Bolivia: Over the shoulders of Kornilov

Jorge Sanmartino

On July 21, some 15 days before the recall referendum, the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) initiated an indefinite general strike with road blocks and permanent protests until their own pension law project is voted in congress. It is the most important protest that the COB has organised in years. Jamie Solares, the most radical of all the COB spokespeople, even maintained that if the law was not approved they would call for a “protest vote”. The current executive secretary of the Departmental Workers Central of Oruro (COD), was the executive secretary of the COB until 2006.

With a combative tone, Solares tends to invoke Lenin to justify some of his own actions. Could we therefore invoke the advice of the old Bolshevik leader in order to explain what the COB is doing today? Because their indefinite general strike, blockading the main highways in the country, blowing up bridges with dynamite and direct confrontation has just cost the lives of two miners in Huanuni and more than 30 injured.

The repression was ferocious, with rubber bullet and if a delicate equilibrium between workers and peasants existed until now, it is possible that it is rapidly breaking down. The government insists that it did not give the order to repress with deadly bullets.

Who wins? Disconcerted, looking to one side and the other, blockade here and there, strikes by the right and by the left, pickets on both sides. A few days out from the recall referendum. It is curious, because their is not a single radical left militant in Bolivia that does not know about the destabilisation process that the Evo Morales government is facing at the hands of the right.

In his monumental work “History of the Russian Revolution” Leon Trotsky describes the political and tactical capabilities of Vladmir Lenin, his ability to interpret each political moment, each conjuncture, because definitively, in politics as in war, you can not obtain your strategic objective if we do not correctly read critical conjunctures. Trotsky relays to us the case of the siege of the Kerensky government by General Kornilov’s troops. The masterful formula of Lenin was to fire against Kornilov over the shoulders of Kerensky. He could not directly oppose himself to the head of the provisional government while his head was in danger off rolling not at the hands of the soviets but a restorational coup. Lenin disputed with Kerensky the leadership of the struggle against the coup.

Jamie Solares reminded me of this anecdote. He put the history of that coup attempt in the mirror. He inverts it. Solares fires against Kerensky leaning his rifle on the shoulder of Kornilov.

I met Solares in October of 2006, at a meeting of recuperated factories and Latin American unions in Caracas. We stayed in the same hotel, the Anauco, where all the other foreign delegations were. I was introduced to him in the lobby and we talked for at least half an hour. It was sufficient time.

Evo Morales had assumed the presidency in January that year. Solares told me, as if he was talking to a friend, that the COB was ready to overthrow the government if it did not comply with the October agenda. He said, moreover, that he would give them three more months. No more. The only thing left to resolve, he argued, was the issue of armaments.... Solares dedicated himself to impressing radical tourists with his proletarian army made out of cardboard. I left my bottle of beer on the table and left. Solares was the comedy that the drama of the glorious COB of the past had left as residue.

The Bolivian radical left wants the “campesino government” to accept the workers demands. If we could give them some advice, from the lessons that Lenin left us, we would say that they should try to achieve the unity of the workers and peasants and not the eternal hate that the grand national, peasant and indigenous majorities are on the verge of feeling towards the COB. A wound that might not heal for a long time.

If the COB had placed itself at the head of a campaign for the reelection of the president, participating together with the immense majority of the people in defence of their government under siege by superior forces from inside and outside,they could receive, the following day, the enthusiastic support of many Bolivians for their own proposed pension law or at least, one that overcomes the neoliberal insufficiency's of the government’s project. Moreover they would be in a better position if eventual they were left with no other option but to go to a national strike.

Who could accuse the COB of aiding the right if they did as their mentor Vladmir Illich did? But no. When Evo Morales accuses them of aiding imperialism, something that Lenin avoided by firing against Kornilov over the shoulders of Kerensky, Jamie Solares responds by saying that “the only faithful instrument of international imperialism and submissive servant of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is Evo Morales” in passing feeding the ultrarightist slander that Evo Morales is a puppet of Chavez. He said this, word for word. Other groups on the radical left, Fortunately very small, have called for an “active boycott of this illegal and reactionary referendum”. Given that the MAS government is weak in the face of the right, given it does not use the weapons at hand to combat the right......then let the right win. How could we classify this position without adding qualifying adjectives?

The Bolivian government has been facing a permanent process of destabilisation for a long time now. The local right, under the banner of “autonomism”, and maintained by the US administration, has time and time again lashed out in order to wipe the indigenous president off the map. A few days out from the recall referendum, new marches, hunger strikes, blockades of airports, pickets and warnings to not step foot in Sucre are other actions to impede the referendum going ahead, given that the right is set to be the lose at the ballot box. They have said that no matter what the result of the referendum is, they will continue with their autonomy plan. Civic activists and university students from Tarija yesterday took over the El Sol hotel, where the Venezuelan soldiers were meant to stay. The Pro Santa Cruz Civic Committee hosted a hunger strike “until the government returns the funds from the IDH to us”, the Direct Tax on Hydrocarbons (IDH). Leading the picket is the agroindustrial business owner and civic president Branco Marinkovic.

Its true that in order to stop the right it is necessary to adopt more radical measures in all spheres: handing over land to the peasants, improving salaries and people’s living conditions and even the most widest and combative popular mobilisations possible, something that Evo continues to have doubts about. But none of this can be promoted from the kerbside on the other side of the path that the Bolivian people have begun to walk down and feel as their own. The radical left, if it hopes to have any role that will deserve to be rescued by history, will do so only on the condition of knowing against who and from where they need to take aim in the current circumstances.

Jorge Sanmartino is a member of Economists of the Left, of the Gramscian Association and the Praxis Current

Translated from Rebelion

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This article is a shameful attack on Jaime Solares, who played an active and indeed instrumental role not only in the 2003 and 2005 mass mobilisations against neo-liberal governments (as the leading figure in the Central Obrera Boliviana) but also in miners' strikes at Huanuni since then (including the 2006 mobilisation against private/"co-operative" mining companies). We should not forget that after the end of his (brief) term in charge of the COB, Solares went back to the Huanuni tin mine and spent two years working as a miner. If only any Western trade union general secretary ever did the same. He is a serious militant, and the way the writer sneers at his failure to go beyond massive strikes and move on to organising a socialist revolution (!) is bizarre. For the writer the "real" revolution is Morales creeping towards statist/petty-proprietor "Andean capitalism".

Less impressive than Solares are the team at "Bolivia Rising" (the usual cocktail of Stalinism/social democracy, Third World nationalism and contempt for the workers' movement) whose current front page article is lifted from the Iranian regime's mouthpiece Press TV, and which quotes Morales (who the week before last on a trip to Tehran said that Bolivia and Iran were "friendly and revolutionary countries") commenting that "Iranians and Bolivians would like to see how their leaders defend the interests of their countries and fight Imperialism". This follows his cosy-ing up to the Chinese CP.

With a cod-Leninist analogy about Kornilov, the article is largely characterised by making insinuations that Solares (and presumably, by extension, the miners' union FSTMB) are acting in the service of the far-right. This is of course exactly the claim made by Morales and Garcia Linera, the spokesmen for "Andean capitalism", and reeks of Stalinism and the famous "amalgam" technique of smearing one's opponents. The notion that the most militant section of the Bolivian working class is soft on the far right is grotesque and has no basis in fact. Read any of their statements and publications, or look at the many photos on the web of miners demonstrating against the separatist-oligarchic clique. (Indeed, although starting as a personal attack on Solares, Bolivia Rising goes on to make generalised anti-trade union/anti-COB comments with no substantiation). Needless to say, the programme of the FSTMB miners' union is a million miles to the left of Morales and thus a million miles further from the oligarchs than the MAS president.

Of course, for Morales' supporters and the vicarious "Andean capitalists" in the West, he can do no wrong. Any concession can be excused on the grounds that it helps keep him in power (and even if it is counter-productive, as long as Morales wants it to be opportunist, it counts as bringing the "revolution" forward.) He can introduce a neo-liberal pension law which will deny 90% of people a pension. Buy stakes in the illegal and unconstitutional multinational natural gas holdings rather than expropriating them, as all social movements and unions had demanded in the Gas War in 2003-2005 (not that he supported the demand even then: he was preaching moderation in Congress). Carve up the Constituent Assembly elections so no-one to his left is allowed to stand. Send police in to fire on striking workers (Bolivia Rising's article comments that people "died" during the August miners' strike, as if they had not been shot dead). Morales meets and tries to fix deals with the right-wing governors, and calls on the fascists to desist so that there can be "negotiations". Morales is above criticism: for his supporters it is the workers who want to get a living wage, and the miners who know that they'll not survive to 65 and get a pension, who are helping the far right take over Bolivia.

It brings to mind the Communist Parties attacking Trotsky as a fascist and a Nazi running dog at the same time as Stalin arranged the August 1939 pact with Hitler to carve up Europe.

The article tells us that the workers' movement should have "headed the campaign for the re-election of the President". And of course, that is all Morales will confront the right with... election results. What movement has Morales organised? The workers' movement should form a united front of all the workers, urban poor and peasants willing to fight the fascists, including of course (and indeed, in the main) people who voted for Morales on August 10th. But the workers' movement will have to take this action themselves: as the fascists reign down terror on indigenous people and trade unionists, Morales is sitting in the Palacio de Gobierno negotiating with their leaders.

Bolivia Rising