Our Fundamental Positions on ‘Occupy Central’
Quasi Editorial Committee
1 October 2014
On 22 September 2014, in protest against the alleged violation of “international standards” by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) in its decision on the framework of the 2017 elections for the Chief Executive (CE), and demanding the introduction of popular nominations of candidates, the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) initiated a class boycott in universities and other higher education institutions, setting the stage for the Occupy Central (OC) movement. On the night of 26 September, HKFS and Scholarism jointly organised the storming and occupation of the square in the east wing of government headquarters; at 1am on 28 September, Benny Tai announced the beginning of OC, demanding the withdrawal of the NPCSC decision and new consultations on political reform.
From 27 September onwards, tens of thousands thronged the streets, occupying major thoroughfares; the government ordered the police to disperse the crowds, making a number of arrests. On 28 September, in protest of police brutality, the Confederation of Trade Unions called a general strike for the next day, demanding the release of all arrested, apologies from the government and the police, the withdrawal of the NPCSC decision on political reform as well as the resignation of Leung Chun-ying. The Professional Teachers’ Union called a strike, and the HKFS announced an indefinite students’ strike. The pan-democratic camp thus fully mobilised itself for a full-scale confrontation with the HKSAR government.
With the US strategy of “Pivot to Asia” in the background, the continuation of the street protests will sooner or later lead to a “shadow CE” and a “shadow government” which will demand recognition from the “International Community”. A total war without gun smoke has finally broken out. The Beijing bureaucratic regime’s connivance of the joint misrule of ex-colonial technocrats and the Hong Kong capitalists, the disappearance of anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist socialist politics in Hong Kong—i.e. the implosion of the penned-up contradictions under “One Country, Two Systems”—is pushing Hong Kong into a critical situation.
In light of these extraordinary developments, the Quasi Editorial Committee publishes the following declaration to provide our readers with a working-class socialist point of reference:
1.The basic political situation in Hong Kong and the predicament of the working people
Hong Kong, just like Taiwan, is an advanced capitalist society highly dependent on international finance capital and with neocolonial features. Both are practicing some form of capitalist democracy. Therefore, it is our contention that “democratisation” is not a real issue in Hong Kong, the real question here is whether we move towards socialism.
The struggle between the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps in Hong Kong, like the struggle between the pan-Green and pan-Blue camps in Taiwan, is a struggle within the capitalist class. Neither the pan-democratic nor the pro-establishment camps have a problem with money politics, and both are perfectly fine with maintaining capitalism in Hong Kong. Their disagreement over the election of the CE through universal suffrage boils down to whether anti-communist, anti-system politicians have the right to run in, or even win the contest.
The real problem facing the working people in Hong Kong is the absence of a socialist party independent of the capitalist class, and the absence of an unified workers’ movement which fights against capitalism. Lacking an independent voice, the working people either have no reason to participate in politics, or become the plaything and fodder of capitalist populism.
In the final analysis, the pan-democratic street mobilisations in the name of popular nominations—which fight for the right of anti-system politicians to be candidates in the CE elections—are a scramble for power for the wing of the capitalist class that is most closely linked to imperialism. Not only will this not enhance any democratic rights for the working people, this could well result in an absolute anti-communist, anti-China consensus in Hong Kong, and a right-wing coup. This kind of movement is against the interest of the working class and the cause of socialism.
Under “One Country, Two Systems”, the Beijing bureaucratic regime has continued the rule of the Hong Kong capitalists and ex-colonial technocrats. This enables the anti-communist camp to describe the sharpening contradictions and social problems issuing out of the world capitalist crisis the outcome of the return to Chinese sovereignty and an “undemocratic political system”. This argument cannot withstand a single blow: no electoral system can stop capitalism from producing contradictions and crises, and the “bigwigs” will not be deprived of their ruling status by an anti-communist regime.
