The Radical Anti-imperialist Consciousness of Bolivian Tin Miners in the Early 20th-Century


Nearly a decade ago, in September 2008, the Bolivian government under Evo Morales canceled diplomatic relations with the United States and expelled U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg. The Bolivian government followed the closing of the U.S. embassy in La Paz, attributed to Goldberg’s “divisive interventionist” practices on behalf of the United States, by assertively criticizing and then expelling the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The subtext of this assertiveness coincided with the emergence in the early 2000s of what has been called the “rise of the pink wave” of Latin American democracies.1 With the ascendance of Evo Morales to the presidency of Bolivia – elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2009 and 2014 – as part of such a wave, the government disinterred “anti-imperialist” sentiments to specifically challenge the perceived overbearing influence of the United States on Bolivian politics.

The politics of anti-imperialism, however, rather than being a new twist of realpolitik, can be found in the layers of localized history accreted during Bolivia’s long status as a peripheral country entangled in the workings of the world system.2 My intention here is thus not to focus on the re-emergence of this politics today, but to re-assess the origins and conditions of anti-imperialist consciousness in the 20th-century Bolivian Andes.

The appearance of anti-imperialist politics in Bolivia coincides with the economic transformation wrought by the industrialization of tin mining in the early 1900s, a process which also entailed a transition in forms of worker organization, from artisanal guilds that had adopted elements of anarchist philosophy, to rank-and-file unions of proletarians who perceived the imperialist dimensions of their exploitation. This political shift marks the circulation of struggles in response to international trends, as early industrial mining camps, despite their geographical isolation, were nevertheless cosmopolitan places influenced by political discourses of metropolitan modernity.

A New Empire

It is important to stress that the politics of anti-imperialism accompanies, pari passu, the historic transformation of imperialism itself.3 Early moments of capital accumulation – including foreign investments and the expropriation of indigenous lands – would transform a republic, the United States, into an Empire, symbolized by the Monroe Doctrine and following in the footsteps of the fading British presence in the region. Bolivian mining, along with others, would constitute one example of the U.S. imperialist reality of extractivist exploitation known as monoproduction.

Although Portugal and Spain could be considered extractivist empires in earlier historical contexts, the United States established its own modes of domination during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The goal was not to establish colonies as such, at least in Latin America.4 But the North American government did try to establish a colonialist relation within a geopolitically defined Pan-American and Monroeian space. This relation would be ruptured only by revolutionary events: the 1952 Bolivian National Revolution (to be effectively hijacked by the United States), the 1959 Cuban Revolution, and the 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. During these events, and throughout the region, the interventionist foreign policy of the United States has been perceived by many to be imperialistic.

These policies aimed to guarantee the implementation of free and unregulated market presence that would favor U.S. investments and profits, whether this meant the sponsorship of military dictatorships (1960s–1980s), support for “democraduras” and “re-democratization” when these dictatorships became untenable (1980s–1990s), or, later, interventionist programs such as the direct and indirect investments of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and support from the Heritage Foundation, an arrogant rightist think-tank, for activities that fostered a pro-neoliberal political class and facilitated its entry into the global free market.

The importance of this second wave of anti-imperialism, in the second half of the 20th century, is often recognized. By this we refer to the context of the Cold War and the U.S.-sponsored Alliance for Progress – dubbed “The Alliance for Failure” by the 1960s Latin American student movement. This political interventionist measure, along with the inspiration of the Cuban example, provoked the emergence of armed guerrillas in several nodes of Latin America who struggled against modernizing agents and military regimes that were protected, directly and indirectly, by the United States. The underlying goal of the U.S. geopolitical outlook and support for military institutions was to strengthen or create both a consumerist middle class and a political-military class (“selected to lead the unruly civilians”) that could guarantee open access to the free market and trigger a full process of modernization, urbanization, and industrialization. In this way, modernization theory was seen as answering to the proposals of the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The 1973 coup d’etat against the socialist Salvador Allende Gossens, who was democratically elected in Chile three years earlier, may be seen as the initial, neoliberal test. There, it was learned that in order to implement neoliberalism, the military junta needed to rid itself of at least 15 percent of the national population. The brutal Chilean dictatorship expelled entire families, used force to eliminate political dissent, and transformed Chile from a state of rights into a state of terror, a purely de facto government. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall in 1989, neoliberalism fully entered the region.

