Recent political protests, from Hong Kong to Moscow, Tbilisi to Belgrade, have been the biggest since 1989, the great year of pro-democracy revolutions. But something fundamental has changed in the 30 years since, notes Peter Pomerantsev, a senior visiting fellow at the London School of Economics. In 1989, in the “color” revolutions of the early 2000s, or in the Arab Spring of the early 2010s, people-powered demonstrations seemed part of what political scientists refer to as a wave of democratization—a larger narrative about inevitable progress toward ever-greater freedom.
Successful protest movements need to set out an alternative vision to the regime. Democratic capitalism versus communism was an easy contrast to articulate in 1989, he writes for The Atlantic:
Today’s strongmen are not so stiff. Instead of hanging on to one single ideology, they have learned to speak in different tongues. In the early years of Vladimir Putin’s rule, for example, the Kremlin mixed overtures to Soviet greatness with Western reality shows, the veneer of capitalism, and supposedly competitive elections. Even Russians have far more access to information than in Soviet times, and are free to travel. Likewise in China, where the regime mixes the language of communism with a culture of mass consumerism. ….This flexible approach to ideology has also been accompanied with a new tool: conspiracies. Conspiracy theories have long been used to maintain power.
In his new book, This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality, Pomerantsev goes on a globetrotting tour to understand our age of disinformation, The American Interest adds. From Moscow to Manila to Mexico City, he meets with spin doctors, human rights activists, Twitter revolutionaries, and troll farm workers. In so doing, he finds surprising commonalities among them—and a few clues as to how we can recover a shared foundation of reality in the Internet age.