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New International, December 1947


J. Robles

Trotskyism in Bolivia

Political Tendencies Following the General Strike


From The New International, Vol. XIII No. 9, December 1947, p. 268.
Translated by Abe Stein.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.



Three currents can be distinguished in post-revolutionary [1] Bolivian politics:

  1. The clearly defined current working for the economic and political restoration of the feudo-bourgeoisie, represented by the Republican Union at whose head stands Bolivia’s president, Dr. Hertzog.
  2. The Stalinist current, calling for national unity and demonstrating it in the nature of its leadership, Guachalla (ex-ambassador to the United States) and Arze (Stalinist leader). The program of this current is also economic restoration for the feudo-bourgeoisie disguised as the “bourgeois revolution.” This tendency was supported by a section of the mine-owning bourgeoisie (Armayo-Hochschild), by the middle class and the petty-bourgeoisie, the artisans, and the backward layers of the working class.
  3. Finally, there is the current of the rebellious proletariat, which is quite complex in character, and is burdened by certain traditional left-overs and nationalist impurities. Its program is the democratic revolution as the road toward Socialism. This current was represented by the mining proletariat of the Bolivian plateau, a minority of the urban proletariat, by the Marxist intellectuals, and rebellious sections of progressive white collar workers (bank employees). Politically it was represented by the POR (Revolutionary Workers Party), official Bolivian section of the Fourth International, by the Miners’ trade union and by the Miners’ parliamentary bloc.

Although Bolivia is a backward, semi-feudal and semi-colonial country, these three currents can be distinguished with sufficient clarity, revealing in embryonic form the problems and contradictions of the future Socialist revolution in the South American continent. By virtue of its one-sided economic development, its backward social structure, and political dependence, the social and political contradictions are more advanced and take on a greater clarity of outline in Bolivia than in the neighboring countries, providing Marxist theory with a great many lessons.

Role of the Stalinists

In the first period, the Stalinists appeared to be the main opponents of the feudo-bourgeois current. Allied with bourgeois “liberalism” and leading the petty-bourgeois, it almost won the national elections under the banner of “National Unity.” Its “progressive” and “democratic” slogan, “the bourgeois revolution,” won over a part of the proletariat. It seemed as if the Bonapartist tendency was about to find its instrument in the Stalinist party. However, international developments, North American pressure, the massacre of the workers in Potosi directed by the Stalinists, and the political action of the Trotskyists underlined the decay and political defeat of Stalinism. The bourgeois right formed a cabinet of “national unity” with the Stalinists. This, above all, was the final step leading to the political defeat of the latter.

The mine owning bourgeoisie expected the PIR (Stalinist “Party of the Revolutionary Left”) to defeat the mine-workers, that is, the miners’ union, the POR (Trotskyists) and the Miners Parliamentary Bloc (Trotskyists and mine unionists). But without having political power in their hands, the Stalinists were incapable of carrying out the tasks assigned them by the Patino mining interests. They could not disarm the workers and hand them over to the bourgeoisie. After the Catavi strike, the largest mine center owned by Patino (the tin king), the PIR ministers, criticized by the bourgeoisie and the workers, lost the battle for their party. Before betraying the proletariat, they had handed the native peasants over to the bourgeoisie, thus betraying the program of the bourgeois revolution. The cabinet of national unity was dissolved.

Previously divided into a rightist majority and a Stalinist minority, the bourgeoisie now united against the working class and the Stalinists, forming a cabinet of the Republic Union. The bourgeois revolution proposed by the PIR in an alliance with the “progressive” bourgeoisie evaporated, leaving as its only heir a native brand of Bonapartism. The bourgeoisie chose its own purely bourgeois variety of Bonapartism instead of the Stalinist type. The native Bonapartist program is realistic and concrete. “Down with revolutionary dreams! Down with the bourgeois revolution! We must restore mine production, and since the real price of tin has fallen we must lower wages and force the workers to greater productivity.” In a word, economic restoration at the cost of the proletariat. As for the countryside, an end to experiments and novelties. For the Indians who ask the division of the land and the abolition of servitude, a rain of blows and massacre.

