Pro-democracy activists on trial in Hong Kong

12 March 2021

47 pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are on trial for breaching China’s new national security law. Those charged are among a group of 55 rounded up in dawn raids in January. 

Their alleged crime was to organise an unofficial election “primary” last June to pick opposition candidates for the now postponed 2020 legislative elections. This, China claimed, was an attempt to overthrow the government. 

This legislation, introduced in Hong Kong in June, punishes acts considered by the Chinese authorities to be subversion or collusion with foreign powers with up to life in prison. 

The trial is just one facet of the general clamp-down against democratic rights in Hong Kong, and a further consolidation of central governmental authority in the region. It is accompanied by changes to the electoral system which strengthen the Chinese government’s grip over the city. Gone are the days of the promised “one country, two systems” policy, which was meant to uphold Hong Kong’s freedoms and rights under Chinese rule after the 1997 handover of sovereignty. It is clear that the mainland government will no longer tolerate political dissent in Hong Kong.

The Chinese government claims the law is required to achieve “stability and prosperity” in Hong Kong and to combat the influence of foreign powers. It regards Hong Kong’s limited democratic freedoms as a threat to its rule. Through that lens, these attacks on free speech, assembly and political organisation are nothing more than a dictatorial imposition by the state against its people. 

China began to restore capitalist property relations in the 1990s and imperialist China now competes with the US and other wealthy countries for domination of the world’s markets. Despite its continuity of the Communist Party of China’s rule, China is now a capitalist imperialism which has retained the repressive state apparatus of a Stalinist regime. This state machine is used to crush dissent in the interests of the capitalist class. No one on the international left should support the actions of the CPC, the very party that reintroduced capitalism to China and is now repressing the struggle for basic democratic rights in Hong Kong. It’s been a long time since any serious socialist regarded China as a workers’ state. 

The imperialist powers of the West oppose China as a rival imperialism. As a result, the media in Britain, which is, as a rule, silent about human rights violations perpetrated by allies such as Saudi Arabia, is quick to draw attention to any violations perpetrated by the Chinese state. However, the self-interest of our own ruling classes does not mean that socialists in the west should fail to oppose the actions of the Chinese state – to do so is not siding with Western imperialism but rather siding with the people of Hong Kong in their struggle for basic democratic rights. 

The struggle of pro-democracy activists for free and fair elections in Hong Kong represents a genuine struggle against oppression which all socialists should support. However, the strategy of appealing to the bourgeoisie of the West for support which is currently employed by the mainstream pro-democracy movement is doomed to failure, as is the call from the fringe of the movement for independence from China. 

The greatest fear of the CPC is that the Hong Kong democracy movement will spread to the mainland and threaten their rule. If the pro-democracy movement is to be successful in Hong Kong it needs to link up with the far larger and more powerful Chinese working class – this is the road to revolutionary change in China and Hong Kong.

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