As we approach the presidential election in Venezuela, is there a common project in South America?
The interesting thing is that our processes are not tied to an exclusive model. They are plural searches, with differentiated speeds and degrees of intensity, to dismantle the neoliberal machinery that accumulated by expropriating the public sector. I respect what they can do in Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela. In Bolivia we are working on the basis of our material possibilities, our reality. At first each process was a trickle of water. Now they are joining each other to form a converging torrent.
In the short run, how is the democratic path to the socialism that you proclaim being constructed?
Let’s think about the empowering of the state, which has managed to retain economic resources, scope for intervention in the economy, and let’s think about the community. Conversion of state property into public property: the key is the reinforcement of what is common, the direct participation of the people in decision-making. Without this it is impossible to imagine that the state will yield to the public and be overtaken, as we hope, by the commons. What I am saying is based on Antonio Gramsci’s concept of the integral state. As the indigenous, the trucker, the farmer do, to intervene in the decision about what is to be done with the surplus, with the property, with the minerals, with the water. State property alone is not socialism. It is a good tool for centralizing, for controlling, for keeping track of things.
And the concrete management?
I am reminded of Michel Foucault’s concept of governance. A flexible and negotiated solution of state and non-state structures, sometimes without a centre. Let’s look at the mining sector. It’s a resource with good prices. How were decisions made in the past? Without conflicts, because there were no miners, no cooperativistas, no industrialists. The World Bank, the company, the president and of course the [US] embassy decided what would be done with the ore, undemocratically, and neither Bolivia nor the businessman benefited. Now the workers want higher incomes, a larger workforce. The state wants the surplus to be redistributed among everyone. The cooperativistas, the self-employed miners, say that not everything should go to the wage-earners or the state. You have to argue over it. In plebeian language, it is work stoppages, marches, threats, reconciliation. And it produces a more complicated, more conflictive, riskier outcome but it is the people deciding about a common resource.
At what point in this synthesis is Bolivia?
In the first period there were two opposing projects regarding the economy, the state and society. As in a war of position strategy, there were two blocs, even territorially divided, and two social agendas. This ended later with the violent attempted coup d’état, a plot to assassinate Evo that was foiled, and the political and moral defeat of the conservatives. This will probably change within five years, a decade, but today there is only one horizon in time, including for the opposition, which imagines the future around this scenario. So the tensions come not from the opposition but from the usufruct within the hegemonic project, and in the most important cycle of expansion Bolivia has had in the last 50 or 60 years. We have reduced unemployment to 2 percent in a beaten-down and very poor country. The internalization of the wealth is generating a reduction in poverty and a gradual [increase in] welfare of the population. These are still modest figures, but they are significant for us as Bolivians. In this framework the state must see to it that the surplus has a universal, not corporate character.
Isn’t there the paradox of an indigenous movement that triumphs, because it has come to control the state, and loses force as such?
Brother, these are creative tensions in the revolutionary process. It has happened with the miners. Some ask us to intervene militarily. The conflicts, even if it takes us one month, or six months, even when there’s dynamite being exploded, have to be resolved democratically. The same with the oil industry. Similarly with the electricity industry. Revolutionary societies cannot let themselves be frightened by conflict and dissention. It is more complicated and risky, but that is how we give more life to democracy.
Doesn’t this conflict frighten national business sectors that the Bolivian government wants to encompass?
There are rules. The state is going to intervene in certain areas: hydrocarbons, electrical energy, mining to some degree and key sectors of mining and hydrocarbon industrialization. And that’s it. It has agreed to allow some participation for private national and foreign activity. The private sector benefits if the surplus that is generated in the country stays within it. It can provide services, improve its investments, get contracts from the state. There are moments in which the businessman’s interest intersects with that of the worker. Between the foreign businessman and the worker, the state opts for the worker. When the conflict is between the worker and the Bolivian businessman, we look for procedures for dialogue in order to allocate areas or conciliate between the interests of both.
How is South America key for Bolivia?
We have never lived through such an exceptional time to build a material basis for integration. In the last ten years intraregional trade has almost doubled. Bolivia sells 50 per cent of its exports to Latin America — not only gas but manufactured products, lumber, soy. Brazil and Argentina are cooperating in automobile production, aren’t they? Each of our countries has adopted post-neoliberal plans with greater or lesser radical content. Not only are there progressive and revolutionary governments as never before in history. Their methods reduce the effects of the crisis on the region, which will grow this year at a rate of between 3 and 5 percent while the developed world will at best achieve 1 or 2 percent. We have CELAC, UNASUR, ALBA, as initiatives of common construction. We have stopped looking at ourselves with illusions in Europe, when the prize thing was to send one’s children there. Now change includes the ideology of what is desirable for the middle class.
Argentine university students take vacations in Bolivia.
When the president leaves the Palace [of Government, popularly known as el Palacio Quemado], they call out to him for a photo: “Evo, from Argentina!” This is an exceptional time. What is driving us forward is the society. The state has to know how to keep the focus on the universal. But the society gives you a push, gives you a smack. There is no other way to advance. The state cannot substitute for society.
How do you intend to make this Bolivian state?
That’s one of the great contradictory features of a revolutionary process. The president has explained it quite nicely. In the past, the trade union was the state. The state gave you nothing and took everything from you. It seemed to be there to kill you. Invading, looting, destroying you and then withdrawing. There remained the union. I don’t have a school; it’s the union. I don’t have a road; let’s go with the union and make a road, a gravel path. A comrade has died and left five orphans; the comrades provide the casket and care for his children. In the countryside and the popular neighborhoods shortages are overcome collectively through associative relationships. Then comes this revolutionary process. We nationalize, the surplus increases and we build schools, we put grass in the schoolyard; the herbalist attends at the birth, but the health clinic comes. The union has to reconsider what it does. It mobilizes to demand that the state satisfy basic needs. That is, the social movement is weakened by the increase in the social state. So we debate the matter with the comrades. The union has to build local or regional economic power, in the development of the resources.
Does economic power include participating in management?
The union must lead in the state and private sectors. After the discussion on the surplus, it’s in the management of the economy that the socialism of the future is going to be defined, after all. There are positive and negative experiences. In the Aymara area, around the lake [Lake Titicaca, near La Paz], the comrades work the land, tend their cattle and still sold their milk to the transnational company. They don’t want to be exploited, they want to be able to culminate their efforts by forming a small dairy business to distribute the milk in the school attended by their children in the town governed by the mayor they elect. It’s a loop. Fine. In the Chapare, they opened a factory and it didn’t work. They wanted to build some economic power, but they know now the limits of managing the economy communally. They organize on a community basis for water and pasture lands, but it’s hard to organize on that basis for the processing. There is still a limit that we have to learn to go beyond.
I’ll give you another example: Huanuni. A mine with five thousand workers. Formally, the government appoints the manager, but in reality it is managed by the union. They determine the management, investments, wages, the pace of the work. State property and worker management. This is the most advanced experience and at the same time it has a limit that shows you how far you can go in the management of what is communist. The surplus that is generated is not universalized. You have comrades among the miners who are earning 50,000 Bolivianos, 10,000 dollars. The president earns 1500 dollars. Only 10 percent of the profits go to the state. The victory is worker self-management. The limit is that we are not universalizing the surplus.
What is meant by communist?
The community organization of production. Self-management tends to corporatize the resources that are generated. The goal is to universalize the resources that are generated. And you don’t have books for those tensions. Lenin didn’t put his mind to it.
What is the significance of Evo’s role in this process?
The collapse of the old party system was due to the emergence of popular sectors. I imagine that by the dynamics of the crisis, when there is a failure of the mechanisms through which those who are governed support the government the need arises for new leaders. Evo’s appearance was not predestined. But clearly he was, at the precise moment and in the precise circumstances, the right person for the society for what is happening and what is emerging. Farmer, fighter, anti-imperialist, indigenous, a unifying force. Every rebel can say, about Evo, “That’s me.”
Published in the October 7 issue of the Buenos Aires daily Página/12. Translated from the Spanish by Richard Fidler, from Página/12. We are reposting this from the wonderful site: Bolivia Rising