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From The Socialist newspaper, 25 March 2008

Chinese regime suppresses Tibet uprising

THE CHINESE regime has imposed martial law in Tibet following the most serious protests against Chinese rule for 20 years. Over 100 people have been killed in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and hundreds injured. HUGH CAFFREY explains the background to the movement for Tibetan independence.

THOUSANDS MARCHED through Tibet in mid-March, demanding Tibetan independence and the return of the Dalai Lama. A small protest by monks, brutally attacked by police, swelled into a mass movement.

Determined to avoid a repeat of the Burmese uprising last year, the Chinese dictatorship censored the internet and expelled journalists while flooding in police and troops.

Brute force can suppress a movement but cannot eliminate the reasons for it. Further uprisings are inevitable.

The 'Tibetan Autonomous Region' (TAR) is one of the poorest areas under Chinese rule. Rural poverty drives many, especially youth, into cities such as Lhasa. There they face racism, crime and police harassment. A recent surge in migration by China's ethnic majority, the Han, has further excluded most Tibetans, who are now a minority in Lhasa.

Tibet was no paradise under the Dalai Lama, the figurehead of a society in which the Buddhist monks were the landlords. The majority worked for the monks as unpaid labourers (serfs), in fear of beatings and mutilation. To fund the temples, steep taxes were forced on the poor.

Little wonder ordinary Tibetans looked positively towards the Chinese revolution in 1949. However, the bureaucratic, dictatorial and nationalist way in which Maoism ruled Tibet means that today national and cultural rights are major demands of the people.

Stalin-style collectivisation of agriculture in the 1950s provoked revolt throughout the Tibetan population. This culminated in the Lhasa uprising of 10 March 1959. Led by landlords but fought by poor farmers who were then slaughtered by Chinese troops, it is this anniversary around which this year's protests began.

The richer monks and landlords, including the Dalai Lama, fled over the border to India. US imperialism continued smuggling arms to the region until making an agreement with China's rulers in 1969. Repeated betrayal of the Tibetan people by western and regional governments, to whom the Dalai Lama always bows down, is an enduring tragedy.

It is one which Tibetans do not want to repeat. The Dalai Lama's religious authority may be undiminished but he opposes independence, arguing instead for Hong Kong-style 'autonomy'.

Many Tibetans can see that pacifism and moral appeals are recipes for disaster against a heavily-armed dictatorship. The pro-independence marches of hundreds and thousands could be first steps towards a much-needed mass movement, led by the working-class, with national and cultural rights, and workers' democracy as inseparable aims.


Socialists support the Tibetan people's right to decide their own future, up to and including independence.

Independence for Tibet would boost the liberation struggles of other minorities in China and surrounding countries. That is why China's dictators cracked down so severely, and why India suppressed pro-independence demonstrations while tolerating the Dalai Lama.

With multinational corporations profiting from China's super-exploited workforce, Western governments will make only token protests against the crackdown. US imperialism called for the release of "peaceful" protesters, Gordon Brown appeals for "restraint".

Brown will meet with the Dalai Lama but "was also careful to inform Wen Jibao, the Chinese prime minister, of his decision before making it public" (Financial Times, 20/3/08).

Linking struggles

Many people, worldwide, sympathetic to the Tibetan cause, have signed online petitions and sent protest messages. Others want to boycott the 2008 Olympic Games. But the key issue is for the Tibetan working people to develop their struggle and to link it with the mass struggles of workers within China.

The same violence and censorship inflicted on Tibetan demonstrators is used by the Chinese dictatorship throughout China to repress workers' movements, protests against environmental destruction, against land grabs, etc.

The repression of pro-Tibet demonstrations in India and Nepal mirrors the treatment of workers' and farmers' protests in those countries.

The Tibetan poor would get an enormous echo across the region on the basis of shared demands for national rights, democratic rights, and an end to class exploitation through the socialisation of industry under democratic workers' control and management. Genuine democratic socialism has nothing in common with the bureaucratic, one-party dictatorship of China.

See also Tibet erupts! on

London: Protesters demand independence

ON 22 March, around 1,000 people marched past the Chinese embassy and through central London against the brutal treatment of Tibetan protesters at the hands of the Chinese state. Greg Maughan spoke to a young Tibetan demonstrator.

What are the aims of the protests that are taking place in Tibet?

There are protests in Tibet at the moment because there is a resentment and frustration at having the Chinese occupy and colonise our country, so this protest is to make sure that the Chinese government know this and also to secure basic rights of Tibetans. There is no religious or cultural freedom in Tibet.

What do you think the next step in the struggle for national and democratic rights is?

I think there is a momentum right now from Tibet and in all the Tibetan exile communities. I think its going to build pressure and especially in light of the fact that the Olympics is only five months away, this year is going to be a great opportunity to exert as much pressure on China as possible.

How do you view workers' protests in China against attacks on pay and conditions over the last period? Do you see them as linked to the struggle that is breaking out in Tibet?

I know for a fact that there were over 20,000 protests in China itself last year. China controls their people and tightly controls information and I think the fact that they use brute force to try to control their people shows that these uprisings and protests are something that they're scared about. They're scared of a revolution taking place. I also believe that there needs to be some form of protest from within China itself to free Tibet too.

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In The Socialist 25 March 2008:

Iraq: five year nightmare

Socialist Party NHS campaign

Save our hospitals!

Agenda for Change: Hospital workers' victory

A socialist alternative

Socialist Party workplace news

Teachers balloting for strike action

Northern Rock: Workers 'gutted' at the scale of job losses

Shelter workers angry at management

My bullying boss

Socialist Students

Our year of fighting back

Socialist Party news and analysis

A revolt against council tax?

Workers' flame burning brightly in Liverpool

International socialist news and analysis

Chinese regime suppresses Tibet uprising

Greece: Government pension attacks provoke general strike

Solidarity with Kashmir workers

Socialist Party Marxist analysis

World events and their repercussions


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