In Hong Kong millions of people have taken to the street to protest the imposition of mainland China’s rule of Hong Kong. The protests have been ongoing for months. The Chinese government is looking to crackdown on the movement, and this raises major questions about the relation between the struggles in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Over 2,000,000 people to took the streets of Hong Kong on June 12, 2019 to protest againt the extradiction bill. A large secton of the population has come together in the struggle to stop the imposition of Mainland rule.
Over the past months the protest movement in Hong Kong has captured international attention. What started as a protest against an extradition bill has grown into a full-scale rebellion that challenges the very nature of Hong Kong’s present existence and its relationship to the Chinese Government. Protesters have mobilized against the city’s incorporation into China and fought against the imposition of legislation which would subject them to the draconian oppression already ubiquitous on the mainland. For a long time, Hong Kong has served as a refuge for rebels and dissidents within China. While the U.S. imperialist media generally focuses on the pro-U.S. dissidents in China (who are often funded and supported by the CIA), there are also many revolutionaries and working class activists who have had to flee mainland China and take refuge in Hong Kong.
This dynamic is representative of the complex and contradictory nature of the protest movement in Hong Kong. While most of the U.S. and Chinese media —for different reasons—have focused on the pro-U.S. groups and individuals in the protests, the reality is that many of the protesters are not looking for Trump or any other members of the U.S state to “liberate Hong Kong.” Recent protests have involved increasingly militant confrontations with the police, and many in Hong Kong are now calling the movement “The Revolution of Our Times.”
Since the restoration of capitalism in China in 1976, the government has pursued an increasingly brutal and repressive series of policies. Many in Hong Kong understand that if they do not struggle now, Hong Kong will inevitably become subject to the same draconian and fascist laws and forms of surveillance that are prevalent on the mainland. While Hong Kong itself is not run for the people, and has many internal social issues and repressive laws, its incorporation into the Chinese political system will facilitate a massive crackdown and the implementation of a series of new repressive laws. However, it’s important to see that the present rebellion in Hong Kong is not just against the Chinese state but also against the politicians and financial elite of Hong Kong itself. Given all of these complexities, it’s important to study the history of Hong Kong to better understand the present.
A Brief History of Modern Hong Kong
One major factor in the present situation in Hong Kong is its history as a British colony. Hong Kong first became a colony of Britain in 1842 as part of the treaty the British signed with the Qing Dynasty—which ruled China at the time—at the end of the First Opium War. The British imperialists began trading the opium to China in the 1700s as a way to “balance their trade” with China and make China utterly dependent on British trade. The British Empire implemented this policy because it was concerned about how much silver they were spending on Chinese tea. They smuggled opium into China and spread it through connections they had made with various criminal organizations. However, the Qing dynasty eventually banned the sale of the drug. While the dynasty was an oppressive feudal monarchy that did not serve the interests of the people, they took a stand against the British poisoning millions with drugs.
The British responded to the ban by attacking China outright, sailing their gunboats up the rivers to siege and bombard major cities. The British defeated the Qing and forced them to grant Britain a series of absurd concessions. For one, the Qing had to pay indemnities to the British for the cost of the war and the profits the British would have made if they had been allowed to sell opium during the ban. Even worse was that the British were granted territorial control of Hong Kong and extraterritoriality in cities throughout China. The latter meant that the British were not subject to local laws in China, and could not be prosecuted by the Qing dynasty for crimes British nationals committed there, even for things like rape and murder. After the Second Opium War in 1860, the British got control f the Kowloon Peninsula as well, and in 1898 they also obtained a 99-year lease on the nearby “New Territories,” further expanding their control of the Hong Kong area.
They pushed for this in particular because they were concerned that the Japanese imperialists—who were brutally colonizing the northeast of China—would eventually try to cut the British and other colonizers out and set themselves up as the sole imperialist power controlling China.
The British were able to use Hong Kong as a base for their imperialist and colonial operations to dominate China and other places in Asia. These extended far beyond the opium trade, into the full-scale plunder of China’s resources and the establishment of British run sweat-shops in which Chinese workers and children worked in near slave-like conditions. In many of these factories, the child laborers would be chained to the industrial machinery, work for twelve or more hours a day, and have to sleep on the factory floor under the machines at night. If children were injured in these dangerous conditions—say by losing an arm in an industrial accident—they would be cast out onto the streets and become beggars or just die. What’s more, the Qing dynasty levied huge taxes on the peasantry and working people so it could pay back the indemnities to the British. This led to massive famines throughout the country, because after paying the taxes, the peasants would rarely have enough food to eat.
