China, Tibet and the World Economy

Western bourgeois commentators have shed crocodile tears over the plight of the Tibetan people. But interestingly apart from a lot of talk they are doing very little. China is too important a trading partner to upset the cart too much. Here we look at the historical background to the situation in Tibet and how it relates to the growing contradictions within Chinese society as a whole.
Tibet Autonomous Region
Tibet Autonomous Region

From the point of view of the Chinese Communist Party, the recent outbreak of riots and violence in Tibet couldn't have come at a worse time - China is preparing for her moment on the world stage. By hosting the Olympic Games this summer, China will have a chance to show off its wares, demonstrate its spectacular advances, and display the marvel of its massive cities and transportation networks. China hopes to demonstrate the wonders of capitalism and show the world bourgeoisie, who will be watching and judging intently, that it is ready to enter the club.

However, on the other hand, the Chinese regime has long tried to deny that this rapid development has led to any serious problems or contradictions. All is well in the world of Chinese capitalism and the pursuit of a "harmonious society". But recent events in Tibet have exposed all of that, and have given the CPC a glimpse of what it fears most.

"Develop the West"

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. Once in the cities, they generally find work doing the worst, lowest paid jobs, creating an extremely oppressed under-class. This process of urbanisation, on a scale never before seen in history, has created a series of social and economic contradictions in China that are just waiting to explode.

As the Communist Party races in its development of capitalism, the regime is intensely terrified of any disturbances. Given the growing social disparity in China, between the classes and between the various regions and provinces, the CPC is terrified of unrest amongst any sector of the population - be it the peasantry, the army of unemployed, one of the many nationalities or the working class. Sitting atop a powder keg of contradictions, the CPC knows that any unrest could be the spark that the sets off the explosion. 

As part of their plan to develop a "harmonious society" Beijing launched the "Western China Development" programme, which was intended to develop infrastructure in the poorer western regions and smooth out the income and wealth gaps. This policy was to cover six provinces, five autonomous regions (including Tibet), and the massive municipality of Chongqing. These areas cover over 70% of China, yet include just 29% of the population and 16% of economic output.

The trouble is that the programme, although easing somewhat some of the problems in the development of infrastructure and new industries etc., has created a whole new series of social and economic contradictions which have inflamed the national question in Tibet.

The Chinese revolution and the question of Tibet

Since 1912, Tibet found itself de facto independent from China. For the previous two centuries Tibet had been invaded, occupied and annexed by numerous imperialist powers. In an agreement between Britain, China and Tibet in 1914, Outer Tibet, what is today the Tibet Autonomous Region, came under Chinese control. However, China was not to interfere in administrative matters - giving the Dalai Lama and his government a certain amount of autonomy. China was also ceded Inner Tibet, or the provinces of eastern Kham and Amdo (now part of the Chinese provinces Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan). The long years of civil war, and the war with Japan meant that Tibet was largely ignored by China and was more or less "independent".

Dalai Lama
The current Dalai Lama:
Tenzin Gyatso

Tibet in these days was far from some sort of spiritual paradise, as some may like to imagine. Due to a set of unique historical circumstances, mainly its geographically enforced isolation at the "roof of the world", Tibet had been almost untouched by the path of history for centuries, and still languished under absolute feudalism. 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. Through the complex system of taboos and charms, the corrupt lamaist hierarchy chased away evil spirits, sold absolution, indulgences and prayer wheels, and kept Tibet in the Dark Ages.

Even if there had been a Tibetan bourgeoisie of any notable size, it, like its Chinese and Russian counterparts, had come on to the scene of history too late. There was no bourgeois revolution or palace revolt in Tibet that could usher in change and modern production and technique, etc. The tasks of history fell to another organization to carry out. When the Chinese Red Army arrived offering education, land reform, electricity and modern industry, not to mention a more modern and better equipped army - what chance did the theocracy of Tibet stand?

After the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the question of Tibet was unresolved. Mao, as a result of his nationalism and Han chauvinism, and, not least of all his fear that the Dalai Lama could be used by the imperialists to launch counter-revolutionary actions in China from Tibet, as well as his desire to establish "buffer zones" between China and potentially hostile neighbours, wanted Tibet under the control of Beijing.

