By Marcel Cartier
Ah, the good old Occupy movement. A part of me will always have a subjective emotional attachment it. No, not because it’s actually an abysmal and indefensible name for what was supposedly a progressive protest movement in the belly of the beast, given that the territory that now makes up the United States has been occupied by white settlers for hundreds of years and the U.S. imperialists are the primary occupiers of oppressed people the world over.
When the Occupy Wall Street movement was announced in 2011, many comrades including myself simply brushed it off as a white liberal, petit-bourgeois circus that revolutionaries needn’t have anything to do with. As one veteran comrade laid down when a younger one asked if it was worth socialists participating: “those aren’t our people down there”. In other words, it wasn’t really a rebellion of the poorest, most downtrodden segments of U.S. society. Still, as weeks went by and the movement gained substantial momentum, it seemed it would have been foolish not to insert ourselves in the struggle in some way.
We used the space that was created by Occupy to launch Marxist agitation and to attempt to push the movement in a revolutionary direction. Needless to say, the outcome was not in our favor, nor even in the favor of those anarcho-liberal elements who attempted to lead the movement, but in the interests of the state. Despite the political struggle taking on a rather low-level of militancy, the full repressive wrath of the state was very quickly laid down on the protesters from New York to Oakland. Paired with endless internal contradictions, the movement was but a shell of itself within a few months.
However, across the world the inspiration of Occupy Wall Street has manifested itself in demonstrations and protest camps. I had personally spent time covering the events of Occupy Gezi in Taksim Square last summer, which was characterized by a sea of red flags from every possible leftist sect in Turkey.
In recent days, another protest movement claiming the banner of Occupy has been gaining unprecedented momentum, and the American occupiers seem more than pleased with themselves that their supposed legacy is sprouting up half way across the world. Worryingly, however, is the fact that the primary American occupiers — in other words, the U.S. government and its media platforms – also seem mighty pleased with these events! Yes, we’re talking about Hong Kong and its “Occupy Central” protest movement.
Is it not a massive contradiction that the United States would clamp down with harsh measures against its own voices of dissent on the streets of Manhattan, but is cheerleading the actions of activists in Hong Kong (dare we mention Tripoli, Damascus and Kyiv here?). What does it say about the leadership (yes, there was one despite their claims of “horizontalism”) of OWS that they now find themselves — and not for the first time — on the same side as the government that they were waging struggle against just a few years back?
The above should alone underscore one of the most fundamental defects of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States. It never broke with liberalism, and therefore never became a serious challenge to the structures that facilitate the kind of oppression the movement claimed to be against. It suffered from serious political shortcomings and lack of understanding of the basics of capitalism and what the state entails. Perhaps that’s the fault of Marxists (myself included) for not bringing this theory from without. Maybe, though, our initial assertion that “those aren’t are people down there” was a bit closer to the reality of it. After all, what material basis do thousands of middle class white folks have to be revolutionaries and internationalists in the United States?
The most glaring indication of the backwardness of the OWS leadership was its celebratory tweets in the aftermath of the U.S. and NATO murder of Muammar Gaddafi. OWS celebrated the victory of the “Libyan revolution” as if it was on par with the fall of Wall Street and the storming of the Congress, failing in its liberalness to do the most basic research that would reveal that Muammar Gaddafi had in fact given endless ideological and material support to real U.S. revolutionaries, including the occupied indigenous people. OWS revealed its overriding class character and backwardness at that disturbing and disgraceful moment.
Therefore, how surprising can it actually be that the remnants of the Wall Street protest organizers from three years back are once again unable to distinguish between events the world over that take on a revolutionary character and those that take on a counter-revolutionary character? The “We Are the 99 Percent” slogan was of course never scientifically correct, but it did make for effective agitation. The problem is perhaps that there was never any admission of the U.S. “99 percent” still being the “1 percent” globally.
Conversations about colonialism, imperialism and white supremacy had little space within the official confines of the Occupy movement. Activists at Occupy would talk in their idealist ways of “Global Revolution” — but that’s something that differs profoundly from the revolutionary concept of “world proletarian revolution”.
