vrijdag, juni 17, 2005

Dual power in Bolivia

In Bolivia last week, we saw a much more thoroughgoing revolutionary upheaval than we have seen in Eastern Europe over the last few years. The country's poor indigenous, peasant and working class majority had managed to bring all Bolivia to a halt with an open-ended general strike and a total of 120 road blockades at strategic points in the national roads and highways system. Workers had seized 13 per cent of the country's oil and gas fields, including three fields belonging to BP, four belonging to Spain's Repsol, and a pipeline station on the border with Chile. Battles between protestors and police saw massive tear gassing and repression, and miners responding by hurling dynamite. At one point the masses came within 60 feet of the Congress building before snipers were installed on the surrounding buildings. Congress was forced to meet in Sucre, the old colonial capital, for the first time in over a century, instead of La Paz. Legislators were flown by military airplanes to Sucre and security forces attempted to seal of the city from the protestors, but broke through nonetheless, battling police in the town centre. The conservative senator, Hernando Vaca Diez, constitutionally next in succession following President Carlos Mesa's resignation, had begun the day with the full support of the American embassy and every intention of assuming the presidency. Jim Schulz, of the Bolivia-based Democracy Center, and the author of Blog from Bolivia, said in an interview on Democracy Now that on the evening of the eighth, that people were preparing for where they were going to sleep away from their homes in fear of the coup they were sure was to occur at any minute. Vaca Diez had in the previous months repeatedly called for Mesa 'to govern', which was widely taken as a call for a military crackdown on the rebellion. Everyone knew that if Vaca Diez took power, he would be a twenty-first century and Bolivian Augusto Pinochet.

However, reportedly, Vaca Diez had lost the support of all sections of the armed forces barring the air force. According to Tom

'with this round, [the Santa Cruz bourgeois elites] have learned the limits to their power today; will respond with a kinder, gentler and less regional politics; another that they will (also?) try to get a clearer hold on some part of the armed forces. On this point: one source tells me the armed forces told the Santa Cruz elite that if they sent out their shock troops (the Juventud Crucenista, et al.), the army would respond with fire. According to this version, today the military is not interested in the emergence of Colombian style paramilitaries.'
Luis Gomez, of Narco News, reported:

'The Bolivian military leaders, though they defended the Constitution and said they would accept any constitutional successor to the presidency, also left this very clear: “the demands of the demonstrations,” which have occurred every day for nearly four weeks, “should be heard.”'
Meanwhile, the Bolivian working class were taking over factories and other workplaces, their consciousness rapidly advancing, overtaking that of their leaders. Jorge Martin reported:

'At the demonstration in La Paz there is strong presence of factory workers. Max Tola, workers leader at Cervecería brewery, one of the largest factories in La Paz said: "There is no political way out between themselves, amongst the bourgeois. What we are talking about here is nationalisation and the taking of power by the workers. Our slogan is workers and peasants to power.

'Francisco Quispe, leader of the La Paz Factory Workers Federation said: "if there is no nationalisation we will continue with the mobilisation. Nationalisation is the only way forward to create more sources of employment, to end the hunger and misery that is killing us. The only solution is for us workers to take power."'

'By the time the session was supposed to start there was a huge mass of people in the streets (including miners, peasants, teachers, workers, etc). After a while the masses blockaded the airport as well, so that members of parliament (who had had to fly in, as all main roads are blockaded) would not be able to leave Sucre without permission from the masses. The session was suspended.'
Vaca Diez was stranded, quite literally. He renounced his right to succession, and, the presidency passed to Eduardo Rodríguez, the head of the Supreme Court, skipping over the next in line, who had already said he too would not accept the presidency. Rodriquez is a caretaker president, required to call elections within five months.

