Australasian Spartacist No. 240
Down With U.S.-Backed Right-Wing Coup!
For an Indigenous-Centred Workers and Peasants Government!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1166 (29 November 2019), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
NOVEMBER 25—The U.S.-backed coup that forced bourgeois-populist president Evo Morales to flee and installed an anti-indigenous regime of Catholic extremists has plunged Bolivia into chaos. Insurgent protesters and supporters of Morales have been met with brutal repression—many have been arrested or disappeared, dozens massacred and hundreds wounded, with the toll climbing. Demonstrators waving the multicolor native Andean Wiphala flag have bravely confronted military and police shock troops in the streets of La Paz and elsewhere, demanding that Morales be allowed to return from exile in Mexico and finish his term. In a sinister act last week, the interim government accused Morales of sedition and terrorism for supposedly fomenting the unrest.
Self-appointed president Jeanine Áñez, notorious for branding indigenous religious practices as “satanic,” rejoiced that “God has allowed the Bible to come back” to Bolivia. Áñez granted the armed forces immunity to carry out more bloodshed, targeting the heavily indigenous working and peasant population, trade unionists and leftists. With cities facing shortages of food and fuel as a result of protest blockades, the situation remains unstable. In an attempt to defuse the crisis, Congress approved new elections open to candidates from Morales’s Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Toward Socialism—MAS) but excluding Morales himself.
The U.S. bourgeois establishment disingenuously denies that there was any coup, with its media steadfast behind the narrative that the Bolivian president “resigned.” On November 10, the military abandoned Morales and demanded that he step down amid a growing mutiny by police, who joined anti-government protests spearheaded by far-right opposition forces in the Bolivian oligarchy. The police/military coup was the culmination of weeks of mobilizations that accused Morales of stealing the October 20 election. The fact that he was able to win, not to mention run for, a fourth consecutive term, incited his hard-line opponents, who cried “fraud.” Racist mobs and fascistic gangs went on a rampage, ransacking and burning the homes of MAS politicians, torturing women and peasants’ leaders and burning the Wiphala.
In a White House statement, President Trump applauded the toppling of Morales, and ominously warned the “illegitimate regimes” of Venezuela and Nicaragua that “the will of the people will always prevail.” The U.S. imperialists have been itching to reverse the “pink tide” that brought in a number of bourgeois-nationalist and populist Latin American regimes over the last couple of decades starting with Hugo Chávez and including Morales. Such motives also drove the Obama administration in 2009, when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed the military coup that ousted Manuel Zelaya of Honduras.
The Republicans and Democrats alike are parties of imperialism and war, with a common class interest in maintaining U.S. political and economic supremacy in its “backyard.” Liberal-left darlings Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez condemned the Bolivian coup; but it should be noted that these “progressives” are dutiful shepherds for U.S. imperialism, as shown by their support for “regime change” in Venezuela against President Nicolás Maduro.
Morales, initially elected in 2005, rode to power with a significant social base among the indigenous masses and peasant social movements following the water and gas wars—mass upheavals against privatization and IMF-dictated austerity measures. The country’s first indigenous president, Morales was a former leader of the cocalero union that organized indigenous coca leaf farmers. While he posed as a friend of workers and the oppressed and occasionally acted as a thorn in the side of the U.S. overlords, his radical-sounding rhetoric was used to co-opt and contain working-class and plebeian discontent. All the while, his bourgeois MAS government was a loyal servant to the capitalist ruling class, administering the repressive state apparatus on its behalf, which necessarily meant subordination to the world imperialist system.
It is urgently necessary for the Bolivian proletariat to oppose the coup without giving any political support to Morales or MAS. We take a side with the anti-coup protesters and defend Morales supporters against murderous state repression and reactionary mobilizations. At the same time, we fight for the proletariat, leading behind it the rest of the besieged indigenous masses, to emerge independently under its own banner. As revolutionary Marxists in the U.S., we call on the working class here to oppose the bloody machinations of its imperialist ruling class.
