Photo: Alex Yun for Lausan

Internationalism amidst repression: Hong Kong students against the war in Ukraine

A response to the state's reactionary attack against Hong Kong students' solidarity with Ukraine

Editor’s note: On February 26, 2022, two days after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a group of Hong Kong university students published a statement condemning the invasion and expressing their solidarity with Ukrainians and oppressed people around the world. As of March 15, the statement has garnered more than 1,000 signatures by individuals and student organizations in Hong Kong.

Their statement is radical, progressive and explicit in its anti-imperialist condemnation of Putin’s Russia as well as the United States and the expansionism of NATO. This is particularly significant in the context of Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy and self-determination, factions of which have often been characterized by uncritical support for Western governments as geopolitical rivals of the CCP.

Significant too is the internationalism of the statement. It calls for citizens to follow the example of Russian anti-war demonstrators in protesting not only against the war, but to pressure their governments and leaders to take action in aiding the struggle of the Ukrainian people against the Russian state.

On March 11 2022, the state-owned pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po (文匯報) published a response to the statement entitled “As Disruptive Elements Cherry-Pick ‘Resistance’, the Political Sector Warns of Foreign Interference” (亂港分子圖挑「抗爭」政界警告提防外力). 

The article accused the students’ statement of stirring up the same kind of “anti-government” sentiment, premised off a false notion of “resistance,” that incited the uprising in 2019 against the Extradition Law Amendment Bill. Wen Wei Po interviewed three pro-Beijing lawmakers, who called on the government to suppress such “disruptive anti-state elements” (反中亂港分子) to prevent a resurgence of the civil unrest of 2019, and for citizens to inform the authorities of such activities.

This is hardly the first time that Wen Wei Po, alongside its sister newspaper Ta Kung Pao, with which it was merged in 2016, has mounted attacks on individuals for promoting what they consider to be anti-government sentiment or for aiding the city’s democracy movement. These newspapers have named individuals such as Ching Kwan Lee, Law Wing Sang, Johannes Chan, Paul Harris and Chris Chan, and singled them out for scrutiny and abuse by the pro-Beijing establishment, which exposed them to great personal risk. In recent years, these attacks—made by these mouthpieces of the pro-Beijing establishment in Hong Kong—have foreshadowed acts of repression, such as police raids or prosecution by the state, as well as by universities and corporations against their employees. That these tactics of public intimidation have been mobilized against organized groups of students is yet another example of the ongoing repression of student organizing in Hong Kong.

The article also took aim at the Public Opinion Research Institute (香港民意研究所), an independent pollster whose survey results have indicated widespread popular support for the 2019 protests and deep-seated discontent with the government. The article denounced the use of public opinion polling as a tool for manufacturing and inciting anti-government dissent under the guise of academic research.

The attack by Wen Wei Po demonstrates the Hong Kong government’s recognition of the threat posed by transnational solidarity between oppressed peoples to authoritarian regimes. The author of the article, as well as the interviewed lawmakers, repeatedly reference the uprising of 2019 in their singling-out of the university students’ statement for government repression. In their eyes, students’ petitions like this statement are a common “trick” used by “disruptive anti-state elements” to “awaken” feelings of “resistance” in young people. The language of popular self-organization, self-determination and liberation is painted as subversive rhetoric intended to “undermine national security and destroy the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong”. 

To the Hong Kong government, the university students’ statement on Ukraine symbolizes an attempt by individuals to come together to discuss and develop a political identity independent of the government’s control and approval. Attempts at building transnational solidarity are equated with collusion with foreign forces to undermine the national security of sovereign states, be it Russia or China.

For the Hong Kong government, the publication of the student statement also symbolizes how dangerous the Ukrainian example of resistance—being a popular, militant and self-organized movement for freedom and self-determination—is to the legitimacy of Hong Kong’s social order.

