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Upheaval in China!

By Tom Barrett and Xiao Dian

An F.I.T pamphlet



Bloodbath in Tiananmen Square

By Tom Barrett

Chinese Students Change the Course of History

By Tom Barrett

Call to Form a Coalition of Self-Governing Workers’ Organizations in the Capital

For a Thorough Antibureaucratic Revolution

The Signature Campaigns for the Release of Political Prisoners in China

By Xiao Dian

All of the materials published in this pamphlet originally appeared in the monthly magazine Bulletin in Defense of Marxism, which is published by the Fourth Internationalist Tendency, a Trotskyist organization working for revolutionary-socialist unification in the United States. The article Signature Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners in China originally appeared in Issue No.64 (June, 1989); all the other articles originally appeared in Issue No.65 (July-August, 1989).

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Bloodbath in Tiananmen Square

By Tom Barrett

On June 3, 1989, the most inspiring mass struggle in many years, the Chinese student sit-in in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, ended in a bloody massacre. The worst fears of everyone who is trying to build a humane society on this planet were realized as about 10,000 soldiers in tanks, armored personnel carriers, and on foot moved in to occupy the world’s largest city square. They shot everything that moved.

In order to carry out the attack, the bureaucracy had to bring in the 27th Army from Inner Mongolia, a division which is personally loyal to Yang Shangkun, an 82-year-old conservative military leader who holds the ceremonial post of president of the People’s Republic. Military divisions which have, over the past six weeks, refused to carry out attacks on the students reportedly clashed with the 27th Army troops, even raising the specter of civil war for a period of time. As of now, the government seems to be in control of the situation. Very little is clear, however; things still change from day to day, indeed, from hour to hour. The only conclusion one can draw with certainty is that the June 3 massacre failed in its mission to put an end to the struggle for democracy.

In China’s unhappy twentieth century, there have been many massacres; it is possible that 1989’s may rank as far from the worst. That is of little consolation to the families of the 500 to 10,000 – no one really knows – who have been killed, or to the hundreds of millions who saw in the student protest the hope for a democratic future in China. The criminal gang which holds power has added hundreds, possibly thousands, to the list of martyrs for social justice, a list which includes the Boxers of 1895, the workers of Shanghai and Canton in 1927, the victims of the Japanese terror in the 1930s and World War II, the Chinese Trotskyists whom the Stalinists murdered, and the victims of Mao’s Red Guards in the 1960s. They died as heroes, in a country where heroes are not forgotten.

Can anyone now deny the true character of the bureaucratic dictators who have imposed their rule on the Chinese workers and peasants, a gang which proudly calls itself “Stalinist”? Do they deserve any more political support than those who carried out the suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 or the Czechoslovak “Prague Spring” in 1968?

Future generations, who will look at history in its broad sweep rather than its minute detail, will regard them as reactionaries and counterrevolutionaries, whose similarities with George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and other imperialist leaders – in terms of their contempt for basic human rights and disregard for the needs of the people in whose name they claim to be ruling – represent their principal characteristics. History will judge harshly all those who hold back human progress, regardless of whether they represent a ruling bourgeoisie, or a privileged bureaucracy which has usurped power from a proletarian revolution.

There can be no quibbling about theoretical fine points: the Chinese workers, peasants, and student youth have the right and obligation to remove the Communist Party from power by any means necessary and replace it with a party and government of their own creation, which represents their own interests and aspirations. The fact that they do not have a ruling capitalist class which they will also have to confront and expropriate means that their struggle can be accomplished simply through a political, rather than a social, revolution. But it should now be obvious to every thinking proletarian fighter in China and beyond that a genuine revolution – that is, a mass, armed insurrection – will indeed be required if they are to accomplish their goals.

The overwhelming majority of the students who protested in Tiananmen believed in reform of the Chinese CP and government. It is certain that many, and perhaps most, have already changed their minds-just as many young Americans, myself included, changed our minds about reforming the American political system in the summer of 1968. They have learned a harsh lesson, and in the future they will never again underestimate the measures which the bureaucracy will take to defend its power. The ruling elite in China will not be persuaded by logic, or by moral arguments. It must be removed from power by force.

What may be a consolation to the families of the hundreds who have died is that Deng Xiaoping and his gang may very well have hastened the day when the Chinese people settle accounts in such a political revolution. The Tiananmen massacre has enraged the Chinese masses, whatever the immediate affect may be in terms of intimidation. The democracy movement may be driven underground for a period as the regime moves to round up all those suspected of leading the demonstrations, but it will be back, and it will be that much stronger for having gone through this experience.

It is inevitable that young people who are confronting authority for the first time will make mistakes, especially when a more experienced leadership is not available. During the last week of May the demonstrators had decided to abandon their protest on May 30; it was perhaps a tactical mistake to reverse that decision. One can also question the building of a statue resembling the American Statue of Liberty. Did that promote, or cut across, support for the democracy movement among rank-and-file soldiers? But it is only by making mistakes and learning from them that this movement, or any other, can begin the absolutely essential task of building their own, genuine revolutionary Marxist party. The most astute and dedicated of the young rebels will now begin to work toward such a formation. And it is the responsibility of revolutionaries throughout the world to give them whatever help we can. That is a special responsibility for the Fourth International.

