A Revolution in Fragments: Traversing Scales of Justice, Ideology, and Practice in Bolivia

A Revolution in Fragments: Traversing Scales of Justice, Ideology, and Practice in Bolivia

by Mark Goodale

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The years between 2006 and 2015, during which Evo Morales became Bolivia's first indigenous president, have been described as a time of democratic and cultural revolution, world renewal (Pachakuti), reconstituted neoliberalism, or simply “the process of change.” In A Revolution in Fragments Mark Goodale unpacks these various analytical and ideological frameworks to reveal the fragmentary and contested nature of Bolivia's radical experiments in pluralism, ethnic politics, and socioeconomic planning. Privileging the voices of social movement leaders, students, indigenous intellectuals, women's rights activists, and many others, Goodale uses contemporary Bolivia as an ideal case study with which to theorize the role that political agency, identity, and economic equality play within movements for justice and structural change.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781478007234
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 11/22/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 26 MB
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About the Author

Mark Goodale is Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the University of Lausanne and the author and editor of numerous books, most recently, The Bolivia Reader: History, Culture, Politics, also published by Duke University Press, and Anthropology and Law.

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On December 21, 2008, most of the currents of Bolivia's revolutionary moment converged on the Coliseo Cerrado Julio Borelli Viterito, an enclosed arena in the heart of La Paz one block up the hill from the Prado and a long stone's throw from the crumbling adobe walls of San Pedro Prison. The Coliseo Cerrado was named after the Uruguayan architect and athlete who designed it, and it was a well-known venue for national and international tournaments of volleyball, basketball, and fútbolsala, an indoor version of soccer that is popular throughout South America. December 21 is an important day throughout highland Bolivia: it is the Southern Hemisphere's summer solstice and well into the rainy season, a key period in the agroritual cycle that promises the nourishment of the Earth, healthy crops, and sustenance of life itself.

Yet this day in 2008 was important for a different reason: it marked the beginning of the MAS government's official "Yes!" campaign, the national mobilization in support of the new constitution, which would be put to a referendum one month later, on January 25. The government had called on trade unions, social movements, and government agencies from throughout La Paz Department to attend the event, which would receive national media coverage and feature speeches by various luminaries in the MAS universe, including Félix Patzi, the former minister of education and culture who was then serving as general secretary for the department's prefecture.

Although the night before had brought one of the worst hail and rain storms in memory, a tempest that left seventeen people dead when a minibus had been swept off the old highway from La Paz to El Alto, the hundreds of people who arrived in large groups to the Coliseo Cerrado did so under sparkling blue skies. They had marched through the streets of La Paz, many all the way from the bus station, behind banners that proclaimed their commitment and devotion to the process of change.

Once inside the stadium, these banners were hung from the walls and balconies, creating a thick blanket of revolutionary slogans and images. The militant Federation of Neighborhood Councils of El Alto declared "El Alto always on its feet, never on its knees" (a reference to the humiliations of the previous May 24 in Sucre, see chapter 3). The government of La Paz Department reminded those gathered that because of the MAS revolution, the country had been declared "free from illiteracy." The City of La Paz announced that "in honor of the martyrs who have defended our natural resources, we will not go backward in the country's process of change." A group of provincial MAS activists from the town of Caranavi in the Yungas said simply "Yes" to the new constitution, the accent mark in the "í" of "Sí" having been replaced by an electoral check mark. The Ministry of Water proclaimed in Aymara "Umax Taqitakiwi," or "Water for All." A banner from La Paz's District 7, which included the wealthy neighborhood of Sopocachi, declared that it was "present in the struggle." One banner brought by a group from the town of Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca featured only a single coca leaf. And a banner from the small Fundación Inti-Coco, which had been founded by Antonio Peredo in honor of his brothers (Guido Álvaro "Inti" Peredo and Roberto "Coco" Peredo), featured the images of the two comrades of Che under the Bolivian tricolor crossed with the indigenous wiphala.

Each group that arrived was able to march together in one turn around the Coliseo's floor before taking their seats, while a hired drum and panpipe band kept up a lively and festive tune. After all the groups had paraded to their places in the stands, they were followed by the surprising entrance of a man dressed from head to foot in the feathered costume of an Andean condor, who flapped his wings and posed for photographs. At the same time, in order to formally begin the rally, three Aymara yatiris, or ritual specialists, made elaborate preparations for an offering and blessing. They laid all the items out on a blanket: coca leaves, flowers, grain alcohol, bird feathers, and, most important, two dried llama fetuses, a male and a female, which they carefully wrapped with colorful strips of cloth.

When the fetuses were ready, the male was given to Samuel Guarayo Aruquipo, who, as the president of MAS for La Paz Department, would receive the blessing on behalf of all present, while the female was given to a young woman from his office. As Guarayo had told me the week before during an interview, "in order to play the role I have, in order to be an actor in this long fight against those whose only concern is for their own privileges, one must have a never-ending dream, which is to realize the dream of Túpac Katari, the dream to recuperate our cultures and our languages."

