After 12 days the General Strike in Bolivia is still going on. However, this is not hitting the headlines of the so-called "independent" media-apparently the fact that the Bolivian masses have been demonstrating for 12 days, with mass rallies and road blockades all over the country, is not at all important.
Despite the uneven following of the strike the country is close to a standstill thanks to the road blockades organised by the peasant organisations. All the roads to the capital, La Paz, are under the control of the strikers. One of the most militant sections of the working class, the miners, have taken a leading role, keeping the level of militancy very high.
"The road that connects the Capital with the provinces of Cochabamba, Potosi and Oruro was cut off at the outskirts of the city by thousands of university students, peasants and neighbours that faced the police and the army with stones and dynamite" (Econoticiasbolivia.com, 8 October). The fact that the city is not completely paralysed after more than 10 days of General Strike demonstrates one of its weaknesses caused by the lack of national coordination.
Rather than local committees organise their own "actions" the trade union leadership should have planned the strike carefully trying to involve all sectors of the class and all layers of society. Instead the leaders of the COB have left the movement to their own devices, undermining the support and the decisive leadership that would have encouraged those workers that fear loosing their jobs because of their involvement in the strike.
On Friday 3 , the strike leaders and some activists met at the city of El Alto to discuss the way forward for the strike. "In the wide walls of the university rectory, next to the colourful "aguayos" (indigenous fabrics) and wiphalas (indigenous flags), one can observe murals with the faces of Marx, Lenin, Mao and "el Che". Next to these mythical images, one reads slogans that call the people to "make the revolution" and "storm heaven at gunpoint". (Econoticiasbolivia.com, October 7). This is the general mood in society illustrated by the mass demonstrations with hundreds of thousands participating against the privatization of gas.
As a result the country is living in a "de facto" state of emergency according to the leader of the COB, Jaime Solares. The clashes between the Army and strikers is reaching a nationwide scale and is becoming a fight to control the key points of power- airports, power plants and isolate the main cities… As a result of one of these clashes two miners were killed by the police and Army in the area around La Paz. One of the miners was killed by a grenade. The Government is preparing a bloodbath to defeat the strike if necessary.
The President, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, is threatening the to send the strikes to jail, as if they were only a handful! This is a feeble attempt to downplay the effect of the strike. The fact is that the lack of national coordination is giving a precious breathing time to the ruling class to distract the masses and try some sort of Parliamentary manoeuvring.
On October 7 the urban teachers union and the health workers decided to go back to work, but still the demonstrations have a mass character. This is linked to how easy it is to sack workers without reason or hearing. This and the lack of a clear leadership is undermining the progress of the struggle.
In this regard sense the role of the left-wing leaders, Evo Morales (leader of the main opposition party , MAS, Movement towards socialism) and Felipe Quispe (leader of the Pachacuti Indigenous Movement, MIP) has been pretty negative. Instead of giving a lead and encouraging the poor peasants and workers to join the strike, they have been sowing doubt and confusion. One, Evo Morales, who calls himself a revolutionary, has been travelling Europe and northern Africa, and the other, Felipe Quispe has been defending a negotiation with the current President who is trying to sell the country to British and American multinationals.
The situation is Bolivia is extremely important for the future developments of the revolution in the whole of Latin America and the events that are developing prove once more that the sentence: there is not one single stable regime from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego, is completely true.
By Pablo Sanchez. October 10, 2003.
In Bolivia the social and political temperature is heading towards boiling point. The situation has become highly explosive. On Monday, September 29, the indefinite strike called by the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB, the Bolivian Workers Trade Union Centre) started. A total blockade of roads and highways was also announced by the COB and the various peasant organizations. It is the duty of revolutionaries to turn their attention to what is happening in this South American country. The working class and revolutionary activists of Latin America and of the whole world are turning their eyes and hearts to their brothers and sisters, the Bolivian workers and peasants, hoping for a decisive triumph over the corrupt Bolivian bourgeoisie and imperialism.
The protest began two weeks ago with the calling of mass mobilizations to put pressure on the pro-imperialist government of Sánchez de Lozada to cancel the contracts signed with the oil multinationals for exports and sales of Bolivian gas to the United States, which would be shipped through ports in Chile. But the conflict took a decisive turn on Saturday, September 20, with the massacre perpetrated by the Army against the peasants, students and teachers who were blockading a road in the vicinity of Warisata, in the Bolivian high plateau, where five peasants (among them, a little girl who was eight years old) were killed and more than thirty were wounded.
