Protestors form a human chain on Victoria Peak to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival, 13 September 2019. Photo: Alex Yun for Lausan

Hong Kongers: Don’t turn away from others’ struggles

Have we actually put a revolutionary spirit into practice?

Original: Commentary published on The Owl 夜貓’s Facebook

Translators: R, Joy-Ming King, Wilfred Chan

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Translator’s note: Given the brutal state repression in Catalonia against the separatist movement there, some Hong Kongers have organized a solidarity rally for Catalonia this Thursday. The organizers have emphasized they want to use the rally as an occasion to extend support for Catalan protestors experiencing similar forms of state violence as Hong Kongers. But others have come out against the rally, fearing the mere association with Catalan separatists could compromise support from Western governments.

On the eve of the planned rally, Tony, a writer at local Hong Kong leftist publication The Owl, published this short polemic on Facebook, arguing for a politics of international solidarity. Here, Tony does not take a stance on Catalonia’s protest movement itself—which, like Hong Kong’s, has a diverse ideological composition: from anti-capitalists and labor organizers to far-right activists and xenophobes. Rather, his criticism is directed at Hong Kongers who dismiss Catalonia’s struggle out of hand as “none of our business.”

Tony links the backlash against offering transnational solidarity to a similar parochialism popularized in recent years by the right-wing localist/nativist movement, which has boycotted Hong Kong’s annual June 4 vigil for the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre on the grounds that any concern for Mainland Chinese (read: foreigners) is a dangerous “distraction.” This logic, Tony points out, has been utterly discredited this year.

Tony chides protesters for their fear of offending Western powers, reminding Hong Kongers that scorched-earth strategies such as “If we burn you burn with us” and “economic war”—referring to hardline protesters’ acts of disrupting the city’s commerce to create leverage against the government—already have far more impact upon the city than anything Western sanctions could hope to achieve.

The arguments on LIHKG against the Catalonia solidarity rally have been exceedingly familiar. “We can’t even deal with our own shit, why snoop around others’ business?” Is this not the exact same talking point that has been trotted out against attending the annual June 4 vigil? In the past few years, some have accused the vigil of “exhausting popular morale” and have even asked everyone to disregard the “affairs of neighbouring countries”—as if spending one night at a demonstration would drain Hong Kongers’ capacity for joining other social movements. Remember how 180,000 folks turned up this year on June 4 for its 30th anniversary—and how that was a new high for turnout in recent years? Then, just five days later was the shocking million-strong anti-extradition bill march. Hmm—why wasn’t popular morale exhausted this time?

The selfishness and insularity encouraged by those who repudiate so-called “bleeding-heart leftists” over the years is now finally extending to their attitudes toward other international struggles. They do not ask whether standing in solidarity with the struggles of other countries is in line with their own values, only whether acts of solidarity would benefit their own fight in any concrete way. And yet the movement has persistently sought out international support, packaging itself as the vanguard of “universal values.” If you believe that you have zero responsibility to educate yourself and learn about others’ resistance, how could you possibly ask those of other countries to do the same for us? Do you actually think the implementation of the Five Demands would concretely benefit people in other countries?

Those who oppose the Catalonia solidarity rally do not discuss or analyse the struggle of Catalans; they only fret over whether a solidarity action for Catalan independence would offend the United States and halt the passing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. This naked opportunism—its cynical utilitarianism aside—is not even strategically clever. Fundamentally, our struggle cannot be predicated on the reactions of American career politicians. When it comes to international affairs, politicians are the true opportunists, who prioritize their own interests and would have no issue with casting Hong Kong aside in the blink of an eye. If we are to adopt the strategy of “if we burn, you burn with us,” the only way to do so is to strengthen our own economic war, consolidate popular opinion, and continue to pressure the Hong Kong government into even more atrocious acts of repression. Foreign capital would flee soon enough, without any need for American sanctions.

Learning about and supporting struggles across the world will not adversely affect our own; rather it will strengthen our resolve to fight. We like to proclaim “revolution of our times,” but have we actually put a genuine revolutionary spirit into practice?