[Marxism] Rebellion in the Veins, Dunkerley

thomas muntzer immune_from_demoralization at yahoo.com
Mon Apr 3 11:09:20 MDT 2006

Everyone who participated in the Bolivia discussion
should read Rebellion in the Veins by James Dunkerley
if they already haven't.  I just read the book and it
is one of the best analyses of the development of
Third World revolutions I have ever read.  Dunkerley
is a Trotskyist of the Perry Anderson variety - a
totally brilliant British intellectual with a
patrician flair whose actual political activity I've
seen no evidence of.

Dunkerley starts with general historical background
and shows in particular detail the way in which a
local and international mining elite took shape that
had decisive control of the state apparatus before
WWII.  He moves on to the 1952 revolution and he goes
in detail into the organizational and programmatic
differences between the main left organizations-the
MNR and its various factions, the POR, the Bolivian
Stalinists, etc.  Interestingly Trotskyism had a deep
influence over a decisive section of the Bolivian
proletariat into the 1960's, particularly in the
mines, the organizational form of the POR
(revolutionary workers party).  The programme of the
Bolivian mine workers union, which was then reflected
in the programme of the COB (the general union
confederation) was a specific application of the
transitional programme to Bolivian conditions.  The
1952 revolution was among the deepest of proletarian
revolutions ever in Latin America characterized by the
formation of soviets and the dissolution of much of
the military.  The Bonapartist MNR regime that took
shape in its aftermath took years trying to disband
the workers militias that came out of it and served as
a class struggle weapon in mining and industrial
communities.  Dunkerley having spent years in Bolivia
has intimate knowledge of the culture of the mining
proletariat and the outlook of its militants.

Much of the book is political history describing the
various left groups and trade-unions and generals.  We
see trade union conferences and faction fights.  We
see coup d'etat after coup d'etat.  We see Che Guevara
and Regis Debray's 1967 insurrectionary attempt
against the backdrop of the broader Bolivian
revolution, this is embarrassing for the guerrilla
fighter to say the least.  This is all situated,
however, between periodic economic analyses of the
Bolivian economy and its place in the world economy. 
Thus general strikes and road blockages are linked to
devaluation of Bolivian currency or removal of food
subsidies.  We are made to understand the situation of
the weak Bolivian ruling class and political elite
vis-a-vis the world economy and the ways in which this
pushed them into confrontation with their militant
population over and over again.

Anyways this is a pretty weak summary but overall the
book is an argument for permanent revolution based on
the proletariat and peasantry and for the failure of a
corporatist nationalist movement to accomplish the
basic tasks of national liberation in Bolivia.  This
argument is really made in an economic way through
cold class analysis.  If anything one comes away from
the book seeing how the Bolivian proletariat is among
the most class conscious in Latin America and since
the 1952 experience has mistrusted the most
"nationalist" leaders regardless of their promises. 
It's also interesting to read about the positions and
strategies of the Trotskyist POR during what seems to
have been its strong period in the 1940's and 1950's
when it held major influence in the mines and unions. 
And its inspiring to read about militants who went
through torture, prison, the violent destruction of
their organizations, and came out fighting.

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