John Riddell: Democracy in Lenin's Comintern

How did Communist parties handle issues of internal discipline and democracy in Lenin’s time? The recent intense discussion within the British Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) and beyond has heard claims that the SWP rests on the traditions of democratic centralism inherited from the Bolsheviks.

John Riddell: Democracy in Lenin's Comintern

Richard Atkinson: Death and the Bedroom Tax

Some extended thoughts about Stephanie Bottrill, the woman who committed suicide because of the bedroom tax.

Richard Atkinson: Death and the Bedroom Tax

Dave Renton: Who Was Blair Peach?

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the killing of Blair Peach by the police. David Renton looks back at Blair Peach’s life as a poet, trade unionist and committed antifascist

Dave Renton: Who Was Blair Peach?

Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

Bunny La Roche of RS21 on Nigel Farage's visit to Kent

Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

Financial Appeal

We're up and running! An appeal for funds to kickstart the IS Network

Financial Appeal

Hong Kong: a mass movement which will not easily be demobilised

July 1st in Hong Kong is Handover Day, the anniversary of the handing back of Hong Kong by the British to China in 1997. It is a public holiday, marked by official celebrations, but also by a demonstration. In some years this simply brings together a rather motley collection of people with many different causes, but in other years it has been a massive display of public feeling on a particular issue; for example in 2003, when around 500,000 people marched against the introduction of national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law which governs Hong Kong’s relationship with the central Chinese government in Beijing. The law was shelved and has still to be introduced.

This year there has also been a massive mobilisation on July 1st – though the police estimated only 98,000, the march took seven hours to reach its destination and photographs from above show huge crowds. It seems likely that the turnout was similar to 2003, around the half million mark, and certainly the largest since that year. Very large sums of money were collected on the march by the organisers, Occupy Central (HK$1.39 million - £105,000) and by the radical League of Social Democrats (HK$930,000 - £70,000) whose most famous member of the Legislative Council, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, is currently in jail as a result of a previous protest.

There were rumours of some supporting actions in mainland China, including just across the border in Shenzhen, where some journalists from Hong Kong who were looking to report on an action which had been referred to on social media, were detained by the police for several hours. Certainly pictures of the Hong Kong march were posted on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular social media platform, before being removed by censors. According to the media monitoring project at Hong Kong University Weibo was censored more heavily on July 1st this year even than on the anniversary of Tiananmen.

The march was followed by an all-night sit-in in the road near the government headquarters. Over five hundred arrests were made and those arrested were taken to a temporary detention centre where they were deprived of food and drink, and access to toilet facilities and lawyers for hours. Most were released with warnings – it is not clear if these are intended to prevent them taking part in other protests.  The protesters remained calm and practised classic passive resistance techniques, requiring up to five police officers to remove each person from the road, so it was a slow process. The police did not use pepper spray or tear gas in this instance, but earlier they had penned many people into the park and not allowed them to join the march or to leave and also separated people into smaller groups, tactics which are familiar to people in the UK. Protesters monitored police behaviour, shouting out their badge numbers as they arrested people. In one instance, a pro-Beijing counter-demonstrator slapped a protester in the face and was then surrounded by the crowd until the police rescued him. A group of protesters then chased the police, denouncing them for sympathising with him.

There have been chaotic scenes in the Legislative Council today as pan-democrats (broadly all the parties which are not pro-Beijing) staged a protest during the Chief Executive’s Question and Answer session, holding up placards, shouting and throwing things in his direction before walking out.

The main issue driving people onto the demonstration was the question of universal suffrage, which has long been promised to Hong Kong. At present, the Legislative Council is partly directly elected, but a built-in majority for pro-Beijing parties is assured by various bits of gerrymandering, including ‘functional constituencies’ which have a handful of electors in many cases, including corporate entities such as banks and property companies. The Chief Executive is ‘elected’ by a small committee and is essentially appointed by Beijing. People may have wondered if they have seen pictures of the demonstration why people are carrying placards with ‘689’ on them – this is the number of votes received by the current Chief Executive, C Y Leung. The Hong Kong government has this year been engaged in a farcical public consultation about how universal suffrage will be introduced for the next CE election in 2017.  Beijing has made it clear that it will not allow nomination of candidates by political parties or by the public, only by a narrow nominating committee, and that candidates must be ‘patriotic’ – so what it is essentially saying is, you can vote, but we will decide the candidates you can vote for.

