Hong Kong: June 4 vigil “biggest ever” say police

150,000 people attended the Victoria Park candlelight vigil to commemorate the 21st anniversary of 1989 Beijing massacre (video)

The huge 2010 turnout follows last year’s record-breaking 20th anniversary vigil in which the crowd was similarly huge. It also follows a year of struggle in Hong Kong itself demanding the end of today’s undemocratic election system, alongside fear and anger over a growing crackdown on dissent in mainland China. There is no mistaking that this year’s vigil was an anti-government protest, a protest over reverses for democratic rights in Hong Kong and the mainland. For the first time ever, Hong Kong police who notoriously downsize protest attendances put the turnout for Friday night’s vigil at over 100,000, estimating that 113,000 attended. Organisers put the turnout at 150,000.

Hong Kong is the only place on Chinese soil where the 1989 army invasion of the capital city and subsequent massacre of youthful protesters is publicly commemorated. Thousands may have been killed in 1989, and bloody reprisals, jailings and executions followed for several months, with workers and pioneers of independent trade unions – feared most by the Chinese dictatorship – bearing the brunt of the repression. Last year’s vigil attendance was estimated by Hong Kong police at 60,000, while organisers said at least 150,000 attended. This was more than three times the attendance at the 2008 vigil.

The massive turnout on Friday was partly generated by clumsy and provocative police actions in the preceding days. The arrest of 13 democracy activists and the seizure by police of “goddess of democracy” statues marking the June 4 anniversary was widely seen as Hong Kong government and police caving in to pressure from the central government to clamp down on the annual commemoration. The statues were returned by police just prior to the annual event after a series of protests against their seizure.

As a result of the political tug-of-war over the statues, an offshoot demonstration followed with the statues from Victoria Park at 10.30pm on Friday to the Chinese University campus in Shatin where students are campaigning for one of the statues to be permanently erected. This has so far met stubborn refusal from the university authorities. Around 2,000 youthful protesters stayed at the campus to form a human chain around the statue until the early hours of 5 June.

Vigil organisers said the 4 June turnout was “overwhelming,” having expected only 50,000 people. The main factor boosting participation, however, was the sharpening struggle in Hong Kong over ending the current undemocratic election system, with growing calls for immediate universal suffrage. The recent anti-government byelections on 16 May, in which over 500,000 voted for candidates seen as the most vociferous opponents of the pro-Beijing establishment, undoubtedly played a big role in Friday’s mobilisation. “Hong Kong has been radicalised” by the elections according to several commentators. The Beijing regime and the billionaire interests that support it and act as its mouthpieces in Hong Kong are resisting all but minimal cosmetic reforms to the current system.

Following the 16 May byelections, the Hong Kong and Beijing governments are now frantically trying to gain enough votes in the legislature for a package of bogus “reforms” that leave the present system unchanged. Beijing has departed from past practise and dangled a “carrot” in the form of talks with leaders of the Democratic Party, the biggest of the pan-democratic parties which has increasingly moved in a rightward pro-establishment direction. These talks are hardly negotiations, however, with Beijing’s representative using the process to “house train” and extract more concessions from the DP leaders.

Several lawmakers on the right of the pan-democratic camp are feared likely to break ranks and support the government reforms in what would be a historic betrayal (in 2005 they vetoed a package of reforms that was slightly less terrible than the current version). The monster turnout for June 4 will undoubtedly increase the pressure on these vacillators, although their reticence towards mass struggle and preference for backroom deals means the risk of a sell out is palpable and mass pressure against this must escalate in coming weeks.

Socialist Action (cwi in Hong Kong) participated in both the vigil and the subsequent university demonstration. The stall at Victoria Park was shown on ATV news (see Youtube clip below). Eleven supporters of Socialist Action and chinaworker.info distributed leaflets and sold the latest issue of Socialist magazine with “64” (June 4) on the cover. The stall also sold over 100 t-shirts, the most political t-shirts in the park, with the slogans: “64, the struggle must continue”… “For independent democratic trade unions, support workers’ struggle in China”… “One-party rule will inevitably fall”.

CWI comrades took part in the annual commemoration to honour the fallen, which included a great many workers, not only students as some media and historical accounts claim. But in addition, cwi material stressed the need to draw out the lessons from 1989 for today’s developing mass struggle in China and Hong Kong. A vital lesson from 1989 was the role of the working class – this scared the so-called “communist” dictatorship even more than the movement of students.

Workers are beginning to move again in China. The recent Honda strike in Foshan, which chinaworker.info has organised solidarity for, has been called the “most successful strike ever against a transnational company in China” by one newspaper. This shows the power of the working class, a power that also extends to the crucial question of winning genuine democratic rights. In addition to demanding a 50% pay rise, for example, the young Foshan workers also called for the right to elect their own union committee, rather than have it imposed upon them by a Honda-”communist party” alliance.

Socialist Action links the struggle for democratic rights with the struggle to abolish capitalism and place the banks and big companies under democratic mass control through the building of strong workers’ organisations. It is not enough to remember those who perished at the hands of the army in 1989; we must build upon and continue their struggle until victory.

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June 2010