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Massive protest movement against school brainwashing plan

www.socialistworld.net, 14/09/2012
website of the committee for a workers' international, CWI

Mass movement develops rapidly, then its leaders call a sudden halt

Socialist Action (CWI in Hong Kong)

Not many governments can match the record of Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying (“CY”) for pushing so many angry people to join street protests in so short a time. In the eleven weeks since CY came to power we have seen 400,000 marching against him on his first day in office, July 1, followed by 90,000 marching on July 29 against his patriotic education curriculum, followed when the school term began with a nine-day siege of the government complex at Tamar, with protest numbers swelling to 120,000. Polls show 77 percent are opposed to the new education policy, which is nationalistic and glorifies the role of China’s allegedly ‘communist’ dictatorship.

Suddenly, without any democratic discussion, the mostly middle-class leaders of the Tamar protest movement announced through the media that they were calling off the mass protests. This u-turn was announced on the eve of the four-yearly elections to the legislature, on Sunday September 9, after CY announced a partial retreat in waiving the three-year deadline for introducing the new curriculum as a compulsory school subject. The school student campaign initiated by CWI comrades, called School Strike Against Brainwashing, which was an active and growing force in the mass Tamar protests, commented in a press release that “a historic movement has been cut short prematurely, before achieving its main aims. The government of Leung Chun-ying is in deep crisis and could have been pressed into much bigger concessions.” (The full statement is carried below).

The decision to dissolve the mass protests, while causing some confusion about the extent of the CY’s concessions and how to respond, has not dissipated the anti-brainwashing movement or the anger of the youth, schoolteachers and others involved. On September 11, a half-day strike in the university sector met with a huge response, with 8,000 students attending a protest rally, the biggest such action in Hong Kong since the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement. The first article below is an eyewitness account of last week’s mass mobilisations written by a visiting CWI comrade. The second article is the statement by CWI member Sally Tang Mei-ching on behalf of the School Strike Against Brainwashing campaign criticising the decision to end the Tamar mass protests.

Despite these internal contradictions, Occupy Tamar went into the weekend with a full head of steam. School Strike Against Brainwashing held its largest organising meeting ever, on September 8, followed by a press conference covered by most TV and newspapers. Near the end of the meeting, which decided to call on the leading groups to organise a strike of secondary students in late September, the announcement came: CY had flinched.

But it was only a partial retreat; the national education policy could still be implemented by schools on a ‘voluntary’ basis. This means the schools controlled by pro-CCP forces will push ahead and can then exert pressure on other schools to follow suit. As we went to Occupy Tamar that night, the crowd was pulsing with a sense of empowerment and joy. Over 100,000 people were united in celebration. Thousands of leaflets and stickers calling for a school strike were distributed, and it looked like the university strike on September 11 would be much bigger than originally anticipated. The possibility that this movement could grow to not just defeat the brainwashing plan, but to also take down CY’s government was hanging in the air.

After the rally, most people went home and the occupiers started settling in for the night. Then suddenly, at around 2 o’clock in the morning, an announcement was made that the Tamar mass protests were to end. All tents should be removed the following day, Sunday.

Returning on Sunday evening, Tamar Park was empty. A few families were strolling through with their children. But there were few signs of the massive protest from the nights before.

A group of 30 to 40 people were attempting to maintain the occupation. One young teacher said that he had no idea how the decision to call off the occupation was made. He said that it was wrong to call off the occupation, that it was necessary to keep fighting against the national education plan.

Socialist Action (CWI in Hong Kong)

Why calling off the Tamar mass protests was a serious mistake

Sally Tang Mei-ching, School Strike Against Brainwashing「全港大罷課行動」(first published on 10 September)

At 1.30am on September 9 – after most of the 100,000 protesters had gone home (the third largest mobilisation since July 29) – the leaders of the Tamar protest movement decided to call off the protests. School Strike Against Brainwashing disagrees with the timing and method by which this decision was taken – by a ‘small circle’ of leading activists from the Civil Alliance Against National Education.

