The impulse of many First World leftists in the wake of last month’s coup in Bolivia has been to criticize Evo Morales and his ‘Movement Towards Socialism’ (MAS) movement. Some have claimed that Morales was ousted because he was “revisionist” or otherwise a failed leader. These pronouncements are often ostensibly made from a pro-Marxist-Leninist standpoint, yet they don’t acknowledge Marxism-Leninism’s analytical approach of assessing how the material conditions of a given situation impact the ways socialist movements develop. When you look at Morales’ actions from this place of material analysis instead of a place of snap judgement, you find that he—as well as so many other Latin American socialist leaders—has tried to work within his country’s preexisting bourgeois structures instead of replacing them, largely because he hasn’t had another choice.
Socialists are naturally in conflict with pro-capitalist forces, and since pro-capitalist forces always control both the state and the economy in capitalist countries, socialists who gain power through established electoral processes will face many institutional obstacles once they’re in office. Unlike socialist states like Cuba and China, which were formed after communists overthrew the old governments of these countries, socialists in countries like Bolivia have used elections to gain power.
This reality has provided key opportunities to those who’ve sought to overthrow Morales. The U.S. imperialists, aided by a strong anti-Morales political and business class within Bolivia, have managed to carry out enough political terrorism and win over (or train or bribe) enough of Bolivia’s police and military to force Morales to resign. October’s election, wherein the opposition falsely claimed fraud and stirred up riots, was the perfect opening for this power grab. Can Morales be blamed for this? Only if you want to claim he’s responsible for the very existence of the Bolivian bourgeoisie.
Consider that in Venezuela, where the Chavista movement has also pursued electoral politics to gain power, the imperialists in the U.S. and the bourgeoisie within the country still haven’t overthrown the government. Why is that? Partly, it’s because Venezuela’s bourgeoisie isn’t as strong as Bolivia’s, and also because the Chavista government has maintained the loyalty of its military. The Bolivia coup has had an easier success due to a military and police force that isn’t loyal to MAS, as well as because Morales was unable to make advantageous deals with Western transnational corporations, with which the Bolivian capitalist class is deeply connected. Since the success of an anti-socialist coup usually depends on the strength of a country’s capitalist class, the political leverage the Bolivian bourgeoisie has continued to enjoy (due to the lack of Morales’ leverage over Western corporations), has tipped the scales in their favor.
Under these circumstances, it’s no wonder that Morales, despite having outright described himself as a “Marxist-Leninist” in 2009, took the path of electoral politics. Material conditions made electoral politics his best option, and the recent show of strength by the Bolivian bourgeoisie has made the pitfalls of that option very apparent.
The overall reality—that Morales did a phenomenal job at building a socialist movement amid his constricting material circumstances—also shows why the Bolivian bourgeoisie is now encountering unexpected vulnerabilities to the socialists. The resistance to the coup from Bolivia’s indigenous worker-peasant population has been carried out swiftly, skillfully, and in great numbers. People have been not just holding protests, but forming militias and engaging in shutdowns of urban areas. With the backing of an exiled Evo Morales, who the coup leaders failed to assassinate, Bolivia’s indigenous people, who make up 60% of the country’s population, could still conceivably force the reinstatement of their rightful president.
These popular obstacles weren’t as severe for the U.S. regime change engineers when they carried out a coup in Honduras in 2009 or when they installed a fascist leader in Ukraine in 2014. This is likely because, unlike the deposed leaders of those countries, Morales is a communist/socialist who managed to build a vast base of organized support during his fourteen years in office.
If the MAS movement overthrows the widely hated and fascistic capitalist regime that’s just been installed in Bolivia, what may result is a fulfillment of the Marxist-Leninist ideal of a socialist state. If Morales is reinstated, and if he manages to form a military that will reliably support him while sufficiently disempowering the capitalist class, we may yet see this come to pass.
But this is just speculation. What we need to do now is focus on helping the Bolivian proletariat in overthrowing the new regime. One way to help aid the resistors is by working to shift the narrative in their favor. The U.S. empire has been hastily working to legitimize the coup in the public eye, with Western media headlines deliberately refusing to use the word “coup” and Twitter bots being deployed to repeat the narrative that it was “not a coup.” Should Morales be reinstated, this will serve to reinforce the claim that he’s a “dictator” who regained power through violent thuggery. (Or “savagery,” as Bolivia’s racist new president might call it.)
To combat these narratives, we must recognize Morales as a patriot rather than tarnish his image with slanted critiques. A global war is going on between the forces of liberation and the forces of imperialism, and socialists in powerful countries must make it clear who they side with. All the narratives that paint Morales as a failure or a villain should be replaced with a commitment to helping Bolivia’s people win their country back from the fascists.
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