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August 15, 2007



So I started reading this, and then:

"You don’t have to know all the many particularities of each county or township, or else a Red Army couldn’t march through on a Long March liberating people, or enter Tibet with profound insights into the transformations needed there."

The Red Army had profound insights into the transformations needed there? Is that a joke? How is that any different than saying the US military can bring democracy to Iraq? Tibet was never a part of China and remains occupied to this day. Peruse recent news coming from Tibet and you'll find that the Chinese government is literally attempting to regulate reincarnations as parts of its repression of the Tibetan religion, accelerating the ethnic displacement and genocide of Tibetans with a high-speed train to facilitate a continued influx of Han Chinese into Tibet, and threatening to "crush" the latest peaceful protests by Tibetans calling for the return of the Dalai Lama. China has no business transforming anything in Tibet.

Seriously. The author of the piece immediately discredits her/himself with that statement. Explain it or withdraw it and then I'll read the rest of this article...

rare, please

This should be good.

rare, please

Yes, the lama aristocracy has a well known right to be the official regulators of, cough, reincarnations.

Heaven forbid the Vatican not be recognized as a sovereign country.

Or Mississippi.


Or anyone, even slave-holding theocrats if they get good press.

The dalai lama is the Bono of the god racket.


Wait so 'rare, please,' let's follow your logic to its end point here. I agree that theocrats, whether they own slaves or run the government, suck. But then you seem to think the solution to the problem of powerful theocrats lies in the form of a over-powering invasion by a more powerful or 'advanced' country which drives out the regime and occupies the country. This is what happened in Tibet.

Might there be other nations run by authoritarian theocrats? Oh right, Iran. So do you support an invasion of that country too, or are occupations only okay when Maoists do them?


Wait so 'rare, please,' let's follow your logic to its end point here. I agree that theocrats, whether they own slaves or run the government, suck. But then you seem to think the solution to the problem of powerful theocrats lies in the form of an over-powering invasion by a more powerful or 'advanced' country which drives out the regime and occupies the country. This is what happened in Tibet.

Might there be other nations run by authoritarian theocrats? Oh right, Iran. So do you support an invasion of that country too, or are brutal invasions and occupations just okay when Maoists do them?

And really, I'm not trying to attack Mao or Maoism here. I'm taking issue with notion that the Red Army had any business "transforming" anything in Tibet. An anti-imperialist analysis of Tibet is pretty straightforward. And as Chomsky says, occupying armies have no rights to determine anything in the nations they suppress.


(Oops, I meant to preview the comment the first time, not post it.)


for your homeboy chomsky to be right, first off, tibet would actually have to be a nation...


Did the Union army have any business invading the sovereign Confederate States of America, and imposing by force of arms a terror that ended chattle slavery, brought African-Americans into government (briefly) to an extent they've never since matched – and to even promise redistributive reforms such as "40 acres and a mule"?

I think so. I also think that the difference betwee

But I think the deeper point R. John is making is more worth interrogating.

What word is more dessicated than freedom? Or Liberty?

What masks more social tyranny? Except for the names of prophets, nothing comes to mind.
"Nationalizing" the discussion around, say, Tibet could take us away from the issue about the distinction between everyday life and systemic understanding.

It's also food for thought that the "official" recognitions of self-determination in the USA are for, as follows: Kosovo (out of Serbia), Darfur (out of Sudan, out of China's economy), Tibet (out of China), Taiwan (out of China), South Korea (out of Korea), Ukraine (out of Russia's orbit), Georgia (out of Russia's orbit), Hong Kong (one state, two systems... out of China), the diamond regions of Africa (out of whatever country they are in), Kuwait (out of the more populated Arab countries like Iraq), the Saudi royal family (out of the people of Arabia), and so on.

Even today in Bolivia, the whiter, richer areas are claiming "self-determination" in much the same way that the right here says "no taxes".

What this means is that those who hold privilege and power demand the "autonomy" of what they've extracted from the rest of the people. It is a tyranny of "tradition", of privilege.


I've always been uneasy about Tibet as well, but I think a couple of your assumptions need to be challenged.

