That is precisely what we are witnessing before our very eyes in Bolivia. On Friday, October 17, after days of violent clashes in which more than 70 people died, and with the capital, La Paz, under siege from tens of thousands of protesting workers, miners and peasants, the President, Sánchez de Lozada was driven from power. The demonstrators blockaded La Paz and other cities. Soviets were formed in El Alto. Bolivia, South America's poorest and most unstable country, had been paralysed since mid-September by anti-government protests.
Faced with this tremendous movement of the masses, Lozada tried to buy time by offering concessions, including putting the controversial gas project to a referendum and rewriting an unpopular energy law. But the armed forces' harsh repression of the protests only made their leaders more determined that the president must go. Marx explained that sometimes the revolution needs the whip of the counterrevolution to advance. The massacre of El Alto on October 12th transformed the whole situation. In the moment of truth Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was left suspended in mid-air. The apparently formidable state apparatus was powerless to save him.
Lozada protested that his overthrow was a blow for democracy in Bolivia and Latin America. This is ironical, considering that he was elected with only 22% of the vote. The Guardian (Tuesday, October 21) carried an article with the interesting title "Justice on the streets: The ousting of Bolivia's president is a warning that the demands of Latin America's poor cannot be ignored", which commented: "By last week, he retained the loyalty of less than half of even the small minority who had actually voted for him. He presided over government forces that shot 50 demonstrators dead in the days leading up to his resignation."
Democracy in Bolivia has always been a flimsy fig-leaf concealing the dictatorship of a wealthy oligarchy, which in turn was only a local agency for the domination of US imperialism. After the 1952 revolution, in which the workers really had power but lacked a leadership, there was a military coup (with US encouragement) shortly thereafter. Twenty years of military dictatorship finally led to the revolutionary upsurge of the 80s, when there were five presidents in a single day. A potentially wealthy country was reduced to a state of abject poverty by the imperialist looting carried out by their local agents in the Bolivian oligarchy, known as la Rosca.
In the last period the US belatedly concluded that military dictatorships were not necessarily reliable allies. Washington had a series of bad experiences, such as the conflict with Noriega in Panama, and drew the conclusion that it was better to base oneself on weak "democratic" regimes. However, the commitment of US imperialism to democracy is just a tactical move and can change into its opposite whenever the situation demands it.
The masses celebrated in the streets on hearing of their success in overthrowing the president. But his successor faces the same problems that toppled Lozada, while facing growing opposition from the masses, whose problems cannot be solved on the basis of capitalism. The masses will be patient for a little while, but their patience is not infinite. The overthrow of Lozada was the first great success of the Bolivian revolution. But it is too early to shout victory. The most important tasks of the revolution have not been achieved. Its most important battles lie in the future.
The course of a revolution is marked by the rise and fall of different parties and leaders. The fall of Lozada was the first. It will not be the last. A revolution is also characterised by splits in the ruling class. One wing says: we must give concessions or there will be a revolution. The other wing says: we must not give concessions, or there will be a revolution. And both are right.
At bottom, this was a revolution against generations of poverty, oppression and exploitation that goes back to the days of the Conquistadores. Under the Spanish, tens of thousands of Quechua and Aymara died working the great silver mountain at Potosi to fund the Spanish empire. This brutal plundering has been continued ever since under the military dictatorships and now, they have discovered, it is like that under elected governments too. Sanchez de Lozada is the owner of Bolivia's largest mining group. He is a typical representative of the Bolivian oligarchy, a tiny handful of super-rich people who have made their fortunes by bleeding the people without mercy. Bolivian tin miners work under inhuman conditions. For tens of thousands of them, tin meant poverty and early death.
The Guardian reports:
"Living in one of the world's most spectacular landscapes, at high altitude and mostly in dismal poverty, Bolivians learned to survive through solidarity and militancy. Two-thirds of the people live below the poverty line and one-third in absolute poverty. When the tin market collapsed in the 80s, tens of thousands of unemployed miners turned to the cultivation of Bolivia's other major export - coca leaf. Now the government is implementing a US-financed coca-eradication programme which criminalizes cultivation without offering any alternative. The methods are not pretty: violence and imprisonment are the penalties for non-cooperation; destitution is the reward for compliance.
