Distil the truth
In a recent article, Daniel Lazare responds to my call to form an opinion on what might actually be going on in Xinjiang, and why the imperialists don’t want us to talk about this honestly (‘Examining underlying issues’ Weekly Worker April 1). He argues that I am “playing into imperialist hands” by talking about capitalist development in China and what that entails (‘Playing into imperialist hands’, April 8). And he suggests that everything I brought up is only interesting insofar as it illustrates how the US imperialist propaganda machine is supposedly changing its methods to fit the times.
To support this claim, comrade Lazare points out that the online article I quoted, ‘Spirit breaking’, features an uncritical bit of anthropological field work. That takes the form of an interview with a Uyghur who is taken in by the promises of terrorists, who are quite happy to work alongside the US state department, and he correctly analyses its shortcomings. Yet comrade Lazare then spends many words on a complete side issue: namely that the author of that article was actually Darren Byler, who elsewhere parrots liberal/imperialist politics. This (unsurprising) finding seems to have distracted him, so that he doesn’t comment on any of the other points that are made either in Byler’s article or mine.
He trots out the convenient charge of ‘bourgeois moralism’ to dismiss the argument that communists might object to forcible re-education, incarceration and emigration in the name of combating so-called “terrorism or extremism”. As he doesn’t comment on this at all, beyond rhetorically asking, “is this really what is going on?” I am left in the dark as to comrade Lazare’s stance on forced proletarianisation (enforced via ‘anti-terrorism’ and ‘anti-extremism’ policy).
Either way, it seems to me that the fact that the Chinese state and Chinese Communist Party (CPC) have adopted and are aggressively promoting such language is further proof of bad faith, because, again, the ‘problem’ isn’t ‘Uyghur backwardness’, their lack of ‘marketable skills’ or their inability to speak a ‘modern language’. The problem for the CPC is that they are or were unwilling or uninterested in embracing the CPC’s productivist ‘material/economic development is how we attain socialism’ plans. That led to the PRC’s pro-Han migration policies, together with violence against Han migrants, which in turn led to these cynical policies, while the overall goal - proletarianisation and productivity growth - remains the same.
While I now see that it was a mistake to not mention that I was primarily interested in the more analytical and theoretical sections of ‘Spirit breaking’, I will briefly summarise the main points made in my article, lest they get lost in the fray. First, when there is so much ‘smoke’ rising, there are underlying structural reasons that Marxists should study and try to learn from. Second, that the specific developments taking place there, and problems faced, are undertheorised. And, third, that the capitalists have a lot of reasons to obfuscate what’s going on: namely to keep class-consciousness low, both here and in Xinjiang, which they indeed do hope to Balkanise.
On to Lazare’s other points. He suggests I think that “‘liberation’ is just another word for old-fashioned imperial subjugation”. This is mistaken, but, more importantly, it misses my actual point. To start with, I was not at all saying that the CPC ‘conquered’ Xinjiang in the imperialist sense. I am saying, however - and this stance strikes me as fairly uncontroversial - that after the CPC took over the Chinese state apparatus it failed to seriously push for, let alone realise, self-emancipation of the people living in this region (or any other region, I suppose), because China was an ‘imperialist state’. And that the current unrest is directly related to their preference for promoting Han migration to the region, which (especially from the 1980s onward) has created a two-tier society in the name of ‘productivity growth’, ‘regional development’ and so on.
Now, to be sure, past policy towards the Uyghurs has mostly involved so-called ‘benign neglect’, and Uyghurs have experienced nothing like the active (localised) genocide and repeated expulsions that characterised the imperial conquest and settlement of basically all of the UK’s former colonies. Nevertheless, the CPC’s policies have very little to do with what I think a communist party should aim for - both because they actively maintained cultural barriers and separation through policy means, and because they tried to solve the so-called problem of ‘underdevelopment’ by encouraging and rewarding some 10 million Han Chinese to migrate there, and work in the industries the central government tried to establish. Anyone should be able to see that that’s a fantastic way to encourage inter-ethnic competition and bitterness, rather than cooperation and broadly shared growth/development, even when the government doesn’t actively oppress and persecute the ‘ethnic’ population - which in the Uyghur case it unfortunately does.
Lastly, a little more about Chinese state policy with respect to the Uyghur population, plus the thorny issue of journalism generally, and Adrien Zenz’s work in particular. In a YouTube video, BadEmpanada discusses the problems with the Chinese national and regional government’s ‘anti-terrorism and anti-extremism’ policies, the ‘re-education centres’, Xinjiang education policies, Adrien Zenz’s work, and more. As his source material, he uses the footage from various Chinese and non-Chinese media outlets; Chinese state policy white papers and other official or academic data, and Zenz’s methods and output.
Once again, I would encourage those interested in this topic to check it out, as it’s quite informative and instructive. His work provides further proof that these policies exist for reasons other than merely preventing violence and ‘radicalisation’. Interestingly with regard to Zenz’s work, BadEmpanada notes that, while he’s made a lot of farcical and unreliable claims, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that Zenz pays Chinese speakers to find and translate Chinese official data, and that this information is still useful, even if Zenz is an ideologue who distorts his own findings.
Besides that - and furthering my earlier argument - BadEmpanada also points out that mandatory boarding school attendance by children and teens in Xinjiang (which has a total population estimated at 24.5 million) has in the past few years exploded to 880,000, from an already-high 490,000 - ‘boarding schools’ being a method of forcible cultural assimilation that the indigenous populations of colonised nations know all too well, and a method that should trouble us, irrespective of our thoughts on Uyghur culture and society.
In summary, I see very little reason to think that I’m allowing myself to be hoodwinked by liberal academics and/or the CIA. But, more importantly, even if imperialist money funded the research, publication and/or distribution of Byler’s research, it seems to me that we are discerning enough to be able to distil the truth from the propaganda, given what we know about capitalist development generally, and about how and why members of marginalised groups support (and occasionally personally engage in) so-called ‘terrorism and extremism’ (this is something that you hardly ever find outside the context of active state and institutional violence against that group).
So I will repeat my point: we should treat with due seriousness the fact that something is happening, even as we reject the explanation promoted by the capitalists. More importantly, though, I would urge communists to consider the questions I raised in my previous article, together with this letter.
Foppe de Haan
Capital and race
John Browne makes some interesting points in his argument that ‘anti-racism’ is an element of bourgeois ideology. But unfortunately, put in the way he does, it is rather crude and mechanical.
There is a very good book by the US Marxist sociologist, Oliver Cromwell Cox, Race, class and caste. In it Cox makes the point that under feudalism racism was not necessary, because it was based upon the acceptance of society based upon inequality of rank and status. He points out that, in Portugal, for example, it was quite common for one of the black house servants/slaves acquired as part of Portugal’s colonial expansion to marry the woman of the house, after her husband had died. We could look back to the Roman empire also, where the distinction was between freemen and slaves, and upon citizenship rather than race.
It’s important to point out that, in relation to Cox’s example, of course colonialism arises as a function of feudalism, not capitalism - or more correctly it arises on the basis of mercantilism, as the old feudal ruling class forms a symbiotic relation with a nascent merchant class, whose representatives it enlists to go out as privateers and adventurers, opening up new trade routes, sources of exotic products, and also territories where the feudal aristocracy can acquire new lands upon which to extract rents.
Cox explains that racism arises because of the development of this merchant capitalism and colonialism - precisely because of the contradiction between bourgeois ideology, which posits the idea of equality and freedom, as against its reality of enslavement of large numbers of people. The two things can only be equated if you then claim that those being enslaved are not equal, because they are in some sense less than human.
But mercantilism/colonialism itself gave way to industrial capitalism/imperialism, whose economic base is quite different, and the ideas from which are also thereby differentiated. Mercantilism/colonialism is based upon the appropriation of surplus value via unequal exchange. The feudal landlord obtains surplus value as rent; the merchant by appropriating a part of the surplus value created by the producer; the money-lending capitalist by appropriating a part of the surplus value as interest.
But industrial capital appropriates surplus value via the direct exploitation of labour-power. In fact, it sees unequal exchange as detrimental, because it leeches off the surplus value produced by industrial capital. In place of colonialism, as a means of extracting surplus value via unequal exchange, industrial capitalism/imperialism seeks to develop economies across the globe, via the employment and exploitation of ever larger numbers of wage workers.
This industrial capital, as it becomes ever larger and more dominant, needs to do away with those frictions and monopolies that were the hallmark of feudalism and mercantilism. It adopts the mantra of free trade, and needs to be able to draw in additional workers from its latent reserves, whenever required, to defer the onset of crises of overproduction of capital. It needs to be able to invest capital overseas freely to take advantage of such reserves of labour, where they can be readily employed - which itself usually requires a minimum level of economic development in infrastructure, education and so on. And so, yes, for this section of the bourgeoisie ‘anti-racism’ is a logical ideology to pursue.
However, as Brexit, Trump and other such developments have shown, although this section of the bourgeoisie is ultimately dominant, in terms of numbers the petty bourgeoisie is far more influential. It is they that have been able to capture conservative parties like the Tories and Republicans. In his prefaces to the Condition of the working class, Engels sets out how and why large industrial capitalists do not need the former penny-pinching methods of the small capitalist, which, in fact, become a hindrance. Today, the small capitalist/petty bourgeois still clings to the need to squeeze wages and conditions as much as possible. Unable to compete with larger capitals, they too continue to rely upon extracting profits via exchange, by robbing their workers - and customers and suppliers if possible. They rely on cutting corners, not complying with minimum standards and so on, which, of course, was one reason for them supporting Brexit.
So for this section of the bourgeoisie/petty bourgeoisie, racism and other bigotries do come as natural, because it is on that basis that they seek to be able to employ workers, who because of their position can be more readily exploited, denied trades union rights and so on. They continue to rely upon a strategy of divide and rule amongst their workers, whereas the bigger industrial capitals tend to rely upon compliant labour movement bureaucracies to contain workers’ demands within acceptable limits.
In this, as in other aspects of bourgeois ideology, it is necessary to not see it in homogeneous terms.
I must apologise to David Broder and Toby Abse for the misattribution of the quote from the latter to the former in my last letter (March 4). However, the essence of the article remains as the correctly attributed orientation of Broder after the misattribution.
His statement that “the PCI should nonetheless be credited with a real achievement after 1945” makes it clear that he thinks that Stalinism had played a real progressive role in Italy in the middle and at the end of World War II. That Italian Stalinist Palmiro Togliatti, when he was working for the Comintern, had slaughtered the Polish Communist Party leadership in the great purges, that he had slaughtered revolutionaries in Spain in the late 1930s and had done the same in post-war Italy, does not mean he had not made “real achievements”, according to Broder. He led the Communist Party of Italy into the fascist-led government of Pietro Badoglio on Stalin’s instructions in order to crush the revolution that was developing in the Italian working class at this time. This is implicitly dismissed as a fantasy. Mike Makin-Waite sets us straight on the Stalinism of Gramsci and Togliatti (Letters, April 8).
The Allied bombing to the Italian cities had the same class character as the bombing of the German cities. Stalin was in full agreement with it. Hence his refusal to call on the working class in Germany to rise up to overthrow Hitler because the Red Army had come to liberate them. No, indeed, all Germans were treated as Nazis. But I am not telling you something you don’t know, David. In 2008 you translated the French Trotskyists’ Arbeiter und soldat, Trotskyism in occupied France and this is from your own introduction on the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty website:
“Despite the USSR’s August 1939-June 1941 pact with Hitler to carve up eastern Europe, Stalin’s imperialist ambitions were now completely intertwined with the war aims of the Allies … The nationalist and anti-German chauvinist hysteria promoted by Moscow, which portrayed the war to the Russian people as just another chapter in the Slavs’ struggle against the Germans must be seen as largely responsible for the vengeance exacted on the German people at the end of the war with hundreds of thousands of rapes of women and girls, the murder and leaving to starve of millions of civilians, as well as organising huge population transfers. In France the Communist Party raised the slogans, ‘Everyone, united against the Krauts’ and ‘Everyone kill a Kraut’, refusing to draw any distinction between Nazi-led German imperialism and the working class German conscripts in the Wehrmacht.”
And this from the Trotskyists’ appeal to the German soldiers in France in August 1943:
“They [the Nazis] know well enough in Berlin that such thoughts can become, and have been proven to become, dangerous for the leading Nazi party dignitaries. Although some of you talk of untrustworthy allies, it is not the Italian people who are to blame. Fascism is at fault. The whole world is today the victim of the folly of the fascist powers and capital’s quest for profit. Stalin, who betrayed the proletarian revolution, is the right-hand man of this imperialist-capitalist clique. But the current war, in its terrible absurdity, lays the ground for the future workers’ revolution in every country. The Fourth International will lead it to victory.”
This was Stalin’s popular front agreement with the Allies, which had the same class character as his previous alliance with Hitler; no revolution was to be allowed to develop, as it did after World War I. The Allies knew that was threatening, as did Stalin, so they bombed the working class areas of Hamburg, Dresden, Berlin, Milan, Turin, Genoa and Naples to make sure revolutions were impossible to organise.
Arturo Peregalli, in The Leftwing opposition in Italy during the period of the resistance, sets the matter straight. He is clearly no revolutionary, but does seek to tell the truth. After the Allies landed in Sicily in June 1943, Mussolini was overthrown and Badoglio became prime minister. Mussolini was arrested, but in September he was freed by the Nazis, with the cooperation of Bodaglio, and headed the puppet German Republic of Salò until April 1945, when he was captured and executed by the partisans.
Badoglio’s government initially pursued the war, but its main object was to prevent revolution and in this it got the support of all ‘anti-fascists’, including the PCI. Peregalli comments.
“The extremely moderate policies adopted by both the Socialist Party and the Communist Party (PCI) left a gap in which movements inspired by revolutionary socialism could develop. The PCI and the Socialist Party did not intend to fight against the whole ruling class, but rather to align with those sections of it which accepted the struggle for ‘democracy’. In practical terms, it was like re-enacting the wars of the Risorgimento in order to re-establish the unity of the national territory, but with one essential difference: this time, the working class, which by now had become a ‘national class’, would act as a vanguard, and set an example to the other classes.”
But there were all these ‘ultra-leftists’ who were subjective revolutionaries seeking the overthrow of capitalism; they had to be stopped and Togliatti now embarked on his “real achievement” project. But the exceptionally large groups that emerged to the left of the PCI in 1943 had no cohesion, though they contained many who had been in the PCI in its early, revolutionary years before it was made illegal by Mussolini. Moreover, the ranks of the PCI itself were full of the mad ultra-leftists who did not understand that Stalin and the Comintern now had set their faces definitively against revolution. The popular front phrase ‘national unity’ repelled them. They had to be persuaded otherwise, and those who would not capitulate had to be killed.
Of course, the PCI had to pretend that they had a hidden, revolutionary agenda behind their class collaboration and betrayals. There was now a big fear in the PCI that all these disparate oppositionists would coalesce and begin a revolution. This is how the leading Stalinist, Mauro Scoccimarro, put it in 1943:
“There is opposition in Naples ... there is opposition in Rome, in Milan, and undoubtedly elsewhere. There is opposition even in our rank and file ... These various and diverse trends could at some point start to coalesce and find fertile breeding ground in the political immaturity of the Italian working masses, especially amongst the young. Our present policies could offer them some pretexts of apparent justification if they are not conducted and developed with the necessary far-sightedness and with a strict sense of the limit which must separate them from any opportunistic deviations, the germs of which could easily develop, especially if we are to take on responsibilities in the government. So long as we strive towards unity with the Socialist Party, we must at all costs avoid the creation of a pseudo-Communist Party alongside us - a party which would represent a new element of division within the working class.’
Paolo Casciola, in his work, Trotskyism and the revolution in Italy (1943-44) explains what happened: “By crushing the fascist state, the bourgeoisie has also broken the chains that paralysed the proletariat ... thus 25 July was not only the last day of Italian fascism, but also the first day of the proletarian revolution in Italy, the first day of the coming European revolution. Thrown into the revolutionary struggle without a leadership, an organisation or a programme, the workers of the biggest Italian cities spontaneously revived in the internal commissions the form of organisation that had marked the highest point of the post-war revolutionary wave; in the factories they are building the first elements of workers’ power ... The first elements of a dual power began to appear.”
