Pre-Histories of Revolutionary Nationalism and the Welfare State: Corocoro, Bolivia (1918-1930)

By Elena McGrath




In 1930, Enrique Linares wrote in to the Municipal Judge of Corocoro, a small copper mining town 90 km southwest of La Paz:

You, sir, are aware of the events in the middle of the night last 26 June, in this city and in the house inhabited by high ranking employees of the mining company Corocoro United Copper Mines, Ltd. (CUCM), which to the public has been given the name "Attack of the Indian Miners on the Company." What a falsehood!“Enrique Linares vs Jorge Lebrun” June 27, 1930 Archivo Juzgado de Pacajes, Archivo La Paz (ALP PJAC) Caja 120.

The attack in question had nothing to do with the local Aymara communities who farmed and worked the mines, Linares insisted. Instead, he named several young white collar employees of the mine, both Bolivian and foreign, who were seen on that night by multiple witnesses dressed as Aymara peasants. These young men, he argued, armed with guns as well as homemade bombs made from jam jars and tea tins, attacked and set fire to their own living quarters, killing in the process a neighboring indigenous man named Mateo Chipana. Linares also suggested that this plan was premeditated, with high ranking officials spreading rumors of an attack prior to the 26th, and dismissing the guard who would normally patrol the grounds on the night in question.

Why would mine owners seek to destroy their own business? In his denunciation, Linares suggested that the attack was made to solidify community support around the mine owners at a time when the CUCM had almost completely shut down production due to the falling price of copper. He believed that the company didn’t want to pay the pensions owed to miners debilitated by mine labor, so they hoped to discredit the miners as an Indian horde:Ibid. Emphasis mine.

By premeditated agreement general manager Lebrun, assistant manager Barrandigas, and chief engineer Mediera, under a pretext of the lowered price of copper in the North American market, which was another invention; proceeded to fire the mineworkers of this city, whose large number is completely broken by “mal de mina” [silicosis] to free the company from the accident pay required by those damaged from constant labor in the mines and replace them with others brought in from far away, under a contract that would deny the company responsibility in the case of accidents.

This plan was put into effect, with abuses, lowered salaries, and even stealing the money that many contract mineworkers had already earned. It enraged hundreds of workers, who had nowhere to turn to avoid or reduce the tendency of the capitalist to silence them through hunger.

In this city there was no one to help them- The sub-prefect of the province who could be mediator to temper this hostility, was someone who always took the part of the company, turning deaf ears to the pleas of workers and miners.

What are we to make of this criminal complaint? Why does an account of silicosis and accident pay make it into the criminal investigations surrounding an arson and murder? First of all, although Linares did not believe the company’s excuses, given the international context of global depression, the French-British mining company was in financial trouble; it would shut down operations the next year and sell to an American company in 1934.Gustavo Rodríguez Ostria, Capitalismo, modernización y resistencia popular 1825-1952 (La Paz: Centro de Investigaciones Sociales, 2014), 164. It is also not surprising that labor unrest would be the result of the company firing workers and reducing expenditures, as indeed there was in Corocoro and tin mining centers like Oruro in this period.Pilar Mendieta, ed., Vivir La Modernidad En Oruro 1900-1930 (La Paz: Instituto de Estudios Bolivianos, 2010), 50.The worker uprising is recounted in detail in Ostria, Capitalismo, modernización y resistencia popular 1825-1952, 154–164; Marie-Danielle Demélas, La invención política: Bolivia, Ecuador, Perú en el siglo XIX (IFEA, Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos, 2003), 528. News of the attack made it to the La Paz newspapers and the French government, La Razon, July 29, 1930, La Paz. I am indebted in particular to Rodríguez Ostria’s research surrounding worker consciousness in the first half of the 20th century. However, I want to understand how it came to be that Corocoro United and Lebrun came under fire from local elites as well as workers, and why Linares is so committed to proving that the attack wasn’t made by ‘indios’.

This case was just one of several examples of a campaign to hold foreign mining company officials legally accountable for excesses and abuses in new ways, in which elite residents cast themselves as interlocutors for indigenous community members, and the indigenous community functioned as a stand-in for the polity of Corocoro as a whole. In the mining dispute, Linares turned common stereotypes of violent, unruly indigenous peoples on their heads by rewriting a “barbarous Indian rebellion” as a story of powerless, exploited workers and victims of global capital. In this way, local nationalists responded to the criticism of historian Alcides Arguedas, who in 1909 had told the world Bolivia was a “Pueblo Infermo,” a sick country depleted of glory. Many of these men agreed with Arguedas: Bolivia’s peoples were sick—indigenous Bolivia was backwards in comparison with the rest of the world—but the disease was economic and political rather than racial.Alcides Arguedas was one of Bolivia’s most famous men of letters at this time. His 1909 essay, “Pueblo Infermo,” (“The Sick Country”), which won acclaim in Spain and France in this period, held that many of Bolivia’s most intractable problems stemmed from mestizaje or racial mixing, since he believed indigenous Andeans to be an ”atrophied” race. Nonetheless, his pessimism and acerbic writing made this work an influential piece of social criticism at home and abroad. Many would-be nationalists, such as Franz Tamayo and Tristán Maróf, felt the need to diagnose the sickness of Bolivian society in terms that vindicated mestizos and indigenous Bolivians. For further discussion of the relationship between sickness and nationalism, see Irma Lorini, El nacionalismo en Bolivia de la pre y posguerra del Chaco (1910-1945) (La Paz: Plural Editores, 2006); Ann Zulawski, Unequal Cures: Public Health and Political Change in Bolivia, 1900–1950 (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2007); Nicole Pacino, “Constructing a New Bolivian Society: Public Health Reforms and the Consolidation of the Bolivian National Revolution,” The Latin Americanist 57, no. 4 (December 1, 2013): 25–56. The miners Linares defended, indigenous workers literally sickened and dying from their labor in a foreign-owned mine, represented the Bolivian nation’s failure to care for and protect its own citizens.

Many scholars have traced the origins of the revolutionary nationalist coalition that came to power in 1940s and 1950s Bolivia to the generation of men that came of age during the Chaco War, which Bolivia waged disastrously against Paraguay from 1932-1935.The Chaco conflict started in the 1920s as Bolivia and Paraguay both claimed contested land in the arid lowlands region. One of the issues in the conflict was control over oil fields in the Bolivian part of the Chaco, operated by Standard Oil in this period. David H. Zook, Conduct of the Chaco War (New Haven, CT: Bookman, 1960); Roberto Calvo Querejazu, Masamaclay: Historia Política, Diplomatica Y Military de La Guerra Del Chaco (La Paz: Gráfica E. Burillo, 1965); Bruce W. Farcau, The Chaco War: Bolivia and Paraguay, 1932–1935 (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996); Ange-François Casabianca and Cristina Boselli Cantero, Una Guerra Desconocida: La Campaña Del Chaco Borea (Asunción, Paraguay: El Lector, 1999); Stephen Conrad Cote, “The Nature of Oil in Bolivia, 1896-1952” (University of California, Davis, 2011); Kevin Young, “Blood of the Earth: Natural Resources, Economic Visions, and Revolution in La Paz, Bolivia, 1927-1971” (State University of New York at Stonybrook, 2013). These scholars rightly note that the Bolivian government’s inept campaigning destroyed faith in the civilian government among students, artisans, workers, intellectuals, and indigenous men drafted for military service, while the shared experience of frontline hardship among soldiers of diverse classes helped consolidate a new vision of nationhood.The period between the Chaco War and the Revolution is one of the best studied and still elusive periods in Bolivian history, from Herbert Klein and Rene Zavaleta, who trace the emergence of non-traditional, nationalist parties after the Chaco War, to Laura Gotkowitz, who recenters indigenous radicalism as a driver of revolution. Robert J. Alexander, The Bolivian National Revolution (New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 1958); Luis Peñaloza Cordero, Historia del Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario, 1941-1952 (Dirección Nacional de Informaciones, 1963); Herbert S. Klein, Origenes de La Revolución Nacional Boliviana: La Crisis de La Generación Del Chaco (La Paz: Libreria y Editorial “Juventud,” 1968); René Zavaleta Mercado, Lo Nacional-Popular En Bolivia, 1a ed, Sociología Y Política (México, D.F: Siglo Veintiuno, 1986); Leslie Bethell and Ian Roxborough, eds., Latin America Between the Second World War and the Cold War, 1944-1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Laura Gotkowitz, A Revolution for Our Rights: Indigenous Struggles for Land and Justice in Bolivia, 1880-1952 (Duke University Press, 2007); Lorini, El nacionalismo en Bolivia de la pre y posguerra del Chaco (1910-1945). In this account, the disillusionment of the Chaco Generation created a national revolutionary consciousness where there was none before. But this account fails to account for multi-class expressions of revolutionary nationalism that existed in regions like Corocoro before the conflict. Chaco-centric explanations also raise several questions which I hope this article will address more clearly. Why did mineworkers, who were mostly out of work and disorganized politically during the Chaco conflict, became the heroes of the revolution twenty years later? Why was the provision of welfare and social security through to industrial workers (and not other groups of poor Bolivians) so central to the revolutionary program of the MNR? By tracing the pre-Chaco history of multi-class nationalist coalitions in a small mining community, I hope to reconstruct the process by which the mine workers came to be the heroes and the victims of Bolivia’s national sickness, rather than perpetrators of crimes against civic order.

