31 October 2020
The victory of Luis Arce will see the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) back in power in Bolivia almost a year after former president Evo Morales was ousted by a military/police coup in November 2019. Despite the right-wing interim government postponing the election (twice) and efforts to intimidate MAS supporters, 3.4 million Bolivians defied state authorities in voting for Arce, who captured a majority (55 percent) and avoided the need for a second-round runoff.
The decisive re-election of MAS clearly stems from anger over the removal of Morales (now exiled in Argentina) and rejection of the year-long coup government of Jeanine Áñez and its mishandling of Covid-19. Bolivia has one of the world’s highest Covid mortality rates, the economy shrank almost 8 percent in the first half of the year and unemployment is up nearly 12 percent. While the Arce victory is a setback for the coupists and their backers (who remain deeply distrustful of MAS’s popular base), their acceptance of the election result is a clear indication that the Bolivian bourgeoisie as a whole (along with its imperialist masters) remains confident that nothing will fundamentally change with MAS back in power. Arce has been keen to distance himself from Morales and allay any ruling-class fears. Immediately upon winning he declared: “We are going to govern for all Bolivians and construct a government of national unity” (aljazeera.com, 19 October 2020).
Despites its pseudo-socialist credentials, MAS is a bourgeois-nationalist/populist party largely rooted in the indigenous peasant-farmer class, clearly committed to “Andean capitalism” and has nothing to do with socialism. It represents the interests of the more nationally oriented wing of the Bolivian capitalist class seeking a greater degree of autonomy and wiggle room from its most powerful imperialist masters in the United States. While often pursuing different policies from its opponents, MAS unquestionably shares a commitment to capitalist rule and seeks to administer the bourgeois state (not “smash” it) to better achieve its aims.
MAS rose to power in the wake of widespread protests against the privatization of the country’s strategic oil and gas resources that reached pre-revolutionary levels in June 2005. As Bolivia teetered on the brink of civil war, Morales stepped in to diffuse mass anger and channel social discontent into the deadend of bourgeois electoral politics. Buoyed by rising oil prices in the first decade of this century, MAS was able to bolster government coffers and invest state revenue in improving the lives of many Bolivians — extreme poverty fell from 38 percent to under 20 percent of the population. Yet, during its almost thirteen years in power (from 2006 to 2019), MAS did nothing to fundamentally threaten imperialist domination. While increasing taxes in the hydrocarbon industry, it failed to carry out its promise to nationalize the key energy sector. At the time of the November 2019 coup, Bolivia remained among the poorest nations in Latin America: 23 percent of Bolivians in poverty, one-quarter surviving on less than $5.50 (US) a day and one in six undernourished.
As the long-time Minister of Economy and Public Finance under Morales (from 2006 to 2017 and again in 2019), former banker Arce is a proven and trusted ally of the imperialists. As Morales’s finance minister he played a key role in facilitating investment projects with imperialist powers right up until the November coup itself (e.g., lithium production by German-based energy corporation ACI Group). With MAS once again administering Bolivian capitalism, at least some imperialist companies can look forward to future collaboration.
The duty of Marxists in this situation is to tell the bitter truth that the election of Luis Arce’s MAS is no victory for Bolivia’s working class, will resolve none of the key issues they face and only sets the stage for either disappointment or a repeat of last year’s coup. MAS was removed in 2019 precisely because its usefulness in containing mass popular opposition had run its course — leading elements of the Bolivian bourgeoisie decided it was time to dispense with the need for “socialist” trappings. Seizing on allegations of electoral fraud in the 2019 election, the right-wing oppositionists (and their imperialist masters) manufactured a “constitutional crisis,” mobilized their base in militant protests and drove Morales from office. US-based billionaire parasite Elon Musk aptly summed up American imperialism’s view when he condescendingly gloated on Twitter in July 2020: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”
The ousting of Morales was the latest in a long line of imperialist-aided coups against left-leaning governments in Latin America, including Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973 and Honduras in 2009. Denouncing the coupists and recognizing the ongoing popularity of MAS does not mean that Marxists give any political/electoral support to its fake “socialist” project, whether under Arce or Morale, but we would defend Arce and his government against any attempt to reimpose military/authoritarian rule. The removal of an Arce or Morales bourgeois left-populist government is the job of Bolivia’s working class, not the imperialists or their domestic proxies. A comparable situation was the US-orchestrated attempt to bring “freedom and democracy” to Venezuela earlier last year, which we discussed in “Hands Off Venezuela! Imperialism, “Socialism’ & Revolution” (1917 No.41):
“If the dispute between Guaidó and Maduro remained within the framework of a constitutional crisis revolving around who is the ‘legitimate’ president of Venezuela, we would be neutral. But Guaidó’s challenge is clearly part of a campaign for imperialist-sponsored regime change. Marxists would never give political support to Maduro’s muddled left-wing populism, but we would certainly bloc with him militarily against any coup attempts (at this point clearly carried out with the connivance of US and other imperialists).”
The Bolivian working class urgently needs its own political party fighting for a revolutionary proletarian seizure of power. Such a party would be based on a Marxist understanding of the state and the need to oppose all wings of the bourgeoisie, including the supposedly “socialist” elements cohering around Arce. To prepare for its inevitable confrontation with the Bolivian bourgeoisie, a Bolshevik party would aim to build a base among Bolivia’s working class and oppressed to challenge the political stranglehold of MAS.
A decade-and-a-half of Bolivian-style “socialism” has powerfully confirmed Leon Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution — only workers’ power can guarantee genuine democracy and finally break the chains of imperialist domination. The road forward for Bolivia's working class, poor and landless peasants, slum dwellers and indigenous peoples is through a socialist federation of Latin America, establishing a framework for a rationally planned, egalitarian socialist order free from exploitation and poverty.
Hands Off Venezuela! Imperialism, 'Socialism' & Revolution (1917 No. 41)
The Stalin School of Falsification Revisited
The Theory of Permanent Revolution, its Origins and its Application Today