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Bolivia: a revolutionary rejoinder

Some of you may have seen the article published in Green Left Weekly criticizing Daniel Lopez’s article in Socialist Alternative on the recent strikes in Bolivia. But in case you haven’t, here are the links:

http://sa.org.au/international/2721-general-strike-challenges-bolivian-government

http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/44208

Here is Daniel’s response to the GL article.

John

 

There are some points to draw out about their article.

Firstly, they disagree with my article by claiming that the strike was small. This is wrong. The strike included urban teachers, health workers, miners and manufacturing workers. The health workers returned to work after a few days, but the rest stayed out. The adherence to the strike was clearly strong amongst teachers, thousands of whom marched. This shut down schools in Bolivia. The teachers’ strike continued the longest, and was the most radical in its demands. On the 18th of May, a mass teacher’s rally shut down the center of La Paz. The teachers were the last to go back to work, on the 24th of May.

As regards the miners and manufacturing workers, thousands marched across the country, and many more struck. While it is difficult to say how many struck precisely, or what proportion of miners struck, one indication was the government’s reaction. After a few days of claiming that the strike was a flop, the government changed tack and started accusing the strikers of sabotaging Bolivia’s progress. After a week, Morales started accusing the strikers of being stooges of the Americans. He then accused the strikers of attempting to overthrow his government. He also claimed that teachers were undemocratic for striking and shutting down classrooms. All the while, the government was in ongoing negotiations with the COB (the striking union federation).

While the government did not acquiesce to the main demand of a 12% (as opposed to 5%) pay rise, these negotiations granted significant concessions around the age of retirement. Hardly the responses of a government to an irrelevant strike. Moreover, it is clear there was anger amongst at least some workers that the COB accepted this deal: the urban teacher’s union called the leaders of the COB traitors.

So, the GL is clearly wrong to say the strike was: “a lot of huffing and puffing by a few union leaders, and symbolic protests, mixed with a good dose of internal union politicking”.

But this all misses the point: the size of a strike is irrelevant to whether or not socialists should support it. It is a clear cut class issue; socialists need to stand with workers against governments and bosses at all times, not just when strikes are big.

This relates to the second main problem with the GL article – it systematically downplays the Bolivian working class in favor of indigenous people. This is doubly wrong because it substitutes a nationalist/ethnic analysis for a class one.

Many indigenous Bolivians are working class, while others are small farmers or peasants. The former are capable of leading social revolution; the latter, are not. Of course, this distinction is hardly likely to bother the DSP – they love peasants to bits because they fit right into a Stalinist or 3rd world nationalist political project.

The GL article quite clearly supports the indigenous peasants movement that constitutes the mass base of Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party over the workers’ movement. It was this part of the population that supported Morales in 2006 against the militant miners and teachers who wanted to continue the revolution.

Really, it’s all a bit familiar – it’s basically about 3rd world nationalists who couldn’t care less about basic Marxist politics, and love to apologize for governments who act against workers.

