Revolution is Taiwan’s only way out: why we formed The Spark

We are happy to announce the launch of The Spark(火花), a website operated by the members of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) in Taiwan who organise a group of the same name. The website will feature Marxist news, analysis and theoretical materials in traditional Chinese. It will also provide old and newly translated articles by Marxists such as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, as well as Ted Grant. This is an important step in building the forces of revolutionary Marxism in Taiwan and amongst Sinophone people!


The capitalist system is experiencing an unprecedented crisis on a world scale. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic massively sharpened all the previously accumulating contradictions within the system, and plunged the world into what the World Bank has declared to be the worst global economic recession since World War II. Humanity faces a stormy period of unprecedented instability, revolutions and counter-revolutions, as well as increasing tensions between the ruling classes of each nation. What this reveals is the inability of the capitalist system to show a way forward. Despite being a small island country, Taiwan is not isolated from these developments in such a world. One way or another, this process will find a reflection in Taiwan as well.

Deteriorating status quo

While it is true that the crisis has not hit Taiwan in the same manner as other countries, all is not well on the island. 20 some years after the end of the KMT dictatorship, the working class is struggling to find a way out of the dead-end of Taiwanese capitalism. The advent of bourgeois democracy in Taiwan was a huge victory for the masses. But as long as capitalism remains intact, the working class still finds itself in a society rife with contradictions and turmoil, with no control over its own fate.

The Taiwanese working class remains unrepresented in politics, which remains in the grip of camps headed by either the KMT or the DPP. These are nothing but the parties of the different factions of the bourgeoisie that take turns in enforcing the same pro-capitalist policies against the working class. The DPP, which emerged from the mass struggles against the Republic of China state, since taking office, has shown its true colors, by using that very same ROC state apparatus against the working class and the poor. The KMT, the party of the historic oppressors of millions of workers across China and Taiwan, though steeped in turmoil, still remains a significant force and controls many municipal governments. Behind superficial bickering between the two parties, they hold the same attitude towards the working class, and seamlessly carry out the same policies.

Taiwan 2020 elections main ImageThe KMT or the DPP are parties of the different factions of the bourgeoisie that take turns in enforcing the same pro-capitalist policies / Image: Tsai Ing-wen

Amidst the years of toing and froing between the KMT and the DPP, the Taiwanese workers remain bound by deplorable conditions. They still toil under the fourth-longest work hours in the world and sweatshop conditions, although Taiwan produces more wealth than many advanced countries, such as Sweden, per capita. Wages have been stagnant since 2002, despite productivity continuing to grow.

The youth has only a grim future to look forward to. On top of the low wages and high youth unemployment, the ruling class is attempting to place the cost of sustaining a rapidly aging society on the next generation, most immediately of which is the cost of healthcare, which is already facing an “age of collapse” according to The Reporter. All the while, they are told to helplessly witness more assaults from the ruling class, such as counter-reforms on labour rights, predatory expropriation of poor people’s land, and destruction of the environment.

All of such policies are done in the name of “developing national economy,” but what really gets to be developed are the bank accounts of the rich and the misery of the masses. Economist Cyrus Chu of Academica Sinica recently pointed out that, based on tax data of 2017, 1 percent of the richest families alone took in over 11 percent of Taiwan’s income. He further observed that the wealthier a person, the more profit they can reap from capital assets, such as land ownership and stocks. The wealthiest 0.01 percent could make 63.94 million NTD (2.2 million USD) on a land deal, which is 32 times more income from real estate deals than the average person who has enough means to own land properties in the first place. Chu points to cosy relations between the state and businesses and the latter’s access to information as reasons for this phenomenon, which are privileges that the vast majority of the population will never enjoy.

The stagnation in material conditions reflects itself in a stale mood in society. Well before the rise of the sense of “National Doom” in response to the rapid rise of reactionary demagogue Han Kuo-yu, a mood of demoralisation with the status quo was already festering among the workers and poor. Some among them are starting to realise that there is no way out under the present system.

Without a political alternative that could channel this mood, and mobilise the working class towards taking control of society, this seething anger partially contributed to the rise of Han and the massive defeat of the DPP at the hands of the KMT in the municipal elections of 2018. This was not because the masses had illusions in the reactionary KMT, but because of their deep anger towards the DPP. For a moment, Han seemed to be replicating the same process that gave rise to his peers Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, but his fortune was only cut across by the eruption of the struggles in Hong Kong. On the basis of their rejection of the treatment of the Hong Kong masses at the hands of China, the Taiwanese masses rejected Han who is seen as being close to Beijing. Han was soundly dumped and the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen government remained in power given the lack of an alternative.

The system needs to change

But this does not mean that any of Taiwan’s social contradictions have been resolved. This is because the capitalist system in Taiwan, now helmed and guarded by the DPP government, remains intact. As long as society’s wealth and means of production are under the private control of a small minority of capitalists, which uses them only to acquire more profits, and as long as the state continues to function as an armed body of men at the service of the ruling class for the maintenance of class rule, then the class division, hardships and contradictions would remain for the future generations.

As long as capitalism and class society remains, that is, as long as a tiny minority of society maintains power over the economy and the state, nothing will be solved. What is needed is to expropriate this class and place the commanding heights of the economy - the major industries, large agricultural enterprises and the banks - under the democratic control of the working class. At the same time, the rotten capitalist state must be dismantled and replaced by a workers’ state, which is democratically controlled by the workers themselves. The only class capable of carrying out such a programme is the working class, which has the potential to operate society for the needs of the many and not the profits of the few, and abolish class oppression altogether. As the Communist Manifesto explains:

“The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property.

“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.”

