Articles from Labor Action

A Suicidal Line in Bolivia’s Political Crisis

March 17, 1952

In spite of all the political defeats which we have analyzed in previous articles, of the pro-nationalist policy of the Bolivian “official Trotskyist” group, especially in relation to the MNR, they remain mired in their mistakes. The MNR’s gains in the last election seem to be the major glory of the Bolivian Trotskyists. They are not only backing the Nationalist leadership but are also demanding all political power for that party.

Latest news is that the official section of the Fourth International, the POR has published an open letter to the military junta, the present government of Bolivia, demanding that the latter hand over the government to the MNR party, without any new elections, on the grounds that the last election gave it a majority. This gratuitous support for the MNR nationalists, who are very well known for their dependence upon Peron and for their pro-Hitlerist sympathies previously, militates against the most elementary consciousness of the Latin American workers. It is true enough that the majority of the mine and factory workers are backing the nationalist party, but the obligation of revolutionaries should be to unmask the mistaken policies of the nationalist leadership and show the masses the right political road to independent class struggle.

As we have written before, the political situation in Bolivia is very strange; the Nationalist Party, though defeated by an uprising, remains the strongest political party in the country because of the reactionary anti-labor policy of the “democratic” Right, which ended in an electoral defeat and a military dictatorship. But all this is also a consequence of the adventurist and mistaken policy of the Nationalists, Stalinists and “official Trotskyists,” who exposed the workers to the right wing massacres.

It is true that a political change is necessary in Bolivia, for the “bourgeois-democratic” Right is totally bankrupt. It is also true that the country must pass through a nationalist experience; but this does not necessitate support for the totalitarian-nationalist party by the workers’ opposition, especially by the Trotskyist opposition. If the workers’ party has to fight the ruling circles, the military Right, this does not mean that it must support a nationalist party which, in power, will persecute the workers’ organizations as it has done in the past.

But the Bolivian POR is a tail of the MNR. The POR has grown in the shadow of the MNR.

In theoretical terms, the mistake in Bolivia lies in a wrong view of the perspective of the Latin American revolution. This view is that the next revolution will be a bourgeois-democratic revolution which will solve the anachronistic agrarian problem and will eliminate the economic and colonial dependence of Latin America on imperialism. In this revolution the nationalist petty bourgeois parties will perhaps play a big role.

But to go through this historical stage the workers’ party has to conquer political power and unleash the Socialist proletarian revolution. Their theory, which is based upon Lenin’s old theory which he in fact revised in 1917 is entirely inadequate for our historical epoch. In Latin America, and especially in Bolivia and Peru, if the agrarian and colonial problems are to be solved, they will be solved only by a Socialist revolution directed by the revolutionary proletariat-that is, a Socialist revolution which will in passing solve the anachronistic problems of the democratic revolution, without losing its Socialist and proletarian character.

Therefore, the role of the petty bourgeois nationalist or Stalinist parties will be very small and without historical importance. Today the policy of the MNR and POR is conducive to the counter-revolution and is reactionary.

Bolivian Trotskyists Cuddle Up Closer to Peronist Groups

April 7, 1952

Our last article reported the initiative taken by the Central Committee of the Trotskyist POR in publishing an open letter to the government demanding that power be handed over to the nationalist MNR without a new election. The grounds for this were the 1950 elections, when the nationalists, who were supported by the POR, won a majority of the vote.

Now the “dynamic” General Secretary of the POR has published a new open letter in which he again demands support for the MNR and for the “United Front Against Imperialism.” By this move the “strategists” of the POR are backing the Peronist Congress of Workers’ Unions. This outfit was organized by Peron’s agents in Asuncion, Paraguay, with the aim of winning the support of Latin American workers to Peron, not only against “Yanqui Imperialism,” but also against his own Argentine opposition, that is, the workers’ opposition in Argentina.

The Bolivian “official Trotskyists” uncritically support this move by the Peronistas and greet it as the “process of the unification of the Latin American workers”; they assert that it is breaking out of the “narrow aims of the Peronist bureaucrats,” and that it is basically an “anti-capitalist and anti-Stalinist movement.” It is very difficult to think of a clearer case of political blindness. Therefore it is that in Bolivia one hears the opprobrious term “Nazi-Trotskyism,” and the student press calls the POR the “left hand of the MNR.”

It is a fact that the POR has consistently backed all the Nationalists’ adventures, such as its “coup d'état,” has helped to organize the miners to support the MNR, and supported the Nationalists in the 1950 elections. This policy was confirmed by the last congress of the Fourth International and its “Latin American Bureau.”

In the Internal Bulletin of the Fourth International Secretariat we read a proud confirmation of the Bolivian POR’s policy of supporting the Nationalists and Peronism. One of the old militants of the POR told us, likewise with pride, that the MNR has offered two ministries to the POR. The Internal Bulletin stated that the POR will proclaim the “creation of the workers’ and peasants’ government formed by the two parties [the MNR and the POR] based upon the aforesaid program [of the POR] and supported by the workers’ committees, peasants’ committees and the revolutionary elements of the petty bourgeoisie of the cities” [October 1951 Bulletin, Montevideo].

This pro-Nationalist reformism is served up to the Bolivian workers as a revolutionary Marxist program. This is the “revolutionary policy” of the Bolivian Section of the Fourth International: coalition government with the MNR, which was formed in the Nazi school and with Nazi officers.

