Insurgent Notes #3, March 2011

Issue three of the journal of communist theory and practice.

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The condition of this movement result from the premises now in existence.

- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Communist Manifesto

Anti-capitalism or anti-imperialism? Interwar authoritarian and fascist sources of a reactionary ideology: The case of the Bolivian MNR

Loren Goldner's detailed account and analysis of the Bolivian Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) which was the key player in the 1952 national revolution, and which was supported by the left despite its pro-fascist, corporatist tendencies.

Abstract

The following recounts the evolution of the core pre-MNR intelligentsia and future leadership of the movement and its post-1952 government from anti-Semitic, pro-fascist, pro-Axis ideologues in the mid-1930′s to bourgeois nationalists receiving considerable US aid after 1952. The MNR leadership, basically after Stalingrad, began to “reinvent itself” in response to the impending Allied victory, not to mention huge pressure from the U.S. in various forms starting ca. 1942.

However much the MNR purged itself of its “out-of-date” philofascism by the time it came to power, I wish to show it in the larger context of the top-down, state-driven corporatism that developed in key Latin American countries in this period, specifically Argentina, Brazil and (in a different way) Mexico through the Cardenas period.

The following is a demonstration that, contrary to what contemporary complacent leftist opinion in the West thinks, there is a largely forgotten history of reactionary populist and “anti-imperialist” movements in the underdeveloped world that do not shrink from mobilizing the working class to achieve their goals.

This little-remembered background is all the more important for understanding the dynamics of the left-populist governments which have emerged in Latin America since the 1990’s.

Introduction

The following text is a history and analysis of the fascist and proto-fascist ideologies which shaped the pre-history and early history of the Bolivian MNR (Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario) from 1936 to its seizure of power in 1952.

Friends and comrades who know of my brief (two week) visit to Bolivia in fall 2010 have generally been expecting the text to be a critique of the contemporary government of Evo Morales and the MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo). That was in fact part of my intention in going there, but the enormity of the task, the brevity of my visit and my experiences there began to alter that plan after I returned to the U.S. My momentum in writing about the present was also undercut by the discovery of the excellent articles of Jeffery Webber on Morales’s neo-liberal economic policies since coming to power, based on much more in-depth research and a much longer involvement in Bolivia itself than mine, saying more or less exactly what I intended to say, and more1. Finally, in past writing about different countries (e.g. Portugal, Spain, Korea) an indispensable aid has always been finding “my crowd” in such places, and while I met many excellent people who gave freely of their time and knowledge, this did not occur in Bolivia.

But the impulse behind the direction the article finally took lies deeper. Long ago I was deeply influenced by the book of Jean-Pierre Faye, Langages totalitaires (published in France in 1972, and still outrageously not translated into English) which describes the “oscillation” between the elements of the far left and the far right in Germany between 1890 and 1933 (personified in the figure of Karl Radek), the “red-brown” crossover between nationalism and socialism that ultimately produced …National Socialism and its more radical spinoff, the National Bolsheviks. These various “Trotskyists of Nazism” (such as those most famously associated with the “red” wing of the Nazi Party led by the likes of Ernst Roehm and Gregor Strasser) were massacred by Hitler’s SS along with hundreds of others on the “Night of the Long Knives” in 1934. (Faye hints briefly in an afterward at a “National Bolshevik” moment in Bolivia, though in the 1970’s, not in the period leading up to the MNR revolution of 1952.) There was the further enticing hint of the very same Ernst Roehm’s two-year presence in the Bolivian Army High Command in the late 1920’s, which in fact turned out to confirm my early working hypothesis in spades. Finally, I noticed that even the best treatments of the early MNR founders gave short shrift to their fascist moment.

Lacking access to “my crowd” in Bolivia (if it in fact exists), I had to fall back on books and whatever discussions came up. Almost immediately I encountered what would be a main, and troubling, theme of the trip: the apparently widespread belief that Marxism, class, capitalism and socialism were “Eurocentric” concepts, to which the “plurinational”, “pachakuti”2 higher synthesis of “European” and “Andean-Amazonian” cultures—essentially the ideology of the regime– was the real alternative. It seemed on further inquiry to be a local variant of the identity politics that had overwhelmed much of the Western left after the defeat of the upsurge of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

While this is indeed the ideology of the Morales regime and is articulated by staffers, foreign and local, of the swarm of NGOs from which the regime seems to have drawn many of its personnel, I first heard it from the intellectually-inclined manager of a La Paz bookstore, where I was buying volumes of the Trotskyist Guillermo Lora’s highly useful (if politically not fully reliable) history of the Bolivian working class. What was particularly troubling about this “discourse” (to use a loathsome word from contemporary faddish jargon) was the utter caricature of the West to which the indigenous side of the synthesis was counterposed. It was as if, in these people’s experience, 1950’s Soviet-type Zhdanovian “Marxism” was all they had ever encountered. Marxism was “linear” “developmentalist” and hardly different epistemologically from Newton and Descartes3.

Octavio Paz once described Latin America as the “suburbs of history”, trapped for geopolitical reasons in something of a backwater. I would not want to exaggerate this, particularly since, in the law of combined and uneven development, today’s apparent backwater can be tomorrow’s cutting edge. But in conversations with militants in Bolivia and then Peru ( where I also spent a week in fall 2010) it emerged that almost no one had ever heard of Marx’s Ethnographic Notebooks, Rosa Luxemburg’s extensive writings on pre-capitalist societies (in her Introduction to Political Economy4), the Grundrisse (though it was translated into Spanish in 1972), Ernst Bloch, Korsch, Lukacs, the Hegel Renaissance in Marxism generally, I.I. Rubin, Bordiga, German- Dutch council communism, the Socialism or Barbarism group, Guy Debord, Camatte, Dauvé , CLR James or many other figures one could mention from the ferment in the West since the 1950’s. Rosa Luxemburg seemed little known, and even Trotskyism (the major current of the Bolivian working class from the 1940’s to the 1980’s) seemed to have been largely eclipsed by the perspective of “social movements” and pluri-nationality. (In Peru, the left is dominated by Stalinism and Maoism, with Trotskyism a poor third; the Shining Path movement is making a comeback with guerrilla action in the countryside and a significant urban base of supporters.)

Much could be said about this, and since I was little more (where Andean South America is concerned) than a better-informed-than- average tourist, I hesitate to press very far. In addition to the Aymara and Quechua majority, there are approximately 35 identified “ethnicities” in Bolivia, such as the Guarani in the Amazonian region. One Aymara woman in Cochabamba told me “yes, I was an anarcho-Marxist militant for a number of years, but then I realized that these were Eurocentric ideas”. When I countered, hoping to draw her out, that a large number of the Trotskyist miner militants from the 1940’s to the 1980’s had been Quechua or Aymara, she replied that, “yes, that was true, but up until recently the left never talked about it. For the left, they were just workers.”

Clearly the turning point in modern Bolivian history and the backdrop to this ideological turn was the gutting of the mines under the mid-1980’s neo-liberal regime, in which 80% of Bolivia’s miners were laid off and dispersed around the country5. It was a rollback as great as Thatcher’s defeat of the British miners’ strike, at exactly the same time. Many of these miners did manage to re-establish themselves somewhat, particularly in the huge hard-scrabble exurb of El Alto, just above La Paz, where the 2005 gas war was centered and which was definitely strengthened by their earlier militant experience of mass struggle6.

One sad reality of the trip, however, was the absence from Bolivia, while I was there, of Oscar Oliveira, by all accounts a central self-effacing rank-and-file leader of both (2000 and 2003) water wars. Prior to 2000, he had been a militant in a shoe factory. His book, Cochabamba!7, contains his riveting account of the uprisings, which amounted to the constitution of a virtual soviet taking over the city and stopping the privatization of the local water works, a “social movement” that pulled in what seemed at times like almost the whole population. The savagery of the privatization law was such that, in addition to price increases sometimes amounting to 20% of family incomes, people with wells on their property were required to cap them, and it was illegal to trap rain water in a barrel.

Oscar Oliveira also made a scathing critique of the Morales government in August 20108, having been declared an “enemy” by Morales two years earlier. In summer 2010, he decided to withdraw from political activity, apparently deeply demoralized. At the time, he was the head of the Federación de Trabajadores Fabriles de Cochabamba, an association of one hundred workplaces in the city. When he submitted his resignation for personal reasons, it was overwhelmingly rejected by the membership. At that point, Morales intervened, trying to get the MAS supporters in the organization to oust him. They refused, and instead the membership put Oliveira on a kind of leave of absence, welcome to return at any time. (He was apparently taking a personal trip to Europe.) Oliveira had refused Morales’s offer of a ministerial position and all other perquisites, preferring (unlike many key figures of the 2000-2005 struggles) to stay with the base.

Though I missed the chance to meet Oliveira, Cochabamba was nonetheless where I had one of the outstanding encounters of the trip. I was in a local bookstore with a cultural anthropologist I had met, and she pointed to a big book: “You should read this. It’s by a guy who broke with Morales even before he came to power”. This turned out to be the above-cited book of Filemon Escobar, who from the 1950’s onward was, with Guillermo Lora, the leading Trotskyist miner militant in Bolivia, where, as indicated, and unlike in all but a handful of other countries (Vietnam in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) up to the 1960’s) Trotskyism was the dominant current of the mass workers’ movement and Stalinism a miserable sect on the margins9. (Stalinism in Vietnam, of course, was unfortunately not a marginal sect.)

I was fortunate enough to meet Escobar shortly thereafter. I had read a good deal of his book, and my aim was above all to hear from someone with such a rich experience as a Marxist militant in the Bolivian workers’ movement, over decades, how he had come to reject “Eurocentric” Marxism and embrace the “pachakuti”. Escobar did me the great favor of showing me all the “underground” books on the indigenous question written over the past century, to which the radical left had been deaf and indifferent, and a fair number of which I read upon returning to New York. There is in fact a lineage of indigenous writers going back 200 years to Pazos Kanki, an Aymara who translated Thomas Paine ca. 1810. Another key figure is Pablo Zarate Willka, who led an indigenous insurrection of considerable proportions in 1899, in the middle of a civil war between two factions of the white elite, which ended in defeat for the indigenous forces and Zarate’s execution (Willka is an Incan word meaning a kind of chief). Given my bent for uncovering German romantic populists and folklorists at the origins of authoritarian movements in developing countries10, Escobar did me the further favor of putting me on to the foremost Bolivian ideologue of such a sensibility, Franz Tamayo (1878-1956), an unabashed admirer of Fichte with years of experience in Wilhelmine Germany. The discovery of Tamayo, and from such a source, was the true beginning of the text that follows.

One key part of the pachakuti ideology, in Escobar’s book and in the general movement, is the idea of “reciprocity”, apparently the key to the Aymara and Quechua communities. Explained in simple language, it seems to mean (as Escobar put it) that you eat before I eat, and in reciprocity you make sure that I eat. Somehow, it didn’t sound so different from the ethos of the primitive Christian communities. Similarly, shortly before his execution, Zarate Willka, (in a quote highlighted at the beginning of Escobar’s book) had said: “With great feeling I order all Indians to respect the whites (…) and in the same way the whites must respect the Indians”. Hard to disagree with, but a sentiment that one could have heard in any speech in the early civil rights movement in the U.S.

Closely tied to reciprocity in the indigenist ideology is the centrality of the ayllu, the pre-Columbian community that some have even elevated to assert that Incan society prior to the arrival of the Spanish was “communist”. Decades of debate raged in the past over this question, which seems to have ebbed away in the grudging recognition that the Incan empire, which barely established itself one century before the arrival of Pizarro, had in fact been expansionist, and had crushed and enslaved populations of previous dominant groups in the Andean region from what is now Ecuador to Chile.

The cultural anthropologist who put me onto Escobar had this to say about the survival of the ayllu:

“The structure of the ayllu with its traditional authorities still persists, but within a much smaller territorial space than it was the case in pre-Columbian times, in some areas of the highland regions of Bolivia, mostly in the altiplano, northern and southern Potosi, the western highlands of Cochabamba and a few places in Chuquisaca. In some cases, the ayllu has been reconstituted in areas where it had ceased to exist after the law of popular participation of 1994.

The main problem with Filemon´s (and others) idea of using the ayllu as the building block to develop an Andean version of socialism is that it highly romanticizes social relations within the ayllu and/or community as if these were horizontal and equal, denying the social differentiation that exists within them since pre-Columbian times. This differentiation may be minimal within very poor regions.”

In short, I found myself somewhere among the identity politics against which I had polemicized for some time, some Bolivian variant of the Russian peasant commune which fascinated Marx and Bordiga, and the “new Marx” emerging from previously unpublished (or unread) writings on cultures and movements on the margins of capitalism.11

My problematic, however, was populism as an anti-working class ideology and political reality. From the era (1930’s to 1950’s) of Peron in Argentina, Vargas in Brazil, or Cardenas in Mexico, nationalist populism as a statist, top-down movement, backed by the military, has turned a page. (The Bolivian MNR, in less developed circumstances where the military temporarily collapsed, presents a somewhat different dynamic.) The contemporary Latin American populism of Lula, Chavez or Morales is a “social movement” populism, much as, in Europe in the 1960’s and 1970’s, “worker self-management” replaced the older hierarchical unions as a form of working-class containment12.

One thread in the following text is the German ideological influence in Bolivia, from the Fichtean Tamayo, who first posed the “indigenous question” in 1910, to the Spenglerian Carlos Montenegro, the foremost theoretician of the MNR’s “national revolution’ against “foreign” influences, including Marxism. The shift from Latin America’s authoritarian populism and corporatism, as it existed into the 1950’s, to the more supple “social movement” populism of today, calls to mind a parallel shift before and after 1945 in two German theorists of the so-called “Conservative Revolution” with complicated relations to Nazism, Ernst Jünger and Martin Heidegger. Jünger’s soldier-worker, the “storms of steel” on the Western front in the First World War, and technicist “total mobilization” of reality gave way after to 1945 to mythical musings about astrology as expessing “the need for metaphysical standards” and about “a revolt of the earth with the help of man”. The hardened 1920’s “decisionism” of Heidegger which led him into his involvement with the Nazi Party was replaced after World War II with poetic “Gelassenheit”, or “letting Being be”13 and studies in the “history of Being”.

This text, then, limits itself to the earlier, “Conservative Revolution” phase of Bolivian populist ideology, as it evolved from Franz Tamayo to Carlos Montenegro, and must necessarily leave the flowering the “Pacha Mama” (Mother Earth)/indigenist cover for the Morales-MAS neo-liberalism to others.

New York, February 2011

Few people on the U. S. and European left today remember the Bolivian Revolution of 1952. Fewer still are aware of its history, and above all of the early (1930’s, 1940’s) fascist origins of the MNR (Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario14) which it brought to power. The radical phase of the revolution was short enough, and its memory has faded, having been eclipsed for contemporaries by more recent developments in such countries as Cuba, Chile or Nicaragua. The rise and decline of the MNR, nonetheless, ranks with developments in Mexico (1910-1940) and Cuba (1958- ) as one of the most important Latin American revolutions of the 20th century.

Of all of these Latin American revolutionary movements, however, the Bolivian MNR stands out as a prime example of the recycling of proto-fascist and fascist ideologies of the interwar period in “progressive” “anti-imperialist” form after 194515.

1. The Setting

Bolivia was and is, in the Americas, second only to Haiti in poverty. But much more than Haiti, it has been weighed down by the contrast between its rich endowment in raw materials (tin, oil, natural gas and, most recently, lithium) and the overall impoverishment of the country by foreign investment in those materials. Along with Peru, Bolivia inherits the complex and ongoing legacy of the pre-colonial Andean civilizations, present in its large Quechua and Aymara-speaking populations, as well as the thirty-odd smaller ethnicities in the Amazonian east of the country.

Remote, poor and landlocked as modern Bolivia may have been, its political and social evolution nonetheless fits the global pattern of the impact of German romantic populist nationalism in the process whereby conservative and fascist ideologies, initially spawned in Europe between 1870 and 1945, migrated to the semi-colonial and colonial world and were then re-imported by the Western left in suitably “anti- imperialist” guise.

Bolivia’s history, in the eighty years preceding the MNR revolution, was a rude awakening to the world market dominated by Anglo-American imperialism. Its political system, like most political systems in Latin America between the 1870’s and the 1929 world depression, was a restricted affair of two political currents, Republican and Liberal, both representing factions of the small elite which had wrested independence from Spain in 1825, and which was periodically elected, after 1880, by the narrow enfranchised sliver (2%) of the population. This elite in turn dominated the much larger mestizo and above all indigenous, overwhelmingly rural population which periodically expressed itself in local and occasionally national revolts, the fear of which shaped the elite’s unabashed racism16.

One such failed nationwide indigenous revolt, associated with the name of Pablo Zarate (El Temible) (The Dreaded) Willka, took place in 1899, in the midst of a civil war (1898-99) in which the Liberals ended two decades of Republican domination and won control of the political system until 1920.

Republican or Liberal, the Bolivian elite hardly excelled in protecting national interests. Between 1879 and 1935, Bolivia lost a significant part of its national territory and its entire coastline in successive wars and conflicts with Chile (1879), Brazil (1903)17 and finally with Paraguay in the infamous Chaco War (1932-1935), the bloodiest engagement ever fought in Latin America in modern times and the real beginning of the ferment leading to the MNR revolution in 1952.

2. German Romantic Populism Comes to Bolivia

It is little appreciated today to what extent Germany, from the Kaiserreich to Nazism, influenced developments throughout the semi-colonial and colonial world, including Bolivia, prior to 1945. After its long-delayed national unification in 1870, and its stunning defeat of France (previously considered the dominant continental army) in the Franco-Prussian war of the same year, Germany began the long process of contesting Anglo-French and later American dominance in the world economy. Being itself, as a latecomer, largely excluded from the imperialist land grab of the 1870’s and 1880’s, and having been compelled, in its own struggle to unify, to shake up the European balance of power built on the fragmentation of the Germanic lands since 1648, Germany up to 1945 could plausibly present itself in many parts of the world, to nations and nationalist movements under the heel of the dominant imperialist powers, as a supporter of “national liberation”. Germany was, in that very real sense, the first successful “developing country”; its (initially) highly successful economic and military emergence made it a “model” for would-be developing countries everywhere, much in the same way that Japan (itself a star pupil of Germany) became such a model for Asia a bit later, and above all after World War II. But along with economic and military prowess, Germany increasingly attracted the attention of the semi-colonial and colonial elites with its stellar culture, a culture developed precisely in opposition to the dominant Anglo-French liberal paradigm from the Enlightenment onward. From Japan, Korea and China to the African Negritude movement, via the origins of Turkish and Arab nationalism, to the German immigrants and military advisors in Latin America, there is scarcely a part of the pre-1945 developing world that was untouched by attempts to imitate the “German model” in all its various dimensions.

In Bolivia, the 1880’s saw the founding of the first commercial houses for German immigrants. German-Bolivian trade took off in that period with the sale of German heavy machinery and locomotives in exchange for Bolivian rubber. While British finance capital, funding above all railway construction, was still dominant over Germany in Bolivia, the Krupp and Mauser arms producers were already selling weaponry to most Latin American armies, including Bolivia’s. Overall, from 1880 to 1920, Bolivia’s foreign trade was expanding greatly. German trade there surpassed France’s by 190018. By the 1890’s, tin had replaced silver as Bolivia’s main export, and by the 1930’s the three largest “tin barons”, known popularly as “La Rosca” and quite detached from the real life of the Bolivian masses, were the core of the dominant oligarchy19. In 1910, Bolivia was the world’s second producer of tin.

By 1900, German (mainly Prussian) military officers were training armies throughout Latin America, and with the well-known role of military elites in nation-building in the developing world, were often, along with trade and immigrants20, the conduit through which broader German influence entered a specific country. Between the Franco-Prussian War and the outbreak of World War I, these officers repeatedly displaced French officers in training new armies, from Japan to the Ottoman Empire to Argentina, Chile and finally (after 1911) Bolivia. Some German-trained officers of the latter countries in turn trained armies in Peru and Ecuador. 1908 also saw the German-Bolivian Treaty of Friendship and Commerce.

Undoubtedly the most notorious German military adviser to the Bolivian Army, over a twenty-five-year period, was Gen. Hans Kundt , the commander of a number of German officers with colonial experience in such settings as Cameroon or the suppression of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China. In 1914, Kundt returned to Germany to play an undistinguished role in the First World War, after which he participated in the proto-fascist Freikorps and then in the failed 1920 Kapp Putsch against the newly-founded Weimar Republic, whereupon he had to leave Germany and returned to Bolivia.

Despite these German ties, Bolivia sided with the Western allies in the war, breaking relations with Germany in 1917, under the pressure of the U.S. and Britain, the major investors in Bolivian tin and also the major market for it. Kundt returned to La Paz in 1920 and became Minister of War, and would continue to deeply influence the Bolivian army until the debacle of the Chaco War. During his tenure there, Bolivia’s Revista Militar, the leading journal of strategy for the officer corps, was not accidentally dominated by Germanophiles.

3. A Bolivian Fichte: Franz Tamayo and the pre-MNR Tradition of Paternalistic Indigenism

German influence, in Bolivia as elsewhere, was hardly limited to the economic and military spheres. The first intellectual of the “cosmopolitan”, i.e. Anglo-French oriented Bolivian elite to pose the question of the indigenous majority, as least as a cultural program imbued with German romanticism, was Franz Tamayo. He was undoubtedly the foremost Bolivian intellectual and cultural figure of the pre-MNR generation. In his 1910 book, Creacion de una Pedagogia Nacional (first serialized in fifty-five articles in a newspaper) one of the most arresting formulations was: “What does the state do for the Indian? Nothing. What does the state take from the Indian? Everything.”21 Tamayo asserted that 90% of the energy of the Bolivian nation came from the indigenous majority and that instead of slavishly copying European models, Bolivia should put the Indian at the center of its culture and education.

Franz Tamayo (1878-1956), played in Bolivia a role somewhat similar to that, somewhat later, of Jose Carlos Mariategui in Peru (cf. below), although, in contrast to Mariategui, totally outside of any Marxist or leftist problematic. Tamayo was born into the latifundia class; his father, Isaac Tamayo, had published a sociological novel in 1914, Habla Melgarejo, which by some estimations contains all of his son’s later affirmations about the centrality of the Indian in Bolivian history and culture, and the elder Tamayo is considered by some to be the “true father of indigenismo in Bolivia”.

Franz Tamayo was a major literary, intellectual and occasionally political figure in Bolivia from from the early 20th century until his death. Like many men from the Latin American elite, he had spent years prior to World War I in England, France and above all Germany on the mandatory tour of the continent. (Unlike most such Bolivian men, however, his mother was Aymara, and Tamayo grew up bilingual in both Spanish and Aymara.) In Paris, he married a Parisian beauty of la belle époque and brought her back to live, incongruously, on his remote Bolivian estate. His major intellectual influences were Goethe, Nietzsche, the geopolitician Rätzel and above all Fichte. Like many similar figures from underdeveloped countries, he (like his father) pointed repeatedly to Japan as a model for such countries to follow, because it had (in his estimation) totally internalized what the West had to offer, while preserving its own culture.

Tamayo’s work consists more of poetry and other literary forms rather than political writings. The work Creacion de la Pedagogia Nacional22, his main venture into social analysis, is a call for Bolivia to emerge as an indigenous nation, and was profoundly influenced by Fichte’s Speeches to the German Nation. From Fichte, Tamayo took the idea of “national will”; he denounced the Europe-addled “Bovaryism”23 of the Bolivian elite, with its pale imitations of Europe, saying rather that Bolivian education needed to prepare the youth for struggle, because “life is struggle, the struggle of interests, struggle on every terrain and of every kind”. Bolivia, in Tamayo’s view “had to eliminate the European and mestizo elements and make itself into a single indigenous nation.”24 The work is shot through with 19th-century Teutonic terms such as “life”, “force” and “race”. “National energy” required “fighters, not literati”. Tamayo saw Nietzsche as the philosophical negation of, in his words, “the poisonous books” of Rousseau. Fascinated as well by Schopenhauer, Tamayo similarly had no use for the world historical progress informing the outlook of Hegel.

Tamayo, for all his desire to escape from “Europe”, was totally a prisoner of late 19th century European race theory, in which biology was destiny; a race for him was

“a group from people possessing the same biological inheritance, identifiable by external physical characteristics, which have a definite relation in types of behaviour and which give rise to cultural differences.”25

Tamayo had no more use for any universalist outlook than today’s theorists of identity politics, who might at least blush at the biologist foundation of such a predecessor:

“The ideal of humanity! That is an unreality which never existed, except as a false and artificial product of French romanticism which nations have never practiced!”

and

“The human ideal, if it exists, is a preparation for the forces of the nation, not for an impossible Saturnalia of peace and universal concord, but in a recognition that everything is a struggle without truce, a struggle of interests, a struggle on every terrain and of every kind, in markets as on the battlefield.”26

In Tamayo’s paternalistic view, of course, the indigenous masses of Bolivia are not to be the protagonists of any struggle to throw off the weight of European culture:

“Who is to carry out this movement (for the overthrow of Spanish culture)…? It is not the Indian directly, but rather us, the thinkers, the leaders, the rulers, who are beginning to become conscious of our integral life and our real history.”27

Given his central role and his controversial views, there were obviously many reactions to Tamayo. In the view of one critic, Juan Albarracin Millan28 “Tamayo’s irrationalism, basically racist, posits ‘Bolivian man’ as the ‘new man’…With its insistence on the mystique of blood, race and soil”, in Albarracin’s view, “Tamayo’s orientation was not called irrationalism, voluntarism, vitalism or mysticism, but, quite the contrary, ‘indianista’. Tamayo was, in this view, ”anti-liberal, anti-democrat, anti-socialist and anti-masses.” Eduardo Diez de Medina, a writer and diplomat, cursed Tamayo for “his puerile adoration of Fichte, Nietzsche, Max Stirner, the Kaiser and Hitler.” and said that “only Adler, Jung, Scheler…or Freud could have understood Tamayo’s writings.”29. For Augusto Cespedes, a major MNR intellectual and generally an apologist for the MNR’s early anti-Semitism and proto-fascism30, said of Tamayo that “his mind admitted only an abstract national pedagogy suitable for an empty utopia…his condition (was that of) a latifundist, landowner and master of serfs.”31. Guillermo Lora, the leading Trotskyist in Bolivia over decades, contrasted Tamayo to another figure of the elite, Bautista Saavedra (Bolivian president 1920-1925), saying that if the latter had not left his study and gone to seek the masses in the outlying neighborhoods, “he would have remained in the same position as Franz Tamayo, the poet, essayist and owner of haciendas and houses, forgotten in the midst of a flood of intellectual memories and dusty books.”32

Tamayo does not fare better in the critique of a major theoretician of indianismo33, Fausto Reinaga34. In Reinaga’s view, Tamayo soared in thought, “but always had his feet planted on the side of feudal exploitation”. After the 1952 MNR revolution, according to Reinaga, the “youth turned to Tamayo”, and the latter responded: “No revolution”. With his “black class hatred”, Tamayo opposed agrarian reform. He joined the “Rosca”, the oligarchy deposed in 1952, in calling the MNR “communist”. His work had been hailed in the publications of the Falange Socialista Boliviano (FSB), the authentically fascist current after World War II. After 1952, Tamayo had written “I had always considered communism to be the most terrible retrogression…”35 He had been, in Reinaga’s view, “the greatest enemy and detractor of the working class in Bolivia”; the working class for him was “la canalla”. In a speech to parliament in 1931, Tamayo had already said “We know that communism is an immoral doctrine, destructive of all principles, it is a human pestilence.”36 In the estimate of his most serious intellectual biographer37, Tamayo’s reactionary outlook was closest to those of Burke and Maistre. Charles W. Arnade, whose book Historiografia Colonial y Moderna de Bolivia surveys the gradual discovery of indigenous reality in Bolivia’s long tradition of Eurocentric historiography, considered that Tamayo had pushed the “the racial themes to absurd extremes”.38

The assessment of Marcos Dumich39, albeit theoretician of the Bolivian Communist Party, is no less harsh. He sees Tamayo as a healthy reaction to the early 20th century reactionary and cultural pessimist Alcides Arguedes, author of the 1909 book Pueblo Enfermo (A Sick People) but who then falls into talk of the “indigenous race”. In Dumich’s view, Tamayo opposed humanism, liberalism, scientism, and intellectualism, for which he substituted voluntarism and authoritarianism40. Politically, Tamayo’s contempt for bourgeois democracy and his “heroic authoritarianism and grandiloquent nationalism” puts him on the ideological terrain of pre-fascism. In a 1934 speech, Tamayo denounced the Russian Revolution and called for a “strong hand against its Turano-Mongol nihilism”. “Tamayo”, for Dumich, “contributed to creating that emotional tone so hard and so necessary for the fascist currents.”

Tamayo, in fact, did not limit himself to theory and literary works. He intermittently intervened in politics throughout the period under consideration here. He founded the Radical Party in 1912, falling on the Liberal side of the intra-elite battle between Liberals and Republicans. Tamayo played a leadership role, becoming chancellor, in the disastrous Chaco War with Paraguay (1932-1935), and was then elected president in 1934 but prevented from taking office by the coup of 1935, while both his house in La Paz and his rural estate were burned to the ground. He had run at the urging of the proto-fascist, later pro-Axis secret military lodge Razon de Patria (RADEPA), and then had become the president of the Constituent Assembly in 1943 in the government of Villaroel, also a RADEPA member. Tamayo (who left political office in 1945) remained notably silent during the mini- civil war of August 1949, preparatory for the MNR revolution three years later, as a well as on the 1950 massacre of workers in the Villa Victoria district of La Paz. The MNR seriously considered him for their presidential candidate in the decisive 1951 elections, which began the immediate crisis prior to the 1952 revolution, but he was passed over for Victor Paz Estenssoro.

Tamayo’s Fichtean nationalism, then, based as it was on a racial affirmation of the “true” Bolivia rooted in the indio, was the kernel of what would become, in a more cultural but still highly Germanic form, the ideology of the “national revolution” against the “foreign” elite elaborated by Carlos Montenegro.

Charles Andrade’s study, reputed to be the first which brushed aside the white elite-centered historiography and unearthed the indigenous tradition, also places Franz Tamayo in perspective, while revealing the racism of much of the treatment of the indigenous question, for and against. Rene Moreno, the most important Bolivian historian of the 19th century, was a declared racist. Nineteenth-century historians generally were “a mixture of narrow provincialism and French intellectualism…they failed to understand the great social problems of their nation.41 The above-mentioned Alcydes Arguedes (1879-1946), another Francophile historian of the period, was influenced by reactionaries such as Le Bon, Gobineau, and Vacher de Lapouge, but was nonetheless “one of the fathers of Bolivian indigenism”.42 (He also was funded by the Patiño tin empire to write a tendentious multi-volume history of Bolivia.) Jaime Mendoza (1874-1939) was, for Andrade, “the first aristocrat who, without vacillation, demagogic intensions or pat phrases, proclaimed the potential equality of the Indians…he opposed changing the mode of life of the Indians, in the sense of subjecting them to Europeanization”43. Mendoza’s book Factor geografico (1925) emphasized the Indians’ “love of the land” and thus, in Andrade’s view, “the cult of Pachamama was born”http://insurgentnotes.com/2011/03/anti-capitalism-or-anti-imperialism/ - footnote_anchor-44.44

Such, then, were some of the contending currents with which the Bolivian elite entered the global crisis ushered in by World War I and its aftermath, prior to the appearance, after 1928, of the future MNR generation.

4. Prelude to the Crisis of the Chaco War, 1918-1932

The period 1914-1945 was a period of violent reorganization of world capitalism, of the demise of the British world hegemon and the struggle for succession to world hegemony between the emerging contenders, Germany and the United States, a struggle which played itself out quite explicitly in Bolivia. It was also a period of transition, on a world scale, (to use Marx’s language) from the phase of “formal”/extensive to the “real”/intensive domination of capital45.

After the First World War, Bolivia’s economy was hard hit by the 1920-21 world depression. With the end of war demand, the world tin price, and hence Bolivia’s tin exports, collapsed. It was at the same time a period of heavy foreign investment in the country’s public utilities and government securities. In 1920-21, Standard Oil of Bolivia was created, and Spruille Braden, a dominant figure in U.S. business and diplomacy in Latin America over the subsequent decades46, negotiated the very advantageous sale of four million hectares of Bolivian soil to Standard Oil, a sale which would later inflame Bolivian nationalism before and during the Chaco War. With recovery after 1921, something of a new educated middle class emerged. German investment returned, carving out a spot behind U.S. and British interests in transportation and communication. In 1923, Wall Street banks floated the so-called Nicolas loan of $33 million, which refunded Bolivia’s state debt, taking 45% of government income for repayment47. This was followed in 1927 with a $14 million loan from Dillon, Read. In the same year, Walter Kemmerer, a Princeton economist, spent three months in Bolivia as a consultant, ultimately outlining the “Kemmerer reform”, which proposed the U.S. Federal Reserve System as a model for the Bolivian Central Bank. Kemmerer also recommended tax reforms and a return to the gold standard. Kemmerer’s intervention was followed in 1928 by a new Dillon, Reed loan of $23 million. In 1929, Bolivian tin production peaked at an all-time record, a level never attained again and, given the country’s then-total dependence on tin exports, a serious problem over subsequent decades, as Bolivia was eclipsed by tin production in Malaya, Indonesia and Nigeria. On the eve of the world collapse in 1929, foreign debt was still taking 37% of the state budget, and government finance remained in deep crisis over the following decade.

Bolivia was, in short, a classic semi-colonial country, totally beholden to competing imperialist powers for finance and technology, and whose immense natural resources benefited primarily those foreign investors.

The Bolivian working class emerged in its modern form amidst all this economic turmoil, after an earlier period of the Proudhon-inspired mutualism widespread throughout Latin America prior to 1914. As happened in so many countries immediately after the war, a strike wave swept Bolivia in 1920, led by the railway workers, who called a general strike in January 1921. Tin miners had struck at the Catavi mines in August 1920, but their strike was crushed. Another general strike in La Paz in 1922 forced the government to concede, but the Uncia mining massacre of 1923 marked a pause in labor unrest.

