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Juan Rey

World Politics

Events Leading Up to the General Strike
Situation in Bolivia

(April 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 21, 22 May 1950, pp. 5–6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Bolivia continues to be an intensely dramatic social battleground. Since the bloody events in the mining centers of the past year, in which the mining proletariat suffered a tremendous defeat as a result of the adventurist policy of the nationalist leaders, the government fell under the decisive influence of the big mine operators, the extreme capitalist right, which owns the principal industry of the country.

The defeat of the mining proletariat ended the period of social equilibrium embodied in the Hertzog government and ushered in the “strong” government of Uriolagoitia, a dictatorship of the mine operators, with police repression not only against the MNR (Nazi) and the PIR (Stalinist) but also against the workers' unions and all opposition. The Stalinist and nationalist “backbiters” asserted that the offensive “against Communism” initiated by the government was the result of Yankee pressure. In order to begin reprisals and declare the “Communist Party” outside the law in Bolivia, the policy made use of an opposition within the PIR against the opportunism of its leadership, an ultra-Stalinist type of opposition which proclaimed the necessity of a “new Communist Party.”

The big mine-owners, for their part, took advantage of this opportunity to settle their accounts with the proletariat. The economic crisis in Bolivia has been provoked with a rapid lowering of tin from 99 cents (American) per pure pound to 70 cents, a decline of 30 per cent. Bolivian money is based, like the whole national budget, on the export of tin. The international rate of exchange was 42 “bolivianos” to the dollar, forcing the mine-owners to hand over 60 per cent to the government. Now, with the drop in tin, the mining barons, in order to avoid losses, forced on the government the devaluation of the boliviano by 50 per cent in relation to the dollar, that is, the exchange of 60 to the dollar for the articles of prime necessity, and 100 to the dollar for other articles of import.

To avert the resistance of the masses, the government decrees an increase in salaries, thus beginning the inflation. To behead the unions, the policy proceeds with the arrest of the “union emergency committee,” formed to consider the new situation, by charging it with “communism.” The union leaders have been taken to Coati, an island in Lake Titicaca in the cold altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level.

The unions asked for the liberation of their leaders and, was denied, declared a striked of the banking and engraving Wikers. The strike threatened to assume a broader character, With the formation of the new union committee which met in the university under the protection of university autonomy. The rights wing mine-owners threatened force and reprisals “against the Communists.” But the situation took a surprising turn: the ministers of the government and labor reached an agreement with the union, promising to free the prisoners and to consider anew the government decrees. Likewise, the illegalization of the banking union was retracted. The strike was terminated. but the government majority revealed a stubborn attitude toward its two ministers who had handed in their resignations. Inasmuch as they were deputies of the official party, the parliamentary club of the latter lent them its assistance, which signified he censure of the president and his cabinet.

A stalemate was produted, which pointed on the one side to the strengthening of the union movement, and on the other, to the evolution of the government toward a military dictatorship. The ministries of government and labor were occupied by two military men. The army has issued a declaration which endorses public order and the constitution. There was produced a partial coup d’etat. The official party is half in opposition, although its majority aids the two ex-ministers who reached a compromise with the two unions.

The situation was defined for the opposition of the workers’ movement not so much by the inflationary decrees of the government as by the military dictatorship. Both bands are now politically armed. The army has effectuated a preparatory reunion to put itself in power, “once the situation is calmed down.” The factory union, which embraced some 20,000 workers of La Paz, have declared themselves on strike, and this action can be transformed into a general strike all over the country.

Future a Question

The government has the assistance of the mine-owners and the army. The big mine-owners do not yet have a social base, being hated by the entire country; the army has no leaders of prominence and its officialdom is divided between the partisans of nationalism and those of oppositionist General Bilbao. The ex-minister of government, Molinedo, has more political influence than the cabinet. If it is true that the Yankees have counseled the economic measures of the government and the “anti-Communist” reprisals, then they have proved to be very bad counselors, and have tied the government into a knot. What will happen, no one can foretell.

Although military dictatorship and a government of the whip would be the logical result of the crisis and of the policy of the big mine-owners, the union movement, on the brink of war, has strengthened its unity to defend its miserable wages. The mining bourgeoisie lacks social bases and prominent leaders. The proletariat which follows in the tracks of nationalism and Stalinism can, in a moment, through these parties, mobilize the middle class and together with the workers’ unions easily fumble the present regime, like the military dictatorship, by a popular uprising. Future events will tell what eventually come to pass: the military dictatorship or a new regime of the small bourgeoisie.

Lima, Peru, April

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