Bolivia and the Necessary Self-Criticism: “It is not Enough to Have the Government, You Need to Have Popular Power”

Leaders of the progressive world emphasize that “revolutions are made by organized peoples”

By Alina Duarte  –  Nov 11, 2020 – From La Paz and Washington DC

Although the extreme right and its paramilitary groups sought to prevent it by all possible means, Luis Arce Catacora has been sworn in as president of Bolivia, and Evo Morales has left exile in Argentina to return home.

After a year of deep economic, political and social crisis, the consequence of a coup d’état and a de facto government characterized by its repression, racism and corruption, the Bolivian people once again have a democratically elected government. With this, the paths, debates and proposals for action are open to resume and strengthen the so-called “process of change” inaugurated in 2006 with the arrival of Evo Morales to the presidency.

However, beyond the 55.11% landslide victory at the polls in the last elections of October 18, it is important to point out that Bolivia does not breathe winds of continuity, but of change. The resistance, organizations and social movements have been oxygenated, renewed and strengthened after dozens of deaths and numerous political persecutions and exiles, including that of the former president Evo Morales himself.

But although Evo, his former cabinet, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) and the people in general, return to the Government Palace with their heads held high, and with the backing of millions of Bolivians, self-criticism seems to be the strongest card that the MAS has to advance. It is also the greatest lesson to offer to the region and to the popular emancipation processes that must overcome the dilemmas of what seems to be the harbinger of a second progressive wave in the Latin American region.

Voting in Bolivia October 2020 elections
Photo credit: Alina Duarte

Self-criticism and popular power

The MAS, formally MAS-IPSP (Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples), though back in power faces a great challenge: how to return to the origins of what is, although projected or understood abroad as a political party, internally is considered—as the name indicates—a “political instrument.” The latter is reconfiguring itself today to contest power, at the same time that it enables the formation of cadres and combats the lags and losses of the coup, and the errors of the “process of change.”

“We need a tool that helps us fight for the revolution and for power… It is known what we no longer want: racism, oligarchs, exclusion; but we need to build community socialism with the people, and that is why we must continue struggling,” said the sociologist and individual in charge of citizen training as former Vice-president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Juan Carlos Pinto Quintanilla, during an interview with the author in La Paz, three days after the presidential elections that gave victory to Arce and Choquehuanca.

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During the talk, self-criticism and recognition of the mistakes that allowed a coup d’état to be carried out despite the solid standing that it was believed to have had institutionally, is a constant, the role of the population being fundamental in the analysis.

It is not enough to have a government

“We need not only the will of the people to sustain the process, but also its re-politicization. It means that the leaderships in this parallel path have to be renewed, they have to be strengthened, because it has always been thought that it’s enough that we are in government. It has been seen that it was not enough to do [infrastructure] works if there’s no awareness by the people about what they were going to defend, and to defend it they need to have a perception of the political horizon on which they have to work and build. That is why we are also pushing the issue of popular power as an important axis that must be built. It is not enough to have the government. We must see how we decentralize it so that the real power is in the people.”

The complexity they face is obvious.

The Movement for Socialism was not born as a party, and internally the plurality of political positions is an evidence of that. Although they contributed to the victory, genesis and confirmation of the process of change, “being just so diverse has generated the weakness of not building an axis of discussion,” says Pinto Quintanilla. “Everyone has participated from their perspective, from their vision, to build an alternative world to the neoliberal, but sometimes that construction is not enough, to the extent that we have already seen in this progressive government: the axes are once again the capitalist market and they are once again meeting the fundamental needs of the people, but not going beyond capitalism,” says Pinto Quintanilla.

América Maceda Llanque, who is part of the Abya Yala Community Feminism movement, agrees: “Self-criticism is what we have to offer the most.”

She adds that “you have to be critical and self-critical within the process of change. Although the material conditions of the population have improved, this has not been accompanied by a process of political formation, conscience, self-awareness and self-criticism, and that is why the Bolivian people have also had to pay for these mistakes.”

