The Beijing Olympics and the Question of Tibet

448153Vijay Singh

In the run-up to the Olympic Games which are to be held in the Beijing, US imperialism is conducting a campaign of disinformation against the nationalities policies in Tibet using the remnants of feudalism such as the Dalai Lama as their instrument, alongside the normal imperialist accredited newspapers, ‘human rights institutions’ and Hollywood film personalities. It is a familiar game which was last played out in the Reagan years when the US carried out a similar political exercise against its imperialist rival before the Moscow Olympics and which peaked with the US boycott of the games. The US campaign today needs to be seen for what it is: an attempt to politically undermine the Chinese state in its ‘own’ backyard and to accelerate further the half-century long path of ‘market socialist’ development in China and to push for the casting-off of the shell of the people’s democratic state. It is also part of the US endeavour to militarily encircle from land and sea a country which it sees as a dangerous imperialist rival. Within China agency reports speak of an upsurge of Han chauvinism which is a reflex of the disturbances in Tibet and the recent round of the denigration of China by the US. The promotion of internecine strife of the nationalities and religions is an integral part of the politics of US imperialism across the globe.

No amount of US propaganda from the universities and newspapers can wipe away the fact that after the revolution of 1949 the Chinese people assisted in the democratic transformation of Tibetan society. The People’s Republic of China helped to abolish feudalism, it introduced land reform, abolished slavery, emancipated the serfs, ended the Buddhist lama theocratic despotism and carried out the economic transformation of Tibetan society bringing it out of medieval tyranny and darkness into the light of the twentieth century, introducing the benefits of industrial society and democratic transformation, of state and co-operative economic institutions; food, shelter, and clothing; literacy, education, and social security amongst the Tibetan masses. It is a supreme irony that the United States which oppresses the Afro-American and Puerto Rican nations within its state frontiers, exploits the colonial, semi-colonial and dependent countries around the planet, and has a destructive policy towards democracy and secularism should point its finger at China. Democratic opinion must understand these policies for what they are.

The early years of the revolutionary movement in China saw the Communist Party pursue an exemplary approach and programme with regard to the national question. Mao Zedong in his capacity as President of the Central Executive Committee of the Chinese Soviet Republic in 1931 and in his speech at the Second Soviet Congress in 1934 in blunt terms denounced the national oppression under the rule of the Chinese militarists and the landlords as well as the oppression by the ruling classes of princes, living Buddhas and lamas of the smaller nationalities and their surrender to imperialist colonisation. He well understood the exigency of uniting the oppressed nationalities such as the Mongolians, Tibetans, Koreans, Annamites, the Miao and many others around the Soviets in China in order to strengthen the revolution against imperialism and the Kuomintang. [1] Mao commended the Constitution passed by the First Soviet Congress held in 1931 in Juichin, Kiangsi, which in its 14th article said that ‘Soviet China recognises the complete self-determination of the minorities who may go so far as to secede and form independent free states.’ (Emphasis in the original.) The Soviet Chinese Constitution of 1931 argued that the ‘free union of nationalities will replace national oppression’. This implied the creation of a federal ‘Union of Soviet Republics’ along the lines of the Soviet Union, a democratic state structure which was based upon the views of Marx in relation to the Irish question.

Such an approach was maintained up to the founding of the People’s Republic of China. A tremendous social, economic and political revolutionary transformation took place in the minority national territories after 1949. But in terms of the resolution of the national question it cannot be said that a full democratic solution was accomplished. The contiguous areas of the Tibetan-speaking peoples were not administratively united after liberation while in Inner Mongolia the Mongolian people were administratively separated. The Communist Party of China and the People’s Democratic state shrank from the promised construction of a free union of nationalities in which the right of national-determination would be recognised up to the point of secession. By this method the nationalities of Mongolia, Tibet, Sinkiang and elsewhere were subordinated to the majority Han Chinese, and the latter now became a constitutionally privileged nation which could direct the destinies of the nationalities which inhabited the vast areas of the People’s Republic of China. The nationalities of Mongolia, Tibet and Sinkiang as elsewhere which formed the numerical majority in their ancient national territories were now designated as ‘national minorities’. This broad picture became apparent in the Constitution of 1954 and it was to be reproduced in the subsequent Fundamental Laws which were promulgated by the Chinese state. The unity and integrity of the territories of the Chinese state and not the free union of the nationalities based on the right of self-determination of the peoples became the basic fundamental constitutional principle. In this manner the CPC’s political approach to the national question having moved away from Marxism now came to approximate to the views of Sun-Yat-sen and the Kuomintang.

The camp of socialism and democracy which spanned a dozen states witnessed a fundamental break in its economic policies in the years between 1954 to 1958 which became typified by the ascendant role of ‘market socialism’ in the Soviet Union, People’s China and the majority of the people’s democracies. These years also saw corresponding theoretical, political and ideological transformations in which the treatment of the national question was an important component part. This gave way to interesting paradoxes. The Soviet Union in its Fundamental Law in form right through to its self-destruction in 1991 maintained the basics of the Leninist-Stalinist principles on the national question. But the communist parties aligned to the CPSU quickly abandoned the Marxist approach to the national question after 1953, particularly the democratic principle of national self-determination. The CPUSA for example repudiated the application of this principle with reference to the Afro-American nation which had been elaborated by Lenin, Stalin and the Comintern. On our own doorstep the CPI in the mid-nineteen-fifties dispensed with the understanding that India was a multi-national state in which the right to secession had to be accorded as the basis of a voluntary union of people’s democratic republics and after some moments of hesitation after its foundation the CPI (M) also essentially fell in line with what it termed the Soviet revisionist ideology of the CPI. Step by step the CPI and the CPI (M) effected an harmonious rapprochement with the ‘nationalist’ doctrines of the Congress Party. These corresponded to the economic requirements of the big bourgeoisie and its multi-national market in India which had been put together by Sardar Patel by the arm-twisting of the feudal princely states and appropriate ‘non-violent’ ‘police actions’.

The Communist Party of China as already noted had broken with the Marxist approach to the national question after liberation. But the revolutionary communist parties and organisations which were formed in the 1960s and which were aligned with Beijing and Tirana in the main have upheld Leninist-Stalinist principles on the right of nations to self-determination. The CPI (ML) tradition right from its inception returned to the earlier pre-revisionist understanding of the CPI and accepted the right of secession particularly with reference to Kashmir and the nationalities in the north-east region of the Indian state which having been fighting for their national emancipation.

Paradoxes apart, a widespread intermeshing and intermingling of the opportunist ideological currents has emerged on the nationality question to justify the abandonment of the Marxist views. It is inferred from the active role of US and German imperialism in the destruction of the Soviet and Yugoslav Federations in the 1990s that the right of national self-determination and secession facilitates the work of imperialism and so has to be discarded. Secessionism it is said has become a preferred tool of US imperialism. And there can be no doubt that despite the restoration of capitalism in the USSR by the late 1950s and the liquidation of the people’s democracy in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the end of the 1940s, the preservation of the federal structures in these states was formally progressive, and it is clear that they constituted important barriers to the penetration of the leading world imperialist powers such as the US and Germany. The ‘new’ arguments against the recognition of the democratic right of national self-determination in the contemporary period are only a reiteration of the policies of the international communist movement of the Khrushchev period and, going further back still, the notions of right-wing social-democracy in the earlier part of the 20th century. The Bolsheviks, who also fought against imperialism when Soviet Russia had to fight the multitude of foreign armies on Soviet soil who were allied to the white army in the time of the civil war, upheld the principle of the union of nations based on the right to self-determination. It was on this basis that the free federation of nations was constructed in Soviet Russia and later the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks clearly established that the struggle for socialism in multi-national countries was inextricably linked with the recognition of the right of the peoples to self-determination: one of the expressions of the right to decide one’s future was the formation of a federative republic.

The recent statement by the CPI (M) leader Prakash Karat on Tibet expresses in a succinct manner the ideological framework of contemporary right-wing social-democracy on the national question. Karat entirely omitted any allusion to Marxism or democracy while criticising the views of the Hindu fascist BJP which had chimed in with the US anti-China campaign on the Lhasa disturbances. Karat, basing his arguments on ‘nationalist’ logic, reminded the BJP that by raising the question of an independent Tibet they were ‘doing a disservice to our own country’ for this would raise secessionist demands in India: ‘Are we going to support a free Nagaland? Or a free Jammu and Kashmir? Or those other secessionist demands?’ So there you have it: the democratic right to national self-determination may not be recognised within the multi-national Chinese state as the mention of this right can threaten the frontiers of the existing multi-national Indian state. This position Karat tells us must apply around the world in Europe (Chechnya, Kosovo), China or any Asian country as it negatively impinges on the sovereignty of nations in the ‘name of human rights’ and ‘ethnic minorities’. [2] It is interesting to note how Karat merges the notion of the ‘state sovereignty’ of multi-national states with the idea of the ‘national sovereignty’ of nation-states, denying in this manner in real terms the notion of ‘national sovereignty’ for those nations who choose to opt for the construction of nation-states. Taken to its logical conclusion this stand implies that any national struggle against imperialist rule cannot be supported as this affects the ‘national sovereignty’ of the imperial power. The CPI (M) sees itself as the guardian of the state frontiers of India and for its defence it is willing to sacrifice the last Meitei, Naga and Kashmiri. It was Stalin who stated that those who do not recognise the right of peoples to free self-determination cannot be regarded as democrats let alone be considered as socialists. [3] It is on the basis of this understanding that the views of the CPI (M) on the national question must be judged.

The current attacks of US imperialism and its supporters on the Tibet policy of the People’s Republic of China must be opposed while defending the basic democratic principle of national self-determination. The struggle against US imperialism must not be utilised to propagate or justify views alien to Marxism on the national question.


1. Report of the President of the Central Executive Committee of the Chinese Soviet Republic, Before the Second National Soviet Congress, Mao-Tse-Tung, January, 1934, in: Victor A. Yakhontoff: ‘The Chinese Soviets,’ New York, 1934, pp. 249-283.

2. ‘Free Tibet? Karat utters the K-word’, The Telegraph, Kolkata, April 1, 2008.

3. J. Stalin, Works, Vol. 4, FLPH, Moscow, p. 3.

From Revolutionary Democracy, Vol. XIV, No. 1, April 2008

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