subordinate the movements they lead to his party-parliamentary politics. He rejects expropriation of privately-owned estates of the 100 biggest landowners and he maintains an austerity budget despite having the highest returns on energy and mining exports in history because of favorable international prices. Without a clear theoretical framework, it is impossible to proceed to a comprehensive and deep understanding of the current and future direction of the Morales regime.

Morales-Garcia Linera (M-GL) Theorizing on Bolivian Capitalism

M-GL theorizing on Bolivian capitalism revolves around several axes:

1. a stage theory of political-economic change

2. a critique of neo-liberal capitalism embodied in the Sanchez de Losada model

3. an alternative conception of ‘normal capitalism’ or ‘Andean-Amazonian capitalism’ (MNC + State/Agro-Business Cooperation)

4. a strategic ‘productionist’ alliance with MNCs and Agro-Export elites and the ‘national bourgeoisie’

5. an eclectic alliance with Lula’s Brazil (via Petrobras), Kirchner’s Argentina (Repsol); Bachelet’s Chile, Chavez’ Venezuela, Castro’s Cuba, Bush’s USA and the EU and IMF/World Bank

The regime’s initial policies to secure the collaboration of the foreign and local economic elites was to pursue orthodox stabilization policies, restrict social/public investments, defend big property holdings and demobilize popular protest. The regime secured the support of Venezuela, Cuba and overseas progressive intellectuals and leaders with rhetorical ‘anti-imperialist’ speeches, cultural affirmations and personal diplomacy. On the domestic front, Morales co-opted leaders of social movements with positions in the governments, made minimal concessions on local economic demands, mystified (temporarily) mass supporters with the rhetoric of nationalization and promises of agrarian reform and conjured ‘conspiracies’ and ‘plots’ at convenient moments of popular questioning.

The M-GL 'State Theory"

The Morales-Garcia Linera theory of development is based on a Bolivarian version of liberal economic theory of stages of development.

During the first stage, the economy is stabilized via orthodox economic and fiscal policies. Existing property and class relations are guaranteed and state incentives, subsidies and long-term agreements are put in place. Wage demands and social expenditures are controlled to allow for high returns to increase the investments of the national and foreign bourgeoisie in industrial projects. During the second stage, the ‘take-off’, rising industrial production and commodity exports increase government revenues based on a strategic triple alliance of public, nationals and foreign capital. The theory is that greater wealth at the top will ‘trickle down’ to the bottom. Trade unions are tied to tripartite pacts. Efforts are made to contain and fragment wage and welfare demands to allow capital to accumulate. Parallel unions and enterprise contracts are used to divide workers.

During the third stage, Bolivia achieves ‘normal capitalism’ – landless peasants are displaced from the countryside and absorbed in the new industrializing-mineral sector or emigrate abroad. A minimum public welfare program is put in place. The economy expands, exports flourish and finance the state, taxes and expenditures are balanced and class conflict is confined to narrow ‘economic demands’. The MAS manages a corporatist system of State Capital-Trade Unions.

The final stage, some decades or centuries in the future – ‘normal capitalism’ will outlive its usefulness as a motor of development and be superseded by a version of ‘Andean Socialism’, in which presumably Indians, workers and the national bourgeoisie will come together and socialize production.

This theory of development of ‘normal capitalism’ is largely derived from a critique of the previous ‘neo-liberal’ model embodied in the policies of ex-President Sanchez de Losada.

Comparison: Sanchez de Losada, Evo Morales and the Social Movements

The Morales-Garcia Linera (M-GL) attempt to create a Bolivian version of ‘normal capitalism’ (NC) grows out of a critique of the kleptocratic, predator ‘neo-liberal’ project of Sanchez de Losada and a rejection of the social revolutionary movement’s anti-capitalist program. The M-GL model of NC is neither a complete rupture or simple continuation of the past nor an exclusion of the social movements. The M-GL model is premised on ‘harnessing’ the agro-business, banking and overseas MNCs which backed Sanchez de Losada, policies by regulating their behavior so that they pay their taxes and invest, and encouraging them to play by the rules of ‘normal capitalism’.

