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lvaro Garca Linera: A Bolivian Marxist Seduced

Editors Introduction: A Bolivian Marxist Seduced | Robert

From time to time, history throws some unsuspecting leftist intellectual the reins of state
power. Suddenly, theoretical practice meets its double, political practice; the complexities
and stakes of each begin to multiply. We are seeing the beginning of this process, no doubt,
with Greeces Alexis Tsipras and his coterie of Syriza MPs inspired by Louis Althusser and
Antonio Gramsci. In Spain, Podemoss Pablo Iglesias may find more theoretical affinity
with Ernesto Laclau and Perry Anderson, but the situation is similar: a professional
intellectual must begin to take seriously the idea of controlling a significant apparatus of
state power. Years of writing, polemicizing, and organizing open up to an almost
miraculous accession. As Georges Bataille says: Impossible, yet there it is!

But the contradictions leading to a possible rejuvenation of the European Left have already
left their mark elsewhere: lvaro Garca Linera, vice-president to Bolivias Evo Morales,
was perhaps the first Marxist intellectual to sit in state power in the 21st century. His work
reflects a continued engagement with a unique political experiment in Bolivia, and can be
read, therefore, as a guide to a terrain on which some are trying to plow an eventual road to
socialism. It is the wager of this dossier that much can be learned by more closely
examining both Lineras theory and his political practice not only to understand the man
himself, but also, to understand the innovative political process from which he cannot be
separated, and which may portend something of the future for the electoral Left in other
parts of the world.

The Re-encounter of Indianismo and Marxism in the Work of

lvaro Garca Linera | Irina Alexandra Feldman
One of the crucial dimensions of Alvaro Garcia Lineras contributions is to bring Marxism
and Indianismo together. Linera shows that Marxists and Indianistas share parallel
concerns. Namely, they denounce the injustice of exploitation of the workers and the
peasants, who happen to be, in the Bolivian case, mainly indigenous, as well as their
alienation from the means of production, which yields their total dependency on the
capitalist owners for the fulfillment of their basic needs. Ultimately, in the post-colonial
Andean context, this alienation and exploitation is accompanied by the epistemic
colonization, which robs the indigenous subalterns of their way of inhabiting the world,
dispossessing them of their language, knowledge and cosmology. Thus, for Linera,
Marxism can deepen the contributions of Indianismo, and Indianismo can sharpen some of
the positions advanced by Marxism, in order to shed light on the reality of the post-colonial
context, and to articulate relevant political projects.

The Phantom, The Plebeian and the State: Grupo Comuna and
the Intellectual Career of lvaro Garca Linera | Peter Baker
In the year 1999, a collection of essays concerning the relevance of Karl
Marxs Communist Manifesto to the contemporary conjuncture in Bolivia was published. It
may have gone by unnoticed, were it not for the fact that its authors were about to become
the principal interpreters for the irruption of new social movements in the wake of a state
crisis that took place in Bolivia between the years of 2000 2005. What this group of
intellectuals were looking for, the project that would inaugurate their work, was no less
than a reinvention of the left capable of identifying new strategies appropriate for the
contemporary moment.

Burdens of a State Manager | Jeffery R. Webber

The prolific writings of Vice President lvaro Garca Linera offer one window into the
complexities of the political, ideological, and economic developments that have transpired
since Morales first assumed office. With that in mind, the following detailed exposition and
critical interrogation of the core arguments advanced in his 2011 book, Tensiones creativas
de la revolucin, 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. If for many
readers, only passingly familiar with the country, Garca 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.

