From Liam MacUaid's excellent blog:
Tibet, Engels, Hegel and Andy
Posted on March 22, 2008 by Liam
Tibet <http://liammacuaid.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/tibet1.jpg> Andy posted a piece on Socialist Unity <http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=1934> a couple of days ago called /China and the riddle of Tibet/. Madam Miaow <http://madammiaow.blogspot.com/> takes a more scenic route but gets to the same destination.
Here is a quote from from Andy’s piece:
Tibet is too marginal to the world economy and too poor to be
genuinely independent and develop a national economy and high
culture of its own. In reality it can only exist as either part of
China or as a bankrupt client state of Western imperialism – the
fact that the figurehead for the Free Tibet campaign is the Dalai
Lama, the feudal figurehead of the old slavery and barbarism is
illustrative of the fact that no progressive national-popular and
democratic campaign exists among the mass of the Tibetan Chinese,
rather the movement is the expression of declassed intellectuals and
dispossessed exiles. In the absence of a popular national dynamic to
create a viable independent state, there is no prospect of self
Here is a quote from Engels which is fairly similar.
Peoples which have never had a history of their own, which come
under foreign domination the moment they have achieved the first,
crudest level of civilisation… have no capacity for survival and
will never be able to attain any kind of independence. And that has
been the fate of the Austrian Slavs. (`Democratic PanSlavism’,
The Engels quote is cited in a review by Andy Clarkson of an out of print book by Roman Rosdolsky*,* /Engels and the/ `Nonhistoric’ /Peoples: the National Question in the Revolution of 1848. /The review is on Revolutionary History’s <http://www.revolutionary-history.co.uk/backiss/Vol3/No2/Rosdolsk.html> site and I’m grateful to Marxsite’s <http://www.marxsite.com/> Phil for drawing it to my attention. The Austrian Slavs are what we now call Czechs.
Rosdolsky attributes Engels’ concept of the “nonhistoric peoples” to Hegel and Andy Clarkson provides an illustration from the philosopher to show just how reactionary the concept is:
Anyone who wishes to study the most terrible manifestations of human
nature will find them in Africa…it is an unhistorical continent,
with no movement or development of its own.
It is best for socialists to err on the side on the side of supporting national liberation struggles. Rosa Luxemburg thought that the reunification of Poland was reactionary utopianism too so even though Andy is wrong he’s in some pretty good company. His judgement on the role of the Chinese state is comparable to Engels’ enthusiasm for German industry as a civilizing and unifying factor in Central Europe and he provides examples of progress under Chinese rule such as big leaps in life expectancy and literacy as well as the elimination of serfdom. This is true. The Chinese bureaucracy has pulled Tibet out of the 12th century. A consequence of this is that it has also created an indigenous intelligentsia separate from the clergy and, more importantly, a working class population which is rebellion both against its relative poverty and national oppression.
There is a big debate to be had about whether or not you can categorise China as any sort of workers’ state. The bureaucracy is attacking the social gains of the revolution with vigour and much of the economy is now capitalist. We are in the final stages of a bureaucratic counter-revolution. What is beyond dispute is that the Chinese government’s policy towards Tibet is oppressive and reactionary and if one were a hypothetical socialist in China one would have to support the Tibetan demands for national liberation.
The Tibetans manifestly now have a national self-identity which makes Stalin’s <http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1913/03.htm> checklist of nationality redundant. As Michael Lowy (one of the editors of the new Socialist Resistance magazine - £10 for 5 issues) remarked in his book Fatherland or Mother Earth “the consciousness of a national identity and a national political movement, is no less important.”
Andy makes the point that “breaking the unity of the historical Chinese state and nation will not strengthen the Chinese people in their struggle for economic and democratic progress, but only carve China up at the mercy of the imperialists.” You could flip that proposition. By denying the Tibetans their right to self determination the Chinese bureaucracy is creating an opportunity for the imperialists to actively engage in Chinese politics. Nancy Pelosi’s meeting with the Dalai Lama yesterday was just such an intervention. The irony is that the the rioters on the streets no longer seem to be taking a political lead from a religious leader whom they see as too willing to accommodate to the bureaucracy and they certainly were not demanding a confessional state.
At least since the League of Nations the imperialists have been using rhetoric about democracy, freedom and civil rights in the wars of ideology, often with a great deal of success. A socialist response to this has to include an assertion that we are the strongest defenders of these things. We don’t do this by accepting the Chinese government’s line <http://en.tibet.cn/> that its state is eternally indivisible but rather by supporting the rights of oppressed nationalities when they say they want to rule themselves.