What is needed now is an international campaign, not only to protest the Beijing massacre, but to demand an end to the wave of arrests throughout China and freedom for those political prisoners who are already incarcerated. Workers and progressive activists throughout the world should demand a general amnesty for all those who have worked to bring about democracy in China, including dissident leader Fang Lizhi, who has taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy. Such a campaign has actually been in progress since January of this year (see The Signature Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners in China). It is a good beginning; it now needs to be intensified and broadened throughout the world. Our demand for an end to violence and repression against those who question the bureaucracy’s authority must be militant and uncompromising. There can be no equivocation on this issue.

Carrying out a political revolution in the second most powerful workers’ state and the world’s most populous country is an undertaking far beyond the capabilities of even the most heroic university students. To accomplish it will require the mobilization of the workers, peasants, and rank-and-file soldiers in their great majority. There is no doubt that the regime cracked down precisely because that mobilization had already started, especially among Beijing’s industrial workers, who had begun the formation of an independent trade union (see Call to Form a Coalition of Self-Governing Workers’ Organizations in the Capital). In spite of the great defeat suffered on June 3, that mobilization is likely to continue. Yes, the democracy movement lost the battle of Tiananmen, but the war is not yet decided, and the gains in self-confidence and self-organization of millions of Chinese students, peasants, workers, and soldiers which have already been won before the murderous repression cannot be so easily undone.

The young rebels will necessarily take some time to regroup themselves and rethink their strategy and tactics in view of the enormity of the task before them. Most importantly, a political alternative to the bureaucracy must be organized. It is not enough to remove the bureaucratized party from power – a political formation which democratically represents the workers, peasants, and students must be assembled which can receive the power from the victorious people. The antibureaucratic fighters will now be better able to see the size and seriousness of the struggle ahead of them. But they are unlikely to be discouraged on that account. Mao himself said, “Even a small spark can light a prairie fire.” The original student protests in China provided that spark, and the millions marching in the streets of Beijing and other cities in the past weeks represented the fire. The bureaucracy has dampened the flames for a time, but the fire still smolders beneath the surface and is likely to erupt again at any time.

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Chinese Students Change the Course of History

By Tom Barrett

The following article appeared in the Bulletin in Defense of Marxism datelined June 1, 1989, two days before the military suppression of the pro-democracy demonstration in Tiananmen Square.

At this writing it is unclear how the massive protests which have rocked the People’s Republic of China will end. As it stands now, the student rebels have decided to continue their occupation of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square until June 20, when the National People’s Congress is scheduled to meet. Only about 10,000 students remain in the square, a fraction of the number which occupied it at the protest’s beginning three weeks ago, but they are still able to mobilize demonstrations of 100,000 or more in the streets on short notice.

Though it appears that few, if any, short-term goals will be accomplished, the Chinese democracy movement has already won a great victory, whose impact has not only changed the course of Chinese history, but has changed the world’s history as well. Even if Prime Minister Li Peng’s conservative faction retains power in the Chinese Communist Party – as it now appears that it will –its power will never be as great or as unquestioned as it has been in the past. The Chinese students, workers, intellectuals, and even rank-and-file soldiers have seen in action that they have real power, that they can defy the authorities. That can never be taken away from them.

The Chinese events, especially combined with the pro-democracy ground swell occurring in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, provide the socialist movement with unparalleled opportunities – if it responds correctly. The Chinese masses, with the students at the lead, have struck blows against pessimism and feelings of powerlessness. Students and workers around the world, hearing the Chinese people’s complaints, are thinking that the issues in China are not so different than the issues they face in their own countries. Inflation and unemployment, government corruption, official indifference to the people’s concerns are all problems of which working people throughout the world are conscious – in massive numbers.

What can they conclude? Only one thing: if the people of China can stand up and fight their government, for democracy and against corruption, so can we. If the Chinese students have the guts to stand up to their government, which truly is tyrannical, what on earth are the rest of us afraid of? One responds to their youthful and maybe romantic dreams and aspirations not with cynicism but with admiration. One can say without embarrassment that the Chinese young people have set an example for the world, that they are an inspiration to oppressed people everywhere, and it no longer sounds like hollow phrasemaking.

What Are the Issues?

Though U.S. president George Bush called the Chinese upsurge evidence that “communism is a failed system,” there are no grounds for celebration in Washington and Wall Street. There have been no calls for the Guomintang’s return to power. (The Guomintang is the bourgeois party which was headed by the late Chiang Kai-shek and defeated in the Chinese revolution of 1949. It continues to hold power in Taiwan.) No one has suggested leveraged buy-outs of China’s state-owned industry by U.S., Japanese, or Hong Kong banks. There have been no unfavorable comparisons between China and the cheap-labor centers of the Pacific Rim, such as South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan. In fact, the only non-Chinese model which the students seem to be emulating is the “people power” movement in the Philippines, the movement which overthrew the pro-U.S. dictator Ferdinand Marcos. (Marcos’s overthrow in 1986 was widely covered by the Chinese news media.) As the students marched into the square, they sang the Internationale to demonstrate their continued belief in the promise of socialism.

