Monday, June 05, 2006

The Morales Effect

Indigenous activist, in traditional dress, fires a stone at worried police from her sling during the Water War, Picture by Tom Kruse
When Evo Morales
won the Presidential election in December 2005 it was the culmination of many years of struggle against hard line neo-liberal, racist governments.

The movements that rose up to oppose the privatisation of natural resources were unprecedented, bottom up and so powerful they were capable of taking on the army and overthrowing Presidents.

Morales, or his party MAS, were not the leader of these movements - but he is the most high profile political leader who has a past rooted in working class struggle. Morales explicitly distanced himself from the most miltant protests of 2005 knowing that he was likely to be elected in the near future. However, he understands his relationship with these movements, for instance taking a 50% pay cut when he took office signalling to everyone around the world that he was a politician of principle rather than part of the body of careerist and self inflated politicos who were in politics as much for their ego and personal gain as any cause they wish to further.

Other moves that were as much about signals of intent as they were political acts include the purging of the top brass of the military and the appointment of leading members of the social movements to high office. For example the new Jusice Minister
Casimira Rodriguez, who Christian Perentti describes in The Nation as having "started working at age 13 in Cochabamba as a maid. For the mostly white men of the Bolivian bar, this appointment was an insult beyond comprehension... She recounted how she and other maids--some of whom were held as virtual prisoners--used their only free day each week to organize a union for domestic servants. "I have lived with injustice and inequality," said Rodriguez. "It is hard to fight corruption, but I can show the people that this is their house, too."

The main demand of the movements on the new government was the renationalisation of natural resources and one that Morales has begun to address. Making a speech on how Bolivia's resources have been "looted by foreign companies" he announced the highly popular, but limitted, seizure of assetts of the three major gas companies in Bolivia. He has stated that the mining and forestry industries are next and most radically, land reform (which the FT says is a bad thing)

But this is not a government opposed to the market - only the daggers drawn neo-liberal version that was imposed upon the country in the 1990's. Vice President García Linera said that "Transnational corporations are welcome in Bolivia, but they will not dominate the economy. They should expect to pay taxes and submit to reasonable environmental and social regulations. But they will still make profits" and he seems to be true to his word.

Jindal Steel and Power an Indian company has just signed $2.3 billion dollar contracts in Bolivia - the biggest ever contract given to an Indian company in South America. D
rugs companies have switched sides to MAS, because the amount of medication Bolivians take (can afford) is currently very low - MAS is the only party likely to make a deep commitment to health care (and thus increase in the drug budget), and the ubiquitous Cuban doctors have already arrived. It seems that many of the multi-nationals feel reassured that Bolivia is a region of economic stability and opportunity.

The might of the Bolivian state: Picture by Tom KruseMany of the leaders of the social movements are concerned. Concerned by the top down behaviour of the government, the limits to reforms and, I suspect, the lack of role of the social movements themselves.

Solares, leader of COB (the Bolivian version of the TUC) described Evo as "mediocre, incapable, anti-worker and reformist" and proclaimed "scientific socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat" as the only solution to Bolivia's problems. The FEJUVE (the powerful neighbourhood associations) are not much happier and have equally colourful rhetoric.

Whilst the leaders of the movments still call demonstrations and protests and make declarations the people are certainly giving Morales a chance - the recent call for a general strike and march brought out just 200 people. These radical leaders may need to learn patience but also to read the mood of those they represent, a strike with no support damages the movement far more than no strike at all. I know it's unusual for a UK reader to have to think about a union leader that is for more radical action than the members but this is the situation in Bolivia today.

Nick Buxton, writing in Bolivia, says that despite the progressive reforms "it is still true that the MAS Government have done little to change, or even start to change, the neo-colonial structures of power and wealth that have created such stark inequality in Bolivia. The figures in Government may have changed, but those who control economic power have not. As even Morales admits "we have won the Presidency but not power"."

This Morales effect is an interesting phenomenon. When Blair came to power he got a honeymoon but delivered nothing but neo-liberalism, and the erosion of Labour's support has been slow to say the least - Morales on the other hand may not be contemplating attacking the market system but is delivering real reform that could make a massive difference at the base of society. Just as the left in Bolivia needs to learn at speed a nuanced approach to this phenomenon the left here needs to support the Bolivian movement's demand for deep reforms and the Morales government's attacks on neo-liberalism - and that is not a trick that is easy to master.


AN said...

Thanks jim.

This is very interesting. I think that the left in Britain, but also internationally, has too uncritically accepted a false polarisation between reform and revolution as if the political future will follow either 1917 or 1945.
Based upon his first 120 days I think the Morales government has been a much bigger success than I was anticipating. As Nick Buxton describes it being: “determined to deliver concrete changes in a very short time space.” Not only nationalisation, but wage rises and fuel subsidies.
Personally I think the government is absolutely correct to proceed only slowly to challenge the vested power of the capitalists. There is a complex and deep revolutionary process going on in South America, that includes not only the grass roots rebellions against neo-liberalism, but also an escalating process of cooperation between the left governments in power in Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia, which is strengthening the radicalisation, not weakening it.

Jim Jay said...

He's a bigger success than the Bolivian left were anticipating too - and they began his presidency with very belligerent language, but by maintaining an essentially 'anti-morales' position they are becoming more and more distanced from the people.

More distant than the government even.

This is a big change in fortunes for them, going from leading mass movements over a period of years to making WRP like calls for general strikes that no one listens to in the space of a few months.

I don't want to give prescriptions as to what they should do - but its clear they need to think fast about how revolutionaries deal with a reformist government that is actually delivering.

AN said...

My point is that we don't know whether a prcess is limited by reformism or potentialy revolutionary until you reach the buffers.

For example Lincoln started the Civil War intending to preserve slave owning in the rebel states, but the logic of political and military events meant he had to free the slaves and break up the Southern latifundia.

Let's see what happpens. But every reform won strengthens the workers movement.

Jim Jay said...

Sure, I was commenting on the left's 'dilema' in Bolivia

But every reform won strengthens the workers movement.

I'm going to be pedantic. I'm really really sorry. I don't think this is necessarily true, it can be of course, but not always.

For example, the programme of reforms in Bolivia have weakened the workers movement not strengthened it - BUT - all these reforms benefit the working class and are good.

AN said...

Have the reforms weakened the movement, or has the movement weakened itself due to its misunderstanding and flawed response approach to the reforms?

Ed said...

I'm really interested in the relationship between reforms and revolution. I agree with the comment that there is often a false polarisation between refomism and revolution - the worst offenders actually being sectarian revolutionaries who cannot conceive of any process of change other than Russia 1917 by numbers. And Russia 1917 (or more precisely Russia 1918-1921) is not an experience I'd like to see repeated.

The trouble is firstly, that there are socialist reforms and then there are reformist reforms. secondly, that it's tempting to slide into reformism (ie the idea that the process of change will be entirely smooth, consensual and carried out solely by parliamentary means) once you start to question the idea of 'revolution' as mechanically conceived by dogmatists and Leninists (sorry)and once you start to put more emphasis on innovatory reforms and the idea of a dialectic between reforms from above and mass movement from below. On the other hand I've always found the Leninist position absolutely mental, so I don't think there's any other way.

Jim Jay said...

ED socialist reforms and then there are reformist reforms

I think this is a really useful distinction - and I'd add most 'revolutions' are a set of extremely radical reforms in themselves anyway

ED On the other hand I've always found the Leninist position absolutely mental

I totally agree, with the proviso that at certain points in history being mental is the sanest thing to be.

AN Have the reforms weakened the movement, or has the movement weakened itself due to its... response... to the reforms?

Whilst I think the leadership of the movement have been dogmatic and not helped their cause I do think that reforms can undercut the desire for militant actions - if the people who make up the movement think they are getting what they want why keep protesting?

The poll tax is a good example of that. The movement could not be sustained beyond the point where the Tories had conceded and Thatcher was deposed.

Phugebrins said...

Thing is, Morales can't be expected to institute some ground-up revolution when he's at the top. He can't do a lot other than what he's doing - certainly not at the stage Bolivia's presently at. It's not up to the unions just to sit and criticise - they've got a job to do as well, from the other direction! I don't know if Morales is encouraging them to do this, but popular movements and MAS should be co-operating to build up enough momentum and organisation so that a little further down the line, Morales can say 'right, TNCs no longer have any place in Bolivia'.

Jim Jay said...

