The Taiwan National Question and the Tasks of the Taiwanese Marxists

The trip by Speaker of the United States Congress, Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwan has placed the Taiwanese national question at the forefront of world politics. Though Taiwan is, de facto, an independent state, the Chinese government has always maintained that the island is part of its territory. Meanwhile, the United States has maintained a deliberately ambiguous stance on the question for decades. Pelosi’s trip is yet another nail in the coffin of this delicate balance which, if upended, could threaten the stability of the whole region.

This article was written six months ago and has been slightly edited in light of recent events.

On her whistle-stop tour, Pelosi gave her “ironclad” assurance that the US is determined to “preserve democracy” in Taiwan. But when she speaks of “defending democracy” and “human rights” on the island, it is not out of concern for the Taiwanese people and their democratic rights. Rather, these are veiled threats by a representative of US imperialism to its most powerful rival on the world stage, China.

For this purpose, the Americans and their stooges in the island nation have been fanning the flames of Taiwanese nationalism, and the relationship with China has become the decisive topic in Taiwanese politics. Within all of these debates, the most crucial question is the question of the formal status of the country.

What is to be the fate of Taiwan? Should it declare formal independence, meaning official diplomatic relations with other nations and a membership of international bodies such as the United Nations; or is it set to be reunified with China as a region under the control of the Chinese state? In recent years this question has been posed more and more sharply by the bourgeois forces on each side of the debate inside Taiwan.

But as Marxists we refuse to take sides in what, from the point of view of the workers and the poor, is a false dichotomy; a choice between two reactionary camps—US imperialism on one side and China on the other—neither of which offer a real way forward.

On a capitalist basis, the Taiwanese national question can only be “solved” in an extremely reactionary way. Its genuine resolution cannot in fact be separated from the perspectives for a revolution in China and East Asia, and Marxists, workers and youth must pay close attention to the nature and development of the situation. This document was written to serve this purpose: to help Marxists understand the dynamics involved in the question and our tasks that derive from them.

US imperialism

Although the Taiwanese national question contains its own dynamics and developments, the role that Taiwan plays in today’s capitalist world is still largely shaped by the rivalry between the US and China.

Pelosi walk Taiwan Image Wang Yu Ching Office of the President
Pelosi’s visit to the island, at which she met and discussed with the Taiwanese President, is a blatantly provocative move. / Image: Wang Yu Ching, Office of the President

The latest developments involving Pelosi’s visit are the culmination of years of rising tensions between the United States and China. A united American ruling class, from the Obamas to the Trumps and the Bidens, agrees that China is the biggest potential threat to the position of US imperialism. That is the reason behind the US’s so-called pivot to Asia, turning one country after another into a battleground for the conflict. In this context, the Taiwanese national question has come to acquire a new significance, reflecting the growing contradiction between the two powers.

In what has been presented as a “defense of Taiwanese democracy,” US imperialism has been gradually increasing its military, diplomatic and economic interventions on this East China Sea island. In 2019–2020 alone, the Trump administration agreed to supply Taiwan with more than $15 billion worth of arms, among them 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks, which are of relatively new models, as well as $180 million worth of torpedoes. The Biden administration is intent on continuing this trend. It was also revealed last year that American special forces had been deployed to the country on a “training mission.” Of course, the official line is that these are defensive weapons, but we can only imagine how America would react if China started arming and “training” the Cuban or the Mexican army. Similar to its relationship to the Ukrainian regime, US imperialism views Taiwan as a forward position in its conflict with China.

For decades, official US policy was to maintain informal ties with Taiwan, but not to formally recognize the country as separate from China. Instead of a US embassy for instance, there is an American Institute in Taiwan, and there has traditionally not been public and direct top level contact between the American and the Taiwanese governments. In 2016 however, Donald Trump upset that tradition by making an official call to Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-Wen, the first such call since 1979. Since then there have been an increasing number of delegations of US congressmen visiting the island, its officials and its microchip production plants in particular.

