Securing democratic rights necessitates a struggle for socialism

Hong Kong riot police lob tear gas grenades at democracy protesters

Hong Kong riot police lob tear gas grenades at democracy protesters   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Clare Doyle, Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI)

After three months of unprecedented heroic mass struggle in Hong Kong against the Carrie Lam administration, there seems no sign of an end to the conflict.

The beginning of term for school and university students in Hong Kong was marked by strikes and protests, human chains, speeches and mass demonstrations. This was in spite of huge pressure from police and university authorities to cancel the rally.

Workers also organised hours-long blockades of police stations and a certain amount of ‘flash strike’ action. Nurses, for example, lined up along hospital corridors holding pro-democracy placards.

Over the weekend before this, there had been huge unsanctioned demonstrations, including at Hong Kong airport, the world’s third busiest. The airport was besieged by protesters, angry at the sacking of staff for involvement in earlier protests, including the chair of the airline stewards’ organisation, Rebecca Sy On-na.

The tactic of the heavily armed police seems to be to allow large numbers to gather peacefully and then attack viciously.

Hundreds of protesters have been arrested including well-known activists. Undercover provocateurs are at work among the demonstrators and the police are not averse to gangster ‘triads’ being involved in the confrontations.

Beleaguered Lam

Carrie Lam, who, as Hong Kong’s chief executive, represents Beijing, held a press conference to reaffirm there would be no movement on the five democratic demands, which include an amnesty for the more than 1,000 arrested, an end to the threat of extradition and establishing universal suffrage.

Lam threatened she could use “a colonial-era law” to close down the internet and impose a curfew. She also warned (again) of possible army repression. However, Reuters news agency reports her telling business leaders that she regretted the “unforgivable havoc” she had caused and “would quit if I could”!

The Beijing government is clearly threatening some kind of intervention. It fears the consequences this movement could have in the rest of China.

Another Tiananmen Square-style crushing of the movement is not entirely excluded – although difficult, given the scale of the movement – or other brutal repressive measures.

The regime of the so-called Communist Party in power in Beijing is increasingly alien to most people in Hong Kong. They are well aware of the total lack of democratic rights across the length and breadth of China – anathema also to any genuine socialist.

But if the battle to defend and extend democratic rights in Hong Kong is to gain a lasting success, it must include a conscious appeal to workers, the poor and the youth of China to join them in a struggle to achieve genuine workers’ democracy and a democratic planning of the economy based on nationalisation and genuine socialism.

In a month’s time, the government of Xi Jinping wants to be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the victory of Mao Tse Tung and the Red Army over imperialism in 1949. That overthrowing of landlordism and capitalism in China did not result in the establishment of a socialist state with genuine control by elected representatives of workers together with the poor peasants, but adopted the bureaucratic, repressive Stalinist model of rule.

In recent decades, the Chinese regime has moved towards the restoration of market forces but with special features of state capitalism, including state intervention and control of significant parts of the economy, and maintained a one-party regime.

The so-called communist leaders are still terrified of being pushed out of their extremely privileged positions from below by a movement of workers or of a rival upstart gang of capitalist robbers. If the threat to their rule represented by the movement in Hong Kong shows no sign of abating, then a direct military intervention could be organised.

Escalate action

In this situation it is vital not only to step up the fight for the movement’s five democratic demands but to go further.

General strike action which can bring the working life of Hong Kong to a halt is vital for developing a political struggle against the big banks and businesses that furnish the Hong Kong-based oligarchs with their vast fortunes.

In fact, even if the five democratic demands of the movement were achieved, the victory would be only temporary, and basic democratic freedoms of expression, organisation, press, etc, would be hard to maintain.

This is why it is vital to build representative elected defence committees in the neighbourhoods and workplaces and elect from them representatives to go onto area action committees, all based on the principle of workers’ democracy. The logical aim would be to elect representatives to a revolutionary constituent assembly and discuss programme and organisation to take the movement on to socialist demands.

Some participants in the movement could have illusions in the US, British or other governments coming to their aid. But these governments act purely to defend the profits and interests of their capitalist classes and have no qualms about cooperating with, and supporting, dictatorships.

No trust can be placed in the ruling elite and capitalists of Hong Kong, or their political representatives, to struggle to defend the rights and interests of workers and youth. They need their own party to struggle for a programme to offer a way forward.

Only a struggle for genuine democratic socialism – in Hong Kong and the rest of China – would assure a lasting victory and a better life for all working and poor people. This would also be the only way to establish the right to genuine self-determination, not only for the people of Hong Kong, but for the numerous national minorities oppressed by the central Chinese state machine. A confederation of socialist states in the region would then be on the agenda.

The movement in Hong Kong has been inspiring. With a sage and sober leadership it could be the spark for revolutionary movements across Asia and beyond.

If, at this stage, the movement does not go further, it will nevertheless have provided huge lessons for future struggles to throw off dictatorship and open the road to a socialist world.