Taiwan Left, independentists, unificationists and radicals – Taiwan’s democracy, self-determination and the socialist project

, by  Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières, Poe Yu-ze Wan

Both inside and outside Taiwan, the research on Taiwan’s democratization has been overwhelmingly dominated by Western liberal discourses. In the mainstream liberal view, to the extent that the “most powerful collective decision makers are selected through fair, honest, and periodic elections in which candidates freely compete for votes and in which virtually all the adult population is eligible to vote” (Huntington, 1991: 7), Taiwan was no doubt democratic by 1996, a year marked by the first direct election for president (see e.g., Rigger, 1999).

Since the Kuomintang (KMT) returned to power in 2008 (after being in opposition for eight years), however, a new wave of social movements has emerged that greatly exposes the anti-democratic nature of the KMT government. For the latest example, from March 18 to April 10, 2014, hundreds of students and activists occupied Taiwan’s legislature, protesting the passage of the controversial Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) by the KMT without clause-by-clause review. On March 23, a group of protesters attempted to expand their occupation to the Executive Yuan, but were soon brutally evicted by the police. Dozens of people, including journalists and doctors, were seriously injured. An island-wide student strike followed soon afterward. The demonstrations during these three weeks were referred to as the Sunflower Movement, which involved more than half a million people in Taiwan (see particularly Harrison, 2014; Masahiro, 2014).

In view of the KMT’s pursuit of further economic (and even political) integration with China, a number of scholars and activists in Taiwan now point to the danger that Taiwan’s status as a “model Asian liberal democracy” will degenerate into an “authoritarian semi-democracy” (Fell, 2010: 195) unless the emerging “China factor” is recognized and the trend of cross-strait economic integration reversed. This article will evaluate to what extent the existing discourses on the “China factor” and its threat (or irrelevance) to Taiwan’s democratic order are tenable. The accounts provided by left-wing intellectuals and activists will receive particular attention. It will be demonstrated that while there is much to learn from the left-wing independentists and unificationists alike, the arguments by which they justify their political agendas are based on a flawed understanding of socialism and democracy. This article will propose a radically democratic approach to socialism as a basis for assessing the gains and losses of both Taiwan’s liberal democracy and the (allegedly) socialist practices in China.

A “Quiet Revolution,” or Not Quite a Revolution?

Taiwan’s democratization has often been described as a “quiet revolution” because it involved much less violence than did the political transformations elsewhere (see e.g., Copper, 1988; Hu, 1994; for a critical account see Lin, 2004; Chang, 2013). [1] Of course this can be seen as an achievement, especially if we evaluate Taiwan’s democracy in terms of formal political institutions of representation and institutionalized civil rights. [2] To borrow the succinct words of Garver (2011: 4), by 1996 a liberal democracy had been established in Taiwan, characterized by “a vibrant political system, complete with freedom of speech, association and assembly, rule of law, and competitive and fair multi-party elections that enabled the island’s citizens to choose and change their rulers.”

Nevertheless, it becomes clear now that the scope and depth of this peaceful “revolution” are in fact very limited, mainly because it has left largely intact the KMT’s ruling apparatuses, especially the huge assets that the party accumulated in improper ways during the authoritarian period. These assets are about 100 times those of the main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In 2010, the dividend income alone from these assets was reported to be US$93-94 million (International Election Observation Mission, 2012). KMT assets, a product of the authoritarian party-state, cause an unfair imbalance in financial resources and secure the KMT a massive advantage in elections (for critical discussions of the KMT’s assets see e.g., Fields, 2002; Fell, 2006: 77-8; 2007; Liao, 2012). [3] Besides, as is widely acknowledged, the KMT enjoys strong connections with the administrative and judicial systems, so much so that a number of prosecuted KMT politicians have managed to flee abroad.

These issues emerge as part of a broader problem of “transitional justice” that plagues the liberals and the left alike. As David Reid explains, the KMT has never been subject to any form of transitional justice mechanism. “The tackling of harder issues such as a Truth Commission and KMT party assets has never been realized. The DPP raised the issue of party assets a number of times while it was in power. Some accused it of using the issue simply for political gain during elections. The DPP was limited in the actions it could take because it lacked a majority in the legislature. The KMT has continually failed to make any efforts to reform itself” (Reid, 2009: 15; see also Fell, 2007, 2010; Wu, 2012a: 146).

The upshot is that some left-wing intellectuals in Taiwan (especially left-wing unificationists and some members of the radical left) tend to dismiss these issues as of secondary concern. They have been quick to focus their critique on the pitfalls of liberal democracy, apparently without considering the possibility that Taiwan’s may be an “unfinished” democracy even from a liberal-democratic point of view. Linz and Stepan (1996) notably argue that democracy is only consolidated when all significant political actors and a strong majority of people see it as “the only game in town.” On this account, Taiwan’s democracy is far from consolidated, since a pro-Beijing, cross-strait power elite is in the making that not only denies the legitimacy of the democratic game, but deliberately takes advantage of the unfair system of institutions and rules in Taiwan that privileges the KMT (for instance, its ill-gotten party assets). In short, “it is under such circumstances that the intermingling of KMT power and wealth with the interests of top Chinese leaders raises the question of whether a new cross-strait plutocracy is emerging” (Cheung, 2010: 21). Such a plutocracy certainly poses a threat to Taiwan’s democratic gains (however limited). While it is true that the criticisms of this plutocracy have originated mainly from liberals, it does not follow that the radical left should keep silent on this important issue. The enemy of an enemy may not be a friend.

Democracy in Danger? Between Fear and Complacency

As noted in previous sections, a growing number of intellectuals and activists in Taiwan are worried that Taiwan’s shaky democracy is being undermined by an ever-increasing network of political and business links across the strait. It is widely believed that Beijing is attempting to replicate the Hong Kong model in Taiwan. “Today’s Hong Kong, Tomorrow’s Taiwan” has therefore become a popular slogan in recent times (for a recent study see Kaeding, 2014).

Among the left-wing independentists, [4] Jieh-min Wu is one of the most important scholars who have attempted systematically both a “third view of China” and a grounded analysis of the “China factor” (Wu, 2012a). On the one hand, this “third view” serves to challenge the two mainstream views of China: an uncritical embrace of China (seeing China simply as a source of economic opportunities) or a wholesale critique and rejection of China (seeing China as nothing but a threat) (Wu, 2012a: 31-2, 88-9). According to Wu, both views fail to provide a sophisticated sociological analysis of the realities of China, which is no longer a “communist” state but is characterized by bureaucratic state capitalism, more or less flexible governing techniques, and the emergence of various social movements and “social subjects” (Wu, 2012a: 88-90). [5]

On the other hand, a “cross-strait political and business alliance” that has been in the making accounts for the adverse impacts of the China factor. [6] To put it simply, this alliance places Beijing in a position to intervene in Taiwan’s internal politics, thereby undermining the foundations of Taiwan’s democratic institutions (Wu, 2012a: 84). Examples include the formation of the cross-strait KMT-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) platform in 2005 and its subsequent effects, the crackdown on protests against the visit of China’s officials to the island in 2008, the decision of the Taiwan government to refuse an entry visa to the exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer in 2009, the signing of the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in 2010, the attempt of Want Want China Times Group (a media corporation owned by a pro-Beijing tycoon who denied the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 in an interview with the Washington Post) to buy up eleven cable TV service providers owned by the country’s second largest multiple-system operator in 2011, the open support of big Taiwanese corporations for the KMT’s China policy in the 2012 presidential election, and so on (Wu, 2012a: 81-7, 134-6). Importantly, the only way to mitigate the detrimental effects of the “cross-strait political and business alliance” is to form a “cross-strait alliance of civil society” that asserts such “universal values” as democracy, human rights, civility, and multiculturalism (Wu, 2012a: 55-60).