Pelosi’s visit to the island, at which she met and discussed with the Taiwanese President, is the most blatantly provocative move—and one that was cheered on by the Republican side of the Congress.

While the US is still maintaining its “One-China” policy, refraining from calling for Taiwan to become formally independent, it is clear that there has been a departure from the past highly calibrated diplomatic “strategic ambiguity,” which used to be the hallmark of US-Taiwan relations. In a press conference in November 2021, Joe Biden was heard saying that Taiwan “is independent.” Later on, when he was probed about this clear departure from traditional US policy, he backtracked saying that the US is not “encouraging independence,” but that it is up to Taiwan “to decide” on this question. Clearly what Biden is implying is that he is sympathetic to Taiwanese independence.

Such statements are designed to portray US imperialism as a defender of the democratic rights and aspirations of the Taiwanese people. It is remarkable however, that Biden offers no such right to “decide” for the other small nations such as the Palestinians or the Kurds who have been at the receiving end of imperialist oppression for decades. There is no “defense of democracy” when it comes to those who are oppressed by close US allies such as Saudi Arabia or Israel, and yet in Taiwan for some reason we are supposed to believe that US intentions are benevolent.

History shows us that whenever Washington starts to speak of a “defense of democracy,” “human rights,” or the right of nations to “decide,” a great betrayal is being prepared. Small nations are always seen as “small change” in the quarrels between major powers. The same powers who one day howl about the right of nations to self determination, have no qualms about abandoning these same nations and letting them be crushed the next day, if it suits their interests.

The interests of US imperialism

The actions of US imperialism have nothing to do with “defending Taiwanese democracy.” They are cynical measures aimed at undermining China, which the US sees as a potential future threat to its position as the dominant global power. The Americans see Taiwan as a means of boxing in China geographically. This is very important from a military, economic and commercial point of view. As it is now, the vast majority of Chinese trade passes through the Malacca Strait, which could easily be closed off by the US, leaving China isolated. If China were to gain control over Taiwan, however, it would control key trade routes unimpeded by the US.

Taiwan is also an important node in the world economy and due to its close integration with the Chinese economy, it is a key lever to exert pressure on China. Crucially, it is home to the world’s largest microchip producer TSMC, which produces billions of the chips that go into Chinese products. Microchip production is a crucial field where China’s domestic industry is still behind the west and thus vulnerable to western pressure. The US has already forced TSMC to abandon billions of dollars of sales to Chinese companies and new bans and restrictions are raised regularly with the aim of inhibiting the development of the Chinese economy.

At this time, the US has no intention of pushing Taiwan towards declaring formal independence. It knows that such an event could lead to a military clash with China that it is not interested in. Nevertheless, its increasingly belligerent attitude towards China—such as the ongoing trade war; its pressure to decouple the Taiwanese economy from that of China; its support for Taiwanese nationalism, and its recklessly provocative acts like Nancy Pelosi’s trip—risks destabilizing the delicate balancing act, which has been at the basis of regional stability for decades.

China

Meanwhile China’s President Xi Jinping has sharpened his tone against what he defines as Taiwanese “separatism,” insisting time and time again that a unification of Taiwan with China “must be fulfilled.” To underline the serious nature of its ambitions, and in order to posture towards the US, China regularly carries out military maneuvers in the area around Taiwan.

Xi flag Image Jean Marc Ferré
Xi Jinping has insisted time and time again that a unification of Taiwan with China “must be fulfilled.” / Image: Jean Marc Ferré

A large part of this is aimed at building up a mood of nationalist hysteria, so as to cut across and divert the rising class anger which is developing within China itself. However, in the long term the Chinese ruling class also sees control over Taiwan as a key factor for developing the role of China in world politics.

Until recently, US imperialism was the most powerful military, diplomatic and economic power in East Asia. However, on the back of the fast development of Chinese capitalism in the past decades, the US can no longer claim that title. China is today the second-largest economy in the world and it has built a formidable army. In East Asia, China is now the strongest power and it has developed ambitions of becoming a global imperialist power in the future.

