The final results are now available for the Bolivian presidential and parliamentary elections, and the scale of the victory of Evo Morales, the candidate of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), is even greater than what provisional results indicated. He got a total of more than 1.5 million votes, which represents 53.7% of the total, as against 28.5% for the PODEMOS candidate Tuto Quiroga, the main candidate of the oligarchy and imperialism. This is the largest vote a presidential candidate has received in the last 30 years in an election which also saw a record participation of more than 84% of the electorate. As we commented in our previous article the absolute number of votes could have been even bigger if it had not been for the fact that the Electoral Council had disenfranchised more than a million voters who had not voted in the previous council elections, many of whom would have voted for the MAS in these elections.
In all the Andean departments Morales’ MAS received massive support, in La Paz 66% against Quiroga’s 18%, in Cochabamba 64% against Quiroga’s 25%, in Oruro 62% for Quiroga’s 25%, in Potosi 57% against 25% and in Chuquisaca 54% against Tuto Quiroga’s 30%. In El Alto, the epicentre of the recent revolutionary movements in Bolivia, the vote for the MAS reached more than 70% in a number of areas. This is particularly significant since the MAS has a very little organised base in this working class city and its results there were poor in the 2004 municipal elections.
Even in the traditional strongholds of the oligarchy, the MAS did well reaching 33% in Santa Cruz (where PODEMOS won with 41%) and 31% in Tarija where Quiroga received 45%. Despite the political domination of the ruling class in these departments (which together with Pando and Beni, the other two departments located in the lowlands, are known as the “crescent”), which has been based on a demagogical use of the issue of regional autonomy, Santa Cruz is one of the centres of the country’s manufacturing industry and in the countryside there is a strong and militant Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST). While the ruling class has tried to use regional issues (the so-called reasonable civilised people of the “crescent” lowlands, against the unruly revolutionary highlands), it is clear that the main division is a class one.
These results will give the MAS a comfortable majority in Congress with 72 out of 130 deputies, but not in the Senate where it got 12 senators elected against 13 for PODEMOS and 1 for the UN and 1 for the MNR.
Victory at the polls, a result of the movement on the streets
This victory is quite clearly the result – although in a distorted form – of the mass movement in Bolivia which started with the Cochabamba water war in 2001, when a popular uprising in this city, which kept the army and the state at bay for a couple of weeks, defeated the attempts to privatise water. This victory gave confidence to the workers and peasants in Bolivia and opened up a new cycle of struggle after the painful defeat of 1985/86.
This upward swing of the movement included amongst other high points, the uprising of February 2003, which also involved a police mutiny, the revolutionary uprising of October 2003, when president Sanchez de Lozada was chased out of office, and the revolutionary movement of May-June 2005 when his successor Mesa was also overthrown by the mass movement. In this period the masses of workers and peasants have increasingly gained confidence in their own strength, have put forward more and more advanced demands, have transformed their traditional organisations and have generally gone forward.
On at least two occasions they had a chance to take power, in October 2003 and in May-June 2005. Both times they were let down by their leadership. In October 2003 a number of organisations were leading the movement, amongst them the most important were the national trade union confederation, the COB, the El Alto regional trade union COR, and the El Alto Federation of Neighbourhood Juntas FEJUVE. A programme of staggered strikes and roadblocks progressively paralysed the country. The masses coordinated their actions through mass assemblies (cabildos abiertos) and, after the massacre of more than 80 people in El Alto on the part of the police and armed forces, the movement culminated in an explosion of anger. The immediate cause of the movement was the demand for the nationalisation of gas, but after the El Alto massacre the masses of workers and peasants, led by the miners that had walked all the way from the mining districts, descended on the capital with one clear aim: to overthrow the murderous government of Sanchez de Lozada.
The government was paralysed, and it dared not use the army against the masses for fear of making the situation even worse. Sections of the army officers circulated a statement opposing the privatisation and selling off of gas. When the marchers descended from El Alto to La Paz, with the clear aim of chasing the president out, the police in one of the main barracks in La Paz (which had participated in the February 2003 mutiny), stepped aside and gave the angry demonstrators the clenched fist salute! For a few hours power was in the streets and the official government was suspended in mid-air. Finally Sanchez de Lozada fled in a helicopter.
However, in those crucial hours the leadership of the movement, the leading figures of the COB, the El Alto COR and the FEJUVE did not really know what to do next. The ruling class used those moments of impasse to find a solution to the crisis within the limits of capitalist democracy and brought in Lozada’s vice-president, Mesa, as a replacement. The leadership of the mass movement vacillated and finally gave Mesa some breathing space. In an extraordinary meeting of the National Enlarged Gathering of the COB the trade union leaders recognised that they could have taken power but that they “lacked a revolutionary party”.
But Mesa was faced with the same contradictions as his predecessor. Any attempt to get more taxes and royalties from the multinationals would provoke the anger of the bosses, and any compromise that would be acceptable to these vultures would be unacceptable to the mass movement. Unable to reconcile these irreconcilable class interests Mesa found himself faced with another revolutionary upsurge in May-June of this year.
This time the movement was on a higher level. Its main clear demand was the nationalisation of oil, and many understood that this could only be achieved not only by overthrowing the government but also by fundamentally changing the way Bolivia was being ruled. This can be seen in dozens of resolutions voted by local trade unions, peasant unions, neighbourhood organisations and mass cabildos abiertos. At one such mass meeting in La Paz, with hundreds of thousands of workers, miners, peasants and others, the main demand was for a workers’ and peasants’ government.
The ruling class tried to replace Mesa with a hardliner that they thought would be able to ensure the implementation of their policies in relation to the sale of gas, Senate president Vaca Diez. Unable to get parliament to meet in La Paz, they transferred it to Sucre. But they were followed by the mass movement, with tens of thousands of miners and peasants blockading the city. El Alto was declared by the organisations in struggle as “the headquarters of the Bolivian revolution of the XXI century.” In a historical meeting they agreed to set up the “National Originary [indigenous] Peoples’ Assembly” with the aim of replacing the bourgeois democratic system with this body of direct rule of the oppressed, the masses of Bolivian workers and peasants.
But this step had been taken too late. After nearly a month of general strike the masses were getting tired and again the ruling class was able to find a constitutional way out. They were not confident enough to use the army against the masses. A number of high ranking army generals, reflecting a deeper undercurrent within the army, who a few days earlier had declared themselves to be on the side of the people, demanded the resignation of the government and its replacement with a workers’ and peasants’ government. The ruling class was forced to take a step backwards and instead of their favourite candidate Vaca Diez, they had to replace Mesa with Rodriguez, the president of the Supreme Court.
The revolutionary movement, having thus been derailed for the second time, receded and the whole movement was then channelled into fresh presidential and parliamentary elections which were called for December 2005. The overwhelming electoral victory of the MAS in the December elections was the expression, albeit a distorted one, of the ascending movement of the masses over the last 5 years.
The role of the leaders of the MAS in the movement
The question is, what role did Evo Morales and the MAS play in those events? During the crucial moments of the October 2003 uprising Evo Morales was touring Europe and played no role at all, only to come back shortly afterwards to prop up the new Mesa government, which proved unable to solve anything. In 2004 when Mesa called for a referendum on the question of gas in which the questions were posed in such a way that they were really a trick to endorse his own half-way policy, the MAS leaders supported the referendum while all the other mass organisations were calling for a boycott. Because of the role that he played in that period Evo was formally expelled from the COB. In the 2004 municipal elections the results of the MAS were disappointing, particularly in its main strongholds, reflecting to a certain extent a protest vote against it for not having played any role in the mass movement.
In the May-June movement, the MAS leaders were advancing the slogan of 50% royalties while the mass movement was fighting for nationalisation and they were instrumental in getting Rodriguez to replace Mesa, when the movement had been clearly trying to take power.
But at the same time we must understand that the rank and file of the MAS is not the same thing as its leaders. The rank and file of the MAS, particularly the coca-growing peasants, cooperative miners and also a number of regional organisations of the COB, participated actively in both revolutionary movements. In fact, in May-June 2005 the masses of MAS-organised peasants that marched on the capital adopted the slogan of nationalisation as opposed to that of their leaders of 50% royalties. MAS peasant leader and senator Ramon Loayza admitted openly “we have been overtaken by our own ranks” and in front of a mass cabildo abierto gave the Mesa government an ultimatum to either nationalise gas or be overthrown.
Having been thwarted in two consecutive revolutionary opportunities, but not having been actually defeated and still feeling confident and powerful, all the attention of the masses was now directed towards the electoral front with the calling of the December 2005 presidential and parliamentary elections.
The masses saw the vote for Evo Morales and the MAS as the continuation of the same ascending movement, and the only concrete way in which it could express itself at that particular time. For the mass of ordinary working people the choice was clear, if there was any chance of achieving their aims through the ballot box, why not try it? After all, the more painful road of the mass mobilisations and uprising had already been tried – three times – and in their eyes it was that movement which had brought about these elections. For them it was a vote for the nationalisation of gas, for land reform, against the neo-liberal policies implemented since the defeat of 1985, and for the recognition of the national and democratic rights of the Indigenous (originaria) majority of the population. This feeling is what brought about the massive victory of the MAS and Evo Morales in the elections.
Unfortunately, the leaders of the main working class organisations in Bolivia were not able to fully understand this mood and find a way of relating to it. In a Summit in El Alto just a few days prior to the December elections, representatives of the El Alto COR, the COB and the miners’ federation passed a resolution in which they announced an end to the truce they had declared in May-June and stated that none of the candidates would fulfil the aspirations of the mass movement as expressed in the “October Agenda”. This was basically an abstentionist position which left them completely isolated from the masses that came out en masse to vote for Evo Morales and against the candidate of the oligarchy Tuto Quiroga.
And the masses rightly consider the victory of Evo Morales as their victory. It is precisely this that is worrying the multinationals and imperialism. They fear that Evo Morales may be either forced to the left by the pressure of the revolutionary movement that put him in power or be swept away by it. This is why their reaction has been cautious. And this is why they would have preferred a smaller majority and a MAS that did not control parliament, so that the pressure of the ruling class could be exerted more directly.
The whole experience of the movement of workers and peasants in the past period will weigh heavily on their thinking and on the way they relate to the new government. Evo Morales will be under a lot of pressure to deliver and to do so relatively quickly.
What challenges are facing the new government?
The Morales government will be sworn in on January 22nd. It will come under enormous pressure from the multinationals, particularly over the question of gas and oil. From the very beginning imperialism and its agents have been exerting “gentle” pressure to get the new government to guarantee the rights and investments of the gas multinationals. We have to remember that the Bolivian oil reserves are second only to those of Venezuela on the American continent. This is a big slice of the cake’ which up until now the multinationals had been getting almost for free.
As soon as it was clear from the provisional results that Evo Morales was the winner of the election, and by a much larger margin than had been anticipated by opinion polls, the machinery of “democratic” imperialism started to move. The Club de Madrid immediately invited Morales for a tour of a number of countries in which he would be told to drop any radical language and guarantee the “rights” of the gas multinationals. He was to visit Spain and France, both countries with strong interests in the gas fields of Bolivia (the Spanish Repsol being one of the main plunderers of this Bolivian natural resource). He was also to visit South Africa, in order to find out about this country’s experience of “democratic transition”. The Club de Madrid is described as “an influential group of former world leaders” including people like Bill Clinton, former Spanish presidents Leopoldo Suarez, Calvo Sotelo (both right wing), Felipe Gonzalez (right wing socialdemocrat) and more recently Aznar, and ironically enough Sanchez de Lozada (the Bolivian president overthrown by the mass movement) and Tuto Quiroga himself (Evo Morales’ main opponent in the election, taking part in his capacity as a former president of Bolivia).
The South African leg of this tour is coordinated by the Idasa NGO, which is part of the National Endowment for Democracy sponsored “World Democratic Movement” (i.e. one of the main arms of the US foreign imperialist policy). An article in the South African Daily Star made clear what the aims of the visit are when it quoted one of the organisers as saying: “Morales has an issue of how to bring right-wing business leaders and militants – as well as left-wing militants – into the process, and
Mulder could help him with that.” Mulder is not the friendly alien-chasing agent of the US TV series, but the leader of the South African extreme right-wing apartheid party, the Freedom Front, now nicely incorporated into “democratic” capitalist politics.
In its article the Star continued with its analysis of Morales: “Though Morales has alarmed conservatives, some South Africans who have encountered him believe that his rhetoric is mostly designed for popular consumption and that Morales is more of a nationalist legitimately seeking a better deal for his people. They believe he is a rough diamond who will lose some of his rough edges and gain more polish when he actually has to run his country.” What the ruling class is saying, in the mouth of the Star writer is: “we can surely make this Morales come to his senses, drop all this radical language and use his authority amongst the masses to implement our policies”.
This is very similar to the initial reaction of a section of the Venezuelan ruling class and of imperialism shortly after the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998, which was one of trying to groom him to see if he could be bought off.
A number of gestures along the same lines have been made in other quarters. For instance, barely a few days after the elections, on December 21st, the IMF decided to cancel its Bolivian debt. This amounts to 285 million dollars, which represents 6% of the total foreign debt of the country which stands at about 4,500 million dollars. This decision is part of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries programme, and is the result of the IMF’s evaluation of the fiscal and economic policies implemented by the Bolivian governments in the last few years.
This makes it a particularly poisoned gift. The IMF is telling Morales: we will be nice to you if you continue with the same economic policies as your predecessors. But it is precisely these economic policies of brutal adjustment that have created the conditions of misery, poverty and inequality which most of the population have to suffer and against which the mass movement has fought. In case the message was not clear, Theresa Paiz-Fredel, the main Bolivian analyst at value assessing company Fitch, spelled it out: “In the immediate future, the value of Bolivian credit will be determined by the economic and political pragmatism of president-elect Evo Morales and his ability to face the demands of the more radical social movements”. The insolence and arrogance of these creatures when dealing with governments, that at least formally are sovereign, really knows no limits!
Similar offers were made by Spain, which offered to cancel part of the debt. The Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister insisted on the need to “strengthen legal guarantees and the concept of negotiation to solve controversies”. Revealing the real role of so-called democratic governments under capitalism (i.e. that of serving the interests of private capital), Moratinos clearly revealed that he is defending of the “interests of Spanish companies in Bolivia”. A spokesperson for the French presidential palace used almost identical words after Morales’ visit. Pretending to be concerned about the “legal guarantees” of these companies’ investments in Bolivia is somewhat ironical if we consider that their contracts for the extraction of oil and gas are technically illegal since they have never been ratified by parliament as Bolivian law requires. What the Spanish socialdemocratic government and the French right wing government are demanding is the legalisation of the looting and plundering already being carried out by these companies.
Visits to Cuba and Venezuela
But Evo Morales, to the surprise of the Club de Madrid, changed this schedule and went to visit Cuba and Venezuela where he was received with head of state honours. This is quite significant since it is a clear gesture of defiance against imperialism. In both countries he made it clear that he feels part of a new “anti-imperialist” alliance in Latin America.
In Cuba, where he met Fidel Castro, a number of agreements were signed, including 5,000 grants for Bolivian youth to follow medical studies in Cuba, the development of eye hospitals in Bolivia able to perform surgical operations on up to 50,000 patients a year, and Cuban help in the development of a programme to eradicate illiteracy in Bolivia within 30 months. These are in fact very similar programmes to those developed by the government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
While in Venezuela a number of agreements were also signed including one for 30 million dollars of aid to Bolivia to fund health, education and other social programmes, a further 5,000 grants for medical students, and the supply of Venezuelan oil in exchange for Bolivian agricultural products (mainly soya). Also in Venezuela, Evo Morales reiterated that, “We are here joining in this anti-neoliberal and anti-imperialist struggle”.
From the point of view of imperialism these types of agreements are very dangerous. The US wants to impose a model of free trade agreements which basically means the right of the multinationals to have free and unfettered access to natural resources and markets, which is precisely the essence of imperialism. These agreements on the other hand give the wider masses in Latin America, the idea that it is possible to have a model of economic development based on cooperation and solidarity rather than on plunder and exploitation. Obviously, as long as private property of the means of production is maintained in Venezuela and Bolivia, these agreements will be limited in their scope.
These visits of Morales are also highly significant from a political point of view because they underline the continental character of the revolution which thus becomes clearer in the eyes of the masses. The processes taking place in one country affect the continent as a whole, since a similar situation exists in all of them. The victory of the movement in one country, a step forward on the electoral front, a revolutionary upsurge in another country, all have the effect of encouraging the movement of the masses in the whole continent in one ascending spiral.
Socialism or “Andean capitalism”
So what kind of policies will the MAS government implement? It is worth looking at what Evo Morales has declared that he will do on the main questions. Regarding the nationalisation of gas, which was the central issue of the last two uprisings, Evo Morales has been clear that he will nationalise it only in the sense of recovering state ownership of the gas and oil that is extracted, but that it will not expropriate the multinational companies dealing with the operations. This will mean a review of all the contracts in which the multinationals will be asked to pay higher taxes and royalties and to become partners of the Bolivian state in their operations.
In his own words: “We will nationalise the natural resources, gas and hydrocarbons. We are not going to nationalise the assets of the multinationals. Any state has the right to use its natural resources. We must establish new contracts with the oil companies based on equilibrium. We are going to guarantee the returns on their investment and their profits, but not looting and stealing.”
Bolivian gas reserves are huge and can be a very profitable business for the multinationals. If they see that they have no other alternative, after putting as much pressure as they can on the government, they will probably sign the new contracts, for fear of either losing everything or of another company being granted the contract.
It is clear that Evo Morales is extremely keen to reassure the multinationals that they will be able to continue doing business in the country and that their assets and investments are not under threat. In fact he has taken one very symbolic decision, even before being sworn in, and that is to go ahead with the sale of the Mutun iron mine. The sale of this field, which contains one of the largest reserves of iron and manganese in the world, had been opposed by trade union, peasant and environmentalist organisations, and by the local organisations of the MAS in Santa Cruz, the region where it is located. President Rodriguez, under pressure from MAS deputies, had suspended the sale until the new government came in. But in a meeting with representatives of the Santa Cruz oligarchy, organised in the Comité Cívico de Santa Cruz, Evo Morales announced that the sale would go ahead as planned. He also promised the Santa Cruz businessmen that he would respect their call for “autonomy”.
Evo Morales has also promised to abolish decree 20160, which is the legal frame-work for the neoliberal policies applied by all governments over the last 20 years and which also includes the right to hire and fire.
On the agrarian reform, the MAS leaders have stated that they will concentrate on the distribution of untilled land, rather than the expropriation of the latifundia itself. On the extremely important issue of coca leaf plantations Evo Morales has said unequivocally that he is against eradication, as demanded by the US.
Evo Morales has also promised to call the Constituent Assembly within six months. As we have explained before, the idea of a Constituent Assembly was raised and promoted during the recent revolutionary movements as a way of diverting the attention of the masses into what is in effect just another bourgeois parliament with a few extra powers. At a time when the revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants was in effect striving for power, to raise the demand of a Constituent Assembly was completely out of place and played into the hands of reaction. In fact, the Club de Madrid itself has been very active in promoting this issue, together with the US foreign policy agencies, like the National Endowment for Democracy, the World Bank, etc. Massive amount of funding has been provided to buy off rank and file organisations for this idea.
What the masses of workers and peasants in Bolivia mean when they talk about a Constituent Assembly is something completely different, they basically mean the end of the current capitalist set up, which is also based on the age old discrimination against the Indigenous peoples’ who are the majority of the country, and that power should pass to the hands of the workers and peasants. The ruling class and the reformists are trying to use these legitimate democratic aspirations of the masses into a constitutional talking shop in order to divert them from the road of revolution.
It remains to be seen under what conditions it will be called (what powers it will have, what method of election will be adopted, with what rules), but what is clear is that once it is called it will probably concentrate the attention of the masses. While explaining that so long as the economy is the hands of multinationals and monopolies and not in the hands of workers and peasants, no amount of constitutional reforms can really offer a solution, revolutionaries must also try to fight within the Constituent Assembly process for the most advanced democratic reforms. When the Constituent Assembly is launched, the revolutionary movement, unless at that moment it is capable of posing the question of power, will have no other alternative but to participate in it and use it to agitate for a revolutionary programme.
It is too early to say precisely what policies the MAS government will implement. As in Venezuela, if it is consistent in applying a whole range of progressive reforms, it will face the wrath of imperialism and the local ruling class. If on the other hand it adopts a moderate, vacillating policy, designed “not to upset the oligarchy because the balance of forces is not right”, then it will risk demoralising its own mass social base, or it may even provoke a movement against the very government themasses brought to power.