It may sound quite good on the surface, but if you don’t analyze the character of each state in question and just peddle empty phrases such as “direct democracy everywhere”, you will find that you end up doing the dirty work of the intelligence services who got you under surveillance for talking shit about their beloved institutions! Is an uprising against a government of the workers’ and peasants the same as an uprising against a bourgeois, imperialist government?
Let’s imagine that manifests in an “Occupy Cuba”. I can almost guarantee that some of these “occupiers” would be all over it talking of overthrowing the “repressive Castro government”, and in that way filling the shoes of their occupier forefathers. They would become the progressive face of the U.S. ruling class’ attempts to fervent what would actually be a counter-revolutionary setback on that island.
If I have little hope for Occupy when it comes to understanding something that should be as basic as the class character of the Cuban state, then I really shouldn’t for a second even have given thought to them perhaps getting it at least a bit correct when it comes to Hong Kong. For those on the left, events in Hong Kong should be farcical by now if they weren’t at the beginning. It’s not just the BBC News interview with the guy who is billed as an “activist and Hedge Fund manager”. It’s not even the fact that substantial amounts of the protesters are carrying the colonial British flag of Hong Kong and ironically decrying Chinese (!) colonialism. It’s that there is a very clear agenda at play on behalf of the United States in its “pivot to Asia” to destablize the Chinese state.
After all, the rise of a multi-polar world is a flashing red light for the forces situated in D.C., London and across the European capitals built upon colonial plunder. It was sinful enough that the Chinese broke form under the yoke of world imperialism 65 years ago. Through every twist and turn in the road to 2014, there can be no doubt that the empire has never forgiven China for standing up. Of course, the bourgeoisie in the U.S. says they would like to help the Chinese “stand up” again in the face of what the term a “repressive dictatorship” and (insert other empty phrase referring to human rights here). Some have likened events in Hong Kong to the Tiananmen Square protests of 25 years ago, and some of the protesters have made such comparisons themselves. On this point, I have to say I agree with them. However, I do so not on the basis that they are both characterized as “pro-democracy” (unless we scientifically define this as bourgeois democracy, and hence as a desire for what would actually amount to a bourgeois dictatorship!), but on the basis that because of that scientific definition both share a desire for what can only objectively be called counter-revolution [see the PSL’s analysis of China here:
Yet, one doesn’t really have to be the greatest admirer of the Chinese state (class it as capitalist or revisionist if you like) to see that the game plan of the U.S. and its National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has set its sights squarely on Hong Kong. It’s not that every activist in the streets is a “hedge fund manager” or a paid agent of the empire. There are always just grievances that people have in any country in the world, whether the state is proletarian or capitalist. As always, however, the decisive factor is in the class character of the demonstrations and the leadership behind it. As was the case with my comrade’s initial assessment of Occupy in the United States, the phrase “those aren’t our people down there” applies aptly.
Rebellions of rich students in Venezuela, of the petit-bourgeois layers in Ukraine, and now students who would likely identify more with London than Beijing. The fact that all three can be called “revolutions” in popular discourse shows just how much work the true revolutionary elements the world over have to do.
There are other articles that point out some of the more evident points that should be made in much more detail, whether it’s the specifics related to Hong Kong’s subjugation under the jackboot of the British Empire or that the appearance of what could only be termed the first semblance of democratic rights didn’t occur until Hong Kong was transferred back to China in 1997. Nor if this really the place I wish to espouse upon the massive pro-Beijing rallies that have taken place in Hong Kong recently, as well (led by the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions) that also led a workers’ (read: not well to do comprador people) uprising in 1967 in which up to 40 people were killed by the colonial authorities.
This is simply space I want to utilise to assert that the primary demand of progressive people in the west should be to UNOCCUPY. I don’t mean that simply as a means of negating the “Occupy” movement. I mean that the primary contradiction in the world remains that between oppressor and oppressed nations, between the colonialists and imperialists of yesteryear and those who are rising to a position of dignity today. In that context, and with all of its shortcomings, contradictions and problems, I stand with the People’s Republic of China.