Li Fu-jen

A Liberal in China

(March 1938)

From New International, Vol. IV No. 3, March 1938, pp. 89–90.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Red Star Over China
474 pp. Illus. New York, Random House, $3.00

When China Unites
293 pp. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, $2.00

The specter of “Soviet China”, the designation given by the Stalinists to rural parts of Old Cathay which have been controlled by peasant governments under Communist party leadership, has haunted the pages of bourgeois journalism for a full decade and more. Taking time out from their routine task of covering the China scene, foreign newspaper correspondents on the pay-rolls of the great metropolitan dailies have milled out books dealing with or bearing upon the subject. Sentimental radicals, handicapped by poverty of understanding and with but few authenticated facts to go upon, have essayed the telling of the story of Soviet China, or fragments of it, and have endeavored to interpret the phenomenon to Western readers. The Stalinists and their hangers-on have, of course, been active in the same field.

Victor A. Yakhontoff, a former Czarist general doing penance for old political sins at the altar of Stalinist “liberalism”, paid a flying visit to Shanghai five years ago, talked with a few foreign newspaper correspondents, then returned to America and published a book entitled The Chinese Soviets. It contained much misinformation and told the world exactly nothing that was not known before. But the Stalinists hailed it as “authoritative.”

Then came Agnes Smedley, the sob-sister of the Chinese revolution, with her China’s Red Army Marches. This lady, who in recent years has developed into a vicious vilifier of the Fourth Internationalists (the time of her development along this line coincided with a visit to Moscow, where she lived happily for about a year as a pensioner of the State Publishing House), gathered all the material for her book in her foreign-style apartment in Shanghai during the course of conversations with a functionary of the Communist party and the Red army. It represented only a slight improvement on Yakhontoff. Neatly inserted into it, of course, were the usual slanderous diatribes against the Trotskyists, whom, in accordance with what her informant told her and without any effort to check, she labelled as spies and provocateurs – the “A.B. [anti-Bolshevik] Group”.

Now comes Edgar Snow, the first foreigner to enter the Soviet districts of China and emerge with a story gathered on the spot. The author is chief correspondent in the Far East of the London Daily Herald. His Red Star Over China is the first really factual piece of writing about the Chinese Soviets. As such it merits attention. Unlike Yakhontoff and Agnes Smedley, conscious Stalinist propagandists who strain at no falsehood big or small, Snow regards himself as a detached observer, an impartial investigator, who stands upon the Olympian heights of verifiable truth. He is a liberal anxious to maintain his liberal reputation. Thus his book starts out: “During my seven years in China hundreds of questions have been asked about the Chinese Red army, the Soviets, and the communist movement. Eager partisans could supply you with a stock of ready answers, but these remained highly unsatisfactory. How did they know? They had never been to Red China.”

Journeying to Northern Shensi in the summer of 1936, Snow spent several months in Soviet territory. He travelled extensively as a guest of the Chinese Soviet government (since become a special Kuomintang administrative district), studied social and economic conditions, visited institutions, conversed with peasants, artisans, students, laborers, took many photographs (some of which are included in this volume), and was accorded lengthy interviews with such Soviet leaders as Chu Teh, Chou En-lai, P’eng Teh-huai and Mao Tse-tung, who, incidentally, laughed heartily when told of earlier Comintern reports that the Chinese Soviets had embraced 80,000,000 people; 9,000,000 was nearer the mark, Mao revealed. It was during these interviews that Snow gathered all the information which he retails as the history of the Chinese Soviets from their early beginnings in 1927 until the summer and autumn of 1936. This in itself is a stirring narrative of revolution, of the peasant struggle for the land, which well repays reading.

By the time of Snow’s arrival in Yenan, the Soviet capital, the entire movement was embarking on the wide class-collaborationist road of the “People’s Anti-Japanese United Front”. The Soviet leaders, following out the policies adopted in August 1935 at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, had publicly announced their abandonment of the land confiscation program and were entering upon their new role as the guardians of private property in order to secure a “united front” with Chiang Kai-shek against Japan.

No congress of the Soviets was held either to consider the change before it was made or to ratify it afterwards. The abandonment of the agrarian revolution in favor of People’s Frontism took place in thoroughly typical Stalinist fashion. It was decreed from above. Had Snow remained longer in Soviet territory, he might have had some interesting revelations to make regarding the real attitude of the Red Army peasant soldiers toward the switch, their reaction to the discovery that the Kuomintang, the landlords and the bourgeoisie, against whom they had been engaged in bitter warfare for a decade, had suddenly become their friends.

Despite his journalistic detachment, the author has found no difficulty in subscribing to the view that “continued revolutionary war, in the face of a foreign menace which promised extinction for the entire nation, would further weaken not only the national strength of resistance, but with it perhaps bury the potential forces of the revolution itself”. Snow sees no difference between cessation of armed hostility against the Kuomintang in order to create a united front against Japan, and political capitulation to the Kuomintang. In his view, this capitulation was a necessary condition for the creation of such a united front. And he would doubtless argue that apart from such capitulation no means existed for forcing the Kuomintang into a united front. Which, of course, is the veriest nonsense. Had the communists unfurled the banner of united struggle against imperialism, retaining intact their own independent program, they could have aroused a movement of mass pressure so powerful that it would either have forced the Kuomintang into a united front, or – more favorable variant – resulted in the overthrow of the Kuomintang and its replacement by a revolutionary government. Being in great haste – Stalin was pressing from Moscow – the Communist party leaders chose the ignominious and traitorous road of political self-renunciation. There exists in China today no such thing as a united front. There is only the political abasement of the Stalinists.

