Spartacist South Africa No. 17
Defend China! Imperialists Hands Off!
Hong Kong: No to Counterrevolutionary Rampage!
Expropriate the Tycoons!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1160 (6 September 2019), newspaper of our comrades of the Spartacist League/U.S.
SEPTEMBER 2—For three months, anti-Communist mobs have rampaged through Hong Kong. They have blocked roads and stopped public transport, beaten opponents and Chinese mainlanders and bombarded police with bricks and Molotov cocktails. Protesters have raised mass-distributed placards with the appeal, “President Trump: Please Liberate Hong Kong” while singing the U.S. national anthem and waving American flags. Anti-China demonstrators have vandalized the Legislative Council building and raised the British flag, demanding the return of Hong Kong’s former colonial master. Aiming to end China’s control over its capitalist Hong Kong enclave, protesters are openly calling for imperialist intervention.
The U.S. State Department has repeatedly declared its support to the counterrevolutionary protests, as have the British and Canadian foreign offices. Democratic Congressional leader Nancy Pelosi joined with an array of Republicans in demanding U.S. intervention and pushing punitive legislation against Beijing. The U.S. rulers have funded, advised and helped organize the protesters as part of their strategic goal of overturning the 1949 Revolution and returning China to capitalist enslavement, with themselves as the chief robber barons.
China is not a capitalist country but a workers state. However, the workers state has been deformed from its inception by the rule of a parasitic bureaucratic caste that politically suppresses the working class. Since taking power through peasant-based guerrilla war, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has followed the Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country” and its corollary, “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. The CCP regime from Mao Zedong’s time to today has opposed the revolutionary internationalist program of Marxism. But despite bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption, the overthrow of capitalism led to historic social advances. While four decades of “market reforms” have led to large-scale foreign investment and the emergence of individual capitalists on the mainland, the economy remains controlled by Beijing, with the most important sectors collectivized and owned by the state.
Today in Hong Kong, we have a military side with the forces of the Chinese deformed workers state, including the police, against the anti-Communist mobilizations. This position stems from our unconditional military defense of China against imperialism and domestic counterrevolution. Such defense does not imply the least political support to the Beijing bureaucracy, whose backing of capitalism in Hong Kong under its “one country, two systems” rubric bears no small responsibility for the current crisis. As Trotskyists who seek to make the working class conscious of its historic task to bring about a socialist future, our perspective is the mobilization of the working people of Hong Kong and mainland China to stop the counterrevolutionary forces.
In 1997, the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) joined in cheering as the British imperialists relinquished their Hong Kong colony. At the same time, we warned that the CCP’s pledge to maintain capitalism there was a dagger aimed at the Chinese workers state (see “British Colonialist Rulers Leave, Finally—Beijing Stalinists Embrace Hong Kong Financiers”, Workers Vanguard No. 671, 11 July 1997). In 1984, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping explicitly promised British prime minister Margaret Thatcher that the “previous capitalist system and life-style” would remain unchanged.
Since 1997, Hong Kong has been integrated into the People’s Republic of China as a capitalist Special Administrative Region, where every decisive aspect of the government is under Beijing’s control. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), garrisoned in the enclave, guarantees that. Hong Kong’s Basic Law was established by China’s National People’s Congress, and the territory’s principal executive officers are appointed by the central government in Beijing. The members of its highest court are in turn appointed by the Beijing-approved chief executive. The CCP has made itself directly responsible for maintaining capitalism in Hong Kong, where the capitalist class is politically organized, with its own parties, newspapers and other media. Beijing’s policy has nurtured Hong Kong as a breeding ground for counterrevolution and an outpost for imperialist spying and intrigue. Upholding the interests of the Hong Kong bourgeoisie against those they exploit and oppress is a massive betrayal by the CCP of the working people there and on the mainland itself. We say: Expropriate the tycoons!
The fight against the filthy rich capitalists in Hong Kong is directly linked to the struggle of the proletariat throughout China against the corruption and inequality fostered by the Stalinist bureaucracy, which acts as a transmission belt for the pressures of the capitalist world market onto the workers state. What’s needed is a proletarian political revolution that sweeps away the Stalinist bureaucracy and puts power in the hands of workers, peasants and soldiers councils. Such a regime would be based on a perspective of international proletarian revolution, preparing the groundwork for eliminating scarcity in a world socialist order.
Who pays the piper calls the tune, as the saying goes. The U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has poured millions of dollars into organizations behind the protests, from the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor and the parties of the “pan-democratic” camp to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, affiliate of the anti-Communist International Trade Union Confederation. Such organizations are the main components of the Civil Human Rights Front, the chief organizer of the current protests. Joshua Wong, the Western media’s poster boy for anti-China protests, is also tied to the NED.
