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Reflections on Tiananmen Square and the attempt to end Chinese socialism

By Mick Kelly |
June 4, 2019
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Minneapolis, MN - June 4 marks the 30th anniversary of the 1989 anti-socialist turmoil in Beijing’s famed Tiananmen Square and the decisive moves by the government of the People’s Republic China to confront counter-revolution. The U.S. State Department, the corporate media (and some unthinking people who parrot their lies), will speak about a ‘massacre’ that never happened, and use the opportunity to breathe some life into an anti-communist paper tiger that has lost its power to compel or convince.

Looking back at the events of 1989 - and this might seem strange, or bizarre even - many leftists at the time were confused by that year’s events in China, and some even took the side of the turmoil. It was not unusual the hear things like ‘the pro-capitalist student movement was leading an effort to ‘improve socialism.’’ There was a tendency on the part of Western communists and progressives to imagine a movement that had as its aim the creation of an economic a political system that was akin to the U.S., and that was somehow democratic and socialist.

It is very difficult for any person who cares about facts to defend that position now. After the crackdown on counter-revolution, unsurprisingly, many of its leaders fled to the West, where they wrote books and did interviews with the press, making no attempts to keep the truths about their movement hidden. They were proud of their ultimate aims, a Western-style market economy and a Western style ‘democracy.’ They did not talk about reformed or improved socialism, instead the spoke with pride about waving the red flag to oppose the red flag, of singing the communist anthem – the International – while opposing socialism. None of this is a secret. Anyone with a library card can find these things out.

While it’s right to say that this reactionary and privileged student movement had a few red trappings, it had plenty that were not, foremost being a near replica of the New York City’s Statute of Liberty dubbed the “Goddess of Democracy.” Looming over Tiananmen Square, organizers of the turmoil had the statue face the large portrait of Mao Zedong – to, in their words, “confront him.”

Like in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, China’s turmoil drew from several wellsprings. The socialist countries were and are not utopias. Class struggle continues to exist. The economies need to be developed. Communists are not perfect. From time to time they make mistakes, and there are domestic reactionaries with their foreign supporters who try to take advantage of that.

In People’s China, like the former USSR and other socialist countries, a considerable section of the leadership of the communist parties, who sat at the commanding heights of power, had become revisionists, they changed up Marxism in such a way that it was no longer revolutionary or socialist, and tiring of it, they abandoned Marxism all together.

At the first sign of right-wing, reactionary movements in streets, some erstwhile communists in China and Eastern Europe encouraged and joined them with all speed they could muster.

The reason why China’s reactionary student movement was so dangerous to socialism was not because it was super clever, thus leveraging wider societal support. It was a threat because of the backing of top leaders of the Communist Party – notably its General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. This is precisely what led to the fighting in Beijing and other Chinese cities. At stake was a basic issue – who was going to run China?

One aside is that, like the leaders of the reactionary student movement, party head Zhao Ziyang went on to write a book that was published in West. In it he bluntly declared his support for China’s right wing, advocating a Western style market economy and political system and an end for the leading role of the Communist Party.

One of the enduring myths spread in the West is that of peaceful students suppressed by force. Before the events of June 4, right-wing demonstrators obtained some weapons. As the events in Beijing and other cities began to spin out of control, the relative restraint excessed by troops was followed up by widespread fighting that produced casualties on both sides. No convincing evidence has ever been presented that anything like a massacre took place in Tiananmen Square, and, after 30 years of non-substantiation, if can be said with certainty, it just did not happen.

Writing on these events 30 years ago I stated, “The question of China is an important one. The liberation of more than one-fifth of humanity from U.S. imperialism in 1949 remains the most significant people’s victory in the post-World War II period. An understanding of the nature of China is basic to any analysis of the international situation and the prospects for war and peace. Finally, the way we see the events in China will impact how we see our tasks in this country. It can be said that China poses the question, ‘Will we be revolutionaries?’ – committed to the destruction of the existing order and the establishment of people’s rule – ‘or will we be social-democrats?’ – complicit in the anti-communism of our enemies?” This still hold true today.

To read more about the events at Tienanmen Square click here.

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