Bolivia: Uprising By Workers And Poor Forces Out President

A POWERFUL movement of workers, peasants and indigenous peoples – the poorest people in the poorest country of Latin America – has checked the neo-liberal plans of the Bolivian government and, on 17 October, forced President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada to resign and flee to Miami.
ANDRES ARAVENA, of Socialismo Revolucionario (the Socialist Party’s Chilean counterpart) reports.

OSTENSIBLY, THIS movement was to block the attempted exploitation of the country’s gas reserves by multinationals but it quickly became a generalised struggle by the masses against the capitalist system.

Over 100 protesters were killed during the uprising. But despite violent police repression, media lies and the threat of mass sackings, the workers, peasants and the oppressed responded with daily mass demonstrations and barricading the motorways.

The COB (Bolivian Workers’ Centre – the trade union federation) called an indefinite general strike on 29 September. This movement lasted over two weeks, uniting all sections of the working class, peasants and small business people.

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and suffers from abysmal social inequality. An acute capitalist crisis means that 5.6 million Bolivians – out of a population of 8 million – live in poverty. Three million Bolivians have neither access to electricity or clean drinking water.

At the same time, luxury cars, trips to Miami and bloated salaries are the lifestyle of the big shots of the regime headed by Lozada, himself a millionaire and a boss of a mining company. Capitalism in Bolivia has allowed unlimited exploitation of the vast natural resources of the country at the hands of multinational companies.

Demands of the movement

THE MAIN demands of the movement were: nationalisation of the gas industry, which the government has attempted to export to the USA, and the resignation of the President. Other demands of the strikers included the repeal of the Law of Hydrocarbons, which opened the way to privatisation (the exploitation of these resources gives fabulous wealth to the multinationals) and a programme for land reform that will also deal with the question of the coca leaf plantations.

In addition, the movement called for the repeal of the Tributary Law through which the government is attacking pensions and salaries of workers to cover the fiscal deficit. The protesters also call for the repeal of Decree 21060 that allows workers to be sacked without any explanation or reason.

This powerful movement has forced out one President but has now given power to the former vice-President. The workers and peasants have not yet been able to decisively challenge the power of the capitalists and the landlords. It is clear that all the demands of this movement cannot be realised without challenging the rule of Bolivian capitalism.

This tremendous struggle – a revolutionary process – could dissipate if it is not urgently unified around a revolutionary socialist programme. The new capitalist government will be unable to resolve the social crisis facing Bolivia under capitalism. Further struggles are certain to erupt.

Little or nothing is gained under capitalism

THE ONLY thing which prevented the working class taking over the running of Bolivian society was the weakness of organisation and the lack of a clear socialist objective by the leadership of the movement – the COB, CSUTCB (United Trade Union of Rural workers and Peasants of Bolivia) and the MAS (Movement for Socialism). Also, the masses have not yet embraced socialism as an alternative to capitalism and landlordism.

It is necessary to unite and channel all of the demands of the movement in the struggle for socialism and the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government. Such a government would need to nationalise all the natural resources, the big companies (both national and multinational) and to introduce a programme of land reform under democratic workers’ control and management.

Unfortunately, the reformist ideas of the MAS are confusing many workers. Evo Morales, leader of MAS, suggested calling in the United Nations as advisers to resolve the question of the gas industry! Moreover, since the resignation of the former President, Morales has urged that time be given to the new government. However, it is not possible to improve the living conditions of the masses in Bolivia by attempting to reform capitalism step by step until socialism is achieved. The history of the workers’ movement especially in Latin American is littered with the failed and bloody attempts to reform capitalism out of existence.

The demand for a Constituent Assembly has been posed as a way out of the crisis. However, it will need a revolution and the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government to guarantee a genuine constituent assembly – a revolutionary constituent assembly. This would consist of representatives from the workers, peasants and indigenous peoples and from small traders and soldiers to discuss the measures needed to resolve the main problems facing the country and to begin the socialist transformation of the country.

The working class and the general strike

THE COB called the general strike to force the resignation of the President and to stop the sale of gas to the USA. But the indefinite character of the strike, and its popularity, posed the questions of who holds power and who really governs society.

Due to its social cohesion, the working class can provide leadership to other oppressed sections of society. But it is necessary to establish a clear plan and objectives that will result in a victory for this class. The COB leadership did nothing to prepare for this when they called the strike.

It is essential that strike committees are elected in all areas at a local, city-wide, regional and national level in order to co-ordinate the struggle and to unify the movement. These bodies could deal with issues such as the lack of basic supplies in the cities and the rural areas, to prevent vandalism and the wrecking actions of provocateurs etc.

The army was beginning to be affected by the massive social movement. Apparently many officers and soldiers were sympathetic to the demands of the protesters. The movement needed to make an appeal to the rank and file of the army – workers and peasants in uniform – to refuse to obey orders to repress the movement. The soldiers should be invited to form their own committees and to join the strike committees.

There is massive discontent within the ranks of the army and a revolutionary policy linking their problems to the movement is needed.

For a revolutionary leadership to end capitalism

WITHOUT A revolutionary leadership with a Marxist political programme that will unify all sections of workers, the vacillation of the present leaders can have serious consequences for the working class. The struggle cannot carry on indefinitely if the workers and peasants feel that it is not going anywhere.

It is urgent that the movement adopts a programme that includes the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government. This means a struggle to end the rule of the capitalists and landlords, to expel imperialism and to begin the socialist transformation of the country.

A revolutionary socialist victory by the workers and peasants of Bolivia would automatically give a massive boost to the confidence of the workers of Latin America, as they search for an alternative to neo-liberal policies.