Nearly ten years have passed since the masses of Cochabamba rose up in the Water Wars to demand and win the immediate expulsion of the powerful multinational companies that controlled the city´s water supply. Years have also passed since the Gas Wars of 2003 and 2005 when even larger and more powerful mass movements demanded the complete nationalization of Bolivia´s hydrocarbon gas industry and ended up kicking out two neoliberal presidents.
The impact of these independent mass movements was huge and opened the way for the electoral victory of Evo Morales and the MAS and the reforms that they have introduced since they came to power.
These movements sparked the important “process of change” that dominates Bolivia politics today. The previously dominant parties of neoliberal capitalism were crushed in the elections and the door was opened by the mass movement for the rise of Evo Morales and the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) government. This resulted in the partial nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry, the creation of numerous social programs benefitting the poor, and the approval of a new constitution that followed. These are positive reforms which, in spite of their limitations, have improved the lives of the masses.
These processes represent an important positive step forward for socialists and the social movements as a whole and a further election defeat of the right-wing in the departmental and municipal elections on April 4th this year is important to further push back the threat of the reactionary right-wing. In most cases, we would therefore support a vote for the MAS candidates. This is the best way to consolidate the changes of recent years, deliver another electoral blow to the right-wing opposition, and pave the way for more profound changes in the immediate future.
However, as the ASR has argued in other elections, the struggle to defeat the threat of reaction and advance the struggle to defeat capitalism and carry through a socialist transformation of Bolivian society, cannot be left to the leaders of the MAS or simply an electoral strategy. Since the crushing election victory in December 2009, unfortunately rather than use it as a springboard for mass mobilisation to overthrow capitalism, Morales and the leadership of the MAS have followed a policy of compromise.
Grass Roots Democracy and Independence are Necessary for Fundamental Socialist Change
The independent mobilizations of the masses are what sparked these changes in the first place and the struggle is far from being over. Many activists are frustrated at the limited pace of reforms of the government and its failure to take the struggle forward and defeat capitalism and landlordism. This frustration is certain to result in the outbreak of new protests and struggles especially if the recent economic growth experienced by Bolivian capitalism during the last two years comes to an end and leads to cutbacks in the reform package. If capitalism is not replaced with a democratic socialist plan of the economy such a development is inevitable as the experience in Venezuela illustrates.
To solve the problems of poverty and inequality in Bolivia, we need fundamental change based on a socialist program. The large landowner system needs to be abolished and indigenous peasants must have democratic control over the land. Furthermore, we need to nationalize the multinational corporations and businesses of the wealthy elites so that workers and communities can democratically plan the economy and decide how to use the wealth in Bolivia to meet the basic needs of the people.
To make these revolutionary changes and to ensure that we create a socialist system based on a system of workers’ and peasants´ democracy as opposed to a Stalinistic bureaucratic regime, democracy and control by the rank and file workers and peasants in the social movements are absolutely necessary. Without a genuine system of democratic check and control from below, bureaucratic, administrative methods will inevitably result in corruption, inefficiency, and mismanagement.
Reformist Nature of the MAS Government is Leading to Increased Bureaucratization
Although the MAS government has carried out positive reforms, in reality they have been relatively moderate changes which have not broken with capitalism.
Rather than focusing on mobilizing the social movements to bring about fundamental change and defeat the right-wing opposition from below, as the masses did during the Water and Gas Wars, the MAS government has focused on winning electoral victories to bring about limited legal reforms, little by little, from above.
At the same time, the MAS government has not seriously encouraged the emergence of a new layer of activists and militants and leaders within the bases of the workers´ and peasant movement and poor neighbourhood organizations. Instead, it has prioritized the promotion of national “leaders”, Evo Morales in particular, who try to rule from above while the mass base of the party carries out the decisions. Mass protests are only called as a last resort to fight off attacks from the right-wing opposition.
The Growing Incorporation of the Right-Wing Opposition into the MAS Government
In recent months, there has been a noticeable growth of a MAS government bureaucracy and a decline in rank and file democracy and independence within the social movements.
The MAS government has also taken steps to incorporate the leaders of the social movements into the state apparatus which will make it harder for the social movements to take independent action and mobilize the bases against future moves to the right.
