Capitalising On Nonviolence

Capitalising On Nonviolence


Above image: March 3, 2013: Otpor/Canvas (fist symbol) rears its ugly head in Venezuela. Today’s youth are the oligarchy’s sacrificial lambs.

Massive displays of nonviolent resistance have always been an essential component to challenging oppression successfully. One can only hope that Western citizens will learn from contemporary history and rise up to overthrow the ultra-violent warmongers who manage their countries too, mindful of the fact that nonviolent liberal institutions are routinely complicit in the brutality of the systems they ostensibly criticize. – Michael Barker

Swans Commentary

June 20, 2011

By Michael Barker

Berel Rodal is the founding vice chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) — a center that was formed in 2006, ostensibly “as a catalyst to stimulate interest in nonviolent conflict…” Like many peace reformers, members of the ICNC’s cadre of intellectuals are happy to work with a wide variety of institutions, organizations, and groups. This includes peace groups, resistance movements, and — strangely — war academies and intelligence agencies. While their engagement with the latter groups may seem contradictory, teaching peace to leading members of the military-industrial complex is critical to peace advocacy efforts at the ICNC. This is because they aim to change the views of people they disagree with, not just confirm the ideas of those who are already close to their views. Therefore, in this respect, it is fitting that at the peak of his former career Berel Rodal served as the director general of the policy secretariat for Canada’s Department of National Defence and continues to maintain close connections to leading hawks in the US foreign policymaking circles, like, for example, long-time cold warrior Richard Perle (see later). This should not be taken as a demonstration of a massive conspiracy, but is simply evidence that imperial elites are interested in co-opting critical voices.

Council on Foreign Relations’ board member Peter Ackerman is the founding chair and million-dollar funder of the ICNC’s operations. Ackerman came up with the idea of setting up the Center after spending many years as a board member of the Albert Einstein Institution — a nonprofit organization whose Web site describes its role as “advancing the study and use of strategic nonviolent action in conflicts throughout the world.” To take just one example of their international activities, the Albert Einstein Institution played an influential role in advising the Ukrainian activists who succeeded in ousting President Leonid Kuchma in the much heralded Orange Revolution of 2005 — a “revolution” that succeeded in replacing Kuchma with the West’s favored candidate, Viktor Yushchenko. This overthrow movement was celebrated in a documentary titled Orange Revolution (2007), which was produced and directed by Steve York. This film was York’s second feature documentary following on the heels of A Force More Powerful (1999), which was based on Ackerman’s book of the same title. Another related production made under the remit of York Zimmerman Inc. was Bringing Down A Dictator (2002), a documentary that glosses over the manner in which the US government and other Western “democracy promoters” helped facilitate the ouster of the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. Notably, the executive producer of Bringing Down A Dictator was Peter Ackerman.

The Albert Einstein Institution’s founder and president, Gene Sharp, observes that a photocopy of his booklet, “From Dictatorship to Democracy” was taken by “someone from California… to Belgrade during Milosovic’s time” and given to the organization known as Civic Initiatives. In 1999, Civic Initiatives then “translated it into Serbian and published it”; and after the ouster of the “Milosevic regime,” Sharps adds, the Albert Einstein Institution was “told that the booklet had been quite influential in the opposition movement.” Although he doesn’t mention it, Civic Initiatives served as one of the major project partners of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe’s Civic Bridges program, a program funded by the US government’s leading “democracy-promoting” agency, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Sharp continues, noting that:

Independently of this [that is, the translation], Robert Helvey, a retired US Army colonel [and president of the Albert Einstein Institution], gave a major workshop in Budapest, Hungary, for about twenty Serbian young people on the nature and potential of nonviolent struggle [with funding provided by one of the NED’s core grantees, the International Republican Institute]. These were the people who became the basis of the Otpor organization that led the nonviolent struggle that brought down Milosevic. Helvey had encountered my work on nonviolent struggle a few years earlier while he was a Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs.

Several leading members of the Otpor movement developed their own capacities to spread awareness of the potential of nonviolent struggle to remove existing oppressive governments. They served as consultants to groups in several countries, including Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, and probably others and encouraged translations of this analysis into new languages.

One of these was Ukrainian. The Albert Einstein Institution was asked for financial assistance to print that translation. Although the Institution had no money for staff to promote the dissemination of “From Dictatorship to Democracy” and no money to pay for translations and printing, we were able to be helpful. We managed to send US$6,000, which made possible the printing of 15,000 copies. (1)

That the poorly funded work of the Albert Einstein Institution parallels the concerns of “democracy-promoting” imperialists does not mean that it is some kind of adjunct to the military-industrial complex. Instead, such ties just show that the Institution works with whoever needs its help. However, Gene Sharp, Berel Rodal, and their nonviolent friends have nevertheless aided US-elite-guided “revolutions” in countries under the guise of “democracy promotion.” The outcomes of these political upheavals may or may not be positive for local populations, but the point is that nonviolent trainers from Sharp and Rodal’s groups have, all too often, worked closely alongside US “democracy-promoting” elites seeking to co-opt popular movements for social change. The results are political systems that reflect Western style capitalism, skewered to favor US geo-political interests, for good and for ill.

