Critical China Scholars* Respond to New McCarthyism and New York Times

The Critical China Scholars collective writes in anger and dismay at the situation now brewing following the New York Times (NYT) report about Neville Roy Singham’s connections to the Chinese Communist Party and funding of leftist organizations and news outlets, the New McCarthyism petition signed by named organizations and individual academics and the opportunistic escalation by Marco Rubio and Niki Haley into red-baiting and spy-mongering. We feel the need to disentangle a few issues and make our position clear.

For starters, little in the NYT report was news. Most of the money trail the NYT “exposed” and the organizational information contained in the report was known already and had been tracked by Alexander Reid Ross and Courtney Dobson in their New Lines piece (January 18, 2022). What was new about the NYT report was the prominence it lent to overblown rhetoric and innuendos, which implied guilt by association in ways that dangerously resurrect the wholesale assault on “the left” at the height of the Cold War. We are familiar with these tactics, as they were used historically by Joe McCarthy, and are used today by right-wing outlets and spokespeople to discredit any organization funded by those (George Soros, for example) they find objectionable; we might also draw a parallel to the way the PRC state-run media attempts to discredit anyone they deem to be a “dissident” by highlighting any real or imagined association with international groups. The majority of the people and organizations mentioned in the NYT article have not hidden their support for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or their interaction with CCP leaders. That they express pro-CCP perspectives does not mean they are mouthpieces of the state of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In the United States, they still have the freedom to associate and to articulate their perspectives. In this sense, we appreciate and emphatically join their condemnation and righteous alarm at the rhetoric and tactics of the NYT and sycophantic politicians.

Yet, even as we support their freedom to express their views and agree with their condemnation of the disastrously destructive historical and contemporary role of United States imperialism at home and in the world, we must criticize Neville Roy Singham, Code Pink, Tricontinental, and others for their failure to recognize and call attention to the many oppressive realities of the PRC state. The willingness of these or any on the left, including some in the venerable anti-war movement, not only to paper over or outright deny the repressive policies and practices of the PRC, but also to actively collaborate in spreading disinformation about those practices, is deeply troubling. The persecution of Uyghurs, Tibetans, labor organizers, feminist activists, Marxist students, Hong Kong democracy activists, and many other groups in China is very real. The dangers of an increasingly powerful surveillance state are upon us, and are not limited to China alone. We strongly object to the efforts of some portions of the “Western” left to downplay these phenomena, and find the defense of the PRC state as a beacon of socialism not only far-fetched but detrimental to a creative discussion of what socialism can and should be.

We recognize that in the context of escalating Sino-US tensions, reporting on the abuses of the PRC state can feed the flames of red-baiting opportunism and dangerous war-mongering in the US, China, Taiwan, and elsewhere. Yet, it must be possible to take stands against Sinophobia, US imperialism, and war without glorifying the PRC state or diminishing the experiences of people who suffer at its hands.

*This statement was drafted by three members of the steering committee of the Critical China Scholars—Rebecca Karl, Fabio Lanza, and Sigrid Schmalzer—and reflects the contributions of multiple others who participated in a discussion on the CCS listserv. As we were finalizing the statement, we learned of Dan La Botz and Stephen R. Shalom’s piece, “We Oppose McCarthyism and Apologizing for China,” which we were glad to see expresses a very similar position.

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