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Workers Vanguard No. 941

28 August 2009

Defend Chinese Deformed Workers State! For Workers Political Revolution!

Communal Violence in Xinjiang

Early last month a violent national conflict erupted in Urumqi, the provincial capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in western China. It began on July 5 when hundreds of Uighurs—a Turkic-speaking, traditionally Islamic people—went on a murderous rampage against their Han Chinese neighbors. Han mobs then retaliated in kind. The Chinese government now sets the number killed at 197, most of them Han Chinese, while some 1,600 were injured. To halt the interethnic bloodletting the government authorities utilized massive police force with 20,000 troops patrolling both Han and Uighur neighborhoods.

From the outset the Beijing regime has claimed, without convincing evidence, that the riots in Urumqi were masterminded by the anti-Chinese nationalists of the World Uighur Congress (WUC), an imperialist-sponsored group based mainly in the U.S. and Germany. Needless to say, the WUC presents a completely different picture from that of the Chinese government of the events leading to the riots. It contends that on July 5, a peaceful protest by Uighurs, mainly university students, was set upon by the police who opened fire on the demonstrators without any provocation. For its part, the Chinese government says that the repressive measures it took were a response to, not the cause of, the violence. We are quite distant from the situation, and each source—whether it’s the Chinese government, the WUC or the imperialist media—has its own motive in presenting what happened. What is clear is that however the events on July 5 may have begun, they soon degenerated into communalist violence. Even the London Economist (11 July), a house organ for Anglo-American financiers, stated: “The violence in Xinjiang was crude, racist stuff on both sides, with the Han Chinese suffering the brunt of it.”

The trigger for the riots in Urumqi was an event that occurred thousands of miles away in the southeastern Chinese coastal province of Guangdong. In late June, Uighur migrant workers living in a dormitory at a toy factory owned by Hong Kong capitalists were attacked by Han workers. At least two Uighur workers were killed and scores injured. The attack, which lasted for hours, was apparently provoked by a false rumor circulated by a disgruntled former worker that six Uighur men had raped two Han women. After news of what happened reached Xinjiang, Uighurs were enraged over inaction by Chinese authorities and demanded a full government investigation. These complaints against the Chinese government, which seem to be justified, in no way excuse the murderous rampage by Uighurs in Xinjiang against their Han neighbors.

Xinjiang, with its wealth of natural resources, especially large deposits of oil and natural gas, is of great strategic economic importance to China. The country’s president, Hu Jintao, judged the communalist violence in Urumqi to be of such political importance and urgency that he cut short his participation in the G8 summit in Italy and returned to Beijing. What is the broad political significance of the national conflict between Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang? To answer that question it is necessary to understand the class nature of the Chinese state and its relationship to world imperialism.

The Class Character of the Chinese State

The 1949 Chinese Revolution, marked by the military victory of Mao Zedong’s peasant-based armies over Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang, destroyed capitalist-landlord rule and liberated the country from imperialist subjugation. The revolution brought enormous social gains to China’s workers, peasants and deeply oppressed women. However, the People’s Republic of China, ruled by the Communist Party (CCP), emerged as—and continues to be—a bureaucratically deformed workers state patterned on the former Soviet Union under J.V. Stalin. A parasitic, nationalist bureaucratic caste rests atop a collectivized economy.

Like their Soviet Stalinist forebears, Mao and his successors, including the current regime, have preached the profoundly anti-Marxist notion that socialism could be built in a single country. Marxists define socialism as a classless, egalitarian society based on material abundance, which could be built only on the basis of international planning, crucially requiring the overthrow of capitalist rule in the advanced capitalist centers of North America, West Europe and Japan. In practice, the Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country” has meant accommodation to world imperialism and opposition to the perspective of international workers revolution.

As Trotskyists, we stand for the unconditional military defense of the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution. In answer to the aspirations of the Chinese workers and rural toilers, and also national minorities like the Uighurs, for democratic rights and a government that represents their needs and interests, we stand for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and establish a government based on elected workers and peasant councils that is committed to revolutionary proletarian internationalism.

For the past several decades, the Beijing Stalinist regime has utilized extensive market mechanisms in the economy while encouraging large-scale investment by Western and Japanese corporations and the offshore Chinese bourgeoisie in Taiwan and Hong Kong. A sizable class of capitalist entrepreneurs—many of them former government functionaries and the children of current functionaries—has also developed on the mainland. As a consequence, there is now a widely held belief, across the entire political spectrum, that once-“Communist” China has become capitalist or is rapidly and irreversibly doing so. That belief is false. The core of the Chinese economy continues to be based on collectivized property. In fact, the non-capitalist character of China has been clearly demonstrated during the current severe global economic downturn.