U.S. Imperialism and “Andean Capitalism”
It was the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS), a tool of U.S. imperialist domination, which spun the dubious charge of fraud in the October 20 election. The OAS claimed “irregularities” in the vote count without providing a shred of evidence. Since its origins in the Cold War, the OAS has been Washington’s “ministry of colonies.” It sought to quash Communist and leftist movements south of the border, aiming at the Cuban Revolution, which led in 1960-61 to the expropriation of the capitalist class there and the creation of a bureaucratically deformed workers state. Recently, the OAS promoted the U.S. puppet Juan Guaidó during the White House’s failed coup attempt against Maduro in capitalist Venezuela. Not coincidentally, one of the first acts of Bolivia’s post-coup regime was to expel hundreds of Cuban doctors and Venezuelan diplomats.
For decades, the U.S. State Department has directly and indirectly intervened in Bolivia, supporting previous coups, promoting right-wing “civic committees” and providing funding to opposition leaders like Carlos Mesa. A Grayzone article (13 November) notes that Bolivia’s head of the army and chief of police, who participated in the coup, had both been attachés in Washington. At least six of the key coup plotters were alumni from the School of the Americas, infamous for its death squad butchers.
The central political figure who drove the overthrow of Morales is ultra-right Catholic millionaire Luis Fernando Camacho. Camacho represents the powerful agricultural oligarchy from the eastern lowlands of Santa Cruz. A mineral-rich region with a white-minority secessionist movement, it was a staging ground for a 2008 “civil coup” attempt against Morales. Camacho got his start in a fascist paramilitary organization called the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista (Santa Cruz Youth Union), the separatist movement’s “brass knuckles” that terrorizes indigenous peasants, leftists and journalists. He went on to head the infamous comité cívico (civic committee) of Santa Cruz. There he was groomed by the Christian separatist and magnate Branko Marinkovic, whose family is reported to have ties with the Croatian Ustasha, which collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.
The racist elites in eastern Bolivia hark back to the days when the lighter-skinned (Spanish-descended) rulers kept the boot on the neck of the indigenous majority—mostly Quechua and Aymara, with smaller populations like Chiquitano and Guaraní, among many others. The landowning class resents the fact that the “plurinational state” established under Morales used proceeds from royalties of natural gas—one of Bolivia’s main exports—to improve the conditions of the indigenous and poor population. The 2006 so-called “nationalization” of gas was actually a renegotiated partnership with the foreign gas firms, under which they paid higher rents to the government. The state used a portion of these payments, together with other commodity revenue, to invest in social programs and infrastructure.
As a result, during nearly 14 years under Morales and Vice President Álvaro García Linera, the country experienced a decline in extreme poverty, unemployment and illiteracy. An expanding economy made it possible for MAS to implement popular measures and appease the demands of various social sectors, while immense wealth was left in the hands of the tiny bourgeoisie.
Today, Bolivia remains one of the most impoverished nations in South America. The bulk of the indigenous population is still left to subsist as poor campesinos or low-wage workers in the mines, factories and oil fields. Many are in the informal sector—including women street vendors and domestic workers—as well as a significant percentage of child laborers. At the same time, Bolivia has seen the emergence of an indigenous entrepreneurial bourgeoisie. This stratum of urban petty capitalists is showcased in the few colorful mansions scattered in the overwhelmingly working-class and poor city of El Alto outside of La Paz.
Some in this layer are committed to reaping the lion’s share of benefits from extractive industry like lithium mining. The Potosí region sits on one of the world’s largest reserves of lithium, the crucial element in batteries for cell phones, computers and electric vehicles. Initial plans by the Morales government to mine lithium through joint ventures between state-owned companies and German and Chinese firms enraged the indigenous leader of the Potosí civic committee, Marco Antonio Pumari, who wanted higher royalties from the project. Pumari worked in close alliance with Camacho during the coup.
While Morales was heralded by much of the international left as a socialist, he made no bones about overseeing “Andean capitalism” and upholding private property and profit. The policies of the MAS government have always benefited the transnational corporations involved in the extraction of the country’s energy and mineral wealth. MAS also incorporated substantial elements of the agribusiness and ranching elites into its ranks, and made compromises with the same right-wing and secessionist forces that sought the demise of Morales.
For many years, Morales had the allegiance of the leaders of the main labor confederation, the COB, and controlled indigenous movements. But some of this support has frayed, if not cracked. The MAS government carried out brutal state repression against the same “popular movements” it has purported to represent. In 2011, the federal police attacked indigenous protesters marching against the building of the TIPNIS highway through a rain forest reserve, and their protected homeland, in the Bolivian Amazon. During the 2013 national strike, riot police assaulted miners, teachers, health care and factory workers demanding higher pensions.