The many references made to the “dark (黑) violence” of militant protesters during the uprising of 2019 in the Wen Wei Po article show just how worried the pro-establishment media is—not so much about the use of violence against property and the police per se, but about the lessons Hongkongers may draw from the Ukrainian resistance. To Wen Wei Po and their allies, the Ukrainian resistance outlines the potential for Hong Kong’s democracy movement to develop into an internationalist and revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the authoritarian, colonial, and crony-capitalist social order. The authoritarians have understood this threat—have Hongkongers? 

Below, we have published a translated version of the original solidarity statement, as well as the statement’s authors’ rebuttal of the Wen Wei Po attack. The Chinese version of the authors’ rebuttal was originally published by Borderless Movement and we republish it with permission.

Statement of Hong Kong University Students on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

With a Tsarist Russia dream and for the purpose of competing for global hegemony, Putin’s Kremlin officially launched an imperialist invasion of Ukraine on Thursday (February 24, 2022). For the first time since the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe, the world has once again reached a crossroads: either the liberation of the oppressed, or the abyss of barbaric tyranny. As university students as in our position as Hongkongers, we have a duty to think globally. We would like to respond to the global crisis as follows: 

I. Insisting on an anti-war stance

Since the beginning of the war, different actors have taken varying approaches to the Russian invasion. Pro-Russia chauvinists have watched the escalation of the situation with glee, whereas Western and East Asian countries have refrained from taking substantial action. Ironically, the Taliban—which brutally and violently suppressed the Afghan people—has weighed in and called for negotiation on both sides. Provoking aggression, civil war, and subsequent chaos are the tools of imperialism. In the midst of this chaos, people who have been tormented by war and oppressed by different regimes need to unite once again, and rebuild the anti-war fronts that we previously saw in response to the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. 

We oppose not only the military aggression commanded by Putin, but also NATO provocation, which altogether has led to the crisis in Ukraine. We stand in solidarity with thousands of anti-war demonstrators in Russia to insist on an internationalist anti-war stance.

II. Opposing the hypocrisy of the United States

After the outbreak of the war, Western countries, led by the United States, have not attempted to de-escalate the conflict; instead, they have engaged in repeated provocative condemnations of Russia. Western countries have claimed that there will be serious consequences after Russia’s military invasion. These nonsensical condemnations have had little impact on Russia’s adventuristic decisions and do little to advance a political compromise. From 1945 to 1989, over 300 wars have taken place globally. The United States alone has launched 30 major military operations, with the Western-led United Nations expressing no strong opposition to these invasive operations. How many innocent and disenfranchised people have been sent to the battlefield? What have condemnations on the part of the West ever done to help resolve conflict? What Ukraine needs is definitively not the empty checks that Western society has been issuing since the last century. What Ukraine needs is substantial support that aims at an equal and sustainable political agreement that takes all Ukrainian citizens’ welfare into consideration.

III. Supporting the self-determination of Ukrainian people

Struggling between Russian chauvinism and NATO’s expansionist ambitions are the Ukrainian people and the divided and oppressed ethnic minorities of the region. The Soviet Republic established by Russia after the October Revolution in 1917 advocated the establishment of a voluntary national alliance. Ukraine, which had historically been oppressed by imperial Russia, was then freed from the shackles of being a subordinate nation and the grip of nationalism, and given the space to advance its own self-determination. However, under Stalin’s dictatorship, Ukraine fell into the hands of fascism and imperialism. In today’s post-Soviet era, Ukraine is still a battleground for Putin’s imperial Russia and NATO forces. It is clear that neither collusion with Russia nor reliance on Western powers can lead Ukraine out of its current predicament. Ukraine is not simply a pawn in a game between great powers. We firmly support the right to self-determination of the Ukrainian people, just as the Ukrainian revolutionary government fought for “freedom of association”, “internationalism” and “national liberation” in the early 20th century. 

