Li Fu-jen

Lessons and Perspectives
of the Sino-Japanese War

(February 1941)

From Fourth International, Vol. II No. 2, February 1941, pp. 43–51.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

As these lines are being written it is still difficult to forecast when and in what manner the Sino-Japanese war will end. But the outcome of the present conflict in the Far East will in any case have a provisional character. The world war which is approaching with irresistible force will review the Chinese problem together with all other problems of colonial domination. For it is in this that the real task of the second world war will consist: to divide the planet anew in accord with the new relationship of forces. The principal arena of struggle will, of course, not be that Lilliputian bath-tub, the Mediterranean, nor even the Atlantic Ocean, but the basin of the Pacific. The most important object of struggle will be China, embracing about one-fourth of the human race. The fate of the Soviet Union- the other big stake in the coming war – will also to a certain degree be decided in the Far East. Preparing for this clash of Titans, Tokyo is attempting today to assure itself of the broadest possible drill-ground on the continent of Asia. Great Britain and the United States are likewise losing no time.
LEON TROTSKY in his Introduction to Harold R. Isaacs’ The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (1938).

It is time to draw the balance of the unterminated and seemingly interminable Sino-Japanese war. The military struggle has been virtually stalemated since the fall of Canton and Hankow toward the end of 1938, when the Japanese army reached the peak of its striking power. Today neither the Japanese imperialists nor Chiang Kai-shek hope for a definitive victory. Chinese territory under Japanese control is now no greater, and is perhaps even somewhat smaller, than it was at the end of 1938 when the war had already been in progress about eighteen months. On none of the fighting fronts have Japan’s forces been able to make any important advances; at some points they have been compelled to retreat. Lately they have found it necessary to shorten some fronts because of new preoccupations in French Indo-China. But there are no signs of a Chinese offensive.

Japanese military activity in China in the recent period has been confined, in the main, to holding captured territory and lines of communication against Chinese guerrilla attacks and occasional assaults by Chinese regulars, while bombing China’s bases and communications from the air. Chungking, the provisional capital in far-off Szechwan province, has been subjected to terrific aerial punishment. More than half the city has been razed by demolition and incendiary bombs. But the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-shek, taking comfort in American loans and Russian war supplies, feeling assured, moreover, that Japan will become involved in war with the United States, obstinately declines Japanese overtures for a “peace” which would leave the imperialists of Dai Nippon in substantial control of what their armies in the field have conquered.

Japan, hoping thereby to serve her primary Asiatic aims, has joined in a military alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. At the same time, the Kuomintang government becomes more and more enmeshed in the robber diplomacy of the democratic imperialists.

“The war in Eastern Asia,” declares the Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution, “will become more and more interlocked with the imperialist world war. The Chinese people will be able to reach independence only under the leadership of the youthful and self-sacrificing proletariat, in whom the indispensable self-confidence will be rekindled by the rebirth of the world revolution.” This declaration implies two things: first, that China’s war of resistance to Japanese imperialism has been driven into a blind alley under Chiang Kai-shek’s leadership; second, that the main impulsion for a new and victorious chapter in the liberating struggle of the Chinese people must come from without. That China’s struggle has run up a blind alley is self-evident. Huge and important territories have been lost to the invaders. Although unvanquished, Chiang Kai-shek has been unable to win a single important victory. China’s toiling millions, after terrific sacrifices in the struggle against Japan, are as far as ever from the goal of national liberation from imperialism, while socially they are victims of a system of exploitation and oppression which is more intense today than when the war commenced in the summer of 1937. As to the second proposition, the facts of the present situation eloquently suggest that China’s fate, both in the immediate and long-term senses, is tied up with, and closely dependent upon, the course of the present world war and the development of the world-wide socialist revolution.

How Chiang Fights Japan

Chiang Kai-shek never regarded the war with Japan as a struggle for the liberation of China from the yoke of imperialism. After beheading a great revolution, he came to power in 1927 as the guardian of imperialist interests in China. Those interests, needless to say, are closely tied in with those of the native exploiters. When Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, Chiang made non-resistance the keynote of his policy and forcibly suppressed the protest movement which arose throughout the country. Chiang justified this policy by references to China’s military unpreparedness. Actually, however, Chiang’s difficulty was that he could not gauge the Japanese appetite. Perhaps the Tokyo imperialists would be content with Manchuria and the provinces of Inner Mongolia? In that case a deal might be arranged. If Japan showed signs of going “too far,” her rivals in the Pacific – Britain, the United States and France – would doubtless reach out a restraining hand.

In the ensuing years, the scope of Japan’s imperialist appetite became manifest. Chiang’s policy of non-resistance meant abandonment without struggle of one position after another – first in Jehol, north of the Great Wall, later to the south of it – thus piling up difficulties against the day when Japan’s challenge could no longer be evaded. At the same time, Chiang’s policy was running into the ever more intense opposition of the Chinese people who wanted to defend their country against the foreign violator. Finally, the preoccupation of the “democratic” powers in Europe with the growing menace of Hitler made Anglo-French intervention against Japan less and less likely, while the United States, militarily unprepared, could only look on helplessly. Chiang was thus confronted with the alternative of either fighting Japan practically single-handed, or permitting China to be converted into a Japanese colony. The course of resistance was chosen.