The composition of the student-led protest movement is revealing, and in some ways surprising. As in most developing countries, only a very small number of Chinese young people have the opportunity to attend university. Just as in those developing countries where capitalist power has not been broken, the Chinese students are in their majority the sons and daughters of the privileged elite. In China, however, that privileged elite is the Communist Party and government bureaucracy, rather than the class of bankers and businessmen. A great many students are pursuing careers tied to China’s economic modernization-careers in technology, management, medicine, and similar areas. Many hope to work abroad after their studies are completed. What is surprising is that the protest leaders, especially those who have played central roles at turning points in the struggle, have not come from these departments, but instead have been those young people being educated for top roles in the Communist Party and the Chinese state.

According to Lee Feighon, a professor of Chinese history at Colby College, the early leaders of the pro-democracy movement were students from the Party History Department at People’s University, which is about two miles from Beijing University. The New York Times quoted Feighon as saying, “These kids have all been carefully screened before they are admitted to the Party History Department. Everybody knows they are well-connected and are being groomed to be the future Communist leaders of China ... They are traditionalists in the Chinese sense, seriously interested in Chinese history and the Party.”

Party History students organized the wreath-laying ceremony in Tiananmen Square after the death of reformist CP general secretary Hu Yaobang; two days later they boycotted classes demanding a reappraisal of Hu’s career, which ended in his abrupt removal from power early in 1987 on orders from Deng Xiaoping. The massive demonstration on the occasion of Hu’s funeral was again initiated by Party History students from People’s University. They led in the defiance of police authority. Many called their parents or grandparents who hold positions of authority to warn them, “If the troops fire on the students, I just want you to know they’ll be firing on me.”

Why should students who would seem to have so little to gain and so much to lose be taking to the streets in protest against a government in which their own families are prominent? The answer lies in their firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of the Chinese bureaucracy and their recognition that the bureaucracy-dominated Communist Party can no longer be seen as fulfilling the socialist ideal. The Chinese people no longer recognize the CP as the legitimate representative of the working class and peasantry. They consequently believe that it should no longer control a government which is supposed to belong to the workers and peasants. The Party History students do not want to be put in the role of defending the privileged bureaucracy against the people’s socialist aspirations.

The demands most commonly raised are “democracy” and an “end to corruption,” and the two are often seen as inseparable. Some writers in bourgeois publications in the United States have said that the students do not really understand what “democracy” means; in fact, they probably understand it better than the bourgeois “experts.” To the students, “democracy” means the right to express a dissenting opinion without fear of arrest or harassment by the police. It means responsiveness by the Communist Party and government to the people’s needs and desires, as the people themselves express them. It means a leadership chosen by the masses of people, not through a process of nepotism and horse-trading, which the students label as “corruption.”

Unfortunately for the smug spokesmen for U.S. imperialism, the Chinese students would not recognize politics in the United States or other capitalist powers as democratic if they had the chance to become intimately connected with them. They would react to the scandal which has brought down the Takeshita government in Japan or the scandals leading to the resignation of California congressman Tony Coelho and U.S. House speaker Jim Wright (who was, of course, third in line to the presidency) with the same indignation that they feel toward corruption in their own country. They could hardly fail to understand that the political machinations within the city government of Chicago or New York have very little to do with the needs and desires of those cities’ people.

Surprisingly, economic demands have played a very small role in the current wave of protests, for China has serious economic problems. Since limited private enterprise and foreign investment have been allowed for over a decade now, the ills which routinely affect capitalist society have made an appearance in China. Inflation is running at about 30 percent, making it nearly impossible for workers and peasants to take advantage of the increased availability of consumer goods. Unemployment and underemployment are also afflicting the Chinese working class. There is widespread awareness and concern about these problems, but there is as yet no consensus on what to do about them. The democracy movement has taken no stand in opposition to government economic policies beyond protesting against mismanagement. Deng Xiaoping is the architect of Chinese economic liberalization, and Li Peng completely supports Deng’s economic policies.

The Power of Mass Action

What has so completely captured the world’s imagination has been the sight of unarmed students paralyzing the government of the most populous country on earth. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army remains one of the world’s most powerful military forces; on a conventional battlefield it is a match for the Soviet or United States army. However, its leaders have been unwilling to risk attempting to capture Tiananmen Square from the student demonstrators.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s historic visit to China to end the thirty-year cold war between the two workers’ states was all but overshadowed by 3,000 hunger strikers sitting-in in the square outside the Great Hall of the People. A million people marched in the streets to support the hunger strikers. Gorbachev quipped, “I come to Beijing, and you have a revolution.” In general, the students were urging China’s leaders to follow Gorbachev’s example, as they understand it, and they have not yet raised the idea of the overthrow of the entrenched Chinese bureaucracy. However, when political revolution happens in China, it will not look very different than the Beijing “May strike” of 1989.

