FROM THE EDITORS: Bolivia, before Evo, during his government and even after the coup, is a complex universe understood best by those who live its daily dynamic reality. That is why we turn to Rafael Bautista, an indigenous Bolivian philosopher, who makes an in-depth analysis of the political reality of his country. We leave you with his words from a panel called, “Thinking the world from Bolivia,” which can be seen in Spanish here. The presentation has been edited for reasons of space.
In an article I wrote in 2018 called, “How a colour revolution occurs,” I talked about the Bolivian case. I show what is happening with the Bolivian political process, why it was going to fail, why we were in decline. What I didn’t know was how depleted the popular spirit was, so much so that the popular insurgency of October 2013 could not be replicated.
In general, and this is a self-criticism that we have to face, the Latin American Left always swears again and again that a popular revolt is enough to be able to write down and affirm that socialism is just around the corner. However, there have been popular insurgencies that have ended in governments that have never lived up to the people’s revolutionary act.
This has always been a sort of orthodoxy that Marx, later Franz Hinkelammert, defined as “the Thermidor of the revolution.” That is to say, a revolution begins with a deeply democratic base but that democratic base—what Dussel calls “potency” or primary power—has to be determined, it cannot remain indeterminate. The problem is that when it is determined, that is, when it assumes a determined physiognomy, when political professionals enter the scene and a type of government is established; one will always find those who shred the popular democratic base and begin to fit that insurgency within established, theoretical canons that would, presumably, assure an immediate transition to socialism.
That failed in the 20th century, and that is what happened in Bolivia because the plurinational subject that made the plurinational state possible, this country’s indigenous people, outlined a horizon that could not be reduced nor diluted in the socialist horizon of the 20th century. A horizon that should have been transcended but whose expectations are the same as capitalism: development and progress as engines of a growth economy. Because that’s what capitalism is, a growth economy.
Socialism, when it pursues the same growth indicators as unique criteria for economic evaluation, falls into replicating the modern myths of development and progress; and that doesn’t lead to producing socialism but to replicating the possibility of capitalism renewing itself.
The horizon of the plurinational subject was outlined in the so-called Vivir Bien (“harmonious living”), a new paradigm that allowed for us to conceive a new type of economy, from new criteria of economic evaluation, no longer dependent on growing the GDP but with other types of indicators that could facilitate the destructuring of a capitalist logic, by updating an economic criteria and make way for what was already being talked about here as a community economy.
There are two things the Bolivian Left did not somatize to be able to produce a new economy. First, the capitalist economy needs a legal framework that makes it possible and legitimizes it, and that legal framework is liberal law. All our states are encased in the liberal framework that makes any transformation of the economy impossible because that economy is sustained on that liberal framework, which is only and exclusively pertinent to developing a capital market economy . The entire liberal legal framework is designed to protect and develop the logic of capital.
That is why Marx says we do not see economic relations but through their reflection, which are legal relations. The Left have never criticized those legal relations, they have maintained them. That is why when they become part of government, they leave the nation-state liberal framework and liberal rule of law untouched; they do not find a way to transform the state because they submit themselves to a framework that they consider natural. That is, even the Left considers liberal law as natural law, and liberal law was imposed precisely to grow capital.
No changes were made to the legal framework here in Bolivia. What’s more, the lawyers (or as we say here, the law students and law practitioners) represent the right-wing because they subjectivize modern liberal law and are the same people who in the Constituent Assembly told indigenous leaders that what they wanted was impossible. Why? Because it was illegal. Because it was unconstitutional.
If we were changing the constitution, we were generating a new constitutional framework, we were in a space prior to the scope of the law, we were at the very base of the law, which is the constitutional normative framework, which is the birth chart of a new state. A new legal framework should have been drafted then.
That legal framework is what we call community law, which is different from the Crusoeism of liberal law, which does not spring from the individual as an individual. It springs from the community, from Nature as a subject of rights, and human rights are deducted from the rights of Mother Earth. That was not done, therefore, the intention was to practice socialism through the same liberal normative legal framework, which is called neoliberal since the 80s but worse: a legal framework that today is called “lawfare” [the tactic of weaponizing corruption allegations for political gain].
