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The New International, September 1947


Luis Velasco

Stalin’s Agents in Bolivia

The Nature of the Bolivian Revolution

(May 1947)


From The New International, Vol. XIII No. 7, August 1947, pp. 172–174.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The war-cry of Stalinism is the realization of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in South America. In order to realize this supposedly great and noble aim, Stalin’s lackeys do not shrink from any infamy. In Brazil, they form an alliance with Vargas, the defeated totalitarian dictator; in Argentina they gratuitously offer their services to Peron; in Chile, they work with the “progressive” bourgeoisie, participating in the cabinet of Gonzalez Videla, even if only for a short time.

There is no country where conditions are more favorable for realizing the bourgeois-democratic revolution, Moscow’s current slogan, than Bolivia, a backward country where the majority of the population is indigenous, with no other industry than the exploitation of the mines, with an agriculture that is completely feudal, and with an economic structure that is semi-colonial. In Bolivia, only the city possesses a bourgeois economy based on the activity of commercial capital, while in the countryside, the colonial, feudal regime left by the Spaniards dominates, accompanied by the remains of Inca institutions, such as the Indian “community,” where the land is owned and worked in common. For all these reasons, Bolivia should be a paradise for the theoreticians of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. Historical experience should serve as a guide not only for practical workers policy, but for Marxist theory as well. Let us see, then, how the Stalinists “realize” the bourgeois-democratic revolution in practice on the Andean plateau.

When the people rose up in arms and overthrew Bolivian Nazism, hanging President-Dictator Villaroel from a lamp post in front of the government building, the Stalinists created a tripartite committee of teachers, workers and students, for the purpose of assuming power. But within a few hours this committee handed over the power to the Supreme Court, well known for its conservatism. Controlled by the Stalinists, this tripartite committee vegetated until it was able to surrender the power to the institutions of capitalist legality. Alcoba, the Stalinist Minister of Labor, proposed the slogan of “national conciliation” with the Liberal Party which represents the big capitalist interests, in first place standing the international company of Patino, tin-king of Bolivia

The Bourgeois-Democratic Revolution in Bolivia

When the working-class parties and trade unions, led by the miners, opposed the slogan of “national conciliation” with their slogan of a “Proletarian United Front” and demanded an end to the bourgeois-Stalinist front in the mining districts, the Pirista (Stalinist) political and police authorities of Potosi, famous for its mines, answered with a bloody massacre of the workers, the number of dead rising well over 700. No one can fix the exact figure, because the Stalinist police buried the bodies secretly. The massacre of the workers in order to install a Bolivian thermidor, this was the first stage of the “bourgeois-democratic revolution.” But the mining and factory proletariat of Bolivia gave a crushing reply to the Stalinist assassins, defeating them in the parliamentary elections, and voting for the Trotskyist deputies or the Anti-Stalinist Independents. The Miner’s Parliamentary Bloc today has nine deputies and senators, among whom are the first Trotskyist deputies in the world. The Stalinist candidate for the presidency, Guachalla, was also defeated, leaving Dr. Hertzog, candidate of the Republican Union (a moderate right-wing group representing the middle bourgeoisie, the landowners, and a part of the middle class) with a small majority. The Potosi massacre rendered impossible a Stalinist victory in Bolivia, and prevented a Thermidorian dictatorship in the heart of Latin-America.

The elections divided parliament into two almost equal fractions, the Republican Union and the Stalinist-Liberals. To cope with the danger of a proletariat still rebellious in part, Hertzog was compelled to form, after a while, a cabinet of “national conciliation,” with the participation of Guachalla representing the Piristas (Stalinists) and the Liberals. The lackeys of Stalin received the ministries of labor and public works, their liberal colleagues the ministries of war and agriculture. Guachalla received the ministry of foreign affairs.