Wu’s analysis of China as characterized by bureaucratic state capitalism generally hits the mark, even though he does not dwell on the uniqueness and contradictions of China’s bureaucratic capitalism (for an illuminating analysis see Au, 2012a; cf. Shawki, 1997; Hart-Landsberg and Burkett, 2005). [7] But the point is that it matters a lot how we define the problem. Since the early 1990s, a group of liberal intellectuals (mainly economists) in Taiwan have urged the need for “dismantling party-state capitalism” (Chen et al., 1992), and their demand has been responded to by a gradual privatization of state-owned enterprises since the mid-1990s (for more discussion see Chu, 1995, 2004). Interestingly enough, Szu-chien Hsu, another leading liberal political scientist in Taiwan (also a member of the Taiwan Democracy Watch) has recently cited Dismantling Party-State Capitalism to substantiate his criticisms of China’s party-state capitalism (Hsu, 2014). Do Wu, Hsu, and other proponents of a third view of China believe that China’s future lies in further privatization of the economy, as a lot of liberals believe that economic liberalization will bring about or facilitate political liberalization? If not, they should clarify their position on what they envisage as a desirable future in China.

As for the strategic concept of “cross-strait alliance of civil society,” the problem is that it runs the risk of repeating the (in)famous “reductionist construction of a binary opposition between civil society and the state” in the 1980s by a number of dissident intellectuals in Taiwan and its “tendency to over-romanticize ‘the people’ as if there were no conflicts among them” (Lin, 2009: 231). Indeed, as Jeffrey C. Alexander (2001: 162) emphasizes, civil society is a “highly contested concept … used to both justify capitalist market relations and to legitimize social movements that oppose and regulate them.” It is thus dangerous to attribute a significant strategic value to an ambiguous concept.

Wu (2012a: 94, 138) does highlight the key role of the “progressive forces in China” and “cross-strait NGOs and progressives” in the construction of the “cross-strait alliance of civil society,” but his argument is not entirely consistent. For one thing, his critique of Taiwan’s narrow understanding of civil society is based on the observation that “publicness,” “civility,” and “civic virtue” are central to the notion of civil society but are widely neglected (Wu, 2012a: 204-7). This critique is reasonable in the context of Taiwan’s translation and reception of the concept of civil society, [8] but is also flawed because it does not deal with the Marxian critique of civil society as the arena of class conflict. Since Wu’s employment of the concept of civil society is highly normative (that is, used as a weapon to defend democratic gains), a possible line of argument would be that the state (political power), the economy (economic power), and civil society (social power) constitute three domains of social interaction and power relationships. A “civil society” thus understood excludes market relations and capitalist economic power, [9] and is afforded the potential of transcending capitalism, as Erik Olin Wright (2011, 2013) suggests.

From a left-wing perspective, it seems to me that the major problem with the arguments made by those who present the China factor as a threatening force is that their own vision of democracy is essentially limited to the confines of liberal democracy. Even Jieh-min Wu, who thoughtfully advances a third view of China and develops a careful analysis of the cross-strait political and business alliances, tends to write within the limits of the liberal democratic canon. Therefore Wu (2012a: 75, 59) writes that “Taiwan’s democratic politics have been rudimentarily consolidated after twenty years of democratic transformation and two party alternations,” and that it will be a defeat for China’s society if the “free, open and democratic Taiwan” is destroyed. Besides, he tends to restrict the notion of socialism to “social equality” (Wu, 2012a: 152) and thus severs democratic struggle from socialism. But in fact, socialism boils down to a struggle for authentic democracy (see the next section).

To do justice to Jieh-min Wu, it is worth pointing out that Wu shows a rare and valuable reflexivity about what he calls “collective anti-communist mentality” (see Wu, 2012a: 152-3). He warns that the Cold War structure produces such a mentality and that too many people in Taiwan, especially the independentists, are trapped in the anti-communist propaganda and therefore ignorant of “the values of the left.” [10] While the “communist phobia” prevalent in Taiwan is in part due to the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party in China and its image as an oppressor, the effects of the Cold War anti-communist mentality cannot be neglected. One of the consequences of this “vague fear” is that “people cannot take seriously the major changes that China has undergone since the 1949 revolution.” Wu urges us (the independentists in particular) to ask the following questions: To what extent can China still be regarded as a communist society after more than twenty years of market-oriented reforms? In what sense can the current CCP regime be labeled as socialist? What Wu implies is that we should embark on an evaluation of the gains and losses of the 1949 revolution and its aftermath from a left-wing perspective. This is indeed an important self-reflection, since the anti-communist mentality he brings to light more or less accounts for the fact that even self-avowed “left-wing” independentists often speak the language of liberal democracy when confronted with China. Unfortunately, Wu himself does not provide persuasive answers to the questions he poses.

