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Obituary: Guillermo Lora

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| Categories: Bolivia, Statements

Guillermo Lora, a historic leader of Bolivian Trotskyism, died on May 17, 2009 in La Paz at the age of roughly 87 – his age was never certain because, born in the early 1920s in the town of Uncía in the department of Potosí, he never received a birth certificate. From its foundation in the mid-1930s, Lora’s Revolutionary Workers’ Party (Partido Obrero Revolucionario, POR) – also known by the name of its periodical “POR-Masas” – played an important role in the Bolivian workers’ movement, especially amongst the miners. It was one of just a few Trotskyist parties, along with those in Vietnam and Sri Lanka, to win a mass base in the working class.
The influence of the POR is recounted in the book Rebellion in the Veins by James Dunkerley. It tells how Lora’s brother, César, as a Trotskyist trade union leader would lead columns of miners armed with dynamite in fighting in the capital. He was later murdered by the military dictatorship. At one point in the 1970s, Soviet economic advisors visiting the Bolivian tin mines were shocked to be greeted by hundreds of miners waving red flags of the Fourth International!
Guillermo Lora, both a leader of vanguard sections of the workers’ movement and an intellectual who wrote extensively on the history of the workers’ movement in Bolivia, politics and art, was never co-opted by the bourgeoisie during his almost seven decades of militancy. This is an impressive accomplishment in a backward country like Bolivia where capitalist class rule requires continuously buying off leaders of the oppressed: the Morales government is full of not just peasant leaders, trade unionists and former guerilleros, but also a number of Maoists and former Trotskyists.

The old generation
Some revolutionaries, even after decades of political activity, are remembered in the form of a single, short document. Karl Liebknecht had “The main enemy is at home!” and Guillermo Lora had the “Theses of Pulacayo” (1). These theses, which Lora adapted from Trotsky’s Transitional Program to the situation in Bolivia, were adopted by the Trade Union Federation of Mine Workers of Bolivia (FSTMB) at its 1946 congress.
Lora always insisted that the theses were nothing but a reflection of the miners’ consciousness (“I didn’t write them, the miners dictated them to me and I edited them”2), revealing his syndicalist tendencies. But despite certain weaknesses these theses remain to this day the most important programmatic document of the Bolivian miners’ organisations (whose ideology has been described as “Trotskyised syndicalism”) and any functionary can quote their basic principles. The theses describe the need to combine the struggle for the democratic tasks with the struggle for socialism.
At the time of his death, Lora was probably the last of the generation Trotskyists (Mandel, Healy, Grant) who became active before or during World War II and who, under the extremely difficult conditions of the beginning post-war boom, attempted to re-elaborate the Trotskyist program and re-build the Fourth International. They ultimately failed, adapting in different ways to social-democratic, Stalinist or nationalist bureaucratic apparatuses. Post-war Trotskyism in its entirety represented not the continuity of Bolshevism but a special form of centrism: this was best reflected where the Trotskyists were a relevant current in the workers’ movement of their country and were tested in heated class battles, such as in Bolivia.

