By LAM CHI LEUNG
The Hong Kong Anti-Extradition movement, which erupted in June, has been raging for almost half a year so far. The movement is fundamentally about defending Hong Kong’s autonomy and basic civic and political freedoms.
This movement was instigated by Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s hasty push for a bill that would allow for the mainland Chinese government to arrest and extradite those whom the CCP regime considers fugitives in Hong Kong, which include the Chinese democratic rights activists and dissidents based there.
Although British colonialism in Hong Kong ended in 1997, and Hong Kong was titularly returned to China, the city still follows the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement: Hong Kong maintains a political and legal system distinct from that of mainland China. The Hong Kongers have freedom of speech and assembly. They also tend to receive more protection from an (relatively) independent judiciary. As mainland China remains under single-party authoritarian rule, in which the people lack protection by the law, an extradition provision would open up a loophole where Hong Kongers could be sent to be tried unfairly inside mainland China at any time.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s announcement in September that she was withdrawing the extradition bill did nothing to placate the popular outrage. The fact is that as early as June she had expressed willingness to stop the bill, but she was not yet ready to formally announce its withdrawal. More significant is the fact that she is yet to respond to a single one of the four remaining demands raised by the protesters, i.e. for an independent commission to investigate police violence, the withdrawal of the “riot” designation, the release of arrested protesters, and genuine universal suffrage.
Meanwhile, police violence is increasing in its severity. To this point, they have arrested some 5804 individuals, 521 of whom remain under criminal charges, and 1900 people were injured. Moreover, there have been protesters who suddenly “committed suicide,” leading to suspicions that they were actually murdered by the police.
Thus far, we’ve seen three demonstrations that exceeded one million participants, as well as a relatively successful political strike on Aug. 5. The three main characteristics of the present movement include the broad participation of youths, the widespread support from public opinion, and the eruption of political strikes—which has not happened in over 50 years in Hong Kong.
Of course, towards the later stages of the movement, some young protesters began to resort to arson, storming public offices and subways or such methods, thereby increasing the number of injuries and arrests, as well as leading to even more brutal repression from the police. The most intense conflict occurred between Nov. 15 and 18 at the The Chinese University and the Polytechnic University. The concern right now is that continued and prolonged deadlock will only push radical youth to unrestrained violence.
Within the movement, there is also a tendency that looks to the United States to sanction the Hong Kong government, while strenuously demonizing new mainland Chinese migrants or the voices of mainland Chinese people. These protesters at once imitate the so-called coloured revolution of Ukraine, while also rallying to support Catalonian independence (though some have objected to this out of fear of offending the EU and the U.S.) All these illustrate the political confusions, contradictions, and pragmatic attitudes within the present mass movement.
On Sept. 8, a few thousand people marched to the U.S. embassy to ask the United States for help. Not all of these marches were organized by right-wing nativists—in fact many of them were organized by scholars and lawyers. Moreover, we should distinguish between two kinds of “calling for U.S. interference”: 1) calling for U.S. interference because we admire Trump and his beliefs; 2) calling for U.S. interference as a call for U.S. citizens to demand that their government stand up against an authoritarian regime instead of prioritizing trade.
The Anti-Extradition Movement in Hong Kong is not an isolated phenomenon. In the past period, large-scale mass movements have erupted in France, Iran, Iraq, Ecuador, Catalonia, and most recently, Chile. Some even compare these developments to the Arab Spring in 2011, dubbing them “Spring of the Global South.” Although the catalysts for each of these movements are not the same, and the method of struggles may take on different forms, we can be certain that they are united in the masses’ anger towards social inequality and political repression.
The Anti-Extradition Movement in Hong Kong is no exception. Even the ruling class of Hong Kong and Beijing understand the gulf between the rich and poor, and the deep dissatisfaction of the masses (especially the youth) toward the status quo. The inability to see a way out of this stalemate is primarily what fueled this movement for over half a year while mainstream public opinion continues to support the young protesters. The Extradition Bill is only a catalyst, while neoliberal policies, the exploitative behavior of finance and real estate capitalists, and the service of the government toward the rich are the real deep-seated reasons for the masses’ struggle.
We support the main demands of the Anti-Extradition Movement, not only for the withdrawal of the bill but also for a general election with genuine universal suffrage. We must further emphasize the need for a total, anti-capitalist transformation of the economy and society.
The fact that the Hong Kong movement has lasted for months also reveals the weakness of China’s bureaucratic capitalism. Although the CCP can temporarily separate the masses of Hong Kong and mainland China, preventing them from uniting in a struggle, it is unable to completely suppress the Hong Kongers’ revolt, just has it has failed to suppress those of the Tibetan and Xinjiang people. The so-called “Rise of China” or the “Chinese Model” does not shield China’s bureaucratic capitalism from social and political crises, nor does it make revolutions obsolete, as the majority of Chinese liberals have hoped. Quite the opposite, a high level of repression is only going to deepen the crisis when it eventually erupts.
Although the forces of revolutionary socialism in Hong Kong have remained weak for a long time, they still must intervene in this mass movement. We need to patiently guide the masses, by first understanding the flaws, contradictions, naiveté, and illusions within them. We must avoid imposing schemas upon the masses and turn our backs on them when they don’t conform, but also not to tail the masses and drift along with them.
Socialists need to especially emphasize the need for self-organization of workers and students, arguing against the prettification of decentralization as a form of the movement. Secondly, we must participate in the debate within the masses with a socialist perspective, strongly criticize the far-right “localists’” foolhardy adventurism and anti-Chinese rhetoric, looking beyond the British or American ruling class but calling on workers, women, students, and progressive social movements from the West to support the movement.
In addition, the movement should immediately stop the systematic arson and vandalizing attacks of subway stations and police stations, because this strategy will only result in more brutal crackdowns and will also gradually isolate the protesters, weakening the movement as a whole. In short, the fight must go on, but its mpath and means must be altered.
Only by convincing the mainland Chinese people that the Hong Kongers are willing to unite with them in struggle can we defeat the CCP bureaucracy and bring about genuine democracy and equality for both Hong Kong and Chinese peoples. Nothing guarantees that this path will be possible, but there is no alternative way out.
November 24, 2019
The article is based on the video talk at the Marxism Scotland and Marx21 on Barcelona 2019, but with some additions. Lam Chi Leung is a independent socialist based in Hong Kong and editor of the Marxists Internet Archive Chinese