July 2, 2012 § Leave a Comment
On a perennially hot July Sunday afternoon, in between bright signs, bubble tea and ridiculously cute cartoon characters, Ximending is where Taipei’s teens hang out. Pop music – Western, Japanese, Korean – blares from every storefront, and outside an ice cream shop offering flavours such as green tea and durian, Nancy, a 16-year-old high schooler, doesn’t see much chance of Taiwan unifying with the mainland.
“Taiwan is Taiwan,” she says, a sentiment that recurs throughout the day.
“It could, but I hope it doesn’t,” says Vincent, her classmate.
“I think it’s gotten worse in Hong Kong… Any slide towards communism is inherently bad,” opines Mitchell, a 16-year-old Taiwanese-American, working as a summer intern in an insurance company. Unification is pretty unlikely, he thinks, while China is still undemocratic and while America still has anything to do with it.
Further up the road, the National San-Chung Commercial and Industrial Vocational High School Dance Society is performing to raise money for the group. To a hip-hop and electro soundtrack, there is popping, locking, and moves worthy of any K-pop troupe from both sexes. What was intended to be a small conversation with one or two members quickly becomes a group interview as I catch them at the end of the performance. Could they see Taiwan come under the same system of governance as Hong Kong?
“Bu hui! (It couldn’t!)” comes the resounding response. “Taiwan is an independent country,” replies one boy. “We like our independence,” continues another girl. What would they prefer to see in the future – reunification, independence or the status quo?
“Stay the same!” comes almost in unison, an answer which comes as frequently from the youth of Taipei as the assertion that “Taiwan is Taiwan”. Indeed, a recent poll shows that though many Taiwanese youth believe in Taiwan’s independence, they take a more pragmatic approach, and wouldn’t be willing to fight for it.
As Vice-Chair of the Mainland Affairs committee stresses Taiwan’s independence and its distinction from Hong Kong, the chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference calls for a strengthening of pro-reunification forces, and Beijing offers an economic carrot in the form of a 600 billion RMB bank loan. Meanwhile, in both Hong Kong and in Taiwan, citizens refuse to identify with the idea of being “Chinese” and see themselves as apart from the mainland.
For these youths, grown up in an era of a nominally unified mainland, Hong Kong does not provide a model for the future, but neither do its struggles take high priority. Both sides in the debate over Taiwan’s future are yet to gain traction with Taiwanese youth with other matters on their minds.
January 30, 2012 § 2 Comments
A spectre is haunting NCAFC. The spectre of unity.
This being the first conference of this kind I had attended, I was interested to see how it turned out. What happened was almost farce. NCAFC became an ideological battleground between the SWP and the AWL who distracted entirely from what we were there for.
The safe space policy was repeatedly violated; this much is true. Interruptions, heckling and general disrespect for the chair led to several shameful incidents. Those who most flouted the policy then turned around and were outraged at the other attendees when their behaviour pushed Women’s and Anti-Racist issues out of the bounds of the allotted time.
However, that policy itself seemed arbitrary and poorly designed. Bans on applause I can understand if only for the purpose of time constraints (and the conference was, by the end of it, extremely constrained for time.) Bans on “Occupy”-style hand signals seemed not only arbitrarily enforced but unnecessary and a distraction when actually enforced.
The safe space policy needs to be clearly outlined ahead of time and displayed publicly where all can see it. I hope that the newly formed working group can resolve these issues. In light of the general disorder of the conference, I hope they can adapt standardised rules of order or if they have already been adapted, ensure they are enforced through proper training of chairpersons.
The main problem, however, is declaration of unity. “Unity” is an awful, insidious word when it comes to Left Politics. Rhetorical declarations of Left unity are not only useless but, ironically, divisive. I saw this as the conference spent hours debating whether or not to place Oxford commas in the list of organisations it was or was not allied with.
Unity as expressed in text form helps nothing. “Solidarity” as a buzzword is wonderful but empty. The only way to be unified is through action. We must propose genuine, concrete tactics in conferences, oriented toward tangible goals, and then these plans must be debated until all factions are in agreement. This is the only way forward.
I am not in favour of factionalism. But factionalism is an inevitability that the Left cannot overcome. We must change the way we view it. This post on “Geek Social Fallacies” identifies many of the problems that the Student Left deals with in the face of factionalism. All of them could be applied to NCAFC. Divisions are normal; divisions are unavoidable; hell, divisions are healthy.
The more resources spent trying to combat factionalism, the more bitterly entrenched factions become, and the more we squabble, the more we allow the government to run roughshod over working people. Instead of trying to fight factions, we must realise that they cannot be avoided, and that our comparatively minute ideological differences are currently irrelevant in the face of the mounting full-on assault on public services and on the working class.
This is not to say that the NCAFC conference was entirely awful. I am glad that we are working in conjunction with UCU’s industrial action on March 1st as well as resolving to take further action. I also have confidence in the members of the newly-elected National Committee, including Aidan Turner, Naomi Beecroft and SOAS’s own Kristian Bruun and Maham Hashmi-Khan. Many resolutions were made, and although the process was slow, painstaking and fraught, some progress was made.
I have no objection to the passing of the resolution on Iran. I am aware that NCAFC’s opinion has little effect on whether or not war grows from a possibility to a reality, but should it become a more pressing issue, NCAFC should link with other anti-war groups. As Birkbeck’s Sean Rillo-Raczka pointed out, money funding war is money that does not fund public services.
However, I was disturbed by “anti-Imperialist” arguments that suggested that any criticism of Ahmadinejad’s regime is jostling for war. It is entirely possible to oppose the crimes of the current Iranian ruling class against trade unionists, LGBT citizens and dissidents without demanding Eurofighters over Tehran. The situation in Iran must change. For better or for worse, as the Arab Spring has showed, change in the Middle-East must come from indigenous movements. We must support them, not in the Trotskyist fashion of “trying to make our ideas their ideas” but on the terms of the Iranian people.
Getting back to the conference itself, it showed severe room for improvement in its processes. Action is needed. Not action on NCAFC itself. Action towards our actual goals IS action on NCAFC itself. Only by forgetting squabbles about “unity” and resolving to act toward our original purpose can we be “united”.