In our opinion, a historic movement has been cut short prematurely, before achieving its main aims. The government of Leung Chun-ying is in deep crisis and could have been pressed into much bigger concessions. The government feared for its very survival. If the mass protests had continued even for one or two more days it is highly likely that the national education policy would have been unconditionally scrapped. Now the movement must be rebuilt, it must regroup to go forward, recognizing that a historic possibility has unfortunately been wasted. The most important now is to understand the vital lessons of this movement.

Has the anti-brainwashing movement achieved its aims?

Even Alliance spokespeople, in calling off their action, admit that the struggle is not yet won. Leung Chun-ying’s removal of the three-year deadline, while a significant partial retreat, still means the authorities can push ahead with national education on a ‘stealth’ basis, school by school. After demobilising the mass protests, the Alliance say they are concerned that the government is still issuing guidelines for schools to implement the national education curriculum. This shows they acted rashly in calling off the movement before such ‘details’ were resolved.

Previously the Alliance constituent organisations (Scholarism, HKPTU, Parents’ Concern Group and Christian groups) vowed to continue the struggle until the national education plan was completely withdrawn. But unfortunately, by abruptly halting ‘this stage’ of the protests (the week-long and still growing mass siege of the Tamar government complex), it will be harder to mobilise in such huge numbers again. The reality is that the powerful forward momentum of the mass struggle has been disrupted – mass movements cannot be turned on and off like a tap!

Many activists naturally hope that this will not be the end of the struggle. School Strike Against Brainwashing are not defeatists – we will continue and step up our campaign activities. But we also have to face the truth: that the shock decision to dissolve the mass protests, its timing and the manner in which it was done, have shifted the struggle from last week’s extremely favourable forward march to a situation that is more complicated.

What type of movement was Tamar – why was it cancelled early?

The Tamar protests were not only about national education even if this issue was the spark. The daily mobilisation of huge crowds resembled the Arab Spring and other mass struggles such as the US ‘Occupy’ movement. The movement vastly exceeded the expectations of the Alliance leaders. It began to overstep its original aims and become a more generalized anti-government struggle against CY’s undemocratic regime and the Chinese dictatorship. Thunderous chants of “Down with CY” showed the radicalized mood of the participants. The leaders of the Alliance wanted to limit the struggle only to the issue of national education and prevent it becoming “too political”. As the week progressed the itinerary of the mass protests was depoliticized, with music and artistic performances taking up more and more time. When the Goddess of Democracy statue was brought by some university students to Tamar, it was sent away by the Alliance, who seemed anxious to avoid the obvious comparisons to the mass youth movement of 1989.

The Alliance leadership became nervous that the movement was getting out of their control and acquiring very radical features. School Strike Against Brainwashing activists were harassed by Alliance stewards for giving out leaflets and stickers calling for a strike. We defended our right to participate and campaign and we got support from other demonstrators, many thousands of whom signed our petitions for a strike.

School Strike Against Brainwashing do not only speak up for our right to campaign in this way – to collect signatures and donations and spread leaflets – this should be the democratic right of all organisations that are active in the anti-brainwashing struggle, or any other mass struggle. A mass movement cannot be monopolised by just one viewpoint (this is precisely what we oppose in mainland China) – it must be democratic and inclusive, with all groups having the right to express their views on building the struggle.

The attempt by the Alliance to impose top-down control of the movement and to avoid ‘politics’ and ‘too radical’ methods, were surely important factors behind their decision to cancel the mass protests so suddenly.

How should decisions be taken?

On September 9, in the early hours following a 100,000-strong demonstration, representatives of the Alliance announced the end of daily mass protests. We and all other groups and individuals involved in mobilising for this struggle have a legitimate right to ask how this decision was arrived at – and why it was not referred to any broader forum for discussion and debate? No mass struggle involving hundreds of thousands of people is the ‘property’ of any specific grouping, regardless of how hard its activists may have laboured to build the movement.

