Extreme Maoist labor activists in China are increasingly facing government repression for demanding that the Communist Party allow workers to unionize and assert their rights, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Tuesday.
Chinese authorities shut down at least two Maoist websites this week and raided their offices, arresting writers and activists advocating for a more extreme form of communism in the world’s largest communist country. According to RFA, police raided the offices of the Maoist websites Red Reference and Epoch Pioneer, in the former case partially destroying the office in the process.
Maoists are extremist communists that believe in eradicating property and giving full control of the nation to the state. Mao Zedong is believed to be personally responsible for at least 45 million deaths during his rule of China.
“[On Friday] at around 7.00 a.m., more than 20 people, mostly from Guangdong, came to our offices … armed with a search warrant and a notice of criminal detention made out for [fellow editor] Shang Kai,” Red Reference editor-in-chief Chen Hongtao told RFA. “They searched every corner of our offices, and even smashed a cupboard, and took our computers, our books away in a bunch of boxes.”
Chen indicated that the writers did not have access to the office anymore and have disappeared under government custody.
At Epoch Pioneer, seven editors have “disappeared” after an office raid. “I don’t think they left anyone behind. They detained everyone,” a witness identified only as Liu told RFA.
The raid of the Red Reference office reportedly occurred at the same time as the mass arrest of 50 Maoist activists in Shenzhen on August 24. According to an RFA report on the day of that separate raid, Beijing is increasingly concerned with a wing of Marxists who have organized in defense of workers at the Jasic Technology factory in Shenzhen. Workers there have demanded the creation of a union to protect their rights, attracting the attention of international leftist groups and local Maoists who argue that Xi Jinping’s government is too capitalist and right-wing to properly execute Mao Zedong’s vision. In response, local authorities had beaten and intimidated them into silence. The most adamant of the workers lost their jobs; the leader of the unionizing effort, Shen Mengyu, was fired and whisked away by “unidentified personnel” on August 11.
The estimated 50 Maoists arrested had organized a protest at the Jasic factory demanding labor and unionizing rights. “Police in full riot gear burst into the rented apartment where the activists were living early on Friday, detaining them,” RFA reported, citing the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions. Both workers and university student activists were among those disappeared.
Chinese state media have responded to the protests by accusing foreign forces of illicitly agitating protesters in China, attempting to delegitimize the movement by claiming it is not made up of domestic Chinese activists. The government news agency Xinhua published a 3,600-word report last week alleging that a Hong Kong-based group named Worker Empowerment had ties to a “Western NGO” and another group helping the workers, the Migrant Workers Center, was involved in “seditious” behavior online that discredited their calls for fairer treatment of the Jasic workers. Both groups have denied any involvement with international organizations to “make trouble” for Xi’s regime.
Unlike the activities of anti-communist human rights activists in the country, the Maoist workers’ advocates present a more complex problem for Beijing, as they are rallying in the name of the ideals that Xi Jinping claims to represent. As RFA notes, the workers arrested “sang revolutionary anthems including the Internationale and the song of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and berated the police with not being true communists” while in detention, according to witnesses.
“The younger generation of leftists are becoming openly involved in the workers’ movement, and stand in open opposition to the police,” said activist Cai Chongguo. “They are also backed up by the older generation of leftists and Maoists.”
As a result, the cause of the Jasic workers has become a national cause for the Chinese hard left, also resulting in national crackdowns on the most active dissenters. RFA reported Tuesday that activists are denouncing a “nationwide, coordinated police operation targeting leftist supporters of the Jasic workers’ campaign for an independent trade union.”
The Maoist turn against Xi will come as a surprise to some who praised Xi during the early days of his tenure for rolling back some of the capitalist reforms under his predecessors.
“It’s a golden period to be a leftist in China,” Zhang Hongliang, a prominent neo-Maoist, told the New York Times in 2015. “Xi Jinping has ushered in a fundamental change to the status quo, shattering the sky.”
That optimism has largely waned, replaced by cronyism under Xi – RFA notes that the owners of the Jasic factory are also officials within the local Shenzhen party. The result has been an exodus of Maoists to Hong Kong, a capitalist haven operating largely independent of Beijing where Maoists disagree with the economic policy but appreciate the ability to speak freely about their political views.
“[The government] never mentions that the core of Marxism is class struggle, or the ultimate mission of the Communists is to bring an end to private ownership,” Chen Hongtao, a Marxist who fled to Hong Kong, told the South China Morning Post in May. “It’s very peculiar for a country that claims to be a socialist nation ruled by the Communist Party.”