Tony Saunois, Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI)
On 18 October, delayed elections in Bolivia brought a stunning victory for the left-populist Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS). Its presidential candidate Luis Arce was swept into office with 54.4% of the vote.
This was a crushing defeat for the right and ‘centre’ parties representing the Bolivian ruling class. Carlos Mesa from the right wing received 31.5% of the votes and the fascistic Fernando Camacho won 14.1%. The arch-reactionary former ‘interim’ president Jeanine Áñez saw a collapse of her support. She withdrew from the race following revelations of a sex scandal, which circulated on social media.
This election has major implications for Bolivia, and also contains important lessons for the working class internationally. The decisive defeat of the right in the election and the comeback scored by MAS illustrate the limits of reaction, which does not have a solid ideological base of support.
In many countries, electoral victories scored by right or even far-right parties have largely been a protest vote against the failure of previous governments to resolve the problems facing the working class and the poor.
Arce replaced Evo Morales as the MAS candidate. Morales had been ejected from power by a de-facto coup in 2019. He fled into exile, firstly to Mexico and then to Argentina, and was barred from standing in these elections.
Morales had changed the constitutional rules which prohibited him from seeking re-election, but he was accused of fraudulently winning the 2019 election by the Bolivian right, the Trump regime, and the Organisation of American States (OAS). They all enthusiastically welcomed the coup initiated by the right wing in Bolivia, which saw arch-reactionary Áñez sworn in as interim President.
Trump denounced Morales for unproven electoral fraud – an allegation which he is preparing to repeat in the US elections should he lose!
Morales had ruled for 14 years and presided over significant reforms, carried through on the basis of economic growth dubbed the “miracle”. Overall poverty rates fell by 42% as big sections of the population were lifted out of poverty.
He was the first President from the indigenous community, which had suffered vicious discrimination by the white European ruling elite. Amerindians are approximately 55% of the population from 36 ethnic groups. 30% are ‘mestizos’ or mixed, and 15% white.
Under Morales, Bolivia was renamed a “plurinational Republic,” which was enormously popular. The indigenous Wiphala flag was incorporated into the national flag and used at official ceremonies.
The economic boom was on the basis of high commodity prices, including gas exports. Bolivia has vast reserves of lithium, some of which Morales sold to China, which enraged the US and western imperialism, and was a key factor in the orchestrating of the coup in 2019.
Despite the reforms, Morales did not break with capitalism. For a time, he presided over one of the most stable periods in the history of Bolivian capitalism.
At the same time, he used top-down bureaucratic methods to govern. As the economic boom slowed in recent years, living standards began to decline and dissatisfaction with his government grew.
The right, with the backing of Trump and the OAS, seized the moment and grabbed power. Rather than mobilise his supporters and call a general strike against the coup, Morales capitulated and fled the country, arguing that he wanted to avoid bloodshed.
However, pro-Morales protesters were gunned down by the police. The initially all-white cabinet was sworn in under a crucifix using a massive bible, as the Whipala flag and all indigenous ceremonial symbols were removed.
Elections were twice postponed, provoking the calling of a massive general strike, which was then called off after the trade union leadership which reached an agreement with the reactionary government.
The new victory of MAS represents a significant and big defeat for the right, and also for US imperialism, which wanted MAS removed from power.
However, the crucial issue is what programme will Arce and the new MAS government adopt now?
Arce – an academic economist who studied at Warwick University in the UK – claims he started reading Marx at the age of 14. He says he has the same “ideological” position.
However, when finance minister under Morales, he was not on the left of the party but seen by the capitalists as a ‘moderating’ influence. The reforms he introduced were in a very different economic situation to that which Bolivia faces today.
A contraction of at least 6% in the economy is expected this year. As a warning to workers and the poor, Arce has already stated that, while he opposes public expenditure cuts, “some austerity measures will be necessary”. He also pledges to govern for “all Bolivians” in the national interest.
The right will bide its time and prepare to strike further blows. If MAS fails to break with capitalism and introduce a democratic socialist plan of the economy, it will be compelled by capitalism to carry out attacks on the working class and the poor.
The task of building support for a socialist programme, and organisations of the working class that can implement it, is now facing the Bolivian working class and oppressed. A new chapter in the revolutionary traditions of the Bolivian working class has begun.
- Sessions on ‘A world in crisis’ and other international discussions, including ‘The US after the elections’ at socialism2020.net