In the case of Bolivia during this period, the failed Nixonian War on Drugs also articulated popular responses to imperialism in the second half of the 20th century. This interventionist U.S. policy, a permissive politics of direct influence, is associated with an acquiescent political class that often had full knowledge of early illegal trafficking of drugs, as in the case of the military dictator Banzer (1971–1978). The de facto military regime of García Meza (1980–1981) went so far as to be engaged in trafficking itself. The deference to U.S. policy continued with the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) which, after leading historical revolutionary changes in 1952, was elected in 1985 to undo its own revolutionary legacy through neoliberal privatization. Under those circumstances, those who challenged U.S. hegemony were always marginalized or silenced, often physically – the Torres Government that was overthrown in 1971, the short-lived Siles Zuazo national-popular government between 1982 and 1985, and the policy of nationalization of oil reserves proposed by socialist politician Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz, who was later assassinated. Several of these moments of imperialist intervention remain fresh in popular memory, and many of today’s militants of all stripes go back in time to count the remains of the day and reconsider the lessons of the past, reviving aspects and acts of coloniality that are still relevant in the present and future.

The First Anti-imperialist Wave

Nonetheless, along with an earlier history of labor mobilizations, a prior wave of anti-imperialist struggle in Latin America in response to imperial incursion preceded the more well-recognized struggles of the Cold War era. This earlier period saw a complex circulation of struggles between Argentina, Peru, Northern Chile, and, most important for our purposes, Bolivian tin mining camps, where workers from each of these countries intermingled. Tellingly, the development of this early anti-imperialist sentiment was concomitant with the emergence of workers’ demands for eight-hour work shifts. These workers’ mobilizations were very soon answered by repression, and in 1906 workers were massacred at the Santa María Salitrera nitrate mine in Iquique, Chile, a site where workers from numerous countries labored alongside one another and developed an international, anti-imperialist solidarity. After the massacre, several of these surviving workers found work in Bolivian tin mines, where a nascent anti-imperialist ideology overlapped with the existing anarchist movements of artisans and miners.

Long before the 1950s, indeed as soon as English investments weakened, the United States had established its power in the region, but even then its own nemesis had already been active. Anti-imperialism in Latin America dates to before the articulation of sindicalismo (trade unionism) proper, going as far back as the transitory moments between an early anarchism, one which mourned the Haymarket Massacre and which celebrated International Workers Day on May 1st, and the emergence of socialist and communist parties in the 1920 and 1930s. The exploitation of silver and the construction of the English-run railway system in the 19th century and the discovery of tin in the early 20th century brought along capital-labor tensions which pointed to the concept of anti-imperialism and, by default, the local and international critique that gives anti-imperialism its substance. The trend is clear. As Antonio Negri correctly observes: “The expansive, imperialistic process of capital and its tension toward the constitution of average terms of world exploitation are then simultaneously the result and the premise for the conditions of revolutionary subjectivity.”5

It is important to situate this moment at the outset of the 20th century, and to consider the emergence of the concept of anti-imperialism from a peripheral angle. Despite Bolivia’s geographical marginality and apparent isolation, influential metropolitan ideas arrived in the area almost simultaneously with the industrialization of mining. Names such as Marx, Kropotkin, Lenin, Luxemburg, and the Spanish Generation of 1898, with its clear anarchistic tendencies, were well known and read. Despite high rates of illiteracy, the rank and file had access to the ideas offered by these authors while also remembering the heroes of earlier Andean revolts. Early mining anarchists were interested in the education of the workers, both men and women, and to that end their early guilds, called Sociedades Mutuales, organized reading and educational sessions in which “the spirit of attainment via education” was promoted along with the building of small libraries and theaters.6 According to historian Huáscar Rodríguez García, this eclectic tradition in Bolivia, largely identifying with anarcho-syndicalism, was present, “first with FOI (International Workers Federation), and later with FOL (Local Worker’s Federation) and FOT (Worker Federation of Labor) since the 1910s up to the beginnings of the 50s”.7

Back in Europe, a seminal work in the critique of imperialism was published in 1902: J.A. Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study. As is well known, this work influenced subsequent studies of imperialism including the Austrian economist Rudolf Hilferding’s Finance Capital (1910), Rosa Luxemburg’s The Accumulation of Capital (1913), Nikolai Bukharin’s Imperialism (1915), and Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917). However, given that such a textual etiology focuses principally on the global metropole, it is important to stress that anti-imperialist politics emerged almost simultaneously amidst those isolated but hegemonic “industrial workers” in the periphery and the semi-periphery, including in Bolivia, where it served to articulate a political awareness of domination and dispossession suffered by a particular working class on the broader world stage.