By this time, Lhasa had essentially regained control of Inner Tibet. In 1950 Mao sent the Red Army into the Tibetan area of Chamdo, quickly crushing any resistance offered by the Tibetan Army. The Red Army marched towards Central Tibet, stopping 200 km away from Lhasa, what the Chinese considered to be the border of Outer Tibet. As there were no roads that were adequate for large scale troop transport, and his troops not being used to the altitude, Mao began to negotiate with Lhasa.

Under the threat of bayonets, Tibet and the China signed the Seventeen-Point Agreement, which incorporated Tibet into the People's Republic. The areas already under Chinese control, Kham and Amdo were incorporated into neighbouring Chinese provinces (generations of Chinese migration to eastern, or inner Tibet, meant that these regions had already been effectively "Sinicised") and the areas under the control of the Dalai Lama were to remain autonomous, under the control of the lamas.

In the areas under Chinese control, land reform was implemented in full. Slavery and serfdom were abolished. The rotten and corrupt lamas and nobility were expropriated, and the land redistributed to the peasants. The peasants were trained and armed, and conscripted into the building of public works. Schools and hospitals were opened in the former temples and homes of the lamas and highways were built linking China to Lhasa, and eventually lead to the borders of India, Nepal and Pakistan.  

These measures, along with the inclusion of these areas into the planned economy, meant the real first instances of progress and advance for the peasantry and poor of Tibet. For the first time, Tibetans were able to see the marvel that was electricity with the building of the first power plant and steel mill. For the initial period at any rate, the Tibetan peasants supported the Chinese Maoists as they were receiving genuine benefits from the revolution.

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. While land reform had taken place in the Tibetan areas under Chinese control, Mao wrote the following on the areas under the control of the Dalai Lama:

"As for Tibet, neither rent reduction nor agrarian reform can start for at least two or three years. While several hundred thousand Han people live in Sinkiang, there are hardly any in Tibet, where our army finds itself in a totally different minority nationality area. We depend solely on two basic policies to win over the masses and put ourselves in an invulnerable position. The first is strict budgeting coupled with production for the army's own needs, and thus the exertion of influence on the masses; this is the key link...

"We must do our best and take proper steps to win over the Dalai and the majority of his top echelon and to isolate the handful of bad elements in order to achieve a gradual, bloodless transformation of the Tibetan economic and political system over a number of years; on the other hand, we must be prepared for the eventuality of the bad elements leading the Tibetan troops in rebellion and attacking us, so that in this contingency our army could still carry on and hold out in Tibet. It all depends on strict budgeting and production for the army's own needs. Only with this fundamental policy as the cornerstone of our work can we achieve our aim. The second policy, which can and must be put into effect, is to establish trade relations with India and with the heartland of our country and to attain a general balance in supplies to and from Tibet so that the standard of living of the Tibetan people will in no way fall because of our army's presence but will improve through our efforts. If we cannot solve the two problems of production and trade, we shall lose the material base for our presence, the bad elements will cash in and will not let a single day pass without inciting the backward elements among the people and the Tibetan troops to oppose us, and our policy of uniting with the many and isolating the few will become ineffectual and fail...

"In the meantime there are two possibilities. One is that our united front policy towards the upper stratum, a policy of uniting with the many and isolating the few, will take effect and that the Tibetan people will gradually draw closer to us, so the bad elements and the Tibetan troops will not dare to rebel. The other possibility is that the bad elements, thinking we are weak and can be bullied, may lead the Tibetan troops in rebellion and that our army will counter-attack in self-defence and deal them telling blows." (On the Policies for Our Work in Tibet -- Directive of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China - italics our emphasis)

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.

The CPC would do the same in China. This was bound to fail. No ruling class in history has ever reconciled itself with the revolution that is to take away its property and power. It was not "a handful of bad elements" amongst the lama clique that intended to fight the CPC - it was the entire class as a whole. Furthermore, this policy would do little to win over the Tibetan masses, who would be repulsed to see the Communists uniting with their oppressors.

The task in this situation was to organize a genuine united front of all the oppressed, not the top echelons, and to unite the peasants and workers of Tibet and the other oppressed nationalities with those of China to overthrow and expropriate the ruling classes. Mao sought support amongst the upper echelons in order to win over the masses, when the real task was to build support amongst the masses to overthrow these upper echelons. 

