Anarchism in Bolivia

Last updated

Anarchism in Bolivia has a relatively short but rich history, spanning over a hundred years, primarily linked to syndicalism, the peasantry, and various social movements. Its heyday was during the 20th century's first decades, between 1910 and 1930, but a number of contemporary movements still exist.

Anarchism is an anti-authoritarian political philosophy that rejects hierarchies deemed unjust and advocates their replacement with self-managed, self-governed societies based on voluntary, cooperative institutions. These institutions are often described as stateless societies, although several authors have defined them more specifically as distinct institutions based on non-hierarchical or free associations. Anarchism's central disagreement with other ideologies is that it holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful.

Bolivia Country in South America

Bolivia, officially the Plurinational State of Bolivia, is a landlocked country located in western-central South America. The capital is Sucre, while the seat of government and financial center is located in La Paz. The largest city and principal industrial center is Santa Cruz de la Sierra, located on the Llanos Orientales, a mostly flat region in the east of the country.

Syndicalism Proposed type of economic system

Syndicalism is a radical current in the labor movement and was most active in the early 20th century. Its main idea is worker-based local organization and advancement through strikes. According to the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, it predominated in the revolutionary left in the decade preceding World War I as Marxism was mostly reformist at that time. Major syndicalist organizations included the General Confederation of Labor in France, the National Confederation of Labor in Spain, the Italian Syndicalist Union, the Free Workers' Union of Germany, and the Argentine Regional Workers' Federation. The Industrial Workers of the World, the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union and the Canadian One Big Union, though they did not regard themselves as syndicalists, are considered by most historians to belong to this current. A number of syndicalist organizations were and still are to this day linked in the International Workers' Association, but some of its member organizations left for the International Confederation of Labor, formed in 2018.



The first recorded anarchist movement in Bolivia was the Unión Obrera Primero de Mayo in 1906, in the small southern town of Tupiza. The organization edited the newspaper La Aurora Social. Other contemporary libertarian publications were Verbo Rojo, El Proletario and La Federación, published in the cities of Potosí, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz de la Sierra, respectively. Several minor trade unions came together to form the Federación Obrera Local (FOL) in 1908, and in 1912 the Federación Obrera Internacional (FOI). They adopted the red-and-black flag of anarcho-syndicalism. In the city of La Paz, FOL maintained the periodical Luz y Verdad, while FOI published the Defensa Obrera, which launched a campaign for an eight-hour day. 1918 the FOI was renamed the Federación Obrera del Trabajo (FOT), which moved ideologically towards marxism. [1]

Tupiza Place in Potosi, Bolivia

Tupiza is a city in Potosí Department, Bolivia. It is located at an elevation of about 2850 m. The population is 25,709. Tupiza and its environs are characterized by dramatic red escarpments which jut ruggedly skyward from the coarse, gray terrain; green agricultural land adjacent to the Tupiza River provides welcome respite from the otherwise arid, thorny surroundings. The area quebradas are susceptible to flash flood runoff from sudden cloudbursts.

Potosí City & Municipality in Bolivia

Potosí is the capital city and a municipality of the Department of Potosí in Bolivia. It is one of the highest cities in the world at a nominal 4,090 metres (13,420 ft). For centuries, it was the location of the Spanish colonial mint.

Cochabamba City & Municipality in Bolivia

Cochabamba is a city and municipality in central Bolivia in a valley in the Andes mountain range. It is the capital of the Cochabamba Department and the fourth largest city in Bolivia, with a population of 630,587 according to the 2012 Bolivian census. Its name is from a compound of the Quechua words qucha "lake" and pampa, "open plain." Residents of the city and the surrounding areas are commonly referred to as cochalas or, more formally, cochabambinos.