Behind this theory is its corresponding “theory”: “The program of the revolutionary party,” the Internal Bulletin says, “must be built by a combination of the anti-imperialists, anti-capitalists, and democratic and nationalist spokesmen,” and “this broad conception of the program must be manifested practically by participation and activity, without any sectarianism, in all organizations and in all movements of the masses which can express, even if indirectly, the aspirations and feelings of the masses, including, for example, the Peronist workers’ unions, the MNR in Bolivia, the Peruvian APRA, Vargas’ laborite movement in Brazil, or Democratic Action in Venezuela” [Bulletin, page 9].

For these people there is no important distinction between the Peron, Vargas and Bolivian MNR movements on the one hand and on the other the APRA in Peru or Democratic Action in Venezuela. But everybody knows that Peron, Vargas and the MNR are totalitarian, while APRA and Democratic Action are petty bourgeois radical organizations of a reformist character.

On the theoretical plane, in our view, the mistakes of the Latin American official Trotskyists are based upon the mistaken concept of the “bourgeois-democratic” revolution in Latin America. But this day is past in the whole world, and today only the working class can carry through such a revolution, which would be a proletarian Socialist revolution, with bourgeois-democratic tasks in some countries.

But outside of theoretical errors and a lack of Marxist culture, the “Fourthist” radicals have a great hunger for power and, filled with pride by the MNR’s offers, are anxious to make all haste towards a coalition government with the totalitarians.

The “Nationalist” Revolution in Bolivia

April 28, 1952

In his first official declaration, the No. 2 man of the MNR, Hernan Siles Zuazo [the top leader is Paz Estenssoro, who has been in exile in Buenos Aires] promised the workers that “our government will not only be one of reform, but it will be a government of political, social and economic transformation.” He promised a change in the colonial economic structure and a transformation of the one-product economy [tin and other materials] towards a diversification of industry and agriculture. He also promised Agrarian reform and the integration of the Indians into national life. The secretary of the miners’ union, Juan Lechin, promised nationalization of the mines.

This is indeed the key to the situation, the reason for the heroic fight of the workers and also the tragedy of the Nationalists in power. The workers were and are fighting only for power and for a “transformation,” that is, for “social revolution” and the MNR is fighting only for power and for a patchwork reform of Bolivian capitalism. The MNR government will be only a patchwork government because the MNR is only a petty bourgeois party and not a revolutionary workers’ party.

The Bolivian workers want a revolution but are quite confused about its content, for the MNR talks about the “national revolution” and the Stalinists [PIR] and Trotskyists [POR] talk about the “democratic revolution.” But this is precisely the basic error of the Stalinists and backward Fourth Internationalists; in our time what is possible is only a revolution carried through and led by the workers-that is, only the social revolution, which will solve the national and democratic problems of backwardness in passing. The social revolution of our time is the Socialist revolution and its leader is the proletariat, not the petty bourgeoisie or the Stalinist bureaucrats.

The Bolivian POR supported the MNR; the militants of the POR fought under the leadership of the Nationalists in Lechin’s groups on the streets, as this writer was able to see personally. They fought in the hope that the MNR would start the democratic revolution in Bolivia and that “then we [the POR] will come.” But in Bolivia there is no revolutionary bourgeoisie; there is only the nationalist petty bourgeoisie, which is oriented towards Peronism, and the Stalinist “intelligentsia,” which would introduce state capitalism.

Bolivian Regime Kills Land Reform

August 18, 1952

Of course, I had been quite certain, on the basis of theoretical principles, that the “democratic revolution” was not to be expected [contrary to the Stalinist teachings of the PIR, the Stalinist party, and the semi-Stalinist theory of the “Trotskyist” POR]. But I should like to have been proved wrong; I should like to have seen a minimum of reforms carried through in the country; I should like to have seen that, despite my criticisms, the “Trotskyist” POR was doing a little revolutionary work.

Nothing of the sort is going on in Bolivia. The country is suffering social convulsions, civil wars and a coup d'état, because the feudal structure is absolutely obsolete. The masses of workers and peasants want a social revolution, and for many years they have listened to the revolutionary Marxist doctrine of the “left” parties, even if in the distorted forms supplied by the Stalinists and reformists. But the “left” Stalinist or Trotskyist parties are incapable of conquering power, because of the international counter-revolution which centers in Moscow, and because of the imperialist supremacy of the United States.

Therefore, as a consequence of the bankruptcy of the traditional right wing parties, the Nationalist party came to power, and it must give lip-service to the revolution so as to get the ear of the masses. The real necessity for social revolution in Bolivia is replaced by social demagogy, by empty phraseology, by charlatanry, because the petty bourgeoisie is not only incapable of achieving the national revolution but even of any progressive democratic reforms -- above all, the distribution of the land to the Indian peasants, the emancipation of the Indians, and their real incorporation into the economic and political life of the country.

The “Trotskyist” POR also speaks in empty revolutionary phrases about the “workers’ revolution” of April 9th, about the fight between the “left” and “right” wings of the Nationalist party, and about the “revolutionary maturity of the Bolivian proletariat” – while trade union elements protest against the “Jewish oppressors’ class” and demand “freedom of pogroms.” And this is against a few Jewish small industrialists, owners of little factories – this is the “maturity” of the Bolivian proletariat, which entirely backs the Nationalist party while the Trotskyist POR backs not only the “left wing” of the MNR led by Lechin, but also the government of Paz Estenssoro.