To see this, one can compare the effects of the economic stimulus programs in the U.S. and China. Despite the $800 billion stimulus package enacted by the Democratic administration of Barack Obama, output and employment have continued to fall. The gross domestic product is nearly 4 percent below what it was a year ago, while industrial production has been cut by 13.6 percent over the same period. Official optimism that the economy is bottoming out, propagated by the Obama White House, points to the fact that in July employers eliminated “only” a quarter of a million jobs, somewhat less than the average job loss over the previous several months.

By contrast, China’s stimulus program, centered on investment in infrastructure by state-owned enterprises and government bodies and expanding loans by state-controlled banks, has effectively offset the massive decline in export earnings. The annual rate of growth of gross domestic product increased to 8 percent in the second quarter up from 6 percent in the previous quarter. Richard McGregor, a China watcher for the London Financial Times (9 August), commented: “Beijing has managed to pull the Chinese economy out of a ditch with a massive fiscal and monetary stimulus.”

Nonetheless, the global economic downturn has sharply worsened conditions for those migrant workers from the countryside who have toiled in factories owned by foreign and offshore Chinese capitalists producing light manufactures for export. Many have had to return to their villages, at least temporarily, including Uighurs from Xinjiang. Impoverished Uighur and also Han youth in the villages and cities of Xinjiang cannot now improve their conditions by securing employment in the capitalist-owned factories producing for export. In this sense, the basic contradictions of the world capitalist system and the accommodation to that system by the Beijing Stalinist regime have aggravated the national conflict between Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang.

In their own way, the imperialist bourgeoisies recognize that China continues to embody the social and national gains of the 1949 Revolution. The country is not theirs as it was in the past. The ultimate goal of the U.S., European and Japanese imperialist powers is to restore capitalism in China and once again reduce the country to semicolonial subjugation. In pursuing that goal, the imperialists have encouraged and supported reactionary nationalist forces linked to religion among the non-Han peoples—Tibetans, Uighurs—in the western borderlands of China. Thus the national conflict between Uighurs and Han in Xinjiang must be viewed within the broad framework of imperialist hostility to the Chinese deformed workers state.

Stalinist Misrule and the National Conflict in Xinjiang

The specific character of the national question in Xinjiang has significantly changed as a consequence of developments since the 1949 Revolution. At that time, 75 percent of the region’s population were Uighurs, less than 7 percent were Han Chinese. Today, of the 21 million people in Xinjiang, 45 percent are Uighurs and 40 percent are Han. Moreover, the Han population is concentrated in the cities and even in 1949 made up a majority in Urumqi, the provincial capital.

Initially, the migration of Han into the relatively impoverished backwater province of Xinjiang resulted from deliberate government policy and special incentives. However, for the past decade or so, Xinjiang had experienced an economic boom, even by China’s standards, centrally based on the exploitation and development of its oil and natural gas fields. According to official figures, the region’s gross domestic product doubled between 2004 and 2008 from $28 billion to $60 billion. This boom has attracted Han Chinese of all classes, from capitalist entrepreneurs to unskilled laborers, pursuing their own economic interests. That is, the changing demographics are not solely determined by the policies and intent of the CCP regime, though Uighurs complain that they continue to be excluded even from unskilled work.

At the same time, the pervasive use of market relations in the economy and the large private sector have increased the gap between the growing number of Han Chinese and the indigenous peoples in the country’s western borderlands. Especially in private enterprises, but also in the state sector, hiring often is based on nepotism, other personal connections or outright discrimination in favor of Han Chinese. But even if competition in the labor market were decided solely by individual capacity, Han Chinese would still have an advantage over Uighurs; they are far more skilled and literate, in particular fluent in Mandarin, China’s lingua franca.

Thus, the past decade’s economic boom in Xinjiang appears to have aggravated rather than lessened Uighur resentment against Han Chinese as a socially privileged and politically dominant nationality. Two China correspondents for the London Financial Times (7 July) report:

“The redevelopment of old towns and the influx of richer Han Chinese radically changed local economic structures, costing many Uighurs their traditional jobs....

“This has happened while Xinjiang’s economy has been growing at more than 11 per cent a year for the past six years, above the national average. The wealth created by this rapid growth has been concentrated in the pockets of new immigrants, increasing the gap between rich and poor, Han and Uighur, some locals complain.”

