Taiwan's midterm elections and referendum: beginnings of class opposition emerge

In Taiwan, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a severe defeat in the recent midterm municipal elections, forcing the party leader and current President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, to resign as party chair, as well as top officials such as Premier William Lai and Secretary-General to President Chen Chu. The concurrently held referendum on a number of social issues saw a mobilisation of conservative votes. However, beneath the surface of this seemingly expected swing back to the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), the ongoing capitalist crisis of Taiwan is preparing a new phase of class struggle.

A blow against the DPP

The DPP’s total vote in percentage terms in both the mayoral and the city council elections was only 39.2 percent, while the KMT gained 48.8 percent of the votes. The magnitude of the DPP’s defeat mirrors that of the KMT’s four years ago in 2014 when the latter was in power. Much like that time, this year’s municipal election was widely considered to be a vote of confidence on the incumbent government. The same process led to the KMT’s decisive loss of control in both the presidency and the legislature in 2016, and brought the DPP to wield the presidency, a supermajority in the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s parliamentary body), and control over the vast majority of Taiwan’s municipal governments. By the standards of bourgeois democracy, the DPP was given an unprecedented amount of power to easily realise many of its lofty promises.

However, the tables were always bound to turn on the DPP. As a party based on the bourgeoisie, it is organically unable to address the rocketing cost of housing, the stagnant wage growth, the grim employment prospects for the youth, the general decline of economic growth, the swelling of public debt… all of which are common symptoms of the systemic crisis of capitalism all over the world. As a party that at times pays lip service to liberal-democratic reforms, such as Tsai’s promise to push through marriage equality, it nevertheless succumbs to the powerful conservative interests within its ranks that have close ties with Presbyterian or Evangelical Christian Churches, and went back on this promise. As the party that rose to prominence by opposing the KMT with demands for de jure Taiwanese Independence, it couldn’t help but rapidly moderate on this signature programme of theirs, in order to not alienate the Taiwanese bourgeoisie who benefit from Chinese capitalism. At the same time, the Xi Jinping regime in China, which is constantly attempting to muscle its way to more influence in Taiwan, asserts heavy pressure on the Tsai government internationally.

In the context of the crisis of capitalism, the DPP had no choice but to unleash massive attacks on the Taiwanese working class in order to create a “more favourable” environment for Taiwanese capitalism. To do this, they carried out the plan architected by the previous KMT administration, taking away holidays from workers and lengthening their work hours, when Taiwan already has some of the longest in the world. The result of all this was a declining approval rating for the Tsai administration since she took office, generating a palpable ferment in Taiwanese society against the DPP.

Tsai resigning as the DPPs leader on the evening of DPPs defeat Image SAM YEH AGENCE FRANCE PRESSETsai resigning as the DPPs leader on the evening of DPPs defeat / Image: SAM YEH, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

The KMT’s crisis & the rise of Han Kuo-yu

Indeed, the KMT relied on demagogic slogans - such as “teach the DPP a lesson!” and “the people against the DPP” - as well as the emergence of “anti-establishment” candidate, Han Kuo-yu, to coast to victory. However, there is little sign of popular enthusiasm for the KMT itself. This stems from the fact that the popular anger against the KMT that fueled the massive Sunflower Movement of 2014, despite receding since the DPP took power, is still there. The KMT’s only distinguishing proposition, of establishing friendly relations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in order to bring economic growth in Taiwan, has proven unable to resolve the crisis of Taiwanese capitalism under the two-term May Ying-jeou administration. Since its fall from grace in 2016, the KMT party establishment has continued to struggle to connect with the masses that continue to distrust them, which has led to an acute internal party crisis that is ongoing to this day. [1]

Han Kuo yu Image Han Kuo yu official FacebookHan Kuo-yu / Image: Han Kuo yu official Facebook

In comes Han Kuo-yu, a long-time, lower-level KMT politician, having been in politics since 1990. Prior to 1990, he was only known for physically assaulting future DPP President, Chen Shui-bian in the 1990s, and more recently the CEO of the public-private joint venture, Taipei Agricultural Product Marketing Corporation (TAPMC). Last year he was seen as a weird, ridiculed fringe KMT figure running for party chairman, who launched his bid for KMT chairmanship by hugging a bunch of cabbages to urge the party bigwigs to “embrace the rank and file” in the same way he embraced those cabbages. After losing the party leadership race with only 5 percent of the vote, he decided to run for mayor in Kaohsiung, a stronghold of the DPP for decades, where the DPP’s Chen Chu got more than double the vote of the KMT’s candidate in the 2014 municipal election.

Nonetheless, this year he suddenly became the most-popular KMT politician, and handily defeated the DPP’s candidate Chen Chi-mai with 54 percent, winning over 892,000 votes. As his meteoric rise materialised, many major KMT candidates also sought his endorsement.

How did all this happen? As an obscure figure, he shot to fame through shocking, demagogic promises to revitalise Kaohsiung through an everyman image, while being forthcoming about his own criticism against the KMT’s establishment. His entire campaign focused on ending the politicking of the two parties and making the “old and poor” Kaohsiung “young and rich,” proposing get-rich-quick schemes such as building a ferris wheel, opening casinos, drilling for oil in the South China Sea, and increasing Kaohsiung’s population from 2.7m to 5m within 10 years. At one point he even went as far as declaring he would ban political protests so everyone could focus on the economy. In addition, he reminded his supporters to “not consider this election to be a battle between myself and Chen Chi-mai, but the people’s battle against the DPP!”

Crucially, however, unlike most KMT candidates, Han avoided touching on the question of Taiwan’s relationship with China as much as he could. When, during the campaign, the KMT’s ex-President Ma Ying-jeou suddenly declared a “new three nos” doctrine of “no rejection of unification (with China), no support for Taiwanese Independence, and no use of force,” Han immediately opposed the former leader of his party and said that “this is the least opportune time to talk about the question of unification or independence.” This didn’t say anything about his actual stance on the matter while campaigning, but was an important strategy to make his candidacy palatable in an otherwise strongly pro-independence city. Of course, shortly after Han was elected he immediately declared his support for the “One China 92 Consensus”, [2] thereby affirming his allegiance towards unification with China and friendliness towards the CCP.

But this race, like all others, was always the DPP’s to lose. Once a bustling industrial city, Kaohsiung saw a period of deindustrialisation and stagnant wages since the DPP took power there in 1998. The dim employment prospects also caused large numbers of youths to move to Taipei or abroad in search of better opportunities. The DPP furthermore exacerbated the brewing ferment by introducing large-scale attacks on workers’ rights all over Taiwan. This then quickly inspired, in 2017, the biggest workers’ protest against the DPP to take place in Kaohsiung. Still, the DPP took the Kaohsiung masses for granted when they nominated the milquetoast technocrat Chen Chi-mai, who is widely considered an informally designated successor to the previous DPP mayor. Chen’s defence of past DPP administrations in Kaohsiung found little resonance, and in face of Han’s pie-in-the-sky promises, he repeated the mantra of “industrial reforms,” “being realistic,” and “balancing the budget,” revealing the utter lack of alternative that a pro-capitalist administrator has to offer. Chen’s defeat was the masses’ rejection of the status quo.

What is assured, however, is that Han’s future governance will not be as creative as his imagination appears to be, and will be one not so different from that of the DPP. Like Chen, Han also placed heavy emphasis on “balancing the budget.” This means he will only keep the capitalist economy afloat by attacking the working class.

Han Kuo-yu’s victory is not only a blow to the DPP, but presented an enormous conundrum for the KMT as well. Here we see how the only KMT figure who was able to channel the growing ferment in society is one that broke from KMT conventions, downplaying some of the core pillars that the party upholds to maintain its relations with the CCP during his campaign. Many have been asking what effect the “Han wave” is going to have on the KMT. This places the KMT establishment in a very awkward position. Indeed, for the bourgeois politicians in the KMT and the DPP, “the rulers cannot rule as they had before,” as Lenin once said.

