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Álvaro Garcia Linera: "Our ambition is a communitarian, post-capitalist society

Imagining a New World

Translated Monday 5 August 2013, by Harry Cross

From the Humanité summer series Imaging a New World
For the Bolivian vice-president, a recognised intellectual of Latin America, the awakening of indigenous nations is the revolutionary ferment in the struggle for a different society. He met with Humanité.

The profile of Álvaro García Linera, a leading intellectual and political figure, is atypical. Born in 1962 in Cochabamba, he is a trained mathematician and sociologist. Since 2005 he has served as the communist vice-president of the “Plurinational” State of Bolivia, working alongside Evo Morales, the country’s first president of indigenous background.

Following studies in Mexican universities, García Linera returned to Bolivia in 1985 and engaged in political activism. In 1992, he was arrested for his participation in the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army. He spent five years in prison without trial. It was there that he studied sociology which he then taught upon his release. He has since led conferences not only in South America but also in Spain and France.

He is an intellectual renowned throughout Latin Amrica and the theoretician behind the awakening of indigenous identity which he considers the most revolutionary element of Bolivian society. The outbreak of a struggle over water rights in 2000 in Cochabamba brought him to consider social movements, their form and their relation to politics. In the presidential election of 2005 he supported Evo Morales and was made vice-president. A point of trivia, he is also the technical director of the president’s football club. More importantly, though, he is considered the foremost ideologue of the Bolivian political experience.

How would you describe the political process underway in Bolivia?

Álvaro García Linera: It contains three distinct components. The first and most important is the decolonisation of the State. This means that the indigenous peoples, cultural and identities, which had always been marginalised in the structures of power, are now taking command of the country’s political, cultural and, more gradually, economic organisation, along with other, non-indigenous, sections of society. Effectively, this is the most important and revolutionising component of the process underway in Bolivia. It is revolution through decolonisation. This in turn has begun a process of transformation in the education system, breaking with the established “colour-cratic” system of power. Allow me to explain: previously, the colour of one’s skin had been paramount. The colour white was the most powerful; a darker colour was oppressed and not valued. The logic of ethnicity is the hallmark of colonial society. Like the logic of capital, it is being demolished in Bolivia.

The second component in the transformation of the country concerns, through nationalisation and state-ownership, the extension of our society’s wealth and its communal goods. Strategic sectors have passed under state control. We consider this a moment of transition between state-owned property to socially-owned property since we are aware the state property does not represent socially-owned property. It is a form of monopoly which enables us at the present time to redistribute wealth and to improve the conditions of the most destitute. But this is only one step along the way.

The third component is the progressive rise of communitarian values, both pre- and post-capitalist in nature, as in the new agriculturalist ethic which promotes a relation to nature. All in all, we are living in a period of transition which accommodates capital accumulation, state control and the redistribution of wealth – which are not post-capitalist in form – and more disperse and fragmented post-capitalist communitarian structures. There is a struggle in this transitional situation between capitalist and post-capitalist structures. At times there is a shift in favour of capital accumulation. At other times, there is a shift in favour of state ownership. And finally, there is at times a shift in favour of post-capitalist formations. This is a struggle within a transitional context that could last decades. The political will is to build a communitarian society, not only in political orientation but also in the economic model.

What contradictions do you encounter in this process?

Álvaro García Linera: The first opposes use-value with exchange-value and accumulation with the redistribution of wealth to satisfy need. It is a contradiction which runs through the state, the management of the economy, communities, factories… The second is between social struggle for the extension of communal goods and social struggle for the individual or corporate appropriation of these goods. During the social mobilisations of the 2000s, peasants, indigenous peoples of the plains and of the mountains, and workers carried the flag for the creation of collective forms of property: gas and petrol nationalisation, electricity, the right to water. It was the universalist moment of the social movement.

Now the moment has come – which is normal given that people cannot be expected to maintain the same level of mobilisation across decades – in which corporatism has returned. Indigenous peasants from the plains, who represent 2% of the population, say to the president that fiscal resources should go to them in exclusivity. Teachers demand wage increases. Very well, they have the right. But, they add, the entire budgetary surplus should be dedicated to this. We believe that that the use of our country’s wealth should benefit all, not just teachers.

Another example: the COB [Central Obrera Boliviana – The Bolivian Workers’ Union] proposed that the pension of miners’ be equivalent to their final salary. The COB, which should uphold universal considerations, is fighting for only 20% of the population. The same is true for the miners of Huanuni who work in a state-owned enterprise. Wealth must benefit all. What do they demand? That wealth goes only to Huanuni.