The cabinet of bourgeois-Stalinist concentration was greeted by the proletariat with a strike in the very important mines of Catavi, a place made famous by the miners massacres which resulted in the fall of the Penaranda cabinet in 1943. The Ministers of Labor (Stalinist) and of the Interior (Republican-Union) journeyed to Catavi, supported by troops, to punish the workers. But they found the workers armed not only with rifles but with machine-guns as well. A new attempt at massacre threatened to bring on the outbreak of civil war in the mining centers. Faced with the demand of the Miners Parliamentary Bloc, the government had to withdraw the army from the mining districts. The workers formed union militias to preserve order and defend their interests. The management of the Patino Mines tried to sabotage the workers’ activities, but was brought to a halt by the militia. After a few days, the miners’ union ended the strike and ordered a return to work. The Patino Company answered with an attempt at a lockout by closing the mines. The management of the Patino Mines gave as a reason for its action “the lack of guarantees” for its personnel, demanding “armed protection” for the mines. The government could not agree to this provocation, confronted as it was by the organized and armed strength of the workers.

The Stalinist Minister of Labor, together with his Labor Inspectors tried, first of all, to destroy the miners’ federation, attacking its leadership and parliamentary representatives. However, since the revenues of the Bolivian treasury depend in large measure on mining production, the government ordered the company to reopen the mines. The management of the mines tried to sabotage this order, but finally yielded, once again demanding “guarantees” for its personnel against the “terror” of the union. The government officials proceeded to re-open the mines despite the fact that the technical personnel, North American in its majority, did not appear to direct the work. The company protested this “invasion of private property” but agreed finally to resume operations. At the present time the government is preparing a decree arbitrating the workers’ demand for a wage increase of 40–60 per cent.

The Stalinist Party (PIR) is now carrying on intensive propaganda among the workers calling the re-opening of the mines a “proletarian victory” and a revolutionary imposition upon capital. At the same time, the Stalinist Minister of Labor emphatically states that the government will respect private property. The PIR (Stalinist) emphasizes that in this respect it is conforming to the “bourgeois-democratic” phase of the revolution. Some layers of backward workers accept the Stalinist affirmations in all seriousness, considering the reopening of the mines by government order a victory for the working class.

However, such is not the case. The government proceeded to withdraw its armed forces from the mining districts and to re-open the mines not only because of pressure from the working class, but also to safeguard its financial interests and the interests of the bourgeoisie. The national economy of Bolivia depends on the production of tin. Since at the present time the production of this mineral is under contract to the United States, Great Britain and Argentina, the big mining bourgeoisie are doing excellent business and it is not in their interests to have the mines closed. The lockout attempt was a maneuver used to force the workers to modify their general aims and scale down their demands for a 40–60 per cent increase in wages. Furthermore, the workers themselves broke off the strike when confronted by the offensive of the bourgeoisie and the government. The government ministers did not at all impose upon the bourgeoisie, but more accurately speaking, collaborated with them to force the miners to return to work without winning the wage increases asked. In addition, the antagonisms between the capitalists and the workers compelled the government to exercise its power, thereby increasing its authority and asserting its bonapartist role. To speak in this instance of a realization of the democratic revolution is a typical Stalinist fable behind which is hidden the march of the counter-revolution and a native bonapartism painted red.

Counter-Revolutionary Stalinism

The liquidation of the miners strike was accompanied by wholesale repressions of the rebellious peasant movement, whose organization, the agrarian federation, is now the object of a furious police onslaught. The Stalinist hangmen do not protest against this repression because the peasant movement is led by the local federation which is anti-Stalinist and anarchist in character. There is no more striking proof of the reactionary role played by the Stalinists than the persecution the native peasant movement by a cabinet in which the Stalinist ministers sit. The first and principal task of the democratic revolution should be an agrarian reform; complete cancellation of feudalism, liberation of the Indians, and the division of the large haciendas. The Bolivian Indian work three or four days out of the week without pay for the land owner, besides engaging in other unpaid services, typically feudal, such as the transportation of products to the city, domestic service in the house of the landlord for an entire week at a time, tending the cattle, caring for the garden, etc.

