Sociedades Abigarradas and crisis as method

Returning to the conditions of constitutive moments, disponibilidad is the pre-condition that permits the totalisation of capital under the stewardship of the capitalist state. Disponibilidad, or the disposition of a society to a new set of political ideas, is the foundation of a hegemonic political project and, more specifically, state hegemony (Zav-aleta 2008: 78). In the case of societies marked by multiple overlapping modes of production (and consequently a multiplicity of societal and civilisational forms), the hegemony of the state requires the flattening of multiple temporalities into what Zavaleta labels state time (Lagos Rojas 2018: 137).

Zavaleta introduces the concept of sociedades abigarradas to capture situations where the multiple temporalities of manifold modes of production, and civilisation and societal formations are not contained within the homogenous time of the state; that is to say, contexts where the state fails to become hegemonic (see Lagos Rojas 2018: 140). Abigarrada or abigarramiento roughly translate as motley or heterogeneous and ‘connote disjointedness, incongruousness, beyond mere difference’ (Freeland 2016: 272). Zavaleta’s characterisation of Bolivia as a sociedad abigarrada captures the concrete historical articulation of multiple modes of production—the organisation of productive forces by different forms and grades of the development of productive relations—and how these articulations (re-) produce multiple civilisational and societal forms. In other words, abigarramiento provides a tool with which to study the interplay between the longue durée conditions and medium-term structures in concrete historical moments.

However, there is an epistemological paradox that comes with framing societies such as Bolivia as abigarrada: it implies that they are unknowable and unrepresentable societies precisely because of their abigarramiento. Zavaleta insists on what he considers to be an imperfect methodology to study such contexts, whereby theoretical categories are always historically qualified and contextualised (Freeland 2019: 276). Indeed, Zavaleta (2008: 9) starts his unfinished Magnum Opus Lo nacional-popular en Bolivia on a rueful note, stating that this is the only form of social science possible in contexts of abigarramiento like Bolivia. However, he does offer a way out of his theoretical cul-de-sac through crisis as method (see Zavaleta 2013b). For Zavaleta, crisis is the critical manifestation of the multiple social forces and their multiple associated civilisational times, which share as a common time, that of politics. In other words, in the absence of a hegemonic state and its state time, crisis provides synchronism through a shared political moment, something that in turn unveils the complex and enigmatic social reality in places like Bolivia. After all, crisis is not preparation for what is to come but an accumulation of what has already come to pass, and as such, ‘not only reveals what is national in Bolivia, but that which is itself a nationalising event’ (Zavaleta 2013b: 216).

The goal of this section has been to underscore the importance— simultaneously political and epistemological—of the crisis of October-November, both as the accumulation of intertwined historical processes and as a lens through which we can examine and evaluate the sociedad abigarrada of Bolivia. The crisis offers a historical conjuncture in which to study the dynamics and social effects rippling out from processes of state formation, nation-building, class formation and capitalist accumulation, as well as the ideological and discursive terrain over which the crisis unfurled. Whilst these are expansive tasks that extend well beyond the scope of this chapter, I will tentatively offer a preliminary sketch of the interplay between these elements in the period leading to the October-November crisis.