A new cycle of revolt

Issue: 165

Joseph Choonara

The year just passed marks the beginning of a new global cycle of revolt. The signs were there by spring.1 By April the Algerian and Sudanese militaries felt obliged to remove the leaders of each country, respectively Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Omar El Bashir, in an effort to contain developing revolutionary processes. In Hong Kong, June saw an estimated 2.3 million people, a quarter of the territory’s population, mobilised for democratic change. In July protests toppled Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló. By early winter, uprisings or mass protests had occurred in Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Lebanon, Haiti, Guinea, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Iran and Catalonia. As I write, demonstrations and a general strike are taking place in France, joined, in some areas, by the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vests), who have, for a year now, been protesting for social change—perhaps marking a further encroachment of the wave of revolt into Europe.

This is the third cycle of struggle since the turn of the century. The first, from the late 1990s until the mid-2000s, saw the development of movements against corporate globalisation and neoliberalism. These were particularly visible in mobilisations against institutions such as the World Trade Organisation, G8, International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and at gatherings such as the European and World Social Forums. However, the high point of struggle was in Latin America, where uprisings swept governments from power in a succession of countries. This continental struggle resulted in the emergence of the Pink Tide governments, left nationalist regimes, in particular those formed by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa’s Ecuador, along with moderate counterparts such as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil.

A second cycle developed in 2011. In Europe it was reflected in occupations of public squares by movements such as the indignados in the Spanish state, along with mass strikes called by union federations there and in Portugal, France, Greece, Belgium, Italy and Britain.2 In North America the Occupy movement, mobilising under the slogan “we are the 99 percent”, gathered large numbers of protestors, particularly prominently on Wall Street, before spreading internationally. These struggles reflected the impact of three years of crisis and austerity. Again, though, the high point of the revolt lay outside of the Global North, in the Arab world, where revolutionary movements swept away the dictators first of Tunisia and then Egypt, with struggle spreading to Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.

The claim that a third cycle of revolt is now emerging should be qualified in two ways. First, the struggles do not constitute a coordinated movement. The fact that over 4 billion people can now access mobile communication networks means that news of the various struggles can travel rapidly across the globe. However, there is little evidence that this is the primary driving force for the spread of protests. Their range and scope suggests instead the existence of common societal factors engendering protests. This does not lead to a singular neat pattern. There are particularities to the protests in, say, Hong Kong, reflecting, in this case, Britain’s role as the former colonial power and the manner of the territory’s reintegration into China. Yet it is possible to identify general features and challenges of these struggles.

Second, none of the cycles mentioned above are universal in scope. Indeed, in the current period not only are there countries untouched by revolt, but there are also countries where the dominant tendency is in the opposite direction—towards the establishment of authoritarian regimes, mobilising racism and chauvinism to cement their rule. India, the Philippines, Brazil and the United States are hardly insignificant in terms of their populations or weight within global politics. As the Bolivian coup discussed below shows, the establishment of such a regime represents another possible response to the crisis of mainstream politics.

Drivers of resistance

The revolts of 2019 reflect the growth and vitality of the global working class. Around 1.8 billion people now engage in wage labour, an increase of 600 million since 2000. Not only is the working class vast, it is also more concentrated in towns and cities than ever before. The urban share of the global population has, since 2000, risen from 47 percent to 56 percent—an extra 1.4 billion people live in urban settings compared to two decades ago. The combination of urbanisation and proletarianisation is reflected in many of the countries in the current cycle of revolt. Chile’s urban labour force rose from 3.7 million in 1990 to 7.3 million last year, Ecuador’s from 3.3 million in 2000 to 5.1 million in 2018.3 I return to a discussion of the nature of the new class forces created by capitalism, and how they are implicated in the revolt, below.

However, it should be noted that the growth of the working class has come in a period when the productive powers of capitalism have, in relative terms, stagnated. World economic growth was about 5 percent in the post-war boom, but this dropped to around 3 percent during the crises of the 1970s. The shift to neoliberal policies in the 1980s did little to reverse this, and post-2008 growth has been weaker still (table 1). These figures hold in spite of China’s boom as it rose to become the world’s second largest economy.

