Evo Morales, Communitarian Socialism, and the Regional Power Block

 1.  Evo Morales and Socialism

“Evo, what do you and the MAS understand by ‘socialism,’” I asked him, when I was invited by the Executive Committee of the Bolivian Labor Central (COB). “To live in community and equality,” he answered.  “Fundamentally, in the peasant communities they have socialism.  For example, if we speak of land.  I come from the ayllu of the Department of Oruro.  Clearly, where I live at this moment, in the East in Chapare, there are no ayllus.  It is individual parceling, and there arise very serious problems, because it leads to small holdings, which you don’t see in a peasant community where the land is communal.”

“Does the socio-economic model of the MAS resemble more that of Lula, Cuba, or Hugo Chávez?” I insisted.  “I believe it is something much deeper,” he answered.  “It is an economic model based on solidarity, reciprocity, community, and consensus.  Because, for us, democracy is a consensus.  In the community there is consensus, in the trade union there are majorities and minorities.

“Inside this official democracy of Bolivia they do not respect the thought, sentiments, and the sufferings of the national majorities.  And within this framework we are seeking a communitarian socialism based on the community.  A socialism, let’s say, based on reciprocity and solidarity.  And beyond that, respecting Mother Earth, the Pacha Mama.  It is not possible within that model to convert Mother Earth to merchandise.  In Bolivia with the agrarian reform it is better to be a vaccinated cow than a human being.  For a vaccinated cow there are 25 hectares and for a human being there is nothing.”

2.  Indigenous Peoples, Workers, and Change of the Vanguard

Evo’s differences with the indigenous leader Felipe Quispe are well known, therefore I asked him: “Are there discrepancies with the Indigenous Movement Pachakutik (MIP)?”  “No,” he said, “there are no discrepancies.  It is clear they demonize the whites a little.  They tell us that we deputies are ‘faces’ (the whites — H.D.), but no, the relations are good.”

I came from an event of the Movement for Participatory Democracy, from Peru, a long debate with Major (ret.) Antauro Humala and his etnocacerista movement, on the possibility of transformation of the Andean countries.  Antauro, at present in prison for the failed uprising against Toledo, could regain liberty if his brother, Lieutenant-Colonel (ret.) Ollanta Humala — second in the electoral preferences — wins the presidential elections in April this year.  He had spoken positively of Evo and of the incipient contacts with the MAS.  Evo confirmed that “they invited us to bring the message of this movement of peasant communities.  Because the MAS, as a political instrument of liberation, had not been created by political ideologues or a group of intellectuals, but by peasant congresses to solve the problems of the people.”

In this context, he makes an interesting comment on the transition of the vanguard in the Bolivian struggle.  “The workers of COB always said in their congresses that the Indians would carry the workers to power on their shoulders.  We were the builders of the revolution and they were the masters of the revolution.  Now things have changed and intellectuals and workers are joining us.”

3.  The Socialist Roots of the MAS

To understand the political character — or “class”, as they said in the seventies — of “Movement to Socialism,” it is necessary to take seriously Evo’s definition that the MAS, as a political instrument of liberation, “was not created by political ideologues or by a group of intellectuals, but by peasant congresses to solve the problems of the people.”  It is not a question of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin or the Communist Party of Peru of Mariátegui (1928), with a clear socialist — that is, anti-capitalist — program and intention.

In fact, the letterhead of the Movement to Socialism was adopted not for ideological motives but for practical reasons of electoral registry.  Worse for the purists, the letterhead comes from the political Right, from a split from the Bolivian Socialist Falange, the Unzaquista Movement to Socialism (MAS-U) which had joined with the incipient cocalero movement.  When, under the pressure of electoral facts, a registered Party was required, the first part of the letterhead of MAS-U was used.

In these circumstances, without socialist genesis, without socialist theory, what remains as socialist potential in the Bolivian transformation and its leader Evo?  The answer is simple: the ethical roots of socialism: solidarity with the masses, the fervor of social justice, and the honesty of political praxis.

