Bolivia: The struggle between revolution and counter-revolution

Report from CWI Latin America School

The delegates from Alternative Socialista Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Socialist Alternative – the Bolivian CWI) to the CWI Latin American Summer School made huge efforts to attend the meeting, traveling for 7 days through tropical downpours and border problems. However, the comrades all agreed the effort was more than worthwhile. The Bolivian comrades also had a big impact on all those present at the school. The presence of Quechau-speaking comrades was an important step forward for the CWI in Latin America and the discussions on Venezuela and Bolivia were amongst the liveliest sessions at the School. The discussions on Bolivia mainly featured the current debate on the new constitution and the tasks of revolutionary Marxists; to defend and to take the revolutionary process forward.

In 2008, the Bolivian masses will vote on a new constitution proposal. The process towards this vote has been extremely prolonged. The debate has been very polarized, due to the campaign by the right wing opposition, which has strengthened over the past months. The landowners and bosses, who are mainly based in the eastern ‘half-moon’ departments, consider the constitutional reforms as a serious threat to their wealth and power. Their campaign reached its peak recently, with the declaration of autonomy by the opposition governments in the Santa Cruz, Pando, Tarija and Beni departments.

In a national referendum on that question, last year, the opposition gained a majority of the votes in those provinces. On the question of changing the Bolivian capital to Southern Sucre, the right wing managed to even get the support of two more departments. Reactionary mass media propaganda has been combined with racist propaganda and violent attacks against indigenous people, and even murder committed by fascist youth groups. The threat of civil war remains a possibility if the right-wing led provinces try to split the country and break away. The ruling classes in other Latin American countries – especially Chile and Brazil – are extremely concerned about these developments and do not want the break-up of Bolivia. Even US imperialism is fearful of the consequences that would flow from it. Should events develop in this direction, youth from Chile and other countries would possibly go to Bolivia to fight against the right-wing reactionaries. Yet the right wing leaders in these provinces are rabid racists and partially out of control. The governor of Santa Cruz makes hysterical speeches and appears on the television screaming, ¨abajo los collas” (“Down with the Collas” –‘collas’ is a racist term for the indigenous peoples). Many bars have a ban on indigenous people being allowed in.

Anti-fascist Youth Co-ordinations

To defend left activists and indigenous people, Alternative Socialista Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Socialist Alternative – the Bolivian CWI), in Cochabamba, participated in the Coordinadores de Jovenes Antifascistas (Anti-fascist Youth Coordinations) that unite more than 15 left wing and indigenous groups. These defense bodies were able to organize two demonstrations, of about 10,000 participants, last autumn. After very polarized internal debates, they decided to campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote for the new constitution. Alternative Socialista Revolucionaria (ASR) had to oppose both the reformist left, who support the constitution without criticism, and the ultra-left groups who reject the constitution as an instrument of establishing the structures of a bourgeois-democratic capitalist system. The proposals from the reformist MAS (Movement for Socialism – Bolivia’s governing party) are progressive, in general, although they do not represent a break with landlordism and capitalism. There are some rights given to the indigenous people, for example, the right to work on a decent salary. However, it makes also concessions to the capitalist class. Claiming to abolish landlordism, the opposite is the case: it is still legal to own up to 10,000 hectares of land. Nevertheless, the defeat of the constitution in the referendum would boost the right wing counter-revolutionary forces. However, comrades stressed that a victory for the yes camp is not the end of the struggles and support for a yes vote must be linked with demands and action by the masses to take the revolutionary process forward and to break with capitalism.

To bring the revolutionary process forward, the unity of left and indigenous movements is vital to be able to build a revolutionary political force. Although the MAS still enjoys majority support, its leadership is not defending a revolutionary socialist programme. Many of the social organizations still look to it as an umbrella organization and do not support splitting from it, despite criticism of the role of the leadership. This is important for how the CWI comrades in Bolivia orientate and present slogans and demands for a revolutionary socialist programme. It has been the dangerous policy of Morales to seek agreements with the right-wing opposition that made the latter confident and led to even more violent repression of revolutionary activists.

Lessons of Chile

In the plenary and smaller commissions that discussed the issues, MAS leaders repeated the mistake made by the former president of Chile, Allende, by placing trust in the institutional loyalty of the armed forces. The Morales government has increased the military budget and 82% of it has gone on increasing the salaries of army officers. The MAS leadership in the government has not been prepared to lead the struggle against the opposition and to establish defense structures on local, regional or national level. Comrades from Bolivia also commented on the role of the trade union confederation, the COB, whose leaders can make very revolutionary-sounding declarations but do not transform such declarations into action. The building of the anti-fascist co-ordination bodies, as an example of structures that encourages open discussion and debate, is shown in Cochabamba through the initiative of Alternative Socialista Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Socialist Alternative – the Bolivian CWI), illustrates the potential which exists. Another feature of the discussion during the CWI Latin America School was the powerful revolutionary traditions in Bolivia. These traditions have been reflected in all of the massive revolutionary upheavals which have taken place in the last few years; in battles against privatization of the water industry in Cochabamber – the ‘Guerra de agua’ (the water war), in 2000. During these struggles, the movement through up co-ordinating committees of struggle which meant the movement was much better organized than for example it has been in Venezuela. However, the weakness of these organizations is that once struggles subsided activity has not been maintained and they have not been developed and linked-up nationally. This is one of the tasks of the movement in Bolivia that needs to be resolved. While there is powerful understanding of the need to fight against privatization and the rich elite, the idea of socialism as an alternative system to capitalism still is something that is only beginning to emerge in the political consciousness of the masses.

One issue raised by comrades in the School discussion was the different stage in the struggle which exists between Bolivia and Venezuela, despite these processes being linked together. While, in Venezuela, the failure to take the revolution forward has now led to growing frustration and disappointment, in Bolivia, in contrast, there is still a lot of hope and expectation in the Morales government, despite criticism of it. This will change if the leadership fails to take the movement forward. In the School discussion, many CWI comrades emphasized that it is urgent to use the revolutionary energy of Bolivian workers, poor and youth and the indigenous activists to, once and for all, take away the power of the rich and multinationals, to completely nationalize Bolivian natural resources and industry, under workers’ control and management, to change the present capitalist system into a genuine socialist society.

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February 2008