This phenomenon of right-wing “anti-establishment” demagogy is no longer an aberration, but a norm in places steeped in crisis without a militant, socialist alternative around the world. Had there been a mass workers’ party on the scene that proposed socialist policies to fight capitalism’s crisis, figures like Han would have remained in the lunatic fringe from which he came.

Limitations of “anti-establishment” populism & Wen-je

Nonetheless, not only is Han’s rise not a new phenomenon on the world stage, it isn’t necessarily new in Taiwan either. The incumbent, nonpartisan mayor of Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city Ko Wen-je also rose to prominence four years ago as the “anti-establishment” candidate, refusing to officially join the DPP or the KMT in his campaign.

Ko Wen je image Ko Wen je official FacebookKo Wen-je / Image: Ko Wen je official Facebook

A surgeon by trade and portraying himself as being politically “dark green” (extremely sympathetic to the DPP), he nevertheless campaigned on rhetoric of ending partisan bickering and getting things done. Back in 2014, his willingness to criticise the DPP, while running against Sean Lien, scion of the KMT’s Lien family, made him the preferred candidate for the Sunflower Movement participants at the time, who also blamed the DPP for being an ineffective opposition against the KMT Ma administration. In that election, the DPP chose to support Ko.

Since taking office, he has been considered effective in pushing through infrastructural projects, expanding welfare services for the elderly, and building more public housing, but with no perspective of challenging capitalism or corporations in the first place, he was unable to resolve the rising housing affordability crisis in Taipei, while Taipei’s youth unemployment between age 25 and 29 is at 7.9 percent: the highest in all major cities in Taiwan. Furthermore, he supported the DPP administration’s counter-reforms against workers’ rights. When asked how, as a doctor, he would feel about the new legislation causing medical workers to work 12 days consecutively, he replied, “I don’t count, because I can work for 20 months straight!”

Betrayal is inherent in “pragmatism”, and the hyper-pragmatic Ko is no exception. Widely considered to be a defender of Taiwanese independence, Ko nevertheless changed his stance drastically to becoming closer to the stance of that of the KMT and CCP, proclaiming that “across the strait we are one family” to the shock of many of his original supporters. He also became publicly close to reactionary figures such as James Soong of the People First Party, a personality-based split from the KMT and Chang An-lo, a notorious pro-China mobster. Many interpret Ko’s moves as efforts to eventually build a new party helmed by himself, which may attract supporters who are disappointed by both the KMT and the DPP. If such a party comes into being, it would be yet another bourgeois party that carries out right-wing, pro-business policies, and will not fundamentally change things for the better for the Taiwanese working class.

The power of Ko is hemmed in by the limits of Taiwan’s bourgeois democracy and cannot be overstated. In this election, the DPP decided to run a candidate against Ko, taking advantage of the fact that Ko’s actions have alienated a layer of his previous supporters. Although the DPP’s Pasuya Yao trailed badly behind Ko and the KMT candidate Ting Shou-chung, he won over 17 percent of the vote, a significant drag on Ko, who beat the KMT’s Ting by only 3,000 or so votes, allowing Ting to challenge the results of the election.

The lesson here is that mere “anti-establishment” candidates are far from enough to resolve the fundamental crisis in society. If a force that challenges the system lacks a working-class base and a socialist perspective, not only will the “anti-establishment” politics eventually become business as usual with a new coat of paint, but the forces of the old establishment can eventually wrestle power back.

Referenda results and the need to combine democratic demands with class struggle

Another important and unprecedented feature of this particular midterm election was its combination with 10 different national referenda, where progressive demands suffered defeats. Of the 10 propositions, the ones concerning marriage equality and gender equality education in schools received the most attention, although there were others that touched on other issues as well. [3]

In the end, the proposals for marriage and gender equality education saw defeats. With every proposal reported as having around a 54-55 percent participation rate, while the turnout for the election was reported to be around 66 percent, this means a significant section of those who turned out chose not to participate in the referenda. There are some lessons to draw from this experience.

