There are pretty much only two positions in the public square about the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of the Muslim Uighurs: the imperial saber-rattlers on the one hand and the brain-numbing apologists for Beijing on the other. Both sides ignore the voices of actual Asians. The Sputnik Left, led as always by the dipshits at The Grayzone, are totally in the tank for Beijing, even as numerous Communist Parties in Asia have criticized its well-documented, horrific abuses against Uighurs.
The saber-rattlers’ rhetorical playbook is plagiarized straight from the Save Soviet Jewry campaigns of the 1970s and ‘80s, a neocon circus starring such luminaries as Alan “Exterminate All the Brutes” Dershowitz and Elliot “The Butcher” Abrams.
Meanwhile, the Sputnik Left is doing a good impersonation of Walter Duranty covering the Soviet Union in the 1930s (for the New York Times of all places). While Duranty presented “Soviet propaganda as legitimate reporting,” The Grayzone treats the Chinese Communist Party and its media outlets as respectable arbiters of truth.
The Communist Party USA, which whitewashed Stalin’s crimes, is thankfully dodging that bullet. A recent story in People’s World, “Solidarity with China doesn’t mean closing our eyes to painful realities,” said:
There’s no question that the capitalist world’s reportage on the USSR was heavily biased and inaccurate. Communists, and many other progressives, responded to this “human rights” campaign by flatly denying all allegations against the Soviet Union on issues of human rights, civil liberties, and democracy. In our eyes, the Soviet Union, and later its allies, including (for a considerable time) China, were models of democracy and freedom. All reports of repression, labor camps, and the like were rejected and discounted as fabrications of imperialist propaganda. When in 1956 the Soviet leadership finally admitted the truth (or at least a substantial part of it), we learned—or should have learned—an important lesson: that we could not assume that negative reports in capitalist media about the socialist world were necessarily false. Anti-Soviet and anti-Communist outlets did not always have to fabricate their reports on negative aspects of socialist reality.
Let’s turn briefly to the absurdity of using a Western lens to explore the matter of Chinese communism. As China and New Left scholar Martin Jacques recently wrote:
The CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] was a historical failure: in contrast, the CPC [Communist Party of China], over the last century, has arguably been the world’s most successful political party. It is impossible to understand the CPC in terms of traditional Marxism; from well before 1949, the CPC’s Marxism was highly nativized. The CPC, furthermore, is rooted in and profoundly influenced by Confucianism. It might be described as a hybrid of Chinese Marxism and Confucianism. The CPC is shaped by and is as complex as Chinese civilization, of which, of course, it is a product.
With the Sputnik Left by contrast, you are fed a childish retread of warmed-over Brezhnev-era apologias, as if nothing had changed since 1968. Turn instead to the extraordinary Cosmonaut blog, which is pro-Communist but not hopelessly slavish towards Beijing. It just released a brilliant interview with Yueran Zhang about Chinese labor relations. SURPRISE, the Middle Kingdom is not a proletarian paradise.
An aunt of mine married a Chinese-American whose law firm worked in China. One of their sons took a trip to the country 10 years ago. He told me:
The CCP is one in a long history of [governing] systems over the past 5,000 years. It has been a rough, brutal state system. But it also has been a less miserable form of government than the kleptocratic Chiang Kai-shek or the genocidal Japanese occupation. The CCP is the “lesser evil” of three governing systems that caused millions of Chinese deaths in the first half of the 20th century. The CCP does some awful stuff but it isn’t running a Manchurian human experimentation/torture chamber like the Japanese did during their wartime occupation.
The Chinese people have a collective 5,000 year cultural memory. Their reaction to the West’s “enlightened” notion of civil rights is roughly equivalent to the bemusement of an adult towards a spoiled child. “We’re China, we had printed paper and fireworks when you Europeans were still crawling in caves. You think you are the superior civilization? That’s adorable!”
This is by no means a claim that there is a mystical Asian mind with impenetrable recesses beyond Western comprehension. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that Western notions of civil liberties and the social contract are quite young in comparison to Confucius. Furthermore, many of today’s philosophers wonder if the intellectual project known as the Enlightenment would have been possible without colonial brutality.
So what is the motivation for Western governments (and media) in highlighting the plight of the Uighurs in such sensational fashion? This is the real question that sane people should exploring.
In the past 20 years, China has achieved a pretty good standard of living. Its economy is expected to soon surpass ours. Its infrastructure and technological development is far ahead of us, it has a growing middle class, and commercial plans spanning five continents that brusquely elbows aside American unipolar dollar-dominated trade. There’s now talk of China as a serious player in Syria and Venezuela, a massive diplomatic shift from just two decades ago when all Beijing could muster was a stern protest over the NATO bombing of its Yugoslavian embassy during the Kosovo war.
All of this is a threat in the eyes of Western governments, who are happy to bash Beijing on the Uighurs. Up until fairly recently, our foreign trade included technology sharing with Beijing and I have no doubt it included carceral ones to use against Muslims.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the Chinese government isn’t guilty of serious crimes in Xinjiang. Yet on the Sputnik Left’s Red Looney Toon Planet, the denialism about the Uighurs emanating from outlets like The CrayCrayZone harkens back to Communist Party USA propagandizing on behalf of Stalin or Bob Avakian’s Revolutionary Communist Party shilling for Maoism.
It even features Gareth Porter, who had to eat a crow the size of Cambodia over his sympathetic portrait of Pol Pot’s lunatic Year Zero project, something he owned in 2010. (Sure, the Nixon administration’s war crimes in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, most notably the saturation bombing of Cambodia, helped pave the way for the Khmer Rouge’s triumph, but that doesn’t diminish Pol Pot’s crimes.)
Far better insights can be gleaned from neighboring Asian Communist parties. For instance, what does the Japanese CP, one of the largest in the world, say on the matter?
“China is moving in the wrong direction,” Executive Committee chair Shii Kazuo said on January 14, 2020. “Human rights abuses have become increasingly grave, especially in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.”
Meanwhile, at the Tricontinental Institute, Vijay Prashad wrote this: “Problems remain, however, some of them very grave: the developments in Xinjiang–with the detention of unknown numbers of China’s Uyghur minority–and the arrests of Marxists students who had gone to offer solidarity to the workers of Jasic Technology in Shenzhen.”
It’s rare for knee-jerk China defenders to discuss the various currents within domestic Chinese politics (it’s actually a pretty wide spectrum), relations between the various Asian Communist parties, or, God forbid, the moral implosion of Asian Maoism in the 1970s and 1980s that led to multiple wars between self-described Marxist-Leninist states, and which continue to impact regional geopolitics.
Furthermore, did you know there are entire states in India with Communist elected officials working in a parliamentary system?
Asian Communism is a large, pluralistic, internationalist movement. As a force that has outlasted the Soviet Union by thirty years and counting, it has developed in directions that Lenin could never have imagined. The various national parties don’t unilaterally worship China, now the major Communist superpower, as was the case with most of the world’s Communist Parties in their fawning genuflection towards the Kremlin.
The Anglophone Left would grow leaps and bounds by following suit.