A brief history
Bolivia’s “National Revolution” of 1952 confirmed many postulates of the permanent revolution. The Bolivian bourgeoisie was irresolute in the face of long-overdue democratic tasks, meaning it was the armed workers who forced through an agrarian reform, the nationalization of the mines and some civil rights (such as the right to vote) for the country’s indigenous majority. The POR, however, rather than fighting to extend the bourgeois-democratic revolution into a proletarian-socialist one, adopted a policy of pushing the bourgeois government to the left. They limited themselves to pressuring (and thus critically supporting) the left wing of the nationalist party, the MNR, calling for workers’ representatives to join the government in order to influence its policies, rather than calling on them to break with it (3).
After 1952, Lora codified this adaptation to the democratic bourgeoisie in his theory of the “Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Front” (which he considered his most important theoretical contribution to Trotskyism). The POR on different occasions formed a block with left-wing reformists and nationalist military officers, not even excluding the possibility of blocks with the “nationalist bourgeoisie”. These blocks were based not only on limited tactical agreements but on a vague strategy of “socialism”, which inevitably meant the POR agreed to limit its demands to how far its Stalinist or military allies were willing to go.
A new revolutionary upheaval in 1971 brought Lora and the POR to prominence again. The Popular Assembly, a delegate-based body which had elements of a workers’ and peasants’ congress (but which Lora proclaimed “the first soviet of Latin America”) played a dominant role in the country under the short-lived government of the very left-wing General Torres in 1970-71.
Lora would later recognize that it had been “completely mistaken” to expect the military government to distribute arms to the workers, as Torres preferred to seek agreements with his colleagues rather than challenge the bourgeois order by arming the masses. However Lora, as a prominent member of the People’s Assembly and its Political Command, went along with the policy of passively waiting for the left wing of the military to solve this problem – when the military right toppled Torres, the workers’ movement was unarmed, both militarily and politically (4).
It was in this period that Lora started emphasizing theories of Bolivian particularism, especially in regard to the army. “The army here is not a caste” was one of his favorite sayings in later years and he wrote reams about the progressive traditions of the military in Bolivia’s history. The project of ideologically winning over the officers’ caste tended to replace the project of arming the workers.
The obituary by the Central Committee of the POR identifies Lora as “our general secretary”5, but in fact he withdrew from day-to-day politics many years ago. “Chance has given me a few extra years” he said about himself, and he used the time for literary activity: his “Obras Completas” (Collected Works), comprising over 60 volumes and still not completed, are already more extensive than Lenin’s!
More than Bolivia’s geographic isolation, Lora’s theories of Bolivian particularism led to the POR’s isolation from the international Trotskyist movement. He participated several times in international Trotskyist conferences, but despite siding with the International Committee in the 1953 split of the Fourth International, the POR never formally joined it. Lora was close to the Lambertist current from 1971 but split from it together with the Altamirist current (Partido Obrero of Argentina) in 1979. Their joint current fell apart in 1988, leaving the POR’s references to the Fourth International purely ritualistic.
After that, the POR had virtually no interaction with international currents and thus no opinions on them. Lora’s assessment of international Trotskyism when I met him in 2007 was simply: “They haven’t assimilated the Bolivian experience.'” The POR itself remained influential in two areas (the teachers’ union of La Paz, which it has led for more than twenty years, and the university students’ federation of Cochabamba) but was not able to offer any kind of leadership in the revolutionary crises that rocked the country in 2003 or 2005. Lora’s assessments of these crises, perhaps typically nostalgic for someone of his age, were: “The Bolivian workers’ still haven’t recovered from the defeat of 1971.”

A conclusion
Guillermo Lora dedicated his entire life to the working class and to socialist revolution in Bolivia. As a student, he moved to the inhospitable miners towns high in the Andes to fight for Trotskyism amongst this particularly exploited and militant sector of the working class. He paid for his intransigent opposition to capitalism with long years in prison and longer years in exile.
Despite the fact that we believe he made serious errors in his strategic conceptions and theories, his legacy should not only be honored but also studied. Only by understanding the successes and failures of leaders like Lora will a new generation of socialist revolutionaries in Bolivia and around the world be able to complete his project, world socialist revolution.

by Wladek Flakin, independent youth organization REVOLUTION []

published in Permanent Revolution #13, Summer 2009 []

(1) Available at: (English translation)
(3) See the Bolivian Revolution of 1952 – polemic with the POR at
(4) For an article on the POR, Torres and the 1970/71 Bolivian crisis see:

James Dunkerley: Rebellion in the Veins. La Paz 2003 and London 1984.
Eduardo Molina: “Obituario: Falleció Guillermo Lora.”
Workers Power/Irish Workers’ Group: The Death Agony of the Fourth International and the Tasks of Trotskyists Today. London 1983.
“A Revolution Betrayed: The POR and the Fourth International in the Bolivian Revolution.” Revolutionary History. Vol. 4. No. 3. Summer 1992. pp. 58-85.

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