Taiwan is seen as a key means for China to break its economic and military isolation. Just like the United States had to gain dominance over the Caribbean in order to become a world power, the Chinese ruling class must gain control over the East and South China seas if it wishes to become one.

The development of Chinese capitalism and the crisis of US imperialism, is leading to increased tension between the two powers throughout eastern Asia. At some point in the future, it cannot be ruled out that American imperialism could push Taiwan towards declaring formal independence or other measures which would provoke China to intervene militarily. This could be intentionally in order to pull China into a quagmire and wear it down over time—which was the aim of the US in provoking the Ukraine war in relation to Russia—or unintentionally by playing up Taiwanese nationalism. This would be a profoundly reactionary development, which could lead to a military conflict which could destabilize the whole region.

At the moment, however, while neither the US, nor China want to upset the status quo that has underlaid the stability in the Taiwan strait for the past four decades, their interests are increasingly clashing. This clash has also found a reflection within the Taiwanese ruling class, which is increasingly divided into two factions, each leaning towards one of the great powers.

Squeezed between China and the US, Taiwan is becoming a buffer state, a battleground for the conflicts between the two powers. All talk of “defense for democracy” coming from the West is nothing but a smokescreen to cover for the predatory interests of US imperialism. The same can be said about “the interests of the Chinese nation” coming from Xi, which is only a cover for the interests of the Chinese capitalist class and state bureaucracy.

The Taiwan national question

As a small peripheral island in the intersection between larger powers, Taiwan has a long history of colonization and oppression. It was first settled by Austronesian people almost 4,000 years ago who developed into diverse and vibrant cultures. In the 18th and 19th centuries the island experienced a large-scale influx of, primarily, poor Chinese peasants escaping poverty in southern China. The latter violently drove the once agrarian aboriginal people into the mountains, so as to farm the land in accordance with traditional Chinese peasant relations. But even after the Han Chinese became the dominant population, Taiwan remained marginal to the Chinese empire, largely ignored, and subjected to a succession of invasions and colonization attempts by the Dutch, Spanish, Japanese pirates, and so on. From 1895 until the end of WWII it was also placed under Japanese rule. This long history of foreign domination nurtured a deep anti-colonial mood amongst the oppressed Taiwanese people.

Mao Chiang Image Public Domain
Mao Zedong and his peasant army forced the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie led by Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT to flee to Taiwan. / Image: Public Domain

When Taiwan was left in the hands of the reactionary Chinese Kuomintang (KMT) regime in 1945, after WWII, there was a rush to learn Mandarin, as most Taiwanese people used Japanese and Taiwanese as their lingua franca.

Before the governorship of the KMT was able to properly establish itself, however, a flurry of democratic activities and unionization drives were started by the Taiwanese masses. They would have a rude awakening when the KMT banned all of those activities and told the Taiwanese that, because they were indoctrinated “slaves” of the Japanese, they would have to earn their equal rights as citizens by adapting to the KMT’s chauvinist cultural demands. People were forced to speak Mandarin and were punished for speaking Taiwanese, they also had to adopt a new identity as “Chinese” according to the KMT’s standard, while many of their own customs were suppressed. Indigenous people were also forced to adopt Chinese names while giving up their original names, while surrendering privileges to KMT bureaucrats, bosses, and lackeys. The chauvinist attitude of the KMT eventually led to the February Revolution of 1947, which was subjected to a brutal crackdown.

Meanwhile, a revolution against the KMT was also in full swing on the mainland. This is not the place to go into the particular character of the Chinese revolution of 1949. Suffice it to say that the onslaught of Mao Zedong and his peasant army led to the collapse of the old order and the setting up of a deformed workers state based on a planned economy in China. The counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie led by the KMT, as well as the remnants of the old Chinese state apparatus, were forced to flee to Taiwan as their last place of refuge.