"The immediate trigger for the recent protests was a British-backed consortium's plan to sell natural gas, of which Bolivia has a huge reserve, to the US and Mexico through Bolivia's old enemy, Chile. On the surface the protest seems irrational. Why should the poor of a poor country object to the money-spinning exploitation of that country's natural resources? The answer lies both in the memory of Potosi and 15 years of the kind of free market reforms which Sanchez de Lozada had pioneered in his first term of office in the 90s."
Mesa asks for time
On Saturday 18th October, Lozada's vice-president, Carlos Mesa, took over, promising early elections. This is the usual trick of the ruling class when faced with overthrow. When repression failed, they were compelled to resort to concessions and manoeuvres. Promises are made of the most extravagant kind. But promises are cheap. The problem, however, is how to lift the country out of its grinding poverty. To this question Mesa has no answer.
For the time being, the country is calm. This, however, does not reflect massive support for the new president, as some have tried to assert. The mood of the masses is generally watchful and suspicious. They hope that the new administration will do something, but past experience makes them suspicious. The present situation is only a temporary lull before the next storm. Being all things to all men, Mesa will end up being detested by everyone. For the present he is balancing uneasily between the classes, like a tightrope walker in a circus, trying hard not to fall off.
After being sworn in Mesa pleaded for time ("Give us some space, some time to work"). During the speech, Mesa reiterated several of the concessions that Lozada had offered in a last-ditch effort to remain in power. But legal experts immediately cautioned that the measures were either not constitutional, as in the case of a binding referendum on natural gas exports, or lacking proper guidelines, as in the case of a constituent assembly. There are a thousand and one similar arguments and tricks by which the ruling class can prevaricate, delay and sabotage in order to frustrate the people's will. But the masses are not generally impressed by legal chicanery and smart talk. They demand action, not words!
There are, of course, some illusions in the new President. These are strongest among the well-to-do middle classes and professional people in La Paz. Marcelo Callao, an export consultant for small businesses, said: "Mr Sanchez de Lozada never listened to anyone but a tiny group of aides and ministers. Mr Mesa appears to be a man of the people." According to Gonzalo Chavez, an economist in La Paz, Bolivians want an honest, open administration and more participation from civil society. "[Mr Mesa] will have to look for social governability, which implies a pact between workers, local action groups and business people so that government rises from the streets," he said.
Even some of the people who led the insurrection are willing to extend a certain amount of good will to the new President. On Saturday Mesa was apparently warmly received at a rally in El Alto, one of the epicentres of the revolutionary movement of the last few days, where troops and police shot and killed at least 30 people in the area a week ago in an episode which provided the final catalyst for Lozada's resignation. But among the poor, the hopes in Mesa are tempered with vigilance. There is a keen edge to them. They may be prepared to wait and see for a little, but they will not wait forever.
These illusions are being carefully encouraged by left opposition parties. Evo Morales, leader of the Movement Toward Socialism and runner-up in last year's election, hastened to give the new President a helping hand: "I think it is important to give him a grace period," Mr. Morales told a television network. "He has expressed the thoughts of the Bolivian people" in the inaugural address, Mr. Morales added, so "let's hope that he organizes his cabinet and representatives accordingly".
Morales is clearly in no hurry to push Mesa off his tightrope. But the coca growers whom nominally leads vowed to continue with blockades of roads, while the country's other powerful peasant leader, Felipe Quispe, indicated that he would offer no truce at all. As the leader of the peasants' federation which played a key role in the nationwide road blockades that helped bring down Sánchez de Lozada down, Quispe continued to demand that the government meet all 72 of his group's demands and added a new one: that Mesa not serve out the remainder of his original five-year term but call new elections as soon as possible.
Mesa agreed to that demand in his inaugural speech, but Quispe said: "In any case, we are going to continue with the blockades." And he added, "We are not going to be with the executive, we are always going to be opposition." This shows that there is a deep undercurrent of mistrust and anger among the masses that is reflected in the intransigence of their natural leaders. Carlos Toranzo of the Latin American Institute for Research was reported in The Financial Times as saying: "there is still a lot of rage in Bolivians, which could lead to even more deaths." The experience of the last month "has produced a lot of radicalism in some people, who want vengeance."
