July 21, 2013
The recent article from the LRP on the important workers’ strike in Bolivia (see Bolivian Strike Exposes Morales Government) aimed at attracting international support for the strike and exposing the MAS government. According to feedback we have gotten, we believe that mission was accomplished, if only in a modest way. However in the very opening statement of the article, we made an unintended political misstatement.
We wrote, “From the Bolivian revolution in 1952 through the uprisings of 2003 and 2005, the actions of a small but heroic working class in Bolivia have inspired the revolutionary working-class movement internationally – and demanded that all political activists take sides. The latest struggle is no exception. Led by miners and teachers, a militant fifteen-day nation-wide strike against the government’s Pension Law was viciously and violently opposed by the supposedly progressive regime led by President Evo Morales and Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera.”
The working class miners were the leading factor in the 1952 revolution. The May 2013 strike, which was the topic of the article in question, demonstrated that union miners, who were severely crippled in past decades by mine closures, privatizations, and other neo-liberal attacks, are in the process of regaining their political strength. The leading participation of teachers, factory workers and other people was crucial in the 2013 strike. The face of the working class now is far different and broader than in 1952. But that is far from the whole picture.
A crucial change in the modern political scene has been the rise of indigenous struggle, which in fact marked both the 2003 and 2005 uprisings. To inadvertently characterize the 2003 and 2005 uprisings as chiefly acts of a “small but heroic working class” without pointing to the role of indigenous people in the struggle is simply incorrect. The 2003 and 2005 upheavals were massive events, but they were led above all by the Aymara people who live in the huge city of El Alto (which lies right next to La Paz). Only a small proportion of El Alto residents are workers – with a good number fairly classified as “semi-proletarians.” Many people are still scraping by as part of the oppressed and impoverished army of the so-called “self-employed” (whose activities can range from street vendors to subsistence farming). Also crucial in these uprisings was the role of Aymara indigenous people of the rural Western highland region, as well as other indigenous peoples in Bolivia.
We have strived to become familiar with the Bolivian reality. In that regard we have come to understand that most (but not all) indigenous peoples do not currently see themselves as working class. Many indigenous people are peasants, but even those urban sectors that are actually engaged in working-class activities do not necessarily claim that identity. Consciousness has been shaped by many factors, including political and cultural history. The need to fight for indigenous liberation was largely suppressed by the leaders of the 1952 revolution, who preferred to see oppressed people only in class terms, either as workers or peasants only.
It remains our belief that the working class, and a revolutionary working class party, is key for the success of the Bolivian revolution. But uprisings in Bolivia in this century are unmistakably stamped by the fact that this is a majority indigenous nation. A working-class revolution in Bolivia that is not prominently connected to the struggle for indigenous liberation is neither possible nor desirable.
Where there is an intersection between struggles against exploitation and oppression, the coming together of these forces is extremely powerful in a fight against the capitalist system. As proletarian internationalists, we not only align with our class internationally, but aim to advocate the interests of all the oppressed.