Burdens of a State Manager

policiaIn the opening salvos of Latin America’s uneven lurch to the Left in the early twenty-first century, Bolivia distinguished itself as the region’s most radical socio-political terrain. 1 Left-indigenous movements in the countryside and cityscapes alike threw the state into crisis and brought two successive neoliberal presidents to their knees – Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003, and Carlos Mesa in 2005. 2 Evo Morales’s party, the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism, MAS), leapt into the power vacuum opened up by this series of revolts, and there has been serious debate on the Left as to how best to button down the central political dynamic of the country ever since. In a country where 62 percent of the population self-identified as indigenous in the 2001 census, Morales became the first indigenous president through the December 2005 elections with 54 percent of the popular vote, assuming office in January 2006. He repeated this extraordinary electoral success in December 2009, with 64 percent, and again in October 2014, with 61 percent.

The prolific writings of Vice-President Álvaro García Linera offer one window into the complexities of the political, ideological, and economic developments that have transpired since Morales first assumed office. 3 With that in mind, the following detailed exposition and critical interrogation of the core arguments advanced in his 2011 book, Tensiones creativas de la revolución [Creative Tensions of the Revolution], is meant to shed some light on what is at stake in the competing characterizations of the “process of change” unfolding in Bolivia since 2006. 4 If for many readers, only passingly familiar with the country, García Linera might seem to represent Bolivian radical theory tout court, in fact his intellectual output over the last nine years has been comparatively shallow, heavily determined by his role as second-in-command of the state apparatus. The rich and demanding provocations of his early work have largely been eclipsed by managerial apologia.

Still, Creative Tensions is arguably the most important and sophisticated intellectual statement García Linera has made since he became vice-president. The text embodies, I would argue, most of the core features that dominate common interpretations of the Bolivian process on the international Left. This is no accident. García Linera has carefully cultivated the transnational dissemination of his perspective on the conjuncture. Slavoj Žižek, Enrique Dussel, Bruno Bosteels, Michael Hardt, David Harvey, and Marta Harnecker are just a few of the international intellectuals of the broad Left invited to participate in state-sponsored forums with the vice-president. His work has been featured in New Left Review, and there is now a major edited collection of his writings available in English. 5

García Linera is regularly invited to speak at events sponsored by various currents of the Left throughout Western Europe, but particularly in Spain and France. For Íñigo Errejón, one of the leading figures in the ascendant Podemos party of the Spanish state, García Linera is a guiding intellectual and political light. The Bolivian vice-president’s intellectual influence reaches deeply into the North American Left as well, as exemplified in his recent headlining of the Left Forum in New York City. The renowned Argentine Marxist Atilio Borón relies heavily on García Linera’s recent writings in his award-winning 2012 book, América Latina en la geopolítica del imperialismo [Latin America in the Geopolitics of Imperialism], 6 and the prominent Brazilian theorist Emir Sader is perhaps the Bolivian politician’s most well-known intellectual paraclete in Latin America. One could easily go on.

Given the prominence of Creative Tensions within the vice-presidential oeuvre, it is worthwhile to unpack some of its most critical analytical elements and to assess them alongside relevant aspects of the concrete historical and empirical record. A close reading of this text highlights the necessity of developing alternative interpretations of the present Bolivian conjuncture. Any serious alternative would need to adhere vigorously and creatively to the broad tradition of historical materialism and indigenous liberation, as well as the spirit of combined liberation on display in the 2000-2005 left-indigenous cycle of insurrection. In other words, we still require starkly contrasting intellectual foundations to those on offer in Creative Tensions if we are to capture both the revolutionary essence of the 2000-2005 rebellions, and the setbacks they experienced once Evo Morales assumed the presidential office in 2006.

Revolutionary Chronologies

García Linera sets the stage in the opening pages of Creative Tensions by listing some of the historic conquests ostensibly achieved by the Morales government already by 2011, or one year into the second administration. Neoliberalism had been defeated. There had been a recovery of social and state control over public wealth, which in the orthodox neoliberal period of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s had been concentrated in private hands. The Morales regime had put a decisive end to the ritual subordination of government decision-making to the American embassy and international financial institutions (IFIs), such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

By 2011, as never before, indigenous and mestizo (mixed race) citizens had equal say in the management of state power. The corrupt political class associated with the implementation of neoliberalism had been defeated through the implosion of their traditional political parties. Various right-wing conspiracies emanating from bourgeois autonomist forces in the eastern lowland departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando had been defeated, securing once more the integral unity of the Bolivian nation-state. 7 In the place of these problems of the past, the “Process of Change” had – through a commitment to plurinationality, indigenous territorial autonomy, and a plural economy – brought to life a new, communitarian republicanism rooted in the growth of the collective wealth of all Bolivians.

