Victory in defeat for Hong Kong movement

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Hong Kong’s Occupy movement inspired vast numbers of young people to take action in opposition to China’s plans to limit previously promised democratic reforms. While Hong Kong citizens would have the right to elect their Chief Executive for the first time, they would have to choose from a handful of pre-approved candidates. After months of inspiring protests in the face of police repression the organisers called off the street occupations, after which the student leaders have come under heavy criticism from some sections of the movement. In a follow up to his article in November’s Socialist Review, Hong Kong: Spontaneity and the Mass Movement, revolutionary socialist Au Loong Yu defends the student leaders and sets out the lessons of the movement.

The Umbrella Movement has not met its objective to force the government of China to withdraw its resolution on political reform in Hong Kong. Some people have ridiculed the students for imposing limits on the movement and accuse them of deliberately refusing to escalate the actions that could have delivered a victory.

But these critics failed to set out any real alternative strategy for success. As for their criticism, it is wrong. They forget that the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) called a general strike in support of Occupy. The strike was supported by the unions at the powerful Swire Group multinational, the social workers’ union as well as the teachers’ union.

But unfortunately, these strikes did not spread beyond that.This shows the weakness in our movement, and one that we need to draw serious lessons from. What is the political legacy of the Umbrella Movement?

First, it dared to break the taboo about not challenging the constitutional arrangement in the Basic Law (the 1997 agreement with former British colonial authorities that defines Honk Kong as a Special Administrative Region of China). Instead the students’ demands went beyond the provisions of the Basic Law, with the call for democratic nomination of the chief executive. This call for self-determination for Hong Kong people is especially resented by the Chinese Communist Party.

Secondly, the movement went beyond the “legalistic line” and practised widespread civil disobedience. With the deepening of the movement, the campaign of civil disobedience became more intense and stimulated many debates, including on the right to armed self-defence. In this sense the movement is also a great ideological liberation movement, one that is essential in building an even stronger movement in future.

This is an edited version of an article by Au Loong Yu. It was published in the Ming Pao Daily, 14 December 2014.