Bolivia: Two thirds of the votes, now forward to socialism

Even though we are still waiting for the official final data from the Plurinational Electoral Body, the victory of Evo Morales and the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) is clear and massive, as was expected. The overwhelming support for change in society has been graphically shown by Morales winning 2/3rds of the vote.

The right wing is in retreat, having disappeared as a serious force in the national political scene. This result, as compañero Evo said himself, “forces us to accelerate the process of change … for the benefit of different sections of the workers.”

Reasons for an overwhelming victory

Bolivia: Two thirds of the votes, now forward to socialismThese elections are already part of the republican history of Bolivia. 5.2 million were registered to vote in the country – up from 3.8 million in the previous electoral register. For the first time, some 200,000 Bolivians abroad (in countries like Argentina, Brazil, the US, and Spain)were allowed to vote. The 94% turnout was also a record, with only 4% of the votes being blank or null. According to the first quick count at polling stations (not yet official results), Evo Morales would have received between 2.5 and 3 million votes. This is up from the 1.5 million votes (and 54% support) he received in 2005 when he became the first president to be directly elected by the people without the need for agreements between different parties.

One can see the reason for the overwhelming victory of Evo and the MAS. The process of change has awoken the hopes of the youth, the workers, the peasants, and the impoverished petty bourgeoisie in the cities and the countryside. In the past, hundreds of thousands abstained, did not register, or spoiled their votes out of mistrust for the political circus that was Bolivian electoral politics. Anyone who says otherwise is not able to see reality.

Santa Cruz and the disorientation of the right wing

We have heard representatives of the right wing, such as political analyst Sergio Antelo, explain the victory of the MAS because of the “ethnic vote”, patronage, or entrenched regional divisions in the East, such as the Chaco region in Tarija. This kind of analysis betrays the astonishment of the right wing and their own conception of politics as a series of manoeuvres to fool the will of the people.

We must remind them that two out of the seven special indigenous constituencies (in Beni and Santa Cruz) elected opposition candidates; in the Chaco in Tarija, AS got one of its three elected deputies. As for whether patronage is effective or not, it does not seem that the money and favours, distributed by the new allies of the right wing Union Juvenil Cruceñista, have made a difference.

Taking into account the quick count, the MAS has increased its votes in the Department of Santa Cruz from 250,000 in the constitutional referendum in January, to between 400,000 and 500,000 now. The right wing has gone up from 400,000 to 700,000 in the Department. But in the capital city of the Department, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the MAS has received 77,000 as opposed to 131,000 it got in the Referendum with 40% of votes officially counted. As we had warned, the alliances with former UJC supporters in Santa Cruz did not dent the vote for the right wing, but it had the opposite effect.

It is clear that the official campaign of the MAS in Santa Cruz was a failure. The campaign was “aimed at the middle class”, with alliances made with UJC supporters, and aimed toward well-off residential areas like Equipetrol. On the contrary, support for the MAS increased in the working class and poor areas outside the regional capital, like Plan 3000, Pampa La Isla, Palmasola, etc., where Evo had already received 57% of the vote in the recall referendum.

The city of Santa Cruz remains extremely polarised from a social and political point of view. The election results here do not reflect a willingness to conciliate, as newly elected MAS member of Senate Ana María Romero said; on the contrary, it shows the need to go forward without vacillations in implementing profound changes in an overcrowded city which suffers serious problems in lack of jobs, houses, health care, and education.

The weight of the middle class

In general the emphasis on the so-called “middle class”, which has been seen during the election campaign and also in the statements of official spokespersons like Minister Arce after the elections, is aimed at sowing confusion. The middle class is no longer a definition, but a hodgepodge in which everyone includes whatever they want. When we talk about the middle class, we are talking about a heterogeneous mass which includes everyone from the person who sells food in a stall in the street, to the self-employed professional; from the small rural owner to the middle sized farmer which monopolises the distribution of the crops in his community; from the taxi driver, to the high ranking civil servant or company manager who oversees the work of others. To think that all of them have the same social interests is completely wrong.

As shown in these elections – and particularly by the results in Santa Cruz – the lower, impoverished layers of the middle class are looking for a way out from their social and economic problems of insecurity; they are voting for the MAS, “for change”. The rest of the middle class only think about protecting their vested privileges faced with what they perceive as a plebeian tidal wave. However, this is a small minority in society, as shown by the pitiful vote for the right wing.

The idea of winning over their votes by moderating the policies is a dangerous illusion and has been falsified by the results. These people are not those who have entered the political arena by being attracted by the hopes created by our process of change. No, they are the small and big businessmen, the lawyers and privileged, who have controlled politics and the government in the past.

