Red October

Buy hardcover (Brill)
Published Nov 2016
ISBN: 9789004201552

Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia

Jeffery R. Webber, Queen Mary, University of London

Bolivia witnessed a left-indigenous insurrectionary cycle between 2000 and 2005 that overthrew two neoliberal presidents and laid the foundation for Evo Morales’ successful bid to become the country’s first indigenous head of state in 2006. Building on the theoretical traditions of revolutionary Marxism and indigenous liberation, this book provides an analytical framework for understanding the fine-grained sociological and political nuances of twenty-first century Bolivian class-struggle, state-repression, and indigenous resistance, as well the deeply historical roots of today’s oppositional traditions. Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, including more than 80 in-depth interviews with social-movement and trade-union activists, Red October is a ground-breaking intervention in the study of contemporary Bolivia and the wider Latin American turn to the left over the last decade.

Biographical note

Jeffery R. Webber, Ph.D. (2009) in Political Science, University of Toronto, is Lecturer in the School of Politics and International relations at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of From Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia.


All those interested in Marxist and indigenous-liberationist theories of resistance and social change, Bolivian and Latin-American social-movements, political economy, sociology, and history, and the contemporary Latin-American Left.


“Webber […] build[s] a strong case for the contemporary uniqueness of the Bolivian experience on top of a long history of subaltern militancy: the depth of neo-liberal restructuring in Bolivia between 1985 and 2000 was much greater and more disruptive than anywhere else in the region save Chile (and here special circumstances prevailed) and the very singularity of El Alto made for a more explosive backlash.”
Philip Chrimes, International Affairs Vol. 88, No. 3, (2012), pp. 680-681.

Unpublished endorsements:

“Jeffery Webber’s Red October provides an invaluable guide to our generation’s 1848: Bolivia’s resource wars of the early twenty-first century, when indigenous and union activists joined together to take back their country’s water and gas from foreign corporations – and in so doing, led the first sustained and successful assault on neoliberalism. Like what Karl Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire did for 1848, Webber astutely analyzes the alliances and ideologies of a powerful social movement that, while drawing its poetry from the past, is pointing the world to a different future, one with newer, fuller conceptions of democracy. In so doing, Webber provides the most innovative update of social movement theory yet available.”
– Greg Grandin, Professor of History, New York University, and author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism, and Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War, among other books.

“A number of studies … have been published [on Bolivia] in recent years. However, none of these books comes close to the breadth and depth of analysis provided by Red October, or matches its theoretical contributions in regard to social movement dynamics and political developments. Red October is without doubt the most solidly researched study and theoretically framed analysis of the popular movement in contemporary times that I have read. It will be read carefully by scholars and students of social movements and political development in various disciplines, but particularly those who favour or are attuned to an analysis of social movements from a political economy perspective.”
– Henry Veltmeyer, Professor of International Development Studies at St. Mary’s University Canada and the Autonomous University of Zacatecas, Mexico. He is the co-author of over thirty books, including most recently, Illusions and Opportunities: Civil Society and the Quest for Social Change (2007) and, with James Petras, What’s Left in Latin America? (2009).

“Combining political sociology and ethnography, Red October is the most exhaustive, in-depth study available of the revolutionary conjuncture in Bolivia in 2000-2005, which brought Evo Morales and his party, Movement toward Socialism, to power. Red October is essential reading for anyone looking to understand how Bolivia’s radical political traditions—one connected to trade unions and revolutionary Left parties in the twentieth century, the other to Indian community insurgency in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—have combined and overlapped to such powerful effect. This book highlights the legacy that titanic Left-labor struggles of the twentieth century bequeathed to Bolivian radicals in the twenty-first century, and puts paid to the notion that neoliberalism and new social movements buried old New Left class politics and identities. Most importantly, Red October provides us with a well-rounded portrait of anti-imperialist, working-class consciousness in El Alto, shot through with memories of past struggles against the legacies of colonialism and racial-ethnic forms of discrimination and domination.”
– Forrest Hylton, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, author of Evil Hour in Colombia, and co-author with Sinclair Thomson of Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics.

“Red October is a provocative and insightful account of the indigenous protests that shook Bolivia between 2000 and 2005. It provides a compelling analysis of the infrastructures of solidarity, popular cultures of resistance, and oppositional forms of consciousness that nurtured one of Latin America’s most militant social movements. Written in a clear and compelling fashion, the book moves beyond identity politics to locate contemporary activism within a long tradition of indigenous and working class radicalism. Its discussion of broad political transformations is nested within a rich ethnography of local struggles, and Webber theorizes historical and political change in a way that demonstrates the important connection between theory and practice. More than a vivid portrait of Bolivian social movements, Red October makes an important contribution to understanding how indigenous and working class peoples are challenging the foundations of neoliberalism across Latin America.”
– Lesley Gill, Professor of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University. Author of Teetering on the Rim: Global Restructuring, Daily Life and the Armed Retreat of the Bolivian State, and The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas, among other books.

“It is a rare book that helps to blaze new and promising directions for the radical socialist left. Yet, Red October does just that. Tracing the complex dialectics of indigenous, peasant, and urban worker insurgencies in Bolivia in recent years, Jeffery Webber illuminates the new forms of ‘racialized class struggle’ that have put a renewed socialist politics on the Bolivian agenda. This is a magisterial work – theoretically sophisticated, ethnographically grounded, and historically nuanced. But more than anything else, it is a clarion call for radical scholars and activists to learn from a key flashpoint of anti-neoliberal insurgency.”
– David McNally, Professor of Political Science, York University, Toronto. Author of Another World Is Possible: Globalization and Anti-Capitalism, and Against the Market: Political Economy, Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique, among other books.

Table of contents


1. Politics of Indigenous Resistance and Class-Struggle
2. Indigenous Insurgency, Working-Class Struggle, and Popular Cultures of Resistance and Opposition, 1781–1964
3. Authoritarianism, Democracy, and Popular Struggle, 1964–85
4. Neoliberal Counterrevolution, 1985–2000
5. Left-Indigenous Insurrectionary Cycle, 2000–3
6. Red October: Gas-War, 2003
7. Carlos Mesa and a Divided Country: Left-Indigenous and Eastern Bourgeois Blocs in the Second Gas-War of May and June, 2005
8. Combined Oppositional Consciousness
9. Conclusion: Bolivia, Venezuela, and the Latin-American Left

Appendix A. Formal Interviewees
Appendix B. Methodology