Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How do we think about the Hong Kong protests?

The revelation that grassroots revolutions like the one unfolding in Hong Kong are not what they seem or claim to be is a step toward understanding. But like every "theory of everything" this needs to be explored to discover the boundaries of its usefulness. 
Two things need to be distinguished here: the grassroots revolutionary impulse and the organization of a revolution. 
The revolutionary anger in the minds and hearts of the regular people, the "grass roots", is very real, and smolders all around us, pretty much everywhere.  It is as real here among my neighbors, a mix of working class, middle class and small entrepreneurs, as it is in Hong Kong, though not burning as brightly yet. But the anger and impulse are insufficient in themselves incapable of generating much more than mayhem followed by greater repression.  
The actions and "propaganda" (propagating of ideas, be they based on truth or falsehoods) of "highly-organized ... conscientious and professional organizers" is the other side of a revolution, providing the essential organization, coordination, communication and allignment on direction and purpose. 
This is where it gets tangled and convoluted.  Organizing, especially when taken beyond the level of organizing a small community, local interest group or a single shop, takes money and resourses - to support and train organizers and administrators and for communications.  Plus, the legacy of organizing during normal times is tied to the system by the necessity of winning concessions from power and is not so easily pried away even when the need becomes urgent. 
The organizers themselves may emerge from and swear their loyalty to the grass roots.  They may be recruited from the grass roots and swear their loyalty to the agency that recruits them, while in their hearts believing they and that agency work for the grass roots from which they came.  Or they may be trained and injected into communities, some as conscious agents and others naively believing that their imitation of grass roots activism is or can become real.
Yet, although revolutions may look synthetic when seen through this lense, the threat and power of revolution still smolders unquenchably in the grass roots, in the hearts and minds of the people whose oppression is integral to the system they draw their living from.  It is a powerful well of instability underlying every modern society.
Ruling classes and factions, in their battles with each other, have learned how to draw on this power - the revolutionary anger of the people, the grass roots, against their rivals at home and abroad.  They increasingly bring to bear resources of money, skills, modern social science, networks of informers, paid agents and most especially the science of manufacturing and propagating illusions.  This has arguably found its highest expression in the art and science of the "color revolution".
The people of Hong Kong and China now face a terrible dilemma.  The just aspirations and righteous anger of the regular people is evidently being mobilized by secret forces - foreign nations and their domestic collaborators - whose aim is the destruction of their very nation.  The result will be the plunder and ruin of everything they and their ancestors have won in bloody battles and built with generations of work and struggle. But their way forward can't just be a defense of the status quo, which is in any case collapsing.
This drama puts us also, we in "the belly of the beast", in a dilemma.  
Everything in us cries out to support the protesters in Hong Kong, who are fighting for what we also believe.  The yearnings and anger of the grass roots flaring forth there is clearly genuine. Yet the timing of this rebellion and the overwhelming evidence of recent history lends strong credence to the Chinese government's claims that it is being controlled by sinister forces directed against Chinese sovereignty.
If that this is probable, or that it could be leading the Chinese people to disaster, was still unclear to anyone, the ghastly spectacle in Ukraine should dispell all doubts.
This same dilemma is reflected here in the West.  Two fundamental principles that some of us live by, loyalty to our people and resistance to the wars and madness of Empire, are once again being placed in opposition. Our challenge is to refuse to choose, in spite of all evidence, but to rather insist on and continue to seek a break-away of the grass roots organizers from the control and hidden agendas of the puppet-masters.
Perhaps there's a silver lining to the horrifying gathering global system collapse. The oligarchs, as they turn on each other with ever greater ferocity and exploit the revolutionary anger of their rivals' "grass roots" against them with ever greater recklessness, will destroy the illusions essential to their control. We can hope the webs of grass roots organizers and leaders will at some juncture break free and take the reins of the rebellion in their hands on behalf of the people they work with. 
It won't happen tomorrow, it won't be pretty and it won't happen everywhere at once. But it's a possible dream, and that is something we urgently need.
So dear reader, if your thinking has led you to a conclusion which seems to leave no space for a future, consider. A future will happen with or without your participation, and it won't look like the past.  Your challenge is to find your own way out of your mental cul-de-sac.  I've offered you mine, knowing yours will be different.  
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