In order to pressure the economic elites to conform to M-GL model of NC, the regime relies on the social movements as a ‘battering ram’. M-GL use the social movement to block separatist movements against the ‘Luna’ coalition of provinces-centered in Santa Cruz. The regime relies on the movements to counter obstructionist activities in the Congress and Constituent Assemble and to secure passage of its petroleum and gas contracts with the MNCs. The Morales regime needs the movements to create a political counterweight to the predator kleptocratic neo-liberals, just as M-GL depends on the private economic elites to ‘develop’ the economy.

The problematical ‘balancing act’ is precarious because it requires economic concessions to the business sector (which supports the political right) and constant dramatic acting out of ‘political theater’ filled with symbolic acts for the social movements.

The social movements are the instruments, not the beneficiaries, of M-GL model. They serve to back Morales attempt to enlarge the state economic sector as part of a triple alliance composed of foreign MNCs in the extractive sector (petroleum, gas, tin and iron), in partnership with state enterprises and a private ‘national’ sector dominant in agro-export, banking, trade and medium sized mining sector (‘co-operatives’).

The Morales entire theoretical-conceptual model of ‘normal capitalism’ is based on the harmonization and articulation of the ‘triple alliance’ (TA). The TA excludes any structural changes in property and social relations. Equally important it depends on excluding the working class and peasantry from any of the economic and political positions of decision-makers or ‘levers of power’. Instead the TA is totally dependent on the cooperation of movement leaders, the de facto incorporation of the movements as appendages of the state. Periodic ‘mass meetings’ are convoked. Theatrical ‘military’ occupations of foreign enterprises are headed by Morales for dramatic publicity and propaganda. Unsubstantiated foreign elite ‘conspiracies’ and ‘plots’ are periodically denounced (precisely while prejudicial contracts are signed) to give the image of a besieged anti-imperialist president. No plotters are ever arrested or even named and the ‘investigations’ are inconsequential.

To clarify the distance between Morales-Garcia Linera from the social movements and the contrast between normal’ and predator capitalism, it is useful to identify their differences in crucial socio-economic and political issues.

From the above synoptic overview of the three political-economic projects it is clear that the only political force favoring structural changes are the social revolutionary movements. Morales policies are basically incremental changes organized toward reforms of the capitalist system to incorporate a broader sector of capitalists, to expand the state capitalist sector and to provide greater representation for sectors of the private petit bourgeoisie. His policies revolve around ‘moralizing’ the bourgeois – to ensure they pay taxes, avoid corrupting officials, abide by regulations and report real profits and earnings.

It is precisely in Morales bourgeois ethical agenda that he most differs from the predator kleptocratic Sanchez de Losada’s policies. This is clear from the continuity of the same agro-export, big business and banking elites and MNC’s in the commanding heights of the economy. It is also evident tin the same disparities in income and landownership.

In style of rule, Morales relies on both the state apparatus and mass mobilization to maintain his rule and contain separatist elites of Santa Cruz, Beni, Cochamamba and Tarija. In contrast, Sanchez de Losada depended exclusively on the state apparatus and to lesser degree paramilitary groups allied with the agro-export groups. Under Sanchez de Losada, the state was implicated in repeated massacres; Morales relies on milder forms of repression, negotiations, co-optation and social control over force.

In summary, the empirical record demonstrates that Morales represents a new style of capitalist rule, a reform of capitalist ‘modus operandi’, new rules of capitalist expansion, an eclectic foreign policy and a modified coalition of capitalist rulers. In no way does it represent a radical or revolutionary break with capitalism – it represents an attempt to ‘moralize’ existing capitalist elites. Even Morales’ ‘reformist’ credentials are questionable – as no substantial budgetary changes have taken place, reducing social inequalities or substantially increasing the share of income going to wage/salary earners. Only in the narrowest sense of incremental increases in the minimum wage and public salaries can Morales be considered a ‘reformist’. In the area of foreign policy, he is diplomatically eclectic – economically dependent on the MNCs, Morales is rhetorically ‘anti-imperialist’ while in practice following a high level of aid dependence on both Europe and the US ...