Chi Chia wei one of the first openly gay people in Taiwan and longtime LGBTQ rights activist image public domainChi Chia-wei: one of the first openly gay people in Taiwan and longtime LGBTQ-rights activist / Image: public domain

Marxists are principally opposed to any form of oppression. Not only that, we assert the only way to fully eliminate the basis for oppression is to abolish the class society on which it rests, in order to guarantee that the “free development of each is the free development of all.” Marxists take the question of the liberation of women and LGBTQ people seriously. That is why we see the limitations of passing democratic reforms on such matters on the basis of the bourgeois state’s legal system.

The question of marriage equality in this referendum exemplifies the need to be wary of false friends among the bourgeois politicians and also highlights the limits of Taiwan’s bourgeois system. In the first place, Tsai Ing-wen specifically included support for marriage equality as one of her campaign promises, but after taking office there was no concrete action taken on her part or the DPP’s parliamentary supermajority to legislate for this. Instead, marriage equality was advanced by an ongoing appeal to the Constitutional Court that was years in the making. When the Constitutional Court ruled that restricting marriage as being between a man and a woman was unconstitutional in 2017 and requested the executive and legislative branches, both under DPP control, to adjust the regulations accordingly, the DPP once again procrastinated on doing so, despite the many mass demonstrations in favour of marriage equality that had taken place. This then paved the way for the right-wing “Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation” to put forward their own referendum on blocking same-sex marriage. Even after this point, the DPP explicitly refused to take a stance on this issue, leaving marriage equality activists to their own devices to organize for support, while bourgeois elements such as HTC CEO Cher Wang, the KMT, and even some DPP politicians, threw their weight behind opposition to same-sex marriage.

The lesson here is that, in a place where the capitalist class rules over society via their parties and state apparatus, democratic rights are not willingly handed down to the masses. Instead, concessions result from furious struggle between the classes. Furthermore, even if the Taiwanese ruling class somehow eventually concedes marriage equality or more rights, working-class LGBTQ people will still remain victims of prejudices and oppression far more so than their capitalist or otherwise wealthy counterparts. The struggle for LGBTQ liberation is ultimately a struggle for the abolition of capitalist class society, which requires class struggle methods to achieve rather than legalistic or parliamentary ones.

City council races and the New Power Party’s future

In the city council races, the biggest loser was again the DPP. The KMT became the biggest party in over 15 city councils, in nine of which they gained an absolute majority, while the DPP only controls 6 city councils and has no absolute majority in any city. At the same time, the biggest winner outside of the KMT and DPP was the New Power Party.

NPP chair Huang Kuo chang speaking with US Republican retiring chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Ed Royce Image New Power Party Official FacebookNPP chair Huang Kuo chang speaking with US Republican retiring chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ed Royce / Image: New Power Party Official Facebook

Formed after the Sunflower Movement ended by the student leaders and social movement activists, the New Power Party aimed to be the liberal, more principled, pro-independence opposition to the DPP, with the assumption that the KMT could be imminently wiped out. In the 2016, election they worked closely with the DPP in the elections for Legislative Yuan seats, where the DPP shared their campaign offices with the NPP and allowed NPP candidates for legislature to not face DPP challengers, with the exception of Xinzhou where the DPP’s parliamentary whip had to be reelected. In the end, five high-profile NPP legislators were elected to the Legislative Yuan.

Since then, the NPP struggled to live up to its “liberal progressive” promises. Its small parliamentary fraction allowed them to achieve very little, and they favour the reactionary strategy of working with US politicians to manoeuvre against China’s repression of Taiwan’s international presence. Although the NPP opposed the DPP’s massive counter-reforms against workers’ rights, its efforts have been criticised by many labour rights activists as insufficient and even disingenuous.

In this year’s midterm election, the NPP launched their first city council campaigns, running 40 candidates around Taiwan and winning 16, making them the third-biggest party in city councils nationwide. Their candidates are usually very young, adamant on Taiwanese independence, participated in the Sunflower Movement, and hold “liberal progressive” views, the same youthful image that they hope to embody as the organised expression of the Sunflower Movement. It is notable that they were able to gain seats in districts that also produced KMT administrations in this election, such as Yunlin, Changhua, Kaohsiung, and Miaoli. This reinforces the fact that the resurgence of the KMT is not because of the appeal of its own politics but is due to a lack of an alternative.

In the era of rising class struggle, the forces of liberalism no longer have a role to play and have been collapsing everywhere around the world. In Taiwan, a small, progressive liberal party such as the NPP, with no basis in the working class, cannot hope to easily replace one of the major parties of the bourgeoisie without submitting to the will of capital. The NPP’s original perspective - that the KMT was on its deathbed - has been decisively disproven. Even if, in the near future, the NPP may gain from the widening vacuum caused by the masses’ distaste for the KMT-DPP two-party system, its present political content offers no alternative that can fundamentally end the crisis of capitalism in Taiwan.

Emergence of potential working-class alternatives

Although the KMT has again reared its head, and progressive demands were defeated in this election, we also see positive new developments that are taking shape as the two-party system continues to be discredited in the eyes of the masses. The mayoral campaign of trade unionist Zhu Meixue in Taoyuan and the Obasang Alliance, while not gaining significant votes in this election, were important beginnings of class independent working class political movements in Taiwan.

Zhu Meixue holding microphone joining a protest against unemployment and forced unpaid holidays during his campaign Image Zhu Meixues Official Facebook PageZhu Meixue holding microphone joining a protest against unemployment and forced unpaid holidays during his campaign / Image: Zhu Meixues Official Facebook Page

Zhu Meixue is an aircraft maintenance technician and the Secretary General of the China Airlines Company Union, [4] the very same union with many rank and file members that launched militant unionisation and strike actions in 2016, with widespread public support. Earlier this year, his union passed a resolution for him to run for mayor of Taoyuan on the basis of rejecting the two parties of the corporations and raising a class perspective in Taiwanese politics. Donning a campaign vest that was a modified version of his union jacket, Zhu advanced slogans such as “Workers enter politics,” “the labouring millions come forward!” “(Workers) Vote for yourselves!” and “Workers don’t vote for Blue or Green (KMT and DPP) parties!” Programmatically, Zhu proposed to heavily investigate and fine large corporations, especially the “three robber barons” of Taoyuan, along with the expansion of public services and public childcare, fighting overwork, subsidies to migrant workers’ travel costs, environmental protection, heavy taxation on empty housing caused by speculation and more.

Zhu is also an enthusiastic supporter of LGBTQ rights. He recounts that LGBTQ people are repressed by the state in the same way that workers often are, and that some of his closest friends in the labour movement who are gay often don’t get the same rights as the rest of the workers. One of his campaign promises was that, if elected, he would commit the Taoyuan government to lead legal challenges against the national government for any same-sex couples who aren’t able to get married.

With no experience in political campaigning and a small staff from his union and volunteers to help, Zhu managed to successfully register for the election by raising from other unions and small donations the amount required for the candidate security deposit. In Taiwan, anyone who wishes to run for office must first put down a security deposit set by the Central Election Committee, which is not be returned if the candidate does not get more than 10 percent of the total votes in the general election. For Taoyuan, the security deposit is set at a level that is nearly five times the annual household income per capita in Taiwan. This more-or-less guarantees the domination of well-funded, bourgeois candidates in elections, as well as crippling those who aren’t. In Zhu’s case, while he raised 2.85 million NTD during his campaign, he had to put down over 2 million (around 65,000 USD) of these for the security deposit, leaving him with only 850,000 NTD to spend on his campaign. Still, the fact that he was able to independently raise this large sum based on his slogans of fighting the two-party system and for working-class representation in politics already proves that such a perspective is gaining an echo among the working class.