The demand for nationalization of the gas industry has been transformed into a flag of struggle for the Bolivian workers and peasants who have seen over the past decades how the Bolivian bourgeoisie has been handing over the main resources of the nation to foreign multinationals, while the country was sinking ever more deeply into poverty and misery.
The social and economic situation of Bolivia
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries of Latin America, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of barely US $7,800,000,000 in 2002. Poverty affects 64% of the population, reaching 82% in the countryside. A third of the workers have lost their jobs over the last five years, while temporary work, exploitation of labour and pay cuts have been growing, and this in a country where it is legal for workers to be fired without any right to appeal. All this is used to worsen the conditions of work and to discipline the workers.
The situation of the peasants is also glaring. The agrarian reform of 1952, which was basically centred in the east of the country, revealed its limits under capitalism. An extreme fragmentation of landed property ("minifundismo") makes it unfeasible to apply technological advances to improve the productivity of the small plots of land. Added to this is the fact that the land has become less fertile and this has increased the scarcity of cultivable land, thus further multiplying the number of landless peasants. Attempts by the government of Sánchez de Lozada to eradicate the cultivation of coca plants have only worsened the conditions of the peasants, who have no possibility of planting any other profitable crops. In the east of Bolivia, on the other hand, latifundismo, the division of land into large estates, predominates. The most fertile lands of the country are found there, but, almost without exception, they are in the hands of the big landowners. In Bolivia, 87% of the land (29 million hectares) is owned by 7% of the landlords, while the mass of millions of poor peasants scarcely possesses 4 million hectares, the remaining 13% (Econoticiasbolivia.com-ArgenPress.info 1/8/2003).
Bolivian capitalism is submerged in a very profound crisis. The budget deficit is 8%. The recipes of the IMF insist on cutting public spending and raising taxes for the working masses. One sign of the extreme weakness of Bolivian capitalism and its dependence on imperialism is the fact that foreign investment (US$1,000,000,000) is nearly twice the size of public investment (US$585,000,000).
The new tax law approved by the government of Sánchez de Lozada consists of cancelling 60% of the taxes owed by the bosses, a sum of US$300,000,000, equivalent to 40% of the public debt of the State, while keeping up the pressure of taxation on wage workers and the rest of the oppressed layers of society. In this way, the entire weight of the crisis and of the decomposition of Bolivian capitalism rests on the shoulders of the workers and poor peasants, while the national bourgeoisie and government officials plunder the wealth of the country or hand it over to the foreign multinationals.
The Gas Conflict
One of the consequences of the subservient policies of the Bolivian bourgeoisie since 1985 has been the privatisation of the main state enterprises and of the natural resources of the country, a policy which reached its peak in the second half of the nineties. Among the privatised resources are petroleum and natural gas.
Thus, according to the news agency Econoticiasbolivia.com ". . . it was the very same Sánchez de Lozada who likes to be called by his nickname Goni, who transferred ownership of the hydrocarbons to the transnationals, on August 4, 1997, two days before his first presidential term was to end, by means of a secret, illegal decree, which has been contested as unconstitutional before the Constitutional Tribunal" (Econoticiasbolivia.com 9/25/03).
Using their right of "legal" ownership, the transnationals seized the recently discovered Bolivian natural gas reserves which, with a volume of 52 trillion cubic feet, are the second most important in South America and are currently valued at least at US$80,000,000,000 (ibid).
A business consortium called Pacific LNG was set up to exploit the gas by the multinationals Repsol-YPF, British Gas and Pan American Energy (British Petroleum). The aim was toe export the gas to the United States through a gas pipeline to a Chilean port (Iquique), where it would be liquefied and then loaded onto ships for Mexico, where it would be regasified to be transported to California (Andrés Soliz. ArgenPress.info 8/21/2003).
According to the consortium managers themselves, this deal would bring them some US$1,300,000,000 annually, while the Bolivian State would only be paid some US$40,000,000 - $70,000,000. This transaction was approved by the Lozada government when the Bolivian Congress passed the Hydrocarbons Law.
