Revolutionary-minded workers all over the world have been inspired by the Bolivian masses’ courageous struggles of the last two years. The vitality of the struggle is without doubt a result of significant militancy among sections of the working class such as the miners, joining with the uprisings of the profoundly oppressed indigenous population.
But while the masses have risen up in powerful struggles, they have been betrayed by their leaders and power has been handed to their class enemies each time. The recent betrayals and failures of leadership cannot be overstated. But the most decisive struggles are ahead. Above all else the Bolivian working class needs its own authentic revolutionary party in Bolivia, a section of a recreated Trotskyist Fourth International to lead the masses out of the crisis and toward the overthrow of capitalism.
Today only a small number of revolutionary-minded working class leaders and would-be leaders in Bolivia are willing to fight for this urgent task. Yet in situations of massive upheaval as in Bolivia today a vanguard revolutionary party can be built. There are tremendous opportunities for even small groupings of revolutionaries in Bolivia to make strides in building such a party, if they are armed with a correct political program.
Lenin and Trotsky advocated a party of the most politically conscious workers. This vanguard party would have to be tightly disciplined to be able to respond to the twists and turns of the class struggle, to resist repression, and to politically expose those who seek to mislead the working class. This top priority commitment to building the vanguard party in no way meant standing on the sidelines of the class struggle. Although the vanguard party would be politically distinct from the mass of workers, its members would participate side by side with their fellow workers in all struggles.
It would aim to expose all those who try to prevent the masses from threatening the capitalist system, and to prove that the only solution to the social crisis lies in the working class seizure of power and the spreading of the socialist revolution internationally. Such a vanguard party must be overwhelmingly composed of fighting workers and not condescending middle class intellectuals.
Two times in less than two years powerful upsurges of the masses contrasted with the betrayal of the reformist, left reformist and vacillating centrist leaders and pointed to the central truth: A workers, peasant and indigenous alliance is vital but in itself is not the answer. United actions, even the development of dual power organs, require the working-class leadership of a proletarian revolutionary party to resolve the plight of the Bolivian people. The working class is the only class which can lead the masses to socialism. Bolsheviks fight for a workers’, peasants’ and indigenous peoples’ government to lead a workers’ state.
In October 2003, a mass uprising ousted Sánchez de Lozada. Given the lack of a united action program on the leadership level, the worker and peasant unity that developed in struggle was remarkable. Yet the leaders of the workers and peasants manipulated the scene to save the day for the capitalist ruling class. They maneuvered to install Vice-president Carlos Mesa as president as seamlessly as possible. These leaders had been forced by the masses to call and spread the general strike and the road blockades. But at the decisive point they gave a three-month “breathing space” to Mesa’s “new” capitalist government - which set the movement back far more than that.
Of course the betrayals of Evo Morales have been central, as left union leaders have effectively pointed out. But Jaime Solares, head of the COB, Roberto de la Cruz, then leader of the regional union center in El Alto, and other radical sounding union leaders also backed Mesa in practice while decorating their betrayal with measured doses of class-struggle rhetoric. The expanded COB meeting in La Paz on October 18, 2003 drew the conclusion that “the workers, peasants, oppressed nations and impoverished middle classes did not seize power from the ruling class because they still have no revolutionary party to rely on.” (Econoticias Bolivia)
Nothing was done by any union leaders in actually advocating or initiating a revolutionary party in the aftermath. And as generalized struggle subsided, Mesa and Morales were able to carry out their dangerous maneuvers for months.
Nevertheless by May 2005, a second uprising was definitively on the march; the masses again were the key force that pushed forward not only Morales, but also union and other leaders, beyond where they wanted to go. The struggle by June even surpassed the October uprising in terms of its national scope and audacious tactics, including the seizure of oil fields and wells by peasants in the East, the occupation of a refinery by workers in Cochabamba and the strike of the Senhkata gas and fuel plant which supplies La Paz. In this second round, the masses carried the struggle beyond Morales significantly. And once again the achievements of the struggle were a magnificent display of potential class power and a potential alliance of the workers, peasants and the oppressed indigenous people which could become unstoppable.
Because of the advanced course of the struggle, leaders from the FEJUVE of El Alto to the COB could not as easily allow power to be handed to Rodriguez as they had in the past to Mesa. But that is what they managed to do, either actively or tacitly. They had to use a more radical cover than before. Responding to the pressure of the advancing layers, they called for una Asamblea Popular Orginaria, which union leaders promised would mean the continuation of a fight for power. Of course, under these leaders, the popular assembly and the struggles themselves did not move forward once Rodriguez was safely in place.
Revolutionaries must fight for popular assemblies which are led by the independent proletariat. Such assemblies must come to explicitly reject the heritage of class collaboration which doomed the Bolivian Revolution in 1952 as well as in 1971 (when the working class was tied to General Torres, with the support of the Partido Obrero Revolucionario.)
In 1952 the POR capitulated to left syndicalist union leaders, above all Juan Lechin, who in turn capitulated to the bourgeoisie. Thus the POR proved abundantly that it wasn’t the revolutionary party it claimed to be. Now there is no party in Bolivia with the influence that the POR used to have. Yet revolutionary talking union officials who lead the most militant workers are supported by a small but still important left. Without the fight to plant the pole of an internationalist revolutionary party and program, Bolivian history is in danger of repeating itself.
A primary task of revolutionaries has to be the unmasking of all the misleaders of our class. It is the only way to build the revolutionary party. It means always addressing the advanced workers frankly and clearly with propaganda for the strategic aims of building the revolutionary party, the proletarian revolution and the need to create a workers’ state. In the revolutionary situations in Bolivia that have occurred and will undoubtedly arise again soon, it also means fighting for these goals by making use of every tactic and slogan to convince the masses of the working class and help advance their consciousness through the practical struggle. As Trotsky insisted, abstract propaganda for revolution was insufficient and cynical, given the need for communists to show the way to achieve that goal.
In particular, we believe that in Bolivia agitation for an application of the “workers’ and peasants’ government” tactic was on the order of the day as an immediate tactic in both the October 2003 and June 2005 events. It would concretely mean the call for a “workers’, peasants’ and indigenous peoples’ government.” As we explained in our article Myth and Reality of the Transitional Program, the slogan derives from Trotsky’s Transitional Program, which presents a system of action demands which enable revolutionaries to join with fellow workers in a united front struggle based on their mass organizations. In this case, revolutionaries state openly that one major reason that they propose a united struggle for a workers’ government is to prove that the working class must lead an alliance of the workers and the peasantry, that socialist revolution and not just a new government is necessary and that the present COB leaders will not carry out their radical promises to build a working-class alternative to Mesa.
There are the different ways that revolutionaries address the vanguard workers in propaganda and the less advanced masses through agitation and tactical applications. Revolutionaries today must understand that their priority remains to reach other most politically advanced workers. This layer has to grasp the more complex ideas of Marxism, accept the need to build the revolutionary party and be trained as revolutionary leaders. Propaganda for the necessity to smash the capitalist state and replace it with a workers’ state is one of the essential propaganda tasks that can not be jumped over without succumbing to opportunism.
But in the context of unified mass action in Bolivia it was also necessary to agitate, to prove that the leaders were not even for a workers’ government - even though the masses had already shown that they could topple the government. Bolsheviks would have openly addressed their fellow workers along the following lines:
“Since you still feel that these leaders can be pressured to represent our class, let us exert the maximum pressure now to put them to the test; we shall see in practice which of us is right. We revolutionaries believe these leaders are completely dedicated to propping up another capitalist government. We believe there is no better time than now to fight for power to see if they really want to do it. But we do not believe they have any intention of fighting for a government based on our own mass institutions. We believe that the struggle will show that what is necessary is not just a change in government but the overthrow of capitalism, a workers’ peasants and indigenous peoples’ government in a workers state.”
“We will stand with our fellow workers in the fight for a government of our class, while we openly warn that the leaders will betray even this fight. Should we succeed in pressuring them to take steps into forming a government within this state, we will continue to point out its limitations and dangers as long as reformist leaders remain in charge and a capitalist system is still exploiting us. But let us fight together now, to at least challenge these leaders to form a workers’ and peasants’ government based on our own institutions. We think the outcome will prove the need for a revolutionary party leadership and the socialist revolution.”
Given that an expanded form of the COB has served as the central decision-making body of the revolutionary masses at the height of both of these struggles, the workers’ and peasants’ government tactic could have taken the concrete form of demanding “Expanded COB to Power!” This would have been a critical way to point to the leading role of the workers’ unions in alliance with the peasants’ unions, and to expose the leadership’s preparation to prop up yet another bourgeois regime.
Had the challenge been put to the workers and peasants union leaders to take power themselves, all their wailing about the lack of a revolutionary party, or even the more amorphous discussion of the “political instrument of the working class” so far, could have been put to the test of practice, not rhetoric. In addition, it was crucial during both the bourgeois transition to Mesa as well as the recent transition to Rodriguez that revolutionaries conduct an all-out struggle to continue and fortify the general strike rather than allow the struggle to be put on hold, as they were both times.
A problem with most centrists (those who combine revolutionary words with reformist actions), in and out of Bolivia, has been that they do not use the workers’ government slogan as a tactical transitional demand, a challenge designed to expose and defeat the misleaders. The pseudo-Trotskyist left either used the workers’ government slogan as the ultimate goal of the future, avoiding a clear explanation of the need for an insurrection and the creation of a revolutionary workers’ state, or else made abstract calls for a workers’ government without any comment as to what concrete parties or institutions could wage such a fight in the immediate juncture.
Propaganda to advanced workers must say what is: it must be clear about the revolutionary goals of a dictatorship of the proletariat. Otherwise it is vacillating, centrist propaganda that reinforces reformist illusions among even the most advanced layers. Yet various pseudo-Trotskyists in Bolivia and around the world, talked about a workers’ government as a distant goal rather than a way to challenge the leaders in the midst of the mass struggle.
The same is now true with the discussion of rebuilding and extending the popular assemblies. Firstly, such assemblies can only become instruments of dual power in conjunction with live struggles such as the general strike that challenge capitalist state power . The key question is to build institutions through which the masses can elect a centralized leadership of the whole struggle that can determine policies on all major questions - from a national plan of mass action, through policies for the nationalization of big industries and banks, to the formation of an armed workers’ militia - and thus become a rival to the capitalist government. Moreover only under revolutionary leadership can dual power organs become the basis of the new state power that the revolution must achieve.
Yet just as centrists misuse the tactic of the workers’ government and use it as a substitute for the openly stated goal of a revolutionary workers’ state, they call for united front dual power organs (at best) without fighting for the idea that such organs, to be genuinely revolutionary, must have a revolutionary vanguard party leadership. Along the very same lines, the tactic of calling for a broad-based party based on the trade unions (class institutions which are not based upon political agreement), or a “political instrument of the working class” as it may be, is now being put forward as a confusing substitute for an open fight for the revolutionary vanguard party. Vanguard working class parties become mass working-class parties in the course of struggle only based upon the prior existence of a conscious advanced working class nucleus showing the way.
The tactic of calling for a mass party as a tactical step in the direction of a revolutionary vanguard party is useful upon occasion. Trotsky’s use of the union-based labor party tactic in the U.S., at one time in the 1930’s, was meant to expose in practice the failure of union leaders to stand for the political independence of the working class, and therefore convince workers of the need for a revolutionary party leadership. It was not meant to confuse two different kinds of parties.
The common thread is that the strategy of world socialist revolution made by a conscious working class cannot be hidden. The call for a mass party of all workers at this point must remain a tactical call in given situations and not a permanent substitute for the authentic revolutionary party and its program. It cannot be used to confuse workers as to whether or not a party of the whole class or a vanguard party is being called for. Trotsky insisted that our task is to “say what is.“
Nothing short of the fight for leadership, the building of the revolutionary party to smash capitalism in Bolivia, can truly respond to the needs of the masses and solve the deepening crisis in Bolivia. Nor, as authentic Trotskyists have always understood, can the problems of the national revolution be resolved with anything less than an openly internationalist strategy. That is the strategy of permanent revolution. Latin America is beset by the rule of the imperialists’ International Monetary Fund; not a single country is stable today. Yet throughout the Bolivian struggle, the reformist leaders stoked the fires of anti-Chilean nationalism, and the centrist left itself failed to focus its voice on the need for a concerted attack on imperialism by oppressed workers and peasants across the borders.
In this regard, a missing ingredient in building revolutionary party leadership has been an appeal for international working-class aid by repudiating the state debt to the imperialist bankers and calling on workers and their organizations in debt-ridden countries like Argentina and Brazil to do likewise. Neighboring Peru also has been shaken by mass unrest. “Workers to Power” and “Civil War” are battle cries in the Bolivian struggle. It is also necessary to add the slogan “Repudiate the Imperialist Debt!” - an expression of a conscious internationalist strategy that could ignite the working class struggle in every Latin American country beleaguered by U.S. imperialism.
Like the original Bolsheviks and the original Fourth International, we say that what is needed in Bolivia and everywhere today is a party that makes no concessions to bourgeois and imperialist rule because it represents only the international interests of the workers and toilers of the world. The struggle in Bolivia is re-opening. Latin America is a powder keg, and what happens next in Bolivia could detonate the continent.
August 7, 2005