The hunger strike began on May 13 and revived the protest wave which began with Hu Yaobang’s death in April. The Beijing working class continued to give not only moral but concrete support to the students. In order to prevent the police from moving in and arresting them, workers parked buses in the streets leading into the square and deflated their tires. They continued to place their bodies between the police and the students, and attempted – many times successfully – to persuade the police not to move against them.

The government reinforced army garrisons outside Beijing and on May 20 declared martial law. Working people went out to the soldiers and “patiently explained” to them what the students were trying to accomplish. The soldiers, who were for the most part peasant boys no older than the student demonstrators, began to recognize that they had more in common with the young people in Tiananmen than with the old bureaucrats who had ordered them to take action. The world saw the spectacle of fresh-faced soldiers, many with tears in their eyes, shaking hands with worker and student demonstrators and turning back from their forward attack positions.

On May 23, seven top army commanders, recognizing that their men would probably refuse an order to attack the protesters, sent a letter to the government demanding that troops not be used to suppress the sit-in. The signers, among them a former defense minister and a former chief of staff, wrote: “In view of the extremely serious situation, we as veteran soldiers demand that the People’s Liberation Army not confront the population, nor quell the people. The army must absolutely not shoot the people. In order to prevent the situation from worsening, the army must not enter the city of Beijing.”

Communist Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang opposed the imposition of martial law and offered to resign. That night he himself visited the hunger strikers in the square. With his eyes welling he said, “I have come too late.” He has not been officially removed from his post, though he is rumored to be under house arrest at this writing. When martial law was imposed, student demands began to focus more on personalities, demanding the retirement of Deng Xiaoping and the resignation of Li Peng. The 60-year-old Li is something of a symbol of corruption and nepotism in China. Li was orphaned as a child and was raised as a son by China’s first prime minister, Zhou Enlai. It is widely believed that he owes his powerful position to his connection with Zhou rather than to his own efforts or ability.

There is nothing uniquely Chinese about what has happened over the past six weeks. It has happened before, at other times and in other parts of the world. In some cases it has caused governments to fall. When masses of people take political action in their own name and for their own interests it is a force more powerful than “the might of armies magnified a thousand-fold.” Mass action is what translates the potential power of the working class into its real power. Even the fear of what might happen is often enough to force the class enemy or the bureaucratic enemy to cut its losses and make concessions. That is how mass action prevented the United States from continuing to escalate the military force with which it was trying to defeat the Vietnamese revolution. That is how mass action forced the Philippine bourgeoisie and their American advisers to withdraw their support from the dictator Marcos. That is how mass action forced the Portuguese generals to overthrow the fossilized dictatorship, grant independence to the African colonies, and allow democratic rights for the first time in Portuguese history.

When the people have a leadership which can present an agenda for taking power from a bankrupt old regime, mass action can be translated into revolution. Such a leadership is not yet present in China; however, the experience of mass action in the unfolding events of 1989 will be invaluable in the formation of such a revolutionary leadership.

There can be no doubt that a bit of experience – some of it likely to be quite traumatic – will be required before a significant layer begins to draw conclusions about the need to replace the present Chinese government with a new one. In the early stages of a revolution the masses, and the leaders thrown up spontaneously by the struggle, often tend to treat it almost as if it were a festival, as if the problems posed by the conflict will be easily resolved – even that they will be resolved in collaboration with the old regime, or elements of that regime. It takes time before the masses come to terms with the real necessities of the situation. But the character of the actions by the Chinese students and workers, combined with the whole history of struggle of the Chinese people, give every indication that the development of the present movement to a still higher stage of revolutionary consciousness is a genuine possibility.

China and the World Capitalist Economy

U.S. president George Bush’s overall response has been remarkably restrained and cautious, consistent with his long relationship with the current Chinese leadership (he served as head of the U.S. mission in Beijing during 1974 and 1975). The fact is the United Slates is only interested in “democracy” to the extent that it opens the vast Chinese market to trade and investment. Consider how interested George Bush is in “democracy” and “ending corruption” in South Korea, for example, or the Philippines.

The truth is, Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng are people whom Bush knows and with whom he can work. Bush and the Chinese leaders understand each other; they have been able to establish a mutually beneficial relationship. Over the ten years of Deng’s reforms, China has more often than not supported U.S. foreign policy, especially against the Soviet Union. The relaxation of military tensions in the Far East has made possible the Pacific Rim industrial phenomenon, one of the biggest “gold mines” in the capitalist world economy. Labor bureaucrats may call the “export of jobs” to these cheap-labor havens a sign of the U.S.’s decline; in fact, American banks are reaping handsome profits from the “Asian miracle.