Theoretical Critique

Over the years, leftists inside and outside of progressive regimes have counterpoised two divergent strategic conceptions of political-economic development with profoundly different consequences.

One school of thought argues that a newly elected regime should stabilize the economy, overcome the ‘crisis’, reconstruct the productive structure left in ‘shambles’ by the preceding reactionary regime before proceeding at a later period with structural changes.

The alternative view argues that the progressive government was elected precisely because of the crisis of the economic system and its task is to change the economic structures in order to consolidate power while the capitalist class is still discredited, disorganized and in crisis.

The ‘stabilization’ strategy of development presents several strategic problems. First of all, it allows the capitalist class time to regroup and recover from their political defeat, discredit and disarray. When the progressive government does not act at the moment of maximum political strength and when the opposition is at its weakest it loses a strategic advantage.

The M-GL strategy of stabilization illustrates the weaknesses and debilitating consequences of losing a historic moment. In the course of a year, the rightwing parties had regrouped, mobilized supporters and paralyzed the Constituent Assembly. The bourgeoisie and landowners effectively dictated the limits of any social changes.

The second problematic aspect of the ‘stabilization’ policy is that the progressive government imposes the socio-economic costs of reconstruction and crisis management on the working class through austerity budgets, tight monetary and incomes policies. By holding back on social spending and imposing restraints on labor demands and mobilization, the regime allows the capitalists to recover their rates of profit and to consolidate their class hegemony.

Thirdly a regime, whose economic policy weaken its popular social base and strengthens the recovery of its class opponents, is creating major obstacles to any subsequent effort at structural change. Even if the progressive regime ‘adapts’ to the regrouped capitalist class it cannot expect any strategic alliance because the capitalist class prefers its own political leaders and instruments and rejects any party or movement whose mass base can still exercise pressure.

Finally the stabilization policy revives a powerful economic power configuration within the political institutional structure which precludes any future changes. It is impossible to engage in serious structural changes once the popular classes have been demobilized, the capitalist class has overcome its crisis and the new political class is integrated into consolidated economic system. Stabilization strategy does not temporarily postpone change; it structurally precludes it for the future.

History has repeatedly demonstrated that when a ruling class is challenged or threatened by an insurrectionary movement, it will yield regime power to an electoral opposition committed to operating within the institutional parameters of the bourgeois state. The accession to government by ‘popular leaders’ is accepted in so far as the new governing class exercises control over the ‘dangerous classes’. In so far as the regime proceeds to simply ‘moralize’ the capitalist economy, guarantee the sanctity of big property interests and submit to the stalling tactics and frivolous procedural arguments in the Assembly or Congress, the capitalist class is emboldened and goes on the offensive, attacking the very existence of the unitary state, the legitimacy of the regime and even the minimum reforms.

While Morales-Garcia Linera look to a ‘national unity’ strategy of economic development based on a corporatist social-political model, the resurgent capitalist class (foreign and national) operating from the command of the strategic heights of the financial and export sectors, seizes each concession and demands more. The capitalist class substitutes the class struggle from above, from within the institutions and outside. The fundamental assumptions of ‘normal capitalism’ exposited by Morales-Garcia Linera come into fundamental conflict with the rationality and logic of capitalist accumulation and the need of the capitalist to rule exclusively by and for themselves.

Tolerance for cultural revivals, populist theater and old fashion political demagogy has its use in times of crisis and real threats in the street. Once consolidated the capitalist class looks to its own organic leaders, technocrats and cultural revindication of its rule.