The Re-encounter of Indianismo and Marxism in the Work of lvaro Garca Linera

In his important article about the history of Marxism and Indianismo

in Bolivia, lvaro Garca Linera tells the story of the missed
encounter of the two revolutionary reasons.1 He presents the post-
colonial Bolivian context as a space of complex engagements for the
Marxist tradition. One must contend, for instance, with the explicit
rejection of Marxism in the case of Fausto Reinaga, founder of a
forceful and radical current of Indianismo, which has inspired the
Indianista political parties and social movements since the 1970s.
Reinaga claimed that Marxism, espoused by the Movimiento
Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) and the Bolivian National
Revolution of 1952 (in which he had participated), did nothing for
the emancipation of Indians, either theoretically or practically. He
proposed Indianismo as the ideology that would supplant what he
came to regard as a useless, foreign theory. This native
proposal, historically tested on the Andean soil, would instead put
the Indian at the center of history as its subject and actor, emphasize
the racial and cultural roots of oppression in the Bolivian society,
and call for Indian Revolution as the way out of this predicament.
One of the crucial dimensions of lvaro Garca Lineras
contribution is to bring Marxism and Indianismo together, in his
explicit recognition of Reinagas importance in the history of
Bolivian emancipatory struggle and Indianismos centrality to the
current political project of the Evo Morales government. Linera
shows that Marxists and Indianistas share parallel concerns. Namely,
they denounce the unjust exploitation of workers and peasants, who
in the Bolivian case happen to be mainly indigenous, as well as their
alienation from the means of production, which results in their total
dependency on the capitalist owners for the fulfillment of their basic
needs. Ultimately, in the post-colonial Andean context, this
alienation and exploitation are accompanied by epistemic
colonization, which robs the indigenous subalterns of their way of
inhabiting the world, dispossessing them of their language,
knowledge, and cosmology. Thus, for Linera, Marxism can deepen
the contribution of Indianismo, and Indianismo can sharpen some of
the positions advanced by Marxism. Together these sets of ideas can
shed light on the reality of the post-colonial context, and articulate
relevant political projects. In terms of the genealogy of Bolivian
political theory, one could say that Reinaga relies on both the 18th
century indigenous revolutionary Tupaj Katari and Karl Marx,
despite claiming his total divorce from the latter; Linera knows and
publicly recognizes that he relies on Tupaj Katari, Marx, and
Reinaga. In the present excursus, textual examples from Reinaga
offer the background for Lineras deployment of Indianista and
Marxist analytical vocabulary and for his projects of decolonization
from the Vice-Presidency of the Plurinational State. As a concrete
example, we will look at how this discourse conceptualizes and uses
modern technology as a means to overcome the colonial condition,
by repairing the epistemic damage of the Conquest of the Americas
and centuries of colonialism.
Indios de Bolivia, unos!2 With these words, Fausto Reinaga
concludes his Manifiesto del Partido Indio de Bolivia published in
1970. Here, he calls together the Indians of Bolivia to join in a
struggle against the white-mestizo cholaje3 represented by both
the traditional elite, and the leadership of the post-1952 National
Revolutionary government both of whom, according to him,
ignore in equal measure the necessities of the indigenous population.
The disavowal of Marxism and the the established Left is at the
heart of Reinagas document. However, as the language of the brief
quote above immediately suggests, this stout negation is both
necessary for Reinagas ideological positioning, and at the same
time incomplete, methodologically speaking. The continued
presence of the formal and rhetorical components of the Marxist
tradition within Reinagas text symptomatically signals to the fact
that the Marxist categories of analysis are still active in and
necessary to his reading of history, especially as he examines the
continuous conditions of oppression and exploitations that the
Bolivian indigenous persons endure.
Reinaga puts forward the idea of Two Bolivias locked in a battle
to the death: Indian Bolivia and white-mestizo Bolivia (Bolivia del
cholaje blanco-mestizo).4 The desired outcome of this battle
would be the ousting of the mestizo colonial legacy and the
formation of an Indian state; it would also be a culmination of a
hidden current, the true historical struggle of the two above-
mentioned races.5 The influence of theories of decolonization,
especially the work of Frantz Fanon, is evident in Reinagas texts,
and is seen specifically in his rejection of the ideology of mestizaje
that was adapted at the state level in Bolivia after the Revolution of
the 1952 and regarded by Reinaga as a tactic of forced assimilation
of the Bolivian indigenous peoples.6 Although Reinaga had been a
vocal supporter of the left-leaning and union-backed Movimiento
Nacionalista Revolucionario party (MNR) before the National
Revolution of 1952, he came to think it had failed to offer political
and social equality, or even full citizenship, to the indigenous and
peasant workers. Instead, in the name of modernization and
development, its failed Agrarian Reform forcibly subsumed and
privatized the indigenous countryside in order to create more easily
exploitable campesinos. For Reinaga, the main outcome of this
reform was the introduction of class division where there was once
social unity, leading to nothing less than the destruction of
Indianness itself.7 The apparent corruption of the leftist elite in their
private lives only furthered Reinagas disgust.
Reinagas frustrations with the aftermath of the 1952 Revolution
made him distance himself radically from Marxism, deeming it just
as harmful as Yankee imperialism for the consciousness of the
Indian, who is, for him, the true subject of history.8 Indeed, he
concluded that this subject must shed all foreign ideologies in order
to achieve emancipation, going as far as to famously declare that he
would have preferred that his earlier Marxist writings had never
existed.9 Nonetheless, Reinagas concept of the Indian Revolution is
a product of a simultaneous dialogue with and rejection of his
Marxist past. In addition to his energetic support for the Bolivian
National Revolutionary Movement and the particular type of
Marxism it embraced, Reinaga traveled to the Soviet Union in 1957
and published an ecstatic work on the wonders of the real
socialism titled El Sentimiento Mesinico del Pueblo Ruso (1960).
This engagement could not help but leave its traces on Reinagas
later work.
As we have already glimpsed, the language of the Manifiesto del
Partido Indio is haunted with Marxian turns of the phrase: for
instance, Reinaga calls the Indians the true power, the midwife of
history, thereby adapting directly Marxs metaphor for the purposes
of his own argument. But, of course, the use of the metaphor and the
poetic apostrophe is a symptom of even deeper indebtedness to the
Marxist conceptual universe. Most notably, Reinaga is concerned
with the role of ideology in the reproduction of Bolivias particular
exploitative social relations: the superstructure, the ideological
system of the West, is an iron machinery, which, relentless, captures
the Indians brain, like a spider traps a fly.10 He uses the concept of
superstructure to explain further in the text how a literate Indian is
not an Indian anymore; if he is to get to power, it will be as a
mestizo, not as an Indian.11 When speaking of the destruction and
subalternity of pre-American cultures, as he calls the indigenous
civilizations, Reinaga points to the conquistadors reshaping of the
labor force and the refunctioning of existing societies for private
accumulation as the means by which the material devastation and
epistemic destruction of indigenous peoples was brought about.12
lvaro Garca Linera recognizes Reinaga as the most influential
and relevant intellectual of Indianismo in the formative period of
this ideology, thereby granting him a place among the founding
fathers of the process of change led by the Evo Morales government
since 2006. In Lineras words, The fundamental contribution of this
period is the reinvention of Indian-ness, but this time not as a stigma
but as a subject of emancipation, as a historical project, as a political
plan.13 However, in his 1999 essay The Communist Manifesto and
Our Present: Four Theses on its Historical Actuality, Linera marks
his distance from Reinagas ethnic radicalism and strategically
draws away from the locally specific analysis characteristic of
Indianista writings by emphasizing the global dimension of
Lineras essay is an exercise in epistemic decolonization on the level
of both form and content. It displays what in Spanish could be called
el afn de teora, or theoretical drive: Linera carefully,
purposively, almost does not mention either South America or
Bolivia in his analysis. The problems tackled by the text and the
tendencies analyzed are phrased in a language that makes it
applicable globally, apart from the obvious relevance to the region
or the concrete country that is working its way through its post-
colonial condition. This text arguably bypasses the division into
center and periphery in terms of the production of knowledge. The
erosion of this differentiation becomes possible due to the
globalizing tendency of capitalism, which both solidifies the hold on
the forces of production and dialectically opens up the new
tendencies of resistance.
Garcia Linera offers two narrow arguments from within this
landscape that connect the hardcore Indianista ideology of someone
like Reinaga to a Marxist analysis. These are: 1) the epistemological
enslavement that the worldwide expansion of capitalism implies,
and 2) a deeply connected issue, the question of technology as a
means of production of knowledge.
In Lineras vocabulary, the planetary (planetario) nature of capitalist
expansion refers to the double truth that globalization is an old story,
and that capitalism transforms all spheres of life.15 The expansion of
capitalism over the last 500 years affected much more than just the
economic dimension of human existence. In fact, the capitalist mode
of production modifies every sphere of human experience and
environment in order to increase the production of surplus value.
This includes the affective relationships between people, as well as