“Ethnic vote”

Such an overwhelming victory cannot be reduced simply to an ethnic vote, even though it is clear that the indigenous peoples play a key role in the struggle for national emancipation. We have already mentioned the fact that some of the special indigenous constituencies elected right wing candidates, but we can add the fact that in one of the cradles of Indian nationalism, in Jesús de Machaka, indigenous autonomy was passed by only an extremely narrow margin. Furthermore, in six out of 12 municipalities that were voting on indigenous autonomy, the vote was negative.

One of the MAS intellectuals, sociologist Félix Paxti, explained the defeat of the right wing because of its alleged “Western style modernising character, and its inability to reflect a plurinational vision of the country.” In reality, the defeat of the right wing is the result of the destruction of jobs and industry as a result of their neoliberal policies; the anti-imperialist spirit steeled in the struggle for the defence of the coca crop, the last resource for many peasants and relocated miners; the impoverishment of peasant communities caused by capitalist competition; in the struggle of workers and peasants for sovereignty and national dignity which is summed up in the October Agenda (nationalisation and industrialisation); the mobilisation against the Separation Referendum and the Santa Cruz attempted coup. These are all events and struggles in which the indigenous people have played a key role because they have given their struggle an anti-capitalist character, thus linking up with the working class and its revolutionary traditions.

The mandate of the people: forward to socialism

The one who has given the best explanation of the vote and the mandate of the people has been compañero Evo Morales, who, in his victory speech, said: “We now have an enormous responsibility with Bolivia and with the whole of human kind to deepen and speed up the process of change in order to proclaim socialism.” As we fought for, we now have a government, charged with implementing the new Political Constitution of the State, with a strong enough majority so that it will not need to negotiate with any other political forces.

But this government is facing the impact of the economic crisis. The Ministry of Finances has already warned that the country could end up with a fiscal deficit of 4.5 billion Bolivianos (US$640 million) in 2010. Bolivia is facing a drop of 50% in foreign investment; this number could be worse if multinationals continue to announce investments, in minerals and hydrocarbons, which never arrive or are dramatically reduced.

Private banks concentrate in expropriating bankrupted small producers and focusing on speculative activities, rather than becoming an engine for the country's development. Mining multinationals continue to plunder the country, with nearly 2 billion dollars of revenue in 2008, of which only 94 million stayed in the country, a ridiculous amount which barely covers the necessary state expenditure to deal with the environmental costs associated with their operations.

Those living in the peasant communities near the big mining areas are paid with a sack of pasta and a sack of rice per month, in order to keep quiet over the environmental destruction caused in their communities. One out of every three workers lives under the poverty line and 54% of private sector Bolivian workers have casual contracts.

Socialism is the only solution to these problems, but socialism cannot be simply proclaimed or talked about. Compañero Evo Morales once said, “Capitalism brings us only crisis,” and added, “the only solution is socialism.” But, he also said “socialism should not affect private property and the right of investors to make profit.” However, it is precisely the private property of the banks, the companies, the mines, and the landed estates that cause the crisis of capitalism and prevents us from building socialism.

The context of the capitalist crisis that we are living in will clearly show us that a “plural economy,” a mixed economy in which capitalism dominates, is not compatible with the building of a society free from exploitation and where we can all truly and directly decide over our own future. What is needed is a socialist society, and 2/3rds of the votes from the Bolivian people is a strong enough mandate. If it is left for later, it may be too late.

The MAS and re-election

The election result shows us that right now, the MAS represents the channel in which the expectations and struggle of the people for socialism expresses itself. Former MAS peasant leader Loayza and those who, in a confused way, attempted to look for an alternative to the left of the MAS have been defeated by their own sectarianism. Evo represents the peoples' aspirations because of his past as a leading activist arising from mass mobilisation.

However, if the MAS is to become a tool of struggle for socialism, and this is our aim, it cannot be the property of this or that person. It has to be a party in which the rank and file decides the future of the party in a democratic way. It has to be a party based on political and ideological debate, not on the struggle for power between different cliques, as too often is the case now.

We need to educate the leading cadres to transform the electoral support of workers and peasants into active participation in the process of change, the only antidote against corruption, opportunism, and the petty squabbles of some social organisations. Such a party is an urgent need if we are to prevent the rise of a bureaucracy that would stifle rank and file enthusiasm, as it has in Venezuela to a certain extent. This would mean a serious danger to the revolution, as Chávez himself has warned.

From our point of view, it would not be scandalous for Evo to raise the issue of running for re-election, which he seems to rule out at the moment. However, the MAS cannot depend on Evo and this is clear to the activists who are committed to socialism. We want to build the party in the daily political struggle, fighting against opportunism, bureaucracy, and the ideas that advocate capitalist “solutions.” This is the task that we have set ourselves and we appeal to all comrades, youth, workers, and peasants who want to build socialism themselves, as it is their right to do so.