[Marxism] Bolivia (was something else with too many exclamation points)

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Sat Jan 14 09:52:29 MST 2006

Rubinelli wrote:

> I believe Marvin is posing the wrong question:  The issue is not "is the
> demand for popular
> assemblies on the agenda in Bolivia?"
That wasn't my question. I don't doubt there are DEMANDS currently being
circulated for popular assemblies, together with ongoing efforts to
consolidate and develop such mass organizations as presently exist, as you
would expect in any revolutionary situation.

I asked whether a GOVERNMENT based on popular assemblies is on the agenda -
which would put the Bolivan struggle on a much higher plane. It requires, in
effect, a declaration by representatives of these bodies that all laws
passed by the bourgeois parliament are to be disregarded as illegitimate,
and that only those laws and directives issued by the governing body elected
by the popular assemblies (or "councils" or "soviets") are to be respected
by the citizenry. In other words, it is the act of appropriating political
authority from the old institutions on behalf of the new. That is what the
slogan of "all power to the soviets" or any contemporary variant of it means
juridicially, why it is a bid for "state power", and why the old order will
react to it that way.

It invariably follows rather than precedes a period in which organs of
popular power have already arisen and assumed much of the administrative
functions associated with government - particularly the organization of
production and distribution, the maintenance of public order, and the armed
defence of the mass organizations against attack by the ruling class. That
is what is meant by ""dual power", or, in more popular parlance, "shared
authority" -  a divided sovereignity between the old government and the new
one arising alongside of it. This state of affairs is usually associated
with sustained general strikes in the cities and "liberated zones" in the
rural areas.

Obviously, this literal and immediate struggle for power can't continue
indefinitely. It has to be forcefully resolved one way or the other. The
ruling class tolerates public assemblies and organizations of all kinds,
even though it considers them disruptive and fears their potential, for so
long as there is continued respect for its laws and its order. It can't
allow mass organizations to disregard or appropriate these powers because
then its existence is threatened and it must resort to the most violent

In these circumstances, as Nestor so succinctly put it the other day, you
had better have more than a .22 rifle in your arsenal if you are serious
about launching a bid for "all power" - together with the widespread consent
of the population you are proposing to govern and as much support as you can
muster abroad, including of the material kind, both economic and military.

It has been difficult, to say the least, to repeat the Soviet experience
against unpopular capitalist goverments elsewhere during the past century,
especially since the fall of the USSR and turn back towards capitalism in
China. In Bolivia, you have the added extraordinary complication that it is
Morales and the MAS who are now at the head of the bourgeois democratic
political system that you are impatient to shut down and replace, and they
have been put there by an enormous mass movement which has given them a
mandate to make dramatic changes in the management of Bolivia's resources
and the rights of the indigenous peoples. While a Constituent Assembly is on
the horizon to constitutionally entrench these reforms, I've seen no
evidence that the peoples' mandate includes replacement of the National
Congress by a government of popular assemblies. But some people are itching
to present this proposition and to put a non-confidence vote in Morales and
his government to the masses before he has even taken office in the face of
all this.

I hope the above puts my question it better context for you, Andy, and
others who may have misunderstood what I was getting at. I wrote:

"Is it your position that the Morales government should immediately and
publicly declare its intent to replace the National Congress with a new
parliament of workers' and peasants' deputies, from which the
disenfranchised Bolivian bourgeoisie would be excluded?"

Unfortunately, your reply the other day was uncharacteristically
circumlocutious. You said you wouldn't presume to tell Morales anything
(although a day earlier, you had recommended "all power to the soviets" as
an appropriate slogan in Bolivia, which prompted my question). You said that
"real" nationalization and a "real" Constituent Assembly and building the
mass organizations were the demands arising from of the mass movement which
needed encouragement, all of which is true enough (although I am sure there
will inevitably be debate about how "real" the Morales reforms are when they
are enacted), but which still didn't directly address my question. I didn't
pursue it because your silence spoke these words to me: "no, I don't think
it would be wise for Morales to declare on January 22nd that he intends to
close down the bourgeois parliament in favour of a soviet government and to
expropriate the Bolivian bourgeoisie - not at this time."  If my
interpretation is accurate, then we agree on the most fundamental issue.

As to your question:

> Let me pose a question to the supporters of the "national salvation"
> program:  Should Marxists organ-
> izations,  enter the Morales government?  Should Marxists except
> portfolios in such a government for
> the implementation and administration of the MAS programs?
Why not? Marxists have participated in Lula's government. They've accepted
portfolios in social-democratic and  other of what we used to commonly call
"workers' parties". Or do you regard the MAS as a party of the Bolivian
bourgeoisie rather than the masses? I woud thnk that if Morales named you
Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, you'd probably want to take it,
knowing you could always resign and make your reasons known to the mass
movement. More generally, as we know from our own experiences, modest or
otherwise, the members of any movement or organization rightly expect you to
accept leadership responsibilities if you're asked to do so, and will
interpret a refusal as a rejection, which isn't the way to win friends and
influence people. That's why that SWP policy - I don't know if it still
exists - of declining steward and executive responsibilities in unions
struck me as hare-brained. The fact that you end up administering a
collective agreement you want to change or, on the political level, that the
MAS will be administering a "social contract" it wants to change, is an
unfortunate but unavoidable part of the job.

BTW, thanks to John Enyang for posting that excellent short piece by Aijaz
Ahmad on Bolivian developments yesterday.

More information about the Marxism mailing list