Every social regime based on exploitation and oppression is imperiled by war. The masses, arms in hand, no longer submit readily to the old way of life. The more backward the country involved, the greater is the likelihood of social explosions, for the misery of the masses is greater. Chiang Kai-shek, for all his feudal ideas, is a sufficiently educated politician to understand the principal laws of revolution. Quite consciously and deliberately he embarked upon the war with the intention of confining it within limits which would endanger neither the positions of imperialism as a whole nor the interests and rule of the native bourgeoisie. The fighting would be conducted by the armies under his control. The masses would not be mobilized, much less armed. There would be no measures of social amelioration. Manifestations of popular discontent would be met with repression.

The one organized source from which Chiang thought opposition might sooner or later be expected was the Communist Party. Here he had an unexpectedly easy conquest. He agreed to suspend his ten-year-old war against them and promised them certain liberties they had never known before. He set up a democratic farce called the “People’s Political Council,” in which the Stalinists were given decidedly minor representation. Above all, he promised to resist Japan to the very end. The Stalinists, for their part, agreed to drop their opposition to Chiang and abandon the class struggle. On this basis, the “People’s Anti-Japanese United Front,” replica of the Popular Front in Spain, was formed. Stalin considered desertion and betrayal of the cause of the Chinese masses a cheap price to pay for a war against Japan by Chiang Kai-shek, for Japan, kept busy in China, would be unable to attack the Soviet Union in the Far East. Above everything else, Stalin feared involvement in a big war, for that would bring revolution against his Bonapartist regime. A revolution in China might be equally disastrous for the Soviet bureaucracy. Better, then, to have the war conducted by Chiang Kai-shek, by non-revolutionary means, as a purely military struggle, even if that meant ultimate failure.

The Results of Chiang’s Policy

We foretold from the very outset what the consequences of the Chiang Kai-shek-Stalinist policy would be. A backward, ill-armed country engaged in an essentially progressive struggle can redress its material disadvantages in war against a well-armed imperialist power only by calling the million-headed masses to the struggle on the basis of a program which gives them a big material stake in victory. This was proved in Russia in the early years of the revolution, where the guns, the tanks, the well-armed and well-trained infantrymen of the imperialists, together with their White Russian allies, proved no match for the enthusiastic if ill-armed, hungry and ragged soldiers of Trotsky’s Red Army, who knew they were fighting to preserve and develop concrete social gains. Just this – an armed people aroused and fighting for a better future – has been lacking in the Sino-Japanese struggle of the past three and a half years.

At the commencement of the war there was tremendous popular enthusiasm in China for the struggle against Japan. It embraced virtually all sections of the population, if one excepts the big bourgeoisie who were disturbed by the disruption of their normally peaceful and prosperous lives, alarmed for their properties, and extremely skeptical of the prospects of victory. The Chinese armies in North China and at Shanghai had the wholehearted backing of students and intellectuals, workers and artisans, petty merchants and shopkeepers, and the tillers of the soil, although the government frowned on anything that looked like a mass mobilization of civilians to aid the army. The heroic battles fought at Shanghai in the closing months of 1937 proved that the armies of Japanese imperialism could be held at bay. Perhaps, at no distant date, China’s armies would be able to take the offensive and sweep the invaders into the sea. What was lacking in armament – particularly planes and heavy weapons – might be compensated by manpower imbued with that fighting fervor which springs from a just cause. Victory was considered at least possible. It took more than the retreat from Shanghai and the subsequent fall of Nanking to dissipate this popular faith. Even the Japanese occupation of Canton and Hankow could not do it. Military reverses affected the national morale undoubtedly, but the fundamental causes for the disappointment, pessimism, apathy (and, to some extent, downright distaste for any further struggle) which now pervade the ranks of the broad masses are much more insidious. They are to be found in the policies of the Chiang Kai-shek regime and its Stalinist allies, policies which not only have not opened up the perspective of victory hut have produced mass misery and beggary on a scale and of an intensity heretofore unknown.

The Bourgeoisie Sabotages China’s War

For the reader to appreciate the situation which has arisen, it is necessary to give some idea of the manner in which China’s side of the war has been conducted. Military policy contributed very largely to the succession of heavy defeats which the Chinese armies sustained on all the major fronts. Civil policy undermined the popular morale. Without mentioning the ten years of Kuomintang rule which were in the first place responsible more than anything else for China’s military deficiencies (the funds squeezed from the people and pocketed or squandered by hordes of corrupt officials, including the highest members of the government, would have sufficed to create an exceedingly well-equipped army, an adequate air force and even a navy of some dimensions), it is possible to show, step by step, how the Kuomintang regime has sabotaged the struggle against Japan. The sabotage is not conscious, but flows mechanically from the preservation of ruling class interests.

China has never had a truly national government since the overthrow of the last dynasty in 1911. The warlord period which set in with the establishment of the Republic was continued over into the Kuomintang era. Chiang Kai-shek be-came the principal warlord and established his supremacy in a large section of the country. But particularism, that hang-over from a feudal past, continued to plague his regime. Unwilling to attack the semi-feudal agrarian relations which gave it nourishment, Chiang was obliged to rule outside his particular bailiwick through deputized henchmen and retainers of dubious loyalty. The provincial governors appointed by Chiang had their own armed forces. None ever proved powerful enough to challenge Chiang successfully, but many nursed ambitions to replace him in the central seat of power. Chiang kept these henchmen in line by a combination of bribery, pressure and combinatorial maneuvers. His central problem in the domestic field – next to ke eping the masses in subjection – is to prevent any of these henchmen from forming a coalition against him.

This struggle to keep in the seat of power found its reflection in the military organization of the country and has had a profound effect on the course of the war. At the outset, Chiang divided the country into war zones, each with a supreme commander. The creation of these commands required the placing of large bodies of men under a single control and Chiang had to find some way of preventing the zone commanders from acquiring too much power. He wanted no embryonic challengers to his rule springing up in the midst of war. Accordingly, a system was devised whereby district commanders, whose immediate nominal superiors were the zone commanders, were subordinated to Chiang’s personal control with standing instructions to obey no operational orders unless Chiang had first sanctioned them.

The results of such a system, effective to this day, can easily be imagined. War zone commanders were reduced to the status of figure-heads with grand military titles but no real powers. Coordinated or combined actions became virtually impossible. Staff work became largely meaningless. Initiative, which could have produced favorable results where the enemy betrayed a weakness, was all too often lacking. A district officer would seldom, even in an emergency, act on the zone commander’s orders without Chiang’s prior endorsement. He preferred to run away. One who had more than average courage might act, but the value of his action would be cancelled out by lack of corresponding initiative in a neighboring sector or by his own fear to follow up a gain. A favorable opportunity was irretrievably lost. The zone commanders, for their part, found that the safest policy was to do nothing without orders from higher up. In any case, how can one command an entire war zone if he cannot give orders to district commanders and have them obeyed? On this score alone, as can be seen quite plainly, the continuance of the Kuomintang regime is incompatible with a serious struggle against imperialism.

Foreign military observers on the spot, usually partial to China’s cause, have conceded the superiority of the Japanese army in discipline, organization, strategy, tactics and, by and large, fighting spirit. But the Kuomintang regime has done all it could to accentuate the balance in Japan’s favor. The strategy of the Chinese armies was passive throughout. Aware of this, Japanese commanders frequently took chances which they never would have dared take had they faced a more active and resourceful foe.

To catalogue all the Chinese military deficiencies, most of them traceable directly to the regime in power, would re-quire much more space than we have available. To them must be added the innumerable crimes against the army by the government and the highest officers in the military organization: subordination of military requirements to clique interests; desertion by commanders in the face of the enemy; disregard for the soldiers’ welfare, including theft of soldiers’ pay; graft in high places. An illuminating example of what goes on was furnished in the Chinese retreat from Taiyuan, capital of the northwestern province of Shansi. Field commanders organizing the retreat sent urgent messages into Taiyuan, requesting trucks for the transportation of men and supplies. “No more trucks available,” came the reply. However, it was noticed that a great stream of trucks was moving southward from the city, loaded with big packing cases. Asked what the cases contained, an official replied laconically: “Cigarettes.” Which meant opium! General Yen Hsi-shan, “model governor” of Shansi, was more concerned to save this poisonous source of his wealth than to rescue Chinese soldiers and supplies and prevent a military debacle. The officers cursed this brazen corruptionist. The incident gave them an invaluable insight into the character of the regime. Lessons such as these will have revolutionary repercussions in the future. But it will require more than curses to oust the rotten gang which now rules over China’s destinies.

Lest it be thought that the above is an isolated incident, let it be said now that innumerable incidents of similar import have occurred on practically all the fighting fronts. In their totality they amount to a gigantic sabotage of the war by the “patriotic” bourgeoisie, offsetting and nullifying the heroism and sacrifices of the soldiers. Culprits without political pull have been executed if the scandal has reached the light of day. But such gestures are hypocritical and ineffectual because they do not get at the root of the trouble, which is the Kuomintang regime itself.

The Lie of “Equality of Sacrifice”

The problem of caring adequately for millions of soldiers in the field is admittedly a difficult and costly one. To do it with any adequacy at all required the ending of official graft, the seizure of big fortunes, and the conscription of doctors. None of these things have been done, for it would have meant assailing the interests of members of the government and the ruling class which they represent. Casualties among China’s soldiers have been fearful. No one knows even the approximate numbers of killed and wounded. Largely for purposes of propaganda abroad, the government has maintained a number of fairly good military hospitals which foreign correspondents can photograph. Madame Chiang Kai-shek and her sisters flutter about the wards occasionally, distributing gifts to the wounded. But these hospitals can at best handle only a few thousand men. Advance dressing station facilities are a rarity. Wounded soldiers, if they can use their legs, must hobble to the rear for treatment and there it will be hours, sometimes days, before they are given attention, for surgeons are few. It is said that a seriously wounded soldier in China has no chance of life. Either he is unable to reach the rear (wounded men are the last consideration in the military transport system) and dies on the field; or, if he reaches the rear, he dies before he can get attention or because the attention came too late.

As in all wars conducted by the ruling class in modern society, there has been in China the usual talk of “equality of sacrifice.” There has assuredly been plenty of sacrifice, but it has been confined to the ranks of the soldiers and the common people. The rich in some places have been obliged to leave their accustomed habitats to escape the war, but they have taken their wealth with them to Hongkong or Manila or the foreign-controlled areas of Shanghai and continued to live as always, in opulence. But there are an estimated 50,000,000 propertyless war refugees in China today, people who have lost whatever meager possessions they had and wander hopelessly across the face of the land. Ravished by disease and hunger they die in numbers that suggest an epidemic. Some of the rich make an occasional paltry donation for refugee relief. Government members and officials do likewise. But none of them relinquish their lucrative grafts, while only a small fraction of the national, provincial and local budgets is set aside for relief.

Equality of sacrifice! When Hankow, then the provisional capital, was under siege in 1938 and food was hard to obtain, the plane from Hongkong each day brought a case of fresh imported American fruits for the table of Finance Minister H.H. Kung, brother-in-law of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. That space on the plane might have been used to carry medical supplies. At the commencement of the war in 1937, the Shanghai Commercial & Savings Bank owned by K.R Chen, a leading luminary of bourgeois China, converted all its cash holdings into American dollars, thereby weakening the Chinese dollar which the government was desperately trying to prop up. On reconversion, after the Chinese dollar had slipped way down, the banker made a great fortune. This piece of financial jugglery evidently qualified the banker for leadership of a financial mission to Washington, where he went to arrange the first American loan to China. As in the military sphere, this incident is not accidental and exceptional. Such actions are the rule. They characterize the entire Kuomintang regime.

The Masses Bear the Burden

A conscription law was enacted by the Kuomintang government not long after the commencement of the war. With the fall of Hankow and the removal of the government to Chungking, it became necessary to fill out the depleted ranks of the armies which had resisted the Japanese advance up the Yangtsze. But in the interior west of Hankow recruiting officers encountered resistance. The cry went up: “Who will till the fields if the young men are taken?” These peasants knew nothing of the Japanese invaders. There are no radios and no newspapers and the peasants cannot read or write. The only enemies they had ever known were the tax collectors and the landlords who took as much as 60 percent of their crops for rent. The young men barricaded themselves in the houses. Many bloody affrays took place. So great was the resistance that young men impressed into service were chained or roped together like galley slaves and marched off under guard to the army stations. The forcible seizure of coolies for army carrying service aroused similar opposition. The gentry or rich men buy their sons out of army service. In some districts the purchase of exemptions, for which high prices are paid, reached the proportions of a scandal and the government, to mollify the outraged people, had a few recruiting officers shot for corrupt practices. But the corruption goes on as before. It is part and parcel of a class society in which the phrase “equality of sacrifice” is just a wry jest.

To round out the picture of China at war it is necessary to add certain other essential details. Military operations have devastated innumerable cities, towns and villages, and laid waste large tracts of country, creating the huge army of refugees already referred to. The physical destruction of Industry in the war zones has created a vast unemployment problem. Instead of trying to finance the war by taxing the rich, confiscating fortunes, attacking graft and speculation in real earnest, the cost has been loaded on to the already overstrained backs of the masses. The Chinese dollar has been cut to less than a third of its value by inflation. This doesn’t worry the rich and the officials, who have good American dollars jingling in their bank accounts. Instead of bringing victory, or prospects of victory, and opening up visions of a brighter future, the war has brought only grim tragedy and penury to the broad masses. It is not surprising that the enthusiasm of 1937 has given way to a dull apathy, an all-pervading indifference which only a new turn of events will be able to shake and upset. The Kuomintang government creates a fanciful picture of a “united China” enthusiastically resisting the foreign invader and this picture is peddled in this and other countries by propagandists whose only interest in China is their monthly paycheck. The reality is vastly otherwise.

It must be pointed out, however, that hatred of the foreign violator has not died. The people have just lost faith in victory under Chiang Kai-shek’s leadership and meanwhile are obliged to occupy themselves with the task of survival, with scratching a livelihood from their devastated, parasite-ridden land. No attempt was ever made to draw the masses into the struggle. The policy of the government kept them on the sidelines. No one brought before the people a program of social betterment, either during or after the war. Where popular organizations arose to give mass support and aid to the soldiers at the front, Chiang Kai-shek suppressed them if he could not control and emasculate them. The rift that grew between the people and the solders is well illustrated by the fact that the Kuomintang was obliged to send propagandists into innumerable villages, ahead of the army, to plead with the people not to run away. Fear of soldiers is a hangover of the warlord period, when armies descended on whole areas like swarms of locusts, requisitioned food and services (without paying for them), and maltreated the people. Unpaid, hungry soldiers in Chiang Kai-shek’s armies were likely to behave similarly. Armies can he quartered, but not provisioned, in villages from which the peasants have run away, taking with them all the available food. Hence the propagandist appeal The fears and suspicions of the peasantry, in many cases all too well-founded, have created great handicaps for the army. These fears and suspicions can be overcome and a real soldier-civilian rapport established only on the basis of a common struggle for revolutionary social aims. Only in this way can the road be opened to China’s victory against Japanese and all other imperialisms.


Japan, the Weakest Imperialist Power

The cumulative result of the factors outlined above has been military stalemate after a succession of reverses which have left the Japanese invaders in substantial control of a vast territory which includes almost the entire seaboard, the principal cities and industrial centers, and most of the railway system. Nevertheless, Japan has not won the war in China. Far from it. In view of Chiang Kai-shek’s earlier policy of non-resistance, the Japanese imperialists imagined that a few swift blows at vital points would show Chiang the futility of resisting. Then an agreement would be made which would give Japan virtual control of China. Tokyo was even unwise enough to announce that the war would be over in a few months. Instead, a protracted struggle ensued. The war is now in its fourth year and victory for Japan is still not in sight. A short war, ending with the capitulation of Chiang Kai-shek, would have been well within the resources of the Japanese Empire. The Chinese people in any case would have been made to pay the bills. As it is, the long-drawn-out struggle has required expenditures far beyond the normal means of this weakest of all the imperialist powers. The gold reserve quickly disappeared. Trade with non-yen-bloc countries has been adverse for a considerable time. Unable to meet the cost of the military operations by normal methods of financing, Japan has resorted to the usual expedients of inflation. There has been tremendous domestic borrowing, since no foreign loans could be obtained. Taxes have been increased enormously. Industries producing consumption goods have been made to curtail operations or disappear entirely. Only those consumption goods which are indispensable for life, or which are intended for the fighting forces or for export abroad, are now being made. Scarcely a week passes without some fresh tightening of the national belt. Japan is a bankrupt empire, awaiting receivership by a revolutionary proletariat.

Realizing that the growth of deprivation may create a dangerous popular movement of discontent, the ruling clique has eliminated all organizations which might serve as crystallizers of revolt. The castrated trade unions were long ago dissolved by government decree and a few months ago the political parties, including the Minseito, Seiyukai and Social Masses, went the same way. All organized political and social life has been merged into a totalitarian war system referred to as the “New National Structure.” Despite the totalitarian regime, discontent breaks to the surface occasionally. Farmers complain of the requisitioning of horses for the army, the conscription of their sons. Women raise outcries against the shortage of cotton goods and the enforced use of staple fiber, a miserable ersatz product which is reduced to a pulpy mess when immersed in water for washing. The drafting of peasants for the army or for industry has affected the rice harvests and contributed to an acute shortage of this fundamental diet of the masses. There is a shortage of charcoal for cooking and heating. There is a shortage of electrical power. There is a shortage of everything, in fact, but government decrees of which there is a never-ending supply, each creating some new shortage.

The ruling clique fears even unorganized protest and attempts to smother it in a spurious patriotism whereby privation is elevated to the status of a national virtue. A “Spiritual Mobilization Campaign” sprouts organizations of busybodies who plant themselves at street corners and reprimand women for being “too well dressed,” for sporting furs, fine dresses, jewellery and the like. It has been made a criminal offense for a barber to give women permanent waves or similar attractive head dresses. Motion picture shows are curtailed to conserve electricity and because there is no money to pay for imported films. Neon signs which made Japan’s cities gay at night have disappeared. All public dance halls have been closed down. Bars are required to close at 10 p.m. Manufacturers have been forbidden to use gay colors in fabrics for kimonos, which are the national dress for men and women alike. Universal drabness has descended on once colorful Japan. Interference with personal liberty has gone so far that people can no longer use the streets freely. If one strolls aimlessly, without any special mission or purpose, on a Tokyo street, perhaps just gazing into the empty or near-empty store windows, he will be accosted by one of the aforementioned patriotic busybodies and told not to clutter up the street, to go home.

There is plenty of complaint, but none of it organized. Complaints are aired in letters sent to Japanese soldiers at the front and occasionally get past the censors. When reading these letters, the soldiers begin to wonder about the “New Order in East Asia” which, according to their rulers, is to liberate China from Western domination and the villainous Chiang Kai-shek, and set Japan, together with China, on the road to a “mutual prosperity.” They see the misery the war has created for the Chinese people, whose enmity they feel keenly. On top of this comes news of how relatives back home are being compelled to suffer more and more to continue a war that brings no benefits and shows no signs of ending. Diaries and letters found on Japanese prisoners of war testify irrefutably to a deep-seated discontent and spirit of rebellion in the ranks of the Japanese army. There have been instances of mutiny by whole Japanese regiments.

Chiang’s Policy Dulls Japanese Unrest

But the unrest has never crystallized for it has received no encouragement on the China scene. As the previously-quoted Manifesto of the Fourth International states, the war would long ago have ended in a catastrophe for Japanese imperialism “if China had conducted it as a genuine people’s war based on an agrarian revolution and setting the Japanese soldiery aflame with its blaze.”

What was lacking, and what is lacking today, is revolutionary leadership in the struggle. The Communist Party betrayed the cause of the oppressed masses. It has supported Chiang Kai-shek from the beginning of the conflict, given silent endorsement to all the crimes of the Chinese ruling class, thereby helping the Japanese imperialists to deceive the Japanese soldiers and maintain rigid discipline over them. The small organization of the Fourth International, the genuine revolutionists, has been unable to gain the ear of decisive masses. Slander by the Stalinists, who accuse our comrades of being agents of Japan, and the political apathy of the masses, keep our organization small and uninfluential. It has registered some growth since the war began, but not enough. “The course of events places on the order of the day the development of our Chinese section into a powerful revolutionary party,” states the Manifesto. This, indeed, is the indispensable condition for the advancement of China’s liberating struggle. Under the influence of coming revolutionary events, whereever they occur, China will once more be impelled along the revolutionary road. There will be no lack of revolutionary situations. The task of the Chinese section is to prepare assiduously to meet them and work for their fruition. In this it will need the fraternal solidarity and aid of its co-thinkers throughout the world.

Japan’s Economic Policy

Two years ago we predicted that Japanese plans to exploit the occupied territories in China would give a fresh impulse to China’s economic life, that the scattered proletariat would once more be assembled in industry on a large scale, and that the groundwork would thereby be laid for a renewal of the labor and revolutionary movements. It must be said that this perspective, viewed as a comparatively short-term development, has thus far failed to materialize. Outside of the foreign-controlled areas of Shanghai, where an exceptional situation has invited large-scale Chinese and foreign investment, there has been very little economic revival. Japanese imperialism, too poor to conduct a lengthy war without the direst financial and economic strain, is still less able progressively to exploit what has been conquered. Even in Manchuria, conquered nearly a decade ago, grandiose industrialization plans have long been bogged down for lack of capital. In China proper, lacking the capital resources necessary for rational exploitation, the Japanese occupation has taken on the character of outright robbery and spoliation, thus worsening an already desperate economic situation.

