Sun Feb 25, 2024
February 25, 2024

The Awakening of the Chinese Proletariat?

On the eve of the Communist Party Congress, on the morning of October 13, Peng Zaizhou, whose real name is Peng Lifa, an IT worker, laid out two banners with demands on Sitong Bridge in Beijing, which read:

“We want food, not PCR tests! We want freedom, not lockdowns! We want reform, not a cultural revolution! We want to vote, not a leader! We want to be citizens, not slaves! Student boycotts and strikes to overthrow traitorous dictator Xi Jinping! October 16th – Protest Day!”

By: Fabio Bosco

A few hours before this protest, he posted a 23-page manifesto on an academic website arguing that China should be free and democratic and that the Chinese should stop Xi Jinping from winning a third term. In order to achieve that goal, he stands for a peaceful and popular colored revolution to impose democracy within the communist party allowing the free election of its leaders, universal suffrage in the country, limitation of governmental powers, freedom of party organization, transparency of the assets of the leaders and protection of market economy. In other words, a combination of democratic and liberal ideals, together with an interesting call for workers’ and people’s mobilization to conquer them.

As with all dissidents, Peng Zaizhou was arrested and his whereabouts are unknown. Even so, his democratic and liberal programme, and his call to mass action resonated within the Chinese working class, in particular the Youth, exhausted by the dictatorship and its Covid Zero policy and despairing over the drop in economic growth and the lack of prospects for better days.

He has earned the nickname “bridge man” and there is an ongoing campaign for his release.

Even before the “bridge man” action, the enormous dissatisfaction with the dictatorship and the economic situation had already been expressed in the revolt against the Covid Zero policy in Haizhou, an industrial district on the outskirts of Guangzhou, on social media with cases of children who died while trying to overcome the lockdown to make their way to hospital, and even by the passive resistance of youth against the 996 strenuous working hours (from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week). (I)

After the “bridge man”, there was a week of multi-faceted protests in the giant FoxConn plant in Zhenzhou and in several cities between 22 and 27 November, considered the broadest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, some of which chanted “Freedom or Death” (Tiananmen’s watchword) and at Tsinghua University in Beijing the Internationale was sung. (II)

The Chinese dictatorship followed their traditional modus operandi: concessions for the masses through the easing of the Covid Zero policy (III) and repression/arrest of the activists. This policy triggered, in the following week, several protests from the Chinese diaspora living abroad. The biggest was in front of the Chinese consulate in New York where a thousand people held a vigil. There were also protests in London, Toronto, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei, and several universities such as Yale, Stanford and Oxford. (IV)

On December 10, there were new protests abroad, this time called by sectors of the leftwing opposed to the Chinese dictatorship. They organized picket lines in front of Apple stores in New York, Seattle, Cupertino, London, Nottingham, Sydney and Tokyo to protest the degrading working conditions at the FoxConn industrial complex in Zhenzhou in China and against the Chinese dictatorship. (V)
Brazilian revolutionaries sent photos in support of the protests. (VI)

The Covid Zero policy

This is the main policy of the Chinese regime to face the pandemic. It consists of repeated mass testing of the population and, in case of a positive test, the imposition of a total lockdown and the isolation of infected people in detention centers without regular access to food and medicine. In some industrial complexes, the Covid Zero policy was expressed through the so called “closed-loop” which predicts that workers would live in the workplace apart from the outside world and, if any worker tests positive, he and his workmates are isolated in degrading conditions.

Judging by the number of deaths from Covid, just 5,000, the Covid Zero policy is a success. But this success hides a series of failures. The first of them has to do with the quality of Chinese vaccines, whose effectiveness is inferior to more modern vaccines produced abroad. The only similar vaccine produced in China is entirely exported to Indonesia. The second is the low level of vaccination among the elderly. The third is the low supply of ICU beds, about a third of the number recommended by the WHO (10 ICU beds per 100,000 inhabitants). The fourth is the low herd immunity since a large part of the population has never had contact with the virus. Under these conditions, the full dismantling of the Covid Zero policy must be preceded by the mass production of efficient vaccines, compulsory vaccination campaigns and tripling of the number of ICU beds, measures that can be implemented in a short period of time if there is the necessary public investment.

But there are other factors behind the Covid Zero policy. One of them is that the pandemic has enabled the Chinese regime to implement a system of surveillance and social control over the entire population, and the end of the Covid Zero policy will open space for protests against the maintenance of this system of social control. There are also sectors of the commercial bourgeoisie that have profited enormously from providing basic foodstuffs for the confined population.

Towards a new Tiananmen?

The Youth protests in several Chinese cities and universities, the unrest among the industrial proletariat, and the manifestations of oppressed nationalities such as the Uighurs point to an awakening of the exploited and oppressed Chinese pushed by the economic slowdown and by the dictatorial policies of the Chinese regime, among which Covid Zero stands out. (VII)

This awakening faces a powerful enemy: capitalism and the Chinese dictatorship that act to suppress any form of dissent or alternative organization as they already did in Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong there was an uprising of “two million people for universal suffrage and the defense of Hong Kong’s autonomy. The heroic struggle of the people of Hong Kong, led by the Youth, has been defeated. Beijing imposed its National Security Law, buried autonomy and not only ended liberal opposition, but all opposition and many previously strong unions, imposing an agenda of censorship and thought control. In order to have a correct stand not only on Hong Kong or Taiwan, but also on the dispute between the United States and China, we need to address the nature of the Chinese state: China does not only embrace capitalism, but also an Orwellian capitalism, even worse than liberal capitalism. As socialists, choosing the lesser evil is not our programmatic goal.” (Au Loong-Yu, Chinese Marxist in the preface to the Brazilian edition of “Hong Kong in Revolt. The Protest Movement and the Future of China”).

Along the democratic uprising in Hong Kong (2019-2021) there were objective limitations – the main one resides in the unequal correlation of forces between an a city in revolt and a national state – and subjective ones: the political perspective of the “localist” sectors prevented the construction of solidarity with the mainland China’s working class and the Youth, allies needed to break Hong Kong’s isolation. On the other hand, the political hegemony of the liberal opposition created illusions in imperialism (which talked about democracy while working for the maintenance of the status quo) and prevented a socialist policy, alienating sectors of the working class and the poor in HK and throughout China.

To face the Chinese capitalist dictatorship, it is necessary to mobilize the working class and the oppressed sectors within a socialist and internationalist perspective. To sustain this mobilization in a coordinated way, a platform and national organization are needed to unite the fight against dictatorship, for democratic freedoms, with the fight against capitalism.

If the awakening of the Chinese proletariat continues, there is the potential for uprisings with large participation of the working class at the national level, more akin to the second Chinese revolution (1925-1927) than Tiananmen. An uprising with this social content together with a socialist and internationalist policy could lead to the fourth Chinese revolution, with an impact across the globe. That requires the formation of a revolutionary, Marxist and internationalist party throughout China.


(I) The rejection of abusive competition, strenuous work and social immobility led to the Tang Ping philosophy of life (“Lie flat” in English which means sticking to the basics) and Bai Lan (“Let it rot”) adopted by a growing minority of young people in universities and companies.







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