The Coup In Bolivia: Lessons For Our Movement

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The US engineered another coup, this time Bolivia, and again our movement could not effectively counter pro-coup propaganda the US was selling to the public, let alone taking any action to stop it.

There is an imperative need for much greater long-term cooperative work to combat US interventions. Needed is a qualitatively higher level of unity of action among our networks to combat imperialism. Lenin, one of the most effective leaders of the struggles against the ruling classes, emphasized that “The proletariat has no other weapon in the fight for power except organization.

The divisiveness among ourselves and our alliances is a secondary issue. We often pursue political work while poorly trained in the lessons our predecessors learned from their experiences in combating the corporate elite’s repressive actions at home and abroad. The movement against ruling class brutality has accumulated over the centuries a valuable heritage of struggle and an invaluable body of experience about effective and ineffective strategies and tactics under the given conditions. No school or clearing house collects and teaches this heritage, so we have to relearn these lessons almost from scratch each generation. We also usually must recreate a national network to implement our collective anti-imperialist struggle each generation.

Here, the ruling class and their government have significant advantages over us. They have their own legacy of experience in maintaining their rule, and they maintain a series of institutions devoted to gathering and passing down their methods of regime change (coups, color revolutions, wars), political disruption, and media disinformation campaigns. These ruling class institutions include universities, think tanks, and government agencies like the CIA, DIA, and FBI. The ruling class has the capacity to manufacture and implement a coup or a domestic wave of political repression almost off-the-shelf. On this score, they are light years ahead of us, while we are often reduced to the level of having to learn how to control and use fire each generation.

Another reason for our lack of effective anti-imperialist organization is our lack of confidence that a serious challenge to US imperial power is even possible, which certainly seems understandable given the above. Nevertheless, we must also recognize that their system of corporate imperial rule is not stable, as the major economic crises and climate catastrophe in the coming years will show us. The rulers’ “solution” to these issues will only antagonize the majority of humanity and make them fight corporate domination of human life.

Role of US Government Disruption

Another cause of our weakness is the government disruption of our movements, something we gloss over. Defending Rights and Dissent just reported on FBI spying over the last ten years in “Still Spying on Dissent,” showing how the FBI goes far beyond just spying to include break-ins, disruptions, political frame-ups, stings, murder, blackmail, and drug-dealing.

These operations have escalated with Obama signing NDAA 2017, which lifted restrictions on the CIA and other organs of the national security state feeding fake news to the US population. The NDAA established “an executive branch interagency committee to counter active measures by the Russian Federation to exert covert influence over peoples and governments…through front groups, covert broadcasting, media manipulation, disinformation or forgeries, funding agents of influence, incitement, offensive counterintelligence, assassinations, or terrorist acts.”

Senator Portman, one of the chief authors of the law, stated its intent is to “improve the ability of the United States to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation from our enemies by establishing an interagency center housed at the State Department to coordinate and synchronize counter-propaganda efforts throughout the U.S. government. To support these efforts, the bill also creates a grant program for NGOs, think tanks, civil society and other experts outside government.” NGOs and civil society can receive grants to paint voices of the anti-war movement as spreading Russian “disinformation.” This may shed light on the origin of the story that those opposed to the regime change operation on Syria are “Putinists” and “Assadists.”

Lack of Popular Participation in Social Movements

Our movement’s weakness must be seen as a result of the people’s insufficient participation in the fight against US wars and the military budget, even though both rob us of the wealth we need to counter our worsening quality of life. This lack of participation, lack of sustained mobilization, is hardly unique to the anti-war struggle. At present this characterizes the spectrum of social movements: the women’s movement, immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter, and so on. And even while the movement against climate change recently could rally four million, with 600,000 in the US, Greta Thornberg acknowledged the movement has not stopped carbon emissions from continuing to increase.

Almost everyone is aware of the looming climate catastrophe around the corner, but people are generally expecting someone else to do something about it. They do not understand that the ruling class plans to do nothing, that nothing will be accomplished until we mobilize in the many millions.