Table 1: Average annual rate of growth, selected periods
Source: World Bank and OECD data


5.2 percent


3.1 percent


3.3 percent


3 percent


2.5 percent

Under such conditions, urbanisation and the expansion of the global workforce do not automatically correlate with the creation of satisfying or decently-paid employment. Instead enormous pools of unemployed or underemployed workers have been created. This is particularly acute among young people—a highly visible presence in recent revolts—many of whom manage to access some level of education only to find that the work for which they have been trained does not exist. For some, waged work is sporadic, perhaps combined with other activities in the “informal” sector, a vague category consisting of everything outside of formal, regulated labour. Alongside this comes the development of slums; by 2000 there were 200,000 worldwide, home to a third of the urban population.4 Even outside these, inadequate housing and transport systems, and increasingly polluted environments, imposed by the ramshackle and anarchic growth of urban areas, are the fate of the majority. One consequence is that the cost of transport, public and private, has become a flashpoint in recent struggles.5

The burden of weak growth is far from equally shared. In 2015 Oxfam reported that 62 individuals possessed the same wealth as 3.6 billion, half of the world’s population. The wealth of the poorest half of humanity, by contrast, had fallen by 41 percent since 2010.6 While the super-rich are most numerous within the historic core of the system, there are now pockets of obscene wealth in every nation. As Jeffery Webber argues:

Ten Chilean billionaires boast combined assets worth 16 percent of GDP. The Bello columnist for… The Economist offered a telling observation… “Some years ago your columnist attended a drinks party of about 60 people in Santiago. A friend whispered in his ear: ‘You realise that half of Chile’s GDP is in this room’.” Meanwhile, the working and middle classes live off credit, indebting themselves to pay for the enormous costs of living associated with privatised education, health, pensions, highway and water services, and hidden draconian taxes on the poor, such as high fares on public transit.7

Similarly, Lebanon suffers extreme inequality even by Middle Eastern standards, with the top 0.1 percent earning as much as the bottom 50 percent of the population, and the top 1 percent holding about 45 percent of national wealth.8 No wonder contesting inequality has become a central theme in the wave of revolts. Social and economic inequality is reinforced by legal and political systems that entrench the power and privilege of a minority. As a result, the revolts also protest “corruption”, a theme in Lebanon, Egypt, Haiti and Iraq, or attempts by existing rulers to extend their period in office, as in Algeria.

The discontent forming the background to the revolts has intensified since 2008-9. The subsequent decade saw weak and fragile growth.9 Initially some economies in the Global South were able to shelter from the storm by servicing what became known as the “commodities super-cycle”. The expansion of the Chinese economy and geopolitical conflicts destabilising hydrocarbon-producing regions, reinforced by financial speculation, pushed up the price of fuel, minerals and food. In response, a number of governments turned more sharply towards “extractivism” (often called “neo-extractivism” in Latin America), giving production of these goods an increasingly central role economically and as a source of state revenues. The Pink Tide governments made “a concerted shift towards the acceleration of mining, oil and gas extraction, and agro-industrial monocrop cultivation”.10 A similar pattern occurred in some African countries.11 However, the super-cycle peaked around 2011, and by 2015 most categories of commodity prices had collapsed as Chinese growth slowed and the speculative bubble burst.

The neoliberal offensive

This intensified the pressure on many governments to drive through a new round of neoliberal attacks. In Ecuador and in Iran, where US sanctions increase this pressure, the withdrawal of fuel subsidies triggered the initial protests; in Chile, an increase in metro fares; in Lebanon, plans to tax WhatsApp calls; in Colombia, proposed pension cuts. In Sudan, early protests were driven by the removal of food subsidies, reflecting in part the loss of oil revenue with the secession of South Sudan. Once underway, these struggles tapped into the deeper bitterness generated by the preceding period.

The anger also reflects the extent to which mainstream politics has been discredited in recent decades. As Chris Harman notes, the turn to neoliberal policies, associated with Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Ronald Reagan in the US and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, was followed by a period in which these ideas permeated through both social democratic parties and the political forces presiding over states in the Global South. This was reinforced by pressure from international capitalist institutions.12 The consensus around neoliberal policies pushed politics into an extremely narrow mould, even as neoliberalism was increasingly rejected by the mass of people—a slogan in the Chilean struggle, referring to the initial metro fare rise, was: “It’s not 30 pesos; it’s 30 years”.

