International Trotskyism

Robert J. Alexander

Trotskyism in Bolivia

Publishing information: Robert J. Alexander, International Trotskyism 1929-1985: A Documented Analysis of the Movement. Copyright 1991, Duke University Press. Posted with permission. All rights reserved. This material may be saved or photocopied for personal use but may not be otherwise reproduced, stored or transmitted by any medium without explicit permission. Any alteration to or republication of this material is expressly forbidden. Please direct permissions inquiries to: Permissions Officer, Box 90660, Durham, NC 27708, USA; or fax 919.688.3524.
Transcribed: For the ETOL February, 2001

[Note: Unless otherwise noted material on Bolivian Trotskyism before 1969 is adapted from Robert J. Alexander: Trotskyism in Latin America, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, 1973.]

For a few years in the 1950s Bolivian Trotskyism was the most powerful Latin American section of the movement. Together with the Lanka Sama Samaja of Ceylon, it was one of the two national Trotskyist groups anywhere to become a major actor in its country's national politics. It subsequently splintered into a variety of factions and ceded its position as the most powerful element on the Bolivian far left to the Stalinists.

The Beginnings of Bolivian Trotskyism

The founder of Bolivian Trotskyism was Gustavo Navarro, better known as Tristan Marof. He was a one-time Bolivian diplomat who had abandoned diplomacy to return to Bolivia in 1926 to found a Partido Socialista, which was generally aligned with, but not formally affiliated to, the Communist International. It fell victim to the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay between 1932 and 1936, and Marof and most of his associates went into exile.

In Argentina, Marof first organized the Grupo Tupac Amaru, which had contacts with the Argentine Socialists, Communists, and Trotskyists. In December 1936 the Grupo Tupac Amaru coalesced with two other exile groups, the Izquierda Boliviana in Chile and the Exilados en el Peru in that country at a congress in Córdoba, Argentina. That congress launched the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR—Revolutionary Labor Party), whose principal leaders in the beginning were Marof, José Aguirre Gainsborg, Alipio Valencia, Tomás Swarkey, Lucio Mendivil, and Ernesto Ayala Mercado.

At its inception, the POR was not completely Trotskyist. The principal advocate of Trotskyism at its founding congress was Jose Aguirre Gainsborg, who was mainly responsible for the congress' decision to align the new party with the International Left Opposition.

Shortly after the end of the Chaco War, power was seized by Colonel David Toro, who established what he called a "Socialist Republic" and organized the Partido Socialista del Estado as its only legal party. Some of the Trotskyites, notably Aguirre Gainsborg and Arze Loureiro, returned home after Toro's coup and participated, along with José Antonio Arze and Ricardo Anaya (who were later to become the country's major Stalinist leaders}, in organizing the Bloque de Izquierda Boliviana. The Bloque entered the government party, and Arze Loureiro became an important secondary figure in the regime. However, Aguirre Gainsborg soon fell afoul of the Toro government and again went into exile, this time in Chile.

When, early in 1938, Colonel Germán Busch overthrew Toro, virtually all of the POR exiles returned home. Tristán Marof soon became an important figure in the Busch regime, a fact which led to a split in the ranks of the POR.

At the second congress of the POR in October 1938 there was a struggle between elements led by José Aguirre Gainsborg, who sought to have the party become a more or less orthodox Trotskyist group of tightly organized, well-indoctrinated revolutionaries; and Marof who, on the contrary, sought to convert the POR into a mass party, generally socialist, but without any official association with Trotskyism. When Marof was defeated in the congress he was expelled from the POR, and two years later he established his own Partido Socialista Obrero de Bolivia (PSOB), which succeeded in electing four members of the Chamber of Deputies, including Marof, in 1940.

The PSOB faction used its influence in the Busch regime to gain entrance into the labor movement. With the government's approval, they organized in August 1939 the first Miners Federation, with PSOB member Hernán Sánchez Fernández as its secretary general. However, this federation was destroyed by the government which succeeded the suicide of President Busch, which occurred only a few weeks after the miners' organization had been established.

The POR, meanwhile, had become the Bolivian section of the Fourth International. It is clear, however, that contact between the Bolivian Trotskyites and the International was at best tenuous—since Pierre Naville, in his report to the Founding Congress referred to the Bolivian affiliate as the Bolshevik-Leninist Group, although no organization of that name existed at the time in Bolivia. [1] Naville offered no estimate concerning the number of members in the Bolivian section. [2]

Only two months after the congress at which Tristán Marof was ousted, the Third Congress of the POR was held. It adopted a party program and statutes. The program endorsed the orthodox Trotskyist position that in a country like Bolivia the tasks of the democratic revolution could only be carried out by a dictatorship of the proletariat, which at the same time would take the first steps toward building socialism. It also endorsed the theory of permanent revolution on an international scale, emphasizing that the revolution in Bolivia could and would only be part of the worldwide revolution. In terms of organization, the statutes of the POR provided for democratic centralism, the establishment of "cells" based on members' places of work rather than residence, and provision for the setting up of POR "fractions" in the trade unions.

The POR suffered a major setback only a few weeks after the Third Congress when Jose Aguirre Gainsborg was killed in an auto accident. It was to be several years before a new leadership emerged which was able to make the POR a significant force in the labor movement and in general Bolivian politics.

The Rise and Decline of Bolivian Trotskyism

During the early 1940S the Partido Obrero Revolucionario first began to gain some influence among the tin miners, the country's principal proletarian group. This was due largely to the leadership and work of Guillermo Lora, a young man who had been won to Trotskyism while still a university student and who emerged in the years following the death of Jose Aguirre Gainsborg as the principal leader of the POR.