Along with strike activity, as well as peasant ferment, a flurry of new left-wing organizations emerged. A (non-Marxist) Socialist Workers’ Party was founded in the fall of 1920, and a Socialist Party, with ties to the more developed Chilean workers’ movement, was founded in 1921. Later in the decade, the newly-created Third International began activity in Bolivia, from its continental headquarters in Buenos Aires48. In 1927, Tristan Marof49 (1898-1979), an important left-wing figure over subsequent decades, helped found a Labor Party (Partido Laborista), the first self-identified Marxist party in the country. (For his troubles, Marof was exiled from the country for a decade.) In the same year, an indigenous revolt of 100,000 peasants in the Bolivian south was crushed, a revolt caused by rise in the price of land due to railroad construction and land seizures by landholders. Agitation spread for the eight-hour day, which was adopted in some sectors.

All this economic turmoil, worker and peasant ferment, and the proliferation of socialist and labor organizations (many ill-defined) had to have ideological repercussions, and by the late 1920’s a tumultuous mix including Marxism, nationalism and indigenism all reached the educated middle class, a ferment which would bear its ambiguous fruits after the Chaco War. In August 1928, the first convention of the Bolivian University Federation (FUB) took place50, where particularly the Cochabamba intelligentsia was swept up in discussions of the Mexican and Russian Revolutions, as well as the ideas of Peruvian Marxist Jose Carlos Mariategui51. This agitation was also significant in that virtually all the major figures of post-Chaco radical politics came of age politically in these years. The deepening world depression after 1929 and looming Chaco War would provide the context for their emergence. The late 1920’s, in short, was the period in which Marxism of different varieties swept educated strata in Bolivia.

5. Mariategui and Marof Pose the Indigenous Question for the Left

Peruvian Marxist Jose Carlos Mariategui (1894-1930), was the first Latin American Marxist to underscore the problematic of the Andean indigenous population for socialism, and had a major impact in Bolivia as well as early as the late 1920’s Mariategui, in a short life, wrote hundreds of journalistic articles. His major work is a collection entitled Seven Essays for the Interpretation of Peruvian Reality. Mariategui was denounced by the Comintern in the Third Period as a “populist”, and denounced by the populists (of Haya de la Torre’s APRA party) as a Marxist.

Mariategui was initially formed by the leading Peruvian anarchist of the preceding (pre-World War I) generation, Manuel Gonzalez Prado, whose prominence was based on the early mutualist (Proudhon-inspired) phase of the Peruvian and Latin American workers’ movement ( which was more or less superseded by the global impact of the Russian Revolution). Mariategui traveled to Europe after the war and was in Italy during the factory occupations of 1920. It was in Italy that he most directly experienced the realities of the European workers’ movement. He is a tangle of influences, including Georges Sorel52 and surrealism. He founded the highly original journal Amauta (1926-1930), which propagated his theses at a time when the Peruvian elite was totally Europe-oriented, and both disdainful and fearful of the seemingly mute indigenous majority. He helped to found the Peruvian Socialist Party in 1928, so named precisely to demarcate it from Third International Communism as well as Haya De la Torre’s APRA.

In addition to Mariategui, a second figure on the Andean left who raised the indigenous question to prominence was the (above mentioned) Bolivian Tristan Marof53, the nom de guerre of Gustavo Adolfo Navarro. Marof was an aristocrat who served as a diplomat in Europe from 1920 to 1926. He was expelled from Bolivia, as indicated, for pacifism during the Chaco War, and upon his return attempted to found a real Marxist party there. Marof, in Andrade’s view, wrote an unprecedented history of Bolivia, albeit with an “exaggerated interest in the Inca empire”, which Marof saw as superior to the present. For Marof as for Tamayo, the “Bolivian people were the Indians, and they were not sick but merely sad at the loss of their ‘great past’”54. Marof figured prominently in a debate within Andean Marxism about the possible “communist” character of Incan society, a viewpoint that has faded away.

6. Bolivia and the South American Revolutions of 1930

In 1930, under the impact of the world depression, revolts and revolutions overturned the governments of Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile55. These developments were the South American moment of the worldwide collapse of classical 19th-century liberalism in the depression decade, and in Bolivia, as in the other Latin American countries, this meant the impending defeat of the old oligarchic elite parties based on restricted suffrage, and the entry of the masses into politics56. In the Bolivian case, with the return to power of the Liberals, this collapse and reshaping of the political, social and economic system stretched over more than two decades, as the Bolivian moment of the world transition to forms of social organization appropriate to the new “intensive” form of accumulation.

During these developments, the German military presence had continued apace.

Over the course of the 1920’s, General Kundt had imposed more and more discipline on the military. Faced with instability and revolt, the Republican Hernan Silas government (1926-1930) became more and more dependent on the army, and hence on Kundt. In 1926, Ernst Roehm, the founder of Hitler’s stormtroopers, was invited to Bolivia as a military adviser and arrived there in 1928, along with a number of other far-right military personnel from Danzig, who had been demobilized by the Treaty of Versailles. The Liberal overthrow of the Bolivian government in June 1930 was a revolt from the right, placing in power Daniel Salamanca, after which Roehm briefly joined the Bolivian General Staff, though Hitler recalled him to Germany months later. In the upheaval, Kundt’s house was attacked by a mob because of his association with Silas. Other German officers supported the rebels.

In January 1931, the Liberals consolidated their mandate in a landslide electoral victory (once again within the restricted suffrage). In the same year, Bolivia became the first Latin American country to suspend payments on its foreign debt during the depression decade. In March 1931, Salamanca took office as president. The Trotskyist57 militant and intellectual Lora commented on this development: “Our greatest liberals may have had a few democratic ideas in their heads, but their very existence was based on the servile labor of the peasants.’58 Almost immediately, in April 1931, Salamanca was confronted with a general strike, centered in the postal and telephone workers, and managed to suppress it.

7. The Chaco War and the End of the “Old Regime” of Elite Politics

For years, Bolivia and Paraguay had fought minor skirmishes on their vague shared border in the Chaco, a huge and very sparsely populated area of jungle, desert and shrub land in Bolivia’s east. Disputes have continued ever since the Chaco War about the ultimate reasons for the conflict, which cannot be settled here. During and after the war, the great majority of Bolivians believed it was provoked by Standard Oil, backed by Argentina and/or Brazil, for reasons such as the desire for an outlet to the sea. Serious historians such as Herbert Klein dispute this59. Whatever the case, Chaco War fever initially helped Salamanca to divert domestic passions away from his abysmal failure to deal with the economic crisis. In May 1931, he pushed for military penetration of the Chaco just as he was unleashing massive repression of May Day demonstrations around the country. In early 1932, the Bolivian Parliament debated a “Law of Social Defense” allowing it to exercise “legal dictatorship”, also denying the right to unionize and to demonstrate. A government roundup of leftist intellectuals ensued. Nonetheless, at the same time, there was growing anti-war sentiment in the labor movement, culminating perhaps in a major demonstration in Cochabamba on May 19th, but, according to Lora, many leftists also capitulated to war hysteria.60

Salamanca pushed for war in the Chaco, confident of victory. Bolivia had twice Paraguay’s population61, and superior armed forces. What the Bolivian elite did not reckon with was the huge incompetence revealed by the general staff, the extremely hostile terrain (many more troops died of thirst and disease than from combat) and the rapid demoralization of the front line troops, who were in their overwhelming majority indigenous draftees pulled from remote villages without the slightest idea of what the war was about.

In 1932, General Kundt, having fled after the overthrow of the Silas government in 1930, returned to Bolivia with full powers as commander-in-chief in the Chaco War, after Bolivia’s initial defeat at Boqueron provoked a clamor for his reinstatement. Kundt’s popularity was heightened by a growing fascist influence on middle-class youth, a number of whom had studied in Germany during the rise of Nazism. In addition to economic ties to Germany, cultural clubs and colegios (high schools) spread the growing appeal of authoritarianism and fascism in Europe62. Be this as it may, Kundt, who was seemingly committed to a cumbersome strategy of position, was definitively ousted after another defeat at Campo Via.

All in all, Bolivia lost 60,000 men in the Chaco War, and Paraguay lost 40,000, by the time Bolivia agreed to an armistice in 193563. Deserters had been shot in droves, and leftists protesting the war were intentionally sent to the front lines to be killed there. Thousands of Bolivian troops perished from thirst when logistic lines were interrupted by incompetence and neglect. The peace negotiations, overseen by representatives from the U.S., Argentina, Chile and Brazil, dragged on until 1938, and ultimately awarded Paraguay territory that doubled its size. The economy was reeling under accelerating inflation.64 By 1935, the traditional Bolivian Liberal and Republican parties of the tin barons had been totally discredited, never to recover in their old form. The social ferment unleashed by the Chaco debacle turned Bolivian society upside down. In that ferment, fascist, corporatist and socialist ideologies battled for dominance in a chaotic and highly fluid postwar situation.

8. Intermezzo on Corporatism in Latin America

The collapse of elite liberal and republican parties in southern South America, under the impact of the post-1929 world depression, as well as the rise of increasingly radicalized workers’ movements, as often more anarchist than socialist, required the ruling classes of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile to fundamentally remake their political systems if they were to retain power. This transformation was the Latin American moment of the worldwide proliferation of statist regimes of different types in the global restructuring of capitalism then underway. Earlier immigration to southern South America from Spain, Italy and Germany made crisis responses in Europe significantly present, to different degrees, in the debates over how to accomplish this. The Primo de Rivera dictatorship in Spain (1923-1930) with its definite corporatist overtones, fascism in Mussolini’s Italy, and, a few years later, Nazism in Germany all came into play as references for the new era of mass politics. These forces were received somewhat differently in the less urban, less industrial countries of the Andes such as Bolivia and Peru, with their large indigenous populations. Yet, in Bolivia, perhaps in the long run the model most studied was the Mexican Revolution (1910-1940), particularly its left-corporatist phase under Cardenas after 1934. But this came later, after the Bolivian “movimientistas” were compelled, by the Allied defeat of the Axis in World War II, to shed their infatuation with the Italian and German examples.

Let us look, then, at some of the 1930’s developments in neighboring countries, confronting the dilemma, for the capitalist class, of organizing top-down statist forms of working-class containment, or of facing the prospect of a bottom-up working-class revolt that could not be contained:

“…In the Brazil of 1930, for instance, it was clear that the ‘social question’ could no longer be left entirely to the police to deal with…the proletariat was a significant presence in the cities. Not only was it a proletariat; it was in a very disturbing sense an a organized proletariat with an impressive history of protest, strikes, demonstrations…one of the possible ‘courses of action’ of the new regime in relation to the urban proletariat was to give them some crumbs, so as to get their souls in exchange. The ‘welfare state’ was about to be born in Brazil: its midwife was the Ministry of Labor, which was set up in 1930.”65

And:

“…the basic finding of such an analysis (is): the fundamental effect of the labor laws has been…to make it extremely difficult for the working class to organize effectively and autonomously for political action…The very fact that the government changed its approach toward the working class (from repression to inducements plus repression) contributed to partially annihilate the ability of the working class to answer the renewed waves of repression with corresponding countermeasures such as strikes and public demonstrations.”66

In his section on “Corporatist Control of the Working Class” the author sums up:

“The legal framework of labor relations established by Vargas, and left practically intact up to present-day Brazil, is based on three structures: the syndicates, the labor courts, and the social insurance system.”67

A few years later, a similar dynamic brought forth the same responses in Mexico, in the culminating (Cardenist) phase of its revolution:

“What was decisive in this change in the conception of revolutionary politics was not merely recognizing the working masses as its central element, but especially being disposed to convert them once again into an active element in the service of the revolution, of course, in the best imaginable way: by organizing them, and organizing them for something close to their hearts: their demands.”… “There is no doubt that the revolutionaries (here the author refers to the Cardenistas-LG) had rediscovered the master key to mass politics: organization.” .68

Finally, in Argentina from 1943 to 1950, the same drama was played out again, in the emergence of Peronism:

“…At the very moment in which the masses were mobilized politically…they were being co-opted into a corporatist project led by a nationalist sector of the armed forces…Peron’s overall labor strategy was now becoming clearer, as were his words in 1944 when trying to reassure Argentina’s employers:

‘…It is a grave error to think that workers’ unions are detrimental to the boss…On the contrary, it is the best way to avoid the boss having to fight with his worker…It is the means to reach an agreement, not a struggle. Thus strikes and stoppages are suppressed, though, undoubtedly, the working masses obtain the right to discuss their own interests at the same level as the employers’ organizations…That is why we are promoting trade unions, but a truly professional trade unionism. We do not want unions which are divided in political fractions, because the dangerous thing is, incidentally, a political trade unionism.’

Peron never deviated from this essentially corporatist vision of social affairs and his ‘revolutionary’ image in a later period…was never reflected in practice.”69

9. The Post-Chaco Crisis in Bolivia: Corporatism, Fascism and Socialism in Contention

With this general framework as it developed in other parts of Latin America, we now turn to the complex process of ferment unfolding in Bolivia, in reaction to the Chaco debacle.

As early as 1933, the Legion of National Socialist Veterans (LEC) was founded, though it defined itself as a political party only in 1936. Its program called for “national socialist action”.70 Some German immigrants had organized a National Socialist party after Hitler’s triumph in Germany in 1933. Elections in 1934 put an end to Salamanca’s bankrupt presidency, but a coup led by Jose Luis Tejado Sorzano prevented Franz Tamayo from taking office and set the stage for military government.

On the left, 1934 saw the formation of the POR (Partido Obrero Revolucionario), the Trotskyist group which would play a highly influential role from the late 1940’s onward71. Also formed immediately after the war was the Confederacion Sindical de Trabajo Boliviano (CSTB). One intellectual influenced by Trotskyism, but more accurately described as a centrist for his career of overtures to bourgeois parties72, was (the above-mentioned) Tristan Marof, whose book La Tragedia del Altiplano had made the case that the Chaco War had been fought to obtain an oil port for Standard Oil and to defend Standard Oil’s four million hectares against Dutch Royal. Throughout the country, innumerable “socialist” clubs were formed. War-weary youth were reading the post-World War I antiwar classics of Remarque and Barbusse. A Partido Republicano Socialista identified with “evolutionary socialism” and flirted with the Italian fascist idea of corporatism73. In 1935, the South American Bureau of the Comintern established the Provisional Secretariat for the Communist Groups in Bolivia, with the aim of unifying disparate groups into a Communist Party. The Bureau denounced the peace negotiations then underway in Buenos Aires and called for a peace without annexations and without conquest, and for the abolition of Bolivia’s external debt. It further called for the formation of Quechua and Aymara republics, and, in keeping with the Comintern’s new global line, for a Popular Front.

Other veterans were sympathetic to the nationalism of Carlos Montenegro, one of the core future pro-fascist founders of the MNR. Perhaps most important of all for the subsequent decade, a group of Chaco junior officers, many of whom had been trained in Germany and in Mussolini’s Italy, and who had then spent serious time in Paraguayan POW camps, founded the secret military “lodge” called Razon de Patria (RADEPA), centered in the Escuela Superior de Guerra in Cochabamba74, clearly committed to fascist ideas. Its subsequent influence, up to 1946, would be second only to that of the MNR which, in 1936, existed only in embryonic potential in the overall ferment.

10. “Military Socialism”, 1936-1940: The First Dress Rehearsal for the MNR Revolution

On May 17 1936, Tejada Sorzano, who had ousted Salamanca two years earlier, was himself overthrown in a coup by two Chaco war heroes, Colonels David Toro and German Busch, initiating the ten-year period (1936-1946) in which European, and above all Italian and German fascist influence in Bolivia would contest hegemony with the “sellout’ democracy” (democracia entreguista, selling the country out to foreigners) oriented to the U.S., Britain and, of course, the Bolivian oligarchy itself.75 (During the war, Busch had risen to prominence by leading the “great defense of the Camiri oil fields”.) The Toro-Busch coup began a four-year experiment they called “military socialism” which, along with the further military government of Gualberto Villaroel (1943-1946) would have an important impact on the development of the MNR (itself founded in 1942). Because of its secret character, it is not always possible to identify the influence of the RADEPA junior officers in the successive regimes, but there is no question that they were a serious presence.

Adolf Hitler had assumed power in Germany in January 1933, to the general enthusiasm of most of the German-speaking immigrants in Bolivia. Throughout the ensuing twelve years, until the defeat of the Third Reich, Germany’s main thrust into Latin America would be economic and, secondarily, through espionage, although the propaganda wars on both sides often exaggerated the real German presence. Hitler’s Finance Minister Hjalmar Schacht in August 1934 imposed strict barter on Germany’s foreign trade, on a bilateral basis76, and a German trade delegation went to South America later that year. While the delegation did not go to Bolivia, it was definitely interested in Bolivia’s extraordinary mineral wealth. The Reich’s Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, wanted “no political ties” to Bolivia.

The Toro-Busch period was the first real political expression of the post-Chaco attempt to remake the bankrupt Bolivian political and social system, in general revulsion at the traditional parties controlled by the tin magnates, echoing the parallel regime crises in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina mentioned above. As Herbert Klein put it77: “Thus after fifty years of struggle, the civilian party system was overturned by a reawakened military establishment.”. In this development, the ideology of “anti-imperialism” was at its peak. Neither Toro nor especially Busch were sophisticated political figures, and the whole period evidenced serious eclecticism, generally of a corporatist kind. Mussolini’s Italy was, for purposes of reorganization, more of a model than Nazi Germany, if only because it was older and more formed. (Toro’s ambassador to Germany did express admiration for German National Socialism, and Oscar Moscoso, the Defense Minister, was also a Nazi sympathizer.) Toro announced his regime as “state socialism”, and for the first time, in keeping with world trends, a “right of the State”, (in contrast to the old liberal constitutionalism theoretically founded on the individual) was articulated. On other occasions, the Toro regime called itself a “syndicalist state”.78 Carlos Montenegro, whose later book Nacion y coloniaje (1953) would be the quintessential statement of MNR nationalism (cf. below), had been a co-conspirator in the coup79. The government was also supported by labor and by the Legion of Chaco War Veterans (LEC). The LEC formed the Frente Unico Socialista and called for “authoritarian nationalism”. Toro created state-controlled “functional syndicates”; these had the official support of the Socialist Party, which wanted them to be anti-communist80. When the syndicates proved a failure, Toro tried to fashion a “state socialist party”. The new regime saw the meteoric rise of young officers, among them members of RADEPA. This “military socialism” never took up questions of latifundismo or of the indigenous masses, and its main base of support was the urban middle class. From Italian fascism, “military socialism” took over mandatory unionization, a corporate type of regime in parliament, mandatory worker savings plans, a social security system, and state-subsidized food stores. It established the first Ministry of Labor with the first worker minister, as well as the first Ministry of Indian Affairs in Bolivian history. The Ministry of Labor in particular was attacked for “creeping radicalism”; it became notorious for hiring (self-designated) Marxists. The ministers of Foreign Affairs and of Hacienda were from the Socialist Party and were pro-corporatist81. On May 25 1936, the Toro government announced its “fifty-two points of action”, including compulsory unionization. The Toro and Busch regimes, with all their pro-worker rhetoric, were confronted with a number of general strikes in the 1936-1939 period, led by the miners and railroad workers.

11. The MNR in Embryo

The true nucleus of the future MNR was the daily newspaper La Calle, founded in 1936 by a group around Victor Paz Estenssoro (1907-2001), who dominated MNR politics into the 1980’s, and all the major “movimientista” intellectuals such as Augusto Cespedes (1904-1997), Carlos Montenegro (1903-1953), and Jose Cuadros Quiroga (1908-1975)82. La Calle became an organ for German fascist propaganda and virulent anti-Semitism83, and as of 1938, used only German news services; Augusto Cespedes himself called it the “megaphone” of the MNR, and decades later said La Calle was “almost fascist” in the years after the Chaco War. Jose Cuadros Quiroga, the most outspoken anti-Semite in the group, excelled in writing catchy, sarcastic headlines that made La Calle a popular broadsheet, in contrast to the staid press controlled by the tin barons. According to Guillermo Bedregal Gutierrez, (Quiroga’s) “philofascist and anti-Semitic streak was a ‘fashion’ of the time. There was great German influence in Bolivia and Quiroga felt that ‘it was important to be anti- Semitic as an element of popular agitation’.”84 (This takes on particular significance because it was Quiroga who, in 1942, wrote the founding program of the MNR, in which these fascist echoes were still present). La Calle was pro-Republic in the Spanish Civil War which erupted in July 1936, but the La Calle team was “awed” by early German and Italian successes in World War II85. Quiroga apparently wrote most of the anti-Semitic articles86. For the group around La Calle, German Busch loomed as a saviour of Bolivia. Paz Estenssoro, who proved to be the greatest political survivor of all the founders, never wrote for La Calle, but did write for the weekly named (appropriately) Busch, edited by Montenegro, which was founded during a brief period when La Calle was suppressed.87 It was an elite group, condensing the ferment of the period. The fourteen founders included three future presidents, and ranged ideologically from socialism and Marxism to totalitarian tendencies such as those of Cuadros and Roberto Prudencio88

La Calle was eloquent about its political options, on the subject of early Trotskyist influence in Bolivia, with headlines such as “Trotzkyite (sic) Loud-Mouths Bring Anarchy to the FOT”, “Will We Be Governed by Deserters?”; Another article “called for an ‘iron fist’ to ‘purge the country’ of the ‘red extremism’ of ‘adherents of the Third and Fourth Internationals’”.89

Echoing the developments in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico described earlier, La Calle supported “the renovation of union structures”. But this renovation could not be limited to such structures but must rather “make concrete the institutionalization of the regime in a Corporative State” and give special significance to the “disciplinary function of syndicalism extended as a factor of social cohesion more than as an instrument for the defense of class objectives.” 90

12. Crossover of Fascist Rhetoric and Left-Corporatist Policy Measures in “Military Socialism”

The 1936-1940 period of “military socialism” was a maelstrom of ideological, foreign policy and organizational ferment which might be considered the first blush of the future MNR forces’ attempt to position themselves, in response to a whirlwind of both domestic and international pressures, not the least of them German Nazism. It is necessary to follow them in some detail, to navigate the flood of ideologically-motivated propaganda coming from all sides.

In January-February 1936, Montenegro (who was very close to Busch) and Augusto Cespedes had founded the Partido Socialista, which in Herbert Klein’s view best articulated the “national socialist” perspective91. The “national socialists” in 1936 had been influential enough, as indicated, to get Toro to propose the corporate model and forced unionization under state control. For Klein92, Toro articulated “in essence and in its most articulated form” the “philosophy which the small group of politically conscious and advanced young officers proposed for the regeneration of national life…some of whom had received some type of training in Italy in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.” Toro in fact issued a harsh anti-communist decree to appease the oligarchy, but it was stopped by Waldo Alvarez, the Minister of Labor. The radicals at the Labor Ministry were adamantly against the corporatist proposals and demanded worker independence. Their opposition in fact ultimately ended these plans.

In late June 1936, Toro and Busch created an all-military regime. Elias Belmonte Pabon, a founder of RADEPA and (whose Nazi sympathies were, in Guillermo Lora’s view, “beyond question”93), was Minister of the Interior in the new cabinet. Belmonte had worked with Ernst Roehm during the latter’s stay in Bolivia, and Busch sent him to Germany as a diplomat94. Other RADEPA members were send to Italy. Militants from another far-right group, the Estrella de Hierro (Star of Steel) were also in the Busch government.95

The broader social context was increasingly tense. A strike wave began in early 1936 and by May it has evolved into “greatest strike movement that Bolivia had ever experienced.” There was intense discussion of the proposed mandatory syndicalization in the labor movement. Some parts of the left saw Toro’s labor policy as more fascist than socialist96. In early July , the radicals in the Ministry of Labor formed the ANPOS (Asemblea Nacional Permanente de Organizaciones Sindicales)97. In Guillermo Lora’s estimate, the ANPOS “one of the most important creations of the leftists connected to the Ministry of Labor” (who) “wanted to transform society from above”; it ultimately had an ephemeral existence. This conception, in which “worker associations recognized by the Ministry sent their delegates to the meetings”, with the authority of the state “recognizing” different organizations of society, reflects the essence of corporatism.

The Busch-Toro regime in its first weeks pushed ahead with its plans for “military socialism”. On July 6, it issued a decree on mandatory work by all. Chaco veterans were to be reincorporated into their previous jobs within twenty days. Henceforth, anyone without employment papers (carnet de trabajo) would be declared “unemployed” and liable to be enrolled in state labor brigades. Companies were called upon to make their labor needs known to the state. Lora98 saw this as forced labor expressing a “totalitarian, i.e. fascist-oriented” mentality, apparently inspired by Mussolini . Mass demonstrations took place in support of the Ministry of Labor and compulsory unionization. Toro in a speech in late July declared himself “in favor of a corporative state” and for a “regime of trade-union association identified with the organs of power and political representation.”99 As in Brazil, or Mexico, or later Argentina,

“…the National State, as the definitive successor to the oligarchic State prior to the Chaco War, would replace class conflicts by a division of productive functions, in which contradictions would give way to integration within a development project directed by the State.”100

On the day after the mandatory labor decree, Toro issued a Ley Organica de Petroleos to curb speculation and concessions to the foreign exploitation of Bolivia’s oil. Two weeks later, on July 24, this was followed by a decree creating the Banco Minero. On August the decree on mandatory unionization was issued.101 According to the decree, unions would henceforth “will be under the ‘permanent protection and control’ of the socialist government and were ‘incorporated into the state mechanism’. Employers and workers, following the Italian syndicalist model, would be in the same union. According to Lora, “In practice…it fell to the Ministry of Labor to organize the unions and to administer them in all times and circumstances”.102 This fit into a broader plan of the government “to mobilize the entire active population for an intensive program of production”.103

In November 1936, the First National Congress of Workers took place, and debated the creation of a Confederacion Sindical de Trabajadores de Bolivia (CSTB) oriented to the left parties. By this time, however, Toro had moved to the right and appointed a leading lawyer for the Hochschild mining interests104 to the Ministry of Labor, while the radicals were removed from the Ministry. As Klein put it105 “A mixed syndicalist-corporatist state grafted on to the old political party system was contemplated”.

Further steps along such lines followed on Dec 21 1936, with the creation of the Yacimientos Petrofileros Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB- Bolivian State Oil Deposits), a prelimary step to Toro’s historic nationalization of Standard Oil in May 1937. This expropriation of a major U.S. firm was unprecedented in Latin America, a full year prior to the better-known nationalization of oil by the Cardenas regime in Mexico. Further, the government regulation of the tin industry, initially a temporary measure during the Chaco War, was made permanent106. In the wake of this rapid flurry of decrees and state takeovers, the Toro- Busch government came under fire from the right by the tin interests and from the left by various Marxists. Bolivia’s statist measures were followed by similar steps in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. In “military socialism”, of course, the Bolivian Army continued to account for 37% of the government budget.

On July 13 1937, German Busch unseated Toro as sole military ruler. Busch viewed himself as champion of the May 1936 general strike. Toro had never lost labor support or persecuted the radical left, but he had lost the support of fascist107 and reformist-minded junior officers around Busch. In some of his immediate measures,

Busch closed state-subsidized food stores and rolled back some other controls of the previous year. (He also allowed Tristan Marof to return to Bolivia after ten years in exile.)

Once consolidated in sole power, Busch in November 1937 recommended an expansion of the earlier Labor Code (Codigo de Trabajo), itself (by some estimates), influenced by the Italian Carta di Lavoro and the Nazi Arbeitsfront108. In reality, however, mandatory syndicalization never took hold. Klein summarized the period as follows109: “In the four years of military socialism the basis of the old parties had definitely rotted away…in the end, the left emerged as the dominant factor in political life.” In March 1939, in recognition of this shifting ground, a Concordancia of the three traditional political parties was formed110, in which the pre-1930 parties were forced to recognize the end of old system and become (in Klein’s estimate) “class-conscious representatives of oligarchy”.)

13. Influence of the Mexican Revolution

A further important development during the period of Busch rule was the March 1938 constitutional convention. The proceedings reflected the impact, among others, of the Mexican Revolution111, just then reaching its left-wing limits under Cardenas. The new constitution demarcated itself from its liberal predecessors, with their orientation to the individual and to private property, by a corporatist emphasis on state-recognized professional or occupational organizations, and anticipated further elaboration after 1952. It was accompanied by a new property law pushing social ownership. It proposed agrarian reform, legalization of the ayallu (the pre-Hispanic rural commune, still in existence in some regions), and the nationalization of the mines (though this was ultimately rejected). It forced a regroupment of traditional parties from the pre-Chaco period. The regime decreed (in principle) free universal education and the creation of rural education centers for the highland indigenous population112.

March 1938 also saw the complete triumph of the Frente Unico Socialista in elections. Carried along on this momentum, the (in Klein’s view) “extremely radical” constitutional convention of 1938 amounted to “a vital turning point in Bolivian history”113. It repealed the 1880 liberal constitution, and developed “social constitutionalism” (a concept first elaborated for Latin American purposes by the Mexican Revolution). Property, previously conceived in individual terms, was redefined in function of the state. (This recentering of constitutionality on the state, and its legal recognition–and enforcement by compulsion of such recognition–of different bodies, from property owners to professional associations to labor unions, is the essence of corporatism.) The convention was also influenced by European radicalism and socialism as well as by 20th century indigenism, articulated by figures like Mariategui and Tamayo. It approved worker participation in profits, and proclaimed the function of the state as the provision of social welfare.

A few months later, again showing the continental projection of the Cardenas phase of the Mexican Revolution, the Confederacion de Trabajadores de America Latina (CTAL) was founded in Mexico City. According to Lora114, “it had a huge influence on the Bolivian trade union movement” and had a practical influence in shaping the character and of the (Stalinist) Confederacion Sindical del Trabajo Boliviano (CSTB). Later, during World War II, the CTAL was controlled by the Stalinists, headed by the notorious Mexican Stalinist and trade union bureaucrat Lombardo Toledano115.

14. Attempted Implementation of a Schachtian System of Currency Controls and Managed Trade; Labor Regimentation

The intensifying geopolitical struggle between Germany and the U.S. was hardly absent from Bolivian developments in the late 1930’s, as this social radicalization was deepening. By 1938, Germany accounted for 17% of Bolivia’s foreign trade.

The German foreign trade boards, for their part, wanted to exchange railroad equipment for Bolivian raw materials under Schacht’s new system of managed trade. Standard Oil was waging a major campaign for compensation for the Toro nationalization of its Bolivian assets, and Busch told the Germans he “didn’t want much to do with Americans” given this standoff. The United States was making efforts through the Pan-American Union (which it dominated) to counter German influence.

In April 1939, German Busch proclaimed himself dictator. While the Bolivian ambassador in Washington declared that that the Bolivian government and Bolivian people felt no sympathy for Nazi or Fascist ideology, Busch moved closer to the Third Reich116.

One anomaly in the last two years of “military socialism” (1938-1940) was Bolivia’s unique policy, for the world at that time, of open admission of European Jewish refugees. The result was the arrival of between five and ten thousand Jews, mainly from Germany and the German-speaking areas of Central Europe. The purpose of the policy was to promote agricultural development of Bolivia’s remote and nearly-empty eastern hinterlands, for which the largely middle-class professional population of Jewish immigrants were exceptionally unsuited. By the end of World War II, most of these immigrants moved on to other countries, but their presence, and difficulties of assimilation in a country where they could neither speak Spanish well nor use their professional skills, also fed the anti- Semitism of La Calle, which found its way into the first program of the MNR in 1942 (cf. below Section 16).117

In May 1939, however, the Busch regime issued a new Labor Code providing for greatly improved working conditions, effectively the most lasting change of his years in power118. The Code’s first article excluded agricultural laborers, i.e. the masses of peasants. It was protectionist, setting a maximum of 15% of foreign workers in any given workplace. It provided for worker-employer unions, and granted the right to strike under government control, and also the employers’ right to lock-out and imposed mandatory arbitration.

Guillermo Lora elaborates further119:

“(the decree) …in reality was a document worked out during the presidency of Col. Toro, when Waldo Alvarez was Minister of Labor and organized discussions in commissions created for that purpose. Organized workers participated in those discussions. This reality deflates the legend that Busch imposed the Labor Code from one day to the next on a working class that had done nothing to deserve it. There is a visible international, and particularly Mexican, influence on the Bolivian law…The approval of the Labor Code had enormous political repercussions. It confirmed the workerist (obrerista) character of the new government and Busch was automatically transformed into the knight errant of the popular movements. This enthusiastic support allowed the regime to acquire an unexpected political stability. The Chaco hero, even though he had issued no equivalent measure for the nationalization of oil, was identified by friend and foe as a caudillo of the left. The Labor Law and other measures adopted by the government even propelled a considerable number of Marxists to join the ranks of the unconditional supporters of Busch…the bulk of the masses and not a few Marxists considered this body of laws to be synonymous with socialism…Many authors of treatises and other exegetes wrote about the Busch Code and almost all of them are convinced that, especially in a backward country such as Bolivia, the exploited can be liberated by social legislation…(the philo-Trotskyist university professor Alberto Cornejo) finds a presumed identity between the labor code and the Transitional Program of the Fourth International…Cornejo fancies that the struggle for serious social legislation is nothing less than the Gordian knot of revolutionary activity.”

As Lora said: “State socialism, far from abolishing the principle of private property, would limit itself to modernizing it, giving it the content of a social function.”120

Along with all this labor ferment and legislation, Busch imposed a great increase in the taxation of mines. When the tin mine owners from Comite Permanente de Mineros forced the government to abolish special taxes and foreign currency requirements, Busch responded in June 1939 with a Schacht-type system of currency controls. The decree required the mandatory handover of all foreign currency from mineral exports to the central bank, citing Germany, Russia, Spain, as well as Argentina, Brazil and Chile as antecedents. This measure increased state revenues by 25%.