Enmity between Uighurs and Han Chinese has centuries-old, historical roots. But that enmity has been intensified by the effects of Stalinist bureaucratic misrule, particularly in the last two decades. At the same time, it is important to recognize that Uighurs, like other workers and rural toilers throughout China, have benefited enormously from the progressive social and economic development of the post-1949 People’s Republic. Since the Revolution, infant mortality in Xinjiang has continually declined while life expectancy, less than 30 years in 1949, rose to 67 years by 2000.

However, today’s young Uighur men and women are much less likely to compare their conditions of life to those of their parents and grandparents than to those of the Han newcomers. And by those standards they are clearly disadvantaged. To be sure, the Stalinist regime has made an effort to recruit more Uighurs and other national minorities into the higher reaches of the social order. Thus Uighur students are given additional points on the standardized examinations that are a screening mechanism for admission to university. But such measures have a tokenistic character given the reality that the mass of Uighurs are on the bottom of a newly reconfigured society in their own homelands.

The Chinese Stalinist leaders, who strive above all to maintain social “order,” recognized the danger to themselves in the growing hostility of the poorer Uighurs toward the better-off Han. But instead of moving to raise the Uighur populace to the level of the Han within Xinjiang, the CCP regime had recourse to the safety valve of internal migration to the factories and construction sites of coastal China.

Beginning in 2002, the government instituted a labor export program for Uighur youth from low-income families. That program offered substantial advantages for those participating in it: incomes two or three times what they could earn at home, training in modern industrial equipment, Mandarin-language classes and free medical care. But state coercion in the form of stiff fines also was used against those Uighurs who, despite such material incentives, refused to leave their homes to work in strange cities thousands of miles away.

An estimated 1.5 million people from Xinjiang, mainly Uighurs, work elsewhere in China. But that safety valve is now being shut off by the effects of the global capitalist downturn. Reports indicate that both Uighur and Han perpetrators and victims of last month’s riots in Urumqi were mostly unemployed or seasonal migrant workers.

What then is to be done? A workers and peasants government in China, issuing out of a proletarian political revolution, would establish a rationally planned and centrally managed economy based on state-owned enterprises. (This would not preclude the use of market mechanisms for certain purposes nor a limited role for the private, including foreign-owned, sector.) Only such a system would be able to narrow the present and widening socioeconomic gap between Uighurs and Han in Xinjiang. What is required is expending and directing sufficient resources to educate and train Uighurs in the use of modern industrial technology on the same footing as Han Chinese. In the final analysis, however, to achieve a level of material abundance for the benefit of all of China’s peoples requires aid from a socialist Japan or a socialist America, underlining again the need for international proletarian revolution.

Key to achieving genuine national equality in Xinjiang is reversing the Stalinist policy of forced Sinification, in particular the effort to marginalize the Uighur language in favor of Mandarin. The CCP boss of Xinjiang, Wang Lequan, declared that minority languages like Uighur are “out of step with the 21st century” (New York Times, 10 July). Wang is here speaking the language of the Mandarinate of old imperial China translated into the Stalinist nationalism and Han chauvinism of today. Since 2002, Mandarin has been the only language used in courses at Xinjiang University for at least the first two years of course work. At the same time, children from lower-class Uighur families have had little opportunity to achieve fluency in Mandarin. Under a workers and peasants government, there would be genuine bilingualism at all levels of education from preschool to university. Uighurs would be able to use their own language as well as Mandarin in all economic and political institutions, whether dealing with factory managers or government officials.

Such a language policy is mandated by the principles of proletarian internationalism—i.e., equality of all peoples in all spheres of life. The example to which we look is that of the Bolshevik regime led by Lenin and Trotsky that issued out of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Tsarist Russia was aptly described by Lenin as a “prison house of peoples.” Upon coming to power, the Bolsheviks implemented the policies for which they always fought: the equality of all peoples, ethnicities and languages, including the right of self-determination for the myriad nations oppressed under the tsarist empire.

In China, the Han majority comprises some 90 percent of the population. Only a Leninist-Trotskyist party committed to proletarian internationalism can effectively combat Han chauvinism, including by mobilizing the Han proletariat in the struggle for the equality of all of China’s peoples. And only such a party can combat the efforts of reactionary Uighur nationalists and Islamicists, supported by the imperialists, to exploit the just grievances of the Uighur masses against Chinese Stalinist misrule for counterrevolutionary purposes.

World Uighur Congress: An Agency of Imperialism

There is historical irony and deep political significance in the fact that both Uighur Islamicists and the leading figure in the World Uighur Congress were originally sponsored and promoted by the Chinese Stalinist leadership. In the 1970s and ’80s, China was engaged in a strategic alliance with U.S. imperialism against the Soviet Union, a policy initiated by Mao Zedong. In the context of that reactionary alliance, the Beijing regime trained and dispatched religious-minded, young Uighur men (who were Sunni Muslims) to join the CIA-backed mujahedin cutthroats fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

Thus, the Chinese bureaucracy criminally bolstered American imperialism in weakening and undermining the Soviet Union, thereby furthering imperialism’s counterrevolutionary drive against the USSR. We Trotskyists hailed the Red Army’s intervention into Afghanistan, not only as an elementary expression of our unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state but also as the only means for social progress to be realized in benighted Afghanistan, not least for its horribly oppressed women.

Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, the main body of militant Islamicists, represented by Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, turned against their former U.S. masters. Similarly, Uighur jihadists who had fought in Afghanistan redirected their fire at the Chinese Communist government. Following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Jane’s Security News, which is linked to British intelligence, commented in this regard: “Chinese strategy on this front [Afghanistan], however, had a negative fallout for Beijing as the returning Uighur jihadis fuelled the already-simmering insurgency for an independent Muslim Eastern Turkestan in Xinjiang.”

Most of the Uighur jihadists did not, in fact, return to China. However, the exiled Islamicists may well have ties to small, shadowy Uighur terrorist groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement operating in Xinjiang. Indeed, the counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR has led to a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism throughout Central Asia. For its part, the Chinese Stalinist government has signed on to the global “war on terror,” again emboldening the imperialists in Washington, who are now seizing on the communal riots in Xinjiang to promote their counterrevolutionary aims against China.

Far more important than the Uighur Islamicist terrorist groups is the World Uighur Congress because of the support it receives from U.S. and also German imperialism. The WUC receives funding from the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, a notorious CIA conduit. The organization’s leading light is one Rebiya Kadeer, who dubs herself “the Mother of the Uighur nation.” Kadeer began her career in China as a successful and wealthy capitalist, becoming a member of the National People’s Congress, the rubber-stamp parliamentary body of the CCP regime. However, in 1997 this poster girl for China’s new capitalist class fell from political grace after her husband, who had fled to the U.S., made offensive broadcasts over the official government Voice of America radio station. Two years later, she was arrested and charged with “providing secret information to foreigners” as she prepared to meet a delegation of U.S. Congressional staff. She was imprisoned until 2005. After her release, she moved to Washington, D.C., operating in the bastion of world imperialism. On more than one occasion, Kadeer was granted an audience by George W. Bush, who duly called her an “apostle of freedom.”

The communalist riots in Urumqi occurred a little over a year after Tibetan mobs, led by Buddhist lamas, engaged in murderous attacks on Han Chinese residents in the capital, Lhasa (see “Counterrevolutionary Riots in Tibet,” WV No. 911, 28 March 2008). Much of the Western bourgeois media has drawn a parallel between the two events, while hypocritically condemning the Chinese Communists for their brutality toward the country’s national minorities.

There are similarities but also important differences between the anti-Han riots in Tibet last year and last month’s communal violence in Xinjiang. The similarity lies in the reactionary, imperialist-backed nature of the exiled forces that claim to represent the Tibetan and Uighur peoples. The difference lies in the actual influence these forces exercise on the ground in the borderlands of western China.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after the suppression of a lama/aristocrat uprising organized and armed by the CIA. Since then he has been elevated, so to speak, by his imperialist masters as the supreme incarnation of opposition to the Chinese Communist government. The Dalai Lama is a political personage of some importance on the international scene. The WUC’s Rebiya Kadeer has made every effort to identify herself and her cause with Tibet’s “living god,” who contributed a brief introduction to her autobiography. Nonetheless, prior to last month’s communal violence in Xinjiang, few people paid attention to Kadeer and her cohorts except for their CIA handlers.

In Tibet, the effect of the CCP regime’s policies has been to reconstitute a numerically large and relatively wealthy Buddhist priest caste. The lamas are in the forefront of both internal reaction and imperialist provocations, such as last year’s riots. By contrast, Beijing’s policy in Xinjiang has been to suppress the emergence of a socially and politically influential Islamic clerical caste. Mosques must be registered with the state and imams require government approval. There does not now exist an organized network of Islamic clerics that could act as an effective link between the imperialist enemies of the People’s Republic of China and the disaffected Uighur masses. On the available evidence, what happened in Urumqi last month was mainly a spontaneous eruption of ethnic hatred, fueled by relative economic deprivation, on the part of Uighurs involved.

Reformists and the Xinjiang Riots

Joining the imperialist drive for the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Chinese deformed workers state are reformist “socialists” such as the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the U.S. The ISO claims China has never been a workers state but has been “state capitalist” since 1949. This “theory,” which they also applied to the former Soviet Union, is a fig leaf for decades of anti-Communist practice on behalf of imperialism. The ISO howled alongside the imperialists against the Soviet intervention into Afghanistan. When Soviet forces pulled out of Afghanistan in 1988-89, in a futile attempt by the Kremlin bureaucracy to appease the imperialists, the ISO gloated: “We welcome the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan. It will give heart to all those inside the USSR and in Eastern Europe who want to break the rule of Stalin’s heirs” (Socialist Worker, May 1988). Three years later, the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the ISO’s former parent group, exulted: “Communism has collapsed…. It is a fact that should have every socialist rejoicing” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 31 August 1991).

More recently, in an article titled “The Changing Shape of Struggle in China” (Socialist Worker online, 9 July), the ISO painted the horrific communal bloodletting in Xinjiang as “class-infused protests,” grotesquely enthusing that “the Urumqi revolt confirms that grassroots struggle continues to erupt on an expanding scale.”

On the other side of the reformist spectrum is the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). A 24 July article on its Web site, “Behind the Urumqui Riots in China,” while rightly denouncing the imperialists and their media for seizing on the riots in Urumqi, is essentially an apologia for the Chinese bureaucracy. Ever so gingerly, the PSL declares that “relations between the Han Chinese and Uyghur people are not perfectly harmonious.” While noting that the CCP’s “market reforms” have led to “nationalistic rivalries,” the PSL disappears any hint of Han chauvinism on the part of the Chinese bureaucracy. Indeed, it is to the Stalinist bureaucracy that the PSL looks as the key barrier to counterrevolution, writing in an earlier article (10 February): “The CCP government, in spite all of its contradictions, remains the most important obstacle to the return of China to its previous state of semi-colonial slavery.”

In reality, the continued rule of the CCP undermines defense of proletarian state power in China. Contrary to the PSL’s claims, the bureaucracy continues to preserve state property not out of a subjective identification with socialism but, as Trotsky wrote in The Revolution Betrayed (1936) in regard to the Soviet Union, “only to the extent that it fears the proletariat”—i.e., to protect its privileged position as a parasitic caste atop the workers state.

For International Proletarian Revolution!

The CCP regime denounces the World Uighur Congress as “separatist.” Actually, Kadeer & Co. do not now openly call to detach Xinjiang from China and establish an independent state, though that is manifestly what they’re aiming for. The Uighur jihadists do call for an independent “Islamic East Turkestan.” As proletarian internationalists, we do not consider the present state boundaries of China to be sacrosanct. But all of the forces advocating or supporting an independent Xinjiang today are in the camp of capitalist counterrevolution. Moreover, the demand for an independent Xinjiang, even if couched in the most “democratic” language, would be viewed by everyone in the region as a program to drive out the Han people.

One cannot envision a progressive solution to the national conflict in Xinjiang except in the context of a proletarian political revolution throughout China. This would open up historical possibilities that do not now exist: regional autonomy in some form, even an independent state allied to China.

The Chinese Stalinist regime of Hu Jintao declares a “harmonious society” to be the goal of its policies and practices. It is a fundamental premise of Marxism that a harmonious society can be achieved only through overcoming economic scarcity leading to material abundance. Despite China’s rapid economic growth since the 1949 Revolution, it is still a relatively poor country by international standards. Per capita gross domestic product is one-tenth that of the United States and one-seventh that of Japan.

Ultimately, the survival and advancement of China’s revolutionary gains hinge on the fight for socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist countries of Japan, North America and West Europe, the only road toward the all-round modernization of China as part of an international planned economy. A proletarian political revolution producing a China of workers and peasants councils would be a beacon for the oppressed working masses of Asia and the entire world. That is the perspective of the International Communist League.


Workers Vanguard No. 941

WV 941

28 August 2009


For a Workers Party to Fight for a Workers Government!

The California Budget Crisis and the Bankruptcy of American Capitalism

Deadly Cuts Starve the Poor, Kill the Sick, Gut the Unions


Defend Chinese Deformed Workers State! For Workers Political Revolution!

Communal Violence in Xinjiang



Leonard Peltier Denied Parole


Communism and Human Liberation

(Quote of the Week)


Mumia Is an Innocent Man! Free Him Now!

Reformists Crawl to Obama and His Top Cop


COINTELPRO Charges Dropped Against Four SF8 Defendants

Drop the Charges Against Francisco Torres! Free Them All!


The United Front Tactic: Its Use and Abuse

By Joseph Seymour

(Young Spartacus pages)