Taiwan: 7 years since the Sunflower Movement

The mass movement of March 2014 that became known as the ‘Sunflower Movement’ was a pivotal event in Taiwan's recent political history. Its impact continues to be felt today. From 18 March to 10 April 2014, students took over and occupied the country’s legislature, while tens of thousands of workers supported them in the streets for 24 days.

It led to a complete reshuffling of the political landscape in Taiwan. Its militancy left an impression on people throughout Asia, in particular in Hong Kong where the youth would attempt to launch a similarly militant movement in the streets for democratic rights. In the end, however, it didn’t win any fundamental changes.

The Sunflower Movement began as a movement of the youth and students, sparking a much broader movement of the masses. But whilst it wrought important changes to the Taiwanese political landscape, these have largely had a distorting effect, blurring the real division in society.

In the wake of the Sunflower Movement, the national question and Taiwan’s relationship with China, rather than class questions, have come to dominate Taiwanese politics. The biggest beneficiaries of this process have been the enemies of the Taiwanese masses: the pro-US, liberal wing of the capitalist class and their political party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who have gained at the expense of the traditional party of Taiwanese capital, the KMT. 

How and why did this happen? What lessons are there for revolutionaries in Taiwan and beyond? What the advanced layers of youth and workers need above all is a perspective that goes beyond that of the narrow limits of the movement’s liberal leadership, in order to find a genuine way out of the impasse of Taiwanese capitalism.

The Sunflower Movement arose amidst accumulating social contradictions, which impact the youth in particular. In this movement, the powder keg that had accumulated finally exploded.

The movement however tended to centre on democratic rather than social issues. As such the liberals were able to seize the leadership of the movement. This meant that the movement’s horizons remained restricted to purely bourgeois-democratic demands. As such, a magnificent movement that shook the establishment to its core was demobilised and sent down harmless channels, leading workers and youth back to where they started. 

But the contradictions that fueled this movement remain unchanged. It is only a matter of time before the masses of Taiwan and elsewhere rise up to take control of their fate again. They will then be confronted once more with the same questions of methods, strategy, and leadership. It is in anticipation of the movements to come that the advanced workers and youth must draw a balance sheet of the Sunflower Movement.

A generation in stagnation

Those who drove the Sunflower Flower movement were young people born after 1990, who were entering adulthood by 2014. This is no accident. Although this generation grew up with democratic freedoms that their predecessors wrested from the KMT regime, they are also the first generation of Taiwanese youth who didn’t grow up under a condition of economic boom. Like their peers all over the world, they see only periodic crises and declining prospects for the future under the capitalist system in Taiwan and the world at large.

At the same time, the rise of Chinese capitalism and its impact on Taiwanese society has also had a big impact on the class struggle in Taiwan. The Taiwanese bourgeoisie played a vital role in bringing the necessary capital into China as capitalism was restored there. In 2000, 12% of manufacturing orders taken by Taiwanese firms took place overseas. By 2010, this number grew to 50%.

The Taiwanese ruling class used their access to cheap Chinese labour to drive down wages in Taiwan. This changing economic dynamic ushered in a period of stagnation of living conditions for Taiwanese workers and youth that has lasted to this day. As manufacturing moved out, Taiwan’s structural unemployment steadily rose from 1% in the early 1990s, to 5.9% in 2009. Wages not only stagnated for years but saw an overall decline by the end of the 2000s. In 2009, real wages were 1000NT less than they were 12 years earlier.

