Under the Iron Heel
of Chiang Kai Shek

(May 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 22, 2 June 1934, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Shanghai, May 2 (By Mail) – Cold inertia holds the Chinese labor movement in its paralyzing grip. May Day passed in Shanghai yesterday without causing the faintest ripple. The North-China Daily News reports laconically: “Police authorities took precautionary measures against possible disturbances by reactionary elements. Nothing untoward happened during the day.” Even the mild demonstrations of former years, when a few Communists gathered at crowded street corners, shouting slogans, scattering handbills, and disappearing as soon as a policeman came upon the scene, were abandoned this year. In other industrial cities it was the same. In Kuomintang China, the reaction reigns supreme, triumphant, unchallenged.

Last year’s wave of workers’ defensive struggles occasioned by the growth of oppression and the more and more devastating attacks on the workers’ livelihood, has weakened almost to the point of petering out completely. Without independent unions and in some cases without unions at all; deprived of a militant, class-conscious leadership; poverty-stricken and without funds to maintain an effective strike organization – the strikes that took place were doomed in advance. A whole series of defeats, with scarcely a bright spot of partial victory to relieve the gloomy picture, lately culminated in the loss of a strike by the four thousand workers of the Mayar Silk Works, largest of its kind in Shanghai. For several weeks the workers held out against a 10 percent wage-cut and then returned to work in disorderly retreat.

This strike is worthy of some detailed attention, since it is characteristic of the whole recent strike movement in China. The Mayar workers struck alone. Their leaders held no prior consultation with the workers in other silk factories with a view to enlisting their support. There is no union for the entire industry. Indeed, most of the silk workers are entirely unorganized, although they are among the most fearfully exploited of China’s industrial proletariat. They work a 12-hour day for a pittance beside which the fifteen-dollar weekly income of a C.W.A. worker in America appears munificent. The Mayar workers struck under other strong disadvantages. Theirs was the last of a series of strikes that have taken place in the Shanghai silk industry during the past two to three years. Other sections of the silk workers had gone down in defeat one after the other. Thus, without prior agreement, there existed no prospect that the Mayar workers would gain the support of their already defeated fellow-workers by means of sympathetic strikes.

Defeat in these circumstances was inevitable. But the Mayar strike should and could have been used as the basis for a great campaign to organize the workers in the entire silk industry with the perspective of a future struggle on an industry-wide scale. This was not done. The members of the Left Opposition, who had valuable contacts with leading strikers, failed to get the necessary slogans put forward. They only thought of them when the strike was already on the wane and plunging to defeat. Moreover, they failed to advance the democratic slogans of the Left Opposition and link them up with the strike struggle, although conditions were most propitious. The strike was proscribed by the authorities and the strikers forbidden to hold meetings or demonstrations. Here was a first-class opportunity to popularize democratic demands among a large number of workers and to link these with our central slogan for the convocation of the National Assembly.

Despite government prohibition the strikers did demonstrate. But instead of demonstrating before the factories with a view to winning the support of their fellow-workers in the silk industry, they went into largely futile gatherings before the Bureau of Social Affairs, a Kuomintang organ whose function is to break strikes by deceit, cajolery and intimidation.

The Stalinists possess no influence among China’s industrial proletariat. Privately they will admit that the optimistic material found in the congress speeches of the “genial leader” and his henchmen – Piatnitsky, Manuilsky, et al. – are so much balderdash. In the strike of the Mayar silk workers they played no part. Their slogans for the workers are vain admonitions to “Join the Red Army” and “Support the Soviet Districts,” which in the circumstances are a stupid mockery of the workers’ struggle.

Thus May Day 1934 passed unnoticed in Kuomintang China, except for official Kuomintang gatherings and a Nazi flag-raising ceremony which took place before the German consulate-general in Shanghai, when fascist orators emphasized the significance of May 1 as definitely commemorating “the nationalization of labor as an integral factor of German life today.” While these ceremonies proceeded, proletarian China bowed its back under the lash of reaction. In Shanghai, life proceeded as usual. In the pale dawn the workers streamed in their tens of thousands to the factories. Along the water-front and in the streets, with the sun high in the heavens, the coolies strained at their inhuman loads, watering their tracks with their sweat.

Not a voice of protest nor a note of rebellion anywhere!

Last updated on 13 May 2016