Workers Vanguard No. 911
28 March 2008
Defend Chinese Deformed Workers State!
Counterrevolutionary Riots in Tibet
“An orgy of anti-Chinese rioting.” That’s how the Economist online (14 March), which had the only official foreign correspondent in Lhasa, described the protests in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Launched on March 10 to commemorate the anniversary of the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule—an uprising inspired, armed and financed by the CIA—the protests were led by Buddhist lamas and were echoed by coordinated actions in China’s Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, where there are substantial Tibetan populations. There was also a march in India from the center of the Dalai Lama’s “government in exile.” Shouting “Long live Tibet” and “Long live the Dalai Lama,” rioters led by monks, often at the head of teenage gangs, rampaged in Lhasa’s old Tibetan quarter, burning and destroying shops run by ethnic Chinese and killing at least 13 people. Among those attacked were also ethnic Chinese Hui, a Muslim minority in the region. The Economist (22 March) reported that “shops owned by Tibetans were marked as such with traditional white scarves . They were spared destruction.”
The protests in Tibet are reactionary, anti-Communist and counterrevolutionary. As Trotskyists (i.e., genuine Marxists), we of the International Communist League fight for the unconditional military defense of the Chinese deformed workers state against imperialist attack and capitalist counterrevolution—as we do for the other remaining deformed workers states of North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. The 1949 Revolution that overthrew capitalist rule in China has resulted in enormous gains for that country’s working and peasant masses, including for the people of Tibet, which, until the victory of Chinese forces there in 1959, was ruled by a pro-slavery “Lamaocracy.” The “Free Tibet” cause originated with the machinations of the CIA and other imperialist forces intent on restoring capitalism in China, which would once again reduce the country to semicolonial subjugation. The call to “Free Tibet” is a rallying cry for counterrevolution and would in fact mean imperialist lordship over the Tibetan masses. The counterrevolutionary destruction of the Chinese deformed workers state would be a tremendous defeat for the international proletariat, including for the Tibetan people.
Before being crushed by the People’s Liberation Army in 1959, the Lamaist theocracy in Tibet was perhaps proportionally the largest and most idle ruling stratum in human history, economically supported by peasants, growers of barley and herders of yak. At base, this meant that the back-breaking labor was mostly done by women, since both the monks and a not small portion of the male population, who emulated the monastic life after “sinning” by procreating, were employed in contemplation.
After suppressing the CIA-backed 1959 uprising, the Chinese government abolished ulag (forced peasant labor) and put an end to flogging, mutilation and amputation as forms of criminal punishment. The land, livestock and tools of the aristocrats who fled into exile were distributed to the peasants, as were the land and chattels of the monasteries that had participated in the uprising. The Chinese deformed workers state established secular education and constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa. As a result, the average life span of Tibetans, which had been 35 years in 1950, rose to 67 in 2001. Infant mortality, which was an astounding 43 percent in 1950, dramatically decreased to 0.661 percent in 2000. The recent opening of the Lhasa-Qinghai railway, connecting Tibet to China, has led to economic development and an improvement of living standards. These gains are testimony to the social progress resulting from the expropriation of the capitalist class and landlords and the institution of proletarian property forms that issued out of the 1949 Chinese Revolution.
Especially since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the deformed workers states of East Europe and, in particular, the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92, China has been increasingly in the cross hairs of the imperialists. To promote counterrevolution, they combine pursuit of the economic openings offered by the Beijing Stalinist bureaucracy, through which they seek to encourage internal counterrevolution, with escalating military pressure. China, the strongest of the remaining deformed workers states, is surrounded by a whole system of U.S. military bases. Along with North Korea, it is on the Pentagon’s hit list as a potential target of a nuclear first strike, while the U.S. program of National Missile Defense has the strategic goal of neutralizing China’s modest nuclear capacities.
The imperialist rulers hope to take advantage of the upcoming Beijing 2008 Olympics to intensify their pressure on China through their support to the Dalai Lama. In a provocation that prefigured the Tibet riots, within a space of five weeks beginning last September the Dalai Lama met with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, U.S. president Bush in Washington—the first time a sitting U.S. president has met publicly with the Dalai Lama—and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper. Now, British prime minister Gordon Brown has announced that he will host the Dalai Lama in London this coming May.
