Li Fu-jen

After the Fall of Wuhan

(January 1939)

Li Fu-jen, After the Fall of Wuhan, New International, January 1939, pp.22-25.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Victory in the war of the Chinese people against the Japanese invaders requires the broadest united national front of military struggle, and the international aid of the workers and oppressed races and nationalities throughout the world. But here, as always, as revolutionists have firmly and constantly insisted, “unity” alone is not enough. United action can, in the end, serve the cause of the defeat of the imperialist enemy only if the working class preserves its own independence, above all its own independent class program. Fighting as the best and most courageous soldiers alongside of Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese workers and peasants and their organizations subordinate themselves politically to Chiang only at the cost of assuring their own ultimate defeat by the Japanese armies – in all probability aided as in 1927 by Chiang himself. Comrade Li Fu-jen’s article graphically answers the question: who weakens, yes, sabotages the war against Japan? who are the Chinese defeatists? Once more it demonstrates that military victory in the interests of the toiling masses will be possible only if the united struggle is accompanied by unremitting and uncompromising political struggle against the treacherous policies of Chiang and his Stalinist colleagues. – ED.

“CHINA NEEDS GENERALISSIMO Chiang Kai-shek’s leadership more urgently than ever today when the national crisis has reached a life and death stage. His remaining in office and his valuable services to the Chinese nation are essential and imperative in the struggle leading to final victory. The Chinese Communist party has placed unquestioning confidence in Chiang Kai-shek’s fixed policy of conducting a war of resistance. No one else can lead this war except Generalissimo Chiang.”

The above statement, made November 8 to a staff correspondent of United Press in Chungking, provisional capital of the Kuomintang regime, by Chin Po-ku, Communist party representative on the so-called People’s Political Council, appears in print less than two weeks after Wuhan fell unresistingly before the invading armies of Japanese imperialism. One military debacle has succeeded another since the commencement of the Sino-Japanese war. Peiping, Shanghai, Nanking, Canton and now Wuhan have been captured by the invaders in little more than a year. China’s important seaports, with the solitary exception of Foochow (which can be taken at any time) are in the hands of Japan. The entire railway system of the country, but for segments of the Canton-Hankow and Peiping-Hankow lines and the narrow-gauge line running into Yunnan from French Indo-China, together with most of the key cities through which or to which they run, are controlled by the Nipponese imperialists. Chiang Kai-shek’s regime has been effectively ousted from a good fifth of all Chinese territory south of the Great Wall. It is estimated that approximately 175,000,000 Chinese are already living behind the Japanese lines. East of the north-south line described by the Canton-Hankow and Peiping-Hankow Railways there remain only scattered detachments of the regular Chinese forces. As Japan succeeds in closing the gaps on these two trunk lines, some of these troops will doubtless retreat westward. Organized Chinese resistance to Japan under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek will virtually have ended, unless Japan decides to push the campaign farther west. Considered from the military point of view, a Chinese counter-attack on any sizeable scale, under Chiang’s leadership, is inconceivable. Political considerations make it all the more improbable.

One cannot help wondering what kind of enthusiasm for Chiang Kai-shek’s leadership Mr. Chin Po-ku would have been able to exhibit had the doughty Generalissimo been able to place to his credit a few victories instead of a series of humiliating de-feats. Mr. Chin’s enthusiasm for Chiang’s leadership, needless to say, does not reflect the spirit and temper of the Chinese masses, who at present are voiceless. He speaks with the voice of Stalin, who hopes that Chiang, with the aid of a little flattery, will keep on “defending China” against Japan, so that Japan will be too busy to attack the Soviet Union.

Right after the fall of Wuhan the People’s Political Council, which Mr. Chin adorns, met in Chungking. This assembly of “representatives of the people”, created shortly after the commencement of hostilities last year, was, according to the Stalinists, a “step” toward the establishment of “democracy” in China. Moreover, it was going to help China win a victory over Japan. The Stalinists had demanded the creation of a democratic regime as part price of their political capitulation to Chiang Kai-shek. The People’s Political Council, and nothing more, was what Chiang gave them.