The workers', peasants' and popular organizations of Bolivia are demanding the repeal of the Hydrocarbons law and the nationalization of petroleum and gas, in addition to an industrialization plan to exploit the gas which would benefit the reindustrialisation of the country, by supplying cheap energy to the people and to industry, and by selling a refined product overseas (and not an inexpensive raw material), which would also mean a considerable amount of foreign currency could be accumulated. But the degenerate Bolivian bourgeoisie prefers to act according to what it has always been: a servile lackey of imperialist interests, even at the cost of impoverishing the country and perpetuating economic and social backwardness.
The result of the January-February struggles
The Bolivian workers and peasants have a long and glorious revolutionary tradition behind them. In recent years, they have courageously stood up to the imperialists and to the anti-popular policies of the various bourgeois governments. Since 1985 there have been 190 people killed in social conflicts, 6,000 wounded and more than 10,000 arrested (Econoticiasbolivia.com-ArgenPress.info 9/22/03), the majority of which during the two terms of Sánchez de Lozada.
The most recent events in Bolivia come as no surprise. In January and February of this year, the mass mobilizations of workers, peasants and impoverished middle-class sectors, had already begun to shake the Sánchez de Lozada government, preparing the ground for the present new revolutionary upsurge of the masses.
In January, the peasants of the tropical Cochabamba region mobilized massively against the banning of the cultivation of the coca leaf. This mobilization was also accompanied by thousands of pensioners calling for decent pensions, and by teachers and students. This mobilization saw 14 victims die at the hands of the police and the army.
In the middle of February, the "impuestazo" decreed by the Lozado government, which was a pure and simple confiscation of workers' salaries in order to finance the deficit in state expenditure, provoked the most important social explosion to date. The extraordinary mobilization of the urban workers not only managed to win over the peasants and other oppressed layers of society, but also a part of the lower ranks of the police and soldiers, who fought jointly with the workers on the barricades. The result of government repression left 33 dead and more than 200 wounded.
The Lozada government and capitalism itself could have been overthrown at very little cost, but the vacillations of the COB leadership and the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism, the main opposition group in the Congress) prevented this from happening. They lacked an alternative socialist program and a strategy for the seizure of power on the part the working class and the poor peasants of Bolivia. The first thing they should have done was to call a revolutionary general strike. Together with this they should have called for the creation of Workers’ and Peasants’ Committees in the cities and villages, as a means of gathering the masses around them and integrating them into the movement. By doing so these Committees would be transformed into organizations of workers' and people’s power in the process of the struggle and they would challenge and replace the "official" power of the bourgeoisie, a class which was suspended in mid air, without any type of significant social support.
They could have divided the army and the police by winning over the soldiers who were beginning to sympathize with the people on the barricades, calling for the setting up of Soldiers’ Committees, linking them to the Workers’ and Peasants’ Committees. The majority of Bolivian soldiers are conscripts. They are the sons of workers and peasants, made to do temporary military service in the army where they undergo constant abuses and mistreatment, and they would never have fired on their parents and brothers and sisters if they had seen a determination on the part of the masses and the leadership to fight to the end. The bulk of the soldiers would have gone over to the side of the workers and peasants, leaving the army and police officers isolated, without the forces to carry out acts of repression.
The seizure of power by the working class with the support and participation of the poor peasantry could have been a reality, with minimal cost and could have been carried out in a relatively peaceful manner.
Regrettably, the leaders of the COB, the MAS and the indigenous and peasant organizations covered up for the fact that they had no revolutionary policy with vague demands about the setting up of a People’s and Sovereign Constituent Assembly. Historically, the convocation of a Constituent Assembly has been justified as a means of achieving basic democratic rights for the people: freedom of expression, the right to demonstrate, to organize, etc. The problem is that all these rights already exist in Bolivia today. Therefore what role can agitation for the slogan of the Constituent Assembly play? It only serves to confuse and divert the masses away from their true revolutionary aims. All this slogan achieves is to divert onto the parliamentary plain what can only be solved in a revolutionary manner with the masses on the streets. It creates the illusion that a new Constitution (which is the only meaning that demanding an organization of this type can have) could solve the social problems without previously expropriating the land, the monopolies and the banks which are held by the oligarchy, the national bourgeoisie and the foreign multinationals. And these tasks are inextricably linked to the need for the working class and poor peasants to seize power.
