China: Repression against China’s left intensifies

Socialist Chai Xiaoming has spent almost four years in prison awaiting sentence reporters

Socialist labour activist Chai Xiaoming stands accused of “inciting subversion of state power”. The verdict against the 46-year-old will be handed down on Friday 25 November, more than two years after his trial at Nanjing’s intermediate court in August 2020. He could receive a five-year prison sentence.

Chai’s case is the latest example of an intensifying crackdown on dissent by Xi Jinping’s regime, increasingly targeting socialists and the left, not only liberal pro-democracy figures. Xi’s so-called Communist Party (CCP) regime faces an unprecedented economic crisis, which will see this year’s gap between Chinese and US GDP widen for the first time in more than 30 years. Crippling Zero Covid lockdowns have sparked a rising wave of protests by university students and migrant workers, as well as an accelerating exodus from China of those with the financial resources to leave (the so-called “run” movement).

Chai Xiaoming was one of the editors of Red Reference, a Maoist-leaning website, which played a high-profile role in the 2018 struggle to establish an independent trade union at the Jasic factory in the southern city of Shenzhen. He has cooperated closely with Maoists and other lefts. The Jasic struggle became a widely followed cause among leftist youth and students in China, some of whom travelled down to Shenzhen to take an active part in the struggle.

This movement alarmed the regime given its combination of socialist-minded youth and attempts to form an independent workers’ organization. The authorities brutally cracked down first on the workers, with arrests and sackings, and then on the students, with over 110 arrested, nearly half of whom were “disappeared” including some who are still unaccounted for. Chai’s arrest was part of this crackdown.

In typical fashion, the CCP’s propaganda claimed the Jasic activists were “manipulated by foreign forces”. It attempts to smear feminists, LGBTQ activists, national rights campaigners and other critics with the same accusation. As the US-China imperialist conflict has escalated, reaching its sharpest point in over 40 years, propaganda to discredit struggles for workers’ or women’s rights by alleging support from foreign governments has increased.

In reality, foreign capitalist governments have never supported workers’ rights to organize and strike, or other democratic rights, and have only begun to raise these issues as window dressing for the new Cold War struggle between the capitalist superpowers.

Crackdown against the left

The offices of Red Reference website in Beijing were raided in 2018, with computers and books seized by the police. Several other Maoist-linked websites were also raided as part of the Jasic crackdown. Red Reference editor Shan Kai was arrested on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”.

As reported, Chai was arrested on 21 March, 2019. He has now spent three years and eight months in prison awaiting sentence. The charges against him are absolutely false, in accordance with the CCP’s method of slandering and framing left activists and all political opponents.

Chai Xiaoming suffered poor health even before his detention. He has been denied visits from friends and family, raising fears over his condition. His parents are both over 80-years-old. His lawyer, whose public comments on the case are restricted, has expressed concerns for Chai’s physical and mental health.

As we reported in 2020 at the time of Chai’s trial:

“No details of Chai Xiaoming’s case have been made public, but his period of detention by state security officials began in March 2019, seventeen months before the case went to court… This also fits the pattern for the CCP’s persecution of political dissidents, with long periods of detention prior to trial during which confessions are extracted and in many cases victims are coerced into ‘cooperating’ to avoid a harsher sentence.”

Political trial

Chai’s trial was clearly political. “The trial is a macabre parody, without the slightest semblance of due process,” said Vincent Kolo of “Behind Chai’s prosecution is the dictatorship’s authoritarian political agenda, which is becoming even more brutal because it fears the wave of political radicalization and left consciousness especially among young people in China,” he said.

An example of the CCP’s political manipulation is the court’s decision to separate Chai’s involvement in the Jasic struggle from his case. His lawyer Guo Haiyue revealed that his earlier activity overseas was instead the focus of the case.

Guo told RFA, “He studied abroad, and there are many things that are related to his time abroad. I am not at liberty to tell you about this incident, it has nothing to do with the Jasic (incident)”.

This is clearly not true as the timeline of Chai’s arrest – during the 2018-19 crackdown – shows. But the state’s decision to expunge the Jasic issue from Chai’s case is obviously due to its political sensitivity; they want to avoid awakening renewed attention and discussion about the 2018 struggle.

Overseas students

There is another factor, which is becoming more important today. There is growing radicalization and preparedness to engage in anti-CCP political activism and protests by overseas Chinese students. This has reached a new level in the wake of the Sitong Bridge protest in Beijing on 13 October, when a lone demonstrator Peng Lifa unfurled anti-Xi banners demanding democratic rights, on the eve of the CCP’s 20th Congress.

Since then, solidarity posters made by Chinese students have appeared at dozens of university campuses around the world to demand the release of Peng and in support of his call to end dictatorship. Clearly, the court in Chai’s case also wants to send a warning to Chinese studying abroad not to engage in “subversive” activities.

Chai Xiaoming’s only “crime” is to stand up for workers’ rights and protest the repression against fellow socialists in China. The brutally repressive measures of Xi’s regime show that despite its attempts to project strength and stability, it fears the growth of socialist ideas and the widening anti-government mood.

Rather than break the mood of resistance, Chai’s persecution gives more reasons to organise and fight against capitalism and dictatorship.

Solidarity protests to demand the release of Chai Xiaoming are being organized, for example by students and left activists in London on 25 November (the day of sentencing). ISA supporters are urged to raise this issue and wherever possible intervene in or initiate solidarity protests.

  • Release Chai Xiaoming! Release all political prisoners in China!
  • Fight for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly!
  • No to Cold War – support class war for workers’ rights around the world!
  • Fight capitalism and dictatorship!