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Juan Rey

Bolivian Pendulum

Stalin-Nazi Putsch Loses, Dictatorship Threat Grows

(3 October 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 40, 3 October 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When we look at the latest Nazi-military “revolution” in Bolivia, we come to the conclusion that it constitutes a continuation, perhaps an epilogue, of the previous uprising whose principal theater was the mining centers of the plateau.

The Urriolagoitia-Hertzog government took good care to decapitate the movement, taking the Nazi union leaders prisoners and exiling them to Chile; otherwise the “revolution” would have broken out with great force, supported by both a majority of the miners and by a wide military action which had been carefully prepared. The repressive action of the government against the Nazi leadership of the miners’ union provoked the outbreak of the miners’ strike with all its acts of repression against the “Yankee-rin-gos” before the military movement was ripe for the coup.

Thus the Nazi-military counter-revolution was divided into two phases: the first, the broad social movement of the workers with a general strike; and the second, a military coup which came very close to power, winning control of all the provincial capitals, Cochabamba, Sucre, Potosi, Santa Cruz, and failing only to take La Paz, the political capital of Bolivia. For this reason, we consider the latest Nazi-military uprising as a continuation of the movement of last May, an epilogue to the totalitarian offensive in South America directed from Buenos Aires.

Independent Marxists Played Important Role

The principal cause of the defeat was just this dispersion of the Nazi offensive and its division into two stages. For this reason the workers movement, led by the MNR (Revolutionary Nationalist Movement), PIR (Stalinists) and POR (Trotskyists), lost confidence in its false leaders and completely abstained from supporting the Nazi-military uprising. The motive for this position was not only the division of the “revolution” but also the bitter experience of the miners. The adventure led by the Nazi chieftains turned into a massacre for the workers.

The native Indian proletariat at last understood the truth of the prediction made by the independent workers’ movement—that it was only being used for cannon fodder by the Nazis in their struggle for power.

A significant role was played in this process by the attitude of the independent Marxists, acting through the new trade-union movement. They attempted to save the proletariat from a blood bath and rescue the workers’ movement from the disaster being prepared by the parties of the petty bourgeoisie, including the official section of the Fourth International, the POR (Revolutionary Workers Party). The Socialist Workers bloc, the left wing of the Bolivian Federation of Labor (CBT), put forward a resolution condemning the military uprising the first day it broke out. This point of view restrained the trade unions controlled by the Stalinists, and they also adopted a critical attitude towards the coup.

Finally, the major unions, the factory and miners’ unions which are controlled by the Nazis, had to condemn the uprising in order to escape its consequences and governmental reprisals. With few exceptions, as in the assault on Catavi and Uncia, the Bolivian workers’ movement for the first time in a long while adopted a critical position toward the Nazi rebellion. It seems that the Nazi influence over the workers’ movement has been overcome and that a new political and trade-union phase is beginning for the Bolivian workers’ movement. This would seem to be the most important product of the counter-revolution.

Nazis Are Defeated but Discontent Is Still Rife

Deprived of proletarian support, the Nazi movement could only degenerate into a purely military revolt. The workers’ position influenced that of the middle class. According to our reports, not all the cells of the MNR participated in the military action. The government knew how to take good advantage of such weakness. A great demonstration against the Nazis took place in La Paz and raised the liberating slogans of the 1946 July revolution. According to the press, more than 100,000 people participated.

This constituted a mortal blow for the rebels. The government’s military action recovered Cochabamba, second city of Bolivia, and a few days later, Potosi and Sucre. The Nazis still have control of Santa Cruz, where there are separatist tendencies in favor of Argentina. But their doom is certain.

Undoubtedly the totalitarian MNR has suffered a great defeat and perhaps spent its strength for some time to come. The action instigated by Argentine Peronism has ended in another defeat for Peronism abroad.

But to reduce this action purely to the machinations of Peronism and its Bolivian agent, the NMR (as The Nation of Buenos Aires does), is false. The Nazi-Peronistas knew how to exploit the popular discontent that is rife in Bolivia against the mining bourgeoisie and the rightist policies of the government, which has betrayed the popular hopes that surged up during the 1946 revolution.

