Bolivia: Mesa's government shows its real face

"This government is not at all different from the government of Sanchez de Lozada. Carlos Mesa has not listened to the message of the El Alto Indian rebellion against the sale of gas" These are the words of one of the leaders of the Bolivian October insurrection, Roberto de la Cruz.  They sum up very clearly the real meaning of the bourgeois government of Carlos Mesa and the conclusions sections of the masses and most of the revolutionary vanguard are already drawing.

Only a workers' and peasants' government 
with a genuine socialist programme can serve the people

"This government is not at all different from the government of Sanchez de Lozada. Carlos Mesa has not listened to the message of the El Alto Indian rebellion against the sale of gas" … "the people from El Alto, all we achieved was to expel one gringo (Sanchez de Lozada) who was soaked in peoples' blood … Now we are sorry (to have made a truce) because it would have been better to continue with that measure (the peoples' uprising) until the abrogation of the Oil Law, the Public Security Law, the Supreme Decree 21060 and an end to the business of the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement"

"… People are angry again against the government. We have made a mistake, the current ministers and those who surround the government still want to export gas through Chile … I am having meetings with different sectors, amongst them the universities, in order to prepare a future rebellion, but now not only against Carlos Mesa, but also against the (neoliberal and right wing) Jaime Paz (the leader of the Left Revolutionary Movement, MIR), Manfredo Reyes (leader of the New Republican Force, NFR), Johnny Fernandez (the head of the Civic Union Solidarity, UCS) and against Democratic Nationalist Action (AND, the party of former dictator Hugo Banzer).

"… so far there has been no justice for those who died and were wounded during the October massacre. There are people wounded who have no money to buy drugs so they have to resort to home made remedies to cure their wounds… The wounded are still crying, abandoned. That is why patience has run out and their relatives have started a hunger strike" (Econoticiasbolivia.com, November 12, 2003).

These are the words of one of the leaders of the Bolivian October insurrection, Roberto de la Cruz, secretary of the Regional Workers' Union in El Alto, the centre of the revolutionary movement of the Bolivian workers. They sum up very clearly the real meaning of the bourgeois government of Carlos Mesa and the conclusions sections of the masses and most of the revolutionary vanguard are already drawing.

Mesa breaks all his promises

On October 24 in the article "Bolivia: the key to the Andean revolution", our comrades Jorge Martin and Alan Woods stated:

"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."

The problem, as we explained in that article and the others we have written on the Bolivian situation is that – due to the extreme crisis and weakness of Bolivian capitalism and the crisis of capitalism internationally – the ruling class can offer no concrete concessions to the masses. They can only offer more attacks, misery and exploitation.

In Econotociasbolivia.com we can read: The minister [of economy] stated that he would try to reduce public spending through a policy of austerity, and therefore there would be no resources available for the social demands raised by the labour and social organisations which have been mobilising since September and managed to overthrow former president Sanchez de Lozada. "We should not create expectations amongst the population regarding the new budget and the regional budget", said Cuevas.

"The demands of the IMF on the authorities and the Bolivian economy are so harsh that even one of the most important US economists, with close links to Bolivia, Jeffrey Sachs, warned about new and grave dangers if this tendency continued". This quite clearly reflects the difficult situation the Bolivian ruling class finds itself in.

"Mesa promised to try a more equal distribution of the income from gas exports between the multinationals and the Bolivian state (currently, thanks the Oil Law drafted by imperialism, the sharing of profits is scandalous: 18% for the state and 82% for the multinationals). But his own Oil Affairs Minister, Alvaro Rios, has already made it clear that there are very defined parameters and that in any case, any modification of the Oil Law (which the people wanted to scrap altogether) would have to be couched in terms which would not frighten off potential investors. (Econoticiasbolivia.com, 20 October 2003).

The Bolivian ruling class has nothing to offer. The government has also backtracked on the promise of a referendum to decide on the project to export gas (one of the main concessions that the ruling class offered in order to calm the mass movement and get a truce from the peoples' leaders). There is no fixed date and Rios has already stated that the question posed in the referendum will be about the conditions of the project rather than the existence of the project itself.