During the 1920s, the presence of anarchism within the labor movement was at its highest point, with anarchist participating in the struggles of the Bolivian miners. Many strikes - such as in Huanuni in 1919 - were started to demand an eight-hour work day. The anarcho-syndicalist FOL, later associated with the international Asociación Continental Americana de Trabajadores confederation, published the weekly newspaper La Humanidad . Numerous anarchist movements were active in La Paz, such as the Centro Cultural Obrero, the Centro Obrero Libertario, the Grupo Libertario "Rendición", Sembrando Ideas, Brazo y Cerebro, and the group La Antorcha (founded in 1923) led by Luis Cusicanqui, Jacinto Centellas and Domitila Pareja. Other groups elsewhere in the country were the Centro Obrero Internacional in Oruro, the Escuela Ferrer i Guardia in Sucre, and the newspaper Tierra y Libertad. [2]

Huanuni Town in Bolivia

Huanuni is a town in the department of Oruro, Bolivia.

Asociación Continental Americana de Trabajadores was a Latin American anarcho-syndicalist trade union confederation, founded in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1929. It functioned as the Latin American branch of the International Workers Association. The organization failed to make a significant impact as anarcho-syndicalism lost terrain in the Latin American labour movement during the 1930s, a trend that could not be reversed even after the arrival of exiled Spanish FAI members after their defeat in the Spanish Civil War. It dissolved in 1936.

La Humanidad was a weekly anarcho-syndicalist newspaper published from La Paz, Bolivia. La Humanidad was founded in 1928 as the organ of the Federación Obrera Local de La Paz. FOL had emerged out a split from the Marxist-oriented Federación Obrera del Trabajo. Directors of the newspaper included Guillermo Pelaez, G. Maceda, D. Osuna and Luis Salvatierra. The newspaper opposed involvement of the labour movement in electoral politics. After just seven issues, the newspaper found itself indebted and unprofitable.

Women had a prominent role in the anarcho-syndicalist movement. In 1927 the Sindicato Femenino de Oficios Varios was founded. Also founded in 1927 was the Federación Obrera Femenina, a branch of FOL and merger of several other all-female unions. Among female anarchist activists were Catalina Mendoza, Petronila Infantes, and Susana Rada. During the Third National Workers' Congress in 1926, the Bolivian communists proposed that the labor organizations should affiliate with the Third International, an idea which was rejected by the anarcho-syndicalists. The FOL was also present in the agrarian peasantry, organizing the Federación Agraria Departamental (FAD), which later disappeared due to intense government repression. [3] [4]

Communism socialist political movement and ideology

In political and social sciences, communism is the philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of the communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state.

Communist International International Communist organization, 1919 to 1943

The Communist International (Comintern), known also as the Third International (1919–1943), was an international organization that advocated world communism. The Comintern resolved at its Second Congress to "struggle by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the state". The Comintern had been preceded by the 1916 dissolution of the Second International. Its members included the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of Mongolia.

Bolivian anarcho-syndicalism had a strong presence of foreign activists, many of which had fled their countries due to political persecution. Among them were one Fournarakis, an activist of the Argentine Regional Workers' Federation (FORA) sent into exile, Armando Treviño who was a Chilean cobbler belonging to the Industrial Workers of the World, the Peruvian Francisco Gamarra and Paulino Aguilar, and the Spanish Nicolás Mantilla and Antonio García Barón, the later who came to the country in the 1950s. [1] [2]

Argentine Regional Workers Federation Argentinas first national labor confederation

The Argentine Regional Workers' Federation, founded in 1901, was Argentina's first national labor confederation. It split into two wings in 1915, the larger of which merged into the Argentine Syndicates' Union (USA) in 1922, while the smaller slowly disappeared in the 1930s.

Chile Republic in South America

Chile, officially the Republic of Chile, is a South American country occupying a long, narrow strip of land between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far south. Chilean territory includes the Pacific islands of Juan Fernández, Salas y Gómez, Desventuradas, and Easter Island in Oceania. Chile also claims about 1,250,000 square kilometres (480,000 sq mi) of Antarctica, although all claims are suspended under the Antarctic Treaty.

Industrial Workers of the World International labor union

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), members of which are commonly termed "Wobblies", is an international labor union that was founded in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. The union combines general unionism with industrial unionism, as it is a general union whose members are further organized within the industry of their employment. The philosophy and tactics of the IWW are described as "revolutionary industrial unionism", with ties to both socialist and anarchist labor movements.

