Sunday, December 4, 2022

How the Tiananmen Square protests broke Communism

With the new protests in China, there is a lot of discussion of the previous protest in Tiananmen Square and the violent way it was put down. But no mention of the outcomes outside of China. It is hard to image now, but these protests were a turning point AWAY from Communism worldwide.

The protests and violent reaction actually began the process that brought communism down. 

Earlier in 1989 a reasonably free election in Poland led to a government that included Solidarity members, but only as a minor 3rd party. But a puppet party designed to bring respectability to the election to the Communist government and election actually flipped and support Solidarity, giving control of the government to the Solidarity movement. The puppet party had been a loyal ally since the 1960s. The flipping of support caught the country's leader off gaurd.

No one in Poland was sure how to react. The citizens nervously waited for the Soviet Union to crush the state as they had in the 1950s, but Michael Gorbachov refused to do it. And Poland moved slightly away from Communism.

That same year, Czechoslovakia, with a similar movement, cautiously opened up the country - fearing a repeat of the 1968 invasion that crushed a new government in Czechoslovakia and her people. But no invasion happened this time.

In June of 1989, this freedom movement spread to China and began the Tiananmen Square protests. Chinese leaders "learned"from Eastern Europe, decided to put down the protest completely at the cost of the lives of the protesters.

And this was the background in August of 1989 when the East German people demanded freedom of movement. Although East Germany did not allow travel to the West, their citizens could travel to Czechoslovakia. And the Czech officials had opened the borders to the West. Therefore, East Germans had an easy path to emigrate. And Premier Eric Honecker of East Germany faced a choice. Either open the borders, which would no doubt bring the collapse of East German's economy as people fled to the west (where West Germany would give them citizenship) OR start killing them as they did in Tiananmen Square.

The idea of international sanctions did not move the East Germans, but Eric Honecker refused to authorize lethal force to keep Germans inside East Germany as had happened in China.

And, with that, first, East Germany and then Soviet Union fell. The Communist leaders of Eastern Europe were voted out, thrown out or ignored.  China moved to a much more open market based economy, but kept political control. 

Now, much of the Chinese populace is rising up again. The question is what will Premier Xi do to stop it? He can start shooting people, or he can give a little to the protesters, but maintain power. Unlike the mainly student protests during Tiananmen, this protest spans generations and Chinese provinces. A full clamp down might only let tensions simmer until the boil over. A full scale killing of protesters would not be as easy to hide from the population now versus 1989.

For decades after 1989 the social contract was, generally, that the economy in China would open, the people would become wealthier and more consumer oriented - but the Party still ran the show.

And it has worked. The average Chinese person is now exponentially more well off. The people are better fed, the economy grew like a rocket. But these protests will be harder to ignore AND harder to respond to. China is now well-off and there will not be a rapid growth similar to that which kept the populace quiet in 1989. It is now much much harder to keep the protests secret or vilified even ont he Chinese internet. The option used in 1989 is force followed by economic growth. But now a similar show force is not backed up by growth. The question is, will a response that allows post-Covid travel - but no change in the government - be enough to satisfy the protesters.

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