Tuesday, April 18, 2017


All the opposition marches in April called by Henrique Capriles and other Venezuelan leaders of the MUD have sought to reach downtown Caracas. The ostensible goal is to present a petition to the Defensoria del Pueblo. In a normal situation, such a mobilization would certainly be legitimate. But opposition leaders fully realize that the government will not allow for the protesters to march from the wealthy eastern part of Caracas to the downtown area. There are echoes of the April 11, 2002 march that led into the coup against President Chávez, when the opposition newspaper El Nacional published the large banner headline “The Final Battle in Miraflores,” encouraging people that day to march to the presidential palace.

Let us assume that the Maduro government, acting in good faith, were to allow the opposition protesters to march to the center of Caracas. Such a scenario would go something like this:

Scenario one: The Maduro government meets with opposition leaders and grants them permission to march to the center of Caracas. The opposition agrees to limit the march to 35,000 people and to end the protest in the late afternoon.

Scenario two: Peaceful march to the center of Caracas. Everything goes according to plan.

Scenario three: Opposition leaders such as Freddy Guervara (as he has said in the past) announces that the opposition will remain in the center of Caracas until their demands are met. The less extremist leaders such as Capriles now call on their followers to join the protest and people come in from the eastern part of Caracas, from the eastern part of Venezuela and from the west as far away as Táchira, Mérida and Maracaibo. There are now 750,000 protesters in the center of Caracas.

Scenario four: At nighttime, the guarimba brigades, which during the 2014 protests were responsible for widespread destruction and violence and have acted in a similar way in recent days, go on a rampage and clash with national guardsmen and police.

Scenario five: CNN and other international news outlets juxtapose the confrontation of the guarimba brigades with security forces, on the one hand, and the peaceful protesters, on the other, thus leaving the impression that the government is using random force against peaceful protesters.

Scenario six: At this point Maduro may see the handwriting on the wall in which case he resigns. If he doesn’t, we can all imagine scenarios seven, eight and nine.

Sunday, April 9, 2017


The positive response of Democratic Party centrists and the corporate media, in toto, to the attack on Syria’s Shayrat airbase sheds light on an important ideological divide in U.S. politics. Progressives, as opposed to centrists, condemned the attack in no uncertain terms. I do not belittle the importance of some of the reforms proposed by Democratic centrists (the Clintons, Obama, etc.) on the domestic front in the area of health, regulation of the private sector, etc, even while these measures do not represent real solutions to urgent problems (the centrists, for instance, do not support single-payer or complete elimination of fracking). But I have always felt that foreign policy is more important than domestic issues. Firstly, because military spending saps up at least fifty percent of the federal budget. And second, from a humanitarian viewpoint in that so many lives are at stake. As can be seen in the case of the conflict in Syria, there is much more of a consensus between Democratic and Republican Party leaderships on foreign issues than domestic ones.  

The Democratic centrists are now in a quandary. Up until now they have tried, and with considerable success, to retain the support of those who are infuriated with Trump’s positions and policies. This was especially important because the Resistance movement takes in a considerable number of rank-and-file Democrats, some of whom supported Hillary in the primaries.  

The attack on Shayrat may represent a milestone in U.S. politics. An independent progressive pole that attracts those who most staunchly reject Trumpism will be deprived of resources and other types of backing from the Democratic Party establishment and the mainstream media. But in the long run, it will be able to highlight foreign policy issues, specifically the issue of militarism and interventionism, which for so long was submerged or shunted aside. If this happens, U.S. politics will be reshaped in a fundamental way, and for the better.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Real News interview with me on Venezuelan Developments

Real News interviewed me yesterday on Venezuela’s Political Impasse

Friday, February 10, 2017


Talk I will be giving at Pomona College on March 21

Monday, January 23, 2017

My Book Review of Alvaro García Linera's "Plebian Power"


Alvaro García Linera, Plebeian Power: Collective Action and Indigenous, Working-Class and Popular Identities in Bolivia (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014), 345 pp., $28.00. 

            Alvaro García Linera, twice-elected vice-president of Bolivia, is the continent’s most prominent theoretician-politician to place “twenty-first century Latin American left” thought in a Marxist framework. All but one of the book’s ten chapters were previously published, between 1998 and 2005. Their topics include Marxism, the indigenous movement, social movements, the labor movement and the state. In spite of the time span, the essays present a consistent whole.

