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GENERAL STRIKE AND WORKER’S INSURRECTION IN BOLIVIA (english)
by STEVE ARGUE
Email: SteveArgue2 (nospam) yahoo.com
21 Oct 2003
The resignation of Lozada makes him the fourth South American President to be forced from office by popular rebellion in the past three years.
GENERAL STRIKE AND WORKER’S INSURRECTION IN BOLIVIA
By STEVE ARGUE
Facing a general strike by the working class and militant barricades in the streets Bolivian President Sánchez de Lozada was forced to resign from office on October 17th. This resignation comes despite Lozada’s efforts to drown the struggle in blood, leaving 80 Bolivians dead. Many of these deaths occurred as Lozada, with the Bush administrations urging, tried unsuccessfully to militarily reoccupy the capital of La Paz and the city of El Alto.
The resignation of Lozada makes him the fourth South American President to be forced from office by popular rebellion in the past three years. The others have been Fernando de la Rua of Argentina, Alberto Fujimori of Peru, and Jamil Mahuad of Ecuador.
The roots of South America’s unrest lay in a profound and worsening failure of the capitalist system to meet the most basic of human needs. Bolivia’s insurrection is also due to deep institutionalized racism that excludes the indigenous population from jobs and a decent life.
The workers of South America have always been poorer and more exploited than those of the imperialist countries like the United States, Germany, and Japan due to many unfair economic relations set up by the richer and more powerful nations. These include the policies of the IMF and the World Bank. These economic relations have been enforced through U.S. organized coups and brutal right wing governments backed by U.S. military aid and the threat of more direct U.S. military intervention. In addition, the imperialist exploitation of the poor countries by the rich is enforced by the capitalist rulers of the poor countries themselves. They, unlike the worker’s and farmers, see from their positions of comfort that they have little to gain by challenging the economic and military might of imperialism.
South American workers and peasants are now being hit harder than ever by the world crisis of capitalism and the negative impacts of the free market policies of globalization. Two out of every three Bolivian workers have lost their job in the past four years and many Bolivians live off of a dollar or two a day.
In fact what is occurring in Bolivia is a total breakdown of the capitalist mode of production. For the past four years Bolivia has suffered from a recession. The recession, coupled with deflation, makes a corporate debt of one billion dollars (10 percent of the GNP) unpayable. A report by the Confederation of Industries states that nine out of every ten companies are affected by this insolvency crisis. The banks have begun carrying out an aggressive policy of auctions and mortgage executions to collect the debt. The government has attempted a policy of reprogramming the debts, yet these reprogrammed debts have once again been met with breaches of contract and failure to make payments.
This bankruptcy of Bolivian industry is irreversible under a capitalist economy. Sections of the ruling class have proposed the nationalization of the capitalist debts in industry to be paid by the taxpayers as the solution. Such a program of welfare to the rich would steal from the poor and give to the rich. The only working class solution to the economic crisis lay in ending bank foreclosures with the nationalization of the banks and the cancellation of the debt. In addition industries that have been shut down should be seized under worker’s control to provide employment and production for human needs as has been done by the workers of Argentina, providing 10,000 jobs so far. Such moves will have to be coupled with rapid moves towards the nationalization of industry under a worker’s government in order to strip the capitalist class of their ability to sabotage and plunder the economy. In addition a sweeping land reform for the poor peasantry is drastically needed.
Privatization, pushed by the “globalization” policies of the IMF and the World Bank, has also been a major contributor to the economic problems of Bolivia. The privatization of mines in 1985 and the more recent privatization of oil under Lozada have both been major causes of unemployment. Most recently Lozada proposed the selling off of natural gas resources that are needed by Bolivia to multi-nationals. The vast majority of the $1.3 billion revenues from this sale will go to the multi-nationals. Under the plan only $80 million of those royalties would go to Bolivia, and $1.22 billion to the multinationals.
In opposition to these measures Movement for Socialism (MAS) leader Evo Morales, who came in second place to Lozada in the last presidential elections, proposes the nationalization of Bolivia’s gas reserves to use them to benefit Bolivians instead of the multi-nationals.
It was the gas giveaway to the multi-nationals that was the final straw that broke Lozada’s back leading to the general strike and insurrection. Lozada’s attempts to drown the insurrection in blood only aroused more fury and brought more people into the streets. Marching through the streets armed with dynamite, stones, and slings workers, peasants, and students chanted "Rifle, lead, the people won't keep quiet" and "Goñi, bastard, up against the wall" (Goni is the name given to Lozada by the people of Bolivia).
Unable to repress this rebellion, and unable to negotiate separate truces with the different sectors of the movement the ruling class abandoned Lozada and the millionaire murderer Goni fled to Miami.
