No trust in MAS

As we know, Bolivia, once again, is the site of tumultuous class struggle. The strikes, demonstrations, occupations, road blockades, etc that erupted across the entire country forced the resignation of the president, Carlos Mesa. Importantly, above the din of struggle, two key demands were heard loud and clear - for a constituent assembly and the nationalisation of the gas industry. Clearly, the masses want more than a paltry pay rise or vague promises of political reform from the lips of the political elite. For communists, this immediately raises the indissolubly linked questions of party and programme. The downtrodden people of Bolivia need and require a revolutionary organisation and leadership which can represent, articulate and strategically advance their interests and historic aspirations. Life itself demands nothing less. That means a rounded and scientific programme which can show how to get from where we are now to where we want to go. Without both the correct programme and form of political organisation, the very real and obvious danger is that the explosion of mass anger and political creativity we have recently witnessed will dissipate, enabling the ruling class to regain the upper hand. So which road for Bolivia? Notably, in this current phase of struggle, the most implacable and militant protesters have been the indigenous or 'Indian' peoples - that is, those of Amerindian descent and historically the most oppressed and disadvantaged section of the masses. The Amerindians were brutally dispossessed from the land, first by the Spanish colonialists and then more efficiently by the cholo (white and mixed-blood) landlords in the early 1870s. Taking the streets, disorganising the ruling class In particular, the cocalero (coca farmer) have been at the vanguard of the anti-government agitation. This is hardly surprising, as they have been amongst the hardest hit by the decades of neoliberal 'reforms' (ie, deforms). Many, if not most, cocaleros were former tin-mine workers, who were summarily thrown onto the dole queue when the mines were closed down in the mid-1980s in order to gratify the International Monetary Fund's neoliberal project in Bolivia. Naturally, the ruling class were enthusiastic supporters of the IMF's proposals, as the 30,000-strong miners union had traditionally been the backbone of militant and revolutionary struggles in Bolivia. Inevitably, these former tin miners brought with them the practices and heritage of militant, class-struggle trade unionism. Eventually, in 1995 a national conference of cocalero and peasant unions was called to form a party, giving life to the Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (IPSP), and ran in the 1997 elections under the name Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) - originally concocted as a 'name of convenience' in order to ensure registration with the National Electoral Court - the constitution states that only political parties which are duly registered with the NEC may present candidates for office. Since then, the MAS has risen to prominence - in the 2003 general elections it came within a whisker of becoming the second largest party in congress and its undisputed leader, and rising star, is Evo Morales, whose power base lies in the Chapare region, where he is head of the cocalero union. Indeed, many think that, come the general election - which could be very soon - the MAS might well secure the largest percentage of the vote and, if so, Morales might well be the next president of Bolivia. United States imperialism, for one, has been monitoring the MAS's rise to ascendancy with alarm for some years now. In December 2001, the then US ambassador to Bolivia compared Morales to Osama bin Laden, and called the cocaleros the "Andean Taliban". Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, has indulged regularly in anti-MAS baiting, on one occasion telling the world's media that she was "very concerned" by the strengthening in Bolivia of a "party made up of coca growers". Naturally, with every attack on him by US imperialism, Morales's popularity has grown. Has imperialism good reason to fear Morales and the MAS? Some trade union and workers' leaders in Bolivia suspect not. Leading figures within the country's TUC, the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) - not to mention the El Alto Federation of Neighbourhood Committees (FEJUVE) and the Regional Workers Central of El Alto (COR) - have routinely denounced Morales for being a "traitor" and "sell-out". Furthermore, last year Morales was expelled from the COB and was even denounced as an "enemy" of the people of El Alto - the Amerindian capital, if you like - because of the role played by the MAS in demobilising peasant militancy. An examination of the MAS, its leadership and political programme/orientation reveals that as currently Evo Morales: populist constituted it cannot lead the self-liberation of the masses, or bring any form of proletarian socialism from below - though as an organisation, self-evidently, it has sunk roots amongst the masses and hence needs to be approached seriously, and politically engaged with, by communists. Hence, in an illuminating comment, MAS founder and theoretician Antonio Peredo Leigue described the MAS as the coming together