Labour Monthly

The Driving Forces of the Chinese Revolution

J. Fineberg

Source : Labour Monthly May 1927, p.282-291
Publisher : The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London.
Transcription/HTML : Ted Crawford/D. Walters
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2012). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


The victory of the nationalist forces at Shanghai is of enormous consequence for the Chinese national revolution, not only from the standpoint of the enlargement of the territory of the National Government and the addition to it of the most important industrial and commercial centre in China, but also from the political and social standpoint. There is no need to stress the economic significance of Shanghai; that is very well known. Suffice it to say that Shanghai has always been regarded as the prize by all the factions fighting for Power in China, for the very considerable revenues accruing from the possession of this extremely important centre enabled those who hold it to be financially independent.

It is the social aspect of this victory that must principally engage our attention. In this respect the Shanghai victory may mark the completion of a stage and the beginning of a new line of development of the Chinese revolution. The manner in which Shanghai was taken in itself brings out this point very strikingly. As is known, Shanghai was not taken directly by the regular Southern troops, but by the workers from within. This emphasises the rôle of the proletariat as a driving force of the Chinese revolution, and the acquisition of the great industrial centre of Shanghai by the nationalists implies that this rôle will be increased from now onward.

It is from this standpoint that the effect of the capture of Shanghai by the Southern forces upon the future course of the Chinese revolution must be regarded. The problems to which this situation gives rise are not new, for they have arisen in connection with struggles for national emancipation in other countries. The experience of national emancipation movements teaches that the time comes when certain classes participating in the struggle begin to waver in their attitude towards the movement and even to abandon it, and the extent of the influence which these classes exercise over the movement determines whether the national struggle is carried to its logical conclusion or not. Recent events in the Chinese nationalist movement are an indication that the attitude of the respective classes participating in the movement is undergoing modification and that this is calling forth certain reactions among the other classes participating in the movement.

The Chinese revolution is a national revolution in that it is a fight of the Chinese people against the domination and exploitation of foreign imperialism. On the other hand, it is a social revolution in so far as it is a fight of the Chinese bourgeoisie against the obsolete survivals of feudalism and present-day militarism, and for the establishment of conditions in China which will facilitate its development an modern lines; and of the workers and peasants against their exploiters, the bourgeoisie and the landlords, and against feudalism and militarism, the removal of which will clear the field for developing their struggle to its widest scope. As a national movement the Chinese revolution unites all sections of the people whose interests are affected by the domination of the imperialists. As a social revolution the diverse interests of the various and numerous classes cut across the unity of national interests and cause friction within the national movement itself. This does not mean that a clear line of demarcation can be drawn between the national revolution and the social revolution in China. The domination of foreign imperialism is an extremely important factor, tending to keep China in the state of semi-feudalism, and is an obstacle to the development of the national industry and commerce of the country. Furthermore, it serves as a bulwark of class rule. Consequently the social revolution is closely bound up with the national revolution, and the diversity of class interests among the Chinese people have their reactions upon the attitude of the various classes towards the imperialists.

The various classes participating in the national movement in China may be enumerated as follows:- The compradore bourgeoisie, who act as the middlemen between foreign trade and industry and the Chinese market, and whose prosperity therefore is closely bound up with foreign imperialism. Their desire to create in China a field for their investments independently of foreign capital inclines them towards the national movement, but their close connections with the imperialists predominate in determining their attitude, which can be described as definitely counter-revolutionary.

Then comes the Chinese wealthy industrial and commercial bourgeoisie, whose economic development is hampered by the competition of the foreign capitalists, whose competitive ability is strengthened by the domination of foreign imperialism in China. This class supports the national movement in so far as its aim is to abolish the privileges of the foreign imperialists and create the conditions for the development of national industry and commerce.

The next is the large class of petty traders and artisans, the urban petit-bourgeoisie, who are oppressed by the feudal survivals in the country which are fostered by imperialism.

In the rural districts there is the class of landowners and the so-called gentry -- the traditional official class in China, which is closely connected with the landowning class. Both these classes have their connections with the compradore class. Like them, their association with the national movement is extremely doubtful, and they represent a decidedly reactionary element in the country.

The vast mass of the Chinese people consists of small landowners, tenant farmers and landless agricultural labourers, exploited by the landowners, the officials and the militarists.

Finally there is the growing industrial proletariat. The place of the two latter classes in the revolution will be revealed in the further elucidation of the subject.

For a long time the national movement in China was confined to the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie and to the intellectuals -- the students. The leaders of the movement relied upon the military forces they could collect for the achievement of their aims. As long as this was the case the movement made no headway, for no national movement can make progress unless it carries the mass of the people with it. The incidents in Shanghai and Canton in May and June, 1925, roused the masses, particularly the proletariat, and swept them into the national movement. Since that time the movement has been steadily rising to its culminating point.

Influenced by the Communists, the Kuomintang -- the Nationalist Party -- realised at last that the organisation of the masses of the people and gaining their support was absolutely essential for the success of the national revolution. The party was reorganised as a mass national party, and wide propaganda was carried on among the masses of the small merchants, artisans and the peasantry to win their adherence and active participation in the national movement.

But the masses of the people cannot be roused on the strength c abstract slogans and remote prospects of liberty. They have to be given a direct material interest in the revolution and immediate prospects of relief from the burdens from which they are suffering. The peasants demand relief from the severe burden of taxation and extortionate rents. They want land. The workers demand relief from the terrible exploitation that prevails in China and an immediate improvement in their conditions. The Kuomintang therefore, was obliged to adopt an agrarian and labour programme. It had to recognise the right of the workers and the peasants to organise not only for the prosecution of the national revolution a such, but also in defence of their own class interests. It had to work in conjunction with the trade unions, and the organisation o peasant leagues became a definite part of the work of the party.

Being a party composed of representatives of the diverse classes represented in the national movement, the Kuomintang naturally reflected all the diversified interests of these classes. As the revolution developed the diversity of interests of these classes became more pronounced, and this in its turn could not but cause reactions in the party and in the movement generally. The internal friction in the Kuomintang became more acute in proportion as the workers and peasants began to play a more prominent part in the revolutionary movement. For example, Canton could serve as a base for the revolutionary national movement because of the determined and stubborn fight put up by the Hongkong and Canton workers. The revolutionary movement was fostered also by the activities of the workers in Shanghai. In the rural districts in the South the peasants were the backbone of the revolution and prevented a revival of the counter-revolution. As the rôle of the workers and peasants in the revolution became more important, they became more persistent in their demands for the satisfaction of their own class interests.

The predominance which the workers and peasants began to assume in the national movement caused disquietude among the bourgeois classes, and they began to raise the alarm. In the Kuomintang this was reflected in the growing activity of the Right Wing, which raised the cry that the Kuomintang was a Bolshevik organisation. Their activities, which began to assume a definitely anti-national character, led to their expulsion. The expulsion of the Right Wing, however, did not eliminate all the Right Wing elements from the party, and as the class differences in the party developed they accumulated strength.

Between the Right Wing and the lieft there is the so-called Centre, which may be said to represent the middle industrial and commercial bourgeoisie, which is torn between its interests in the national revolution and its fear of the predominance of the workers and peasants. At the head of this Centre is Chiang Kai-shek, the commander-in-chief of the Southern forces, who observed the growing strength of the Left Wing with apprehension.

Things reached a crisis in March last year, when Chiang Kai-shek combined with the Right Wing to bring about a coup in Canton and took power into his own hands. Wang Ting-wei, the Chairman of the party and of the Government and Leader of the Left Wing of the party, was obliged to leave Canton. Chiang demanded the resignation of all the Communists from responsible posts in the party, and control passed over entirely into the hands of the Centre and the Right.

Soon, however, a remarkable balance of forces within the Kuomintang was revealed. Chiang Kai-shek found that, deprived of the support of the Left Wing, it was impossible to hold a Central Position and that he must be inevitably drawn to the Right and into the camp of the counter-revolution. He discovered that without the Left Wing there was practically no revolutionary movement and without the Communists there were hardly any active workers in the movement. This brought him to his senses, and he began to make overtures for a compromise. A joint conference of the Executive Committees of the Communist and Kuomintang Parties was held last May, at which Chiang Kai-shek ostensibly climbed down, agreed to break with the Right Wing and cooperate with the Communists. But his surrender was only temporary.

The internal class antagonisms in the national movement were not eliminated by this however. On the contrary, they continued to develop. The success of the Northern campaign extended the territories of the Kuornintang authorities, and in these newly acquired territories the same developments took place as had previously taken place in the Kwantung province. The peasants organised and put forward their demands. In many districts they came into direct conflict with the local gentry and landowners, who saw in the peasant leagues a menace to their power. With the arrival of the Southern. troops at the Yangtse and the inclusion of the industrial centres of Hankow and Hanyang in the territories of the Kuomintang the weight and influence of the industrial workers in the national movement increased. Trade unions were rapidly organised, and the workers demanded improved conditions. In China the conditions of the workers are so bad that any demands for improvements that will make their conditions at all human, even according to Chinese standards, may quite naturally seem excessive. For example, workers receiving six Mexican dollars per month would demand eighteen dollars per month, which is still miserably low wage, but a demand for an increase in wages of 200 per cent. would quite naturally shock an employer.

The bourgeoisie saw their economic interests threatened by the growing power of the workers and demanded that some restraint be put upon them. As a result of their pressure the Kuomintang Government last December issued a decree introducing arbitration as a method of settling industrial disputes and making this compulsory for certain branches of industry, like army supplies, transport, enterprises dealing with finance and enterprises supplying the common needs of the people. In Hankow the authorities issued a decree fixing a limit to the increases in wages which each category of workers could demand.

The discontent of the bourgeoisie with the growing activity and influence of the workers and peasants again caused an acute situation to arise in the Kuomintang. Open propaganda began to be conducted in the party against the Left Wing and the Communists. Matters came to a head again at the beginning of last month, just prior to the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Kuomintang. Chiang Kai-shek led a definite and open campaign against the Left Wing, to which the latter replied with a vigorous counter-campaign. The situation bore all the symptoms of an approaching rupture in the party.

Meanwhile the imperialists were watching the conflict within the Kuomintang very closely, and there is not the slightest doubt that they placed great hopes on a victory for Chiang Kai-shek against the Left Wing. They did not confine themselves merely to hoping, but did their best to encourage the bourgeoisie to bring about a split in the movement. By their propaganda they fanned the fears of the bourgeoisie that the revolution was taking a Bolshevik turn and hinted that a way could be found for a peaceful settlement of the differences between China and the foreign Powers if the Left Wing could be eliminated and the labour and peasant movement crushed.

Besides the conflict of class interests in the national movement the imperialists placed their hopes upon another factor to crush the radical section of the national movement, namely, the military factor. Without in any way deprecating the military leadership of the Southern forces, it may be stated that the recent victories are due to a considerable extent to the defections of the Northern generals, who at critical moments came over to the Southern forces. Some of these generals sympathise with the national movement, and have maintained contact with the Southern forces even when they retained their command under the Northern militarists. Such, for example, is Chin Yun-ao, formerly a commander under Wu Pei-fu, and who is now holding up the advance of Chang Tso-lin. The majority of the generals who have come over to the Southern side merely display the traditional attitude of Chinese militarists of siding with the winning side.

The estimation of the situation in the national movement made by the imperialists is not without foundation. It was inevitable and foreseen that the time would come when a section of the bourgeoisie would tire of the revolution, and that when a certain stage of success had been reached they would long for a compromise. This longing would be quickened if the driving forces which have carried them to this stage would appear to them to be gaining the mastery and threaten to rob them of the successes they had obtained. Feeling powerless to resist this new power by their own efforts, they would be inclined to compromise with the former enemy in order to resist the new one. In such an event the deserters from the Northern camp, together with the Right Wing elements in the Southern military forces, would be a serious factor to contend with.

This stage has not yet been definitely reached in the Chinese national revolution. The bourgeoisie has not yet exhausted its revolutionary rôle for the reason that its gains in the revolution have not yet been consolidated. On the other hand, while the imperialists are inclined to flirt with the wavering elements in the national revolution, they are not yet in a mood to make such concessions as would satisfy the desires of the moderate element. On the contrary, the aggression now being displayed by the imperialists, particularly, by the British imperialists, is sufficient to convince all the elements striving for the emancipation of China that a stern fight has still to be waged before that object can be achieved. The bombardment of Nanking by the British and American forces has served as a striking object-lesson to all classes in China in the imperialist method of “solving the China problem.”

Nevertheless, with the further development of the struggle the stage when the bourgeoisie will desire to call a halt becomes more and more imminent, and the recent crisis in the Kuomintang is a symptom of its approach. The capture of Shanghai may appear to the moderates to round off the gains of the revolutionary advance while the establishment of direct contact between the vast industrial population in Shanghai with the national revolutionary movement and the Kuomintang will have the effect of quickening the process of class differentiation in the movement.

There is not the slightest doubt that if the movement of the workers and peasants were restricted the very serious danger would arise of the revolution running to seed and meeting with the fate that was suffered by the revolution of 1911. The national revolution in China was revived by the workers and peasants; they have urged, inspired and carried it to its present successes and on the further development of the labour and peasant movement depends the complete fruition of the revolution. There is no question also that the further development of the labour and peasant movement will meet with the increasing resistance of the Right Wing of the bourgeoisie and provide them with a pretext for abandoning the national revolution.

Thus a delicate situation has arisen in the national revolutionary movement in China, and this was reflected in the crisis in the party in the beginning of March. The Right Wing, encouraged by the imperialists, were obviously working for a split, which if it took place at the present time would be of decided advantage to the reactionary elements. Again, the wavering of the middle industrial and commercial bourgeoisie was revealed in their bold opposition to the Left Wing and their collapse at the moment when the fatal decision had to be made. The crisis showed also that the Left Wing, consisting of the alliance of the workers, the peasants and the urban petit-bourgeoisie, represents the backbone of the revolutionary national movement and that it alone can be relied upon to carry it to its victorious conclusion.

This was confirmed by the outcome of the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Kuomintang that took place in Hankow in the middle of March. Chiang Kai-shek was faced with the same dilemma that he found himself in last May, with this difference, however, that the growth of the labour and peasant movement resulting from the acquisition of new and extensive territories by the national revolutionary forces had increased the power of the Left Wing and enabled it to make his declaration of submission more definite than that of last May. He was obliged openly to recognise the Kuomintang Party as the supreme authority in the national revolutionary movement and that the supreme control of the armed forces of the revolution must lie in the hands of the national revolutionary government. Again, he has been compelled to admit publicly that the Communists are essential elements in the national revolutionary movement and that without them it is impossible to rally the masses in the towns, in the country and in the army for the revolutionary cause. It remains to be seen to what extent he will act up to his declaration.

On the other hand the Communists have definitely joined the Kuomintang Government, and thus will be able to bring the influence of the proletariat and the peasants to bear directly upon it. Two Communists, Hsu Sao-ehen and Tang Ping-san, have accepted the posts of Ministers for Labour and Agriculture respectively. These two posts may be regarded as the most important posts in the Government at the present time, for they have to deal with the two departments of activities of the government which, if properly handled, will guarantee to the national revolutionary movement the continued and increasing support of the masses of the workers and peasants. The fact that these posts are now held by Communists will help the carrying out and further development of the measures which the Kuomintang Government have already passed for the relief of the conditions of the workers and peasants and the removal of those obstacles to their being carried out which have hitherto existed locally.

The last crisis in the Kuomintang ended in a victory for the Left Wing, but other crises of a similar nature are inevitable in the future. For the time being the truculent and aggressive attitude of the imperialists towards nationalist China is compelling the bourgeoisie still to cling to the national movement, but the time can be clearly foreseen when their class interests will gain the upper hand and they will seek more determinedly for a compromise with the imperialists. The outcome of the last crisis has shown, however, that the situation in China is such that the real driving forces of the Chinese national revolution are increasing in power and velocity, and that when the critical moment does arise when the bourgeoisie abandons the movement the proletariat, the peasants and the urban petit-bourgeoisie will have consolidated their forces and be in a position by their own efforts to carry the revolution farther forward and to a higher stage. The addition of the organised and militant industrial proletariat of Shanghai to the national revolutionary forces is a guarantee of that.