First Published: May 1993.
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This article was written by a member of the LTT during October and September 1992 as a contribution to the discussion on the role played by students in the democracy movement in China during April-June 1989. The audience it was originally conceived and written for was the Chinese activists, workers and students forced into exile by the suppression of that movement. The article has been translated into Chinese and circulated in both the Chinese and English languages among activists and the overseas Chinese community.
Taking as its starting point calls for the rehabilitation of disgraced, and then recently deceased, party leader Hu Yaobang, the student-led democracy movement culminated in demands for democracy, an end to corruption in the CCP and removal from office of Premier Li Peng together with Marshal Yang Shangkun.
The movement lasted less than two months but grew rapidly and at one stage – around May 13, when a million people in Beijing and half a million in Shanghai took to the streets in support of the students’ demands – looked set to threaten the rule of the CCP. The movement was drowned in blood on the night of June 3. That defeat, which cost over 1000 lives, ushered in a period of bleak reaction, as party bureaucrats rallied around Deng Xiaoping and sections of the military, waging a campaign of terror in order to restore their authority. The cost of defeat for the movement must, in its final reckoning, also include the dispersal into exile of student and worker activists, as well as the crushing of embryonic mass organisations independent of the bureaucracy’s control. Three years later, the struggle to win rights contained in Article 45 of the constitution and suppressed by the bureaucracy – the right to strike and demonstrate, freedom of speech and assembly – seems as far away as ever from a successful conclusion.
The victorious bureaucrats have lost no opportunity to heap one humiliation after another onto their captives, while clamping down ruthlessly on the minority peoples of Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang. Calls from workers for an improvement in their living standards have been met by official statements demanding ever greater sacrifices from workers in a concerted drive to increase production. This year, workers at the Beijing steel complex were told to give up their rest day or forfeit their jobs and homes. Under these conditions, exacerbated by the official censorship, echoes from the Beijing massacre, the prisons and execution grounds, wind their way through the thoughts and dreams of China’s peoples. The time when the flourishing activity and daily improvisation of the mobilised masses dominated the thinking of activists now gives way to doubts. Today, the full weight of periods of political stagnation and spiritual hunger find itself reflected uppermost in the thoughts of exiles, cut-off from the arena of mass activity. Chinese people, some would have it, are ‘consumed with self interest’, ‘lazy’, ‘greedy’, ‘bound-up by petty grievances’. What is implied here is the notion that ‘petty grievances’, ‘self interest’ and ‘getting rich’, render the masses incapable of the collective action necessary to win their rights. This notion is not new; it has emerged before in periods of enforced retreats. In fact this notion is common to exiled groups throughout recent history. After a period of intense activity meeting with failure, there comes doubt.
Over a century ago the Russian revolutionary democrat, Nicolai Chernyshevsky, countered this notion as follows:
‘Routine dominates the ordinary course of life of common people; and among the plain folk . . . the routine is just as dull and banal as in all other social estates . . . The picture is not at all attractive: at every step nonsense and dirt, pettiness and dullness.
But do not be in a hurry to draw conclusions from this regarding the validity or non-validity of your hopes, if you wish to alleviate the lot of the people; or of your misgivings, if you were so concerned about the dullness and the inertia of the people. Take the commonest, most colourless, weak-willed, shallow person; no matter how drab and petty the life he leads, it has in it moments of a totally different shade, moments of energetic efforts, courageous decisions. The same is also encountered in the history of every nation.’ 
Such a moment blasted itself out of the continuum of daily life in April 1989. Advance tremors indicating its arrival made themselves felt at the Tiananmen Square incident in 1976, the Democracy Wall Movement in 1979 and the student demonstrations of 1986. Before we proceed to examine the 1989 events, it is necessary to say a few words about doubt and ‘doubters’. Doubt can play a constructive role, it can also play a destructive one. At times of low spiritual ebb, after the exhaustion of a stage of mass activity, ‘doubters’ can write-off every effort, even their own past efforts, as so much wasted time and energy. Doubt can however play a progressive role in thought, if it leads to reflection, a renewed impulse to study social phenomena. Serious study calls for the drawing-up of a balance sheet of strengths and weaknesses within phenomena and should drive with inexorable logic to answer the question: What must be done to achieve the desired change? In this way, past failures can be seen as valuable tests of the adequacy or inadequacy of the ideas we have for bringing about change.
