Saturday, November 21, 2015

Canada as a plurinational state: A short course for a Bolivian audience

The following is a slightly revised text of a presentation I made two years ago to a seminar in La Paz, Bolivia, sponsored by the Office of the Vice-President. The overall theme of the seminar was “Perspectives for Transformation of the State.” As one of the international participants, I was asked to speak about “Canada as a Plurinational State.”

This entailed explaining the nature of Canada to a Bolivian audience that presumably knew little about Canada, with particular emphasis on Canada’s internal national questions (Québécois and Indigenous) and how their constitutional status might compare or contrast with Bolivia’s new Political Constitution of the Plurinational State, adopted in 2009.

Necessarily, within the time limits of an oral presentation, I had to condense the discussion of many aspects (and omit some altogether), simply highlighting what in my view was most essential to our understanding of these complex issues. However, it struck me recently that the talk might be of interest to readers of this blog, many of you likewise unacquainted with the Canadian social formation.

A short note with accompanying photo following this text, below, provides further information about a major evening event that opened the seminar.

– Richard Fidler

* * *

Quiero pedir disculpas por hablar en inglés. Aunque tengo un conocimiento del castellano escrito, siento que ustedes no se merecen soportar mi rudimentaria expresión oral, que yo espero mejorar durante los meses que pasaré en Bolivia.

[I must begin by apologizing for speaking in English. Although I have a good reading knowledge of Castillian, I feel you do not deserve to be afflicted with my still rudimentary oral expression, which I hope will improve during the months I am here in Bolivia.]

Canada is a country with several internal national questions. But constitutionally it is not a plurinational state. It could, in fact, with some exaggeration, be described — as Lenin described the Czarist empire — as a “prison house of nations.”

The Canadian state originated historically in the European expropriation of the lands of the Indigenous peoples, most of whom now refer to themselves as our “First Nations.” These nations include more than 600 communities of Indigenous peoples, with their 30 different languages, as well as the Inuit peoples of the Far North.

They are the survivors of genocidal colonial policies that for many decades herded most of the Indigenous into reservations and tore their children from them to be “de-Indianized” in mission schools.

Today, the one million Indigenous peoples represent barely 3 percent of the Canadian population although they are a majority in many of the sparsely-populated northern regions where their communities are increasingly threatened with destruction by massive resource exploitation projects. And more than one half of the Indigenous population now subsist in extreme poverty in the major cities of southern Canada.

Francophones: a majority in Quebec, a minority elsewhere

The French-speaking non-Indigenous population is much larger, constituting almost one quarter of the population of Canada. It is now largely confined to the province of Quebec, where more than 80 percent have French as their mother tongue. Another Francophone nation, the Acadians, make up about 30% of the population of the neighboring province of New Brunswick, and there is a substantial Francophone population in Ontario, the province adjoining Quebec on its west.

Like the Indigenous, the Québécois are not recognized as a nation in the Canadian constitution. A French-language enclave of eight million in a combined Canada-U.S. population of 350 million, the Québécois face a constant struggle to defend their language and culture, their primary characteristics as a nation.

In recent decades a powerful movement against national oppression and for national independence has developed in Quebec that challenges the very existence and structure of the Canadian state. It is the major source of political instability in the country.

Quebec is of enormous geopolitical importance to the Canadian state. It sits astride the St. Lawrence River, the main waterway between the Atlantic and central Canada, and separates the eastern provinces from Ontario, the manufacturing heartland. Quebec’s separation from Canada would provoke a profound political crisis and force a re-imagining of Canada with all that this could entail.

This prospect has enormous implications for socialist strategy both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.

The oppression of the Québécois dates from the British conquest in 1760 of the early French empire in North America. In 1837 the English brutally suppressed an insurrection for self-rule by the French inhabitants of what is now Quebec, and then declared their aim to “assimilate” the French and eliminate them as a distinct nationality.

In 1867, in what is now termed Confederation, the British and their colonial politicians — including an accomodating Francophone elite in Quebec — joined Quebec with three English-speaking colonies to establish the “Dominion of Canada” under home rule.

The new federal constitution, an Act of the British Parliament, allowed Quebec its distinctive system of civil law, the privileged position of the Catholic Church in education, and recognition of French as well as English as the language of the courts and legislature, but otherwise treated Quebec as “a province like the others” with no recognition of its distinct national character.

