Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 15, 2018

A reply to Ben Norton and Ajit Singh’s hatchet job on the Uyghurs

Filed under: journalism,Uyghur — louisproyect @ 8:27 pm

Ben Norton


Ajit Singh

An August, 2018 article by Ben Norton and Ajit Singh on the Grayzone Project defended the Chinese government against charges that it had put a million Uyghurs into detention camps. If this suggests that these people had plummeted to new depths, it can at least be stated that they didn’t fall too far. In Dantean terms, they were about 3 inches above the Ninth Circle.

Norton, of course, is familiar to one and all as the journalist who scrubbed his website of all anti-Assad articles once he made a Road to Damascus conversion lubricated by jobs with Salon and then Alternet that were peddling the standard pro-Assad propaganda found on the liberal left.

Ajit Singh was a new name to me. A brief look at an article he wrote for Telesur should give you an idea of his perspective on China:

While capitalists exist in China today, unlike in capitalist societies, they are isolated and not organized in pursuit of their collective interests. Instead, they exist under the rule of the socialist state to aid national economic development. Capitalists transgressing their boundaries are swiftly dealt with by the Communist Party and the Chinese people. An annual list of China’s richest citizens is commonly called the “death list” or “kill pigs list” because those named often are later imprisoned. Capitalists also regularly get taken hostage by workers to win labor victories with police actively assisting workers.

When I read this, I laughed so hard that the ginger ale I was drinking squirted out of my nose. The only people who write such nonsense tend to occupy the netherworld of old-school Stalinism, like the theologian Roland Boer in Australia. Most people on the left tend to identify with the young Maoist students who are facing repression for standing up for the working class in China while Singh and Norton would have you believe that the country’s government is wisely and benignly committed to the construction of socialism even though Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba, is a member of the CP and worth a cool $40 billion.

The net worth of China’s Parliament’s members is $650 billion. Although the Parliament has very little political power, it is good place for the rich to join. In combination with their party membership, rich businessmen are offered protection against arbitrary measures on their property—not that Xi Jingping is interested in clipping the wings of the bourgeoisie.

In an effort to debunk the notion that Uyghurs are being interned, the Grayzone authors “correct” the impression that the U.N. has taken such a position when it was only that of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination whose members are independent researchers rather than UN officials, a distinction without a difference in my view. An August report by the committee provided the basis for numerous media articles, including one from Reuters that Norton and Singh singled out:

Gay McDougall, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, cited estimates that 2 million Uyghurs and Muslim minorities were forced into “political camps for indoctrination” in the western Xinjiang autonomous region.

Ah-ha, Norton and Singh exclaim like detectives finding a smoking gun, Gay McDougall is not even a member of the U.N., as is the case with all other members of the committee who are only identified as independent experts. In addition, she is the only American serving on the committee, which in their eyes should make her a liar on a prima facie basis. Finally, a look at the official news release about the report showed that the only mention of alleged re-education “camps” was from Gay McDougall. So if an American raises a stink about internment, it must be false, right?

In a sleight-of-hand maneuver, the Grayzone boys do not provide a link to the committee’s reaction to the Chinese government’s report that cleared itself, only to a press release that reflects a range of views. So let’s go to what the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had to say about that self-serving report rather than the press release. This comprehensive 12-page rebuttal was not written by Gay McDougall. Instead, it represented a consensus by the membership that hardly conforms to the cheesy pro-Beijing propaganda served up by Grayzone:

The Committee notes the delegation’s statements concerning the non-discriminatory enjoyment of freedoms and rights in XUAR. However, the Committee is alarmed by:

(a) Numerous reports of detention of large numbers of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities held incommunicado and often for long periods, without being charged or tried, under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism. The Committee regrets that there is no official data on how many people are in long-term detention or who have been forced to spend varying periods in political “re-education camps” for even nonthreatening expressions of Muslim ethno-religious culture like daily greetings. Estimates about them range from tens of thousands to upwards of a million. The Committee also notes that the delegation stated that vocational training centres exist for people who committed minor offences without qualifying what this means;

(b) Reports of mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uyghurs, including through frequent baseless police stops and the scanning of mobile phones at police checkpoint stations. Additional reports of mandatory collection of extensive biometric data in XUAR, including DNA samples and iris scans, of large groups of Uyghur residents

(c) Reports that all XUAR residents are required to hand in their travel documents to police and apply for permission to leave the country, and that permission may not come for years. This restriction impacts most heavily on those who wish to travel for religious purposes;

(d) Reports that many Uyghurs abroad who left China have allegedly been returned to the country against their will. There are fears about the current safety of those involuntarily returned to China.

(e) While acknowledging the State party’s denials, the Committee takes note of reports that Uyghur language education has been banned in schools in XUAR’s Hotan (Hetian) prefecture(arts. 2 and 5).

One assumes that if the Committee describes itself as being “upset” about such reports, that’s enough to discount the claims in Norton and Singh’s eyes. After all, with all those reports being “fake news” as Donald Trump would put it, who would believe them except those in cahoots with the CIA, the State Department and the NY Times op-ed page?

To drive this point home, they discredit pro-Uyghur NGO’s because they are funded by the West. This, needless to say, is the same stance they take with the White Helmets and obviously a function of Grayzone’s toxic mixture of Stalinism and Islamophobia. The first group they “expose” is the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), which by virtue being located in Washington is all the proof you need to dismiss its findings. Would it have made any difference if the group was based in London, Paris or Bonn? Probably not. The only legitimate locales would be Tehran, Damascus, Moscow and Beijing. Obviously.

If that wasn’t proof enough, the circumstantial evidence of being funded by the National Endowment for Democracy should have cinched it. Everybody knows that the NED is a big-time supporter of regime change.

Things get a bit messy, however, when you visit the NED website and discover that it is funding “civil society” groups in Myanmar and the Philippines. Among its beneficiaries is the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), which has been in the frontlines opposing the authoritarian ruler’s extrajudicial war on drugs that has left hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent civilians murdered by the cops. Is opposing Duterte serving the imperialist agenda of Washington? Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Norton and Singh making the case for Duterte since he has cozied up to the wise and benign socialist leadership in China. Rappler.com, a Philippine website that has been threatened by Duterte and defended by the PCIJ, posted an article about the growing ties:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping decided to “elevate” their countries’ ties into a “comprehensive strategic cooperation” even as they “continue to manage contentious issues” in the West Philippine Sea.

In a joint press conference, Xi said, “The President and I both agreed to elevate our relationship into one of comprehensive strategic cooperation. This vision charts a clear course for China-Philippines relations and sends a strong message to the world that our two countries are partners in seeking common development.”

Xi also agreed with Duterte that “every country has the right to choose its path.”

So, surely this must mean that Duterte is on the side of the angels and certainly eligible for an investigative report by Grayzone clearing his name. In fact, Norton has been in a discussion with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about doing a Grayzone interview with the creep who invited David Duke to Tehran for a holocaust revisionism conference, as well as jailing and torturing bus drivers for the offense of trying to start a union.

This reprehensible CHRD is in cahoots not only with the NED but with Radio Free Asia. However, these warmongering ne’er-do-wells are in turn heavily reliant on the World Uyghur Congress, which also receives NED funding.

At an NED conference in Washington, intrepid Grayzone leader Max Blumenthal cornered Omer Kanat, the Uyghur Congress chairman, to challenge him on the claim of Uyghurs being held in detention camps. Kanat told him that “The Chinese authorities have put more than one million Uyghurs in re-education camps, it is very similar to concentration camps.” Using the standard operating procedure of Grayzone, Blumenthal dismissed this claim because it emanates exclusively from pro-Western media.

So, who to believe? I would tend to believe David Brophy, a University of Sydney lecturer in Chinese history who is fluent in Chinese, Russian and Uyghur, a Turkic language that I can decipher very haltingly . I strongly recommend his “Uyghur Nation: Reform and Revolution on the Russia-China Frontier” for its findings that establish the Uyghurs as enthusiastic supporters of the Russian Revolution in 1917, who got short shrift by both the Russian and Chinese Stalinists who replicated the colonialism of the pre-revolutionary regimes.