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Comments

Comment from Federico Fuentes
Time May 29, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Writing about my analysis of the events in Bolivia, John says that “the GL is clearly wrong to say the strike was: “a lot of huffing and puffing by a few union leaders, and symbolic protests, mixed with a good dose of internal union politicking”.”
For course as is always the case with those who refuses to grapple with reality, John presents no facts whats so ever as to the size and impact of the “strikes”. He just tells us that they happened (because he says so!), and yet cannot find a single article, comment piece, photo or anything to actually sustain this assertions. At least if John lived in Bolivia, i would be happy to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he is writing from Australia!!
So once again I challenge John to provide any facts that substantiate claims like “The strike included urban teachers, health workers, miners and manufacturing workers. The health workers returned to work after a few days, but the rest stayed out.” Or any of the stuff in the Daniel Lopez article. Who stayed out? How many? For how many days?
At least I can say that my article was a factual and sourced account based on a serious study of various pro and anti-Morales, left and right wing press sources, in order to try and get a sense of what was occurring. John on the other hand thinks that just saying something makes it true.
But we all know that John doesnt have any facts to present. Thats the problem with reality, its pretty concrete. Its hard to publish an article in Bolivia claiming a general strike has shutdown parts of the country when people can see and feel if this is true or not. But write similar nonsense in the magazine for a fanatically anti-Morales outfit is not a problem, because very few people that read it will have to confront this reality. Instead they just accept the “truth” presented in a biblical form.
John tells us his “reality” must be true because the government was forced to grant significant concessions. But again this is just his opinion, his guess from the other side of the world.
But it could also be equally true to say that the government, while remaining firm on its position that it could not raise wages more than 5% (although modify who benefits more but increasing lower wages more and higher wages less) also wanted to show that it does support workers rights and offered an additional measures, one which the government has been discussing with the COB for a while and was granted not due to pressure but becuase the government choose to present it once again. The pensions law has been under discussion for months, it was not something demanded by the workers, and was something the government was already discussing.
It is also possible true that, even though this was not a demand of the workers, and the “strikers” did not get a pay rise, they agreed and went home becuase they had a correct analysis of the weakness of their actions and that they were unlike to achieve more. Far from an type of “revolutionary upsurge” that John claims was happening.
But then John says it doesnt matter if the strike was big or small (or never happened!). Of course, this is simply an admission that he no longer wants to get bogged down in reality and facts.
But it does allow us to move onto more substantive issues.
Lets deal with this one at a time.
John writes: “It is a clear cut class issue; socialists need to stand with workers against governments and bosses at all times, not just when strikes are big.”
It is true that socialists dont premise support for workers rights on the size of the demonstration. My argument was never “size matters”, rather that for sectarians it is reality that doesnt matter. Anything that serves the purpose of proving they have the “correct line” and everyone else is wrong or “stalinist”, even if it means outrights lies, is acceptable for ultraleft outfits.
But John is deadwrong when he claims that socialists must stand with workers against governments and bosses AT ALL TIMES. This is just workerist horseshit.
Or did John support the rallies called by the Confederation of Venezuelan Trade Unions (CTV) when they joined with the bosses to carry out a coup against the Hugo Chavez government in 2002? Or the CTV supported oil strike to try and bring him down again later that year?
Does he no longer agree with Socialist Alternative’s position of support for the Soviet GOVERNMENT’S violent repression of the WORKERS in Kronstad?
Surely John you have read a little of Marx and Lenin, were they talk about the difference between a class in itself and a class for itself. Not everytime workers protests they are defending their own interests. Racist workers protesting “illegals taking our jobs” or protectionist rubbish deserve no support from socialist, without this mean one must support the government or not try to politically educate those workers that they are acting against their class interests.
In the context of Bolivia today, i have no problem with supporting workers fighting for higher wages. In fact, a much more serious issue is some of the anti-union elements currently contained in a draft labour law under discussion. I hope workers protest against that.
But im sure that these protest will not be to overthrow the government or anti-government in nature, rather they will be over a specific demand. Just like the recent protests, where unions leaders stressed that their protests were not against the government, just against the specific issue of the pay increase. This is the case with numerous other protests that are occurring at the moment which reflects a generalised sentiment that the Morales government is “our government” and therefore should starting attending more quickly to a vaeiety of small, sectorial problems that are the result of years and years of right wing pro-imperialist governments.
Where i do have a problem is with sectarians who try to conflating this with revolutionary insurrection against an “anti-worker government” in order to keep feeding shit to their members and proving they are the only “revolutionaries”. Training up young socialists with simplistic politics like “socialists need to stand with workers against governments and bosses at all times” or “workers make revolution, peasants dont” is just wasting the minds of potentially very good comrades.
John then says my problems is that i “systematically downplays the Bolivian working class in favor of indigenous people. This is doubly wrong because it substitutes a nationalist/ethnic analysis for a class one. Many indigenous Bolivians are working class, while others are small farmers or peasants. The former are capable of leading social revolution; the latter, are not.”
Again workerist nonsense from someone who has not bothered to study Marxism or Bolivian reality. The problem is not that i downplay the Bolivian working class, its that reality shows the “Bolivian working class” as it exists today is irrelevant in Bolivian politics. (Here we could also get into a discussion of what is the working class in Bolivia, happy to do so as long as we try and base it on facts). This is a problem, but it is a fact one has to deal with, and no amount of revolutionary phasemongering will change that.
One can only understand Bolivian reality if it understands that the key dynamic of the struggle today is an anti-imperialist movement headed by indigenous people, who are workers and peasants but identify first and foremost as indigenous. I wish reality was different, that what we have is a powerful working class leading a socialist revolution, but reality dictates this is not what is occurring, nor will it anytime soon.
The main problem, historically and now, is that left has DOWNPLAYED the indigenous people. That is why i pointed out that the 1970 COB thesis is a mistaken one as it does not even mention the word indigenous once! Rather than grappling with Bolivian reality the thesis is just a rehashed version of dogmatic European marxist that in the end can become reactionary.
One example of the reactionary nature of such thought is the opposition by urban teachers (led by trotskyists) to the right to have education in spanish and indigenous languages. In defending “workers rights” ie the need to not have to retrain teachers to learn a second language, these workers end up taking a reactionary position (i hope you agree on this or is this another one of those cases of defending workers against the government – and indigenous people?)
John finishes by writing: “The article quite clearly supports the indigenous peasants movement that constitutes the mass base of Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party over the workers’ movement. It was this part of the population that supported Morales in 2006 against the militant miners and teachers who wanted to continue the revolution.”
Well my response is yes: i support the real existing struggle of the indigenous majority (workers and peasants) represent by the MAS against an imaginary illusion. I decide my politics on facts and realities not wishful thinking and romantic (or better said dogmatic?) fantasies. My politics are not dictated by the interests of a tiny sect in Australia but by the real gains won by these masses in struggles that have overthrown presidents and placed one of their own in power.
Does this mean i think the struggle is over? Or that Bolivia is socialist? or that the revolution doesnt need a working class? Not in the slightest, and my article(s) say so. But i will not change my support of this and replace it with a figment of my imagination.
On the supposed “militant miners and teachers who wanted to continue the revolution” in 2006, you will have to fill us all in. Unfortunately peoples individual dreams are very rarely documented, as was the case with this revolution you dreamed occurred in 2006. i look forward to an account of this imaginary revolution in 2006.
Apologies for my tone, but frankly i am fed up with infantile socialists who from the comfort of their armchairs attack real living struggles, in order to justify a type of sectarian politics that the only thing it achieves is rotting the brains of very good activists.

