The Evo Morales government and the future of Bolivia

8 May 2006. A World to Win News Service. On 1 May, amid much pageantry, Bolivia's newly elected president Evo Morales announced that his government was taking control of the country's oil and natural gas. As nationalizations go, this one was mild and one that foreign-owned companies could live with, even if they didn't like it: they will have to sell 51 percent of the stock of their local holdings to the Bolivian government, and make royalty payments of 60-82 percent on the value of the gas produced. Brazilian, Spanish, French and British companies were the hardest hit.

The mass upsurge in Bolivia has driven out two previous presidents over the past three years. When he took office in January, Morales promised great changes for this largely Indian and peasant country. Although Bolivia's nine million people are among the poorest in South America, it is one of the richest in mineral resources, especially natural gas. As much or more than any other South American country, Bolivia has seen repeated political upheavals and toppled governments. Its resources have been nationalized and then privatised several times since 1937, when Bolivia took over the local holdings of Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company from which Exxon is descended. Each time, the people's aspirations to run their own politically and economically independent country and construct a liberating new society have been disappointed. Without a thorough agrarian revolution and complete reorganization of the economy so that it is no longer dependent on the export of its natural resources, Bolivia will always remain a dominated country. While making demagogic nationalistic promises, Morales has not even put forward these two basic steps.

This is a much abridged and edited version of the extensive article "The Evo Morales presidency is part of the restructuring of the old state and the revival of bureaucrat capitalism" by the Frente Revolucionario del Pueblo marxista-leninista-maoísta (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Revolutionary People's Front). The whole article is available in Spanish at The explanations in parentheses are by AWTWNS.

1. The historical background

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the people's protests have been endangering the interests of the big bourgeoisie and imperialism. Their struggles have been an initial response to the discrediting of a form of the administration of the state, principally by part of the comprador (import-export dependent) bourgeoisie, marked by corruption, sinecures and patronage. The crisis is a result of the open use of the state for the benefit of one faction of the ruling classes, but more deeply, the failure of the "neo-liberal model".

Over the past 20 years (the IMF imposed) a so-called "stabilization" programme meant to reduce government spending (and debt) through privatisations and the bargain sales of state-owned enterprises. Transnational companies looted Bolivia's natural resources. Instead of generating the promised economic growth, these changes have only made the state more dependent on imperialism through loans and aid. As a result of the implementation of these steps, which meant bringing down wages and imposing taxes on them, rising unemployment and worsening social services in health and education, two-thirds of the people are poor and 38 percent live in extreme poverty, according to government statistics for 2003. This is especially dramatic throughout the countryside.

The expectations sold to the people for the last 20 years failed, plunging the people into greater need than ever. The people began to lose their credulity, challenge what they were told and demand that they be given at least a minimum of what they were promised in return for giving up their pensions to foreign investors and the country's water resources and oil and gas to the imperialists. Every so-called reform only made the pro-imperialist character of the big bourgeoisie and the landlords more obvious. People began to organize and mobilize against their living conditions.

The mass struggles that started in 2000 (against the privatisation of the city water supply in Cochabamba, when the new owner, the US Bechtel company, tripled the price of water) sharpened the contradictions within the ruling classes for control of the state. But while the two factions of the big bourgeoisie, the compradors and the bureaucrat bourgeoisie (rooted in state-controlled enterprises) always fight between themselves, in the end they come together to smash the people. When the people's struggle reached its height, the ruling classes had two alternatives to calm the waters. The bureaucrat bourgeoisie put forward the "inclusion and participation in state affairs" of the increasingly radical sections of the people, calling for the hungry to eat at the boss's table, as a form of "the redistribution of power", which means co-opting the people through reformism and patronage. Politically, they called for a Constituent Assembly to reconcile the social classes through "a new social contract"'. For their part, the comprador bourgeoisie and the landlords' proposed solution was to "sell our gas to the US, Mexico and Chile", seeking to go even further with the 1985 neo-liberal model. They argued that it was not the model that had failed, but only its application. In regard to both ruling class factions, imperialism, especially Yankee imperialism, sought to protect its own interests. It wanted to make sure that those that came out ahead in this dispute would be the ones to best serve its interests. This was similar to the situation in other Latin American countries where imperialism has promoted reforms to save the old states from their economic, political and social crises.

The role of Evo Morales and the MAS

In the mobilizations since 2000 our people have shown their courageous spirit of struggle. Nevertheless, their organizations have been unions and political parties that have channelled the protests in a certain direction. These mobilizations have mainly been protests for immediate demands, and for the most part the immediate demands of particular sections of the people, with no perspective of the revolutionary seizure of political power.

It must also be noted that the protest movement evolved constantly as it achieved ever-increasing victories. But it remained divided by sections of the people, even though at certain moments it put forward general demands such as in the "gas war" (over what to do with the country's natural gas resources). Even these general demands failed to be a transition to something higher but usually gave way to more limited ones such as higher salaries for particular workers.