The economy and imperialism
For the time being, the Bolivian bourgeois has been compelled to retreat and abandon repression for manoeuvres and intrigues. Despite this cosmetic change, there is no real difference between Mesa and Lozada. It is like a tactical retreat in war. Since the first line of defence has been swept aside by the masses, Mesa is forced to retreat to a second line of defence, to address the masses, and to promise - above all to promise, anything and everything - the sun, the moon and the stars - with one condition: that the masses leave the streets and go home, that "normality" be restored, that "law and order" should reign. Once the movement has died down, the oligarchy can go onto the offensive and take back all the concessions.
This message, however, will not be easily accepted by the masses, who have been aroused to action and have had occasion to see the power that lies in the hands of the working class, once it is mobilised and united. The miners have seen the power of dynamite. But far more powerful than dynamite is the power of working class unity. Mesa therefore has no alternative but to ride the tiger. Unfortunately, as the old Indian proverb has it: a man on the back of a tiger finds it difficult to dismount. The workers and peasants will not be easily satisfied with fine words and promises. They have already heard quite enough of these! They will want concrete results.
Mesa will stand or fall on his record on the economy. Despite low inflation and several years of GDP growth, the country's export sector is stagnant and domestic demand weak. More than 60 per cent of its mainly indigenous population lives on $2 or less a day. With no access to international financial markets, the country relies on multilateral credits and donations from the US, Europe and Japan to finance a 9 per cent fiscal deficit, about half of which is accounted for by state sector pension arrears.
To make matters worse, tourism and trade have been adversely affected by the crisis. Mesa's solution is to go cap in hand to the imperialists. Government officials say the new government will immediately seek about $140m in fresh aid. But aid will only be given at a price and that will be to give the USA and others free access to Bolivia's rich mineral reserves. Without this, foreign investors are unlikely to rush back into the country. But the masses are fiercely opposed to private sector plans to export the country's abundant natural gas reserves to the US and Mexico. The new government is therefore immediately trapped between two mutually incompatible forces.
The new government will find itself crushed between two millstones. The masses will demand an immediate improvement in their living standards, while the IMF demands more liberalisation - that is, they demand that the new government carry out the same policies as the old one. This fact is not lost on the people of Bolivia, who are well aware of the real meaning of this "liberalisation":
"But like the poor of Honduras and Argentina, Peru and Ecuador, Bolivians have understood that it is they who pay the bill for privatisation, that the growth they were promised has stalled, that the country's exports are worth less than they were before Bolivia signed up for globalisation and that the gap between their miserable standard of living and that of the tiny elite has widened. They have understood that privatisation means higher prices for essential utilities, that however hard they work their children remain unschooled and that they live and die in poverty. They have learned, too, that when they protest, an elected government will shoot them, just as the dictatorships used to." (The Guardian, 21st October)
The problem of leadership
The Bolivian revolution appears to have a purely spontaneous character. But this is not quite true. Firstly, it did not fall like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky, but was rooted in the previous period. Secondly, it was led by the natural leaders of the working class, the class-conscious militants of the COB. Thirdly, these militants did not drop from the clouds, but were trained on the basis of ideas that have circulated in the Bolivian trade union and workers movement for decades - the ideas of Trotskyism.
In Russia before 1917, tens of thousands of worker activists had been educated for two decades in the spirit of Bolshevik propaganda. In Bolivia the ideas and programme of Trotskyism have been familiar to worker activists for even longer. The Pulacayo Theses of 1946, adopted by the miners' federation, are nothing more than Trotsky's Transitional Programme translated into the concrete conditions of Bolivia. The basically point out the need for the workers to take power in an alliance with the peasants and then proceed towards socialism. They must form the basis on which the movement can now advance to its natural goal: the goal of workers' power.
The most striking aspect of the movement in Bolivia is its purely proletarian character. The revolutionary experience of the Bolivian working class and particularly the miners, is probably greater than any other proletariat in Latin America - not only the 1952 revolution, but the revolutionary opportunities in 1971, the revolutionary upsurge of 1982-85, and more recently the victory of the Cochabamba uprising against water privatisation in April 2000, the nationwide peasant protests January this year and also the insurrectionary movement of February this year. They based themselves on past experience and traditions to launch the marvellous movement of the past week that swept away the Lozada regime as easily as a man swatting a fly.
