Spartacist Canada No. 183
Hong Kong Protests: Spearhead for Capitalist Counterrevolution
Expropriate the Hong Kong Tycoons!
For Proletarian Political Revolution in China!
The following article is adapted from Workers Vanguard No. 1054 (17 October), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
Since late September, imperialist-backed “democracy” activists seeking to end Chinese Communist Party (CCP) control over the capitalist enclave of Hong Kong have blocked streets in parts of the city. Using the demand for universal suffrage as a wedge, the protesters, known as the Umbrella Movement, are attempting to open the way for Hong Kong’s capitalist parties to exercise direct political power. It is in the interest of working people around the world to oppose these protests. Political power in the hands of the bourgeoisie in Hong Kong would be a spearhead for smashing the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state and opening the mainland to untrammeled capitalist exploitation.
The Umbrella Movement’s demands have been endorsed by a chorus of reactionary forces, from the White House and Fox News to the Vatican. In an October 1 meeting with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry pressed home Washington’s support for “free elections” in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s former British colonial masters, who lorded it over the territory for a century and a half without the slightest democratic trappings, have also expressed support, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg summoning the Chinese ambassador to express “dismay and alarm” at Beijing’s refusal to “give to the people of Hong Kong what they are perfectly entitled to expect.” “Democracy” has long been a favored pretext for imperialist machinations, particularly during the anti-Soviet Cold War. In the case of the Hong Kong protests, however, the imperialists have been somewhat coy in order to avoid disrupting their commercial relations with China.
China is not a capitalist country, although its “market reforms” have opened the door to large-scale investment by foreign corporations and led to the emergence of a layer of capitalists on the mainland. China’s economy is tightly controlled by the CCP regime, with the most important sectors of industry collectivized and owned by the state. The imperialists’ aim is to break the state’s control through capitalist counterrevolution. To this end, they pursue economic inroads into China and promote internal counterrevolutionary forces such as the Umbrella Movement. The other side of their strategy is the military pressure exerted by the U.S. and Japan and other American allies, as marked recently by a series of provocations in the East and South China Seas, not to mention spy flights off China’s eastern seaboard. China has been quite restrained in response. Imagine the frenzy the U.S. government would whip up if the Chinese navy were spotted 50 miles west of California!
Capitalist Hong Kong provides a golden opportunity for the imperialist powers to cultivate “regime change.” They have been doing so with alacrity, with Washington paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in State Department grants to develop “democratic institutions” in the enclave and training youth as political activists. They have also set up spy operations in Hong Kong, such as the NSA hacking of Chinese cellphones revealed by Edward Snowden. The Umbrella Movement is the latest manifestation of imperialist-backed anti-Communist “democracy” protests going back over a decade. The current demand for “free elections” is directed against a plan by Beijing under which Hong Kong’s chief executive will be elected from a list approved by a committee under the sway of the CCP.
In 1997, when Hong Kong reverted to China from British rule, the CCP pledged to maintain a capitalist economy in Hong Kong under the rubric of “one country, two systems,” which also allowed the local capitalists a voice in the selection of the government. For the Stalinist bureaucrats in Beijing, this arrangement served to promote foreign investment on the mainland by reassuring overseas capitalists that it was safe to do business with China. At the time of the handover, the International Communist League “joined in cheering as the rotted British Empire finally lost its last major colonial holding” but warned that the continuation of capitalism in Hong Kong “is a dagger aimed at the remaining gains of the 1949 Chinese Revolution” (WV No. 671, 11 July 1997). Unlike the atomized capitalists on the mainland, the Hong Kong bourgeoisie is politically organized, with parties representing its class interests and a variety of newspapers and other media.
The ICL’s opposition to the Umbrella Movement flows from our unconditional military defense of the Chinese workers state against imperialism and internal counterrevolution. We call for the expropriation of the Hong Kong bourgeoisie, including its holdings on the mainland. Likewise, it is necessary to expropriate the new domestic capitalist entrepreneurs in China and renegotiate the terms of foreign investment in the interests of the working people. But to carry out these tasks poses the need for workers political revolution to oust the venal Beijing bureaucracy that acts as a cancer on the workers state and through its policies has emboldened capitalist-restorationist forces in China.
The Beijing Stalinists have long promoted reunification with Taiwan under the “one country, two systems” formula that was applied to Hong Kong. The bourgeoisie in Taiwan, operating under the direct military protection of American imperialism, has ruled over the island since fleeing Mao Zedong’s CCP forces. However unlikely, reunification with a capitalist Taiwan would greatly bolster the forces of capitalist restoration on the mainland, much more so than in the case of Hong Kong. We stand for revolutionary reunification: proletarian political revolution in the People’s Republic of China and proletarian socialist revolution in Taiwan, resulting in the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.
Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune
In a useful exposé of the Umbrella Movement in New Eastern Outlook (1 October), Tony Cartalucci reported, “Identifying the leaders, following the money, and examining Western coverage of these events reveal with certainty that yet again, Washington and Wall Street are busy at work to make China’s island of Hong Kong as difficult to govern for Beijing as possible.” In particular, Cartalucci detailed the role of the U.S. State Department’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED)—which was up to its eyeballs in the fascist-infested coup in Ukraine earlier this year—and the NED’s subsidiary National Democracy Institute (NDI). Christian churches, which have a long, dirty track record of organizing anti-Communist dissidents in the deformed workers states, have also assumed a prominent role in the movement. An inheritance of British colonialism, they constitute a powerful force for social reaction in Hong Kong, where there is a church on practically every street.
The Umbrella Movement developed out of a September 22 student strike called by the Hong Kong Federation of Students and an organization of middle and high school students called Scholarism. The Federation of Students forms a significant part of the annual July 1 anniversary protests against the former British colony having been returned to China. Scholarism is largely the creation of Joshua Wong, an 18-year-old who became a political activist under the influence of his proselytizing parents. (His father, an elder in the Lutheran Church, is an outspoken opponent of gay rights.) Wong cut his political teeth, and won the praises of the NDI, by organizing a campaign against a pro-Beijing school curriculum that he called “brainwashing.”
Another force in the protests for capitalist “democracy” is the Occupy Central leadership, which has close, longstanding ties to the imperialists. The most touted of Occupy’s founders, law professor Benny Tai, is a common speaker at NED-sponsored events. Other leaders include Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming, who spirited pro-capitalist dissidents to the U.S. after the 1989 protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and Martin Lee, founding chairman of Hong Kong’s capitalist Democratic Party and recipient of the NED’s 1997 Democracy Award. This April, Lee and fellow Occupy leader Anson Chan took a trip to Washington, where they met with Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. Occupy Central’s Jimmy Lai, a media mogul, denied conspiring with the U.S. after meeting in May for five hours on his private yacht with his “good friend,” former U.S. deputy defense secretary and neocon Paul Wolfowitz (Hong Kong Standard, 20 June).
After police using tear gas and pepper spray attempted to clear students who had shut down the area around the central government offices late last month, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) called a one-day general strike. Representing mainly white-collar workers and teachers, the CTU stands in the anti-Communist tradition of “free trade unions” backed by the imperialists, unlike the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions. Among the bosses who weighed in on behalf of the CTU strike was the advertising company McCann Worldgroup Hong Kong, which explained to its staff: “The company will not punish anyone who supports something more important than work” (South China Morning Post, 30 September).
There is no mistaking the reactionary nature of the “democracy” protests, which are dominated by students and other petty-bourgeois layers. One protester told the New York Times (7 October) that he preferred “to be ruled by a democratic country,” which was spelled out by his T-shirt emblazoned with the Union Jack, the butcher’s apron of Hong Kong’s former colonial overlords. Protesters commonly combine overt anti-Communism with haughty scorn for mainland Chinese who are derided as “locusts.”
Hong Kong: White-Collar Sweatshop
The 1949 Chinese Revolution was of world-historic significance. Hundreds of millions of peasants rose up and seized the land on which their forebears had been exploited from time immemorial. The subsequent creation of a centrally planned, collectivized economy laid the basis for enormous social progress. The revolution enabled women to advance by orders of magnitude over their previous miserable status rooted in such Confucian practices as forced marriage. A nation that had been ravaged and divided by foreign powers was unified (with the exception of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao) and freed from imperialist subjugation.
However, the revolution was deformed from its inception under the rule of Mao Zedong’s CCP regime, a bureaucratic caste resting atop the workers state. Unlike the Russian October Revolution of 1917, which was carried out by a class-conscious proletariat guided by the Bolshevik internationalism of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, the 1949 Chinese Revolution was the result of peasant guerrilla war led by Mao’s Stalinist-nationalist forces. Patterned after the Stalinist bureaucracy that usurped political power in the Soviet Union beginning in 1923-24, the regimes of Mao and his successors, including Xi Jinping today, have preached the profoundly anti-Marxist notion that socialism—a classless, egalitarian society based on material abundance—could be built in a single country. In opposition to the perspective of international workers revolution, “socialism in one country” has always meant accommodation to world imperialism.
