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The Question of Tibet

Monday, April 21, 2008

The question of Tibet is a tricky one in Marxist circles, especially here in the West.

One, many liberals and pro-Tibet activists (whether, liberal, conservative, moderate, or hippie) have to be careful of underlying racist undertones in a society that is inherently racist and suspicious of the “foreign and exotic oriental;” this was played out during the protests in San Francisco which reverted into shouting matches in which many Chinese Americans (1st and 2nd generation, and especially visiting immigrants) felt under attack because of the color of their skin and were heaped abuse upon them that can be best described as anti-Asian and anti-immigrant in nature. This racism has sparked much debate within the Chinese American community and many of those within the community who were not active in politics are now becoming more active, especially in voicing their concerns of anti-immigrant and “Yellow menace” rhetoric.

Two, pro-Tibetan and liberal activists who support the Tibetan cause have to realize the feudal nature of the Tibetan Buddhist community within Tibet and the Dali Lama. Under previous Lamas Tibet was a society ruled by a reactionary right wing landed class who used harsh tactics and religious dogma to keep the peasants from owning their own land and from enjoying the fruits of their own labor.

However, those who critisize Tibet as being a tool of imperialist forces have to realize a few things themselves.

One is that U.S. and China are too closely interlinked on the world economic stage to actually want to do substantial harm to one another. While the U.S. may want to contain China in certain ways it is not attacking China in a classical imperialist way as China has been already subdued by world capitalism. The Peterson for International Economics points out:

Since its accession to the WTO, China has become the United States’ third-largest trading partner and the sixth-largest market for US exports. Between 2000 and 2005, US imports from China rose from $100 billion to $243 billion, while US exports to China climbed from $16 billion to $42 billion.

…expanding trade relations between the United States and China serves US economic interests, even when China has a huge bilateral trade surplus (about $201 billion in 2005).

Whatever their geopolitical differences, both countries share an enormous stake in fostering open trade and investment. Both countries risk huge losses if their commercial relations are engulfed by a wave of protection and recrimination. However, both can share enormous gains if their joint policies ensure the continued expansion of world trade and investment.

Now, as far as think tanks are concerned it don’t get more elitist and capitalist than this: on the board of directors you got board members that include the former prime minister of Singapore, chairman of the Bank of Poland, the chief executive of British Petroleum, the governor of the China Development Bank, and the former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Now if you have a bunch of worldwide elites in America espousing closer ties with China and increased trade relations with China (with some slight criticism of China’s trade policies) you are probably going to get an American government that is receptive to building closer relations with China since what is good for the elites in America is good for the elitist American government. So simply accusing the U.S. of “imperialistic” tendencies toward China is completely being blind to the facts (and being three decades behind the times) that show the U.S. and China are already good trading partners with too much shared interest at stake than to throw it all away over a human rights situation.

Two, many Marxists who espouse the “imperialist” U.S. against “communist” China are undercut by their argument based on the fact that China is nearly a completely capitalist system and a more apt name for the Chinese Communist Party would be the Chinese Capitalist Party.

Rob Lyon has a good article at In Defense of Marxism on the Tibetan question that is critical of both China and the old right wing religious leadership of Tibet:

One of the major contradictions of the development of Chinese capitalism – its uneven and unequal development – has just exploded in the face of the regime. The rapid and intense development of capitalism in China has been mainly in the Eastern provinces and coastal regions. These areas have developed massive amounts of wealth and seen a break-neck pace of development and expansion. But in the Western regions and the countryside, infrastructure has all but collapsed. As the cities and coastal areas of China become richer, the countryside becomes poorer. Most of the gains of the revolution in the countryside have been removed or eroded. This has created a virtual army of “migrant workers”, poor peasants who flock to the cities in the hopes of finding a job to earn enough money to keep their families alive.

Since 1912, Tibet found itself de facto independent from China…

Tibet in these days was far from some sort of spiritual paradise…Tibet was utterly undeveloped with no industry, the main economic activity being subsistence agriculture. The lamas and nobility owned all the land, livestock and wealth. Combined with religious superstition and a regime based on barbaric torture, the Tibet peasants were kept utterly subjugated, and lived in absolute and utter misery and poverty. The conditions in Tibet were more akin to barbarism than anything else.

Mao, as a faithful follower of Stalinism, and as part of his own theory of “New Democracy” actually sought accord with Lhasa and the lamas, by means of a “united front”. In the areas under the control of the lamas, the traditional government and aristocracy remained in place, and were actually subsidized by Beijing.

Mao’s whole policy in Tibet was not only incorrect from the perspective of Marxism, but it was criminal – just as it was in China. Rather than attempting to unite the Tibetan people to overthrow their oppressors – the lamas and the landlords – the CPC set about trying to form a popular front with and win over the Dalai Lama and his top echelon – hence the idea that rent reductions and agrarian reform could not be carried out for a number of years. Mao wanted to placate the nobles and lamas. This is not a communist policy.

Yet for some reason you have some relatively smart people espousing the line that Tibet will open up a back door to China for U.S. imperialists; yet it’s pretty much clear that the U.S. doesn’t need this policy as China has already been subdued and true socialism smashed by the Chinese Capitalist Party.

Even within the movement I’m apart of, the International League of People’s Struggles, there is this line of thinking. Jose Maria Sison, whom I respect very much for all of the work he has done, and continues to do, for the Philippines and anti-imperialism makes this mistake. In a recent press release, Sison, the chairperson of the International Coordinating Committee International League of Peoples’ Struggle, writes:

The movement represented by the Dalai Lama is utterly reactionary. It is for the restoration of a despotic and extremely exploitative theocracy in Tibet. Worse, it is an instrument of US imperialism in its dual policy of containment and engagement against China and the Chinese people. It is condemnable.

Sison fails to analyze Han cultural nationalism and supremacy in the recent repression of non-Han Tibetans in Tibet. Sison also makes a very confusing and contradictory comment:

The most interesting development in the Himalayas today is not the protest actions in support of the reactionary movement represented and headed by the Dalai Lama. It is the unprecedented resounding victory of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in the elections for Constituent Assembly. This spells the abolition of the monarchy and establishment of the democratic federal republic and opens further the way to basic democratic reforms towards the completion of the new democratic revolution. But the multi-media of the imperialist powers play up the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan reactionaries and play down the progressive political victory of CPN (Maoist) and the Nepali people. (Italics mine)

Now, don’t get me wrong, he makes a great point in the media coverage just focusing on empowering a Tibetan reactionary religious movement that has had a worse human rights record on its own people than the CCP has had. But he is praising the CPN (Maoist) electoral victory. And one the two countries in the region that have been most vocal in their opposition to the CPN (M) have been India and CHINA. So on one hand he supports China, and yet, on the other hand, he supports a group that the CCP has labeled a “threat to regional stability.” Quite a unsustainable position if you ask me.

While I don’t like criticizing Sison I know that he (as well as I) practices Criticism/Self-Criticism and we need to be critical of ourselves and our leaders to point out the contradictions in their logic in order to become better informed and to better build the movement. I only hope other Marxists and Socialists around the world that (for some weird reason) support the CCP listen.

Image From:
Boston Globe

  1. Monday, April 21, 2008 4:13 pm

    I think most observers and participants on every side of the the Tibet issue are mischaracterizing the current Dalai Lama’s goals. He has in fact accepted Tibet as a part of the PRC, All he demands for in return is autonomy and protection of human rights. Most reactionaries view him a sell out over his political and religious compromises.

    Relevant Link

  2. radical_zeitgeist. permalink
    Tuesday, April 22, 2008 5:54 pm

    i have the exact same sentiment. i used to be directly involved with bayan-usa and i’m highly dissapointed on this recent ILPS position on tibet. even among ND activists in the philippines don’t share the same position with jms. clearly there has to be more discussion among filipino activist circles rather than just accept sweeping statements of the old vanguard (which many filipino ND activists, tend to do so).

    i’m tempted to dissect this statement to point out my personal objections. but doing so would take so much space here. anyway, i know that refining a politically correct position on tibet under a marxist lense would be tricky, bloody and confusing. whether the dalai lama is actually a this or that, the CCP and the rest of china, and finally with US imperialism vis-a-vis. look if it’s a struggle, it’s a struggle…as someone who used to be so gung-ho on ND say, if someone wants freedom and fights for freedom, don’t get in the way…cause you’d be the reactionary.


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