In the last article in this series we detailed the cruelty and inefficiency that characterised the anachronistic feudal Tibetan regime at the time of the Chinese Revolution. The inefficiency of the system meant that Tibet could not produce nearly enough of the necessaries of life to meet the needs of the masses of Tibetan serfs and slaves, who formed 90% of the Tibetan population. Ideological control through religion was not enough on its own to suppress the resistance of the masses to their intolerable conditions of life, so the exploited majority were held in check by the practice of unspeakable cruelty to terrorise them into submission.
Following the Chinese Revolution in 1949, the communist Chinese government faced opposition, as might be expected, from the Tibetan ruling elite whose interest in maintaining Tibet’s antiquated system was irreconcilably opposed to the mission of the Chinese Revolution to put an end to all exploitation and oppression in China. Antagonistic social contradictions can only be resolved by force – actual or potential. The Tibetan ruling elite tried to use force to keep the Chinese communist government out of Tibet, even though the latter had been an integral part of China for centuries. The Tibetan army was mustered to confront the People’s Liberation Army at Chamdo in 1950 in a last-ditch effort to keep the winds of modernisation and change away from that area. This army was ignominiously defeated. The Tibetan ruling elite had no option but to parley.
The Chinese central government was prepared to delay a final showdown with the Tibetan regime to allow the situation to develop in favour of developing the conditions which alone could secure the successful building of socialism in Tibet. Prior to the Revolution the whole area had been isolated from the rest of China by reason of its difficult terrain and absence of roads, so the oppressed masses had no knowledge and understanding of communism. They were 90% illiterate and lacked the skills needed to take over the management of their society from the Tibetan nobility (lay and monastic). Time was needed to change this situation.
Hence the peace agreement signed in the spring of 1951 between the Tibetan rulers on the one hand and the Chinese government on the other left Tibetan feudalism intact for the time being. Clause 4 of this agreement specifically provided:
The central authorities will not alter the existing political system in Tibet. The central authorities also will not alter the established status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama. Officials of various ranks shall hold office as usual.”
People who imagine that communism can simply be imposed by decree would no doubt denounce this agreement as a ‘mistake’ or even a ‘sell-out’ by the Chinese government of the interests of the downtrodden Tibetan masses, failing to see the provisions in this agreement which facilitated not only the overthrow of the system of exploitation but also its replacement by socialism managed and administered by the local people themselves.
The Tibetan ruling elite recognised the Chinese central government. It undertook to “
actively assist the PLA to enter Tibet and consolidate the national defences
“. It recognised the right of the central government to “
set up a military area headquarters in Tibet, and … absorb as many local Tibetan personnel as possible to take part in that work
” (clause 15).
And clause 11 provided that while as regards “
matters related to various reforms in Tibet, there will be no compulsion on the part of the central authorities
,” nevertheless the “
Local Government of Tibet should carry out reforms on its own accord, and when the people raise demands for reform, they shall be settled by means of consultation with the leading personnel of Tibet
In other words, the agreement, while on the face of it changing nothing, in fact secured a degree of compliance on the part of the local powers to the opening up of Tibet to the modernising influences of new China.
The central government was able to set in motion the process of introducing the Tibetan masses to the modern world and training of the local personnel who would be needed to administer local affairs efficiently and provide other services essential for the well-being of local people – doctors, nurses, teachers, agronomists, engineers, etc.
Between 1954 and 1957, three great highways were built uniting Tibet with Szechuan, Chinghai and Sinkiang Provinces. This road building provided jobs to Tibetan people. These jobs, both on the roads and in the new factory where the necessary concrete and cement was manufactured, provided a proletarian livelihood for people who were thus able to escape the confines of feudal oppression. Likewise, power plants were installed to bring electricity to Tibet for the first time. Seed grain was provided to peasants on an interest-free basis, thus simultaneously helping the peasants, improving the crop and undermining the usurious interest extorted by the nobility and the monasteries in their moneylending activities.
All these measures helped to win the masses for socialism.
The Tibetan authorities, as might be expected, did everything possible to hinder the central government’s efforts to improve the lives of ordinary people. They moved to try to prevent land being purchased by the government for provision of food to the PLA or for experimental farms on which to test better and more varied crops for their suitability to local conditions. The reactionaries mounted a campaign of anti-Han chauvinism. They claimed that the iron ploughs supplied by the central government to take the place of the traditional, and relatively very inefficient wooden ploughs, ‘poisoned the soil’, and they discouraged use of hospitals by claiming that ‘the Hans’ were killing people there. It has to be admitted that the impact of this rabid anti-communist propaganda was rather spoilt by the sight of queues of monks forming at the hospital in search of treatment.