In all other aspects, the ruling class' room for manoeuvre is severely restricted. Regarding the eradication of coca leaf plantations, the pressure of US imperialism has already forced the government to shelve all its promises. "The struggle against narco is a State policy which will continue with the current administration. The national commitment to eradicate illegal coca and to struggle against illegal drug trafficking continues". "Though we must have a reasonable negotiation with those who produce coca, our perspective is to continue with the same policies that the country has implemented in the last few years" (quoted in Econoticiasbolivia.com, November 4, 2003).

The same attitude is to be found regarding all other aspects of government policies: no tax increases for the rich, as this could scare them away or prevent investment; cuts in public spending; the application of all IMF proposals, amongst which is the maintenance of the project to export gas as originally planned.

The new government is even planning a free trade agreement with Chile which has enraged the peasants. According to several peasant leaders, this agreement would deal a harsh blow to agriculture in the west of the country and would only benefit the big agro-exporting businesses.

First mobilisations

The first mobilisations against this situation have already taken place: "In the town of Sorata, in the high plateau, four medium sized haciendas [landed properties] were occupied in the last few hours by peasants loyal to "Mallku" Felipe Quispe, the leader of the United Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB), while in the south of La Paz, other groups of communal peasants occupied a large extension of land in Mallasilla. In the Cochabamba valley, in Sacaba, the farmers took the hacienda of the former Defence Minister, Carlos Sanchez Berzain - Sanchez de Lozada's right hand man - by force"

"The leader of the La Paz peasants, Rufo Calle, said that they would continue land occupations in several regions in the department. ‘The authorities are not fulfilling their commitments and the people do not want to wait any longer', he said and demanded that each peasant family be given at least 10 to 20 hectares of land." (Econoticiasbolivia.com, November 11, 2003). The government met the peasant demands with repression and 7 peasants were wounded by gunshots and, according to the peasants, a baby could die as a result of inhaling gas used by the police.

Jaime Solares, secretary of the Bolivian Workers' Union (COB), another of the main leaders of the insurrection has also criticised Mesa, but for now the COB has not decided to renew the struggle against the government. We think that this should be the first step. It is already quite clear that workers and peasants cannot expect anything from Mesa. Now they should go back to the united struggle of workers and peasants for a workers' government with a socialist programme which is the only way to really solve the problems of the people.

The beginning of the struggle against Mesa is very significant, and so are the statements of Roberto de La Cruz that we quoted at the beginning of this article. They show that the revolutionary movement is vigilant and that the decisive battles in Bolivia are still to come.

Learn from past mistakes

But the most left wing leaders must learn the mistakes of the past. As Roberto de la Cruz said, the truce was a mistake and to raise expectations in Mesa – when he also belongs to the ruling class and was also responsible for the all the policies of Goni – was also a mistake.

As a result of this mistake the initiative was lost and confusion was sown. Sections of the workers and peasants – and some of their leaders - are already drawing the conclusion that they must go back to the struggle, but it is possible that some other sections still have illusions and might give the government a certain respite. This, together with Mesa's promises, and above all the fact that the leaders of some organisations are still spreading illusions in his government, might maintain this confusion for a certain period of time.

Statements like those of Evo Morales, saying that Mesa's speech and his promise of a referendum and a Constituent Assembly were 80% of the programme of the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism), only help the ruling class. Morales even said that: "by changing the rules, some [Mesa] from the Palace, and others [the MAS] from the congress, little by little the economic model must be replaced by one oriented towards the goal that our industries and natural resources must belong to the Bolivian people" (MAS press statement, October 21, 2003).

With this kind of statement, instead of preparing the masses for the next inevitable step in the struggle, he is ideologically disarming them. In this way he furthers the plans of the ruling class of fooling the masses and trying to divide the most active layers from those who are less experienced and have more illusions that the replacement of Sanchez de Lozada by another president might bring a solution to their problems.

The duty of a genuine revolutionary leadership in these moments is to prepare the masses for the decisive battle, the struggle for workers' and peasants' power, explaining what is already clear, that Mesa will not solve any of their problems since he belongs to the ruling class and has no intention of clashing with it.