Comment from David Lewis
Time May 29, 2010 at 5:18 pm

The approach to Marxism presented in this article is deeply non-dialectic. It shows a complete lack of basic engagement with the context in Bolivia and with a legacy of 500 years under oppressive colonialism versus the changes of the last four years. The whole approach to “Marxism” as single clear “truth” is a habbit which must be let go in hope of any progress of the struggle.

“they love peasants to bits because they fit right into a Stalinist or 3rd world nationalist political project.” “it’s basically about 3rd world nationalists who couldn’t care less about basic Marxist politics, and love to apologize for governments who act against workers”. These are both very poor statements, and very condecending to the Bolivian masses.

The strike was not against wage cuts, but for higher raise that was made. Making this demand, in a situation where the majority of Bolivians are much poorer than the working class and their welfare would be directly affected from the extend of the wage rise which is proposed is a serious issue which Marxists MUST aproach seriously.

Comment from DLopez
Time May 29, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Couple quick things Federico, and then I’ll let you get back to your apoplexy.

All my facts were sourced from Leftist and mainstream Bolivian press. The original web version of my article included a number of hyper-links. There are many photos of the strike and demonstrations on La Razon (bolivian) and BolPress.

Secondly, as I recall it, Marxism was the theory and practice of workers’ revolution. I think Lukacs said that. He had a pretty good grasp of the dialectic, you know…

Comment from Kieran Latty
Time May 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm

I am with Fred on the factual points and political message here.

The problem with John’s approach is it is too syndicalist- it sees the path towards better working conditions as an economic struggle to win bigger wage rises. But we know from Marx and modern economics that there is a ceiling on wages set by both the level of labor and capital productivity and the supply and cost of capital (the rate of interest). As Marx claimed, wage rises are nothing but a prelude to crisis and a restoration of low wages through the role of unemployment (the reserve army of labor). This problem is doubly true in a place like Bolivia where labor productivity is low, investment is historically low and unemployment is high.

The only way to guarantee a permenant rise in living standards is a political transformation of the Bolivian economy- in which the resources which are squandered by the rich or sent overseas are instead directed towards the rapid accumulation of productive human and physical capital within Bolivia, even if this investment does not earn market returns.

Achieving this will require greater struggles, but around political demands such as nationalization. There is also a need for a decisive break with the old order. I think it is possible to have a united front approach around these issues with the MAS.

Comment from Stuart Munckton
Time May 29, 2010 at 9:19 pm

I find the crudity of Lopez’s response a bit staggering. The debate is not about the role of the working class in socialist revolutions, but about the drawing sectarian conclusions drawn from this to *quite explicitely* set yourself up against the movement of the oppressed indigenous majority in Bolivia for liberation.

It is quite clear from Lopez’s comments that it is *not* just a question of opposing the Morales government. A perfectly legitimate debate could be had about whether the role and nature of the Morales government and Evo himself. Can it be said, once in power, to be a representative of the interests of the indigenous peoples in the countryside and cities that put it in power? Has it sold-out or gotten itself fundamentally compromised in some way?

But Lopez doesn’t even frame it in this way, he sets himself up in *opposition* to that *entire movement*., counter-posing to it “the working class” and then answering anyone who questions this with quotations about Marxism being the ideology for the workers’ movement.

He says the Gl article “systematically downplays the Bolivian working class in favor of indigenous people. This is doubly wrong because it substitutes a nationalist/ethnic analysis for a class one.”