A movement to push for real universal suffrage, Occupy Central, was founded last year and  is the main force behind the march this year. The plan is to occupy the central business district in Hong Kong Island and block the roads if the government fails to offer a plan for real democracy meeting international standards. Occupy Central organised an unofficial referendum on plans for genuine democracy which took place late last month, using online voting and physical polling stations. Despite a huge denial of service attack on the voting system – at one point three billion requests were bombarding the servers in the space of a few hours – the voting went ahead and 780,000 people registered their votes, using their ID numbers and mobile SIM cards. This was dismissed as illegal and irrelevant by Beijing and the HK government – which has also made no move to investigate the cyber-attack, even though it was extended to the whole .hk domain at one stage, which could have affected the emergency services.

Voting in the referendum and attendance at the demonstration was undoubtedly boosted by Beijing’s issuing of a White Paper on Hong Kong last month which it said was intended to correct the ‘lopsided’ interpretation of many Hongkongers of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle. Among other things it described judges as ‘administrators’ and said they had to be ‘patriots’, which resulted in a silent march by lawyers wearing black through the centre of Hong Kong.  It remains unclear these days exactly what the ‘two systems’ are, incidentally – capitalism, and er, capitalism. But Beijing is very sure it is One Country.  There have also been a series of attacks – physical and otherwise – on the media, and journalists have recently voiced their concerns about increased censorship and pressures towards self-censorship.

The situation now is tense. Whereas in previous confrontations, such as over Article 23, or the planned introduction of ‘national education’ two years ago (widely seen as an attempt to brainwash Hong Kong’s children), the government simply backed down, in this case, they have no room for manoeuvre, except perhaps to deny any reforms and stick to the existing system. There have been veiled threats to use the PLA (stationed in Hong Kong) to maintain order if Occupy Central led to violence. Occupy is committed to non-violence, but we all know that the police are capable of transforming peaceful protests into scenes of violence if they choose to do so.

Occupy has weaknesses. It is dominated by the pan-democrats,  some of whom have been stupid enough to consort with Paul Wolfowitz on his yacht on a recent visit to Hong Kong. The pan-democrats are very divided and it is possible that some could still reach a deal with the government. There is no sign of class mobilisation in the form of planned strikes. However, there is certainly a class dimension to the protests, in that Hong Kong is one of the most unequal societies in the world, and people are sick of living in cramped expensive apartments and working very long hours for low pay while the city is run by a handful of the very rich and their political hangers-on. These people increasingly prioritise their economic interests on the mainland over Hong Kong, and therefore are keen to curry favour there. But this time Beijing and the Hong Kong government have succeeded in producing a genuine mass movement which will not easily be demobilised.

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Candles in the night: Report on 4 June vigil in Hong Kong commemorating Tiananmen Square massacre

Crowd at Hong Kong vigil

On 4 June every year, Hong Kong remembers the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 with a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. This year was the 25th anniversary and the turnout was huge, with organisers putting the numbers at more than 180,000, and even the police estimate was 99,500 (clearly they couldn’t breach the psychologically resonant 100,000), in a city of 7 million. It certainly seemed the largest since I began going three years ago after moving to Hong Kong. As in previous years, the crowd encompassed all age groups, but was disproportionately young. There was a real feeling of solidarity, which extended to us, as people helped each other to light and relight the candles against the evening breeze. Any breeze was welcome, as the temperature was still close to 30 degrees at 8pm and incredibly humid.  An elderly man gave us a big thumbs up. It was a very emotional event, and it was impossible not to be moved as everyone in the crowd held up their candles at the same time when the names of those known to have been killed were read out. Some of the exiled former leaders of the movement spoke on video, and a prominent civil rights lawyer, Teng Biao, from the mainland addressed the crowd, although he had been warned a week ago in a phone call that he would face ‘serious consequences’ if he attended the vigil. While many people on the mainland have been detained in recent weeks, showing the fear still felt by the Chinese Communist Party at the mere memory of 1989, even in Hong Kong the websites of the vigil organisers have been offline due to sustained denial of service attacks, undoubtedly directed by Beijing. A Taiwanese academic who came to Hong Kong to attend a conference on Tiananmen was also denied entry to the city. Many people from the mainland do attend the vigil, and this year it was a larger number than ever, judging by the donations on the night made in Yuan rather than Hong Kong dollars – up 60% on last year, according to the organisers.

