Yesterday was the one-year commemoration of the democracy movement in Hong Kong, China, called the “umbrella movement.” This is a re-post from October 2014 as a tribute to that continuing movement but also because it was accused of being a US-orchestrated spectacle & this is to answer that scurrilous charge.
It is now frequent for commentators to smear opposition to tyranny by labeling it US-orchestrated or right-wing. They did this to the Arab uprisings, including in Syria; protests against the Rousseff regime in Brazil & protests in other Latin American countries; & against China in Hong Kong. This post addresses those smears because if they are not exposed politically, people around the world who want to render active solidarity will be confused & demobilized.
(I only regret the length of this post.)
Many articles insist the Hong Kong democracy movement is orchestrated by the US State Department, because the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)–which is a US government agency likely chock full of CIA operatives–fed money to some organizations & activists. Those who make these allegations have read too many John LeCarre novels or listened too much to Alex Jones–& have participated in politics too little. Of course the US government is involved; they have vested interests in the outcome. But suggesting these protests are CIA street theater rather than a profound social movement for democracy is politically shabby & plays into the hands of reaction.
The CIA & other US agencies have a long-standing policy of intervening in political movements all over the world. There are volumes written on this, some books now decades old. All the most important social movements (including the US Civil Rights, women’s, labor, antiwar, & socialist movements) are/were infiltrated by provocateurs using bribery, blackmail, & other corrupting practices. It’s what undercover operatives do. That does does mean the entire movement is compromised nor does it render the entire movement bankrupt.
Too much has been written by conspiracy thinkers claiming the Arab uprisings are a sting operation of Mossad & the CIA; many circulated rumors that the Brazil anti-World Cup protests of millions were taken over by fascists; competing political forces have made a cacophony of dissenting analyses of Syria & the Ukraine. Now, based on a shred of evidence & massive speculation, some are on a band wagon denouncing the Hong Kong movement because the NED dished out dough to some participants. Does it surprise anyone that Beijing is making the exact same claim?
Some people who make these claims about the Hong Kong protests are Maoists, shamelessly attempting to cover for the undemocratic regime in China. Many are libertarian thinkers who have no respect for working people as the agents of social transformation & think they are only pawns in international espionage. Where will this nonsense end!? Those who don’t recognize the compelling realities of a mass social movement demanding democracy need to get out of the game & take up crocheting. Conspiracy models of social uprisings serve reaction, not justice. In many ways it’s just a shade away from the Zionist claim that Hamas rockets are the problem in Gaza rather than Israeli apartheid & ethnic cleansing.
In 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia to suppress the movement for democracy called the Prague Spring. Both Soviet & capitalist media reported the movement as anti-socialist–of course because that deceit served the interests of both. It justified suppression for the USSR & it discredited socialism for the US. But what the movement was demanding was democracy; they wanted democratic freedoms & the end of a police state. The point of the comparison is that misrepresenting & discrediting progressive movements is an old game that always plays into the hands of reaction, undercuts solidarity, & buttresses continued tyranny.
So who are these protesters in Hong Kong? They’re students, union organizations, & unaffiliated working people. Likely a section of them are even anti-communist & identify capitalism as democratic. Call it heresy, but that doesn’t invalidate their struggle for democratic suffrage one iota. They’ve been out on the street now for nearly three weeks (since Sept. 28th), setting up an Occupy encampment in Admiralty, the central business district & venue of financial institutions & government buildings. They also set up encampment in Mong Kok, a major commercial district with high end retailers & catering to the tourist & entertainment industry, particularly the sex industry, with brothels, massage parlors, nightclubs, & bars run by criminal cartels.
Democracy activists paralyzed commerce & traffic in both districts with makeshift metal, bamboo, & umbrella barricades. Since billions of dollars of business are transacted in Hong Kong & at least 44 banks were closed due to protests, business analysts are worried about the negative economic impact of the protests. Some alarmists speak of the need for financial markets to move to Singapore to escape the instability; some are concerned foreign investors will shy off. A few expressed indignation at the illegal character of the protests which defy a local ordinance that protests of more than 50 people must have police permits. It’s a good thing those analysts are good are making money because they stink at politics.This could be taken as a petulant & pissy complaint. But of course, it’s because they answer to the capitalist tycoons who run Hong Kong like a mafia. What’s regrettable is they differ so little from the Chinese “socialist” regime.
The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese government, issued a condemnation on October 1st which also calls the movement “an illegal gathering” which is “disrupting social order & harming Hong Kong’s economic livelihood.” It goes on to threaten that if the protests continue the “consequences will be unimaginable.” When you have the untenable situation of Hong Kong called “one country, two systems” & you can’t tell the difference between the two political systems, & when you have ostentatious wealth juxtaposed to thousands living in basement chicken coops, you gotta ask, ‘just where does the socialist side of that equation manifest’? And you have the cauldron that foments revolution.
It’s not certain which of the two systems governs Hong Kong’s riot cops because they act just like the ones at Tiananmen Square in 1989 & those we’ve experienced in all the political uprisings around the world. Starting last Tuesday, police using pepper spray & tear gas moved on the Admiralty & Mong Kok encampments, drove out the protesters, & armed with bolt cutters, chainsaws, & sledgehammers, dismantled the barricades.
Media has been reporting about scuffles between democracy activists & disgruntled local residents or supporters of the Beijing regime who counter-protest, attempt to remove the barricades blocking the streets, & attack the protesters. Let’s get real! They’re more likely to be goon squads hired by the brothel owners or bouncers at the local strip clubs than neighborhood people or political reactionaries. Multinational businesses can’t ply potential clients with booze & prostitutes if they have to traverse barricades & encampments to get to the brothels.
Protesters using the umbrellas that have come to symbolize their movement as weapons & shields against pepper spray & tear gas battled with riot cops & retook Mong Kok on Saturday morning. They retook Mong Kok, but do the protesters stand a chance of forcing the regime’s hand? Will political power in Hong Kong remain in the hands of a tiny elite of capitalist tycoons in league with the undemocratic regime in Beijing? Maybe for now they will only squeak out minor concessions; maybe Beijing will continue to let capitalist tycoons run the place. But a movement has emerged, the forces of social transformation have assembled. If that wasn’t making Beijing & the tycoons sweat bullets, Beijing would not have put up an internet firewall to prevent millions of discontent Chinese on the mainland from witnessing the undoing of the monstrosity called “one country, two systems.”
For our part, we salute the protesters in Hong Kong & extend our fullest solidarity.
Photo is an activist without umbrella or other defenses standing alone against the socialist-capitalist riot cops in a scene reminiscent of Tank Man in Tiananmen Square.
(Photographer unknown; from the FB wall of Gregor Benton)