While the Bush administration has called on China to exercise “restraint” in Tibet, the Democrats have sought to outdo the Bush gang in belligerence toward China. After the Tibet riots broke out, Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the headquarters of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. In a March 12 statement, Pelosi condemned “the violent response by Chinese forces to peaceful protesters in Tibet.” While Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton issued a statement declaring that “Chinese repression in Tibet continues,” Barack Obama’s statement echoed Pelosi’s in condemning “the use of violence to put down peaceful protests.” In fact, during the violent riots, China’s security forces “appear to have acted with relative restraint,” as the Economist online (16 March) reported.
For their part, the fake “socialists” are marching in lockstep behind their imperialist rulers’ attempts to foment counterrevolution in China, just as they supported the counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR, a world-historic defeat for the international proletariat that has brought devastation and misery to the peoples of the former Soviet Union. In France, the misnamed Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, which is associated with Socialist Action in the U.S., immediately solidarized with the lamas, condemning the “repression which is meted out by the Beijing regime” and calling for “self determination” (18 March statement). Their Japanese affiliate, Kakehashi, called for the “right of self-determination for the Tibetan people” and demanded that China “accept an international investigation team” (Kakehashi, 24 March).
Meanwhile, the reformists of the Committee for a Workers’ International, which publishes China Worker and is associated with Socialist Alternative in the U.S., have declared themselves to be for Tibet’s “right to independence.” They saluted the supposed “radical layers” among Tibetan youth as against the “conciliatory approach” of the Dalai Lama, while admitting that “national independence on a capitalist basis can in no way solve the problems of the impoverished masses” (China Worker, 18 March). Enemies of the Chinese deformed workers state, these opponents of the revolutionary internationalist workers movement are willing to consign the Tibetan masses to the return of the lamaocracy. The pseudo-Marxists’ calls for Tibetan “independence” stand to the right of even the Dalai Lama, who admitted in 2005: “As the material development of China moves forward we gain materially, like the railway. If we were a separate country it would be very difficult and we would not benefit” (South China Morning Post, 14 March).
Patterned after the Soviet Union after the usurpation of political power from the working class by the Stalinist bureaucracy, the Chinese workers state was deformed from its inception. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of Mao Zedong that carried out the 1949 Revolution was not a party based on the working class, but rather the peasantry. From the start, the CCP regime suppressed independent action by the working class, excluding it from political power. Representing a nationalist bureaucratic caste resting atop the collectivized economy, the Beijing Stalinist regime preached the profoundly anti-Marxist notion that socialism—a classless, egalitarian society based on material abundance—could be built in a single country. In practice, “socialism in one country” meant accommodation to world imperialism and opposition to the perspective of workers revolution internationally.
In their futile pursuit of “peaceful coexistence” with world imperialism, the Stalinist misrulers themselves undermine the defense of the Chinese workers state. The official statements from Beijing condemning the riots in Tibet have laid the blame solely on the Dalai Lama; left unsaid is the role of the imperialists. But as a New York Times (22 March) op-ed article by one Patrick French, a former director of the “Free Tibet Campaign” in London, stated, “The International Campaign for Tibet, based in Washington, is now a more powerful and effective force on global opinion than the Dalai Lama’s outfit in northern India.” This “Free Tibet” supporter went on to underline that “the European and American pro-Tibet organizations are the tail that wags the dog of the Tibetan government-in-exile.” He also noted 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 Chinese entered Tibet in 1950.
At the same time, Chinese Stalinism has meant nationalism and Han chauvinism. During the misnamed “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” that began in the mid 1960s, in which Mao mobilized millions of student youth to buttress his position in an intra-bureaucratic factional feud, Mao subjected the Tibetans to fierce Great Han chauvinism. Tibetan language and native dress were proscribed. Much of what had been at the core of Tibetan culture was simply smashed up and destroyed, although with the beneficial side effect of driving monks into actual labor.
After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping lifted the strictures against Tibetan language, attire and hairstyles. At the same time, monasteries were rebuilt and refurbished, and idle monks returned in droves and numbered 40,000 to 50,000 by the late 1990s. Meanwhile, the “market reforms” initiated under Deng have increased Han privilege in the area. The real gains won by the Tibetan masses from the 1949 Chinese Revolution stand alongside continuing inequalities.
