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Spartacist South Africa No. 17

February 2020

Hong Kong Under the Butcher’s Apron

The following is reprinted from Workers Hammer No. 246 (Spring 2020), the newspaper of our comrades of the Spartacist League/Britain. The remarks were made by Jo Woodward, a supporter of the SL/B, at their 9 November 2019 public forum on Hong Kong. The term “butcher’s apron” was coined by the Irish socialist James Connolly to refer to the blood-soaked Union Jack (the British flag).

I’ve picked out just a few milestones in the history of British colonialism and imperialism in relation to Hong Kong. So, Hong Kong was founded as a British colony by opium peddlers. In the 18th century, the East India Company introduced large-scale cultivation of poppies into Bengal; and the use of opium was pushed in China by the Canton [Guangzhou] branch of the East India Company.

Then Britain seized Hong Kong in 1841 at the end of the first Opium War over China’s resistance to this deadly trade. China was compelled to buy the drug from India’s plantations in order to make money for the British capitalist class. And companies like Jardine Matheson made their killing in opium trafficking. This wasn’t simply an inhumane policy on the part of the British colonialists, this was part and parcel of the routine workings of the capitalist system. British rule was a classic example of the evils of colonialism.

But the rule of the imperialists did not go unchallenged. There’s an honourable history. After the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, the next year the Communist Party led a victorious strike of 10,000 seamen against the British colonial rulers.

And in 1925, the CP-led Canton-Hong Kong Strike Committee maintained a general strike for over a year after anti-imperialist protesters were murdered by Sikh police under British command in Shanghai. The strikers had armed pickets and armed patrol boats. The committee itself was seen as the embryo of soviet power. They were fighting for the national liberation of Hong Kong and the rest of China. But these early challenges were betrayed by the deadly Stalinist policy of liquidating the Communist Party into the Guomindang, which led to the massacre of the Communists.

Leaping forward a few decades, in the 1950s, during the Korean War, Hong Kong was used as a garrison. Britain and its empire were ruled by a Labour government which sent troops to fight against the Koreans and later against the Chinese. And Hong Kong was a base for counterrevolutionary military and espionage actions, which today’s demonstrators are seeking a return to.

They are appealing to the very imperialists who ran the colony for a century and a half. And some of them are even calling for the return of the former colonial masters. This wasn’t how it was seen across China in 1997 when Britain withdrew. Demonstrators proclaimed: “Wash clean 100 years of national humiliation!”

A Trotskyist party is needed in China. That party will take up the slogans of the proletarian fighters of the 1920s which were: “Knock down the capitalist class! Long live the world revolution!


Spartacist South Africa No. 17

SSA 17

February 2020


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