It should be noted that while Bolivia was one of the countries with the highest economic growth in the region during the last decade (annual GDP growth of 4.9% between 2006 and 2019), when walking the streets of La Paz, MAS militants have clearly understood, economic growth and development (though one of its main architects was precisely Luis Arce) were not enough to stop a process that allowed, with relative ease, a coup d’état.

Indigenous woman voting in Bolivia. October 2020. Photo credit: Alina Duarte
Indigenous woman voting in Bolivia. October 2020. Photo credit: Alina Duarte

A community leader to power and the demobilization effect

But deciphering with the scientific precision of a scalpel precisely what allowed a coup of this magnitude to happen in Bolivia is not an easy task. However, América Maceda outlines some of the factors: the demobilization of social movements, bureaucratization, and even a move towards the right within certain sectors of the government:

“These fourteen years have demobilized the social organizations, despite the fact that we have a very strong organic union history in Bolivia, and a struggle specifically against those who had power, which was a dominant social class, a political class that responded to a colonial, capitalist reality, the country’s elite. A few ruled and practically excluded most of the population who were indigenous and peasants. Physically we had the enemy in the State, in power… You physically identified who your enemy was, it was the one who held power,” explains Maceda. “But when one of us, a brother, a coca grower leader, an indigenous peasant leader, a native indigenous person, took power through a democratic process, a democratic and cultural revolution as we have called it, the enemy was no longer physically there and we physically lost sight of them. We demobilized, when in reality the enemy was still there, it was still capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism, but we could not physically identify it.” She adds that “then, you couldn’t mobilize for your fellow president, you couldn’t make a protest, a march. And that has also bureaucratized the social organizations.”

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One year after the coup, the errors, the criticisms of the previous and subsequent scenarios, contribute to a new discussion, that of the tasks and challenges faced after elections that gave the MAS a landslide victory.

“Revolutions are made by organized peoples”

“The task of the social organizations was to continue deepening the process of change, to continue to lead, to tell the government who is a colleague and friend, and what it had to do—and that is the part that we now have to push. Although the government as such has become bureaucratized and has turned to the right at certain points, with policies that were contradictory to what was proposed by Buen Vivir, errors have been committed. On the other hand, the population, social organizations, and social movements have entered into the logic of wanting to be a government when the fundamental task—for us at least—is to create the cultural democratic revolution, the path that we have chosen as a Bolivian process of change, because we know that governments do not make revolutions, revolutions are made by the peoples, the organized peoples.”

According to this analysis, creating a “movement of movements” that controls popular power continues to be a great challenge.

The other key factors

We do not want to omit two factors to be considered, and taken into account for those who adopt an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-fascist agenda, in defense of life, in different latitudes of the planet.

The first is international solidarity. The need to rethink the existence of international and regional organizations such as ALBA and UNASUR, dismantled by right-wing governments in the region that, for their part, reconfigured themselves powerfully around interference and interventionism via operations such as the Organization of American States and the Lima Group.

The need for Mexico to take a decisive and unhesitating stance during the coup d’état, and for Argentina—where Fernández had just come to power—to mediate the departure of Evo Morales through their territory, should alert us to the reality that, without an internationalist organization the fascist disarticulation of, and imperialism against, progressive battles is easier.

But not only at the governmental level. International solidarity showed that the pressures of embassies, debates, pronouncements and campaigns on social media networks exercised firstly, visibility of the coup and secondly, a pressure on organizations and governments that orchestrated or legitimized the atrocities of Jeanine Añez’s de facto government.

The second factor, but not less relevant, was that of journalism that referred to the coup as a “resignation,” and those who, despite the international media blockade, disputed the narratives imposed by the large corporate media and international organizations that spoke of the interests of the oligarchy.

