The Guardian had a piece on the Tiananmen Square Massacre which took place 19 years ago on June 3rd-4th. What makes Fenby’s piece frustrating is its obvious Western lens. Fenby states the fundamental questions the protesters were facing was the following:
But there was a more fundamental question: if the Chinese were to be free to run their lives economically, why not politically as well? If the command economy was being dismantled, why not the command political system, too?
As is typical, Fenby considers this to be the common wisdom instead of say asking, or quoting any one participating in the demonstrations. Naomi Klein provides another analysis of the underlying reasons for the protests in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism where she *gasp* actually cites one of the organizers of the protest.
This alternative narrative is being advanced by, among others, Wang Hui, one of the organizers of the 1989 protests, and now a leading Chinese intellectual of what is known as China’s “New Left.” In his 2003 book, China’s New Order, Wang explains that the protesters spanned a huge range of Chinese society — not just elite university students but also factory workers, small entrepreneurs and teachers. What ignited the protests, he recalls, was popular discontent in the face of Deng’s “revolutionary” economic changes, which were lowering wages, raising prices and causing “a crisis of layoffs and unemployment” (China’s New Order pg. 45, 54). According to Wang, “These changes were the catalyst for the 1989 social mobilization.” (China’s New Order pg. 54)
The demonstrations were not against economic reform per se; they were against the specific Friedmanite nature of the reforms — their speed, ruthlessness and the fact that the process was highly antidemocratic. Wang says that the protesters’ call for elections and free speech were intimately connected to this economic dissent. What drove the demand for democracy was the fact that the party was pushing through changes that were revolutionary in scope, entirely without popular consent. There was, he writes, “a general request for democratic means to supervise the fairness of the reform process and the reorganization of social benefits.” (China’s New Order pg. 57)
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism pg 187-188
So Fenby gets partial credit, the economic reforms were at the heart of the protests. However, it was not because of mystical consciousness raising magic of the “free market” and people asking doing a collective “why not?” It was precisely because of the tangible forms of economic distress that these reforms caused that spurred the protests and calls for democratic oversight.
Capitalism and democracy are not concepts that go hand-in-hand. Most of the time, they are directly at odds. Capitalists are always a select elite in society. So it seems natural that if economic affairs are controlled predominately by capitalists, this is a direct contravention of democracy because the public opinion of the majority is ignored when forming economic policies, by definition.
If there were any sense in the world, and the subsequent ability to call a spade a spade and declare A is A, China would correctly be identified as state capitalists, not communist. As such, the proper narrative of the Tiananmen Square Massacre is one of class struggle, another instance of capitalists crushing labor. The Tiananmen Square Massacre is an inconvenient truth for both East and West. This is why Fenby can confidently declare it to be “officially a non-event.” It is, from the point of view history is traditionally written from: the state’s. However, it is an important event to remember for a history of the people.