“Those who defend this bourgeois parliament are on the side of US imperialism”
The national enlarged meeting of the Bolivian Workers’ Union (COB) gathered in Cochabamba on January 22, and decided to call for an indefinite general strike with road blockades in twenty days time if Mesa’s government does not concede the demands of the October insurrection and continues with its announced austerity measures. The COB meeting “ended with the decision to take power, by closing down Parliament” (El Diario, January 23, 2004)
This decision marks the end of the truce given by the worker and peasant leaders to Carlos Mesa’s government, which came to power after the overthrow of Sanchez de Lozada through an insurrectional general strike in October last year. As we said at the time, the aim of Mesa’s government was to try to win a certain social basis of support by making all sorts of promises to the movement. We also warned that these promises would vanish because his government is faced with the complete bankruptcy of Bolivian capitalism, which could not afford any concessions.
Against those who said that the October insurrection had ended in a defeat, we argued that although an opportunity to take power by workers and peasants had been wasted because of the lack of a genuine Marxist leadership, the masses had not suffered any decisive defeat and their own experience would push them again into a major clash with the bourgeoisie, represented by the new Carlos Mesa government. This has been the experience that the oppressed in Bolivia have gone through in just three months. In the words of COB executive secretary Jaime Solares “Mesa’s government is nothing more than the continuation of the President which was ousted last October, keeping on the road of the World Bank and the IMF”(El Diario, 23/1/04). To this we must add that this process would have gone faster had it not been for the vacillation of the leaders of the workers’ and peasants’ movement, who were prepared to give breathing room to Mesa’s bourgeois government, thus creating certain illusions and missing the opportunity to take power at the key moment of the October insurrection.
After the first days in which he promised everything to everyone, Mesa soon revealed his true character. What happened to his promises? Regarding the cultivation of coca leaves, he made it clear that his policy was going to be a continuation of the policy of former president Goni, that is to say the policy of US imperialism: the eradication and destruction of the livelihood of tens of thousands of peasant families without offering them any alternative. As for the referendum on the sale of gas (the spark which ignited October’s insurrectionary uprising), after announcing a date for it, now the government, using all sort of legalistic excuses, has decided to postpone it by at least 90 days. It is also not clear what the question asked in the referendum will be, so the door is open to all sorts of tricks (for instance, asking whether people agree with the sale of gas to the US, rather than asking about the renationalisation of gas, which is the real issue). As for the convening of a Constituent Assembly, the date seems to be fading further away. After having promised its immediate calling, the date was then postponed to 2005, although the president also announced, in clear contradiction with this, that he was going to finish his mandate which expires in august 2007. It is clear that the ruling class only uses the card of the Constituent Assembly in order to divert the attention of the masses when it feels itself to be in real danger, and when the pressure diminishes all promises vanish into the horizon.
Bankruptcy of the state, austerity measures for the masses
As for the other demands of the workers’ and peasants’ movement, not only have none of them been met, but also Mesa, in his New Year speech, announced a new package of austerity measures against working people. Amongst these are an increase of taxes on wages (exactly the same measure which was defeated by the first insurrection in February last year), ending the subsidies on the price of domestic gas and an increase in the price of fuel. When he announced these measures, Economic Development Minister Xavier Nogales, was clear in pointing out that they would mean “blood, sweat and tears”. The Minister conveniently forgot to explain that what was being proposed was the extraction of blood, sweat and tears from working people and that these would then be given to the capitalists, land owners and the multinationals.
This is a finished recipe for a new social explosion, but at the same time the policies of Mesa are the only possible ones from a capitalist point of view. The Bolivian ruling class can only balance the finances of a bankrupt state (with a budget deficit of 700 million dollars or 8.5% of GDP) and recover its profits through more attacks on the living standards of the majority of the Bolivian people. It is no surprise therefore that the World Bank (which is promoting these policies) in a recently published report warns that “after having made an economic, social and political analysis of the current situation … there is still the risk that social conflict could erupt again in February-March 2004” (quoted in Econoticiasbolivia.com, January 7, 2004). Obviously, in reality the policies of the World Bank do not leave Bolivians with any other alternative but to struggle, that is why this institution can forecast explosions of this kind with such certainty!