Economic growth in the People’s Republic of China is at present equal to that of Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea, at about nine percent annually. The increased foreign trade is providing the Chinese people with consumer goods which were simply unavailable before the Deng Xiaoping reforms began. However, continued economic growth depends on the agreement of two groups: the working class and the students, precisely the two groups in society which are most dissatisfied with the current Chinese leadership.

The Chinese economy cannot continue to grow without continued modernization in technology and management. Those who will take on that responsibility are today university students. In order for them even to do their jobs in Chinese society – leaving aside the broader moral questions of bringing about social justice – an expansion of democracy is absolutely necessary. When party loyalty and bureaucratic maneuvering, rather than ability and dedication to getting the job done, is the way to career advancement modernization is stifled. When a young manager or technician cannot suggest necessary improvements for fear of offending an entrenched superior it is demoralizing for the individual involved and a hindrance to China’s development. Of course, this problem is in no way unique to China or evidence that “communism is a failed system”; ask anyone who has worked at AT&T or a similar multinational corporation in a technically responsible capacity.

Allowing freedom of thought and expression, of course, cannot be limited to the running of the economy. It is only a small step from expressing one’s opinion on the running of an industrial enterprise to expressing one’s opinion on the running of the country, especially when industry is state-owned. The modernization of China’s industry, which is vitally necessary to the Chinese people, thus carries with it the threat of death to the bureaucracy’s power.

One of the broader questions of social justice which must immediately arise as free expression is permitted is the effect of new industrial policies on the working class. There should be no mistake: China remains a workers’ state, organizing production for human need rather than for profit, though in a distorted way. The Chinese workers live at a far higher standard of living than their brother and sister workers in South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or the Philippines. Nevertheless, they are dissatisfied with their share of China’s economic growth, as well they should be. Inflation is making it difficult for them to buy the consumer goods being made available. Privatization of agriculture and free-market exchange of farm products has benefited a section of the peasantry and increased availability of meat and produce, but it has made food considerably more expensive in the cities.

One of Deng Xiaoping’s greatest fears was being realized when a group of Chinese workers in Tiananmen Square raised the idea of forming an independent trade union along the lines of Poland’s Solidarity. Such a development, which would be an inevitable result of increased democratization in China, would scare off the foreign investment which Deng hopes will increase. North American, Western European, and Japanese bankers will not invest their money in an unstable economy. They like class peace. An open-shop dictator ship like Singapore is a far better place to make profits than a powder-keg like South Korea.

Reform or Revolution?

Inevitably the current groundswell has been compared to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, which was directed against the same segment of the bureaucracy which is in power today. That mobilization, however, was organized by one wing of the Chinese bureaucracy, headed by Mao Zedong, Lin Biao, and the “Gang of Four” against the other, which included Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. Mao played on the young people’s discontent with the bureaucracy, but he used them simply as factional pawns against his opponents, not to further any improvements in the Chinese state or society.

It is widely recognized that the democracy movement of today is qualitatively different than the Red Guards of over twenty years ago. This movement originated outside the Communist Party and state. There is no personality cult around any individual leader. As is perhaps natural, the students are expressing support and solidarity with those officials who have run afoul of Deng and Li, such as Zhao Ziyang and the late Hu Yaobang. They are not the students’ puppeteers, however. They have argued that compromise, rather than repression, is a better way to deal with discontent within Chinese society, and around that issue the Chinese bureaucracy has become divided. There is no section of the bureaucracy, however, which wishes to put itself out of power.

As yet there appears to be no section of the student movement which is raising the call for putting the bureaucracy out of power either. As is, again, probably natural, especially considering that core of the leadership which comes from the People’s University Party History Department, the students in general identify the Communist Party with the Chinese revolution of 1949, one of the greatest victories for the workers and oppressed in world history. The objective which has been expressed is reform of the CP. No one has as yet suggested the formation of an opposition political party, let alone the overthrow of the bureaucracy-dominated CP and government.

Their experiences will prove to them that their goal is out of reach. In the 1960s young Americans who look seriously President John F. Kennedy’s rhetoric attempted to reform American capitalism, and by 1968 they even forced President Lyndon Johnson not to seek reelection. The reality they ultimately encountered was police clubs in Chicago and National Guard bullets in Kent, Ohio. Remarkably, the Chinese authorities have so far acted with considerably more restraint, which is an important victory for the protest movement. However, the students will not win their demands this time around. It appears that Li’s faction has defeated Zhao’s compromise faction; more importantly, even if Zhao had prevailed, he would in the long run have been forced into a more hard-line position as the bureaucracy proved unable to fulfill the people’s aspirations. Whether ultimately dispersed by force or simply by their own volition, the students will eventually have to return to their homes and campuses to rest, regroup, and assess what they won, what they didn’t win, and why.