On the other end of the spectrum are the left-wing unificationists, the most notable of whom are the Labor Party (and its various satellite organizations), founded in 1989, as well as several members of “Taishe” (the group that edits Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies). They provide a unique approach to the question of democracy and the relationship between Taiwan and China.

What these left-wing unificationists have in common is that they show little if any sympathy with any proposal of Taiwan self-determination or independence, which they consider to be a corollary of the Cold War division system between Taiwan and China. As Chen (2010: 574) puts it, the “challenge confronting the intellectual circles in Taiwan and China is to analyze historically the divided societies as one entity changing from an integrated unity, through Japanese colonization, to postwar division.” Indeed, one of the unificationists’ favorite strategic concepts in recent years has been that of “(overcoming the) division system,” a concept borrowed from Paik Nak-chung, an active public intellectual in Korea (see especially Paik, 2011, 2013).

In addition, a majority if not all of them tend to regard the rise of China (and the so-called “China Model”) as a counter-movement against and an alternative to U.S.-led globalization, imperialism, and militarism. [11] In fact they support nearly all the major policies put forward by the Chinese Communist Party, which they believe still represents the interests of workers in China and of the Third World movement worldwide. They may or may not be critical of the CCP in certain respects, but even when they are, they firmly reject the possibility that “the party has undergone a qualitative change in its class role and now is at the service of capitalism, not socialism” (Au, 2012b: 266). Concerning the controversies over the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in general and the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement in particular, the Labor Party’s position is that “free trade” between Taiwan and China will facilitate unification and benefit the workers on both sides (see e.g., Lixia Wang, 2012: 145-7). They even cite Marx’s 1848 speech on the question of free trade as a “Marxist” theoretical rationale for closer economic integration between Taiwan and China (see e.g., Chou et al., 2014).

It is worthy of note and of concern that all the values and institutions cherished by liberal democrats, such as elected officials, free/fair/frequent elections, freedom of expression and assembly, alternative sources of information, and freedom of association (see e.g., Dahl, 1998), are denounced as either “imperialist universalism” or “bourgeois democracy” by left-wing unificationists in Taiwan in the name of socialism. (Worse, they often put such labels as “anti-Chinese” and “anti-China” on all those who take the CCP to task.) Interestingly, their outright rejection of liberal democracy is sometimes joined by postmodern-oriented authors, who regard China’s experience as a valuable resource for deconstructing Eurocentric discourses on democracy and liberty.

Their understanding of socialism and democracy is best exemplified by an article of the late professor of English Yuan-shu Yen, a figure highly respected and praised by left-wing unificationists in Taiwan. Yen stated as early as 1991 that “what matters most in China is state-building. You therefore should recognize the necessity of collectivism, of socialism, and of authoritarian dictatorship” (Yen, 2013: 5-6). Another revealing example comes from Lixia Wang, a veteran of the Labor Party. In a pamphlet on Marxism, he argues that

“more and more foreign researchers and observers have discovered that the China-style democracy is becoming a new model of democracy for the world. They have found that what the China-style democracy emphasizes is “people as the masters of the country” (renmin dangjia zuozhu) rather than competition and participation underscored by Western democracy. Those trapped in the ideology of Western democracy are used to seeing multi-party representative democracy as the final goal, but it has been proved that it is the democratic centralism practiced and reformed in China, not multi-party competitive democracy, that can truly increase citizens’ political participation” (Lixia Wang, 2012: 136).

This kind of identification of “socialism” with collectivism and dictatorship, or with the rejection of multi-party competition, is widespread among Taiwan’s left-wing intellectuals who pursue unification with China. Needless to say, their understanding of “socialism” is deeply shaped by the CCP’s ideology.