The Bolivian representative in Berlin announced Bolivia’s intention to withdraw from the International Tin Pool and put the Banco Minero in charge of tin exports, creating a state monopoly. The Germans saw this as an opening through which the Reich could acquire all Bolivian mineral production in exchange for mining equipment121. In July 1939, the Reich representatives in Bolivia, Walter Becker and Horst Koppelmann, were asked to reorganize German-Bolivian trade through the centralization of the ASKI marks122 in the Central Bank, thereby obtaining all Bolivian mineral products (above all tin) in exchange for ASKI marks, and to sign a treaty, a “Convenio Comerical de Pagos” on all credit transactions between the two states123. Bolivia, like other countries which entered into these barter agreements with Nazi Germany, was flooded with cameras, Bayer aspirin and ASKI marks124.

Busch then nationalized the Central Bank, and Alberto Ostria Gutierrez, a pro-Anglo- American diplomat, resigned from the government in protest at the drift of economic policy. On the same day German emissaries signed a preliminary protocol with the Ministry of Foreign Relations ; in it, Germany and Bolivia agreed to give Reich-Credit-Gesellschaft and the German Bank of South America the regulation of trade in ASKI-marks. The protocol also anticipated a five-year treaty under which Bolivia would sell all products to Germany for ASKI marks (with some exceptions for tin). The last part of agreement proposed oversight of Bolivia’s Central Bank by a mixed commission of Bolivians and the “German Minister in Bolivia”. It also established the role of the Reichsmark and it reserved for Germany the right to use 50% of its “creencias de compensacion” (i.e. ASKI marks) in the purchase of Bolivian tin. The U.S., Britain and Japan attempted to exert counter-pressures, but six days later the two German banks signed an agreement with the YPFB, the state oil company, agreeing to help Bolivia in oil industry development. Walter Mehring, “the special plenipotentiary of the YPFB “ and a German citizen, was ordered to sign an agreement with the two German banks. Four million marks were slated for equipment in exchange for oil and raw materials.

This flurry of activity marked the high point of German-Bolivian commercial relations in the 1936-46125 period, but the anticipated exchanges never materialized and served more to focus U.S. attention on these developments; up to this point, the U.S. had been more interested in the Bolivian-Paraguayan negotiations in the wake of the Chaco War, which dragged on until 1938, and which had taken precedence over concerns about Bolivian “military socialism”. The German envoys ultimately left Bolivia empty-handed.

15. The Tin Barons Return to Direct Control of the State, 1940-1943

“Military socialism” in Bolivia came to an abrupt end on August 23, 1939, with the (apparent) suicide of German Busch. There were widespread popular doubts that his death was indeed a suicide and many suspected that Busch had been assassinated by the tin barons and their “superstate”.126. Indeed, Busch was not replaced by Baldivian, his vice president, but instead a special commission convened to install General Carlos Quintanella as provisional president until April 1940. Quintanella promptly overturned the Busch decree on foreign currency and in late 1939, issued a modified decree suited to the wartime situation127.

Bolivian politics following the death of Busch entered a new period of the restoration of the oligarchy’s power, in suitably modified form with an open orientation toward the emerging Allied side in the Second World War and a simultaneous right-wing shift on the domestic front. As early as September 1939, a rapid falloff in Bolivian-German trade took place as Bolivian trade with the U.S. eclipsed it. The German presence in Lloyd Aereo Boliviano was eliminated128.

The new period represented by the 1940-1943 presidency of Enrique Peñaranda, following the Toro-Busch period of “military socialism”, marks a shift of the pendulum away from previous pro-fascist foreign policy and left-corporatist appeals to the working class, and toward a pro-Allied international stance combined with a hardening of the regime’s relationship with workers and peasants. The pendulum would swing again after Peñaranda’s ouster by the coup of December 1943, ushering in the 1943-1946 return to the previous Toro-Busch dynamic, naturally modified for wartime conditions, under Villaroel. Following Villaroel’s overthrow and lynching in July 1946, the pendulum swung back again, and hard, in the repressive “sexenio rosquero129”, the six-year period leading up to the MNR revolution, in which the tin baron “superstate” returned to power with a vengeance, before being definitively overthrown in 1952. Hence it is necessary, as heretofore, to follow this crossover between international pressures and domestic developments in detail130. From 1940 onward, when the U.S. turned its attention to Bolivia as the sole tin producer in the world not under Axis control, the U.S. and Britain engaged in a propaganda barrage depicting the emerging MNR as “Nazi-fascist”, and increasingly intervened in domestic Bolivian politics. After the war, during the “sexenio rosquero”, it was pointed out with some irony that under Bolivian “fascism”, workers were urged to unionize and peasant questions were at least theoretically addressed, whereas in “democratic” (read: pro-Allied) phases, workers and peasants were repressed and massacred. In the decade before the outbreak of the Cold War in 1948, “Nazi- fascist” was the epithet of choice reserved for anyone who opposed American interests, thereafter being replaced by “communist”.

Beginning with its founding in 1940, the PIR (Partida de la Izquierda Revolucionaria- Party of the Revolutionary Left) emerged as the most influential self-designated Marxist party in Bolivia, with a pro- Soviet and an indigenous faction. The main personality of the PIR, Jose Antonio Arze131, was not, however, (at least in Lora’s view), a “sectarian Stalinist”. In the absence of any established Communist Party in Bolivia, the PIR functioned effectively as the local pro-Stalinist party, and followed the Soviet line as faithfully as any CP elsewhere. From the time of Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 to the outbreak of the Cold War, the PIR so aggressively depicted critics of the Allies, whether from the MNR or the Trotskyists, as “Nazis”, that it wound up in a close alliance with the tin baron superstate, ultimately even involving itself (in 1947) in bloody repression of workers. This abject pro-Allied, pro-“democratic” stance of the PIR so totally discredited it in the eyes of the Bolivian masses, especially the working class, that the party’s mass support of 1940 simply evaporated by 1950, when it shrank to a miserable sect. This self- destruction of the PIR (hardly unique among pro-Soviet political parties in the 1940’s) was an important factor in the emergence of Trotskyism as the dominant current in the Bolivian working class in the late 1940’s and beyond132. During the war, the MNR was pro-Axis, at least until U.S. pressures (and the imminence of German defeat) forced it to moderate its tone; the marginal Falange was pro-Axis throughout133.

Thus on Apr. 12,1940, Enrique Peñaranda was elected president, ending the provisional rule of Quintanilla and re-establishing the tin baron superstate’s direct influence in the government. The 10,000 votes (out of 56,000 total) for Jose Antonio Arze, the PIR leader, were the real shock of the elections, particularly given the elite character of the enfranchised 2%. Peñaranda’s priority of reorienting Bolivian foreign policy to the U.S. ran into the obstacle of Standard Oil’s ongoing clamor for compensation for the 1937 nationalization of its assets.

Alberto Ostria Gutierrez, who had resigned under protest from the Busch regime, was back in charge of diplomacy. He claimed to have forced Washington to back down on the oil issue in exchange for full cooperation in the war effort134.

In this new period, moderate left, middle-class intellectuals were anti-U.S. and influenced by fascist ideology135. The pro-German and pro-Italian “national socialists” were in favor of the nationalization of basic industries, above all the tin mines. In Klein’s view, it was in their interest to foster a radical mine labor movement”136 and the time was indeed propitious; in October 1940 there were wildcats in the mines and a major railroad strike.

16. The “Nazi Putsch”; Peñaranda Fights to Retain Social Control; the U.S. Begins to Eclipse Germany in Bolivian Domestic Politics

The new dispensation under Peñaranda was accelerated by the so-called “Nazi putsch”. A letter was published in Bolivian newspapers on July 20, 1941, ostensibly naming Bolivian attaché Elias Belmonte in Berlin and the German ambassador in La Paz in a plot for a Nazi takeover in Bolivia. Though the letter was actually a caper of British intelligence services137, it gave the Peñaranda government all the pretext it needed for harsh repression of those associated with the Toro-Busch years. The German ambassador was expelled from the country, German and Bolivian Nazis as well as MNR activists were jailed, the Italian contractors in Cochabamba were expelled, La Calle was shut down, and Carlos Montenegro was also jailed for four months.. Up to that time, the MNR had been the loudest critic of compensation to Standard Oil. The “Nazi putsch” also solidified the working alliance between the PIR, now (after the German invasion of the Soviet Union the previous month) in its anti-fascist “Democratic Front” with the Rosca oligarchy. The military, however, never completely eliminated the nationalist younger officers who oriented to Toro-Busch military socialism, which would be important in the subsequent (1943-1946) Villaroel period.

Not all went smoothly for the new right-wing course; in September and October 1941, Siglo XX miners and railway workers struck and won a 20% pay increase, and Ostria Gutierrez was forced out in controversies over the sales of minerals and the compensation questions. Nonetheless, by late 1941 the U.S., seriously in need of tin, enrolled Bolivia in its Lend-Lease program. After Pearl Harbor (December 1941) the Peñaranda government issued a pro-U.S. statement, froze German and Japanese assets, and agreed to $1.5 million in compensation for Standard Oil138. In late January 1942,

Bolivia broke diplomatic relations with Germany and expelled more German citizens.

The left parties did make big gains in the spring 1942 elections, in which the MNR also participated for the first time. But the Peñaranda government issued its infamous State Security Decree (Decreto de Seguridad de Estado), banning organizations with “international ties”, no doubt aimed at sympathizers of Germany and Italy. In June, Bolivia joined the Allied forces in the world war, and under this pressure the MNR began to take its distances from Germany. One early spur to this realignment was the Economic Cooperation Agreement with the United States, which had resulted from the Inter-American Conference in Rio de Janeiro139 and the report of the U.S. government’s Bohan mission. The agreement provided $15 million for oil prospecting, highway construction and funding for the Bolivian Development Corporation (Corporacion de Fomento Boliviano-CFB), which would play a major role after the 1952 revolution. (Critics pointed out that the sum provided hardly made up for Bolivia’s sales of tin and wolfram to the U.S. at below world market prices.140)

17. Fascist Overtones in the Founding of the MNR

The MNR was founded on January 25, 1941 (and more formally on June 2, 1942), with the La Calle intellectuals such as Montenegro, Cespedes, Paz Estenssoro and Cuadros Quiroga providing the main inspiration. One historian141 called it a “uniquely Bolivian blend of nationalism and socialism, but never outright fascism”. Augusto Cespedes, much later, agreed with Ostria Gutierrez that there was more than a whiff of Nazi influence in the founding program, but went on to say that it was the “fashion” (sic) of the time142. Another author143 later asked Cuadros Quiroga, who drafted the program, about the anti-Semitism in the original document of the MNR; the latter replied that it was due to (the Jewish tin baron) Hochschild. Cuadros Quiroga referred to the “sinister figure of the Jew Mauricio Hochschild…the pontiff of palace machinations.” In Cuadros Quiroga’s view, anti-Semitic sentiment was widespread in Bolivia at the time, but he claims that after the Holocaust he himself gave it up. For him, Hitler was seen in Bolivia as an “alternative formula to bourgeois and oligarchic democracy.”

In Cuadros Quiroga’s “Principles and Action of the National Revolutionary Movement”, the 1942 founding document of the MNR, the following points are enumerated144: 1) against false “entreguista”, or sell-out (to foreigners), democracy; 2) against the pseudo-socialism of a new exploitation. On the latter point, the document continues: “we denounce as anti-national any possible relationship of the international political parties and the maneuvers of Judaism.” It concludes with a call for the “absolute prohibition of Jewish immigration, as well as any other immigration not having productive efficacy”. And finally, 3) a call for “solidarity of Bolivians to defend the collective interest and the common good before the individual interest”, possibly a direct translation of the Nazis’ “Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz”145

It is enlightening to read some attempts to contextualize the collective views of the early MNR leaders, written decades later by MNR sympathizers. Walter Guevara Arze, in his 1988 book calling for a renewal of the movement, and commenting on the torrent of pro-Allied propaganda calling the MNR “Nazi”, wrote: “…unfortunately some texts of the party which confused the struggle against imperialism with support for Nazi-fascism appeared to justify, at a certain moment, this absurd accusation…to this we have to add the declarations of some officers who believed, more or less sincerely, that this was the position most beneficial for the country…”146

Guillermo Bedregal, in a massive study of Victor Paz Estenssoro, the most visible political face of the MNR over decades, writes that in 1939, World War II

“…gave rise to great expectations and obvious sympathy for the impressive military victories of Germany. Some people therefore believed that the matter was summed up in a twofold idea: the history of humanity, after capitalism and communism, was entering into a national-proletarian, national-peasant phase, whose paradoxical emergent form was then represented by European “fascisms” (sic), and some were convinced that the advent of the new era had as its precondition the triumph of the Axis in the world war…Many young Bolivians believed in the European victory of the Axis and in a peace that might be favorable for the Indo-American peoples…Latin America had never had any problems with German hegemonism or attempts at domination…To this we have to add the important influence of political developments in Brazil and in Argentina…(such as) an anti-U.S. politics enriched by the emergence of the syndicalized workers’ movement of the “descamisados” of Eva and Juan Peron…the founding opposition of the MNR was driven by great passions and also great disinformation. No one, until the final defeat of Nazi Germany, knew about the existence of the famous concentration camps…Sympathy, there was; disinformation, I repeat, there was in spades.”147

(Presumably the crushing of all organizations—parties, unions–of the German workers’ movement as well as all other parties of the center and the right, concentration for enemies of the regime, 200,000 political refugees before the outbreak of the war, the Nuremberg Laws on racial purity, the expulsion of Jews from public life and the Kristallnacht had been insufficient reasons for skepticism.)

Guevara Arze and Bedregal are at least willing to face up—to some extent–to these currents for what they were. Consider, then, the attempt of Eduardo Arze Cuadros, in his 2002 book148 (dedicated to…Jose Cuadros Quiroga) to finesse the same questions in a far more laudatory view of the early MNR. For Arze, the critics (presumably Marxists) who see the key struggle as “class against class”, in opposition to the MNR’s insistence on the “nation against imperialism”, are “Eurocentric”. He makes virtually no mention of the existence of RADEPA. In his chapter on La Calle, he invokes only its support for the Spanish Republic, and makes no mention of its pervasive anti-Semitism. After this whitewash of La Calle, Arze goes on to say that Bolivian anti-Semitism in this period has been “decontextualized”. Sinking further into quicksand, he continues with a priceless passage:

“…other objective elements of analysis of the period, such as the observable fact of the demographic and political gravitation of “semitism” (sic) to the city of New York, the neuralgic point of the grave world crisis of 1929 and the principal headquarters of capitalist finance, (…) can underscore the objectivity of an association of big international finance capital with semitism (sic) in a nation which had just emerged from a serious defeat in a regional war and which was then involved, almost without wanting it, in a new conflict…”149.

With apologists such as these, the early MNR hardly needs critics.

18. The Catavi Mine Massacre Opens the Door to U.S. Domestic Intervention

While the MNR was making its entry into Bolivian politics, the labor situation under Peñaranda was spinning out of control. In late September 1942, the unions issued demands at the Catavi mine owned by Patiño; two weeks later railroad strikes erupted.

The strike wave intensified through November and December, until on December 21/22 hundreds of assembled workers and their families were machine-gunned by the Bolivian military at the Catavi mine150. The massacre became an international issue; the U.S. ambassador had called the strikers “Nazi saboteurs”, and Peñaranda later visited the U.S., where he was warmly received in the Roosevelt White House. The two major U.S. union federations, the AF of L and the CIO151, as well as the U.S. State Department, sent the Macgruder Commission to investigate, including Robert J. Watt of the AF of L and Martin Kyne of the CIO, culminating in a devastating portrait of labor conditions in Bolivia, published by the ILO. In Guillermo Lora’s view152, the commission was mainly a probe to set the stage for U.S. aid. Such a bloodbath, in the most important source of tin for the U.S. war effort, had to be a major concern, and with forthcoming aid the U.S. began its serious intervention into Bolivian domestic politics. Indeed, in April 1943, then-U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace visited Bolivia, and in August 1943, the U.S. Congress held hearings on the massacre. (Wallace was quickly marginalized in dealings with Bolivia by the more conservative Secretary of Commerce Jesse Jones, who had directed ties to the Rosca. The Patiño mines also established their corporate headquarters in Delaware to acquire the status of an American company.) In addition to tin, the U.S. wanted Bolivian quinine, tungsten, zinc, lead and rubber. From 1942 to 1945, Bolivia’s tin production and the tin price did rise, but Mariano Baptista Gomucio argued that the fixed price during the war cost Bolivia $670 million, more than all U.S. aid to Bolivia into the 1960’s153.

19. The Villaroel Regime, 1943-1946: Second Dress Rehearsal for the MNR Revolution

The Catavi massacre also made possible something of a national political debut for MNR leader Victor Paz Estenssoro, who denounced it and strongly supported the strike, even though the MNR at that point was an urban middle-class party with no particular link to workers. Six months later, in July 1943, Paz went to Buenos Aires, where a pro-Axis group of military officers, including Col. Juan Peron, had just come to power in a coup; Paz announced that he wanted a similar revolution in Bolivia.

The regime, though rapidly losing its grip on power, declared war on the Axis on December 4, 1943. It was of little avail for Peñaranda, who was overthrown in a coup led by RADEPA and the MNR on December 20, marking another swing of the pendulum back in the direction of the pro-Axis, corporatist “military socialism” of three years earlier154. The new head of state was Major Gualberto Villaroel, a member of RADEPA. His was the first Bolivian government to rule without at least one faction of the tin barons. Villaroel’s Minister of Public Works and Communication was Col. Antonio Ponce Montan, who had undergone German military training and was a great admirer of the Third Reich155. The new government was immediately recognized by Argentina, which itself would only declare war on Germany in March 1945156. One adviser of the chancellery was Dr. German Quiroga Galdo, a former professor of International Law at the heavily fascist-influenced Escuela de Guerra in Cochabamba, who in January 1944 made a speech calling for Bolivian support to the Axis. The cabinet included four officers from RADEPA and three leaders of the MNR, Augusto Cespedes, Carlos Montenegro and Victor Paz Estenssoro. According to Klein157, the “MNR backed Paz Estenssoro rather than the extreme fascist wing represented by Carlos Montenegro158 and Augusto Cespedes.” Cespedes, however, did become the General Secretary of the Junta del Gobierno, while Paz Estenssoro became Minister of Economics. Paz Estenssoro had apparently met with Peron the night before the coup in Buenos Aires159, where he had spent the previous months160. Paz placed “all the most rabidly anti-Semitic and fascist MNR members in the government.”161 The MNR broadsheet La Calle became the official newspaper of the regime. German residents of Bolivia worked with the new government, Bolivian students went to study in Germany, and Germans were incorporated into the Bolivian police force.162

The international situation, however, was quite different from the Toro-Busch years, and within weeks of taking power, the Villaroel government had been forced to recognize the inevitability of an Allied victory in the war and to seek a new relationship with the United States. The U.S. and eighteen other western hemisphere countries refused to recognize the Bolivian regime. In May 1944, Bolivia, then, formally declared war on the Axis, and expelled Germans and Japanese citizens from the country. The United States sent its ambassador, Avra Warren, to La Paz, where the Bolivian government handed over to him 81 Germans and Japanese considered to be “dangerous”. The U.S. also agreed to buy tin at above the world price to assure price stability163.

The Stalinist PIR demanded an explanation for the presence of Nazi elements in the Villaroel government; the U.S. refusal to recognize the junta forced it to drop the more extreme MNR leaders and by July 1944 to completely remove MNR members altogether. Montenegro and Cespedes had left under this US pressure, with Montenegro becoming Bolivian ambassador to Mexico. Despite this departure of the main pro-Axis figures from the government, the RADEPA-MNR alliance lasted throughout the Villaroel period. In part in frustration at its ouster, the MNR intensified its turn to the labor movement.

Power was also taking its toll on RADEPA. Although Villaroel, increasingly in need of U.S. aid, had made efforts to purge his government of the ostentatiously pro-Axis members of the MNR, RADEPA (of which Villaroel was, it will be recalled, a member) was in the course of increasingly acting (apparently) on its own. It kidnapped Jewish tin baron Mauricio Hochschild and held him for several weeks; once released, Hochschild left the country, never to return. In July 1944, RADEPA was involved in the failed attempt on the life of PIR leader and vocal Villaroel opponent Jose Antonio Arze. Most serious, however, were the executions of ten anti-Villaroel politicians and military officers in Chuspipata in November 1944164. These executions, attributed to RADEPA, set off a political crisis that brought the MNR back into the government.

Argentina, for its part, had maintained relations with Germany until January 1944, and many Argentina nationalists remained strongly opposed to the break when it came. The United States sent a warship to Montevideo as a warning against any Argentine attempt to aid Bolivia; Argentina at this time was trying to form a pro-Axis bloc in the Pan-American Union. To counter this trend, the U.S. in December 1944 sent Nelson Rockefeller, newly-appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, to negotiate with Juan Peron. In these negotiations, Peron agreed to crack down on Axis spies, property, and propaganda in Argentina; for its part, the US agreed to drop all economic sanctions and to sell Argentina military equipment.

20. Further Left-Corporatist Measures Under Villaroel

All these international realignments and reshufflings of the Bolivian government, however, hardly prevented ongoing ferment on the domestic social front. Strikes were rocking the countryside. Villaroel, to the extent possible, tried to relink with the “military socialism” of the Toro-Busch years. In keeping with those corporatist precedents, the Villaroel government accepted the organization of the a national miners’ union, the Federacion Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros (FSTMB), and decreed the abolition of the “ponguage”, the unpaid domestic labor for landowners that peasants were forced to perform. (This decree however remained a dead letter.) It announced plans for rural schools and began work on a rural labor code. In May 1945, it organized a national conference of indigenous peoples, attended by 1,500 delegates. The conference drew up 27 demands, most of which were ignored. The landlords paid no attention to Villaroel’s decrees, unleashing severe repression in the countryside, including attacks on schools and teachers.

The FSTMB became the biggest union in the country, under its leader Juan Lechin, who would be in the MNR government after 1952 and who was the key link, as shall be seen, between the MNR and the Bolivian Trotskyists165. The founding congress took place in June 1944 and was backed by the MNR and Villaroel to counter the influence of the PIR in the labor movement166.

In April 1945, Villaroel and his Economics Minister Paz Estenssoro ostensibly restored the Busch decree of 1939 on foreign exchange controls167 but its requirements on submitting income from foreign trade were not as extensive as the earlier decree. A month earlier, at the Chapultapec Conference in Mexico City, Paz had confronted the U.S. about its unfairly low payments for Bolivian tin.

The end of World War II did not ease the pressure on the Villaroel government168. On Feb 24, 1946 Juan Peron was elected president of Argentina and took office in June. Peron’s honeymoon with the Argentine working class from 1945 to 1950 undoubtedly had an influence on the evolution of the MNR, whose top leaders (along with many refugees from RADEPA) would spend the 1946-1952 “sexenio rosquero” in exile in Buenos Aires. An MNR delegation did attend Peron’s inauguration. The significance of these links, such as they were169 was Peron’s attempt, well after the war, to organize a Latin American “third way” against both the U.S. and Soviet blocs, beginning with the major countries of southern South America. Nonetheless, along with the clear impact of the Mexican Revolution and its institutions on the MNR, Peronist corporatism was definitely another influence.

Some solution to the ferment of the working class was clearly needed; the March 1946 3rd congress of the FSTMB marked a “fundamental turn of the miners to the left.”170 The press of the Stalinist PIR press spoke darkly of the “fascistization” of the miners, and other critics talked of a possible “anarcho-syndicalist” deviation.

On July 14, 1946, however, Villaroel was overthrown in a popular revolt and lynched along with some of his aides in the Plaza Murillo in front of the parliament building in La Paz. The PIR had played a major role in the mobilization that preceded it, as well as the forces of the tin baron (Rosca) “superstate”. In subsequent revolutionary mythology, the murder of Villaroel would be converted into a major reactionary act and he would join the Bolivian revolutionary pantheon. Carlos Montenegro (in Mexico City at the time) in a posthumous work blamed the coup on “occult maneuvers” by the Rosca and lawyers for Standard Oil. The top leaders of the MNR and RAPEDA fled to Buenos Aires, and hundreds more members of both organizations were imprisoned. Thus the 1936-1946 period of alternating pro-Axis populist and pro-Anglo-American anti-worker regimes ended in six years of harsh repression and the swan song of the tin baron superstate, in which the MNR, from exile, would evolve into its mature form for the revolution of 1952.

21. Carlos Montenegro

Before entering into a discussion of the dark repression of the “sexenio rosquero”, the MNR in exile and finally of the 1952 revolution, it is important to analyze “the” book which defined MNR nationalism, by one of the key founders we have followed through this narrative, Carlos Montenegro (1903-1953). The book, published in 1953 as Montenegro was dying in exile, too sick with cancer to participate in the revolution, was Nacionalismo y coloniaje (Nationalism and the Colonial Period). In it, we can see the continuities and discontinuities of the MNR generation, relative to such earlier figures as Franz Tamayo.

We recall Montenegro’s key role in the post-Chaco nationalism of his generation, his collaboration on the important MNR broadsheet La Calle, his conspiratorial role in the coups of Toro (1936) and Villaroel (1943), his close relationship with German Busch, his imprisonment after the “Nazi coup”, his ministerial portfolio (Agriculture) in the first Villaroel cabinet, his reassignment as ambassador to Mexico under U.S. pressure, and finally his Argentine exile during the “sexenio rosquero”.

Nacionalismo y Coloniaje is one long polemic against the “anti-Bolivianist element of our historical culture”, a counterposition of the “foreign” elite and the “true” Bolivian masses, above all the mestizos. Quoting Oswald Spengler, Montenegro refers to the elite as “literate people who learned to read but not comprehend”171. Montenegro argues that Bolivian history has been written by those imbued with a “complete lack of intelligence about the past…condemning it with the ideas, prejudices and customs of the present…(in this optic) the historical panoramic of Bolivia appears as nothing but a vision of horror.”172 Bolivian journalism as well, from its 19th-century origins, showed a “sudden and absorbing fever for foreign culture…an impassioned surrender to modern spiritual foreign colonization.”173 After 1879 and the loss of Bolivia’s entire Pacific coastline to Chile, “Bolivia was dispossessed of the very sense of itself”. Hilarion Daza, a military figure associated with the debacle, represented “blood foreign to the nation”; he fled to Parisian exile and became a symbol of “the spiritually foreign”, the personification of “the anti-Bolivian…the child of the colonialist spirit which the domination of the learned and the rich draws its inspiration.”174 By contrast, the most powerful personalities of our history…Jose Ballivian and de Linares, belong by their origins to the lower classes.”175

In his last writings in exile, Montenegro made an extended attempt to delineate the MNR from any taint of Marxism. He argued that Bolivia had had neither feudalism nor capitalism, but rather a comprador class in the service of world empire. Bolivia was therefore colonialism and the servitude of the indio. The Bolivian Revolution was thus “anti-colonial”, in the interests of all classes. The MNR was a mass party, expressing the alliance between classes. For the left parties, the contradiction was between bourgeoisie and proletariat, whereas for Montenegro it was between colony and nation.

Montenegro, like Tamayo before him, attracted comment and hostility from many quarters. The Trotskyist Guillermo Lora pointed to the xenophobic rhetoric of La Calle and its “indisputable Nazi derivation”176; for Lora, Montenegro denounced “all internationalism” with his “messianic nationalism” and “adulation of the lower classes”177. Montenegro “tells us that ‘Bolivianidad’, as the force which modeled the independent state, resided and resides in the vast social stratum of mestizos…”. In 1952, for Lora, “the masses destroyed the feudal-bourgeois state apparatus which the MNR, proclaiming the general interests of the non-existent national bourgeoisie, hurried to reconstitute, as a state totally submissive to the imperialist metropole…It is this which exposes the conservative and not merely Spenglerian178, subjective and reactionary criticisms of Montenegro’s perspective…(for Montenegro) “…’Bolivianidad’, ‘nationality’ and the anti-foreign are synonymous with nativism.”179

Juan Albarracin Millan, in his book Geopolitica Populismo (1982), argues that “Montenegro transposes this Spenglerism to the field of Bolivian history, through the dualism of nation- coloniaje, orienting that history in the direction of Indoamericanist populism, posing as the axis the Bolivian mestizo…Montenegro, a populist ideologue, underscores the untameable masses as the historical root of the nation, counterposed to the “chola” oligarchy.” In Albarracin’s view, “going from the racial to the social analysis was not easy; it was the hardest task of Bolivian sociology. The actions of people were seen by racism in accordance with color, bone structure, language, etc. Social analysis demanded an explanation of the place occupied by people within the social structure.” For Albarracin, the main characteristic of Nacionalismo y Coloniaje is “its undifferentiated use of race and class in the concept of the people. The mestizo and the Indian class move hand in hand into populism.”180. “Montenegro calls his theory ‘Indoamericanism’, following Haya de la Torre and, moreover, Spengler. In the concept of the ‘people’ Montenegro telescopes his national thesis on race with the populist theory of the alliance of workers, peasants and the middle classes. This particularity of coupling race and people is the weak thread that Montenegro follows, at times toward racism and at other times toward populism…Montenegro is…the key figure of Bolivian sociological irrationalism…Montenegro’s key concepts are “Bolivianidad”, counterposed to all other types of nationality; the “antipatria”, or everything opposed to the untameable vision of the National Revolution; “genetic history”, or history as a concept of biological maturation through which a new culture emerges against the decadent West…”181

Coming from another angle, a later critic says of Nacionalismo y coloniaje: “In this rewriting of history, the actual anti-colonial content of Indian struggles was erased and replaced by a nationalist narrative…By the early 1940’s, indigenous struggle was treated as one more current leading to national independence… In the early 20th c. there was an uncanny silence about…the great insurrection and civil war that consumed the Andean highland in the late colonial period.”182

The ultimate political message of Montenegro’s work, then, is this alliance of all “national” classes against the “foreign” elite, ultimately the Rosca of the tin barons. In an essay published posthumously in 1954, he reiterates: “Thirty years of the diffusion of communist theories and fifteen years of similar activity by fascism-Falangism never aroused the slightest interest by the national majorities, whose pronouncement in favor of the MNR…underscores their conscious difference from the sham revolutionary ideals of European origin…Let us proclaim the struggle against oppression and foreign conquest and against its favorite instruments, the international finance companies, the secret groups, the venal middlemen and the armed mercenaries…”183

In short, the “advance” of Montenegro over Tamayo is the half-step out of the latter’s early 20th century German romantic race theory to a conflation of race and nation in a populist-nationalist multi-class ideology more suited to the modernization of the Bolivian state, which the MNR would undertake after 1952. The rhetorical excesses of La Calle or the frankly fascist echoes of Cuadros Quiroga’s 1942 MNR program are trimmed away, but the core, irreducible, anti-universalist “Bolivianess”, counterposed to everything “foreign”, (a counterposition which could have been borrowed wholesale from Fichte), remained to drown the Bolivian masses in the corporatist-statist project of the MNR in power.

21. The “Sexenio Rosquero”

In the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Villaroel, the new right-wing government hunted down members of RADEPA and the MNR. Hundreds of members of both organizations were jailed and sometimes killed; thousands more were forced underground. The United States granted recognition to the new regime within weeks, and U.S. allies in the Americas followed suit. The MNR leaders—Paz Estenssoro, Cespedes, Montenegro—fled, as indicated, to exile in Peronist Argentina. (During those years of exile, Cespedes and Montenegro managed to work as journalists for La Prensa, a pro-Peronist newspaper.) They arrived in the midst of the “Blue Book” campaign of the U.S. embassy, led by the notorious (aforementioned) Spruille Braden, depicting Peron, Villaroel and the MNR as “Nazi”. Peron was in the midst of his honeymoon with the Argentine working class, and also conducting a vigorous foreign policy aimed at creating an anti-American bloc in southern South America. Events forced the MNR, both in exile and underground in Bolivia, more and more into an orientation toward labor.

It was a propitious time for such a turn since, despite intense repression, the 1946-1952 period saw no falloff of worker and peasant ferment in Bolivia, starting with a number of general strikes. Villaroel’s end had turned him into a martyr of the left, and workers went into the streets chanting his name184, which they associated with the gains they had made under his government.

More important still was the Extraordinary Congress of the FSTMB in Pulacayo in November 1946, called in response to this rising ferment. The congress adopted the famous “Theses of Pulacayo”, henceforth (in Lora’s words) “the Bible” of the Bolivian workers’ movement. The Pulacayo Congress marked the clear ascendancy of Trotskyist influence in the movement, given the abject capitulation of the (Stalinist) PIR to the Rosca during the war and after. The FSTMB and the Trotskyist POR formed the “Proletarian United Front”, which subsequently managed to score electoral successes in the repressive atmosphere.

Because the Theses of Pulacayo became so influential in subsequent Bolivian working- class history, it is imperative to present them in some detail185. They were partly drawn from the Trotskyist Transitional Program, calling for a sliding scale of wages and hours, workers’ control of the mines, armed pickets and armed worker cadres. “We must not,” the Theses continued, “make any bloc or compromise with the bourgeoisie” and then called for “a proletarian united front” in contrast to “the fronts which petty-bourgeois reformists are constantly proposing.” After calling for a “Miners’ Parliamentary Bloc” to transform the bourgeois parliament into a “revolutionary tribune”, to “unmask the maneuvers of the bourgeoisie from within the chambers themselves”, the Theses spelled out their perspective:

“’Worker’ ministers do not change the structure of bourgeois governments. So long as the state defends capitalist society, ‘worker’ ministers become pimps for the bourgeoisie. The worker who exchanges his post of struggle in the revolutionary ranks for a bourgeois cabinet portfolio goes over to the ranks of traitors. The bourgeoisie invents ‘worker’ ministers the better to deceive the workers…

The FSTMB will never join bourgeois governments, because that would mean the most open betrayal of the exploited masses, forgetting that our line is the revolutionary line of the class struggle.”

S. Sandor John writes: “Then, however, the Theses veer away from orthodox Trotskyism, pointing to the time, six years later, when the FSTMB would in fact support “worker ministers” in the first MNR government in 1952. While calling the working class “the revolutionary class par excellence”, it went on to say that the coming revolution as “bourgeois-democratic”, though led by the working class rather than “progressive” sectors of the bourgeoisie:

“…those who claim we propose an immediate socialist revolution in Bolivia are liars…since we know quite well that objective conditions for this do not exist.” For an international perspective, “the Theses declared solidarity with North American workers…the U.S. is a powder keg which a single spark can set off.”186

As Sandor John put it, concerning the confusion spread about a bourgeois revolution made by the working class, pointed to the “fateful contradiction, played out in the ensuing years” of “the role its authors played in entangling this combativity with illusions in the nationalist party.”187

The “sexenio rosquero” was, in spite of ongoing repression, hardly a time of social peace. It was, on the contrary, a period in which the now-clandestine MNR steadily gained ground as the voice of workers and peasants. Rural uprisings persisted throughout the year. In late January 1947, steel workers were massacred in Potosi by troops under the orders of a PIR Minister of Labor188. Still embedded in their “anti-Nazi” alliance with the Rosca tin barons, PIR militants participated in the killing,; although the PIR claimed it was merely fighting against the MNR and the Trotskyist POR, the party’s reputation never recovered. By 1950, younger PIR cadre were leaving to found an actual Bolivian Communist Party, of negligeable importance in the ensuing years189. This PIR-Rosca alliance, dating back to the beginning of World War II, was one major factor in Bolivian Trotskyism’s ability to win hegemony in the working class. During the same period, Juan Lechin, leader of the FSTMB (although himself having never been a worker) and like Tristan Marof a centrist capable of using Trotskyist language when necessary, emerged as a broker between the MNR and the POR, a reality which would take on great significance in enlisting workers and other militants behind the MNR after 1952.

Despite its determination to use repression and outright terror to maintain control, the Rosca government of Enrique Hertzog was nominally committed to democratic forms and had to stage regular elections. The POR-backed Frente Unico Proletario had some success in the 1947 elections, a harbinger of things to come. Repression followed in May 1948 at the XX Siglo Mine, and in June, at the 5th Congress of FSTMB in Telamayu, Lechin, who had made a secret deal with the government, showed truer colors and led the charge against the POR. In the radicalizing climate, even the Falange (FSB) had to adopt workerist language. In the May 1949 elections, the MNR elected eleven deputies. Mass demonstrations and mass repression followed. Large numbers of MNR supporters were again in prison. But under the pressure of increasing instability, Hertzog resigned the presidency, and was replaced by the aristocrat Mamerto Urriolagoitia. He had hardly assumed power when in August-September 1949 a mini-civil war of 20 days erupted between MNR supporters attempting a coup and the forces of the government, with the government gaining the upper hand by the aerial bombardment of some cities190 and afterward putting hundreds of MNR militants in a concentration camp on the Isla Conti in Lake Titicaca. Again in May 1950, the government responded to a general strike with the bombing and shelling of the La Paz working-class neighborhood of Villa Victoria.

The last act of the Rosca, however, was at hand. As a snapshot of the social reality underlying this chronic instability, it should be kept in mind that as of 1950, 0.7% of property owners in Bolivia had 49.6% of the land while people owning less than 1000 hectares were 93.7% of the population, with 8.1% of the land191. 0.1% of the population controlled 68% of mining, 100% of the railroads, and 26% of finance capital.

The February 1951 elections opened the end game for the Rosca with a landslide victory for Paz Estenssoro (still in exile after five years192) and the MNR. There was of course no question of accepting these results, and three months later, in May, a military junta took over. A deadlock ensued that would only end with the April 1952 revolution. “Abandoning traditional fascism and economic orthodoxy,” wrote Klein, “the MNR moved to a totally revolutionary position”193, meaning a no-holds barred commitment to the overthrow of the Rosca regime (though hardly revolutionary in the socialist sense)194.

22. The 1952 Revolution and After

“…in the same way but at a different stage of development, Cromwell and the English people had borrowed for their bourgeois revolution the language, passions and illusions of the Old Testament. When the actual goal had been reached, when the bourgeois transformation of English society had been accomplished, Locke drove out Habbakuk.”
- Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire

Thus did Marx describe the way in which fulsome ideological excess serves to midwife an ultimately banal result. One could say of the Bolivian MNR that by the time it succeeded in overthrowing the Rosca and pushing through its corporatist nationalizations and half-baked agrarian reform, massive U.S. aid drove out its earlier infatuations with Mussolini, Hitler and, on a different register, Peron.

The Bolivian Revolution of April 1952 began initially as another coup attempt by the MNR, similar to the failure of 1949. The coup had the tentative support of General Seleme of the Carabineros and of the Falange, but the latter backed out at the last moment. Even the much-reduced Bolivian Communist Party (attempting to demarcate itself from the debacle of the PIR) supported the MNR by 1951. Fighting lasted three days in La Paz; at first the government seemed to have the upper hand but the intervention of armed workers turned things around. The Bolivian army simply collapsed, and suddenly the MNR found itself in power on the basis of the armed Bolivian working class, which had hardly been its intention. Fortunately for the MNR, the ideology of the “national revolution” whose emergence we have followed throughout, as best articulated by Carlos Montenegro, dominated worker consciousness long enough to permit the re-establishment of a state apparatus and the requisite “special body of armed men”.195 In this endeavor, the MNR had no small help from the both the FSTMB and especially from the COB (Central Obrera Boliviana) and its leader Juan Lechin. Lechin had created this broader confederation in the heady first week of the revolution, and in its first years the COB was not merely a union grouping but in fact the organization of a broad swath of social groups, of which the miners of the FSTMB were the backbone196. Coming up behind these mass organizations, but weighing significantly in the overall balance of forces despite its smaller numbers, was the Trotskyist POR of Guillermo Lora and Edwin Moller, which ended up providing a far-left cover for the establishment of the new state.

Paz Estenssoro and other top MNR leaders returned in triumph from their Buenos Aires exile, met by rejoicing throngs. These throngs had not caught up with the MNR’s refurbished rhetoric, however, and were chanting “Down with the Jews” at Paz’s first public appearance197. Before leaving Argentina, Paz had also affirmed that the MNR was “completely anti-Communist”198.

The four main reforms introduced on the momentum of the MNR’s early mass support were 1) nationalization of the mines of the three tin barons, but with full compensation amounting to $22 million 2) universal suffrage, decreed in July 1952 3) land reform and 4) abolition of the hated ponguaje and other quasi-feudal practices in the countryside. All this occurred within the framework of the revamping of the Bolivian state, with important corporatist overtones. It should be kept in mind that Peronism had just achieved its second electoral triumph in Argentina in November 1951, and that a Peronist- style government under Ibañez would be elected in Chile in November 1952199. In this regional context, Peron’s ongoing attempt to create a South American “third way” would exert its pull on Bolivia under the MNR during the latter’s brief glory days200. The MNR Revolutionary Committee in fact included Col. Sergio Sanchez, who became Minister of Labor and who was known as “Peroncito” or the “Bolivian Peron”. According to Beatriz Figoll201, Argentina provided arms for the MNR uprising, though Paz Estenssoro was alienated by Peron’s tendency to use him to advance Argentina’s interests. (Peron also backed Ibanez, who had been a dictatorial president of Chile from 1927 to 1931, who had been close to Chile’s Nazi movement in the 1930’s, and who was supported by the small vestige of the Chilean Nazi party in the 1951 election.

To this end of rebuilding the state, the regime’s first move toward nationalization required tin exports to be processed by the state-controlled Banco Minero, with all foreign exchange earnings having to be converted by the Banco Central202; this was effectively the reinstatement of German Busch’s attempts at controls in 1939. The U.S., for its part, had controlled tin prices from 1945 to 1949, and stymied the International Tin Committee. The outbreak of the Korean War and insurgencies in then-British Malaysia and in Indonesia had run the tin price up to $2 per pound, strengthening the posture of the MNR. At the time of the revolution, tin miners were 3.2% of the work force, producing 25% of GNP, which in turn accounted for 95% of Bolivia’s foreign exchange income.

A larger context conditioning the new Bolivian regime’s relations with the hemispheric hegemon, the U.S., was the international atmosphere of crisis in the early years of the Cold War. In 1952, the U.S. was bogged down in the Korean War, the regime of Mossadegh in Iran was preparing to nationalize British oil assets there, and the Arbenz government in Guatemala was moving on U.S.-owned United Fruit. (The Arbenz regime was the first country to grant recognition to the MNR government.) With many fires to put out, the U.S. could ill afford another open counter-insurgency in the developing world. Instead, building on the ties established with Bolivia going back to 1942203 and the orchestrated outcry over the Catavi massacre, followed by commissions of enquiry, aid, and agreements on the tin price, the U.S. opted for entrapping Bolivia and its immense natural resources204 with aid aimed, not surprisingly, at strengthening the most pliable elements in the MNR. The MNR, for its part, jumped into this trap with both feet and by the late 1950’s Bolivia was receiving more U.S. aid per capita than any other country in the world. After Dwight Eisenhower’s 1952 election as president, his brother Milton Eisenhower visited Bolivia on a fact-finding mission, and in Washington, the Bolivian ambassador Victor Andrade (who had served earlier under Villaroel) convinced the Eisenhowers that the Bolivian nationalizations had nothing to do with communism (as was in fact the case).

There was of course great pressure in the working class for nationalization (without compensation) and after five months of deliberations by a commission devoted to the issue, this took place in October 1952, with compensation of $22 million. It affected only the large mines, and left small and medium-size mines in private hands. The nationalization also involved a corporatist type of “workers’ control”, but (in contrast to e.g. the workers’ councils and soviets of the German and Russian revolutions after 1917) in collaboration with the managers of the COMIBOL (Corporacion Minera de Bolivia). As Dunkerley put it, “a key component of the revolution was in the process of being managerialized.”205 The COMIBOL was effectively a holding company; it had 30,000 employees with ownership of most mineral production, as well as medical centers and railroads. Decrees in April and June 1952 required the COMIBOL to rehire workers laid off during the “sexenio rosquero”.

As Labor Action commented at the time:

“The nationalization of the mines has been decreed, but not according to the program and wishes of the majority of the workers. The nationalization bill provides for indemnity to the proprietors if they pay all taxes and back debts to the government. Of course, the question is purely theoretical, since the government has no money, and hence will not pay The Central Obrera had demanded workers’ administration, administration of the mines by workers’ committees elected by general meetings of all workers, and a national committee to be elected by all mine committees. But the government, while accepting the principle of workers’ control formally, has passed a bill which creates a Corporation Minera Boliviana as a great state mining trust in the place of the three private capitalist corporations. In the new trust the representatives of the workers are in a minority, and are to be nominated by the government.

In this bureaucratic form, workers’ control has been transformed into control over the workers.”206

The tin barons of the Rosca were down but not out, and from exile they conducted a massive propaganda campaign designed to present the MNR and its nationalizations as “communist”. Patiño, Hochschild and Aramayo, who had long been shifting assets abroad, hired the New York public relations firm Nathanson Brothers to convince the U.S. government, Congress and the “public” of this, ultimately in vain. The Rosca’s propaganda machine put out disinformation on the danger to foreign technicians and their families, and quoted such technicians to the effect that nationalization would ruin the mines207. The Rosca hired U.S. Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland to trumpet their cause in Congress; Tydings threatened to stop the U.S. purchase of Bolivian tin, but he died shortly thereafter. The U.S. State Department issued calls for full compensation. The Rosca campaign was countered by the services of Gardner Jackson, a politically moderate worker-intellectual whose activities in the U.S. labor movement dated from the Sacco-Vanzetti campaign of 1927. (In fact, most sympathy in the U.S. for the MNR came initially from the labor movement.)

Further complicating matters for the MNR was the fall of world tin prices from $1.21 to $0.70 per pound as the Korean War wound down in 1953, costing Bolivian $20 million in income in that year, and bringing the Bolivian state to the verge of bankruptcy; nationalization had in effect saved the mines from such a fate. In the same year direct U.S. aid to the regime began, and the Chinese Revolution was causing the world price of tungsten and wolfram to rise.

The nationalized mines faced multiple problems quite apart from the international campaign of the Rosca and the fall of tin prices. Friction arose between engineers and workers in the management of the mines, and labor leaders and military officers filled the vacuum. The COMIBOL in fact became a refuge for retired military officers and retired second-rate politicians. In addition to these managerial and porkbarrel complications, the long-term trends in production worked against tin; in 1927, just before total tin exports had peaked in 1929, tin made up 74.2% of Bolivia’s exports, whereas by 1956 that percentage had fallen to 56.5%. The slack was taken up to some extent by increases in exports of lead, tungsten, zinc and oil.208 But the tin barons had responded to the depression and to the threats of the “military socialism” of Toro and Busch, and later to Villaroel, with a general policy of disinvestment, so that the mining equipment nationalized in 1952 was quite out of date. (During the Busch years, the tin barons had lowered production to 19,000 tons annually on the pretext that reserves were being exhausted.) In light of this, the MNR’s nationalization parallels e.g. Britain’s nationalization in the same period of mines, steel, and railroads that were no longer profitable. Decrees in April and June 1952 required the COMIBOL to rehire workers laid off during the “sexenio rosquero”. The industries controlled by the COMIBOL had had 24,000 employees in 1951, and by 1956 had 36,000. Further ties to Western imperialism, in addition to U.S. aid, U.S. trade unions, and the various reports and commissions of inquiry were developed when in 1953 the COMIBOL signed a contract with the British tin smelter William Harvey Company. The working population as a whole paid for the losing proposition of the COMIBOL through taxation, and U.S. aid pressured the COMIBOL to return to orthodox management.

The agrarian reform undertaken by the MNR had some of the same ambiguities as the nationalization of the large mines. It was undertaken sixteen months after the revolution in response to land takeovers by armed peasants. It included, as indicated, the abolition of the quasi-feudal pongueaje. The leadership of the popular umbrella organization, the COB, for its part vacillated (SJ p. 143) between protesting the repression of the peasants and peasants and denouncing “provocation” by peasants influenced by the POR209. According to Sandor John, the POR was actually lukewarm toward peasant mobilizations, arguing that peasants only wanted individual plots of lands for themselves. As Sandor John put it, the POR policy “resembled what Stalin told Chinese Communists in 1925-27: curb peasants’ land seizures because they threaten the party’s bloc with the nationalist Guomingtang.” The reference to China is apt, since the Chinese Communist Party’s “bloc of four classes” in the 1949-1953 period (workers, peasants, industrial capitalists and the progressive middle class) was a frequent reference of the MNR leaders. Shortly after the revolution, Paz Estenssoro had appointed MNR leader Hernan Siles Zuazo to head a commission on agrarian reform. The commission reflected a general lack of expertise on such matters. Further, it was dominated by members of the reduced (Stalinist) PIR wedded to their stagist idea of a bourgeois-democratic revolution, (above all PIR agrarian expert Arturo Urquidi Morales) , even further to the right and more cautious than the MNR’s own perspective of a “national revolution”. In keeping with the corporatist reality already manifest in nationalized industry, in agriculture as well the revolution had created a “new national and organic image of the State as a basic structure for transformation, representation, integration and development.”210. Paz Estenssoro had carefully studied the Mexican agrarian reform under Cardenas but, the PIR influence on the commission was oriented to maintaining “an important nuclei of traditional latifundist power through the euphemism “small and medium-size properties”211 which were to be preserved. Peasants themselves mobilized in western Bolivia from January to August 1953, placing increasing pressure on the commission, but the latter continued to support the “microfundia”, tying peasants to those plots. The decree on agrarian reform came at the beginning of August 1953. In the view of Bedregal, the commission supported a “semi-democratic agrarian reform of the landowners” and of the “progressive hacendados”, leaving the latifundias with some power. The agrarian reform had to accept a modus vivendi “leaving an ample sector of growers and cattle owners to define what the law meant: ‘land to those who work it’212. Urquidi, for his part, saw the reform transforming the latifundists into “progressive agriculturists”, better equipped than the indigenous population to advance the rural economy. The reform “did not resolve the key question of the historical survival of latifundist and microfundist factors which, over the long term, would become the most serious problem of Bolivian backwardness, by which the agrarian counter-reform could put down roots and derail the capitalist development which was the immediate objective of the national revolution.”213 Protected by this thrust of the reform were the latifundias of the Beni and Pando provinces (in the latter there were 3000 properties of 2000 hectares or more).

23. The Role of the Trotskyist POR

Following these brief sketches of the MNR nationalizations and agrarian reform, it is imperative to analyze, in conclusion, the dynamic of class forces in which these changes acquired their concrete meaning. In contrast to the other cases of Latin American corporatism in more developed economies, as discussed earlier, the “national revolution” of the MNR could not base itself, at least initially, on a modernizing military and state already in place, since the army, the “special body of armed men” quite simply disintegrated in April 1952, leaving the MNR precariously atop the armed militias of the Bolivian working class which it had to contain and, initially, to appease. Coming right behind the working class were the indigenous rural masses, largely trapped in pre-capitalist immiseration with quasi-feudal overtones, who went into motion at the beginning of 1953. Confronting these forces and trying to ride them, the MNR was drawn from “intellectual sectors of the Bolivian elite and upwardly mobile members of the middle class”214. Out of this array of forces, the MNR leadership had set itself the task of revamping the Bolivian state it had taken away from the Rosca to “complete the bourgeois revolution”, using Bolivia’s rich endowment of resources and a reformed agriculture to build a viable capitalist nation-state that could hopefully at last escape from the “colonial” status which MNR nationalist theoreticians such as Carlos Montenegro ascribed to it.

The MNR that seized power in 1952 had evolved from its origins around the anti-Semitic broadsheet La Calle, via the Toro-Busch “military socialism” mixing clear German and Italian fascist influences with corporatist elements drawn from the Mexican Revolution, by way of the Nazi imprint on its founding program of 1942, to the force recognized by the U.S. State Department in 1950 as the sole real alternative to “communism” in Bolivia.

The MNR did not have to deal with “communism” in the form of a mass pro-Soviet party, because that party, the PIR, had totally discredited itself by its services rendered since 1940 to the Rosca’s “democracy”. Thus the sole ideological and practical force of any consequence to its left was the Trotskyist POR. Bolivia was, along with Vietnam and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) one of the few countries in the world in which Trotskyism, and not Stalinism or Social Democracy, became for a time the mass current in the working class.

Undoubtedly the key figure in all but wedding the POR to the “left wing” of the MNR was Juan Lechin, the presumed “Lenin” to Paz Estenssoro’s “Kerensky”. As Dunkerley put it, “a disparity between words and deeds that was to be a consistent feature of the COB leader’s erratic career.”215 Lechin, a member of the MNR, had been politically educated by Guillermo Lora. Lechin was the restraining link to the Bolivian working class that the MNR desperately needed in 1952. Sandor John is succinct:

“While presenting their own viewpoint in articles and manifestos, Bolivian Trotskyists216 were becoming a radical appendage to lechinismo in the labor movement, while Lechin guarded the MNR’s left flank…” (quoting Lora): ‘Everything (the POR did in this period) led objectively to the numerical, but not political (sic) strengthening of the MNR’.217 Paz Estenssoro made constant attacks on Trotskyism, while he set about co-opting leaders and bureaucratizing structures. Ultimately more a pressure group than an independent party, the POR, in flat contradiction to the Theses of Pulacayo, supported not only Lechin but also other “worker ministers”. In May 1952, Guillermo Lora declared these “worker ministers” a conquest of the labor movement as “textile workers decided to impose their conditions on the right wing of the MNR”.218

Here is how the Latin American correspondent of U.S.-based Labor Action analyzed the role of the POR at the end of 1952:

“On the other hand, the government ushered the Trotskyist ‘leaders’ into very profitable positions in the official machinery, such as the Agrarian Commission, the Stabilization Office, the Workers’ Security Administration, etc. The PORista theoretician, Alaya Mercada, is a member of the Agrarian Commission with a salary of 70,000 pesos, which is 100 per cent higher than a minister’s salary. Another “theoretician” of the POR, Lora, a collaborator of Lechin’s, is now a member of the President’s Stabilization Office. The Secretary of the POR, Moller, is director of the Workers’ Savings Bank [Caja de Seguro y Ahorro Obrera].

Many other POR militants have also gotten good posts in the official government machine. In this way the Nationalist government has liquidated the ‘Communist’ and ‘Trotskyist’ danger in Bolivia, and now the whole Bolivian ‘left’ is collaborating with the regime, with the claim that it is thus ‘saving the revolution’ from capitalist restoration.

Parallel to all this, the government party is absorbing leading elements from the left, especially from the POR. Two former general secretaries of the POR, Edwin Moller and Jorge Salazar, and the POR theoretician Ernesto Ayala Mercada, as well as Lechin’s ex-secretary Josa Zogada, have entered the MNR officially. Thus a part of the POR staff has capitulated to the MNR, as we predicted long ago. Ideological capitulation preceded the personal and organizational capitulation. The right turn of the MNR is complemented by the capitulation and disintegration of the ‘Left.’”219

Along the same lines, Sandor John writes: “Complete control of the state by the left wing of the MNR” became a leitmotiv of the (POR’s) propaganda.”220 The 9th Congress of the POR in Sept 52 supported the MNR’s “progressive measures” and the left wing of the MNR. In early 1953, the party sent a message to the MNR’s national convention saying that “to fulfill its historic mission…” the convention “should be the scene of reaction’s defeat”. If the left wing wins and the MNR acquires a “proletarian physiognomy”, the Congress declared the POR would even consider fusion. At times of crisis, such as the attempted (and failed) coups by the Falange and the Rosca in June 1953, the POR called on left-wing ministers to take control. When Paz Estenssoro responded to the coup attempts with anti-business rhetoric, the POR newspaper Lucha Obrera headlined “Radicalization of Paz Estenssoro”. ‘THE PRESIDENT, REVISING ALL OF HIS PAST POLITICAL STANCE, POINTED OUT ANTI-CAPITALIST OBJECTIVES FOR THE REVOLUTION, NOT JUST ANTI-IMPERIALIST AND ANTI-FEUDAL ONES.” “All this struggle must center on the slogan ‘Total control of the state by the left wing of the MNR.’” “The people who join ministries as workers’ representatives will not be doing so simply as personal collaboration by particular leaders…(but on the basis of the) “program especially approved by the COB”.221 In early 1954, the POR supported a member of the MNR Left during the MNR’s internal elections to its La Paz Departmental Command.

For all the POR’s efforts on its behalf, the Paz government in 1954 increased repression against the Trotskyists, including large-scale arrests of POR workers and peasants, blacklists, and a crackdown on Lucha Obrera222.

In sum, the Bolivian POR was by rough analogy rather like the Spanish POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista) during the Spanish Revolution and Civil War, which was widely denounced as “Trotskyist”, but which was in fact a centrist political formation supporting (and participating in) the bourgeois Republican government. In Spain, the real Trotskyists were expelled from the POUM and with a handful of others formed the “Bolshevik Leninist” group.223

During these first years after the revolution, the U.S. was more and more successfully pulling Bolivia into the fold. Aside from the crucial question of access to Bolivia’s natural resources, U.S. aid was also prompted by the propaganda value of appearing to support a non-Communist version of reform. Paz Estenssoro on May 1953 had proclaimed his intention to open diplomatic relations with newly-Communist Czechoslovakia, but under the impact of U.S. aid in the following months, the initiative was dropped. By fall 1953 the U.S. was providing millions of dollars worth of surplus food, as well as funds for technical assistance and road construction. Because they were no longer profitable, the nationalization of the mines had ultimately revealed Bolivia’s dependency on outside help. By 1954, the Bolivian government was backing the U.S.’s anti-communist measures at the Inter-American Conference in Caracas. Accelerating inflation, which reached 179% in 1956, and other economic disruptions brought a stabilization team headed by U.S. corporate executive George Eder, which proposed more opening to market forces and a dismantling of the public sector. The Eder stabilization plan was adopted in December 1956, with the scrapping of the multiple exchange rates left over from the earlier currency controls; the Bolivian currency was allowed to fluctuate with international supply and demand just as tin prices were contracting in the 1957 world recession224. The momentum of the revolution of 1952 was long since broken, and the Bolivian working class and peasantry were left to endure ensuing decades of coups, counter-coups, hyperinflation, and a quasi narco-state, much of it under a refurbished military and the U.S. “national security” doctrine worked up, once again, from interwar fascist sources.

Conclusion: The Inability of the Left to Distinguish Between Corporatism and Socialism

The MNR revolution in Bolivia and the little-remembered ideological sources from which it developed provide an unusually clear example of the myopia of much of the self-styled left, both on the scene and internationally. Taking the example of the currents of Trotskyism, particularly the Mandel-Pablo variety dominant in the Fourth International at the time, we see evolving a methodology repeated again and again whereby different variants of the far-left set themselves up as the cheering section and often minor adjuncts to “progressive” movements and governments in fact quite alien to their ostensible goal of socialist revolution, movements and governments strictly committed to a restructuring (or creation) of a nation-state adequate to the present realities of world capitalism. This methodology involves imagining (as has been shown in the relationship of the POR with the MNR) a healthy “left” wing of a bourgeois or nationalist or “progressive” or Third World “anti-imperialist” movement that can be “pushed to the left” by “critical support”, opening the way for socialist revolution (there is nothing specifically “Trotskyist” about this; cf. appendix below). This methodology has been employed again and again, from Bolivia under the MNR to Algeria under the FLN to Mitterand’s France to the Iranian mullahs after 1979. The far-left groups in question see themselves in the role of Lenin’s Bolsheviks to Kerensky’s Provisional Government, when in fact their role is to enlist some of the more radical elements in supporting or tolerating an alien project which sooner or later co-opts or, even worst, represses and sometimes annihilates them.

In the case of Bolivia, the multi-class nationalism epitomized by MNR intellectual Carlos Montenegro, with its problematic of the “nation” versus the “foreign”, combined in practice with the corporatist models attempted by 1936- 1940 “military socialism” and the 1943-1946 Villaroel regime, and influenced to different degrees by Mussolini’s Italy, the Primo de Rivera dictatorship in Spain, Nazi Germany, Vargas’s Brazil, Peron’s Argentina and the Mexico of Cardenas. Though the standing bourgeois army in Bolivia (in contrast to these other experiences) simply dissolved and had to be rebuilt (as it quickly was), theoretical disarmament set the stage for the practical disarmament of the worker militias. The statist backing of the FSTMB and later of the COB, the creation of the COMIBOL to administer the nationalized mines, and state-sponsored agrarian reform gave Bolivia its variant of the 20th-century adaptation to the post-1929 world conjuncture, in which the old liberal ideologies and party organizations no longer sufficed.

Appendix: Trotskyism, Permanent Revolution and the Case of Bolivia

I felt the preceding text was complex and tortuous enough so I did not wish to burden it with excessive theoretical baggage. I have used the term “Trotskyist” throughout in a neutral way to refer to those who designated themselves as such. The blur of unfamiliar names and events is difficult enough for the unapprised reader, and indeed for some more apprised, without adding on what might seem like a detour into the labyrinth of mutually hostile self-proclaimed Trotskyist currents that existed even before the assassination of Trotsky in 1940, not to mention after. Yet in this case, the question of Trotskyism cannot be avoided because, as indicated, Bolivia was one of the few countries in the world where Trotskyism became the mass movement, as opposed to a small group (or sect) on the fringes of the mass movement. Hence its actions, particularly as they involved the POR and prominent POR leaders such as Guillermo Lora, are highly relevant to our story. In fact, as the comments of Sandor John and of the correspondent of Labor Action have already indicated, the Bolivian POR, at the high point of its influence from 1946 into the early 1950’s, had a rather tenuous relationship (at best) to “orthodox Trotskyism”.

My own distance from Trotskyism, orthodox or otherwise, is not the issue here225. So many people have been exposed to Trotskyism as a blur of warring sects of no apparent historical weight that the attempt to distill a “true Trotskyism” might seem as futile as an attempt to distill a “true Christianity”.

In the case of Bolivia, however, the self-styled Trotskyists of the POR were not a “warring sect” but a significant party with a mass working-class base. What is most relevant for purposes of the Bolivian Revolution and the relationship of the POR to the MNR is Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, and the related theory of combined and uneven development.

That theory, stated most bluntly, held that any bourgeois revolution in a semi-developed or underdeveloped country must necessarily unleash forces beyond itself (most notably the working class) and “cross over” into a proletarian revolution, which can be successful in the medium to long term only if it successfully links up with a proletarian revolution in the capitalist heartland. Such was the strategy of the Bolshevik Revolution in its early (1917-1921) phase, predicated as it was on the urgent necessity of revolution in Germany at the very least.

The Trotsky-Parvus recovery of the mootings of permanent revolution in the pre- and post-1848 writings of Marx and Engels, and their use of that theory to understand, through the explosion of 1904-1905, that the coming revolution in Russia would be a working-class and not a bourgeois revolution, was a fundamental contribution to revolutionary theory in the 20th century. One does not have to be a “Trotskyist” to recognize this. (At the time of this formulation, it should be recalled, Trotsky was highly skeptical of Lenin’s Bolshevik conception of the vanguard party.226)

The theory of permanent revolution is adumbrated by Marx and Engels in some of their writings of the 1840’s and on the revolution of 1848. From their earliest period, by way of their assessments of the failed revolutions of 1848, Marx and Engels portrayed the German bourgeoisie, in contrast to the English or the French, as having come historically “too late”:

“If one were to proceed from the status quo itself in Germany, even in the only appropriate way, that is, negatively, the result would still be an anachronism. Even the negation of our political present is already a dusty fact in the historical lumber room of modern nations. If I negate powered wigs, I am still left with unpowdered wigs. If I negate German conditions of 1843, I am hardly, according to French chronology, in the year 1789 and still less in the focus of the present. …We have in fact shared in the restoration of modern nations without sharing in their revolutions. We have been restored, first because other nations dared to make revolutions, and secondly because other nations suffered counter-revolutions…Led by our shepherds, we found ourselves in the company of freedom only once, on the day of its burial.”227

Engels, in his 1851 book Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, diagnosing the timidity and impotence of the German liberal bourgeoisie in 1848, made this more concrete:

“The Revolution of February upset, in France, the very same sort of Government which the Prussian bourgeoisie were going to set up in their own country. The Revolution of February announced itself as a revolution of the working classes against the middle classes; it proclaimed the downfall of middle-class government and the emancipation of the workingman. Now the Prussian bourgeoisie had, of late, had quite enough of working-class agitation in their own country. After the first terror of the Silesian riots had passed away, they had even tried to give this agitation a turn in their own favor; but they always had retained a salutary horror of revolutionary Socialism and Communism; and, therefore, when they saw men at the head of the Government in Paris whom they considered as the most dangerous enemies of property, order, religion, family, and of the other Penates of the modern bourgeois, they at once experienced a considerable cooling down of their own revolutionary ardor. They knew that the moment must be seized, and that, without the aid of the working masses, they would be defeated; and yet their courage failed them. Thus they sided with the Government in the first partial and provincial outbreaks, tried to keep the people quiet in Berlin, who, during five days, met in crowds before the royal palace to discuss the news and ask for changes in the Government; and when at last, after the news of the downfall of Metternich, the King made some slight concessions, the bourgeoisie considered the Revolution as completed, and went to thank His Majesty for having fulfilled all the wishes of his people. But then followed the attack of the military on the crowd, the barricades, the struggle, and the defeat of royalty. Then everything was changed: the very working classes, which it had been the tendency of the bourgeoisie to keep in the background, had been pushed forward, had fought and conquered, and all at once were conscious of their strength. Restrictions of suffrage, of the liberty of the press, of the right to sit on juries, of the right of meeting-restrictions that would have been very agreeable to the bourgeoisie because they would have touched upon such classes only as were beneath them—now were no longer possible. The danger of a repetition of the Parisian scenes of “anarchy” was imminent. Before this danger all former differences disappeared. Against the victorious workingman, although he had not yet uttered any specific demands for himself, the friends and the foes of many years united, and the alliance between the bourgeoisie and the supporters of the over-turned system was concluded upon the very barricades of Berlin. The necessary concessions, but no more than was unavoidable, were to be made, a ministry of the opposition leaders of the United Diet was to be formed, and in return for its services in saving the Crown, it was to have the support of all the props of the old Government, the feudal aristocracy, the bureaucracy, the army.”228

Thus Marx and Engels, before, during and after the “springtime of peoples” of 1848, already saw the dynamic by which the struggle for the bourgeois revolution necessarily opened the way for the independent emergence of the working class, “even before (the working man) had uttered any specific demands for himself”. This “crossover” process between the bourgeois and proletarian revolutions was the kernel of what was later elaborated by Trotsky and his collaborator Parvus in 1904-1905 in the mature theory of “permanent revolution”.

Permanent revolution was intimately linked, for Trotsky, with the theory of combined and uneven development. This theory was a direct rejection of the linear- “stageist” view of history widely held in the parties of the Second International, in which every country had to pass through, first, the bourgeois revolution and then arriving at the socialist revolution. It was based on the perfectly reasonable insight, strengthened by the history of capitalism, that each individual country does not (indeed cannot) recapitulate all the “stages” undergone by other countries. Trotsky saw his theory confirmed already in 1905 with the vacillations of the timid liberal bourgeoisie in its feeble battles with Tsarism, all too aware of the workers, in contrast to Germany, already articulating demands of their own. Even at the beginning of 1917, Lenin still shared this stageist view. Trotsky and Parvus, on the other hand, linked up with the Marx-Engels germ of the theory of the “crossover” between the two revolutions, based on seeing individual capitalist countries as part of one single international system, in which developing countries tapping into the cutting edge of world technological innovation not only could but were compelled to “leap” over stages passed through by others. Thus on the eve of its 1905 and 1917 revolutions, Russia had some of the largest and most modern factories in the world, surrounded by a much larger sea of backward agriculture.

