[Today marks 20 years since the start of the Tiananmen Massacre. Because there was a lot of interest in the Freedom Road Socialist Organization's June 10, 1989 statement--posted here yesterday--here is a deeper analysis of Tienanmen done a few months later. It was published in Forward Motion magazine in September, 1989. The introduction says, in part:
The O'Neil article has circulated among Freedom Road leadership and generally reflects its thinking, although the article itself remains the responsibility of the author.If there is interest, further Tienanmen material may be posted here in the next few days.]
After Tiananmen: Time To Face Big Questions
by Dennis O’Neil
The events in China take place in the context of the ongoing international crisis of socialism. They represent a major historical milestone in the development of the crisis. China has had and retained the interest and respect of Third World and Western Leftists far beyond circles with roots in various Maoist parties and organizations of the '70s. The reason for this is neither simple nostalgia nor enthusiastic support for the economic reforms promulgated by Deng. It is because people perceived a special relationship between the masses of the Chinese people and political life, the Party and the State, a relationship which embodied something promising, something socialist. The massacre has called all this into question.
The issues the Chinese turmoil raises about socialism are dealt with extensively later in this paper, but there are three basic areas it is helpful to keep in mind throughout.
First, how do the masses of working people learn to become true masters of society? If it is not in the course of active debate over every major issue of economic and political life, where is it? It is one thing that foreign observers did not know what the issues were in the innerparty struggles, who was on which side and how the struggle was going. It is another when the vast majority of the Chinese people and rank and file Party members were in the dark, literally until the shooting was over.Second, what should be the character of democracy in political life under socialism? In particular, how adequate is the single party state to move economic and social development forward toward classless society? The fact is that ties with the military or sections of it have been a or the decisive factor in at least five inner party struggles in the People's Republic of China since 1965: the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) vs. the "February Adverse Current," the Wuhan Mutiny and then the ultra left in September '67; the fall of Lin Biao; the Tiananmen Incident of 1976; and the fall of the Gang of Four. If this is the best socialists in power can come up with to resolve seemingly irreconcilable differences of line and policy, we're in trouble.
Third, what are the effects on socialist ideology, politics and daily life of giving the market a very large role in the economy? On a more particular level, the relationship between the economic base and the political structure deserves a lot of attention. The "fit" between the centrally planned and directed economy and the centralized Party/State political machinery seems to break down when much economic activity is conducted outside the plan and creates forces and strata which aren't represented in the Party/State structure.
The significance of the recent events in China as a major conjuncture in the crisis of socialism is intensified by simultaneous developments in the Soviet bloc. The continuing evolution of the glasnost and perestroika policies in the USSR have given rise to a complex of new phenomena--more open elections, televised debate at the Supreme Soviet meeting, nationalist rebellions and pogroms, and now, open labor struggles. In Poland, the ruling Polish United Socialist Party was dealt a humiliating shellacking by Solidarnosc in national elections, but open elections have been held and respected. These developments are fascinating, and while we aren't about to uphold them as models for the future, we are going to have to do some investigation and evaluation and probably some rethinking of the positions many of us inherited from the new communist movement of the '70s.
Going From the Particular...
It is very important to study the particular developments in China over the last few months. Without doing so, we will not be able to get to the essence of what happened and draw deeper conclusions. Instead we'll be stuck with a simple minded line of "good students, bad commies" (or perhaps "misled students, good Deng").
To start with, we have to look at three main features of the crisis the student movement, the struggle within the CPC leadership, and the relationship between the mass movement and the inner Party clash. These were the main social forces active this spring leading up to the June events, with the struggles concentrated in Beijing and other urban centers. Of course, virtually all political conflict in China takes place against the backdrop of developments in the rural areas, and in this case, against the growing crisis of agriculture since the market reforms were introduced to that sector. Unfortunately, those issues are beyond the scope of this article and will have to be left to another time. [See the Hugh Dean/William Hinton exchange on the reforms, particularly regarding agriculture, in Monthly Review, March 1989--ed.]
