Evo, the State and the Revolution: A profile of Álvaro García Linera

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By Pablo Stefanoni / Source Revistaanfibia.com / Adaptation for The Dawn


Evo Morales’ copilot is, in turn, one of the most original political theorists of the region. Pablo Stefanoni draws the profile of Alvaro Garcia Linera, the most important Vice President of the Latin American left: a classic Marxist who challenged his library and now lives the tensions of being an intellectual who governs.


On the night of December 18th, 2005, Alvaro García returned to his home in the Sopocachi neighborhood, as one would do after a normal workday. Only his lack of voice lasted as a visible mark of what had happened that day: the historic electoral victory that had made him Vice President of Evo Morales. Apart from reaching the Palacio Quemado (Bolivian Palace of Government) along with the first indigenous president in Bolivian history, and starting the “decolonization” process, Garcia Linera began his own personal transition: from being an political intellectual, to an intellectual politician. In this case, the order of the factors does alter the product.

The new element in play is the State. The same State that left-wing organizations intend to dismantle, strengthen or ignore -sometimes all of these at the same time- according to the currents or the contexts. For García Linera, the State had meant, just a decade ago, jail. To Evo, repression and eradication of coca crops. Now both were the State, along with a great mass of Indigenous and peasants who cheered for them.


After several twists and turns, Evo preferred Alvaro over other options —a female candidate, and a businessman from Santa Cruz— that surrounded him to give him counsel or advise. The formula was: the combative indigenous and the “Man with the know-how“. García Linera did not reply immediately, but he finally accepted. The result was overwhelming: they won nearly 54% of the votes in the first round, becoming the first duo to overcome the barrier of 50% since the restoration of democracy in 1982. Which library shelves is one supposed to look in to face this new time? Earlier, in his political grassroots activism, it seemed like Marx, Negri, Wallerstein, Bourdieu or social movements academics were enough to find interpretative guidelines. Now, they were no longer sufficient.


Any political and intellectual profile of García Linera, and any analysis of the “burden of responsibility” (Tony Judt) in their political and intellectual career must look into his relationship with the State. First, as part of the autonomist and anti-State radical left. Then, as ideologue of a “new left” and “translator” of the social movements to the big cities. Finally, as a peculiar Vice President, because of the the duration of his mandate and his key role that exceeds what was expected of him, which is what distinguishes him from his predecessors. At the same time, García Linera is, at times, a sociologist doing participant observation, who speaks and writes about the State’s magic that can transform ideas into matter.

García Linera was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia’s valley area, in 1962. His childhood and adolescence were marked by his mother Mary Linera. His father, a military, left the family scene in the 60s. By the time Mary’s youngest son, the current Vice President, was born, she had left the aristocratic lifestyle in which she had been born and was a woman who struggled to survive and sustain the family.

García Linera stressed in an interview his mother’s efforts to “invest in cultural capital for their children”. So he studied with a scholarship at the prestigious San Agustín school. However, in the middle of his studies, he went to La Paz without his mother. There, he says, he “tempered his character” and went deeper into the political passions he had at the moment. At 18 he went to Mexico to major in Mathematics. In the Federal District he met Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar, a Mexican student who was working in groups of solidarity with El Salvador.


Later, she became his wife and partner of theoretical reflection and political adventures in the Bolivian Altiplano. Today, he remembers the Mexican capital as a “bookish paradise”. There he became interested in the guerrilla struggle of Guatemala, especially for theirincorporation of indigenous elements (ethnic-national vision), which was always an elusive topic for the Bolivian left, and that would become one of his obsessions. The question kept him awake: how to articulate Marxism with indigenous movements,  and indigenous peoples with miners.