The tradition of the Bolivian working class includes the creation of armed militias like in 1952 when nearly 100,000 men were organised in trade union led militias. Also in this occasion there was a call by the leaders of the COB to form self-defence committees and the miners arrived in La Paz with dynamite sticks.
The state apparatus was on the verge of collapsing with an openly rebellious mood amongst the police troops, which already mutinied during the February insurrection, and mane soldiers who refused to fire on the people and turned their caps backwards (a sign of mutiny). Now, the bodies of eight soldiers shot dead by their officers for refusing to fire have been found in the city of El Alto.
The magnificent Bolivian working class has placed itself at the head of the nation as the leader and spokesman of the peasantry, the Indians and all other exploited and oppressed layers of the population. This is a most important fact, and one that is fundamental for the outcome of the Bolivian revolution!
The capitalist media from around the world keep insisting that this was a movement of the Indians. And this is true to a certain extent, since the different Indian national groups amount to nearly 80% of the population and most of the countries peasantry and working class is made up of Indians. The oppression of the Indians for centuries at the hands of a local oligarchy mainly made up of whites linked up to Spain and the US. However class and national oppression are intimately linked and national oppression cannot be solved in a fundamental way outside of the struggle for socialism. The whole history of the revolutionary movement in Bolivia shows how the nation as a whole rallies around the banners of the working class and its organisations. When the capitalist media talks about a movement of the Indians it really wants to hide its profoundly proletarian character.
The COB leadership displayed great courage and determination in the general strike. But what is needed is a clear plan, strategy and policy. What is needed is a perspective for the taking of power. This is what seems to be lacking, and the lack of it can shipwreck the revolution. COB general secretary Solares has paid a visit to the new president. And apparently adopted the position of conditional support, that is, we will support him as long as he fights against corruption, creates more jobs and gives workers decent wages, etc. This is a bad mistake. The bourgeois government of Mesa will be just as corrupt as the Lozada government. It cannot provide jobs and decent wages, because it is hands are tied by the IMF and the World Bank. It is the government of the oligarchy and must represent its interests. To demand of such a government that it defends the interests of the workers and peasants is like asking pears from an elm tree.
It is said that the new President showed interest in the points raised by Solares and that the doors of the Presidential palace are open to the COB leaders. But this is a case of "come into my parlour said the spider to the fly." Today the President shows interest (how could he not be interested in the people who have just overthrown his predecessor?) but tomorrow he will show his teeth. The idea that it is all a question of "good will" is mistaken. What decides is not the good or bad will of individuals, but the interests of classes. And the interests of the Bolivian workers and peasants cannot be squared with those of the oligarchy and imperialism. The sooner this fact is understood the better.
The reason for Mesa's "reasonableness" is not hard to see. The bourgeoisie has just suffered a serious defeat. They cannot use force, and are compelled to stage a tactical retreat, to appear conciliatory, to make promises, in the hope of pacifying the masses, until such time as they are ready to launch a counter-offensive.
People learn fast in the course of a revolution. There is sometimes enough time to learn from one's mistakes and rectify them. In fact the trade union leaders have already made a self-criticism and drawn some correct conclusions:
"After having been the actors in a massive social explosion, which tragically resulted in nearly 70 deaths and more than 500 wounded, the country's workers, in the last National Enlarged Meeting of the Bolivian Workers' Union, drew one main conclusion: the workers, peasants, oppressed nations and impoverished middle classes, did not wrest power from the ‘ruling class' because they still ‘haven't got' a ‘revolutionary party'." (Econotociasbolivia.com, October 19, our emphasis).
That is the main point! The workers responded magnificently to the call to action. They succeeded in overthrowing the President, but then they allowed the power to slip through their fingers. How many times have we seen this happen? And what it boils down to in every case is a question of leadership. The problem is that, because events move very fast in a revolution, there is no time to learn by trial and error. That is why a revolutionary Marxist party is needed. If the POR had maintained a genuine Trotskyist position, it would now be in a position to play the role that was played by the Bolshevik Party in 1917. But the false policies of the POR over decades have condemned it to impotence. The forces for a new revolutionary party can only come from the ranks of the workers, peasants and youth that have been aroused to struggle and are seeking a way out on the revolutionary path.
