On Tuesday 5 May the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign will coordinate a second wave of online protests against high-street companies whose suppliers used forced Uyghur labour in China. For those who don’t know, the Uyghurs are an ethnic group whose nation, East Turkestan, is held under Chinese control and ruled as ‘Xinjiang’ province (literally ‘New Frontier’).
Last time the target of the protests was Apple – this time, Gap.
5 May is Karl Marx’s birthday (he would have been 202). If Marx was still around he would certainly have supported the Uyghur solidarity movement, for at least five reasons.
1. Marx opposed tyranny and supported democracy. Throughout his political life he was a strong opponent of all dictatorships and tyrannies, and a supporter of radical, consistent democracy. When he became a revolutionary socialist that stance extended and deepened. Marx's close comrade Friedrich Engels described the basis of the revolution they fought for as “the explosive force of democratic ideas and man's native thirst for freedom”. They would have loathed China’s “communist” autocracy and its oppression of the people.
2. Above all, Marx supported freedom for workers. He would have denounced the denial of workers’ rights and suppression of workers’ organisations in China, and boiled with rage at the use of Uyghur slave labour to produce profits for capitalism – just as he raged and rushed into action to help destroy African slavery in the United States.
3. Marx opposed colonialism and imperialism. Early in his development as a socialist he was somewhat ambivalent about colonialism, seeing it as bringing potential economic and social progress. He quickly changed his position, becoming a staunch supporter of anti-colonial movements and people’s right to live free from foreign domination (including, at that time, the Chinese struggle). The people of East Turkestan must have that right.
4. Marx opposed anti-Muslim prejudice and bigotry. He was a militant materialist and atheist. Yet in the 1850s, as the Russian and Ottoman empires clashed and manoeuvred in Eastern Europe, he strongly attacked the idea that Islam was inherently more backward than Christianity and “could not exist in civilised states”. He supported freedom of religion. Contrast the attitude of the Chinese regime (and not just the Chinese regime).
5. Marx was an internationalist. He had no time for the idea that left-wingers should only criticise and oppose human rights abuses by “their own” governments, or by Western powers. He was committed and sought to contribute to the fight for human rights, democracy and workers’ liberty everywhere in the world.
Karl Marx would have rallied to the Uyghur cause and denounced the vile tyranny that oppresses the Uyghurs, all the peoples of China and many others in the name of “Marxism” and “communism”. On his birthday, join the protest to demand an end to forced labour and freedom for the Uyghurs.
“Workers of all countries, unite!”