However, this brutal colonial plunder was also met with serious resistance. One particularly important incident was the Hong Kong strike of 1925-1926. On May 30, 1925 British police in Shanghai opened fire on a crowd of Chinese protesters who were calling for an end to the colonial domination of China by Britain and other imperialist powers. The Chinese people were outraged at the brutality of the British and went on strike against them. More than 250,000 Chinese left Hong Kong and refused to work for the British. This sent the economy of Hong Kong into a tailspin and the British had to bail it out in order to prevent many big British companies from failing.
A poster showing the British and a Chinese Warlord torturing a Chinese person involved in the independence struggle. After the massacre on May 30, 1925, posters like these spread across the country and inspired strikes and protests.
The Chinese Revolution, the 1976 Counter-Revolution, and the Situation Today
The 1925-1926 Hong Kong Strike is but one example in a long history of Chinese resistance to the British and other imperialists. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was eventually able to unite the many different streams of resistance into a mighty anti-imperialist river that swept all the imperialists out of China. First, they defeated the fascist Japanese invasion which had pursued a policy of “Burn All, Kill All, Loot All” and had tried to turn the Chinese people into slaves of the Japanese Empire. Then, after WWII, the CCP defeated the imperialist-backed Chinese Nationalists (who were puppets of the Americans) and liberated all of China in 1949. However, the Nationalists fled to Taiwan, and the British retained control of Hong Kong.
After the revolution China went through a complex series of struggles that culminated in the Cultural Revolution. Although often critiqued as chaotic by both the U.S. media and the contemporary Chinese government, the Cultural Revolution was actually an incredibly powerful mass movement that aimed to continue the revolutionary struggles to transform Chinese society and bring about greater equality.1 In particular, Mao and other revolutionaries in the CCP were concerned about the possibility of capitalist restoration in China. That saw that a series of Party members like Deng Xiaoping were trying to push for capitalism and to increase inequality in the society.
Deng Xiaoping dons a cowboy hat during his first visit to the U.S. in 1979. This infamous incident showed the world that China was intent on joining the world imperialist system.
While many gains were made and inequalities overcome during the ten years of the Cultural Revolution, it was ultimately defeated in 1976. After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping led a coup that resulted in the imprisonment of tens of millions2. Many of those detained were brutally tortured. This sort of brutality was needed to overturn the gains of the socialist period and force capitalism down the people’s throats.
Shortly after this coup Deng Xiaoping uttered his infamous slogan that “to get rich is glorious.” He also visited the U.S. and put on a cowboy hat as he signed business deals with big American companies that opened China up for business in the capitalist market. Among his initial social policies were the reintroduction of prostitution and drug addiction (which had been eliminated after the revolution), and the destruction of collective agriculture. This breakup of the agricultural communes left millions of peasants landless. These are what are today celebrated as the “market reforms” of 1980s.
All of this helps to clarify the nature of the contemporary Chinese state. It is not and absolutely cannot be considered a principled, pro-people society. It is a capitalist country, not a socialist one. The contemporary Chinese state was founded on a brutal counter-revolution that restored capitalism and slaughtered and tortured those who resisted. While the ruling elite continue to call themselves the Chinese Communist Party and to speak of socialism, this is little more than a cover for their capitalist policies and practices. Today China is a full-blown imperialist super-power that is going toe-to-toe with the U.S. in the political and economic spheres of competition. However, the revolutionary history and culture is not forgotten by the masses of people. Of all the imperialist countries in the world, China has by far the biggest and most militant working class movement. Continuous strikes throughout the country have shaken the government, and in response the government has cracked down time and time again. Recently they have rolled out a system of mass surveillance even more extensive than in the U.S.
The handover of Hong Kong by the British to Deng Xiaoping’s government was itself a sign of the rising power of China. First, Deng maneuvered to ensure that the government in Hong Kong and the people of Hong Kong had no say in the negotiations. Then he threatened to invade Hong Kong unless the British promised to hand it over at the end of the 99-year lease.
While the British initially tried to hold on to Hong Kong, they eventually folded. In 1984 British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher agreed to the Sino-British Joint Declaration which stated that the British would hand over control of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The Declaration also specified that Hong Kong would be governed by China according to a “One Country, Two Systems” policy and that the way of life in Hong Kong would not be changed until 2047.
