Feminist Next System Literature Review

Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui

Bolivian historian and social theorist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui is author of the classic work Oppressed But Not Defeated: Peasant Struggles Among the Aymara and Quechua in Bolivia, and has recently emerged as one of the country's foremost critics of President Evo Morales from an indigenous perspective. Indian Country Today Media Network spoke with her in New York City, where she recently served as guest chair of Latin American studies at New York University's King Juan Carlos Center. The complete text of the interview appears for the first time on World War 4 Report.

And what are you doing now in Bolivia?

I used to teach at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, which is the biggest public university in Bolivia. And I was very much involved in university politics, because I was trying to fight corruption in the university. In 2005, I had a 15-day-long hunger strike, and we managed to kick the dean out. But he left a lot of corruptoswere still there, and I was forced to retire.
Since then, I have been doing community things, trying to network and create micro-politics... Since I wrote my study on anarchism, I discovered the importance of community to politics, as opposed to the individualist liberal conception...

And this relates to your current community work?

Yes, I am still working with artisans, with urban self-reliance groups in La Paz, ecological and feminist groups, working in the qhatu, or traditional peasant fair or market. This is a very ancient tradition form colonial times, in which indigenous communities used the market to prevent being used by the market. There is always a barter section, negotiation of prices, at the local level. It is a market that is not depersonalized; it is a conscious market, where people are there, not just prices and commodities. It is against the supermarket, against the mall. It is against the corporations and brands and selling things that are pre-packaged. You harvest lentils from your own garden, and you never put it in a plastic package. So the qhatu is a form of resistance to the world market. It is resisting the market with market—it is almost like a vaccination! I am part of a collective that produced hand-made books and hand-woven bags frmo recycled plastic, as well as lettuce and potatoes and fava beans and sweet peas and medicinal herbs. Grown in community gardens in La Paz. And we sell them at the traditional markets in La Paz. And we have made campaigns—a campaign against plastic bags, a campaign to promote walking instead of taking trucks or buses or cars. Walking is very difficult in La Paz if it's uphill, because of the altitude. So we have a slogan, Camina La Paz, aun que sea la bajada—Walk through La Paz, even if it's only downhill! At least just get a bus ticket one way! So we try to link every public issue where human rights, indigenous rights, and the rights of the Pachamama are involved. So we joined with TIPNIS, we joined CONAMAQ, we joined the support network for the human rights office that was almost taken over by the government. We are defending the CONAMAQ people who were kicked out of their office... We are just there for them, if they need shelter for the night or a good breakfast, we go and do that. We are not many, but we do whatever we can. We call ourselves Colectivo Ch'ixi—from the Aymara word meaning "stain." We are mestizos, but we have a strong Indian stain in our souls. We are "impure." We are not "pure" people. And we have to recognize also that there is a European stain in our bodies and in our subjectivities. And the good part of that stain is the idea of freedom and individual rights. From the Indian part we get the idea of community and of cycle, intimacy with the cycles of nature. But we do recognize the value of individual freedoms and rights—sexual rights, the right to have a sexual identity that is different from the rest, or of abortion. All this comes from the best contributions of European civilization and the Enlightenment.

Is there necessarily a contradiction?

They are contradictory. But we live the contradiction with joy. It is not a schizophrenic contradiction. We live the contradiction as if the contradiction gives us energy. And contradiction without a synthesis is totally against the grain of Marxism. This has to do with the Aymara trivalent logic, as opposed to Aristotelian binary logic. Aymara philosophy is based on the "included third." A is not B, and B is not A. But there are things that are A and B at the same time. In binary logic, one excludes the other. But when you have the logic of inclusion, you have enormous possibilities of intercultural action. This is inscribed in the Aymara language. In Ayrmara grammar, you can say "it is," and you can say "it is not," and you can say "it is and it is not" at the same time. Jisa is yes, jani is no, and inasa can be yes and can be no.

Is this related to the Quechua concepts of hanan and hurin?

That is the same idea projected into space. There is an upper space, there is a lower space, and there is a middle space. The middle space is at the same time upper and lower. In Aymara that space is the taypi. In Quechua it is chawpi.

How does this relate to the concept of synthesis in Marxist and Hegelian dialectics?

It is dialectics without synthesis. The synthesis arises from the desire for unity. And when you have unity, you are without possibilities. It is closed. The possibility of change is because there is contradiction. If you leave it open, there are possibilities—that the margins become the center, that the one side turns to the other side. There is fluidity, there is movement. If you reach the "synthesis," you reach the Communist state—another fucking state! Some would argue that was a vulgarization of dialectics...
No! If you maintain the idea that the contradiction is there, you will never be looking for a synthesis, you will not be craving for the unity of a state, of a central power. I think that we have to discover the way of freedom and self-organization beyond central powers.

The current Bolivian situation seems to be one of many contradictions...

I had so much hope at the moment when Evo Morales came into the government. But he has come to crave centralized power, which has become a part of the Bolivia’s dominant culture since the 1952 revolution. The idea that Bolivia is a weak state and needs to be a strong state—this is such a recurrent idea, and it is becoming the self-suicide of revolution. Because the revolution is what the people do—and what the people do is decentralized. It is a megalomaniacal kind of thing to have a "strong nation." It is an inferiority complex. I think we should have many reasons to be very happy with what we are. Instead of always craving to be more modern, more developed, more fucking big—more highways, more technology... Yes, let's have technology. But let's relearn the technologies of old and combine them wind energy or solar. The technology of more and bigger machines and highways—to me that is megalomania and an inferiority complex.

One can anticipate the response that in the real world, Bolivia is trying to assert control over its own territory and resources against the hegemon of the North, the United States, and other imperialist powers. And it is therefore necessary to form a strong state.
I would say that the strength of Bolivia is not the state but the people. And the people have been strong and stubborn enough to be what they are, and to put their own desires as the terms and conditions of what is going to be the change. And that is what saves this process of Evo. What saves him is that there are people behind him who have not been bought completely, and they rely upon themselves.

There is a peculiarity of the Bolivian people in general, with a lot of diversity, a lot of community, a lot of locality, a lot of ability to network and to make friendships. There is also a huge diasporic Bolivianess. I would say half the population of Bolivians live outside Bolivia. There are probably 9 million Bolivians in the diaspora—in Argentina, in Spain, in Italy, Chile, the United States. All over the place—even China now! But you cannot say that we Bolivians are being well-treated by whatever strength our state has. It is not the weakness of the state that has thrown people away—it is the strength of the state that has thrown people away! Because they are starting to normalize, homogenize, totalize, control and make difficult the lives of the people.


In so many ways. For instance, there is no support for self-employment strategies. There is only support for big state-owned companies and enterprises. And to get a job there, you need to be a militant of the party in power. So what happens to the rest of the people? We have all the forces we need to create a small-scale industrial culture through processing and adding value to the raw materials that we ourselves produce. The most important asset that the Bolivian people has is knowledge of the environment. The environment of Bolivia is very rare. Only two peoples in the world live at such high altitudes—the Tibetan people, and we. For this land, you don't need tractors. You don't need huge harvesters or huge machines. For that, you need to know what the weather is going to be next month. And for that, you need the people who know how to look to the stars. That is the big asset. The stars and other predictive knowledge tell you when to sow, and when an early rain is coming. The ability to understand nature and its cycles and its messages. And that is completely outside the ideas of Marxists. But it is part of the Indian epistemic that we, the mestizos, have within our bodes. We still have the culto de los muertos—the cult of the dead. You should come to my house in Bolivia and meet the skull of my ancestor. I am one of many, many, many paceños, many people from La Paz, who has this Cult of the Dead, very, very strong. Now a skull is a thing, you can just see it as inert material. But it’s not... There is a spirit there; there is a spirit everywhere. You have to be attuned to that. And Marxists don’t believe in that shit. [Laughs.]

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