the human relationship with nature, with space, and very tangibly,
with time. In Lineras words:
Capitalism does not develop the means of production
indiscriminately, but mutilates them, represses them so that they
only follow the path of valorization of value thereby comes the
one-sided development of the technical productive forces at the
expense of the symbolic and associative productive forces, or the
recurrent conversion of the productive forces into destructive or
harmful ones (like weapons for war)There are no neutral or naive
productive forces, but there is a collection of dispositives, which
limit abilities, prescribe behavior, privilege this or that kind of
knowledge [saberes].16
Linera here describes the process of privileging only one route of
development the technologies that promote valorization of surplus-
value. The associative and symbolic knowledge that is left aside
and deemed useless is the ancestral knowledge of the indigenous
peoples, such as the traditions of communal work and communal
child care, or indigenous healing practices that rely heavily on
psychosomatic benefits attained through references to the spiritual
realities; also marginalized, of course, are indigenous laws, sciences,
and cosmologies. In this notion of capitalism as a world order whose
success depends on mutilation of knowledge, his critique is
conceptually tied to Reinagas Indianista arguments, as well as to
more contemporary Indianistas like Felipe Quispe, and to the wider
discourse on decolonization.17 In Lineras essay, Marxism and
Indianism complement each other in showing the direct link between
the expansion of capitalism or of 500 years of globalization, if you
like and the impoverishment and reduction of knowledge on a
world scale through the mechanism of mutilation of productive
forces. 18
Linera thus shows that a Marxian analysis of the productive forces is
central for understanding the phenomena of colonization and
indigenous marginalization. Their one-sided capitalist development
favors technological progress over other saberes (types of
knowledge), but this development also unwittingly opens the door to
a certain correction of this imbalance. Linera argues at length
against the idea that the extraordinary development of technologies
either signals the vitality of the capitalist system, or that it
automatically promises the ways of articulating resistance.
Technology in itself does not promise anything; it is the use of it,
access to it and control over it that influence the distribution of
power and the possibility of emancipation. But he recognizes, of
course, that much extant technology has been historically developed
within capitalism and bears the material mark of that purposive
development as a tool for the extraction and accumulation of value.
Hence, one of the important tasks that the current Bolivian process
of change entails is wrestling technology from the capitalist logic
of accumulation of value and adapting it for the purposes of the
epistemological decolonization (on the ideological plane), and for
the use and benefit of broad sections of populations (in a
practical sense).
Garca Lineras political positions on technology are thus based on
insights into its development gleaned from his reading of Marx, as
well as from the above-cited Indianista denunciation of colonization
as a robbery (despojo) of the indigenous nations of their
ancestral knowledge and technologies. In a country like Bolivia,
marked by a post-colonial condition, this longue dure of loss and
privation is inextricably linked to the countrys current peripheral
position in the world capitalist system.19 Thus, two burning demands
were explicitly articulated during the recent presidential campaign in
September of 2014 (of course, not for the first time in Bolivian
history): the demand for industrialization that would bring added-
value to the countrys natural resources, such as gas and extracted
minerals; and the demand for general access to new technologies,
especially communication technologies. Because these demands are
framed with regard to the long history of colonialism, they acquire a
dimension beyond utilitarian logic. In the discourse of the Evo-
lvaro campaign in 2014, the promise to bring industrialization and
communication technologies to Bolivia is connected in a chain of
equivalences with such larger and more abstract concepts as national
dignity of the Bolivian people.20
In this vein, we can make sense of one of the Morales
administrations most ambitious projects: the Ciudadela del
Conocimiento y la Tecnologa (Citadel of Knowledge and
Technology even the name sounds grand). This is a government
project to build a complex training facility in Cochabamba, which
would house a college for computer engineers, a science research
hub, a software building laboratory, and a lithium battery factory.
Thus, Bolivia will train its own intellectual elite and will not need to
import brains or software from abroad; neither will it export one
of its most coveted natural resources, lithium, without first
processing it. In a MAS campaign ad for the Citadel of Knowledge,
the speaker declares: The Millenary People with Advanced
Technologies is an Invincible People.21 Millenary: infused with the
power of the ancestral indigenous, pre-colonial connection to the
land. Invincible: enduring in the face of the forces of ever-expanding
capital. The image of broken chains figures prominently at the top of
the screen and links past and present through the trope of
knowledge as a tool for liberation, as Roberto Pareja notes.22
Another element of this concern with technology is the Bolivian
telecommunication satellite, Tupaj Katari, named after the 18th-
century indigenous revolutionary, and launched in December of
2013 as a result of cooperation between Bolivia and Peoples
Republic of China. The image of this device in campaign
advertisements, real and operational, simultaneously reminds the
audience of two things. First, it makes historically relevant the anti-
colonial struggle, represented by Tupaj Katari, that still continues
today. Secondly, it shows that the government fulfills its promises
one of which was furthering Bolivias self-reliance in
telecommunications through launching of its own satellite. Thus,
this grand project of the Citadel of Knowledge acquires the
dimension of real possibility and not just of a utopian venture, as it
could seem at first glance. With a rhetoric evocative of Indianista
discourse, and with a spotlight on knowledge and technology, the
iconography and the message of the campaign connects this
discourse back to Reinagas radical demands. The announcements,
with their reference to the millenary and invincible people,
clearly quote Reinagas diatribes and obliquely give visibility to the
indigenous Bolivians however this sector of the population might
be concretely defined in the governments project.
Of course, the optimistic tone of the ads that celebrate these
accomplishments is characteristic of the genre, so to speak, and is
not to be confused with Garca Lineras theoretical reflections on the
meaning of technology for Bolivias process of change and its
possibilities of moving beyond capitalism. As he discusses in his
book Geopoltica de la Amazona (2012), the role of technologies is
ambiguous in todays Bolivia. He explains that a balance must be
negotiated between the use of extractive technologies for generating
necessary revenues, and the movement away from such technologies
in order to curb Bolivias dependency on transnational capital.
Linera explicitly recognizes the fact that Bolivia must survive in a
capitalist world as an, albeit marginal, Andean-Amazonian
capitalist country, and he reminds readers that Marx was ridiculing
the utopian thinkers who thought that there existed islands
immune to the worldwide domination of capital. One cannot hope to
escape the capitalist nature of the existing productive forces so
easily. This argument, which has been at the heart of some political
controversy in Bolivia today, is better understood if we take into
account Lineras comment vis--vis the use of technology in
Geopoltica de la Amazona:
It is naive to believe that extractivism, non-extractivism, or
industrialism are a vaccine against injustice, exploitation, and
inequality, because in themselves they are neither modes of
producing, nor modes of managing wealth. They are technical
systems of processing nature by means of labor, and can be present
in pre-capitalist, capitalist, or communitarian societies. Only
depending on how these technical systems are used, and how the
generated wealth is managed, can economic regimes exist with
either less or more justice, with exploitation or without exploitation
of labor.23
The big question Linera is tackling here, writing from the seat of
power, is: how do we further the project of decolonization bound up
with movement towards socialism and away from capitalism? And
how do we do that while also providing for the pressing everyday
needs of the population? How do we use technologies which, due
to the history of their development within capitalism, have ingrained
in them the logic of accumulation of value in order to move
beyond this logic?
In the conclusion of the Geopoltica de la Amazona, and in an
attempt to answer this question, Linera discusses President Evos
goal for 2025: that no resource would be exported from Bolivia
without having been industrially processed, without added value.
This will require a profound scientific-technological transformation
of the country and a never before seen investment in knowledge.
And of course we will do it, says Linera.24 The triumphal tone of
this conclusion may be dampened by the fact that this book was
written mainly as a justification of the confrontation of the MAS
government forces and the indigenous sectors that were not
walking together with the government any longer and were
opposed to a large development project of building a highway
through indigenous territories and a National Park. However, it
neatly illuminates Garca Lineras key ideological and political
contribution to the Bolivian process of the past decade, as it pairs the
Marxist analysis of the modes of production with an implicit
response to a demand articulated by the Indianistas like Fausto
Reinaga and Felipe Quispe. In line with the governments rhetoric
and politics of decolonization, Garca Linera brings to the forefront
the necessity of repairs for the epistemic and technologico-material
devastation that the indigenous nations suffered at the time of the
Conquest and during the following centuries of exploitation and
marginalization; and, here, he does so precisely at a moment when
the Indianista orientation of the government is being acutely

1 lvaro Garca Linera, El desencuentro de dos razones revolucionarias:

Indianismo y Marxismo, in Cuadernos del Pensamiento Crtico
Latinoamericano, no. 3, (Buenos Aires : CLACSO, December, 2007).
2 Fausto Reinaga, Manifiesto del partido indio de Bolivia, (La Paz: WA-GUI,
2007 [1970]), 84.
3 The term cholaje, like mestizaje, was a caste designation during the colonial
period throughout Spanish America, referring to a mix indigenous,
Iberian, and sometimes African racial heritage. Today, its specific
valence varies by region, but still generally refers to the fact of racial
mixture. It is therefore left untranslated. Ed.
4 Reinaga, Manifiesto, 84.
5 Peter Baker, in his doctoral dissertation at Texas A&M University (work in
progress), views the interpretation of Fausto Reinagas project as a
rewriting of Bolivian history and uncovering of the hidden history of
the struggle between the contending races or Nations,viewed as one
of the main axes of this writers agenda.
6 Jos Antonio Lucero, Fanon in the Andes: Fausto Reinaga, Indianismo and
the Black Atlantic. International Journal of Critical Indigenous
Studies 1, no. 1, 2008.
7 La Reforma Agraria de Bolivia es un fraudeNo libera al indio. Lo
esclaviza; lo destruye. La Reforma Agraria ha convertido el latifundio
en minifundio; la sayaa serval del pongo en propiedad privada; al
indio ancestralmente socialista le ha hecho individualista. Ha
llevado a la sociedad del indio, que es una comunidad milenaria, la
lucha de clases; lucha de ricos y pobres. Para el indio socialista la
lucha de clases, no solo es una regresin a la barbarie, sino es su
destruccin. El imperialismo y el cholaje blanco-mestizo con la
Reforma agraria se han propuesto destruir a la raza india! Reinaga,
Manifiesto, 59-60.
8 El imperialismo yanqui y la podredumbre del cholaje comunista o anti-
comunista. Fausto Reinaga, Manifiesto, 66.
9 Fausto Reinaga, La Revolucin India, (La Paz: Fundacin Amutica Fausto
Reinaga, 2001 [1970]).
10 La superestructura, el sistema ideolgico del Occidente es una
maquinaria frrea que implacable se apodera del cerebro del indio,
como la araa de la mosca. Manifiesto, 64.
11 Reinaga therefore enunciates, avant la lettre, the problem formulated by
Gayatri Spivak in her seminal essay Can the Subaltern Speak?
replying negatively to the question, and explaining why such an
acculturated Indian will not properly further the Indian cause. Reinaga
is often contradictory, however; elsewhere, he writes An Indian is
always an Indian (indio, indio siempre). But it is important that he
puts forth the argument that integrative culturation is harmful to the
Indian cause, since this is where he discusses the function of ideology
using the concept of superstructure.
12 las fieras blancas del Occidente, han subyugado nuestra voluntad y
han manejado nuestros brazos. Han implantado la propiedad privada y
han llenado nuestra cabeza con la historia de nuestros conquistadores.
De Francisco Pizarro a Paz Estenssoro, espaoles y mestizos-blancos
han sido para nosotros los indios una furia destructora. Ellos
destrozaron nuestro sistema social comunista, edificado en diez mil
aos, cien siglos. Ellos degollaron a nuestro Inka Atahuallpa; violaron a
nuestras vrgenes; redujeron a ceniza nuestras leyes; asesinaron a
nuestros dioses; nos impusieron sangre y fuego a Cristo, el Dios de los
conquistadores; saquearon nuestras montaas de plata y oro; nos
despojaron nuestra tierra, y nos obligaron a ltigo y bala a cultivar para
ellos Reinaga, Manifiesto, 61.
13 El aporte fundamental de este perodo es la reinvencin de la
indianitud (sic), pero ya no como estigma sino como sujeto de
emancipacin, como designio histrico, como proyecto poltico.
Garca Linera, El desencuentro, 5.
14 Linera explains this distance through a the mediating figure Felipe
Quispe Huanca, alias El Mallku, the present leader of the MIP party
(Movimiento Indigena Pachakuti), who lost the Presidential election to
Morales in 2006. For Linera, Quispe is the faithful heir to Reinagas
Indianismo, and Lineras movement away from the radical Indianista
proposals can be traced in his progressive distancing from Quispe in
both discourse and in political life. Both had been leaders of the EGTK,
and both published with the Ofensiva Roja press, printing house of the
Tupajkatarista Movement. Yet, after their imprisonment, Lineras The
Communist Manifesto and Our Present: Four Theses on its Historical
Actuality? was to mark the beginning of a new political and theoretical
cycle with Grupo Comuna.
15 Planetary: Linera is possibly using the theoretical vocabulary that
remits to the work of Kostas Axelos. Linera describes the process of
globalization in terms of concrete and abstract manifestations, where the
concrete refers to the universalization of labor for capital, and the
abstract dimension refers to the possibility of labor to resist capital a
potential which universalizes as the dialectical counterpart of the
universalization of labor.
16 El capitalismo no desarrolla indiscriminadamente las fuerzas
productivas, sino que las mutila, las reprime a fin de que stas solo
sigan la ruta que potencia la valorizacin del valorde all, ese
desarrollo unilateral de las fuerzas productivas tcnicas, en detrimento
de las fuerzas productivas simblicas, asociativas, o la recurrente
conversin de las fuerzas productivas en fuerzas destructivas o nocivas
(como armas destinadas para la guerra)No hay pues fuerzas
productivas ingenuas o neutras, [sino hay] un conjunto de dispositivos
que constrien habilidades, prescriben comportamientos, priorizan tales
o cuales sabereslvaro Garca Linera, Es el Manifiesto Comunista
un arcasmo poltico, un recuerdo literario? Cuatro tesis sobre su
actualidad histrica, in La potencia plebeya. Accin colectiva y las
identidades indgenas, obreras y populares en Bolivia, (Bogot: Siglo
del Hombre Editores, 2009), 92. All quotes from Garca Linera are my
translations, since this paper was written before the recent publication
of Lineras anthology Plebian Power, Collective Action and
Indigenous, Working-Class and Popular Identities in Bolivia, (Chicago:
Haymarket Press, 2014). Emphasis added.
17 As Quispe argues, many indigenous techniques and knowledges were
lost as a result of the Spaniards cruel management of the indigenous
population: The arrival of the Spaniards destroyed our cosmic Aymara
religion, our gods; they have invaded our sacred placesthey also had
to trample our culture, our art of war, etc [La llegada de los
espaoles destruy la religin Aymara csmica, nuestros dioses, han
invadido los lugares sagradosTambin han tenido que pisotear
nuestra cultura, arte militar, etc.] Felipe Quispe Huanca, Tupaj Katari
Vive y VuelveCarajo! (La Paz: Ofensiva Roja, 1990): 6.
18 For more on epistemic colonization from Bolivian theorists, cf. Silvia
Rivera Cusicanqui (from the point of view of anthropology and oral
history); Julieta Paredes and Maria Galindo (with focus on feminism);
Xavier Alb (anthropology, sociology, liberation theology); and the ex-
members of the Grupo Comuna: Luis Tapia, Raul Prada Alcoreza,
Oscar Vega (each one is a strikingly original theorist, and they use a
heterogeneous and rich theoretical toolbox, Marxism,
deconstructionism, Foucault, Bourdieu).
19 Bolivian sociologists and historians (Silvia Rivera and Garca Linera,
among others) use Fernand Braudels terminology of history of long
duration to speak about the colonial legacy that cannot be easily
overlooked when analyzing even recent events in Bolivia.
20 Mike Geddes explains the success of the previous Evo-lvaro
campaigns in Gramsican terms, The MAS hegemonic project, as
presented by Garca Linera, thus foregrounds decolonization as an
umbrella beneath which several elements can be brought together
deepening democracy, redistributing wealth, supporting alternatives to
capitalist relations, ecological sustainability in a way which can
appeal to a broad hegemonic bloc. Mike Geddes, The old is dying but
the new is struggling to be born: hegemonic contestation in Bolivia,
Critical Policy Studies 8, no.2 (2014): 6.
21 Campaign ad that presents Ciudadela del Conocimiento y Tecnologa:
El pueblo milenario con la tecnologa de avanzada, accessed October
21, 2014.
22 Roberto Pareja, The citadel of knowledge: technology, space, power,
Espacios de circulacin/ Spaces of Circulation, posted October 31,
23 Es ingenuo creer que el extractivismo, el no-extractivismo o el
industrialismo son una vacuna contra la injusticia, la explotacin y la
desigualdad, porque en si mismos no son ni modos de producir ni
modos de gestionar la riqueza. Son sistemas tcnicos de procesamiento
de la naturaleza mediante el trabajo, y pueden estar presentes en
sociedades pre-capitalistas, capitalistas o sociedades comunitarias.
nicamente dependiendo de cmo se usen esos sistemas tcnicos, de
cmo se gestione la riqueza as producida, se podrn tener regmenes
econmicas con mayor o menor justicia, con explotacin o sin
explotacin del trabajo. lvaro Garca Linera, Geopoltica de la
Amazona, (La Paz: Vicepresidencia del Estado Plurinacional, 2012),
24 Ello requerir de una profunda transformacin cientfico-tecnolgica
del pas y de una inversin nunca antes vista en conocimiento. Y por
supuesto que lo haremos. Garca Linera, Geopoltica de la Amazona,

