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Thursday, 24th April 2014

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Neo-liberalism and the new socialism

Speech by Alvaro Garcia Linera, the Vice-President of the Republic of Bolivia

Introduction by W. T. Whitney Jr:

Since the fall of the Soviet Bloc, new questions as to the nature and evolution of socialism have circulated. The election of Hugo Chavez to Venezuela’s presidency in 1998 has given rise in Latin America to the notion of 'socialism of the 21st century.'

A remarkable speech delivered October 29 by Bolivian Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linara suggests not only that socialism does have a future, but that new ideas of working class identity are putting a new face on Latin America’s version of socialism. And Garcia is convinced that “Our America” – that America south of the Rio Grande espoused by Jose Marti – is now the world’s main stage for revolutionary change.

The 44-year old Garcia, vice president in Bolivia’s first indigenous government is well equipped for such analysis. He joined Central American solidarity campaigns while studying in Mexico City 1980-85. In Bolivia, he worked with tin miners who joined an indigenous peasant movement to form the Tupac Katarí Guerrilla Army in 1990. Charged with armed revolt, he and other leaders were in jail from 1992-1997. The titles of some of his books testify to his political interests: Critique of the Nation (1989), Re Proletarianization (1999), Condition of workers (2001), and Multinational State (2005). Prior to becoming Vice President in January, 2006, he articulated the cause of Bolivia’s worker, peasant, and indigenous movements in articles and on radio and television.

In an April 2006 interview, Garcia admitted to preoccupation with the role of indigenous peoples in national development. (Página/12) Long ago he “began an obsession with finding the thread leading from Marxism to the indigenous theme, believing that Marxism might be able to take into account the … potential of the national and ethnic demands of indigenous peoples.” He suggested that “The Indian presents himself as an autonomous political subject proposing an expansive nationalism, a nation ‘with unity in diversity’”

Garcia’s efforts to apply Marxism to Latin American realities are not new. Theoretician and organizer Jose Carlos Mariategui founded the Peruvian Communist Party in 1924. Famously, he adapted concepts derived from the industrial, urbanized working class to a Peru still stuck in the feudalism of gigantic landholdings owned by so-called colonizers. “The propagation of socialist ideas in Peru,” Mariategui noted, “brought about a strong movement of indigenous commitment. The new Peruvian generation …knows that progress in Peru will be fictitious [if] it does not deal with the welfare of the Peruvian masses that are four fifths indigenous and peasant.” He discovered “the survival of the community and elements of practical socialism in indigenous life and agriculture.” Mariategui pioneered processes of inquiry and action that Garcia is pursuing

Interviewed on BBC December 23, Noam Chomsky asserted that the “election of Morales reflects the entry on the political scene in the continent [of] calls for an “indigenous nation.” The indigenous peoples, he continues, “represent a serious threat for Washington’s plans to gain access to natural resources in the Western Hemisphere.”

Thus Alvaro Garcia Linera is well placed to analyze the contest between indigenous demands for power and constraints imposed by transnational capitalism. A socialist, he is well suited to lead discussion on the “new socialism,” especially as it materializes in the global south. In their time, priorities for Marx, Engels, and Lenin lay closer to home.

A few far-left Bolivians have charged Garcia and the Morales government with reformism and half measures. They point to Garcia’s efforts in December, 2006 to compromise with separatist opposition forces in Eastern Bolivia fronting for rich landowners and business interests. Youth shock troops in Santa Cruz have carried out vicious, racist attacks on indigenous people. Garcia’s approach, manifested in the speech below, is criticized for having “permitted the counter-revolution to get oxygen, regain strength, and go on to destabilize the indigenous administration.” (Cesar Zelada,

Garcia’s speech served as the closing event at the First Gathering of Peoples and States for the Liberation of the Patria Grande in Sucre, which, according to observers, was a gathering of Latin American social movements and heads of states of epochal proportions. 

Compañeros and Compañeras: Permit me to bring you the most affectionate and fraternal greetings from our president Evo Morales. He has followed this continental gathering step by step, has followed your discussions with rapt attention. Because of complicated work – pending negotiations on petroleum and minerals – he could not be here with you. He sends a grateful, fraternal, and affectionate greeting to all of you.