Given this gap between mainstream politics and the people, even in formally democratic countries, capitalist rule can become increasingly brittle. Many recent struggles have seen violent responses by states, amplifying and ­generalising the anger. In Chile, protests began on 7 October with a fare-dodging campaign by school students in the capital Santiago. As repression grew, so did protests, now taking the form of both marches and riots targeting symbols of inequality, such as supermarkets, metro stations and an energy company. President Sebastián Piñera declared a state of emergency on 18 October, deploying the military and riot police to attack protesters. By 25 October 1.2 million were on the streets of Santiago—a fifth of the population—amid a general strike.13 Repression similarly helped generalise the struggles in Lebanon, Hong Kong and Catalonia.

More generally, the discontent towards politicians means that protesters often rally against entire political systems. This is sharply expressed in Lebanon, a country whose political system is characterised by sectarian divisions between Maronite Christians, Shia and Sunni Muslims, Druze and others. Here sections of each community have risen up, through mass demonstrations and strikes, raising the slogan, “All Of Them Means All Of Them”, reflecting a desire to cast out the whole rotten system. A similar dynamic is at work in Iraq, where an Iranian-backed sectarian government has increasingly come under pressure from a revolt centred on Shia areas.

Bolivia: a warning

If one outcome of this process is for anger to explode in the form of progressive mobilisations, this is not the only possibility—as the coup against Morales in Bolivia shows.14

Morales and his Movement for Socialism (MAS) party were thrust to power in the wake of mass struggles against water and gas privatisation in 1999, 2003 and 2005. He was the first indigenous president of modern times, in a country where 62 percent identify as indigenous, and in which race and class are tightly intertwined. During his period in power there were significant pro-poor reforms—from 2005 to 2013 the proportion of the population below the official poverty line fell from 59.6 percent to 38.9 percent.15 Morales’s growing vote share, from 54 percent in 2005 to 64 percent in 2009, remaining at 61 percent in 2014, reflects these changes. However, in 2016 he had lost a referendum seeking to amend the constitution to run for a fourth term. This damaged his standing, particularly when he bypassed the public vote through a legal manoeuvre. While he may well still have won the 2019 election, held on 20 October, against former president Carlos Mesa, his lead was not sufficient to avoid a second round of voting when the official site stopped declaring vote tallies. The right seized on irregularities in the poll to agitate for Morales’s removal.

Early protests, predominantly mobilising sections of the middle class ­alienated from MAS rule, were led by Mesa, a neoliberal of the centre-right, but the initiative soon shifted to harder right-wing forces. Particularly prominent is Luis Fernando Camacho, who claims the moniker “Macho Camacho”, a business leader in the lowlands of Santa Cruz to the east of the country, where agribusiness and gas extraction are concentrated. Camacho was a cadre in the fascist youth group Union Juvenil Cruceñista, notorious for its attacks on indigenous vendors in Santa Cruz.16 A police mutiny began in early November, with Camacho carried atop a police car through the streets of the capital, La Paz. The same day, the head of the army called on Morales to resign, and soon the president fled to Mexico.

Camacho entered the Palacio Quemado, placed a bible on top of a folded Bolivian flag on the floor, and knelt down on bended knee, announcing that…“God returns to the presidential palace.” Outside, the non-partisan indigenous Wiphala flag was torn off buildings and set aflame by Camacho supporters, as they announced the defeat of communism.17

Senator Jeanine Áñes, whose party won 4 percent of the vote in the elections, declared herself interim president, heading an all-white cabinet.

While those now mobilising on the streets of Bolivia against Áñes and Camacho deserve our unconditional support, it is also necessary to understand the way in which the nature of the Morales regime undermined the very social movements needed to oppose the coup. The MAS project in Bolivia was described by Morales’s vice president Álvaro García Linera as one of constructing, not socialism, but “Andean capitalism”.18 In practice, this meant what Webber refers to as a “reconstituted neoliberalism”.19 Many of the tenets of neoliberalism, such as an independent central bank seeking to guarantee low inflation, were preserved. The extractive model, based on mining and hydrocarbons, was reinforced, albeit with reforms to ensure a greater share of the revenue was captured by the state, with some of it redistributed in the form of poverty alleviation measures, particularly direct transfers to the poorest. Social spending remained stable as a percentage of GDP, which, initially, meant real increases in expenditure.20

True to Linera’s word, this was far from a transformation of the capitalist state. Rather, during the commodities boom Bolivia could offer reforms without mounting any fundamental challenge to the capitalist class—even if, as events show, members of this class considered themselves politically excluded. Under these circumstances, sections of the social movements were co-opted by the state, with some absorbed into the machinery of governance; others, particularly lowland indigenous populations seen as an obstacle to extractivism, clashed with the state.21 The revolutionary movement of 1999-2005 was demobilised, its energies absorbed into what proved an unstable reformist project.

