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Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the June 20, 1996
issue of Workers World newspaper
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CHINA'S TIENANMEN SQUARE:

HISTORY CLARIFIES WHAT HAPPENED IN 1989

By Andy McInerney

It's been an annual event since 1989. Beginning in May and through June, the big-business media in this country open up a campaign against the Peoples Republic of China.

Usually they target some supposed human-rights violation committed by the Chinese government, and threaten to end normal trade between the United States and China-called "most favored nation" status.

The occasion for the yearly anti-China campaign is the anniversary of the suppression of the Tienanmen Square demonstrations on June 4, 1989. This year, PBS-TV commemorated the event by showing a film, "The Gate of Heavenly Peace," purporting to be a documentary of the events.

Many students had been camped in Beijing's central square for weeks, demonstrating under the banners of "democracy" and "freedom." Their most prominent symbol was a large figure resembling the Statue of Liberty.

The Chinese government negotiated with student leaders, but the demonstrations grew. Troops were finally called in. At first they were unarmed. There were excited rumors in the Western press that the Chinese leadership and even the army were split over what to do.

The troops were issued arms on June 3 after some students took some soldiers hostage. On June 4, the demonstration changed from a peaceful protest to violent attacks on the soldiers. Then, the Chinese government condemned it as a counter-revolutionary rebellion and used military force to quell it.

There was immediately a worldwide media campaign condemning China and characterizing the events as a massacre.

THE BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT

Many things have happened in the last seven years. They should compel those in the progressive movement who were skeptical or hostile to the Chinese leadership's assessment at the time to reconsider their views.

In 1989, there were still the Soviet Union and its socialist allies in Eastern Europe, although they were already weakened by President Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika reforms. Gorbachev was actually invited to visit Beijing during the Tienanmen demonstrations. He talked to some of the students in what was a conciliatory gesture by the Chinese authorities.

Today, there is no Soviet Union. The reforms Gorbachev began led to the break-up of that vast country. The consequences were devastating for the workers and farmers of so many different nationalities who had been bound together by a socialized economy.

A tiny handful have become fabulously rich while the vast majority face poverty. That situation is being repeated across Eastern Europe where pro-capitalist forces usurped political power in the former workers' states.

Would China have shared this fate had the "democracy" movement triumphed? During the Tienanmen demonstrations leading up to the June 4 violence, student leaders carefully concealed their political program behind abstract slogans of "freedom and democracy."

Given the number of students involved in the demonstrations, there were undoubtedly many political trends within the movement. But there was a dominant leadership group, and it had nothing to do with building democracy for China's vast majority of peasants and industrial workers.

That has become clear from many interviews with acknowledged leaders of the student movement. They were the most vocal expression of a growing bourgeois, pro-imperialist current in China that wanted to end socialism altogether and turn to the capitalist world market.

`THE PURSUIT OF WEALTH'

For example, Chai Ling, who the students recognized as the "comman der-in-chief" of the Tienanmen demonstrations, gave an interview to Western reporters on the eve of the June 4 riots. In the interview, first aired in the "Gate of Heavenly Peace" film, she says her goal was to provoke the Chinese Communist Party into attacking the demonstrations.

She says she hoped it would galvanize the Chinese population to overthrow the CCP.

Overthrow the Chinese Communist Party? That would have been news to many of the participants in the student demonstrations. In fact, she wept during the interview, describing how bad she felt that she could not explain her real plans to the students.

Of course, it was not news to all the students. Wuer Kaixi, another student leader interviewed for "The Gate of Heavenly Peace," said the student movement was for the right "to wear Nikes."

This leader didn't seem to be confused about what "democracy and freedom" meant-it meant the right of Western corporations to plunder the Chinese market.

Another student leader, Wang Dan, said in the days before the demonstration was dispersed that "the movement is not ready for worker participation because democracy must first be absorbed by the students and intellectuals before they can spread it to others." In a June 4, 1993, Washington Post interview, he was even more blunt.

"The pursuit of wealth is part of the impetus for democracy," he said. "The south," referring to the region in China where capitalist enterprise has gone the furthest, "is China's new hope."