On the night before election day, Zhu held his one and only rally, during which he pointed out the unfairness of the electoral system, but also contended that his campaign proved the enormous potential of the working class to independently enter into politics:“They can unfairly get all that (money), but we can achieve things with very little resources and they can’t. This is (the power of) class.” He went on to say that he hoped “we can become the forerunner of a future Labour party, where friends from among workers and youth can join in to change Taiwan’s politics.”

In the end, Zhu gained only 18 thousand votes, or 1.7 percent of the vote, and the 2 million NTD he raised was lost, but the following he generated throughout his campaign from scratch was fervent and enthusiastic. It is also noteworthy that, although he himself is a middle-aged man, many in his campaign staff appear to be young people, active in the labour movement from his union, reflecting potential for more young people to join in the class struggle in the near future.

Zhu’s campaign harboured few illusions in actually winning the election, and the campaign was primarily aimed at generating interest for the working class to enter politics with a party independent of corporate support and the two bourgeois parties, which Marxists agree is the most important, near-term task for the Taiwanese working class. Although Zhu did not get a significant amount of votes in this election, none of his campaigning work went to waste. The fact that he did the work in winning and connecting support from other unions and Labour groups, gaining support from migrant workers who are not allowed to vote in Taiwan, and also used his campaign to promote support for strike actions that were taking place concurrently, are all important and correct first steps in accumulating support for a mass, working-class party among the workers. Zhu’s campaign is now calling for those who voted for him to fill out a survey and they will be contacted in the near future. “Let us find you, get to know you, and find the possibilities for changing the future together,” he requested.

Zhu’s campaign also presented a concrete counter-proposal to the class-collaboration strategy that more influential Taiwanese labour leaders continue to pursue. For instance, the Kaohsiung Confederation of Trade Unions, the largest local of the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions, scandalously endorsed the DPP’s Chen Chi-mai, despite the DPP’s attacks on the working class. They should have broken with the DPP decisively and followed Zhu’s example in working to establish an alternative for the working class.

A similar phenomenon is the formation of the Obasang Alliance: an independent electoral front running against candidates of the KMT/DPP, launched in December 2017 by a mix of mainly working-class mothers who had been involved in various community activities, and the “Parents Participating Education” NGO. Obasang is based on the Japanese word “obāsan” for "old/middle aged women" and is one of the Japanese words that became integrated into Taiwanese culture. In Taiwan, it also holds a connotation of "straight-talking moms," which is an image that the Obasang Alliance upholds. Their slogans are “workers aren’t robots, parents shouldn’t be supermen!”, "little citizens are the real largest party!", "little citizens must rule society!" and established their platform around demands for public childcare, environmental justice, gender equality, expansion of democratic rights, workers’ rights and promotion of unionisation.The Obasang Alliance started the year with a goal to run 21 candidates for city councils all over Taiwan, which meant that they would have to raise millions of New Taiwan Dollars to be able to get on the ballot. Despite this, they were able to raise enough money through small donations and all 21 of their candidates got on the ballot.

Candidates from the Obasang Alliance with the slogan little people are the actual biggest party Image Obasang Alliances Official Facebook pageCandidates from the Obasang Alliance with the slogan "little people are the actual biggest party" / Image: Obasang Alliances Official Facebook page

One of the Obasang Alliance candidates in New Taipei City, Weng Li-shu, an elementary school teacher, gave an illustrative interview that shows their perspective for class independence:"We felt that instead of relying on others, why not just jump in and do it ourselves? We later discovered we could also understand these various issues so if we just worked a bit harder, we could actually do this process ourselves and wouldn’t need to necessarily rely on them [the two main parties]. Furthermore, if we delegated certain issues to them, it would then become solely their decision-making. So why not try to enter the city council ourselves? We felt that the current situation in the city council was very bad—it was a dark place. We paid so much in taxes to the city council, but they did things haphazardly anyway."

