Yesterday’s two major headlines seem to reflect two different worlds, two different kinds of power, two possible futures.
The Unlikely Umbrella Revolution
First the good news: “Tens of Thousands Continue Occupy Hong Kong; Authorities Deadlocked.” The eruption of this spontaneous, self-organized mass uprising is great cause for celebration. The spirit of ‘Occupy 2011,” dormant in the west, seems to have migrated east and taken deep root in the city-state of Hong Kong, where it animates a huge mass movement, sparked by the bold leadership of a seven-teen year old high-school student and his cohorts. Harsh police repression against the student demonstrators has provoked an outpouring of active sympathy throughout the population – from non-student youth to adult workers in every category – as it did in France in May ’68. Soon key parts of the city-state were blockaded by huge crowds conducting a non-violent sit-in and occupation on a mass scale Martin Luther King could only dream of.
The self-organized Hong Kong uprising bears the unmistakable stamp of mass creativity that marked the SE Asian ‘peoples power’ revolutions of the 1980’s (Korea, Philippines). It resembles in its spontaneity the more recent Argentinean assemblies and piqueteros, and of course the mass uprisings of 2011 in Tunisia and Egypt, the assemblies and occupations of Greece and Spain, as well as Occupy Wall Street itself, whose message reached much farther than it short life and limited participation. Whatever the outcome of Occupy Hong Kong — which may prove tragic in the next few days — this exemplary mass uprising brings a message of hope, of human power in the face of inhuman state power.
Like every such revolt, Occupy Hong Kong hints at the possibility, however remote, of the movement spreading – first to mainland China, then across SE Asia to Europe in the throes of depression. It revives the dream of a great wave of uprisings culminating in ‘Occupy Earth,’ of the billions rising to drive out the billionaires and take back our green globe before they destroy it. (This fanciful utopian dream is a very real nightmare faced by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Barak Obama, who has shown little official enthusiasm for the Hong Kong democracy movement in the face of upcoming talks with America’s biggest trading partner and creditor.)
The Bad News
Now for the other big headline: “Biggest U.S. Led Strikes on Iraq and Syria to Date as U.K. Joins Campaign.” Yet another war. On the one hand life, people rising, on the other death, endless war, pointless suffering of civilian populations, the end result of a decades-long international terror campaign unleashed by the U.S. and U.K. and now totally out of control. Out of control because imperialism’s favorite instrument of domination, ‘divide-and-rule,’ has turned against it. Colonialist support for political Islam goes back to the 1920’s when it was used as a foil to the challenge of Arab nationalism and international socialism. In the 80s the Islamic militias armed and supported by the CIA on an anti-Communist jihad against secular Afghanistan took over the country and turned on the U.S. So did the Islamic militias supported by the U.S. Occupation in Iraq. Today, the ever-evolving Al Quaeda offshoots against which Obama has now apparently unleashed unlimited warfare for the third or fourth time, are still armed and financed by the most conservative, reactionary Arab states (naturally the U.S. closest allies) Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Truly, the ‘Islamic Threat’ is best understood as ‘a virus escaped from the imperialist laboratory.’
One evil compounds another. Obama is now in a tacit alliance with Bashar al Assad the bloody Syrian tyrant he swore to overthrow. The US is fighting on the same side as the unmentionable Iranians (who now dominate Iraq thanks to a corrupt, repressive Shiite regime imposed by the U.S.) Also on the side of our arch-enemy, the pro-Assad Putin. Supposedly the US aim is restoring ‘democracy,’ but it’s only results are death and destruction to civilian populations. This gratuitous violence was evident in the first U.S. air attack, which, on the pretext of targeting the leadership of ISIS, destroyed the center city (while ISIS headquarters had long ago been moved to the hills). The U.S. has articulated no clear objectives, no actual allies, and no other ‘national interest’ in destroying Iraq and Syria, other than ‘sending a message.’ But what is the American ‘message’? If the medium is the message, it is nothing less than mass murder, mayhem and support for whatever forms of tyranny US imperialism imagines it can control.
The Destruction of Iraq
Today’s DemocracyNow.org broadcast carries an interview with Sinan Antoon, Iraqi poet, novelist and translator, under the heading: “After U.S. Sanctions & Wars Tore Iraq Apart, Can American-Led Strikes Be Expected to Save It?” The obvious answer is NO. This excellent interview reminds us that the U.S. has been actively trying to destroy Iraq since the 80’s, first by pitting secular Iraq against America’s nemesis the Islamic Republic of Iran — while profitably arming both sides in an extremely bloody five-year war. Then, in 1991, by massive bombardments which destroyed much of the infrastructure of this modern country and by a cruel embargo which Sec. of State Albright admitted starved 500,000 children and claimed it was ‘worth it.’ For what?