Caught between a demobilized popular class, increasingly on the defensive and an ascending bourgeois on the offensive, the leaders of ‘Andean capitalism’ have no where to turn, except to grant new spaces to party loyalists, neo-liberal technocrats and even more clearly defined neo-liberal concessions.


Bolivia Rising said...

Given much of this is a rehash of what Petras has written before, here is an article i wrote last year taking up some of his criticisms

BOLIVIA: Has Morales sold out?

March 29, 2006

Federico Fuentes

Even before the January 22 inauguration of Evo Morales as Bolivia’s first indigenous president, commentators from all sides of the political spectrum, particularly on the left internationally, have begun to speculate about what course Bolivian politics will take under a Morales government.

One of the most prolific contributors to the debate has been US Marxist sociologist James Petras. Given his long history of well-respected research and also of working with some of the most important social movements in South America, Petras’s critical viewpoint has been taken seriously and welcomed by many.

However, his contributions to the left’s discussion of the significance of Morales’s electoral victory seems to be aimed at carving himself out a niche based on denunciations of Morales as a “sell-out”. In his article “New Winds from the Left or Hot Air from the Right”, posted on the Canadian Dimension website on March 1, Petras wrote: “There are powerful left-wing forces in Latin America and later or sooner they will contest and challenge the power of the neoliberal converts, sooner in the case of Bolivia, where the scale and scope of Morales’s broken promises and embrace of the business elite has already provoked the mobilization of the class-conscious trade unions, the mass urban organizations and the landless peasants.”

For Petras, it is the case not just in Bolivia, but in all of South America, that the rebellion against neoliberalism can be explained through the dogmatic schema of (nearly always) “reformist” leaders who betray and (nearly always) “revolutionary” masses who are betrayed.

The fact that Morales would go down the path of betrayal was a foregone conclusion for Petras, who writes that his predictions have been proven right because the principal “economic and defense ministers and high ranking officials” in Morales’s government “have been linked to the IMF, World Bank and previous neoliberal regimes”. Morales has “totally and categorically rejected the expropriation of gas and petroleum, providing explicit long-term, large-scale guarantees that all the facilities of the major energy multinational corporations will be recognized, respected and protected by the state”.

While Petras seems almost glad to write that Morales has filled his cabinets with “neoliberals”, neither US imperialism nor the right-wing in Bolivia have taken comfort from the new cabinet, expressing particular “alarm” over Morales’s choice for minister of hydrocarbons, Andres Soliz Rada, a long-time advocate of nationalisation of Bolivia’s gas.

It is true that the Morales government will not be nationalising the foreign companies that currently run Bolivia’s gas industry and booting them out of the country. But Morales didn’t promise to do either of these things, so it seems odd to speak of ''breaking promises’‘. Rather, Morales has promised, not unlike Venezuela, to nationalise the country’s gas reserves, which his government has declared it will carry out by July 12.

Soliz Rada has already begun to move in this direction, rebuilding the state-owned gas company and forcing the foreign-owned gas companies onto new contracts under terms favourable to the Bolivian state.

An indication of the shift in government policy on gas was the arrest on March 15 of the two main executives of the Bolivian subsidiary of the Spanish-owned Repsol, one of the biggest investors in Bolivia, on charges of selling contraband petrol and involvement in the company’s avoidance of payment of US$9.2 million in taxes.

Reporting the arrests, Associated Press observed: “The case is widely seen as an attempt by President Evo Morales’s new leftist government to exert tighter legal control on multinationals and exact from them more proceeds from the exploitation of Bolivia’s natural resources.”

The government has also announced plans to take control back over 10 semi-privatised companies, initiated a land reform program, launched a literacy campaign, increased the minimum wage by 100% and insisted it will legalise coca (whose production large numbers of indigenous farmers depend on) against US opposition, among other measures.