Given the present nature of the Chinese government many in Hong Kong are worried about their city’s eventual incorporation into the Chinese political system. For a long time, Hong Kong has served as a refuge for political dissents and revolutionaries from mainland China. People who would be arrested, tortured, or killed in China have fled to Hong Kong, where the lack of an extradition law has allowed them to avoid incarceration. While some of these people are U.S. lackeys funded by the CIA, there are also many trade unionists, communists, and revolutionaries who have fled the mainland to Hong Kong. These people often link their struggles to the legacy of revolutionary struggle in China, and have few illusions about the Chinese Government.
A Maoist rally against the Chinese government and its capitalist practices. This rally took place in Hong Kong in 2018 and was organized by the Mao Zedong Thought Study Group.
For example on May 16, 2018 Hong Kong’s Mao Zedong Thought Study Group organized a several hundred person march and meeting to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution. The demonstration included not only people from Hong Kong, but also those from mainland China. In a speech at the meeting, Chen Hongtao, editor of the publication Red Digest, stated:
“After Chairman Mao passed away in 1976, the capitalist roaders within the party launched a coup. After the full restoration of the capitalist class, followers of Chairman Mao were purged and suppressed, the laboring peoples lost their power to be masters of their country, and Cultural Revolution Thought suffered total official renouncement. This has caused those seated here—many supporters of Chairman Mao’s Continuing Revolutionary Thought—to only be able to openly commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution by coming from the mainland to Hong Kong. There are even several comrades from the mainland who originally wanted to participate in this activity but received all sorts of pressure and restrictions and thus were unable to make the trip.”
Chen also noted that on the mainland the study group would not be able to hold open demonstrations or even operate legally. This is only possible in Hong Kong. He noted that even an attempt by the masses to organize a commemoration of Mao’s 124th birthday was stopped by the police on the grounds that the demonstration would “seriously disturb the social order.” Chen went on to explain that this is because the CCP wants to turn Mao into a religious icon in order to erase his legacy as a revolutionary:
“Today’s China already has truly completed capitalist restoration, but this restoration was carried out by capitalist roaders within the party who stole the people’s power. What they stole was the revolutionary legacy left behind by Chairman Mao. Therefore to justify the legitimacy of their own rule, they hung up a portrait of Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square. But we are very clear, they are only trying to turn Chairman Mao into a harmless religious icon to make offerings to, in order to fool the people, and to extend the life of their rule. They fear the people will wake up, they fear that revolutionary theory, when mastered by the masses, will become a material force that will smash them. Therefore, they are not willing to see the people commemorating Chairman Mao, they are not willing to see the people on their own studying and publicizing Mao Zedong Thought, and they want to monopolize the right to interpret Mao Zedong Thought, to pump away Mao Zedong’s “it’s right to rebel” spirit in order to decorate the facade.”
All of this helps to clarify the stakes of the struggle in Hong Kong. For many revolutionaries in China, Hong Kong is the last refuge where they can flee if facing persecution by the state. Likewise, it is the only place where they can conduct open and above-ground mass work. The capitalist class who now run the CCP have decided to ban and suppress all forms of open political organizing. This repression is so severe that even mass demonstrations celebrating Mao’s birthday are prohibited. The Chinese media has attempted to portray the demonstrators in Hong Kong as simply reckless rioters, pro-U.S. elements, or anti-mainland snobs. Similarly, the U.S. and allies’ media outlets have, for different reasons, focused on the pro-U.S. and pro-British protesters who, in reality, represent a small minority of the millions of people who have taken to the streets.
Uighurs in a Chinese “re-education” camp in the northwest province of Xinjiang. The Chinese government has detained at least one million Uighurs in these camps.
Contemporary China is internally a fascist country. All protests are banned, the people do not have the political right to criticize the government, people now can even be prosecuted for being in chat groups where someone criticizes the government, and activists are routinely arrested, tortured, and disappeared. The CCP has detained over a million Muslim Uighurs (an ethnic minority in the Northwest of the country) for their religion and placed observers in many people’s houses to monitor their every activity. They have also rolled out a fascist “social credit system” that allows the government to track every move every citizen makes and ranks their actions accordingly. This system is paired with a state-of-the-art surveillance system that uses facial recognition to track people’s daily movements throughout the country.