“The law of combined development reveals itself most indubitably, however, in the history and character of Russian industry. Arising late, Russian industry did not repeat the development of advanced countries, but inserted itself into this development, adapting their latest achievements to their own backwardness. Just as the economic evolution of Russia as a whole skipped over the epoch of craft guilds and manufacture, so also the separate branches of industry made a series of special leaps over technical productive stages that had been measured in the West by decades…The social character of the Russian bourgeoisie and its political physiognomy were determined by the condition of origin and structure of Russian industry. The extreme concentration of this industry alone meant that between the capitalist leaders and the popular masses there was no hierarchy of transitional layers…Such are the elementary and irremovable causes of the political isolation of the Russian bourgeoisie. Whereas in the dawn of its history it was too unripe to accomplish a Reformation, when the time came for leading a revolution it was overripe.”229

The triumph of Stalinism by 1924 was, among other things, a full restoration of the linear, Second International stage theory, having among its first fruits in the catastrophic Comintern policy of allying with Chiang kai-shek’s Nationalist movement in China in the years 1925-1927.

Whatever the problems of Trotsky himself, Trotskyism after his assassination was mainly an affair of mediocrities, of the Barneses and Cannons and Pablos and Mandels. Trotsky had predicted that the coming Second World War would be followed by world revolution similar to the aftermath of World War I; he also believed that the Stalinist regime in Russia would be swept away in the process. Instead, his followers in 1945 and thereafter found themselves confronted with a giant step forward in Stalinist power in Eastern Europe, China, Korea and Indochina, a giant step in which the working class had played no role. Western Trotskyists such as Mandel were egging on the “reformist” Stalinists in such places as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, while the NKVD and their local counterparts were tracking down and assassinating their own Trotskyist comrades.

Probably the worst case was that of Michel Pablo, who by 1950 had concluded that the world was entering centuries of Stalinist hegemony, and called on Trotskyists to engage in “deep entry” into the Stalinist parties, like Christians in the catacombs. Pablo’s adaptation to current events was blown sky high only a few years later with the 1953 uprising of workers in East Berlin and in 1956 with workers’ movements that shook Stalinism to its foundations in the Polish Autumn and the Hungarian Revolution. But the damage maturing since 1940 had been done, and a methodology of adaptation to Stalinist expansionism as well as various Third World “national liberation fronts” and progressive regimes had been set down for decades. The list is long, from the adaptation of most230 Trotskyists (with their “revolutionary opposition” buried in fine print in footnotes) to such sundry movements and regimes as the Algerian FLN, the Vietnamese NLF231, Castro’s Cuba, Allende’s Chile, the Iranian mullahs, the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, and Polish Solidarnosc.

And to the Bolivian MNR.

At the time of the April 1952 revolution, the most significant Bolivian Trotskyist, Guillermo Lora, was in Paris conferring with the leaders of the Fourth International, who were by then firmly in the camp of Pablo and who apparently did not impress him. Lora did not join the Pablo faction, and those in Bolivia who did so did not join the MNR government. Nevertheless the relationship between the POR and the MNR we have documented in the main text speaks for itself.

The theory of permanent revolution dictated for Bolivia, as for all other underdeveloped countries, the impossibility of a stable bourgeois democratic regime and the necessary “crossover” of the bourgeois into the proletarian revolution. Bolivia was of course not Russia in 1917, and, in contrast to Russia, did not possess some of the largest and most modern factories in the world. It certainly shared with Russia a vast majority of the population working in backward, mainly pre-capitalist agriculture. Fundamental agrarian reform was and is the sine qua non for any true bourgeois revolution. Instead, as we have seen, the Bolivia land reform of 1953 was compromised by preservation of the holdings of the “progressive hacendados” and sizeable micro- and latifundia lands which later became the base of a conservative peasantry.

Similarly, the “nationalization of decline” by the COMIBOL, with full compensation to the three tin barons, burdened the revolution from the beginning with the dead weight of the past.

Between these two halfway measures, and the accommodation with the United States, the runaway inflation of 1955-1956 was hardly a surprise.

Let us then pose the question point-blank: would a different, “truly Trotskyist” policy of the POR in 1951-1953 have resulted in a proletarian revolution in Bolivia? When one considers that in April 1952 the “nationalist revolution” of the MNR had the overwhelming support of the armed working class, the peasantry and the urban middle class; that 85% of the members of the POR ultimately entered the MNR in those years; and when a figure of the stature of Guillermo Lora decided not to enter only at the last moment, the question seems moot. The real question is why the national revolutionary ideology and organization was so popular, to the point that it was even attractive to the great majority of POR members. The Trotskyist view, with its belief that the “crisis of leadership” is paramount in such situations, makes the question of the presence or absence of the revolutionary party the deux ex machina of such crises, when the real historical question is what conditions make possible or mitigate against the existence of such a party in the first place.

In 1952, the Cold War was at its peak and a resulting World War III seemed a real possibility. Developments in Guatemala, Iran, China, Korea and the struggle of the two blocs to influence de-colonization in Asia and Africa were so many flashpoints. In such a conjuncture, surely a proletarian revolution in Bolivia could have had ripples far beyond a poor, remote, landlocked country of three million people. (We bracket for a moment the question of the possibility of a working-class revolution in the capitalist heartland, a necessary counterpart to the theory of permanent revolution, when in fact the working class everywhere in Europe and the U.S. had been contained or defeated by 1952; recall, to the credit of the POR, the declaration of solidarity (cited earlier) with North American workers.”232) Bolivia’s ability to command the attention of the United States, for reasons we have described in detail, when there were so many other, seemingly larger fires to put out, already attests to its explosive potential. Nevertheless, such calculations surely weighed on the thoughts of Bolivia’s workers as well, and they made their decisions accordingly. To “blame” the POR for “betraying” the Bolivian Revolution is to fall into the idealist trap of saying “they had the wrong ideas” instead of explaining why they had the ideas they did.

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Bolivia was of course not Russia in 1917, and, in contrast to Russia, did not possess some of the largest and most modern factories in the world. It certainly shared with Russia a vast majority of the population working in backward, mainly pre-capitalist agriculture.
Loren Goldner

Introduction

In This Issue

Insurgent Notes No. 3 appears (in mid-March 2011) in the midst of a social ferment that portends the regroupment necessary to confront, at last, the ongoing attack on the world working class of the past four decades. The creation of extra-union “interprofessional committees” in the French movement of last fall, the riots in London in December against massive budget cuts in the U.K., the revolt sweeping the Arab world from Algeria to Bahrein, and the recent Bolivian general strike against Morales are so many signs that the “bad old days” are ending. It was high time.

Centered as we are in the U.S., we take special note of the month- long mobilization in Wisconsin in response to the all-out attack on public unions and collective bargaining rights there. Hence our first two articles, by Loren Goldner and S. Artesian, deal with the Madison movement and the historical backdrop to it, both in Wisconsin history and in the empire of the billionaire Koch brothers, who are prominent among the forces financing the charge against U.S. public employees.

On a similar theme but offering a more general overview, John Garvey takes up the question of the crisis of education in the U.S.—the crisis of the reproduction of labor power—and the way in which teachers’ unions have generally stood in the way of attempts to deal with it. Dealing yet again with the public sector, Henri Simon offers an analysis of the crisis of the pension system in France as a backdrop to the important movement against pension reform there last fall.

Finally, as part of our ongoing polemic against the ideologies of the complacent left, we present two articles of a more historical and theoretical nature. S. Artesian begins his planned series offering a critical examination of Marx’s theory of ground rent, and Loren Goldner analyzes the authoritarian and fascist origins of “anti-imperialist” ideology in the interwar period, using the example of the Bolivian MNR.

–The Editors

From Cairo to Madison, The Old Mole Comes Up For An Early Spring - Loren Goldner

Loren Goldner examines the Wisconsin protests against the background of the capitalist assault against workers since the 1970s.

(Editor’s Note: The following article generated sharp debate in the IN editorial board because of its discussion of the race/class dynamic in the Wisconsin movement. We welcome responses from readers on this and any other controversial points.)

Insurgent Notes takes heart from the fact that, nine months after our first issue, governments in two countries (Tunisia, Egypt) have fallen, a third (Libya) is teetering on the brink, and masses have gone into the streets in Algeria, Yemen, and Bahrein. A February general strike in Bolivia, in response to further austerity, put paid to the myth of the “socialism of the 21st century” of Morales. Last fall, extra-union inter-professional committees appeared in the mass movement in France against Sarkozy’s public sector pension “reform”, and in December in Britain, working-class youth led the rioting against David Cameron’s massive budget cuts there. When we used the subheading (in Insurgent Notes No. 1, for “The Historical Moment That Produced Us”) “1789-1848-1870-1905-1917-1968-20??” even our guarded historical optimism did not allow us to foresee that 2011 could well be the next in the sequence. We are hardly so brash as to claim influence on these developments; we merely felt the early winds of the emerging tempest, and aspired, and continue to aspire, to be part of it.

Now, as we prepare IN No. 3 for publication, this seemingly global contagion has been extended in the biggest U.S. working-class mobilization in forty years in the American heartland of capitalism, in Madison, Wisconsin.

Whatever else may happen in the near to medium future, events have shown that the past four decades of class warfare (in the U.S. above all) in which only one side—the capitalist class–was fighting—have come to an end.

This hardly means that the institutions which safeguard and reproduce the system have been overthrown, however much they must stretch themselves to keep up with the daily-unfolding reality. In Tunisia and Egypt, “caretaker governments”, politicians, parties and trade unions are working overtime to put an acceptable face on a revamped social arrangement to channel the popular movement, and above all the working class, into calmer waters.

Let us look, then, at the balance of forces as they are shaping up in Wisconsin. Forty years of unrelenting propaganda, chipping away at the post-1945 Keynesian dispensation in the U.S., have prepared this moment, when capital aims at turning its long war of attrition into a rout.

There can be little doubt that powerful forces have designated 2011 as the year for a showdown with public sector unions—state and local– in the U.S., and these forces clearly see Wisconsin as a national test case to be repeated elsewhere, as soon as possible. These forces, propelled and financed by the likes of the infamous Koch brothers, want to use the momentum of the past year’s hard right advance (Tea Party, etc.) against Obama’s “socialist” policies (most notably the health care “reform”, written by the insurance companies) to deliver a knockout blow to what they see as the last standing obstacles to their unrestrained “free market” feeding frenzy. They see their plan to abolish public sector collective bargaining, even after the anointed spokespersons (Democrats, union officials) of the opposing side have already whimpered their assent to “shared pain” in various budget cuts, as a 1-2 punch that will simultaneously allow them a free hand in ridding the state of whatever remains of public services, and also deprive the Democratic Party of a major source of its funding, the public sector unions.

For forty years, during which income disparities in the U.S. reached and then surpassed those of the pre-1929 period, the ideologists of the “free market” (promoting of course their agenda for the proper use of state power to get their snouts deeper into the public trough) , the wealthiest people in the U.S., who control the system at every level, have quite succeeded in demonizing “elitist” “special interests” highjacking the common good. “Special interests” have included at different times black people, Latinos, women, or gays, but no “special interest” has drawn right-wing venom like what remains of the organized labor movement. (Recall, for example, the Wall Street Journal’s apoplectic response to the mildly successful 1996 UPS strike.) Meanwhile, that labor movement has declined from 35% of the work force at its 1955 peak to 12% today, with only 8% in the private sector. Such a decline, expressing first of all a hemorrhaging of decently-paid and stable unionized jobs through a combination of outsourcing, casualization and capital-intensive development, is one important factor in creating the gap between working conditions in the public and private sectors. Contemporary propaganda aimed at whipping up support for right-wing populist rage never mentions that public employees as a whole appear “privileged” today only because millions of other workers have been so beaten down for so long. (That the unions in both the private and public sectors, trapped in their ostrich-like parochialism, have never lifted a finger over the past 40 years to address this reality, nor do they do so today, is a problem to which we will return.)

Linked to this unending hurty-gurty about “special interests” has been a similar, droning one-note song about the stagnant, slothful state and “big government”, as if these benighted souls did not know that it was “big government” that saved capitalism from the precipice in the 1930’s depression. While we at Insurgent Notes have no use for the capitalist state, from an entirely different point of view, we note the same distortion of reality in right-wing propaganda, ignoring such statist phenomena as the Manhattan project or the Tennessee Valley Authority, not to mention the role of the state in the economic rise of Asia (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and now China) since the 1960’s, or finally the statist-protectionist (Hamiltonian) origins of U.S. capitalism itself (from which the Asians got the idea, via Germany). But of course the real targets of such muddying of the waters are such “entitlements” as widely-popular Social Security and Medicare. The “free-market” ideologists never mention the parasitical HMOs as a significant reason for spiraling health care costs and hence further state deficits, nor debt service (to fully-protected investors) on those deficits, nor the trillions spent (more recently) on war in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the multi-trillion dollar bailout of the banks after 2008 and the resulting ongoing bonuses of the hedge fund and securitization crowd. The beneficiaries of such largesse are of course not “rent-seekers”, but the state civil servant retiring on $19,000 a year or the destitute people in the slums left behind by de-industrialization, surviving on disability or Social Security and Medicare are, for the right, precisely that. Hundreds of pinhead PhDs in grey suits spend their days at the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute or the Peter Peterson Institute putting the proper spin on statistics and propaganda to perpetuate this distortion of reality. All of this, moreover, is supposedly argued on behalf of the beleaguered “taxpayer” (and all this funded by the class in society that pays a smaller percentage of its income in taxes than any other), as if most “taxpayers” are not precisely the ordinary working people who benefit (mostly) from public education, transportation, health care, housing and various other services.

Finally, the mainstream “free market” propaganda is silent about the fact that, without “big government” and its massive deficits since ca. 1970, (financed to a significant extent by foreign holders of Treasury bills) their system would have collapsed long ago. A real implementation of a program of “small government” and balanced budgets as advocated by Milton Friedman and his ilk (who, for example, will pay for U.S. military and intelligence operations in 110 countries?) would promptly replace the 1970-2008 “hidden depression” with something qualitatively surpassing the post-1929 depression in scale and scope.

Enough said, for now, about the 40-year propaganda war by which the right has set the stage for the escalation of class war in Wisconsin, after having seemingly won the ideological high ground in significant sectors of American society, and the buzzwords (big government, the beleaguered taxpayer, “elitist” special interests, entitlements, rent-seekers, spiraling health care costs) that have passed for many into almost unchallenged self-evident truths as a result. To anyone likely to be reading Insurgent Notes, most of the preceding is quite well known. The propaganda war of the right, as part of the real one, has been powerfully abetted by the ideological disarmament of the “left”, for the most part hypnotized by its Keynesian/ Social Democratic assumptions and thereby blinded to the real crisis in production and reproduction which began long ago, and thus incapable of effectively countering the fog of lies set down by the ideological carpet-bombing of the right.

We are of course much less concerned with charging through an open door in a fairly well-known critique of the right and hard right than with assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the left as they have been taking shape in the ongoing confrontation at Madison, and first of all because some of those weaknesses mirror the ideological fog of the right.

We naturally begin by expressing our delight at the return of class struggle in the American heartland on a scale not seen since the early 1970’s, and with a mobilization far surpassing such notable but isolated and losing struggles as the Hormel (P-9) strike in the same area (Austin, Minnesota) in 1985-1986, or the even longer “three strikes” (in both senses of the term) in Decatur Illinois in 1993-1996. The scale of what has been transpiring in Wisconsin since mid-February reflects the scale of the crisis of U.S. and world capitalism today, far graver than either in the 1970’s or the 1990’s (even though it is an extension and deepening of the selfsame crisis, a point we cannot elaborate here).

A brief rehearsal of the (again, broadly known) “facts” is also in order. Riding the wave of the brain-dead right-wing populist backlash (“Big Government Keep Your Hands Off My Medicare!” went one particularly eloquent slogan) in the November 2010 elections, Scott Walker and the Republican Party took over the governorship and both houses of the Wisconsin state legislature on a program built around “creating jobs”. No sooner were they ensconced in power than, borrowing a page from Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, they gave major tax breaks to the wealthy and to corporations, and then, invoking a state deficit greatly exacerbated by those very same tax breaks, attempted to ram through legislation, not merely imposing slash- and- burn cuts in social services of all types, but also enabling the state government to privatize at whim without the slightest public oversight, and, adding insult to injury, effectively abolishing collective bargaining rights for public employees. (The bill was not rushed through only because 14 Democrats in Wisconsin’s upper chamber left the state to prevent the quorum necessary for certain passage of the bill by the Republican majority. The bill was ultimately passed on March 10 in the absence of the Democrats, by further legal maneuvers. Walker and his minions intended to achieve their pillage by stealth and shock, but they were shocked in turn by the unleashing of a statewide, regional and ultimately national mobilization that (as of this writing) led to an ongoing occupation of the state’s Capitol Building and repeated mass demonstrations, in freezing weather, of between 70,000 and 100,000 people (culminating—to date—on March 12), and support demonstrations in fifty states. (The movement had been launched almost immediately in response to the legislative launch of the bill in a rolling strike wave that that shut down schools throughout Wisconsin.) Demonstrations on this scale had not been seen in Madison since the Vietnam War, 40 years ago. And we can measure the distance from that era by noting the far greater presence, in the current mobilization, of a broad swath of the organized labor movement, which was cool or downright hostile to the movement of the late 60’s/early 70’s. This time it’s for keeps.

Everyone on both sides understands that this is for keeps. We cannot know if the Koch brothers and the national Republican command central which is closely monitoring events (with an eye to trying the same tactics elsewhere, most immediately in Ohio and Indiana) specifically chose Wisconsin as their preferred test run. On our side, there is a palpable whiff of “Tahrir Square” in the obdurate persistence of masses who come, day after day, to demonstrate and occupy with the idea of outlasting Walker and his cohorts. But Wisconsin and America are not Tunisia or Egypt, because here, unlike those doddering gerontocratic dictatorships with no popular base when the crunch came, the U.S. is still in the midst of a surging right-wing populism that positively admires what Walker is attempting, and wishes to emulate it at the first opportunity. This permits the right to reach out demagogically to the very same private sector workers it has steamrollered in the past, referring to the supposedly privileged lifetime jobs of public employees, not subject to “competition” and “market forces”, with their benefits, health plans and supposedly Rolls Royce pension plans, which have become “unsustainable” by (among other things) the very erosion of the tax base that has resulted from downsizing nearly everyone else and from one of the most regressive tax structures in the “advanced” capitalist world, (advanced mainly in senescence). In other states, these same attacks are carried out by Democrats such as Jerry Brown (California) and Andrew Cuomo (New York), abetted by the very unions that financed their 2010 elections. (Mainstream propaganda rarely mentions that many state and local pension funds are in trouble because of massive losses in “AAA”-rated junk in the 2008 meltdown; “toxic assets” from Wall Street were reimbursed at 100% in the U.S. government bailout, the toxicity was dumped on the states and municipalities, and the famous “taxpayer”—ordinary working people—winds up paying in higher taxes and with lower or even disappearing pensions.)

Having expressed our unequivocal enthusiasm for the mobilization in Wisconsin, we sense that this movement, as the first confrontation in what certainly will be a national issue in coming months, is in its very early stages. Madison, the state capital where the movement is focused, is also a liberal university town where, like Cambridge (Mass), or Ann Arbor (Michigan), or Berkeley (California), some palpable afterglow (albeit diminished) of the Sixties still lingers. (A fair number of those who lived through the Sixties there are still there, and have been in the streets.) It is the capital of a northern Midwestern state where, as in Minnesota or North Dakota, a northern European (Scandinavian and German) Social Democratic and a native-born prairie populism deeply marked the political culture, most notably associated with the name of Robert La Follette, however attenuated those currents may be today. Some in the crowds at the massive weekend demonstrations waved a number of American flags and even sang the national anthem or “God Bless America”; not our style, but we know well that the IWW on occasion (as in the great Lowell Massachusetts Strike of 1912) did the same, attempting to take that symbolism away from the capitalists and their state. We surmise that many, perhaps most of the demonstrators were disillusioned Obama supporters, some of whom may still hope (God help them) that he will come out in clear support of their movement. The Wisconsin Police Assocation (11,000 members) has, like prison guards (who are members of AFSCME), indeed supported the movement, and the laid-back, even jovial relations between the demonstrators and the police strikes us as another manifestation of a movement in its early stages. We cannot imagine the NYPD or the LAPD, dealing with the occupation of public buildings by young blacks and Latinos in similar circumstances, being so relaxed when similar cuts hit home elsewhere, as they will. Widespread talk of defending the “middle-class” way of life also strikes us as an American ideological muddle that must be overcome.

(Many of the cops and prison guards are former blue-collar workers or potential workers who never made it to the working class. Jay Gould famously remarked long ago that he could hire one half of the working class to kill the other half, and American capitalism in recent decades has amended that to hiring part of the working class to incarcerate another part.)

We also note the apparent overwhelmingly white (judging from on-line photos and videos) composition of the movement, at least in Madison itself. We doubt the significant black population of nearby Milwaukee, not to mention of nearby Chicago, would be so sanguine about the presence of police and prison guards in any movement it chose to join. (Wisconsin has routinely ranked at or near the top of states for the rate at which it locks up blacks compared with whites. In Dane County, where Madison is, nearly half of black men between the ages of 25 and 29 residing in the county are either incarcerated or under court-ordered supervision. Black men there are 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.) The Wisconsin movement has to date toed a fuzzy line between legality and illegality (it occupied the Capitol building, and finally evacuated it when asked to do so by the police, and a teacher sick-in has amounted to a wildcat strike, strongly supported by student walkouts). But when this movement, or similar movements elsewhere, have to cross the line of illegality and shut things down, law enforcement personnel will either have to break with their roles as police and prison guards or else will turn on the movement, under orders.

We mentioned at the outset the crucial role of institutions that must sustain and refurbish the status quo. Here we speak of course of the unions and of the Democratic Party, both of which desperately want to sign on to some version of Walker’s budget cuts, if only he will stop short of abolishing collective bargaining. Jesse Jackson and Rich Trumka—to how many losing causes have they given the kiss of death over the decades?—flew in to work the crowds with their demagogy. Michael Moore flew in on March 5th to give a rousing populist speech that never once mentioned capitalism and invoked the U.S. constitution. The Democratic politicians in hiding in Illinois were apparently in daily touch with “reasonable” Republicans in the state senate, hoping thereby to get Walker to throw them the bone that will allow them to return and proclaim victory. Randy Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) flew in for the day and advised the movement to cede to all the proposed cuts, then flew out again.

This whole show by the duly-appointed left-wing guardians of the status quo hardly means that the masses of the mobilized rank-and-file, who started this movement by walking out (led by high school students) almost as soon as the bill became known, share these craven, threadbare illusions. It does seem that a majority is willing to give in on wages and benefits, but not on the indispensable right to collective bargaining, which if nothing else means some modicum of protection on the job from harassing supervisors, and the right to tell such supervisors to shove it without being unceremoniously fired on the spot. Giving so much ground from the get-go is in our view not the best strategy, but we certainly support whatever minimal protection union membership provides day to day on the job.

We sincerely hoped that the movement in Wisconsin would succeed in stopping Walker’s bill. But win or lose, the national movement it has unleashed must understand that this is still, on a greater scale, the kind of defensive struggle that the American working class has for the most part lost, going back to the early 1970’s. At some point, these defensive struggles have to go on the offensive. People involved in them, and those who will be joining them, have to realize that the situation we are in provides no room for any stopgap solutions. The world crisis of capitalism is not about greedy, reckless Wall Street bankers or the machinations of the Koch brothers or tax breaks for the rich or two-bit local politicians trying to balance budgets; these are, in different ways, deepening symptoms of a crisis in capital accumulation that started 40 years ago. From here on out (and for a long time already) there can only be stopgap victories on the way to taking economic and political power away from the capitalists: in short, a social revolution. The movement in Wisconsin might like to recall Scott Walker and restore the status quo ante, but that status quo ante was already one of long-term grinding down of working people that finally has come for its pound of flesh from the previously (somewhat) sheltered public sector. There is no going back.

Individual sectors, even as large as public employees in the U.S., have to reach out to all those who have been ground down over the past forty years. Any working-class movement worthy of the name embraces the interests of the most oppressed, and that today includes the 15-20% of the U.S. population currently unemployed and increasingly foreclosed into homelessness, the casuals and temps, the harassed immigrant workers both legal and illegal, the millions of marginalized youth, white black and Latino, and the three million people in prison. We know very well that not every struggle that erupts can immediately enlist all such people, but a “climate” must be created in which that universal outreach—what we might call a “class for itself” orientation– is understood as a necessity, much as such a climate existed, for a few years, in a less extreme situation, in the 1960’s. No reformism is possible today, and those who do not yet recognize that nothing can change for the better without changing everything–a social revolution–will have to do so. That means, for starters, running off the Democratic Party and the trade union bureaucrats, the Jesse Jacksons and Rich Trumkas and Michael Moores, whose job is to refurbish empty populist rhetoric about the “rich”. That means understanding that such figures will talk as far to the left as the situation requires because they understand, as much of the Wisconsin movement may not, that in a rapidly polarizing situation the ultimate issue is power and control. (We do well to remember that, in the midst of the Minneapolis general strike of 1934, the local Democratic Party Congressman proclaimed himself a revolutionary socialist.)

The coming months, from the Middle East to Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, will undoubtedly be decisive.

Bleeding Wisconsin - S. Artesian

S Artesian on the Wisconsin protests and the governor's attack on workers.

1. In 1854, the US Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The act, advertised as a compromise, was in fact a capitulation. The law proclaimed not equality, but the power of slave labor over free labor, and the power of slaveholders over the old order of the republic. The law embraced the spread of slavery into the territory purchased from France in 1803, thus annulling the Missouri Compromise, and allowing for the admission of new slave states to the Union.

For 35 years, the old parties of the North, whose vision and existence never extended beyond that of a merchants’ republic, had been accommodating to the slaveholders’ autarchy, presenting itself, and to itself, every capitulation as a compromise. In 1854 the capitulation to the slaveholders could no longer be disguised. The old parties represented only those interests opposed to capital’s free access to “free labor.”

In that same year, thirty people met in a schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin for the purpose of creating a new political party. This party was organized around a simple principle—that political compromise with a system that enslaved human labor was intolerable.

One hundred and fifty seven years later, that same party founded in that same state is still attempting to make amends for the wild idealism of its youth when it dared to oppose the emancipation of the laborers to the plantation class’ claim to ownership, to property in the laborers themselves.

2. In 2011, having selected the incompetent former county executive of Milwaukee County to be the new governor of Wisconsin, our recidivist/arsonist/deconstructionist/liquidationist bourgeoisie submitted their shopping list of bills to the governor, Scott Walker, for introduction into the legislature.

Walker, as county executive of Milwaukee County, had proven himself a loyal, obedient, belligerent, and oblivious errand boy for the liquidationist bourgeoisie. He had not, however, shown himself to be a competent county executive. Indeed, competence is not now, nor has it ever been a requirement for those handling the public money in government. Ideology is ever so much more effective when it comes to getting done, or not done, the things the bourgeoisie pay to have done and not done.

As county executive, Walker had been a master of incompetence; the apotheosis of ineptitude; the ideologist of decay, collapse, and pettiness that is currently called “privatization” and “outsourcing,” “balanced budgets,” and “entrepreneurship.

From public transit to mental health, from prisoner transport to courthouse to security, from medical assistance to custodial services, Walker uniformly proposed reducing the county’s fiscal and operating responsibility. Raising prices while reducing service was his basic approach when and where he could not accomplish the same thing by outsourcing and privatizing the work. Under the guise of balancing the budget and restraining taxes, Walker shirked the local responsibilities for providing social services, either awarding the tasks to private contractors, advocating the state government assume responsibility, and/or simply neglecting the need for improvements. This is the business acumen that the bourgeoisie requires at the highest levels of its government; that the bourgeoisie makes others pay for, secure in the knowledge that the return on this anti-investment is greater than any its class could obtain by actually satisfying a human need.

The truth of the obsolescence of modern capital accumulation is made painfully clear in the deliberate and instinctual incompetence of its selected government officials. Value admits no other need save the accumulation of value. Value denies, opposes, and attacks need. Value isn’t about squeezing blood from a stone; it’s about turning flesh into dust through malign neglect.

3. The bills introduced into the Wisconsin legislature in 2011 read like love letters exchanged among a ménage a trois of Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan, and Milton Friedman. These sonnets to the higher organic rate of capital decomposition included:

–advancing the date of certain tax refunds to employers

–increasing the number of enterprise zones where employers may claim additional tax credits

–increasing tax benefits to employers hiring additional employees

–increasing the income tax exclusion on capital gains

–awarding grants to manufacturing associations for marketing and advertising

–more tax credits for business

–additional enterprise zones

–repealing the requirement that police motor vehicle motor stops be audited for racial profiling

–more tax credits for business

–prohibiting the state’s Department of Natural Resources from requiring cities to provide continuous disinfection of drinking water

–increasing investors’ tax credits

–eliminating the right of a school district resident to challenge the use of a race-based nickname, logo, mascot, or name for a school team

–more tax breaks

–expanding the arena for, and easing the requirements on, the establishment of charter schools, the costs of which will be funded by reducing the general appropriation for public education

And of course these bills are just probes, raids, tests, and diversions to the real attack, to the deep battle envisioned in Assembly Bill 11 “an act introduced….at the request of Governor Scott Walker.” The [unamended] bill:

… limits the right to collectively bargain for all employees who are not public safety employees (general employees) to the subject of base wages. In addition, unless a referendum authorizes a greater increase, any general employee who is part of a collective bargaining unit is limited to bargaining over a percentage of total base wages increase that is no greater than the percentage change in the consumer price index. This bill also prohibits municipal employers from collectively bargaining with municipal general employees in matters that are not permitted under MERA [Municipal Employment Relations Act].

… requires an annual certification election of the labor organization that represents each collective bargaining unit containing general employees. If, at the election, less than 51 percent of the actual employees in the collective bargaining unit vote for a representative, then, at the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement, the current representative is decertified and the members of the collective bargaining unit are nonrepresented and may not be represented for one year.

… also allows a general employee to refrain from paying dues and remain a member of a collective bargaining unit.

… provides that the employee required contribution rate for general participating employees and for elected and executive participating employees must equal one−half of all actuarially required contributions, as determined by the Employee Trust Funds Board. For protective occupation employees, the bill provides that the employee required contribution rate must equal the percentage of earnings paid by general participating employees.

…provides that an employer may not pay any of the employee required contributions under the WRS [Wisconsin Retirement System] or under an employee retirement system of a first class city or a county having a population of 500,000 or more.

… provides that the employer may not pay more than 88 percent of the average premium cost of plans offered in the tier with the lowest employee premium cost.

[provides]…For the remainder of 2011, however, beginning in April 2011, the bill provides that state employees, as well as employees of public authorities created by the state, who work more than 1,565 hours a year shall pay $84 a month for individual coverage and $208 a month for family coverage for health care coverage under any plan offered in the tier with the lowest employee premium cost; $122 a month for individual coverage and $307 a month for family coverage for health care coverage under any plan offered in the tier with the next lowest employee premium cost; and $226 a month for individual coverage and $567 a month for family coverage for health care coverage under any plan offered in the tier with the highest employee premium cost.

UW System graduate assistants and teaching assistants must pay half of these amounts. Employees who work less than 1,566 hours a year are required to pay the same amount for health care coverage during 2011 that they were required to pay before the bill’s effective date. The bill further provides that a local government employer who participates in the local government health insurance plan offered by GIB may not participate in the plan if it intends to pay more than 88 percent of the average premium cost of plans offered in any tier with the lowest employee premium cost.

… requires GIB to design health care coverage plans for the 2012 calendar year that, after adjusting for any inflationary increase in health benefit costs, reduces the average premium cost of plans offered in the tier with the lowest employee premium cost by at least 5 percent from the cost of such plans offered during the 2011 calendar year. GIB must include copayments in the health care coverage plans for the 2012 calendar year and may require health risk assessments for state employees and participation in wellness or disease management programs

… requires the secretary of employee trust funds to allocate $28,000,000, from reserve accounts established in the public employee [emphasis added] trust fund for group health and pharmacy benefits for state employees, to reduce employer costs for providing group health insurance for state employees for the period beginning on July 1, 2011, and ending on December 31, 2011

[provides] the governor may declare a state of emergency if he or she determines that an emergency exists resulting from a disaster or the imminent threat of a disaster. This bill authorizes a state agency to discharge any state employee who fails to report to work as scheduled for any three unexcused working days during a state of emergency or who participates in a strike, work stoppage, sit−down, stay−in, slowdown, or other concerted activities to interrupt the of operations or services of state government, including specifically purported mass resignations or sick calls. Under the bill, engaging in any of these actions constitutes

just cause for discharge. [Note: former employees may be discharged for resigning.]

If the other legislation proposed for enactment comprises the love letters of Greenspan, Rand, and Friedman, then this act, this omnibus deconstruction and unreconciliation act, represents the pre-nuptial, the post-nuptial, and the last will and testament of that cluster fuck called capitalism.

4. So the party born in Wisconsin, that found slavery an intolerable burden to the advancement of human welfare had come full circle, finding human welfare an intolerable burden to the advancement of slavery.

Education, medical care, mental health, security for young and the elderly—any and every facet of what are most properly called the conditions of social reproduction [human beings being human precisely to the degree that they are social, do provide for the welfare of all]—is to be abolished by these new anti-abolitionists.

“I’ve seen future,” said the state’s chief incompetent executive, “and it’s right here,” he said pointing with his left hand to his right hand that was under the table, performing the secret libertarian handshake with the brothers Koch, the brothers of Koch Industries, those entrepreneurs extraordinaire, who made their money the old fashioned way, by inheriting it.