Regardless of their personal honesty and bravery, Evo Morales and the other natural leaders of the movement (not to speak of the leaders of the COB) felt that the earth was opening under their feet, since they did not know how to offer the revolutionary way out of the situation that the masses were demanding. Thus they concluded by accepting a "truce" with the Lozada government. This has allowed him to retake control of the situation, and to regain the necessary confidence to resume his attacks on the masses and to continue with his policy of handing over the national wealth to the multinationals, as we have already seen in this last period.
The "Gas War"
On Friday, September 19, Bolivia was semi-paralysed by a national day of protest against the plans of the Sánchez de Lozada government. More than 150,000 people participated in the various marches and rallies organized in different cities of the country. The largest was in Cochabamba, where more than 40,000 people gathered, the most important rally in recent times. On that day, they demanded the repeal of the Hydrocarbons Law, revision the private gas concessions, and the nationalization and industrialization of gas (Econoticiasbolivia.com-ArgenPress.info 9/20/03). They also gave the Lozada government one month to fulfil these demands, after which it would be faced with an indefinite general strike and the total blockade of the roads.
Six days earlier, the peasants of the Bolivian high plateau, led by the indigenous leader Felipe Quispe, had begun setting up road blocks to protest against the exporting and selling off of gas and also to demand the release of some of their peasant leaders who had been detained.
On the morning of September 20, the massacre at Warisata took place, and this completely transformed the situation. The Lozada government, was trying to use this bloody attack in order to derail the revolutionary process which was developing among the masses Instead this massacre provoked the exact opposite. The peasants throughout the area came out onto the streets in their hundreds, hoisting old Mauser machine guns from the epoch of the 1952 Revolution, with the cry of "civil war, civil war."
Although there were no more of these bloody attacks, numerous peasants were detained, tortured and humiliated, which only served to further increase the indignation and rage among the peasant communities.
Between Saturday, September 20, and Wednesday, September 24, pressure from the rank and file led the leaders of the MAS, the COB and the United Trade Union Confederation of Agricultural Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB) led by Felipe "Mallku" Quispe, to take effective steps to accelerate the plans for struggle. On Wednesday, September 23, in Cochabamba, the "United Leadership of Mobilizations" was set up, made up of the COB, the CSUTCB, the Coordinating Committee in Defence of Gas, the General Staff of the People (in which the MAS participates) and other popular organizations.
The workers and people’s organizations added to their demands that of the resignation of the Minister of Defence, Sánchez Berzaín, who had ordered the massacre, and also of President Lozada himself.
The following afternoon, owing to unstoppable pressures from below, the leaders of the COB were obliged to call an Extended National Emergency Meeting of the COB which included union leaders, representatives and delegates of the miners, peasants, teachers, manufacturing workers and of other social organizations. On Wednesday, September 24, this meeting agreed to call an indefinite General Strike to begin on Monday, September 29, together with a national blockade of roads and highways, and to continue until the resignation of President Sánchez de Lozada has been achieved (Bolpress.com 9/24/03).
In spite of the sending in of the army and the police to remove the roadblocks, such is the fear of the Lozada government of what a new bloody attack on the masses could unleash, that they have been unable to remove these roadblocks. They are still there, just outside the main cities, such as La Paz, Cochabamba, El Alto and others.
The mobilization spreads
Since the COB called the General Strike, other sectors have decided to join the movement: coca growers, members of miners' cooperatives, the peasants in the Landless Movement (MST, Movimento Sin Tierra), freight drivers, etc. They are all joining the struggle, and they are bringing with them their own particular demands which they are posing to the government.
One very important fact is the involvement of the parents of the conscript soldiers in the struggle. The majority of the conscripts are being used against the peasants and to remove the roadblocks. Thus the National Association of the Parents of Conscripts "gave the government a twenty-four hour period to withdraw the troops from the roads on the La Paz high plateau otherwise they will exert pressure" (Bolpress.com 9/24/03). The same news agency continues: "One of the mothers, not holding back her indignation, stated that the soldiers are in sub-human condition on the high plateau, where they have nothing to eat or drink, and not even an overcoat to protect them against the intense cold at night. According to the representatives of the Association, while the officers do not go hungry, their children do not have a cent to buy the food that some women bring to the roadblocks" (ibid.).
The struggle enters a decisive phase
With the beginning of the indefinite strike on Monday, September 29, the struggle against the dirty deal over the gas industry and to achieve the rest of the demands of the masses entered a decisive phase. The leadership of the movement, and especially the COB leadership, has a crucial responsibility in this phase. The workers, the peasants, the women, and the youth of the poor and oppressed layers of Bolivian society must draw all the lessons from the struggles waged against the capitalists and their government during this whole year.
