Harold R. Isaacs

The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution


XX. The New “National United Front”

The Kuomintang regime came to power in 1927 with a mandate from the imperialist powers to crush the mass movement of the workers and peasants. In the massacres of that year and in the civil war and terror waged with such ferocity in the ensuing decade against the workers, peasants, and radical intellectuals, the Kuomintang performed its essential function as a buffer between the imperialists and the people.

The foreign interests which so completely dominated the political and economic life of the Chinese bourgeosie participated directly and indirectly in the incessant war against the Chinese masses. Armies sent to crush the insurgent peasants in Central China were armed from all the arsenals of Europe, Japan, and the United States. German Fascist instructors trained the troops used against the people. American and Italian officers taught Kuomintang fliers how to bomb the civilian population. American, British, Italian, and German planes made Chinese skies horrible for the defenceless peasants of the Yangtze provinces. American, British, French, Italian, and Japanese gunboats opened fire repeatedly on “bandits”—the official designation for the peasant insurgents—along the banks of Chinese rivers. The $50,000,000 cotton and wheat loan made to the Nanking Government by the United States in 1933 provided the final resources needed to consummate the Kiangsi campaigns. In the great urban centres, troops and marines of the United States, Britain, France, Japan, and Italy stood direct guard over foreign interests. British, French, and Japanese police in the foreign areas tirelessly hunted down radical students, strike leaders, and Communists, and handed them over in hundreds to be tortured and executed by the Kuomintang civil or military authorities. The direct attacks of Japanese imperialism which were resumed in 1931 have been accompanied by all the frightfulness of modern predatory warfare, but in this Japan has only continued in its own special interest the no less ghastly war waged jointly by the Kuomintang and all the Powers in their common interest against the exploited and terrorized people. The Japanese invasion, continuing through successive stages into the major war of 1937-8, signified primarily that the leanest and hungriest of the wolves had broken from the pack in a new effort to secure a larger portion of the prey for itself.

Japanese capitalism rests on a light industrial foundation and a feudally backward agrarian system, and has a comparatively weak although highly concentrated financial superstructure. A late-comer into the family of imperialist nations, Japan has sought for forty years to master China in order to create an unimpeded channel for the outward flow of its own products and to secure basic raw materials, mainly coal, iron, and cotton, that it so lamentably lacks. Because of its economic weakness, Japan was less able than its great rivals, Britain and the United States, to withstand the pressure of the world depression that began in 1929. The closing of world markets to Japanese goods led directly to the invasion of Manchuria in 1931. Conquest brought no surcease, but bred only new adventures. The heavy cost of military operations on the mainland and the acute intensification of the crisis increased the strain on Japanese economy. In 1937 Japan resorted again to arms to bring more of China within its orbit and to subject all of Chinese economy to its needs by systematically driving out its imperialist rivals, Great Britain and the United States.

Unlike the Japanese, the British and American imperialist structures are rooted in highly developed heavy industries woven into vast units by a powerful financial mesh. They are capable of ultimately dominating Chinese economy by providing it with capital goods and draining off the necessary super-profits by retaining both direct and indirect financial control. Their mutual rivalries have until now blocked this course, but it is this perspective that makes China the great potential reservoir for capital investment over which the great powers will and must eventually come into conflict.

Because it seeks in China to bolster its own frail economic structure through direct and undivided exploitation of the Chinese market, Chinese labour, and Chinese resources, Japanese imperialism not only collides with its great rivals, but cannot tolerate even a relative growth of competing native Chinese industry. It can leave no margin for the development of a semi-independent native exploiting class. [“The incalculably vast damage done to Shanghai’s industries by the war is being systematically increased every day. Responsible Japanese officials admit that in Nantao, Pootung, and in other districts still closed to foreigners, Japanese soldiers continue to destroy or take away all machinery found in Chinese-owned factories. In Hongkew and in Yangtzepoo this campaign of destruction has already been completed. And Chapei was just a mass of ruins when the Chinese retreated. The avowed purpose of this industrial wreckage is to put an end to China’s industrial development, which was beginning to threaten Japanese domination of Chinese markets. Some Japanese already claim that they have destroyed and wiped out all the industrial progress China had made during the last decade.”—Special Correspondence to the New York Times, January 30, 1938.] The further exploitation of China by British or American finance capital would not only permit but would absolutely require the services of the Chinese bourgeoisie as agent. For this reason the Chinese bourgeoisie, incapable of developing independently, has naturally preferred to be vassal to New York or London rather than to Tokyo.

When Japan attacked in 1931, the Kuomintang looked helplessly for aid from Britain and the United States. Japan, however, had cannily chosen its moment. The invasion of Manchuria occurred at a time when the general preoccupation with the economic crisis and the consequent sharpening of all inter-imperialist rivalries had created a strategic vacuum in which Japan could proceed with little or no fear of immediate interference. Neither of its rivals was prepared or willing to begin an armed struggle for supremacy in Asia. Nor were they entirely unwilling to foster Japan’s plan for an eventual attack on the Soviet Union.

More fearful of the masses than it was of the invaders, the Kuomintang regime did not dare mobilize the people for a national revolutionary war. It took instead the alternative course of “non-resistance,” conceding as much ground as it had to, in the hope that Japan would content itself with Manchuria, or, at most, with Manchuria and North China. At first it tried to use the boycott weapon, but under the pressure of Japan’s attack on Shanghai in 1932 it abandoned and actively suppressed the boycott campaign. It thereafter tried to prove its usefulness to the Japanese by intensifying its drive against the peasants in Central China and by crushing every manifestation of an independent anti-Japanese movement.

It followed almost automatically that as every layer of the population stirred, to one degree or another, under the Japanese lash, those who sought to resist Japanese imperialism found themselves engaged in struggle against the Kuomintang regime. Students, who reacted first and most sharply to the Kuomintang’s failure to defend the country’s territory, demonstratively trampled on Kuomintang banners. They raided and smashed Kuomintang headquarters. They commandeered trains and streamed to Nanking in thousands to storm the citadels of the Government itself. As in 1919, they fought their way into the presence of traitorous ministers. They broke into the Foreign Office, thrashed Foreign Minister C. T. Wang (now Ambassador to Washington), and forced him to resign. His successor, V. K. Wellington Koo (now Ambassador to Paris), they prevented from taking office. From Chiang Kai-shek they extracted one of his already frequent promises to sacrifice his life on northern battlefields. But a few days later, on December 15, 1931, Chiang engineered one of his strategic resignations. He watched from the sidelines while Sun Fo and Eugene Chen, holding the stage for their sorry moment, took the responsibility for shooting and bayoneting the student demonstrators, who were finally herded from Nanking like cattle. Everywhere with the same reckless heroism the students staged spectacular demonstrations. In Shanghai they held the mayor prisoner and forced him too to resign.

The student movement soon subsided. In 1919 the students had ignited the Nationalist movement that swept workers, peasants, and bourgeois Nationalists into the struggles of the second Chinese Revolution. In 1931 the student spark flickered and went out because the students remained utterly isolated. In 1919 the bourgeoisie, spurred by their gains in the war, encouraged the student rising and stepped forward to lead the broad Nationalist movement that arose. In 1931 the bourgeoisie was fighting the anti-imperialist movement with all its strength. In 1919 the workers, freshly marshalled in the factories, rose swiftly to the struggle, and through them millions of peasants were roused. In 1931 the masses, still passive as a result of the profound defeats of 1927, remained inert.[1]

Nevertheless the boycott momentarily made wheels turn faster in Chinese factories. There was an infant boom which began to stimulate moods of self-confidence among the workers. Strikes began to occur, but everywhere strikers were clubbed and shot and beaten down. The organizations were controlled by agents and gangsters of the Kuomintang. Most of them had no organizations at all. There was no political party with a banner and a programme they could recognize as their own.