In the December elections, a number of elected Senators and Deputies were also the leaders of unions and peasant federations. Upon winning election, they maintain their leadership positions of the social movements while also serving as Senators and Deputies. For example, Isaac Ávalos, the executive of the CSUTCB, a powerful peasant federation, was elected Senator in the December elections and maintains his CSUTCB position. Moreover, the CSUTCB hopes to incorporate the majority of its Executive Board into MAS government in the April 4th elections.
At the same time since the elections there has been a conscious attempt to try and incorporate sections of the reactionary right-wing capitalists into the MAS as a means of compromising with them. In the period leading up to the December 6th Presidential and Congressional elections, we saw an increased willingness by the MAS government to incorporate candidates and sectors of the right-wing opposition - pro-business candidates - into the government.
It reached out to a number of business leaders with the hope of forming open alliances in some cases and winning tacit acceptance for the MAS government in others. For example, on November 2nd, Vice President, Álvaro García Linera met in secret with Santa Cruz business leaders ranging from the heads of the private National Bank of Bolivia and Ferrotodo (a company selling heavy duty machinery) to major media outlets.
The general thinking amongst these sectors was expressed by Roberto Ruiz Bass, ex-Senator in the department of Tarija for the neoliberal Podemos party, the leading opposition party to the MAS during the last five years, who explained, “We want to synchronize Tarija with the political process that Bolivia is living and not go against the current…” to justify his support for Morales.
The MAS government´s acceptance of the right-wing opposition reached its shocking height when it welcomed into its ranks a handful of leading members of the “Santa Cruz Youth”, a semi-fascist right-wing “collision group” known for its racist discourse and violence against indigenous workers, peasants and poor people in the service of the large landowner and wealthy business elite. Little more than a year earlier, these new member of the MAS were the leaders of the armed wing of a violent secession attempt in Santa Cruz and the neighbouring eastern states!
This trend has continued in the period leading up to the April 4th elections. The MAS government has selected a handful of right-wing candidates. For example, in the eastern state of Santa Cruz, the MAS government is running Roberto Fernandez as its mayoral candidate. Fernandez is a millionaire and lifelong businessman whose father (a beer-magnate) founded the right-wing populist Civic Solidarity Unity (UCS) party, which Fernandez was a member of for several years. Most recently, he was the Mayor of Santa Cruz from 2002-2005 in alliance with the previously mentioned right-wing Podemos party.
In La Paz, a MAS stronghold where Morales won 80% of the vote and all four Senate seats, the MAS is running Guillermo Mendoza for President of the Municipal Council, in spite of the fact that he just finished a congressional term for the neoliberal National Unity (UN) party. The MAS government is also running ex-deputy, Ana Lucía Reis, of the neoliberal MNR party, for mayor of Cobija.
MAS “Pragmatism” is a Recipe for the Defeat of the Social Movements
The MAS leadership defends its actions by saying they are being “pragmatic”. As Morales stated, “Alone, we can´t win in Santa Cruz”. According to their logic, the MAS government can win control of more departments and municipalities, while giving up nothing in return. They portray it as a win-win situation.
In reality, the only ones who can win from these actions are political opportunists, bureaucrats and the right-wing opposition. Opportunists and bureaucrats only care about lucrative government positions which they can win if they join the MAS government. However, when they are elected, they will serve their own personal interests, not the interests of the workers, indigenous peasants, and poor. Like most capitalist politicians, they will be corrupt. This will tarnish the image of the MAS government and anger the bases of the social movements.
By joining the MAS government, the right-wing opposition can win political influence that they never could have won outside the MAS. Right-wing candidates may change their rhetoric slightly in order to join the MAS, but at the end of the day, these pro-business candidates are not joining because they suddenly support the struggle for fundamental change. They are joining because they feel that they can best promote their right-wing, capitalist agenda from within the MAS government and act as a break on it to prevent it from taking further radical steps.
Accepting these right-wing candidates and pro-business sectors into the party will drag the MAS government farther to the right, isolating them from the indigenous peasants, workers, and poor people who are its base and the reason the MAS government is in power in the first place.
If these candidates are elected, it will not be a victory for the social movements, but for the right-wing, pro-capitalists interests they represent. For this reason, the social movements should not campaign in favour of or vote for the right-wing candidates of the MAS party but fight for independent candidates that will fight to defend the interests of workers’ and peasants.
Bureaucratization of the MAS government and the social movements
Along with this move to accept sections of the right-wing opposition into the MAS government comes the increasing bureaucratization of the MAS government and the social movements.