The student movement spearheaded the broad democracy movement which erupted in China this spring, far stronger than it had been two years ago or in the late '70s. Now, higher education in China has been run very differently than it was in Mao's day. Only token efforts have been made to bring youth of worker and peasant backgrounds into the universities. Admission is formally based on intellectual merit as shown on standardized exams and is subject to "backdoorism" and other forms of corruption. As a result, the student body is disproportionately the children of relatively privileged strata party officials, intellectuals, those who have accumulated substantial wealth.
Some of the movement's initial core demands could be considered calls for the extension of student privilege--bigger dorm rooms, more academic supplies, better food--or for enhanced post school opportunity--the right to choose posts, better pay (especially in the face of the well¬publicized high incomes of some entrepreneurs). These demands were also part of a more general thrust for greater priority being placed on education, with more and better facilities and higher pay and more respect for teachers as a path to improving a seriously inadequate higher education system.
The student movement already had some skeletal organization. The current wave of student organization first made itself felt with last fall's racist demonstrations against African students in Nanjing and several other cities. During these incidents, which were quickly stopped, the students tried to raise general democratic slogans but drew no visible support from the masses or within the Party.
A major demand in the spring was that the government recognize an independent national student group. No such forms, independent of Party and State, have existed on this scale in China since liberation, so this represented a major challenge to the existing order. The effort to form an Independent Students Autonomous Union was backed by dissident intellectuals like Feng Lizhi and by some people within the Party.
Many students have a very positive view of Western bourgeois democracy. This stems from an overall political climate in which the West has been held up for emulation by the central government, exposure to bourgeois theorists like Mill and Dewey in class, and the fact that many tens of thousands of Chinese students have lived as students in the U.S. and other Western countries under conditions likely to create favorable sentiment.
Egalitarianism and Outrage
This is a bleak picture--the students are privileged, selfish, racist, anti-Party and in the thrall of Western bourgeois values.
And the reason it's so bleak is that it's absurdly onesided. All these elements existed in the student movement. Let's stipulate that. That doesn't mean they necessarily predominated or determined the movement's character. The students were also both patriots and internationalists. Having grown up in socialism, they had internalized many of its finest values. Like student movements in other times and places, they saw themselves as fighting to perfect a system which looked better on paper than in practice. Their egalitarianism and outrage at corruption demonstrated this. They displayed the rebelliousness of youth combined with a noteworthy willingness to sacrifice to advance the struggle. They developed their own internal discipline under difficult conditions and held to it well.
So let's look at what the students did. Realizing that their initial concerns were indeed narrow, they set out to build a broader united front by raising general slogans against corruption and for democracy.
Reform and Corruption
Corruption became such a central theme because it is a phenomenon which reflects many of the most important contradictions in China today. First, it's massive and pervades all of society. This is not just, "Oh, look what they caught James Watt doing with HUD." Corruption in China today is a daily fact of life. Second, it is in direct contradiction with the Maoist, and in fact socialist, ethic of selflessly and wholeheartedly serving the people. It is fueled by slogans and politics glorifying the rapid accumulation of wealth, so it raises in a most practical way the clash of very divergent ideological stands. Third, one of the main sources of corruption is the current status of the reforms.
In industry as well as agriculture, some goods are now designated by the state for sale at set prices, while production over or outside of these quotas can be sold at whatever price the market will bear. Anybody so positioned as to get hold of a lot of goods at the state set price can make a killing selling them off through private channels. And guess who has that access. Actually, the Chinese didn't even have to guess. Articles in the press there over the last year had identified by name 28 qian wan fu weng--"ten-millionaires." Twenty six were kids of top officials! Fourth, people are really enraged about it. An article in Socialist Review (89/2) mentions a study by a Chinese scholar who interviewed Cultural Revolution participants and "found that a majority said that they would again voluntarily engage in a Cultural Revolution-type mass uprising against corruption if the leadership mobilized them to do so."
The students' demands for democracy were not as clearly focused. Still, they reflected the common feeling that the government was not aware of or responsive to the needs and sentiments of the people. When an issue of democracy did become clear, as when hundreds of journalists marched demanding press freedom, the students quickly united with and took up this demand as their own.
Having raised these broad issues, the students assiduously pursued an astute united front strategy from the first days of the demonstration. Students mobilized themselves to go to the major factories in and around Beijing to explain what they were doing and to urge workers to come down to the Square to take part in the marathon free form discussions which were taking place there. They found broad support and interest from a huge section of Beijing's population. Just how broad became clear on May 20 when a million citizens clogged the city's streets to turn back the Army's first bid to dislodge the occupiers of Tiananmen.