Most of the blockades were subsequently lifted, workers returned to work, and the gas and oil refineries were returned to their owners. Although the two key demands that had originally prompted the uprising - nationalisation of the gas industry and the convening of a constituent assembly representative of the people - remain unmet, the leader of the largest force amongst the social movements, the Movement towards Socialism political party (MAS), Evo Morales, has offered the government an indefinite truce. At the same time, other sections, particularly those in El Alto and the Altiplano - the plateau above La Paz - the radical, deeply impoverished heart of the rebellion - have said their demands have not gone away and are currently in the midst of internal discussions on how to proceed. In the last 48 hours, a few sizeable protests seemed to have reappeared, but it remains to be seen whether this is a tailing off of the protests or a return to battle.

There is a widespread feeling amongst the now physically exhausted protestors that while their goals have yet to be achieved, the strikes and blockades had so crippled the country that they were running out of food and other supplies. The commitment remains, but there is an acknowledgement that the popular forces need to recover their strength. Perfectly logical lessons have also been learnt: the strikes - as all successful general strikes will do - starved not only their opponents but themselves as well. Next time, the protestors say, they will strike, but they have to make the various enterprises work for popular benefit, co-ordinating the distribution of food and transportation and so on. At the same, some social movements have said they will not be demobilised. Edgar Patana of the Bolivian Workers’ Federation has said the demonstrations and blockades will continue.

Nonetheless, a half-time break for recuperation makes sense whatever Evo Morales' electoralist aims in calling a truce.

However, it is clear that Morales sees further mobilisations as a threat to his presidential ambitions in the 2007 elections. As Jean Friedsky notes at Narco News: 'The MAS will most likely accept this compromise because nationalization was never their true agenda and because new elections gives them an opportunity to increase their party's political power.'

Tom Lewis, the co-author with Bolivian social movement leader Oscar Oliviera of a history of the successful water anti-privatisation struggles of a few years ago
¡Cochabamba! Water War in Bolivia, interviewed in Counterpunch, concurs:

'Many people outside of Bolivia think that the Evo Morales's MAS represents the country's salvation from capitalism's chokehold. But a glance at the MAS's actions during and after the Gas War shows this is not the case.

'The MAS could have led or formed part of a new anti-neoliberal government in the wake of October 2003. Instead, it lobbied for Mesa's succession, knowing full well that Mesa differed not one whit from Sánchez de Lozada on economic policy. During the Mesa administration, the MAS has, in fact, acted as a pillar of support for the Mesa government at key moments.

'Unlike the rest of the left, for example, Morales campaigned in favor of the July 2004 gas referendum, telling people that voting "yes" on the two key questions would mean imposing 50 percent royalties on transnational oil companies. Of course, Morales was wrong, and it is hard to believe that he didn't know this beforehand.

'The only thing that explains the behaviour of Morales and the MAS is their slide into electoralism. Ever since Morales garnered second place and 22 percent of the vote in the 2002 presidential elections, the MAS has directed almost all of its energies into Morales's upcoming bid for the presidency in 2007.

'This means that the MAS has repeatedly sought to contain Bolivia's social rebellion. If the MAS were thrust into power on the wave of popular revolt, it would risk a dangerous confrontation with U.S. imperialism. The MAS wants to be voted into office instead.'
However, this electoralist slide has cost the party considerably. There is no guarantee that the MAS would even win the 2007 elections. In recent municipal elections, the party won just eleven per cent of the vote, half its 2002 levels of support. Thus as the popular forces began to mobilise again, Morales has attempted to jump to the head of the movement. Even so, he still refuses to support the call for gas nationalisation. As with Lula in Brazil, the essentially social democratic Morales - whatever Hugo Chavez' pronouncements that he is his protégé - is acting as a break on the struggle.

The problem is that social democracy is simply not viable any longer. The ease with which capital can punish a single country should it choose the social democratic road is precisely what has pushed Schöder, Lula, provincial NDP governments in Canada - take your pick from the pantheon of social democratic betrayal of the last decade - to adopt neo-liberal measures. It is not that the parties are led by weak characters - certainly this is not the case in Brazil - but social democracy cannot be built in one country. The only hope is to go still further. If the bosses attempt to move their capital, their equipment, their factories elsewhere, they must be seized.

