‘Democracy’ Provocateurs & Hong Kong’s Capitalist Dystopia
Defend the Chinese Deformed Workers State! Crush Counterrevolution!
The mass protests that have shaken Hong Kong in recent months have been presented in the Western media as a popular revolt against the domination of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). While the CCP is certainly the target of the initiators of the upheaval, the millions of ordinary citizens who have participated in the demonstrations at different points have other priorities, as some of the more serious bourgeois press has noted. A piece in the 22 July New York Times entitled “Tiny Apartments and Punishing Work Hours: The Economic Roots of Hong Kong’s Protests,” reported:
“Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese city of 7.4 million people shaken this summer by huge protests, may be the world’s most unequal place to live. Anger over the growing power of mainland China in everyday life has fueled the protests, as has the desire of residents to choose their own leaders. But beneath that political anger lurks an undercurrent of deep anxiety over their own economic fortunes — and fears that it will only get worse.”
Hong Kong’s “semiautonomous” status derives from its seizure in 1842 after Britain’s victory in the First Opium War established its right to flood China with debilitating drugs. When the lease on the territory expired in 1997, the CCP agreed to allow Hong Kong to operate on the basis of “One Country, Two Systems” for the next 50 years.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was created in 1949 after a lengthy civil war in which the CCP’s insurrectionary peasant army finally triumphed over China’s capitalists and their imperialist backers. Under Mao Zedong, foreign and domestic capital was expropriated and the economy was reorganized along the lines of Soviet Russia, with political control monopolized by a parasitic Stalinist caste which tolerated no independent working-class political activity. Despite the CCP’s bureaucratic political regime, the social revolution freed China from the grip of imperialism and laid the basis for enormous improvements in the lives of the vast majority of the population.
After the 1949 revolution, Hong Kong served as a vital link between China and the capitalist world. In the 1950s the territory had a vibrant textile industry, which expanded in the 1960s to include the production of electronics, clothing and other consumer goods. The British colonial administrators indirectly subsidized Hong Kong’s capitalists during this period with major investments in public housing, which allowed them to keep wages relatively low. By the 1990s most of Hong Kong’s factories had been relocated to the mainland as economic activity in the territory shifted to the service sector, particularly finance, tourism and retail.
With housing subsidies long gone, real estate speculation and rent gouging have produced stupendous super-profits for a few “oligarchs” and an increasingly desperate and impoverished population. Hong Kong’s capitalist elite have their own mass media and dominate the former colony’s Legislative Council. They have been given a free hand by the CCP, and the results are pretty ugly:
“It [Hong Kong] boasts the world’s longest working hours and the highest rents. Wages have not kept up with rent, which has increased by nearly a quarter over the past six years. Housing prices have more than tripled over the past decade.
“The median price of a house is more than 20 times the annual median household income.”
The New York Times article reported complaints from demonstrators that Hong Kong’s rulers “work for Beijing, for property developers and for big companies instead of for the people.” A 20 August report by Bloomberg tells the same story:
“Billy Tung, a 28-year-old accountant, lives on Hong Kong Island in a tiny room in an apartment that’s been partitioned to accommodate six renters. His bosses expect him to work most Saturdays and Sundays, but recently he’s had another weekend activity: taking to the streets to join thousands of other Hong Kongers in protests….
“…‘Citizens are willing to sacrifice the economy to fight,’ says Tung, who represents a generation for whom home ownership is increasingly out of reach. Hong Kong has had the world’s least affordable real estate for nine years in a row. Property developers wield enormous market power, controlling everything from power utilities to mobile phone carriers.
“Like many Hong Kongers of his generation, Tung finds it hard to save even while he carefully watches his spending on a day-to-day basis, which is why he’s been toying with the idea of moving to Taiwan. ‘I don’t want to spend the next 10 years working just to give it all away to Hong Kong real estate developers,’ he says.”
The CCP permitted the Hong Kong oligarchs to engineer this capitalist dystopia in order to win their loyalty. Many mainland Chinese capitalists and corrupt CCP bureaucrats have been on a property buying spree in Hong Kong, which has helped drive prices up, and generated considerable resentment from the locals. By permitting Chinese capitalists to invest and launder money through Hong Kong via real estate and other deals, the CCP leadership hopes to further integrate the territory into the PRC. To that end Beijing has also made substantial infrastructure improvements, linking Hong Kong to China’s national high-speed rail network and constructing a spectacular 55 kilometer bridge—described by CNN as “the longest sea-crossing bridge ever built”—to the mainland. The bridge also connects Hong Kong to Macau, the former Portuguese colony which China also regained in the late 1990s, and which is now the world’s largest gambling center—“seven times larger than that of Las Vegas,” according to Wikipedia.
While the Stalinist CCP bureaucrats have been catering to Hong Kong’s bourgeoisie, the global imperialist cabal headquartered in Washington D.C. has never accepted the existence of the Chinese deformed workers’ state and still regards the reversal of the 1949 social revolution as a key strategic objective. For 70 years Hong Kong has provided a hub for counterrevolutionary activity, much of which is carried on under the guise of promoting “democracy.”
The recent protests initially focused on opposition to a proposal to close a legal loophole that did not permit suspects to be extradited to Macau, Taiwan or the PRC. The legislation was put forward after a Hong Kong man charged with murdering his girlfriend was able to avoid extradition to Taiwan to stand trial. The imperialist media portrayed the proposed law as an outrageous incursion on “democratic rights,” while ignoring the fact that Hong Kong already had similar arrangements with the U.S., Britain and other countries. Jonathan Cook, who regularly reports on Zionist crimes against the Palestinians, commented that the extreme sensitivity of the capitalist press to hypothetical CCP infractions of democratic rights does not extend to critics of the “Free World”:
“UK media cheerlead Hong Kong protesters who fear China will use ‘non-political crimes to prosecute critics’. The same media that’s spent 9 years cheerleading persecution, torture of whistleblowing platform founder Julian Assange for non-political crimes [see The Guardian, June 11, 2019]”
— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) June 12, 2019 (cited by Alexander Rubinstein, op. cit.)
