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Doomed revolutions

It’s better that hopeless uprisings fizzle out quickly

28 September 2019

9:00 AM

28 September 2019

9:00 AM

Some revolutions such as the American War of Independence, succeed and result in the birth of great nations. Some, such as the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions, succeed and result in death and destruction on a vast scale. Right now, we are watching two revolutionary struggles, right on our doorstep, which have no hope of succeeding and, the sooner they fail, the fewer the number of people who will die.

Marxist historian E. P. Thompson described the Paris commune of May 1968 as a ‘rich kids’ revolutionary farce.’ The same could be said of what is going on in Hong Kong today where tens of thousands of students supported by perhaps millions of citizens are trying to prevent China’s totalitarian regime from sucking the life out of the institutions established by the British.

Of course, the students on the barricades in Paris were Marxists and socialists who were fighting to establish a utopian socialist paradise. The students of Hong Kong have seen the reality of socialist utopias and are having none of it. But the struggles in both Hong Kong today and Paris in May 1968, involve young idealistic students who are, or were, trying to change their respective worlds. If the students in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou universities voiced support for the Hong Kong students, they might have had a chance to succeed in some limited aims. But the mainland students are keeping their heads in their books or whatever device they use instead of books today. Louisa Lim, an Australian academic, wrote, in The People’s Republic of Amnesia, a depressing account of how the Chinese government expunged the memory of the Tiananmen massacre from the citizenry. But perhaps the reason why the mainland students are not voicing support for their Hong Kong comrades is precisely because they haven’t entirely forgotten what took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

One can only hope that the Hong Kong unrest fizzles out in the same way that it did in Paris, half a century ago, because, if it doesn’t, then sooner or later, it will be crushed. Unlike de Gaulle, Comrade Xi will have no qualms about turning his tanks on his fellow citizens. And if the Hong Kong protests presage a looming disaster, the independence movements in Papua and West Papua promise to be an even greater catastrophe. Whatever the outcome, the Melanesian population of the region will suffer. If the independence movements grow, Indonesia will simply apply more force. Like the Chinese government, the Indonesian government will not tolerate any form of independence for its provinces and the Indonesian troops will have no problems shooting a few Melanesian ‘monkeys’ to suppress trouble.

Even if, by some strange miracle, Papua and West Papua were to gain independence, it would solve nothing as we have Papua New Guinea to show us what the future would hold for an independent West Papua. PNG became independent in 1974 and, without the billions of dollars donated by Australia, would now be a failed state. If Indonesia was ever forced to grant independence to Papua, it would not continue to provide development assistance and someone else would have to pick up the bill and that would have to be either us or China, as no-one else in the region has deep enough pockets.

Almost no one in the region supports independence for the Melanesian provinces of Indonesia. Even the PNG Government doesn’t support independence for their Melanesian brothers on the Western half of the island of New Guinea. The Australian Greens, of course, support the idea of a free vote by the people of West Papua. Doubtless, the Greens with their huge financial resources would be happy to replace Indonesia as the provider of the billions of dollars required to provide basic services to the Papuans.

The struggle for independence by Indonesia’s Melanesians has persisted for half a century and looks as if it will continue indefinitely. The Hong Kong struggle will not be allowed to drag on for anywhere like that amount of time. Unless the young citizens of Hong Kong and their supporters give up, it is only a matter of time before mass arrests and worse emerge. When a revolution must be crushed, as Macbeth said in another context, ‘‘twere well it were done quickly.’

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