Bolivia: Behind the ‘MAS crisis’

September 4, 2010

Many analysts have rushed to give their opinions regarding the “crisis of the MAS” and its consequences.

Yet, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS — the party of President Evo Morales) has always been in crisis — if by crisis we mean internal disputes for power and the existence of personal interests.

Despite this permanent “crisis”, the MAS was able to cohere the majority of plebeian sectors through a kind of corporative alliance.

Groups completely dispersed in the 1980s and early ’90s began to come together in 1995 with the formation of the MAS — groups only the Morales’ leadership could keep united.

But divisions, expulsions and mutual accusations have been the rule throughout the history of the MAS.

In 2004, Filemon Escobar, considered a MAS ideologue, was expelled to the consternation of many militants.

In 2005, there were hunger strikes at MAS campaign offices to demand candidate. These were broken up under the threat of expelling the buscapegas (those purely seeking jobs).

We only have to look at how MAS candidates were elected to conclude that, as its own militants say, it is “a madhouse”.

But such fights — and they existed in abundance in 2009 — did not stop Morales obtaining almost 64% of the vote for president that year.

The truth is that since 2000, the people have mobilised through their union and neighbourhood organisations. The MAS has functioned as an electoral structure, and — in some ways — an employment agency for many militants.

That is why various analysts aim to demonstrate that the MAS is just like the rest of the parties and nothing has changed.

But, as in all areas, the forces that seek to transform society drag with them an overwhelming conservative inertia. The MAS is no exception — rather it is the textbook case.

But what can be done in this situation? The vice-president spoke of a n ideological drive in the MAS. This is something that does not appear easy in light of the fact that the membership tends to be more corporative than programmatic, beyond certain firm ideas about the state redistributing wealth, a certain anti-imperialism and a more or less defined rejection of internal colonialism.

The MAS was formed as the “political instrument” of the indigenous movements. Despite internal criticisms, there does not appear to be many who want to “re-found” the MAS.

[Translated by Federico Fuentes. Pablo Stefanoni is editor of the Bolivian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique.]

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