A democratic leadership has a responsibility to insure all major decisions – especially the decision to call off a massive protest movement – are discussed and understood by the mass of the participants. This was not the case with the decision of September 9. Thousands of youth were still at the Tamar complex when the decision was announced and significant numbers began to chant slogans that they wanted to continue the mass ‘siege’, but their appeals were ignored. As far as we can see, most members of Scholarism were not consulted about the decision to call off the protests.

The leaders of the Alliance acted in the manner of a ‘small circle’ giving themselves the sole right, through the mass media, to call off the movement. If the Tamar camp participants were ‘tired’, as has been claimed in the media, then there was no shortage of new volunteers among the crowds. With democratic structures and involvement, it is easier to draw greater numbers into the daily running of any struggle. But without democratic involvement in decision-making then any leading group, no matter how hard working or sincere, can misjudge the mood of the masses, make tactical mistakes or be unduly influenced by threats and bullying tactics from the government side.

Democracy in a mass struggle, through elected committees at every level, is not an optional ‘luxury’ – it is vital to the success of the movement!

Won’t the anti-brainwashing struggle continue in a new form?

We must all work energetically to insure that the movement continues until a full victory is achieved. But we must also learn from what has just happened. We must be realistic and recognize that the decision to call off the mass protests in this sudden and high-handed manner makes the next stage of the struggle more difficult than would otherwise have been the case.

The Federation of Students’ call for class boycotts on September 11 would of course have been more effective if the daily Tamar assemblies had continued. There is no contradiction in staging several different forms of action – including strike action – alongside an occupation and daily mass mobilisations. Who says that a mass movement can only do one thing at a time? If democratic committees and organisations are built in all schools and local areas, instead of leaving all decision making to a relatively small group of ‘leaders’, then the energies of a mass movement and capacities to improvise new actions are limitless.

What about strike action?

School Strike Against Brainwashing has since July advocated a school strike as the most effective method to win a complete victory in this struggle. A strike poses the issue of power in the workplace, and represents a more direct challenge to the government’s education policy. Our strike proposal has been opposed openly by leaders of the Alliance, as being ‘too radical’, while others – including some members of Scholarism – say that the issue of a strike has “not been discussed yet”. This shows that rather than showing a lead, the organisations that make up the Alliance are behind the curve as far as this struggle is concerned. Other forces, including largely unorganized youth, are coming forward with more radical ideas, while the Alliance is trying to hold the struggle back.

So when they decided to call off the mass Tamar protests, the Alliance leaders did not replace it with any alternative strategy or method of struggle such as calling for a strike. The movement has put down one tool without picking up another – it has been left empty-handed! [Fortunately, since this was written, the success of the university students’ strike on September 11 means the struggle is still progressing and has actually shifted focus with the issue of the strike being more central than before – Editorial note]

The Alliance could have announced the date for a one-day strike during the 100,000-strong Tamar protests. This would have insured overwhelming participation in a strike. The mere announcement of a strike could have forced much greater concessions from CY, who was under massive pressure. Instead the Tamar protest leaders seem to be saying that the masses should go home and wait until they, ‘the leaders’ decide what to do next. This is not the way to build a mass campaign that can achieve victory.

What about tiredness?

One reason offered by Alliance leaders for justifying their u-turn on September 9 is that the ‘core group’ of Tamar occupiers were tired. This is a surprising explanation – the Tamar protests were only in their seventh day! The original Occupy Wall Street movement, which resonated around the world, continued their first intensive occupation phase in New York for over two months and did not leave voluntarily, but were cleared by the police.

Can the tiredness of a relatively small group of core activists really be grounds for demobilizing not just them, but also the mass rallies? This sounds like an excuse. Even without the campsite at Tamar, the organisers could have called for the daily mass rallies to continue. The campsite was not essential – the key was the mass mobilisation. In Eastern Europe, when the Stalinist one-party dictatorships were brought down in 1989, there was no ‘occupation’ – only wave after wave of mass demonstrations and also strikes in some countries. If tiredness was sapping the functions of the core group of activists, they should have opened outwards to other organisations and to the wider masses. A major weakness of the Alliance model for mobilising this movement is that they seem to regard the activities of a relatively small group of ‘insiders’ as the main focus, while the masses are merely called upon to support them like ‘film extras’. As far as School Strike Against Brainwashingis concerned it should be precisely the other way around. The mass movement is decisive while the stage shows and other ‘activities’ of the core activists are not.

