Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 15, 2018

A reply to Ben Norton and Ajit Singh’s hatchet job on the Uyghurs

Filed under: journalism,Uyghur — louisproyect @ 8:27 pm

Ben Norton

Ajit Singh

An August, 2018 article by Ben Norton and Ajit Singh on the Grayzone Project defended the Chinese government against charges that it had put a million Uyghurs into detention camps. If this suggests that these people had plummeted to new depths, it can at least be stated that they didn’t fall too far. In Dantean terms, they were about 3 inches above the Ninth Circle.

Norton, of course, is familiar to one and all as the journalist who scrubbed his website of all anti-Assad articles once he made a Road to Damascus conversion lubricated by jobs with Salon and then Alternet that were peddling the standard pro-Assad propaganda found on the liberal left.

Ajit Singh was a new name to me. A brief look at an article he wrote for Telesur should give you an idea of his perspective on China:

While capitalists exist in China today, unlike in capitalist societies, they are isolated and not organized in pursuit of their collective interests. Instead, they exist under the rule of the socialist state to aid national economic development. Capitalists transgressing their boundaries are swiftly dealt with by the Communist Party and the Chinese people. An annual list of China’s richest citizens is commonly called the “death list” or “kill pigs list” because those named often are later imprisoned. Capitalists also regularly get taken hostage by workers to win labor victories with police actively assisting workers.

When I read this, I laughed so hard that the ginger ale I was drinking squirted out of my nose. The only people who write such nonsense tend to occupy the netherworld of old-school Stalinism, like the theologian Roland Boer in Australia. Most people on the left tend to identify with the young Maoist students who are facing repression for standing up for the working class in China while Singh and Norton would have you believe that the country’s government is wisely and benignly committed to the construction of socialism even though Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba, is a member of the CP and worth a cool $40 billion.

The net worth of China’s Parliament’s members is $650 billion. Although the Parliament has very little political power, it is good place for the rich to join. In combination with their party membership, rich businessmen are offered protection against arbitrary measures on their property—not that Xi Jingping is interested in clipping the wings of the bourgeoisie.

In an effort to debunk the notion that Uyghurs are being interned, the Grayzone authors “correct” the impression that the U.N. has taken such a position when it was only that of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination whose members are independent researchers rather than UN officials, a distinction without a difference in my view. An August report by the committee provided the basis for numerous media articles, including one from Reuters that Norton and Singh singled out:

Gay McDougall, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, cited estimates that 2 million Uyghurs and Muslim minorities were forced into “political camps for indoctrination” in the western Xinjiang autonomous region.

Ah-ha, Norton and Singh exclaim like detectives finding a smoking gun, Gay McDougall is not even a member of the U.N., as is the case with all other members of the committee who are only identified as independent experts. In addition, she is the only American serving on the committee, which in their eyes should make her a liar on a prima facie basis. Finally, a look at the official news release about the report showed that the only mention of alleged re-education “camps” was from Gay McDougall. So if an American raises a stink about internment, it must be false, right?

In a sleight-of-hand maneuver, the Grayzone boys do not provide a link to the committee’s reaction to the Chinese government’s report that cleared itself, only a press release that reflects a range of views. So let’s go to what the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had to say about that self-serving report. This 12-page document was not written by Gay McDougall. Instead, it represented a consensus by the membership that hardly conforms to the cheesy propaganda served up by Grayzone:

The Committee notes the delegation’s statements concerning the non-discriminatory enjoyment of freedoms and rights in XUAR. However, the Committee is alarmed by:

(a) Numerous reports of detention of large numbers of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities held incommunicado and often for long periods, without being charged or tried, under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism. The Committee regrets that there is no official data on how many people are in long-term detention or who have been forced to spend varying periods in political “re-education camps” for even nonthreatening expressions of Muslim ethno-religious culture like daily greetings. Estimates about them range from tens of thousands to upwards of a million. The Committee also notes that the delegation stated that vocational training centres exist for people who committed minor offences without qualifying what this means;

(b) Reports of mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uyghurs, including through frequent baseless police stops and the scanning of mobile phones at police checkpoint stations. Additional reports of mandatory collection of extensive biometric data in XUAR, including DNA samples and iris scans, of large groups of Uyghur residents

(c) Reports that all XUAR residents are required to hand in their travel documents to police and apply for permission to leave the country, and that permission may not come for years. This restriction impacts most heavily on those who wish to travel for religious purposes;

(d) Reports that many Uyghurs abroad who left China have allegedly been returned to the country against their will. There are fears about the current safety of those involuntarily returned to China.

(e) While acknowledging the State party’s denials, the Committee takes note of reports that Uyghur language education has been banned in schools in XUAR’s Hotan (Hetian) prefecture(arts. 2 and 5).

One assumes that if the Committee describes itself as being “upset” about such reports, that’s enough to discount the claims. After all, with all those reports being “fake news” as Donald Trump would put it, who would believe them except those in cahoots with the CIA, the State Department and the NY Times op-ed page?

To drive this point home, they discredit pro-Uyghur NGO’s because they are funded by the West. This, needless to say, is the same tack they take with the White Helmets and obviously a function of Grayzone’s toxic mixture of Stalinism and Islamophobia. The first group they expose is the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), which by virtue being located in Washington is all the proof you need to dismiss its findings. Would it have made any difference if the group was based in London, Paris or Bonn? Probably not. The only legitimate locales would be Tehran, Damascus, Moscow and Beijing. Obviously.

If that wasn’t proof enough, the circumstantial evidence of being funded by the National Endowment for Democracy should have cinched it. Everybody knows that the NED is a big-time supporter of regime change.

Things get a bit messy, however, when you visit the NED website and discover that it is funding “civil society” groups in Myanmar and the Philippines. Among its beneficiaries is the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), which has been in the frontlines opposing his extrajudicial war on drugs that has left hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent civilians murdered by the cops. Is opposing Duterte serving the imperialist agenda of Washington? Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Norton and Singh making the case for Duterte since he has drawn closer to the wise and benign socialist leadership in China. Rappler.com, a Philippine website that has been threatened by Duterte and defended by the PCIJ, posted an article about the growing ties:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping decided to “elevate” their countries’ ties into a “comprehensive strategic cooperation” even as they “continue to manage contentious issues” in the West Philippine Sea.

In a joint press conference, Xi said, “The President and I both agreed to elevate our relationship into one of comprehensive strategic cooperation. This vision charts a clear course for China-Philippines relations and sends a strong message to the world that our two countries are partners in seeking common development.”

Xi also agreed with Duterte that “every country has the right to choose its path.”

So, surely this must mean that Duterte is on the side of the angels and certainly eligible for an investigative report by Grayzone clearing his name. In fact, Norton has been in a discussion with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about doing a Grayzone interview with the creep who invited David Duke to Tehran for a holocaust revisionism conference, as well as jailing and torturing bus drivers for the offense of trying to start a union.

This reprehensible CHRD is in cahoots not only with the NED but with Radio Free Asia. However, these warmongering ne’er-do-wells are in turn heavily reliant on the World Uyghur Congress, which also receives NED funding.

At an NED conference in Washington, intrepid Grayzone leader Max Blumenthal cornered Omer Kanat, the Uyghur Congress chairman, to challenge him on the claim of Uyghurs being held in detention camps. Kanat told him that “The Chinese authorities have put more than one million Uyghurs in re-education camps, it is very similar to concentration camps.” Using the standard operating procedure of Grayzone, Blumenthal dismissed this claim because it emanates exclusively from pro-Western media.

So, who to believe? I would tend to believe David Brophy, a University of Sydney lecturer in Chinese history who is fluent in Chinese, Russian and Uyghur, a Turkic language that I can pick up on very haltingly . I strongly recommend his “Uyghur Nation: Reform and Revolution on the Russia-China Frontier” for its findings that establish the Uyghurs as enthusiastic supporters of the Russian Revolution in 1917, who got short shrift by both the Russian and Chinese Stalinists who replicated the colonialism of the pre-revolutionary regimes.

