On 25 January, 61.46% of Bolivians voted “YES” on the new constitution. At the same time, more than 80% voted against the large landowner and in favour of a maximum land limit of 5,000 hectares (as opposed to a limit of 10,000). The approval of the new constitution opens up a new political chapter in the Bolivian struggle. It will require the social movements to take the offensive and organise independent action, if they are to bring about fundamental change or even realise the changes promised by the new constitution.
Revolutionary Socialist Alternative – ASR – (CWI in Bolivia) supported the new constitution because of its progressive character. It “guarantees” advances that are important for workers, peasants, indigenous and poor, including concerning healthcare, education, food, water, all basic social services and even adequate housing and a job with a living wage. It also calls on all private companies and land owners to fulfill a “social function”. Nonetheless, our main slogan was, “Vote ‘YES’ and prepare to struggle!”, as we emphasised that approving the new constitution alone would not bring change; only struggle and socialism could do that.
Independent mobilisations and socialism needed
In the days and weeks following the approval of the new constitution, isolated sectors of the social movements moved into action, in particular to “recover” land and vacant lots for indigenous peasants and the urban poor. In Santa Cruz, the ‘Movement without Land’ organisation initiated a land occupation. The same occurred in Potosí, carried out by the departmental branch of a national union called the CSUTCB (United Syndical Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia). Also, in Santa Cruz, more than 200 families continued their occupation of a previously vacant lot.
Alternativa Socialista Revolucionaria has called on the MAS government and the leaders of the trade unions, peasant confederations and indigenous organisations to support these mobilisations and expand upon them by organising land and workplace occupations on a national level. This, we argue, should be accompanied by the formation of committees of defense and struggle to organise and unify workers, peasants, indigenous and the poor in their workplaces, on the farms and in indigenous and poor communities, so that the struggle can be democratically controlled by the masses, from below.
The ultimate goal of these mobilisations and the organisation of the committees of defense and struggle should be to put an end, once and for all, to the right-wing opposition, which for the past three years terrorised the poor majority with attacks of a fascist, economic, and political nature. They also need to struggle to put Bolivia’s wealth under the democratic control of the masses, by nationalising the key industries, factories and big businesses and putting them under workers’ control as well as putting the land under the democratic control of the indigenous peasant communities.
By mobilising the masses, the MAS government and leaders of the social movements could have taken advantage of the majority support for the new constitution and against the large landowners to make fundamental changes and concretely advance towards socialism.
MAS government acts against independent mobilisations
Unfortunately, the MAS government and social movement leaders have done just the opposite. The MAS government declared that they would like “dialogue” with the right-wing opposition so they can take part in the implementation of the new constitution, while, at the same time, saying that they will not legalise any land occupations. In Santa Cruz, they responded to the opposition’s demands that they enforce respect for private property by using the police to evacuate the 200 families from a vacant lot they had used as a home. In a chilling display of cruelty, videos show police ripping these poor families from their homes made of wood and metal scraps, as bulldozers then reduce them to rubble. In an interview, one of the female “invaders” responded angrily: “The poor don’t have anywhere to live. We will reorganise and put up a fight.”
For their part, the national leaders of the social movements have not criticized the MAS government’s refusal to support grass roots mobilisations. Furthermore, they publically call on the government to carry out land redistribution and implement the new constitution, limiting the role of the masses to that of a ‘support group’.
Alternativa Socialista Revolucionaria recognizes the MAS government as a progressive break from the openly right-wing governments that were kicked out in 2003 and 2005 by the popular uprisings known as the ‘gas wars’. The huge electoral victories it has won since then, both in the recall referendum (when Evo Morales won 67% of the vote) and in the recent constitutional referendum, demonstrate the enormous hope which exists amongst the masses that the MAS government will bring about fundamental change. In both elections, ASR offered critical support and mobilised its members to advocate votes in favor of the government, as a way to move the struggle forward.
Since the MAS government was first elected, it has restrained the social movements from taking independent action to bring about change, even when vicious attacks from the right-wing—like the massacre of 20 indigenous peasants last September—brought the masses out on the streets, making socialist revolution concretely necessary and objectively possible. On each occasion, however, the masses were persuaded to wait and convinced that change would come with the new constitution
We now have a new constitution, but we do not have fundamental change. It is now even clearer that, as ASR said all along, only the worker, peasant, indigenous and poor masses can bring about fundamental change through independent action and democratic control from below. ASR completely rejects the MAS government’s attacks on the independent mobilisations of the social movements and the failure of the leaders of the social movements to support and expand upon these mobilisations.
These attacks are harmful to the social movements and, ultimately, will cause divisions within the ranks of social movements. They will ask, ‘why is a government which supposedly represents the poor masses using the police to protect the property and wealth of the large landowners and business elite who form part of the right-wing opposition?’
The 61.46% of Bolivians who supported the new constitution did so because they want fundamental change. More than 80% want to put an end to the large-landowner system, which leaves as many as 97% of indigenous peasants to suffer on less than $2 a day. ASR and all revolutionary socialists in Bolivia should call for and support independent organisation and mobilisation to occupy the land and key industries in Bolivia. This should be a first step towards a socialist Bolivia, democratically controlled by the workers, peasants, indigenous and poor majority.
If the leaders of the social movements are unable or unwilling to take these measures, then the rank and file should kick them out and elect new leaders. If the MAS government fails in its responsibility, as well, the masses should take control of the party or break from it and build a new party which is capable of responding to the revolutionary socialist demands of the situation in Bolivia.