Colonial Policy by Other Means: Losurdo on Hong Kong’s Supposed ‘Self-Determination’

A small number of former colonial powers are fond of trotting out the mantra of ‘self-determination’ for parts of the world they would like to control. Hong Kong and Taiwan are good examples (even though the USA has the world’s strongest measures against self-determination of its own states). In the last few days, deliberate misinformation concerning Hong Kong has been peddled in a small number of places. If you want to get a fuller picture, see the reports here, here, here, here and here.

So it is worth recalling Losurdo’s observations on such a matter. The first comes from his essay, ‘Lenin and Herrenvolk Democracy’ (2007):

Colonial domination has left its mark: on the economic level, the inequality of development among different regions has been accentuated; while the hegemonic presence at every level of the great powers and the policy of ethnic engineering, often promoted by them, has accentuated cultural, linguistic, and religious fragmentation. Secessionist tendencies of every kind are once again lying in wait, regularly fed by the ex-colonial powers. When it wrested Hong Kong from China, Great Britain certainly did not conceive of self-determination, and it did not remember it even during the long years in which it exercised its dominion. But, suddenly, on the eve of Hong Kong’s return to China, to the motherland, the governor sent by London, Chris Patten, a conservative, had a species of illumination and improvised conversion: he appealed to the inhabitants of Hong Kong to claim their right to ‘self-determination’ against the motherland, thus remaining within the orbit of the British Empire.

Analogous considerations are true for Taiwan. When, at the beginning of 1947, the Kuomintang, which had fled from continental China and the victorious People’s Army, let loose a terrible repression that provoked about ten thousand deaths, the United States was careful not to invoke the right to self-determination for the inhabitants of the island; on the contrary, it sought to impose the thesis according to which Chiang Kai-shek’s government was the legitimate government not only of Taiwan but also of the whole of China. The great Asian country had to remain united but under the control of Chiang Kai-shek, reduced to a simple pro-consul of Washington’s sovereign imperialism. As the dream of reconquering the mainland slowly faded away, and the stronger became the aspiration of the whole Chinese people to achieve full territorial integration and independence, ending the tragic chapter of colonial history, so the presidents of the United States experienced an illumination and a conversion similar to that of Chris Patten. They too began to caress the idea of ‘self-determination’. Incoherence? Not at all: ‘self-determination’ is the continuation of imperial policy by other means. If it was not really possible to get their hands on China as a whole, it was, meanwhile, convenient to secure control of Hong Kong or Taiwan (249-50).

 

And as he writes in one his last books, Class Struggle (2016):

 

Perhaps it would be better to learn the lesson of old Hegel, who, with the Sanfedista and anti-Semitic agitation of his time in mind, observed that sometimes ‘courage consists not in attacking rulers, but in defending them’. The populist rebel who would be bound to consider Hegel insufficiently revolutionary could always heed Gramsci’s warning against the phraseology of ‘primitive, elementary “rebellionism,” “subversionism” and “anti-statism,” which are ultimately an expression of de facto “a-politicism”’ (337).

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