SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 135 - February 2010

Bolivia: after the Morales landslide

EVO MORALES and his party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), delivered a devastating defeat to their right-wing opponents in Bolivia’s presidential and congressional elections on 6 December. Morales captured 63.46% of the vote, a massive 36% more than his nearest rival, Manfred Reyes, a former army captain and state governor, and an increase of almost 10% on the 2005 presidential election.

In the traditionally pro-MAS western states, Morales won 80% in La Paz, 79% in Oruro, and 78% in Potosí. In Cochabamba and Sucre, he won 66% and 56% respectively. In the opposition strongholds in the east he increased his support, winning Tarija with 51%, and coming second in Pando (45%), Santa Cruz (41%), and Beni (38%). The MAS won 85 of the 130 seats in the House of Deputies, and 25 of the 36 Senate seats, meaning it can pass any law or make any constitutional change it wants.

What is even more significant is the enormous desire for fundamental change among the Bolivian masses, and the opportunity to break with capitalism and bring about revolutionary socialist change. In part, Morales recognised this in his victory speech: "That we obtained more than two thirds of deputies and senators obligates me to accelerate this process of change". However, he also struck a conciliatory note, saying that the government is willing to incorporate the defeated opposition into the process. This is a warning to the masses not to wait for Morales to act from above. The powerful organisations of workers, indigenous peasants and poor must be the driving force for socialist change and must take the revolution forward.

They should mobilise around a programme to take over the land of the large landowners, and take control of the businesses run by the multinational corporations and wealthy Bolivian elite. They should assume control of the economy, using Bolivia’s vast natural resources as part of a democratic socialist plan aimed at satisfying the needs of the entire population.

Democratically organised defence committees should be set up to link workers, indigenous peasants and poor communities on local, departmental, and national levels to carry out occupations from below, and to defend against attacks from the right-wing opposition. All representatives of these committees should be elected and subject to immediate recall, and any income they receive must not exceed the average wage of the people they represent.

The social movements cannot afford to ignore the counter-revolutionary potential that exists from the military. Right-wing officers must be removed from their positions immediately. Soldiers’ committees should be set up, with officers elected by the rank and file, and be linked with the defence committees to ensure community control over the military.

Neoliberal capitalism had its way in Bolivia for more than 25 years, and the masses bear the scars to prove it. Although it possesses some of the most bountiful mines, land and gas reserves in the world, Bolivia is home to the poorest people in South America. Between 58-70% of the population live on $2 or less per day, with over 30% subsisting on $1 or less. More than 70% have substandard housing, 58% lack sufficient water services, over 43% suffer inadequate electricity supply, while 52.5% are deprived of adequate education, and 40% endure poor or non-existent healthcare services. The wealthiest 10% of the population receive 35.4% of the national income, while the poorest 40% have only 15.1%. According to Xavier Nogales, economic development minister, a wealthy person in Bolivia earns 90 times as much as a poor person.

Indigenous peasants suffer the most. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (FIDA) says that Bolivia has the poorest peasant population in the world, with 97% living in poverty and 69% living in extreme poverty. This is the direct result of semi-feudal land relations. Large landowners, making up roughly 7% of the population, own 87% of the land. The working class is also plagued by poverty, with 57-63% working in the informal sector without labour rights or job stability. The average monthly wage is roughly $89 per month, $59 for women.

Reforms can mitigate the suffering temporarily but cannot solve the major problems of poverty and inequality. In the meantime, the right-wing opposition uses its economic, political and social power to attack relentlessly the MAS government and social movements, preparing the ground for its future return. Inevitably, this would result in brutal repression combined with the rolling back of the positive changes of the last four years.

Morales and the MAS government have made important advances. The partial nationalisation of the gas industry in May 2006 put a controlling share under state control and increased the tax rate on multinationals to 82%, raising the state gas income from $300 million in 2005 to $1.6 billion in 2007. In 2003, hydrocarbons represented 4.5% of GDP, but by 2006 that had jumped to 14.7%.

The government has used the funds to massively increase state spending on social programmes. In 2008, it provided economic assistance to 1.8 million school children, expanded social security payments to people over the age of 60, and reduced infant mortality through prenatal care programmes. More than 1.5 million people have been taught to read, prompting UNESCO to declare Bolivia ‘free of illiteracy’ in 2008. Government programmes provide youth with jobs.

These are all welcome advances which have improved the lives of the majority. Nonetheless, they fall far short of ending the generalised poverty that plagues the people. According to the government, the poverty rate has dropped during the last four years, but only from 60% to 57%. Extreme poverty has fallen to 31% from 38%.

Moreover, although the profits and influence of the multinationals have been reduced, they continue to plunder Bolivia’s natural resources. From 2006 to 2009, multinational mining corporations took out $4.4 billion in documented profits from Bolivia (the government suspects that with illegal exports the real figure is closer to $8bn). During the same period, they paid $220 million in taxes, roughly 5% of their documented profits.

While the Morales government has carried out moderate reforms, the reactionary opposition has viciously opposed them at every turn. It has used its control of the media to try and bring the government down. It used its previous majority in the Senate to block progressive laws, and its control over industry to organise lockouts and raise prices on basic necessities. It also organised a separatist movement, including semi-armed ‘collision’ groups. The more the government has proven it has overwhelming majority support, the more aggressive the right-wing opposition has become. This reached its peak in August and September 2008, just after Morales won 67% in a recall referendum. The opposition seized state institutions and gas reserves in the oil- and resource-rich eastern states, massacring around 20 unarmed indigenous peasants in Pando state.

This determined opposition has come in spite of the fact that Morales and the MAS government have assumed a non-confrontational approach which they still hope will allow them to carry out a ‘peaceful and democratic cultural revolution’. In fact, the government has created an atmosphere of economic and political stability. Even the IMF has commended the government for achieving the highest growth rate in Latin America in 2008, a feat it expects to be repeated in 2009 with a growth rate of 2.8%.

The capitalists’ mortal fear is that the positive changes, based on nationalisation and socialist rhetoric, could inspire the masses to push the reform programme into a fully fledged revolutionary socialist movement with Morales and the MAS losing control of the situation. Therefore, the capitalist class will do everything in its power to oppose the government, no matter how much support it has.

Morales and the MAS government hope to build what they call a ‘pluri-national state and plural economy’. This aims to grant full rights and self-determination to all indigenous communities, while combining a ‘socialist economy’ (the nationalisation of strategic industries) with a capitalist economy (based on private property) and an ‘indigenous economy’ (the communal ownership of indigenous lands).

While this may seem appealing on the surface, a programme based on the peaceful coexistence of capitalism and socialism cannot succeed. With the Cochabamba water wars, the gas wars and the initial election of Evo Morales, the Bolivian masses placed themselves at the forefront of the struggle against imperialism, neoliberalism and the capitalist system as a whole. Now, with the landslide re-election of Evo Morales and the MAS government, the social movements scored another inspiring victory. But a lasting solution to the problems in Bolivia can only be found in the mobilisation of the social movements, the overthrow of capitalism, and the construction of a socialist Bolivia.

This is edited from an article by Revolutionary Socialist Alternative (CWI in Bolivia), the full version of which can be found on the CWI website:


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