From a political point of view it is a “strong” government against the workers and native peasants, but democratic toward the bourgeoisie itself. It is a Bonapartist government in a permanent state of siege, covered by the fig leaf of a servile and domesticated parliament. After a short period of activity in the government, the Stalinists capitulated to this program, demonstrating their exhaustion and preparing their decline. Confident that this capitulation would take place, the bourgeoisie launched its attack upon the proletariat in order to realize its program.


After the Stalinist capitulation, the only force remaining as an effective obstacle to the native bourgeois and Bonapartist program of economic restoration was the mine proletariat. The Patino mineowners declared it was necessary to fire the rebellious workers and hire new and more docile ones. The government supported this program which was directed against the miners’ union and ordered troops into the mine districts. The appointment of the new Minister of Defense, Zilvetti Arze, known as a butcher of the workers, grave digger for the Penaranda government, involved in the famous massacre of Catavi, appeared to the workers as an act of provocation. The miners federation called a general strike in the mines supported by the whole working class. Were the strike a success, the Hertzog government would inevitably fall. But the strike was not as successful as the Federation expected it to be. The urban workers did not support the strike with any great degree of effectiveness. Of course, a workers’ coordinating committee was created in which there participated the CSTB (Federation of Bolivian trade unions, dominated by the Stalinists), the railroad workers federation, also Stalinist dominated, the factory workers federation which is unaffiliated, and the bank employees’ union, and many other minor unions (bakery, construction, carpenters, etc.) The Stalinists were in the committee only to obtain leadership of the organization of the strike and then break it. The strike-breaking role of the Stalinists reveals their reactionary character, their servility before the bourgeoisie, and their fear and hatred of the independent workers’ movement. When the transportation workers came out against the strike, its fate was settled. Under these circumstances, the only group to keep the spark of resistance alive in La Paz was the bank employees union, which the government feared more than the workers strike. The government was unable to make arrests in this strike because involved was a question of members of the middle-class.

The Meaning of the Strike

The strike of the factory workers was broken by the attitude of the Stalinists; and the government proceeded energetically to the arrest of the secretary general of the factory workers’ union, Quiros, thereby beheading the strike. In addition the strike was only partially successful in the mining centers. Although the Stalinists could not break the spirit of the miners’ independent union, the combined pressure of the Stalinists and the Republican Union party weakened the union, frightening and corrupting the more backward and vacillating layers of mine workers. The government knew how to mobilize not only its agents among the proletariat, but its middle-class organizations as well, the so-called “revolutionary leagues” who covered the walls with such slogans as “down with the strike,” “death to Lechin” (secretary of the miners union).

The state of siege proclaimed by parliament finished off the strike of the bank employees. The Stalinists voted for the state of siege in parliament. Only the eight votes of the miners’ parliamentary bloc were cast in opposition. The Bonapartist regime triumphed, and since it was a native and not a Stalinist Bonapartism, the Stalinists crawled on their bellies begging the tolerance of the latter. The president promised this tolerance on the condition that they would be “well-behaved children.” Now the right wing has an almost open road in realizing its program of national “economic restoration” at the cost of the workers and peasants, in the first place at the expense of the exhausted mine-workers. After their attempt to realize the bourgeois revolution by massacring the workers and tolerating the slaughter of the peasants, the Stalinists are also accepting this solution. It is certain that they are following this course in agreement with the instructions of the Chilean Communist party in order to “survive” and fulfill the role of Stalin’s fifth column in the future international conflict.

As for the Bolivian feudo-bourgeoisie, it now is worthy of the trust and confidence of Peron as well as the United States. It is many years since so strong and consolidated a government existed in Bolivia. It is a Bonapartist government with parliamentary trappings, with a “domesticated” congress that voluntarily submitted to the “state of siege” with its own resolution as “representatives of the nation,” the almost majority Stalinist party being an accomplice to the act. Although the mine proletariat has not been massacred, nor its parliamentary representation arrested, it has been politically defeated because of the bad organization of the strike and the accusation that it acted under the instigation of the defeated Nazi-Fascist regime. The middle-class is convinced that the mine workers strikes threaten its existence and “standard of life.” The public employee trembles for the government budget, threatened by the decrease in mine exports. The proletariat is completely isolated, first of all from the peasants who were massacred in front of everybody’s eyes, including the workers, and secondly from the middle class. In this respect the termination of the bank employees’ strike was somewhat symbolic.


To attribute the defeat to lack of organization and the weakness of the Bolivian proletariat would be somewhat old-fashioned, idealistic and scholastic. The roots are more profound and penetrate to ideological and theoretical sources.

