Bolivia's racial onslaught

Bolivian socialist politician César Navarro - ambushed by a mob in his country's constitutional capi

In Bolivia racial violence is being encouraged and promoted by regional governments, civic committees and right-wing political organisations.

Evo Morales, who cut his teeth as an indigenous political leader through his campaigns for the coca-leaf growers union in the tropics of Cochabamba, has developed a revolutionary discourse born out of Bolivia’s social movements which is anti-imperialist, anti-colonial and anti-neoliberal.

This consists mainly of the principles of defence of national sovereignty, of natural resources, and of land, equality between men and women and respect for human rights.

This political praxis has formed the basis for public policy. However, these policies are being resisted internally and externally by those who are opposed politically, ideologically and culturally to the revolutionary process that the Bolivian people are living, breathing and building.

The opposition, which operates through civic organisations, regional governments, business groups and the media - meanwhile - has constructed a rhetoric or, if you like, a counter-discourse which turns President Evo Morales’ good qualities into bad ones, accuses him of being an indigenous-fundamentalist, undemocratic, an enemy of private investment; a foe of the middle classes and a defender of centralised government in opposition to regional autonomy.

This discourse, which is being used to paint both the President and the process of political change as a force for ill, has created an atmosphere which is intended to breed conditions for social and racial violence towards Bolivia's indigenous and working classes.

Dramatic manifestations of such social and racial violence, which are tolerated and encouraged by political nuclei of the opposition were seen in the city of Cochabamba in January 2007, in Sucre in September 2007 and May 2008; in Santa Cruz in August and December 2007 and May 2008 and in the regions of Beni and Pando in June 2008. Organised groups planned and carried out violence against indigenous people and peasants, and they publicly expressed their collective discourse through racist phrases such as: “fucking indian”.

Many of us, both men and women, are victims of this violence which is a result of the political mediocrity of the opposition and the racial arrogance of tiny sectors of society; they are part of the process of destabilising our President and the structural transformation that we are living through.

This article is not an attempt to theorise the violence that we are experiencing, but a testimony of what many of us suffer, its purpose is not for us to complain or to present ourselves as martyrs, but to let the world know how the right-wing, displaced from political power by popular mobilisation, defeated at the ballot box by a whole people, now uses overt racism as part of its discourse and action.

Racism is not admissible in the world in the 21st century, but it must be known that it is being promoted in Bolivia by sectors of the population which are economically powerful. These groups, today settled in the region of Santa Cruz, many of them offspring of immigrants from Europe, Asia and the Middle East have appropriated the indigenous identity of Santa Cruz, known as “camba” and this is being used to show racial supremacy over the “colla” and “chapaco” (indigenous people of the West and South of Bolivia).

This means that the historical challenge for Evo and the Bolivian process is not limited to the need to structurally modify the State, the economy and society but also to eliminate internal neo-colonialism once and for all.

The liberation of the people means the reaffirmation of their identity, not a negation of the other but a respect for differences.

César Navarro is an MP of the Bolivian Movement towards Socialism party. He was attacked, along with Senator Carmen Rosa Velásquez, at the airport of the Bolivian city of Sucre. The attack occurred while Navarro was travelling to his constituency in Potosí; he was manhandled by a waiting gang while Senator Velásquez was set upon, the group pushing her about, pulled her hair and hit her. Stones were then thrown at them as they escaped by taxi. Navarro has now decided to avoid passing through Sucre when travelling between his constituency and Bolivia's capital, La Paz.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times