The same events that so completely exposed the craven role of the Kuomintang no less pitilessly bared the impotence and isolation of the Communist Party. It was utterly unable to rally the forces that the Kuomintang scattered and suppressed. It could not translate into the substance of organized strength the profound hostility that pervaded whole layers of the population, especially those most directly exposed to Japan’s imperialist attacks. In Manchuria scores of thousands of soldiers and peasants banded together into Volunteer armies, the hunghudtze or “bandits,” who to this day continue to shake the uneasy throne of Henry Pu Yi. Among them the Communist Party exerted little or no influence.[2]Among the workers in Manchurian cities, the Party had no foothold at all.[3] In Shanghai and the other urban centres of China proper, the Party was already entirely divorced from the working class and was unable to exploit the opportunity the invasion offered to regain the positions it had lost. Communist intellectuals played some role in the student movement, but lacking contact with the workers, they could not prevent that movement from falling prey to the manoeuvres of Kuomintang politicians and disintegrating under the ruthless blows of Kuomintang terror.

From the workers the abstract anti-Japanese slogans issued by the Party elicited no response. Mere patriotic appeals could not at a single stroke efface the long series of fatal blunders that had emasculated the Party and destroyed its authority and prestige among the workers. As usual the propaganda machinery of the Comintern abroad published glowing reports of Communist successes in the anti-Japanese movement,[4] while on the scene itself the Party’s own Press more accurately reflected the Party’s real weakness. “Since September 8, the Party and the red unions have had absolutely no leadership in the workers’ movement,” said the Red Flag in December, 1931. The trade union committee had “failed to establish a single workers’ paper” subsequent to the Japanese invasion.[5] Meagre efforts made to set up workers’ anti-Japanese associations were no more successful. “The working masses have not yet broadly and actively participated in the struggle,” said another Communist organ two months after the invasion began. “This is due . . . in part to the fact that the red unions and their vanguard, the Communist Party, were unable to rally the masses around them. In the practical struggle we did not link the anti-Japanese wave to a bold thrust of the class struggle. Therefore the Chinese working class, especially in Shanghai, although consumed with anti-Japanese sentiment, could not immediately react to such slogans as ‘Down with the Japanese robbers!‘ ‘Against the occupation of Manchuria!‘ . . . etc., because these slogans have not yet been linked to the urgent demands of the working masses in the localities, such as wage increases, house and rice allowances. . . . It is clear that purely anti-Japanese slogans cannot give strikers wage increases and improvements in living conditions.” [6] It was also of this period that the labour department of the Central Committee wrote: “We have not succeeded in organizing a single anti-imperialist strike.” [7]

Quite independently of the Party and despite the savage repressions a strike movement began to gather momentum at Shanghai. Workers at the Chinese Wing On Cotton Mills, which had profited heavily from the boycott of Japanese goods, struck for wage increases in December. Several workers were killed in clashes with Kuomintang police before the strike was smashed. On January 7 a general walk-out occurred of the 60,000 workers in Shanghai’s thirty-four Japanese-owned cotton mills. The strike was called on purely economic grounds against wage cuts and lay-offs.[8] By the end of two weeks all but 7,000 had been forced back to work or to seek jobs elsewhere.

Seven days later, on January 28, the Japanese Navy struck at Shanghai. Unexpectedly and in defiance of direct orders from Chiang Kai-shek, the nineteenth Route Army put up stubborn resistance. Five weeks of hostilities followed. Seven years earlier the shooting of only thirteen students by British police had precipitated a paralysing general strike. Now the Japanese attackers freely used the theoretically neutral territory of the International Settlement as a base for the murderous air-raids and artillery bombardments which shattered working-class Chapei and brought death to thousands of civilians. Yet the great mass of workers, most of whom were thrown out of employment by the hostilities, looked on passively. Wheels turned in the Settlement and the French Concession much as before. A small band of workers fought side by side with the soldiers at Woosung, and others, kept carefully segregated from the soldiers, were employed behind the lines. The great mass of the Shanghai working class did not intervene. [9] Despite its subsequent claims to a share in the nineteenth Route Army’s glory, the Communist Party played practically no role in the struggle. [To prove that the 19th Route Army’s resistance at Shanghai was “due in no small measure to the work of the Communists,” the central organ of the Comintern went so far as to state that the strike in the Japanese mills had been organized at the beginning of February, 1932. . . under the leadership of the Communist Party” ( Communist International, December, 1932). That this was a palpable falsehood could be proved by reference not only to the files of the China Forum, but of other Shanghai papers, for January. The author personally covered that strike and met members of the strike committee several times. The strike had already been broken when hostilities began. During the fighting, the workers were simply locked out. It is true, however, that Communists played some part in the refusal of the workers to go back to the Japanese mills until April, more than a month after hostilities ended.]

In 1933 the Communist leadership was still deploring “the lack of normal persistance of work” in the cities. It held its local committees responsible for the failure to organize a single anti-Japanese workers’ organization in Tientsin or Shanghai.[10]

The Communist Party was unable to rally the masses against Japanese imperialism because it had neither the forces nor the programme capable of organizing them for struggle against the Chinese bourgeoisie. It was the triumph of bourgeois Kuomintang reaction in 1927 that had paved the way for Japan’s imperialist aggression. It was the defeat of the revolution and the Kuomintang repressions during the ensuing half-decade that disarmed the masses, psychologically and politically, in the face of the imperialist offensive. The Communist Party now had to pay the price of impotence for its role and its responsibility in this accumulation of disasters.

The bourgeois reaction and its military dictatorship was so completely dominant in this entire period that no other party was able to emerge to offer any kind of effective opposition to the Kuomintang. Rival militarists here and there challenged Chiang Kai-shek’s rule. They hypocritically wrapped themselves in the banners of anti-Japanism in the hope of exploiting Chiang’s patent treachery. But one after another he bought them off or beat them down. Feng Yu-hsiang raised an independent banner in Chahar in August, 1933, but made his peace with Chiang rather than face the necessity for carrying out his frequent threats to wage war on the invaders. In November the same year a group of dissident Kuomintang politicians and the commanders of the 19th Route Army joined in a revolt against Chiang that centred for a few weeks in the province of Fukien. They went so far as to flirt tentatively with the Communists, to proclaim the abolition of the Kuomintang and the formation of a new “People’s Productionist Party” to take its place. But they, too, were quickly overcome by a single volley of Chiang’s silver bullets. The 19th Route Army was dispersed.

Petty-bourgeois radical groupings which tried to take a stand of principled opposition to the Chiang Kai-shek dictatorship were short-lived. Wang Ching-wei’s feeble resistance to the dictatorship dissolved completely when Wang passed over to Chiang’s camp in January, 1932. Teng Yen-ta’s Third Party lived only a fitful existence after Teng was executed by Chiang in 1931. The petty-bourgeois opposition was composed of small sects of intellectuals gathered around dissident politicians and ambitious generals in transient conspiracies that never went beyond a scramble for place and pelf. The Kuomintang-military dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek was a costly and inadequate political instrument, but it was the best the bourgeoisie could devise to serve its interests.

In the Communist movement the only consistent challenge to the Communist Party came from the Trotskyist Opposition. Its nucleus was a group of students who came back from Russia after 1927. While at Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow many of them had found in the documents of the Russian Left Opposition the only coherent explanation of the disaster that had overtaken the revolution. Rapidly expelled from the Communist Party as they began to voice their criticism, they formed small independent organizations which began to issue underground publications. In 1929 Chen Tu-hsiu and a considerable group of his followers were expelled and they too led a separate existence until 1931, when all the oppositional groups merged under the banner of the International Communist League. The Chinese Trotskyist group, like its counterparts in other countries, continued to regard itself as a fraction of the Communist Party. It sought to exert sufficient influence to bring about changes in Party policy which would permit its reintegration into the ranks. The Opposition, therefore, remained a tiny propaganda organization, publishing its own periodicals, but was unable to play any role in the class struggle.

The Trotskyists also suffered from the ideological confusion that came as an inevitable aftermath of the great defeats and the recession of the masses from the political arena. The process of political reorientation was a slow and painful one, and because of the conditions of isolation and terror, their discussion went on largely untested in action. After 1933, when the Trotskyists abandoned the attempt to “reform” the Comintern and launched the movement for creation of a Fourth International, the Shanghai group reorganized itself into the Communist League of China, and in 1934 began to win small footholds in some Shanghai factories.