By 1885, with the suppression of rebellions by the Métis (a French-Indigenous mestizo population), the French-speaking and Indigenous peoples in Western Canada were deprived of their land and language rights, their leaders executed or exiled.

Quebec’s national revolt

For almost a century following Confederation, Quebec was a conservative, largely rural, parish-based society, its provincial government closely allied with the Catholic Church. The Québécois fought to defend themselves against federal government intrusions on their language and culture. They resisted attempts to conscript them for overseas duty in both world wars.

Industrialization, as it developed, was largely the work of U.S. and Anglo-Canadian capital, much of it concentrated in mining production and electrical generation for export outside the province.

However, in the 1960s Quebec experienced a massive national upsurge, the so-called “Quiet Revolution.” With wide popular support from workers and farmers, a new Francophone professional middle class gained control of the province’s Liberal party and government and proceeded to nationalize electrical power generation, create a secularized public education system and a network of French-language universities, and establish universal health care and other social services. In some respects it was Quebec’s equivalent of Bolivia’s National Revolution just a decade earlier.

And the government used the huge sums accumulated to finance its new pension program for senior citizens to establish a public capital investment fund that in the years to come fostered the development of a Francophone bourgeoisie that became known as “Québec Inc.”

In 1968 the Liberal party fractured and a more nationalist wing founded the Parti Québécois to fight for Quebec independence. The PQ was not a socialist party but aimed to build a “sovereign” Quebec capitalist state through a “cold” non-revolutionary electoral process that might result in some form of supra-state “association” with the rest of Canada.

A divided proletariat

Because of its national oppression, the Quebec working class was an especially militant section of the Canadian proletariat in the post-WWII industrial struggles. In the 1960s Quebec unions grew exponentially with the expansion of the government bureaucracy and the education and healthcare systems. But although unions in English Canada had founded a Canadian labour party, the New Democratic Party, in the early 1960s, the NDP’s Canadian nationalism, its hostility to Quebec’s burgeoning national demands, alienated the Quebec unions; nationalist consciousness inclined them to tail politically the province’s Liberals and later the bourgeois PQ.

The result was a classic desencuentro, a missed encounter between the working classes in the two major national components of the Canadian social formation — an estrangement that has lasted, in one form or another, to this day.

The Canadian labour movement outside Quebec, with few exceptions, identifies its interests with the Canadian state and, while paying lip service to Quebec’s right to self-determination, is not inclined to support any movement that would jeopardize the territorial and political integrity of that state.

In this, of course, it simply echoes the stance of the Canadian bourgeoisie, a powerful imperialist ruling class with extensive global investments especially in resource exploitation and finance, as in Latin America. The Canadian ruling class bitterly opposes Quebec “separatism” as a threat to the integrity of its state, the protector of its class interests.

A movement for national independence

In 1976 the Parti Québécois was elected the government of Quebec. It enacted a number of reforms, enhancing the province’s welfare state, but its most popular measure was the adoption of the Charter of the French Language, under which French, now the province’s sole official language, was made the mandatory language of employment and service in public administration and in all major industries and undertakings.

In 1985, the Quebec National Assembly adopted a PQ government motion to recognize the existence of a dozen distinct Indigenous nations within Quebec. Quebec is the only province to have signed modern-day treaties with some Indigenous nations acknowledging their right to participate in development on their territories and to share in the resulting revenues.

But the PQ’s otherwise conventional record in office, over a total of 18 years, failed to elicit sufficient popular confidence in its leadership and program to win its two referendums on sovereignty, in 1980 and 1995.

From the beginning of Quebec’s nationalist upsurge, the Canadian bourgeoisie and its central government in Ottawa sought to trivialize, divert and defeat it. A number of strategies were deployed.

A policy of official “multiculturalism” was adopted that effectively treated Quebec as just one “culture” among many other immigrant cultures making up the Canadian “nation.”

A new policy of official “bilingualism” granted legally “equal” rights to French and English in areas of federal jurisdiction — while denying the need for special protection of French within Quebec itself.

Most notoriously, the federal government took advantage of a couple of kidnappings of officials in 1970 by small cells of a self-proclaimed Quebec Liberation Front to impose a military occupation of Quebec and arrest and jail hundreds of pro-independence militants.

In the wake of Quebec’s defeat in its 1980 referendum on sovereignty, the federal government under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau moved aggressively to produce for the first time a “made-in-Canada” constitution that would, it hoped, once and for all frustrate any further moves toward an independent Quebec.