Replacing Sánchez de Lozada is another millionaire, Lozada’s Vice President, Carlos Mesa. Immediately Mesa has tried to distance himself from Lozada stating, “I am not with the philosophy that reasons of state justify death”. This statement is in reference to Lozada’s murder of about 80 people in his attempts to put down the general strikes and rebellions of the working class, peasants, students, and Indians during his rule. Yet in the same breath Mesa made it clear that nothing would change as a result of his presidency stating, “But neither am I with the radical banners that the moment has arrived to destroy everything in order to construct a utopia that nobody wants or knows where it is going."
It is a common outlook of those who defend the capitalist system to see the destruction of the system’s exploitation as the destruction of everything. Perhaps for the wealthy who have lived off of the backs of others their whole lives socialism is the end of everything, but for the rest of us we can have a much more reasoned approach. For the workers and peasants of Bolivia the true danger lies in the stabilization of the repressive capitalist state and that state’s protection of the failed capitalist economy. Yet Mesa, a millionaire businessman, clearly has a different outlook than worker’s who try to survive off of a dollar a day.
The ruling classes of Bolivia and the United States hope that they can reach enough political stability under Mesa to avert a worker’s and peasant revolution for long enough to hold new elections that will begin to bind important sections of the working class and other masses in the street to the political programs of the pro-capitalist parties that hold office. Yet it will be difficult for Mesa to distance himself from the former president, who after all did appoint him.
The mood of the working class is one of jubilation in seeing their strength in action. Yet there is a strong distrust for the new president. This mood was expressed by Dr. Mamani in El Alto saying that if Mesa fails to deliver on his promised reforms, “Within three months, we will return to our ideology of fury." (New York Times October 20, 2003 “Bolivian Peasants' 'Ideology of Fury' Still Smolders”)
The position Dr. Mamani is the direct position of Felipe Quispe, one of the main leaders of the movement that toppled Lozada. Felipe Quispe has stated that Mesa has 90 days to reverse the free market reforms of Lozada or he will be overthrown as well. Yet Mesa has no intention of reversing those free market reforms.
Constitutionally Mesa could stay in power until 1997, but he sees the writing on the wall and is already planning early elections. President Mesa’s fear of the people can be clearly recognized with his warning to his newly formed presidential cabinet stating, “The abyss is still close at hand, and any mistake, any lack of perspective, any stinginess can push us over that abyss.”
While many who ousted Lozada have gone home, many others have not. On Monday October 20th tens of thousands of workers, farmers, and students (many of them Indian) once again marched on the capital. Farmer Jorge Khana explained the march to an AP reporter, “We are really happy with what we've done so far, but we must keep fighting. It's not over.”
The Argentinean Worker’s Party is clear on the next necessary step stating before the ouster of Lozada, “The Partido Obrero denounces the maneuvers emanating from the seat of power, such as the possible resignation of Sánchez de Lozada, with the Vice-President assuming office. The aim here is to drive the people's struggle into a cul d'sac by means of a governmental changing of roles that leaves intact the anti-popular and pro-imperialist regime. The Partido Obrero, against these maneuvers, supports the formation of a government of the organizations in struggle, of the Bolivian workers and peasants, the only means of bringing the country out of its backwardness and of satisfying the demands of the people.”
Siding with imperialism and the Bolivian Bourgeoisie against a worker’s government emanating from the insurrection, however, are two South American presidents who have been forced by the worker’s struggles in their own countries to paint themselves as somewhat anti-imperialist and take some small steps toward reforming capitalism. These presidents, showing their true colors on the Bolivia question are Lula of Brazil and Kirchner of Argentina. Both called for the “defense of democracy” and a constitutional transition of power (i.e. the imposition of the Mesa presidency by Lozada).
Likewise in Bolivia the timid leadership of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) has also sided against the revolution unfolding in the street for the preservation of bourgeois order. Osvaldo Paredo, leader of MAS, stated, "We think that the people's organizations are showing such capacity for administering this whole crisis, to the extent that they respect the democratic thread (...) we do not wish to enter into a conflict for the taking of power" (Bolipress, 9/10).
Yet the tens of thousands who marched this Monday, October 20th in the streets of La Paz is an indication that the worker’s and peasant movement in the streets could overcome the limitations of their present leadership and seize power. It is such a revolutionary outcome that that Mesa and Bush are looking at from over the edge, and calling the abyss. Such a revolution could combine with the powerful social struggles that are taking place throughout South America in bringing on a social revolution that sweeps the entire continent. In this lies the potential to build a socialist egalitarian society that takes South America’s resources back from the imperialists and local capitalists and instead use them to meet the needs of the people.
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