As journalist Dan Cohen described in a useful Grayzone (17 August) exposé, a key fixture at (and bankroller of) the protests is Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai. Known as the Rupert Murdoch of Asia, Lai built a media empire based on scandalmongering, celebrity gossip, anti-Communism and anti-China bigotry. His press is notorious for waging a chauvinist campaign against “anchor babies” from mainland China, depicting mainlanders as hordes of locusts descending to devour Hong Kong’s resources. In July, Lai traveled to the U.S. for meetings with National Security Advisor John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among others, requesting continued U.S. assistance for “resisting” Beijing. He later declared: “We in Hong Kong are fighting for the shared values of the U.S. against China. We are fighting their war in the enemy camp” (CNN, 28 August).
The U.S. and other imperialist powers pursue a multipronged strategy for capitalist counterrevolution in China. One approach is financing and promoting reactionary mobilizations like the Hong Kong protests. Washington also seeks to use its economic might like a battering ram, as in the current tariff war through which the Trump administration, with solid backing from the Democrats, aims to thwart China’s economic and technological development (see “U.S. Imperialists Ramp Up Trade/Tech War”, Workers Vanguard No. 1157, 21 June). At the same time, the U.S. is increasing military pressure on China, conducting regular military exercises near the Chinese coast, flying bombers over the South China Sea and repeatedly sending Navy warships through the Taiwan Strait. These moves are all part of a strategy of military encirclement of China by the U.S. and its allies.
The State Department recently approved Taiwan’s requests to buy $2.2 billion dollars’ [R32 billion] worth of tanks and missiles and $8 billion in advanced fighter jets. From the time of the 1949 Revolution, when the Chinese capitalist regime fled to Taiwan, and the onset of the Korean War the following year, the U.S. has viewed the island as its “unsinkable aircraft carrier”, the front line in a future war. The ICL stands for the revolutionary reunification of Taiwan with China, through social revolution to overthrow capitalism in Taiwan and workers political revolution against the CCP bureaucracy on the mainland.
As revolutionaries in the world’s predominant imperialist power, the Spartacist League/U.S. is dedicated to forging a Leninist vanguard party that can lead the multiracial American working class in the struggle for a workers government that would expropriate the capitalist exploiters. Central to this perspective is winning the most advanced layers of the proletariat to oppose its rulers’ machinations around the world, not least those directed against the Chinese deformed workers state. Workers can’t win new gains without defending those already won!
“One Country, Two Systems”:
Danger to the Chinese Revolution
To launch the current wave of anti-China protests, organizers in late spring seized on an extradition bill being debated in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, claiming that it would undermine the territory’s autonomy. The proposed law would have done no such thing. The measure, which was suspended in June, would have simply established an extradition process—not just between Hong Kong and the rest of China but also between Hong Kong and every country in the world that did not already have such an agreement. By treating mainland China like a foreign country, the law fell entirely within the CCP’s framework of maintaining a distinct capitalist administration in Hong Kong. The ICL has no position on this legislation because we do not seek to advise the Beijing bureaucracy on how best to administer capitalism in Hong Kong, since we oppose it remaining a capitalist enclave.
The Hong Kong demonstrators and their spin doctors in the bourgeois media have raised holy hell about supposed police violence. From the likes of the New York Times, this is sheer hypocrisy. In reality, the Hong Kong police have been highly restrained, focused on containing and dispersing protests rather than stopping them. Compare their conduct with the brutal cop state of siege that descended on Ferguson, Missouri, after protests broke out over the racist police killing of Michael Brown in 2014!
In Hong Kong, the restraint of the police expresses the policy of the CCP bureaucracy. The organizers of the protests are aiming for the overthrow of the Chinese deformed workers state. But Beijing is at pains to respect Hong Kong’s formal autonomy, which is written into its “one country, two systems” pact with the enclave’s capitalists and their imperialist masters. However, rather than appeasing the protesters, the CCP bureaucrats’ concessions have only emboldened them.
The Hong Kong bourgeoisie is not of one mind concerning the protests. While Jimmy Lai and his ilk openly support the mobilizations, Li Ka-shing, the richest man in Hong Kong, as well as several real estate tycoons and some banking interests have recently called for calm. They worry that the chaos around the protests is harming business. More broadly, several bourgeois financial analysts have warned that intervention by the PLA—or by the People’s Armed Police stationed across the border in Shenzhen—to stop the unrest would cause capital flight and other damage to Hong Kong’s economy.
