Friday, August 27, 2010

Why we should not romanticize Potosí

An odd thing has happened in the last couple weeks. Observers of Bolivian politics from the Andean Information Network, to Federico Fuentes, to Jeffery Webber and Ben Dangl have come to the conclusion that recent protests in Potosí represent the "rupture" between the MAS led government and popular revolutionary classes in Bolivia. This is a delusional position for a number of reasons.

There is no doubt the protests represent a rupture between MAS and a population which has been previously very supportive of its politics. However, MAS has conflicted with its supportive base before and will continue to in the future. Accessing the relative importance and character of this lastest break requires careful and specific analysis. 

1. All of these analyses ignore the question of contraband law, which orginially sparked the protests and roadblocks, and of which I previously wrote. At best, Jeffery Webber dimisses the question as unimportant.
2. There is no denying that broad demands relating to regional poverty and unfullfilled expectations in Potosí played an important part in fueling the protests. However, ignoring the question of contraband and the reactionary character of the elite civicos leading the protests has lead our authors astray, writing about the protests as if they were some kind of proletarian or multidudian popular rebellion. The simple fact that protests never spread beyond Potosí and were assuaged quickely in Oruro attests to the limited regionalist nature of the protests.

3. Romanticizing the leftist nature of the protests has led to sloppying analysis, casting the Potosí protest together with distintically different challenges to MAS from other sectors over the past six months. Fuentes, Webber, and Dangl breathlessly tie the Potosí protest to the indigenous CIDOB march and few even pachamamismo. The Potosí civicos were not demanding MAS deepen the revolutionary process, radically apply the new constitution, or impliment the October Agenda. Where were the demands for nationalization? Instead the civicos simply demanded more money, infrastructure, and mineral explotive projects be brought to the region. In practical terms these demands put Potosí in conflict with pachamamismo and the environmental grievences of Mesa 18.

4. There is no doubt that now that the rightwing is defeated in national politics MAS is facing challenges from different sectors of its base. But do these desperate protests yet represent a united radical leftist synthesis challenging the current leftist government? Only in the imaginations of some authors.


Anonymous said...

The Trot-inherited tendency towards ultraleftism is alive and well I see.

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of your post. Just interested to know why you believe i argue this protests represent a rupture with the MAS or are a leftist challenge to it when clearly my article is aimed at counteracting such a myth.
Federico Fuentes

El Duderino said...

Thanks for the response. I should have been more specific rather than general in my post about deconstructing misconceptions and specific authors when many points did not apply to your piece.

As you stated, "While the relatively autonomous social organisations united to defend “their” government during times of intense confrontation, they have also tended to retreat to more local and sectoral demands"

Ben Dangl said...

Dear Duderino,

As a long time reader of your blog I was disappointed to see that you misrepresented the contents of my article. I did not even suggest that the protests in Potosi represent a major rupture between the MAS and the “revolutionary classes in Bolivia.” Nor do I write that the protests signify a “united radical leftist synthesis challenging” the MAS government. My article made no explicit connections between Potosi and the demands of the CIDOB march beyond suggesting that these protests and actions were among many across Latin America (I also mention the strategies of the MST in Brazil, the debate around the ecological impact of extractive industries, and the analysis of others the social forum in Paraguay) that are part of a very diverse, regional dance between citizens and governments over the directions of their nations following the rise of leftist governments.

Ben Dangl

Kathryn Ledebur said...

AIN would like to chime in on your misrepresentation of our posts. We, too, are disappointed that, uncharacteristically, your reading of our analysis seems rushed and strident. For example, in an earlier post on Potosi you critique what you misread as AIN's allusion to the Sucre Capitalia protests in 2007. In fact, we made reference to conflicts there in 2008. Nowhere in either of our recent Potosi memos did we profess the “delusional position” that the protests represented a “rupture” between MAS and popular movements.

In general, we tried to describe the pressure on MAS to respond to demands from its traditional support base, and explain the challenges that remain for both the national and Potosi regional governments. Our memos do not support one side or the other, but instead seek to tease out the complexities of these protests under the Morales administration, where all side have some noble goals and less noble complex political interests. The protests in Potosí were not a “new kind” of demonstration, but the expectations of protestors were higher.. Nowhere in our analysis did we suggest that a “united radical leftist synthesis” is challenging the MAS administration, since the demands from various social sectors are concrete and specific.

As to whether the contrabandistas started protests, your analysis could certainly explain the timing of protests. However, the demonstrations became a chance for civic groups to get what they wanted and for Mayor Rene Joaquino to buy some time before he was suspended. Furthermore, most demands for greater infrastructure would bring greater state presence and control, not at all favorable to moving contraband.

We were surprised about your strongly worded critiques of our and other accounts of the Potosí protests. You generally offer careful, well-balanced arguments. We can agree to disagree without characterizing divergent views as figments of “imagination” or “delusional.”

El Duderino said...


As I stated to Fuentes, my generalizations, lumping together the authors, hurt my own argument against generalizations.

In so far as writing from the left for the left, making generalizations, like not articulating the differences between the Potosi protest and CIDOB march, is not helpful. We fall into the same trap many of us on the left criticize MAS and government of, not having enough comprehensive and concrete policies . If we want to move toward a specific and concrete manifestation of "vivir bien", as you propose, our analysis has to move in the same direction.


You are correct that most of the post does not apply to AIN's non-polemic analysis, of all the authors the least. In retrospect, I should not have referenced it in this post.

That said, I disagree with your analysis of the Potosi protests, as I had written in a previous post. I disagree that I made a misreading. It is only for this reason (the question of contraband law) that I referenced AIN here, which was a mistake.

El Duderino said...

I recently found a related discussion at LINKS, where someone posted as me my post (El Duderino is a persona so I can't blame them) which was additionally responded by Dangl and AIN as here.

The point is that the discussion there focuses correctly on authors like Webber and Zibechi, to whom my criticisms more apply. Unfairly, grouping the other authors with Webber is what lead me to misrepresent the other authors in various ways. That should be clear, but it needs to be said by me at this point.