The first, national boundaries are sacred and national sovereignty must be respected at all times.

Second, following from the first, any intervention is authoritarian and imperial by nature.

Both these reflect the influence of metaphysical timeless liberal values that don't consider the concrete nature of the societies we are dealing with.

An abstract refusal to intervene in the politics of another nation is a respect for the rights of the bourgeoisie and cannot be upheld by revolutionaries. There is one reasonable way to defend non-intervention, and it is based on the needs of the masses of that nation. An invasion of a country by a socialist state must be based not only on the perceived needs of the people but must also have the participation of those people. The first, best, policy of socialist nations is to encourage and strengthen the native revolutionary movements in any nation so that they can take power for themselves. If that is not feasible, when can an intervention be justified? It's not clear to me either, but an automatic rejection based on metaphysical principle only maintains class exploitation.

Secondly you are positing a continuity between the politics of China then and now. As you should be aware if you read this blog, it's pretty much a consensus that China has been capitalist at least since Mao's death so it's continued presence in Tibet has a different character than that of the 50s. How was China in the 50s different than the US? To begin with, China was a socialist state, whose goal was to be a base for world revolution. Can't tell the difference between this and US imperialism? As with any state there is often more than one goal to be accomplished with any action. I suspect that the primary concern with Tibet was that the Dalai Lama was allowing the CIA to use their country as a forward point to conduct espionage against China. How were they to stop this if the Dalai Lama would not agree to it? Socialist China had to protect itself and respect the integrity of the Tibetan people, if not the ruling class. Once they decided they had to invade, they had to find ways to work with the Tibetan people to help them develop their own forms of sovereignty. How successful was this? What was achieved and what mistakes were made? This reflects some of the contradictions of having a socialist state in a imperialist-dominated world, and pure ideals don't live long here. I'm not sure I agree with the way China handled this but I want to look at it more closely.

One thing we do not have to disagree with is that the US was, and is, imperialist and they are never concerned with the interests of the people of any nation. An intervention on their part will always be disastrous for the people.

I do not say that we should not maintain principles across historical events, just that they should be understood to have a relationship to material conditions, and are not self-evidently justifiable on their own terms.

To briefly respond to r. john's points, let's look at Breaking with Old Ideas. Here we see an aacount of how even though communists run the state, large parts of the education system are still in the hands of bourgeois ideologues. So a transformation at the top does not mean an automatic transformation at the bottom. Eventually CP cadre support the peasants in their struggle to tranform the university to meet the needs of the people. Here is a portrayal of the class struggle at different levels and how they intertwine.

What I got from this is that large-scale transformations from the top are needed to effect changes at the bottom. At the same time, if changes do not occur at the bottom, the entire socialist project cannot move forward.

Organized capitalist roaders arise within the party, but if bourgeois ideology takes root among the masses then this ideology can become a material force, and a reversion to capitalism becomes a stronger possibility.

How does it play out when we organize in our present conditions? I've had people ask me how are we going to deal with healthcare, housing, medical care, etc., and these are legitimate questions, to which it is difficult to give detailed, concrete answers and impossible to give guarantees. However, these are all measures of liberatory society and cannot be dismissed. However, we are not arguing for a welfare state. We have to argue how these things can be achieved on a more sustainable basis if they take responsibility for society overall, at the state and economic levels.

Once, Louis Althusser said that the reason people make revolution was to change the mode of production. Of course he was short-sighted and wrong. People make revolution to change their lives - changing the mode of production is simply the way to do that. Subsequently, if we argue that people make revolution to take state power, we would also be confusing means and ends.

Christopher Day

One doesn't have to embrace the occupation of Tibet to believe that the Communist leadership of the PLA had "profound insights into the transformations needed there." I hope this discussion doesn't get derailed by a discussion of the specific merits or demerits of Chinese policy towards Tibet (which would make a fine thread of its own). At the same time the question of Tibet or the Confederacy does actually point to the real importance of having real knowledge on the ground of the sort that comes from everyday. The Union Army abolished chattel slavery and cleared the ground for Reconstruction. But why was Reconstruction defeated and supplanted by Jim Crow? I think part of the answer to this is the "mountaintop perspective" of the Army and of the Radical Republicans was insufficiently attentive to the problem of winning poor Southern whites over to Reconstruction, that is to say to undercutting the material basis for the restoration of white supremacy.