At this time, a young worker with a bachelor’s degree could only expect to get a job with a starting salary of $26,000 NT per month (around $793USD at the time). The lack of quality jobs also forced growing numbers of young people into unstable and temporary work known as ‘atypical work’. In 2008, over 14.68% of employed youth worked in temporary jobs.[1]

Sunflower movement 2 Image Civilmedia TaiwanDeindustrialization in the 1990s had a negative impact on the labour movement / Image: Civilmedia @ Taiwan

The loss of jobs devastated the labour movement, which was only beginning to rise by the 1980s, but which was still trying to consolidate itself amidst rapid political and social changes in Taiwan at the time. Until the 1990s the KMT operated a dictatorship in which only official government unions were legal. Independent trade unions were only beginning to take off when the economic environment began to worsen. As a result, the industrial unionization rate of Taiwan dropped from 27-28% in 1994 to just 15% in 2005. Although heroic struggles against factory closures were launched by the workers, they were ultimately unable to stop the capitalists from seeking the much greener pasture of exploitation in China. Although the new trade unions placed themselves at the head of these struggles, the bosses’ offensive could only have been reversed by generalising the struggle across all unemployed and employed workers.

Alongside this devastation, the cost of living in Taiwan surged ruthlessly. Using 2016 as a base year (100), Taiwan’s consumer price index (CPI) rose from 84.41 in 2000’s to 97.95 at the end of 2013. The housing price to income ratio grew from 4.47 in 2002 to 8.46 in 2015.[2] Statistics that paint the same picture could be reproduced at will. This naturally created a sense of hopelessness for the future that permeated Taiwanese society. 

Lack of class leadership

Despite a descending economic situation, a class-based fightback didn’t emerge, nor a clear class-based political alternative for the workers. Over the years, the leadership of the labour movement, by and large, fell behind the bourgeois parties, or else restricted themselves to purely economic struggles in individual workplaces. This lack of leadership allowed the question of class to be relegated to a secondary place in politics.

The primary divide in Taiwan’s political scene came to largely be dominated by the question of Taiwan’s relationship with China. While the Chinese Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) and the Taiwanese Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) superficially bicker with each other over the national question, both remain parties of the bourgeoisie and maintain pro-capitalist policies whenever they are in office. The Taiwanese working class is left without any political representation.

The role of China is an important factor, distorting how social ferment is expressed in Taiwan. Having restored capitalism on its watch, the CCP became increasingly reliant on nationalism to justify its political dictatorship at home. Part of rhetoric is the unification of Taiwan with China, which the CCP claims is a non-negotiable part of its quest for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

This chauvinist rhetoric is the very same that the KMT used to justify its dictatorship over Taiwan in the past century. As such, unification with China is seen in Taiwan as meaning an end to hard-earned democratic rights. This fear is only fostered by the CCP’s periodic threats of violence against Taiwan over the years.

Without the working-class organisations giving a revolutionary lead out of this situation, many struggles have come under the leadership of students and petty-bourgeois elements with liberal politics. The Wild Lily student movement of 1990 provided something of a template. The movement unleashed in 1990 put mass pressure on the KMT, forcing it to make broader democratic concessions than it had been willing to make. Many of the subsequent large-scale political protests in Taiwan since the 1990s have likewise been led by student organisations or NGOs.

The largest of these movements channelling social discontent erupted over China’s encroachment into Taiwan. The Wild Strawberry movement of 2008 was an example of one such movement. At the time, the newly elected KMT government led by Ma Ying-jeou – who was keen to achieve a rapprochement with China – invited CCP official, Chen Yunlin, to visit Taiwan. During the visit, the KMT used many of the dictatorship-era provisions of the Assembly and Parades Act to suppress protests and assemblies and to set up checkpoints all over Taiwan to ensure Chen’s visit went smoothly.

This KMT’s willingness to resume the suppression of democratic rights in order to please China inspired this student-led movement. Actual participation was limited to only a small number of students and intellectuals, but it nevertheless garnered widespread attention.

Another similar case was the Anti-Media Monopoly Campaign of 2012. The movement arose this time over opposition to the actions of the extremely pro-China Taiwanese billionaire, Tsai Eng-meng. His Want Want Group was rapidly buying up news organisations in Taiwan in an attempt to make pro-China views dominant across the media.[3] Once again, the driving force behind this movement was liberal student organisations and NGOs, while the focal point became strictly limited to democratic rather than class issues.