Such awareness, early on, is directly associated with the task of producing a self-knowledge of the laboring class’s own condition and situation within global dynamics, a question that will also later drive the development of “world systems” analysis. An anti-imperialist analysis theorizes the economic formation of a global core directly predicated upon the systematic extraction of natural resources, the processing of such resources, and the circulation of the resulting commodities, financial gains from which were not reinvested in the areas where such wealth originated. This early analysis and rejection of the domination generated by what David Harvey has appropriately labeled “accumulation by dispossession” can be found at the very base of a people’s socio-cultural environment, as it is woven into the history of the semi-peripheries and peripheries. Political awareness of foreign economic domination can nurture a politics of anti-imperialism, as imperialism provides “the privileged terrain for the emergence of the power antithetic to it.”8

The Emergence of Bolivian “Industry” and Capitalist Transformation

We must remember that the term “industrial world” is basically European since it reflects specific processes that took place there, affecting the rest of the world through its development. Because of this early association in Bolivia, or in any periphery for that matter, the concept of anti-imperialism can be read and understood as a critique of the abusive form of core, extractivist industrialism and financing that acts on and exploits the semi-capitalistic peripheries. Anti-imperialism articulates the perception of a rogue system that spoils and exploits raw manual labor by establishing local “industrial” regimes that are extractivist in nature, imposing systems of labor exploitation in which, often, national armies emerge as guarantors of capitalist order and discipline, even if this implies conducting repressing and killing workers.9 This kind of limited industrialization in the peripheries is based upon patterns of monoproduction, economic overspecialization that focuses on one item that “comparative advantage” attributes to a given producing country. Bolivia, in this picture, is a producer of tin; Brazil, of coffee and sugar; Argentina, of wheat or cattle; Chile and Peru, of copper; and so on.

Owing to these singular economic focuses, the earliest rank-and-file cadres often originated in the rural areas where more traditional temporalities had previously organized productivity and self-sufficiency. The term “industrial” then refers to the transitory stage of the artisanry, and the waged rank and file that intermittently accepts forms of synchronized timing in mining areas of the Andean region. Statistics of the early part of the 20th century, although scattered and unreliable, approximate the number of “industrial workers” at just two to three percent of the national population.10 Such “industrial workers” consisted basically of underground tin miners, and census data placed them in the section of “Transformation” – that is, people dedicated to transforming nature – thus grouping them together with the peasantry and construction workers. Of course, for the Latin American case, grosso modo, and in particular for Andean Bolivia, we must mention that forms of slavery, corveé labor, pongueaje (a local system in which labor was appropriated directly), and land tenancy arrangements continued to coexist until 1952, persisting alongside modern capitalist social relations wherever the latter took hold in the 20th century.

In fact, rural society was dominant in Bolivia very much until the 1960s when processes of urbanization expanded, attracting rural inhabitants to the peripheries of established colonial cities such as La Paz, Cochabamba, Sucre, Potosí, Oruro, and Santa Cruz. The 1952 Bolivian Social Revolution legally eliminated pongueaje servitude for the first time, a demand already submitted by thirteen national representatives of the Bloque Obrero in the national assembly of 1938.11 A similar picture emerges in other areas of Latin America, a region beset by a mix of different temporalities, unable to fully synchronize to the demands of high capitalism. Economic poverty was so tangible that Bolivian sociologists argued that the country could not afford a bourgeoisie. The Andean Region, in particular, retained monoproducing characteristics very much up to the end of the 20th century when rural populations began to decline and urban areas expanded. The emergence of the new Bolivian city of El Alto, a service town directly connected to the demands of the old city of La Paz after the 1980s, constitutes a key example of urban growth, as it is now larger than the city it once supplemented. Also significant in this process is the urbanization, albeit by different means, of the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in the 1960s, sponsored by the military dictator Banzer who utilized national revenues to “modernize” the largely somnolent area, using land appropriation and speculation to strengthen cattle ranching and open new agro-industrial ventures to undermine the centrality of La Paz, the political center.

The Centrality of Mining

The taxation of the land was perhaps the earliest form of capitalist appropriation from the autonomous peasant producer, because very often, such producers, although articulated to the circuits of emergent and uneven capitalism, did not include the value of their own labor-power in the total price of the fruits of production, now commoditized and sold at the local market. Often this impetus was the required step for a rural producer, a small-scale peasant unit, to make the leap from use value to exchange value, and thus to be able to collect enough cash to be able to pay taxes and reproduce himself and his constant capital. However, capitalism forces this situation whether or not small-producing peasants can actually fend for themselves, leading often to the dispossession of their lands when taxes were not paid off.

