The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Bolivia:
Evo Morales and the Narrow Way of Reformism

Oct 27, 2014

This article was translated from the October 17th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

With 61% of the votes, Bolivian President Evo Morales was elected for the third time on October 12. His party, the MAS (Movement for Socialism), got 85% of the seats in the legislative assembly. It came ahead in all but one province, including that in Santa Cruz which was the stronghold of its most radical opponents, the right and the large landowners who tried to overthrow him a few years ago.

Morales, who has been in office since 2006, has undeniably benefitted from a large popular support, in particular among the poor in the countryside and the towns. As for the local bourgeoisie, so far, it has found its own accommodation with Morales.

Morales is certainly no revolutionary and has never claimed to be one. But he appears unusual, compared to political leaders in Latin America and elsewhere. He has kept part of his promises to the poorest section of the people, letting them benefit a little from the wealth of the country.

Before 2006, Bolivia and its 10 million inhabitants ranked as the poorest country in Latin America. Today, although still lagging behind, Bolivia is ahead of Paraguay. Morales, an Indian as are most people in the country, was a poor peasant who was trained as a peasant trade unionist. He was elected following the wave of working-class mobilizations against international oil and water companies, and against their puppets, i.e., the government then in power.

Morales, with popular backing, forced the oil, gas and mining companies to give up a little more of their profits to Bolivia. He did not expropriate them nor nationalize their installations. The Bolivian state only owns 20% of the gas production capacities, the main resource of the country. But it gets tax income on the profits of the large international corporations. At a time when the prices of hydrocarbons, especially gas, were soaring, this created a bonanza for the Bolivian state, allowing it to partly redistribute money to the poorest. In eight years, the national wealth has tripled, and so has the income per capita.

At the social level, the official rate of poverty has shrunk from 38% to 18% of the population. The minimum wage has tripled, although it reportedly does not exceed $250 a month. Campaigns were carried out to improve literacy and health of the poorest peasants. And for the first time, Indian peoples – who been despised and pushed aside – were promoted. Specific aid was given to mothers and people over 60.

All of this accounts for Morales’s popularity with the poor, who are the large majority. As for the Bolivian bourgeoisie, it has benefitted from part of the financial bonanza which previously only went to the vaults of the multinational corporations. Inflation, which skyrocketed up to 24,000 % before 1985, has returned to some normal level. All of this contributes to good business.

In the past, U.S. imperialism overturned governments for doing far less than Morales, but so far, caught up in a range of wars around the world, it has made a different choice.

This limited but positive improvement in the living conditions of the poor totally depends on the prices of hydrocarbons and ores. If the ongoing world depression hits the country, Morales’s may well push back against the population.

Morales already had to face a large popular mobilization when he tried to raise the price of fuel by 80% in 2011 and had to step back conspicuously. The never-ending fighting and rebellious spirit of the poor and the workers in Bolivia will remain their best assets.