And so begins the fifth decade of the bourgeoisie’s assault on the living standards of the working class. The assault has gone on for so long that many have no memory of there ever being a time when the bourgeoisie were not engaged in such attacks; had not made Hobbes Leviathan their Gideon bible, placed in every hotel room, every abattoir, every MBA program, every prospectus offering securities that may or may not perform as anticipated; had not counted [literally] on the spread of misery and privation through cruise missiles, structured investment vehicles, capital flight, and that old time religion—driving the price of labor below its cost of reproduction.

It is an offensive that has gone on for so long that the offenders grow ever more nostalgic for their salad days of the second decade of the offensive, the decade of that pomaded but empty-headed empty suit, Ronald Reagan.

Walker, his stocking nailed above the fireplace, eagerly awaited Santa David and Santa Charles sliding down the chimney, helping themselves to the Wisconsin milk and Nabisco ‘Nilla wafers he had so thoughtfully spent the public money contracting a private caterer to supply, and delivering their goody bags of personal political contributions to the Scott Walker is the new Ronald Reagan Cosmetic Surgeons/Spin Doctors Stem Cell Recombinant DNA Makeover Fund [“Piece of cake,” said the head doctor, “We’ve been cloning sheep for years.”].

Walker imagined himself a Reagan, that is to say he imagined himself a man without imagination, he thought himself a man without thoughts. He pretended to be a man who was already a pretender.

The Wisconsin Democrats elected to the state senate proved that their greatest and only contribution to class struggle is their disappearance from the scene. Hiding out in the deep forests around Rockford, Illinois, the Democrats, who were not opposed, mind you to the attack on the workers’ living standards, just opposed to the attack on the right of workers to maintain membership in unions while under attack, the Democrats prevented the gathering of a quorum in the state senate, thus preventing the Republicans from conducting the important business of transferring wealth from the pockets of the workers, and from the public treasury, to the private accounts of their bankers and bankrollers.

The message from Wisconsin was broadcast far and wide: Class struggle begins where the Democrats leave off and just plain leave.

Meanwhile on the southern edge of these United States in the state of Alabama, hundreds of white people, good Republican church-going white people, wearing their favorite uniform in their favorite color, Confederate and in battle grey, gathered to wave the flag of the slaveholders’ rebellion and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of the single greatest traitor in US history, Jefferson Davis.

History holds something for everyone, but it seems it holds the most for the cynic and the fool, each acting in a play written by the other for the amusement of both. The party of Lincoln, a party born embodying the inseparability of the cause of union from the cause of emancipation had come to worship at the feet of slaveholders, secessionists, the anti-Unionists who were now the inspiration for its own anti-unionism.

After years of living the lie of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the bourgeoisie had stepped boldly out of its closet, dressed in the white sheet and wearing the white camellia of the nightrider, the terrorist.

It was almost a most perfect world. Ignorance was its strength, slavery was its freedom, and treason was its patriotism.

Here in Wisconsin and Alabama, just two of fifty states, representing less than four percent of the US population, on public display were two-thirds of the makeup of American democracy: dolts and terrorists. Missing only were the looters. But they were there, they were everywhere, and in more than spirit.

5. The brothers Koch worked their way up the ladder of corporate America by climbing on their father’s knees as young boys. Upon the father’s death, they took over the control of an enterprise based on energy [oil refining was the source of their father’s triumph], and built it into a conglomerate with operations in minerals, ranching, fibers and polymer, forest products, process and pollution control equipment, polymers, fibers, chemicals, commodity trading, and finance.

It hasn’t all been a bed of roses for Koch Industries, as the conglomerate and its units seem to display a certain inability to abide by the laws of the country in which it is incorporated, the United States of America. While the American Enterprise Institute, that busy beehive of ideological advocacy endorsing the mythology of “invisible hand” laissez-faire capitalism refers to CEO Charles Koch as “The Principled Entrepreneur,” it is apparent that the principles themselves are not quite that ingrained in the business activities of Koch’s corporations—or if they are so ingrained, the principles themselves are not exactly principled.

In March 2000, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced:

Koch Petroleum Group (Koch), which operates a refinery in Rosemount, Minn., was sentenced on March 1 to pay a $6 million criminal fine and pay an additional $2 million in remediation costs to the Dakota County Park System in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. This is the largest federal environmental fine ever paid in Minnesota. The defendant was also ordered to serve three years probation. Koch previously pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act (CWA). Koch admitted that it negligently discharged aviation fuel into a wetland and an adjoining waterway. Even though Koch was aware of the problem, it did not develop a comprehensive plan to recover between 200,000 – 600,000 gallons of released fuel until June 1997. In addition, the establishment of the system to recover the fuel destroyed a portion of the surrounding ecosystem and wildlife habitat. In a separate offense, Koch dumped a million gallons of wastewater with high ammonia content on the ground between November 1996 and March 1997 and also increased its flow of wastewater into the Mississippi River on weekends when Koch did not monitor its discharges. These actions allowed Koch to circumvent the weekly monitoring and reporting requirements of its wastewater discharge permit. The case was investigated by EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, the FBI and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and was prosecuted by the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota.

In November of 2000, CBS News reported:

… that [Bill Koch, brother of Charles and David stated] Koch Industries engaged in “(o)rganized crime…”

“It was – was my family company. I was out of it,” he says. “But that’s what appalled me so much… I did not want my family, my legacy, my father’s legacy to be based upon organized crime.”

Bill Koch says that his brother Charles made a fortune stealing oil. Much of it from beneath Indian reservations and federal lands – places like national forests. Oil under federal lands belongs to the public. Koch Industries was the middleman – buying oil from the government at the well – then selling it to refineries. Bill Koch says that the company took more oil than it paid for by cheating on measurements.

A gauger measures the volume and the quality of the oil that his company is buying. The buyer leaves his measurements behind on what’s called a “run ticket.” It’s an IOU to the well owner.

“What Koch was doing was taking all these measurements and then falsifying them on the run sheets,” says Bill Koch. “If the dipstick measured five feet 10 inches and one half inch, they would write down five feet nine and one half inches.”

That may not sound like much, but Bill Koch says that it added up. “Well, that was the beauty of the scheme. Because if they’re buying oil from 50,000 different people, and they’re stealing two barrels from each person. What does that add up to? One year, their data showed they stole a million and a half barrels of oil.”

In a written statement, Koch blames its problems on Bill Koch – calling him a “disgruntled family member” who has waged a “personal vendetta through lawsuits and the media against his brothers’ company.”

But in December 1999, the jury found that Koch Industries did steal oil from the public and lied about its purchases – 24 thousand times. The oil theft conviction was a heavy blow, but the troubles of Koch Industries don’t stop there. If the company was fattening its bottom line through theft – there is also evidence Koch was pinching pennies on safety and environmental protection – cutting costs with disastrous results.

But wait, that’s not all:

Former EPA administrator Carol Browner announced in 2000 that she was hitting Koch Industries with the largest civil penalty in the history of the federal Clean Water Act: a $30 million fine.

She said, Koch Industries spilled over 3 million gallons of crude oil in six states

Koch pipelines make up the largest oil and gas network in the nation. The EPA complaint targeted more than 300 oil spills, some poisoning fisheries and drinking water.

In a statement, Koch Industries claims that it has spent a billion dollars on environmental improvements and reduced leaks by 96 percent. The company urged us to look at its record at the federal Office of Pipeline Safety. We did and discovered that Koch’s records at OPS look good. But we also found that OPS doesn’t cover more than half of Koch’s lines – including the lines that leaked.

And there’s still more:

“They don’t care for any loss of human life. Like I said, it was the buck that counted for them,” says Danny Smalley. He had the extreme misfortune of living near a Koch Industries underground pipeline that ran through Texas. In August, 1996, Smalley was home with his daughter Danielle and her friend Jason Stone. Danielle was packing to leave for school the next day – the first person in her family to go to college.

She and Jason started smelling gas. It was butane, pouring from a corroded Koch Industries high pressure pipeline, 200 yards from their home. Jason and Danielle set out in a pickup truck to find help. But their truck set off the butane, and caused an explosion.

Danny Smalley filed suit against Koch Industries. His attorney, Ted Lyon, says the investigation exposed a pattern of negligence and coverup involving the pipeline known as Sterling One. Lyon describes the pipeline as like “Swiss Cheese.”

Koch is require by law to ensure that its vast pipeline system is protected from corrosion in two ways. The pipe must be wrapped in a protective coating. And, once in the ground, an electrical current is applied all along the pipeline – a technique that inhibits corrosion.

“If you don’t have the current and you don’t have coating, you have a big problem. And that’s what happened in this case. And the sad thing about it is, they knew it,” says Lyon.

Federal investigators blamed the explosion on Koch’s failure to adequately protect the line. Koch industries told us the fatal explosion is the only incident of its kind in the company’s history. Still, in 1999, a jury found Koch Industries guilty of negligence and malice.

“They admitted to me if they had done things the way they should have, my child and Jason would still be alive,” says Danny Smalley.

“They said, ‘We’re sorry Mr. Smalley, that your child lost her life and Jason lost his life.’ Sorry doesn’t get it. They’re not sorry. The only thing they looked at was the bottom dollar. How much money would they lose if they shut the pipeline down. They didn’t care, all they wanted was the money.”

“Koch Industries has a philosophy that profits are above everything else,” says Bill Koch.

And still more:

August 2001 Update

In May, 2001, Bill Koch and Koch Industries announced a legal settlement of all their disputes, effectively putting an end to the two-decade family feud. The settlement calls for Koch Industries to pay $25 million in penalties to the U.S. government for improperly taking more oil than it paid for from federal and Indian lands. About a third of it goes to Bill Koch or bringing the lawsuit.

Koch industries has faced other troubles with the government since the original broadcast in November. In April, Koch’s Petroleum Group was fined 20 million dollars after it released huge amounts of cancer-causing benzene from a Texas refinery and then tried to cover it up.

In July, 2001, thestatesman.com of Austin, Texas reported:

CHARLOTTE — Oil made many Texans rich. It’s also killing grass and polluting creeks at the Hindes Ranch.

The beef and dairy operation 35 miles south of San Antonio is crisscrossed by gathering lines — pipelines no more than 8 inches wide that carry crude oil and natural gas from production fields to larger lines feeding refineries and other collection points. The decades-old gathering lines at the Hindes Ranch have sprung hundreds of leaks during the past 15 years, said Bob Hindes, who owns and operates the ranch.

Hindes has photographs to back up his claim. You can also tell by the dozens of brown patches, some of them 60 feet long, amid the grasses and wildflowers.

“It makes a mess,” Hindes said. “The ground’s real soaked with salt water and oil. The grass won’t grow for years. We’ve had spills that would run half a mile down the creeks.”

The ranch’s oil rights were sold off before Hindes bought the land, and the out-of-state oil producer is not required by any law, regulation or government agency to meet safety or environmental standards on rural gathering lines.

The federal Office of Pipeline Safety does not regulate such lines. Nor do many state pipeline agencies, including the Texas Railroad Commission. Gathering lines in urban areas, by contrast, are subject to regulation by the federal and state pipeline agencies.

Federal officials estimate that there are more than 200,000 miles of rural gathering lines. That would be enough to reach three-fourths of the way to the moon. Texas alone has 43,000 miles of such lines.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, warned lawmakers 23 years ago that incidents involving rural gathering lines were on the rise and that regulation was warranted. Lawmakers and regulators have declined to act despite mounting evidence of the hazard.

For example, Koch Industries Inc. had more than 300 spills into water supplies in six states from 1990 to 1997, mostly from unregulated gathering lines, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We discovered that 80 percent of the spills were caused by corrosion,” said Michael Goodstein, a senior attorney for the Justice Department, which with the State of Texas prosecuted Koch under the Clean Water Act.

The company had a better record with its larger-diameter, regulated lines, Goodstein said.

A 1998 Railroad Commission investigation of Koch’s pipeline system in Texas reached a similar conclusion. It found that gathering lines accounted for a third of Koch’s Texas mileage but nearly two-thirds of what would have been considered safety violations if the lines were regulated.

The problems the commission found included testing and documentation deficiencies, as well as shortcomings in corrosion protection, line marking, protection of valves against vandalism and other matters.

The staff of Texas’ Sunset Advisory Commission, a legislative panel that reviews state agencies, recommended last year that the Railroad Commission regulate rural gathering lines.

A report by the sunset commission staff reached an unusually blunt conclusion: “State regulation of pipelines does not adequately protect the public.”

The Railroad Commission opposed the recommendation, and the Legislature declined to compel the agency to regulate rural gathering lines.

The environmental and safety risks posed by the lines, which operate at low pressure in generally isolated areas, do not warrant the dramatic increase in funding that would be needed to regulate them, said Michael Williams, chairman of the Railroad Commission.

“We don’t have a real history of gathering lines breaking, exploding or posing a danger to ground water,” Williams said. “That doesn’t mean it’s never occurred.”

Hindes isn’t the only rancher with problems. The Texas Land & Mineral Owners Association says more and more landowners are discovering leaks as gathering lines age.

“There’s no pressure-testing of these lines,” said Doug Beveridge, secretary of the association and vice president of minerals for the King Ranch, which covers an area in South Texas larger than Rhode Island. “There’s no requirement for the type of steel they put into these lines. No one even knows where they are. We’ve wondered forever for our ranch — where are all the lines?”

In June, 2003, the US Department of Commerce announced:

Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement Lisa A. Prager announced today that a $200,000 civil penalty has been imposed on Flint Hill Resources L.P. – formerly known as Koch Petroleum Group, L.P. – of Wichita, Kansas to settle allegations that the company exported crude petroleum from the United States to Canada without the required U.S. Government authorization. The Commerce Department controls the export of crude petroleum to any foreign destination to protect the domestic supply.

The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) alleged that between July 1997 and March 1999, Koch Petroleum committed 40 violations of the Export Administration Regulations by exporting crude petroleum to Canada on 20 occasions without the required export licenses and Shipper’s Export Declarations. Acting Assistant Secretary Prager noted that in determining the amount of the penalty, BIS gave consideration to the facts that Koch Petroleum voluntarily self-disclosed the violations, stopped exports of oil once the violations were discovered, and enhanced its export compliance program.

BIS administers and enforces export controls for reasons of national security, foreign policy, nonproliferation, anti-terrorism, and short supply. Criminal penalties and administrative sanctions can be imposed for violations of the Export Administration Regulations.

In December 2006, the EPA announced the following resolution of violations by a subsidiary of Koch Industries:

Anchorage, Alaska. – December 12, 2006) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that Flint Hills Resources Alaska, LLC (Flint Hills) has agreed to pay $15,867 for alleged federal Clean Air Act (CAA) emergency planning violations. Flint Hills operates a refinery near the City of North Pole, Alaska.

EPA alleged ten separate violations of the CAA including: failure to establish procedures for reviewing and updating the Company’s emergency response plan, and failure to establish procedures for informing the public and local emergency response agencies about accidental releases of flammable substances.

As part of the settlement with the EPA, Flint Hills has agreed to correct all alleged violations, pay the penalty and spend at least $60,000 on a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) involving the purchase of two hazardous substance spill response trailers and one incident command post trailer for the Fairbanks/North Star Borough.

“Flint Hills needed a better management system to ensure that their emergency procedures were continually updated and also needed a way to inform the public about accidental releases,” said Kelly Huynh, EPA’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) Coordinator. “The program is designed to protect public health and the environment in the event there is an accidental release of hazardous or flammable substances.”

The federal Clean Air Act, Section 112(r), requires the development of a Risk Management Program and submittal of Risk Management Plans for all public and private facilities that manufacture, process, use, store, or otherwise handle greater than a threshold amount of a regulated substance(s). Flammable gases and toxic chemicals, such as ammonia and chlorine, are covered by the program.

The Risk Management Program requires the development of an emergency response strategy, evaluation of a worst case and more probable case chemical release, operator training, review of the hazards associated with using toxic or flammable substances, operating procedures and equipment maintenance. These requirements are in place to protect the public from the accidental release of flammable gases and toxic chemicals.[/i]

In April 2009, the US Department of Justice reported after self-auditing and voluntary reporting of violations by Koch subsidiary Invista:

WASHINGTON— Invista will pay a $1.7 million civil penalty and spend up to an estimated $500 million to correct self-reported environmental violations discovered at facilities in seven states, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today. The company disclosed more than 680 violations of water, air, hazardous waste, emergency planning and preparedness, and pesticide regulations to EPA after auditing 12 facilities it acquired from DuPont in 2004.

“This settlement is a significant achievement, as it will reduce air pollution in numerous communities, and demonstrates the United States’ commitment to ensuring that all facility owners come into compliance with environmental requirements,” said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement reflects an effective use of EPA’s audit policy and the value of companies performing audits and working with the United States to correct violations found at their facilities.”…

The settlement resolves violations disclosed under Invista’s corporate audit agreement with EPA. Invista conducted 45 separate audits of environmental practices and compliance at facilities located in Seaford, Del.; Athens, Calhoun, and Dalton, Ga.; Kinston, N.C.; Camden, S.C.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; LaPorte, Orange, and Victoria, Texas; and Martinsville and Waynesboro, Va.

As part of its corrective action requirements agreed to in the settlement, Invista will install pollution control equipment to treat air pollutants at its Seaford, Del.; Camden, S.C.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Victoria, Texas facilities. The company has also applied for applicable air and water permits, has installed adequate secondary containment for oil storage areas, and has notified state and local emergency planning and response organizations of the presence of hazardous substances.

To ensure continued compliance and minimization of the benzene wastes generated at the Victoria and Orange, Texas facilities, Invista is required under the settlement to either upgrade control equipment or make major changes to its processes used to handle these wastes. EPA estimates that these actions will reduce air emissions of benzene by more than nine tons annually and eliminate 25 to 750 tons per year of benzene from wastewater.

The emission reductions resulting from correcting these violations will result in estimated annual human health benefits valued at over $325 million, including 30 fewer premature deaths per year, 2,000 fewer days/year when people would miss school or work, and over 9,000 fewer cases of upper and lower respiratory symptoms.

Invista is a multi-national manufacturer of a wide range of polymer-based fibers, including Lycra, Stainmaster, and Coolmax…

The states of Delaware, South Carolina and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Board in Tennessee have also joined in today’s consent decree and will share portions of the civil penalty with EPA.

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Justice Department Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.htm

Certainly, the bourgeoisie can find no person more capable of articulating the principles of enlightened entrepreneurship, the practical benefits to all of society of private enterprise, the negative consequences of government regulation, the impending loss of creativity, independence, freedom, productivity embodied in the socialization of the means of production thanthat this CEO of an industry group that has been such a leader in the social responsibility of that most perfect of nature’s creations, the corporation.

Politically, of course, the brothers Koch have been active spreading the gospel by way of spreading the money, funding the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and Americans for Prosperity, where the banner headline on the website reads “Stand With Scott Walker.”

Koch Industries, when it isn’t paying out millions to settle environmental health and safety violations, has a Political Action Committee that certainly has stood with Walker. The PAC provided $43,000 to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign and a token amount of $1 million to the Republican Party Governors Association.

David Koch, co-owner and executive vice-president of Koch industries is a former Libertarian Party candidate for US Vice-President. Like his brother, he is a strong backer of the teabagger party.

A well-known philanthropist, David Koch is the guiding spirit behind the American Museum of Natural History’s so perfectly named David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing.

History does hold something for everyone.

6. The British, who have more experience than most in suppressing rebellion and revolt, in pre-empting, canalizing, and throttling class struggle with the garrote of electioneering, legislation, and trade union accommodation, compromise, capitulation, are very proud of their parliament. “It’s our substitute for civil war,” the parliamentarians will tell you.

Sooner or later history accepts no substitutes. The threatening and dangerous fact is that in the United States, the bourgeoisie realized this before, and has prepared itself for the combat of class struggle better than the workers, including those demonstrating in Madison.

The vanguard dinosaurs of the bourgeoisie, these once-crackpot-now-prophets of Jack-the-Ripper’s “invisible hand” capitalism have no allegiance to their prior forms of political organization.

“Parliaments? Bi-cameral legislatures? Representative government? Popular votes?” laughs our ruling dolts, thugs, thieves. “Who needs them? They cost too much. They are so inefficient.”

“Independent judiciary? Equal justice under the law? You thought we were serious about that?”

The arsonist/monetarist bourgeoisie don’t know Hegel, but they do know that form is mutable; the form is evanescent. It’s the content that counts. It’s the substance that matters. It’s necessity that rules.

That content is private property; the ownership of the means, conditions, and products of labor. That substance is the substance of accumulation. The necessity is precisely the destruction of the very forms once essential to accumulation, profit, expanded reproduction of capital. That necessity is the necessity of capital to drive the price of labor below the cost of its social reproduction.

The workers engaged in this struggle will need to move beyond, outside, and against their old forms of organization. To the extent that the clash in Wisconsin remains a struggle for unions, for collective bargaining, for “rights;” to the extent that the clash does not become a movement for new, open, class wide organizations beyond unions; organizations linking employed, unemployed, pensioners, students, migrants, private sector, public sector, temporary, permanent, insured, uninsured in bodies of collective power with the ability, desire, need to confiscate the revenues and income of the state, and seize the property of those financing the attacks on living standards —to precisely that extent the Kochs, the Walkers, the ideologues of decrepit capitalism will impose their necessity.

S.Artesian

February 27, 2011

Rethinking Educational Failure and Reimagining an Educational Future - John Garvey

John Garvey critically examines the contemporary American education system.

At the moment, there are bitter struggles going on over continuing school failures, testing policies, budget cuts to schools and colleges, layoffs, school closings, class sizes, and the establishment of charter schools. There is also an increasingly sharp debate emerging between proponents of what I will refer to as the “new education reform” and a growing multitude of opponents. In those contexts, I’ve been worried that it would be way out of synch to be publishing an article that is primarily concerned with long-term trends and their manifestations in the everyday realities of educational institutions (and vice versa—the production of long-term trends by everyday practices)—especially to the extent that some of what I believe reflects rather badly on the routine practices of teachers, schools and unions. I am not interested in providing any ammunition to those forces that obscure every assault against the well-being of teachers with claims to be acting on behalf of the children.

But I decided to continue down the road I had been travelling on—in the hope that what I have to say might alert some of those involved in various struggles (teachers, parents, community activists) about the profound dangers associated with defending what we might consider to be education as usual. I am aware that an already quite bad situation could be made much worse if forces on the right emerge victorious but, at the same time, I’d like to insist that the bad that we have must be seen by all as indefensible. And furthermore a defense of the existing state of affairs will not get us anywhere that we should want to go.

A recent court case in Los Angeles illuminates the situation. In January, a judge ruled that the seniority rights of teachers employed in the Los Angeles Unified School District would not be fully honored in the case of layoffs—in spite of those rights being enshrined in both the local collective bargaining agreement and state law. Judge William Highberger ruled against the suit brought by the United Teachers of Los Angeles and approved an agreement between the ACLU of Southern California, the state of California and the school district which would shield 45 of the district’s lowest performing schools from layoffs. The ACLU had based its argument on the situation that had resulted from the last round of layoffs at three poorly performing middle schools which have had high rates of teacher turnover and, therefore, few teachers with the years of seniority that would protect them from layoffs. As a result of layoffs in the past two years, more than half of the teachers at the three schools had lost their jobs; in one school, the percent of teachers laid off was over 70% and, in another, almost the entire English department and all eighth grade teachers were laid off. As a result of those layoffs, many of the classes have been taught by a succession of substitute teachers with little connection or commitment to the schools. At the same time, more successful schools in wealthier parts of the city lost far fewer teachers. The ACLU had argued that this disproportionate impact represented a denial of the constitutional right of students enrolled in the three schools to a quality education. Not surprisingly, the union had argued for the sanctity of the seniority principle and pointed out the need to address the real causes of failure at the affected schools. It has promised to appeal the decision. Perhaps needless to say, one thing that the union apparently did not consider was that the actions of its members, protected by the union, had very much to do with failure in those schools. In general, the forces of the organized left, mostly but not all Trotskyist-minded, have rushed to the defense of the union’s position. I’d suggest that if we begin and end where the United Teachers of Los Angeles begins and ends, we will remain trapped in a vicious circle.

Canary in a Coal Mine

Let me begin with the big picture. In an illuminating book, Global Decisions, Local Collisions, Dave Ranney has examined the fairly devastating impacts of the collapse of manufacturing in Chicago starting at the end of the 1970s:

Quote:
In the late 1970s, I lived and worked in Southeast Chicago.
At the time, the neighborhood was a vibrant, mixed-race, working
class community of solid single-family homes and manicured lawns.
Its economic anchor was the steel industry. U.S. Steel Southworks,
Wisconsin Steel, Republic Steel and Acme Steel employed over 25,000
workers. Southeast Chicago was also teeming with businesses that
used steel or that sold products to the steel mills: steel
fabrication shops, industrial machinery factories, plants that made
farm equipment, and railroad cars. There were also firms that sold
the mills industrial gloves, shoes, tools, nuts and bolts and
welding equipment. The commercial strip had retail stores, bars and
restaurants. Many of these, like the steel mills, were open
twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
……
During the 1980s, the Chicago steel industry collapsed and
took down with it much of the related industrial and service economy
that depended on it. Both Wisconsin Steel and U.S. Southworks
eventually closed. Republic Steel was bought out by a conglomerate
and was greatly downsized. Steel jobs in Southeast Chicago declined
from about 25,000 workers to less than 5,000 in a decade. And the
decline in manufacturing extended far beyond steel. The Chicago
metropolitan area suffered a net loss of 150,000 manufacturing jobs
during the 1980s. People’s lives were torn asunder in the wake of
massive layoffs. Divorces, alcoholism, even suicides were on the
rise. Industrial unions were decimated and union membership
declined throughout the United States. The new jobs created in the
wake of this decline paid far less than the jobs that had been lost.
Many were temporary or part-time and usually lacked benefits like
health care. Workers taking these jobs no longer made enough to
live on. So they worked two or sometimes three jobs to make what
they had previously made at one. Many of the dislocated workers
never worked again. The struggle over civil rights in the workplace
and within the union was over because the workplace itself no longer
existed.

Although Ranney modulates his nostalgia for Chicago’s lost world by acknowledging the historical significance of racial discrimination (that resulted in constricted job opportunities and lower wages for Hispanics and African-Americans) and the struggles against those discriminatory practices in workplaces and unions, he suggests that something very important had been lost:

Quote:
Not only were the community and its economy vibrant, there
was a system in place that looked to future generations. The mills
and many of the related firms had strong unions. Through the union
you could get your children into the steel mills to learn a trade or
get a well-paying job that would allow them to save and go on to
college.

In passing, I’d suggest that this notion of a link to the future is a very important one and that its frequent absence in contemporary life, as a result of the devastation visited upon the productive workforce and the long painful decline in working class living standards, has a good deal to do with what I interpret as a withdrawal from both intellectual and political engagement on the part of many. At the same time, as evidenced by the recent events in Northern Africa and the Middle East, the return of people who thought that they had no future to the stage of history should not be discounted.

Fast forward to the middle of the 1990s and listen to the words of Ms. Sparks, a sixth-grade teacher who had grown up in Chicago, in all likelihood in the same neighborhood that Ranney described, and had returned to teach in the elementary school she had attended:

Quote:
I am from streets with buildings
that used to look pretty.
From safe walking trips to
Mr. Ivan’s family grocery store,
where now stands a criminal sanctuary.
I am from a home and a garage
Illustrated with crowns, diamonds,
upside-down pitchforks, squiggly
names and death threats.
I am from a once busy, prosperous
and productive community;
where the fathers and mothers
earned a living at the steel mills,
And the children played
Kick the Can and Hide and Go Seek
Until they could play no more.
I am from here.

[reprinted in Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from
Chicago]

The destruction of the world that Ranney and Ms. Sparks remember and its consequences have not received the attention they deserved. Indeed, it seems like we have simultaneously managed to lose the past and the future.

The wave of Chicago factory closings was a canary in the coal mine moment. It signaled the emergence of a new era in American (and world-wide) social and economic life–an era characterized by:

The Solution of All Solutions?

It also resulted in an enhanced focus on educational failure as the cause of a wide array of social maladies–such as poverty, discrimination, unemployment, low wages and social despair. The Alliance for Excellent Education, a not untypical advocacy organization, pointed out the negative impacts it associated with what it believed was an education “crisis”:

Quote:
… high school dropouts face long odds of landing a
good-paying job in the ultra-competitive job market of the
twenty-first century. In addition, they are generally less healthy,
die earlier, more likely to become parents when very young, more at
risk of tangling with the criminal justice system, and are more
likely to need social welfare assistance (see
http://www.all4ed.org/node/13/print).

Conversely, educational achievement was portrayed as the solution of all solutions—especially to what was seen as the worsening position of the United States in the world economy. In most policy accounts, this new emphasis on education was seen as all but inevitable, and indeed cause for celebration, since the country had shifted to a knowledge-based economy and it was no longer possible for individuals to earn a living by the sweat of their brows. They now needed skills and credentials—at least a high school diploma but, increasingly, a credential beyond high school and they were advised that the reason why people could not find and keep good jobs is that they lacked the skills they needed—there was a “skills mismatch.” Therefore, education was more important than ever—it was up to individuals to acquire the “human capital” that would make them qualified for employment in what is routinely characterized as a global competitive economy.

Efforts are continually made to help people understand the dollar value of a diploma or a degree—usually claiming that bachelor degree holders would earn a million dollars more over a lifetime than someone with a high school diploma. This differential was, of course, seldom placed in the context of the massive shift of wealth that has taken place in the larger society and is, for all practical purposes, simply urging individuals to compare themselves to other members of the broad working classes and to pursue an individual strategy for relative improvement. As I observed in an article in the first issue of Insurgent Notes, the enormous increase in enrollment in higher education over the past four decades provides convincing evidence that workers have, at least on the surface, become convinced of the usefulness of education as an individual strategy in replacement of even modest collective efforts through trade unions.

Recently, in an interesting turn, President Obama has asked every young American to “commit” to at least one year of education after high school so that America can win in the global sweepstakes. So, where individuals were previously advised to get better educated so that they could advance themselves and their families, the president wants them to do it for the country. This rhetoric has become all but completely dominant in educational policy circles. It is long overdue for a serious challenge.

Let’s be real. The reason why there are so few well-paying jobs and jobs with secure benefits is that employers made every effort to eliminate those kinds of jobs and have mostly succeeded—with the partial exception, now being directly challenged, of jobs in the public sector. While there may have been a good deal of personal malice and greed involved in those employer calculations, there was no need for such motives. The logic of profit was more than sufficient. At the bottom of the desperate drive for profit is the still hard to believe transformation of production from what was already a quite advanced stage in the 1960s and early 1970s. A current example from automobile production illuminates the current state of affairs. Hyundai, the Korea-based auto manufacturer, has built an assembly plant in Montgomery, Alabama. It’s not unionized but it pays good wages by Montgomery standards—about $20/hour and a good deal of overtime. The plant employs 3,000 assembly workers and produces 300,000 cars a year. At that rate, it would only take about 150,000 assembly workers to produce cars at the highest annual level ever recorded in the US. What’s true for Hyundai and the automobile industry is true for many other firms and many other industries—the ongoing and increasing application of scientific/technical knowledge to production has made human labor less and less necessary. What it also means is that companies engaged in production have too much capacity—those with capital to invest are in a bind—if they invest more in production, they might very well profit less. Therefore, they look elsewhere.

Let’s look more closely at skills and credentials. Almost all of what are imagined to be unskilled or low-skilled jobs (such as those in factories) actually require a good deal of skills (see Kusterer, Know How on the Job and Rose, The Mind at Work). But, in the dominant narratives, the skills of individuals who do all sorts of manual labor are belittled and denied (as retrospectively have been the skills of the industrial workers who made American manufacturing the envy of the world). Ranney tells a revealing story:

Quote:
During a television debate in the early 1990s, that I had
with an economist in the employ of Citicorp she talked about the
tragedy of her family—mother, father, brothers and sisters—who
had all been autoworkers in Detroit. We were debating the merits of
the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and a simultaneous
proposal then before Congress to raise the minimum wage. She was
for NAFTA and against raising the minimum wage. The tragedy of her
family, in her view, was not that they had lost their jobs as
General Motors and Ford shifted production to
low-wage/high-productivity plants in Mexico or that they were forced
to take low-wage jobs that didn’t pay enough to live on. The
tragedy was that the high pay that they had received as autoworkers
in the past had destroyed their jobs and undermined their incentive
to get more education, which would have made them more competitive
in today’s world.

There’s another, somewhat contrary, narrative which suggests that the era of American prosperity and global domination was the result of American success in educating its people and that the decline in educational achievement (as compared to other countries) is the reason why American dominance is at risk. And indeed, high school completion rates grew from about 10% of the population at the turn of the 20th Century to about 50% in the early 1940s and then up to almost 80% by the late 1960s—although those national averages obscure regional and racial/ethnic variations. Large
increases in postsecondary enrollment and completion did not occur until after World War II. It seems more likely that increases in educational achievement accompanied, but did not necessarily cause, American prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s.

The achievements of industrial production had a great deal to do with the power of workers’ collective labor on the assembly line and the application of scientific/technical knowledge related to the technologies of the time that was produced by relative handfuls of engineers and other technical staff. The workers’ skill and knowledge mattered a great deal but the skills and knowledge they used were not acquired in schools. Often enough, workers had other
intellectual and cultural interests, even ones that could be applied to production, but those who ran the factories were not interested in hearing about them (see Watson, “Counter-Planning on the Shop Floor”).

What about credentials? Hiring practices in what might be considered the primary labor markets effectively exclude large
numbers of people from consideration for better-paying jobs because they lack credentials—adversely affecting those who have been least successful in schools. This is in spite of the fact that there is frequently little evidence that what’s been learned during the acquisition of the credential has much to do with successful job performance or even with the more effective acquisition of technical skills (see Collins, Credential Society ). By way of example, individuals were once able to become nurses by completing a one-year program at a nursing program sponsored by a hospital; then they were
required to complete an associate’s degree and now, there is considerable pressure on nurses to have a bachelor’s degree. (To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single non-degree nurse preparation program in New York City).

