Its an embarrassing time to be British right now. This “expense scandal”? Its humiliating. Particularly in Chicago, of all places. The reaction I keep getting from friends is unanimous: You British are so backward you can’t even get political corruption right.

Illinois recently earnt itself the quote: “If it isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States it’s certainly one hell of a competitor” (Robert Grant, head of the FBI’s Chicago office). Yes, from the perspective of a US state that has two governor’s in jail for corruption and one on the way, and a Mayoral oligarchy that has seen the Daley father and son team rule the city for 40+ years with virtually no opposition, quibbling about expense claims that were, after all, legal, seems a bit ridiculous.

As a dear friend so kindly (and gleefully) pointed out to me, the sheer pettiness just reinforces every annoying stereotype of quaint British eccentricity.

Headlines in Italy: Berlusconi holds debauched parties with gaggles of teenage girls and pin up models, flying them in on airforce jets and appointing the most attractive to his cabinet.

Headlines in Britain: Cameron claimed £947.29 more than he ought to, but will pay it back.

I’m not saying that I condone corruption. Chicago’s famously laid back ‘who gives a shit’ attitude to being robbed blind by its public officials stopped being amusing around the time I noticed the open wounds of poverty that are ripped into the face of the city. The dirt. The decrepit public transport. The third world standard roads. The weekly fatal shootings in public schools. The segregation. The accusations of police brutality and torture.

No, I’m not saying Britain needs to step up to “compete on the world stage” when it comes to crooked politics. My point is that that calling this farce over expenses “corruption”, dignifying it with status of a “scandal”, is to seriously misunderstand both what corruption really is, and where the real problems with British politics lie. So knowing what we are doing right (i.e. not being like Illinois), and what we are doing wrong.

The problem with the expenses is that MPs were not able to vote themselves a higher salary, and so civil servants created a way to give them some other form of compensation. There is nothing wrong with the concept of a second home allowance: on the contrary, it means that people other than millionaires can, potentially, be politicians, which I’m entirely in favour of. Anything that proactively enables more diversity in our political representatives should be encouraged.

Were the MPs “greedy”? I think its hard to say, because its difficult to condemn the impulse for personal profit when it is, after all, the underlying principle of capitalism (and in particular neoliberalism). Its also impossible to call them “greedy” when they were actually doing what they were told they should do. Besides which, if it really does seem like they were being greedy, the solution lies in taking a more nuanced look at the kind of politics we have right now, rather than voyeuristic pawing over receipts in the press to the accompaniment of some cliched class-tinged indignation.

This situation came about because it was not politically expedient for MPs to give themselves a pay rise. As long as decisions are made on the basis of whether or not it will lose or gain votes, then our politics will be superficial, shallow and hysterical. Beyond this issue of pay, why are politicians so afraid of making decisions that, while unpopular, need to be made in the name of social justice? For humane immigration laws. For gay marriage and abortion rights. For supporting the NHS and free education. Because it might cost them votes, and losing votes is more important than having a fair and free society.

But above all, what really depresses me is that this whole farce with expenses has caused more debate about the political system, and come closer to bringing down the government, than any other issue in the last decade. An illegal war couldn’t do it. The insidious undermining of the right to free education hasn’t raised the slightest whiff of a protest. Two police murders of innocent men passed without problem. Even the economy crashing down around our ears at the same time as a a global pandemic hasn’t caused as many problems as this cuffufle over legal expense claims!

But a duck house and a few dvd players? If this is what the British public really want to get angry about, then we really do have a problem.

Last night I went over to my friends’ house, and saw TV for the first time in months. She had heard about blocados up in El Alto so was tuned to the news to work out if the rumours were true. But all we saw was reports on Santa Cruz. For the last few months I have been repeating what everyone in La Paz knows – things are calm and peaceful in the highlands because all the violence this year is in the South. But for the first time I actually saw what this looks like.

Each channel we switched to was showing the same thing. Crowds of young men dressed in shorts and t-shirts, some with surgical mask on their faces but many with nothing covering their wide grins, attaching buildings with sticks and stones. The sound of glass breaking and clouds of curling black smoke above, a tear gas canister being kicked down the street by a teenager who gives it one last aim at a small huddled group of riot police. The rocking camera follows the shouting young men into the building, into an office. It picks out groups pulling stacks of paper out of filing cabinets, yanking computer screens off desks, ripping even the chairs and the telephones out and carrying everything into the street. The beam of the camera rests on two young men, perhaps in their late teens but certainly no older than 21, as they lean over an opened computer on the desk, pulling out wires at random. Their backpacks bounce on their backs as they run out to join their friends, and somewhere in my head I wonder whether the bags show they came prepared or just straight from school. Behind them a boy of about 12 is riffling through a cabinet in someone’s desk.

