Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 5 June 2009

Tiananmen Square 1989: Counter-revolution crushes China's democracy movement

Workers and students put up heroic resistance

ON 3-4 June 1989, Deng Xiaoping and other aged leaders of China's so-called 'communist' party, ordered 200,000 troops to crush a two-month long movement of workers and students against bureaucratic rule and for workers' democracy. At least 1,000 people were killed in central Beijing and 40,000 arrested in the following weeks. In this second part commemorating the movement we reprint an extract from Militant editorial (the forerunner of The Socialist) written at the time.

THOUSANDS HAVE been arrested and thrown into jail. Thousands more have gone into hiding. Students' and workers' leaders have been rounded up, including the founders of the autonomous trade union organisation.

Telephone hotlines have been set up for informers. Every day prisoners are paraded on the television, chained and obviously beaten, to create an atmosphere of fear and despair.

In true bureaucratic style, Deng Xiaoping, Li Peng, and their henchmen are denouncing their opponents as 'counter-revolutionaries'. Strange counter-revolutionaries who sung the Internationale as the tanks tore into them on Tiananmen Square!

The hardliners are reviving the Stalinist language of the so-called Cultural Revolution, during which Deng himself was denounced as a counter-revolutionary and purged by the Maoist faction.

According to the old guard, the movement against them was a plot led by "a very small number of political hooligans and evil-doers".

As in the Cultural Revolution, the leaders also point to the 'black hand' of American imperialism, and are attempting to whip up xenophobia, hatred of foreigners, to bolster up their regime. Yet day after day, the 'small group of hooligans' numbered hundreds of thousands on Tiananmen Square.

Such a mighty wave of opposition can arise only from deep social roots.

It was triggered off by the bold action of the students. But the movement, which drew in wide sections of the workers and other strata, was stimulated by accelerating inflation and unemployment, growing inequality between a prosperous elite and the majority of workers and peasants and rampant corruption among managers and party bosses.

The protest expressed a profound hatred of the bureaucracy. The bloody repression of 4 June evoked no celebrations from a populace saved from 'counter-revolution'. On the contrary, the massacre provoked mass protest and clashes throughout China.

For a whole week, 15 major cities were convulsed by mass demonstrations, a blockade of roads and railways, extensive strikes and clashes with the police and army, with the virtual paralysis of the main industrial centres.

Step by step the regime has clamped down. Yet in Shanghai, the country's biggest industrial centre where there has been an extraordinary movement of the students and workers, the mayor has so far been very cautious in carrying out repression, though he does not rule out more drastic measures as the movement ebbs.

The hardliners are now firmly back in the saddle. They are trampling on the mass movement with steel studded boots. This is their revenge against a movement which shook the bureaucracy to its rotten core.

From the start, the bureaucracy was split. The commanders of the 38th Army based in Beijing refused to move against the students and workers. For two weeks, behind closed doors, Deng, Li and the old guard fought a bitter struggle for control of the key levers of the state apparatus and the army. They were suspended in mid-air, powerless to enforce their rule.

The students' call for democracy and an end to bureaucracy and corruption drew out hundreds of thousands of workers onto the streets. Even sections of the bureaucracy and members of the ['communist'] party were affected. When the army first moved against them, the human barricades fraternised with the soldiers and the army cracked, with many soldiers throwing off their uniforms and some handing over their weapons.

Had the students and workers organised committees of workers, soldiers and students and peasants... for the overthrow of the bureaucracy and the introduction of workers' democracy, the army could have been split from top to bottom.

Decisive sections could have been won over to the workers. All the conditions were there, apart from a clear Marxist programme, for the overthrow of the bureaucracy. But as in all revolutionary situations, the movement reached the point of either/or - either the overthrow of the bureaucracy, with power being taken into the hands of the workers, or a bloody counter-revolution, with the bureaucracy re-establishing its rule by naked repression. Without the decisive winning over of the troops, most of the military commanders, faced with a challenge to the rule of the bureaucracy, fell in line with the hardliners. ...

The hardliners are now tightening their grip on the regime and over society. The head of the security apparatus, Qiao Shi, appears to be a key figure in the new leadership.

Deng, once hailed as the great reformer, has abandoned reforms and his reformist allies like Zhao Ziyang who has disappeared. Zhao and the reformist wing of the bureaucracy may well have favoured further economic liberalisation and a relaxation of political control within the party and the state. But their position was fatally undermined by the economic chaos which resulted from their reform policies.

