Spartacist Canada No. 158

Fall 2008


"Students for a Free Tibet": Campus Counterrevolutionaries

(Young Spartacus pages)

A group called Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) staged a spate of tiny, well-publicized demonstrations around the Beijing Olympics. For whom and for what did they protest?

The short answer: for one of U.S. imperialism’s oldest anti-Communist crusades. Funded by Washington, the drive for a “Free Tibet” amounts to a political lever for the restoration of capitalism to China, including Tibet. Its victory would pose the subjugation of the world’s most populous country to the same imperialist robbers that now run roughshod over the globe. As fighters for social progress and the genuine emancipation of all oppressed peoples—as Trotskyists—the Spartacus Youth Clubs oppose the reactionary “Free Tibet” campaign. We stand for the unconditional military defense of China against imperialism and domestic counterrevolution because it is a workers state, albeit bureaucratically deformed, born of a revolution against capitalism.

The 1949 Chinese Revolution liberated the country from imperialism as well as the domestic capitalists and warlords. That laid the basis for enormous advances for the people of Tibet. Secular education, running water and electrical facilities were eventually erected on the ashes of Tibet’s Lamaist theocracy, which was based on forced peasant labour and punishment by floggings, mutilations and amputations. The average life span of Tibetans, which had been 35 years in 1950, rose to 67 in 2001. Infant mortality, an astounding 43 percent in 1950, dramatically decreased to 0.661 percent in 2000.

SFT’s website includes a statement by a Tibet “support group” in Spain which claims that “over 1 million Tibetan’s [sic] were murdered or died at the hands of Chinese officials.” The shamelessness of this Big Lie is exposed by no less than a former director of the “Free Tibet Campaign” in London. He noted in a New York Times (22 March) op-ed article that “after scouring the archives in Dharamsala” he found “that there was no evidence” to support the claim raised by his and other “Free Tibet” groups that 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed since the People’s Liberation Army entered Tibet in 1950. Then, the population of ethnic Tibetans was only some 2.8 million. Now, in the People’s Republic of China, ethnic Tibetans number at least 5 million, and over 90 percent of them speak Tibetan. Beware of Students for a Free Tibet’s lying, anti-Communist campaigns against China!

SFT executive director Lhadon Tethong as well as other prominent “Free Tibet” organizers such as Freya Putt, Kate Woznow and Sam Price all hail from British Columbia. Everything about their cause—from its movie-star spokesmen to its patronizing glorification of Tibetan feudalism—reeks of the self-righteous hypocrisy of Vancouver yuppies, whose affluent lifestyle fads stand in stark contrast to the real face of the city: the AIDS, poverty, drug addiction and all-sided social devastation that ravage Native people and others on the Downtown Eastside.

A feature in the August 23 Globe and Mail contrasted what it called Beijing’s “Totalitarian” Olympics to the plans for the Vancouver games in 2010, which the article claims will be done “ethically,” “the Canadian way.” The brazen hypocrisy of the claims to moral superiority made by this country’s rulers is exposed by the diverging fates of Tibetans in China and Natives in Canada. The Chinese Revolution brought the people of Tibet technology, education and the opportunity for advancement. In Canada, the colonial conquerors descended on the Native population bringing disease and campaigns of extermination. Today, the rulers of this advanced imperialist country offer Native people nothing but marginalization, degradation and hollow apologies for some of their predecessors’ crimes. That’s “the Canadian way.”

“Free Tibet” Means Imperialist Enslavement

Earlier this year, SFT touted the formation of a “Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement” based in Dharamsala, India. “In the spirit of the 1959 Uprising,” this outfit vows to “remove all obstacles to the unconditional return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and his rightful place as leader of the Tibetan people.” What happened in 1959? A rebellion inspired, armed and financed by the CIA originated among ethnic Tibetans in China’s Sichuan province and culminated in a monk/aristocrat-led uprising in Lhasa. This effort—preordained to fail—was cynically launched by the U.S. simply to harass China. Against the imperialist hue and cry over “poor little Tibet,” Trotskyists stood forthrightly for the defense of China.

The uprising was smashed, the Dalai Lama fled to India and the Communist Party of China under Mao Zedong quickly abolished his administration—the “Tibet Local Government”—which had been formed in 1951. Only then did Mao move to abolish the ulag (forced peasant labour), slavery and the myriad of mandatory taxes paid to the aristocracy and monasteries. Previously, the monasteries simply appropriated children to replenish the monk population while villages were forced to hand over children for state functions in Lhasa, with boys thus “donated” taken by the monks as consorts. The land, livestock and tools of the aristocrats who fled into exile were distributed to the peasants, as were the land and chattel of the monasteries which had participated in the uprising. For its part, the CIA continued throughout the 1960s to train armed Tibetan counterrevolutionaries. Ten years ago, the Dalai Lama’s administration admitted to having received $1.7 million a year from the CIA (New York Times, 20 October 1998).

On this year’s anniversary of the 1959 rebellion, rioters led by monks, often at the head of teenaged gangs, rampaged in Lhasa’s old Tibetan quarter, burning and destroying shops run by ethnic Chinese and killing at least 13 people. This reactionary rampage was lauded by SFT Campaigns Director Kate Woznow as “the largest protests in Tibet in 50 years” in an article for the website of Vancouver’s “lifestyle and entertainment weekly,” the Georgia Straight (15 March). Yet even the anti-Communist mouthpiece of British finance capital, the Economist, which had a reporter in Lhasa at the time, described the scene as “an orgy of anti-Chinese rioting” (see “Counterrevolutionary Riots in Tibet,” SC No. 157, Summer 2008).

The CIA Connection

The Tibetan Peoples Uprising Movement, to whom Woznow refers her readers, is backed by “Free Tibet” outfits that openly receive funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Established under the Reagan administration, the NED is well-known as a money-laundering conduit for the CIA. Among those it funds is the International Tibet Support Network, whose “Olympics Coordinator,” the aforementioned Freya Putt, oversaw the provocations in Beijing this summer. SFT was founded in 1994 by another NED-financed outfit, the International Campaign for Tibet. SFT has received financial support from something called the Isdell Foundation, which is linked to a multi-billion dollar financial services company, Aristeia Capital, LLC.

He who pays the piper, calls the tune. SFT and the various “Free Tibet” outfits with which it associates are organically linked to the imperialist ruling class of the United States. Their activities intertwine with the funding and the purposes of the NED—and thus the CIA—at a day-to-day level.

Especially since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92, China has been in the cross hairs of the imperialists. The strongest of the remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states (Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam are the others), China is now surrounded by a whole system of U.S. military bases. To whip up anti-Communist hysteria, George Bush, Stephen Harper and the other imperialist war criminals lecture the Beijing regime on “human rights” at every opportunity.

The SYCs call to defend China against counterrevolution. At the same time, we politically oppose China’s ruling nationalist, Stalinist bureaucracy, whose ideology of “socialism in one country” means accommodating imperialism on a global scale. The Chinese proletariat must combat nationalism, Han chauvinism (Han comprise over 92 percent of China’s population) and all forms of discrimination against Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic and national minorities. A workers political revolution—based on defending and extending the gains of the 1949 Revolution—is necessary to sweep away the bureaucracy and replace it with the rule of workers and peasant councils committed to the struggle for communism worldwide.

For North American Socialist Revolution!

Canadian social democrats portray this country as a feel-good, peacekeeping counterweight to U.S. imperialism. In fact, Canadian imperialism, a junior partner to the U.S., has its own long, sordid history of violence and oppression at home and abroad. And the social-democratic NDP, in sync with its imperialist masters, has always promoted anti-Communism and counterrevolution. They were quick to join the anti-China furor around the Tibet riots, issuing a March 14 statement that expressed “deep concern and alarm at the crackdown by the government of China.” A month later, leading NDP politicians were among the “Parliamentary Friends of Tibet” who made a pilgrimage to Ann Arbor, Michigan to pay homage to “His Holiness” the Dalai Lama.

The handful of West Coast youth who are today SFT’s central leaders graduated from the ranks of campus activism to high-publicity careers as willing tools of U.S. imperialism. To the extent that they seek an “au naturel” Tibet where tranquil and simple humans live in “organic” relationships unspoiled by “civilization,” they are simply arrogant, petty-bourgeois reactionaries who uphold a society only decades ago so ravaged by sickness that an estimated 90 percent of the population suffered from venereal disease; a society in which women were shared with their husbands’ male relatives if poor or added to the stables of wives of the rich; a society where life was brutal, harsh and short and where the masses were offered not the least hope for amelioration or any kind of change. And such a society, or one very much like it, necessarily under imperialist domination, would re-emerge if the Lama/aristocrat exiles returned to power in an “independent” Tibet.

The fate of the Tibetan people is inextricably bound up with the struggle for proletarian political revolution in China and socialist revolution in the capitalist countries, not least imperialist Japan and the Indian subcontinent. On this side of the Pacific, our perspective is for workers revolution to sweep away the rulers of U.S. and Canadian imperialism. The Spartacus Youth Clubs seek to win students and youth to the side of the working class, whose interests lie in the emancipation of all peoples from all forms of oppression and social backwardness. Join us in the fight for a communist future!