Encyclopedia of Trotskyism OnLine: Revolutionary History: Volume 4, No. 3, Bolivian Revolution, 1953: José Villa A Revolution Betrayed

José Villa

A Revolution Betrayed

The POR and the Fourth International in the Bolivian Revolution

Jose Villa was on two consecutive occasions elected to the Executive Committee of La Paz University Federation. He was one of the most prominent activists during the events of March 1985 when the miners controlled the city for two weeks. Hundreds of workers came to the main lecture hall every day to listen and to discuss the following day’s activities. He was one of the main activists during the general strike of August-September 1985, the main speaker at the mass assembly in Oruro, and one of the most outstanding agitators during the hunger strike of thousands of miners in the mines of San Jose. He participated actively in the march of August 1986, when more than 10,000 miners marched for 150 miles at an altitude of 4,000 metres. The march might have brought about the fall of the neo-liberal government as well as brought the Trotskyists to the leadership of the miners ’and students ’unions.

A week after being congratulated by the POR congress in March 1985 for his exemplary work with the miners, he was expelled for having dared to question Lora. Many members, including whole districts, left the POR in response to that action. Instead of trying to build a variant of the POR, he formed a tendency which tried to make a profound examination of what the POR had represented. He came to the conclusion that the POR had never been Trotskyist, and that a Trotskyist party had to be built. This struggle produced the movement for a Trotskyist Workers Faction, the weeklies Guía and Guía Obrera, and the Poder Obrera groups of Bolivia and Peru, which were founding sections of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International, of which Workers Power is the section in Britain.

We extend our thanks to Mike Jones for translating this article, and to John Sullivan for checking the text against the Spanish original. The article as it appears in these pages is a heavily edited and shortened version of the original. Workers Power has the full English text.


Wen the February 1917 Revolution occurred, the Bolshevik Party ad been in existence for 15 years. When the revolution of April 1952 occurred, the Revolutionary Workers Party (POR) had been in existence for 17 years. Both parties operated in countries with a peasant and petit-bourgeois majority, but with a modern, geographically concentrated proletariat. Both parties had the benefit of working with those who had introduced Marxism into their respective countries (Plekhanov and Marof), and their cadres had helped to form the first Working class organisations. Bolshevism had been formed through a Confrontation with other Marxist currents (economists, Mensheviks, 00, petit-bourgeois Socialists (Socialist Revolutionaries), and bourgeois democrats (Cadets), and the POR had had to fight against the ‘Marxists ’of Marof and Stalinism, the different wings of the MNR, and ‘Socialism ’of both bourgeois and military varieties.

Bolshevism was tempered during the working class upsurge which culminated in the 1905 Revolution, in. the reactionary phase which followed it, in the new wave of strikes, and in the struggle against the First World War. The POR was born in the fight against the Chaco War, and was forged during two great mass insurgencies, which brought down the governments in 1936 and 1946, in great strikes and massacres, in constant changes of government, coups and a short civil war. While the ‘dress rehearsal ’of 1905 was smashed, both of the two rehearsals of revolutionary crises experienced by the POR ended with the governments falling. The programme of Bolivian ‘Trotskyism ’was endorsed by the university students and the miners, and the POR could pride itself on having had within its ranks important central leaders of the miners ’union (FSTMB) and the National Workers Centre (CON), the forerunner of the Bolivian Workers Centre (Central Obrera Boliviana, COB), which was to play a major role in the events of 1952.[1]

James Dunkerley maintains that ‘much of the preparatory work [of founding the COB] was undertaken by the POR representatives, Edwin Moller, Miguel Alandia and Jose Zegada’, and that ‘the POR allegedly controlled at least half the COB’s 13 man central committee’[2] The COB was born brandishing the Theses of Pulacayo, and adhered to a POR programme and orientation.

The role of the POR in the Apri1 1952 Revolution was such that even one of the founders of the Stalinist party recognised that of the five main leaders of the insurrection, one was of the MNR right, another was of the pro-POR wing of the MNR, and three were of the POR.[3]

In Lucha Obrera the POR boasted that:

‘When top MNR leaders thought about flight, it was our comrades who led the people and proletariat of Oruro to victory … Our militants were the real leaders in the defence of Villa Pavon and Miraflores, which in practice saved the difficult situation for the revolutionaries when the enemy already appeared to be triumphant within the city.’[4]

The POR was the most important and influential party within the COB, which was itself the dominant power in the country. Robert Alexander says that:

‘The POR … had in large part been able to determine the ideological orientation and dynamism of the Workers Centre… For the first six months the COB was practically in the hands of the Trotskyists.’[5]

It took the Russian Bolsheviks from February to October to win a majority in the Soviets, and having done so they moved to insurrection. The POR, however, played a central role in the COB from the start. Whereas the Bolsheviks were a minority within the Russian working class for these eight months, the POR led the COB for the first crucial six months after the insurrection which dispersed the bourgeois army. The POR provided the COB with its programme and leadership, and ran its press. Juan Lechín, the main leader of the COB, functioned by reading speeches written by the POR.[6]

However, there was a huge difference between the POR and the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks demanded that the Soviets should not support the bourgeois-democratic, reformist coalition government, and insisted that they should break from the bourgeoisie, and take power. The POR, in contrast, gave ‘critical support ’to the bourgeois government, and asked for ministerial posts. Whereas the Bolsheviks attacked the Mensheviks and the SRs without pity, seeking to remove them from leadership positions, the POR identified itself with the labour bureaucracy (for whom it drafted speeches and ministerial plans), and sought to transform the MNR and its government. The Bolshevik strategy was to make a new revolution, that of the POR was to reform the MNR and its government. In short, whereas Bolshevism was Leninist, the POR was Lechínist.

April 1952: The Menshevism of the POR

Just before the April events, the POR had published ‘an open letter to the government, demanding that power be handed over to the Nationalist MNR without a new election’.[7] The strategy of the POR was limited to pressurising the government in order to attempt to change the leadership of the bourgeois state, with the aim of allowing the MNR to take over the presidency by constitutional means. In that way, a legitimate government could be restored, which, through pressure from below, would be forced to adopt radical measures, and would also have to appoint ‘worker ministers’.

During the April events Lora had been in France, after having attended the Third World Congress of the Fourth International. He gave statements to La Verité, which the US Socialist Workers Party then reproduced in The Militant . In his history of the POR, Lora says:

‘Up to now not enough importance has been given to the call for the Trotskyist programme made by Lora in Paris a few days after the arrival of the MNR in power.’[8]

Let us look at this ‘Trotskyist programme’: The central slogans put forward by our party were: 1. Restore the constitution of the country through the formation of an MNR government which obtained a majority in the 1951 election. 2. The struggle for the improvement of wages and working conditions. 3. Struggle for democratic rights. 4. Mobilisation of the masses against imperialism, for the nationalisation of the mines, and for the abrogation of the UN agreement.[9]

Only the last of these demands was really radical, and even that did not go beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy, or what the anti-Communist President Victor Paz Estenssoro was going to do a few months later. The first demand sought a constitutional bourgeois state with a populist government. Instead of seeking to differentiate itself from the latter by raising anti-capitalist and class based slogans, the POR platform was no different from that of the bourgeois MNR. Lora did not put forward any proletarian slogans, such as the expropriation without compensation of the bourgeoisie, workers ’control, the disarming of the bourgeois armed forces and their replacement by workers ’and peasants ’militias, the occupation of mines, factories, land, etc. Instead of calling for the transformation of the COB into a soviet, breaking from the bourgeoisie and taking power, Lora called for the MNR government to change direction, and limited himself to asking for reforms which did not go beyond the framework of the capitalist state.

It was not as if the POR was taken unawares by developments: ‘The subversive movement of 9 April was no surprise for our party, and it occurred as we had foreseen in our theoretical analysis.[10]

If a party was aware that this event was approaching, it should surely have kept its most prominent leader in the country, or, at least, not far away. However, Lora stayed in Paris for over six months after the end of the congress. By boasting that his party had predicted what was going to happen, and staying abroad himself, Lora was either blustering, or worse, he did not place much importance on his own endeavours to overthrow the MNR, but instead agreed with trying to put pressure on it.

If the POR was in the forefront of the struggle, it should have put itself forward as an alternative leadership, calling on the COB to overthrow Paz. However, Lora called for support of the bourgeois government and its ‘left wing ’ministers. For the POR, the enemy was not the bourgeois government, but only the ministers who stood to the right of Paz. In fact, ‘the government was to be defended to the utmost’:

‘In this connection, the essential mission of the POR is to assume the role of the vigilant guide to prevent the aspirations of the workers from being diluted by vague promises or by manoeuvres of right wing elements.’[11]

Lora attempted to uphold this reformist position by characterising the regime as ‘petit-bourgeois’, and insisting that this government, if forced to accept additional labour ministers, had ‘the possibility of being transformed and changed into a phase of the workers ’and peasants ’government’.[12] This was utopian, as the petit-bourgeoisie cannot form a government or wield state power, and reactionary, as the MNR may have been comprised of and supported by the petit-bourgeoisie, but its leadership came from the oligarchic families, and acted fully in the interests of the bourgeoisie.

The POR Supports The Bourgeois Government

Nine days after the uprising of 9 April, the mouthpiece of the POR declared that ‘to the extent that it carries out the promised programme’, the POR ‘supports the Government’. [13] Under no circumstances can the proletariat support the government of a section of its exploiters. On the contrary, the aim of a Marxist party should be to undermine it, and to struggle for its revolutionary overthrow. Otherwise, it would stand compromised for helping to maintain the capitalist state.[14]

In May Lucha Obrera adopted a nationalist tone when it called for a change in the direction of the Paz government, demanding ‘a Bolivian government which will obey the will of the Bolivians and not of the Yanks.’[15] A government ‘of the Bolivians ’can only be that of the Bolivian ruling class. The POR, instead of struggling to overthrow the bourgeois government, suggested that the MNR should develop a sovereign national bourgeoisie, and stop conciliating the USA.

In June 1952 Lucha Obrera maintained that the MNR should thank the POR for helping it win power and for its support, declaring that if the MNR has to give thanks to anyone, and greatly for our help, it is without doubt, to the POR’.[16] And shortly after trying to ingratiate itself with the MNR, it offered a mild criticism, more in sadness than anger:

‘Never before has a party like the MNR, that can count on uniform backing from an armed people and proletariat, achieved power; and never before, therefore, did anyone have the opportunity of adopting measures with a real revolutionary content. The government has closed its eyes, or has not wanted to see the magnificent opportunity, and has preferred to deceive the proletariat which supported it unconditionally.’[17]

Never before had the MNR had such an opportunity to make a social revolution, but it hesitated… It wasn’t because the MNR was a bourgeois party, no, it just had rotten tactics. The MNR merely had to open its eyes and see the magnificent opportunities before it… The whole policy of the POR was pure Menshevism.

For Marxists, the proletariat can seize power only on the basis of the destruction of the existing state machinery, and the removal of the bourgeoisie from power. For the POR, the workers could win power by ‘Bolivianising ’and reforming the bourgeois MNR regime. The POR faithfully followed the teachings of Aguirre and Marof, of trying to nationalist governments with the aim of changing their direction.


After the success of the April Revolution, a quarrel erupted between the different wings of the MNR over the allocation of the quotas of power. When Lechín withdrew, protesting at the few posts given to him for his followers, the right wing gave way. Lechín named four minters, and co-government was born. As far as the POR was concerned, Lechín should have fought for more portfolios — and perhaps some for the POR.

Supported by all the POR votes, the COB resolved:

‘To grant comrades Juan Lechín and Germán Butrón the absolute confidence of the working class, and to reaffirm its solidarity and support in the ministerial posts they presently hold.’[18]

The POR, after identifying itself with the Lechínist ministers, did ask them to resign in protest against the delay in nationalising the mines. But on other occasions the POR was once more to demand the capture of ministries on behalf of Lechínism. Towards the end of 1953, the POR leadership presented a report in which it admitted that:

‘The new upsurge comes from the demand for Lechín to leave the cabinet, which was put forward by the mining unions, backed by the COB, and curbed by Lechín. Our union fraction then took up a neutral and vacillating position.’[19]

The POR, therefore, admitted that its trade unionists adapted to pressure from Lechín. The policy of demanding the resignation of the labour ministers was an opportunist manoeuvre. It did not accompany the call for the COB to take power. Some weeks later, during the key events which frustrated the rightist January coup, the POR was to demand that ‘the Comrade President ’Bolivianise his government and allow them to join it. For those reasons, the ‘new period of upsurge ’did not end with the fulfilment of the POR theses, but in the victory of the MNR, which was to succeed in absorbing most of the membership and periphery of the POR.

The POR Seeks To Enter The Bourgeois Government.

During the 1952 Revolution it was vitally important for any Marxist party to assert its total independence from, and opposition to, the MNR bourgeois government. The POR not only supported this new regime, and identified itself fully with its ‘leftist ’ministers, but even tried to enter it. At its Third World Congress in 1951, the Fourth International unanimously adopted a line favouring the POR joining a future MNR government. The POR’s paper declared:

‘The Executive Power invited the revolutionary Miguel Alandia Pantoja to take up the post of Minister of Culture… The POR authorised its member to accept the invitation.’[20]

Alandia, who until the end of his life was a leader of Lora’s POR, became the editor of the trade union organ of the MNR bureaucracy, and joined the government in the capacity of Minister of Culture.

Rumours spread, and the Californian Trotskyist Sam Ryan wrote to the leaders of the SWP and the Fourth International, demanding that they provide information on the POR’s participation in the government:

‘According to these reports received from non-Trotskyist sources, the POR is accepting posts in the government machinery: Guillermo Lora, former Secretary of the party, has been appointed [to] the Stabilisation Office; Comrade Moller, present Secretary of the POR, is director of the Workers Savings Bank, which is controlled by Juan Lechín, a member of the Cabinet; Ayala Mercado, another POR leader, is a member of the Agrarian Commission.’[21]

Bolshevism emerged in the struggle against ministerialism. The followers of Lenin were opposed to Socialists entering bourgeois-democratic governments in Western Europe, and that of Kerensky in Russia in 1917. The only governments in which the Bolsheviks would have participated critically would be those based on workers ’militias and councils, which could attack and disarm the capitalist class. The Fourth International was founded in the struggle against the POUM of Andrés Nin, which joined the Spanish Republican government in 1937. Joining a non-working class government only serves the enemies of the proletariat by confusing it, and helping to prepare the conditions for an offensive against it.

1952 the POR had a ministerialist attitude. If it did not succeed in obtaining portfolios in the government, but only won secretarial posts in ministries or departments, it is because the MNR did not consider it to have any weight independent of the Lechínist faction, and it could use its presence as a means of calming the masses. It preferred the POR outside the cabinet, but subordinate it through the union bureaucracy.

The Collaborationist Programme Of The POR

After April 1952 The Programme of the Exploited appeared in every of issue of Lucha Obrera . It declared: 1. To prevent the revolution that begun on 9 April being strangled within the bourgeois and democratic framework. 2. The strengthening of the working class, and the consolidation of the COB. 3. The mobilisation of the peasants behind the slogan of nationalisation of land and expropriation of the large estates without compensation, in order to allow the revolutionary process to end in victory. 4. The gaining of democratic guarantees for the exploited. The development of union democracy within the unions. Freedom of propaganda for revolutionary parties. The cancelling of all privileges for the Rosca counter-revolution. 5. Armed workers ’militias to replace the regular army. 6. Better conditions of living and work. A basic living wage and a sliding scale of wages. Collective contracts. 7. Nationalisation of the mines and railways without compensation and under workers ’control. 8. The expulsion of imperialism. The cancelling of the international treaties which bind the country to imperialism. The rejection of the agreement on technical aid with the UN.[22]

We are not questioning those particular slogans class="sub", but rather the absence of key and essential slogans. The programme is limited, and is tailored to fit the outlook of the Lechín wing of the MNR, which would not object to any of the slogans.

The central demands which were completely ignored in the POR press during those months were those of the occupation of the mines, factories and large estates; no support for the new bourgeois government nor for the Lechín union bureaucracy; no to co-government; that ‘worker ministers ’should resign from the capitalist cabinet; the soviet- isation of the COB; and ‘All Power to the COB!’.

The FOR talked about ‘preventing the revolution being strangled ’when they themselves were strangling it with ‘critical ’support to the capitalist government. They demanded the ‘consolidation of the COB’, but they opposed struggling for the most elementary tasks or achieving such an aim: an open struggle against the bureaucracy of Lechín and the MNR, for the election and recall of all leaders through rank and file mass meetings, for an immediate conference if the COB in order to equip it with a soviet-type stricture, and for it to take complete power. The POR did not struggle to transform the COB into a Supreme Soviet in order to seize power, but wanted to put pressure on its leadership so that it would recite its speeches and improve governmental decrees.

The POR called for the nationalisation of the land, nines and railways, but did not call upon the workers and peasants to carry it out themselves, merely requesting and pressurising the government to do it. This not only created dangerous illusions amongst the masses, but helped to demobilise them and keep them in a state of dependency, instead of calling on them to do things themselves. At no tine did the POR call for the bourgeoisie to be expropriated. Workers ’control was only demanded for state enterprises. The factories Said, Soligno, etc), shopping chains (Casa Grace, etc) and other private companies continued operating as before. There was no demand for their nationalisation — not even with compensation — for workers ’control, or for the payment of higher taxes.

The POR wanted ‘freedom of propaganda for revolutionary parties’. By this the POR acknowledged that, apart from itself, other ‘revolutionaries ’existed, among them the MNR and the Stalnists. The POR should have called for the broadest democratic liberties, and for the expropriation of the mass media and its handing over to organisations of workers and ordinary people. The cancellation of all privileges of the Rosca counter-revolution ’was demanded. But what does the cancellation of privileges mean? What was needed was the demand for its total expropriation, along with the creation of peoples ’courts to try the executioners and butchers of the oligarchic regime.

The slogan about expelling imperialism was very vague. It was not tied to demands to expropriate all imperialist-owned enterprises, or to repudiate the foreign debt. Anyway, the POR itself said repeatedly that, if it assumed power, it would try to force the USA to recognise it and establish diplomatic relations.

The POR did not raise the main slogan for thoroughgoing bourgeois democracy: the sovereign Constituent Assembly, where all those over the age of 18 (or 16) would have the right to vote and to be elected. New elections on the most democratic and broad basis as possible, and the creation of a new Constituent Assembly where he main national problems could be debated, would have helped the revolutionary party to expose the nature of the MNR and of parliamentarianism. The POR envisaged something else which threw dust in the workers ’eyes: to restore the reactionary constitution which put Paz into the Presidential Palace.

This programme lacked the slightest internationalist slogans. It did not call for solidarity with the other workers of the world and with anti-imperialist struggles, the defence of the workers ’states against imperialism, support for revolutions against the bourgeoisie and the bureaucracies, the internationalisation of the revolution, and for the building of the United Socialist States of Latin America and of the world, not to mention the struggle for the workers ’and peasants ’government or for the Socialist republic.

The POR action programme was that of a party which had repudiated the strategy of the Permanent Revolution, and which only desired a bourgeois-democratic transformation within the segregated framework of one, isolated, landlocked and backward country.

‘For an MNR-POR Government’

At its 1951 congress, the Fourth International, with no dissenting votes, adopted the slogan of an MNR-POR government. After April 1952 the POR tried to apply this recipe with a small difference. It demanded the removal of the MNR right wing:

‘The workers ’and peasants ’government is not the dictatorship of the proletariat, it is a move towards it, an inevitable period in the sense that, as a political party of the working class, we do not yet constitute a majority of it… The workers ’and peasants ’government will surely emerge before the dictatorship of the proletariat in Bolivia, fundamentally based upon two important political forces: the POR and the MNR left wing, to which we should try to give the essential organisational consciousness, security and firmness, so that the way to political power is opened to us, which the militant working masses will offer us in the future.’[23]

This concept of a workers ’and peasants ’government owes more to Stalinism than to Leninist Trotskyism. The centrist Fourth International and the POR proposed a joint government in which the so-called workers ’party was led by a party of another class. But the MNR did not represent the peasantry (and even less its poor or landless sectors), nor did it bother to organise this class or to place in its top leadership some leader from the national majority. The MNR was an unmistakably bourgeois party.

The proletariat must not dilute its programme and accept the democratic programme of the bourgeoisie, whether petit, medium or big. Under this programme it is impossible to break from imperialism and backwardness. The only manner of resolving the outstanding bourgeois democratic tasks is through a Socialist revolution, which completes the unfinished democratic tasks within a framework of the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, and a socialised and planned economy established by popular and workers ’councils, and by the internationalisation of the revolution.

In its five decades of existence the POR has never put forward the strategy of the international Socialist revolution. It emerged demanding an anti-imperialist and agrarian revolution in order to establish a multi-class and capitalist government, which could be achieved by a military coup or through the metamorphosis of a bourgeois government. Later, in the Theses of Pulacayo, it put forward the idea of a bourgeois democratic revolution led by the proletariat. Through the strategy of opposing a Socialist revolution in order to limit itself to a bourgeois-democratic and national one, the POR subordinated itself in strategic blocs with Lechín, and ultimately with the entire MNR and Stalinism.

The MNR was a party representing an emerging bourgeoisie. Far from wishing to disarm and expropriate itself, that is to say, to commit suicide as a class, the MNR bourgeoisie aspired to strengthen the state through reforms which would extend the internal market. A government of the POR and whatever wing of the MNR would have been a government for the defence of the bourgeois state—a bourgeois government with a decoration of ‘Trotskyist ’ministers.

‘All Power To The MNR Left Wingl’

At its ninth national conference, the POR ratified the line of identifying with the national reformist wing of Lechín and Ñuflo Chavez: The national political report outlined the position of the POR in relation to the government as follows:

1. Support for the government in face of the attacks by imperialism and the Rosca. 2. Support for all the progressive measures it enacts, always indicating their scope and limitations… 3. In the struggle between the MNR’s wings, the POR supports the left… The POR will support the MNR left in its struggle against the right wing of the party, in all its activity that tends to destroy the structures on which the feudal bourgeoisie and imperialist exploitation rest, and in every attempt to deepen the revolution and to carry out the workers ’programme, such as the complete control of the government, so replacing the right wing.’[24]

In the same issue we can read:

The working class must actively intervene in the formation of the new cabinet. It is the workers who must run the state with a revolutionary programme that will start to destroy the capitalist structures. The COB, representing the working class and peasant forces, must form a majority in the new cabinet…’[25]

The MNR was clearly a bourgeois party. Within every populist bourgeois party which attempts to discipline the unions, there is always a labourist wing that tries to mediate between the pressures of the workers and the needs of following a bourgeois policy. The ‘left ’wing of the MNR was neither proletarian nor revolutionary. Its support for a bourgeois programme, and its incorporation into capitalist structures demonstrated its counter-revolutionary nature. It is always possible that youth and working class sections in the nationalist movement will shift leftwards towards centrism, and, if so, everything possibly must be done to win them to Trotskyist politics. However, known bureaucrats with a long career of betrayals, supporting an open anti-Communist party, cannot evolve in a revolutionary direction.

Lechin’s and Chavez’s ‘left ’wing defended capitalism, and merely desired to reform it. The MNR needed them in order to control the masses. With the right hand it initiated the reorganisation of the armed forces, set up the paramilitary commandos and the secret police (the Comando Politico), stirred up anti-Communist hysteria to mobilise the petit-bourgeoisie against the proletarian ‘excesses’, and pressed for approaches to imperialism. With its left hand it tried to flirt with working class radicalism, whilst simultaneously aiming to tame it. MNR trade unionists, while they uttered the most incendiary speeches, did everything possible to use their authority to hold back the COB’s mobilisation and demands, tried to defuse the movement towards dual power, and turn it into a force that would be subordinated to, and would collaborate with, the bourgeois regime.

However, the POR did more than serve Lechínism. Its members edited its union paper, wrote its speeches, and gave it complete support. Paz wanted to line up behind imperialism, Lechín lined up behind Paz, and the POR behind Lechín.

From the first weeks of the 1952 Revolution until at least the end of 1953, the POR considered that the left wing elements of the governing party would ‘proceed to their logical conclusion, that is to say, evolve towards forming a workers ’and peasants ’government’:

The evolution of the government towards the left, and its consequent transformation will be determined by the exploited. Owing to the pressure of political circumstances, the petit-bourgeois government may possibly be superseded and be turned into a stage of a workers ’and peasants ’government. It is the most probable tendency of that unstable moment… This requires the political defeat of the right, and the active participation in the state of the proletariat and the peasants.[26]

One month after the creation of the COB, the POR considered it possible that the exploited would put sufficient pressure on the MNR to shift it leftwards and transform it into a workers ’and peasants ’government. But Paz and the MNR were not ‘neutral ’forces or ‘wild-cards ’flitting between the various classes. The MNR was an unswervingly bourgeois force, incapable of changing its class content. However much a monkey wants to learn to fly it is impossible. Paz’s MNR had absolutely no possibility of evolving into a workers ’and peasants ’government. The only ones who could evolve were the PORists —towards a greater conciliation with the bourgeois MNR. Revolutionaries do not call upon the workers to have a more ‘active participation ’within the state, but to overturn it.

The POR still persisted in the second half of 1953. On 23 June 1953 the Political Bureau of the POR proposed that ‘the whole of this struggle must revolve around the slogan: Total Control of the State by the Left Wing of the MNR’.[27] Liborio Justo correctly observed:

‘The POR would support the left in its struggle against the right, it would guide its ideological orientation towards the most radical positions, and simultaneously it would mobilise the MNR rank and file so that it would call on the leftist leadership to adopt the programme of proletarian revolution. That is to say, the revolution should be carried out by the MNR left wing, which the POR had “instructed” to cease being petit-bourgeois and an agent of the reaction, and this would help its rank and file push it to adopt the programme of the proletarian revolution.’[28]

In August, after a ministerial crisis had occurred, Lucha Obrera opined:

‘The only political outcome of the present situation is the displacement of the MNR right wing from power by the left wing. “All power to the left!” is a suitable slogan in the case of a cabinet crisis. Such a new kind of MNR government would carry out the new tasks of the revolution. Total control of the state by the left… The POR will help the left in this task, it will guide it politically and support it critically.’[29]

Instead of fighting to expose and politically destroy the ‘left ’wing, the POR offered itself as a prop and adviser to the left of the official bourgeois party. Instead of struggling for a workers ’and peasants ’government, it asked for a ‘new kind of MNR government’. Instead of wanting to overthrow a social class, the POR was limited to asking for a new cabinet to which it would offer its services. Instead of calling for the overthrow of the bourgeois state, the POR called for its regeneration under the control of the ‘left ’wing of bourgeois officialdom. Even if the ‘left ’wing of the MNR had the majority, or even every ministry, the state that they would have controlled and defended would been bourgeois.

It is fruitless and dangerous to pursue ‘left ’wings of bourgeois nationalist parties. Within the ‘left ’there will always be another ‘left’, and within this yet another. At the end of this pursuit, the route to the proletarian revolution is lost, and we end up as vulgar followers of the bourgeois nationalists. Not one leader of the MNR ‘left ’wing ever evolved towards forming a reformist workers ’party or centrist organisation, let alone Marxism.

The least that a party which called itself revolutionary should have done was to have constantly denounced the counter-revolutionary and turncoat Lechín. But the POR went on tail-ending the corrupt old bureaucrat, hoping that he and his fellow bureaucrats would turn towards it:

‘There can be no doubt that with the creation of a left wing political organisation, independent of the right that controls the MNR and government, the imminent split will ensure the vanquishing of all vacillating and centrist positions, ensuring that, faced with this situation, all the leftists in the MNR will turn to the Party, initially with no other aim than to win positions from the right, and so deepen the revolutionary process.’[30]

Waldo Alvarez’s memoirs give a vivid description of the relationship which developed between the POR’s leaders and Lechín, which ‘was so close that they believed that they could control the labour movement through him, whereas he used them for his own aims’:

‘The POR could not hide its servile attitude to the Executive Secretary [Lechín] on every question which arose in the COB…

‘Many cases could be cited, but the most serious, which was almost a betrayal of the proletariat, was to submit to the requests of the top leaders over the launching of a manifesto to nationalise the mines. The workers demanded workers ’control… But when the Executive Secretary intervened asking for the amendment to be withdrawn in accordance with government policy, only one POR member stood firm and supported the workers. The rest softened their position, supported the government directive, and in order to hide things, asked for the amendment to be sent to the government in a separate note.

‘Soon a number of occasions, the POR’s slavish attitude to the main COB leader led it to make concessions prejudicial to the real revolutionary mood of the working class’.[31]

According to Catoira, when Lechín was put in charge of the COB by the government, and also became Minister of Mining and Petroleum, ‘he shed the Trotskyist clothing in which the POR had clad him, and promoted himself simply as a loyal MNR supporter’.[32] Lora, however, claims that:

‘Lechin… returned to Trotskyist posturing immediately after 9 April… and he accommodated himself to the radicalisation of the masses. He surrounded himself with POR members and, where he could, recited speeches written by the latter.’[33]

Some people thought Lechín had evolved from the MNR to the POR in 1952, whereas others thought the opposite. What is certain is that nobody knew for whom that crafty individual was working. Lechín made use of everyone. The MNR let him have a certain independence and verbal radicalism so that he could consolidate his position in the labour movement, and thus tame it. The POR thought that by writing his theses, speeches and programmes it was using him to reach out to the working class. But it was the clever bureaucrat who used the POR to gain authority over the most militant workers, and thus negotiate for a share of power within his party and his government. In exchange for mouthing the POR’s incendiary slogans, Lechín received its support, and at worst its mild criticism.

During the revolutionary euphoria of the 1950s Lechín lived in the Hotel Crillon, the most luxurious hotel in La Paz. By contrast, the workers who had made him their irreplaceable leader lived in the most degraded conditions of squalor.[34] Not that the POR mentioned this…

The POR went so far as to claim the line of the Lechínist newspaper Vanguardia as its own:

‘Its orientation is defined and determined by the route that the proletariat boldly opened up during the April events… Take care! The people are not the servants of the government. The government are the servants of the people. A revolutionary fluency can be seen incarnated in its editors, interpreters of the majority views of the rank and file of its party formed by proletarians, peasants and office workers… If Vanguardia maintains its line, the path on which it is set will bring these bold lads the object of their desires, when the working masses judge that feudal exploitation in the countryside must be liquidated.’[35]

The POR identified itself with the Lechínist slogan of making the government the servant of the people. It is impossible to imagine that any capitalist government can defend the interests of the proletariat. The POR wagered on the MNR ‘left ’being able to enlighten the popular and working class majority in the MNR so as to reorient it and enable it to put the MNR government ‘at the service of the people’.[36]

Paz: The Anti-Capitalist

The illusions of the POR in the MNR went to the extreme of believing that Paz himself could initiate a turn to revolution. It said that it was ‘possible ’for the President to ‘have made some good proposals for achieving a real economic transformation of the country’, but he was blocked by the reactionaries in the cabinet and right wing technicians:

‘Meanwhile, the present President of the Republic has his hands tied in front of his party comrades, and, faced with creating a government of the people or staying President, seems to have chosen the latter.’[37]

Every time the President gave a speech to ingratiate himself with the radicalised masses, a Marxist should have denounced it as a demagogic trick. Yet the POR always ended up saluting every radical-sounding outburst by Paz, even after the first year of the revolution:

‘The President, revising the whole of his past political attitude, points to anti-capitalist and not merely anti-imperialist and anti-feudal aims for the revolution. This speech can very easily be regarded as Trotskyist… With these words Victor Paz has gone further than all his leftist collaborators, who are so determined to hold back and obstruct the liquidation of the latifundia…’[38]

The POR’s adaptation to Paz was such that it believed that he was capable of breaking with and expropriating his own social class! It was a serious crime for a supposedly working class party to promote even the faintest idea that such a reactionary could possibly ever have installed an anti-capitalist government.

The Desire To Transform The MNR

At bottom the POR considered that the MNR could actually be transformed into an anti-capitalist revolutionary party:

‘Solid working class cadres in the MNR, the elimination of counterrevolutionary tendencies, a political programme which represents the interests of the exploited classes, in brief the absolute pre-eminence of the working class within the MNR ranks is the only means by which the MNR can carry out an important role in the revolutionary course towards the workers ’and peasants ’government.’[39]

Regardless of the number of workers it recruits, a bourgeois party cannot change its class character. The exploited masses will never be able to control a party created by the bourgeoisie, and which acts in its specific interests.[40] Whereas the POR struggled to get more workers into the MNR, Trotskyists should have struggled for them to leave it. But for the POR, all the problems of Bolivia could have been tackled if the MNR had recruited more workers, as this would have strengthened its left wing. Furthermore, if the right wing elements had been purged and the left wing around Chavez and Lechín had taken charge, the POR would have been ready to fuse with the MNR:

‘If the left wing succeeds in taking charge and adopts a working class orientation, the POR is ready to work with it and even to fuse with it. The form of this new party ought to be reflected in the form of government, which can only be a workers ’and peasants ’government.’[41]

The left wing of the MNR may not have come to lead the party, but this did not prevent many PORists from drawing the logical conclusions of their party’s adaptation to the MNR. In 1954 the whole of the POR’s old guard (Warqui, Ernesto Ayala, etc), all of the POR leaders of the COB, (Edwin Moller, José Zegada), and the great majority of Lora’s Leninist Workers Faction dissolved themselves and entered the MNR.

All Power To The COB!

James Malloy says that although the COB ‘proposed that the MNR assume the power and responsibility of government and of governing the state officially’, it was ‘in a certain sense, more powerful than the government itself, and had ‘set itself up as a centre without rival, capable of initiative and veto in relation to the central power’:

‘In reality, the COB was the real government of the Bolivian workers and, hence, of the national economy. In fact, it possessed the symbolic and functional characteristics of a sovereign entity, including executive, deliberative and judicial organs, a defined area of authority, electors and, what is more important, armed forces.’[42]

The situation in Bolivia after 9 April 1952 was similar to that in Russia after the February Revolution of 1917. Two powers existed in the country, but the strongest, the one with mass character, was that of the peoples ’and workers ’organisations, which, owing to their conciliatory leaderships, handed over power to a weak bourgeois government. The governments of both Kerensky and Paz had to flirt with the upsurge and demands of the masses at the same time as they tried to spin out time to exhaust them, and then, by rebuilding the armed forces and their authority, to open the way to a situation of bourgeois stabilisation.

To deal with this, the Bolsheviks demanded that the Soviets break from the ‘leftist ’bourgeois provisional government, and take all power themselves. In Bolivia the demand should have been to struggle for all power to the COB. The COB, just like the Russian Soviets, had the arms and the power, but, because of its conciliatory leadership, gave away the latter to the bourgeoisie. The seizure of power by the Soviets and the COB could have been carried out peacefully. The old military apparatus had already collapsed through a violent revolution. The road was open for the working class, armed and with popular support, to seize power. The only obstacle to the COB and the Russian Soviets carrying out that task was that their leaderships were so insistent on rescuing the bourgeoisie.

In spite of the COB being the real power in the country, and the POR giving it direction, the latter — a section of the Fourth International — opposed the slogan of ‘All Power to the COB!’. On the contrary, it called on the COB to join the bourgeois government, thus weakening its alternative power, and so becoming a body increasingly subordinate to the bourgeois government. The slogan of the POR was that of shifting the Paz administration leftwards via ministerial changes. With that treacherous line it helped Paz and Lechín to dilute the power of the COB, and to reconstitute the bourgeois state and the army.

In his ‘self-criticism ’Lora recognised that:

‘The POR leaders used these events to launch the slogan of “total control of the cabinet by the left”… The slogan, however, contained the signs of an enormous ideological error: to believe that the workers could win power via Lechín — behind the slogan of “All Power to the COB!"

‘The watch-word of “All Power to the COB!” could have led to the victory of the workers on two exceptionally favourable occasions. The first was when the agitation around the immediate nationalisation of the mines without compensation and under workers ’control reached its high point during the first half of 1952. The second arose with the defeat of the coup d’état on 6 January 1953. Not taking due advantage of these opportunities, and adapting to marching behind and mouthing the slogans of the MNR left, were the greatest errors of the POR.’[43]

As we have seen, on the first occasion the POR did not call for the seizure of the enterprises, but for support for the MNR government. On the second occasion, the POR gave its support to Paz, whilst attempting to change his policies, a treacherous course.

The right wing of the MNR staged an unsuccessful coup on 6 January 1953. The COB called the workers ’and peasants ’militias to a mass national mobilisation, and a massive demonstration took place next day. The demonstrators demanded immediate and unrestricted agrarian reform, wage increases, vouchers, protection against dismissal, rent control, price control, subsidies to food stores, a series of social security measures, and the reinstatement of sacked workers. Yet, addressing the massive demonstration on behalf of the COB, Edwin Moller, then Secretary of the POR, instead of calling on the workers to have no confidence in the bourgeois government of Paz and for the COB to seize power, concluded: ‘We want, Comrade Paz Estenssoro, a government of Bolivians for the Bolivians.’[44] In the crucial moments of the revolution, the POR showed that its strategy was limited to changing the policies of the bourgeois government, and not for its revolutionary overthrow.

In spite of those extraordinary conditions, the POR delayed almost a year before launching the slogan for a COB government. However, it must be said that there are different ways and methods of launching such a slogan. The POR’s call for ‘All Power to the COB! ’was merely a variant of its idea of ‘all power to the left of the MNR’. For the POR, that slogan was not in order to expose the Lechín leadership, but was more concerned with governing jointly with it. Instead of trying to counterpose the COB to the MNR government, the POR wanted the COB gradually to replace existing ministers in the Paz cabinet until finally there would be a government of the COB bureaucracy of the MNR. The slogan of ‘All Power to the COB! ’should have gone hand in hand with the raising of anti-capitalist slogans with a powerful denunciation of the MNR ‘left’.

Lechín has often said that his great mistake was in not taking power in April 1952.[45] But a cabinet based upon the COB with Lechín as President would not have constituted a revolutionary workers ’government. Lechín would have done everything possible to maintain capitalism, and to coexist with the national and world bourgeoisie. A revolutionary party would only have been able to participate critically in that government if it had broken with the bourgeois MNR, based itself directly upon the working class organisations and their militias, and attacked and disarmed the bourgeoisie — and this was highly unlikely.

Turn The COB Into A Soviet!

For Lenin and Trotsky, the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat could be based only on bodies like the Russian Soviets of 1917. In every revolution it is vital to transform the mass organisations created by the exploited into soviets. A soviet is an organ of struggle of the proletariat whose delegates are directly elected and revocable in rank and file assemblies, which include all workers, smallholders, peasants, soldiers, housewives, unemployed and other oppressed sectors of the area. Whereas unions are bodies which unite workers in an enterprise or branch of production, Soviets are class="sub" territorial organisms which encompass the broadest masses, both non-unionised and unionised. The COB, although it had soviet tendencies, was an organism with trade vertical and bureaucratic features. As Lora admitted:

One of the gravest errors in the organisation of the COB consisted in its originating from the top leadership, which were soon to end up completely tied to the petit-bourgeois government, and it crystallised through the middle rank leadership… The correct thing would have been to proceed in the opposite way, that is to say, from the bottom up. The workers adhered to the COB through their trade union leaders… The founders of the COB orientated towards the old leaders, and not on the democratically elected rank and file delegates. This organisational defect already contained the cause of its infirmity, which increased its bureaucratisation, its isolation from the masses, and the skilful control of it by the government.’[46]

The COB delegates were neither elected nor controlled, and were not subject to recall through rank and file mass meetings. The first congress of the COB took place 30 months after its foundation. The bureaucracy did everything possible to run the union along bureaucratic lines. A revolutionary party would have struggled for the immediate organisation of a congress a few days or weeks after it was founded. Only in this way could the COB have been democratised and have acquired the features of a soviet. However, the POR was in the top leadership of the COB, and did not object to a bureaucratic structure which allowed a cosy relationship with Lechín.

The COB was founded at a meeting called by the Miners Federation on 17 April 1952. The leaderships of the confederations of factory workers, railway workers and peasants, the federation of bank employees and allied branches, commercial and industrial employees, and printing, construction, bricklayers ’and bakers ’unions took part in that assembly.[47] The poor neighbourhoods, the unemployed and the rank and file soldiers were not organised within it. The COB aimed to be a union centre based on leaderships elected at labour congresses every so often years. The COB’s founding meeting elected an Executive Committee which held office until the congress in October 1954. It was headed by Lechín (Executive Secretary), Germán Butrón in (General Secretary) and Mario Torres (Secretary of Relations). As the two key figures in the COB were ministers, the job of day to day leadership at the centre fell on PORists like Edwin Moller (Organisation Secretary), José Zegada (Minuting Secretary) and Miguel Alandia Pantoja (Director of the Press).[48] Although ‘this first Management Committee was declared provisional until the election of a proper committee by a national congress which would meet shortly’,[49] that congress did not take place until after the COB had ceased to be an alternative dual power, and had surrendered to the official bourgeois power. The COB developed in a manner identical to other organs of ‘popular power ’that bourgeois nationalist governments invariably create, which use the rhetoric of anti-imperialism in order to build a popular basis for themselves, and to discipline the masses.

The POR did not fight to transform the COB into a soviet. To do so required a constant daily battle against the MNR and the Lechínist bureaucracy. On the contrary, the POR bore the main responsibility for the COB being a limited and bureaucratic organisation that was tied to officialdom.

The Nationalisation Of The Mines. In his lengthy history of the Bolivian labour movement, Lora states:

‘One of the POR’s slogans which most gripped the workers was that of the occupation of the mines… Why was this demand not carried through by workers ’action, at the time of their greatest mobilisation and radicalisation? If the mines had been occupied, and it was possible that this could have occurred, it is clear that the course of the revolution would have undergone a radical change… The occupation of the mines would have raised, sooner or later, the question of power, and created the basis for the rapid supersession of the nationalist sentiments of the working class. At the same time, the POR would have been able, quite quickly, to recover its control.’[50]

If, however, the issues of Lucha Obrera and the POR’s programme for 1952 are examined, the slogan of the immediate occupation of the mines, factories and land will not be found. The only time an enterprise was occupied was to prevent the closure of the Corocoro mine. The reason the POR did not raise that slogan was connected to its refusal to call for workers ’control in the private sector, to nationalise the factories, and to formulate anti-capitalist demands. The POR was tailing Lechín, and merely attempting to put pressure upon the Paz government.

In fact, the illusions of the POR in the MNR were clearly shown in the crucial issue of the nationalisation of the mines. Whilst Paz, supported by Lechín, did everything possible to ensure that the workers did not occupy the mines and instead waited for a solution from above, the POR, far from denouncing these manoeuvres, idealised Lechín:

‘The Minister of Mines and Petroleum, supported by those around him, quite clearly advocated expropriation without compensation.’[51]

A revolutionary party would have done the opposite, and drawn attention to the fact that, whilst Lechín spouted radical phrases, he was, as events showed, preparing nationalisation (with compensation) merely for enterprises in a poor state. But for the POR, the nationalisation of the mines was a great step forward:

‘The nationalisation of the mines which will be announced shortly will be the starting point that will make the continuation of the capitalist system on the basis of the classical forms of exploitation impossible’.[52]

Nationalisation is not an anti-capitalist measure in itself. It can also be a means for the bourgeoisie to aid its development. The nationalisation of large-scale mining in Bolivia was not the start of the destruction of capitalism, it strengthened it. The POR helped that process by limiting itself to a bourgeois-democratic programme, and by tailing the MNR and its ‘left ’wing.

The MNR formally adopted the slogan of the nationalisation of the mines without compensation and under workers ’control. However, it ended by paying up so as to keep in with imperialism. As for ‘workers ’control’, the directorate of the Corporación Minera de Bolivia (Comibol) was run by Carbajal (the first General Secretary of the FSTMB), and two of its seven directors were nominated by the FSTMB. The latter were not elected with a mandate, and they were not recallable by rank and file assemblies. In actual fact, this sort of ‘workers control ’was aimed at getting the workers to participate in the running of the enterprise in order to stop them striking and to get them to break their backs for ‘their ’company. Workers ’control means the workers supervising the administration of an enterprise as part of the struggle for control over society as a whole. But when exercised by bureaucrats, with no control by the rank and file, it turns into the integration of a layer of workers into the management of the enterprise. And this is what happened:

‘The workers ’leader Mario Torres admitted that he earned 90,000 bolivianos per month for running Comibol… when a skilled worker earned 4000 bolivianos per month.’[53]

We have seen that the POR limited itself to demanding workers ’control merely in state enterprises, and did not question the prevailing regime in the private sector. It adapted to the bureaucracy controlling Comibol. Later on it raised the reformist alternative of winning a majority on the Comibol board. Faced with this position, it should have called for the opening of the accounts of all enterprises and of the government, so that they could be controlled and inspected by the workers through rank and file meetings and by delegates supervised by them, as part of the wider struggle for workers ’power.

At the international level the POR said: ‘We demand a free market for tin.’[54] What was really required was a producers ’cartel instead.

The Disintegration And Reorganisation Of The Armed Forces

The military leaders faced a serious problem during the April events. The troops recruited over the previous few weeks had had very little combat training and instruction, as much of their time had been spent in ceremonial drill practice for the repatriation of the remains of Eduardo Avaroa. One observer said that ‘the soldiers were able to parade very well, but they did not know how to fight’.[55] Moreover, as Lora explains:

‘In the first months of the revolution, only the COB possessed an armed force, the armed workers ’and peasants ’militias. The arming of the workers began with union militias when conditions did not exist for the formation of a similar force linked to the MNR. The meetings were impressive parades of armed workers and peasants… The COB Assembly and the rank and file organisations, unlike its Executive Committee, were serious about the task of consolidating these militias, improving their armament, disciplining them and creating a unified command. Paz Estenssoro and Lechín instructed their followers to obstruct the efforts being made to strengthen the armed workers ’nuclei, as they represented the greatest threat to the government. Taking advantage of the resources available because of their monopoly of power, they began to organise militias in the zonal commands of the MNR, independent of the trade union militias, and gave them the job of overseeing the main centres; the MNR’s leaders, closely helped by Stalinism, were given the means to sabotage the consolidation of the COB militias.’[56]

A key problem in every revolution is the armed forces. A revolutionary party must oppose the reorganisation of the bourgeois army in any form, and put forward the demand to replace it by the armed people organised in militias. As the revolution deepens the repulse of any external or internal aggression should be based on the militias, which can serve as the basis for an internationalist and proletarian Red Army.

But this was not the policy of Lechín and his followers in the POR. Whilst the MNR did everything possible to reorganise the traditional armed forces, Lechín tricked the workers with the fable that he only wanted a peaceful, technical and construction brigade type of bourgeois army. An armed force like that does not stop being guard dogs of capital, and its benign postures help to give it popular support, and hide its role as the armed defenders of the capitalist class. Nevertheless, the POR gave credence to Lechín, saying that he opposed the old regular army, and favoured ‘the creation of a new technical army with industrial and farming functions’[57]

Immediately after the April insurrection, the Bolivian armed forces were disintegrating. The well-known anti-Communist general Gary Prado says that at the time:

‘In the barracks the situation was tense, as the officers were split between those who supported and those who condemned the revolution. Nobody did anything except stand guard to ensure that as much military equipment as possible was kept from the revolutionary forces. A sense of defeat, however, was made worse when we learned the details of what had occurred in the three days of fighting, confirming that the army had been beaten on every hand. The flight of the High Command made the officers feel even more abandoned. A number, fearing repression, deserted their units without delay and sought asylum in foreign embassies or voluntarily went into exile. Others, forgetting their duty, went home to await developments. A few stayed in the barracks trying to regroup their units, control the soldiers, and keep an appearance of order and discipline.’[58]

Whilst this was happening the COB adopted the resolution presented by the mining representatives which proposed that the National Corps of the COB’s Armed Militias would be organised under the National Command and Departmental and Special Commands. The National Command was headed by the National Leader, Paz, and the Commander-in-Chief, Lechín. The commanders of the cells would be elected by the departmental militiamen, the Departmental Centres and the National Command of the COB.[59]

Gary Prado states that the military commanders considered that the resolution was a humiliating attack on the institution of the armed forces. However, although unable to prevent the formation of militias, ‘it was decided to try to maintain some degree of control over the militias in some way’:

‘With that aim, by means of deceit, the Chief of the General Staff, German Armando Fortún, offered to supply the COB with all the advice needed to improve the organisation of the Armed Militias, such as the appointment of enough instructors to instil into the militiamen disciplined attitudes, basic military training and responsibility on the understanding that the militias will be, in the final analysis, the reserve of the Armed Forces of the Nation.

‘The General Staff offer was warmly accepted by the COB… In this way it succeeded to a certain extent in dealing with the problem of the militias, at least inasmuch as it prevented them from becoming a structure that would turn them into a es, the COB leadership of Lechín and the POR ‘warmly accepted ’the proposal of the high command of the defeated army, which had as its aim the castration of the militias, and their subordination to the armed forces. They also accepted as the national leader of the militias a class enemy, Paz. For his part, Lechín tried to avoid the construction of an independent force of armed workers. He wanted to transform them into the MNR’s armed guards or the militia reserves of the regular bourgeois army.[60] But this did not prevent the POR from supporting him.

The Peasant Uprising

The great struggles in Bolivia between the end of the Chaco War and 1952 were centred on the cities and mines. Yet at that time at least 70 per cent of the population lived in the countryside. The peasants lived on the margins of the national economy, could not vote, and took little direct part in politics. The peasant masses spoke Amerindian languages, and the great majority were illiterate. The Indians had to pay the gamonal in labour, products or money, in other words, a form of serfdom.

Nevertheless, the peasant masses were gradually awakening. When the army of the Rosca collapsed, the Indian tenants organised themselves, and a few months after April 1952, a wave of land occupations occurred, mainly in the valleys of Cochabamba and La Paz, which had trading links with the cities. These movements were not Marxist, and the MNR immediately took them over. The left had little inf luence at first, but once the peasant mobilisations for land began to get under way, the POR succeeded in attaining great influence in the convulsed valley of Cochabamba. In 1953 it correctly launched the slogan of the occupation of the land and the expropriation of the latifundia. However, its agrarian programme did not go beyond the limits of the bourgeois democratic revolution.

The mere distribution of land cannot solve all the peasants ’problems, nor can it ensure that there will be a substantial increase in agricultural production. This requires electrification, mechanisation and the modernisation of the agricultural sector, plus the improvement of communications and the means of exchange, through the expropriation of industry, transport and the banks under the control of workers and small peasants. Similarly, plans for literacy campaigns and cultural and political education could only be carried out on the basis of substantial sums obtained by confiscation from the rich, and by a general mobilisation of educational volunteers — something that the MNR did not want to do.[61]

Once again, the POR’s programme was limited to a bourgeois framework, and it sought to put pressure on the ‘Comrade President’:

‘Whilst we all waited for the government to make its position clear on the problem of the latifundia, whilst taking up the hopes of the exploited masses, President Paz Estenssoro answered our worries by the needs from the Indians, of labour and sacrifices.’[62]

Once more the POR pinned its hopes on Paz, instead of constantly informing the masses that the MNR was not interested in carrying out an agrarian revolution. The MNR eventually introduced agrarian reforms, but they failed to pull the agricultural sector out of its backwardness.

The POR’s Opportunist International Orientation

The Bolivian revolution could never have overcome its impoverished capitalist semi-colonial condition by remaining isolated in a backward and landlocked country. The internationalisation of the revolution was vital in order to ward off counter-revolution, and to establish the material basis for Socialist construction.

The MNR did everything possible to isolate the revolution within its own boundaries. It did not even dare to organise or encourage insurgent movements in other countries of the continent, however moderate their programmes were. Paz took great pains to be imperialism’s trump card. Lechín and his POR scribes took great pains to promote him. No serious call for the international expansion of the revolution can be found in the POR’s press and its programme of action. It did not even call for a struggle for the Socialist United States of Latin America.

The POR has never been renowned for regarding international politics as important. However, in the few articles written by the POR about other countries a line of colossal capitulation to bourgeois nationalism can be seen:

‘First Perón and Vargas in Argentina and Brazil, then Paz Estenssoro in Bolivia and later Velasco Ibarra in Ecuador and finally Ibañez in Chile, unifying the revolutionary and anti-imperialist aspirations of their own peoples, express in their broad electoral victories, not only the discontent of the working masses for the system of capitalist exploitation, but the fundamental defeat of imperialism’s subjection of our semi-colonial countries through the traditional methods of economic slavery. Such mass movements fully identify themselves with the revolutionary actions that are liberating China, Korea, Indonesia and Indochina, and which enable these countries to escape the influence and exploitation of imperialism.’[63]

The POR maintained that the bourgeois governments of Perón, Vargas, Paz and Ibañez had defeated imperialism, and had ‘fully identified themselves ’with the revolutions that were overthrowing the bourgeoisie in Asia. The nationalist Latin American governments did not question the backward capitalist semi-colonial nature of the countries that they ran. They simply sought to generate better conditions for the development of a national bourgeoisie. The aim of their social reforms was to widen the internal market and control labour organisations. All these regimes were anti-Communist, and ended up supporting imperialism and repressing the workers.’[64]

The Opportunism of the Fourth International

The Fourth International gave wholehearted support to the treacherous policy of the POR, and admitted to being the POR’s guide. The resolution adopted by the IEC of the Fourth International at its Twelfth Plenum in November 1952 was quite uncritical of the POR.[65] Early in 1953 Fourth International asserted:

‘The POR began by justifying granting critical support to the MNR government… it gave the government critical support against attacks of imperialism and reaction and it supported all progressive measures.[66]

In 1953 the Fourth International began to split between the International Secretariat of Michel Pablo, Ernest Mandel and Juan Posadas, and the International Committee of the SWP (USA), the French PCI of Bleibtreu-Favre and Pierre Lambert and the groups of Gerry Healy and Nahuel Moreno. During the split the Bolivian Revolution was not discussed. All had supported the POR line. The split was not between ‘orthodox ’and ‘revisionist ’forces, but between two wings which had already supported the centrist orientation of seeking to reform dissident Stalinists (such as Tito) or nationalists (such as the MNR). Only much later, in their search to find arguments for their factional battles, did the anti-Pabloists discover the betrayal of 1952.

Healy’s International Committee published a vast collection of six books entitled Trotskyism versus Revisionism, which contained hundreds of letters and documents which were supposed to show its struggle against revisionism. However, in none of those volumes is the 1952 Revolution mentioned. The first volume is dedicated to the split with Pabloism. More than 50 texts of that polemic are reproduced. Nevertheless, in all these documents Bolivia is only mentioned in two brief and passing references of a purely administrative nature. All this confirms that the anti-Pabloists never questioned the Menshevik strategy which was unanimously adopted by the Fourth International.

The only discordant voice known within the Fourth International at the time was that of a small tendency in the SWP in California, headed by Vern and Ryan. This had the great merit of severely questioning Lora’s Menshevik declarations and conduct.[67] The Vern-Ryan tendency received no reply to its criticism against the Menshevik line in Bolivia. From then until today, all the currents which derive from the ‘anti-Pabloist ’International Committee, not to mention those deriving from the International Secretariat, continue to ignore these criticisms of a policy to which they gave their endorsement.


1. The National Workers Centre (Central Obrera Nacional, CON) was a union federation formed in 1946 by the POR and FSTMB, chiefly in order to combat the influence of the Stalinist-led CSTB.

2. James Dunkerley, Rebellion in the Veins, Verso, London, 1984, pp45, 67. This was confirmed in October 1952 by a journalist who was critical of the POR. He admitted that within the COB ‘the largest fraction is that of the POR; next comes the group of Lechín and Torres, that is the nationalist wing of the unions, while the Stalinists are in third place with scarcely five votes ’(Labor Action, 27 October 1952).

3. Waldo Alvarez, Memorias del primer ministro obrero, La Paz, 1986, p188.

4. Lucha Obrera, 12 June 1952.

5. RJ Alexander, Trotskyism in Latin America, Hoover Institution Press, California, 1973, p134.

6. Guillermo Lora claims not only that ‘a large part of the fulltime staff and the whole orientation of the brand new COB was Trotskyist’, but that the POR controlled Lechin, who ‘did no more than operate under the powerful pressure of the masses and the POR ’(G Lora, La revolution boliviana: analisis crítico, La Paz, 1963, p254).

7. Labor Action, 7 April 1952.

8. G Lora, Contribution a la historia politica de boliviana, Volume 2, La Paz, 1978,


9. The Militant, 12 May 1952.

10. Ibid.

11. The Militant, 19 May 1952. This assertion does not square with his later comment that at the time he said that the working class in order to triumph had no other way than by going over the political corpse of the MNR and also over that of Lechínism ’(Lora, Contributión a la historia politica de boliviana, Volume 2, op cit, pp237-8).

12. Lucha Obrera, 25 May 1952.

13. Lucha Obrera, 18 April 1952.

14. Dunkerley maintains that although POR members ‘were from an early stage highly critical of the MNR regime, they made no call for an immediate workers ’government, demanding instead a radicalisation of proposed reforms, the defence of the regime against imperialism and the revolutionary education of the masses ’(Dunkerley, op cit, p46).

15. Lucha Obrera, 25 May 1952.

16. Lucha Obrera, 12 June 1952.

17. Lucha Obrera, 29 June 1952.

18. Jorge Lazarte, Movimiento obrero y procesos politicos en Bolivia: historia de la COB 1952-1957, La Paz, 1989, p280.

19. POR, Boletin Interno, no 13, 1953, p11.

20. Lucha Obrera, 1 June 1952. A journalist, claiming to be Trotskyist, related how ‘one of the old militants of the POR told us likewise with pride, that the MNR offered two ministries to the POR ’(Alexander, op cit, p125).

21. S Ryan, letter dated 4 August 1953, SWP, Internal Bulletin, no 17, August 1953, New York, p40. To date, we are not aware of any confirmation or denial of such facts, just as we are unaware of any source which can ascertain their reliability or otherwise.

22. Lucha Obrera, 25 May 1952.

23. POR, Boletin Interno, no 13, 1953, p12.

24. Lucha Obrera, 11 November 1952.

25. Ibid.

26. Lucha Obrera, 25 May 1952.

27. L Justo, Bolivia: la revolutión derrotada, Cochabamba, 1967, p224.

28. Ibid. Justo criticised the Fourth International for having a Menshevik position in 1952, linking this with his allegations that Trotsky had capitulated to US imperialism, and with his call for a Fifth International. Justo’s positions were largely centrist, standing in the tradition of Aguirre, and supporting the stagist Theses of Pulacayo . He raised the demand ‘All Power to the COB ’without explaining that the COB had first to be transformed into a soviet.

29. Lucha Obrera, 2 August 1953.

30. POR, Boletin Inferno, no 13, 1953, p10.

31. Alvarez, op cit, pp283-4.

32. R Catoira Marin, El sindicalismo boliviano, La Paz, 1987, p43.

33. Lora, Contributión a la historia politica de boliviana, Volume 2, op cit, p228.

34. Catoira, op cit, p48.

35. Lucha Obrera, 3 May 1952.

36. Lucha Obrera, 25 May 1952.

37. Lucha Obrera, 12 June 1952.

38. Lucha Obrera, 5 August 1953.

39. Lucha Obrera, 11 November 1952.

40. In all seriousness, the POR called on the leopard to change its spots:

‘If the MNR does not organically change itself, expelling the rightists, freemasons, adventurers, businessmen and carpetbaggers from its ranks, it will become the gravedigger of the revolution.’ (Lucha Obrera, Supplement, 3 February 1953)

41. Lucha Obrera, Supplement, 3 February 1953.

42. JM Malloy, Bolivia: la revolutión inconclusa, Ceres, La Paz, 1989, pp243-4.

43. Lora, La revolution boliviana: analisis critico, op cit, pp267, 270.

44. Lucha Obrera, 23 January 1953.

45. See the interview in Facetas, 5 July 1987.

46. Lora, La revolución boliviana: análisis crítico, op cit, pp262-3.

47. Lazarte, op cit, p6.

48. Alandia was in charge of the first three issues of the COB’s journal, Rebelión, which ‘wholly expressed the programme of the Centre at that time’. The first issue even ‘contained a hearty greeting to the General Secretary of the POR ’(Lora, La revolutión boliviana: análisis crítico, op cit, p254). However, rather than putting forward a revolutionary policy calling on the COB to break from Paz, and to occupy the mines, factories and the land, and to take power, Rebelión identified itself with the bourgeois regime, and demanded that it be propped up:

‘The defeat of the oligarchy and the birth of the MNR government is the work of the working masses; it is our creation… In order to survive, the present government requires from the workers that the workers supporting it, being vigilant, will be able to attain great achievements.’ (Rebelión, 1 May 1952)

49. Lazarte, op cit, p7.

50. Lora, Contribución a la historia politica de boliviana, Volume 2, op cit, pp231-2.

51. Lucha Obrera, 29 June 1952.

52. POR, Boletin Interno, no 13, 1953, p9.

53. Pierre Scali, ‘La revolution bolivienne 1952-1954’, La Verité, 22 April 1954.

54. Lucha Obrera, May 1953.

55. General Gary Prado Salmon, Poder y fuerzas armadas 1949-1982, Cochabamba,

1984, p33.

56. Lora, La revolución boliviana: análisis crítico, op cit, p271.

57. Lucha Obrera, 15 July 1952.

58. Prado, op cit, p40.

59. Op cit, pp52-54.

60. In his memoirs Lechín boasted that in April 1952 he handed over to the police the arms discarded by the soldiers. Cf Lupe Cajias, Historia de una leyenda: vida y

palabra de Juan Lechin Oqoendo, La Paz, 1989, p148.

61. The MNR introduced adult suffrage, and the illiterate Bolivian peasants were able to vote for the first time. The POR had not called for adult suffrage, nor did it demand a Constituent Assembly. Later it demanded that illiterates be eligible for election, and that the proletariat have a preferential vote.

62. Lucha Obrera, 29 June 1952.

63. POR, Boletin Inferno, no 13, 1953, p3.

64. The POR’s adaptation to nationalism was also shown by its sympathetic attitude towards the participation of the Chilean Partido Socialista Popular in a bourgeois government, and towards the Israeli Labour government in 1953, when it disagreed on a wholly reactionary basis with the US government over its treatment of the Palestinians.

65. The IEC’s resolution is reproduced above, pp32-7.

66. Fourth International, January-February 1953, p16.

67. The letters of the Vern-Ryan tendency can be found in Bolivia: The Revolution the ‘Fourth International ’Betrayed, League for a Revolutionary Party, New York, 1987. In spite of the progressive nature of its criticism, this tendency soon dissolved itself. Its positions, although on the left wing of the deformed Fourth International, contained a series of ambiguities, not least on the question of Stalinism in Eastern Europe.

Updated by ETOL: 12 February 2009