While the de facto government hastened to take international media such as Telesur and RT off the air, and closed TV and radio stations, imposing a new editorial line on the media, social media networks managed to break the siege. Media such as Kawsachun Coca and its English version Kawsachun News, self-financed by the Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba, continued their work despite the siege.

Post-coup risks

Resisting a coup d’état has strengthened the MAS bases against the proposals, especially in social media networks, about the possibility that the Arce-Choquehuanca administration could become a reactionary government like Lenin Moreno’s in Ecuador: the laughter from those who have been on the barricades will not wait. Inside the MAS, in the streets and in its militancy, that fear does not even seem to exist. The process of change seeks to decentralize. While on the one hand they have leaders, on the other they have mobilized bases.

However, risks do exist. The ultra-right groups continue to organize. With prayers, threats, blockades and/or weapons, they tried to neutralize the popular victory and cling to a clearly defeated coup.

With Nazi symbols and hate speech, the Santa Cruz Civic Committee and the Cochala Youth have led the coup defense, assuring without evidence, as a year ago, that a fraud was orchestrated on October 18. And although the Supreme Electoral Court itself, the Organization of American States and even the US State Department have turned their backs on them, they do not cease to cry out that electoral anomalies occurred.

The actions of the ultra-right groups are not limited to declarations, blockades or prayers. Even though the material and intellectual authors were not known, on the night of November 5, that is, a week after the elections, an explosion was recorded at the campaign headquarters of the Movement for Socialism in La Paz while the President-elect Luis Arce was inside.

Ending the impunity that these paramilitary groups enjoyed should also be on the agenda of the incoming government.

Pending issues for the present and future

Upon his return to Bolivia on November 9, in front of hundreds of people waiting for him on the Argentine-Bolivian border, Evo summarized the immediate challenges:

“We are going to continue working. Now what we have to do is take care of President Lucho (Luis Arce) and defend our process of change. The right does not die, it does not sleep. The empire is always looking at our natural resources, but with this experience, with more force, the times of crying without organizing ourselves should be over. As always, giving birth to new social programs, new economic policies, we are going to build up our economy with Lucho, an economy fundamentally at the service of the most humble people.”

And though the fact is that the coup was overthrown, it is still necessary to combat its backwardness, both in the military forces, and in a society deeply affected socially and economically. It will be necessary to break down the barriers of a bourgeois democracy that prevent the advancement and consolidation of popular power, of community socialism, of Buen Vivir, of Sumak Kawsay (in Quechua), of Suma Qamaña (in Aymara).

We need to build leaderships that “command obedience,” that are the pinnacle of a conscious society, with the wounds of fascism still fresh. We must restructure a mass media committed to the emancipation of the peoples. We need to strengthen internationalist solidarity, both governmental and among militants in favor of life and that other possible world. All these are some of the points that today Bolivia, who gave a historical display of dignity to the world, still has in the pipeline.

If those who advocate for life and that other possible world, from journalism, academia, neighborhoods, factories, organizations and social movements, communes and the different trenches inside and outside the institutions, do not correct the mistakes, criticisms, the debates and lessons of those who defeated fascism in the XXI century, let us not be surprised when the extreme right, with a new face, will again make us pay the price of blood, death and despair.



Featured image:  Evo Morales with his people. File photo.

(Council on Hemispheric Affairs, COHA)

Translation: OT/JRE/SL

Alina Duarte
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Alina Duarte is a Xochimilco (Mexico) born journalist and senior researcher at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, COHA. In her twitter account she defines herself as an Independent Journalist & Militante nuestramericana, anti-imperialism •Xochimilca•Feminista•Senior Research Fellow at @COHAofficial

Alina Duarte

Alina Duarte is a Xochimilco (Mexico) born journalist and senior researcher at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, COHA. In her twitter account she defines herself as an Independent Journalist & Militante nuestramericana, anti-imperialism •Xochimilca•Feminista•Senior Research Fellow at @COHAofficial