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Chomsky on China

Noam Chomsky has joined more than 30 scholars from around the world calling for a boycott of Marxism conferences in China
as part of the international backlash against Beijing’s crackdown on students organising pro-workers groups. The academics are mostly from leading US and UK universities and apart from Prof Chomsky, a linguistics scholar at the University of Arizona, include John Roemer, professor of political science and economics at Yale University.

In a statement seen by the Financial Times, Prof Chomsky wrote: “To continue to participate in . . . officially sponsored Marxism-related events means we would stay complicit in the Chinese government’s game. Leftist scholars around the world should join the boycott of such conferences and events.” The academics were responding to the detention of students from China’s top universities over the past four months.

The students had been supporting workers trying to unionise in a Jasic Technology factory in Shenzhen, the southern manufacturing hub. About 20 students and recent graduates are still in detention, the Jasic Workers’ Solidarity Group said, as well as five factory workers and other supporters. “The fact that the Chinese government is suppressing such students — even kidnapping them — exposes the political leadership as sham Marxists,” wrote Prof Roemer.

China’s government has grown increasingly intolerant of all forms of grassroots organising under President Xi Jinping’s rule. Although Communist in name, the party is particularly nervous about a nationwide collective of students finding solidarity with workers, an alliance at the root of its own origins as a revolutionary party. Last month, Cornell University suspended two student exchanges with China’s Renmin University. The Ivy League institution was concerned that Renmin was punishing students for supporting workers, which Cornell described as a “a violation of academic freedom”. Renmin denied the accusation.

Two weeks ago another wave of students was arrested or kidnapped, including Zhang Shengye. The recent Peking University graduate was bundled into a car on campus by “men in black clothing”, according to student witnesses. Other students have been followed by police and closely watched by teachers.

“Based on information we have gathered, more students are still at risk,” wrote a group of academics including Elaine Hui, an assistant professor at Penn State University, who made the initial call to boycott China’s World Congress on Marxism and “similar conferences”. Last month the government announced that Qiu Shuiping, a former state security official, had been appointed party secretary of Peking University. The appointment was interpreted by some as the start of a more authoritarian environment at the university. Peking University’s Communist party unit is also setting up two offices to perform internal “disciplinary inspections” and “control and management”, according to a leaked directive. Peking University did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

Leslie Sklair, professor emeritus of sociology at the London School of Economics, wrote that he would urge his colleagues “to scrutinise ties between their universities and leading Chinese universities complicit in this repression”.

Samuel S. MandalComment