An indefinite general strike is not child’s play. It inevitably poses the question of power, that is, who really governs society and the economy. The leaders of the COB, the MAS and the CSUTCB would be making a serious mistake if they thought that two or three days of strike action will be enough to topple the corrupt government of Lozada or to force the government withdraw its plans about the gas industry. The question of the gas industry is a matter of key importance for U.S. imperialism, both for economic and strategic reasons. A defeat of U.S. imperialism over this question in Bolivia would encourage the masses of the rest of the continent to offer the same kind of resistance as their Bolivian brothers and sisters. The Bolivian bourgeoisie and U.S. imperialism have a lot to lose here. Thus they will not give in easily. They understand that a decisive breaking point is approaching, and they are consciously making preparations to strike a bloody blow against the movement. The Bolivian bourgeoisie and imperialism cannot accept a situation where they are facing a constant threat to their privileges and where their most vital interests are at stake. They cannot tolerate mass uprisings at regular intervals (as in January, February, and now, in September) which threaten to sweep away their system and their privileges. They need, and they will seek, to give the workers and peasants a bloody "lesson". They want to make them pay for the fear and panic they have inflicted on the ruling class in this period.
Does this mean that reaction is strong and the Bolivian masses are weak, that the struggle is lost before it even begins? On the contrary, the experience of the past year has shown that the Bolivian bourgeoisie is very weak. In the past, anyone of the events which took place in January, February or September of this year would have provoked a triumphant reactionary military coup. Now the bourgeoisie and imperialism have to act more prudently because their social bases of support are much weaker than in the past, given the extreme impoverishment of the middle classes and the other politically backward sectors. They do not even have confidence that they control the majority of the soldiers. Testimony to this is the movement that has developed among the families of the conscript soldiers. There is also the fighting spirit of the masses and the desire for revenge against the Lozada government among wide layers of the workers, peasants and youth has become widespread after the partial battles of January and February and also the more recent events. In fact, it was the pressure of the rank and file that pushed the leaders to take the initiative in the struggle.
The danger lies in the fact that at a decisive moment, the leadership of the movement (as happened in February) could vacillate, spread uncertainty, and lack determination and a clear revolutionary objective, which could lead to the defeat of the movement.
Beware of the manoeuvres of the ruling class
Of course, faced with the immediate prospect of losing everything, the Bolivian bourgeoisie and imperialism, given their weakness, will try all types of tricks to deceive the masses. They will pretend to make small concessions in order to strike later, once the movement has been disarmed and is unprepared. In this sense, we disagree with the comrades of the COB and the rest of the workers' and popular organizations when they limit their demands to the resignation of the Lozada government. The question arises spontaneously: Who will replace him? Another bourgeois government? What would really change with this? The bourgeoisie has a long experience in developing all kinds of parliamentary manoeuvres to distract the attention of the masses.
It is probably that the ruling class may sacrifice Lozada and some of his ministers if the strike should take on an openly revolutionary aspect. The capitalist system does not rest on individual personalities, but on the property relations which guarantee that a handful of millionaires and moneybags go on enjoying their privileges at the expense of the majority of working people. They will put some other bourgeois politician in Lozada's place, perhaps someone unknown to the masses or someone who had a "progressive" image in the past. They could even announce a new round of negotiations to re-examine the question of the gas industry with the aim of deceiving the masses and giving them the false impression that they are retreating on this question. This is the greatest danger. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the capitalists, the landlords, the monopolies, the high ranking officers in the army and police, together with the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, will be planning their revenge and will be preparing to go on the counteroffensive and carry out a coup. The more the workers and peasants are led to believe that things can be solved through agreements with the political representatives of the bourgeoisie and their multinational backers, the more they lower their guard against the manoeuvres of the bosses, the more likely does this outcome become.
Here the slogan must be: No confidence in the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie! The workers must rely only on their own strength, organization and class-consciousness!
It is necessary to carry out a revolutionary policy
The leaders of the COB, the MAS and the CSUTCB must learn all the lessons. The whole historical experience of the international workers' movement, including that of Bolivian workers' movement, clearly indicates what needs to be done for a successful triumph of the revolution.
In the first place, it is necessary to be armed with a program of demands which brings together all the oppressed and exploited sectors of Bolivia so that they can all unite together in supporting the strike. We must start with the most immediate demands for decent jobs and salaries, education and health care, and add to these the demands of the coca growers and other sectors. We need to explain that the question of the Agrarian Reform can only be solved through the expropriation of the large estates. We have to add to this the nationalisation of the public transport companies, the banks, the monopolies and the hydrocarbon resources, all without compensation and under workers' control. That is to say, it is a question of linking the most elementary demands of the masses with the idea of the seizure of power and socialism.
Secondly, in order to guarantee the success of the strike, Action Committees must be set up in every enterprise, office, factory, school, hospital, neighbourhood, city and village, made up of elected delegates who can be recalled at any time. These committees must be coordinated at local, provincial, regional, and finally, national level. These committees should be entrusted with coordinating the struggle in each area and also assuring the coordination and unity of the movement nationally. The tasks of guaranteeing the flow of supplies and also of preventing a scarcity of supplies in the workers' neighbourhoods or among the peasant communities, as well as those of patrolling the streets and roads to prevent disturbances and banditry, and removing provocateurs, etc., should be in the hands of the local committees.
Thirdly, it is necessary to make every effort to strengthen the bonds with the soldiers, by inviting them to attend the workers' and peasants' assemblies, and encouraging them to form their own soldiers' committees. There they can report any provocations on the part of the officers, and also have the backing in refusing to be used to repress the working people. These soldiers' committees should be linked to the workers' and peasants' committees of each locality. The spreading of these soldiers' committees would guarantee that the bulk of the army would come over to the side of the people at the decisive moment.
A genuinely revolutionary general strike, which is implicit in the whole situation if we are to call things by their proper names, would pose the question of power. During the course of the struggle these action committees would embody workers' and peasants' power in Bolivia, calling on the masses to organize themselves through these action committees. Once the overwhelming support of the majority of the population (industrial workers, poor peasants, office workers, the unemployed, women, and youth) for this new power has been guaranteed, supported by the mass of the soldiers, who are mostly sons of workers and peasants, the question of the seizure of power would be resolved.
It would be enough to organize mass demonstrations in the main cities and occupy the public buildings. The workers' and people's power would be institutionalised through the calling of a National Congress of the Action Committees, which would take on itself the leadership of the country. This would put the revolutionary program into practice and thus lead to the triumph of the socialist revolution. Given the overwhelming superiority of the revolutionary forces, the socialist transformation of society could be achieved at minimal cost and in a relatively peaceful manner.
For proletarian internationalism: for a Socialist Federation of Latin America
We must state things clearly. Beginning with the active layers of the movement, we should patiently but firmly explain the need to overthrow and expropriate the capitalists and the foreign monopolies. We must explain that this is the only way out for the Bolivian workers and peasants. The victory of the Bolivian working class and the poor peasants would provoke an earthquake throughout Latin America and even in the United States. However we also need to explain that it would not be possible to solve the problems within Bolivia alone. We should inscribe on our banner the slogan of the Socialist United States of Latin America, as the only perspective for the Bolivian workers and peasants. The triumph of the socialist revolution in Bolivia would spread like wildfire throughout Latin America and would inaugurate a new phase in the class struggle throughout the world.
In the long run, the prospect will be bourgeois dictatorship or the conquest of power by the working class, with the support of the poor peasants and the rest of the oppressed layers in society. There is no third way. On our part, we are confident of the revolutionary capabilities of the Bolivian workers and peasants in their struggle against capitalist and imperialist exploitation and that experience will lead them sooner rather than later to the triumph of the socialist revolution.
The question of the indigenous movement (indigenismo)
The revolutionary movement of the peasant masses of Bolivia has brought to the fore the question of the demands of the so-called "native peoples". The overwhelming majority of the Bolivian peasants, particularly those of the high plateau, are indigenous. For 500 years the indigenous masses have suffered the most cruel oppression and exploitation, first at the hands of the Spanish conquerors and then, after independence from the Spanish empire, at the hands of the white descendants of the Europeans and the new ruling classes made up of the national oligarchy and the capitalists.
Centuries of oppression, alienation and harassment have recently led to the development of a degree of "indigenous" national consciousness among a large part of this sector of the masses. Of course, as Marxists and revolutionary socialists, we struggle against any form of oppression of these peoples and also against giving privileges to one part of the population at the expense of another. We support all the demands which help them advance and shake off the burden of centuries of oppression and violence.
But we also say to these comrades that the struggle against oppression must be a united struggle of all the oppressed layers of society, whether indigenous, white or mixed race. All of us, as workers or poor peasants, have the same enemy: the landlords, capitalists and imperialism.
It is an error and a grave danger to divide the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed masses according to the skin colour of each person, because in that way the enemy will defeat us more easily than if we all fight together. By themselves, the workers in the cities cannot win the struggle for the nationalization of the gas industry, but neither can the indigenous peasants of the high plateau win on their own. Whether we are indigenous, mixed race or white, as workers and poor peasants, we have the same interests and the same enemies. Together we can conquer, but divided our defeat is certain.
Under socialism, when the exploitation of man by man disappears and when only solidarity, brotherhood and cooperation prevail, no one will have an interest in oppressing anyone else and therefore the best conditions will exist for common coexistence among the different peoples. These conditions will also allow each community to decide freely what degree of cooperation they want to have with the rest of the population. The united struggle for socialism is also the struggle for the dignity and the full emancipation of the native peoples of the American continent.
The question of Chile
The struggle against the imperialist control of the gas resources has brought to the attention of the Bolivian masses the role of Chile in this whole project. As we explained earlier, the agreement reached between the Lozada government and the multinationals provides for the gas to reach the Pacific through a pipeline to the ports on the northern coast of Chile. This is because Bolivia has no direct access to the Pacific, having lost its territories on the seacoast in the war with Chile during the nineteenth century.
There is no doubt that with this plan, the Chilean bourgeoisie, like the Bolivian oligarchy, hopes to get substantial profits from the imperialist exploitation of Bolivian gas.
It is no small detail that in many of the marches and protests that have taken place in Bolivia in recent weeks, anti-Chilean slogans could be heard and in some marches there was even the demand that the territories lost 125 years ago should be returned.
For decades, in the schools and army barracks the Bolivian ruling class encouraged national hatred against Chileans. It is a law that the ruling classes of all countries always use national antagonisms behind which they hide their own domination and social privileges. They direct the frustration and despair of the exploited masses, which is caused by their own national ruling class, against the people of a rival nation, without distinguishing between the oppressed masses and their oppressors.
As Marxists, we must reject any attempt to provoke a conflict between the Bolivian workers and peasants with their brothers and sisters, the Chilean workers and peasants, and vice versa. The oppressed masses of Bolivia and Chile bear no responsibility for the wars of conquest and robbery waged in the past by the oligarchies which dominated both countries and which only sought to increase their privileges and their class interests, with no concern for the destinies of either of the two peoples.
The reason for the misery, poverty and exploitation of the Bolivian and Chilean masses is not to be found in the possession of more or less territory, but in the existence of capitalism and the domination of society by a parasitic and voracious ruling class which, in both cases, have subjected the workers and peasants to brutal and bloodthirsty dictatorships when their privileges have been threatened. The dictatorships of Hugo Bánzer in Bolivia and Pinochet in Chile show that the ruling classes of both countries have had no problem in collaborating with each other when it came to repress the masses in their respective countries.
In reality, the different Latin American countries that emerged after independence from the Spanish Empire were artificial creations of the local oligarchies in collaboration with British and U.S. imperialism. This was to keep our peoples divided and to guarantee a tighter control over the resources and wealth of these countries.
Bolivian peasants and workers have more in common with Chilean peasants and workers than with the corrupt oligarchs, such as Sánchez de Lozada, who have sold out to imperialism, just as any Chilean worker feels closer to a Bolivian worker than to a genocidal and bloodthirsty dictator like Pinochet.
As workers and poor peasants, whether Bolivian or Chilean, we have to raise the banner of proletarian internationalism against bourgeois nationalism. A Socialist Federation of Latin America would be the basis for the social and economic integration of the resources of Chile and Bolivia and of the rest of Latin America, which would benefit all the peoples of the subcontinent. A Latin America without artificial frontiers to separate and divide us, and without the hatred and national rivalries fostered by our ruling classes, would allow the Bolivian workers and peasants to have direct access to the Pacific and would let both peoples, Bolivians and Chileans, benefit mutually from a common plan of their productive resources.
September 27, 2003.
See the original in Spanish.