Taiwan, the January elections and challenges for the revolutionary left

    The following is an interview with our comrades of ISA Taiwan. The interview was made by the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France, a party aligned with the USFI (United Secretariat of the Fourth International), which sought the views of the Marxists in Taiwan.

    Can you introduce your party to our readers?

    Thank you comrades for reaching out to us. We welcome the opportunity to explain to workers and socialists in France about developments in Taiwan.

    We are the section of International Socialist Alternative, a global revolutionary Marxist organisation, in China-Hong Kong-Taiwan. While the three states have very different features and politics, we see the necessity to build a common working-class revolutionary party across the national divide. This is especially important in a region where the storm clouds of war are gathering. We seek to build struggles against dictatorship, racial and sexual oppression, and climate catastrophe through the power of the working class. All these are inherent to capitalism, which must be overthrown through socialist revolution.

    2022 saw the most important protests in China against the regime since 1989 Tiananmen, with the slogans “Down with the CCP” chanted on the streets of some cities. Although not huge, these protests were a massive shake-up in consciousness against China’s capitalist dictatorship. In China, to belong to an underground Marxist organisation is imprisonable by up to 10 years. During these protests, our illegal paper and website explained the need for mass democratic organisation, independent trade unions and student unions, and the power of mass strikes to bring down dictatorships as happened in South Korea and South Africa. To overthrow the Han chauvinist and deeply misogynistic CCP regime, we need to also overthrow Chinese capitalism which is completely wedded to the party-state.

    Can you explain your view on US and Chinese imperialism from Taiwan?

    The US-China conflict is the most important trend behind global processes today. It is a New Cold War. They are fighting over trade, technology, and in a new dangerous arms race, and organizing two global blocs under their leadership. We also point out that both these imperialist superpowers are wracked by crisis and decline, so it is a competition which fails first.

    The Taiwan issue could be the trigger for war between the US and China, potentially even more horrific than the Ukraine and Gaza wars. That being said, China is not likely to invade Taiwan in the short term. In fact, it is a common misunderstanding to only see this as a question of what the Chinese side will do. The trigger for a war would be if one or the other, China or the US, would fear that Taiwan is about to fall 100% under the control of the other side. A war would be to stop the other side gaining that advantage. Today Xi Jinping’s dictatorship faces a deep internal economic crisis, with the bursting of the largest property bubble in human history. However, that does not exclude that the CCP dictatorship might invade Taiwan in an act of desperation if they fear a revolutionary crisis at home.

    The task of Marxists therefore must be to oppose both US imperialism and Chinese imperialism, and the Taiwanese capitalists who use nationalism to suppress workers’ struggles and strengthen their own power. For Chinese imperialism, conquering Taiwan would mean tipping the balance and becoming the new global hegemon. We must fight for an internationalist, independent working-class programme. We oppose the increased militarization drive of the pro-US Taiwan bourgeoisie, including the recent extension of military service. But to stop the threat of war, the Taiwanese working class must also build solidarity with the Chinese working class and fight to overthrow dictatorship and capitalism in the whole region.

    Are there significant struggles or events important to class struggle that have happened recently?

    Yes, mass struggles can have big political and even geopolitical impacts on the region. To start with, the current dominance of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan, which won the presidency for a third-term on January 13, is the result of the 2014 Sunflower movement. That was an explosive struggle of Taiwanese youth against the then Kuomintang (KMT) government’s neoliberal trade deal with the Chinese dictatorship. This coincides with a majority of youth and workers now seeing themselves as “Taiwanese” rather than “Chinese”. We as Marxists must defend the right to national self-determination, but also explain that Taiwanese nationalism tied to US imperialism is a dead end.

    China’s brutal repression against Hong Kong’s 2019 mass democracy struggle also gave the DPP a landslide victory in the 2020 election, exploiting an understandable anti-CCP and pro-democracy mood. In reality the capitalist DPP did nothing more than offer empty words, but was able to cash in on mass sympathy with Hong Kong.

    In 2023, there has been an increase in strikes amongst workers. This is due to the continuous rise in the cost of living and cuts in real wages. There were delivery worker strikes on May Day. Also protests by medical workers to demand more staff and a wage rise. Firefighters protested to demand improvement of safety conditions after a death in the line of duty at a chemical factory blaze. The postal workers’ union got a wage increase when they threatened to go on strike. In Lunar New Year, pilots at Evergreen Airline and the railway union are planning to go on strike.

    We saw that a third candidate (Ko Wen-je) appeared during the campaign, and that it changed the usual bipartisanship opposition between DPP and KMT candidates. In your opinion, what does it mean for the Taiwanese bourgeoisie?

    Ko Wen-je (Taiwan People’s Party) won 26.5% presenting himself as a technocratic middle-ground alternative to the two-party system. Amongst the youth especially, the TPP’s support represents a frustration with the incompetence and corruption of the two main capitalist parties. The main reason in this election cycle the DPP lost votes (from 8.2 million in 2020 to 5.6 million now) was the cost of living crisis with rising inflation and low wages. The TPP and the KMT have been very similar, launching “housing justice” campaigns against the DPP but their party programmes have nothing which can actually provide a solution. They are trying to co-opt these mass struggles before they can develop an independent working class expression.

    But this “third force” is quite unstable. Regarding relations with China, Ko Wen-je has volte-faced throughout the election from saying “Two sides of Taiwan Strait are one family” to now stating he would continue the hardline pro-US foreign policy of Tsai Ing-wen.

    There was a failed attempt by pro-CCP forces to engineer a KMT-TPP alliance in the election, to increase the prospect of defeating the DPP. But in reality all three parties, and the Taiwanese bourgeoisie, are closely aligned with US imperialism. No party opposes the increased re-armament spending.

    We have read that the DPP government raised the age for retiring from 63 to 64 years old without any major reaction. In France, we have recently been through the biggest social movement since 1995 because of the same kind of reform. Could you explain why such a lack of reaction in Taiwan on this subject?

    Taiwan’s pension system is the 9th worst among 47 countries according to a report last year. 70% of retired workers get less than 580 Euro per month in pension. As there is no history of strong workers’ movement in Taiwan compared to France, there are much less gains in the past from struggle. But there were worker protests against the pension cut.

    Also, ‘political strike’ is illegal in Taiwan under an old law from the time of the KMT dictatorship. ‘Political strike’ means any strikes demanding changes of government policies so even a strike against pension cuts is illegal. Also the minimum number of workers to form a union is 30 under the union law, but most workers are in small workplaces in Taiwan. The workers’ consciousness to organize is suppressed in this environment.

    We must understand that the working class is far better organised in France than in Taiwan. The old trade unions were formed under the KMT dictatorship (to control workers) and are still tied to that party. Today, while there are genuine unions being formed, most of them adopted an ‘NGO’ model of organisation without real union structures and mainly focusing on lobbying legislators of the three capitalist parties. The basic concepts of mass mobilization through democratic discussions is rare. We support worker protests and also fight to establish this real workers’ tradition in Taiwan.