Interview with socialist Hong Kong legislator, ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung.
In Hong Kong for December’s protests against the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Laurence Coates from the CWI met with Leung Kwok-hung, better known as Long Hair, the elected independent socialist member of the Legislative Council (Legco), the Chinese territory’s pseudo-parliament.Wearing his trademark Che Guevara tee shirt, Long Hair was to the fore in the anti-WTO protests that electrified the city between 11th-18th December 2005. On the night of the 17th, when the government invoked the Public Order Ordinance and authorised a police attack on our demonstration (using tear-gas and guns firing so-called ?bean-bags? that cause severe bruising), Long Hair joined in a sit-down strike of Korean and other protestors and was one of 900 arrested in the early hours of 18th December. Three days later he was one of the opposition legislators who voted down Chief Executive Donald Tsang?s blatantly undemocratic electoral ?reform? package in the Legco, inflicting an important setback on the Hong Kong government and its masters in Beijing. During discussions on the situation in Hong Kong and China, and the tasks facing socialists in the new international environment, Leung Kwok-hung gave me the following interview.
LC: You were one of more than 900 arrested; you took a very active part in the demonstrations. Why were the demonstrations against the WTO so important?
LKH: It?s a struggle for the workers and peasants all over the world, and since the Chinese workers and peasants were not allowed to come to Hong Kong, and cannot raise their voices, I saw it as my duty as a socialist and a representative of Chinese youth in Hong Kong to raise my voice on their behalf.
LC: Apart from being arrested, you got tear-gassed, even pepper-sprayed by the police. Why do you think the police and the government in Hong Kong were so determined to crack down on particularly the Korean contingent in the demonstrations?
LKH: First of all, they want the business community to know that the Hong Kong government is very, very capable as a global financial centre of maintaining ?order?. Secondly, they want to show the central government, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), they are capable of cracking down on any ?disorder?.
LC: There are fourteen protesters facing charges as a result of the arrests [note: eleven have subsequently been freed], what?s the worse that could happen to them?
LKH: In the worse case they could face the maximum penalty of three years in prison [for offences under the Public Order Ordinance]. We have to see what happens, but I would be surprised if they get prison sentences. I think the police are mainly using these trials as a political exercise, to convince Hong Kong people there was a ?riot? or commotion that night and that their use of force was justified. I myself was sentenced under this act three times; I served one month in prison in 1979 [under British rule].
LC: The other big issue dominating the news here is the struggle for free elections, with up to a quarter of a million marching on 4 December. How do you see the latest events?
LKH: I don?t think the Chinese regime will let go very easily, even though they?ve already promised a shift to universal suffrage at some point in the future. They don?t want full parliamentary democracy in Hong Kong, but they don?t want significant protests either, it will have a big impact on the mainland.
At the same time, they can?t afford to be too hard. They need to consider the situation in Taiwan. If the Chinese regime pushes too hard in Hong Kong, eventually the Taiwanese will lose faith in them. They also need to keep Hong Kong as an international financial centre, so they cannot use too much force to crush the opposition, you can call it a pro-democracy camp. It?s like a dogfight, because the Beijing regime can?t crush the opposition but neither can they convince the people why Hong Kong needs to wait so long for full democracy.
Also, the bursting of the economic bubble in Hong Kong [in the late 1990s] has had an effect on the ongoing radicalisation among the youth and the unemployed. The government needs to cut the budget and cut or privatise public services in order to reach their own economic goals. That means the confrontation will intensify and the impotence of [Donald Tsang?s] government will become even clearer. On one hand, the leaders of the pro-democracy camp don?t have any mind to undermine the government in Hong Kong, but the wave of spontaneous radicalisation will push them. So either they go to the masses and try to recruit more people to join the grassroots? campaign, or they just sit back and wait for democracy. Most of them ? you can call them ?liberal democrats? ? cannot cope with this kind of confrontation, so that is the problem of the democracy movement in Hong Kong.
LC: Economically, they stand quite far to the right don?t they?
LKH: Yes. They support almost all of the privatisation policies. They adopt the idea of the ?free market?. Some of them support reforms like a minimum wage, but only half-heartedly, they pay lip service to it in parliament. Actually they?re in a very awkward situation, they?re caught in the middle. They try to convince the fat cats that no harm will come from democracy. But on the other hand they have to face the oncoming pressure from the grassroots to urge for more reform and a more just society. That is why lately their leadership has declined into a very, very weak position. All they can say is ?democracy, democracy?, but they don?t even try to find out what is the dynamic of the democracy movement in Hong Kong.
LC: And the question of the timetable [for elections on the basis of universal suffrage]?
LKH: The timetable or roadmap actually is like a tactic. There?s no real meaning there. Since the legislators do not have any power to make the legislation for the oncoming reform in Hong Kong. If they say, ?OK, we are going to introduce full democracy in 2017,? then they need to clarify their proposals and work themselves up to win more seats. So the social dynamic, the economic dynamic, will overwhelm them. Once all the people know there will be an election in 2017, everyone will ask who is going to win, and if you win the election, what can you give? Now they [the politicians] can all blame the government. They can say, ?look we tried, but the government refused?.
LC: But 2017 sounds so absurd; it?s twelve years away. Would the leaders of the pan-democratic camp buy that? Wouldn?t there be pressure on them to push for an earlier date?
LKH: It doesn?t matter whether they will buy it: If they are not prepared to mobilise the people of Hong Kong to fight for democracy, or if they don?t have any intention to go to the working class community, to the grass roots, to fight for democracy in order to introduce some kind of genuine social reform, where is their strength?
LC: New parties are being launched. I see that the former Chief Secretary, Anson Chan, is being launched as a future successor to Tsang…
LKH: Actually, it?s quite complicated. It?s the CCP regime that controls the whole process and it?s got a lot to do with an internal faction struggle between different wings of the regime. There is a struggle, a bitter fight, within the regime. And the Taiwan problem is a big factor in this. I also think the Bush Administration in America is looking hard at Taiwan, where the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] look likely to lose the next election in 2008, and this means they need a new agent. For this reason, the US will push harder in Hong Kong [to undermine the Chinese regime?s agenda] and the conflict between US aggression and the CCP regime will be quite tense. 2008 will be a decisive year in Chinese politics ? the Olympic games will be held in Beijing ? and that?s a perfect time for the DPP in Taiwan to do something dramatic [on the issue of independence]. And actually that?s their last straw; otherwise they will lose the election.
All this means the weakness of the leadership of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong is so obvious. But the Chinese government doesn?t know how to deal with it, because they cannot crush them. So after all, it?s the Hong Kong tycoons who will take advantage of this, because the working class does not have political representation. They thought the ?democrats? would fight for them, but it did not happen and it will not happen. Their ideas are very right wing, so they cannot become the necessary political force to lead the struggle against the coming cuts in the budget and so on. Actually they [the democrats] will become the ?prisoners of war? of the government and CCP regime in this situation.
LC: The DPP in Taiwan have also made budget cuts, they?ve privatised…
LKH: It all goes back to the basic idea of Trotsky, of the permanent revolution. How can a ruling class ? the bourgeoisie ? fight against their own interests to support the introduction of democracy? It?s nonsense! Especially now, since China became the factory of the world. A lot of Hong Kong tycoons have investments on the mainland, and a lot of Chinese ?red capital? has come to Hong Kong. So they need to cooperate. That?s why they have almost the same wording, the same thinking.
It was a bit different ten years ago. At that time the Hong Kong bourgeoisie was worried about what would happen after the Communist Party took over in Hong Kong, but now it?s all done and they are on the same side. They are in an alliance ? the bourgeoisie and the CCP regime ? they have become the common enemy of the Hong Kong people. And the [liberal] democracy camp doesn?t have any ideas or alternative. Well, apart from saying leave China alone, we are going to claim our autonomy in Hong Kong, it?s a major financial centre… so they have begun to cooperate with the Chinese regime as well!
That?s why the pro-democracy movement will lose ground unless a new force develops ? there?s a political vacuum. As yet, we don?t see any independent mobilisation of the working class; they follow the leadership of the democrats. That?s why a lot of people say to me: ?why don?t you launch something like the social democrats?? It?s out of date, yes, certainly, but due to the disintegration and political weakness of the Hong Kong working class, it?s something we must look at.
LC: So are you involved in discussions about launching a new party?
LKH: Yes, I will do it, but I don?t know if it can be done very soon. Because I need to make these people understand what social democracy is. For me it?s like a transitional programme. It?s a paradox. As Trotskyists we?ve denounced this sort of thing [social democracy] for a hundred years, from Germany [in 1914] onwards, and yet now, suddenly, it?s as if we have to make a retreat… we have this banner, ?social democrat?…
LC: You mean the formation of a basic workers? party that in the initial stages wouldn?t have a clearly revolutionary programme?
LKH: I mean it?s a paradox. If we are going to build up a revolutionary party, a vanguard party, but you need to ask where is the base? If there is not even a single piece of a working class movement, where do you start? You need the mass [movement], that?s the first thing, and then you can ask what are we going to do? In the UK you had the trade unions and the Labour Party, so a small group could go in and build support. But in Hong Kong there was none, that?s the problem. China is different; there are so many contradictions. There are more opportunities to develop there.
The political weakness of the working class movement in Hong Kong is the result of several things: the history of colonialism, the continuation of economic prosperity, and the biggest trade union organisation was controlled by the CCP. There was no independent movement. I need discussions with you and all the people around me, on whether this is a good tactic, on what is the next step?
LC: I just don?t like the name ? ?social democrats? ? you know, Blair, Schroeder and so on! But I think the idea of a broader workers? party is a correct step. I think ?democratic socialists? would be a better name.
LKH: Or you can call it anything. The problem is what kind of action programme, content, you can provide ? but you are not allowed to say the wrong things. And you need contact with the grassroots
LC: Finally, how do you see your role? You?re in the media a lot, how do you try to use your position? I?ve heard you call this parliament [the Legco] a teashop?
LKH: It?s a mixture of a teashop and a rubber stamp! You talk about things and then when the time comes for a vote… bam! [He gestures like stamping a passport] It?s worse than a teahouse! As for my role, I need to think about it. I?m not cut out to be a leader. I?m an activist type of person. To build up a party first of all you need a team. I need theoreticians. A lot of young people here are very good, but you need to convince them. You need to work with them and provide some kind of transitional programme, and through experience they understand what you are fighting for. We need to gather all the good elements in the class struggle.
As I said before, you can feel the radicalisation of the mass, of the youth. All the people who are sick and tired of this right-wing policy will join this party, I?m damn sure of it. The problem is not to recruit them; the problem is how can you give them a good training? How can you make use of this kind of cooperation? We can build the party through the mass campaign [for democratic rights], or it will come with the decline of the mass movement, because at such a time a lot of people will ask what is the reason for the failure. But we have a chance to build up such a party through a mass movement; and it will be something like a Labour Party. I don?t have experience of this type of party in Hong Kong, but I know that if I don?t recruit these people, they will be dispersed.