After three months of unprecedented heroic mass struggle in Hong Kong against the Carrie Lam administration, there seems no sign of an end to the conflict.
The beginning of term for school and university students in Hong Kong was marked by strikes and protests, human chains, speeches and mass demonstrations. This was in spite of huge pressure from police and university authorities to cancel the rally. Workers also organised hours-long blockades of police stations and a certain amount of ‘flash strike’ action. Nurses, for example, lined up along hospital corridors holding pro-democracy placards.
Thousands of students in helmets, masks and goggles rallied in the grounds of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.. They have decided on a two week boycott of their classes and secondary students will hold protests one day each week until the demands of the movement are met.
On Saturday (31 August) there were huge unsanctioned demonstrations. There was a march and a mass laser beam ‘attack’ on the government headquarters, barricade fighting with Molotov cocktail bombs and bloody battles on the metro. On Sunday, Hong Kong airport, the world’s third busiest, was besieged by protesters, angry at the sacking of staff for involvement in earlier protests, including the chair of the airline stewards’ organisation – Rebecca Sy On-na.
The tactic of the police, heavily kitted out with visored helmets and riot shields, seems to be to allow large numbers to gather peacefully and then attack viciously with an ever-expanded assortment of weapons. In addition to the familiar batons, rubber bullets and pepper spray, they now have water cannon, tear gas and live ammunition.
159 people were arrested between Friday and Sunday with an age range of 13 to 58. Amongst them were well-known activists. “All this pushes Hong Kong to the brink of great danger,” a police spokesperson told a press briefing. It seems to be only a matter of time before there is a fatality and even more vicious battles will ensue.
Undercover provocateurs are at work amongst the demonstrators and that the police are not averse to gangster ‘triads’ being involved in the confrontations. Up until now, the mood of the demonstrators has been angry and sometimes distressed, but amazingly good-natured.
Up until now, the demonstrators have utilised various ways of taunting the police. Many wear large pads of gauze over one eye in solidarity with the woman whose eye was badly injured in a battle. Others hold up their hands with their ring fingers held down to remind the police of what happened to one of their number who lost his finger in a clash with demonstrators.
Another disconcerting habit the protesters have is to make the sound of yapping dogs as dog is their nickname for a police officer. Little wonder that the press has discerned a certain level of demoralisation in the ranks of the police and their own association complains about the “unprecedented challenges to their personal safety”.
A further humiliation for the forces of the state was having to allow a mass #ProtestToo (#MeToo type) demonstration to take place last Wednesday (28 August) evening. Purple lights were beamed up in the air in mass support for protesters who were victims of sexual harrassment by the police – male as well as female.
Concession and repression
Carrie Lam, who, as Hong Kong’s Chief Minister, represents Beijing, held a press conference to reaffirm there would be no movement on the five demands which include an amnesty for the more than 1,000 arrested, an end to the threat of extradition and establishing universal suffrage. Lam threatened she could use “a colonial-era law” to close down the internet and impose a curfew. She also warned (again) of possible army repression. However, Reuters news agency reports her telling business ‘leaders’ she regretted the “unforgivable havoc” she had caused and “would quit if I could”!
On the same day as Carrie Lam’s press conference threatening a clamp-down, some well-known figures in the ‘democracy movement’ were celebrating a victory. A Hong Kong court had just overturned a decision to disqualify a pro-democracy candidate, Agnes Chow from a bye-election last year to the local ‘parliament’ – LegCo – last year.
There seems to be no end in sight for the unprecedented confrontation on the streets of Hong Kong. To survive, demonstrators have been recommended to use Bruce Lee’s maxim: “Spread like water!”. Businesses have been advised to “bend like bamboo”!
But the Beijing government is clearly threatening some kind of intervention. It fears the consequences this movement could have in the rest of China. A few days ago it carried out a very demonstrative, if routine, changing of the guard at the Hong Kong barracks of the ‘People’s Liberation Army’ with an influx of fresh Chinese troops from the ‘mainland’. It also moved troops doing military exercises in Shenzhen closer to the border.
Xi Jinping’s government has allowed news of trouble in Hong Kong to filter through the heavily controlled state media accompanied by talk of the need to suppress attempts at a foreign-sponsored ‘colour revolution’ against its rule. This is aimed at preparing the ground for an intervention and crackdown using Chinese forces should they deem it necessary. Another Tiananmen Square style crushing of the movement is not entirely excluded although difficult given the scale of the movement or other brutal repressive measures.
The repressive regime of the so-called Communist Party in power in Beijing is increasingly alien to most people in Hong Kong. They are well aware of the total lack of democratic rights across the length and breadth of China – anathema also to any genuine socialist. But if the battle to defend and extend democratic rights in Hong Kong is to gain a lasting success it must include a conscious appeal to the workers, the poor and the youth of China to join them in a struggle to achieve genuine workers’ democracy and a democratic planning of the economy based on nationalisation and genuine socialism.
In a month’s time, the government of Xi Jinping wants to be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the victory of Mao Tse Tung and the Red Army over imperialism in 1949. Marxists have characterised this as the second greatest event in history, after the Russian revolution of October 1917, releasing hundreds of millions of peasants and workers in the cities from the iron heel of landlords and capitalists. However, the overthrow of landlordism and capitalism in China did not result in the establishment of a socialist state with genuine control by elected representatives of workers together with the poor peasants, but adopted the bureaucratic, repressive Stalinist model of rule.
In recent decades, the Chinese regime has moved towards the restoration of capitalism but with special features of state capitalism, including state intervention and control of the economy, and maintained a one party regime.
The so-called communist leaders are still terrified of being pushed out of their extremely privileged positions by a movement from below whether of workers or of a rival upstart gang of capitalist robbers. If the threat to their rule represented by the movement in Hong Kong shows no sign of abating, then a direct military intervention could be on the cards. In fact there has been a warning this week from Beijing that “The end is coming”.
In this situation it is vital not only to step up the fight for the movement’s five democratic demands but to go further. General strike action which can bring the working life of Hong Kong to a halt is vital for developing a political struggle against the big banks and businesses that furnish the Hong Kong-based oligarchs with their vast fortunes.
In fact, even if the five democratic demands of the movement were achieved, which is not ruled out given the tenacity of the fighters and the numbers involved, the victory would be only temporary and basic democratic freedoms of expression, organisation, press etc. would be hard to maintain.
This is why it is vital to build representative elected defence committees in the neighbourhoods and in the workplaces and elect from them representatives to go onto area action committees, all based on the principle of workers’ democracy (something that the leadership of the Chinese ‘Communist’ Party has never tolerated). The logical aim would be to elect representatives onto a revolutionary constituent assembly to discuss programme and organisation to take the movement on to the socialist demands.
Some participants in the movement could have illusions in the US, British or other governments coming to their aid. But these governments act purely to defend the profits and interests of thei r capitalist classes and have no quarms about cooperating with, and supporting dictatorships. No trust can be placed in the ruling elite and capitalists of Hong Kong or their political parties to struggle to defend the rights and interests of the workers and youth. Workers and young people need their own party to struggle for such a programme to offer a way forward.
Only a struggle for genuine democratic socialism – in Hong Kong and the rest of China – would assure a lasting victory and a better life for all working and poor people. This would also be the only way to establish the right to genuine self-determination not only for the people of Hong Kong, but for the numerous national minorities oppressed by the central Chinese state machine. A confederation of socialist states in the region would then be on the agenda.
The movement in Hong Kong has been inspiring. With a sage and sober leadership it could be the spark for revolutionary movements across Asia and beyond. If at this stage, the movement does not develop, it will nevertheless have provided huge lessons for future struggles to throw off dictatorship and open the road to a socialist world.