MrZine have published an essay “Once Again on So-called “Extractivism””, which is an extract from a longer essay, “Geopolitics of the Amazon” by Bolivia’s Vice-President Álvaro García Linera. This is a commentary on the “Extractivism” essay, perhaps with a view of writing more about some of its themes. As a commentary it does not aim to be critical of García Linera’s text, merely to try to understand it, its place within some of his other works and its relation to certain tendencies and arguments within Marxism. All unreferenced quotes are from “Once Again on So-called “Extractivism””.
Modes of Production and Totality
Perhaps the first thing that will strike a European reader of García Linera’s text is that a senior politician has written a text which is both unapologetically Marxist – the essay begins with an exegesis of the meaning of “mode of production” in Marx focusing particularly on the relation to nature – and of a rare theoretical rigour ambition, aiming both to clarify certain theoretical issues in Marx and intervene in a crucial argument in contemporary Bolivian politics. Of course, the particular unity of theory and practice entailed by leading politicians producing valuable theoretical work (Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin) or leading theorists taking up important political posts (Korsch, Luxemburg, Lukács) was not alien to Europe in the Russian revolution or the central European revolutions following it but it is a link has now long gone.
García Linera’s initial focus on the totality of the “mode of production” feels similarly alien and perhaps even old-fashioned. In “Marxism and Postmodernism”, Jameson argues that late capitalism makes analysis in terms of mode of production difficult, drawing on the pre-Marxist history of the concept, particularly in the Scottish Enlightenment, Jameson argues grasping the mode of production relies on uneven development, “distinct and coexisting modes of production are registered together in the life world of the thinker in question” and that 18th century Scotland saw the “coexistence of radically different zones of production and culture.” Jameson contrasts 18th century Scotland and 19th century Europe for Marx with today with the postmodern rejection of totality grounded in a “purer and more homogenous expression…from which many of the hitherto surviving enclaves of socio-economic difference have been effaced by way of their colonisation and absorption by the commodity form.” In “State Crisis and Popular Power”, written before the election of Morales as President and García Linera as vice-President, García Linera writes, “due to the social and civilisational diversity of the country, large stretches of territory and sections of the population remain outside, or have not interiorised, the disciplines of the capitalist labour process; they recognise other temporalities, other systems of authority, and affirm collective aims and values different from those offered by the Bolivian state.” The externality of large sections of the Bolivian population to the capitalist labour process and the aims and values of the (old) Bolivian state, that is the coexistence of different modes of production registered by García Linera is the condition of possibility of representing capitalism as a mode of production. This point may be taken further, and it could be argued that an encounter with the non-capitalist productive processes in the Third World may be the only way capitalism can be represented and we can continue to be Marxists in any real sense in Europe.
García Linera’s (transhistorical) definition of production and its focus on the human relationship to nature mirrors, quite precisely, Marx’s in the Grundrisse, “the most modern epoch will have a few definitions in common with the others…all production is the appropriation of nature on the part of an individual within and by means of a specific form of society.” Alongside its impeccable orthodoxy, the insistence on nature within this definition of production is strategically important, forming the basis of a critique of, on the one hand, the almost kitsch construction of an unproduced, unhistorical “nature” prior to capitalism, which underpins the arguments of those critiquing the MAS government’s “extractivism”, hence the insistence on the transformations of the Bolivian landscape by pre-capitalist forms of production, and, on the other, the banishment of nature from certain pseudo-Marxist technocratic and imperialist conceptions.