In an article for Jacobin, Brophy referred to a NY Times Op-Ed piece that sought to establish the existence of detention camps on hard evidence. From the op-ed:

A new study by Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, in Korntal, Germany, analyzed government ads inviting tenders for various contracts concerning re-education facilities in more than 40 localities across Xinjiang, offering a glimpse of the vast bureaucratic, human and financial resources the state dedicates to this detention network. The report reveals the state’s push to build camps in every corner of the region since 2016, at a cost so far of more than 680 million yuan (over $107 million).

A bid invitation appears to have been posted on April 27 — a sign that more camps are being built. These calls for tenders refer to compounds of up to 880,000 square feet, some with quarters for People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary security force. Local governments are also placing ads to recruit camp staff with expertise in criminal psychology or a background in the military or the police force.

Brophy adds his own observations drawn from visits to Xinjiang:

The camps are only the culmination of a series of repressive policy innovationsintroduced by party secretary Chen Quanguo since his arrival in Xinjiang in 2016. Many of these were already evident on a trip I made to Xinjiang last year: police stations at every major intersection, ubiquitous checkpoints where Chinese sail through as Uyghurs line up for humiliating inspections, elderly men and women trudging through the streets on anti-terror drills, television and radio broadcasts haranguing the Uyghurs to love the party and blame themselves for their second-class status.

I saw machine gun-toting police stop young Uyghur men on the street to check their phones for mandatory government spyware. Some have simply ditched their smartphones, lest an “extremist” video clip or text message land them in prison. On a weekday in the Uyghur center of Kashgar, I stood and watched as the city went into lockdown, making way for divisions of PLA soldiers to march by, chanting out their determination to maintain “stability.”

One might wait in vain for Norton, Singh or Blumenthal to visit China and do an investigate report clearing the “socialist” government. However, I doubt this would be of much interest to them since most of their reporting consists of researching ties between the Uyghurs and Washington that they assemble from various websites. In the old days, radical reporting is what John Reed did or what Anand Gopal does today. These jerks have more in common with Vanessa Beeley. If they ever made it over to China, their time would be spent in 3-star hotels and being led around by the nose as embedded reporters.

 

 

September 25, 2018

China and the Uyghurs

Filed under: Counterpunch,Uyghur — louisproyect @ 10:09 pm

An Uyghur man in Kashkar, Xinjiang

Yesterday an article appeared on CounterPunch that basically made the Chinese government’s case against the Uyghurs. Co-written by Thomas Hon Wing Polin and Gerry Brown, it is an Islamophobic screed that identifies Uyghur activism as a CIA plot to encroach upon Chinese national sovereignty and defends repressive measures as necessary to protect Xinjiang’s silent majority from fiendish Salafists. It is the sort of propaganda you hear about the Syrian rebels and the Rohingya people. To give you an idea of where China stands on such questions, it has suggested the possibility of sending troops to take part in the final assault on Idlib and has China has sided with Myanmar’s refusal to allow a United Nations fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations.

Thomas Hon Wing Polin is a journalist and an academic. He was the founding managing editor of Asiaweek, a subsidiary of Time Magazine that ceased publication in 2001. On Facebook, he describes himself as a Global Investor. As for Brown, nothing turned up on him after a brief search except for his own articles on CounterPunch. Between the two, either separately or together, there are over 20. To summarize their approach, it is sufficient to say that they don’t make any pretensions that China is building socialism and only hail it as a kinder and gentler capitalist behemoth as Polin put it in this article on the government’s partnership with Goldman-Sachs: “So the door of Chinese finance has opened another significant notch to global capital. In the past week, Beijing has concurrently introduced other sweeping measures, largely to enhance its ability to oversee domestic financial markets and minimize abuses.”

So obviously anything that gets in the way of China’s way of becoming the biggest player in global capital has to be shoved aside. Since the man making such an argument describes himself as a global investor, clearly he knows what he is talking about.

The article was obviously a reaction to wide-spread media reports that about a million Uyghurs are confined in concentration camps where Islam and other particularly national identity markers such as their own Turkic language are being beaten out of them. Hilton and Brown dismiss these claims:

The recent spate of Western media reports alleging brutal repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang marks a new phase of a propaganda drive to demonize China and destabilize its periphery. Highlighted by screaming headlines in Western corporate media are accounts of a million Uighur Muslims (or 2 in 5 Uighur male adults!) being interned in concentration camps and subject to torture, such as waterboarding. The suggestion or assertion is that Xinjiang has become an open-air prison (which actually reminds one of the real one operated by Washington’s ally Israel in Palestine).

Against the Chinese government’s denials, you have a number of Uyghurs who have been interned in such places describing what happened to them there, including the people interviewed here.

The problem, however, is that these camps or prisons or training centers—whatever they are—are kept in secret locations. Additionally, reporters trying to get the story in Xinjiang are either harassed or expelled from the country.

The authors describe a Great Game in which the USA is using Uyghur militants to create a beachhead in Xinjiang, even to the point of having the CIA train them in guerrilla tactics. If you try to find some documentation on this, a search for “CIA Uyghur training” in Nexis turns up nothing. However, since you can’t trust the mainstream media, you might as well go to a reliable source that is like the source of Polin and Brown’s claim: Infowars.

In 2009, Uyghur riots broke out in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s largest city, over the killing of two of their countrymen working in southern China. This led to martial law and the imposition of repressive measures that have continued unabated. Polin and Brown justify keeping a lid on the unruly natives:

Even peninsular Malaya’s British colonial rulers imposed emergency rule from 1945 to 1957 when confronted with a communist insurgency. And post-9/11, US authorities enacted a draconian security law (the Patriot Act) and implemented other measures that stripped away civil liberties in the name of anti-terrorism.

So if the British and the Americans do it, so can the Chinese? That’s quite a mouthful.

If you read between the lines in this paragraph, it is not too difficult to see how the Chinese authorities have been up to forced assimilation. Obviously, a system that keeps its how Han dissidents under tight control will be even more brutal with a subjugated people who are ethnically distinct. I have added italics that will help you get a handle on the population control measures:

Almost a decade after the Urumqi riots, China has turned its anti-terrorism focus to undoing the toxic brainwashing of ordinary Uighurs by extremists. Neighborhood religious institutes have been set up to educate citizens on the perils of religious extremism (these community centres where classes are held to detoxify radical Wahhabism were labelled “re-education camps” or concentration camps by the western press, and those attending the classes claimed to be “incarcerated”!) Programs to eradicate poverty are implemented to train and prepare Uighurs for jobs in towns and cities. Some 600,000 Uighurs were lifted out of poverty in 2016, and another 312,000 in 2017. More than 400,000 have been relocated from remote villages to places where they are gainfully employed.

Basically, the italicized words describe a process in which religiously observant rural people are being pressured into forsaking Islam and becoming proletarianized. Everybody knows that factory workers in China are much easier to keep leashed up. I have to laugh at the sentence that begins the next paragraph following the one above: “The Chinese government, through various programs, has been winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Uighurs.”

Winning the hearts and minds? Where have I heard that before? Oh, I remember. That is what Lyndon Johnston said the USA had to do in Vietnam in order to win the war: “get the gospel of pacification carved into the hearts and minds of all concerned.”

I have a special interest in Uyghur oppression for a couple of reasons. To start with, they are a Turkic people whose language my wife and in-laws can practically understand. Secondly, they are just another example of how people living under Stalinist rule can suffer the same kind of injustices as they suffered under pre-Communist colonial rule.

During the rise of the Mongols, the Turks, who were also a nomadic people historically, settled into the region that became known as Turkestan. As such, it was a key element in the Silk Road that facilitated trade between Europe and Asia until the end of the 15th century.

This area languished for centuries until competition between China, Russia, and European powers during the 19th century prompted an invasion by the Manchus into East Turkestan with the encouragement of British banks who were participating in the “Great Game”. “Xinjiang” or “Sinkiang”, which means “New Dominion” or “New Territory”, was annexed by the Manchu empire on November 18, 1884.

Meanwhile, Czarist Russia was seizing control over West Turkestan in its own expansionist bid. In their victory over the old regime, the Bolsheviks had to contend with the problem of oppressed nationalities, in particular the Muslim peoples to the south in what had been known as West Turkestan. In a fascinating debate between Lenin and Bukharin in 1919, there are some issues that are relevant to today’s struggles. Bukharin questions the need for self-determination of such peoples, using arguments similar to that of Rosa Luxemburg. Responding to Bukharin’s assertion that “I want to recognise only the right of the working classes to self-determination,” Lenin refers to the Bashkirs, a Turkic people who had petitioned the Soviet government for the right to form an autonomous Soviet Republic.

What, then, can we do in relation to such peoples as the Kirghiz, the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, the Turkmen, who to this day are under the influence of their mullahs? Here, in Russia, the population, having had a long experience of the priests, helped us to overthrow them. But you know how badly the decree on civil marriage is still being put into effect. Can we approach these peoples and tell them that we shall overthrow their exploiters? We cannot do this, because they are entirely subordinated to their mullahs. In such cases we have to wait until the given nation develops, until the differentiation of the proletariat from the bourgeois elements, which is inevitable, has taken place.

Our programme must not speak of the self-determination of the working people, because that would be wrong. It must speak of what actually exists. Since nations are at different stages on the road from medievalism to bourgeois democracy and from bourgeois democracy to proletarian democracy, this thesis of our programme is absolutely correct. With us there have been very many zigzags on this road. Every nation must obtain the right to self-determination, and that will make the self-determination of the working people easier.

As most of you probably know, this policy was reversed within two or three years as Stalin consolidated power and reintroduced the Great Russian chauvinism that made people such as the Bashkirs miserable. Just before his death, he wrote an article that has been described as his testament. It included the following warning:

It is quite natural that in such circumstances the “freedom to secede from the union” by which we justify ourselves will be a mere scrap of paper, unable to defend the non-Russians from the onslaught of that really Russian man, the Great-Russian chauvinist, in substance a rascal and a tyrant, such as the typical Russian bureaucrat is. There is no doubt that the infinitesimal percentage of Soviet and sovietised workers will drown in that tide of chauvinistic Great-Russian riffraff like a fly in milk.

Probably no Turkic people had it worse under Stalinist rule than the Crimean Tatars who were exiled from their homeland as a measure intended supposedly to help the USSR defend itself from the Nazis. Since there was a Tatar Legion in the Nazi army and since some of the Tatar clerics were sympathetic to the Nazis, Stalin decided upon collective punishment. The Soviet government described the forced migration as “humane” but the Wiki on the Tatars claims that 46.3% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition. In other words, they suffered the same fate as Cherokees or Armenians.

In 1967, when I joined the Trotskyist movement, the party press, especially Intercontinental Press that was edited by Joe Hansen (one of Trotsky’s body guards), was taking up the cause of Soviet dissidents, including General Pyotr Grigorenko who was such a forceful defender of Crimean Tatar demands for justice that he had been put in a mental hospital in 1964. You can judge his mental status based on a speech he gave to the Tatars in 1968:

After having lost forty-six percent of their numbers in the forced exile disaster, they began to gather strength and to enter into battle for their own national and human rights. This struggle led to certain successes: the status of exiled deportees was lifted and a political rehabilitation of the people was achieved. True, this rehabilitation was carried out quietly … which in significant degree rendered it valueless. The majority of the Soviet people, who previously had been widely informed that the Crimean Tatars had sold the Crimea, never did learn that this ’sale’ was transparent fabrication. But worst of all, the decree on political rehabilitation… legalized the liquidation of the Crimean Tatar nationality. Now, it appears, there are no Crimean Tatars, there are just Tatars who formerly lived in Crimea.

Some would say—and they did—that the SWP was in a united front with the imperialists since the United States Information Agency had decided to publish a collection of documents written by the dissidents, including Grigorenko. Interestingly enough, they appeared in the journal Problems of Communism that was edited by Abraham Brumberg. Brumberg, who had impeccable anti-Communist credentials, developed some sympathies for the Sandinista revolution and defended Nicaragua against Reagan’s counter-revolutionary intervention throughout the 1980s. For those who think in terms of black-and-white, Brumberg would be too hard to figure out.

As might be expected, the people of East Turkestan were treated just as badly as their brethren under Soviet rule since Mao, for the most part, agreed with Stalin on how to build socialism. Although China had fewer nationalities to forcefully assimilate, it did so with little regard to Lenin’s warnings about avoiding national chauvinism. In China, this was essentially expressed as Han nationalism that was intended to serve as a battering ram against non-Han peoples, first and foremost the Tibetans and the Uyghurs.

China decided to swamp the Xinjiang province, the homeland of the Uyghurs, with the dominant Han nationality not long after Mao took power. Between 1949 and the mid-80s, more than 5 million Chinese were sent to Xinjiang from eastern China in order to help assimilate the Uyghurs, as well as other Turkic peoples including the Kazakhs, Kirghiz and Mongols.

In utter disregard of Lenin’s comment about having patience with people who still follow the lead of their mullahs, China organized a campaign against Islam under the rubric of combating a desire to restore “the old rule by capitalists, feudal lords, slave-owners” in the words of Liu Ke-ping, the Chairman of the Committee of Nationalities of the National People’s Congress. This included a ban on teaching Arabic in Xinjiang schools, a measure that would undercut the study of the Koran but likely to have little effect on the development of communism.

On January 14, 1985 the Washington Post reported:

The assimilation effort reached its peak during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 when the Arabic alphabet was outlawed in favor of the Latin alphabet, mosques were closed and turned into workshops, Moslem classics were burned, restrictions were imposed on the number of sheep minority peasants could raise, and Han officials delivered speeches in Chinese without providing interpreters.

So much for the Cultural Revolution as returning China to the communist road, unless of course your idea of communism is inspired by Stalin rather than Lenin.

The Post article continues:

In 1981, ethnic tension flared in Kashgar when a young Uighur peasant who was digging a ditch got into a fight with a Han Chinese. Neither was able to speak the other’s language. In a fistfight the Han was beaten by the stronger and bigger Uighur. Angered, the Han went into his store, took out his hunting gun and shot the Uighur.

As is so often the case today, oppression of Muslim peoples seems to go hand in hand with the need to control petroleum resources. On August 28, 2008 the Financial Times reported:

The increasing importance of the Muslim-dominated Xinjiang autonomous region as a source of the energy and minerals needed to fuel China’s booming eastern cities is raising the stakes for Beijing in its battle against separatists agitating for an independent state.

“The Chinese didn’t want to let Xinjiang be independent before, but after they built all the oilfields, it became absolutely impossible,” said one Muslim resident in Korla, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution by government security agents.

The desert around the city is punctuated every kilometre or two by oil and gas derricks, each of them topped with the red Chinese national flag, an assertion of sovereignty over every inch of the energy-rich ground.

In 2005, Xinjiang’s local government was allotted only Rmb240m ($35m, €24m, £19m) out of the Rmb14.8bn in tax revenue from the petrochemical industries that are based in the region.

In Korla, the oil industry is under the control of a subsidiary of PetroChina, the state-owned energy giant, which answers directly to its head office in Beijing.

“We don’t have the power to tell them to do anything – they only listen to their bosses in Beijing,” said one local government official who asked not to be named.

Many of Korla’s original Uighur residents feel they have missed out altogether on the few benefits that have trickled down to the region from the rapid extraction of its energy resources.

It is no wonder that China put so much pressure on the U.S. government not to release the Uyghur men who were kept in Guantanamo after being falsely accused of being Al Qaeda operatives. In the war on terror, which is really after all a war to control oil resources, the U.S. and China clearly see eye to eye.

 

 

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