It is true that “Taiwan society was subjected to the poignant ‘identitarian’ conflicts resulting from the controversy over Taiwan’s sovereign status and ethnic mobilization” (Lin, 2009: 228), but it would be too quick, as some left-wing intellectuals in Taiwan have tended to do, to dismiss such “identitarian conflicts” as purely ideological or counterproductive. What is needed is a sympathetic understanding of the “structures of feeling” (that is, meanings and values actively lived and felt as defined by Raymond Williams) that lie behind such conflicts (Horng-luen Wang, 2012). These structures generate persistent effects on people’s value judgment, moral evaluation, and ways of life. They can be explained but cannot be simply explained away.

In my view, while the radical left does not have to view Taiwan as a “sovereignty-contested democratic state” as does Wu (2002a: 51, 77), it should take more seriously the question of Taiwan’s sovereignty and (international) status before concluding that such questions are nothing but ideological distractions from the need for a radical political-economic transformation. The unificationists should particularly take account of the following remarkable words by Chaohua Wang:

“The reality is that the ROC and the PRC have lived in separation for many years and what Taiwan truly needs is a registration of this reality. Such a registration would not cancel the possibility of future reunification, any more than it has done in the case of the two Koreas: it would simply allow a more normal environment in which different possible scenarios for the island could be honestly discussed by the peoples of Taiwan and China, be it reunification or Taiwanese independence. Only such a formal registration of Taiwan’s de facto separation from the PRC could form the basis for calm and rational negotiations over the future of its 23 million citizens, with respect to their democratic rights. Confusing such a prospect with the issue of Taiwanese independence has been a widespread error in recent years. It would not represent a covert form of it, but an acknowledgment that what is—or should be—really at stake in the new Taiwanese self-consciousness is the legitimate desire for equal standing in any political negotiations with the central government in Beijing, and for these to be handled in a democratic way, free of military threats, and without preconditions over definite reunification in the future” (Wang, 2005: 100).

I agree with Löwy (1989: 218) that Marxists “must very clearly distinguish between the nationalism of the oppressors and the nationalism of the oppressed.” They have to “support all struggles for national liberation, or for the right of self-determination of the oppressed nations, even if their ideology (or the ideology of their leaders) is nationalist.” [12] Since the pro-unification, Stalinist-oriented left in Taiwan has generally opposed any form of self-determination, it is definitely important to emphasize that Taiwanese people’s “legitimate desire for equal standing” (as Chaohua Wang calls it) and their right to self-determination have to be respected. The struggle for self-determination is an integral part of the general democratic struggle. [13]

The ironic fact is that (left-wing) independentists and unificationists in Taiwan mirror each other from time to time: While the former tend to regard Taiwan’s (unfinished) liberal democracy as a model that China should follow, the latter simply dismiss Taiwan’s democratic achievements out of hand by embracing a Stalinist rejection of liberal democracy. At the risk of oversimplification, both of them are unfortunately caught in the grip of fear and complacency. The independentists’ fear of the looming threat of China is complemented by a sense of complacency over Taiwan’s liberal democratic achievements; the unificationists are worried that Taiwan’s democracy runs counter to the ideal of socialism as represented by the contemporary Chinese party-state, which they find unparalleled.

What they lack, I believe, is a vision of what Hal Draper (1992) calls “socialism from below,” that is, an understanding of socialism as democratic self-management or self-governance. The latter, which contains “an inherently democratic, social and cooperative vision of justice and human fulfillment” (Rooksby, 2012: 514), is not a simple negation of the values and institutions of liberal democracy, but their radical expansion, deepening, and transformation (see e.g., Rooksby, 2012; Wan, 2011). I will conclude this article with a brief consideration of such an understanding of socialism.

In Search of an Alternative: Socialism as a Struggle for Integral Democracy

“Despite everything that opposes social democracy and Stalinism to each other as theoretico-political currents, they nevertheless exhibit a fundamental complicity: Both are marked by statism and profound distrust of mass initiatives, in short by suspicion of democratic demands.” (Poulantzas, 2000: 251).

