The following passage is taken from the introduction (pp.LX-LXXV) by F. and C. Chesnais to the French edition of G. Lora’s Bolivie: de la Naissance du Parti Ouvrier Revolutionnaire ál’Assemblée Populaire. It has been translated by Ted Crawford, and was prepared for Revolutionary History Vol.4, No.3 – Bolivia: The Revolution Derailed?. It was not included there because of pressure on the available space. That volume did however include a review by Jean Lieven of Lora’s book, which takes issue with positions put forward here by Chesnais (and by Lora).

The notes, which ran from 52-67 in the original, have been renumbered.

We have tried to check all spellings of proper nouns in this article as carefully as possible, but as with all the material we post which contains non-English words, we will be grateful if you point out to us any corrections that are needed.


Bolivia: The birth of the POR

9th April 1952: A situation of Dual Power.

On the morning of the 9th April armed bands from the MNR, together with a section of the police, started an insurrection in La Paz. At the start it seemed to be a conspiracy that involved few people. As in many previous coups, in spite of the initial successes of the rebels the army had the situation pretty well in hand. At the end of the day the rising seemed almost smashed.

But next day the movement took on proportions which went far beyond the MNR. Throughout the country there were very serious clashes between the army and the masses: at Cochabamba, at Oruro, at Potosi and elsewhere, the workers armed themselves and marched on La Paz. The ‘fabriles’ (workshop workers) from the Viacha industrial zone swept towards the capital, and the miners from Milluni occupied the railway station at La Paz and seized a train carrying munitions, all of which shifted the situation in favour of the insurrection. In addition armed miners from the Catavi region surrounded the town of Oruro, thus removing any possibility of the government sending reinforcements to the capital.

On the 11th April the Ballivián military junta fell. The MNR took power. Armed bodies of workers converged on La Paz.

After the fall of the junta the army evaporated in a few days. Armed groups of civilians took over the barracks and the police stations and occupied local government buildings. In the mining districts and towns the movements became organised and rapidly created workers militias. Five days after the end of the fighting in La Paz a network of workers’ militias covered the country.

The Trade Unions played an essential rôle in the organisation of the movement during the first few days. They were the ones who organised the militias, they were the ones who filled the vacuum left by the disappearance of the authorities and they took on administrative and judicial rôles. It must be said that in the mines things went more slowly than in the towns. For example the mining unions did not occupy the mines and did not immediately impose workers control of the mines [1] through mass meetings of the workforce. This delay was to prove useful to the government. The power of the Trade Unions was to be decisive in the country with the creation, eleven days after the insurrection, at the initiative of Alandia Pantoja [2] of the Central Obrera Boliviano (COB) which grouped together the various unions, corporations and workers’ parties. Born as the expression of the mass movement which had struck an sudden blow at the bourgeois state, the COB appeared to be an organisation with immense power, capable of giving a national lead to the masses in the fight for the fulfilment of their hopes. Its birth in a situation of revolutionary upheaval, from the beginning gave it a true soviet character. Thus some of the characteristics of a dual power situation existed in April 1952, a paradoxical situation reminiscent of February 1917. In fact a revolutionary movement of the masses put a government in power which claimed that from its coming to power it drew its only legitimacy from the 1951 elections which had been annulled by the ‘mamertazo’ and Ballivián’s coup d’état. At the same time the workers regarded this government as quite different from any other. On his return from exile on the 17th April Paz Estenssoro was greeted by an enormous crowd to shouts of ‘Long Live the MNR!’, ‘Long Live Victor Paz!’, ‘Nationalisation!’ and ‘Land Reform!’. In welcoming Paz the workers were acclaiming someone, who in their opinion, was going to give a mortal blow to landowners, capitalists and imperialism. But the MNR had not the slightest intention of attacking private property because that would call in question the interests of the class that it represented and thus, at the same time, its own power. The mobilisation of the masses and their organisations to demand both nationalisation without compensation under workers’ control and land reform, carried within it the struggle for the working class’s own power. Correctly, all the COB’s proclamations which the activists of the POR had been able to initiate in this period, were focused on the need to establish a real workers’ and peasants’ government. [3] In addition the MNR had to find a way to defuse the revolutionary push of the masses without delay. It was around the COB that the issue of the revolution would be decided.

The raising of the slogan ‘All Power to the COB’

The Trade Union organisations and the COB were thought by the workers to be their exclusive leadership. Its very existence made the COB an organ of workers’ power – whether its leaders knew it or not – and posed all the elements of a situation of dual power In fact the COB very quickly became a very important stake in the class struggle. For, during this period, it was the slogan ‘All Power to the COB’ that encapsulated the deep convulsion and permanent mass mobilisation that made the slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government real.

The MNR government was aware that therein lay the real danger to itself. So it asked the COB to nominate three of its members to the Cabinet. The three ‘worker Ministers’ were J. Lechín, Minister of Mines & Petroleum, German Butrón, Minister of Labour and Nuflo Chavez Ortiz, Minister of Peasant Affairs. It was by means of this expedient, which provided a way to the integrate the top echelons of the COB into both the state and the MNR’s apparatus, that Paz Estenssoro opened his counter-attack to aid the defence of the threatened bourgeois order.

In the person of J. Lechín, the COB General Secretary, the MNR had a choice instrument to carry out its policy of controlling the workers movement. He was known to exhibit a reputation for independence as far as his own party was concerned (cf. the ‘Bloque Minero’ in 1947). He represented the ‘Left’ of the party and had been the target of violent attacks by its right wing. Thus the masses pinned their hopes on him transmitting their policies into the government. It was Lechín who was given the job of sowing illusions among the workers that their organisation ran Paz Estenssoro’s government through this expedient of ‘co-government’.