The events which constitute the Beijing Spring demand serious discussion among activists. They were a long time in preparation and much energy was expended on them. They were paid for at a terrible price. Contained in these events are examples which demonstrate the links, the transitions from individual initiatives and courageous decisions, to the mobilisation of millions of people. But this is not the only reason to study them. They also demonstrate the weaknesses and mistakes which brought about the isolation of the movement from the masses it claimed to lead, as well as its downfall. ‘But if you expose the weaknesses of the movement aren’t you really showing disrespect for the martyrs’, we can hear it said. No! On the contrary, no dishonour will be done to the participants by establishing clearly the causes of defeat.
Was the democracy movement doomed from the start? The short answer is: No. The defeat was the outcome of i) problems accumulated during previous decades when the Stalinist-Maoists denied workers and students their rights in a workers’ state; ii) mistakes made by participants in the movement; iii) the strength of illusions held by students and workers that the bureaucracy could reform itself; iv) the all too brief span of life the movement enjoyed.Democracy, whose democracy?
The central weakness common to the activists drawn into the movement remains to be resolved. The question of democracy cannot be left hanging in mid-air. Democracy must be filled with a class content. It must be emphasised that there is no above-class democracy or an in-between-class democracy. Either workers’ or bourgeois democracy rules, there is no other kind. The demands for democracy raised by students, in 1989, 1986 and 1979, can lead down the road to workers’ democracy if the state is purged of the entire bureaucratic caste. But these same demands can also lead to bourgeois democracy by opening the door to counter-revolution with capitalism being restored on the ruins of a workers’ state. Calls for the reform of the bureaucracy with the most corrupt and hated figures, ’fascist warlords’, being removed from post by the liberal pro-reform wing, cannot change the essential nature of Stalinism-Maoism. The many illusions which exist on this question cannot lightly be brushed aside, they must be faced squarely in order to defend the gains made since 1949. This question takes on a new urgency seen against the background of the 14th party congress.
It must again be emphasised that the alternatives offered between the pro-reform and ‘hardline’ wings of the bureaucracy is a trap. The ‘liberals’ lean closest to open collaboration with imperialism and its Chinese representative the Guomindang. This can be seen in their advocacy of the ‘open door’ policy and championing of private enterprise. In Guangdong province an estimated 50,000 businessmen arrive daily across the border from Hong Kong to take part in the reforms. The Guomindang is being invited back into China to reclaim lands and property seized from it in 1949. The sympathy for democratic demands and student grievances, displayed by the ‘liberals’ as a badge of office, are in reality a function of their collaboration with ‘democratic’ imperialist countries. The old guard ‘hardliners’ fear that economic reforms will undermine the source of their bureaucratic privileges. They do not have a different economic policy for China. During the pre-congress discussion, leading ‘hardliner’ Li Xiniang made a public statement supporting Deng’s programme of reforms. That there is no wall between the two wings of the bureaucracy can be demonstrated in the person of Deng Xiaoping. Zhao Ziyang is widely understood to be a protege of Deng. Early this year Deng toured Guangdong province, scene of reforms piloted by Zhao Ziyang, with its stock exchange, Special Economic Zones and proximity to Hong Kong. During his visit Deng made many remarks to the effect that ‘it is glorious to get rich’. In case any bureaucrat failed to understand the import of Deng’s remarks, special briefing papers were circulated throughout the CCP’s leading committees outlining Deng’s support for reforms. His trip was timed to coincide with Premier Li Peng’s visit to Switzerland where imperialists were informed that the process of restoring capitalism was under way in China and safe in the hands of the bureaucracy. Throughout the spring and summer Deng prompted manoeuvres to remove ‘hardliners’ from leading committees and replace them with a younger generation of pro-reformers. For the first time since the Beijing massacre, Zhao Ziyang’s name appeared in an official publication as author of an article, leading to speculation that his mentor Deng is restoring his fortunes. But this is the same Deng who rallied the old guard, including Chou En Lai’s widow and sections of the military, to crush the Beijing Spring. At that time Deng indicated that he thought it was necessary to crack a few thousand skulls in order to teach students and workers a lesson. This is the Deng who suppressed the Democracy Wall Movement and the student demonstrations of 1986. In the aftermath of the 1989 massacre, Deng, once disgraced by Mao as a ‘capitalist roader’, began to reassert the primacy of Mao Zedong thought. Students were forced to read Mao’s works specially reprinted for the occasion and study the exemplary character of Lei Feng, a myth created by the Maoists.
The crucial lesson for activists here is that the task before students, workers and poor farm labourers is not one of choosing between two wings of the bureaucracy. The task is to purge the entire bureaucracy in order to establish genuine workers’ democracy and defend the gains of the revolution. To carry out this task, the best elements among the students, workers and intellectuals must be drawn together to build a party based on the defence of the interests of the working class. This question is not a long-winded diversion but central to our concerns, because the bureaucracy’s most important asset, which created conditions for the downfall of the democracy movement, was the absence of a party to lead the working class.Students, student pacifism, the fetish for Tiananmen Square and intellectuals
First it is important to note that none of the young men and women, who began the struggle against Li Peng and the corrupt bureaucrats, considered themselves in any way out of the ordinary prior to the Beijing Spring. Indeed, according to many of the students’ speeches and documents, it was the mind-numbing sameness of their lives as students, and the almost automatic transition to the lower echelons of the party bureaucracy on graduation which faced them, that caused the students to make a stand. The idea of self-sacrifice, shedding blood and martyrdom flourished among the students precisely because they considered their lives of so little worth that martyrdom alone imparted to them the feeling they were of some consequence. At times of low ebb, the Beijing Spring received fresh impulses to struggle from the courageous decisions of handfuls of students who took to their bicycles and advanced to Tiananmen Square in defiance of the bureaucracy. Their heroism has been captured forever by the photograph of Wang Wei Lin who stood in front of a column of tanks and appealed to the crews in an attempt to win solidarity for the movement’s aims. More than once in China’s history the energy and self-sacrifice of the students has been a positive factor. But the pacifist outlook of the students has proven a serious weakness which must be overcome.
The students’ loyalty to the revolution, the gains it brought the masses, contributes to a strengthening of the pacifist outlook when that loyalty is unthinkingly extended to the bureaucracy. The same is also true of the illusions that students hold in the bureaucracy’s ability to reform itself. If the bureaucracy can reform itself, as pacifists believe, then it is not necessary to take up arms to fight it or the armed bodies of men who protect it. The sight of students confronting ranks of soldiers and policemen during the Beijing Spring was always pregnant with uneasy stalemate. Perhaps the students thought they had only to draw on their own deadening experience of lectures from bureaucrats to break down the will of the bodies of armed men, the better to win them over; to the aims of the movement. But the bureaucracy, led by Deng, were playing a game of cat and mouse with the students. Any soldiers or policemen won over by the students were quickly replaced by fresh troops from the hinterland, carefully starved of news and indoctrinated by the bureaucracy. This is another aspect of Deng the liberal: his creation of a modern army and police force since 1979. They have their own interests to defend as the students were to find out.
The PLA and other representatives of the armed forces were given an increased number of seats at the party Congress in October 1992. In his account of life in the square, student leader Li Lu says:
‘A student in the bus shouted over the loudspeaker, “The people love the people’s police, and the people’s police love the people! We come to bring peace and help keep order”. One policeman dragged the student from the bus screaming, “Fuck you, we don’t love you”, kicked him to the ground, and beat him with his baton. Similar incidents began to happen around the square. More and more wounded people were carried to the headquarters’. 
This incident took place at 2.00pm on June 3, in front of Xinhuamen on the west side of the square. But did this happen because the pacifist students were taken by surprise? Did the students have no warning of what was to come? Li Lu’s account claims our interest, not least because he shows that warnings were received and ignored as a virtue by the students. He recalls: ‘ “ We must welcome the butcher’s knife with the most peaceful means”, Chai Ling kept repeating through the loudspeakers.’ And Chai Ling was one of a handful of students who constituted the leadership of the square. Li Lu tells of ex-soldiers appearing at the square, concerned for the movement’s welfare. They explained how the bureaucracy routed demonstrators in the 1976 incident using brute force. They pointed out the location of secret tunnels under the square, even as they were being filled with the troops who would soon storm it. They warned the students that soldiers wearing civilian clothes had been infiltrating the square in readiness for the assault:
‘We asked them to talk to the people in the square, to tell them how to deal with all kinds of attacks. Soon, however, students came to the headquarters to say that they made everything sound so terrible; their language was so warlike. After discussing this, we decided to stop using them; we hadn’t come to fight a war.’
