The Socialist Action group has republished an article by Max Blumenthal, a US “left-wing” conspiracy theorist and apologist for Stalinism, seeking to undermine the idea the Chinese state is committing human rights abuses against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang/East Turkestan. They praise Blumenthal and his article in an introductory article which is itself quite extensive.
Socialist Action is small but has a certain influence in the Labour left. It is also well-entrenched in the offices of various influential people. Its origins are Trotskyist but nowadays its politics are crudely Stalinist. In particular it is enthusiastically supportive of the Chinese government, as a quick glance around its website makes clear.
Blumenthal’s attempts to “prove” there is no evidence for large-scale internment of Uyghurs in camps have already been comprehensively demolished. His arguments are largely composed of an ad hominem attack on one of the many researchers who has investigated the issue, Adrian Zenz. Zenz is a reactionary bigot and an enemy of the left, but that in itself doesn't discredit the verifiable evidence he has brought to light, much of it based on the Chinese government's own figures. For a concise rebuttal see here. For more, listen to this very good podcast on the Uyghurs and see the comments underneath it.
For a wide-ranging repository of evidence – including the Chinese state's own documents – demonstrating the persecution of Xinjiang's Turkic minorities, see the Xinjiang Documentation Project, run by scholars of the region.
Note that Blumenthal does not actually deny there is large-scale internment. He repeats the word “millions” several times to give himself a vague, high-sounding target to shoot down. There is inevitably a certain amount of guess-work involved, but estimates that seem careful and cautious suggest at least many hundreds of thousands, in the direction of a million.
For the sake of argument, let us assume that the number is “only” one hundred thousand. Scaled up to the population of the UK, even that dramatic under-estimate would be the equivalent of half a million interned! (The UK's swollen prison population is currently about 80,000.)
Even more breathtaking is Socialist Action’s claim about Uyghur population growth. SA cite the fact the Uyghur population grew 110% between 1978 and 2018, while the total population of China grew 46%, to prove there is no problem.
This is blatant “cooking the books”: though discrimination and repression have been ongoing for decades, the current ultra-repressive regime in Xinjiang only began in 2014. The Chinese state's own statistics show a dramatic drop in birthrates in Uyghur-majority areas since 2015 and particularly 2016. See the first graph on the Associated Press site here and below - sourced from official statistics.
Associated Press comments: "Birth rates in the mostly Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar plunged by more than 60% from 2015 to 2018, the latest year available in government statistics. Across the Xinjiang region, birth rates continue to plummet, falling nearly 24% last year alone — compared to just 4.2% nationwide... [This] has transformed Xinjiang from one of China’s fastest-growing regions to among its slowest in just a few years".
China previously had one-child policy which did not apply to the Uyghurs and other minorities, who were allowed two. But: the policy is now two children across the board; regardless of the theoretical right to have two children, since 2014 various measures have been implemented to suppress the Uyghur birth-rate; and the state has been actively promoting Han Chinese immigration into Xinjiang to alter the population balance. Having long been a very substantial majority in their homeland, the Uyghurs are already barely a majority at all.
SA’s depiction of what is going on is staggeringly misleading and dishonest. They seem to suggest that, because the Chinese state's actions in Xinjiang are different from what the Nazis did to the Jews, the situation must be fine. This is really beneath contempt.
Neither SA nor Blumenthal say anything about the various other forms of oppression the Uyghurs as individuals and as a people are suffering.
There is a particular irony here because Socialist Action typically present themselves as the best fighters against Islamophobia or anti-Muslim bigotry. On this basis, they oppose any criticism of reactionary political Islam – as long it is in conflict with Western powers. When an “anti-imperialist” (read: anti-Western) or “socialist” (read: Stalinist) power is involved, they support brutal suppression of Muslims. They are seeking to cover up the oppression of the Uyghurs just as they covered for the Soviet Union’s suppression of the Afghan peoples in the 1980s and the Serb nationalists’ suppression of the Bosnian Muslims in the ’90s.
The wider and essential political point is that for real socialists and internationalists it is possible and necessary to oppose domestic oppression and international sabre-rattling and aggression by the US, Britain, etc and by China. Our opposition to conflict between the Western powers and China should be founded on solidarity with struggles against oppression and exploitation in every country – including in China.
Socialist Action, and other apologists for the Chinese state like the Morning Star, are truly disgracing the left.