Over 92 percent of China’s population is Han. It is vital for the Chinese proletariat to combat the Han chauvinism of the Stalinist bureaucracy and oppose all discrimination against Tibetans, the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang and other national and ethnic minorities. What is needed is a fight to sweep away Stalinist bureaucratic rule in China and replace it with a regime based on workers democracy, expressed through workers and peasants councils and rooted in Marxist internationalism. This would be a workers political revolution, not a social one. It would be based on defending the Chinese workers state and fighting for international socialist revolution. Key to realizing this perspective is the forging of a Trotskyist party in China. 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—from the Indian subcontinent to Japan, the U.S. and other imperialist centers.
Back in 1959, in the aftermath of the failed Tibetan uprising, James Robertson, one of the founding leaders of our international tendency and national chairman of the Spartacist League, wrote a leaflet that was printed in Young Socialist (June 1959), newspaper of the Young Socialist Clubs, forerunner of the youth group of the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Robertson was a former member of a Shachtmanite organization that had a “third campist” (i.e., non-defensist) position toward the Soviet Union. An ardent communist, he was won to Trotskyism and joined the SWP. This leaflet, titled “The Tibetan Brigade: Crocodile Tears Stain the Monkscloth” and issued by the Eugene V. Debs Club of Berkeley, was his first statement of Trotskyist Soviet defensism. In it he asserted:
“The real choice for Tibet if Chinese control were thrown off is not independent nationhood but abject dependence on American arms, money and advisors .
“The victory of the Chinese Communist government is clearly the progressive choice in the present contest. However, to recognize this is not to whitewash that regime. But even in its distorted way it is part of great and positive changes on the Asian mainland, changes that eventually will be the Maoists’ own undoing. Through these very achievements the regime will be overthrown by the mass of people anxious to rule their own destinies without the intervention of a privileged elite. That is the future; the Tibetan monk-rulers are the past.”
In the article “Counterrevolutionary Riots in Tibet” (WV No. 911, 28 March), we stated, “The recent opening of the Lhasa-Qinghai railway, connecting Tibet to China, has led to economic development and an improvement of living standards” (emphasis added). This implies that Tibet is not part of China; we should have said, “connecting Tibet to the rest of China.” In the same article, we also wrote:
“During the misnamed ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’ that began in the mid 1960s, in which Mao mobilized millions of student youth to buttress his position in an intra-bureaucratic factional feud, Mao subjected the Tibetans to fierce Great Han chauvinism. Tibetan language and native dress were proscribed. Much of what had been at the core of Tibetan culture was simply smashed up and destroyed, although with the beneficial side effect of driving monks into actual labor.”
This passage feeds into a widespread distortion promoted by the Dalai Lama camp and the imperialists that during the Cultural Revolution Mao mobilized Han student youth to “smash up and destroy” much of what had been at the core of Tibetan culture. But it was mostly Tibetan youth who destroyed many Buddhist relics and palaces. Wang Lixiong, in his very thoughtful article, “Reflections on Tibet” (New Left Review, March-April 2002), points out:
“The truth is that, because of poor transportation and the huge distances involved, only a limited number of Han Red Guards actually reached Tibet. Even if some of them did participate in pulling down the temples, their action could only have been symbolic. Hundreds of shrines were scattered in villages, pastures and on rugged mountainsides: no one would have been capable of destroying them without the participation of the local people. Furthermore, most of the Red Guards who did reach the TAR [Tibet Autonomous Region] were Tibetan students, returning from universities elsewhere.
“Surely these actions are evidence that, once they realized they could control their own fate, the Tibetan peasantry, in an unequivocally liberating gesture, cast off the spectre of the afterlife that had hung over them for so long and forcefully asserted that they would rather be men in this life than souls in the next.”
The Cultural Revolution inflicted tremendous human and economic damage on Tibet, as it did everywhere in the People’s Republic of China. It was, in fact, anti-culture, including that of Han Chinese as well as Western art and music. At the same time, there was indeed Han chauvinism. The Tibetan language and native dress—as was the case with all minority nationalities—were attacked during the Cultural Revolution. (From WV No. 917, 4 July 2008.)