In late August, at the request of independent trade unions in Belarus and supported by global union federations, LabourStart launched a campaign demanding an end to state repression in that country. The campaign title was “Stop the violence — defend democracy and human rights”.
In a mass mailing to trade union activists, we summarised what had happened in Belarus, noting that “a wave of spontaneous work stoppages swept across the country. Workers started to form strike committees to prepare for a nationwide general strike in support of democratic change.”
Our message quoted from some of the strikers’ demands, which included: recognise the results of the presidential elections as invalid, release all political prisoners and demonstrators, prevent the persecution of the strike participants and cancel the system of short term contracts.
Not very controversial stuff, I thought. I mean — who in our movement, the labour movement, is against democracy and human rights?
It turns out that we’re not all on the same page when it comes to the Lukashenko dictatorship in Belarus.
Here are some of the responses I received in a number of different languages from trade unionists around the world.
An English-speaking correspondent wrote “You better try to stop the criminal interference of the West in the internal affairs of Belarus and the attempts for a regime change, which has been used for many years to promote the interests of Western imperialism. Don’t support that dirty game.”
Another wrote to me in French, saying that they “do not agree with you to support this new western interference. The orange revolutions — we have seen what this leads to…”
A correspondent in Italy was somewhat more concise: “Fuck it. Stop writing to me. Long live Lukashenko!!”
A couple of writers in Germany showed that the spirit of the GDR (East Germany) is not completely extinguished.
“Who are the people who want to destroy a state, in this case Belarus, which still has a functioning socialist system?” asked one. And continued: “At the end of the GDR, similar people shouted ‘We are the people!’ Socialism in the GDR, which no longer exists, is now a thing of the past. Many people are unemployed, in poverty, homeless, in misery.”
Another German added: “I do not want any further communications or information in the future. I cannot and would not like to share the obvious interference in internal affairs in Belarus. The ‘insurgents’ march under the flags of the fascist collaborators.” (Actually, they don’t.) “Who benefits from the confrontation if not the West and its NATO! They want to close the tongs on Russia!”
We even got this response in Esperanto: “Does LabourStart want to repeat what happened to Allende in 1973 in Chile or later to Gaddafi in Libya? Don’t you see the undermining activity of foreign forces from Poland and other forces of Western capitalism? Hands Off Belarus!
And finally, this was my personal favourite and was written in Polish: “Please don’t send me this crap. You are pathetic clowns, servants of capital. Get out of here, you lousy Trotskyists.”
It’s important to emphasise that the response to our mailing was overwhelmingly positive. Over 5,000 people have already signed up to support the campaign. Only about a dozen sent in angry messages like the ones cited above.
Sometimes we attribute this kind of stupidity to, for example, the Morning Star here in the UK, but that doesn’t explain these responses from across Europe. The writers of these messages are probably getting their “facts” from a wide range of sources, including state-sponsored Russian media outlets like RT and Sputnik. But the problem runs deeper than that.
We have to acknowledge that there is a deep-seated hostility to what one part of the Left calls “imperialism” — and by that they don’t mean Russian or Chinese imperialism, but only the US, the EU, and Israel.
Anyone whom the US, EU or Israel might support is by definition pro-imperialist and even fascist (such as the workers on strike in Belarus — even if they are receiving little or no support from those countries).
Anyone who the US, EU or Israel might oppose — Syria’s Assad, the Islamo-fascist regime in Iran, Venezuela’s Maduro, even North Korea’s Kim — is therefore progressive and worthy of support
I think that the core problem is not that these people don’t know enough about Belarus. One might argue that all we need to do is explain that Belarus is not socialist, that Lukashenko is not a democrat, that the people there have had enough, and so on.
But it’s not about that — and that’s not how we will win this argument and thoroughly defeat the toxic “anti-imperialist” Left.
I fear it’s going to be a harder and longer fight than that.
• Eric Lee is the founding editor of LabourStart. He writes this column in his personal capacity. Support the Belarus campaign here.