The impulse of many First World leftists in the wake of this last week’s coup in Bolivia has been to criticize Evo Morales and his movement. They’ve claimed that Morales was ousted because he was “revisionist” or otherwise a failure of a leader. These pronouncements are often made from a pro-Marxist-Leninist standpoint, yet they don’t acknowledge Marxism-Leninism’s goal of objectively 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 analysis instead of a place of judgement, you find that he-as well as so many other Latin American socialist leaders-have worked within bourgeois democracy instead of overthrowing governments because they haven’t had another choice.
For non-communists who may not initially recognize why those in the socialist movement see electoral politics as a less-than-ideal path to gaining power, the issue with this approach is that it always puts socialist politicians at a disadvantage. Socialists are naturally in conflict with pro-capitalist forces, and since pro-capitalist forces always control the state in a capitalist country, socialists who attempt to gain power through the electoral process will face many institutional obstacles. Unlike in 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 has given key opportunities for 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 enough of Bolivia’s police and military to force Morales to resign. Last month’s election, wherein the opposition falsely claimed fraud and stirred up riots, was the perfect opening for this power grab to happen.
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 as a way to gain power, the imperialists still haven’t overthrown the government. This is partly because Venezuela’s bourgeoisie isn’t as strong as it is in Bolivia’s, and because Morales was unable to make deals with Western transnational corporations. Whether an anti-socialist coup attempt is successful depends upon how strong the capitalist class is in a given country, and the Bolivian capitalist class was given political leverage by this lack of government leverage over the Western bourgeoisie.
Under these circumstances, it’s no wonder why Morales, despite having outright described himself as a “Marxist-Leninist” in 2009, has taken the path of electoral politics. Material conditions have made electoral politics the best path for him to take, and the recent show of strength by the Bolivian bourgeoisie has made this very apparent.
This reality-that Morales did a phenomenal job at building a socialist movement amid his 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 very well force through the reinstatement of their rightful president.
The obstacles weren’t this severe for the U.S. regime change engineers when they carried out a coup in Honduras in 2009 or installed a fascist leader in Ukraine in 2014. This is likely because unlike the deposed leaders of those countries, Morales is a communist who built a vast base of organized support during his fourteen years in office.
If this movement throws down the widely hated and fascistic capitalist regime that’s been installed in Bolivia, what may result is a fulfillment of the Marxist-Leninist ideal of a communist-controlled state. The Bolivian proletariat, prompted by their circumstances to try to overthrow their government, are moving towards bringing a socialist government to power by first smashing the capitalist state. If Morales is reinstated, and if he manages to form a military that will reliably support him while sufficiently suppressing the capitalist class, he’ll also fulfill Marxism-Leninism’s goal of a communist-dominated state.
But this is for now all speculation. Global socialists need to focus on helping the Bolivian proletariat in overthrowing the new regime. Apart from traveling to Bolivia to join an anti-government militia yourself, you can aid the resistors 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 hero rather than tarnish his image with slanted critiques. A global war is going on between the forces of socialism and the forces of imperialism, and socialists must make it clear who they side with.
To delegitimize Morales, to claim that he’s in some way a betrayer of socialism, is to repeat the misleading rhetoric that anti-communists like George Orwell have used to paint history’s socialist leaders as villains. In his book Examining Orwell, Alan Brown writes the following about how Western society has falsely come to see Orwell’s Red-bashing as the “sensible” lens through which to view communism:
It is left to the figure of ‘Orwell’, finally, to resolve the great debates between left and right, to assert a middle way between ideologies and conflicting forces. . . Having dissolved the contradictions between ‘communism’ and ‘fascism’ in either a historical or theoretical form, the way is open for a socialism itself devoid of content. Orwell’s socialism can be reduced to a Victorian value of ‘concern’ and charity towards others, to a moral subjectivism which calls for no more than a sentimental response. . . Socialism as moral piety is perfectly acceptable. . . but any attempt to conceive of society and subjectivity as susceptible to organised change must be perceived solely as ‘threat’.
This very privileged and self-righteous view of class struggle is the logical conclusion of the negative comments that Western leftists have made about Morales. And it reinforces the even worse rhetoric about “both sides” in Bolivia’s conflict being bad actors, as well as the attempts to deny or minimize the coup. All of these narratives should be replaced with a commitment to helping Bolivia’s people win their country back from the fascists.
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