Reformism and the state

The lessons of the Pink Tide can be generalised to the struggles of the second cycle of revolt that began in 2011, which had, by the mid-2010s, also been contained. Union bureaucracies that had initiated mass strikes in Europe were able to shut them down before they gave rise to rank and file movements capable of acting independently of the officials. As the European and North American street movements exhausted themselves, emergent left reformist political forces increasingly became the focus of radicalism—Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Socialists of America in the US, Syriza in Greece, Podemos in the Spanish state or Jeremy Corbyn’s revitalised Labour Party in Britain. The emergence of these socialist forces is welcome insomuch as it increases the confidence of workers and initiates discussions about the viability of socialism. However, it is necessary to recognise that in the current period, as they approach power, they are tested extremely harshly by events. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of Syriza, where Alexis Tsipras’s government, elected to reverse Greece’s austerity programme, instead ended up implementing it.22

Even in the absence of organised left reformist political forces, reformism tends to find a vessel. In the case of Egypt, the main initial political beneficiary of the revolution was the Muslim Brotherhood, which became a repository for reformist sentiment while offering little in the way of actual reforms.23 This gave a breathing space for sections of the Egyptian state to regroup under Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and impose their own counter-revolutionary solution.

The current struggles pose similar dangers. Consider the Sudanese revolution, where the opposition coalition, Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) allowed itself to be drawn into negotiations with the Transitional Military Council that replaced El Bashir. According to one account, the “negotiation strategy can be explained in part by the political parties within the FFC that have traditionally functioned as the institutionalised opposition to El Bashir. Their method of negotiating with the regime and participating in parliament primed them for a compromise with the military”.24 However, the criticisms also extend to the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which had, earlier in the process, coordinated strike action and provided slogans and demands for the movement.25 The outcome, a power-sharing deal, stops well short of dismantling the old regime, let alone realising the broader aspirations of participants in the revolutionary struggle. This has engendered a new wave of protests that began shortly after the deal was signed.

In Ecuador, the CONAIE indigenous movement was the key organisation in the 2019 uprising. Formed in the mid-1980s, it has engaged in several uprisings in the country’s recent past in alliance with urban neighbourhood and labour organisations, as well as making forays into politics to support rhetorically progressive presidents only to have its fingers burnt. In the early 2000s, after leading the overthrow of the previous government, the movement leant its support to Lucio Gutiérrez, a former colonel who assumed the presidency in 2003. Gutiérrez quickly broke with the movement and was in turn driven out, to be replaced in 2007 by Correa, who again drew support from CONAIE. Correa too clashed with his former supporters, reinforcing extractivism and neoliberalism, and attacking both labour unions and CONAIE, tempering his approach with some poverty reduction measures.26 As in Bolivia, the stability of this combination rested heavily on the commodities boom.

The current president, Lenín Moreno, ran for office in 2017 as Correa’s loyal successor. But, once elected, he shifted unambiguously to the right, allying himself with the US and forging an agreement with the IMF.27 It was in this context that a revived CONAIE would lead another wave of protests, comprised of roadblocks in indigenous regions and strikes in the transport sector followed by an indefinite “national strike”, and perhaps the largest protests in the capital, Quito, in four decades. Moreno’s government fled, relocating to the coastal city of Guayaquil. Yet with the repeal of the decree threatening to remove fuel subsidies a few days later, the strike was called off—with indigenous and workers’ organisations drawn into a process of negotiating a new decree.28 According to one commentator, CONAIE declined to call for Moreno to go, fearful that this move would pave the way for a harder right government, under the leadership of former Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot.29

In Chile, left political parties played little role in directing the struggles of 2019. The main social democratic force is discredited by its time in office during the Michelle Bachelet presidency, while the country’s Communist Party was part of her Nueva Mayoria (New Majority) coalition. This should create a space for Chile’s new left formations, which emerged out of student struggles in 2006 and 2011. They include Revolución Democrática (RD), modelled partially on Podemos, and its electoral coalition Frente Amplio (FA). However, as a Chilean activist puts it:

