Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

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4 June 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the ending of the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, China. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! located the events in the context of China’s trajectory along the capitalist road and away from socialism. They signalled a crisis for the working class and the construction of socialism in China. We warned then that, ‘There is a very great danger that counter-revolution will flourish both within and without the CPC [Communist party of China] if past policies are continued.’ The reversal towards capitalism has continued in China.

The crisis of socialism in China

FRFI 88 July/August 1989

‘Between cities, messages fly through fax machines in friendly offices, and the latest stories in US and European newspapers arrive within hours. Shortwave broadcasts of the Voice of America … beam news reports in Chinese. Hotel satellite dishes draw down … virtually all the major US network news shows. When one US professor went to take a look at demonstrators, a student greeted him with this question “How much play is ABC News giving us?”’ The Wall Street Journal, 30 May 1989

As communists we strongly criticise the indiscriminate shooting of students that took place in Beijing on 3-4 June. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) operation was an expression of the crisis of communism in China, and of the failure of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to give leadership in the struggle for socialism. It threatens to undermine the Chinese people’s support for the socialist system.

The path of reform introduced by Deng Xiaoping has reduced state ownership of the means of production and distribution, diminished the role of planning in the economy and removed the state monopoly of foreign trade. Chinese foreign policy has often been opportunistically nationalistic: supporting counter-revolutionaries in Afghanistan and Kampuchea, attacking socialist Vietnam and favouring US imperialism against the Soviet Union. The result of these violations of socialist principles has been the exacerbation of class differences in Chinese society, the elevation of the market and profit motive in directing resources and the diminution of socialist class consciousness and education. In particular, urban Chinese youth have been encouraged by the Chinese government’s policies to value capitalist commodity culture above service to the liberation of the working class and humanity.

Unlike much of the British left, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! does not glorify the student movement. The students' demands for democracy, a free press, human rights and an end to corruption were abstract and given no specific working class content. There was no evidence of students criticising Deng's reformist programme from a revolutionary perspective, and no evidence, beyond the singing of the Internationale, of their solidarity with the struggles of the world's oppressed in Palestine, South Africa, El Salvador, etc. Rather, they identified with Solidarity in Poland. It is clear that counter-revolutionaries took leading positions in the student movement, and are now in refuge with imperialism in Hong Kong and the US. Several student organisations had links with pro-Kuomintang groups based in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the US, and received funds from them. A record 40,000 Chinese students are studying in the US; half from the People's Republic, half from Taiwan. Contacts have been manipulated by imperialism. Fang Lizhi, a leading ideologue of the student movement, openly anti-Marxist, said to a gathering earlier this year that he hoped ‘that entrepreneurs, as China’s new rising force, will join with the advanced intellectuals to fight for democracy’. Calls for a multi-party system and the downfall of the CPC emerged in the student movement. Until two years ago, Fang, now sheltering in the US embassy in Beijing, was a CPC member.

Nevertheless, a million people filed through Tiananmen Square in mid-May: workers, soldiers and party officials among them. Deng’s reforms inevitably generated two tendencies in the student movement: one anti-socialist, demanding the political changes that would allow an acceleration of capitalist restoration; the other, representative of the victims of this process, the working class and poorer peasants, opposed to the growing manifestations of capitalism – inflation, corruption, inequalities, etc. These two trends surfaced within the leadership of the CPC, together with a group even to the right of Deng around former General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. Their dispute paralysed the Party and worsened the confusion among students and workers alike. With no clear political line, the student movement was in danger of falling into the hands of counter-revolution. The imperialist media intervened with rumour and distortion. When the PLA acted it was met with fierce resistance; many soldiers were brutally killed. That it had to act at all is testimony to the paralysis and confusion in the CPC. Some 300-700 civilians were killed, not the several thousands that the imperialist media originally claimed.

On 13 June premier Li Peng announced that China’s economic and foreign policies would not change. The PLA’s demonstration of military power will not be enough to sure-up socialism. There is a very great danger that counter-revolution will flourish both within and without the CPC if past policies are continued.

China’s ‘Open Door’

When the Polish government bloodlessly instituted martial law in 1981, imperialism responded vehemently with wide-ranging sanctions. When it comes to China in 1989 Bush and Thatcher, promoters of death squads in Central America and Ireland, mouth a few hypocritical criticisms and proceed with business as usual. Capital is making a large investment in China; Deng Xiaoping opened the door for it in 1978 with the Four Modernisations programme.

Eighty per cent of China’s 1.1 billion people are peasants. Socialism requires a high level of development of the productive forces and a productivity beyond that achieved by capitalism. For as long as capital has a higher productivity its cheap commodities represent a threat to the development of socialist production. They provide a potential material base for a counter-revolutionary alliance between wealthier peasants, the petite bourgeois and bourgeois elements in society with imperialism. Against this must be state control of trade, and an alliance of the working class and poor and middle peasants under the leadership of the Communist Party.