What must come out of that necessary period of discussion and evaluation is the coming together of young militants who recognize that the Chinese Communist Party and state are beyond repair and that an alternative must be presented to the Chinese people. A political agenda which brings the workers, peasants, intellectuals, and students to the realization that they have the right not only to speak and be listened to, but to rule China, will make the difference between a groundswell which shakes the foundation of bureaucratic rule and a groundswell which topples the structure. Even a small group which organizes itself to put forward such an agenda can have a great impact, especially in a period of radicalization such as is occurring at present.

For revolutionists in the United States and other countries this should not be a subject for parlor discussion. Revolutionary socialists organize themselves internationally not only to express comradely solidarity but to provide concrete help to groups of militants who need it. Deng Xiaoping’s reforms over the past ten years have given Chinese young people the opportunity to travel abroad and to get news and information from other countries. Socialists have the responsibility to meet and discuss with those who are actively making political change in China, to do what we can to aid their struggle, and to exchange ideas and experiences. The works of Leon Trotsky, who wrote extensively on China as well as on the problems of a bureaucratically degenerated workers’ state, would be of invaluable benefit to the young militants in Tiananmen Square. Getting Trotsky’s books into their language and into their hands can be done and must be done. Of course, the new experiences in struggle which these young fighters can convey will only enrich our understanding of politics, strategy, and tactics.

The one course which can fulfill the promise of the 1949 revolution is the overthrow of that party which, because of special circumstances in the post-World War II period, led that revolution. A political revolution, which turns power over to the elected bodies of the workers, students, and peasants but nevertheless retains the socialist economic foundations on which Chinese society has been built for forty years, can combine economic modernization and social justice. The impact that a political revolution – in a country which contains twenty percent of the world’s population – would have, tests the imagination. Workers who have identified “communism” with Stalinist tyranny could no longer be convinced to support Grenada-style counterrevolutionary interventions. “Rambo” rhetoric would be shown to be completely hollow. Other workers, who have identified their own interests with those of the Soviet or Chinese leaderships, are even now becoming convinced that the parties which they have followed in the past hold no promise for the future. Most importantly, workers in the imperialist centers, in other bureaucratically dominated workers’ states, and in countries dominated by neocolonialism would realize that if the Chinese people can take power for themselves, so can they.

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Call to Form a Coalition of Self-Governing Workers' Organizations in the Capital

This is the text of a leaflet distributed in Beijing on May 20, 1989. One hundred thousand copies of this leaflet were distributed in Hong Kong on May 31 by October Review, a revolutionary Marxist journal published in Hong Kong. Translation is by the Bulletin in Defense of Marxism.

Since the middle of April the majority of Chinese workers have demonstrated their strong desire to participate in the national democratic movement led by students. At the same time they recognized that we have yet to form an authentic organization to represent the working class.

Because of this we consider it necessary to build a self-governing organization through which workers can express their needs. Therefore, we propose to form a workers’ self-governing coalition in Beijing, based on the following precepts:

  1. The organization should be a voluntary formation of workers, and should guarantee free and open participation in the democratic decision-making process. This means that it will be completely self-governing, free from control by others. It will coexist with other organizations and will participate in joint actions.
  2. The basic purpose of this organization must be to advance the economic and political needs of the working class, as formulated and agreed upon by the majority of workers. It is not merely a welfare organization.
  3. One of the functions of this organization will be to oversee the activities of the Chinese Communist Party.
  4. This organization seeks guarantees that the worker will be the real master of industry, that industrial workers will elect their representatives and control all managers and supervisors. In the nationalized sector, under collective ownership, the above applies. In the private enterprises, independent organizations of workers (unions) will negotiate with the employers for the protection of workers’ rights.
  5. 5) The self-organization of workers is essential to establish and protect the legal rights of all workers, under the constitution and the laws.

Workers Speak

Rallying All Workers

This afternoon Beijing Workers’ Self-Governing Committee convenes an emergency conference to take up our tasks in the present crisis.

We must elect leadership groups: a secretariat, propaganda department, liaison committee, executive committee, reserve leadership, etc.

This self-governing committee is the spontaneous response to the present situation. Its aim is to function legally and democratically in order to lead the new democratic and patriotic movement.

It welcomes the participation of all work units of factories and mines.

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For a Thorough Antibureaucratic Revolution

These letters, written by Chinese Trotskyists, were received here from Hong Kong. Translation is by the Bulletin in Defense of Marxism.

Letter to All Citizens of China
by the Chinese Revolutionary Communist Party

May 21, 1989

Dear Citizens:

Chinese Communist bureaucrats are suppressing the great mass with military force. The masses, particularly the students, workers, and citizens in Beijing, are now in a courageous struggle. A political revolution against the bureaucracy has begun! We strongly condemn the Chinese Communist brutality, and firmly support the fight of the people against the bureaucratic strata of the Chinese Communist Party.

For a long time the people have been dissatisfied with bureaucratic tyranny and corruption. Lately, the savage and unreasonable demagogy and actions of the bureaucracy have aroused the indignation of all citizens. They no longer trust the CCP leadership. The more isolated it becomes, however, the more the CCP leadership wants to exercise control by any means. They have become the enemies of the people by announcing the military suppression. The people, therefore, have no alternative but to mobilize themselves to overthrow this bureaucratic monopoly.

