Cops in Hong Kong say that protests are bringing the city to the “brink of total collapse”.
Much of public transport was suspended on Wednesday as protesters blocked stations and targeted trains. Protesters fought riot cops with bricks, petrol bombs and bows and arrows.
All universities were closed, and classes were suspended at primary and secondary schools. And Hong Kong’s education bureau suspended all classes in schools on Thursday.
The escalating protests have brought more harsh rhetoric from Hong Kong’s authorities and the backers of the Chinese state.
Hong Kong’s police called anyone siding with protesters “an accomplice”.
And China’s state-run Global Times newspaper on Tuesday said demonstrators were “no different from terrorists like Islamic State”.
The protests follow some workers’ strikes on Monday and Tuesday, and groups of workers joined Wednesday’s protests too.
Hundreds of protesters targeted Central, Hong Kong’s business district, at lunchtime for the third day in a row. Anger at police violence, including shooting at demonstrators, fuelled the action.
Some protesters held placards reading, “Do not shoot our young people.” Cops shot a 21 year old protester on Monday during protests in the Sai Wan Ho district. It was the third time police had opened live fire on demonstrators.
The shooting followed the death of a 22 year old student protester, Chow Tsz-lok, on Friday of last week. He had suffered brain damage following a fall from a car park as riot police were conducting dispersal operations nearby.
The death has turned more universities into sites of explosive protests.
On Wednesday protesters built barricades at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The night before, police had used tear gas and water cannon against students.
The university campus is covered in slogans including, “Ideas are bullet-proof,” and, “Blood debt must be paid,” referring to Chow Tsz-lok’s death. One student said, “I don’t want to resort to violence, but peaceful protest doesn’t change a thing.”
Cops had fired tear gas inside a number of universities for the first time on Monday, claiming that criminals were hiding there. At least 128 people were injured during the day.
Protests are continuing into their sixth month despite severe repression. Cops have arrested over 3,000 people since protests began in June.
The movement was sparked by anger at a new bill that would have allowed extraditions of suspects to mainland China. But the issue became a lightning rod for wider discontent.
Lam Chi Leung, a revolutionary socialist in Hong Kong, told a Marxism in Scotland event last weekend that the bill was “only a catalyst”.
“Neoliberal policies, the exploitative behaviour of finance and real estate capitalists, and the service of the government towards the rich are the real deep-seated reasons,” he said.
Lam Chi said the three main characteristics of the movement are “broad participation of youths, widespread support from public opinion and the eruption of political strikes”.
And he added that such strikes had not been seen in Hong Kong “in over 50 years”.
The movement is calling for wider changes in Hong Kong society. These include the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, more democracy, the release of jailed protesters and an investigation into the cops.
But Lam has repeatedly sided with the cops against protesters. On Tuesday she branded demonstrators “extremely selfish” for holding militant protests and said hopes that the government would meet their demands was “wishful thinking”.
Yet the protests have won changes. Lam was forced to promise to drop her extradition bill.
A number of the demonstrations since June have involved over a million people. Unsurprisingly, there is a range of political opinion among protesters.
Some have appealed to the US or other Western powers to intervene and sanction Hong Kong’s rulers. Some oppose everyone in China, not just its ruling class. This can feed a kind of Hong Kong nationalism and racism towards Chinese people.
Lam Chi said there are “political confusions and contradictions” within the movement. He argued that revolutionary socialists “must avoid imposing schemas upon the masses and turn our backs on them when they don’t conform”.
But he added that revolutionaries also must not “tail the masses and drift along with them”.
“Socialists need to emphasise the need for self-organisation of workers and students,” he said. “Only by convincing the mainland Chinese people that Hong Kongers are willing to unite with them in struggle can we bring about genuine democracy and equality.”