Hong Kong’s mass anti-authoritarian struggle urgently needs organised self-defence
Dikang, Socialist Action (CWI in Hong Kong)
The vicious attack by hundreds of white-shirted thugs at Yuen Long MTR station on Sunday night against protestors, at least four news reporters, and members of the traveling public, must be answered in the most powerful, decisive way. This attack was aimed at the heart of the mass protest movement which has mobilised millions in overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations and has shaken the Chinese dictatorship like no previous crisis for 30 years.
At least 45 people were injured in the Yuen Long attack as gang members used metal and bamboo rods to slash out indiscriminately at passengers leaving late night subway trains. At least two victims sustained serious injuries. A member of student group Demosisto is being treated in hospital for a 6 cm gash to his head and a 3 cm back wound. A pregnant woman was among those attacked by the crazed white-shirted mob.
No arrests were made by police who arrived on the scene very late and did nothing to prevent the brutal attacks. This will come as no surprise to anybody who has been following the epic events of the past six weeks. Widely held suspicions that the police colluded with the triad gang attack in Yuen Long seem to be confirmed by film of police division commander Li Hon-man expressing his “appreciation” to gang members at the scene, while saying he didn’t want their help to “make trouble” for the police!
The methods used in Yuen Long are those of fascism. These methods, by a terroristic but highly organised group, are designed to spread panic and a loss of self-belief in mass movements of the working class and the oppressed. There are similarities to methods used in Sudan, on an even more deadly level, as that country’s military rulers attempt to disperse and defeat the mass anti-authoritarian movement.
Such methods are from the playbook of Mussolini’s black shirts and Hitler’s storm troopers, to support a dictatorial regime. They rely on small forces, but these can become more aggressive and dangerous unless they are met by a firm response from the mass movement, showing greater will, more organisation and more discipline.
Most triad members involved in the attack at Yuen Long are hired. They are not especially motivated for any given cause. The advantage of the mass struggle is its much higher motivation – to defeat this corrupt and brutal government – and its numbers, a huge superiority of numbers, if these become really organised. These events are a warning and show that the question of self-defence cannot be postponed; it is now a crucial factor for the mass movement’s success.
We have also seen in mainland China many times how corrupt CCP (so-called Communist Party) officials in league with capitalists have employed violent gangs to terrorise striking workers or farming communities opposing land grabs. These methods are now being exported to Hong Kong.
The CCP dictatorship’s ‘Hong Kong strategy’ collapsed with Carrie Lam’s extradition law fiasco. They are now glued to a leader who is worse than useless – she cannot perform a single duty without further enraging the masses. The CCP’s puppet masters, the Liaison Office, and hundreds of newly arrived undercover agents, are largely paralysed over what to do next. Their only remaining ‘reliable’ political tool is the police. Based on their experience from the Umbrella Revolution they are encouraging aggressive police tactics to wear down the protests and – they hope – create mass disenchantment with “chaos” and “violence”. But so far this has spectacularly backfired. Mass anger against the government is too intense.
Also the police force is facing a deep internal crisis and splits as society holds them in contempt. All these factors have led to the latest desperate ‘strategy’ which is to use hooligan gangs against the movement. We saw something similar during the Umbrella Revolution five years ago, with increasingly violent attacks from the ‘Blue Ribbon’ so-called volunteers against the occupations. But the Yuen Long incident represents a new and more open, dangerous level of violence. This demands a clear, forceful reply from the mass movement; otherwise the forces of authoritarian reaction will be emboldened to think they can act with impunity.
Journalists, who have suffered violence from the police during earlier mass protests, have been quick to speak out. Three journalists associations issued a joint statement condemning the Yuen Long attack as a “serious threat to freedom of press and speech”. Some journalists plan demonstrations in the coming days.
Through the familiar informal online channels the call has gone out for a mass protest in Yuen Long on Saturday 27 July. This is an important and welcome call. But the demonstration in Yuen Long must also take steps to defend itself and all those travelling to and from the protest. Real steps to organise self-defence are now urgent.
