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Carping critics reject Bolivia's struggle

By hosting the People’s World Conference on Climate Change, the Bolivian government offered much-needed leadership in opposition to the majority of the world’s corporate-sponsored governments.

The agreement on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth which emerged from the conference is a significant step forward in thinking and planning for the future of human society and nailing the real problems we face. It states:

The corporations and governments of the so-called ‘developed’ countries, in complicity with a segment of the scientific community, have led us to discuss climate change as a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause, which is the capitalist system...

The capitalist system has imposed on us a logic of competition, progress and limitless growth. This regime of production and consumption seeks profit without limits, separating human beings from nature and imposing a logic of domination upon nature, transforming everything into commodities: water, earth, the human genome, ancestral cultures, biodiversity, justice, ethics, the rights of peoples, and life itself.

It was only a matter of days before critics of the document emerged, complaining that it doesn’t specifically attack the oil and gas corporations and that Bolivia itself has oil and gas. Some go further to criticise the Bolivian government for BEING a government, on the basis that all government is bad!

The government of Evo Morales did not come about by accident, but through a range of powerful social movements – against water privatisation, against the ban on coca production and against the oil and gas corporations. These had to find a political expression and the form that took was Morales' MAS party.

But for the critics, this is not enough. Bolivian oil must stay in the ground, whilst Exxon and BP carry on dirty business as usual. The renationalisation of Bolivian oil and gas is not enough. Rather the Bolivian state must abolish itself and hand over power to social movements for “bottom up government”.

The introduction of a Constituent Assembly is all well and good – but it is the wrong kind of constituent assembly because it allows political parties, critics claim. A pluri-national state is not going far enough, even though this significant decentralisation has been carried through in the teeth of opposition from the right wing.

South American leaders always have in mind the 1973 bloody CIA-backed coup in Chile, which killed leftist president Salvador Allende and thousands of his supporters, driving hundreds of thousands into exile.

The harsh lesson of Chile (it was the same lesson Marx and Engels learned from the Paris Commune) is that a socialist government cannot rely on the structures of the capitalist state. It has developed with the purpose of enforcing the rights of private property and can’t be made to support an entirely different set of economic and social relations. It must be dismantled and remade.

But in so far as the Morales government is at least taking bold measures to alter the state in Bolivia, with significant decentralisation of power and an independent line in respect of the corporations, it should be supported.

A social movement is not a government – it cannot deliver rights, laws and a constitution. It certainly cannot defend Bolivia from civil war or a bloody coup that the CIA and others are no doubt discussing. People in general want to live in a law-governed society – just not one where the laws are there not to protect them but to protect private property and the corporations alone.

This is the big challenge facing all socialists and communists. How do we make the transition from capitalism to socialism, when developments and struggles take place in myriad ways and locations? How do we move from a capitalist state to a transitional, democratic state?

Of course it would be wrong to idealise the Bolivian government. But there is something truly reactionary and petty about these criticisms, coming as they do from people who have given up on the idea of revolutionary politics and submerged themselves into protest and social movements.

In practice, the only way to truly support the Movement Towards Socialism, as Morales’ party is called, is by bringing about revolutionary political change in countries like Britain and the United States. That is our responsibility and that is why A World to Win has produced a Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions, to suggest the basis of a way forward.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
22 July 2010

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Your Say

Ceti says:

Good response to the ultra-left tendency to appear holier than thou, while adopting a reactionary line to attack anyone attempting radical change.

Bolivia is the second poorest country in the Americas. The upliftment of a large majority of Bolivians in the last five years is miraculous -- and owes its life to the nationalizing the oil and gas industries. The contradictions here must be appreciated by mature individuals, especially those with any ounce of compassion, as opposed to militant stridency bereft of any social understanding or grounding.

Julie says:

I don't find this article constructive at all. If there is no room for differing views, analysis & possible solutions to the miriad of problems we are faced with what hope is there! I followed with interest report backs from people both 'in' & 'outside' the conference & the Bolivian governments hand & dare I say spin was heavy on the process/outcome. All 'anarchists' ask for is for transparency & genuine democracy, isn't that what we all want?

Jeff says:

The only two "carping critics" referred to in this post cannot fairly be characterized as rejecting Bolivia's struggle. Indeed their criticisms are expressed in a fraternal and supportive context.

The Bolivian experiment is historically novel, to say the least. There are no roadmaps to follow. It should come as no surprise that there would be a lively discussion and debate among its supporters on a number of substantive matters.

Milagros says:

The People's Agreement of Cochabamba was written collaboratively by the thousands of members of civil society from around the world that participated in each of the 17 different working groups at the conference. Everyone had a voice. The idea was to address climate change in a global sense, and put forth a common strategy that could unite struggles in different parts of the world. There are contradictions on the ground everywhere. In Bolivia, the government has already taken important steps to implement new economic policies, but more remains to be done.

Susan says:

This is an excellent retort to those who can only criticise. I wish I had been able to put forward such a rebuff to those so-called 'anarchists' at the Cowley Club in Brighton who did not want to build on the successes of the Cochabamba Conference in Bolivia this April, as reported by a speaker who had attended the conference.

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