IV. What can the international community do? 

The best way for the international community to assist Ukraine while exerting pressure on Russia is: (i) to confiscate the property and assets of Russian oligarchs and officials; (ii) use the property and assets confiscated from Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs—that were accumulated through plunder and exploitation in the first place—to assist Ukraine in restoring war-affected areas and supporting the local population; and (iii) abolish Ukraine’s foreign debt and support the war-torn Ukrainian economy. Justice requires more than simple condemnation of the Russian government. People across the world must unite and put pressure on their governments to act, following the example of the thousands of anti-war demonstrators in Russia who took to the streets in protest against their autocratic government.

V. What can we do in Hong Kong?

While civil society in Hong Kong is also in retreat, there are still countless Hong Kong people concerned about the situation in Ukraine. Some courageous journalists have volunteered to go to Ukraine to document the truth, and others have donated to the Ukrainian government and companies, hoping to help Ukraine fight against Russia. While putting in the effort to help Ukraine, we should remember the causes and consequences of this war of aggression, and to probe deeper into the multi-ethnic history of Ukraine that has been intentionally distorted or even erased. We should also equip and empower ourselves, and forge connections with all the oppressed in the world. 

A group of Hong Kong university students
February 26, 2022

A Marxist response to pro-establishment media’s attacks on Hong Kong anti-war students

On February 24, 2022, the Kremlin invaded Ukraine in the name of “demilitarization” and “denazification”. The conflict intensified into full-scale war the same day, marking the first major war in Europe since World War II. An article by the pro-establishment newspaper Wen Wei Po (WWP) on March 11 accused a recent petition written by students of colluding with “anti-government forces”. WWP claimed that the statement had once again provoked riotous sentiment and that the term “national self-determinism” mentioned in the petition are “brainwashing” words often deployed by anti-China disruptors. However, the WWP journalist did not even venture into the background of the war, including the complicated notion of Russian-Ukrainian “slavic brotherhood” and the fundamental cause of this war, before analogising Hong Kong to Ukraine’s situation. 

This article expounds on the nature of the petition and its mention of “national self-determination”, which WWP accuses of being “anti-China”. Since China claims itself to be a “socialist country”, this article will adopt a Marxist perspective as well.

Is “National Self-Determination” an Anti-China initiative?

To understand what “national self-determination” is we must first analyze it from a Marxist historical perspective. The nation-state emerged from the bourgeoisie’s need for a national market. To create the nation-state, the bourgeoisie must overcome market fragmentations and barriers, such as internal tariffs, tolls, independent monetary system and units of measurement, so that they may compete with the bourgeoisie of other countries. Let’s first look at the Marxist interpretation of the concept of nation-state.

The French Revolution abrogated the conception of the state as the personal domain of monarch and substituted the conception of national or popular sovereignty, The idea of proprietary rights vested in the sovereign had been bound up with the feudal system of land tenure, and was incompatible with the new social and economic conditions created by the rise of industry and commerce and with the growth of a new non-feudal intelligentsia. The middle classes thus became the heirs of monarchy and the bearers of the new creed of nationalism. ‘In aristocratic states [said Robespierre] the word patrie has no meaning except for patrician families who have seized sovereignty. It is only under democracy that the state is truly the patrie of all the individuals composing it.’
(E.H.Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol.1, 1966, p.410)

Proudhonist clique in Paris which … declares nationalities to be an absurdity and attacks Bismarck and Garibaldi. As polemics against chauvinism their tactics are useful and explicable. But when the believers in Proudhon (my good friends here, Lafargue and Longuet also belong to them) think that all Europe can and should sit quietly and peacefully until the gentlemen in France abolish poverty and ignorance—they become ridiculous.
(K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Correspondence, Letter of June 7th, 1866.)

In other words, the concept of the “nation” (at least within the framework of Marxism) has to be defined within the social and capitalistic system. As long as we live under capitalism, the concept of the “nation” will be continually misappropriated for one simple purpose: the expansion of markets. The nation does not exist to implement any notion of national self-determination. Instead, the expansion of markets is the be all and end all for the bourgeoisie in their struggle for profits. Therefore, the bourgeoisie fight for an “ethnic” market at all costs. In this cut-throat race, the only way for the bourgeoisie of all nationalities can assure victory is by appealing to the “compatriots” of their own nation and misrepresenting their bourgeois war as a patriotic war, recruiting troops among their “compatriots” to fight for the “nation”.