I think R. John's central philosophical argument here against the fetishism of the everyday and the denial of the critical importance of the big picture is right on the money. The question is what this actually means for the work of revolutionaries. The problem is that the groups that claim to have the mountaintop perspective are so often so very bad at connecting that perspective to where people on the ground are actually at that their insights are rendered effectively worthless as they are only able to talk to themselves.

We need to be good at understanding the cardinal questions and not being distracted by local questions that don't help us move forward. At the same time a real familiarity with peoples immediate situations is critical to transforming the insights obtained at the mountaintop into a movement that can actually change the world. The Chinese Revolution wasn't won in Tibet, it was won first and foremost in the rural villages of northern China. William Hinton's "Fanshen" is not the story of a Chinese Communist Party that disregarded the details of everyday life, but rather one that understood that that was where the rubber met the road. It was the internalization by CCP cadres in work teams of all the local knowledges that the peasantry possessed about their own circumstances that enabled the CCP to see social reality in its actual complexity and to develop policies that took those complexities seriously. This was not a simple process in which the locals always instinctively knew what was right, but it was a process that understood how valuable their knowledge really was to uniting all who could be united and to advancing the class struggle and consolidating support for socialism and communism.

The Mass Line is a method of leadership. It doesn't just say "what the masses say they want is right." But what makes it so powerful is that it recognizes that the masses are always thinking about their lives and collectively possess all sorts of critical information needed in order to lead effectively and that if the party is to really prepare the masses to rule it must begin from a perspective of respect for that knowledge.

Indeed a proper appreciation of this is one of the things that people need to be able to see "from the mountaintop." No revolutionary movement has taken power anywhere without to some degree developing this capacity and I would argue that it is precisely the extent to which this capacity has been developed that determines the ability of a revolution to survive the many challenges that it will inevitably face.


Well, with Tibet the issue here seems to be which mountaintop...


Or that there is any such thing, no?

Why go so far afield as Tibet? Scratch that, I can see why...

But what about local school boards, for example?

Is a national curriculum oppressive by its very nature? Or living in a republic under a rule of law that any given locality (or individual) doesn't consent to?

r. john

zerohour writes: "Once, Louis Althusser said that the reason people make revolution was to change the mode of production. Of course he was short-sighted and wrong. People make revolution to change their lives - changing the mode of production is simply the way to do that. Subsequently, if we argue that people make revolution to take state power, we would also be confusing means and ends."

There are people and there are people.

An analogy:

In a strike, there are chunks of people who strike and sacrifice "so my kids can live better." And are making their calculations onthat basis.

But there are other people with different consciousness, who think "If we don't take a stand over this, what will happen to all working people, and what will the future be like for them." And such people are able to lead struggle where the "personal math" does not compute -- i.e. where the personal sacrifices far outweigh potential personal gain.

And to create "wedges" between those two poles of thinking, the bourgeois media always hammers with the summation "you have lost more in missed wages during the strike than you could possibly have made from the wage increase."

A question (stretching the strike analogy to something different, i.e. socialist revolution):

What is the role in revolution of those people who come to see themselves as "emancipators of humanity" and are willing to think, act and calculate on that basis.

Aren't you simply leaving them out of the equation?

Are you assuming that this cannot be a section of the masses?

Are you assuming that "people" (as a whole!) are prisoners of the everyday, and of everyday calculations around self?

Doesn't the process of revolution depend on the emergence of such a revolutionary people and on its organized influence on those who are seeking "a way out of this bitter moment for ourselves and our kids"?

Christopher Day

A "revolutionary people" is not simply a population consisting purely of self-sacrificing would-be "emancipators of humanity." Even in the heat of a revolutionary situation such people are likely to be a minority not just within the larger population but also among the participants in the revolutionary process. Such "emanicipators of humanity" are no doubt absolutely critical to the possibility of revolution. But what is almost as important are the much larger numbers of folks who stand somewhere in between what Trotsky called "dead men on reprieve" (dedicated revolutionaries) and the folks who act out of self-interest but who because of their degraded condition under capitalism have a self-interest in revolutionary change.

Very few people are completely indifferent to their own or their families immediate interests. Who knows how any of us would stand up under torture, for example. But there are lots and lots of people who care about the fate of the planet and humanity in general and attempt to strike a balance between that and the pursuit of their own personal interests.

Revolutionaries must always deal with this mixture of motivations on the part of potential participants in a struggle. Attentiveness to the actual everyday situations of the people, the reasons why they might be tempted to give up, is critical to actually bringing people along and developing their consciousness so that they might bring still others along. This is why being grounded in communities is so important. A newspaper will never convince somebody that other people have their backs if things get hairy. That kind of trust isn't earned by being able to articulate the mountaintop perspective, but rather by really being there on the ground with people. A newspaper can arm people with valuable ideas but revolutions aren't made simply by people in possession of ideas, but by people who stand in particular relationships with each other that enable them to act collectively and do things that as individuals they wouldn't.

What made Black people in teh U.S. in the 1960s a "revolutionary people"? I would suggest that the existence of dense networks of community leaders, clergy, students and so on predisposed to doing what it takes to liberate their people played a much more important role than anybody's possession of a precisely correct analysis of the world situation, though clearly the ability of some folks to link up the anti-colonial and revolutionary struggles of the day in Asia, Africa and Latin America was also critical.

Red Heretic

I want to challenge some people's assumptions here.

1. The revolutionary transformation of Tibet is WORLDS away from occupied Tibet today. People in this thread are blurring the differences between socialist china (1949-1976) and revisionist china today. These are fundamentally different regimes, and you cannot just mish-mash them together.

2. The PLA did not simply march into Tibet and seize it from the feudal Lama regime. Tibet wasn't even liberated until 6 years after the revolution! When Tibet was liberated, it was because the masses of people were unleashed through the agitation and assistance of the PLA to seize power and overthrow the Lama regime.

3. The Lama regime was a HORROR! The masses of people were living under virtual slavery in Tibet before they made revolution.

People should take a look at the series the RCP put out on the liberation of Tibet:

"The True Story of Maoist Revolution in Tibet"


"The Lama regime was a HORROR! The masses of people were living under virtual slavery in Tibet before they made revolution."

But...The idea that slavery is bad is just some western-imperialist concept that comes out of the grand narratives rooted in Christianity!

Red Heretic



I started to write a point-by-point rebuttal but I really don't have time. Please just take the ideological blinders off. The arguments here, like that Mao was a humanitarian who wanted to 'liberate' the Tibetans, or that Tibet was a staging ground for CIA operations prior to the invasion, or that Tibet wasn't an independent nation, or that the occupation was less oppressive under Red China, are ridiculous. Look at the historical record and the latest news coming out of Tibet. Unlike many pro-Tibet campaigners, I'm not insisting that Tibet was a utopian alpine kingdom, far from it. My basic point is that it was never for China to decide how to solve Tibet's problems, much less invade the place. As with Iraq, the occupation resulted in widespread destruction, torture, a refugee crisis (see the Nangpa La Pass shooting of last fall), and harsh repression of attempts by Tibetans to protest. China could have done any number of things to promote equality and communism within Tibet at a grassroots level, but that's never what it was about. The invasion was about Mao's contempt for religion, 'uniting' China and acquiring valuable strategic territory... if that's not imperialism I don't know what is. See for more info...


Yes, of course Ansel. It was for the reincarnated Dalai Lama and his Nazi tutor and now Anglo-American advisors to decide the fate of Tibet. Of course his brother didn't run an entirely CIA-funded contra army out of Nepal. Of course the lamas didn't launch an uprising against Communist authority that was rejected by the very serfs they used to lord over.

Everybody knows that.

Dude, if you want to be governed by a reincarnated hypocrite, knock yourself out. If you want to be their slave, serf or underling, I'm sure you could go to India and kiss his feet.

What you aren't dealing with is either the meat of what our friend John is writing, or the real specifics of Tibet (and its historical interpenetration with China, that is hardly news).

Foreign powers used to chop China up. The Japanese grabbed Manchuria and declared it a new country. The British colonized Hong Kong, the Portugues Macau. The United States to this day maintain "parity" by arming the occupied part of China called "Taiwan".

You may think this is all just talking points, but beleagued aristocrats from France to China have long turned to foregin powers to secure their own status over "their own" people.

That you would volunteer to justify this or enable it is truly mind blowing.

Yeah, "Free Tibet" from Han Chinse settlements and so on. But please spare us the apologies for the godking and HIS "self-determination".

Really, please.

Better, dig into what the nature of this argument is, and how you'd compare it with something closer to home like... say... Mississippi. Does the white racist power structure that rules that state to this day have the right to exempt itself from rudimenatary democratic rights? Can that class speak for "Mississippi", just as they have since declaring blacks 3/5 of a human being for purposes of appropriating their votes in the electoral college?

Your logic says yes.

I'm sticking with the Union, Chris's note about Reconstruction taken and agreed with. We don't need to settle for the hypothetical, rational tyranny to notice that sometimes qualitative breakthroughs happen.

Mass chattel slavery is over within the United States. That was worth the fight. It was worth imposing at the point of guns, supression of slave-holders parties and so on.

Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama couldn't even bring himself to oppose the war in Iraq, so beholden is he to this day to the imperialist power structure. Chew on it, bro.


ansel, our arguments might seem ridiculous to you because they complicate your principle, the sovereignty of nations is sacred.

China's revolution was accomplished by 1949. Not long after the US began subversive activities. In fact, undermining China was the CIA's first act after converting from the OSS. The Dalai Lama allowed them to use Tibet as a listening post - so yes it was China's problem. China felt threatened. Think this is ridiculous? They saw what happened to the USSR right after its revolution and didn't what the same thing to happen to them. Look at William Blum's Killing Hope to see how ridiculous CIA intervention can be. A fucking laugh riot.

Your suggestions about alternatives to invasion are preferable in the abstract, but in a world dominated by imperialism, which is determined to "strangle the [socialist -zh] baby in the crib" [thanks Winston Churchill], we don't work on our own timetable.

You gave us a source to keep up on the current "Free Tibet" struggle. Here's a better source for historical perspective The Making of Modern Tibet by A. Tom Gruenfeld.


Does we really have to drag this into a discussion about Tibet? There is many more interesting things to say about this document. The fact that "serve the people" is no longer heard speaks volumes. Is it even possible to think revolution without "serve the people"?

no doubt

I'm all ears on this one.


Baxter, thanks for getting us back on track. You and r. john raised that issue about "serve the people". I'm not sure what you mean by its absence. You mean as a practice or as an explicitly sated slogan?

How does it play out in 2007?

two slogans

Serve the people.

Engage Bob Avakian.


For example.

What do this different slogans tell us? What is the difference?


My last comment here. Great job with the straw man there, JB. I said nothing about the Dalai Lama or his underlings, but like you I ain't a fan. And fuck national sovereignty, I'm an anarchist. This is about Tibetans becoming an oppressed minority in their own land over the last several decades. I understand that the religious government was messed up and that China, in the wake of its revolution, felt threatened by imperialism. None of that justifies a brutal invasion and occupation or coercive attempts by the Chinese to "transform" Tibetan society. You don't see blacks in the deep South holding spontaneous demonstrations for the return of Jefferson Davis or other racist leaders, that analogy doesn't hold up. The parallel I do see here is with Iran, in that all the justifications for the Chinese invasion are being applied to Iran by the US today - that Iran attacks the US in neighboring Iraq, that it's run by hostile theocrats, that it and terrorists want to take over the world with an Islamic empire, and that its people yearn for liberation. Then, as now, all of those arguments are lies or exaggerations and war/invasion/occupation would only disempower the people and compound whatever problems do exist.

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