At the Ninth World Congress, the comrades of the majority assured the delegates that the validity of the “turn” towards guerrilla warfare would soon be confirmed in Bolivia. The majority comrades were supremely confident that reformist interludes were excluded in this poverty-stricken country rapaciously exploited by imperialism and the native ruling class. The immediate perspective, according to the majority, pointed solely to guerrilla war. The conditions were excellent for opening up a front. An agreement had been reached with the leaders of the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional. Even if an early victory should not be won, the renewal of guerrilla war would have important international repercussions. With Trotskyists in the leadership it could signify a rapid “breakthrough” for the Fourth International of the kind that Comrade Maitan held was absolutely essential. With enormous enthusiasm, the majority approved the “Resolution on Latin America,” and returned home to begin a campaign of support for the new Trotskyist-led guerrilla front in Bolivia although it had not yet been launched.
It is important to understand how the majority leadership viewed the reality in Bolivia. They excluded either a reformist interlude or an urban insurrection. Well in advance of the Ninth World Congress this had been made clear publicly by Comrade Gonzalez (as, for instance, in his contribution to Fifty Years of World Revolution). A typical statement was the following in a report from La Paz:
“There is no possibility of a reformist period of legal struggles, of a return to traditional trade-union activity. These are luxuries that the military regime cannot afford.
“Therefore the perspective opened for the Bolivian people is one of direct struggle to oust the military from power and build a workers and peasants government which would begin a reorganization of the country on socialist bases. This struggle can only be undertaken by armed means—by guerrilla warfare in the countryside, the mines, and the cities. This is the real, concrete perspective. All others are utopian and can only lead to the defeat of the masses, even in the hypothetical case of a change of rulers.” (“New Revolutionary Ferment in Bolivia,” Intercontinental Press, June 10, 1968, p. 546.)
Comrade Maitan held essentially the same view of the perspective in Bolivia. He, too, outlined it publicly in advance of the Ninth World Congress. Speaking of the defeat of Che Guevara’s guerrilla front in Bolivia, he said:
“The events which have followed the defeat of the guerrillas have also, in the last analysis, confirmed Guevara’s fundamental option. . . .
“ . . . the Bolivian revolutionists not only defend the concepts which inspired Che’s action against opportunists of all stripes but they also consider that the perspective of new armed clashes in Bolivia remains fundamental.
“Given the economic and social situation within the country, the capitalist regime—whether it is led by Barrientos or any of his possible successors—will only be able to survive through violence of the most systematic sort. This implies that more or less legal preparatory and organizational work will be impossible for the workers and peasants movement. And, in the present context, this also excludes any perspective of the struggle taking the form of an urban insurrection at the outset. The explosive contradictions remain in the country and dramatic conflicts are still possible.
“In fact, we must start from the reality that a civil war situation exists in Bolivia. . . .
“This means, more concretely, that the method of guerrilla warfare beginning in the rural areas is still the correct method. Once guerrilla warfare is unleashed, even under conditions which are in several ways less favorable than was the case last year, the possibilities for political and military initiatives will multiply very rapidly.” (“Experiences and Perspectives of the Armed Struggle in Bolivia,” Intercontinental Press, September 2, 1968, pp. 706-07.)
Comrade Maitan spelled this out still more specifically in his letter of that time projecting the possibility of building the Fourth International via a “breakthrough” in Bolivia. ”. . . it is necessary to understand and to explain that at the present stage the International will be built around Bolivia.” (“An Insufficient Document,” May 15, 1968, Discussion on Latin America, p. 16.)
Such were the perspectives and concepts, ratified by the majority at the Ninth World Congress, under which our Bolivian comrades sought to achieve a quick “breakthrough” in the Bolivian class struggle.
Even while they were developing their theory of a repression so severe as to admit of no other recourse except guerrilla war in, the struggle against General Rend Barrientos, the leading figure in the military junta that toppled the Paz Estenssoro regime on November 4, 1964, our comrades of the Partido Obrero Revolucionario reported happenings that actually showed other possibilities. Here is an example:
“On May 1 , a militant, anti-imperialist, and antimilitary mass meeting was held under vigorous radical slogans. It openly condemned the Barrientos dictatorship. In the major cities—Oruro, Cochabamba, Potosi, Santa Cruz—there were similar demonstrations. In Cochabamba, the district prefect, General Reque Teran . . . appeared at the demonstration backed up by force. He tried to speak to the crowd, but they did not let him. There was a violent reaction from the workers, who shouted: ’You murdered Che!’ ’Imperialist lackey!’ ’Gorilla!’ He had to retreat in the face of the general clamor.
“Besides the militant slogans indicated, there were shouts of acclaim for Che and the guerrillas in these urban demonstrations. The government massed all its forces, police, the national guard, the army, the air force (Mustangs buzzed the demonstrations in La Paz to frighten the demonstrators), but it did not dare break them up. The junta was cowed and retreated. It is clear that more than expressing the new ascent and militant spirit of the masses, the May Day demonstrations were a victory against the government.
“Even without leadership, the masses went into the streets ready for a fight. It was clear that the spirit of the masses was to incorporate into their mobilizations the lessons left by the guerrillas. The masses set their struggle within the framework of the armed struggle line. In every city, the guerrillas were present: in the slogans, on the banners, and in the spirit of the masses. The masses went out on May Day encouraged and with greater confidence.” (“New Revolutionary Ferment in Bolivia,” Intercontinental Press, September 2, 1968, pp. 544-45.)
It is quite true that the name of the martyred Che appeared everywhere, as our comrades in La Paz reported. But this was not the opening of another guerrilla front. It was something quite different. This was an action by the masses carried out in the streets in all the major cities. Even more significant: the junta was cowed and retreated.
Of similar significance was the nature of the struggle carried on by the masses. The report continues:
“A general movement is in progress for increased wages and salaries. The miners are proposing restoration of the old wages and return of all trade-union property. The immediate conflict is over the teachers’ demand for a salary increase from 470 to 900 pesos. The government rejected this request. The teachers met in a national convention and approved various tactics of struggle leading by stages to a general strike. Among these were work stoppages graduated by districts, lightning meetings, blocking streets. etc.” (Ibid., p. 545.)
The author of this report did his best to fit the upsurge into the schema of guerrilla war. Yet the facts themselves spoke for a different interpretation. Two things in particular should be noted: (1) The capacity of the Barrientos regime, for all its repressive nature, to retreat in face of a mass upsurge. (2) The tendency of the struggle of the masses in Bolivia to follow the “classical” pattern—the Leninist norms of proletarian revolution.
Barrientos, killed in an airplane crash April 27, 1969, was succeeded by Vice-President Adolfo Siles Salinas. Hardly more than an ornamental piece for the junta, Siles was ousted in a coup d’etat that put General Alfredo Ovando in power September 26, 1969.
Ovando permitted the trade unions to function. Traditional trade-union activities were resumed and the Central Obrera Boliviana began to rebuild its structure. Throughout April, May, and June of 1970 the proletariat took advantage of the semilegal opening conceded by Ovando and engaged in continual mass mobilizations. Other sectors became involved—students, teachers, part of the urban petty bourgeoisie and even a few sectors of the peasantry. These mass actions were sufficient to enable the COB to resume open activity. In campus demonstrations, the students went so far as to take over universities.
The ruling class faced a growing crisis since they were unable to either suppress the mass movement for the time being or to grant economic concessions on the scale required to soften the class struggle.
The deepening divisions were reflected within the armed forces. One wing, headed by General Rogelio Miranda, leaned toward attempting a repressive crackdown and tightening the ties with imperialism. The, other wing, headed by General Juan Jose Torres, leaned toward utilizing the masses to extort concessions from imperialism, thereby gaining the means to temporarily appease the masses and defer a showdown for a more propitious moment. To a certain degree, the divisions within the army even followed geographic lines, Miranda being supported by ruling circles in Santa Cruz, Torres by those in the Altiplano (La Paz region).
On June 13, 1970, the bodies of two young leftists, Jenny Koeller and her husband Elmo Catalan Aviles, a Chilean journalist, were discovered near Cochabamba. They had been atrociously tortured and then electrocuted by government agents.
Mass protest demonstrations broke put everywhere in the country. Confrontations with the army resulted in wounded and dead. The Ovando regime was badly shaken.
It was precisely at this moment of rising mass protest, of confrontations in the streets, that the ELN opened its final guerrilla front. Under the leadership of Osvaldo “Chato” Peredo, about seventy-five young revolutionists left the scene of action where the masses were involved and set off for the mining village of Teoponte, about 100 miles north of La Paz. However valid their “conception” of guerrilla war may have been, on the day they arrived—July 19, 1970—they made an error “in assessing the situation.” They opened up hostilities by blowing up an American-owned gold-panning plant. For the army, the guerrilla challenge amounted to lowcost training in counterinsurgency. By mid-October only six of these young revolutionists were still alive.
Meanwhile the real class struggle in Bolivia continued. During August and September Ovando twisted and turned as the masses pressed for concessions and a sector of the ruling class countered by insisting on a crackdown. In August a battle over control of the University of San Marcos precipitated a national crisis. On October 6 Ovando resigned, turning the reins of government over to Miranda.
The consequence was an immediate mass explosion of the classic variety. Students and workers poured into the streets to block the attempted ultrarightist take-over.
The army split wide open. General Torres declared his opposition to the new junta appointed by Miranda and met with Juan Lechin, the head of the miners union, and Siles Suazo, a former president of the country and one of the main leaders of Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR).
“Students began to build barricades in the streets of the capital in order to block any movements by forces favorable to General Rogelio Miranda,” the October 8 Le Monde reported. “In Catavi the powerful tin-miners unions denounced the ’fascist coup d’etat of the right-wing officers’ and decided to offer ’conditional support’ to General Juan Jose Torres.
“The miners’ federation called for arms to defend our social gains’ and posed as conditions for their support ’the establishment of democratic liberties and release of the political prisoners, repeal of the antistrike decrees, nationalization of the foreign banks and all American interests, expulsion of all imperialist bodies, and the establishment of a people’s government. The COB has already issued a call for a general strike throughout the country.”
The COB also ordered its members to block the streets and prevent troop movements within La Paz.
Armed detachments of peasants joined in the action. Armed civilians freed political prisoners. The homes of ultrarightist military men and civilians were assaulted. The buildings of three leading newspapers were occupied. Jubilant tin miners seized police stations and announced they would demand quick wage increases.
The New York Times reported that on October 8 “armed students took over the headquarters of the criminal division of the national police. Apparently unopposed, they were reportedly looting the offices and destroying the files... .
“Students have also begun attacks on United States property. They entered the Bolivian-American Binational Center yesterday, hauling down an American flag and announcing that they were annexing the building to the university.”
While this great mass movement—developing along the “classic” lines of a proletarian revolution—was shaking the government and splitting the army, the entrapped remnants of the Teoponte guerrilla front were still being hunted down. The last survivors finally gave up. “Chato” Peredo and his five followers were deported by Torres to Chile.
Could more dramatic (and tragic) proof be asked of the falsity of the conception that the road to the masses lies through rural guerrilla warfare?
The establishment of the Torres regime, a direct product of an urban uprising of the masses, reflected a situation in which neither the proletariat nor the bourgeoisie could gain the upper hand for the time being. The proletariat lacked the revolutionary-Marxist leadership required to carry the revolution forward to victory. The weak and divided bourgeoisie could not summon the forces required to impose a counterrevolutionary solution. Torres balanced between the two sides. Naturally this was an unstable situation; either the revolution had to move forward to the establishment of a workers state, or the counterrevolution would recover, choose an opportune moment to strike, and then seek to establish a strong military-police dictatorship.
Torres stood between the two camps. He granted concessions to the proletariat while blocking the workers from moving definitively against the ultrarightist forces. He provided a shield for the ultrarightists while striving to keep them in check. In the final analysis he conducted a holding operation for the bourgeoisie in a prerevolutionary situation.
From the proletarian point of view the concessions granted by Torres were neither far-reaching nor durable, but for the moment they were very important. They included the release of political prisoners and the nationalization of some imperialist holdings. The working class and the peasantry were able to function with almost complete legality. It was a priceless opportunity for the revolutionary Marxists to come out of the underground and to work with all their energy to build their revolutionary party and to deepen and extend their ties with the masses.
On January 10, 1971, the counterrevolutionary forces attempted another coup. Again they were beaten back by mass mobilizations. This time the masses were better organized, reflecting the gains they had made since the mobilizations that defeated General Miranda three months earlier. Thousands of armed miners paraded through La Paz. The mass movement began to openly proclaim its goal of a socialist transformation in Bolivia.
Under this mounting pressure, the Torres regime granted further concessions. The International Metal Processing Corporation was nationalized. In February, Torres conceded wage increases to the miners.
At the time of the October struggle against General Miranda, the COB and all the political parties of the left had set up a “Political Command” to coordinate their struggle. In mid-February it was decided to convert this body into a “People’s Assembly.” This was a most significant step. As a workers’ parliament, the People’s Assembly had the potentiality of becoming a soviet. The development offered incontrovertible evidence that in the main the Bolivian revolution was following the “classical” pattern of the Russian revolution.
The project testified to the deep urge of the working class to form a common fighting front in which its allies—the students, peasants, and urban petty bourgeoisie—could participate. Nevertheless the absence of representation of the army rank and file and most of the peasantry pointed to grave weaknesses that a revolutionary party would have put high on its agenda for remedial action. Another grave weakness, requiring similar action, was the absence of local supporting bodies. These began to be formed only on the eve of the coup that overthrew Torres.
In the following months, the proletariat marked time. What was lacking was a revolutionary leadership to set goals and tasks and to block out a line of action. The Bolivian workers thus faced a crisis in leadership. To offer the popular masses no alternative but supporting Torres signified a default in political guidance. This led to a weakening of the forces that could have been mobilized behind the working class in a bid for power. As a result, the counterrevolution began to regain confidence and to spin new plots with increasing boldness.
Under cover of a religious event, the counterrevolutionary forces staged a demonstration of 15,000 persons in Santa Cruz on August 15. Forever oscillating, Torres tried to imprison the rightist generals, including Hugo Banzer Suarez. This triggered an ultrarightist bid for power four days later.
At first only relatively small—but resolute—forces stood in Banzer’s camp. However, the workers leadership, consisting of such fakers and blowhards as Juan Lechin and the pro-Moscow Communist Party, sat paralyzed. They waited for Torres to do something. Torres, in turn, waited to see if a conflict could be avoided. The few hours of fatal indecisiveness in face of an impending civil war reflected in itself a rapid change in the relationship of class forces.
The army ranks began to go over to the side of the counterrevolution. Soon sectors of the virtually unarmed working class, demoralized by what was happening, refused to respond to desperate appeals from their leaders to meet the heavily armed foe. The preparatory period had been wasted, the opportune moment lost. In the end only a small vanguard and a scattering of the masses mounted a heroic attempt to block the coup. It was too little and too late. Torres fled, taking refuge August 22 in the Peruvian embassy.
Once in power, Banzer began a murderous repression of the revolutionary organizations. Yet, needing time to consolidate his regime, he deferred attempting to smash the trade-union movement.
Despite his repressive measures, Banzer did not succeed in stabilizing class relations in Bolivia. A reflection of unresolved differences in the ruling class is to be seen in the unstable unity of the Falange and the MNR, both of which were included in the regime. The continued development of rifts has been registered in jockeying between “right” and “left” figures in the governmental apparatus.
The working-class vanguard suffered a heavy defeat; it is demoralized and above all confused. Nevertheless, the class struggle in Bolivia remains explosive. The ruling class is incapable of alleviating Bolivia’s permanent socioeconomic crisis in any substantial way; it is incapable of establishing a genuine fascist regime by mobilizing the petty bourgeoisie; and it is incapable of setting up a durable reformist regime that could gain broad mass support.
The working class, beginning again with immediate demands, can be counted on to resume its struggle for democratic and transitional measures, undermining Banzer as it did Barrientos and Ovando.
The “Resolution on Latin America” passed at the Ninth World Congress held that the national bourgeoisie in Latin America is “intrinsically incapable of the least independent action in either the economic or political fields.” This is a gross overstatement, as the events in Bolivia have shown.
It is true that the national bourgeoisie is incapable of putting up a consistent struggle against imperialism and that it will in the last analysis never break its partnership with imperialism. It is also true that the national bourgeoisie is incapable of granting any major lasting concessions to the masses. But the national bourgeoisie nonetheless does have a certain room for maneuver both with imperialism and with the masses, depending on conjunctural developments in the class struggle.
The overstatement on the limitations facing the national bourgeoisie fitted in logically with the conviction of the majority comrades that in Bolivia—particularly in Bolivia—it was excluded that any but repressive regimes could come to power. This view disoriented the Bolivian section of the Fourth International. The leadership there saw no essential differences between the Barrientos and Ovando regimes. Even the Torres regime—at least in the beginning—appeared to them to be much the same. After all, that was the line adopted by the majority at the Ninth World Congress.
The leading comrades of the majority in Europe clung to the line in a similar way. Comrade Maitan, for instance, could discern no substantial difference between the regimes of Barrientos and Ovando in Bolivia:
“And no one can close his eyes to the fraudulent character of the Ovando regime, which has done nothing to replace all-out repression with a more selective type, and which is still ready to jail, exile, or even kill those who do not accept the rules of its game.” (“Once Again on the Revolutionary Perspectives in Latin America—Defense of an Orientation and a Method,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 74.)
Comrades Germain and Knoeller made a similar mistake in evaluation of the Torres regime:
“As for Bolivia, the first sign of a new rise in mass struggles provoked a coup d’etat followed by a bloody armed confrontation. Those who think that because he came to power ’with the support of the left’ General Torres will prove more ’tolerant’ have a few disagreeable surprises in store for them, as soon as he has restored the unity of the army, which is his primary aim.” (“The Strategic Orientation of the Revolutionists in Latin America,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 89.)
In the case of the Torres regime, the misjudgment was particularly glaring. By way of contrast, let us note the opinion of a comrade who took the minority position, Hugo Blanco:
“This same proletariat is showing us that it has not been defeated—far from it. The rise of Torres is the product of terror inspired by the working class. The next weeks and months will be of decisive importance for Bolivia. In view of this it is very sad to see, precisely at this time, valuable revolutionists being pressed to leave for guerrilla war, separating themselves from the worker and student masses that are moving into struggle. It would not be strange, should these masses be defeated, that they will be blamed, or perhaps it will be used to demonstrate ’the impossibility of coming to power through the mass movement.’ If this misfortune occurs, a big share of the guilt will lie with those who took away from the masses a part of their valuable vanguard. As if there were an oversupply of revolutionary cadres to lead the masses in these days!
“Thus Leninist work is required not only in Peru, where for the moment we must bide our time, but also in Bolivia and Chile, which are or could be on the verge of armed struggle... .
“It is correct in Bolivia to discuss the form that armed struggle must take within the process of the mass upsurge, but the best teacher in this is the Bolivia of 1952, which does not recommend taking to the hills, isolating oneself, or anything like that. Work among the peasants as a complement to the movement of the workers and city dwellers generally is one thing; such work will almost surely lead to peasant guerrillas. The guerrillas of the ELN are something quite different, holding as they do a more or less modified Guevarist, but not Leninist, conception.” (“Letter from Hugo Blanco to Livio Maitan,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 71.)
It might be supposed that Comrade Blanco wrote with the advantage of hindsight. This was not so. He voiced his opinion in a letter from El Fronton dated October 17, 1970. The article by Comrades Germain and Knoeller was dated November 1970.
Torres came to power precisely because the upsurge in the class struggle had split the army. The army could not be reunited without a successful confrontation with the masses; and to prepare for that, time and consequently concessions to the masses were needed.
Because of the line of the Ninth World Congress, the comrades of the FOR (Gonzalez) failed to see this. Thus they were caught totally unprepared for a reformist interlude and an opening that made broad work possible among the masses on a more or less legal basis.
The comrades of the minority, who had seen that on a world scale the revolutionary struggle was again moving toward the “classical” pattern and that as a result various tactical variations other than rural guerrilla war had to be held open, were not caught by surprise by the developments in Bolivia. Their forecast had received welcome confirmation. They hoped that the comrades of the majority would make the necessary adjustments so that as little as possible would be lost because of the erroneous line.
However, the disorientation was deep. The majority had considered it extremely unlikely that urban mass insurrections would occur, and even if explosions of that kind did happen, they insisted that the main line was to orient toward rural guerrilla war. “The exceptional variant of an explosive crisis involving the breaking up or paralysis of the state apparatus and a mass mobilization so impetuous that it could prevent or neutralize recourse to repression as a decisive measure, cannot be categorically excluded,” the resolution on Latin America stated, “but a strategy on a continental scale cannot be based on exceptional phenomena, and in such a case imperialism would very likely intervene militarily (as happened in the case of Santo Domingo).” (“Resolution on Latin America,” Intercontinental Press, July 14, 1969, p. 720.)
A year later, during the Ovando regime, Comrade Maitan hedged this somewhat in calling attention to the danger of not giving more stress to the need for a functioning revolutionary party. “There would also be the danger of forgetting that there are periods when an effort to develop mass work and to create the instruments for this must have absolute priority,” he said. “For example, it would be absurd in Peru today to rely primarily on preparing a new wave of guerrilla warfare, failing to understand the need for a deepgoing activity of political clarification and to exploit all the possibilities which, despite everything, the new situation offers for stimulating mass movements and establishing links with them. This is also true on a different scale and probably for a markedly shorter period for Bolivia.” (“Cuba, Military Reformism, and Armed Struggle in Latin America,” Intercontinental Press, April 20, 1970, p. 359.)
In an article that energetically reaffirmed the orientation toward rural guerrilla warfare such qualifiers concerning the danger of forgetting fundamentals did not carry much weight. Thus although the Bolivian Trotskyists lived through the insurrectionary developments in October, 1970, and January, 1971, and described them well, they remained as convinced as ever of the correctness of their orientation toward guerrilla warfare in Bolivia. They did not see how this orientation was causing them to miss the boat.
“In October,” our comrades wrote, “the struggle between the military chiefs paralyzed the repressive forces of the army; for two days there was a power vacuum, with the governmental palace and the ministries abandoned.” They continued: “At that moment it was necessary to go into the streets with the masses; it was necessary to destroy the Mirandistas with direct action and struggle.” (“La Universidad y el Comando Politico de la C.O.B.” Revista de Orientacion Teorico-Doctrinal, 3a Epoca. Republished in Revista de America, July-October, 1971, p. 50.)
The FOR (Gonzalez) blamed the Political Command for not having taken advantage of this situation. “The Political Command of the COB did not know how to take advantage of the governmental crisis that was presented in October, and in that sense is guilty of having frittered away the force of the workers and of having cheated them out of a victory.” (Ibid., p. 50.)
In other words, the leadership of the FOR (Gonzalez) saw that a power vacuum had suddenly appeared in Bolivia and that the Political Command had failed to move in to fill that vacuum. In the language of Marxism—the Political Command was guilty of not having utilized those two crucial days to lead the workers’ urban insurrection towards the conquest of power.
This criticism of the Political Command was completely correct. However, some questions arise. In what way had our own comrades been preparing for this turn of events? How did their projections about rural guerrilla warfare fit in with what had actually happened in the class struggle? Instead of joining with the ELN in pursuing rural guerrilla war would it not have been better to engage in patient work in the mass movement during the period of Barrientos and Ovando in order to be in better position to lead the coming urban insurrection to victory? How did the projection of opening a rural guerrilla front in combination with the ELN correspond to the actual pattern of the class struggle, that is, a mass upsurge, a crisis in the ruling class, governmental paralysis, a deep split in the army, and the possibility suddenly placed before the workers of taking power through an urban insurrection?
Disoriented by the adaptation of the majority to the Castroist strategy of guerrilla warfare, our Bolivian comrades failed at each step to work out a correct political line for the unfolding mass movement. Instead they clung to abstract ultraleft formulas.
What was required was a series of transitional demands, developed in a very concrete way, that is, in adjustment with the living dynamics of the class struggle and in harmony with the objective of turning the organizations created by mass struggles toward the central question of power.
The way in which the Torres regime came to power—through the active intervention of the masses against an attempted ultrarightist coup—and above all the way the idea of the Popular Assembly arose out of the struggle itself showed that the Bolivian revolution had reached a critical juncture. The conquest of state power by the proletariat was a realistic possibility. To convert that possibility into a reality required utilizing the advances gained by the insurrectionary mass movement to arm the masses. The crying need was a political program matching the level of consciousness of the masses but proposing that they move ahead without delay to create their own independent class organs and outlining a series of practical steps to be taken along this line.
The workers recognized that they had gained certain democratic rights under Torres. They feared a coup from the right. But this coup was being prepared almost openly. The key, consequently, was to give voice to this legitimate fear by hammering away at the impending rightist coup and calling for armed defense of the democratic rights won by the workers. Such a campaign would have helped place the reactionary generals on the defensive and would have facilitated work among the rank and file troops.
The forming of workers militias to defend the Popular Assembly and the gains of the masses against a rightist coup was a completely logical extension of this course. However, this had no meaning unless it was coupled with calls for mass mobilizations to bolster the Popular Assembly against any attempts by Torres to limit its free development.
Another requisite, of course, was a correct governmental slogan so as to avoid sowing any illusions in the Torres regime. The orientation would thus be toward the development of dual power, something that could be done only openly as a process engaged in by the masses themselves.
Our slogan for a workers and peasants government had to be concretized and fitted to the situation in Bolivia. Under Ovando, the COB represented the most important mass organization of the workers movement. Thus the slogan of a COB government was a possibility that ought to have been carefully examined at that time as a realistic way of filling in the abstract formula calling for a workers and peasants government.
Under Torres, a higher form of workers united front arose—the Political Command. It was absolutely essential for the revolutionary party to insist that the Political Command take over governmental power.
When the Political Command developed into the Popular Assembly the correctness of such a demand became even more apparent. The Popular Assembly was a very advanced united-front formation enjoying the full confidence of the working class. The correct moves needed to strengthen it and to make it something more than an incipient soviet were to democratize it and to organize local supporting bases for it throughout the country. Popular assemblies in every town! For the election with the right of recall of delegates from all factories, peasant areas, and barracks! For all power to the Popular Assembly!
An energetic effort was called for to expand the influence of the Popular Assembly among the peasantry and above all the army. The revolutionary party should have been in the forefront of such a campaign. Even if it was only propagandistic at first, a drive along this line was essential to help the proletariat break from the reformist leadership that dominated the Popular Assembly in its opening phase.
All this presupposed a clear orientation toward the masses, above all toward the urban workers and the miners.
Even worse than the tragedy of missing a most favorable opportunity for the proletariat to take power was the fact that no party, including the section of the Fourth International in Bolivia, advanced a correct revolutionary program for the conquest of power.
The main leadership of the Bolivian proletariat was caught up in reformism; the revolutionary wing, drugged by the “turn” at the Ninth World Congress in favor of the “correct conception” of engaging in technical preparations for rural guerrilla war for a prolonged period on a continental scale, resisted being diverted by the appearance of “exceptional phenomena” in Bolivia. The strategic line of preparing for and engaging in guerrilla war had already become a crippling sectarian dogma.
The reformists, as was to be expected, did not orient at all toward workers power. They raised no slogans in this direction. Instead they supported Torres. They did everything except prepare the masses for the coming confrontation with the counterrevolution. The Communist Party of Bolivia, committed to Moscow’s line of “peaceful coexistence,” and the POR (Lora), an affiliate of the Healyite “International Committee,” were prime movers in this historic betrayal.
In opposition to them was an ultraleft current committed to guerrilla warfare and the organization of a “Revolutionary Workers and People’s Army.” Within this current were to be found the Maoists, the Castroist ELN, and our own comrades of the Bolivian section of the Fourth International.
The comrades of the POR (Gonzalez), carrying out the line of the Ninth World Congress to the best of their ability, were intensively engaged in preparing technically for rural guerrilla warfare when the October, 1970, insurrectionary developments brought Torres to power. Their activities isolated them from the scene of action.
It is very difficult for a small vanguard group to combine preparations for guerrilla warfare with mass work. The reason is simple enough. To carry on in the underground, transporting and stockpiling arms and so on, limits the possibility of the few cadres available taking advantage of the legal or semilegal openings that are crucial for relatively swift expansion of mass work. Comrade Gonzalez himself recognized this.
“To pursue these two tasks at the same time, to combine them, is an extremely difficult thing. Under the Ovando government the party operated in completely clandestine conditions and was totally absorbed in armed work. Since last November, after Torres came to power, we have been able to redevelop our legal work aimed at the unions but also the peasants and the universities, where we had done very little before.” (“The Current Situation in Bolivia,” Intercontinental Press, June 14, 1971, p. 545.)
Under “completely clandestine conditions” it is, of course, difficult to make rapid progress in mass work. Nevertheless, it is possible to make some progress as the Bolsheviks demonstrated in their time and as Trotskyists today are demonstrating in countries like Spain and Brazil. But the POR (Gonzalez) was engaged in other tasks during the Barrientos and Ovando regimes, and thus it found itself outside the mass movement at the time of the October uprising. As a result our comrades were not present in the united front that led the mass mobilizations and that created the Political Command.
Instead of recognizing their error and attempting to retrieve their position by fighting to participate in the Political Command as a united-front formation backed by the masses, our comrades issued propaganda in favor of tasks and organizational forms separate and apart from the developing class struggle. That is, instead of accepting the organizations created in the process of mass struggles and battling from within against the reformist misleaders, the POR (Gonzalez) propagandized for alternative organizational forms that, excellent as they may have appeared on paper, were abstract and sectarian under the circumstances. For instance, on October 11, 1970, the Executive Committee of the POR issued a declaration to the masses proposing the following objectives:
“a) Organizing a Revolutionary Command, including all political tendencies that favor a socialist solution to the country’s present situation and support the armed struggle for power. The objective of this command would be to overcome the reformism and economism, the capitulation and class collaborationism that have caused the successive defeats and frustrations of the Bolivian people.
“b) Creating a Revolutionary Workers and People’s Army. This is the essential instrument for taking power. It will integrate vast popular, worker, and peasant sectors into the armed struggle. In this new army there can be a place for officers and soldiers of the bourgeois armed forces who break from this organization and want to fight in fact to liberate Bolivia from imperialist oppression and extricate it from underdevelopment.
“c) Developing a body representative of the masses, through which they can express all their revolutionary power, initiative, worries, and determination to transform society.” (“The Bolivian Political Crisis and Torres’ Regime,” Intercontinental Press, November 23, 1970, p. 1024. Emphasis in original.)
These three proposals were not connected to the living class struggle. They were not tied in with immediate, democratic, or transitional demands stemming from the actual level of political consciousness of the masses. No explanation was offered on just how the proposed “Revolutionary Command,” the “Revolutionary Workers and People’s Army,” and the “body representative of the masses” were to be organized.
Instead of raising demands aimed at mobilizing the masses through united-front actions that would confront the reformists with unbearable dilemmas, the POR (Gonzalez) presented a schema of its own that amounted to little more than the guerrilla warfare line presented in propagandistic terms that appeared to bend to the new situation. Instead of calling for rural guerrilla warfare in alliance with the ELN, which was engaged at the moment in the Teoponte adventure, the declaration exhorted the masses to form a “Revolutionary Workers and People’s Army.” It exhorted the proguerrilla ultraleftists to form a “Revolutionary Command.” And it appealed in general, and therefore to no one, for a “body representative of the masses.” The road to such a body lay through the Political Command, but the POR (Gonzalez) either did not see or rejected that possibility, making a belated turn in this direction only after the Political Command had developed into the Popular Assembly.
The fallacious reasoning of our Bolivian comrades is shown by the following judgment: “The Political Command of the COB demonstrated its lack of understanding of the process. It light-mindedly waxed enthusiastic over the Torres government without seeing its limitations, and demobilized the masses prematurely. Because of this, it is now necessary to form, either from within it or from outside of it, a Revolutionary Political Command, which in light of the previous experience can lead the masses to power and socialism.” (“La Universidad y el Comando Politico de la C. 0. B.,” Revista de America, July-October, 1971, p. 50.)
Needless to say, such a formation never came into existence. The masses still accepted the leadership of Juan Lechin, the COB, the Communist Party of Bolivia, the POR (Lora) in the established body of the Political Command that had appeared at the head of the mass insurrection. To propose, in a purely propagandistic way, that those who had declared for socialism and guerrilla war should form a “Revolutionary Political Command” of their own in opposition to the existing Political Command meant permitting the reformists to retain control over the masses without putting up a fight against their betrayal.
Even after the January, 1971, insurrectionary wave that answered the first serious attempt of the rightist generals to topple the Torres government and that led to the formation of the Popular Assembly, our Bolivian comrades still maintained an aloof attitude before finally deciding to make a turn.
After visiting Bolivia, two militants of the International Marxist Group, the British section of the Fourth International, wrote: “In addition, the revolutionary political parties, in particular the POR-Gonzales, have decided that the Assembly is worth taking seriously. At first they tended to have an attitude of watching the Assembly to see how it turned out, rather than actually participating in it.” (“The Meeting of the Popular Assembly,” International, September-October, 1971, p. 59.)
Unfortunately, when they finally made the turn, our Bolivian comrades viewed their participation as being limited primarily to speechmaking. This followed from their view that the Popular Assembly was “hardly more than a kind of national parliament and that eventually it would give way to something more realistic—guerrilla war.
In an interview given in April, 1971, and published in the May 17 issue of Rouge, Comrade Gonzalez said:
“The left wing, to which the POR belongs, has developed the idea that the People’s Assembly should be a body that would discuss national problems and solutions for them but would leave the power in the hands of the mass organizations (unions and popular militia or people’s army). . . .
“The POR comrades in the People’s Assembly, whether they represent the party directly or some union, hold no illusions. They are using the People’s Assembly as a forum, as a platform. That is all.” (“The Current Situation in Bolivia,” Intercontinental Press, June 14, 1971, p. 545.)
To be noted in particular in this statement of position is Comrade Gonzalez’s opposition to calling for all power to the Popular Assembly. What he proposed instead was to leave the power in the hands of the mass organizations—the unions, popular militia, and a people’s army. The list is an odd one; neither a popular militia nor a people’s army existed. They had yet to be created. So, for the moment, that left only the unions, that is, the COB. But the COB provided the mass base of the Popular Assembly. And it was precisely the Popular Assembly that constituted a united front formation through which the workers could draw the peasantry and the urban masses together in a struggle for a concrete form of a workers and peasants government.
It is obvious that our Bolivian comrades did not think through the question of the road to power as it was specifically posed by the actual class struggle at the time. They were suffering under the illusion that they could achieve a quick “breakthrough” by engaging in rural guerrilla war.
They finally did decide to take the Popular Assembly seriously. Under the growing pressure of the mass movement (50,000 workers demonstrated May 1 openly calling for socialism), the POR (Gonzalez) changed its position and called for the Popular Assembly becoming the basis for a workers and peasants government.
In an article in the May 1-15 issue of Combate, the POR (Gonzalez) announced its new view:
“The Asamblea Popular can have no role except as an organ of dual power. That is, it must not simply debate and watch over government functions; It must—as the expression of the power of the great masses of our people—decide the basic questions facing the country and the workers. The Asamblea Popular must become a workers and peasants government, and we must fight both inside and outside of it to achieve this. In this process, a political-military instrument will grow up alongside the assembly which can serve as the power it still lacks to enforce its decisions.” (“Put the People’s Assembly on the Road to Socialism!” Intercontinental Press, June 21, 1971, p. 575.)
The turn was a welcome one. But it came too late and was still too confused to have effective consequences.
What was the meaning of the “political-military instrument” to “grow up alongside the assembly”? The Popular Assembly could not enforce its decisions without the conquest of power. Transitional slogans and transitional measures were needed, as already indicated above, to arm the masses. These should have been launched in the most vigorous way by our comrades at least six months earlier (when Torres came to power). The continuous talk about a “Revolutionary Workers and Popular Army” to be created by unknown means (rural guerrilla war?) and unspecified leaders (the POR or ELN?) was abstract and therefore sectarian and irrelevant in this fast-moving situation.
When the masses take up arms, they do it in two main ways that become more and more combined. The first is the organization by the workers of their own detachments to defend their struggles and bases (union headquarters, etc.) from attack. The most elementary level of this self-organization is the formation of picket squads, as is well known. The Transitional Program indicates the steps going beyond this level. The second way consists of spreading sympathy for the goals of the revolution among the troops of the bourgeois army and winning them over at the crucial point. The success of both processes depends on a correct political approach as was demonstrated by the Bolsheviks.
In Bolivia, without a concrete governmental slogan such as calling for power to the Popular Assembly, and without a vigorous campaign to mobilize defensive forces against the impending rightist coup, all talk of armed struggle amounted to nothing but phrasemongering or ultraleft adventurism. A consistent political effort among the ranks and among the lower officers of the army was particularly necessary as part of the process of arming the masses. The army in Bolivia could not be won over simply by propaganda, essential as that was. It was crucially important to openly organize workers’ militias to show the rank-and-file soldiers that the workers were in dead earnest about defending their rights and blocking the plots of the ultrarightist generals.
The Popular Assembly voted for a proposal to organize workers’ militias clandestinely. This was both absurd and opportunistic. Absurd because what was required in this situation was a highly publicized campaign on the need to form workers militias openly under the auspices of the mass organizations; opportunist because the real meaning of the motion was that the masses would not be armed. Both the reformists and the ultralefts supported this motion. The opportunists did so for obvious reasons, including posing before the masses as revolutionists. The ultralefts supported it because it fitted in neatly with their “correct conception” of guerrilla warfare, of arming the vanguard in a clandestine way, since at bottom they believe that no other way is possible.
The army cannot be won over except by meeting the masses face to face. The masses had to learn how to do this—how to march to the barracks of the soldiers, how to talk with them, how to appeal to them in the streets in a vigorous way if they were sent out to repress the workers or to disarm a workers militia unit.
If some quotations are needed on this, Leon Trotsky is a source to be recommended. We have selected some that ought to be all the more convincing to the majority since Trotsky indicates wherein guerrilla war can play a positive role . . . tactically.
“The army’s political mood, that great unknown of every revolution, can be determined only in the process of a clash between the soldiers and the people. The army’s crossing over to the camp of the revolution is a moral process; but it cannot be brought about by moral means alone. Different motives and attitudes combine and intersect within the army; only a minority is consciously revolutionary, while the majority hesitates and awaits an impulse from outside. This majority is capable of laying down its arms or, eventually, of pointing its bayonets at the reaction only if it begins to believe in the possibility of a people’s victory. Such a belief is not created by political agitation alone. Only when the soldiers become convinced that the people have come out into the streets for a life-and-death struggle—not to demonstrate against the government but to overthrow it—does it become psychologically possible for them to ’cross over to the side of the people.’” (“Summing Up,” 1905, Vintage Books, Random House, New York, pp. 268-69.)
Let us recall that Trotsky is describing the situation in Russian in the 1905 revolution, not the situation in 1917 involving a conscripted army of huge proportions demoralized by defeat in an imperialist war. He was talking about an army that was if anything more reactionary than the one in Bolivia. Trotsky continues:
“Thus an insurrection is, in essence, not so much a struggle against the army as a struggle for the army. The more stubborn, far-reaching, and successful the insurrection, the more probable—indeed inevitable—is a fundamental change in the attitude of the troops. Guerrilla fighting on the basis of a revolutionary strike cannot in itself, as we saw in Moscow, lead to victory. But it creates the possibility of sounding the mood of the army, and after a first important victory—that is, once a part of the garrison has joined the insurrection—the guerrilla struggle can be transformed into a mass struggle in which a part of the troops, supported by the armed and unarmed population, will fight another part, which will find itself in a ring of universal hatred. We have seen in the Black Sea Fleet, in Kronstadt, in Siberia, in the Kuban region, later in Sveaborg and in many other places that when the class, moral, and political heterogeneity of the army causes troops to cross over to the side of the people, this must, in the first instance, mean a struggle between two opposing camps within the army. In all these cases, the most modern weapons of militarism—rifles, machine guns, fortress and field artillery, battleships—were found not only in the hands of the government but also in the service of the revolution.” (Ibid., p. 269.)
Trotsky’s orientation at that time, as subsequently, was of course not in the direction of guerrilla war for a prolonged period on a continental scale. As Marxism’s preeminent figure in military questions, he understood to perfection that revolutionary work among the troops must be based, if it is to be effective, on mobilizing the masses and bringing them to bear on the army like a powerful solvent.
The line of the POR (Gonzalez), in contrast, was to encourage individual desertion, that is, to remove from the army any elements that became convinced revolutionists. As we have seen, when Torres came to power, our comrades in seeking to meet the needs of the hour offered members of the bourgeois army, if they decided to desert, a welcome in the nonexistent Revolutionary Workers and Popular Army: “In this new army there can be a place for officers and soldiers of the bourgeois armed forces who break from this organization and want to fight in fact to liberate Bolivia from, imperialist oppression and extricate it from underdevelopment.” (“The Bolivian Political Crisis and Torres’ Regime,” Intercontinental Press, November 23, 1970, p. 1024.) The appeal for individual desertions followed automatically from the schema of rural guerrilla war for a prolonged period on a continental scale.
What was required, however, was a set of demands around which the most militant rank-and-file soldiers could begin the work of polarizing the ranks against the officer caste. This was certainly feasible in view of the conditions in the army during the Torres regime.
The absence of an effective policy aimed at taking advantage of the divisions within the army and winning over a sector of the ranks and the lower officers was one of the most serious weaknesses displayed by the leadership of the Bolivian section of the Fourth International. The “turn” at the Ninth World Congress had diverted them from preparing for armed struggle in accordance with the model set by Lenin and Trotsky in the Russian revolution.
In spite of the course of the class struggle in Bolivia, the POR (Gonzalez) held stubbornly to its position that a socialist revolution would occur only via rural guerrilla warfare. Disregarding all the evidence before their eyes, our Bolivian comrades remained steadfast supporters of the line adopted at the Ninth World Congress, a line that had ruled out almost everything happening around them (an urban insurrection, a reformist regime, open trade-union work, the possibility of legal preparations, work in the armed forces, etc.).
Was it a “death wish,” as Comrades Germain and Knoeller might put it, that led to such persistence in sticking with an erroneous line? No, they simply still had confidence in the wisdom of the majority leaders of the Fourth International. As they visualized the coming sequence, Torres would fall and then would come the real struggle for power, that is, rural guerrilla warfare on a new and higher plane, since the successor to Torres would be the most brutal dictator yet seen in the country. This was their real perspective. That was why they were so preoccupied with building some kind of military apparatus separate and apart from the mass organizations. That was also why they persisted so arduously in trying to create a united front with the other groups committed to the schema of guerrilla war—the ELN, the Maoists, and the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria.
In his interview with the correspondent of Rouge, Comrade Gonzalez, in explaining the work they were accomplishing, said the following:
“But obviously this work cannot be capitalized on, or have any meaning in the long run, except in the context of preparing our organization for armed struggle. In the present unstable situation we look on everything as temporary. The repression that is to come will signal the start of a new stage of armed struggle on a scale previously unknown here.” (“The Current Situation in Bolivia,” Intercontinental Press, June 14, 1971, p. 545.)
In an interview with two militants of the IMG, Comrade Gonzalez explained quite correctly why the bourgeoisie required a rightist coup. He went on: ”. . . if there was a coup now, it would be a military victory for the right and the army. But this would not allow it to do more than control certain cities. It would re-establish the armed struggle at a much higher level than in the period of the guerillas of the Nancahuazu and Teoponte.” (“Interview with Hugo Gonzalez Moscoso,” International, September-October, 1971, p. 64.)
Continuing the same line of thought further on, Comrade Gonzalez said:
“If the arming of the workers is not organised, if the popular army does not develop, we think that the coup will easily be able to re-establish the army’s control. But this control will not last. That situation will be the opening of the war. We don’t think in terms of any fixed model. It will be a civil war on a national scale with different fronts. It will be the beginning of a long war for which we are now preparing.” (Ibid., p. 65.)
The opinion of Comrade Gonzalez thus was that after the relationship of class forces had shifted to the decided disadvantage of the working class, after the bourgeoisie had succeeded in reuniting the army and had opened a savage repression of the vanguard, and the masses had been driven back and demobilized, then the armed struggle could begin in earnest.
This total misjudgment of what would happen after the downfall of Torres at the hands of the Bolivian Kornilov followed logically from the series of misjudgments made earlier that had caused our Bolivian comrades to miss the boat. They were not alone in committing such colossal errors. The majority leaders elsewhere shared responsibility. After all, according to their theory, the events preceding Banzer’s triumph constituted an “exceptional variant.” What was permanent was the schema of rural guerrilla war for a prolonged period on a continental scale, including Bolivia.
In the final days of the Torres regime, our Bolivian comrades fought valiantly against the counterrevolutionary coup d’etat, suffering heavy casualties, including deaths. The world Trotskyist movement honors them for this and will always remember those who gave up their lives.
Nevertheless, together with the Bolivian proletariat as a whole, they suffered a heavy defeat. Their ranks were decimated. Years of hard work was undone. Some of the comrades became demoralized. Bitter dissension and recriminations broke out. All this must be borne in mind in assessing the enormous difficulties now facing our Bolivian section.
But this is all the more reason for speaking out on the disastrous line to which they were committed. To remain silent or to blunt the political criticisms that must be made would mean that our Bolivian martyrs really died in vain. The need to criticize that line has become all the more imperious in view of the fact that it is still being followed in Bolivia.
In fact, little has changed. Under Barrientos, the POR (Gonzalez) was for guerrilla action rather than concentrating on working in the mass movement. The most serious setbacks, including the disaster suffered by Che Guevara, did not alter their determination. It was the same under Ovando. Under Torres they made some adjustments; but no real turn was involved. The adjustments were intended only to lay a basis for guerrilla warfare when the mass mobilizations came to an end. Today under Banzer they are continuing—with one significant exception—as if the entire previous experience meant exactly nothing.
The exception is the following. Under the Torres regime, our comrades clung stubbornly to the sectarian position of not participating in the Political Command and of keeping away from the Popular Assembly until it was too late to significantly affect its course. They did this although the Political Command and the Popular Assembly were united-front formations based on mass support. Now, after the downfall of Torres and after the dispersal of the Popular Assembly they have joined the very leaders who were at the head of the Political Command and the Popular Assembly and who were responsible for betraying the Bolivian revolution by following a reformist course. They joined with these despicable figures in the “Frente Revolucionario Antiimperialista” under a common bourgeois program. In the beginning the FRA even included General Torres!
It is true that after the United Secretariat of the Fourth International publicly criticized the Bolivian section for adding the signature of the POR (Gonzalez) to the manifesto of the FRA calling for a “popular and national government,” our comrades responded with a self-critical statement in which they said, among other things:
“Having arisen after the coup of August 21 , the FRA, which includes all the political and mass organizations against the fascism of Banzer, the manifesto of the month of December 1971 is an unclear document that does not clearly delimit the tasks of the Bolivian revolutionaries and leaves the impression that it admits forms of government of national unity. The POR does not accept such a formulation contrary to its concepts of a socialist dynamics of the revolution and of a worker-peasant government.
“The signing of such a document without publishing at the same time its criticisms and formulated delimitations, was an error for which we criticize ourselves.”
The participation of the POR in the FRA, they continued, was merely a question of tactics:
“The POR in remaining in the FRA delimits itself from the reformists and ratifies its strategy of armed struggle and revolutionary war to overthrow fascism, destroy the capitalist regime, and build the socialist society under the dictatorship of the proletariat. In this sense its participation in the FRA has a tactical character under present conditions of the Bolivian left and does not compromise its political, organic, or military independence.”
In the same statement, the “Collective Leadership” promised to make public their differences with the FRA:
“The POR through a public document will delimit its political and programmatic concepts and bring out a clarification on the responsibilities of the parties in the August events and will unmask the tendencies guilty of the defeat of the masses. In participating in the FRA, it will not yield to it its revolutionary duty before the masses.”
As yet we have not seen the promised public delimitation from the reformist betrayers and bourgeois lickspittles gathered together in the FRA. Meanwhile our comrades remain comfortably in bed with them, for “tactical” reasons.
The main role of the FRA is to cover up the betrayal of the Bolivian revolution committed by the reformist parties under Torres. In the name of “unity” this fraudulent front seeks to silence any criticism by branding it as “sectarianism” so as to be in position to mislead the masses once again under the same disastrous program that was supported by the Communist Party of Bolivia and the POR (Lora).
In March, 1972, the FRA laid down certain rules and regulations that are binding on those belonging to it. These bylaws make instructive reading:
“1. No political organization or party may go against the fundamental line established in the fundamental founding documents of the FRA subscribed to by the representatives of the different groups belonging to it.
“2. The political parties retain their ideological and organizational independence but their conduct is bound by the agreements they have endorsed.
“3. The FRA shall act as a single entity in all areas of social life (trade unions, universities, high schools, popular organizations, etc.). In elections of any kind, the Front will present common slates after fully discussing them internally.
“4. A trade-union and student commission will be set up to take charge of coordinating trade-union and university student work. The highest political-union-student commission constitutes the leadership of the FRA, and the political parties and organizations must subordinate themselves to it in executing the line determined by the Front.
“5. In trade-union, university-student, and other type assemblies, the FRA will present a previously studied and agreed upon line, and it is recommended that its official speakers be assigned beforehand.
“6. Those voicing the FRA’s propaganda must present its common views and not solely the partial line of one or some of its components.” (Revista de America, No. 8/9, May-August, 1972, p. 21.)
These rules and regulations are clearly intended to bottle up critical views that may be held by one or another of the components of the FRA. To remain in such a front means participating in an unprincipled political bloc with reformist betrayers of the revolution and tying the revolutionary party hand and foot.
Instead of joining in a bloc with Juan Lechin, the Communist Party of Bolivia, the POR (Lora), and other political riffraff, our comrades should be doing their utmost to expose how and why these figures and groupings betrayed the Bolivian revolution. This is an absolute requisite in starting from the beginning again in Bolivia and assembling the cadres required to build a revolutionary party capable of presenting a viable alternative to the program of the reformists.
Yet it is understandable—if not excusable—why our Bolivian comrades decided to practice entryism sui generis in the FRA. The logic of the guerrilla-war orientation adopted by the majority at the Ninth World Congress has led them to subordinate political considerations to what they deem to be the prime necessity-technical preparations for rural guerrilla warfare. They are participating in the unprincipled front regardless of its political coloration and regardless of its ideological gag rule because they think the FRA badge can prove helpful in launching “armed struggle.”
In addition, they are affected by the current mood in the Bolivian vanguard favoring “unity” at any cost. This mood is a reaction to the petty, pointless bickerings of the reformists as they jockeyed for favor with Torres and for influence over the masses.
To bow to this mood is extremely dangerous, for it stands in the way of building a clear-thinking and clear-speaking Leninist-type party capable of using the method outlined in the Transitional Program to reach the Bolivian masses.
Instead of the first rule of the FRA’s bylaws, stating that “no political organization or party may go against the fundamental line established in the fundamental founding documents” of that unprincipled front, our Bolivian comrades should establish as their first rule to at once go against that fundamental line. The Bolivian section must break out of the straitjacket and bring its own line to the masses through serious, persistent, daily work among the proletariat, the students, the peasants, and the poverty-stricken layers in the towns and cities. Its attitude toward the FRA should be to confront it with dilemmas that will ultimately break it up politically, that is, through united front proposals on specific issues.
New mass struggles will inevitably erupt again in Bolivia—perhaps sooner than may be expected. But to win a position of leadership in these struggles, our comrades must become deeply rooted in the masses. They must turn away definitively from the Guevarist guerrilla-war “strategy” that has proved to be such a deadly trap for the Latin American revolutionary movement. “Technical” considerations must be subordinated—but really subordinated—to the political necessity of gaining leadership in the mass struggle.
This means a policy—for a “prolonged period” and on a “continental scale”—of avoiding actions that lead to the needless sacrifice of the lives of cadres and that provide the counterrevolution with convenient pretexts for savage reprisals. This means reversing the line of the Ninth World Congress calling for a guerrilla “strategy” in Latin America. It means, in short, returning to the Leninist strategy of party building.