Citizens' mobilisations for "democracy" are a deadly trap for the working class

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Blank sheets of paper symbolise the demand for "free speech" and other democratic illusions

The deteriorating health crisis and the sharp economic downturn in China have led to an explosion of popular discontent, but also to the emergence of major working class movements. After the protests of thousands of buyers duped by the bursting of the property bubble and the collapse of various large developers (such as the Evergrande Group), the continued mass confinement of hundreds of thousands of people in all parts of China, with the appalling deterioration of living conditions that it implies, was the spark that ignited the conflagration.

First there was the death on 18 September 2022 of 27 people in a quarantine bus in the Guizhou region, then the massive protests by 200,000 workers at the huge factory of the Taiwanese giant Foxconn that assembles Apple's iPhones, protesting against inhumane confinement and non-payment of wages, and the death in a fire in Urumqui (Xinjiang) of 10 people because confinement conditions prevented firefighters from acting. Following these protests, demonstrations broke out in Beijing, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Wuhan, Chengdu, Chongqing and Shanghai. In China's economic capital, a large crowd gathered on Sunday 27 November to shout "Xi Jinping resign! CCP resign!".

The different mobilisations across the country are characterised by the following aspects:

- these mobilisations took place in a large number of Chinese cities; however, the media only report "hundreds" of people, which suggests that, in the face of repression and police threats, there is indeed a great deal of unrest, but that participation in the demonstrations is still relatively limited;

- they are a mixture of genuine workers' actions, for example at Foxconn, where there were clear wage demands and a fight against inhumane working conditions, and student or citizen mobilisations protesting against the outrageous confinement measures and demanding an end to controls and censorship;

- the dynamic that dominates and unifies these gatherings is not that of a massive development of mobilisation and workers' solidarity, but that of the rejection of the Stalinist regime and the defence of a democratic alternative, in continuity with the riots in Hong Kong in 2019 or those in Beijing in 1989.

We must therefore note that the perspective opened up by this sudden explosion of demonstrations is not that of a development of workers' struggles but rather that of a mobilisation on the bourgeois terrain of struggle for democratic reforms (even if occasional exceptions exist). Admittedly, these movements pose serious problems for the Chinese bourgeoisie: in the greatest haste, the latter was obliged to abandon in a few days the "zero Covid" policy that it maintained against all odds. However, they do not in any way present a perspective for the proletariat. On the contrary, the proletariat risks being diverted from its class terrain and engulfed either in a desperate citizen's movement against the Stalinist party and for democratic reforms, or in a struggle between bourgeois factions within the CCP.

While keeping a sense of proportion, we can say that the situation of the Chinese workers is comparable to what has been happening for several months in Iran, where the murder of a young girl by the morality police has provoked a tidal wave of riots, demonstrations and also numerous workers' strikes. Despite the very combative character of the Iranian working class, the dissolution of the workers' struggles into the popular movement against the religious autocracy and for democratic reforms is an imminent and constant threat. In fact, the use of proletarians as a mass of manoeuvre in the struggle between bourgeois factions (democrats, "enlightened" religious leaders, regional parties) or even between imperialisms (Kurdish, Turkish, Arab...) is a mortal danger and it is the responsibility of revolutionaries to warn the class about it.

Now, it is basically the same danger of dissolution of its struggles in popular revolts that the working class in China is facing. It is therefore important first of all to warn the Chinese workers against the siren songs of popular revolts for more democracy, but also and above all to arm them against "the idea that ‘anything is possible at any moment, in any place', as soon as sharp class confrontations arise at the peripheries of cap­italism; this idea is based on an identification between combativity and the maturation of class consciousness". [1]

In China, all the elements of the situation point to the beginning of a destabilisation of the regime. Even if the state momentarily manages to bring the situation back to normal, the fuse of new protests will remain lit. In this context, even if the Chinese proletariat develops its combativity and acquires a weight in the situation, its terrible political backwardness and its vulnerability to democratic mystifications constitute a considerable obstacle. Therefore, it is necessary to be clear about the prospects for the working class there: "The ICC rejects the naively egalitarian conception which holds that any country can be the point of departure for the revolutionary dynamic. This conception is based on the anarchist belief that, given the example of the revolu­tionary general strike, all countries could simultaneously initiate a revolutionary process.” [2]

In fact, despite its combativity, the working class in China, as in Iran or in other parts of the world, will have difficulty in strengthening its struggles on its class terrain and developing its consciousness as long as the proletariat of the Western countries does not show the way. For if all fractions of the world proletariat can and must make their contribution to the struggle against capitalism, those in Western Europe, through their experience of struggle but also of the democratic and trade union mystifications of the bourgeoisie, have a key importance for the revolutionary process. This only underlines the decisive responsibility of the Western European proletariat.

R.H., 14 January 2023

[1] ‘Resolution on the critique of the theory of the weakest link’, International Review n°37 (1984).

[2] Ibid.



Workers' strikes and popular demonstrations in China