It is the largest event commemorating Tiananmen in the world, and this is for two interconnected reasons:  firstly, Hongkongers are acutely aware that their city is the only place in China (apart from Macau, where at least until this year, the population has been much more quiescent) where this is possible and that places an obligation on them to come out and show that they have not forgotten either the aspirations or the crushing of the movement. Secondly, there is a growing sense in Hong Kong that Beijing is tightening its grip on the city, in subtle and not so subtle ways, and many Hongkongers – at least those that do not own and rule the place, the property developers and businessmen only too happy to cuddle up to Beijing – feel that it is crucial to show that they don’t intend to let it happen by default. 

People arriving at Hong Kong vigil

A number of events have tended to reinforce the sense of increased threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms. In 2012 the government in Hong Kong attempted to insert ‘national education’ into Hong Kong’s school curriculum. This would have been via a fairly nakedly one-sided account of recent Chinese history. It provoked massive demonstrations, led by a new school student organisation called Scholarism, which was out in force on the vigil as well. The government backed off. Then there is the perceived threat to freedom of the press; early this year, the editor of a Chinese-language paper critical of Beijing was suddenly removed from his post and a few weeks later, he was attacked in the street by men carrying choppers and very nearly killed. Although there have been arrests, the hired attackers have not revealed who paid them. A radio talk show host who regularly criticises the government was also sacked at around the same time and there was also a violent physical attack on people who were trying to launch a new paper. Polls of journalists show that they feel that both censorship and the pressure to censor themselves are growing.

Finally, there is a deadline of 2017 to bring in universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive (the legislature is mainly directly elected but with a number of fixes which guarantee the pan-democrats, parties broadly opposed to Beijing, cannot get a majority). Beijing favours a system for the Chief Executive election where everyone can vote but the candidates can only be put forward by a narrow nominating committee. A movement called Occupy Central has been formed which has pledged mass civil disobedience – taking the form of people blocking the roads in the Central Business District – if the reforms do not guarantee a genuine choice of candidates. This is bringing forth various dark threats and warnings. Hongkongers are very aware that the People’s Liberation Army is stationed in Hong Kong in the old British barracks, and a pro-Beijing lawmaker asked the Chief Executive recently if he would ask for its help to deal with the Occupy movement if the police were unable to keep order. Needless to say, the question was not answered directly, but it is not too surprising that people in Hong Kong feel the need to come out and remember 4 June 1989.

As we were leaving the park we stopped at a stall run by Socialist Action (CWI affiliate here where a young man told us that while lighting candles was good, it was not enough. He was perhaps a bit surprised at how readily we agreed.

You can watch a complete video (long, in Cantonese) of the event here:


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Letter from Brazil: call for solidarity from CSP-Conlutas independent union federation

A call for international solidarity ahead of the World Cup from the CSP-Conlutas independent union federation in Brazil. IS Network and rs21 North London will also be hosting a joint meeting 'Kicking off in Rio: Popular Protest and the Politics of the World Cup' on Tues 10th June, 7pm, Unity Church, 277 Upper Street, Islington, London.

On the Eve of the World Cup A Wave of Strikes Shake Brazil

It is time for strikes. After the huge mobilizations last June, primarily the youth, now it is the working class and they are shaking Brazilian cities.

In Sao Paulo, on May 15th, the city came to a halt. In the morning metalworker (engineering workers) strikes together with homeless movements (MTST and Ocupação Esperança) blocked avenues in the urban areas. In the city centre, metro (tube) workers demonstrated in the morning and municipal teachers demonstrated in the afternoon. Strikes and demos were the headlines in all media.

But the mobilizations are not limited to May 15th. Municipal teachers are holding demonstrations with thousands every week during the last 40 days. Bus drivers went on strike for two days against the mayor, the bus companies and their union, eventually bringing Sao Paulo to a halt. In Cubatão, a highly industrialized area in in Sao Paulo state, thousands of outsourced workers are on strike stopping sectors of the local Petrobras refinery. In Sao Jose dos Campos, engineering workers (General Motors) are holding stoppages. University employees, teachers and students of the University of São Paulo(USP), together with their counterparts in UNICAMP and UNESP universities, are on strike demanding more funding. On top of that, engineering workers are scheduled to go on strike next Thursday, June 5th.

In other capitals across Brazil, the situation is no different. In Rio de Janeiro teachers' demonstrations and bus drivers stoppages combine and show the workers' mood and strength. In others capitals, key sectors of the working class are on the offensive. Different sectors of federal public workers are going on strike. Even the police, both military and civil, are holding protests across the country.

The economic slowdown and high indebtness is changing the mood among working class families. There is a general feeling that things are not getting better. On top of that Brazilian government spent huge sums in the football world cup which is gathering general disapproval for the lack of funding for public education, healthcare and transport. The polls show that 55% of the Brazilian population believes that the world cup will be more of a burden than a benefit for working class people.

International Solidarity to the struggles in Brazil

Besides the current struggles - teachers, university employees, metalworkers, public workers, the police and homeless movements - the metroworkers of Sao Paulo might take action on June 5th and there will be a national day of mobilizations next June 12th when the World Cup starts.

We ask labor and youth movements across the world to express solidarity to Brazilian workers. Motions and demos will be warmly welcome. Advancing the workers struggles in Brazil will be an advancement for the working class worldwide.

Long live the workers struggles in Brazil!
Long live the International Solidarity among the working class!

Dirceu Travesso

on behalf of CSP-Conlutas - São Paulo, June 2nd 2014

Model Motion

This union branch/meeting/Trades council/social organisation wants to send its solidarity to the Brazilian working class.

Having read your letter “On the Eve of the World Cup: A Wave of Strikes Shake Brazil” we want to express our support to all the strikes and social struggle activities that are taking place in May and June.

We support all your struggles for a better life for housing, decent employment with decent contracts and wages.

In particular we support the feeling of millions of people against the big business of the World Cup and that is making millions for Fifa and the multinationals and used money that should be spent on health, education and transport.

FIFA’s World Cup contributes to the violation of human rights, the right to adequate housing, the right to free movement, the right to work and the right to protest. Forced evictions have occurred all over Brazil in the wake of the Cup and have left many homeless and destitute.

We therefore wish you every success in your struggles against Fifa, the national, state and local governments of Brazil and the multinationals.

End the criminalisation of the Brazilian and British struggles

Long live the workers struggles in Brazil and Britain!

Long live the International Solidarity of the working class!

Please send messages of solidarity to:

Dirceu Travesso
Email:  and

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The May of the masses: the Tiananmen Square movement 25 years on

4 June marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Charlie Hore looks back at the inspirational movement that went before, and repression that followed.

Thanks to our rs21 comrades for permission to re-post this article from their site. If you’d like to read the original it’s here.

Students from Beijing University stage a huge demonstration in Tiananmen Square as they start an unlimited hunger strike as the part of mass pro-democracy protest against the Chinese government, on May 18, 1989 via

Twenty-five years ago, a mass protest movement exploded across China’s cities, posing potentially the biggest challenge to China’s rulers since 1949. The Tiananmen Square movement, as it came to be known is now best remembered for the horrific massacre that ended it. On 4 June 1989 troop columns and tanks smashed their way into the heart of Beijing, killing hundreds if not several thousands of protesters. And thousands more died or disappeared in the repression that followed.

It is right to remember them, and mark the day, to remind China’s rulers of their crime. But it is equally important to remember what they were fighting for, and the inspiration of the movement at its height.

China in 1989 was very different to China today. The economic reforms pioneered by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s had led to a substantial rise in living standards, most of all in the countryside where the vast majority of China’s population still lived. These were accompanied by partial social and political reforms, which dismantled many of the petty controls over everyday life that had been the norm in the Cultural Revolution.

Those new freedoms had led some, particularly young workers and students, to demand much more, and the 1980s was punctuated by a number of student protests and demonstrations. Deng’s arrival in power had also been greeted with a short-lived ‘Democracy Wall’ movement, in which young workers who had been exiled to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution published calls for greater freedoms. Both were to be important influences in 1989.

But more important was the changing economic climate. Gains of the early 1980s were threatened by inflation and job insecurity. The return of free markets meant that, when food supplies were disrupted, prices could rise very fast. By the start of 1989 urban inflation was higher than at any time since 1949.

Over-heating in the economy, and a consequent austerity drive, also meant large numbers of factories shut or laid off workers. The economic disruption led to semi-public arguments among China’s rulers.

This was a crisis of economic policy, driven by unbalanced growth rather than slump, but it was still the worst crisis since 1989. Workers who had seen their lives improving now faced losing what they had won, and a weak and divided ruling class. The scene was set for an eruption, but no-one expected the size and scale of what happened.

How it began

The 1989 movement started with the death of leading politician Hu Yaobang, who had been one of Deng Xiaoping’s lieutenants, and was seen as responsible for many of the political reforms. While it began as a movement to honour his memory, it quickly developed into an attack on other politicians, and on official corruption in general, as well as calling for greater political and social freedoms.

It exploded far beyond the size of any previous protest. On the day of Hu’s funeral, 150,000 students and supporters occupied Tiananmen Square despite the government trying to ban them. The following weekend there were solidarity marches in at least eight cities, with serious rioting in two.

The CCP attacked the students as ‘counter-revolutionary’, which only deepened the anger.  The movement’s leaders sent students into the streets and workplaces to call on workers and citizens to join them.

The response was magnificent. On Thursday 28 April some 150,000 people marched across Beijing, with workers making up half of the march. The march ended with calls for nationwide demonstrations on 4 May, the 70th anniversary of an anti-imperialist student movement that had kick-started the nationalism movement of the 1920s, out of which the CCP had been born.

4 May marked another step forward for the movement, with demonstrations in cities where nothing had previously happened, although in other cities numbers were smaller than before. More importantly, after 4 May, the initiative passed back to the government, with the movement’s leaders having no real idea of the next step.

That changed decisively with the launch of a student hunger-strike in Tiananmen Square on 13 May. It began with just 200 students, but within days there were over 1,000, with thousands more sympathisers joining the camp.

The timing was brilliant – the Russian President Gorbachev was just about to make the first visit of a Russian leader to China since the Sino-Soviet split of 1962. This was meant to be a major diplomatic coup for Deng, with the two leaders appearing together in Tiananmen Square in front of cheering crowds. The students had ruined it.

The day Gorbachev arrived, there were half a million people in the square. The following day, a million, with workers marching into the square in organised groups from workplaces. The next day, two million. In at least four other cities, students organised sympathy hunger strikes, with 30,000 people camped out in central Shanghai alone. There were protest and sympathy marches in dozens of other cities across China.

Just as the movement was reaching new heights, a pan-Muslim movement broke out in western China, which saw the biggest ever religious protests in China. The demonstrations were over the publication of an Islamophobic book, and drew together Muslims of different nationalities across at least five provinces as well as in Beijing and Shanghai.

The government reacted very quickly, banning the book and organising mass burnings of it. The two movements were separate, but the government’s swift response showed how fearful they were of any widening of out of the protests.

18 May saw one final attempt to defuse the protests, with a televised meeting between government ministers and the student leaders. The ministers patronised the students, and the students in turn humiliated them. The following day martial law was declared, troops began to move into Beijing, and the city erupted.

Martial law

The People’s Liberation Army had entered Beijing in early 1949 as liberators. 40 years on, the idea that they would repress the protests was unthinkable. Disbelief turned to rage, and workers across the city formed barricades on all the main roads, with numbers of workplaces deserted and the subway lines shut down by workers.

Within two days a British eyewitness could write:

“Saturday night was the most amazing human spectacle I have ever seen. It was unreal, the amount of people who came out onto the streets. There was everybody there: the very old, sitting families with young children; babies carried in mothers’ arms; everybody was there to stop the soldiers. They thought the crunch was coming that night and they were fully prepared to try and stop them. An old man said that there were more people on the streets than he had ever seen in his life – certainly more than in 1949.”