Thus Lechín was the indispensable screen between the masses and their own power, the road to which had been opened by the existence of the COB and by the mobilisation of the masses themselves for their own aims.

Guillermo Lora discussing how the ‘Co-government’ had been imposed, explained it thus:–

“The creation of the theory of ‘Co-government’ was nothing else but the Bolivian version of collusion between the upper reaches of the trade union leadership and a petit bourgeois government. In spite of a strong group of PORists this aim was achieved because the MNR captured the predominant mood among the majority of the middle classes and the workers which was one of enthusiastic support for the government of Paz Estenssoro. In the first stage of the revolution this feeling tended to grow (a phenomenon which explains the strengthening of the MNR ‘Centre’ in relation to its left wing) above all because of the errors committed by the leadership of the POR, a large part of whom were entrists and Pabloists, and who refused to point out the limitations of the MNR and encouraged the growth of popular illusions in the revolutionary potential of Lechínism.” [4]

In fact this is to connect the crisis in the POR, which is analysed later on, with the COB which, from April onwards, could be seen to be muzzled by ‘Co-Government’ without the vanguard waging the slightest struggle to expose this governmental manoeuvre, but, on the contrary, by putting forward the call ‘Complete Control of the Cabinet by the Left’, it nourished illusions.

Guillermo Lora goes on:–

“This slogan could, strictly speaking, be justified as a pedagogic measure meant to show the masses, who were blinded by their love of the MNR, that the MNR Left was quite incapable of taking power against imperialism. However in reality this call revealed an enormous error of principle which was to believe that the working class could take power through Lechínism. It would have been more correct to direct the mobilisation of the masses through the slogan ‘All Power to the COB!’[5]

It is not only that it would have been ‘more correct’ to direct the mobilisation of the masses through this slogan. The slogan ‘All power to the COB’ was the only one that would allow the Lechínist leadership to be exposed whilst keeping a united front against the bourgeoisie at the same time. Only in this way could the COB assume the full character of a soviet linked to the living mobilisation of the working class involving the broadest working class democracy. It was this slogan that could unite and mobilise the masses through directly elected representatives from the rank and file and the old Trade Union leadership. And it was only thus, as G. Lora shows, that the isolation could be overcome:

“Perhaps one of the worst mistakes in the organisation of the COB was that it was created from the top by the trade union leaderships who were rapidly subjected to the petit-bourgeois government and that this orientation formed its middle layer cadre politically. The masses were mobilised around the slogan of powerful centralised Trade Union but this mobilisation did not find a proper organisational expression. It would have correct to start the other way round – that is to say from the bottom to the top. The workers joined the COB through the intermediary of their trade union leaderships, which, apart from their differing politics, had very different organisational forms. The founders of the COB made their appeal to the old leaders and not the shop-stewards elected by the membership. This organisational failure brought with it elements of weakness which made its bureaucratisation easy helping to isolate it from the masses and putting it under the artificial control of the government.” [6]

In reality it was not just a simple organisational problem but a highly political one. The COB, composed as it was of leaderships which were acknowledged by the masses, gave a huge boost to the movement because it enabled it to become centralised. But at the same time this centralisation became a trap if the actual slogan that was put forward did not enable the workers to make the seizure of power a COB demand. The struggle for workers’ democracy was inseparable from the struggle which had to be waged around the slogan ‘All Power to the COB.’ In a period of revolutionary convulsion workers democracy could not feel that it was outside the political struggle to accentuate the soviet type characteristics of the Trade Union Congress. It was here and nowhere else that the lack of experience and lack of homogeneity of the COB could be measured.

For want of this the workers were left completely defenceless in the presence of their treacherous leaderships and a gap opened up between the mobilisation of the masses and the body that could centralise their struggles because that body was tied to the government, so that it became an instrument directed against the masses. The Trade Union militants of the COB organised great demonstrations demanding nationalisation without compensation and under workers’ control but had to explain that there was really no need to occupy the mines properly and have mass meetings which could impose workers’ control, since, given their weight in the government, they could be confident that the COB would achieve these demands.

This left the way open for the COB to be transformed into a bureaucratic body, closely controlled by the government, in which the militants of the MNR, PIR and the newly created PCB (Bolivian Communist Party) gave themselves a slice from the juicier parts and, little by little, pushed out the POR militants who refused to unite with this bureaucracy.

On the basis of this first retreat of the masses, whose complicated mechanism we have examined, the government was able to impose a solution to the problem of nationalisation, that is to say a solution that harmed the interests of imperialism and private property as little as possible.

The Bourgeois Nationalisation of the Mines

On the 13th May 1952 the government announced the creation of a committee to carry out a four month enquiry into the problems of mine nationalisation. This was, very simply, a way of saying what guarantees would be offered to imperialism and was a severe blow to the working class movement. The announcement even seemed a kind of provocation. Had not Lechín called for immediate nationalisation in the COB’s paper?

Greeted by the MNR as the ‘day of economic emancipation’, the nationalisation of the big mining companies with moderate compensation was decreed on the 31st October 1952. Under these circumstances, the nationalisation carried out by the MNR appeared to the large tin concerns as an unexpected escape. At the end of 1952 it was no mystery to anybody that the three large companies, looking simply at their tin mine investments, were on the edge of bankruptcy. The ownership of the nationalised mines on the other hand, was handed over to a mixed company – COMIBOL – whose capital was part state owned and part private, and to which American capital was immediately subscribed so that American interests even profited from the event by increasing their share in comparison with what had been the case with the ‘Three Great’ companies. The capitalist management was not disturbed. A simple reorganisation inside COMIBOL would be enough for a total return to finance capital.