Álvaro García Linera and Raquel Gutierrez conceived a whole political intervention paradigm. They did it from quite marginal position, focusing on the controversies with classic Marxism, with the attitude and language of young nonconformists who take on a disparaging and refounding radicality. “We came back with an idea: we belong to the left, but this left was no good. We were a very small number of people, and practically no one would listen to us”, he recognized later. Yet the work was intense and his life was focused on it. As a teenager, Garcia Linera never had posters of Che in his room. Cuba was not his romantic Mecca. His fetish was Marx: not the one in pictures, but the books.


Those were years of crisis of the mining movement (the State mining project was almost closed and all of its workers laid off) and of the left-wing movements as well, after the failure the Democratic and Popular Unity Government in the 80s, which had ended in hyperinflation. In this context, the updating of Marxism seemed to be an even more important task. As an ideologue of the Red Offensive —la Ofensiva Roja an indigenous and political Organization founded by Garcia Linera and his partner Fernando Quispe— Alvaro adopted his name of war: Qananchiri (the one who clarifies things).


But the Red offensive did not stop there. It sought to move on to the armed struggle through the Túpac Katari Guerrilla Army (EGTK). García Linera and Gutiérrez Aguilar, will not tire of clarifying that they wanted to encourage social rebellion and did not seek to imitate the Latin American foquismo –a revolutionary theory inspired by Che Guevara that seeks to create the objective conditions to make the revolution- of which Bolivia had the tragic witnessed the tragic result of Ernesto Che Guevara’s murder in October 1967, and later the equally disastrous Teoponte guerrillas.


But the timing was not adequate for that kind of initiatives. In one of his trips to La Paz in 1992, García Linera was captured by the police, who had been accumulating intelligence information. He was thirty. Some of his partners had already been imprisoned.


After his release from prison in 1997, paroled, García Linera dedicated himself to academic work. As a sociologist, one of his fields of study was the reconfiguration of the working class and the worker’s building of identity after the mining crisis and collective action of social movements.


At the same time, he began to have a voice in the media. First, very modestly, through a college broadcast station. Then, he participated as a panelist in the show El Pentágono, with wide repercussions among opinion makers.


García Linera was proposed as a kind of “intellectual translator” between the indigenous-rural and urban contexts, in a time in which it was very difficult to understand the political recomposition underway, which was often arising from union meetings and conferences in isolated regions located hundreds of kilometers away from the big cities. Also the members of the group called “Comuna” —in English, Commune; a group that García Linera, his wife and others started to publish books and to activities—  acted as interpreters of the Bolivian reality to the world: his texts were widely cited in the works that, in increasing numbers, began to deal with Bolivia —with more or less romanticism— in Europe and Latin America.


By that time, he also began to work more closely with Evo Morales —who at that time was a National Deputy and leader of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS)— and began to advice him informally.


“Some say that instead of blood I have ice in my veins”, teased García Linera in one opportunity. That may help explain the powerful and durable duo that he formed with Evo Morales, even more taking into account the many difficulties that this kind of relationship can develop. It would not be easy to find a similar experience among national and popular experiences in the 50s, or even in currents ones. In general, Vice Presidents have changed; it happened to Perón, Paz Estenssoro, Chávez or Kirchner. What contributed to this situation was that García Linera has always shown Evo as the one and only leader, and even theorized about Evismo as the “national-popular action”. Sometimes he also spoke of “Tata Evo”, which refers to a kind of father to the peasants. He always repeated that his struggle was to reach an indigenous government, which puts him in the second place, naturally.


García Linera takes away from authors beyond his autonomist moment, such as Lenin and Gramsci, which undoubtedly refer to the State, the construction of hegemony and the management of power (mainly discussed by Lenin). “The complete works of Lenin are my favorite books”, he said in a 2012 lecture at the University of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.


In an interview he did with Maristella Svampa in 2007, García Linera said: “This is the first government in centuries that is concerned about the construction of a State in the Weberian and Hegelian sense, as representative of the will and the general interests of society“.