And the following day two other eyewitnesses wrote for Socialist Worker:

“For 48 hours now the city has been entirely in the hands of the people. Though the atmosphere is tense, there is no drunkenness, no looting and no violence…We are on the main road in the east of the city The avenue is wide. Three articulated buses span it. Behind this for over 1,000 metres there must be over 100 buses arranged in intricate patterns blocking the road…

“The barricade won’t, and isn’t meant to, stop tanks. The idea is to halt and slow up moving troops to allow people to argue with the soldiers and turn them back, as has happened so often in the last couple of days. The barricades are to stand in front of, not behind…

“All of the city centre, maybe six miles wide and six miles deep or maybe more, is now under the control of workers and students. People talk of five million people, over half the entire population, out on the streets yesterday. Most of them are workers. Everywhere open-topped trucks packed with workers and students are passing…And everyone sings the Internationale over, over and over.”

It looked like a revolution, and for many people it felt like a revolution. On the barricades, and in the square itself, women came to the fore as organisers and leaders, in stark contrast to everyday life. One eyewitness estimated the crowds were 40 percent female, adding that she had never felt so safe as a woman in her life. There was a huge sense of liberation and of comradeship, with the police and the state seemingly completely absent.

But, while there was a general sense of rebellion, there was little sense of alternative. The students’ formal demands never went beyond replacing a few ministers, reversing the ‘counter-revolutionary’ judgement made in April, and an end to corruption at the top. And while the student leadership was capable of amazing organising feats, it had a very top-down structure that made little or no attempt to organise wider democratic bodies.

The Workers’ Autonomous Unions that were organised in Beijing and a number of other cities in late May were a response to this, and an attempt to build a distinctively working-class pole of attraction inside the movement. In Beijing some ten thousand people joined, though workplace organising was hampered as many people simply weren’t going to work. In most other cities, however, they simply didn’t have the time to move beyond being small groups of activists.

In the absence of any forward perspective, and with the troops backing off, the numbers on the barricades and in the square gradually shrank. In other cities there were still huge mobilisations, but they were looking to Beijing for leadership, and none came.

The massacre and its impact

There was a half-hearted attempt to send troops into Beijing during the day on 3 June, which quickly broke down, and brought massive numbers back onto the streets. They were to be no match, however, for the full scale invasion that night.

From around 10pm on 3 June tanks, armoured cars and troop carriers burst through the barricades in western Beijing, firing at random into the crowds that came out to oppose them. They moved slowly through the city towards Tiananmen Square, arriving there in the early hours of 4 June. By daybreak there were still huge crowds on the streets protesting, and numerous burnt-out tanks and troop carriers showed the extent of the resistance.

There were credible reports of large numbers of troops simply deserting, and several reports of army units attacking other units suspected of desertion. Away from the main streets, there were numerous cases of troops getting isolated and attacked by workers. But the fight-back was unorganised, and could do no more than make the invasion a costly one for the army.

Across China sympathy demonstrations exploded in what was probably the biggest mobilisation to date. Huge crowds occupied city centres, called for general strikes, and fought the police and the army. Two nights of street fighting in the southwestern city of Chengdu led to almost 300 deaths. Over 180 towns and cities saw disturbances serious enough to report to Beijing. And in Hong Kong a million people, one in six of the population, marched in protest.

The repression that followed was vicious, with 30,000 people arrested by the end of the year, and several thousands killed, often in public executions. The repression came down hardest on workers and other city-dwellers who had fought back. But it was not absolute. The government issued a list of 21 most wanted student leaders, seven of whom were smuggled out of China. Leaders of the Beijing Autonomous Workers Union managed to go on the run for several weeks before being caught.

The economic fallout was also serious, deepening the crisis that had begun at the start of the year. Between the middle of 1989 and the middle of 1990 the Chinese economy shrank slightly, the worst result since the late 1960s.

But for China’s rulers, this was a price worth paying. What was potentially the most serious challenge to their power since 1949 had to be crushed at any cost. And 25 years later the memory still resonates. When the villagers of Wukan, in Guangdong province, took over the village in late 2011 in response to the murder of a protest movement leader, they spoke to Western journalists about 1989 and how it showed that the central government cannot be beaten.