To all this we have to add the failure of the Mesa government mission to Washington, which had the aim of trying to get a few crumbs from the imperialist countries. The meeting of the so-called Support Group, called by the US, which is facing the danger of a new social explosion in the Andean country, ended with lots of good words but no hard cash to cover the 105 million dollar emergency aid the Bolivian government was begging for. It would seem that the international financial institutions do not think that Mesa will be able to carry out this austerity plan without provoking a social explosion. This leaves Mesa in an even more difficult position, since the already harsh austerity measures announced will not be enough to avoid the complete bankruptcy of public finances, which in the words of the President “will need in the next few months at least 100 or 120 million dollars” (Erbol). The main contradiction is that these measures, which are not enough from the point of view of the oligarchy, are intolerable for the masses.
In these conditions it is not surprising that, in an increasingly bolder and clearer way, the workers’ and peasants’ organisations and their leaders have been declaring themselves for an end to the truce with Mesa and for a new offensive in the struggle. Already on December 30, the leader of the El Alto Regional Workers Union, Roberto de La Cruz “questioned the failure of the new government to meet the demands of the people formulated in October and demanded the closing down of parliament”(Bolpress, 30/12/03).
Also the main leader of the COB, Jaime Solares, addressing the Ordinary Congress of the Potosí Departmental Workers Union, made an appeal for “strikes, blockades and other measures to paralyse the country’s economy in order to fight against a government which only follows US economic recipes” and added that “the theory of revolution will be put into practice through the road of insurrection”. In the same statement, quoted by Econoticiasbolivia.com on January 15, Solares pointed out “that the oligarchy must fall so that the people take power”.
All these statements, which undoubtedly reflect the pressure and growing impatience of workers and peasants, prepared the way for the decisions of the national enlarged meeting of the COB on Thursday, January 22. In a meeting which took place in the headquarters of the La Paz Urban Teachers’ Federation and which lasted for more than ten hours, the COB declared “war against the government”. The workers’ union decided to “declare a national state of emergency in the whole of the country, to establish and prepare an indefinite strike with mobilisations (to be carried out in 20 days), to plan the basis for the definition of strategy for measures to pressure the government and to establish a political front of struggle against the government” (Econoticiasbolivia.com, 23/1/04). To the demands already made to the government in October they now added the “refounding of Comibol and YPFB [the former publicly owned mining and oil companies] under workers control” (La Razón, 24/1/04).
The question of power
One of the most important aspects of the discussions of the enlarged meeting of the COB is regarding the question of power. Already on previous occasions (particularly after the February insurrection, during the national COB congress, and during and immediately after the October insurrection) Bolivian workers and peasants were forced to pose the discussion on taking power. This is the result of their own experience of struggle, because in the crucial moments in February and at a higher level in October, the masses of the oppressed felt that power was in their hands, but that their leaders did not have a clear strategy of how to consolidate it and replace the democracy of the oligarchy with the democracy of working people.
In the words of Jaime Solares: “The new social movements will point to the closing down of the national parliament for lack of effective work in favour of the Bolivians … The Bolivian people demand the closing down of Parliament and the COB has no other option but to implement this mandate” (Econoticiasbolivia, 23/1/04). These words clearly reflect just how discredited bourgeois democracy is in Bolivia. Increasingly wider layers of the masses have understood that this is a democracy which only benefits the capitalists and the multinationals and that it must be replaced by a different form of government. It is in this context that the bourgeoisie clings to the idea of a Constituent Assembly (first raised by Evo Morales and the leaders of the Movement Towards Socialism, MAS), which offers them a way to clean up the image of capitalist democracy and give their regime a new breath of life. However, already at the national enlarged meeting of the COB during the October insurrection, loud voices were heard warning against this manoeuvre. Solares at that time also hinted at the calling of a Popular Assembly as an alternative. Now this proposal has been made concrete. The COB is proposing the closing down of Parliament and its replacement by a People’s Assembly.
The 1971 People’s Assembly
The tradition of the People’s Assembly comes from 1971 when, in a situation of revolutionary advance of the struggle of workers and peasants, the COB called for the setting up of such a body. The People’s Assembly was made up of representatives of the worker and peasant organisations, the students, the middle class and of the left parties (the MNR being specifically excluded after the experience of the 1952 revolution). In October 1970 there had been an attempted coup against general Ovando, an army officer with nationalist rhetoric who took one measure against imperialism: the nationalisation of Gulf Oil in 1969. Reflecting all the limitations inherent in this kind of military nationalism, Ovando had gone too far for the interests of the ruling class and imperialism, but at the same time was unable to fulfil the aspirations of workers and peasants. However, the attempt of the most reactionary section of the military High Command to remove him in October 1970, met with more resistance than expected and sparked a general strike called by the COB. The workers’ union had decided in its 1970 congress to maintain a policy of class independence towards Ovando, but with sharp class instinct opposed the military coup, in the same way that the Russian Bolsheviks in 1917, without giving an ounce of support to Kerensky, played a key role in the struggle against the military coup of Kornilov.
