By a commentator for Tjen Folket Media.
Updated June 5, 2019
Today, June 4, marks 30 years since Chinese authorities cracked down on political unrest in 1989. In the Spring of 1989, China was characterized by protests and demonstrations. These were oriented against the authorities and had several sources of inspiration. Deep within the ruling “communist party” there had been powerful forces for change, generally leaning towards liberalization.
In the aftermath of the protests and particularly after hundreds were killed by the military in the riots in Beijing around June 4, 1989, a number of party members were arrested. The party’s general secretary Zhào Zǐyáng, the former prime minister who oversaw major capitalist reforms in the country, was among those arrested and was placed under house arrest for 16 years until his death.
The underlying context for the riots in China was the enormous political and economic upheavals in China after 1976. In a counterrevolutionary coup in 1976, the Hua-Deng clique seized power in the country. They arrested or killed revolutionary leaders, among them Mao’s wife and close comrade. They abolished the proletarian dictatorship and socialism. They reintroduced capitalism and put in place major capitalist reforms. Welfare programs were crushed, worker’s rights canceled, people’s communes dissolved, multi-national companies were invited to the country and “made in China” soon became printed on cheap consumer goods throughout the world, primarily in the US and Europe.
The great people’s rage raised itself against rising food costs, inflation, falling real wages, and corruption. All the result of capitalist reforms and the developments in China after the counterrevolutionary coup in 1976.
The immediate context of the riots was the upheaval of the power relations between the major imperialist powers. The Soviet Union had its “Vietnam” in Afghanistan, where the social-imperialist military power was defeated by guerrillas in the mountainside. The Soviets were in a protracted and expansive economic crisis. Under Gorbachev’s leadership and under the monikers of “Glasnost” and “Perestroika”, this superpower was on the decline. After forty years of rivalry with the US, the Soviet Union was at a crossroads. China saw this and feared the developments in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, there were powerful forces in both the Soviet Union and China that wished to enter a closer partnership with the US. This was particularly true for the most reform-willing and among many petit bourgeois elements.
The underlying context is primary and the immediate context is secondary when considering the cause of the discontent and riots in China. These were riots and protests without a centralized leadership. Therefore there were many contradicting positions and class interests in play. There was a clear tendency for orientation towards the West, openness to the US, and a multi-party system used in most Western countries. This was primarily a liberal and petit bourgeois tendency, but also found sponsors at the top layer of the Chinese state. Boris Yeltsin-types, who aligned themselves with US-imperialism to get rich or those who had a naive faith in neoliberalism. But another tendency could also be described: worker’s protests and protests that wanted to go back to the socialist way, to break from the capitalist reforms and the revisionist regime.
Today, one can see both of these tendencies among the state’s opponents, in addition to nationalist movements among minorities, particularly in the outer parts of China like Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang with its large Uighur population.
What really happened in June 1989 is contested. For instance, there is a dispute about how many were killed. In the West, one hears much about the massacre at Tiananmen Square, but most sources indicate that there were relatively few deaths at the actual location. On the other hand, many were killed on their way to demonstrations in adjacent districts. The death toll varies greatly: from 180 to 10,000, according to various sources cited on the Wikipedia page for the incident. Among them is a reference to an Amnesty International report which states that there had been well-organized student demonstrations where The Internationale was sung.
NRK had reporters in China at the time, who today say that they witnessed dead demonstrators lying among bicycles being run over by tanks.
The leadership of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) released a June 1989 statement on the regime in China and the incident in the Spring of that year:
Down with the Blood-Soaked Capitalist Regime in China!
In this statement they write that a worker with a Mao pin on their jacket told reporters at Tiananmen Square that:
The problem is that the masses are no longer the masters of society in China.
Such is the situation. After the protests, the revisionist clique centered around Deng Xiaoping tightened their grip around the party and the state. The later developments in the Soviet Union created additional panic that their path towards becoming a major capitalist power could be halted by internal conflicts. Despite the image of China that we are presented with, the system is not stable. The regime is far from secure. They sit on a razor’s edge, and that’s hardly a comfortable place to sit for very long…
The Chinese Revolution liberated a billion people from imperialism and they marched quickly and with great leaps towards communism, at the fore for the world’s proletariat and oppressed peoples. The coup in 1976 hindered the forward march temporarily, but all over China one can see tendencies towards struggle. All over China there are protests and strikes. The capitalist regime lives on borrowed time and will soon be swept away so that the march forward may continue.
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