The Left, the MAS government, attempted to make socialism within that framework and the results were the gradual disenchantment not only of the indigenous base, of popular sectors, but even of youth sectors. One must remember TIPNIS, how the government, which was the standard-bearer defender of the rights of Mother Earth, suddenly wanted, under the logic of development at all costs, to practically split a national park—which was also indigenous territory recognized by the national state itself—they wanted to split it in two in order to expand the agricultural frontier. That would have created ecosystemic imbalances in a region that our country and the plains depend on for the output of rainfall. There is oil in that region but the end result would’ve been more expensive because by risking that ecosystem we would’ve compromised the future of drinking water, of rainfall in the Bolivian plains, that is, in the Chiquitanía region, the plains, the grasslands, the swamp, etc. The disenchantment began there.
To the second issue: in order to generate a revolution, it is necessary to produce a subject that drives and develops that revolution, that is, a democratic cultural revolution. The “process of change” sounds empty if that element is not introduced because we are attempting to revolutionize the revolution itself. That is to say, we can no longer adopt a universalist concept of revolution but need to propose a new concept of revolution, from our own reality.
For us that meant a revolution to restore our way of life—updated to these times, in the face of everything that we are suffering, such as climate change, etc.—from a life horizon that we inherited from our peoples and our cultures. That is to say, the deeply communal substance as a life horizon, as a political horizon.
The cultural democratic revolution meant a cultural revolution, that is to say, a revolution within cultural patterns, a revolution that definitively and decisively questions this social classification of a colonial country like Bolivia, which is not only a social classification—one that sustains the oligarchy at the top of the pyramid and the common people at the base—but a racialized classification.
The Left also lost sight, from a governmental sphere, that racism is not just another type of discrimination. The Vice-Ministry of Decolonization was inaugurated here as an appendix to the Ministry of Culture. The Ministry of Culture in our country is a third-rate ministry, it is not even a second-rate ministry. Well, imagine where they cornered the Vice-Ministry of Decolonization!
That is because they believed racism is the same kind of discrimination as discrimination against gays, or discrimination against women, when what Leftists do not realize is that behind the original accumulation that Marx speaks of in his Capital, the logical transition from money to capital, there was a previous accumulation that came from the sacrifice of 100 million Indians and Afros in the New World.
It produced an anthropological classification, it is the founding myth of the modern world, to make it appear that white is synonymous with humanity, and everything that is not white is susceptible to barbarism. Therefore, it becomes that what has to be “developed,” what has to be “overcome,” what has to stop being what is, to aspire to do what is not. It is self-loathing, to admit to oneself that the only possibility of doing something in this world is to be like the oppressor.
That is, racism is ultimately an anthropological classification that has biologized cultural differences, has made it seem that cultural differences are not cultural, they are biological, they are genetic. And modern science is impregnated with that congenital racism, from biology with Darwin to the social sciences with social Darwinism, etc. In other words, all modern science and philosophy are plagued and impregnated with modern prejudices, which have made racism their founding myth to legitimize the modern world as the only possible one, as the only desirable one. And they have made our way of life seem impossible, as if it were something of the past.
One of the authors key to understanding Argentinian literature (since I am a writer, I have immersed myself also in literature), Ezequiel Martínez Estrada is one of the greatest Argentine writers, a personal friend of Che Guevara, the first Argentine ambassador to revolutionary Cuba. In his book X-Ray of the Pampas, he himself—as a member of the revolutionary Left—says that the Indian has no future, that nothing should be expected of the Indian. In X-ray of the pampas, the Indian is an intransitive past, intransitive preterite, that is, does not have any possibility of being present tense. One can imagine Domingo Faustino Sarmiento thinking that and almost forgive him because he is a right-wing fascist, but Ezequiel Martínez Estrada thinking like that, one of the teachers of generations of left-wing writers, shows us that the Left in Latin America is also profoundly racist.
