June 4 2021 marks 32 years since the Chinese state’s massacre of hundreds or thousands of pro-democracy protesters around Tiananmen Square. Workers’ Liberty will join the vigil in London to commemorate the movement and its bloody suppression, and to re-affirm our solidarity with everyone still struggling today for the liberation sought by the 1989 movement.
Today, the Chinese “Communist” Party (CCP) continues to brutally repress the people under the rule of its dictatorial party-state.
Its economy is characterised by rampant exploitation of workers and peasants for the profits of big capitalists and state bureaucrats. Wealth inequality approaches that of the USA. The state-backed trade union almost never supports workers in disputes, instead serving the CCP and employers. Independent trade unions are illegal on the mainland. Avenues to express or organise dissent are heavily restricted.
In Hong Kong, the CCP has brutally suppressed the pro-democracy movement, and is strangling the partial democracy that previously existed in Hong Kong by barring candidates and seat-holders not loyal to Beijing.
Now, 47 campaigners face the possibility of life in prison under the aggressive new National Security Law, for the “crime” of organising a primary election to select pro-democracy candidates for the legislature.
Defendants include leading trade unionists Carol Ng and Winnie Yu. Independent union leader Lee Cheuk-Yan and veteran socialist Leung Kwok-Hung are among those already sentenced to lengthy prison terms over an unauthorised 2019 pro-democracy march.
China’s colonialism in the region Beijing calls “Xinjiang” (“New Frontier”) dates to the Qing Empire. Despite proclaiming itself “Marxist-Leninist”, the CCP flouts socialist principle by continuing to deny Uyghurs self-determination. Now it has escalated to genocidal persecution.
Aiming for forced assimilation, the state suppresses and punishes Uyghurs’ and other Turkic majority-Muslim ethnic groups’ cultural, political, linguistic and religious expression. It has interned over a million for re-education. Coercive labour schemes force them into factory lines and fields for the profit of both Chinese and Western companies. Policies targeting Uyghur women, including forced contraception and sterilisation, have caused the sharpest drop in births anywhere in the world since 1950.
Other oppressed nations and ethnic minorities have suffered within China’s increasingly ethno-nationalist empire, such as Tibetans and Mongols.
Historic US socialist Eugene Debs defined socialism as “an extension of the ideal of democracy into the economic field.”
Under capitalism, much of social life is outside democratic control, along with most of the resources and industry on which we all rely. They are the private property of a small minority, who organise economic activity to maximise their profits, not to fulfil social needs. Our workplaces are petty dictatorships, and the unequal distribution of wealth and power curbs and warps even the limited political democracy that currently exists in countries like the UK.
The socialism for which Workers’ Liberty stands does not seek to replace capitalist ownership with top-down state bureaucracy. Nor do we want to roll back parliamentary democracy. Instead, we fight for a radically deeper and broader working-class democracy. For democratic self-rule across social life, won by and for the currently-exploited majority who produce all the capitalists’ and state bureaucrats’ wealth. We stand for the same tradition that the Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation and other independent workers’ organisations of 1989 espoused, when they challenged dictatorial control in the factory as well as the state.
The CCP’s reign since 1949 has had nothing to do with either political or economic democracy, and therefore nothing to do with socialism. Not in the Maoist period, when economic and social organisation were rigidly dictated from above by party-state bureaucrats. Nor since the reforms initiated under Deng, which simply opened a larger role for private capitalists as another kind of tyrant. Indeed, with the CCP’s growing ranks of influential billionaire members, the two classes of tyrant increasingly overlap.
Not all opponents of the CCP’s rule can be our allies. Here in the UK, in the USA and elsewhere, hawkish politicians, media and far-right activists cynically use these issues to garner support for nationalist, xenophobic conflict.
Their hypocrisy shows on the question of refugees. Surely anyone who denounces oppression abroad, should welcome victims who escape and seek sanctuary?