The students have formed a self-governing coalition from more than a hundred universities nationally. The movement led by the students has rapidly developed into a national movement for democracy. Intellectuals, teachers, and journalists were the first to respond; the working class has also begun to mobilize and strike. On May 20, a committee to form a coalition of workers’ self-governing organizations called on the workers to resist the suppression. It suggested three actions:

  1. A general strike on May 21, with the exception of electricity, water, gas, letters, and telegrams.
  2. All the armies should leave Beijing.
  3. Workers should form defense committees to protect the people’s movement and safety in the city.

The working class has mobilized. They have pushed forward the democratic process in China. We call on the workers in the whole country to organize just as the workers in Beijing have done to form a national coalition of workers’ self-governing committees for a general national strike.

We call on the people of all classes to form a self-governing organization against the bureaucratic suppression and to seize political power for the advancement of socialism in China.

Letter to the Members of the Chinese Communist Party
by the Chinese Revolutionary Communist Party

May 21, 1989

Dear CCP Members:

In its 40 years of governing the new China, the Chinese Communist Party has become a bureaucratic dictatorship over the people. The latest events have completely exposed this monopoly of power which does not hesitate to use brutal force to suppress the defenseless students and citizens, thus becoming their enemy.

We call on all CCP members who are real fighters for communism to resign from the CCP, to join in the people’s struggle, to assist in the organization of the people, and in this way to build a new political party which will lead China toward the advancement of socialism.

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The Signature Campaigns for the Release of Political Prisoners in China

By Xiao Dian

This article appeared in the March/April 1989 issue of October Review, a revolutionary Marxist journal published in Hong Kong. It has been abridged for publication here.

Since the beginning of this year, there have been a series of signature campaigns in mainland China demanding the release of jailed dissidents and political prisoners. There were also widespread signature campaigns in Hong Kong and abroad in support of the campaigns in China, most of which went beyond the initial demands in China.

During this period, two incidents occurred and attracted international attention on the way the Chinese regime handled the events.

What appear to be relatively small-scale and mild signature campaigns and stupid behavior by some Chinese bureaucrats in creating the incidents, they in fact mark a turning point in the attitudes of intellectuals in China and, to some extent, in Hong Kong and abroad, and highlight the acuteness of the social, economic, political, and ideological crises in China.

The series of signature campaigns actually first appeared in a Hong Kong magazine, Cheng Ming. In a small corner in its January ’89 issue, it published an appeal by itself and five other organizations and groups in Hong Kong and France to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the arrest of Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng on March 29, 1989, and demand the release of Wei Jingsheng, Liu Qing, Xu Wenli, Wang Xizhe, and all other political prisoners.

At about the same time, on January 6, 1989, Chinese dissident scientist Fang Lizhi wrote an open letter to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping suggesting a general amnesty in China, especially the release of Wei Jingsheng and all political prisoners alike on humanitarian grounds in this year of the 40th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, the 70th anniversary of the May 4th Movement, and the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

On February 13 in Beijing, 33 well-known intellectuals, writers, poets, and artists wrote an open letter in support of Fang Lizhi’s open letter. Then, on February 19, one of the signatories and an activist in the Beijing Spring democracy movement 10 years ago, Chen Jun, collected another 30 signatures among artists and democracy movement activists in support of that open letter. He also issued an open appeal to collect more signatures in China and called for solidarity from abroad. An “Amnesty 89” working group was also formed.

These bold initiatives and actions from within China immediately aroused broad support in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas. Signature campaigns were started among intellectual circles with varying demands ranging from: calls for human rights, democratic elections, democratic rights; concerns for democratic futures and links among China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan; calls for attention to human rights situation of Taiwan and Hong Kong residents jailed for political reasons in both mainland China and Taiwan; appeals to Western governments to intervene in the human rights issues in China, and objections to foreign government intervention using “human rights diplomacy” as a means; calls to deepen the pro-capitalistic reforms in China, and, on the contrary, calls for political and economic control by the working masses.

In mainland China, the signatories and the signature campaigns were subjected to strong pressure from the Chinese regime. Individuals were harassed; the Justice Ministry came out with allegations of “influencing judiciary independence in the Wei Jingsheng case” (ten years after the “trial”!). Despite that, two significant signature campaigns were subsequently organized; one received the support of 42 elder scientists, professors, and intellectuals and another 43 mainly middle-aged and younger intellectuals and journalists.

Outside mainland China, most of the campaigns were centered around intellectual circles, overseas scholars, well-known figures, etc., although they also received some support from the masses through publicity. The campaign initiated by Cheng Ming magazine obtained over 3,400 signatures in some 30 countries and territories. Another campaign initiated mainly from among Hong Kong intellectual and professional circles obtained over 1,200 signatures.