[The FA] struggled to have a clear message on the demonstrations… I wouldn’t say they are “with the people”… They haven’t really built a base. The Communist Party, by contrast, has a very strong structure of participation in lower-income neighbourhoods and unions… I think the left in general did not expect these protests and, in some ways, they showed how far the left is from the people it wants to represent. So now they are all waiting and trying to engage as best they can… After the mass demonstrations, there are many calls to create and participate in cabildos: bottom-up spaces of social participation… Many of these are independent calls but the Communist Party will also, I’m sure, be activating its grassroots to incentivise popular participation in these cabildos.30

The dangers of allowing these reformist forces to shape the politics of the movement were shown in November. As a powerful general strike shook the country, the left parties, including the leaders of RD and others within the FA, signed a pact with Piñera to end the protests in exchange for a plebiscite on drafting a new constitution through a process tightly managed from above. This fell well short of the demands of the movement, which included a constituent assembly and the removal of Piñera. The Communists, eager to distance themselves from their time in government, did not sign, but welcomed the pact and agreed to participate in the process.

New forces of labour

The alternative to the demobilisation of these movements is a strategy rooted in workers’ self-emancipation. There has, over the past decades, been a ­significant restructuring of the global division of labour, along with repression of workers’ movements, weakening of traditional bastions of class power and a blunting of the impetus towards workers’ self-activity. Yet this is not a static situation. Class is a social relationship imbuing sections of society with certain capacities and interests. Workers’ essential role in production gives them a collective power over capital, while the exploitation to which they are subjected gives them an interest in contesting capitalist rule. This social relationship tends to impel workers towards collective struggle and, through this struggle, emerging class forces can begin to become aware of their own ability to transform their situation.31

The role of workers as a collective force, rather than simply participants in street movements, has not been equally central in all the recent struggles. For instance, in the absence of a strategy to connect the struggle for democracy in Hong Kong with the wave of economic struggles by mainland Chinese workers, there is a tendency for activists to engage in heroic urban guerrilla warfare against the powerful state forces arrayed against them. Worse still, faced with this, a minority of the movement appeal to British or US imperialism to liberate them. Even when activists call for workers to strike, they can lack the necessary implantation in the working class to deliver such action. As one Hong Kong activist points out: “Many people are now calling for workers to go on strike, but this has not been successful. They simply treat workers as a kind of instant noodle—all you need is to make an order for it and the waiter will deliver it right away”.32

However, where workers’ struggle does play a role, it begins to reveal the emerging class forces. In many areas this includes workers in the informal sector. In countries such as Bolivia, they consist of networks of small traders, occasional wage-labourers retaining strong links to the countryside and those working in tiny manufacturing workplaces. Despite significant barriers to sustained collective action—such as the heterogeneous nature of these workers, the small scale on which work is performed and often precarious living conditions—these forces have played an important role. In the 2003 and 2005 uprisings in El Alto, the heart of the Bolivian rebellion, a dense network of organisations—local neighbourhood committees, broader federations of such organisations and regional workers’ bodies—coordinated the struggles. They were joined by workers in the formal sector, organised by their own unions, which in turn identified their role as extending to promoting broader struggles against oppression.33 A shared indigenous heritage also linked El Alto’s ­workers—some of them former tin miners with strong traditions of revolutionary syndicalism and Marxism—to layers of peasants in the surrounding countryside.34 It was in the context of these mobilisations that tensions between a developing revolutionary consciousness and the more moderate positon of Morales’s MAS began to express themselves.35

The intensification of extractivism also imbues some workers with renewed strength, both in the extractive industries themselves and in logistics, which links these forms of production to the global market. In Chile, port workers were among the first to take action in solidarity with the demonstrations against Piñera; union members also shut down the world’s largest private copper mine at Escondida and the network of state-owned mines. Transportation strikes were an important feature in the Ecuadorian struggle.