Snow, a non-Marxist, has no understanding of the real necessities of the anti-imperialist struggle. His opinions and conclusions are nowhere illumined by scientific understanding or analysis. He is just a dull empiricist. And therefore emerges – a People’s Fronter.

In a chapter entitled Chinese Communism and the Comintern, Snow discusses the tragedy of the Chinese revolution in 1927 with all the superficiality so characteristic of the liberal. The Comintern, he says, “may be held responsible for serious reverses suffered by the Chinese communists in the anguish of their growth.” Why? Because “the policies of the Chinese communists, like communists in every other country, have had to fall in line with, and usually subordinate themselves to, the broad strategic requirements of Soviet Russia, under the dictatorship of Stalin”. Then follows a statement virtually cancelling out this attachment of blame. Says Snow: “There is, however, abundant reason to believe that had the Opposition’s objection [to Stalin’s opportunism] been made the basis of an early Jacobin policy in China [meaning an independent revolutionary policy based on the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat] the tragedy would have been even more severe. Trotsky’s theoretical criticisms were, as usual, brilliant, and his advice had some connection with the actual peculiarities of the situation. But not, as often, very much. Trotsky’s line clearly suggests that the only alternative he had to offer to the Comintern policy, which ended in catastrophe, was a policy which would have ended in a much earlier and more complete catastrophe.”

Does Snow have a third policy that would insure revolutionary success? He does not. Indeed, he goes on to say: “It is tedious here to enter further into Stalin-Trotsky polemics. The important thing is that Stalin won, and his policy dominated the future activities of the Comintern in China.” This is the crowning gem of Snow’s thought. He finds it “tedious” to wrestle with a vital political problem. That is the measure of his intellectual stature.

Where actual facts are concerned, Snow’s objectivity is not employed with any even-handedness as between the Stalinists and the revolutionary opposition. He seems to consider that his conversion to People’s Frontism gives him license to slander wilfully the Chinese section of the Fourth International. The Chinese “Trotskyites”, he writes, “earned a very bad stigma as spies and traitors – many of them were led by the logic of their position to join the Blue-shirts [Chiang Kai-shek’s secret gangster organization] and betray former comrades to the police”. Where did Snow get this piece of slander? From the Stalinist leaders whom he interviewed, from persons who at this writing are carrying on, in Shanghai and elsewhere, a most vicious campaign of provocative vilification against the Chinese Trotskyites, charging them with being paid agents of the Japanese imperialists. To this reviewer’s knowledge, Snow has never had as much as a one-minute conversation with a single member of the Communist League of China. But, then, to Snow our comrades are too unimportant to be asked to deny or confirm what the Stalinist character-assassins and falsifiers spread abroad concerning them. “The important thing is that Stalin won ...”

It is unfortunately true that in the ranks of the Chinese Bolshevik-Leninists there were several who turned traitor – not “many” as Snow asserts. The Chinese organization never defended them or attempted to conceal their crimes, but openly denounced them as traitors. In the ranks of the Communist party, however, especially between 1931 and 1936, traitors were numbered by scores and hundreds. The functionaries of the C.P. turned over to the Kuomintang and sent numbers of their own comrades (ours as well) to torture and death in the dungeons of the ruling class. The bureaux of the Kuomintang police department were packed with these loathsome creatures. And there was the Red army general, who a few short months after he was fulsomely eulogized by Agnes Smedley and others as a revolutionary hero, joined Chiang Kai-shek’s military headquarters to map military campaigns against his former comrades-in-arms. Why is Snow silent about these facts, so widely known in China?

What logic was it that caused such numerous outright betrayals in the Stalinist ranks? And what is the logical explanation for the fact that today the Stalinists have revealed themselves before the whole world as the gendarmes of the bourgeoisie, guardians of private property against the revolutionary masses in China and in all other countries? Moreover, since a few defections from the Trotskyist ranks in China flowed from the “logic of a position”, how explain the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Chinese Trotskyists remained and still remain loyal to the revolution? As we see, Snow’s own “logic” is sadly deficient. The objective, impartial, truth-seeking liberal stands stripped of his objectivity, his impartiality and – his journalistic probity.

Of Harry Gannes’ most recent literary effort, When China Unites, it is sufficient to say that it is the product of a one hundred per cent Stalinist. It adds nothing new to our store of knowledge regarding China’s struggle for national liberation, or the struggle of the Chinese masses for their social emancipation. Taken as a whole, it is simply a brief to justify the long record of Stalinist treachery in the Chinese revolution, a defense of People’s Frontism, padded out with all the historical falsification needed to bolster a counter-revolutionary course.

P.S. Snow’s efforts to be “impartial” and to deliver some of his blows at the Stalinists, while reserving most of them for the Fourth Internationalists, has earned him no gratitude in Stalinist circles. Since he has committed the deadly sin of impugning Stalin’s course in China in 1925–1927 (notwithstanding his endorsement of an even more disastrously treacherous course today), the Stalinists have placed his book on their growingly ponderous index expurgatorus. Try to buy a copy at the Workers Bookshop!


Last updated on 18 April 2015