And, crucially, there was, on the eighth of June, the launch of a People's Assembly, representing 60 different organisations throughout the country, which resolved the following:

1) That the city of El Alto be the General Headquarters of the Bolivian Revolution in the XXI century.

2) To create a United Leadership of the Indigenous National Peoples' Assembly as an INSTRUMENT OF POWER, at the head of the Federation of Neighbourhood Juntas of El Alto (FEJUVE), the Regional Workers Union of El Alto (COR), the Bolivian Workers Union (COB), the United Trade Union Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB), the Trade Union Confederation of Artisan Workers, Small Traders of Bolivia, the Trade Union Federation of Mine Workers of Bolivia, the Interprovincial Transport Federation of La Paz and the other mobilised social organisations in the interior of the country.

3) To create SUPPLY, SELF DEFENCE, PRESS AND POLITICAL Committees whose aim is to guarantee the success of the organised peoples' organisations.

4) We reiterate that our struggle for the NATIONALISATION AND INDUSTRIALISATION OF HYDROCARBONS is non-negotiable.

To organise the formation of Peoples' Assemblies in every department under the leadership of the COB [the main trade union central], the Departmental Workers Federation, and the delegates elected from the rank and file in mass meetings and cabildos [local mass assemblies].

6) To reject all manoeuvres of the ruling class either through a constitutional succession or elections involving the same old politicians.

[Translation from here]

In the course of the development of a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situation, throughout history, it has been common for there to appear on the national stage a parallel 'government' or counter-power. The frequent expression of this is the workers' council, or soviet, but there are other forms more geographically based as well. And what are these Popular Assemblies, these Calbidos, but an embryonic dual power? But the counter-power is not merely expressed in terms of a popular representation of the masses parallel to that of the discredited or partially discredited parliament, but through the insurgant masses themselves, when they become historical actors, rather than observers of history. The check on power by the masses that we have seen in Bolivia - the inability of Carlos Mesa to continue to rule, and especially the inability of Vaca Diez to assume power - due to the immoveable rock that has been the poor of Bolivia is this counter-power. Even the international oil and gas companies are adjusting their projections, believing some form of nationalisation is inevitable.

First described by Lenin as 'dual power', such as situation cannot last for long. Either there is a re-establishment of bourgeois power, or a seizure of power by the masses. When the situation gets so extremely acute, the masses really have no choice but to aim for the seizure of power, for if they do not, there is certain to follow the most dolorous of bloody repressions.

There is a history of such things and one that is largely hidden from view, but there is a cycle to it all nonetheless that every popular movement that has ever existed has not failed to repeat*, to its sorrow.

The cycle can be broken if there is a group of individuals who know this history, who have studied the victories and defeats of the sad history of the left, and are able to lead the movement away from paths that have been proven not to work in the past - the living embodiment of the memory of the working class.

This all sounds eminently logical. One needs to learn to cook from someone who has cooked before. One cannot expect to enter a kitchen for the very first time and know how to bake a souflee.

However, the history of such 'Red Teachers' - the self-appointed vanguard parties, and in particular the last 60 years of Trotskyism - would be unintentionally comedic if the stakes were not so high.

All the same, to cut against the equivocations and tergiversations of the MAS and the attempts by Evo Morales to keep a lid on the rebellion, to provide the correct way forward, there does need to be people on the ground to come together and constructively strategise and offer such leadership within the struggle. There are organisations in Bolivia to the left of the MAS, but they are small revolutionary parties, which, according to Tom Lewis:

'…have made important contributions to the ideas and debates that have emerged in the course of struggle. Most still have difficulty communicating effectively within the social movements, however, because of decades of working in isolation.

