Law, Social Justice & Global Development
(An Electronic Law Journal)
Transnational Elite Forces, Restructuring and Resistance in Bolivia
Dr. Andreas Tsolakis
Institute of Advanced Study Early Career Fellow
Department of Politics and International Studies
University of Warwick
This is a Refereed Article published on: 19 November 2009
Citation: Tsolakis, A. ‘Transnational Elite Forces, Restructuring and Resistance in Bolivia’, 2009 (2) Law, Social Justice & Global Development Journal (LGD).
This paper offers a neo-Gramscian examination of the causes and processes underlying social restructuring in Bolivia between 1985 and 2005. Restructuring is understood as a worldwide political struggle by an expanding transnational historic bloc of elite social forces to reconfigure the capital-labour relation in order to sustain global capital accumulation. The transnational bloc expanded following the debt crisis of the early 1980s by incorporating transnationalised businessmen and technocrats beyond its transatlantic heartland. It also generated qualitative changes in the strategic approach of multilateral development institutions, which began to emphasise fiscal and monetary stability, the privatisation of accumulation, public-private partnerships, business class formation in the periphery, state-building and multilateralism. Meanwhile, Bolivia’s hyperinflationary crisis (1985) offered an opportunity for transnationalised elements of banking, mining and commercial fractions of Bolivian capital, to change the balance of forces within the three dominant political parties and vie for control of the state. This small elite nucleus, integrated into the transnational bloc primarily through official channels of development assistance, struggled against domestically-oriented elite forces and organised labour to restructure economic, ideological and institutional relations in the Bolivian space. These struggles involved the privatisation of accumulation, the attempt to build capital hegemony (i.e. to generate a consensual capitalist order) and the liberalisation of the state. Capital hegemony entailed equating ‘development’, ‘modernisation’ and capital accumulation.
Bolivia; Transnational Historic Bloc; Restructuring; Capital Accumulation; Development; Global Governance.
I would like to thank the Institute of Advanced Study at the University of Warwick for its financial and institutional support. A more in-depth analysis of the anatomy of capital and transnational elite formation in Bolivia is available in Globalisation and the reform of the Bolivian state, 1985-2005, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Warwick, March 2009.
This paper analyses social restructuring in Bolivia between 1985 and 2005 by focusing on the agency of an expanding transnational historic bloc of elite social forces. The restructuring of Bolivia’s production relations (including of the state) must be seen as constitutive of the worldwide transformative processes developing since the late 1970s. At the core of these processes is the agency of a transnational elite bloc, incorporating fractions of capital, technocrats, and organic intellectuals, i.e. a loose, competitive and heterogeneous transnationally-integrated bloc of elite forces owning the means of production, managing production relations, and shaping the ‘common sense’ of global society (Overbeek and Van der Pijl 1993; Van der Pijl 1998; Gill 2003; Robinson 2005).
Bolivia was part and parcel of the global debt crisis of the early 1980s (Pastor 1987a; Pastor 1987b; Kuczinski 1988), which plunged the country into an uncontrollable hyperinflationary and fiscal crisis (Morales and Sachs 1990). Virtually bankrupt, the Paz Estenssoro government elected in August 1985 reversed the long-standing state capitalist model of development by vowing to stimulate privatised accumulation and maintain monetary stability (Malloy and Gamarra 1988; Dunkerley 1990; Morales and Sachs 1990). Its economic team, constituted by leaders of the Bolivian business confederation, the Confederación de la Empresa Privada Boliviana (CEPB) and monetarist economists, elaborated a radical stabilisation plan behind closed doors (Supreme Decree 21060), before resuming cooperative relations with Multilateral Development Institutions (MDIs), thereby re-engaging with private and public creditors, and renewing the Bolivian state’s commitment to debt servicing (Conaghan and Malloy 1995; Climenhage 1999). The engagement of MDIs and private banks by competitive and ‘denationalised’ Bolivian elites in 1985 (Mansilla 1994), and in turn their unconditional integration into an expanding transnational elite bloc drove social restructuring in Bolivia.
