Fighting for democracy in China

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Fighting for democracy in China

HONG KONG — LEUNG KWOK HUNG and FRANCIS LAU, political activists in Hong Kong since the mid-'70s, talked to Green Left Weekly's EVA CHENG about the current state of workers' resistance and the struggle for democracy in China.
Leung and Lau were leaders of the Revolutionary Marxist League until its dissolution in the late 1980s. They have since been active members of the April 5th Action, which engages in solidarity with the democracy movement in China. Lau is also a coordinator of the web site "Hong Kong Voice of Democracy".

Question: What is the state of the Chinese democracy movement?

Lau: Many activists from 1989 consciously dissociated themselves from their predecessors from the late '70s and early '80s. Calling themselves the "Tiananmen generation", they seem to be ignorant of or refuse to recognise the heroic pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen in 1976.

Many activists from these various generations are now in exile, but those from the 1989 generation are most vocal. The latter is very fragmented, splitting over many petty arguments like who's the real "father of democracy of China". They are politically disoriented and ideologically confused.

Many are barred from returning to China, but they often maintain links with the activists in China. Ideologically, most of them are pro-West, having big illusions in capitalism. I doubt if they'd promote workers' democracy if they returned to China.

PictureThere are some better elements who consider themselves Marxists, opening the possibility of a revolutionary wing among the exiles, but their program of action is not all that clear.

Social tension is high in China: rampant corruption continues, joblessness surges sky high, and a big proportion of workers were sent home on starvation subsidies to "wait for the work call". As a result, there are initiatives to engage in independent self-organisation, the most famous example of which is the formation of the Chinese Democracy Party. It has branches in 20-30 cities, with more than 1000 members. The Development Association of China [which operates mainly in China and held its first national congress last October], registered in Hong Kong, claimed several thousand members.

Some in the '70s and '80s generations had illusions in and were influenced by one faction or another within the Communist Party of China (CCP). It doesn't seem to be the case with the new generations, at least not openly.

Leung: Some overseas Marxists wrote off any collaboration with those mainland activists who have illusions in capitalism. This conclusion is premature.

Many average workers are aspiring primarily to achieving an equality in consumption. But many activists believe equal access to the means of production and getting rid of the CCP's absolute control should be the key focuses; they are convinced capitalism will deliver the goods.

All of them find privatisation tolerable so long as it doesn't block them from their goals, not knowing that it certainly will. Many are blinded by these social democratic fantasies, but their political outlook isn't yet set in concrete. More polarisation will take place.

We have to admit that the political clarity of this generation is a far cry from their '70s and '80s predecessors, who were predominantly aspiring to socialism. The Marxist tradition within the democracy movement has largely been lost.

Many in the present generation are pro-bourgeois technically, but their demands are in substance going against the government. The workers' demands are often thoroughly anti-capitalist, although they aren't necessarily aware of that.

If you ask any worker in China, most of them will support capitalism as defined by the official biased campaign. But if you ask whether they support the kind of capitalism that takes their job away, they will certainly say no.

Many of them laboured for decades for their [state] enterprises and feel strongly that they are entitled to protection of their basic welfare. Their action to defend such entitlements objectively goes against Beijing's agenda.

In linking up with the struggle for democracy in China, it's most sensible to join forces with them, seizing on their program for social reform and defence of workers, rather than dwelling in an abstract sense on debating whether capitalism is good.

Beijing's privatisation program is at a critical stage. Many more firms will be chucked out of the state sector, some by stages, and the workers will be out in the cold. It will certainly lead to strong resistance.

Some worker activists, who tried in vain recently to set up a Chinese Workers' Party, advocated the "institution of effective people's control" of production to halt privatisation. So long as we are in the same fight against privatisation, we can work together. Theoretical debate on capitalism can be pursued when the time is right.

In my discussions with the activists from China, some may have respect for my activism but often wonder in regret why am I still a Marxist (considering all the Stalinist distortions). Yet these people are very much at the forefront in the campaign against privatisation, advocating workers' direct control of production. But they still support Deng's pro-capitalist "reform" in its broadest sense.

This reflects great ideological confusions, which isn't surprising given the defeats and discontinuities of the opposition political currents in China. Like ourselves, before we were convinced about Marxism, most people start with the basic idea of equality and could believe the fantasy that equality can be achieved under capitalism.

We need to harshly criticise the right-wing ideas in the democracy movement, but must look for a point where we can intervene amongst all this ideological confusion. We've got to have a transitional program on the basis of which we can find allies. You can't go far if you insist on clarifying first and foremost with these activists one another's concept of socialism.

Question: How extensive are the links between activists in Hong Kong and China?

Leung: Individuals have links, but they aren't as extensive as they were in the late '70s and early '80s, when many impoverished activists travelled to China to link up with them under the goal of forging a united movement. This objective isn't here now.

More means of communication are available, through the internet in particular, which has much reduced Hong Kong's role. The availability of a lot of easy money from the US, estimated to be US$4 million last year, also changes the dynamics to a certain extent. Many [Hong Kong] groups and individuals got a share of this money.

Some Chinese activists can be suspicious of activists from Hong Kong, but the door can be more open, at least superficially, if you can provide them with logistical or financial support — a mobile phone and other means of communications with all ongoing fees taken care of could be a good start. If you can't afford it, you may get stuck.

Question: What are the prospects for revolutionary changes in China?

Leung: Though a thin layer is doing well from the pro-capitalist changes, a growing impoverished majority is more prepared to fight. There is a crying need for a revolutionary leadership, for greater clarity about the tasks and perspectives.

Literature on three basic areas of agitation is desperately needed: an exposé of how corrupt the ruling bureaucracy is, including the incipient capitalist class, an analysis of the concrete experience of struggle of the workers in China and the former Eastern Europe, and a convincing argument for why workers need their own organs of self-organisation.

There are bound to be many different currents in the coming revolutionary leadership in China which will be tested and screened through their involvement in mass organising and mobilisation. You can't sort out all the ideological differences now, in abstract.

Our main task now is to lay bare these social contradictions with sharp analysis of the exploitation of the people by capitalism and the bureaucracy, outlining the relations of production and so on. More concrete facts on the extent the country's assets have been looted by the ruling classes could be very useful for agitation.

We have to patiently keep working to win the confidence of the masses. That hinges on our activism, honesty and ability to get things done.