‘Someone told us that the people at the monument had gasoline, bottles, sticks and even guns. Feng  asked them to hand them in. He said, “We don’t want violence; we’ll persist in peaceful means. Violence will only lead to more sacrifice. ” I went from person to person collecting weapons. I was astonished to come across a worker and a boy of fifteen with a machine-gun: The boy shouted for revenge and would not let it go. People told me his brother had been shot dead by the army. Finally, three students persuaded him to give it up and Lu Xiaobo took the gun out of the square and smashed it to pieces.’
Eyewitnesses tell of incidents where troops advanced towards the square and then retreated without meeting resistance from the students, leaving their guns behind. On another occasion, quantities of butcher’s cleavers were discovered in the square which no one could explain. The students were correct on both occasions to suspect that Deng Xiaoping and those around him were behind these incidents, seeking an excuse to crackdown on the students. The students saw through the ruse on each occasion and returned the weapons to government officials. But the students failed to draw the conclusion that it was only a matter of time before a bloody assault took place on their occupation. They failed to conclude that they were sitting targets and that therefore it was necessary first to withdraw from the square and disperse among the masses of workers in the factories and then to appeal to workers to strike, occupy the workplace and form armed defence squads ready to defend the struggle for their rights through the organisation of general strikes.
The students were not in doubt as to the scale of support they could count on. On May 13, an estimated 10 million people demonstrated against the bureaucracy in 84 cities throughout China. Here again was a signal that the people’s movement should move out of the square or, at the very least, cease to make the square the focus of student activity. After May 13, the students should have integrated their struggle with the struggle for workers’ rights and broadened the basis of the whole movement countrywide. This would have created enormous difficulties for the bureaucrats around Deng and undoubtedly would have led to the creation of large splits in the armed forces. In short, a period of dual power would have come into being. Precious time would have been gained for the movement, with strikes paralysing the country bringing conditions for an offensive against the bureaucracy closer, as strikes spread. For the bureaucracy it would no longer have been a question of buying time to isolate Tiananmen Square and behead the student movement in the Beijing region to implement martial law, as the events after May 21 showed. The bureaucracy, backed only by some sections of the armed forces, would have been forced to confront the working class, students and their supporters. By such a route the bureaucracy could have been beaten and purged and the workers and students enabled to seize their rights.
The students’ fetish, to remain in the square at all costs, is rooted in their approach to the struggle for democratic rights. For them the struggle takes place on the plane of ideology, argument and debate, albeit on a mass scale. Their loyalty to the revolution, to all that Tiananmen Square symbolises in China’s history, draws them back to the square again and again. But the struggle to win rights suppressed by force must find a practical expression. It cannot be won by thoughts alone or by preparedness for martyrdom. If it were possible to win rights by pacifist tactics and loyal opposition to the CCP leaders, then those rights would have been won at the Tiananmen incident in 1976, or by the Democracy Wall Movement begun in 1979. The students must understand that China’s armed forces have a vested interest in protecting the CCP leaders, through a direct share in the revenue from weapons sold on the international markets. The police too have a stake in corruption. Reports indicate for example that policemen in Guangdong province run brothels to supplement their salary. The armed bodies of men must be defeated by force. This means that workers and students must prepare by illegal means as well as legal ones for the overthrow of the CCP.
The students’ insistence on remaining en masse at the square, their pacifism which held sway against good advice, not only disarmed them and turned supporters away from them, but gave strength to the bureaucrats around Deng in their hour of need. These weaknesses made the task of crushing the movement easier for the bureaucracy.
Li Lu describes with frankness the heady effects of student idealism, love of place and their common appeal to intellectuals which disarmed them:
‘During the hunger strike we were actually in the centre, the real leadership of the whole country. Now the hunger strike had ended and we were only a part of this sea of people. Now, no organisation could control the square. There was no leadership . . . I had never used all my strength to do anything. But in this movement, I did just that and still felt helpless. It was as though we were in a small boat, floating on the roaring waves of history, which we few young people were trying to steer to the peaceful land.
. . . An intellectual was speaking: “I love the square. In the square I am not afraid. But I’m afraid at home. ”
People laughed. He went on: “But I still want to come. I feel this is really a people’s square, and the country is our own country. We are the masters of the country. When I’m at home, I’m scared. All kinds of misfortunes will happen if the movement fails. I have parents and wife and children. I have a lot of responsibility. Only today have I realised how dissatisfied we are with the system. We hate the society. I was excited when the hunger strike started. People were so brave. The Chinese people seemed to have changed overnight. Now I know we have not changed. It’s only that we have realised we are unhappy with our society. The society has never given us a chance to be unhappy about it before”.’
Li Lu says:
‘I decided to seek out Yu Jiang. In times of crisis, intellectuals like him should, I felt, step forward and lead. He and I agreed that the majority of people of Beijing were on our side, that we should not back down, but should talk to the soldiers to win them over, too. But he had nothing to say about firm measures to carry out these objectives.’
Li Lu’s observed of the intellectuals during discussions late in May 1989, after the Declaration of Martial Law,
‘The intellectuals were good at analysing the situation and making proposals, but were weak and indecisive when it came to action.’
In his analysis of Chernyshevsky’s work, Georgy Plekhanov draws an important lesson out of the experience of the Russian movement. Speaking of intellectuals, he says
‘The actions of people are not always determined by their knowledge and are never determined only by their knowledge, but also – and chiefly – by their position, which is merely made clear and comprehensible by the knowledge they possess. Here again one has to remember the fundamental proposition of materialism in general, and of the materialist explanation of history in particular: it is not being that is determined by consciousness, but consciousness by being. The ‘consciousness’ of a man from the ‘intelligentsia’ is more highly developed than the consciousness of a man from the ‘masses’. But the ‘being’ of a man from the masses prescribes to him a far more definite method of action than that which the social position of the intellectual prescribes to the latter.’ 
The students’ pacifism, the fetish for Tiananmen Square as the main focus of action, did not save lives, or buy time for the movement to overcome the obstacles standing in its way. On the contrary, it opened the door for the bureaucracy who seized the opportunity to drive a wedge between the active students and the ‘passive masses’ offstage, the movement they claimed they were leading.The students and the working class
On April 22, a news report told of a demonstration through the city of XiAn, far from Beijing. This demonstration attracted support from a number of young unemployed workers and homeless rural labourers. The demonstration was suppressed by brute force. The young workers were immediately tried and sentenced to death on trumped-up charges of looting and rioting. The significance of this event and the bureaucracy’s response to it are:
i) that the students’ demands found an immediate echo of support among the unemployed and young workers which promised the possibility of broadening out the movement and a truly mass base for struggle to win suppressed rights;
ii) that the bureaucracy recognised this danger and therefore issued death sentences as a warning to workers and youth not to get involved with the democracy movement.
Here in embryo, we see the potential for the movement which could have been realised in May and early June. The students should have roused workers and rural labourers in a campaign against these sentences, adjusting their slogans and demands in accord with the needs of workers and the homeless and unemployed. They failed to and went down to defeat, because the bureaucracy understood the significance of the event, while students were blind to it, anxious to keep their people’s movement pure. To the majority of students during the period of the Beijing Spring, the working class was seen as a threat, not an ally. According to the students’ blinding pacifist logic, the workers and rural labourers were ‘backward’, ‘undisciplined’, ‘violent’, and not to be ‘trusted’. If workers could not be ‘trusted’ to adopt a pacifist outlook and threatened instead to fight with the police or go on strike, then the students thought the government would have an excuse to crack down on them. The students have not understood the history of Stalinism and Maoism, namely that bureaucracies in workers’ states cannot survive without inventing the ‘threat’ of conspiracy. The government of Li Peng and Deng Xiaoping did not need to go looking for a conspiracy, it made its own. The editorial of April 26 in the People’s Daily clearly spelt this out with the lying statement that a handful of students in an illegal organisation were planning to overthrow the government.
That the students did in fact alienate workers from supporting them is clearly revealed in the testimony of Liu Weiping, who worked with the Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation shortly after it was founded in May 1989. This testimony, however, also reveals a crucial insight into the way in which the students’ hostility to workers opened the door for Li Peng to drive a wedge between workers and students prior to crushing them.
Liu Weiping outlines some important differences between the student movement of May 1919 and the Beijing Spring. He says
‘First, it is necessary to remember that the May 4 Movement in 1919 was initially led by students who roused the working class to struggle, making it a significant event in Chinese history. When comparing the May-June events in 1989 it must be said this was a step backward by the students. In 1919 the students would do anything to rouse the workers. In 1989, they joined hands to make a wall to stop workers joining them.
The CCP leaders have learned from many experiences the importance of the role played by workers. So on May 18, two days before he declared martial law, Li Peng went to meet workers at the Beijing Steel Complex. The Beijing steel works is the largest in China, employing a quarter of a million workers. Li Peng told these workers that a small group of ‘bad elements’ among the students wanted to overthrow the government and push the country backwards. “Open your eyes”, he said, “support the government”. During the movement in 1989 there was a saying: The people of China observe Beijing Steel. If Beijing Steel strikes, it is the signal for the rest of the country to strike.
The failure of the 1989 movement was largely the responsibility of the students. Millions of workers spontaneously tried to get to the square to support the students. They had to endure insults from the students. Even the BWAF had to be founded outside the square. The workers’ movement has taken a leap forward, the students have stepped backwards. They realised their mistake too late.’ 
The government, in the person of Li Peng, was able to appeal to an important group of workers for support against the students, precisely because workers as well as students held illusions in the reform process. The reforms have demonstrably served to drive a wedge between the workers and students. While workers increased their productivity throughout the 1980s in the hope of receiving an increase in their standard of living, their minds were distracted from political questions. For the students this underpinned notions that workers were not interested in affairs of state but rather in ‘getting rich’. The differences which have been opened up between workers and students by the reforms must be overcome. The students must learn that workers’ concerns for raising their living standards are a perfectly legitimate goal. The daily struggle to feed the family, clothe it and put a roof over its head is an entirely progressive struggle which ultimately leads to the question: who controls the means of production and in whose interests? When workers grasp the urgency of this question a giant step forward will become possible, not just for workers’ interests, but for the students too.
When Liu Weiping says the students have taken a step backwards by comparison with their predecessors during the May 4 Movement of 1919, he is correct. Then, the students actively challenged the notion that workers were mere ‘coolies’, a term of contempt adopted by imperialism, which appears to have been derived from the Chinese words for ‘hard labour’. By their actions during the Beijing Spring the majority of Chinese students demonstrated patronising contempt for workers. This stance has something in common with the outlook of the bureaucracy and only serves to alienate workers from the students’ legitimate demands.
It must be understood by all those who claim to have the interests of workers at heart that the growing alienation of workers from the bureaucracy is of a different order and character to the disaffection of workers from students, evidenced in 1989. The latter was a temporary disjuncture which, given the initiative from students, can now be corrected.
In the districts closest to Tiananmen Square, eyewitnesses saw groups of workers marching around the streets shouting slogans in support of the students and denouncing Deng and Li Peng as ‘fascist warlords’. As the sound of gunfire rose from Chang An Avenue, workers raised their voices demanding an end to the slaughter of students who had previously insulted them. This is a pledge from the working class for future struggles which students and other activists must build on. For students to continue with notions of a pure movement after this, preventing workers from bringing their own initiatives to the struggle, it would be the height of folly. The intellectuals were unable to give the students a firm lead. But what they lacked, firmness in action and determination to succeed, the working class has in abundance. The Chinese working class today numbers hundreds of millions and is constantly being reinforced by the flow of the unemployed from rural areas.
What was the attitude of the BWAF towards the students? Liu Weiping says,
‘It did not support the students’ opposition to workers participating in events around the square. It supported the slogan “Support the CCP and the Constitution”.’ 
In his testimony Liu Weiping then goes on to furnish a clue to the problems that workers and students must confront in a state where their rights are suppressed by a bureaucracy that usurps power in the name of the working class.
‘Many workers were alienated from the start by the students’ attitude towards them. May 21 and 22 marked a turning point after the Declaration of Martial Law in Beijing. A spontaneous wave of Workers’ Autonomous Federations sprang up in such cities as Shanghai, Chongqing, XiAn, Guangzhou, Changsha and Hangzhou, among others. Their aims were not very clear but they were determined to support the movement.’
Reflecting on the weaknesses of the BWAF and other organisations like it, which sprang up in defence of the working class and democracy movement in 1989, Liu Weiping says,
‘Their aims were not clear . . . There was not enough time for a process of selection to develop the workers’ leaders . . . There was no clear idea of how to organise workers or what workers’ rights were. Remember workers had not been allowed to organise themselves in China since 1949. There was no control or selection process in operation which determined the leadership of the BWAF.
We learned a big lesson from a very important mistake. We stressed the safeguarding of workers’ welfare, which had suffered as a result of the reforms. What we did not stress, what we should have stressed, was the political and economic rights of the workers.
. . . The working class has no experience of organisation, such as workers in Britain for instance. We suffered very much from this lack of experience and state repression.’
