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Socialist Democracy May 2006


Socialist Democracy

May 2006



By Peluola Adewale

After his overwhelming victory in the last December election as the first indigenous President of Bolivia on the crest of massive revolutionary uprising of workers, peasants, urban and rural poor, Evo Morales, the leader of Movement towards Socialism (MAS), visited Havana (Cuba) and Caracas (Venezuela) where he announced the resolve of Bolivia to unite with Cuba and Venezuela in a struggle against neo-liberalism and imperialism. "This movement is not only in Bolivia; Fidel in Cuba and Hugo in Venezuela are logging triumphs in social movements and leftist policies", Morales said in Caracas.

This underscores the electrifying anti-imperialist movements that have been sweeping across Latin America unabatedly since the turn of the millennium.

Perhaps, the greatest nightmare of George Bush administration is not even the blind alley it has boxed itself to in Iraq or its newfound trouble with Iran's nuclear programme, but the rise of radical governments and the ouster or unpopularity of pro-Washington governments in its backyard, Latin America. Apparently appreciating this, Morales has described himself as a "nightmare of the US".

What has kept the working masses of Latin America almost permanently on the streets is the deep-seated hatred for the US imperialism along with the poignant effects of the neo-liberal policies embraced by the pro-Washington governments in the continent.

For instance, in Bolivia, President Lozada was forced out of office in October 2003 by the protest against the plans to export natural gas to the US. His successor, Mesa, who lamented that he saw more protests than days in power, was shoved out in June 2005 because he could not cut link with imperialism and agree to nationalisation of oil and gas reserves as demanded by the working people.

The working masses of Ecuador are back to the trenches just almost a year after they chased out President Lucio Gutierrez, who was popularly elected in November 2002, from office in April 2005 for continuing the much hated dollarisation of the economy, establishing close relations with Bush and implementing cuts in social spending in line with the dictates of the IMF. The recent wave of mass protests was as a result of the resolve of President Palacio to sign the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) designed by the US to entrench its economic and strategic interests in Americas from Canada to Chile. The demands of the movement at present dominated by the indigenous peoples include an end to the negotiation with the US on the killer FTA, expulsion of a US multinational oil company, Oxy, also known as Occidental and the nationalization of the oil resources.

The masses of Venezuela have foiled all attempts by the counter-revolutionary forces inspired by the US to oust the left populist regime of Hugo Chavez. The mass movement has pushed Chavez into taking some radical measures against the multinational oil corporations along with implementation of social reforms particularly in education and health. The US imperialism interests appear the worst hit. Recently, the Chavez government ordered the Texas based Exxon Mobil, the World's second largest integrated oil company out of the country for disagreeing with the new policy thrust that has increased royalty and mandated the hand over of 32 privately run oil fields over to the state controlled joint venture. The new guidelines approved by the congress in March entitle Venezuela to minimum of 60% stake in the joint venture. Chavez's resolve to earn greater share of oil and gas profits is to free up more resources from the shackle of imperialism represented by the oil multinationals in order to finance his social programme for the masses.

Perhaps, the most sceptical issue in the Latin America anti-imperialist movement at present is the steadfastness of Evo Morales. His professed models, Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, have weaknesses - Chavez has not broken total link with capitalism and Cuba while not capitalist is not a genuine workers' democracy. However both have proven their capacity to stand up to US imperialism and have, so far, not faltered on their opposition to the neo-liberal market economy. But how far Morales could follow suit remains a moot question.

The working masses massively voted Morales in order to realize their desire for nationalization of the Bolivia oil and gas, the demand, which led to the ouster of two presidents in less than two years. Bolivia has the second largest reserves of gas in Latin America, second only to Venezuela. Yet, it is the continent's poorest country after Haiti. 70% of the population lives below poverty line. Besides the natural gas whose value is put at $100 billion, the costs of extraction of oil and development of oil wells are among the lowest in the world. But while the oil and gas multinationals rake in $1.4 billion a year, the Bolivian state only gets $70/80 million in taxes. However, the neo-liberal capitalist policies (privatisation and cuts in social spending) of the successive governments, particularly since mid 1980's, have meant that even the relative handout from the oil and gas companies hardly trickle down to the masses.