Outside in the street again. Everything is set alight. Desks, screens, telephones and endless stacks of paper make up the bonfire. A shot of the outside of the building, and half its windows are broken. Out of them more paper flutters to the ground through the rising smoke. The crowd is cheering and shouting and suddenly the camera picks out another young man, but this one is in army fatigues. He is curled up on the floor with his hands around his head as a growing crowd takes it in turns to kick him till the blood runs. His uniform is torn, and as he is dragged to his feet and turns to the camera we see a blank expression of fear and utter confusion. His soft brown skin traced with blood stands out in the sea of white faces around him, but like them he is barely out of his teens. The camera cuts to three men marching through the streets, green and white flags held high and one with a gun slung over his shoulder. The crowds part to let them pass through, cheering them on as they hold their heads high and faces stern for the mass of television cameras.

The building being destroyed was a government building responsible for dealing with land reform. In the same day other government buildings were destroyed in the same manner, along with the offices of Entel (a telephone company), and Canal 7 (a television station). Soldiers in Bolivia are conscripts, but the rich can usually buy their way out so they are predominantly young, poor men from the countryside. The young men attacking the building are members of the Santa Cruz Youth Movement, the ‘Autonomy’ movement’s foot soldiers. The green and white flag is the flag of Santa Cruz, in contrast to the red, gold and green of Bolivia.

What other images did we see?

Older men with round white faces standing in the plaza talking fast and furious into the expectant microphones. Morales is a dictator he says. We are men and women standing up for our freedom. We will stay here in the plaza all night holding our peaceful vigil. Another reporter shouts out a question and he turns. We go back to the studio, and then cut to another plaza a long way away. Outside the presidential palace in La Paz another crowd is gathered. Trilby hats and darker faces – the men have come from the highlands to the city to tell Evo he needs to use a strong hand against the right-wingers in the South. At the bottom of the screen they are described as ‘indigenous vigilantes’. The camera pans to the large crowd standing on the steps of the Plaza Murillo, facing the palace and chanting “Strong Hand! Strong Hand!”

We cut back to images of youths in the streets of Santa Cruz. They are kicking a police motor cycle in the street, eventually setting it alight. Then we go to an interview with someone who says that the governor of Santa Cruz has been paying the police not to intervene. Another cut to lines of people queuing in El Alto to buy cooking gas. The department of Santa Cruz contains the gas supplies, and their blocados are finally taking affect. There is not enough gas in the cities for people to cook with. A minister appears who says that his aim is to have gas lines connected directly to people’s houses to avoid this problem in the future. He asks for patience for another year – after all, in the previous 25 years of government no-one even considered this idea. I make a mental note that we only filled our gas canister a week ago, but that the previous one had had a leak and run out far too fast. We need to be more careful. My friend sitting next to me suddenly notices the minister is wearing a Che tie.

I’m watching all this with my two good friends: Anna, who is a liberal and a passionate Obama supporter from the US, and her long time boyfriend, Eduardo, a Bolivian anarchist. Anna is furious. Why aren’t they doing anything? What is Evo doing? Why don’t they send the army down there to arrest those men? How can they get away with doing this so blatantly, so publicly? It’s all there on the camera!

We wait, along with the camera men and the crowds looking up at the lights in the windows of the presidential palace, hoping to catch Evo Morales’ speech in reaction. We wait, and nothing happens. We argue backwards and forwards about what he could do, but eventually Anna is frustrated and asks us to turn the television off. We go out to eat.

Over pizza we discuss the options. The governor of Santa Cruz is paying off the police, so Evo should send the army. If he sends the army then he will be accused of acting like Goni, the last president, who sent the army against the crowds of protesters trying to throw him out of office. People died, and Evo can’t be seen to be comparable. Anna thinks the international community should get involved – if the soldiers are from another country then he won’t face that accusation. Eduardo disagrees. He has to use the army. He is the state, and this is what the state does to enforce it’s will – it uses violence. But Evo is reluctant, because he wanted to do be different, or maybe because he knows he is in an impossible position. Could they dialogue?, Anna asks. They say that the last time Morales and Ruban Costas, the governor of Santa Cruz, met, Costas ripped up a cheque Morales was giving him in an official meeting and threw it in his face. He calls Morales a monkey. They say his personal land ownings are larger than the entire department of La Paz. How can you ‘dialogue’ with that kind of racism, that kind of entrenched interest in maintaining the status quo?

Anna is frustrated because to her it makes no sense that there can be no reaction. But for me, and I think for Eduardo, there is something more complicated going on. We all have reached a point of stalemate – Evo can’t react with force against the violence without replicating the reaction of Goni and being accused of being the same.

The images I saw on television were familiar. Riot porn. We on a particular part of the left have seen similar images before and have viewed them as resistance and rebellion. Indeed, in 2003 and 2005, when it was campesinos and miners marching through the streets of La Paz and overthrowing Goni, we cheered it as a great victory of the people over the oligarchs. I still believe it was, but the absolutely crucial problem now is that the oligarchs are using the identical tactics to achieve the opposite politics.

Where does this put us on the left, those of us who have supported Evo? I would never have though I would find myself in the position where I would be distressed by the burning of the government, sympathising with the riot police, and advocating sending in the army. This is a very weird position to find myself in.

The paradox of Bolivia, Eduardo argues, is that we have seen it as a revolution when it is not. I also am beginning to see it as this. Evo took power through the ballot box, and although he is indeed a different type of politician, he sought power through the existing system and became the state. The power of the state comes through the use of violence, and the legitimation of elections. While 68% of the country support Evo, there is still a minority, and if they don’t accept the rule of law then the state has no means to enforce it other than through violence. We believed in Evo as if he were something different, and by his reluctance to send in the army perhaps he is proving he, too, still sees himself as different. He still thinks he is not the state. But he is, and ultimately he will only be able to keep hold of his power by using the weapons of the state.

There is one last piece of pizza, and I let Eduardo and Anna split it. Anna thinks that they should let Santa Cruz burn. If they want to destroy their infrastructure, let them! The international community will not support them, and Bolivia relies on Brazil and Argentina to buy its gas. Isolated and without infrastructure, cut off from their customers, they will soon give in. Eduardo dismisses the idea. They would build new institutions. It would serve as an accusation that Evo was trying to starve the people. Evo wanted to be head of state and he is – now he must act like one and crush his opposition. This is not a revolution – whether on the left or the right, he still has to act like an overseeing power that imposes its will on the minority who don’t agree. Anna gets angry. Anarchism is not a viable solution, she says. You really think that is the answer?

And here is where Eduardo and I are stuck. We believe in anarchism, but support “realistic” alternatives in the belief that it is unlikely that we are going to be able to bring about the kind of world we would rather see. So we supported and still do support Evo. But now the opposition are using the same means of resistance to the imposition of state power that the left used 3 years ago, and we have a problem. Evo is the state – he sought and gained power through the existing systems of electoral politics backed up with the legitimate use of violence. The fact that he gained power through acts of violence that directly challenged the state’s monopoly on violence only complicates the matter further, in that now he is trying to be a state at a time when the legitimacy of the state remains in question.

The cracks are beginning to show. We have supported compromise in order to be realistic, but the compromise is not viable. We have looked to Bolivia as an alternative, as a place where radical and positive change can really come about through the ballot box. We have swallowed all our objections and criticisms to this form of politics in the hope that it would work. Now when that support involves us advocating sending in the army to crush the resistance, when the only way we can convince those who oppose us is through violence, it causes prickles of unease. That unease is only going to grow. Can we – must we – go back to believing another world is possible?

A piece over in The Stranger by Erica Barnett entitled “Hillary Clinton Has a Vagina and So Do I: Am I Obligated to Support Hillary Clinton Based on Her Gender Alone?”. The dilemma in a nutshell: she likes John Edwards’ politics better, but wonders if its more important to have a woman as president.

Here’s a short answer: Margaret Thatcher.

She may have been the first female PM, but I always think its telling that people remember her primarily not for this, but for being the embodiment of pure evil. “Thatcherite” is not a word that is synonymous with “Girl Power”. Thatcher ironically achieved true equality for women kind by being un-gendered – by being characterised by her acts rather than her gender. The ‘good thing-ness’ of having a female PM was utterly out of proportion to the ‘bad thing-ness’ of her being who she was.

Not that I have anything against Hillary Clinton per say, or any deep investment in the whole charade of picking a president. I’m utterly cynical about electoral party politics and the false sense of choice it implies. But actually, the fact that the debate comes down to such identity politics, only reinforces this cynicism.