However, next to the “united front” between the “patriotic left” and the Hong Kong capitalists, the pro-imperialist pan-democrats and their “left wing” have been able to pose as defenders of the “vulnerable”, “grassroots” and “small citizens”. The continuing low ebb of the world communist movement since the 1990s, and the decline of anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist socialist politics in Hong Kong, means that the pan-democratic camp’s anti-communist populism and the pro-establishment camp’s conservative defence of “stability” have become the two main trends of politics. Not only has there been no liquidation of Hong Kong’s colonial system and legacy, capitalism in Hong Kong has indeed become the “shared value” of the two camps.
Precisely due to all this, we are now facing this scenario: the pro-establishment camp, politically bankrupt, can only wish for the self-dispersal or the police repression of the Occupy movement; the pan-democratic camp, gaining enormous political momentum through the street movement, declared that it would mobilise the crowds to occupy government buildings. If this farce and tragedy develops to its logical end, untold damage could be brought to the working people in Hong Kong, all of China, East Asia and even the entire world.
We are in dire need of a working-class socialist force.
2. A basic scientific socialist analysis of capitalist universal suffrage
Karl Marx argued that the function of capitalist constitutional rule is to present the dominance of the capitalist class as the result of universal suffrage—i.e. giving the dictatorship of the capitalist class “legitimacy” and “recognition” through universal suffrage. Marx thus concluded that the capitalist republic “mandated” by universal suffrage is “the most potent and complete form of their class rule”. When the working class attains class consciousness and becomes a powerful revolutionary force, ushering in an era of decisive class battles, capitalist universal suffrage will complete its mission of “schooling” the working people in the hypocrisies of money politics, and has to be “set aside by a revolution or by the reaction.”
When the German Social Democratic Party began its ascendancy in parliament, Engels clearly pointed out that:
“…universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It cannot and never will be anything more, in the present-day state; but that is sufficient. On the day the thermometer of universal suffrage registers boiling point among the workers, both they and the capitalists will know what to do.”
Engels is very clear here: firstly, capitalist universal suffrage is at most an opinion poll showing the level of support the working class has for its revolutionary party, it “cannot and never will be anything more” under capitalism (“the present-day state”); secondly, when capitalist universal suffrage can no longer maintain the functioning of the capitalist constitution with the emergence of a revolutionary situation, it will then be abolished by either working-class revolution or capitalist counter-revolution.
In his well-known classic critique of social-democratic capitulation to capitalism, The State and Revolution, Lenin restated the above viewpoints of Marx and Engels’, and refuted the social-democratic lie that capitalist universal suffrage is a “classless” form of “democracy”.
In other words: the economic base determines the political superstructure; the best political shell of the private ownership of the major means of production is capitalist democracy; under capitalism, capital itself is power, elections are the stage where various factions of capital contest for power; the revolutionary party of the working class can use the electoral system as a means to criticise and expose capitalism, but when the capitalist class believes the working class has become a clear and present danger, capitalist democracy will be abolished, the shell of universal suffrage will be put aside and replaced by unbridled police-military dictatorship. On the contrary, when the working class overthrows capitalism, it will abolish capitalist universal suffrage and establish a proletarian democracy based on public ownership.
Today, in the 21st century, capitalist universal suffrage has become an ideological weapon in the imperialists’ bid to thoroughly pacify the working people and permanently consolidate its rule.
3. The reality of “real, international standard, universal suffrage”
The pan-democratic “left” gives a special emphasis on the idea that a “real universal suffrage”, “without the filtering of candidates” is a “just system”, which allegedly can curb big business and obtain various welfare reforms, and could even lead to… “the abolition of capitalism”. We contend that this is totally absurd. It is nothing short of being absolutely preposterous in light of the current world capitalist crisis which began in 2008.
For example, in Europe, the European Commission, which takes its cue from German imperialism, is implementing a multitude of austerity measures on the entire European Union, especially its southern states. By massive cuts on public expenditure, big reductions on wages and conditions, large-scale unemployment and bankruptcy, it aims to raise the rate of profit for capital. US imperialism has carried out similar policies after its rescue of bankrupt finance capital, and produced similar results. The US federal and local governments firmly cracked down the Occupy Wall Street movement which called for campaign finance reform and an end to the rule of money.