Below the leaders of the COB are a numerous layer of what one can call the natural leaders of the working class. They are the local leaders who have won the confidence of the workers and peasants by their honesty, courage and militancy. They will play a crucial role in the revolution. They stand close to the masses and therefore reflect their revolutionary spirit. If they were united in a revolutionary party, the future of the revolution would be guaranteed.
Roberto de La Cruz, the leader of the El Alto Workers' Union, stands to the left of Solares. But the workers and peasants stand far to the left of any of the leaders. Instinctively, they understand that the new government is just like the old one but with a new façade. They do not trust the bourgeois. Maybe they do not yet know exactly what they want, but they know perfectly well what they do not want. They do not want a continuation of government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. They do not want their country to be bled white by imperialism. They do not want poverty and unemployment.
The leaders of the COB have now called off the general strike. Hostilities have been temporarily halted. Very well. But the army of the proletariat must not be stood down. The war is not over. It has only just begun! In order to guarantee that the most pressing demands of the people will be met, it is necessary to prepare for another general strike - one that will place on the order of the day, not the overthrow of a President, but the overthrow of the corrupt and reactionary Bolivian oligarchy that is blocking the way to progress.
Above all, there must be no trust in the so-called "progressive" and "liberal" sections of the Bolivian bourgeoisie. These will now undoubtedly hold the centre stage, trying to fool the people with false promises. They are just the left boot of the oligarchy and imperialism, as Lozada was the right boot.
The workers and peasants are sceptical of the bourgeois. They are quite right! The La Paz peasants decided to maintain their protests. That is the correct tactic! If the battle has not yet been won, why should the army be demobilised?
After the dramatic events of the past week, there will probably be a lull in the movement as the workers analyse the situation and assess what is to be done next. The most conscious and militant elements will be drawing revolutionary conclusions. Others will need a little time and experience to draw the same conclusions. But in the end the workers will be compelled to return to the road of struggle because they have no alternative. The importance of good leadership in the next round will be even greater than before. Therefore, the creation of a revolutionary party and a leadership is the most urgent matter.
The Russian revolution
The situation in Bolivia today is strongly reminiscent of that in Russia in February 1917. The workers and peasants overthrew the old regime and set up soviets (workers and soldiers councils). In effect, power was in the hands of the Russian working class in February. They had the power, but they did not know they had the power.
Later, in the April Conference, Lenin fulminated against those Bolsheviks who argued that the working class could not have taken power because of objective conditions: "Why did they not take power? Comrade Steklov says for this reason or for that. The truth is that the workers did not take power because they were not conscious and organised enough!"
The workers of Bolivia could and should have taken power last Friday. That they did not do so when the possibility existed will create new complications and problems in the future. The bourgeoisie will have time to rally its shattered forces and erect new obstacles in the path of the workers and peasants.
In Russia the failure of the workers to press home their victory and take power into their hands in February led directly to the abortion of dual power. The bourgeois regrouped around the "democratic" Provisional Government, while the workers and peasants regrouped around the soviets. There was a period in which the two sides struggled to get the upper hand, until finally, under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, the soviets overthrew the Provisional Government and took power in October (November according to the new calendar).
The decisive factor here was the leadership of the Bolshevik Party under Lenin and Trotsky. This is what is lacking in Bolivia. The leaders of the COB have played a very positive role. They have shown great personal integrity and courage in leading the struggle against Lozada. But now something more than integrity and courage is required: what is needed is a clear perspective for taking power and a programme and tactics adequate to this perspective. On this basis, the victory of the revolution would be assured.
The revolution has enormous reserves in the population, both in the towns and the villages. The Bolivian proletariat has a tremendous revolutionary tradition, and has shown by its actions that it has not forgotten them. Moreover, the cadres of the movement have assimilated some of the most important elements of Marxism and Leninism - that is to say, Trotskyism - as contained in the Pulacayo Theses. The idea of workers' power is not strange to them. We must build on this basis! The central question must be posed clearly and without ambiguity: In order to begin to solve the problems of society, power must pass to the working class, to the COB, the juntas vecinales and other organs of workers' power.