Marx, himself, in “The Critique of the Gotha Programme”, insists, “labour is not the source of wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use-values” and, “And insofar as man from the beginning behaves toward nature, the primary source of all instruments and subjects of labor, as an owner, treats her as belonging to him, his labor becomes the source of use values, therefore also of wealth. The bourgeois have very good grounds for falsely ascribing supernatural creative power to labor; since precisely from the fact that labor depends on nature it follows that the man who possesses no other property than his labor power must, in all conditions of society and culture, be the slave of other men who have made themselves the owners of the material conditions of labor. He can only work with their permission, hence live only with their permission.” Benjamin develops the implications of this, “Technical developments counted to them as the course of the stream, which they thought they were swimming in. From this, it was only a step to the illusion that the factory-labor set forth by the path of technological progress represented a political achievement. The old Protestant work ethic celebrated its resurrection among German workers in secularized form. The Gotha Program [dating from the 1875 Gotha Congress] already bore traces of this confusion. It defined labor as “the source of all wealth and all culture.” Suspecting the worst, Marx responded that human being, who owned no other property aside from his labor-power, “must be the slave of other human beings, who… have made themselves into property-owners.” Oblivious to this, the confusion only increased, and soon afterwards Josef Dietzgen announced: “Labor is the savior of modern times… In the… improvement… of labor… consists the wealth, which can now finally fulfill what no redeemer could hitherto achieve.” This vulgar-Marxist concept of what labor is, does not bother to ask the question of how its products affect workers, so long as these are no longer at their disposal. It wishes to perceive only the progression of the exploitation of nature, not the regression of society. It already bears the technocratic traces which would later be found in Fascism. Among these is a concept of nature which diverges in a worrisome manner from those in the socialist utopias of the Vormaerz period [pre-1848].”
García Linera and the Marx’s Letter to Zasulich: Against Žižek
It is important to insist on García Linera’s impeccably orthodox Marxism in the face of slight suspicion that the argument “the big difference that separates these environmental transformations from those that capitalism introduces to nature today is that the non-capitalist societies provided for the reproductive capacity of the modified environment and the continuity of what existed… Capitalism, in contrast, reverses the reference coordinates of the environment with society” expresses a sentimental, conservative anti-modernity. Žižek attempts a critique along these lines of Morales, arguing his interventions on climate change represent an “ideology implying a return to [a]…prelapsarian substantial unity”, relying on “in a simplistic way on the narrative of the Fall which took place at a precise historical moment…Fidelity to the communist ideal means that, to repeat Arthur Rimbaud, il faut être absolument moderne”. (First as Tragedy Then as Farce, pp. 96-7) It is, however, Žižek who is being simplistic and unMarxist. García Linera’s text explains the destruction of nature that is inherent in capitalism through the contrast between use-value and profit, the link between this and the destruction of nature is explicit in Capital, the capitalist “insofar as he is capital personified, his motivating force is not the acquisition and enjoyment of use-values, but the acquisition and augmentation of exchange values” and “capitalist production…only develops techniques and the degree of combination of the social processes of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the worker.” It is also worth noting García Linera absolute materialism, the human relation to nature through production determines consciousness, “the organic and living conceptualization of nature that characterized these societies is derived from this manner of transforming it for collective purposes.”
The next point to note against Žižek and in favour of Morales and García Linera surrounds the question of modernity. The Bolivian anti-capitalist position is absolutely not a species of “feudal socialism”, “comic because of its total incapacity to grasp the course of modern history”, because both the pre-capitalist forms of production still exist in Bolivia, García Linera is not a melancholic talking about a return to something long gone, the condition of possibility, following Jameson, of García Linera’s grasping of modes of production and they are potentially more benign than feudalism. It might be added here that Žižek Eurocentrism, which is the problem here, may be one of the reasons he is consistently incapable of conceptualising and analysising contemporary capitalism as a mode of production, instead, in his work, “capitalism” functions as at best a name (at worst an empty, extravagant shibboleth) that divides by naming the limit of non-Communist politics, the point where certain antagonisms cannot be resolved, but there is never any possibility of an analysis of capitalism.