A fundamental continuity, according to García Linera, links the extra-parliamentary beginnings of the revolutionary process in 2000 and its consolidation in the various administrations of the Morales government. The process, from this perspective, consists of five stages, through which we can track the historical deepening and extension of a revolutionary epoch, full of potential and instability.

Phase I – 2000-2003

The analytical highlights of the first phases of the revolutionary epoch in García Linera’s account broadly parallel the contours of most radical accounts of the left-indigenous cycle of revolt in its opening years. Aspects of my own historical survey in Red October are indebted to a whole series of his journalistic and theoretical writings composed over that period.

The first phase begins in 2000 with the Cochabamba Water War against the World Bank-driven privatization of municipal water services in that city. A punctuated process of rural and urban mobilization culminates in the popular seizure of the city and the emergence of localized forms of dual power. The movement’s successful reversal of the privatization of water marks the first defensive victory of left-indigenous forces in Bolivia since the introduction of neoliberal restructuring in 1985. The strategic horizons of the Cochabamba insurrection and the repertoire of coordinated road blockades, civic strikes, street battles, and urban popular assemblies begin to reverberate throughout the rest of the country over the next few years.

The Cochabamba Water War reveals the fundamental weakness of the neoliberal regime and several of the key pillars of state domination begin to irrevocably unravel. The institutionality of Bolivian neoliberalism begins to come apart at the seams with the terminal decline of the three mainstream parties responsible for its governance – in the form of coalitions and pacts – since 1985. The legitimacy of neoliberal ideas recedes as the promised tide to lift all boats fails to arrive. The rulers can no longer continue ruling as they have, and the ruled will no longer accept the established framework of domination. The correlation of forces begins to change.

Drawing, without acknowledgement, on the work of Bolivian anthropologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, García Linera argues that the Cochabamba moment brings together a set of long and short term contradictions. 8 The long term contradictions accumulated over centuries. They involve a clash between a monocultural state run by white and mestizo elites and a plurinational society in which a majority are indigenous peasants and workers, as well as a centralized state in practice, against a popular appetite for a decentralized society.

The short-term contradictions running in and through those of the longer durée include the popular demand for the nationalization of natural resources against the neoliberal regime’s commitment to persistent privatization, as well as the monopolization of political power in the hands of traditional neoliberal parties and the appetite from below for social democratization which emerges with the first experience of popular power in the neoliberal epoch. The subaltern classes have in this moment begun to contest the territorial, ideological, and symbolic control of society. 9

Phase II: 2003-2008

The second phase endures for five years of what García Linera, drawing on Gramsci, calls a catastrophic equilibrium. The regime of state domination is paralyzed. Two power blocs emerge, with competing projects for power. An eastern lowland bourgeois bloc mobilizes around an autonomist agenda but ultimately desires to regain control over the national state, and to deepen and extend the neoliberal project initiated in preceding decades. A national-popular bloc of left-indigenous forces that began to take form in Cochabamba in 2000 extends over the coming years and achieves regional hegemony in the Western highlands, including the capital city of La Paz. The high points of this emergence are the so-called Gas Wars of 2003 and 2005, in which the entire western part of the country is repeatedly shut down for weeks on end as hundreds of thousands of people mobilize and successfully oust presidents Sánchez de Lozada and Mesa in succession. But neither bloc enjoys sufficient ideological, social, economic, political, or military power to reign over the other and consolidate itself on a national scale. Thus an embattled equilibrium persists. There’s sand in the gears of the old routines of domination, but no viable machinery of the popular is yet able to take its place. 10

Phase III: 2006-2008

It is in phase III that García Linera’s account begins to diverge from others on the Left. Unsurprisingly, the moment of the December 2005 elections is one of generalized political and intellectual disputation inside the Bolivian Left, as the challenges of relating to a rising electoral rhythm of events begin to supplant those of navigating the unleashed energies of street barricades.