Once it regrouped in Taiwan, the Kuomintang set up a brutal dictatorship and, supported by US imperialism, continued to lay its claim on mainland China. That is why the Taiwanese state apparatus, which is a continuation of the old Kuomintang state, is called The Republic of China to this day. It reveals the longstanding imperialist ambitions of the old Chinese ruling class that came with the KMT to take back the mainland. Over time, the two sections of the ruling class in Taiwan, the KMT-linked bourgeoisie and the pre-1949 elite, fused to become the Taiwanese ruling class that we know today. Its fundamental tool for maintaining its rule is the The Republic of China state originally imported from mainland China.

This is the most important factor in understanding what exists on the island of Taiwan today. Taiwanese capitalism has a fully independent armed body of men, i.e. a military, police, judicial and prison system that maintains the Taiwanese bourgeoisie’s complete domination on the main island and its territories (Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, Orchid Island, Green Island, and other islets in the South China Sea). Thus, Taiwan, regardless of what official name it assumes, is already a fully independent bourgeois democratic state. Every other consideration only distorts the question.

Against Chinese chauvinism

While there are many common cultural elements between the peoples of China and Taiwan, the long period of separation between them has led to the development of a Taiwanese nation with its own history and culture.

In Taiwan, unification with China was a relatively popular opinion for decades, with roughly a third of Taiwanese consistently veering in that direction. Taiwanese people considered themselves as much Taiwanese as Chinese. In polls taken 30 years ago, 46.4% of the people of Taiwan saw themselves as being both Taiwanese and Chinese; whereas only 25.5% considered themselves as Chinese only, and 17.6% as Taiwanese only. Today, however, these figures have changed dramatically, with 67% of people in Taiwan considering themselves to be strictly Taiwanese and only 2.4% considering themselves to be Chinese only.

The shaping of the Taiwanese nation as something distinctly different from Chinese partially reflects the historic hatred towards the Kuomintang regime. Until the 1990s, the party and its state apparatus—the Republic of China—maintained a brutal dictatorship based on Han Chinese chauvinism.

The culture, language, and customs of the Chinese bourgeoisie that fled the mainland in 1949 were upheld as the only legitimate culture for Taiwan, while the culture and history of the people of Taiwan were deemed “slave like” and secondary.

Under the impact of this oppression, a broad movement developed composed of activists from various classes, with the shared aim of overthrowing the KMT dictatorship. This is what became known as the “Taiwanese Independence” movement, a term which is interchangeable with Taiwanese nationalism. The goal of establishing a bourgeois state in Taiwan that is called Taiwan rather than China was the common denominator of this tendency.

In the 1980s and 1990s, waves of pro-democracy mass struggle erupted against the Kuomintang and its Chinese chauvinism. In the absence of a revolutionary, working-class party, the leadership of these movements fell into the hands of the Taiwanese independence movement, which was dominated by people who would eventually form the Democratic People’s Party (DPP). Thus, in a confused manner, this struggle for democracy also became known as the struggle for “independence”—independence, that is, from the old Kuomintang state, from The Republic of China, and implicitly also its grand ambition to reconquer China.

These struggles eventually forced the KMT to concede to widespread democratic political reforms. However, the leaders of the DPP, who did not have any perspective or program of overthrowing Taiwanese capitalism, merely ended up accommodating to the KMT. On this basis, the state of The Republic of China was preserved, although the form of government was transformed from bonapartism into a bourgeois democracy, with the KMT and the DPP being the main parties competing for power. Since then, the KMT’s main crutch became its call for closer relations (and eventual unification) with China under the CCP, whereas the DPP vaguely aligned with “pro-independence” sentiments, mainly to grab votes.

Despite the limited gains of the movement in the 1990s, the Taiwanese masses still won some democratic rights for themselves through struggle. However, China remained a dictatorship, while also transforming itself into a capitalist regime. The situation then became, as the late labor leader Zeng Maoxing astutely pointed out, one where China and Taiwan “are not one country with two systems, but two countries with one system.” This is a factor that further dampened the mood in favor of unification with China. In addition it was at this time that the CCP began threatening military action against Taiwan if it should ever refuse eventual unification.