A poster mocking Deng Xiaoping at the Mao Zedong Thought Study Group’s rally.
While there are many issues in Hong Kong—including widespread poverty, neoliberal policies, and police brutality—the people there enjoy far greater democratic freedom than people in mainland China. In this sense, the struggle in Hong Kong should be understood as a class struggle to prevent the Chinese ruling class from being able to carry out an outright and open terroristic dictatorship of capital which prohibits even basic forms of dissent. While there are a good number of revolutionaries in the protest movement in Hong Kong, there is also a broad section of the masses of people who have primarily joined the movement because they do not want to lose the basic democratic freedoms that they currently have. This is not the first time the masses of people in Hong Kong have fought against an imposition of the fascist laws that exist in mainland China.
Recent Protests in Hong Kong and Their Relation to the Class Struggle on the Mainland
In August, 2019 thousands of protesters in Hong Kong shut down the airport for several days. Protests like this show the degree of organization and coordination in the movement.
After the British left, the CCP began efforts to impose their laws and repressive measures in Hong Kong. While they had officially agreed to wait until 2047 to do this, the capitalists like Deng Xiaoping were unsurprisingly not true to the their word. In 2017, a spokesman for the CCP’s foreign ministry openly acknowledged that they considered the Sino-British Joint Declaration “a historical document, [that] no longer has any practical significance.”3 Since the coup in 1976, the Chinese ruling class have been trying to bring Hong Kong back under the thumb of the mainland. They were particularly concerned that some revolutionaries had escaped from arrest and execution in the 1976 counter-revolution.
In his 2018 talk in Hong Kong, Chen Hongtao explained how revolutionaries were treated during the counter-revolution:
“It was in the midst of that cruel class vengeance, that Zhu Zancheng, the commune’s party committee secretary and director of the revolutionary committee was falsely charged as the lead criminal in the “East City’s Counter Revolutionary Hit, Smash and Plunder Case” and was sentenced to death and executed on the spot. Executed at same time were Cai Shuangzi, the secretary of the commune’s Communist Youth League, and Wang Dezhu, branch secretary of one of the commune’s brigades.”
The CCP have stepped up their efforts to impose their control in Hong Kong over the last decade. Since the financial crisis in 2008, the working-class strike movement has grown throughout China.4 Faced with a high level of mass rebellion, the CCP has cracked down on a huge scale. Students have been arrested just for holding Marxist study groups. The Chinese capitalist class sees these as dangerous because students who learn about Marxism quickly realize that China is not in fact a socialist country, and because of this many go on to organize for revolution in China.
Map of strikes in China during 2019.
Recently a number of college graduates forsook well-paid jobs in business or the CCP and instead got working-class jobs in Shenzhen (which is in mainland China) at a large factory run by Jasic Technology Company. They supported the workers struggle to form a union which was met with vicious state-sponsored attacks. First workers and union organizers were repeatedly physically attacked by goons sent by the company and the CCP. After the government denied them the right to form a union, the workers went ahead with the effort anyway. The workers and a number of the former students were arrested and tortured. After months of torture some students eventually recanted their support for the workers, but other students who refused to recant have been disappeared and are either still being tortured or have been killed.
These stories have spread throughout the country and garnered international attention, and similar incidents in China have occurred time and time again. The people in Hong Kong have closely watched these incidents. For example, after the Jasic Incident, there were a series of protests in solidarity with the Jasic Workers in Hong Kong that included trade unionists, middle class activists, and revolutionaries. As a result of this level of solidarity and political consciousness the CCP’s efforts to accelerate the incorporation of Hong Kong have been met with great resistance.
Over 50 students from prestigious Chinese universities went to Shenzhen to support the workers’ struggle to form an independent union at the Jasic Technologies factory. Workers and students faced police raids, arrests, and forced “disappearances” by the capitalist Chinese state.
The current protest movement in Hong Kong was preceded by 2014 Umbrella Movement, which was named after the umbrellas that protesters used to deflect tear gas canisters and water cannons used by the police. This movement began when on August 31st, 2014 the Chinese government announced a continuation and expansion of various controls over elections in Hong Kong. While people had been promised universal suffrage to elect the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, the Chinese central government announced that it would pre-screen candidates before the elections and retained the power to approve or reject candidates after they were elected. The people saw this for what it was, democracy in name, but autocracy in practice. Their anger and frustration exploded into a massive protest movement.