Phase III, as García Linera conceptualizes it, notably corresponds with the first period in which he is formally inside the MAS party – he was never a member until accepting the vice-presidential candidacy in late 2005. Whereas some critical observers saw the dynamic of the 2005 elections as one which immediately posed the dangers of bureaucratization and cooptation of the 2000-2005 revolutionary epoch – a potential damming of the flood of combined liberation – García Linera sees fundamental continuities with phase II. 11

For the Vice President, the symbolic order of the universe is overturned as the first indigenous president of the republic assumes office in January 2006. The capacity for mobilization revealed in the 2003 and 2005 Gas Wars is partially transformed by a new terrain, one in which social movements are now present within the state apparatus. Still, overlapping logics connect phase III with the second phase, especially insofar as the catastrophic equilibrium has not been resolved, and indeed cannot be resolved merely through the electoral success of one of the two competing socio-political blocs. The symbolic overturning of the old order embodied in the rise of the first indigenous president has brought about the loss of governmental power for the old political elites, but the economic power of the dominant classes and their external allies still enjoy ultimate, informal control of state power. The government is controlled by insurrectionists, whereas state power – its economic and institutional logic as an apparatus of capitalist reproduction – is still in the hands of the dominant classes. 12

Phase IV: 2008-2010

A fourth phase unfolds between 2008 and 2010 and marks for García Linera a “point of bifurcation,” or the Jacobin moment of the revolution. Two irreconcilable projects are set against one another in combat for hegemony within society. They are forced to square off in this stage, to openly measure the strength of their numbers in unmediated confrontation. There is no other exit here but for one to come out on top.

The most intense moments in this naked showdown play themselves out between August and October 2008. Over these few months the conservative eastern lowland bloc launches a civic-coup attempt in an effort to destabilize the Morales administration. Airports are seized in the lowland departments; official state buildings are attacked in these areas; and government planes are prevented from landing in parts of the country. The civic-coup attempt reaches its apogee in a massacre of peasant supporters of the government in the department of Pando.

The government then counter-mobilizes its social base. The coup-plotters lose momentum as the travesty of the peasant massacre is linked to the governor of Pando, an important figure in the eastern lowland bloc. The coordination of their social base fragments rapidly, and they are forced to capitulate. The government marks its victory with the expulsion of the American ambassador, Philip Goldberg, from the country following accusations of his involvement in the destabilization campaign.

This is the point of bifurcation. The popular defeat of the eastern lowland insurrectionists by the national-popular bloc is consolidated through the passing of a new Constitution in Congress in October 2008, followed by its approval in a popular referendum. Finally, Morales wins the presidential elections in December 2009 with an historic 64 percent of the popular vote, ushering in the fifth phase of the revolutionary process which continues into the present. 13

García Linera’s careful depiction of the fourth phase offers a neat justification for the oft-employed official explanation of the slow pace of reform initiated by the MAS government during its first term in power. On this view, the Right was too strong in 2006 for the state to move forward with full nationalization of natural gas and other strategic sectors, or to offer a genuine transformation of agrarian land tenure and social property relations, or to initiate a truly participatory and transformative Constituent Assembly; instead, negotiation and compromise with the eastern lowland bourgeoisie was necessary. Even with such negotiation and moderation, the civic-coup attempt revealed the belligerence of the Right and the soundness of the measured hesitation on the part of the government.

A more plausible interpretation might be that in the recent history of Bolivia the Right had never been as weak as it was in the opening months of 2006. It had been utterly defeated politically and ideologically through the events of 2000 to 2005. Had belligerent forces from the eastern lowland been capable of pulling off a military coup, it would have happened in October 2003 or June 2005, at the height of the constitutional crises brought on by the Gas Wars. So a counter-revolution in the Chilean register of 1973 was not in the cards.

The MAS government had a mobilized social base and faced a politically defeated opposition in 2006. Had it encouraged social mobilization and independent self-organization for determined class struggle in the cities and the rural areas, much deeper transformation may have been possible. The civic coup of 2008 might never have happened.

Elsewhere in South America, the dynamic of extra-parliamentary activism was in its strongest state of recent decades. US imperialism, meanwhile, was overstretched militarily in the Afghanistan and Iraq, and the global commodities boom had initiated an unstable moment of relative autonomy for South America vis-a-vis the usual dictates of the international financial institutions and international capital.

Instead of recognizing this opportunity, however, the Morales government actively reigned in its social base, decelerated social and economic reform, and used its political honeymoon to negotiate with an effectively defeated Right, allowing time for the latter’s rearticulation. As a result, what had been an anaemic eastern lowland opposition in 2006 was by 2008 a renewed political force – by now actually capable of destabilizing the process of change for a period, even if ultimately too clumsy to retake state power altogether.

