A Revolution for Our Rights

Indigenous Struggles for Land and Justice in Bolivia, 1880–1952

A Revolution for Our Rights

Book Pages: 416 Illustrations: 26 b&w photos, 4 maps Published: February 2008

Author: Laura Gotkowitz

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Andes, Native and Indigenous Studies

A Revolution for Our Rights is a critical reassessment of the causes and significance of the Bolivian Revolution of 1952. Historians have tended to view the revolution as the result of class-based movements that accompanied the rise of peasant leagues, mineworker unions, and reformist political projects in the 1930s. Laura Gotkowitz argues that the revolution had deeper roots in the indigenous struggles for land and justice that swept through Bolivia during the first half of the twentieth century. Challenging conventional wisdom, she demonstrates that rural indigenous activists fundamentally reshaped the military populist projects of the 1930s and 1940s. In so doing, she chronicles a hidden rural revolution—before the revolution of 1952—that fused appeals for equality with demands for a radical reconfiguration of political power, landholding, and rights.

Gotkowitz combines an emphasis on national political debates and congresses with a sharply focused analysis of Indian communities and large estates in the department of Cochabamba. The fragmented nature of Cochabamba’s Indian communities and the pioneering significance of its peasant unions make it a propitious vantage point for exploring contests over competing visions of the nation, justice, and rights. Scrutinizing state authorities’ efforts to impose the law in what was considered a lawless countryside, Gotkowitz shows how, time and again, indigenous activists shrewdly exploited the ambiguous status of the state’s pro-Indian laws to press their demands for land and justice. Bolivian indigenous and social movements have captured worldwide attention during the past several years. By describing indigenous mobilization in the decades preceding the revolution of 1952, A Revolution for Our Rights illuminates a crucial chapter in the long history behind present-day struggles in Bolivia and contributes to an understanding of indigenous politics in modern Latin America more broadly.


A Revolution for Our Rights is a path-breaking study of peasant and indigenous political action. It fills a major gap in the historiography on Bolivia, and because of its conceptual innovation and fascinating empirical findings it also raises new questions for the study of rural political mobilisation elsewhere in Latin America.” — Kevin Young, Journal of Latin American Studies

A Revolution for Our Rights is beautifully written, and Gotkowitz’s fine command of theory never gets in the way of her ability to tell a good story. The book is full of biographies of individual indigenous leaders that give the history a compelling, personal immediacy. And, although it focuses on indigenous people and their organization, their history is fully integrated into the social and political history of the time. Gotkowitz also does full justice to the writings of the leading Bolivian politicians and intellectuals who shaped the ideologies of the time. This is a model of historical research and writing.” — Ann Zulawski, Social History

“[An] extraordinary book. . . . A Revolution for Our Rights deserves a very wide readership. Serious scholars of Bolivian history must read this book, and for students, scholars and activists interested in the current period it provides one of the better historical backdrops for understanding the long-standing complexities of today’s popular struggles against class exploitation and oppression of the indigenous majority.”
— Jeffery R. Webber, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“[Gotkowitz’s] contribution is an important one that situates itself within a critical historiography that seeks to resurrect the vital role of the peasantry in its own self-determination vis-à-vis revolution.” — Tien-Ann Shih, Ethnohistory

“[Gotkowitz] makes a major contribution to Bolivian historiography.” — Robert S. Jansen, Law and History Review

“Gotkowitz fills a gap in the historical record (that is, in the English-language literature), by focusing on the role that rural rebellion played in bringing about the Revolution. . . . [T]he fluid writing by the author makes this book a page-turner. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the contested processes of state formation and indigenous movements in Latin America and beyond.” — Susan Spronk, Labour/Le Travail

“Gotkowitz masterfully traces the depth and links of indigenous politicization through the use of Bolivian communal, departmental, and national archives that bring both Indian and state voices into the narrative. . . .[T]his is an excellent work, expertly researched and written, that offers new insights into the rural roots of resistance that contributed to and expanded the 1952 Revolution. This work also opens up a greater understanding of Andean rural-urban connections, Indian identity politics, Latin American state formation, and labor movements throughout the region. It is an inspiring testament to the ability of committed social movements to effect change against the long odds of centuries-old racism and oppression.” — Michael E. Donoghue, The Historian

“Gotkowitz’s work is in fruitful conversation with scholars dedicated to identifying indigenous voices and political projects or concerned with the forms taken by indigenous engagements with the state, and with a rich corpus of research on the politics of land and land reform. More narrowly, even as it helps to fill in a relatively neglected chapter in the history of indigenous struggle in Bolivia, the book adds to our appreciation of the limits of national identity projects and opens a timely historical window upon the grievances
that continue to be sources of Bolivia’s current transformational moment of Evo Morales and the MAS.” — Robert Albro, Hispanic American Historical Review

“In this important and masterful new study, Gotkowitz (Iowa) examines the roots of the 1952 Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) revolution in Bolivia. Contrary to conventional accounts that focus primarily on the actions of miners, Gotkowitz convincingly demonstrates how rural indigenous peasant movements fundamentally helped shape those events. . . . Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.” — M. Becker, Choice

“This book is a path-breaking work that makes an important contribution to our understanding of popular politics and the ways that indigenous peoples have made and continue to make history in Bolivia. It is essential reading for historians, anthropologists, and Latin Americanists in general.” — Lesley Gill, American Historical Review

“This is a carefully crafted history of the causes of the 1952 Bolivian Revolution. . . . Firmly grounded in primary sources, A Revolution for Our Rights is an important contribution to Andean anthropology and history.” — Latin American Review of Books

"By nesting her study of the struggle of Cochabamba's indigenous communities for land and justice between 1880 and 1947 within Bolivia's grand political narrative, Laura Gotkowitz has written a book that belongs on the shelves of scholars beyond the borders of that land-locked nation. It is certainly required reading for Andeanists of all disciplines and social movements specialists." — Gertrude M. Yeager, The Americas

A Revolution for Our Rights is a major contribution to studies of Andean history and anthropology and to studies of indigenous and popular politics in Latin America as a whole. In this exciting and powerful study, Laura Gotkowitz illuminates modern Indian political engagements in what is today the most indigenous country in the Americas.” — Sinclair Thomson, author of We Alone Will Rule: Native Andean Politics in the Age of Insurgency

“An innovative, eloquent, and deeply researched history that locates indigenous subjects at the very center of Bolivia’s prolonged struggle for internal decolonization and democracy in the tumultuous half-century leading up to the 1952 Revolution. The book’s fascinating, fine-grained explorations of the radical implications (and grotesque realities) of citizenship and social justice for Bolivia’s Quechua and Aymara communities is a profound—and timely—contribution to our understanding of how indigenous politics and social movements can sometimes change the course of history.” — Brooke Larson, author of Trials of Nation Making: Liberalism, Race, and Ethnicity in the Andes, 1810–1910

“This is a most impressive work of history—deeply grounded in archival and primary sources, clearly and beautifully written, and sharply perceptive of the subtleties as well as the extremities that so characterize Andean life. The book will become a required resource for understanding not only the Bolivian Revolution of 1952 but also the social movements of the contemporary period, in which the role of Cochabamba is still poorly understood.” — James Dunkerley, author of Bolivia: Revolution and the Power of History in the Present


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Laura Gotkowitz is Associate Professor of History at the University of Iowa.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1. The Peculiar Paths of the Liberal Project 17

2. Indigenista Statecraft and the Rise of the Caciques Apoderados 43

3. "In Our Provinces There Is No Justice": Caciques Apoderados and the Crisis of the Liberal Project 69

4. The Problem of National Unity: From the Chaco War to the 1938 Constitutional Convention 101

5. The Unruly Countryside: Defending Land, Labor Rights, and Autonomy 131

6. The Unwilling City: Villarroel Populism and the Politics of Mestizaje 164

7. "The Disgrace of the Pongo and the Mitani": The 1945 Indigenous Congress and a Law against Servitude 192

8. "Under the Dominion of the Indian": The 1947 Cycle of Unrest 233

Conclusion and Epilogue: Rethinking the Rural Roots of the 1952 Revolution 268

Notes 291

Bibliography 359

Index 385
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2008 John E. Fagg Prize, American Historical Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4067-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4049-2
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