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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Waltzing Imperialism - on NED, Hong Kong and the Cynicism of Empire

 Edward C. K. Chin, Banker for Democracy
And here we go again. "Tech-savy students" are demanding democracy in Hong Kong - a former British colony, long lauded as a "free market paradise" by neoliberals everywhere, before it reunified with CPC-led China as a "Special Administrative Region" - and almost immediately the links to American imperialism start to appear. The American government funded tool of imperialism independent pro-democratic NGO known as the National Endowment for Democracy directly funded and organised this protest. The New York Times reports that bankers are funding the protest - but of course our freedom-loving neoliberal priesthood in the New York Times have zero problem with that. The influx of pro-Western bankers, and the development of a bourgeois means of production alongside the socialist - or at least non-capitalist - mode of production has, as expected, given the forces of reaction in China new fuel to the flame. The irony of all this is that it's called #OccupyCentral, copied of the Occupy Wall Street movement, a movement which had it's own share of populist anti-Banker sloganeering. But alas, such information is only a footnote when the West faces the spectacle of mass revolt in it's own service. Both the traditional and the social media in the West are now suddenly asking if Axl Rose was right after all.
Audrey Eu Yuet-mee and Biden

And to the surprise of nobody, images of Biden meeting with one of the founders of Occupy Central, or the "Umbrella revolution", Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, earlier this year surged on the internet. And the man who proposed the Occupy Central project, Benny Tai, was as late as 2013 listed and being funded by the National Democratic Institute (NDI, a NED sponsored organisation) through the organization CCPL.

And the NED did what the NED does best: it stirred up huge media buzz about a supposed "organic revolt". Out of nowhere, people who had no idea about the political system in China, about the social forces driving dissent in China, and about the history of these types of "revolutions", get carried away by the mass spirit, feel intense human compassion to the protesters, attacked by tear gas and police batons. Do we blame them?

The nature of the NED 

There's a new business. A business the US, with it's right-wing culture, with it's disdain for popular movements, with it's socially enforced hatred of radical transformations of society hardly would've been associated with in the past. It is the business of revolution. In the highly informative documentary by the Journeyman Pictures, "Does the USA sponsor Revolutions", things are made very clear: The USA openly funds and trains organizations around the world that subvert regimes that act against it's interests.

This isn't a grand conspiracy behind closed doors - the NED publicly advertises this.  It isn't shy about the fact that it is using NGOs (and I use that term very lightly) to promote regime change in sovereign nations. If we forget for one second that the NED receives almost all it's funding directly from the US tax payers - what is wrong with this type of activity?

The Colour revolutions, the Arab Spring, the EuroMaidan, the Venezuelan riots, all these "great organic revolutions for democracy", rallied thousands, not only in the countries they happened in, but around the world. Twitter and other social media are now filled with images of huge crowds protesting, horrific police brutality and reports of governmental corruption. They all had their own unavoidably catchy hash-tags, had their uncountable amount of sock-puppet accounts that targeted those who questioned the nature of these revolutions and who was behind them. As expected, the vast majority of social media users, as well as those who mostly consume their news via mainstream channels, latched on to these protests with heart and compassion.

Those of us on the left who had a hard time latching onto these debacles, regardless of the horror some of us felt upon seeing the police brutality and repression in these places, were and are routinely ridiculed. If it's not the knee-jerk anti-intellectual response of accusing us of being conspiracy theorists, it is the notion of the "cynical authoritarian left." These arm-chair leftists and their theories, we are told, harbor an authoritarian attitude towards the masses and their collective subjectivity and aspirations when we feel they deviate from our dogmatic view of the world. These cynical authoritarians, who despise the masses, do not even have the heart to back a democratic movement as they are being teargassed and illegally arrested by the police.

I could go on for hours about the hypocrisy of the very nature of this argument. I am sure the Ferguson protesters would love an NED-grant to help them in their struggle against a tear-gassing hypermilitarized police force, and that the political prisoners in Guantanamo Bay would like NDI to help them against a government that tortures them without trial. But the notion of the cynic is still a very powerful one. Are we the cynics? Do we hate people? I believe there is another answer. Let us take a closer look around the ideological narrative surrounding these protests, and their realities, to see if there isn't in fact a bigger cynic to be tackled.