The unexpected outcome of the attempted coup brought general Torres to power. Once again all the limitations of military nationalism of this sort were exposed. While general Torres shyly opposed the domination of the oligarchy and imperialism, by limiting his programme to the framework of capitalism he was fighting with both hands tied to his back. He could not satisfy the interests of the ruling class, neither could he fully fulfil the demands of the masses. It was a weak government, which was born with the masses breathing down its neck. Torres offered the COB participation in the government, even offering half of the ministers. After many discussions in which the COB leaders, abandoning the Political Thesis passed at its congress the previous year, accepted the offer, it was finally never implemented. In the end the COB offered its “militant support” to Torres, and recognised “our common struggle against fascism wherever it might be found”, but at the same time warned that “ at the first sign of deviation or retreat, we the workers will be the first ones to denounce it in front of the people and occupy our barricades”. Independently of the actions of the government, the working class took the initiative with occupations of factories, as well as newspapers and buildings linked to US imperialism, demanding the distribution of arms to the workers and “majority workers’ co-management” in the publicly owned mining company Comibol.
The most graphic example of these contradictions was seen in the events of January 1970. On January 10, Colonel Banzer led an attempted military coup against Torres. Once again it was the working masses that defeated the coup in a mobilisation that was greater in scope than the one that had defeated the coup against Ovando in October the previous year. Once again the miners, armed with a few old Mauser rifles and dynamite, occupied the capital. General Torres addressed the masses gathered in Plaza Murillo in a peculiar dialogue. While the general was talking of “deepening the national revolution” and of “distributing arms when we have the money to buy them”, the masses constantly interrupted his speech with shouts of “arms to the people”, “Mina Matilde to the state”, “bring the coup organisers in front of the execution squad”, “disarm the Army” and “socialist revolution”. In order to win support from the masses gathered in the square Torres offered “popular participation” in the government, to which the workers replied that they wanted a “workers’ government”. Finally, faced with the insistence of the masses in favour of “socialist revolution”, Torres was forced to declare that the “nationalist revolution will go wherever the people want to take it”.
It was in this context that the COB Political Command announced at a mass rally of 50,000 workers on May Day the convening of a People’s Assembly on June 22 as a “body of workers’ and peoples’ power.” The working class was basically announcing publicly and with prior notice the setting up of an alternative power to the power of the bourgeoisie, and the Torres government was powerless and unable to prevent it. The conflict between the classes was reaching the point of no return. The “constitutional basis” of the Assembly, proposed by the Political Command and passed at its inaugural session, made it clear that the Assembly “could not be a form of bourgeois parliament” but “a body of people’s power” which would “implement its decisions through the working class methods of struggle”. The composition of the Assembly was 132 delegates from the trade union organisations (making up 60% of the total), 53 delegates from the organisations of the “middle class” (mainly students and representatives of white collar workers), 23 peasant delegates and 13 from left wing parties.
The discussions of the assembly, which lasted for ten days, centred on two main points. The first resolution passed declared that the reaction was preparing a coup to which the workers should reply by resorting to revolutionary violence, calling a general strike with factory occupations and announced that under those circumstances the Assembly would exercise the political and military leadership of the people’s forces through the creation of workers’ militias. The second main debate was on the question of workers’ control of Comibol, which in a country like Bolivia was obviously an important part of the taking of power.
With the calling of a new session in September and the call for the setting up of Departmental Assemblies on the same lines, the Assembly meeting was closed. The two main weaknesses of the People’s Assembly were regarding the arming of the workers and regarding its own internal workings. Though resolutions were passed dealing with the setting up of workers’ militias, in reality the leaders of the workers’ organisations did not take any concrete steps in that direction, and many still had illusions that Torres, if faced with a military coup, would distribute arms to the workers. There was also no systematic work amongst the ranks of the army in order to set up committees of revolutionary soldiers, despite the fact that conditions were favourable, as shown by the publication in July of the manifesto of a clandestine organisation within the army called the Military Vanguard of the People.