For the purposes of this article, I am most interested in the role of nonviolent trainers in the Ukraine. And although I have been accused of presenting a conspiratorial interpretation of the Orange Revolution, it seems that my ideas have been misinterpreted. To some extent I even agree with at least one of Peter Ackerman’s sentences in an article dealing with US interference in the Ukraine, as he wrote that: “External aid can help, but it’s neither necessary nor sufficient.” (2) It should be obvious that foreign trainers cannot just ferment a revolution anywhere anytime. My argument is simply that such trainers helped budding opposition groups act more strategically, so they could act more effectively in a way that complemented the equally long-range planning efforts of foreign “democracy-promoting” elites in the region. Writing shortly after the Orange Revolution, Adrian Karatnycky emphasized the importance of such long-range thinking, noting in the Council on Foreign Relations magazine, Foreign Affairs, how “Ukraine had benefited from more than a decade of civil-society development, a good deal of it nurtured by donor support from the United States, European governments, the National Endowment for Democracy, and private philanthropists such as George Soros.” Later he adds:

Indeed, in recent months, particularly since the re-election of George W. Bush, the Yushchenko team has praised the United States as a bedrock of support for democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine. And the Yushchenko camp has stated its gratitude for the long-term efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development to support free media, the rule of law, civil society, and civic election monitoring there.

Ukraine is eager for U.S. support on a number of fronts. Economically, Ukraine’s leaders hope the United States will declare Ukraine a market economy and push for the country’s quick integration into the World Trade Organization. (3)

Timothy Garton Ash and Timothy Snyder likewise supported such aid, and put it thus: “The West helped citizens of Ukraine to do what they wanted to do for themselves.” (4) According to such analyses, we are led to believe that the Ukrainian citizens were intent on ousting President Kuchma so that they could replace him with a pro-West neoliberal alternative, that is, Viktor Yushchenko — who then went on to serve as Ukraine’s president from January 2005 until February 2010. But in retrospect, it appears that the Orange Revolution did not benefit the citizens as much as they might have hoped. Indeed, writing in 2010, Eric Stoner notes that Yushchenko’s…

continued pursuit of these “free market” policies as president — including pushing for the country’s ascension to the World Trade Organization and turning to the International Monetary Fund for a massive $16.5 billion emergency loan (with all the usual strings attached) in 2008 — led to worse conditions for Ukrainian workers and a serious decline in the standard of living for the majority of the population during his tenure. (5)

In 2008, however, Adrian Karatnycky painted a different picture, informing his readers of The Financial Times that “amid the [political] turmoil, Ukraine has seen steady economic growth with gross domestic product rising at an average of 7.4 percent a year since 2000. Personal incomes have risen and property prices have soared.” Indeed, the so-called Orange Revolution was well received by the business world, and Karatnycky recalls how, “Most of the business community quietly threw its support behind the Orange Revolution, seeing in Mr. Yushchenko a leader who could help the country escape from the corrupt ruling elite.” Furthermore, Ukraine’s new found democracy has, as Karatnycky acknowledges, served a vital purpose in consolidating capitalist control over democracy:

In one sense, the growing influence of business on Ukraine’s parties is a by-product of the intense political struggle. Since 2000 there have been two presidential and three parliamentary elections, as well as numerous local contests. The frequent elections generate a need to finance increasingly expensive campaigns. In turn, business leaders leverage financial support into a direct presence on party lists and influence over party programmes. As a result, the big parties all espouse business-friendly, centrist economic policies when in office. (6)

Not surprisingly, most of the profits from Ukraine’s swift economic growth did not find their way to the pockets of the majority of their citizens, which helps explain why Yushchenko’s approval ratings declined from “well over 60 percent” just after his election, to “between 2.4 percent and five percent” in early 2009. But there was still plenty of money to make, because as Karatnycky highlights, “Ukraine is one of Europe’s largest states, and with 20 percent of Europe’s gas supplies flowing through it, it is of great geoeconomic and geostrategic importance.” (7) Karatnycky should certainly know about the flourishing investment opportunities in the Ukraine, because a few years after resigning as the president and executive director of Freedom House — a position he held between 1993 and 2004 — he founded the Myrmidon Group, “a New York based consultancy with a representation in Kyiv that works with investors and corporations seeking entry into the complex but lucrative emerging markets of Ukraine and Eastern Europe.”

Formed in 2007, the Myrmidon Group just so happens to count International Center on Nonviolent Conflict vice chair Berel Rodal among their senior advisers; profitable work if you can get it. Likewise, Rodal also currently works for the corporate consultancy, IDDEX Inc., where he serves as chief strategist and chairman of a cozy advisory board whose most interesting member is former member of the Project for a New American Century, William Schneider, Jr., an individual who most recently served as the chair of the Defense Science Board (2001-09).

Such profitable intelligence community connections should come as no surprise to a critical observer, as just a few years before Rodal helped fellow investment banker/theorist of nonviolence Peter Ackerman set up the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, Rodal had served as an advisor to Trireme Partners LLP, “a venture capital firm that invests in the defense and homeland security industries” — whose operations closed in 2005. This company was set up by Richard Perle and Gerald Hillman, with Rodal, Conrad Black, and Henry Kissinger acting as Trireme’s advisors. (One might add that while running Trireme Partners Perle was paid “an annual salary of $500,000,” while Trireme’s advisors were “entitled to a small share of the fund’s profits in return for lending their names and stature to the venture.”) (8)

Those of us in the peace community, including those who directly support the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, should ask hard questions about its role. Criticizing the ICNC and the associated Albert Einstein Institution is not to say that violence is an acceptable solution to social problems. In this regard, there are many radical anti-capitalist groups utilizing nonviolent action to fight their adversaries, though activists might exercise caution in advertising the good work of any specific activist organizations — in 2008, a young man called Sean Kirtley was convicted for “merely updat[ing] a website with details about authorised and peaceful protests” and subsequently sentenced to four and a half years in a British prison, of which he served sixteen months before being acquitted on appeal. (9)

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