Under the bourgeoisie’s powerful war policies (such as compulsory conscription, war and land taxes, etc.), the “compatriots” could be united together. This also implies that if the general public does not respond to this rhetoric (or if their fundamental interests are not affected), the concept of “nation” cannot be formed. In other words, in modern society, the concept of the “nation” must be based on these two premises: The domestic bourgeoisie’s strong leadership against the foreign bourgeoisie; and the empowerment of the domestic bourgeoisie to mobilize the national working class under the banner of a national agenda (N.B. the “national agenda” of each national movement varies according to their situation, so for example, Irish and French nationalisms are not necessarily the same).

Having clarified the nature of nationalism, the next step is to illuminate the Marxist agenda: namely, the socialist revolution. According to Marx, the prerequisite of socialist revolution lies in the working class’s determination to take the lead in the class war against the bourgeoisie. It is worth mentioning that, just as the slogan of “workers without borders” advocates for transnational solidarity in the labor movement, as the class struggle unfolds the bourgeoisie would also cast aside the “nation-state” view: they must collude with the bourgeoisie from other countries to wage war against the working class. As Lenin wrote:

A difficulty is to some extent created by the fact that in Russia the proletariat of both the oppressed and oppressor nations are fighting, and must fight, side by side. The task is to preserve the unity of the proletariat’s class struggle for socialism, and to resist all bourgeois and Black-Hundred nationalist influences. Where the oppressed nations are concerned, the separate organization of the proletariat as an independent party sometimes leads to such a bitter struggle against local nationalism that the perspective becomes distorted and the nationalism of the oppressor nation is lost sight of.

There can be no doubt that however natural the point of view of certain Marxists belonging to the oppressed nations (whose “misfortune” is sometimes that the masses of the population are blinded by the idea of their “own” national liberation) may appear at times, in reality the objective alignment of class forces in Russia makes refusal to advocate the right to self-determination is tantamount to the worst opportunism, to the infection of the proletariat with the ideas of the Kokoshkins. And these ideas are, essentially, the ideas and the policy of the Purishkeviches.
(V.I. Lenin, The Right to Self-Determination, 1914, p.451)

To conclude, “national self-determination” is absolutely not an “anti-China” initiative. Instead, it is a powerful tool to unify the progressive forces of the working classes of various countries and to motivate the proletariat in the less developed countries to launch socialist revolution against the bourgeoisie, as well as to realize self-determination. Obviously, as Marxists we do not unreservedly support all calls for national self-determination, since we must consider whether the call for “national self-determination” is used by the bourgeoisie to break down the unifying power of the working class, or if it is used to unite the working class on the premise of mutual respect, equality and self-determination, against the bourgeoisie’s oppression. To assess whether Ukrainian self-determination should be supported, we have to revisit the petition:

Struggling between the Great-Russian Chauvinism and NATO’s expansionary ambitions are the Ukrainian people and the divided and oppressed ethnic minorities who bear the cost of the failed negotiations between the two populist governments. The Soviet Republic established by Russia after the October Revolution in 1917 advocated the establishment of a voluntary national alliance. Ukraine, which had been oppressed by imperial Russia for a long time, was then freed from the shackles of being a subordinate nation and the hatred of nationalism, and was able to self-determine its future.

However, under Stalinist dictatorship, Ukraine fell into the hands of fascism and imperialism. In today’s post-Soviet era, Ukraine is still a battleground for Putin’s imperial Russia and NATO forces. It is clear that neither collusion with Russia nor reliance on Western powers can lead to the way out of the predicament. Ukraine should never be a pawn in the contestation of great powers. We therefore firmly support the self-determination of the Ukrainian people, just as the Ukrainian revolutionary government fought for “freedom of association”, “internationalism” and “national liberation” in the early 20th century.

