Lam Chi Leung
Demonstrations started after Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’ Chief Executive announced a law on extradition to China, allowing the Chinese Communist Party to arrest Hong Kong activists considered to be a threat to “national security”. What are Lam’s and Hong Kong’s capitalists’ political goals behind the extradition law?
Lam: A characteristic of today’s event is the fact that Carrie Lam prioritizes on satisfying the demands of the CCP regime rather than those of the Hong Kong people, not even those of the Hong Kong capitalists. The capitalists in Hong Kong also fear being extradited to mainland China for getting on the wrong side of the CCP bureaucracy.
Carrie Lam opted to expedite the bill in order to gain the trust of Xi Jinping.
The CCP regime has two primary goals. First, to extradite the mainland Chinese corrupt tycoons and bureaucrats that fled to Hong Kong. In the past, the Chinese government has sent people to directly extract these elements back to the mainland, but such methods were criticized as Chinese Police overreaching its authority beyond its jurisdiction.
Secondly, this extradition bill is to be used against the political oppositionists against the CCP in Hong Kong. Those who openly and sharply criticize the Chinese government and leaders, or those Hong Kongers who helped Chinese democracy activists to flee to Hong Kong, would find themselves in grave danger should the extradition bill becomes the law.
Just as the extradition bill was about to be legislated, a Hong Kong bookstore owner who was incarcerated in mainland China for over eight months, Lam Wing-kee（林榮基）, decided to flee Hong Kong for Taiwan in late April. Lam published books about the private life of Xi Jinping, which angered the CCP regime.
Moreover, the Hong Kong social activists who assist Chinese labor, human rights, or other social movement NGOs may also be charged with “subverting national security” by the Chinese regime and get extradited.
Although British colonialism in Hong Kong ended in 1997, and Hong Kong was titularly returned to China, the city still follows the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement: Hong Kong maintains a political and legal system distinct from that of mainland China. The Hong Kongers have freedom of speech and assembly. They also tend to receive more protection from a (relatively) independent judiciary. As mainland China remains under a single party authoritarian rule, where the people lacks protection by the law, an extradition provision would open up a loophole where Hong Kongers could be sent to be tried unfairly inside mainland China at any time.
We can see that the movement is at a heightened level of frontal confrontation with the police and shows a solid level of self-organization. We all watched with admiration the taking of Hong Kong’s Parliament. Can you explain how the movement is structured, what are its ideological references and what organisations take part in it? What do you see as the movement’s shortcomings and what obstacles does it need to overcome to grow stronger?
Lam: The consecutive large demonstrations that took place from June to July were led by a united front organization known as the Civil Human Rights Front. It is composed of over 50 pan-democratic political parties and civil society groups, including unions, women’s rights organizations, community advocates, student activists and opposition parties. However, the two million people who joined the march not because of the Civil Human Rights Front’s own moral authority, but because of their identification with the anti-extradition cause.
The LegCo occupation attempt on July first and prior attempts at surrounding the police headquarters were organized by younger, more radical protesters via the Internet. They were not the result of any social or political organization’s leadership. In order to evade government persecution, the young protestors purposely refrained from establishing organizations, and instead opted for using Telegram or other softwares to spread information in short ranges. Hand signals were used for coordination at the site of the struggles, the effectiveness of which was enhanced by the strong camaraderie among the youth protesters.
Neither the citizens who joined the demonstration nor the youths who joined the besieging or occupation attempts uphold a definite ideology. Perhaps you can call them supporters of democracy I.e. against the authoritarianism of the SAR/CCP regime, and for the defense of Hong Kong’s human rights and freedoms as well as for democratic elections.
The far right “localists” who called for “Hong Kong First” had much influence during 2014’s Umbrella Movement and perhaps two years after that, but they have been significantly weakened in the run up to today’s anti-extradition movement in terms of ability to mobilize. Yet, they still have a certain hold on the youths ideologically. This is primarily expressed in a section of the youths’ nostalgia for British colonial rule, rejection of mainland Chinese people, or adventurist tendencies during actions.
The biggest weakness in today’s anti-extradition movement lies in its inability to transform into a platform of united struggle that is democratically and responsibly coordinated. This prevented protesters with different backgrounds and ideas from coordinating with each other effectively. They had to act on their own. The differences in tendency and strategy usually were expressed in one-sided internet exchanges rather than deep face-to-face discussions that could clarify many fundamental issues.
