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By Into A. Goudsmit (Goldsmiths College / Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London) and Winston Moore (Anglo-Bolivian Society)


On 16 March 2018, the Anglo-Bolivian Society and the Institute for Latin American Studies will host a one-day conference at Senate House, London, exploring divergent perspectives on 12 years of Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) rule, inspired – or not – by the 1952 revolution that resulted in a similar period of political dominance: 12 continuous years by the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR), 1952-1964.  The event will consider some of the most salient changes and continuities produced and expressed by Bolivians who have been living now for twelve years under the rhetoric and revolutionary imperative of the MAS.

In April 1952, Bolivia erupted into revolution led by a working and middle class insurrection, the so-called generation of Chaco war veterans who valiantly fought a mid-1930s lost war against Paraguay – a defeat that led to a terminal crisis of the oligarchical state ruled by the Patiño, Aramayo and Hochschild tin barons and their Rosca establishment. The revolution directed by the MNR was heavily influenced by mine trade unions, urban factory workers and guilds, prompting the immediate formation of the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), with added demands for workers control (Control Obrero) and joint government (co-gobierno). This inspired political changes that were considered radical in their time: nationalisation of the private tin mines, universal suffrage, education for all including the indigenous population, land reform and abolition of the army. The concomitant rise of a new class of ‘campesinos’ publicly recognised for the first time, in theory at least, the indigenous population as equal and full members of the Bolivian nation.

Fifty-four years later Bolivia’s booming hydrocarbons sector was again nationalised following the tradition of intervention in 1936 (Standard Oil) and 1969 (Gulf). When on 1 May 2006, a few months into his presidency, Evo Morales Ayma took control of Bolivia’s natural gas reserves, occupying foreign company sites with much military fanfare, he fulfilled a key demand of the popular protests on which he rode to power. In this so-called process of ‘nationalisation without expropriation’ the Bolivian state secured a substantially enhanced government-take from extractive industries to spend on infrastructure, industrialisation and expanded social programmes to reduce poverty. Critically, the self-proclaimed indigenous government of Evo Morales pushed through the 2009 constitution establishing Bolivia as a plurinational state. This meant every social group able to trace its history to before the Spanish conquest, could constitute a nation within the newly formed unitary plurinational state, with a right to govern their territory in accordance with their own norms and customs. This constituted a key element of the MAS’ condemnation of the post-1952 state that forced the newly recognized indigenous citizens of Bolivia, the campesinos, to assimilate to the dominant mestizo-creole culture. Indigenist arguments, employed by the plurinational state and beyond, contend that this homogenisation of ethnic differences turned the indigenous population into second-class citizens.


Key Note:  Tristan Platt Compares MNR and MAS Politics of the ‘Little State’

Analysing the local politics of North Potosí, Tristan Platt presents a thought-provoking case that sustains historical continuity between the MNR and MAS. To the detriment of indian participation and political incidence both parties have ignored the ayllus, a native form of organisation with precolonial roots. The argument is based on the perspective of indian leadership as expressed in a recently catalogued archive, accumulated by the Curacas of Ayllu Macha Alasaya, covering 20th century history of Province Chayanta Colquechaca.


Revolutionary Nationalism, Change and Continuity

John Crabtree, Manuel Bueno del Carpio and Winston Moore widen the comparative perspective identifying change and continuity between the revolutionary acts and ambitions of the MNR on the one hand, and the MAS on the other. Professor Crabtree, inspired by the study of Latin American populism, argues that the political projects of both the MNR and MAS produced state-led reforms which – at various times and to varying degrees – engaged with and responded to strong popular-based social movements. As a Bolivian trade unionist, Manuel Bueno del Carpio identifies with some of these social movements. He analyses the shifting class and ethnic content of both parties’ politics and how these parties succeeded or failed in representing the working classes and indigenous people. Winston Moore explores the vision of ‘Filippo’ Filemón Escóbar, a mines trade union leader politically active since the early 1960s, a founding member of the MAS and mentor to Evo Morales until he was side-lined in 2003. His political career is unique as it spanned both the MNR and MAS revolutionary periods. Winston Moore’s interviews with Filemón Escóbar provide insight into the thinking of this political activist’s call for a XXI century New Left to embrace the Andean principles of reciprocity and redistribution, the complementarity of opposites and explore federalist options for government in Bolivia.


Autonomies, Plurinational Projects, Constitutionality

Britta Katharina Matthes zooms in on an issue critical to the original revolutionary agendas of both the post-1952 state and the ‘re-founded’ state led by Evo Morales: self-determination. She shows the shifting politics of national self-determination, autonomy of and by excluded and marginalised peoples, and decentralisation; and concludes that these political projects are contradictory and remain unfinished. Charazani, in the Bolivian Andes north of La Paz, offers an unprecedented local look into a specific clash of autonomy and self-determination projects. Jonathan Alderman describes the tensions arising between the highland indigenous peoples’ federation CONAMAQ and the peasant union CSUTCB during the political and administrative procedures of establishing the municipality as an indigenous autonomy or Autonomía Indígena Originario Campesina (AIOC). Charazani is one of the few municipalities in Bolivia where this process has officially been allowed to start.

Pamela Vargas Gorena has been a civil servant in Bolivia holding management positions at the State Services for Autonomies and the Ministry of Autonomy. She reflects on the legitimacy and legality of the MAS and, in particular, its political leader Evo Morales to continue pursuing such policies and politics in the name of the ‘revolution,’ ‘the people’ and their ‘political right.’ Morales’ quest for re-election raises issues of democracy and political leadership. The recent decision by the Bolivian Constitutional Court enabling Morales’ participation in the next elections is critically analysed.



Practice and discourse may not necessarily match but there have been few if any Bolivian governments that put indigenous identity and autonomy so much at the heart of its politics as the Morales administration. For instance, the 2009 constitution it promoted includes a new legal persona, the indígena originario campesino; indigenous, native and farmer. This hard-fought compromise between social movements and government was meant to express the diversity of the indigenous nations constituting the plurinational state. However, the term may be in the process of doing the opposite. Legal fiction is becoming reality, as the government promotes the indígena originario campesino as the quintessential citizen in detriment of the specific indigenous nations that make up the plurinational state. Accordingly, Radosław Powęska poses the question whether the re-founded state is truly plurinational. It may just as well be a new version of the post-1952 nationalist state project, adorned with indigenous ornaments. Into Goudsmit deepens such analysis by focusing on the imagined dichotomy between destructive neoliberalism and proper indigenous society at the heart of MAS government’s indigenist discourse. He shows how this discursive division builds on and diverges from earlier state rhetoric in which the nación – the nation state led by the MNR cadres – valiantly defends its sovereignty and patrimony against the antinación – the anti-nation involving the rosca of wealthy families that dominated the mining industry, the landed oligarchy and international imperialism allied to these elites.

Of course, the identities, discourses and political strategies of other social groups have also shifted and re-shifted in the last twelve years. Amaru Villanueva Rance takes a second look at the Bolivian middle classes. Intriguingly, the 2017 World Values Survey shows that 69% of the Bolivian population identified with this category involving highly diverse socioeconomic groupings ranging from construction workers and merchants of indigenous origin, to white-collar workers and academics. Bolivia’s so-called ‘middle class’ has become so heterogeneous in terms of income, occupation and culture that we may start to wonder what it stands for. Accordingly, Amaru Villanueva Rance scrutinises ‘middle-classness’ as political actors contest its meaning in preparation of the upcoming 2019 elections.

An important group that may, or may not, identify with the Bolivian middle class is the country’s transport sector organised in the Confederation of Drivers of Bolivia. Traditionally, it has played a critical role in social mobilisation providing electoral support or organising road blockades against the government. Soledad Stoessel analyses the social dynamics and political manoeuvring of this understudied ‘steering wheel class’ and how it relates to the latest policies initiated by the MAS government and the protests that these have generated.


Social Movements, Media and Control

Finally, the conference turns to social movements more broadly in Bolivia, considering alternative ‘processes of change.’ Anna Krausova traces the strategies – the claims, frames and tactics – of indigenous movement organisations in Bolivia, showing how these help explain the outcomes they experienced in relation to the Morales government. She argues that further attention needs to be paid to the internal dynamics of indigenous movements’ framing strategies, suggesting that this matters for the effects of their struggles. Olivia Saunders focuses on the violent tensions that recently flared up between the Bolivian mining cooperatives – represented by FENCOMIN – and the state, offering a comparative analysis of the fractious nature of ‘collective’ worker identity, the political power of the miners and shifts occurring in the strategic salience of the mines. In the process, she reflects more widely on the complex interaction between the state, labour, domestic and foreign-owned business during the governments of the MNR and the MAS.

Alberto Souviron adds a much-needed analysis of the media including social media. During both the MNR’s ‘National Revolution’ and the MAS’ ‘Process of Change,’ traditional media – in particular radio – provided alternative communication channels for voicing expressions of resistance that questioned official discourses. In both cases the state has been busy curtailing these sources. Currently, Bolivia is witnessing the emergence of independent social media platforms, articulated by increasingly urbanised collective citizen groups, which position a popular-democratic narrative.

Four panels and a key note, then, will grant creative and insightful historical perspectives on another twelve years of political dominance in Bolivia, this time by the MAS. For further details and conference registration please consult the ILAS website.


The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent the position of ILAS or the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

Winston Moore is Chairman of the Anglo Bolivian Society, a non-profit organisation which promotes and encourages social, cultural and commercial relations between Bolivia and the United Kingdom.

Into Goudsmit is an ILAS Visiting Fellow and Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University of London