            García Linera’s thinking represents a synthesis of Marxism, with its class analysis and structural focus, and indigenismo (“Indianism”), based on the celebration of longstanding indigenous cultural practices and communitarian relationships. García Linera’s own trajectory reflects the convergence of Marxist and indigenous components. As an activist in the Katarista guerrilla movement, he was captured, tortured and jailed for five years in the 1990s. The Kataristas put forward an indigenista critique of the leadership of the nation’s 1952 revolution as well as the traditional left. According to this view, which García Linera articulates throughout the book, the revolutionary government after 1952 sacrificed purely indigenous demands and aspirations in order to promote modernization and assimilation.

            In addition to indigenismo, García Linera became a leading advocate of Marxism, which he studied extensively during his stay in prison, beginning with a close reading of Capital. While an adamant critic of the traditional left, García Linera points to the emergence in the 1990s of a “dialogue, admittedly tense, between the Indianist current and… critical-Marxist intellectual currents” (315). He ends the book by asserting that this “mutual enrichment” is likely to produce “the most important emancipatory conceptions of society in Bolivia in the twenty-first century” (321).

            García Linera not only helped bring together indigenismo and Marxism, but also served as a “bridge” (as the introductory essay by journalist Pablo Stefanoni puts it) between the peasant and indigenous populations, on the one hand, and the urban middle class on the other. For this reason, Evo Morales selected him as his running mate in 2005. In reaching out to urban sectors, García Linera distanced himself from the more extreme indigenista position represented by Felipe Quispe, a former Katarista leader who called for the Indianization of Bolivian society and an indigenous-led Bolivian government. García Linera sees Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party as a realistic alternative to Quispe’s approach in that MAS favored “an electoral route of gradual, institutional changes” (280). Indeed, just days after becoming vice-president in 2005, García Linera called MAS a party of the “center-left.”

            García Linera analyzes in detail the social impact of the economic transformations in Bolivia beginning in the 1980s. During these years, large-scale export-oriented agriculture along with the hydrocarbon industry, both located in the eastern lowlands, displaced tin mining and agricultural production for internal consumption. This shift, along with neoliberal practices such as outsourcing and downsizing, fragmented, dispersed and reduced the size of the traditional industrial working class, and all but crippled the formerly powerful workers’ confederation, the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB). The resultant subjective conditions in Bolivia, as in the rest of the world in the age of globalization, were conducive not to workers’ combativeness but rather “conservative consciousness” and “bargaining over the concessions and rights framing their subordination” (45). García Linera’s pessimism regarding the prospects for socialist revolution during the current period rests on his acceptance of the Marxist premise regarding the decisive role played by the proletariat acting from within the system of production. Not surprisingly, he refers to the “long process” of thoroughgoing change, which begins in “each labor center” (75).

            At the time of the 2005 elections, García Linera declared that “Andean capitalism” and not socialism was destined to become the dominant economic system in Bolivia in the twenty-first century. Some leftists sharply criticized him for relegating socialism to the far-distant future, but he was hardly defending capitalism dominated by monopoly or multinational corporations. He points out that family-based economic structures generate 70 percent of the nation’s urban employment, while a large percentage of the rural work force is based on communitarian relations. Thus the state needs to “coordinate in a balanced way” the community-based economy (in the countryside), family-based production and the modern industrial sector, rather than prioritize the latter as it has up until now. According to this vision, the state allocates hydrocarbon-derived revenue to facilitate self-managed enterprises, which are the essence of what García Linera calls “Andean” and “Amazonian” capitalism.

            Although pessimistic regarding current proletarian struggles, García Linera highlights the revolutionary potential of the indigenous population. Through most of the twentieth century and especially after 1952, labor unions and other social movements espoused “mestizo ideology” and were the “product of the economic modernization of the business elites” (270). In contrast, by the end of the twentieth century, the movements “with the greatest power to challenge the political order” in Bolivia were those of the rural-based indigenous population outside of the modern economy. Especially significant for García Linera is that indigenous voters, who had traditionally supported mestizo politicians, voted “en masse for Indians” in the 2002 elections (275), and that social leaders now tend to be indigenous while political movements on the left are indigenous-led. He also considers the “predominantly political and ethno-national nature” (313) of rural struggles in the early twenty-first century a positive development, especially when compared to the economic focus of the peasant struggles of previous decades.