In an article for Jacobin, Brophy referred to a NY Times Op-Ed piece that sought to establish the existence of detention camps on hard evidence. From the op-ed:

A new study by Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, in Korntal, Germany, analyzed government ads inviting tenders for various contracts concerning re-education facilities in more than 40 localities across Xinjiang, offering a glimpse of the vast bureaucratic, human and financial resources the state dedicates to this detention network. The report reveals the state’s push to build camps in every corner of the region since 2016, at a cost so far of more than 680 million yuan (over $107 million).

A bid invitation appears to have been posted on April 27 — a sign that more camps are being built. These calls for tenders refer to compounds of up to 880,000 square feet, some with quarters for People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary security force. Local governments are also placing ads to recruit camp staff with expertise in criminal psychology or a background in the military or the police force.

Brophy adds his own observations drawn from visits to Xinjiang:

The camps are only the culmination of a series of repressive policy innovationsintroduced by party secretary Chen Quanguo since his arrival in Xinjiang in 2016. Many of these were already evident on a trip I made to Xinjiang last year: police stations at every major intersection, ubiquitous checkpoints where Chinese sail through as Uyghurs line up for humiliating inspections, elderly men and women trudging through the streets on anti-terror drills, television and radio broadcasts haranguing the Uyghurs to love the party and blame themselves for their second-class status.

I saw machine gun-toting police stop young Uyghur men on the street to check their phones for mandatory government spyware. Some have simply ditched their smartphones, lest an “extremist” video clip or text message land them in prison. On a weekday in the Uyghur center of Kashgar, I stood and watched as the city went into lockdown, making way for divisions of PLA soldiers to march by, chanting out their determination to maintain “stability.”

One might wait in vain for Norton, Singh or Blumenthal to visit China and do an investigate report clearing the “socialist” government. However, I doubt this would be of much interest to them since most of their reporting consists of researching ties between the Uyghurs and Washington that they assemble from various websites. In the old days, radical reporting is what John Reed did or what Anand Gopal does today. These jerks have more in common with Vanessa Beeley. If they ever made it over to China, their time would be spent in 3-star hotels and being led around by the nose as embedded reporters.




  1. Ajit Singh: “Capitalists transgressing their boundaries are swiftly dealt with by the Communist Party and the Chinese people.”

    From a report by Business Insider: “There are a whopping 59 billionaires in the party’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The CPPCC includes entrepreneurs, academics, and even celebrities, who advise the government and legislative arms. […]

    “Their total net worth amounts to $624 billion. That’s more than double Ireland’s GDP, and more than three times that of New Zealand’s. […]

    “The billionaires includes the founder of one of China’s biggest online retailers JD.com, the CEO of smartphone maker Xiaomi, and the CEO of search giant Baidu. Also included in the National People’s Congress is the country’s richest man, Pony’ Ma, the CEO of Tencent, who is worth $47 billion.”
    [Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/billionaires-in-china-xi-jinping-parliament-income-inequality-2018-3%5D

    Clearly these billionaires ‘transgressing their boundaries’ are NOT ‘dealt with by the Communist Party and the Chinese people.” Unless, of course, “dealt with” means getting high level positions in the Chinese Communist Party’s TOP ADVISORY BODY!

    Comment by Reza — December 15, 2018 @ 8:58 pm

  2. Blaming the victims has been the hallmark of politics devoid of class analysis since the end of the Cold War. 20 years ago it was a hatchet job on the Chechens. Then the Georgians. Then the Ukranians. Then there were the Tibetans. These latest atrocities against the Uyghurs fall into the same category. It’s disgusting.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 15, 2018 @ 11:39 pm

  3. “isolated and not organized in pursuit of their collective interests”

    I was going to say that the Big Lie is not dead, but a look at the history of that term makes one not wish to use it. Still, a lie–outright, whopping, astonishing, and incredible.

    Is someone in the pay of the Chinese government? If not, what earthly incentive do these people have to publish such a transparent falsehood?

    We know that the likes of John Wight and Mike Whitney are in the pay of the Russians. The likes of Butina are a bridge beyond–actual Russian agents working in the U.S., also apparently with more smoke and fire than we might have thought at first–but this much is obvious. By definition anyone publishing on RT or (god help us) Sputnik News is getting paid by Guess Who.

