Hong Kong

Expropriate the Bourgeoisie!

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 814, 21 November 2003.

This summer, Hong Kong was the site of a series of mass, anti-Communist mobilizations openly, indeed flagrantly, backed by American and British imperialism. The pretext for the protests was new “security” legislation introduced (and since withdrawn) by the Beijing-appointed and directed executive of this capitalist enclave within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). These events clearly illuminate certain basic truths that have been obscured by the widespread notion that China has become or is fast becoming capitalist under the government of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Despite more than two decades of market-oriented “reforms” by the Beijing Stalinist regime, the core elements of China’s economy remain collectivized. The 1949 Revolution, although bureaucratically deformed from the outset, liberated mainland China from the capitalists and landlords and their American imperialist masters. And they want to get China back. The conciliatory policies of the CCP regime, from Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping to Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, have allowed Hong Kong to become a bridgehead for the forces of capitalist counterrevolution within the PRC. A proletarian political revolution in China ousting the Stalinist bureaucracy would necessarily expropriate the Chinese capitalist class in Hong Kong, the imperialist-backed enemy within of China’s workers and rural toilers.

When Mao’s peasant-based Red Army marched into Beijing in 1949, a large body of China’s capitalists fled to the offshore island of Taiwan where they have been protected ever since by American military power. A lesser though still significant number of China’s capitalists decamped to the British island colony of Hong Kong. The Mao regime, for all its strident Chinese nationalist rhetoric and pretensions to revolutionary socialism, never challenged British sovereignty over Hong Kong.

After years-long negotiations, Hong Kong was transferred to the sovereignty of the People’s Republic in 1997. Under the formula “one country, two systems,” the Jiang Zemin regime ensured there would be no infringement of the property rights of Hong Kong’s wealthy financiers and other businessmen. We wrote at the time:

“The International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) joined in cheering as the rotted British Empire finally lost its last major colonial holding with the lowering of the bloody Union Jack and the raising of the five-starred red flag of the People’s Republic. But we warn that in the hands of the venal Stalinist bureaucracy, which has pledged to maintain Hong Kong’s capitalist system, the takeover of the territory is a dagger aimed at the remaining gains of the 1949 Chinese Revolution.”

WV No. 671, 11 July 1997

Throughout their occupation of Hong Kong, the British imperialists lorded it over the island as the racist and repressive overseers. It was only in the years leading up to reunification that the British imperialists started to install some trappings of “democracy” in Hong Kong. The last British colonial governor, Christopher Patten, actively promoted the formation of a militantly anti-Communist, pro-Western party, the Democratic Party. Supported by a section of the Hong Kong bourgeoisie, the Democratic Party acquired a mass constituency among the city’s large petty-bourgeois population—e.g., the managerial and technical personnel of its banks, trading houses, industrial corporations, etc.

The political liberalization of the early 1990s also allowed the formation of a left-wing, pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Association for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB). Its founding leader was a self-described Marxist. Many of its leading figures were former Maoist “Red Guards” who had made much trouble for the British colonial authorities in the late 1960s. More importantly, from its inception the DAB has been largely based on a section of the working class through its close ties to the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (FTU), which with a combined membership of almost 300,000 in 2000 is the city’s largest. Many DAB leaders are former union officials.

As the transfer of sovereignty to the PRC approached, the main body of the Hong Kong bourgeoisie decided it was tactically smarter to collaborate with the Beijing regime than to adopt a confrontational stance à la the Democratic Party. These “patriotic” financiers and industrialists did not join the leftist DAB but instead formed their own parties, most prominently the Liberal Party, with an explicitly “free market” capitalist ideology and program. Following the July 1 anti-Communist mobilization, which drew some 500,000, it was Liberal Party leader James Tien who reportedly convinced Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa—and behind him the powers that be in Beijing—to drop the new “security” legislation.

The preservation of Hong Kong as a capitalist enclave within the PRC is in keeping with the more than two-decade-long policy of the Beijing regime of encouraging investment in the mainland by the offshore Chinese bourgeoisie. But the British, strongly backed by the Americans, also demanded that there should be no curbs on the activities of the political parties of the Hong Kong propertied classes, including especially the Democratic Party. This was not at all to the liking of Jiang Zemin and his cohorts.

