Friday, 16 December 2011

The Wukan uprising

In September, protests over illegal land seizures in Wukan, China, culminated in a riot which included a seige of the local police station. This Monday, a man detained for his role in that riot died in custody. This led to villagers once again storming the police station, this time driving out police and Communist Party officials. Wukan is now "entirely controlled and administered by its residents."

The past year has seen 180,000 mass protests in China, most over illegal land seizures. Local government officials have been using land grabs as their primary revenue stream since the abolition of agricultural taxes, and the issue has led to rising conflicts between officials and farmers. The ferocity of these conflicts has been enough to force the government to declare a zero tolerance policy in relation to land grabs, but evidently hasn't been enough to actually force a halt in the practice.

In Wukan, allegations arose that communal land was being sold off to a real estate developer and that local officials were embezzling compensation money. This led to a sit-in protest on September 21, where a witness reports that "Some policemen were sent in and severely beat some teenage schoolchildren who had sounded the brass gong to urge fellow villagers to join the protest that morning." This led to angry villagers laying seige to the police station in retaliation. Confrontations between tooled-up villagers and riot police followed, roads were blocked and windows were smashed.

An investigation into the land seizure brought an end to the protest, but come December four of the thirteen people elected as delegates of the September rebellion were arrested. One of these was Xue Jinbo, who died on 11 December. According to the New York TimesXinhua News stated that "he had died of cardiac arrest a day after confessing to his role in the September uprising," but his son-in-law claimed that "knees were bruised, his nostrils were caked with blood and his thumbs appeared to be broken."

The rebel village is reported to have food for ten days and has been holding mass meetings on a daily basis. At the time of writing, the road block instituted after officials were driven from the city remains in force. Those rich families which have not fled have shut themselves inside their fortress-like mansion homes.

If the case of Wukan tells us anything, it is that even in the most repressive regimes - and China's brutal form of state-capitalism is certainly that - the collective power of the working class can force back the ruling class. The very fact that the Communist Party leadership had to acknowledge the theft of communal land in the first place is itself a victory, but the achievement of forcing out officials and taking control of the village is certainly a unique one in modern Chinese history.

At the same time, the past month has seen a series of strikes around the country, as documented by the China Strikes website, which reflects a growing unrest in the country. Not only with generally poor material conditions and a repressive, authoritarian regime which brutally suppresses independent unions, but with the fact that the recession is now starting to impact in China.

The task for the working class of China now is to link up these struggles and build their own networks of mutual aid and solidarity. They must also maintain autonomy and control of their own struggles through direct democracy for any hope of challenging the power of the ruling class. In this regard, the example of Wukan sets a powerful - and, for the Communist Party, dangerous - precedent. It shows that, as a mass, the working class is more than capable of taking control of its own situation.