For example, since the movement erupted, some have proposed that a political strike as well as solidarity with the Wuhan citizens’ struggle against polluting incinerators and power stations. Proponents of this idea sought to win support for the Hong Kong movement from the people of mainland China. These extremely precious insights have not been seriously discussed.
On the contrary, certain activists utilized the G20 summit last month to call on Trump or other major world leaders to “Free Hong Kong.” Yet such a position can easily be interpreted as leaning on the US and EU government to pressure China, objectively placing the anti-extradition movement under the western powers’ cynical power politics. The movement thus would become a disposable pawn in the backdoor negotiations. This position also provides the CCP regime ammunition to slander the mass movement in Hong Kong, and divide the people of Hong Kong from those in mainland China.
Yet, these diverging strategies have not been able to be clarified via a united organization.
The movement in HK today grew on the shoulders of the “Umbrella Revolution” which demanded universal suffrage. Youth was very active in 2014 but the working class and its unions were blatantly lacking. What is the role of the working class in the movement today? Are there bonds being formed between students and the working class?
Lam: The labor movement in Hong Kong has a glorious past. The Seamen’s Strike in 1922 and the Canton–Hong Kong general strike in 1925-1926 shook British Imperialism, but the labor movement saw a decline since then. It will not be easy to launch a powerful strike that can shake society in the short term.
The teachers’ union and social workers’ union both have called for a strike on June 12th. There were even youth groups that voluntarily enter into commercial districts to open up a picket line. There is a university student organization named “Student Labour Action Coalition”（工學同行）which calls on the workers to join the fight against the extradition bill.
Although a strike wave has not materialized, but the idea of political strikes has generated a wave of discussions online. These phenomena mark a development from the political consciousness of 2014’s Umbrella Movement.
I believe that Hong Kong’s revolutionary socialists have a key responsibility. They can deepen the discussions around political strikes, and guide the strategic discussions towards a conclusion to establish organizations controlled by the masses themselves, as well as explaining why a struggle for civil or political democracy is inseparable from a struggle for economic equality.
Since the 2008 crisis, the executive power has been beefing up its repressive measures and anti-social policies. Beyond the demands for democratic rights, does the movement demand concrete measures for the betterment of life and working conditions of youth and the working class? Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s PM, announced a delay of the extradition law in the wake of a 2 million march (for a 7 million people country). Is this a victory for the movement? What are the demonstrators’ prospects? What about the demands for universal suffrage and democratic rights? Would you say that youth and the working class in HK and China are radicalizing? Does it have an impact on the influence of revolutionary, communist ideas and their organizations?
Lam: Today’s movement remains a single issue campaign, one that focuses on retracting the extradition bill and protect basic human rights. Yet, it recently has evolved into a movement that also demands democratic election. Whether it can also demand for improvement in worker and youths’ living and working conditions, will depend on the activists who base themselves on the working class’ perspective.
Although Carrie Lam is only pausing rather than terminating the legislation, I don’t anticipate a great possibility for her to re-propose the legislation within her term. In a way the movement has gained a partial victory, but to take it further towards bringing down Carrie Lam will not be easy.
Although calls for labor and school strikes did not materialize, the fresh idea of a political strike, its possibilities and implications, is already a part of the ongoing public discussions. It is making the masses think further. If the movement wants to gain more results, it needs to quickly abandon its lack of structure, and insists on its political independence.
I believe a socio-economic crisis as well as class contradictions are rapidly escalating in both Hong Kong and mainland China, with no signs of abating. Although the crisis may not immediately erupt, when it does I believe it will be extraordinarily acute.
As of now the youths in both Hong Kong and mainland China generally are not politicized, but a layer of them have clearly moved towards politicization and ponder on the fundamental solutions for society. Under Xi Jinping autocratic bureaucracy, it is dangerous for youths and workers to self-organize and openly communicate with each other. It’s almost impossible. However, spaces for private exchange of ideas still exist.
Further, there are some indications that progressive youths in mainland China are increasingly interested in the ideas of revolution and communism as they are seeking an alternative outside of bourgeois liberalism and Maoism (Chinese Stalinism) .There is even a minority that approves of the traditions of Trotskyism. The revolutionary socialists in Hong Kong have always utilized the city’s relative freedom to spread revolutionary ideas towards youths in mainland China. The most valuable work we can pursue at the moment is the fundamental task of spreading the ideas of classical Marxism to mainland China .
Lam Chi Leung is a revolutionary socialist based in Hong Kong.