This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.
Two Long Hours of Historical Revisionism
Seven Years in Tibet is the sanitized and romanticized film version of
the self-promoting memoir of an elite Nazi who became a tutor and
advisor to the spiritual and political leader of one of the last slave
societies on the planet Earth. The elite Nazi is Heinrich Harrer,
played by Brad Pitt, and the slave master is the Dalai Lama. It comes
as no surprise to MIM that the Dalai Lama would embrace a Nazi, nor
that Hollywood would use fascism and slavery to concoct an attack on
The most important problems with this film are that it practically
ignores of the role of Nazism and slavery and that it fabricates the
positions and actions of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Most
bourgeois reviews of this film have focused on the fact that Harrer
wasn't a good guy (abandoning his wife, engaging in frequent prison
breaks from a British POW camp that jeopardized the escape plans of
the other fascist POWs) or for turning the film into psychological
thriller about Harrer's love for his abandoned son.(1)
After the film was completed, Harrer's Nazi past was revealed and few
voice-overs in the film were changed to suggest that Harrer joined the
Nazi party reluctantly to further his career, and that his sojourn in
Tibet made him realize that Nazism is bad. Actually, Harrer joined the
SA in 1933, and the SS in 1938. Harrer is no Schindler, but instead
someone who joined a voluntary elite Nazi organization and held a rank
the equivalent of sergeant. Harrer's memoir makes no mention of his
Seven Years in Tibet shows Tibet as a peace-loving, non- violent
society, when it was in fact a brutal society of high lamas owning
hundreds of thousands of serfs. The Dalai Lama's family alone owned
4,000 people.(2) As one former serf told journalist Anna Louise Strong
on life before liberation: "I was not much different than a yak."(3)
Amongst the few correct things about this film is that it shows how
isolated the high lamas were from the people, as we see the young
Dalai Lama constantly watching his people from his palace with a
telescope, and his advisors criticizing him for doing so. His advisors
wanted the Dalai Lama to be even more cut off from the people.
Prior to 1949, Tibet had been considered a part of China. According to
Strong, "No foreign power in seven hundred years has recognized Tibet
as a separate nation or sent an ambassador to Lhasa."(4) While Tibet
relatively autonomous in the period immediately prior to 1949, so was
most of imperialist-weakened China as it had broken up into different
pieces run by warlords.
In the film we see three Chinese People's Liberation Army generals fly
to Lhasa to meet with the Dalai Lama. These generals are rude to
everyone, and kick over a religious symbol created by a monk as a sign
of peace and friendliness towards the generals. After the meeting, the
lead general tells a Tibetan minister "Religion is poison."
Religion is used by ruling classes to justify oppressive systems and
get the people to believe that they deserve their conditions. In the
case of Buddhism, adherents are told that if they tolerate their
position in society well enough, they may do better in another life.
Religion is a reactionary idea that Communists should propagandize
against, but the methods used by the People's Liberation Army in the
film are not only historically inaccurate but proven ineffective at
As Mao instructed in "Report on an Investigation of the Peasant
Movement in Hunan" written two decades before the time covered in the
film and a thousand miles from the location of Tibet, the Communists
should "Draw the bow without shooting, just indicate the motions." As
a footnote to this article explains: "This reference to archery is
taken from Mencius. It describes how the expert teacher of archery
draws his bow with a histrionic gesture but does not release the
arrow. The point is that while Communists should guide the peasants in
attaining a full measure of political consciousness, they should leave
it to the peasants' own initiative to abolish superstitious and other
bad practices and should not give them orders or do it for them."(5)
Mao also explained that the nobility would otherwise use this
alienation of the peasants' current ideology to rally them against the
Communist Party and the revolution. But with careful political work
the peasants will become impressed by the honest ways of the
Communists and take up the revolutionary science of Marxism that puts
the faith in the masses' own actions and not in gods or the location
of their ancestors' graves.
The film portrays a surprise attack by PLA forces on the Tibetan
forces in 1950. The reality was portrayed in an article about Tibet in
MIM Theory 8: "The PLA entered the city of Chambdo in 1950. This area
plagued by fighting between Tibetan and Szechwan warlords, was not,
according to most maps, part of Tibet. In 1950, however, the
population was majority Tibetan. The PLA entry was anticipated by the
Dalai Lama, so Tibetan troops were sent to meet and fight the PLA. The
PLA quickly defeated the Dalai Lama's army in Chambdo. Many Tibetans,
including some of the leadership of the Tibetan army, went over to the
PLA side. The PLA was able to win support by explaining their
intentions and through sharing what was happening in [other parts of]
"The PLA did not advance into Tibet until 1951, when an agreement
between the Dalai Lama and the Central Government for the 'Peaceful
Liberation of Tibet' was signed. The agreement set the terms of the
transition for Tibet back into being a functioning part of China.
"Claiming the support of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama also
claimed to support the agreement, in which China was to 'leave
unchanged the political structure, the powers of the Dalai Lama, the
income of the monasteries' and was not to 'use compulsion for reform.'
Instead reform was left in the hands of the local governments and
monasteries, who had agreed to begin reforming themselves." These
agreements included things like abolished debts the serfs had owed for
generations to the monasteries.(6)
Unlike what was portrayed in the text after the film, the Dalai Lama
and the nobility dragged their feet at the reforms, especially land
reform, and staged a number of rebellions. After a 1959 nobility-led
rebellion, the Dalai Lama fled to exile in India. With the
self-removal of the bulk of the nobility and their invalidation of the
1951 agreement, serfdom was officially abolished and land reform was
carried out in earnest.(6)
This nobility in exile serves as the nucleus of the "Free Tibet"
movement. MIM of course does not support the state- capitalist fascism
of Deng Xiao-ping and Jiang Zemin, but we see it as preferable to a
return to serfdom under the Dalai Lama. A better option would be a
capitalism free of China's current fascism, and the best option would
be for the genuine Maoists remaining within Tibet to lead a communist
revolution against China and for an independent, socialist Tibet.
NOTE: 1. The "Hero" of Seven Years in Tibet, Holocaust,
Dallas Morning News 12 Oct 1997, C3 and Julia Ferguson, "Dalai Lama's
Austrian Tutor Says Was in Nazi Party," Reuters North American Wire 28
2. Great Changes in Tibet, Foreign Languages Press: Peking 1972. p.
3. Anna Louis Strong, Tibetan Interviews. New World Press: Peking
1959, p. 30.
4. Ibid, p. 74.
5. Mao Zedong, Selected Works Volume I, Foreign Languages Press, 1965.
p. 46, 58(n).
6. MIM Theory 8. "The Liberation of Tibet: Revolutionary Advances and
Counter-Revolutionary Claims" pp 92-95. $6 from MIM. This section
cites Strong's Tibetan Interviews and Strong's When Serf's Stood Up in
Tibet, New World Press, Peking 1960.