Hong Kong: ten weeks of massive protests

The social uprising that shakes the Chinese territory of Hong Kong does not stop.

Flights from Hong Kong International Airport were cancelled on August 12 after the occupation of the airport in response to the brutal repression of protesters the day before.

The rebellion broke out days before the 30th anniversary of the Tian’anmen massacre, against the chief executive Carrie Lam´s attempt to impose an extradition law that would allow any prisoner to be transferred to be judged in China.

Lam had to suspend the measure a few days after the outbreak, but protesters demand the definitive withdrawal of the bill, full democratic freedoms and her resignation. Marches of a million people on June 9 and of two million people with a general strike on June 16 were the high points of a state of permanent mobilization that has not given the Lam government a break.

A rebellion against an accumulation of oppression

Since the United Kingdom gave the sovereignty of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the commercial port city has enjoyed a regime of a relative autonomy and limited democratic liberties, defined by the slogan “one country, two systems”. This has allowed various Chinese dissidents to take shelter in its territory. However, the Chinese government has been advancing against these relative liberties and imposing its dominance.

The first massive reaction against this advance was the 2014 “Umbrella Movement”, which demanded the right to elect its leaders. Since its defeat, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government has made progress: local courts have disabled legislators for taking their oaths too slowly or with the wrong intonation, politicians have been banned from running for elections and a political party has even been banned.

These attacks on democratic liberties, with the economic difficulties brought by the economic crisis (and intensified by the trade war between China and the United States) onto the working class, have accumulated to unleash the current outbreak.

A worried China

Lam is against the ropes, but she does not resign and intensifies repression. The Chinese government supports her, because her resignation would show it weak and it would become a dangerous example for the powerful Chinese working class that has been showing a slow but steady ascent of struggle despite the brutal dictatorship of the CCP.

Although it has not directly intervened, the Chinese government has been escalating its messages of intimidation to the Hong Kong protesters.

It recently published videos of the Chinese army stationed in Hong Kong training for urban clashes; it is mobilizing military armed vehicles to the border of the territory; and it has issued increasingly intimidating public messages, cataloguing the protests as “terrorist acts” and describing the movement as a “color revolution”, alluding to the mobilizations that shook some former Soviet republics a decade ago. The Chinese government considered those mobilizations, particularly that of Ukraine in 2004, as an existential threat that should be crushed at any cost.

China´s desperation over not being able to control the mobilized people of Hong Kong is also linked to the approach of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1.

The youth is leading

But the mobilized people do not show any sign of giving up and the most dynamic sectors are radicalising.

As socialist author Au Loong Yu said in a recent interview with Jacobin: “Within the ‘yellow ribbon’ camp — those who support democratic reform — there are two factions: the radical youth (who play the vanguard role) and adult supporters and pan-democrats (the liberal opposition since the 1980s that has pushed for universal suffrage while maintaining the “free market” of Hong Kong). The young generation is more determined than the older generation to demand the government withdraw the China extradition bill. There is strong anxiety and bitterness among them — and fear that, if they cannot win this time, they will lose forever.”

The persistence and bravery of the Hong Kong youth has the potential to overthrow the dictatorship of the CCP, destroying its appearance of an invincible regime and waking up the gigantic Chinese working class.

We share extracts of a pamphlet by Socialist Action, a Trotskyist organization from Hong Kong that intervenes in the process:

To win against this strategy of the CCP/Hong Kong police the mass movement must escalate. There are three parts to this escalation and these are all crucial to success.

  1. We must spread the revolution to China. For united mass struggle of Hong Kong and China people against the CCP dictatorship. China and Hong Kong are both faced with authoritarian rule, police crackdowns, long-standing and increasingly serious inequalities, lack of affordable housing, young people’s dead-end jobs, and tycoon dictatorship. 
  2. We must raise the struggle beyond the immediate “5 demands”* to call for the end of the authoritarian capitalist system in Hong Kong, for real universal suffrage for all over 16 years, replace the rigged Legco with a fully-democratic People’s Assembly, and extend the democratic control over the economy to smash the tycoon’s evil grip on the property sector, the banks and big corporations, which is the cause of poverty, excessive work hours and the housing crisis.
  3. We must seriously organise for a one-day general strike to bring down the government – this means we have to start now building strike committees and union organisations in all workplaces and schools.

Our movement has already shaken Xi’s dictatorship and given the CCP its most serious crisis for thirty years. But of course this means they are preparing seriously to strike back. The mass struggle needs mass organisation – through democratic grassroots committees in every area – to unite all layers, prevent fragmentation, and democratically decide what are the next actions to take.

Spreading the mass struggle to China will be a matter of life or death – if we remain a mass movement in Hong Kong alone then as in 2014 the regime can wait out and defeat the movement. Such an advanced struggle, across borders, involving many sectors, cannot be done without real organisation and democratic structures. Loose networks and “spontaneous” actions are not enough! This is why Socialist Action stands for the creation of a new mass workers’ party and for fighting trade unions, these are the vehicles for an organised struggle that can defeat the dictatorship and the capitalist class whose economic power it protects.

If Hong Kong succeeds in organising a genuine one-day political strike, this will directly exert unprecedented pressure on the Hong Kong government and the CCP. At the same time, it will get massive attention and increase the importance of our struggle in the eyes of the masses in China and globally, so raising the confidence and will to struggle of the Hong Kong and Chinese people.

Socialist Action demands:

  • Not just the five major demands – We want full and immediate democracy in Hong Kong and in China!
  • Organise a one-day general strike in Hong Kong as the next major action of the mass movement; establish strike committees and build strong fighting unions to prevent employers from persecuting and dismissing striking workers.
  • Defeat the CCP dictatorship and the dictatorship of the rich. Kick out the capitalist tycoons!
  • Build a new working class party that links the struggle for real democracy to the miserable living conditions of workers. We are opposed to the current system controlled by the capitalists, who rely on the violent authoritarian government to protect their billions. Therefore, we advocate socialism and full democratic control over the government and the economy!

Federico Moreno

*The 5 demands of the anti-extradition law movement are for formal withdrawal of the bill, the resignation of Carrie Lam as Chief Executive, withdrawal of “riot” charge against arrested protesters, release all arrested protesters, for an independent public investigation of police violence against unarmed protesters.