On the Final Phase of Taiwanese Presidential Election and the Urgent Need for a Taiwanese Mass Party of Labor
by Parson Young
THIS WEEKEND, the Taiwanese working class will once again find itself in the midst of a tremendous change without playing any role in it. The presidential election of 2016 will mark another pivotal point in Taiwanese history, not as a victory of the working class, but as a turn in the bourgeois politics of Taiwan. While the defeat of the KMT in both the presidential in the parliamentary election is exciting to imagine, a DPP victory would make very little difference to the working people of Taiwan.
For most, a Tsai Ing-wen presidency is all but assured from the beginning, thanks to the KMT’s now pitifully low popularity. Nevertheless, what seems less obvious to most, but equally certain, is that Tsai will eventually capitulate on all her promises and further compromise the interests of the Taiwanese working class, as a result of her bourgeois policies’ support of imperialism and neoliberalism, which ultimately will align her with Taiwanese bourgeoisie, some with considerable business interests in China. At the same time, we see the newly emerged “Third Force” parties have, one after another, capitulated on their independence from the DPP before the election even began, and along with it any will to defend the working class of Taiwan.
Labor demonstration on January 9th. Photo credit: Brian Hioe
The advanced layer of the Taiwanese workers already realized this and correctly resorted to militant actions demanding attention from the mainstream. However, in order for the Taiwanese working class to have a true political apparatus that defends them from capitalism, and to allow them to eventually take power and transform society for the better, it is imperative that a mass party of labor to be formed in Taiwan. This is what needs to happen.
The “Death” of the KMT
THE GLEEFUL vision that looms over the minds of many is the highly likely defeat of the KMT in both the presidential and legislative races. To be sure, the history of KMT is rife with criminal records of Bonapartism and bourgeois banalities and of course the party deserves to be expelled from existence altogether in Taiwanese and world politics. We nevertheless should remind ourselves of the recent polls indicating that the KMT still has a considerable hold in the Legislative Yuan, and is likely to become the biggest minority.
But even if we do see a complete evisceration of the KMT as a political party, and perhaps even a ceremony marking its death, we should still ask ourselves: what is to be done after the death of the KMT? It is crucial to keep in mind that much of Taiwan’s economic recession is not only due to KMT’s eager embrace of Chinese imperialism, but also a global capitalist system that is heading into deeper crisis. The Chinese capitalist economy is slowing down because it was based on exporting cheap commodities to the USA and Europe and those economies have not fully recovered from the 2008 slump. The frenzied bourgeoisie around the world have been compelling their states to levy austerity on the working class to bail themselves out of their crises. In the event of a continuously declining and chaotic world economy, a DPP administration will not miraculously lead Taiwan to prosperity.
KMT rally on January 9th. KMT vice presidential candidate Jennifer Wang, who is visible here, was the former Minister of Labor. Her nomination as Eric Chu’s running mate saw demonstrations by labor unions. Photo credit: Brian Hioe
One should be mindful that the DPP is beholden to the very same set of bourgeoisie that funds the KMT, who also hold considerable interest in China. These people are not remotely interested in defending the rights of working people of Taiwan, or even the DPP trademark call for Taiwan’s right of self-determination. While celebrating the death of the KMT, one should ponder what is to be done in the morning after.
Obviously, we ask this rational question not as an advice for the Taiwanese people to accept Tsai’s eventual capitulations as necessary, but a an urgent reminder of a need for an alternative, one that can effectively combat the onslaught of Taiwanese bourgeoisie and both the Chinese and American imperialist powers. Only a mass party of labor with a Marxist program can effectively fulfill this need. This program would argue that the big corporations, monopolies and banks should be owned by society and democratically administered by the working class, not public or private bureaucracies.
The Eventual Failure of Tsai
THE RIGHTEOUS eagerness to see the fall of the KMT is no excuse for us to neglect the responsibility to thoroughly examine the policies of Tsai Ing-Wen, especially now that she is the highly likely president-elect offered by our bourgeois democratic system. As a party, the DPP has comprehensively proved itself to be a firm ally of the bourgeoisie, having sabotaged working class movements time and time again throughout its existence. The DPP historically has also been funded by Evergreen Group chairman Chang Yung-Fa and Far East Group chairman Douglas Hsu, who not only are typical members of the ruling class bourgeoisie themselves, but also currently hold considerable business interests in China.
Tsai herself also has practically identical policy on free trade agreements with Chu, favoring joining of US-led TPP, China-led RCEP, and aims of signing as many FTAs as quickly as possible. We’ve already seen her vacillating stance on the Ma-Xi summit and flip-flopping attitude towards labor rights and welfare states, instead again calling for a boost in Taiwan’s military industrial complex as well as enticing US technological bourgeoisie to invest in Taiwan once again.
Tsai embodies a spirit not unlike the Democrats of the US: a pretense of caring for the ruled, while continues to defend the interests of the ruling class. With her type of bourgeois politician, the only true constituency is those who hold capital, and with China having a lot of it, it is expected that she would be willing to compromise on the wishes and interest of the Taiwanese working class in order to placate to the powers that be. She is someone who fundamentally cannot be counted on as a defender of Taiwanese working class’s need to repel Chinese imperialism and gain real choice of self-determination.
Tsai on the campaign trail. Photo credit: SET
The DPP that Tsai belongs to is a bourgeois political machine that devours and exploits on behalf of the ruling class. Let’s start from the DPP’s unrelenting support to key bureaucrats such as the reputedly corrupt party whip Ker Chien-Ming and local bourgeois heir Lu Sun-Ling, despite his feigned generosity to “propagate” the New Power Party. These characters, along with many other DPP lesser known legislator candidates of the DPP, are tried and true representatives of the bourgeois interest. Some of them may be against China, others less so, all of them profit themselves from the exploitation of the working class under capitalist order.
If neither that KMT nor the DPP can be relied on to defend Taiwan from imperialist encroachment and exploitation, can we count on the Third Force Parties, which now coagulated to primarily the New Power Party and the Green-SDP Alliance. Can they be counted on at all?
Eventual Disappointment with the Third Forces: NPP and GSDA
THE SUNFLOWER movement will forever be marked as a great awakening moment for the Taiwanese people. The nation faces the continuing decline of the crumbling system that is global capitalism, as well as a government all too eager to betray its people to Chinese imperialism. It is a common tendency for students to move first in moments of great change, and from the magnitude of the support from the rest of Taiwanese society, we saw glimpses of what a revolutionary situation would look like in Taiwan. The intense hope for change in society gave rise to a variety of political parties claiming to represent this fresh eagerness for change in Taiwan.
Nevertheless, as Marxists understand, social consciousness ebbs and flows. As the passion for change gradually wanes, these “Third Forces” parties found themselves in an increasingly savage competition against one another playing by the rules of bourgeois democracy. Today, we are left with New Power Party (NPP) and the Green-Social Democratic Alliance (GSDA) as the only two viable political parties that were born as legacies of the Sunflower movement.
New Power Party campaign rally on January 9th in Taipei. Photo credit: New Power Party
Unfortunately, these parties who present themselves as “progressive” and “left-leaning” alternatives to the mainstream parties, are finding themselves to be increasingly more accommodating to the establishment for the sheer goal of getting voted into the Legislative Yuan.
In their parochial aim to simply gain a foothold in the Legislative Yuan, both the NPP and the GSDA have had to make considerable concessions to the DPP in order to reach their goals. The NPP from the beginning chose to cooperate extensively with the DPP, even as far as sharing campaign offices and having the DPP mayor of Taichung personally oversee DPP candidate Hung Tzu Ying’s campaign. Not to mention that the DPP has had to “provide” spaces for NPP candidates to run by recalling its own rank and file candidates in some districts. However, we can see that in key areas, the DPP still would not budge, and has no qualm with humiliating the NPP. This was seen in the case of the Tamsui district where NPP candidate Neil Peng was forced to withdraw from the race, as he faced off against Shirley Lu , daughter of a powerful bourgeois family within the ranks of the DPP. We also see this in the awkward race in Hsinchu where NPP candidate Chiu Hsien-Chih now faces an uphill battle with senior, corrupt DPP party whip Ker Chien-Ming, while Chiu’s comrades elsewhere comfortably pat the backs of their DPP counterparts and beneficiaries in public. It is increasingly difficult for one to discern the political difference between the NPP and the DPP at this point.
On the other hand, the Green- SDP Alliance, tellingly established as Taiwan’s very first social democratic party, has all but given into opportunism as opposed to its initial principled stance of remaining independent from the DPP. While the first on its list continues to be vocal trade unionist Chang Li-Fen, we also simultaneously see the capitulation of SDP chairman Fan Yun, who under immense pressure caved in and joined Tsai in a lunchbox making spectacle, voiced her support to the crooked Ker Chien-ming, and is now endorsed by the DPP. On the other hand, we saw Lee Yan-jong, who despite initially positing herself as someone who broke with her own bourgeois background, later sought to gain endorsement from arch bourgeoisie such as Acer chairman Stan Shih, and even made appearances with far-right presidential candidate James Soong. Although Marxists already understand that reformism is fundamentally utopian. The speed at which the Green-SDP Alliance’s principles crumbled out of not even 2 years in existence is laughable even compared to their European counterparts and predecessors.
