On 16 June, only a week after the last, million-strong march that took place in Hong Kong, a second mass protest occurred. According to the leading organisers of the Civil Human Rights Front, as many as two million people joined the march yesterday. Judging from the images and figures available, as well as what I’ve seen, it is entirely credible that this protest is larger than that of the previous Sunday.
This enlarged protest movement took place in spite of Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s suspension of the extradition bill the day before, and an apology that she issued on Sunday evening to Hong Kong’s citizens. The demand for a general strike continues to be popular, and now the movement is going from simply demanding the retraction of the extradition bill to the resignation of Carrie Lam as Chief Executive. As we have seen in many cases around the world, the logic of events is impelling a defensive movement by the masses to go onto the offensive.
Perhaps the main trigger that pushed the already large protests in Hong Kong to the next level was the death of a protester on the evening of 15 June. That night, a protester climbed up construction scaffolding in Admiralty, the district where most central government buildings are located, to hang up a banner calling for Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s resignation and the permanent cancellation of the extradition bill. When the authorities tried to remove him from the scaffolding, he fell to his death.
Although there was already a protest scheduled for today, the protestor’s death turned Sunday’s protest into a mass vigil. Tens of thousands of people dressed in black descended upon Admiralty, many of them carrying a white flower. There was a palpable sense of discipline and reserved anger from among the protestors as they streamed into the scene. The crowd was overwhelmingly young people. As I walked through the crowd, I heard not a few words muttered in Mandarin Chinese with mainlander accents.
The mass protest steadily streamed into Admiralty from the afternoon into the evening, at which point the crowd’s size grew into the streets. An impromptu occupation seems to have been launched, as many protesters were still remaining late into the night. The discipline and creativity of the masses were inspiring. At one point, the crowd efficiently and quietly made way for an ambulance to pass, in a scene reminiscent of Moses parting the Red Sea. As the protest passed beyond 12am of Monday, 17 June, when it would be officially illegal, protesters coordinated to sing “Hallelujah to The Lord” to exploit a legal loophole where religious gatherings are not regulated by Hong Kong’s public safety provisions. Some demonstrators even went to the airport with agitational propaganda that looked like welcome signs to agitate for foreign visitors to show solidarity with the rally.
The mood of the masses is militant and on a higher level than during the Umbrella Movement of 2014. For one, the class struggle method of a general strike remains highly popular within the ranks of the participants as a means to combat the assaults from the government. The reactionary, far-right “localist” groups, who based themselves on anti-mainland hatred and anti-communist sentiments, were unable to intervene in the movement this time, as they did in the Umbrella Movement. This is attributed in part due to their own infighting, but also the fact that the masses are clearly more interested in class struggle than xenophobia this time around as a means to resolve their problems.
In fact, a new generation of Hong Kongers provide a glimpse of why the potential for solidarity with the mainland is enormous, while xenophobic hatred is destined to fail. One 17-year-old high school participant described herself thus:
“The students of my generation tend to play Tik Tok, drink Heytea [a Shenzhen-based tea chain], watch The Voice of China, and some even speak more Mandarin than they do Cantonese. We use Instagram but not so much Facebook. I am not repulsed by China. I watch Chinese game shows, but I do not want the CCP to rule over Hong Kong.”
Scenes from today's historic march in #HongKong. Organizers say ~2 million came out for the peaceful demonstration. Crowds parted for a passing ambulance. Church groups sent contingents. Volunteers passed out signs, sports drinks & origami flowers: https://t.co/pj24E9cSXd pic.twitter.com/rz1b4lvprT— Natasha Khan (@natashakhanhk) June 16, 2019
Middle-class cowardice and failure of leadership
Unfortunately, the masses at this stage do not have the leadership they deserve. Although they have courageously moved forward, it is clear that the leading organisations of the protests play a role of diffusing the energy of the movement via incorrect policies.
Although the call for a general strike remains popular even until now, no labour or other organisations have put serious effort into organising one. For example, there is the Civil Human Rights Front, which, despite being the supposed organiser of the entire movement, is clearly not capable of leading the million-strong protest that this movement has grown into. Prior to Sunday’s protest, the Civil Human Rights Front preemptively called for a halt to the “Three Strikes” (三罷, labour strike, school strike, market strike) that many within the rank and file have clearly been yearning for.
At around 11pm in the evening, they then resumed the call for the Three Strikes to launch on the very next day, providing only a graphic that seems to show that there would only be a strike for social workers, a school walkout for students, and a protest organised by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU). On the part of the HKCTU, they continued to characterise workers asking for a day off to protest as a way to strike, completely confusing the class struggle inherent in strikes, and turning it into an individual decision rather than a collective action.
However, given that the scale of the recent protest has far exceeded the expectations of the Civil Human Rights Front and other organisations, it is very likely that the masses may move ahead without listening to the existing leadership.
Splits at the top
In sharp contrast to her brazen defiance towards the masses just a few days ago, Chief Executive Carrie Lam backed down and announced the bill would be suspended. This was followed up with an apology issued on Sunday evening. However, does this mean everything is over and that the masses should pack up and go home?
The real reason behind this move can be attributed to two factors. First and foremost, the extreme ferment that this extradition bill has ratcheted up in Hong Kong society is now clearly threatening the stability of capitalism, despite the lack of a general strike. According to Reuters, Pro-Beijing businesses and interests were completely unable to organise counter-protests, which they had been able to do on previous occasions. Some capitalists even jumped the gun and began to move their assets out of Hong Kong in the face of this mass movement.