García Linera has written on Marx’s letter to Vera Zasulich (for García Linera on the letter see Bruno Bosteels, The Actuality of Communism, pp. 256-63) and it is letter which shows, ultimately, Žižek’s Eurocentricism is a travesty of Marxism, except for Marx’s deeply problematic comments on India, such as, “we must not forget that these idyllic village communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath traditional rules, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies…England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about the revolution” the technocratic and imperialist tendency that has so damaged the European left. In the Zasulich letter Marx insists he, in Capital, “expressly limited the ‘historical inevitability of [the genesis of capitalist production through the expropriation of the agricultural producer] to the countries of Western Europe”. Marx then notes that Russia may be able to escape the long, violent arduous transition to capitalism as the necessary (in Western Europe) precondition for Communism and the “dissolution of archaic types of communal property”. Marx continues, the peasant commune, “may gradually detach itself from primitive features and develop directly as an element of collective production on a nationwide scale”, even more important for the analysis of García Linera’s text and the Bolivian situation, Marx continues, “it is precisely thanks to its contemporaneity with capitalist production that it may appropriate the latter’s positive features without experiencing all its most frightful misfortunes.” On Marx’s letter, García Linera has written, “what is needed to ‘salvage’ for our actuality the communal form in those places where it has been preserved on the national scale is to ‘develop’ it by transforming it into the ‘direct starting point’ for the construction of a new system of social organisation based on communitarian-universal production and appropriation.” (quoted in Bosteels, p. 258) Bosteels notes how the critiques from opponents of Morales- García Linera from the left (opponents who now are critiquing the current Bolivian state’s “extractivism”), “frequently take the form of a surprised discovery of Marx’s drafts and letter to Zasulich, which are then turned back against the Bolivian Vice President as if the latter had not devoted hundreds of pages to the continued relevance of this correspondence.” (p. 260)
Against the critics of “Extractivism”
Two of the most useful pieces setting out this line of critique available in English are Raquel Guttiérez’s Guardian article, “Lithium:the gift of Pachamama” and, despite an extremely suspect reading of Walter Benjamin and lapsing into a certain Trot by numbers analysis (“Thanks to Alex Callinicos…for suggestions on an earlier draft of this article”), Jeffery R. Webber’s “Revolution against ‘progress’: the TIPNIS struggle and class contradictions inBolivia”. García Linera summarises the position of those attacking the Bolivian state for “extractivism” “which is said to maintain activity harmful to nature and to seal its dependency on world capitalist domination”. To this characterisation of the critique it is necessary to add (and García Linera, to some extent, also addresses these points) that it is said that (Guttiérez) “progressive nationalist policies find themselves in conflict with a highly politicised population with its vision of how best to utilise the gifts of Pachamama (Mother Earth)”, or Webber, “the maintenance of an extractivist economy of natural resource extraction and capitalist agriculture geared towards export under the MAS government has necessarily meant repeated clashes with the hunger for land expressed by poor and landless peasants, as well as those indigenous communities rising up in defence of forests, natural resources, water and biodiversity.” Webber is also critical in a claim which is almost precisely the inverse of Žižek of the repetition of the Stalinist logic of the old Bolivian Communist party in insisting on the necessity of a complete transition to capitalism as the precondition of establishing Communism. The most useful way of proceeding with García Linera’s defence may be to suggest that his argument is rooted in the capacity of the radically transformed Bolivian state to maintain and develop political temporalities at odds to capitalism.
As we have seen, García Linera, following Marx, insists that all production makes use of and transforms nature and even early agrarian societies “had some type of specialised extractivist activity.” García Linera also argues, again, despite Žižek’s attempted critique, following Marx that capitalist production is essentially destructive of nature, within this argument he also makes an important point about “sustainability” within capitalism, “destroying, protecting, pillaging, conserving are simply collateral, interchangeable components within a single social purpose: profit, the uninterrupted and infinite valorization of capital.” Finally, he insists on the capitalist mode of production as a dynamic and systematic totality on a global scale, a thought which, paradoxically, is to some extent predicated on the continuation of non-capitalist modes of production in Bolivia, as Jameson argues, on capital’s becoming all-embracing, “where everything is henceforth systematic the very notion of a system seems to lose its reason for being”. These three arguments provide the basis for the beginnings of the defence against the critics of Bolivia’s “extractivism”.
Firstly, the identity of extractivism with environmental destruction does not hold, García Linera makes the obvious point that the countries whose greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming are precisely those that, within their national economies, have moved towards, and the influence of autonomia is evident here, “production of ideas and symbols.” Neither does the overcoming of extractivism mean the overcoming of capitalism, otherwise “the United States would be the first communist country in the world”. Any consideration of capitalism on a global scale, which would necessarily entail addressing the continued reliance of the advanced capitalist countries on extractivism and other forms of material labour elsewhere, would suggest that a break with extractivism without a break with capitalism would be impossible. The subordinate (i.e. continued reliance on extractivism and agriculture) status of many of the societies of Latin America and Africa is determined both by colonialism and its legacy and capitalism, by capitalism reconfiguring itself geographically based on “profit rates, access to markets, availability of labour force and natural resources.”
García Linera’s argument then becomes that it is capitalism as a mode of production that must be overcome if environmental destruction and Bolivia’s subordination are to be overcome. Furthermore, even “in the future construction of a communitarian mode of production, in which the whole of the common resources, material and immaterial, are produced and administered by the producers themselves” and the critical use of utopia to estrange the present is important here, “there will exist some countries and regions that are extractivist”, presumably determined solely by availability of natural resources as without a neo-colonial capitalist global division of labour there would be no question of profit rates, access to markets and, probably, availability of labour forces. Those criticising Bolivia’s extractivism, by contrast, are opposing it with a strange, voluntaristic fusion that overcomes the global division of labour of abstract primitivism, imagining Bolivia’s pre-capitalist forms as islands totally detached from global capitalism and abstract futurism, here the different legacy of autonomia in García Linera’s critics is central, that identifies post-Fordism with the overcoming of capitalism. Instead, for García Linera “the central debate for the revolutionary transformation of society is not whether or not we are extractivist, but to what degree we are going beyond capitalism as a mode of production — whether in its extractivist or non-extractivist variant.”
Marx himself, in the preface to the 1882 Russian edition of TheCommunist Manifesto insisted that, as in the Zasulich letter, whilst communal peasant production could provide the basis for Communism this would require a revolution against capitalism in Western as well. This argument mirrors Marx’s mockery, which is mentioned by García Linera of utopian socialists like Cabet, “who thought they could create social “islands” that would be immune from relations of capitalist domination”. Read with García Linera on pre-capitalist formations in Bolivia and Jameson’s conception of the “utopian enclave”, this argument suggests a potentially profitable opposition between utopia as enclave and utopia as island. (Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, pp. 10-21) of the Following Marx’s mockery, García Linera suggests an identity between ultra-leftism and Stalinism in arguing for the possibility of the establishment of Communism in one country, a position shared by left critics of Bolivia’s extractivism.
Against this abstract utopianism, which, as Richard Fidler in his introduction to “Geopolitics of the Amazon”, appeals particularly to leftists in the ‘First World’, García Linera argues all genuine revolutionary processes are situated, crucially, and it is also striking to see a sitting Vice-President, praise Mao or Lenin so matter-of-factly, he states, “the revolutionary socialist processes that developed over the last 150 years have inherited as a condition of possibility and limitation — during the time they existed — this location in the international division of global labour. The Paris Commune, the Soviet Republic in the time of Lenin, or Mao’s China, did not break with this worldwide material base. They could not do that. Instead, what they did was to take as their point of departure their location in the division of labour and the level of their productive forces, so that from there they could begin to revolutionize the internal economic structures through a long process of socialization of the conditions of production, and to promote an even greater and longer process of revolutionary transformation of international economic relations.”
Socialism and Autonomia: García Linera and Negri
The acknowledgement of the necessity to overcome capitalism on a global scale as well as the length of the struggle is not, however, defeatist, there are always struggles and potentialities, as García Linera writes, “while there is a general predominance of capitalism, within it there are glimmers and tendencies of struggles of a potential new mode of production that cannot exist locally, and can only be present as just that: a tendency, a struggle, a possibility, for its existence is conceivable only on a worldwide geopolitical scale.” There is a similar version of this in “Marxism and Postmodernism”, “mode of production is not a ‘total system’ in that forbidding sense, and includes a variety of counterforces and new tendencies within itself”. In this attention to the possibilities of a new mode of production that are present within capitalism, García Linera comes closest to making use, as he has before, of Negri. Bosteel’s writes of García Linera’s past “doctrinaire autonomist allegiances to the work of Toni Negri.” (p. 247) These allegiances have become substantially less doctrinaire as García Linera has developed an argument for the necessity of state power albeit one rooted in autonomist conceptions, “What can be done from the state in function of this communist horizon? To support as much as possible the unfolding of society’s autonomous organisational capacities…To broaden the workers’ base and the autonomy of the workers’ world, to potentialize forms of communitarian economy wherever there more communitarian networks, articulations, projects.” (quoted in Bosteels, p. 247)
García Linera’s break with Negri’s work is a question of the state and, perhaps even more significantly, of socialism. García Linera’s “Socialism is dead? Idiots!…Socialism is not the ideal to which destiny will have to be adjusted by force; it is above all the practical movement of the common struggles of living labour in communitarian form to recuperate its expropriated capacities” (quoted in Bosteels, p. 251-2) is obviously a long way from Goodbye Mr. Socialism, although García Linera’s conception of socialism, including the extremely useful definition given in this text, is a long way from those conceptions and practices which cause Negri to reject “socialism”. García Linera draws on Balibar’s argument in On the Dictatorship of the Proletariat – From Marx to Mao (and “The Critique of the Gotha Programme”, which is Balibar’s starting point), “socialism cannot be a classless society…Socialism can only be a society in which every form of exploitation is on the way to disappearing, to the extent that its material foundations are disappearing” and its consequent rejection of both Kautsky and Plekhanov’s deterministic conceptions which rely upon positing socialism as a mode of production like capitalism and communism and the utopian argument that an immediate move from capitalism to communism is possible. (pp. 139-40) For García Linera then, “Socialism is not a new mode of production that would coexist alongside capitalism, territorially contesting the world or one country. Socialism is a battlefield between capitalism in crisis and the tendencies, potentialities and efforts to bring production under community ownership and control. In other words, it is the historical period of struggle between the dominant established capitalist mode of production and another potentially new mode of production. The only mode of production that will overcome capitalism is communism, the assumption of community ownership and control of production of the material life of society…But until that happens the only thing that is left is the struggle.” García Linera’s definition of socialism essentially presents socialism in opposition to both defeatism and an infantile or quietist utopianism, it also suggests the openness history and a certain independence, but not primacy, of politics (against Plekhanov and Kautsky, but also against Negri’s naming of socialism as an imagined “just and egalitarian management of capital”, (Goodbye Mr. Socialism, p. 18) socialism is a politics not an economics), emerging from the contradiction between the possibilities of a new world and capitalism in crisis. The state here is part of the struggle but it is not the only are even the most important part.
The “progressive nationalist”, as Raquel Gutiérrez describes it in her criticism, function of the state in García Linera’s work is, firstly is to modify extractivism by the use made of surplus., although she is critical describes this as the “progressive nationalist” aspect of the Bolivian project. As García Linera argues this is vital both because the concrete improvements to very poor people’s everyday lives matter, stopping producing would “drive the people into even greater misery”, which would lead, inevitably, to the return of the right, “behind the recently constructed “extractivist” criticism of the revolutionary and progressive governments, then, lies the shadow of the conservative restoration.” Finally, over a longer period of time the state allows the creation “of a new material non-extractivist base that preserves and amplifies the benefits of the labouring population.”
In passing, it’s worth noting that in Ecuador and Haiti there have been far left groups who have supported right-wing coups and US “intervention”, often with US funding. Aristide has commented, in an interview with Peter Hallward, on the disruption caused by Batay Ouvriye, “you need to look at where their funding comes from. The discourse makes more sense, once we know who is paying the bills. The Americans don’t just fund political groups willy-nilly”, Hallward adds, “particularly not quasi-Trotskyite trade unionists.” Even more tellingly in Ecuador, the Pachakutik party, attacking the Correa government from a position similar to the critics of the Morales government for “extractivism”, and, possibly, funded by USAID, backed the 2010 coup. Supporting the argument that the critique of “extractivism” is becoming used by western liberals to discredit the progressive and revolutionary governments of Latin America, The Guardian ludicrously exaggerated the challenge posed by Alberto Acosta from the Pachakutik party. In the Presidential election Acosta obtained 3% of the vote. However, whilst left-wing groups together with NGOs have had this function, the question still remains how to deal with class contradictions and antagonisms within the left and within the Bolivian revolutionary process, García Linera has written of “creative tensions” and it’s worth remembering Mao’s distinction between contradictions among the people and contradictions between us and the enemy.