Phase V: 2010-

The defining feature of the revolutionary process since 2010, according to García Linera, is the emergence of what he calls “creative tensions” or contradictions. In this fifth stage, contradictions between two competing projects for society are resolved with the victory of the national-popular bloc, but tensions remain within the constitutive sectors of the process of change itself. In this optic, the creative tensions, if properly managed, can help push along the course of the revolution. They can positively reinforce one another and mutate into productive subjective and objective forces of the revolution.

The point of reference shifts momentarily at this point in the narrative from Gramsci to Mao, as García Linera outlines what he takes to be the primary and secondary contradictions of the conjuncture. The fissures of the former divide the supporting elements of the national-popular project, on one side, and the array of imperial forces lined up against it, together with the remnants of the recalcitrant domestic Right, on the other. The secondary contradictions are the creative tensions internal to the revolutionary process itself. Specifically, a fourfold array of creative tensions among the people can be transcended through democratic and revolutionary means within the process of change itself.

(i) State-society relations

The first of the four involves the relationship between state and society. 14 The opening ideological move here is to advance the claim that the Morales administration is a “government of social movements.” 15 The state is conceptualized in this section as a concentration of decision-making power, coercion, bureaucratic administration, and the ideas that articulate society. Social movement, on the other hand, is understood to be a democratization of decision-making, involving wide-scale and continuous socialization of deliberative processes, and the collective self-governing of common affairs by the lower orders. A government of social movements represents a creative tension between the two, a dialectic, in which the simultaneous concentration and decentralization of decision-making power occurs. A government of social movements exists in constant tension between these two poles, between the necessary short-term monopolization of executive action to achieve results, and the longer-term processes of popular democratic decision-making.

Here, too, we encounter the first mention of Gramsci’s notion of the “integral state,” understood by García Linera as the dialectical overcoming of the tension between the state as a machine of decision-making concentration, and a social movement as a machine of democratic decentralization. 16 The achievement of an integral state will only be possible over the long durée, and will depend on the perpetual motion of struggle from below for decades, perhaps even for centuries. This tension remains alive in this way until, in a given moment, the dissolution of the state into society occurs, and the historical resolution of the contradiction is achieved. 17

The notion of a “government of social movements” is perhaps the most sinister turn in Creative Tensions thus far, allowing as it does for the easy denunciation of any independent trade union action or social-movement formation as, by definition, if not necessarily by conscious decision, an expression of the interests of the domestic Right and imperialism. If the government is social movement, independent organizations of the oppressed necessarily become suspicious.

(ii) Multi-class Bloc

A second creative tension centers on the multi-class character of the social bloc supporting the MAS government. Here the fundamentally populist tenor of García Linera’s politics by this stage come to the fore, as the distinct class interests of each component of the national-popular bloc are waved away as ultimately non-conflictual. Development, despite still being ruled by the logic of capitalist accumulation, can be understood as a virtuous circle in which each component part benefits, rather than a conflict-ridden, zero-sum game of exploitation.

We find in this section an explicit endorsement of the inclusion of the national bourgeoisie, or patriotic capitalists, in the national-popular bloc. 18 There will be tensions, García Linera recognizes, between workers and capitalists, but the way to resolve this tension is through the conversion of the meaning of “the people” to include all Bolivians – without exception – who support decolonization, the plurinational state, equality between peoples, communitarianism and the industrialization of the plural economy. In these passages García Linera comes remarkably close to arguing that key elements of class conflict can be overcome merely through an ideological battle of ideas. The full conversion of the national bourgeoisie to the project of communitarian socialism and decolonization hinges here on an idealist notion of re-education.

The tension at work in the multi-class character of the national-popular bloc, García Linera recognizes, has to do with the danger of broadening its social base so widely that the hegemony of indigenous workers and peasants is compromised. But this is understood to be an unavoidable risk. 19

(iii) Universal and Particular Interests

A third tension pivots on the notion of the general interests of all of society and those which reflect merely the interests of particular individuals, sectors, or groups. 20 Here we encounter the logical escalation and tightened exclusivity of the notion of a government of social movements. After 2009, for García Linera, once the catastrophic equilibrium and point of bifurcation had been transcended, there rose to the surface a tension between the further institutionalization and consolidation of the universal and general demands of the social-revolutionary bloc, as embodied in the MAS party, and the various corporatist, sectional, fragmented parts of the national-popular bloc.

