He argues, ‘The problem was that [the movement] paralysed the structures of power of society, but never posed an alternative of its own.’
While his thesis is educationally invaluable it leads the reader to a problematic view of Bolivia’s future. The reader is therefore left with the impression that the uprising was for nothing, and Chris Harman’s promise that there will be a next time provides little motive for further investigation.
Even though Bolivian social movements are once again wrapped up in very uncertain and unreliable electoral processes, those processes do not necessarily exclude the formation of an alternative project. For example Venezuela is a case in point.
Of course, the Bolivarian process in Venezuela undoubtedly represents, as Fred Rosen described it in a recent essay, ‘dissent from above’. Yet it is undeniable that the only reason why any dissent remains in Venezuela at all is because of dissent from below. The Venezuelan people did engineer a revolution when they overthrew Carmona, who assumed power for 47 hours in April 2002. Those precarious moments, along with the original coup attempt by Chavez in 1991, are the true sources of Venezuelan revolutionary consciousness.
The masses continue to support Chavez’s revolution from above, but they do so while assuming more participatory power with each passing month. Yes, the engine for dissent is still a progressive administration whose projects operate parallel to highly exploitative capitalist machinations, but there is potential, and an active movement toward the former swallowing the latter. If Venezuela does have something to add to the dialogue on Bolivia (other than Chavez’s support for the moderate Morales) then it is an affirmation of the aphorism that movements are more than their leaders.
The argument that revolution can occur by electoral means generally ignores the fact that the state, even after an electoral victory, is still subject to bureaucratic and corporate elite control. Chavez got burned when he took the electoral route, and if not for the people his vision would have been incinerated. Important to consider, in the light of Harman’s conclusions, is that Chavez’s election and re-election won the people a progressive political project that they could defend.
However ambiguous, it was something to build upon. In this context, we cannot rule out the potential for a progressive electoral victory in Bolivia that is followed by a far more progressive – and even revolutionary – fortification of that victory.
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