[Marxism] Socialist Voice: Morales election is a victory for the Bolivian people

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Mar 7 12:36:41 MST 2006

This article is not meant to restart the debate.  It was more like my
final contribution to the previous round written during the period of
silence necessitated by the overheating of the debate on the list.  I
think the nationalism debate is showing that we are learning how to
avoid this. (I hope as one of the guilty parties in the last round.)
Actually the international left has begun to respond much better to
Morales since the last round on the list ended.  Green Left, initially
pretty critical during his campaign, has come down strongly in favor of
a positive approach to the revolutionary process.
International Viewpoint's coverage has become much more favorable.
And the article by Hugo Blanco from IV that Andy submitted was a real
inspiration.  It's great to see that this old Trotskyist fighter -- who
certainly knows a great deal about the Indigenous peasantry and its
revolutionary potential, is recognizing and identifying with the step
forward that are being made under Evo.  
I see reason to hope that Socialist Action may be rediscussing the line
taken in the Gerry Foley article.  And I hope the reconsideration
includes Foley, for whose journalism and many other talents I have a lot
of respect. Perhaps he is in a position to make a trip to Bolivia, where
his powers of observation (and near-unique linguistic skills) could come
in very handy.
While I want to get this statement of my views on the list record, I
will not respond to criticisms at this point.  The record Morales and
the popular movements whom he leads and that lead him are accumulating
so far is having a more powerful impact than any polemics.
The article I wrote has been translated into Turkish by Mehmet Cagatay
and is appearing in the publication of a radical group there.  And it is
being prepared for publication in Green Left Weekly.
Fred Feldman
************************************************** SOCIALIST VOICE
Marxist Perspectives for the Workers' Movement #68 – February 25, 2006 
Critics of Bolivia's New President 
By Fred Feldman 
Introduction by Ian Angus and John Riddell 
What attitude should Marxists adopt towards the new Bolivian government
headed by radical peasant and indigenous leader Evo Morales? 
Morales and the movement he leads have set as their goal the
"refounding" of the Bolivian nation. The noted Latin American journalist
Eduardo Galeano has written an eloquent explanation of this goal: see
"The Second Founding of Bolivia," at
Many groups in the international left have been sharply critical of
Morales and the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) he leads. 
For example, Gerry Foley, a leader of the U.S.-based group Socialist
Action, writes that "popular illusions in Mora¬les and a party like MAS
in the Bolivian situation can only be a step backward, and have to be
combated. ... It is essential for revolutionists to combat illusions in
Morales and similar parliamentary solu¬tions and to support the fight to
make a government directly representing the working people a
reality."(Socialist Action, January 2006) 
In Bolivia itself, Jaime Solares, a leader of the Central Obrero
Boliviano (COB), a union federation, has denounced Morales as "a traitor
to the working class," and the COB remained neutral in the election.
Just one week after the election, Solares issued an Open Letter
demanding immediate nationalization of the oil industry and by
implication threatening direct action against the government if Morales
doesn't adopt their timetable. 
The following article by Fred Feldman responds to these and similar
It is a serious error to place ourselves in opposition to the general
course of a popular movement to "refound the nation" because of
theoretical considerations such as permanent revolution, "State and
Revolution," "two-stage revolution," the evils of "populism," concerns
about electoralism, demands for workers councils, general references to
the laws of capitalism, and so on. 
And that is what we are dealing with in the Bolivian election and its
consequences -- a popular movement to "refound the nation" that has now
elected one of its leaders as president. What has come under fire from
much of the left is not just or even primarily Morales but rather this
course of the masses. Of course, he is not "betraying," because he is
authentically representing the popular worker-peasant- indigenous
movement that used him to take the presidency of the bourgeois state for
Uncertain outcome 
How will the contradiction between the mass movement and the presidency,
on one side, and the bourgeoisie plus its state play out? Will the
contradiction deepen as measures opposed by the imperialists or native
capital are carried out? Or will it be resolved in favor of the
maintenance and consolidation of a bourgeois government and state? 
The outcome is not foreordained. As Venezuela has been showing, the fact
that the masses don't start by destroying the army and the state machine
doesn't doom the process. And we are talking about a process, not
gigantic historical stages. 
** Will it lead to further democratic gains for the workers, peasants,
and indigenous? 
** Will it lead to comparable developments in other countries of the
** Will it lead to more collaboration and unity against the imperialist
main enemy of the peoples of Latin America? 
** Will it lead to socialism? Will the process stall and retreat? 
** Will the presidency be reabsorbed in the bourgeois state or will the
state be dismantled and constructed on a new foundation in the process? 
** Will a coup or invasion be attempted? How will divisions in the
military, which must surely be developing, play out? 
** Will antagonism against the imperialists heighten or will the
imperialists be conciliated? Will Morales and the movement he leads
advance or retreat? How will divisions within the movement play out? 
All of these are possibilities, I believe. But there is a lot to go
through to get there, and the process is just beginning. But none of
this will be resolved by the demands of Solares and Foley and other left
critics that the process that has begun to be replaced by a different
A victory to be utilized 
The election of Morales must to be recognized as a gain to be utilized
in deepening the struggle. The opportunity to use the presidency of the
nation to advance the struggle must be welcomed, not feared or rejected.

Marx said the working people cannot simply take hold of the state and
wield it for its own purposes, and he was right. But he never opposed
running for office, including executive office. In Bolivia and (under
very different conditions) in Venezuela, the masses have taken hold of
one piece of the state -- the presidency -- and are trying to wield it
to advance their interests. If they continue the fight to pursue these
interests, and if Morales continues to represent them, this will mean an
ever-widening conflict with the imperialists, the bourgeoisie, and their
state in Bolivia (and in the United States of course). 
One difference with Venezuela is that in Bolivia the mass upsurge
preceded the establishment of the presidency. In Venezuela there was the
Caracazo (1989) and the popular response to Chavez's coup (1992) and an
electrified response to his assertion after the coup failed that the
fight would continue. Nonetheless, there was less visible mass struggle
in Venezuela before the establishment of the Chavez government (1999)
than in Bolivia. So the relative independence of the Morales presidency
from the bourgeois government and state and its relative dependence on
the mass movement is more clear than in the first period of the Chavez
The Bolivian people face the challenge and opportunity of deepening this
conflict. And of course much depends (yes, the individual in history
matters) on Morales's capacity to stand against the pressures coming
down from the enemy, pressures that are sure to intensify if the
president attempts to advance the interests of those who raised him up. 
This is about the fundamental nature of communism, the fact that
communism is not a theory but a historical movement taking place before
our eyes (and hopefully with our participation). Genuine communism is
the name given to the real struggles taking place around us. A genuine
communist movement doesn't argue that the real struggle is a mistake
that should be replaced with another one advocated by advanced thinkers
-- whether this goes by the name of permanent revolution, socialism from
below, two-stage revolution, or whatever. 
Constituent Assembly 
The Bolivian masses want to "refound the nation" in a very fundamental
way -- I believe this has been Morales' slogan since he began pressing
for the combination of the presidential election and constituent
assembly as a road for the struggle. He argued from the beginning that
the movement could not just change things "from below" but had to take
political power to accomplish its goals. So far he has done a very good
job of pursuing this course patiently and stubbornly, and he has won
masses of fighting workers and peasants and Indians to his cause. And so
far he is keeping his word to them. 
The leftist critics say that Bolivia is in a revolutionary situation - -
and then they demand that this revolutionary situation be replaced by a
different one that follows an anti-electoral, "workers council" course.
To those who think that way, I recommend the very fine critique of the
ultraleft in Portugal in 1975, by Gerry Foley, Joseph Hansen and George
Novack, which has been posted in the Documents section of the Socialist
Voice website. Their arguments against the hostile stance taken by much
of the far left against the constituent assembly elected in Portugal in
1975 are directly relevant to the hostility much of the far left is
expressing towards the Morales presidency today. 
I am not in the least suggesting that the far left critics are allied
with imperialism -- but neither are they playing a revolutionary role.
Indeed, the intense fanaticism of Solares' denunciation of Morales is
fraught with danger. Let us not forget the 1983 coup carried out by
Bernard Coard's "leftists" against Maurice Bishop in Grenada, a coup
that destroyed the popular movement that Bishop led and opened the door
to U.S. invasion. 
Cuba's role 
The developments in Bolivia show the growing attractive power of the
Cuban revolution. And this has been heightened by the Castro
leadership's ability to relate to all struggles and fighters in a
completely non-sectarian way. They learned in their courageous and
self-sacrificing efforts to push the strategy of guerrilla warfare in
the 1960s that revolutions are not made by imposing "Russian models" or
"Cuban roads" but by collaborating with revolutionaries and fighters
from the popular movements in Latin America in the line of march that
the class struggle in their countries and region charts for itself. 
And the Bolivian process is greatly strengthened by the committed
support it is receiving from Cuba and Venezuela. 
The counter-argument seems to be that objective conditions in Bolivia
demand maximalist solutions, not the step-by-step advances pursued by
Morales, who some compare with Kerensky. But the Bolivian masses are
pursuing a process, not immediately creating soviets or overthrowing the
entire bourgeois state as a whole in one blow. And Morales, unlike
Kerensky, is not postponing the Constituent Assembly but insisting on it
against capitalist and landlord opposition, and campaigning for the
working people and oppressed to mobilize for it and defend it. 
The test of Bolivia 
Morales is certainly going to be thoroughly tested by what happens. The
pressure has only started to be applied. The threats and penalties will
mount if he continues to lead forward. The Bolivian working people are
also being tested. 
But the veteran revolutionaries and would-be revolutionaries in Bolivia
and elsewhere are also being tested. Can they avoid a spirit of narrow
resistance, resentment, and competition with the new forces that have
come forward including Morales? 
There is nothing progressive or revolutionary about shouting from
abroad, "You are fools! They betray you!" when the masses are going
forward firmly and intelligently, when the leadership they have forged
is showing some competence, and when they are not being betrayed.
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