The most pressing need is to establish the juntas everywhere, elected and responsible to the workers and peasants, to link them up on a local, regional and national basis, to sink roots in every factory, mine, office, village, and local neighbourhood. The COB should convene a national congress of the juntas to discuss the way forward. The workers' and peasants' juntas should take over the running of their areas, control the distribution of food, fuel and other basic necessities. They should control prices and take over the security of the areas, creating a militia for this purpose, and arming against the danger of reaction and the threat posed by criminal elements. The bourgeois want order. We should give them order: the revolutionary order of the working class and the soviets!
The "Opposition" of Morales
The workers and peasants have shown tremendous élan and initiative. What more could one ask of them? Yet the leaders of the parliamentary opposition do not reflect the courage of the masses. Evo Morales is waiting for the power to drop into his lap, like an overripe fruit.
The Guardian is already speculating on the likely alternative to Mesa: "Just one percentage point behind Sanchez de Losada in the elections 15 months ago was Evo Morales, the head of the national coca growers' union. Given the country's mood, he would probably win if an election were held tomorrow, an outcome that would precipitate an ugly confrontation with the US."
That is precisely why Morales is not in any hurry to come to power. He knows that, once he takes office, he will be under the pressure of the masses to take decisive measures on their behalf. That is why he prefers the relative comfort of the opposition benches. That is why he is constantly asking the people to give Mesa time. That is also why he has embraced the slogan of the Constituent Assembly, which some simple-minded people have put forward in the mistaken belief that it represents a "revolutionary" demand. In fact, it is not revolutionary at all, but merely an attempt to delay and prevaricate, to avoid raising the question of power.
There is clearly a division of labour also among the bourgeois politicians. Lozada goes into exile in Miami, while Mesa forms a "technocratic" government without the participation of political parties. But this is too weak to be able to discipline the masses and hold them in check. An alternative is needed.
Everybody realises that the new government will not last, so Morales is being prepared to take over when his turn comes. In order to reassure the oligarchy and imperialism that they have nothing to fear, he rushes to appeal to the masses to get off the streets, to abandon their actions and leave things to "the people who know".
The Constituent Assembly slogan
The old state power, undermined, shaken and bruised, still remains in control. The revolution can only succeed by overthrowing it and replacing it with a new, proletarian power. The fall of Lozada will be followed in the not-to-distant future by the fall of Mesa. Already the bourgeoisie will be looking for an alternative candidate, who will have to come, not from the right but the left. In its dealings with the masses, the ruling class only has two weapons: violence or deceit. But violence has already shown itself to be inadequate to deal with a movement of such dimensions. The use of the army, far from intimidating the people, had the opposite effect - provoking the masses to move with even greater determination and energy.
The stage is therefore set for deception. But in order to deceive the people, to get them to leave the streets, mines and factories and leave the initiative in the hands of the professional politicians, it is necessary to offer them something they can believe in. The old, discredited bourgeois politicians are useless for this purpose. New faces must be put forward, and a new script written. In order to ensure that the masses do not lay their hands on the real power, they must be offered the semblance of power - a shadow instead of the substance.
Conscious of their weakness, the bourgeoisie will try to lean on the leaders of the working class in order to regain control of the situation and pacify the working class. Mesa - clearly not the stupidest of the bourgeois leaders, has addressed meetings of peasants together with leaders of the peasant unions and the COB. This fact is, in itself, a tacit recognition of the real class balance of forces. The workers should draw the conclusion and take power into their own hands. Given the present position, there is every possibility that the transfer of power could be achieved peacefully, or with a minimum of violence. But vacillations will give time for the reaction to regroup and reorganise, making future bloodshed inevitable.
In this context, the slogan of the "Constituent Assembly" that has been advanced by some groups on the left is playing a negative and counterrevolutionary role. The bourgeoisie - in the person of its "liberal" and "democratic" wing - will try to deceive the people by an empty discussion of constitutional niceties, while the real issues of work, land and bread are postponed indefinitely.