The Stalinists have a grand field here in which to realize the democratic revolution, instead they are massacring the Indians as they massacred the workers of Potosi. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” said Frederick Engels. Bolivia constitutes the best terrain on which to realize the democratic revolution, as the Stalinists understand it, that is, as an historic stage isolated from the Socialist Revolution and realizeable in this solitary country lost in the Andean mountains But instead of proceeding along this road, they slaughter the miners of Potosi, impose the arbitration of the bourgeois government, foment Bonapartism, and massacre the Indian peasants who demand nothing more than “land and freedom,” typical democratic slogans. If in Bolivia, under a coalition bourgeois-Stalinist government the democratic revolution can not be realized (which ought to begin by liberating the Indians and destroying feudalism), so much the less can this program be realized in other and more advanced countries of South America under existing conditions, that is, under imperialist domination.

The Bolivian feudo-bourgeoisie is reactionary and it is weak. The big mining bourgeoisie is tied to imperialism, and is not interested in the advance of progressive capitalism in Bolivia. The Patino interests exploit Malayan, as well as Bolivian, tin; they own smelting plants in England and participate in many foreign mining companies. Hochschild is linked to North American capital and cares not one bit about the industrial progress of Bolivia. What does matter to him is the exploitation of Bolivia’s mineral resources at the lowest possible cost. The middle, commercial bourgeoisie lives on imports and has an interest in the industrial backwardness of the country. To the large landholders all that matters is the unpaid labor of the Indian, and the conservation of their feudal privileges. Who then is capable of realizing the bourgeois revolution against the bourgeoisie itself, if there does not exist a “progressive” sector of the bourgeoisie, dreamt of by the Stalinists?

The Bolivian middle-class with its reactionary artisan, its public employee, and its miserable shopkeeper does not constitute an economic or social force of any importance. It plays the role of a poor Sancho Panza to the feudo-bourgeoisie, ready for any adventure. Cowardly and corrupted, it is the ideal rabble for all reactionary caudillos, all the pocket size native Bonapartists. This social stratum, today disillusioned with Nazism, provides the shocktroops, is the “base” for Bolivian Stalinism. Does this heterogeneous mass yearn for a democratic revolution? It wants public posts, the penetration of the administrative machine; the ideal paradise for the ruined artisan, the unemployed “intellectual,” and the unfortunate white-collar workers. This class is incapable of raising up the Indian because it lives by his exploitation, and vegetates like a parasite in the pores of the organism of feudal society.

A Utopian and Revolutionary Policy

The example of Bolivia demonstrates that the program of the democratic revolution, as the Stalinists understand it, is completely utopian and reactionary. Moscow uses this slogan to hurl its fifth columns toward the conquest of the administrative apparatus, to dominate the ministries of Labor and Police, with the aim of putting pressure on American imperialism on the one side, and on the other, of assuming the role of executioner of the revolutionary Latin-American proletariat. Latin-America has a relatively strong Trotskyist movement which is directing resolute blows at Stalinism. Latin-America also has left-wing sectors of Social-Democracy in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, political Centrists who are also in opposition to the Stalinists.

Where they control the police, the Stalinists imitate the European experiences of their masters, and proceed to the destruction of the independent workers cadres, in order afterwards to offer their services to imperialism in exchange for the required concessions. As in Europe, the Stalinists wish to play the role of the hangmen of the revolution behind the “smokescreen” of the “democratic revolution” à la Stalin. As in Europe they wish to auction off the corpse of the workers movement in their quest for concessions from American imperialism. However, they will not realize such successes as they have won in Europe. American imperialism is sweeping them away with an iron broom everywhere. Not only in Brazil or Paraguay, but in Chile as well, where they have been expelled from the cabinet of their own presidential candidate, Gonzalez Videla. The same pattern will prevail in Bolivia as well. After all, why keep a lackey who has no. further usefulness?

No, it is not the democratic revolution which the Stalinists wish to realize but the counter-revolution on behalf of Russian imperialism. They wish to exploit the legitimate aspirations of the Latin-American peoples toward social and economic emancipation on behalf of Stalinist reaction.

The Latin-American revolution must be all-enforcing, international, according to the Peruvian Marxist theoretician, Mariategui. It must be Socialist. Only the Socialist revolution, only the proletariat can sweep away feudalism and imperialism, finishing with the left-over democratic tasks on the road to the socialist goal.

May 28, 1947

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