Bolivia will be socialist or it will be a modern country

September 25, 2007

In November 1972, NACLA interviewed Rene Zavaleta Mercado in Santiago, Chile. Zavaleta is a National Director of the Bolivian Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR), and was one of the Party's founders. He served as Minister of Mines during the last MNR government before the Barrientos dictatorship and established a national resources policy which led to the nationalization of the Gulf Oil Company in 1970. Imprisoned and then exiled by the Banzer regime, Zavaleta came to Santiago as a delegate of the newly formed Frente Revolucionario Anti-Imperialista (FRA). Last year, the MIR split into two sectors, the "MIR- Causa Obrera" and the MIR-DCR. Zavaleta represents the position of the former. NACLA: Can you tell us something about the formation of the Bolivian MIR and the role it played in the Popular Assembly during the Torres government? RENE ZAVALETA MERCADO: The MIR was formed May 1971, three months before the fall of the Torres government. It resulted from a fusion of the Grupo Espartaco, the Democracia Cristiana Revolucionaria, a segment of the Partido Comrnunista (Marxista-Leninista), the Independent Marxists, and a Marxist faction inside the MNR, of which I was a member. All these groups were discontent, some because of their isolation (e.g. the Sparticists), some because they could no longer remain in their old parties which had moved to the right (e.g. the leftist sectors of the MNR), and some because they had become increasingly radicalized after the guerrilla movement of Nancahuazu (e.g. the DCR). The MIR neither participated in the Torres government nor did they support it. It fought on August 21, 1971, however, when the reactionary military forces rebelled, but only to defend the Popular Assembly, not the Torres government. From the beginning we held that the Popular Assembly represented the legitimate government of Bolivia, even though this meant accepting the existence of Torres' regime. We were not strong enough, however, to decisively in- fluence the Assembly. Basically, we criticized the scant attention the Assembly paid to the problem of its own armed defense. And the events of August 21 prove that the Assembly neglected this aspect of its organization.... In Bolivia the left always tends either to over-stress military preparedness or to neglect it totally. the ELN suffered from the first error while the Popular Assembly suffered from the second. In the case of the Popular Assembly, there was no relation between its importance as the representative of the masses, as a true Soviet, and the scant attention which its leaders paid to the real aspects of the struggle for power, especially the military ones. This resulted because of certain historical circumstances. The mass movement in Bolivia has always been more vigorous than those parties which drew their members from it. While this has fostered spontaneity within the working class, what happened in the Assembly flowed logically from this defect. The most serious problem for the Bolivian Revolution remains the limited existence of workers' parties within the mass movement which, nevertheless, is perhaps the most advanced in all Latin America. NACLA: At times it seems as if the MIR represented a middle position between what we might characterize as the political-mass orientation of the POR and the PCB, and the military-vanguard position of the ELN. How do you view this? RZM: An answer can be found in the last part of the previous question. When the MIR formed, we had a certain eclectic vision of the Bolivian left which perhaps reflected our own composition. It seemed to us that the most im- portant political act consisted in unifying two groups: that which most clearly represented the radicalized petit- bourgeoisie (the ELN) and those parties with a worker base (the PCB and the POR). This belief derived from the un- deniable fact of the existence of an isolated but very ad- vanced working class; one, at the same time, which represented only a minority in a country overwhelminghly composed of peasants. Every time the proletariat has be- come isolated, it has been defeated. In the final analysis, for example, the guerrilla movements of Nancahuazu and Teo- ponte failed because they remained completely marginal to the working class. In Bolivia, any movement which takes place without links to the proletarian movement is destined to limp along or simply perish. This was our thought when we founded the MIR, what we wanted to introduce as a major political point in the Popular Assembly, and what we have pursued in the FRA, by whose very creation we achieved one part of what we sought. To us, it seemed that an armed movement marginal to the working class was an absurdity, an anti-Marxist dogma. But, at the same time, we thought that the lack of concern with armed organization constituted the proletariat's weakest link. History has shown us, nevertheless, that one does not cement relationships between radically different concepts merely by acts of good faith. The only circumstances under which the MIR could have remained united would have been if its non- or pre-Marxist sector had agreed to follow the Party's Marxist-Leninist line. As the majority inside the Catholic groups did not do this, the MIR split, and the greater part of the Revolutionary Christian Democracy (DCR) quit the party. On the other hand, before the FRA could become an effective instrument for revolutionary unity, it would have been necessary for its vanguard groups to agree to follow the leadership of the proletariat. This is, above all, what its prior experience has shown. This does not mean, and we should understand this clearly, that one party must place itself under the discipline of another but some parties, for example, would have to abandon certain points in their general conceptions.11 NACLA: What are the perspectives for the FRA's building a unified anti-imperialist movement in Bolivia? RZM: There are two basic positions within the FRA. One is represented by those parties and movements linked to the advanced sector of the working class (PCB, POR, MIR- Causa Obrera. PS), the other by the alliance between vanguard groups and populist parties (PRIN, ELN, MIR- DCR, PCML). As far as the perspectives for truly unified action by the left, we must distinguish two kinds of situations. When faced with sudden crises (August 21, 1971, for example), the left must act together, regardless of what positions may have been taken in the past. Similar situations undoubtedly will occur in the future, and we must assure a unified response at those times. Nevertheless, if this unity means an end to ideological struggle, it would be reactionary to propose such a measure. The result would be an eclectic program. We think that the ability to grow while waging intense ideological struggle is at the very heart of revolutionary movements. The right is less easily divided because material interests draw it together. On the contrary, the leftist movement is bound together by its ideological program, that is to say, the organized consciousness of its members. This means that divisions of the left are sometimes necessary in order to facilitate the triumph of the correct position. Now, we cannot evaluate the validity of a position on the basis of theoretical canons alone. The test of a line's ac- curacy is measured through practice, by its encounter with reality. Leninism, for example, won out over other positions in the Russian left because it responded best to the reality of the situation. In the final analysis, the moment of revolutionary crisis will determine a position's correctness. We believe that Bolivia represents the case of a powerful mass movement linked to a weak vanguard. For this reason, the creation of a proletarian party, or the expansion of existing workers' parties, is the principal task of our time. The possibilities along this line are quite exciting. The decadence of populism (nationalism) is, for example, evident. The MNR, the largest democratic-bourgeois party in Bolivian history, is condemned to a slow but inevitable decline. It is also improbable that the masses can place much faith in military nationalism following their ex- perience with Ovando and Torres. Finally, the internal frustrations of foquismo* mean that the petit-bourgeoisie, which became radicalized inside the theory and experience of guerrilla movements, will remain within the left but now will relate directly to the workers' movement. In all these sectors the workers' parties have ample basis for a period of accelerated growth. NACLA: What role has U.S. imperialism and Brazilian "sub-imperialism" played in recent events in Bolivia? RZM: Bolivia today is a country occupied by the United States. Banzer's military dictatorship responds in every fundamental aspect to the necessities of the North Americans. Excepting Ovando's and Torres' governments, this has been the case since 1964. And we should not forget that imperialism also penetrated the MNR governments (1952-1964). Imperialism governs through the armed forces-which it intensely indoctrinates-and through the bourgeoisie which characteristically plays and intermediary role. * Theory that the guerrilla base (foco) defines the nature and direction of liberation struggles. See, for example, Regis Debray, Strategy for Revolution: Essays on Latin America, Robin Blackburn, ed. New York: Modern Reader, 1971. The terror unleashed by these two forces after August 21, 1971 has been very intense. .... But terror, as is known, can only be successful if accompanied by a high degree of economic development or when supported by a rigid traditionalist class system as in Franco's Spain. Neither of these can can flower in Bolivia. Quite frankly, we believe that Bolivia can never develop under capitalism. Bolivia will be socialist or it will never be a modern country. We believe that there has been some misunderstanding when speaking of so-called Brazilian "sub-imperialism." It is not clear exactly what this concept means within the Marxist theory of imperialism. Bolivia is occupied by im- perialism, by the United States, and not by Brazil. If, in a given moment the North Americans decide to use Brazil as an agent of imperialism, this in no way implies that Brazil has ceased to be a principal subject of U.S. imperialism. Brazil today, like Bolivia, is an occupied country. NACLA: The devaluation of the Bolivian peso by 67 percent in late 1972 touched off an intense period of unrest capped by a wave of strikes among textiles workers and bank employees. What significance do these strikes have and do you think the Banzer regime will be able to maintain itself in power? RZM: The strikes of the textile workers and bank em- ployees at the end of 1972 demonstrate the importance of an element which we call a class' ability to "accumulate ex- perience". Today, Bolivian workers are capable of organizing themselves even when all their leaders are being persecuted. This is possible because the method of direct mass action has already been incorporated into the proletariat's consciousness. When a mass movement reaches the level of Bolivia's, the bourgeoisie can only survive by implanting a dictatorship. But the construction of a viable dictatorship presents the bourgeoisie with enormous problems since its internal contradictions rapidly surface. Under these circumstances it makes sense to fight for the restoration of a democratic regime and the granting of democratic freedoms for the popular movement. If this is accomplished, one can then take advantage of these favorable conditions to expand the previously mentioned proletarian parties. It is also possible that a mass spontaneous explosion-an inherent charac- teristic of our movement which is both its strength and its weakness--will occur once again, taking advantage of one of Banzer's many crises. Both the North Americans and Banzer already have failed. Now they are merely trying to survive in the best manner possible. We must expect from them any type of reactionary offensive, because they have previously shown that they are capable of doing anything to keep themselves in power. The United States for us represents a structure of power which is not only imperialist, but which encompasses inside itself the most vicious and criminal tendencies known in the world's history. NACLA: What can the leftist and progressive movement in the United States do to support the Bolivian people's struggle for liberation? RZM: We have had very little contact with North American progressives. Nevertheless, it seems to us that they believe the struggle of the Latin American left focuses around guerrilla movements. The best way North American progressives can help us is by learning the real history of our popular movements and distinguishing among them. The history of the Bolivian working class, for example, is one of the most brilliant, militant, and consistent. North American progressives should place their hopes of revolution on the Bolivia proletariat; that is whom you should support.

Tags: Bolivia, Rene Zavaleta, MIR

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