The Myth of the Organic

The central narratives surrounding the nature of these protests play into the liberal conception of the "organic" - a social organization, movement, mode of economy or politics, that exists onto itself as a sort of state of nature. Liberal capitalist Western democracy as an organic state of nature is liberalism's most powerful self-legitimizing tool. You can clearly see this in the narrative surrounding the Communist and Fascist movements of the 20th century: Communism and fascism deviated from liberalism's Garden of Eden. They were not products of material reality or class struggle, or social relations formed within liberal capitalism itself, but "experiments" that failed to properly abide the inherent iron laws of human nature, which has achieved it's full realization in organic capitalist society. Of course, when fascism reared it's face in Latin America, instead of the rational enlightened West, the reason to fund, train and arm these right-wing juntas were found in the notion of preserving an organic "order" in the third world. Dangerous democratically elected left-wingers where attempting to thwart this order with their wholly inorganic form of government which pushed prices and costs of living down from their "natural" and "organic" market cost.
Tahir Square, 2011

A quick glance at the liberal ideological tradition will confirm that such an attitude does exist: Hayek's theories about local and dispersed systems of knowledge, against the arbitrariness and irrationality of the central planner. The notion of an "organic politics" where parties of a bourgeois parliament are a complete reflection of the organic will of the masses is another example. Yet another one is "civil society", the free and organic sphere of life separated from the ideologically assumed arbitrariness and unnatural impulses of the political sector. This theory of the "organic" life under liberalism, or the "organic" move toward liberalism, it being a state of nature, becomes a powerful legitimization of these protesters. They organized "organically" - they sprung up out of nowhere, just being genuinely upset with the status quo, all at once. Clearly articulated ideals about longing for a Western liberal democracy seem to be second nature to these people, even if they live in what we are told are horrifically totalitarian societies where such knowledge couldn't possibly exist on a mass scale. They dance, they sing, they turn bloody murdering soldiers soldiers and cops into newborn pacifists with flowers in their hair and smiles on their faces. A mass movement - coming out of seemingly nowhere, born seemingly overnight, spreading over multiple countries - do we dare say they are not organic?

Maybe "The Organic", in fact, is a myth. We live under politics, politics in a class society where everything is mediated through the actuality of violence. Arbitrary, inorganic and institutional class violence. It is this arbitrary violence that created the liberal Western market and bourgeois state, often through direct bloody struggle to maintain bourgeois class positions, but also through a legal abstract threat of violence. None of "civil society", or "the free market", or parliamentary electoral politics would ever exist without the threat or the direct use of violence. The entirety of this world is created, made by us, humans in bitter class struggle, and there is no "organic sphere" outside society where this fact can be left out. You cannot even walk on something so simple, ordinary and taken-for granted as a pavement without experiencing the reality of violence. That pavement had to be put there by somebody - and it wasn't the neighborhood Tolstoyan anarchist collective. It was put there, either by private or direct public means, through what in the final analysis can only be described as violence. I do not mean to say that a pavement is somehow the strongest expression of class and violence, but it is there, and wholly embedded into your organic world, as are your coffee shops, your stop signs, your favorite book store and the place you work. Given the fact of violence in political society, shaping the world in the image of the struggle between classes and socially oppressed groups, the notion of "The Organic" needs to be overcome. This is not to say that the wielders of class power are sitting robed in a dark cave somewhere in Bavaria plotting every minute detail of our social and political lives, but it does suggest that even our most spontaneous actions are very arbitrary in their nature, limited by objective realities. They are mediated through violence, it's ruling ideology and class interest, and leaves an imprint on what we do and say.

Unfortunately, many on the left have fallen victim to this kind of thinking with regards to their favorite movements and political projects. This and that revolutionary government came to be through a spontaneous mass uprising, we are told, and not through the relentless, planned and confrontational ideological and political struggle carried out by it's political organisations. That the working class are somehow magically expected to hold organic knowledge about the values of communism without effort is not a Marxist theory, and not what the "Specter of Communism" was about. Spontaneity can feel like a powerful event, but without critical thinking as to the society which gave rise to such a spontaneous eruption of class struggle, it will easily fall into ideological traps.

But are these revolutions funded by the "organic"? Do they represent an exception to prove the rule about the falsehood of organic society? Hardly. As the documentary referenced earlier shows, these "revolutions" are meticulously planned and organized, relying on mass psychological manipulation and arbitrarily enforced social aggravation. The leaders are trained and effective in their use of language, rhetoric, tactic and propaganda. They create mass protests and revolts, it is true, and often they do it in countries which do have a severe problems of political and social oppression where people have legitimate reasons to be upset, but to call them "organic" is a direct falsehood. Worth noting is that a few of the protesters in these "revolutions" got very violent on the side of the protesters, Venezuela and Ukraine being the ones most of us remember.

Ideological Triggers

Our next issue concerns what I like to call "ideological triggers". These are gestures, acts, and more often than not, words, which carry meaning in a historical and social sense, which can trigger people emotionally and socially into ideological support. In these events we have heard that they "struggle for Democracy", which illustrates my point perfectly. Democracy, stripped of all concrete meaning and history, stripped from social realities and class structures, holds in itself an extremely powerful emotional and social aspect. This is true not only for the West, with it's tradition of constitutional multi-party democracy, but all around the world, where propaganda has subconsciously linked the notion of democracy with the notion of imperialism and Western influence. Like a Pavlovian bell, making people drool at the promise of the West and Democracy, it has rung out every single time the USA has supported a "revolution" in it's own economic and political interest. But democracy is never just democracy - it needs content. For who, and for what? Unless we are willing to believe that these people are completely free from any other ideology than "democracy unto itself", something which was never true of any so-called "democratic revolution", we must be ready to ask these questions. For what purpose do these bankers of Hong Kong and mainland China intend to enforce democracy? Why does IMF demand that Ukraine still take over the radical separatist pro-Russian states? In the name of democracy? These questions do not need to be asked - when you've got the ideological triggers of "democracy", "freedom", and "anti-corruption", universalized terms that hold social meaning beyond their literal definition, the narrative for those who aren't seeing the other side of the story becomes irresistible.