Faced with the prospect of feudalism’s inevitable downfall, all those whose wealth and power depended on it became more and more ‘critical’ of the central government. In this they had the covert backing of US imperialism, which had long cherished the hope of putting down a foothold in such an important strategic position, between India and China, as is Tibet. The CIA had been, since the mid-1950s, active in putting together a counter-revolutionary army in Tibet, made up of Tibetan mercentaries trained at Camp Hale in Colorado. These mercenaries were parachuted into Tibet. Pentagon papers reveal that there were at least 700 flights to Tibet dropping off mercenaries during the 1950s.
Emboldened by their faith in US backing, the reactionaries began to organise acts of rebellion. In 1953 a noble called Lokongwa led a demand that the PLA and all Hans be expelled from Tibet. At the time all that happened was that the Dalai Lama had Lokongwa expelled from the country. He went to India where he became a focus for those planning to foment unrest in Tibet against the central government – including, above all, US imperialism.
There was another easily suppressed rebellion in Kanting in 1955-1956 and another in Chinha and Kansu in 1958, the aim of which was to oppose an agreed democratic reform which had reduced the excessive land rents and usury charged by the monasteries and removed the monasteries’ right to maintain courts and jails. Needless to say, this rebellion had little support.
On 10 March 1959, the Tibetan reactionaries, armed with American weapons airlifted in for them by Chiang Kai Shek, mounted a major armed rebellion, led by four of the six members of the Tibetan Local Government, the
. The rebel forces marched into Lhasa, murdering or maiming anyone they could find who was known to favour co-operation with the central government. The PLA did not immediately confront the rebel forces, but instead withdrew to barracks along with their Tibetan employees and their families. They remained in barracks for 10 days before coming out to defeat the foe. Anna Louise Strong, visiting Tibet a few years later, asked what the reason had been for retreating in this way. She was told:
The ‘kasha’ was still the lawful government and the people of Lhasa had not yet taken sides. In such situations our strategy is always never to start or develop the fighting but let the enemy start it and continue it until it is fully clear to all people who are the aggressors and the destroyers of law. Then, when we counter attack, we have the people with us, their support shortens the fighting and lessens the casualties in the end. The rebels lost the people of Lhasa in those ten days
The PLA’s strategy paid off. As soon as they went on to the counter offensive, the rebels collapsed like a house of cards. A good proportion of the rebel forces turned out to be serfs who had been coerced or tricked by their masters into taking up arms, and were glad to surrender. Local Tibetan people hailed the PLA throughout the conflict by securing them supplies of food and helping carry equipment. As a result, Lhasa was cleared of rebel forces in 48 hours, and it took only a further two weeks to round up or rout the rebels in the surrounding countryside. Government policy was to spare the lives of all captured rebels, and this again speeded up the process of quelling the rebellion as following defeat rebels gave themselves up or were turned in by the people who might otherwise have hidden them.
In the meantime the Dalai Lama, the head of the Tibetan Local Government, had been spirited out of the country in the company of three of the four rebel kowloons (members of the kasha). There is some doubt as to whether or not he left voluntarily in view of the fact that while he was in Tibet he regularly, even somewhat exaggeratedly, sang the praises of China and Comrade Mao Tse-tung; moreover he had written letters before leaving for India which suggested that he had been detained by the kowloons against his will. With hindsight, however, one is inclined to think that this was all a smokescreen in case the attempt at escape was unsuccessful, for it later transpired that the Dalai Lama had some years previously organised the transfer to India of a vast treasure horde, with which he was reunited when he fled Tibet. Be that as it may, he soon became putty in the hands of the US imperialist propaganda machine.
The defeat of the rebellion in which the majority of the
had participated created the opportunity for introducing a new style of government into Tibet. On 28 March 1959, the State Council in Peking instructed the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region to take over the kasha’s powers. This Committee had been in existence since 1956 and had from the start been intended to exercise such powers once the Tibet Autonomous Region was formally established. Its chairman was in fact the Dalai Lama, and the Panchen Erdeni was its Vice President. Since the Dalai Lama was absent, the Panchen Erdeni took over as acting Chairman.
