August 9, 2008
In the days leading up to a recall referendum on August 10, the Bolivian mass struggle has been confronted with an escalating political threat from the overtly racist and reactionary Eastern lowland departments of the country. A series of departments, starting with Santa Cruz in May, had carried out and won local referendum favoring “regional autonomy.” They subsequently began to run their local governments in flagrant disregard of proclamations from La Paz that such votes were unsanctioned and “illegal.” The Morales government in the Western center of La Paz refused to directly confront the forces of Eastern reaction. Instead Morales picked up the call for a national recall referendum in August. It was a delayed and tepid response to the already existing shift of power to the East.
The latest horror is the violent attack against protesting miners and other workers which were perpetrated just last week by the Morales regime itself – with the outrageous claim that the workers’ struggles for decent pension reform is aiding the right. The only answer to this now total crisis is a working class led struggle which also champions the defense of the indigenous populations against vicious racist attacks, and supports the demands of peasants for land and dignity. Such a struggle will have to carry out a serious plan for self-defense on a national basis, a crying necessity.
Taking responsibility for defending the oppressed indigenous groupings in the East is a task which has been blatantly avoided by the worker and peasant misleaders that claim leadership of the struggle against racism and reaction. The joint power of the working class and majority indigenous populations of the West (Aymara and Quechua) – which has already been demonstrated in the heroic uprisings of October 2003 and June 2005 – must finally now come to the aid of the savagely oppressed indigenous minority populations of the East, where racist reaction is already the order of the day. (See Bolivia: Revolutionary Prospects and Reactionary Threats in Proletarian Revolution No. 74 for much important background information.)
The vanguard of racist rule today is the department of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz accounts for much of the nation’s industry, over half of the country’s oil wells and about a third of overall economic output. Neighboring Tarija has much of the gas. The civic committees of the Eastern departments (also called the half moon or “media luna” region) represent the interests of the large landholders in Bolivia. The lowland bourgeoisie is export-oriented, with much wealth coming from agro-industrial exports and illegal coca paste and cocaine. In order to hold on to their growing profits and fight against even the mildest possible redistribution of any lands or revenues to the oppressed populations of the East or West, they have used the threat of complete secession.
The economic motives of the Eastern business groups and politicians are intertwined with a blatant and violent racist hostility to all indigenous groupings. The main goal for now seems to be to enhance their control over the East, by any means necessary. Their offensive includes the growing if still subordinate use of fascistic shock troops to try to terrorize the resident indigenous population.
They have also already succeeded to a large degree in weakening the authority of President Evo Morales and the government center of La Paz. The Morales government has not only refused to send down forces or mobilize the masses to defend the indigenous people residing in the East against violent attacks, but he has even called off its own visits to the East. In such a manner has he displayed an unwillingness to confront his opposition from the right. To this point, Morales held the traditional Independence Day celebrations in his power base of La Paz rather than Sucre, the constitutional capital that is run by the right opposition. He also reneged on a visit to the central town of Trinidad, after protesters encircled the airport there.
Morales has consistently refused to use state power to confront the right. Yet he has used the armed fist of the state against miners and other workers protesting against his austerity moves. Most recently, at least two miners were killed and many other workers injured by government forces aiming to repress the growing struggle led by the COB union central (which aims to restore significant pension benefits to workers which were decimated by previous neoliberal regimes.)
We note that despite the claims of Chavez, Kirchner, Lula and other neighboring regimes to oppose the Eastern secessionist movement, none have really lifted a finger to support the mass struggle of the workers and indigenous masses.
According to most estimates, the recall referendum should result in Morales retaining his power in the West. Most, if not all, oppositional prefects will retain their power in the East. Whatever the outcome, the recall referendum process will not provide even a temporary relief for the besieged masses. The LRP supports the position of voting for the recall of the reactionary prefects, while calling for a blank or null vote on the question of recalling Morales. Morales’ whole political program has always been based on protecting capitalism and holding back the masses, as the LRP has always warned. It could not help but facilitate the growth of the right, which is what has happened.
Our view on the recall referendum also represents the view of a growing if still small number of workers and peasants in Bolivia who have come to understand that Morales has not only betrayed decisively on the level of their political and social aspirations, but that his regime at this juncture is not even carrying out elementary acts of self defense, much less defense of the masses.
We emphasize above all the need to demand that the COB union central and leaders of other mass organizations use their resources to create workers and peasants’ self defense committees, as the first order of the day.
The COB union leaders, such as the current leader Pedro Montes and the more left-talking Jaime Solares, have well proven their unwillingness to lead the necessary fight. The latest evidence, which just came in as we go to print, appears to be a vague settlement of the pension struggle just in time for them to maintain their electoral alliance with Morales in the referendum. In general, they act only under the pressure from the ranks, and they falter and betray at any chance they get. Nevertheless, the masses have no choice but to fight back now; and they can only build their defense with the means and instruments at their immediate disposal. This means that demands still have to be made on the worker, peasant and indigenous leaders to mobilize to defend the masses. At the same time, workers and peasants can obviously not depend on these misleaders and will likely come to see the need to also build new forms of mass organization, stemming from and suited to the demands of the living struggle on the ground.
Revolutionary-minded workers on the scene must not only advocate the implementation of a serious defense strategy but also champion the building of a revolutionary party in Bolivia. The most politically advanced workers must use the struggle itself to win fellow workers over to the building of a vanguard party. Such a party will be able to offer the masses a real alternative to the current misleaders of the COB and will be the necessary instrument to lead the fight to overthrow capitalist imperialism altogether.