By late September, the protesters were occupying major city centers and roads. Despite police backlash, the protests persisted for 79 days, actively fighting against the suppression. Towards the end of the movement, hundreds were arrested towards, and some of the leaders and activists received jail sentences ranging from six months to a year.
Although the protests did not get the universal suffrage that they were asking for, the Umbrella Movement played a crucial role in the people of Hong Kong’s fight against the Chinese state’s efforts to incorporate them into the mainland. The Umbrella Movement itself was, in some senses, a continuation of previous mass protests, such as the 2012 anti-national education movement. Given this legacy, the people were clear that one victory or defeat did not mean an end to their struggle.
They understood that these movements are part of a long-term struggle to prevent the overturning of their democratic rights and freedoms. What’s more, the most advanced and revolutionary forces in the Umbrella Movement and the current protests in Hong Kong are clear about the link between the struggles on mainland China and those in Hong Kong.
The Current Protest Movement in Hong Kong
Protesters use laser pointers to disrupt the police and facial recognition technology. Given the development of surveillance in China and around the world, it is important to learn from these tactics.
The current protest movement in Hong Kong is a continuation of prior struggles against the imposition of mainland rule. This particular protest movement was sparked by the Hong Kong government’s efforts to pass an extradition bill which would have allowed the Chinese government to have those accused of crimes in China be extradited to the mainland from Hong Kong. This bill was supported by Hong Kong politicians closely aligned with the Chinese government, and many people were worried that it would effectively end Hong Kong’s autonomous status and the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. These concerns had mounted over the years as a number of Hong Kong citizens have been kidnapped and brought to the mainland by the mainland police.
So when the extradition bill was introduced it set off a series of protests and resistance. The initial waves of protests began in March and April. In the biggest of these protests, over 100,000 people came out in opposition to the bill. These initial protests were principally organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, an alliance of 50 pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong. Some of these groups are closely aligned with the U.S. state, but most are liberal reformist groups who have illusions about capitalist democracy and the United Nations. While they took the lead in organizing these protests, many others from across the society, including Maoists and revolutionaries, also participated.
It’s also important to see that the overall struggle against the extradition bill and the erasure of democratic rights is in the interests of the people. While the people are not ultimately free under capitalist democracy—which imposes the chains of wage slavery and poverty on the masses—it is right to rebel against reactionaries and their attempts to impose fascist laws that outlaw above-ground organizing and protests.
After the initial wave of protests, a number of legislators launched a filibuster campaign against the bill, but the government of Hong Kong made a series of underhanded maneuvers to circumvent this filibuster and ram the bill through.
This further outraged the masses of people and shattered the illusions of many who believed that the legislators would prevent the bill from passing. A series of protests followed which aimed to stop the Legislative Council from passing the extradition bill. On June 9th, over a million people protested, and on June 12th around 2,000,000 people participated in a general strike across the city. These are staggering numbers considering that the population of the city is around 7,500,000. The police responded to these protests with extreme force, and did not wear identifying numbers on their uniforms so they could not be held accountable for their brutality.
The police in Hong Kong have deployed unprecedented force against protesters. This has included tear gas, rubber bullets, and even live ammunition.
Despite the police repression, these protests forced Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, to suspend the bill on June 15th in an attempt to placate the movement. However, this plan backfired and on June 16th around 2,000,000 people took to the streets again. Protests continued through the next week, and people besieged the police headquarters—in protest of their brutality—as well as the series of government buildings. The refusal by Lam to withdraw the bill marked a turning point in the movement, and the people began to protest in larger numbers against a whole series of other issues in Hong Kong, above and beyond the extradition bill.
This is important because the issues in Hong Kong are not limited to the threat of being ruled by the mainland. What’s more, if Hong Kong broke away from China, and became a financial city-state like Singapore, this would not ultimately be in the people’s interests. Therefore it’s important that the movement take stock of the many social issues that the people of Hong Kong face, and also that they work to link their struggle to the class struggles in the mainland.
On July 1st, a series of protesters stormed the Legislative Council Complex—roughly equivalent to Capitol Hill in the U.S.—and occupied the building. They smashed through the front doors with improvised battering rams and flooded into the building. Once inside, they spray-painted slogans such as “It was you who taught me peaceful marches did not work,” (是你教我和平遊行是没用) as well as other political messages. After a few hours they were forced out by the police.