During the 2003 unprovoked US invasion of Iraq (justified only by blatant lies about non-existent WMD’s and inexistent links with the Sept. 11 attacks), American bombardments again destroyed what had been rebuilt of the Iraqi infrastructure, which has still not been repaired, although Halliburton earned billions during the Occupation years ‘fixing’ it. The Occupation deliberately dismantled the Iraqi administration and civil society while encouraging violent sectarian militias of both sects (alternately) in a divide-and-rule fiasco which ultimately benefited Iran, that Axis of Evil. Women’s rights were totally destroyed under the Occupation. Iraq today is a shadow state where internecine power-struggles have long stifled any attempt at actual government, administration or even defense, a once-proud modern country based on a great ancient civilization wrecked by thirty-five years of wonton U.S. violence. And for what reason? The place is a desert, and American imperialism didn’t even get the oil!
The Message: Terror
So the bad news today (and every day) is that US imperialism is an out-of-control, self-destructive death machine doomed to fight endless, pointless, un-winnable wars for no other reason than to ‘send a message’ — as Obama and his predecessors constantly repeat (and as if diplomatic exchanges were not the normal way for states to send messages). And what is that message? Not ‘democracy’ but Terror. Mass destruction designed to show the world the unlimited ends to which the U.S. will go to assert its hegemony, at whatever cost and by whatever means necessary. Terror. Mostly terror from the air, which can destroy – mainly civilians and their habitations – but can never conquer, as was proven by Vietnam’s humiliating defeat of the United States (despite Nixon’s alliance with Mao’s China). So Terror by any and all means. Nuclear Terror. The lingering Terror of land-mines, which go on killing long after the wars are ‘over,’ weapons whose abolition the US has been opposing for years.
But also the equally arbitrary Terror of a prison system for which capitalist America is famous and Abu Graib and Guantanomo and Rikers’ Island the symbols. Prison conditions are the most reliable index of a nation’s degree of civilization, and the US has the largest, most expensive in the world, and among the cruelest. Its beacons are Texas and Oklahoma with their drawn-out botched executions. They win the brutality sweepstakes hands down over ISIS’s spectacular beheadings – a form of execution regularly practiced on adulterers by close U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and never protested.
On the ecological front, the same Masters of the Universe and Owners of the World are also merchants of death and destruction. They are deliberately and openly aggravating the climate crisis merely to protect their stake in carbon investments and preserve their monopoly control of energy. Indeed, Obama announced his bombing of Syria the very day of the UN climate meeting in NY, where up to 400,000 had just marched. On that occasion, Obama, having opened up off shore drilling and public lands to the oil companies, dared to proclaim that the U.S., the world’s worst polluter, was a ‘leader’ in the fight against climate change…. Destruction (not ‘progress’) is America’s ‘most important product.’ And Terror seems to be the ultimate bulwark protecting the system that benefits the 0.1%-ers and no one else.
Need I go on? The bad news never changes, it just gets worse.
Good news – news about uprisings of the human spirit craving freedom, outbursts of mass courage and creativity, powerful social movement unmasking the weakness of the most formidable power structures – only breaks out on rare occasions. Risings such as Occupy Hong Kong are like shooting stars that illuminate the present and point the way to future possibilities. Against the certitude of decline, death and self-destruction under the present system, they project a promise of hope, one chance in a hundred perhaps, but at least a finite chance that ‘another world really is possible.’
Whatever the outcome in Hong Kong, which may prove tragic during the next days and weeks, this mass uprising, is historic and poses a major threat to the hegemony of neo-capitalist rulers of China. The specter of the 1989 Tiananmen sit-in and its ultimate repression is often evoked, but mainland China has only 8,000 troops in Hong Kong, and local police forces may be neutralized by divided feelings, with so many of their relatives among the crowds. Playing the repression card may easily backfire?
Moreover, the Hong Kong uprising appears in the context of years of increasing violent localized labor revolts in mainland China. Mainland Chinese workers toiling in the sweat-shops of subcontractors to U.S. multinationals are doubly oppressed under an authoritarian ‘Communist’ regime which provides them with government-controlled official ‘unions.’ So all mainland Chinese strikes are by definition ‘wildcat’ and illegal, with frequent violent confrontations with the forces of order. Upwards of 100,000 such violent ‘incidents’ are reported every year, and some have resulted in victories for the workers, including several cases of doubling of pay.
The mainland authorities are naturally afraid that the Hong Kong movement might become contagious, like the Arab Spring, and they have made every effort to keep images of Occupy Hong Kong off the Internet and the news. However the famous Chinese Internet Firewall is porous to hackers, and mainland visitors also bring back news, which spreads quickly by word of mouth. Nor is the Occupy Hong Kong a freak in SE Asia. This uprising brings with it the spirit of the People Power that overthrew the US imposed Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines decades ago.
Two very different worlds confront each other in the headlines for Oct. 2, 2014. The world of life faces the world of death. The American curse of death and destruction in the Middle East inspires dread. The peaceful, yet formidable power of thousands of self-organized citizens in Hong Kong inspires hope. Like every revolt in the age of globalized capital and the Internet, it could spread. It could start in Hong Kong and Spread to Shang’hai, from Shang’Hai to Cheg-Du and around the world. From Occupy Hong Kong to ‘Occupy Earth’ – a mass general uprising of the 99% against he 0.1% to stop capitalism and save the Planet.
O.K. A utopian pipedream. But can you come up with a better alternative?