Hong Kong 2019: a turning point

The biggest shift in public opinion, however, came in recent years, in particular in the summer of 2019 when a huge movement against the curbing of democratic rights erupted in Hong Kong. The movement sparked a wave of solidarity throughout all of Asia. Hence, when it was defeated, the mood among large layers of the masses in the region turned sharply against the Chinese state.

HK protests image Studio Incendo
The DPP saw the 2019 events in Hong Kong as an opportunity to make a hard turn towards openly anti-Chinese hysteria. / Image: Studio Incendo

At that time, the Taiwanese presidential election campaign was in full swing and the incumbent DPP leader Tsai Ing-Wen was on course to suffer a humiliating defeat. Having overseen a number of years of austerity and betrayals, the DPP was collapsing in the polls. Meanwhile, Han Kuo-yu, a strongly pro-Chinese KMT candidate, was surging ahead on the basis of a campaign of demagogic, anti-establishment rhetoric aimed against the excesses of the DPP.

Trailing far behind the Kuomintang, Tsai and the DPP saw the events in Hong Kong as an opportunity to make a hard turn towards openly anti-Chinese hysteria. Against the backdrop of China’s repression of the Hong Kong masses, a mood of “national doom” was whipped up giving the impression that Taiwan was under the imminent threat of being taken over by China and its local stooges in the KMT, and that consequently, all of the democratic rights of the Taiwanese people would soon be under attack. On this basis, Tsai and the DPP recovered in the polls and eventually secured an overwhelming victory, achieving full and overwhelming control of the presidency and legislature.

Of course, this is an old trick. After carrying out years of attacks on the conditions of the Taiwanese working class, which led to widespread hatred of the DPP, Tsai starts pointing the finger at an external threat in order to divert attention away from the crimes of her own party. At a time when class contradictions were beginning, very slowly, to surface, the DPP managed to polarize society along national lines and whip up a mood of Taiwanese nationalism and anti-Chinese hysteria. As a consequence, support for unification with China collapsed.

While the greater part of the population, fearing a military confrontation with China, still wanted to maintain the status quo, support for moving towards formal independence started to rise.

A recent poll revealed that whereas 15.1% of the population were in favor of maintaining the status quo but moving towards formal independence in 2018, that figure had almost doubled to 27.7 by June of 2020. Meanwhile, the share of those who were in favor of maintaining the status quo, but moving towards unification with China had fallen from 12.8 to 6.8% of the population—the lowest figure going back to at least 1994.

What does independence mean?

Today’s pro-independence camp in Taiwanese politics, that the DPP is associated with, bases itself on anti-Chinese rhetoric and the threat that China supposedly poses to Taiwanese bourgeois democracy. In various forms, the parties of this camp maintain that declaring formal independence is tantamount to maintaining Taiwanese democracy. But this is pure demagogy.

United Nations Image John Samuel
Taiwan’s incorporation into the United Nations would have no significant impact on the lives of ordinary Taiwanese workers and youth. / Image: John Samuel

The reality is that Taiwan is a fully independent nation state in all but name—at least, as independent as a small nation can be under capitalism. The Taiwanese state defines and upholds the laws of Taiwan, it establishes relations with other nation states, it issues Taiwanese passports which are accepted almost everywhere, and Taiwan-based companies operate freely on the world market.

The only difference between the present status quo and a situation where Taiwan declares formal independence would be the country’s incorporation into western-controlled international organizations such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund. It would also mean that Taiwan could establish formal diplomatic relations with other nations—namely, with nations that are not within China’s sphere of influence. But such developments would have no significant impact on the lives of ordinary Taiwanese workers and youth.

Thus when the Taiwanese liberals adopt an anti-China or pro-independence stance, what they really mean is pro-American, pro-Western. This would not mean independence for Taiwan. It would mean an increased subservience to the interests of the banks and the big monopolies of the US and other western powers.