In the end, the Obasang Alliance candidates collectively gained 86,000 votes, gaining on average 3 percent of the votes for each of the districts they ran candidates in. Although no one was elected in the end, they gained enough votes to get 70 percent of their security deposit back, which they are putting into a fund for future campaigns. [5] It is also notable that the Obasangs formed an electoral bloc with Zhu Meixue and the Left Party’s Liu Nianyun in Taoyuan based on strong political agreements. The two sides with their energy and newfound attention have good potential if they can join forces and work to establish a mass workers’ party. At the time of writing, the Obasang Alliance has also announced its intention to form a party.

Yet despite the significance of Zhu and the Obasang Alliance’s campaigns, we still need to have a sense of proportion when analysing them. As the leader of a single company’s union rather than the head of a union confederation, Zhu still has some way to go to build a base within the general working class, and the modest amount of votes he won largely reflects this reality. The same is true for the Obasang Alliance, which, despite common working-class origins, has some way to go before gaining a concrete base among the masses. This underscores the importance of extending their efforts beyond election campaigns to establish a workers’ party with a lively rank-and-file political life, where members democratically discuss, debate, and decide on the policies and the strategies the party is to pursue from the bottom up. This will allow workers to have a way of meaningfully participating in politics that the bourgeois system has always denied them, and galvanise more workers to join the fight to transform society.

There are also some inconsistencies in the programme and outlook of Zhu and the Obasangs that need to be remedied. In the first place, both built their programmes based on the assumption that the capitalist class can be reasoned into conceding the reforms they are demanding. Take public childcare, for example: Zhu’s campaign explains that it is reasonable and fair for corporations to pay extra taxes to fund public childcare for their workers. On the question of workers’ rights, the Obasang Alliance advocates better-enforced inspections of working conditions and only awarding government contracts to companies with good labour relations. What we need to understand here is that so-called “class harmony” is completely ruled out due to the profit-seeking nature of the capitalists and this will only lead to endless attempts to attack and defeat the workers. The only policies that can satisfy the needs of the workers is not to negotiate with the corporations, but to turn defence into offence, to take over the properties, land and other resources that the bosses use to generate profit and place them under democratic workers’ control, in order to produce for social needs. Only by being clear on this question can we maximise the confidence of the working class: its solidarity, militancy, and independence, i.e. the actual original goal of Zhu and the Obasangs’ campaigns.

Furthermore, although they clearly realise the bourgeois nature of the KMT and the DPP, Zhu and the Obasangs appear to view the state as a neutral tool detached from bourgeois interests, which is not the case in Taiwan or anywhere else. As Marx and Engels already explained in the Communist Manifesto, the bourgeois state is the “committee for the common affairs of the bourgeoisie,” and not of the working class. Lenin also pointed out in State and Revolution that the state is ultimately an armed body of men aiding the small minority of bourgeois ruling class to maintain their rule over the working class majority. Any attempt to use the state as it is to advance workers’ interests inevitably results in betrayal, or the bloody end that Salvador Allende met in Chile, where he tried to implement socialist policies but was betrayed by the army that was supposed to obey any legally elected government. Therefore, if Zhu and the Obasang Alliance truly want to achieve the changes they seek, simply being independent of the bourgeois parties is not sufficient. They must actively build movements from within the working class, such as promoting democracy within the unions to revitalise them, propagating workers’ councils for political actions and communal affairs, and popularizing the right of instant recall of elected officials and for elected officials to not earn more than a skilled worker’s wage. Measures like these can smash against the bourgeois state and replace it with workers’ democracy.

In a place like Taiwan, clarity on these theoretical questions is especially important, as any organic worker’s political movement will not only come under pressure from the Taiwanese bourgeoisie and politicians, but also from US and Chinese imperialism. If a mass workers’ party independent of capital were to suddenly emerge in Taiwan, it would set a concrete example for the Chinese working class to follow suit and gravely threaten the CCP’s rule. Thus the CCP would also exert pressure to curb any such development. In order to resist such enormous pressures, the Taiwanese working class requires a clear theoretical understanding of its task: to take power and begin the socialist transformation of society, which means the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic workers’ control and management, i.e. genuine socialist planning.

