Staunton, September 15 – Even as the protests continue in the streets of Belarusian cities, it is becoming ever more obvious, Vladimir Pastukhov says, that those streets will soon be quieted by a pitiless counterrevolution, with Moscow reprising its role as head of a Holy Alliance to protect authoritarianism.
But this “defeat of a revolution” does not mean that Alyaksandr Lukashenka will survive, the London-based Russian analyst says, but rather than he will be ousted not by Belarusians in the streets but by “the growing force” of Moscow-orchestrated and implemented reaction (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/09/14/87084-revolyutsiya-othodit-s-belorusskogo-vokzala).
And this course of events “does not exclude and even makes inevitable a new revolution, quite possibly even in the near term. But the next revolution in Belarus – and not only in it alone – will already be not a ‘velvet’ one but rather one ‘hard as nails.” That is something both those in power and those in the streets need to think about.
“The political significance of the defeat of the Belarusian revolution can be enormous, but its symbolic meaning has become even greater,” the analyst says. “The victory of the Belarusian revolution would have become yet another testimony of the passing era while its defeat points to the shift from that era to another.”
Indeed, Pastukhov argues, “the Belarusian revolution is a guidebook to the world of horrible shades from the future which hang over the 21st century.” This era is one in which those in power will use all available force to suppress those who challenge them, forcing protesters to recognize that street protests will not lead to any more “velvet” revolutions.
According to the analyst, “harshness in this case cannot be explained only by the particular bloody mindedness of Lukashenka or the inborn sadism of Belarusian siloviki. Both of those are myths. Instead, here is something more,” something that has not just psychological roots but social ones.
In Belarus and Russia today, these roots lie in the division of society into two parts, one consisting of “’people of the system’” and the other of “’people outside it.’” These are increasingly in a state of civil war with each other because the former are quite prepared to do anything necessary to keep themselves in power.
Lukashenka alone doesn’t rule Belarus just as Putin doesn’t rule Russia, Pastukhov continues. Instead, each has formed “a broad class which is the collective beneficiary of htat state capitalism albeit with various modifications forms the foundation of the economic system” in both countries.
The boundaries of this mega-class may be “diffuse,” but the core is “hard and compact. It is not a chimera but a real social subject with significant political ambitions which in fact jointly exploit concessions arising from the mixture of power and property,” the London-based analyst explains.
The events in Belarus make this clear and “force us to change our ideas about the stability of the post-Soviet neo-totalitarian regimes both in Belarus and in Russia. Up to now, a popular view was that the regimes exist in ‘an unstable balance’” and will eventually be toppled by the anger of the population as expressed in protests.
But these regimes “have turned out to be much more stable than many expected. They do not hand in some social vacuum but rest on an extremely firm class platform.” Assuming that peaceful protests will dislodge them has turned out to be a mistake. That worked when the elites were prepared to give way or played by the rules but won’t work now.
“If a regime is prepared to defend itself in a serious way, the paradigm of peaceful protest doesn’t work.” And it won’t matter how many people come into the streets, Pastukhov says. That means that “the strategy of peaceful protest has been seriously discredited in Minsk” and European history has returned to “the 19th century nightmare” of “a cult of revolutionary force.”
What that means, he suggests, is that when Belarusians or Russians go into the streets in the future, “their hands will not be empty.”
This situation also means that outside forces are “powerless to influence the situation.” That is because Russia in fact is very much embedded in the global world order. And “however paradoxical this may sound, the West is today the chief guarantor of the stability of the regime in Russia.”
According to Pastukhov, “Russia is not only part of the world agenda but actively forms it. The relations of Russia and the West are characterized by a deep interconnectedness and a complex interweaving of interests. A serious destabilization in Russia would inevitably touch the vital interests of the West, and this means the West will do everything possible to prevent that.”
But as is so often the case in history, irony is at work. “Moscow is trying with all its strength to destabilize the West and drown it in chaos.” Thus it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting and threatening the stability of its own regime. That in turn means that “a revolution in Russia can be only part of a global tectonic political shift,” in the West as well as the East.