For Petras though, it seems that if Morales does not immediately embark on a more radical course, he must be a neoliberal sell-out. However, such a black-and-white — or rather, red-and-white — dichotomy fails to recognise the reality in Bolivia today, placing itself in opposition to the actual course of the popular movement. As Fred Feldman pointed out in his February 25 article in the Canadian Socialist Voice, ''what has come under fire from much of the left is not just or even primarily Morales, but rather this course of the masses. Of course he is not 'betraying’, because he is authentically representing the popular worker-peasant-indigenous movement that used him to take the presidency of the bourgeois state for itself.’‘

Morales’s party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), is not a revolutionary party, nor is Morales a Marxist. But then neither are the overwhelming majority of Bolivian working people, including those involved in the social movements based in El Alto that Petras counterposes to the MAS. It would be more accurate to speak of Morales and the powerful movement behind him as pushing for a ''national revolution’‘ against imperialism. That is, the platform of the MAS, backed by the majority of the population, cannot be implemented except by taking power from the pro-imperialist elite that currently holds it — and in the final analysis, this requires a revolution.

Guillermo Almeyra explained in his January 10 article in Mexico’s La Jornada daily, “The success of Morales cannot be explained by the lack of clarity in his program; and least of all can it be explained by the slogan of 'Andean Capitalism’ which his vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, pulled out of a hat purely for the sake of the elections and which will fade from sight before this year is over. It is explained rather by the hatred and hope of the oppressed, by their experiences and capacities, by the nationalist, social and ethnic demands, all of which constitute a program and a mandate.”

Central to the struggle to realise these demands has been the call for a constituent assembly that would rewrite the country’s constitution, but for the first time with the participation of the indigenous majority. This measure — one of the major demands of the popular movement that the government is attempting to implement against right-wing opposition — is completely ignored by Petras.

For most Bolivians — including the 88% who enthusiastically voted for Morales in El Alto, despite the hesitations of the city’s social-movement leaders — Morales’s electoral victory represents only the beginning of a struggle to “refound” Bolivia. As Morales has pointed out, before they can nationalise the hydrocarbons, they need to “nationalise” the legislative and executive power — in other words, take it out of the hands of forces controlled by US and multinational corporate interests and put it into the hands of those who genuinely represent the interests of Bolivians.

Historical experience has shown that the working people cannot just take control of the existing capitalist state machinery (army, police, judiciary, governmental administration) and use it to create a new social order serving their needs rather than those of the capitalist minority. Ultimately, a new form of state resting on, and constructed by, the organised workers and peasants is necessary to build socialism. But as the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela has shown, working people don’t necessarily begin their struggle to change society by overthrowing the capitalist state machinery, but through a struggle to solve their problems, they come increasingly into conflict with it.

Morales will face the same class choices that Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez has confronted — either to back down in the face of opposition from powerful interests, or else rely on the self-organisation of the working people to force through increasingly radical measures against those powerful interests. The indications so far are that Morales is pushing for the implementation of key parts of the program he was elected on. How far he is able, and willing, to go will depend on the battle that unfolds.

What is especially frustrating is that Petras for a long time took a very similar stance towards the Chavez government that he currently takes towards Morales. He doesn’t appear to have drawn the lessons from the Venezuelan experience.

[Federico Fuentes was Green Left Weekly’s correspondent in Bolivia in the lead-up to the December presidential election.]

From Green Left Weekly, March 29, 2006.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

Dave Brown said...

Fred you defence of Morales from Petras critique is badly flawed.

Petras is accusing Morales of running an indigenous/nationalist/populist interference on the workers and poor peasants on behalf of the Triple alliance - US imperialism, Bolivian state, and national bourgeoisie.

All the evidence points to this. Morales has used his 'popularity' among the richer peasants to push this class collaborationist program right through the years 03-06, and as Petras explains, break the class alliance that had been built between the most advanced workers and poor peasant organisations.

He, along with the Castroite leaders of the COB, in particular Solares, diverted the insurrection that was building in May-June 05 into new elections for a Constituent Assembly - in reality a popular front (because based on existing party representatives) with the PODEMOS calling the tune.