This protest and storming of the Legislative Council Complex represented a shift in the movement, after which an increasingly large number of the masses realized that peaceful protests alone are not capable of defeating the oppressors. Since this point, protests have expanded in scope and spread throughout the entirety of Hong Kong, especially to the working class neighborhoods.
This shift in strategy is significant because it indicates that the movement has taken stock of the failures of the Umbrella Movement, which was defeated in large part because the protesters tried to occupy three major locations in the city. This led to them being inflexible in their tactics. They were unable to meet head-on assaults by the police and eventually folded under the repression. In contrast the present movement has adopted a series of tactics summed up and popularized in slogans like “gather like dew” when coordinating an action and “scatter like mist” to avoid police repression. These slogans help to clarify the tactics of the movement to the people on a mass level.
The protests have been met with an ever increasingly level of police brutality, arrests, repression, and even killings, so adopting these tactics has been essential for the survival of the movement. Some may believe that it is impossible for the people to confront a powerful, well armed police force and the related surveillance state. However, the movement in Hong Kong has shown that this is not true.
Protesters confront police in riot gear in Hong Kong. The protesters wear masks and use umbrellas to deflect tear gas cannisters launched by the police.
Protesters wear masks to protect their identities, they collectively work to spray paint over security cameras and destroy the surveillance stations the police install throughout the city. When they do confront the police head on the protesters form into a compact block, use laser pointers to disrupt and distract the cops and their cameras, they have umbrellas to repel the tear gas canisters, they set up barricades, and even use firebombs and bricks to repel the police attacks. The police have blinded protesters with “non-lethal” weapons, used tear gas indoors and in subway stations, arrested hundreds, and even killed some protesters. However, despite this, the movement has largely succeeded in overwhelming the police time and time again.
In response to these protests the CCP has coordinated with local thugs in Hong Kong and encouraged them to attack protesters. They have also published a series of videos of the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong conducting training drills to counter protests with machine guns and tanks. Videos of thousands of PLA troops training on the border with Hong Kong were also publicized. The state-run Xinhua news agency even publicly stated that any form of secessionism in Hong Kong “will be crushed.” Similar threats have been repeatedly issued by the CCP and their media other outlets.
In part because these threats have not yet placated protesters, Carrie Lam formally withdrew the extradition bill on September 4th, but protesters were quick to criticize this as “too little, too late.” Even after this maneuver by Lam, the protest movement has continued, and they have intensified their efforts to spread the movement in a series of different ways, including through boycotting pro-mainland businesses. When Lam tried once again to placate the people by holding a “public dialogue” only 100 members of the public showed up to the event, but thousands gathered outside to protest her, trapping her inside the venue for hours.
Recently, students have taken control of several universities, and barricaded the schools to keep the police out. These actions came shortly after police gunned down a protester in cold-blood and then pinned him to the ground to handcuff him as he was bleeding out all over the street. Students have seized the bows and arrows from the schools as well as other athletic gear that can be used to fight back against the police. They have also set up make-shift catapults that can fire petrol bombs over 500 feet. These and other implements have been used to fend off police attacks. All of this shows the city is on the verge of an open insurrection.
Given the PLA presence in Hong Kong and on the border, many are worried about a direct military intervention.
Given that efforts to placate and buy off the protesters have not be successful, and given that the police have not been able to repress the movement, Carrie Lam and the legislature passed an anti-mask law and a declaration of emergency. These emergency powers were used on numerous occasions by the British during their colonial rule of Hong Kong, but had not been invoked post-1997, until now. They give the police sweeping powers to stop and frisk anyone, at any time, for any reason. This has turned Hong Kong into an effective police state, and yet despite this the protests continue on a large scale, all across the city. This is likely the last form of escalation the city can carry out, short of calling in the PLA and other mainland forces.
Contradictions in the Movement and the Way Forward
Like any mass movement involving millions of people, the struggles in Hong Kong are very complex and the protest movement involves a bunch of different political forces with different goals, ideas and strategies. The initial wave of protests was largely planned and coordinated by liberal reformist groups, including some pro-U.S. groups with links to the CIA. And at one point a small group of protesters even held a demonstration outside the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong while holding American flags and signs that called for Donald Trump to “liberate Hong Kong.”