Green-SDP Alliance supporters and members campaigning. Photo credit: Social Democratic Party
The reason for both of these parties behavior is simple: neither of them truly orient themselves to the working class of Taiwan, and even posit a patronizing attitude of treating the workers as auxiliary elements of society. Without an understanding of the working class’s true power in society, that is, the power to choose to shut down production and directly halting the profit-making process of the bourgeois, these parties instead chose to orient to mostly student elements and petit bourgeoisie who do not hold the same power, and would ultimately have to concede to the rules of bourgeois politics. Neither the liberal NPP nor the reformist GSDA would be able to put forth their programs in face of a DPP majority, or even compete with them directly in elections with their incorrect methods. Thus, we see both parties stray further and further away from their original principles, gradually disqualifying themselves to represent the Taiwanese 99%. The working class, all the while, cannot possibly rely on any of these elements to defend their interests.
The Working Class on the Move
IN THE AFTERMATH of Sunflower, we began to see growingly active and advanced working class consciousness brewing among the Taiwanese proletariat, and increased awareness of the need for stronger, more militant action to defend themselves. This includes the successful mass demonstration that caused the Ministry of Labour to relent on its tireless attempt to collect unpaid debt from workers that were illegally laid off in the 1990s, to the most recent attempts to occupy the Ministry of Labor over its decree to reduce workers’ entitled holidays.
The brief occupation by the Ministry of Labor by workers on December 15th. Photo credit: 洪欣慈/UDN
We also saw highly advanced conclusions being drawn by workers, including a spontaneous solidarity demonstration with Korean workers who flew to Taiwan to protest the illicit activities of Taiwanese company Yong Feng Yu in a series of factory closures in Korea. This was a wonderful display of international class solidarity, an astute conclusion that they have more in common with the Korean and global working class than they do with the bourgeoisie of their own country.
Further, workers spontaneously formed organizations and these organizations have collectively drawn the correct conclusion to be critical of all the parties in existence, especially the DPP and the KMT. As a legacy of the Sunflower movement, a majority of Taiwanese youths still adhere to the spirit of Leftism and stand firmly with the workers in their cause. Nevertheless a pernicious witchhunt for the “Left-Unificationists” or pro-China sentiments in the ranks of the workers by deviant elements of activist circles also emerged, especially with the annual Left demonstration of Autumn Struggle, led by many workers organizations, who reasonably and militantly protested in front of DPP headquarters asking for Tsai to make a clear stance on labor rights issues.
To be sure, the “Left-Unificationist” faction in Taiwan are all but remnants of old homegrown Stalinist/Maoist organizations and a small handful of primarily academics. These essentially petit bourgeois elements stand at the razor margin of Taiwanese political landscape, and though hold a comparatively more prominent place in the previous Taiwanese labour movements, they are now a shadow of their former selves, with one of them, the Worker’s Party, even supported the China sponsored neoliberal CSSTA. Yet, “Left-Unificationists” have been used as boogiemen by some elements of “activists” in an effort to discredit their opponents. In a way, this was a technique to silence all those who are critical of the DPP, especially those who oppose it from a class perspective.
Labor demonstration on January 9th. Banner reads “Worker’s Struggle Against Presidential Candidates”. Photo credit: Brian Hioe
These accusations, however, did not set the workers back in the slightest way. As the election approaches, we continue to see advanced layers of the workers breaking away from old, ineffective union bureaucracies to form new organizations. One such organization of this kind of origin is the Workers’ Struggle Against Presidential Candidates, or Worker’s Struggle, a militant proletariat organization with a mission to fight for a series of labor rights from the presidential candidates. Their latest action was an attempt to occupy the Ministry of Labor for its decree to reduce entitled holidays for the workers. Marxists support all these movements to defend the working class, but we also argue that the working class needs political representation in the form of its own party.
Unfortunately, while labor militancy and the size of the organizations have grown noticeably, the working class still remains at the sideline of Taiwanese social movements. What else needs to be done for the working class to grow stronger in the coming years of capitalist decline and reactionary regimes?
