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Bolivian Communist Party (PCB)

Bolivian Communist Party (PCB)

The first Communist Party in Bolivia was established in the late 1920s under the guidance and patronage of the Communist International. Although it was underground, it gained considerable influence in the nascent organized labor movement, and was represented in 1929 at the Congress of Latin American Communist Parties in Buenos Aires. The party was obliterated during the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay (1932–1935). In 1940 a new Communist-controlled party was established. The Party of the Revolutionary Left (PIR) was headed by José Antonio Arze, who ran for president in the election of that year and did surprisingly well in the country's principal cities, although he was badly defeated by the government nominee, General Enrique Peñaranda.

In the following years, the PIR emerged as a major element in the labor movement, coming to control the Confederación Sindical de Trabajadores de Bolivia. During the government of President Gualberto Villarroel, which encouraged the organization of the mineworkers union (FSTMB) under the leadership of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR), the PIR was in strong opposition, and Arze spent most of the period in the United States, where he taught at the Communist Party's training school in New York City.

In the six years following the overthrow of the Villarroel regime in July 1946, the PIR cooperated closely with the reactionary government of the period. As a consequence, the youth of the party withdrew to form the Partido Comunista (PCB) in 1950, and the PIR was dissolved.

The PCB strongly opposed the MNR regime (1952–1964) and began to gain some influence in organized labor, particularly among the mine-workers. It supported the 1964 overthrow of the MNR government by Generals René Barrientos and Alfredo Ovando. In 1964 a pro-Maoist faction split from the PCB to form the Partido Comunista de Bolivia (Marxista-Leninista). Both parties refused to join the guerrilla operation of Ernesto "Che" Guevara in eastern Bolivia in 1966–1967, and both participated in the so-called Popular Assembly during the government of President Juan José Torres (1970–1971).

The pro-Maoist faction declined in the 1970s and 1980s, while the pro-Soviet party continued to be a major force in organized labor. In 1985 and again in 1987, the PCB's former secretary-general, Simón Reyes, was elected executive secretary of the FSTMB, which had been headed since its establishment almost half a century before by Juan Lechín Oquendo. Neither Communist faction, however, became a major factor in national politics.

See alsoBolivia, Political Parties: Party of the Revolutionary Left (PIR) .


Hoover Institution, Yearbook of International Communist Affairs (1970s, 1980s).

Additional Bibliography

Lavaud, Jean-Pierre. El embrollo boliviano: turbulencias sociales y desplazamientos políticos, 1952–1982. Lima, Peru: IEFA, 1998.

Vargas Arze, Amadeo. El trotzkysmo en Bolivia. Cochabamba, Bolivia: Editora ILAM, 1995.

                                       Robert J. Alexander

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