'The main weakness of Bolivia's "anti-capitalist" forces has been the lack of clarity about the need to fight for and win state power outside the electoral arena. This seems to be changing rapidly at present. The electoral road is clearly seen as a dead end by large numbers of the rank and file of the social movements today, as well as by movement leaders such as Abel Mamani, Jaime Solares, Roberto de la Cruz and Oscar Olivera.'

Lewis also points out that:

'…unlike [i] most other Latin American countries, the unions and large sections of the organized working class are deeply involved with the struggles of the social movements. The COB and de la Cruz's wing of the COR are among the most revolutionary sectors in Bolivia. This is a relatively recent development, arising from the ouster back in April 2003 of a corrupt union leadership in bed with the government.'

Above all, the movement must aim for state power, but outside the traditional, compromising electoral road. There is a great danger that the secondary power, this wonderful popular energy - that of the streets and in the mines and gas and oil refineries - will be channelled into potentially distractionary electoral forms, and a quick end to the dual power situation will result, a restoration of the bourgeois order, even if some gains are won.

There is at least some recognition that this is what needs to be done, as Oscar Oliviera said in his latest

'It is important, also, to reflect upon the following. In this May-June mobilisation we have seen two things. On one hand, the great force that we are capable of deploying: we, the diverse social movements, are capable of paralyzing the entire country, and of avoiding the maneuvers of the businessmen and bad politicians. On the other hand, we have not been capable of imposing our own decisions and objectives on these same politicians, who today are in the worst crisis they could possibly confront. Based on these two considerations, we have opened a wide debate in all the neighbourhoods and communities of Cochabamba and the country, about the need to build, little by little, our own capacity for SELF GOVERNMENT, to push for that in the next mobilisation'
There must also be clarity on what is meant by 'nationalisation'. Oil and gas companies have been nationalised in the past in various countries around the world, but have only served a clientelist domestic elite. Nationalisation must be under workers' control, and not a reimplantation of the state capitalism common to Latin America in the forties and fifties.

This, unavoidably, is socialism.

But even socialism, at least in one country, is not enough. No one country has all the resources to supply its population with all its needs. Venezuela has managed to ignore the slings and arrows of international approbation and capital flight by having the luck to be sitting atop lakes and lakes of the devil's excrement. But this is not sustainable - financially or ecologically. Any sharp drop in oil prices would immediately force a retreat from Chavez' impressive portfolio of social spending. And while Bolivia also has extensive gas reserves, they are only estimated to be worth a total of $50bn. Enough for a few years of new social provision, but not much more than that.

There is also the question of how much longer the regional hegemon will suffer these challenges to its dominance gladly. A fortnight ago, the Congress of neighbouring Paraguay, convened in secret, after midnight, and rushed through a law 'that will permit United States troops to enter this South American country for 18 months, with immunity for all personnel that participate in activities of training and advising, including civilian personnel.'

Last week, the chief U.S. diplomat, for Latin America, Roger Noriega, had a bit of a diplomatic hissy fit, screaming that the turmoil in Bolivia was the result of infiltration by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The U.S. is trying to paint the rebellion as a terrorist movement, or one led by narco-traffickers. The head of the U.S. Southern Command recently testified before the U.S. Congress that it Bolivia could become a narco state. The media, as ever, is doing their part, hysterically issuing horror stories of Indian socialist terrorist narco-traffickers chucking dynamite at police. The Economist, cheerleader of the McRevolutions of Eastern Europe, has reverted to cliché, describing the result in Bolivia as 'mob rule'.

One country alone cannot withstand the pressure of international capital and the American military juggernaut. The only hope is an expansion of a revolutionary socialism throughout South America. Something which, again, requires organisational co-ordination throughout the region. The term 'vanguard party' has acquired a very bad reputation over the years, and rightfully so, but no matter the numerous faults of far left parties these last decades, there is nonetheless a fundamental need for revolutionary organisation.