Since the struggle for immediate demands did not advance to a struggle to seize political power and build a New Democratic state to replace the old state, this vacuum was successfully filled, more than ever, by opportunism and revisionism in the leadership of the various people's organizations and trade unions. As a result, the struggle was channelled into reformism and parliamentarianism. This is the road of treason, represented at this time mainly by Evo Morales and MAS (his electoral party, the Movement Towards Socialism).

Starting in October 2003, MAS and Morales sold out the hopes of the exploited people and supported the bureaucrat bourgeoisie. They supported Carlos Mesa (the president who took over after mass upheaval had forced out the previous president - who had beaten Morales in the elections). Further, they dispersed the movement generated by the rebellion of that year. In the name of saving "democracy", they granted the outmoded Bolivian state a recovery period, using the blood the people had shed to put forward a banner of opportunism and aiding Mesa's demagogy in trying to focus the people's attention on the debate in parliament over a new hydrocarbons law.

The position of MAS and Morales was not to nationalize the country's oil and gas nor to force the government to comply with the results of the referendum on the subject they talked so much about. Instead, these asked that the companies taking the country's hydrocarbons pay a 50 percent tax and negotiate new contracts to give the state a higher percentage of the income. This is their concept of nationalization (instead of simply confiscating the foreign company's holdings).

At that time groups like the MST (Landless Peasants Movement) were determined to use arms to defend the land seized from the landlords. The coca growing peasants were demanding that the COB (Bolivian trade union federation) take a stand against the US-imposed drug eradication programmes. The miners went on an indefinite general strike for the reconstitution of COIMBOL (the state mining company, the result of a previous nationalization of Bolivia's minerals). Oil workers, teachers, peasants and trade unionists organized a "broad front" to demand that the government deliver on its promises, the nationalization of hydrocarbons and the rejection of the US's regional Free Trade Treaty and the end of judicial immunity for American citizens in Bolivia. MAS demanded that the constitution be respected and said it was time to defend "democracy" against the assault of the "oligarchy", and that mass mobilizations should wait until parliament approved the new hydrocarbons law.

2. May and June 2005: Infighting between factions of the bourgeoisie reaches its climax

The contention around this law reflected a dispute between the two factions of the big bourgeoisie. Neither draft proposals, that of Morales (with higher taxes on foreign companies) nor that or Mesa (with lower taxes than sought by Morales) sought to end imperialist control of the country's oil and gas resources. Parliament passed Mesas' bill with certain modifications, which MAS accepted and presented as a victory.

This period was marked by the contention between ruling class factions over control of the state. Many social organizations were active in organizing meetings and conferences to demand the hydrocarbons be truly nationalized, that is, confiscated without compensation. Now MAS defended the law approved by congress.

Two basic goals guided the struggle: nationalization of oil and gas and a Constituent Assembly. In Santa Cruz (a relatively better off commercial farming and natural-resource rich department in the southeast), the comprador bourgeoisie and the landlords called for departmental autonomy (touching off a chauvinist struggle between regions). Although the people took them up, the aim of these demands was to save the old state that the comprador bourgeois's programme had thrown into crisis. The old state urgently needed a way out, and the choices put forward - Constituent Assembly and nationalization versus regional autonomy and "maintaining favourable conditions for foreign investment" were actually competing proposals to save it.

The Constituent Assembly was supposed to be for the people, but how can political power be constituted and a new country built without a previous revolutionary process? If there is no revolution, there can be no new country, no real transformation. There can only be reforms, and these reforms have been clearly guided by the MAS government itself to revive bureaucrat capitalism and in the best case - best for the bourgeoisie, of course - restructure the old state. But there is no plan even to go that far.

3. Elections: bourgeois way out of class contradictions

Although in the beginning the people's movement of May and June 2005 was led and organized by unions and other social organizations that sought to take back the country's hydrocarbons, bit by bit the big bourgeoisie was able to use it as an instrument in their squabble over control of the state. For them, the masses were an arena of contention for this purpose. The comprador bourgeois faction wanted Hormando Vaca Diez to be president, while the bureaucrat bourgeois faction wanted a change in government. MAS put itself at the tail of the latter, and seeing its chance, betrayed the demands of the mass movement and reached a compromise with the compradors to hold early elections. MAS said this would "save democracy"'. MAS demobilized its rank and file and told its organizers to halt the mobilizations, leaving the other organizations hanging in the air. In this way MAS gradually cooled down the political climate, encouraged electoral illusions and guided the people's struggle toward the ballot box.

Why did the people support MAS in the elections?

