Beyond Fear and Complacency

by

Notes

1. As 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.”

2. It 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.

3. Only 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).

4. The 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).

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

6. In 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).

7. As 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.”

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

9. As 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).

10. The 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.

11. In 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.

12. Löwy (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.”

13. It 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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