Since 10 March, Tibet has been convulsed by protests against Chinese rule. The arrest of a small group of monks attempting to demonstrate on the site of a failed 1959 uprising against China has led to protests by many thousands of Tibetans, and a major crack down by China's Stalinist-colonial regime.
On 17 March, thousands of paramilitary police were massing in the capital Lhasa and other areas of unrest ahead of an ultimatum for protesters to hand themselves in or face "severe punishment" - but the arrests had already begun. Hong Kong journalists were ordered to leave Lhasa, and foreign reporters have been expelled even from Tibetan areas of China's other central Asian provinces. Already the government has killed dozens of people (13 according to its figures, about a hundred according to Tibetan exiles). We have every reason to fear that China is preparing for a massacre, particularly given its brutal record in Tibet.
Socialists have no regret whatsoever for the feudal, theocratic Tibetan society which the Chinese occupation destroyed. We hold no brief for the Dalai Lama's government in exile. What we do believe is that the Tibetan people have a right to self-determination, to determine their future free from foreign control. That is the only basis on which any meaningful democracy is possible, and on which the class struggle in Tibet can develop freely.
Self-determination means the withdrawal of Chinese forces from Tibet, real autonomy - and independence if a majority want it. It means solidarity with the protesters who have ignored the pacificistic dogmas of "their" religious leaders in order to bravely rise up against Chinese rule.
Some on the British left will hesitate to support the Tibetans, caught in a world view in which China, if not quite socialist, is at least a progressive alternative to US imperialism. It is the duty of socialists worthy of the name to expose the Chinese regime for what it is: a brutal imperialist power whose ferocity against its colonial subjects is matched only by its hyper-exploitation of the working class at home.
In 1917, when the Russian workers overthrew the Czarist autocracy, they smashed the walls within which Czarism had imprisoned tens of millions of oppressed people, and inscribed the right to national self-determination on their banner. The Chinese working class will never be able to take power unless it opposes its ruling class' imperialism and champions the liberation of the nations oppressed by it.
Stop China's oppression! Free Tibet! Back the workers and oppressed against the Stalinist regime!
For debate on Tibet, see the Socialist Unity blog.