Let me begin by saying that whenever people rise up against the powers that be, which in modern times are primarily capitalist and liberal democratic, it reflects well on the people: it bespeaks their courage, their social sense of self, their feelings of unity and of power and hence the actual power of their unity. Without question, the resistance of the masses puts fear into the hearts of those who rule, and evokes one or both of two responses from them: concessions generally minor, are made in order to pacify the people, and/or the state, reflecting the actual illegitimacy of its power, turns violently against them, and the people are treated as enemies of their state. In both cases, the true nature of power, which is that it resides in the people and not in the ruling class, is made clear for all to see.
Just because the power of the people is such a formidable force, it has been used as a weapon in the conflicts and confrontations between great international states, which are today key players in the current war for hegemony over the international capitalist economy. What this has meant is that whenever and wherever there is discontent among the people in one of their nations or in countries that in one way or another are necessary to their economic struggle for dominance, the other players do not hesitate to step in and fan the flames of that discontent when it serves their interests to do so.
Part and parcel of this use of the power of the people to serve the interests of the familiar troika of states struggling for world hegemony has been ideology. That is to say, while supporting through financial, propaganda, and military means the resistance of the people against within one another’s enemy nations, on the world stage, this attempt to undermine one another’s legitimacy has involved the “interpretation” of these movements of the people in ways that serve each nation’s particular interests. Thus, each power will attempt to make the struggles of people which serve their interests, appear to be good and just, while those which do not serve their interests, are made to seem bad and unjust. When America is involved, the defining term in labeling uprisings has been whether they are “democratic” or “undemocratic”. Hence, there is a subtle division that is applied between those circumstances in which people rise up for economic reasons: a rise in prices, a demand for higher wages, an increase in the cost of food or some necessary commodity, and those in which people rise up for political reasons. From the perspective of American interests and propaganda, the demand for economic equality and justice is far less valid or desirable than the demand for political equality and justice. Hence, while the protests of the Yellow Vests are hardly mentioned, the bold resistance of the people of Hong Kong takes the spotlight on American academic and media stages.
All this is glaringly obvious in an article entitled “Why the Hong Kong Protests Have Gone Global” co-authored by Dawn Brancati and Nathan Law, and published in the Thursday, November 14, 2019 edition of Yale Global Online. From the very beginning of the article they make it quite clear what kind of protests they are addressing: “Most democracy protests are short-lived, garner little international attention and are confined to state capitals. The ongoing protests in Hong Kong are exceptional, having endured for more than 22 weeks. They’ve spread to cities and college campuses across the globe, challenged international businesses, and attracted the support of foreign governments as well as politicians of contrasting ideological stripes.” Clearly, they have drawn a line between “democracy” protests, and “other protests” such as the Yellow Vest protests, or the protests of the people of Chile, Iraq, Iran, etc. which exist in the same slice of time in different parts of the world. While it is extremely difficult to separate out political and economic protests, they in their own words and worlds are not focused on any other people’s demonstrations but those having to do with “democracy”. And it is only after they have narrowed their focus that they are able to go on to say the following: “Few protests have the potential to go global like those in Hong Kong due to the large number of people from Hong Kong and mainland China studying abroad – about 700,000 in 2018 – the high level of foreign investment in Hong Kong, and the centrality of Hong Kong to China’s flagging economy.” Thus, is both the power of capitalism, and the fact that it is led by students (who have both the great good fortune and the financial means to be able to study abroad). It is students who are their revolutionary vanguard, fighting not only for democracy in their own Chinese vassal state, but by bringing their revolutionary message to the students of the world’s universities. “Students of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but higher fees.”
The ever-present bias towards America and its Capitalist elite state, and against China, and its state controlled Communist/Capitalist fusion State is obvious in this article. First, the Yellow Vests of France are celebrating one year of protest. It has been both a massive and long-lived protest which, while made up of a diverse group of individuals with diverse political goals and perspectives, has none the less and perhaps to a greater degree than the protests in Hong Kong, exerted an international influence. It could just as well be said that the yellow vests were responsible for provoking demonstrations around the world, including that in Hong Kong, as that Hong Kong has inspired demonstrations going on around the world. But there are no facts to prove either point, and, in all probability, neither is completely true.
And in giving just recognition to the students of Hong Kong, the authors lose sight of the fact that they are not at all unique – students have ever and always been at the forefront of national and international protests from the demand for civil rights to the demand for an end to wars. The civil rights movement of the sixties arose out of the “Student Non -Violent Coordinating Committee.” The anti-Vietnam War movement took hold on American campuses and ten students at Kent State died from bullets fired by the American national guard. The protests, which involved large numbers of students as protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, evoked a violent response. It was from the ranks of the universities of American that left-wing radical leaders arose, leaders who urged and enacted violence against the state. The students of Hong Kong are not unique; what is unique is that the Chinese government has exhibited great restraint when it comes to the use of violence against them.
Finally, the protests and struggles of students are not any more important or revolutionary than the struggles of women, or people of color, or workers, or the indigenous people of Latin America or anywhere else in the world. And when all is said and done, for the masses, the struggle for food, for clean water and air; the great struggle to survive and endure takes precedence over liberal democracy even as the struggle for socialism/communism appears ever more rational.
Mary Metzger is a 74 year old semi retired teacher. She did her undergraduate work at S.U.N.Y. Old Westbury and her graduate work In Dialectics under Bertell Ollman at New York University. She has taught numerous subjects, from Public Sector Labor Relations to Philosophy of Science, to many different levels of students from the very young to Ph.D. candidates, in many different institutions and countries from Afghanistan to Russia. She has been living in Russia for the past 12 years where she focuses on research in the Philosophy of Science and History of the Dialectic, and writes primarily for Countercurrents. She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and the great grandmother of two.