More repression

Significantly, Deng's first appearance on television was with the generals, "the iron great wall of the state", gratefully thanking them for their success in suppressing the 'counter-revolution'.

But by the same token, the generals have been brought nearer to the centre of power. The military bureaucrats will want their say in running the state. The factions within the military will be embroiled in new struggles within the leadership which will inevitably break out again in the future. ... Their only policy now is repression, repression and more repression.

But the economy is in crisis, in spite of the rapid growth of the recent period. The reforms, which opened the door to foreign firms and let loose an element of private enterprise in the countryside, have produced inflation of over 35%, shortages of basic food products and mass unemployment...

Although Deng is still saying the reform policy will continue, in reality there will be a period of re-centralisation. There will be re-centralisation and curbs on private enterprise, in a desperate effort to control inflation and bring down unemployment.

But this in turn will produce new problems. Under modern conditions the industrial sector cannot develop in isolation, without the import of technology and specialised products from the world market. Curbs on foreign investment, moreover, would undermine the development that has taken place recently, especially in the industrial centres on the East coast...

But the inevitable contradictions will sooner or later produce another zig-zag, when the bureaucracy, with new leaders coming to the fore, will lurch back in the other direction...

Eyewitness to massacre

ON THE eve of 3-4 June 1989 bloody massacre in Tiananmen Square, Steve Jolly (a Militant supporter - the forerunner of the Socialist Party), a witness and participant in the April-June events in China, was invited to address the formation of the Beijing autonomous trade union.

Because of the previous arrests of a number of worker activists, the meeting was switched to Tiananmen Square and Steve ended up speaking to a meeting of 500,000 people!

"I expressed solidarity from workers and students in Britain... to the movement in China and how they had captured the imagination of the workers and students and peasants internationally.

"I said: 'You are being called counter-revolutionary and pro-capitalist. But any government that calls itself communist, arrests union leaders and stands against democratic rights is not a real communist government - you are the real communists, you are the ones who hold the banner of revolution, not this government.'"

Later Steve recounts the moments when Deng Xiaoping's regime launched its counter-revolution.

"During the course of the day [3 June] 3,000 troops moved to one of the buildings next to Tiananmen Square...

"Workers and students were so confident that they could persuade the 27th army not to move against them. But at midnight it all started. They came first with tear gas followed by troops with electric batons. After that it was troops on foot, then tanks and army personnel carriers.

"Students lit up the barricades all over the city and they had street battles. But because they hadn't armed themselves and had refused on previous occasions to take arms from soldiers who had offered them, they suffered the consequences." (from Militant 16/6/89)

Thousands march to commemorate 4 June

THOUSANDS MARCHED through Hong Kong Island on Sunday 31 May 2009 to commemorate those slain in the 4 June 1989 Beijing massacre - the only part of China where such protests are allowed, as a prelude to the much larger candle-light vigil that takes place in Victoria Park on the anniversary itself.

Vincent Kolo,

This year, the 20th anniversary of the brutal crackdown, is expected to see the biggest mobilisation for more than a decade.

"The turnout today shows there is a revival of demands for genuine democracy," said 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-Hung, who represents the League of Social Democrats in Hong Kong's legislature, who helped to carry a coffin to the residence of Hong Kong's Chief Executive, symbolising the murdered workers and students of 1989.

"There are several factors at work this year. It is the 20th anniversary, that is one factor, but there is also the serious economic crisis in China and Hong Kong, which has heightened popular demands for democracy, and the stupid mistake of Donald Tsang [the chief executive] is another factor," he told

Recently, Tsang, who is appointed by the Beijing dictatorship, said it was a long time ago and that China's rapid economic growth over two decades meant the crackdown by the dictatorship merited an "objective assessment"!

Tsang merely blurted out what most CEOs and capitalists who operate from China really think: that so long as business prospers, issues like democracy and human rights can take a back seat. As one demonstrator, truck driver Cheung Sheung-yee, said on Sunday: "If a murderer becomes a rich man, does it excuse his crimes? Of course not".

Supporters of and the Committee for a Workers' International took part in the demonstration with a petition: 'Donald Tsang does not speak for us!' deploring his recent comments and calling for an independent enquiry into the 1989 events and the role of top Chinese officials in the loss of life.

Our petition calls for compensation for the families of the victims. It also calls for an end to one-party rule and police repression and the release of all political prisoners. The petition demands democratic rights in China including freedom of association, a free press and the right of assembly.

One issue raised by our website and our supporters in the demonstration has met with enormous support - the call to support workers' struggles in mainland China and the building of independent trade unions to stamp out 'blood-and-sweat' exploitation. These demands spell out what is needed in order to continue and build upon the tradition of struggle from May-June 1989.

The above abridged account can be read in full on

Eyewitness in China The events in Tiananmen Square May-June 1989,
by Steve Jolly - 1.50
Available from Socialist Books, PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD. 020 8988 8787,

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 5 June 2009:

Action to defend union rights

Visteon pensioners battle on

Vauxhall jobs threat - unions must organise a fightback

Workplace news and analysis

Royal Mail sell-off - Time for action!

Fast news

Tube workers vote to strike

Bristol refuse workers strike

Battling against the blacklist

Glasgow care workers' success

Socialist Party election campaign

Prepare now for next election challenge

European elections: Putting forward a workers' alternative

A Question Time carve up

Challenge these disgraced MPs

A Parliament of celebrities and a speaker of integrity


Aston University socialists fight for student democracy

Sussex University: Save Linguistics campaign

Socialist youth conference and protest

Youth Fight for Jobs: Fortnight of action 27 June to 10 July

Socialist Party feature

NATO anniversary: 60 years of aggression and terror

Socialist Party review

The Frock-Coated Communist: the revolutionary life of Friedrich Engels

Marxist analysis: history

Tiananmen Square 1989: Counter-revolution crushes China's democracy movement


Home   |   The Socialist 5 June 2009   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:

Tiananmen Square:

triangleTiananmen Square 1989

triangleNanjing college students in clashes with police

triangleTiananmen 1989: Seven weeks that shook the world


triangleKorean peninsula: is nuclear war likely?

triangleHong Kong: mass demonstration against repression

triangleChina: debt crisis, state repression and the prospects for workers' struggle

triangleLambeth Socialist Party: China - political repression and perspectives for workers' struggles


triangleChe Guevara 50 years on - revolutionary socialist and fighter

triangleJuly Days 1917: battles with counterrevolution

triangleThe Pentrich uprising: revolution and counter-revolution in 19th century Britain


triangleStrike against Madrid's 'state of emergency'!

triangleBrutal repression of Rohingya people sparks massive humanitarian crisis


triangleWarrington & St Helens Socialist Party: 1917-2017; the October Russian Revolution


triangleCardiff Socialist Students confront 'Parasite' Jacob Rees-Mogg


triangleVenezuela: Capitalist offensive sharpens after assembly elections

Historic events

Historic events


Che Guevara

Che Guevara 50 years on - revolutionary socialist and fighter



Mutinies and strikes: when Bolshevism threatened British bosses



Lewisham 1977: When socialists and workers defeated the far-right National Front



Marx's Capital at 150: an unequalled analysis and critique of capitalism


Russian revolution

Russia 1917: how art helped make the revolution


Russian revolution

July Days 1917: battles with counterrevolution



Lessons from the Russian revolution for LGBT+ struggle today



Liverpool's 1983-87 socialist council



The Pentrich uprising: revolution and counter-revolution in 19th century Britain


Russian revolution

June 1917: when workers in Britain first tried to form soviets


May Day

The real origins of May Day


Labour Party

How Blairism sank its claws into the Labour Party


Russian revolution

April 1917: how the Bolsheviks reorientated



1987 Zeebrugge disaster


Russian revolution

Lessons of Russia 1917 for women's struggle today

triangleMore Historic events articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle13 Oct The end of the Tories?

triangle11 Oct Nasty party out the Tories

triangle11 Oct CWU fights court attempt to stop national strike

triangle11 Oct The fight against racial discrimination is tied to fighting against...

triangle11 Oct Catalonia: Workers can finish what Puigdemont won't

triangle6 Oct Boeing bust-up threatens thousands of skilled jobs

triangle4 Oct The nasty party turns on itself... but the Tories must be driven out

More ...

triangle16 Oct Teesside Socialist Party: After the party conferences

triangle17 Oct London: TUC lobby & rally; and London march

triangle18 Oct Warrington & St Helens Socialist Party: 1917-2017; the October Russian Revolution

triangle18 Oct Hackney Socialist Party: 100 years ago - the Bolshevik-led revolution

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017





















Platform setting: = No platform choice