For a Trotskyist Workers Party in Bolivia!
Bolivia is a case of combined and uneven development, where modern industry like natural gas extraction coexists alongside rural backwardness. In this Andean country, varying forms of bourgeois rule—from military dictatorships and “neoliberal” regimes to populist governments—have demonstrated their subordination to the imperialist order. Indeed, throughout Latin America, the weak national bourgeoisies are incapable of breaking with the imperialists, to whom they are bound by a thousand threads. To the extent that a nationalist-populist government rallies the toiling masses and offers some resistance to imperialist diktats, it does so to advance the interests of the domestic bourgeoisie. Both neoliberal regimes and populist ones fear the force that is capable of throwing off the imperialist yoke: the working class.
Leon Trotsky spelled out the perspective of permanent revolution, which applies to countries of belated economic development, and found confirmation in the experience of the October 1917 Russian Revolution. In the age of imperialism, only the proletariat, standing at the head of the oppressed masses, can carry out key tasks—like agrarian revolution, national emancipation from imperialist subjugation and fulfillment of the democratic aspirations of the masses—by overthrowing the capitalist rulers and their state. Through expropriating bourgeois private property, the working class would establish the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry, that is, a workers and peasants government based on the collectivization of the means of production.
In Bolivia, such a government would necessarily be centered on the deeply oppressed indigenous majority. For such a revolution to survive and open the way to a socialist future, it must be extended beyond the borders of Bolivia and spread internationally, ultimately to the imperialist centers.
Our last article on Bolivia, “Trotskyism vs. Bourgeois Nationalism,” (WV No. 868, 14 April 2006) pointed to the material and political decimation of the tin miners, who had once been some of the most class-conscious workers in Latin America, and asserted that “the proletarian instrumentality for overturning capitalism has been qualitatively diminished.” While it is true that the tin mining industry was devastated decades ago, and that some 20,000 miners were fired and displaced and their radical union gutted, our article essentially denied that there was a working class in Bolivia and thereby argued that the basis for workers revolution did not exist in the country. The article also wrongly implies that struggle is futile in Bolivia unless it is sparked in countries with more “viable concentrations of the proletariat.” These assertions amounted to a rejection of permanent revolution as applied to Bolivia.
As laid out in Trotsky’s The Permanent Revolution (1930), it is incorrect to approach the question in the framework of “mature” and “immature” countries. He wrote:
“Insofar as capitalism has created a world market, a world division of labour and world productive forces, it has also prepared world economy as a whole for socialist transformation.
“Different countries will go through this process at different tempos.”
Young and relatively small proletariats can take power if they develop allies among broad layers of the oppressed, which in Bolivia includes rural toilers and urban slum dwellers.
A core of the Bolivian working class remains in extractive industry. This August, some 830 unionized miners at Bolivia’s San Cristóbal mine, the third-biggest producer of silver in the world, went on a three-week strike against its owner, the Japanese company Sumitomo. Strikers won their wage and other demands, but continue to battle with the bosses, who want to nullify the settlement by having the strike declared illegal.
Due to its centrality in capitalist production, the working class has the strategic social power to overthrow capitalist rule, but it must be made conscious of the need to harness that power. The key question is leadership. The tumultuous struggles of the proletariat, centered on the tin miners, sparked revolutionary and prerevolutionary situations in 1952, 1970-71 and 1985. However, the workers’ misleaders directed them to form alliances with the supposedly “anti-imperialist” bourgeoisie, thus tying them to the class enemy and betraying those revolutionary opportunities.
To fight for victory, it is necessary to build a Trotskyist party, as a national section of a reforged Fourth International, in sharp political struggle against reformism and bourgeois-nationalist populism. A revolutionary workers party would act as the tribune of the people, fighting to mobilize the proletariat as the champion of all the oppressed—especially indigenous women, who are enslaved in the family and subjected to brutal exploitation and daily violence. It was on the basis of such a perspective that our forebears in Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party successfully led the proletariat to power in Russia. And it is only on this basis that Bolivia’s “wretched of the earth” will be liberated.