But the memory has not driven all protest off the streets. In the last 25 years China’s economy has expanded faster than at any time in history, and so too has social protest. In the mid-1990s there were mass peasant movements across central China against local authorities imposing illegal taxes. They were, to some extent, pushing at an open door, as the central government also wanted the taxes stopped, but the sheer scale of the movement forced the general government to crack down harder than they wanted to. A few years later, there were near-insurrectionary strikes by workers in state-owned companies against being denied the benefits they were promised after the companies closed. They also won – the central government took over the debts and paid out.

Migrant workers, who flooded into exporting factories from the countryside as China’s economy boomed, have also fought back continuously against the conditions they live and work in. Their struggle are even more diffuse and disparate, but two decades of refusing to accept everything thrown at them have won some residence rights in the cities they have moved to – and the right to strike itself.

The government has been forced to allow spaces for mass unrest, and to move further and further back the limits of what is allowed. This does to some extent work as a safety-valve – because people can ‘bargain by rioting’, and win some gains in doing so, they target local officials and managers rather than the central government. But it is an inherently unstable situation for two reasons: firstly, it works because those who protest win things in doing so, but that also stimulates further protests; and secondly, there are no guarantees about particular struggles not generalising.

1989 was an awful defeat, which has in many ways shaped Chinese society and social movements ever since. The university campuses were silenced, and have stayed quiet ever since. But every year, as the anniversary gets nearer, the government steps up security around Tiananmen Square, arrests journalists and intellectuals and increases the numbers of police on the streets. They know full well that while they managed to drown the movement in blood, they didn’t win legitimacy by doing so. The economic boom of the last 25 years has widened the gap between rich and poor, and led to massive corruption at all levels of the CCP and the state, corruption which is now much more visible than it was 25 years ago. The potential for another movement of the size and scale of 1989 has not gone away, and that is what frightens them.

If 4 June 1989 showed how vicious a ruling class can be in hanging on to their power, the ‘May of the masses’ showed the potential power of China’s workers to challenge them. That is the history we should reclaim and celebrate – despite the defeat, that potential power remains.


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A Ukraine crisis reader

This collection of articles was compiled to encourage reading around and discussion on the crisis in Ukraine and does not purport to give a position for the IS Network. Following the US Labor Against War reader this selection does not aim to represent all positions and there is a discernible slant.




Ukraine: Activist Perspective (after Maidan)

Ukrainian Socialist Solidarity

The slogan of the moment: protecting lives, denazification, general strike Left Opposition


To citizens of Ukraine and the world: No war in Ukraine! Oleg Yasinsky


Darkness in May. A socialist eye-witness in Odessa Sergei from Odessa


Autonomous Workers Union statement on Odessa tragedy

For an independent social movement! For a free Ukraine! Left Opposition

Against the regime in Kyiv and the junta in the East! AWU-Kyiv statement on the conflict in the Eastern regions


The tragedy of Odessa Suhail Ilyas

Russia has annexed Crimea and the Kiev government surrenders to the IMF IWL-FI

Popular movement and imperialisms Fourth International Bureau


Hands off the Crimean Tatar


Stop the War in Ukraine! Antiwar appeal of Left forces in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus


British campaign launched to support Ukrainian workers


Early day motion 137: Justice for the Kryvyi Rih miners


Statement of the 19th January Committee regarding the situation in Ukraine (19th January Committee is a Russian anti-fascist initiative founded to unite different groups to fight the nationalist threat. Their activity amongst others is organizing annual memorial events on 19th January, the anniversary of Stanislav Markielov and Anastasia Baburova's murders)





Ukraine's Fractures (interview with Volodymyr Ishchenko) New Left Review/Commons Journal


Economics and politics of an escalating war Marko Bojcun


Boeing777: Between "Yes" and "No" Ilya Budraitskis

Russian White Guards in the Donbass Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski

The Ukrainian Revolution and the Future of Social Movements CrimethInc


Ukraine's separatists and their dubious leaders Searchlight


War clouds over Ukraine Alex Chklovski

Only the workers movement can stop the flaring up of war in Ukraine Zakhar Popovych

No-one wants to die: After Odessa, “remaining human” as a political programme Ilya Budraitskis


“For Ukrainians, as for any other people in the world, the main threat is capitalism” Volodymyr Ishchenko