Burdens of a State Manager

In the opening salvos of Latin Americas uneven lurch to the Left in

the early twenty-first century, Bolivia distinguished itself as the
regions 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 Snchez de Lozada in 2003, and Carlos Mesa in
2005.2 Evo Moraless 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 lvaro Garca 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 revolucin [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, Garca 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 Garca 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.
Garca Linera has carefully cultivated the transnational
dissemination of his perspective on the conjuncture. Slavoj iek,
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
Garca 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 igo Errejn, one of the
leading figures in the ascendant Podemos party of the Spanish state,
Garca Linera is a guiding intellectual and political light. The
Bolivian vice-presidents 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 Born relies heavily on Garca Lineras
recent writings in his award-winning 2012 book, Amrica Latina en
la geopoltica del imperialismo [Latin America in the Geopolitics of
Imperialism],6 and the prominent Brazilian theorist Emir Sader is
perhaps the Bolivian politicians 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
Garca 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 Garca 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 Garca Lineras 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 movements
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, Garca 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 dure include the popular demand for the nationalization of
natural resources against the neoliberal regimes 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 Garca 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
Snchez 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. Theres 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 Garca Lineras 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 Garca 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 Garca Linera sees fundamental continuities with phase
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
Garca 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
Garca Lineras 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
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
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 latters
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
Phase V: 2010-
The defining feature of the revolutionary process since 2010,
according to Garca 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 Garca 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 Gramscis notion of the
integral state, understood by Garca 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 dure, 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
(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 Garca Lineras 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, Garca 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 Garca
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, Garca 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 Garca 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
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 Potos, 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, Garca Linera closes this
section with a call for the ideological elimination of residual traces
of the Right and Trotskyism lumped together within the labor
(iv) Vivir Bien (Living Well), Ecology, and the
Industrialization of Natural Resources
Ecology is the weight behind the fourth contradiction. There is a
tension, Garca Linera contends, around the governments
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, Garca 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 Bolivias
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 Garca 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 states 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 its 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 Garca Lineras
use of hegemony and integral state, critical Latin American theorists
are returning to Gramscis 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 Garca 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 Garca
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 Chinas (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 doesnt 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 Garca Lineras Creative
In what is perhaps the single most important essay to date on the
economics of the Morales administration, Carlos Arze and Javier
Gmez systematically expose the political contradictions and
empirical inconsistencies at the heart of Garca Lineras 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 Garca Linera, Arze and Gmez 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 Gmez 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 Garca 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--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 Gmez 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 Garca Linera. Rather it is a typical capitalist state
which ensures, as best it can, the reproduction of capitalist
Whats 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 Garca Lineras Creative
Tensions, we arrive face to face with the texts most basic evasion
that the capitalist class and state apparatus in a plural economy
will resist any and all inroads on capitals total domination.

This article is part of a dossier entitled lvaro Garca Linera: A

Bolivian Marxist Seduced.