Few in number as they were, the Trotskyists did not escape the heavy blows of the Kuomintang terror. Assailed by their Stalinist foes as “counter-revolutionists” and “agents of Chiang Kai-shek,” the Trotskyists nevertheless lost some of their best comrades to Chiang Kai-shek’s terror. Two entire Central Committees were wiped out by arrests. Not a few died of torture and starvation in prison. In 1932 Chen Tu-hsiu and eleven others were arrested and sentenced to long terms. In 1934 the reconstituted Central Committee was again slashed to pieces by the arrests of five of its leading members. The Kuomintang proceeded against its “agents” with the same relentless ferocity it displayed toward all it recognized as revolutionary opponents of its rule.

Although the Trotskyists never gathered enough strength to exert any direct influence on events, they hammered insistently on the need for an elementary democratic programme as the indispensable starting-point for the revival of the labour movement. By this means alone, they held, could the labour movement be revived and become, as it had to, the spearhead of struggle against Japanese imperialism. This meant the conduct of the most patient and tireless organizational work in the factories based on the simplest daily demands of the workers. When workers striking for meagre improvements in wages, hours, and rice allowances were clubbed, arrested, tortured, and shot, they could readily understand the meaning of agitation for the most elementary democratic rights—freedom of speech, Press, organization, and assembly. These slogans flowed with immediate and comprehensible logic from every tiny partial economic conflict in which the workers engaged. Generalized into the slogan for a National Assembly, elected by the universal suffrage of the people, this programme offered a common starting-point for all sections of the population oppressed and terrorized by the Kuomintang-military dictatorship.

Events forced the Stalinists to take half a step, despite themselves, in this direction. Their own programme of “Soviet power” possessed no immediate significance that the workers could grasp. Their slogans, “Support the Red Army,” “Support the Soviets,” bore no relation to the immediate interests or demands of the workers. Frightened by the impotence to which this condemned it, the Communist Party suddenly introduced in the fall of 1931 the slogan of an “elected people’s power” which sounded dangerously like the Trotskyist position of an elected National Assembly. Although it made many efforts to do so, the Party leadership was unable to explain adequately, even to its own members, the difference between “people’s power” and “Soviet power,” or between “people’s power” and the “National Assembly.”[11] It could not follow such a discussion through to its logical conclusion, for even the temporary adoption of the slogan of a “people’s power” constituted a dim but unmistakable recognition that the call for “Soviet power” could awaken no response from masses crushed under the weight of a bourgeois-military dictatorship. At its Twelfth Plenum in September, 1932, the Executive Committee of the Comintern proposed “the establishment of an elected people’s government” in Manchuria,[12] but in practice the slogan was quietly abandoned. The Communist Party was going to return later on to this fundamentally correct slogan, but would reissue it in a twisted and misshapen form, transforming it not into a lever for the workers’ revolution, but into a noose around the neck of the working-class movement. This would not occur, however, until the experiment with peasant Soviets in the hinterland had been carried through to its conclusion and its failure underwritten at the cost of thousands of peasant lives.

Granted a respite by the Shanghai truce, Chiang Kai-shek resumed in the summer of 1932 his war against the Reds in Central China. Hoping to exploit anti-Japanese sentiment in the armies sent against them, the Reds in April, 1932, “declared war” on Japan.[13] On January lo, 1933, just prior to Japan’s drive into Jehol, the Red Army offered a united front to any armed force that would join it in battle against the imperialist invaders.[14] By the terms it offered, cessation of anti-Red hostilities, the grant of democratic rights to the people, and the arming of the masses, the Red Army leaders again recognized that they had to return to a minimum democratic programme if they hoped at all to break through the isolation of their mountain strongholds. Chiang Kai-shek, however, still hoped the Japanese would remain satisfied with the concessions he had made and concentrated upon securing his own power in Central China by stamping out the insurgent peasantry. Lacking mass support in the rear of the Kuomintang armies, the Communists could not impose acceptance of their soundly-principled united front offer. After the Jehol debacle in March, 1933, Chiang Kai-shek called his generals together at Kuling and sharply reiterated his basic strategy: “Until the Communists are exterminated, it is useless to speak about resistance against the Japanese!” He threatened “severe punishment” to any of his officers who thought the united front offer merited consideration.[15] The war against the peasant Soviets went on, and although it took him until the end of 1934, Chiang finally did reconquer Southern Kiangsi. For the next year the Red Army fought its way through parts of nine provinces, across rivers, and over the lofty ranges that rim the Tibetan frontier. Chiang Kai-shek sent his best divisions in pursuit, but they never caught up with the elusive foe. Displaying incomparable strategic skill and a fortitude that sustained the heaviest losses and the most grinding hardships, the Red Army finally united with other Red forces that had gone to Szechwan two years earlier, and in October, 1935, finally reached Shensi.

The flight of the Reds westward and the enforced liquidation of the Kiangsi “Soviet Republic” was not merely a military defeat for the Reds. Indeed, by escaping through the cordon more or less intact, the Red Army prevented the realization of Chiang’s most cherished objective—the physical extermination of the Red forces. The defeat was primarily a political one. It terminated the attempt to establish a revolutionary power based exclusively upon scattered sections of a revolting peasantry. The Reds were not only compelled to abandon the Kiangsi peasants to their fate. They also had to abandon the policies that had led to a hopeless blind alley. Much had been said and written about the imminent victory of the Soviet revolution of the whole of China as the necessary pre-condition for the waging of a national revolutionary war against Japan.[16] At the Second Soviet Congress held at Juichin in January, 1934, “Soviet China” was “steadily growing and obtaining the preponderance” as a result of the “invincible, advancing Soviet revolution.”[17] These were the wishful hopes that had to be abandoned along with the Kiangsi Soviet districts when the Red Army marched west.

Having failed to become an instrument in the hands of the working class, the Red Army and the Communist Party now began to move in the direction of the bourgeoisie. Capitulatory moods had already gripped much of the Party apparatus. In the cities, scores of young Communists, demoralized by the defeats in Kiangsi and seeing no new prospect before them, went over to the Kuomintang. Chiang Kai-shek’s terror machine absorbed these renegades and used their betrayals to complete the dispersal and destruction of what remained of the Communist Party in the cities. [Among the renegades were some prominent figures, like Huang Ping, “foreign minister” of the short-lived Canton Commune. Wang Min somewhat belatedly discovered, in 1937, that the renegades of 1934 had all been—”Trotskyists.” The use of that term as a handy label for all opponents of whatever hue had in the meanwhile been popularized by the purge in the Soviet Union. In his book, Red Star Over China, Edgar Snow lightly parroted calumnies to the effect that Trotskyists, because of the “logic of their position “—with which Snow displays no acquaintance whatever—went over to Chiang Kai-shek and betrayed comrades to the police. By the peculiar “logic” of his own position, Snow then goes on enthusiastically to embrace the Communist Party for going over to the same Chiang Kai-shek and betraying the workers and peasants to the bourgeoisie. A little more than a year after Snow gathered the material for the book he called Red Star Over China, Nym Wales, to whom he dedicated his volume, saw a Red soldier gingerly fingering his shiny new Kuomintang button. She wondered whether he was thinking of the “tattered old cloth Red Star that he wore from Kiangsi. . . . But the Red Star,” she added, “is no longer visible on the once Soviet horizon” ( Asia, January, 1938).] Their recantations and denunciations of Communism filled the daily Press. As spies and police agents they caused the arrest of scores of their former comrades. Party members feared to appear in the streets where they could be spotted. Many fled to other cities. All Party activity came to an absolute standstill. The apparatus, feeble at best, fell to pieces. During the final months in Kiangsi desertions occurred not only from the Red Army ranks but from the high command as well. Such veterans as Kung Hochung and Chang Yi went over to the enemy, declaring they saw no hope for the Kiangsi soviets.[18] The Party assailed all these deserters as cowardly renegades, but it was soon to follow in their footsteps and be re-united with them in the camp of the Kuomintang, for in Moscow the Comintern was already erasing at a single stroke the meagre balance of the Chinese Soviet experiment.

