True colours

IssueJune 2008
Feature by Stephen Zunes

Though I am one of the more prominent critics within the US academic left of US interventions and hegemonic aspirations, my research has found no evidence that the United States (nor any other government) was responsible for the “colour revolutions” that toppled the corrupt and semi-autocratic regimes in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine.

Nor did the US (or any other government) ever provide training, advice or strategic support for the kind of mass nonviolent action which could threaten the survival of an unpopular regime.
Western governments and a number of private and publicly-funded foundations certainly provided funds for election monitoring as well as financial support for opposition groups basic costs: computers, fax machines, printing, office space, and related expenses. However, this limited financial support cannot cause nonviolent liberal democratic revolutions to take place any more than the examples of limited Soviet financial and material support for leftist movements in previous decades caused armed socialist revolutions to take place.
As Marxists and others familiar with popular movements have long recognized, revolutions are the result of objective conditions. No amount of money could force hundreds of thousands of people to leave their jobs, homes, schools, and families to face down heavily-armed police and tanks.
This is very different from the various CIA-backed d’etats, sponsorship of paramilitary groups, and other forms of overt and covert intervention which the United States has supported, based upon a minority seizing power by force.
By contrast, neither the CIA nor any other part of the US government knows the first thing about nonviolent action, grass roots organizing, coalition-building among popular organizations, or any of the other necessary components of making a successful nonviolent uprising possible.
Indeed, the forces that toppled Milosevic in Serbia, for example, have hardly been puppets of the US agenda since coming to power.
It is also ironic that some in the European and North American left, after years of romanticizing armed struggle as the only way to defeat dictatorships, disparaging the potential of nonviolent action to overthrow repressive regimes, and dismissing the notion of a nonviolent revolution, are now expressing their alarm at how successful popular nonviolent insurrections can be, even to the point of naively thinking that nonviolent revolution is so easy to pull off that it could somehow be organized from foreign capitals.
In reality, every successful popular nonviolent insurrection has been a home-grown movement rooted in the belief by the majority of the population that their rulers were illegitimate and the current political system was incapable of redressing injustice.
“Leftist” critics of nonviolent pro-democracy movements parallel right-wing supporters of US intervention in denigrating the power of individuals to overthrow oppressive institutions.
The highly-selective US “democracy-promotion” agenda tends to be focused on elite-driven top-down institution-building, not the bottom-up broad-based coalition-building necessary for a successful unarmed insurrection.

Topics: People power