The affront to the dead

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Not even the dead will be safe from the enemy if he conquers …..”

W. Benjamin


A massive funeral march takes to the streets of El Alto and La Paz. The coffins are in front and are followed by thousands of mourners. These are humble people from El Alto, craftspeople, peasants, shantytown dwellers, mothers, and indigenous people from the provinces of La Paz, Potosí, Cochabamba and Oruro. They have walked nearly ten kilometres bearing their sorrow and as they pass by, people come out, workers, shopkeepers and students in tears, cross themselves, applaud and give bread and water to the marchers. The city is paralysed and the people from the popular districts are in mourning. On November 20 alone, in the zone of Senkata, eight inhabitants were assassinated with military firearms, and more than a hundred suffered bullet wounds, the dead numbered thirty-four in the first nine days of the Coup d’État in Bolivia.


They came down from El Alto to reclaim justice for their dead, they walked so far so that people could see what had happened, since the press has been muzzled and does not speak of the tragedy suffered; they march for hours to tell the world that they are neither terrorists nor vandals, they are the people.


Ever since the day of the Coup d’État, all the mobilizations of popular and campesino sectors who came out to defend democracy and respect for the citizens’ vote have been the object of a ferocious campaign to discredit them that invaded the media and social networks. These did not speak of workers, or city dwellers or indigenous people. They spoke of “perilous hordes”, and “vandals” who threatened social peace. And when the citizens of the brave city of El Alto and the indigenous and campesinos blocked highways, the coup perpetrators and the media used language expressing rage: “terrorists”, “drug-traffickers”, “savages”, “criminals”, “drunken crowds”, “pillagers”, among other terms, were employed to disqualify and criminalize the protests of the needy classes.


Since then, women with pollera skirts and with children on their backs, school girls accompanying their parents, young university students, welders, peasants with ponchos and ice cream sellers are the new face of the “dangerous sedition” who want to set the country on fire. This stigmatization of rebellious people, especially if they are Indians, is not new. Under the Colony, in the Sixteenth Century, Fray Ginés de Sepúlveda compared the Indians to monkeys; the priest Tomás Ortiz qualified them as “beasts”; in the Nineteenth Century they spoke of “degenerate races”; and the dictators of the Twentieth Century treated rebellious Indians as delinquents, characterizing them as “subversive”, “seditious people” who threaten property, order and religion.


Now the traditional middle classes undertake a shameful verbal fusion mixing Colonial language with that of counter-insurgence. Not even their organic intellectuals educated in foreign universities can escape this call of blood and racial prejudice. For them the neighbourhood marches are gatherings of “drunken delinquents”, the road blocks by campesinos are acts of “terrorism” and the assassinations by military bullets are due to the settling of accounts between “crooks”. The measured words with which, all these years, the conservative scribes had reluctantly described the Indians in power, are now discarded in a whirlwind of prejudice, insults and racialised defamation.


They had waited for a decade, grinding their teeth so as not to spit on the Indians and show them their despising; and now, sheltered by the bayonets, they don’t hesitate to pour out their caste hatred. It is their time of vengeance and they do it with fury. It is as if they want to wipe out not only the presence of the Indian who defeated them, which is why they are capable of killing to prevent Evo being a candidate; but they also want to wipe out any trace of his memory among the humble classes, by assassinating, emprisoning, torturing, threatening those who pronounce his name. This is why they burned the Wiphala (symbolic Indian flag) that Evo introduced in the institutions of the State; it’s why they burned down the schools that he built in the popular districts; it’s why they applaud and toast the militarization of the cities. There is no longer any space for the dignity or the decorum of a class that frenetically revels in the mire of authoritarianism, intolerance and racism.


And it is against this that the humble classes of El Alto and the provinces are marching. They descend by the thousands, two hundred thousand, three hundred thousand. The number is not important. The power that they defend is not that of a person, nor the one Weber theorised about as the capacity to influence the behaviour of another. For the popular classes, the experience of power of these last fourteen years is that of being recognised as equals, of having the right to water, to education, to work, to health in similar conditions as the rest of citizens. The exercise of power for the people, won in the elections, more than a capacity of command, has been the daily corporal experience of being able to look others in the face without having to be ashamed at the colour of their skin or the motherly skirts; it is being taken into account as human beings, it is being able to sell in the market place, to work the land or to be an authority without any barrier of a surname. Therefore, while the experience of exercising state power for the subaltern classes–as Gramsci saw it–is, in the first place, the building, in practice, of their unity as a social block, their way of verbalizing and morally understanding this power has been the conquest of dignity, that is to say, their experience of a people as a self-dignified collective body.