The imperialist military alliances led by the US are not only invading the Middle East and Africa, they are also attempting to encircle China through its “Pivot to Asia”. The US government’s response to the exposure by Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange of its war crimes, diplomatic intrigues and global surveillance in league with the giant IT corporations is imprisonment and arrest warrants.
All these atrocities by the imperialist ruling class have been resolutely carried out by the state machinery “legitimised” by capitalist universal suffrage. The working people, not conscious of the problem and deprived of socialist organisation, are completely incapable of resistance in the face of the collusion between the entire capitalist establishment and its media. The capitalist state’s attitude to organised workers’ struggle is one of severe repression.
Many supporters of the pan-democratic camp have expressed their massive admiration for the British system, and even call for the return of Hong Kong under its domination. But what kind of “international standards democracy” is it? In Britain, the police, military, judiciary and even the entire “citizenry” pledge allegiance not to the constitution (Britain has no written constitution), nor to the elected lower chamber of Parliament (i.e. House of Commons), but to the Monarchy. The upper chamber of Parliament, i.e. House of Lords, are selected by the government and appointed by the Monarch. The design of this system is to facilitate a coup by the military, police and judiciary (i.e. the core of the state machinery) in the name of the Monarch when the electoral system “breaks down” under the impact of intense class struggle.
When workers’ struggle was red-hot in Britain in the 1970s, military officers mooted a coup to smash the left, which would not be unlike the US-backed one in Chile by Pinochet. Eventually, the British ruling class, through its popularly-elected Thatcher government, forced the National Union of Miners—the vanguard of the British trade union movement—into striking by the threat of mass lay-offs. After a year of political and military-police encirclement, the miners were defeated. The entire political scene was moved to the right, and the rise of the Labour right firmly established.
This, of course, is not only a problem in Europe or the US. In East Asia where we are, for instance, the political system of the Philippines is a carbon copy of the US; Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia are all practicing capitalist universal suffrage. And then?
All these places are in fact ruled by the pro-imperialist big bourgeoisie, where any working-class socialist force with substantive power is characterised by its absence. In fact, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, India are all persecuting leftists they deem to be anti-state. The working people are all ruled, exploited and oppressed by the capitalist class, they have formal civil rights, but no real political power whatsoever.
Capitalist universal suffrage is thus nothing more than a tool for the enhancement of the legitimacy of the ruling order and the adjustment of social contradictions.
To spell it out in full: capitalist parliaments are the outer shells of the capitalist state, the heads of capitalist governments are the head servants of capitalism, capitalist military and police forces are the violent core maintaining capitalist class rule—these fundamental facts cannot be altered regardless of the existence of universal suffrage, the procedures of such elections and the party affiliations of the heads of government.
More than a century of historical experience has repeatedly proven that—both in theory and in practice—that it is impossible for the working class to seize political power through capitalist universal suffrage and begin the transition to socialism. When it faces strong domestic and international pressure from the workers, the capitalist class uses welfare measures to ease the situation. These will then be withdrawn once the workers’ organisations become a political threat, and financial and fiscal policies damage the rate of profit. Under capitalism, welfare measures are ultimately paid for by the workers, and become their opposite in the end.
In summary, the parties and politicians who claim that their election to parliamentary and official positions—or even capitalist universal suffrage itself—can somehow bring about “social justice”, are nothing but downright liars.
Advocating the omnipotence of capitalist universal suffrage is not only a con game which puts the trivial before the essentials. It is also completely useless in the struggle against exploitation and oppression. And by reinforcing right-wing ideology and electoral populism, it makes the emancipation of the working people even harder.
4. The logic of the street movement
In the “classics” the New School for Democracy uses to train the leaders of the Occupy movement—i.e. the strategic and tactical manuals of “colour revolutions” by Gene Sharp et al—the importance of using youth and students to lay siege and storm government buildings is repeatedly discussed.
