For the 16th year running, tens of thousands of Hong Kong people turned out on Sunday, July 1, for the annual ‘7.1’ anti-government demonstration. The main slogan of the day was “End one-party dictatorship!” – a slogan the dictatorship is trying to ban.
 
July 1 is the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule after 156 years as a British colony. But since 2003 it has been consecrated as a day of mass protest. This was after a huge mobilisation of 500,000 people that year defeated the government’s attempt to impose ‘Article 23’ national security legislation to severely curtail political and democratic rights. Today, the government is working to revive ‘Article 23’ legislation along with a raft of other anti-democratic measures.

This year the ‘7.1’ demonstration marked one year in office for Chief Executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, elected with just 777 votes in a Beijing-controlled election committee. Lam’s rule has seen unprecedented political repression and attacks on democratic rights. These attacks from the local Hong Kong government were on full display in the run up to the ‘7.1’ demo.

Police manoeuvres
 
Police refused to allow the march to start from its customary assembly point and instead gave this area to pro-Beijing groups whose application was made later. Police then threatened to arrest marchers if they refused to accept and follow the new more restrictive march route. Huge media coverage in the preceding weeks predicted a showdown between marchers and the police. Meanwhile, Ta Kung Pao - a vitriolic daily paper owned by the Chinese ‘Communist’ Party dictatorship - called for the demo to be banned altogether claiming it “violates the law and the constitution”.
 
On the day, there was no clash. The police are not confident that if they provoked a confrontation they would come out on top in terms of public opinion. The police threats of recent weeks were psychological warfare to scare people from joining the march.

The turnout was lower this year - around 50,000 - but still a powerful protest. It comes four weeks after 115,000 people rallied for the annual June 4 vigil, commemorating the Chinese dictatorship’s massacre of youth and workers fighting for democracy in 1989.

Rather than the government and police propaganda campaign, the main factor limiting the turnout was the lack of a clear lead from the main pro-democracy parties - the pan-democrats - who have been in full-scale political retreat since Lam came to power.

“They have failed to put forward any new strategy of struggle against the authoritarian government,” commented Jaco of Socialist Action. “Despite the weakness of the leadership, 50,000 came out today. If the movement was linked to a clear call for strike action, starting with a one-day citywide strike, and issued an appeal to mainland Chinese workers and youth, this would get a much bigger echo.”

Election ban
 
The government and mainstream media have seized upon the lower turnout to ramp up their propaganda campaign. “The smallest turnout ever for July 1,” has been the main theme of the establishment, suggesting that support for the democracy struggle is fading away.

In previous years, the government’s reaction to the ‘7.1’ march has been low-key and circumspect. It would issue a statement saying it “understands” public concerns. This year has been different. The government has gone on the offensive saying slogans against dictatorship are not in the “overall interests” of Hong Kong.

A government press release said “chanting slogans which disrespect ‘one country’ and disregard the constitutional order, or which are sensational and misleading, are not in line with Hong Kong’s overall interests and would undermine its development.”

In particular the government is stepping up pressure against the slogan “End one-party dictatorship!”. They are lining up to force opposition election candidates to disavow this slogan or be banned from standing. This propaganda does not much affect the mood of ordinary workers and youth whose anger is growing, but it can terrify the ‘moderate’ pan-democrats who are anyway uncomfortable with the concept of mass struggle and want to avoid a fight with the government at any cost.

Unprecedented attacks
 
New attacks on democratic rights are pummelling Hong Kong as the local government and Beijing attempt to incapacitate the democracy movement. The struggle for democratic rights in Hong Kong since before 2003 and, in fact, stretching back to the 1989 mass struggle in China, has mobilised millions – in a city of 7.3 million.

The Umbrella Revolution of 2014 saw 1.2 million take part in rallies, occupations and anti-government protests during a record 79-day standoff. This movement was the biggest political challenge to the Chinese dictatorship, now under absolute ruler Xi Jinping, since the mass movement of 1989. The government’s repressive measures today are an attempt to prevent any repetition, but this is ultimately doomed to fail especially when political developments in China catch up with and, quite possibly, surpass those in Hong Kong.

Socialist Action ran stalls along the route of the ‘7.1’ demonstration with the new issue of the ‘Socialist’ (社會主義者) magazine.

“Our slogans for the demo were ‘Rebuild a fighting democratic movement!’ and ‘Down with dictatorship!’,” said Jaco. “We link this to the need for a mass workers’ party with socialist policies and to spread the mass struggle to China,” he said.

“Our message is that the anti-authoritarian struggle also needs to be anti-capitalist – that is the only way to defeat the dictatorship.”

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