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Hong Kong protests: "umbrella revolution" changes everything
Vincent Kolo, Socialist Action (CWI Hong Kong)
The weekend of 27 September changed everything in Hong Kong. Mass popular resistance took to the streets, by night and day, with mass gatherings of up to 180,000, spearheaded by young people.
This, combined with a week-long student strike, has forced the unelected Hong Kong government and thousands of heavily armed riot police to retreat.
As we go to press the mass protests are continuing to grow and people feel enormous self-confidence since defeating the massive police attack of 28 September.
The movement represents a major pushback against the Beijing regime's anti-democratic agenda in Hong Kong and in China.
This is the most serious political crisis in Hong Kong since its reversion to Chinese rule in 1997. There are some features of a pre-revolutionary situation, with a government in deep crisis having suffered a loss of control and authority.
The state institutions - especially the police - are now widely distrusted and despised. The territory's tenuous 'autonomy' as a special region of China is now distrusted or rejected as a fake by a majority of Hong Kong people.
Yet this movement is almost entirely without organisations, programme or leadership, replicating a pattern we have seen in similar mass protest movements around the world. There is a powerful anti-party mood within the demonstrations.
While this 'spontaneous' model has proven itself more than equal to the task of kick-starting the movement on the streets, more will be needed - steps to organise, build democratic strike and occupation committees, and work out a clear programme of demands to take the struggle forward.
A crucial issue is the need to spread the movement across the border, by issuing appeals to workers and youth in mainland China to join the struggle against China's one-party dictatorship.
Clearly, as long as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rules there will be no possibility of democratic elections in Hong Kong (which is the main focus of this movement).
This task requires greater forces than the masses of Hong Kong alone can muster. Rather than appealing to the US administration or ex-colonial masters Britain for support, as some are doing, the protest movement must seek allies among grassroots workers and youth in China and worldwide.
University students, increasingly joined by school students who have faced huge pressure and threats from school authorities, have extended their strike action.
The main focus of the demonstrations is now to demand the resignation of Chief Executive (political leader) CY Leung, an already hated figure whose role as mastermind of the police crackdown only adds to his list of crimes.
The current protests and occupations evolved out of the week-long school strike, in which around 13,000 university students participated.
These were joined by around 1,500 secondary school students, some as young as 12, on 26 September. That evening, a group of student protesters managed to break the cordon around the 'Civic Square' and began an occupation there.
This is a nominally public protest zone at the government headquarters that has been fenced off by police since July, in anticipation of Occupy protests.
Around 80 demonstrators were arrested. The 17 year old convenor of student group Scholarism, Joshua Wong, was arrested and held for 40 hours, then released without charge.
The arrests of student activists, and excessive police violence, provided the spark for the weekend's mass mobilisations.
The movement has widely been dubbed the "umbrella revolution" on social media, due to the inverted umbrellas used by protesters as protection against tear gas and pepper spray.
On 28 September, the police launched wave after wave of tear gas attacks - 87 times according to their own statement - in an attempt to clear the protests around the government headquarters in Admiralty.
Not surprisingly, China has tightened internet controls, blocking online searches for words such as "tear gas" and banning Instagram.
As rumours of bullets and armoured vehicles circulated, official leaders of the movement called on protesters to retreat.
While most protesters did evacuate the main protest site in Admiralty, new occupations sprang up in two other parts of the city.
Some sporadic barricades have been thrown across major roads, and a 'general strike' call was issued by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU).
While the latter is an extremely significant development (it is unprecedented in Hong Kong for a political strike to be announced) the participation of workers in the strike is at this stage quite limited.
So, the police attacks did not succeed as planned in dispersing and quelling the 'Occupy' movement. Instead the protests have spread into multiple occupations, which present a far bigger challenge for the police.
Significantly, one of the main slogans chanted towards the police by protesters since the attacks has been "Police, strike!" This undoubtedly poses new problems for police commanders as morale is dented and they are forced to completely rethink their strategies.
Underlining the depth of the current crisis, this is the second time in a month that powerful illusions, built up by the ruling elite over decades, under British and then Chinese rule, have been smashed.
The first occasion was the 31 August decision of China's undemocratic fake 'parliament' (NPC) that killed off popular hopes of free elections for the next Chief Executive.
The destruction of decades-old illusions in the impartiality of the state, and Hong Kong's sacred 'rule of law', is a result of the CCP's increasingly hardline, repressive and rigid position, which is in turn a reflection of the deepening crisis within the dictatorship.
The political perspectives for China are increasingly towards a social explosion or series of explosions - towards revolutionary upheavals in other words, a foretaste of which we are now witnessing in Hong Kong.
Despite massive propaganda against the occupation it's evident which side has won the battle for public support through the events of this weekend.
The South China Morning Post reported that office workers on their way to work cheered the occupiers in Causeway Bay.
The newspaper quoted an accountant who said the government had "underestimated the power of the people." There are many reports of passers by bringing water and food and showing support.
The first stirrings of the working class, which has up to now not made an entrance as a distinct, organised and independent force within the democracy movement, is for socialists the most significant of all developments.
While the response to the strike call has been mixed, reflecting the numerical weakness of the unions in Hong Kong, still some important groups stopped work in anger at the police crackdown.
These included around 200 workers at the Coca Cola factory in Sha Tin, water workers, bus drivers, some bank employees and schoolteachers.
Although the situation is extremely fast-moving, with sharp variations and changes possible, it seems now that the regime will hold back from unleashing a new repressive wave.
It will probably offer concessions, perhaps sacrifice an unpopular official (as it has done on occasion before) in order to buy time and allow the crisis to pass.
Socialist Action has been active throughout this movement and is playing an important role in organising strikes among secondary school students through the Citywide School Strike Campaign.
We explain that genuine democracy can only be achieved by linking mass protests in Hong Kong with the coming revolutionary upheavals in China, where the gigantic working class is the most important force to change society and defeat the dictatorship.
The struggle for real democracy cannot be won within the confines of capitalism, which everywhere means the control of politics by unelected billionaires and big corporations.
Capitalism means dictatorship, either by authoritarian regimes or by financial markets. Our alternative is a socialist society and democratically-run and planned economy that can eliminate rising poverty levels, housing misery, unemployment and low-paid contract labour.