Introduction and translation by Richard Fidler, Life on the Left
This following article is of particular interest for its discussion of the relationship between the Bolivian government leadership, the indigenous and peasant organizations, and the party based on the latter that is led by President Evo Morales and his team.
Some foreign observers have argued that with its election in 2005 the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) diverted from the streets to the ballot boxes the powerful struggles that it had helped to lead against repressive right-wing governments earlier in the decade. In this article Moira Zoazo, a leading Bolivian political scientist, shows that in fact the MAS and the social movements have combined both electoral and mass action throughout the period from the formation of the party in the mid-1990s to today, albeit in changing forms and combinations of tactics.
Among its useful insights, her essay documents and historically situates the development of major tensions between the government and the campesino and indigenous movements that make up the social base of the MAS. Many of these arise from the inevitable conflict between the natural impulse of the movements to defend their particularist corporate interests and the challenges faced by the Morales administration in governing a reconstituted “pluri-national” state that continues to confront the opposition of the old elites and their imperialist backers.
Zuazo’s conclusion, which is of course debatable, is that the role of Evo Morales is akin to that played in much of Latin American history by the caudillo, the chieftan who rules as a charismatic populist leader, balancing between contending social forces — he acts, as she puts it, as a “mediating axis” between the party and the social organizations at its base. By itself, this extension of the term to define Morales’ role may, in my view, obscure more than illuminate the complex interaction involved, the operation of which is nevertheless very usefully described in this article. (For a much earlier, pre-MAS analysis of the “caudillo” in Latin American history, see “Caudillo Politics: A Structural Analysis” by Eric Wolf and Edward Hansen.)
For an informative report on the formal state mechanisms for consultation of indigenous peoples and how they operate, both in law and in practice, see this report (in Spanish only) to the United Nations by the Bolivian government: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/session_10_Bolivia.pdf.
My thanks to Federico Fuentes for critically reviewing my draft translation. Fuentes is the co-author with Marta Harnecker of the book MAS-IPSP de Bolivia: Instrumento político que surge de los movimientes sociales (Caracas: Centro Internacional Miranda, 2008).
– Richard Fidler
The MAS government in Bolivia: Are the social movements in power?
That is the subject that will be addressed in this essay: What happens in Bolivia today, when the high point of the social empowerment, the establishment of “politics in the streets,” has now passed? What happens when the crisis that extended from 2000 to 2005 is now part of history and we are living under a government that obtained 54% of the votes in 2005 and 64% in 2009? After the big mobilizations, are we now in a time of direct and unmediated participation of the social movements in the state? How does this participation function? And where has this left the rest of society, the “silent mass” that votes but does not mobilize? Or perhaps, in the wake of the mobilized masses has an institutionalization of participation been initiated by way of the democratic political party? Or are we faced with neither of these two options, and on the contrary it is raison d’état that is now imposed while power is being concentrated in the hands of the president and his entourage and both the social movements and the party are left, in varying degrees, outside?
To consider these questions, I will first analyze the relation of the social movements with the political party in the stage of crisis of the state, that is the period of social empowerment. In this section, I suggest that the MAS originated in campesino [peasant] social organizations on the basis of their decision to have a political instrument in order to operate in the democratic arena; that is, the MAS is, by its origin, a peasant party, and the second mass party produced in Bolivia’s republican history.
In the second part of the article, I focus on the period when the MAS becomes established in the cities, the relation of the urban population with the party and, fundamentally, with Evo Morales. What challenges does this leap portend and what are the implications for the new party? Here I argue that the horizontal-rural force that was the MAS, in the leap to the cities, saw the emergence of the caudillo that subsumes the party and reduces its role.
Lastly, in the third part of this article, I will analyze the process experienced by the social movements after 2006, once they had acceded to government. I analyze this stage on the basis of the tense relationship between three simultaneous and conflicting processes: the tendency to concentration of power in the hands of the president; the situation of a party trying to define its role as a party in government; and the presence of social organizations, which by 2010 were dispersed and negotiating their space in the government.
The birth of the MAS
The MAS originated as a product of a paradoxical movement: on the one hand, as part of the process of democratic opening in the period from 1982 to 2000; and on the other, as a consequence of the crisis of that process. The 18 years of democracy allowed the development of a process of political integration through the democratization of access to political space as a result of municipalization and the creation of single-member electoral constituencies.
These opened a window for access to politics for the campesino and indigenous population. However, democracy, which in the 1980s was perceived as a promise of inclusion, became in the 1990s an unfulfilled promise. Political integration without economic and social integration proved inconclusive. By the end of the 1990s, the rural and urban popular society felt deceived and excluded.
During the years of stabilization of Bolivian democracy, between 1982 and 2000, the political class did not perceive the importance of the state’s role of social integration or the relevance that institutional strengthening would acquire in the fulfillment of that role.
There are two reasons for this. A crucial one was the role of the left forces, which developed a pragmatic form of action, opposed to the party-based institutionalization, that allowed them to camouflage themselves in the neoliberal consensus, a consensus that closed its eyes and its mouth to the social question. This came at the cost of losing the image of a party of the left and assuming the modest position of a force that turned around a caudillo, as in the case of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). But the left forces also were quick to be delegitimized by the dreadful experience of state management left by the Unidad Democrática y Popular (UDP), and they therefore continued to exist as marginal forces without any prospect of participating in state office, as was the case of the Partido Comunista de Bolivia (PCB) and the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario de Izquierda (MNRI). The result of this debacle was that when the crisis stage began there were no left parties credibly defending the interests of the popular sectors.
Secondly, the centre and right forces gambled on being good students of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), promoting liberalization of the economy and dismantling of the state, and were uninterested in reflecting on the importance of the state’s role in social integration to the consolidation of democracy.
In this context, the emergence of the MAS is a result of the confluence of four factors: the politicized emergence of the cleavage between countryside and city; the crisis of the neoliberal economic model and the increasingly apparent social debt; the crisis of representativity of the political parties, in particular the absence of left parties with any institutional solidity; and the process of political integration that was generated by municipalization and single-member electoral constituencies.
The first factor, the cleavage between countryside and city, can be interpreted as a result of the post-colonial character of the Republic of Bolivia, which created a basic distrust in the relationship between the indigenous/originary peoples and the state as embodied in its institutions. But it is also the result of the feeble state appropriation of the rural territory, which shapes a dual relationship of the campesino-indigenous with the state: an abstract feeling of “Bolivianness” as opposed to the concrete experience of isolation as a campesino.
The second factor, the economic crisis of the late 1990s and the political stagnation of the government of Hugo Banzer, provided material content to the perception of democracy as an unfulfilled promise. Added to this is the third factor noted, the crisis of representativity of the parties, which generated a vacuum that opened space for the process of circulation of elites that Bolivia has been experiencing since 2005.
Lastly, the process of municipalization begun in 1994 with the Law of Popular Participation, opened a stage of political integration that was reinforced and expanded territorially with the definition of single-member electoral constituencies. This political decentralization of the state allowed for a politicization of the countryside-city cleavage and determined the ruralization of politics on the basis of the state’s arrival in the local sphere, where in the past it had had no presence, and the articulation between the municipal and the forms of anti-institutional protest, rooted in the alienation — or at least distance — between the state and the communitarian-campesino.
In this confluence of factors, the MAS presents three moments that function as constitutive axes. The first is the development of the campesino movement, which is built around the idea of unity: “The parties divide us” is the recurring complaint of the campesinos. In the panorama of crisis of democracy that opened earlier in the 1990s, the campesino movement perceived the need to build a “political instrument” based on a positive appreciation of unity as a weapon for effective defense of those below in the conception of a society of unequal persons. This positive appreciation of unity was to pose, in the future, difficulties in accepting pluralism based on respect for the individual and his or her right to dissent, both in the communities and within the party.
The second constitutive axis of the MAS dates back to 1995, that is, after the municipalization and implementation of single-member election constituencies. During this stage, the role of elections was of central importance for the consolidation of unity under cocalero [coca farmers] leadership. The electoral experiences led to a favourable assessment of democracy, and suffrage came to be seen as an effective mechanism for electing and empowering governments. The cocalero movement, which scored some major electoral triumphs and took power in the municipalities of the Chapare district, appealed to the other campesinos and took the leadership of the new party.
Lastly, the MAS was formed and developed in the cycle of social protest that opened up after 2000 on the basis of a strategy of weaving together a network of organizations and taking the leadership or control of them.
With the accession of the MAS to government, Bolivian society underwent a process of circulation of elites that is here to stay and has involved a structural change. This process was unleashed by the serious crisis of representativity of the old party system, combined with the politicization of the cleavage between countryside and city. Both factors led to a displacement of the old criteria for legitimate access to power. The cleavage between countryside and city reorganizes the values needed for holding political office, in three respects. In the first place, for the first time in the history of the Republic indigenous ethnic affiliation or ascendency, as expressed in family names and ethnic roots, is regarded as an asset. Secondly, educational level and professional merit are no longer criteria for access to political office, and even become obstacles. Thirdly, the “organizing capital” of Bolivian society, expressed in the presence of strong social organizations, is regarded as an asset. This assessment restores a tradition that is both urban and rural.
The positive reassessment of the corporate organizations is a process of reconciliation of Bolivian society with itself. The discursive objective of the MAS, to achieve the occupation of the state by organized society, is an expression of this. Firstly, we will address the question of whether this is possible; later, we will consider whether this is desirable.
The MAS in the cities: birth of the caudillo
In December 2005, the MAS won the national elections with 54% of the votes. Half a year later, in July 2006, the party prevailed in the Assembly elections, with 51%. Two years later, in August 2008, the government won the recall referendum with 67% of the votes. In the general elections of December 2009, the MAS repeated its triumph, with 64%. These numbers demonstrate that what we are dealing with is a process of construction of hegemony expressed in a substantial electoral strength that contrasts with a serious institutional weakness of the party. This paradox is analyzed in the lines that follow.
Between 1995 and 2002, the MAS was a campesino party, with horizontal decision-making processes and spaces for debate, which emerged from the campesino-indigenous social organizations. Beginning in 2002, but more clearly after the 2005 election victory, a transition began from an indirect structure to an “urban party,” which generated tensions and changes.
The MAS originated as a party of indirect structure. This means that affiliation to the party is by social organizations; individual members of the union are indirectly affiliated to the party. This explains why Evo Morales has on various occasions stated that “where the union organizations function well, a parallel party structure is not necessary.”
Beginning in 2002, the party faced the challenge of appealing to the electorate in the urban centers. This gave rise to a dual challenge: on the one hand, the urban social organizations lacked the strength and organizational discipline of the rural organizations. On the other hand, and even more important, the MAS’s appeal to the urban electorate was met by citizens who wanted to affiliate individually to the party. This resulted in an initial tension between a party whose origin assumed an indirect structure but which, in the transition to the cities and in its interest in sinking roots in them, was beginning to be transformed into a party with a direct structure. However, as this matter was not debated internally it remained in fact as a vacuum in the party’s norms, which in turn opened up an area for circulation of power. And it was Evo Morales who occupied this space for circulation of power and became the mediating axis of the party.
But this normative vacuum also encouraged a relationship to the party based on expectations of access to public office (“a job”) and discouraged an approach based on the intention to be part of the party and contribute to political debate among the rank and file.
In this scenario, there arose a differentiation between, on the one hand, “organic members” or “early members,” that is, those from the social organizations with the right to challenge power internally, and, on the other hand, “guests,” a sort of second-level membership of those who have been incorporated in the process of penetration of the cities. The “guests” encounter many difficulties when it comes to disputing legitimacy within the party, but they are key elements in the governmental administration by the MAS. A significant portion of this new urban and middle class membership hold positions of responsibility in the state apparatus. However, without being organic members of the party, they are in a relationship of dependency on the President, both in developing their career within the party and in remaining a member of it.
This has meant that Evo Morales becomes the center for all mediation between the Executive Power, social movements, party and urban members and sympathizers (“guests”). At the same time, it has removed the party’s importance in the process of internal decision-making and has meant that the party is now unable to establish a space for political debate within the party concerning the direction of the process.