The “Indian Day” was, in fact, the mobilization of the Nationalist reaction against the working class of Bolivia and their aspirations towards social revolution. The regime is very unstable, and an incident embroiling the military and the police can be the occasion for a new coup d'état. Paz Estenssoro is threatened by the police forces, which want more power – that is, a police dictatorship – and he looks for support from the workers against the police, and from the peasants against the workers. And yet the naive POR believes that Paz Estenssoro is against the Nationalist right wing and for the “national revolution.”

We repeat that Bolivia needs a social revolution, but, because of international reaction and the incapacity of the petty bourgeoisie for revolutionary action, the country is living through an empty revolutionary farce, an imitation of the social revolution, under the Nationalist party, which is incapable of any progressive reforms.

Trade Unions Press Nationalists for Real Reform

September 22, 1952

Important political changes have been taking place in Bolivia since our last report, altering the political scene and accelerating the processes that have been taking place since the Nationalist coup d'état.

Since the Paz Estenssoro government showed its vacillation on the problem of mine nationalization and agrarian reform, the bourgeois opposition has raised its head and entered upon political action.

The Falanga Socialista Boliviana, a pro-Franco group, has published a manifesto accusing the government of an alliance with “Communism.” At the same time terrorist acts were attempted against President Paz’s secretary and against other officials in the president’s office. The Nationalists have interpreted this as pressure on the President by the Rosca [the great mining magnates], warning him that his life will be in danger if he moves to nationalize the mines.

On the other side, the workers’ unions, especially the mine workers, evidenced their dissatisfaction with the slowness of the government’s pace on the question of mine nationalization and agrarian reform. They demanded the withdrawal of the “Labor” ministers from the cabinet.

Then the Nationalist leader, Paz, was faced with the question of going along with the Nationalist workers’ unions, which are the mass base of his party, or with the rightists, particularly the Falanga, against his own working class adherents.

The Nationalist trade unions answered the terrorist acts with a great demonstration and a half-day strike under the leadership of the Central Obrera Boliviana [the labor federation]. Their chief demand was that the government quicken the tempo of mine nationalization and reform on the land; they suspended their demand for the withdrawal of the “Labor” ministers, and reiterated their support for the government, on condition that their chief demand be accomplished, and that the cabinet be reconstructed with a greater number of “labor” representatives.

The trade unions demonstrated great self-confidence and great strength as the only real political force in the country. Fifty thousand workers demonstrated their will for social revolution, even if in the distorted forms and language of Nationalism. Paz had no alternative but to “accept” the workers’ support against the Right and promise nationalization in short order.

Under threat of his life, Paz must seek the support and protection of the Nationalist workers, for the bourgeoisie has lost its strength, and his own party, the MNR, is nothing without the support of labor. Even though the unions formally support the MNR, they are maintaining their own independence; they are organized through the Central Obrera Boliviana, which is the most important political instrument in the country, and the center of the giant political and armed forces behind the government.

The declaration by Paz, that he now sees that the mines can be nationalized, corresponds to the real relationship of social forces – that is, the weakness of the MNR and the strength of the unions, who formally support the MNR government and acknowledge Paz as the leader of the “national revolution.”

If it is permissible to compare small things with great, the Bolivian Central Obrera can be compared with the Russian soviets of 1917 at the time when they voluntarily supported the bourgeois government. The Central is controlled by the Trotskyist party, the POR, but the POR’s delegate there, Moller, calls Paz Estenssoro his “comrade” and the “leader of the revolution.” This is the fundamental difference between the policy of Lenin and that of the Bolivian Trotskyists of the POR.

The latter voluntarily support the Nationalist government as being the “revolutionary government,” and they refuse to raise the slogan of “All Power to the Central Obrera,” or to the workers’ unions; they think that this would help the bourgeois Rosca and put an end to the “national revolution.” They hope to “smuggle through” the nationalization of the mines, smuggle more labor ministers into the cabinet, and smuggle in the entire social revolution and a workers’ and peasants’ government under the leadership of the POR. This is what is grotesque about the Bolivian situation.

They believe that they can “make” the “democratic and Socialist revolution” in Bolivia because the working class is the only political force, and that if they can get the mines and land nationalized they will be on top of the situation. They do not reckon with foreign intervention because, after the consolidation of Peron in Argentina and of Ibanez in Chile, they feel very confident.

Given the victory of Ibanez in Chile and the support by Peron to the Bolivian Nationalists, United States imperialism has suffered a very serious defeat in Bolivia. This is very true. But what will happen now? Can the government nationalize the mines, and will it do so? Is it enough to say that theoretically it can do it and that practically speaking it must do it, after the labor demonstration and after the solemn promises of the president? Would this mean the social revolution in Bolivia, as the naive members of the POR think?

The Socialist Revolution is not possible in so isolated and backward a country as Bolivia, and the Nationalists know that very well better than do the naive Trotskyists, who are working for the Nationalists and preparing their own downfall. If, under the pressure of the trade unions, the Nationalist government nationalizes the mines and the land, this will add up only to a bureaucratic state capitalist reform and not to the smuggling in of the social revolution.

The social revolution cannot be smuggled in; it must be fought for by the workers in their open revolutionary struggle. It is necessary to tell the workers that they must take the power, that only their revolutionary workers’ power can realize the democratic and socialist reforms that they desire and can transform the exploitative society into a new workers’ social order without exploitation. Only such a workers’ government could push the revolution forward.

The national or democratic revolution in our time is impossible under a bourgeois government; and, in this isolated and backward country, it is impossible also under a workers’ government, which would have to go from bourgeois-democratic to Socialist reforms. The victory of the Socialist revolution would be possible only on a continent-wide and international basis.

Therefore, if the mines are nationalized in Bolivia and agrarian reform is instituted, this will only give an impetus to new forms of state capitalist economy, to new forms of exploitation, to new lords, to a new Rosca dominating over the workers, and not to the workers’ social revolution. It is the obligation of the revolutionary party to tell the workers this truth and not to cheat them with hopes of smuggled revolutions while giving support to the Nationalist petty bourgeois and totalitarian government.

Workers Press for Socialist Change

September 29, 1952

Under the pressure of the workers and Indian peasants of Bolivia, the victorious Nationalist party [MNR] has promised to nationalize the mines, and to carry through agrarian reforms and changes in the socio-economic structure of the country, as the basic objectives of the “national revolution.” The workers and peasants are therefore supporting the Nationalist Party in power under President Paz Estenssoro and waiting for the realization of the promises.

But the social content of this program is understood in different ways by the Nationalists on the one hand and by the workers on the other. By the nationalization of the mines the MNR Nationalists mean a simple bureaucratic reform, the intervention of the state in the administration of the mines. But by the nationalization of the mines the workers mean their confiscation without compensation and their administration by the workers themselves. This is the basic class difference between the workers and the petty bourgeoisie, between Socialism and capitalism.

President Paz has promised nationalization, but he does not really think that it will be necessary to carry it through. It is true that at the last meeting of the Central Obrera Boliviana he said, under the visible pressure of the masses: “I see now that the nationalization of the mines is indispensable, and I promise to do it.” But in a conversation with the writer Diez de Medina, Paz said “that he thinks the nationalization of the mines will mean bankruptcy, but nevertheless, he must do it.”

And he really must do it, because the great mining corporations have begun to lay off workers and close the mines, as in the case of the Compania Unificada in Potosi and the American Smelting Company in Corocora. In this situation the government has to appoint its own managers for the mines in order to avoid the stoppage of production.

And so the objective situation is imposing revolutionary methods on the government. With the growth in strength of the workers’ movement, the power of the big mine owners is declining and losing its former weight. As things stand now, the big bourgeoisie cannot engage the workers and the Nationalist government in battle. The government managers took over their posts without any resistance. Now the people are waiting for the decree nationalizing the mines, as a result of the “study” presented by the government commission which was appointed for that purpose.

Opposition to the government’s policy of mine statification is strong, not from the right, but from the working class left wing, even from Nationalist workers who are members of the governing MNR Nationalist Party. This is so because the workers do not agree with its bureaucratic methods of managing the mines. They fear lest statification of the mines creates a new bureaucracy which might exploit and squeeze the workers even more than the present mine owners.

Therefore the workers organized in the Central Obrera are demanding the nationalization of the mines without compensation, under workers’ control. This means that the workers are demanding revolutionary expropriation – they want the mines to pass over into their own hands and be operated under the control of workers’ committees, not of government bureaucrats who dream of imposing their own economic and political power over labor.

For the Nationalist party and government, the nationalization of the mines means a state capitalist reform; the appropriation of the mines by the government party; the creation of a new bourgeoisie, a new Rosca; the monopolization of the nation’s wealth by a new privileged class, with economic and political power over the workers and the workers’ trade unions, over the state machine and the whole Bolivian people.

The workers instinctively fear this danger which has been created by the situation which they brought into being, and they fear giving dangerous powers to their “own” party, which they have pushed into power and supported. The Central Obrera Boliviana, which was formed by Juan Lechin, the government minister of the mines, is now the sole opposition capable of exerting pressure upon the government and compelling it to change its policy.

Thus the objective historical process, the need for changes in the socio-economic structure of the country, has created a new political situation in Bolivia and brought out the latent social conflict between the Nationalist petty bourgeoisie and the working class, between the governing Nationalist Party and the workers’ unions, which are still officially backing the former. This social conflict is the motor force of the imminent social and political changes which loom ahead in the land.

Unions Adopt Marxist Position


On my last trip to Bolivia and its capital, La Paz, I found that great political changes have taken place in the country. By destroying the political machine of the Right, including its military organizations, the workers have now become the only real political and social force, which, if it so wishes, can immediately conquer political power and introduce social and political reforms in accordance with its own program.

The victorious and armed working class is the decisive social, political, and military force in the Altiplano [the Bolivian plateau]. The government of the MNR, the Nationalist Party, is holding on through the support of the armed working class, not through the strength of its own party.

The workers – that is, the workers’ unions – are united in the Central Obrera Boliviana, which was organized by Lechin as a supporter of the Nationalist Party. This Bolivian workers’ center looks like an imitation of Peronist policy, and the basis for a new nationalist regime.

But si duo faciunt idem non est idem – although both may do the same thing, it is not the same thing: in Peronist Argentina the workers’ unions are subordinated to the regime as its obedient instrument, because Argentine capitalism is stronger than Bolivian capitalism, the Peronist government party machine is stronger than the Bolivian MNR, and its military machine is also much stronger.

In Bolivia the workers’ unions were, to be sure, founded and dominated by the MNR and raised up as the MNR’s road to power and as the base of its regime. But now, because of the weakness of Bolivian capitalism and the weakness of the Nationalist Party, the unions are in reality the unconscious masters of the situation.

The “labor ministers” in the cabinet, Lechin and Boutron, who are both members of the MNR and leaders of trade unions, have to give their reports to the leading committee of the Central Obrera – so that this leading committee of the Central is virtually a dual government, an embryonic workers’ government.

As we have previously reported, when the government delayed the nationalization of the mines, the workers’ unions adopted a resolution calling upon the “labor ministers” to leave the cabinet. The government of Paz Estenssoro then solemnly promised to nationalize the mines, and the Central Obrera authorized the “labor ministers” to stay in the cabinet. It also demanded increased “workers’ representation” in the government, a demand which has not been satisfied up to now.

The official organ of the Central Obrera, Rebelion, has published a very interesting and important document entitled “The Ideological Position of the Bolivian Working Class.” The most important part of this document concerns the character of the Bolivian revolution.

‘The Bolivian revolution,’ says Rebelion, ‘must have the character of a combined revolution – bourgeois-democratic in its immediate objectives and Socialist in its uninterrupted results. It is quite impossible to separate the two phases of the revolution; that means that the workers in power must not halt at bourgeois-democratic limits, but must strike ever more deeply at the rights of private property, going over to Socialist methods, and in this way giving the revolution a permanent character.’

This passage signifies a most important theoretical advance for revolutionary Marxist thinking in Bolivia. For years we have been fighting against the theory of “democratic revolution” in Bolivia – that is, of bourgeois democratic revolution which stops short of Socialist change. This theory has been supported not only by the Stalinists but also by the “Trotskyist” POR, especially by G. Lora, as the basis for political action by the workers. This outlived theory was the basis of the opportunist policy of the Stalinist party after 1946 and is also the reason for its bankruptcy – and therefore indirectly is the reason for the victory of the MNR in 1952.

Now, finally, the most important workers’ organization in the country has overcome this false theory and accepted the correct position, in effect the theory of the “permanent revolution” – that is, the Socialist theory developed by Trotsky. The Bolivian working class has taken a great step forward and has proved that it is really taking the road to revolution.

In this situation only a different appraisal of the international situation divides, in my view, revolutionary Marxist thought from the most important workers’ organization.

The publication of Rebelion provoked consternation and fright within the MNR, especially in its right wing circles. A group of ministers and Nationalist leaders countered by publishing a “Manifesto” against “Communism.” But President Paz, aware of his own weakness and of his own party’s weakness, declared that no-one had the right to publish a political statement for the MNR except its political committee [which consists of Paz himself, plus Siles and Alvarez Plata]. In this diplomatic form the “Anti-Communist Manifesto” directed against the Central Obrera was repudiated.

This was done by the same Paz Estenssoro who has always himself aggressively attacked “communism”; but this time he would be attacking the entire organized working class, which is backing his own regime. He was prudent enough to refrain from doing so.

But through his offices Juan Lechin was led to make the statement that “The Ideological Position of the Bolivian Working Class” is only a private draft and not a definitive program, and that such a definitive program would be adopted by the workers’ congress in January. Thus the conflict between the government and the Central Obrera was smoothed over this time.

But the conflict is latent, and the problem of nationalization is renewing it right along; because by nationalization the Central Obrera means the handing over of the mines to the workers, and not to the state. There is much discussion about this problem right now, and the next session of the Central Obrera is scheduled to take up and ratify an Open Letter to President Paz about the modus operandi of nationalization.

It is very characteristic of the political composition of the Central Obrera’s committee. The largest faction is that of the POR; next comes the group of Lechin and Torres, that is, the Nationalist wing of the unions; and the Stalinists are in third place with scarcely five votes. Though it is true that the POR is organizationally and ideologically very weak, and that Lechin and Torres are retreating and vacillating, it is also true that the spontaneous workers’ movement is very strong, and is pushing the Central Obrera forward.

The objective historical and social process in Bolivia is pushing the social forces to revolutionary solutions, and the counter-revolutionary camp is disorganized, weak and incapable of any resistance. It depends only on the workers to understand their own power, and to grasp the fact that only a workers’ and peasants’ government can realize the program of the Bolivian revolution; that it must be a working class revolution, even though it has to solve immediate bourgeois-democratic tasks.

The Nationalist regime, which is hanging on to power only because of the workers’ support, will fall if this support is withdrawn. Therefore, an enormous responsibility rests upon the Central Obrera and upon the strongest group within it, the POR.

Transformed POR Leads Workers

October 27, 1952

Let me begin this dispatch by putting recent Bolivian events in the setting of the country’s political development.

For nearly the first twenty years of this century Bolivia was governed by the Liberal Party as the champion of capitalist development on the Altiplano. But capitalism came to Bolivia very late, and the country’s colonial conditions could not open up the normal possibilities for its development. The Liberal Party was replaced by the Republicans of Saavedra, and then by the genuine Republican Party, Socialists and Nationalists.