State, Temporality and Development
The function of the state in García Linera is to, a large extent, allow a different organisation of time to capitalism. Samir Amin argues in The Law of Worldwide Value, that the “mastery of social development by society itself implies a considerably longer time prospect than that of capitalist calculation, the rationality of which appears, in this respect, to be relative and short-term.” (p. 96) Part of this argument and its application to Bolivia is derived from the character of capitalism and, as Amin points out suggesting the necessity of the “wealth/value distinction emphasised by Marx” (p. 102) to the development of ecological thinking but Amin and García Linera’s conceptions are also specific to extraction for export. For Amin, as in García Linera’s contrast between the transformation of nature in capitalist and pre-capitalist forms, much of the question surrounds capitalism’s inability to provide for the “reproductive capacity of the modified environment”. In Amin the contradiction is between mining capitalists who must “be sure to put aside an amount sufficient to allow them to continue their activities, at the same rate of profit when the mines become exhausted” and the community, for whom “the cost of this exhaustion of resources is quite different.” (p. 96) In “State Crisis and Popular Power”, García Linera introduces another aspect that is particular to extraction and which echoes another theme in Amin’s analysis, the old primary export (i.e. an extractivism untransformed by the progressive nationalist state of today) model of the Bolivian state was “incapable of productively retaining export surpluses and hence unable to deploy the capital necessary for national development.” This inability was a question both of Bolivia’s position in the international division of labour (its ability to extract rent) and its internal politics (the use made of that rent), as Amin argues, “what use, in fact, is to be made of the rent by the countries that would be its beneficiaries obviously depends on the nature of the classes in the dominant position” and writes of the “countries of the Persian Gulf [where] the rent quite simply goes to feed the globalised financial market controlled by the imperialist oligopolies” and countries where (and today Venezuela would be the obvious example) “the rent is put to use for development, even capitalist development…[and] conflict becomes inevitable.” (p. 109)
Amin’s argument and the politics of Venezuela under Chávez suggest a strange disjuncture over the question of “reformism”. On the one hand Chávez’s economic policies were largely (but not exclusively) policies of capitalist development, on the other they required a radically transformed and, in many ways, revolutionary albeit authoritarian state form to cope with the inevitable conflict. The direction of Bolivia’s economic policies, whilst still in some ways, insofar as the category is meaningful, reformist implies a deepening that would become revolutionary both in purely economic terms and in their transformation and even overcoming of the state. However, despite the aim to eventually overcome the state García Linera argues, against, for example, Raquel Guttiérez, that it was necessary to take state power as part of the 2000-5 struggle.
Whilst some victories could be won over neoliberalism from outside the state these victories were primarily (although not entirely) defensive, García Linera writes of the “social blocs which, at the margins of parliament, and – following the MAS successes in 2002 – with support from within it, have the strength to stop the implementation of government policies and impose the redistribution of public resources by non-parliamentary means”. However, in order to organise a different logic of temporality to neoliberal extractivism taking state power was necessary.
It was also necessary to take state power in order to prevent its recuperation by the right and to further transform the state itself. García Linera in “State Crisis and Popular Power” suggests that even the victories won prior to MAS’s election victory transformed the dominant state form, their recognition of the social blocs “as a collective political force necessarily implies a radical transformation of the dominant state form, built on the marginalization and atomization of the urban and rural working classes.” However, this transformation was not necessarily enduring and the victories won could, in future, easily be reversed. Following Marx on the “revolutionary epoch”, García Linera argues, that the revolutionary epoch does not last, “Sooner or later there will be a lasting recomposition of forces, beliefs and institutions that will inaugurate a new period of state stability. The question for Bolivia is what kind of state this mutation will create. There could be increased repression, leading to the introduction of a ‘neoliberal-authoritarian’ state as the new political form, which might perhaps solve the crisis of the courte durée, but not that of the longue durée, whose problems would soon manifest themselves again. Or there could be instead an opening of new spaces for the exercise of democratic rights (multicultural political forms, combined communitarian-indigenous and liberal institutions) and economic redistribution (a productive role for the state, self-management, etc), capable of addressing both dimensions of the crisis. In the latter scenario, a democratic resolution of the neoliberal state crisis will have to involve a simultaneous multicultural resolution of the crisis of the colonial republican state.” Alongside, the productive role of the state, which includes its potential self-overcoming, which has already been discussed, the other striking element that bears on García Linera’s “extractivism” essay, particularly the brief mention of “the Bolivian Democratic-Cultural Revolution” or the “plurinational state” is the foregrounding of “culture” in “multicultural political forms” and “communitarian-indigenous institutions.”