Through its origin in protest, struggle and confrontation, the MAS has an accumulated organizing capacity which, in extreme situations of polarization, has provided a high degree of cohesiveness to the ranks and a great capacity for mobilization in confrontations. This energy in protest and questioning of the State was to be renewed after becoming the government, under the coordination of the Executive, with the Pacto de Unidad, and later with the Coordinadora por el Cambio (Conalcam), and, ultimately, with the Mecanismo Nacional de Participación y Control Social, which we discuss in the following section.
In the time of resistance to the State, and of confrontation, the party’s cohesion was achieved by way of identification of the enemy and struggle against it. It was a time of participation; as Ernesto Laclau would put it, a time of the people. With the transition to the urban electorate we move to the time of the leader who acts as a mediator and, in that role, as a binding and cohesive factor in the party. The big dilemma and the big challenge of the MAS is to build a party life capable of generating proposals and cohesion that goes beyond the protest and confrontation of the years when the party was not in government. What the process of the last five years shows us is that the leader, together with a small milieu, has opted for a centralization of power in order to achieve cohesion, while the party is weakened and plays a relatively insignificant role.
When the MAS transitioned to the cities, the cleavage between city and countryide was translated in two ways to the urban centres: through the cultural and identitarian problematic, and through the problems of access to power experienced by the migrants. This context modernizes and politicizes what is urban and popular from a nationalist perspective with a campesino-indigenous face. That is how the recent migrants become the main point of entry for the party to the cities.
This urban-rural symbiosis, which reflects and comes to represent the party, expresses one of the biggest challenges in contemporary Bolivia: to be able to expand democracy and convert it into an effective experience for the population as a whole. This also informs the initial promise of the MAS, the promise of integration of the city and the countryside.
The exercise of power: three moments in a complex relationship
Vice-President García Linera, asked how compatible presidential democracy was with participative and direct democracy, stated:
“A government of social movements like this one is going to experience a tension between concentration and socialization of decisions. How is the concept of a government of social movements validated? First, by the type of strategic decisions taken… Second, by the form of selection of the public officials, who go through the filter of the social organizations. Third, by the presence of cadres of the social movements in the state apparatus, who answer to those movements."
Analyzing the process of transition from the Pacto de Unidad to the Conalcam, and from the latter to the Mecanismo Nacional de Participación y Control Social, we observe the transition from a moment of relative autonomy of the campesino and indigenous social movement, in the Pacto de Unidad, to a re-edition of social empowerment, which is the moment of the Conalcam. In effect, now with Evo Morales in power, the Conalcam represents a form of exercise of violence from the State that goes beyond the monopoly exercise of legitimate violence subject to the rule of law of the Republican order. And finally, the passage to the third moment, the deployment of a strategy of channeling and state control of the participation of the organizations of the society, which is presented parallel to and in negation of the party, and which at least theoretically could be on top of the institutions of the state, but which at the same time is controlled by the government. This is the moment of the Mecanismo Nacional de Participación y Control Social. We analyze below the three aforementioned moments.
The Pacto de Unidad and the Constituent Assembly. The Pacto de Unidad is a coordinating body of the campesino and indigenous organizations of both the East and West of the country that was established to combine efforts, first, to win a Constituent Assembly, and later, when the Assembly had already begun, to express and promote the interests of the campesinos and indigenous in the conclave.
This was achieved through an internal debate and construction of proposals, and through street protest actions, which at some points pressured the Assembly and at other times protected it from the demands of other social movements. So the Pacto de Unidad was a space for corporate collective deliberation and mobilization of the campesino and indigenous sectors outside of the party.
In this initial stage, the relationship of the social movement with the MAS was one of relative autonomy. Although many of the social leaders were also senior leaders of the MAS, this autonomy in deliberation became evident in a relationship that at some points included challenges to the MAS representatives in the Assembly, as well as in the fact that there was an attempt to avoid an organic link with the party precisely in order to strengthen its capacity to influence the promotion of the corporate interests.
