(This essay was published in South China Morning Post on 15 February 2017.)
Legislator Leung Kwok Hung (also known as Long Hair) declared that he would seek nominations to become a candidate in the upcoming CE elections. Leung has urged his political allies not to vote for any pro-establishment candidates even if they are seen as “lesser evils”, as a matter of principle.
In joining the race, Leung has reversed his political position in the previous two CE elections of “not voting, not nominating, and not running in any small-circle election.” His decision signals a condemnation of the present political arrangements and calls for an uncompromising struggle against the establishment on both political and moral grounds.
Leung represents the political left whose deep (but not always transparent) conviction is hatred of the capitalist system. His goal is to revolt and not to govern.
He is now concerned that the pan-democratic coalition has over one-quarter of the votes in the Election Committee and so has real hope of contesting the outcome, if not in 2017 then in 2022, and making a difference. The public (which cannot vote in the CE election) has such expectations, too.
Leung most certainly fears this would take the steam out of the drive towards revolutionary politics. Instead of a pan-democratic coalition that nurtures a growing revolutionary wing, it would more likely want to lead the public towards a reformist path.
Leung’s entry in the CE race is thus a contest for the moral (not political) leadership of that coalition, which includes both a younger right-wing nativist movement and the much older left-wing socialist movement. He is keen on preserving the visibility and vitality of the left wing and securing a greater role for its future.
The ‘left’ deserves more than a cursory treatment because its influence has been persistent and its promises have always been alluring.
Leftists believe that the goods of this world are unjustly distributed, and that the fault lies not in human nature but in usurpations practiced by a dominant class. They define themselves in opposition to established power. They are the champions of a new order that will rectify the ancient grievance of the oppressed.
They justify their aims with two key ideas: ‘social justice’ and liberation.
’Social justice’ means here to have ‘respect as an equal’, as opposed to ‘equal respect’. It is not the justice of voluntary individual dealings but the “justice” imposed by a plan that invariably deprives individuals of things they have acquired by fair dealings in the market.
The leftist goal is thus a comprehensive rearrangement of society, which amplifies and legitimizes resentment and turns it into the existential posture of the one whom the world has betrayed. Such a person does not seek to negotiate within existing structures, but to gain total power so as to abolish the system itself.
What does the left promise as the alternative to this system?
Mostly negatives! Occasional lip service is paid to a future state of ‘emancipation’, ‘equality’, or ‘social justice’. But those terms seldom go beyond the realm of abstractions, or receive serious examination.
In a moment of doubt about the socialist record, Sir Eric Hobsbawm, famous English Marxist historian, once wrote: ‘We know nothing of the socialist future, save only that it is both necessary and desirable. Our concern is with the ‘compelling’ case against the present, which leads us to destroy what we lack knowledge to replace.”
A case close to home was the refusal of the pan-democrats to stake out any concrete position on reforming the political arrangements for electing the Chief Executive in 2017 through universal suffrage, beyond a populist hand-waving abstraction called direct public nominations. The leftists successfully hijacked the entire pan-democratic coalition on that occasion. And that is why today Hong Kong still has to struggle with the CE Election Committee.
The people of Hong Kong have certainly been disappointed by the turn of events in the past three years. They wish to end the division and rebuild workable partnerships between different sectors of society. Any hope for improvement must begin with amending the tense relation between the executive and legislative branches of government.
This has to be premised on a shared interest in improving governance, not promoting political gridlock. A more unified pan-democratic coalition that is not hijacked by leftist tendencies would open a door to political reform in which barriers to political participation were lowered and universal suffrage became a realistic hope in our time.
Will the new voices on the Election Committee choose wisely?