4.  The MAS and Historic Bolivian Socialism

Historic Bolivian socialism reached its maximum splendor with the famous Thesis of Pulacayo (1946), in which class-conscious trade unionism defined the proletariat (miners) as the vanguard of an anti-capitalist revolution in pursuit of the dictatorship of the proletariat.  This historic project of the Trade Union Federation of Mine Workers of Bolivia (FSTMB) counterposed itself not only to the “cooperation of classes,” which the Bolivarian Socialist Falange (FSB, 1937) proclaimed, but also to the petty bourgeois nationalism of Paz Estenssoro and the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) and the diverse variations of developmentalism and military socialism of David Toro, Germán Busch, and Gualberto Villaroel who were born from the cradle of Bolivarian modernity, the disaster of the Chaco War (1932-1935)

Facing this defeat, the Armed Forces took political power and the Joint General Staff convoked the formation of a Junta to “orient the nation toward a prudent and gradual state of socialism . . . which would establish a regime of social justice in Bolivia.”  Colonel David Toro (1936-1937), first de facto military president, named his government “Military Socialist Revolution” and believed — like Perón, later, in 1943 — the Ministry of Labor and Social Planning decreed the termination of the concessions to Standard Oil in Bolivia and founded state-owned gas and oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos, as Yrigoyen had done in Argentina in 1928.

Major Bosch, who followed him in government, declared that, “I did not arrive at the presidency to serve the capitalists.  They must serve the country, and if they do not do so voluntarily, they shall be made to do so by force.”

Evo Morales is not part of this Latin American developmentalist or “socialist” colonelism — which includes Prestes and Vargas in Brazil, Perón in Argentina, Torrijos in Panama, Arbenz in Guatemala, Velasco Alvarado in Peru, Torres in Bolivia, and, in a certain sense, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela — whose significance is even less understood in Latin American history than civil deveopmentism (Yrigoyen, Prebish, Arévalo. Allende, etc.).

Nor does it have roots in the Bolivian Stalinism of the Party of the Revolutionary Left (PIR) and its “revolution by stages” — “it is necessary now to work for a bourgeois-democratic Bolivia, for a progressive Bolivia, and then, gradually, we will arrive within some twenty years at socialism, and within fifty or a hundred years at the dictatorship of the proletariat” (1946) — nor the Trotskyism of the Revolutionary Workers Party (POR), nor in the great achievement of the mining proletariat, the Thesis of Pulacayo.

5.  Advantages of Being an Orphan of Socialist History

Being outside these historic currents, however, could be more advantageous than detrimental for Evo Morales, because all have shown in practice that they did not serve to transform the country.  The Stalinists of the PIR conspired with the oligarchy and imperialism against the developmentalism of Lieutenant Colonel Villaroel, as they did in Argentina against Perón, and they hanged him in Plaza Murillo.  The Trotskyists, who had 70 years proclaiming to be the legitimate heirs of Lenin and Marxism, had their great opportunity to demonstrate it in the revolution of 1952, and failed ignominiously.  And the national small bourgeoisie, the MNR. which capitalized on the popular revolution, quickly turned it over to the gringos, to make a pact with the putchist Banzer afterward and convert themselves into the neoliberal hangmen.

6. The MAS: Bourgeois Democracy or Socialism?

The MAS is not a vanguard party but an alliance of heterogeneous groups, reminiscent of certain “Amerindian,” anti-Leninist, and anti-imperialist groupings of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), founded in 1924 in Mexico by Haya de la Torre, of the “spiritual socialism” of Arévalo, of the “Christian socialism” of Hugo Chávez, and of the anthropological-philosophical nucleus of the “third position” of Perón.

Alvaro Garcia Linera, ex-guerilla, prisoner, and Evo’s vice-president, expresses it with clarity: “We are not against the free market.  We are partisans of a socialist model with a Bolivian capitalism, where the earnings of the hydrocarbons would be transferred to other sectors, like the rural, where our people still work with the Egyptian plow that the Spaniards brought.

If we translate the formulation to a more precise language, we have to say that we are treating with a model of third-worldist Keynesian  developmentalism, that is, a market economy with a strong developmentalist and protectionist function of the State, within a bourgeois political superstructure and an environment of abysmal neocolonial socio-economic destruction.

Evo and the MAS do not inject, at this moment, a new socialist dynamic to the Regional Power Block (BRP) of the Patria Grande [Latin America], but they contribute to the integration of the BRP the most combative popular, proletarian, and indigenous and element of Latin America.  This is a counterweight of enormous importance against the white-elitist societies of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil and their respective governments.  In his personality profile, Evo is close to Hugo Chávez, particularly in his honesty, anti-imperialism, and organic link with the masses and indigenous peoples.  In this sense, the meetings of MERCOSUR, like those of OAS, will not be the same from now on, because the Venezuelan president will no longer be the only active force which pushes the other presidents.

7.  Evo, the Candidate of MERCOSUR

Evo as President is an “endogenous product” of the struggle of classes in Bolivia.  But, some years ago, he was detected by the political radar of President Castro.  It is known that the clinical eye of President Castro tirelessly scans the horizon of the Patria Grande to detect who might be the future leaders of its nations.  Hugo Chávez, hardly released from prison, appeared on the monitor of the Caribbean leader, who received him with the honors befitting a statesman.  Lula, Jose Dirceu, and Evo were detected early, and they successfully proved the foresight of the Comandante.

In the last year and a half, Evo has already converted himself into the de facto presidential candidate of MERCOSUR of the Regional Power Block (BRP).  To be presidential candidate of MERCOSUR has important advantages of protection and promotion, but also profound implications for Latin American politics.  One of the implications is the following.

8.  MERCOSUR, Electoral Path, and Revolution

The presidential candidates who have the support of the BRP respond to the conviction of all the Presidents of this block, that the time of armed revolutionary struggle and of worker-peasant governments is past.  The commentaries of Fidel in reference to the FARC have been very clear, like the position of Commandante Chávez, who said in a recent encounter with Alvaro Uribe in Santa Marta: “we want the armed movements to pacify themselves.”

Lula, Kirchner, Tabaré, and Duarte, of course, are completely in agreement with this position of support for bourgeois legality and the seizure of power by institutional paths.  To be more precise: they would not support any other path, and without the support of Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela, no national popular Latin American revolution today could consolidate itself.  In this case, Perón’s celebrated phrase is fitting: “United, we are unconquerable; divided, we are indefensible.”

The strategic decision of all the Presidents of the BRP for the  nstitutional path — which generates a serious problem for the FARC — played a key role in the great dilemma of 2005 in Bolivia: an armed uprising in the style of the 1952 revolution or the taking of power by the electoral path.  The new (post-miner) leadership of the COB, headed by Jaime Solares, and some popular sectors, for example from El Alto, together with the traditionally obscure and sectarian positions of the Mallku [Prince] Quispe, want the popular uprising.  All the presidents of the BRP insist on the institutional road.  Evo went by this road and triumphed.  There weren’t the objective conditions to defeat the military and consolidate themselves in government.  To try to repeat the exploit of 1952 would have brought a senseless slaughter.  It would have been an operation of adventurism or something worse.

The great significance of the triumph of Evo is the Regional Block of Power.  A decade ago, his victory would have changed nothing in the Andean nation.  Today, with the implementation of certain social programs of Cuba and Venezuela, the solid economic support of Venezuela, the political protection which the BRP provides, the riches of gas, and the support of the majorities for the project of the MAS and its leader, there exists the possibility of breaking the cycle of fifty years of exploitation and misery.

9.  The MAS and the Future of Socialism in the BRP

In all ways, the position of Evo and Garcia reflects the political and economic status quo in the Patria Grande.  The BRP is a confederation of bourgeois states (superstructures), with the exception of Cuba, with different types of market economy and a historic project of Latin American developmentalism, within the ideology of Bolivar.  Within this bourgeois macro system exists the Venezuelan aspiration to create a socialist civilization of the twenty-first century and a vigorous discussion in Cuba on the possible future of historic Cuban socialism.  What doesn’t exist is a socialist economy.  Neither is there a socialist superstructure.  Nor the “socialist will” of Lula, Kirchner, Tabare, and Duarte, nor mass movements, nor socialist structures.

In such a situation it would be preposterous to hope or ask that the MAS convert itself into a socialist vanguard which would pull Latin America to post-capitalism.  The concept of Latin American socialism today, with the exceptional paths of Cuba and Venezuela, is an evolutionary idea which provides the strategic horizon of the mass struggles and of the progressive leaders of the Patria Grande.

To endow this evolutionary idea with a solid scientific and popular base for the Latin American nation, as President Chávez has done with his insistence on the economy of equivalences and participatory democracy, is the fundamental task of all real and potential anti-capitalists.  Among them are Evo and the MAS.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Rebelión (27 December 2005).  It was then translated into English by John Manning.

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