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.