China, Hong Kong, and “Democracy”: A Thought or Two

Democracy—when do we want it? From 1999 onwards, answer Hong Kongers.

Hong Kong wants democracy, that’s cool. Great story, I like democracy. However…

Having been colonised by Great Britain for just over 150 years, Hong Kong appears to have been mostly content to have eschewed any major push for democracy. In fact, a taxi driver, last time I was in Hong Kong, told me—in no uncertain terms—“We preferred life under the English.” This is an attitude ubiquitous in Hong Kong—as the current protests make rather blatantly transparent. Hong Kong, and its students, really dislikes China. Why? What have democracy, China, and the apparent opposition between the two have in common?

It is my contention that democracy is not, quite conceivably, the chief matter at hand in all of this—regardless of what every. single. headline would convey.

I come at this with two ideas in mind:

  1. Class. Hong Kongers’, almost notoriously, feel themselves to be “better” than the mainland Chinese. There is a class dynamic at work here. Back to my taxi driver: As I was being driven to Mong Kok, my driver assailed me with guarantees as to how the mainland Chinese were “low caste”—and why: they’re dirty, they’re thieves, they’re rude etc. You get the idea. With this comes certain ways in which wealth, “freedom”, and privilege—or the perception of them—are openly celebrated. The people of Hong Kong are not like them. In this sense HONG KONG is a deeply reactionary area, willing to deploy a fiction of superiority so as to differentiate themselves from the mainland Chinese. This helpfully leads to my second idea.
  2. Communism. Hong Kong’s class dynamic is held humourously in contrast to a country with a history rooted in class struggle. It is my feeling that HONG KONG is deathly afraid of communism. For all of Hong Kong’s talk of democracy and freedom, it is neoliberalism 101: deregulation, competition, private wealth—it’s the place to go! This is the legacy of colonialism in Hong Kong: the assumption of the ruler’s way of being—capitalism. What these protests ask for is, in sum, “More of the same please.” A sameness predicated on furthering inequalities and reinforcing class disparities.In all of this one needs a nuanced understanding of Chinese communism (yes, communism isn’t monochromatic). Such an understanding may be found in Roland Boer’s summary of Domenico Losurdo’s book on Stalin, in which Boer gives an overview on Losurdo on (Chinese) communism:‘[Losurdo] draws on Gramsci to argue for Marxism as a patient and pragmatic project in which everything will not be achieved in rush, he tellingly sees the example of China as an excellent example of what he means. Putting aside any pre-established blueprints for socialism, or indeed the ‘utopia-state of exception spiral’, it realises the gradual nature of project. Not afraid to face the power of capitalism, as well as its many problems, it simultaneously – in a massive and sustained ‘New Economic Project’ that defies all orthodoxies – proceeds to construct a socialist constitutional state that is working towards a socialist market for the production and redistribution of wealth.’

    The threat that Hong Kong, perhaps, perceives then is that the multiple Chinese communism, and its multitude of unorthodox practices, are coming to level Hong Kong’s class distinctions and private wealth.

Democracy is a fiction worth fighting for, but I fail to see how it is wise to insist that the forms and ideologies (representative and neoliberal) imbricated within this event are somehow not worth discussing. Who gains from this insistence upon “democracy”? What does “democracy” look like in countries pervaded by these forms and ideologies? “Democracy” looks like: Austerity, privatisation, cuts, taxes, unemployment—all that good stuff. To willingly adopt such a system after years of colonialism is not surprising (see Scotland), but assuredly disappointing—for what is colonialism but an attempt at interpolating the colonised into the coloniser’s manner of being. None of this is beside the point as Beijing’s influence in the 2017 election is challenged.

Over my time in China, one thing I have not missed is liberal-style “democracy”—I am glad to be free of the drone, tired of the discussions over everything and nothing. Certainly there are changes to the Chinese system I would desire (direct rule of the people), but the state form as it now exists (hopefully in the Leninist middle passage) is—in many respects—a desirable alternative to “democracy” Western-style. In the Chinese system who has gained quite clearly over the last 50 years? The people, this much is clear. China, it may be said, is locked in the midst a truth-procedure, where in which we are witnessing the becoming true of what communism entails (nationalisation of industry, collective ownership of means of production and wealth, direct rule of the people).

What does democracy for Hong Kong mean? It didn’t, before, want it as it wants it now (at least to the same degree)—why is that? What does it mean to implicitly and speciously oppose “democracy” and communism? I suggest reactionary attitudes, explained through the lens of class struggle and a fear of communism, lie at the fore of the Hong Kong protests.

What may we say of the Communist ironists who play neoliberal against itself? What if they have a plan for Hong Kong? What might it mean for Hong Kong to be integrated into a social market?

A discussion could be had at this point concerning issues in censorship, freedom of speech, and the other hot button issues regarding China. I do not have the space or desire to open them up, other than to say, “Dear reader, I suggest applying the remarks on Losurdo to these particular topics.” In the middle passage one must protect against one’s enemies.