Disrupting Democracy

riotIn that last few years there have been numerous mass demonstrations which lead to changes of government, including in Egypt and the Ukraine. During this period the United States has been a major player in attempting to destabilise democratically elected parliaments or presidents.

The recipe for destabilisation of a democratically elected government can be seen from documents regarding Venezuela and the Ukraine 1 2 3

a) Build up a narrative of general discontent based on real grievances of the population – (ironically many of these grievances are directly the result of capitalist policies).
b) Facilitate mass demonstrations using NGOs and funding of various mobilising groups to give voice to these grievances in order to delegitimise the government.
c) Use press releases and connections in the media to create a barrage of sympathetic media.
d) Use paramilitary or military connections to ensure sufficient “hard” backing to the soft power, increasing the likelihood of the current government stepping down.
e) Have a shadow government in waiting for the replacement of the current one.

If all goes “well” then the regime is changed.

The conditions in the Ukraine and Venezuela are not the same. The Venezuelan situation is one of a government which has by all measures radically improved the conditions of the majority of citizens. The economic difficulties in Venezuela are at least partially cultivated by local oligarchs and the United States.

By contrast the Ukrainian government is presiding over a long term economic catastrophe and no attempts to roll in any variety of socialism have been present.

However, the method of using the public anger to support a change of regime was similar.  Constellations of non-governmental organisations funded by groups like the National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute and USAID funnel money into specific anti-government campaigns which bolster US foreign policy objectives.  Since 1990, the US state has spent $5 billion on the Ukraine.  In Venezuela the number is somewhere in the range of $40 or $50 million a year.  In Egypt the NGO funding is further augmented by funding fully a third of the military budget ensuring the “hard power” backup.  This kind of funding can have a huge effect on what can be organised and on public opinion.

This also leaves governments in an extremely difficult situation.  They can try to stem the flow of money by illegalising foreign funded NGOs but this will reinforce the narrative that they are authoritarian governments denying free speech (which in this case really means the free expenditure of money) .  They can attempt to illegalise resulting organisations which have been created with the assistance of the money, but this can further support the narrative of a repressive regime ripe for change.

Those who support an insurrectionary politics and see democracy as nothing but a sham to be wiped away are likely to view such mass demonstrations as an expression of the “will of the people”. It is essentially the type of regime change that they view as necessary to eliminate capitalism. As such many of the far left have been supportive of such protests and utterly dismissive at those who point out what interests they serve and how they were funded.

Democracies are incredibly uneven playing fields under capitalism, there is no question. The lack of funds available to those who want to challenge the wealthy makes it very difficult to win. And yet votes are relatively decent at at least one thing, as a barometer of public support. If you can’t get even close to a majority, than what claim to legitimacy do you have for a different system? Such an approach courts resistance from a population much larger than the elites.

Of course democracies can also be present in name only and the elite are often willing to forgo democracy when it becomes obvious that they will loose. To paraphrase a (possibly apocryphal) quote from Stalin: “It’s not the vote that counts its who counts the votes.” As a regime becomes more authoritarian and legitimate voting becomes impossible then insurrection is the only real way for a change of governance.

However, in Venezuela, Egypt and the Ukraine this complete attenuation of democracy was not the case. International observers have stated that these votes were not rigged. In the specific case of Venezuela, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said that the Venezuelan electoral technology is a model for other democracies.

This makes a change of government by mass action an extremely dangerous proposal. You may have perhaps thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of angry people on the streets, but who do they represent? What percentage of the population are they? Is it legitimate for this minority to over-turn the results of a decision by the majority? Allowing a (well funded) militant minority expressing their dissent to be grounds for change of governance gives a powerful weapon to the enemies of democracy.

This is not just a question of armchair generals rooting for the appropriate team. We need to build up a mass movement for the transformation of the present system and an important aspect of this will be through demonstrating legitimacy for the movement through open, fair and free elections. Transforming society will naturally pit us against a whole host of antagonists. One of those will be the US empire which has found itself unable to refrain from destroying any experiment in socialism ever conducted in history, no matter how democratically it was conducted. We can rest assured that the same tactics would be used against any left government in the west, should it find itself obtaining a majority in parliament.

It is important that we do not allow the legitimisation of the overturn of fairly elected governments, even those we disagree with, or we will find our own movements thrown to the wayside by movements encouraged and funded by the US state department or other elite groups.

Part of the struggle of socialism is the struggle for socialism to be a popular movement. Socialism at the current time is simply not very popular as an idea and few feel the need to support it. This can only be overcome by convincing the majority. Elections, while imperfect do at least demonstrate whether or not you have a majority of people willing to give passive support for change. If you cannot even manage that, then you have little hope of more fundamental change.

  1. Venezuela: http://www.chavezcode.com/2010/06/ned-report-international-agencies-fund.html  
  2. Ukraine http://pando.com/2014/02/28/pierre-omidyar-co-funded-ukraine-revolution-groups-with-us-government-documents-show/  
  3. State Department regarding the Ukraine: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26079957  

About Gavin Mendel-Gleason

An ex-patriate American living in Ireland. Former anarchist, present mass partyist, but always committed socialist. Has been accused of menshevik centrism and even *gasp* Bernsteinism.
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