Instead of concentrating on the central question of power, the workers' and peasants' attention will be distracted by lawyers' tricks and demagogy. The energies of the revolution will be fruitlessly dissipated. No wonder the bourgeois parties have enthusiastically embraced this demand! The whole thing is a gigantic swindle. Worse still, it is dangerous. Behind the façade of the "Constituent Assembly", the forces of reaction will be mobilising. Behind the scenes, the American imperialists will be carrying on their usual intrigues.
It is necessary to educate the masses to believe only in themselves, their power and self-organisation. It must be explained that under capitalism parliament is only a hollow shell with no real power. The only power that exist is, on the one side, the power of the bankers, landowners and capitalists - the old reactionary power that must be overthrown - and on the other, the power of the working masses.
The struggle for power will ultimately be settled outside parliament. The antagonisms in Bolivian society are too deep, the contradictions too sharp, to be settled by parliamentary arithmetic. If we lose the initiative, if we allow our strength to falter, if we demobilise, the forces of reaction will gather behind the façade of "parliamentary democracy" and wait for a suitable moment to strike and crush the workers and peasants.
The worst thing one can do in a revolution is to waste time. Throughout history many revolutions have been ruined by endless debates and speeches and the pursuit of phantoms and shadows instead of the substance of power. Marx pointed this out as early as 1848-9, and Lenin often repeated this warning in 1917.
We will not repeat here the arguments we have already explained against the Constituent Assembly slogan in relation to Argentina. Suffice it to say that this slogan has been dragged by the hair out of the history of Russian Bolshevism without the slightest understanding of its real content. The Constituent Assembly slogan is not a socialist but a bourgeois-democratic slogan that is useful in the case of the struggle against an autocratic or dictatorial regime (like Russian Tsarism). But Bolivia (like Argentina) has a bourgeois parliamentary regime, of which the masses have had plenty of experience. The slogan therefore has no relevance to the present situation in Bolivia.
Those who advocate the Constituent Assembly in the present situation in Bolivia have abandoned the standpoint of the proletariat and adopted that of vulgar petty bourgeois democrats and parliamentary cretinism.
Parliamentary cretinism is a fatal disease of the revolution - playing at parliamentarism and constitutions - and this is just what the supporters of the Constituent Assembly slogan are inviting the Bolivian workers to do. This is not a serious revolutionary policy but a shameful diversion and a frivolous attempt to avoid the central question, which is not to fight for a new form of bourgeois democracy, but to fight for workers power!
The first condition is: absolute independence of the workers' organisations from the bourgeoisie: no pacts, alliances, coalitions or any other entanglements with the so-called progressive wing of the Bolivian bourgeois.
The elements of workers' power already exist in Bolivia: in the trade unions, the juntas vecinales, cabildos, and other organs of struggle. It is necessary to develop and extend these and link them up. Only in this way can an alternative power be created, ready to lead the nation.
Internationalism - the only road
There are reports claiming that local leaders are forming armed factions to challenge the government and its armed forces, formulating the grievances of the poor into a "powerfully nationalist, anti-foreign message" (The Guardian). The nationalism of the Bolivian worker and peasant is really an anti-imperialist sentiment that is only the outer shell of an immature Bolshevism. However, the aspiration of the masses to eliminate foreign domination and win control over their own destiny can only be achieved by the expropriation of the oligarchy. That, however, will immediately bring Bolivia into conflict with US imperialism, which will attempt to use neighbouring states to intervene. The fate of the Bolivian revolution will therefore be determined by its ability to rouse the workers and peasants of Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador and Chile in its support.
The revolution can, and very likely will, begin in Bolivia, but if it remains isolated in one small Latin American country, it cannot succeed in the long run. The victory of the Bolivian revolution must therefore be the first step in the Andean and Latin American revolution, the conditions for which are now completely mature. The Bolivian revolution will triumph under the banner of proletarian internationalism, or it will not triumph at all.
The Economist is compelled to admit:
"The continued strife across the Andean region hardly makes it easy for its leaders to get across the message that a few sacrifices now will pay off in future." And it warns: "But things could quite easily get worse, especially if escalating violence led to a democratic rupture in Bolivia or Venezuela. As Mr Sánchez de Lozada warned in his resignation letter, ‘The dangers hanging over the country remain intact'."