Alongside these sections of workers come groups often employed by the state, traditionally seen as professionals, whose numbers have swelled but who have seen their professional privileges eroded during the neoliberal period. Teaching unions now play a central role in strikes across the globe. In her 2003 study, Beverly Silver notes that “the geographical spread of teacher labour unrest has been far greater than was ever the case historically for the textile and automobile industries”.36 While the power of such workers directly to impact capital varies, they provide an important force in sustaining and coordinating struggles. In Chile, teaching and heathcare workers took part in strike action. In Lebanon, civil service workers were among the first to call strike action, with healthcare workers coming out on strike a few weeks later. In Algeria, education and health workers have again been highly militant in recent years and the role of the SPA in Sudan has been noted above. In Bolivia, in both 2003 and 2005, urban and rural teachers’ strikes played an important role.37

Yet the prevalence of these groups should not be taken to indicate that there are no industrial workers. While there has been deindustrialisation in some regions of the Global South, the dominant trend has been in the opposite ­direction—with the percentage of the world’s industrial labour force concentrated in “less developed regions” expanding from 34 percent in 1950 to 79 percent in 2010.38 In Egypt there are both the remnants of the large factory complexes of the Nasserist era along with new ones in spheres such as car assembly, steel production and, on a smaller scale, pharmaceuticals and engineering. These sit alongside an expansive array of small manufacturers, typically employing fewer than ten people.39 Similar conditions prevail in Algeria, where workers in the declining manufacturing centres coexist with small groups of strategically important workers in hydrocarbons and with underemployed and informal workers.40

Strategies of social revolution

Workers have proven themselves a powerful force. However, the horizon of struggle has so far been political revolution, the replacement of one group of political leaders with another through revolutionary struggle, not social revolution, in which workers create, from below, their own forms of self-rule. The US Marxist Hal Draper once argued that political revolutions under capitalism have a “tendency to waken the elements of social revolution”.41 Yet the absence of the kinds of nascent organs of workers’ self-rule capable of posing a systemic alternative to the capitalist state, seen in waves of struggle in the 20th century, suggests that today revolts tend spontaneously to move only so far in that direction.42 This is what Asef Bayat concludes in his fascinating work contrasting the Iranian Revolution of 1979 with the Arab Spring of 2011. Of the latter he observes:

The protagonists were rich in tactics of mobilisation but poor in vision and strategy of transformation… [they] were unable to imagine forms of organisation and governance that departed from those against which they were rebelling… they conceptually separated the economy from those aspects of the political order they sought to topple, and they hardly offered any exploration of how state power worked or how to transform it.43

In fact, revolutionary socialist organisation promoting a more far-reaching transformation does exist in countries such as Egypt, if only on a small scale. Indeed, in Egypt and other countries in the region, a rising tide of workers’ struggle has preceded recent uprisings, creating important networks of rank and file workers and independent union organisation. However, Bayat’s argument, that a neoliberal sensibility, rather than an orientation on class politics, has permeated the major oppositional political forces of the region, whether Islamist or secular, seems valid.44 In this context, when people rebel they often initially reject politics altogether, along with even the limited orientation on social change once espoused by old political formations. This is reinforced by the discrediting of Communist forces, through the taint of Stalinism and a long history of betrayals.45 There is, instead, celebration of the transformative and creative capacities of the movement, in which “grand visions and emancipatory utopias” are replaced with “fragmentary projects” and “improvisation”, which tends to reproduce within mobilisations an orientation towards reform rather than thoroughgoing revolutionary change.46 This then allows varieties of reformist politics to monopolise the political terrain once struggles reach an impasse or exhaust their energies. This understanding, taking into account the different constellations of political forces, can be generalised beyond the Arab world.

If this is correct, then mass revolutionary socialist organisations, with genuine roots in the working class, capable of focussing the power of workers’ struggle against the capitalist state are not simply the prerequisite for a social revolution to win out. In addition, the articulation of a revolutionary socialist politics can play an important role in promoting the formation of the kinds of organs of workers’ power, and the kind of far-reaching struggle for social change, necessary not simply to contest elements of the neoliberal offensive or dislodge unpopular rulers, but to challenge the structures of capitalism itself.


1 Thanks to Alex Callinicos, Camilla Royle and Anne Alexander for comments on earlier drafts.

2 Choonara, 2013.

3 ILOSTAT and UN DESA data.

4 Davis, 2006, pp23 and 26.

5 The Gini coefficient (which measures inequality on a scale of zero to one) can be applied to inequalities in transportation expenditure. In Chile the Gini index for household expenditure is an already high 0.456, but for transport reaches 0.671; for Ecuador the figures are 0.382 and 0.706—Gandelman, Serebrisky and Suárez-Alemán, 2019, table A4.

6 Hardoon, Fuentes-Nieva and Ayele, 2016, pp2, 13.

7 Webber, 2019.

8 Assouad, 2017, pp8, 11.

9 See Choonara, 2018.

10 Webber, 2015, pp161-162.

11 Bond, 2017.

12 Harman, 2000, pp34-38; Saad-Filho, 2004.

13 The level of repression is stunning. Over 177 blinded or with severe eye injuries after being targeted with tear gas canisters or rubber bullets, 19 deaths, 1,200 wounded, 18 reported cases, so far, of sexual violence or rape, 92 of torture, and thousands of arrests—Bodine, 2019.

14 The following draws on Webber and Hylton, 2019.

15 World Bank data.

16 The UJC was founded by Carlos Valverde Barbery, who had ties with the exiled Gestapo torturer Klaus Barbie, who fled Germany to Bolivia after the Second World War—Fabricant, 2009.

17 Webber and Hylton, 2019.

18 Gonzalez, 2019, p69.

19 See Webber, 2011, pp177-229.

20 Arauz and others, 2019, p13.

21 One noteworthy example is the construction of a major highway through the region known as TIPNIS, an ecologically sensitive area populated by indigenous people, as part of a wider attempt by Brazilian capital to access Bolivian resources and to transport goods via Bolivia to Chilean ports—see Webber, 2012. In the wake of this, some indigenous groups began openly to challenge Morales’s government.

22 Garganas, 2015.

23 Marfleet, 2016, pp117-153

24 Botta, 2019.

25 Alexander, 2019.

26 See Gonzalez, 2019, pp92-106.

27 Webber, 2019.

28 Peralta, 2019.

29 Lang, 2019.

30 Beccar, 2019.

31 Choonara, 2017.

32 Yu and others, 2019.

33 Webber, 2011, pp185-186 and 203.

34 Webber, 2011, p193.

35 Webber, 2011, p254.

36 Silver, 2003, p115.

37 Webber, 2011, pp240, 244 and 258.

38 Selwyn, 2017, p16.

39 Alexander and Bassiouny, 2014, pp71-72.

40 Del Panta, 2017.

41 Draper, 1978, pp17-21.

42 Barker, 1987, pp230-233.

43 Bayat, 2017, p18.

44 Bayat, 2017, p25.

45 Marfleet, 2016, pp96-114.

46 Bayat, 2017, pp154.


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Alexander, Anne, 2019, “Living on Revolution Time: Understanding the Dynamics of the Uprisings in Sudan and Algeria”, International Socialism 163 (summer), https://isj.org.uk/living-on-revolution-time/

Arauz, Andrés, Mark Weisbrot, Andrew Bunker and Jake Johnston, 2019, “Bolivia’s Economic Transformation: Macroeconomic policies, Institutional Changes, and Results”, Center for Economic and Policy Research, http://cepr.net/images/stories/reports/bolivia-macro-2019-10.pdf

Assouad, Lydia, 2017, “Rethinking the Lebanese Economic Miracle: The Extreme Concentration of Income and Wealth in Lebanon 2005-2014”, World Inequality Lab working paper number 2017/13, https://wid.world/document/rethinking-lebanese-economic-miracle-extreme-concentration-income-wealth-lebanon-2005-2014-wid-world-working-paper-201713/

Barker, Colin, 1987, “Perspectives”, in Colin Barker (ed), Revolutionary Rehearsals (Bookmarks).

Bayat, Asef, 2017, Revolution Without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of the Arab Spring (Stanford).

Beccar, Isidora Cepeda, 2019, “We Will Make a New Chile”, Jacobin (28 October), https://jacobinmag.com/2019/10/chile-protests-fare-hike-pinera-demands

Bodine, Alison, 2019, “Chile Despertó! Chile Has Woken Up! The Rising Fight against Neoliberalism in Chile”, Common Dreams (26 November), https://tinyurl.com/tj57fsf

Bond, Patrick, 2017, “Uneven Development and Resource Extractivism in Africa”, in Clive Splash (ed), Routledge Handbook of Ecological Economics (Routledge).

Botta, Emma Wilde, 2019, “The Revolution has Emerged: Sudan’s Acute Contradictions”, ROAPE blog, https://tinyurl.com/vs7cq68

Choonara, Joseph, 2013, “The Class Struggles in Europe”, International Socialism 138 (spring), https://isj.org.uk/the-class-struggles-in-europe/

Choonara, Joseph, 2017, “Class and the Classical Marxist Tradition”, in Deirdre O’Neill and Mike Wayne (eds), Considering Class: Theory, Culture and the Media in the 21st Century (Brill).

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