Actually, the article simply recognised the reality in Bolivia of the awakening of the indigenous people *as indigenous people* and their struggle against colonialism and genocide.

Does Lopez agree that, as well as being workers or farmers, indigenous people face racial oppression? And if he does, why is this struggle to end racial oppression, which involves the struggle of the indigenous workers and farmers, counter-posed to class struggle?

Is it actually possible to solve the *national* and *racial* questions associated with the racial oppression of two thirds of the population who are indigenous without a serious class struggle?

I can’t see that it is, therefore I can’t see the need to counter-pose the two — anymore than I see the need to counter-pose the indigenous struggle in Australia to the class struggle.

Indigenous workers and farmers experience oppression on the basis of race and national oppression, and this has sparked a deep-going struggle and resistance. This strikes me as a good thing.

In setting himself up against the actual movement of the oppressed as it has developed, Lopez fails to even acknowledge at all the actual gains of this movement — for all the limitations of these gains.

For example, in Venezuela, Socialist Alternative raise the gains associated with the Chavez government, and the associated awakening of the poor and working class, while also pointing out what it sees as the limitations of Chavez and his movement.

No such assessment is made of the Morales government or the movement behind it, despite some impressive gains won under extremely adverse circumstances. There is *no* mention of the gains, not even in passing.

To understand just how extremely sectarian and wrong this approach is you only need apply it to Australia. It is an equal truism to say that, in Australia, there can be no socialist revolution without the independent action of the working class.

But I know of no socialists in Australia that use that fact to set themselves *up against* the struggles of Indigenous peoples for justice and liberation. I know of no socialists that, in the face of struggles for Indigenous justice, give lectures that “workers make revolutions, Indigenous peoples in isolated rural areas or unemployed in the cities don’t!”

And Indigenous peoples in Australia are just 2% of the population. To make this sectarian error in a country where at least two thirds of the population are indigenous, and the question of justice for indigenous people is a major driving force of mass struggles, is far worse.

It is also baffling why Socialist Alternative could take such a good position on Thailand in support of the brutally repressed Red Shirt movement. This was a movement of the rural and urban poor, similar, in its way, to the sorts of social forces that make up the social base of the Morales government (whether or not the Morales government *itself* is right or wrong — and Green Left Weekly has never argued it is automatically right. In fact Federico Fuentes wrote a quite harsh article on the April elections on opportunist errors by MAS that cost it badly).

So why do such forces deserve support in Thailand (despite not being industrial or organised workers) but not in Bolivia?

Struggles simply don’t wait for schemas. They break out in many ways, with many different forces. We *may wish* they occurred in much simpler ways that played to the strengths, but they break out with contradictions and limitations according to the various pressures coming down on the oppressed, the various (inevitably uneven) levels of consciousness and many, many factors.

Of course, socialist revolution, in Bolivia and everywhere, requires the central role of an independent, organised working class. To which we should add *in alliance* with the broadest sectors of the oppressed.

That simple fact *tells us nothing* about how struggles *actually develop and break out* in living societies under the pressure of capitalist oppression.

And in Bolivia, the awakening of indigenous peoples, seeking to fight 500 years of colonialisim and genocide, occurs along side the *unfortunate* retreat of organised labour under the blows inflicted by neoliberalism. It *would be much better* if this was not the case.

To simply say it is a movement of “peasants” and not workers is just not true. It is an alliance of different sections, including agricultural workers and workers in the cities (including those in the informal sector), to confront the combined affects of 500 years of racist genocide *and* two decades of neoliberalism, which afflicts not just indigenous peoples but the Bolivian society more broadly.

It is a movement with limitations, and it is open-ended. It requires independent struggle from below to advance.

But the oppressed do not wait for conditions to be perfect before moving. They move into struggle with the contradictions unevenness and limitations of the movement as it exists. And through the struggle, they are forced to advance, and over come limitations, deepen organisation and consciousness, broader the social forces involved — or else they get defeated.

These are *practical* questions. To turn it into a *moral* stick with which to beat the movement is not Marxist. It is to find sectarian excuses not to support a struggle.

And, to justify it, then invent fantasies about large struggles that don’t exist and pretend a rather limited dispute over wages is in fact a *political* challenge by the working class to the government the movement of the oppressed put in office. (Such a challenge may be a good or bad thing depending on the actions of such a government, but there is no point pretending there is such a challenge one if there isn’t)

As Federico said in his article, the struggle in Bolivia *actually needs* a strong, independent organised working class to drive it forward. This is a practical need.

And the idea that it will be *worker* not *peasants* in Bolivia that make a revolution is a fantasy.

The revolution in Bolivia will be able to advance and win on the basis of an alliance with *all of the oppressed*. Such an alliance, the levels of consciousness and organisation required to make it come into being, can only be the product of deep social struggles against capitalist oppression.

Morales, and his government more broadly, should be judged against this measurement – strengthening this alliance of the oppressed to be able to push further against capital in favour of the oppressed, or weakening it.

In its own way, this is an issue pressing down rather urgently on the Venezuelan revolution. This is a revolutionary movement whose initial social base, the initial *agents* that moved into action, were largely the sizeable base of urban poor and informal workers.

These were the people who spontaneously rose up and were brutally repressed in the 1989 Caracazo. It is in these barrios that deep-rooted community organising took place through out the 90s.

It was this sector that was inspired by Chavez’s failed military rising and voted him into office in 1998. And then took to the street in their millions in 2002 to restore him to office and defeat the coup.

This is not at all the full story. We can all see, I am sure, the limitations of such a social base, and the way in which this sector needs an alliance with a strong independent workers movement for the process to advance.

But, while the workers movement in Venezuela has related to the revolution, sought to participate and drive it forward, it has also been too weak and fractured to play the decisive role needed of it (which Chavez calls for it to do).

The social weight of the workers in the formal sector means this weaknesses is a serious impediment for the revolution pushing forward decisively in an anti-capitalist direction.

The weakness gives much greater weight and power to the objectively pro-capitalist right-wing of the Chavista movement and to the state bureaucracy that stiffles the ervolutio0n in general.

But it would be insane to *counter-pose* the workers movement to the urban poor. What is required, for both, is a deep alliance. The formal workers cannot do it alone – the millions in the urban poor have provided decisive amounts of the energy and self-sacrifice that has gotten the revolution to where it is.

Neither can the urban poor advance without the decisive intervention of the formal workers (in fact, the bureaucracy and Chavista and anti-Chavista right-wing threaten the social missions that have given gains to the urban poor, so even what has been achieved cannot be maintained without the struggle deepening in a way that requires more decisive intervention by organised workers)

And anyone who reads the indepth coverage in Green Left Weekly on Venezuela would see that GL gives serious weight to this issue, and the conflict with sectors of the government and state that seek to hold back the workers movement.

When the oppressed are in motion, in a serious struggle, you don’t find excuses. You seek to look at the movement *as it exists*, with the gains it is winning and the challenge it faces, seek to learn lessons from these struggles, to popularise the gains as examples of what can be achieved, and find ways to build solidarity — while seeking to never mistake fantasy for reality (including by pretending it doesn’t have the serious weaknesses and contradictions, that will play out, that it does).

Comment from John
Time May 30, 2010 at 8:38 am

The real question is the agency of socialist revolution. From Eastern Europe to China, Cuba, Vietnam, Venezuela, Bolivia and so on some comrades think those agents can be the red army, or peasants, or guerrillas or declassed intellectuals or some combination of them. In practice this means the form of state ownership hides the substance of state control.

It leads to supporting class interests opposed to the working class.

Thus some comrades supported the state in suppressing worker upsurges in stalinist Eastern Europe.

In Bolivia in 2006 sections of the working class wanted to push the revolution in a socialist direction. MAS opposed this and derailed it.

Comment from David Lewis
Time May 30, 2010 at 9:27 am

“It leads to supporting class interests opposed to the working class. ”

What exactly do you see as the “working class interests” in the current Bolivian context? using the revenue from the nationalised gas industry for an immediate wage rise for small sections of the industrialised workers rather than for social missions of the poor worker/peasant majority?

Both Federico and Stuart raised some serious issues which you and Daniel still completely ignore.

The main thing which I simply cannot understand is the complete disregard to Bolivia’s context and its complexities. Your approach on the very serious question of Bolivia seems to be determined firsly by dogmas rather than firstly by looking at the context and the objective conditions of the struggle. This is not a serious approach of Marxists which hope to one day be seen as the vanguard of the working class.

Comment from John
Time May 30, 2010 at 10:00 am

David says: ‘using the revenue from the nationalised gas industry for an immediate wage rise for small sections of the industrialised workers rather than for social missions of the poor worker/peasant majority?”

This is the logic of capitalism. It says the only solution is workers who create the wealth from these industries (but do not control or run those industries) should pay. Funny view of marxism.

Comment from John
Time May 30, 2010 at 10:26 am

A comrade sent me the following link.

From day one I have been overwhelmed with the memory of the Allende government’s response to the copper miners’ strike – and the fact that the left almost everywhere backed the government over the striking workers.