In the early 20th century, mining became an attractive industry for peasants who were liberated from situations of virtual serfdom such as pongueaje. On the other hand, indigenous peasant life was articulated in relation to the mining system, providing produce to reproduce the “industrial” workforce. An account from 1916 states that about 16,000 laborers, Q’oya locos (“crazy miners” – “Qoya,” Quechua for mine, and the Spanish “locos” for insane), toiled at the newly discovered tin mines of Uncía and Siglo XX, marking the emergence of the tin mining industry as tin ores, due to world war demands, were high.12 At the time, Bolivia was the only tin source that could be found in the Americas.13

Lands were appropriated – a paradigmatic example of Harvey’s concept of “accumulation by dispossession” – during this period by speculative urban land merchants who often (re)hired ousted and dispossessed peasants to work on their former lands, this time as unpaid ranch-hands, a system that was known as colonato or pongueaje, mostly in the Hacienda system that the national revolution of 1952 would go on to eliminate. Land tenancy, then, emerged as an arranged system alongside the term “absentee landlord.” The intensification of this system parallels the emergence of the tin mining industry in the Bolivian highlands, as dispossessed indigenous peasants soon found waged work by selling their manual labor-power at the tin producing mines in the early part of the 20th century.14

In this context of mining capitalism, anti-imperialism emerged as an early social awareness in the form of organized resistance to systematic extractivist phenomena. Since mining attracts a cosmopolitan world, European writings and experiences on the topic were carried by “industrial” workers that migrated en masse to Argentina, Brazil (which had only eliminated slavery in 1899), Chile, and Peru. Bolivia, however, remained harder to migrate to, and stayed populated by extensive indigenous demographics of Aymara and Quechua origin, often self-sufficient, relatively autonomous communities. Still, anarchism, anti-imperialism, and other European ideas did make their way into the country through links of of urban artisans and their counterparts in Argentina, Chile, and Peru.

But anarchism, and anti-imperialism, coincided with the isolation of the Aymara and the Quechua peoples who continued to reproduce labor systems and moral economies of Incan or Pre-Columbian heritage, outside the expectations of the “modern” Bolivian State. Also, several of these indigenous communities became victims of the State and its attempts at dispossessing them of their access to agricultural lands, struggling to validate Spanish colonial documents that acknowledged their legal status as owners of their communal lands. In these cases, the communal Ayllu systems as well as the Chaqra productive units in the rural areas continued to prevail in the context of the Bolivian “apparent state.”15 In other words, native Andean statehood practices persisted or survived intact, challenging the Bolivian modern state and its constitutional forms derived or inspired by European models and expectations.16 In this sense there was a clear disjunction between the “legal nation” and the “real nation.”

Materially, we should recognize the survival of ancient productive systems such as the Ayllu and the Chaqras that played a functional role supporting the “industrial enclaves” by circulating produce that was consumed by the emergent working class of the mining industry. This is a perfect example of the cohabitation of different but complementary modes of production: a free system of peasant-indigenous production provided cheap food to the “industrial” population of the mining camps. Capitalists like Simón I. Patiño needed not worry about how to feed miners, since peasants would play this role in a clear example of the unequal articulation of different (peasant) modes of production absorbed by the emergent capitalist mining industry. Peasants would also serve as an industrial reserve army for mining labor itself.

The “accumulation by dispossession” is evident in mineral exports to the “centers” of processing, England and the United States, which installed metallurgic foundries to process Bolivian tin ores. Ore exports and processing were key since tin ores are accompanied by other “impurities,” in this context including silver, gold, antimony, bismuth, and bauxite iron, which highly developed technologies could sort out and from which profit could be produced at rates higher than previously thought. In other words, technological advances such as smelting were able to process what the Patiño Mines and Industry in Bolivia sold as “slag,” or trash, which accompanied raw tin ore exports. It is unlikely that we will ever know the actual quantity of “ore impurities” other than tin that were sold by the Patiño Mines and processed by the smelting companies of England or the United States. This differs from the case of Spain in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, when records accounted for gold and silver exports in great detail, in accordance with the obsessive record-keeping of the bureaucrats of the Spanish Crown. But the perception of this extraction of many riches, an echo of previous forms of exploitation under modes of the colonial economy, reinforced the miners’ anti-imperialist consciousness.