The counter-revolution and the national question

Predictably, the lamas and nobles in the areas under CPC control, having lost all their property and land, launched a revolt with the assistance of the CIA. Eventually, this revolt, led by the aristocrats and monasteries, would gain some limited support from the Tibetan peasants themselves and erupt in Lhasa and the other Tibetan areas of China. By leaving Lhasa in the hands of the lamas, Mao gave the counter-revolution the time and means to fund and launch a rebellion.

Mao Tse-tung
Mao Tse-tung

The Chinese Stalinists were never known for their subtlety. While in general we support the progressive measures of the Stalinist bureaucracy - such as the expropriation of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie and the introduction of social advances along with modern industry and technique, we resolutely condemn their bureaucratic methods. The Chinese revolution was not carried out in the form of a proletarian revolution, but it did succeed in freeing the productive forces from the fetters of feudalism and capitalism and the laid the basis for the development of the economy - which otherwise would have been impossible. This was true both in China and Tibet. However, genuine socialism means the direct intervention of the working class and peasantry in the running of society. This was not the case in China. Right from the beginning, the Chinese Communist Party set about establishing a totalitarian regime on the basis of the methods of Bonapartism, and not workers' democracy. Rather than building a society based on genuine worker's democracy and socialism, the regime built a society where it ensured its own power and privileges.

A genuine Marxist policy in Tibet, or China in general for that matter, would have looked radically different from that of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party. We would have advocated what Trotsky and the Left-Opposition fought for in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. The task in Tibet was to delicately develop the economy on the basis of a democratically planned economy - with the full respect of the rights to self-determination of the Tibetan people. Lenin always advocated that the national question and the various nationalities be treated with extreme sensitivity. By means of education and strongly supported state and communal organizations the peasantry was to be convinced of the superiority of socialist methods and integrated into the plan.

The same is true for religion. Religion, like any idea, cannot be defeated by means of weapons and prison cells. The task of Marxists is to patiently explain the nature and problem of religion, by means of education, etc. The fact that someone believes in a god or gods, does not mean that they cannot also be communists or support the policies of Marxism.

Along with the expropriations and introduction of industry and improved social conditions, the CPC also brought along with it severe repression. The Red Army and CPC were ruthless in Tibet, attacking religion and monasteries, destroying historical and cultural icons, and banning religious ceremonies. This was certainly no way to win friends and influence people in Tibet. Rather than patiently explain, the CPC attempted to brow-beat the Tibetan people into submission and into agreeing with the ideas of the CPC, and above all Mao. Thousands of monasteries and other sites were destroyed. As the counter-revolutionary insurgency grew - so too did the repression on the part of the CPC. This only served to inflame nationalist sentiments, and fuel support for the counter-revolution.

The Chinese Stalinists also faced a situation that bore a certain resemblance to the situation faced by the Bolsheviks under War Communism. Not being able to count on the help of the workers in the West, due to the defeats of one revolution after another, the Bolsheviks were forced to take severe measures to guarantee the functioning of the economy. The Bolshevik leadership under Lenin considered these measures temporary. The implementation of forced requisitioning of food and products, the high price of industrial goods, war, civil war and famine, had led to weariness among the peasants and a series of peasant rebellions against the Soviet state in the early 1920s.

In order to fight the guerrilla war in Tibet, the CPC implemented forced requisitioning in Tibet to feed the Red Army - as it was not self-sufficient. Then, as part of the Great Leap Forward , requisitioning was increased, further angering the peasantry and turning a section of them against the CPC:

The rebellion started in the Tibetan-majority areas of China. The landlords and lamas, with the support of the US imperialism, launched a guerrilla war against the CPC in 1956. The exact size and nature of the counter-revolutionary insurgency is disputed, and it is extremely difficult to determine the facts, given the sources. In all likelihood, the counter-revolution did find some support amongst the more backwards elements of the peasantry in the areas with large Tibetan populations on the basis of religion and nationalism. Nonetheless, the actions of the CPC did nothing but understandably inflame these sentiments.

However, the counter-revolution never succeeded in winning over the mass of the peasantry. Despite the crimes of the CPC and the Red Army, the majority of the peasants probably preferred to see power plants, industry and improved social conditions than the return of their former exploiters, meaning that the majority of the peasants at least passively supported the CPC.

The guerrilla war would erupt into a mass demonstration and uprising on March 10, 1959 in Lhasa. Nearly half the population of the capital, which was around 40,000, was made up of monks - revealing the social nature of the uprising. The uprising was crushed severely, and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee with US assistance to India while the bulk of the guerrilla forces fled to Nepal. Some pockets would remain in Tibet and China with the support of US imperialism in the form of small bands of guerrillas.

There can be no illusions in the Dalai Lama, despite whatever pacifist teachings of Buddhism he mat claim to adhere to. He was a tool of imperialism, used by Washington in its campaign to destabilise and overthrow the CPC regime. For decades the Lama received massive funds, to maintain himself as well as guerrilla operations in China. However, this support was promptly withdrawn in 1972 when Nixon made his state visit to China. Obviously doing business with China was more lucrative than supporting the Tibetans!

And here we see a familiar pattern. The imperialists were not concerned with the Tibetan people or their interests. They were but pawns in the plans of US imperialism to attack, destabilize, and eventually overthrow the CPC and restore capitalism in China. As soon as the US developed a different strategy - that of engaging China in order to isolate the Soviet Union - the Tibetan resistance was abandoned and left to its own fate. In fact, US imperialism had sided with Tibetan reactionaries against the Tibet people, and a victory for the counter-revolution would have meant the return of barbarism and bloodshed as the old order set about re-confiscating its land and property.

However, having said that, the CPC behaved no differently. Tibet was but a pawn in China's foreign policy, and the CPC ruled severely - the only advantages were those brought by the introduction of the planned economy, which managed to bring them a few years of respite.

Choekyi Gyaltsen
The 10th Panchen Lama:
Choekyi Gyaltsen

After the crushing of the rebellion, all the lamas and landlords were expropriated and the oppression of the Tibet people as a whole was stepped up. Mao, similar to Stalin after the Second World War with the nationalities in the Soviet Union, wanted to teach the Tibetan people a lesson they would not forget. Oppression was brutal until a brief thaw in 1962. However, the thaw was cut across by the Cultural Revolution. Tibet witnessed some of the most extreme factional Red Guard fighting in China, which saw the extreme vandalism and destruction of monasteries and attacks on the Tibetan people as well as economic ruin. This also included mass arrests, cruel and unusual punishment, executions, starvation and famine. A document written at the time by the Panchen Lama (who was trying to convince Mao to change tactics in Tibet), Tibet's second spiritual leader, who was more or less loyal to Beijing, wrote that these measures had caused "90 percent of the Tibetan people to lose heart".

In 1969, a second revolt occurred in Tibet, a direct result of the madness of the Cultural Revolution. The full details of the events and history of the suppression of the revolt are for the most part unknown - although some historians claim that the violence "is still incomprehensible" and many Tibetans describe the events "as if the sky fell to the ground".

The national question rears its head

After the defeat of the Gang of Four and the end of the Cultural Revolution, the bureaucratic clique around Deng Xiaoping eventually came to power in China. They set about reversing the policies of the Cultural Revolution and repairing the economic damage. In 1980, party secretary general Hu Yaobang lambasted the Tibetan leadership, bluntly telling them that Tibet was worse off in many areas than before the Revolution, and that the Party should apologise to the Tibetan people.

Economic conditions began to improve, and tourism in Tibet was encouraged. Negotiations with the Dalai Lama were even opened up. However, these came to naught. The Dalai Lama, as the tool of Washington, announced one of his plans (the Five-Point Peace Plan) from Capitol Hill, revealing Washington's influence and interests in the matter.  

By no means restoring any real freedoms or resolving any of the problems in a meaningful way, the economic growth of the 1970s and early 1980s did however serve to soften the national question - for a short time. But now this economic growth has turned into it opposite - given the uneven and unequal development of capitalism, markedly different from the methods of even the bureaucratically planned economy ‑ and has only served to exacerbate the problem.

This was evident even by the end of the 1980s. A series of mass demonstrations took place in Tibet between late 1987 and early 1989. One of the impetuses for the demonstrations seems to have been monks and nuns calling for independence and the return of the Dalai Lama. However, this alone cannot explain the unrest.

Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
This famous photo, taken on 5 June 1989 by photographer Jeff Widener, depicts a lone protester who tried to stop the People's Liberation Army's advancing tanks.

In 1989 student protests and demonstrations erupted across China, culminating in a massive demonstration in 1989 in Tiananmen Square. The introduction of capitalism had meant spiralling inflation, the loss of jobs, massive wage cuts and attacks on social conditions. The gains of the revolution were being eroded. These demonstrations were by and large a reaction to this.

