China’s National Day, which marks the anniversary of Mao’s proclamation of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October, is always full of pageantry and displays of military strength. But for the 70th anniversary, Xi Jinping pulled out all the stops. The military parade was China’s biggest ever, with new, supersonic unmanned drones and nuclear missiles proudly on display. The message was loud and clear: as Xi himself said, “no force can shake the status of this great nation”.
This was a show of force intended to sweep aside any doubts about Xi’s regime’s strength and stability, both internally and externally. To Donald Trump and his trade war, he was saying, “we are a formidable foe. We are preparing for a long and serious battle. Do not think you can bully us. It is best for you to back down from this trade war.” To internal enemies, from rival factions in the bureaucracy, to protestors and strikers, he was saying, “I am all-powerful. You cannot win.”
While the parade is ostensibly a celebration of the great revolution that freed China from imperialist domination and capitalism 70 years ago, its real purpose is to terrify the masses with the power of the Chinese state so much that they do not dream of starting another revolution.
The shadow of Hong Kong
No doubt Xi Jinping had more than one eye on the protestors in Hong Kong when he gave his warning. This was made even more explicit when stated, with unintended irony, that the Chinese Communist Party will “maintain [Hong Kong’s] the long-term prosperity and stability” through the principle of “one country, two systems". As if to underline the deeply ironic character of this statement, Beijing’s puppet in Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, was by his side, applauding his words.
As he spoke of long-term stability and prosperity, Hong Kong’s most violent protests yet spiralled out of control. For the first time in the city’s 17-week-long mass movement, police fired live rounds, and as a consequence, an 18-year-old protester was hit and lies in hospital in critical condition. Upon recovery, should he make it, he will be charged with rioting, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years.
Throughout the day, police officially fired 1,400 tear gas canisters and 1,300 projectiles, breaking their own records. An Indonesian journalist was shot with a projectile, and as a result is now blind in one eye for life. Blue ink was once again sprayed at protesters from a water cannon. The anti-Beijing, Legislative Council member, Eddie Chu, was pepper sprayed right in his face from point-blank range, and nearly choked to death. Vehicles were driven into crowds of protesters. The police have banned all large protests, leading to the proliferation of small, more disorganised ones. They have also shut down much of the rail network.
On the other side, the protesters have become increasingly violent and reckless. This is an inevitable result of the completely disorganised, politically leaderless character of the movement, which has bred sheer desperation. After months of police brutality, Hong Kongers are more angry and determined than ever. But no one offers any strategy for defeating the government. The labour movement is weak and failing to organise sustained and well-organised strike action, which is the only thing that could give the movement the power and discipline it needs. Thus, protesters attempt to force what they want - universal suffrage - by desperately lashing out.
This has led to counter-productive, impotent actions, such as the firebombing of government offices and police stations and publicly posting the addresses of police officers. This has made it easier for the government to spread rumours and lies about the protesters, such as the recent claims that they are recruiting suicidal people to bomb shopping malls.
Owing to the absence of clear leadership, the movement in Hong Kong will sooner or later tire itself out. It can only go forwards with the addition of social demands and the methods of the organised working class - that is, powerful general strikes. Instead of burning parts of one or two police stations, a general strike would economically cripple Hong Kong, which is a far-greater challenge to the government.
Concessions from above
It is true that the actions of the protesters have led Xi to the conclusion that some concessions are necessary. Since Beijing cannot grant universal suffrage, and cannot tolerate any possibility of Hong Kong voting to break away from China to enter US imperialism’s embrace, it has decided to pressurise Hong Kong’s property billionaires to start building social housing. Articles have begun to appear in the People’s Daily (the main government mouthpiece), calling for the seizure of the property of these land developers. Some on the left are praising Beijing’s regime, trying to suggest that it is attacking Hong Kong capitalism and attempting to introduce socialism. Not only do these efforts fall far short of socialism, but they come a little late, given that Hong Kong’s property boom, housing crisis and rampant inequality, have all accelerated under its watch. In fact, Beijing deliberately gave Hong Kong’s richest capitalists free rein to enrich themselves, so that Hong Kong’s ruling class would be a loyal ally of China.
However, as we have pointed out previously, because the real regime they are fighting lies not in Hong Kong but in Beijing, the problems of Hong Kong’s working class can only be solved by extending the fight into mainland China. This is what the regime fears the most, and it has reason to be fearful. Behind the swagger of this week’s military parade, a nagging insecurity stalks Xi Jinping. This is not due to Donald Trump and his trade war, but China’s own working class.
The Chinese Communist Party has studied the collapse of the Soviet Union extensively. It is terrified of facing the same fate. It is well aware of the growing discontent fuelled by rapidly escalating inequality and corruption. Indeed, this is another reason for its attempts to address the obscene housing costs of Hong Kong, because massive inequality and exploitation are two things the Hong Kong and mainlander working class have in common. What if the Hong Kongers started demonstrating against this inequality, and inspired a similar movement over the border? This danger terrifies Xi Jinping.
Adding to their worries is the fact that the Chinese economy is slowing down. The legitimacy of the CCP’s rule is based on its ability to continually improve the living standards of hundreds of millions of people. Nothing is forever under capitalism, and their ability to deliver the economic goods is no different. They know that sooner or later, they will run out of road.
That day is within sight. The rate of growth is lower than it has been for decades, and is thought to now be below the rate it needs to be able to keep employing former peasants leaving the countryside. Since the world crisis of 2008, China’s debt levels have multiplied several times, and are now amongst the highest in the world. The trade war with the US only adds to these problems.
When China’s workers move, the earth will shake
In recent years, the Chinese working class has become more confident and taken strike action more and more. China Labour Bulletin reports that as China’s car industry goes through a recession (falling by 14 percent in the first half of 2019), strikes and demonstrations by auto workers have massively increased:
“So far this year, China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map has recorded 25 collective protests by workers in the automotive sector, up from just five in the same period last year.”
What the regime fears is not so much the increase of strikes, but the linking up of what have hitherto been local strikes, into a national strike wave. Such a strike wave, given the years of pent-up anger towards China’s totalitarian system, could quickly spiral into a revolutionary movement challenging the regime itself. This is also what terrifies them about the movement in Hong Kong. Should the movement in Hong Kong take on a working-class character, and make appeals to the workers of Shenzhen, Guangdong province, and China as a whole, it would be very hard to isolate, since many thousands of workers travel back and forth between Hong Kong and the mainland.
Xi Jinping wants to bury the revolutionary heritage of 1949, which abolished capitalism, under the crushing weight of military hardware. But all the weapons in the world will not be able to hold back the Chinese working class, the largest in the world, when it rediscovers its real revolutionary traditions, as sooner or later it will.