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National Peasants: The Revolutionary Politics of Identity in MNR’s Bolivia

Hardback Seiten. Duke University Press. Cultural studies. A Revolution for Our Rights is a critical reassessment of the causes and significance of the Bolivian Revolution of Historians have tended to view the revolution as the result of class-based movements that accompanied the rise of peasant leagues, mineworker unions, and reformist political projects in the s. Laura Gotkowitz argues that the revolution had deeper roots in the indigenous struggles for land and justice that swept through Bolivia during the first half of the twentieth century.

In this, history seemed to repeat itself. Yet in earlier national-popular formations, Indian and peasant sectors were always the junior partner in the alliance with proletarian organizations and left parties.

Resources and Revolution in Bolivia | Dissertation Reviews

This time history was different. Rural communities answering neither to the COB nor to any political party began a phase of insurgency in that progressively undermined state authority in the provinces. As popular forces concentrated their wrath on the capital city, urban neighborhoods in El Alto took up the leadership of the popular insurrection. After neoliberal restructuring, it received laid-off workers from the mines and the increasing flux of impoverished workers from the countryside. Middle- and lower-middle-class sectors emerged alongside the dispossessed and desperate urban underclass.

The revolution had sought to dissolve ethnic differences born of colonialism in class alliance and national concord.

Yet in the Andean highlands, indigenous culture had generated affirmation in Indian intellectual circles and greater strength through political struggle in the late 20th century. This militant streak infused Indian discourse during the insurgencies of the new millennium.

Another feature of the new political landscape was the emergence of organized and autonomous Indian forces in the eastern lowlands. Their independent growth paralleled the efforts of lowland white elites to acquire greater regional autonomy and resources and to break free of central state control. As the social conflicts in the highlands intensified and threatened to shape national political and economic development, they simultaneously provoked elite reaction and indigenous mobilization in the lowlands. In May and June , the insurrection that began in El Alto and the highland departments quickly spread to the valleys of Chuquisaca and the tropical forests and plains of Santa Cruz.

The revolution had never seen mobilization on such a vast geographical scale.


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Out of the their disciplined ranks emerged a new political party, the Movement to Socialism MAS , and a dynamic new leader, Evo Morales Ayma, seeking to represent popular interests in the political arena. The cocaleros in the Chapare were largely peasant migrants of Quechua and Aymara ethnic background. Yet laid-off mine workers also entered their ranks, bearing the militant trade-union culture and class consciousness that they had acquired over decades of struggle.

Cocalero identity and political discourse were less explicitly ethnic than those of the highland peasant forces, and the personal rivalry between Morales and Quispe further divided popular forces.

Meet the last members of Bolivia's disappearing indigenous tribe

Yet as the MAS won impressive electoral victories at the municipal and national congressional levels, and as Morales became an increasingly viable candidate for the presidency, MAS political discourse acquired fuller indigenous overtones. By the time of the insurgent triumphs of and , a diverse set of social forces had converged into a new national-popular bloc opposed to the neoliberal model and the traditional political party establishment that managed it.


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  • What was unprecedented, however, was the centrality of rural and urban indigenous forces from the highlands, valleys, and lowlands in that bloc. The COB, the historic leader of the popular movement, no longer headed the massive mobilizations, and the former vanguard of mine workers swept in only at the end to secure the popular victory.

    Further Reading

    The MAS took the national elections in December with an absolute majority vote, and the traditional parties, beginning with the MNR, suffered a profound defeat. After coming to power, the Morales government pursued a series of reforms, also partly modeled after those of the MNR. The terms now in force have boosted state revenues dramatically, although Bolivia still lacks adequate technical and administrative capacity, energy self-sufficiency, and full-fledged economic sovereignty.

    Yet during its first two years in power, the MAS made little progress in redistributing lands there, due to the ferocious resistance of reactionary elites controlling the regionalist opposition in the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando. Finally, the government sought to reform the educational system, as the MNR had done in the s, but this was met with hostility by the Catholic Church and the private educational sector. In fact, the MAS sought only modest changes—such as a liberal measure to secularize public education and a multicultural measure to introduce the study of comparative religion—but rather than sustain a fight with the church and the conservative middle class, the MAS preferred to yield.

    Publisher Description

    The revolutionary legacies in Bolivia today can be traced back not only to the National Revolution of , but further back to the period of the great Andean insurrection of — But they also become lived experience and, as a result, ongoing reverberations into all the possible futures of those who lived through those moments as a people. Whether in the form of unconsciously transmitted knowledge and practice, or as consciously elaborated memory and imaginary, the revolutionary moment of had powerful repercussions that continue to be felt today.


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    Many of the methods and dynamics of Andean insurgency that have repeated themselves in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries were previously rehearsed in the anti-colonial struggles of the 18th century. Historical imagination has been especially acute during the recent revolutionary conjuncture in Bolivia. While the memory of seemed relatively remote for insurgents, the memory of was fresh.

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    Historians have tended to view the revolution as the result of class-based movements that accompanied the rise of peasant leagues, mineworker unions, and reformist political projects in the s. Laura Gotkowitz argues that the revolution had deeper roots in the indigenous struggles for land and justice that swept through Bolivia during the first half of the twentieth century.

    Challenging conventional wisdom, she demonstrates that rural indigenous activists fundamentally reshaped the military populist projects of the s and s. In so doing, she chronicles a hidden rural revolution—before the revolution of —that fused appeals for equality with demands for a radical reconfiguration of political power, landholding, and rights. In this exciting and powerful study, Laura Gotkowitz illuminates modern Indian political engagements in what is today the most indigenous country in the Americas.