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Hope Is in the Streets

Saturday 31 August 2019, by Against the Current Editors

HONG KONG, SUDAN, ALGERIA, Puerto Rico — and more. These are part of a wave of democratic mobilizations challenging repressive, authoritarian systems. In a world that seems dominated by vicious reaction, these are signs of hope for a better future, even though in most cases the struggles’ outcomes remain unclear, the political leadership vague at best, the internal contradictions often complex.

This isn’t the place to produce a comprehensive list or detailed analysis, but rather we’ll hit some of the leading examples — and discuss some features they have in common as well as their diverse qualities. (Note: We’re not taking up the case of Palestine, which is discussed in depth in Bill V. Mullen’s presentation in this issue.)

As this editorial is being drafted, the explosive eruption of popular anger and determination in Hong Kong is challenging the Chinese regime’s intensifying assault on the rights of Hong Kong’s population, which were supposed to be enshrined for 50 years following the 1997 transfer of the former British “crown colony” to Chinese sovereignty.

That Hong Kong is historically Chinese doesn’t in any way negate the legitimacy of its people’s commitment to defending the rights they were promised under the slippery formula of “one country, two systems.” It’s entirely predictable that the Chinese regime, fighting as it is for supremacy as a global capitalist power under Communist party dictatorship, would attribute Hong Kong’s upheaval to United States man­ipulation — much as U.S. white supremacists called the American Civil Rights movement a product of Communist infiltration. But there’s nothing about this crisis that’s so hard to understand.

Contrary to the promise that Hong Kong voters would have expanded rights to elect their legislators and Chief Executive, candidates in the elections are tightly vetted by Beijing loyalist institutions, with elected representatives who refuse to recite the imposed loyalty oath to the Chinese state stripped of their office or imprisoned.

Everyone knows that the present crisis blew up when the unusually tone-deaf Chief Executive Carrie Lam, whether on Beijing’s prompting or her own miscalculation, introduced a bill to allow extradition from Hong Kong to China’s courts. In a context where some Hong Kong citizens have been notoriously ”disappeared” to the mainland, and where the whole world knows that two or three million Chinese Uighurs are interned in “re-education” (slave-labor concentration) camps, this signaled to Hong Kong’s people that here was the final choice — to revolt or roll over.

Less publicized is the fact that the pro-Beijing elites who control Hong Kong politics have also made housing and the cost of living unaffordable for much of the younger and working-class population, adding an economic dimension to the democratic political revolt.

Mass protests began as entirely peaceful and mainly middle-class mobilizations of tens, then hundreds of thou­s­ands of people. When the government made clear that it would simply ignore the popular will, angry young people began combating the police, ultimately occupying and trashing the legislative building, and attacking other symbols of power and Beijing’s authority.

Militant tactics supposedly alienated part of the broader movement, but one needs to understand that for today’s Hong Kong teenage youth or early twenty-somethings, the prospect is that as adults in 2047 they’ll be under unmediated Chinese state rule — unless there’s a mass democratic transformation in China by then — the equivalent of death. Beijing’s tactics now include demanding that companies doing business with the mainland fire employees for protest activity.

The uprising appears leaderless. We don’t know much about the politics or whatever organized forces might be engaged, but their combative spirit and tactical creat