|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Tiananmen and the working class
Twenty years ago, mass protests in Tiananmen Square were drowned in blood. Over 1,000 people were killed as China’s regime sought to crush the movement for increased democracy in the totalitarian Maoist-Stalinist system. Initiated on 17 April, when 700 university students and teachers marched into the square, millions had participated in waves of demonstrations in Beijing by the time of the massacre on 3/4 June. Protests spread to over 100 cities. When workers began mobilising in support, the leaders of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, fearful for their privileged positions, sent in the army. VINCENT KOLO (chinaworker.info) assesses the significance of this historic movement.
THE GREAT SIGNIFICANCE of the 1989 movement lay in the fact that it was an urban-based movement (it barely touched the countryside), arguably the first genuine urban mass movement since the 1920s. China’s aged rulers understood and feared this development. Mao Zedong’s revolution of 1949, while it had abolished capitalism and laid the groundwork for a planned state-owned economy, had been a rural-based revolution led by a hierarchical Stalinist party, in which the urban classes and especially the working class played no active part. Despite its claim that "the proletariat is the leading class in society", the Maoist-Stalinist bureaucracy feared the awesome potential power of this class and, once its power was consolidated, systematically blocked the development of independent workers’ organisations.
The vast Chinese peasantry – 78% of the population even in 1989 – provided an ideal base for a bonapartist regime, ie a dictatorship with power concentrated in the hands of a ‘Great Helmsman’ (Mao). On the role of the peasantry, Karl Marx explained: "They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, an unlimited governmental power which protects them from the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above. The political influence of the small-holding peasants, therefore, finds its final expression in the executive power which subordinates society to itself". (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852)
It is precisely for this reason that genuine socialists from Marx onwards have always stressed the decisive role of the proletariat, organised through its own democratic organisations and a mass socialist party, in creating a truly socialist society. This is the case even in countries like China where this class is in a numerical minority and, of course, must win the support of the poor peasants and other oppressed layers. China’s future is being recast on this score. In 1989 the urban population was only 170 million, or 17.9% of the total. Today, this figure is 590 million, or 44.9%.
Workers and students
INITIALLY, THE STUDENTS went to great lengths to keep workers out of the 1989 movement. Stewards on demonstrations were told to link arms to keep workers from joining in. Maurice Meisner commented that "some of the class prejudices [of the intellectuals towards the working class] had filtered down to students as well, many of whom opposed participation of workers in the Democracy Movement on the grounds that workers were undisciplined and prone to violence. The participation of workers, it was suggested, would provide the government with an excuse to use force..." (Mao's China and After, 1999)
The students’ initial aloofness towards the working class undoubtedly also reflected the fear, at least of an influential section, that workers would steer the movement in a different direction: against the market reforms. Minqi Li, confessing his own mistaken outlook at that time, commented: "On the one hand, these workers were the people we [students] considered to be passive, obedient, ignorant, lazy, and stupid. Yet now they were coming to support us. On the other hand, just weeks before, we were enthusiastically advocating ‘reform’ programmes that would shut down all state factories and leave workers unemployed". (The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy, 2008)
The students’ scepticism on this count also flowed from their conception of their movement as a lever to influence the power struggle within the regime in favour of the radical reform (most pro-capitalist) wing around Zhao Ziyang. Accordingly, the students should do their utmost not to arouse the working class into activity. Zhao, no less than other factions in government, wanted to prevent such a development at all costs. But no mass movement – and this applies to a revolutionary process in particular – proceeds according to a preconceived plan. The regime’s arrogant and threatening response to the students and the latter’s recourse to ever more daring and defiant protest methods, triggered massive waves of sympathy among the working class and other sections of the population.
The rebirth of independent trade unionism
ON 16 MAY, a large crowd reportedly drawn from all of China’s provinces staged a protest outside the headquarters of the regime-controlled All China Federation of Trade Unions. The demonstrators demanded independent unions, the right to strike and the sacking of federation bureaucrats. In response to this pressure, the union leadership reportedly made a sizeable donation to the students’ struggle. A poll had shown the official unions were regarded as "either useless or in league with management by 70% of ordinary workers", according to John Gittings of The Guardian (UK). To counter growing sympathy for the students’ protests, the government "issued orders to Beijing factory workers, reinforced by offers of cash, to stay away from the Square". (The Changing Face of China – From Mao to the Market, 2005)
But by the time of the students’ hunger strike this strategy of trying to isolate the students had collapsed. That was shown all too clearly by the composition of the 17 May demonstration in support of the hunger strikers. As Gittings’ account shows, there were protest banners from the Capital Iron and Steel Factory, Beijing Petrochemical Company, Capital Hospital, Xidan Department Store Workers, Beijing Workers' Union, No 1 Machine Tool Factory, Pipe Music Instrument Factory, Chinese Heavy Machinery Products Factory, civilian workers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the People’s Bank of China, Beijing Electric Utilities Company, Ministry of Railways and other workplaces.
Gittings notes that this was "an even clearer signal to the watching authorities that the Party had lost control of the ‘masses’". On 18 May, a group of young workers in the square announced the formation of their own autonomous union. "We announce to workers across the country: the workers of Beijing are getting organised", they said, threatening a one-day general strike unless the students' demands were met. (Fathers and Higgins, Tiananmen – The Rape of Peking, 1989) On 25 May, the formation of the Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation (BWAF) was announced in Tiananmen Square.
Within days, some of the union pioneers were arrested, and the organisation itself was outlawed as a ‘counter-revolutionary’ force. This was an example of Orwellian doublespeak at its worst. That these workers, rather than students, were the first to be arrested prior to the massacre underlines how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders saw the threat from the working class. The programme of the BWAF, however, demonstrates beyond any doubt that the organisation wanted to defend and extend the gains of the 1949 revolution, by bringing state-owned companies under the control of the working class. Gittings, a very astute commentator on Chinese politics, explained: "It [the new union] was particularly threatening because of its overtly independent and socialist character". There could be no clearer proof that the crushing of the movement in 1989, which began with the banning of the new trade union, had nothing whatsoever to do with ‘protecting socialism’. The BWAF’s opening statement called for "the power, through every legal and effective means, to monitor the legal representatives of all state and collective enterprises, guaranteeing that the workers become the real masters of the enterprise. In other [private] enterprises, through negotiation with the owners and other legal means, the organisation should be able to safeguard all legal rights of the workers". (International Labour Reports, Jul-Oct 1989)
Gorbachev's visit – the temperature rises
THE HUMILIATION OF the Chinese leaders was complete when Mikhail Gorbachev visited China on 15 May, the first visit by a Soviet leader for 30 years. The plan had been to receive Gorbachev with pomp and ceremony in Tiananmen Square, but this was impossible. The square now resembled an ‘eastern Woodstock’, in the words of one US journalist, a sea of tents housing the hunger strikers. The strike had begun on 13 May in anticipation of Gorbachev’s arrival and the global publicity this would bring. This action was in defiance of the police, but also of a direct appeal from Zhao for the students to clear the square for Gorbachev’s arrival. Chinese and Soviet officials were forced to stage an impromptu reception at Beijing airport. There was not even time to lay a red carpet and Gorbachev never got to deliver his ‘historic’ speech. The Soviet leader’s visit marked a decisive turning point. Meisner points out: "Over those three days, popular support for the Democracy Movement grew enormously – as did Deng Xiaoping's determination to use military force to crush the movement..." (Mao’s China and After, 1999)
The hunger strike, called over the government’s refusal to concede the students’ demands, began with about 160 volunteers, but swelled to more than 3,000 within two days. This was a highly emotive tactic. "When the students went on their hunger strike, it really moved people to tears", noted the journalist Jan Wong. Placards in Tiananmen Square read: ‘Mother, we are hungry, but we cannot eat without democracy’. Others, reflecting the mixed consciousness of the students and illusions in reform as opposed to regime change, stated: ‘In Moscow they have Gorbachev. Who do we have in China?’ and, ‘We need perestroika too’. Perestroika, which was Gorbachev’s slogan for restructuring the economy along market lines, was not so different from the prescriptions Zhao and Deng were adopting in China. To paraphrase Mao, this was a case of ‘foreign farts smelling more fragrant’ – based mainly on a lack of reliable information. To many of the students, however, the main point was that Gorbachev was moving in the direction of greater democratic freedoms, which his Chinese counterparts were opposing.
The hunger strike electrified Chinese society. On 15 May, half a million marched in Beijing. On 17 May, over a million turned out, making this probably the largest mass rally since 1949. And, as we have seen, the make-up of the demonstration was an ominous signal to the regime as the students were joined by hundreds of thousands of factory and office workers, schoolteachers, uniformed police and even a contingent of 1,000 PLA cadets.
