Thursday, 27 March 2008

Tibet: what's left?

From strange bedfellows to estranged 'redfellows', left politics often seems a complex of uneasy alliances and less-than-comradely disputes.

Take the current uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet.

This week saw two starkly opposed readings from the Morning Star and Socialist Worker newspapers over China's engagement in the region. The Communist Party's Star outlet castigated the Free Tibet lobby and sundry supporters for failing to see the West's manipulation of the uprising. Against this, the Socialist Worker Party organ described Tibet's "biggest uprising for almost 20 years [as] the product of decades of national oppression", with China "sealing off the province from the media and instituting...a brutal crackdown."

With customary flair, Mark Steel was also on hand with this sharp-witted dissection of the CP line:
"So yesterday, with a touching hint of nostalgia, the Communist Party paper the Morning Star told us anyone who supported the Dalai Lama was "A fool or a rogue," and the fact that there have been riots in several cities "is evidence they were put up to it by someone", and suggests "someone who had fundamentalist power over these people." So Tibetans are defying a powerful army because they've been brainwashed by a 72-year-old with glasses who presumably chants his orders up a mountain, and as they echo round the valleys his followers stare into the distance and say robotically "Orders – from – master – must – get – crushed – by –tank."

The marvellous modern twist, however, is that now Western leaders and Rupert Murdoch want to be friends with the Communist leaders of China as well. What a feel-good story it is, communists and capitalists finally settling their differences, and realising they have so much in common, such as the desire to shoot teenagers protesting for freedom – and all in the name of freedom."
This is not, in any way, to impugn the Morning Star, a generally fine and challenging paper, carrying much that the liberal media would never touch. Yet, as with Steel, my own feelings of solidarity are with the physically, economically and culturally brutalised Tibetans. Left political alliances, to my mind, should always involve siding with the immediately oppressed. As in denouncing Israel's colonial occupation and inhuman treatment of the Palestinians.

And, yes, isn't it typical that while shouting about Beijing's human right abuses, Western political elites, as with the Murdoch empire, are cosying-up to China for a stake in its economic boom?

While also decrying the West's shrill posturings towards China, this more mediated Indian Communist view talks of possible dialogue and wider concerns for the Tibetan people:

"The Tibetan movement, in the course of time, has come to focus mainly on issues of autonomy rather than that of secession. The protesters may raise shouts of “Free Tibet”, but this slogan does not seem to find wide acceptance in the Tibetan mainstream today. Even the Dalai Lama, the internationally recognised icon of Tibet, has reiterated in the wake of the current turmoil that genuine autonomy is what the Tibetan people want.

In such circumstances China would do well to address the aspirations for autonomy through political dialogue rather than by repression and martial law. The spectacle of protesting Buddhist monks being brutalised by armed forces can hardly evade comparisons with similar scenes in military-ruled Burma and the tragic stigma of Tiananmen.

One hopes that China will take proper lessons from the Soviet experience, where bruised national sentiments played no small part in the great shipwreck. Democratic and peace-loving people of the world are deeply concerned over the situation in Tibet, and expect China to handle the agitations and the ethnic tensions with greater sensitivity and maturity. China’s stance on economic questions has been one of pragmatic flexibility: in the case of Hong Kong, China has shown its willingness to experiment with a policy of “one country, two systems”, where the Central People’s Government is responsible for the territory’s defence and foreign affairs, while the Government of Hong Kong is responsible for its own legal system, police force, monetary system, customs policy, immigration policy and so on. Can’t we, then, expect greater accommodation on China’s part of Tibetan aspirations for autonomy?

While resolutely resisting every attempt to fan an anti-communist and anti-China frenzy over Tibet, we do hold that state repression can only be counterproductive, providing grist to the imperialist mill and allowing greater room for US interference in the region. A lasting solution can be reached only through political dialogue in a democratic atmosphere."
Another Euro-leftist view speaks more acutely of the economic colonialism that's taken place, expressing a clear "solidarity with the people of Tibet":

"They testify to the despair of a population, of their feeling of oppression and dispossession. Indeed, Beijing continues in this “autonomous area’’ a systematic policy of colonisation by settlement: the development of infrastructure (such as the creation of a fast-rail link) is used for this purpose. Thus, the Han ethnic group (the dominant Chinese ethnic group) have become a majority in Tibet; it is they who, moreover, profit most from ”development” in Tibet. This is the source of the revolt of the Tibetans, threatened by forced acculturation and assimilation. It also explains violence expressed by some "rioters’’ against Han passers-by and shopkeepers."
Still, some 'leftist' elements continue their crude dismissal of the Dalai Lama as a 'CIA stooge'. His enforced exile in Dharamsala since 1959, so this version goes, has seen the Dalai Lama on the Agency's 'payroll', serving to establish a US-backed independent Tibet as a regional bulwark to China.

But while Washington's ambitious hand can, as elsewhere, be seen here, actual evidence of the Dalai Lama's 'collaboration' with the US remains flimsy, with most of these claims rooted in supposition and cheap association. In this vein, the 'crude left' view seems fixated on Tibet's past feudal order, as though Chinese occupation has brought Tibet political, economic and cultural liberation from monastic obscurantism.

What this account fails to recognise is the evolving desire of the Tibetan people for a new and just polity, not a return to feudal authority. The Dalai Lama has also explicitly stated that Tibet should become autonomous, rather than independent, with full guarantees of cultural protection.

Indeed, these hopes for a rapprochement with Beijing can be traced, in part, to the Dalai Lama's own socialistic inclinations, as in these personal reflections on the possibilities of a more 'compassionate Marxism':

"The 13th Dalai Lama had left a testament that I read. Also, some of the monks who were helping my studies had been in monasteries with Mongolians. They had talked about the destruction that had taken place since the communists came to Mongolia. We did not know anything about Marxist ideology. But we all feared destruction and thought of communists with terror. It was only when I went to China in 1954-55 that I actually studied Marxist ideology and learned the history of the Chinese revolution. Once I understood Marxism, my attitude changed completely. I was so attracted to Marxism, I even expressed my wish to become a Communist Party member.

Tibet at that time was very, very backward. The ruling class did not seem to care, and there was much inequality. Marxism talked about an equal and just distribution of wealth. I was very much in favor of this. Then there was the concept of self creation. Marxism talked about self-reliance, without depending on a creator or a God. That was very attractive. I had tried to do some things for my people, but I did not have enough time. I still think that if a genuine communist movement had come to Tibet, there would have been much benefit to the people. Instead, the Chinese communists brought Tibet a so-called "liberation." These people were not implementing true Marxist policy. If they had been, national boundaries would not be important to them. They would have worried about helping humanity. Instead, the Chinese communists carried out aggression and suppression in Tibet. Whenever there was opposition, it was simply crushed.

That is why I still have hope. The Chinese people, too, have a rich culture and a long history. For thousands of years the Tibetans and the Chinese have lived side by side. Sometimes there were very happy moments. Sometimes there were very difficult moments. But one day, they will see that my middle approach will bring us all genuine stability and unity. I am sure that a day when good things, full of friendship, mutual respect and helping each other, will come."
Secessionist claims invariably harbour reactionary elements and their elite sponsors, NATO's 'championing' of' independence for Kosovo being the current case-in-point. Yet, strategic concerns inform other state's positions on such matters.

Thus, Cuba and Venezuela have declared their open support for China here - to the unease of some pro-Tibet leftists who also back Castro and Chavez. Yet, Cuban and Venezuelan backing for Beijing is not, necessarily, to disregard the oppressed Tibetans. Rather, it's a pragmatic alliance and counter-reaction to US propaganda against China, the Western-led Olympic boycott calls and Washington's hypocrisy in denouncing China's human rights record.

So, should we still support Cuba and Venezuela in light of such declarations? Yes, of course. And for two fundamental reasons. Firstly, both these countries are trying to advance an alternative model of society based on human need rather than private greed. Secondly, despite their respective upheavals, neither of these states are killing and repressing their own people in the process.

The irony here is that China, in alarming contrast, has now embraced much the same free-market nostrums as the West and is persecuting its citizens daily in pursuit of capitalist 'development'. Again, it's part of the big paradoxical political picture.

Yet, we don't have to join in the West's China-bashing sport to back the oppressed of Tibet. Why endorse anti-Chinese rhetoric on human rights propagated by Western governments whose own hands are awash with the blood of illegal wars? In short, we can express our own moral and political concern for the abused people of Tibet and China without recourse to Washington's 'freedom-speak'.

In similar regard, it's helpful to remember that the Dalai Lama is speaking with a moral, rather than overtly political, voice on China's policy of "cultural genocide" in Tibet. As Derek Lane, a contributor at the Media Lens site, neatly put it in response to one 'leftist' claim that the Dalai Lama is calling all the political shots:

"If many ordinary Tibetans are protesting against the occupation of Tibet by China, should we lump all Tibetans in with your notions of the motive of the Dalai Lama, or should we perhaps accept that these people might have legitimate grievances against the state of China? Your position seems to be a very black and white one, as though, having grasped a particular ideology, it 'must' be applied, at any cost, to the whole world. A little more grey never hurt anyone, as long as the bottom line is compassion for those personally oppressed."
Perhaps in keeping with the Dalai Lama's own promotion of a non-violent "middle way" to resolving conflict, some others on the 'crude left' might care to reflect a little more on their own black and white view of the China-Tibet division and how to bring about a fair and peaceful end to the repression.

Indeed, the Dalai Lama's sincere and compassionate appeal to the Chinese people on the issue should serve as a template for the potential resolution of all conflicts, political and otherwise.


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