Partly a result of seeming a more viable alternative to movement building and partly a result of political naivete, people still look for solutions by investing their time and money in Democratic and Republican campaigns. For now, the movements that bring large numbers out into the streets are those contained by these two parties. This undermines our building forces independent of these two corporate parties, who serve to snuff out the movements that represent the interests of the 99%.

The present non-existence of massive anti-intervention protests is partly a response to the failure of our major mobilizations of hundreds of thousands in 2002-2003 demanding a halt to the planned war on Iraq. In 2011 the Occupy movement spread like wildfire, only to be snuffed out by government repression, and again, very little changed. People do not struggle and fight for a goal if we feel our time and effort won’t pay off and make it worthwhile. This combined with the disillusion from the unfulfilled hopes of the Obama era has left many today feeling ripped off, powerless and demoralized.

When people feel this way, they shrink their lives into a small safe zone and pursue their private lives in a little bubble where they find some measure of comfort. The coming economic crisis and climate disaster will pop many a bubble and people will be pushed into active political opposition to the 1%. Once some important victories for us have been won, many thousands and then millions will be inspired to again awaken and fight for our demands.

Mistakes of our Bolivian allies and Lessons for us

1.-The State as Armed Bodies of Men

Lenin wrote in State and Revolution that the state consists of special bodies of armed men, and those who controlled these special bodies controlled the state. With the coup in Bolivia we were given a reminder. Luis Alfonso Mena S. wrote, entirely correctly, “The most important lesson from what happened on Sunday, November 10, 2019 in Bolivia is that a revolution is vulnerable when it relies on armed forces from bourgeois institutions. That is why Hugo Chavez transformed his country’s armed forces, gave them a popular and class character, turned them into defenders of the Venezuelan revolution and its people, and today they constitute one of the fundamental supports of the Bolivarian process, since they have never yielded to offers, blackmail or threats from U.S. imperialism and its lackeys on the continent.”

Moreover, as Nino Pagliccia pointed out “Venezuela has developed a strong civic-military union supported my thousands of voluntary militias that has been the bastion against which the Hybrid War has failed despite the numerous attempts to break that union.”

A people’s militia in Bolivia could have maintained order in most of the country after the police forces declared they would not interfere against anti-Evo violence and before the military chiefs told Evo to resign. Fidel Castro said right after the coup against Allende in Chile, “If every worker, if every laborer, had had a rifle in his hands, the fascist coup in Chile would not have happened.” However, the MAS government never built a popular militia, and did not fill the military command structure with loyal defenders of the constitution.

Marxists often state that as long as a socialist government does not destroy the old capitalist state and create a new system of governing, including a new military and police force to replace that inherited from previous regimes, the price for this error will be a counter-revolutionary coup by the old military hierarchy. This is often true but oversimplified.

Nicaragua’s military high command is not loyal to the capitalist class because it was reconstituted after the 1979 Sandinista revolution. With the return to power of the capitalist class with Violetta Chamarro in 1990, the Nicaraguan military remained under the Sandinista high command of Humberto Ortega. Change in the military leadership continued to remain largely under its own control: to replace a current military chief, the military limits the president’s options to three names it submits to the president to choose among. The military today is committed to the constitution and to not repressing the people. In Nicaragua’s 2018 protests and violence, the military stayed in their barracks.

Venezuela is another case of a pro-socialist government presiding over a capitalist economic system, with the military loyal to the Chavez-era Bolivarian constitution. Venezuela’s military was somewhat restructured by nationalistic officers back in the early 1970s, and later received a much more progressive education. Venezuela had no military caste as in Argentina or Chile, with many senior officers coming from poor urban and peasant families.

One of Chavez’ first decisions after assuming the presidency was the creation of Plan Bolivar, sending the troops to the barrios to help clean up, paint buildings, distribute food, provide medical care, and attend to the people. The failed coup attempts since 2002 enabled the government to remove right-wingers from the military. Chavez opened the Military Academy to low income Venezuelans so they could rise up in the officer corps. He also created an efficient intelligence service, which enabled the government to unmask coup-plotters. Today the Venezuelan military defends the revolutionary nationalist process.

2.-Importance of mobilizing and educating the people

Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly, hit upon another mistake of Evo when he spoke right after the rightwing coup in Bolivia. The main antidote against fascism is popular mobilization. Under Evo Morales long presidency this lesson was neglected. MAS also did not lead a nationwide effort to protest the coup as it was unfolding, rather it compromised and sought “peace.” Cabello added “we [in Venezuela] are going to the streets to reject the violence of imperialism…We are not surprised by the actions of the right, here in Venezuela they tried the same thing, we already know them.” Venezuela is well-prepared and experienced in mobilizing the people to combat attempted coups.

Over the years, MAS had become an electoral party, ill-equipped to respond to the rightwing’s abrupt switch from electoral politics to street violence. Evo and his circle did not place sufficient emphasis on political education of the masses, nor on their self-organization, nor on building a national network of political activists committed to mobilizing people in defense of The Process of Change. In contrast, Fidel’s Cuba understood these measures were needed to survive under the relentless US imperial pressure, and Cuba made itself impenetrable to regime change.

The Bolivian military coup against an elected progressive head of state provides lessons for Bernie Sanders campaign supporters. In the US, the two-party system has developed many tools to make sure figures like Bernie never becomes the candidate, such as rigging the primaries and engaging in corporate media smear campaigns. Nor is electing such a seeming progressive leader, like we saw in 2008, close to the end of the battle. The leader’s initiatives could be blocked by Congress, by in the courts, by in the federal bureaucracy. A genuinely progressive president could be removed from office on unwarranted charges, as with Dilma and Lula in Brazil, or here, as the Democrats seek to do with the isolationist Donald Trump.

The national security state has a vast array of tools developed from its extensive experience in wars, coups, and disruptions that it can employ at home to terminate a progressive president’s tenure or neutralize any progressive movement. Unfortunately, most people still suffer from the naive delusion that we live in a uniquely free and democratic country, that we are exempt from coups and similar methods the US routinely uses abroad.

Evo Morales made other errors during the coup process, such as calling for the OAS to verify the votes, even though he had repeatedly denounced the OAS as a tool of the US. For instance in 2017 he said “I offer to free brother [OAS General Secretary] Luis Almagro from submission to the North American empire. All for the dignity and sovereignty of our peoples.” Yet he invited in this US tool, which then found the election had “irregularities.”

Corporate Media Disinformation and Building a People’s Alternative

Another agent, the corporate media, as Alfredo Serrano Mancilla noted, “are never absent in each coup. They are keys to building the frame of reference before, during and after…This medium was always the maximum exponent of the fraud scenario, before and after, defending the lack of knowledge of the results from the beginning and quickly emerging to endorse the undemocratic transition.”

Corporate control of the media complements control of the armed forces in creating regime change. The media can monopolize access to information, are able to effectively present disinformation as news, seen so well in the 2002 coup against Chavez, in Nicaragua in 2018, Libya in 2011, and Syria for years. Creating a popular mass media widely read both locally and internationally that is a mouthpiece for the 99% is necessary yet difficult task, something even Chavista Venezuela still has not accomplished successfully.

Our Responsibility in the Imperial Core

A serious analysis of what is happening in a Third World country, progressive or not, must start with the role Western imperialism has played, including the role of Western NGOs. Otherwise, analysis does not put in perspective the problems the country faces, and indirectly gives cover to imperialism’s role.

Alison Bodine and Ali Yerevani, writing on the US war against Venezuela, sum up well our responsibilities:

“At the root of all conflicts and battles of imperialist countries against independent countries, including colonial and semi-colonial countries, is the drive to deny them their sovereignty and self-rule. Everything else is secondary…. The best way to contribute to the struggle of Venezuelan people against the reactionary pro-imperialist right-wing opposition inside Venezuela and against the constant attack, sanctions, and interventions of imperialism, is to build a strong antiwar, anti-imperialist movement that also focuses on building a Venezuela solidarity movement in defense of self-determination for the Venezuelan people.”

This must include combating regime change disinformation, which aims to delegitimize governments not submitting to imperial dictates, justifying coups, murderous economic sanctions, proxy wars and “humanitarian” invasions. The corporate media can be a more sophisticated tool for regime change than the military, permitting Washington to take advantage of the story that anything short of outright US troop invasion is not intervention nor regime change.

Many liberal and faux “left” websites and groups have become transmission belts for this regime change propaganda into the progressive movement, sometimes even taking NED funding. This has been countered from an anti-imperialist stance by our “tribunes of the people”. Examples include Alan Macleod on Venezuela, AFGJ on Nicaragua, The Grayzone on China, Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley on Syria, Popular Resistance on Hong Kong, Consortium News and Stephen Cohen on Russiagate, on Libya, Dan Kovalik, Phil Wilayto on Iran.

Besides working to build a more united mass anti-imperialist movement, necessary tasks for us today include continuing to educate the public about, one, widespread corporate media disinformation, two, the need to respect the sovereignty of other nations, and three, unmasking the faux left which behaves like amateur soft agents of the US intelligence services.

  • voza0db

    Teams of two!

  • The state of Virginia is forming its own militias – the impetus was a new draconian gun control law. That was a mistake. US Citizens hold the 2nd Amendment near and dear. After all, if the military is armed with every technologically advanced weapon, and the police force has been supplied to the teeth with the hand-me-downs from the military, what citizen wouldn’t want to at least keep the weapons they possessed – just in case.

    Something that seems oft forgotten – behind every institution are people. The people that are members of those institutions make the decisions that perpetuate our daily struggle for justice, equality, freedom, and peace. Institutions, just like guns, are inert – it is the actions of people that determine what those inert objects do.

    “if you look at a skyscraper, it seems gigantic; if you take the elevator to the top floor, the executive behind the desk is the same size as you.” – anonymous revolutionary



    Not every democrat is a socialist, but every socialist is a democrat.

    The socialist revolution needs thousands of men and women who will clash and interact with diverse social groups, parties and organizations. The empire goes through crises that make it vulnerable to the socialist revolution. The trick is to find the weak links and act upon them. There comes a time when the ruling class is unable or unwilling to act in the face of vigorous and organized resistance. The giving way from capitalism to socialism does not happen everywhere and at once, but it happens inevitably in different settings and at different times, until capitalism has disappeared as an economic system. All countries are on this path.

    These revolutionary movements were the result of the wars of empire. The first world war resulted in the Russian revolution of 1917. The victory over fascism made the emancipation of China, Korea and Viet Nam possible. Capitalist wars resulted in the de-colonization of India, Burma, and African countries. We can see that war leads to a negative reaction to war, which often results in a revolutionary emancipation of the oppressed classes in the affected countries. A third world war would signal the end of capitalism in the whole world, forever.

    This does not mean of course, that a revolutionary victory always has to be the result of war. Wars may result in revolutionary reaction, but peaceful, democratic revolutions are perfectly possible, as shown in Venezuela and Bolivia, due to internal weakness and corruption in those countries under capitalism, where the people became fed up with the previous regimes.

    A revolution happens when the time is ripe.
    1.- The ruling class cannot continue as before, it undergoes political crisis through which discontent is manifested. “Those on top can’t and those at the bottom don’t want to” continue as before.
    2.- There is a sharp increase in the needs of the people that are not being met.
    3.- A reaction not before seen of masses unable and unwilling to go on as before, and the pouring out into the street of millions. None of these points are dependent on anyone’s will- they happen spontaneously under a crisis that affects those at the top as well as those at the bottom. The revolutionary leadership has to be equally cognizant of both (top and bottom)- it cannot just focus on the working people and their problems. The approach is scientific, but there is instinct and art in the leadership that must be there.

    One danger is to confide in one’s own forces, thinking that everyone has the same revolutionary zeal. The vanguard alone cannot win. They must be heartily supported by the people, or at least have a sector that is neutral, for the revolution to succeed. Agitation and propaganda are not enough. The people have to have passed through their own political experience.

    The revolutionary experience is felt differently under different circumstances. A democratic revolution leaves room for a broad spectrum of classes to join in. On the other hand, a worker’s revolution signals the rise to power of the working class and its allies.

    The problem of revolution is the problem of power. Previously, power was transferred from the feudal lords to the bourgeoisie, which was a class on the way up. Today the task is to deprive the right wing of its power and to turn it over to the workers and their allies. This revolution prevents the exploiting class from political domination and destroys the basis of its economic power, and thus is a new step on the historical canvass.

    Socialism is not the same everywhere and at all times. The right wing can be suppressed by different means. Conditions change all the time, with concrete situations of each country, each with its national characteristics. The situation can be more or less virulent, the correlation of forces may vary, and the degree of organization of the working class need not be the same in every case.

    One important aspect that must be decided is the degree to which peaceful means may be used. This depend on objective conditions, of the situation within the country, on the level of development and sophistication of the workers, and on the international situation. Forms of struggle depend not only on the workers, but on the ruling class and their paid adherents, and to what extent each is willing to go to break down or preserve the walls of exploitation. The ruling class has a greater tendency toward violence, because it feels it is being attacked, even though the workers are being peaceful.They will never renounce power voluntarily, and will use force on the most innocuous action of protest, while at the same time accusing them of violence.The seizure of power by the bourgeoisie in the 18th Century was one of the bloodiest in history, and they had no inconvenience in cutting off heads. Hypocritically, they accuse today’s revolutionaries of conspiring to seize power violently on the backs of the workers. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Revolutionaries must guard against adventurism, against conspiracy theories, and instead see the revolution as a vast and irresistible mass action, led by the conscious section of the working class. The only stable power is that which is based on the majority.

    1.- An insurrection is not a plaything, and once it starts, it must be carried to the end.
    2.- In the time and place indicated, one must rally a greatly superior force in order not to be destroyed.
    3.- Once the insurrection has started, one must pass on to the offensive, never defensive.
    4.- The enemy must be caught by surprise at a time when its forces are scattered and relatively weak.
    5.- One must have successes, even small ones, constantly, in order to maintain the moral superiority.

    The exploiting class may be destroyed in one country, but they have resources and international capital to keep resisting change for a long time. The revolution is often the result of capitalist killing fields, wars and sanctions that make it impossible to go on living. At the same time they have counterrevolutionary forces in the army that can do great damage, and a civil war could ensue.

    The working class take into its hands the monopolies and makes them run in a way that all the people can see the advantages of the new means of production and distribution.

    There is hope that a revolution may be peaceful and non-violent. In the first place, the relation of forces has changed in recent years. Capitalism is less overpowering, and people all over the world have become allies of revolutionary change. In addition, the idea of free health care and free college, full employment, etc is powerfully appealing to people who have a dismal future without those things, and which capitalism denies them. Also, people are fed up with endless wars, the main offering on the capitalist plate.

    A peaceful revolution does not mean a reformist one, either. The class struggle is always present, overtly or covertly. The revolution must take place without reforms that make it appear capitalism has been defeated when it has just undergone a superficial make up.

    Antonio Bernal
    Fresno, CA 2019

  • Jon

    Superb analysis! People, take note.

  • Jon

    Sound analysis, except for using the CIA’s favorite disinformation tool

    “conspiracy theories,” overlooking the fact of bourgeois conspiracies all the time, like the recent coup in Bolivia as one of countless examples.

  • joe kaye

    One of the weaknesses of the anti-imperialist struggle is the failure to connect foreign policy with domestic issues. So organizations involved in local organizing rarely, if ever, educate people to that connection, often fearing to confront popular prejudices which have been ingrained by the mass media and others. At the same time, those engaged in the anti-war, anti-imperialist movement fail to make connections and to organize around bread-and-butter issues.