According to the account of a member of the Central Committee of the POR (Revolutionary Workers Party), official Bolivian section of the Fourth International, the ideological reasons for the strike derive from the Argentine Trotskyist organ Octubre, whose errors have been subjected to criticism by Comrade Luis Velasco in his work on structural changes in Latin America. [2] This magazine, famous for its support of Peron, considering him the realizer of the “bourgeois-democratic” revolution not only in Argentina but in all South America, attacked the Bolivian POR for vegetating in the shadow of the Bolivian right wing instead of allying itself with the defeated MNR (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement), in order to embark on the road of the democratic revolution in Bolivia together with the revolutionary petty-bourgeoisie. This article was circulated extensively in Bolivia and had an almost decisive influence in launching the badly organized and premature general strike against the government, which ended in strengthening the Bonapartist tendency.

How the Trotskyists Participated

The secretary-general of the mine workers’ union, Lechin, an ex-member of the MNR, who now vacillates between the position of the POR and that of his past, or more accurately, the political influence of his ex-friends, was greatly impressed, by this article and pushed the declaration of the strike, through the miners union and the miners parliamentary bloc. The POR was dragged along by this tendency. The capitulation of the POR to the Octubre tendency was well prepared by the theory of the “democratic revolution” as the immediate task in Bolivia, possible without the aid of the international proletariat, which would include the taking of power by the POR and the Miners Federation.

Exemplified in the pamphlet written by Lavalle and the parliamentary deputy, Lora, this theory separated itself from the position of the Peruvian Marxist theoretician, Mariategui, who clearly stated that the Peruvian (or Bolivian) revolution would be Socialist and International. Lora considered Mariategui’s point of view mistaken and availed himself of the terminology used in the Mexican review, Clave, which speaks of the “proletarian” revolution in order to avoid the contradiction between the terms “Socialist” and “Democratic,” interpreting the proletarian revolution as democratic and not socialist in character, which fulfills the unfinished tasks of the democratic revolution in passing.

This theoretical deviation prepared the adventuristic atmosphere in the POR and facilitated the role of the MNR agents among the workers. They desired the defeat of the government at all cost, and hoped to waste the strength and driving power of the working class as well as to bring about this defeat, and thus climb to power on its back to incorporate their regime in Peron’s South American bloc. It is the judgment of the Octubre article that the South American petty-bourgeois of the Peronista type in Argentina, Aprista in Peru, MNR in Bolivia, is revolutionary in character and therefore worthy of workers support. This thesis found the soil well prepared in the Bolivian POR, according to my informant.

For various reasons, the spontaneous’ character of the miners’ movement being in first place, the role of the Fourth Internationalist party, was very limited. Because the party lacked hegemony over the movement, some POR members tried to lead the miners directly, permitting themselves to be dragged along at times by the elemental movement. The Miners Parliamentary Bloc, which includes eight deputies and senators, is an amalgam of Trotskyists and trade unionists with a nationalist past. Only three deputies are members of the POR, the others are ex-nationalists. The limited role of the POR was quite evident in the strike; only the unions of secondary importance (bakery workers, construction workers, bank employees in part) followed the slogans of the Fourth Internationalist party; the others marched behind their union leaders, doubtful and ex-nationalist elements.

The strike ended with the victory of the right. And what if it had ended in the victory of the miners? Would the POR have been capable of organizing a workers’ government and unleashing the democratic revolution? I am afraid not, and I am afraid it would have had to resort to the recommended alliance with the MNR elements, which would have obviously ended in a militaristic and nationalistic government. This was the solution toward which the disreputable MNR elements marched in venturing the road of the general strike.

The South American petty-bourgeois is not, as Octubre would have it, revolutionary. On the contrary it is reactionary, capable only of installing a pseudo-fascist or Bonapartist government, and is completely incapable of setting the bourgeois revolution in motion. For this reason, any alliance with it, no matter how temporary, whether with the nationalist wing which sympathizes with Peron, or with its Stalinist wing, constitutes a grave error and a betrayal of the Socialist revolution and the proletariat.


