Towards a Politics for Life: The New Revolutionary Task

Rafael Bautista S.

To my brother

Juan José Bautista Segales

In memoriam

If capitalism needs crises to accelerate its own dynamics of dispossession and destruction known as development, then what does it mean for us to be in crisis, when crisis has become a way of life?

The current crisis of civilization, also understood as a crisis of rationality, is also evidence of the collapse of the system of values and beliefs, of certainties and expectations, which constitutes the modern world and its economy, capitalism.

This is what has been manifesting itself, since the twentieth century, as the gradual loss of the very sense of the world; because despite the undeniable evidence of the multiplication of crisis, illusions, whether social or individual, persist in affirming the horizon of expectations that sustains capitalism itself; because it is assumed, moreover, not without reason, that capitalism needs crises as the most important impulse for its own renewal. It needs to place everything in crisis, because it is not stability but growing uncertainty and dissatisfaction that promote the factors of its development. But if this was the normality in the twentieth century, the climate crisis ends up relativizing this normality: life is finite and crises, like diseases, cannot extend to infinity.

The planned pandemic itself (and the global military deterrent exercise called “quarantine”) has only accentuated the gravity of a crisis that puts the crisis itself in crisis (by highlighting only the consequences, one can see a new and more ruthless transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich of the world, making it possible to disappear even the middle class worldwide; for under the logic of acquired debts, whether at the individual or national level, the whole world is facing an economic drain unprecedented in world history: in 2020 alone, the global unemployment rate exceeded the rates of the “great depression”, the product of a worldwide bankruptcy at all levels, for the exclusive benefit of transnationals and gigabanks, causing the debt to reach, in that year alone, 23 trillion dollars, bringing the global debt to 282 trillion, that is, 355% above the world’s GDP. This means that the world is leveraged three times over its own production, with no hope of a quick economic recovery, since production itself (and also services) are, in many countries, paralyzed; the “pandemic” continuity will only provoke new tax burdens on already unbalanced economies; for the global “economic health” to recover and not be “contaminated” with defaults, the health of the world’s population will be sacrificed.

A world does not enter into crisis by itself but because the collapse of its vital principles is what unleashes the loss of all the basic references of its own systemic consistency. If capitalism needs crises to accelerate its own dynamics of dispossession and destruction -known as development- what does it mean that we are in crisis, when the crisis has become a way of life?

What sustained the crisis is not the resigned (and now cynical) doom of the rich 1% of the world, but modern values and beliefs, naturalized even in the scientific-philosophical sphere itself. However, environmental destruction is what has placed the normalization of the crisis as a way of life in crisis, i.e., because life is finite, the crisis reaches a point at which it bottoms out. In the current situation, this means a rebellion against limits.

It is life itself that rebels, its very limits manifest an absolute incompatibility between life and capital. Life is the will to live and this will, inscribed in everything, is that which expresses and debates in the present which manifests the possible end of life itself. If plandemia has affected everything, it is because it is nothing more than the consummation of a project that, in the name of life, has been destroying everything that makes it possible to live. The economy it has produced is understood as an economy of infinite growth; and that is what threatens the boundaries of life itself.

The systematic dispossession produced by capitalism is nothing other than the constant and exponential emptying of all sources of wealth. When this becomes unsustainable, the very economic rationality of capital only reveals its suicidal logic. This logic is what becomes the system of life and all that it develops is the unimaginable capacity of exponential destruction of everything that exists.

This limitless voracity constitutes the fatal transfer of net wealth from the periphery to the centers of global accumulation. The novel phenomenon of modern colonization (which we call coloniality), through its foundational myth of anthropological classification of humanity, makes this transfer constant and sustainable, as the surplus value of life in the center is inversely proportional to a devaluation of life and humanity in the periphery. It is not only blood (of humanity and of the earth) that drips from raw materials and strategic resources, but life in the superlative sense. What is plundered is life, because only in that way is capital constituted as capital. Only in this sense, surplus value appears in all its dimensions and manifests the unheard of an economy alienated from life and, consequently, reveals itself for what it is: an economy of death.