    The Chinese connection remains unexplored, perhaps because as far as anyone knows, there are no Chinese agents trying to influence U.S. elections at the moment.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — December 17, 2018 @ 3:23 pm

  4. Ben Norton was pretty pro Duterte until there was a crackdown on the NPA about a year ago.Even now, the nominal Left opposition to Duterte only comes from his friendship with Trump, which makes him ‘pro US’. Almost no one cares about the 10,000’s he has paid to have murdered.

    Comment by bill — December 19, 2018 @ 7:47 am

  5. Blumenthal’s family has deep ties with the US ruling class. I have long suspected that he has an agenda quite different than what is on the surface. Kind of like an octopus that squirts ink. Norton perhaps is the same with a similar background.

    Comment by bill — December 19, 2018 @ 7:49 am

  6. “deep ties with the US ruling class”

    I’m no fan of young Blumenthal as he now is–Louis has documented all the very good reasons for this since Blumenthal’s lawsuit threat against the SPLC in the spring–but “deep ties” etc. is meaningless guilt by association unless supported by clear evidence of specific acts. We should try to think more clearly than the other side unless all we want is to be cheerleaders.

    Yes, Sidney Blumenthal was/is a close associate of both Clintons, but where is the pro-Russian conspiracy featuring Sidney and son? It isn’t necessary to invent this.

    Some of the problem with Blumenthal the Younger is probably down to the simple difficulty of getting paid to do the kind of writing on which he made his reputation. How many books and articles (ferociously) attacking the predations of Israel can you publish once the royalties taper off?

    A certain Wm Moran II, the attorney for Blumenthal in the SPLC matter–and a Founding Partner of a Maryland law firm at an age when AFAIK many attorneys at white shoe firms are still mere associates–was briefly an editor (I believe) for Sputnik News, and stated once as I recall that during his tenure there nobody tried to steer him into a pro-Russia party line. I think that might very well be the simple truth.

    RT/Sputnik etc. apparently pay, or used to pay their writers and editors. That alone may be enough in today’s throttled gig economy to influence them without some Propaganda Minister directing their output minutely, especially when–as Louis has pointed out–the writers themselves, at least in Blumenthal’s case, have never shown any hint of a clear left class outlook to begin with. Lacking a solid foundation, their radicalism evaporates when they collide with economic reality–no conspiracy required.

    (We have to add that what the Russians find politically useful in the U.S. need not necessarily embody the principles of A. Dugin. It only has to weaken the U.S. as the Russian see that from their own imperialist perspective.)

    Norton, a former ISO member and an unquestioned adept in what you might call the “social dialectic”–i.e. the kind of Marxism that sounds good at a drinks party, which can also look pretty good on paper–is a bit of a different case. But nobody has yet shown that the ability to sling dialectical BS and Bolshevik history proves anything at all about the objective character of any self-anointed Marxist. Unfortunately, it’s a hat trick that some find it all too easy to master–genuine class outlook not required.

    Norton and Blumenthal are both accomplished writers in mid-career with long resumes who have swum against the ever dwindling revenue stream of professional journalism for a long time. How do you keep such careers afloat when there’s less and less money in your profession, especially in the Leftwing Radical divisions of the enterprise.

    I don’t say this to justify their common turn–I am completely with Louis on this–but I think it’s important to see the whole background and not turn these bad guys into comic-book villains, even if they are rats in the current situation.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — December 21, 2018 @ 4:21 pm

  7. Footnote–since the Clintons are the Devil to the Putinolaters, it’s a bit ridiculous to suppose that the “ruling class ties” of Sid Blumenthal turn into a pro-Putin conspiracy when that is required to score a polemical point on the Urepentant Marxist blog. Illustrates the dangers of oversimplification.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — December 21, 2018 @ 4:28 pm

  8. I am going to deal with fucking hindu

    Comment by Ahmad — March 2, 2019 @ 7:28 am

  9. Interesting viewpoints which would have been better served if not filled with invective, sarcasm and character assassination. In doing so, the writer undermines the credibility of his own arguments.

    Comment by Ian Berman — January 21, 2020 @ 9:35 pm

  10. Judging by Singh’s writing, he seems to have some mental issues. I’ve seen his kind before, the slightly unhinged person handing out communist leaflets on city street corners in college towns. I’ll bet he does all his pro-CCP work unpaid.

    Comment by William — June 18, 2020 @ 4:34 pm

  11. The three main forces pushing the oppression of Uighurs narrative are;
    1 US warmongers such as John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Steve Bannon. It was from Bannon I first heard this Chinese CP biggest threat to the world theory. This has come about as the CP leadership has made a turn away from the runaway process of increasing privatisation and capitalism. Public ownership and state planning is to remain dominant in the Chinese economy. This why there has been an anti-Chinese turn by an important section of the US ruling class. They support the the process that has created the chinese billionaires and had expected it to run to it’s conclusion. They are furious that it hasn’t. Steve Bannon has declared that the two systems capitalism and the chinese model cannot both exist.

    2 Right wing Turkish extremist dreaming of a new Turkish empire which would include “East Turkestan” . One sixth of Chinese territory.

    3 Israel, keen to create an alternative focus for muslims instead of the Palestinians. They are mobilising to create a mirror Palestinian Solidarity Campaign including a mirror BDS campaign based on alleged forced labour.

    Comment by Arwyn thomas — June 23, 2020 @ 10:40 am

  12. So what is your fucking point, moron? That because John Bolton supported the oppression of Uyghur narrative, we should be for their oppression? You need to read Trotsky’s “Learn to Think”.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 23, 2020 @ 11:00 am

  13. The wamongers are a menace to humanity but when it comes to Xinjiang they’re all heart.

    Comment by Arwyn Thomas — June 24, 2020 @ 8:15 am

  14. Are you commenting here to convince me or my regular readers that John Bolton is a warmonger? If so, you’ve got some fucking nerve. Let me try this one more time, although it is probably a waste of time. Do you support putting Uyghurs in concentration camps?

    Comment by louisproyect — June 24, 2020 @ 11:57 am

  15. Uyghurs in concentration camps is neo-con new cold war propaganda. Or rather part of a preparatory propaganda campaign for a new cold war. The US always dress up their aggression in humanitarian garb. It’s wearing thin now, fewer are falling for it

    Comment by Arwyn Thomas — June 24, 2020 @ 10:33 pm

  16. Uyghurs in concentration camps is neo-con new cold war propaganda.

    What a fucking idiot you are. China is repressing the Uyghurs because the Xinjiang region being groomed for the New Silk Road, a way for the Chinese ruling class to expand its economic power. Guess who they hired to keep peace in the area. None other than the motherfucker Erik Prince who ran Blackwater. And you have the unmitigated gall to write your bullshit here in defense of the Chinese ruling class.


    A Hong Kong-listed security firm founded by Erik Prince has signed a preliminary deal with authorities in China to build a training centre in Xinjiang, where Uighur Muslims have experienced a huge security crackdown.

    Frontier Services Group, which specialises in providing security and logistics for businesses operating in risky regions, said it had signed a deal to run a training base in the city of Kashgar, according to a statement posted on its Chinese website.

    The firm was founded by Erik Prince, a former US Navy Seal and the brother of the US education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 24, 2020 @ 11:12 pm

  17. Christian evagalists is the real cancer of soviety.

    They know and sense that their influence is dyong and see threats everwhere.

    Modern science, non white people nations getting stronger, china is their biggest fears.

    They will lie to themselves and reject evidence of evolution, and support trump. They are honestly mentally ill and in cognotive disdonance and see china as an existential threat as china will imevitable become the new superpower soon.

    Comment by James — June 30, 2020 @ 3:28 am

  18. […] It comes as no surprise to discover that Ajit Singh is a contributor to Blumenthal’s Greyzone conspiracy site. His work on the Uighurs was dealt with back in 2018 by Louis Proyect: https://louisproyect.org/2018/12/15/a-reply-to-ben-norton-and-ajit-singhs-hatchet-job-on-the-uyghurs… […]

    Pingback by Morning Star denies Uighur genocide – spouts Beijing’s propaganda – Shiraz Socialist (Second Run) — August 16, 2020 @ 10:47 am

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