Bolivia: The Revolution Re-opens

Events have again taken a turn towards mass insurrection in Bolivia. The Bolivian workers uprising of October 2003 that caused President Losada (Goni) to flee to the US, was halted by the union leaders who did a deal with Vice-President Carlos Mesa. But Mesa did not carry out his side of the agreement. Once more the masses are on the move blocking roads and striking against Mesa’s proposal to sell the gas to multinationals. The path ahead must be the call for the downfall of Mesa and for a National Congress of the delegates of the COB (national union) and peasant organisations, backed by the formation of workers militias and soldiers committees, to nationalise the gas without compensation and under workers’ control, and to expropriate the imperialist corporations and put in place a workers’ and poor farmers government. Here we summarise the Theses on Bolivia of the International Trotskyist Fraction (Fraccion Trotskista Internationalista – FTI).

Bolivia is a hinge of the world revolution and counter-revolution

The events in Bolivia are critical to the whole balance of class forces internationally. US imperialism has gone on the offensive in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, and has contained the revolutionary upsurges in Argentina, Equador and Peru. A new worker and peasant uprising in Bolivia may tip the balance once more in favour of the masses and begin a new offensive against capital lthat is already signalled in the awakening of the US working class, the French mobiilsation against its government attacks on the pension. Thus much rests on the success of the Bolivian masses in breaking out of the containment imposed on them by the bureaucracy and the left reformists and fake Trotskyists who have come together in the World Social Forum.

The crisis of Bolivia’s semi-colonial economy shape the events today. First, the question of who will benefit from the gas resources, the imperialists or the poor people of Bolivia, makes this fight a fight to the death. Second, Bolivia’s national debt is not 80% of GDP and this dictates that the state must pay the debt by attacking the masses. The uprisings of February and October 2003 and December 2004 were all caused by increasing prices and taxes on poor workers and farmers. Third, the Bolivian bourgeoisie are weak and divided about how to solve the crisis. This thrusts the union and peasant leaders to the fore as the managers of the crisis. Each time the masses rise up the bureaucracy rescues the situation by doing a deal with Mesa. But this time the mass pressure from below forced the bureacuracy to call a 24 hour general strike on January 10. This coincided with an indefinite strike in El Alto (working class suburb above La Paz) to expel the French multinational Illimani which now owns the water supply. But the leaders of the unions and peasant organisations managed to prevent these strikes from turning into an offensive against Mesa.

March events

By early March 2005 the economic crisis was now expressed as a national political crisis. The mobilisations, strikes, pickets etc threatened to paralyse the country. The indefinite general strike of March 2 in El Alto was joined by a blockade of the refinery of Senkata on March 7 by 40,000 workers. In the rest of the country the occupation of oil fields and the cutting of roads in seven of the nine departments of the country continued. Again, the workers demanded that the leadership of the COB call a 48 hour national strike from March 15. Once again there was the possibility of a new revolutionary uprising of the masses. Mesa reacted by offering his resignation on March 6. This was an ultimatum to the ruling class to back him with new powers as a ‘referee’ to bring the different fractions from the bourgeoisie into line, to appeal to the reactionary petty bourgeoisie for support, and to try to go on offensive against the workers and farmers. Thus Mesa would impose social order and guarantee both the plunder of the gas by the US monopolies and payment of the external debt to the IMF.

The COB and peasant leaders stepped into solve the crisis again. They wanted to avoid an uprising such as October 2003. Evo Morales, the main peasant leader, and Solares of the COB signed a unity pact, proposing that the government impose a 50% royalty payment on the gas, and called for a Constituent Assembly. Against this pact with the national bourgeoisie against the workers, revolutionaries could have broken this pact with a program of transitional demands: "Neither 18% nor 50% royallties but nationalization without compensation and under workers control of the gas, petroleum, water and mines! Expropriation without compensation and nationalization of the banks under control of the workers, to reduce the debt of the small farmers and to give them cheap loans ". A call for a political general strike in the middle of the political crisis would have thrust the proletariat immediately to the head of the struggle and demonstrated to the rest of the exploited classes that only it can resolve the crisis of the oppressed and exploited nation by leading the fight against imperialism. The united intervention of the working class, led by the miners vanguard, would quickly have solved the situation in favor of the exploited, and would have sealed the fate Mesa, the puppet parliament and the mine owners state!

The result was that Mesa was re-confirmed as President by the unanimous vote of all the Deputies including the MAS (Morales) and MIP (Quispe). With this move the government bought some time. Yet it could not overcome the deepening division in the ruling class between those openly serving imperialism, and those acting for the reactionary national bourgeoisie. Mesa risked an open controntation between the army and the masses that could have seen a section of the military split in support of the insurrection. While Mesa still had the upper hand there was the potential for the masses to stage another insurrection. For that reason the oil monopolies held Mesa back. Instead they proposed new elections to win electoral legitimacy. But Parliament refused and voted to impose royalties of 18% and taxes of 32% on the monopolies. Mesa threatened to veto this law if the Senate did not reduce the royalties and taxes. Morales, who demanded 50% royalties, then claimed that the new law would provide another $600-$750 million dollars for distribution to the people and so called off the strikes and blockades.

At present there is an impasse. The ruling class is agreed on Mesa remaining in power and a pact of national unity to contain the masses. Imperialism is only interested in political stability to allow it to super-exploit the oil and gas. They do not yet have the power to defeat the masses outright in an armed showdown, and have to rely on the leaders of the peasants and workers to hold them back. They know this situation is unstable as the masses have the potential to break through this strangle hold.

Background to the current crisis

The events of March means that the truce made between the regime and the leaders of the workers and peasant organisations in October 2003 has come to an end. Already the existing regime based on a longstanding peasant/military pact had come under attack in February 2003. The October truce followed an uprising that included a split in the army forcing the resignation of President Lozada (Goni).

The truce with Mesa depended on the key role of Morales, Quispe etc who promised real gains for the masses to prevent them taking the insurrection on to the seizure of power. But this truce gave Mesa the time to rebuild his regime. He could not rely on the army because of the risk of further splits. Behind the cover of the truce he tested the masses resolve to fight with selected attacks on the most militant sectors, but met with strong opposition like the rebellion at Ayo Ayo and the student occupation at Ururo.

Mesa also tried to bolster his regime with the referendum on oil royalties and the local body elections of December of 2004. The result was the March crisis and Mesa’ re-confirmation under a new truce more favourable to the bosses. Mesa’s has been strengthened elevated as a Bonaparte balancing between imperialism and the national bourgeosie on the one side, and the masses on the other. Nevertheless, he is not strong enough to dispense with the treacherous petty bourgeois role of Morales, Solares and Quispe, still tying the masses to the bourgeois camp.

The present situation is therefore the direct result of the treacherous role of the misleaders of the workers and peasants organisations. Twice, between January and March this year they have held back workers from embarking on new revolutionary attacks on the regime. Instead they harness the pressure from below to bargain for more oil rent for the masses.

The Revolution is in Danger

The revolution that initiated the heroic workers and Bolivian farmers in February 2003 and was interrupted twice by truces is in danger. If the bourgeois fractions manages to use its unity pact with the labour and peasant misleaders (apopular front) to contain the masses, the revolution will come to a haltand counter-revolution will gain the upper hand. If the masses break this new truce, then Mesa may fall and the revolution will once more re-open. The crucial factor that will decide which way Bolivia goes is the independent organisation of the workers and peasants breaking with their treacherous leaders and freeing themselves to complete their insurrection against the hated bosses’ regime.

In colonies and semicolonies the dominant bourgeois fraction always serves imperialism. The national bourgeoisie may squabble over its share of the rent with imperialism on one side and the masses on the other, but ultimately its class interests are aligned with imperialism against the masses.

Opposing it is the working class leading the small farmers and all oppressed people. This can only mean victory or defeat for one class or the other. Either imperialism imposes its repressive regime of super-exploitation, or imperialism is overthrown and a workers’ and small farmers’ state is established.

This means that Morales and the petty bourgeois leaders of the farmers and workers must objectively act for the national bourgeoisie and ultimately imperialism. Their program is no more than to negotiate and haggle over the rent. They will not fight to overthrow the bosses regime because that would elimitate their role as negotiators of class truces. Even if Bolivia won a larger share of the rent, say 50% royalties on oil, this money would go to pay off the national debt and not go to the workers or small farmers. That is why Morales and Co voted for Mesa to stay in power while at the same time calling for a Constituent Assembly as a talkshop for the bourgeois fractions to debate who gets what share from the oil rent

Will the masses, or will the imperialists, pay for their crisis?

The exploited masses of Bolivia rose up in October 2003 against the imperialist plunder othe hydrocarbons (oil and gas) “Out Gringos, the gas is not for sale!". Today their misleaders tell them that the problem has been solved by increasing the royalties to 18% so that $750 millions are prevented from leaving the country. But increasing the share of the oil rent cannot solve the problems facing the workers and poor farmers.

At every meeting of the COB (Confederation of Workers), and at every meeting of the striking people of Al Alto (working class city above La Paz), the demands were:

· Down with the pact of nation unity between Mesa, Morales, Solares etc that allows the monopolies to rob the gas and petroleum and the national bourgeoisie to haggle over its share!

· Neither 18% nor 50% royalties! Oil and Gas for the Bolivians! Nationalization without payment and under workers control of the gas, petroleum, the water, the mines!

· Expropriation without payment of the banks under control of the workers, to reduce the debts of the small farmers and to give them cheap credit!

· Expropriation without payment of the great landowners and distribution of land to the farmers;

· Break with the IMF!

· A sliding scale of wages and working hours, as raised in the Theses of Pulacayo (the program of the COB in 1946 modelled on the Trotskyist Transitional Program) to end super-exploitation, poverty and unemployment; an emergency plan of public works and economic plan to make the bourgeoisie, the imperialists and the IMF to pay for the crisis.

For a national Congress of workers and small farmers delegates!

Workers are openly questioning the betrayals of their misleaders. Every meeting over the last few weeks of miners, teachers, regional and local COB branches, etc is demanding that Solares consult the rank and file before making agreements. There is no support for increasing royalties only nationalisations. In El Alto, the rank and file said that if Morales and Quispe betrayed again, they would apply popular justice like the mayor of Ayo Ayo (he was lynched).

After February 2003, to overthrow Goni and begin the revolution, the workers had to replace the old bureaucratic leadership of the COB. Today they have to break from their new leaders.

Against Class Collaboration! Against the leaders of the COB who want to trap workers in national pacts!

A National Congress of workers and farmers delegates, representing democratically the exploited millions of Bolivia would immediately have a million times more authority than Mesa, or the puppet parliament and that the handful of representatives of the imperialist monopolies and employer's associations that conspire against the people in back rooms.

It could immediately make a revolutionary decree calling for the nationalisation without compensation and under working control of all the natural resources, and for the immediate release of the jailed leaders of Ayo Ayo, the landless farmers and other political prisoners.

Mesa has once already called on the reactionary petty bourgeoisie to attack the workers and farmers in the streets. No doubt a National Congress would be met with a similar call for armed reaction to smash the Congress and its program. He will also call out the armed forces when he needs them to massacre the people. To defend themselves from armed attack, the Congress must immediately create workers and farmers militias and send out a call to the rank and file soldiers - the children of the workers and farmers under arms – to mutiny, to form committees of soldiers, and to send its delegates to the workers and farmers Congress.

This Congress would replace the collaborationist leadership of the COB with a General Staff of revolutionary workers and small farmers leaders, who would prepare and organise an armed showdown of the workers and farmers militias alongside the soldiers committee, to bring down the government of the mine-owners and the imperialists so that the Congress can take the power into its own hands.

For a class alliance of workers and small farmers led by the workers

The misleaders of the COB, while subordinating the workers to the capitalists, also breaks the workers’ alliance with the small farmers, beraying the farmers, also throwing thenm into the arms of the bosses. Only the workers can meet the demands and needs of the small farmers, because of the decisive role they play in production. They extract the oil, the gas, the minerals; they work them, they refine them, they transport them. Workers run the banks and telecoms. Workers can meet the interests of small farmers by taking over the refineries, banks, mines and gasfields, and distributing land, cancelling debts, and giving cheap credit, and providing access to water, machinery, technical advice etc.

But to lead the small farmers in a class alliance the workers must retain their armed independence of the capitalists. A national Congress of workers and small farmers deputies must have an independent program backed by workers militias and soldiers committees proving to the small farmers that they will fight to the end to over throw the regime. This would quickly teach the small farmers to abandon their petty bourgeois misleaders and their polices of truces with the national bourgeoisie.

Workers’ power lives in the strikes, blockades and occupations!

Solares and co have tried to smash the independent power of the workers organisations. But they have not succeeded, The flame of ‘dual power’ (workers’ power opposed to bourgeois state power) is alive in the workers city of El Alto which maintained a strike for 8 days. And when Morales and Solares called off the strikes and blockades in favour of negotiating 50% royalties, the popular meetings resolved: "Mesa, his ministers and all MPs out!"; and to continue to fightor the nationalization of the hydrocarbons for which more than 60 died and 400 were injured during during the street battles of October 2003. It is no accident that the bourgeois newspaper La Razon of Bolivia, has stated with alarm that today in El Alto "a soviet has been formed"!

In the same way, the flame of the dual power is alive in those militant organisations that made armed pickets and blocades of 72 highways, bringing transport and commerce to a halt and creating an embryonic dual power. These organisations already have the authority to convene a National Congress of workers and farmers delegates, to create workers militias and soldiers committees, capable of organising a decisive showdown with the government to dissolve the puppet parliament and take power in its hands by constituting a workers and farmers government!

The Bolivian masses are the best allies of the Iraqi resistance and militant US workers

The politics of class collaboration of the reformist misleaders is not ‘national’. It is the politics of the reformists of the World Social Forum of Lula, Chávez, the restorationist Castro bureaucracy, the union bureaucracies of every colour. At this year’s WSF at Porto Alegre, these people conspired to defeat the Bolivian revolution in the same way they did with the Argentine revolution. The treacherous Morales, Quispe and Solares want to make the workers and farmers of Bolivia believe that by electing them to parliament they can make solve all o their problems by making the national bourgeoisie extract higher royalties and taxes from the oil monopolies.

They point to Chavez to make their case. The same Chavez who sells oil to the US to use in killing Iraqis, and who agrees to a joint fight with Uribe of Colombia against ‘terrorism’. Solares hold up Castro as the model for socialism in Venezuela. The same Castro who backs Kirchner in Argentina and restores capitalism in Cuba. They praise Lula who attacks the landless farmers occupations, and allowed the recent massacre of 60 by landowners; or Kirchner who imprisons scores of political opponents; or Tabaré Vázquez, who rules Uruguay in the interests of imperialism.

It is not the national bourgeoisie who are the allies of the Bolivian workers and farmers! They are their enemies! Their allies are the heroic Iraqi resistance!+ They are the Brazilian workers who have formed CONLUTAS to fight Lula and the union bureaucrats of the CUT; they are the workers of the Subte, telephone, schools etc of Argentina, who struggle against the government of Kirchner and the rotten union bureaucracy of the CGT and the CTA.

But the main ally of the Bolivian masses is the North American proletariat, in particular the oppressed black and Latino workers who are treated as pariahs by the bosses and the union bureaucrats of the Afl-cio. They are the black workers of Local 10 of the ILWU (harbour workers) of Oakland, who stopped work on March 19, to mark two years of the US occupation of Iraq, and who sparked the militant workers who formed the Million Worker March Movement. These are the true allies of the workers and small farmers of Bolivia and Latin America!

The crisis of revolutionary leadership of the working class must be overcome

The re-opening of the Bolivian revolution reveals once more the absence of a revolutionary party. Without that party the revolution will not be finished and suffer again counter-revolutionary defeats.

Once more the events of the 2005 expose the treacherous politics of Stalinism and Castroism. For the second time in less than two years, Castroism has stopped the workers revolution from taking power. This new betrayal is of the same order of those of Chile in 1973 and of Nicaragua in the 1980s. But the Castoites need the fake Trotskyistst to cover their left flank. This is the role of the POR Lora (Revolutionary Workers Party of Guilliemo Lora). POR talks of “insurrection” but without building workers’ militias or arming the masses. Like the Castroites its program is subordinated to a popular “anti-imperialist” front with the national bourgeoisie like 1971. This will defeat the 23rd Bolivian revolution as it defeated the 2nd in 1971.

Others, like the LOR-CI - the satellite group of the PTS of Argentina exhibits a enthusiams for parliamentary and trade union cretinism, calling on the COB to liquidate itself into a reformist workers’ party! The COB which keeps alive the embryo organs of dual power will become another parliamentary talking shop. The 3rd Bolivian revolution reveals the total bankruptcy of those who have broken with Trotskyism.

We are in a race against time to build a revolutionary party to lead the revolution before the forces of the counter-revolution prevail. Only the workers’ vanguard breaking with the bureaucracy can rescue the revolution by fighting for a national congress of the COB and farmers organisations, and to transform these into soviets, workers’ and farmers’ militias and soldiers committees capable of taking power.

In those organs, a small nucleus of revolutionaries can openly fight to win the masses, convincing them of the justice and correctness of our revolutionary program. For this it is necessary that that nucleus of revolutionaries is part of the struggle to regroup internationally all the healthy forces of the Trotskyism against the all the treacherous liquidaors of the 4th International.

The student-worker group Internationalist Red October (a member of the FTI-CI, born in the heat of the rebellion of the students of the UTO of Oruro, has made this fight as its own. In support of IRO we must mobilise all the forces of healthy Trotskyism for the socialist revolution. A start is the Call for an International Conference of Principled Trotskyists and Revolutonary International Workers Organisations made be the Liaison Committee (see Class Struggle 59, January-February 2005).

The full text in Spanish is on our website Any errors in translation and condensing are the editors.

From Class Struggle 60 March-April 2005

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