            García Linera’s pessimism regarding the proletariat and optimism regarding the indigenous population have to be placed in the context of globalization. Writing during the heyday of neoliberalism in the 1990s, García Linera rejected the technological determinism defended by neoliberals who asserted that recent advances in technology and organization had a predetermined outcome. In this vein, he attempted to refute the “conservative and pseudo-leftist arguments” emerging from the “framework that fetishizes technology” (30). Defenders of technological determinism of both neoliberal and mechanical Marxist varieties tend to denigrate the importance of indigenous community organization and subsistence agriculture as well as the struggles of the indigenous population, which they consider to be anachronistic. In effect, for García Linera the technical changes associated with globalization weakened the working class and thus ruled out socialism in the near future, but did not signify the predominance of any specific capitalist model. In championing “Andean capitalism,” García Linera supported a very different type of capitalism than that of the multinational-dominated global economy that the neoliberals claimed was inevitable on grounds “there is no alternative” (TINA).

            García Linera identifies himself with a “new left” in Bolivia that emerged at the turn of the century and that according to him had little in common with the old left. Throughout the book, he lashes out at the nation’s traditional left for its “modernist” worldview that “created a cognitive block and an epistemological impossibility with respect to two realities – Bolivia’s campesino and ethnic issue” (308). In putting forward this critique, he fails to establish distinctions between different parties or currents on the left. While the criticism is more valid with regard to the social democratic Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR), which spearheaded the 1952 revolution, than to Marxist left groups, García Linera lumps them all together. Surprisingly the book makes no mention of Peruvian communist leader José Carlos Mariátegui, who viewed the Inca heritage and indigenous communitarian practices as assets in the struggle for socialism. Throughout the book, the dogmatic left becomes a straw man, as García Linera states or implies that leftists in general adhere to reductionist and positivist notions. An example is his assertion that the “Marxist Left” expressed contempt for the peasantry and “identified the agrarian reality as an indicator of the ‘backwardness’ that would have to give way to the ‘progress’ of industry.” He adds that “agriculture appeared to be a liability for the subjects of the social revolution – the proletarians – who had to find the best way to ‘drag along’ the small landholders” (308). Elsewhere García Linera makes reference to “the condescending attention that the Left awarded to the indigenous movement” (151).

            García Linera’s celebration of the demands of the indigenous population and its community-based economy makes him very much a “twenty-first century Latin American left” thinker. Indeed, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the twenty-first century Latin American left is its prioritization of marginalized sectors as opposed to the proletariat. Hugo Chávez, for instance, declared that as president he was committed to acting on behalf of Venezuelans of all classes, but that he extended priority treatment to the very poor because they needed his help the most. Liberation theology, which exerted a major influence on the twenty-first century Latin American left, preached a similar message and claimed it was embodied in the bible. 

            García Linera, like other twenty-first century leftists, envisions a clear break with the past. The problem with their narrative is that it fails to establish a meaningful contrast between reformist and neoliberal governments. A more nuanced analysis is in order. A more rigorous account of the positive and negative features of the different leftist groups in Bolivia would go a long way toward placing the rise of the twenty-first century left in historical perspective.
Steve Ellner

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Winter 2017 Issue

In the article I argue that the characterization of Venezuela as a “failed state” facing a “humanitarian crisis” intensifies political polarization, plays into the hands of the opposition’s radical fringe, and hinders efforts, promoted by Pope Francisco, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and others, to establish a national dialogue over pressing issues  


Thursday, January 5, 2017


Read this moving interview with Robert Meeropol, the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and then sign the petition calling on Obama to exonerate his mother. The proof of her innocence is overwhelming; beginning with the fact that her main accusers (her brother and sister-in-law) swore in their grand jury testimony that she was completely innocent, only to change their story later on. This, according to Meeropol (based on documents), was due to pressure from, among others, the notorious Roy Cohen, the pathological liar and mentor to Donald Trump. KGP files assigned code names to both accusers but not to her. Listen to the interview and then sign the petition. https://www.democracynow.org/2017/1/4/part_2_robert_meeropol_on_trump