Organise self-defence – there is no time to lose!
The mass movement has a right to defend itself against fascist-style violence. This has become the most urgent topic for discussion and action within the struggle. Self-defence needs to be organised. Bruce Lee’s philosophy, “be water”, which has become very popular within the mass struggle, especially among the youth who mobilise spontaneously through online chat groups, has never been a miracle cure for every problem. In fact it is an approach to the struggle that has big limitations. These limits have now been reached as we see in the Yuen Long events.
A long drawn-out struggle, which is what has now developed in Hong Kong, cannot rely only on spontaneous initiatives; planning and organisation are needed. This can only be done effectively (without bureaucratic top-down control which would wreck the movement) through democratic grassroots channels. Leadership is needed, but it must be elected and accountable to the masses. This is why Socialist Action has proposed the setting up of democratic grassroots committees in every workplace, school and locality to organise the mass struggle.
To fight back against organised and well-financed gang attacks using fascist tactics, what is most needed is a democratically structured self-defence force to organise for the protection of the mass movement. It would be best for many reasons if the trade unions took the lead in this process, to help form the backbone of such a self-defence force. This would also help to build the unions which is another urgent task in the current struggle because strong workers’ organisations and traditional working class methods of struggle – like strike action – are ultimately the only way to defeat a dictatorial regime. If the union officials do not take this step it must come from below. This is about defending fundamental democratic rights such as the right of assembly, freedom of speech, and even the freedom to travel home in safety.
A statement issued by Socialist Action on Monday 22 July explained:
“The vicious gang attack [in Yuen Long] must be answered in the most powerful and decisive way. This is an attack on the whole mass democracy struggle… Self-defence is a human right. But it needs to be organised. It needs to be responsible, not looking to attack, but only to secure the safety of mass protesters and ordinary public…
“A pre-July 27 demonstration mass meeting should elect stewards whose role will be to coordinate self-defence. This needs serious, disciplined men and women who will put the safety of the protesters and public first, but will help organise vigorous defence if attacked.”
Police and triad collusion
There is no doubt which political forces are behind this attack. As reported previously on chinaworker.info, the pro-government camp wants to provoke violent incidents as a pretext to impose a form of martial law and bans on further mass protests. This follows weeks of escalating police violence against protesters using tear gas, rubber bullets and other weapons. There were also obvious signs of collusion between the police and the gangs that carried out the Yuen Long attack as pointed out in a joint statement by 24 pro-democracy legislators.
“Last night, the 999 reporting hotline would not connect for a long time and the police station was closed. There were even police officers who pretended they didn’t see the actions of those in white shirts and red ribbons, and turned around to leave,” the legislators said.
Their statement correctly called for the resignation of Police Commissioner Stephen Lo and for an independent commission of inquiry into the Yuen Long attacks. But this statement does not go far enough. What it leaves out is the crucial question of what the masses themselves must do to defend the right to protest and to continue the mass struggle until the regime is defeated. Clearly, we cannot rely on the police to protect our rights, even if Lo was to be removed (a move Beijing fiercely opposes like all the ‘five demands’). Yuen Long tells us that organised self-defence of the mass movement is now the most urgent problem to solve.
The police may arrest some of the thugs involved in the Yuen Long attack to make a show of ‘even handedness’, while continuing at the same time to step up their repression and provocative violent tactics against pro-democracy demonstrators who they regard as the real threat. But any police action, probably minimal, against these right-wing forces is largely to try to cut across support for self-defence initiatives within the mass movement, which could acquire huge momentum as a result of this attack.