One of the most important lessons that can be gleaned from previous socialist experiments may be that socialism will not have a future unless its democratic impulse is elevated to primacy. Indeed, the challenge facing the left worldwide is that “only a project aimed at the radicalization of democracy could re-establish an alternative global perspective” (Coutrot, 2005). While both (left-wing) unificationists and independentists in Taiwan have little interesting to say about the question of democracy, it is time for the radical left to bring to the fore a genuine notion of socialist democracy and prioritize it in their daily political work.

I fully agree with Au (2012a: 50) that “it is time to reassert the idea of socialism as a fully developed democracy which does away with the bureaucracy by creating the conditions for the state to wither away altogether.” I believe that socialism amounts to the struggle for radical democracy, or for what Mario Bunge (see e.g., 1985, 1998, 2009, 2010) calls “integral democracy,” which is supposed to consist of environmental, biological, economic, cultural, and political democracy. As Bunge explains:

“Partial democracy, although possible, is not complete, just, nor sustainable. In particular, political democracy is not complete if individuals can buy votes and seats; economic democracy is not complete under a dictatorship imposed by the government without popular consultation; cultural democracy is not complete if the access to culture is restricted to the economically or politically privileged; biological democracy will not be complete until men share housework with their wives; environmental democracy will not be satisfied if companies, whether private, cooperative or state-owned, can freely exploit or pollute natural resources. In short, the ideal is to combine democracy with socialism. This combination could be called socialist democracy, to be distinguished from social democracy or weak socialism, which in fact is nothing but capitalism with a safety net, also called state socialism or socialism from above” (Bunge, 2010: 20).

Furthermore, under integral or socialist democracy, everyone has the “freedom to enjoy all the resources of society, as well as to participate in any of its social (i.e. economic, political and cultural) activities—subject only to the limitations imposed by the rights of others” (Bunge, 1985: 172; see also Bunge, 1998: 173, 2009: 396).

What socialists strive for is Bunge’s vision of integral democracy, which extends the principles of democratic decision-making and participation into various spheres of social life. This resonates with the demand of a growing number of left-wing scholars and activists (many of whom have been active in the altermondialisation movement) for extending the participation of citizens in decisions that affect them in all areas, especially in the economy (for recent important contributions to this body of literature, see e.g. Archer, 1995; Fung and Wright, 2003; Coutrot, 2005, 2010; Wright, 2010; Santos, 2005; Albert, 2003; Hahnel, 2005; Devine, 2002; Schweikart, 2011; Wolff, 2012). Seen in this light, Taiwan’s emerging movement against the free flow of capital across the strait can be interpreted as part of the more general demand for “democratic control of decisions on employment and investment” (Coutrot, 2005: 224), or at least it has the potential of moving in this direction. While right-wing economic nationalism does play a role in this movement, the radical left should see behind it ordinary people’s need for participation in decisions regarding the economy.

In this article I have discussed the limits of the views of left-wing forces in Taiwan. In spite of the apparent differences among them (especially between the independentists and the unificationists), few of them have provided a rigorous analysis and a reasonable evaluation of Taiwan’s liberal democracy and China’s bureaucratic capitalism from the perspective of socialism understood as radical or integral democracy. While it leaves many questions unanswered, this article is an attempt to address a manifest theoretical void that must be filled to challenge the lamentable fear and complacency that prevail among the progressive forces in Taiwan.

Poe Yu-Ze Wan

[1As Tien (1997: 124) writes, “Taiwan’s democratic transition has incurred relatively low social costs. Taiwan’s rapid democratic development has not led to significant economic decline, social unrest or serious political turbulence. … The incumbent regime is not overthrown … nor does it collapse.”

[2It is beyond the scope of this article to elaborate on the dynamics of democratic transition in Taiwan. This article will focus instead on the major challenge Taiwan’s democracy faces now and will evaluate various, especially left-wing, responses to that challenge.

[3Only a very limited amount of real estate has been returned by the KMT to the state, and the party refused to cooperate with an investigation into its assets in 2001. So far the party has been more interested in selling off these assets for profit than in returning them to the state (Fell, 2007).