The ruling class is already using some of the more right wing leaders of the movement in order to fool the masses. "The land occupations were rejected by the main leader of the Landless Peasants Movement (MST), Angel Duran, who refused to take responsibility for these actions which, he said, were driven by "political interests". Three weeks earlier Duran had agreed a truce with the government of Carlos Mesa in relation to land occupations, to wait for a solution in the conflict in Sacaba, in the hacienda of former president Sanchez de Lozada, and to wait for a solution to all the other demands made by community peasants asking for land. Once the deadline had gone and given the lack of solutions, the land occupations restarted, with the support of the Peasants Confederation, but not that of the main leader of the Landless Peasants Movement, who is increasingly being challenged because of his conciliatory attitude towards president Mesa". (Econoticiasbolivia.com, November 11, 2003)

In the political organisation headed by Mallku Felipe Quispe, the Pachakuti Indian Movement (MIP), there are also divisions. Juan Gabriel Bautista MP has disassociated himself from the confrontational statements of Quispe against the government and his call for a struggle against Mesa. "It is not the time to threaten or to give deadlines to president Carlos Mesa. The country needs breathing space … Allow him to work, I would say that all parlamentarians, all leaders are under the obligation to give him a hand". (Econoticiasbolivia.com, October 24, 2003)

This phenomenon is common to all revolutions. When the ruling class feels it is not yet strong enough to smash the mass movement and that this can go even further, they increase the pressure on the popular leaders, basing themselves on those who still have a certain authority amongst the masses in an attempt to stop and divert their movement away from the struggle for power. They are, in fact, bidding for time so that when the movement has lost strength then they can go onto the offensive again.

The slogan of the constituent assembly

For this reason, as we have explained in other articles, the slogan of a Constituent Assembly, which is nothing more than a new bourgeois parliament, which has been proposed by most of the leaders of the left in Bolivia, is, under the current circumstances in Bolivia, deeply mistaken and poses a serious danger for the revolution. This was also the case in Argentina.

In certain conditions, revolutionary socialists can and should defend this bourgeois democratic demand. This is mainly the case when the masses are not yet posing the question of taking power directly and identify an improvement in their own living conditions with the democratic right to elect their representatives to a Parliament, debate a new constitution, etc.

Under such conditions, revolutionary Marxists have used this demand precisely in order to undermine these illusions, while stressing the need to create bodies of workers' and people's power in order to increase the confidence of the masses in their own strength and to raise their level of consciousness. This was the case in the Russian revolution. The demand of the Constituent Assembly was part of the programme of all revolutionary tendencies, because after decades of Czarist autocracy it was identified by the masses with their full liberation. The Bolsheviks inscribed this demand in their programme. But from February, when the masses through struggle created their own organs of power, the soviets, until October, they rallied the masses and led them to victory explaining that the only way to achieve their main demands of "land, bread and peace" was to fight for all power to the soviets.

As revolutionary struggle advances workers and peasants gain an experience of their own bodies of self-rule, first to organise the struggle, later to exercise power. Illusions in bourgeois-democratic institutions progressively dissipate and the demand for a constituent assembly takes a secondary place in their aspirations. The demand that allowed Lenin and Trotsky to win the leadership of the masses, accelerate the process of raising their consciousness, and led them to victory, was "all power to the soviets"

The ruling class starts to use the slogan of a Constituent Assembly

In Bolivia today, or in Argentina after the "argentinazo", we are not in a situation where the country is coming out of a dictatorship and the struggle is "for democracy", we are not faced with a movement in which democratic illusions are predominant. On the contrary, the Parliament, the judiciary, the army, etc are all extremely discredited and questioned. As the National Enlarged meeting of the COB, on October 18 recognised, in Bolivia they could have taken power, the only thing that was missing was a "revolutionary party".

The working class masses created embryos of workers' power (and in some instances even more than embryos), and there were calls to create workers' self-defence committees to face bourgeois repression. The leadership of the movement is in the hands of left wing organisations, which in many cases even claim to be socialists.

The ones who are promoting illusions in bourgeois-democratic institutions, in a situation in which the masses are sick and tired of the bourgeois parliament and government, are precisely these revolutionary leaders who raise the constituent assembly as the solution to the problems of the masses.