This is why the women with polleras and the workers cry when fascists burn the Wiphala, they cry when Evo is expelled, they cry when they are prevented from coming into the cities. They cry because the symbolic and real body of their unity and their social power is being torn apart. And when they bear their dead in the midst of thousands of black ribbons and funeral jackets, they do so to ask the upper classes to respect their dead, those dead who are the last threshold where the living, whatever their class or social condition, should withhold from their orgy of blood and hatred, to venerate the sanctity of life.


But the response of the coup perpetrators is atrocious, immoral, Dantean. They shoot teargas bombs and bullets, mobilize their tanks and the coffins remain on the ground, enveloped in a cloud of gas, escorted by the people who kneel and risk asphyxia rather than abandon them.


“They do not respect even the dead” the people shout. This is not an expression of protest, but a historic sentence. The same as was pronounced by the fathers of those attacked today, when another military coup in November of 1979 fired with machine guns from America Mustang aircraft on the mourners who were praying and making offerings to their dead family members on the day of the dead or All Saints. The schemers of the military coup at that time, after the ephemeral inebriation of their victory, were discarded in the sewer of history, where they will assuredly soon be followed by today’s coup mongers. One cannot offend the dead with impunity, because in the culture of the people, they are part of the basic principles that regulate the destiny of the living.


The brutality of today’s coup perpetrators creates fear among the people, but it has opened the doors to a generalised resentment. The sutures with which the secular class-based, regional and racial fissures had been closed have now burst, leaving bloody social wounds. Today there is mutual hatred on all sides. The traditional conservative middle classes want to see Evo’s corpse dragged through the streets, as happened with ex-president Villaroel in 1946. The plebeian classes want to see the rich enclosed in their districts suffering hunger because of the lack of food. A new war of races is nesting in the spirit of a country torn apart by the felony of a class that found the defence of their privileges in the colonial prejudice of superiority.


As we have already said, the fascisization of the traditional middle class is the conservative response to the social decadence resulting from the devaluing of their legitimate aptitudes, capital, opportunities and know-how in the face of the “invasion” of a new middle class of popular and indigenous origin, with a repertoire of efficacious social ascent in the Indianised State of the last decade. It is not that their patrimony has been depreciated–in fact it has increased passively due to the generalized economic expansion in the country–but that they perceive an affectation of their opportunities and aspirations of social ascent, taking advantage of the exponential growth of natural wealth.


But this has not limited a relevant fact of the structures of social classes and the processes of political hegemony: the State irradiation of the middle classes. In the strict sense, the State is, in its regularity, the monopoly of the common sense of a society. Insofar as the political power is, by far, the belief and conviction of some in the power of others, it is in a certain way a kind of inter-subjective sensation. This is the dense realm of deep narratives with a State impact. “Public opinion”, that is the narratives, symbols and senses of comprehension of legitimacy that struggles to re-align the common political sense, is to a great extent concentrated in the traditional middle classes due to the disposition of time, resources and specialization of labour.


In Bolivia, the social ascent of new indigenous-popular middle classes has come accompanied by new narratives and senses of reality, but not with the sufficient solidity to irradiate nor to counter the racialisation of the discourse of the conservative classes and to be a support of a new and predominant “public opinion”. The traditional middle classes possess experience in the discursive formations and in the historical sediments of the dominant common sense, which has enabled them to expand fragments of their way of seeing the world beyond the frontier of class, including in a part of the new middle classes and the popular sectors. In fact, the new middle class, rather than a social class with a mobilized public existence, is a statistical class, that is to say, it is still not a class with state irradiation.


Hence the dramatic ways in which the popular-indigenous forces attempt to stage and narrate their resistance. These are other ways of building public opinion and the articulating common sense that can irradiate to other social sectors, but given the act of force of the Coup d’État, they are now sub-alternised and fragmented.


Meanwhile, fascism is galloping like a crazy horseman inside the walls of the classic districts of the middle class. There, culture and reason have been openly eradicated by prejudice and revenge. And it seems that only the stupor from a new social explosion or economic debacle that threaten on the horizon, as the product of so much hatred and destruction, could break through so much irrationality spitted out as discourse.

December 2 2019


(Translated by Jordan Bishop and Joan Remple)
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