Does The Left Stand With Uighurs?

Detainee in a Xinjiang Re-education Camp. From an article titled “用情感敲开心灵大门 用说理舒缓群众情绪”, published by the wechat MP platform account “Xinjiang Juridical Administration”, via baidu baijiahao platform archive. Original image creator: 牙生 – Fair Use

As the American left forces itself to reckon with its neglect of the minority underclass in its central planning of democratic socialism, a similar reckoning should be happening in relation to China and its treatment of the Muslim minority population and its increasing reach in Africa. Under the guise of economic empowerment for the upper and middle-class China has in many ways followed the United States route to economic and military power that relied upon labor exploitation, incarceration, surveillance, control of women’s reproductive rights and environmental destruction.

The racial reckoning in the United States is hard for many leftists to swallow because the left with a few exceptions wants to blame racial and gender violence on the invisible hand of stagnant hegemonic America. With an Empire in crisis and an austerity politics crippling the domestic sphere we see a crude authoritarianism under Donald Trump who attempts to retain legitimate power through corruption, misinformation and force. Along with this comes the typical hysterical anti-communist rhetoric with a reckless Cold War narrative and sanctions policy that will only further hurt the Chinese poor.

However in a letter signed by among others, Noam Chomsky, the reason for the concentration camps sounds a lot more like capitalism than communism: “China’s present signature foreign policy initiative is the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) that seeks to connect the PRC economically to the rest of the Eurasian continent through large infrastructure projects that will stimulate international trade. The western and south-western components of the BRI require the XUAR to serve as a transportation and commercial hub to trade routes and pipelines that will join China with Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and the entirety of Europe. As a result, the XUAR has become a very important strategic region for China, and the state views its indigenous populations as an obstacle to developing its vision for this future critical center of international commercial networks.”

While accepting that centralized organization and solidarity amidst a vague ruling class communist ideology and concrete history of communist people uniting against racist Western capitalism, imperialism and the like certainly did help to create an effective and organized response to the coronavirus we still have to ask as leftists interested in not just ruling class ideology, but material underclass conditions, who was left out, and what were the labor conditions necessary to create this nation of unity and efficiency?

Re-education camps, sterilization of women, mass surveillance reliant on big tech, rapid industrialization and pollution, forced labor, market expansion and police brutality may sound familiar to some in the USA. Capitalism. Exploiting and controlling a minority population to increase wealth at the harm of the environment and further international commerce is a problem.

Now we have to recognize the ways in which China is admirable in its own solidarity with left-leaning governments

and victims of imperialism. Such allegiances have created power that counters Empire and emboldens collective leftist governments fighting back against capitalist coups and resource extraction. Indeed without building power how would China be able to lift so many in the world out of poverty? We need to end the ridiculous China-bashing that is typical of all Empires in decline. We should also recognize that in many ways China like the rest of the world does still have to abide by the rules of Western imperialism, capitalism and white supremacism dictated by the United States. This is certainly not an extensive discussion of China overall but merely a specific but significant example of a concentration camp setting that mirrors many of the human rights violations exposed by immigrant activists and Black Lives Matter here in the United States.

Communism. No one on the left wants to say they are a communist. Paradoxically no one wants to examine China because their ruling class is supposedly on our team. That’s a shame because we can be proud communists and critizise China’s ruling class precisely because we believe in the power of the people to rule their own lives. Joe Biden and Donald Trump have their own reasons for bashing China: reign of the dollar, corruption, American exceptionalism based in white supremacy, a thirst for militarism and American hegemony across the world, anti-communism based in ahistorical ideology and election talking points. Policies resulting from these including the recent sanctions must be opposed.

However, through all the noise we can trace our own reasons for opposing concentration camps of minorities, cruel policies towards migrants, physical and sexual abuse by the police state and forced labor to further the interest of the global ruling class. Black Lives Matter has exposed the police state in the United States and created solidarity across the world, including from the Chinese government. Their words ring just as hallow as ours condemning China’s human rights as both acts of partisan posturing are political games that ignore the enslavement and abuse of working people on the ground.

We would be foolish to dismiss solidarity with China’s underclass. If the left really believes in the power of communism, in the power of poor and working people owning the means of production, then we can say that the current state of affairs in global capitalism is needing a communist revolution that frees the poor minority populations across the globe from brutal market forces. The underdog isn’t the ideology of communism, it is the actualization of it.

Trump doesn’t support Muslims. He sanctions China because they are independent enough to defy American Empire. Good for them. Behind the macho posturing of Biden and Trump is crude economic bullying designed to keep the United States and our ruling class in power. While having no allegiance to this ruling class, the internationalism modeled by Chomsky includes an honest evaluation of the reasons for China’s rise and the limits in supporting an opposition to Empire that itself has hierarchal exploitation.

Chomsky is one to know that denying concentration camps is embracing simplistic prescriptions. What we need is solidarity between poor people across the globe. While admiring China’s communist affiliations in many ways we can also be honest about glaring oppressions without supporting Cold War imperialism against their people via sanctions. For we all know that the trade war and sanctions is meant to hurt first and foremost the Chinese worker not the American multinational corporation benefitting from Muslim labor. From this honest evaluation, we can trace the material conditions that created systems of oppression and both country’s people can continue protesting, often at danger to our own lives, regardless of ruling class distinctions of “national interests”.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at