Alvaro Garcia Linera:

Allow me to cover three areas with you: how to distance ourselves from Neo-Liberalism, how the state relates to social movements, and socialism.

The four pillars of Neo-Liberalism

Over the past five to seven years, peoples on the continent, worthy people, working people, oppressed people have slowly begun to initiate processes of mobilization, struggle, and confrontation against what we call Neo-Liberalism. Latin American people without a doubt are in the vanguard of the struggle against Neo-Liberalism that has materialized and taken root all over the world in the last 25 years.

Paraphrasing Marx, one can say that the specter of anti-Neo-Liberalism or of post-Neo-Liberalism is stalking the continent, from Oaxaca in Mexico, through Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, etc, to Tierra del Fuego in Chile. The continent serves as the vanguard of reflection and planetary mobilization responding to Neo-Liberalism and its effects. To look into this, to know why we are fighting, it is important to remind ourselves of the 3-4 main points as to what Neo-Liberalism is.

First off, Neo-Liberalism signifies a process of fragmentation – structural disintegration – of support networks, solidarity, and popular mobilization. Throughout the whole world, especially in Europe, Latin America, and Asia, Neo-Liberalism has grown out of the pulverization, fragmentation, and disintegration of the old workers’ movement, the old peasant movement, and the urban mobilizations that developed in the fifties and the eighties.

The fragmentation of society and the destruction of both solidarity networks and the fabric of cohesion have fostered the consolidation of Neo-Liberalism.

Secondly, Neo-Liberalism has taken form, advanced, and imposed itself on the world through privatization, i.e. private appropriation of collective wealth and public properties, including public savings, land, minerals, forest, and pension funds. Neo-liberalism developed through privatizing those resources.

Thirdly, The introduction of Neo-Liberalism was accompanied by reducing the state and deforming it, especially that aspect of the state relating for better or worse to the collective or to ideas of commonwealth. Neo-liberalism set out to destroy this notion of the state as collective or commonwealth in order to impose a type of corporate ideology calling for appropriation and squandering of collective wealth accumulated many times over by two, three, four, or five generations. 

Fourth, the implementation of Neo-Liberalism led to limitations on people’s political participation; democracy was ritualized into casting a vote every four years. The citizen voter no longer takes part in decision-making. Tiny circles of the political elite take it upon themselves to represent the people. These then are the four pillars of Neo-Liberalism – fragmentation of the laboring sectors and worker organizations, privatization of public resources, the diminished state, and impediments to people’s decision making. 

If there are four items, four pillars of Neo-Liberalism that have created so much poverty, marginalization, and misfortune in the country, then clearly we have to remove them. We must substitute other structures, other mechanisms, by which society, nations, and poor working people might regain the right to decide their own destiny.

Bolivia exemplifies the workings of social fragmentation. But we can also look at Mexico, Ecuador, and Argentina. The best way to resist Neo-Liberalism is through consolidation of the social movements. These include popular networks and autonomous organizations of men and women, youth, workers, peasants, professionals, students, and indigenous peoples. Organization, i.e. the re-establishment of civil, popular, peasant, and indigenous society, becomes our first pillar for dismantling the neo-liberal regimen. That means organizing the hardest hit sectors of the last 25 years, the working class, women workers, the indigenous, peasant, and youth sectors, all of them, fragmented, weakened, and marginalized, their rights abused. The task today is to devise new methods of worker organization that correspond to the prevailing style of fragmented production work, work that is no longer concentrated in big production centers, organization also of peasants and indigenous people defending their rights to take back land. Young people need to be mobilized to pursue real citizenship, so that they no longer turn into economic exiles in Europe or North America. This work – reconstruction from below, from the base – is the first great task we have to undertake to bring down the neo-liberal regimen. We have taken steps along these lines here in Bolivia, and we are very pleased. We look to the world in a direct, respectful way as we offer a body of experience toward remaking the social fabric – less now in the workplace, and more where people live – around quite specific issues, water, land and hydrocarbon. These are the vital, basic points of unification essential for reforming networks of popular, worker, peasant, and indigenous groups that have been dismantled over the last 25 years.

Secondly, struggle against neo-liberalism implies a return to socialization of the collective wealth, restoring to the rightful owners what belonged to all before it was privatized over the last decades by small family groupings. And that means recovering natural resources, hydrocarbons, water, land, and forests. Only by means of social re-appropriation of wealth common to us all can we go about dismantling the Neo-Liberal core. Experiences throughout the continent and in Bolivia particularly indicate this to be the road by which people will be standing up for themselves. People at the base have been thinking and pondering in directed, independent ways. Here in Bolivia, mobilization was based on defense of the coca leaf, defense of water, of land, gas and oil. These were the axes around which society recovered confidence and regained capacity for mobilization, leadership development, and building networks to unify city and country. Thanks to that we can now say that in Bolivia we have a government of social movements.

The third mechanism for struggle against neo-liberalism relates to empowerment of the state. Why the state? Why is it important to build up the state now? Situations of adverse international context and state take-over go together, especially when political regimes that disregard national borders are involved or foreign companies with more economic and political power than two, three, or four states together. The purpose of consolidating a state with economic, cultural, and political strength is to provide a protective shield for the social movements, an international armor for growth of the social struggles. Yes, reinforce the state, but not in the sense of the old state capitalism, which was a way to privatize public resources. It is a subordinated state that has to be strengthened, one always controlled and permeated by the demands, activities, and insurgency of the social movements, which exist to keep the state from serving as an alibi for new entrepreneurs and new privateers.

And a fourth feature of this struggle against neo-liberalism is the introduction and unfolding of democracy in ways that place personal destiny in one’s own hands. Democracy is not just casting a vote every four years. Rather it is having the capacity to participate in what’s happening in the country, from the matter of municipal investments to deciding if a petroleum contract should be signed or not signed. And in Latin America we are full of experiences of democracy at the base, what with our indigenous communities, urban neighborhoods, workers’ districts, and groups of unemployed. There are many seeds of real democracy, direct democracy, democracy in the community, and participatory democracy. These are the necessary settings for development, initiatives, proposals, and realization of rights. People have to fight for their rights in order that rights sanctioned by law and the state can gain legitimacy. .

So this struggle against neo-liberalism is based on four fundamentals: varying forms of democratic expression (community-based, territorial-based, direct, and participatory), the recovery by society of its collective wealth, the reinforcement of the state – subordinated to society – for the sake of international protection, and, lastly, unification of the social movements. Country and city come together, also indigenous people and peasants, young and old workers, the unemployed and the homeless, and the landless and the destitute.

Having taken these four items into consideration, I do nnot have the least doubt that the consolidation of whatever follows Neo-Liberalism, or replaces it, will take place initially on this continent, and from here extend to other continents, if we have the strength and capacity. May Latin Americans stay in the vanguard of the construction, discussion, and organization of post Neo-Liberal societies.

The state and the social movements

But a question arises here, one implicit in the name of this gathering: how does the relation between state and social movement work? At first glance they appear to be contradictory notions. The idea of state implies the concentration of decision making; the state has a monopoly in that area. The term social movement signifies diffusion of decision-making, socialization of the process. This is a tension that we have to deal with, and that will take practice. State as centralization, movement as socialization: it is a permanent tension.

And I am describing the experience of our own government, that of permanent tension between mandates from the social movements – choosing a person for the state bureaucracy, for example, or the elaboration of a law – and, on the other hand, decisions to be imposed upon opposition forces in society. This is an old discussion that goes back to the Paris Commune, is taken up by Lenin’s soviets, by the Hungarian Councils in Europe. Here in Bolivia there is a long experience from Catavi, from the “52”, and is being repeated now. How to build a state managed and led by social movements would seem to be contradictory. But no, perhaps it is this very tension, between socialization and concentration, between democratization of decision making and monopoly, through which revolutions of the 21st century will have to proceed.

The social movements here bear significant responsibility. In resolving this tension we Latin Americans may even become able to conceive of and propose other social movements elsewhere in the world.