Sunflower movement 3 Image Toomore Chiang Flickr CCSince the 1990s, the biggest mass movements in Taiwan have been led by student rather than working-class organizations / Image: Toomore Chiang, Flickr (CC)

The democratic question of a free media cannot be solved however under capitalism. As long as the media is dominated by a handful of monopolies, even under the most ‘democratic’ regime, ‘freedom of the press’ can only mean freedom for a tiny clique of rich media bosses. The liberals, whose horizons remain firmly contained within the limits of capitalism, are unable to offer a real solution to these ‘democratic’ questions.

Although the above-mentioned movements did not inspire the level of mass participation that the Sunflower Movement would later mobilise, its leading figures and organisations would step into the vacuum left by an absence of working-class leadership. This became the case when the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou government attempted to push through the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA).

CSSTA and KMT fast-tracking

Despite complaints from liberals and the DPP, the KMT government under Ma Ying-jeou faced no serious challenges during its first term. Ma’s focus on deepening economic relations with China was mostly presented as a panacea to get Taiwan out of its stagnation and to aid the recovery from the 2008 crisis. The seeming success of the strategy, which didn’t last long, allowed Ma and the KMT to win a second term in 2014. For a time Ma was touted as a political superstar and the KMT’s trump card. There would soon be a rude awakening.

As none of the measures solved or even slowed down the growing contradictions of Taiwanese capitalism, Ma’s popularity began to rapidly deteriorate, falling to a low of 9.2% support by late 2013. Virtually rendered a lame duck, Ma – a one-trick pony – tried to force through a wide-ranging free trade agreement with China, claiming it was critical for Taiwan’s economic future.

To be sure, the project of deepening Taiwan’s economic ties with China was in the works since Ma’s first term, with the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed between China and Taiwan in 2009. But the significance of the new agreement, the CSSTA, was that it would open up 64 sectors of Taiwan’s economy to Chinese investments, from financial services, to telecommunications, healthcare, social services, tourism, and even down laundries and barbershops. In return, over 80 industries in China would be opened up to Taiwanese investors.[4]

The vast majority of Taiwan’s bourgeoisie cheered this development. All sorts of arguments in favor of free trade were advanced by tycoons in Taiwan. Stan Shih, CEO of Taiwanese multinational electronics conglomerate, Acer, warned that Taiwan was “guaranteed to lose should it insist upon protectionism.” The head of Taiwan’s General Chamber of Commerce Pen-Tsao Chang claimed that the CSSTA would “bring more job opportunities for young people.”

These feverish celebrations of the bourgeoisie underscored the fact that they would be the biggest beneficiaries from this deal with China. If the CSSTA went through, they could export more of their capital in order to profit from the exploitation of Chinese workers. For the Taiwanese working class, the benefits of this free trade agreement were far from apparent. A concurrent report by the state’s own Chung Hua Institute for Economic Research estimated the latter would bring only a 0.025 to 0.034 percent increase in Taiwan’s annual gross domestic product (GDP).[5]

It also wasn’t explained how additional Chinese investment into Taiwan’s economy would improve the chronically stagnant wages and long work hours, which stemmed not from a lack of investment but the system of capitalism itself. It also stoked concerns of greater dependence on the CCP regime as a result of these investments. Despite these concerns, the KMT government’s plan moved ahead.

Sunflower movement 4 Image public domainThe KMT Ma Ying-jeou administration sought to make Taiwan more dependent and aligned to the interest of Chinese imperialism / Image: public domain

The CSSTA was signed in Shanghai by representatives of the KMT and the CCP in June 2013, and was expected to be ratified by the Taiwanese Legislative Yuan (Parliament) soon after, given that the KMT at the time held a majority there. The opposition DPP held an inconsistent and generally acquiescent attitude towards the CSSTA, as many within the party, under the pressure of the capitalist class, supported free trade with China despite their Taiwanese nationalist posturing.[6] Opposition to the bill fell to civil society groups and a minority of DPP politicians, who managed to stall the review process for some time.