The Hong Kong protests were launched by the “Civil Human Rights Front” (CHRF), a lash-up including organizations like the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, both of which have long histories of funding from the “National Endowment for Democracy,” a U.S. agency Alexander Rubinstein aptly described “as a CIA soft-power cutout that has played a critical role in innumerable U.S. regime-change operations” In August Dan Cohen published a useful article on the U.S. connections to the protest movement.
One local tycoon, Jimmy Lai, a fanatical anti-communist who has been described as Asia’s Rupert Murdoch, has openly backed the protests. In July, Lai travelled to Washington to consult with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton about how best to utilize the movement to undermine the PRC. While most Hong Kong oligarchs would doubtless like to avoid the risk of future extradition to the mainland, many of them seem more concerned about the short term disruption of business and collapse of tourism, as well as the possible long-term implications of the People’s Liberation Army eventually being sent in to quell rioters.
An organized corps of ideologically committed counterrevolutionaries has spearheaded many of the violent episodes during the protests—some of them openly waving U.S. and British flags and singing the “Star Spangled Banner.” These elements have clearly been acting with the support, if not at the direction, of the U.S. and its imperialist allies. A contributor to The Diplomat noted on 6 September that, “Petrol bombs, arson, and extensive property damage have been assimilated into the repertoire of weapons employed by protesters….” It has been widely noted that the tactics of the helmeted militants aggressively challenging the Hong Kong police have closely paralleled those used during the Ukrainian protests of 2014, as well as in other U.S.-sponsored “color revolutions.”
The often insightful publisher of the Moon of Alabama blog speculated that, “It is the U.S., not some oligarchs, which is behind the current rioting phase,” pointing out that:
“The rioters equipment comes from ‘strangers’ who create depots of gas masks, helmets, laser pointers etc., that trusted demonstrators then distribute to their fellows. Mysteriously hundreds of subway tickets appear which are handed out for free to the junior university students who, during their current holidays, make up the mass of the violent black block that attacks the police.”
The organizers of this counterrevolutionary mayhem, their agents and collaborators, who are routinely referred to in the bourgeois media as simply “pro-democracy” protesters, need to be dealt with firmly. Yet it is important to differentiate between the thousands of youth enrolled, consciously or otherwise, as shock troops for capitalist reaction and the millions of citizens who have participated in the mobilizations at various times. Most of the latter are not particularly interested in the question of extradition—they are motivated by anxiety about the increasingly precarious situation of ordinary working people in this capitalist hell-hole. It is highly significant that this critical issue is not reflected in any of the five official demands of the protest organizers: 1) withdrawal of the extradition bill; 2) retraction of descriptions of the 12 June protest as a “riot;” 3) an official inquiry into police tactics; 4) exoneration of all those arrested; and 5) the introduction of universal suffrage for elections to Hong Kong’s legislative council (a third of which is currently appointed). The reason that none of these demands touch on any significant social issue is because the imperialist-financed components steering the “Civil Human Rights Front” set the agenda.
The attitude of revolutionaries to this movement must begin by recognizing the necessity to defend the Chinese deformed workers’ state and the collectivized property system upon which it is based. This requires the suppression of the pro-imperialist leadership of the protests and their hard-core followers, who compose an ever-increasing proportion of the demonstrations as participation dwindles. It is obviously necessary to shut down all the NGOs and other operations that have acted as conduits for counterrevolution via the National Endowment for Democracy and similar agencies. While we have no political confidence in the Beijing bureaucrats, we would certainly side with them in any confrontation with the counterrevolutionaries of the CHRF.
The treacherous CCP bureaucracy has operated as an enabler and defender of capitalists on the mainland, and has long indulged the Hong Kong oligarchs whose rapacious greed produced the mass anxiety reflected in the level of popular participation in the protests. The central axis of a revolutionary Trotskyist intervention in this crisis must be to address concerns over falling living standards and the territory’s obscene social inequality. Advocating measures that benefit the masses at the expense of the oligarchs could help expose and isolate the pro-capitalist leadership of the protests. One key demand is to double or triple the minimum wage, which is currently under five dollars an hour. Another would be to slash rents, perhaps by 75 percent or more, and demand the launch of a massive public housing program, financed by expropriating the oligarchs and their real-estate holdings.
To organize and coordinate the efforts of Hong Kong’s millions of workers, it would be necessary to set up a central coordinating body, or council, to direct the struggle. Such a body, composed of delegates from every workplace and working-class neighborhood, would find it necessary to form special bodies to implement its decisions, and to organize defense guards capable of responding to aggressive actions by police or pro-capitalist thugs. This sort of direct working-class action would be anathema to the CCP bureaucrats who have historically functioned as a transmission belt for the influence of global imperialism, and whose incubation of an indigenous Chinese bourgeoisie has fueled the ever-growing danger of counterrevolution.
A revolutionary upheaval aimed at the expropriation of Hong Kong’s bourgeoisie would resonate powerfully with China’s combative working class which experiences exploitation on a daily basis and bears the burden of the gross social inequality promoted by the Stalinist bureaucracy. The imperialists have long dreamed of using Hong Kong as a springboard for counterrevolution—but an insurgent working class that turns the tables on the capitalist parasites could spark a proletarian political revolution on the mainland that would shatter the grip of the brittle Stalinist caste and, following the example of the Russian soviets of 1917, establish the direct political rule of the working class. Such a world-historic event would set off a global political tsunami with the potential to completely transform human society.