The union leadership isn't just sitting and criticising, they are trying to initiate ground up struggles - the point is that the members of the social movements are not with them and are unwilling to act.

AN said...

Ok Jim, but if "reforms can undercut the desire for militant actions - if the people who make up the movement think they are getting what they want why keep protesting?"

Then the movement will not be built by militancy, so perhaps the left need to get themselves involved instead in organising to promote service delivery of the reforms instead. I would think there was space to campaign to ensure everyone is recieving their cheap fuel, or access to the literacy programmes, or whatever.

the movement will be strengthened if the people have something worth defending.

Jim Jay said...

AN - I completely agree, it seems to me that's the kind of re-thinking they require - but are hampered by the a priori assumption that the government is rubbish and must be protested against

AN said...

And I don't understand what Ed means by socialist reforms and reformist reforms.

Actually i think the whole "from below" thing is a semi-anarchist conceit that has become popularised as a misguided response to official communism. This has been further compounded by the mistake of Cliff that the tendency towards State Cap inevitably meant that the governeing bureucracy became analogous to the western capitalist - ignoring the fact that in some places ideologicaly the government could still be of the left whatever the social realtions of production, and could also protect some parts of the economy from the market and law of value. And in some places yes the bureucracy did become a state capitalist class, but in some places that process was more mediated. Failure to recognise this has led the IS tradition to be systematically ultra-left towards the left in power.

It doesn't matter whether the process is led from above or perculates up from below, because both can happen, but what does matter is there is mass popular participation and a struuggle for accountability.

Ed said...

I just mean that some reforms are designed and implemented to maintain and improve capitalist profitability. Other reforms might be designed more to build up the confidence of the oppressed and are more antagonistic towards capital. Obviously, those that are antagonistic towards capital are likely to be fiercely resisted and the experience of this resistance might further radicalise and embolden the movement. On the other hand, of course, reforms that lead to disinvestment and crisis might simply demoralise and demobilise. That's the problem. I'm not a fan of the whole Trotskyist politics of exposure or transitional demonds, since they tend to suppose that the working class is somehow inherently revolutionary and only held back by a layer of corrupt 'reformists'. I think there are times when reformist reforms might be tactically necessary and obviously you can't hope to take on capital without serious preparation. Sorry I'm being very confusing here aren't I.

What I mean basically is that some reforms implemented in certain ways can help to embolden and radicalise - sometimes. Other reforms simply demobilise and strenghten capital.

AN said...

I don't know, Ed, I think that is a bit schematic.

For example if new PM Gordon Brown initiated a major round of social housing building, but did it via the RSL sector instead of allowing the "fourth option" - that would simulataneoulsy strengthen social stability (good for capital), benefit the working classes (good for us), reduce house prices (damaging for the middle classes, damaging for finance capital and possible good for manufacturing capital), weaken the far right (good for everyone, except the BNP), strengthen the momentum towards PFI (bad for the unions and the political left), etc, etc.

What I am getting at here is that all reforms have complicated effects, most will be welcomed by some parts of capital, and opposed by other parts. Occassionally a particular reform becomes a cause celebre where as you say there is an investment strike, currency destabilisation, or whatever, but which reforms provoke this seems almost arbitrary in economic terms, it is more a political trial of strength.
The same is true of a company pushed into receivership, it is a political judgement by the government, banks, and finance capitalists whether to bail it out or let it close, and although they may say closure is due to wage militacy or whatever life is rarely that simple - for example Peugeot closing the British plants where people earn less than the French plants staying open. Or british Steel in the 1980s closing first the plants that did NOT take part in the pay strike (1981?)

becasue it is a political judgement, that is whay i say moralles has done wel to move forward cauutiously, and not provoke a confrontationn, at the same time building the international links that strenghten his hand.

The Sentinel said...

Once again you play underhanded games. Obscuring the truth and propagating lies, everywhere you slither.

You are nothing more then an excuse for a man with no concept of right or wrong.

Your repugnant beliefs are responsible for this shit hole we call the UK today.

You despise this country and its inhabitants and are nothing more then a traitor who does not have enough courage to live in the countries whose peoples you wish to import here wholesale or whose systems you advocate for our own.

History is a self repetitive entity however, and your day will soon end.

And the traditional punishment for treason will come back again.