The main "danger" that Lozada and the class he represents has in mind is the danger from the working class. The programme of the bourgeoisie is everywhere the same: a programme of savage cuts and attacks on living standards. But given the appalling levels of poverty and hunger in Bolivia and the other Andean countries, the masses cannot and will not accept this without a struggle. That is the meaning of the recent events in Bolivia. The Bolivian revolution is, together with Venezuela, the key to the Andean revolution, in the sense that very favourable conditions now exist for the coming to power of the working class. However, given the explosive conditions in Peru and other countries, the revolution can break out in any one of them in the immediate future.
The Bolivian revolution can take place before other countries. But it can only be consolidated if it goes beyond the narrow limits of the nation state and spreads to the neighbouring countries. Such a perspective is not at all utopian. It is entirely possible, especially if the revolution is headed by a far-sighted and courageous leadership.
The conditions are ripe in neighbouring countries. The contradictions of Chavez's movement in Venezuela are opening the way for the workers to question private property and demand workers' management of the nationalised oil company. In Peru there have been a series of mass movements against the Toledo government which have acquired, at times, an insurrectionary character. And Ecuador's President Lucio Gutiérrez is facing strikes and protests, having lost the backing of the Andean Indian groups that helped bring him to power. A state of emergency was declared last week, as banana growers (Ecuador is the world's largest exporter of the fruit) blocked roads and ports, demanding higher prices and more state aid. The strike was suspended on Saturday after the government agreed to some of their demands. General strikes and massive movements of workers and peasants against privatisation and cuts have taken place in one country after another: Argentina, Colombia, Honduras, Paraguay, Chile, Panama, Uruguay, etc.
The terrible poverty of the masses is the mainspring of a revolutionary ferment that is gripping the entire region. It is the most fundamental reason for the present wave of social and political strife. This cannot be eliminated while the economies of these countries remains in the hands of parasitic oligarchies subordinated to the tender mercies of US imperialism.
All five members of the Andean Community trade block are now in a deep crisis. The Venezuelan economy is experiencing the direst economic crisis, and is spiralling into deep poverty, despite its large reserves of oil (although a large part of the fall of the economy must be blamed on the bosses lockout of December-January and the conscious sabotage of the economy on the part of the ruling class. Income per head is set to fall by 0.3% in already impoverished Bolivia and Ecuador, while Colombia is set to enjoy modest growth of 0.8% after two years of decline. Peru is expected to be one of the region's few bright spots, with income per head growing by 2%.
The former president wanted to boost economic growth by exporting Bolivian gas through a new pipeline, to be built by British and Spanish firms, to a northern Chilean port, most likely Patillos. But the people of Bolivia realised that most of the economic benefits would go to foreigners. This was in fact only the catalyst for the uprising, which were fuelled by a number of other grievances - not least his failure to fulfil his election promise to create large numbers of new jobs.
The Chilean bourgeois seized Bolivia's northern coastline in a 19th-century war. This is typical of the mess that has been created throughout Latin America by the Balkanisation that followed the winning of independence from Spanish rule in the 19th century.
Every government in the region, except Venezuela, has been trying to press ahead with austerity measures and attacks on the living standards of the masses. The argument of the bourgeois is that these measures will bring growth and jobs "in the long term", but as Keynes said, in the long term we are all dead. These American-inspired neo-liberal measures only to add to the hardship that the region's people are suffering, without solving anything fundamental. This is the focal point for mass protest movements.
In Ecuador, workers have staged strikes against Mr Gutiérrez's plans to let private (meaning foreign) firms break the state oil firm's monopoly. In Colombia the austerity plans are provoking a backlash. President Álvaro Uribe is seeking popular support in a referendum (set for October 25) on a "reform package" that includes cutting state pensions and freezing public servants' pay.
Everywhere one looks one sees that revolution is on the order of the day. The whole Andean region is like a prairie after a long drought, where a single spark can cause a conflagration. All that is required is one courageous example. If the workers of Bolivia or Venezuela would take power, the whole situation would swiftly be transformed. But it is necessary to make a start!
Long live the Bolivian revolution!
No trust in the bourgeoisie and its parties!
For a Workers' and Peasants' Government!
For a Socialist Bolivia in a Socialist United States of Latin America!