the plebeian power

Glauco Rodrigues, Tchucarrammãe Indian Boy, acrylic on wood, 65 x 54 cm, 1974.


Commentary on the book by Álvaro Garcia Linera

Since Tocqueville, liberal political philosophy has been affirming the mutually exclusive character between the dynamics of democracy and revolution. The routinization of ethos of democracy, as occurred in the United States in the first decades of the XNUMXth century, would consecrate the end of the trauma of the revolution and, in turn, the revolution, with its ruptures and concentration of power, would inevitably lead to an autocratic impasse, as had been demonstrated in the revolution french. The Russian Revolution and other egalitarian revolutions in the XNUMXth century would confirm Tocqueville's hypothesis: Jacobins and Bolsheviks would be, finally, characters swallowed up by the unresolved enigma of the relationship between revolution and democracy.

As if intending to challenge this enigma, the book by Álvaro García Linera, vice-president of Bolivia in the first term of Evo Morales, The plebeian potency: collective action and indigenous, working and popular identities in Bolivia it bears as an epigraph Robespierre: “The objective of the constitutional government is to preserve the Republic; that of the revolutionary government is to found it. Revolution is freedom's war against its enemies; the Constitution is the regime of victorious and serene liberty”. What is read in this collection, at the same time balanced and vertiginous, of essays written between 1999 and 2005 is much more than a chronicle of the ongoing revolution. What is inscribed here is, without a doubt, an ongoing renewal of the Marxist theory of revolution itself.

There is certainly a clear sense of estrangement between the centers of Brazilian intelligence and the recent historical processes of rupture and transformation in Latin America. Brazilian liberals soon tried to rehabilitate the battered and plastic notion of “populism” to designate the processes that destabilized decayed party and institutional structures, setting in motion vast portions of the impoverished under new political leaderships on the rise. On the left, for a period, the instrumental emphasis on the distinction between the radical nature of the processes under way in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, as opposed to the notably more institutionalized course of the Brazilian left, became common, as if it were possible to compare the same it escalates crises of state structures with the historical novelty of a left-wing government still inserted in a relatively legitimized liberal democratic state institutionality.

As the sociologist Emir Sader has been insisting, there is a lack of a theoretical paradigm for the Brazilian left to position itself critically in relation to the very course of recent historical events. In his absence, Tocqueville's enigma governs judgments: either one adheres to the idea of ​​strength of democracy or of revolution. Thus, for many, the Lula governments and their left-wing party base would have adhered to liberal democracy and definitively deserted the revolutionary program.

Hence the decisive importance of the dialogue with the theory elaborated in this instigating and sophisticated book by Linera: there, in the midst of this “catastrophic mismatch between civilizations” that formed contemporary Bolivia, a theory of emancipation is being woven that seeks to combine revolution and democracy, republicanism and socialism, “pedagogies for the democratization of public life” and “economies of equal citizen rights”, “decolonization and anti-capitalism” in the construction of a new State that is multinational and multi-civilized.

In what ways does this “critical Marxist”, as Linera calls himself, construct a unitary notion of historical meaning and a non-eclectic theoretical field for a political movement whose institutional expression is the alliance of “ponche and tie”, an indigenous leader and a Marxist revolutionary?

Linera's Marxism followed, at first, the search for understanding the survival of communities in late capitalist formations and their emancipatory potentials inscribed in Marx's work. It gained its own identity by immersing itself in an indigenous-based guerrilla movement, inspired by a historic rebellion of the Aymará Indians in the XNUMXth century, whose program was the self-determination of the Quechua and Aymara nations. This ethnographic Marxism, capable of mapping the networks of domination that cross racialization and social stratification, forms of direct and indirect subsumption, elaborated the awareness of the historical limits of the COB, the great unitary union of Bolivian miners, of a classist and corporative type, “radicals in the form of the claim, but not in what was claimed”.

The great strength of this thought, however, comes from the historicist Marxism and attentive to the cultural dimensions of the civilization of Mariátegui and, mainly, of Gramsci. It lies in his ability to elaborate a long-term narrative of the process of emancipation of the Bolivian people that begins with the Spanish colonization process and opens to the future in the radical demand for popular, plebeian sovereignty, for those who have always been the great other of the fragile and unstable Bolivian State, in its various stages of constitution.

Linera thus works with Gramsci's concept of the “Integral State”, which centrally values ​​the State's foundations of legitimacy, the principles of civilization on which it bases the rights and duties of the citizen and the very inclusion or exclusion of citizenship. It is these principles of civilization that organize political institutions and economic and social life. That is why claiming popular sovereignty in Bolivia, the democratization of citizenship is, in Linera's words, installing in the political culture a "war between civilizations", which has repercussions on the grammars of power exercise, organization of the geography of power, in the forms of production Social.

Linera identifies four civilizing regimes coexisting in Bolivia: a modern mercantile-industrial one, a simple commercial one of the domestic type, a communal civilization and an Amazonian civilization. Two-thirds of the Bolivian people would live under the last three regimes of civilization.

Throughout the history of Bolivia, after independence, there would have been three periods of construction of citizenship. Caste citizenship, which runs from the Constitution of 1826 to 1952, is anti-indigenous: “private property against common property, literate culture against oral culture, individual sovereignty against collective servitude”. Until 1952, only 3% of Bolivians voted. The 1952 revolution would have shown that the excluded mass, the urban plebs and the indigenous people, literally would have carried out the “social invention of the public space”, but still under the corporate union form in a monocultural State, that is, closed to the original indigenous traditions . The neoliberal dynamics that began in 1986 would have established a State of “irresponsible citizenship”, eroding the fragile institutional foundations and creating the recent scenario for the outbreak of the “multitude form” in the form of a community uprising.

For the first time in history, says Linera, “there was an authentic discursive rebirth of the Indian”. But how to avoid that, once a “principle of strategic uncertainty of state legitimacy” is established, there is an open confrontation of civilizations that would almost certainly lead to a “catastrophic stalemate”, that is, to mutual destruction? The answer would be in the way, of extreme complexity, of the agreed, democratic and citizen construction of a multinational and multi-civilizing State.

Multicivilizing because its Constitution also recognizes indigenous traditions, languages, customs, traditions, religions, communal forms of organization of the economy and power. Multinational because it distributes state sovereignty in various federative and consociative structures, combining local, regional and national levels, in various forms of participatory democracy, beyond the electoral one.

Finally, a revolutionary time of transition would have been established, which projects the next decades from the immense work of republicanization and, through increasingly higher levels of self-determination, would point to the very overcoming of capitalist mercantile ways of structuring social life .

*Juarez Guimaraes is a professor of political science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Democracy and Marxism: Criticism of Liberal Reason (Shaman).


Alvaro Garcia Linera. The plebeian potency: collective action and indigenous, working and popular identities in Bolivia. Translation: Mouzar Benedito and Igor Ojeda. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2010, 350 pages.


See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank