Jonah Gindin: Is the promotion of democracy inherently imperialist?
William I Robinson: The promotion of democracy is inherently not imperialist; on the contrary, it is inherently revolutionary, progressive and wonderful! But the people who are promoting democracy are social movements in the global north and global south, solidarity movements in the north, mass movements in the south. What the United States is promoting, in Venezuela or elsewhere, is not democracy. United States foreign policy has absolutely nothing to do with promoting democracy; what it is doing is inherently imperialist.
But my argument in no way suggests that democratisation movements around the world are creatures of foreign policy; rather, it says that changes in US foreign policy and new modalities in US intervention are meant specifically to challenge, undermine, limit, and control the extent of social and political change in countries where masses of people – including the elite – are struggling for democracy.
In this perspective, US political intervention under the banner of “democracy promotion” is aimed at undermining authentic democracy, gaining control over popular movements for democratisation, keeping a lid on popular democracy movements, and limiting any change that may be brought about by mass democratisation movements so that the outcomes of democracy struggles do not threaten the elite order and integration into global capitalism.
If democracy means the power of the people, mass participation in the vital decisions of society, and democratic distribution of material and cultural resources, then democracy is a profound threat to global capitalist interests and must be mercilessly opposed and suppressed by US and transnational elites.
What is new about the strategy of “democracy promotion” is that this opposition and suppression is now conducted under the rhetorical banner of promoting democracy and through sophisticated new instruments and modalities of political intervention.
Jonah Gindin: How can one tell apart NGOs and human-rights groups genuinely dedicated to promoting social, economic, and human rights from the NED-fed variety?
William I Robinson: I think what’s going on is that as every country and community in the world is turned upside down by the penetration of capitalist globalisation, older forms of rule – authoritarianism, dictatorship – are delegitimated and challenged from below. At that point, the United States attempts to establish control of the type of political change that’s going to take place, and to make sure that certain groups get into power and others are marginalised.
Thus, if the US moves into a country like Kyrgyzstan or Ukraine, all the different groups involved in the democratisation struggle are going to come under US purview; some will be favoured by being brought into US programmes through funding, technical liaisons and advisors, while others will be excluded.
In no way are all these different groups stooges of US foreign policy; but those struggling for a completely different vision, one contrary to US and global capital’s interests are going to be marginalised if they can’t be bought (e.g, the more radical--and original Pora!--Chorna Pora, marginalized by Kaskiv's copy-cat and US-funded Pora!). US operatives, and their local allies and agents, will set up alternative or parallel organizations that are more powerful, more moderate, more centrist, more elite-oriented. These organisations and NGOs are going to receive international media attention and funding, and will be able to liaise with other forces abroad.
There are broadly three categories of groups. First, those that are clearly instruments of US foreign-policy objectives, groups trying to limit democratisation and control change; second, those pushed to the margins; third, those the US cannot or has no interest in marginalising or challenging, but which it attempts to co-opt and moderate.
Often there are well-intentioned people with a legitimate political agenda of democratisation, who – because structural or on-the-ground circumstances don’t allow anything else – become sucked into US and transnational elite foreign-policy operations (People such as the masses of Ukrainians who were duped into supporting one side of an intra-elite struggle that had little to do with improving non-elite lives in Ukraine).