While the Red Army was marching across West China toward a new turning-point in its own history, the Communist International was consummating at its Seventh World Congress in Moscow ( July, 1935), a shift in policy that was to mark its final abandonment of the struggle for proletarian revolution. The collapse of the German Communist Party and the victory of Hitler had completely upset international balances in Europe and removed from the scene the powerful organizations of the German proletariat, the most powerful potential revolutionary force in post-war Europe. Hitler reached out for an alliance with Japan and openly bargained with Britain and France for a free hand against the Soviet Union. The Soviet bureaucracy made a panicky turn. Britain and France, yesterday the chief organizers of the anti-Soviet bloc, became “peace-loving” democracies to be wooed and won as potential allies against German Fascism. The Communist parties in all countries were converted more openly and unreservedly than ever before into blind instruments of Stalin’s foreign policy. The Comintern announced that it struggled now not for the proletarian revolution but for bourgeois democracy. The Communist parties suspended all opposition to the capitalist governments in return for alliances with Moscow, as in France and Czechoslovakia, or became pressure bodies for the conclusion of such alliances, as in the United States and Great Britain.

China naturally occupied a key place in the calculations of the Soviet bureaucracy. The extent to which Japan encountered difficulties in China would in large measure determine the timing and efficacy of its inevitable attack on the Soviet Union. It consequently became one of the prime purposes of Soviet diplomacy to prevent the Kuomintang Government from joining Japan in an anti-Soviet pact and, if possible, to swing it to an anti-Japanese position. The defeats in Kiangsi convinced the Moscow strategists that the Chinese Red Army was by itself quite inadequate for this purpose. Having long since abandoned all hope of a Chinese proletarian revolution, the Soviet bureaucracy turned once more to the Chinese bourgeoisie. In return for an alliance against Japan it decided to offer the services of the Red Army and the liquidation of the agrarian struggle.

Along this road the Seventh Congress of the Comintern took only the first step. It drew a line through the debit balance of “Soviet China” and set a new course for the Chinese Communist Party toward a new “national united front.” In 1933 Wang Min had posited the “overthrow of the Kuomintang as the Government of national betrayal and national disgrace as a condition of the successful carrying out of the national revolutionary war” and had declared that this could be realized “only (by) the Soviet Government and the Red Army.”[19]This perspective was now abandoned with scarcely a backward look. “The Communist Party,” Wang announced at the Seventh Congress, “has no other means for the general mobilization of the entire Chinese nation for the sacred national revolutionary war against Japanese imperialism than the tactics of the anti-imperialist united people’s front.” This was to be sought by appeal “to all the people, all parties, groups, troops, mass organizations, and to all prominent political and social leaders, to organize together with us an All-China United People’s Government of National Defence and an All-China United Anti-Japanese National Defence Army.”[20]

This was to be, as events proved, a transitional formula directed toward the re-creation of a bloc between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang. The civil war between the Kuomintang and the Red Army had been going on for seven years and was still in progress, The Party needed time to re-educate its own forces to the new turn and to begin its courtship of the bourgeoisie. It was necessary to count on the possibility that Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang had already leaned so far in the direction of the Japanese that the “national united front” would still have to be built against them. At the Seventh Congress Wang Min still recognized the “unexampled and infamous national treachery of the Kuomintang” and characterized Chiang Kai-shek as the “arch-traitor to the Chinese people.”[21]

For nearly a year after the Seventh Congress, the Chinese Communist Party flirted with various dissident politicians and generals, in the south-west with Chen Chi-tang, Li Tsung-jen, and Pai Chung-hsi, in Nanking with Sun Fo and Feng Yuhsiang, in the north-west, with Chang Hsueh-liang. But none of them was strong enough to prevail over Chiang. Setting out to woo “all” parties, the Communists finally admitted that there was only one, the Kuomintang. Seeking blocs with “all” prominent leaders, they soon had to recognize that only one, Chiang Kai-shek, really counted. Early in 1936 Mao Tse-tung publicly offered “the hand of friendship” to Chiang if he would take up arms against Japan.[22] To the Kuomintang the Communist Party began, in a series of open letters, articles, and telegrams, to offer increasingly specific guarantees to persuade the bourgeoisie that it no longer threatened any essential bourgeois interests, but would instead serve them well.

At the Seventh Congress Wang Min had referred to the “national united front” of 1927 in the following words: “We know from the history of the struggle of the Communist Party of China that when the opportunists in its leadership, headed by Chen Tu-hsiu, counterposed the tactics of the united national front to the task of the class struggle at the critical moment of the revolutionary movement in 1927, when for the sake of retaining a united national front with a part of the national bourgeoisie, these opportunists renounced the revolutionary struggle of the working class in defence of their vital interests, renounced the agrarian revolution of the peasantry . . . they brought the 1927 revolution to defeat.” [23]

Scarcely a year later, Mao Tse-tung far outstripped the opportunism of Chen Tu-hsiu. He offered the Chinese bourgeoisie the same fatal renunciation of the revolutionary struggle and went one step further: he offered conscious and deliberate guarantees that should the forces of the revolution raise their heads once more, the Chinese Communist Party stood ready to play the role of executioner. Chen Tuhsiu—guided by Stalin—had destroyed the second Chinese revolution by the bloc with the bourgeoisie. Mao Tse-tung—and Stalin—now sought to renew that bloc by offering in advance to strangle the third.

During the united front negotiations that went forward, the National Salvation Association, a petty bourgeois nationalist body, called upon the Communist Party for unambiguous guarantees of this nature. “We hope (it wrote) that the Chinese Communist Party will show by concrete acts that it is sincere in its desire to unite with other parties. . . . In the districts occupied by the Red Army where there are wealthier peasants, the proprietors and merchants must receive liberal treatment. Every effort must be made to avoid conflicts between workers and employers in the big cities so as not to impede the expansion of the united front for the salvation of the country.

“. . .The committees for national salvation and other mass organizations frequently include young people with unstable ideals who advocate at anti-Japanese meetings . . . such slogans as ‘class against class‘ and ‘struggle against the Kuomintang and the Kuomintang Government,’ to the great prejudice of the united front. . . . It is our firm conviction that such action does not originate with the Communist Party. . . . We consider that the Communist Party ought to rectify the situation immediately. Moreover, detachments appear here and there which call themselves Communist partisans and take the law into their own hands. If these undisciplined detachments are under the control of the Communist Party, the latter must take stringent measures against them or otherwise declare at the earliest opportunity that it is in no way connected with these detachments.”[24]

To each of these points Mao Tse-tung on August 10, 1936, gave an explicit reply. He announced that the “Workers’ and Peasants’ Government” had been renamed the “People’s Soviet Government” and that the “Workers’ and Peasants’ Army” had become the “People’s Red Army.” He reported that all previous laws in the Soviet districts placing disabilities on the civil rights of the bourgeoisie had already been repealed and then went on:

“We have already adopted a decision not to confiscate the land of the rich peasants. . . . We are not confiscating the property and the factories of the big and small merchants and capitalists. We protect their enterprises. . . . As for the active anti-Japanese officers and big landowners, we can state that their estates and property are not subject to confiscation.

“As for the problem of mutual relations between capital and labour in the Soviet districts, we have set up minimum conditions for the improvement of the living standards of the workers. The workers and capitalists have made an agreement the terms of which are based on the actual situation in each enterprise, and are binding on both sides. The agreement does away with unnecessary strikes and sabotage. The former laws about workers’ control and leadership in the various enterprises have been repealed. The workers have been advised not to put up demands which may be in excess of what can be granted. . . . In the non-Soviet districts it is our intention not to accentuate the anti-capitalist struggle,[According to another translation this read: “We similarly do not wilfully intensify the anti-capitalist struggle.”— China To-day, January, 1937.] though we are in favour of improving the standard of living of the workers. . . . The common interests of both capitalists and workers are grounded in the struggle against imperialist aggression.

“The circumstance that the partisans of Hupeh, Hunan, Kiangsi, Fukien, Chekiang, and other localities have up to now failed to abide by the laws which we have lately adopted is due to the fact that our instructions could not be transmitted to them because of various obstacles. Besides the repeated attempts to suppress the partisan movement in these districts, unfailingly accompanied by unspeakable atrocities, might possibly have resulted in the spirit of vengeance (!) gaining the upper hand here and there. However, we are of the opinion that this is a wrong attitude. We are very anxious to have these mistakes corrected at once. . . .”

