Hong Kong: new year riot

Police violence must be condemned

Socialist Action (CWI, Hong Kong) eyewitness report

Brutal policing caused a riot in the downtown district of Mong Kok on the first night of the Chinese New Year, 8 February.

Protesters had gathered to defend street food hawkers from a high-profile raid by law enforcement agencies. Police arrested at least 54 people during the clashes and more arrests are planned. Media reports say the number of injured could exceed 120.

These events have been nicknamed the ‘Fishball Revolution’ – influenced by the mass pro-democracy ‘Umbrella Revolution’ of 2014 (Mong Kok’s main road was one of three sites occupied for almost three months in 2014).

Street food hawkers (selling snacks like fishballs) have been one of the traditions of the Chinese New Year celebrations in Hong Kong, and the government had always tolerated them. However, last year the government started to clamp down on these “illegal hawkers”, which triggered mass anger.

At 10pm on New Year’s Day, crowds gathered in Mong Kok as officers of the Food and Hygiene Department were issuing fines to street hawkers. By 11pm, police arrived and attacked the protesters with pepper spray and batons.

Protesters were throwing objects at the police when suddenly a policeman fired two warning shots into the air and pointed his gun at the people, which triggered further violent clashes. Police rules do not allow firing warning shots into the air.

Socialist Action condemns the police violence and demands an independent public enquiry into the police actions of 8-9 February.

Police revenge

These events were like a reprise of the ‘Umbrella Revolution’; police pepper sprayed the crowd and many protesters were also beaten up and lying in blood.

At 4am, a group of masked protesters started to dig up bricks from the road and pull down traffic signs. They also stopped nearby journalists and people from taking any photos.

The protesters then threw bricks at the police and smashed the windows of police cars. The police responded by throwing bricks too. Demonstrators gathered in Shantung Street and Sai Yeung Choi Street and some set fire to rubbish bins.

It is possible the New Year riots were partly instigated by pro-government thugs hidden among the people. However, one thing that is certain – the riots have gained the support of a layer of people, especially youth, being seen as a way to take revenge on the police.

The failure of the Umbrella Revolution was due to its too limited programme and refusal to call for solidarity protests beyond Hong Kong, especially inside China which is the decisive battlefield for the Chinese dictatorship. For a layer of youth, however, this failure has been misconstrued.

They reject the so-called ‘peaceful and rational’ strategy of the capitalist democratic opposition leaders (pan-democrats), but oversimplify this into the need for ‘violence’ rather than seeing that a revolutionary programme is the key.

Democratic struggle

Without a political alternative, and without the ability for mass protests to escalate in a strong and organised way, some radical youths have turned to rioting. This is particularly the case with some ‘nativist’ groups (a peculiar mix of far-right and racist ideas with pro-independence sentiment).

Only 20 or so members of nativist groups were present during the clashes but the mainstream media has consciously overstated their role in preparation for a government propaganda offensive against “Hong Kong independence forces”, and to scare people from taking part in democratic struggles.

Socialists support the right of self-defence of protests and groups in struggle, but this must be disciplined and organised, preferably though democratic workers’ organisations.

Riots are never an effective way to fight against the establishment – as they do not threaten the regime but give it an excuse to reinforce its repressive machine. Socialists stand for organised mass struggles around a clear revolutionary programme to defeat dictatorial capitalism. Only this can channel the mass anger into a force to shatter the dictatorship.

Full article on www.chinaworker.info