Hong Kong under the tycoons has well earned its reputation as a white-collar sweatshop, where office workers routinely slave away for 12 hours a day with eight hours’ pay. With the CCP’s blessing, a frenzy of land speculation has driven up rents to the extent that working adults are unable to leave their parents’ homes, often sharing tiny rooms with several people. 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 poverty line. “Immigrants” from the mainland constitute some of the most oppressed sectors of the population, while the plight of Hong Kong’s hundreds of thousands of domestic workers, overwhelmingly from the Philippines and Indonesia, shines an especially harsh light on the enclave’s class divide. Meanwhile, venal CCP bureaucrats and their cronies and relations use Hong Kong to park their money or channel it out of China, and also as a venue for shopping sprees.
Hong Kong’s toilers should be a natural ally of the powerful and combative proletariat on the mainland. An authentic communist party in China would mobilize the working class against the counterrevolutionary protests on the basis of the workers’ class interests, championing as well the interests of the oppressed petty bourgeoisie. Expropriating the tycoons and converting their property holdings into low-cost public housing would resonate deeply with the population, as would replacing the luxury shops and restaurants with canteens and cooperatives run by and for working people.
These demands cut against the CCP’s class collaboration with the Hong Kong bourgeoisie, which has been the political basis for the relatively small pro-China counterprotests that have taken place in Hong Kong and internationally. The counterprotests have been designed to be compatible with the interests of the tycoons, whose “patriotism” hinges on their ability to reap profits from their investments on the mainland. The CCP also appeals to patriotism in calling for an end to protests. The Stalinists do not call on the working class to act: As a brittle ruling caste, the Beijing bureaucracy fears that workers’ mobilizations would represent a challenge to its rule.
For the CCP, maintaining capitalism in Hong Kong serves to promote foreign investment on the mainland by reassuring overseas capitalists that it’s safe to do business with China. Hong Kong remains a major hub connecting China with the global capitalist economy. Beijing’s policy toward Hong Kong is in keeping with its opening of whole areas of China to investment by the offshore Chinese bourgeoisie and the imperialist powers, including in the Special Economic Zones.
Any isolated workers state would need to seek foreign investment. Under revolutionary leadership, this would be done under the democratic control of the working class organized in soviets (councils), supported in countries like China by peasants councils. A revolutionary workers and peasants government in China would renegotiate the terms of foreign investment in the interests of working people. The domestic capitalists, on the other hand, would simply be expropriated and their property used in the interests of society as a whole. To defend and extend the gains of the 1949 Revolution, such a regime would strengthen central economic planning and re-establish a state monopoly of foreign trade.
Which Class Will Rule?
In Hong Kong, one of the most ardent champions of “democratic” counterrevolution is Socialist Action (SA), which fraudulently passes itself off as Trotskyist. (Along with the U.S. Socialist Alternative, SA is part of the self-declared majority of the recently split Committee for a Workers’ International, CWI.) [The CWI is represented in South Africa by the Marxist Workers Party, which split off last year from the Workers and Socialist Party.] Writing off China as capitalist, SA has issued a series of leaflets offering tactical advice to the protest organizers and calling “for united mass struggle of Hong Kong and China people against the CCP dictatorship” (chinaworker.info, 19 July). SA’s main “contribution” has been to agitate for a one-day general strike to bring down the Hong Kong government and defeat the CCP regime. Their program, in short, is to sell out the workers to their direct class enemies: the Hong Kong bourgeoisie and its imperialist godfathers.
In fact, the counterrevolutionary protests have been overwhelmingly based on the petty bourgeoisie and hostile to the working class. The much-touted August 5 “general strike”, preceded by a “bankers strike” on August 1, was primarily a mobilization of students, lawyers, accountants, teachers and other professionals. Many employers encouraged their staff to take the day off and participate. The city was paralyzed as protesters blocked traffic and stopped public transport, threatening transport workers. Likewise, workers were attacked during the airport occupation of August 12-13, when hundreds of flights were stopped at one of the world’s busiest airports. Protesters have also vandalized the offices of the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions.
Embracing the call for free elections, which is aimed at toppling the Beijing-loyal local administration, SA is solidly in the camp of counterrevolution in Hong Kong. There it unites with people demanding that the enclave either become a protectorate of U.S. imperialism or return to the days of British rule, when the mass of the Chinese population lived in squalid slums and slaved away as dirt-poor laborers while Communists and trade-union militants were systematically repressed. Only in the lead-up to the handover to China did the British rulers grant a modicum of democratic rights, to be used as a weapon against the Chinese workers state.
SA’s program for Hong Kong and China is in line with the sordid history of the CWI, which avidly supported the imperialists’ campaigns against the Soviet degenerated workers state. 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 tendency fought in defense of the workers state, distributing 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.
The question posed by the crisis in Hong Kong is not “dictatorship or democracy” but “which class will rule?” In their drive to destroy the Soviet Union and the bureaucratically deformed workers states of East and Central Europe, the imperialists promoted all manner of reactionary forces, including those who waved the banner of “democracy” against Stalinist “totalitarianism”. The purpose was to overthrow the Communist regimes by one means or another, including using elections in which peasants and other petty-bourgeois layers as well as politically backward workers could be mobilized against the workers states.