The “Democratic” People’s Political Council

Fragmentary official reports of the recent deliberations of this “democratic” body – from which, incidentally, the press was excluded – are now filtering into the press. One seeks in vain for evidence that it did anything else but sing hosannas of praise to the Generalissimo. Its sessions were exactly similar in mast respects to a meeting of Stalin’s Congresses of the “Soviets”. From a truly democratic assembly one would have expected to hear some criticism, not to say condemnation, of government policies which was voiced – and it is strongly to be doubted – the fact has not been disclosed. The Council apparently said all it had to say on the subject of war policy when it “unanimously” (as in Moscow) passed a resolution “supporting the Government’s policy of continuing armed resistance against Japan”. One wonders whether the assembled “representatives” were aware that Japanese guns, after reducing Wuhan’s outer defenses so that the invading army could enjoy a 10-day unresisted march to Hankow, had pounded Chiang Kai-shek’s regime to the dimensions of a regional government. If they were they gave no evidence of it.

In view of Stalinist claims that the People’s Political Council is a “democratic” institution, it is worth while, in passing, to consider briefly its actual character. According to its secretary-general, Wang Shih-chieh, who has declared it “doubtful whether any electoral system could produce a more representative body”, the Council is composed of “delegates sent by local authorities and endorsed by the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang”. Regarding social composition, the same authoritative source informs that “about half of the members served in provincial governments and other organizations, while the other half possess professional qualifications”. The Council includes three “Communists” and three “National Socialists”, while the remaining members, numbering upwards of 150, are all members or supporters of the Kuomintang. Thus we find that this “step” in the direction of “democracy” is nothing but an assembly hand-picked by the Kuomintang, a democratic fraud, a decorative trapping for Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorship. It is easy to see why Chiang Kai-shek and his government came in for no criticism.

What are the “powers” enjoyed by this cheap parody on Stalin’s “most democratic” parliament? They consist (1) of the right to “consider” new policies before decisions thereon are taken by the government, emergency military measures, which could include most anything, being excepted; (2) the right to submit proposals to the government; (3) the right to question the government and call for reports. That is all. In other words, this august Council has no powers at all. Could any clearer proof be asked that democratic institutions and rights can never be obtained as the result of an unprincipled political bargain, as a gift from a reactionary regime?

The just-concluded sessions of this democratic fraud have nevertheless been useful for their oblique revelation of what has been happening in China since the war started. For example, a resolution was passed “calling for an improvement in the conscription law, notably the abolition of the exemption tax ... whereby a man could purchase exemption from military service” (Reuter from Chungking, Nov. 8). The exemption of rich men’s sons from military service has been a crying scandal. Kuomintang conscription officers have amassed fortunes by selling these exemptions. The poor of town and country, on the other hand, have been forced into the army by the most brutal press-gang methods. Uniformed bullies descend on towns and villages and conscript by main force all men capable of any kind of active service. The younger ones go into the army, the older ones are forced into the auxiliary services or compelled to labor behind the lines. There have been numerous reports of men shot for resisting conscription in a war which they cannot see will bring them any benefit.

The Council also passed a resolution “asking for better treatment for the families of soldiers” – an admission that the treatment hitherto has been in full consistency with the general attitude of the bourgeoisie and its government towards the masses. For the poor the war has been an endless chain of untold miseries. Families of conscripts have been left to shift for themselves. Unnumbered thousands have died in the war zones. Hunger and disease and cold have carried off many who escaped the merciless juggernaut of war. Those who succeeded in fleeing before the invaders in most cases lost their meager possessions and their means of livelihood. Millions left behind, if they survived the Japanese military terror, have been plunged into the direst destitution by the destruction of war and the rapacity of the conquering armies. Knowing these facts, the best that the People’s Political Council could do was to humbly beg the government for “better treatment” of the masses. The three “Communist” members, judging by the published reports, were as silent as the grave. The cynical Stalinist yes-men, hostages in this assembly of Chiang Kai-shek’s political satellites, are pledged by their party to refrain from stirring up the masses by criticizing the government and its policies. This was the price they paid for the “Anti-Japanese United Front”. As we have stated before, they are concerned, not with the interests of the downtrodden masses, including the soldiers, whose cause they have shown no compunction in betraying, but with maintaining their alleged united front, with keeping Chiang Kai-shek at the job of “resisting” Japan, so that Japan will be unable to attack the Soviet Union and Stalin will be able to continue constructing “socialism” – in other words, their policy is calculated to serve the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy alone.


A Forgotten “Detail”

But these gentlemen of the Stalinist party overlook one little “detail”: To the extent that the Chinese masses are made to carry the burdens of the war, to the extent that they are kept unorganized and immobilized, deprived of leadership, held back from struggle for their own independent social and economic aims even while the war goes on – to that extent is it made easier for the Kuomintang government, with or without Chiang Kai-shek’s acquiescence, to call off the struggle and make peace with Japan. The succession of military defeats has strengthened the capitulationist moods in the ranks of the government and the ruling classes. Mass pressure alone can prevent the translation of these moods into surrender. But the masses can be mobilized to exert this pressure only if given a bold social program which will identify victory against Japan with the satisfaction of their own most pressing needs.

In petty-bourgeois circles one hears repeated criticism of “traitorous workers” who have entered Japanese employ in the occupied areas. Three thousand Chinese workers, for example, are employed now at the Kiangnan Dockyard in Shanghai, repairing Japanese warships. What are these workers to do? Starve? Crushed for more than a decade under the iron heel of Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorship, their trade unions destroyed, deserted and betrayed by the renegade Communist party, the workers have seen no perspective of social gain opened up for them by the war. With the exception of the small band of Fourth Internationalists, whose voice has been all but drowned out by streams of Stalinist villification, no one has endeavored to link the war with a movement to relieve the masses of their horrible poverty and servitude. The Stalinists enjoin the masses to obey the government, refrain from efforts to improve their lot, and to sacrifice their lives when called upon. The government, for its part, has outlawed strikes and instituted the death penalty for strikers with the full approval of the Stalinists. Weighed down by the sufferings which the war has brought them, the majority of workers are now indifferent as to its immediate outcome. They want the fighting to cease, the factories to be re-built or reopened, their jobs restored to them. They hate the Japanese invaders with a deep and abiding hatred, but they see no prospect of victory and therefore no alternative but to work for the invaders whenever jobs are offered. Either that or starvation. Had they been organized and given leadership in the struggle against the Japanese imperialists on a program which would have identified victory with their own liberation from grinding slavery, China’s toilers might now be on the way to repeating the glorious victory of the Russian workers against the imperialist interventionists.

Traitors? This slanderous accusation against China’s toilers, so typical of the petty bourgeois, does not square even superficially with the facts. Who if not the workers and peasants have borne the brunt of the war? Is it not precisely these classes who have been hurled to destruction and death against Japan’s military machine? That all their heroism and self-sacrifice, to which countless observers have testified, have produced not victory but defeat – is this their fault or the fault of the “patriotic” bourgeoisie and its government, not to mention their Stalinist lackeys, who have been “leading” the war?

Traitors? This same patriotic bourgeoisie crowds the night-clubs and cabarets of Shanghai, Hongkong and cities behind the Chinese lines, lives in its accustomed luxury, fattens on graft and war contracts, while the soldiers, drawn from the most poverty-stricken layers of the population, are laying down their lives on the battlefields. Soldiers’ wages have gone unpaid for months. Army paymasters, all good patriots in the camp of the Kuomintang, are known to have held up payment of soldiers’ wages in the expectation or hope that the intended recipients would shortly be killed. This blood-money finally finds its way into cabarets and brothels behind the lines.

Traitors? Eminent representatives of the patriotic bourgeoisie and hordes of their petty bourgeois underlings are tripping over themselves in their haste to conclude business deals with, or enter the employ of, the imperialist invaders in the occupied areas. They hope to receive a share, even if only a small one, in the coming exploitation of those same workers and peasants who in the columns of the “patriotic” press are called traitors. This bourgeois scum is certainly under no illusion as to the prospects for a Chinese victory under Chiang Kai-shek’s leadership.

Ineptitude, corruption, cowardice and treachery, reaching down from the hierarchy of the Kuomintang into the ranks of the commanding personnel of the army, have spelt out the military debacle which has all but ended China’s fight against Japan under Chiang Kai-shek’s leadership, The detailed chronicling of even a fraction of the crimes and misdeeds falling under these general headings would fill a large volume. Throughout the war the patriotism of the Kuomintang and its class backers has consisted in a readiness to “defend” China – to the last drop of blood of the Chinese masses. Living forces have been sacrificed with a recklessness almost without parallel in history. The heroism of the fighting soldiers has been invariably cancelled out by the crimes and blunders of their leaders, the magnitude of which constitutes a national scandal.


Treachery at the Top

Not a war contract has been let but what a handsome percentage has dung to the sticky fingers of Finance Minister H.H. Kung. A similar charge of corruption lies against the Generalissimo’s own wife in the purchase of war planes. Of outright treachery there is more than abundant evidence. The most outrageous example was the sell-out which led to the military collapse at Shanghai in the early stages of the war. At Chapoo, on Hang-chow Bay, a Japanese force landed to execute a flanking move against the Shanghai defenses. Not a single shot was fired at the invaders by the troops assigned to defend that area. On the contrary, the invaders found waiting for them an ample supply of gasoline and lubricants to enable their mechanized forces to drive forward rapidly to the rear of Shanghai’s defenses. General Iwane Matsui later boasted to a New York Tunes correspondent that he had bought the free landing at Chapoo for $80,000 Chinese currency, together with the gasoline supply. Government circles freely admit the sell-out.

There has been similar talk of “silver bullets” being employed by the Japanese to effect their uncontested landing at Bias Bay, in Kwangtung province, last month. From the point of landing they were able to march overland to Canton in ten days, their progress entirely unresisted. There is reason to suspect that the British connived at this piece of treachery in order to spare South China, their most important trade sphere, from devastation.

No charge of cowardice can lie at the door of China’s brave soldiers, but records of the most abysmal cowardice in the ranks of the higher command are endless. Chiang Kai-shek fled inland from Nanking last December when the Japanese army was still well over 100 miles from the city. Tang Sheg-chih, one of his subordinates, famed for his slaughter of unarmed workers and peasants in Hunan in 1927, was left in charge, but fled soon after with the entire commanding staff of the Nanking war area. Soldiers left in the front lines without orders found their ranks pierced. They fell back into the city, seeking headquarters. But headquarters had disappeared. For this cowardly desertion by the commanding staff several thousand Chinese soldiers suffered horrible massacre when the Japanese entered the city. Examples such as these could be multiplied indefinitely.

The abandonment of the Matang forts, 30 miles above Kiu-kiang on the Yangtze River and Wuhan’s first strong defense to the east, is another shameful episode. When the Japanese warships approached the boom the defenders found themselves leaderless and without orders. They fled precipitately. Their commander, instead of being at his post, was spending his time in a brothel in a town several miles away. Abandonment of the Matang Forts, estimated by military observers to have been powerful enough to hold up the Japanese river advance for at least several weeks, helped clear the most important route to Hankow.

Behind the Chinese lines, according to military observers and foreign correspondents, are to be found endless confusion, inefficiency, ineptitude. One report after another of faulty communications, poor transport service, lack of coordination, utter absence of initiative by commanders. Jack Belden, United Press correspondent, who has observed every sector of the war at close quarters, testifies that the Chinese “always make plans for an active defense, but invariably content themselves with the passive form. That is why the Japanese throughout the war have been able to take chances that would be fatal in the face of an alert and resourceful enemy”. The treatment, or lack of treatment, for the wounded is another of the great scandals. In the retreat from Hankow, thousands of wounded Chinese soldiers were left behind to crawl as best they could along the highways and across the fields. The advancing Japanese columns incontinently slaughtered all they found. No prisoners are taken.

From the very beginning the Marxists have said that the Chinese bourgeoisie and its government are incapable of conducting any consistent struggle to secure China’s independence from imperialism. More than a year of war has proved that they cannot conduct with any success even a purely military-defensive war against a single imperialist power. Chiang Kai-shek has proved, not his ability to defend China, but the boundless rottenness of his regime. His satellites, including the Stalinists, whistle in the dark like small boys, to still their own doubts and conceal from others the utter bankruptcy of the policies hitherto pursued. They refer to the great “hinterland” as yet not overrun by the invading armies. Before Wuhan was captured they emphasized the vital importance of its defense. It was to be a second Verdun. Now that it has fallen, they deny with equal emphasis that Wuhan possesses any importance at all. And how fond they are of repeating, ad nauseam, the hackneyed statement: “Japan’s control does not extend beyond her lines of communications”, exaggerating this fact and hiding its real significance. The sum of the wisdom of these people is: Don’t question Chiang Kai-shek’s leadership and policies (if you do you are an “agent of Japan”!). Just sit tight. Japanese imperialism is bound to collapse under the strain of the military campaigns.

The Marxists harbor no illusions about the “invincibility” of the Japanese imperialists. We are firmly convinced that they will never succeed in converting China into a second India. At the same time it is impermissible to blink the facts of the present situation. Japan has put an end to any pretense of Kuomintang authority in most of eastern China which contains most of the vital nerve centers of the country. In this vast area – despite the activities of irregulars and guerillas, which are certain to continue – the Japanese imperialists will be able to duplicate, at least in part, the economic activity which they undertook in Manchuria. The hope for renewed resistance on a large and organized scale lies henceforth with social forces which, thus far in the war, have been nothing but passive victims or spectators of events – the toilers whom the new economic impulses, plus the rapacity of the new exploiters, will set in motion.