The Conservative government’s new immigration policy includes a major attack on refugees fleeing political and religious persecution. The narrow BNO (British National Overseas) scheme offers safety only to Hongkongers, and among them, only a fortunate few. The implications are obvious for anyone else escaping CCP repression, or similar repression elsewhere. Where is the pushback from these right-wing politicians? Or from their campaigns, like the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China and Hong Kong Watch?
Racism is also apparent in the paranoid McCarthyism they stoke. They demonise ordinary Chinese workers, international students and academics as fifth columnists. This encourages the bigoted anti-East-Asian violence on our streets. And it opens the door to policies stifling civil liberties, press independence, academic freedom, and intellectual and cultural exchange.
The push for militarisation is especially perilous. The people of Hong Kong, Taiwan or the Uyghurs can gain nothing from being drawn into the epicentre of a potential confrontation between nuclear-armed superpowers.
More broadly, we cannot rely on the British and American states and their allies in this cause. Fundamentally, our states’ foreign policies serve no ideal higher than the power and profit interests of our capitalist ruling classes. The “democratic” states consistently violate human rights around the world, and willingly prop up murderous tyrants like the Saudi monarchy when it suits them.
The enormous military and economic power projected worldwide by those states still significantly outstrips China. We oppose the Chinese ruling classes’ imperial ambitions and projects. But scare-mongering about imminent CCP global takeover is unrealistic. It is particularly hypocritical coming from supporters of the actually-existing US-led international order, which does not promote democracy, justice or equality. It is designed to ensure a conducive business environment for the West’s big capitalists, protecting their position at the top of the pile, at others’ expense.
The hawks also hand-wring about the CCP “stealing” those capitalists’ intellectual property and the “threat” to western technological advantage. But common challenges, from climate change to pandemics, demand radically open sharing and application of technological and scientific knowledge. Not further hoarding for profit.
In fact, many of those western capitalists are part of the repression and exploitation in China.
They are happy to benefit from the anti-union regime suppressing labour costs. Uyghur forced labour stains the supply chains of companies like Nike, Zara, Apple and Amazon. British corporate giants HSBC, Swire and Standard Chartered endorsed the Hong Kong National Security Law, and Cathay Pacific sacked workers for pro-democracy activities. Our government has done essentially nothing to curb these corporations’ actions.
We stand for an alternative to reliance on western imperial states and Cold War hawks. We believe that the interests of workers and oppressed peoples around the world lie with each other, not with any of our exploiters or rulers. And it is down to us to emancipate ourselves, together.
Against Beijing and Washington (and Westminster, and Moscow, and Brussels…), we aim as socialists to build a “third camp” that makes links and solidarity across borders, to take on all our rulers and exploiters.
With others, we participate in the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign and Labour Movement Solidarity with Hong Kong. In these campaigns we work to build grassroots fighting solidarity, particularly in the trade union movement. We protest the Chinese state, and the British state and politicians which exclude refugees. We target the corporations complicit in repression with demonstrations and direct action. We seek common cause with others struggling against racist state violence, authoritarianism, national oppression, attacks on reproductive freedom and so on.
Crucially, we know that without workers, nothing moves. So we learn from dockers who have refused to work ships with weapons bound for the Saudi government, and Google workers who forced their employers to dump US military contracts and collaboration with Chinese state censors. Capitalism’s global supply chains connect workers around the world and offer powerful levers for practical solidarity, if we can grasp them.
And we look with hope and solidarity to the green shoots of resistance in China’s enormous working class. Despite the repression of unions, localised unofficial strikes and worker protests crop up constantly. We must redouble our efforts to reach out and make connections and solidarity with these wherever we can. The question is whether, and when, these limited eruptions will link up into a mass workers’ movement. The prospect of such a movement is the hope for China’s future, and the world’s.
Friday 4 June: 8pm to 10pm, Chinese Embassy, Portland Place, London W1B 1JL
Saturday 5 June: noon. Protest against Swire corporation’s complicity in Chinese state repression. Swire House, 59 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6AJ