This is a denunciation that our peoples have been emphasizing since the invasion of Abya Yala, and which today is renewed in the denunciation of a world-system that, in five centuries, has unbalanced everything, not only humanity but also the vital environment that makes life possible for all; It also exposes the mythical character of the so-called “age of reason” and the meaninglessness of the prevailing common sense and its inconsistency with reality itself, which is now displaced by its virtual reflection; only in this context does the “post-truth world” make sense, which is the culmination of a rationality that no longer claims life but celebrates death.

That is why it is a rationality that produces irrationalities and that today, in full decadence of the world-system it has produced, mobilizes all its global infrastructure to install its fatalism of a “world without alternatives”, under the covert slogan that now the enemy is stability and peace. This scenario precedes a necessary resignification of the political and, consequently, a radical transformation of political praxis.

If we consider politics as the sphere of thematization of the conditions of possibility for the realization of human utopias, then it makes sense to reveal and make explicit the kind of utopian elements we are aiming at; because revolutions are not simply the unification of demands that culminate in a change of power. What is behind a revolution that gives it consistency and transcendental impulse is a great meta-narrative that not only challenges hegemonic rationality, but also has the extensive capacity to relativize its beliefs and values and, for this very reason, the utopian-critical magnitude to dismantle the very sense of reality in force, from where the fields of possibility open up beyond the dominant objectivity. Therefore, it is necessary to reaffirm that what is most real in daily life is the least real of all: the u-topia and not the topos, is what opens up all possibilities and relativizes that which is the only reality.

A revolution is then the historical-political mediation that receives the contents of that ethical-mythical meta-narrative that gives meaning and transcendence to the popular epic. As an event, a revolution is then the anticipatory incarnation of the inadmissible for this world: “another world is possible” not from the possibilities of the current order but from that beyond unheard of by it. Then, that unheard of is so, because it expresses another utopia, another rationality and another subjectivity that is not of this world, but the historical decantation of an insurgency never subsumed and that, for that very reason, can be constituted as a critical remainder and, consequently, epistemic opening. That is why a revolution is not expressed only in an objective struggle, but comprises another new sense of life that, as a discursive-argumentative engine, is what drives the new subjectivity, which is the protagonist of the exit from the ontological labyrinth of modernity as a solipsistic totality.

This non-subsumed subjectivity is then constituted in the organic locus of utopian reference, whose historical density is what defines the extensiveness of the political horizon that it can project. So, in order to describe this density and the current importance of assessing the magnitude it signifies, in order to propose a politics for life, let us briefly address the categorical dismantling of the concept itself.

The Western tradition vindicates the aristocratic conception that appeared in Greece which considers politics as the proper occupation of those admitted to the agora. Just as the demos of democracy does not express the amplified people but corporate groups with bargaining power, the polis of politics is a sphere that makes the city the center of common decisions, in a clear selective demarcation; for the countryside, the rural is, from the concept, excluded from the political.

Since Greece (which modernity claims as the origin of western civilization), common affairs and the decisions that are taken are the exclusive patrimony of the city. What does this mean? The exclusion of the countryside and the peasant, as a constant in all Western tradition, marks the privatizing character that politics acquires and culminates in a literal aristocratic contempt for the people. Modernity decanted this very well, because the subjectivity it produces has in the bourgeois -as the very summum of what is considered citizen-, the modern aspiration of dissociation from everything that hints of the countryside, of nature, of life.

Modernity, as a civilizing project, is the only one (in all human history) that has consciously proposed the radical separation between culture and nature. The disastrous consequences of this are what we are currently experiencing, both as cultural and existential malaise.

In the entire Western tradition, life is not defined biologically but philosophically, it is not a transcendental a priori but a product of speculation. For Aristotle, the division between vegetative life and intellectual life is a useful hypothesis, because, in this way, he had to define what political life is. If the life we share with other species is not considered fundamental, the “authentically” human life will become the intellectual life (which is why politics will also be expressed as the exclusive occupation of those who exercise leisure, the rich).

This is what will make possible the ideological definition of what is human and what is not fully human. This is why Aristotle said, in Politics, “only he who lives in the polis is human”. And this will be one of the argumentative bases that will serve, in the nascent modernity, to affirm, in the words of Ginés de Sepúlveda, in 1550, an anthropological classification as the basis of a naturalization of the relations of domination. In this way, the great myth of racism legitimizes, in all its radicality, the now white-aristocratic character of politics, heir to the Western tradition, and which modernity takes to its ultimate consequences in the center-periphery geopolitical design (an ontological being-not being, and anthropological human-not human design).

With colonization, as a diachronic continuity of conquest, the contempt for the Indian, expelled from his own cities and crammed into that which the nascent modern individual -the countryside- despises, portrays the common of a new modernity, of a subjectivity that takes possession of the indigenous cities and turns them into centers of colonial administration and, from there, produces its own confinement before what it will always consider the “inhospitable solitude of the barren land”, where “the Indian, the silence and the past dwell”.

This devalued image does not come from some precise experience but from a representation that shapes his subjectivity by means of its radical modernization. This leads us to describe another historical factor of the definitive exclusion of the countryside and the city celebration as the locus of irradiation of the modern project. To consolidate its project, the emerging European bourgeoisie, in addition to disputing political power with the feudal monarchy, required a new system of values and beliefs to legitimize its horizon of expectations, it needed ethics pertinent to its project.

The Protestant Reformation had this objective: Christianity itself needed to be reformulated on the basis of the purposes of the new world that was being born. Because the peasants in Europe were generating their own reform before the papal power; the peasant revolts of the Anabaptists demanded a promised land no longer beyond life, but in this life; between 1524 and 1535 they originated the so-called “peasant wars”, revolutionizing theology itself in what would be known, much later and in our continent, as the “option for the poor”.

That was the true reform that was crushed by Luther (organic theologian of the rising bourgeoisie), denouncing the peasants’ demands as “Judaic madness”. That was the last peasant rebellion in Europe, because afterwards, in a systematic way, the land was expropriated and alienated from the peasant communities, to displace them to the cities and constitute them in proletariat, cheap and hungry labor.

Capitalism is born in the cities, it is the culmination of an obligatory transition that, although it begins in the Neolithic, occurs in the modern world when the political centrality of the city radicalizes an ontological and anthropological separation between city and countryside; which becomes more evident in the colonial periphery.

This separation has been used to undermine the sovereignty of our countries, because the basis of any economy is the production of food. But if this is not a state priority, because imperial needs invariably give rise to narratives that establish us as extractors of resources necessary for the exclusive development of the center, then dependence is structurally accentuated, because extractivist mono-production (which only meets the requirements of the world market) never diversifies or amplifies the economy and, what is worse, by not producing we only learn to consume what comes from outside.

But it is only by producing, beginning with food, that the economy is generated, and the culture, the arts and the spirituality of a people are propagated. For this reason – beyond the prevailing economicism – in all production, what is really produced is the subject of production. It is not the same to produce to accumulate profits as to produce for life.

So now we can begin to reflect on what a policy for life would mean. This necessarily implies a redefinition of life, because politics can only be redefined if we first redefine what life is and what it means to live. From the culture of life, the suma qamaña, which translates as “to live well”, would also mean, as an imperative, “let us live for life”; but we believe, beyond literalism, that it is THE ubuntu of Africa that helps us to better understand what a good life would mean: it is the “I am if You are, I live if You live”.

For the unavoidable condition of any community relationship is the service we render to one another, in this generosity of gratitude as a form of continuous reciprocity; which is why in ubuntu, the accent is on the You and not on the I, the accent is always on the community, not on the atomized ego, detached from any reference other than its own individualistic interest.

(It should be emphasized that the ego is the self-defense system that is activated when the world and life are experienced as pure hostility).

Therefore, redefining life is fundamental to defining a new political project, understood as a new project of life. In a context in which the very meaning of life and of what it means to live has been lost, a politics for life can only propose the restoration of life as an essential condition for all other existential possibilities. The utopian horizon that makes it possible demands the transformation of current politics and of the very subjectivity of the person who embodies the task of becoming a creator of life.

Therefore, it emphasizes and reaffirms the option for life, from the revaluation, dignification and restoration of the countryside, as the model of life that the city itself should propose, in order to ensure its own future viability. Therefore, the ayllu can no longer be understood as something only possible in rural life, but as the way of life that the city should propose as a way to confront current challenges. It is not the “intelligent cities” that will remedy the social disaster that could generate the continuity of the pandemic, but the commitment to return to being a community, as ayllus and urban yapus.

The ecological concept, assimilated recently by economics and politics, from the culture of life, acquires a more decisive emphasis when we understand, by this, a way of reflection that expresses the rational and balanced coexistence of all existences that constitute a community in the same habitat. It is in this way that we can integrate into politics the totality of existences or relatives (as we call them), because the concept of people, from the communitarian perspective, ceases to be an exclusively human reference and is directed to the communitarian structure of life as a whole. Therefore, community is not a datum but a criterion, and it is the way in which life expresses itself; the more community and the more relationships of complementarity in reciprocity are produced, the more one is in tune and in the right frequency to listen, respect and understand the signs of life.

A politics divorced from life confines its displays of political meaning to the narrow margin of reality provided by the urban horizon. It is only when the urban peripheries, as extensions of the rural, make their presence felt that urban self-referentiality comes out of its solipsism and returns to reality. Then it sees the world not as the media report it, but as it is; it holds everything because of what it denies: the arts exhibited, the culture, the table, the food, the identity come from the countryside. Decentering its privileged condition is a political task. Resignifying politics from life must be a goal that the urban environment projects as the necessary re-encounter with the land and with life. From the humus, from the earth, we come, as earth that thinks, that feels, that rises to infinity, to return to it in a grateful way and to remember and bear witness to the type of transcendence that life has bestowed on us.

To produce a new type of subjectivity, of humanity, is the new revolutionary task that obliges us to conform the new driving contingent of this new politics for life; because where myths and utopias are objectified is not in the objective of reality, but in subjectivities; it is there where they are incarnated and constitute a system of beliefs and values.

There is no revolution without the subject of the revolution, because revolutions do not develop by inertia. The leading role of the people is even more accentuated, because being the creator of a new world, becoming a people is the conditio sine qua non to become an anticipatory consciousness of our world, no longer as a mere possibility: another world -our world- is not only possible but more necessary than ever. The world expects this of us.

A politics for life is a community politics, beyond the representative and participatory aspects, which are still formal and procedural. This new politics seeks to influence, rather, the very substance of the political. In this sense, to rethink the political means to bring to the plane of reason (but no longer a reason divorced from life), the experience of the constitution of a people as a people, the process by which a people produces, in its own historical carnality, the passage from consciousness to self-consciousness.

This we believe we have witnessed in the resistance to the coup of 2019 and the democratic recovery of 2020. That is the new event to which we refer as the new projective pachakuti that constitutes itself in orthopraxis of the new politics. The utopian narrative that gave rise to the plurinational political horizon was what restored the ajayu of the people (which fascism sought to destroy), and it was that which, being sacred, sustained a people (although orphaned of political representation) mobilized no longer in mere resistance but in the renewed commitment to transformation. It is to the Bolivian people, to their struggle, to their faith in themselves, to their hope for a more dignified and just world, that we owe the fact that we are here.

This new policy can only be effective if we are faithful to the event. Our dead demand it of us. We must change everything, but, above all, we must clear and exorcise the invasive ideological viruses that modernity has naturalized in our own political expectations. Che said that it is necessary to create the “new man”; this does not mean only to be reborn but to give birth to a new human being. In the midst of the civilizational crisis we are promoting a qhanapacha, a new dawn and, like all births, it implies pain and joy, hope and suffering. If every dawn is preceded by a darkness blacker than the night, let us make that darkness also become light, so that the dawn will no longer bring tears, but we will all gather together, the present and the absent, the living and our dead, having breakfast together, on the edge of an eternal morning.


Original Spanish Version

English Translation by Internationalist 360°