In this article, I will summarize the main arguments of Zavaleta's book, as well as some of the criticisms and debates that it has generated among scholars and activists. I will also reflect on the relevance and limitations of his approach for understanding the contemporary situation of Bolivia and Latin America.
The Querella of the Surplus
The first part of Zavaleta's book is titled "The Querella of the Surplus" and it deals with the historical origins and development of Bolivia as a nation-state. Zavaleta argues that Bolivia was born out of a "querella" (quarrel) over the surplus value produced by the silver mines of PotosÃ, which were exploited by the Spanish colonial power since the 16th century. The querella involved different social actors, such as the indigenous population, the creole elite, the mestizo miners, the Spanish crown, and later, the British empire. The querella was not only an economic conflict, but also a political and cultural one, as it shaped the formation of different classes, ethnicities, ideologies, and identities in Bolivia.
Zavaleta traces the history of Bolivia from the colonial period to the 20th century, highlighting the role of different popular movements and rebellions that challenged the dominant order and expressed a national-popular aspiration. He also analyzes the impact of external factors, such as the world market, imperialism, dependency, and modernization on Bolivia's economy and society. He argues that Bolivia has always been a peripheral and dependent country, subjected to cycles of boom and bust, insertion and exclusion from the global system. He also criticizes the role of the Bolivian state, which he sees as an instrument of domination and repression, rather than representation and integration.
The World of the Fearsome Willka
The second part of Zavaleta's book is titled "The World of the Fearsome Willka" and it focuses on the cultural and ideological aspects of Bolivia's national-popular formation. Zavaleta uses the term "willka" (which means "sun" or "lord" in Quechua) to refer to the indigenous leader Tupac Katari, who led a massive uprising against the Spanish colonial rule in 1781. Zavaleta argues that Tupac Katari represents a symbol of resistance and emancipation for the Bolivian people, as well as a source of fear and hatred for the ruling classes. He also argues that Tupac Katari embodies a different worldview and logic than that of Western modernity, based on communal values, reciprocity, harmony with nature, and cosmic vision.
Zavaleta explores the cultural diversity and complexity of Bolivia, which he defines as a "multiverse" composed of different "historical horizons". He argues that Bolivia is not a homogeneous or coherent nation, but rather a heterogeneous and contradictory one, where different cultures coexist without fully integrating or assimilating. He also examines the role of ideology in shaping Bolivia's national-popular consciousness, especially Marxism and nationalism. He argues that both ideologies have been useful but insufficient tools for understanding and transforming Bolivia's reality. He proposes a dialectical approach that combines historical materialism with cultural analysis.
The third part of Zavaleta's book is titled "Societal Abundance" and it presents his main theoretical contribution to Bolivian and Latin American social thought. Zavaleta defines societal abundance as "the capacity to produce more than what is necessary for survival". He argues that societal abundance is not only an economic concept, but also a political and cultural one. He claims that societal abundance is a potentiality that exists in every society, but that it is often blocked or distorted by external or internal factors. He identifies three main obstacles to societal abundance: colonialism, dependency, and underdevelopment.