To the credit of the BWAF it told workers who travelled to Beijing to seek it out, ‘You are not needed here. Go back to your city, your factory and organize the workers there independent of the CCP-dominated ACFTU’. The BWAF understood that the working class must play a vital role in broadening the movement for political rights throughout China, wherever workers were to be found. The key for the BWAF lay in organising workers independently from bureaucratic control. This was a great step forward indeed for the working class and students, because the working class is the only force capable of guaranteeing the students their rights through the struggle to purge the bureaucracy.
The events of 1976, 1979, 1986 and 1989 demonstrate clearly that the CCP bureaucracy will not tolerate or allow the development of a loyal opposition in China. Mao, Deng and Co. seized power at the head of peasant armies in 1949. The working class has been systematically excluded by force from playing the leading role in a workers’ state and the concept of the proletarian dictatorship has been discredited among many of China’s peoples in the process. The CCP lives in terror at the prospect of an opposition movement establishing a base in the working class. All the more so since the bureaucracy has lost authority and credibility among the masses of China.
At the expense of repeating a number of essential points already made here we must say that what needs to be grasped, by students, intellectuals and workers in China, is that the struggle must be organised by both legal and illegal means. What is required to take that struggle forward, to guide the spontaneous actions of workers and students, is a party based on the working class. The Beijing Spring demonstrated clearly, when it came to the point of crushing it, that the CCP does not rest on the support of students, workers or rural poor any more than it can claim support from the minority peoples. The CCP with millions of members was paralysed for several weeks. In desperation, Deng was forced to leave Beijing and seek support from the old guard retired from office and a handful of army officers, with whom he crushed the movement. The CCP rests on its monopoly of power, in the last analysis bodies of armed men. It is not all powerful or invincible, if the working class is organised to overthrow the bureaucracy. This moment has taken decades to prepare, it must not be squandered. A workers’ party today in China, armed with a programme for political revolution, would be able to organise hundreds of millions of workers and issue a powerful appeal to the rural poor and minority peoples. The best elements among the student and worker activists together with intellectuals, must take the initiative to form the workers’ party now!How did the students approach the working class in 1919 and 1925 and what were the results?
By 1919 a number of attempts to turn students’ attention to the plight of China’s workers and poor peasants began to bear fruit. Teams of students went from their campuses to agitate among workers in support of movements for development and change. The fact that many workers and peasants were illiterate did not deter the students who devised means of educating workers using street drama, as well as night schools. These efforts were pioneered in Beijing and Shanghai with particular success. When the May 4 Movement sprang up in response to imperialist seizure of Chinese territory, the students’ labours among workers and poor peasants were of crucial significance. A proclamation signed in blood by 24 workers in the Shanghai Dockyards explains the relationship between students and workers:
‘The tyrannical oppression suffered by our people has today reached its highest point. The foreigners are seizing our territory, and the government is selling out our people . . . The students have stopped studying and are forfeiting their youth, and yet the government has no compassion.
The merchants have stopped trading and are forfeiting tens of thousands of dollars, and yet the government still has no compassion – truly, our people can sit down and await death!
However, the principles of universal justice will conquer tyranny. We, the hundreds of thousands of Shanghai workers, will sacrifice our lives and form the rearguard of the students’ and merchants’ struggle against barbaric tyranny. We propose that the workers act for themselves, that the workers in each trade organise various sorts of small workers’ groups. Afterwards, they can come together to form big workers’ groups.
The first step is to launch a campaign of workers’ demonstrations through the streets. The second step is to organise a big strike throughout industry. The third step is to sacrifice our red blood, the blood of hundreds of thousands of workers, in the struggle against this barbaric tyranny.’ 
Howard Isaacs pointed out that,
‘[Chinese workers’] strikes in Shanghai and other cities in 1919 more than anything else forced the release of student demonstrators arrested in Peking and hastened the resignation of the offending government officials.’ 
The students’ careful and patient work paved the way for the awakening of China’s working class to political life. It secured the release of students held hostage by the government and the downfall of officials who conceded Chinese territory to the imperialists.
While this success is noteworthy itself when comparing the events of 1979 to 1989, a further fact to consider is the way in which students fought for their demands by placing the emphasis on national mobility. The students transformed the campuses into bases from which a steady flow of teams of agitators was directed to the factories and fields armed with leaflets and propaganda materials. The students also undertook military training as a part of their daily routine in the campuses. 
Throughout the period from 1919 until 1925 the relationship between students and workers underwent further development. Students prepared leaflets for workers fighting to build trade union organisation around economic questions, wages and working conditions etc. Some of this work was undoubtedly carried out under the influence of the newly formed Communist Party and leading members such as Chen Duxiu and Li Dazao. Students were also influenced by anarchists and Sun Yatsen’s ‘Three People’s Principles’.
The events of May 30 and the movement that they gave rise to took matters much further. At this time the CCP was still quite small. The larger Guomindang had fallen into sterile impotence as the warlords tore China apart. On May 27 a mass meeting of students in Shanghai took the initiative to support workers striking for better working conditions in mills owned by foreign companies. It was a matter of national pride for the students who determined to rouse the Chinese people against the shooting of workers in the foreign concessions. As more than one observer reported, Chinese workers were held by the bourgeoisie to be of such little worth that no one was concerned by the killing of workers in the concessions. Only when the ‘respectable’ students took the workers’ cause as their own was widespread indignation aroused.
In response to the suppression of mass demonstrations on May 30, an alliance of Chinese businessmen, students’ and workers’ organisations called a general strike. Again the working class entered the situation behind the merchants and students. But after the withdrawal of the businessmen the workers took the lead. Led by Chen Duxiu, the CCP intervened to support the working class and give it a vital lead. When the movement ended, the working class emerged to take the lead in the political arena, swelling the ranks of the CCP, extending its influence throughout China and paving the way for the Second Chinese Revolution. The May 30 Movement was the catalyst for a huge increase in workers’ organisation and the spread of trade unions. Before the May event, trade union membership stood at 540,000 but by April 1926 it had increased to 1,240,000. In Shanghai alone the figures went from 20,000 to 220,000 over the same period. Henceforth Chinese workers sought the solution of economic problems – who controls the means of production and in whose interests? – through politics.
The benefits from collaboration with workers were felt once again by the students.
‘On 26 June a national meeting of student delegates summoned by the National General Student Union (Ch’uan-kuo Hsueh-sheng Tsung-hui) was held in Shanghai, at which the students of China resolved to strengthen their organisation in order to engage in a protracted anti-imperialist struggle. It was also decided to co-opt worker and peasant representatives into student organisations. The Shanghai students then proceeded to reorganise their federation along the lines of democratic centralism, in accordance with a resolution of the National Congress. After the movement commenced the Shanghai Student Federation co-operated with the GTU (General Trade Union) in setting up a number of “Common People’s” (p’ing-min) schools, and they continued this work on their own after the collapse of the GTU. In late 1925 there were at least ten such schools, with some 1,570 pupils, a third of whom were women. Not only was there more unity on the organisational level, but also on that of morale. The Cantonese students and those from other parts of China resolved to do away with their differences and even the perpetually feuding students of Peking were finally reunited, albeit temporarily, in a new Peking Student Federation (Peiching Hsueh-sheng Lien-ho hui).’ Chinese students, intellectuals and workers must rediscover their history
In order to hold on to the monopoly of power in China, the CCP bureaucracy has been obliged to falsify its own history, the history of the working class, peasant movements and the activities of students and intellectuals. At one stage in the 1960s, after the great famine, it was official CCP policy not to write any history of China or the party at all!  As we have seen in 1989, the workers did not understand their political rights or their role in a workers’ state. That is how matters stand in China. What are the consequences of the falsification of history, dictated by the bureaucrats, for China’s relations with the rest of the world? The conflicts with neighbouring states such as Vietnam and the USSR and the abandonment of struggles for national independence in Africa and other regions where the CCP had influence have not only cost lives but seriously injured relations between workers in many countries.
The working class in China has not only suffered from the abuse of power by the CCP bureaucracy, it has also suffered from the bureaucracy’s reactionary policy of ‘building socialism in a single country’. Deep wounds have been inflicted on neighbouring states and the Han oppressed minorities in China. The struggle for socialist revolution on an international plane has been discredited by relations between the CCP bureaucracy and the imperialist powers.
The contributions produced in recent years by workers, intellectuals and students such as Chen Erjin, Wang Xizhe, Wang Dan and Ren Wanding, show that there is a developing understanding of the crisis of leadership, not just in China, but also in the former USSR, Poland, Hungary etc. It is now essential that Chinese activists rediscover the real history of the CCP, and the role played by founding member Chen Duxiu. Why was Chen Duxiu expelled and those who supported him vilified by Mao and Stalin? What was the fate of the revolutionaries incarcerated in Mao’s prisons after 1949? The rediscovery of the real history will provide activists with the answers to the main question they have sought to raise openly since the mid-1970s: which way forward for China now?