Workers' Voice mailing list
October 21, 2020
Re: The Open Letter of the Critical China Scholars to the Monthly Review
There are some on the left who deny the bitter oppression of the Uighurs in Xinjiang by the Chinese government. They believe that, since US capitalism and Chinese state-capitalism are rivals, it is anti-imperialist to cover up the crimes of the Chinese government. They don't realize that it is the solidarity of working people which is the only true anti-imperialist force, not siding with one capitalist power against another. Washing one's hands of what is being done to the Uighurs will, moreover, reinforce the hypocritical and oppressive "war on terror" that is not just used against Uighurs, but is a major weapon of imperialism around the world.
So it is important that, a couple of days ago, a radical group of scholars denounced the oppression of the Uighurs in an Open Letter opposing the Monthly Review's publication of a long article defending the Chinese government's activities in Xinjiang. (1) The Critical Chinese Scholars describe themselves as follows:
"We are scholars committed to advancing solidarity amidst mounting tensions between the US, China, and beyond that threaten to rip us apart. Our purpose is to investigate possibilities for radical, anti-capitalist political thinking and activism globally." (2)
The occasion for the Open Letter was the republication by the Monthly Review Online of a lengthy report by the Qiao Collective in Xinjiang. (3) It is a elaborate article, designed to impress, but length and detail don't guarantee accuracy. As the Critical China Scholars say:
"Qiao's 'report' is written in a style that is sadly all too common in leftist discussions of China today. While the report 'recognize[s] that there are aspects of PRC policy in Xinjiang to critique,' it finds no room for any such critique in its 15,000 words. Eschewing serious analysis, it compiles select political and biographical facts to suggestively point at, but not articulate, the intended conclusion that claims of serious repression in Xinjiang can be dismissed.
"We wish it were the case that talk of internment camps was a myth, fabricated by the National Endowment for Democracy and the CIA. But it is not."
In this issue of the D/SWV list, we reproduce the Open Letter in full, as well as the Statement of Principles of the Critical China Scholars.
At the same time, we do not agree with every aspect of their views. We join with them in opposing capitalism, fighting against the promotion of hostility between the American and Chinese people, and in supporting the social movements in both countries; they "support the social movements in China, and ... stand in solidarity with political activists fighting for labor, gender, ethnic, religious, and environmental justice." (4) They recognize that "the revolutionary experience in China represents a mixed legacy", but they do not seem to recognize that a form of state capitalism has developed in China, and it is now one of the imperialist powers itself.
The background to why the Monthly Review washes its hands of the Uighurs is that it has a long history of apologizing for the crimes of state capitalism. It has differences with various practices of the Stalinist regimes, but it doesn't see that they represent something different from socialism. So it has published nostalgic material by Victor Grossman for the old East German regime. And its typical of its standpoint that its editor, John Bellamy Foster, in his book Marx's Ecology, glosses over the difference in the system of government between the Stalinist and Leninist periods of the Soviet Union, devoting a casual sentence to opposing some practices of Stalin. (5) The result has been that Monthly Review has found itself apologizing even for the Syrian and Iranian regimes.
The Critical China Scholars don't express any view about why the Monthly Review has blundered on the issue of the Uighurs. But we think that, nevertheless, their courageous Open Letter is a valuable contribution to discussion in the American left. Circulating it will not only help develop solidarity with the Uighurs and other Islamic peoples, but shed a bit of light on an important question of orientation faced by the working class and revolutionary movements around the world.
 See their Statement of Principles.
 See the section "Stalinist and state capitalist ecocide" in "A review of John Bellamy Foster's Marx's Ecology: Marx and Engels on protecting the environment". <>
Critical China Scholars, 19 October 2020
Dear friends at Monthly Review,
As scholars and activists committed to charting a course for an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist left in the midst of rising US-China tensions, we write in response to your recent republication of a "report and resource compilation" by the Qiao Collective on Xinjiang.
We fully acknowledge the need for a critique of America's cynical and self-interested attacks on China's domestic policies. We are committed to that task. But the left must draw a line at apologia for the campaign of harsh Islamophobic repression now taking place in Xinjiang.
Qiao's "report" is written in a style that is sadly all too common in leftist discussions of China today. While the report "recognize[s] that there are aspects of PRC policy in Xinjiang to critique," it finds no room for any such critique in its 15,000 words. Eschewing serious analysis, it compiles select political and biographical facts to suggestively point at, but not articulate, the intended conclusion - that claims of serious repression in Xinjiang can be dismissed.
We wish it were the case that talk of internment camps was a myth, fabricated by the National Endowment for Democracy and the CIA. But it is not. Problematic links do exist between individual activists and organisations and the American security state, and there have been errors and misattributions in reporting on Xinjiang. The applicability of terms such as "genocide" and "slavery" can be debated. But none of this should permit agnosticism, let alone denialism, towards what is clearly a shocking infringement on the rights of Xinjiang's native peoples.
Since 2016, Xinjiang has seen a massive expansion of its security
infrastructure, featuring a network of camps that mete out a punishing
program of political indoctrination, compulsory language drills, and
workhouse-style "vocational" training. Internees range from party
members deemed disloyal, intellectuals and artists whose work has
sustained the distinct non-Chinese cultural identities of the region,
through to those thought to display signs of excessive piety. In the
same period Xinjiang has seen a surge in incarcerations, with Muslim Uyghurs imprisoned for as a little as encouraging their peers to observe their faith.
Others, meanwhile, have been sent to the Chinese interior, as part of
non-voluntary labor programs designed to instill factory discipline
into Xinjiang's rural population. In some cases, these workers have
been sent to factories linked to the supply chains of Western corporations.
Families inside Xinjiang have been torn apart, with some 40% of school-age children now enrolled in boarding schools, and many growing up in state orphanages. Outside China, Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and others live with the trauma of not knowing the fate of their relatives.
While elements of these policies call to mind the excesses of past ideological campaigns in China, they occur today in new conditions of rapid capitalist development in Xinjiang, intended to turn the region into an economic hub of Central Asia. The link here between capitalist expansion and the oppression of indigenous communities is one the left has long been familiar with. To fail to recognise and critique these dynamics in this case is a form of wilful blindness.
There are various ways in which the politics of the Qiao Collective abandons what should be key principles of an internationalist left today, but we wish to highlight one in particular: their treatment of the issue of "counterterrorism."
Qiao would have us believe that the PRC's "deradicalization" campaign stands in "stark contrast" to American policies in the War on Terror. On the contrary, China's deradicalization discourse represents a deliberate appropriation of Western counterterror practices. In his speeches, China's President Xi Jinping himself encouraged officials to adapt elements of the Western-led War on Terror since 9/11.
The authors of the report are aware of these precedents, citing Western policies to preemptively identify those "at risk" of radicalization and intervene. They make note of France's highly intrusive deradicalisation policies, as well as Britain's Desistance and Disengagement Programme, part of the notorious Prevent Strategy. (To this list we could of course add the abuses of counterterror policing in the US, Australia, and elsewhere). Astonishingly, though, they cite these policing techniques not to criticize them, but simply to accuse the West of double standards: China, they complain, has received a level of criticism that these European governments have not.
This is entirely disingenuous on Qiao's part, a deflection worthy of the Chinese state media that they frequently cite. The left, along with Muslim advocacy groups, have long called for an end to these Islamophobic policies, resting as they do on a bogus association of Islamic piety and/or anti-imperialist views with a proclivity to anti-social violence (see here for a recent example of such a call). Would Qiao then be happy for China to receive only the same level of criticism, and face these same calls?
Judging from their report, they would not. The entire thrust of their report is instead to normalize harmful paradigms of "deradicalisation" and "counter-extremism" as an acceptable basis for a state to engage its Muslim citizenry.
