The Maoist Revolution in Tibet

This appeared on in March 2008.

by Mike Ely

Rebellion has broken out in several places within Tibet, and in Tibetan ethnic areas bordering the officially designated Tibetan region. I have not had the time to study these events in detail, or sum up the changes of the last years that have triggered the uprisings.

I would however like to offer this series of writings as background — essays that sketch the modern history of Tibet before and after the Chinese revolution, including the complex changes of the Maoist period, and then through the restoration of capitalism.

The Maoist Revolution in Tibet

by Mike Ely

Tibet is one place where “common knowledge” clashes sharply with reality. Pre-revolutionary Tibetan society is wildly romanticized, so that many people have very little sense of the brutality and horrific backwardness enforced by a theocracy of monks. Based on such a myth, the arrival of revolutionary forces can be portrayed as a foreign invasion. And, thanks to the propaganda of exiled monks, the following decades of socialism are portrayed as a genocide. And yet here we are, in a moment when Tibet’s people have faced relentless oppression for decades, where their needs and environment have been brushed aside in the relentless pursuit of raw materials for the capitalist expansion in the Chinese heartland.

Map of Tibet

This book has gone through a number of printings in several countries, since it was originally published as a 1994 series in theRevolutionary Worker newspaper. Since then new scholarship and thinking sheds light on these historical events. However I believe that the analysis and descriptions here still stand up well.

I welcome comments and critiques.

1: When the Dalai Lamas Ruled: Hell on Earth

Discusses how old Tibetan society was an extremely oppressive place: the vast majority of people were enslaved, brutalized and exploited by a tiny ruling class of aristocrats and top lamas (Buddhist priests).

2: Storming Heaven and 3: Red Guards & People’s Communes

How Maoists organized the oppressed class of Tibet to liberate themselves — seizing the land from old exploiters, abolishing centuries-old feudal privileges, challenging the stranglehold of superstition, and developing collective new forms of ownership and power.

4: Oppression Returns — After the Coup in China

In 1976, an anti-Maoist coup within the Communist Party brought profound changes to China, and to Tibet. This restoration of capitalism reversed Mao’s policies in every area: As a result, rich and poor have re-emerged in Tibet’s countryside, “Han chauvinist” policies threaten the culture and rights of minority peoples like the Tibetans, and the state’s military power is directed against the people themselves.

5: Life Under the Dalai Lama in Exile

On the class nature of the Dalai Lama’s forces in exile–describing how the exiled Tibetan ruling class helped create a contra army backed by the CIA and how they organized an oppressive class society in the camps of Tibean exiles.

6: The Earthly Dreams of the Dalai Lama

A beginning analysis of the current politics of the Dalai Lama’s class nature — his proposals for autonomy within a capitalist China, and why they have nothing to do with the liberation of Tibet’s people.

Available online at
Send comments: kasamasite (at) yahoo (dot) com
Published: December 2007

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