As it was, a compromise was reached. Beijing appointed a “strong” executive in Hong Kong headed by a former shipping magnate, Tung Chee-hwa. The city’s legislative body was given quite limited powers, and elections to it were structured in such a way that the Democratic Party could not gain control even if it garnered a majority of the votes.

Since 1997, Hong Kong has experienced a certain shift in its social composition which also affects the local political balance of forces. Hong Kong’s capitalists have increasingly concentrated industrial investment on the mainland where labor is much cheaper. One consequence has been an increase in the relative social weight of the petty bourgeoisie, which benefits the Democratic and Liberal parties as against the mainly working-class-based DAB.

The Crisis over Article 23

The crisis last summer was set off when the Tung executive, certainly acting under the directions of Beijing, proposed new “security” legislation in the form of implementing Article 23 of Hong Kong’s separate constitution (the Basic Law). This would have broadened the powers of the Hong Kong executive to suppress “seditious” groups and individuals. Had the new “security” law been enacted, it would more likely have been used against militant workers and leftists, including dissident elements of the DAB/FTU, rather than against anti-Communist rightists. As revolutionary Trotskyists, we opposed this legislation, and we place no confidence in the bureaucracy to carry out genuine defense of the Chinese deformed workers state. Concretely, the Beijing bureaucracy has no intention of cleaning out the bourgeois counterrevolutionaries in Hong Kong because it is intent on maintaining Hong Kong as a capitalist enclave.

The July 1 protest had nothing to do with maintaining the legal status quo in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The Democratic Party has made no secret that its goal is to take political power in Hong Kong and transform it into an anti-Communist bastion from which to launch a “pro-democracy” movement on the mainland. On the eve of the protest, British foreign office minister Bill Rammell issued a statement denouncing the proposed “security” legislation as a violation of Hong Kong’s “independent” legal system. Afterward, writing in no less an authoritative organ of American capital than the Wall Street Journal (10 July), James A. Kelly, Bush’s assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, lauded the Hong Kong protesters for sending a “powerful message that freedom matters deeply to them.” Needless to say, the only “freedom” that matters to the men represented by the Wall Street Journal is freedom to exploit the workers and rural toilers of China as well as those in the rest of the world.

Initially, the DAB/FTU leadership supported the proposed legislation out of loyalty to Beijing. In fact, the DAB and FTU staged counterdemonstrations, reportedly drawing 40,000, against the anti-Communists in July under the slogans “National security is the responsibility of everyone” and “Without the state, we don’t have a home.” In late August, however, the DAB leaders did an about-face and proposed that any new “security” legislation be postponed for at least a year. In contrast to the DAB/FTU leaders, a Trotskyist organization in Hong Kong would have opposed Article 23, seeking rather to expand the available democratic rights in order to mobilize the working class, especially supporters of the DAB/FTU, against the city’s capitalist class in both its openly anti-Communist and “patriotic” wings.

The two organizations in Hong Kong misidentified with Trotskyism—the October Review and Pioneer groups—are in substance anti-Communist social democrats. The former actively mobilized for the July protest, calling for a “return of government to the people” (October Review, 31 May). The Pioneer group actually joined with the right-wing bourgeois nationalists of the Guomindang to protest against restoring Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in 1997. This summer Pioneer was part of the “Civil Human Rights Front” that organized the July 1 anti-Communist demonstration, which Pioneer hailed as an “initial victory of people’s power.”

Although not now possible, the American imperialists would like to use Hong Kong as a staging point to replay in mainland China the same political strategy they used in East Europe and the former Soviet Union in the 1980s and early ’90s: promoting a capitalist counterrevolutionary movement in the name of Western-style “democracy.” Behind the facade of parliamentary democracy in the West and elsewhere is the reality of the political as well as economic dominance of the capitalist class—i.e., racial oppression, persecution of immigrants, brutal exploitation, etc.

As part of our struggle to defend and extend the gains of the 1949 Chinese Revolution, we call for the expropriation of the Hong Kong bourgeoisie, including their holdings on the Chinese mainland. But to carry out this task poses the need to sweep away the Beijing bureaucracy, which by its policies is undermining the defense of the Chinese workers state, through workers political revolution. We fight for a government of workers and peasants councils (soviets) such as was created by the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky. Such a government in China would seize the wealth of Hong Kong’s financiers and other capitalists and use these resources in the interests of China’s workers and rural toilers.

ICL Home Page