Guarayo and his colleague, flanked on one side by the head yatiri and on the other by the yatiri's wife, carried the llama fetuses to two small pyres made of interlacing pieces of wood, where they were placed in the middle upright, their thin dried necks protruding well above the tinder. The yatiris prepared the offering by sprinkling everything with generous amounts of alcohol, after which both were set on fire while the crowd in the stands grew quiet. As the fetuses slowly burned to ashes, a younger yatiri chanted a blessing in Aymara into a microphone while he kneeled, both hands raised above his head, palms facing inward in a gesture of supplication, his eyes lightly closed.

After the yatiris had finished the ritual offering, political figures, including Patzi, who had gathered on a stage, began their short speeches, which were a mix of words of welcome, fiery denunciations of the Media Luna, exhortations to fight for the passage of the new constitution, and encomiums to Evo Morales, whose visage stared down from banners large and small. After one speech, a white sheet was pulled from an object next to the stage to reveal a large bronze bust of the president on a granite pedestal that was destined to be placed later inside the Palacio Quemado. When it was his turn, Patzi gave a lengthy defense of the new constitution, which he argued would become the most important weapon in the struggle to decolonize Bolivia at its very roots, beginning from the institutions of government and extending out to all sectors of society.

In the late afternoon, after the speeches and folk music had finally ended, the MAS activists who had participated in the launch of the official "Yes!" campaign were released into the streets of La Paz to return to their neighborhoods, towns, and provincial villages to devote themselves over the next month to the epochal cause of national refoundation. The large group of militants from the Federation of Neighborhood Councils of El Alto was given the honor of leading the assembly out of the Coliseo Cerrado. As they marched at the head of the crowd, they carried their long white banner, which displayed a hand-drawn image of the sacred mountain Illimani under a slogan that read, "From the highest peak in the world rises the city on which the sun of our race will never set."


On January 25, 2009, the fervent hopes of those who streamed out of the Coliseo Cerrado on December 21 were realized when the constitution was approved by over 61 percent of voters. Support for the new constitution was concentrated in the five highland and valley departments of Potosí (80 percent yes, 20 percent no), La Paz (78 percent yes, 22 percent no), Oruro (74 percent yes, 26 percent no), Cochabamba (65 percent yes, 35 percent no), and Chuquisaca (52 percent yes, 48 percent no), where the rural vote overcame the strident and near universal opposition from the city of Sucre. By narrower margins, the constitution was rejected by the southern department of Tarija (43 percent yes, 57 percent no) and the three eastern lowland departments of Santa Cruz (35 percent yes, 65 percent no), Pando (41 percent yes, 59 percent no), and Beni (33 percent yes, 67 percent no). Yet leaving aside both the sociolegal implications of the new constitution and its later political consequences, problems that will be taken up in subsequent chapters, here I want to pose a more fundamental question: What was actually gained, in ideological terms, with the passage of the new constitution?

Before suggesting several answers to this question, something must be said about the function of ideology itself within Bolivia's process of change. In his study of Marxism and literature, Raymond Williams (1976) distinguishes between three variations on the concept of ideology: (1) ideology as a system of beliefs of the ruling class that form the basis for state action and social engineering; (2) ideology as a system of false ideas that lead people to perceive of, and act in, the world as a form of false consciousness; and (3) ideology as the "general production of meanings and ideas" (1976: 55). All three of these categories are needed in order to understand the function of ideology during the period 2006–15 in Bolivia.

Beginning in earnest with the campaign during the 2005 elections, the chief strategists of MAS worked to forge a ruling class and a set of ruling ideas in a mutually constitutive movement through which dedicated cadres would commit themselves to the cause of ideas that they themselves would be responsible for constructing and promoting. Yet the attempt to forge an ideology in what might be thought of as the conventional Marxist sense remained incomplete. On the one hand, the protagonists and workers in the process of change did not manage to create a distinct ruling class measured either by its control over the means of production or its clear social dominance. And, on the other hand, since the revolutionaries of MAS were not able to form themselves, either at a national or provincial level, into a traditional ruling class, their ideas did not become, particularly by historical standards, the country's ruling ideas.

At the same time, however, the second variation on ideology played an important role during the period of Bolivia's third revolution in specific ways. As we will see at different places throughout the book, charges of false consciousness — that is, claims that particular ethnic groups or political parties or socioeconomic classes had been deluded by false prophets making false promises based on false understandings of history — shaped many of the conflicts of the last decade.

These first two accounts of ideology are what might be thought of as categories of praxis: they both have structured the social and political development of revolution in Bolivia since early 2006. Yet it is Williams's third account of ideology that forms the basis for a more general ethnographic analysis since it encompasses the first two categories and provides a working theoretical model for explaining them. In other words, both the effort on the part of MAS to position its institutions and members as a new ruling class responsible for producing a new intellectual architecture for change and the wielding of claims of false consciousness as a rhetorical weapon amid conflicts during the Morales era can be described as examples of the "general production of meanings and ideas."

