The Tiananmen Square demonstrations began in April 1989 in support of former Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yoabang, who had been ousted from power in 1987 for opposing the harsh punishment of participants in demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1986. Hu Yoabang was seen as a party leader who supported greater democracy and freedom for Chinese workers and students. The students were deeply opposed to a campaign initiated by the Communist Party to discredit the former party leader.
The Political Revolution
This was however simply the spark that lit the powder keg of discontent that had been developing in China for some time. The students demonstrations quickly moved from a memorial to demands against corruption, greed, nepotism and arbitrary bureaucratic rule. They were quickly joined by students from around the country. Demonstrations and strikes started up all over the country. The occupation of the square became a focal point and a point of reference for urban workers who were alarmed at rising inflation and corruption. As many as one million workers and students were involved in the occupation of the square.
Contrary to Western propaganda, the demonstrations were not simply calls for "democracy", capitalism, or market reforms. Although many student leaders were pro-capitalist, there was a split in the student movement. Students and workers had gathered and sang "the Internationale", in order to show the world that they were in favour of socialism. Just before the Army arrived, using tanks and rifle fire in order to clear the square many ordinary students wanted the leadership removed. They also condemned the student "leaders" for driving the workers away from the square, for rejecting calls by the workers for a General Strike and refusing the offer of arms which came from workers' delegations from the munitions factories.
The Tiananmen Square demonstrations were in fact the first groping of the Chinese working class towards the political revolution in China. Workers in Beijing formed the Beijing Autonomous Workers' Federation (BAWF), which had a revolutionary proletarian instinct as to the direction the struggle should take. It is barely reported in the Chinese or Western press even today, that it was this force that was the primary reason why the military intervened so heavy-handedly on June 4th 1989. This organization, which represented the awakening of the Chinese proletariat as well as its independence and revolutionary spirit caused panic and fear amongst the top layers of the bureaucracy, who eventually decided to crush the growing revolt. The BAWF called for workers' control of industry, and urged the soldiers in the Chinese People's Liberation Army to turn their guns on their oppressors. A declaration issued by the organization said that the workers would use all peaceful means including strikes to achieve their goals, and added, "With our blood we will reconstruct the walls of the Paris Commune".
The BAWF attained widespread support amongst the population of Beijing, and was the main reason that the Party tops decided to crush the demonstrations. Student participation had dwindled, but the Party feared an insurrection on the part of the workers. BAWF had transformed the character of the student movement in a few weeks and after martial law was declared they were effectively challenging for state power. Attempts were made at a peaceful resolution, but the demands of the students and workers effectively would have meant the end to the absolute control of the bureaucracy.
Backward soldiers had to be brought in to Beijing from the provinces to quell the revolt, and yet some 110 officers and 1,400 soldiers refused to fight. The citizens of Beijing were deeply opposed to the entrance of troops into the city and there were clashes between and workers and troops. Roadblocks were erected as the troops made their way to the square.
The crushing of the occupation of the square was brutal. It was the workers and members of the BAWF that suffered the most vicious repression, as Deng and the party wanted to teach the workers a lesson and show them who was boss. It is unknown how many people were killed in the assault on the square, estimates range anywhere from 500 to 10,000.
The Party fears Tiananmen
To this day, the Chinese Communist Party fears the memory of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. The protests are still officially labeled as a "counter-revolutionary rebellion". Information on the protests is hard to come by and has been suppressed. The Communist Party has tried in vain to suppress all memory of the events. As the date of the 15th anniversary approached, authorities in China stepped up patrols and added plainclothes officers to monitor the square. No public demonstrations would be allowed, except in Hong Kong, where there is anger the government will not allow elections in 2007. Most of the remaining activists involved in the demonstrations 15 years ago have been removed from their homes or put under house arrest, for fear that they may stir up trouble. Many involved are still serving long jail sentences, and the exact whereabouts of many are unknown. Zhoa Ziyang, former Communist Party chief in 1989 who was purged for his opposition to the crackdown, and who had warned student's of the decision on the part of the government to attack the square, still lives under house arrest. His former aid, Bao Tong, who is still struggling for the rehabilitation of the victims of the repression and those in jail, is still under tight surveillance.
The Communist Party fears the memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre as it could once again be the spark that sets off a mass movement. The situation in China today is explosive.