The Anglophone provinces ultimately aligned with Ottawa to adopt, in 1982, a constitution with two major components directly aimed against Quebec.

An amending formula effectively precluded any legal secession of one province without the unanimous consent of the others -- a direct violation of the right of self-determination of Quebec, a nation still without recognition as such in the constitution.

And the new constitution included a “Charter of Rights and Freedoms” largely focused on abstract individual rights while empowering the courts to overthrow collective rights that might conflict with them. In the following years the Supreme Court of Canada has used the federal Charter to throw out many provisions of Quebec’s Charter of the French Language.

Major economic and demographic shifts

Over the last two decades, the economic and political centre of gravity in Canada has shifted westward as Canadian capitalism became increasingly dependent on exports of both renewable resources (e.g. wood products) and non-renewables, in the first place petroleum derived largely from the infamous Alberta tar sands.

Toronto finance coupled with Calgary-based petroleum interests now constitute the major axis of development, and the Quebec metropolis of Montréal has declined as a financial powerhouse. Major manufacturing industries in both Quebec and Ontario, once Canada’s industrial heartland, have suffered a sharp decline.

Bolivia’s dependency on resource extractivism can be and is criticized on many grounds, but there are some fundamental differences here from Canada’s extractivism. Your government aims to use the income derived from greatly increased resource royalties and taxes on industrialization, more equal redistribution of income, and strengthening of a sovereign state while respecting the country’s constitutionally recognized plurinationalism.

Canada’s petro-bourgeoisie, in contrast, are desperately seeking to export their oil and gas — via pipelines, railways, supertankers -- with little attention to balanced economic development and zero concern for the looming global climate catastrophe. Canada has quit the Kyoto accord and is now widely recognized as one of the world’s major climate criminals.

Indigenous rights get short shrift as an ad hoc “consultation” process that is largely entrusted to corporate developers and government tribunals is used to divide the affected communities against each other.

Meanwhile immigration, primarily from Asia, has concentrated in cities west of Quebec, and the latter’s relative demographic weight is declining within Canada. These trends contribute to the Québécois’ increasing sense of marginalization and exclusion as a nation within Canada.

Independence movement lacks adequate leadership

The 1982 constitutional “coup de force” against Quebec stimulated pro-independence feelings. In the 1995 referendum on sovereignty, the yes side almost won, polling 49.42% support. And even today, opinion polls register 40% or more support for independence.

This sentiment is all the more remarkable in that the Quebec nationalist movement has in recent years been almost bereft of leadership. During the last three decades the Parti Québécois has moved decisively to the right and virtually abandoned its quest for independence. There are many reasons for this.

The party always based its hopes for a successful “cold” independence process on the hope of support or at least neutrality of the United States. But Washington and Wall Street have repeatedly expressed their hostility to Quebec secession from Canada.

“Quebec Inc.,” the PQ’s anticipated corporate partner in its quest, is now firmly integrated within the interstices of Canadian — and global — capital and has no interest in a politically separate state.[1]

Like governments everywhere in the imperialist countries, the PQ when in office has implemented the neoliberal agenda, imposing budget austerity, supporting “free trade” agreements, and making deep inroads into the welfare state of an earlier era.

Most recently, the PQ government elected in September 2012 has expressed its interest in accommodating Canadian petro-capital’s plans to pipe tar sands oil from Alberta to Quebec and further east. Environmentalists are enraged at this new receptiveness to a pan-Canadian “national strategy” for ecologically suicidal fossil fuel dependency.[2]

Not least important, the two referendum defeats (albeit narrowly in the second) have demoralized the Parti Québécois leadership. In particular, they have lost confidence in their ability to win support for Quebec sovereignty among the population of immigrant origin or those without French as their mother tongue.

The PQ government no longer espouses an inclusive concept of citizenship that would recognize equal rights for everyone living on Quebec territory. Imitating the government of imperialist France, it is currently piloting a “charter of values” through the National Assembly that would ban “ostentatious” religious symbols and is targeted, for example, at Moslem women who wear the hijab.

This reactionary ethnic nationalism has aroused mass opposition within Quebec, and done much to discredit the PQ among feminists, students, trade union members and community activists.

A new left independentist party

The pro-independence movement is now fracturing, with the emergence of new parties.

A hopeful development is the appearance of Québec Solidaire, a pro-independence party founded during the last decade through a process of regroupment of militants in the global justice, community activist, feminist and socialist movements. The party polls between 6 and 10 percent and has elected two members[3] to the Quebec National Assembly notwithstanding an undemocratic electoral system.