The right-wing MAS candidates were chosen bureaucratically by the national leadership, in spite of protests from the bases of the party. The same top-down process occurred in the selection of pop figures with little or no connection to the social movements and without experience in the struggle as candidates for important public offices. In Beni, for example, the MAS government asked 24 year old former Miss Bolivia, Jessica Jordan, to run for governor. In Cochabamba, its mayoral candidate is Edwin Castellanos, the lead singer of the indigenous folk music group, Tupay.
The bureaucratic selection of right-wing and pop candidates angered the MAS activists. In the days following the announcements of these candidates, protests broke out within the MAS base in La Paz, El Alto, Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando y Potosí. While the MAS government eventually “won acceptance” for these candidates, the bureaucratic manner in which they were chosen has left a trail of discontent, especially amongst the grassroots MAS activists in the eastern states who have struggled for years to “open the doors for the MAS” oftentimes in the face of violent opposition. These demonstrations followed widespread protests from a variety of sectors of the MAS base and social movements against the alliance with the Santa Cruz Youth and pro-business sectors before the December elections.
Without Grass Roots Democracy and Independence, Fundamental Change is Impossible
The increasingly bureaucratic methods of the MAS government and the incorporation of the leaders of the social movements into the state apparatus serve to weaken the democratic structures and independence of the social movements, making it harder for the bases not only to choose the candidates they want, but more importantly, to democratically and independently choose the best course of action for the process of change as a whole.
Without grass roots democracy and independence, the consolidation of a MAS bureaucracy which serves its own narrow interests against the interests of the social movements is inevitable.
In reality, the incorporation of sectors of the right-wing opposition into the party in the face of grass roots protests is proof that this process has already begun. But if this process is allowed to develop, the bureaucracy and the right-wing sectors within the MAS government will strengthen their ability to rapidly become active obstacles in the struggle for fundamental change.
Just as grass roots democracy and control were necessary so that the social movements could build and win the Water and Gas Wars, they are even more essential in the struggle for a transformation of society to create a socialist economy based on the eradication of the large landowner and the nationalization of the multinational corporations and business elite.
For Popular Assemblies to Regain Democratic Control and Independence of the Social Movements
While working to win election for the MAS candidates who have the support of the bases, the worker, indigenous peasant, left-wing professional, and youth activists who are doing the groundwork must fight to have democratic control over the campaign and candidates.
We can begin by using the campaign, and the fact that the bases are already organized and mobilized within it, to organize popular assemblies of the bases of the social movements and the MAS government, to begin a democratic discussion about the importance of grass roots democracy and independence within the social movements and the MAS government.
These popular assemblies should be the first step towards creating organized sectors within the MAS government, within the unions, and peasant federations who actively fight against the bureaucratic selection of candidates, who struggle for democratic grass roots control not only over electoral campaigns but over the daily workings of the MAS government, the organizations in the social movements, and the struggle in general.
In areas where the MAS government is running right-wing candidates, the social movements should explore the possibility of supporting left-wing independent candidates, while building for popular assemblies that include sections of the MAS base and social movements that, in spite of their frustrations, are supporting the MAS candidate for lack of a viable left-wing alternative.
For a Socialist Bolivia, a Socialist Latin America and a Socialist World
The popular assemblies should also be seen as an important step towards building a mass revolutionary party to mobilize the masses to carry out the socialist changes needed to put an end to 500 years of colonization and neoliberal thievery.
In the Presidential and Congressional elections on December 6th of last year, the Bolivian masses gave Evo Morales and the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) government a clear mandate to boldly press forward and deepen the “process of change”. The right-wing has now been overwhelmingly defeated in six straight national elections and the capitalists´ neoliberal agenda has been repeatedly defeated by mass movements of indigenous peasants, workers, and the poor.
Now is the time to mobilize the workers, indigenous peasants and poor to build a socialist Bolivia based on a democratic plan of production carried out by a government of workers, indigenous peasants and the overwhelming poor majority.
A socialist Bolivia could immediately propose the integration and international planning of the economies of Bolivia, Venezeula, Ecuador, Cuba to show that an economy based on a democratic plan and integration is not only possible but hugely beneficial for the masses and can act as a beacon for the masses of the rest of Latin America.
This should be part of an international appeal to workers, peasants, and poor throughout Latin America and the world to carry out their own socialist revolutions and build a socialist world to put an end to the capitalist world of poverty, inequality, wars, and environmental destruction.