By José Villa
Introduction by the Editorial Board
Below we republish a long document on the history of the Bolivian Revolution in 1952. It was written in 1992 by José Villa, a Bolivian comrade who was at that time a member of the RCIT’s predecessor organization – the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI).
The document was published in Spanish language in the journal Bases No.5 (Autumn 1992). A shortened English language version appeared in the special Bolivia issue of Revolutionary History Vol.4, No.3 (Summer 1992). Later, the Marxist Internet Archive published the complete version (https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/revhist/supplem/bolivia/villamen.htm). The text was translated by Mike Jones.
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The 1952 Revolution
How the 4th International and the POR betrayed the revolution which could have carried Trotskyism to power.
by José Villa
2. The Menshevik positions of the POR and of Lora in April
3. International repercussions of the interview with Lora
4. Rebelión against the Permanent Revolution
5. The POR supports the Bourgeois Government
7. The POR seeks to enter the bourgeois government
8. The collaborationist programme of the POR
9. The POR did not struggle for the occupation of the enterprises
10. All Power to the COB!
11. Turn the COB Into A Soviet!
12. The MNR-POR Government
13. All power to the MNR Left Wing!
14. The POR adapts itself to The MNR Left.
15. The POR believed that Paz would be able to create an anti-capitalist government
16. The Nationalisation of the mines
17. The disintegration and reorganisation of the armed forces
18. The desire to transform the MNR
19. The Peasant uprising
20. The opportunist international orientation of the POR
21. The leadership of the Fourth International identifies itself with this Menshevik policy
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Part 1: Introduction
When the February revolution occurred in 1917, the Bolsheviks had been in existence for fifteen years. When the revolution of April 1952 happened the POR had been in existence for seventeen years. Both movements operated in countries with a peasant and petty bourgeois majority but with a modern, geographically concentrated, proletariat. Both parties had the benefit of working with the introducers of ‘Marxism’ into their respective countries (Plekhanov and Marof) and their cadres had taken part in forming the first working class organisations. While Bolshevism had been formed by its confrontation with other Marxist currents (economists, Mensheviks, etc.), petty bourgeois socialists (SRs) and bourgeois democrats (Cadets), the POR had had to fight against the ‘Marxists’ of Marof and Stalinism, the different wings of the MNR and ‘socialism’ of both bourgeois and military varieties.
Bolshevism was tempered during the working class upsurge which culminated in the 1905 revolution, in the reactionary phase which followed it, in the new wave of strikes and the struggle against World War 1. The POR was born in the fight against the Chaco War and was forged during two great mass insurgencies, which brought down the governments in 1936 and 1946, in great strikes and massacres, in constant changes of government, coups and a short civil war. While the ‘general rehearsal’ of 1905 was smashed, both of the two rehearsals of revolutionary crises experienced by the POR ended with toppling the governments. Bolivian ‘Trotskyism’ had its programme endorsed by the university students and the miners and could pride itself on having had within its ranks the main leaders of the FSTMB and the CON. (1)
The role of the POR in the April events was such that even one of the founders of the Stalinist party recognised that of the five main leaders of the insurrection, one was of the MNR right, another was of the pro-POR wing of the MNR, and three were POR:
“This armed uprising was led and guided to victory by the leading personnel of the MNR, Hernán Siles Zuazo, Juan Lechín Oquendo, Edwin Moller, Alandia Pantojas, Villegas and others”. (2) (Memorias del primer ministro obrero, Waldo Alvarez, La Paz, 1986 p.188).
In Lucha Obrera, the POR boasted that
“when top MNR leaders thought about flight, it was our comrades who lead the people and proletariat of Oruro to victory (…) our militants were the real leaders in the defence of Villa Pavon and Miraflores that in practice saved the difficult situation for the revolutionaries when the enemy already appeared to be triumphant within the city”. (3) (LO 12.6.52, p.3).
Within the COB, the dominant power in the country, the POR was the most important and influential party. The historian Alexander states that: “The POR which had in large part been able to determine the ideological orientation and dynamism of the Workers Center”, “For the first six months the COB was practically in the hands of the Trotskyists”. (4)
Lora admits that:
“Immediately after the 9th April 1952, the MNR operated as a inactive minority within the trade union organisations. It had little success because mass radicalisation had reached its highest point.” (5) (Sindicatos y revolución, G. Lora, La Paz 1960, p.31).
“The whole of the opening struggle for the formation of the Trade Union Centre was in the hands of POR militants and a large part of the full-time Staff and the whole orientation of the brand new COB was Trotskyist. Lechín did no more than operate under the powerful pressure of the masses and the POR. In the speeches of the workers’ leaders of this period and in the plans presented to the Paz Estenssoro Cabinet can be found the imprint of the POR”. (6) (La Revolución boliviana: Análisis crítico, Guillermo Lora, La Paz 1963, p.254).
While the MNR was weak for several months after the uprising of April, the POR CC continued boasting to itself about its majority in the COB. “Our unchallenged present majority is a clear proof of our slow but solid and sure work, undertaken by the party in this sense”. (7) (Boletin Interno, no 13, POR, 1953, p.11).
The COB was born brandishing the Theses of Pulacayo, and with a POR programme and orientation. When it was founded the POR displayed its total identification with its conduct. “The COB was born then with a clear conception of its independent class position, faithfully interpreting in its transitional programme the broad mass movement” (8) (LO, 18.4.52., p.2).
The historian Dunkerley maintains that “much of the preparatory work (of founding the COB) was undertaken by the POR representatives, Edwin Moller, Miguel Alandia and José Zegada”. (9) (Rebelión en las venas, James Dunkerley, Ed Quipus, 1982, La Paz, p.50, Verso edition p.45). “The POR allegedly controlled at least half the COB’s 13 man central committee”. (10) (ibid., p.67, Verso Edition, p.64. The editor of the English text omitted ‘allegedly’ before ‘controlled’).
In October 1952 a journalist, claiming to be a Trotskyist critical of the POR, admitted that within the COB “the largest fraction is that of the POR; next comes the group of Lechín and Torres, that is the nationalist wing of the unions while the Stalinists are in third place with scarcely five votes”. (11)
It took the Russian Bolsheviks from February to October to obtain a majority in the Soviets and when they had got it they moved to insurrection. The POR however controlled the COB from its first moments. While the Bolsheviks were a minority within the Russian working class for these eight months the POR led the COB for the first crucial six months after the insurrection which dispersed the bourgeois army. The programme, the leadership and the press of the COB were the work of the POR. The main leader of the COB functioned by reading out speeches written by the POR.
However, there was a huge difference between the POR and Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks demanded of the Soviets that they should give no class support to the bourgeois-democratic, reformist coalition government and that instead they should break with the bourgeoisie and take all power in their own hands. The POR, in contrast, gave ‘critical support’ to the bourgeois government and asked to be given ministerial posts. While the Bolsheviks attacked the Mensheviks and the SRs without pity, seeking to remove them from leadership positions, the POR identified itself with the labour bureaucracy (for whom they drafted speeches and ministerial plans) and sought to transform the bourgeois party and its government. The Bolshevik strategy was to make a new revolution while that of the POR was to reform the MNR and its government. In short, while Bolshevism was Leninist, the POR was Lechínist.
Part 2: The Menshevik positions of the POR and of Lora in April
Trying to explain the behaviour of the POR as objectively as possible, Dunkerley maintains that those from the section of the Fourth International “were from an early stage highly critical of the MNR regime, they made no call for an immediate workers government, demanding instead a radicalisation of proposed reforms, the defence of the regime against imperialism and the revolutionary education of the masses”. (12) (Rebelión en las venas, p.52 – Verso Edition, p.46).
Just before the April events the POR had published “an open letter to the government, demanding that power be handed over to the Nationalist MNR without a new election”. (13) The strategy of the POR was limited to pressurising the government periodically so as to change the leadership of the bourgeois state with the aim of allowing the MNR to take over the presidency by constitutional means. In that way, a legitimate government could be restored, which, through pressure, would be forced to adopt radical measures and would also have to appoint worker ministers.
During the April events Lora had been in France where he gave statements to La Verité which The Militant then reproduced. They were the main weeklies of the Fourth International. In his history of the POR, Lora says that “Up to now not enough importance has been given to the call for the Trotskyist programme made by Lora in Paris a few days after the arrival of the MNR in power”. With great cynicism he states that there he said that the working class “in order to triumph had no other way than by going over the political corpse of the MNR and also over that of Lechínism”. (14) (Contribución …, G. Lora, Vol.2, pp.237-238). As far as we are concerned, we do not want to give ‘enough importance’ to such statements. Exactly the opposite was said. Let us see:
“The central slogans put forward by our party were:
1) Restore the constitution of the country through the formation of an MNR government which obtained a majority in the 1951 election.
2) The struggle for the improvement of wages and working conditions
3) Struggle for democratic rights
4) Mobilisation of the masses against imperialism, for the nationalisation of the mines, and for the abrogation of the UN agreement”. (15) (The Militant 12.5.52, Lora interview Part 1, SWP, New York.)
Of all these demands only the last one is really radical and even that did not go beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy, or what the anti-communist Paz would do a few months later. The first seeks a constitutional bourgeois state with a populist government. Instead of seeking to differentiate itself from the latter by raising anti-capitalist and class-based slogans, the whole of the POR platform was exactly the same as that raised by the bourgeois MNR. Lora did not put forward as his dominant idea any proletarian slogan (expropriation without compensation of the bourgeoisie, workers control, disarming the bourgeois armed forces and their replacement by worker and peasant militias, occupation mines, factories and land, etc.). Instead of wanting to make the COB into a soviet, break with the bourgeoisie and take all power, Lora called for the MNR bourgeois government to change direction and limited himself to asking for some reforms which did not go beyond the framework of the capitalist state.
“The subversive movement of the ninth of April was no surprise for our party and occurred as we had foreseen in our theoretical analysis”. (16)
If a party was aware that it was approaching the main revolution of its history it ought to have done all it could to have kept its most important individual in the country, or at least, not far away. However, Lora stayed in Paris for more than half a year after the end of the 3rd World Congress of the Fourth International which was why he was in Europe. By boasting that his party had predicted what was going to happen and with his view that he should stay outside in the imperialist world, Lora was either blustering, or worse, he did not place much importance on his own endeavours to get rid of the MNR but instead agreed with trying to put pressure on it.]
“The struggle which immediately began is a struggle of the masses to impose their demands on the April 9th government”. (17)
If the POR was in the forefront of the struggle its objective should have been to put itself forward as an alternative leadership which called on the COB to kick out Paz. However, Lora called for support of the bourgeois government and its ‘left-wing’ ministers. Instead of opposing the trap of inviting labour ministers into the capitalist cabinet, so attempting to improve the regime’s disguise preparatory to disarming and then counter-attacking the workers, Lora identified himself with the tactic. “The textile workers decided to impose their conditions on the right wing of the MNR, they obliged it to accept the working class elements in the new cabinet who constitute its left faction”. (18) (The Militant, 12.5.52, Lora Interview Part 1).
“In this connection, the essential mission of the POR is to assume the role of the vigilant guide to prevent the aspirations of the workers from being diluted by vague promises or by manoeuvres of right wing elements”. (19)
For the POR, the enemy was not the bourgeois government but only the ministers who were to the right of the anti-communist Paz. As far as Paz was concerned, ‘the government was to be defended to the utmost’.
Lora wanted to uphold this reformist position by characterising the regime as petty bourgeois. The petty bourgeoisie is incapable of installing its own mode of production and regime. Small property engenders large property. A society of small owners is impossible and cannot avoid competition so forcing some to enrich themselves to accumulate while others become poor and are turned into proletarians. When the petty bourgeoisie is not allied to the proletariat it is marching behind the bourgeoisie aiming to reform its state.
A government that is not subordinate to the Soviets and workers militias is one that is against the proletariat. A petty bourgeois government which oscillates between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie cannot exist. By upholding such a possibility, Lora put forward the view that these ‘petty bourgeois’ governments, should have pressure put on them to try to fill them with extra labour ministers, with the aim of gradually achieving a workers and peasants government. This is a gradualist and reformist conception that led the POR to prop up the military socialist dictatorship, and it would later lead them to ask for ministers in the cabinet of General Torres. Whenever you try to put ‘red’ ministers in the populist governments of the bourgeoisie and sow further illusions, the more the ruling class is helped make use of these demagogues so as to confuse and disorientate the masses and to prepare a reactionary coup.
Neither the MNR government nor the party were petty bourgeois. The MNR, like every party with popular support, reflects the composition of the society in which it operates. A populist party, even though it has a majority of members from the most oppressed strata, just as elsewhere within capitalism, is run from the top down. Almost all the top leadership of the MNR were people who came from the oligarchic families, who had collaborated with German imperialism, propped up the bloody nationalist dictatorship of Villarroel and who were socially, ideologically and organically, an expression of a sector of the national bourgeoisie. The MNR, like Bolivian society, might have a majority of members and voters in the petty bourgeoisie, but it was led by politicians of and for the bourgeoisie.
Part 3: International repercussions of the interview with Lora
These scandalous declarations were published in the mouth-piece of those who called themselves bastions of ‘anti-pabloism’: the SWP (USA) and PCI (France). From ‘Pabloists’ to ‘anti-Pabloists’ all fully supported these positions. In all of the factional struggles which were to split the Fourth International in 1953, nobody ever objected to this criminal Menshevik policy which betrayed the Bolivian Revolution.
The only discordant voice known within the Fourth International at that time was that of a small tendency in California, headed by Vern and Ryan. This had the great merit of severely questioning the Menshevik declarations of Lora.
“The POR has been presented the opportunity of leading a revolution and thereby rendering a great service to our international movement.”
“The MNR is a bourgeois party, which politically exploits the masses.”
“… it is incontestable that the present Bolivian government is a bourgeois government, whose task and aim is to defend by all means available to it the interests of the bourgeoisie and of imperialism (…) This government is therefore the deadly enemy of the workers and peasants, and especially of the Marxist party.”
“A united front with a bourgeois party with the aim of establishing a bourgeois constitution and placing the bourgeois party in power is not a united front but a people’s front.
“The united front that the Marxists advocate aims to unite the workers and peasants on a minimum programme embodying a stage of the revolutionary transitional program. This united front, in a revolutionary situation, turns into workers’ and peasants’ soviets. And even in the soviets the struggle goes on. Far from accepting the conciliationist programme which may be imposed on the soviets, the Marxists advocate their own programme, calling on the soviets to break with the bourgeoisie, their parties and their government, and take the complete power, establishing a workers’ and peasants’ government.
“But comrade Lora does not raise the question of a break with the bourgeois government. The workers’ and peasants’ government he advocates appears as some ultimate conclusion to a gradual reshuffling of the personnel of the bourgeois government, whereby the right wingers will be forced out and the cabinet take on a more and more left tinge”. (20)
The Vern-Ryan tendency received no reply to its criticism against the Menshevik line in Bolivia. From then until today, all the currents which derive from the ‘anti-Pabloist’ International Committee continue to ignore these questionings of a policy which they, opportunistically, totally endorsed.
In spite of the progressive nature of its criticism this tendency soon dissolved itself. Its positions, although on the left of the deformed Fourth International, contained a series of ambiguities. The most important of them was its conception that a government directed by a Stalinist military apparatus would be enough (regardless of whether capitalist social relations had been expropriated or not) to recognise the creation of a new deformed workers state.
Part 4: Rebelión against the Permanent Revolution
The POR was proud that it edited the mouthpiece of the COB bureaucracy.
“Our points of view were imposed by a crushing majority and the newspaper Rebelión of the COB presented our own political position in the workers camp”. (21) (Boletin Interno, No.13, POR, undated, p.10)
“The three first issues of Rebelión, the last of which was published on the occasion of the First Congress of the COB (31st October 1954), appeared under the direction of M. Alandia and wholly expressed the programme of the Centre at that time. The first issue contained a hearty greeting to the General Secretary of the POR”. (22) (La revolución boliviana: Análisis crítico, G. Lora, La Paz 1963, p.254).
But what did this mouthpiece have to say? Did it put forward a revolutionary policy whose basic principles could only be a demand for the COB to break with Paz and call for the occupation of the mines, factories and the land, and to take power? On the contrary, Rebelión identified itself with the bourgeois regime. It stated that the MNR government was its own and that it had to be propped up. In its first issue under POR direction it said:
“The defeat of the oligarchy and the birth of the MNR government is the work of the working masses; it is our creation (…) in order to survive the present government requires from the workers that the workers supporting it, being vigilant will be able to attain great achievements”. (23) (Rebelión, 1.5.52, pp.8-9)
They not only mortgaged themselves to the MNR but paid homage to the memory of a military man, Gualberto Villarroel, who was involved in the Catavi massacre of 1942, and who was a pro-imperialist dictator overthrown by a popular uprising. (24) “Our proletarian homage to the memory of the martyr president” (ibid., p.9).
How could that be the position of a revolutionary? This was an orientation which could only help to disarm and demobilise the COB, asking it, in spite of having the real power, to continue helping a bourgeois government that was destined to line up behind imperialism and massacre the workers.
In June, Lucha Obrera maintained that the MNR should thank the POR for helping it achieve power and for its support. Its task would now be to put pressure on the MNR to carry out reforms which would benefit the working and middle classes.
“If the MNR has to give thanks to anyone, and greatly for our help, it is without doubt, to the POR (…) The POR will continue in carrying out its task of guiding the proletariat and of ensuring that the actions which deposed one government and raised up another, which enjoys the support of all the people, are carried out in a way beneficial to the proletariat and the oppressed sectors of the middle class”. (25) (LO, 12.6.52, p.3).
“Never before had a party like the MNR that can count on uniform backing from an armed people and proletariat, achieved power; and never, therefore, did anyone have the opportunity of adopting measures with a real revolutionary content. The government has closed its eyes, or has not wanted to see the magnificent opportunity, and has preferred to deceive the proletariat which supported it unconditionally”. (26) (LO, 29.6.52, p.4)
Never before had the party had such an opportunity to make a social revolution, but the MNR hesitated. The POR opposed the view that the deficiency was because of the bourgeois class character of the MNR, but said it was due to its lack of tactical ability. The task was to open its eyes and make it see the magnificent opportunity. The whole policy of the POR was completely Menshevik. Instead of calling on the workers to reject the MNR and to struggle to put the COB into power, the POR boasted of having served the MNR and of wanting it to mull over things and see reality – an orientation that was simply limited to seeking to serve as an adviser to the MNR in order to reform it.
Part 5: The POR supports the bourgeois government
Nine days after the uprising of 9th April, the mouthpiece of the POR declared that:
“to the extent that it carries out the promised programme, it supports the Government which arose out of the popular insurrection of 9th April, (…) It had two worker ministers in the petty bourgeois cabinet, but was entirely controlled and tied to the decisions of the COB”. (27) (LO, 18.4.52, p.2).
Under no circumstances can the proletariat support the government of a section of its exploiters. On the contrary, the aim of a Marxist party should be to undermine it and to struggle for its revolutionary overthrow. Supporters of it would be compromised with a policy of maintaining backward and semi-colonial capitalism. In the case of an attempt at a reactionary coup the Trotskyists should have followed the same policy as Russian Bolshevism in the face of the Kornilov revolt. Without giving an ounce of support to the Kerensky government the Leninists joined its supporters in the streets to fight with arms in order to crush ultra-reaction. At all times they called on the workers to have no confidence in, or to give support to, the government, and to prepare to depose it in a revolutionary way, once the monarchist coup attempt had been crushed.
However, in Bolivia at the time imperialism had no intention of carrying out a coup. It much preferred to help Paz and Siles, who knew how to use demagogy together with reformists like Lechín and their agents in the POR, in order to exhaust the masses, so that they could free themselves