Although there had been no general strike and no serious effort on the part of the labour leadership or student leaders to organise one, the fact that the idea of a general strike has become wildly popular clearly took the government and capitalists aback. This gives us a glimpse of the true power of the working class in society.
The energy at the march in #HongKong today feels triumphant and defiant. Protestors are unified in their calls. They're demanding Carrie Lam step down, that she withdraws the extradition bill and that police "stop using violence against students." #LockhartRoad pic.twitter.com/vI1RWZK1h6— Natasha Khan (@natashakhanhk) June 16, 2019
Both the South China Morning Post and Reuters report that Lam herself has buckled under the enormous pressure from the masses and sought Beijing’s approval to alter her strategy towards the protesters (specifically, Standing Committee member Han Zheng who oversees the CCP’s policy towards Hong Kong). The CCP allegedly have begrudgingly accepted this proposal as the enormity of the protests is starting to interfere with many important upcoming events as China sinks deeper into the trade war with the US. No doubt, the Chinese regime also fears that the immensity of the movement in Hong Kong could begin to have an impact in mainland China itself.
Events in Hong Kong are also rejuvenating the electoral prospects in Taiwan for bourgeois DPP President Tsai Ing-wen in her bid for re-election next year. Due to a lack of a mass workers’ party or a socialist alternative in Taiwan, many workers and youth are under pressure of an argument of ‘lesser-evils’ to support Tsai who is viewed, superficially, as the most viable person to resist China. The DPP experienced a massive defeat in the municipal elections last year due to its reactionary, anti-worker policies since taking office, but the rise of right-wing KMT populists such as Han Kuo-yu and Foxconn CEO Terry Guo, both considered to be extremely pro-China and highly preferred by the CCP, is now pushing some support back to the DPP. A second DPP electoral victory would mean yet another defeat for the CCP’s strategy towards Taiwan.
On the other hand, although the bill has been suspended, it has not been cancelled. Carrie Lam’s suspension yesterday may very well be a manoeuvre to confuse and demobilise the masses, only for the bill and other measures dictated by the CCP to be implemented at a later date. After all, the CCP has routinely been kidnapping people from Hong Kong to China and forcing them to “confess” on television without any legal basis. Fortunately, today’s vast demonstration proves that the masses are far from demoralised, and more determined than ever.
The CCP also cannot allow this suspension to look like a defeat on their part, for such would undermine the Chinese masses’ fear of the CCP as an unchallengeable monolith. They will find other means to defeat the movement. Already, several organisers of the Hong Kong movements have been reportedly arrested.
The Hong Kong movement must therefore not lose its momentum, and start building strike committees in neighbourhoods and workplaces to prepare for the next assault from the HK government and the CCP. They must also offer positive policies such as the redrafting of the constitution, the right to self-determination, and seizing big business assets and placing them under democratic workers’ control to mitigate the social crisis caused by Hong Kong’s capitalist system. It must actively call upon the Chinese working class to organise and fight back against the CCP as well.
Solidarity beyond borders is not mere romanticism, but a concrete requirement and reality. Already, we have seen an outpouring of solidarity from far beyond Hong Kong.
At the same time as Hong Kong’s million-strong protest was raging on Sunday, over ten thousand Taiwanese youths gathered around Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, also dressed in black, in support of Hong Kong. In the days prior, there had been spontaneous gatherings supporting Hong Kong around Taiwan. One notable example was on 14 June, when a student of the Taiwan National University in Taipei, Taiwan called on students to gather to show solidarity with Hong Kong’s anti-extradition demonstrators. Within half an hour, over 500 students showed up to the rally. The militant Taoyuan Flight Attendant Union, which is currently leading a significant strike of EVA Air workers, has also issued a solidarity petition, signed by 46 unions and organisations, as well as many individuals. The petition not only declared solidarity with the Hong Kong masses, but also criticised the Taiwanese and Hong Kong governments for weakening the working class’s ability to defend themselves by not granting the right to political strikes.
TWO. MILLION. PEOPLE. TOOK TO THE STREETS TODAY. This is the single largest protest ever in #HongKong’s history. We should all be proud. Carrie Lam has no choice now but to withdraw the extradition bill completely and resign immediately! pic.twitter.com/v7Zh5PlOob— Jeffrey Ngo 敖卓軒 (@jeffreychngo) June 16, 2019
University students in South Korea also launched a petition to President Moon Jae-in on 14 June to support the movement in Hong Kong, which as of now has gathered more than 20,000 signatures. The organisers of the petition are now energetically campaigning for more signatures, as the president would be obligated to respond to the petition should it garner more than 200,000 signatures within 30 days. The South Korean Youth Community Union, an amalgamated confederation claiming to represent all workers between ages 15-39, has issued a statement in support of the movement.
It is difficult to gauge how the mainland Chinese working class and youth have responded to this event from within, as China has, expectedly, blocked all reporting on the protests in Hong Kong. However, given the presence of mainlanders within the movement in Hong Kong and the occasional word of support from mainlanders, it is likely that not a few are closely following the events.
All radical movements must continually move forward, otherwise they will retreat and the government will be able to reassert itself. This one is no different. Yesterday’s demonstration gives it momentum on a higher level than ever before. Hong Kong has many problems besides the extradition bill. It is cripplingly expensive – more so for the working class than is London, New York or Tokyo. Workers live in poor conditions.
The constitution, furthermore, provides no space for working-class representation, and there are no genuine democratic elections. Therefore, to go forward, the movement must now raise the demands of social housing and expropriation of the property and assets of the billionaire parasites, and the formation of a completely new, democratic constitution to be drawn up by elected representatives from this movement and the trade unions. This is an historic opportunity. The movement must seize it.