Sunday, October 12, 2014

Marxist defense of Hong Kong protests

A communist antidote to the "dead dogs and calumny" heaped on the protests by such U.S. Stalinists as Workers World Party.



Hong Kong protesters demand political rights

Tens of thousands of students, trade unionists and other supporters of political rights have taken to the streets in Hong Kong for more than a week, camping out 24-hours a day outside government offices and in business districts to demand the right to elect government officials and the resignation of Leung Chun-ying, chief executive of the autonomous Chinese province.

Students began boycotting classes after the Chinese National People's Congress in Beijing voted Aug. 31 to impose undemocratic conditions on the implementation of universal suffrage in Hong Kong set to begin in 2017. The People's Congress decided that only three candidates — handpicked by a 1,200 member government-appointed elections committee — would be able to run for chief executive.

At a rally of striking students Sept. 26, a student leader called on participants to march to Hong Kong's government complex. Hundreds took part, and, as word of the action spread, hundreds more joined in. By the next morning thousands had set up encampments on the street.

Three organizations have led the campaign: the Hong Kong Federation of Students; a high-school age group called Scholarism, which led protests in 2012 that pushed back a Beijing-imposed curriculum; and a group calling itself Occupy Central with Love and Peace.

By the next day, tens of thousands were in the streets.

On Sept. 28 the regime's police attacked demonstrators with tear gas and pepper spray. Protesters opened up thousands of umbrellas to shield themselves, after which the protests became known as the "umbrella revolution."

Thousands more joined the encampments in response to the attack. On Oct. 1 the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions urged its affiliates to strike in support of the mobilization for political rights. Union leaders estimated some 10,000 workers took part in strike actions to denounce the cop attack, including the Professional Teachers' Union.

On Beijing's orders, Hong Kong authorities backed off, adopting a "wait-them-out" approach. Leung released a video statement refusing to resign, saying, "I have to continue my work on universal suffrage."

Beijing fears the demonstrations for greater political rights could inspire struggles of working people and oppressed nationalities on the mainland. Chinese state television has branded protesters as under the influence of U.S. agents.

On Oct. 3, the day after the Chinese government's People's Daily warned that Hong Kong will "fall into chaos" if the demonstrations continue, protesters were attacked by thugs in the Mong Kok neighborhood. Many of the attackers have ties to the Triad gangs, notorious for murder, extortion and drug dealing. The Triads have a political history, including as informers and enforcers for the Japanese occupation in World War II.

Some shopkeepers and local residents, frustrated by difficulties getting to work and other disruptions, cheered the attackers on. Others intervened on the side of demonstrators.

Negotiations between protest leaders and Leung's deputy Carrie Lam opened Oct. 6. As of Oct. 7 talks were still limited to discussing what to talk about.

Since the talks began, the protests have ebbed and many participants have returned to classes or work.

Hong Kong had been under foreign domination since 1842, when London seized it from the Qing Dynasty in the First Opium War. The British government appointed every governor of the crown colony from then until 1997, when control was ceded to Beijing. Under Chinese authority, the chief executive post has been appointed by a local committee loyal to Beijing.

'One country, two systems'

The new setup, called "one country, two systems," has meant that local capitalists could maintain their wealth, assets and privileges, while working people retain some political rights they carved out in struggle against British rule.

Part of the handover deal between London and Beijing was that Hong Kong citizens would gain universal suffrage in 2017 — which the Chinese government is moving to gut of any content.

Hong Kong's capitalist families — concentrated in banking, real estate and retail trade — have grown close to Beijing and increased their wealth since 1997. Hong Kong's 10 richest men control much of the city's real estate, with a combined fortune of some $130 billion.

Over the same period, tens of thousands of workers have lost jobs as 80 percent of the city's manufacturing has closed in face of competition from mainland China, where wages are lower. Meanwhile, Hong Kong wages have stagnated, while the cost of housing, food and basic necessities have soared.

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