It is this anthropological approach to ideology that I want to deploy here and throughout the book. In her ethnography of ideas and practices of revolution in socialist Cuba, Marina Gold (2015) adopts a similar orientation to the question of ideology. This proved to be especially illuminating in the case of Cuba, since it allowed her to maintain a critical distance from the much more orthodox Marxist claims of the state to be the embodiment of "ideas that transcend the existing order of things, [ideas] which managed to break with the previous existing order [and therefore become] a utopia" (2015: 5). In order to locate these complicated forms of social and historical dissonance ethnographically, Gold develops an analytical approach to ideology inspired by Bruce Kapferer, in which ideology describes a "selective cultural construction whereby certain significances relevant to experience are systemically organized into a relatively coherent scheme" (Kapferer 1988: 80).

With a perspective on ideology, therefore, that is meant to glide between its historically specific meanings and its general analytical value, let us return to the question of what was gained, in ideological terms, with the passage of the new constitution in Bolivia in 2009: Which meanings and ideas were produced through this key turning point in the longer process of change? Which cultural constructions were selected in the constitution and which ones were excluded? How did the constitution create a model for systematically organizing certain kinds of experiences into particular kinds of schemes?

There are two general ideological innovations that I want to emphasize here. (More technical developments around legal and political institutions and jurisprudence will be taken up in subsequent chapters.) First, the new constitution reinscribed not just Bolivian citizenship, but something more fundamental, the Bolivian subject, within what is formally a postneoliberal polity. The preamble is quite explicit: with the adoption of the new constitution, the refounded state "leaves colonialism, republicanism, and neoliberalism" in the past. And what did it mean, ideologically, to be a postneoliberal subject in a plurinational state?

It meant to define oneself in relation to a particular account of pluralism elevated to the status of a metavalue in which diversity did not add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. On the contrary, the lines of ideological difference within which Bolivia's postneoliberal subjects were constituted were understood as the bases for both differential and differentiated forms of individual and collective action. Although the full implications of postneoliberal subject formation in Bolivia were just coming into focus at the time, Nancy Postero's earlier study of Bolivia (2007), which theorized this new and differentiated form of civic pluralism as "postmulticultural," in many ways anticipated what was to come.

Bolivia's postneoliberal subjects were also implored to make timeworking the mode through which historical change took place. The constitution trafficked in creative historicity. Citizens were called forth to both participate in the collective project of altering the country's cultural space-time and then in shaping the diffuse contours of the plurination that emerged. Among other things, this was one clear way in which Bolivia's process of change evoked other, earlier moments of revolutionary timeworking in which refoundation, world-reversal, and diachronic rupture likewise formed an ideological strategy to remake the world.

Finally, to be a postneoliberal subject in revolutionary Bolivia meant to endeavor to live well (suma qamaña/vivir bien) rather than live better, a deceptively simple shift that actually implied a wholesale overthrow of a dominant teleological ethics through which moral value was defined by various forms of progress: intellectual, institutional, and, above all, material. Along with the other "ethical-moral principles" codified in the new constitution — including the Quechua ama qhilla, ama llulla, ama suwa (don't be lazy, don't lie, don't steal) and qhapaj ñan (walk a noble path), and the Guaraní ñandereko (live in harmony with others), teko kavi (live a good life), and ivi maraei (seek to make our world more just, compassionate, and equitable) — living well suggested a radically different social ontology, one in which the state itself was constituted by everyday practices of social, if necessarily plural, coexistence (Vega 2011).

The second general innovation of the new Bolivian constitution was that it encoded an ideology of structural change that rejected particular forms of state violence in favor of democratic legitimacy, self-determination, and the long-term and pervasive decolonization of education, health, national ecology, and political identity. By "particular forms" I mean either those forms of Marxist-Leninist–derived revolutionary violence that are directed toward the physical destruction of the individuals, classes, and ethnic groups that are believed to stand in opposition to the revolutionary state and its vanguard, or forms of armed violence and sabotage that are used as the basis for overthrowing an existing regime that is seen to be a political instrument of capital.


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Table of Contents

Preface  ix
Introduction. Meaning and Crisis in Cosmic Time  1
1. Hearing Revolution in a Minor Key  33
2. Legal Cosmovisions  64
3. Opposition as a Cultural System: Myth, Embodiment, Violence  95
4. A Revolution without Revolutionaries: El proceso de cambio in a Trotskyized Country  134
5. The Unstable Assemblage of Law  166
6. And the Pututu Shall Sound  200
Conclusion. The Politics of Forever  234
Notes  249
References  265
Index  283

What People are Saying About This

Joel Robbins

“Revolutionary change has proven profoundly difficult for anthropologists to handle, both in theoretical and descriptive terms. Against this background, A Revolution in Fragments is a triumph. Both a compelling theoretical account of the nature of ‘revolution by constitution’ and a gripping ethnography of the revolutionary process as it unfolded over more than a decade in Bolivia, this is a book no one interested in the nature and potential of radical social transformation should miss.”

Intimate Indigeneities: Race, Sex, and History in the Small Spaces of Andean Life - Andrew Canessa

“This major piece of scholarship on contemporary Bolivia offers profound theoretical insights and contributions. I have no doubt that this fabulous book will become an authoritative text.”

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