Nonetheless, as the parliamentary review of the trade deal dragged on into 2014, the KMT’s patience ran out. They finally began to take measures to leap over the opposition and push through the legislation. On 17 March 2014, the CSSTA was due to be reviewed by the legislature's Internal Administrative Committee before it was sent to the Legislative Yuan’s floor for a final vote, but the KMT legislator and chair of the session, Chang Ching-chung, adjourned the meeting only 30 seconds after it began and declared the reviewed process concluded. The hasty, arrogant, and illegal means by which the KMT tried to force through the legislation would become the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Students intervene and LY Occupation

When the news of the KMT’s maneuver broke, a number of NGOs, farmers and labour organizations immediately organized press conferences to condemn the development. On the morning of the following day, a small group of people demonstrated in front of the Legislative Yuan building.

During this brief period, a number of student and youth organizations began to plan for direct action to stop the KMT’s legislative bulldozing. Most prominent among them was the Black Island Youth Front, named after the anarcho-communist Taiwan Black Youth League of the Japanese colonial era.[7]

They mobilized around 400 people to gather in front of the Legislature. Having overwhelmed the police, they proceeded to charge into the Legislative Yuan building and occupy the parliamentary floor, barricading themselves inside the building. Initially, the activists planned on occupying the Legislature in protest for 63 hours. They had no idea it would inspire a mass movement that lasted for more than 20 days.[8] 

As the news of the break-in began to spread, crowds of people began to gather outside the Legislative Yuan in support of the students. By 19 March, thousands of people surrounded the building. The size of the crowd and the intervention of a number of politicians prevented the police from evicting the occupiers. By 31 March, between 20,000- 30,000 people from all over the country camped outside of the Legislative Yuan to support the occupiers, and the Sunflower Movement went into full swing.[9]

The direct action of the students clearly echoed with a deep reserve of anger against the government that was permeating Taiwanese society. As support for the LY occupation grew, so did donations of supplies for the occupiers and more people joined the occupation inside the building. The initially frantic atmosphere was replaced by a strong sense of self-discipline and organization among the occupiers. Participants organized themselves into teams handling logistical, security, and outreach tasks, while those students on break used their spare time to continue their studies.[10]

Sunflower movement 5 Image Jesse Steele public domainStudents stormed and occupied the Legislative Yuan / Image: Jesse Steele, public domain

While the student occupiers openly expressed views in support of Taiwanese Independence – which concretely meant rejecting China’s attempt to unify with Taiwan into a single nation-state and favoring Taiwan formally changing its name from the Republic of China to the Republic of Taiwan – this view didn’t translate into chauvinist attitudes towards ordinary Chinese people. Some Chinese students studying in Taiwan were accepted into the occupation and played active roles in the action:

“Less high-profile but no less active inside the Legislative Yuan were several locally enrolled students from Hong Kong and even mainland China, who had entered the building with their classmates. “Yes, I’m not supposed to be here, but I’m curious what this is all about—this couldn’t happen in China!” said BB, a finance student.”[11]

However, it wasn’t solely on account of the actions of the students and the masses that the occupation was maintained. For a time, police repression was halted by the intervention of DPP politicians and a split within the KMT over how to deal with the situation. At the onset of the occupation, a number of DPP, and smaller party legislators aligned with the DPP, showed up to the LY building in support of the students.

While the students generally regarded all politicians with contempt, several of these politicians began to guard entrances of the LY to prevent the police from breaking into the premises and remove the occupiers.[12] More important, however, was the role of the KMT President of Legislative, Yuan Wang Jinping. Although a lifelong KMT member, Wang was the head of a faction in the party opposed to President Ma Ying-jeou. The two men had engaged in highly acrimonious and public struggles up to then.

