With the Tibetan and Chinese Workers

Against All Imperialisms and All Racial, Religious and Nationalist Traps

The recent violent explosions in Tibet have to be understood on different levels. This demands a deeper analysis than the clichés we have been offered, which either talk about the repression of popular demands for religious liberty and a return of an idyllic society based on the peaceful precepts of Buddhism, or about foreign manoeuvres aimed at one of the principal bulwarks of anti-imperialism.

It is no secret that the protests, which began on the 49th anniversary of the 1959 revolt (1) had been prepared a long time before. According to the pahyul.com website, a conference of the “Friends of Tibet”, held in June last year in New Delhi, with US diplomats participating, discussed how the Olympics might provide the only chance for Tibetans to come out and protest for independence. The march of monks and exiled Tibetans from India to Tibet was proposed at the same conference. In January the same India-based organisation announced the formation of a “Movement of Revolt of the Tibetan People” which would carry out actions on March 10th “in the spirit of the 1959 revolt”. It is no surprise that the revolt is part of a complex and multi-polar international rivalry. But we should also be aware that, the widespread nature and ferocity of the revolt is not simply due to the actions directed from abroad. It is moreover significant that the violent disorders in Lhasa had their origins, according to the few eye-witness accounts available, in a dispute between Tibetan and Han traders in a large market town. Films show numerous cars burning and big shopping centres destroyed and burnt. These targets of are almost always the property of the ethnically Han Chinese. The violence widened to the Tibetan capital where there were 19 victims according to official figures but 140 according to the Tibetan government-in-exile. And in the neighbouring province of Sichuan it appears that the Chinese authorities were taken completely by surprise leading to a substantial debacle despite the fact that a year earlier it had re-hired 650,000 police paramilitaries. (2)

But faced with this violent explosion and the difficulties of the Government in controlling the situation the many international “friends of Tibet” have largely disappeared. Not one Head of state or government has called for serious sanctions against China. Even a purely symbolic gesture such as boycotting the Olympic Games is out of the question and the only debate has been about whether or not to take part in the opening ceremony. This simple fact leads us to ask why they have taken this clear step backwards.

The first of the “friends of Tibet”, as is well-known, is the US. But this same US, a few days before the brutal repression in Tibet crossed China off the black list of the worst states who violate human rights (3), and after the violence broke out Bush has wasted no time in sidestepping any thought of action against China, confirming that he would be present in person in Beijing for the Olympic Games. Even faced with the launching of missiles into the sea from North Korea on March 8th American diplomacy did not go beyond denouncing the episode as “non-constructive”. As Rampini of La Repubblica said “the State Department seems to have recently learned the art of understatement”.

In reality the situation has profoundly changed since last year when these events were being planned. Critically there has been above all the “sub-prime crisis” which has shaken the stock exchanges of the entire world, eating away at the financial heart of global capitalism. Next, the dollar is facing enormous difficulties and a loss of trust of every kind. (4) Its obvious therefore why the US has recently decided to keep a low profile in confronting its great enemy, China, which everything else notwithstanding, continues to finance the US debt by accumulating US government bonds to the value of $1600 billion. (5)

Given the international rivalry what position should communists, or rather the international vanguard take on Tibet? If we look at the so-called “left” groups we can only identify complete confusion with diametrically opposed positions even within the same regroupments. Bertinotti, for example, did not hesitate to line up alongside the Dalai Lama, the personification of a society as obscurantist, reactionary and pseudo-feudal (6), supporting therefore the cause of the clerical gangs and local bourgeoisie which aim to become the ruling class in order to have the “freedom” to exploit their “own” working class. Others like Ciusani of the Central Committee of the PdCI (7) have announced that they “line up with the Chinese People's Republic against the medievalism of the Dalai Lama and the aggressive threats of imperialism” (8), supporting the bloody repression of one of the most oppressive imperialist regimes today existing on the planet. This confusion is the inevitable outcome of a lack of a clear class analysis of reality, and of roots in models (Russian, Chinese, Cuban “communism” etc.) which have nothing to do with communism, socialism or the interests of the proletariat.

Living and working conditions are truly terrible in China but the situation in Tibet, one of the poorest regions in the country, are even worse. Figures provided by the central government are rare and difficult to check but there is no doubt that a great part of the population lives in a subsistence economy, made up of animal husbandry, herding and a little arable cultivation (mainly barley which grows abundantly). The important growing sectors of the economy are tourism and the extraction and working of minerals, principally copper. The growth of heavy industry claimed to be 14% has to be understood in relation to the very low starting point, but even this modest development in real terms has created amongst the Tibetans - who can mainly be considered as an enormous “industrial reserve army” - hopes of an improvement in living and working conditions. Such expectations have however had to take account of capitalist reality which has offered them little. To the continuing discrimination and ill-treatment is added their suffering in comparison with the numerous ethnically Han Chinese who have migrated into the area in the last few years. The Tibetans have a different language, a different and, on average lower, level of education, and can only obtain permission for any type of economic activity with difficulty. This is the real condition of their very hard lives and the widespread social frustration has pushed many Tibetans to rebel, taking to the streets alongside the monks, but often with fundamentally different motives.

We therefore have to express all our class solidarity with the Tibetan workers who are demonstrating and struggling with great courage, moved by the material necessity to get better living and working conditions But we need to clearly repeat that these aspirations can only be met if they can find a way to break from all nationalist, racist and clerical tendencies. On the contrary the struggles of the workers in Tibet needs to identify above all with the proletarian protests which continually break out all over China. The power of the proletariat lies in its class unity, and the only viable road to reach it, even if it is long and difficult is the formation of networks of coordination and solidarity at regional and international levels which will unite the Tibetan workers with the Chinese and world working class for the creation of a real communist vanguard which knows how to guide the proletariat, and with it the widest layers of the poor of the region, towards emancipation through the destruction of all relations of exploitation and capitalist oppression. The internationalist slogan remains as always: “Workers of the world unite!”

(1) In a markedly different international situation compared with half a century ago it is useful to recall the role of the CIA on that occasion. It planned the actions together with Dalai Lam with the aim of weakening the opposing imperialist bloc which had China at the time lining up with the USSR According to their own statements released in 1989 by the New York Times, the Dalai Lama was on the payroll of the American Government agency, even if he took the decision some time ago to distance himself from those events and now proposes a more realistic “middle way” of autonomy for Tibet without questioning the rule of Beijing.

In the re-run of March 10th in 1989 the same Tibetan movements could be identified which would precede the protests in Tiananmen Square a few months later. The movements were suppressed at that time by Hu Jintao, the current President of the Chinese People’s Republic, then local leader of the Party.

(2) The decision was however accompanied by a State Department report which was highly critical of China. The violation of the most elementary human rights in China is well known but it is on par with the organisers of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib which hardly puts the US in a position to preach...

(3) In reality the iron control of Chinese society on the part of the CCP is largely a stereotype put forward by Western and Eastern media which, in one way or another, has every interest in covering up the mass protests which break out continually in Chinese society (see Revolutionary Perspectives 43). To this difficulty we can add the close scrutiny of the whole world on the events in the region as a result of the Olympic Games which forces the police to hold back as much as possible whilst they are being filmed and looked at preferring night-time actions against those elements who have been identified as the instigators of the protest.

(4) The dollar, amongst other factors, is forced down by the lowering of the discount rate imposed by the Fed in order to try to control the crisis. Various currencies, primarily the euro are trying to escape their subjection to the dollar, if not immediately rivalling it as the main international reserve currency. The important differential between the interest rates of Europe and the USA, justified by the European Central bank on the grounds that they fear a return of inflation and which the Fed has bitterly criticised many times has the further effect of depressing the value of the US currency. If we add to this the shift (either already in force or announced) from the dollar to the euro by oil sellers in countries like Iran and Venezuela we can understand why the greenback is in a difficult position.

(5) In reality the present rate of growth of the Chinese economy is in great part really due to its exports to the US and, therefore, in substance to the US debt. American indebtedness is therefore just the other side of the coin of the deficit in its balance of trade.

(6) Numerous accounts of this can be read, as in Harrer’s “Seven years in Tibet”, on the abuses and corvées imposed by the Buddhist monks until the last century.

(7) Ciusani is a member of the Party of Italian Communists or PdCI (Partito dei Comunisti Italiani). They're a split from the former Stalinists of Communist Refoundation (Rifondazione Comunista), but they're now together in an electoral coalition with Rifondazione Comunista, the Green Federation (Federazione dei Verdi), and the Democratic Left (Sinistra Democratica) called the Rainbow Left ("Sinistra Arcobaleno"). Bertinotti of Rifondazione, is the "Sinistra Arcobaleno"candidate for Prime Minister.

(8) pdcitorino.it .