At Shanghai, Japan found it necessary to respect the status of the foreign-controlled International Settlement. She has need of this “neutral” area, with its free exchange and commodity market, for sundry purposes – among other things to defeat Washington’s embargoes on the export of oil pro-ducts, scrap iron and machine tools to Japan. By her hands-off policy with regard to the Settlement, Japan has contributed to a considerable industrial revival in the city. With the growth of employment and security, the proletariat has renewed its fighting spirit. The past year and more has witnessed a steady succession of strikes in scores of industrial and commercial enterprises, Chinese and foreign alike, and in the public utilities. The strikes have all been of an economic character, for higher wages to meet the rising cost of living which soars with each new decline of the currency. The workers strike without benefit of unions, the strikes being conducted by ad hoc committees. In not a single instance have the workers failed to win a substantial part of their demands. The class struggle is very much alive in Shanghai. More favorable circumstances will be necessary for it to be renewed throughout the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, in the remote places of the country, the war drags on. Failing to bring Chiang Kai-shek to terms, the Japanese imperialists have accorded full recognition to the puppet regime of Wang Ching-wei at Nanking, which exists under the protection of Japanese bayonets. While turning part of their attention to French Indo-China, Singapore and the Netherlands East Indies, they cherish the hope that Chiang Kai-shelf’s government will split, with Chiang going into retirement, while the rest of the government will merge with the “new” Kuomintang government at Nanking to form a single administration which will do Japan’s bidding. There is a sizeable “peace faction” within the Chungking government, composed of politicians who see no hopeful outlook for the war and would therefore like to conclude peace on any terms. They don’t like being cooped up in the far west, they detest the chaos of war, even though they have suffered little from it. Above all, they want a larger bailiwick to rob. This faction has the backing of important bourgeois elements who want a return to normal business and normal profits. Among the leading members of the faction are Chiang’s war minister, General Ho Ying-ching, and Dr. H. H. Kung, his finance minister. But in China armed force is everything in politics. Chiang has the armies, or the bulk of them. He believes Japan is heading rapidly for war with the United States, that she will be beaten and that China’s lost territories will be regained for him by American imperialism. He will not capitulate because he sees the possibility of passing more fully into the service of Japan’s rivals on more favorable terms. America will not want to take over the country. It will be content to share with Chiang in the exploitation of the Chinese people by means of loans, investments and trade. So Chiang calculates. It is not at all unlikely that Chiang will enter into an alliance with American imperialism if (or even before) there is war between Japan and the United States.

Role of American Imperialism

The American imperialists are rapidly preparing for war with Japan. This is evidenced not only in the naval and military measures which in all spheres are placing the United States in position to strike swift and telling blows in the Pacific, but in the economic and financial spheres as well. In that portion of China’s foreign trade which passes through the great entrepôt of Shanghai, America now holds the leading position. Dollar imperialism has not only taken over the place previously held by the British, but has in a short time succeeded in ousting their successors – the Japanese. At the same time, the character of American “aid” to China has undergone a change. In the first period of the Sino-Japanese war, U.S. loans to China were simple advances from one government to another, without formal security. The more recent loans, however, have been advanced against specific security: exports of certain vital materials such as tin, tungsten and wood oil, of which China is a large producer. There is no formal lien over either the products or their sources, but it would only be a short step from the loan agreements to a demand for control over sources in the event of a default. The tin mines in Yunnan Province (where, incidentally, child labor is exploited in a most horrible manner) are the source of the tin which is to be exported to the United States in part liquidation of recent loans. If Japanese troops were to invade Yunnan Province and try to cut off these exports, Washington would have a pretext for charging Japan with an aggressive act against the United States. Military intervention would be in order. The United States would be at war with Japan. It is much more likely, however, that the precipitating issue will arise over a Japanese grab at the Netherlands East Indies, or attempts to take over Singapore and Hongkong. Whatever the initial incident may be, American intervention in the Far East will bear a wholly reactionary character. It will be undertaken, not in order to aid victims of Japanese aggression, but to preserve and extend American imperialist interests.

Trotsky pointed out that Chiang Kai-shek fights against Japan, not with the intention of freeing China from imperialist domination, but with a view to passing into the service of another, more magnanimous power. And there can be no doubt that when Amercan intervention against Japan gets under way, and increases in range, Chiang Kai-shek under Washington’s pressure will tend to subordinate the present Sino-Japanese war to the completely reactionary war aims of American imperialism in the Ear East. If this is to be prevented, the Chinese masses will have to intervene, for they have no interest in substituting the American taskmaster for the Japanese slave-driver. The intervention of the masses can take place only on a revolutionary basis. Their struggle will have to be directed, not only against the imperialists, but also against the native exploiters and their government. The agrarian revolution must he brought to life under the slogan “Land to the peasants!” Workers must take to the road of the class struggle. The reawakened millions will find a true leadership only in the Chinese section of the Fourth International. Having absorbed the lessons of 1917-41, having learned under fire the reactionary character of the Kuomintang-Stalinist leadership in the struggle against Japan, the masses will acquire an unshakable confidence in the revolutionary program for which the Fourth International stands.

Note on the Chinese Stalinists

It is necessary to add some additional information regarding the position of the Chinese Communist Party and its policies, which are the policies of Moscow. Driven out of their southern and central China strongholds in 1934–35, the Chinese red armies after long marches established themselves in northern Shensi, most barren of the north-western provinces, and parts of neighboring Kansu and Ninghsia. The latter is a province of Inner Mongolia. The so-called Chinese Soviet Government was set up at Yenan. Some time after the outbreak of the war in 1937, former fighters of the Ho Lung-Yeh Ting red army, who did not take part in the long trek, but remained scattered throughout the south, assembled near Shanghai to form the New Fourth Army under Yeh Ting’s command, with Han Ying as field commander. This force, organized on a semi-guerrilla basis, quickly swelled its ranks to several thousand and took control of a sizeable territory in the Kiangsu-Chekiang-Anhwei-Kiangsi border region where it still operates against the Japanese.