Presidential Elections in Ukraine will usher in direct rule of oligarchs Volodymyr Ishchenko


To build the home called solidarity: an interview with Vitaly Dudin


What compromises are we prepared to make to save lives in the Donbas? Zakhar Popvych


Eastern Ukraine: Popular Uprising, Conspiracy, or Civil War? OpenLeft


Ukrainian Contradictions Louis Proyect


Crisis in Ukraine: a New Politics pamphlet Joanne Landy, Kevin Anderson, Sean Larson


Ukraine: popular uprising in the shadow of Putin's Russia Kevin Anderson


Ukraine, Coup or Revoluion? Richard Greeman


Ukraine's spiraling crisis David Finkel


Russia and fascism: when the thief cries "stop thief!" Ondřej Mrázek

Report from a visit to Kyiv in April 2014


'Libertarian in spirit': the left and maidan Kirill Buketov


Friends of the Imaginary People Ivan Ovsyannikov


Blood on their hands Disillusioned Marxist

Maidan and its contradictions Denis, AWU Kyiv

The Donetsk revolt and "the people's governor - commander Pavel Gubarov" JV Koshiw

International Socialists and Ukraine Victor Haynes/JV Koshiw

Anarchism in the context of civil war Antti Rautiainen

Behind the Masks in Ukraine, Many Faces of Rebellion C.J. Chivers and Noah Snieder

The death toll in Ukraine conflict has nearly doubled to 2,086 in 2 weeks, UN says Global Post

Crimean Tatar leader expects tensions to rise Interview with Mustafa Dzhemilev

Ukrainians form militias to defend nation from chaos Mark Rachkevych

Eastern Ukraine: beyond the fragments People and Nature

Eastern Ukraine is on the cusp of descending into brutal street warfare Harriet Salem

Bloody assault in Mariupol dashes hopes of avoiding civil war Kim Sengupta

'King Coal' and the future of the Ukrainian Donbas David Marples

Miners in eastern Ukraine refute press in Russia, US John Studer

Silent suffering for Donetsk critics of 'Kafka-esque' poll Daniel McLaughlin

UN refugee agency says at least 10,000 have fled Ukraine crisis AFP

Lurching towards civil war Tony Wood

Look far right, and look right again Anton Shekhovtsov

Ukraine - No side but that of the working class Nick Wrack

Barbarism with a human face Slavoj Žižek

The unknown revolution, 1917-1921 Volin

The Ukraine Lenin

Introduction to Ivan Maistrenko’s “Borot’bism” Chris Ford

A Bolshevik Party with a National Face: Being Ukrainian among Communists Olena Palko




Photos from Odessa clashes and House of Trade Unions arson

Odessa 5/02: the untold truth of Kulikov Field (warning graphic)

Livestream of Odessa clashes, 2nd May

Livejournal on the role of the Odessa police on the 2nd May in enabling both factions

Power and Conflict in Ukraine Marko Bojcun & Gabriel Levy

Zakhar Popovych of the Ukrainian Left Opposition speaks in Glasgow

Zakhar Popovych on the Ukrainian Crisis (House of Commons)

Volodymyr Ishchenko on the Ukrainian Crisis (House of Commons)

Chris Ford on the Crisis in Ukraine (ISN meeting)

Zakhar Popovych on the Crisis in Ukraine (ISN Meeting)

Presidential Elections in Ukraine will usher in the direct rule of Oligarchs - Volodymyr Ishchenko (Real News)

Ukrainian government criminalizing support for rebellions in the East - Volodymyr Ishchenko (Real News)

What's 'Left' in Ukraine? A discussion at Kisüzem in Budapest, Hungary (audio)


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The Donetsk revolt and the “people’s governor – commander Pavel Gubaryov”

Following the fall of President Yanukovych on 22 February 2014, and the occupation of the Crimea four days later, pro-Russian demonstrations erupted across eastern and southern Ukraine. They all read from President Putin’s script that the new government of Ukraine was anti-Russian and illegitimate, and called for following Crimea into Russia. The success or failure of the “Russian Spring” in Ukraine will be largely determined by what happens in Donetsk Oblast, as it is Ukraine’s most important industrial and populated region.

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