In this article, I would like to return to these pre-Chaco moments of anti-foreign agitation in Corocoro, tracing the ideological components that linked these moments of unrest to the revolutionary project of the MNR in 1952. One of these components is that while nationalism became the common discourse of the 1952 coalition, from 1930 until at least 1945, socialism and particularly the idea of class struggle was the discursive terrain upon which debates about remaking Bolivia occurred. Even segments of the traditional elite used references to socialism to signal their projects for future greatness and their distance from former governments that had catered to the whims of foreign corporations in Bolivia.Under Saavedra, a wing of the Republican Party termed itself Republican Socialist in the 1920s and David Toro, a radical general but not an ideologue, called his quasi-fascist reformist experiments of the late 1930s socialism. While many scholars have noted the ideological inconsistencies of the political experiments in this period, during the 1920s, a shared critique of unfettered global capitalism operating within Bolivia emerged, allowing political elites and workers to construct new understandings of the relationship between state, labor, and citizen around greater state control over human and national resources. In this new kind of nationalism, the Bolivian state was supposed to take on the role of protector of citizens and workers, offering legal guarantees as well as social services to the Bolivian working family.

Since independence, Bolivian elites had seen the indigenous majority of the country as an obstacle to progress and modernity because of its intransigent otherness, autonomy, and resistance to regulation. In the early 20th century, workers had not yet come to be seen as different kinds of subjects than indigenous Bolivians. During the 1920s, in places like Corocoro, mineworkers first began to distinguish themselves, and be distinguished by elites. from rural indigenous populations. The genius of the nationalist discourses of class that would ultimately influence the MNR lay in tying worker militancy to modernity, not indigenous difference and backwardness. These ideas about class, national belonging, and worker militancy were produced first in peripheral mining communities like Corocoro, which functioned as frontiers between Bolivia’s urban centers and the countryside. The developmentalist and mestizo national culture which was later associated with the 1952 revolution found its roots in the boom and bust cycles of the mining economy, before the Chaco War helped transform this generic experience of loss and diaspora to the nation as a whole.The idea that the Chaco War created a lost generation which then found solace in resource nationalism is most effectively developed in, Klein, Origenes de La Revolución Nacional Boliviana; Zavaleta Mercado, Lo Nacional-Popular En Bolivia. I, along with Lawrence Whitehead and Mario R. dos Santos, “El Impacto de La Gran Depresión En Bolivia,” Desarrollo Económico 12, no. 45 (April 1972): 49, doi:10.2307/3465992. argue that this interpretation, while narratively satisfying, misses crucial aspects of the crises that Bolivia experienced in this period. As I argue below, the Chaco war fails to explain why Marxism and the miners featured so prominently in MNR discourse.

The solution to the post-colonial problems that haunted Bolivia, therefore, became the protection of the working class and the encouragement of their developing traits recognizable to western categories of class, even if that meant encouraging, for a time, the class struggle. For this reason, providing the miners with education, medicine, subsidized food, and access to urban culture became central to nationalist projects long before the MNR nationalized the mining industry itself. By the same token, elites hoped to suppress outward displays of indigenous or non-western cultural practices in the mines, and saw education as a means to do so. In the early 20th century, local elites envisioned a prosperous future of growth and modernization based on ties to global mineral markets and foreign corporations. By the economic crash of 1929, this same community was a hotbed of labor radicalism and nationalist reformism. By exploring the local manifestations of a national experience of economic dependency, I trace an alternate history of the welfare state in the struggles for Bolivian governments to exert control over national territory and national resources.



After the triumph of the Liberal faction in the civil war of 1899, Bolivia’s political and economic center of gravity shifted to urban centers affiliated with the tin, wool, and copper trade of La Paz and Oruro. Elites in these regions saw their task as the creation of a modern Bolivia for the new century. Progress and prosperity would be the hallmarks of this new century, bolstered by urban construction, integration with global markets, and the expansion of modern state structures into the countryside. President Ismael Montes, Corocoreño by birth and a wealthy landowner, opened the 20th century by negotiating a controversial treaty with Chile, which had occupied Bolivia’s only stretch of coastline since the War of the Pacific two decades before. The treaty that Montes signed (along with fellow Corocoreño lawyer Pedro Kramer) ceded any rights Bolivia might claim over the stretch of land between Arica and Antofagasta in exchange for a Chilean-financed railroad from La Paz to Arica and duty free exports from the port. Corocoro, as capital of the department of Pacajes, controlled the new border crossing at Charaña and benefited from a trunk line into the center of town.

For this reason, the turn of the twentieth century looked particularly bright for the small community of 4,000 miners, merchants, and agriculturalists nestled at 12,000 feet above sea level. Corocoro officially became a city in 1895, and after the completion of the railroad in 1912, counted on direct, fast service to both the coast and the capital. While the town itself had been a center of agricultural production, commerce, and mining even in the 19th century, both elites and urban workers subscribed to the liberal party’s promises of a prosperous future tied to urban, cosmopolitan growth.Iván Ramiro Jiménez Chávez, “Comerciantes, habilitadores e inmigrantes en la formación del capital minero de Corocoro (1830-1870),” El siglo XIX: Bolivia y América Latina, ed. Rossana Barragán, Dora Cajías, and Seemin Qayum (La Paz: Coordinadora de Historia, 1997), 437-450. Corocoro became famous as the site of an 1899 battle between conservative Alonsista soldiers and liberal miners and indigenous townsfolk during the civil war that brought La Paz the seat of government.Morales, Ramiro Condarco. Zarate, El Temible Willka. La Paz, Bolivia, 1965, 215-8.

The early 20th century was a time of transition from artisanal to industrial mining production in many parts of Bolivia. Around the same time that future tin baron Simon Patiño was expanding his initial holdings in Oruro and Potosí, Corocoro’s mines began to attract foreign and domestic interest.Guillermo Lora, A History of the Bolivian Labour Movement, 1848-1971 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 48. Engineer José Sossi founded the Ingenio Minero de Bolivia in 1909, and in 1909 the Corocoro United Copper Mines Ltd. were formed by a conglomeration of British and French investors out of the Chilean holdings of JK Child & Co. This became the largest mine in the region, followed by the Chilean-owned Compañia Corocoro. In 1916, during World War I’s boom in mineral prices, there was a flurry of interest from European and North American companies in copper investments. Corocoro’s were singled out as “decidedly promising” in the American Mine Register, though the assessor noted they suffered from lack of access to water and a lack of lumber for fuel and construction.Mining and Scientific Press, 1917, 463; Horace Jared Stevens et al., Mines Register: Successor to the Mines Handbook and the Copper Handbook ... Describing the Non-Ferrous Metal Mining Companies in the Western Hemisphere (Mines Publications, Incorporated, 1910).

In general, popular memory of Corocoro in this period oscillates between seeing the community as a thriving city, a modern engine of Bolivian prosperity, or a poor backwater unlinked to the wider world. There is truth—and falsity—to both accounts. Two of Corocoro’s most famous sons, union leader Juan Lechín and Katarista organizer Luciano Tapia were born to mining families in Corocoro around 1914.Juan Lechín was president, first of the National Miners’ Union and later of the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), the labor federation that the MNR set up to provide workers with a voice in national policy decisions, and finally Vice President of the Republic under Victor Paz Estenssoro from 1960-1964. Although Lechín ultimately left the MNR, he remained in the leadership of both the miners’ union and the COB until 1988. Their memories of the community highlight the tension experienced by many Bolivians in urban centers between worldliness and isolation, contradictory aspects of Corocoro’s role in 20th century processes of nation building. Tapia, who published a testimonio in 1995 reflecting on his experiences organizing the Katarista movement, remembered Corocoro as a place where the word “union” had no meaning, the Bolivian government existed only as a foreign oppressive force, and the indigenous workers had no protection against either the government or the foreign company. He contrasted the oppression of the mining camp with the relative harmony and independence of his father’s agricultural community, where he moved after the mines closed down in 1930.Luciano Tapia, Ukhamawa Jakawisaxa (asi es nuestra vida): Autobiografía de un Aymara (La Paz: Hisbol, 1995), 33. Lechín, on the other hand, highlighted Corocoro’s links with foreign commerce and centers of business through his father. Emphasized in Lechín’s account, and in direct contrast with Tapia’s, was the centrality of Corocoro to the contentious politics of Bolivian nation-building. Lechín opened his 2004 memoir with, “I was born in Corocoro, rebel city,” calling forth images of both worker unrest in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the 1899 battle against Conservative forces in the civil war.Juan Lechín Oquendo, Memorias (La Paz, Bolivia: Litexsa Boliviana, 2000), 14. Later, in praising the role of the tin miners of Siglo XX in the revolutionary history of Bolivia, he recalled that “the tin miners of Siglo XX also had a history of courage, like the copper miners of Corocoro.”Ibid., 48.


Corocoro’s Bid for National Prosperity

Towards the end of the 1910s, Bolivia’s Liberal oligarchy faced increasing pressure from dissident elites in the Republican Party, armed uprisings and legal rebellions in the countryside, and early attempts at organizing workers by anarchists and socialists. After World War I ended, declining copper and tin prices caused further economic and political turmoil. Some Bolivian elites, especially in the Republican Party, began to temper their excitement over foreign development with the idea that Bolivia’s own national government could take as much interest in the vast resources within its borders as foreigners seemed to do. Moreover, the plant, animal, and human resources of the country, as well as the borders of Bolivia, needed to be understood to be governed adequately. While the Republicans were most consistent in courting popular support against the ruling liberal government around these ideas, by the end of World War I, both liberals and republican reformers understood modern development to require a more responsive state. The local politician and businessman Eduardo Lima was one of many liberals who were interested in promoting the Corocoro through international investment combined with national development.

In 1918, Lima wrote and published a pamphlet about the city addressed to newly elected Liberal President José Gutiérrez Guerra, an Oxford educated landowner who succeeded Ismael Montes’ second presidency. His prefatory comments proposed that it was the duty of any patriotic citizen and supporter of the regime to give account of his region and its potential contributions to the incoming government.Eduardo A. Lima L., Corocoro: Apuntes, Críticas Y Observaciones (La Paz: Escuela Salesiana, 1918). Lima saw Bolivia as a nation with great potential for development, but severe problems with infrastructure and corruption. Most significantly, although Corocoro had every reason to attract national interest, Lima argued that the town had more fame in international financial circles than in the national imagination. To Lima, this foreign interest was a mixed blessing. Corocoro’s contribution, he argued, was in the development of a nationally-recognized mining center as a way to encourage “the spirit of initiative that our people lack,” to improve the stock of Bolivia as a whole.Ibid., 8.

Lima’s work ranged from the sociological (for example, in a section on “Promiscuity in the Mines”) to the technical, but for the most part his suggestions revolve around three key points: bringing education to indigenous communities, particularly women; expanding the state presence through the police and regional authorities; and improving the working and living conditions in the mines. Each of these themes suggested a link between the regulation of indigenous and worker bodies through labor, medicine, education, and the exercise of sovereignty over national territory. The interventionist welfare state could be a response to Bolivia’s underdevelopment and produce citizens out of unruly indigenous populations.

The first two of these three suggestions, regulation of the countryside and civilization of the indigenous communities link territorial control directly to social improvement. Lima believed, for example, that an expanded police force, working with indigenous leaders in the countryside, could help enforce compulsory military service and compulsory road building initiatives, which he argued were crucial to building a sense of civic identity in indigenous communities but largely resisted by them. This, in turn, would keep down the periodic indigenous uprisings that he noted, in passing, were endemic to the region.Ibid., 17. The liberal government had decreed universal military service in 1907. See also, Elizabeth Shesko, “Conscript Nation: Negotiating Authority and Belonging in the Bolivian Barracks, 1900-1950” (Duke University, 2012). Most importantly, he wanted to government to make its presence felt in frontier regions so that foreign companies would have to follow the laws of the country. Increasingly, territorial control would come to mean the human as well as natural resources of Bolivia.

As a provincial capital and market town, Corocoro was the site of legal and commercial interface between urban and rural Bolivia in Pacajes province. Indigenous communities, both in free villages and as dependent workers on haciendas, vastly out-numbered urban residents of Corocoro (and indeed all other cities of the province, including La Paz) in this period.Bolivia, Censo General de la Población de La República de Bolivia Según el Empadronamiento de 1. de Septiembre de 1900, 126. The town was itself the site of indigenous uprisings in 1899, saw the neighboring community of Calacoto rise up in 1914 under Martin Vasquez, and was surrounded in the wave of organizing of caciques apoderados that led to the Jesus de Machaca uprising in 1921.Gotkowitz, A Revolution for Our Rights, 46–48. Although Corocoro’s geographic and political location meant that rural, indigenous Bolivians were a constant presence within the city, municipal authorities maintained a kind of official silence around this presence.Tapia, Ukhamawa jakawisaxa = Asi es nuestra vida, 56. Nonetheless, Bolivian liberal elites who hoped to celebrate the La Paz region’s promise for future development had to confront the reality that it was in conjunction with indigenous rebellion that they had come to power.Ramiro Condarco Morales, Zarate, El Temible Willka (La Paz, 1965). Municipal officials and Republican politicians alike oscillated between ignoring and fearing the indigenous presence in their midst. Nationalist elites like Lima and Linares offered a new formula for dealing with indigenous Bolivia: through education, moral uplift, and “healthy” labor, they would create a pacified populace that could conform to modern ideals of comportment and citizenship.Latin American elites throughout the Southern Cone hoped to use welfare and labor legislation to regulate working class culture into something more decent, as for example: Daniel James, Resistance and Integration: Peronism and the Argentine Working Class, 1946-1976 (Cambridge University Press, 1994); Barbara Weinstein, For Social Peace in Brazil: Industrialists and the Remaking of the Working Class in São Paulo, 1920-1964 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Thomas Klubock, Contested Communities: Class, Gender, and Politics in Chile’s El Teniente Copper Mine, 1904-1951 (Durham N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998); Eileen Findlay, Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870-1920, American Encounters/global Interactions (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999); Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt, Gendered Compromises: Political Cultures and the State in Chile, 1920-1950 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000). Nonetheless, what I am talking about here is using the creation of a working class, even a rebellious, unruly one, as a means to envision modernity among Bolivian indigenous groups. For a similar process in Mexico, see: Alexander Dawson, “From Models for the Nation to Model Citizens: Indigenismo and the ‘Revindication’ of the Mexican Indian, 1920-40,” Journal of Latin American Studies 30, no. 2 (1998): 279–308.

In Bolivia, both Republicans and Liberals had a history of cultivating the support of dissident indigenous factions while they were in opposition to the existing government. For example, during the 1899 civil war, Liberals had counted on the support of Aymara fighters who hoped a new government would help them protect land rights. When, twenty years later, a Republican firebrand named Bautista Saavedra began his rebellion against Liberal President José Gutiérrez Guerra, he promised support to indigenous communities still fighting for their land.Bautista Saavedra himself, as a young lawyer, had defended indigenous communities during the post-1899 trials of Aymara communities implicated in civil war violence on the grounds that they were oppressed but pre-political, too backwards to be tried for crimes against the Bolivian state. For more on these trials, see E. Gabrielle Kuenzli, Acting Inca: National Belonging in Early Twentieth-Century Bolivia, 1 edition (Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013); Morales, Zarate, El Temible Willka. When in office, on the other hand, Republicans and Liberals both saw indigenous demands as threats to the established order, violently repressing their former allies.Roberto Choque Canqui, Jesús de Machaqa: La Marka Rebelde, Colección Historia Y Documento 46- (La Paz, Bolivia: CEDOIN : CIPCA, 1996). Republicans in particular believed that indigenous Bolivians should be reformed through education and moral uplift, but feared indigenous groups that demanded reform on their own terms. When Bautista Saavedra became president in 1920, he backed a mandatory rural education bill, which had the support of many indigenous communities, but also used the military to quell a rebellion against abusive government at Jesus de Machaca in 1921, killing dozens of his own supporters.

Eduardo Lima, like Bautista Saavedra, was a strong supporter of indigenous education and worker reform in the hopes that it would pacify the unrest in the countryside. For Lima, the least enfranchised Bolivians were those who most deserved an education: because they raised the next generation of citizens, Lima argued, indigenous mothers should be the first priority of the state’s educational program.Lima L., Corocoro, 110. Lima’s view of education was similar to his support of compulsory military service and enforcement of the prestación vial: he believed that both were productive of nationalist impulses, and therefore positive social behavior. The prestación vial, obligatory road construction service introduced after 1899, was in theory demanded of all Bolivian men and in practice demanded of indigenous men disproportionately. Indigenous communities resisted both prestación vial and compulsory military service in this period, and the state mostly lacked the resources to enforce either of these laws consistently.Gotkowitz, A Revolution for Our Rights; Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Oprimidos pero no vencidos: luchas del campesinado aymara y qhechwa de Bolivia, 1900-1980 (Ginebra: Instituto de Investigaciones de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo Social, 1986). Lima also believed that indigenous unrest could be tamed through better policing, which would also increase participation in these regulatory state structures. Once indigenous Bolivians saw themselves as members of a shared national community, such services would cease to appear onerous.Ibid, 97-8. Increasingly, minework came to be understood in terms equivalent to military service, prestación vial, and education as an experience productive of the consciousness of citizenship and national belonging.

Good government, for Lima, was an answer to the threats of both indigenous insurgency and foreign exploitation. Lima wanted the national government in La Paz to restructure the provincial hierarchy to place rural corregidores under greater scrutiny of municipal officials, who would also control the police force. In this way, he hoped to remove corruption in rural officials granted too much autonomy, increase contact between indigenous authorities and the state, but also to assure that the Bolivian government had control over foreign businesses in the region.In his Origines del Poder Militar, James Dunkerley mentioned Corocoro as an example of the absent state in much of rural Bolivia, which had no stable no stable police force until the CUCM mining company paid for one. James Dunkerley, Orígenes del poder militar: Bolivia 1879-1935 (La Paz: Plural Editores, 1987), 111. According to Lima, by 1918 Corocoro had a police force of eight men plus an officer controlled by the municipality, with another twenty men stationed in the border region of Charaña. Lima added, however, that the mining company had offered to help finance cavalry mounts for the border police, a proposition which he found generally favorable but worried that it might “compromise the integrity” of the force.Lima L., Corocoro, 13–17. The perception of state monopoly on power was as much at stake for Lima as actual power, for the prestige of a modern nation, he argued, could only be built on the prestige of its authorities.Ibid., 119.

In Lima’s text, therefore, we can see the development of a nascent nationalism, not hostile to foreign interests, but not completely subservient to them either. Above all Lima wanted the Bolivian national government to regulate foreign interests in rural areas. Lima’s account was in fact very concerned with foreign influence in Corocoro, but used this fact to propose that the Bolivian government develop its own resources rather than remove foreign influence completely. The alternative, he suggested, was to face ridicule or worse, from the rest of the world.Ibid., 19. He never proposed direct government control of mining, rooting Bolivia’s prosperity in its ability to recruit foreign capital, but he concluded his Apuntes Criticos with the suggestion that the most progressive step the national government could take for the good of the country would be nationalizing the railroads.Ibid., 70.

Linares’ nationalism was also closely, though ambivalently, linked to the idea of an exploited working class. He also dedicated his pamphlet to the working classes of the community, declaring that in the reform of their living and working conditions Bolivia’s progress could be measured: “el trabajo es el gran taller donde se forja perpetuamente el más verdadero prestigio de una nación, y cuyos inprescindibles labores son los obreros.”Ibid., 21. This concern was used as evidence of the threat of foreign exploitation: Lima criticized the CUCM for its treatment of workers, saying that no workers in the world earn less than Corocoro miners, but he also mentioned the exploitative practices of “Ottoman Merchants” as particular examples of foreigners with un-Christian regard for the population.Ibid., 26. And yet, workers also presented Lima with the paradox of his region’s resistance to modernity. Lima also spent chapters of the same work arguing that mineworkers were profoundly lazy by nature and needed discipline.

Ultimately, Lima believed (as the earlier quote suggests) in the redemptive and transformative power of labor, like the civilizing potential of the army and the prestación vial to create modernity for Bolivia as a whole, using the unruly working class as a metaphor for the unruly Bolivian nation. This move is a critical component of the nationalist discourse that later made the MNR such a powerful force in Bolivia. Lima offered beginnings of this narrative, praising the noble sacrifice of the poor workers in his bid for the Bolivian government to take better care protecting them. He also made sure to note examples of “complacent” workers gratefully accepting a recent wage increase.Ibid., 44. However, Lima’s workers were always tainted with their ties to indigenous communities, rendering their work ethic and national consciousness most suspect in moments of festivity and unrest.

Lima made no mention, for example, of the successful strike campaign waged for an eight-hour day by the anarchist Federación Obrera Internacional in La Paz and Corocoro, a 1909 strike in the mines, or of the 1912 strikes that rocked Pacajes province.Guillermo Lora, Historia del movimiento obrero boliviano: 1900-1923 (Editorial "Los Amigos del Libro, 1969), 81; Shesko, “Conscript Nation,” 129. His account left no hint of the growing worker unrest as his “complacent” workers, moreover, would face the army in a series of strikes shortly after Apuntes was published, in January of 1919.“Sobre los Sucesos de Corocoro” El Diario, January 16, 1919. In these strikes, workers demanded a limitation of their hours of work, the enforcement of existing mining law, and most crucially, the end to paycheck reductions for healthcare provided by the company, which was one of Lima’s complaints.Lima L., Corocoro, 46–9; Ostria, Capitalismo, modernización y resistencia popular 1825-1952, 126.

Bautista Saavedra and other Republicans recognized the political potential of cultivating labor relations in this period. Representative Constantino Carrión won his seat in Corocoro with the support of the early miners federation by supporting a program of retirement, accident, and pension reform for miners in 1924, while Saavedra implemented an early form of worker savings plan.El Deber, May 10, 1924, cited in Ostria, Capitalismo, modernización y resistencia popular 1825-1952, 127. See also forthcoming dissertation by Nancy Egan (UCSD). As in his relationships with indigenous groups, Saavedra also was willing to send the army in to quell too much revolt, as happened in 1919 in Corocoro and 1921 in Uncía.Robert Smale, I Sweat the Flavor of Tin: Labor Activism in Early Twentieth-Century Bolivia (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010); Ostria, Capitalismo, modernización y resistencia popular 1825-1952. It would take the profound upheavals of the 1930s to consolidate a nationalist discourse where unruly, striking workers could be seen as also sacrificing themselves for the good of the nation.The idea of a worker as a redeemable Indian was not the first or only attempt to recast Bolivia’s indigenous population—or some subset of it—as more amenable to national citizenship than others. Kuenzli’s Acting Inca explores the way that Aymara and Creole intellectuals alike in this period cultivated an Inca (as opposed to Aymara) identity to distance themselves from those groups associated with barbarity in the 1899 civil war. Kuenzli’s work enables us to understand “Indian” identity as a category with multiple meanings and multiple deployments within a racist society where some forms of indigenous cultural expression were more problematically Indian than others. Kuenzli, E. Gabrielle. Acting Inca: National Belonging in Early Twentieth-Century Bolivia. (Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013). For a similar process in Peru, Marisol de la Cadena, Indigenous Mestizos: The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919–1991 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000). As Lima’s asides about indigenous violence attest, despite optimism for a developed and prosperous future, the cities’ elites were keenly aware of the threat of disorder posed by the indigenous present, both from within the city and the rural areas surrounding it.One observer, for example, in the civil wars of 1899 said that conservative forces fleeing indigenous attacks took refuge in the plaza of the city of Corocoro in January, as Indians massed on the hills above town, and the miners of the Empresa Unificada de Corocoro “que eran comuneros aymaras” attacked them with rocks, sticks, and dynamite Bocaminas (2011) And also Lora, 101. And Dunkerley, James. Orígenes del poder militar: Bolivia 1879-1935. Plural editores, 1987. Shesko notes that in the period of 1911-1925, the army was called out to deal with indigenous uprisings in La Paz province alone at least 40 times to protect property and lives from the “victimization” of Indians, and at least 5 times against striking miners. Shesko, “Conscript Nation,” 129.


Rebellious Indians and Workers

It was not until the 1920s that mine workers were consistently understood- both among themselves and by elites- as a group constitutionally different from rural indigenous laborers. Once again, Lima’s writings suggest the work that had to be overcome to valorize worker dissent: while Lima, like novelist Jaime Mendoza in his Tierras de Potosí characterized indigenous workers in the countryside and the mines as prisoners of exploitation, he also understood them to be fundamentally lazy, lacking in the kind of work ethic that produces great workers for a great nation.Jaime Mendoza, En las tierras del Potosí: novela (Los Amigos del Libro, 1976). Lima believed this laziness to be the result of both exploitation and lack of education. But relieving the poor working conditions experienced by indigenous Bolivians for Lima did not mean allowing them autonomy or independence: Lima believed free indigenous communities to be as much prisoners of their own ignorance as their hacienda laborer counterparts were of exploitation.Lima L., Corocoro, 94. Rather, Lima argued that indigenous Bolivians needed to be incorporated into the nation through disciplinary structures like the army and compulsory road building.

It was, ironically, precisely the first manifestations of a working class culture in Corocoro that troubled observers like Lima. An American travel writer named Marie Wright who visited Corocoro shared Lima’s view that indigenous workers were so incorrigibly lazy that even civic holidays were dangerous for them, for they would use both religious and civic days as an excuse to “truly go on strike,” and spend as many days recovering from their drunken stupor as they had actually engaging in festivities.Marie Robinson Wright, Bolivia: The Central Highway of South America, a Land of Rich Resources and Varied Interest (G. Barrie & sons, 1907), 360; Lima L., Corocoro, 112. Wright: "Mine owners say that the native labor, although at times somewhat limited, is not so unsatisfactory as might be supposed, the Indians and cholos working steadily and peaceably as a rule, though they spend a great deal of time in their numerous fiestas, when they always require an extra holiday for getting sober and ready for work again." Lima singled out Carnaval, which was famous in Corocoro in the early 20th century as it was in Oruro, and the independence holiday of August 6th. This association between civic and religious festivities and public disorder appears again and again in municipal records. Bolivian scholars of Carnaval suggest that it often functioned as a sanctioned time of Rabelasian disorder where anything was allowed to happen.Duran, Mario Chuquimia “Bolivia: Sábado de Carnaval En Corocoro. - El Alto,” accessed August 7, 2015, Personal communication with author, July 2015. See also Ramiro Cusicanqui, “Orígenes de La Danza Del Ch’uta: Bolivia: Corocoro Inició Histórica Exportación de Cobre,” Orígenes de La Danza Del Ch’uta, February 7, 2011, But in fact, from the point of view of elites and municipal officials in Corocoro (as in other communities), Carnaval was a time of profound anxiety over disorder. Of particular concern was the legality of wearing disguises during the Carnaval season—year after year around this time the municipal government wanted revelers to register disguises or face penalties.See for example, “Ordenanza Municipal” February 1938, ALP PJAC Caja 140. Revelers in masks were dangerous because their identities were so hard to categorize if they committed crimes. Linares’ claim that workers from CUCM dressed as Indians played directly into these fears of identity crossing and uncategorized perpetrators of violence, only this time it was foreign elites causing disorder.

Both in the accounts of Lima and Wright and in the eyes of municipal officials, there existed an implicit association between worker rebellion and religious festivals, especially those associated with Carnaval.Indeed, the two largest mining massacres in Bolivian history, in Catavi in 1942 and Siglo XX in 1965, occurred on worker days of festivity, around the summer and winter solstices. Jerry W. Knudson, “The Impact of the Catavi Mine Massacre of 1942 on Bolivian Politics and Public Opinion,” The Americas 26, no. 3 (January 1, 1970): 254–76, doi:10.2307/980077; Soria Galvarro T et al., 1967: San Juan a sangre y fuego (La Paz: Punto de Encuentro, 2008). This may explain why too the worker’s federation in Corocoro emphasized, in the period of labor unrest between 1916-1919, the creation of May 1st as a worker’s holiday as a critical demand.Lora, Historia del movimiento obrero boliviano, 1969, 146. See also Enrique G. Loza, “Visión del Porvenir”, Iquique, 1916. This implicit association between strikes and festivals became explicit in February of 1930, when during the Carnaval holidays Manager Lebrum complained that labor leaders had sabotaged a passage in his Vizcachani mine shaft intentionally.“Lebrun Denuncia Sobre Sabotaje” February 1930, ALP PJAC Caja 119. Lebrun had tried to do away with the longstanding custom of company officials buying alcohol, coca, and animals for the Carnaval holidays, as well as limit days of celebration taken by workers. Workers responded by sabotaging a passage in his Vizcachani mine shaft to guarantee that they could have a holiday.“Lebrun Denuncia Sobre Sabotaje” February 1930, ALP PJAC Caja 119.

The fears of worker unruliness spilling over into political unrest during times of festivity mirrored fears of indigenous uprising and contamination of urban centers around the same time period and in the same region.Rodríguez Ostria notes that, following medieval Spanish understandings of the word, historically the words we now translate as “to strike” and “to celebrate,” “huelga” and “fiesta” were synonyms. Ostria, Capitalismo, modernización y resistencia popular 1825-1952, 123. This association has to do with concerns over holidays as the time when workers took over the public space in a way that most threatened modern conceptions of public order. At these times, workers looked most indigenous to elites: most unruly, most “ritualistic,” and indeed, most drunken. In this period we see Lima’s and liberal elites fears of “a tenacious undisciplined Indian mass” that always carried with it a latent threat of rebellion transform into a threat of disciplined labor unrest, never entirely removed from colonial associations with the indiada.“una tenaz indisciplina entre la indiada” Lima L., Corocoro, 113. The solution to this problem would become the legal regulation of the working class through schools, social service workers, and company stores; but for the moment the conditions of the global depression prevented any such infrastructural expansion.While this solution found its most effective form in the nationalized mining industry after 1952, David Toro and Germam Busch both attempted to regularize working conditions and working communities in a series of Work Laws. The American Smelting Company that bought the Corocoro mines in 1936 also expanded its housing and provision infrastructure to the same ends. Thomas Klubock explores the ways that American Braden Copper company tried to create a stable and docile labor force in similar ways in the early 20th century. Klubock, Contested Communities.

This lack of distinction between workers and Indians of the countryside derives in part from the conditions of mining around the turn of the century, which only underwent a concerted process of industrialization after World War I. Until the formation of the Corocoro United Copper holdings in 1909, most mines in the region were small, un-technical affairs with limited capacity to drill deep into the mountain, worked by a small contingent of laborers who kept ties to the countryside. As Erick Langer suggests in his study of regional variations among southern Bolivian tin and silver mines, most smaller enterprises relied on seasonal contract laborers (or, if they were more wealthy, laborers from their own haciendas) to both work in the mines and transport ore. Both hacienda and free workers were incredibly prone to work stoppages and simply leaving, particularly, as he noted, during Carnaval, Corpus Christi, Easter, and the August 6th independence celebrations. These laborers were usually paid partially in-kind and received kajcha benefits—that is, ore sharing agreements. Elsewhere in Bolivia, even the famously proletarianized tin mines of Llallagua and Uncia didn’t have a stable workforce until migrations of Cochabamba peasants replaced local indigenous communities as the main worker population.Erick D. Langer, “The Barriers to Proletarianization: Bolivian Mine Labour, 1826–1918,” International Review of Social History 41, no. Supplement S4 (December 1996): 27–51. It was only after the 1930s that Corocoro first developed a population, about 2,500 out of the urban population of 5,000, who saw themselves as full-time mineworkers, who lived in company housing and bought goods from company stores, and where thus wholly dependent on the mines.Langer refers to hacienda-mines in the Chichas region with company housing and stores, but even these latter were ill stocked and subject to competition with the food the workers grew- and transported- themselves. Given its proximity to Arica and the Chilean border, this was probably a similar situation to Corocoro’s, pre-1952, where company houses and stores did exist, but without the same kind of prominence as after 1952. Ibid., 41.


Corocoro in the 1930s: International Crisis and Local Upheaval

The nationalist vision of economic progress and expansion shared by many elites and workers in the 1920s hit a crisis in the 1930s. Copper and tin prices dropped precipitously and many mines, including CUCM, closed down production completely.United States Geological Society historical prices data suggests that Copper prices fell from 405 USD/ton to 292USD/t, falling further to 185 in 1931 and 128 in 1932, and not recovering until after world war 2. 68% drop in production over 3 years from 1929 levels. For tin the number is 51% though prices had been falling since a peak of 1927. Although Tapia and Lechín offered radically different accounts of pre-1930s Corocoro, both agree that the depression of 1930 turned Corocoro into a ghost town.Tapia, Ukhamawa jakawisaxa (Asi es nuestra vida), 56; Lechín Oquendo, Memorias, 33. Lechín notes: “Corocoro se convirtio en un pueblo solitario… creo que mi odio por los gringos comienza allí.” Most working class Corocoreños moved to La Paz, Oruro or agricultural valleys of the Yungas, as larger mines temporarily halted production and smaller ones closed down completely. The school Lechín attended closed for lack of students. Both Luciano Tapia and Juan Lechín’s families left Corocoro around this period, because as Tapia suggested, the community had been “destroyed.”Tapia, Ukhamawa jakawisaxa (Asi es nuestra vida), 55. As late as 1940, Corocoro’s fate was unstable enough that a resident suggested moving the town entirely to a new location less susceptible to flooding during the rainy season.ALP PJAC 1940 Caja 160.

Corocoro United brought in the French engineer Lebrun to rationalize production at around this time. Lebrun’s brief tenure as head of the Corocoro United was marked by controversies over his attempts to modernize and regularize the workforce, and conflicts with local elites. Aside from his antagonism of workers during Carnaval, Lebrun also alienated local merchants by planning to open a company store in the mines, where workers would spend against their future paycheck, threatening the livelihood of economic elites.Ostria, Capitalismo, modernización y resistencia popular 1825-1952, 156. By the time Linares brought his dispute against the Company, therefore, many non-miners were very willing to listen his accusations with a sympathetic ear. In such a climate of economic insecurity, elite Bolivians who hoped for progress and change through the mining economy came face to face with the realization that Corocoro was not, in itself, important to the foreign corporations that mined its ores. Many began to believe that foreign companies would not contribute to the prosperity of Corocoro in times of hardship. Encouraged by radicalized elites, municipal officials began to take action against mining company executives and the privileges they were used to exerting in the town. This is the context for the “Indian Attack on the Mines” dispute that begins this chapter.

There are several notable pieces to Linares’ account of the mining company attacking its own building. First, unlike Lebrun and the La Paz press, he pointedly did not refer to the workers in this account as indigenous. Instead they were the “elemento trabajador,” the working class, “tacado por mal de mina,” wasted away by lung diseases earned through their sacrifice to the mines. Despite the recent spate of firings, which Linares took pains to establish as both unnecessary and immoral, the heroic workers were not protesting or causing civic disturbances. Rather, those who still had jobs, such as security guards, were doing their best to protect the mines. Above all, he characterized the workers as victims and not agitators. It was the foreign engineers who were donning masks and making bombs from old tins of Quaker oats and tea “in order to burn down Corocoro.” Not only were the companies taking advantage of the workers, their own employees were running a risk to the town. In this way, Linares established a boundary between workers for the national good, and betrayers of that good among both the Bolivians and the foreigners of the company.

Linares’ prominent mention of silicosis and the Company’s unwillingness to pay its legal share of reparations for the disease also spoke to a growing consensus among public officials that Bolivia was undergoing a health crisis that it did not have the resources to fix.Zulawski notes that fears of rural contagion in the cities were instrumental in setting up many campaigns against diseases like yellow fever, typhus, and tuberculosis. However, these campaigns also drove public awareness about the living conditions of poor Bolivians. Zulawski identifies the Chaco War as a turning point in national health campaigns, although through the 1940s the Bolivian government had to rely on foreign institutions like the Rockefeller Foundation to provide doctors and clinics. Zulawski, Unequal Cures. Similarly Mendizabal Lozano notes that the Dirección General de Salud was refounded three times between 1906 and 1929 in order to better provide healthcare, but that rural regions still lacked coverage, and that in 1929 president Hernando Siles asked the League of Nations to send technical assistance to help assess and improve Bolivias’s health system. Gregorio Mendizabal Lozano, Historia de La Salud Pública En Bolivia: De Las Juntas de Sanidad a Los Directorios Locales de Salud (La Paz: OPS:OMS, 2002), 128. The early decades of the 20th century in Bolivia had seen several attempts to create a public health service that could keep records of and respond to the health concerns of the public, no government until the MNR of the 1950s effectively created a public health service that could expand into rural regions and build hospitals where there were none before.

Campaigns of hygiene and vaccination against infectious diseases in early 20th century Bolivia often emphasized domestic sanitation and blamed poor health on the cultural resistance of indigenous Bolivians to western medicine, but increasingly by the 1920s, doctors such as Jaime Mendoza, who spent time in mining communities, began to articulate another explanation for the unhealthy living conditions of Bolivian workers: extreme poverty. In his writings starting with the 1911 novel Las Tierras del Potosí, Mendoza suggested that the mining companies were to blame for poor living and working conditions, and that the state failed to protect miners and their families.Zulawski, Unequal Cures, 45. This simultaneous concern with cultural education, domestic conditions, and workplace protections became consolidated in the socialist proposals of the generals who took power after the Chaco War in the 1930s. General David Toro, for example, placed his Department of Health and Hygiene under the control of the Ministry of Labor. The labor code authored by President Germán Bush in 1938, moreover, mandated in a single article (124) that the government should regulate and ensure that workers, “whether in the mines or the campo” have access to medical care, education, and clean living conditions.President David Toro created a National Department of Hygiene and Health overseen by the Department of Labor in 1936. Mendizabal Lozano, Historia de La Salud Pública En Bolivia: De Las Juntas de Sanidad a Los Directorios Locales de Salud, 129.The labor code authored by President Germán Bush in 1938 (but only carried out fully in 1942, mandated in a single article (124) that the government should regulate and ensure that workers, “whether in the mines or the campo” should have access to medical care, education, and clean living conditions: “El Estado dictará medidas protectoras de la salud y de la vida de los obreros, empleados, y trabajadores campesinos; velará porque estos tengan vividendas salubres y promoverá la edificación de casas baratas, velará igualmente por la educación técnica de los trabajadores manuales. Las autoridades controlarán, asimismo, las condiciones de seguridad y salubridad públicas dentro de las que deberán ejercer las profesiones o los oficios, así como las labores en el campo y las minas.” Bolivia., Código Busch (Decreto-Ley de 24 de Mayo de 1939. Elevado a Rango de Ley General Del Trabajo En 8 de Diciembre de 1942) (La Paz: Gran Editorial y Librería “Popular” Pérez Velasco, 1943), These provisions were to be carried out with the assistance of municipalities such as Corocoro, which by the 1930s shared financial responsability for the Mining Hospital serving the city.See for example, 1930 municipal paychecks for nurses, ALP PJAC Caja 143.

In bringing forth his denunciation, Linares made sure to position himself as a representative of the city against the foreign company, not a representative of the miners themselves. He identified himself not by his profession, as was common of the working classes, but as a “vecino” of Corocoro, essentially claiming membership of the decent urban strata of the town. He cited workers who were present at the attack as witnesses, but made sure to include non-mining urbanites like himself. He also referred to conversations overheard on the soccer field in which these “gringo bandidos” had bragged they were not afraid of the miners. Essentially, Linares was creating a division, not between foreigners and locals, but between national and anti-national interests among residents of the town. Throughout, the atmosphere of this complaint is one of social conviviality between foreign mining engineers and citizens like Linares. Linares, however, was a Bolivian, and a nationalist. It was the job of the city, he argued, to initiate judicial action against the rapacious foreigners and protect the workers and their families. The local judge ordered an investigation and went so far as suggesting taking chief engineer Lebrun into custody. After more confrontations in which workers, merchants, and local lawyers tried to run the mine engineers out of town, the municipality and even Ministry of Government intervened to bring about a settlement between company and workers.Enrique Linares, Expediente 130 ‘Sobre Los Sucesos Que Ocurieron 26 Junio’, 1930, ALP PJAC, Caja 120.

Lebrun and several other foreign engineers cited in this document were a constant presence in the court system in 1930. Aside from the Carnaval sabotage, earlier in June, one of the men named in the dispute, Swiss mining engineer Lembacher, was charged with hitting an indigenous man named Santiago Cruz with his car early in the morning of June 1st, 1930. Cruz had been walking with his llama herd before dawn, and the accident broke his arm. The charges against Lembacher were brought by vecino Elias Guzmán, who was not party to the dispute at all, and in fact incorrectly remembered the indigenous man’s name as Benito. He suggested that although Lembacher took the man to the hospital, he should still be charged by the police because he committed a crime. Moreover, he accused the engineer of lying to the authorities and sending an employee to intimidate Cruz to resolve the matter extrajudicial. As with the false attack later in the month, a well-to-do citizen without seeming association with the case took on the legal representation of an indigenous man, demanding that local authorities hold the mining company responsible.“Elias Guzman vs Ernesto Lembacher” June 1, 1930. ALP PJAC Caja 120. In this case, Guzmán understood his role as speaking for the oppressed indigenous man, protecting him from foreign assault.

Both the Linares and the Guzmán disputes can be read as attempts by local elites to impose control over foreign corporations who threatened municipal interests during the 1920s and 1930s. In the context of financial crisis, elites began to side with workers who protested firings rather than companies that did the firing. This changed the nature of political participation in Bolivia, as middle class political parties increasingly saw common ground—and potential voters—among mining communities specifically.Laurence Whitehead, “Miners as Voters: The Electoral Process in Bolivia’s Mining Camps,” Journal of Latin American Studies 13, no. 2 (1981): 313. The Linares complaint in particular integrates several key components of the revolutionary ideology that cohered in Corocoro around this time and would later spread to other parts of Bolivia. By speaking up on behalf of the workers, Linares prefigured a multi-class alliance with these “sons of labor” based around national control of resources for the common good.Enrique Linares, Expediente 130 ”Sobre Los Sucesos Que Ocurieron 26 Junio,” 1930, ALP PJAC, Caja 120. Furthermore, by highlighting the sickness and weakness of these workers as a problem, he posited that the government should be responsible for the lives of its citizens. Finally, Linares skirted racial anxieties around indigenous unrest by refusing to call them anything other than workers, using class terms to erase ethnic divisions. Each of these three claims would be crucial to national movements for reform that lasted from the 1940s through the 1970s in Bolivia.

Most histories of the Revolution of 1952 have found it self-evident in this period that the industrial workers so central to Bolivia’s economy would be the drivers of working class politics.Klein, Origenes de La Revolución Nacional Boliviana; James Dunkerley, Rebellion in the Veins: Political Struggle in Bolivia, 1952-1982 (London: Verso, 1984). But the miner federation which dominated Bolivian labor politics after 1952 was only born in 1944. The worker vanguard of the 1920s and 1930s had more often been print-maker unions and other urban groups tied more firmly to anarchist and syndicalist movements.Waldo Alvarez España, Memorias Del Primer Ministro Obrero: Historia Del Movimiento Sindical Y Político Boliviano, 1916-1952, 1a ed (La Paz, Bolivia: s.n, 1986); Young, “Blood of the Earth.” It was only in the 1940s that all three populist revolutionary parties championed miners as the oppressed workers of the nation in need of change. I argue that the miners became potential revolutionary heroes in this period for two reasons: the mines’ explicit link to Bolivia’s dependence on the global economy and subsequent exposure of the weakness of the national government in protecting citizens from this economy, and the miners’ position as a proletarianizing, culturally recognizable working class that could drive demographic change by bridging the gap between rural and urban Bolivia, converting indigenous subjects into worker citizens.

This process of selective incorporation of working class groups into the imagined community of the city was a modernizing project, like building hospitals and schools. It was a contradictory project, and a central component was positioning local elites as protectors of subaltern groups from foreign interests. It also put local elites in direct confrontation with mining companies long used to running mining camps as their own private domains,disinterested in government interference. During the 1930s a number of reformist military and civilian governments attempted to legislate social change and faced increasing intransigence from both Bolivian and foreign mining companies.Two examples of this can be found in the Labor Code of 1938 as well as Germán Busch’s attempt to create a mineral bank that would impose state control over the price at which copper and tin could be bought and sold. Both of these pieces of legislation earned the ire of the three major Bolivian mining companies, Hochschild, Aramayo and Patiño, destabilizing these populist governments. Eventually, would-be reformists came to believe that no government could govern without destroying the power of the mining companies. Lawrence Whitehead and Mario R. dos Santos, “El Impacto de La Gran Depresión En Bolivia,” Desarrollo Económico 12, no. 45 (April 1972): 49. Through nationalist encounters in which local governments struggled to hold Bolivian as well as foreign corporations accountable, these elites began to believe that legal change and reforms alone would be insufficient to bring about a better Bolivia. Furthermore, these elites began to suggest that all mining companies were essentially foreign if they acted against the national interest. By highlighting both Bolivian and foreign complicity in the fake Indian attack, Linares’ account brought to fruition Eduadro Lima’s fears that Bolivia as a nation could be measured wanting by its lack of authority over its own peoples.


Minas al Estado, Tierras al Pueblo: The Expansion of Local Nationalism

Alongside working class cultural expressions, elite and middle class reformers began to articulate new forms of political discontent by the late 1920s, influenced particularly by the revolutions in Mexico, Russia, and indigenista movements coming out of Peru. The most famous and influential of these intellectuals was Gustavo Navarro, who began his political life in the Republican Party, but by 1926 had adopted the nom de plume Tristán Marof and was travelling in Marxist circles.José Carlos Mariátegui, “La Aventura de Tristán Marof” Variedades: Lima, 3 de Marzo de 1928. A few writers have noted the irony of Marof’s choice of a name that makes him sound like a French-Russian aristocrat. Navarro’s career in fact traversed ideologies; as a teen he published an anarchist/literary idealist magazine indebted to Tolstoy; as a youth joined the republican cause. This ideological promiscuity is absolutely characteristic of the political fermentation in Bolivia in this period, and his role in inspiring both the Trostskyist POR and equally promiscuous MNR is thus not an anomaly. More on this in the next chapter. Nivardo Rodríguez Leytón, Un Anarquismo Singular: Gustavo A. Navarro--Cesáreo Capriles, 1918-1924, Colección Noveles Investigadores 4 (Sucre: Archivo y Biblioteca Nacionales de Bolivia, 2013); Steven Sandor John, Permanent Revolution on the Altiplano: Bolivian Trotskyism, 1928--2005 (ProQuest, 2006). From Belgium in 1926, Marof published his first explicitly socialist call to arms, La Justicia del Inca:

We have been fighting to the death for more than a century in homicidal combat for a political slogan or the convenience of a cacique. We want to build a sturdy republic on the basis of speeches; by charlatans… meanwhile, sharks of a difference kind reap profit from the suffering backs of the people and the indigenous class, the Montes, the Patiño, the Aramayo, the Escalier, the Loayza, the Frenchman Soux, the Mendieta, the Chilean companies, the Americans, and thousands of lords of domains great and small. The only solution is this: land to the people and mines to the State.“Estamos luchando a muerte desde hace cien años en combate homicida por una frase política o por la conveniencia de un cacique. Queremos edificar una república sólida sobre la base de discursos; de charlatanes... Mientras se hace todo esto, detrás de las espaldas sufridas del pueblo y de la clase indígena, se reparten las ganancias, tiburones de diferente bando: los Montes, los Patiño, los Aramayo, los Escalier, los Loayza, el francés Soux, los Mendieta, las compañías chilenas, las americanas y miles de patrones en mayor o menor escala según su rango. La única fórmula salvadora es esta: tierras al pueblo y minas al Estado” Tristán Marof, La justicia del inca. (Bruselas: “La Edición Latino Americana, ” Librería Falk Fils, 1926).

While indigenismo never found as ready an audience in Bolivia as in Peru or Mexico, Marof’s articulation of a class of people, both foreign and domestic, who were actively anti-national, and whose business and political interests could only hold back Bolivia’s development found a ready audience among both nationalist and socialist dissidents in this period. This vision built on the critiques of Republican (and later Republican Socialist) governments of the late 1920s such as that of Hernan Siles, but was explicitly oriented towards class war and Marxism. Marof’s formulation became especially crucial, as we can see, in communities directly affected by global industries after the crisis of 1929. At the same time that Linares and local Corocoreños were growing frustrated with foreign mining corporations, intellectuals in the Cochabamba Valley were beginning to articulate criticisms of capitalism in Bolivia that blamed foreign capital for the country’s woes.

Like the elites in Corocoro who developed radical critiques of the foreign companies and weak Bolivian state, Cochabamba writer Marof was profoundly concerned with Bolivia’s place in the modern world. In his 1934 Tragedía del Altiplano, he suggested that while foreigners did not understand Bolivia’s true potential, Bolivia did not realize that its perceived weaknesses (the indigenous populations) were actually the source of revolutionary strength. Marof believed that Bolivia existed in a state of contradiction between feudal systems of land tenure and the capitalist, modern mining economy, and that these two temporal horizons never interacted.In the Tragedia del Altiplano published in 1934, in the midst of the Chaco, he argues, “Al lado del arado de palo, está, sin embargo, el motor Diessel. Las minas son la contradicción de la agricultura primitiva. El indio guarda una distancia, socialmente, de tres siglos al mestizo y al blanco. La vida económica, por consiguiente, prosigue un ritmo incoherente en la ciudad y el campo.” Tristán Marof, La Tragedia Del Altiplano (Buenos Aires: Ed. Claridad, 1934). Marof saw the mines as a route to salvation, the “diesel motor” moving Bolivia forward in time. Marof saw in socialism the means to incorporate Bolivia into modernity, because it could replace the feudal conditions imposed by the landowning class.“No América a la cola del mundo. sino América socialista dentro del mundo.” Tristán Marof, La Tragedia Del Altiplano (Buenos Aires: Ed. Claridad, 1934). For Marof and people like Linares, the worker represented Bolivian modernity and the hacienda owners represented Bolivian backwardness. This reversal allowed for valorizing rural worker unrest as part of the nation-building process, while using indigenous histories of rebellion as evidence that Bolivia, despite its feudal economic system, was ripe for socialist revolution.Ibid.

Marof’s most lasting contribution to Bolivian ideologies of revolution in this period, however, was the coining of the phrase “Lands to the People, Mines to the State!” in Justicia del Inca in 1926. One of the earliest explicit calls for nationalization of the mines, this formulation was taken up the next year by university reformers in Oruro and socialist parties generally in Bolivia. The trajectory of this phrase deserves some comment here, because it is generally remembered and attributed to Marof as “Lands to the Indian, Mines to the State.”I am very grateful to Kevin Young for drawing my attention to this slippage, which he discusses in “Blood of the Earth: Natural Resources, Economic Visions, and Revolution in La Paz, Bolivia, 1927-1971” (State University of New York at Stonybrook, 2013), 29. This slippage between people and Indian is characteristic of both Marof’s writings and the ways that nationalist and Marxist ideas were consolidated after the 1930s into a semi-coherent revolutionary ideology. The Bolivian people, in a global sense, were “Indians,” but the effects of that indigenous difference were also the problems of feudalism and repression. By remedying unequal land distribution and converting natural resources (both human and mineral) into national ones, the “Indians” would become a generalized Bolivian people. Just as indigenismo functioned as a way to valorize regional claims to authentic representation in Peru among Cuzco’s elite, and in Mexico served to reify the revolutionary state, Marof’s “tierra al indio/pueblo” was an attempt to use Bolivian difference to articulate Bolivia’s place in the world by both embracing, erasing, and co-opting acceptable forms of indigeneity.Marisol de la Cadena, Indigenous Mestizos: The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919–1991 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000); Alexander Dawson, “From Models for the Nation to Model Citizens: Indigenismo and the ‘Revindication’ of the Mexican Indian, 1920-40,” Journal of Latin American Studies 30, no. 2 (1998): 279–308.

This slippage between Indian and pueblo was also a useful way to rewrite history. The contentious 1899 rebellion in Corocoro could now be remembered as a worker rebellion against foreign influence rather than an indigenous uprising. As workers became, in this period, legible political subjects, old kinds of unrest could be read as new, as political or class based.James Dunkerley, Orígenes del poder militar: Bolivia 1879-1935 (La Paz: Plural Editores, 1987). This kind of logic turned on its head earlier attempts to discredit indigenous movements by calling them communist, as had happened in both the Jesus de Machaca uprisings and those of Chayanta in 1927 (linked to Tristán Marof).Guillermo Lora, A History of the Bolivian Labour Movement, 1848-1971 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 167; Guillermo Lora, Historia del movimiento obrero boliviano: 1923-1933 (Los Amigos del Libro, 1970), 27. Dunkerley, Orígenes del poder militar, 177. Both municipal records and elite writings in this period demonstrate an increasing separation of worker unrest from indigenous uprisings, using Marxist discourses of class to understand worker participation as political interventions, and indigenous rebellions as race war.

What Marof and other elites saw in a Marxist language of class exploitation was an ordering of the world in which workers came to represent the role of Bolivia on the international stage, as a modern but oppressed underclass. Here, Bolivian elites and would-be reformers found the tools to resolve the contradictions of both the Liberal and Republican promises of development in the early 20th century. The nationalistic vision of state-controlled resources and multi-class alliance which was later associated with the 1952 revolution began in rudimentary form here in the boom and bust cycles of the mining economy, which attracted rural residents, tried to acculturate them to urban environments, and periodically sent waves of unemployed men to be absorbed by the cities or the countryside. Before the intense dislocations of the Chaco war, there was the mining economy, and both in the early 1930s contributed to a reshuffling of Bolivia’s rural and urban populations, leading to the nationalist political parties of the 1940s.



The crisis of liberalism experienced by Bolivia between the First World War and the Second World War brought together contradictions between two differing narratives of modernity and national development espoused by Bolivian elites. While cosmopolitan ideals of progress linked Bolivia’s development to foreign capital, foreign technology, and indeed the presence of a mix of cultures in urban cities, national modernization sought create a nation that was itself modern and uniquely Bolivian. Both of these visions for modernization and development operated within a context of internal colonialism and racial hierarchies that saw indigenous Bolivians as barriers to modernization.For more on the ways elite Bolivians attempted to resolve a perceived incompatibility between indigeneity and modernity, see Kuenzli, E. Gabrielle. Acting Inca: National Belonging in Early Twentieth-Century Bolivia. (Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013). Seemin Qayum “Nationalism, Internal Colonialism and the Spatial Imagination: The Geographic Society of La Paz in Turn-Of-The-Century Bolivia.” James Dunkerley, ed., Studies in the Formation of the Nation-State in Latin America (London: Institute of Latin American Studies, 2002), 279. During the prosperous phase of the 1920s, development tied to external markets seemed to offer Bolivians new access to global modernity. However, by the 1930s, global and local crises exposed the distance between promises of capitalist development linked to foreign mining and the reality of foreign abandonment, forcing the realization that the Bolivian government as it currently operated could or would not protect its citizens. Instead of giving up the project of modernity altogether, workers and elites both worked to create a narrative of modernization that put Bolivia as a center and driver of change and development. The echoes of this narrative are far reaching; they resound in Bolivian politics to this day.

In the 1930s and 1940s, military officials, intellectuals, and workers alike experimented with the new forms of political articulation that could be capacious enough for the urban workers and vecinos in this chapter, finding their most successful expression in the capacious nationalist discourse of the MNR, founded in 1942. This strain of modernist thought was capable of incorporating popular groups as workers in a shared national project of progress and development in corporatist and paternalist political structures, and was an organic outgrowth of the linking of modernity with control over the countryside, regularization, and infrastructure. Nevertheless, indigenous people always represented the uncontrollable, particularly in their potential for uprising, laziness, festivity to the state. Taking on the mineworkers as allies resolved a number of these threats by posing the possibility of indigenous incorporation by a process of changing cultural expression. Thus indigenous groups who remained visibly not proletarian, or proletarians who remained visibly indigenous, posed a continued threat to nationalist politics and were only problematically included in this project.

Corocoro rebuilt itself during and after the depression with the cautious help of the American Smelting Company, who was bought into the copper mines previously held by the CUCM. As in decades prior, however, the municipal government’s attempts to regulate itself and build upon the prosperity of the town brought them into increasing conflict with the Compañia, as it was called, while merchants found themselves competing with the company for consumers and resources. Nationalism, and increasingly, nationalization, came to be the language through which these disputes played out. All of these conditions helped create, during the global convulsions of the Second World War, a nationalist critique of global capitalism that centered Bolivian miners as heroes and agents of development of the nation.

The specter of indigenous Bolivia making demands on the state and setting the terms of the future nation haunted each of these experiments in participatory democracy, populism, and corporatism. The generation of the Chaco understood that Bolivia suffered from colonial legacies of exploitation, but remained wedded to a Spanish-speaking, urban, and essentially Euro-centric vision of modernity and progress. For this reason, in the constitutional convention of 1938, Bolivia found it easier to grant women (who were propertied and literate) the right to vote than indigenous men.Laura Gotkowitz has argued that Villarroel’s experiment in military populism went too far in the eyes of both urban workers and wealthy hacendados and miners when he took seriously the idea of allowing indigenous community leaders to make demands on the state. Laura Gotkowitz, A Revolution for Our Rights: Indigenous Struggles for Land and Justice in Bolivia, 1880-1952 (Duke University Press, 2007). The socialists, populists, and fascists who coalesced around a revolutionary nationalist project in this period wanted to fundamentally alter the post-colonial structure of power in Bolivia, but in such a way that defined indigeneity as part of this colonial past. The revolutionary miners, I suggest, offered a way out of this conceptual bind.

Understanding Bolivia’s relationship to global capitalism as a fundamentally exploitative system, these revolutionary nationalists used a Marxist narrative of historical change to envision Bolivian modernity as a solution to the problems of colonial and neocolonial inequalities. The miners, newly integrated into capitalist forms of production and in the process of becoming a proletariat, were once considered to be Indians but now had a historic destiny that was eminently modern. This historic destiny allowed for a particularly Bolivian modernity to be produced out of the raw material of indigeneity in the same way that valuable minerals could be smelted out of Bolivian ores. In this political vision, the experience of the miners extended by analogy to the whole nation such that Bolivia itself could be seen as undergoing a process of proletarianization. Four centuries of exploitation by at the hands of foreign governments and corporations had caused Bolivian backwardness, but could also lead to political consciousness, with Bolivian intellectuals and the middle class leading the way towards modernity and revolution. It was this vision, most capaciously articulated by the MNR, that drove the Revolution of 1952.