of "a permanent contradiction between indigenists [Amerindians - EF], Marxists and social-democratic concepts" (Green Left Weekly June 22). Morales, though, is clearly a left populist. He rhetorically asks: "What is Marxism? I come from the peasant communities, from the people, not from the universities or the learning centres. I can talk about Marxism, but what importance does that have? It is not about importing politics, ideologies, programmes. The people know. Our organisations are wise enough to resolve their problems, in fact they are the reservoirs of knowledge in the defence of life, of humanity. Don't speak to me about Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism - we lose time. Here it is about understanding and living our problems in order to propose solutions" (ibid). An organisation built on Leigue's "permanent contradiction" is destined to collapse, or betray the masses. In the ceaseless battle and tug-of-war between the contending classes, the MAS - or any other group or party - cannot serve two masters. Subjective good intentions aside, all the evidence points to the fact that the MAS leadership cannot be trusted. For example, with regards to the October 2003 uprising, which led to the toppling of the Sánchez de Losada government, the MAS was of the view that it "should put forward critical support of the government without participation in the cabinet and other forms of the executive". Similarly, the MAS were enthusiastic supporters of the referendum on gas held last year by Carlos Mesa - a five-question referendum which was deliberately worded in the vaguest way possible and which failed to mention the word 'nationalisation'. Because of this, large sections of the working class and left movement were for a militant boycott of the referendum, some even advocating the burning of ballot boxes. Instead, Morales unconvincingly argued that the referendum was a "gain" for the October uprising. More bluntly still, one MAS senator, Filemà³n Escobar, said it was imperative for the organisation to lend complete support to Mesa, in order to ward off the prospects of a rightist/military coup. Of course, communists recall how almost exactly the same sort of sentiments were expressed in relation to Salvador Allende in Chile. Only by offering "complete support" to Allende, it was claimed by 'official' communists and reformists alike, was it possible to prevent a rightwing putsch. In reality, as the Chilean masses found out, this capitulatory perspective acted to disarm the working class - quite literally - and positively invited bloody counterrevolution, out of which stepped the figure of general Augusto Pinochet. Interestingly enough though, Escobar was later expelled from MAS after persistent allegations that he had been bribed not to turn up to a parliamentary vote on whether to give US troops immunity on Bolivian territory - and he then went on, alongside other MAS parliamentarians, to form the pro-Mesa Patriotic Bloc. No doubt, Escobar is scurrying around right now looking for a new boss and a new source of income. Unlike the MAS leaders, communists fight for an independent working class perspective, which aims to win the battle for democracy - which means revolutionary self-activity from below and a revolutionary leadership 'from above'. Moreover, in Bolivia we are currently presented with a near unprecedented, but time-limited, 'window of opportunity' - to squander it would be tragic, if not criminal. Power has passed - for now - to the streets. Faced with such a mass militant movement, the Bolivian ruling class is paralysed and impotent. Objectively then, the situation is crying out for new, higher, forms of organisation - which in no way justifies, it must be added, any form of leftist impatience with the traditional organisations and structures of the working class. Quite magnificently, we have seen the Bolivian working class begin to think and act collectively, in response to the call of the COB, which organised a general strike. It was the general strike that brought the masses to their feet, mobilised millions, and provided a focal point - by concentrating their forces the working class effectively disorganised the ruling class and paralysed the bodies and organs of state repression. Even more importantly, the general strike and all the other multifarious forms of resistance and struggle demonstrated to the workers what tremendous power lies - potentially - in their hands. They can be the masters and not the slaves of society - without the working class not a wheel turns or a telephone rings. As recent events have amply shown, society cannot function without the working class, but it can function perfectly well without the bureaucratic-political elite and their lackeys who have led the country to destitution, squalor and repression. In short, in Bolivia - one of the poorest countries in the world - we see an anticipation of workers' power and communism. But neither spontaneity nor the traditional structures of the COB - no matter how heroic or determined - can successfully carry out this historic mission. New weapons, tactics and strategies are required. The insurgent workers have already begun to organise themselves in different ways - revolutionary assemblies, strike committees, open cabildos, etc. Their most