From the British colony to the “Special Region” of capitalist China
The English State occupied Hong Kong during the 1839-1842 Opium War. Chine officially transferred it to China by the Treaty of Nanking. 7.4 million people live in the Hong Kong peninsula. This former English colony had become an industrial, commercial and stock market big city before being handed over to China in 1997. The Chinese State itself became capitalist after crushing the youth revolt and after deciding to restore capitalism in 1992, while maintaining a unique party in order to avoid an outburst of the kind that the Soviet Union experienced. This is why it easily integrated the enclave, which played an important role in the restoration of capitalism in China by the Stalinist bureaucracy. On the one hand, its very existence influenced that choice; on the other hand, it was used as a platform, as well as Singapore which kept apart, for the foreign investment on the continent (often capitalists from the Han diaspora), first in the “special economic zones”, and then on the labour market in the whole PRC.
Despite the 1949 revolution and the expropriation of capital and of large land holdings that resulted from the Korea war, the workers never led China. It remained in the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy. A massive production of commodities and the transformation of the labour force into a commodity are basic features of capitalism. The aim of the Chinese production is now the exchange value. The workers then sell their labour power and fear unemployment. The national oppression and the presence of “monopolies” are features of an imperialist State. Contemporary China has two big stock markets (Hong Kong and Shanghai) and many international capitalist companies that invest heavily abroad. The PRC maintains entire populations within its borders by force. The army develops its means for military intervention and it holds a military basis in Africa. The PRC is then capitalist and imperialist through.
On political terms, Hong Kong is noticeably distinct from the rest of China, since the population enjoys some democratic rights inherited from late concessions by Britain, while Xi Jinping restores a lead blanket on the continent. It also has a number of refugees, including former 1966-1968 “Red Guards” and 1989 demonstrators. Under the 1997 agreements, China stations 6000 soldiers there.
The 2014 Umbrella Revolt
In 2014, a powerful social movement shook Hong Kong during 74 days. The protesters –mostly university and high school students-, who were carrying umbrellas as a protection against the tear gases –hence the name “Umbrella Revolt”-, rose against the Chinese central government’s intention to make further incursions in the process of appointment of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. At present, a not-so-democratic electoral college indirectly elects her.
The occupation of neighborhoods at the end of every week was large and popular. This showed that the workers were available for protecting the youth and for taking action. The convergence of Honk Kong’s school-going youth and proletariat could have obtained free elections. This would have been a victory against the Chinese governor and State, this would have paved the way for the socialist revolution throughout China.
But instead of calling the workers’ unions to the general strike, the spokesperson for the Hong Kong Federation of Students, Alex Chow, addressed the governor. The second union confederation (Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions) was forced to a gesture of solidarity. It confined it to a 24-hour strike, which is a safety valve for all the union bureaucracies of the world. Meanwhile, the administration of the main trade union (Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions), which is related to the Chinese bourgeois State, endorsed the repression on the university and high school students by the local police.
The project was finally abandoned, which left the situation as it stands. In 2017 the electoral college voted Carrie Lam, a high official, as the Chief Executive of the “Special Administrative Region” (with 777 votes out of 1194 voters), with the Beijing’s consent.
The masses oppose both Hong Kong authorities and the CCP
The Chinese secret services have no hesitation in abducting activists, publishers, lawyers, and even bosses targeted by Xi. Yet this is not enough for the despotic regime. In early February 2019, the local government wants to allow the judicial extraditions. For the Hong Kongese, this is a possibility for Beijing to have opponents judged on the continent –whether there are old or recent. A first demonstration gathers 10.000 people on the 31st March; and 100.000 on the 28th April. Each time, Lam upholds the amended bill and confirms that the parliamentary body (the Legislative Council) will pass it before the summer. On Sunday 9th June, a one million demonstration crosses the city and goes to the Legislative Council. The protesters demand the lifting of the bill, which must pass at the second reading stage on 12th June. On the evening of 9th June, the local police represses young people. On the morning of 12th June, a new mass gathering is held outside the Legislative Council. The police fires rubber bullets and injures several demonstrators, some of which try to enter the Parliament. Encouraged by this initial success and upset over the accidental death of a demonstrator fallen from a scaffold, they are 2 million on the 16th June. Although the project was suspended on 15th June, the protesters do not give up. On the 1st of July –a public holiday and a commemoration of the handover to China- the demonstration was still important, with more the 500.000 people. The most determined protesters head for the Legislative Council. They enter the building, go after the symbols of the Popular Republic and dress a flag… of the colonial period.
As an attempt to calm things down, Lam declares the suspension of the project. The demonstrations keep going after the event, and they punctuate the daily life of the enclave with gatherings every evening and marches every week-end.