Likewise, it is no mystery that the right-wing pro-Beijing political establishment also have a shady connection to the Yuen Long attack. ‘Independent’ pro-Beijing politician Junius Kwan-yiu Ho was filmed giving the thumbs up and shaking hand with the hoodlums at the time of the attacks inside Yuen Long’s MTR station. “Thanks for your hard work,” he told them. Mindful that his conduct could lead to criminal charges against him, Ho who like many of the attackers represents feudal forces in the New Territories, tried the following day to distance himself from the gangs. At a press conference, however, he again defended them saying they were merely “defending their home and people”.
The hypocrisy we now hear from the wider pro-government camp including Carrie Lam, and senior police commanders, shows their complicity in the violence. Carrie Lam, whose history of lying in the service of the CCP is well-documented, feigned “shock” at the violence in Yuen Long, but concentrated more on the anti-extradition law protest the same evening outside the China Liaison Office (the CCP’s ‘brain’ in Hong Kong), putting these two “violent incidents” on the same level.
But Yuen Long was a terror attack involving serious physical injuries, while the protest at the Liaison Office was completely different with the only damage being to property and the inflated pride of the CCP dictatorship. The most damning part of Lam’s comments is her refusal to categorise the Yuen Long attacks as a “riot”, a charge that can lead to ten years in prison, something she has accused young protestors of on several occasions. Lam’s predecessor as Chief Executive, CY Leung, called the Liaison Office demonstrators “scum” in a Facebook post, vowing they “will be severely punished by the law, and be spurned by history.”
A long struggle?
The Chinese dictatorship is struggling to deal with the Hong Kong mass movement. It was completely blindsided when the movement erupted, its expensive intelligence gathering system exposed as a worthless ‘white elephant’, because the structure of the Chinese dictatorship, like the imperial system of old, is based on sending positive rather than negative news up to one’s bosses. Today this also means pandering to the monster personality cult that has grown around Xi Jinping. Critical or independent voices are not welcome in this system. Thus everything seemed to be going well for the dictatorship until it received a reality check in the form of the biggest mass protests in Hong Kong’s history. As always, Beijing’s number one concern in Hong Kong is to prevent this unrest spreading to China.
Because it refused to allow Carrie Lam to resign, which would be seen as a serious setback for Xi Jinping, the CCP has probably condemned itself to a long drawn out battle for control in which its Hong Kong government has virtually ceased to exist. This of course saps Beijing’s ability to be ‘proactive’ and impose its authority on the crisis. Therefore – most likely – the political crisis is heading towards a prolonged stalemate.
A military crackdown using PLA troops, while this undoubtedly appeals to some CCP hardliners, is scarcely likely because of the hellish chain reaction this would trigger inside Hong Kong itself, in Taiwan, and by opening a new front in the inter-imperialist conflict with the United States. Although the US and Trump have shown almost no interest in Hong Kong’s democracy struggle, they could not reasonably remain passive if the PLA staged a military takeover. This would represent a serious blow to US capitalism’s authority in Asia and globally, and so could be expected to bring forth a severe response in diplomatic and economic terms.
The CCP dictatorship therefore has no other strategy at this stage than to wait out the movement, hoping for a repeat of the Umbrella Revolution in which mass exhaustion set in. But today’s movement is on a higher level than the movement of 2014, more militant and bigger. Today there is even greater discontent over the lack of democracy, police violence, and over chronic social and economic problems particularly among the younger generation as summed up in the expression “no money, no flat, no democracy”!
Socialist Action has from the outset explained that only a revolutionary struggle against the CCP dictatorship, which must of necessity spread to China, can bring real change in Hong Kong. This can only be achieved by winning the ear of the Chinese masses rather than, as some demonstrators seem to believe, focusing on actions to provoke and anger the CCP regime (it is already angry).
A real united struggle of the Hong Kong and mainland China masses needs to be clearly based on challenging the CCP’s billionaire-run dictatorship and the capitalist and imperialist system it upholds. A mass working class party is needed to link the democratic demands of the current movement in Hong Kong to the need to completely break with capitalism in Hong Kong and China, which is what sustains the dictatorship.