25 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 lvaro Garca 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.
26 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 Gutirrez 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.
27 Garca 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 Ejrcito Guerrillero Tpaj Katari
(Tpaj 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 Garca Linera was one of the most prominent figures in the
multi-tendency Bolivian Marxist intellectual collective, Comuna,
alongside Luis Tapia, Raquel Gutirrez Aguilar, Oscar Vega, Ral
Prada Alcoreza, and others.
28 lvaro Garca Linera, Tensiones creativas de la revolucin: La Quinta
fase del Proceso del Cambio, La Paz: Vicepresidencia del Estado
Plurinacional, 2011.
29 lvaro Garca Linera, State Crisis and Popular Power, New Left
Review II, 37 (Jan-Feb) 2006, 73-85; lvaro Garca Linera, Plebeian
Power: Collective Action and Indigenous, Working Class and Popular
Identities in Bolivia, Chicago: Haymarket, 2014.
30 Atilio Born, Amrica Latina en la geopoltica del imperialism
(Hondarribia: Editorial Hiru, 2013). This text won the Premio libertador
al pensamiento crtico in 2012, sponsored by the Venezuelan
government of Hugo Chvez.
31 Garca Linera, Tensiones Creativas, 8.
32 See Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Oprimidos pero no vencidos: luchas del
campesinado aymara y quechua, 1900-1980 (La Paz: HISBOL-
CSUTCB, 1984).
33 Garca Linera, Tensiones Creativas, 12-14.
34 Ibid., 15-16.
35 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.
36 Garca Linera, Tensiones creativas, 16-18.
37 Ibid., 18-22.
38 Ibid., 28-38.
39 Ibid., 28.
40 Ibid., 29. It is not my concern here to measure Garca Lineras fidelity
to Gramscis own understanding of the integral state.
41 Ibid., 30.
42 Ibid., 39.
43 Ibid., 38-40.
44 Ibid., 41-62.
45 Ibid., 49.
46 Ibid., 48.
47 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).
48 For coverage of the Potos conflict see Jeffery R. Webber, The
Rebellion in Potos: Uneven Development, Neoliberal Continuities, and
a Revolt against Poverty in Bolivia, Upside Down World, August 16,
2010 (accessed on January 2, 2015).
49 Garca Linera, Tensiones Creativas, 62.
50 Ibid., 67.
51 Ibid., 67-68.
52 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 lvaro Garca Linera, El Nuevo Campo
Poltico en Bolivia, La Razn, November 2, 2014 (available online at:
politico-Bolivia_0_2153784735.html (accessed on January 2, 2015).
53 Massimo Modonesi, Revoluciones pasivas en Amrica Latina: Una
aproximacin gramsciana a la caracterizacin de los gobiernos
progresistas de inicio del siglo, in Mabel Thwaites Rey, ed., El Estado
en Amrica Latina: Continuidades y rupturas (Buenos Aires: CLACSO,
2012), 139-166.
54 Luis Tapia, El Estado de derecho como tirana (La Paz:
autodeterminacin, 2011).
55 Eduardo Gudynas, Estado compensador y nuevos extractivismos,
Nueva Sociedad, 237 (January-February), 2012, 128-146.
56 Jeffery R. Webber, Managing Bolivian Capitalism, Jacobin 13, 2014,
57 Ibid.
58 Carlos Arze and Javier Gmez, Bolivia: El proceso de cambio nos
conduce al vivir bien? In Carlos Arze, Javier Gmez, Pablo Ospina,
and Vctor lvarez, eds., Promesas en su laberinto: Cambios y
continuidades en los gobiernos progresistas de Amrica Latina (La Paz:
CEDLA, 2013) 45-167.
59 Arze and Gmez, Bolivia, 100.
60 Ibid., 100-101.
61 Ibid., 102.
62 Ibid., 133-143.
63 Ibid., 164.
64 Ibid., 165.
65 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:
bolivian-bastion-floating-above-it-all.html?pagewanted=all (accessed
on January 3, 2015); Andres Schipani, Bolivias 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).
Arze and Gmez, Bolivia, pp. 165-167

The Phantom, The Plebeian and the State: Grupo Comuna and the Intellectual
Career of lvaro Garca Linera

Specters of a Broken Marx

In 1999, a collection of essays appeared concerning the relevance of
Karl Marxs Communist Manifesto to the contemporary conjuncture
in Bolivia. It may have gone by unnoticed, were it not for the fact
that its authors were about to become the principal interpreters of the
new movements that irrupted in the wake of the Bolivian state crisis
of 2000-2005. The authors, a motley array of intellectuals from very
different backgrounds, called themselves the grupo Comuna
(Commune group): Ral Prada, member of the group episteme
which sought to use French post-structuralist anthropology to
intervene critically in the contemporary Bolivian political scene;
Luis Tapia, a scholar of counterculture informed by the writings of
Antonio Gramsci and the Bolivian sociologist Ren Zavaleta
Mercado; and finally, two critical Marxist intellectuals who had just
been released from prison following their involvement in an
Indianist guerrilla group called the EGTK, Raquel Gutirrez Aguilar
and lvaro Garca Linera, future vice-president of Bolivia.
The title of that work was El fantasma insomne The Insomniac
Phantom or, alternatively, The Ghost That Doesnt Sleep a clear
reference to the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto (A
specter is haunting Europe).1 What the authors shared was the
feeling that there was a general crisis of Bolivian Marxism which
required new critical proposals, proposals that would be capable of
intellectually supporting the on-going anti-capitalist struggle in
Bolivia. This crisis was composed of many dimensions: the apparent
triumph of neoliberal capitalism and the defeat of real socialism in
many corners of the globe following the fallout of the Cold War
(represented in Latin America specifically by the defeat of the
Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1991); the consequent weakening of the
stronghold of leftist unionism in Bolivia, which was disbanded in
1985 as part of the so-called shock-therapy of neoliberal reforms
that dismantled the national-popular state; and the general criticism
of the old Bolivian left for dogmatically adhering to a certain
teleological conception of Marxism, a criticism which was
especially pronounced within indigenous activist circles, where
Marxism was considered to be an imported Western philosophy that
therefore had little to offer to indigenous struggles. The wager of
this collection of essays published by Comuna, then, was that
Marxism in Bolivia is not dead, and should not be completely done
away with that there is a specter of Marxism which is, above all,
not dormant, and that any contemporary theory of Marxism must
give support to this spectral presence. In the apparently collective
introduction to the publication, the authors write the following: we
are looking for the phantom that doesnt sleep.2
The Insomniac Phantom is therefore a timely work, in the sense that
its authors sought to work within the contemporary Bolivian
conjuncture, consisting in the general crisis of the Left described
above, which for the Comuna group nevertheless represented the
opportunity for those specters of Bolivian Marxism to be
rearticulated in powerful new ways. Looking for the phantom that
doesnt sleep was, therefore, much more than a question of building
on a long history of Bolivian scholarship on the Left. What this
group of intellectuals was looking for, the project that would
inaugurate their work, was no less than a reinvention of the Left
capable of identifying new strategies appropriate for the
contemporary moment.
Contextualizing the work of lvaro Garca Linera from the
perspective of the general trajectory of the Comuna group can
illuminate a number of the central theoretical gestures of his work,
as well as help to understand the shifts in focus that his work was to
undergo. It is worth drawing attention to the fact that, of the essays
published in the English translation of Plebeian Power, five were
originally published as part of a collective publication with the
Comuna group, and all of the essays are contemporaneous with the
groups activity. Moreover, beginning in 2006 when Garca Linera
becomes vice-president of Bolivia, ideological ruptures become
visible in the different positions of its members. This comes to a
head in 2011, when three of the members who had participated
actively in Comuna signed a document with other activists which
criticized the government of Evo Morales and Garca Linera for not
following through on a number of key policies: Manifesto for the
Recuperation of the Process of Change for the People and with the
People.3 Shortly afterwards, Garca Linera replied to this
accusation in an essay entitled NGOism, Infantile Illness of the
Right, attacking those who signed the Manifesto and marking the
official break-up of the group. It is worth asking, therefore, if a more
profound understanding of the direction which Garca Lineras work
has taken cannot be better understood from the perspective of the
general groups trajectory.
What we find in The Insomniac Phantom is a general attempt, and
this is true for Gutirrez guilar and Garca Linera in particular, to
reclaim the category of class and insist on the need to give it a
renewed understanding in order to make it operative in the
contemporary conjuncture. This theoretical position directly
challenged the post-Marxist tradition inaugurated by Ernesto Laclau
and Chantal Mouffe, with their variations on Gramscis concept of
hegemony. For Gutirrez guilar, for example, history continues to
be that of class struggle, and the possibility of revolutionary and
emancipatory action lies, therefore, in the conditions of possibility
of actual class relations in their current forms. In Garca Lineras
contribution, which is reproduced in the recent English translation of
Plebeian Power, the questions of accident and necessity, and of the
possibility of the revolution come, as is often the case in his work, to
the fore.4 His arguments are extremely dense, but develop themes
first found in his earlier work Value Form, Community Form,
concerning the role of the periphery of the world capitalist system
and those areas of the Bolivian economy which are yet to be
submitted to the real subsumption of labor by capital.5
These two authors should be contrasted with the work of Ral Prada
and Luis Tapia, whose reclaiming of Marx lies not so much in a new
interpretation of class, but rather in the production of political
subjectivity. In other words, in this early stage Garca Linera stands
out principally for his insistence on the question of the materialist
determination of the conditions of production and of subjectivity
more generally, as well as for the question of historical necessity.6
Plebeian Bolivia
In the later months of 1999, those phantoms that do not sleep
began to rise from the dead. A series of roadblocks in the
Department of La Paz, directed by former EGTK leader Felipe
Quispe and in protest of the neo-liberal government, was
accompanied in 2000 by the infamous Water Wars in Cochabamba.
Government plans to allow the privatization of water in a joint
venture that included the multinational company Bechtel were
protested at a local level by a conglomerate of social actors under
the name of the Coordinadora del agua. The members of the
Comuna group identified not only as intellectuals but also as
activists, and they very quickly became involved with what would
soon be called Bolivias new social movements. It was as if The
Insomniac Phantom had anticipated the unexpected return of
popular forces acting in the name of a commons which resisted the
capitalist dispossession that had become the norm since the 1985
New Economic Plan, conjuring those specters which were now
effectively entering the social scene.
The years 20002001 were a prolific moment for the members of
Comuna, who would release three separate publications in those two
years alone. The first of these, El retorno de la Bolivia plebeya (The
Return of Plebeian Bolivia), saw the first use of the word plebeian
to describe the popular forces that were revolting across the
country.7 It was also the publication that would bring visibility to the
group as a serious intellectual endeavor that had to be heeded.
Thereafter, the following year, the group published Pluriverso
(Pluriverse),8 and Tiempos de rebellion (Rebellious Times).9
This is a moment of very swift intellectual maturation within the
groups collective sense of identity, where we see a number of
themes that would be important for how the group comes to
understand the current moment, and, of course, for the development
of Garca Lineras thought on the popular movements. In The Return
of Plebeian Bolivia, for example, Garca Linera first characterizes
the contemporary moment as one of crisis, a crisis of the state and
even of the state form, and of that crisis as both threat and
opportunity for the left. The possibility of reconstructing a workers
and popular horizon, they would write in the introduction to the
publication, is not simply in resistance, in the prolonging of agony,
but rather in radically thinking through the crisis, in order to learn in
it, understand the weaknesses and obstructions of the past, and to
understand the world.10 It is also where we witness a collective
attempt to take on the work of Bolivian sociologist Ren Zavaleta
Mercado, and above all to reinterpret his analysis of Bolivia as a
motley society (what Zavaleta calls sociedad abigarrada). They
write in the introduction, in reference to the books purpose: We
have operated a symbolic selection, as Zavaleta does, of processes,
struggles and events, in order to think through the times that we live
and we have lived, and to assemble a series of political and
historical explanations and interpretations about this conflictive
ensemble of processes that we still call Bolivia precisely because
of the history that has been lived.11
A number of the essays included in the anthology Plebeian Power
come from these publications. The reader will notice that a series of
questions, many of which were already in some way present in The
Insomniac Phantom, return in ways that are very productive for
analyzing contemporary Bolivian society. In The Death of the
Twentieth Century Working-Class Condition (published as part of
The Return of Plebeian Bolivia), we see Garca Linera denounce the
conservatism of a workers movement stuck in an imaginary past,
unable to realize that the moment of the miners union power was
over.12 The question of the conjuncture, of what is historically
possible and the necessity of working with conditions that are at
hand are all found here. A different set of questions are raised in the
essay Union, Multitude and Community: Social Movements and
Forms of Political Autonomy in Bolivia (published as part of
Rebellious Times), where Garca Linera adopts a Zavaleta-style
study of societal forms that are, in Lineras typical style, strongly
grounded in an understanding of the social as a productive process
closely tied to political economy, following his innovative readings
of Marx for indigenous societies.13
Two more books would be published over the subsequent three
years as commentaries on the neoliberal crisis and the new social
movements: Democratizaciones plebeyas (Plebeian
Democratizations)14 in 2002 and Memorias de octubre (Memories of
October) in 2004.15 In the first, we witness the word plebeian
return to the fore of the theoretical gesture, but this time not as an
analysis of the possibility of social movements themselves, but as a
critique and analysis of institutional forms of power, and particularly
of the state. The general notion of crisis to define the moment that
Bolivia entered at the turn of the 21st century is now much more
specifically applied to the state, and this is particularly prevalent in
Garca Lineras analyses. He co-authors an essay with Gutirrez
guilar entitled The Neoliberal State Cycle and its Crisis (this
would be the last essay Gutirrez guilar would write in
publications which also included Garca Linera, as she later became
one of the new governments fiercest critics), and writes an essay of
which he is the sole author entitled The Twilight of a State Cycle.
Memories of October provides theoretical reflections on the
insurrection of October 2003, also known as the Gas Wars, which
forced President Gonzalo Snchez de Lozada to step down and leave
the country for his own safety. It was widely regarded as a victory
for the Left and indigenous groups, and produced a document called
the October Agenda which called for a Constituent Assembly,
among other demands. It is interesting that Garca Linera, unlike the
other authors of this collection, writes his contribution about the
state: his contribution is called State Crisis and Indigenous-
Plebeian Uprisings in Bolivia.16 Just as the October Agenda was in
many ways an important moment for Garca Lineras eventual
transition into the state, so too were these last two publications
important for Comunas increasing intellectual concern with the
possibility of revolution not only against, but also of the state.
The State of the Question
By 2005, the intellectual interests of the Comuna group turned to the
question of the state which coincides, of course, with Garca
Lineras own transition into the Bolivian state as vice-president. As
is apparent in Plebeian Power, Garca Linera himself had already
begun to write important texts on the question of the state, including
very concrete proposals for new directions for political reform (see,
for example, the 2004 essay Indigenous Autonomies and
Multinational State).17 A series of three texts conclude the existing
publications signed by the group: in 2005, Horizontes y lmites del
estado y el poder (Horizons and Limits of the State and Power);18 in
2007, La transformacin pluralista del estado (The Pluralist
Transformation of the State);19 in 2010, El Estado. Campo de lucha
(The State: A Battlefield).20
The first publication, Horizons and Limits of the State and Power,
represents what are probably the most mature elaborations of the
group on the historicity of the crisis of the Bolivian state. The
prologue to the work refers to two dimensions: the first is the crisis
of the Bolivian state specifically, due to the colonial nature of the
state that continues to separate access to citizenship according to
distinctions between white and Indian culture; the second is a more
general crisis of the state form, in which the particular type of
capitalist development over the last decades has placed into question
the sovereignty of the state apparatus. The essays contained in this
collection are a highly theoretical approach to the state, but one can
detect a tone of optimism in some of the authors, which opens up the
question of reconfiguring state power. Garca Lineras contribution,
The Struggle for Power in Bolivia,21 for instance, reflects the
intensity of the recent political reconfiguration. Once again, the
reader can detect a number of questions that maintain absolute
importance for Garca Linera: the question of the historical
possibility of different kinds of resistance, and of how social
movements articulate themselves and whether they are able to
consolidate more lasting articulation.
In the final essay that Garca Linera publishes with the Comuna
group in 2010, entitled The State in Transition: Power Bloc and
Point of Bifurcation, it is possible to detect a change in tone with
respect to previous writings with the Comuna, where Garca Linera,
now ideologue of the state, attempts to write the official history of
state consolidation in Bolivia. As Jeffery Webber notes in his
contribution to this dossier, there is a turning point in Garca
Lineras writings as vice-president that takes place during these
years where the previous openness to the plurality of forces of the
Left becomes re-interpreted as a conflict between left- and right-
wing Bolivia, where all those that do not side with the state are
supposed to be under the influence of the latter. This change is
curiously apparent in the difference between a first version of The
State in Transition published in 2008 and the final version,
published with Comuna in 2010.22 Whereas the question of the
point of bifurcation remains an open one in 2008, in 2010 Garca
Linera reveals the final crystallization of the new state formation to
be the victory of the left in the approval of the new Constitution in
2009. The question becomes, therefore: does this official history not
represent a closure of the more open-ended process with which the
so called process of change began, as we see a new hegemonic
bloc take power while others become marginalized from the political
process others that had hoped that the Constituent Reforms would
mean something very different for Bolivia? Or does this apparent
change in Garca Lineras position have to do more with his precise
understanding of the historical conjuncture, of what is necessary and
what is possible within a political configuration where, one must not
forget, a right-wing counter-revolution remains a very real threat?
These questions remain open, and to some extent will only be
decided a posteriori, and perhaps, as Walter Benjamin reminds us in
his theses on history, only by the victors. We suggest that a critical
approach to these questions requires, on an empirical level, more
studies such as those by Jeffrey Webber, James Petras, and Henry
Veltmeyer23 to underline the gap between the rhetoric of the current
MAS government and the direction of its actual policies; and, on a
theoretical level, an engagement with the notion of the historically
necessary and historically possible the question of how to
defend the revolution which has been used to justify the general
direction of the current Bolivian administration and is particularly
well elaborated by lvaro Garca Linera himself. The future anterior
What will have been of these movements? here appears to be
appropriate, suggesting the need to keep our eyes and ears open to
the voices of the specters that perhaps, still, do not sleep, in order to
interpret the 2000-2005 insurrections in Bolivia in light of future
developments in the country.
This article is part of a dossier entitled lvaro Garca Linera: A
Bolivian Marxist Seduced.

