On June 4, protesters in Hong Kong held their annual vigil for the victims of the Tienanmen Square massacre in Beijing 31 years ago. The vigil defied a police ban and comes in the wake of continued demonstrations against Chinese control of Hong Kong which erupted last year.
In 1989, the Chinese state sent soldiers and tanks into Tienanmen Square to suppress a demonstration of 100,000 people. Thousands were killed and in the following months many activists were imprisoned.
At that time, the Chinese Communist Party was opening the country to investment from Western companies and encouraging new private Chinese companies to grow rich by exploiting the millions of poor Chinese workers and farmers. This party, claiming to be socialist, was taking another major step in the construction of the powerful capitalist economy we see in China today.
With these changes underway, Chinese students held demonstrations demanding democracy and the right to form new political parties. These demonstrations attracted support from underground workers’ unions that had been banned by the government. Workers understood that the right to organize politically and in unions is a way forward for them to defend themselves and struggle for their interests.
The Chinese state is just another variation on what we see around the world – a powerful machine for a privileged elite to accumulate wealth and exert control. We remember Tienanmen 1989 as an inspiring moment when young people and workers raised the question of democratic control over their own lives – a necessary basis for any socialist society worthy of the name.