So the election of Morales was far from 'popular' among the most advanced workers and peasants organisations, but the result of outright betrayals, that at Petras correctly argues, gave the ruling class time to recover and re-establish its class rule, using Morales as their front.

Since then, every outbreak of worker peasant militancy has been met by police and military repression, and in Cochabamba and El Alto recently, Morales again used the rotten COB leadership to contain the mobilisation of peasant worker outrage with the neo-liberal state governors.

Nor is the concept of Andean Capitalism merely an election ploy designed to disappear without trace. It is another variant of the stalinist two stage theory now applied with the support of the Castroites and Chavistas. It fits well with Chavez' 'Bolivarian Revolution' - as a creeping revolution from above, under pressure from below, that will sometime in the 21st century passover to 'socialism'.

What confuses some people about Petras however - that he writes off Morales, yet now seems to support Chavez - is no mystery.

Petras does in fact give the role of the Constituent Assembly strategic importance. When he says the historic 'moment' was lost by Morales he means that Morales should have fought for a revolutionary CA based on the social movements which would have opened the way for reconstituting the state. It seems that Petras now thinks that Chavez is engaged in such a project - of reconstituting the state from above or within, under pressure from below, becaue he is is not subordinated to any form of 'Triple Alliance'.

But of course, there never was going to be a revolutionary constiutent assembly in Bolivia as a vehicle for socialist revolution. The CA was always going to be a retreat from insurrection and the masses demand for 100% nationalisation. It is a popular front that is strangling the revolution.

What is happening in Venezuela is different in degree not kind. Chavez has his 'Triple Alliance', but the state has much greater weight in balancing between imperialism, and the national bourgeoisie, apparently in the name of the people. Yet the state remains a capitalist state, and Chavez 'expropriations' are really nationalisations with compensation under bourgeois state control.

So it seems that Petras has illusions in the CA as a means of the workers and poor peasants 'taking over' the state. His beef with Morales is that he has prevented this, and his support for Chavez base on Chavez encouragement of mass mobilisations to back 'Bolivarian' state capitalism (Chavez wider project which would include 'Andean Capitalim').

What Petras can't understand, because he is no Trotskyist, is that Constituent Assemblies are popular fronts which subordinate the independent revolutionary organisations of workers and poor peasants, via populist or social democratic parties, to the program of the bourgeoisie - defence private property. The capitalist state cannot be 'pressured' to abandon its class rule through parliament, it has to be overthrown by the armed, independent organs of the proletariat.

Dave Brown (FLT)

Anonymous said...

a defense of petras' position:

Nerd Progre said...

I seriously Petras is working for the CIA. ;)

No, seriously, do you think Petras' analysis is enver flawed?.

Mr. Petras missed it badly about Argentina when called president Kirchner (whose wife just won the presidency with an unprecedented 46% of the popular vote) "the new face of the neoliberal right" and anticipated deep trouble for Argentina in the year 2005 (2004 prediction).

Trouble which, of course, never arrived as the country enjoyed great growth in the 2005, 2006, and 2007 years with improving social indicators.

This shows Mr. Petras -which I previously had in high regard due to his criticism of the Washington Concensus- is a far-left extremist with no clue about what's possible (gradual reform) and what he wants to do (overnight nationalisation of everything) which would surely end up in a bloody civil war in many countries if implemented, thus paving the way for the "forces of order" to restore peace. And we all know that when the forces are called to restore order, the right wing always prevails.

I'm with Federico Fuentes here, and not surprisingly given that I ofeten find myself afreeing with Green Left Weekly.

In short: Mr. Petras, give me a break. Stop talking to your Trotskyst friends who live in a bubble "with the head inside a pot, yelling and unable to hear each other" as you acurately described Argentina's far-left in 2002.

It's also a bit funny to read a Dave Browns speaking on what Bolivia should do. Doesn't sound like a Bolivian name to me.

But hey, WTF do I know. ;)

Bolivia Rising