Once the Constituent Assembly had concluded and the new Constitution was approved, the Pacto de Unidad did not return to active or visible participation in Bolivian politics.
The CONALCAM and the defeat of the opposition. The CONALCAM was formed on January 22, 2007. Its creation was announced by Evo Morales, in a ceremony marking the first year of the MAS government, as a coordinating body “formed by unions, Executive and Legislative."
The creation of the CONALCAM was part of a dual strategy of the government. On the one hand, it aimed at confronting the opposition since it established the possibility of recreating the peak moments in the process of social ascent and empowerment in Bolivia (2000-2003), but this time under government leadership. On the other hand, it was also a strategy to put some content in the idea of a “government of social movements” since it established the form of action of the social organizations as part of the government.
Initially, in 2007, the CONALCAM was formed by the organizations that were part of the Pacto de Unidad, plus a few urban organizations. Subsequently, in 2008, the CONALCAM was broadened to include various urban social organizations. The transition from the Pacto de Unidad to the CONALCAM is the transition from the MAS’s coordination with the rural organizations to the government’s leadership in the direction of the rural and urban organizations with the challenge of leading the process of change from the streets. But the governmental leadership in the management of the CONALCAM is only one facet of the process; the other is the strengthening of its mobilizing capacity in the most serious moments of the conflict, which reflects to what degree the social organizations feel they are part of the government and see the MAS government as “their” government.
During 2008, the polarization and political conflict became more acute as a result of the confluence of two factors: the action of the civic-departmental government opposition and the show of force in the streets, that is, over and above the legitimate monopoly of force relied upon by any state. The regional opposition radically resisted the process of change and opted to block the Constituent Assembly, thereby helping to unleash the events of “La Calancha." After the adoption of the constitutional text as a whole in Chuquisaca, without the presence of the opposition, and faced with the foreseeable result of the referendum to recall the President, Vice-President and governors, the regional opposition violently seized institutions in the departments of the Media Luna — the “Half Moon” (Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija). This signified the political suicide of the civic-regional opposition.
The show of force of the social organizations developed with a siege of the Congress, the march on Santa Cruz and the threat of an encirclement of the city. At the time of the march in Santa Cruz, between September and October 2008, Evo Morales, in his capacity as President and leader of the party, personally chaired some crucial meetings of the CONALCAM. The presidential leadership of the social organizations united in the CONALCAM helped to put content in the phrase that Morales constantly cites — mandar obedeciendo, or lead by obeying — even if the result of these deliberations was the imposition of the president’s decision. On the other hand, this action emptied of its content the republican democratic principle of the president as representative of the nation as a whole.
The culminating moment of the CONALCAM was also the beginning of its decline, since after the march on Santa Cruz it carried out no other major public intervention in the national process. Asked about this situation, García Linera explained:
“The point of bifurcation is the exceptional moment, of short duration, basic but decisive, in which ‘the Prince’ abandons the language of seduction and imposes himself through his warlike tactics of coercion… It was a warlike or potentially warlike moment. The pro-coup right carried out its consultations and gradually initiated the formation of small regional powers that did not recognize the government. We understood that signal and we deployed in an encirclement strategy as the military calls it. Both through the coercive mechanisms of the state and through the social mobilization…. The forcefulness and firmness of the political-military response of the government to the coup, along with the strategy of social mobilization in and towards Santa Cruz, created a virtuous ‘state-society’ articulation seldom seen in the political history of Bolivia."
The national mechanism of participation and social control. The new Constitution institutionalizes corporate participation in decision-making by a part of society. To that effect, it establishes a supra-state organ that assumes the supervisory functions in an undefined — and accordingly arbitrary — juridical framework. From another perspective, which pays more attention to the process than to the norm, what we observe is a domestication of the social organizations on the basis of a strategy of fragmentation and appropriation of political and organizational initiative.
To incorporate the social movements in the state following the approval of the Constitution, the government created the Mecanismo Nacional de Participación y Control Social, under the Ministry of Transparency and the Fight Against Corruption, as the governmental authority responsible for carrying forward the process of participation of “organized society.”