While the U.S. and Chinese media focused on this demonstration to bolster their own differing narratives about the protests, the movement is not reducible to these forces, and they represent a small minority. The movement as a whole also includes Maoists, anarchists, trade unionists, students, and others. As the demonstrations have grown more militant and taken on direct confrontation with the police, many of the more liberal groups have distanced themselves from these demonstrations, but often have stopped short of outright condemning such methods. This has actually been one of the strengths of the movement so far. Despite a wider range of political differences, groups have been able to unite around shared opposition to the imposition of dictatorial laws and policies.
Despite this success in preventing splits and a fracturing of the movement, the different political ideas within the movement should not be written off as unimportant or irrelevant. A relatively small number of protesters—who receive a disproportionately large amount of media attention—are very pro-U.S. and funded by the CIA. This is a real contradiction that the movement needs to address. These people are not ultimately for the people, but merely opportunists who hope to use the ongoing political movement to break Hong Kong from China and turn it into a U.S. neocolony and financial hub.
Other contradictions exist in the movement. For example, many of the wealthy elite in Hong Kong have offered some degree of support for the movement, because they do not want to lose their money and power to the mainland billionaires who run the CCP. These people are opposed to losing their power, but not opposed to oppression and exploitation. As the protest movement has grown and larger issues like working conditions, poverty, and living conditions have become focuses of the movement, these members of the Hong Kong elite have grown wary. They do not want to lose their power to rival billionaires in the mainland, but even more than that they fear the wrath and power of the working masses of people. In the end these people may very well compromise with the CCP to prevent themselves from being expropriated and driven from power.
There are also those in the movement who have many illusions about capitalist democracy. These are generally well-intentioned middle-class reformers and students. They correctly see the fascist nature of the class rule in China—which prohibits all dissent and protests—and want to avoid this sort of rule spreading to Hong Kong.
Students at Hong Kong University hold off a police assault after they barricaded the university and made improvised weapons from track and field equipment. These tactics mark the beginning of a near-insurrectionary situation.
However, these people generally are blind to the horrors of capitalist democracy and how it binds the vast majority in the chains of wage slavery, shackles them in poverty, and condemns them to an early grave from stress and overwork. It is possible and even necessary to work with middle-class reformers in a big mass movement. However, it is also important to engage in a ideological struggle against the reformist ideas these people promote. This doesn’t have to be a polemical struggle that leads to a split, but it’s important to not let reformists deceive the masses of people into believing that a “liberal democracy” will solve all the problems they face.
Hanging above the movement like the Sword of Damocles is the threat of military intervention from the mainland. There is a PLA garrison in Hong Kong, and a number of troops have been mobilized along the border. As the movement persists and continues to grow, there is a real possibility that China will use military force to crush the protests. At present, it is not possible for the protesters to go toe-to-toe with the Chinese military if they send in tanks and soldiers armed with machine guns and high-powered rifles. Therefore, the movement must develop a strategy for how to deal with this threat.
Already the movement in Hong Kong has polarized China as a country. The CCP has claimed that the protest movement is the result of interference by the U.S. and Britain. Likewise, state-run media outlets have worked hard to depict the protesters as “anti-Chinese” and pro-America. While some have been taken in by these lies and distortions, many within China—especially those in the revolutionary movement—see through this nonsense. Some have already been working to link up the struggles in Hong Kong to those in the mainland, as the above remarks by Chen Hongtao show.
The protest movement has already succeeded in forcing the CCP and the Hong Kong government to scrap the extradition bill. This and other significant reforms can be won by the present movement. However, in order to overthrow the oppressors and establish a pro-people society, it will be necessary for the movement in Hong Kong to become part of a larger revolutionary movement to topple the CCP, expropriate the wealth of the billionaires, and reestablish socialism in China. Without such a revolutionary overthrow, the CCP will certainly intervene military to annex Hong Kong and impose a brutal military rule on the people.
Despite the difficult road ahead, the movement in Hong Kong has already accomplished a lot. They have not only defeated the extradition bill, but also mobilized millions to fight for real change. The movement in Hong Kong has also inspired many people around the world, and the protesters ability to thwart the police and their surveillance systems provide valuable lessons for revolutionaries and political movements everywhere.
For an indepth analysis of the Cultural Revolution, see the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Revolutionary Study Group’s document on the topic: https://www.mlmrsg.com/79-statements/72-evaluating-the-cultural-revolution-in-china-and-its-legacy-for-the-future ↩︎
See Paris Commune in Shanghai by Hongsheng Jiang: https://dukespace.lib.duke.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/10161/2356/D_Jiang_Hongsheng_a_201005.pdf ↩︎