Successful vote to remove pro-CCP city leader shows potential for mass democratic and anti-capitalist struggle
International Socialist Forward (ISA in Taiwan)
A new page in the history of Taiwan’s democratic movement was written on June 6 when voters in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, successfully ousted Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT) from City Hall. There were 939,000 recall votes, which is higher than the 890,000 votes by which Han was elected as Kaohsiung’s mayor in 2018. International Socialist Forward sincerely welcomes this victory.
There were only 25,000 votes opposed to the removal of Han. It was the youth and the working class who enthusiastically responded to the Han Kuo-yu recall movement. The mass protests that took place in Hong Kong last year played an important role by inspiring and reinforcing hatred and fear of the Chinese dictatorship, the CCP, among Taiwan’s youth and working class who formed the backbone of opposition to the CCP puppet Han.
A right-wing populist who was hailed as a Taiwanese Donald Trump, Han Kuo-yu only lasted as mayor of Kaohsiung for 18 months. His election victory in November 2018 was the biggest blow for the national government of president Tsai Ing-wen and the nominally pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) amid a wave of reverses in that year’s local and regional elections. Kaohsiung has been a DPP stronghold since elections were introduced three decades ago.
Han boasted he could revitalize Kaohsiung’s economy by pursuing stronger economic links with China, which he called “globalization”. He promised a number of flamboyant projects such as building a Disney theme park in the city. He also wanted to establish a free economic zone in Kaohsiung modeled on China’s special economic zones (SEZs), mainly to attract Chinese companies based on waiving labor law protections, offering lower taxes and other forms of neo-liberal deregulation.
Xi’s ill-fated interventions
Using Kaohsiung as his launch pad, Han became the KMT’s biggest star and its presidential challenger against Tsai last year. But geopolitics and a series of major blunders by China’s dictator Xi Jinping cut across developments. Xi’s hard attack on Taiwanese independence in a keynote speech delivered in January 2019, undoubtedly fueled by hubris over the DPP’s electoral reverses, transformed the political mood in Taiwan.
Tsai Ing-wen was gifted a platform by Xi, projecting herself as a defender of Taiwan’s sovereignty and democratic rights. The eruption of mass protests in Hong Kong, also Xi Jinping’s handiwork, further shifted support over to the DPP and wrecked any hopes of Han Kuo-yu seizing back the presidency for the KMT. In the January 2020 general election, Tsai was re-elected with the biggest ever vote for her party.
Han’s recall is a new catastrophe for the KMT and for the CCP’s imperialist strategy towards Taiwan. This aims to reincorporate the island into a CCP-ruled Greater China, an issue loaded with nationalistic symbolism for Xi’s dictatorship.
On the day before the Kaohsiung vote, the CCP’s official mouthpiece, People’s Daily, effusively praised Han Kuo-yu in a high-profile manner, only to immediately suffer a huge political humiliation. The KMT’s internal and external public opinion polls were also erroneously optimistic in suggesting that Han would avert disaster.
The political battle in Taiwan is bound up with the escalating US-China Cold War. The Chinese regime has in part been emboldened by the deep crisis besetting US imperialism due to Trump’s disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and now the furious wave of protests against racism and police violence. Beijing believes it can demonstrate its power by tightening the crackdown on Hong Kong, thus gaining a psychological and propaganda advantage in the US-China conflict. But the CCP’s influence in Taiwan is now greatly weakened. In reality, both the Chinese and US regimes face their own respective crises in this inter-imperialist conflict, and ultimately both sides stand to be losers.
As a corollary of this, the Kuomintang, which ruled Taiwan as a military dictatorship from 1945 until the late 1980s, is also in deep crisis. It is paying the price for historical crimes of corruption, repression, racist and nationalist oppression, brutal capitalist policies, and more recently its embrace of close cooperation with the CCP dictatorship to promote neo-liberal economic integration of the two economies.
Internally the KMT will now be more divided due to differences over its future direction. But this is by no means the end of the KMT, and the CCP’s puppets will not disappear so easily in Taiwan. There is no doubt that in the short-term, the KMT will fall into frustration and chaos, and the CCP will look to find other more reliable proxies. The crisis in the KMT is undoubtedly causing a parallel crisis and conflicts within the CCP regime regarding its broken strategy towards Taiwan.
Dominated by the pan-greens
The recall movement in Kaohsiung was dominated by the leadership of the DPP and its satellite parties in the pan-green (Taiwan nationalist) bloc. They made sure to de-mobilize the democratic movement on the night of June 6, making the Han recall campaign the end of the popular anti-CCP and anti-KMT mobilization of 2020, rather than the starting point for something bigger.
But the powerful mood of anger and radicalization represented by 939,000 votes shows that if the recall campaign had a solid mass organizational base it could achieve much more, not only to drive out Han Kuo-yu but to continue the struggle to drive out all anti-democratic and anti-people, pro-corporate and pro-CCP politicians.
The leaders of the recall movement (whether the Taiwan Statebuilding Party, the DPP or president Tsai Ing-wen) immediately adopted a conciliatory tone saying, “Enough of passion, let us return to reason and peaceful coexistence”. The actual meaning of these words is to throw a lifeline to the KMT and the pan-blue (pro-China) bloc, local factions and CCP proxies, which gives these forces a breathing space to prepare for a comeback in the future.
The pan-green camp will now claim the mayor’s throne and more parliamentary seats as their trophies, but due to its pro-capitalist policies the strengthening of its rule will not bring real change to grassroots workers and youth. This is why the government and pan-green leaders fear a further radicalization of the democratic struggle and growing class-consciousness as a result of the Han Kuo-yu recall struggle. They fear the shifting mood among the masses may become a threat to the pan-green grip on power.
As we have pointed out, Taiwanese corporations, dignitaries, and local political factions are integrated into the entire capitalist system. The DPP, which is inextricably linked with this system, is incapable of challenging the toxic leftovers from the era of military dictatorship. Nor is it capable of solving the crushing economic burdens of workers and youth under the current capitalist crisis.
ISF believes that all workers and young people who supported the removal of Han Kuo-yu and the fight for democratic rights need to organize and to build a mass working class political party as a real alternative to the pan-blue and pan-green capitalist blocs and to resist all attacks by the capitalists.