The same was true in Tibet. In March 1989, under orders from then Tibetan Party boss Hu Jintao, the army and police crushed a mass demonstration by opening fire on unarmed demonstrators. Over 100 people were reportedly killed. A riot ensued, with demonstrators attacking the soldiers and police, and there were reports of attacks on Chinese people and the destruction of Chinese owned property. Hu Jintao declared martial law and Lhasa was effectively occupied.

The events in Tibet were a precursor to the mass demonstration and repression in Tiananmen Square just a few months later. And the repression that followed was meted out particularly harshly in Tibet.

It is precisely this that the bureaucracy fears at this moment in time. They fear that Tibet could be the spark that leads to mass demonstrations all over China. A few days after the unrest had begun in Tibet this time around, there were reports of limited demonstrations in Beijing itself - which were harshly put down for this very reason.

Adding more fuel to the fire of the national question in Tibet is the fact that the standards of health and education in Tibet lag far behind the rest of China. The infant mortality rate is 4 times greater in some areas of Tibet than the average in China. According to official statistics in 2002, only 39% of school-age children actually attend secondary school, with just 16% spending two more years at a higher level.

In a certain way, the national question in Tibet is similar to that in the former Yugoslavia. Despite the ruin of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the planned economy in China meant spectacular economic and social development and progress. The improvement of social conditions, the creation of jobs and improved agricultural technique and equipment would have softened the national divisions in Tibet. For a short time the national question was pushed back - but by no means was it resolved.

Marxists in general defend the right of self-determination of nations and nationalities up to and including independence. We stand for the voluntary union of peoples, and not forced subjugation.

As explained in our previous article on the situation in Tibet, the unequal and uneven development of capitalism in China has inflamed the national question, and this will only continue to get worse.

As also reported in our previous article, the "average wage" as calculated by the Chinese regime is rather high in Tibet - second only to Beijing. However, under capitalism, the economic developments in Tibet are not actually benefiting the Tibetan people. Despite this average wage, Tibet is one of the poorest regions in China and has one of the greatest income gap disparities in all of China - and it is the Tibetans who are at the bottom of the ladder. The good jobs, both in the private and state sectors, disproportionately go to people of ethnic Chinese backgrounds. The economic expansion and new industries are controlled by Han migrants and a small Tibetan elite. Ordinary Tibetans, whose level of education and skills are considered lower, can't compete with this influx of traders and small businesses either. What this all means is that the Tibetan people are left to remain in the fields in dire poverty and misery, work the most dangerous and lowest paid jobs, or join the army of poor migrant workers. This is what is fuelling the discontent in Tibet - at bottom the pro-capitalist policies of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Olympics and the world economy

The demonstrations and violence spread throughout Tibet and its neighbouring provinces with large Tibetan populations rather quickly. The response of the regime was swift and harsh. Thousands of troops and riot police have swept into Tibet and "problem" areas to restore order. The death toll from the violence is disputed and may never be really known. Beijing announced its intention to "resolutely crush" the demonstrations and restore order, arresting untold scores of people.

The Dalai Lama had nothing to do with the eruption of demonstrations and violence, despite what Beijing says. He in fact stands for conciliation with Beijing, openly calling for autonomy rather than independence. He has obviously exploited the situation to put pressure on Beijing, however what this whole affair has in fact done is reveal the splits and divisions in the Tibetan movement.

The Dalai Lama has openly stated that he does not desire independence for Tibet, only some sort of autonomy for Tibet similar to Hong Kong. The Dalai Lama represents a section of the former Tibetan elite who seek an accommodation with Chinese capitalism - there are big opportunities in China now. However, this will not be possible. Hong Kong was awarded special status in the People's Republic because of its immense economic power, and the important role it plays in the world economy. Tibet offers no such clout, and the concession of any genuine autonomy to Tibet on the part of Beijing would only encourage other areas to launch struggles for the same thing.

As China steps up its shrill denunciations of the Dalai Lama, so too does the Lama use increasingly strong language. This is because the Dalai Lama is also terrified of a united movement of the poor and oppressed in China - he above all wants to avoid that the workers and peasants of China and Tibet should unite. His interests are similar to those of Beijing.

The Dalai Lama is an agent of imperialism. It is obvious that the West views this as an opportunity to exploit the discontent of the Tibetans to weaken China and gain a voice in its territory. Hence British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has stated he would like to meet with the Dalai Lama, and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already been to see him and discuss the situation.

But the situation is extremely delicate, and the imperialists are well aware of the need to tread lightly when it comes to China. If this situation had developed in another country - such as Kyrgyzstan, or even the Ukraine, the US imperialists may have tried yet another repeat of their latest tactic - the so-called ("insert colour") revolution. But the imperialists were unable to do this in China.

China's overriding concern seems to be to save face and avoid embarrassment over the upcoming Olympic Games. This was made clear when the regime accused the "Dalai clique" of plotting to embarrass China and ruin the Olympics.

Pressure has been growing in the media for a boycott of the Olympics. US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi toyed with the idea, but has since retracted her statements, claiming that a boycott would only harm the athletes. She was most likely muzzled by the Bush administration.

The bourgeois media and several world leaders and politicians shed crocodile tears over Tibet, but in reality imperialism is no friend of the Tibetan people. The imperialists have never particularly cared about oppressed peoples or their interests - only how they can be used in their strategies. Moreover, all this talk on the part of the imperialists is laughable. The US has no moral authority to be speaking about human rights abuses - just look at the war in Iraq and the cases of torture, not to mention Guantanamo Bay. Sarkozy hypocritically blathers on about "restraint", when during the estates riots in France two years ago he called for the "scum to be cleansed from France" and was a hawk in the government at the time, calling for anything but restraint. This is not to excuse the genuine human rights abuses committed by the Chinese regime everyday or those recently in Tibet, but only to say that a solution to such crimes will not be found with the imperialists.

The scale of unrest in Tibet is not as large as some of the massive strikes and peasant unrest that have taken place in China over the last few years. These are ignored by the media and the imperialists. This is because the imperialists have invested heavily in Chinese industry, and the massive profits being made depend on the super-exploitation of the working class. These sweatshop conditions, with intolerably low wages and poor working conditions, more similar to the conditions of the working class in England in the 1840s than anything else, is maintained by heavy-handed police state methods. The imperialists can't attack the use of troops and riot police too much, as these are essential to the protection of their interests in the rest of China. When and if a massive general strike or movement of the Chinese working class erupts in China, there will be no talk about human rights - in fact the imperialists, quietly or otherwise - would urge the immediate crushing of such a movement.

Even if the imperialists were genuinely concerned about the Tibetan people, a boycott would be a half-measure at best. Some in the EU are discussing a boycott of the opening ceremony, which is a half-measure of a half-measure. The question of the boycott has divided the imperialist camp. An EU foreign ministers' meeting last week rejected the idea of a boycott, although German Chancellor Merkel has announced that she will not attend the opening ceremony. French President Nicholas Sarkozy is also toying with this idea. The Australian government is now also considering a boycott.

The US and the UK are clearly against the idea of a boycott and more than likely will urge their "allies" to drop it. What this comes down to is a question of the world economy. The world economy sits on the brink of a crisis - and nobody wants any problems. From that point of view, Tibet has become a problem to the imperialists. Everybody, from the Chinese regime, to the US and the EU is aware of the fragility of the world economy. Any serious crisis, whatever the nature, could cause severe problems for world markets and the whole thing could come crashing down. The faster China can solve this, and the quieter the better, the happier everyone will be.

To boycott the Olympics would be considered a provocation by the Chinese. This is something the US explicitly does not want to do - at the moment. Whatever the imperialists may think of the current world situation, they need China. If the US consumer boom is the motor of the world economy, then China has been its lubricant. China accounts for a large proportion of the growth in world trade, and it has become a major importer and exporter in the world economy.

If the US and the EU and their allies were to boycott the Olympics, China would be enraged and could retaliate. The US needs China's cooperation at the moment, in matters of trade and economics, but also in its diplomatic relations with North Korea, etc. Both sides know that one of the few ways China could retaliate would be economically - but nobody wants this. All sides know that they are all dependent on one another, and an economic retaliation on the part of China would only weaken the world economy, and hence its own interests. Nobody wants things to come even close to this. Nobody wants to go down that road.

Of course, imperialism is interested in weakening China. They see the recent events in Tibet as an opportunity to manoeuvre against China, but not in an open conflict, and certainly not in a conflict that could harm the fragile world economy. Instead, they have opted for a softer, more subtle approach. There are reports that the Bush administration is putting pressure on China "quietly" and "behind the scenes" to ease up on Tibet and solve the problem quickly. Bush has urged the Chinese to open talks with the Dalai Lama and for the two sides to come to some sort of "settlement". It is unlikely that China will agree to this. However, if it were possible it would simply be a successful manoeuvre on the part of US imperialism - the Dalai Lama, as a puppet of imperialism would be used as a "democratic" and "peaceful" trick to betray the Tibetan people in order that US imperialism can exploit their cause to fulfil its own interests and gain a platform in China.

The question of independence

The recent events in Tibet have seen a renewal of the calls for a "Free Tibet". We fully support the right of the Tibetan people to self-determination, including separation - with full rights for the significant Chinese minority. This right, however, as Lenin explained, is not an absolute one, but must be subordinate to the interests of the working class. Above all, the unity of the working class must be maintained.

A free and independent Tibet on the basis of capitalism is a pipedream at best, and a reactionary adventure at worst. An independent Tibet, as in the past, would fall under the domination of one or more of the other imperialist powers. Whether under the Dalai Lama or some sort of "democratic" regime, Tibet would be exploited and utterly dominated by imperialism. Any remaining social gains, few though they are, would be immediately removed. Imperialist domination would also not solve the burning issue of poverty or democracy, but in fact exacerbate them further.  The problems of poverty, repression, etc. would not be solved. Freedom for Tibet will not be found in the arms of the Dalai Lama or imperialism.

Furthermore, to separate Tibet from China would divide peoples and populations arbitrarily - cutting across regions and communities - and could very likely end up in bloodshed of the type seen in the former Yugoslavia. There are countless examples of this in history - the division of Ireland, India, and the aforementioned Yugoslavia to name a few. These types of divisions are always reactionary and more often than not end in bloodshed. The Chinese minority in Tibet would find itself very vulnerable, as would the Tibetan minority in the neighbouring Chinese provinces. From this point of view, to arbitrarily call for independence for Tibet, and not look at the wider context, is irresponsible.

What is clear is that the Tibetan people will never be free so long as the regime in Beijing continues to exist. The Chinese bureaucracy and developing bourgeoisie will never give real concessions to Tibet, for fear that other regions may get the same idea. The national question in China is not isolated to Tibet but covers dozens of nationalities and ethnic groups covering entire swathes of China's territory. The Chinese regime fears above all its loss of central power and a "united" China. No freedom for the working class or the oppressed nationalities will ever be found within the context of the present "People's Republic".

But this is not only true for the people of Tibet or the other nationalities - it is true for the entire working class and peasantry in China. The bureaucracy employs the same brutal means against workers and peasants in China, regardless of their nationality, each and every time they struggle for improved social or working conditions, take strike action, or struggle for their rights.

The people of China are not the enemy of Tibet. The bureaucracy and rising number of capitalists are. They are an enemy in common for all the exploited and oppressed of China. The workers and peasants of China and Tibet face the same problems - super-exploitation, low wages, rising prices of basic goods, lack of social infrastructure and the oppression at the hands of the massive state bureaucracy and growing capitalist class.

The workers and peasants of Tibet and China will only find freedom in joint struggle against their common enemy - capitalism and the bureaucracy that is building it. Beijing correctly fears the explosion of discontent in Tibet. It could be the spark that lights the powder keg. The harsh crackdown will only create further discontent and anger, spilling over into more demonstrations and unrest.

The real problem is the lack of any genuinely independent organisation of the working class that could channel this struggle into the direct, concentrated action of the working class, of the united peoples' in China. The Tibetan workers and youth, and the same goes for the Chinese workers and youth, must endeavour to build links with each other and fight in common against the same enemy. The workers' and peasants of China, Tibet and all regions of the country must struggle for the unity of the working class to overthrow the rotten bureaucratic clique in power, expropriate the rising bourgeoisie, and introduce a genuinely democratic and socialist society on the basis of a democratically planned economy, with full democratic rights for all nationalities. The question of nationalities in China, and the question of the emancipation of the working class in general, will only be solved by the establishment of genuine socialism. Organised correctly, the struggle in Tibet could become the symbol and launching pad for the struggle for socialism in China, the entire Himalayan region and the Indian Subcontinent.


See also: