Право на восстание и ловушка ненасилия для революций достоинства

Not so long ago, activists and analysts from a post-Soviet country discussed the foundations of a hypothetical draft of a new constitution. The understanding of basic human rights was close to consensus, but the proposal to include the right to rebellion caused horror in the progressive audience, which was about to re-establish the state based on social contract theory.

And this is happening now, although at the end of the 17th century, John Locke, in his Two Treatises on Government, formulated that, according to the social contract, when the government acts against the interests of citizens, encroaches on basic natural rights, citizens have the right to revolt. It is the right to revolt that serves as the ultimate guarantee against tyranny.

In 1861, US President Abraham Lincoln declared in his inaugural address: “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they get tired of the existing government, they can use their constitutional right to change it (amend it) or their revolutionary right to tear it apart (dismember it) or overthrow it.»

In 1948, the right to revolt against tyranny and oppression was enshrined in the preamble to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But in many non-Western societies, the right to revolt, like other rights, is only now recognized and reflected by the collective consciousness.

In recent decades, democratic politicians, activists, researchers of the processes of democratic transition have not stopped discussions on the question of which is more effective: violent or non-violent resistance to the «captors» of the state like autocrats or oligarchy? In our region, the discussion has intensified in connection with the tragedy that is now unfolding in Belarus.

I believe that the experience of the beginning of the 21st century shows that such a formulation of the question is meaningless and even harmful for the achievement of its goal by democratic resistance.

In August 2011, the American researcher Erica Chenoweth, who breathed a second wind into the idea of the advantages of nonviolent resistance tactics, published an article in Foreign Policy, where she argued the superiority of the Syrian method of peaceful civil protest against Assad over the violence in Libya. [1]

Now we can say for sure: the author was categorically mistaken.

She did not know that a month before the publication of her article, a group of Syrian officers, unable to bear the contemplation of torture and killings used by the Assad regime to suppress peaceful protest announced the creation of the Free Syrian Army. A civil war had already begun in the country. But, as we now understand, it is too late.

Taking up arms in February 2011, right after the first victims from police batons and sniper bullets, the Libyans reached their protest goal in October — the dictator was killed, and the page of history called «Jamahiriya» was finally closed. Now the civil war continues in the country, in general, about 20 thousand people died in almost 10 years. The Syrians endured for six months — now there is also a civil war and intervention, about 0.5 million victims, more than 5 million refugees, and 7.6 million internally displaced persons.

Since February 2014, unsuccessful peaceful demonstrations have continued in Venezuela, while in Ukraine, after the collapse of the Yanukovych regime, which was ended by the escalation of a peaceful protest into an armed uprising, competitive elections for the president, parliament, and local authorities have already been held twice.

Even longer, with periodic outbreaks, there is resistance from the «street» to the corrupt oligarchic cartel in Lebanon, which has brought the state to a situation of a real failed state, wherein August 2020, an explosion of ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut literally demolished half the city.

The regimes of «state captors», be they autocrats or competitive oligarchies like Lebanese, learned one thing during the Arab Spring: when a large crowd of protesters appears on the square, one should not pack up their bags, but fight for self-preservation in the armchair. And as long as the “deep state” is loyal, first of all, security structures, as well as a significant part of the population, including by cultivating passive loyalty (“to prevent the worse”), they manage to remain in power.

Constant peaceful mass actions indeed undermine the legitimacy of the regimes, but their fall is more likely as a result of third-party intervention. This could be, for example, a situational alliance between the EU and the Russian Federation concerning the «monarch» of Moldova Vladimir Plahotniuc (with Ivanishvili in Georgia this will not work so far — he has a strong internal legitimacy). His expulsion at first seemed to have cleared the way for the consolidation of power in the hands of the pro-Russian President Dodon, but at the moment it has already led to an honest victory for Maia Sandu with an anti-corruption and pro-European agenda. In the cases of Zimbabwe (2017) and Sudan (2018-2019), deep state power groups have been beneficiaries of civil protest, replacing decrepit dictators.

In the decade after the Arab Spring, there is only one example of a successful completely non-violent democratic revolution — Armenia in the spring of 2018. It was distinguished by an unusually high level of citizen participation (just under half of the republic’s residents) [2], which made it possible to successfully block administrative buildings, squares, transport. In the early days, the security forces tried to use force, but they were helpless in front of the sea of people. The government was visibly and undeniably delegitimized.

The people in Armenia realized what is called the right to revolt — they exercised their power directly, in an extra-institutional way. It was a spectacle so majestic that even the Kremlin propaganda then was careful not to defame the rebels. But we must not forget that at the head of this movement was a leader who was invested with the trust of a significant part of society, thanks to his many years of uncompromising struggle, and his political force, which even had 9 out of 105 seats in parliament at the time of the revolution.

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, for all their swiftness (3-4 weeks), definitely cannot be called grassroots campaigns. In 2010-2011, the civil society of these countries managed to mobilize in the harsh conditions of political lack of freedom and not only turn the revolt into the beginning of the revolution but also continue it, largely because the Islamist organization has purposefully formed and formatted this civil society for decades in the name of its political goal, which is what in recent years hundreds of studies published. Secular political forces also exerted influence, albeit in a rudimentary state, but existed at the time of the beginning of the uprisings.

The Euromaidan of November 2013 — February 2014 was even more organized in Ukraine, led by a coalition of opposition parliamentary forces with developed networks in the regions. It was planning and organization that led the Maidan to victory, but it was hundreds of thousands of people who came to peaceful rallies on weekends that made it legitimate, and not the gunshots from the Conservatory and the “sailor Zheleznyak” (sotnik Vladimir Parasyuk, on February 21, 2014, who threatened Yanukovych with armed assault if will not leave voluntarily). On the contrary, in my opinion, it was the violent component that already in 2014 led 31.2% of Ukrainians to the idea of ​​qualifying those events as a “coup d’etat” [3].

Now in Ukraine, there is a phenomenon that can be formulated as the «trauma of the Maidans» — people became disillusioned with all the traditional methods of extra-institutional protest activity, preferring to participate in the election campaign — so in 2019 there was an «electoral revolution», that is, the election of the comedian Zelensky as president by protest, by degassing vote.

Preparedness for forms of protest, Ukraine

 20-24.12.2013[4]01-30.12.2018[5]01-12.12.2019[6]
Participation in the election campaign323234,1
Authorized rallies22,511,110,7
Unauthorized rallies6,13,82,1
Strike8,43,33,6
Capturing buildings1,60,70,7
Creation of armed formations0,90,81,0

For comparison, in states of working liberal democracies (for example, Germany, Sweden), 70-80% of citizens are ready to participate in peaceful demonstrations, 25-50% are ready to strike, 15-25% were ready to seize factories and buildings at the beginning of the 2000s [7].

As for the violent method of protest, i.e. armed formations, the share of such radical-minded citizens in Ukraine remains stable and does not exceed 1%. Almost by consensus, Ukrainian society views the violent method as unacceptable — either before the 2014 revolution or after. And there will be no noticeable upward shift.

The fact is that in our time of «revolutions of dignity» people in the peripheral countries are aware of their natural and equal rights — civil, political, social. In developed countries, this process is completed or comes to an end when the leitmotif of the left-wing of the US Democratic Party in these elections is “medicine is right”. The working class of Manchester knew why is universal suffrage necessary already in 1819. This realization has come to the post-Soviet space and the countries of the Middle East only in the last couple of decades.

Along with the awareness of universal rights comes the need for a new, genuine, that is, not between the government and the people, but between people about power, a social contract, when the state will belong to all citizens, and not a narrow group of «captors».

Moreover, all the rights, the struggle for which in Western countries took centuries of history, are realized at once, one might say, as a single package in our regions. From the right to life to the right to revolt.

Therefore, participants in mass protests will not be inclined to use force. Single casualties from a regime can trigger waves of civil anger — but not always. For them to become such, you need powerful communication channels that can explain what happened and what needs to be done. But if there is no organization and ideological center that is able to articulate a public request, then a powerful channel will not help, as we see now in Belarus. The regime’s ideological monopoly has been broken, but an empty hole still gapes from scratch. Therefore, the Belarusian elites now have a choice not between consolidation around Lukashenka and going over to the side of the people, but between Lukashenka and Putin.

So, democratic resistance can defeat the usurper only by breaking the regime’s ideological monopoly and only with visible mass support.

Keys to the success of the democratic transit movement:

— a clear understanding and articulation of the real, and not imposed from above, the demands of society, and circles of trust built on a common image of the future — then the campaign will be massive and long;

— leadership and management capabilities of harnessing mass enthusiasm.

And any democratic transition «from below» in the near future can be basically only massive and therefore non-violent. But he cannot be locked into the tactics of non-violence if the violent actions of the regime do not allow the realization of the right to revolt against tyranny and oppression.

List of sources:

[1] https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/08/24/think-again-nonviolent-resistance/

[2] В Армении 43% респондентов летом 2018 г. утверждали, что принимали участие в апрельских акциях протеста (см. https://www.iri.org/sites/default/files/2018.10.9_armenia_poll_presentation.pdf ). Для сравнения, в Украине в конце 2014 г. вспоминали о своём участии в протестах по всей стране около 20% (https://interfax.com.ua/news/general/235218.html ), а в декабре 2013 г. говорили об участии 11,8% (https://dif.org.ua/article/gromadska-dumka-pidsumki-2013-roku ).

[3] https://dif.org.ua/article/richnitsya-maydanu-opituvannya-gromadskoi-ta-ekspertnoi-dumki

[4] https://dif.org.ua/article/gromadska-dumka-pidsumki-2013-roku

[5] http://www.kiis.com.ua/?lang=ukr&cat=reports&id=821

[6] https://www.kiis.com.ua/?lang=ukr&cat=reports&id=911&page=2&t=6

[7] WVS, волны 4-7.