(Statement of Hong Kong University Students on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine)

The Russian-Ukraine war is hence a war launched by an imperialist power under the slogan of “national self-determination” in eastern Ukraine. According to the above-mentioned Marxist argument, “national self-determination” itself is not wrong. Instead, the mistake lies in the bourgeoisie’s manipulation of the concept as a way of pitting people against each other. This is different from the demands for “freedom of association”, “internationalism”, and “national liberation” which have been raised by the Ukraine Revolutionary Government. Unlike the bourgeois manipulation of “national self-determination”, the Ukrainians’ demands stand steadfastly with the disadvantaged and recognized the epoch-making and progressive nature of their fight for self-determination.1

The pro-establishment media’s witch hunt of anti-war students

What is interesting is that the WWP journalist cannot even accept the call for “national self-determination”. Let me ask, what kind of “national self-determination” are they rejecting? Is it the national self-determination of the proletariat or the Tsarist Chauvinist slogan of “self-determination”? Should it be the former—and indeed WWP seems to be skeptical about the proletarian slogan of “self-determination”—then in their eyes, the leading party of our country was unifying people under a similar “brainwashing” slogan against the imperialist Kuomintang.2 If, however, it is the latter, WWP seems to agree with the stance of the statement: the imperialist move for “self-determination” (in reality, this is annexation) is also illegitimate.

What is unsettling in WWP’s writing is their hostility against university students: they charge the petition statement with “deliberately hijacking and inciting university students”, and “instigating university students to revolt by collecting different student organization’s petition”. This last attack seems to be an attempt to label all the university students as “anti-China” disruptors. In fact, the university students who wrote the petition are neither anti-China nor anti-Russia, as they stated explicitly: “we stand with all the oppressed in the world”, whether these oppressed people are in China, Russia, the UK or the US.

We ask the WWP journalist: are all the young people in Hong Kong automatically labeled as “Anti-China” disruptors? As mentioned above, the nation of the 21st century must be based on the national bourgeoisie’s strong leadership against foreign bourgeoisie and a strong power to mobilize the national working class. At the same time, a nation must have a common area, economic life, language and “national character” (i.e. an independent cultural outlook). Hong Kong does not seem to meet the above conditions at all: it lacks a strong bourgeois leadership (political platforms are not put forward by local bourgeoisie but are instead put forward by mainland bourgeoisie) and power to rally local working class. Furthermore, contrary to the nation in the Marxist definition, Hong Kong has economic dependence on global capitalism and its character and language are of cosmopolitan origin.

WWP’s polemic now appears to be ill-intentioned, as they repeatedly reference “nationalism”  in a community that lacks a coherent national identity. What sort of thing do they attempt to construct through this willful distortion? Or do they have any ulterior motive? What sort of abyss is it trying to plunge university students into by repetitively libeling and fabricating facts about them? Or do they think that political stability would be achieved by stressing the importance of repressing “resistance” in Hong Kong?

As a sincere Marxist, the writer of this article is reluctant to imagine a worker’s party in this way. After all, what Hong Kong needs the most right now is not “revolt”, but the self-managing power of civil organization under the Covid-19 pandemic. The prime task facing Marxists should be to rebuild Hong Kong’s disintegrated civil society so as to contribute to the anti-epidemic effort.

Socialism Defender
March 11, 2022


  1. It is also worth noting that in capitalism, the concept of “nation” has always been used to integrate national subjects and internal markets, so as to compete with other countries for capital accumulation. In the face of oppression, the only real way out is for the working class of the oppressor nation to support the right to self-determination of the oppressed nation, while the working class in the oppressed nation advocates for solidarity with the working class of the oppressor nation.
  2. Influenced by Lenin’s theory of national self-determination, the practice of Soviet federalism and Comintern, Chinese communists, including Mao Zedong, basically advocated national self-determination and the establishment of a federal state during the democratic revolution. This culminated in the drafting and revision of the Common Program. Source: