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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China and Tibet -- The Faultline In The Marxist Doctrine

May 28, 2008

By Subrata Mukherjee
The Statesman (India)
May 27, 2008

China is intent on exploiting the Olympics to showcase its stunning achievements, that have been somewhat relegated by its human rights record and its policy on Tibet. In course of its route through different countries to Beijing, the venue of the games, the Olympic torch relay has been marred by protests by Tibetan exiles. This has forced the world to wake up to their predicament. The Olympic torch, which symbolises harmony and friendship, has now come to mirror China’s oppressive domination and intolerance. The beleaguered Chinese leadership has begun to resemble the former Soviet leadership after the Helsinki agreement which confirmed the dismal Soviet track record on human rights.

The claim of the Chinese authorities over Tibet is based on falsehood marked by continued oppression. There is also an attempt to destroy the Tibetan culture and identity. Despite China’s claim, Tibet had existed and acted as an independent state with diplomatic relations with a number of countries till 1949-50. The acceptance of Tibet as a buffer state by the great powers, notably Britain, in the 19th century was another indication of Tibet’s sovereignty. It refused to join the Chinese Republic established in 1911.


Both Mao and Zhou defended the Chinese action on the basis of two facts:
(a) that when Mongolians captured China they also captured Tibet; and
(b) the subsequent Manchurian annexation of Tibet to prove that Tibet was a part of China. This is akin to the argument that since the Pathans and Moghuls ruled India for some time, India is a part of Central Asia. Or for that matter, 200 years of British rule makes India a permanent part of the British Empire.

After the forcible occupation of Tibet by the Chinese people’s army in 1951, the Chinese forced a treaty with the Tibetan authorities which had 17 clauses. It threatened Tibetans that failure to sign the treaty would lead to resumption of military invasion.

The important features of the treaty were:
(1) that China would not interfere in the existing political arrangement of Tibet;
(2) the status, functions and the powers of the Dalai Lama would be intact; and
(3) there would be no interference in Tibetan religious beliefs or an attempt to regulate the financial dealings of the Buddhist shrines.


The Chinese did not honour any of these commitments and apart from continued oppression of the local Tibetans they have encouraged the Han Chinese to settle in Tibet. As a result, there are today more Han Chinese than Tibetans in Lhasa.

The administration, the police, the military and the business enterprises are all dominated by the Han Chinese. Instead of protecting the Tibetan culture, the Chinese have looted the Buddhist centres and killed Buddhist monks. In Tibet, the medium of instruction is Chinese mandarin and even the Buddhist religious texts can only be studied in its Chinese translation.

In spite of the Chinese propaganda over the past 60 years, they have not been able to convince the average Tibetan about their sincerity. And in the eyes of the average Tibetan they are an occupation force. The suppression of Tibetan culture has shocked the conscience of the world. The purported entity called the Tibetan Autonomous Region was the brainwave of Mao. After its occupation, China divided Tibet into two parts. Subsequently much of Tibetan territory was incorporated into China to form a part of the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. This division was made not on the basis of any demand of the people or on the basis of ethnicity or religion but just to cripple Tibet forever.

Now, when the Dalai Lama wants the restoration of all these areas to the autonomous region of Tibet the Chinese authorities are unwilling to consider the claim. It is for this reason that Tibet has occupied the world’s centrestage. It is no longer a localised problem. The Dalai Lama has become the symbol of the struggle for true autonomy within the larger Chinese state. He is not demanding independence.

This is the most serious dilemma for the Chinese political class. The entire communist power apparatus is based on over-centralisation and democratic centralism and any deviation would mean conceding one of the major principles of the governing apparatus, namely decentralisation. Lenin categorically distanced himself from other schools of thought, including anarchists, on the basis of centralisation and decentralisation.

The Chinese handling of the Tibetan question exposes the faultline in the Marxist doctrine, namely that of the right of self-determination and the rights of minorities, For Marx, class and not nationality was the key factor. His vision of proletarian internationalism was supposed to take one step forward the French Revolution’s declaration of human solidarity. The slogan, "workers of the world unite" stemmed from that belief. Even on the national question and on the right of self-determination Marx was opposed by his arch rival, Bakunin.

Lenin was more enthused about the right of self-determination on the condition that it would never precede the interests of socialism. The question of self-determination was totally relegated once the Bolshevik Party was established as the exclusive organisation of the working class. In such a scenario, there was little scope of either autonomy or self-determination. Lenin personally approved the brutal suppression of the local democratic government established by elections in Georgia in 1923. Stalinism had its roots in Leninism.


In spite of a constitutional provision of the right to secede, the question of autonomy has never been allowed to become an issue within the highly centralised communist party structure. The CPI-M supports its ideological ally, China, on the Tibet question by drawing parallels with the Kashmir question. This is untenable and no comparison is possible because of the very different historical evolution of these two regions. The integral nature of Kashmir’s accession stems from the acceptance of the instruments of accession. Kashmir’s position was technically similar to Travancore, Bikaner and Bhopal.

Such an arrangement remains an anathema to the Chinese authorities despite the fact that large parts of the world are moving towards sharing of power and decentralised systems. An amicable and just solution of the Tibetan cause will determine the world’s acceptance of China as a responsible nation... and not any doctored success of the Olympics games, an indication of which was evident during the recent Olympic torch relays.

The writer is Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi
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