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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 34, August 8, 2009

Jallianwala in Beijing

Sunday 16 August 2009, by Subrata Sen


An Indian cultural delegation got unwittingly caught up in the recent turmoil in Beijing. As the Army cracked down, the delegation had to be hurriedly evacuated. Talking to the Indian press, playwright Vijay Tendulkar and novelist U.R. Anantamurthy, the two most prominent members of the delegation, described the Tienanmen incident as worse than Jallianwala Bagh. One can hardly disagree.

The butchery beggars description and was, in the initial stages, seen alive on television in Japan, the United States and Western Europe. Tanks mowed down students, women with babies in arms and even the babies in arms were shot down in cold blood. Western journalists on the spot put the death toll at three thousand. The authorities would, however, concede only three hundred, claiming half of them to be Armymen. Students’ and workers’ organisations that sprang up spontaneously during the agitation have been banned. Their leaders are being hunted. Borders have been sealed and ports and airports are being watched to prevent escape. Thousands have been arrested. At least seventeen people have been tried, sentenced and executed with astonishing speed. State controlled TV has telecast pictures of prisoners being pilloried.

Enigma of Zhao Ziang

Through the crisis, the fate of Zhao Ziang, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, reportedly a moderate in sympathy with the students’ demand for democratisation remained a puzzle. Quite early he was reported to have resigned or been removed. There were rumours about Zhao being under house arrest. The Chinese Government promptly denied the rumours. Anyway, Zhao has not been seen in public for nearly a month and has now been stripped of all posts, both party and the government.

For once, the reactions of the Indian Stalinists have been varied. Mohit Sen of the Dange group has promptly denounced the imposition of the martial law. Better late than never. Remembering that Sen and Dange had no difficulty in supporting the imposition of the martial law in Poland or judicial murder of Imre Nagy, one cannot possibly say more. Having criticised the hypocrisy of the Western countries, the CPI prefers to maintain a discreet silence. The CPI-M apparently possesses the virtue of consistency in ample measure. Their Polit-Bureau has promptly dubbed the students as American stooges on the indisputable ground that they had no concrete programme and the coincidence between their agitation and Gorbachev’s China visit was no accident.

Most Naxalite groups, who claim that capitalism has been restored in China after the death of Mao, have condemned the repression. At the same time, they describe the agitation as a struggle between two groups of “capitalist roaders”. Blissfully unaware that the current rulers put the death toll in Mao’s Cultural Revolution at twenty million or more, they compare the situation unfavourably with the halcyon days of their Chairman. Their argument seems to be: kangaroo courts, frame-up trials, Gulags and genocide are all de rigueur under socialism/new democracy; but democratic rights must be fought for in the capitalist order.

Unsure Justice Krishna Iyer

Possibly the most curious reaction has come from Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, who has made a rather successful transition from an admirer of Stalin to a sentinel for human rights. Meeting the press at Nagpur, he unequivocally condemned the Tienanmen massacre, irrespective of whether the death toll is three hundred or three thousand. Yet he was not sure whether the students were not wittingly or unwittingly working as agents of destabilisation.

There is no dearth of reason for discounting the government propaganda from Beijing. The simplest, yet most persuasive, is the fact that the Stalin School of Falsification has been assiduously and indefatigably spreading similar canards for half-a-century. They started in the late thirties with the canard that Trotsky, Zinoviey, Bukharin, virtually every leader of the Bolshevik Party, was an agent of Gestapo and Mikado. In 1948, they followed it up with the canard that Josip Broz Tito was an American stooge.

In 1957-58 they were spreading the canard that Imre Nagy was an American stooge who attempted to restore capitalism in Hungary. In 1968, they were telling the world that Alexandar Dubeck was an American stooge, trying to destabilise Czechoslovakia. Only the other day, they were telling us that Lech Walesa and Solidarity were American stooges, trying to destabilise Poland. Justice Krishna Iyer is both old and erudite enough to be aware of all these.


In the cacophony, an obvious aspect of the situation seem to have escaped the notice of observers. All through the crisis, decision-making at the government level was monopolised by just six men, supremo Deng Xiao Ping and five members of the Standing Committee of the Polit-Bureau of the CPC. Only after the peace of the grave was brutally enforced, the Central Committee of the CPC and the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress met to post facto endorse the fait accompli. No doubt some time in the future a Congress of the CPC and Plenum of the People’s Congress will meet to do the same.

Time has obviously come to remember and remind that Marx, Engels and Lenin advocated dictatorship of the proletariat and not dictatorship over the proletariat, be it the dictatorship of the Party or Party Leadership or the Leader. Understandably, Marx and Engels were loathe to speculate on the nature of government in the socialist state of the future. Nonetheless, whenever faced with the poser, they invariably pointed at the experience of the Paris Commune. In State and Revolution and other writings, Lenin faithfully followed the masters. As every student of history knows, Paris Commune was an ideal example of what, in current American jargon, is being called the participatory democracy.

(Courtesy: Nagpur Times, July 17, 1989)

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