Let’s put two and two together. The civil rights victories of the 1950s and 1960s initiated a process, uneven to be sure, to end legally sanctioned race discrimination. But, the election of Barack Obama notwithstanding, it is evident that black, and many Hispanic, individuals and communities live in deeply oppressive circumstances rooted in high rates of unemployment and low incomes. There has been a lot of handwringing as well as lots of vicious drivel about why this is so. But it should be clear that the combination of credential inflation, massive educational failure, especially in
black and Hispanic communities, and the elimination of millions of industrial jobs, has all but guaranteed the reproduction of a racially stratified society.

Credential inflation and the parallel effort to insist upon meritocracy as the proof in the pudding of a color-blind society also had effects beyond the black and Hispanic communities. In the last forty years, a wide divide has opened up between the elite colleges and universities and the rest of higher education. That divide is manifest, for example, in the different experiences of the relatively small number of kids who are competing for slots in the relative handful of elite institutions—where the defining experiences are demanding high school coursework, lots of college visits, high quality SAT prep, lots of AP classes, a dozen applications, stretch schools and safety schools, and early admission and early decision, frequently challenging college courses, high rates of degree completion and prospects of admission to prestigious graduate programs or professional schools. For the great majority of kids who are headed for the non-selective institutions (both public and private, and four-year and two-year), the typical experiences include uneven high school coursework, frequently ineffective SAT prep, applications to a handful of colleges unguided by a good sense of
what might be a good match, bewildering placement processes upon admission, high rates of remediation, courses narrowly focused on employment goals, low rates of graduation and increasingly uncertain employment prospects for those who do graduate. Perhaps needless to say, the two different roads are clearly marked with signs—the first for the children of the wealthy and the professional classes and the second for just about everyone else.

Failure and Its Discontents

Although they are familiar enough, let me cite a few of the basic indicators of educational failure in America:

Quote:
About 70% of students entering ninth grade are reading below
expected proficiency, according to the National Assessment of
Educational Progress (NAEP).
In 1969, 77% of high school students graduated but by 1997,
the graduation rate had fallen to 65.7%. By 2004, it had gone back
to about 70% but then started dropping a bit. In other words,
almost one third of high school students drop out.
About 70% of high school graduates continue on to enroll in
college; about 25% of those who enroll in four-year colleges need at
least one remedial course; and about 60% of those who enroll in
community colleges need at least one; but only about 30% of those
required to take remedial courses successfully complete all of them.
Only about half of students enrolled in public four-year
colleges earn a degree and only about 30% of those enrolled in
community colleges do so—within six years of entry.

In virtually every case, black and Hispanic students do even worse. According to NAEP results, more than 85% of black and Hispanic eighth graders read below grade level; only 55% of Hispanic students and 51% of black students graduate from high school in four years; only 20% of Hispanic graduates and 23% of black graduates are considered ready for college; and many fewer blacks and Hispanics attend or graduate from college.

These failures, or other versions of them, are continuously cited and, interpreted within the contexts of global competition and US decline, they have been driving the last couple of decades of education reform—pushed forward by policy organizations and a host of foundations. At the same time, they have also featured prominently in what is frequently characterized as social entrepreneurialism, a movement of sorts that is grounded in elite colleges and universities, and manifested in such projects as Teach for America and an array of charter school organizations, such as the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). Virtually all of the projects associated with this movement emphasize the notion that the leading ideas should primarily come from those who are unburdened with the beliefs and customs of those with many years of experience in schools. The trend has also been accompanied by the increased involvement of all sorts of financial industry folks in bankrolling school reform projects, such as the Harlem Children’s Zone. In spite of all the talk and much of the effort, it increasingly appears that the new reforms have not yielded consistent gains. Higher test scores are increasingly found to be based on student performance on predictable tests with cut points set far below what had been expected; high school graduation rates have increased but the majority of graduates are not deemed ready for college.

There is one other not so small thing—many millions of American students were, and still are, effectively disengaged from the institutions that are trying, with more or less intelligence and more or less integrity, to educate them—that might have a lot to do with the ineffectiveness of the reforms. How and why they become so disengaged is an important matter. There is a good deal of give and take in everyday schooling. Students often enough perceive their classes as really boring and, for sure, a lot of them probably are. But there are classes where the nature of the material requires both prior learning and sustained attention. If students have not more or less mastered what they previously should have and find themselves unable to do much of the work at hand, a claim that it is boring is a lot easier for them to handle than an admission that they can’t do it. And if it’s perceived to be boring, then there’s not much reason to try to struggle with the material to see if it can be understood; once again, failing because you didn’t try is a lot easier to handle than failing in spite of trying. This way of thinking about student failure has sometimes been called “learned helplessness.”

But there’s another part of the story related to student disengagement that is more directly connected to the bigger picture painted above and it’s of special relevance to kids in middle school (typically, grades six to eight) and high school. It is generally taken to be the case that middle schools are far less successful than elementary or high schools–student performance on various assessments frequently decline during middle school but students do somewhat better in high school. Middle schools appear to be an educational black hole. One of the most frequently cited explanations for the shortcomings of middle school is the significance of raging hormones among younger adolescents. Although I am no expert on hormones, I find that explanation a bit simplistic since, if hormones make some kids act out, they probably should be making all kids act out and thereby interfere with effective schooling all over the place. But that’s not the case. By way of counter-evidence, middle schools in good suburban school districts routinely do quite well, as do handfuls of somewhat selective middle schools in large cities. So far as I know, they are not administering anti-hormonal medications.

I think that a more useful explanation is the recognition that children of middle school age (12-14) are increasingly able to recognize and interpret what is going on around them and to develop a more or less realistic assessment of what their life prospects are and they begin to act on the basis of those assessments. A realistic assessment is one that’s going to be grounded in children’s perceptions of what’s going on in their immediate and extended families, their neighborhoods and, of course, the schools they have attended and are attending and, very importantly, where they think
they stand in terms of what they have learned and what they need to learn. What kids know and understand is almost always limited by the simple fact that they’re kids—they have limited experiences. It’s hard enough for most kids to figure out what’s going on within their families, let alone about the ways in which events beyond their family or neighborhood are shaping their lives. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t notice things—their mom or dad, who finished high school but can’t get a regular job; their older brother or sister who started community college but dropped
out; their cousin who’s spent time on Rikers Island (a New York City jail) who got his GED while he was waiting for trial. And the kids put things together! And when you put things together from the bad end of the American educational dream, it starts to look like a bad dream. So, maybe you don’t believe in the dream so much!

Once again, this perception is not limited to black and Hispanic kids. The handwriting is visible on the wall for lots of white kids who attend ordinary high schools and colleges that produce failure more often than success. The dream is not doing so well in their lives either.

A good deal of what has gone on and is going on in lots of schools, especially in schools in cities with large numbers of black and Hispanic students, is terribly disheartening—a lot of kids haven’t learned very much (specifically, they haven’t learned to read and write very well and they have not really learned arithmetic or elementary algebra); they find themselves increasingly frustrated as they progress through the grades, whether or not they have been left back; way too many of them (mostly boys) have been referred to special education, through the more or less routine functioning of
evaluation processes that are all but pre-set to result in certification of students being in need of special services (and
being excluded from regular classes); and lots of them have been subject to suspensions for violations of school rules—some serious, some not, and many ambiguous—where the most appropriate response should have been an effort to simply figure out what was going on in a child’s life.

Let me emphasize that last point—children are being judged according to criteria that should not be applied to children.
Children make mistakes: they act inappropriately; they sometimes act quite badly. It is the responsibility of adults in schools to stop them from acting inappropriately or badly; to explain why they should not have done what they did; to describe what the consequences might be if they act inappropriately or badly again; to insure that parents and guardians are fully informed, and never to hold a grudge against children for what they have done. However, that’s not what happens—far too often, kids who misbehave are portrayed as demons and monsters. Lest readers think I exaggerate, I took this
from a recent teacher’s post on the web page of the Independent Community of Educators (ICE), a leftish rank and file opposition group within the UFT, the teachers union in New York City, which I first came across on a Chicago-based teachers’ web page:

Quote:
The Logical Truth: Through no fault of his own, if Dr. Martin Luther
King taught in a “rough” school and was given up to 150
students, many highly disruptive, disrespectful and emotionally
disturbed that told him to “Shut the F… up or I’ll kill your
mother,” and these students refused to do any work and
subsequently failed Standardized Tests, Dr. King would be branded
publicly as a Bad Teacher, Bum, Dead Beat and the like by the DOE
and newspapers.
( http://iceuftblogspot.com/2011/02/overwgelming-controversies-defame-nyc.html )

I don’t think that guy should be anywhere near kids. But what I think is an even bigger problem is that an opposition caucus in the UFT or an oppositional educational group in Chicago thinks it’s all right to post his rants. One friend, upon reading an earlier version of this article, was puzzled that I felt that it reflected so badly on the teacher in question. Perhaps I let too much of my own experiences in schools get in the way of clarity. Look back upon the quote—the teacher says that many of the 150 students were “highly disruptive, disrespected and emotionally disturbed,” that they
cursed and threatened and that they “refused to do any work.” He did not say those things about a child or a few children; he said it about many of them. It seems evident to me that he simply cannot escape from his convictions that black kids are mostly hopeless—and let’s be clear about this, the “rough school” is a school with black kids, in light of the sarcastic invocation of Martin Luther King. It is hard to imagine that he could ever be an effective (let alone thoughtful or considerate) teacher in a classroom with black youngsters—especially youngsters who have not done well in school.

I am not suggesting that such a character is representative of all teachers in struggling schools. Indeed, there are many
extraordinarily dedicated and very hard-working teachers who are thwarted in their efforts by patterns of unproductive student behavior, especially in schools where the leadership does not take an active role in developing policies and practices that lead to children behaving in ways that are appropriate for learning environments.

If we think about what goes on in classrooms as consisting of a complex interaction between what teachers ask children to do, what children do, how they are responded to, how they interpret the response, and how they subsequently act, I think we can relatively easily imagine a situation where kids start acting in ways that are probably really quite opposed to their own best interests as learners—meaning that they get to school late, they skip school entirely, they don’t do the work they’re asked to do, they create disturbances in their classrooms, they challenge and disrespect their teachers and their classmates, they do little homework. Often enough, the kids don’t seem able to distinguish between the
teachers who disrespect them and the ones who are exhausting themselves in trying to do the right thing. Not exactly a recipe for academic success! But, at the same time, the students remain ambivalent—if you ask them, they will usually insist on how important a good education is and how they want to be successful in school—there are very few student opponents of education at the level of articulations. But there are more than a few at the level of everyday actions. As in many other situations, actions can come before articulations and can even be at odds with those articulations.

What Should Educators Do?

Teachers and other educators should be prepared to act beyond the simple defense of their interests as workers. On the outside, it demands an unequivocal commitment to stand in solidarity with the people who live in the communities where they teach when community residents take steps to address issues of concern (such as police abuse or violence) and not just when those issues coincide with the interests of workers in the schools—as in the case of school closings.

And on the inside, teachers must take collective responsibility for two things: 1) documenting and challenging the ways in which school policies and practices adversely affect some students (such as those being referred to special education and those being subjected to disciplinary proceedings), and 2) enhancing the quality of teaching that’s provided to children. The real problem with teaching in schools (and colleges, for that matter) is not that there are lots of really bad teachers; the overwhelming majority of teachers are not lousy. But, at the risk of over-simplifying matters, let me suggest that far too much teaching (including some of the teaching that I’ve done) is probably not good enough. I would
characterize it as teaching guided by common sense and over-relying on telling students what they should know; but as Eleanor Duckworth memorably wrote, “Telling is not teaching and remembering is not learning.” Much of what even young children have to learn is the result of a remarkable set of human inventions—such as the alphabet; a place-value based number system; written texts in multiple genres. Unlike what is commonly assumed, what is basic
(such as the alphabet) is often times not easy. Teachers need to be sophisticated interpreters of the achievements that provide the essentials of a powerful education and astute observers of human development, not people blinkered by a whole set of commonsensical prejudices.<fn>Although it is far beyond the scope of this essay, the work of the
Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, is one of the best places to start thinking about these matters.</fn>

Their work is made much more difficult because of the failures that have come before. Teachers in the upper elementary grades, middle schools, high school and even colleges are faced with a daunting challenge to find effective ways of engaging students in learning grade-appropriate material and, at the same time, to enable them to acquire skills that they should have already learned. Very few teachers are able to figure it out on their own—they need access to
sophisticated learning theories, to numerous examples of effective practices and to more skillful practitioners. There are, I believe, more than enough raw materials for the assembly of effective educational institutions but they are not as consistently well used as they need to be. The current assaults on teachers make the possibility of effective
and equitable education less likely—even though they’re being conducted in the name of excellence and equity. There’s a cruel irony to the fact that a president who cannot recognize tyrants in the Middle East nonetheless feels completely qualified to recognize the failures of teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island and to endorse their mass dismissal.

I’d suggest that there has not been an adequate articulation of a genuinely radical alternative to the prevailing ideas. There have been a number of more or less unhelpful approaches—including diversity training and multi-cultural education, a focus in schools of education on matters of democracy and social justice, an insistence that the behaviors associated with poverty are the key contributors to educational failure, and (in spite of its popularity with many on the left) a Paolo Freire-inspired liberatory education. My reasons for describing these approaches as unhelpful are multiple
and I should emphasize that they are not all of a piece.<fn>I hope to write a follow-up to this article, tentatively titled “The
Politics of Pedagogy and the Pedagogy of Politics,” in a future issue of Insurgent Notes that will explore these matters.</fn>

However, most of what might be considered left voices are inadequately attentive to the specificities of the ways in which
failure is produced and reproduced in schools and all but completely inattentive to the large scale realities that I’ve described above. And finally, the unions and the various grass roots and oppositional groups active within them have failed to embrace a politics of solidarity with the children they teach and the communities they teach in. The activists may rail against the betrayals of the union leaders when those leaders maneuver to come to an accommodation with
school superintendents, mayors and governors while maintaining their own power, but effective opposition will require a more fundamental break with the common sense of trade union activity and educational practice.

The inability of those perspectives to generate effective solutions has a great deal to do with why many dedicated educators and community advocates have been led to make common cause with an assortment of external actors (including powerful foundations and influential policy groups) in order to address the most pressing issues of educational inequality and failure. As a result, they have found themselves being pulled along in support of the “new education reform” including its reliance on policies and practices that they do not necessarily support—such as test-based
accountability, test-based teacher evaluation, merit pay, and an excessive reliance on school closings. Those approaches are now the currency of the education policy realm and the common sense of the Obama administration’s education policies.

A Different Approach

In the article thus far, I have relied upon fairly traditional ways of assessing educational achievement or its absence. Those measures are revealing only up to a point. What they effectively leave out is any sense of how impoverished the goals and accomplishments of American education are in light of what they should be. In all likelihood, the great majority of American students are being provided with an education that will leave them ill-equipped to understand, interpret or act to change the world they and their children will be living in. At the end of their formal schooling, even for those who are apparently most successful, they will know precious little of history, literature, science, philosophy or politics. While I would not overstate the point, it may very well be that one reason why students invest so little in their learning is that so little of genuine substance is being presented to them.

The recent renewal of mass political activity around the world and just now making an appearance in the United States might provide new reasons for disengaged and disaffected adolescents to become re-engaged with serious study so that they might acquire the skills nd knowledge they need to become full-fledged participants in those events. It would be an especially welcome side effect of the return of politics.

I began this essay by reviewing some of the devastating consequences of the widespread deindustrialization that began in the 1970s. What needs to be kept in mind, however, is that the United States still has the greatest manufacturing capacity in the world—even after all those jobs were shipped overseas. But the manufacturing process is now increasingly organized by the application of scientific knowledge and, as I noted about the Hyundai plant in Alabama, less and less reliant on human labor. The potential implications of this development were foreseen by Karl
Marx:

Quote:
Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the
production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as
watchman and regulator to the production process itself. …. No
longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing [i.e. a
tool—my insert] between the object and himself; rather, he inserts
the process of nature, transformed into an industrial process, as a
means between himself and inorganic nature, mastering it. He steps
to the side of the production process instead of being its chief
actor. In this transformation, it is neither the direct human
labour he himself performs, nor the time during which he works, but
rather the appropriation of his own general productive power, his
understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his
presence as a social body—it is, in a word, the development of the
social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of
production and of wealth.

The “social individual” is the very well educated individual. Marx anticipated that the kind of advanced education that had been and, to a great extent, remains available only to a minority would become something available to all individuals–once people had access to the free time which would be made possible by automated production. The German critical theorist, Iring Fetscher, attempted to articulate, in very broad terms, what might be the essential dimensions of the kind of knowledge individuals would need:

As many members of society as possible must become familiar with science; and An end must be put to the isolation of individuals from the creative collective subject which alone is capable of coming to dominate the material conditions of human existence, rather than being dominated by them in the form of a totality subsumed by capital.

It is evident that we remain dominated by our circumstances. But the goal of the whittling away of the distinction between manual and intellectual labor that Marx anticipated can and should become the starting point of our thinking about the kind of education we want to provide for our children. If we start not from the goal of acculturating most children to the demands of an economy which promises only to make things worse, but from the goal of preparing all children to live in a world worthy of human beings, we will find a very different kind of education reform to advocate for. It will have some things in common with some parts of current reform efforts but it will go beyond and transform them.

References

Anthony S. Bryk, Penny Bender Sebring, Elaine Allensworth, Stuart
Luppescu, and John Q. Easton. Organizing Schools for Improvement:
Lessons from Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Randall Collins. The Credential Society. New York: Academic
Press, 1979.

Eleanor Duckworth, “The having of wonderful ideas” and
other essays on teaching and learning. New York: Teachers College
Press, 2006.

Iring Fetscher. “Emancipated individuals in an emancipated
society: Marx’s sketch of post-capitalist society in the
Grundrisse,” in M. Musto, Karl Marx’s Grundrisse: Foundations
of the critique of political economy. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Ken Kusterer. Know-How on the Job: The Important Working
Knowledge of “Unskilled” Workers. Boulder: Westview Press.
1978.

Karl Marx. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political
Economy. Hammondsworth: Penguin, 1973.

David Ranney. Global Decisions, Local Collisions: Urban Life in
the New World Order. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 2003.

Mike Rose. The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the
American Worker. New York: Viking Penguin. 2004.

Bill Watson, “Counter-Planning on the Shop Floor,” in Radical
America. Vol. 16, No. 3. Somerville: May-June 1982. Available at

How the French pension system works - Henri Simon

Henri Simon looks behind the pension reform demonstrations and sees discontent with politics and politicians, and with the capitalist system itself.

In France for more than fifty years, everyone, whether they worked or not, had the right up until now to a minimum old age benefit at 65 years old. This right, independent of income earned elsewhere, is matched with add-ons depending on health, number of children, etc. Additionally, if someone’s income didn’t reach a minimum level, this basic pension can be supplemented with housing aid, transportation, etc. and if needed, at the local level with other financial benefits.

Everyone working a large part of his or her adult life reaches retirement with a pension set higher than this minimum. All social classes have the right to a basic pension, including the non-wage earner, because setting up a retirement fund is legally mandated (sometimes contractual, becoming legal). This general situation however conceals widely varying differences in circumstances. If non-wage earners relying on legislative guarantees are excluded along with the administrative agencies collecting and managing benefits independent of the State for them, the retirement system for the working becomes extremely complex.

Depending on their occupation, all wage earners come under the control of:

The legal and financial administrators of the general system are State appointed but the system’s management is independent and jointly run by the bosses’ and labor unions (in the beginning the latter were elected but became bureaucratized with the introduction of union stipends). For the complementary or special retirement funds, the management rules depend on the sectoral agreements. They are managed according to rules, whether elective or bureaucratic, made part of these union benefits too. In principle the management of most retirement funds, whether general, special or supplementary, is done by distribution, that is to say that receipts of 50-50% contributions from both employers and employee are prioritized to pay current pensions. Nevertheless, all these funds must invest their surplus into financial markets, making them subject to capitalization. For accounting and financial reasons (often because of privatizations), the special sectors which functioned like those of state workers as a direct service by the employer, have been forced to create separate funds acting like other retirement funds.

The General Reduction in Labor Costs

This point has been part of a wider longstanding attack on these special sector retirement plans that in past years – and now – are at the center of conflicts over retirement plans. It is an important issue in the current struggle because the beneficiaries of the special retirement plans (notably in energy and transportation) work in key economic sectors and, by taking action, can paralyze economic activity across the country. There were memorable strikes in 1953 and 1995 that forced the government to back down from changing these special plans.

It is true that these particular pension schemes offer benefits superior to those of the general plan. Successive governments have tried to use this fact in trying, in the name of ‘equality’, to align these special sector plans (and those for government workers too), with the general pension plan. In fact, these attempts had nothing to do with any improvement but acted only as a smokescreen for the general tendency of capital tied to social insurance to complete making cuts in legal benefits, lowering all incidental wage related costs and financing of all the pension plans. This is an especially complicated situation not only because of the reactions of workers affected, but also because of the multiple interests involved:

What is usually called “the attack on retirement” is nothing but an expression on the French level of the world-wide tendency to ward off the global fall in the rate of profit by both increasing productivity and cutting labor costs. This systematic and global attack develops under intensified capitalist competition between the multinationals and states that still make up the framework for financial activity.

In the European Union (EU), for a long time this pressure has been displayed by the transfer of production to European countries with lower labor costs and sometimes semi-non-existent social expenses, which has led on one hand to changing working conditions (lower wages and social guarantees, rising insecurity) and restructuring production and distribution.

For the past two years, the crisis has accentuated these tendencies. On the other hand, helping these businesses stay competitive in various ways by exempting them from social or fiscal expenses have helped lower their production costs in France. Together, these factors, imposed directly or indirectly by the crisis of capital, have produced growing shortages in the many organizations providing social benefits because their income has shrunk while their expenses increase. This was especially obvious in all the pension organizations, whose shortfalls worsened more because of increased life spans.

Besides, for the special plans affecting specifically defined groups from national industries, political and economic changes like sub-contracting cut back the number of active workers while increasing the number of retired. This imbalance was especially obvious, for instance in the case of mines since hardly any mines are open in France because global competition forced them to shut down while numbers of ex-miners continue to collect pensions paid with ‘special case’ funds. Another example is the national railroad company, SNCF, which severely downsized its workforce through subcontracting and by using many outside workers not covered by statutes. SNCF’s pension funds see the number of retirees increase with receipts based on lower salaries.

All these pension funds, whether general or special case, have no other alternative but to appeal to the State or to borrow to finance the deficits, which increases total State debt. To the economic pressure of competition aggravated by the crisis is added the pressure from the European Union which, to stabilize the Euro, requires reducing State debt in the community. Thus, in France, as in other member states, this obligation to cut back State expenses especially those concerning public debt, which the pension system is an important part. To that is added another indirect strategy–that of capital as a whole, looking to expand into the public sector to find both sources for financing as well as for profit.

A Systematic Attack On Deferred Income

Certainly, the extension of lifespan is a basic factor in the pension problem (life expectancy in France has risen from 66 years in 1950 to 80 years in 2010) while for different reasons, working life has been lessened by 8 years. In 2010, 1.5 active workers could be counted for every retiree. This situation is imposed regardless of financial arrangements for pensions because the whole system relies on the same basic methods. The main problem is above all financial and comes up whatever the system used: who is going to pay for pension services? Labor or capital, on which side does the surplus value go? This is not an insolvable problem especially considering the surplus value extracted from the large growth in workers’ productivity.

Recent surveys carried out with workers have shown that most are so dissatisfied with work that they prefer to be able to keep the present time-frame for exiting the workforce, even if it means increasing their own costs or leaving with a reduced pension. But such solutions, which would also involve a contribution from employers, doesn’t fit in with the general tendency to reduce the part of surplus value going to wages for the benefit of capital. Both employers and government strongly oppose them and these alternatives aren’t addressed by the unions.

The core of the present debate over pension reform thus unfolds almost exclusively over technical details. This is the terrain chosen by capital: discussions on liabilities and demands from the union federations that don’t see the whole picture but only these tangled procedural details which spread great confusion. Excluding the individual calculations for those approaching retirement, no one can say for sure what his or her future will be, except the certainty of having to work longer to get a reduced pension compared with former expectations. It isn’t possible in this article to describe in detail all the manipulating these technical facts are subjected to; we list here only a few:

What should be remembered from all the pronouncements is that capital and the government habitually manipulate the complexity of the retirement system, avoiding the mistake of frontal attacks that have unleashed strong movements of struggle and forced reversals on specific points. A united struggle over this issue though seems hard to realize because of the variations in individual situations.

Who opposes the present retirement reforms?

Before answering, a few words have to be said about the French union federations. These federations can be characterized by:

Reform and any changes to it now run through this specifically French union situation which is also an unspoken part in the confrontations around retirement.

If you pay attention to the government – union negotiations and to movements against pension reform, there aren’t any independent resistance movements now. The union federations remain the only mediators along with the government and the demonstrations with the “days of action” and even the one day general strikes against pension reforms are entirely organized by the union federations either separately or together.

The demonstrations against pension reform hide growing resistance against the global capitalist offensive

In France, there is a cult or routine around demonstrations, which are more acts of political pressure than a direct expression of class action. The demonstration is a weapon in the hands of the unions because they are almost the one ones able to organize significantly across the whole country.

Government and the unions clash over how many demonstrators it takes to act as a de facto thermometer of social tension, shifting the balance to union leaders in negotiating with the state. But there should be no delusions about this number. Generally, such demonstrations are coupled with a “day of action” which doesn’t really represent a strike but gives leeway to workplace union branches in organizing protest in the workplace. The numbers don’t necessarily come from large numbers of workers actively taking part. It’s well known the union federations can, if they judge it necessary to apply political pressure, “mobilize” everyone on-the-job having a legal right to “non-productive” paid time off. If necessary, others can be added for whom the trip or tweaking of the 35 hours law let them demonstrate without loss of pay<fn> What is called “the RTT strikes” resulted from applying the thirty-five hour per week law which let workers collect off days which they can take throughout the day notably to take part in demonstrations during working hours without losing pay.</fn>

The demonstration is a substitute for the strike but it only has political character without socially affirming class struggle.

Despite this, the issue of demonstrations should be considered from another angle. If the union federations are a way to channel a movement and eventually exhaust it by repetition, which leads to disaffection and the movement’s death, this can also have the opposite effect: a wider participation than was predicted. The nature of these actions can even reveal a much broader current which itself goes past the apparent objective of union demands.

This was the outcome at the time of the last demonstrations of September 7, 2010, which were meant to be similar to the prior ones against pension reform. Not only did Paris bring out more participants than the previous actions (hard to estimate, probably several hundreds of thousands) but parallel actions held in provincial cities regrouped more participants than the actual number of employed workers in the city. This characteristic shows the protests against pension reform contained a more general: they conveyed wider social discontent which couldn’t be expressed because of the official demands but which took advantage of the opportunity to surface.

The unity of the union federations in the call to demonstrate further testifies to the extent of this hidden current of social discontent. The federations’ discomfort about what follow-up to give to this Sept. 7 demonstration shows well that they are afraid of a growing movement that could escape their control. Union leaders openly expressed such fears and they planned, even though the question of reform was being discussed in parliament, of scattered actions and a new day of September 27th identical in spirit to the preceding national demonstrations. This showed the unions had no intent of promoting large-scale actions, knowing well the reform will be adapted in the end and that their political games with the government will only let them demand adjustments in details. Their actual role now, objectively or not, is well within the line of the union function: to be effective agents when capital has need to resolve its ongoing problems and, eventually, the guard dogs of the proletariat. No one can say, on the actual state of affairs in France, how the class struggle will compel them to reveal their true character.

Of Forests and Trees Pt. 1 - S. Artesian

S Artesian on Marx's theories on land and ground rent.

1. I could start off by saying “Marx has some problems in his analysis of ground-rent.” However, it’s not exactly the case that Marx is wrong in his analysis of the derivation of ground-rent or in his calculations of the comparative rates of ground-rent. It’s more that Marx misses a few things, a few important things; he misses the transformation of British agriculture that underlies the fluctuations in ground-rent and the fluctuations in agricultural commodity prices. It’s more that he takes Ricardo’s and others’ assertions about the availability of land, the “insatiability” of demand, about the “natural” fertility of land as not just accurate, but eternal. Does Marx do this as a matter of regard for Ricardo? Of faith? Of expediency so he can get to what he really wants to discuss, which is not really ground-rent at all? Beats the hell out of me, almost literally, which upon reflection means I need to change what I want to start off saying.

So… so after thinking about it for a little bit, I want to start off by saying that I have some problems with Marx’s analysis of ground-rent. He misses a few things, a few important things, like the transformation of English agriculture; like the transformation of English landlords; like the transformation of the social relations of production which rent does not cause, but which rent serves. Some things, some really important things, he doesn’t miss.

And more than that, I think various mis-apprehensions of Marxism, and mis-analyses of advanced capitalism stem from the ambiguity in Marx’s analysis of ground-rent. Normally, I could start that off by identifying Lenin’s theory of imperialism as an example; Lenin’s and others’ theories of rentier capitalism as another example; the various theories according to which monopoly has transcended the law of value for capitalism as an example; the theories that have US capital as a monopoly capital, and/or a financial hegemon extracting tribute, extracting rent, from

a) Other developed capitalisms

b) Other less developed capitalisms or

c) Both;

Through either

a) Artificial inflation of prices for its highly processed (large value-added) goods or

b) currency manipulation or

c) Both,

as an example. And all those examples, I would identify as so wrong, so transparently “left” recapitulations of the capitalists’ own mythology of “having finally, seriously, this time we’re sure, once and for all we have conquered the business cycle” mantras that it makes me laugh. I could start off by saying that. But only later.

2. We know how Marx engages with these categories of rent, capital, wage-labor, value. He engages through opposition and the opposition is elaborated through critique. Marx begins his critique of ground-rent when he begins his critique of capitalism. In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 Marx launches his initial probe into the complexities of ground-rent. We see Marx establishing the characteristics, the determinants in and of rent that will occupy him for the next 25 years. We get fertility, the relation of rent to population, the ever-present and always unrealizable demand for food, and the landlord and rent as obstacles to both the industrial capitalist and the development of industrial capitalism.

In the first manuscript, we have Marx telling us:

(5) While, thus, the landlord’s interest, far from being identical with the interest of society, stands inimically opposed to the interest of tenant farmers, farm laborers, factory workers and capitalists, on the other hand, the interest of one landlord is not even identical with that of another, on account of the competition which we will now consider.

I’m not about to disagree with the accuracy of Marx’s characterization of the landlord as all that is petty, venal, and vicious in human history, however much I think those attributes are better applied to the nuclear family. If the landlord isn’t the sum total of cynicism, avarice, pettiness, dishonesty and brutality in all of human history, then he or she still comes close. And close does count.

However, Marx’s claim that the landlord stands inimically opposed to the interest of the industrial capitalist is indicative of the ambiguity that persists throughout his analysis of rent.

Marx regards rent as the way in which:

…property in land realizes itself economically, that is produces value. [Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 37 “Transformation of Surplus Profit into Ground-Rent]

Rent is the means by which land produces value. Except it isn’t because the land doesn’t produce value. Ground-rent is the mechanism by which labor in agriculture manifests its transformation from the supplier of surplus-product and into the source of surplus value. Marx says, but does not pursue as much in Theories of Surplus Value, Part 2:

…the very existence of rent is feasible because the average wage of the agricultural laborer is below that of the industrial worker. Since, to start with, by tradition (as the farmer turns capitalist before the capitalists turn farmers) the capitalist passed on part of his gain to the landlord, he compensated himself by forcing wages down below their level…Surplus-value can be increased, without the extension of labour-time or the development of productive power of labour, by forcing wages below their traditional level. And indeed this is the care wherever agricultural production is carried on by capitalist methods…Here then we already have a potential basis of rent since, in fact, the agricultural labourer’s wage does not equal the average wage. This rent would be feasible quite independent of the price of the product, which is equal to its value.

Ground-rent is the capitalization of land; its organization as a means of production for exchange rather than a means of consumption.

Still, this transformation, this capitalization of land is stymied, incomplete, and necessarily so. Capital does not encounter land, at least not in Europe, in either its “natural” state, or in its “commodity” condition. Capital encounters landed property as encumbered by the pre-existing relations of production. Capital encounters land as constrained by a form of private ownership that is at once archaic and powerful.

Ground-rent then is a bit more than just the capitalization of land. It is capital adapting, and adapting itself to, feudal property that is refracted through the lens of market exchange and market value.

Even in, especially in, the most advanced capitalist country in Europe, capital is confronted with the obstacle of its own uneven and combined development.

Marx’s target is not this uneven and combined development. His target is not ground-rent as the preservation, extension, and dissolution of the archaic relations of production. His target is not the part ground-rent, and landed property play in the reproduction of capital. His target is not the part ground-rent plays in driving the social differentiation, the class relations, which accompany and signify the transition to capitalism.

Marx’s target, more than anything else, more than anyone else is David Ricardo.

3. For Marx, Ricardo is the best bourgeois political economy can produce; a figure of profound analytic capabilities and severe shortcomings, like capital itself. Ultimately Ricardo is constrained by the power of his own analysis. Ricardo’s examination of the economic categories of capitalist production begins with, requires, and reproduces the excision of those economic categories from the social relations of production that give the categories life. At its end, Ricardo’s analysis substitutes ideology for history.

Next to bayonets, cruise missiles, and beehive rounds, ideology is the bourgeoisie’s sharpest tool. Ideology tells the bourgeoisie exactly what they want to hear: There was a history. History has come to its end. The circumstances surrounding the birth of capital, the origin of the bourgeoisie, are not immortal, but rather completely natural. Capitalist markets are nature’s way of organizing humanity. There was creation. Capital is the crown of creation.

Landed property, as capital confronts it, is not so natural, but the political economist regards economic categories of landed property, and rent as excised from their social relations. To the political economist ground-rent is a-historical. For the English political economist, the origin, function, movement, and result of ground-rents in the period 1794-1815 versus the period 1500-1550 are immaterial. Ground-rent by any other name is ground-rent, and is an obstacle to the accumulation of industrial capital.