The first session of the Preparatory Committee took place on 8 April 1959 where the business of the day was formally to take power. The second session started on 28 June and continued until 17 July. During that time it proclaimed the various decrees that were to set in motion the process of democratic reform. Invited to observe at this session were hundreds of serfs delegated from the newly set up Peasants Associations. This made the session a truly historic occasion in Tibet for never before had it been known for serfs and nobility to sit down in the same room.
During the session, the Preparatory Committee agreed on ‘3 abolitions and 2 reductions’. The abolitions were: rebellion, forced labour and penal servitude. The reductions were of exorbitant land rents and interest.
The Peasant Associations were given power to enforce the various decrees. It was also agreed that Tibet’s new government would set about the compulsory purchase of the estates of all nobles and monasteries, which would be distributed among former serfs and slaves. The nobility and monasteries were, however, to be left with sufficient land and living accommodation to meet their personal needs.
The announcement of these measures had the people dancing on the streets of Lhasa.
By this time some 10,000 Tibetans had been trained in China for the tasks involved in implementing reforms and ensuring the success of the new society. Many of these now returned to Tibet to put their training into practice. The net effect of all these reforms was to smash feudalism in Tibet.
As a result, production levels in Tibet began to soar. Even in 1960 Tibet’s grain output had increased 12.6% over the previous year, while livestock increased 10%. Since then agriculture has continued to develop by leaps and bounds. By 1998 the combined output of agriculture and animal husbandry had increased by more than 30 times by comparison with 1959.
In addition to this, however, Tibet has developed a flourishing industrial sector, with plants for power generation, mining, cement manufacture, leather processing and the production of textiles and building materials. Before the Revolution, Tibet had hardly any industry at all to speak of.
Besides earning good wages that actually enable people not only to live reasonably well but also to set a little aside and build up savings, a healthier life style and new medical welfare system have combined to increase life expectancy from 36 years in 1950 to 67 today. Free education for all has also been established – in a country which before the Revolution had no schools at all. Education in Tibet today is free right up to and including the tertiary level.
For those in Tibet who are still religious, and there are many of these, there is full freedom of religious worship and observance. Holy places are maintained and improved by considerable expenditure of state funds. Of course, the religious authorities have no longer any part to play in the government of the region.
A tremendous impetus has been given since Liberation to the Tibetan language and culture. Tibetan is recognised as the Region’s first language and all official documentation has to be available in Tibetan. It is the sole medium of instruction in primary schools.
US imperialism would like to penetrate Tibet, both for the sake of annexing Tibet and for the sake of realising its cherished dream of gradually forcing China to submit to its diktat. Hence US imperialism is the staunch supporter of any cast off elements with a grudge to bear against the People’s Republic of China, and according to ex-CIA agent, Ralph McGehee, the CIA has stepped up its Tibetan contra operations in recent years. This is why the Dalai Lama and his followers are so feted in Washington, and why all of a sudden they have become headline news everywhere they go. Since so many people in Tibet are still religious, US imperialism has high hopes of using the Dalai Lama to destabilise Tibet. It hopes that religiously minded people in Tibet, who are otherwise more than happy with their situation, can be persuaded to rise against the ‘godless communists’ by virtue of the trust they have in their spiritual leader’s instructions. It is hard for some believers to accept that the Dalai Lama is just a man, not a god, and that he depends for his comfortable life on the US imperialists.
Workers in other countries should not fall for US imperialism’s ideological assault on Tibet and its assertion that its only interest is the struggle for democracy and freedom of conscience. There could be no greater nor more cynical travesty of the truth. Tibetan people today enjoy democracy. Not only do they choose their own representatives themselves, these representatives being overwhelmingly both Tibetans and former serfs or slaves, but in addition they have the right personally to involve themselves in various aspects of the government of the region. Is democracy likely to increase if the government of Tibet were to fall into the hands of US stooges – such as, for instance, General Pinochet of Chile or General Wiranto of Indonesia? Hardly! And is freedom of religion likely to be enhanced if, under the aegis of a stooge government, religion once again becomes an instrument for securing the acceptance by the masses of the injustices inherent in their exploited and oppressed status? It goes without saying that this would certainly not be the case.
On this and every other question our attitude to US imperialism and any other imperialist power should be: keep your filthy snouts out of it. If the people do have any problems, let them sort them out. Help from imperialism does not lead to any improvement in the lives of the masses but only to the destruction of all peace, happiness and prosperity that they hitherto enjoyed.