A tactical defeat in Bolivia: Evo's re-election referendum defeat and the future of the process of change

By Alfredo Rada Vélez, Bolivian vice-minister for coordination with social movementsMarch 17, 2016 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal translated from La Razon by Sean Seymour-Jones -- Let’s start with the positives. On February 21, rural voters stood firm in their support for [Bolivian president] Evo Morales. I’m talking about the rural communities of La Paz, Oruro, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca and Potosí, as well as the bastions of San Julián and Yapacaní in Santa Cruz, and various provinces in Pando, Beni and Tarija. The Yes vote also triumphed overwhelmingly in Huanuni, Colquiri and San Cristóbal, home of the strongest miners unions. The vote of factory and construction workers, the largest proletarian components of the COB [Bolivian Workers Central], was felt in the working class neighbourhoods of La Paz, in the most populated districts of El Alto, as well as in Vinto, Quillacollo in the plebian zone in the south of the city of Cochabamba, and in the barrios and in Plan Tres Mil in the city of Santa Cruz. The vote of other urban neighbourhood sectors was particularly important in El Alto, La Paz, Cochabamba and Oruro. In other word, the indigenous-working class-popular base of the process of change continues to back Evo, as this was the main class composition of the support received. But we should also recognise that the No option triumphed among urban inhabitants with medium and high incomes across all the departmental capital cities, and also managed to win the majority of the youth vote, above all because of the impact of the media and social networks. On this issue we must be cautious, as I do not think it is correct to attribute the defeat solely to social media. In a general sense these networks emerge from the new technological tools of information and communication; they can not create “virtual realities”, but they can express tendencies that are present in society, taking them to a fever pitch. Their impact has been fundamentally felt in the so-called middle classes, because there was a subjective base on which the right staged its campaigns that ended up encouraging racism and discrimination. That subjectivity comes from some cases of corruption that have not yet been fully clarified. I am referring in particular to the issue of the Fondo Indigena [Indigenous Fund] in which, even though there has been an ongoing investigation that has led to the jailing of former minister Julia Ramos and a growing number of campesino leaders, Nemesia Achacollo [a former Minister of Rural Development and Lands and peasant women’s union leader] was not even summoned by the District Attorney’s Office. Why didn’t Achacollo volunteer to testify? These things set a bad precedent on which media circuses such as the Zapata case [a corruption scandal involving a former partner of Morales] were mounted. We have to recognise that the issue of the Indigenous Fund eroded the confidence of the people. Similarly, that the right carried out a much more effective election campaign that managed to position the idea of generational change ahead of the ideas of stability and the future that the Yes campaign outlined. We have to accept that we were unable to neutralise the opposition political and media machine, that had its own strategies and an extremely efficient and precise plan. We have to accept that the weakening of the political structure of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) was another factor that led to the negative result. But the referendum is over and we have to look to the future. It is probable that in the decision-making spaces which have been opened up to faciliate participation in the process of the revolutionary (I reiterate: indigenous-working class-poor) social bloc, the most important of which is Conalcam [National Coalition for Change], there will be proposals put forward for government measures to deepen the transformations. Today we have this opportunity, as it has become evident that the financial and export-oriented agricultural bourgeoisie, that some years ago cosied up to the government with smiles and promises of investment and support, was only looking to preserve its economic power so that, once this was achieved, it could give birth to the most dangerous rightist project of neoliberal restoration of the last ten years: the Social Democrat Movement (MDS). [Santa Cruz governor] Rubén Costas’ party has triumphed electorally in the department of Santa Cruz, has expanded towards the centre of the country with the help of the mayor of Cochabamba, José María Leyes, and has two important programmatic agreements in the west, the first with Luis Revilla, the mayor of the city of La Paz, and the second with the cooperative mining bourgeoisie in the city of Potosí. To those who, to give an example, ask themselves why support for Evo decreased in Santa Cruz in this referendum, my response is that since the conciliatory tendency towards the large businessowners of Santa Cruz imposed itself within the government, we have left intact the bourgeois economic power that today, converted into a political project, threatens to defeat the revolutionary forces. Today this tendency, which has even been theorized as the incorporation of a defeated opponent as the supposed result of the universalisation of the collective necessities of the dominant social bloc, is heavily questioned. It was said to be combination of a Leninist approach (of force, of victory by defeating the enemy) with a Gramscian one (of seduction and persuasion). This orientation ended up justifying not only the opening up of our project to personalities from the right, but also a non-revolutionary approach based on forging a pact with the Santa Cruz bourgeoisie. I have never agreed with this pragmatism; whatsmore, I think that the results of the referendum in Pando and Beni, and even more so in Tarija and Santa Cruz, are a demonstration of its complete failure, and demand of us that we forget this idea of “defeating and incorporating”. If we read the Political Thesis approved in the recent COB Congress, we will find an approach that is very consistent with the revolutionary role of the social movements in the process of change, as well as a strategy for its defense and deepening. They are not only proposals for the present circumstances: they are aimed at taking programmatic initiatives in the economic sphere - taking into consideration that we are already in a new setting in which the international crisis of capitalism is hitting us; in the political sphere - knowing that we now have to confront a rejuvenated right with its regressive project; and in the social sphere - now that the issues of comprehensive reform of the justice and public healthcares systems have to be dealt with. February 21 was a tactical defeat within a strategic struggle; by tactical defeat we are referring to a political exhaustion that does not structurally shift the correlation of social forces. The opposition knows this and quickly abandoned its initial plan of moving toward a referendum to recall Evo, notwithstanding the existence of some recalcitrants that continue to insist on the idea. Evo Morales continues being a factor of unity of the social movements and will continue exercising his plebian leadership and the management of the government for the following four years. Around him we need to preserve unity, and to continue strengthening the historic bloc of power and the revolutionary program; the future candidate should respond to those two factors and be discussed only in 2018.