When the mass movement was cancelled it was still rising. The fact cited by some Scholarism supporters that ‘only’ 100,000 turned out on Saturday September 8, compared to 120,000 the night before, is not evidence of a downturn. No mass struggle rises according to an exact mathematical progression, but by periodic peaks and intervals. Especially if the Alliance had called from the stage at Tamar for a one-day school strike, to build on the example of the students’ 911 action, the movement would have continued to grow and to adopt fighting methods.

What about the hunger strikers?

It is a similarly weak argument from the Alliance to use health concerns for the hunger strikers as a reason for cancelling the mass protests. A decision could have been taken to halt the hunger strike, but continue the mass protests. Nobody would have challenged this, precisely because of the health risks associated with hunger striking as a form of protest. The Tamar hunger strike was anyway only a symbolic one, rotating for a few days at a time. A real hunger strike (fast-to-the-death) is an extreme method of struggle – to be exercised with great caution. Those participating in the mass demonstrations appreciated the sacrifice of the Tamar hunger strikers, but the movement was in no way dependent on this in order to continue.

What lessons should we draw?

In a mass struggle, hard work, enthusiasm and good intentions are not enough; tactics and an understanding of the dynamics of a mass movement are needed as well as a democratically accountable leadership. In launching School Strike Against Brainwashing we looked at the lessons of the revolutionary mass struggles in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as the mass struggle in China in 1989. There are important lessons in all of these movements.

No movement goes forward in a straight line; there are ebbs and flows. In the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the demonstrators in Tahrir Square fell to a few hundreds on some days only to see new high points reaching millions. The same happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The masses cannot be ‘professional demonstrators’ – they have families, jobs and schools to go to. They will come to demonstrate especially when they feel the movement has a clear goal – a strategy –and is not just blindly repeating the same thing day after day. The key is a leadership which is accountable through elected committees to the masses, and can propose the necessary tactical steps to escalate the struggle when needed.

In Beijing 1989 and Egypt 2011 too, the issue of strikes by workers, including a general strike, were posed. In Beijing this happened too late (the student leaders were opposed to a general strike), when the masses were beginning to tire and the regime was already crushing the movement. In Egypt in February 2011, the strikes spreading through the factories were the decisive ingredient that toppled the dictator Mubarak. We must learn from these important struggles, their mistakes and strengths, in order to build a successful mass movement to defeat not just national education but also CY’s undemocratic government.



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NEWS

Video: Socialist MP condemns Troika/Irish government’s bullying of Greek voters
01/07/2015, :
Paul Murphy TD (Irish MP) attacks Irish prime minister’s collusion with Brussels big business agenda and voices solidarity with Greek workers

Is China’s stock market bubble bursting?
01/07/2015, Dikang, chinaworker.info:
Billions wiped off share values in June – only the Greek stock market is more volatile

South Africa: The Marikana Report – a whitewash
30/06/2015, Weizmann Hamilton, Workers’ and Socialist Party (WASP):
Not a stone has been left unturned on the political landscape

Tunisia: Terrorist atrocity in Sousse
29/06/2015, Statement by Al-Badil al-Ishtiraki (Socialist Alternative, CWI in Tunisia):
For a renewed mass movement against poverty and terror

Greece: “NO”
27/06/2015, Statement by Xekinima (CWI in Greece):
On Sunday 5 July, we say “no” to the gang of the lenders!