Here’s the relevant bit from Tom Lewis’s article about Chile http://www.isreview.org/issues/06/chile.shtml

The El Teniente Copper Miners’ Strike

The strike at the El Teniente copper mine represented the second turning point and a major setback for the working-class movement. The strike lasted 74 days during the months of April, May and June 1973. The miners struck against the Allende regime because it refused to give them the wage increases promised in their contract. Instead, Allende asked the miners to accept a sacrifice ‘for the general good;’ when they refused, his government labeled them ‘fascists’ and ‘traitors.’ Every left organization in Chile accepted the government’s slander that the walkout was part of a right-wing conspiracy.

Yet the miners’ strike took place in a context of galloping inflation and a decline in real wages by as much as 50 percent. The miners in fact were standing up against a two-year erosion of workers’ living standards. Although the wages of the copper miners were certainly higher than the national average, this was not because they formed a ‘labor aristocracy’ bought off by the bosses, as Popular Unity, and especially the Communist Party, maintained. The simple truth is that the copper miner exhausts his labor power in 15 to 20 years of work in the copper mines; as a group, these miners had the lowest life expectancy [40 to 50 years] and, further, an average of 300 fatal accidents every year. Nor does the criticism that they were dupes of the bourgeoisie withstand scrutiny. The right wing did move in to take advantage of the strike, but only 30 days after the beginning of the strike, once it was clear that the UP government was carefully safeguarding its interests. (Then] the bourgeoisie began to make demagogic use of the conflict.

Historically, the copper miners were the most militant workers in Chile until the 1970s. The result of Popular Unity’s failure to support them was that the traditionally most class conscious section of the Chilean working class, one which could have been a powerful ally of the left became completely alienated from the workers’ movement as a whole.

Organizations to the left of Allende displayed no better an attitude toward the miners: The MIR criticized the use of force, but attacked the miners for ‘economism’ even though they were fighting to maintain their living standards in an economy that remained capitalist.

Comment from John
Time May 30, 2010 at 11:34 am

It’s interesting that Stuart brings up Kronstadt. The reference is completely ahistorical. The Bolsheviks were a workers’ Government but as Lenin said with serious bureaucratic distortions. In any event Lenin defended the right of workers to strike against their government (in my view in part because the external circumstances destroyed the soviets as democratic institutions of workers’ power).

Unless Stuart thinks Morales is a latter day Lenin and the MAS a workers’ revolutionary party who came to power on the back of a revolution in the workplaces by setting up workers’ councils, (which I think he might do), then his example tells us more about his petit bourgeois politics than about the issue at hand.

The Morales Government is a capitalist Government. The economy is capitalist. The nationalisations are capitalist. The working class is not in power. To defend strikes against such a government for better wages is not only defensible, it is mandatory for socialists.

Here is something Lenin wrote back in 1901:

What is the way out, by what means can the lot of the peasantry be improved? The small peasantry can free itself from the yoke of capital only by associating itself with the working-class movement, by helping the workers in their struggle for the socialist system, for transforming the land, as well as the other means of production (factories, works, machines, etc.), into social property. Trying to save the peasantry by protecting small-scale farming and small holdings from the onslaught of capitalism would be a useless retarding of social development; it would mean deceiving the peasantry with illusions of the possibility of prosperity even under capitalism, it would mean disuniting the labouring classes and creating a privileged position for the minority at the expense of the majority. That is why Social-Democrats will always struggle against senseless and vicious institutions such as that which forbids the peasant to dispose of his land, such as collective liability, or the system of prohibiting the peasants from freely leaving the village commune or freely accepting into it persons belonging to any social-estate. But, as we have seen, our peasants are suffering not only and not so much from oppression by capital as from oppression by the land lords and the survivals of serfdom. Ruthless struggle against these shackles, which immeasurably worsen the condition of the peasantry and tie it hand and foot, is not only possible but even necessary in the interest of the country’s social development in general; for the hopeless poverty, ignorance, lack of rights, and degradation, from which the peasants suffer, lay an imprint of Asiatic backwardness upon the entire social system of our country. Social-Democracy would not be doing its duty if it did not render every assistance to this struggle. This assistance should take the form, briefly put, of carrying the class struggle into the countryside.

Now you can sort of udnerstand some of the arguments in the comments section, given that the penny about a working class revolution in Russia didn’t drop with Lenin until 1917. Only then did he move to the need for workers to smash the state in an backward country like Russia with 4 million workers and 100 million peasants.

Based on most of the comments so far 1917 is a lesson some socialists might learn from.

As to dialectics, I think most commentators here have mistaken quantity for quality.