Leaders meet the students
SUCH WAS THE overwhelming support for the students that the government was forced to give at least an appearance of ‘compassion’ and readiness for ‘dialogue’. On 18 May, the day Gorbachev left Beijing, four of the five Politburo Standing Committee members (the CCP’s ruling organ) visited hunger strikers in hospital. Both Li Peng, the hardline premier, and Zhao spoke with hospitalised students in front of the TV cameras in an attempt to win over public support. Later the same day, Li agreed to another televised meeting, this time with student leaders in the Great Hall of the People. It was a clumsy encounter. Li attempted to reason with his audience: "None of my three children is involved in profiteering, not one. They are all older than you. We look at you as if you were our own children". (Fathers and Higgins, Tiananmen – The Rape of Peking, 1989)
Li could not make such a claim today. He and his sons have succeeded admirably in the business world, notably in dam construction where they are influential in a cluster of companies connected to Li’s brainchild, the Three Gorges Dam. A finance company, New Nation Great, in which Li’s wife, youngest son and daughter-in-law were all board members, was at the centre of a scandal in 1998 when it went bankrupt, owing around half a billion yuan to more than 4,000 investors. Li’s son, Li Xiaoyong, fled to Hong Kong under a false name, and now has permanent residence in Singapore, where he has a reputation for a flamboyant lifestyle and shady affairs in the property sector. Another son, Li Xiaopeng, is a top manager of the Shenhua electric power company, a subsidiary of New York-listed Huaneng Power International Inc. In 2005, Shenhua sent mercenaries to clear away hundreds of poor farmers blocking the construction of a new power plant at Shengyou village in Hebei province. Six farmers were hacked to death.
In his final encounter with the students on 18 May, Li Peng abandoned all pretence at dialogue and angrily told them: "There is complete chaos in Beijing. Moreover, the turmoil has spread throughout the country... I can state that during the past few days, Beijing has been in a state of anarchy... I hope that you students will think for a moment what consequences might be brought about by such a situation... It is impossible for us to sit idly by, do nothing. It is impossible for us not to protect the safety and lives of students, not to protect our socialist system". These words were meant for the television cameras, not the students. On the following day, Li would declare martial law. This decision had no more to do with protecting the ‘socialist system’ than with the safety and lives of the students!
Zhao’s bubble bursts
FOLLOWING HIS REMOVAL from power and long years spent under house arrest until his death in 2005, Zhao Ziyang is widely regarded as a leader who supported the students and opposed the crushing of the movement. This is a somewhat modified version of reality. It is true that Zhao attempted to lean on the movement to defeat his opponents within the government. But this balancing act proved to be too much for him. This is not, in the last analysis, down to the personal qualities of different leading figures, but what programme they represented and how this measured up to the situation of the time. The question is: Why did the majority of the ‘reform’ or pro-capitalist wing of the Chinese regime opt for ‘order’ rather than concessions?
At that time, the government and bureaucratic elite were thrown into turmoil, sensing that they were losing control over society and, increasingly, even the state. The power struggle between Zhao and Deng had become acute. China's former president, Li Xiannian, complained of ‘two headquarters’ within the party, and that this was encouraging the demonstrators.
Zhao and his supporters believed in accommodating at least the moderate wing of the students. Some of their demands could be met, he reasoned, and this could then be harnessed to speed-up the capitalist reforms by giving the government a ‘popular mandate’ for harsh attacks on living standards, which is what his programme would translate into. The hardline Stalinists, but also Deng and the majority of the ‘reform’ wing, which was the dominant group in the leadership, were more afraid of the regime’s loss of face and the dangerous precedent that would be set if they gave in to mass pressure.
In the end, it was this line that won out. Zhao became isolated within the government, his conciliatory statements about the students’ ‘reasonable’ demands seen as high treason. In fact, Zhao’s ‘support’ for the students must be qualified. Even his final tearful visit to the square on the night martial law was declared (accompanied by his secretary, Wen Jiabao, who is now premier) was actually an attempt to get the students to call off the protests. And this was not the first time. At the crucial party meeting that voted to declare martial law, Zhao absented himself on grounds of ‘illness’. These actions are not accidental, and reflect extreme hesitance and anxiety on his part that the movement was now beyond his or any faction’s control.
Militant International Review (the predecessor of Socialism Today) summed up the situation in these terms: "For a critical period the bureaucratic regime was paralysed. All the objective conditions existed for the overthrow of the ruling bureaucracy, which could have been carried through peacefully or relatively peacefully. But one decisive ingredient was missing: a leadership with a clear programme and tactics". (China: The First Act, Lynn Walsh, No.41, autumn 1989)
Could the regime be reformed?
