'We need you to fight!', Bolivian VP tells Europe's left

Sunday, February 23, 2014
Alvaro Garcia Linera at the congress of the European left in Madrid on December 14.

Bolivia's Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera, a veteran left activist and Marxist academic, spoke at the December 13-15 congress of the Party of the European Left (PEL).

The PEL unites left groups from across Europe and is running Alexis Tsipras for president of the European Commission. Tsipras is president of the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), which nearly won elections last year on an anti-austerity, pro-people platform.

Bolivia is undergoing a “national democratic and cultural revolution”. Led by the government of Evo Morales, it involves taking back resources and industries privatised by neoliberal governments and using that wealth to increase social spending and tackle poverty.

Garcia Linera discussed how the struggle in Europe fits with the global struggle against the capitalist system impoverishing people and destroying nature. The speech is heavily abridged from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

* * *

How do we see Europe from the outside? We see a Europe that is flagging and demoralised, withdrawn and turning inwards, yet self-satisfied. The Europe of the Enlightenment, of revolts and revolutions is very far behind us.

But it is not the European people who have lost virtue and hope ― the tired, exhausted inward-turning Europe is not that of the people.

The only Europe the rest of the world sees is that of big business, the neoliberal Europe ― that of the markets, not of labour.

Democracies without hope and faith are beaten and fossilised democracies. Strictly speaking, they are not democracies.

There cannot be real democracy where there is a routine commitment to fossilised institutions, where people practise rituals every three or four years to elect those who decide our destiny at our expense.

Modern capitalism

We know how we have got here. A first reason is that capitalism has acquired global proportions.

The whole world has become a big factory: an electronic good does not have any precise origin of manufacture.

A chip is manufactured in Mexico, designed in Germany, the raw material is from South America, the workers are Asian, it is packaged in the United States, and sold worldwide. Such a global system requires global action in response.

A second characteristic is, for the past 20 years, we have been dealing with a predatory capitalism. It is accumulating by expropriating what was once common: biodiversity, water, ancestral knowledge, the forests, natural resources.

This is is not generating wealth by producing wealth, but turning common wealth into private wealth. That is the logic of neoliberalism. Rather than develop productive forces, neoliberalism is expropriating productive forces.

A third characteristic of modern capitalism is the subordination of knowledge and science to capitalist accumulation — what some sociologists call “knowledge society”.

These are the most powerful areas and those most likely to develop the productive forces of modern society.

The fourth characteristic is the most dangerous. This is a the carve-up of the whole system of the planet's life.

These four characteristics have redefined capitalism globally. They redefine the composition of classes within society and across the world.

Working class today

The working class that appeared in the 19th century and early 20th centuries is now pushed out to the periphery: Brazil, Mexico, China, India, the Philippines.

In the more developed countries, a new kind of working class has developed ― white-collar workers, such as research workers, analysts and others. They often do not see themselves as members of the working class, but they are a new social component of the working class in 21st century.

The world today is more “proletarianised”. However, the forms of the working class are different from those in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The organisation of this diffused working class does not necessarily take the form of trade unions. In some countries, the trade union form is no longer central. Other forms of organising popular or working class sectors strata are appearing.

So what is to be done? That was the question Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin famously asked.

We have shared analyses about what's wrong, but our answers on what to do are insufficient ― otherwise the right would not be ruling in Europe.

Five suggestions

Allow me to modestly put five suggestions on “what is to be done?”

The left cannot be satisfied with analysing or exposing capitalism. This is useful for arousing moral indignation, but it does not bring about a will to power.

Faced with modern capitalism's predatory and destructive nature, the left must come forward with proposals, and initiatives.

Second, we must recover the concept of democracy. The left has always waved this banner ― it is our banner, the banner of justice, equality of participation.

However, we must free ourselves from a purely institutional conception of democracy. Democracy is much more than institutions. It is much more than voting and electing a parliament.

We are prisoners of a liberal, fossilised conception of democracy. Democracy means the values, the organisational principles of tolerance, pluralism, freedom of opinion and freedom of association.

Democracy is practice, a collective action ― it consists of increasingly taking part in the management of society.

There is democracy if we take part in the common good. If we collectively need water, then democracy is taking part in managing water.

If our heritage is a language, then democracy is defending that common good. If our heritage is forests, land and knowledge, then democracy is managing them in common.

We must have greater participation in managing forests, water, air and natural resources. Democracy exists if the population is taking part in the common management of common resources, institutions and rights.

The old socialists, in the 1970s, said democracy should knock at the factory gates. That is a good idea, but it is not enough. It must also knock at the doors of banks, firms, institutions, resources ― everything that belongs to people.

I was asked about water, which was being privatised in Bolivia [by pre-Morales governments, which sparked a mass uprising in 2000].

We tackled things at the root: survival and water. Who was polluting the water, a common source of wealth? It was being privatised.

The people waged a battle to win the water back for the inhabitants. Then we not only got the water back — we started an offensive to take back gas, oil, the mines and telecommunications.

Indeed, there are many more things we need to recover. This was our starting point: a growing participation of citizens in the management of the common wealth of the whole of society.

Universal rights

Third, the left must reclaim universal rights, such as the right to work, to pensions, to free education, to health, to protect nature. These are the universal rights about which the revolutionary left has concrete measures to propose, capable of mobilising people.

In Europe, they used public resources to save private property. They are using the money of European small savers to save banks from bankruptcy. They are using common property to save private property.

The world is standing on its head. It should be the other way round — use private property to save the common good.

The management of banks must be democratised. Failing that, they will deprive you of your work, your house, your life, your hope — everything.

At the same time, the left must demand a new relationship between the human being and nature. In Bolivia, it is part of our indigenous heritage, that is how we see the relation between the human being and nature. Morales always says: “Nature can exist without humans, but humans cannot exist without nature.”

Yet we must not fall into the logic of the “green economy”, which is a hypocritical form of ecology.

There are firms that come to you, Europeans, claiming to protect nature and the purity of air. But they are the same people who bring all the waste produced here to the Americas or Asia.

These people claim to be defenders and protectors over here ― but over there they are predators. They have converted nature into another market.

New relations must be established, but capitalism doesn't care about this, only profits. But it does matter to us. We must demand a new relationship that is sustainable between the environment and human beings.

Rebuild hope

Finally, we have to rebuild hope. The left must have the unity, organisational structures and flexibility capable of awakening hope.

Today, 30 political groups are meeting. This means that it is possible to unite. The left, which is so weak in Europe, cannot allow itself the luxury of disunity. There may be differences on 10 or 20 points, but on 100 points we agree.

Let these 100 points be the points we work closer together around. We can set the other 20 aside for later. We are too weak to allow ourselves the luxury of remaining locked in cliquish fights, in little strongholds.

We must fight for state power, but without forgetting that the state is more than a machine — it is a relationship. The struggle for the state is a struggle for a new way of being unified, for a new universalism that unites people voluntarily.

This, however, presupposes having first won the battle of ideas. All this demands hard work.

Politics is not simply a question of the balance of power, of the capacity to mobilise, even though at the appropriate time it will come down to that. It is fundamentally about persuasion, common beliefs and a shared vision about the world.

May I respectfully and affectionately make a demand — fight on, fight on, fight on! Do not leave us on our own — we other peoples who are fighting in isolation in certain places: in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Do not leave us on our own, we need you.

From GLW issue 998