Thus, the right to participation is restricted to the organized sectors, which in order to be such must be recognized by the state. How does participation operate? Each ministry or state division convenes the social organizations that it considers relevant to a meeting with an established agenda. This institutionalization of participation of civil society can be viewed from two perspectives. From the perspective of the state, what we now have is organized, calibrated participation in which the government defines the agenda. From the perspective of society, the social organizations are convened at state initiative and when they participate they do so in a fragmented form.
In the 1990s, the Law of Popular Participation signified the territorial decentralization of power and posed the challenge of decentralization of political action, in the context of a heavily corporate society that was accustomed to negotiating with the state in a centralized scenario. It was in this setting that the second mass party in Bolivia’s republican history arose, in tune with the municipal decentralization and single-seat electoral constituencies. The emerging party, the MAS, was a peasant party that today confronts the challenge of the exercise of power and must fight against a corporativismo that emerged with great momentum as a result of the decisive role it played at the high point of the social empowerment.
Once the moment when the social movement held the political initiative had passed, it was followed by the moment of its symbolic incorporation in the Constitution. When the symbol is translated into governmental practice, in the Mecanismo Nacional de Participación y Control Social, we find that it promises little in terms of social control but even less in terms of democratic participation.
Returning to the question posed at the beginning: What happens when the soviets retreat? The Bolivian reality shows that it is replaced with the time of the caudillo and a state that is uncomfortable with republican limits.
Moira Zuazo is a Bolivian political scientist, author of various books and articles published in Bolivia, Argentina and Germany. She is a professor at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés and project coordinator for the Fundación Friedrich Ebert in Bolivia. Among her major publications are ¿Cómo nació el MAS? La ruralización de la política en Bolivia (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, La Paz, 2009) and, with Luis Verdesoto, Instituciones en boca de la gente. Percepciones de la ciudadanía boliviana sobre política y territorio (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung / Ildis, La Paz, 2006).
 Pablo Stefanoni, Franklin Ramírez and Maristella Svampa, Las vías de la emancipación. Conversaciones con Álvaro García Linera, Ocean Sur, México, DF, 2009, p. 92.
 Fernando Calderón and Alicia Szmukler, La política en las calles: política, urbanización y desarrollo, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Quito, 2000.
 M. Zuazo, ¿Cómo nació el MAS? La ruralización de la política en Bolivia, 2nd edition, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung / Ildis, La Paz, 2009.
 The recall referendum differed from a general election in a multiparty system like Bolivia’s. In the recall referendum the voter has only two options, to approve or reject the authority subject to recall, while in multiparty systems there are three or more options, which tends to disperse the vote.
 Maurice Duverger, Los partidos políticos, FCE, México, DF, 1994.
 The Organic Statute of the MAS, in article 9, provides that “members and sympathizers participate in the organic life of the Party through their natural organizations.” Source: Corte Nacional Electoral.
 P. Stefanoni, F. Ramírez and M. Svampa, op. cit., p. 90.
 Participating in this agreement were all the campesino and indigenous sectors: the Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (CSUTCB), the Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (CIDOB), the Confederación Sindical de Colonizadores de Bolivia (CSCB), the Federación Nacional de Mujeres Indígenas, Originarias y Campesinas de Bolivia Bartolina Sisa (FNMCB-BS), el Consejo Nacional de Markas y Ayllus del Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ), the Coordinadora de Pueblos Étnicos de Santa Cruz (CPESC), the Movimiento de Trabajadores Campesinos Sin Tierra de Bolivia (MST-B), the Asamblea del Pueblo Guaraní (APG), the Central de Pueblos Étnicos Mojeños del Beni (CPEMB) and the Asociación Nacional de Regantes y Sistemas Comunitarios de Agua Potable y Saneamiento (ANARESCAPYS). Source: Centro de Comunicación y Desarrollo Andino (CENDA), Centro de Estudios Jurídicos e Investigación Social (CEJIS) and the Centro de Documentación e Información Bolivia (CEDIB),
 Any social organization, to be recognized as that, must have a certificate of origin, which is the legal status granted by the departmental government.