Editorial from the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
It takes guts to stand up against a brutal dictatorship. One year ago in China those who exhibited such courage were slaughtered on the streets. They paid the price for expressing dissent in what is absurdly titled a "people’s democracy”.
Since then much has happened. The Chinese state-capitalist bosses still hang to power, but their counterparts in Eastern Europe have discovered that the strength of workers is greater than the arrogance of so-called Communist state bosses. With the exception of the Leninist rulers of Russia and Albania, the pseudo-socialist rulers have been ousted throughout Eastern Europe. Events have occurred which socialists, only one year ago, would have been called utopians for predicting. The Berlin Wall has disappeared; genuine elections have taken place where one-party rule used to exist; inside the Russian Empire workers are joining independent, non-state-controlled trade unions—even the army has formed one, pledging itself not to fire on the workers in the event of an attempted military coup.
The explosive developments of the months since the Tiananmen massacre demonstrate the rapidity with which historical change can take place. It has also shown the power which arises from peaceful, democratic, organised action by workers who will no longer tolerate the conditions under which they are living. No doubt the first workers on to the streets of Leipzig or Bucharest were called utopians by some doubters—surely they did not really imagine that they, mere unarmed civilians, could defeat the might of the militarised state-capitalist regime. But they did. History once again proved the cynics and doubters to be wrong.
The unsuccessful struggle in China was not futile. The victory of the state bosses left blood stains which will give rise to workers’ consciousness. Those who were murdered are not forgotten—after them will come other Chinese wage slaves who will complete the task of removing the Deng dynasty.
But what has the “success” of the East European workers amounted to? Greater democratic freedom exists now than before the workers demanded it. That gain is not to be sniffed at by workers in the West. Apart from the greater opportunities to express themselves and organise, the workers of Eastern Europe are still the victims of a dictatorship: the Dictatorship of Capital.
Do the Poles now own Poland or the Hungarians Hungary or the Rumanians Rumania? Will the Russians own Russia if the Communist Party is dislodged, or will the Lithuanian workers own the wealth of Lithuania once they leave the Russian Empire? Of course not. The means of wealth production in these countries still belong to a small minority of the population—the composition of this minority may have changed (although in Poland and Hungary many of the old state bosses are now buying up the private capital), but they are still the exploiting class.
As long as the profits of the bosses are the product of the legalised robbery of the wealth producers the workers are not free. To be a wage slave in Britain is less like being a prison inmate than being one in China, but the compulsion to work in order to make the bosses rich is the same for both.
It is the capitalist system which is the enemy. It is only by establishing a classless, stateless, propertyless global society that real freedom will be won. The struggle of workers in Britain to get rid of the profit system can only strengthen the struggle of our fellow workers in China, just as the heroic actions of our fellow workers in Tiananmen Square will serve as a permanent reminder to us of the ability of workers to stand up and be counted in the most difficult of circumstances, and the ruthless resolve of our class enemies to destroy dissent.