Book Review of Benjamin Kohl and Linda Farthing Impasse in
In Impasse in Bolivia, Benjamin Kohl and Linda Farthing examine neoliberal economic restructuring and the popular resistance it generated in
Kohl and Farthing argue that on the international scale a “global hegemonic neoliberal regime” has been constructed mainly through international financial institutions, private investors, and (especially in
Among the great contributions of Impasse in Bolivia are the authors’ discussion of how neoliberalism from above interacts with resistance from below and their emphasis on the complexities of the neoliberal project at both the international and the nation-state level. Kohl and Farthing show that in the first stage of restructuring, between 1985 and 1993, the Bolivian government employed a complex combination of consent and coercion in its dealings with the popular classes in order to implement the radical neoliberal content of its New Economic Policy. Pressures from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the
The authors also provide an incisive account of “capitalization,” or privatization Bolivian-style, under Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s first presidential administration from 1993 to 1997. Sánchez de Lozada promised that his privatization package would “attract international investors to
The authors’ discussion of resistance is, however, significantly less compelling. First, Impasse in Bolivia does not convey the revolutionary potential of the 2000–2005 cycle of popular contention that overthrew two neoliberal presidents (Hylton and Thomson, 2005; Webber, 2005). Rather, the new movements at the heart of the insurrectionary wave are juxtaposed against the workers’ movement earlier in the twentieth century, led by the powerful and centralized Bolivian Workers’ Confederation, and described as ad hoc and relatively spontaneous. In fact, however, the radically transformative potential in the various sectors and regions of the country that constituted the 2000–2005 protest cycle was real and predicated on a vast web of pre-existing social-movement networks (Yashar, 2005), including the peasant trade-union federation in the case of the Aymara peasantry, the coca growers’ peasant unions in the case of peasant resistance in the Chapare region, the Regional Workers’ Central of El Alto, and El Alto’s slum-based neighborhood federation.
Second, the indigenous liberationist component of the latest wave of protest is not sufficiently developed with regard to its organizational bases, its ideological currents, and its political aims. Third, and most serious, when discussing the “limitations of national resistance in a global market” Kohl and Farthing are, at times, almost fatalistic in their pessimism, elaborating at length on the “costs” of protest and social unrest for “national development” (191–192). The costs associated with capitulating to capital, so clearly elucidated earlier in the book, seem often to fade from view when the authors reflect on strategies of resistance. Too stark an opposition is depicted between the possibilities of anti-neoliberal resistance in the poorest country in
Rather than confronting capitalism, and not simply its neoliberal form, the authors seem implicitly to adopt an increasingly popular reading of Polanyi in which the capitalist market can be “reembedded” in society with more humane results for global humanity. A number of powerful critiques of this perspective have emerged in recent years, with far more compelling, revolutionary, and, to my mind, realistic strategies of anticapitalist resistance (Saul, 2005; Hart-Landsberg and Burkett, 2005; McNally, 2002; IIRE, 2006; Petras and Veltmeyer, 2005).
First published at Latin American Perspectives
Hart-Landsberg, Martin and Paul Burkett 2005
Hylton, Forrest and Sinclair Thomson 2005 “The chequered rainbow.” New Left Review 35: 40–64.
IIRE (International Institute for Research and Education) 2006 Change the World Without Taking Power? or Take Power to Change the World?
McNally, David 2002 Another World is Possible: Globalization and Anti-Capitalism.
Petras, James and Henry Veltmeyer 2005 Social Movements and State Power:
Saul, John S. 2005 The Next Liberation Struggle: Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy in
Webber, Jeffery R. 2005 “Left-indigenous struggles in
Yashar, Deborah J. 2005 Contesting Citizenship in