Since 1989, the Chinese Communist Party has made large strides towards the restoration of capitalism in China. This has caused widespread social inequality in China, resulting in a massive wave of strikes and demonstrations over the past few years. It was reported that there were 1,500 protests and demonstrations in Sichuan province last year. In 2002, there were some 1,300 demonstrations organized by student groups and the Young Communist League, as well as 2000 student meetings not authorized by campus authorities.
Over the past few years there has been a massive rise in worker strikes and demonstrations. This is a result of the shut down and bankruptcy of mainly state run enterprises, which leave the workers with no job transfers or prospects of finding a job, and no severance packages. In February 2004, an estimated 2,000 workers and retired workers from the Tieshu Textile Factory in Suizhou began public demonstrations in their ongoing struggle to recover unpaid benefits and against corruption at the factory. The workers have blocked railroads and there have been several bloody clashes with police. Oil workers have been protesting against the China Petroleum and Chemical companies treatment of them. Taxi drivers in Dazhou (Sichuan) have been staging sit-ins and taken strike action several times upon hearing that their certificates were to be revoked and sold at an auction. In March 1,000 winery workers demonstrated, and blocked railways, against company restructuring and layoffs (more information on workers strikes and labour disputes can be found at China Labour Bulletin). Police in Liaoning Province, have claimed that there have been 9,559 strikes and demonstrations involving some 860,000 people between January 2000, and September 2002. Chinese workers have accepted the movement towards capitalism through gritted teeth, but their frustration and anger is beginning to boil over.
The Movement Towards Capitalism
These demonstrations have been the results of the pro-capitalist policies of the government. Peasants and workers in state run farms and industries have been hit hard as state owned industries are sold off, and restructured. There have been millions of lay-offs and sackings as China moves from its state-planned economy and initiates market reforms. It is estimated that there are 150 million unemployed in China. Wages have been slashed and there are next to no rights for workers. The situation is not much better in the private companies, which attract foreign investment due to the low wages they offer foreign imperialism.
This past March, the National People's Congress approved constitutional changes designed to "encourage, support and guide the development of non-public economic sectors". The Congress was also asked to approve the Three Represents of former CPC leader Jiang Zemin, which are clearly meant to provide the theoretical justification for the CPC's current moves towards capitalism. The government now talks about the private sector supplementing the state-owned sectors, and talk openly of "market socialism". What this means in reality is that the state-owned industries, still mainly in steel, textiles, and resources, provide cheap goods to the private sector and to foreign companies, who in turn make massive profits on selling these products to the West. The state-owned companies are under-funded, and there is little investment, meaning that many are either shut down, or swallowed up by the growing capitalist enterprises in the country.
The Congress was also asked to approve a clause which claims that "citizen's lawful private property will not be violated". This added to a clause which already assures the right to private property and the right to inheritance.
The People's Daily has claimed that the non-public economy now contributes to half of China's national economic growth, which has been at about 7% over the past few years.
There has been a big shift to allow capitalists and bourgeois elements in the CPC since July 2001. It is now declared that "proprietors of private enterprises are builders of socialism with Chinese characteristics". However, this was simply bringing the party up to date with the real situation. In 1993, 13.1% of "private business people" were CPC members. This had risen to 29.9% in 2003. These wealthy elite are now beginning to take important positions in the party. Two presidents of the Federation of Industry and Commerce, the capitalists' exclusive club, Xu Guanju, and Yin Mingchan, two of the wealthiest people in the country, and owners of some of the wealthiest companies, have become vice-chairpersons of the CPC in their respective provinces. In a one party state, they clearly recognize that in order to further their aims and protect their interests it is best to work in the Party.
China launched its stock market in 1991, and since then there has been a move to allow private companies into sectors previously closed to them, such as infrastructure and public utilities. Since the early 1990s, there has been a campaign to transform these state-owned companies into shareholding companies. According to a report in November of last year, China's registered "private entrepreneurs" rose from 238,000 in 1993 to 2.435 million in 2002. The number of workers employed by these rose from 3.7 million to 34.1 million. In January, it was reported that China's private firms had risen to 2.96 million, with assets totalling over 3.35 trillion yuan (US$405 billion). They now contributed 23% of GDP in 2002.
It is clear that China's ruling bureaucracy watched the events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc attentively. A section of the party would like to go down the road of capitalist restoration, but they would like to maintain control, and not go down the road of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc. It is also clear that the developing layer of bureaucrats and capitalists who have enriched themselves off the market reforms and introduction of capitalism into the economy recognize that this is best guaranteed through the Communist Party.
There are dangers however. The privatisation and restructuring of China's state-owned companies have destroyed the livelihood of millions of workers. As Fing Nang, deputy director of the Institute of Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, one of China's main policy think-tanks said in March: "Marxism is about the elimination of private property. Today, we are going to turn around and recognise private ownership and protect (private property). People feel very emotional about this, 'So what was our revolution about? All that loss of life and sacrifice was about what?' That's why people find it hard to accept that we are protecting private property."
In 2002, China was the largest recipient of foreign direct investment, with inflows to the tune of $53 billion. The economy is growing at 7% a year. But this cannot last. Credit accounts for 38% of China's GDP. The US saw China as a massive market where it could dump its products. China's imports have been growing faster than exports, about 40% compared with 30%. They didn't foresee that China itself could become a major exporter. The Chinese currency is directly pegged to the US dollar, and China has found the US and Latin America a market where it can dump its cheap goods. The US now accuses China of exactly this, and has blamed China for the loss of 1 in 3 manufacturing jobs in the US. China has been accused of economic attack. Recently, the US has devalued its dollar in the hopes to boost production and exports, and export unemployment. This is a direct attack of China, in the hopes that Chinese exports to the US will drop in favour of US products.
Over the past period there have been a whole series of disputes with the US - over exchange rates, trade deficits, the WTO. The regime in Beijing treats these very seriously, because an economic downturn would cause more job losses and economic ruin for millions, which in turn would cause further unrest.
This is why the bureaucracy fears the memory of Tiananmen and any discussion on rehabilitation of the victims and the imprisoned. As workers demonstrations and strikes increase, elements in the CPC would like to wipe out any memory of the revolutionary struggle of the Chinese workers and BAWF. They fear a new revolutionary movement of workers, who could draw upon the experiences and the lessons of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations to further their struggle for genuine socialism.
An open discussion on Tiananmen could split the party, because some top leaders who were involved in, or who benefited from the crackdown are still alive or in power, and there are some in the party who would like to see rehabilitation. There are already tensions in the party, as there are those who are profiting from the capitalist reforms who obviously support the move towards capitalism, and those who are opposed and would like to reverse the incursion of capitalism.
The direction that the CPC takes in China will de determined by the world economy. As long as capitalism looks good on a world scale, the pro-capitalist elements in the Party will be encouraged and continue with the move towards capitalism. If there is a downturn in the world economy, or a crisis in China itself, the elements in the party in favour of the state-owned industries may carry the day and reverse some of the initiatives towards capitalism. However, and economic crisis in China would unleash powerful social forces. The workers and peasants have allowed the move towards capitalism in the hopes that their lives will improve. If these hopes are lost, they could move quickly in a revolutionary direction, similar to the events at Tienanmen Square in 1989. The Party fears this, and would like to wipe out all memory of the events. For the Chinese working class, they must return to the traditions, and draw the necessary lessons, that will enable them to organize themselves into a revolutionary organization, like the BAWF, which, with a revolutionary leadership can carry through the political revolution in China and make the move towards a genuinely socialist China. A revolution in China would be an inspiration to workers all across Asia and be the spark that leads to revolutionary movements all across the region, which would lead to the establishment of a socialist China as part of a Socialist Federation of Asia.
June 4, 2004
- Mass Demonstrations in Hong Kong - The choice before the pro-democracy movement By David Hughes (July 16, 2003)
- Wang Fanxi - Chinese Trotskyist, 1907-2003 By Rob Sewell, (January 2003)
- 10 years on: assessing Tiananmen today By Heiko Khoo (May 25, 1999)
- Splits at the Top, Revolt from Below By Heiko Khoo (May 24, 1999)
- The Reform of State Owned Industry "Smashing the Iron Bowl" (Qiu Lihua, 1997)
- China: after the death of Deng By Rob Sewell (February 20, 1997)
- On the 5th anniversay of Tiananmen Square: Where is China going? Socialist Appeal editorial board, June 13, 1994