Some sections of workers' movement have already cast serious doubt on the ability of Morales to carry through the mandate of the working masses. This is apparently why the main trade union confederation, COB, gave three-month ultimatum to the Morales government, inaugurated in January, to nationalize oil and gas resources or it would return to the streets. The scepticism on the capacity of Morales is well founded. He was never in support of the demand of the working masses for the nationalization either in October 2003 or May-June 2005 "gas war" but instead, opted for 50% taxation. In fact, he openly supported the referendum that was called by Mesa on the issue of oil and gas industry with rigged questions that did not include nationalization. Earlier in 2003, he chose to remain out of country in the thick of October uprising that overthrew Lozada only to come back to lend his weight to the proposal of Mesa for constituent assembly which was in reality meant to take steam out of the revolutionary mood and stabilize the new government.

Morales and the MAS leadership have made it quite clear that they will work within capitalism. Before the election Morales' running mate for the vice-Presidency, Álvaro García Linera clearly spelt this out as when asked if the MAS wanted a socialist government he replied: "No, no way, because it's not viable. It's not viable because socialism can only be built on the base of a strong proletarian presence… you don't build socialism on the base of a family economy; you build it on the bases of industry, of which there are none in Bolivia".

He continued to argue for an "Andean capitalism" which he described as "a strong state and that is capitalism; the state is not socialism, it's a strong State in hydrocarbons, foreign investment, local private investment, the family economy and small businesses…It's not even a mixed economy".

What these leaders are advocating is strong state intervention together with foreign investment from Spain and other "non bandit" capitalist powers. Through this they hope to develop capitalism with "a human face". Once this task is achieved then maybe socialism will be posed, but in meantime the reality is that Bolivia remains under the grip of capitalism and imperialism.

In his inaugural address, Morales pledged to nationalize the oil and gas reserves, but since then, he has not been forthcoming with details. He has, at best, remained ambiguous. While saying he will nationalize, at the same time, he has stated that he favours doing business with state-owned oil multinationals. Earlier before the inauguration, while on a visit to Spain, he assured the Spanish monopolies that his government was going to "nationalize but will not confiscate or expropriate". He stated further that the Rapsol, the second largest oil multinational operating in Bolivia and other Spanish companies could serve as engine for development and social progress in Bolivia.

In fact, Morales has been making statements that smack of reconciliatory moves with imperialism. He has said, for instance, that he is open to the idea of the US sponsored FTA, he harshly criticized during his campaign, and other trade zones provided any one of them could "guarantee market for the poor". This is nothing but a false hope. It is easier to turn stone to bread than for the trade zones, dominated either by the US imperialism or its marionette governments in Latin America to "guarantee market for the poor".

Allan Clendenning wrote in the Associated Press on January 22 that the reiteration by Morales of his position that his job as President is to do good business for the Bolivians "has led to speculation he may govern less like Chavez and more like Brazil's Lula, who was elected on a leftist platform but has become a toast on Wall Street for embracing orthodox fiscal policy" i.e. neo-liberal capitalist policy.

Truly, there is potential for Morales to go the way of Lula or Lucio Gutierrez, both who were elected on the strength of mass anger against imperialism and neo-liberalism only to betray the mandate. But what is most significant about Bolivia situation is that the social movements that have grown by leaps and bounds since "water war" of 2001 are literally in control. Therefore, the most likely development in Bolivia in the coming period is that the mass movements that put Morales in power will either force him to uphold the interests of the working masses or sweep him away like what became of Lucio in Ecuador.

Yes, nationalisation of natural resources, social reforms and anti-imperialist programmes are in front burner of the demands of the mass movements in Latin America. It is also significant that some governments like Chavez of Venezuela, Morales of Bolivia and Nester Kirchner of Argentina (and even Lula and Vazques of Uruguay who have embraced neo-liberal capitalist reforms) were brought to power on the basis of such demands. But such pro-poor programme constitutes serious strain on capitalism, and thus, as events in Brazil and Uruguay have shown, could not be sustained under capitalism. Therefore, in Bolivia and elsewhere in Latin America, it is imperative for the working class, together with peasants and others exploited by capitalism, to build a strong revolutionary mass based working people party that is capable of defeating capitalism, landlordism and imperialism and enthrone workers and peasants' governments run on socialist programme. This should however serve only as a step towards establishing a socialist confederation (or if possible federation) of Latin America.


Socialist Democracy May 2006