However, the only solution is to generalise these bodies of power (popular assemblies, cabildos abiertos [mass peoples' meetings], neighbourhood juntas…) that the masses have already started to develop, and unify them in one revolutionary national peoples' assembly of representatives elected and with the right of recall. Such a peoples' assembly should elect a workers' and peasants' government, vote on a socialist programme to transform society and solve the problems created by the capitalist crisis and the rule of the capitalists.

This is the only kind of assembly that can form the basis for the solution of the countries' problems. Many workers and peasant militants, when they talk about a "constituent assembly", probably mean

this kind of assembly, that is a body of worker and peasant power. However, when the leaders, particularly the leaders of the MAS, talk of a constituent assembly, they are very much aware that this would be a new bourgeois parliament in which they might have the majority, but which would stay within the limits of capitalism.

It is not by chance that Mesa, bidding for time, promised a referendum on the export of gas and even the calling of a Constituent Assembly in order to found a "new Bolivia". It is not by chance that sections of the ruling class in Bolivia and internationally have enthusiastically adopted this slogan. "In order to safeguard investments we need social peace. Obviously we think that through dialogue, the referendum and the constituent [assembly], will help – the government – to have a discourse about the necessary direction of development for Bolivia", said the IMF representative in Bolivia, John Newman. (bolpress.com, 22 October, 2003). The mayor of La Paz was also enthusiastic about the idea of a constituent assembly.

Right now, the constituent assembly or the calling of early elections might be the way to win some breathing space, divert the attention of the masses from the struggle to solve their problems through direct action, into parliamentary debates about a new constitution, the refoundation of the Republic and so on. The ruling class, in any case, would still try to postpone any elections for as long as possible.

This is the surest way for the masses to lose confidence in their own strength, for the bodies of workers' and people's power created during the struggle to progressively disappear. Furthermore, the ruling class will not hesitate to lean on the more moderate leaders of the people's movement in the constituent assembly to divert the masses' attention away from the struggle for power.

Therefore, the slogan of a Constituent Assembly plays into the hands of the ruling class in its attempts to recover legitimacy for bourgeois legality. To this slogan we must oppose, not a "revolutionary" constituent assembly, but rather a people's revolutionary assembly, a demand that already has a strong tradition in Bolivia since the revolutionary process of 1970/71.

The echo that the demand of a constituent assembly might find amongst the masses is based, precisely, on the desire of workers and peasants to take their future into their own hands. However, we must explain that with a constituent assembly that would necessarily remain within the limits of the capitalist system, that aim cannot be achieved. These aspirations can only be realised through a national people's assembly composed of representatives directly elected by workers, peasants, local students, etc, with a clear mandate and subject to recall at any time. Such a structure should base itself on the cabildos abiertos [mass meetings], the rank and file trade union organisations, the peasant community organisations, the neighbourhood juntas and other organisations of struggle.

For a workers' and peasants' government with a socialist programme

The realisation that the policies of Mesa are the same as those of Sanchez de Lozada and the pressure from the rank and file has forced several leaders who previously offered the new government a truce, and even some of those who supported it more or less openly, to change their position. Evo Morales has been forced to pass from his position of support for the government to one of semi-opposition, or at least of more open criticism.

The MAS leader has declared himself "disappointed" with the first measures adopted by Mesa. But a revolutionary leadership must be able to anticipate events, to prepare and orientate the movement and not to have illusions or be disappointed by every manoeuvre and trick of the ruling class.

The problem is that Morales has no confidence in the strength of workers and peasants to take power and has no alternative to the capitalist system. Precisely the fear of taking power and the consequent pressure of the masses to carry out the necessary transformation of the country is what led him to give enthusiastic support to Mesa, a bourgeois politician, becoming the new president. But the crisis of the capitalist system in Bolivia, and the strength of the movement mean that if the ruling class is not able to decisively smash the revolutionary movement – and they seem unable to do so for the time being – then it is quite possible that at a certain stage a leader like Evo Morales might form a government.

If Morales continues with his policy of remaining within the framework of capitalism, then the ruling class will use him, squeeze him like a lemon, let him disappoint the masses by being unable to solve their problems – something which cannot be done within capitalism – and after that they would go on the offensive to smash the people's movement.