In 2006, leaders of Latin America’s indigenous peoples met here in the vice presidency and said: the Latin American Left has no identity. That was lapidary. But little by little the Left displaced the plurinational subject in state decisions, and used a substitute subject embodied by Vice President García Linera. While he was promoting the Bolivian “process of change” in his academic circle throughout all Latin American countries, here in Bolivia, he was definitely displacing the multinational subject, and placing himself as a substitute subject, kidnapping the power of decision.
That is to say, since the Constituent Assembly, as well as during the Constituent Assembly, a sector called the q’ara circle, the whitish circle that surrounded Evo, displaced the multinational subject and imposed an agenda. That agenda spirited away the democractic-popular revolution for a new socialist adventure of the 20th century Left, not even an updated Left, in a world’s landscape of civilizatory transition. That Left carried forward the prejudices of the 20th century, of the bipolar world, and they had not even traveled the unipolar world, worst still, the tripolar world [order] that we are living today.
That is why they did not have a geopolitical understanding, they did not know what a color revolution was, they did not know what a soft coup was, they did not know what the fifth generation wars were.
They should have transformed the army and the police structurally, and they didn’t. In fact, the noncommissioned officers (NCOs) presented Evo with a decolonization project for the armed forces, and the president himself filed that proposal. They believed that co-opting political power, in the manner of Stalinist centralism, they could eventually buy whomever they wanted, and thereby impose their political project, making us believe that it was the only one possible.
Then, little by little, the indigenous leaders were cleansed from the government and the only ones who began making decisions were guests of this whitish sector, from an outdated and anachronistic Left that believed we were still living in 1952. In other words, what this government did… And let me say this, it is the best government that Bolivia has had in its entire history, which undoubtedly has produced the largest public investment in roads, schools, hospitals. No one is going to be able to say that Evo came to steal; that is an urban legend that the right has invented to discredit his image. The problem is what they did is something that could have been expected from a nationalist and revolutionary government in 1952. An updated Left should have produced a structural transformation of the state, not simply make this liberal state function well.
Even Chancellor Choquehuanca admitted it, he once said in a public conference: what we are doing, he said, is managing the neoliberal state very well, nothing more. When there is no perspective, no clarifying horizon, the politician’s reference is what is already there, nothing else, and becomes a reformist. To stay in power he starts to make deals with power groups. And here we must remember René Zavaleta Mercado who said: the oligarchy has an oath of superiority that will never be negotiated; it can negotiate everything except the oath of superiority over the Indian. He will never consent to the Indian considering himself his equal.
That is why they endured Evo, to stay in power, to continue to do what we call obrismo [public works for populist reasons], to continue to generate infrastructure, to continue to work, to create a sovereign state, and so on. The dome began to agree with the oligarchic power groups, started pampering them, even the army and the police. Look now how they have been repaid!
That is to say, the people came out in defense of Evo, but they were not recipients of the greatest benefits given by the government. Imagine, even the people who were not part of an economic transformation that favored the most marginalized sectors, came out in defense of Evo and the MAS government. Who carried out the coup against Evo? The sectors that he himself pampered too much during his mandate.
That is why it would upset me to see the whole Left in Argentina, the CLACSO, the FLACSO, receiving them, everyone applauding them. Basically saying, ladies and gentlemen, our ideas are not bad, they are working in Bolivia.
Now look at what has happened by pushing the same dogmas that the Left of the 20th century saw as historical failures. Our process, that which many called the most genuine in Latin America in recent times, was destroyed. That’s why not only Bolivia but all of Latin America needs to rethink the question of what is the most genuine and true horizon that could be proposed, even by the socialists.
The horizon that the government proposed is the same horizon that the Left never criticized throughout the 20th century, that is, the cultural and civilizational support of capitalism: modernity. That is why they failed and now try again to grasp the indigenous discourse only in a demagogic way, in a declarative way, but deep down they do not believe in it.
Disenchantment shredded the government’s legitimacy little by little. The more the government lost its political discourse, the horizon of Vivir Bien, of decolonization, of the plurinational state, its legitimacy kept decreasing. Gradually, people were becoming disenchanted, and where was that legitimation going? To the empowerment of the right.