A case in point was the CCP leadership’s attitude toward British rule over Hong Kong. During the civil war that preceded the 1949 Revolution, Mao ordered the CCP’s forces to stop just short of the Shenzhen River that separates the mainland from Hong Kong. In return, Britain was one of the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China. In 1959, Mao declared: “It is better to keep Hong Kong the way it is.... Its present status is still useful to us.” In 1967, Hong Kong Communists and trade-union leaders mounted a protest movement against British rule, complete with large-scale strikes, that lasted over eight months. This struggle was betrayed by the Maoist regime, which preferred to remain friendly with the imperialist colonizers.
In maintaining Hong Kong as a hub of finance capital, Beijing accords the population certain political freedoms that it withholds from the population on the mainland. These liberties go hand-in-hand with Hong Kong’s reputation as a white-collar sweatshop, where office employees commonly work 12 hours for eight hours pay. Before 1997, Hong Kong was a center of both trade and light industry, in which workers were brutally exploited, forced to live in horrendous conditions and deprived of the most basic rights. Since the early 1990s, 80 percent of the city’s manufacturing jobs have disappeared as the Hong Kong capitalists shifted their operations to the mainland. In one of the most expensive cities in the world, full of designer shops and luxury hotels, a fifth of the population falls below the official poverty line. For most youth, future prospects are dim. Meanwhile, many corrupt CCP officials continue to enrich themselves through their connections to Hong Kong financiers.
The plight of Hong Kong’s more than 300,000 domestic workers—97 percent of them from Indonesia and the Philippines—shines an especially harsh light on the territory’s class divide. Other immigrants who live in Hong Kong for seven years receive the right to vote. Not so the domestic workers. With no recourse against violent or otherwise abusive employers, domestics who are fired must leave the country within two weeks. As an article in Al Jazeera (30 September) pointed out, “Hong Kong’s protesters demand democracy, but not for its domestic workers.” Our demand to expropriate the Hong Kong bourgeoisie draws a sharp class line against the pro-imperialist protesters, concretizing the call to defend and extend the gains of the 1949 Revolution.
For Workers Democracy, Not Capitalist Counterrevolution!
Capitalist democracy is, in reality, a political form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. In such a system, the working class is politically reduced to atomized individuals. The bourgeoisie can effectively manipulate the electorate through its control of the media, the education system and other institutions that shape public opinion. In all capitalist democracies, government officials, both elected and unelected, are essentially bought and paid for by the banks and large corporations.
Parliamentary democracy, which is mainly the preserve of the wealthy imperialist countries, gives the mass of the population the right to decide every few years which representative of the ruling class is to repress them. As Lenin explained in his 1918 polemic The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky:
“The working people barred from participation in bourgeois parliaments (they never decide important questions under bourgeois democracy, which are decided by the stock exchange and the banks) by thousands of obstacles, and the workers know and feel, see and realise perfectly well that the bourgeois parliaments are institutions alien to them, instruments for the oppression of workers by the bourgeoisie, institutions of a hostile class, of the exploiting minority.”
Lenin also stressed: “There is not a single state, however democratic, which has no loopholes or reservations in its constitution guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the possibility of dispatching troops against the workers, of proclaiming martial law, and so forth, in case of a ‘violation of public order’, and actually in case the exploited class ‘violates’ its position of slavery and tries to behave in a non-slavish manner.”
In their drive to destroy the degenerated Soviet workers state and its Eastern bloc allies, the imperialists promoted all manner of counterrevolutionary forces waving the banner of “democracy” against Stalinist “totalitarianism.” The purpose was to overthrow the Communist regimes by one means or another, including through free elections in which peasant and other petty-bourgeois layers as well as politically backward workers could be mobilized against the workers state. As the Stalinist regimes reached the point of terminal collapse, an election in Poland in 1989 resulted in a counterrevolutionary government headed by Solidarność, the consolidation of which marked the restoration of capitalist rule. A key event in the capitalist reunification of Germany in the spring of 1990 was an election won by the Christian Democratic Union, the ruling party of German imperialism.
Shattering in the face of the capitalist onslaught, the Stalinist bureaucracies demonstrated that they were not a possessing class but a brittle and contradictory caste resting atop the workers states. A key condition for the victory of counterrevolution in East and Central Europe and in the Soviet Union itself in 1991-92 was that the working class, atomized and demoralized by decades of Stalinist misrule, did not act to stop the forces of capitalist restoration and seize political power in its own name. These counterrevolutions marked a historic defeat for the working people internationally. Millions of workers in the former workers states lost their jobs and guaranteed benefits, women’s rights were thrown back (for example, through the banning of abortion in Poland) and the peoples of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were torn apart by massive nationalist bloodletting. Meanwhile, the U.S. and other imperialist powers felt emboldened to carry out their rampages around the world and against working people at home.