Much of the Indian peasant population considered the MAS discourse legitimate because of their just aspirations to see an end to discrimination on the basis of skin colour and to take part in the country's decision-making and have political power. They were attracted to MAS and felt represented by its electoral campaign. MAS took advantage of this and shamelessly focused its propaganda on Morales' Indian origins. He would constantly recall his experiences tending llamas (a sheep-like animal) so that the peasants would identify with him, a "social leader who came out of the coca growers movement" who "thanks to his own personal sacrifice became a parliamentary deputy and now presidential candidate". In other words, they wanted Indians and cholos or mestizos (people of mixed Indian and European origin) who feel discriminated against to see Morales as their defender and guide, and think that when he became president an Indian would be president, someone who would fight for the poor, for his people, for those like him, and thus they would be in power. MAS campaign speeches hammered away at this theme: Morales' presidency "would make it possible to give power to the various sections of the people and the Indian peoples, laying the bases for the seizure of power, with the aim of assuming all decision-making and totally transforming Bolivia." But of course if a person is a certain colour that doesn't mean he will represent the interests of the others of that colour, any more than a worker or peasant will necessarily defend the interests of the workers and peasants.

4. MAS: Demagogy and more dependency on Yankee imperialism

The defence of "democracy"

MAS with Evo Morales at its head took office last 22 January. He announced, "We want to change Bolivia not with bullets but ballots, and this is a democratic revolution - we are strengthening democracy." Evo claimed that "Last year's elections have made possible a change of economic model in our country" when he publicly thanked the Yankee imperialist ambassador Thomas Shannon for visiting Morales' "humble dwelling" and saying that "our bilateral relations should be strengthened" and wishing Morales "success with your government". Later, Morales spoke about the Constituent Assembly, saying, "We have suffered through so many years of confrontations that now the important thing is to leave them all behind."

Just like his predecessors, Evo is only revealing his reactionary essence, repeating the old refrain about "democratic revolution" to traffic with the demands and needs of the masses, just like Mesa and other representatives of the big bourgeoisie before him, including the MNR (the National Revolutionary Movement that led Bolivia's 1952 revolution, one whose nationalization and agrarian reform were far more sweeping than Morales' promises - only to end up in the hands of the military and the US). He seeks to convince the exploited and oppressed to follow his government and "strengthen democracy", trying to hide the domination of imperialism, the big bourgeoisie and the feudal landlords. What is this "democracy" Evo wants to strengthen? Nothing more or less than the system that condemns six out of every ten Bolivians to live below the so-called poverty line, which means that when they get up in the morning they don't know whether or not they will eat that day. He defends a "democracy" where unemployment is officially 13 percent, where more than 70 percent of the people who live in the countryside lack electricity, water and sewage, a "democracy" that has a class character.

Land: an unsolvable problem for more than 50 years

More than 50 years have passed since the MNR's so-called agrarian reform, and the many agrarian laws passed over these years have not resolved the land question, the age-old problem of the peasants that from colonial times to today the bourgeoisie has not been able to solve. The ruling class' legislation has only led to more land under the control of the latifundios (feudal estates). According to July 2003 figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, "Some 87 percent of the land (28 million hectares) is in the hands of only 7 percent of the landowners, while the peasants own only 13 percent (4 million hectares)." These enormous latifundios are owned by feudal landlords, businessmen, military officers and friends of the various governments that have been in office over the last half-century.

Clearly the whole thicket of legislation has only restructured the bureaucrat-landlord state and perpetuated the monopoly of the land by a handful of landlords, while 250,000 peasants have no land at all and almost a million have only a minifundio (small plot) or a surcofundio (a few rows of crops).

In his speech on assuming the presidency, Morales said that unused land would have to be turned over to the state, but that "I would prefer dialogue before taking over this land by law or decree." He repeated this statement at the end of his first month, but this time in the form of begging the landlords to "please" "give back" unproductive land. In the face of this stand, the Santa Cruz oligarchy demanded that Morales name the landowners whose land was not being worked, and if such people existed, then he should apply existing law. Morales just shut up. Just as he refused to name names when denouncing the transnational companies plotting against his government, he didn't name a single landowner, nor did he apply existing laws against them.

This means that the MAS government has put itself at the tail of the bureaucrat bourgeoisie and decided to provide "legal guarantees" for landowners and show that "the state will respect and support the property rights of owners who work the land properly, in a productive and sustainable fashion". Thus the MAS has chosen to follow the "bureaucrat road" or the "landlord road" (in the development of agriculture), trying to maintain the landlords' privileges and large-scale concentration of lands, seeking to make semi-feudalism evolve (rather than rupturing with it) and continuing with the neo-liberal economic model, promoting the purchase of land by the peasants so that they are trapped in debt and further tied to the landlords and bureaucrat capitalism.



Es una versión editada por el Servicio de Noticias Un mundo que ganar del documento "La asunción de Evo Morales al gobierno es parte de la reestructuración del viejo Estado boliviano y reimpulso del capitalismo burocrático" del Frente Revolucionario del Pueblo marxista-leininista-maoísta. El artículo completo está disponible en español en

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