The penultimate of my reports from Socialism 2008. Yes I know the event was over a month ago but it’s taken me a while because of how busy I’ve been. The finally post will be a review of the new book from Chinaworker.org which is a collection of articles about various things there.
This session had about 35-40 people in attendance and was addressed by Tony Saunois for the CWI and Annoukai?? (I’m not entirely sure its’s spelt that way) from the Bolivia Solidarity Campaign.
Announkai spoke first and she began with some general points about Bolivia’s history. She noted that unlike Venezuela, Simon Bolivar is not regarded in such a good light because only 5% of the population were counted as citizens when he created the country. She also pointed out that Bolivia is about half the size it was when it was created due to British armed Chile taking over the wealthy costal area full of Copper mines.
She noted that the main development of the economy was based around silver mines – because they were used to work these means lead to the indigenous peoples surviving much better in Bolivia. The Spanish created their own capital, Sucre, near the copper mines and built there the first university in the Americas to educate the children of Spaniards.
Tin eventually became the staple of the economy and the capital moved again to La Paz.
She then talked about the 1952 revolution. She pointed out that this revolution gave the indigenous population political rights, led to the reorganisation of the army and created the COB with what Annoukai called a transitional programme. Also the banks and some of the main industries were nationalised.
It also brought the MNR to power, but this was a pro-capitalist government that benefited from the revolution – their leader was actually out of the country when the uprising took place.
The miners had always been the most organised section of the population, and it was this section of the population that had to be defeated to introduce neo-liberal policies.
Privatisation – called capitalisation – was sold as the basis of developing industry, but led to several struggles.
In 2000 there were the Water Wars, in 2003 there were the Gas Wars in Cochabamba and El Alto (a slum near the capital, La Paz) and these struggles led to Evo Morales being elected with 54% of the vote as the first indigenous president of Bolivia.
On a final note to her contribution, Annoukai said she thought that if it hadn’t been for the support of Venezuela, Cuba and the Argentinian left Bolivia would have been facing a civil war much sooner.
Tony began by reiterating the importance of 1952 in Bolivia and the Water & Gas Wars, posing them in both cases to be revolutionary movements that have led to reform. Prior to Morales election there was an element of Apartheid in Bolivia which still prevails to an extent in the Media Luna. However, unlike Venezuela a revolutionary tradition runs through Bolivia which is better organised, especially the miners and ex-miners.
Then Tony talked about the situation that developed in Bolivia earlier this year. He said that it almost reached the situation of a civil war, with a constitutional coup attempted in the Media Luna. However, a 100,000 mobilised to defend the electoral minority there and this movement checked the counter-revolution. He also pointed out that Morales got an even bigger majority in the recall referendum than when he was elected with 65%, and compared this to the figure Allende obtained which was 44-5% at best.
He said that Morales had taken some steps, but not gone far enough. At all stages he has tried to negotiate with the right rather than seriously mobilise the masses and in a similar way to how Chavez did has called for a more humane ‘Andean Capitalism’.
Tony also talked about the proposed new constitution for Bolivia which has revived the possibilities of carrying through the 1953 agricultural reform more fully and pointed to one of the reasons this being needed due to the extent that bonded labour still exists in the Media Luna. However, over 200 amendments have been made to the proposed constitution which will be put to the vote on January 25th and this has made the reforms vague and will disappoint people.
In his final points Tony noted how the revolutionary movement as developing over quite a long period of time, in Bolivia since 2000 and also that because Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America it would be hit hard during the economic crisis.
There were various contributions from the floor, but the most interesting (and only one I fully wrote down) was from a comrade who had visited Cochabamba recently saying that he felt that the masses are beginning to tire of Morales, and especially the fact that always tries to negotiate with the right wing.
Annoukai then came back pointing out that the unions are in effect the main social organisation in Bolivia with unions even for children who clean shoes. She pointed out some gains of the revolution being the increase in life expectancy and literacy. She also said that she thought that talking about ethnicity in Bolivia is quite devisive given that there are around 32 potential different nationalities in the country.
She also talked a little about Morales saying that he had forced two generations in the army to retire which she thought was a blow to the right and also that she saw the revolution in Bolivia as being more of a bottom up revolution compared to Venezuela’s top-down one. She also stated that Morales takes a living wage (does he?) and for some reason decided to compare him with George Galloway in this respect (who certainly doesn’t take a living wage to my knowledge).
Tony starting in his reply by saying that the neighbourhood committees in Bolivia are very important, potentially these could take over power. He said there was also a history of left centrism in the country, of not going over from words to deeds. He also noted that there is serious opposition to Morales on the left in Bolivia and that MAS is less bureaucratic than the PSUV, although it is also a much looser organisation too. He concluded by saying that it may not be towards Bolivia we will be looking over the next few years, due to the economic recession he thought that struggles in Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Argentina will come to the fore.