In 1930, encouraged by the Argentine FORA, the Confederación Obrera Regional Boliviana was founded. The organization, which lasted only two years, published La Protesta. In the 1930s the group Ideario emerged in Tupiza. It published La Voz del Campo. At this point the anarchist movement was in decay, having faced growing government persecution. The Chaco War also caused many problems. Later, anarcho-syndicalist unions saw themselves forced to join the Bolivian Workers' Center to survive. Some anarchists tried to influence the BWC from within, among them Líber Forti. In 1946 the Núcleo de Capacitación Sindical Libertario was formed. Unlike its mother organization FOL, the Federación Obrera Femenina weathered the interwar period, surviving until 1964. [1]

Argentina Federal republic in South America

Argentina, officially the Argentine Republic, is a country located mostly in the southern half of South America. Sharing the bulk of the Southern Cone with Chile to the west, the country is also bordered by Bolivia and Paraguay to the north, Brazil to the northeast, Uruguay and the South Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Drake Passage to the south. With a mainland area of 2,780,400 km2 (1,073,500 sq mi), Argentina is the eighth-largest country in the world, the fourth largest in the Americas, the second largest in South America after Brazil, and the largest Spanish-speaking nation. The sovereign state is subdivided into twenty-three provinces and one autonomous city, Buenos Aires, which is the federal capital of the nation as decided by Congress. The provinces and the capital have their own constitutions, but exist under a federal system. Argentina claims sovereignty over part of Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Chaco War War between Bolivia and Paraguay

The Chaco War was fought between Bolivia and Paraguay over control of the northern part of the Gran Chaco region of South America, which was thought to be rich in oil. It is also referred to as La Guerra de la Sed in literary circles, for being fought in the semi-arid Chaco. It was the bloodiest military conflict fought in South America during the 20th century, between two of its poorest countries, both having previously lost territory to neighbors in 19th-century wars.

The Bolivian Workers' Center is the chief trade union federation in Bolivia. It was founded in 1952 following the national revolution that brought the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement to power. The most important affiliate of the COB was the Union Federation of Bolivian Mine Workers (FSTMB). From 1952 to 1987, the COB was led by the legendary Juan Lechín, who was also head of the FSTMB. In its heyday it was arguably the strongest independent labour movement in the world.

The Spanish expropriative anarchist, and notorious bank robber and forger, Lucio Urtubia participated in planning the kidnapping of Klaus Barbie, the "Butcher of Lyon", a former Nazi German officer and war criminal who after fleeing to Bolivia with the help of the CIA helped the government fight Communist guerrillas, later aiding a coup d'état in 1980. In the 1950s Antonio García Barón (1921–2008), described by the BBC as the last surviving member of the Durruti Column, an anarchist militia in the Spanish Civil War, and a former prisoner of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, moved to Bolivia with his wife Irma. There he started a self-described anarchist community, deep in the jungle of San Buenaventura. [5]


In the modern period anarchism has seen a minor renaissance in Bolivia. Several groups exists, prominently among them Mujeres Creando , an anarcha-feminist collective. The organization participates in a range of anti-poverty work, including spreading propaganda, street theater and direct action. The group was founded by María Galindo, Mónica Mendoza and Julieta Paredes in 1992 and members include two of Bolivia's only openly lesbian activists. It publishes Mujer Pública, produces a weekly radio show, and maintains a cultural café named Virgen de los deseos. In 2001, Mujeres Creando gained international attention due to their alleged participation in an armed occupation of the Bolivian Banking Supervisory Agency.

Other groups and collectives include the Grupo de Apoyo a los Movimientos Sociale in Cochabamba, Combate La Paz and El Alto, Acción Anarquista Quepus im Sucre, Quilombo Libertario e Infrarrojo in Santa Cruz, and the Colectivo Libertario Gritos in Tarija. Since 2005 there exists an anarchist student movement in the southern region of the Gran Chaco, the Autonomía Frente Universitario. Anarchist newspapers and fanzines include Contraataque, Insumisión and Oveja Negra. [6]

The Black Bridge International, a defunct "decentralized anarchist mutual aid network", had a local group in Bolivia. In 2003, an affiliated collective in New York City produced a Black Bridge documentary entitled "Bolivia Calling".

The Informal Anarchist Federation (FAI), an insurrectionary anarchist organization, with cells throughout Europe and Latin America, is active in Bolivia. On May 30, 2012 four youths were arrested in connection to a dynamite attack on a military barracks and the bombing of a car dealership. Both attacks were claimed by the FAI. [7]

Among contemporary anarchist figures are Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, an Aymara feminist sociologist and historian. Fredy Perlman (1934–1985), a prominent author within modern green anarchism and anarcho-primitivism, spent seven years during his childhood in Bolivia.

Related Research Articles

Anarcho-syndicalism Branch of anarchism

Anarcho-syndicalism, also referred to as revolutionary syndicalism, is a theory of anarchism that views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and thus control influence in broader society. Syndicalists consider their economic theories a strategy for facilitating worker self-activity and as an alternative co-operative economic system with democratic values and production centered on meeting human needs.

Federación Anarquista Ibérica anarchist federation of the Iberian Peninsula

The Iberian Anarchist Federation is a Spanish organization of anarchist (anarcho-syndicalist) militants active within affinity groups inside the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) anarcho-syndicalist union. It is often abbreviated as CNT-FAI because of the close relationship between the two organizations. The FAI publishes the periodical Tierra y Libertad.

Diego Abad de Santillán Spanish anarchist, author, economist

Diego Abad de Santillán, born Sinesio Vaudilio García Fernández, was an anarcho-syndicalist activist, economist and author, a leading figure in the Spanish and Argentine anarchist movements.

Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front South African platformist-especifista anarchist political organisation based primarily in Johannesburg.

The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front, formerly known as the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZabFed), is a platformist–especifista anarchist political organisation in South Africa, based primarily in Johannesburg. The word zabalaza means "struggle" in isiZulu and isiXhosa. Initially, as ZabFed, it was a federation of pre-existing collectives, mainly in Soweto and Johannesburg. It is now a unitary organisation based on individual applications for membership, describing itself as a "federation of individuals". Historically the majority of members have been people of colour. Initially the ZACF had sections in both South Africa and Swaziland. The two sections were split in 2007, but the Swazi group faltered in 2008. Currently the ZACF also recruits in Zimbabwe. Members have historically faced repression in both Swaziland and South Africa.

Sébastien Faure French anarchist

Sébastien Faure was a French anarchist, freethought and secularist activist and a principal proponent of synthesis anarchism.

José Peirats Valls was a Spanish anarchist, activist, journalist and historian.

Anarchism as a social movement in Cuba held great influence with the working classes during the 19th and early 20th century. The movement was particularly strong following the abolition of slavery in 1886, until it was repressed first in 1925 by President Gerardo Machado, and finally by Fidel Castro's Marxist–Leninist government following the Cuban Revolution in the late 1950s. Cuban anarchism mainly took the form of anarcho-collectivism based on the works of Mikhail Bakunin and, later, anarcho-syndicalism. The Latin American labor and by extension the Cuban labor movement itself was at first more influenced by anarchism than Marxism.

Anarchism was an influential contributor to the social politics of Brazil's Old Republic. During the epoch of mass migrations of European labourers at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, anarchist ideas started to spread, particularly amongst the country’s labour movement. Along with the labour migrants, many Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and German political exiles arrived, many holding anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist ideas.

Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui Bolivian historian

Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui is a Bolivian feminist, sociologist, historian, and subaltern theorist. She draws upon anarchist theory as well as Quechua and Aymara cosmologies. She is a former director and longtime member of the Taller de Historia Oral Andina. The Taller de Historia Oral Andina has conducted an ongoing critique of Western epistemologies through writings and activism for close to two decade. She is also an activist who works directly with indigenous movements in Bolivia, such as the Katarista movement and the coca growers movement.

Italian anarchism as a movement began primarily from the influence of Mikhail Bakunin, Giuseppe Fanelli, and Errico Malatesta. From there it expanded to include illegalist individualist anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism. It participated in the biennio rosso and survived fascism. The synthesist Italian Anarchist Federation appeared after the war, and the old factions alongside platformism and insurrectionary anarchism continue today.

Anarchism in Argentina

The Argentinian anarchist movement was the strongest such movement in South America. It was strongest between 1890 and the start of a series of military governments in 1930. During this period, it was dominated by anarchist communists and anarcho-syndicalists. The movement's theories were a hybrid of European anarchist thought and local elements, just as it consisted demographically of both European immigrant workers and native Argentinians.

Anarchism is a political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful. However, others argue that while anti-statism is central, it is inadequate to define anarchism solely on this basis. Therefore, they argue instead that anarchism entails opposing authority or hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations, including, but not limited to, the state system. Proponents of this form of anarchism advocate stateless societies based on non-hierarchical free associations.

Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice. An Introduction to a Subject Which the Spanish War Has Brought into Overwhelming Prominence is a book written by the German anarchist Rudolf Rocker. Its first edition was published by Secker and Warburg, London in 1938 and was translated from Ray E. Chase. Rocker penned this political and philosophical work in 1937, at the behest of Emma Goldman, as an introduction to the ideals fueling the Spanish social revolution and resistance to capitalism and fascism the world over. Within, Rocker offers an introduction to anarchist ideas, a history of the international workers' movement, and an outline of the syndicalist strategies and tactics embraced at the time. The Pluto Press and the newest AK Press editions including a lengthy introduction by Nicolas Walter and a preface by Noam Chomsky.

Anarcho-naturism appeared in the late 19th century as the union of anarchist and naturist philosophies. In many of the alternative communities established in Britain in the early 1900s, "nudism, anarchism, vegetarianism and free love were accepted as part of a politically radical way of life". In the 1920s, the inhabitants of the anarchist community at Whiteway, near Stroud in Gloucestershire, "shocked the conservative residents of the area with their shameless nudity". Mainly, it had importance within individualist anarchist circles in Spain, France, Portugal and Cuba.

Anarchism in Ecuador appeared at the end of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century it started to gain influence in sectors of organized workers and intellectuals having an important role in the general strike of Guayaquil on November 15, 1922 in which around 1000 strikers died.

Social anarchism is considered to be the branch of anarchism that sees individual freedom as being interrelated with mutual aid. Social anarchist thought emphasizes community and social equality as complementary to autonomy and personal freedom through norms such as freedom of speech maintained in a decentralized federalism, balanced with freedom of interaction in thought as well as incorporating the concept of subsidiarity, namely "that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry" and that "[f]or every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, [should] never destroy and absorb them", or simply the slogan "Do not take tools out of people's hands".

Synthesis anarchism, synthesist anarchism, synthesism or synthesis federations is a form of anarchist organization that seeks diversity upon its participants, which tries to join anarchists of different tendencies under the principles of anarchism without adjectives. In the 1920s, this form found as its main proponents the anarcho-communists Voline and Sébastien Faure, bringing together anarchists of three main tendencies, namely individualist anarchism, anarchist communism and anarcho-syndicalism. It is the main principle behind the anarchist federations grouped around the contemporary global International of Anarchist Federations.

Anarchism in Venezuela has historically played a fringe role in the country's politics, being consistently smaller and less influential than equivalent movements in much of the rest of South America. It has, however, had a certain impact on the country's cultural and political evolution.


  1. 1 2 3 Capelletti, Angel (1990). El anarquismo en América Latina (in Spanish). Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho. pp. 94–98. ISBN   980-276-116-8.
  2. 1 2 Guillermo, Lora; Whitehead, Laurence (1977). A History of the Bolivian Labour Movement, 1848-1971. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 151–153. ISBN   052-110-021-6.
  3. Lehm, Zulema; Rivera, Silvia (1988). Los artesanos libertarios y la ética del trabajo (in Spanish). La Paz: Taller de Historia Oral Andina.
  4. Webber, Jeffery R. (2011). Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia (in Spanish). Leiden: Brill. pp. 49–50. ISBN   978-160-846-258-2.
  5. Daniels, Alfonso (8 July 2008). "Meeting Spain's last anarchist". BBC . Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  6. Barret, Daniel (2011). Los sediciosos despertares de la anarquía (in Spanish). Caracas: Libros de Anarres. ISBN   978-987-152-312-2.
  7. Castellón, J. R. (30 May 2012). "Detienen a 4 jóvenes por atentado a cajero". La Razón (in Spanish). La Paz.