Anyway, from now on Trade Union corruption on the one hand, and the exploitation of the workers on the other, bound together those in charge of production through the creation of a so-called system of ‘workers control’ under trade union management.

A word must said about this institution for it is this that best expressed the way in which the government, seizing on a demand of the workers, cleverly turned it against them. In the nationalisation decree it clearly says that the administration of the nationalised mines, that is to say COMIBOL, is based on individual workers’ control which occurs through their membership of the COB, which in turn selects some of its members to manage the mines. Here was created a whole layer of worker managers who were easily corrupted by the government since the salaries given to the worker managers were astronomical, about 100,000 Bolivian pesos a year when an unskilled worker got 4,000!

As was emphasised by G. Lora in his pamphlet El stalinismo en los sindicatos [7] COMIBOL acted as a ‘bank account for trade union bureaucrats’ which enabled the government to increase the COB’s bureaucratisation.

By the nationalisation of Oct 1952 the working class had been dispossessed of what it had struggled for in April 1952. From this moment on a very sharp retreat of the working class could be observed.

However, the bureaucratisation of the COB, even if it was a factor in the retreat of the masses, could not in any sense be the whole story. In fact the control of the masses by the government, which operated through the bureaucracy, was extremely fragile. This was demonstrated in January 1953 by the way that, once more, the masses mobilised behind the COB against an attempt at a coup d’état by the right wing of the MNR. This started a phase where the government had to move its politics to the left and where the rediscovered power of the COB gave meaning to the slogan, ‘All Power to the COB!’ for several days.

Once more the incompetence of the POR, which arose from its lack of experience and from the pressures within its ranks calling for this slogan, resulted in a weakening of the push leftwards by the urban masses at the moment when an explosive situation was developing in the countryside.

The Revolutionary Movement in the Countryside

It was only at this moment, when the workers’ movement started to enter its phase of retreat, that the peasantry, which had slowly started to organise during the year of 1952, actively intervened. In the course of the last few months of 1952 and the first few of 1952 the peasant movement developed and took on extraordinary strength.

As we have seen the Bolivian peasantry had a long tradition of struggle. Peasant wars had played an important rôle in Bolivian social history. In addition it was worked on, above all in some regions, in particular the region of Cochabamba and Potosi, by the political currents which came from the working class. So it was that the miners, who had fled the ‘white’ massacre in Potosi, settled in these regions and a good number being supporters of the POR or MNR, played an important rôle in radicalising the peasantry.

On the other hand from 1945 onwards that peasantry had started to organise with the setting up, under the auspices of the MNR, of the ‘Federacion de Campesinos’. It was in 1952 however that the organised movement took on any sort of size when Nuflo Chavez Ortiz, Minister of Peasant Affairs in the MNR government, adorned with the prestige of a leader of the COB, took part himself in a massive campaign for the creation of peasant unions. Naturally the aim of this operation was to control the peasantry through the COB, for the MNR who had written land reform into their programme, with some reason feared that, in the name of land reform, the peasantry would go beyond the limits of private property. [8]

Now to the extent that the unions developed, the peasants started to put into practice what they thought was the dominant content of the reform. They surrounded the haciendas and forced the owners to flee and even did the same with the local authorities who were the object of the same hatred as the owners. It was then that the peasant unions came to control the entire life of the countryside, above all in the case of Ucurena, in the Cochabamba valley, where the union took charge of distribution, administration and, through its use of the militia, policing. For a period, Lora thought that the peasant unions had clearly reached even more of a soviet stage than the workers’ unions.

It was at this point that a civil war of extreme violence developed in the countryside. The landowners organised to resist the occupation of their lands; in the small towns the townspeople, together with the MNR, organised military expeditions against the surrounding peasantry. The government sent the police against the peasants. In the opposite camp the POR, whose influence in the countryside has been mentioned, developed an agitation around calls for the creation of a single Peasant Federation, an alliance with the working class and the holding of a peasant conference while the peasants were mobilised to form a front against the intrigues of the landowners.

Under the pressure of events, the government, on the 20th January 1953, set up a commission of enquiry into agrarian reform and on the 2nd August 1953 Paz Estenssoro went to Ucurena to announce the reform and to sign the decree in front of an immense crowd of peasants.

The repression by the police, the MNR militias and the landowners’ armed bands went on throughout the year. The Commission of Enquiry, headed by a well-known member of the PIR, Arturo Urquidi Morales, sought to limit to the utmost the extent of the transformation of the countryside and to channel it into the consolidation of bourgeois order and of the MNR regime itself.

This aim was achieved as land reform led to widespread tiny plots of land, defusing the appeal of the call of land to the peasants and creating, it is true within narrow limits, an internal market for local manufacturing production.

Semi-serfdom (the pongueaje) was abolished for ever, the peasants became free men and the power of the great landowners was broken and never rebuilt, even under Barrientos. All that was grasped by the peasantry, in a few areas, was the direct purchase of the land – a formula which, to the peasants, appeared to have the advantage of more firmly guaranteeing the ownership of the land than the land reform decree, whose application was extremely slow and chaotic and which, in the years after 1953, kept a climate of uncertainty in existence in the countryside.

These gains, in particular the abolition of semi-serfdom, were not negligible. But they were little in comparison with the size and violence of the peasant and the explosive revolutionary potential which would have been possible if the alliance had been made with the working class. For want of the working class which could, through its revolutionary party, go onwards at the head of the peasant masses and focus this force to establish a workers’ and peasants’ government, the great upheavals of 1953, important as they were, did not deliver the Bolivian countryside from its misery.

For that, the triumph of the working class was needed and that, in its turn, meant that the revolutionary party would know what it was about and play its full part.

The Two Successive Crises of the POR

It was inevitable that the first phase of the radicalisation of the masses occurred in conditions which meant the temporary control of the movement by the MNR and the Lechí nist Trade Union bureaucracy. This is one of the laws of the revolutionary process: generally after the first phase it by-passes the party or the revolutionary nucleus.

Already it was almost inevitable, if entirely understandable, that the POR, the first Trotskyist Party (with the sole exception perhaps of the Indo-Chinese Party immediately before the Second World War) should have to face a situation that called for the formulation of totally practical demands which reflected the level of the working classes struggle for power, and should have let slip its first opportunity to put forward the slogan ‘All Power to the COB’.

The essential thing was that the party succeeded, on the basis of understanding what was going on, in keeping in good order; that it resisted the pressure of alien forces in its ranks and, in good order, grappled with the second phase of the revolutionary process which would start when the masses in movement broke with the parties to which they had at first given their confidence.

But the revolutionary party is a gamble in the class war. On the one hand, even if some people wish to forget it, it is an organism built by men who are socially determined, whose activity takes place within classes and layers – the working class the peasantry, the radicalised petit bourgeoisie – which are themselves the constituent parts of a society in torment. It is inevitable that the hopes and the illusions, or their opposite, the deception and the discouragements come to be refracted in the ranks of the party. The marxist revolutionary party, of which the Bolshevik Party is the only successful one, is distinguished by its ability to resist these pressures, to weaken them and to neutralise them.

The POR as well as all the elements that Lora listed in La Revolución Boliviana [9], showed it had not reached such a level of development. It had tackled April 1952 when it was not only quite weak from a numerical point of view but above all not very politically homogenous. As a body it lacked the strength to resist the pressure of class enemy forces. The refraction of the illusions of the petty-bourgeois and even of the working class within its ranks, rapidly turned into a mass exodus of important militants who went over to the MNR and all too often occupied the highest positions in the apparatus of the COB and of the state. [10]

This was the first phase of the crisis of the POR. The second, which occurred eighteen months later, was in its essence different though superficially it had analogies with the first. As a direct consequence of Pablo’s victory over the Lambert-Bleibtreu tendency and the bureaucratic expulsion of the majority of the French section of the 4th International [11], this crisis was of a quite different order from the previous one. The departure of the ‘entrists’ was a serious blow to the Party and the attack of the directing centre of the 4th International, which had become liquidationist, all but completely destroyed it.

These attacks took place after the 10th Congress of the POR – whose resolutions are contained in this book – which marked a very serious attempt on the part of the Party leadership to rearm themselves after the last crisis and to give their members an analysis and activity which would help them to deal with the difficult situation. The resolutions of the 10th Congress included a precise analysis of the character of the Paz government and a balance sheet of its political record from April onwards. They included a long discussion on the meaning of the slogan for a workers’ and peasants’ government, which made a real effort to explain the very important indications given by Trotsky in the section of that name in the Transitional Programme. Then they linked up in paragraph five of the middle section on the central problem: how to position oneself in a period where simultaneously the masses were in retreat but the full experience of this government was yet to come.

The main thrust of the resolutions of the 1953 Congress can be summed up in the following way: Before winning power, the POR must win over the masses. It must succeed in educating them in the course of their daily struggles. The time to cry, ‘Down with the Government’ has not yet come, but rather the demand must be that the government must carry out the tasks of the revolution. It is only then that the masses will understand from their daily experience the need to replace the present government which is incapable of carrying out the tasks of the revolution with a workers’ and peasants’ government. Indeed the most combative and politicised sectors and the best elements of the Bolivian working class and peasantry have already turned towards the POR and see it as their leadership. But the majority of the workers are still grouped around the MNR. That is why the POR must carry on its strategy ‘To power through winning over the masses!’ [12]

It was this position to which Pablo was so bitterly opposed at the end of 1953. To understand both the factional game which occurred from that time on until the split of 1956 and the rôle played by the International Secretariat it is important to give this passage from an internal document, dated October 1954, where Lora made the point about the situation at a time when irreconcilable positions had hardened:

“The factional dispute started over the character of the Bolivian revolution, the development of mass consciousness and the attitude to take to the MNR, the only mass party in the country. On the basis of differences around these very important issues of revolutionary politics, two positions hardened about the way a party could be built. In the heat of a savage struggle it became clear that the so-called Internationalist Proletarian faction – who had adopted this title to underline their unconditional submission to the orders of the International Secretariat – had come to adopt a Stalinist conception of the party (it had supported a democratic centralism that had rather more centralism and rather less democracy so that the second element was completely subordinated to the first) and in the course of the factional dispute had recourse to bureaucratic methods. The Leninist Workers’ faction (they took the term Leninist to distinguish themselves from the Stalinist deviations of those who, to start with, were in the majority) defended Lenin’s concept of the party and became the standard bearer of the Trotskyist traditions of the POR. The political positions of the two factions could be summed up thus:

a) The Leninist Worker faction started to build around the defence of the political resolution approved by the 10th Congress which took place in La Paz in June 1953. After instructions from the Latin American Bureau of the International Secretariat this document began to be attacked. As is known the document of the 10th Congress states that the revolution was underdoing a temporary retreat whose consequences were the bureaucratisation of the trades union movement, the weakening of its fighting spirit, the organisational retreat of the party and the accentuation of the government’s lean to the right. The immediate task was not to take power but to win over the majority of the working class and peasantry to the POR positions. We said again and again that there was no other way to get a worker-peasant government.

b) The Internationalist Proletarian faction tried to undertake a revision of the political positions adopted by the 10th Congress, which it regarded as pessimistic and capitulationist. Its position was as follows: ‘It is wrong to talk of a retreat of the revolutionary movement; on the contrary the masses have kept their spirit and are marching rapidly towards power. As a result the demand for a workers’ and peasants’ government can be transformed into an agitational demand, for it can be achieved before too long.’ It added that the MNR was no longer the party of the masses because the latter were rapidly leaving this petty bourgeois leadership.

c) Party Building. The Leninist Workers’ faction thought that the strengthening of the party, as much organisationally as ideologically, was indispensable. The time was coming when the POR would be able to transform itself in the party of the masses which was indispensable if the exploited were to seize power. The key problem which they had, was to tear the masses from the control of the MNR. The response they had to this problem was the tactic of the Anti-Imperialist Front oriented to the Left of the MNR and other Trade Union sectors. They tried to use this approach in certain areas, for example Sucre. They took account of the variations which this Front could assume, first it could be formed as a result of a vigorous push from the MNR rank and file and second it could serve merely as a propaganda slogan which would accelerate the split of the MNR rank and file activists from their leadership.

On the other hand the Internationalist Proletarian faction felt that by virtue of the rapidity with which the masses were moving to power, it was impossible, (for reasons of time) to make the POR the party of the masses, and that the latter would achieve power, undoubtedly under the command of Lechín, without the need for its own vanguard. It did not deny the usefulness of the Anti-Imperialist Front tactic but only questioned its correct timing, and, since the left of the movement was not well organised, the party’s most important job would be to help it achieve its aim.

These differences over the problem of Bolivian policy were connected to the differences in the heart of the 4th International which led to one of the sharpest crises in its history. The split of the North American section from the International Secretariat led to the formation of two ‘4th Internationals’. The repercussions of these events became known to the activists, not directly, but through the clumsy and disastrous behaviour of the Pabloite body called the Latin-American Bureau. Faced with the crisis in the 4th International the Internationalist Proletarian faction had no other position but to follow the orders of the International Secretariat. Its votes and its decisions were adopted as instructions and not because they had any knowledge of the problems. Faced with Stalinist and Pabloite deviations, the Leninist faction put the necessity for preserving the unity of the International and its Bolshevik structure above every other consideration.” [13]

The line advocated by the Internationalist Proletarian faction consisted of a permanent and total capitulation to the Trade Union bureaucracy at every turn of the class struggle, recourse to the slogan ‘All Power to the COB’ at a time when retreat of the masses turned this into a simple formula for a policy of unconditional support for Lechín, and eventually a very clear turn towards ‘entrism’.

This conformed in every respect to the orientation ‘to penetrate and to act in the real movement of the masses in as fully and deeply as possible ’ as defined by Pablo in the preparatory document for the Fourth World Congress [14] after the expulsion of the PCI and the creation of the International Committee. This line is one of capitulating to difficulties, including the building of parties and the International, and, to achieve these tasks, implies a search for substitutes whose the precise forms and nature evidently vary in the particular circumstances of different countries and time periods. The task of building organisations is reduced to playing the rôle of a pressure group at best and eventually the whole historical necessity for them is removed.

At the time of the Third World Congress in 1951 Lora was in prison [15] and was not able to help in the battle that the PCI had opened up against the propositions put forward by Pablo in Where Are We Going? It is more than likely that he heard only a faint distorted echo of this. In July 1952 at the end of the 8th Congress of the PCI, which saw the defeat of Pablo’s supporters, there was, by means of a bureaucratic diktat of the International Secretariat, the expulsion of the French section. The POR delegation at the 4th World Congress included a representative from each of the two tendencies of whom Lora was from the Leninist Worker faction. In the internal bulletin which he wrote after his return, Lora made clear that he had voted against the main document put forward by Pablo and that he had defended these positions during the meetings of the Latin-American Commission which met after the Congress. [16]

In this article Lora went further than before in his characterisation of the positions of Hugo Gonzalez Moscoso. He wrote:

“The position of the liquidators was that, without the leadership of the POR, the masses would come to power through their own methods and guided by their present organisations, that is to say through the Left of the MNR. The strategic consequence was defined in that the leading rôle of the POR was not to be asserted until after the seizure of power by the masses. To the extent that it is held that the victory of the masses is possible without the leadership of their vanguard, the revision of Marxism is total. The main aim is defined as helping the building of Lechínism since it is stated categorically that the workers’ and peasants’ government will be a government of the MNR Left stiffened by the POR militants. Implicitly the necessity for the POR is denied and its tasks are attributed to a sector of the MNR.” [17]

The extreme gravity with which this crisis of the 4th International was attended arose from the fact that positions such as these were developed at the very top of the International. The thesis of Gonzalez was in perfect accord with the preparatory documents of the 4th Congress. They only had a particular application in Bolivian conditions. By definition they benefited from the total support of Pablo and his lieutenants in the International Secretariat, Frank, Mandel and the others.

It was this that gave them their absolutely devastating character. Even where, as in Bolivia, a faction with the necessary strength to fight them was developed, the difficulties of this fight were multiplied tenfold by the fact that it was against the leadership of the International itself – fortified with all its prestige – that this faction had to measure itself.

Lora’s deep hatred of Pablo and his lieutenants, and also his distrust for the whole international organisation, comes out clearly in this reading from La Revolución Boliviana:

“We understand that the POR could only struggle and overcome its whole heritage of past errors through a broad internal discussion. The assimilation of international experience can be done in no other way. Pabloism and the Latin-American Bureau enjoined us to follow a very particular form of party organisation. According to them we would have the duty of limiting ourselves to servilely obeying the orders of the International Secretariat and Michael Pablo and to vowing fealty to Michael Pablo, who had been declared the official heir of Trotsky’s ability. We have never abandoned a critical attitude towards the marxist classics and Trotsky – we would find it difficult to worship a puppet. According to the curious theory of the bureaucrats of the Latin American Bureau – incompetent bureaucrats into the bargain – the only job of the POR was to circulate documents written in Buenos Aires and, so that we could do such an ‘important’ job properly, we were told not to form factions or tendencies. Thus the ‘Heirs’ of Trotsky showed how they had adopted the worst vices of the Stalinist bureaucracy as a normal way of working.”

Pabloism – the tendency which had revised Trotskyism in the most serious way – believed that its illegitimate interests would only be satisfied when it had succeeded in smashing the Revolutionary Workers Party. This disastrous enterprise was so conscientiously carried out that the party almost disappeared. The bureaucracy which obeyed the International Executive Committee of the 4th International, used every means, from illegal expulsions to the bribing of oppositionists (reminiscent of Stalinist methods), to divide the party and to make sure of a section that was totally submissive to its decisions.

In 1956, after a battle that left the Party drained of life, the two factions finally split. On the 3rd May 1956 at the Congress of Oruro, with a tiny band of militants grouped round the paper Masas, Lora undertook to rebuild the party, all the while under heavy fire from the MNR which thought that it had finished with the POR.


1. Mine occupations and the debates on workers control in the mines are frequent according to the Pulacayo Theses which put forward these demands. G. Lora in La Revolución Boliviana, op. cit p.330, writes ‘The lack of a workers party was one of the reasons why the masses, who were formed and trained in the mine occupations, did not put this into practice (in 1952). If occupation had taken place the life of the MNR government would have been considerably shortened.’

[Note by JJP – An English translation of the Pulacayo Theses can be found in Permanent Revolution No.2, Summer 1984 (Published by Workers Power)]

2. It was a militant of the POR, Alandia Pantoja, who had actually started the organisation of the COB, and this had put such pressure on Lechín that he had called the first mass meeting. For this he was praised in the first issue of Rebelión, the paper of the COB. Equally it was for that he had a seat in the Popular Assembly in 1971 and, in as much as he represented the COB, he had the heavy responsibility of organising the armed militias on behalf of the COB and the Popular Assembly.

3. cf. Malloy, Bolivia: The Uncompleted Revolution, University of Pittsburg, 1970, op. cit., pp.224-5 quoting the first numbers of Rebelión.

4. G. Lora, La Revolución Boliviana, op. cit., p.263.

5. G. Lora, La Revolución Boliviano, op. cit., p.267.

6. G. Lora La Revolución Boliviana, op. cit., p.262.

7. On p.13 G. Lora explains how the two leaders of the PCB, Ireneo Pimental and Fedérico Escobar Zapata, apart from the money that they got from COMIBOL, allowed themselves to handle money belonging to the Siglo XX Trade Union. This came out as a result of a Trade Union enquiry.

8. J.-M. Malloy, op.cit., Chapter 10, as well as P. Scali, La Révolution Bolivienne 1952-1954, in La Verité, 22 April 1954 p.28 and seq. can be consulted on this.

9. G. Lora, La Revolución Boliviana, Chapter 9, The Building of the Revolutionary Party on all these issues.

10. G. Lora, La Revolución Boliviana, op.cit., p.330 explains that ‘entrism’ started from 1952 giving rise to a new crisis in the Party and not only in 1954. Lora writes ‘A group of Trotskyist militants, some of them being very able and having great influence in the Unions, went into the MNR under the pretext of carrying out revolutionary work inside the mass party’.

11. On the crisis of 1951-52 and the expulsion of the Parti Communist Internationaliste (PCI), cf. J-J.Marie, Le Trotskysme, Paris, Editions Flammarion, in the ‘Questions d’histoire’ series, pp.78 et seq., as well as Quelques enseignnements de notre histoire, p.75 et seq.

12. Pierre Scali, op. cit., p.36.

13. G. Lora, En defensa del POR, pp.16-17.

14. Notre intégration dans la réel movement des masses: notre expérience et ses perspectives, Quatriéme Internationale, January-February 1954, no.1-2.

15. ‘The Third Congress took place under the honourary presidency of the revolutionary militants who were victims of imperialist or Stalinist repression: the Bolivian, Vietnamese and Greek comrades, in particular the imprisoned comrade Guillermo Lora’, Quatriéme Internationale, vol.9 No.8-10, August-October 1951, p.1.

16. G. Lora, En defensa del POR, pp.17-18.

17. G. Lora, En defensa del POR, p.18. We are rightly astonished to learn when reading a recent pamphlet of the Ligue Communiste, La Revolution Permanente en Amerique Latine, p.42 that the POR was straightened out in 1954-55 by Gonzalez Moscoso in relation to its ‘opportunist deviations’ at the 10th Congress.

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Part 3

International Repercussions Of The Interview With Lora

These scandalous declarations were published in the mouth-piece of those who called themselves bastions of ‘anti-pabloism’: the SWP (USA) and PCI (France). From ‘Pabloists’ to ‘anti-Pabloists’ all fully supported these positions. In all of the factional struggles which were to split the 4th International in 1953, nobody ever objected to this criminal Menshevik policy which betrayed the Bolivian Revolution.

