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Bolivia: The COB and Morales -- `Over the shoulders of Kornilov'

By Jorge Sanmartino

On July 21, 2008, some 15 days before the recall referendum, the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) initiated an indefinite general strike with roadblocks and permanent protests until its pension law project is approved by Congress. It was the most important protest that the COB has organised in years. Jamie Solares, the most radical of all the COB spokespeople, even maintained that if the law was not approved the COB would call for a “protest vote”. The current executive secretary of the Departmental Workers Central of Oruro (COD) was the executive secretary of the COB until 2006.

With a combative tone, Solares tends to invoke Lenin to justify some of his own actions. Could we therefore invoke the advice of the old Bolshevik leader in order to explain what the COB is doing today? Because its indefinite general strike, blockading the main highways in the country, blowing up bridges with dynamite and direct confrontation has cost the lives of two miners in Huanuni and more than 30 injured.

The repression was ferocious, with rubber bullets, and if a delicate equilibrium between workers and peasants existed until now, it is possible that it is rapidly breaking down. The government insists that it did not give the order to repress.

Who wins? Disconcerted, looking to one side and the other, blockade here and there, strikes by the right and by the left, pickets on both sides. A few days out from the recall referendum. It is curious, because there is not a single radical left militant in Bolivia who does not know about the destabilisation process that the Evo Morales government is facing at the hands of the right.

In his monumental work History of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky described the political and tactical capabilities of Vladmir Lenin, his ability to interpret each political moment, each conjuncture, because definitively, in politics as in war, you cannot obtain your strategic objective if you do not correctly read critical conjunctures. Trotsky relays to us the case of the siege of the Kerensky government by General Kornilov’s troops. The masterful formula of Lenin was to fire against Kornilov over the shoulders of Kerensky. He could not directly oppose himself to the head of the provisional government while his head was in danger off rolling not at the hands of the soviets but of a restorational coup. Lenin contested with Kerensky the leadership of the struggle against the coup.

Jamie Solares reminded me of this anecdote. He put the history of that coup attempt in the mirror. He inverts it. Solares fires against Kerensky, leaning his rifle on the shoulder of Kornilov.

I met Solares in October of 2006, at a meeting of recuperated factories and Latin American unions in Caracas. We stayed in the same hotel, the Anauco, where all the other foreign delegations were. I was introduced to him in the lobby and we talked for at least half an hour. It was sufficient time.

Evo Morales had assumed the presidency in January that year. Solares told me, as if he was talking to a friend, that the COB was ready to overthrow the government if it did not comply with the October agenda. He said, moreover, that he would give them three more months. No more. The only thing left to resolve, he argued, was the issue of armaments. Solares dedicated himself to impressing radical tourists with his proletarian army made out of cardboard. I left my bottle of beer on the table and left. Solares was the comedy that the drama of the glorious COB of the past had left as residue.

The Bolivian radical left wants the “campesino government” to accept the workers' demands. If we could give them some advice, from the lessons that Lenin left us, we would say that they should try to achieve the unity of the workers and peasants and not the eternal hate that the great national, peasant and indigenous majorities are on the verge of feeling towards the COB. A wound that might not heal for a long time.

If the COB had placed itself at the head of a campaign for the re-election of the president, participating together with the immense majority of the people in defence of their government under siege by superior forces from inside and outside, the COB could receive, the following day, the enthusiastic support of many Bolivians for its proposed pension law, or at least one that overcomes the neoliberal insufficiency of the government’s project. Moreover the COB would be in a better position if eventually it was left with no other option but to go to a national strike.

Who could accuse the COB of aiding the right if it did as its mentor Vladmir Illich did? But no. When Evo Morales accuses the COB of aiding imperialism, something that Lenin avoided by firing against Kornilov over the shoulders of Kerensky, Jamie Solares responds by saying that “the only faithful instrument of international imperialism and submissive servant of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is Evo Morales”, in passing feeding the ultrarightist slander that Evo Morales is a puppet of Chavez. He said this, word for word.

Other groups on the radical left, fortunately very small, have called for an “active boycott of this illegal and reactionary referendum”. Given that the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) government is weak in the face of the right, given it does not use the weapons at hand to combat the right, then let the right win. How could we classify this position without adding qualifying adjectives?

The Bolivian government has been facing a permanent process of destabilisation for a long time now. The local right wing, under the banner of “autonomism”, and maintained by the US administration, has time and time again lashed out in order to wipe the indigenous president off the map. A few days out from the recall referendum, new marches, hunger strikes, blockades of airports, pickets and warnings to not step foot in Sucre are other actions to impede the referendum going ahead, given that the right is set to be the lose at the ballot box. They have said that no matter what the result of the referendum is, they will continue with their autonomy plan. Civic activists and university students from Tarija yesterday took over the El Sol hotel, where the Venezuelan soldiers were meant to stay. The Pro Santa Cruz Civic Committee hosted a hunger strike “until the government returns the funds from the Direct Tax on Hydrocarbons (IDH) to us”. Leading the picket is the agroindustrial businessowner and civic president Branco Marinkovic.

It's true that in order to stop the right it is necessary to adopt more radical measures in all spheres: handing over land to the peasants, improving salaries and people’s living conditions, and even the most widest and combative popular mobilisations possible, something that Evo continues to have doubts about. But none of this can be promoted from the kerbside on the other side of the path that the Bolivian people have begun to walk down and feel as their own. The radical left, if it hopes to have any role that will deserve to be rescued by history, will do so only on the condition of knowing against who and from where they need to take aim in the current circumstances.

[Jorge Sanmartino is a member of Economists of the Left, the Gramscian Association and the Praxis Current. Translated from the Spanish original at Rebelion by Bolivia Rising.]

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