Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How the Indigenous Organized

"The revolutionary organization must learn that it can no longer combat alienation with alienated means."

- Situationist International

This was a central tenet of the SI, guiding their work on the spectale's recuperative strategies and especially the strategies of the subordinated classes. I am taking a look at the indigenous organization in Bolivia from the 1990s to the present. The indio community there has created a revolutionary struggle that, while not impervious to recuperative forces, is possibly the best model for decentralizing power and collective bargaining in the present era.

The organization of indigenous groups changed after the political turmoil of the late 1990s. The indigenous supplanted the labor unions as the primary working class mode of resistance by forming ad hoc groups organized around specific issues from their different but overlapping perspectives.

Urban employment after Coca Zero - the U.S.'s plan to eradicate coca growing in Bolivia - brought the indigenous to the cities, where they displaced miners (long considered the vanguard of the working class by the Bolivian left). They functioned primarily in neighborhood collectives that incorporated many elements of labor unions, but were not based on connections to particular employers. The neighborhoods maintained constant pressure on the government, with an overall emphasis on the failed Coca Zero plan, and the privatization of natural resources.

“By freely combining indigenous, nationalist, and anti-neoliberal discourses, they often incorporated the demands of other groups to broaden their base of support or increase their legitimacy.”

- Benjamin Kohl and Linda Farthing, Impasse in Bolivia

While the neighborhoods increasingly assumed the vanguard position toward social change in Bolivia, each followed its own agenda, organizing strategies, and rationale for action, but often worked side by side under unlikely conditions. For example, coca growers in Aymara joined forces during the “water war” of 2000 to combat privatization and defend the indigenous way of life in the highlands. This method, which has been echoed elsewhere all over the world in resistance movements, is broadly anarcho-syndicalist in its outlook though the political makeup of the Bolivian groups may have specific ideological goals that are not. With over 35 distinct cultures in Bolivia, the groups remain distinct but culturally cohesive (Wise et al. 2003).

Both the unions and the campesinos – the rural laborers and coca growers – act as the basis for local governments, assigning land and mediating disputes both within and between communities. The local unions collaborated to form federations of unions, and the federations were large enough to democratically make decisions at the municipal level. Almost without exception, the mayors, council members and congressional deputies in the Chapare region have come from coca-growing unions. This mixture of neighborhood, government and union has created a broader class of people working together toward a common goal.

Eliminating imperialism anywhere cannot happen without such a broad organization force like this. Imperialism in all its forms will have to confronted in such a way that gives resistance to it an intrinsic satisfaction, as the SI was quick to point out. I often have the feeling that resistance in the U.S. does not have intrinsic qualities like this. It's more like a separate activity from everyday life. People who enjoy "politics" on an abstract discursive level may be like that, but resistance is purposive, active, and connected with daily living.

Of the tools at the oppressor's disposal, the dismissal of resistance culture is one of its strongest. As Nietzsche said in BGE, despising the "smell" of another human being is one of the most acerbic ways to reprobate the Other. Look how the mestizos hate the smell of indigenous people in Bolivia. Anything indio is unwanted and unaccepted: indio labor, indio life, indio music, indio skin tone. Racist class war in Bolivia therefore made it necessary to create a revolutionary struggle beginning with a cohesive indio solidarity movement.

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