Another tension within a rich, vibrant revolutionary process is the close relationship between many indigenous peoples and the Madre Tierra (Mother Earth) which is preservationist in outlook. But some Bolivians live as in the 10th century BC, drinking river water and having to walk for 10 days in order to see a doctor or give birth. Should we sanctify the Madre Tierra or use her resources (gas, petrol…) to build schools, generate clean drinking water, improve electricity and develop public health infrastructure? One indigenous community states: it is necessary to extract gas because we desire schools and hospitals. Another responds: no, one should not harm the Madre Tierra. It is a permanent contradiction.

We are engaged in a debate that did not take place in other revolutionary processes, such as the Russian Revolution and the Paris Commune: that of the relation to nature. Lenin understood well the struggle between the commons and the individual, but on other subjects he has little to say. No more than Marx or Mao. It is up to us to work out this debate on the basis of our own experience. But, it is a living revolutionary process.

You are vice-president of the “Plurinational” State of Bolivia. What does it mean for a state to be “plurinational”?

Álvaro García Linera: It is the existence – within the state’s institutions, in its political system, in its historic narrative of itself and in the distribution of resources – of the different indigenous nations which compose Bolivian society. It is the marker of the force and political responsibility taken on by indigenous peoples within the state. The economic and political functioning of the Plurinational State reflects the post-neoliberal and post-capitalist organisational forms of these indigenous peoples.

Take for example, the electoral system for members of parliament. One part is elected directly by secret ballot. Another part is voted for by electoral colleges (representing communities or trade unions). A further example is the decision making process. Unions and communities are consulted directly by the government in order to determine public investment strategy and land distribution. To explain for French audiences: 10 years ago, land legislation was written up in consultation with the IMF and the World Bank. Today, such legislation is written with social organisations. 10 years ago, to become a police or army officer, or a member of parliament, being able to display a US visa was a certificate of excellence. Today this is somewhat devalued [smiles]. It is more useful to show your union card.

What is there in common and what is different between the different political experiences in Latin America?

Álvaro García Linera: The people of the different countries all over the continent are trying to escape from neoliberalism, privatisation, the concentration of wealth and the excesses of the free market. This is common to Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Uruguay in their own ways. The difference is that in Bolivia our ambition is to create from post-neoliberalism a post-capitalist society whereas others wish for post-neoliberalism to be a more social capitalism.

On what does this project depend? On indigenous social forces and social movements arising from the multitude. The multitude does not signify a disorganised social whirlpool but rather the actions of individuals who are already organised, like the COB which can now express itself across territorial political structures.

The multitude is a source of flexible organisation, albeit timid. Because it is a permanent focal point for solidarity it is capable of assembling, leading and training – as did the COB – other organisations and a large number of “unattached citizens” who, because of the precariousness of their work and the processes of modernisation and individualisation, are no longer tied together in society by traditional links of loyalty. This is therefore a mobilised structure capable of integrating into its own resources, internal dynamic, deliberation process and lines of actions other individuals and associations to the end of a common goal. The multitude has become a form of democracy and direct political sovereignty.

In your book that has been translated into French under the title Pour une politique de l’égalité [For a politics of equality], you write “the general horizon of this era must be communist”.

Álvaro García Linera: Global capitalism is creating forever more socialised productive forces. Science is not a productive force wherein a small group of professors in laboratories make discoveries. Science is increasingly a process of capitalist production between thousands of scientists. It is the private appropriation of knowledge accumulated over a long period of time, which is essentially social in its production. The same is true for production generally [removes an iPhone from pocket]. This mobile phone is the fruit of the labour of 3,000 scientists who work for Apple. The plastic was produced in Thailand. The chips in Mexico. It was assembled in China. Where is this mobile phone from? From the planet. But at the same time, it is the private property of North American society which extracts the profits from it. This does not stop its production from being social. So there is a horizon: the potential for socialised production.

Let us discuss nature. Capitalism creates in each stage of its development productive forces which destroy nature, which is a form of common good. Nature is not compatible with private property. Nature, which is a product of the entire planet and the universe we find ourselves in, is in the process of being destroyed by this form of individual appropriation. And yet, there exists another potential which wishes to express itself in another society. Therefore, there is a growing material base and a tendency toward greater material organisation subject to a society managed in common, produced in common and on a larger scale. It is called communism.

It is capitalism’s fundamental contradiction that it generates the possibility of a future society that is not capitalist. It is the possibility of a communist horizon that can save humanity from ecological disaster, save rural communities from destruction and liberate scientific knowledge from the prison of private appropriation. This is not poetic lyricism. It is a material, organised force and even a natural historic necessity. That is why I think the horizon of our epoch is communist.

Interview by Christophe Deroubaix.

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