US imperialism is the enemy of the masses in Taiwan and everywhere else, and it is the duty of Marxists to warn the working class against any illusions in it. Our task is to expose the true class interests behind the highflying rhetoric of the liberals and the imperialists.

A false dichotomy

As the conflict between China and the US in Asia intensifies, the national question will acquire a sharper form. But rather than falling behind one reactionary camp or another, the task of the Marxists in such conditions is to first and foremost expose the class interests behind the different camps.

The DPP is asking the nation to unite against China. “You are either with us or you are with them,” they say. In fact, the DPP and its cohort parties such as the Taiwan Statebuilding Party have elevated this hysterical logic to its extreme, and smear anyone who opposes the government for any reason, especially workers in struggle, as “Chinese agents/roaders.”

But this is a false dichotomy that Marxists firmly reject. There can be no unity between the working class and the capitalists—that is, between the exploited and its exploiters regardless of their nationality.

The problems of the Taiwanese workers and poor are not related to the question of independence. Rising pressures on living standards, the increased intensity of work, austerity and corruption inside Taiwan are not being imposed by the Chinese state, but by the Taiwanese capitalists, a class furthermore, whose foremost representative is at this time the DPP.  What the DPP is demanding, in other words, is that the working class should subordinate its interests to those of the ruling class.

The only way forward for the workers, if they wish to escape this never-ending downward spiral, is to overthrow the Taiwanese capitalist class and begin the socialist transformation of society.

What is needed for this is not national unity, but revolutionary class struggle. Against the barrage of anti-Chinese hysteria, we therefore say: “The main enemy is at home!” The primary enemy of the Taiwanese working class is the Taiwanese capitalist class, which at the moment is headed by the DPP.

The struggle against Taiwanese capitalism cannot be separated from the struggle against Taiwanese nationalism, which no longer plays any progressive role for the Taiwanese masses and is an active fetter to the liberation of the Taiwanese proletariat. In order to fight the Taiwanese ruling class, Marxists and revolutionaries must fight an uncompromising struggle to expose the reactionary nature of Taiwanese nationalism.

The experience of Hong Kong

As Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, the working class has no nation. Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese and Korean workers have a lot more in common with each other than they have with their own ruling classes. Marxists fight for a world without borders, where workers of all nations can live in peaceful harmony on the basis of international cooperation.

Joshua Wong Image Etan Liam
Liberals such as Joshua Wong started pushing the movement into a reactionary anti-Chinese direction, while at the same appealing to western powers for support. / Image: Etan Liam

While the ruling classes benefit from dividing the working class along national lines, we always attempt to build the highest level of unity amongst all the workers of the world. Without such unity the success of the socialist revolution would ultimately be impossible.

Taiwan is a prime example. The idea that an island of Taiwanese socialism could survive in the long run, next to a capitalist China, is a pure utopia. If there were a socialist revolution in Taiwan, the Chinese state—with the likely support of the US—would react with utmost brutality in an attempt to stop it from spreading to within its own borders.

Furthermore, as we have explained in a previous article published by The Spark (the IMT in Taiwan), the closeness in culture, language and geography between Taiwan and China invariably closely link together the class struggles on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Therefore, the task of fighting Taiwanese capitalism is directly related to the task of fighting Chinese capitalism. But such a struggle can only be waged on a class basis. Without an independent proletarian position, all roads lead down the path of reactionary nationalism, which will solve absolutely nothing. Here we find very valuable lessons from the movement in Hong Kong in 2019.

In the first stages of that movement, with more than a million people on the streets of Hong Kong and talk of a general strike spreading, the CCP regime was thrown into a state of shock. What they feared more than anything, was that the Hong Kong revolution could connect with the rising mood of anger and dissatisfaction within the Chinese working class. In fact, many Chinese workers and radical youth looked with sympathy towards the movement.

Liberal leaders such as Joshua Wang and company, however, started pushing the movement into a reactionary anti-Chinese direction, while at the same appealing to western powers for support. Wang and a delegation of liberals even visited the US and called for economic sanctions against China. Such a move would correctly be seen by the mainland masses as an attack by US imperialism on China, an attack which would also severely harm the livelihoods of the workers and poor.

Uninterested in any form of unity with the Chinese working class, the Hong Kong Autonomy Movement organized large rallies festooned with US flags, begging for the Trump administration’s help. These elements pushed for a distinctly anti-Chinese line and connected the demand for democratic rights—a demand which would otherwise have been very popular in China—with old British colonialist nostalgia and US imperialism. In fact, their whole strategy was based on offering their services to Donald Trump, consciously trying to transform the movement into a proxy of US imperialism against China.

But rather than strengthening the movement, allying with the US played into the hands of the CCP regime. Xi Jinping could conveniently point to this alliance in order to present the movement as an imperialist plot in the eyes of the Chinese public. Politically, the Hong Kong movement was thus cut off from the Chinese workers.

If anything, this served to strengthen Chinese nationalism domestically. That is, it assisted the Chinese regime’s endeavor to dilute the class contradictions in China and to rally the working class behind its repression of the Hong Kong movement. The results were fatal. In effect, the nationalist and pro-western Hong Kong leaders had laid the political basis for the defeat of the movement.

As we explained at the time, the only way to win a decisive victory for the movement would have been to appeal directly to the masses in mainland China. If the Hong Kong leaders had based themselves on a class program and appealed to the Chinese workers to join a common struggle against the Chinese ruling class, they would have gained a wide echo.

Starting with the workers of the neighboring Guangdong province, which is a key industrial hub, the movement could have spread into China. But by appealing to US and British imperialism and by posing the interests of Hong Kong people as opposed to those of Chinese people, the liberals blocked the road to the working class on the mainland.

In Taiwan we face a similar scenario. The struggle for socialism in Taiwan cannot be disconnected from the struggle for socialism in China. And this can only be done through an active struggle against Taiwanese nationalism. The Taiwanese working class must not be seen to lean in any way towards US imperialism or their lackeys in the DPP. That would immediately cut them off from the Chinese workers, who correctly see US imperialism as their enemy.

That is why the primary slogan of the Taiwanese Marxists must be No to US imperialism!” This would not only be a signal to the Chinese workers that we are not their enemies, but would also draw out the class lines inside Taiwan where the dominant wing of the ruling class are the agents of American imperialism.

Unification?

At the other end of the spectrum of Taiwanese bourgeois politics, the Kuomintang has until recently openly been calling for Taiwanese unification with China. Ironically, what used to be the party of Chinese imperialism that vowed to defeat the former deformed workers’ state in China and reclaim all of its territories, has now become a puppet of China itself.

KMT Taiwan Image Lukacs
The Kuomintang has until recently openly been calling for Taiwanese unification with China. / Image: Lukacs

Due to the recent dramatic shifts in public opinion after the events in Hong Kong, however, the Kuomintang was forced to officially somewhat downplay its outright support for unification. But while it has taken a step back in public, the Kuomintang represents the part of the Taiwanese bourgeoisie which wants a closer integration with mainland China.

But this is not in any way a real alternative for the Taiwanese masses either. Unification with China on a capitalist basis is nothing but the submission of Taiwan and the Taiwanese working class to the interests of Chinese capitalism.

It would mean the rolling back of the democratic rights that they won in the 1990s. That is why it is bitterly opposed by the majority of Taiwanese people. Such unification could only take place by force and against their will. But on such a basis, unification would be hugely detrimental to the interests of the class struggle. It would strengthen Chinese as well as Taiwanese nationalism and drive a deep wedge between the Chinese and Taiwanese workers pushing them into the arms of their respective ruling classes.

Our task as Marxists, is to raise the banner of a united struggle of the working classes of Taiwan, China and the rest of the region against all the ruling classes here. The task of the Taiwanese proletariat is, first and foremost, to struggle for socialism in Taiwan. Should they succeed, this would gain a huge echo throughout the region where hundreds of millions of workers and poor people suffer at the hands of their own ruling classes. We had a taste of this potential during the Hong Kong movement, which captured the imagination of millions of people in the region, including inside mainland China.

Under such conditions, the Taiwanese revolution could successfully appeal to the Chinese workers to focus their struggle against the CCP state and Chinese capitalism and begin carrying out the task of taking power into their own hands. Thus, on the basis of fighting Taiwanese nationalism, and thereby US imperialism, the Taiwanese proletariat can overcome mistrust and animosity that is today being fomented between itself and the Chinese workers. This would lay the basis for a truly united struggle for socialism across the region.

The task of the Chinese Marxists

The tasks of the Chinese Marxists are different from those of Marxists in Taiwan. In China, it is not the DPP and Tsai Ing Wen who are the main enemies, but Xi Jinping, the state bureaucracy, and the capitalist class.

As the crisis of Chinese capitalism deepens, the CCP regime is ramping up its nationalist hysteria—in particular towards Taiwan—in order to cut across rising class contradictions. But the Chinese Marxists, like those in Taiwan, must raise the slogan “the main enemy is at home.”

The foremost task of the Chinese Marxists is to expose the reactionary nature of Chinese chauvinism. They must oppose any claim to, aggression towards, or meddling in the affairs of Taiwan on the part of the CCP regime. The Chinese Marxists must expose such attempts for what they are: a part of China’s imperialist ambitions as well as a maneuver aimed at distracting the attention of the Chinese workers and lay the blame for their plight on the shoulders of an external enemy.

This is not in order to lend support to Taiwanese nationalism, but to show the Taiwanese workers that they are not their enemies and in doing so weaken Taiwanese nationalism. Likewise, the Taiwanese Marxists, in struggling against their own ruling class as well as against US imperialism, would thereby demonstrate to the Chinese workers that they are not their enemies.

In whipping up nationalist hysteria, Xi and Tsai and their respective ruling classes lean on each other. Xi uses Tsai’s relations with the US to build up nationalism at home, while Tsai uses Xi’s speeches and China’s military maneuvers to rally the nation behind her and the DPP. Our task is to fight to cut across this and expose the deceit of nationalism on both sides.

Socialism and internationalism

In the early days of capitalism, the development of the nation state gave important impetus to the development of industry and thereby the working class. Today, however, the nation state has become an enormous reactionary fetter on development.

third international communist meeting Image Fair Use
The task of Marxists is to raise the flag of internationalism. / Image: Fair Use

As the crisis of the system deepens tensions between nations are on the rise. The result is rising instability across the globe. The trade war between China and the US; the war in Ukraine and the conflict between Russia and the west; and Brexit and the crisis of the European Union all express the same process.

The opening up of world trade, which was at the heart of world economic growth in the whole period after World War Two, is rapidly being undermined, leading to rising inflation and preparing a period of weak economic growth and ever-deeper crises.

It is a vicious circle, which will go on for years if not decades; no country will be left untouched. East Asia, which has otherwise been one of the most stable regions of the world in the past decades, is no exception.

At a time where science and technology has reached previously unimaginable heights which would allow humanity to solve all of its most urgent problems with relative ease, billions of people are needlessly set to suffer immeasurable pain.

Our task as Marxists, through all this instability is, uncompromisingly, to raise the class question at all times and fight against any hint of reactionary nationalism. That is the only way of raising the working class to its historic tasks and to prepare it for the only thing that can show a way out of this morass:

A socialist revolution and the setting up of a socialist federation of fraternal peoples who can collectively decide together their future paths in harmony.

No to Taiwanese nationalism! The main enemy is at home!

No to US imperialism!

No to unification with China on a capitalist basis!

For a democratic socialist Taiwan within a socialist federation of East Asia!


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