Germany: Indefinite strike for more staff at Charité hospital
26/06/2015, Aron Amm, Sozialistische Alternative (CWI in Germany):
Berlin industrial dispute of national importance

Greece: Where are mass solidarity protests with Syriza?
26/06/2015, Eleni Mitsou, from Xekinima (CWI Greece) website:
Troika must be defied – No more cuts! Don’t pay the debt! Socialist policies would win huge backing from Greek workers

Egypt: Counter-revolution continues
25/06/2015, David Johnson, Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales):
Recent strikes show workers will resist

Video: Paul Murphy appeals to Greek Left - Reject the blackmail
24/06/2015, socialistworld.net:
CWI MP speaks in Irish parliament

Scotland: 1,000s rally against austerity
24/06/2015, Matt Dobson and Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland (CWI):
Ferry workers’ strike over jobs, pay, pensions and privatisation

Video: Socialist MP condemns Troika’s blackmail of Greece
24/06/2015, socialistworld.net:
"Minister Noonan lined up with Schauble, he said tighten the noose, he stabbed the Greek people in the chest and the Irish people in the back"

Greece: “Despite spin, Syriza proposals terrible for pensioners and workers”
23/06/2015, Andreas Payiatsos and Niall Mulholland:
SYRIZA Left must vote against cave-in deal with Troika and act in interests of workers!

Britain: 100,000s protest against austerity
23/06/2015, From Socialist Party website (CWI England & Wales):
Socialist Party says: "Organise! Strike! Resist! Build for a 24-hour general strike!"

Brazil: No to sackings and political persecution in Sabesp
22/06/2015, André Ferrari, LSR (CWI in Brazil):
Reinstate Marzeni now – Solidarity needed!

Ireland North: 20,000 protesters demand LGBT rights
21/06/2015, Kevin Henry, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), Belfast:
To end oppression we need to fight to end this system, uniting working people, fighting for equality

Britain: Can Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge help to develop the socialist left?
20/06/2015, Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary:
Left candidate in Labour Party leadership contest

Hong Kong: Fake democracy roundly rejected in legislative vote
19/06/2015, Socialist Action reporters in Hong Kong:
Government proposals end in fiasco as Beijing loyalists misjudge voting rules

Ireland: Socialist MPs’ Employment Equality Bill passed
18/06/2015, Oisin Kelly, Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland):
Bill would end the right of religiously run schools, hospitals and other workplaces to discriminate against LGBTQ workers

China: Life sentence for former security boss
16/06/2015, Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info:
Secret trial of Zhou Yongkang

Turkey: Historical breakthrough for the left as AKP suffers its worst defeat in 13 years
15/06/2015, Michael Gehmacher SLP (CWI in Austria) & Sosyalist Alternatif (CWI in Turkey) reporters:
What future for the HDP?

Italy: Regional elections
13/06/2015, Marco Veruggio, Controcorrente (CWI in Italy):
Myth of Prime Minister’s invincibility exposed

Greece: Solidarity needed with Vodafone strike
12/06/2015, Alexandros Prandunas, Xekinima (CWI in Greece):
Appeal for international solidarity action on 25 June

Iceland: Strike wave produces results
11/06/2015, Per-Åke Westerlund (CWI Sweden):
Workers win thirty percent wage increase over three years

Greece: Crunch-time for Syriza?
10/06/2015, Niall Mulholland, from The Socialist, Issue 859, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales):
Workers and poor cannot take more calamitous austerity

Germany: Multiple strikes mark changed situation
09/06/2015, Sascha Stanicic from Sozialistische Alternative (CWI in Germany):
Strikes in numerous sectors as workers fail to benefit from “recovery”

Pakistan: Protest song by Jawad Ahmed
08/06/2015, socialistworld.net:
Response to anti-worker measures in Pakistani budget

CWI Comment and Analysis

ANALYSIS

Greece: Troika threatens Greeks ahead of referendum
30/06/2015, Andreas Payiatsos and Niall Mulholland:
Vote ‘No’! For a mass working class campaign to oppose Troika and for socialist policies!

Britain’s class battle-lines are drawn
26/06/2015, Hannah Sell, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales) Deputy General Secretary - article from ’Socialism Today’:
A quarter-of-a-million people protested through London and Glasgow raising the need for trade union-led struggle

Greece: Tsipras retreats before Troika threats
24/06/2015, Statement by Xekinima (CWI Greece) [dated 23 June 2015]:
What should the SYRIZA Left do next?