For China, capitalist counterrevolution would mean a return to imperialist enslavement and the destruction of historic social gains. In answer to the aspirations of the working people both in Hong Kong and on the mainland for democratic rights and a government that represents their interests, Trotskyists look to the model of the early Soviet workers state. As Lenin described in polemicizing against Kautsky, a bitter opponent of the October Revolution: “The Soviet government is the first in the world (or strictly speaking, the second, because the Paris Commune began to do the same thing) to enlist the people, specifically the exploited people, in the work of administration.”
A workers political revolution in China would place decisions about the direction of the economy and the organization of society in the hands of elected workers and peasants councils, ending bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption. Under the leadership of China’s massive working class, non-proletarian sectors such as the peasants would in fact have far more say through their representation in such councils than they have in any capitalist republic. China has made vast strides in industry and urbanization in recent decades, while also accumulating huge financial reserves. But China’s all-around development, particularly its presently backward agriculture, is crucially dependent on proletarian revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, which would open the road to a world planned economy based on the highest level of technology and industry. This Trotskyist perspective, premised on unconditional defense of the Chinese workers state against its imperialist and domestic class enemies, has no common ground with the pro-imperialist camp’s program for “democratic” counterrevolution.
Bootlickers for Capitalist Democrats
One of the most glaring examples of aid to the bourgeois cause in Hong Kong is Socialist Action, which along with Socialist Alternative in the U.S. and Canada is affiliated to Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). With a counterfeit reputation as Trotskyist, this organization has a long and disreputable history of supporting capitalist counterrevolution in the name of opposing dictatorship. In the Soviet Union in August-September 1991, the CWI’s forebears in the Militant tendency joined the capitalist-restorationists on Boris Yeltsin’s barricades in Moscow. In contrast, our Trotskyist international distributed tens of thousands of leaflets calling on Soviet workers to crush the counterrevolutionary forces led by Yeltsin and backed by the George H.W. Bush White House.
Writing off China as authoritarian and capitalist, the CWI has made itself the most rabid cheerleaders of the Umbrella Movement. An article in the CWI’s China Worker (30 September) enthuses over the possibility that “the democracy struggle would spread across China—with the initial spark quite possibly coming from Hong Kong’s protest movement.” The CWI’s fervent desire that the “democracy” movement be wielded against the “CCP dictatorship” on the mainland is the U.S. State Department’s hope exactly!
The CWI suggests that the Umbrella Movement might constitute a new Tiananmen, referring to the May-June 1989 upheaval that shook mainland China. Hong Kong’s “democracy” proponents hold huge anniversary commemorations every June presenting the Tiananmen uprising as a student protest for capitalist democracy against the evil Communist regime. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The 1989 events centered on Tiananmen Square began with students demanding more political freedoms and protesting the corruption of top bureaucrats. The protests were joined first by individual workers, then by contingents from factories and other workplaces, as workers were driven to act by high inflation and the growing inequality that accompanied the bureaucracy’s program of building “socialism” through market reforms. While some youth looked to Western-style capitalist democracy, the protests were dominated by the singing of the Internationale—the international workers’ anthem—and other expressions of pro-socialist consciousness.
Various workers organizations that appeared during the protests had the character of embryonic organs of workers class rule. “Workers picket corps” and factory-based “dare to die” groups, organized to protect student protesters against repression, defied the Deng Xiaoping regime’s declaration of martial law. Workers’ groups began to take on responsibility for public safety after the government in Beijing melted away and the police disappeared from the streets. It was the entry of the Chinese proletariat into the protests, in Beijing and throughout the country, that marked an incipient political revolution. After weeks of paralysis, the CCP regime launched a bloody crackdown on June 3-4 in Beijing.
The workers showed enormous capacity for struggle and forged links with soldiers, some of whom refused to fire on protesters. But on their own, they did not arrive at the understanding of the need for a political revolution to overturn the deforming rule of the CCP bureaucracy. To imbue the working class with this consciousness requires the intervention of a revolutionary Marxist party.
The imperialists will never relent until they have crushed the Chinese deformed workers state and are free once again to plunder the country at will. The imperialist-dominated world capitalist order, with its drive to control markets and drive down workers’ wages and living conditions, is incompatible with development toward socialism. To open that road requires workers revolutions in Japan, the U.S. and other advanced capitalist countries. In fighting for this program, we seek to link the struggles of workers in the imperialist centers with defense of gains already won, including those of the 1949 Chinese Revolution.
The article “Hong Kong Protests: Spearhead for Capitalist Counterrevolution” (SC No. 183, Winter 2014/2015) mistakenly referred to the journal New Eastern Outlook as the Near Eastern Outlook, and also wrongly referred to the National Democratic Institute as the National Democracy Institute.