And he spoke of the State projection, of the political and ethical project of stages of social movement mobilization, when general horizons are defined in the country. It is in this sense that the formula “government of social movements” emerges in Bolivia. It operates in two ways: the movements permeate / democratize the State and, then, the same State partially institutionalizes them. The State then appears as the possibility of consolidating the favorable changes in the correlation of forces, as a way to counteract the natural backflow of social movements. Hence the importance of a new Constitution.

“At this point began a fight with several colleagues about what was possible, and was was not possible”, he says. “When I entered the government, I started to validate and operate through the State- based on that reading of the moment. (…) To support as much as possible the deployment of autonomous organizational capacities of society. That is how far the possibility of what a left State can do, as a revolutionary State”.


From this more “realistic” view also emerged the concept of “Andean-Amazonian capitalism”, which, according to García Linera, “does not make concessions to the idealistic radicalism with which the current process wanted to be read”, and begins with the observation that “socialism is not built by decree or by desire, it is built by the real movement of society. And what is happening now in Bolivia is a particular development in the field of general development of capitalism”.

Postneoliberalism is a form of capitalism, but we believe it contains a set of forces and social structures that, over time, could become post-capitalist.

Undoubtedly, García Linera can build on the resounding failure of the so-called “real socialisms” to argue that the market can not be abolished by decree. The oscillations, tensions and even ambiguities that can be identified in his speech are justified by the absence of any historical experience, or any theoretical formulation for a State that works towards their own weakened. Additionally, as shown by the book of Pablo Nicolas Vincent Quisbert —Pachakuti, the return of the Nation— the Pluri-National state is, by far, the most successful experience of building a “nation State” in Bolivian history.


In his official biography, on the website of the Vice President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Garcia Linera is defined as a “classic Marxist”. In these years, he was invited by many universities to give lectures —which are often quite massive—, he received honorary doctorates and, in the framework of the cycle “Thinking the world from Bolivia”, shared the stage with many foreign intellectuals (Negri, Žižek, Laclau, Harvey and so on). García Linera keeps on writing: the website of the Vice President shows his vast production for this stage of the government, plus some reissues of earlier books. On each trip, he often escapes to buy books, almost compulsively, looking at each shelf of bookstores, book by book, with the same curiosity of that twenty-year-old who lived in Mexico. His bodyguards are already used to it.


Tensions between critical thinking and the needs of  “the revolution” are always present. Thus, on one occasion the Vice President invited the “freethinkers”, especially those with Parliamentary responsibilities, to leave the process of change. “Colleagues who are unwilling to accept this democratic centralism and the building of consensus, can withdraw from it with no consequences, they  have the right not to accept, but once you accept the rules this is not a group of friends or freethinkers, we are revolutionaries”.


A very important issue these days is how to incorporate former opponents without distorting the original project; the “Gramscian Moment” of the process of change. But also, two historical problems to the left are the efficiency and the bureaucratization of the State. As shown by Moshe Lewin in his book Lenin’s Last Struggle, these two problems were among the Soviet leader’s last obsessions before his early death. It was a match, in part, against his own earlier work.


In short, the opposing pairs that delimitate the tension lines are: decolonization / modernization; State / social autonomy; centralization / dispersion of power, realism / utopia, ideology / pragmatism, responsibility / freethinking, organicism / pluralism. The Vice President goes through those lines not only as a theorist but as a historic figure, —inevitable tensions of any historical figure, more so after almost a decade in power— between the intellectual and the politician, and between the politician and the intellectual. The tensions of those who have “betrayed” the ideal mandate of Julien Benda on the role of the clercs —the great intellectuals— as a moral conscience, who are aimed to not get involved in political struggles, as not to “get dirty” with the mud of passions and immediate political struggles. Although he presents himself as a free subject, his inevitable contradictions made him appear as a prisoner of those antinomies that not even history has yet solved. Because disputes between collective self-emancipation of society and the revolutionary State power are part of the “creative tensions” —-and also the dramas— of all revolutionary processes of the twentieth century. In these tensions the future of the current and complex process of change that Bolivia is going through will be defined.

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