On the other hand, though the Assembly had certain soviet characteristics (that is of a genuine body of workers’ and peasants’ power), these were left underdeveloped. For instance there was never a clear mechanism for the election and recall of the delegates, so that the will of the masses, which in a revolutionary process changes very rapidly, was not directly reflected in the Assembly. To a certain extent the Assembly was suspended in mid-air and did not base itself in a network of departmental, local, neighbourhood and factory assemblies which would have given it a real executive power and at the same time would have been the basis for direct and democratic representation. The Departmental Assemblies, which to a certain extent were based on the cabildo abierto (mass meetings of all citizens), were not created until July, and though they very soon adopted a more radical character than the People’s Assembly itself, their development was quickly cut across.
It was clear to the bourgeoisie that the situation was rapidly becoming more and more dangerous. If they allowed events to develop they risked losing power completely. General Bethlehem warned that, “with the support of an illegitimate government, the first soviet of the continent has been set up in Bolivia.” A situation of dual power, and in Bolivia in 1971 there were clear elements of dual power, cannot last for a long time, it is either resolved in favour of the workers or in favour of the bourgeoisie.
The preparations for a military coup were accelerated and this finally took place on July 18, 1971, led by Banzer. Within the army there was very little resistance to it and in two days a majority of units came out in support of it. Torres, as is always the case with this kind of Bonapartist leader, refused to distribute arms, not even when he only had the support of one unit of the Army. Despite the fact that the Political Command had called a general strike and for the mobilsation of the people, the truth is that no preparations had been undertaken for the arming of the people or for doing political work amongst the soldiers. Thus in the night of July 20, reflecting the illusions that the leaders of the Command had, a delegation, including some of the leaders of the POR and Lora himself, went to ask Torres to give them arms, which Torres refused to do. The trust in the fact that Torres would distribute arms, despite all the statements of the COB and the People’s Assembly about the independence of the working class, simply turned them into left wing appendages putting pressure onto the Torres government. This idea was even adopted by the POR, which claimed to be Trotskyist but should have adopted a Leninist policy towards the Bolivian Kerensky. Lora himself admitted that “it was a generalised idea – shared even by us, the Marxists – that arms would be ceded by the ruling military team, considering that only by leaning on the masses and giving them a certain capacity for fire power, would they be able to at least neutralise the right wing which was organising the coup. The conclusion was completely wrong, it was not taken into account that Torres preferred to make a deal with his military comrades and capitulate in front of them, rather than arm the masses which had given obvious proof that were moving towards socialism and whose mobilisation was a risk for the army as an institution” (G. Lora, Bolivia: de la Asamblea Popular al Golpe Fascista, p. 97).
Here we can see the limitations of centrist leaders, that is, those who stay midway between revolutionary Marxism and reformism. In situations of a revolutionary upsurge of the masses, these kinds of workers’ leaders can adopt a very radical and even formally Marxist language, but in general they are unable to accompany this language with the practical measures to prepare the taking of power which are completely necessary to guarantee victory. To pose the question of taking power without having made detailed preparations or having won over a majority of the working class to that perspective and without having made the necessary military preparations (setting up of workers militias and political work amongst the troops), is extremely dangerous and leads to defeat. A classic example of this kind of leader was Largo Caballero, the leader of the socialist left during the Spanish revolution in 1931-37. Caballero at that time adopted the language of Marxism; talking of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist revolution. In 1934 he announced that if the CEDA (the party representing the most right wing section of the ruling class) were to join the government, the General Workers’ Union (UGT), which he led, would declare an insurrectionary general strike. Caballero was probably an honest leader who believed his own words, but this is precisely the most dangerous type of centrist leader. When the CEDA joined the government in October 1934, the insurrection had not been prepared and in most of the industrial centres of the country it was quickly put down. Only in the heroic Asturian Commune did the workers resist, but being isolated they were also smashed.
Also in Bolivia in July 1971 there were many examples of heroic resistance on the part of workers and students, but the truth is that the arming of the masses cannot be improvised, and thus Banzer’s coup finally succeeded on the basis of massive repression. The defeat of the revolution of 1970/71 dealt a heavy blow to the Bolivian working class who had to pay for it with more than ten years under a ferocious military dictatorship.