Qiao is evidently impressed by the fact that "Muslim-majority nations and/or nations that have waged campaigns against extremism on their own soil" stand in support of China at the United Nations. We are not so impressed. These local "campaigns against extremism" have replicated the worst violations of America's War on Terror, and often in collaboration with it.
One example Qiao gives here is Nigeria, whose counterterrorism Joint Task Force was accused by Amnesty International in 2011 of engaging in "unlawful killings, dragnet arrests, arbitrary and unlawful detentions, extortion and intimidation." Another is Pakistan, which the US commander-in-chief in Afghanistan once praised as a "a great ally on the war on terror," and whose air and ground forces are responsible for serial abuses against civilian populations.
The incidents of violence against ordinary Chinese citizens that Qiao cites should of course not be dismissed: we must criticize those who engage in terrorism, while at the same time recognizing the social conditions that produce it, and pointing to the need for political solutions.
Qiao, by contrast, directs us toward the murky world of "terror-watching" punditry that has arisen in symbiosis with the two-decade-long Global War on Terror, and has provided justifications for that state violence. One of the authorities they cite on terrorism in Xinjiang is Rohan Gunaratna, a discredited figure who made his name in the 2000s urging America and its allies to invade Muslim-majority countries and enact repressive security laws at home. If Gunaratna and his ilk are our friends, the left will have no need of enemies.
Uncritically invoking China's "terrorism problem," and downplaying the severity of Beijing's response to it, paints a left-wing fašade on a global discourse of counterterrorism that poses a threat to Muslim communities everywhere. The struggle against anti-Muslim racism and the devastating effects of the ongoing War on Terror is international, and our solidarity in that struggle must extend to its victims in China.
For these reasons, we find it regrettable that you have chosen to give wider audience to the Qiao Collective's "report and resource compilation." In recognition of the existence of alternative perspectives on the left, and in the interest of debate, we hope you will also publish this letter alongside it.
We look forward to future opportunities to collaborate on critical
left analysis regarding China and the US-China conflict, and we hope
you will contact us whenever we can be of assistance. To find out more
about the Critical China Scholars and our activities, please see our website], which includes video recordings of past webinars.
[The list of signers can be found at https://www.criticalchinascholars.org/interventions/]. <>
Tensions are mounting between the United States, China, and the world. Critical China scholars have an increasingly important role to play in analyzing this phenomenon. There are many who write from a left position, and we share many of their concerns. In the spirit of solidarity, we seek to add our voices as academics who have long engaged with China and Chinese people. We are committed to the following principles:
We reject all pressure to support the nationalist agenda of any state, and we especially reject ethno-nationalism wherever it appears.
Our loyalty is not to any state but to the cause of human wellbeing and environmental sustainability, and our responsibility is to offer analysis and to expose the causes of injustice wherever they appear.
We recognize that the roots and causes of injustice in our world lie in political and economic systems—including capitalism, authoritarianism, imperialism, racism, and patriarchy—that transcend national boundaries. These systems historically have shaped the world we now inhabit.
We oppose the dangerous rhetoric that demonizes the PRC and its citizens, and subjects those of Asian appearance to racist prejudice. At the same time, we recognize the justice of movements that resist oppression by the Chinese state, and we stand in solidarity with political activists fighting for labor, gender, ethnic, religious, and environmental justice. We refuse to allow one priority to outweigh the other.
Equally, we oppose the PRC's dangerous tendency to stigmatize people in China with foreign connections, and we are particularly aware of how the state uses the charge of "foreign ties" to demonize those critical of its policies.
The revolutionary experience in China represents a mixed legacy. We are committed to a critical lens that accounts for the diverse effects and legacies of China’s modern revolutionary history in the areas of economic justice, political freedom, social organization, and environmental sustainability.
Based on these principles, we are scholars committed to working in
solidarity with others, against the tensions that threaten to rip us
apart, to investigate the conditions of possibility for radical
political thinking and activism. We aim to be a critical resource for
activists developing their own projects that address these structural
conflicts, rather than giving in to the racism and nationalism that
discourage us from seeing systems that oppress us all.<>
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