Australasian Spartacist No. 238
From the Archives of Workers Vanguard
The Truth About the Tiananmen Uprising
The following is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1157 (21 June), Marxist newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
The mass protests centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 30 years ago are falsely presented by the bourgeois media as a student movement for Western “democracy,” long an imperialist rallying cry for capitalist counterrevolution. In fact, as we stressed at the time, the entry of masses of workers into the protests marked an incipient proletarian political revolution against the ruling Chinese Communist Party bureaucracy. After the 3-4 June 1989 slaughter of working people and students by the Deng Xiaoping regime, millions of workers across China continued to wage mass strikes and protests, driven by anger over official corruption and the effects of “market reforms.” This underlines that the aims and class character of the Tiananmen uprising were fundamentally different from the current protests in Hong Kong.
The brittle Stalinist caste in China censors references to the Tiananmen events, ever fearful that the working class will again push to take charge of society. We reprint below our article, “Defend Chinese Workers!” (WV No. 480, 23 June 1989), written shortly after the Tiananmen massacre.
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The June 4 massacre at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square brought China to the brink of civil war. The mass outpouring of defiance heralded the Chinese proletarian political revolution against the corrupt and despised Stalinist bureaucracy. For the moment the Deng regime has weathered the storm and is now cracking down, striking first and hardest at the working class. But the decrepit bureaucratic caste, which has opened the doors of China to massive capitalist encroachment and shamelessly allied itself with U.S. imperialism, can be shattered. The central lesson of the Beijing spring and the urgent task which stands before the Chinese workers is the forging of an authentic communist party, an internationalist vanguard.
On June 15 in Shanghai, the commercial center of China and an industrial powerhouse with four million workers, the first death sentences were handed down. The victims are three workers: Xu Guoming, Bian Hanwu and Yan Xuerong, accused of stopping and burning a train which on June 6 plowed through a Shanghai crowd protesting the Beijing massacre, killing six demonstrators. On June 16, in Beijing eight more workers accused of taking part in “riots” against government troops were sentenced to die. In China judicial appeals are quickly dispatched with, and it is expected that the sentences will soon be carried out, with a bullet to the back of the neck. Families of those executed are charged for the cost of the bullet! Racist New York cops would be green with envy.
To date there have been over 1,000 arrests, including leaders of the Beijing Autonomous Student Union and the Autonomous Workers Union and their counterparts in China’s other major cities. Premier Li Peng vowed that there would be many more arrests, and called for punishment “without mercy.” Students are paraded on television wearing manacles. Arrested workers are marched through the streets with signs describing their “crimes” of “instigating social unrest” and “spreading rumors.” Commenting on the executions, the New York Times (16 June) noted: “It may be significant that they were workers, rather than students, because the Government has been particularly alarmed about the prospect of workers joining the unrest and going on strike.”
The Western media usually describes the oppositional forces in China as “the student movement for democracy.” But it was the beginnings of a working-class revolt against Deng’s program of “building socialism with capitalist methods” which gave the protests their mass and potentially revolutionary nature. Organized workers’ contingents started to participate in the marches, and it was the threat of a general strike which led Li Peng to order martial law in mid-May. Moreover, the outpouring of hundreds of thousands of working people into the streets stymied the regime’s attempted crackdown then. When the troops attacked unarmed people in Beijing on June 4, thousands of workers battled them with whatever came to hand.
Justifying the massacre to his colleagues and military commanders, Deng reportedly stated: “If we had not suppressed them, they would have brought about our collapse. I myself, and all of you commanding officers present, would have been shoved under the guillotine” (New York Times, 17 June). This bureaucracy, which grotesquely calls itself Communist, knows well that it rules in place of the proletariat. The Deng regime has more or less tolerated a “pro-democracy” student movement for the past decade. Indeed, many of the student leaders were sons and daughters of top bureaucrats.
So why the savage repression at the very first signs of working-class protest? Is it because these old Stalinists want to maintain “totalitarian” control over everything that happens in China? Hardly. After all, Deng & Co. have opened up the Chinese economy to foreign investors and local capitalist entrepreneurs, for which they have been lavishly praised by the Western bourgeois media.
The Stalinist bureaucracy, in both China and the Soviet bloc, is a parasitic caste resting upon a collectivized (i.e., proletarian) economy. Because the bureaucrats do not own the means of production, because they do not have the myriad threads of social control of a ruling capitalist class, their power stems from monopolizing political control of the governing apparatus. Since they claim to rule in the interests of the workers, they cannot tolerate any independent workers organization. Any real workers movement necessarily challenges the legitimacy of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Hence, the historic instability of China, the Soviet Union and other bureaucratically degenerated/deformed workers states.
The Far Eastern Economic Review (22 June) quotes one observer:
“This leadership is politically unstable and will remain unstable. Whatever arrangements are made now—once Deng dies it will come unglued. Everybody in China knows this. And everybody knows that everybody knows.”
The bureaucracy is rent, with those favoring a crackdown in the ascendancy over those who sought to co-opt the student protests. The army is divided as well. Despite the provocative repression, which pales in comparison to the bloodletting of the Cultural Revolution, not to mention the 1927 Shanghai massacre under Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang, attempts to organize independent student and labor groups will no doubt continue. But the indispensable condition for workers’ victory is the construction of a Trotskyist party, raising the banner of Bolshevik internationalism against the Stalinist fraud of building “socialism in one country” or “with capitalist methods.”
For Bolshevik Internationalism!
Parallel with the death sentences meted out to workers, Deng’s regime is conducting a Big Lie campaign, the scope of which is outdone only by its cynicism. The Tiananmen Square massacre “never happened,” claims Li Peng. At the same time, the Deng regime is trying to appeal to Chinese nationalism and xenophobia by blaming the “riots” on “bourgeois liberal” ideas imported from the West, while denouncing the U.S. in particular for “interfering” in China’s affairs.
To be sure, many of the students displayed illusions in Western-style “democracy.” At the same time, they repeatedly sang the Internationale, the international socialist workers anthem. But it is the Deng regime itself which has fostered illusions by its military alliance with American imperialism against the Soviet Union and its glorification of Western capitalism, while unleashing powerful internal forces toward capitalist restoration. A few years ago the president of the New York Stock Exchange visited Beijing to advise the government on setting up a stock and bond market. The head of the Bank of China greeted this personification of Wall Street with the honorific title of “elder brother.” Is it any wonder, then, that many students—who for the most part are children of the ruling bureaucracy—idealize capitalist America?
For its part, U.S. imperialism certainly did not incite the protest movement but rather was deeply embarrassed by it. The Bush White House is torn between maintaining its military alliance with the Chinese Stalinists against the USSR and exploiting the Beijing massacre for anti-Communist purposes. Thus the U.S. embassy in Beijing has harbored the pro-Western dissident Fang Lizhi while Bush merely “deplored” the June 4 massacre and temporarily restricted military cooperation with the People’s Republic. And U.S. capitalists and financiers are not about to cut back their lucrative business dealings with Deng’s China.
Nonetheless, the events of June 4 have to some degree changed the attitude of American imperialism toward the People’s Republic of China. The U.S. ruling class believes, with some justification, that the massacre and ensuing repression will greatly increase anti-Communist sentiment in China. They dream of counterrevolution in the not-so-distant future. Thus the New York Times (19 June) quotes, with evident approval, a senior Communist Party leader who predicts that “it will be the reaction to Deng in his later years that ends the system of socialism in China.” Of course, the bourgeois media always equates Stalinism with communism, and the overthrow of Stalinist rule with capitalist restoration. Yet Chinese workers want to preserve and defend the social achievements of the Chinese Revolution—guaranteed employment (“the iron rice bowl”), a stable cost of living and a relatively egalitarian society.
While the working masses of China enthusiastically supported the 1949 Revolution, they have become ever more alienated from the Maoist-Stalinist bureaucracy. The bond between the people and the Communist Party created by the revolution was broken during the Cultural Revolution—the bloody factional and clique warfare launched and manipulated by Chairman Mao. While unleashing massive demonstrations of student youth, the bureaucrats feared the spectre of workers in revolt. When Shanghai workers organized a “Workers Headquarters” at a mass rally in 1966, and 2,500 of them commandeered a train to take their demands directly to Mao in Beijing, the head of the Central Cultural Revolution Group, Ch’en Po-ta, insisted:
“As workers, their main job is to work. Joining in the Revolution is only secondary. They must therefore go back to work. They can take part in the Revolution outside working hours.”
—quoted in Neale Hunter, Shanghai Journal (1969)
Yet there remained a deep loyalty to the People’s Republic, indicated by the universal belief that the People’s Liberation Army would never fire on the people. Thus the Tiananmen Square massacre is a truly traumatic experience for China. The present repression may restore a certain surface stability to China for awhile. The working class has been forced back but has by no means been crushed. The unemployment, inflation and gross inequality spawned by Deng’s “reforms” will continue to fuel popular discontent. As Beijing tries to pay peasants for the fall harvest with worthless IOUs, famine looms. And with an estimated l00 million excess rural laborers, many of whom wander from place to place, it could provoke a mammoth peasant revolt.
The Deng regime is doddering, brittle and now widely hated. The only road forward remains the proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy, combined with socialist revolution against capitalist rule—not least in Hong Kong, Taiwan and strategic Japan. For Lenin’s Communism! For a Chinese Trotskyist Party, section of a reforged Fourth International.