If the independence of particularistic demands of social movements and unions are expressed, the danger of a right-wing rearticulation cannot be underestimated. 21 By contrast, the unified consolidation of the victory of the universalist will, expressed in the popular bloc and the MAS itself, would allow for the expansion and hegemonic deepening of the revolutionary process. If corporatist and unionist particularisms assume a dominant position in the actions of the people, it would mark the beginning of a degenerative stage in the revolutionary dynamic. It would provide a point of departure for the conservative restoration of a business bloc, in opposition to the people. 22

With these convenient turns of phrase, the stage is set for a series of condemnations. The indigenous lowland struggle against the building of the highway through constitutionally recognized indigenous territory and a national park is reducible to a particularistic expression of sectional interests against the universalist and revolutionary will of the MAS government. 23 Similarly, strikes initiated by the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) are corporatist deviations from the general interests of the revolutionary-social bloc. A popular mobilization independent of the party, in the impoverished department of Potosí, is likewise condemned. 24 Urban and rural teachers’ strikes are similarly deemed out of order, and somehow set outside the realm of genuinely working class politics. The notion of a government of social movements, expressing by definition the universalist will of the popular classes, obviously leaves little room for independent class struggle and self-organization. Ominously, García Linera closes this section with a call for the ideological elimination of residual traces of the Right and Trotskyism – lumped together – within the labor movement. 25

(iv) Vivir Bien (Living Well), Ecology, and the Industrialization of Natural Resources

Ecology is the weight behind the fourth contradiction. There is a tension, García Linera contends, around the government’s commitment to industrialize natural resources – particularly natural gas and mining minerals – to meet basic needs, and its simultaneous pledge to sustain the environment and support the indigenous concept of vivir bien (living well), at the heart of which is a harmonious relationship with the pachamama, or Mother Earth. (Ibid., 62-71.) While this contradiction is something that cannot be easily escaped, García Linera suggests that there has already been movement in the Bolivian state under Morales of using the surplus generated through industrialization to remove itself gradually from the capitalist logic of private appropriation. 26

This movement is seen as a communitarian-communist foundational tendency toward the expansive development of the logic of use-value, of the satisfaction of human needs, as the principal driver of economic activities. While it is a process that has experienced setbacks, Linera argues, there has nonetheless been a general movement in the direction of use-value over exchange-value, or the subordination of profit by human need as the driving logic of economic activity. 27 This is an extraordinary claim, which anyone even cursorily aware of the contemporary dynamics of Bolivia’s political economy will have difficulty taking seriously. How are we to reconcile these passages with the repeated praise received by the MAS administration for its sound macroeconomic management, fiscal austerity, and extraordinary accumulation of international reserves from the likes of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal, among other representatives of global capital. Have they all become communists?

To summarize, then, according to García Linera a revolutionary process opened up in 2000 and went through a variety of phases. It culminated in the election of Morales in 2005 and 2009, with its latest consolidation working its way through the October elections in 2014. 28 Hegemony was achieved by 2010, after which tensions and contradictions of the process became creative, internal forces operating within the national-popular bloc supporting the government. The Bolivian “people” were thus united around plurinationality, indigenous territorial autonomy, and a plural economy – involving public, private, and social-communitarian forms of property, with the state presence in the economy subordinating the other forms of property. The process is in motion toward an integral state, understood as the state’s ultimate dissolution into society, while the economy is moving – even with setbacks – to one dominated by the logic of use-value over exchange-value. Again, there is every reason to be suspicious of the post-2006 components of this story, and it’s no surprise that a number of left intellectuals in Bolivia are increasingly insisting on a series of counter-narratives. These, in turn, are constitutive parts of a wider debate unfolding in Latin America on the character and content of the New Left governments across the region.

Gramscian Wars of Position and Capitalist Continuities

In particular, there is something of a battle over Gramsci that is ongoing in contemporary Latin America. As against García Linera’s use of hegemony and integral state, critical Latin American theorists are returning to Gramsci’s notion of passive revolution in an attempt to conceptualize the processes of containment occurring in many South American states presently occupied by left governments.

For the Italian-born, Mexican-based theorist Massimo Modonesi, for example, the South American passive revolution today involves a process of modernization pushed forward from above, which partially and carefully recognizes demands coming from those positioned below; through this process, the state managers guarantee the passivity or subordinate cooperation of the popular movements. New state-society relations are built up by these regimes, creating precarious but surprisingly lasting equilibriums that function for the reproduction of extractive capitalism amid an expansionary period in commodity prices. At the top of the new configuration of power rests a charismatic populist alongside the institutional mechanisms of bureaucratization. 29

In the Bolivian case, Luis Tapia, a former comrade of García Linera within the group of political theorists known as Comuna, has perhaps done more than most to advance this argument. He tries to understand how a radical left-indigenous insurrectionary process that overthrew two neoliberal presidents through mass mobilization was contained and redirected into the consolidation of a state-capitalist process of modernization from above, built on an alliance with multinational capital interested in extracting natural resources during a commodities boom. 30

Modonesi and Tapia are ultimately more convincing than García Linera in every dimension of the present conjuncture. Rather than an integral state understood in the mode of the vice-president, Bolivia has metamorphosed into a prototypical compensatory state. 31 Amid a commodities boom driven by China’s (slowing) dynamism, aggregate economic growth has been steady in Bolivia, averaging 4.8% between 2006 and 2012, with an initial apex of 6.1% in 2008 and a low of 3.4% in 2009, in the immediate fallout from the world crisis. In 2013, the country hit a new recent high of 6.8% growth, and is expected to be among the top three countries in growth in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2014. According to figures from the National Statistics Institute of Bolivia, gas exports constituted 52.8% of total exports in the first trimester of 2013, followed by industrial manufacturing (24.2%), mining (17.2%), and agriculture (4.5%). Last year, the country logged a record peak of foreign direct investment, again mostly in gas. The Morales era has witnessed an unprecedented accumulation of international reserves and relatively low levels of inflation. 32

The MAS government has been able to capture a bigger share of the rent generated from this commodities boom than did orthodox neoliberal regimes of the past, due to moderate increases in the taxes and royalties exacted from multinational petroleum companies, even if this doesn’t warrant the label “nationalization.” As a result, there have been notable declines in poverty and extreme poverty, and improvements in health and education. Official government figures suggest an impressive fall in poverty from 60.6% of the population in 2005 to 45% in 2011, and extreme poverty from 38.2% to 20.9% over the same period. Rural areas have been most affected, with extreme poverty falling from 62.9% in 2005 to 41.3% in 2011. 33 It is quite unsurprising in this context that the government remains popular electorally, but these trends in no way substantiate the much more far-reaching claims advanced in García Linera’s Creative Tensions.

In what is perhaps the single most important essay to date on the economics of the Morales administration, Carlos Arze and Javier Gómez systematically expose the political contradictions and empirical inconsistencies at the heart of García Linera’s Creative Tensions, without actually citing the text. 34 Of their many insightful observations, let me just point to their discussion of the so-called plural economy. Using the official categories of the plural economy denoted by government documents, development plans, and the writings of García Linera, Arze and Gómez measure the present weight of the state, private (foreign and domestic), communitarian, and social-cooperative units of production in the structure of the Bolivian economy. They show how the biggest overall weight in the structure is that of productive units privately owned by Bolivian citizens – that is, domestic capitalist production units, accounting for 55 percent and 53 percent of Bolivian gross domestic product (GDP) in 2005 and 2010 respectively. In 2005, the second sector of relative magnitude was that of foreign capital, with 22 percent, leaving the state with 14 percent, the communitarian sector with seven percent, and the social-cooperative sector with two percent. 35

In the structure of the economy in 2010, what we can see immediately is that the most important change has been that of the presence of the state, increasing to 19 percent of GDP. The five percent change can be accounted for with reference to the decrease in the presence of foreign capital by three percent of GDP, and of private Bolivian capital by two percent. The communitarian sector accounts for merely 7 percent in 2005 and drops to one percent by 2010, while the social-cooperative sector increases from 2 percent in 2005 to three percent in 2010. 36

This situation is a consequence of the limited parameters of the processes commonly referred to as nationalization. They have been circumscribed, in reality, to the recovery of majority shares for the state in certain companies privatized during the 1990s. Because nationalization has not meant the expropriation of private corporations, and has also not meant the reestablishment of state monopoly in any sectors of the economy, many foreign and national private enterprises continue participating in a hegemonic way across various branches of economic activity. 37

In other words, this is a “plural economy” in name only. Within the structures of contemporary Bolivian economy, furthermore, Arze and Gómez demonstrate how the share of the total social product going to labor has decreased in relation to the surplus being expropriated by private capital. This fact corresponds with a technical increase in the rate of exploitation of the working classes, even as various social indicators and markers of living conditions have improved as a result of a spike in accumulation in the context of a (recently declining) global commodities boom. 38

The notion of a plural economy advanced by García Linera and others within the Morales administration cannot account for the tendencies of concentration and centralization within capitalist accumulation. The contradictory dynamic between large scale capitalist enterprises in the extractive industries and forms of smaller scale production-for-the-market which are subsumed into capitalist accumulation, causes an array of unstable developments across intermediary class sections in Bolivian society. Street vendors, petty extractivists, small-scale industrial producers, and medium-scale producers involved in commercial agriculture for export, all at incipient levels of accumulation, are increasingly making political demands on the Bolivian state to improve their competitive prospects on the market. 39

In the absence of structural changes to social property relations under the Morales administrations, these kinds of demands have lead the state toward policies of improving the profit margins of these petty sectors at the expense of waged labor: depression of salaries, further precarity in labour relations, flexibilization of territorial rights to self-determination of rural indigenous communities, relaxation of environmental regulations, and loose implementation of the law vis-à-vis contraband import-export activities and the narcotics industry. 40

Furthermore, the favorable evolution of own-account workers over the last several years – through access to credit and subsidies, among other measures – has allowed some segments of this layer of the population to transform themselves into small-scale capitalists, who then accumulate profits through the exploitation of waged labour. Such phenomena are observable in mining, contraband trade, commercial agriculture, and urban transport sectors, among many others areas of the contemporary Bolivian economy. 41

In such an environment, as Arze and Gómez point out, it is difficult to discern any movement toward communitarian socialism or vivir bien. Instead, what is notable is a typical configuration of dependent capitalism, in which foreign capital dominates an extractive sector destined for export markets, while a layer of smaller domestic capitalists assumes a structurally subordinate position; both of these sectors, meanwhile, live off the exploitation of Bolivian laboring classes. The state is not “integral” here, at least in the manner envisioned by García Linera. Rather it is a typical capitalist state which ensures, as best it can, the reproduction of capitalist accumulation.

What’s more, the idea of a “plurinational state” in this context represents little else than the bourgeois notion of the state as a representation of the “general interests” of society. 42 As we come full circle to the core concepts animating García Linera’s Creative Tensions, we arrive face to face with the text’s most basic evasion – that the capitalist class and state apparatus in a “plural economy” will resist any and all inroads on capital’s total domination.

This article is part of a dossier entitled Álvaro García Linera: A Bolivian Marxist Seduced.


1 An early version of this paper was presented at the eighth annual conference of Historical Materialism, How Capitalism Survives, November 6-9, 2014, London. Thanks to Felipe Lagos for organizing the panel on the work of Álvaro García Linera and inviting me to participate. I also presented a version of this paper as part of the Development Studies Seminar Series at SOAS, University of London in late November 2014. Thanks to Adam Hanieh, Leandro Vergara-Camus, and Dae-Oup Chang for their insights on that occasion. Finally, editorial comments from Robert Cavooris and Asad Haider also sharpened the text.
2 For the best accounts of the 2000-2005 period in English, see Forrest Hylton and Sinclair Thomson, Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics, London and New York: Verso, 2007; Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar, Rhythms of the Pachakuti: Indigenous Uprising and State Power in Bolivia, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2014. My own interpretation of the period is offered in Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia, Chicago: Haymarket, 2012.
3 García Linera was born in Cochabamba in 1962, and trained as a mathematician while in university in Mexico. Upon returning to Bolivia he participated in the short-lived Ejército Guerrillero Túpaj Katari (Túpaj Katari Guerrilla Army, EGTK), as a consequence of which he spent five years in jail, between 1992 and 1997. He was never charged and was tortured while imprisoned. Upon his release he became a sociology professor at the main public university in La Paz, a prolific writer on political affairs and social movements, and one of the most important TV personalities of the 2000s, perpetually making the rounds of the evening-news programs and talk shows. Before becoming Vice President García Linera was one of the most prominent figures in the multi-tendency Bolivian Marxist intellectual collective, Comuna, alongside Luis Tapia, Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar, Oscar Vega, Raúl Prada Alcoreza, and others.
4 Álvaro García Linera, Tensiones creativas de la revolución: La Quinta fase del Proceso del Cambio, La Paz: Vicepresidencia del Estado Plurinacional, 2011.
5 Álvaro García Linera, “State Crisis and Popular Power,” New Left Review II, 37 (Jan-Feb) 2006, 73-85; Álvaro García Linera, Plebeian Power: Collective Action and Indigenous, Working Class and Popular Identities in Bolivia, Chicago: Haymarket, 2014.
6 Atilio Borón, América Latina en la geopolítica del imperialism (Hondarribia: Editorial Hiru, 2013). This text won the Premio libertador al pensamiento crítico in 2012, sponsored by the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez.
7 García Linera, Tensiones Creativas, 8.
8 See Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Oprimidos pero no vencidos: luchas del campesinado aymara y quechua, 1900-1980 (La Paz: HISBOL-CSUTCB, 1984).
9 García Linera, Tensiones Creativas, 12-14.
10 Ibid., 15-16.
11 For an analysis which emphasizes the early signs that the MAS would seek to bureaucratize, co-opt, and instrumentalize the epoch of 2000-2005 toward its own moderate, Center-Left ends, see Jeffery R. Webber, From Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia: Class struggle, Indigenous Liberation, and the Politics of Evo Morales, Chicago: Haymarket, 2011.
12 García Linera, Tensiones creativas, 16-18.
13 Ibid., 18-22.
14 Ibid., 28-38.
15 Ibid., 28.
16 Ibid., 29. It is not my concern here to measure García Linera’s fidelity to Gramsci’s own understanding of the integral state. 
17 Ibid., 30.
18 Ibid., 39.
19 Ibid., 38-40.
20 Ibid., 41-62.
21 Ibid., 49.
22 Ibid., 48.
23 For a fuller treatment of this issue see Jeffery R. Webber, “Revolution against ‘Progress’: Neo-extractivism, the Compensatory State, and the TIPNIS Conflict in Bolivia,” in Susan J. Spronk and Jeffery R. Webber, eds., Crisis and Contradiction: Marxist Perspectives on Latin America in the Global Political Economy. Historical Materialism Book Series (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2015).
24 For coverage of the Potosí conflict see Jeffery R. Webber, “The Rebellion in Potosí: Uneven Development, Neoliberal Continuities, and a Revolt against Poverty in Bolivia,” Upside Down World, August 16, 2010 (accessed on January 2, 2015).
25 García Linera, Tensiones Creativas, 62.
26 Ibid., 67.
27 Ibid., 67-68.
28 Although Tensiones Creativas was published in 2011, the same basic lines of argument are restated in an opinion piece appearing after the elections of October 2014. See Álvaro García Linera, “El Nuevo Campo Político en Bolivia,” La Razón, November 2, 2014 (available online at: http://www.la-razon.com/suplementos/animal_politico/nuevo-campo-politico-Bolivia_0_2153784735.html (accessed on January 2, 2015).
29 Massimo Modonesi, “Revoluciones pasivas en América Latina: Una aproximación gramsciana a la caracterización de los gobiernos progresistas de inicio del siglo,” in Mabel Thwaites Rey, ed., El Estado en América Latina: Continuidades y rupturas (Buenos Aires: CLACSO, 2012), 139-166.
30 Luis Tapia, El Estado de derecho como tiranía (La Paz: autodeterminación, 2011).
31 Eduardo Gudynas, “Estado compensador y nuevos extractivismos,” Nueva Sociedad, 237 (January-February), 2012, 128-146.
32 Jeffery R. Webber, “Managing Bolivian Capitalism,” Jacobin 13, 2014, 45-55.
33 Ibid.
34 Carlos Arze and Javier Gómez, “Bolivia: ¿El ‘proceso de cambio’ nos conduce al vivir bien?” In Carlos Arze, Javier Gómez, Pablo Ospina, and Víctor Álvarez, eds., Promesas en su laberinto: Cambios y continuidades en los gobiernos progresistas de América Latina (La Paz: CEDLA, 2013) 45-167.
35 Arze and Gómez, “Bolivia,” 100.
36 Ibid., 100-101.
37 Ibid., 102.
38 Ibid., 133-143.
39 Ibid., 164.
40 Ibid., 165.
41 Ibid., 166. On such processes of novel processes of class stratification in Bolivian society, see also William Neuman, “A Colorful Bolivian Bastion, Floating Above it All,” New York Times, May 13, 2013. Available online at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/world/americas/a-colorful-bolivian-bastion-floating-above-it-all.html?pagewanted=all (accessed on January 3, 2015); Andres Schipani, “Bolivia’s Indigenous People Flaunt Their New-Found Wealth,” Financial Times, December 4, 2014; Miriam Shakow, Along the Bolivian Highway: Social Mobility and Political Culture in a New Middle Class (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014).
42 Arze and Gómez, “Bolivia,” pp. 165-167.

Author of the article

Jeffery R. Webber is presently a Senior Lecturer of International Political Economy at Goldsmiths, University of London. In January 2020, he will take up a new position as Associate Professor in the Department of Politics at York University, Toronto. He is the author most recently of The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left (Haymarket, 2017). He is working on a new book for Verso, The Latin American Crucible: Politics and Power in the New Era.