Many features of Québec Solidaire’s program are analogous with Bolivia’s approach to building an “integral state” — but with this difference: that the axis in Quebec, a minority nation within Canada, is to build a national state that is independent or autonomous of the existing Canadian state.

Québec Solidaire holds that a new relationship with the rest of Canada can only be negotiated once the Québécois have clearly established their intent and ability to form an independent state.

A refounding of the Canadian state is in my opinion strategically contingent on a prior “separation” of Quebec — following which, to echo Marx’s famous formulation with respect to Ireland’s independence from England, “may come federation” with the former oppressor state.

Québec Solidaire supports the right to self-determination of the Amerindian and Inuit peoples inhabiting Quebec territory and, while inviting them to join in the independence project, pledges to honour their exercise of that right — whether through self-government within a Quebec state or through their own independence as Indigenous nations. Bolivia’s Constitución Política del Estado contains many useful pointers on how such Indigenous self-government could be organized.

Québec Solidaire aims “to build a democratic, social and national alliance” — a popular bloc — “that will bring together all of the trade unions, popular movements, feminists, students, ecologists and sovereigntist parties” in support of “popular sovereignty concretized by the election of a Constituent Assembly.” Party propaganda describes parallel “inspiring experiences” in Bolivia and Ecuador. Como se dicen en Venezuela, “Nuestra norte es el Sur.”[4]

Like the Bolivian constitution, in its articles 141 and 144, Québec Solidaire promotes an inclusive definition of citizenship. “Quebec nationality,” it states, “is essentially defined by living in the nation and participating in its life.”

The Quebec nation is “ethnically and culturally diversified, with French as the common language of use and factor of integration..., the Francophone community [being] transformed throughout its history by the successive integration of elements originating from the other communities who have been added to it.” This nation “is based not on ethnic origin but on voluntary membership in the Québécois political community.”

Québec Solidaire proposes a “model of secularism” that distinguishes between the need for state neutrality toward religious belief or lack of belief, and the freedom of individuals “to express their own convictions in a context that favours exchange and dialogue.” This position parallels article 4 of Bolivia’s constitution proclaiming the state’s independence of religion while guaranteeing freedom of religion and spiritual beliefs in accordance with their cosmovisions.

While not explicitly anti-capitalist or socialist, Québec Solidaire defines itself as a party “resolutely of the left, feminist, ecologist, altermondialiste, pacifist, democratic and sovereigntist.” This definition is not inconsistent with the values and ethical-moral principles set out in article 8 of the Bolivian constitution.

Like the Bolivian constitution (article 306), Québec Solidaire advocates a “plural economy” composed of communitarian, state, private and cooperative enterprises. However, QS is less clear about the importance of nationalization of strategically important industries to the functioning of the state economy as a whole.

New alliances on a global scale

Finally, it is worth noting that defence of the global ecology is now emerging as a key mobilizing issue not only in Quebec but in the rest of Canada. Here, the Indigenous peoples in both nations are playing a leading role in building popular opposition to irresponsible resource exploitation by capitalist enterprises and governments. New alliances are being forged in consequence.

Québec social movements have initiated plans for a pan-Canadian Social Forum, modeled on the international Social Forums of recent years, to be held in August 2014.[5] This unprecedented gathering will bring together Québécois, Canadian and Indigenous activists and thinkers from throughout the Canadian state to exchange views and plan joint actions in the future. If a Bolivian delegation were to attend, I am sure we could all learn much from your experiences here in refounding the state in the interests of buen vivir.[6]

Mis agradecimientos especiales a mi interprete Eric Gomez.[A special thank-you to my interpreter Eric Gomez.]

Hall Vicepresidencia, La Paz, November 28, 2013

* * *

The weekend seminar was introduced the night before by a panel featuring Vice-President Álvaro García Linera and two other participants — Jorge Veraza of Mexico and Bruno Bosteels of the United States — critically examining interpretations of the Communist Manifesto. Among Veraza’s publications is a book published by the Bolivian government, Del Reencuentro de Marx con América Latina en la Época de la Degradación Civilizatoria Mundial, an anthology of texts by the author, whom García Linera says was instrumental to winning him to Marxism while he was doing postgraduate studies in mathematics in Mexico City during the 1980s. Bosteels is a translator of some of the texts by García Linera in the book Plebeian Power, recently published by Haymarket Books.


photo by Richard Fidler

Left to right: Álvaro García Linera, Jorge Veraza, Bruno Bosteels. The PowerPoint photos, to the left of the panel members in the central auditorium of Bolivia’s Central Bank, featured various revolutionary heroes, ranging from Indigenous leaders in the wars against the Spanish colonizers to leaders of Twentieth Century socialism including Lenin and Trotsky (pictured here).

