Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive


Juan Valverde

Bolivia Before and After the July Rebellion

First Published: Fourth International, Vol.VIII No.3, March 1947, pp.79-81.
Transcription/HTML Markup: 2005 by Andrew Pollack

An extensive, thinly-populated country lost in the shadowy heights of the Andes, a forgotten country of immense and incalculable riches, recently drew universal attention. On its soil, occurred one of the great political dramas of our day.

More than three months have passed since the July events [in Bolivia], yet the world working class has heard only the one-sided, distorted bourgeois versions presented most frequently—as in the case of Ghetti de Acha in El Mundial—by people who up to yesterday were loyal servants of the deposed regime. This article, therefore, is intended for the workers of the world everywhere.

Bolivia, whose backward feudal-bourgeois structure—feudal in the countryside and bourgeois in the cities—makes it an easy victim of rapacious imperialism, belongs to three mining magnates: Hauschildt, Patino and Aramayo.

These three mining enterprises are in reality spearheads of Anglo-American imperialism, having their bases in the United States (Hauschildt) and England (Patino). They are absolute masters of the economic and political life of the country. Ninety per cent of the national income is derived from exploitation of the country’s mineral wealth [especially tin]. Bolivia has practically a one-product economy.

Despite immense arable lands which could be converted into farms of fabulous fertility, the bourgeoisie, incapable of completing the democratic revolution, has left control of agricultural production in the hands of a tiny minority of big landowners. These landowners, far from thinking in terms of the development of agriculture, are quite content to outrageously exploit their laborers, converting them into semi-slaves, and to amass their fortunes from the sweat and blood of the Indians who constitute 80 per cent of the population. The price is Bolivia’s eternal backwardness.

In addition to the peasants are the mine workers, who constitute the most important social force. The nation’s income and that of the government and the colossal wealth of the three mining magnates are derived from the grinding exploitation of the mining population, numbering some 200,000.

The mining centers are located at mountainous altitudes of 10,000 to 13,000 feet. Women and children work side by side with the men in the toilsome underground labor. Physical and moral degradation dogs the exploited workers of the three giant enterprises, and where alcohol does not succeed, tuberculosis completes the nefarious work of the criminal bourgeoisie.

Finally, we have the cities, predominantly petty-bourgeois but with a growing factory proletariat. This is the true and actual picture of the land where the social drama of last July took place.

During the regime of General Penaranda, two young political forces headed the opposition to the government of “la Rosca”: the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR), of fascist tendencies, and the Left Revolutionary Party (PIR) of the socialistically-inclined petty bourgeoisie. In those years—which now appear distant—the Stalinists (PIR) tried to form a united front with the MNR and the “young officers” in order to present a common opposition to the big bourgeoisie holding power. Again after the December 20, 1943 coup d’etat which brought the MNR to power, the Stalinist chiefs sought posts in the government which, according to Jose Antonio Arce, head of the PIR, represented the “bourgeois democratic revolution.” But in vain. The blind obstinacy of the new rulers, who did not want to give up ministries nor share the government banquet table, forced the Stalinists to seek refuge in the opposition.

“Opposition” Parties

But then, instead of leading a working class opposition to the fascist-like government of Villarroel, they began to promote the formation of “People’s Fronts,” first forming the boasted “Bolivian Democratic Union” and then the “Anti-Fascist Democratic Front.” The Stalinists thus basely betrayed the interests of the Bolivian proletariat. As allies of the traditional parties of the mining bourgeoisie in the “Anti-Fascist Democratic Front” (pompously labelled by the Stalinists as “progressive sectors of the bourgeoisie”) the PIRists had to scrape off what little socialist varnish they had left and degenerated into common petty-bourgeois “democratic” job seekers.

Judged by its all-inclusiveness and by the currents following it, the PIR is a petty-bourgeois party—the mine workers have never been attracted to it. It has gained only the sympathy of the middle class and of the budding city proletariat which is strongly influenced by the middle class.