With the Russian revolution the modern working class movement also began, and with it the organization of the modern Left. The Bolivian Socialist Workers Party [ PSOB] arose, and later the Stalinist and Trotskyist groups.

After the defeat by Paraguay in the Gran Chaco War, the military dictatorships of Toro and Busch [the latter with “Socialistic” tenencies] took over. Then the traditional parties were restored, after Busch’s assassination, under the governments of Quintanilla and Penaranda. The reaction against the murder of Busch and the restoration of the traditional rightist parties led to the formation of the nationalist tendency of the MNR led by Paz Estenssoro.

This was a time of thriving success for nationalism in a world overshadowed by Hitler’s victories and Stalin’s expansion. The influence of Nazism was powerful in Bolivia.

The 1943 coup d'état against the Penaranda government was made by the semi-fascist military logia which called itself Razon de la Patria, or for short “Radepa”; it was politically backed by the MNR. The first Nationalist regime was a coalition between Radepa and the MNR under the presidency of Villaroel, an obscure colonel who was a member of Radepa, and with Paz Estenssoro as finance minister.

Backed by Hitler and Peron, this regime vigorously fought both the Right and the Left, both the great mining barons [the Rosca] and the independent workers’ movement as represented by the PSOB and the Stalinists [PIR] and by the independent trade unions. It was under Villaroel’s regime that some of the leaders of the bourgeois opposition were murdered – the famous “crime of November”; the tin magnate Hochschild was kidnapped, and some millions in ransom demanded; and the leader of the Stalinists also barely escaped with his life.

In 1946 a coalition of the Rightist bloc and the Stalinist PIR defeated the Villaroel regime, exploiting the differences between the MNR and the military clique and utilizing the crisis of the regime and the country and the defeat of Hitler in the war. Villaroel was hanged from a lamp-post together with his closest collaborators.

In spite of the fact that this revolution had a big popular base, including not only the bourgeois-democratic parties but also those of the middle class and the working class, the resulting coalition between the traditional Rightist parties and the Stalinist PIR remained absolutely sterile, incapable of any revolutionary reforms – stupid and reactionary.

The masses waited for a new revolutionary policy, the heralded “anti-fascist” and “progressive” policy, for a change in the social, economic and political structure of the country, now that the “Nazi” government was out. But they saw only the old reactionary “democratic” policy, corruption, robbery of the public treasury, persecution of the workers’ movement, all the old sins and delinquencies of the feudo-bourgeois regime.

The big mine owners’ domination of the government, traditional in Bolivia, and the lack of the social and political reforms which the working class looked for, brought about the regeneration of the MNR as a mass movement. The MNR absorbed not only the middle class supporters of the traditional bourgeois parties, but also of the Left, the PSOB and the Stalinist PIR, and it awakened new sections of the working class to consciousness and activity.

The trade unions which had been dominated by Villaroel were now transformed into the main organizations of popular opposition to the Hertzog-Urriolagoitia regime. But in the course of this opposition struggle and civil war, the character of the MNR changed – from a party based upon the middle classes to one with its mass base among the workers, although its program remained a nationalist one.

This process of ideological and political polarization within the MNR – between the old leaders and cadres and the new working class masses that had flowed into it – came to light after the coup d'état of the April of this year, when the workers transformed it into an armed insurrection against the hated Rosca, the mining capitalist power.

The ensuing civil war not only destroyed the old bourgeois government and military machine, but also changed the character of the MNR. The fighting Nationalist workers not only changed themselves in the process of struggle but also transformed the whole political structure of the country.

Now the old feudo-bourgeois apparatus of the Bolivian state is smashed, and the new political machine of the MNR, seeking to supplant it, is running into the spontaneous but stubborn opposition of its “own” workers’ organizations, above all the trade unions which it had controlled.

What is especially interesting is the ideological development and political role of the POR, the Trotskyist party affiliated with the Fourth International, in the course of this general process of political change in the country. Founded as a breakaway from the PSOB, the POR has not played any big political role, though active in the periphery of the workers’ movement against the Stalinists. In composition it has been middle class, and this is related to its display of a certain amount of sympathy with the MNR, and close relations with it.

The people who fought in the MNR and the POR came from the same social layers, and they came to a mutual understanding in spite of their different political language : the MNR talked about the “national revolution” and the POR about the “bourgeois-democratic revolution”; the MNR talked in totalitarian Peronist-Hitlerite terms, and the POR’s jargon was half - “Trotskyist,” half “Stalinist” “anti-imperialism.”

Both fought against the “plutocracy,” against the Rosca, against imperialism, against the bourgeois Right and the Stalinist “Left,” and so formed a political alliance whose personal expression was the friendship between the Nationalist leader of the mine workers, Lechin, and G. Lora, the leading militant and writer of the POR. Lora’s Pulacayo Thesis, based on the concept of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, was the theoretical expression of this period as the program for a coalition government between the POR and the MNR to carry through the revolution.

After the armed workers conquered power for the MNR in April, the situation changed as a result of the pressure of the working class masses on both the MNR and the POR.

The workers took very seriously the promises of the MNR to nationalize the mines, to institute agrarian reforms, and to change the socio-economic character of the country. But the two forces understood these slogans differently; the Nationalists looked to state capitalist reforms a la Peron, while the workers fought for Socialist change, i.e., workers’ control of the mines, the land to the peasants, and Socialist transformations in the economy.

The POR, closer to the workers than the MNR, could not be deaf to these demands of the working class.

In the latest social and political split between the MNR and the Nationalist workers, between the Nationalist Party and the workers’ trade unions, the POR is growing into the role of the spokesman of the workers.

This is especially shown within the Central Obrera Boliviana, where the POR group has won ideological leadership and has put out the important political document on The Ideological Position of the Bolivian Working Class, in which it has abandoned the Lora concept of the “national” or “bourgeois democratic” revolution, as we discussed in our last article.

The relations between the POR and the MNR are different now from what they were before April. The new leadership of the POR looks very critically at the actions of the MNR, and especially at its “left wing” of Lechin, Boutron, Torres, etc. The spell of the POR-MNR alliance has been broken by the real political role which the MNR is playing, by the reactionary line of the government and the vacillating retreat of Lechin & Company.

At the big demonstration of the Central in September, Lechin and Boutron absented themselves completely, having been taken “ill.” In the present conflict over the modus operandi of mine nationalization, Lechin and his group act as mouthpieces of the government within the Central’s leading committee. They try to gain time for the government and to postpone issues.

These healthy developments shown by the POR reflect the growing and spontaneous workers’ movement and its pressure. The leadership of the POR has also changed, passing over the period of Lora and his palship with Lechin.

Lora, the creator of the POR-MNR alliance, probably frightened by his own work, has retired from the POR, and is publishing Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, presumably for the education of the POR militants, and perhaps as a sign of his own repentance.

The new leaders of the POR are authentic leaders of the unions and the Central. With the publication of the new theoretical line on the Bolivian revolution, the “Lorist” period has been put behind, and now begins a stubborn ideological fight between the MNR and the POR for leadership over the workers.

It is characteristic of the Bolivian situation that the thesis published by the Central was better and more radical than the resolutions of the 9th Conference of the POR, which were very much the old “Fourthist” ballast.

The future of political development in Bolivia lies in the freeing of the workers from their hypnosis by the MNR. This process began with the conflict between the Central and the government on the nationalization of the mines, etc. In this process the POR can play a big and responsible political role.

In spite of the fact that for years I have been a stubborn critic of the POR, it is with the greatest satisfaction that I testify to its progress and healthy evolution.

Coup by MNR’s Labor Henchmen in the COB

November 3, 1952

The Central Obrera Boliviana [the trade union federation] has now published its Open Letter to President Paz Estenssoro on the mine nationalization issue, calling for nationalization without compensation and under workers’ control and administration. It was a very good letter, written with Socialist spirit, like the document The Ideological Position of the Bolivian Working Class discussed in our last article.

The government was scared by this Open Letter, precisely because of its “Socialist spirit,” and ordered its “labor ministers,” Lechin and Boutron, to attempt a kind of coup d'état within the Central Obrera. A session of the Central was thereupon organized with a strong turn-out by the Nationalists [who ordinarily do not participate in the sessions]; and at this meeting they revoked and condemned the position on nationalization, which had just been published in La Nacion, the official government organ. They then formed a new commission to draw up an Open Letter to the President, with a Nationalist majority upon it.

Today the press published the new document. It accepts the basic idea of workers’ control and participation in the administration of the mines, but distorts this idea in a vulgar “yellow,” totalitarian, Peronist way.

In the first draft of the Central Obrera, the workers are the masters of the mines, of production and administration; in the new yellow draft, the workers are reduced to watchmen and doorkeepers of the state administration. The bureaucracy is all, the workers are nothing. The new draft was passed by the Nationalist majority which had been mobilized, after an extensive discussion directed against Lechin and Boutron.

None of the workers’ delegates would sign the new Open Letter, and so it was published over the signatures of Lechin and Boutron themselves. The paper published by Lechin and Boutron has been reactionary and disgraceful in its response, defending the government’s position on state capitalist methods and distorting the earlier draft’s views on workers’ control and administration.

The government does not dare to fight the idea of workers’ control, and so it “accepts” the letter of the demand but distorts its spirit and its Socialist content. The conflict between the working class masses and the government is inherent and latent, though not yet entirely open. Some mines have adopted resolutions backing the position of the Left in the Central Obrera.

In this way, the government, with the help of Lechin, has administered a setback to the POR faction in the Central Obrera. But the publication of the draft law on nationalization and its application in the mines must inevitably sharpen the conflict between the mine workers and the new state bureaucracy. Then we can expect an open breach between the two. But the workers are very strong and armed, and the government party is weak and divided.

The issue of the nationalization of the mines contains within itself the problem of the struggle for political power, because the workers and the government understand the whole question in different ways. It also raises the problem of a new insurrection, a purely workers’ insurrection.

Bolivian Revolution Turns Right

December 8, 1952

The nationalization of the mines has been decreed, but not according to the program and wishes of the majority of the workers. The nationalization bill provides for indemnity to the proprietors if they pay all taxes and back debts to the government. Of course, the question is purely theoretical, since the government has no money, and hence will not pay any indemnity. But the workers regard the expropriation of the mines as a legitimate claim of the revolution. More important is the question of workers’ control. This is a demand of the Central Obrera [trade union federation] and the unions, and is legalized in the nationalization bill, but in a yellow, totalitarian form.

The Central Obrera had demanded workers’ administration, administration of the mines by workers’ committees elected by general meetings of all workers, and a national committee to be elected by all mine committees. But the government, while accepting the principle of workers’ control formally, has passed a bill which creates a Corporation Minera Boliviana as a great state mining trust in the place of the three private capitalist corporations. In the new trust the representatives of the workers are in a minority, and are to be nominated by the government.

In this bureaucratic form, workers’ control has been transformed into control over the workers.

In the last two meetings of the Central Obrera, the rightist tendency under the personal leadership of Lechin overcame the left tendency and defeated the “workers’ bloc” led by the POR. But I have now been informed that new elections in the factory workers’ union have given the left tendency a large majority, and resulted in a defeat for the Nationalists and Stalinists. The left proletarian tendency is also going to win a victory in the building trades union. If this information proves to be correct, the left tendency should win a majority in the Central Obrera Boliviana, and Lechin’s control over this organization could be ended. The workers would then have a political organ through which they can express themselves against both the government and the Nationalist Party.

It is quite possible that these new facts have obliged President Paz Estenssoro to postpone the reorganization of his cabinet to the end of December, after the national convention of the Nationalist Party. Additional news about the change in the relationship of forces in the Central Obrera will be available shortly. Lechin won his “victory” by a vote of l7 to l3, including the votes of the Stalinists, who supported Lechin against the left tendency. The Central Obrera will reconsider the nationalization bill, as the government needs the support of this representative workers’ body.

Economic Breakers Ahead

December 22, 1952

The stagnation of the “national revolution” has also been manifested in the Central Obrera Boliviana, the central trade union federation, which before nationalization had become of the greatest importance and was looked on as a dual government. Now, because of the yellow role played by Lechin and Boutron on the issues of compensation and workers’ control, the Central Obrera has been subordinated to the eclectic and pro-capitalist policy of the cabinet, and therefore has lost its former importance as the center of political and ideological power.

The cabinet’s turn to the right has provoked much criticism of the “workers’ ministers” within the Central; the POR faction demanded their resignation from the cabinet. But Lechin, Boutron and Chavez [the peasant minister] have consolidated support for their policy as against the POR’s attack, and with the support of the Stalinists of the PIR have conquered a majority of 23 against 4 in favor of their participation in the government.

Bolivian “Left” Goes Along With Regime

July 6, 1953

We had written in support of the position taken by the Trotskyist POR, but now the POR’s political organ has been adopting a position which is reactionary and disastrous. The POR has always collaborated with the Nationalists, and it helped to raise the Nationalist workers’ bureaucracy – the group led by Juan Lechin – to its present power. While the offensive action of the masses was still going on the POR assumed the role of a “loyal opposition” seeking to push the Nationalist regime into a more radical policy. At this critical point the government started to fight the POR’s influence.

But all that now belongs to the “glorious past.” Now the action of the masses has dwindled to a lower level, and with it has gone the opposition of the POR. Instead of making a turn to the left and engaging in stronger opposition, the POR has adopted the tactic of going along with and collaborating with the government, under the pretence of “saving the revolution.”

On the other hand, the government ushered the Trotskyist “leaders” into very profitable positions in the official machinery, such as the Agrarian Commission, the Stabilization Office, the Workers’ Security Administration, etc. The PORista theoretician, Alaya Mercada, is a member of the Agrarian Commission with a salary of 70,000 pesos, which is 100 per cent higher than a minister’s salary. Another “theoretician” of the POR, Lora, a collaborator of Lechin’s, is now a member of the President’s Stabilization Office. The Secretary of the POR, Moller, is director of the Workers’ Savings Bank [Caja de Seguro y Ahorro Obrera].

Many other POR militants have also gotten good posts in the official government machine. In this way the Nationalist government has liquidated the “Communist” and “Trotskyist” danger in Bolivia, and now the whole Bolivian “left” is collaborating with the regime, with the claim that it is thus “saving the revolution” from capitalist restoration.

Bolivia: The Rightist Opposition is Gaining

December 14, 1953

Thus, as things are going on, the Trotskyist POR representatives have been suppressed in the trade union federation, the Central Obrera Boliviana; and the POR paper Lucha Obrera was not published last week. Bolivia’s Foreign Minister, Guevara, has made a declaration in New York that the Nationalist regime is “anti-Communist.” The Labor minister in the present cabinet is not a representative of the labor unions, but a representative of the rightist “Catholic Action,” who is used against the unions by the President.

People are now talking about a new devaluation of the currency, a step which would hit the workers and peasants most of all. The Nationalist regime is frankly turning to the right, and the “Left” is passively waiting for a savior. The Trotskyist POR will probably pay for its pro-Nationalist policy in the same way that the Stalinists did – with its disintegration and disappearance from the political scene.”

Nationalist Regime Dumps Lechin

November 22, 1954

Parallel to all this, the government party is absorbing leading elements from the left, especially from the POR. Two former general secretaries of the POR, Edwin Moller and Jorge Salazar, and the POR theoretician Ernesto Ayala Mercada, as well as Lechin’s ex-secretary Josa Zogada, have entered the MNR officially. Thus a part of the POR staff has capitulated to the MNR, as we predicted long ago. Ideological capitulation preceded the personal and organizational capitulation. The right turn of the MNR is complemented by the capitulation and disintegration of the “Left.”