Until the year 2003, the discussion was about social movements being separate from the state. Or, as the old left would have it, the state had to be under the control of one party separated from the social movements. The 21st century would seem to be setting off on another route, one derived from our experience as Latin Americans, that of permanent tension and ongoing dialectic between the state and social movements, between socialization and concentration. Here the social movements take on the challenge of how to achieve social leadership. Because it is not enough to be part of the state and make decisions. For those decisions to gain legitimacy you have to depend upon backing from other sectors in society, not solely from social movements, workers, and indigenous people. And in Bolivia the challenge for our indigenous movement is being able to appeal to, attract, and win over the unorganized middle classes, how to attract the professional sectors that aren’t mobilized, indeed how to win over 90% of society. If we can do that, Compañera Silvia, success is guaranteed, because not only will there be a government of social movements but there will also be a State of social movements able to articulate and unite the homeland in its entirety, society in its entirety. (Garcia is addressing Silvia Lazarte, President of the Constituent Assembly)

Socialism of the 21st century

The question remains; what comes after struggle against neo-liberalism; what does post neo-liberalism has to do with socialism? Does post neo-liberalism necessarily imply a type of socialism? That is another discussion, among social movements, intellectuals, and leaders – and a discussion too inside our government.

It is clear that socialism, understood as a society of overall well being, where the people recover control of their economic, cultural, and political decision making in a community-based way is not something built up in a year, or ten years, or even 50. Nor is socialism anything defined by decrees. It is part and parcel of the struggle against Neo-Liberalism. We revolutionaries have to transform tendencies into practice and deeds, not just on paper. Within our own society we have to strengthen the organizing capacity of indigenous communities. They are besieged, fragmented, and oppressed by colonialism, but internally have the potential for incorporating wealth, production, the use of land, water, skills, and materials into the community. Revolutionaries have the duty to harness the struggle against Neo-Liberalism with the movement toward a socialism based fundamentally upon the collective and social re-appropriation of our wealth. This movement is embedded in our indigenous communities in Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala, Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. We need to waken it, propel it, and expand it into a proposition that extends far beyond simple neo-liberalism.

The new workers movement and the indigenous – peasant movement could generate on the continent the potential for real socialism of the 21st century.

There are two other considerations. The old workers movement based on unionization of big companies is gone, but the working class has not disappeared. There are more new workers now than ever before, but most of them are young people and women, their rights gone; they are unorganized, unassociated, fragmented, and dispersed among tiny work places. Finding a new discourse, revolutionaries have to re-articulate a new workers movement composed of women and young people that have other perspectives. They have to be grouped by neighborhoods, districts, and occupation, no longer by work place. Now there are five workers here, ten there, 20 there, 30 over there. They do not make up a tight community. We have to devise methods to empower a powerful continent-wide workers movement. It appears that on the Latin American continent the virtual union of the indigenous-peasant movement together with the new workers movement may be able to generate here the social potential for a socialism of the 21st century.

There is then, compañeros and compañeras, a lot to do. We undertake these tasks in one’s own country, district, union, or university. But the struggle of one person alone is not enough. For one district, one region, one province, one state, or one country to fight alone is not enough either. That’s because Neo-Liberalism, and capitalism even more so, is a planetary construct. And the only way to transcend a worldwide system is to invoke another one, specifically an expanding worldwide struggle for rights and for making good on basic needs.

Your struggle is also ours

Your presence here provides cheer. We are not alone. And we are grateful that you came to our country to tell us: “Bolivians, You are not alone.” Thank you very much for coming. Everyone knows that your struggle is also ours. We know ourselves that we won’t be winning if you do not triumph – and you, and you! Either we all win or we all lose. That’s the plan for the 21st century. That’s why – What does the Compañera say? (Silvia Lazarte) – We are obliged to globalize the struggles in order to be able to win where we are. And there has to be an articulation of the social movements and progressive states to allow ties of solidarity to keep on expanding.

And it is very important, compañeros, that we understand your struggles. It is very important you are here and teaching us what you are doing – what’s going on in Ecuador, Argentina, Mexico, and in France. We need to learn, and we’ll be able to share it not with just a few intellectuals. We have an obligation today to each peasant, indigenous person, and worker who are eager to learn and eager also to collaborate with projects in the future. Compañeros and compañeras, in the name of the President of our Republic, in our name, we thank you for your presence here.

We ask you not to abandon us. And be assured that we will not abandon you in any one of your initiatives, or your struggles, or any one of your victories.

Thank you very much.


Introduction and translation from Guerilla News Network: