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Luis H. Velasco

Miners of Bolivian Plateau Choose
Eight Trotskyists as Their Deputies

(1 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 5, 3 February 1947, pp. 3 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE Bolivian elections are very typical of South American countries. Out of three to four million inhabitants, only some 90,000 citizens voted, that is, about 2.5 per cent of the total population. These figures show in the best possible manner the feudal and aristocratic exclusiveness of the Bolivian bourgeoisie and the isolation of the native peasant and laboring masses from the political life of the country. These figures prove more than anything else the colonial and semi-feudal structure of Bolivia. While in other South American countries the number of electors increases in proportion to the total number of inhabitants, the low number of electors stands as a characteristic of “creole democracy.” In Bolivia, only the citizen who knows how to read and write has the right to vote. The overwhelming majority of the workers and peasants are illiterate and thus excluded from electoral participation.

Therefore, the eulogies of the bourgeois press of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina on the “victory of the plateau democracy” seem somewhat strained to us. The results did not give a decisive majority to any of the competing bourgeois factions. On one side, the three republican parties united in a Republican Socialist Union, with Enrique Hertzog heading its slate as candidate for the presidency. On the other side, a liberal-Stalinist bloc was formed, in the Chilean fashion, headed by the former Bolivian ambassador to Washington, Luis F. Guachalla. The Stalinists were defeated in their attempt to form a “left front” in order to deliver the workers to the mining bourgeoisie, and were expelled by the republicans from the FDA (Democratic Anti-Fascist Front). They succeeded in cooking up in the nick of time the bloc of “national conciliation.” The main object of the latter is to stabilize the capitalist restoration, which came to power over the body of the popular revolution of July 21, and externally to form a South American bloc around Peron under the good auspices of the “little father,” Stalin. The electoral results gave the republican Hertzog a small majority, but the Stalinist-liberal bloc does not want to recognize it and, hoping to get a majority in congress, demands that parliament resolve the presidential question definitively – of course, as in Chile, in favor of the Stalinist candidate.

Background to Elections

Without pre-judging the final result, we consider that the elections, through their lack of a decisive majority for one or the other faction, demonstrate the division of the feudo-bourgeoisie into two factions, and therefore the incapacity of the bourgeoisie to govern the country and resolve the pressing problems. The division of the bourgeoisie into two factions, republican and Stalinist-liberal, reflects the grave economic and social problems of the country, the misery and discontent of the exploited masses. Bolivian politics is determined by the annual production of 40,000 tons of tin, which is determined in turn by a single capitalist, the tin king, Simon Patino. On his decisions depend hundreds of thousands of working class families who live from mine labor, the national budget, and hence the struggle of the bourgeois factions, the fate of the middle class and the public servants.

The second characteristic of the Bolivian elections is the growth of the Stalinist PIR. The PIR will have a fraction in the congress as strong as the traditional right-wing, composed of about 31 deputies and five senators. The growth of the PIR reflects the political evolution of the formerly pro-Nazi, pro-Hitler and anti-Semitic middle class which is now disillusioned and in search of a new totalitarian master. It must be admitted that the plateau Stalinists demonstrate great ability to conquer the middle class with their slogans of “national conciliation,” fraudulent “democratic revolution,” etc. They also knew how to frighten the bourgeoisie with the fantasy of a “miners’ revolution,” for which they offered their services as hangmen and condottieres. Simon Patino, the tin king, favored the “national conciliation” of the Stalinists in the hope that the new regime would have a sound social base and would also have the necessary forces at its disposal to defeat the mine workers and solve the crisis in tin at the expense of the blood and lungs of the native mine workers.

But the growth of the PIR brought to the fore other phenomena: the Stalinists lost out in the mining and industrial districts of the country like Oruro, Potosi and La Paz; on the other hand, they won in the rural districts of Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and Beni, where there are no industries and hence no industrial proletariat. The PIR herewith ceases to be a working class party as it was two years ago, and becomes a bourgeois party which operates among the middle classes and the backward proletariat. Therefore, there is a danger to the Stalinists that the bourgeoisie which works with them may give them the boot since the Stalinists no longer represent the working class masses and cannot “discipline” them in the interests of the bourgeoisie.

The third most important consequence of the elections is the attitude of the industrial- proletariat. Of course the figures already cited at the beginning of this article demonstrate how narrow was the layer of the proletariat which intervened in the elections: only those workers who know how to read and write, which means the urban and mine workers who are already integrated in cultural and political life. In spite of this obstacle, the labor movement of the plateau region made important steps forward, steps which deserve analysis by politically awakened workers of the entire world.

New Labor Center

The miners’ congress of Pulacayo, which offered a platform of class struggle, was the first stage in the rebirth of the Bolivian labor movement. The second stage was the new labor formation, THE LABOR CENTER, composed of miners, cereal workers, railway workers, chauffeurs and mechanics of Oruro. In spite of the rabid opposition of the Stalinists who headed the CSTB (Union Confederation of Bolivian Workers), affiliated to the CSTAL (Union Confederation of Latin American Workers), led in turn by the servant of Stalin, Lombardo Toledano – the organization of a new revolutionary union center is already a fact.

The revolutionary workers and the revolutionary socialist organizations of both Americas ought to make an example of the valiant action of the Bolivian Trotskyists, who are opening new roads for the trade union movement and freeing it from the opportunist and traitorous Stalinist influence. The action of the plateau mine workers against the Stalinists is not isolated from the rest of the continent. From Chile comes the report that the Chilean socialists threaten to organize a new union movement if the Stalinists do not cease to monopolize the unions for the ends of their Muscovite high priest.

The miners’ congress and the formation of the Workers’ Center prepared the formation of the “Proletarian United Front,” which presented its own candidates in the industrial and mining districts of Potosi, Ouro and La Paz, capturing thus far two senatorships and about six deputies. These deputies will be the first Trotskyist deputies in the entire world.

Weaknesses of Movement

Unfortunately, the workers’ victory in Bolivia is not without its dark side. The plateau proletariat is very weak numerically, lacking genuine socialist traditions and without political experience. In past years it was divided between the democratic-PIR influence and the Nazi influence of the MNR (National Revolutionary Movement). The revolution therefore took it by surprise, without a clear understanding of the program and real aims of the proletariat. Now, in a brief post-revolutionary period the proletariat, led by the miners, overcame its backwardness and went on to great victories. But we do not know if these electoral victories have class consistency or if they will be lasting.

Even the POR, section of the Fourth International, has neither ideological nor programmatic consistency, as we have analyzed before. It is the exponent of a semi-Stalinist program of bourgeois-democratic revolution, realizable under the proletarian dictatorship. Furthermore, in spite of the miners’ congress and the creation of the Workers’ Center and the “Workers’ Front,” habits and traces of Nazi-fascism still exist in the mining districts. In Llalagua, where the Trotskyist deputies come from, thousands of votes went to the Nazi candidate for president, Victor Paz Estenssoro, the old “theoretician” of the regime of Villaroel, who was hung. The candidate for senate of the Proletarian Front, Juan Lechin, is an ex-member of the movement who also received votes for the vice-presidency from the defeated MNR.

In La Paz, the POR formed a bloc with the PSOB, also a Trotskyist party, and accepted the candidates of the latter as a common slate. But at the last minute the POR arbitrarily imposed the doubtful candidacy of Lechin for senator of La Paz. The militants of the PSOB complain of the lack of loyalty of the Poristas and their Stalinist opportunism for the purpose of achieving electoral successes. The POR contends that it dominates the mines; nevertheless, it cannot eliminate the thousands of pro-Nazi votes and has to accept Lechin as head candidate of the Proletarian Front. All of this obscures the great Trotskyist victory in Bolivia. Time will tell if our reflections are justified. Let us hope not.

In any event, Trotskyism in Bolivia is leading a movement of proletarian masses and will undoubtedly have some genuine labor deputies with a Marxist doctrine and program. (January 1, 1947, La Paz)

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