A glimpse of what awaits China’s toiling masses if the 1949 Revolution were to be overturned can be seen today in the countries of the former Soviet bloc, where living standards have been massively thrown back and where such “democracy” as exists is a paper-thin facade for the class dictatorship that defines all capitalist societies. A quarter-century after capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, China is the largest of the remaining countries where capitalist rule has been overthrown. Capitalist counterrevolution in China would be a further massive victory for world imperialism and a defeat for workers and the oppressed across the globe.
The call for bourgeois democracy is a call for counterrevolution. We are for proletarian democracy—a government of elected workers, peasants and soldiers councils that would make decisions about the development of the economy and the organization of society. Under the leadership of China’s massive working class, non-proletarian sectors such as the peasants and Hong Kong’s office workers would in fact have far more of a voice in how society is run than they do in any capitalist republic. As Lenin explained of the 1917 October Revolution that brought the working class to power in Russia:
“The bureaucratic machine has been completely smashed, razed to the ground; the old judges have all been sent packing, the bourgeois parliament has been dispersed—and far more accessible representation has been given to the workers and peasants; their Soviets have replaced the bureaucrats, or their Soviets have been put in control of the bureaucrats, and their Soviets have been authorised to elect the judges. This fact alone is enough for all the oppressed classes to recognise that Soviet power, i.e., the present form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, is a million times more democratic than the most democratic bourgeois republic.”
—The Proletarian Revolution and the
Renegade Kautsky (1918)
The True Legacy of Tiananmen
SA and the CIA-backed protesters as a whole falsely link their counterrevolutionary efforts with the specter of “June 4”, the 1989 proletarian upheaval centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that was bloodily suppressed by the CCP regime of Deng Xiaoping. SA & Co. present the 1989 upheaval as a mass movement for (bourgeois) democracy. It was nothing of the kind! The events began with students demanding more political freedoms and protesting the corruption of top CCP bureaucrats. The protests were joined first by individual workers, then by contingents from factories and other workplaces. Workers were driven to act by the high inflation and growing inequality that accompanied the CCP’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 working-class anthem, and other expressions of pro-socialist consciousness.
Various workers organizations that appeared during the protests had the character of embryonic organs of working-class rule. “Workers picket corps” and factory-based “dare to die” groups, organized to protect the students against repression, defied Deng’s declaration of martial law. Workers’ groups began to take on responsibility for public safety after the Beijing government all but disappeared and the police vanished from the streets. It was the entry of the Chinese proletariat into the protests, in Beijing and around the country, that marked an incipient proletarian political revolution. After weeks of paralysis, the CCP regime launched a bloody crackdown on June 3-4 in Beijing, driven by fear not of the student protesters but of the mobilized working class. Even after the massacre, millions of workers across China continued to wage strikes and protests.
The workers showed enormous bravery and willingness to fight, and they forged links with soldiers, who viewed themselves as the defenders of socialism. Seven senior PLA commanders signed a petition opposing the martial law measures that were ordered against the population. On their own, however, the working class could not come to understand the need for political revolution to overturn the deforming rule of the bureaucracy. To imbue the working class with such consciousness requires the intervention of a revolutionary Marxist vanguard party. We honor the memory of the proletarian heroes of 1989, whose struggle vividly demonstrated the revolutionary potential of the working class.
SA and its ilk spit on the legacy of Tiananmen as they serve the imperialist drive for capitalist counterrevolution in China. Seventy years after its revolution, China is not the country it was in 1949—a desperately backward, overwhelmingly peasant society plundered by the imperialist powers and ravaged by decades of civil war. Yet despite China’s enormous advances since then, it remains economically backward in many respects compared to the imperialist countries that dominate the world economy. With its program of appeasing the imperialists and the Chinese bourgeoisie and its political suppression of the proletariat, the CCP bureaucracy constantly undermines the gains of the 1949 Revolution.
The achievement of socialism—a classless society based on material abundance—requires an international planned economy that harnesses and goes well beyond the technology and productive capacity of the most advanced capitalist countries today. The road to socialism lies in proletarian revolutions throughout the capitalist world, crucially including the imperialist centers of the U.S., Japan and West Europe. This perspective is necessarily linked to the fight to mobilize the Chinese proletariat to sweep away its bureaucratic misrulers. But revolutionary struggle needs revolutionary leadership. Our historic model is the Bolshevik Party that, under V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, led the October 1917 Russian Revolution as the opening shot of the fight for world proletarian revolution. The ICL is committed to reforging Trotsky’s Fourth International to carry the Bolshevik banner forward.