James Wright from Not A Dinner Party
Chinese new-left academic Minqi Li was a young undergrad at the time of the 1989 putsch, and like many of his peers, was swept up in it. He has described the events as being initiated by neo-liberal economic professors and their students who saw an opportunity to use Gorbachev's visit as an opening to attempt to overthrow the CPC by initiating the student protests. They believed the west and the Gorbachev led Soviets would both back them. They wanted to restore capitalism, pure and simple, and establish a US style system. That was their chosen model, according to Li.
Li states that many workers in Beijing did get involved in the protest, but had no real sense of what they were getting into, or fighting for, other than protesting against what they then perceived as threats to their living standards from the reform programme. They allowed the leadership and direction of the protest to be left in the hands of the neo-liberals.
Those who organised the protests did not care about the workers or their interests, and Li says that when it became clear that the CPC was not going to fold under their pressure, they abandoned their students and the workers to their fate, and fled, some back to their universities, and many others, overseas, to the US in particular*.
So, even amongst the Chinese New-Left, there is an understanding of the class forces that were at play in the protests, and that their defeat was essential to maintaining the socialist state and the rule of the CP, even if they do not necessarily agree with the line that Party and State is taking.
(*It is perhaps not without irony to point out that Li himself teaches at a US university).
--- Minqi Li: There has been dramatic change in terms of China’s intellectual life. Back in the 1980s, among most of the intellectuals who were politically conscious or politically active, among most of the university students, it was dominated by neoliberal ideas.
Paul Jay: The ideas of open markets, independent capitalist enterprises breaking down the sort of state-owned economy.
Li: Exactly. That was also the case for virtually all of the leaders of the 1989 democratic movement. But things started to change by the mid-1990s.
Jay: Just to be clear, you’re saying most of the leadership of the Tiananmen Square democracy type of movement were mostly connected to this neoliberal economic reform movement.
Li: Yeah, I would say probably all of them. ---
""On the one hand, these workers were the people we [students] considered to be passive, obedient, ignorant, lazy, and stupid. Yet now they were coming to support us... Just weeks before, we were enthusiastically advocating ‘reform’ programmes that would shut down all state factories and leave workers unemployed". - Minqi Li - The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy, 2008