Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 4


Exchange on Bolivia

The following text is a review of Revolutionary History, Volume 4, no. 3, Summer 1993, translated from Masas, no. 1345, the paper of the POR (Revolutionary Workers Party) of Bolivia. We append a reply by José Villa.

THE EDITORIAL of this journal states that in spite of the inadequacy of the available documents, we can no longer afford to remain ignorant about events in Bolivia. The editorial also states that the articles published represent the views of their authors, with which the editors do not always agree. Once we understand that there is no such thing as an ‘independent press’, we can see that the choice of contributors and the articles selected show us the journal’s orientation in the context of the fierce struggle of tendencies within the international Trotskyist movement.

We already know that it is customary in foreign Trotskyist publications to criticise the Bolivian POR through second-hand quotes and references, in spite of the fact that the Bolivian Trotskyists have been careful to publish accurate accounts of their ideas, their mistakes, self-criticism and successes. The POR has followed the example of the Bolsheviks in publishing its materials. Although it is not a world-wide Trotskyist party, its publications surely greatly exceed those of other foreign organisations which claim, or have claimed, to be the Fourth International. Therefore, the inclusion of a brief extract from Lora’s book, Contribución a la Historia Politica de Bolivia [Volume 2] seems a healthy exception [to the contents of the issue]. The journal confines itself to the topic of the 1952 revolution and its consequences. It has to be said that it is difficult to understand that important event without linking it to the immediate past [specifically to the 1940s] when the POR defined itself in the process of transforming the working class [the Theses of Pulacayo], and of defining the laws of development and transformation of Bolivia [the theory of the proletarian revolution in Bolivia].

The issue begins with an old article [from 1947] written by Juan Robles, a Polish Shachtmanite, also known as Juan Rey, who was a member of the PSOB, a petit-bourgeois party led by Marof, which ended up capitulating to the ‘democratic’ parties of the oligarchy. A fraction of that party argued for a pure Socialist revolution in Bolivia. Robles shows his true colours in arguing that Bolivia is a semi-feudal country, that is to say, pre-capitalist, that Stalinism was a valid instrument for carrying out the bourgeois-democratic revolution, that the POR, though Lechín, capitulated to the Fascist MNR, and that it adopted the ideas of the Argentine ‘National Left’ led by A. Ramos, and other such falsehoods.

The editors of the journal make an unpardonable error in not taking the POR’s present strength and activities into account. That would help us to understand both the positive and negative aspects of that party’s politics. Historical development has confirmed the main lines of the Trotskyist programme, not the ‘theories’ of the POR’s critics.

Robles’ article is an example of ignorance about the struggle between oppressed and oppressor nations which, according to Lenin, characterises undeveloped and semi-colonial nations, and the necessity for adopting the proletarian united front to strengthen the politics of the working class. The tactic of the class united front, which the POR mistakenly and briefly proposed, led the Morenoists, for example, to confuse the anti-imperialist front with the Popular Front.

The issue also includes a chapter of Quebracho’s well-documented book [Bolivia: La Revolución Derrotada] which does not succeed in understanding what happened in 1952. Quite apart from his Stalinist sympathies, Quebracho does not have the least idea of what a revolutionary party is, nor of its relationship with the masses.

The really bad part is the inclusion of a long screed [nearly 30 pages] by a Peruvian adventurer who is a self-confessed specialist in extracting money from the Gringos in the name of the Latin American Trotskyist movements. It is full of errors, falsifications and idiocies, which reflect very badly on Revolutionary History.

Pierre Broué, Trotsky’s biographer, no longer a member of the party to which he once belonged, makes the most effort to understand the Bolivian revolution and to examine it through first hand documents. However, there are only four pages from him.

An article by the Frenchman Jean Lieven is also reprinted from Lutte Ouvrière of 1972. This is a critical commentary on Lora’s book, Bolivie: de la naissance du POR à l’assemblée populaire.

The editors’ introductory notes refer to the many foreign criticisms made of the POR, taking isolated and distorted facts without consulting the POR’s documentation. The POR’s importance cannot be measured solely by what it is today, but also by its history and writings. The self-styled Trotskyists take great pains to form a barrier that prevents the necessary wide circulation of the POR’s documents.

José Villa replies:

I refer to the above article and also to Tim Wohlforth’s letter in Revolutionary History, Volume 5, no. 2.

The fact that Masas ran a double-page spread on Revolutionary History shows the influence that this journal is developing on a world scale. That is good. Let us now turn to what Lora’s party has to say.

Lora thinks that every Trotskyist in the world is obliged to help and glorify the Bolivian POR. He is particularly annoyed when he receives any criticism. This shows his messianic attitude towards both the party and the International. He wants Revolutionary History to advertise what the POR is doing. That is outside its remit, but as he has raised the question, I think that we can make an exception in this case.

Instead of answering any of our well proven criticisms, Lora launches into a barrage of slander. This is typical of him. When he split from the Mandelites in 1966, he said that he would not answer their criticisms because they had police agents within their ranks. He accused the Vargaites and even the Spartacists of being CIA agents. In 1975 not only did he fail to attend the POR’s twenty-third national congress, he expelled, using all manner of slanders, all those attending, and – from his home! – proclaimed the ‘real’ congress. In 1985 he expelled several comrades, again using slander techniques, and, on this occasion, physically attacked dissidents. Last year he expelled Juan Pablo Bacherer, his right-hand man for 20 years, accusing him of being a police agent. To be a real Trotskyist in Bolivia, you have to be arrested by the police, attacked by the Stalinists ... and slandered by Lora. We think it a matter of pride to be insulted by the Bolivian Healy!

Lora has no understanding of internationalism. His party is not interested in carrying out international work or research. All the problems facing the world working class will be solved once he has taken power. This has been his speech for the past 15 years. Lora likes to ask for financial donations from comrades abroad, but doesn’t like it when other organisations do the same. He ridicules comrades on the basis of their nationality. If by an accident of geography they are born outside Bolivia, they are not considered as an equal authority on Bolivian affairs. Should a comrade come to Bolivia and work in a different organisation from Lora’s, he will be characterised as a mercenary. In Masas Trotskyists from the First World are called ‘gringos’ – a pejorative term for Western imperialists.

My article in Revolutionary History was only part of a much longer work on Trotskyism in Bolivia. Reasons of space prevented it from being published in full. Suffice it to say that the POR was never a consistent Trotskyist party. It was formed in 1934–35 as a Popular Frontist group that was to join the Toro-Bush government in 1936. It revised its attitude towards the revolution of 1946, subsequently calling it a counter-revolution. In 1952 the POR supported Lechín quite uncritically, and backed the MNR government. In 1965–66 the POR formed a Popular Front with the MNR around the slogan ‘For a government for and of Bolivians’. In 1970–71 the POR betrayed the Popular Assembly with its capitulation to the Stalinists, with whom it elaborated a Popular Frontist programme, not to mention Lora’s claim that the government could arm the workers, and supported the formation of the Popular Front of the FRA.

Since 1981 the POR has been promising that Bolivia will soon have a Trotskyist government. In 1985 Lora said that the conditions were ripe for a POR-led insurrection. Several weeks after this prediction, Lora stood for the first time in a presidential election, and won 0.5 per cent of the vote. Lora’s politics are a mixture of ultra-leftism and Popular Frontism. He continually calls for insurrections, despite the fact that the POR is mainly composed of students and teachers, has no arms, and has no support amongst the working class or the masses as a whole. He rejects democratic and transitional demands and united front policies.

Moreover, Lora has capitulated to nationalism and populism. Unlike Trotsky, he thinks that the officer corps can be won to Marxism, and he demands that the army be better equipped and espouse a more nationalist doctrine, in other words, that it should be ‘Bolivianised’. When the Pope visited Bolivia, the POR’s demand was ‘Down with the religion of the Christian whites’, which was not only a provocation to the 95 per cent of the population who are Christians, but was a racist, idealist position. The POR is run as a one man dictatorship. Only Lora can write books, and like Stalin and Mao, the POR is publishing his complete works whilst he is alive. Any criticism is met with a barrage of slander. In short, the POR is a group of teachers and students, whose strategy is to produce a spontaneous upheaval, with the ensuing power vacuum being filled by the creation of a Popular Front and a Bolivianist officers’ coup.

We hope that Lora will publish a translation of this reply in Masas, and we will, of course, welcome any genuine criticism of the articles that we published on the Bolivian Revolution. Our pages are open to democratic and honest debate. Could Lora do the same, for once in his life?

Finally, I refer to Tim Wohlforth’s letter. He suggests that my article in Revolutionary History, Volume 4, no. 3, was too critical of the POR, and says that he now sympathises with Lora. The fact is that he now agrees with the POR’s Menshevik outlook in 1952 because these days he is an open Social Democrat, supporting his imperialist fatherland when it invades Haiti, and wanting it to intervene militarily in Bosnia. He says that in order to avoid the drift into Stalinism, the Bolsheviks should have done what the Sandinistas did in Nicaragua, namely, to have convened parliamentary elections, and then lost them. He thinks that it was better to have a liberal capitalist regime than a workers’ state on the road to degeneration. That a convert to Menshevism should be supporting the POR’s policies of 1952 speaks very clearly about that party’s position during the failed revolution.

Updated by ETOL: 25.9.2011