A plastic buckling analysis for axially compressed square tubes is described in this paper. Deformation theory is used together with the realistic edge conditions for the panels of the tube introduced in our previous paper (Li and Reid, 1990), referred to hereafter as LR. The results obtained further our understanding of a number of problems related to the plastic buckling of axially compressed square tubes and simply supported rectangular plates, which have remained unsolved hitherto and seem rather puzzling. One of these is the discrepancy between experimental results and the results of plastic buckling analysis performed using the incremental theory of plasticity and the unexpected agreement between the results of calculations based on deformation theory for plates and experimental data obtained from tests conducted on tubes. The non-negligible difference between plates and tubes obtained in the present paper suggests that new experiments should be carried out to provide a more accurate assessment of the predictions of the two theories. Discussion of the results herein also advances our understanding of the compact crushing behavior of square tubes beyond that given in LR. An important conclusion reached is that strain hardening cannot be neglected for the plastic buckling analysis of square tubes even if the degree of hardening is small since doing so leads to an unrealistic buckling mode.