The following article was originally published in Proletarian Revolution No. 75 as part of the COFI/LRP Report.
In June 2005, the Bolivian masses rose up to overthrow President Carlos Mesa. This was the second upsurge in two years driven by the unfulfilled demand for the nationalization of hydrocarbon (oil and gas) resources. Despite showing the enormous potential for working-class power and a worker-peasant-indigenous alliance, this uprising also ended with a stabilizing transfer of power from one bourgeois president to another. (See Bolivia’s Unfinished Revolution in Proletarian Revolution No. 69 and Bolivia: Revolutionary Prospects and Reactionary Threats in PR No. 74 for background information.)
Nevertheless a third uprising is virtually inevitable, and its development is vital for all internationalists dedicated to the defeat of imperialism and socialist revolution worldwide. In this spirit, LRPers traveled to La Paz in August to participate in an Encuentro Continental (Continental Conference) called in the immediate aftermath of the uprising around three slogans: “in defense of nationalization of the hydrocarbons, for struggle against privatization, and in defense of the national sovereignty of our peoples.”
The three-day event was hosted by the Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Míneros de Bolivia (FSTMB; the miners’ union) and other Bolivian unions, in conjunction with Julio Turra, Executive Director of the powerful CUT (Central Unica dos Trabalhadores: United Labor Federation) of Brazil as well as the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples (ILC). This latter grouping, like Turra, is closely associated with the international Lambertist tendency, a pseudo-Trotskyist outfit whose affiliates typically embed themselves as loyal oppositionists in the unions and social-democratic and labor parties.
The bulk of participants from outside Bolivia were from neighboring countries, with a maximum presence of about two hundred people. Our chief purpose was to use the opportunity to talk to as many revolutionary-minded workers and leftists as possible. The LRP’s basic statement for the conference emphasized the central need for a vanguard revolutionary party and international. It is on this website in English and Spanish and is also available by regular mail upon request.
Despite the fact that the Lambertists themselves generally disdain frank revolutionary discussion, the Encuentro turned out to be run relatively freely: LRPers and others with dissident views were not denied rights of expression. However, the event was organized in the time-honored tradition of political confusionism, intended to obstruct political clarity or sharp debate.
And fundamentally it was heavily bureaucratic as well. The main banner on the stage featured the main slogans of the event, plus a picture of Che Guevara. Romantic notions to the contrary, although known as a fighter against imperialism, he was himself a Stalinist who adhered to a peasant guerrilla strategy, not working-class power. And the bulk of time was devoted to “preaching to the choir,” i.e., repetitious speeches about already accepted generalities like the need for a fight for nationalization, the evils of imperialism, and the traitorous role of Evo Morales in the past struggle. (Morales is a leader of the cocoa growers and a leading presidential contender, basing himself on the party Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), which despite its name is a bourgeois party.)
Concrete information, never mind real debate on political issues facing the unions and the working class, was discouraged. For example, one workshop was supposed to take up the topic of “a political instrument for the working class,” a concept which had been motivated in pre-conference documents by the FSMTB and others by the dire need to defeat Morales and other pro-capitalists with a working-class alternative. The FSMTB document, extremely radical in tone, had talked about the failures of leadership in the last two uprisings and the critical need for a working-class alternative. Yet when it came to the workshop only the LRP and a few others pushed for an examination of the matter.
While stressing the revolutionary party as strategic, LRPers of course recognize the tactical impact that advocating a broad party based on the unions can have at specific junctures. In the end, even left unions like FSTMB had no intention of discussing such a “political instrument” or party at the conference because they were not about to act on it in reality.
The main conference organizers, Turra and Miguel Zubieta, head of the FMSTB, and their left supporters palpably dodged confronting the betrayals of the union bureaucracy itself. For example, Jaime Solares, the head of the COB (Bolivian Workers’ Central) who played a high-profile and traitorous role in both the 2003 and 2005 upsurges, was on the platform for the beginning and end of the Conference. In the face of the 2005 uprising, Solares came out for a Chávez-type “civic-military” solution. Yet he was allowed to give a long, windy speech about “socialist revolution” and so forth, while others on the platform like Zubieta breathed not a word of criticism. Only the LRP and a few others brought up serious criticisms of the role of left leaders like Solares and Turra, as well as supposed anti-imperialist nationalists like Hugo Chávez, in accepting a bourgeois transition in Bolivia.
Exposing the current misleaders of the workers and oppressed is a vital aspect of proving the need for an authentic Trotskyist party leadership. In this regard, our revolutionary interventions and propaganda seemed to get their most positive response from the small number of rank-and-file workers at the event, as well as from youth and workers whom we met at a march in El Alto. Our open arguments for a proletarian revolutionary party stood out in contrast to the centrist milieu that submerged this central principle. In an atmosphere where the notion was prevalent that the current “pause” in the struggle would inevitably extend through the December presidential elections, we also raised challenges over the lack of a mass action program for the unions.
The bulk of conference participants were representatives of “Trotskyist” groupings with whom we have profound differences on fundamental questions. Nevertheless, we didn’t oppose the final Conference “decisions” (made by “acclamation”) which centered around the call for “an international day of united mobilization on October 17” based on the original three slogans for nationalization, against privatization and in defense of the sovereignty of the oppressed peoples. The final resolution called for “Nationalization without indemnification of the hydrocarbons, under workers’ control”; it further called for similar struggles in all countries, not just Bolivia.
We note, however, that the possibility of a powerful international mobilization on October 17, as called for by the resolution, is limited by the fact that most of the organizations participating are small left groups with limited resources. Nothing was done to push union leaders who command far greater resources, like Julio Turra of the CUT, to commit to mobilizing their base. LRPers not only intervened at the Conference as much as possible but were interviewed by various media; in all cases we put forward our policy of agreement on united actions while making our political differences clear.
We urge interested readers to help us develop Proletarian Revolution into a resource for coverage and analysis of Bolivia. We will be producing more substantive material on Bolivian and Latin American perspectives. Those interested in participating with us in solidarity actions or political discussion should contact us by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or telephone (212-330-9017) for details on upcoming events.