66 lvaro Garca Linera et al., El fantasma insomne : pensando el presente

desde el manifiesto comunista (La Paz: Muela del Diablo Editores,
1999). All translations are the authors unless otherwise stated, with the
exception of essays published as part of Plebeian Power where the
author has remained faithful to the original translations.
67 lvaro Garca Linera et al., El fantasma insomne, 9.
68 Colectivo Manifiesto 22 de Junio, For the Recuperation of the Process
of Change for the People and with the People, Dialectical
Anthropology 35 (2011): 285-293.
69 See lvaro Garca Linera, The Communist Manifesto and Our Present:
Four Theses on its Historical Actuality, in Plebeian Power: Collective
Action and Indigenous, Working-Class and Popular Identities in Bolivia
(Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014).
70 lvaro Garca Linera, Forma valor, forma comunidad: aproximacin
terica-abstracta a los fundamentos civilizatorios que preceden al Ayllu
universal (Chonchocoro: [publisher not identified], 1995).
71 Although Garca Linera never cites the French intellectual, this focus on
necessity resonates strongly with the late work of Louis Althusser.
72 lvaro Garca Linera et al., El retorno de la Bolivia plebeya (La Paz:
Muela del Diablo Editores, 2000).
73 lvaro Garca Linera et al., Pluriverso (La Paz: Muela del Diablo
Editores, 2001).
74 lvaro Garca Linera et al., Tiempos de rebelin (La Paz: Muela del
Diablo Editores, 2001).
75 Garca Linera et al., El retorno de la Bolivia plebeya, 8.
76 Garca Linera et al., El retorno de la Bolivia plebeya, 7.
77 See also The Death of the Twentieth Century Working-Class
Condition, in Garca Linera, op. cit. (2014).
78 See also: Union, Multitude and Community: Social Movements and
Forms of Political Autonomy in Bolivia, in Garca Linera, op. cit.
79 lvaro Garca Linera et al., Democratizaciones plebeyas (La Paz:
Muela del Diablo Editores, 2002).
80 lvaro Garca Linera et al., Memorias de octubre (La Paz: Muela del
Diablo Editores, 2004).
81 See also: State Crisis and Indigenous-Plebeian Uprisings in Bolivia in
Garca Linera, op. cit. (2014).
82 Cf. Indigenous Autonomies and Multinational State in Garca Linera,
op. cit. (2014).
83 lvaro Garca Linera et al., Horizontes y lmites del estado y el poder
(La Paz: Muela del Diablo Editores, 2005).
84 lvaro Garca Linera et al., Transformacin pluralista del estado. La
Paz: Muela del Diablo Editores, 2007).
85 lvaro Garca Linera et al., El estado. Campo de lucha (La Paz: Muela
del Diablo Editores, 2010).
86 See also: The Struggle for Power in Bolivia in Garca Linera, op. cit.
87 Only the first version of this essay has thus far been translated into
English. Refer to: lvaro Garca Linera, The State in Transition:
Power Bloc and Point of Bifurcation, Latin American Perspectives,
37.4 (July 2010), 34-47.
88 See Jeffrey R. Webber, Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in
Modern Bolivia (Leiden: Brill, 2011) and from the same author, From
Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia: Class struggle, Indigenous Liberation,
and the Politics of Evo Morales (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011).
Finally, see also James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer, Whats Left in
Latin America? (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 95-134.