Chiang Kai-shek would never have had any dealings with the Stalinists if not for the armed forces and territory under their control. For the same reason, they were useful as a pawn in Stalin’s diplomatic game. To mark their passage from opposition to collaboration with Chiang, they renamed the Red Army in the north the Eighth Route Army (which, as in the case of the New Fourth Army, distinguished it only by number from the armed forces under Chiang’s control), while the Chinese Soviet Government became the local administration of a “Border District” in the north. Both the territories and armed forces of the Stalinists are nominally under Chiang’s control – but only nominally.

The territory of the New Fourth Army is distinguished by very little from the Kuomintang domain. But encouraged by the revolutionary phraseology which the Stalinists still use occasionally, the peasants here began giving rapacious landlords a rough time. From Chungking came complaints that the Stalinists were violating their pledge to end the class struggle. The Stalinists interposed themselves between the peasants and the landlords as arbitrators, persuading the landlords to accept modest rent reductions and urging the peasants not to go “too far.” In some cases angry peasants sought to seize the land of owners believed to have been trafficking with the Japanese enemy. The Stalinists stepped in to pacify the angry ones and bring them back to the path of sweet reasonableness. Wherever the agrarian revolution raised its head, the Stalinists, fearing the displeasure of Chiang Kai-shek and a rupture of the People’s Anti-Japanese United Front, interposed themselves between the peasants and their exploiters. In the Border District in the north, mild reforms have been instituted. Taxation is comparatively light and there is something approaching a system of universal education, etc. Private property and landlordism remain, but are subject to restraints. The Stalinists pretend to regard all this as the modest beginnings of a democratic revolution which later will evolve by degrees into socialism – socialism in two districts, presumably.

The Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army have both been active in the war and have displayed the same fine fighting qualities which distinguished them in operations against Chang Kai-shek’s forces years ago. But their activities are of the guerrilla variety – swift raids on Japanese communications, the blowing up of railway tracks, etc. Without the development of the agrarian revolution and the transformation of the war into a genuine people’s war, such sporadic fighting can have no future. In the conditions of modern warfare, guerrilla operations can have only an auxiliary value. They cannot decide an issue.

Friction Between Chiang and Stalinists

In the course of these guerrilla actions, the Stalinists have encroached on the domain of the Kuomintang. The Eighth Route Army now controls nearly all of Hopei and part of Shantung, in addition to large slices of Shensi, Kansu and Ninghsia. When complaints come from Chungking, the Stalinists apologetically explain that the acquisition of new territory is demanded by military exigency and that they have no intention of enlarging their sphere of power at Chiang Kai-shek’s expense. Nevertheless, they have kept the new areas, causing Chiang to suspect their motives. Chiang would probably have broken with the Stalinists over this issue had he not wished to avoid offending Stalin and thus losing Moscow’s material aid in the war with Japan.

Chiang’s suspicion of the Stalinists on this and other scores has led him to institute severe repressions against their local leaders in Kuomintang territories. In the past year, many local Stalinists, or Stalinist suspects, have been arrested and executed without trial for stepping beyond the limits of the People’s Anti-Japanese Front. Some, as the American journalist Edgar Snow reported, were buried alive, a method employed against revolutionists when Chiang Kai-shek was riding to power with Communist Party aid in 1927. The Stalinists, hewing faithfully to the line set by Moscow, fearful of a break with Chiang, have made no public protests against these barbarities, but cover them up just as they have all the crimes of the Kuomintang regime since the beginning of the war. They have even suppressed the fact that big battles have taken place between the Eighth Route Army and Chiang’s troops. [1]

But incidents such as the foregoing create friction, and there are also other points of disagreement. The Stalinists have been insisting – mostly privately – that Chiang fulfill his promise to convene a democratic assembly. Dates have been set many times, but the assembly never meets. They also demand democratic liberties for the people, an end to the period of “political tutelage” under the Kuomintang. Chiang makes more promises, but there is not a shadow of real liberty anywhere in the Kuomintang domain.

Answering questions by Edgar Snow late in 1939, Chairman Mao Tse-tung of the Border District referred to the continuance of the Kuomintang dictatorship in violation of the promises Chiang gave the Stalinists. He asserted that unless this “archaic political system” were changed to “democracy” China would lose the war with Japan. The problem, he added, was to change the political system without endangering the resistance to Japan. Truly, it is hard to see how one can end a dictatorship without getting rid of the dictator. But the last thing Mao thinks of is getting rid of Chiang Kai-shek.

“Resistance and democracy,” Mao continued, “are the two edges of a single sword. Some people pretend to support resistance but to reject the principle of democracy. In reality, they do not want to use either edge of the sword. They are dragging the anti-imperialist struggle towards failure.” Mao does not seem to know that modern wars waged by the exploiting classes are incompatible with democratic liberties.

