evo morales and the constitutional referendum in bolivia

In September 2008 we carried extensive coverage of the coup attempt by white right-wing oligarchs in the east of Bolivia, who wanted to split the country, overthrow Evo Morales’ soft-left MAS government and crush the mighty workers’ movement. There were numerous racist attacks on indigenous people, with dozens massacred by fascist militias. As Morales vacillated and called on the mass movement triggered by the coup attempts to keep ‘calm’, it was up to the urban poor, indigenous peasants and workers to defend themselves. Eventually the failure of the coup resulted in Morales sitting down to talks with the oligarchy, and after making concessions over his planned State Political Constitution, the document will go to a country-wide referendum on Sunday 25th. The article below examining the issues is a translation of a piece by Socialismo o Barbarie.

Before the constitutional referendum of Sunday 25th January 2009, we say…

Neither the ‘no’ of the reactionary racist oligarchy in the east…

Nor the ‘yes’ of MAS, which wants to introduce “Andean capitalism…

We call for abstention!

Declaration by Socialismo o Barbarie Bolivia
La Paz, 22nd January 2009

On Sunday 25th January the Constitutional Referendum to ratify the new State Political Constitution (SPC) and allow Evo Morales to stand for election again will take place.

Whatever the excited celebrations of government-linked publicists like Pablo Stefanoni (for having implemented the Morales-Linera “negotiated exit” strategy) the mood of the country is one of significant polarisation over the constitution’s text. As usual, the obstinate reactionary racist right has led a very stubborn campaign against the new SPC text, using arguments such as the idea that the constitution will punish “all those who follow the Catholic faith”… arguments that have had their impact on some parts of the population even outside the east.

In reality the very staging of the referendum is the side-effect of the defeat of the right-wing in their seditious and putschist assault last September, which led to the murder of dozens of peasants near El Progreso in Pando province. The smashing of the seditious uprising has temporarily put them on the defensive and so they have had to sit down with the government to negotiate the constitutional text, passed in parliament with the support of PODEMOS, the strongest bosses’ party in the country.

It was a deal made on the back of the massive march on La Paz by the peasant masses last October. These masses pushed for the ratification of the new Constitution, while knowing nothing about the latest concessions made…

However, after a few months when, we repeat, the right-wing temportarily found themselves on the back foot, they have returned to the fold with a very aggressive ‘no’ campaign.

Whatever the triumphalism of pro-government publicists like Stefanoni, this recovery is the sole and absolute responsibility of Morales and Linera, since at the time of the peasant siege in Santa Cruz last September, they saved the oligarchy from the just anger of Bolivia’s exploited and oppressed at the massacre they had just perpetrated.

Why not vote ‘yes’ to the constitution?

But the fact that we clearly distance ourselves from the reactionary oligarchy and the ‘no’ campaign does not mean that Socialismo o Barbarie Bolivia will be calling for a ‘yes’ vote for the new constitutional text. Even given the limitations of the text produced by the Constituent Assembly, the negotiations with PODEMOS in October represented a fresh turning of the screw towards a Constitution which in all aspects questions nothing essential in the capitalist and semi-colonial Bolivia existing today.

We are not going to go through it point by point, which would be impossible given the length of the constitutional text (more than 400 articles). Except to mention that in several aspects the constitutional text is “self-contradictory”, meaning it says one thing on one hand, then the opposite on the other…

So we will look at some key aspects in general terms:

a) The constitutional bill expressly guarantees the security of capitalist private property in the country

b) It also guarantees the continued involvement of private companies and multinationals in hydrocarbon production… not to mention minerals, given the continuation of private ownership of gold and tin mines, the surrender of the Mutún iron resources, etc., etc.

c) Not even in terms of the land problem does it create the conditions for meaningful land reform: it may be that it limits estates to 5,000 or 10,000 hectares… but this only applies to the future. The “property rights acquired” before now cannot be touched. In effect this means that the constitutional text gives legitimacy to all the existing latifundistas [wealthy land-owners] in the country.

d) Scandalously, it does not get rid of the wretched neo-liberal Law 21.060 which has been in effect in this country for over two decades and ensures continuing privatisation in the country.

So the text does not even introduce reforms worthy of the name. There is little or nothing that goes beyond recognising the cultural-political rights of the indigenous population (which in itself is no bad thing). But, even in this case, it does it while maintaining the exploitative and unjust structures which keep the country dependent. For this reason, it will be difficult to make such rights worthwhile under the conditions of continuing capitalism in Bolivia.

We call for abstention, or blank or spoiled ballots

In such conditions as we describe, SOB Bolivia calls for abstention, or blank or spoiled ballots. Besides, the reality is that several representative sections of the mass movement have already expressed this intention, seeing the profound limitations of the constitutional project.

At the same time, we think that those elements calling for a ‘no’ vote from the left like the LIT-CI [a continent-wide Trotskyist group] and activists of the PO (Partido Obrero [Argentinian Trotskyists]) living in Bolivia, are committing a most serious and shameful mistake.

Just like in the Venezuelan case, rather than repudiating the bourgeois nationalist or popular front government from the standpoint of class independence, militants of the LIT-CI in Bolivia end up, shamefully, mixing their flags with those of the reactionary opposition. In Bolivia, worst of all, with a racist opposition.

We must insist: this is shameful! The reality is that the real content of the ‘no’ campaign obviously helps – and it could not be otherwise – the right-wingers. There is nothing that can be done by small left groups to change this: it is an objective fact on which we have to base our outlook.

In these circumstances, mixing one’s banner among the “escuálidos” is, we repeat, a scandal which both leads to confusion and stains the banner of revolutionary Marxism, handing pro-MAS and pro-government forces the argument that “Trotskyism goes hand in hand with the racists”… an argument you can hear being made in various media.

So in these circumstances, Socialismo o Barbarie Bolivia repeats its call for ABSTENTION and the continuation of the struggle for a perspective independent of the reformist MAS government, based in the class struggle and other exploited and oppressed layers, on the way to a National Workers’, Peasants’ and Indigenous People’s Assembly facing up to the fresh, dramatic confrontations which are inevitably on their way.

3 thoughts on “evo morales and the constitutional referendum in bolivia

  1. There is an exchange online between the Partido Obrero mentioned in the article (one of the main three Trotskyist organisations in Argentina and indeed, at its height with the “piqueteros” unemployed movement, one of the biggest Trot groups worldwide ever) and its Bolivian section, POR (several Bolivian Trot groups have this name, echoing the 40,000 strong party of sixy years ago).

    It relates to the question of what critical distance to take towards Morales government and indeed how the workers’ movement (which has extremely radical sections like the miners’ union and is not in the pocket of the government) can relate to the peasantry and the urban poor in the east (i.e. away from main centres of workers’ movement).

    Article by Argentinian party critiquing supposed “ultimatism” of Bolivian satellite

    Response by Bolivian section

    Argentinian Partido Obrero replies


  2. According to exit polls the “yes” vote, i.e. in favour of Morales’ constitution, won with about 60% of the vote.


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