June 3, 2009

The Tiananmen Massacre: A View From 1989

[Suddenly, history has delivered us to the 20th anniversary of a grim landmark in the history of socialism, and in the unfolding of the crisis of socialism--the brutal military assault on protesting students and their supporters in Beijing and throughout China known as the Tiananmen Massacre. On this solemn occasion, Fire on the Mountain reprints the statement issued by the leadership of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization within days of the initial assault, as savage repression still met fiery resistance in China's cities.]

On the Situation in China

By the Standing Committee
for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, 6/10/89

The massacre committed by elements of the government, military and Communist Party of China in Tienanmen Square and the subsequent brutal repression of the student-spearheaded mass movement, are not only a horror for the Chinese people but also represent a tremendous stain on the international flag of socialism. While our views as to the source or outcome may vary, we are deeply appalled by the brutal use of military force against unarmed civilians which resulted in a slaughter of as yet undetermined proportions. As socialists we condemn such actions and express our solidarity with the victims.
The atrocities committed against the students and their allies have been justified by certain elements as being carried out against alleged counter-revolutionaries. This argument is spurious. The opposition movement, sparked by the Beijing students, has involved a variety of class forces which have a wide range of views as to the way forward for China. We should remember that the information that we receive from the U.S. media is biased and certainly distorts the somewhat amorphous political views of this opposition. As revolutionary Marxists who have bitter experience with bourgeois democracy within a Western capitalist state we have significantly more sympathy with some of these views than others. At the same time the demands raised by the opposition, in the main, aimed at reforming the Party and the State. They were demands for an expansion of democracy and against the massive corruption and economic inequities which have grown during the period of economic reforms. As well, this movement, which was initiated by students, was joined by industrial and other workers, intellectuals, veterans and other sectors of society as it articulated a range of popular demands. This was not a movement which was preparing for an armed rebellion. Its methods were peaceful, although employing civil disobedience. Thus there can be no justification for the sort of wanton use of deadly force witnessed in Beijing.

We feel compelled to express our admiration for the people who, armed with little more than rocks and raw courage, repeatedly defied tanks and machine guns. Even as repression mounted in Beijing, students and others took to the streets in various Chinese cities in demonstrations against the massacre. We would like to assert our long term solidarity with the Chinese people, to convey our condolences to the bereaved families of the victims and to urge a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

The ramifications of these early June events in China could mean a long period of heavy repression, the erosion of the central government and even civil war, with the corresponding misery and disaster, as well as great damage to the cause of socialism and national liberation world-wide. As in Grenada six years ago, an incorrect handling of political contradictions will inevitably lead to disaster or, at best, a major set-back. For our organization, not only does the crisis in China point to the incorrect handling of contradictions among the people and within a Party, but it also points to the essential connection needed between socialism and democracy. The overlap of the Chinese State and Communist Party, and the lack of clear institutions of democratic control and accountability, make the movement for popular and progressive reforms a complicated maneuver in the society. Confronted with demands for change which had few outlets other than mass demonstrations and civil disobedience, sections of the government, Party, and military chose the course of violent military repression rather than dialogue.

In the face of mounting contradictions and popular struggle, the Communist Party of China did not rely on political struggle and education, i.e. it did not follow the mass line. Rather, it practiced a top-down arrangement which leaves no role for the masses to involve themselves. When politics are conducted primarily within an elite group and following a top-down approach such politics lose, regardless of intentions, the egalitarian thrust of socialism as well as the basic precepts established by Chairman Mao in the wake of the 1956 Hungarian Rebellion. In such a situation, reliance on repression and the military becomes the only means of resolving outstanding problems whether they occur within the Party or more generally among the people.

For many years, the People's Republic of China and its forty year struggle for independence, freedom and socialism has been a source of revolutionary inspiration to many of us on the U.S. Left. So it is with particular sadness and an eerie sense of disbelief that we watched this tragedy act itself out in Tienanmen Square, where in 1949 Chairman Mao told the world that "The Chinese People Have Stood Up." Our confidence in the spirit of the Chinese people is undaunted. Bloodied but unbowed, they remain standing in Tienanmen Square and all over China.

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