Once again, like in 1952, the workers had shown a very advanced class instinct and a revolutionary political consciousness. However, once again what was missing was a genuine revolutionary leadership that would not only pose the question of power but would also implement the necessary measures to solve it (workers militias, creation of soldiers committees and deepening the soviet character of the Peoples’ Assembly). It is obvious that those lessons apply, though in different circumstances, to the current situation.
A socialist programme
It is clear that although there is still some confusion regarding the slogan of a Constituent Assembly, the workers’ organisations clearly oppose this manoeuvre of the ruling class when they pose the People’s Assembly as an alternative. At the same time the call to close down parliament has a clear class and anti-capitalist content. Thus Solares stated that, “the Constituent Assembly will not solve the economic and social crisis, as long as the current capitalist structure remains” and added that, “capitalism in the world cannot be maintained without wars, corruption and lies, while in Bolivia this model has destroyed the national economy”. Roberto de la Cruz said that, “the people want a legislative power expressing a real participatory democracy and to close down the current bourgeois parliament that does not want to make structural changes and represents a fictitious democracy” (Bolpress, 26/1/04). “We want a People’s Assembly because that is the mechanism to reverse poverty, because we will change the structure of this economic model for another one which will be more humanitarian, more social - not like now where the system is an assassin”, declared the Social Assistance secretary of the COB, Crecencio Machaca. (La Razon, 24/1/04).
Strengthening the unity of the workers’ movement and the peasants’ movement which was forged during the October insurrection, the peasant union leader of the CSUTCB, “Mallku” Felipe Quispe supported the COB’s programme of struggle: “If the COB wants to close down parliament we will buy some big padlocks or we will close it by force, this is not a problem, but this should be a proposal made by real men, not pretty ladies who only make empty threats and speeches and then do nothing in practice, and then lose support.” (La Razon, 24/1/04).
As was to be expected, all parliamentary parties denounced the “ultra-leftism” of Solares and defined the COB proposals as being seditious. To this Solares correctly replied that, “the workers defend real democracy … the workers have reconquered democracy, but not so that we die of hunger”. (Econoticiasbolivia.com, 23/1/04)
However the most significant reaction was that of Evo Morales and the rest of the MAS leaders, who rushed to denounce the COB’s plan of struggle. “Those who are thinking about closing down parliament are not on the side of democracy and are joining in the chorus of the US embassy together with the parties which were defeated in October.” Roberto de la Cruz replied: “those who defend this bourgeois parliament are with US imperialism”.
The MAS leaders have become the strongest defenders of the Mesa government. Their strategy is to win the council elections this year and maybe the forthcoming general election. The disease they suffer from is parliamentary cretinism against which the Bolivian workers are luckily already inoculated. When the MAS Senator Filemon Escobar defended the respect for bourgeois parliament at the COB enlarged meeting, as well as elections and Mesa’s government, his position was soundly defeated and his intervention was received with booing and abuse. Solares himself publicly challenged Evo Morales to define clearly “whether he is with the people or with Mesa’s government.” (Econoticiasbolivia.com, 23/1/04). It is important to combine this public challenge with an open appeal and a conscious orientation towards the rank and file of this movement, where it is clear that amongst the coca growers there is a ferment against the policies of their leaders, who are defending a government which has promised to follow the same policy of eradication as its predecessor.
Morales’ warnings that the COB proposed strike is playing into the hands of imperialism and of those sections of the army who are preparing for a military coup has no basis whatsoever. The reason why imperialism and the Bolivian capitalists might attempt a coup is precisely because they can no longer contain the struggle of the masses for their just demands through normal “democratic” methods. Therefore the only sure way of avoiding a military coup, if one follows this line of reasoning, would be to demobilise the masses and forget about their demands. If the Bolivian workers and peasants would only be “reasonable” and passively accept hunger, misery, unemployment and the expoliation of the country’s natural resources, then they would not provoke reaction or imperialism. This seems to be what Morales is proposing. To this he adds an “alternative” to the mass struggle: the electoral struggle. The problem is that even if Morales were to win the election, if he were to try to apply a policy opposed to the interests of imperialism and in favour of the working class, then … he would also provoke the reaction into organising a coup! This is precisely what the experience of the Allende government in Chile shows: the ruling class will never accept the loss of its privileges through elections.
An attempted reactionary coup now could have disastrous effects for the ruling class. In conditions of revolutionary mobilisation of the masses like we have now in Bolivia, this could provoke a further radicalisation of the struggle, as happened with the first attempted coup by Banzer in January 1971, or more recently with the reactionary Carmona coup in Venezuela in April 2002. However this does not mean that the Pentagon and the Bolivian army are not worried about the situation, and they are also making their own preparations.
Fearful that the situation of social upheaval that Bolivia is experiencing could spread beyond its borders, there was a meeting in Buenos Aires at the beginning of January of the chiefs of the armies of Argentina, Brazil and Chile. According to a report published in the Argentinean paper La Nación, “amongst the contingencies which are seriously being analysed it is said that, reaching a certain point, there could be the need for the intervention of a regional stabilisation force” (La Nacion, 9/1/04). Translated into civilian language this means that, if the Bolivian workers and peasants take power, the militaries of Argentina, Brazil and Chile would be prepared to, under any excuse, intervene militarily in the country.
Because of the enormous repercussions that a measure of this kind could have (including in their own countries), it is not likely that this would be implemented in the short term. However, the fact that this is discussed at all is significant in itself as an indication of how worried they are about the advance of the Bolivian revolution.
Access to the sea for Bolivia
In the short term it is clear that the Bolivian ruling class would prefer to play another trump card, that of whipping up nationalist feelings in relation to the demand of access to the sea for Bolivia, as a means of diverting the attention of the Bolivian masses from their immediate enemy (which is of course the Bolivian oligarchy which has sold out to the multinationals) to the foreign enemy (Chile). There has already been a whole symphony of statements in this direction and this was also one of the star subjects at the Monterrey summit. The “offer” which has been made by Argentina is the establishment of a one kilometre wide corridor from Bolivia to the sea, on which a railway and a road would be built ending in a Bolivian harbour. The proposal, laughable in itself, contains a trap: this corridor would be administered by…Mercosur! It seems that what Argentina is looking for with this kind of proposal is access to the Pacific for itself. In any case it is highly unlikely that Chile and Peru would reach an agreement to cede territory for the proposed corridor, since Peru has already stated firmly that they already lost enough territory in the war with Chile.
Workers and peasants from all countries involved in this conflict that the ruling class is trying to promote, must adopt a class-based and internationalist position in order to avoid the danger of a regional war, which would be completely reactionary. The main enemy of workers and peasants from Bolivia, Peru and Chile are the capitalists in their own countries, who are nothing less than local agents of US imperialism. Once the workers take power in these countries they will then be able to solve the various border conflicts on friendly terms, within the framework of a federation of socialist republics. The different national bourgeoisies along with imperialism have always maintained the divisions of people and brought them into wars in which the poor are sacrificed in the struggle for control over natural resources (like for instance in the Chaco war).
We cannot forget that the economic backwardness of Bolivia is not the result of the lack of shores, but rather of the reactionary, parasitic character of the alliance between mine owners and landowners which has sold itself out to imperialism and ruled the republic since its foundation. Neighbouring Peru has kilometres upon kilometres of shores. Nevertheless the living conditions of workers and peasants there are very close to those of their Bolivian counterparts.
All conditions are set in Bolivia for the workers and peasants to overthrow this capitalist regime once and for all which has only brought hunger, misery and unemployment, and replace it with a genuine workers’ and peasants’ democracy which takes under its control the natural resources and the country’s economy and runs them under a democratic plan for the benefit of the oppressed majority.
Build a Marxist leadership
It is necessary to learn the lessons of the rich history of revolutionary struggle of the proletariat and the indigenous people of the high plateau. In order to overthrow the exploitive capitalist regime, it is not enough to pose the question of power (as was already done in October). Detailed preparations must be made to solve the question in favour of the workers and peasants. To do this the movement must create democratic structures of workers’ and people’s power that reflect the will of the mobilised masses. The delegates to the People’s Assembly must be elected in cabildos abiertos, in all towns and cities, in the factories and the mines, and in the peasant villages. They must carry a clear mandate from those who elected them and be recallable at any time by those who elected them. The national People’s Assembly must be filled with content calling for the creation of Assemblies on the same lines at departmental, regional, local and neighbourhood levels, as well as calling for them to link up on a national level, which can become an alternative structure of power to the power of the oligarchy.
But for this power to be victorious it is necessary on the one hand to create workers’ and peasants’ militias under the control of the Assembly and its organisations, and at the same time to incorporate the soldiers, the revolutionary police officers and even revolutionary sections of the NCOs to the Assembly through the formation of committees and assemblies within the army which would elect their own delegates. In this way, the army, as a tool of repression of the capitalist state, would be partially neutralised while at the same time a situation like that of the El Alto massacre, when the masses had to face the army barehanded, would be avoided. The oppressed masses of the high plateau have shown in many occasions that this is possible. In April 1952, and once again in January 1971, the workers faced military coups and even, like in 1952, disarmed the army and set up workers’ militias. This is the road to take and these are the traditions of struggle that must be reawakened.
At the same time, the experience of the different revolutionary situations in Bolivia, in 1952, in 1970/71, and during the 1982 and 1985 upsurges, shows the need for a revolutionary leadership with a clear programme, one which will not vacillate at the crucial juncture, one which maintains its class independence and which guarantees victory for the workers and peasants. They have shown since the “water war” in Cochabamaba, and particularly in the last year, that they have very clear class instincts and more than once they have gone further than their leadership. With a Marxist leadership they would be invincible. The elements to forge such a leadership already exist in Bolivia. Hundreds of rank and file workers’, peasants’ and people’s leaders are instinctively groping towards the idea of socialist revolution and already understand a great deal of the tasks necessary to carry it out. But they must be united in a Marxist organisation able to raise at every point the right slogans which connect the level of consciousness of the masses with the needs of the revolutionary process. Such a Marxist organisation, which could rapidly become a mass party, is absolutely necessary to guarantee victory, unifying the movement and directing its blows at every moment towards the aim of taking power. It is necessary furthermore, for such a party to have an internationalist position to avoid the danger of a reactionary war in the region, and make an internationalist appeal to the workers and peasants of Peru, Chile, Ecuador and the whole of Latin America to also rise up. This would be the only effective way to prevent foreign intervention and an international blockade against a victorious revolution.
It is difficult to say what is going to be the outcome of the general strike called by the COB. There is certainly the danger of posing the question of power without having prepared the necessary measures to solve it in favour of the working class. All indications are that workers and peasants are responding favourably to the appeal. According to an Econoticiasbolivia report, the leader of the Departmental Workers Union in Cochabamba “demanded from the national leadership that the date of the general strike and road blockades be brought forward to stop Mesa’s proposed increase in fuel prices”. The same source reported the statement of Miguel Zubieta, the main leader of the miners, who explained the decisions of the national enlarged meeting of the miners union, FSTMB: “We have decided to advance the unity of the workers around the programmatic and revolutionary documents of the miners, replace the bourgeois parliament with a People’s Assembly made up of workers, peasants and the middle class, and to mobilise against the economic measures”. The anger of the population against the government’s announced proposals is growing into an unstoppable tidal wave.
It is also possible that the government, frightened by the perspective of a victorious revolution, will make some concessions, even some important concessions, in order to deactivate the movement. However this would not solve anything. On the one hand it would strengthen the confidence of the masses in their own forces, since it would be seen as a victory. On the other hand the economic situation would force the government, sooner than later, to launch the same attacks again. The decisive conflict would only be postponed. Another possibility is that the ruling class will try to use elections to demobilise the masses, either by calling early elections or the convening a Constituent Assembly. Such an election could be won by Evo Morales’ MAS, but a MAS government would very soon face the dilemma of decisively facing the bourgeoisie and imperialism under pressure from the masses, or apply an austerity programme in which case it would be faced with a new movement of the masses.
The alternative which is posed in Bolivia, in the next few months or years, is clear: either the workers and peasants take power, which would mark the beginning of the socialist revolution in Latin America, or the bourgeoisie sooner or later will smash the revolutionary movement with a ferocious and bloody reactionary dictatorship.
Long live the Bolivian revolution
For a workers’ and peasants’ government
All power to the People’s Assembly
For elected and recallable delegates
For the setting up of Workers’ Militias
Renationalisation under workers’ control of privatised companies
Nationalisation of the banks and credit institutions
Expropriation and distribution to the peasants of the land
Non-payment of the foreign debt
Expropriation under workers control of multinational companies and the property of the oligarchy
For a Socialist Bolivia as a part of a Socialist Federation of Latin America