Japan Seeks a Breathing Spell

The war has all but left the front pages of the press. One Japanese column is driving south through Hunan and the fall of the provincial capital, Changsha, is not far distant. Another column is moving north from Canton. Little resistance is being encountered and the junction of these two forces will see the completion of the Japanese occupation of the Canton-Hankow Rail-way. A Japanese force is also driving hard in Shansi, in the north-west, to clear the still unoccupied portion of the Peiping-Hankow Railway. The former Red Army is bearing the brunt of this assault. When these two trunk lines are fully held by the invaders, will the Japanese imperialists call a halt and confine their activities to “mopping up” operations, or will they extend their campaigning farther west and south-west? This remains to be seen. Signs are not wanting that Japan would like to pause at least for a breathing space, consolidate control of the occupied areas, gain some form of recognition of her conquests from rival powers, and begin extracting some returns on her gigantic military investment.

The Kuomintang government, while proclaiming its intention to “resist to the end”, at the same time makes known through Wang Ching-wei its readiness to come to terms with Japan, provided a peace can be arranged which “will not hamper China’s national existence”, which means concretely – on condition that Japan will permit the Kuomintang to remain “in power”. Japan has already set up puppet governments in north and central China. Another is being erected in the south. From these, it is announced, a federal Chinese government is to be created. Into this federal government, says Tokyo, the Kuomintang government will be invited as a constituent, provided it abandons its “anti-Japanese” and “pro-communist” policies. Hoping to improve the final terms, the Kuomintang government, using Sun Fo as a megaphone, declaims its love for the Soviet Union – “China’s one true friend”. Perhaps, too, this will result in some increase in the niggardly “assistance” (cash paid in advance) Stalin has been rendering in the way of airplanes, guns (1916 vintage) and munitions.

Meanwhile the British ambassador has gone to Chungking and Prime Minister Chamberlain has told the world that Britain is ready to act as mediator between China and Japan. British imperialism, sorely harrassed by its Oriental rival, is not yet ready for war. London’s temporary strategy is to engineer a peace between China and Japan, which, while salvaging what can still be salvaged of tangible British interests in China, will at the same time admit Britain to some share in Japan’s conquest. The deal, if it comes off, cannot be satisfactory from Britain’s point of view, but the British imperialists know full well that all arrangements now entered into will be subject to a drastic reviewing in the coming world war. Japan meanwhile prods the British lion in his most sensitive spots. Tokyo is aware that the chances of a Japanese-dictated peace will be all the greater if Britain can be made to see the wisdom of “persuading” China to come to terms.

Secretary Hull’s October 6 note to Japan has injected another element – a contradictory one – into this situation. Released for publication at the time of the fall of Wuhan, it was calculated, first of all, to stiffen the Kuomintang’s resistance to pressure for a precipitate “peace” on terms demanded by Japan and backed by Britain. Additionally, by making the record against Japan, it is a deliberate Roosevelt act in preparation for war. The note has already given some encouragement to the Chiang Kai-shek regime. The Chinese bourgeois press, with the Stalinists piping up from the region of the floor, is screeching for “forceful implementation” of the Hull note. It is touching to observe how the “patriotic” bourgeoisie and their Stalinist flunkeys have grown concerned for the preservation of America’s imperialist positions in China.

Dollar imperialism, however, is not yet ready for a showdown with its Japanese rival, since this must needs be largely a war on the sea. The navy has yet to be built up to real challenging strength and bases are needed nearer to the scene of action. America’s armed might, moreover, has to be equal to engaging not only Japan, but if need be – Japan and Britain combined. For it is by no means excluded that Britain may combine with Japan in an agreement to loot China to the exclusion of the United States.

But since America in any case is not ready for war, the likelihood seems to be that Japan will be able to force a “peace” on the Kuomintang government with British assistance. Unless – and this represents the third possibility – Britain and America combine to restrain the Oriental robber power. The new Anglo-American trade agreement may conceivably be followed by some sort of agreement for joint or “parallel” action by Britain and America in the Pacific.


SHANGHAI, Nov. 11, 1938


Last updated on 20.3.2005