IN BEIJING, THE police had largely withdrawn from the streets, crime was down and even the traffic was being directed by student volunteers. There were elements of what Marxists call ‘dual power’ from mid-May until the crackdown. This describes the situation when a threatened regime coexists and competes for legitimacy with a new and challenging power. Such a situation cannot exist for long. In China’s case, however, only one side was fully conscious of these realities and prepared to act. The rising ‘power’ of the masses was not conscious or sufficiently developed. The student leadership had forsworn the aim of bringing down the government. Theirs was, as they stressed throughout, a ‘reform’ movement aimed only at democratising the existing regime. A complex weave of political and economic factors meant that this reformist project was not realisable, and that only the replacement of the regime by a new government based on the mass movement – above all, on the decisive role of the working class – could have prevented the nightmare of 4 June.
The student leaders believed, and this was a fatal error, that the Chinese regime could be forced by mass pressure to accept their programme. But, for the Chinese regime, this would have meant sharing power with a host of newly legalised civil organisations, student federations, and independent workers’ unions, all with tens of thousands of by now experienced activists or cadres, and enjoying tremendous self-confidence from their humbling of autocracy. For the working class, in particular, this would have been the signal for an imminent industrial and political offensive to recoup its losses from the reform period, safeguard the state-owned enterprises and call the management to account.
The regime of Deng Xiaoping had no intention of allowing this to happen. It had seen the beginnings of an unravelling of the Stalinist state in the Soviet Union, with national republics and sections of the population increasingly challenging the centre, and concluded that a similar process in China would mean the collapse of the regime and the possible break-up of the country. "The party leaders feared that the whole edifice of communism was going to collapse", argued Washington Post journalist John Pomfret. "They needed to make a stand, and a bloody stand, to show their population and, in effect, to cow their population, back into submission."
China therefore found itself on a knife-edge between revolution and counter-revolution. In such a situation a revolutionary leadership, programme and party are needed. The students’ own leading committees played an important role in the initial phase of the movement, adopting daring tactics and launching a series of illegal demonstrations that fired popular imagination. But the situation rapidly outgrew these organisational and political forms. The student leaders lacked a clear political ideology and perspective, an understanding that it was the working class not the students that held the key to the situation, and a realisation that they were up against a regime that was preparing to use ruthless repression rather than give any ground.
TRAGICALLY THERE WAS no organised working-class political force, based on implacable opposition to Stalinism and capitalism, to step forward and shoulder this leadership role in the mass movement. The advanced workers, while sensing the situation had moved beyond one of protest into a life-and-death struggle with the regime, still looked to the students for leadership, seeing their own role as supporters of the students rather than the central force. In this we can say that the workers held an exaggerated respect for the student leaders. This is not to denigrate the latter’s self-sacrifice and dedication to the struggle. But it is a question of programme and a clear appraisal of what the next move must be.
A genuine socialist movement would have agitated in support of the students’ democratic demands, while also exposing the many myths about capitalism’s alleged attachment to democratic principles and warning that this would be the wrong road to take. Everywhere in the capitalist world, democratic rights in so far as they exist have been won by mass pressure and struggle.
Socialists gave full support to the students’ democratic demands while pointing out that they were rather vague and limited. Often these were no more than general entreaties such as ‘Long Live Democracy’, and ‘Long Live the People’. The situation demanded a more concrete and clear-cut explanation of the way forward. Regarding the right of association, the issue is fairly straightforward: socialists advocate the immediate right of all groups to operate freely, even reactionary and neo-liberal groupings, provided they are not fascist or use terrorist methods. Socialists support the freedom of the press, a very important issue in 1989, but by this we do not mean the freedom of media tycoons such as Silvio Berlusconi in Italy to buy power and influence or manipulate public opinion. Real press freedom must be based on a system of state funding – without editorial interference – to support and promote a diversity of publications and media networks. An independent media watchdog should be elected to monitor the system against abuses. Strict limits on private ownership in the media sector would be enforced as a democratic safeguard.
Agitation for democratic demands would need to be combined with opposition to the pro-capitalist reform policies and attacks on the state-owned enterprises. The socialist alternative is for workers’ organisations to elect the boards of state-owned companies, with representatives on a worker’s wage and subject to recall.
A socialist organisation would have campaigned energetically in the mass movement for these demands, which in turn would raise the issue: How can such a programme be implemented, through what type of government and social system? It would have been necessary to argue against the students’ demand for a recall of the National People’s Congress, explaining that this body is purely a talking shop under the control of the top CCP leadership. The only role this demand played was to lose valuable time and energy. Similarly, in respect to demands for reform of the government or the resignation of individuals, such as Li Peng or even Deng Xiaoping, socialists would have answered that it is necessary to elect an entirely new government on a completely different basis. What the situation demanded was the convening of a genuine people’s assembly, a revolutionary assembly, elected in free elections by the whole population and open to all parties to contest. Such an assembly must have full powers to tackle the acute social crisis, slash official salaries and put corrupt officials on trial, raise workers’ and teachers’ salaries (an important issue in 1989), increase spending on education, control prices and reintroduce food subsidies, institute a thoroughgoing review of the ‘reform’ programme under an elected workers’ and poor peasants’ commission, etc.
While the students addressed their demands to the government, to ‘make it listen’, a socialist party or organisation would have stressed the need for immediate and direct mobilisation around these demands. Committees of action needed to be built in every locality and workplace, elected from among the workers, students and ordinary citizens. These committees would embody the democratic ideals of the movement and only they could be trusted to hold elections or convene a revolutionary assembly. Rather than leaving the question in the realm of ideas, socialists would have campaigned among the students and the independent workers' groups for the establishment of such a committee of action, with the obvious starting point being in Tiananmen Square itself. A date should have been set to urge workplaces and communities to elect their representatives. This idea could have then spread to other cities and provinces.
This task was especially urgent once martial law was declared, in order to coordinate a national strike and mass mobilisation against the military intervention. The basic arming of people's militias under the control of these democratic committees would have provided a vital complement to the work of discussion and fraternisation with the rank-and-file soldiers that the workers and citizens of Beijing initiated. But the student leaders opposed this and refused offers from armaments workers and even from sympathetic soldiers because they feared this would escalate the movement beyond its character of a protest. Unfortunately, the decision to ‘escalate’ had already been taken, by Deng, and no amount of assurances to the ‘non-violent’ nature of the movement would change his mind. In the final analysis, soldiers will only disobey orders and go over to the side of the people if they are convinced there is a real intention, backed up by serious organisational steps, to change the existing order.
The working class made a late entrance into the mass movement, but once it moved it did so decisively. Unfortunately, by this time, the regime – reconstituted around Deng and his position of overwhelming force – was about to strike. This explains why it was the working class, rather than students, who played the main role in the mass resistance to the military onslaught, when hundreds of thousands thronged the streets into the night to ‘protect the students in the square’. This also explains why most of the killing took place a long way from Tiananmen Square.
It is worth underlining the fact that it was workers, more than any other social class, that bore the brunt of the military attack and the terrible repression that followed the crushing of the mass movement. Many student activists were sentenced to terms in prison or ‘re-education through labour’, but the stiffest penalties were reserved for workers. No students were executed but this fate befell dozens of workers.
Deng Xiaoping’s ‘stability’
IN CRUSHING THE 1989 movement, the Chinese regime crushed a nascent political revolution against the Maoist-Stalinist bureaucracy, thus clearing the way, not for a rejuvenation of Stalinism but for the development of market forces on a far greater scale than before. Leon Trotsky said of the political revolution: "The political prognosis has an alternative character: either the bureaucracy, becoming ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the workers' state, will overthrow the new forms of property and plunge the country back to capitalism; or the working class will crush the bureaucracy and open the way to socialism".
This process in China took a different form compared to subsequent events in other Stalinist states. In Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union this process was still unfolding and would culminate with the collapse of the Berlin wall six months after the 4 June massacre. In Eastern Europe the pro-capitalist wing of the Stalinist bureaucracy effectively attached itself to the stirrings of anti-bureaucratic revolt in order to steer these movements in a capitalist pro-market direction. The political revolution was defeated by a counter-revolution that took a ‘democratic’ form, abandoning the masses to two decades of economic shocks that are still being felt. In China the regime crushed the incipient political revolution, and did so with excessive violence, but thereby earned itself greater ‘stability’ to carry out a similar transformation. (Exactly how far this process has gone, ie whether the process has been completed or not in China, is a topic of discussion within the CWI).
June 4 was a terrible defeat of the working class in China, with effects on the working-class struggle and consciousness similar to Chile 1973 or Indonesia 1965. On national television, just five days after the massacre, Deng told the Chinese people: "Perhaps this bad thing will enable us to go ahead with reform and the open-door policy at a more steady, better, even faster pace..."
Deng Xiaoping once famously said he was prepared to kill 200,000 people if this would buy 20 years of stability. In effect, while not going quite so far, this became his governing doctrine in 1989. In so doing, Deng had ‘two birds’ in his sights. One was the defiant masses who needed to be taught a lesson, but the other was the dissenters within the party apparatus, who had, like Zhao Ziyang, openly sympathised with or encouraged the protests. Deng now addressed this layer within the party rather like Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino in the Godfather films, who tells his errant brother: "Never take sides against the family again". Since 1989 there has been an unwritten agreement within the ruling circles of the CCP not to openly air differences. Dissent is expressed cryptically and it is taboo to go outside the party in order to mobilise popular support (a feat Mao was known for).
In their excellent book, Michael Fathers and Andrew Higgins point out that the decision to use the army was "not merely to disperse the mobs from the barricades, but to create a spectacle of forceful repression so shocking that it could not fail to cow anyone within the party who had dared to sympathise with such defiance". One incident underlines this fact, when troops opened fire on ‘one of the best addresses in China’, numbers 22 and 24 in Muxidi, which were home to some of the most senior officials in the CCP. "Soldiers shot indiscriminately into Buildings 22 and 24, terrorising their inhabitants as effectively as they did those on the streets". (Tiananmen – The Rape of Peking) At least two servants were killed and several relatives of top officials were injured in this episode.
Which power emerged from the massacre?
THE PERCEPTION, WIDELY held in liberal circles, that it was the ‘hardline’ Stalinists who masterminded the bloodbath is a false one, although they are equally guilty. The balance of forces within the government, even after Zhao’s removal, was weighted in favour of those pushing for market reforms. A government reshuffle in September 1989 saw Jiang Zemin installed as president and Zhu Rongji as vice-premier and economic supremo. Li Peng retained the premiership but was an increasingly symbolic figure. Both Jiang and Zhu were firmly anchored in the reform wing but, coming into the central government from Shanghai, they were not directly tainted by the bloodshed of June. The US State Department was in no doubt over the market credentials of the post-massacre administration, reassuring the White House that the new leaders "are committed to economic reform but take a more orthodox stance on political reform". (State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, 27 July 1989)
Commenting on the disposition within the Chinese regime at that time, Minqi Li gives an explanation of why the nascent capitalist wing of the regime in general supported the crackdown: "The ‘reformers’ were actually stronger than the ‘conservatives’. But the ‘reformers’ themselves were divided on the issue of how to deal with the revolution. The Zhao Ziyang clique, terrified by the turbulent revolutionary waves, prepared to make a compromise with the liberal intellectuals. But Deng Xiaoping, as the leader of the ‘reformers’, understood that under the revolutionary situation at the time, any concession might undermine the entire existing system. Moreover, the revolutionary masses had raised the slogan of ‘down with Guan Dao’ (bureaucratic buying and selling – a kind of rent-seeking activity), directly threatening the fundamental interests of the ‘reformers’. Deng Xiaoping also knew that repressing the revolution would not break the political alliance of the ruling class and the middle class. After teaching the liberal intellectuals and the middle class a lesson, they would rely upon the ruling class even more closely. The subsequent events proved that Deng Xiaoping was correct on this point". (Capitalist Development and Class Struggle in China)
If we disregard Li’s characterisation of the bureaucracy already in 1989 as a ‘ruling class’, his analysis of the internal dynamics of the struggle is essentially correct. The liberal middle classes, including some of the leaders of the student movement, did subsequently reconcile themselves with the regime and its increasingly neo-liberal policies.
Today, China is a lot more capitalist but a lot less democratic than it was in 1989. The arguments of the liberals about the need for a capitalist economic system in order to achieve democracy have been shown to be false. This does not stop some groups even today demanding ‘more capitalism’ or ‘real capitalism’, using the same, mistaken claims that this is the way to win democratic change. The notion that a Chinese capitalist class would introduce a western-style parliamentary system has little basis in reality. The fear of the potential strength of the working class, and the inability of a profit-based system to ‘buy’ any durable stability by significantly raising living standards for the masses, mean that Chinese capitalism is far more likely to seek the protection of an authoritarian regime.
The lost revolution of 1989 must be studied by a new generation in China to insure that the ideals of genuine democracy are re-emblazoned on the banners and headbands of mass marches across the country. But, this time, the movement must have a clear goal: democratic socialism!