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Juan Robles

Violent Strike of Bolivian Miners
Confused by Nazi-Peronist Politics

(June 1949)


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 25, 20 June 1949, p. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).



LA PAZ, Bolivia. – The tragic events in the 20th Century mine, located in the mining center of Catavi, Bolivia, have received worldwide publicity. [U.S. newspapers also headlined the mine workers’ strike, giving special prominence to the fact that a number of Americans, employed by U.S. mining interests, had been seized by the strikers and killed. – Ed.]

Bolivia, one of the most backward countries of South America, is a producer of almost 40,000 tons of tin a year; and tin is a strategic mineral, contracted almost totally by the United States and Great Britain. Since these buyers have monopolized the tin market, they pay prices in accordance with their own interests and at the expense of the impoverished, hungry Bolivian Indian miners.

This is the permanent cause of Bolivia’s poverty, of the oppression and exploitation of the native miners of the plateau; and as a consequence it provokes periodic uprisings in the mining centers – uprisings which are liquidated with bloody massacres of the workers.

Thus do the main producers of tin (the Patino interests) maintain their economic and political domination of the country with the support of imperialism, which is interested in low prices for tin in the exploitation and colonization of Bolivia.
 

Political Background

At the present time this basic patterm has been clouded and modified by complex political phenomena. Argentine “Peronismo” [the influence of the Peron government in Argentina] the heir of German Nazi influences in South America, is trying to take advantage of the latent rebelliousness of the South American peoples against imperialism for its own political ends, for its own political expansion, in order to sustain a regime that is already trembling.

The MNR (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement) of Bolivia, a native Nazi party which was overthrown in the popular revolution of 1946, uses all means to seek revenge and its own return to power, supported by the powerful aid of “Peronismo.” In addition, the Stalinist policy directed against the United States seeks to utilize all opposition movements, including those that are reactionary, in order to overthrow the pro-American or anti-Russian democratic governments.

When the MNR was in power, it set up totalitarian unions accompanied by the usual social demagogy in the mining and manufacturing centers. Of late, the MNR has succeeded in renewing its attractive power in its opposition to the Hertzog government. On the one hand, the factory workers, mainly in La Paz, are under native Nazi influence. The railroad workers are, on the other hand, controlled by the Stalinists. In this tragic division of the proletariat and its submission to the anti-working-class parties lies the second element of the Catavi tragedy.

In the recent by-elections, in spite of certain successes in the provinces, the MNR suffered setbacks in La Paz, which is the decisive factor in Bolivian politics. It responded by armed struggle well prepared beforehand, but it was thrown back. Then it drew up a plan of general rebellion, counting on the support of the mining and factory centers where the MNR apparatus is excellently set up, having paid agents, armed groups, etc.
 

Workers Caught in Middle

The Republican Union regime wished to behead the planned rebellion and deported the main of the Miners Federation (Lechin, Torres, etc.), which at the time was affiliated with the MNR. As the MNR had foreseen such a move, it had previously prepared a counterstroke, ordering a general strike and the seizure of the American and other engineers as hostages.

Lechin’s lieutenants cruelly assassinated some victims, while on the other side, the government laid siege to the headquarters of the Miners Federation in order to free the hostages. Both workers and soldiers fell in the fratricidal struggle. Since 500 workers had been taken prisoners, the Miners Federation responded with an armed struggle.

As a demonstration of protest against the military measures and the massacres, the strike was extended to the factories and the railroads, the latter controlled by the Stalinists. The situation is grave but the government seems to have control of the situation.

There is no doubt that the class struggle is the core of the tragic situation – the permanent rebellion of the native proletariat against its national exploiters and against foreign imperialism. But this struggle has been deformed and utilized by the native Nazis in order to take revenge and to return to power. In the struggle between the feudal-bourgeois mine interests and imperialism on one side and the Nazified petty bourgeoisie of the plateau on the other side, the proletariat plays the part of the hired beast of burden for the MNR.

The classic example of this is the policy of the parliamentary deputy, Lora, officially affiliated with the Fourth International, who with almost no reservations supports the Nazi, Lechin, and has become his secretary and counselor. Lora and his friends support the theory of the bourgeois revolution in Bolivia and consider the role of the MNR to be revolutionary. For this reason they have allied themselves with the Nazis against the feudal bourgeoisie. The proletariat pays with blood and massacres for this criminal policy.
 

Independent Unions Out

In the revolutionary socialist circles, attempts were made to prevent the tragedy and disaster which struck the Bolivian proletariat. Independent miners’ unions were formed in order to free the mining proletariat from the native Nazi influence. It was all in vain.

The independent union in Catavi was isolated by Lechin’s groups and its leaders threatened with death. On the other hand, the Patino enterprise and the government tried to thwart the independent character of the newly created union organisation in order to utilize it for their anti-working-class purposes.

Although the independent trade-union movement extended to all the mining centers, it lacked leading working-class elements who were class-conscious and incorruptible, in order to strengthen it and keep it firm against the Nazi terror and the governmental pressure. The growth of the independent unions was one of the causes compelling the Nazis to act. The threatened liquidation of its base in the mining centers was the equivalent of a death sentence for the MNR.

The Bolivian government headed by the Republican Union Party is a government more of the center than of the bourgeois right, which has paid more respect to the rights of the working-class parties and organizations than did the MNR government headed by Villaroel. But after the armed struggle during the elections in La Paz, it lost its head and proceeded with hasty brutality without really foreseeing the consequences.
 

Prospect Threatening

Today Bolivia represents a field of open civil struggle between the mining bourgeoisie and the Nazified petty bourgeoisie. The proletariat is the principal army on the side of the MNR. Lora, parliamentary deputy of the POR (Revolutionary Workers Party – Fourth International), has taken his place without reservations in the left wing of the MNR.

We do not know how the struggle will end. But we are afraid that the proletariat will lose whichever way the struggle is resolved. If the Nazi MNR should win, it would lose more than if the government triumphs, because the position of the Bolivian proletariat was always that of opposition both to the Bolivian feudal bourgeoisie, the tool of imperialism, and to the Nazified petty bourgeoisie, the tool of Peronismo.

The position of the Bolivian proletariat was always that of advancing its own independent, working-class and socialist point of view for the social and national liberation of Bolivia, for a Socialist Bolivia within a Socialist South America.

June 1949


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