Prepare for the battles ahead

The rise of Han Kuo-yu and the energetic emergence of Zhu Meixue and the Obasang Alliance are both, as Hegel explained, the “accidents that express necessity,” i.e. the masses’ desire for an alternative to both the KMT and the DPP. The “Han wave” represents a general collapse of credibility for the two bourgeois parties in Taiwan, while the Zhu and Obasang campaigns are the first stages of experience the advanced section of the Taiwanese are going through in trying to solve the capitalist crisis outside of the bourgeois parties. In the coming period, the Taiwanese workers will join their working class brothers and sisters around the world in escalating their confrontation with the bosses’ class and the capitalist system. What is needed is a force of theoretically and organisationally trained Marxist cadres to participate in the workers’ movement, and provide the working class with the necessary perspective and analysis to take power and transform society.


[1] The KMT, having ruled over Taiwan with a military dictatorship under Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo since 1945, successfully adapted itself to bourgeois democracy by reorganising its establishment to include bourgeois and landlords of Taiwanese origin into a leadership previously monopolised by bourgeois, generals, and bureaucrats that came to Taiwan from China after the 1949 Chinese Revolution, especially since the 1990s. The common class interests rallied these elements behind the slogan of “pro-unification with China” together with right-wing economic policies, in a bid to guarantee access to the Chinese market and become the CCP’s comprador bourgeoisie in Taiwan. With this, a coalition of political dynasties, big bourgeois, landlords and networks of local power brokers (Zhuangjiao) was formed, with auxiliary support from organised crime such as the Bamboo Union Gang and an older generation of well-paid government workers, teachers and military personnel. On this basis, the KMT continued being a major political player in Taiwan as the party of “stability” and “peace with China.”

This seemingly stable arrangement broke down in 2014, when the masses, angered by the crisis of Taiwanese capitalism, turned against the KMT and expressed a historic antagonism against China via the Sunflower Movement in the midterm election that year. The party center was thrown into chaos, while many KMT-affiliated local politicians began dissociating themselves from the KMT, even erasing their KMT party symbols from their campaign ads in an effort to defend their offices.

Amidst this disarray, an extremist, unificationist politician, Hung Hsiu-chu managed to win the KMT primary for presidential candidate, much to the chagrin of the party establishment who knew that the Taiwanese public’s distrust of China was at an all-time high. In a panicky move, a coup was launched by the KMT leaders and Hung was robbed of her presidential nomination in humiliation. After this, the KMT went on to being spectacularly defeated in 2016, and Hung was briefly able to be elected as the party chairman until 2016 with Xi Jinping’s public blessings, but was decisively defeated again by longtime party bigwig, Wu Den-yih in the 2017 KMT leadership election. The KMT ruling clique thought they could finally put their house in order, but little did they know that they would once again be upended by another outsider, who also ran for party chairman that year.

[2] Immediately after he was declared elected, Han clarified that he recognized the “92 Consensus”: an unofficial consensus reached in a meeting between CCP and KMT representatives in Hong Kong that accepted Taiwan as a part of “One China”. But the meaning of One China can be interpreted variously. While the CCP at first denied the existence of such an agreement, after 2005 it began to officially push the 92 Consensus, which for them signifies the acceptance of Taiwan belonging to China.

[3] Within the 10 proposals, three were proposed or supported by the KMT to overturn previous DPP legislation to eventually stop the operation of nuclear power plants in favour of other energy sources, and would even increase reliance on nuclear energy; one was a KMT proposal to ban food imports from areas in Japan believed to be affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011; three were led by conservative civil groups opposing same-sex marriage and banning education about non-heterosexual relationships before high school; two were about legalising same-sex marriage and instituting gender equality education in elementary and middle schools; and one was about whether Taiwan’s olympic team should enter the 2020 Tokyo Olympics under the name “Taiwan” rather than the previously used team name, “Chinese Taipei.”

[4] China Airlines is a public-private joint venture airline company in Taiwan, not to be confused with Air China, which is owned by the Chinese state.

[5] The threshold for city council candidates’ security deposit to be returned is lower than that of mayoral candidates.