The wider context for this foregrounding of “culture” in the broadest possible sense of the word is the untenability of a traditional workerism rooted in the urban (and thus relatively privileged) unionised working class holding “to an idea of mestizaje”. Strangely, as in the UK, the 1980s saw the almost total defeat of the Bolivian Trade Union movement, with its “social base reduced to teachers, public hospital employees, university students and some urban guilds”. This collapse of traditional Trade Unionism led to, as García Linera writes, “subaltern urban classes…having abandoned all expectations of protection from the state and workplace unions, saw in this offer [i.e. the offer of growth through neoliberalism] a new path to stability and social betterment.” As it became apparent that this offer was empty, the traditional mediations of political parties and Trade Unions were unable to challenge the neoliberal state. The collapse of Bolivian Trade Unionism (i.e. of reformist mediations) led to a gap for the left but, unlike in the U.K. the opening caused by this collapse allowed a recomposition of radical and progressive forces around “culture” as much as around “class”. Part of the Bolivian Cultural Revolution then is the privileging of culture and its link to a semi-autonomous politics (socialism), “this political polarity is this further structured by three underlying cleavages: ethno-cultural (indigenous/qaras-gringos), class (workers/businessmen) and regional (Andean west/Amazonian crescent). In the case of the ‘left’ pole, the mobilizing identity is predominantly ethno-cultural, around which worker identity is either dissolved (in a novel type of indigenous proletarianism) or complements indigenous leadership at a secondary level. For the ‘right’ pole, mobilizing identity is primarily regional in nature; hence the importance of the Civic Committees, agitating for regional autonomy, for these conservative forces.” In Bolivia “indigenous” more than working class names the part of no part, the part that cannot be absorbed without radically transforming the state, it cannot be absorbed into either the neoliberal nor the colonial-republican state, “premised since its foundation on a colonial relationship to the Bolivian people”
The other crucial dimension of “culture” is the centrality of education and the development of capacities for popular control of production. This is the non-reformist and non-stageist aspect of the defence of extractivism as a starting point, not only does this allow a surplus to redistribute and the development of the productive forces to allow more surplus and the reduction of environmental impacts but it also “equips society with greater technical-productive capacity to control the overall productive process.” This development of technical-productive capacities in a way that will move beyond the state is another aspect of the state’s solving of temporality, the aim is “creating the cultural, educational and material conditions to democratize control of the common wealth, even to the point of going beyond the state institutions by establishing community ownership and control of property and social production itself within a perspective of deepening social mobilization and gradually overcoming extractivism. In the process, it is necessary at the same time to build a new technological base for production of wealth that will help to overcome extractivism.”
The Long Revolution
This process cannot, of course, be accomplished overnight. Balibar stresses this in his definition of socialism, the transition takes “a whole historical epoch”, Balibar also comments that Lenin underestimated how long this would take. However, for all the usefulness of Balibar’s text, the closest conception to García Linera’s is perhaps Raymond Williams’s “Long Revolution”, which he describes as “a genuine revolution transforming men and institutions; continually extended and deepened by the actions of millions, continually and variously opposed by explicit reaction and the pressure of habitual forms and ideas.” (The Long Revolution, p. 10) As in García Linera the cultural revolution in Williams, particularly in terms of the expansion of capacities to democratise the commonwealth is central to the long revolution, “we speak of a cultural revolution, and we must certainly see the aspiration to extend the active process of learning, with the skills of literacy and other advanced communication, to all people rather than to limited groups, as comparable to the growth of democracy and the rise of scientific literacy…it is particularly evident that we cannot understand the process of change in which we are involved if we limit ourselves to thinking of the democratic, industrial and cultural revolutions as separate processes.” (p. 11-12) One of the main “progressive nationalist” (but also laying the foundations for the overcoming of the state through deepening autonomous capacities) achievements of the Plurinational State has been the overcoming of illiteracy and the expansion of education, “We defeated the age-old illiteracy in 2008. The percentage of GDP devoted to education this year is 8.21%. In 2005, the universities were receiving $164 million in transfers from the state. In contrast, in 2011 the public universities received $385 million.” Mirroring García Linera’s conception of the important but not absolute role of the political party, Williams also, ambiguously, suggests a cultural role for parties, Trade Unions and the co-operative movement in presenting “effective alternative patterns” despite “their present limitations.” (p. 329)
The affinity between García Linera and Williams makes clear that the processes that are beginning in Bolivia are radical both in terms of the degree of change and its depth and breadth. It also makes clear that changes like these take time, it is a question of, in Brecht and Benjamin’s version of “The Long Revolution” (which can be deployed against Webber’s use of Benjamin), a “war of attrition”, “That yielding water in motion/ Gets the better in the end of granite and porphyry./ You get me: the hard thing gives way!”