When the Soviet Union launched its planned economy in 1928, its steel output was 3.3 times that of China in 1952 and its oil output 29 times greater. China had four times as many people, but produced only twice as much grain. Building socialism under such conditions was a tremendous problem, compounded by the sheer weight of peasant agriculture in the economy and the Chinese break with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. Chairman Mao Zedong’s solution, promoted during the Great Leap Forward 1957-59, and the Cultural Revolution 1966-76, was to collectivise agriculture, reduce income differentials in industry and place ‘politics in command’ encouraging the poor peasants, working class and students to struggle against bourgeois privilege. Collectivised farming would free labour for industrialisation and construction, and industry would develop at a pace determined by the modernisation of farming. Opposing Mao were those he dubbed ‘the number one and two capitalist roaders’; Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. For Liu and Deng collectivisation was unthinkable before agriculture was mechanised. A free market in land would accelerate development. At the same time emphasis should be placed on building heavy industry and the use of material incentives. Both lines face the same problem: how can enough surplus be accumulated to allow industrial investment without forcing down the level of peasant consumption, and thereby threatening the peasant-worker alliance that maintains the socialist state?

Deng’s Four Modernisations (science and technology, agriculture, industry and national defence) are designed to make China a leading industrial nation by the year 2000. They have involved the decollectivisation of agriculture, encouragement of private plots, the introduction of capitalist management techniques and hierarchies in industry, productivity bonus schemes, profit and loss accounting as measures of efficiency, the displacement of ‘surplus labour’, and the introduction of modern technology through monopoly capital investment. The importation of foreign capital was always an option for speeding up industrialisation. China’s economy has grown at 11 per cent per annum since 1982. Its share of world trade has doubled to 1.6 per cent over ten years. However, 70 per cent of that trade is with imperialism; in the 1950s a similar proportion took place with the socialist countries. At the same time, US companies have invested $4 billion in China; capital has poured in from Japan, West Germany and Hong Kong: Tootal, Pilkington, BSR, Cable and Wireless and a string of other British firms have investments. Today, state-owned industries account for less than 64 per cent of industrial output compared with 83 per cent in 1978. Taxes recouped from state-owned concerns are now down 38 per cent on 1988 revenues. Investment in agriculture fell from 11.1 per cent of total spending in 1979 to 3.4 per cent in 1985.

State control of the economy is weakening. Inevitably, capitalism has spontaneously reasserted itself, creating unemployment, inflation (now at 30 per cent), impoverishment and cuts in welfare expenditure, alongside grotesque inequalities and luxury consumption.

Capitalist mayhem

‘People regard a job as a taxi driver as better than that of a doctor, not because egalitarian principles operate in China, but because a taxi driver earns more than a doctor or a university lecturer.’ New Scientist, 3 June 1989

As central government deficits increase, provincial government revenues have grown. Regional disparities are increasing particularly between the wealthier coastal regions and poorer mountainous interior. Four special economic zones for capitalist investment have been established. In Guangdong, which neighbours Hong Kong, up to three million workers are supplied by government agencies to 60,000 Hong Kong-based companies. A young woman employed by these firms earns twice the pay of a worker in a state enterprise, but half that paid by the same firm to its employees in Hong Kong. Capital appears as a source of prosperity. Hong Kong dollars are widely used throughout Guangdong; laws modelled on those used in Japan and the US have been introduced to regulate labour and job security has been removed for many workers. Bankruptcy and taxation laws have been imported from Hong Kong, as have the customary practices of bribery, under-invoicing and buying and selling of shares as a means of extracting a portion of value without working oneself.

While luxury consumption has increased, education has been starved of funds. Almost 35 per cent of people over 15 are illiterate or semi-illiterate. Teachers go unpaid while hotels and golf-courses are built. A state employed architect, doctor or engineer is likely to earn around £20 a month. A market stall holder selling produce from a private plot earns 15 or 25 times as much as a teacher. The young woman employed by an electronics transnational in Guangdong will get about twice as much as the state doctor. University places go vacant, people do not train as doctors. Children are leaving school below the minimum age of 15 to work their family plots. Richer peasants buy up additional land, hire the labour of poorer or dispossessed peasants and spend their fortunes on imported capitalist luxuries. This alliance between a section of the population and imperialism is real and extends into the CPC itself! Little wonder that Communist Party officials have referred to themselves as running a ‘South Korean economic model’. Zhao Ziyang, now dismissed CPC General Secretary favoured by the students, was a chief proponent of the Guangdong project.

What were intended as joint Chinese state/foreign capital ventures are becoming solely imperialist capital operations; joint enterprises scheduled for several years are turning into several decades; Chinese labour increasingly produces for the capitalist market while transnationals freely exploit Chinese consumption; profits made by transnationals are entirely remitted to the imperialist heartlands.

‘Black cat, white cat, who cares, as long as it catches the mice’, Deng Ziaoping once said when asked about encouraging private enterprise as a means of development. The student protest must indicate to the CPC the dangers of trying to build socialism with capitalist methods: it cannot be done. The increasingly capitalist content of Chinese society now threatens to destroy its socialist form. China's working class is now 130 million strong. Revolutionary communists within the CPC must seek to win back the confidence of the working class and mobilise its democratic demands for power, education, health care and higher living standards against the beneficiaries of Deng's policies. Above all, they must fight to re-establish the barrier against imperialism that the socialist state served as. It was won in 1949 after 20 million Chinese workers and peasants had died fighting the imperialist armies and their Kuomintang stooges. Imperialism will gladly shed another 20 million Chinese lives if it can achieve counter-revolution.

Trevor Rayne