What’s happening in Bolivia?


Big Business doesn’t like what’s happening in South America. The election of reforming governments in Peru and Ecuador might have been a bearable irritant but that Chavez guy in Venezuela has really got up their noses. In Bolivia sections of the local ruling class got so riled up that they tried to overthrow President Morales in September. The US ruling class, in collusion with local bosses, is trying to destabilise political and economic reforms. As they see it, too much is going to workers and peasants, and not enough into their own coffers.

It certainly isn’t socialism, the working class is not in control nor is an economy based on need rather than profit being created. But there has been some real redistribution of wealth to the poor.

In the past, when people tried to tackle the power of the elites they were met with military coups, torture and death squads. The White House and their fellow free marketeers have never had any problem throwing parliamentary democracy and human rights out the window whenever their profits were threatened. The fact that Morales and his ‘Movement Towards Socialism’ won 67.4% of the national vote in a referendum as recently as August 10th is no protection.

Limited land reform

The limited land reform programme gave a good example. Since Morales came to power 500,000 hectares of land have been taken from large landowners and returned to poor peasants and co-operatives. The two million poorest peasants live on just five million hectares.

At the other end of the social scale, one hundred families own a colossal twenty-five million hectares. Those parasites were never going to accept the proposal to limit land ownership to between 5,000 and 10,000 hectares. From their base in the ‘Half Moon’ provinces, they set about trying to overthrow the government. It is just one of their targets; they also want to destroy trade unions and peasant movements and undo the improvements of recent years.

On September 8th, a coup was attempted in Santa Cruz by large landowners, ranchers and drug traffickers. Government buildings were taken over and roadblocks set up to cut off the city. The local airport was seized, with access only possible through checkpoints controlled by right-wing militias. The extreme right UJC marched, in military uniform, through the poorest shantytowns, where most people support Morales. This followed the murder of 30 peasants in Pando, all of whom were Morales supporters.

The government sent in the army and the country was taken to the brink of civil war. The US ambassador was expelled for “actively backing” the right-wing forces. Not being supported by the rest of the ruling class or any significant section of the army, the coup plotters backed down, having been promised ‘negotiations’ with the government.

The lessons of Chile

Drawing on their own bitter experience of the Pinochet coup, the anarchists of the Chilean Libertarian Communist Organisation have cautioned “there is no possibility of dialogue with the putschists: it would simply enable the bourgeoisie and imperialism to align their forces to make the decisive blow, which would lead the Bolivian popular movement into butchery of untold proportions. That is why it is so urgent to take forceful measures against the paramilitary groups operating in the “Half Moon” and against any coup-inclined, middle- and high-ranking officers in Bolivian Armed Forces”.

The negotiations may result in a temporary stand off but this won’t last long. New battles are certain as long as the opposition of interests between the majority of the population and the elite remains unresolved. This could take the form of an attempted coup by dissident sections of the military, in conjunction with the right-wing-led provinces of the ‘half moon’ and a lockout by employers.

The overwhelming support for Morales reflects an optimism that big change is possible. Unfortunately the MAS are seeking to channel this into creating a ‘capitalism with a human face’ rather than a socialist revolution. The vice-President, Alvaro García Linera, has called it “Andean capitalism” and a “necessary stage”.

MAS has already begun to come into conflict with some of the unions, especially the miners. The call for a guaranteed state funded pension at (life expectancy in Bolivia is only 62) was rejected by the government as “unviable”. When some workers called strikes and protests to demand these reforms, they were attacked by the government as “agents of the right-wing”.

The sad lesson of Chile is that those who make only half a revolution dig their own graves. The ruling class will not passively surrender its power and wealth, never in all of human history has that happened. Nor will it be fooled into doing so if we move slowly.

The anarchist movement in Bolivia is saying that the power of the right has to be dismantled. That means dismantling capitalism and replacing it with a worker controlled economy geared towards satisfying human needs, where the people exercise direct control through their own democratic assemblies and councils.

From Workers Solidarity 106, Nov 2008

Northern Issue Southern Issue

Click on one of the thumbnails for an PDF version of the northern or southern edition of Workers Solidarity 106 which can be printed out on eight A4 pages.