In the Square itself, the students came to realize that they were affecting the future of China itself. They took this responsibility extremely seriously. Discussion and debate eddied through crowds in the Square as each person holding forth attracted a circle which shifted into new circles as listeners became speakers in turn. People debated the Party, socialism, democracy, market reforms, the West for hours. The crowds included workers, Party members, residents, vendors as well as students. Consensus was reached--the lnternationale became the students' theme song because its vision described the society to which people aspired. Consensus shifted--early demands which focused on corruption and the need for a dialog between the leadership and the student movement were joined by slogans calling for Li Peng's (and Deng's) fall as their unbending opposition became clearer. Overall, while the students' demands and program can be criticized as vague and sometimes contradictory, they retained a central thrust of demanding a greater role for the Chinese people in determining their own destiny.
With the police largely withdrawn and especially after the Army was kept out of the city by the masses, the students and their supporters took on the responsibility for directing traffic and more generally maintaining social order. This happened not only in Beijing, but also in Shanghai and other cities where the military and police held back or were held back by the authorities.
By the time of the massacre, the students saw themselves as--and had become --patriots fighting for the Chinese people's future. No one stands in the path of a column of tanks for less crowded dorm rooms. This doesn't make all their ideas right or even coherent, but it does mean they were no "tiny handful of counterrevolutionaries," hell bent on restoring capitalism. (The obligatory disclaimer: Are there counterrevolutionaries in China who want to smash socialism? Yup. Did they come to Tiananmen to make trouble? No doubt. Thugs and criminals, too? Sure, but so what? When there is massive social turmoil, there are always scum who will try to take advantage. To insist on purity in the ranks is to demand inaction.)
It's My Party...
The background of the inner Party struggle lies in the economic reforms initiated by Deng after the fall of the Gang of Four and the removal of Hua Guofeng as Chairman. What Deng did was to shift the economy's emphasis from accumulation and investment to consumption, to greatly expand the role of the market and private enterprise and investment in the economy at the expense of central planning and state ownership (Business Week estimates that only 56% of China's industrial production still comes from the state sector), and to promote foreign investment and integration into the capitalist dominated world economy.
The aim was to better living standards and break with economic stagnation. The new policy initiative succeeded on both fronts, and in doing so brought to the fore a whole new set of contradictions. These include runaway development, inflation, the loss of considerable infrastructure resources in the countryside, rampant corruption and rising economic inequalities among individuals, regions and classes.
The reforms, which were begun in the '70s but not consolidated into a consistent package until 1982, in effect created a new era in CPC politics. Serious disagreements over the pace and political implications of the reforms grew and for the last several years there have been three discernible groups in the Party leadership. All three groups had been attacked as bourgeois rightists and Party persons in power taking the capitalist road during the Cultural Revolution. None has put itself forward as advocating a return to the policies of the Mao era. In fact it is difficult to assign the labels left and right to these groupings, so this paper proposes to use the names, Reformers, Moderates and Old Guard outlined in the table above.
The divisions among these leadership groups have left the Central Committee and Politburo largely paralyzed for the last three years. Different provincial and local leaders have tended to align with one or another of these groups, but have also taken advantage of the paralysis to go their own routes. On a national scale, ideological campaigns (like the one to combat "spiritual pollution," i.e. Western bourgeois thinking) and efforts to control runaway phenomena in the economy (i.e., persistent capital overspending) have both proved ineffectual.
The Reformers were mainly handpicked protégés of Deng, on whom he relied to implement the economic reforms. In selecting them, Deng was frequently at odds with the Old Guard, whom he gradually forced out of formal positions of power. On the other hand, once in office, the Reformers seemed driven by the nature of the economic problems they confronted to take the reforms further in the direction of decentralization and market incentives than Deng and the Moderates originally intended.
For their part, the Old Guard tended to direct their fire mainly at the Reformers, though this may have been an indirect way of isolating Deng. In any event, the development of mass movements calling for democracy twice found sympathy among the Reformers and produced an alliance between Deng and the Old Guard. The first time was in '86 87 and resulted in the fall of Hu Yaobang, the expulsion from the Party of Feng Lizhi and other dissidents whose views ranged from "reform the party" to "urging a multi-party state," and the temporary shifting of democratic and/or bourgeois liberal stirrings into other arenas like the mass media. Nevertheless, the stalemate in the Party continued (even though Zhao is reported to have told Gorbachev that the Politburo had officially voted to allow Deng final say on any issue before it!).
The current showdown seems at the moment to have produced a more decisive defeat for the Reformers, and a very strong hand for the Old Guard in their alliance with the Moderates. In Deng's first public appearance after the crackdown, he was closely flanked by octogenarians like Chen Yun, Li Xiannian, Peng Zhen and Bo Yibo, whom he himself had forced or maneuvered off the Politburo and out of most positions of power during the 1980s.
The decision to repress the students in Tiananmen by force of arms itself gave rise to sharp splits in the Party. This could be seen most clearly in the letter signed by over 100 retired top level commanders, including former army Chief of Staff Yang Dezhi and former Defense Minister Zhang Aiping, which strongly opposed the use of troops against the demonstrators. The refusal of current Defense Minister Qin Jiwei, who appears to have been dumped, to endorse the use of force and the decision to rely primarily on the 27th Army which had been stationed far from the turmoil in the boonies of Inner Mongolia are further evidence of widespread sentiment in the military that the crackdown was a shocking violation of the historically deep ties between the PLA and the people.
Similarly, as many as twenty of twenty nine provincial Party committees had still not come out in support of the crackdown five days after the attack. Few were willing to follow the repressive example of the central authorities, even though massive protests which included blocking railroads and highways took place in the week following the crackdown in dozens of localities, among them Shanghai, Xian and Wuhan.
Deepening our understanding of the inner-Party struggle and of the student movement isn't enough. We have to look at and think about the relationship between these two phenomena. Simplistic views which make the student movement either a creation, a cat's paw, of a group within the Party leadership or an entirely spontaneous mass upsurge with minimal connection to the inner Party divisions just won't do.
Who's Zooming Who?
To underline the obvious, the inner Party struggle and the democracy movement are both products of the same developments in recent Chinese history:
• The experience of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution with its attendant disorder;
• The failure of socialism to solve major problems of economic development and social stability;
• The reforms which reversed overall economic policy and created new contradictions;
• Unclarity about the nature of socialism, strategies for building it, the place of democratic institutions and the rule of law, and the role of the Party.
These common roots could be seen in the battle of language and of symbols. Both the students and the Deng/Li Peng group defined themselves first as Chinese patriots with Deng arguing that only under conditions of stability and complete national unity can China develop itself. The students won the semiotic battle hands down. They adopted Mao and the Statue of Liberty as their symbols, while the language of the inner Party clash was larded with discredited catch phrases from the Cultural Revolution.
The importance of the symbols can be seen in the students' occupation of Tiananmen. Not only is this square the spiritual heart of socialist China, but the universally known history of the 1976 Tiananmen incident resonates with three key meanings; First, the struggle is against dogmatists who defy the popular will. Second, the mass action of the people can create favorable conditions. And third, the question of political power is at stake. The students knew this when they chose Hu Yaobang's demise to restage the events around Zhou Enlai's funeral. Deng certainly knew it—he has acknowledged that he engineered the first Tiananmen incident.
From this common base of history and language, the stalemate and stasis in the Party provided the social space for the student movement to develop. (In Poland, by contrast, it had been in the crevices between the Church and Polish United Workers Party that first KOR and then Solidarnosc found the social space to take root.) The perceived political stagnation of the authorities impelled people to take up the big questions the Party wasn't addressing in public.
Within this framework, some Party leaders supported and encouraged the movement. Zhao Ziyang, for instance, characterized the students as patriotic and addressing real problems. As Lenin said, we have no sincere-o-meter. The Reformers may have been genuinely sympathetic to the student movement, they may have been seeking to use it to strengthen their own hand in the clash in the Party, or they may have felt the students' demands were in keeping with their own program.
It is clear that Zhao Ziyang was not initially regarded as a hero or leader of the students. In fact, his son Zhao Dajun is notorious for the kind of corrupt practices the movement targeted. (At a New York forum, a Chinese student described how during her stint in an appliance factory, young Zhao had strolled in and requisitioned several thousand units for himself.) Zhao's popularity grew in direct proportion to his statements of conditional support for the demonstration.
Whatever we know about the role of various Party figures within the mass movement is naturally subject to varying interpretations. For instance, it has been convincingly reported that students from the Party History Department at People's University in Beijing played a key role in pulling off the occupation of the Square. [See, for example, the May 25, 1989 New York Times interview with Colby professor Lee Feighon, just back from a month at People's University--ed.] It's likely that these kids, many of them offspring of high CP officials, were more aware of the terms of the inner-Party debate than most students, and consulted with Party leaders they respected. It is equally likely, though, that as the heirs in training to the Party machinery, they would be the most concerned about corruption in the Party and the erosion of its standing among the masses. It's hardly likely that they would take part en masse in a planned effort to destroy the Party they are being groomed to lead.
In the initial stages, the demonstrators' demands focused on corruption and calls for a dialog with government and Party leaders. This was not unprecedented: during the Cultural Revolution, Zhou Enlai and other leaders spent much of their time meeting and negotiating with delegations from regions, Red Guard factions, institutions, etc. This time the Party leaders saw themselves faced with a major contradiction: if they acknowledged that major problems existed which required a dialog, they also admitted the implication that the Party was distanced from the opinions and the actual interests of the masses of the people. It was when Li Peng and Deng decided against this course that demands for their ouster began to swell, making explicit what was only hinted at in the demand for dialog--an open challenge to the Party's authority. Still, for the most part, the challenge was only to certain Party leaders, and not to the existence or leading role of the Party itself.
A couple of further points also suggest strongly that spontaneity predominated in the Tiananmen demonstration. One is the huge outpouring of popular support for the students. Party cadre at certain workplaces may have mobilized people to turn out in support, but thousands of citizens turned out on their own. No suggestion has been made by the government that the million strong human blockade of Beijing residents which stopped the Army on May 20 was ordered by anyone to do so. Within the Square itself, recognized student leaders like Wuer Kaixi on several distinct occasions announced the end of the occupation only to find that while some students left, others, especially those who had traveled from other cities to join up, refused to leave, and lost respect for speakers who urged backing down. That the leaders may have been tactically correct doesn't change the fact that the tactical decisions were made in mass democratic fashion by those in the Square.
Rather than a political move by one group in the CPC leadership, the month and a half long occupation brought the struggle in the leadership to a head. Both Zhao and Li Peng visited the demonstrators shortly before the declaration of martial law. After that all the top leaders disappeared from sight, and the masses of the Chinese people had little but rumors and Western press coverage to go on. This as much as anything else started to take the wind out of the sails of the demonstration -people realized that the future was being decided at levels to which they had little or no access.
Why The Crackdown?
One thing which puzzles many observers is the savage character of the repression of the student movement at Tiananmen (and in Chengdu and elsewhere subsequently). Why didn't the Moderate/Old Guard forces simply let the demonstration peter out or harass it to speed the process up? Of course we can only speculate, but a couple of things should be considered. Tactically, the students had announced their intention to stay on until the meeting of the National People's Congress scheduled for June 20. Normally a rubber stamp body, it is also formally China's highest ruling body. Chosen by elections from the base up, it might, in a time of paralysis in the Party leadership (not to mention with the example of the extraordinary recent session of the Supreme Soviet to consider), prove substantially more likely to initiate political reforms or change the course laid down by Deng.
Strategically there is no reason to assume that Deng and Li Peng, not to mention Peng Zhen and that crew, are blowing smoke: They believe that their opponents in the Party are intent on a course that will steer China off the socialist road and spell disaster. In their view, the impasse had to be broken and restorationist forces beaten back for a long period to come. It is very important to try and conceive of the situation as it appears to Deng and his allies. Their fear of disorder is both real itself and based in reality. To take just one example, the peasants did not play an active role in recent events. However, the Chinese press has reported on a sort of Mao revival in the countryside, at a time when an annual inflation rate of over 25% has resulted in the State paying many peasants for their crops in scrip, government i.o.u.s. The potential for rural unrest is clear.
Finally, decisive measures against the student-led forces of "bourgeois liberalism" would tend to line up or neutralize wavering elements in the other camp and present the Party as a whole with a fait accompli that it would have to rally around. For instance, Wan Li had sent home a telegram from a state visit to Canada and the U.S. opposing the imposition of martial law. But after a stretch under house arrest in Shanghai and the massacre, he appeared on TV with Deng.
It is not true that, as some Leftists and media types are saying, the PLA has never before fired on Chinese citizens. Is there any applicable precedent here in recent Chinese history to this massacre? It is illuminating to look at what took place during the Cultural Revolution in July '68. When Red Guard factions at Beijing's universities had sunk to armed combat between small fanatical grouplets, a heartbroken Mao decided the time had finally come to crack down. Although the students were armed to the teeth with stolen and homemade weapons and explosives, with Mao's approval workers at the Xinhua printing plant mobilized a contingent of over 30,000 workers from neighboring factories to march to Qinghua University and end the fighting--without using force! Although workers were killed and many wounded by the students, they exercised what can only be called proletarian discipline and accomplished their mission. The contrast between this well known incident and the assault on Tiananmen couldn't be clearer.
And this brings up the most striking thing about the whole period commencing with Hu Yaobang's death. It was the students and to a lesser extent the CPC Reformers who applied the mass line, took their case to the people through a wide range of methods and mobilized the masses. Deng Xiaoping for his part concentrated on mobilizing five out of seven top regional military commanders.
What the Future Holds
Predicting what's going to happen in China is a chump's job. There's almost no way to come out of it looking good. So here goes. The first wave of post Tiananmen repression has been fairly extensive and savage. The first trial and executions, of three workers in Shanghai accused of helping burn a train which had just killed six demonstrators, showed a couple of things: the crackdown was going to be harsh and a very serious effort was going to be made to drive a wedge between the students who spearheaded the movement and their supporters, especially from the urban working class. The idea is to teach the classic lesson, "Don't hang around with these irresponsible kids, because you're going to be the ones who get clobbered." Internal CPC documents from the time of the 1986 student democracy demonstrations cite Deng as saying, "Polish leaders were soberminded and firm. Confronted with the challenge from the church, which colluded with the worker union, and supported by the West, they brought the situation under control through martial law." Uh huh.
The repression goes far beyond the executions and the thousands of reported arrests. The media is being brought back under close central control and made a key tool in denying the scale of what happened in terms of participation, number of deaths, etc. Even so, some papers have been waging an anti crackdown campaign with allusive articles like a recent one about Argentina in People's Daily. It said, "Now, the Alfonsin government has already completely lost administrative ability. The majority in the ruling party propose that he should retire early from his political post to prevent the entire party from further loss of reputation."
The struggle over the future course of the Party and China is clearly not over. While Zhao has been officially deposed from all Party positions along with Hu Qili and Sichuan Party chief Yang Rudai, a number of other figures closely associated with him have been retained and Deng was unable to generate a unanimous vote for Zhao's ouster on the Politburo. Nor have any publicly reported steps been taken against the military officers who petitioned and spoke on television against the use of armed force against student demonstrators. The Old Guard forces whose support was crucial to the Deng/Li axis are really old and the experience of first Hu Yaobang and now Zhao Ziyang, both handpicked by Deng for their top slots, indicates that it is pressures and dynamics built into the present economic and political situation in China that impel leaders into heterodoxy, independent of anyone's will.
The most serious question is to what extent the crackdown has damaged the Party's authority among the masses. Especially if, as seems likely, the People's Republic is in for a fairly protracted period of internal repression, banal and stilted ideological rectification campaigns, and continued Party infighting, Deng's crackdown may prove a colossal miscalculation, a case of "In order to preserve stability, it became necessary to destroy it." For instance, China's students in the current vision are an essential element in the drive to modernize the country. How many of the roughly 50,000 students studying abroad are now poised enthusiastically to return home to contribute to socialist construction? There have already been mass resignations by Party members studying on U.S. campuses.
And what is the future of the democracy movement? For certain it will be weaker and more anti¬Party for some time to come. It is not likely to vanish though.
Some Theoretical Implications
The question which best sums up the crisis of socialism is a very simple one: what is socialism? The problems and failures of what are often called actually existing socialist societies make it so. In the absence of a clear socialist vision or model which adequately deals with the shortcomings, we would do well to remind ourselves of some basic points. First, socialism is not just: 1) a thoroughgoing welfare state (the iron rice bowl); 2) a rising standard of living for the majority of people; 3) state or collective ownership of the bulk of the means of production; 4) in Third World countries, the defense of national interests against imperialism. To be sure all of these should be characteristics of any socialist country, but they are not the essence.
Socialism is a transition. It is a transitional stage of social development en route to classless society on a global scale. As such it does have some essential characteristics: 1) the masses learning to be masters of all of society; 2) the breaking down of divisions from previous levels of social development (including male and female, mental and manual, urban and rural), so that all can share more or less equally in the production of social wealth; 3) making accessible to everyone the forms of knowledge and skill used in regulating society's relationship to nature; 4) the devotion of resources to maximizing the human capacity for creativity and happiness.
So far, socialists have not been able to stake out a clear course to advance this transition. The real world is after all an infinitely complex and frequently nasty place. We have learned that motion toward classless society, communism, comes up against many barriers. There are class enemies, internal and external; the inertia of large institutions and social systems, which produces stasis; ignorance and the terrible force of habit of millions and tens of millions; and the fact that a national economy has its own dynamics and isn't subject to transformation based simply on someone's ability to imagine a better way of doing things.
The CPC turned to the market for good reason: economic growth was stalled, and the central plan had proved inadequate to guide production and promote growth at a microeconomic level (plant by plant, locality by locality).
But extensive use of the market has practical consequences. It accelerates bourgeois right and deepens divisions among the Chinese people, with some individuals, enterprises and regions becoming richer and others losing out. Further the market insinuates itself into every sphere of existence. Take housing, once provided in urban areas by work units or the State. With more men and women working for small enterprises, themselves, or entrepreneurs, their housing needs will be met at unsubsidized rates and likely through spontaneous and for-profit construction. In doing all this, the market, both because it is acting as an indicative and regulatory mechanism and because of the inequities it produces, erodes the authority and the hegemony of the Party and State.
Finally, the market has ideological consequences. It promotes selfishness, as we witnessed so painfully during the Reagan years. The market promotes material incentive over moral incentive, but material incentives come with a moral built in. And when that moral is publicly reinforced with slogans like "Some must get rich first," then all the rhetoric in the world about socialist spiritual civilization is going to have a hollow and unconvincing ring to it. Last August 31, a China Daily article reported: "A survey of 8,535 employees in Dalien Shipbuilding Plant shows that 74 percent of them think that unequal distribution of wages has largely dampened their concern for their work."
On the political front, the lessons we have to start thinking about are clearer, some being raised directly by the mass movement and its supporters. It is a tautology to say that the Communist Party is a party of the working class; the Party runs China; therefore the working class and its allies run China. To be sure, the Party does the running. To an extent, this means the proletariat, as a self conscious class for itself, is running China. The question is, in what direction is the very real contradiction between the Party and the people moving?
We are not anarchists who say these things mean the Party must be destroyed. Nor are we Tories who hold that someone has to rule the peons. We are materialists who have faith in the capacities of the masses of people and know that they learn by doing. And the lessons of recent events--the squashing of the public discourse over China's future, the top down character of the inner-Party struggle and eventual response to the students, and the savagery of the attack on the demonstrators, their supporters and bystanders--in no way draw people more deeply into the running of their own country. Rather they produce fear, cynicism and alienation.
The turmoil also points up that the mechanisms the Chinese Revolution has produced to date are painfully inadequate to lead the people in an active transition. The National People's Congress is once again revealed as a joke body whose function is to place a formal democratic stamp on issues already decided, stands already taken and policies already being implemented. Even the Politburo was bypassed by Deng in his push to knock out Zhao and stop the demonstrations. As pointed out before, the ability to line up the majority of the top military commanders is not necessarily the best criterion to determine which position is correct in a complex line struggle.
These failures of the existing order also point up the importance of a theme Deng and others in China have been raising for almost a decade--the need for the rule of law. Stability does not mean the absence of disorder. Hell, dialectics teaches us that stability is temporary and conditional while instability, contradiction, is permanent and general. Stability lies in having a social structure and laws which permit contradiction and crises to be worked out within a framework commonly agreed upon and which minimize the threat to the life, liberty and individual rights of those who participate, not to mention bystanders.
Okay, it's easy to criticize and say the existing mechanisms are inadequate. Where do new ones come from? It's hard to make up a whole social system in your head and even harder to convince anyone else that it's real. What people tend to do is look for precedents. This is where the fascination with European parliamentary democracy, the U.S. separation of powers, and other bourgeois forms of rule comes from. Nor is this simply a reactionary phenomenon. If the evaluation is undertaken from a proletarian class stand and tries for objectivity, there is plenty, some of it positive, to be learned from these Western forms. By the same token, the experience of the Paris Commune, now largely discredited in China because of misuses during the Cultural Revolution, still holds valuable lessons.
New forms can come from efforts to drastically reform old ones. The changes taking place in the Supreme Soviet and the Polish parliament will certainly be rich in lessons. Civil society itself will, if permitted, produce non Party forms like, say, independent unions or student organizations which can make real contributions. It may very well turn out that some kind of multi party structure is necessary for the transition to communism.
Socialist New Forms?
The need to develop new and better mechanisms of rule for the period of transition, socialism, is a classically Marxist one, dealing with the relationship between the economic base and the political superstructure. During the last few months, the Western media carried on at length about how China's economic reforms made necessary political reforms, meaning that since the Chinese government was turning "capitalist," it would have to adopt "American style democracy" as well. It is a facile and self serving, not to mention self glorifying, argument. No matter how annoying it is, it also contains a materialist element in that changes in the economic base do call into being changes in the superstructure, including the State.
Whatever its other shortcomings, the model of a single party which dominates the state structure is a reasonable "fit" for a centrally planned economy in which State and collective ownership of the means of production are about the only forms which exist. With the Party based in workplace units and the people's communes, it is in direct daily touch with the needs and views of the masses. For their part, the people get some representation, even if flawed, some input into the functioning of their government. But the reforms have changed the fit. In the countryside, communes, brigades and workteams are no longer the basic economic units, the family is. In the urban areas, the reforms have produced several layers of people who are not represented as individuals or as socioeconomic strata in the current structure- vendors and other entrepreneurs, those businesspeople who employ wage labor, the women and men who work for them, workers in small cooperatives in the service sector in particular, or in new small workshops which have been spun off by established plants. These folks are out of the loop. They don't have any direct leverage on what happens in the Party. For the Party, the consequences are equally serious- there is a growing section of the economy which hasn't been fitted into the existing structure, which makes the practice of the mass line more difficult, not to mention the implementation of policy. Either the Party/State ruling structure must be changed or these contradictions will expand and become even more explosive.
The Revolution Will Be Televised
A big part of the context for the U.S. Left's response to the turmoil in China is the enormous interest the demonstration and crackdown found among the U.S. people. Televisions in bars were tuned to Cable News Network. Evidently the revolution will be televised. This was the most media saturated, real-time coverage event ever. It was an inescapable topic of conversation. There was even a spate of the kind of disaster jokes which show that an event has shocked a wide range of people ("D'ja hear about the new fashion fad in Beijing? Tank tops."). In general, the spontaneous response was one of sympathy and support for the students and anger at the Chinese government and Party, and at the apparent equivocation of the U.S. government and big business.
The bad part, of course, is that the media and politicians of all stripes have gone nuts with anti-communist tirades. Their position is that the Chinese people want Democrats and Republicans and large shopping malls just like us and the communists hate the idea so much they are willing to have rivers of blood running in the streets of Beijing in order to prevent it.
This is no small deal. The pall of Tiananmen will hang heavy over left wing and socialist politics in the U.S. for several years to come. The Time/Newsweek utter bankruptcy of the¬communist system analysis has fertile soil in the spontaneous reactions of the population here. At a time when U.S. capitalists have little to boast about and a growing list of worries, it is ironic that the best propaganda they have to defend their system is the practice of socialism in power. Without a political understanding of some of the complexities and larger issues involved, U.S. socialists will be ill equipped to counter the continuing bourgeois ideological offensive.