About The Bolivian Revolution

In April 1952 a popular insurrection of urban and mine workers led the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (the MNR) overthrew the military junta that took power since May 1951. Nationalist party leaders Víctor Paz Estenssoro (president) and Hernán Siles Zuazo (vice president) assumed power in 1952 and the party remained in power for twelve years (1964). 

In the first two years of government, the MNR launched a series of reforms that would constitute a milestone in Bolivian history. The party nationalized the mines that had been in the hands of three barons who controlled eighty percent of the country’s mining production; extended suffrage to women and Indians who had been on the margins of formal political participation; and distributed land to peasants who had been in the hands of landowners. These three transformations placed the Bolivian Revolution in the pantheon of the great social revolutions of 20th century Latin America.  

The historiography on the revolution, especially the one published in the 1950s and 1960s, tended to emphasize the prominence of the MNR and its achievements. However, from the 1960s and 1970s onwards, several works, some of them from the left, became a lot more critical of the MNR and its achievements revolution. Some spoke of the MNR’s close relationship with the U.S. State Department, others pointed the revolution had been incomplete if not betrayed. Since the 1980s, scholars who came from the ranks of Katarismo underlied the top-down character of the revolution that suppressed in the end, indigenous and peasant political projects and demands.

These readings of the revolution were deeply linked to political projects of the moment, and in that sense, as historian James Dunkerley has stated, the Bolivian revolution was a political rather than a historical event. 

In 2003, historians Merilee Grindle and Pilar Domingo published a volume commemorating the 50th anniversary of the revolution. The book presented the most relevant contributions about the revolution, and they called for new studies that dared to examine this process from new angles, with different eyes, and new sources. 

As a response to this call, especially over the last five years, we have seen the emergence of a new wave of works that have reexamined the Bolivian revolution. This website gathers this recent historiography and provides to those who are interested in studying the Bolivian revolution (especially undergraduates and graduates students) an invaluable window to understand one of the greatest revolutions of Latin America in the twentieth century. 

The website will feature 12 short episodes (about 20 to 25 minutes each) [so far I have recorded wight interviews] offering each author the chance to discuss their contributions to the historiography, how did the dialogue with previous scholarship, and how do they see the legacies of the revolutionary process seventy years later. 

Each interview features a picture of the author, a short bio, and photos of some of the primary sources they have used to write their work. By offering these examples, we hope undergraduates get a grasp of “how historians work” what primary sources they have used for their research and how they have used and interpreted them.