At its outbreak, Wang observed how the movement was unfolding and based on his political calculations, three days into the movement he announced that he “would not consider having them (activists) removed by force,” much to the chagrin of his comrades in the KMT.[13] Wang would later play a pivotal role in winding down the movement.

The masses get involved

The real site of the masses’ participation was actually outside of the channels of the movement itself. By directly defying the government, instead of placing their hopes in any member of the establishment, the occupiers awakened an entire generation to politics.

Thousands descended upon Taipei from all over the country, bringing with them supplies or anything they thought might help the movement. As the masses gathered outside of the Legislative Yuan and formed their own street occupation, in which the masses showed a tremendous, creative capacity for self-organisation. As Ian Rowen illustrated:

“The courtyard and streets outside the Legislative Yuan soon swelled with increasingly sophisticated participation from new student and civic groups, including food distribution networks, blankets and raincoats for nights with cold and wet weather, mobile recharging and Wi-Fi access centers, and free speech zones. Professors from across Taiwan held outdoor classes in the streets surrounding the Legislature, and a tent city with distinctive neighborhoods began to coalesce.”[14]

One of the participants described how Facebook was used as a tool to coordinate volunteers and supplies:

“Before going to the scene, I will first have a look at the information on Facebook to see which zones don’t have enough people or supplies. If possible, I will take supplies with me to the scene (Cai).”[15]

While students and youth were the driving force behind the events, many within the leadership didn’t want the movement to be branded as a student movement.[16] Indeed, the movement was drawing in layers well beyond students. One poll conducted at the time found that while people between the ages of 20 and 29 formed over half of the participants, only 33% of participants were students. Nonetheless, most of the working-age participants came from either professional or technological backgrounds or service sectors, some of the least organized sectors in Taiwan. Although some of the most progressive labour unions did show solidarity with the movement or got involved, they didn’t launch any action to expand the movement. The only time the labor movement took an actual stance was with the issuing of a statement by 17 trade unions in solidarity with the movement on 5 April, with no further action taken after that.[17] 

Sunflower movement 6 Image Artemas LiuThe student occupation brought out the masses / Image: Artemas Liu

Within the next 2 weeks, despite some setbacks that we will get into later, the movement continued to gather support, this culminated in a gargantuan march on the Presidential Office Building on 30 March called by the students. Over 500,000 took to the streets from all over Taiwan. Effectively 2% of the entire country’s population took part. 

When the movement was on the ascent, no amount of repression from the state could halt it. On 24 March, the government deployed over 5,000 police from all over Taiwan to violently crackdown on students who attempted to expand the occupation into the Executive Yuan, the executive branch of the Taiwanese state. Although the occupation attempt was an adventure on the part of a minority of students, the level of violence deployed by the police shocked Taiwanese society and only increased support for the protesters. 

Where the police force, the “armed body of men” that forms the bourgeois state failed, the informal armed body of men tried to step in. On 1 April, the notorious mobster and leader of the extreme pro-China “Peaceful Reunification Party”, Chang An-le aka “White Wolf”, descended upon the protest encampments with 200 men. Their reactionary intimidation completely failed to faze the protesters.

Sunflower movement 7 Image MrWiki321 public domainBrutal police crackdown did not deter the movement on its ascent / Image: MrWiki321, public domain

Despite the tremendous mass energy that the movement drew in from the popular masses, it nevertheless declined and came to an end. In the absence of a Marxist organization strong enough to guide the movement, the leadership restricted its goals to the meagrest democratic issues surrounding the legislation of the CSSTA, when the mass energy was already bringing out concerns that went well beyond the bill itself.

In the spontaneous discussions inside and outside the Legislative Yuan, the protesters expressed all sorts of grievances. In the discussion circles a range of issues relating to social inequality were discussed. Had a Marxist rather than a liberal leadership been present in the movement, it would have taken this point of departure and connected the question of the CSSTA to the class question. The liberals wanted simply to delay the passing of the trade deal. The point is this was a deal between the Chinese capitalists and the Taiwanese capitalists to remove any barriers towards the mutual exploitation of workers in Taiwan and China by the respective ruling classes. Marxists would have therefore linked the fight against this trade deal to the fight against capitalism more broadly.

But a lack of direction eventually led to a dissipation of morale, and the movement began to decline.

Decline and end of the movement

Although the occupation and the subsequent movement ignited the imagination of the masses, the overall political leadership of the movement remained in the hands of a small group of student leaders and NGOs that initiated the occupation. This wasn’t because these figures had prior authority among board layers of the masses. In fact, this hastily launched action and the subsequent mass mobilizations were spontaneous and leaderless in character. But because of a lack of a democratic structure through which the masses might organize themselves, the initiators became an unelected, unaccountable leadership that restricts the movement with their own narrow horizons. 

These leaders didn’t have a working class perspective, but liberal, petty-bourgeois views. This was the primary reason why that movement ended in a whimper, despite the colossal energy it unleashed.

Throughout the movement, the aim was restricted to force the state to halt the passage of the CSSTA. The main thrust of the attack by the movement’s leadership was against specific politicians of the KMT and the party’s lean towards China. They simply wanted a government that turned away from China while leaving the fundamentals of society unchanged.

The initiators of the movement could not have anticipated the explosion that they unleashed. The liberal leadership could not conceive of, nor did they want to step beyond, the limits of capitalism. Rather than encouraging the mass movement, which threatened to pass beyond their limited demands, they feared it and sought to safely defuse the movement once the opportunity presented itself. This is a key lesson: the liberals fear the independent initiative of the masses. Only under independent, working-class leadership can the movement take aim at the real cause of accumulated discontent: capitalism.

These liberal views were represented in the media by the unelected leaders, particularly by Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting. These two student activists were already known to journalists on account of their prior activism, and therefore from the outset were the go-to spokespersons.[18] As time went on, a clique around them and the NGOs close to them became the de facto leadership of the movement, dictating its line and agenda. There was even a physical division within the Legislative Yuan between the leadership and the rank-and-file occupiers, with the “leaders” often on level 1 of the building, while many doing the grunt work would be on level 2.[19]

As the bureaucratic nature of the leadership became unbearable, some disgruntled participants set up a ‘Low Life Liberation Zone’ (LLLZ) in protest. One participant An-ting exclaimed, “These leaders are just as anti-democratic as the Ma government.”[20] Nevertheless, without a democratic structure within the overall movement, the LLLZ was drowned out by the existing leadership who was far more visible to the broader layer of the movement. 

In the end, it was the KMT’s Wang Jin-pyng who helped bring the movement to a close. He entered the occupied legislature and offered a concession – nothing more or less than the limited demands the leadership were asking for: the postponement of the floor vote of the CSSTA until legislation monitoring all cross-strait agreements has been passed. Having secured this ‘concession’, the leadership declared that the occupiers would vacate the Legislative Yuan in three days. This enormous bout of mass mobilization ended in the mere stalling of a bill. The mountain had labored, and it brought forth a mouse. 

Aftermath, legacy, and lessons for today

The immediate results gained from the movement were decidedly poor, but the scale of participation in it brought forth significant changes that shape Taiwanese bourgeois politics to this day. The indirect, yet most consequential impact of the Sunflower Movement was the discrediting of the KMT on a catastrophic scale. The masses were reminded that the KMT, a historic enemy of millions of workers across the Taiwan Strait, is willing to do anything to enforce the agenda of its paymasters. In this case, those paymasters shared with the CCP an interest in pulling Taiwan closer to China. Regarding their hard-won democratic rights as under threat, the Taiwanese masses rejected the KMT on a large scale in subsequent elections.

