Neoliberalism, Human Rights, and Belarus

Human rights discourse is the tip of the spear for neoliberalism. It’s hard to break down an independent nationalist country with a clarion call for smashing labor unions, selling off the country to the highest bidder, and making the political system more responsive to international financiers than the citizens of a country. Instead, they do it with human rights discourse, portraying the cause of restrictions on political advocacy rights to be a result of innately bad and power-hungry leaders.

However, Marxists know better.

A Materialist Understanding of Human Rights

Human rights discourse today is largely grounded in value judgments, and this has the effect of disguising the class interests behind human rights. Rather than human rights being progressively developed and expanded as a result of enlightenment, discussion, and liberal thought, the idea and implementation of human rights has been embedded in the class relations of the societies. Class, rather than constitutions, are the driving force behind the expansion and retraction of political advocacy rights.

The level of domestic and international threats to the ruling class of a country and other factors determine the level of political advocacy rights allowed. Throughout history, the class factors are the only consistent measure of political advocacy rights. For reasons of space, I’m just going to link an old post that lists these factors:

The Outcomes of Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism always results in an increase of homophobia, racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. The Lancet found that neoliberal reforms caused the deaths of 1 million working age men, a 12.8% increase in deaths, and a 56% increase in unemployment in Russia and Eastern Europe. The so-called freedoms that neoliberal movements bring (press, assembly, and speech) aren’t real freedoms at all, as the society becomes controlled by international financiers, media moguls, and foreign business magnates. The press becomes a mouthpiece for the wealthy, rights to assemble are respected only as long as they don’t present a threat to the neoliberal order, and speech gets ignored if it doesn’t support the new ruling class of foreign capitalists and their intermediaries.

This is why Marxists have to focus on real freedoms, not formal freedoms.

The Opposition in Belarus

Understanding the opposition in Belarus is critical to understanding whether it should be supported or opposed. If it is a movement to implement neoliberalism, then we understand that its calls for political advocacy rights are simply a mask to implement neoliberalism.

First, let’s look at which countries are funding the opposition:

The U.S. said it would boost funding for Belarus civic groups by 30% to about $15 million this year. Poland said it would roughly double assistance to more than $14.8 million, while the EU said its aid would quadruple to $21 million.

Now, let’s look at which neoliberal “philanthropists” funded the opposition:

In Central Europe alone, he spent more than $123 million between 1989 and 1994 trying to help democracy take root — roughly five times the sum spent by the United States Government’s chief democracy-promoting foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy.

Unlike United States Government development aid, about 80 percent of which is given to American contractors and consultants, most money Mr. Soros distributes is given quickly and with few strings to local groups and individuals, says Thomas Carothers, a former State Department lawyer at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, because local activists are less expensive and more efficient at spreading the democratic, free-market mantra.

Now, it could be possible that the EU, neoliberal billionaires, and the US are all being manipulated, so let’s look at what the opposition is calling for:

Belarus is in urgent need of modernization. In the economic freedom ratings by Freedom House, Belarus is on the 42nd place. Reform deadlock, high prices, no perspectives for the young, a very weak flow of investments. The state capitalism leads to corruption, people’s purses are getting thinner. This controlled, “tamed” economy will sooner or later lead to a grave crisis. Market economy, in its turn, helps establish a free state.

Anyone who is critical of capitalism should have alarm bells going off in their head. They’re calling for the same untamed, unrestrained capitalism that resulted in the deaths of 1 million working-age men in the ex-USSR countries, cloaking it in the language of democracy and freedom.

My view is that most of the footsoldiers of the opposition don’t want neoliberalism. Just like how 2/3 of Poland’s Solidarity movement wanted democratic socialism, they’re being used as pawns to implement neoliberalism. When we analyze these kinds of movements, we can’t just look at what the people in the movement want, we have to analyze larger class forces and see which groups will be able to profit off of instability.

A victory for the opposition will undoubtedly be a victory for neoliberalism. History shows that a victory for neoliberalism in peripheral European countries doesn’t result in greater rights for ordinary people, but greater rights for foreign capitalists. The ability for women to get jobs will depend on their bust size. The ability for the elderly to pay their heating bill will depend on how much money they get from their children and grandchildren.

Neoliberalism means the annihilation of living with dignity. It means the annihilation of living securely. It means the annihilation of Belarus’s assistance to other independent nationalist countries like Venezuela.

History of Belarus

Due to length, I will only be linking articles on the history of Belarus. These articles give an in-depth examination of the class forces in Belarus, and why there is a coalition of neoliberal forces across the globe targeting Belarus.

Belarus is targeted because it went against the World Bank, the IMF, and the EU and charted an independent course for itself. It shunned privatization and serves as a reminder that Europe has more options for development than foreign neoliberal domination.

Surrounded by the devastation of neoliberal policies in Eastern Europe, Belarus is a strong symbol that fighting neoliberalism works.

Marxists should support bourgeois nationalism against imperialist subjugation

Understanding the primary and secondary contradictions is incredibly important. There’s an incredibly thorough and excellent essay written about this, and I encourage everyone to read it. Here’s some excerpts:

I posit these theses:

Because of their relation to imperialism after the fall of the socialist bloc, the objective historical position of nationalist states in the Third World is progressive.

Marxist-Leninists must uphold the right of nations to self-determination, which in the present is principally characterized by freedom from imperialist subjugation.

Where it arises, Marxist-Leninists must support genuine revolutionary proletarian struggles for socialism against bourgeois nationalist governments.


It’s paramount that Marxist-Leninists, in light of Iraq, Libya, and increasing aggression towards Syria, comfortably identify anti-imperialism as the primary contradiction facing the international proletarian revolution today.

Proletarian internationalism is superior in every way to bourgeois nationalism, but so long as neo-colonialism and imperialism exist, communists must unite all who can be united in the anti-imperialist struggle. Simultaneously, though, communists must remember the other side of the dialectic: When bourgeois nationalists become complicit partners in Western imperialism and alienate themselves from the masses, communists must never hesitate to overthrow that state with extreme prejudice and on its ruins erect revolutionary socialism.


When a nation achieves self-determination, the secondary contradiction between the proletariat and the national bourgeoisie will ascend to the forefront as the new primary contradiction. Before that time, however, the primary contradiction facing the masses in oppressed nations is between imperialism and national liberation. In bourgeois nationalist states, this contradiction can and must draw in all who can be united to strike a blow against imperialism.

Under imperialist subjugation, the only human rights enacted are those that support the continued domination by metropolitan countries. The fight for self-determination, the fight for freedom from imperialist control, is the principal contradiction today.


Branding and the Creative Destruction of Identity

Understanding the role of branding in society requires an understanding of the transition to modernism and postmodernism. With this transition, community institutions outside of the capitalist accumulation process like religious services and extended family had to be attacked and degraded to create room for the ascendancy of the nuclear family, consumerism, and identity-through-commodities.

By reducing the individual from a member of a community to a supposedly independent unit, it makes them far more manipulable, less likely to resist the paradigm shoved on them, and subservient to the stranglehold of capitalism.

Forcing people to seek identity through what they buy is a product of reducing their ability to establish an identity based on community. The differences between brands of magazines, newspapers, and periodicals have far less to do with differentiation in content, but are instead a method of dividing up consumers into different income brackets.

One of the best examples today is Stratfor. It exists entirely as a magazine that is meant for wealthy people to acquire a self-identity as “wealthy”, the analysis inside of it is not markedly different from that found in other establishment magazines.

Identity-through-commodities is the driving force of postmodernist capitalism, and it achieves this through branding. Branding is the ultimate result of the contradictions between art and capitalism. Art’s goals are two-fold; to create emotions in the audience and express the desires, feelings, and emotions of the artist. The latter has to be suppressed to fulfill capitalism’s only goal: expansion. Expansion through the creation of desire is the foundation of advertising, and branding is how it tells people what to feel.

Brands have become our most famous forms of art. In Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock interviews first graders, and they immediately recognize fast food icons like Ronald McDonald but have trouble recognizing the Europeanized version of Jesus.

Branding is designed to smash the barriers between needs outside of the capitalist accumulation process and needs that can be fulfilled through consuming. Olive Garden’s slogan, “when you’re here, you’re family” is part of capitalism’s drive to degrade familial bonds, and literally sell people the feeling of family. What used to be a part of everyday life is something that people feel they must pay for. They aren’t just buying shitty Italian fast food, they’re buying an experience of intergenerational bonding that existed before the implementation of the nuclear family.

Real life is becoming inseparable from what we see in advertisements. Our relationships with others are merely seen as an emotional tie to be manipulated. Take this 90s McDonald’s ad as an example

These advertisements instruct people how to behave. Ride BMX! Drive with your friends! but if you want to have a good time doing it, you better be going to the Golden Arches

It is instructing kids that they are supposed to take the tray, they are supposed to be happy when they do it, and that McDonald’s is their favorite place.

But brands don’t always push emotions on the audience, they sometimes force the audience to push their emotions on the advertising itself. Hello Kitty, which is basically advertising for the huge number of Hello Kitty products, doesn’t have a mouth for this specific reason. Spokespeople for Sanrio have said that Hello Kitty does not have a mouth because they want people to “project their feelings onto the character” and “be happy or sad together with Hello Kitty.”

They’re selling every emotion to their consumers, they’re selling friendship, they’re selling the feeling of identifying with another person.

It’s important to recognize that this is only possible because of the constant degradation of familial and community ties as well as the degradation of community-based identity. In our hyper-individualistic society, people replace family with food, they replace deep emotional friendship with toys, and they use these products to create an identity.

Class Structure and Power in the USSR and the Effect on Policy


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There’s a pretty good argument to be made that the USSR and US were not equally bad, because the countries had incredibly different class structures which resulted in radically different principles and policies.

Political Advocacy Rights

Human rights are fundamentally based on the security of the ruling class of society. When threatened by internal or external forces, the political advocacy rights extended to people are restricted in every country.

I list these factors in this post:

I still need to do a post implementing this framework and showing how it applies to the US and USSR’s policies, but let me know if you want examples.

Foreign Policy

The USSR was hegemonic in its relationship with Eastern Europe and Asian socialist countries, but it was not economically exploitative. All trade deals were based on trading goods, and the USSR traded at a loss of about 1.5-2x depending on how underdeveloped the country was.

In its relationships with Third World non-socialist countries, it wasn’t hegemonic or economically exploitative. Countries like Egypt had considerable leeway to play both the US and the USSR and make independent domestic and foreign policy decisions.

The USSR did not behave in an imperialist fashion in the way Marxists understand it.

Domestic Policy

Except for the illegal second economy and the bureaucrats they paid off, nobody benefited from the exploitation of labor. The illegal second economy first started growing rapidly under Khrushchev, and exploded under Brezhnev when he refused to enforce the laws against illegal exploitative businesses.

However, there was a considerable amount of employee influence over how their workplaces were run on a day-to-day level in the legal economy. This is from a 1970 study on worker feelings of influence in their enterprises:

  • Managerial personnel and specialists: 76-87% said they felt they had influence
  • Machine Operators: 55-78% said they felt they had influence
  • Skilled manual workers: 33-68% said they felt they had influence
  • Unskilled: 32-33% said they felt they had influence

While this leaves considerable room for improvement, it is important to remember that this was under a structure where, under capitalism, these workers would have had no influence whatsoever.

Here’s a post I made about the role of trade unions in the USSR:

This amount of control over the workplaces should be compared with the workplace control that workers had in Yugoslavia while it had so-called workers’ councils. In reality, these councils were a democratic varnish on the intelligentsia’s iron grip. The following numbers are from 1970, the peak of liberalization:

  • 98% of all decisions were identical to proposals originally made by experts and managers, and less than 1% of the time was it fundamentally different
  • Administrative staff consumed 80% of the total time in meetings and made 75% of all proposals
  • 81% of the discussion time was used by those with higher or polytechnical education and only 5.1% of the time was used by skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled blue-collar workers
  • 87% of accepted decisions were made by those with higher or polytechnical education and only 5% were made by skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled blue-collar workers
  • Only 8% believed the workers as a whole played a leading role in long-term planning, 63% believed managers played the leading role.

It is fair to say that the levels of worker control over enterprises isn’t reflective of enterprise structure, but of class power.

Books used: Class Struggle in Socialist Poland and Is the Red Flag Flying, both by Albert Szymanski

On Liberalism

I just noticed this post today, and it seems like there’s a lot of confusion among the Tumblr Trots about what I mean when I say liberalism. Some people have accused me of using it as a generic insult, but that’s not really the case at all.

We need a holistic view of liberalism in order to understand its effects on society. Within that post and the replies, there are people who implied that unless you fit the wikipedia definition of a liberal, then you’re not a liberal. I’m sure most people reading this have come across someone who gives the dictionary definition of racism, says they don’t fit it, and acts like that’s all there is to racism.

This myopic view of liberalism ignores just how effective capitalist ideological hegemony is, and why it needs to be critiqued when it pops up in our analysis and especially our actions. A holistic view of liberalism looks at the effects on subconscious desires and biases instead of sticking only to professed political identity and opinions.

For more on what liberalism looks like, Combat Liberalism by Mao is a great, short introduction. Also read JMP’s Down with Activism; Up with Revolution.

Capitalist ideological hegemony is so effective because there are so many different ideological apparatuses at work shaping how people think. Communists have longed used “liberalism” to describe actions and ideas that are embedded in liberal, anti-materialist ideas. One of the most important examples today is the liberal conception of human rights.  My critique of ftm-communist emphasized that his idealistic liberal-imperialist human rights views were affecting his ability to interpret history in a materialist, communist fashion.

These kinds of critiques are not attacks, as eatshitcapitalists said, they are critical for criticism and self-criticism.

I called eatshitcapitalists’ post liberal because it contains multiple anti-materialist, liberal ideas.

The most important one is the idea that revolution must be peaceful. This is utterly ludicrous, because of how a class society works. The bourgeoisie and the people they pay off won’t give up peacefully, they will repress with as much force is needed. Trying to overthrow a bourgeois power structure without force is unpractical and has no chance of success on the worldwide scale that eatshitcapitalists is talking about.

Non-violence, as a strategy, only protects the state. It can be an effective tactic, but all good strategy recognizes that you can’t make a tactic your strategy. Responding to different material and social conditions with different tactics is of the utmost importance.

A comradely criticism of ftm-communist

I’m making this a separate post to encourage discussion and responses. I don’t think it’s helpful to dismiss him as a kid playing red, because that doesn’t help us understand his beliefs. His views aren’t unique, this strain of left-liberalism is widespread in the first world left. It would be too lengthy to criticize all of his positions that show these liberal tendencies, so I’m just going to pick 2 of the worst offenders.

1. He doesn’t understand the contradictions of the NEP

It is vital to understand the causes of the collapse of the USSR because it affects how we approach policies in a socialist state. My view is that the dominant basis for the restoration of capitalism was the ~20% of the economy that was made up of illegal, capitalist enterprises, which distorted the policies and ideology of the Party and the USSR. I expand on this considerably in the link below. If this view is correct, then allowing private, capitalist enterprises of any sort opens the society up to a capitalist restoration.

ftm-communist’s view, as I understand it, is that the bureaucracy acted as a class and pursued its class interest in returning to capitalism. When asked what killed the soviet union, he blames an unaccountable bureaucracy. If the bureaucracy is unaccountable to the proletariat and peasantry, then they aren’t the ruling classes. This leaves the bureaucracy as the only logical option left as the ruling class.

As I said in an earlier post, this theory is not backed up by solid evidence or reasoning:

there are 6 common misconceptions over the cause of the collapse


4.bureaucratic counter-revolution

this theory basically argues that the bureaucracy formed into a possessing class and the breakup was a result of the Yeltsin faction of the bureaucracy defeating the Gorbachev faction. however, this doesn’t explain why the bureaucracy apparently backed Andropov’s Marxist-Leninist point of view in 83, gorbachev’s revisionist reformist ideology in 87, and yeltsin’s free market cannibalism in 93. Since theft from the state by the bureaucracy was embryonic in 87 and became more and more blatant in the 90s, this suggests that outside class forces were causing the collapse and opportunists within the bureaucracy jumped on board.

An authoritative, in-depth study based on interviews with the Party elite showed that the bureaucracy was incapable of collective action to save or hurry the dismantling of the system.

5.lack of democracy/over-centralization

this theory attempts to save socialism by distancing it from the Soviet Union. It argues “The Soviet Communists screwed up, but we are different and smarter. They were too bureaucratic, undemocratic, and over-centralized, but we know better than that.” This explanation doesnt have any explanatory power whatsoever, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a common anti-Communist staple. It makes up for analysis with lofty utopianism and tries to explain history by the degree to which a country conforms to an ideal, instead of looking at the material conditions behind the collapse.

The bureaucracy didn’t have any of the traits associated with social classes (intermarriage, friendship, lifestyle, etc). As Al Szymanski points out in Is The Red Flag Flying:

Of the 47 government ministers of the USSR (the nearest Soviet equivalent to the richest owners and top managers of corporate wealth in the West) 40 percent in 1966 had manual working-class parents, 27 percent had parents who were peasants, 15 percent had parents who were low level white color workers, and only 18 percent had parents in the intelligentsia. i.e. about 80 percent came from humble origins.

The two leading bodies of the Communist Party, the Central Committee and the Politburo, are also predominantly composed of people from lower status non-intelligentsia backgrounds. For example, a study of the 1966 Central Committee showed that, of the 74 percent on which information could be found, 36 percent had manual working-class parents, 47 percent peasant parents and only 16 percent non-manual )ie either intelligentsia or low level white color) parents. ie About 90 percent of the leading Party members came from humble origins.

These facts combined with authoritative Western studies showing that the bureaucracy couldn’t act as a class show that it was influences external to the bureaucracy that was the cause of capitalist restoration.

The fundamental difference between my view and ftm-communist’s is that we view the source of capitalist restoration as coming from different places. With ftm-communist’s view, the way to prevent capitalist restoration is to avoid “authoritarianism” and a large state bureaucracy. His view doesn’t see the existence of capitalist institutions as a threat to the socialist structure. This view can be summed up in one phrase, “capitalism without contradictions”.

Every single leader and theoretician who has tried to take socialist countries back to capitalism has praised the NEP’s toleration of capitalist institutions. NEP-like programs should only be implemented in the most dire of circumstances due to the corrosive effect of capitalist institutions in a socialist society.

If there’s disagreements with minor points (for example, if ftm-communist doesn’t think the bureaucracy was a class), it doesn’t affect my fundamental argument that capitalist institutions have been the basis for capitalist restoration in every socialist country that has become capitalist.

2. He believes in the liberal conception of human rights

This tendency is extremely prevalent among first world leftists and is one of the most critical aspects of liberal imperialist ideology. By constructing a false narrative of human rights, liberalism creates justifications for imperialism. These justifications reduce civil resistance to imperialism and increases identification with liberal ideology and goals. I argue that we should have a materialist understanding of human rights, an understanding that is based in the class structure of society. For the sake of space, I’m only posting the introduction, but i encourage everyone to read it.

Human rights discourse today is largely grounded in value judgments, and this has the effect of disguising the class interests behind human rights. Rather than human rights being progressively developed and expanded as a result of enlightenment, discussion, and liberal thought, the idea and implementation of human rights has been embedded in the class relations of the societies. Class, rather than constitutions, are the driving force behind human rights.

While a moralistic stance towards human rights can be politically useful, it doesn’t get us any closer to understanding the causes. Societies don’t limit or expand public advocacy rights because the leadership is good or bad, power-hungry or humble, they’re limited or expanded based on class structure and power.

There’s 13 factors determining the limitation and tolerance of public advocacy in any given society:

This liberal conception of human rights views human rights as free floating ideas and principles that aren’t determined by the class structure of society. This is a decidedly un-Marxist view, and the historical record shows that human rights are entirely dependent on the security of the ruling class (whether proletarian or bourgeois), domestic threats, international threats, and other factors dealing with class structure and power.

By viewing human rights in a liberal fashion, imperialism becomes an acceptable vehicle for delivering freedom. Ideas are not imposed on the material world, the material world is the basis for ideas. This is the heart and soul of Marxist philosophy and is precisely why Marxism is a revolutionary leap; Marxist philosophy fundamentally changed the practice of philosophy.

As the materialist conception of human rights shows, this threat of imperialism actually makes class structures that fear for their safety and security more likely to clamp down on internal threats. This is a vicious cycle, as imperialism leads to restrictions on human rights, leading to more imperialism.