Imperialist hypocrisy

To the strains of ‘Land of hope and glory’, Hong Kong was handed over on Monday to the Chinese government. Chris Patten - the 28th and last imperial governor of the colony - bid farewell to the bright lights with a tear in his eye.

He was not the only one reduced to tears. The grotesque and faintly surreal ‘last night of the proms’ coverage has generated an orgy of imperialist nostalgia and regret from all quarters of bourgeois society.

The Hong Kong hand-over - or ‘the return’, as the Chinese media more accurately describe it - has been an exercise in monstrous hypocrisy, and an instructive lesson in the art of disseminating the neo-imperialist message. Nobody could miss the drip-drip intimation behind all the reports: the contrast between British civilisation and Asiatic/Chinese barbarism and backwardness. 

If all your information was derived from the bourgeois media, you could be forgiven for thinking that British imperialism’s ‘acquisition’ of Hong Kong was an inspired act of altruism. The noble gentlemen of the British Empire were concerned solely with delivering enlightenment, civilisation and - here’s a good one - democracy to the Chinese masses. Except for a few undeniable ‘bad eggs’ and the occasional regrettable ‘mistake’, the cadres of the empire were a fundamentally decent lot. In the weasel words of The Guardian editorial, “It is absurd for Chinese commentators to label the entire 156 years since then with the guilt of British imperialism” (June 30).

The intention, whether unconscious or semi-conscious, of the media offensive on reality and the truth is to rehabilitate British imperialism - or, at the very least, to prettify its history. ‘Let’s give imperialism a face lift,’ says the ruling class. Prince Charles’ and Chris Patten’s farewell speeches were brave attempts at historical revisionism, for all of the latter’s feigned regret at the manner in which Britain came to possess Hong Kong.

The real story could not contrast more with the media’s air-brushed versions.  When the union flag came down - and Hong Kong became a special administrative region inside China - we were in fact waving farewell to the “butcher’s apron”, not to decades of civilising influence.

The fact that Hong Kong became ‘British’ at all was the result of the most monstrous plunder. The imperialist adventurers/bandits who seized the New Territories hinterland were driven by the rapacious realpolitik of imperialist ambition and inter-imperialist rivalries. They shot, bombed and murdered their way to a position of mastery over the Chinese masses, regarded as an entirely inferior race who were to be treated at best as wayward children. Signs saying, ‘No Chinese or dogs’ littered the imperialist-dominated zones of China - some of which remained right up until the Chinese Revolution of 1949. For all the crap that has being spoken over recent weeks, this mind-set of imperial, racialistic contempt for the Chinese has been alive and well amongst sections of the ‘ex-pat’ community in Hong Kong. The pious praise now being heaped on the Hong Kong Chinese - for their “talent”, “brilliance”, “inventiveness”, etc - is a quite new-found discovery.  

Even though their modern descendants love to preach against the ‘evils’ of narcotics - conducting a ‘war against drugs’ even - the imperialist invaders of China had no such moral compunctions. Disturbed by the growing trade imbalance with India, they thought it would be an excellent idea to export opium to China. To this end, they consciously set out to create the highest number of opium addicts possible. This policy was accompanied, of course, by general brutality - such as burning down the Forbidden Palace. In this way whole tracts of China were divided into imperial spheres of influence, with the Chinese masses humiliated and made strangers in their own land.

Chris Patten’s predecessors went in to rob and loot China, Like India before it. For the glorious British empire, China was a potential source of cheap labour; an enormous zone of super-exploitation. Nothing else came into the equation - unless you count personal self-enrichment. Patten’s claim that British colonialism in Hong Kong provided “the scaffolding ... the rule of law, clean government, the values of a free society” are laughable - and contemptible.

This is the real legacy of imperialism. Its baleful shadow still lingers over British society. The upholders of the British empire received a classical education at institutions like Eton and Harrow. This education was not motivated by any great aesthetic appreciation of Homer’s epic poetry, or the verse of Ovid. The sons and daughters of the British empire - mainly sons, of course - wanted to learn the lessons of the ‘divide and rule’ tactics of the Roman empire, and hence replicate the success of the Roman conquests and hopefully avoid its eventual fate. As part and parcel of this training the young students imbibed the notion that they were innately superior to the masses and were born to rule. This elitist, class-divided education system - perfected at this time of imperial plunder - continues today.  