Comment from Kieran Latty
Time May 30, 2010 at 12:15 pm

A few simple points

1. The Bolivian state represents a compromise between capital, workers and peasants, forged in struggle, and in which workers and peasants have gained in comparison to the old order. These gains are dependent on the strength of the Bolivian economy ( the size of the pie) and the power of these classes within the compromise (the share each party gets)

2. With a three class compromise, it would be foolish for revolutionaries to attempt to advance the power of workers at the expense of the the peasantry, especially as this class is so numerous. Secondly, it would be equally foolish to advance the interests of workers at the expense of economic growth, becuase that means a smaller pie and eventually lower living standards for workers and peasants. The gains of workers and peasants must come from the power and consumption of capital and the wealthy. What is needed is a united front of workers and peasants to encroach on the power of capital and the remnants of the old order.

3. There are two ways to shift the terrain of Bolivian politics, one is through incremental struggle to shift the terms of that compromise, to progressively weaken capital. The second is a revolutionary transformation that overthrows the existing compromise.

4. In Bolivia, as in Chile, you need to ask what forces would likely some to power if the existing compromise was ended- through economic crisis, economic and political action against the government etc.

5. Currently, the most likely result of an overthrow of the Bolivian regime would not be a pure revolutionary socialist regime but a restoration of the old order, or a fascist state.

6. The role of revolutionaries anywhere, must proceed from the non sectarian position of ‘holding no interests separate from the class’.

7. In Bolivia, that means working for a strident defense of the existing regime against the right, and the progressive tilting of the existing compromise away from capital. This is becuase point 5. rules out an immediate revolutionary challenge from the left.

8. At some point, a revolutionary break may be possible, in which the power of capital is decisively liquidated. To make this possible it necessary to undertake patient, united front work which builds the forces for revolutionary socialism. Ultra-leftism sets back this process as it creates a rift between the far left and the class, who strongly associate with the current regime, and who see it as a historic advance.

Comment from David Lewis
Time May 30, 2010 at 12:23 pm

“Now you can sort of udnerstand some of the arguments in the comments section, given that the penny about a working class revolution in Russia didn’t drop with Lenin until 1917. Only then did he move to the need for workers to smash the state in an backward country like Russia with 4 million workers and 100 million peasants. ”

This is the same basic undialectic view which also leads to the dogmatic understanding of the Bolivian situation. Lenin did not “sit around” in the darkness of bourgious ideology, waiting for the “penny to drop” about the need for a working class revolution! this assertion completely misses the entire historical process and the role of the workers movement in Russia and its allies, which culminated with the October revolution.

The October revolution did not happen because “the penny about a working class revolution in Russia drop with Lenin”. Revolution doesn’t happen when people sit around and “finally” get enlightened and lead the masses. This is the basic undialectical mistake in the logic: understanding events through preset dogmas and prisms rather than first understanding present-day reality and its complexities, and then forming a political position based on that.

Comment from John
Time May 30, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I didn’t say that the revolution happened because the penny dropped with Lenin. It’s a pity you deliberately misinterpret my words to defend your anti-working class positions.

But it is clear that Lenin’s view of the nature of the revolution changed precisely because of the February revolution and the events it then unleashed. My point was he learnt from the situation around him.

Unfortunately the apologists for reformism seems incapable of doing that.

In any event as Trotsky said without Lenin there would have been no October revolution. He built a revolutionary workers’ organisation over many years and was capable of re-orienting it to the class struggles going on.

2005 in Bolivia was a potential working class revolutionary situation. What did the MAS do? Which side was it on? Which side were you on?

Stop apologising for a radical reformist Government when it attacks workers struggling for better lives.

Comment from Josh Lees
Time May 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm

The comparison with Chile in the 1970s is very apt and kept occurring to me too. Many of the arguments attacking Daniel’s article all seem to assume that we’ve already had a full-blown workers’ revolution in Bolivia, that we now have a workers’ state and some form of “socialism”. What we really have is a kind of reformist government existing within a still capitalist state within a capitalist economy. Of course this government has come to power on the back of some very impressive and inspiring struggles of workers, indigenous people and the poor over recent years, but it doesn’t mean we can pretend like Bolivia is seamlessly “on the road to socialism”. In this context the economic demands of the working class should absolutely be supported by socialists and its an outrage to hear socialists parroting the government line about them being “greedy” etc (one report I read said that mining workers in Bolivia have a life expectancy of just 40!).
Contrary to the hysterics of Fred and Stuart, Daniel Lopez did not not counterpose the struggle of the working class with that of indigenous people and the poor, what he posed was the question of what can actually bring about socialism – a question continually avoided and fudged by Greenleft and co. who have spent years uncritically praising the “great leaders” of Morales and Chavez as the harbingers of “socialism for the 21st century”.
This approach absolutely repeats all the errors of the left and their popular front politics in Chile in the 1970s, who constantly downplayed the need for an indepenedent workers movement led by a revolutionary party which was prepared to go beyond what Allenede and Chilean capitalism could offer. All who called for such a development then were similarly labelled “sectarians” (or Trotsky-fascists, US agents, etc etc).
Of course, if you still think Stalinist states like Vietnam and Cuba are models of socialism, then the centrality of the “self-emancipation of the working class” is not really a question you want to address.
It is possible that a reformist government like Morales’ can play the balancing act between the capitalists and workers for a while longer, insituting some progressive reforms while holding workers demands in check. None of this will make us any closer to genuine socialism, which still requires a revolution last I checked.
Of course such a revolution in Bolivia will be based on an alliance of the working class with other oppressed sections of society, but to leave it at that, as Stuart does, is woefully inadequate (in fact he suggests the government can also be part of this revolutionary alliance!). All of history and Marxist theory confirms that only revolutions led by the working class, as the only truly collective class, can lead to socialism and a classless world. Of course, this will take revolutions in more than just Bolivia.
But then I suppose international revolution is just another another dogmatic fantasy us hopeless sectarians are clinging to. After all, can’t we have “socialism in one country”?

Comment from David Lewis
Time May 30, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I’m on the side of the poor masses who took state power in a reality of colonialism, poverty, and an apartheid-like oppression, and who nationalised major industries which profits are used for the benefit of the majority of Bolivians. This is far from a “perfect” political project (not that such one can exist), but like it or not, it is happening. The question is, in the realities of the struggle as it is currently shaped in Bolivia (rather than based on the way in which you would have liked the current political situation in Bolivia to be), which side are YOU on.

Comment from David Lewis
Time May 30, 2010 at 12:59 pm

And, regarding Chile, at least the Chilean workers don’t have to worry about that oppressive Allende government anymore, eh comrade?

Comment from John
Time May 30, 2010 at 12:59 pm

And without a revolutionary working class party to provide the same leadership that the Bolsheviks displayed, the revolutionary moment, when workers and peasants in Bolivia had the capitalist class at their mercy, was lost. That’s where your dialectics leads.

Comment from David Lewis
Time May 30, 2010 at 1:39 pm

true! but how do you expect such party to “lead” if doesn’t fight together with the majority of indigenous peasants/workers/informal workers?

Your assertion that I am positioned “against the workers” is a very poor one. It seems to be based on an assertion that there is one inherently correct tactic, and the struggling masses in Bolivia need to understand, otherwise their movement is pointless. This is the only way in which I can comprehend how someone who sits in the comfort of a first world country detached from the struggle in Bolivia can come to such conclusions.

The reality is that the majority of Bolivian WORKERS have decided not to join a general strike. This is the reality: the Bolivian economy evidently still functions. How do you propose this happened if a general strike occured? do you propose that the Bolivian government physical suppressed mass rallies of workers? So if the majority of Bolivian workers chose not to join such strike, what is your assertion that I’m “anti-worker” is based on? One might argue that you seem to place YOURSELF in a position opposing the majority of Bolivian workers, which have made some precious gains in the last 4 years.

The reality is that there are extremely important debates within the Bolivian social movements about the very nature of the revolution, the politics, tactics and strategy. I started to read these articles because I really hoped for an informed analyses and debate about the political situation in Bolivia, but was disappointed to see an excercise in dogmatism which insists of staying detached from the Bolivian masses.

Comment from David Lewis
Time May 30, 2010 at 1:46 pm

just to clarify – “true!” regarded “And without a revolutionary working class party to provide the same leadership that the Bolsheviks displayed”. But I have yet to see evidence that this was in any way close to the reality of Bolivia in 2006.

Comment from John
Time May 30, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Chris Harman has written on Bolivia in June 2005 and says basically that the rulign class was paralysed and the movement had the chance to move forward.

It confirms, he says, the ongoing processes of captialism creating its own gravedigger and that insstruggle people’s ideas change. But he also argues there were two things missing. The working class did not create workers’ councils or other forms of popular democracy. And there was no revolutionary party embedded in the working class to make the arguments for taking the struggle forward.

Some activists began to understand this but it was by then too late to take advantage of the potential.

As Harman puts it the decisive battle was not engaged.

Harman notes that as in past revolutionary upheavals, certain political figures and formations that had helped to lead the movement forward at previous stages now no longer did so. According to Harman, Felipe Quispe was one of those. So too was Morales. Both were channels for indigenous bitterness away from revoliuoinary self-activity and in Morales’ case to actually keep Mesa in power and then win elections in 2007.