The only discordant voice known within the 4th International at that time was that of a small tendency in California, headed by Vern and Ryan. This had the great merit of severely questioning the Menshevik declarations of Lora.

“The POR has been presented the opportunity of leading a revolution and thereby rendering a great service to our international movement.”

“The MNR is a bourgeois party, which politically exploits the masses.”

“... it is incontestable that the present Bolivian government is a bourgeois government, whose task and aim is to defend by all means available to it the interests of the bourgeoisie and of imperialism (...) This government is therefore the deadly enemy of the workers and peasants, and especially of the Marxist party.”

“A united front with a bourgeois party with the aim of establishing a bourgeois constitution and placing the bourgeois party in power is not a united front but a people’s front.

“The united front that the Marxists advocate aims to unite the workers and peasants on a minimum programme embodying a stage of the revolutionary transitional program. This united front, in a revolutionary situation, turns into workers’ and peasants’ soviets. And even in the soviets the struggle goes on. Far from accepting the conciliationist programme which may be imposed on the soviets, the Marxists advocate their own programme, calling on the soviets to break with the bourgeoisie, their parties and their government, and take the complete power, establishing a workers’ and peasants’ government.

“But comrade Lora does not raise the question of a break with the bourgeois government. The workers’ and peasants’ government he advocates appears as some ultimate conclusion to a gradual reshuffling of the personnel of the bourgeois government, whereby the right wingers will be forced out and the cabinet take on a more and more left tinge”. (20)

The Vern-Ryan tendency received no reply to its criticism against the Menshevik line in Bolivia. From then until today, all the currents which derive from the ‘anti-Pabloist’ International Committee continue to ignore these questionings of a policy which they, opportunistically, totally endorsed.

In spite of the progressive nature of its criticism this tendency soon dissolved itself. Its positions, although on the left of the deformed 4th International, contained a series of ambiguities. The most important of them was its conception that a government directed by a Stalinist military apparatus would be enough (regardless of whether capitalist social relations had been expropriated or not) to recognise the creation of a new deformed workers state.

Part 4

Rebelión Against The Permanent Revolution

The POR was proud that it edited the mouthpiece of the COB bureaucracy.

“Our points of view were imposed by a crushing majority and the newspaper Rebelión of the COB presented our own political position in the workers camp”. (21) (Boletin Interno, No.13, POR, undated, p.10)

“The three first issues of Rebelión, the last of which was published on the occasion of the First Congress of the COB (31st October 1954), appeared under the direction of M. Alandia and wholly expressed the programme of the Centre at that time. The first issue contained a hearty greeting to the General Secretary of the POR”. (22) (La revolución boliviana: Análisis crítico, G. Lora, La Paz 1963, p.254).

But what did this mouthpiece have to say? Did it put forward a revolutionary policy whose basic principles could only be a demand for the COB to break with Paz and call for the occupation of the mines, factories and the land, and to take power? On the contrary, Rebelión identified itself with the bourgeois regime. It stated that the MNR government was its own and that it had to be propped up. In its first issue under POR direction it said:

“The defeat of the oligarchy and the birth of the MNR government is the work of the working masses; it is our creation (...) in order to survive the present government requires from the workers that the workers supporting it, being vigilant will be able to attain great achievements”. (23) (Rebelión, 1.5.52, pp.8-9)

They not only mortgaged themselves to the MNR but paid homage to the memory of a military man, Gualberto Villarroel, who was involved in the Catavi massacre of 1942, and who was a pro-imperialist dictator overthrown by a popular uprising. (24) “Our proletarian homage to the memory of the martyr president” (ibid., p.9).

How could that be the position of a revolutionary? This was an orientation which could only help to disarm and demobilise the COB, asking it, in spite of having the real power, to continue helping a bourgeois government that was destined to line up behind imperialism and massacre the workers.

In June, Lucha Obrera maintained that the MNR should thank the POR for helping it achieve power and for its support. Its task would now be to put pressure on the MNR to carry out reforms which would benefit the working and middle classes.

“If the MNR has to give thanks to anyone, and greatly for our help, it is without doubt, to the POR (...) The POR will continue in carrying out its task of guiding the proletariat and of ensuring that the actions which deposed one government and raised up another, which enjoys the support of all the people, are carried out in a way beneficial to the proletariat and the oppressed sectors of the middle class”. (25) (LO, 12.6.52, p.3).

“Never before had a party like the MNR, that can count on uniform backing from an armed people and proletariat, achieved power; and never, therefore, did anyone have the opportunity of adopting measures with a real revolutionary content. The government has closed its eyes, or has not wanted to see the magnificent opportunity, and has preferred to deceive the proletariat which supported it unconditionally”. (26) (LO, 29.6.52, p.4)

Never before had the party had such an opportunity to make a social revolution, but the MNR hesitated. The POR opposed the view that the deficiency was because of the bourgeois class character of the MNR, but said it was due to its lack of tactical ability. The task was to open its eyes and make it see the magnificent opportunity. The whole policy of the POR was completely Menshevik. Instead of calling on the workers to reject the MNR and to struggle to put the COB into power, the POR boasted of having served the MNR and of wanting it to mull over things and see reality – an orientation that was simply limited to seeking to serve as an adviser to the MNR in order to reform it.

Trying to explain the behaviour of the POR as objectively as possible, Dunkerley maintains that those from the section of the 4th International “were from an early stage highly critical of the MNR regime, they made no call for an immediate workers government, demanding instead a radicalisation of proposed reforms, the defence of the regime against imperialism and the revolutionary education of the masses”. (12) (Rebelión en las venas, p.52 – Verso Edition, p.46).

Just before the April events the POR had published “an open letter to the government, demanding that power be handed over to the Nationalist MNR without a new election”. (13) The strategy of the POR was limited to pressurising the government periodically so as to change the leadership of the bourgeois state with the aim of allowing the MNR to take over the presidency by constitutional means. In that way, a legitimate government could be restored, which, through pressure, would be forced to adopt radical measures and would also have to appoint worker ministers.

During the April events Lora had been in France where he gave statements to La Verité which The Militant then reproduced. They were the main weeklies of the 4th International. In his history of the POR, Lora says that “Up to now not enough importance has been given to the call for the Trotskyist programme made by Lora in Paris a few days after the arrival of the MNR in power”. With great cynicism he states that there he said that the working class “in order to triumph had no other way than by going over the political corpse of the MNR and also over that of Lechínism”. (14) (Contribución ..., G. Lora, Vol.2, pp.237-238). As far as we are concerned, we do not want to give ‘enough importance’ to such statements. Exactly the opposite was said. Let us see:

“The central slogans put forward by our party were:
1) Restore the constitution of the country through the formation of an MNR government which obtained a majority in the 1951 election.
2) The struggle for the improvement of wages and working conditions
3) Struggle for democratic rights
4) Mobilisation of the masses against imperialism, for the nationalisation of the mines, and for the abrogation of the UN agreement”. (15) (The Militant 12.5.52, Lora interview Part 1, SWP, New York.)

Of all these demands only the last one is really radical and even that did not go beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy, or what the anti-communist Paz would do a few months later. The first seeks a constitutional bourgeois state with a populist government. Instead of seeking to differentiate itself from the latter by raising anti-capitalist and class-based slogans, the whole of the POR platform was exactly the same as that raised by the bourgeois MNR. Lora did not put forward as his dominant idea any proletarian slogan (expropriation without compensation of the bourgeoisie, workers control, disarming the bourgeois armed forces and their replacement by worker and peasant militias, occupation mines, factories and land, etc.). Instead of wanting to make the COB into a soviet, break with the bourgeoisie and take all power, Lora called for the MNR bourgeois government to change direction and limited himself to asking for some reforms which did not go beyond the framework of the capitalist state.

“The subversive movement of the ninth of April was no surprise for our party and occurred as we had foreseen in our theoretical analysis”. (16)

If a party was aware that it was approaching the main revolution of its history it ought to have done all it could to have kept its most important individual in the country, or at least, not far away. However, Lora stayed in Paris for more than half a year after the end of the 3rd World Congress of the 4th International which was why he was in Europe. By boasting that his party had predicted what was going to happen and with his view that he should stay outside in the imperialist world, Lora was either blustering, or worse, he did not place much importance on his own endeavours to get rid of the MNR but instead agreed with trying to put pressure on it.

“The struggle which immediately began is a struggle of the masses to impose their demands on the April 9th government”. (17)

If the POR was in the forefront of the struggle its objective should have been to put itself forward as an alternative leadership which called on the COB to kick out Paz. However, Lora called for support of the bourgeois government and its ‘left-wing’ ministers. Instead of opposing the trap of inviting labour ministers into the capitalist cabinet, so attempting to improve the regime’s disguise preparatory to disarming and then counter-attacking the workers, Lora identified himself with the tactic. “The textile workers decided to impose their conditions on the right wing of the MNR, they obliged it to accept the working class elements in the new cabinet who constitute its left faction”. (18) (The Militant, 12.5.52, Lora Interview Part 1).

“In this connection, the essential mission of the POR is to assume the role of the vigilant guide to prevent the aspirations of the workers from being diluted by vague promises or by manoeuvres of right wing elements”. (19)

For the POR, the enemy was not the bourgeois government but only the ministers who were to the right of the anti-communist Paz. As far as Paz was concerned, ‘the government was to be defended to the utmost’.

Lora wanted to uphold this reformist position by characterising the regime as petty bourgeois. The petty bourgeoisie is incapable of installing its own mode of production and regime. Small property engenders large property. A society of small owners is impossible and cannot avoid competition so forcing some to enrich themselves to accumulate while others become poor and are turned into proletarians. When the petty bourgeoisie is not allied to the proletariat it is marching behind the bourgeoisie aiming to reform its state.

A government that is not subordinate to the Soviets and workers militias is one that is against the proletariat. A petty bourgeois government which oscillates between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie cannot exist. By upholding such a possibility, Lora put forward the view that these ‘petty bourgeois’ governments, should have pressure put on them to try to fill them with extra labour ministers, with the aim of gradually achieving a workers and peasants government. This is a gradualist and reformist conception that led the POR to prop up the military socialist dictatorship, and it would later lead them to ask for ministers in the cabinet of General Torres. Whenever you try to put ‘red’ ministers in the populist governments of the bourgeoisie and sow further illusions, the more the ruling class is helped make use of these demagogues so as to confuse and disorientate the masses and to prepare a reactionary coup.

Neither the MNR government nor the party were petty bourgeois. The MNR, like every party with popular support, reflects the composition of the society in which it operates. A populist party, even though it has a majority of members from the most oppressed strata, just as elsewhere within capitalism, is run from the top down. Almost all the top leadership of the MNR were people who came from the oligarchic families, who had collaborated with German imperialism, propped up the bloody nationalist dictatorship of Villarroel and who were socially, ideologically and organically, an expression of a sector of the national bourgeoisie. The MNR, like Bolivian society, might have a majority of members and voters in the petty bourgeoisie, but it was led by politicians of and for the bourgeoisie.