In the Bolivian Congress, a deputy of the government party, Lazcano Soruco, who represents its left wing, declared that the subversive movement was due to the government’s betrayal of the 1946 revolution and its “Thermidorean” decline, making it possible for the Nazis to penetrate the bureaucratic machine. Soruco pointed out that the government had abandoned the social program of the revolution and popular aspirations, which demand that some limits be placed on the mining “kings,” that the foreign currency realized by mineral exports be delivered in its totality to the state, that the mines be nationalized. The clamor of the masses has even penetrated Congress and the official government party, although in a deformed manner.

Stalinists Beat Retreat as Masses Act

The position of the Stalinist party, the PIR, has also changed in comparison with its policy in the first stage of the Nazi offensive. Under the pressure of the independent proletariat, the PIR abstained from collaborating actively with the Nazis, as before. One of the causes of this change was the rumor that in Potosi the miners had hung two Nazi leaders who in the past had served as police functionaries and had been responsible for u massacre of the miners.

The PIR adopted a kind of third position, criticizing the government’s policy as a betrayal of the 1946 revolution, as well as condemning the “military uprising without a banner.” Naturally, this does not represent a third revolutionary position, but follows the reformist line of the aforementioned deputy, Lazcano.

The PIR is in full decline, has played a very ambiguous role. There was much pro-fofalifarian pressure on the party, but the adverse fate of the Nazis decided its “attitude.” To save its face, the PIR demands nationalization of the mines and an agrarian reform without further mention of the discredited “bourgeois-democratic revolution.”

The Trotskyist POR nailed down its own coffin with a manifesto which called for an “anti-imperialist” bloc of the PIR, MNR and the POR itself, in order to achieve a “proletarian revolution” and a “workers’ government.” The “Trotskyist” idiots, as well as their friends of the MNR, and the GPU, believe that the “proletarian revolution” can be “made” at any moment, in a single country, when “Comrade” Lora, the agent of the leader of the MNR, Lechin, wants it.

Such is the over-all political view of the social struggle in Bolivia.

Military Dictatorship of Right Wing Looms

The consequences of the Nazi-military uprising will undoubtedly be disastrous for both the MNR and its patron, Juan Domingo Peron. It represents complete exhaustion for the totalitarian party. But the victory over the MNR is not a popular victory, won in the streets with arms in hand as in July 1946; it is a military victory for the right, achieved by military operations conducted by the old generals who are loyal to the right against the young officers, trained in the school of German Nazis.

Leaving aside the scornful popular passivity, it is clear that the fate of the counter-revolution was decided solely by military operations. The very same people of La Paz who shouted in 1946: “Hang the military from the lamp-posts!” in 1949 shouted: “Long live the national army!” One must add that it was not the same people; it was in its majority the middle class, while in 1946 it was a mixture of the proletariat and the middle class.

When the proletariat retires from the field of battle, it is followed by the stealthy shadow of reactionary. Bonapartism. This is as true for small events as for big; it is as true for Bolivia in 1946–49 as it was for France in 1848–50. When the bourgeoisie cannot govern with “law” and “democracy,” it resorts to the sword, as old Marx had occasion to say almost a century ago.

The defeat of the MNR brings a victory of conservative and loyal militarism, loyal to the mine-owning bourgeoisie. The middle class calls for the sword and must have it. The government has already named new military governors in Cochabamba, Potosi and Oruro. Victorious militarism demands its prize and booty. The military dictatorship of the conservative Right begins to rise.

However, the orderly withdrawal of the workers’ movement, which retains its trade-union organizations and has not been defeated on the field of battle, constitutes a brake on the military. The disgrace which surrounds the military and its lack of moral authority constitute another restraining factor.

The social convulsions in Bolivia reveal unrest in all South America. The post-war crisis and the dictatorship of the dollar push the masses toward rebellion, which the Nazis and Stalinists have skillfully exploited. In Argentina, Peru and Venezuela, an angry anti-totalitarian opposition exists. The class struggle, although deformed, remains the social content of all these conclusions.

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