[1] An exception is Pierre Karl Péladeau, a Quebec media mogul who became PQ leader in 2015. It was a further sign of the PQ’s shift rightward, but has not elicited any significant support for the party from other capitalists.

[2] In April 2014 the PQ was defeated in a general election. The successor Liberal government is even more receptive to the Canadian petro-bourgeoisie’s projects.

[3] QS elected its third MNA in April 2014.

[4] Literally, “As they say in Venezuela, ‘Our North is the South’.” This is a pun. El norte, in Spanish, not only refers to the earth’s magnetic north but is a synonym for “compass,” a directional indicator.

[5] Today I would invite the audience to the World Social Forum scheduled to be held in Montréal in August 2016 — the first time this annual gathering, which began a decade and a half ago in Brazil, will be held in a country of the global North.

[6] Buen vivir, Spanish for suma qamaña in Aymara and sumaj kawsay in Quechua, refers to the Andean Indigenous philosophy of “living well,” not necessarily “better” in an ecologically sustainable sense. It is incorporated as a guiding ethical and political principle in the new Constitutions of both Bolivia and Ecuador. For a discussion, see Atilio Boron, “‘Buen vivir’ and the dilemmas of the left governments in Latin America.”

Monday, November 2, 2015

Bolivia’s vice-president on the challenge of a new left for the 21st century

by Álvaro García Linera

The following is a speech given in Athens by Bolivia’s vice-president on June 20, 2015, at the Eighth Resistance Festival. Edited for publication, the text appears in the current issue (No. 15) of La Migraña, a magazine published by the Bolivian government.

In a previous article I summarized García Linera’s comments, toward the end of his presentation, on the situation in Greece at the time, just two weeks before the Greek people voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to reject the moves by the Eurozone leaders to impose further indebtedness and austerity on them. This is my translation of the rest of his presentation.

Richard Fidler

* * *

Greece’s crisis: The challenge of a new left and the resurgence in Europe

I was asked to address the question, What are the characteristics of the left in this, the 21st century?

As Marx said, basically we have to recognize the movement that is unfolding before our eyes, the real movement that is developing here in Greece, and in Spain, Ecuadoimager, Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and other parts of the world, that is revealing innovations and new themes in the construction of the processes of emancipation.

Given that no revolutionary process is definitive or a formula but instead is a flow with advances, retreats and uncertainties, we do not know whether the new left — or what we call a new left — will deliver humanity to a new destiny in the following century. Perhaps it will do so, or perhaps it will fail. What is clear is that there is a resurgence, a new debate and new experiences; and it is this that I wish to address, starting with five aspects,[1] and then reflecting briefly on what is happening in Greece.

Characteristics defining the emergence of the contemporary lefts

1. Social movement transformed into a drive for state power. Representative state governance and social governance

One of the new things, if we take into account what happened in the second half of the 20th century, but not so new if we go back to the early years of that century, is the relation between party and social movement.

The experience of the left in the 21st century has altered the debate that we inherited from the 1940s. Then the main issue was the vanguard, a party of cadres, of professional revolutionaries with their activists, their intellectuals, their central committee (which was the brain and the epicenter of the revolution) and collective actors (fundamentally, workers or peasants) who had to follow and support the decisions, the road traced by that vanguard — an armed vanguard, electoral vanguard or clandestine vanguard, but always the vanguard.

Today it no longer happens that way — and it’s not only that previously it failed but that today it no longer functions. The living experiences of the social struggles in the world at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century are showing us another type of articulation. They are showing us that in some cases the party structures arise from the social movement itself; that the frontier between social movement and party is very ambiguous, porous; and that the party structures (which provide a certain scope for cohesion, unity, principles and organization) maintain very direct, free-flowing and organic links with the social organizing structures and with the emerging social movements.