A color revolution was being planned and the government did not see it. It did not realize that the more it abandoned the popular indigenous horizon, the more it gave arguments to the right, for fascism to return to Bolivia. They were too arrogant, they believed too much in their infallibility, and they believed that by buying the military and the police they could hold on to power and look at what happened.
The more the government lost legitimacy, it yielded that legitimacy and transferred it, reluctantly, to the right that was gradually empowering itself. The congenital racism of a colonized society like Bolivia, began to boil.
Fascism has always seen the middle class as a recruitment base for the oligarchy. Fascism is an ideology designed for subalternate classes that see social climbing as the only life horizon, at any cost. In societies like ours, this social rise is also racialized; cultural whitening is a life option, which is assumed by the subalternate, when, as Frantz Fanon says, he has black skin, but now he wears white masks.
Little by little the MAS government was yielding, even discursively. The powers that originated from the plurinational horizon gave in and transferred that legitimacy to the right. Suddenly, the right was empowering itself, and it was growing as a “democratic” one. The people were emptying themselves of that revolutionary and vocal spirit, and instead of the government making the democratic anointing of the people, Evo and Álvaro’s last speeches were deeply and disappointingly technocratic. That is to say, for them, politics had ceased to exist and the only thing that came to them in their speeches was the application of technology transfers to boost national economic development—devoid of politics. They were basically aiming at imported technological implantation, which was going to be very costly in Bolivia, but which was basically the definitive replacement of any development.
For example, in agriculture, the government was gradually placing money into financing options for rural industrialization, but it was not giving any kind of credits, nor was it interested anymore in promoting family community peasant culture, because even the peasant leaders themselves began to welcome the introduction of transgenic seeds to drive the development of agriculture in agro-industrial terms.
What about peasant community production? What of their abandoned, non actualized technological framework and experiences that has allowed them to survive in the worst conditions? The suka kollus, for example, which is a way of tilling in the highlands and generates a very good amount of humidification to the environment, making extraordinary production possible. That is an experience that is still practiced today but without any state sponsorship.
But when it came to experiences of technifying agriculture, in agroindustrial terms, the Evo government was betting on that instead. For whose benefit? For the oligarchic sectors of the CAO, of the Eastern Agricultural Corporation, which is basically made up of magnates who manage the national production of soy and even Monsanto is included as a shareholder, through Brazilian capitals that mix with Bolivian capitals, and behind it all is Monsanto.
That goes to show that what we call the sacredness of politics disappears—the popular indigenous horizon, the restoration of the way of life of our ancestors. The only thing left to the politician is the mere critical calculation of staying in power, and that is what Bolivia degenerated into.
In the last two elections, people were so disenchanted because they could see handpicked congresspeople, senators, ministers, etc., who have never fought for them, never stood up for them. Moreover, many of them were against the process, and yet they appeared as congresspeople, as senators, as ministers, vice-ministers, of Evo’s last administration. Many people, when they saw the fascist, racist, urban middle-class riot, did not come out in defense of something that said: this is lost.
The problem was the common people, as we say, those from below, those who did understand that in politics the person is not only the person but what the person represents. They saw themselves reflected in Evo, that’s why they were the ones who came out after the coup and were massacred in Sacaba, in Potosí. They were the ones who were on the frontlines.
The middle class, the urban population did not come out because of the disenchantment, and second, the inflammation of fascism dressed in democratic garb when it was nothing more than the autochthonous scenery of a colour revolution, what they call the “pitita revolution.” We already knew this was going to end badly. The articles I wrote last year—“The disaster solution,” for example—already talked about how there was going to be a costly bloodbath, and that it could no longer be analyzed from a mere political perspective. There was something else at stake.
Rafael Bautista Segales has written thirteen books on philosophy, political theory, epistemology, geopolitics, short stories, and poetry. He directs the television program "La Bitácora". His political analisis are published in Rebelión, ALAINET, Argenpress, Bolpress, etc.