Critical researchers conventionally explain restructuring in Bolivia as outside-in imperialism facilitated by global governance institutions (Fernández 2003; Petras and Veltmeyer 2005; Kohl and Farthing 2005, 2009). They have inappropriately contended that the US government, through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB), actively promoted a ‘globalisation of poverty’ (Chossudovsky 1998) since the 1980s; and that Bolivian elites, acting as ‘comprador lackeys’, were forced to allow, or worse, betrayed the ‘sovereignty’ of Bolivia by sanctioning the ‘plundering’ of its resources, causing ‘underdevelopment’ and mass misery. This is historically inaccurate and induces the kind of flawed structuralist critiques of ‘neo-colonialism’ underpinning the nationalisations of the 1950s, late 1960s and mid-2000s (Kohl and Farthing 2005, 2009; Fernández 2003; Petras and Veltmeyer 2005). Allusions to ‘global governance’ institutions are made to emphasise US and European imperialism in Bolivia and the rest of Latin America (Fernández 2003), without considering the theoretical implications of transnational production and organisational networks for ‘North-South’ and inter-state relations (Van der Pijl 1998; Robinson 2005).1 As pointed out by Cammack (2003: 39): ‘It is anachronistic to see the WB and the IMF as acting in principle at the behest of the United States as the world’s leading capitalist state, or even on behalf of a larger set of advanced capitalist states’. This paper seeks to achieve a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of restructuring in Bolivia through a ‘biography’ of capital in Bolivia, by evading the platitudes that accompany existing analyses, in Critical scholarship, of ‘neoliberal restructuring’ or ‘neoliberal globalisation’.2
The holistic methodology of neo-Gramscian perspectives helps to overcome this anachronism, by placing post-1985 social restructuring in Bolivia within the context of the structural contradictions underlying the latest phase of capital globalisation. The central attribute of this phase, which emerged in the early 1970s, has been the increasing predominance and spatial expansion of a transnational historic bloc of elite social forces beyond its transatlantic heartland, which accelerated following the debt crisis of the early 1980s.3 Global restructuring since the widespread social crisis of the late 1960s and early 1970s is best explained by focusing on the variegated struggles unfolding in national social spaces between a transnational capitalist elite bloc, labour and domestically-oriented elite forces (Van der Pijl 1984, 1998; Overbeek 2000; Gill 2003).
The transnational bloc emerged in the 1960s through transatlantic capital concentration, and incorporated an ‘inner circle’ of transatlantic business elites, segments of the policymaking and bureaucratic elite of the US and European states, and high-level managers in transnational corporations (TNC) and global governance institutions (Cox 1981; Van der Pijl 1984; Gill 2003; Robinson 2005). It has been the dominant collective agency in the global decomposition and frailty of organised labour, socialist and other subaltern movements since the 1970s. Emphasising the central role of transnational elites in the restructuring of the global political economy is not a superfluous academic exercise but provides the empirical means to identify key agents involved in change, to understand how (i.e. through which institutional, ideological and economic mechanisms) this involvement occurred, and to grasp where structural power lies locally, nationally, regionally and worldwide.
Global social restructuring was manifested in the transformation of the economy, hegemony and state, each of which constituted internally related social sites of intense political struggle. Restructuring is understood as a worldwide political struggle by an expanding transnational historic bloc of elite social forces to reconfigure the capital-labour relation in order to sustain global capital accumulation. Bolivia’s hyperinflationary crisis (1984-1985) offered an opportunity for a small nucleus of Bolivian businessmen forming a unified transnational banking, mining and commercial fraction of Bolivian capital, to change the balance of forces within the three dominant political parties and vie for control of the state.4 This elite nucleus, integrated into the transnational bloc primarily through the internationalisation of the state (Tsolakis 2008b), struggled against domestically-oriented elites and organised labour, within and beyond the Bolivian state (Tsolakis 2008a), to restructure economic, ideological and institutional relations in the Bolivian space. These struggles involved the privatisation of accumulation, the attempt to build capital hegemony (i.e. to generate a consensual capitalist order) and the liberalisation of the state.
I trace the struggle for capital hegemony to qualitative changes in the strategic approach of MDIs to ‘development’: monetarism, fiscal austerity, administrative transparency, the privatisation of accumulation, public-private partnerships, the support and intensification of primitive accumulation in the periphery (business class formation via micro-credit and technical assistance) and systematic coordination between MDIs. This strategic shift involved a systematic physical presence of MDIs’ staff and contracted private consulting firms for policy-related technical assistance (a ‘hands-on’ approach to development) (Tsolakis 2008b). In Bolivia, capital hegemony entailed shifting hegemonic discourses away from the ‘Revolutionary Nationalism’ (RN) that had legitimised state capitalism (state-led capitalist industrialisation) since the mid-1930s and towards a hybridised form of neo-liberalism ‘adapted to Bolivian conditions’.5
The paper structures the analysis of restructuring in Bolivia as follows: the first section focuses on the historical formation and expansion of a bloc of transnational elite forces beyond its ‘Lockean’ transatlantic heartland (Van der Pijl 1998). For reasons of space, it only expounds briefly the global economic, ideological and institutional changes occurring since the early 1970s and the crystallisation of a global strategy for restructuring in global MDIs since the profound debt crisis of the early 1980s. The second section analyses how the transnational bloc expanded in Bolivia, arguing that integration occurred primarily through official channels of development assistance and the creation of new institutional networks. The paper argues that Bolivia’s transnational elite faction was integrated in the expanding bloc as ‘equal’ partners in development. The final section analyses how the transnational bloc’s development strategy adapted to Bolivian conditions. Attempts to restructure social relations in Bolivia are understood as a dialectical process. Restructuring contained its antithesis in the systematic, variegated forms of resistance that the transnational bloc faced within and beyond the state throughout the period under study.