The Bolivia Reader: History, Culture, Politics, edited by Sinclair Thomson, Rossana Barragan, Xavier Albo, Seemin Qayum, and Mark Goodale
This is a terrible book. Coming in at roughly 700 pages of material, I cannot recommend this book for anyone to read. Given the shortage of toilet paper, there are clearly purposes for a book as woefully unaccomplished as this one although as the copy I read was from a library I will simply return it to them at some point. As is frequently the case with a book that adopts a socialist approach, there are a lot of contradictions inherent in the arguments made by the authors that are simply unrecognized by those who wish to promote both a nationalist and socialist agenda, as is the case here. The book is not entirely worthless because some of the creation myths are at least amusing and the statements from those who wish to support greater autonomy or independence for the lowlands of Bolivia are worthy of respect and consideration and support. These make up only a small portion of this book’s bloated contents, most of which are tedious and tendentious and fallacious. The fact that the authors view anti-Semitic propaganda as being more worthwhile than the dignity of conservatives or creoles and the fact that so much of this material endorses the idiocy of Che’s politics suggests just how woeful this book is. Skip it.
This book is divided into twelve sections that contain numerous essays apiece with a strong degree of chronological snobbery that focuses on the period after the lamentable revolution of 1952. After acknowledgements and an introduction, the book begins with a discussion of the first peoples of Bolivia and the making of Andean and Amazonian space through the Inca and other peoples of the area (1). After that there is a discussion of states and conquests in the Andes during the course of the tumultuous 16th century (2), giving different perspectives on the Spanish conquest. After this there is an entire section related to Potosi and the mining that was done there (3) as well a a discussion of various insurgent and independence movements (4). There is a discussion of Bolivia’s dependence on markets and resource extraction (5) as well as the political fragmentation that existed during the 19th and early 20th centuries (6). There is a discussion of the problem of nationalization (7) of resources and the failures after the theft of foreign property as well as the problems that resulted from revolutionary currents present among the submoronic left (8). There is a section on dictatorship and democracy (9) as well as neoliberalism and the growing power of the lowlands around Sucre and Santa Cruz (10). Finally, the book ends with a discussion of competing projects for the future (11) and the dictatorship of Evo (12), after which there are suggestions for further reading, acknowledgements, and an index.
If one does have a high degree of masochism when it comes to reading leftist refuse, then this book does demonstrate some of the characteristic conflicts that leftist regimes have to deal with and some of the paradoxes that can be found in the late age of socialism. Claims about the dignity of human beings conflict with a general “hate whitey” attitude to be found in much of this book’s contents. Support of the rights of indigenous people and regions conflicts with a hostility towards the autonomy of regions opposed to leftist La Paz elites. Support of environmental rights conflicts with a desire to support development that increases the power of central governments. Desire for the increased economic position of peasants and workers conflicts with a hostility towards practices and people who actually make money and produce something worthwhile. Desire for political power conflicts with a hostility towards compromises made to increase the legitimacy of one’s support. And on and on it goes. This book couldn’t be coherent if its arguments and bogus truth claims were stuck in a vacuum sealer and turned into a solid brick. Unless you want to become better acquainted with the folly of leftist “politically engaged” thought in Bolivia over the course of centuries, find better use of your time than wasting it here.