pressing tasks were determined by the immediate demands of the movement: to organise and centralise the struggles of the masses - strikes, demonstrations, road blocks, boycotts, and so on. They have begun to set up self-defence units to maintain order and protect workers' demonstrations and picket lines against rightist and fascist provocations. They have also organised the distribution of supplies to the population and tried to prevent speculation and profiteering - which means controlling prices and ensuring the functioning of all public services. There must be no banditry, anarchy or 'lawlessness' - reaction and counterrevolution rejuvenates itself under such conditions. It is absolutely necessary to establish a centralised revolutionary leadership - which means the creation of an authentic, Marxist party. By contrast, the 'official' Communist Party of Bolivia (PCB) has been left entirely on the sidelines - it has no senators in congress and has contented itself with issuing occasional proclamations exhorting all "patriotic" citizens to work together in order solve the "current political crisis". The fate of the Bolivian revolution hangs in the balance - defeat is not inevitable, but victory is not certain either. However, two weeks ago, in El Alto, the "first enlarged meeting" of the National Originaria (Amerindian - EF) People's Assembly took place, where it was decided to set up a united leadership specifically as an organ (or "instrument") of power - to stand at the head of the Federation of Neighbourhood Juntas (juntas vecinales) and linked to the COB, the miners' union and other workers' and peasants' unions throughout the country. At this People's Assembly, a resolution was passed at a meeting of about 150 people representing 60 different organisations - thus inaugurating first steps towards the creation of a mass workers' organisation in Bolivia. The resolution states: "The transnational oil corporations, North American imperialism and the treacherous rulers of the Bolivian state have plunged the whole nation into a deep political, economic and social crisis, with the country currently on the verge of total collapse. The aroused masses in the city of El Alto and throughout the country have a decisive role to play; to save the country through a people's government elected from below and with real accountability. "For this reason, the first enlarged meeting of the Originaria National People's Assembly takes the following decisions: 1. That the city of El Alto be the general headquarters of the Bolivian revolution in the 21st century. 2. To create a united leadership of the Originaria National People's Assembly as an instrument of power, at the head of the Federation of Neighbourhood Juntas of El Alto (FEJUVE), the Regional Workers' Union of El Alto (COR), the Bolivian Workers' Union (COB), the United Trade Union Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB), the Trade Union Confederation of Artisan Workers, Small Traders of Bolivia, the Trade Union Federation of Mineworkers of Bolivia, the Interprovincial Transport Federation of La Paz and the other mobilised social organisations in the interior of the country. 3. To create and supply self-defence, press and political committees, whose aim is to guarantee the success of the organised people's organisations. 4. We reiterate that our struggle for the nationalisation and industrialisation of hydrocarbons is non-negotiable. 5. To organise the formation of People's Assemblies in every department under the leadership of the COB, the Departmental Workers' Federation and the delegates elected from the rank and file in mass meetings and cabildos 6. To reject all manoeuvres of the ruling class either through a constitutional succession or elections involving the same old 'politicians'." The role of communists is defend, develop and then generalise the demands and ideas contained in the above resolution - concretely, who is going to nationalise the gas industry and how? And while, of course, it is correct to call for a constituent assembly, what demands should be raised before it? We fight for the abolition of the post of presidency - especially directly-elected presidents, who become little more than strutting elected monarchs. If there is to be a president at all, he or she should just be a symbolic figure - perhaps the speaker of the assembly. Logically, the call for a new constituent assembly means the total overturn of the present, rotten constitution, which was cobbled together in 1967 - it needs to be rewritten virtually from scratch. For instance, this constitution "recognises and upholds the Roman catholic apostolic religion" (article 3). This is an anathema to all genuine democrats and needs to scrapped immediately. Bolivia should be internationalist, democratic and secular. Given the stifling and oppressive nature of the Bolivian state bureaucracy, communists should stress the relevance of the four basic demands, or rules, of the Paris Commune: free and democratic elections with right of recall of all functionaries; no official to receive a higher wage than a worker; no standing army but the armed people; and gradually all the tasks of running society should be performed by everybody in turn ("when everybody is a bureaucrat in turn, nobody is a bureaucrat") l Eddie Ford