Other more left wing leaders like Solares (secretary of the COB), Quispe (secretary of the peasant union CSUTCB) and even further to the left de La Cruz (leader of the COR of El Alto), have criticised many of the positions taken by Morales, but the key is to prepare for power.

In an interesting series of interviews published on November 11 in La Razon newspaper, Solares and Quispe openly stated that their aim is to abolish capitalism and the taking of power by a government of workers and peasants. Solares stated: "we hope that soon we will have a worker-peasant government under a socialist regime … First we must make sure that the workers' trade unions are ready for revolution, and this means discussing Marxist and socialist ideology. We should not forget that the trade unions are schools of solidarity and they must be the nucleus upon which sooner or later a workers' and peasants' government with a socialist policy will be based."

Quispe declared that: "The political class has power and has already shown it cannot run the country since it allows conflicts to develop and uses weapons to smash them. This is why it is now time for the majority of the population, Indians and aboriginals, to take power and rule together with the working class who was always badly treated, humiliated and is now demanding the chance to initiate change based on equality, peace and honesty … We do not just want to criticise, we want a chance, and we do not agree with living under a capitalist system anymore… The current system must be replaced by a community based economic model where there will be neither poor nor rich and all will have the possibility to work in equal conditions… if the situation does not change, we will organise an agrarian revolution so that the land and the resources under the land will belong to the peasants, and if there is any wealth this will benefit the Indians". (La Razón, November 11)

This kind of statements reflect, albeit in a distorted way, on the one hand the enormous pressure of the worker and peasant masses who have always been ahead of their leaders throughout the process, and on the other hand the deeply rooted traditions of the Bolivian proletariat. These are traditions of struggle and of class independence. These were clearly expressed in the Pulacayo Theses, adopted by the Bolivian Mine Workers Trade Union Federation in 1946, which clearly explain that the problems of national liberation and the agrarian reform can only be solved with the taking of power by the workers, in an alliance with all the other oppressed sections in society, and this would be part of the movement towards socialism.

However, it is not enough to talk about the taking of power and of a workers' and peasants' government. As these leaders have themselves admitted on more than one occasion, they have not been up to the tasks required by the movement. They have already wasted several opportunities to take power when everything was in their favour. This is because they were lacking a clear understanding of the strategy and the central demands that should have been advanced.

The Bolivian revolutionary cadres and activists have shown exemplary heroism and capacity to struggle and make sacrifices. Many have already drawn the conclusion that they must unite their forces in a single organisation or revolutionary front to fight for a common programme and tactics.

But as important as unity is, whether the tactics and the programme are the correct ones which can lead the movement to victory is decisive. In our opinion the first point should be a refusal to make any agreement with, or raise any illusions in, any section of the ruling class. "To patiently explain" to the masses, but above all to its less experienced sections, that there is no solution to their problems under capitalism and uncover the manoeuvres of the ruling class (constituent assembly, etc.). This can be done through the united and generalised mobilisation of the masses against the policies of the current government and by defending the nationwide strengthening, spreading and unification of the bodies of dual power that have already been set up in the course of the struggle in the last few months.

A very important aspect of this task is the creation of workers' and peasants' self-defence militias, something that was only raised in a very tentative way during the October uprising. These should be combined with systematic work amongst the ranks of the police and the army in order to break the armed forces of the bourgeois state. This is perfectly possible as was made clear by the experiences of February and October. But for this process to be taken to the necessary conclusion, that is the effective neutralisation of the armed power of the ruling class, there must be a clear and bold leadership organising this kind of work.

A government of workers and peasants with this programme and under the control of the bodies of workers' and people's power would enthuse the working people, not only in Bolivia, but throughout the continent. Social revolution cannot be victorious if it remains isolated in one country. If the Bolivian revolution succeeds (and right now our Bolivian brothers are closer to that aim than anyone else) this must immediately spread to the rest of Latin America by means of an appeal to Venezuelan, Argentinean, Peruvian, Brazilian, Colombian workers to follow in its steps. A Socialist Bolivia as part of a Socialist Federation of Latin American states would mark the beginning of a new epoch in the history of humanity.