With the idea of promoting concerns for democracy and linking the democratic future of Hong Kong to democracy in mainland China, activists from the Action April 5th group organized signature campaigns in urban centers and workers’ districts to approach the masses. They also promoted signature campaigns in post-secondary colleges. Altogether they distributed over 40,000 leaflets and collected over 12,800 signatures, among which about 1,000 were from students.

The Hong Kong Federation of Students and student organizations in colleges and universities in Hong Kong also organized independently and collected over 6,500 signatures among students.

In Taiwan, over 5,000 signatures were collected among university students in support of human rights and democratization in mainland China. On the other hand, declarations from progressive circles drawing attention to the abuse of human rights and democratic freedoms in Taiwan itself aroused controversies in the newspapers.

On February 26, Chinese police prevented Fang Lizhi and his companion from attending the farewell dinner organized by U.S. president Bush in Beijing, thereby creating an incident that attracted much international attention.

The end of March saw another incident that has even greater impact in Hong Kong. On March 28, a seven-member delegation from Hong Kong went to Beijing to present the over 24,000 signatures collected in Hong Kong and overseas to the National People’s Congress, then in session in Beijing. Upon arriving in nearby Tianjin, the signatures and press release material were held by Chinese Customs officials and a member of the delegation, a reporter from Cheng Ming was refused entry. The remaining six delegates went on to Beijing and were subjected to constant surveillance and harassment. Widely reported by the Hong Kong and international reporters, who were themselves also harassed, the two-day incident aroused deep feelings in Hong Kong and, to an unknown extent, in China because the incident was questioned openly in the National People’s Congress with live coverage by Chinese TV. The question of political prisoners, human rights, and democratic rights in China once again came into national and international focus.

One feature of the wave of signature campaigns is the large number of campaigns and various demands that appeared.

The first wave of campaigns in mainland China focused their demands on the release of Wei Jingsheng and other political prisoners of mainland China, and they requested an amnesty on humanitarian grounds. Subsequent campaigns inside mainland China were mostly in support of the initial campaigns.

While the campaign led by Cheng Ming focused on the demand for the release of political prisoners of mainland China, the other major signature campaigns initiated in Hong Kong also included the demand for the release of Hong Kong resident Liu Shanqing who was arrested when he visited relatives of jailed Chinese democracy activists in mainland China in 1981 and sentenced to ten years. The heading of the leaflet distributed by the Action April 5th group was: “Only with a democratic China can there be a democratic future for Hong Kong!”

The signature campaigns that originated from Taiwan also revealed different perspectives. While some advocate the abolition of the communist system in mainland China, there is still a minority voice that calls for unification of mainland China and Taiwan based on democracy, freedom, and human rights, and the upsurge of the people from both sides to change the social and economic situation.

While the outspoken, pro-Western dissident scientist Fang Lizhi attracted much attention in the various events, especially outside of mainland China, the real significance of the signature campaigns inside China lies in the changing attitude of broad layers of intellectuals as partially reflected in the series of signature campaigns despite strong pressure from the regime. It is the result of the culmination of severe social, economic, political, ideological, and cultural crises in China. Facing such severe crises, intellectuals feel particularly disappointed and desperate. They feel a strong urge to speak out, to discuss, and to find a way out. With the severe political repression in China in mind, their initial focus is directed towards the fate of dissident democracy fighters who have been jailed for almost a decade and from whom they have maintained some distance until now. That explains the concern for the release of all political prisoners in China, already widespread among intellectuals abroad, but particularly deeply felt among intellectuals inside China. The depth of the crises is shown by the fact that signatories included many long-time Communist intellectuals who have been party members for over half a century and who overcame the fear arising from forty years of campaigns of repression.

Explosive Situation Underlying the Incidents

However, it is precisely the series of incidents related to the signature campaigns that brought the acuteness of the situation in China into the open.

The further development of wide and deep crises have come together and created an explosive situation, as shown by:

At the same time, the many problems arising from the economic reforms have focused the attention of people onto political reforms and bureaucratic rule itself. In the Soviet Union and other Stalinist bureaucratic systems, the overall social, political, and economic crises have forced Gorbachev to carry out limited political reforms and perestroika and forced Hungary and Poland to conditionally allow party pluralism and political liberalization. These developments have exerted a certain pressure on the Chinese regime to carry out some political reforms and democratization.

At present, while in no way minimizing the importance of the campaigns for democracy, it is also important to note that, by and large, they have not yet linked up with the working masses and their interests to any significant extent. Only by linking up intellectuals and students with the working masses and combining the struggles for democracy with struggles to protect the livelihood of the majority of people from the attacks from capitalistic reforms and bureaucratic rule in China and from capitalism in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao can there be a persistent struggle capable of mobilizing the majority of people.

China is in an explosive situation, as the signature campaign and the related incidents revealed. That is why it is all the more important to link up the social forces capable of solving the crisis in the interest of the majority of the people.


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Last updated on 28.12.2002