What really grates are the lectures on the virtues of democracy being served up by the bourgeoisie and its media. Conjuring up its most pompous imperial voice, The Observer informs us:

“The people of Hong Kong are being transferred from a model democracy to a model dictatorship ... Britain’s responsibilities to Hong Kong do not end tomorrow. We have a special obligation to keep the freedom of its people in the international eye. If disaster strikes, our moral duty to arrange refuge - and if necessary to offer it ourselves - is unambiguous” (June 29).

What offensive hypocrisy. Hong Kong, until very recently, was run as a colonial dictatorship - no elections, or any expression of democratic sentiment, were allowed. When the original Joint Declaration was signed in 1984 between Deng and Margaret Thatcher, the dreaded ‘d’-word was not mentioned. The Hong Kong masses were to be handed over to China and that was that.

Patten himself gave the game away in a recent interview with The Guardian, when he let slip that all the previous governors treated pro-democracy activists “as though they were Trots, enemies of the state”. In the same interview, Patten also boasted: “In five years, we haven’t had a single large strike. No riots, no big student demos, no punch-ups in parliament” (June 30).

Clearly, Chris Patten’s sudden conversion to the marvels of elected assemblies and legislatures was a blatant attempt to destabilise mainland China, to implant the Trojan Horse of ‘democracy’ and appear to be more virtuous than the Chinese bureaucrats. It was a cynical exercise, as was the farcical boycott of the official Chinese ceremonies held on Tuesday.

The US administration and the British government are so offended by the non-democratic nature of the new hand-picked legislative assembly, the Legislative Council, they cannot bring themselves to attend. Funnily enough, their conscience never stirred from its sleep during the last 150 years of British rule over Hong Kong - nor does it prevent them from quite cheerfully rubbing shoulders with Saudi Arabian dictators. US imperialism was delighted to do deals, to name just one example, with general Augusto Pinochet of Chile in 1973 - who came to power by massacring the elected government of Salvador Allende. However, the Legislative Council is beyond the pale.

The Communist Party of China has promised to preserve Hong Kong capitalism with its ‘one country, two systems’ formula. There is no reason not to believe them. In China itself, the Party/state bureaucracy is introducing capitalism from above. It should be mentioned in passing that this is not an uncommon phenomenon: in many parts of the world, capitalism was imposedby the state apparatus - it did not emerge spontaneously from below, as some modern-day myth makers would suggest.

The capitalistic ‘reforms’ we witness in contemporary China bear no relation to the NEP of Lenin’s Russia - a temporary concession to the peasantry, dictated by the catastrophic exigencies of war communism. Top layers of the Party/state bureaucracy are merging with the top layers of the new, emerging capitalist class. A good example of the new breed of “red capitalists” - as they are increasingly refered to in China - is Tung Chee-hwa, the new chief executive who takes over from Patten. He is a Liverpool-educated shipping tycoon who is the darling of the CPC. There are plenty of others just like him.

The sons and daughters of Party bureaucrats are steadily enriching themselves and use their personal/filial ties to promote this process, and the sons and daughters of top business figures are joining the CPC. The Communist Party of China has become the vehicle for the introduction of capitalistic social relations - a capitalism that is far beyond what existed previous to the revolution. Pre-1949, a formal or primitive capitalism operated only in small, isolated pockets of China.

Hong Kong’s re-absorption into the ‘motherland’ significantly boosts this capitalistic momentum. This city-state has massive concentrations of capital, and China overnight added somewhere in the region of 20% to its GDP. By a splendid paradox, the removal of imperialist control over Hong Kong and its re-unification with ‘socialist’ China has objectively aided the expansion of world capital.  

The Hong Kong hand-over points to the wider tragedy of the Chinese Revolution. Its proletarian head cut off in 1927, Mao and his followers pursued a non-proletarian ‘socialism’ - developing a fundamentally utopian ideology which followed the contours of Stalin’s anti-socialist socialism, but located it within a ruralframework. As is evidenced by the disasters of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party of China came to embody a completely different idea of socialism to Karl Marx and VI Lenin - a hopelessly petty-bourgeois schema which was doomed to such brutal failure.

When we look at the bright capitalist lights of Hong Kong - with its capitalist exploitation, corruption, prostitution, etc - and Guangdong Province in Southern China, which has become one massive sweatshop for its tens of millions of inhabitants, we see the consequences of Mao’s failure.

The Chinese Revolution aimed to build ‘socialism’ within its national boundaries. Now it hopes to compete as an ‘equal’ with world imperialism.

Eddie Ford