In the same interview with Snow, Mao asserted that the Communist Party would be “glad to participate” in a coalition government with Chiang Kai-shek if the offer were made. But why should Chiang share cabinet posts with the Stalinists when he can get their services more cheaply, when he is assured that they will keep their mouths shut and give silent endorsement to all his crimes? Why should he accede to their democratic demands – did they not promise to be good boys and to abandon all thought of class struggle as long as Chiang continued resisting Japan? In late 1939, when the war had been in progress nearly two and a half years, Mao surveyed the situation with Snow and found that “they” (he meant Chiang Kai-shek’s regime but didn’t dare name it) were “dragging the anti-imperialist struggle toward failure.” More than a year has passed since then. He might now be asked how long a cause can be dragged toward failure without actually arriving. Here is displayed for all to see the gross criminality of the Chinese Stalinist leaders. They know how and by whom the war of China against Japan has been led into its present impasse and how the interests of the masses are being trampled on. But they refuse to denounce Chiang Kai-shek, to lead a revolutionary movement of protest, to organize the masses for defense of their rights. They even refuse to name the culprits. Such a party, it is clear, is too corrupt ever to redeem itself.

A Stalin-Mikado Pact?

After the signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact, there was much talk of a rapprochement between Japan and the Soviet Union. Stalin, believing with Chiang Kai-shek that Japan is bound to get into war with the United States, has been in no haste to sign up with Tokyo. Japan, moreover, is greatly weakened by the China war and is not likely to attack the Soviet Union in the east unless Hitler also attacks in the west. Stalin tries desperately to stay out of the world war, but there are limits to the maneuvers and concessions a neutral can make in order to stay out. It is not improbable that Stalin will find himself in the company of the “democratic” imperialists, fighting against Germany and Japan, together with the United States and Britain. Washington and London are both cautiously courting the Kremlin boss. Had China conducted the war against Japan as a revolutionary struggle, Japan would long since have been defeated. Instead of the imperialist threat of Japan in the Far East, a revolutionary Japan and a revolutionary China would stand as giant bulwarks of Soviet defense.

It is by no means assured that Stalin will be compelled, in the present phase of the war, to fight imperialist Germany and Japan. The course of events may force him into active alliance with them. Signature of a non-aggression pact with Tokyo would signify that the die had been cast. Soviet assistance to the Chiang Kai-shek regime would then, presumably, cease. What position would the Chinese Stalinists take? Will they sustain their opposition to Japanese imperialism, or will they suddenly discover that Chiang Kai-shek has become the tool of Anglo-American imperialism, make their peace with Japan, and resume their opposition to the Kuomintang? It is impossible to forecast in detail the future of Chinese Stalinist policy. The further development of the world war, and its inevitable extension to the Pacific, will open a variety of alternatives. Having nothing further to gain from Moscow, Chiang Kai-shek might decide to launch a military expedition against the “Red” border district and the domain of the New Fourth Army – perhaps even with Japanese cooperation. In that case the Stalinists will have to fight if they wish to survive. On the other hand, if Stalin were sufficiently concerned for the continued preservation of his Chinese henchmen and their forces, he might use telling threats against Chiang to restrain him. The huge territory of Sinkiang (Chinese Turkestan) has been coming ever more under Moscow’s domination in the last two years. Stalin might threaten to annex it outright. The Chinese Stalinists, meanwhile, could use their army to expand their territorial domain west. Without much difficulty they could obtain mastery over all of Shensi, Kansu and Ninghsia, effecting a junction with the Soviet protectorate of Outer Mongolia via Ninghsia, and with Sinkiang across Kansu. Such an expansion would be pleasing neither to Chiang Kai-shek nor Japan. But since this possible line of development is based on the assumption of a Stalin-Mikado pact, it can further be assumed that there would b a prior agreement demarcating the Soviet and Japanese spheres of operation – just as Stalin and Hitler arranged the partition of Poland.



Editor’s Note

1. In mid-January, after this article was received, came the first public knowledge of these struggles, when the brewing conflict between Chiang Kai-shek and the New Fourth Army in the Yangtze Valley boiled over. A pitched battle was fought between Chiang’s troops and the New Fourth Army, the latter suffering thousands of casualties. Yeh Ting, its commander, was arrested and held for court martial on the grounds that he disobeyed orders to move his troops across the Yangtze to the Northwest. A Tass dispatch from Chungking to Moscow on Jan. 27 spoke openly of the threat of “civil war” resulting from this conflict. This dispatch accompanied renewed rumors of a Soviet-Japanese non-aggression pact.

The immediate cause of the Kuomintang-Stalinist conflict was the reiteration of a demand by Chiang – made originally more than a year ago – that the New Fourth Army transfer to the North and there amalgamate with the Eighth Route Army. Battle ensued when the Stalinists failed to comply with this demand. Chiang’s desire to get the Stalinist forces out of central China has a dual basis: military and political. Should Stalin make a deal with Japan, it will be easier to isolate and attack the Chinese Stalinist forces if they are all located together in one part of the country. But as matters stood until the recent battle, the New Fourth Army would have been splendidly situated to strike at Chiang from the rear whenever he undertook military operations against the Eighth Route Army in the north. On the political side, the New Fourth Army, in spite of the political renegacy of the Stalinists, has been a stimulant to peasant activity in the central China region. The peasants still associate the Stalinists with the agrarian revolution. This is embarrassing to the Stalinists, but to Chiang Kai-shek and the ruling class it is positively disturbing. Chiang was undoubtedly encouraged to act sternly, after months of fruitless negotiation, by the increasing American aid to his government. American loans have substantially decreased his dependence on Moscow for material aid in the struggle with Japan. He can “offend” Stalin with greater impunity than would have been possible three months ago.

Last updated on 2 October 2015