Under this scenario, if the security forces take no action, the opposition can obtain a great propaganda coup by emphasising the self-doubt, illegitimacy, cowardice and impotence of the regime, gathering more support and impetus for larger street mobilisations. If the security forces uses violence and cause many casualties, the opposition can similarly create a massive media offensive, calling on the “international community” to put sanctions on the regime, or even demanding recognition for itself as the sole legitimate government. Even if casualties only number a few, the regime’s unjust repression of the youth could be used to speed up the primitive accumulation of political capital for the arrested leaders. Media warfare along these lines would snowball support for the opposition and crush the regime.
In other words, when the leaders of colour revolutions claim that they “do not believe in violence”, they are lying.
Sharp himself emphasised that, although the techniques they advocate are marketed under the label of “non violence”, they are not “against violence” as such, but are weapons of political defiance aimed at the overthrow of the targeted regimes. According to Sharp, the ultimate tasks of “political defiance” is to replace a targeted regime with a “democracy” characterised by a “small government” and a “big society”, i.e. where the public authorities are disempowered and the political agenda dominated by the “civil society organisations” created and maintained by imperialism and their compradors.
Sharp also realises that violence is inevitable during the process of regime change. The key question for Sharp is never whether one is in favour of violence, but the manufacture of public opinion in favour of the opposition’s ultimate seizure of power. “Political defiance” in the guise of “non violence” is the core technique of this strategy. Benny Tai’s dictum of “love and peace can pierce the armour of tanks”, which he has been repeating since July 2014, could only be properly understood within the context of Sharp’s strategic thought.
A key tactic of Sharp’s techniques is to challenge the capability of the security forces and their allegiance to the regime through the mass occupation of symbolic squares and main thoroughfares. Depriving the targeted regime its ability to govern, breaking down the social-political-economic order, making the people believe that only the opposition in power can resolve the impasse—such is the dynamics of colour revolutions.
Where persuasion fails, shields are used; when shields fail, pepper spray is dispensed; when the spray fails, tear gas is fired; when the gas fails, rubber bullets are shot; when they fail, water and sound cannons make their appearance; this is followed by the very European and American method of beating the crowd with specially-made truncheons, or even the “taking-out” of protest leaders by snipers, like they advocate in the U.S.
This has always been the “universal logic” of smashing demonstrations.
Sharp’s strategy is nothing less than to push the targeted regime and its police forces to its limits and thus effect a regime change—with the bodies of unarmed people. In other words, those who participate in a Sharp-type street moment are in reality chips in the hands of the anti-regime leadership and their imperialist backers, in a game of political gambit—a fact that cannot be changed by the subjective motivations of individual participants, or even their “leftwing demands”.
5. The international context of the movement
Some “social movement activists” claim with great excitement that the firing of tear gas for the first time since the anti-WTO protests at the end of 2005 shows the power of the “resistance”. They say that the action has been very successful and an escalation of violence is due.
However, it seems they are oblivious to the irony that the protests nine years ago were against the imperialist “international standards” used to pacify and oppress the working people, and nine years later, they are enthusiastically demanding… the same imperialist “international standards” which have always been used to pacify and oppress the working people?
Whose interests would be served by a street movement built on such mass political unconsciousness?
The short-term goal of the movement’s leadership is to enforce “real universal suffrage” which will mean de facto independence and Hong Kong’s official establishment as an operational base against the CCP regime. Their long-term goal is to “overthrow the one-party dictatorship” by the combined effort of all anti-communists, realising their political programme since 1989.
These objectives are highly compatible with the worldwide “struggle against communist dictatorship” by imperialist forces headed by the US, carried out through the means of money, violence and propaganda, since the days of the Cold War. For instance, both Scholarism’s Dash and the allegedly left-wing Globalization Monitor have called upon their supporters to sign an appeal on the White House website demanding the U.S. to deter the CCP from carrying out “a second Tiananmen Massacre” in Hong Kong. This spontaneous and natural action by Occupy supporters has perfectly proven their worldview—one in which the U.S. is the policeman of the world. The same people also give high praises to the United States’ “democratic interventions” into Syria, Libya, Egypt and Ukraine, and see street movements in these countries as objects of emulation.
It is thus clear that Occupy Central has never been “just a Hong Kong affair”.
6. “Surely we shouldn’t look on with folded hands?”
Many opine that we should not look on with folded hands in face of police repression, and that “something must be done”. We can understand such emotional responses, but the more important question is: what exactly is the goal of this movement? Who exactly will gain from their “people’s victory”? Will this mean any gains for the working people?
The police always repress anti-government mass movements with varying degrees of violence, in accordance to their development. The leaders of this movement have perfect knowledge, right from the beginning, of the range of violent means the police could use against the demonstrators. However, when the police uses force, the pan-democrats hypocritically demand the police to desist, and encourage people to “protect the students” by taking to the streets. This “moral call” has apparently imbued a previously unknown “social responsibility” in many who normally say they are “uninterested in politics”, thinking now that it is their “duty” to participate. This, however, does nothing but boost the fortunes of the pan-democrats.
The police have always served those in power and their ability to use force has not been strengthened overnight. The police’s use of tear gas has nothing to do with Hong Kong’s “freedoms” being restricted, they used it because the crowd was getting out of their control. If resistance means repression, then people should think carefully what exactly they are sacrificing for.
For instance, will the pan-democrats bring more freedom of speech and assembly in power? No. Because there will be no change in the capitalist system, apart from the agent who runs the show for a different group of capitalists. Moreover, their ideology means that the pan-democrats in power will produce an even more right-wing and pro-imperialist public opinion. To be more thorough: if and when Hong Kong has a government empowered by universal suffrage, the police under a pan-democratic regime will only follow the “great examples” of Europe and America when they deal with demos and protests, smashing social struggles which they deem problematic without inhibition, because they will no longer be restrained by the “lack of legitimacy” faced by the current government.
We are certain that the most important question posed here is this: wither China?—A deformed workers’ state, the largest developing country in the world and the prime target of U.S. strategic containment. Will China move towards capitalism or socialism? Should the working people of Hong Kong support a colour revolution and help imperialism achieve world domination? Or should the working people of Hong Kong unite with their class brothers and sisters in the mainland for the defence of public ownership and the eradication of bureaucratic privilege, fighting for working-class democracy and world socialism?
Those who strive for social equality must, by our own thinking and action, reject the populist lies of the colour revolutionaries, reject the colour revolutionaries’ line of tearing up society in service of a pro-imperialist coup, and stop the unfolding of a grave tragedy. Only then can we really protect the youth, and preserve the precious seeds for a movement which genuinely pursues the interests of the working people and a future of social progress.
7. Our tasks
The problems created by capitalism, as well as the system itself, can only be overcome through the movement of the self-enlightenment, self-organisation and self-liberation of the working class.
To end the rule of the minority of capitalists over the great majority of workers, and realise the sovereign power of all the exploited and oppressed led by the working class over society, the political and ideological influence of the capitalist class must be defeated, the working class must build its own socialist party and accumulate its political and organisational power through class struggle. By blowing up the capitalist state machinery and turning the major means of production into public property, a proletarian democracy based on a democratic planned economy will be built, which strives for the world revolution and the transition to socialism.
This is clearly an immensely difficult and long-term perspective. What we can do now is to patiently explain our ideas, giving a point of reference to those who are seriously thinking about the problems of society. In this chaotic period of world capitalist crisis, and imperialist efforts to maintain dominance through political and military struggle, we must try to dispel illusions in capitalist ideology and open the road to working-class self-liberation. Only by taking this road, can we dispel the popular superstitions of the day—no to the imperialist powers, no to the “heroes” of street movements, no to the self-proclaimed saviours and masters—we must create by our own efforts a future for humankind.
Those who seek social progress must break their illusions in street movements. Regime change between different capitalist factions can never transform the conditions of the exploited and oppressed. We must discuss and think how we can hold the banner of socialism anew, so that young workers and students who subjectively seek social progress will not be turned into the new blood and fodder of street movements and populist politics, and become the nucleus in the fight against imperialism and capitalism, against bureaucratic dictatorship and for socialist democracy.
For the reforging of the ideology, organisation and fighting capacity of the working class!
Proletarians of the world, unite!
Quasi Editorial Committee