Nevertheless, in the absence of an alternative that could genuinely give the working class of Taiwan control of society, the DPP, as the biggest opposition party, became the inevitable beneficiary of this political vacuum. In the municipal election that was held later in 2014, the DPP took control of a majority of the city and county governments across Taiwan. In the general election two years later, the DPP regained the presidency and won its first ever parliamentary majority from the KMT.

This seeming political earthquake changed nothing fundamental for the Taiwanese working class. Aside from pivoting Taiwan’s ties away from China and towards the US and others, the DPP seamlessly implemented all the attacks against the Taiwanese working class that the KMT had planned. They implemented a cut in national holidays that the KMT had already planned. They also effectively increased the length of the working day, under the guise of giving workers a weekend off. Like the KMT, the DPP is a party firmly rooted in the bourgeois class. They demagogically used the national question to build up support, the only difference in power being that they are promoting ties with the US rather than Chinese imperialism.

What has become of the student and NGO leaders of the Sunflower Movement? A majority of them went from ‘direct action’ to work within the system, and a number of smaller parties were founded in an attempt to capture positions through elections. This was a phenomenon known as the “Third Force”. The most prominent of these parties were the New Power Party (NPP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). While they were organizationally independent from the DPP, they were formed as merely electoral machines on behalf of a small clique of politicians rather than as mass organizations.

Politically, the Third Force parties presented themselves as merely more liberal progressive alternatives to the DPP. On this basis, they didn’t last as significant political factors. The NPP from the beginning contained within it a significant tendency that viewed DPP leader Tsai Ing-wen as an inspirational leader, and over time a large number of them would defect or otherwise leave the NPP to align with the DPP.

The SDP never lived up to the mass status of its peers in Europe, as timid reformism on the basis of a small activist clique, rather than huge trade union organizations, does not stand a chance against Taiwan’s ferociously reactionary political establishment. After a few years of remaining at the margins, the SDP’s founding leader Fan Yun joined the DPP and was elected as a legislator on this basis in 2020.

The fact that the Third Force parties were destined to fail at seriously changing Taiwan’s society was already predicted by Marxists back in 2016. This is because, unlike the liberals, we understand that only the working class and its own political organizations can genuinely change Taiwan’s society. Of course, the working masses need their own class party, but this must be a party that maintains absolute class independence instead of lending effective support for the liberal wing of the ruling class. In Taiwan this means a party that fights both the KMT and the DPP, unlike the Third Force parties that only trailed in the wake of the DPP. Such a party wouldn’t confine itself to parliamentary elections, but would actively organize struggles in the streets and the workplaces alongside workers organizations.

Sunflower movement 8 Image Ray Swi hymn public domainWithout a class-based program and genuine basis in the masses, the Third Force parties are reducing to a parliamentary rump / Image: Ray Swi-hymn, public domain

With nothing fundamentally changing, the question of relations with China continues to dominate Taiwanese politics, with no one advancing a class analysis on this issue. The fact that the question of China in Taiwan takes on a one-sided and nationalist basis is not only the work of the DPP, but also fuelled by the behavior of the CCP. As the Taiwanese masses rejected what the CCP regime considered to be an economically generous offer, and the fact that it is unwilling to work with the DPP meant that China had to resort to open coercion both to consolidate its own support internally and attempt to scare the Taiwanese masses into submission. Nonetheless, every time the CCP threatens to use force against Taiwan or represses democratic movements within its own borders, the Taiwanese masses would rally behind the DPP, as they consider the latter to be the only political choice that can resist China's ambitions over Taiwan. In fact, the CCP was responsible for resuscitating the DPP’s electoral prospects in recent times. When the DPP was on a losing streak to the KMT in 2017 it was again buoyed by Taiwanese masses’ reaction to the clampdown on the Hong Kong protest in 2019 and won an even bigger parliamentary majority in the 2020 general election. 