Now the protestors not only request the withdrawal of the bill and the resignation of the Chief Executive but also an independent investigation on the police violence, the end of the prosecutions against those who are charged for riot (they are threatened by 10-year jail) and against the arrested protesters, elections by universal suffrage. They shout the catchword “Free Hong Kong, time for revolution” at every gathering.
Yet, beyond legitimate demands, a political perspective is missing; it would relate them with the past and current fight of the workers and the youth in the whole China. In fact, people’s democratic liberties object the single-party rule of the Chinese imperialist bourgeoisie with full force.
Lam suppresses, Beijing threatens
On 21st July, in the metro mafia guys from the triads (they were already assisting the Chinese bourgeoisie and the Kuomintang before the Chinese revolution) attacked protestors returning home, while police did not react. This increased the wind of revolt against the local government and against the central power. Protestors briefly besieged a police station, threw bricks and firebombs to the police officers. Besides, they dumped Chinese flags in the harbor. The Chinese government presents the protestors as a “handful of rioters manipulated by the West”; it tugs the nationalism’s strings. It comes to threat: the television controlled by the CCP shows pictures 12.000 riot police with helicopter training in the province of Guangdong, and military convoys heading to Hong Kong. Many people of Hong Kong ignore such threats and early August they demonstrate in shouting “Free Hong Kong”. It is tangible that the workers can enter the struggle.
The surprise came from Wong Tai Sin, a popular neighborhood further north: on Saturday 3rd August in the evening, protestors were also challenging the police. Short after midnight, while the police was attempting to make arrests, more than a hundred people from the neighborhood came and supported the protestors, so that the police was forced to retreat. (Le Monde, 3rd August)
The 4th August, Lam promised that “the government will be firm for keeping law and order”.
The 5th August general strike
The leaders of the movement called for a general strike on the 5th August. One of the unions does everything to prevent the workers to join the youth; the other one only calls for a 24-hour action day.
The Hongkong Confederation of Trade Unions, a pro-democracy labor group with 160,000 members, called on workers to strike Monday, while the Hongkong Federation of Trade Unions, a pro-Beijing group, urged workers, particularly those working in transportation, to work as normal to prevent the city from becoming paralyzed. (New York Times, 5th August)
The cessation of work affects the urban transports, the administration, the airports, the banks… It is the first time Hong Kong experiences such an important strike. The workers join the demonstrations. Again, the triads’ thugs attempt to attack the march, but now the demonstrators push them back with sticks. The police has a disproportionate use of rubber bullets and of gases. A hundred people are arrested, that is more than 420 for two months.
In Beijing, the spokesperson of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office claims that
Chain will not be weak with those who break the law. Never underestimate the firm determination and the immense power of the central government… The one who plays with fire gets burnt to death. (Yang Guang, 6th August)
At the same time, the peninsula’s liberal bourgeois parties and Christian clergies dampen the movement and attempt limiting it to putting pressure on Lam.
Wearing the iconic outfit of the contest –a black tee shirt and a yellow hard hat-, two young men and a young woman with facemasks introduced this press briefing, more official than ever. “We call on the government to turn the power over to the people and to meet the demands of the Hong Kong citizens” (AFP, 6th August)
The workers must take the lead of the movement
The thing is that the workers are much more visible than in 2014. For the fight to win, the working class must assume the leadership of the movement and join up with the continental working class. The movement must extend its catchwords to the social demands, and to the whole China, in order not to fall into the trap of the nostalgic separatism of the colonial oppression.
This is what the Xi Jinping government fears the most. He aims to split the populations from Hong Kong and from the rest of China and he trades in the fear of foreign manipulation, while the US wage a trade war against the rival imperialism. Yet, Trump calls the protestors to remain peaceful.
In order to build a revolutionary workers’ party that can lead the struggle, Marxist and working class cells must get unified and pose the question of power throughout China, reach out the workers in Japan, in Korea…
- General strike until the repeal of the extradition Act!
- Liberation of all the political prisoners!
- Disbanding of the repressive bodies! Maintaining order and self-defense of the demonstrations and strikes! Action committees and strike committees in the neighborhoods and in the firms! Elected delegates and centralization of the committees into a central committee of struggle!
- Democratic liberties throughout China! Right to build workers’ unions and parties! Right of strike and of demonstration! Right of self-determination for the minorities!
- Wage increase and reduction in working hours, expropriation of the capitalist groups! Decent housing for all!
- Down with Xi Jinping’s government and with his puppet Carrie Lam! Disbanding of the “Electoral College” and abolition of the “Chief Executive” post!
- Revocability of the deputies and remuneration at the workers’ wages!
- Workers’ government from Hong Kong to Beijing! United States of Asia!
Permanent Revolution Collective