The use of these "triggers", this one-sided imagery of police and authoritarian abuse on the one side and innocent, neutral citizenry, clinging to an abstraction of an idealized political practice called "democracy", this total removal of class and empire from the debate, this atomization of world-historical conflicts into isolated conflicts over merely differing ideals that can be easily categorized into "dictatorial" or "democratic", is a deeply psychological process. In a class structure, were the real fact of imperialism is completely ignored or overlooked by the ideological apparatus that the general public is acclimated to, these narratives become more believable than the logically more easily believable truth: that the United States has financial interests in subverting China, just like it has financial interests in subverting Russia.

The reality of Nationally Endowed Democracy?

While the promise of democracy, as an ideological trigger, is powerful, what can we say for the actuality of democracy in the countries the NED, and the other NGOist "freedom fighters", has been successful? The people of Donbass have felt the blunt edge of this "endowed democracy", as the NED-sponsored EuroMaidan Kiev junta are deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure to intimidate them. I'm sure the journalists targeted by the Egyptian US Army trained butcher Al-Sisi believe him to be the true heir of the ideals of Tahir Square - just like Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood before him. And didn't our hearts sink, as General Gaddafi was extrajudicially executed by a gang of young rebels, shouting Allāhu Akbar after they beat down and shot an aging man who pleaded - don't shoot! And the results of the funding of the FSA are almost too gruesome to get into here.

I could go on all day. The promise of democracy has either been compromised or abandoned completely. A serious analysis of the true intentions of our new "pro-democrats" can never be so naive as to assume that democracy as thing in itself was ever it's goal. It has been said countless times, but the United States is the number one to fund, arm, train and defend violent, anti-democratic thugs.

The reality of the National Endowment for Democracy, and it's friends, the reality of this new form of ideologically triggered, atomized event, is the reality of imperialism. It is imperialism that manipulates forces on a mass scale to subvert sovereign governments, to get to their oil, their minerals and metals, their natural gas, their agriculture and their cheap labor. Democracy tends to stay out of the equation once the dust of joyous liberator revolt sets and the profits are to be made. We are talking about how Hamas, and now even the Russian separatists in Donbass - have been falsely accused of using children and women as "human shields"... But what then, does the insidious subversion and subjection to repression of these people, these civilians who call themselves democrats, amount too? They are literally using the people of Hong Kong, whom they rallied with their NGO-cash flow and trainee-revolutionaries, as human shields for their own dirty imperialist bidding, in these peoples false belief that they were fighting for a pure, humane ideal. They do not have the courage to go there themselves, the cowards, so they are using it's population, tricking them into believing that the government of the United States, that has the current highest prison population of the world, who repeatedly uses torture and funds militant murderers, has a better ideal to live by than that of their own government. It is for this reason the students of Hong Kong face the tear gas, the police violence, and the threat of arrest. This, I believe, is the true cynicism of the US sponsored revolutions. It places civilians, as a foreground to a battle that they in the end might not fully consent too. The hopes and dreams of these people are nothing but a vehicle of the US. Not just regime change, not just an opening up of society, but a complete opening up of the market for the hungry bourgeoisie, so that the already worrying trend of the growth Chinese capitalism can be exacerbated, so that more children can work in the sweatshops, so the peasants can once again be subjected to the terror of private property, so that all their social and economic securities will once and for all be gone. That is cynicism.

The Waltzing Revolution

Socialist anarchist Emma Goldman famously said that "a revolution without dancing is not worth having!" And if dancing is a demand, then the US-sponsored NGO "pro-democracy fest" sure did fulfill it: people in Tahir, Gezi and Maidan all danced. The Independent reported recently that the people of Hong Kong were dancing a "reggae infuced dance" 200 meter from the center of the happenings.  Dancing was always a part of the strategy of these new Designers of Revolutions - the revolution is not merely a vehicle for class struggle and political ideas, but a party, a mass social event. Not quite a tea party, but a celebration none the less. People sang satirical songs about their government, they danced their folk dances to keep warm, they became friends. I have become rather suspicious of dancing. These people, in revolutionary euphoria, are waltzing into the hands of global capitalism. Maybe we should stop dancing for a while. Maybe our dancing can in fact be used against us. Maybe, somewhere in the our occupation with dancing, we forgot the meaning of our revolution. And a revolution without a revolution, is that worth having? We need to be more careful than ever not to be tricked by the forces that are destroying the world, with greed, war and exploitation. There will be no more waltzing.

- Jakob Pettersson


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