Mao also promised to “correct” the impetuosity of the young men brazen enough to speak of “class against class,” and added: “What we are most interested in and consider most important is that all parties and groups should treat us without animosity and bear in mind the objectives of the struggle against Japan for the salvation of the country. We shall hereafter consider of no importance any difference of opinion on other questions.” [25]

And what if the workers, without asking the Communists’ permission, “accentuated” the anti-capitalist struggle? What if the peasants, without asking leave, proceeded on their own to seize the land? What, in short, if the masses, as in 1927, swept beyond all parties and all leaders toward the struggle in their own interest? Was it really so easy to forget that in 1927 the cry of “excesses” had been followed by the most brutal repression? At the Seventh World Congress Wang Min could still speak of the “defeat of the revolution” in 1927, but now that segment of history was to be rewritten too:

“We are prepared to form a strong revolutionary united front with you,” wrote the Communist Party to the Kuomintang on August 25, 1936, “as was the case during the . . . great Chinese Revolution of 1925-7, when there existed a broad united front for struggle against national and feudal oppression, for that is the only proper way to save our country to-day. You . . . have not yet forgotten the glorious history of collaboration between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang. . . . It was precisely thanks to this collaboration that all the national and feudal oppressors shook before us. At that time our national oppressors, and Japanese imperialism in particular, were very much afraid that our collaboration might lead to final victory and the complete emancipation of China. Therefore they sowed the seeds of strife between us and set in motion all possible means, threats, and temptations as a result of which one side gave up its collaboration and buried the united front. Do you feel no pricks of conscience when you recall this to-day?”[26]

The conscience of Chiang Kai-shek was not pricked by the grovelling of his vanquished adversaries. He had by no means forgotten the “glorious” results of his first bloc with the Comintern. It had brought him to power, striding over the prostrate body of the Chinese working class. It had not been a question then—any more than it was now—of conscience, but of political expediency. Chiang Kai-shek, the maker and breaker of a thousand unprincipled alliances, was not concerned with the hypocritical exhortations of a party he had used, smashed with unrestrained brutality, and could now use again if it suited his purpose. If he began to consider the advisability of accepting the capitulation offered to him, it was because a whole pattern of circumstances was forcing the Chinese bourgeoisie toward a decision to begin resisting, however belatedly, the further incursions of the Japanese imperialists.

For nearly two years the Chinese bourgeoisie had been breathing the invigorating air of an economic revival. Starting upward with a bumper crop in 1935, the economic curve rose steadily from the low point it reached in 1934. Proceeding in pace with the world-wide economic upturn, Chinese recovery was featured by new advances in trade, revenue, and production. Chinese currency, badly shaken by the heavy silver drain accentuated in 1934 by Washington’s silver purchasing policies, was devaluated in November, 1935, and pegged to the pound sterling. Silver stocks were nationalized and subsequently exported for the purchase of foreign exchange. This operation was carried out under the direct supervision of the British Treasury, represented in China by Sir Frederick Leith-Ross. Industry received a new fillip. Chinese banks during 1936 invested $109,000,000 (Chinese currency) in manufacturing enterprises. China’s foreign credit position perceptibly improved and negotiations were begun toward the end of 1936 for the £30,000,000 British loan successfully concluded in London the following June. H. H. Kung, the finance minister who went to Europe to close the deal, also arranged substantial credits in other European capitals and a highly favourable gold exchange agreement in Washington. Railway and industrial projects long in the limbo seemed about to be realized.

Economic revival was accompanied by greater political stabilization. Chiang Kai-shek had succeeded in carrying out most of his plans for the military unification of the country.

The defeat inflicted upon the Reds in Kiangsi had removed the only important revolutionary threat from his immediate domain. The pursuit of the Reds westward gave Chiang an opportunity to extend his sway for the first time over the provinces of Kweichow, Yunnan, and Szechwan. In 1935 Chiang made a demonstrative air tour to the western provinces, to Shansi, and even to Inner Mongolia. Everywhere he was received as lord of all he surveyed. The last important stronghold of regional authority, the south-west, he conquered almost bloodlessly in July, 1936, when his troops marched once more through Canton on the tenth anniversary of his departure from that city for the march northward toward power along the Yangtze.

These improvements in its political and economic position stimulated new and exhilarating moods in the Chinese bourgeoisie. It clearly saw its feeble economic base threatened by the insistent Japanese demand for” Sino-Japanese co-operation.” The gradual Japanese conquest of the Chinese cotton industry, continuing in the midst of the revival, was an eloquent foretaste of what that” co-operation” really meant. In Japan’s other principal demand for” co-operation against

Communism” it was not difficult to see a euphemism for Japan’s right to garrison China. Chiang Kai-shek rightly saw in it a threat to his own power. With more firmness than he had yet dared display, Chiang Kai-shek informed the Japanese ambassador in September, 1936, that these terms were wholly inacceptable.

Chiang did not yet count upon actually fighting Japan. He calculated rather upon using his strengthened position to force a modification of Japan’s demands. To insure the complete consolidation of his power, he still considered it necessary to deal a final blow to the Reds, in whose capitulation he did not yet fully believe. He made this plain in October, when at Sian Chang Hsueh-liang proposed cessation of the civil war, alliance with the Soviet Union, and immediate resistance to Japan. “I will never talk about this until every Red soldier in China is exterminated, and every Communist is in prison,” Chiang is supposed to have replied. “Only then would it be possible to co-operate with Russia.”[27]

That month a Japanese-controlled army of Manchukuo troops and Inner Mongolian irregulars made a tentative stab across the Suiyuan border. Chiang offered little more than moral encouragement to the provincial forces which successfully resisted the attempted invasion. Several of his divisions were moved into Suiyuan, but only to make sure that the conflict would be kept within local bounds and that no attempt would be made to advance into Chahar. While the Suiyuan victory had an electrifying effect on the growing anti-Japanese movement among important sections of the bourgeoisie, Chiang was still more concerned with pressing his campaign against the Reds in Shensi. He arrested seven prominent leaders of the National Salvation Association in Shanghai and forcibly broke up new anti-Japanese student demonstrations that began to occur. He was not yet disposed to accept the submission of the Communists and preferred to complete his conquest of them by military means.

When Chang Hsueh-liang’s troops balked at breaking their virtual truce with the Reds on the Shensi border, Chiang moved his own First Army into action. When it met defeat at the hands of the Reds in Kansu, Chiang flew to Sian in December determined to force the rebellious north-eastern army to obey his orders or to force its withdrawal southward and to replace it by his own forces. These calculations were spectacularly upset when the officers and men of the Sian garrison rose in revolt on the night of December 11 and made Chiang their prisoner, along with most of his closest stall advisers.

Chiang, captured cowering on a hill-side in his nightshirt, not only lost “face” immeasurably, he also stood in mortal danger of losing his life. Through the ranks of the Manchurian army rumbled the demand that he be given a “people’s trial” for all his crimes. The life of the Kuomintang dictator would not have been worth a copper had the soldiers had their way. At Nanking Chiang’s subordinate generals and hangers-on who still favoured meeting Japan’s terms, were hopefully sure he would never emerge alive. To make sure, they began moving troops toward the Shensi border for a “punitive campaign” against the rebels and ordered planes up for threatening demonstrations over Sian. There Chang Hsueh-liang was urging Chiang to adopt a bold anti-Japanese programme. He warned that he could not guarantee control of his younger officers and ranks if Chiang refused to meet their growing demand for cessation of the civil war and a campaign against the conquerors of the Manchurian homeland. The ex-ruler of Manchuria could not have saved Chiang’s life by himself. The Communists could and did step in and exert all their “great influence with the Tungpei (the Manchurian army) to preserve Chiang and send him back as national leader to Nanking.” [28]

One of the most dramatic and certainly, judging from the sequel, one of the most important incidents of Chiang’s enforced stay at the Shensi capital was his meeting with Chow En-lai, who headed the Communist delegation in Sian. The principal actors in what must have been a memorable scene have not yet described it themselves. Chiang in his subsequently published diary did not even mention it.[29] According to another account, however, the generalissimo paled when Chow entered his room. He seemed to think he was about to be surrendered into the hands of the Reds. Chow En-lai, he must have remembered, had been vice-commander of the Shanghai pickets shot and cut down by Chiang’s orders that bloody April morning ten years before. It was difficult, even for Chiang Kai-shek, to believe that men he had so ruthlessly betrayed and hounded were genuinely offering to place themselves once more at his disposal. Chow, the account proceeds, came in “with a friendly greeting” and saluting Chiang, “acknowledged him as Commander-in-Chief.” He began to explain the Communist Party’s new policies. “At first frigidly silent, Chiang gradually thawed as he listened. . . .” Other meetings followed. “He became more convinced, not only of the sincerity of his immediate captors, but also of the Reds, in their opposition to civil war and their readiness to assist in the peaceful unification of the country, under his own leadership, provided he defined a policy of positive armed resistance to Japan.”[30] What Chiang was finally made to under-stand at Sian was that the Communists were offering him their unqualified capitulation if he would only adopt a policy upon which he was already half-determined. He realized it was foolish of him to insist upon smashing the Communists by military means when they were fully prepared once more to serve his political ends.[“. . . It does appear to be more and more generally realized that the Communists of China are not now Communists in any remaining essential,” said the American Shanghai Evening Post on December 29, 1936. “. . . What is there about this so-called Communist programme of the present day which warrants refusal to make peace with a group no longer committed to anything fundamentally Communistic? ”] Chiang agreed in substance to the proposals laid before him. He was released on Christmas Day and flown back to Nanking. Six weeks later, after a series of devious and wholly successful face-saving manoeuvres, Chiang convened a plenary session of the Kuomintang’s Central Executive Committee. To the plenum the Communist Party wired its offers: “To cease armed struggle for the overthrow of the Kuomintang Government; to re-name the Soviet Government the Administration of the Special Area of the Chinese Republic; to call the Red Army the national revolutionary army which will be subordinated to the Nanking Government and the military affairs commission; to introduce a democratic administration in the special area; to discontinue confiscation of land belonging to landlords, and to fulfil the common programme of the united anti-Japanese national front.” [31]

The arch-imperialist British North China Daily News, fulminator-in-chief against the Kuomintang-Communist bloc of a decade earlier and the most rabid supporter of Chiang Kai-shek’s war on the Reds, also now dulcetly sang the new tune: “It will do well to ascertain,” it said on December 28, “how correct is General Chang Hsueh-liang’s contention that the so-called Communists are ready to come to terms.”

The Sian coup was also the occasion for a striking example of the “flexibility” of the foreign Communist Press. On the day Chiang was made prisoner, the New York Daily Worker blared forth that Chang Hsueh-liang had raised “the rallying cry of a China united. . . .” Harry Cannes wrote that the demands made by the Sian rebels had been “originally proposed by the Communist Party of China.”— Daily Worker, December 13, 1936. Next day the cables reported that the Moscow Press was denouncing Chang Hsueh-liang as a tool of Japan and was “actually helping Japan to further the sacrifice of his country.” The whole plot, said Izvestia and Pr avda, had been fabricated in Tokyo.—Associated Press, December 14, /936, New York Times, December 15, 1936. Next day the Daily Worker made a 180-degree turn. Gannes discovered that “the gun was primed in Tokyo,” and declared that the first reports, “deliberately filled with anti-Japanese demagogy, were entirely misleading.”— Daily Worker, December 16, 1936. It was all to prove that Moscow loved Chiang and Chiang alone.

The Kuomintang plenary session blandly announced that the Government would continue, as before, to safeguard the nation’s sovereignty, and was determined, as before, to “uproot the Communists.” It then laid down its formal terms for accepting the Communists’ submission: (1) Abolition of the Red Army and its incorporation into the Government armies under the direct control of the Military Affairs Commission. 2) Dissolution of the “Soviet Republic.” (3) Cessation of all Communist propaganda. (4) Suspension of the class struggle.[32]

To these terms the Communist Party formally acceded on March 15, protesting that it had already carried out the most important of them and had “proclaimed on its own initiative the cessation of confiscating the land of the landlords” as proof that “the Communist Party is not promoting class struggle.”[33] The Red Army was subsequently assigned to a “garrison area” in North Shensi and began receiving a regular subsidy from Nanking. A Communist youth congress held at Yenan, Shensi, in April, elected Chiang Kai-shek and other Nanking generals to its presidium along with Chu The and Mao Tse-tung.[34]

“Fushih is the centre of activities of the Chinese Communist Party,” wrote a visitor to North Shensi. “But here there is no suppression of landlords, no division of land. Not a sheet of Communist propaganda can be found. On the street walls the only posters to be seen are those with slogans calling for war against the aggressor, for national salvation, and for internal unification through peaceful means. The slogan ‘Let us support General Chiang to lead in the anti-Japanese war’ is the most popular of all and is found everywhere.”[35]

What did the Red Army fighters think of these sweeping changes? How did the peasants like the new policies? How easily could the Chinese Communist Party impose the “new line” upon them? Only the future will finally answer these questions. The Red Army in Shensi in 1937 was, in any case, no longer the army that had fought so long and so hard for the land and against the Kuomintang. The army that was placed at the disposal of Chiang Kai-shek numbered about ninety thousand. Of these fewer than a third were survivors of the long march from Kiangsi. “Of the ninety thousand regular troops here,” Chu Teh told one foreign visitor, “only twenty to thirty thousand come from the original Kiangsi district. About thirty thousand were recruited on the way, chiefly in Szechwan, and the rest are from local areas.”[36] Another visitor to Shensi in the summer of 1936 caught a few glimpses of the suspicions aroused among these soldiers by the new and unfamiliar commands they had begun to receive. “We must intensify our educational work among our own troops,” Peng Teh-huai told him. “In several recent instances, our men have violated the united front by firing on troops that we had agreed to permit to withdraw. In other instances men were reluctant to return captured rifles and had to be ordered several times to do so. This is not a breach of discipline, but a lack of confidence in their commanders’ orders, showing that the men do not fully understand the reasons for such actions, some men actually accusing their leaders of ‘counter-revolutionary orders.’ “[37]

Another journalist some months later asked a Soviet functionary what the people thought. “The people all like the Soviet better,” he replied. “It was simple and easy for them. The landlords will perhaps like the new democracy better, but there are few landlords left here to enjoy it. We find some difficulty in letting the landlord have the right to vote. The people don’t understand why it is necessary and the farmers are afraid their land might be distributed back to the landlords. . . . In general, however, the people give up the Soviet easily. They trust the leadership of the Communist Party to do what is right for them. Yet, they don’t see the necessity for such a complex change, and some don’t see how it benefited themselves.” [38]

These were brief flashes of the doubts and differences that will inevitably grow into future conflicts when the masses “give up” less “easily” and reach out once more to struggle for aims that “benefit themselves.” But now these considerations were momentarily obscured by the swift turn of events. In July, 1937, Japanese imperialism struck again at North China. Chiang waveringly made a final effort to reach a “local” settlement and on July 11 approved the withdrawal of Chinese forces from the Peiping-Tientsin area. The soldiers of the 29th Army ignored the accord and continued fighting.

Japan’s drive into the northern provinces went on and in August the Japanese Navy struck once more in full force at Shanghai where Chiang was this time compelled at last to take up arms. A few weeks later the final formal steps establishing the new Kuomintang-Communist bloc were taken. On September 10 the incorporation of the Red Army into the Kuomintang forces as the “Eighth Route Army” was announced at Nanking. On September 22 the Communist Party issued a proclamation at Fushih, Shensi, formally dissolving the “Soviet Republic.” Next day Chiang wired them his congratulations. It was almost exactly the tenth anniversary of the day on which Chiang had wired “congratulations” to the Left Kuomintang at Wuhan for its departure from the “national united front” with the Communists and its capitulation to Chiang’s Government at Nanking. A new “national united front” now took shape at a time when the workers and peasants of China, under the direct impact of a barbarous imperialist onslaught, more than ever needed a party, a banner, and a programme of their own with which to lead the struggle against the invader and for their own liberation from the exploiters’ yoke.

By coming back into the Kuomintang fold, the Communist Party completed an historical cycle that had been, in all its stages, uniformly disastrous for the cause of Chinese national liberation. The Party that had styled itself the “vanguard of the proletariat” had never actually based itself upon the proletariat as the main lever of national revolutionary struggle. In 1925-7 it had subordinated itself and the mass movement it led to the bourgeoisie. The result was the victory of the bourgeois-counter-revolution on the basis of a compromise with imperialism which served only to open the road to renewed imperialist invasion. The demoralized Party careened after 1927 into the adventures that transformed it into the spearhead of a localized peasant revolt. The defeat and liquidation of the peasant Soviets in Kiangsi cut it adrift once more. It rested now exclusively upon a mobile force of peasant warriors most of whom did not have, as Wang Min admitted, “the remotest concept of the working-class movement in the big cities.”[39] Having failed to convert that force into an instrument of the proletariat, the Communist Party has now led it back into the camp of the bourgeoisie. When the Comintern failed after the defeat of 1927 to draw the balance of its experiences, it had, Trotsky raid, “opened wide the gates for new experiments in the spirit of the Kuomintang course.” There would still be, he wrote in 1928, “not a few leftward zigzags in the policy of the Chinese bourgeoisie. There will be no lack of temptations in the future for amateurs of the ‘national united front.’[40] “Never having balanced itself on the pivot of a firm proletarian revolutionary policy, the Communist Party toppled back after ten years into the arms of the national bourgeoisie.

The “national united front” was re-created in 1937 on a new historical plane. In 1927 the Communist Party stood at the head of a mighty mass movement. In 1937 it stood at the head of a peasant army of 100,000 men, isolated from the great masses of the people. In 1927 the Communists believed the working class would win “hegemony” in the bloc with the bourgeoisie and would lead the national liberation movement to victory. In 1937 the Communists formed a bloc based upon the Kuomintang’s absorption of the Red Army and the conduct of an anti-Japanese struggle which would serve the immediate interests of the Soviet bureaucracy. It was no longer a question of national liberation, for the new bloc, and its Communist supporters in other countries, openly appealed to the British and American imperialists to intervene and to guarantee their own mastery against the Japanese threat to their imperialist interests. The Comintern bothered no longer to weave devious and cunningly over-worded resolutions about the “hegemony of the proletariat,” for the proletariat no longer entered into its calculations. In 1927 the Comintern recognized in word, if not in deed, the paramount role of the agrarian revolution in the national struggle. In 1937 to return to their alliance with the bourgeoisie the Communists openly renounced their radical agrarian programme and abandoned the land struggle they had led for seven years. They went one step further and promised in advance to “correct ”—i.e. to check and suppress—any such movement independently undertaken by the peasantry.

In 1927 the Communists surrendered leadership of the anti-imperialist struggle to the bourgeoisie, with the result that the latter crushed the masses and compromised with the imperialists. The fiction that the interests of all classes coalesced in the fight against imperialism was harshly exploded when the bourgeoisie demonstrated that its interests lay with the imperialists against the masses. That essential fact is as true to-day as it was then. It constitutes the primary criterion for measuring and understanding the events of 1937-38 and the prospects for the immediate future.

Dissatisfied with the results of the partial surrenders extracted from the Kuomintang regime by diplomatic, economic, and only occasional military pressure, Japan embarked in July, 1937, on a large-scale invasion with the object of imposing its domination over the whole of China by force of arms. Faced with the necessity for making a fateful decision, Chiang Kai-shek wavered. A local settlement of the “Lukouchiao incident”—the clash south of Peiping that precipitated hostilities on July 7—was approved by the Nanking Government. No Central Government forces were moved to the support of the local troops when the continuing Japanese drive showed that the invaders were determined to take over all of North China. When it became evident, however, that this time the Japanese would accept no temporary accord, and when after the fall of Peiping and Tientsin the Japanese Army and Navy once more invaded Shanghai, the die had finally to be cast. After crawling for six years under the Japanese lash, the Kuomintang was finally compelled to offer resistance because Japanese aggression now threatened to extinguish the Chinese bourgeoisie altogether.

During the opening months of the conflict the Kuomintang carefully left every possible door open to compromise. It avoided taking any irrevocable steps. It abrogated none of its treaties with Japan. It repudiated none of its previous compromise agreements. It desisted from confiscating Japanese property. At the height of the Shanghai battle it even paid over to Japan its regular due instalment of the Boxer Indemnity! It repeatedly announced its readiness to accept the mediation of “friendly” powers for the termination of the conflict.

But having mounted the tiger, Chiang Kai-shek could not so easily get off. The more extended became the sphere of Japanese operations the dimmer became the prospects of any immediate compromise which offered “reasonable” security to the Chinese bourgeoisie or adequate recompense to the Japanese imperialists. Shanghai, chief centre of Chinese-owned industry, was reduced to ruins. What was not destroyed in the battle, the Japanese systematically razed afterward. Within a year the invading armies held all the main centres of the north, almost all of the coastal provinces, all but a few of the principal seaports, and all but two of the principal railways. The Kuomintang confined itself to pitting huge masses of ill-equipped soldiery against the attackers. At Shanghai the flesh and spirit of the Chinese soldiers had to give way in the end to the steel of the invaders after three months of ghastly sacrifices, of incredible courage and doggedness in the face of overwhelming odds. The commanding stall, so efficient in its years of warfare against the people was riddled with corruption, sabotage, and outright treason. With the retreat from Shanghai in November it collapsed altogether, and the retreat turned into a rout across the Yangtze Delta. Nanking was precipitately abandoned while the enemy was still 115 miles away. Chiang Kai-shek fled inland and soon after him went Tang Sheng-chih, hero of the Hunan massacres, who had been left behind to command a futile, last-minute defence. Nanking fell on December 13 amid fearful slaughter. In the north the Japanese had encountered little resistance from the scattered forces left in their path. They met serious obstacles only in Shansi province where the former Reds, now the Eighth Route Army, gave them a taste of the mobile tactics of which the Red commanders were so completely the masters. Within rigid limits fixed by the central authorities, the Reds succeeded by their guerrilla tactics in harassing Japanese communications across wide areas. Handicapped by shortage of supplies,[41] and even more critically limited by the Kuomintang’s strict ban on political mobilization of the masses,[42] the Eighth Route Army guerrillas were able to achieve only a fraction of the results of which they were and still are capable. On the Central China front, after the Shanghai-Nanking debacle, reorganized forces, most of them newly conscripted provincials from Szechwan and Kwangsi, made a fresh stand around Hsuchow, strategic junction of the Lunghai and Tientsin-Pukow railways. There they punctured forever the myth of Japanese invincibility, inflicting heavy losses and a number of severe defeats upon some of Japan’s best divisions. It was not until five months after the fall of Nanking that the Japanese forces, swelled to more than a quarter of a million men, finally conquered the Lunghai railway. Rising waters of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, flooding through broken dikes, checked their advance at frightful cost to the peasant population, and slowed down their attempt to drive on to Hankow, the provisional Kuomintang capital, from which the Government was already beginning to flee. Simultaneously new drives were begun in the south where at Canton, Swatow, and other cities, Japanese bombers, unchallenged, dealt out death to huddled thousands of doomed civilians.

Throughout the first year of the war, the Chinese bourgeoisie dared only to conduct a purely military defensive struggle. It succeeded in making the invasion a costly adventure for Japan, but it also showed that such methods cannot effectively withstand the imperialist attack and will not, certainly, serve the interests of Chinese national liberation. Still fearing the masses more than the imperialists, the bourgeoisie has looked to the United States and Great Britain for aid. These powers, as yet not quite prepared for the eventual show-down in the Pacific, have extended moral and material support to the Kuomintang in cautious doles, while keeping the diplomatic record against Japan clear. Their pressure against Japan, especially that of the United States, is certain to increase in the coming period of struggle for Pacific supremacy. The basis for it, in sharpening notes of protest, in sedulously prepared campaigns of propaganda, and above all in mounting billions of expenditure on a mighty war fleet on the sea and in the air, is already being laid. The Soviet Union, paralysed by a profound internal crisis, has been able to extend only a thin trickle of aid. Its fate, too, is bound up not only with the outcome of the struggle now raging in China, but with that which is destined to blaze up along still vaster battlefronts.