So the Grand Old Duke of Edinburgh, who had ten million pounds, is dead and buried.
The time has long since passed when the monarchy should have been condemned to the dustbin of history as a feudal anachronistic parasite that is long past its use-by date. The history of the monarchs and their divine, god-given right to rule has been overthrown in many societies. While some may claim they are a modern figurehead, which promotes consistency in society while governments come and go, we must always challenge their origins - their history of slavery, brutality, theft, colonisation and genocide.
The Famine Queen, Victoria, let two million people die or immigrate, while exporting food grain and cattle from Ireland for profit between 1847 and 1857. Under the reigns of Anne, Elizabeth and William, the Irish, who held 100% of the land in 1530, were left with less than 14% in 1703. King Leopold II of Belgium, while raping the Congo of its wealth, ruled over the genocide of as many as 10 million people. The kings of Spain presided over the genocide of the indigenous populations of Latin America, while the British and French did the same in North America and Canada. The British colonised and murdered their way through parts of Africa, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and China.
The power of monarchies within society was built on brutality, greed and violence. The land they own is stolen or confiscated. Even today monarchies like Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are not fully democratised. The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on the rumoured orders of Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, is a case in point. He was murdered, then dismembered, in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey.
The role of the present British monarchy is a marriage of convenience. In order to keep the royal name in the public eye, and relevant in an ever-changing world and commonwealth, the political class and the established class use the monarchy as a rallying point for nationalism and recruitment to the ever-decreasing British military machine. With various princes in nominal charge of the parachute regiment, Scottish and Welsh battalions, together with the peerage system, a cabal of the industrial-military-complex politicians and business interests continue to control all the power in the country.
The monarchy today is the very epitome of white privilege. Its relevance and influence have not gone unnoticed here in Northern Ireland. The recent street disorder and criminal acts by loyalists, coming hot on the heels of unionist failure to deliver on the Northern Ireland protocol, have quickly subsided with the death of the old duke. It is interesting how the violence offered to the police, and to the nationalists who live on the sectarian interfaces, has dissipated and melted away like snow from a ditch on a fine April morning. It proves these criminal acts may be more orchestrated than many wish to confess. With ten million pounds already banked to try to lessen loyalist passions over the protocol, what will happen next is anybody’s guess.
Either the violence will not renew or it will return apace, with either more money needed to bribe the loyalty of Ulster’s loyalists or we will simply be in line for a full three months of sectarian violence, as unionists and loyalists celebrate 100 years of a Protestant-ruled Northern Ireland, where the Catholic Irish will have to mind themselves as best they can while at home, or out and about conducting their lawful business and, more importantly, on or near sectarian interfaces.
As unionism is at times responsible for loyalist actions, I can only concur they are in cahoots and no leadership for political unionism will be forthcoming.
There is no doubting the tide of nationalism that is raising Johnson’s boat at present - what a distraction from the corruption scandals. One is almost tempted to suspect that indirectly his allies are pushing the Super League notion for precisely that reason. As the Romans might have asked, Cui bojo?
No, of course, finance capital is perfectly capable of searching for oligopolistic profits without caring as to what politician might suffer or gain. But this cross-class alliance poses severe dangers for any good sense there may be left in the British labour movement.
What reforms are needed in football? Many, I have no doubt. On the specific issue of ‘economies of scale’ and their tendency to subvert genuine competition - the ‘rigours’ (Tony Blair’s clause four) of competition have plenty of place in football - I gather that the rules of at least one major US sport restrict the oligopoly powers of the top teams to hire the best sports graduates (it seems universities are the major recruiting ground for top league players). This seems to me to be in principle a good restriction on the ‘robber barons’ and ‘'malefactors of great wealth’, who are continually thrown up by unrestricted financial competition - an integral part of so many sports.
It is potentially of general application - and, the more general and international the application, the more effective it would be. FIFA’s ‘charitable’ subsidies end (and begin) in corruption and sleaze - structural reforms along the above lines would restrict the bad effects of the Bosman judgment as they apply to football.