With the coming to power, in a December 1943 coup, of the government of Major Gualberto Villarroel, the POR was presented with new opportunities. The Miners Federation was revived with the encouragement of the new regime. The principal political groups represented in the leadership of the revived Federation were the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) and the POR. The MNR had been a partner with a group of young military officers in the coup of December 1943 and it was represented in the government during most of the Villarroel regime.

The executive secretary of the Mining Federation during most of this period was Juan Lechin Oquendo, a member of the MNR. (He was to remain the Miners' executive secretary for more than forty years.) Although the POR fought bitterly against the MNR within the Miners Federation during the Villarroel period, it usually exempted Lechin from its attack on his party and a rather special relationship developed between the POR and the miners' chief.

With the overthrow of the Villarroel regime in July 1946, relations between the POR and the MNR became closer. In elections in January 1947 a Miners Bloc was formed which included elements of these two parties, and it succeeded in electing Juan Lechin and a Trotskyist, Lucio Mendivil, as senators, as well as four Movimientistas and three members of the POR to the Chamber of Deputies. One of these POR members was Guillermo Lora.

Meanwhile, the Miners Federation had held an extraordinary congress in the town of Pulacayo in November 1946. That congress adopted a thoroughly Trotskyist statement of principles for the Miners Federation, which came to be known as the Pulacayo Thesis. It proclaimed the inexorable nature of the class struggle and specifically endorsed the concept of permanent revolution in which the dictatorship of the proletariat, supported by the peasants and lower middle class, would simultaneously carry out the bourgeois-democratic and socialist revolutions.

The Trotskyist nature of the Pulacayo Thesis in no way meant that the Miners Federation had come under the control of the POR. The MNR continued after the congress, as before it, to have a majority on the Executive Committee of the organization, with Juan Lechin continuing as its executive secretary. What occurred was that Juan Lechin, never a man particularly interested or versed in revolutionary theory, turned over the elaboration of this essentially philosophical and political document to his POR allies—an action which in later years he came to regret, because it gave rise to recurring but unfounded charges that he himself was a Trotskyist.

In the MNR-POR alliance which continued during the so-called "Sexenio," that is, the nearly six years between the overthrow of Villarroel and the Bolivian National Revolution of April 1952, the POR remained the junior partner. Aside from organizational weaknesses of the Trotskyists, which they themselves subsequently admitted, there were three principal reasons for the MNR emerging from the Sexenio as the overwhelmingly largest party of the country (whereas the POR, although to some degree also becoming a "mass party," remained much smaller and less influential). First, the very severe persecution of the MNR by successive governments between 1946 and 1952 created an aura of martyrdom around it and a reputation among the masses of its being their major advocate and supporter. Second, the MNR, as a frankly multi-class party seeking to represent not only urban workers and miners but also the peasants and urban petty bourgeoisie—in a country 80 percent of whose population were peasants—had a much wider attraction than the very "proletarian-oriented" POR.

Finally, the almost total collapse of the pro-Stalinist Partido de Izquierda Revolucionaria (PIR) during this period played into the hands of the MNR, not the POR. The PIR, which although not avowedly Stalinist contained within it all of those people who were, had bitterly opposed the Villarroel government, supported its overthrow, and participated in most of the governments between 1946 and 1952. As a consequence, the PIR lost virtually all of its working-class constituency, particularly among the railroad workers and urban factory and artisan workers. These people were well innoculated ideologically against Trotskyism, and when they abandoned the PIR their natural choice of a new party was the MNR.

With the triumph of the MNR-led Bolivian National Revolution in April 1952 the Partido Obrero Revolucionario reached the high point of its membership and influence. Yet the power of the POR between April and October 1952 was more apparent than real. That power virtually disappeared overnight the first time the POR seriously sought to challenge the position of the MNR government.

In retrospect, it is clear that the POR leaders saw the Bolivian situation of 1952 through the prism of the Russian Revolution of 1917. They saw Victor Paz Estenssoro, the MNR chief whom the revolution made president, as the Bolivian Kerensky; and they saw themselves as the Bolsheviks who soon would wrest power from Paz Estenssoro and the MNR as Lenin and Trotsky thirty-five years earlier had taken power from Kerensky and his Menshevik and Social Revolutionary supporters. But Bolivia in 1952 was not Russia of 1917.

During the six months of the POR's greatest influence its apparent power was the result of the position which it enjoyed in the organized labor movement. Right after the revolution, virtually all organized workers were brought together in a new body, the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), of which Juan Lechin became executive secretary. During this early period of the COB, its affairs were handled in a peculiar way. At least one evening a week an "Ampliado" of the Central Obrera met to debate issues and make proclamations on behalf of the organization. Ostensibly, all affiliates of the organization, those of the provinces as well as La Paz, were represented. However, the system provided for organizations of the interior, who could not actually send someone to each meeting, to name as a more or less permanent delegate someone who was resident in La Paz.

Through this system of "permanent delegates" the Trotskyists were able to obtain much more apparent influence than they actually possessed with the rank and file. They succeeded in getting a considerable number of organizations to name Trotskyists as their permanent representatives in the COB. For their part, Juan Lechin and other leading MNR trade unionists were very much taken up with running the new government—Lechin himself was minister of Mines and Petroleum—and so were content, so long as the POR delegates to the COB ampliados did not challenge the MNR or the government, to let this system persist.

In October 1952 this house of cards fell in on the POR. It used its control of an ampliado of the COB to draw up an Open Letter to President Victor Paz Estenssoro opposing the section of the government's draft decree nationalizing the Big Three tin mining companies which provided for ultimate compensation for the expropriated companies.

The MNR reacted immediately. They called a new ampliado, seeing to it this time that enough of the POR "delegates" from the interior had been displaced by loyal Movimientistas to give the MNR an overwhelming majority. That meeting reversed the decision of the previous one.

From then on, the MNR, not the POR, completely controlled the Central Obrera Boliviana. A few months later this author attended an ampliado which discussed the government's forthcoming agrarian reform decree and the control of the meeting—with the three labor ministers of the Paz Estenssoro government (Juan Lechin, Germán Butron, and Nuflo Chávez) on the dais—was overwhelming. Furthermore, the disdain of the three MNR ministers for the positions of both the POR representatives and those of the newly established Communist Party was clear for all to see.

This defeat of the POR in the Central Obrera Boliviana led the Trotskyists to reassess their position. It also led shortly to a splintering of the Partido Obrero Revolucionario. The struggle within the Fourth International between Michel Pablo and his antagonists, as well as the domestic situation in Bolivia, contributed to the split.

At the POR's Tenth Conference in La Paz in June 1953 a political thesis was adopted which admitted that the immediate objective of the party was not the seizure of power; rather, the party's task was to win over the majority of the workers and peasants to its positions.

This position of the POR soon drew the fire of the Latin American Bureau of the Fourth International, associated with the Pabloite International Secretariat. It also led to the formation of two tendencies within the row The Leninist Workers Faction, led by Guillermo Lora, supported the June 1953 position of the party. The Internationalist Proletarian Faction, led by Hugo González Moscoso, attacked it, aligning itself with the Latin American Bureau.

By November 1954 the factional situation was such that Guillermo Lora began publishing a newspaper, Masas, in competition with Lucha Obrera, which had been the official organ of the POR and was by then controlled by the González Moscoso group. Ultimately the two groups broke into two distinct parties, both using the name Partido Obrero Revolucionario The González Moscoso group was accepted by the International Secretariat as its Bolivian section. The Guillermo Lora POR, although sympathizing with the International Committee (with which the Socialist Workers Party of the United States was associated) apparently did not join that group.

Certainly one issue of dispute between the two POR factions was the attitude to be assumed toward the MNR. The Lora group generally took the position of trying to cooperate with the left wing of the MNR, headed by Juan Lechin; the González Moscoso group wanted nothing at all to do with any element in the MNR.

Meanwhile, an even more important split had taken place in the POR. A group of its leading trade unionists, headed by Edwin Moller, quit the Trotskyist ranks altogether in 1954 and joined the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario. There they worked closely with Juan Lechin and the left wing of the MNR. When in 1963 Lechin broke with the MNR upon being denied its presidential nomination, the ex-Trotskyist trade unionists became part of Lechin's new Partido Revolucionario de la Izquierda Nacionalista.

The weakness to which the Trotskyists had been reduced was shown in the 1956 general election. Hugo González Moscoso, who apparently had the backing of both factions of the POR, received only 2,239 votes for president. This compared with 786,729 received by the victorious MNR nominee Hernán Siles, and with 12,273 which the Stalinist candidate received.

A further split took place in the Bolivian Trotskyist ranks in the early 1960s. The González Moscoso faction went along with the merger of international Trotskyist forces which produced the United Secretariat in 1963. However, a dissident element broke away under the leadership of Amadeo Vargas to establish the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Trotskista), which became associated with the version of the Fourth International headed by the Argentine, J. Posadas. It remained the smallest of the three groups claiming loyalty to International Trotskyism. During the 1960s new sources of controversy arose between the Lora and González Moscoso PORS. Guillermo Lora's group strongly opposed resorting to guerrilla warfare in Bolivia and denounced the guerrilla operation of Che Guevara in the country in 1966-67. In contrast, the González Moscoso POR openly endorsed the Guevara effort, although there is no indication that they had any part in it. Subsequently, they undertook guerrilla operations of their own during the brief General Alfredo Ovando administration (1969-70).

By the end of the 1960s, all three of the PORS were more or less marginal in Bolivian politics. Both the Lora and González Moscoso groups continued to have some lingering influence among the miners, but in no sense were any of the three groups any longer a mass party.

Bolivian Politics in the 1970s and Early 1980s

At the end of the 1960s Bolivian Trotskyism continued to be divided into three factions: the Posadista Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Trotskista), the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) led by Guillermo Lora, and the POR headed by Hugo González Moscoso and affiliated with the United Secretariat. During the following decade and a half several new factions made their appearance.

Bolivian politics was particularly turbulent during this period, and the Trotskyist parties as well as all other Bolivian political groups were faced with many problems of both tactics and strategy to deal with the confused state of the nation's affairs. President René Barrientos died in an airplane accident early in 1969, and was succeeded by his vice president, Luis Adolfo Siles (half-brother of ex-President Hernán Siles). A few months later, President Siles was overthrown by a military coup led by General Alfredo Ovando, who assumed a strong nationalist and "socialist' stance. Ovando, in turn, was ousted by another military coup in October 1970, which brought to the presidency General Juan José Torres. During the Torres regime, which lasted about ten months, there came into existence a "Popular Assembly" (Asamblca Popular) composed of labor and peasant organizations and most of the radical left parties, at least some of which regarded the Assembly as a kind of "soviet."

The Torres regime was overthrown in August 1971 by still another coup, headed by Colonel Hugo Banzer and supported at its inception by the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement and its bitter enemy, the Falange Socialista Boliviana. Banzer's regime lasted until mid-1978, although by then it was a conservative military dictatorship. Elections were held in July 1978 and Banzer's candidate, Colonel Juan Pereda, was declared elected, but this was challenged by the opposition. Pereda resolved the problem by seizing power but was himself overthrown three months later by "constitutionalist" officers headed by General David Padilla, who presided over new elections in July 1979.

Neither major candidate in those elections—former President Victor Paz Estenssoro and former President Hernán Siles—had the constitutionally required majority, and Congress elected ex-MNR leader Walter Guevara Arce as provisional president. He was overthrown three months later by a new military coup led by General Alberto Natusch Busch, which met very strong popular resistance. Finally, Congress elected ex-Trotskyist Lidia Geiler to the presidency, and she presided over still further elections in June 1980.

The 1980 elections were still indecisive although this time the supporters of Paz Estenssoro were willing to vote for Hernán Siles when the election was thrown into Congress. However, Congress never got a chance to decide, since power was seized by General Luis Garcia Meza, who presided over what was popularly known as the "drug smugglers' regime" because of the extensive role of some of its leading figures in the narcotics traffic. In August 1981 Garcia Meza was ousted by General Celso Torrelio, who was replaced by General Guido Vildoso in July 1982. President Vildoso finally decided in October 1982 to summon the Congress which had been elected in 1980 back into session to choose a constitutional chief executive. It elected Hernán Siles as president and his running mate Jairne Paz Zamora as vice president.

The restoration of a democratic constitutional regime did not stabilize Bolivian politics. In the face of the catastrophic state of the economy, President Sues submitted to the demand of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an "austerity" program, which quickly brought him into conflict with the labor movement, the organized peasantry, and the left parties (except the pro-Moscow Stalinists, who were in his government). In April 1983 the Miners Federation seized control of the state mining firm, COMIBOL, and in mid-1984, under pressure from organized labor, Siles suspended payments on the foreign debt and suspended the IMF austerity program.

In March 1985 the COB again launched a general strike against the government's economic policies. It lasted for twenty days, and the workers, particularly the miners occupied the capital city, La Paz. The walkout was finally settled by a sizable wage concession by President Siles. Two months after the March 1985 general strike there were elections, called by President Siles a year ahead of when they were regularly scheduled. Victor Paz Estenssoro and Hugo Banzer were the two major candidates. Although Banzer obtained a narrow plurality in the popular vote, Congress had to decide, since no candidate got a majority, and it elected Paz Estenssoro, who took office in August. He immediately adopted a very stringent economic program which brought protests from the COB and the left in general, but the president refused to concede on these issues as his predecessor had regularly done.

It was against this background that the Trotskyist parties functioned from 1969 until the mid-1980s.

The Posadas Trotskyists in Bolivia

The small Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Trotskista) affiliated with the Posadas version of the Fourth International gave what might be called "critical" support to the government of General Ovando in 1969. Its periodical proclaimed:

The movement in Bolivia is a nationalist anti-imperialist movement, not yet structured, without a conscious leadership, full of contradictions.... but which because of the historic, political, revolutionary conditions of Bolivia, in a short period, very short, will take gigantic steps, and internal struggles will permit us, the IV International, to head great mobilizations, even with all the limitations which this nationalist movement has.

But now the struggle is not yet for workers power. Now is the immediate step of trade union and political reorganization of the masses... the immediate task is to organize the functioning of all the miners' centers.... and of organizing, writing and applying the class and revolutionary program, and the worker-peasant alliance.

This same issue of the POR(T)'s mimeographed periodical carried a telegram which had been sent by the organization to the Soviet ambassador in La Paz. It read: "We salute the Soviet masses. Hail the success of Soyuz and Intercosmos One. Forms indissoluble answer of USSR and other workers states to preparation counter revolutionary atomic war Yankee imperialism." [3]

The POR(T) played no significant role in the events of the Ovando and Torres regimes of 1969-71. Undoubtedly, the party, together with all of the other far left groups, was driven far underground after the seizure of power by Colonel Banzer. The Posadista fourth International still reported as late as December 1976 that Voz Obrera was being published by the Bolivian POR(T).[4] However, by 1980 Amadeo Vargas, who had earlier been the principal figure in the POR(T), was reported as belonging to the faction of the POR which was affiliated to the United Secretariat.[5]

The Guillermo Lera Faction of the POR

In contrast to the POR(T), the Bolivian Trotskyist faction headed by Guillermo Lora played a major role during the regime of General Torres (1970-71). During the several days of confusion which preceded the assumption of the presidency by General Torres, the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), the country's central labor organization, had established a Political Command (Comando Politico) to direct the political activities of organized labor. [6] The POR of Lora had members in the Comando Politico.

According to Lora they were the element in the Political Command which steadfastly opposed General Tones's offer to have the COB represented in his cabinet. The POR led opposition to his original suggestion of one-third of the ministries, which the Comando Politico turned down. It also fought against Torres's second offer of half of the ministries for COB, but POR was only successful in getting COB to insist, as the price of its participation, that it (rather than General Torres) choose the 40 percent of the cabinet who were to be from organized labor. President Torres finally turned down that demand, and COB was not represented in his government.[7]

According to Lora, it was his party which originally proposed to the Comando Politico the establishment of the Popular Assembly, although the official document approved by the Comando Politico was jointly sponsored by POR and members of the pro-Russian Communist Party. [8] POR also successfully pushed the idea that the Asamblea Popular consist principally of class organizations—workers, peasants and middle class—with a large preponderance of worker delegates, and that the number of official representatives of political parties be quite small. Defending this idea Guillermo Lora explained that "the intention was to prevent the petty-bourgeois parties from artificially increasing their influence, and it was thought that the popular parties would be represented in the Assembly through their militants in the unions and mass organizations."[9]

It was finally decided that there would be 218 members of the Popular Assembly, of whom sixty percent would be trade unionists, twenty-five percent representatives of middle class organizations, ten percent delegates of peasant groups, and five percent representatives of parties. The POR of Lora was one of the six parties which was allowed to have official representatives in the Assembly, in its case having two posts.[10]

The document establishing the Popular Assembly proclaimed that "the Asamblea Popular (supreme authority for the workers and their leaders) and the popular committees, will act as a unifying force of the people. The cited organizations are characterized by taking decisions about fundamental aspects of the life of the masses, at the same time putting into execution these decisions....The Asamblea Popular, conceived of as an organ of popular power must be re-enforced in Revolutionary Committees installed in work centers and neighborhoods."[11]

The delegates to the Asamblea Popular were supposed to carry out instructions of the groups which elected them. They could also be removed at any time by their electors.[12]

Guillermo Lora and his party regarded the Asamblea Popular as an embryonic soviet. He wrote later that it "began by defining itself as a soviet-type ["sovietista"] organization, that is to say, an organ of the power of the proletariat and of the masses."[13] He claimed that "as the mobilization and radicalization of the masses accentuates, the force and authority of the soviet increases, and thus creates friction with the central government (dual power). The exploited come to their organization in hope of solving their daily problems and to this degree turn their backs on the official government. In the hallways of the place in which the Asamblea Popular met, one could see people who had come from all corners of the country to present their needs, complain of the excesses of the authorities, solicit construction of schools, etc..."[14]

Although the Asamblca Popular existed only from April to August 1971, it engaged in several heated debates. In retrospect Guillermo Lora felt that two of these were of particular importance: that over the Popular Assembly's demand that the Miners Federation be given majority control over the state mining industry, and that over the establishment of a single national university, also under majority control of trade union representatives. The first of these issues, Lora felt, went to the heart of the issue of power In Bolivia, since workers' control of the country's principal export industry would give them control over foreign exchange, and, indirectly at least, over the whole economy. The second issue was important, he thought, because workers control of the universities would prevent them from being used against a workers government, and particularly from coming under control of "foco theory" guerrilla advocates who were then very influential among the students.[15]

The role of Guillermo Lora's Partido Obrero Revolucionario in the Asamblea Popular subsequently became a matter of bitter dispute within International Trotskyism. The Lora POR was particularly attacked by the Socialist Labor League of Great Britain, led by Gerry Healy, and this controversy was one of the major reasons for the breakup of the International Committee of the Fourth International in 1971-72. This controversy is discussed in the chapter on the International Committee of the 1960s.

In the process of the polemic in the International Committee the issue was raised as to whether or not the Lora POR was an affiliate of that group. Thus the British SLL and its allies within the International Committee claimed that when Lora "appeared in Europe in 1970, the Socialist Labor League made it quite plain it would not favor his admission into the IC unless a full discussion was held on his whole history and an understanding reached on this basis"[16]

However the French affiliate of the IC, the Organisation Communiste Internationaliste, in a statement of November 24, 1971 claimed that "as for the POR in Bolivia, the issues are clear: an old Trotskyist organization, section of the Fourth International before the split of 1951-1952, the POR rejoined the IC in 1970 on the basis of its experience and its fight against Pabloism in Bolivia itself. It joined after a meeting of the IC which Comrade Lora personally attended. Moreover this was officially announced in La Verité. . . and was not denied by anybody.... The legitimate status of the POR was not challenged in the slightest by the SLL who wrote in No. 545 of its daily paper . . . that 'the POR is the Bolivian section of the International Committee.' "[17]

With the split in the International Committee the POR led by Guillermo Lora became part of the Organizing Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International (CORQI). It remained in that group until early in 1979, when it was reported that although Lora and the POR supported CORQI's expulsion at that time of the Argentine Politica Obrera group, they nonetheless were withdrawing from CORQI.[18] Thereafter, the Lora POR was not part of any of the factions of International Trotskyism although still considering itself a Trotskyist group.

After the overthrow of the Torres regime many of the principal leaders of the Lora POR, as well as those of other Bolivian far left groups, went into exile. In Santiago, Chile there was formed the Frente Revolucionario Anti-imperialista (FRA—Anti-imperialist Revolutionary Front), "as a projection of the anti-imperialist and revolutionary line of the Asamblea Popular" according to Gui1lermo Lora. [19] Those groups which originally founded it included the Revolutionary Armed forces (a group of army officers around General Torres), the pro-Moscow Communist Party, Juan Lechin's Partido Revolucionario de Izquierda Nacionalista, the Lora POR, the González Moscoso POR, the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria, the pro-Chinese Communist Party of Bolivia (Marxist-Leninist), and the guerrilla group Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional.[20]

The Lora POR'S participation in the FRA provoked a controversy within CORQI. The French OCI was particularly critical of POR's participation in that coalition.[21] However at that point this controversy did not result in the POR's breaking with the Lambertist International group.

The Anti-Imperialist Revolutionary Front soon disintegrated. Guillermo Lora reported that it was defended "only by the Trotskyists" by early 1973. At that point, it was dissolved.[22]

The Lora POR continued to be active in the underground, particularly in the labor movement. When a clandestine congress of the Miners Federation (FSTMB) was held in May 1976 there was a struggle between them and both the pro-Moscow and pro-Chinese Communists. Intercontinental Press reported that the Lora POR "carried on a victorious struggle to reaffirm the Pulacayo Thesis, a programmatic document of the miners federation and the COB which calls for the establishment of a workers and peasants government in Bolivia." The same source cited a report of the French Lambertist periodical Informations Ouvrières to the effect that "the renewal of the executive commission of the FSTMB was marked by another victory of the fraction of the POR. In the preparation of the congress, the POR had presented the need to get rid of the old bureaucracy and proceed to the election of new leaders. In the congress, the old leadership was accused of betrayal and complicity with the government of Banzer by the majority of the delegates." It added that "the worst bureaucrats left the executive commission and various activists of the POR (Lora) won posts in the new one."[23]

There is no information available concerning the attitude of the Lora POR during the elections of 1978, 1979 and 1980. However, in the face of the crisis facing the regime of Hernan Siles after it took power in October 1982 the Lora POR called for a "proletarian revolution and dictatorship" and for the "Bolivianization of the armed forces" and "an army at the service of the working class."[24] The Lora POR had some representation at the Sixth Congress of COB in September 1984 and was part of the coalition behind Juan Lechin which defeated the Stalinists at that meeting.[25]

At the time of the twenty day general strike of COB in March 1985 the Lora POR was reported to have raised the demand for a "sliding wage scale."[26]

The Lora POR held its Twenty-eighth Congress a few weeks after the March 1985 general strike. There Guillermo Lora declared that "the working class, and therefore the POR, was not defeated in the last general strike... This is our hour." The political thesis adopted by the POR Congress declared that "the revolutionary situation is deepening."

The Lora POR ran candidates in all constituencies in the June 1985 general election. However, they received only 0.79 percent of the total vote. [27]

The POR-Combate

The faction of the POR which was affiliated with the United Secretariat headed by Hugo González Moscoso was often referred to by the name of its periodical as the POR-Combate. Its policies during the 1970S and early 1980s were markedly different from those of the Lora POR.

During the Ovando government (1969-70), the POR-Combate was primarily involved in "preparing technically for rural guerrilla warfare." Hugo González Moscoso wrote that "under the Ovando government the party operated in completely clandestine conditions and was totally absorbed in armed work ..."[28] Joseph Hansen commented that as a result of POR-Combate's concentration on guerrilla activities "our comrades were not present in the united front that led the mass mobilizations and that created the Political Command" of COB.

Right after the installation of the government of General Torres the POR-Combate issued a call to the masses for three things: "Organizing a Revolutionary Command, including all political tendencies that favor a socialist solution to the country's present situation and support the armed struggle for power...Creating a Revolutionary Workers' and People's Army....Developing a body representative of the masses, through which they can express all their revolutionary power, initiative, worries, and determination to transform society."[29]

The González Moscoso POR at first made little effort to participate in the potentially revolutionary organizations which were being mounted by other far left political groups and COB. Thus they argued that "The Political Command of the COB demonstrated its lack of understanding of the process.. . Because of this, it is now necessary to form, either from within it or from outside of it, a Revolutionary Political Command, which in light of the previous experience can lead the masses to power and socialism." Joseph Hansen commented that "needless to say, such a formation never came into existence."[30]

Nor did the POR of González Moscoso participate in the beginning in the Popular Assembly. Joseph Hansen cites the report of two British Trotskyists who visited Bolivia at the time to the effect that "at first they tended to have an attitude of watching the Assembly to see how it turned out, rather than actually participating in it."[31]

The PRO-Combate was not one of the parties which was given representation as a party in the Popular Assembly.[32] It probably had at least a handful of party members who were elected by unions or other organizations.

Even when the POR-Combate decided to become active in the Popular Assembly it by no means heartily endorsed the organization. González Moscoso reported to the Parisian Trotskyist paper Rouge that "the left wing, to which the POR belongs, has developed the idea that the People's Assembly should be a body that would discuss national problems and solutions for them but would leave the power in the hands of the mass organizations (unions and popular militia or people's army)..."

Joseph Hansen noted later that "the list is an odd one; neither a popular militia nor a people's army existed. They had yet to be created. So, for the moment, that left only the unions, that is, the COB. But the COB provided the mass base of the Popular Assembly. And it was precisely the Popular Assembly that constituted a united-front formation through which the workers could draw the peasantry and the urban masses together in a struggle for a concrete form of a workers' and peasants' government."[33]

Finally, the POR-Combate admitted the "soviet" potential of the Popular Assembly. But even in doing so it continued to push for the organization of a guerrilla army. In the May 1-15, 1971 issue of Combate an article said that "the Asamblea Popular can have no role except as an organ of dual power. That is, it must not simply debate and watch over government functions; it must—as the expression of the power of the great masses of our people—decide the basic questions facing the country and the workers. The Asamblea Popular must become a workers' and peasants' government, and we must fight both inside and outside of it to achieve this. In this process a political-military instrument will grow up alongside the assembly which can serve as the power it still lacks to enforce its decisions."[34]

Of course in its attitude towards the events of 1970-71, the POR-Combate was following the line advocated by the predominantly European faction which was then the majority in the United Secretariat. The year before this faction had persuaded USEC to adopt a general policy of fomenting guerrilla war in Latin America. The Bolivian events became a major element in the polemic then in progress between the USEC majority and the Socialist Workers Party of the United States and other groups within the United Secretariat which were aligned with it.

During the Torres period, the POR-Combate had several internal party meetings of some significance. One was a plenum of its Central Committee held over Easter weekend 1971. This meeting made several decisions including one "to intensify political work aimed at the masses in order to win them away from reformist influence and promote the emergence of truly revolutionary leaderships," and another "to intensify at the same time the party's military work and strengthen its military apparatus for the future actions that will be intimately linked with the revolutionary masses."[35] They also held two cadre training sessions in March and April attended by sixty students drawn from the party's regional committees.[36]

The POR-Combate suffered severely at the time of the overthrow of the Tones government. Hugo González Moscoso reported that twenty party members were killed in Santa Cruz and three were taken prisoner in Oruro. But he added that "despite the attacks it has suffered, the party is still functioning. . . . There is a military and political leadership united in the Executive Committee, which directs all activity on a national scale. We lost some stocks of arms, but during the struggle we captured some modern weapons."[37]

The Bolivian USEC affiliate collaborated in establishment of the Frente Anti-imperialista Revolucionario organized by various exile groups in Santiago after the overthrow of the Torres regime. At the time the FRA was established the POR-Combate issued a statement which said: "For quite some time the organizations of the Bolivian left have felt the necessity of uniting in a front in order to put an end to sectarianism and to bring all of the revolutionary forces together behind a common program." Then, after noting the different points of view of various components of the FRA, the POR-Combate statement said that "it is necessary to make clear once and for all that revolutionary action has to be both political and military at the same time. . . . Political action without a military instrument has no perspective for taking power."[38]

The affiliation of the POR-Combate with the FRA brought a negative reaction from the United Secretariat. It issued a statement in which it said that "the United Secretariat cannot agree with the POR's signing such a text, which is directly contradictory to the longstanding program of the POR. . . . The United Secretariat will discuss this and other questions with the POR leadership in a comprehensive way in the coming period...."[39]

During most of the Banzer dictatorship the PRO-Combate, like all the rest of the far Left, had to carry on its work more or less clandestinely. Early in 1973 four POR leaders were jailed and tortured, and the police dynamited the door of Hugo González Moscoso's house—although he was not there at the time.[40]

With the victory of a hunger strike, mainly by women and with the backing of the Catholic Church, in January 1978 resulting in an amnesty for the political opposition and the calling of new elections for later in the year, the POR issued a statement on the event. It started out, "the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Combate) hails the victory of the hunger strike." The statement called for participation in the forthcoming elections, and urged the COB to take the initiative to "decide on a united intervention with lists of workers and peoples candidates."

Finally, this statement indicated a shift away from the guerrilla war line which POR-Combate had supported in the past. It said that "because of continual insinuations and attacks by the repressive bodies about past forms of struggle, which are used to justify new arrests, the POR believes it is necessary to make the following very clear: . . . the POR reaffirms that today it is not in any way calling for any form of armed struggle, and that above all it does not participate in acts of terrorism."[41] This statement was in conformity with the shift of the USEC majority away from insistence on guerrilla war as the correct strategy for its Latin American affiliates.

In the 1978 elections the POR-Combate participated in one of the coalitions organized for the campaign, the Frente Revolucionario de Izquierda (FRI). This included also the pro-Chinese Communist Party, the Vanguardia Comunista del POR, and the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores, the party organized by those who had participated a decade before in Ernesto "Che" Guevara's guerrilla campaign. However, the POR was subsequently very critical of negotiations by the FRI with the Paz Estenssoro faction of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario, the Authentic Revolutionary Party of Walter Guevara Arce, and the Christian Democratic Party. The POR argued that its own role was to "generate ... a new dynamic in the FRI while at the same time building up its own organization, rooting itself among the masses, and winning new members in order to compete more effectively with its allies in the front. "[42]

In October 1980, shortly before the coup by Colonel Natusch Busch, the POR-Combate held a national congress. It was reportedly attended by about 150 "delegates and guests," and the attendance "confirmed that a great majority of the POR is made up of workers and peasants, and that the POR has also been successful in implanting itself in the student movement to a greater extent than in the past. Among those present at the congress were trade union cadres from the main unions, miners, peasants from the La Paz region. . . and a comrade who is a member of the national leadership of the COB."[43]

During the 1980 election the POR-Combate at first formed part of a front backing the presidential candidacy of miners and COB leader Juan Lechin. When Lechin withdrew from the contest the POR denounced his action. It also announced that it had urged three measures upon COB to thwart a further military coup which was feared would follow or precede the election: "military organization of the workers and peasants; establishment of a program of struggle including broad nationalizations and workers control of the economy; and creation of a political alternative organized around the COB and the left parties."[44]

At the time of the coup by General Luis Garcia Meza in August 1980 the POR-Combate issued a statement which called for "a united front of the left and workers organizations...." The statement said, "We are against the launching of isolated armed actions against the dictatorship in this period. We think that the priority task of the workers and their parties at the moment is the organization of the mass resistance. . ."[45]

In July 1983 the POR-Combate merged with another Trotskyist faction, the Vanguardia Comunista del POR, to form a new group, the POR-Unificado (Unified POR). There were present 150 delegates at the unity congress, including "miners, workers, peasants, teachers, and students" from nine different parts of the country. The POR-Unificado was to publish a new periodical, Bandera Socialista.[46]

The POR-U joined forces with several other left and far-left groups, including Juan Lechin's Revolutionary Party of the Nationalist Left (PRIN), to form the United Revolutionary Leadership (DRU) in March 1984. A few months later DRU "dealt a stinging defeat to the PCB (the pro-Moscow Communist Party) at the COB convention." However the González Moscoso POR people themselves admitted early in 1985 that "the DRU has not yet been able to play the role of a national political alternative."[47]

Other Bolivian Trotskyist Groups

During the 1970S there was further splintering of the Trotskyist ranks in Bolivia. There emerged, among other groups, the so-called Workers Vanguard (Vanguardia Obrera) and the Communist Vanguard of the POR (Vanguardia Comunista del POR). These two groups were described by a USEC source in 1980 as being "two organizations which claim adherence to Trotskyism and sent observers to the recently concluded World Congress" of the United Secretariat.[48]

As the Banzer dictatorship began to fall apart in early 1978 the Central Committee of the Communist Vanguard of the POR put an advertisement in La Paz papers which called "on all Bolivians to form a revolutionary front capable of consistently carrying on the anti-imperialist struggle, thereby allowing the working class to carry out its leadership role in the Bolivian revolution."[49]

During the elections of 1978 the VCPOR was a member of the Frente Revolucionario de Izquierda, to which the POR-Combate, the Maoist Communists and the ex-guerrillas of the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores also belonged.[50] In the 1980 election both the Vanguardia Obrero and the VCPOR were among the fifty-two parties which were legally registered.[51]

The Morenoist tendency of International Trotskyism also developed a Bolivian affiliate. Unlike virtually all of the other Bolivian Trotskyist factions this group did not derive from the original Partido Obrero Revolucionario. Rather, it originated within the Partido Socialista headed by Marcelo Quiroga, who had been a minister in the Ovando government of 1969-70. During his subsequent exile in Argentina Quiroga had contact with Trotskyists there and developed some sympathy for Trotskyism. He permitted several other young people of avowed Trotskyist inclinations to work within his party upon their return to Bolivia with the end of the Banzer dictatorship.[52]

There was first established, as a result, the Organizacion Socialista de los Trabajadores (OST), which was officially legalized as a political party in 1980.[53] In 1982 this party was reported as publishing a newspaper called El Chasque.[54]

In January 1983, soon after the inauguration of President Hernán Siles, the OST published a series of "theses" on the then current situation in Bolivia. It called for workers control of industries, for a "worker-peasant alliance" and "a government of worker and peasant organizations which will guarantee democracy for the Bolivian people. It must be democratically controlled by the people and must also implement this program. 'Insofar as Siles' new government was concerned, the theses said that "as long as the possibility of a coup does not appear on the horizon, Siles will continue to be the worst enemy of the Bolivian workers, peasants and exploited urban masses. When the danger of a coup becomes a reality, Trotskyists should call for broad unity in action, above all with Siles."[55]

In September 1984 the Morenoist Trotskyist group, then known as the Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores, had several delegates at the Sixth Congress of COB. These included representatives from the Teachers Union of Oruro and the Factory Workers Federation of La Paz.[56]

The PST held a congress with 380 delegates present early in 1985. At the time of the COB twenty-day general strike in March 1985, the PST was reportedly the only group in the country which raised the slogan "All power to the COB." It was subsequently subjected to some harassment by the police and security forces.[57]

Marcelo Quiroga was murdered at the time of the seizure of power by General Garcia Meza in August 1980. Thereafter his party split into three competing organizations. One of these, the Partido Socialista (Bases), was Trotskyist in orientation and was also aligned with the Morenoist International Workers League (Fourth International). It was announced in mid-1984 that "the main objective of this new group is to build a revolutionary Marxist organization that will fight to give leadership to the Bolivian revolution in order to make the masses conscious of this process so that they can go on to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat." It proclaimed that "the COB is currently the only institution that represents the interests and the aspirations of the Bolivian working class. Revolutionaries who are fighting for the COB to seize power are those who want to finish the Workers Revolution that began in 1952 and which is still not completed." The ps(B) was seeking to form a Trotskyist United Front with the POR of Guillermo Lora.[58]


[1] Rodolphe Prager (Editor): Les Congres de la Quatrième Internationale. Volume I: Naissance de la IVe Internationale 1930-1940, Editions La Breche, Paris, 1978, page 215

[2] Ibid., page 241

[3] Voz Obrera, La Pat, October 1969

[4] Revista Marxista Latinoamericana, December 1976, page 29

[5] Intercontinental Press, New York, November 17, 1980, page 1193

[6] Guillermo Lora: El Proletariado en el Processo Politico, 1952-1980, Ediciones Masas, La Paz, 1980, page 214

[7] Ibid., pages 216-218

[8] Ibid., page 229

[9] Ibid., page 232

[10] 1972 Yearbook of International communism, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, 1972, page 316

[11] Lora, op. cit., page 231

[12] Ibid., page 232

[13] Ibid., page 235

[14] Ibid., page 239

[15] Ibid., pages 248-262

[16] C. Slaughter (Editor): Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, a Documentary History, Volume Six: The Organisation Communiste Internationaliste Breaks with Trotskyism. New Park Publications, London, 1975 page 41

[17] 17 Ibid., pages 49-50

[18] La Verité, Paris, February 1979, page 72

[19] Lora, op. cit., page 383

[20] International Socialist Review, New York, February 1973, page 31

[21] Intercontinental Press, New York, July 31, 1972, pages 907-912

[22] Lora, op. cit., page 407

[23] Intercontinental Press, New York, july 19, 1973, pages 1118-1119

[24] Workers Vanguard. New York, March 2, 1984, page 6

[25] Working Class Opposition, Los Angeles, October 1984, page 14

[26] Working Class Opposition, Los Angeles, May 1985, page 19

[27] Workers Vanguard, New York, September 20, 1985, pages 8-9

[28] Joseph Hansen: The Leninist Strategy of Party Building: The Debate on Guerrilla Warfare, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1970, page 240

[29] Ibid., page 241

[30] Ibid., page 242

[31] Ibid., page 243

[32] 1972 Yearbook of International Communism, op. cit., page 243

[33] Hansen, op. cit, page 243

[34] Ibid., page 244

[35] Intercontinental Press, New York, June 28, 1971, page 599

[36] Intercontinental Press, New York, July 5, 1971, page 640

[37] Intercontinental Press, New York, November 1, 1971, page 937

[38] International Socialist Review, New York, February 1973, page 45

[39] Intercontinental Press, New York, February 21, 1972, page 186

[40] Intercontinental Press, New York, February 26, 1973, page 196

[41] Intercontinental Press, New York, March 20, 1978, pages 342-343

[42] Intercontinental Press, New York, April 16, 1979, pages 398-399

[43] Intercontinental Press, New York, January 21, 1980

[44] Intercontinental Press, New York, July 7, 1980

[45] Intercontinental Press, New York, September 1, 1980, page 888

[46] Intercontinental Press, New York, November 7, 1983, page 643

[47] Intercontinental Press, New York, April 15, 1985, page 205

[48] Intercontinental Press, New York, January 21, 1980

[49] El Diario, La Paz, March 19, 1978, reported in FBIS, March 27, 1978, VI, page C3

[50] Intercontinental Press, New York, April 16, 1979, page 399

[51] El Diario, La Paz, May 1, 1980, reported in FBIS, May 9, 1980, VI, page C3

[52] Interview with Leon Perez, New York, September 20, 1983

[53] El Diario, La Paz, May 1, 1980, reported in FBIS, May 9, 1980, VI, page C2

[54] Letter to author from Leon Perez, June 10, 1982

[55] Trotskyist Correspondence, Los Angeles, May 23, 1983, pages 54-55

[56] Working Class Opposition, Los Angeles, October 1984, page 14

[57] Working Class Opposition, Los Angeles, May 1985, page 19

[58] Working Class Opposition, Los Angeles, June/July 1984, page 20

Last updated on: 13.2.2005