[4The term used here refers to a variety of left-wing, pro-independence forces in Taiwan, from the liberal left who subscribe to some idea of social democracy to those with a more radical agenda. As for the former, the Taiwan Democracy Watch (TDW), a loosely organized group of scholars, was founded after the government’s violent crackdown on protests against the visit of China’s officials to the island in 2008, and published a manifesto titled “A Declaration of Free Men” in 2013. This declaration demands that issues associated with “people,” “human rights,” and “popular sovereignty” be taken on board with equal importance in any cross-strait political and economic negotiations. As for the latter, a number of intellectuals and activists employ the language of Marxism to justify their views on Taiwan independence. Some of them identify themselves with the intellectual tradition inspired by the writings of Su Beng (1918-), a renowned political dissident (sometimes dubbed the “Che Guevara of Taiwan”) who wrote a modern history of Taiwan from a Marxist perspective (Su, 1986). A newly formed political group called “Wing of Radical Politics,” which advocates “autonomy of sovereignty” (against China’s imperialism), “democratization of politics” (against KMT’s colonization of Taiwan), and “liberalization of society” (against economic exploitation), arguably best represents this position. It should also be noted that the term “pro-independence” here includes the stances both of abolishing the current regime of the Republic of China by enacting a new constitution and of maintaining the status quo of Taiwan as a de facto independent country. The majority of the left-wing independentists are wedded to the idea of civic nationalism (instead of ethnic nationalism).

[5Unless otherwise indicated, all translations from Chinese are mine.

[6In a commentary published on Christmas Day in 2012, Wu described 2012 as the “First Year of the China Factor” because Beijing’s influences were felt everywhere, from the presidential election to the media merger deals (Wu, 2012b).

[7As Au (2012a: 15) points out, “considering the degree of the party’s privatization of the state, the extent of the bourgeoisification of the bureaucracy, and the fact that it is the bureaucracy which constitutes the core of the bourgeoisie, Chinese authoritarian or state capitalism deserves a special name for itself.”

[8In the 1980s, “civil society” was generally understood as “folk society” in Taiwan (Wu, 2012a: 206).

[9As Varty (1997: 30) puts it, “authors, such as Marx, Polanyi and Schumpeter, have argued that it is the market that is dependent upon certain moral resources of civil society which the extension of market relations undermine and destroy.” Cohen and Arato’s work is a classic in this regard (Cohen and Arato, 1997).

[10The left-wing unificationists have systematically dealt with this mentality and its Cold War origins at least since the late 1970s. In my view this is one of their most important contributions.

[11In the words of Kang Chao, an influential scholar of sociology and a leading member of “Taishe”: “If China, as an idea that implies an appealing set of values and practices, paves the way for spiritual settlement, human coexistence and co-prosperity, or at least provides people in the region with justice, peace and dignity, then China as an idea will be the ultimate solution to the ‘Taiwan question’” (Chao, 2014: 284). It is noteworthy that what Chao proposed five years ago was the concept of “methodological Chinese” (Chao, 2009), but now his commitment to the idea of China and Chinese is less methodological than ontological.

[12Löwy (1989: 218) adds that “Marxist internationalists taking part in a movement for national liberation should keep their independence, and try to persuade the exploited popular masses of the need to develop the struggle (in an uninterrupted way) beyond the national aims, towards a socialist-revolutionary transformation. But they cannot ignore or under-rate the significance of the popular demand for national self-determination.”

[13It is not enough to stay there, however. The radical left in Taiwan has long evaded the question of evaluating the implications of, for example, Taiwan independence or federal (or confederate) arrangements for socialist struggles. Some of them adopt a passive stance of “neither unification nor independence,” a stance that is driving them away from the majority of people in Taiwan. In addition, I submit that socialists in Taiwan should also examine closely the current electoral system (a mixed-member majoritarian system) that systematically favors large political parties and coalitions. Under the current electoral system, even a moderate, progressive party like the Green Party Taiwan (the largest extra-parliamentary party in Taiwan) can hardly earn a legislative seat. It is not that the radical left should commit themselves only to electoral politics; they definitely should not. But a political system dominated by two parties does tend to shrink the space for radical politics.


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