Western capitalists understood this orientation toward capitalist democracy. The Voice of America broadcast countless hours of propaganda supporting the demonstrations. Corporations like AT&T spent millions of dollars providing fax machines and long-distance calls to the United States.

What would have been the effect had the student demonstrations contributed to fracturing China's socialist government, which had already gone through decades of internal struggle over what road to take? At the time, only speculation was possible.

Now, you have only to look at the collapsed Soviet Union for a measure of the human destruction such a counter-revolution would wreak. In China, a developing country with over a billion people, the devastation would have been magnified 10-fold.

The CCP had introduced some capitalist market reforms after Mao Zedong's death, when the grouping around Deng Xiaoping assumed Party leadership. These reforms, which allowed many of those who had been purged during the Cultural Revolution to return to privileged positions, had encouraged "pragmatism"-meaning learn from the capitalist countries.

Many Chinese youths were sent to study abroad, where they enjoyed luxuries unthinkable in China. The reforms helped create the social basis for the student demonstrations.

But even with the economic changes that have taken place in China, the CCP continues to be rooted in socialized property. The state-including the People's Liberation Army--remains an obstacle to complete capitalist restoration in China. It has also prevented China from being broken up into different pieces to be sold to the highest corporate bidders.

A BATTLE, NOT A MASSACRE

A factor that eroded the solidarity of many progressives with the Chinese government at the time was the imperialist media's mass campaign to portray the suppression of the riots as a "massacre." In the weeks following the movement's defeat, there was endless speculation claiming that thousands-even tens of thousands!--of students had been killed in Tienanmen Square.

These portrayals have been proven false.

In fact, even bourgeois reporters have admitted there was no such massacre. As early as June 13, 1989, New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof reported that no students were killed in the square-that the fighting occurred in the streets leading to the square. At that time, Kristof wrote that "there is no firm indication that troops fired on students" occupying Tienanmen Square.

Elaborating on that report, in a Jan. 16, 1990, article, Kristof related how pop singer Hou Dejian, who was present throughout the night as the square was cleared, "had seen no one killed in Tienanmen Square." He said that at 5 a.m. on June 4, the 3,000 students remaining in the square marched out peacefully.

In the same Jan. 16 article, Kristof estimated that hundreds-not thousands or tens of thousands-were killed. The Chinese government reported that 300 people were killed, roughly half students and half soldiers.

The number of casualties and their location is important because the media have given everyone the impression that Chinese government troops gunned down peaceful demonstrators in the square. In fact, the casualties took place in the outlying streets, where small detachments of armed students and others fought, sometimes hand to hand, with the People's Liberation Army.

Television footage shows rioters firebombing tanks and buses full of soldiers, dragging them out and beating them. Some were burned alive in the vehicles. These soldiers were not some hardened fascist force, but young peasants recently recruited from the countryside.

A June 5, 1989, Washington Post report described how the rioters organized into squads of 100-150, armed with chains, Molotov cocktails and iron clubs, to meet the PLA. PLA soldiers had been unarmed in the days leading up to the decision to clear the square.

In other words, the June 4 events were a battle-not a massacre.

To this day, Western powers are doing everything in their power to dismantle the Chinese workers' state. The continuing capitalist reforms in China mean there is a growing-if still relatively small-bourgeois class in China with which the imperialists can find common cause.

Leslie Gelb wrote a Nov. 13, 1991, New York Times column about a plan to suck the industrial zones of coastal China into the imperialist orbit. Citing a report by then-Secretary of State Howard Baker, Gelb said "the southern provinces and Hong Kong ... along with Taiwan could demand self-determination."

The United States, he wrote, would not be "above using the implied threat of separatism" against China. The recent Taiwan election revolved around this threat-first formulated by the State Department.

The U.S. capitalist class is very aware of its class interests with regard to China. Those who aspire to give leadership to the working-class struggle here need to be able to unmask the high-sounding pretensions of the imperialist pirates and defend the great achievements of the revolutionary Chinese workers and peasants.

Their sacrifice and struggle wrenched China out of semi-colonial slavery and set it on the road of socialist construction. The bourgeoisie has made important inroads there, but it has not been able to dismantle the Chinese Communist Party, the state or the socialized industry. These stand as a barrier to China being carved up and gobbled down like the former Soviet republics.

- END -

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