Tiananmen Square Massacre 25 years later

July 8, 2014

From the July-August 2014 issue of News & Letters

Crowds filled Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on June 4 to remember the massacre in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago. Under Hong Kong’s separate administration they bore witness to the two-month-long mass movement of students and workers that spread to city after city across China, and to those who had been killed when state-capitalist authorities sent in the army against demonstrators in Beijing and Chengdu on June 4, 1989. Police attempts to minimize the impact of Hong Kong’s memorial were made transparent by its official count: instead of the organizers’ count of 180,000, including youth not born in 1989, officials gave, not a nice round 100,000, but 99,500!

In Beijing the crowds at Tiananmen Square were the police, arrayed to thwart even individual acts of commemoration. Some Western news outlets “proved” the government claim that the average Chinese citizen is ignorant of the Tiananmen massacre by questioning people in public at the very time that even a tweet mentioning it could get one jailed. But the heavy police presence constituted an inadvertent reminder.

Those who had occupied Tiananmen Square had ample links to the long tradition of revolutionary opposition to Mao Zedong and post-Mao China. During the so-called Cultural Revolution after 1966, which Raya Dunayevskaya had called a preventive counter-revolution by Mao, a generation of Red Guards used Marx himself to demonstrate the failings of Mao’s China. 

A key theoretician of Mao, Wang Ruoshui, by undertaking an assignment to debunk the humanism of Marx as East Europeans were discussing it, became instead a developer of Marxist humanism in opposition to state-capitalism.


Students in 1989 marked the death of former Party chairman Hu Yaobang on April 15 by resuming the movement for freedom and democracy that had criss-crossed China in 1986-87 until it had been suppressed, especially in Shanghai and Beijing, and Deng Xiaoping’s chosen successor Hu had been forced from power.

By mid-May millions of students and workers occupied Tiananmen Square and hundreds of other cities. Martial law was precipitated not only by a widening hunger strike on the Square, but by workers forming the Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation independent of state/Party/army control. Only the intervention of Beijing citizens halted the movement of troops to clear the Square, and delayed the bloodshed until June 4.

The China of 1989 based on state-run industry looks far different today as much of that state property was spun off into the hands of insiders and international capital has exploited China’s labor power to turn it into the world’s workshop. But the escalation of strikes in electronics and auto, or the massive strike of over 40,000 workers in the Yue Yuen shoe factory in Dongguan, demonstrates workers’ historical memory and the continuity of workers’ resistance. The fact that the army that once protected state power at Tiananmen Square is now sent in to that shoe factory to break a strike against a foreign capitalists’ enterprise demonstrates that the same obstacle to workers’ freedom still remains to be overcome.

—Bob McGuire

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From Marxism and Freedom: from 1776 Until Today by Raya Dunayevskaya: 

“[S]ix weeks after the open forums first started, the Communist rulers called an abrupt halt to the ‘100 flowers’ campaign. Mao’s original speech, ‘Let 100 flowers bloom, let 100 schools of thought


contend,’ was intended for intellectuals only. Nevertheless the limited freedom expanded itself. [Mao] delivered a new speech, ‘On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People.’ The right to free expression ended abruptly, ruthlessly.”

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