One thing is clear however, Alvaro Garcia Linera, the new vice-president, has said that socialism is off the agenda… For the next 50 years in fact! His position is that in Bolivia the conditions for socialism do not exist, because: “On the one hand the proletariat is demographically a minority, and one cannot build socialism without the proletariat. Secondly, the urban and agrarian community potential is very much weakened.” Therefore, he states, that the alternative is that the State should find the resources (through taxes and royalties on the multinationals) to protect, nurture and develop small-scale family based industrial activity, and this is what he calls “Andean capitalism”. The idea is that after 50 years these policies will have developed the “potential for emancipation on the part of the proletariat”. These ideas are in fact nothing new. They are simply a new version of the old two-stage theories put forward more than 100 years ago by the reformists in the Russian labour movement. And they are as incorrect now as they were then.
These arguments can be easily answered. In the first place it is not true that the working class in Bolivia is small. The actual number of manufacturing workers has increased steadily throughout the 1990s. It is true that the miners were decimated after the 1985/86 defeat, when 20,000 were sacked from their jobs, but because of their traditions and the historical memory of the role they have played in previous revolutions in Bolivia, they still play a crucial role.
This was seen clearly in the October 2003 uprising, when the arrival of two columns of thousands of miners armed with sticks of dynamite was crucial in the overthrow of Sanchez de Losada. Similarly, in May-June this year it was the miners who played the key role in the battle of Sucre when the movement prevented Congress from appointing the candidate of the oligarchy, Vaca Diez.
Precisely for these reasons, the miners, although they are not the largest section of the working class, have political control of the COB. El Alto itself, which has been the focal point of the most recent uprisings, is a massive working class city, with 50% of the residents of working age being waged workers. Even if the question was to be reduced to numbers, the working class in Bolivia today is much more powerful and it represents a far larger percentage of the total population than it ever did in the Russian Revolution in 1917. In Bolivia working class traditions are so strong that even the peasants call their organisations trade unions, and the Enlarged Meetings of the COB have always been conceived as a body to which other sections (peasants and students, for instance) could send their delegates. On the other hand it is amazing that after the recent years of highly organised and disciplined collective mass movements, someone should say that there is no “community” potential in Bolivia (assuming that this word means potential for collective action).
If one looks at the development of the structures of the struggle in El Alto during the latest two uprisings one will see the merging of the best traditions of the workers’ movement with the best aspects of the traditional forms of organisation of the Aymara and Quechua peoples. Many residents of El Alto are former miners expelled from the mines by the “white massacre” after the defeat of 85/86 when 20,000 miners were made redundant. Thus, during the peak of the movement there were daily mass meetings (cabildos abiertos) in every neighbourhood to decide on all aspects of the struggle and the daily running of the community. These cabildos were coordinated by elected spokespersons through the Federation of Neighbourhood Juntas (FEJUVE) and the regional organisation of the trade unions, the El Alto COR.
The Pulacayo Theses, adopted by the Miners’ Federation in 1946, already gave an answer to all these questions in advance. The Theses, which then became the programmatic document of the Bolivian workers and peasants, says: “Bolivia is a backward capitalist country. Within the amalgam of most varied stages of economic evolution, capitalist exploitation predominates in a qualitative manner, and the other socio-economic formations constitute an inheritance of our historical past. The predominance of the proletariat in national politics derives from this evidence.” And it adds: “The proletariat is characterised by having enough strength to carry out its own aims and even those of others. Its enormous specific weight in politics is determined by the place it occupies in the process of production, not by its small number”.
All experience shows that on the basis of capitalism it is not possible to develop a backward economy like that of Bolivia, particularly in the epoch of the domination of multinational capital. The history of Bolivia is a succession of cycles of exploitation of natural resources. First it was silver during the Spanish colonial period, then tin, now gas. In every single case, these resources were exhausted and all the profits were taken out of the country, and at the end of every cycle the Bolivian masses were left as poor as they were at the beginning, if not worse. Only if these natural resources and the main sectors of the economy are put firmly in the hands of the workers and peasants of Bolivia, so that they can democratically plan them and use them to the benefit of the majority of the people. The MAS and the mass movement of workers and peasants in general will be faced with this stark choice: socialism or barbarism.