Meanwhile so long as Chinese leadership remains in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the present war will end at best either in a compromise with Japan or the complete subjection of China to the United States and Great Britain in return for their intervention against their rival. Neither eventuality will free China. Neither will liberate the masses who are bearing the chief burdens of the conflict of which they are also the principal victims. The war against Japanese imperialism will be forced to a victorious and liberating conclusion only when it is clearly linked in the minds of the masses with their own struggle in their own behalf. Only in this way will the technical deficiencies that flow from the backwardness of the country be overcome.

The mobilization of China’s vast man-power will be made possible only if the masses are galvanized by bold social measures that will prevent the merchants, bankers, and land-lords from passing the costs of the war on to the backs of the exploited. A still bolder revolutionary programme that will identify for the peasantry the aims of national liberation from imperialist aggression, and their own liberation from thraldom on the land, will bring forward reserves of strength against which the Japanese invaders will never be able to prevail. Partisan warfare waged by such forces can and will make China as unconquerable as Siberia was when it was overrun by the invading troops of the interventionist powers twenty years ago. But such a war cannot be made to order. In the years when it was a revolutionary peasant force, the Chinese Red Army was able to withstand the infinitely better-armed and more numerous forces sent against it precisely because it had unlocked the simple secret of successful partisan warfare. “Because the masses are interested only in the practical solution of their problems of livelihood,” Peng Teh-huai had once said, “it is possible to develop partisan warfare only by the immediate satisfaction of their most urgent demands. This means that the exploiting class must be promptly disarmed and immobilized.”[43]

In other words, the fight could be carried forward against Japan by rousing the masses to the realization, in word and in action, that this fight was identical with the struggle for the land, by intensifying, not suspending the class struggle. By its capitulation to the Kuomintang, the Red Army abdicated this struggle. In return for a bloc with the bourgeoisie it surrendered its leadership of the peasants and forswore the mobilization of the working class that it had already long since abandoned. The bourgeoisie, for its part, was no more willing now than it was in 1927 to abdicate its fundamental economic interests. It was just as determined now, as then, to keep the workers and peasants yoked to its wheel, to make them bear the cost of the military struggle which the bourgeoisie felt itself compelled to wage, and to prevent them from rising to struggle in their own interest.

The workers, who had begun under the stimulus of the 1935-36 recovery to reassemble their forces and to conduct bold and militant strikes, were thrust back by the outbreak of the war, which caused such terrific destruction in the chief industrial centres and naturally checked the economic upturn which had begun to revive the Labour movement. To insure itself against any attempt by the workers to reject the new loads now laid upon them, the Kuomintang Government issued in December, 1937, a decree fixing the death penalty. for workers who went on strike or even agitated for strikes while the war was in progress.[44] A few days later Wang Min told an interviewer at Hankow that the Communist Party was “fully satisfied” with the Kuomintang’s conduct of the war.” The further course of that war will be determined by many factors, near and remote from present-day battlefields, but the cause of Chinese national liberation will be served in the coming period only to the degree that the masses cease being as “fully satisfied” as the Communist Party with the continuing domination of the bourgeois exploiters. This will, in turn, depend upon the emergence of a new revolutionary party capable of marshalling the workers and peasants in their own organizations and of embarking with them on the path of revolutionary struggle. Such a party will have to know how to join in the present war side by side with Chiang Kai-shek of the “devil himself,” but it will also have to be ready to continue the fight when the Chiang Kai-sheks abandon it, and to carry on the struggle against all who seek to bar the way to the victory of the workers and peasants in the Chinese Revolution of to-morrow.

In any care Japan’s temporary superiority in armaments, its transient victories, the apparently broad sweep of its conquests, cannot and will not insure its final triumph. The shadow of ultimate defeat falls across every dearly won “victory” on Chinese battlefields.[45] The fatally frail economic structure of Japan cannot withstand the pressure the war places upon it. Faced always with the threat of a social crisis at home, Japanese imperialism will, moreover, before long, have to face its incomparably stronger rivals when the next world war begins and a new attempt is made by the imperialist powers to prolong their existence by re-dividing the world’s spoils. The war-makers will begin that struggle. The exploited and victimized masses, in China and in Japan and throughout the world, will decide how it is to end. In this respect the present conflict in China can be viewed only as an episode, an opening episode, along with the invasion of Ethiopia and the civil war in Spain, of the greater conflicts that impend.

Notes

1 Cf. China Forum, Shanghai, January 13, 1932.

2 China Forum, May 21, 1932 ; “Letter of the Central Committee to the Manchurian Organizations, June 9, 1933,” Struggle, Juichin, August 15, 1933 ; Lo Mai, “The Manchurian National Revolutionary War,” Struggle, September 15, 1933.

3 See Chap. XVIII, Notes 33, 44.

4 Cf. “Examples of Bolshevist Work and Revolutionary Struggle,” Communist International, December, 1932.

5 Red Flag, December 17, 1931.

6 “The Manchurian Events and the Fundamental Tasks of the Anti-Imperialist Movement,” Bolshevik, Shanghai, November to, 1931.

7 See Chap. XVIII, Note 33.

8 China Forum, January 27, 1932.

9 Ibid., March 15, 1932.

10 “Letter to Party Organizations and to all Comrades from the Central Committee on the Question of the United Front in the Anti-Imperialist Movement,” Struggle, Shanghai, June to, 1933 ; “Resolution of the Central Committee on the 5th Campaign and the Tasks of the Party, July 24, 1933,” Struggle, Juichin, August 12, 1933.

11 Cf. Lo Fu, “On the Soviet Power and the People’s Power,” Red Flag, February 15, 1932.

12 Theses and Resolutions, XII Plenum of the E.C.C.I. (September, 1932), Moscow, 1933, p. 16.

13 China Forum, May 21, 1932.

14 Ibid., April 13, 1933.

15 Ibid., April 13, 1933.

16 Wang Min, Revolutionary China To-day, p. 33.

17 “The Second Soviet Congress of the Chinese Soviet Republic,” International Press Correspondence, June 1, 1934.

18 Shanghai Evening Post, August 25, 1934 ; China Press, September 2, 1934.

19 Wang Min, Revolutionary China To-day, p. 33. 486

20 Wang Min, Revolutionary Movement in the Colonial Countries (Report to Seventh Congress of the Comintern), New York, 1935, pp. 15, 20-1.

21 Ibid., pp. 13, 20.

22 Daily Worker, New York, March 30, 1936.

23 Wang Min, Revolutionary Movement, pp. 51-2.

24 “Essential Conditions and Minimum Demands for United Resistance,” China: The March Toward Unity, New York, 1937, pp. 66-7.

25 Mao Tse-tung to the Members of the All-China National Salvation League, August 10, 1936, China: The March Toward Unity, p. 70 ff. ; cf. China To-day, New York, January, 1937.

26 China: The March Toward Unity, p. 30.

27 Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China, New York, 1938, p. 398.

28 Harry Gannes, When China Unites, New York, 1937, p. 265 ; Snow, Red Star Over China, p. 414.

29 Chiang Kai-shek and Mme Chiang Kai-shek, General Chiang Kai-shek, New York, 1937 ; see also James Bertram, First Act in China, New York, 1938. The position of the Communist Party in these events will be found in various telegrams reproduced in China To-day, March, 1937 ; see also “Concerning Events in Sian,” Communist International, January, 1937.

30 Snow, Red Star Over China, p. 417.

31 Sunday Worker, New York, February 21, 1937.

32 New York Times, February 20, 1937 ; New York Herald Tribune, February 22, 1937 ; Gannes, When China Unites, p. 279 ; Snow, Red Star Over China, p. 427.

33 China To-day, May, 1937.

34 New Tork Times, April 30, 1937.

35 China To-day, July, 1937.

36 Philip Jaffe, “China’s Communists Told Me,” New Masses, New York, October 12, 1937 ; Cf. Snow, Red Star Over China, p. 194’

37 Snow, Red Star Over China, pp. 342-3.

38 Nym Wales, “The Passing of the Chinese Soviets,” Asia, New York, January, 1938.

39 Wang Min, China Can Win! New York, 1937, p.

40. Trotsky, Third International After Lenin, pp. 177, 196.

41 New York Times, January 24, 1938.

42 Shanghai Evening Post, October 18, 1937.

43 Snow, Red Star Over China, p. 275.

44 Havas News Agency, December 23, 1937.

45 Shanghai Evening Post, December 27, 1937.