From the ’Orange Revolution’ in Ukraine to the ’Cedar Revolution’ in Lebanon, the authoritarian regimes of the world are forced to reform in the face of US-sponsored "democratic revolts", or so says the Bush administration and the media.
But what is the truth of these claims? How should socialists and anti-war activists respond to the "wave" of "democratic revolutions"?
The imperialist powers and the media lump together many different international opposition and protest movements to cynically further the interests of the ruling class. Socialists have to separate what is progressive – in the interests of working people – from what is reactionary about these movements. We have to examine the real motivations for the involvement of the imperialist powers in opposition protests.
Socialists have always fought for democratic rights, including the right to assembly, to form unions, to strike, and to vote. It was mass workers’ struggles, or the threat of them, that forced the ruling class to give democratic reforms. But today, under the pretext of the "war on terror", many of these rights are under attack in Western countries.
The "democratic revolution", in the hands of imperialist powers, is a tool to force "regime change" that furthers the interests of the ruling class. In doing so, the imperialist powers and local ruling classes cynically manipulate genuine pro-democratic moods. The only ’democracy’ the US tolerates is one where the main parties support capitalism and imperialism.
The US supported last year’s ’Orange Revolution’ in Ukraine, just at it previously backed the ’Rose Revolution’, in Georgia, and the popular revolt against the brutal Serb regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
But these mass movements against autocratic rule and poverty were misled by right-wing forces. The US financed and organised much of the opposition, to make way for pliable, pro-US governments in a region rich with natural resources and vital both militarily and strategically.
When in power, the pro-US, neo-liberal regimes soon show they do not represent the interests of working people. In Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine, the new governments are far from Western-style liberal democracies and their economic and social policies cause more hardships. The masses will have to struggle again to keep and to extend democratic rights.
By meddling in other countries, the US and other powers also risk unleashing forces that can run counter to their interests. Even during the Orange Revolution many protesters remarked that they would come onto the streets again if the new regime does not introduce democratic rights and improve living standards.
The Orange Revolution, despite its reactionary, Ukrainian nationalist leadership, also helped to inspire nationwide pensioners’ protests in Russia.
Imperialist interventions into poorer states have nothing to do with introducing genuine democratic rights. During the Cold War, the US supported and installed many right-wing dictatorships across the world to drown workers’ movements in blood.
Despite all the talk of bringing democracy to Iraq, the population is overwhelmingly opposed to the occupation. Over 100,000 Iraqis and 1,500 US troops have died so that US imperialism can occupy this oil-rich and strategic country. The recent elections – the ’Purple Revolution’ – were boycotted by most Sunnis and deepened religious and national divisions. Even the most pro-US section of the population, the Kurds, are denied the right to national self-determination.
Just as in Ukraine, Bush crudely meddles in Lebanon, stoking up powerful religious and ethnic divisions that threaten bloody conflicts. The US backs the ’Cedar Revolution’ to increase pressure on the Syrian regime. US imperialism is in a deep quagmire in Iraq and desperately wants a tame neighbour in Damascus. Forcing Syrian troops out of Lebanon strengthens the hands of the US and Israel in the region.
Undoubtedly, the US and West are also forced to respond to a widespread mood for democratic rights in the Middle East, which threatens pro-US Arab dictatorships. But ’reforms’ in Saudi Arabia and Egypt will be timid.
On the question of Palestine, the US and Western powers show complete disregard for basic democratic rights. The latest US-sponsored ’peace plan’ would create impoverished Palestinian ’Bantustans’, completely dependent on Israel and imperialism.
Much less publicised are the West’s openly anti-democratic interventions. Last year, the US backed ultra-right wing forces that overthrew the democratically elected president of Haiti, Bertrand Aristide, who was supported by many of the slum poor. The US also supported several attempts by the rich elite in Venezuela to overthrow the radical Chávez regime. In classic imperialist fashion, France recently sent troops to the Ivory Coast.
Working people can only rely on their own strength, and the solidarity of the international working class, to bring down dictatorships and to win democratic rights.
Socialists oppose all imperialist interventions, whether by tanks and troops or under the guise of ’democracy’. A struggle for democratic rights needs to be linked to a struggle for far-reaching social and economic change – for socialism – if all rights are to be permanent and living standards drastically improved.
From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi England and Wales