The Taiwanese working class also has the potential to exercise this power. Not a wheel turns, not a phone rings, not a light bulb shines in Taiwan without the kind permission of the working class.

The role of leadership

“But wait!” our readers may ask “where is this ‘self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority’ in Taiwan that the Communist Manifesto spoke of? Unionisation rate is only 7.4 percent, and the labour movement has not played any major role in any of the social movements since democratisation.”

The issue isn’t that the Taiwanese workers aren’t willing or able to fight for themselves, but that they lack a leadership that has a perspective of doing so. Most leaders of the trade unions and labour movement in Taiwan today resign themselves to conceding to, rather than fighting the bosses through energetic strike actions. They ask the workers to abide by Taiwan’s extremely stringent labour laws, to submit to the Ministry of Labor’s arbitrations, and to not “cause trouble.” Politically, they ask workers to support politicians from either the KMT or the DPP that they deem to be “pro-worker”, rather than leading the workers to break from the two major parties of the bourgeoisie. With this losing strategy of conciliation and conceit, why would any worker be interested in getting organised?

Taiwan strike Image Taoyuan Flight Attendant Union Facebook PageThe issue isn’t that the Taiwanese workers aren’t willing or able to fight for themselves, but that they lack a leadership that has a perspective of doing so / Image: Taoyuan Flight Attendant Union Facebook Page

The situation will not be permanent, however. The exacerbating crisis in the lives of workers will express itself sooner or later, and the working class will eventually begin to struggle regardless of the sabotage carried out by the labour leaders. In fact, some important beginnings have already taken place, such as the large worker protests against the DPP’s labour counter-reforms in 2017, and the unprecedented strikes launched by the China Airline and Eva Air flight attendants in the past years, as well Zhu Meixue, the secretary general of the China Airline Employees Union, also ran as an independent “workers’ candidate” against both the KMT and the DPP in the Taoyuan mayoral election in 2018 as a first step towards building a labour party.

Around the world, even bigger class struggles are raging on. It seems as though every week a new country’s workers and youth took to the streets in the past 12 months. From the US to Europe, from Nigeria to Belarus, from Thailand to Hong Kong… Everywhere the crisis of capitalism is forcing the working class and the youth to move in the direction of revolution. The Taiwanese masses will join their class brothers and sisters in this struggle eventually.

Yet the searing lesson from all of these magnificent movements is that, despite their unmatched energy and potential, they did not have the adequate leadership to reach their logical conclusion and take power by overthrowing the capitalist system. This goes to show that in the final analysis, a leadership cannot be improvised, it has to be built before the masses decide to take the fight to the ruling class.

That is what The Spark aspires to build: a Marxist leadership that the Taiwanese workers and youth need to transform society. Building our forces to be strong enough and large enough to play that role is the task that we engage in today.

We will start with training ourselves in and spreading the genuine ideas of Marxism and how it applies to the conditions of Taiwan today, while providing answers to the most pressing questions that concern the Taiwanese workers and youths. In doing so, we will attract the most politically advanced, and self-sacrificing elements within the working class and the youth.

At the moment, our forces are small. But we have the most powerful weapon in the world, Marxist theory. It is on this basis that we will build our initial forces, recruiting and training revolutionary cadres in order to become a focal point within the advanced layers of the working class.

Internationalism

In light of the growing class struggle and the general crisis of capitalism, it is clear that the national question will play a more prominent role in the next period. Here the workers in Taiwan and elsewhere are given the false choice of one great power over another. The DPP for instance seeks to sow illusions in US imperialism, engineering the false hope that the US and its regional cronies in East Asia would somehow “protect Taiwan’s democracy.” But the US is the very same “protector” that guaranteed the KMT’s dictatorship in Taiwan when it suited its interests. Its involvement and intervention in Taiwan are solely on the basis of altering the Taiwanese trade and national defense strategy to its own benefit, that is, to increase profits, put pressure on China and defend its imperial grip around East Asia. All those politicians who demagogically call to “keep Taiwan free” are in reality only trying to keep Taiwan and the Asian working class chained to the interests of US imperialism. That has no benefits whatsoever for the working class. US imperialism is the most reactionary force on the planet and the enemy of the workers, youth and poor.

On the other hand, the KMT, despite its recent rhetorical somersaults, still represents a layer of the ruling class that seeks to place Taiwan under the domination of Chinese capitalism. But clearly, this would not solve any of the problems of the Taiwanese workers either.

The choice between allying with this or that imperialist power is a false dichotomy. It is a ruse to divert the attention of the Taiwanese masses. The real choice does not stand between China and the US, but between capitalism and socialism.

In order to achieve a truly free Taiwan, it must be free from capitalism and the ruling class. The most immediate enemies of the Taiwanese workers are those at home. All of the ruling class, its political parties, and its state, the ROC, must be overthrown and be replaced by a regime of worker’s democracy as a step to overthrow capitalism throughout the region. Taiwanese workers have the same interests as the workers of China, Japan, Korea and beyond. Only a united struggle can guarantee victory over the capitalist classes of the region with the setting up of a socialist East Asian federation of workers across nations in the region on a voluntary, fraternal and equal basis. This will then be a titanic step towards a common struggle of workers of the world in their quest to overthrow capitalism on a world scale.

As a part of the International Marxist Tendency, The Spark will be struggling alongside comrades from all over the world in building up a revolutionary organisation that works across national borders and divides. It is necessary to bring the ideas of international revolution into Taiwan and bring Taiwan into the international revolution.

This is the only way towards a future where the Taiwanese masses are truly in control of our own lives. We appeal to you to join us in this struggle. In the struggle against poverty and misery, war and conflict and all the other diseases of capitalism. Help us prepare for the great revolutionary battles of the future and the struggle for socialism, in Taiwan and beyond.