The Real Taiwanese Working Class
AT THIS POINT, we might pause here to ponder over an important question: how many workers are out there in general? Most would cite the fact that the “middle class” of Taiwan has grown larger than ever, and numerically factory workers and farmers are in the minority, and therefore how can the working class be the strongest class in society?
The first is to dispel the myth generated by the misleading term “middle class,” which most would understand as someone who is financially stable but not wealthy. This arbitrary term is often measured by the amount of wealth, education, and social standing that a person possesses. However, the term fails to truly indicate a person’s position in the socio-economic system that we live in.
In Marxism, the proletariat includes people who engage in productive activity with means of production owned by the bourgeois, and survive through receiving wages from the bourgeois that is far less than the values they’ve created for their bosses. While factory workers and other laborers are certainly clear examples of proletariat, proletariat also include the vast majority of people who work in the service industry, as well as other sectors of the economy. Today’s heavily mechanized agriculture also eliminated the traditional peasants and replace it with agricultural workers at industrial farms. According to the Taiwanese government’s own database, just skilled laborers already account for 31.16% of all of the labor force. Adding the workers in service industry (19.54%) and agriculture (4.42%), Taiwan already has a whopping 55.12% of the labor force working in the private sector alone.
Labor demonstration on January 9th. Photo credit: Brian Hioe
Not only this, professions that previously were considered to be above the workers are increasingly becoming “proletarianized” due to the bourgeoisies’ incessant need to develop more machinery and technology to replace human workers. Marx and Engels explained this phenomenon in a clear and concise way in the Communist Manifesto:
“The lower strata of the middle class — the small tradespeople, shopkeepers, and retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants — all these sink gradually into the proletariat, partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which Modern Industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because their specialised skill is rendered worthless by new methods of production. Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population. “
The period of capitalism we now live in is not one that magically “creates new wealth,” but one of a far greater concentration of wealth, in the hands of a shrinking group of bourgeoisie, while the working class continues to grow in siz
Today, the working class, in the vast majority of countries in the world, stands as decisive majorities of their population, at the same time holding a powerful yet suppressed position in society. Just as Trotsky remarked: “…the enemy is by no means omnipotent, that it is torn asunder with contradictions, that behind the imposing facade panic prevails.” The Taiwanese and world proletariat have to realize that they are more powerful than ever as a class.
Workers throwing smoke bombs in the direction of the presidential residence on January 9th. Photo credit: Brian Hioe
But without organization or a consistent program, all this potential power will not be realized. We have already established that the working class cannot count on any existing political parties . Therefore there is only one solution: the working class needs to start a political party that belongs to them.
The Time is Now!
THE TAIWANESE working class should begin a party that fundamentally faces towards defending the working class, completely independent from any bourgeois contamination and influences. It must act as a representative of the political interests of the working class in the public sphere of Taiwan, unapologetically confront and expose the reactionary nature of the KMT and the DPP, and act as a point of contact between similar movements internationally. Only then will the expanding and increasingly oppressed Taiwanese working class have any hope of defending themselves against Chinese, US imperialism and their own bourgeoisie. Only then will they start a movement to defeat their oppressors and transform society into a higher, better system.
The Taiwanese presidential residence, shrouded by smoke, after workers threw smoke bombs in its direction during the labor demonstration which took place on January 9th. Photo credit: Brian Hioe
To this end, we encourage all those who are interested in the ideas of Marxism as the only way out of the crisis of capitalism to call for the following:
- The leaders of the unions and labor rights movement should call and mobilize for a mass meeting with broad representation from all sectors of the working class to lay the foundations for building a mass labor party.
- Union leaders such as Green-SDP Alliance’s Chang Li-Fen and others who operate within the KMT, DPP, and all other bourgeois/petty bourgeois parties must break with these parties and put their energies into class independent politics and the building of a labor party. Their response to this demand shall reflect their qualifications as leaders of workers’ movement.
- This labor party must support programs for full employment, high wages, and free, high-quality education and healthcare.
- This labor party must defend the right of self-determination of the Taiwanese people, but with the understanding that only the working class in Taiwan, united with the working class in China and make this a reality on the basis of a socialist federation of East Asia.
- This labor party should expose and oppose the efforts of the Taiwanese capitalists and imperialists to exploit the working class of Taiwan in the form of free trade agreements.
- This labor party should couple all the above demands with fight for a socialist transformation of society. This means that a workers government in Taiwan would nationalize the big corporations, banks and monopolies under democratic workers control as a step to a voluntary socialist federation of Asia and the world.
Working class of Taiwan, build a party!