Above is a video of Álvaro García Linera, Vice-President of Bolivia and political theorist, speaking at the 4th European Left Congress last week. It’s in Spanish. I haven’t been able to find any translation online, and don’t have the time to do it right now, but here are some notes I made after watching it.
I don’t think I’d ever heard García Linera speak before. He is a clear and compelling speaker and gave a succinct and illuminating overview of the predatory character of modern capitalism, its processes of primitive accumulation, perpetual accumulation by dispossession, the real subsumption of the production of knowledge and science under capitalism, new kinds of proletarianisation and the drive toward planetary destruction.
He then laid out five tasks for the left.
He had introduced his talk by describing how Europe is seen from the outside: languishing, defeated, self-obsessed, having long abandoned the major universalisms that had inspired peoples around the globe. The description was quite similar to his remarks when Evo Morales’s plane was held in Europe at the behest of the US. But he stressed that this image of Europe was the Europe of big business, of multinational consortia..and that the Europe of its peoples, the Europe of labour, had been hidden from sight.
The first task García Linera outlined for the forces of the left was that they cannot be content with mere diagnosis and denunciation, but that they had to develop new proposals, in the construction of a new -progressive, universalist and revolutionary- common sense.
Then he stressed the need to recover the concept of democracy, which had always been the rallying banner of the left. He talked about the need to get away from the notion of democracy as a mere institutional fact, since such a notion ends up locking people in to a fossilised liberal vision of democracy as simply the boredom of the process of elections every three or five years.
He said that democracy was not only a set of values – tolerance, pluralism, freedom of expression, freedom of association- but practices: collective action, increasing participation in the management and administration of a society’s commons. Democracy exists, he said, if we take part in what we hold in common. He was quite clear in identifying the ‘social war’ for control over water, hydrocarbons, minerals and telecoms, as fought in Bolivia, was democracy in action. He was scathing about the phenomenon whereby common resources are devoted to saving a private banking system, citing this as a sign of a fundamentally anti-democratic dynamic in societies where this took place.
The third task was for the left to recover demands grounded in the universal, in the right to work, to retirement, free education and environmental protection. These were common goods that demanded mobilisation and concrete measures and objectives.
Fourthly there was a need for a new metabolic relation between human beings and nature in light of the present destruction of the natural possibilities for human beings to survive. But he warned of the hypocrisy of the “green economy”, where certain firms and entities under the cover of environmentalism presented themselves as custodians of the environment in one part of the world whilst polluting and laying waste to another.
The fifth task concerned what he described, after Gramsci, as the heroic dimension to politics. A new horizon for life could only exist as a faith held by a society, not as a religious faith, but one that inspired people to lend their efforts, space and commitment. This meant that the left had to be both sufficiently flexible in terms of organisation, and sufficiently united, in order to revitalise people’s hope, in the generation of a new common sense.
This also entailed, he said, fighting to occupy State power, but he stressed that the State should be understood more as an idea than a material fact, as a social relation. He said that the various left forces were too weak, too isolated, to have any prospect of success without unity around points in common.
He rounded off a speech of brilliant eloquence and lucidity by framing things in European terms once again: struggles in other parts of the world- Bolivia, Venezuela, countries in Africa- also needed the struggles of the European left: for a Europe that was a beacon for the destiny of the continent and that of the world.
I want to demand from you, he said: struggle, struggle, struggle. Do not abandon other peoples who are struggling in isolation in certain places.”