Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Anarchism in Bolivia


Review of Huascar Rodriguez Garcia's La Choledad Antistatal

Anarchism doesn't really begin in Bolivia until 1923 when Luis Cuiscanqui, an Aymara mechanic and Domitilia Pareja form el Grupo de Propaganda Libertario and commence publishing Antorcha. The first anarcho-syndicalist unions were formed shortly thereafter. In 1927 the Federacion Obrera Local (FOL) was formed in La Paz uniting these new unions. The anarchists put their efforts into the eight hour day struggle. At that time people worked 10 hours a day and this was often increased to 24 hours in the mines.

The FOL quickly became a powerful mass movement, not just emphasizing the general strike, but also popular education and culture. They supported the Aymara in their struggle against the state and the landowners. Support for indigenous people became a central focus of the federation. Luis Cuisicanqui published an anti-racist manifesto "Voice of the Campesino" for which he was persecuted by the state. From the beginning, FOL had an autonomous women's movement and union – Sindicato Feminino de Oficios Varios led by three of FOL's most important anarchist militants, Catalina Mendoza, Rosa Rodriguez, and Petronilia Infantes. This became the Federacion Obrera Feminina (FOF) The workers knew them affectionately as Cata, Peta and Rosa. The union became very influential among laundry women, culinary workers, florists and market women.

Anarchism quickly spread to other cities in Bolivia. During the Fourth National Workers Congress of 1929 Marxists were in a minority and the anarchist presence was overwhelming. The Federacion Oruro de Trabajadores (FOT) was formed in Oruro. The growth of this union, as well as their dynamite armed miners sowed panic among the ruling classes. FOT also formed a women's union much like FOF.

Meanwhile, the Bolivian Government was gearing up for a battle with Paraguay in the ill fated Chaco War. The anarchists were naturally opposed. Many were rounded up and placed in jungle concentration camps, and as people of the Altiplano, many died of malaria and TB. Others were put in front of firing squads and shot as "traitors," or placed on the front lines. The police engaged in false flag operations, setting off bombs in the barrios, hoping the anarchists would get blamed. FOL and FOT were made illegal and the movement went underground.

FOL regrouped in July 1935 and organized a massive general strike that put La Paz in the hands of the workers. The army revolted and overthrew the government. The military had become radicalized during the Chaco War, attempted to introduce top-down statist "military socialism" and tried to coopt the anarchists. This endeavor failed.

In spite of all this violence and turmoil, the Federacion Obra Feminina persisted. They did such a good job of organizing women cooks, servants and restaurant workers that men sought to join. The women feared a take-over and told the men to form their own union and join FOL . As they said to the men "we organized it, we defended it, we run it!" FOF were also aware of the racial aspect involved. The women who laboured in the kitchens and houses of the rich white criollos were Indigenous (Cholas) . FOF was proud to be a Chola union and by 1940 had 5000 members.

Defend their union they did. Market women were accused of being smugglers for bringing in goods from the countryside. The resulting strikes and mass demonstrations saw many arrests and beatings, but the FOF women soaped the street causing the mounted cops and troops to slip and fall. Things got so hot for the authorities that the law was eventually rescinded.

FOF organized schools and libraries, teaching women to read. They also fought for the right of divorce and equal treatment of children in and out of wedlock. These demands scandalized the hypocritical upper class women.

The radicalized soldiers formed the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) and organized a miners union in 1944. This union began to push the anarcho-syndicalists to one side, but it took another eight years to eliminate their influence. In the meantime FOL organized campesinos in the Federacion Agraria Departmental (FAD) Shortly after, early in 1947, the peasants rose up in one of the greatest insurrections of indigenous people of the 20th century. The whole Altiplano was ablaze with burning haciendas. The people took back their land stolen centuries ago. FOL, FOF and FAD called a general strike. The state responded with massive repression. Thousands were arrested and sent to jungle concentration camps where thirty died, including FAD leader Marcelino Quispe. The repression was so extreme that the Federacion Obra Feminina remained the largest intact anarcho-syndicalist group and became the vanguard of the movement.

The MNR, now further radicalized by the Trotskyists, did little. The anarcho-syndicalists took the blow for them and they reaped the benefits by moving in and organizing their own unions. In 1952 the MNR won the general election and the oligarchy refused to relinquish power. A spontaneous revolt throughout the country, in which the anarchists were deeply involved, overthrew the government. The nation was in the hands of the workers and peasants, but the MNR reintroduced the state and immediately sought to limit the direct action socialization process going on. The Workers Confederation of Bolivia (COB) was formed by the Trotskyists and the anarcho-syndicalist unions were forced to join. FOL dissapeared soon after. FAD lived on for another couple of years, but was eventually forced to amalgamate with the MNR peasants union.

FOF joined the MNR union in 1955, but somehow maintained its existence as an anarcho-syndicalist movement. Ten years later the Federacion Obra Feminina was finally crushed by the US-inspired Barrientos dictatorship which overthrew the MNR government.


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