Greece: No surrender to‘Gang of Lenders’
22/06/2015, Editorial article from Xekinima (CWI Greece) [dated 17 June 2015]:
Plan an anti-austerity fight-back, with socialist policies!

Iraq/Syria: US imperialist strategy in tatters
12/06/2015, Serge Jordan (CWI):
A year after ISIS captured Mosul, the jihadist group controls about half of Syria and a third of Iraq – more territory than ever before

Greece: Syriza voters want austerity ended, not another ’compromise’ Troika deal
04/06/2015, Editorial article from Xekinima (CWI Greece) website [dated 3 June 2015]:
Break with the austerity - adopt a socialist programme!

China: Is China heading for a new Tiananmen?
04/06/2015, Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info:
26th anniversary of the Beijing massacre on June 4, 1989, is also a warning of revolutionary shocks ahead

Hong Kong: Endgame for Beijing’s fake democracy plan
03/06/2015, Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info:
Government’s electoral reform proposals meet with mass opposition

Spain: Victories for Left “popular unity” lists in local elections
02/06/2015, Danny Byrne, CWI:
Two-party system dealt a new blow in local and regional elections

Belgium: Momentum to bring down right wing government lost
01/06/2015, Els Deschoemacker and Eric Byl, LSP/PSL (Belgian section of the CWI), Brussels:
Learn from the struggle, as new opportunities open up

Ireland: Massive ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality referendum
28/05/2015, Conor Payne, Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland):
Growing opposition to conservative establishment

Britain: The struggles to come
27/05/2015, Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party (CWI England and Wales) General Secretary:
No fundamental change to be expected from the Labour Party

Canada’s ‘carbo-state’
26/05/2015, Bill Hopwood, Socialist Alternative (CWI Canada):
Only a socialist alternative can challenge the carbo-capitalists’ grip on Canadian politics

Iraq/Syria: ISIS rout national armies at Ramadi and Palmyra
23/05/2015, Niall Mulholland, CWI:
United working class movement needed to sweep away sectarian militias and reactionary politicians

Ireland North: Election marks growing rejection of sectarian status quo
21/05/2015, Daniel Waldron and Kevin Henry, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), Belfast:
Opportunities to build new anti-sectarian political voice for working class and youth

Spain: Is Podemos in crisis?
20/05/2015, Danny Byrne, CWI:
Left and social movements in a state of flux, as key elections loom

USA: Presidential candidate declares "political revolution" against billionaires
12/05/2015, Philip Locker, Socialist Alternative, Seattle:
Campaign needs to build independent political power

Britain: Fight against "five more damned years" of Tory rule
12/05/2015, Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party )CWI England & Wales) General Secretary:
Labour leader’s ’responsible capitalism’ shows its bankruptcy

China: “In a hard landing now”
11/05/2015, Dikang, chinaworker.info:
Stock market frenzy and fabricated GDP figures cannot hide the reality of an economy in deep trouble

Ireland North: Socialist Party replies to leading Sinn Fein councillor’s attacks
06/05/2015, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) Statement:
How to fight cuts, sectarianism and to build workers’ unity

May Day 2015: Socialist plan or capitalist chaos
01/05/2015, Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party General Secretary, (CWI England & Wales):
What sort of new society are we struggling for?

Nepal: Disaster in Nepal –amplified by capitalism
30/04/2015, TU Senan, CWI:
Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the south Asian region has been further devastated by the recent earthquake.

May Day 2015: Resisting austerity, exploitation, wars and oppression
28/04/2015, CWI:
125 years since first May Day – Build a united workers’ movement for socialism!

Latin America: A new turn?
25/04/2015, Tony Saunois, article from May issue of Socialism Today, magazine of the Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales):
Historic handshake between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, turmoil in Venezuela, and stalled reforms in Bolivia – as well as crises in Brazil – symbolise a new turn in Latin America and the Caribbean

Iran: Proposed nuclear deal reflects transformed Middle East
24/04/2015, Robert Bechert, CWI:
In aftermath of disastrous Iraq occupation, Obama administration balancing between region’s forces