That is good because it breaks with the concept of the vanguard and an unconscious mass led by it. It shows us that the mass is not so “mass” and much less that it is unconscious, and that civil society is complex. It builds leaderships, thinks and sometimes needs centers of cohesion and control (a party). However, these centers of cohesion and control are not what is fundamental; in fact, they are only necessary and have leadership capacity if they are permanently fostering their organic link (their metabolism) with the social organizations, with the social movement.

Sometimes this shocks people who come from the old school, used to the discipline, the democratic centralism, the cohesiveness, the permanent militancy and the quasi-Jesuitical view of politics as a mission and commitment. But that’s the way it is.

Today, the party affiliation is more lax, more flexible, more ambiguous. And one has to know how to understand those new languages and begin to act in terms of those new spiritual predispositions of the people.

This ambiguous frontier between social movement and party — now not a vanguard but a party, more compact and unifying — while it is something new, something that can be appreciated in the distinct European and Latin American experiences, leaves us with two lessons. The first, that there is no new left that is detached from the social movement; and the second, that there is no successful social movement that does not have, by necessity, a continuity, an organic extension in party structures striving for state power.

That is, a political party will be successful in its proposals for social, economic and political transformation in so far as it has continuity, participation, and links with collective, plural actors. Moreover, the old political systems do not break down unless there is a strong social movement that bursts onto the scene, breaks or smashes the state domination and reconfigures social identities. In turn, if the social movement still wants to be something more than a protest and an indication of discontent it will have to have some extension at the level of the state, and to be able to translate itself into a determination to gain management and control over the state.

However, it is not that the social movement has to lead into a state, since in fact the social movement is more than the state, and confronts the state. Nevertheless, its effectiveness will be gauged in its capacity to work in conjunction with a state actor: to be a social movement outside of the state but with the ability to influence, affect and transform the state. Perhaps the new thing now in the left is that it is an actor of state transformation and simultaneously an actor outside of the state. That, in turn, is going to characterize the forms of government of the new lefts.

Electoral state legitimacy and representative governability: parliament, ministry, state institutions, parliamentary majorities and agreements; but parallel to this extra-state legitimacy, outside of the state — in the society, the streets, the factories, and the mobilizations. The revolutionary stability of a political party of the left will have to have those two pillars: representative state governance and social governance.

The possibility of continuing to carry out changes in the institutions of government, of the state, the laws and the functioning of the parliament itself will always lie in the ability to have a force of extra-parliamentary social mobilization (outside of the parliament), which will be what drives transformations within the parliament and the executive and judicial organs themselves. This is, then, a new system of dual political governance.


Álvaro García Linera with Zoe Konstantopoulou, the Speaker of the Greek parliament. As Vice-President, he also presides over proceedings of Bolivia’s Plurinational Assembly.

2. New material and social condition of the working class. The plebeian form of collective and contemporary action

A second change that I note in the emergence of the new lefts — sometimes not so new because they include a lot of the past experience — is the quality of the social movement.

Two things are happening as a result of the recent processes of globalization of the economy of the last 30 or 40 years: a change in workers’ conditions, in the material conditions of the working class, and an increasing complexity in social conditions.

In the first case, the old composition of working class, big industry, huge factory, a worker stronghold, unionized, disciplined, that passed on knowledge from workers with more experience to younger ones, and that created loyalties on the job based on that transmission of knowledge and hierarchies, controlled by the worker, has disappeared.

Today there are more workers in the world than there were 30 years ago. There is an overwhelming proletarianization of jobs, including those we think of ourselves as middle class and professional. However, it is simply another means of proletarianization, fragmented, diluted, nomadic, without loyalties within the workplace structure and without transmission of knowledge from older to newer workers. Today, knowledge is controlled by the firms and not by the older workers who passed it on to the young worker, as in the case of skilled labour. There are no unions [or rather] there is a huge process of de-unionization, the unions are small and cover only a small part of the working class. We have the emergence of young workers with other mentalities and sensibilities, and a feminization of the working class, with another kind of concerns and languages, different from the classic male chauvinist and centralized language of the union in a big plant.

This is a process of transformation of the class, whose condensation in discourse, organization and collective myths capable of converting it into a visible political force will take decades. The working class that we knew in the Twenties, Thirties or Forties of the previous century took at least one hundred years to mature.

This new working class, which is still dispersed and fragmented in its political visibility, in its constitution as an acting political subject, has yet to go through a long and emergent process that corresponds to the new material composition of the working class, both continental and global. But parallel to this process, we have the emergence of more plebeian social actors or subjects, that is, who develop not according to where they work but according to their interests, and who are more plural and more flexible in the way they interconnect. I am referring, for example, to the mobilizations over the debt, basic services, education, that bring together workers, bus, taxi and truck drivers, shopkeepers, students, neighbours and professionals.

The structures of organization and control of those social subjects are also more flexible and more casual: they last for a time (a few months) and later dissolve after having achieved some result, in order later to convene again and mobilize around other subjects and with distinct hierarchies. There is no longer a unique center of mobilization or a single line of action. In one mobilization a particular sector will take the leadership; in another, another sector. In some cases, the unions will take the leadership, while in others it may be the students who bring together unions and neighbors, or perhaps the public employees in the transportation industry bring students and professionals together.

The processes of mobilization are becoming more complex, and we revolutionaries must know how to understand the quality, flexibility and concerns of collective action, which we have named the plebeian form of contemporary collective action, and which corresponds to the primary levels in the construction of the worker identity and the workers movement.

3. Concerning democracy in the sense of democracy as a space for achieving socialism

A third new aspect in the debate in the left of the 21st century is the question of democracy. The old school of party membership had taught us that it was simply a tool, a means or a route among many other particular means or routes for obtaining or arriving at an end: socialism. That is, one more tool, available along with other tools, that we could use or leave aside — because a tool is something that one can use or stop using on certain occasions — something circumstantial.

This conception of the democratic as a tool — elections, votes, parliament, representation — is being and must be modified by a conception of democracy as a space of accomplishment (and not only as a means).

The democratic in the full sense, the Greek sense of the word, must be viewed as the place for the achievement of socialism itself. We cannot have socialism, much less communism, if it is not like an expansion, like the radical surge in democratic practices in all conditions of life: in the university, in the college, in the street, in the neighborhood, in day to day life, in the party, in the economy, in the management and control of the economy, the banks, the factories, and in agriculture.

Democracy cannot be viewed as a temporary means toward an end, since it is really more the scenario or territory where the construction of the socialist horizon unfolds. And here we are referring not only to a democratic road to socialism — as opposed to the armed struggle or undemocratic road — but to the fact that socialism either is democratic or it is not socialism. In other words, socialism either is participation and increasing deliberation of society in all the circumstances of life, in the definition of public policy, in the control of the factories, the universities, the educational systems, the financial systems... or it is not socialism.

4. An alternative model of economy and society in the short and long term. The transitional program of the left

A fourth theme — perhaps the most urgent in the experience of the left in the 21st century — is the alternative model of economy and society in the long term, namely, the communist horizon; but also the alternative in the economy and society of today (2015, 2016, 2017), because the emergence of the new left or the resurgence of the left in Latin America or Europe is inexplicable without the need for some alternative. If neoliberalism were operating marvellously, generating well-being for the people, we would have no left; or, in any case, we would still have those “fake lefts” in charge that do not differ in any way from the European or Latin American ultraright, like the European Social Democracy.

The left emerges in the midst of neoliberalism because there are breakdowns, because there is discontent in the population, people are unhappy and their expectations are unfulfilled. So the left emerges in order to resolve today — not as some distant dream for 700 years from now, but today — the peoples’ problems: work, employment, growth, distribution, justice, dignity and sovereignty.

Accordingly, the lefts that are emerging now are obliged to think about a post-neoliberal economic program of transition (using the old language of the 20th century), a transitional program of democratization of public institutions, cleaning up public administration, which is full of corrupt scoundrels. The left is obliged to think about that.

And while each country and region has its own particular features and needs, in the case of Bolivia our transitional program — amidst an unchecked neoliberalism — was very clear. Economically, nationalization of natural resources; politically, an indigenous government; socially and institutionally, a Constituent Assembly to reconstitute the long-term social pacts.

We are talking about a very precise, concrete, viable and tangible program that was responsive to the expectations of the people. A concrete proposal to respond to concrete needs, because the people and the society have very concrete needs. However, we must not forget that the concrete is also the most complicated.

Of course we intellectuals can analyze things, but to make the synthesis of multiple determinations — what is concrete, as Marx says — is what is most complicated and difficult. The people have concrete needs, and as revolutionaries, intellectuals, committed academics, party members and activists, we have to be able likewise to have concrete answers....

[1] In this edited text, as in his oral presentation (pages 25-32), García Linera says he will discuss five aspects, but actually identifies and discusses four, the fifth possibly being what he goes on to say about the situation in Greece. – RF.