In the absence of a working-class party, putting forward a class position, the threats of violence from the CCP have continuously pushed the Taiwanese working class into the arms of the bourgeois establishment, placing their own class interest behind the “national” one. Of course, in reality this ‘unity’ is only in the interest of the DPP bourgeoisie and US imperialism. In the meantime, the DPP and the media aligned to it continued the anti-communist rhetoric that their supposed arch-nemesis, the KMT, made use of for decades. At times, they even accused striking workers of being CCP agents

This new, reactionary political norm is prolonged by the relative success of the Tsai administration in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. To be sure, this was largely thanks to the universal healthcare system in Taiwan as well as the prior experience with pandemics. Still, this compares favorably with the disastrous responses seen in much of the rest of the world, which buttressed illusions in the Tsai Ing-wen administration for a time. 

Nevertheless, the contradictions of capitalism and its crisis can only be postponed up to a point, and Taiwan’s society is certainly building up a powder keg. The stagnant wages, declining quality of life, rising cost of living, and dimming future for the youth that fuelled the Sunflower Movement not only have not subsided since the DPP came to power but have deepened. The same suffering layer of the Taiwanese working class remains where they were seven years ago

Therefore, the Taiwanese ruling class will not have their field day for long. Underneath the surface, class contradictions that led to the Sunflower movement have only gotten worse.   But due to the lack of a working-class party to give an organised expression to this, the political landscape remains unchanged. The working class of Taiwan, especially the younger generation, will learn from experience that they can only trust themselves and their own organizations. Through this or that accident, the burning necessity for liberation from capitalism within Taiwanese society will express itself again. More and more people will come to realize that class struggle is the only way to liberate themselves. At the same time, they will be joined by those who participated in or supported the Sunflower Movement, who experienced its limitations, and who are seeking out the road to world revolution, as surely are many of those captured on video singing the Internationale during the Sunflower Movement.

An island country like Taiwan cannot exist in a vacuum. Extraordinary movements are beginning to flare up around the world, and Asia in particular is catching up rapidly. This reflects the inability of the capitalist system to develop society. Sooner or later, this process will also break through the surface of Taiwanese society and the workers and youth will move into struggle to escape the downward spiral of the status quo. What is needed is to build a revolutionary Marxist organization in time large enough to put forward a perspective that can reach the masses, cutting through the confusion and morass of liberal politics and nationalist demagoguery. This is what The Spark, the Taiwanese members of the International Marxist Tendency, are currently doing in Taiwan, and we invite you to join us.


Notes

[1] 轉引自邱昕歈,《太陽花運動的背景, 發生原因與影響》,國立台灣師範大學,2017,P. 53

[2] 同上,P. 52

[3] Ian Rowen, “Inside Taiwan's Sunflower Movement: Twenty-Four Days in a Student-Occupied Parliament, and the Future of the Region”, Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 74, 2015, P. 9

[4] 邱昕歈,P. 5

[5] Rowen, P. 6

[6] 何明修,《為什麼要佔領街頭?》,第二章,左岸文化,臺北,2019

[7] 想想論壇,《這不是太陽花學運》, 允晨文化,臺北,P. 28

[8] 同上,P. 32 - 33

[9] 同上,P. 36

[10] Rowen, P. 12-13

[11] Ibid. P. 8

[12] Ibid. P. 7

[13] Charles K.S. Wu, “How Public Opinion Shapes Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement”, Journal of East Asian Studies, Volume 19, 2019, P. 297

[14] Rowen, P. 9

[15] Panayiota Tsatsou and Yupei Zhao, “A ‘Two-Level Social Capital Analysis’ of the Role of Online Communication in Civic Activism: Lessons From the Role of Facebook in the Sunflower Movement”, Social Media + Society, October-December 2016,, P. 12

[16] 何明修,導言

[17] 想想論壇,《這不是太陽花學運》,P. 112

[18] 同上,P. 37

[19] 同上,P. 171-172

[20] Rowen, P. 16

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