Mining Camp as a Laboratory of Influences

Among workers in this lucrative, internationally connected industry, miners’ dwellings in row camps called campamentos allowed for the mutual exchange or circulation of ideas. Being that campamentos were well-structured societies with a clear organizational hierarchy, rank-and-file miners were extremely conscious of their precarity as laborers. Furthermore the class, racial, gender, and age hierarchies among workers contributed to a sentiment of labor exploitation that was articulated by anti-imperialistic ideology. This camp’s political environment is different from that of the isolated peasantry who, nevertheless, had previously revolted against the State’s attempt at dispossessing them. In fact, this is an area that was the epicenter of the Tupaq Katari revolt in the late 1780s, following the pan-Andean Tupaq Amaru rebellion centered in Peru and extending into Bolivia. Several scholars consider these pan-Andean revolts as the last attempt to reconstruct the previous Incan state.

By the 1900s, the principles of anarchism entered campamentos and circulated via newly translated books, often read aloud in public to reach illiterate workers. Anarchism emphasized education as a way to politicize the historical exploitation experienced by miners. Social consciousness was a manifestation of the presence of political vanguards who shared complementary political interests and cultivated the notion of social revolution led by the people, and in this case, the miners. Two political currents, two eschatologies, reinforced each other: a notion of the Andean ideology of Pachakuti, the turning upside down of the times, and the call of social revolution in which miners would seize power to implement social change. Although the anti-imperialist perceptions were already embedded in the expectations posed by the Pachakuti, the circulation of early Marxist analyses strengthened its expectation. As foretold in The Internationale: “the earth would be the paradise of humanity.”17

At the end of the 1880s, another famous Andean revolt had occurred in the area where the tin mines were located, lead by Zárate, “The Feared Willka,” an indigenous Quechua leader. This attempt was well known by rank-and-file miners later on, as the outcome of that event shaped the Bolivian political system for years to come. Later on, news of the 1906 Massacre of Santa María de Iquique, a nitrate mine in Northern Chile, arrived in Bolivia because several of the nitrate miners who were killed were Quechua and Aymara. The news of this massacre, too, would be linked in the minds of the rank and file to the earlier indigenous-peasant revolt. After the Chilean events of 1906, about 8,000 nitrate miners of Bolivian heritage returned to Bolivia by 1914.18 But this extensive migratory exchange of workers that circulated in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Chile was also accompanied by the circulation of ideas and printed manifestos of anarchistic inspiration. Mining camps allowed for intense political debate, eventually giving birth to the dominant and autonomous political form of unionism, or sindicalismo.

Amidst the rank and file, the Communist Manifesto was already circulating in translation when the news of the Russian Revolution of 1917 reached these mining camps, serving as a call for upheaval to match the lingering proposal of the insistent Andean Pachakuti. On the agrarian side, despotic landlord-peon relations would also find an outlet in the idea of social revolt or jacquerie. By 1920s, the term “anti-imperialism” was reinforced in the mining camps with the arrival of political exiles from Peru who brought word of the Russian events as well as the news of the ongoing Mexican Revolution. These militants would be the basis for the eventual formation of the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana or APRA. Their immediate influence appeared in political discourse with the publication of a short document titled “Teoría y Táctica de la Juventud Antiimperialista,” drafted by two emergent intellectual voices, Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre from Peru, and José Ingenieros from Argentina. The Federación Universitaria in Argentina published the text in 1928, after Haya de la Torre had already been accused in 1922 of carrying the message of the Russian Revolution and was expelled from Peru. Socialist representative and Argentinian lawyer Alfredo Palacios, also travelled to Bolivia to lecture on anti-imperialist politics, inciting the miners to organize, as did one A. Fournarakis of Buenos Aires, organizer of “the ‘South American Anarchist Balkans Union,’ whose aim was to erase national borders by building an international brotherhood.”19 International travelers like these maintained the flow of early radical literature and anti-imperialist ideas, and those workers interested in reading and learning from the circulation of new materials – specifically the autonomous artisans who were organized in guilds – were able to eagerly absorb and appropriate them.

Anti-imperialism, Populism, and the Russian Revolution

After the Chaco War (1932–1935), the formal organization of socialist and communist parties appeared on the political horizon, contributing to marginalize the previous sindicalista and artisan-inspired tendencies of the anarchists. Put simply, times were changing; the international growth of the Soviet-led communist movement helped eliminate artisan-anarchist trends, and labor itself, as well as management, experienced technological changes. In 1944, when the miners’ union federation was organized, several leaders were supported by formal political parties, and the artisan-anarchists who claimed that “workers should represent workers” were slowly defeated. Artisan guild demands were appropriated by unions controlled through socialist and communist hierarchical structures. By 1944, mining union leaders had already bureaucratized such institutions, and the “worker-leader” disappeared, replaced by “professional” party politicians. The anarchist movement was cornered and dismissed due to the emergence of national-revolutionary ideology, nationalism, and anti-imperialist discourse.

This moment also coincided with the sudden arrival of a Trotskyism in Bolivia, which was small in representation but grave in its ideas, making Bolivia one of the only labor movements in the region with a serious Trotskyist presence.20 By the time of the 1952 revolution, national-revolutionary ideology struggled against socialists, communists, and Trotskyists. Revolutionary nationalism and populism delivered the final blow both to the anarchist movement and to the socialist and communist parties that had become cut off from the rural masses.21 Trotskyists would remain the most influential of older left currents, inviting foreign activists to assist, and continuing to provide intellectual support to the miners’ demands.

Regionally, the origins of populist anti-imperialism in the region date back to 1928, as Haya de la Torre continued to insist in the need to organize an anti-imperialist political party that in 1936 emerged as APRA in Peru. This line tried to maintain a sort of “Indoamerican” independence from the larger communist and socialist parties that were already displacing anarchism as the dominant left voice on the new political horizon. This specific political cleavage claimed a position that, by waving this “Indoamerican” identity, tried to negotiate a platform with the emergent militant organizations, especially new chapters of the Anti-Imperialist League of the Americas lead by communists and socialists.

This contestation over the character of anti-imperialism, now between populist and communist or socialist articulations at the expense of anarchism, took place in the context of the First World Anti-imperialist Congress in Brussels in February of 1927. At the time, the Belgian President M. Vandervelde sponsored the international meeting. Several, but not many, Latin Americans were present: the head of the delegation, the Argentinean Victorio Codovilla representing the Communist Party of Argentina, the Mexican José Vasconcelos, Argentinian Manuel Ugarte, Carlos Deambrosis Martins (Brazil), Carlos Quijano (Uruguay), Julio Antonio Mella (Cuba), N. Machado, Eudocio Rabines, and Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre (Peru). Haya de la Torre, in particular, registered the Latin American delegation as “The Indoamerican Representation,” complaining about the fact that several other Latin American representatives had not been invited.22

Understanding the context for the emergence of pivotal international communism, the hierarchical control it offered undermined local and autonomous forms of resistance still sustained by weakened anarchists. It is interesting that, the concept of anti-imperialism, although applicable to the inspiring autonomous social movements of the times, was based on accurate rank-and-file perceptions of often aggressive metropolitan presence and intervention. Its “Indoamerican” character tried to put forward issues pertaining to the uneven history of capitalism. Haya de la Torre, writing in 1936 and attempting to clarify historical differences, wrote that:

In Europe, imperialism is “the last stage of capitalism” – this is to say, the corollary of a succession of capitalist stages – characterized by exporting or reallocating capital and vanquishing markets, targeting areas of natural resources, in countries of incipient [capitalist] economies. But, what to Europe is “the last stage of capitalism” in Indoamerica turns out to be the its first. For our peoples, imported or invested [European] capital offers the initial stage of its modern capitalist period.23

This perception of a dystopian chronology, of an altered and slowly emergent modernity, made possible the retention of an anti-imperialist view that fueled the ideological foundations of resistance reinforced, at least in Andean Bolivia, by the continuous renewal of Andean ideologies inspired in the Pachakuti. What is presented as “Indoamerica,” an early identity that claimed a telluric self, probably destabilized the Eurocentric expectations of anti-imperialist realpolitik pursued at the level of the state. “Indoamerica” provided the earliest foundation for an emergent nationalism at times when the nation-state was still coming together throughout the region. In the process, what we nowadays recognize as “pluricultural societies” at the time were to become “homogeneous” nation-states by force. Nationalism offered a first cohesive “imagined community” that attempted to coopt earlier discourses of nationhood and make use of indigenous pasts – even while it was often unable to deal with indigeneity in the present, taking up the anti-imperialist ideas that otherwise were provenance of the communist, socialist, and anarchist left.

But, after all, the politics of anti-imperialism survived and triggered during the 20th century at least four Latin American social revolutions: Mexico, Bolivia, Cuba, and Nicaragua. And, sooner or later, the Andean Pachakuti enacted a politics of the Earth providing indigenous social movements of the Andes the leitmotiv to continue pursuing a politics of resistance and transformation of its own society. In a sense, a popular or grassroots understanding of an anti-imperialist ethos reproduced itself, outside the influence of international realpolitik by nationalist governments. Under the Evo Morales government, a clear anti-imperialist stance and rhetoric is often retrieved, even if that restoration has an onomastic bent to it. It works because the subtext of an anti-imperialist feeling or affection inhabits the political sentiments of the populace. Bolivia under Evo is today the only remaining country of the so-called “Pink Wave” of ten years ago when several Latin American countries were led by leftist governments in clear challenge to the expectations of the failed Washington Consensus. Several of those were undone, some by their own failures rather than by express “imperialist” intervention. Likewise, Bolivia has still not appointed an American ambassador since 2008, while the current U.S. government is arguably enacting a “democradura” along the nepotic and authoritarian deviations of past Latin American regimes. The political vacuum left by the United States has allowed the Bolivian government to strengthen social expenditure outside the influence of IMF or IDB “recommendations” but, at the same time, Evo’s modernization projects remain within neoliberal parameters, very often depending on extractivism and foreign investments coming from China and India. It might be said that his is a re-arranged neoliberal model, a concession to separatists in the country’s gas-rich Eastern Amazonian region, with some social and environmental consciousness in which Mother Earth has, at least nominally, rights as well. Its major achievement, that of re-founding Bolivia by closing the gap between the real nation and the legal nation, and by providing the resources for autonomous territorial self-management, still waits for the radicalization of a post-capitalist society, outside the constraints placed by larger, core players of the world system. For as it is known, distanced from its discursive practice, Evo Morales plays the game by measuring redistribution and readapting neoliberal forms; but on the other hand, imperialism itself has morphed, becoming larger, decentered, more multifaceted, financial, and transnational. In this context, Bolivia’s outward anti-imperialism and environmentalism stand in contrast to their working with foreign capital on natural gas extraction and large-scale chemical-dependent agriculture. The question lies in Bolivia’s political will to move beyond the illusive model of one party rule, and the re-emergence of the popular anti-imperialist sentiments that have characterized its history.

  1. Vijay Prashad and Teo Ballvé, Dispatches from Latin America: On the Frontlines Against Neoliberalism. (Cambridge: South End Press, 2006); Marc Zimmerman and Luis Ochoa-Bilbao, eds., Giros culturales en la marea rosa de América Latina (Houston: La Casa and BUAP, 2012). 

  2. Anti-imperialism should be distinguished from the term “Anti-Americanism.” See: Alan McPherson, Yankee No! Anti-Americanism in U.S.-Latin American Relations (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006) 5–6. 

  3. Harry Cleaver, Reading Capital Politically (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979), 14–16. Cleaver summarizes the emergence of imperialist and crisis theory, especially Rosa Luxemburg’s Reform or Revolution, from as early as 1900. But he also identifies the discussion as being mostly Western European. It follows then that the political party or autonomous revolutionary movements as such would articulate “anti-imperialism” from a position of evident economic despoliation of the region. 

  4. Some, however, might refer to the case of Puerto Rico as an example of the United States’s poor implementation of colonialism – since Puerto Rico maintains its right to speak Spanish, so it seems that U.S. coloniality cannot impose its imperial language and complete its colonial task of replacing the local culture and language with another. 

  5. Antonio Negri, Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse, trans. Harry Cleaver, Michael Ryan, and Maurizio Viano (South Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey Publishers,1984), 121. 

  6. Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui and Zulema Lehm, Los artesanos libertarios y la ética del trabajo (La Paz: THOA, 1988), 26–32. 

  7. Huáscar Rodríguez García, La choledad antiestatal: El anarcosindicalismo en el movimiento obrero boliviano, 1912-1965 (Buenos Aires: Libros de Anarres, 2010), 12. 

  8. Negri, Marx Beyond Marx, 121. 

  9. After a combative Workers’ Day celebration on May 1, 1923, the Bolivian army, led by Colonel Ayoroa, conducted a massacre on June 23, 1923. This issue was covered by the Argentinean journalist Lobodón Garra, nom de plume of Liborio Justo, in his book Masas y Balas (Buenos Aires: Ediciones de la Flor, 1974), 113–77. Bolivian labor historian Trifonio Delgado Gonzales fetched a copy of Colonel’s Ayora report on the massacre, which had been sent to the government. That text is reprinted in his book, 100 Años de Lucha Obrera en Bolivia (La Paz: Editorial Isla, 1984), 71–76.  

  10. Censo General de la Población de la República del Bolivia (Cochabamba: Editorial Canelas, 1973 [1901]); Pedro Aniceto Blanco, “Censo de la población,”  Diccionario Geográfico (La Paz: Oficina Nacional de Inmigración, Estadística y Propaganda Geográfica. pp. lxvii. Bolivia conducted just two censuses during the first half of the 20th century, in 1900 and 1950. 

  11. Indeed, platforms demanding “land to the peasants, and mines to the State” circulated before the Chaco War, spearheaded by anarchist author Tristán Marof who wrote La Justicia del Inca in 1926, inspiring the first bloque obrero that enters the National Congress in 1938. See Ferrán Gallegos, “La Convención Nacional de 1938,” in Ejército, nacionalismo y reformismo en América Latina: La gestión de Germán Busch en Bolivia (Barcelona: PPU, 1992), 31–100. 

  12. See Trifonio Delgado Gonzales, Recuerdos de Ayer, 1916–1929 (La Paz: Plural Editores, 2012), 37–49. 

  13. This strategic labor positioning is revealed in the miners’ union’s active and radical militancy. Laurence Whitehead analyzes this conjunctural aspect in his article “Sobre el radicalismo de los trabajadores mineros de Bolivia,” Revista Mexicana de Sociología 42, no. 4 (1980): 1465–96. 

  14. In addition to the military industrial complex, the demand for tin also accompanies another byproduct of urban living: the tin can. Therefore, industrialization also represented the earliest forms of urbanization that accompanied the displacement of dispossessed rural inhabitants and which formed part of the emergent industrial belt in core areas of the world. This newly added “industrial” and urban labor needed to be fed, a situation that coincides with the invention of tin canning and the preserve industry. When Andy Warhol painted his famous Campbell’s soup tins in 1962, he was reminding us of the centrality of the tin can in the history of world industrialization. 

  15. René Zavaleta Mercado, Lo nacional-popular en Bolivia (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 1986), 162–64. 

  16. For the Bolivian case, the case parallels the enclosures, belatedly. See Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, “Democracia liberal y democracia de ayllu,” in Bolivia en la hora de su modernización, ed. Mario Miranda Pacheco (Mexico City: UNAM, 1993), 217–55. 

  17. This line is included in at least one popular version of the lyrics in Spanish. 

  18. Rodríguez García, La choledad antiestatal, 28. 

  19. Rivera Cusicanqui and Lehm, Los artesanos libertarios y la ética del trabajo, 27. 

  20. On Bolivian Trotskyism see Juan Robles, “Trotskyism in Bolivia, ” New International 13, no. 9 (December 1947): 282–85; For a more general history of the working class from the perspective of Bolivia’s most prominent Trotskyist organizers, see Guillermo Lora, A History of the Bolivia Labour Movement, ed. Laurence Whitehead, trans. Christine Whitehead (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977). 

  21. For more on the relationship of socialism to the rural and peasant sectors, see Enrique Ibáñez Rojo, “Subdesarrollo y movimiento obrero: Una reflexión sobre los límites del socialismo boliviano (1940–1964),” Tiempos de América, no. 3–4 (1999): 119–36; Sidney Mintz, “The Rural Proletariat and the Problem of Rural Proletarian Consciousness,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 1, no. 3 (1974): 291–325. 

  22. José Carlos Mariátegui, a protégé of Haya de la Torre, wrote 7 Ensayos de interpretación de la realidad peruana by 1928. In Mexico the Anti-Imperialist League of the Americas was organized by 1924. 

  23. Haya de la Torre, Víctor Raúl, El Antimperialismo y el APRA (Santiago de Chile: Editorial Ercilla, 1936), 51. 

Author of the article

is an Andean anthropologist in the faculty of the Anthropology Department of the University of California Santa Cruz. He is a member of the Bolivian Research Review, editor of T. Delgado Gonzales' Carne de Cañón. ¡Ahora Arde Kollitas! Diario de Guerra, 1932-1933 (Plural, 2015), and writes on social movements, Quechua, indigeneity, and the anthropology of mining.