Instead of giving battle from the camp of the proletariat against the MNR, instead of educating and organizing the working class around revolutionary slogans in the struggle, the Stalinists headed a bourgeois opposition against Villarroel’s regime, even going so far as to disapprove the few concessions Villarroel made to attract support from the mine workers.

The Nationalist Revolutionary Movement had nothing revolutionary about it. It was a fascist middle class current of government employes and “young officers” whose seizure of power was preventive in its character. They tried to put up resistance to American imperialism, but this resistance because of its petty-bourgeois character had to peter out. After all their fiery speeches denouncing imperialism, they gave way to the economic pressure, becoming servile lackeys of the White House. Expressing the vague aspirations of the middle class to become a strong national bourgeoisie and industrialize the country, they tried to carry out the bourgeois democratic revolution under middle class leadership. They promulgated a few decrees favoring the peasants; but, alas! it is not through such decrees but through the direct action of the masses that oppressors must be combatted.

Some members of the left wing of the MNR even went so far as to call on the Indians to seize the land and promised them it would be distributed. When the Indians rebelled against their masters, demanding that the promises be carried out, the “Movement” drowned these peasant insurrections in blood under pretext they “had to defend private property!”

Thus in the most palpable way the Marxist thesis was again proved that the bourgeois, or agrarian, anti-imperialist revolution in the semi-feudal countries can be realized only by the proletariat in alliance with the peasants.

If the MNR government had lasted longer, what happened to the peasants would have been repeated with the mine workers. They favored the “Movement” because it wrested some favorable laws for them from the big bourgeoisie. As a bonapartist government—neither with the rich nor the poor, but more with the rich than the poor—it did not struggle against the bourgeoisie as a whole but against a certain sector of the bourgeoisie, the mining sector. However, this struggle was of course inconsequential. What the government sought, in the final analysis, was not to destroy the economic might of the mining bourgeoisie, but to intimidate it with the spectre of mass action in order to force the payment of higher tribute to “its” state, this petty-bourgeois bonapartistic state that tried to elevate itself above the class struggle and base itself on this struggle.

Clinging desperately to power in the face of an obvious debacle, the fascist-like government began to use violent police methods.

Meanwhile the only party to organize a working class opposition was the Revolutionary Workers Party (Trotskyists). It was the Trotskyists, led by Guillermo Lora, at the Third Congress of the Mine Workers in Llallagua—“in the tiger’s mouth,” as someone put it—who inflicted the greatest political defeat suffered by the MNR.

The Trotskyists constituted “the sensation and revelation” of this Congress. In truth, that occasion marks the beginning of the Revolutionary Workers Party as a party and as the proletarian vanguard. The MNRists, accustomed to the absence of any serious contenders, believed that they would end up at this Congress as in the previous ones with a sure and easy victory. They believed that a few demagogic speeches would sweep the mass of miners off their feet. But it didn’t turn out like that. The Third Congress of the Mine Workers marked a crushing defeat for the “Movement.”

The presence of just a few Trotskyist worker representatives was sufficient to arouse the entire mass of workers and a platform of revolutionary struggle was approved, the main points being: a sliding scale of wages; a sliding scale of hours; formation of an anti-capitalist workers’ bloc (proletarian united front), etc., etc. The Minister of Labor, Monroy Block, was defeated in debate by Guillermo Lora, young militant of the Revolutionary Workers Party, and the worker representatives at the Congress carried Lora out in triumph on their shoulders.

The July Uprising

In the last days of the Villarroel regime, the mining magnates precipitated a grave crisis. The companies threatened to close various mines. The government responded with a decree that signified the quasi-nationalization of these mines. But the entire Bolivian government depends economically on the crumbs granted it by the mining bourgeoisie. A government lacking the material support of “la Rosca” is predestined to go down in defeat.

The cost of living, in the meantime, was zooming to dizzy heights. Those who felt the burden of economic misery the most grievously were the school teachers and professors. Their salaries were utterly inadequate to maintain the “decent” standard of living to which their social rank obligated them. A general petition, demanding a nation-wide increase of 50 per cent, was rejected. The government offered instead a miserable raise which could not possibly meet their most urgent needs. The atmosphere, already blazing, became white hot.

At the same time, demoralization began to ferment in the Army, while the students and the workers organized extremely militant demonstrations. It was then that the government committed an error which sealed its fate: on Friday, July 19, 1946 the police fired on a student demonstration. The spark, which had been lacking up until then, flamed; and the anger of the people rose menacingly against the criminals in office.

On the morning of July 21, the masses moved against the arsenal of the Transit Center in La Paz. Street fighting developed with mounting violence. The people erected barricades. Boys, 12 to 14 years old, marched rifle in hand at the side of workers, students and school teachers while; enemy bullets decimated their ranks.

The Army, in face of the popular movement, began to waver. A section decided to hold their fire and await the outcome. Many squadrons went over to the popular cause; while a small part remained loyal to the government. After bloody fighting the popular squadrons penetrated the Government Palace, thus bringing to a close a period of fascist-like violence. Not only were the fascist groups given a hard lesson, but also the Army itself and the bourgeoisie as a whole.

The Popular Rebellion of July has been called improperly a “revolution.” A social revolution signifies the passage of power from one class to another, and a profound change in economic relations. This did not occur in Bolivia. A powerful proletarian party was lacking, a party capable of and decided upon taking the whole state power.

The people shed their blood in a noble, selfless struggle, proving their incomparable heroism. But the day after the rebellion, the bourgeois politicians, lackeys of the big mining interests, with the blessing of the Stalinist traitors, took power, prostituting the July Rebellion. The Stalinists in payment for their betrayal received numerous public posts, two ministries, including positions in the police force. Their character as traffickers of the workers movement, as servants of the capitalists, was openly disclosed. Today the Secretary of the Interior is a “sympathizer of the leftists,” and a member of the PIR as Minister of Labor is acting as an agent of the big bourgeoisie. The mine workers have repudiated him, for they consider his arbitrary decisions favorable to “la Rosca.”

The working class sees more clearly each day the betrayals perpetrated under the pseudo-socialistic policies of Stalinism. The mine workers have already swung to the Trotskyist program of revolutionary struggle. Many city workers are abandoning their petty bourgeois leaders, orienting toward and joining the Revolutionary Workers Party. The antagonism and division that existed between the mine and factory workers is coming to an end. Through the Revolutionary Workers Party, the working class is becoming unified, acquiring consciousness of its historic mission and preparing itself for the struggle against its oppressors.

In this article, we propose to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. The bourgeois press has remained silent about one fact, but we cannot do so. On the day of the July Rebellion, the mine workers, believing that what was up was a coup d’etat organized by the big bourgeoisie, marched, armed with dynamite, toward the urban centers, proposing to restore the deposed regime. And only thanks to the timely intervention of the Confederation of Mine Workers, was useless bloodshed avoided.

In the future such an incident will not be repeated. The workers of city and mines are beginning to comprehend that their future is a common one. The MNR on the one hand and the PIR on the other are being chipped away by the constructive criticism of Trotskyism. The Fourth Congress of the Mine Workers, now taking place, indicates to us that Bolivia is entering a markedly pre-revolutionary situation. The central thesis of the Congress is the thesis presented by the delegation from Llallagua. It points out the necessity of the workers taking over the mines if the companies close them down. The general spirit of the Congress is revolutionary. From this we can judge how far the workers have already gone in abandoning the reformist position and adopting the Trotskyist position of class struggle.

This is the harbinger of the coming struggles, hard and fierce struggles, but by the same token, it presages the new dawn humanity anxiously awaits, the dawn of socialism.

Bolivia, November 1946

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on: 12.2.2009