September 4, 2007

Linera Discusses Marxism

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Students, faculty and members of the Ithaca community filled Goldwin Smith’s HEC Auditorium yesterday to hear the Vice President of Bolivia Álvaro García Linera speak.
Bruno Bosteels, coordinator of Linera’s visit, explained that he invited Linera to speak because of his unique place within the Marxist tradition. He believes that the Linera can help stimulate an inter-generational dialogue.
“He is a key figure to mediate between older generations who were active in the ’60s and ’70s and younger generations today, who very often have no access to that [radical Marxist] tradition because it is no longer transmitted or taught,” said Bosteels. Bosteels praised Linera for uniquely bridging the gap between academia and politics as he said that Linera’s numerous books “place him among some of the top political theorists in the world.”
He continued, “He is now involved in a highly original political project, in the top echelons of the Bolivian government where, of course, he will have a tough time implementing the ideas that he was defending during his radical years in the 1990s, for example.”
Many attendees also expressed interest in Linera’s colorful past — a history that includes his participation in radical political action, causing him to be jailed and tortured.
Bolivia is Latin America’s poorest and most economically polarized nation. More than 60 percent of Bolivia’s nine million inhabitants live below the poverty line.
Linera is often credited with allowing the workers movement to gain national popularity by bridging the gaps between cities, rural areas, intellectuals and the masses.
Bolivian President Evo Morales is the first indigenous president in a country where more than 60 percent of the population identifies with an indigenous group. His regime is also the first since the development of Bolivian democracy to be elected with a majority vote.
Today, Bolivia is experiencing what many believe to be a political backlash to the neo-liberal policies enacted in the 1990s in Bolivia and other Latin American countries. This rejection of neo-liberal reform is most apparent by the Bolivian government’s recent nationalization of the gas and oil industries.
Stephanie Cajina ’08 spent the summer in Bolivia and expressed interest in the Vice President’s “upper crust” background, which contrasts with the less-educated, indigenous President Morales.
“I think he is primarily an academic and secondly a politician … his political past certifies him as someone who actually wants to work for the people, but he is still an intellectual and the people who he is fighting for are really poor … so there still is a gap there,” she said.
The lecture was titled “Marxismo e Indianismo,” meaning Marxism and Indianism, and Linera dissected the connections between Marxist literature, contemporary Marxism in Latin America and the world, and what the Marxist tradition can and cannot say about current indigenous movements.
He elaborated on the evolution of the application of Marxist theory and presented his own views on the usefulness of the Marxist model, emphasizing how Marxism explains the historical progression from primitive communism to slavery to capitalism and finally to communism. This process, he emphasized, cannot be understood as a straight line but rather a complex system of interactions.
Linera then discussed many examples of non-capitalist systems operating within the global capitalist network, citing the small indigenous, self-contained communities in Bolivia as one example.He described the large gap between contemporary indigenous movements and Marxism by asking whether Marxism has anything to say about indianismo. He then discussed what he believes is the answer.
“One-hundred years of Marxism say no, but personally, I say yes … it is possible to find a bridge between the two.”
He remarked that there is a need for the study and contemplation of what exactly social movements are looking to be liberated from, and what liberation from dominant power structures might look like. The lecture ended with an invitation for continued scholarly debate among college students.
The event was sponsored by Diacritics and the Department of Romance Studies with support from the Latin American Studies Program and the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.