It is now more than three decades since neoliberal economic and political ideas began to supplant Keynesian orthodoxies within the treasuries and finance ministries of Western governments and in the policy-making centers of development agencies and financial institutions.
Evo Morales’s MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) was elected on a campaign promise to reverse the damage wrought by twenty years of neoliberalism. He has followed through on many of his election promises foremost among them the promise to “decolonize” the state. Many of the ministers are self-identified indigenous and activists from social movements. While there is broad agreement that the MAS has made progress on the indigenous front, there is more debate on the left in Bolivia about how to characterize the MAS’s development policy. In a recent assessment, Bolivian sociologist Lorgio Orellana Aillón argues that, at this point, the MAS is “neither nationalist nor revolutionary.” But Orellana goes further to accuse that the MAS’s development plan is also “neoliberal.” This contention begs the question, however, what is “neoliberalism”? As Orellana points out, it is more than a set of economic policies. Neoliberalism is a form of class rule that emerged as a response to the crisis in western capitalism in the 1970s.
I suggest that while at this point the MAS is neither nationalist not revolutionary, at least not yet, it does not mean that it is “neoliberal” by default. To the contrary, I argue that the MAS is attempt to build what Bolivianists have called “state capitalism,” comparable to that which prevailed after the national-popular revolution of 1952. Similar to the period from 1952-1964, the course the MAS takes depends on the regional balance of power and the ability of social movements to push the MAS beyond the limits of statism and prevent the project from being crushed by the right in Bolivia.
The Social Movements’ Demands
It deserves recalling that the MAS are responding to social movements’ calls for “nationalization” and “social control.” These demands have been voiced loudly in a series of conflicts and protests over land, water, and natural gas since 2000. The social movement leaders making these calls have learned from past successes and failures in their search for new models. The demand for “social control” in the water and energy sectors, for example, draw from the 1950s experiment with “worker control” in the state-owned mines, that were nationalized following the national-popular revolution of 1952.
Worker control was a power-sharing arrangement between social movements and the state that was institutionalized during a brief period between 1952 and 1956. Under this arrangement, known as “co-government,” the revolutionary Bolivian Worker Central (the COB) was allowed to appoint representatives to key ministries such as petroleum and mining, transportation, and labour. Rank-and-file workers in each state-owned mine elected a controller who had “voice and vote” on the management board, which made decisions on the day-to-day aspects of life in the mining community. The arrangement was abandoned by the workers’ movement when the reformist ruling party, the National Revolutionary Movement (the MNR), accepted the terms of an IMF stabilization package in 1956. It took until 1961, when the second structural adjustment package was imposed for the COB’s leadership to follow and sever ties with the government.
While there were many problems with co-government, one of its more serious limitations was the fact that workers did not have enough power within a non-worker state to make decisions about investment. Over the years, the MNR used profits from the state mining company COMIBOL to fund exploration for petroleum deposits. This eventually de-capitalized the mines. The demands today for re-nationalization of oil and gas companies draw on popular memory of the sacrifices made by the miners and express a desire for “social control” over what is widely regarded as
Contemporary social movements have learned from these experiments. They are trying to find ways not to repeat the mistakes of the past. In his wonderful book on
Olivera’s statements reflect the radical current within Bolivian social movements that aims to create a “different kind of state” based upon ideas of collective property and popular empowerment. These elements of
Hydrocarbons:“Nationalization without Expropriation”
In a highly theatrical display, Evo Morales announced that that government would “nationalize” hydrocarbons resources on May 1. As expected, nationalization did not mean “expropriation without compensation” but instead the re-negotiation and authorisation of contracts for foreign oil corporations. The critics in the corporate-controlled media squawked that the decision would be “bad for development” and predicted capital flight. In fact, however, the “nationalization” policy is not particularly radical in comparison to the demands made by states such as
With the proceeds, the MAS is slowly recapitalizing the stateowned company, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB), which was stripped down to a regulatory agency following the neoliberal reforms of the mid-1990s, although there is a lot of work to be done. For example, as the former hydrocarbons minister, Andres Soliz Rada (who was forced to resign by the government in September because he thought the government’s strategy did not go far enough) points out, the multinational “partners” still count the full estimated value of Bolivia’s gas reserves as their assets on the stock exchange, when it should be listed as the property of the YPFB.
The increase to oil and gas taxes has been an important boost to the government’s revenue. The May 1st decree also raised the price of gas shipped to Argentina by 48%, which helped off-set some of the losses that these companies would experience as a result of the higher taxes that have accompanied “nationalization.” A recent report prepared by Mark Weisbrot of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research notes that according to IMF data, the amount of government revenue from the hydrocarbons sector increased by 6.7% of GDP over the past two years. The oil revenue the state receives will surpass the $282 million a year received from 1998-2002, to a total sum of $1.3 billion a year. The government is expecting these revenues to triple over the next four years. Unlike the neoliberal administrations before it, the MAS government ran a surplus budget. Morales announced that this money will be used to fund health, education and social programs. Upon signing the decree, public schools teachers received a 10% pay raise and the government has increased pension payments.
Mines: More of the Same
The Bolivian government is also preparing a mining code which it hopes will accomplish similar results, that is, more national control with investment by multinationals to increase tax revenue. The first opportunity for recuperating the mines has already been lost. The Mutún mine, estimated to contain over 40 billion tons of iron ore reserves, was granted a concession to an Indian-based multinational in June. Reform of the mining sector is long overdue as indicated by the rising tensions among different workers, which produced the bloodiest conflict of 2006. From 1985 until the late 1990s, many of the formerly state-owned mines temporarily shut their doors when COMIBOL dismissed over three-quarters of its workforce in the first round of neoliberal ‘reform’ in the mid-1980s. Some of the miners who remained formed small cooperatives. They continued to mine under worse conditions, paying a small fee to COMIBOL for every tonne of mineral extracted.
The creation of cooperatives might sound like a creative solution to the problem of unemployment similar to the experiments in the recuperated factories in
As commodity prices started to pick up in the 1990s, many of these mines were sold in concession to multinational companies as part of President Sánchez de Lozada´s privatization program. The mining sector is now a confusing mish mash of state-owned and privately-owned mines, worked by a mix of employees of multinational companies, cooperativists, and state-employees. The same mine may be worked by different groups at various levels thus exacerbating conflict among workers facing very unequal conditions of employment.
Such is the case in the Huanuni mining complex located 280 km south of
As Mario Ronald Duran Chuquimia of Argenpress put it, the problem confronting the MAS is a classic problem created by state-sponsored corporatism, “the central problem of the Evo Morales management is that the leadership of the social movements, converted into the heads of ministries, offer preferences to satisfy the demands of their sector before giving solutions to the problems faced by society as a whole.” A resolution of such conflicts will require more than a new mining code. It will require that all miners be given the right to organize trade unions. Following the conflict, the government made a move in the right direction by absorbing 5,000 cooperativist workers into COMIBOL. Responding to social movement demands, Villarroel was sacked and replaced with Guillermo Dalence Salinas, a former leader of the FSTMB.
The most serious threat to the MAS’s statist project is the
The decision not to expropriate the
The Constituent Assembly
The national Constituent Assembly (CA) has served as an open stage for this regional showdown. The oligarchy drew their guns when the MAS proposed late this fall that all articles written for the new constitution being designed by the assembly be approved by simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote. Before the election of delegates on July 2, the MAS made a concession to the right by designing the voting rules so that no political party or faction could achieve the two thirds needed to approve articles before they go to national referendum. The MAS won the maximum number of seats allowed – 54 percent – the rest going to traditional political parties, including those of the
Predictably, the CA entered a deadlock, and tensions spilled out onto the streets in December. In the first wave of protests in early December, the Santa Cruz oligarchs claims that there were one million people on the streets waving banners in support of “2/3,” “democracy” and “autonomy” in retaliation against the “authoritarian” nature of the MAS government. Clashes between the oligarchs and poor peasants in a town near
Similar tensions flared up again a month later in
At one point, social movements pinned their hopes that the CA would re-found the nation. Now it will be difficult to make radical changes to the constitution with the balance of power tipping towards the right. While the form of the CA appears to be the MAS’s largest blunder so far, it is not certain how much it really matters. After all, post-apartheid
The MAS’s state-building project is not immune from criticism. But the label “neoliberal” does not apply in this case. The MAS government has clearly changed course from the kinds of economic policies imposed by the IMF that dominated economic policy making in the region for more than two decades. Indeed, the Morales government let the IMF agreement expire in March 2006, giving it more freedom over economic-policy making than has been possible in the past twenty years. We may not have yet entered a “post-neoliberal” age. But if every government on the continent including the MAS is labelled “neoliberal” we risk diluting its meaning entirely. A more realistic assessment suggests that the MAS is pursuing a statist project thus far. This project will create new kinds of contradictions and provide the basis for new political divisions and new alliances.
Diverse groups within the working classes of
Susan Spronk studies Political Science at