Encyclopedia of Trotskyism OnLine: Revolutionary History: Volume 4, No. 3, Bolivian Revolution, 1953: Liborio Justo Bolivia: The Revolution Defeated

Liborio Justo

Bolivia: The Revolution Defeated

Origins, Development and Postmortem of the First Proletarian Revolution of Latin America

The piece below is translated from Chapter 14 (pp. 179–90) and the beginning of Chapter 18 (pp2356) of Liborio Justo’s Bolivia: La Revolución Derrotada, first published in Cochabamba in 1967 and reprinted in Buenos Aires in 1971. Its author, Liborio Justo (Quebracho) was born in 1902, the son of Augustin Justo, who was later to become president of Argentina, and played a most important part in the history of Trotskyism both in Argentina and in Latin America as a whole. His work has already been made familiar to the readers of this magazine by the account of Argentine Trotskyism by Osvaldo Coggiola and the review of two of his books by John Sullivan in Vol. 2, no. 2, Summer 1989 (pp. 232). His Leon Trotsky y Wall Street, Buenos Aires, 1959, is much appreciated by enemies of the Trotskyist movement, who consider it as his major work. A project for the publication of an English version was being discussed a year ago, but as far as we are aware has yet to get off the ground. In addition to the books mentioned in our previous review, he is also the author of Prontuario: Una Autobiografia, second edition, Buenos Aires 1956.

Despite the questionable nature of some of his works, the book from which these extracts are taken is regarded within the revolutionary movement in Latin America as one of the major assessments of the Bolivian crisis of 1952. Its critical view of the behaviour of the POR in those events is shared by two other main contributions, those of Sam Ryan, part of which appeared in Revolution Betrayed: Bolivia 1953 in the Revolutionary Communist League’s International Bulletin, No. 3, Spring 1971, pp. 9–24; Documents of the Vern-Ryan Tendency, 1950–1953, Communard Publishers, n.d.; and the whole in Bolivia: the Revolution the ‘Fourth international’ Betrayed (still obtainable from the League for the Revolutionary Party, PO Box 3573, New York, NY 10008-3573, USA) and by Juan Robles/Rey published in Labor Action between 3 January 1949 and 22 November 1954.

Shorter critiques that are largely dependent on these analyses include Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Bolivia, Spartacist, no. 18, Winter 1987, pp. 29–38; John Newsinger, Revolution in Bolivia, International Socialism, no. 18, Winter 1983, pp. 60–86; Walter Daum, The Life and Death of Stalinism, New York 1990, pp. 327–77; The Death Agony of the Fourth International and the Tasks of Trotskyists Today, Workers Power/Irish Workers Group, London 1983, pp. 379; and Christopher Hobson and Ronald Tabor, Trotskyism and the Dilemma of Socialism, Westport 1988, pp. 455–63.

Our thanks for the translation that follows go to John Sullivan, and hopefully it will whet the appetite of readers who feel confident enough in Spanish to get hold of the full text.


In April 1952 the Bolivian proletariat, having seized power in an armed insurrection, handed it over to the MNR instead of retaining it. The Bolivian Workers’ Union (COB), formed at the same time, was the real force, so there was a situation of dual power. If there had been a revolutionary party to provide leadership, workers’ power could have been established. As that was not so, dual power began to dissipate, thus allowing the MNR to consolidate its position in government and to begin the counterrevolution.

‘An event without precedent in the American world, more influential in its effects on the history and geography of the new world than even the war of independence. We refer to the historical significance of the Bolivian revolution.’

So claimed Carlos Montenegro, an MNR leader, who saw the importance of the 9 April 1952 insurrection, although he lacked the social or economic understanding to appreciate the reasons for that importance and to interpret it.[1]

Its importance, let us insist, lay in the fact that the proletariat of the Altiplano, led by the miners, the ‘remnants’ of the Inca Empire, serfs of the colonies, the beasts of burden of the republic, had taken power in Bolivia for the first time in the history of our continent, thereby placing itself in the vanguard of the proletariat not only of Latin America but of the entire world!

Yes! It was the most profound social revolution in the history of the three Americas!

However, instead of holding onto power and continuing the proletarian revolution, as the Theses of Pulacayo had advocated, the Bolivian working class handed over that power to the leaders of the MNR, the petitbourgeois party which had initiated the rising. The MNR leaders had wanted merely to form a government which could fulfil their limited aspirations through a palace coup, but the rising provoked unforeseen and unwelcome aspects. That party found itself at the head of a popular revolution, such as its leaders had never dreamed of, and which greatly exceeded their demands. As Lora put it:

‘When the MNR leaders came to write about the April events, they were forced to recognise that it was the miners who had destroyed the oligarchy’s army, and that the factory workers of La Paz made the victory complete, the occupants of the Burnt Palace now shudder when they recall these facts. In April, when the proletariat led the revolutionary movement, the class struggle was symbolised by Siglo XX, Catavi, and Villa Victoria. The victorious proletariat handed power to the petitbourgeois leaders of the MNR, a political leadership that was not its own.’[2]

Meanwhile, on 17 April 1952, only days after the rising of the 9th, that same armed working class created its own organ of power by forming the Bolivian Workers’ Organisation (COB). Effective trade union democracy ensured that all revolutionary organisations were represented, as were the peasants. The miners’ leader, Juan Lechín Oquendo, was appointed as Secretary. The COB was, from its foundation, the real and effective power in Bolivia; the other authority, in the Burnt Palace, was a shadow which existed only because the COB allowed it to exist under its own control. ‘ We have maintained that at that time’, writes Lora, ‘Paz was nothing more than a prisoner of the COB.’

The demands of the COB members, to which its leaders had to listen, were conclusive and consistent with the workers revolution, as set out in the Theses of Pulacayo:

‘Immediate nationalisation of the mines, without compensation and under workers’ control; also of the railways under the same conditions; workers’ occupation of the factories; nationalisation of the large estates, so that they could be handed over to the peasants to bc worked collectively.’

Those demands were based on the following concepts:

‘The Bolivian proletariat is the youngest in Latin America, but it is also the most militant and politically advanced. Its high level of class consciousness has gone beyond struggles which are merely economic, reformist and conciliatory. Its objective is the complete transformation of society under its own revolutionary leadership. The bourgeoisie’s historical tasks will be accomplished by the proletariat. The knell of private property is the reveille of the proletarian revolution. That is to say, workers’ power will not stop at democraticbourgeois measures, but will progressively restrict the rights of private property, and carry out Socialist demands, thus making the revolution permanent. The anticapitalist and antiimperialist struggle, which began as trade unionism, has deepened into a national and then an international one, thereby becoming permanent in both senses. The slogan of the United Socialist States of Latin America is valid, and its achievement will prevent the Bolivian Revolution being smothered by imperialist economic power.’

Beautiful ideas, even if they were not absolutely theoretically correct, but they were destined to remain fine phrases! Sadly, all of the political parties which claimed to be revolutionary, including the Trotskyists, who had voiced these words and who claimed to be the most advanced, ignored the most basic aspect of dual power which had been established on 9 April. Instead of demanding that that duality be resolved by the working class taking power, they were content that the COB name its bureaucrats as ‘workers’ ministers’ of Paz Estenssoro, establishing what they called a ‘joint government’.

What would have been the correct revolutionary demand at that historic moment, when the Bolivian proletariat headed the struggle of the entire Latin American working class? What would a genuine MarxistLeninist leadership have demanded? This: “Workers’ ministers” out of the government! All power to the COB! Implement the Theses of Pulacayo!’

However, at that critical point in Bolivian history, these demands were not made. The ‘prisoner in the Burnt Palace[3] was allowed to consolidate his position, with the invaluable support of Juan Lechín. The whole emphasis was to pressurise the MNR government to do what the masses demanded — from that viewpoint the more ‘workers’ ministers’ the better. Many even began to argue that, now that the MNR was about to carry out the proletarian revolution, revolutionary workers’ parties were no longer necessary. Had not the ‘Comrade President ’declared that he was ‘President of a government of workers, peasants and the middle class’ in a Labour Day speech in 1953? All the Bolivian political parties, even the extreme left ones, capitulated to that demagogy, encouraging the proletariat to believe that, in spite of a 15 year long struggle whose heroism had few parallels, Paz Estenssoro’s government was ‘its’ government, and that it should be content merely to put pressure upon it.

Yet, the Theses of Pulacayo established that even in Bolivia the working class played the leading rôle in the struggle for national and social liberation. That was also the contention of the first four congresses of the Third International, where Lenin and Trotsky had shown the revolutionary strategy for the colonial and semi- colonial countries. Take Trotsky’s words in his classic of Marxist-Leninist thought, The Permanent Revolution.

‘With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the Permanent Revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.’[4]

Can anyone imagine a process which fitted the classic MarxistLeninist framework more than did the Bolivian one? Dual power existed to an extent seldom seen anywhere in the world! However, the Trotskyists, who laid claim to these ideas, did not understand them, and let the opportunity slip away. Afterwards, they bitterly regretted it, but by then it was unfortunately too late. Let us quote again from Lora:

‘From 9 April the trade unions in the key districts simply took control of all important issues. The authorities either submitted to their decisions or were removed. The trade unions acted as organs of workers’ power, and posed the question of dual power both locally and nationally. As organisers of the daily life of the masses they had legal and administrative powers (and the forces to ensure that their decisions were obeyed), and they even administered justice. The trade union assembly became the supreme authority. That was almost always so in the mines, and less commonly so in the factories. Unfortunately, the situation was not fully understood by the workers’ vanguard, so the opportunity to occupy the mines and resolve the question of dual power in the workers’ favour was lost. Initially, the assemblies and the trade union leadership acted as instruments of workers’ power.’

Stalinism, by its inveterate pusillanimity, and Trotskyism, by its inveterate centrism, put the Bolivian proletariat at the service of the MNR’s ‘National Revolution’, instead of leading independent action for workers’ power, and thereby set it on the road to defeat. That policy was worse than the one for which Trotsky had so bitterly criticised Stalin in 1927, when he forced the Chinese Communist Party to submit to Chiang Kai Shek.

Meanwhile the ‘Comrade President’, who had declared 1952 ‘The Year of the National Revolution’, declaimed demagogically from the balcony of the Burnt Palace:

We are in power to defend the interests of the people. That is the only reason we are here ... To achieve the National Revolution is a gigantic task which will take many years ... We cannot carry out the revolution without telling the truth to the people ... The people support the revolution because it is theirs, because it is the way to salvation, the road to a better future ... There have been many deaths and sacrifices by the entire Bolivian people on the long road to liberation ... We have never betrayed the people. We represent no economic interest other than that of the great majority whose interests we serve ...

‘Our government’s actions are in accord with the historic stage which the Bolivian people are in, and precisely because of this we cannot yet carry out a social revolution. Consequently, those who raise extremist demands are sabotaging the Revolution.[5]

From that moment on, it was necessary to build up a body of doctrine, elaborating on those words, to provide a theoretical justification for the socalled National Revolution. That task was given to some fugitives from Trotskyism, who, going further than the official position of the POR, joined the MNR and became its spokesmen. As one of them put it:

‘The political formula of the “National Revolution” does not appear specifically in the Programme and Principles of the MNR of 1942. Neither is it there in the first period of the VillarroelPaz Estenssoro government. After the eclipse of that regime, Senor Walter Guevara Arze tried to give it some theoretical content in his pamphlet Theory, Ends and Means of the National Revolution . Now it has become the basic theory of the MNR in power.’

He goes on to give it some content:

‘In our countries, which have not yet resolved the national problem, the different social forces are so weak because of their “uneven” development that they cannot express themselves through separate political parties, but only through national fronts of distinct classes whose interests coincide at the time of decisive insurrections. Therefore it is a question of a struggle between the nation on the road to power and the declining antinational and colonial oligarchy. The struggle between the forces supporting the oligarchy and the oppressed popular classes, with parties being pushed aside. As we know such interclassism has produced the “National Liberation Front” in Guatemala, “Peronism” in Argentina, and the “Revolutionary Nationalist Movement” in Bolivia.’[6]

As we have already remarked, it is in the nature of such movements to install popular governments representing all the social forces within the national revolutionary front. Consequently, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat ’is neither necessary nor inevitable in order to carry out the tasks of the bourgeois revolution. On the contrary, if we take into account that in the countries which have not resolved the problems of the national revolution, there is a variety of local circumstances on which the class strategy must be based, we must also consider that as the working class is not a homogeneous mass and that it will react differently to distinct circumstances, we must conclude that a mechanical application of that strategy will lead to directly counterrevolutionary conclusions.

That point of view which, in practice, coincided with that held by all the parties of the left, barred the way to proletarian revolution, and tied them to the National Revolution, while the demagogic displays of ‘Comrade President ’were indispensable in preparing the counterrevolution. As one North American author referred to Bolivia:

‘The revolution went much further than the coup d’état, palace revolutions and military risings which degrade the word “revolution” in Latin America, but it also shows that even an authentic revolution could be guided, and to some extent braked, in order to be beneficial while avoiding a cataclysm.’[7]

That ‘cataclysm ’was, of course, the proletarian revolution.

The Bolivian Workers’ Organisation (COB) was formed on 17 April 1952 on the initiative of a POR member, Miguel Alandia Pantoja, who wrote its first proclamations and edited the first three numbers of its journal Rebelión . Effectively, the MNR had no strength apart from a few bureaucrats. Real power was in the hands of the workers, who flocked into the trade unions. Lora writes:

Immediately after 9 April 1952, the MNR was a powerless minority within the trade unions. The official line was helpless, because of the mass radicalisation.’

However, a few weeks after 9 April, the ‘prisoner in the Burnt Palace ’was able to announce the postponement of the peoples’ main demand, the nationalisation of the mines, using the excuse that a commission would be established to study the question. Lechín’s bureaucracy aided this attempt to apply a brake to the revolution, slow down the rhythm of mass enthusiasm, and allow the MNR leaders to begin the process of counterrevolution. Their measures were from the beginning aimed at destroying trade union democracy, and bureaucratising the COB. To do so they relied on the active support of Stalinism. Lora writes:

The first step on the road to the COB’s destruction consisted of the silencing of the Trotskyist opposition through a plebiscite, stage managed by dispensing money and all kinds of privileges. Stalinism was delighted to play the government’s game ... Faithful to its tradition, it used every method to combat the revolutionary movement. It assisted or initiated the purging of POR members from the leadership ... The MNR’s plan required the destruction of all traces of trade union democracy as a step towards bringing the workers’ organisations under state control. The regular election of COB delegates and leaders was replaced by the decrees of the President and of the “workers’ ministers”. The Trotskyists began to be bitterly persecuted ...

‘The COB was transformed from an organisation so strongly influenced by the Trotskyists that it never acted without consulting them, into an instrument of the government that would smash the POR and destroy its trade union base. The manoeuvre, blatantly aimed at the main left tendency, was successful because of the momentary retreat of the workers’ movement and of the help of Stalinism ... The Siglo XX district was the scene of monstrous falsifications by the MNR leaders about POR members, with the intention of imprisoning them ... We were caught at our lowest point, and ran the risk of being totally isolated and being physically removed from the unions ... All opposition tendencies were eliminated from the leadership through violence and corruption, and were replaced by servile bureaucrats ... The government exercised a bureaucratic control over the unions, sufficient for its cowardly purpose.’

The second step was the dissolution of the COB militia, which was replaced by the socalled militias of the MNR, who were paid and recruited from criminal elements and the unemployed.

‘During the first months of the revolution, the COB alone had an armed force consisting of the workers’ and peasants’ militias. The workers’ forces originated as trade union militias, when the MNR was in no position to form its own forces. Meetings witnessed the presence of strong detachments of armed workers and peasants. The workers announced that the factories and mines would become fortresses of the revolution; their heroic struggle had taught them that the army and police were repressive instruments of the “Rosca”, and that their own militias should be the only armed force. The post of militia secretary, which the COB had created in its early meetings, and became an accepted part of the union structure, now assumed a merely decorative function. Unlike the Executive Committee, both the general assembly and the base organisations of the COB took on the task of strengthening the militias, improving their armament, training and discipline and the creation of a single command, very seriously. Paz Estenssoro and Lechín told their followers to hinder the efforts to strengthen the armed workers’ groups, as they represented the greatest danger to the government. MNR militias, separate from the trade unions, were formed which were made responsible for security in the main districts. MNR leaders, working closely with the Stalinists, were given instructions to sabotage the development of the workers’ militias.’

A third, very important, measure to derail and even suffocate the progress of the revolutionary proletariat was the decree of 21 July 1952, which implemented universal suffrage, thus ending the restricted franchise which deprived illiterates of the vote. In other circumstances, the concession of universal suffrage would have been a highly progressive measure, but at that moment, when a united will expressed itself more effectively through armed and trade union action, which made the discrimination against illiterates ineffective, a call to vote was a distraction for the people, making them believe that through it they could win what had already achieved by arms. The electoral road threatened to drown the proletariat in the peasant mass. Lora writes:

It is claimed that the MNR electoral reforms constituted a bold revolutionary advance which only reactionaries could oppose ... Giving the peasant masses the vote is progressive, using that mass to strangle the workers is not.’

The fourth aspect of the plot to destroy the revolutionary advances consisted of the bureaucratisation of workers’ control and abolishing the right of veto in the mines. That control, derived from the Theses of Pulacayo, had a profoundly revolutionary content. Lora writes:

‘Mie must not forget that the Theses originated when the workers were moving towards the occupation of the mines, which were then controlled by the great mine owners. In those circumstances, workers’ control meant the administration of the mines by the working class through organisations representing the collective will.’

At the beginning of the revolution of April 1952 it functioned as the natural expression of the miner’s collective will. Lora continues:

During the revolution’s first stage it was imposed by the masses, and functioned as a genuine expression of workers’ power. This control acted as the workers’ voice, and it was opposed to both the MNR government and to the abuses of the mine administration.’

But once the MNR, taking advantage of a momentary decline in the revolutionary struggle, produced by the postponement of the nationalisation of the mines, started its attack on the revolution, workers’ control became bureaucratised and divorced from the rank and file. Bureaucratisation produced corruption, and ‘in the hands of that petitbourgeois party [the MNR], that control became an insignificant “workers’” decoration on the old managerial system’.

However, the most important counterrevolutionary measure taken by the MNR government was the reorganisation of the army, which had been destroyed and disarmed by the people, and the reopening of the Military Academy. The pretext for doing so was to create an army steeped in the spirit of the National Revolution, which would be open to workers. In spite of the decided hostility of the proletariat to such a measure, demonstrated by frequent decisions, the COB leadership, especially Lechín, gave it their backing. To quote Lora:

‘The worst aspect of the situation was that the COB Secretary, who knew perfectly well what the masses felt, should have played Paz’s game. Violating the statements he had previously made, and the union’s resolutions declaring the necessity of destroying the repressive army at its roots, señor Lechín cooperated in the opening of the Military Academy, and was an accomplice in the plot to reorganise the army.’

And as all the means which could have been used to channel the revolutionary impulse of the armed masses were being blocked, there was an attempt to neutralise such impulses and divert them towards the false goal of ‘joint government ’with the MNR. The evolution of the COB showed that very clearly.

According to the Theory, Programme and Constitution of the COB adopted by the Workers National Conference on 31 October 1954:

‘The great movement of national and social liberation of 9 April 1952 began simply as a coup, but quickly became a victorious insurrection because of the revolutionary presence of social forces ... especially the working class, which by force of arms put the candidates who had won the May 1951 election into government, with three workers’ representatives in the first revolutionary cabinet ... The triumph of the April revolution and the participation of the working class in government has substantially modified, not only the country’s economic structure, but also the balance of class forces and the attitude of the workers to political power ...

‘The increasing mass participation gives our revolution a popular character, which transcends its original purely bourgeoisdemocratic objectives. The increased number of “worker ministers” [increased to five — L.J], the implementation of workers’ control, the joint legislative and executive work of the COB and of the trade union conferences, show that ours is a popular revolution rather than bourgeoisdemocratic or proletarian ... Our revolution is national and popular. The transformation of the struggle for the national liberation of the Bolivian people into one of social liberation depends on the revolutionary capacity of the working class in close alliance with the poor peasants and the exploited sectors of the urban middle class ...

‘The working class, operating from the centre of power, is achieving gains which benefit wide layers of the people, rather than merely either itself or the bourgeoisie. For the workers to abandon power [this refers to the joint government with Paz Estenssoro — LJ] would mean, not only a weakening in that “power” which we wish to strengthen, but would play into the hands of our class enemies. While the working classes use power to push the revolution forward, while the Workers’ Congresses remain as Popular Parliaments in the true sense of the word, participation in power is not “class collaboration” ...

‘In addition to the measures already announced, we ought to welcome the destruction of the old army of the “Rosca” which confronted us ... as a repressive instrument of the dominant caste, and its replacement by a popular army which will be combined with a militia of the armed people ... If the structure and the objectives of a Revolutionary Army are different from those of an oligarchic one, so too is the basis of its discipline. Class consciousness and political ability are the basis of discipline in the new army ... The young officers must be ideologically and organisationally assimilated to the National Revolution.’

Lastly, it stated:

‘Some have tried to find a weakness — even an opportunist getout — in the fact that the COB has not raised the “question of power”. To evaluate that accusation it is necessary to look at the character of the trade unions, the relationship between the workers and the present government, and the situation of the working class and the possibility of it taking “power” ... It would seem absurd to raise the question of the “seizure of power” by a trade union organisation, which, however well it represents the economic interests of the worker, the peasant, or the salaried employee, cannot express a united political view on how to take power and for what purpose.’[8]

Such was the ideological foundation of the bureaucracy leading the COB, headed by the FSTMB leader Juan Lechín Oquendo.

Who was Lechín, and what was his importance in the Bolivian Revolution? On just one occasion among many others he said conclusively:

‘I am not a Communist, and I do not accept Communism. I will tell you clearly ... There can be no Communists in Bolivia.’[9]

That did not prevent Juan Lechín from making terribly red statements during his trade union career, which were designed to harmonise with the aspirations of the working masses. But more than that, we know that these speeches were directly written by the POR, and contained all the slogans of the Fourth International, with the result that Lechín was sometimes considered as a Trotskyist. However, the COB General Secretary was demagogically playing a part, just like Paz Estenssoro at the head of the government, when such methods were necessary to hold back the revolutionary workers’ movement, and limit its perspectives to those of an elegant petitbourgeois. To quote Lora:

‘A student of the Bolivian workers’ movement will begin by being astonished that the name of Lechín appears so unexpectedly in the leadership of the recently formed Bolivian Mineworkers Union ... The Villarroel government, and specifically its MNR component, anxious to organise and control the workers in order to ensure its own stability, plucked him from obscurity and made him leader. The spurious origin of his leadership, and his lack of involvement in the workers’ movement ... made it clear, even during the six year dictatorship, that he lacked the qualities needed to be a revolutionary leader, in spite of having become the workers’ leader ... The past 10 years of proletarian struggles, crammed full of momentous events, have given him an undeserved prominence ... After the coup ... of 21 July 1946, because of the temporary absence of the MNR from the political scene, Lechín sought a close relationship with the POR, and secretly became a member ... He already showed the predominant traits which were evident in his trade union and political career when he came to be boss of the COB: crookedness in his dealings with both parties and people. Simultaneous flirtations with the left and right were presented by him as political astuteness, which laid the basis for the politics of deceit. Later, as if he had discovered a new principle, he declared that he was proud of being an opportunist. On that basis, he left the POR and returned to the MNR to fight against the POR.

‘Having started as the petitbourgeois representative of the workers, he immediately freed himself from the direct influence of the rank and file activists, and started to control the proletariat on behalf of another social class. This privileged position enabled him to rally the left wing of the MNR around him in one of the main factions of the governmental party. However, above all, he never ceased to be part of the MNR, reflecting its ideology and its class nature ... From the moment he surrendered his body and soul to the MNR and acted as a fifth columnist of that party within the workers’ movement, he became one of the greatest obstacles to the liberation of the exploited masses. The party of the working class was built up in the struggle against …Lechínism.’

Elsewhere he states:

‘Lechínism ... has been the MNR’s link with the trade unions: through this channel the immoral and corrupt activities of the government party has affected many trade union leaders. The greatest sin of the Lechín clique has been the corruption of a multitude of good leaders. When corruption failed, they jailed those who dared to resist them.’

An impartial observer recently gave an accurate description of this clique:

‘The trade unions did not seize the historic opportunity ... except to create a venal and inept trade union bureaucracy, theoretically Trotskyist, but conservative in practice.’[10]

The Bolivian Revolution was essentially proletarian, the first in Latin America, and its failure was due to the absence of a revolutionary MarxistLeninist party which could have guided and directed it. Neither Stalinism nor Trotskyism responded in the way that was necessary as events unfolded. Consequently, nearly 30 years of heroic struggles produced a terrible defeat. Such heroism deserved better.

We are now worse off than when the ‘Rosca’ was in power. This dreadful admission sums up the worst tragedy in Bolivia’s history. The greatest and most profound event in the history of Latin America until now could have been the beginning of its liberation. The protagonists were those who appeared the most backward and submissive. The movement failed because the masses found no one who could show them the way to direct their desperate attempt to free themselves, at whatever cost, so that their heroism could be victorious.

For that reason, because the events were so important, we must draw up a balance sheet, so that the disaster may not have been in vain, and that the defeat should serve as a lesson to the masses of Latin America in their struggle for the liberation, which they will surely win.

We ought then to ask: why did the Bolivian Revolution fail? To that question there can be only one answer: because it produced, not the proletarian revolution, but the so-called national revolution.

As we have already stated, the only way that the revolution of 9 April 1952 could have succeeded would have been if the proletariat had taken power directly and established its own dictatorship, displacing the MNR, which took power only because the working class permitted it to do so, although it had no ambitions either to make a revolution or to make structural changes. It wanted to be in government merely to fulfil its limited petitbourgeois ambitions. The revolutionary party, the POR, acting through the COB, should have fought for control in achieving the bourgeoisdemocratic revolution, in other words, the struggle against imperialism and the remnants of feudalism in the countryside, and going on to carry out Socialist measures. That is the classic MarxistLeninist road followed by the leaders of the October Revolution in Russia, in a country with a larger population, but which was as backward as Bolivia. Besides, it was not a new idea in Bolivia. In 1946, six years previously, the Theses of Pulacayo had established this aim.

As Lenin had pointed out:

The strength of the proletariat in any capitalist country is far greater than the proportion it represents of the total population. That is because the proletariat economically dominates the centre and nerve of the entire economic system of capitalism, and also because the proletariat expresses economically and politically the real interests of the overwhelming majority of the working people under capitalism.’[11]



1. C. Montenegro, Documentas, La Paz 1954, p. 60. Carlos Montenegro (1903–1953) organised a left wing faction in the Partido Nacionalista which split to become the Partido Socialista Boliviana in October 1935, in which he played a major part in opposing the Marxist left, before helping form the MNR.

2. The extracts by Guillermo Lora are taken from his La revolucién Boliviana and Sindicatos y revolucién. An abridged English language account of this period can be found in his A History of the Bolivian Labour Movement 1848–1971, Cambridge 1977, pp. 241–301. The Burnt Palace was the Presidential Palace, in which the MNR leaders had installed themselves.

3. Paz Estenssoro.

4. L.D. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, New York 1969, p. 276.

5. The Revolutionary Thinking of Paz Estenssoro, pp. 34, 40.

6. Ernesto Ayala Mercado, ¿Que es la revoluciano Boliviana?, La Paz 1956, p. 20. Ayala Mercado was a leading member of the Federación Universitaria Boliviana in the late 1930s, and a member of the POR. In the 1950s he moved to the left wing of the MNR. Walter Guevara Arze (1911 ) was a founder member of the MNR, stood on the right wing of the party, was the Foreign Minister in the MNR government after the 1952 revolution, and represented Bolivia at the Organisation of American States. In 1964 he split to form the MNR Auténtico, and supported the military coup against the MNR.

7. Richard W. Patch, Bolivia: Diez añå on de revolucion national, Cuadernos, Paris, September 1962.

8. Programa Ideolégico y Estatutos de la Central Obrera Boliviana, La Paz 1954.

9. R. Aldunate Philips, Tras la cortina de estaño, Santiago de Chile 1955, pp. 28, 33.

10. Antonio Garda, Reforma agraria y desarrollo de Bolivia, El trimestre economico, Mexico, July–September 1964.

11. V.I. Lenin, The Constituent Assembly Elections and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Collected Works, Vol. 30, Moscow, 1977, p. 274.

Updated by ETOL: 12 February 2009