Marx is in hot pursuit of Ricardo, and in this hot pursuit he is inclined to allow, repeat, and even accept Ricardo’s less-than-historical critique of landed property and ground-rent. Marx is not doing this for the purpose of exposing the inadequacy of Ricardo’s critique. Before Marx begins his own critique of Ricardo’s theory of ground-rent, it’s as if Marx feels he needs to defend Ricardo’s “natural/unnatural” a-historical conceptualization of ground-rent in order to achieve his real objective. That objective is the rescue and recovery of the labor theory of value from the equivocation, the qualification and disqualification it suffers in Ricardo’s analysis of rent.

So we have Marx repeating Ricardo’s “materialist basis” for ground-rent: The supply of fertile land is limited. The supply is limited by “natural” conditions as the “more fertile” land is the land occupied; as “less fertile” land is always brought into cultivation as the population grows. The supply is limited by the social relations in that landlords monopolize the land.

Ricardo maintains, and Marx accepts, that not only is land of inferior quality brought into cultivation as the population expands, but also that proportionately less productivity gains are realized with successive applications of additional capital to the same plots of land. In Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 37 Marx writes:

That Mr. Lavergne is not only familiar with the economic achievements of English agriculture, but also subscribes to the prejudices of the English tenants and landlords, is shown on page 48:

“One great drawback attends cereals generally … they exhaust the soil which bears them.”

Not only does Mr. Lavergne believe that other plants do not do so, but also believes that fodder crops and root crops enrich the soil:

“Forage plants derive from the atmosphere the principal elements of their growth, while they give to the soil more than they take from it; thus both directly and by their conversion into animal manure contributing in two ways to repair the mischief done by cereals and exhausting crops generally; one principle, therefore, is that they should at least alternate with these crops; in this consists the Norfolk rotation” (pp. 50, 51).

No wonder that Mr. Lavergne, who believes these English rustic fairy-tales, also believes that the wages of English farm labourers have lost their former abnormality since the duties on corn have been lifted.

The Norfolk four-course rotation was no fairy tale, and the ability of clover, legumes, etc. to fix nitrogen in the soil is no myth. As Mark Overton writes:

The effects of the rotation were to increase yields of grain and to allow much higher stocking densities. These effects are modeled in Table 3.19 which demonstrates convincingly that the Norfolk four-course could indeed have been responsible for unprecedented changes in both crop and livestock productivity and output…

Partly because the integrated mixed-farming systems comprised so many mutually dependent components their evolution took time. Hence the long lag between the appearance in England of clover, turnips and other components of the Norfolk four-course system and the perfection of the system itself, whose widespread diffusion must be dated to the first half of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless there can be no doubt of the superiority of the new system at whose root quite literally lay the improved management of soil nitrogen. This of course was not the farmer’s intention, since the chemistry was unknown to them. Their concern was with fodder. Sowing grass leys focused attention on the range and suitability of grasses that could be grown and so clover was selected…; turnips were an alternate source of fodder. Once grown, and integrated into arable rotations, their probably unintended outcome was an increase in overall output. Although systems such as the Norfolk four-course rotation increased output of both stock and crops their major contribution maybe have been that optimum output occurred with a larger proportion of arable crops than under a system of permanent grass and permanent arable. The much increased amounts of manure from more efficient fodder crops, and the rotational use of crop residues, allowed this substantial increase in grain area, while still maintaining, or even boosting, yields. [Mark Overton, Agricultural Revolution in England, p. 117, 120-121, Cambridge University Press, 1996]

So here’s my point, what I would have said first, if I didn’t have to provide the background: Marx, in his pursuit of Ricardo, fails to comprehend exactly what Ricardo failed to apprehend: the revolution in English agriculture, the revolutionary increase in output and yield between 1750 and 1850. This failure is not so much a case of Marx failing to see the forest because of the trees as it is the case of Marx failing to see the deforestation because of the tree farms.

4. For Marx, the transformation of agricultural, the capitalist transformation of agricultural that actually operates through rent just isn’t the issue, and that’s a shame. This is the only instance in Marx’s writings, that I know of, where Marx actually adopts the position, the attitude, and the analysis of an economist, in essence abstracting the economic categories from the historical relations, and the historical development, that produce the economic category.

Ground-rent, for Marx, is the grand exception that is the proof of the rule of the law of value. Ground-rent will be the vector by which Marx, accepting the elements of ground-rent as Ricardo describes them, will prove how the apparent anomaly in the prices of agricultural commodities—where the less efficient producer, and the dearer product, set the market –actually validates the labor theory of value.

For Marx, following Ricardo, ground-rent exists as a transfer of value from industrial capital to the landlord. Rent is a deduction from profit, but not just from the profit of the tenant capitalist-farmer. Value moves, through the mechanism of price, from the superior productivity of industrial capital, and lower cost of industrial commodities, to the inferior productivity of agricultural capital and the higher cost of agricultural commodities.

Says Marx:

Incidentally, however the phenomenon of rent may be explained, the significant difference between agriculture and industry remains in that in the latter, excess surplus value is created by the cheaper production, in the former by dearer production. [Theories of Surplus Value, Part 2, Chapter 8]

So… ground-rent does not cause the higher prices, or the increase in price of agricultural commodities. The possibility for rent exists in those higher prices. The values of agricultural commodities are, like the values for all commodities, determined by the labor-time embodied therein as mediated by the time necessary for their reproduction. In agriculture, however, increased production necessarily entails, creates, an increase in the time necessary for the reproduction of any individual commodity. In agriculture, unlike industry, the expansion of production does not mean the relatively greater production of use-values with the same or proportionally less expansion of exchange-value.

In agriculture, the increased production does not reduce the socially average time necessary for reproduction and all of this occurs because demand is not satisfied.

Says Marx:

If the area of fertile land were enlarged or the fertility of the poorer soil so improved that I could satisfy demand, then this game would end. [TSV, Part 2, Chapter 8].

In The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx gives us the outline of Ricardo’s argument that he will use, and maintain, for his own examination of rent throughout his economic manuscripts, including volume 3 of Capital:

We have seen that, according to the Ricardian doctrine, the price of all objects is determined ultimately by the cost of production, including the industrial profit; in other words, by the labour time employed. In manufacturing industry, the price of the product obtained by the minimum of labour regulates the price of all other commodities of the same kind, seeing that the cheapest and most productive instruments of production can be multiplied to infinity and that competition necessarily gives rise to a market price – that is, a common price for all products of the same kind.

In agricultural industry, on the contrary, it is the price of the product obtained by the greatest amount of labour which regulates the price of all products of the same kind. In the first place, one cannot, as in manufacturing industry, multiply at will the instruments of production possessing the same degree of productivity, that is, plots of land with the same degree of fertility. Then, as population increases, land of an inferior quality begins to be exploited, or new outlays of capital, proportionately less productive than before, are made upon the same plot of land. In both cases a greater amount of labour is expended to obtain a proportionately smaller product. The needs of the population having rendered necessary this increase of labour, the product of the land whose exploitation is the more costly has as certain a sale as that of a piece of land whose exploitation is cheaper. As competition levels the market price, the product of the better soil will be paid for as dearly as that of the inferior. It is the excess of the price of the products of the better soil over the cost of their production that constitutes rent. [Poverty of Philosophy, Chapter 4, “Property of Ground Rent”]

Marx concludes the paragraph with what he regards as near insurmountable obstacles to the “parity” of industrial and agricultural production:

If one could always have at one’s disposal plots of land of the same degree of fertility; if one could, as in manufacturing industry, have recourse continually to cheaper and more productive machines, or if the subsequent outlays of capital produced as much as the first, then the price of agricultural products would be determined by the price of commodities produced by the best instruments of production, as we have seen with the price of manufactured products. But, from this moment rent would have disappeared also.

Yet, here is exactly the transformation imposed upon agriculture by capitalism, a transformation that finds its agents, in part, through the receivers of rent, the rent-seeking, profit-seeking landlords.

5. Marx certainly achieves his objective. He pursues Ricardo and brings him to ground [-rent]. The critique of Ricardo that Marx produces using ground-rent as a vector absolutely restores the integrity and viability of the labor theory of value.

The analysis of cost-price and the differentiation of cost-price from value establish the mediation through which the law of value must operate given the private ownership of the means of production. Marx demonstrates not only why prices deviate from values, but more importantly how the deviation of specific, individual, numerous prices from specific, individual, numerous values is the mechanism through which the law of value enforces itself. The analysis by Marx at one and the same time answers the “transformation question” before it is asked; embeds the labor theory of value as the center around which all of capital spins and morphs; proves that profit is derived from exchanging commodities at their values, but the profit so derived for any commodity is a distribution of, a proportion, a relation to the totality of value of all commodities.

Marx has climbed the ladder of Ricardo’s labor theory of value, and having done so, has no more need for ladders. The labor theory of value is firmly established at ground [-rent] level.

Here are the determining conditions of Ricardo’s theory of ground-rent, and Marx reproduces in and as his own in the critique of Ricardo: increased and increasing population; increased demand for agricultural commodities; inability of cultivated land to satisfy the demand for agricultural commodities; cultivation of less fertile lands; inability of new areas of cultivation and/or successive applications of capital to old areas to maintain or improve yields.

Marx certainly recognizes the weaknesses in Ricardo’s theory of the persistent, if not eternal, scarcity of agricultural output. We have Marx’s recognition of the feasibility of rent in the lower wage paid the agricultural laborer. We have Marx explaining how the new land brought into production is not necessarily less fertile, naturally, but that successive applications of capital are required to this new land to establish productivity equal to that of the already cultivated property. We don’t see Marx recognizing that his very recognition of this quality contradicts the assertion that successive application of capital produce declining returns.

We hear Marx telling us that if, in agricultural production, the machinery and constant capital inputs stood in the same ratio to the labor, variable capital as the ratio is industry, then rent would disappear:

If the mode of production changed in such a way that the ratio of variable to constant capital became the same as the average ratio in industry, then the excess of value over the average price of wheat would disappear and with it rent—excess profit.
[Marx, TSV Part 2 “Herr Rodbertus. New Theory of Rent (Digression) {9} Differential Rent and Absolute Rent in Their Reciprocal Relationship. Rent as an Historical Category. Smith’s and Ricardo’s Method of Research”]

We don’t hear Marx analyzing exactly this trend in the development of capitalist agriculture, even though he writes:

In our view rent arises from an historical difference in the organic component parts of capital which may be partially ironed out and indeed disappear completely, with the development of agriculture.

But this is exactly the point where the historical analysis of rent, of its function in expanding the capitalist relations of production in agriculture, the capitalist organization of labor in agriculture should begin.

6. Ricardo’s study of ground-rent and price formation in agriculture is heavily informed by the dramatic price inflation in agricultural commodities in the period 1794-1815, the period of the anti-Jacobin and then Napoleonic Wars. In part, it was the military’s demand for agricultural commodities, and not just agricultural commodities, that drove the price inflation of these years.

This period is also the initialization period of the industrial revolution, when steam power was harnessed to the production of textiles; to the production of coal; and to the processing of grain.

The military’s requirements in the midst of this dramatic transition in the technical basis of production worked to the benefit of some, but not to the benefit of all. There was little or no benefit to the cottagers living in and around the villages and manors, who depended on rights of common for pasture, for maintaining production and productivity of their smaller, rented plots. There was no benefit to the commoners who rented almost no land for their direct production and relied almost completely on the common rights. There was certainly no benefit to the agricultural laborers. Between 1780 and 1810, real wages for agricultural workers declined by twenty percent.

For the most part, the dramatic price inflation and the subsequent climb in rents were driven by the number of poor harvest years, and the number of successive poor harvest years. Bad harvests were recorded in 1794, 1795, 1799, 1800, 1809, 1810, 1811, and 1812.

During this period of bad harvests, the population of England continued to grow, nearly doubling in the 1780 to 1806 period.

All the elements for the basis of rent are in place: population growth, inability of agriculture to meet demand, declining wages, apparent failure of successive applications of capital to maintain yield, cultivation of less fertile lands. Marx writes:

But apart from absolute rent, the following question remains for Ricardo:

The population grows and with it the demand for agricultural products. Therewith their price rises, as happens in similar cases in industry. But in industry, this rise in price ceases as soon as demand has become effective and brought about an increased supply of commodities. The product now falls to the old, or rather below the old, level of value. But in agriculture this additional product is thrown on to the market neither at the same price nor at a 1ower price. It costs more and effects a constant rise in market-prices and along with that, a raising of rent. How is this to be explained if not by the fact that ever less fertile types of land are being used, that ever more labour is required in order to produce the same product, that agriculture becomes progressively more sterile? Why, apart from the influence of the depreciation [of money], did agricultural products rise in England from 1797 to 1815 with the rapid development of the population? That they fell again later proves nothing. That supplies from foreign markets were cut off proves nothing. On the contrary. This in fact created the right conditions for demonstrating the effect of the law of rent as such. For it was the very cutting off of foreign supplies which forced the country to have recourse to ever less fertile land. This cannot be explained by an absolute increase in rent, because not only did the rental rise but also the rate of rent. The quarter of wheat, etc. rose in price.

It cannot be explained by depreciation because although this might well explain why, with greater productivity in industry, industrial products fell, hence why the relative price of agricultural products rose, it would not explain why in addition to this relative rise, the prices of agricultural products were continuously rising absolutely. Similarly, it cannot be explained as a consequence of the fall in the rate of profit. This would never explain a change in prices, but only a change in the distribution of value or of price between landlord, manufacturer and worker. [Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, (Chapter IX) History of the Ricardian Law of Rent [6] Ricardo’s Thesis on the Constant Rise in Corn Prices. Table of Annual Average Prices of Corn from 1641 to 1859].

Marx is a bit over-zealous, but he is writing in his notebooks. If the price increases tell us something about the mechanisms of accumulation and apportionment, then the price declines also tell us something about accumulation and apportionment. In fact, it is Marx’s contention, at least for industrial capital and industrial commodities, that it is only in the totality of those changes in those prices, in that inflation and devaluation that the truth of accumulation and apportionment is manifested.

The correlation between population growth and price increase is a strong correlation, but it is not an absolute correlation. Again, Mark Overton in his Agricultural Revolution in England points out that there is a positive correlation between the rate of growth of the population in England and the rate of growth in prices:

It indicates a strong positive relationship from the 1540s to 1780s: the rate at which prices were growing followed the rate of population growth. But after the 25 year period starting 1781 the relationship changes: population growth rates rise to unprecedented levels [over 1 per cent per annum], but the rate of growth in prices starts to fall, from a peak of over 2 per cent per annum…Although population was growing, the agricultural sector of the economy was able to expand output to meet the additional demand, so that prices failed to rise so rapidly as they had done under pressure of demand in previous centuries. [emphasis added] …at the start of the eighteenth century English agriculture seemed unable to expand output significantly, but by the end of the century such expansion was well under way. [Overton, Agricultural Revolution in England, p.69-70]

As a matter of fact, after 1800 the correlation between population growth and rate of growth of prices turns negative, with the steady population growth rate of about 1.4 percent per annum coincident with a negative rate of growth of prices. This negative trend is reversed only when the rate of population growth declines after about 1825.

It’s not Ricardo’s fault that the poor state of English record-keeping regarding its agricultural revolution prevented him from recognizing that such a transformation had occurred. It’s not Marx’s fault that the English record-keeping and analysis of the record that did exist was still in a poor state at the time he undertook his critique. However, it is Marx’s “fault” that in his defense of the law of value, he abstracts, in his discussion of rent, that law from the social relations that it embodies and reproduces.

The law of value is not some deus ex machine, nor is it some divinitus machine. It is a law derived from the social relations of production. It is derived from and reproduces the relations of classes. It is a law containing and expressing the way society organizes its own reproduction. That organization is of time itself as the means of exchange. It is the conversion of time into labor-time; the conversion of labor-time into the production of values; it is the exchange of labor-time for value. The law of value is nothing but the reproduction of the conflict between labor and the conditions of labor. The core to that reproduction, to that law, is the dispossession of the immediate, direct, producers.

So if the law of value is not compromised by ground-rent but rather confirmed and expressed through ground-rent, and Marx most definitely proves exactly this, then ground-rent must be vehicle, a vector, a mechanism, a mediation for the realization of that core to the reproduction of value. Through ground-rent, the class renting out the ground, must be reproducing the social relation of value even to, especially to, the point of transforming itself as a class in the process, and in the relation, itself.

This transformation is exactly what ground-rent accomplishes. This transformation is exactly what ground-rent accomplishes painfully, acutely, chaotically in the inflationary period of failed harvests during the anti-Jacobin and then Napoleonic Wars.

7. So what is this revolution? What is transformation of English agriculture? And what about the period 1794-1815, what processes are quickened by and during this period of inflation? What is the legacy of this period?

First and foremost, the effects of the price inflation, the changes in land use, land tenure, rights of common are very different for different regions, and for different villages within the same region in England. Still there are trends, and the trend is our friend.

During this English “revolution,” the growth in agricultural yield outpaced the increase in new lands brought into cultivation. Jonathan Theobold in his paper “Agricultural Productivity in Woodland High Suffolk 1600-1850,” [from the Agricultural History Review available on the website of the British Agricultural Historical Society: www.bahs.org.uk volume 50, part 1, 2002. See note at end on how to access paper from this site] writes:

For example, figures show that although the area under grain grew by approximately 160 percent between 1670 and 1850, the total grain yield in this period increased by over 500 percent implying that land productivity was noticeably improving.

…in the 170 years after 1700 the agrarian economy of England was utterly transformed, and agricultural practice and productivity significantly improved. Overton noted in 1996 that ‘the magnitude of changes that occurred [in Norfolk between 1750 and 1850] were out of all proportion to those which had occurred during the preceding 500 years, and changes of similar magnitude were happening elsewhere’ in England.

Output exceeded, and by far, increases in arable acreage. Yields improved, but yield is a very “soft” measure of agricultural improvement, as one of the factors determining yield is the amount of land devoted to the cultivation of crops.

Liam Brunt in his paper “Estimating English Wheat Production in the Industrial Revolution,” [available at: http://www.nuff.ox.ac.uk/economics/history/paper29/29bruntweb.pdf] writes:

By 1771 the effect of crop rotation reached a peak because the average crop rotation featured a large proportion of turnips and a relatively small proportion of grain crops- so the wheat yield was correspondingly high. But as the price of wheat rose dramatically through the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793 onwards) farmers grew a higher proportion of wheat and accepted a lower wheat yield per acre. In the post-war depression the proportion of wheat in the rotation shrank dramatically (thus improving yields) but thereafter increased in response to rising prices. Two aspects of this process need to be stressed.

First, the change in crop rotation was a rational response to temporarily high prices. The soil is effectively a ‘nutrient bank’ where the farmer can either make a deposit or a withdrawal. When wheat prices were temporarily high during the Napoleonic Wars it was optimal for the farmer to make a withdrawal (i.e. grow more wheat in the rotation) and run down the quality of the soil.

We see there is a moment that corresponds to Ricardo’s claim, and Marx’s endorsement of the claim, that successive applications of capital to the same land provide a declining rate of return in agriculture. But this moment is not a “natural event” but a market decision to apply capital in order to deplete the land of its potential, improved yield and output in favor of a compressed, reduced but more valuable immediate yield and output.

We see a possible moment that corresponds to Ricardo’s and Marx’s theory of increased agricultural prices due to the incorporation of marginal, less fertile land. There follows increased effort for increased production, theoretically, but at a higher price, practically. The marginal lands require more capital, more labor, more time to provide the yield and output of the land already in cultivation. The increased cost of this expanded production to meet the moment of insufficient supply or increased demand raises the average social cost of reproducing the total agricultural product. Again, however, this is a moment, a market decision, and not the permanent characteristic of agricultural production.

Says Brunt:

The point to note is that variations in total wheat output are much more sensitive to changes in crop rotation than changes in arable acreage. There are two methods of raising wheat output by 25 percent. Once option is to keep the same crop rotation and increase the arable acreage by 25 percent. This is clearly very costly because it involves a high fixed cost for bringing new land into production (even if the farmer simply ploughs up pasture land). Moreover since the new land is likely to be of lower quality it will require an acreage increase in excess of 25 percent… The second option is to keep the same arable acreage and grow 25 percent wheat instead of 20 percent wheat.

Marx’s claim that agricultural producers cannot multiply and reproduce their critical instrument, the land, at will and with the same level of productivity as the bourgeoisie can multiply their machines ignores the ability to bring fallow land into production, and to alter rotations.

Certainly the price inflation of 1790-1813 brought new lands, formerly marginal lands into production but neither massively nor quickly enough to determine the price of wheat. The weather conditions that limited the harvest by exacerbating the underlying low level of technology, in particular the poor drainage, of most English agriculture did act that massively and that quickly.

J.A Perkins, in his paper “The Prosperity of Farming on the Lindsey Uplands: 1813-1837,” [available on the BAHS website, volume 24.2, 1976] writes:

The high prices of cereal prevailing during the majority of the war years offered the prospects of a return to farmers for bringing the light soils of the Lindsey uplands permanently under the plough, to be cultivated with cereal and fodder crop rotations designed to raise the fertility of the soil and the profitability of farming in the longer term. To bring the land to a peak of fertility required a considerable investment of capital, which was largely borne by a tenantry occupying their farms without the security of leases, and which—although inflation during the war years reduced the time-span between investment and return—was not completely returned before a number of years had elapsed. The landlords provided the framework [emphasis added] for progress by financing the enclosure of the land and the relocation of farmsteads…Thereafter, the landlords mainly assisted their tenants by permitting a lag to exist between the level of farm rents and the productivity and profitability of farm. But the initiators of the agricultural revolution on the Lindsey uplands were the tenant farmers, and the overwhelming bulk of investment in the land from the turn of the 19th century consisted of tenant outlays.

In converting the land from pasture to permanent tillage the tenants had to expend a total of £ 8 to £ 9 per acre, of the equivalent of fifteen to twenty times the unimproved annual value of the land in the late 1790s…. the land had first to “pared and burnt,” by gangs of men….Next the land war “marled” or dressed with chalk at the rate of 80 cubic feet per acre to…counteract…the tendency of turnips grown on light soils to run to a taproot. Finally the process of reclaiming the land for tillage was completed by a dressing of 60 bushels of bones per acre on the initiating turnip crop in the rotation…..

…There were, however, important differences of emphasis between the farming of the wartime and that of the postwar years. Where previously the farmers had striven to raise output without according much consideration to costs, whose increase was retarded in the instances of rent and wages by custom and tradition, and whose general significance was eroded by inflations, after 1813 they were motivated to increase the productivity of labor and capital as well as the productiveness of land. After 1813, the prosperity of farming came to depend not only upon the farmer’s ability to increase the gross output of their farms, to maintain the level of their farm by means of a larger volume of produce, but also upon a lowering of costs per unit of output to maintain profit margins. Both of these objectives were achieved by the continued development of the farming system.

What we have here is half the story of the revolution in English agriculture, the story of increasing applications of capital providing increased output and demanding the modern measure of value, profitability.

No revolution is so benign as to simply be the product and the record of hardy, hard working entrepreneurs, conquering nature with drill and plow, overturning the soil inspired by their innate acquisitiveness. Revolutions, even those that don’t overthrow kings, tyrants, and classes; even those that don’t establish kings, tyrants, classes; even revolutions in the prosaic practice of agriculture involve more than just “improvement.” Within, and under, those indexes of output, yields, productivity—those measures of the change in the forces of production—are the measures changing the relations of production.

Within those measures that record, between 1700 and 1850, the 100 percent increase in sown arable acreage; that productivity of land doubled; of the 100 percent growth in labor productivity [Mark Overton, “Re-establishing the English Agricultural Revolution,” BAHS website, volume 44.1, 1996]; is the coded record of the transformation of the land and its products into capital, and the changes in the proportions of that capital to the labor it commanded. That code, when deciphered into its measures of capital and labor, tells us that improvement was a by-product of acquisition and accumulation.

The level of technology circumscribed by capital sets for the farmer an optimum scale of operations—an expanded area to be cultivated where the relationship between costs and benefits is optimized. This expanded area, this “new” land brought into cultivation is not “virgin” land of unknown fertility, existing at the edges of established agriculture, but the land cultivated by the cottagers, and small farmers who cannot afford the cost of enclosure and must sell or abandon the land. The expanded area is the “wastes,” the fens and moors and marshes utilized as resources for subsistence by cottagers, commoners, small farmers, hunters, artisans, day laborers, seasonal laborers. The “improvement” of agriculture is the attack on the right of common to tillage and pasture, to gleanings, to the folding of livestock. The expansion is the expansion of private property.

“The landlords provide the framework by financing the enclosure of land,” the major result of which was the increase in average farm size. J.A. Perkins writing again about Lindsey in “Tenure, Tenant Right, and Agricultural Progress in Lindsey 1780-1850” [BAHS website, volume 23.1, 1975 ] states:

In 1787, to take one example, the 2200 acres of land in the parish of Beelsby on the Wolds were divided between four farms of over 300 acres each, four small farms of between 10 and 40 acres each, and eight small holdings of from 3 to 9 acres each, which shared with two other cottages without land in the exploitation of the 70 acres of “Cottagers Pasture.” Thirty years later, the whole parish was divided into two large farms of 1,086 and 1,080 acres respectively.

The loss of rights to common, of access to the wastes, fens, marshes, all these made the market dependency of producers, big and small, more acute… and more desperate. The high prices of the Napoleonic War years seemed to provide relief, and prosperity, to the small farmers and the cottagers, as prices for their surplus product brought higher prices. However, the rising prices of inputs to production, of the means of subsistence, and the rising rents that the small farmers and cottagers had to absorb made them that much more market dependent, and that much less capable of withstanding any economic adversity such as reduced harvest due to poor weather. Subsistence required income. Income meant production for exchange, for the market.

And when income was not enough to provide for subsistence and rent? Then the direct producer, the smaller tenant, the commoners, the cottagers were dispossessed, and were left with only one thing of value to exchange in the markets, their labor-power.

And here we can see the social function of the price inflation of agriculture products, and the resulting high rents. Inflation is accumulation by almost, but not quite, primitive means. Landlords are the personification of that almost, but not quite, primitive means.

8. Enclosure effectively concentrated capital—land, buildings, implements, livestock, seed—into fewer hands, operating expanded acreage. Certainly the process was uneven, but the trend was the trend to larger farms cultivated “in severality”—without obligation to the community of producers, large, small, poor, and even landless.

The trend to larger farms was not confined to enclosed acreage but was the trend in both open and enclosed field farming. Enclosure, however, was the dominant response to increased market dependency. The effects of enclosure on the social relations of agricultural production were the “other half” of the agricultural revolution in England, transforming class relations from those of common right, common obligation, common allocation, and common service to those of private accumulation. With the transformation of the relations of land to labor there comes, necessarily, the “disappearance” of those who depended upon the common appropriation, on the reproduction of the common right. The disappearance is, of course, the transformation through dispossession of that class reproducing itself as private producers engaged in agricultural production through the common management, supervision, regulation of the source of surplus– landed labor.

J. M. Neeson writing in Commoners: Common Right, Enclosure and Social Change in England 1700-1820 [Cambridge University Press, 1993] concludes in his study of twenty-three parishes in Northamptonshire between 1780 and 1815:

We can summarize the findings on disappearance of landholders and decline of survivors’ holdings as follows: First: half of all landholders sold all their lands in enclosing parishes during the enclosure period, compared to only one quarter of those in open parishes. Occupiers sold as frequently as owners who let their lands; and tenants left the land at the same rate. The smaller the holding, the more likely was the sale of land….One exception to this rule seems to have occurred in forest parishes, where smallholders stayed on the land in greater numbers than elsewhere, perhaps encourage by continued enjoyment of common right.

Second: surviving landholders sold some of their land too, and tenants worked smaller holdings. One third of the remaining original landholders lost a significantly larger amount of their lands than would have gone to the tithe-owner for tithe compensation. In contrast only one eighth of open parish landholders lost land on this scale…. [p.239-240].

Thus, with the possible exception of parishes where pat of the old common-right economy survived, many smallholders sold all their land at enclosure and most sold some of it. Although there was no common parish experience, there was a common shareholder experience…

…it becomes that enclosure dealt small peasants a double blow, for not only did they lose common right, they lost land too. No argument about the rise and fall of classes can do justice to this effect of enclosure. Whether the English peasantry disappeared or not, the effect of enclosure on the last generation of open field peasants was profound. [p.242-243]

Open-field agricultural communities were no utopias for small proprietors, for small tenants, for cottagers, and commoners, but they were less market-dependent, less exchange-driven. The organization of production, the use of land and labor, was fundamentally opposed to the capitalization of agriculture.

Open-field agricultural practices were not less “efficient,” less “productive” than enclosed field agricultural practices. Much of the advance in crop rotation, land “conditioning,” and convertible husbandry had been developed on and incorporated into open-field cultivation without reductions in common rights.

Enclosure was first and foremost the reconfiguration of the relation of land to labor, of landed labor, institutionalizing profit and accumulation as the determinants of production. The reconfiguration of labor was not limited to the small holder of land but extended to the village. Destroying the common rights excluded the landless, the small-holding artisan, the craftsman from supplementing his or her income; from maintaining himself or herself as a small private producer insulated from the expanding market dependency. Destroying the common right also prevented the artisan, the landless, from presenting himself or herself as a casual wage-laborer, seeking wages only at various times and only as individual circumstances dictated.

Enclosure was not simply dispossession from land, from property, but the dispossession of labor from any direct attachment to the products of its own creation. It is the extended moment in English history that transforms production into production for exchange; where the market becomes the mechanism for subordinating labor to property by transforming land into capital.

In this historical transformation of the social relations of production, we can determine why it was that while modern capitalism begins its existence in the transformation of agriculture, the accumulation of capital proceeds more slowly in agriculture than in industry. We can even account for the different rates of capitalist accumulation and development among countries.

Those different rates have little to do with the “strength” of the landlords, the level of rents, the “diversion” of profits from the industrial capitalists and to the landlords through rents. That difference indeed has its origin, as Marx noted, in the fact that capital does not confront landed property in a “pristine” state, but in its pre-existing social organization. However, that condition is not the “one-sided” domination of the feudal lords. The social organization of agriculture in England was also the prevalence of the small-scale, “subsistence plus surplus” cultivators of open-field, common right land.

The more that small scale “subsistence plus surplus” mode reproduces itself, actually “fractalizes” itself, the more difficult is it for capital, and the capitalists, to establish the commercial relations of land to production, of labor to product, that can create and sustain the market. The more difficult it is to create those relations that can transform production into production for exchange, and exchange into accumulation.

Rent is no integument to that market relationship. On the contrary, rent is its hand-maiden. The rent-seeking, profit-seeking landlord, in the very process of rent-seeking, is transforming land into capital and, at the same time, doing away with class of landlords. After the wave of enclosures during and after the Napoleonic Wars, the number of landlords in some parishes of the English countryside was reduced by one-third, as landlords too sold out, and cashed in.

In the end, the revolution in English agriculture sets the stage for eclipse of those old tenets of ground-rent theories, where less productive land is always brought into cultivation, where demand can never be satisfied, where successive applications of capital provide reduced yields, and where excess surplus value accrues to the higher priced product, to the least efficient producer. In the end, the revolution in English agriculture sets the stage transforms agricultural production into the reproduction of capital and thus sets the stage for overproduction.

In his paper “Adjustments in Arable Farming after the Napoleonic Wars” [BAHS site, volume 28.2, 1980], A.R. Wilkes writes:

For twenty years after the Napoleonic War the response of England’s farmers to low wheat prices was to produce more. While some of the increase was obtained from higher yields, the major part came from vastly expanded acreages. This development seems to have taken place throughout the country. Although on some farms, it was a positive economic response…on many it represented the only possible response by farmers already growing wheat as their main crop. Such people were unable or unwilling to adjust to other types of farming, and they were forced increasingly to pin their hopes on the traditional rent-payer, often at the expense of good farming. This pattern did not change until the mid-1830s.

9. Capital accumulates so much faster in industry than in agriculture for the very reason, in part, that Marx identifies as being the basis for rent—the lower average wage paid to agricultural labor in comparison to the wage paid to industrial labor.

Accelerated accumulation in industry is precipitated by the higher wages paid to urban workers who cannot supplement their own subsistence through access to common rights in agriculture. Consequently, the source of industrial capital, the wage, and the wage alone as the source of reproduction of the laborer consistently pushes against the capitalists’ need to restrain costs.

Capital attempts to resolve this tension by aggrandizing greater wage labor through proportional expulsion—by reducing the amount of time of the working day required for the reproduction of the workers’ wages. The expulsion requires the substitution of the inanimate, insensate, machine—the application of increasing amounts of fixed capital to the production process.

The fixed component only transfers its value, its cost to the capitalist, piecemeal, incrementally in the value of the individual product. The ability of fixed capital to amplify accumulation exists solely in its ability to reduce the time of production of the commodity, which also reduces the amount of value transferred from the machinery to commodity. The capitalist has no choice save to operate the fixed capital on the largest scale, running continuously, ceaselessly.

No such continuity of production is possible in agriculture practiced on the small scale, limited by subsistence, circumscribed not only in space by area, but in time, by its very seasonality, disrupting the continuing of production, extending the lag between production and product.

Only through expansion of the area for cultivation, through dispossession of the small producer, can capital in agriculture begin that process leading to accumulation. In this, the trajectory of capital, rent is not the barrier, it is the facilitator. Rent launches capital.

S. Artesian

December 29, 2010

Part 2 will examine rent and “natural resources”- and the suitability of rent as an explanation for price fluctuations in a representative natural resource like… oil.

Note: How to access papers from the BAHS website.

1. go to www.bahs.org.uk

2. in the left margin, click on Agricultural History Review

3. on the new screen click on “search and read past articles from the Review…”

4. on the new screen click on “to search an index to articles with links…”

5. Scroll to volume in which the paper appears and click.