The growth of Bolivian Trotskyism has been spontaneous, a superficial product of economic and social contradictions, and of a political revolution in the most backward South American country. It advanced further than Trotskyism in the neighboring countries and the international working class movement. Hence its child-like and messianic faith in its historic mission and ability to release a continental revolution and accomplish a democratic revolution in a single country. From the same causes sprang the necessity of making concessions to the nationalist elements in the trade unions, and above all in the miners union. Here too, we have the explanation for the exaggeration of trade union influence, and the greater weight of the miners’ representation over that of the Fourth Internationalist party, the POR.

Bolivian “PORism” is one of the most interesting phenomena in all South America. But its main weakness is its ideological backwardness, its faith in the possibility of the “democratic revolution” in a single country as backward as Bolivia. This explains its capitulation to the Octubre position, and its concessions to the remains of the defeated nationalist movement, the MNR. However, the Bolivian section of the Fourth International is faithful to the conservative Fourth International majority. It repeats the slogan of the “unconditional defense” of the USSR, and continues to find nourishment in the theory of the “objectively progressive” role of world Stalinism. Its Centrist internationalist position turns out to be opportunistic adventurism in national political activity. Its alliances and concessions to nationalism have been accompanied by instances of “united fronts” with the Stalinists. It is a Trotskyism that is semi-Stalinist in its theory and activity, a limited movement tinged with disreputable provincials and nationalists. Its social base, the proletariat of the mines, is backward and is crushed by the terrible conditions of existence at an altitude of 4,000 to 5,000 meters. This proletariat lives in miserable hovels, is badly dressed and badly fed, suffers from the eternal cold, and is the victim of alcohol, which offers the only escape from this frightful existence.

Theory and Ideology

The Bolivian miners were Villaroelistas and Nationalists whom the defeated regime mobilized against the traditional right with demagogic phrases and certain social gains. Now this proletariat has turned toward the POR in order to find support against the mine feudo-bourgeoisie. But this ideological turn is suite superficial. The factory and urban proletariat, like the entire industry of the country, is still in its swaddling clothes. The majority of the cadres of the POR are recruited from the middle class.

The Bolivian section of the Fourth International succeeded in becoming an independent political force which could face the united attack of the entire feudo-bourgeoisie and the Stalinists. Even the unsuccessful and badly prepared general strike demonstrated the relatively tremendous strength of this movement, and almost shook the bourgeois government to its foundations. If only we could see similar examples of such independent revolutionary attitudes in America and Europe, even including the risk of the errors and defeats of the Bolivian Trotskyists!

I believe that this sentence is the most positive judgment and defense against all negative and enemy criticism. The revolutionary development in Bolivia demonstrates the international possibilities of the revolutionary workers’ movement and of Marxism. At the same time it exposes the dangers, errors and weaknesses involved. In order to conquer the errors and backwardness, it is necessary to turn in new directions. It is necessary to defeat conservatism, centrism, opportunism and the endless chewing over of the inheritance bequeathed us by Trotsky.

In Europe we cannot cut the cord which ties us to Stalinism. The majority of Trotskyist parties tend more and more toward becoming a left opposition to Stalinism. In South America an even greater danger is represented by the Peronista, Aprista, nationalist penetration of certain sections of the Trotskyist movement. In Europe, the officially Fourth Internationalists are fascinated by the “bourgeois revolution” realized by Stalin in Eastern Europe. In South America they cannot free themselves of that fatal illusion, that will-o-the-wisp, the fata morgana of the “bourgeois revolution,” of the revolutionary role of the nationalist petty bourgeoisie. Both phenomena reflect the same problem: the ideological backwardness, the conservatism, the pro-Stalinist reformism, or pro-nationalism of our movement.

If we are to embark on a new road, if we are to form an independent revolutionary workers’ movement, it is necessary to conquer this backwardness and rearm with new weapons. The evil lies not in Bolivia nor in South America. The evil lies in the world leadership of the Fourth International.

Lima, Peru, October 1947.

J. Robles



1. The revolution to which Comrade J. Robles makes reference broke out on July 21, 1946, when the Bolivian masses overthrew the totalitarian Villaroel regime. For a comprehensive account of this event and ensuing developments in Bolivia’s stormy political life see Comrade L. Velasco’s article in the August 1947 issue of The New International. – Tr.

2. Comrade J. Velasco’s important theoretical article on Latin America will appear soon in The New International. – Tr. [The article actually appeared in the next issue, January 1948. – ETOL)

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