Li Fu-jen

The Far East: Facts and Falsehoods

(January 1944)

Li Fu-jen, The Far East: Facts and Falsehoods”, Fourth International, January 1944, pp.21-23. (review) [1]
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

America’s Role in Asia – By Harry Paxton Howard. New York, 1943, Published by Howell Soskin. Price $3.00.

It was once said of a well known British journalist in Shanghai, a gentleman of the Tory “die-hard” school, that he knew everything about China but understood nothing. The author of this book, having lived in China and Japan for more than twenty years, gathered considerable information about the Far East and its peoples. Some of the more important events in modern Chinese history he was able to observe at fairly close range. Yet his experiences and observations apparently brought him no closer to an understanding of the essential problems of the Far East than is indicated in this book.

The work is the product of a muddleheaded mind which fails utterly to grasp the significance of what it apprehends. Some of the observations recorded by the author are quite childish. No thought or idea is made concrete and carried to its logical conclusion. The author traffics in abstractions and vague generalities and tries to pass these off as solutions to problems. His characterizations of men and events are superficial in the extreme. The reader who wades through the book will gather considerable information (which is also available elsewhere, however), but will have acquired no more understanding at the end of it than he had when he commenced Chapter I.

In the two opening chapters, Howard gives a rude sketch of the early history of eastern Asia. Then follow chapters on Japan, Korea, Manchuria, China and India, with the last reserved to America’s Role in Asia.

America’s role in Asia, as every enlightened person knows, has been the role of an imperialist power in search of markets, fields for investment, profits. This fact emerges clearly enough from the book, though Howard, refusing to call things by their true names, seeks to invest the manifestations of America’s imperialist role in Asia with an accidental rather than systematic significance. This results, not in a program for ending imperialism, but in homilies to the imperialists to mend their wicked ways. Thus the record of American imperialism in the China opium trade is one “in which it is difficult to take pride” in the official role of the American government as regards Korea, which was “betrayed.” The traffic in opium and Chinese slaves by “American adventurers” (read imperialists) was also “dishonorable.” Japan’s war against the Czarist empire in Manchuria in 1904 opened with what the author calls an “unprovoked” and “treacherous” attack by the Japanese. The Japanese attack on Korea in 1894 was “treacherous.” And the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 was “undeclared war of the most vicious and unprovoked type.” Howard does not say what it is that makes declared war more moral than undeclared war. But he does talk of “international law and decency” and he wants “us” (the American imperialists) to “cleanse our record ... of the long-standing shame of our betrayal of Korea.”

Moral indictments of imperialism have been made ever since there was an organized socialist movement and the colonial peoples embarked on struggles for their liberation. Howard has added nothing new to the record. What is needed is not a reiteration of these indictments of imperialist iniquities, but a program for ending them. There is such a program – that of the Fourth International. It calls for the smashing of imperialism by revolutionary struggle both in the colonies and the imperialist metropoli, and the institution of socialist republics which will work together cooperatively in the interests of all. There can be no end to national oppression with all its horrors and barbarities, no end to war, no end to the unspeakable privations of the common people everywhere as long as imperialism, with its perpetual mad scramble for profits, continues to live. Howard would call this “Marxist jargon,” a phrase he uses in his book. But what is his program? Insofar as he has one at all, it is simply to set out in the crusading spirit of Christianity and show the imperialists the error of their ways. More precisely, he would confine his missionary work to the American imperialists. For Howard supports the imperialist war and wants the rest of the imperialists crushed by their American rivals.

The key to the character of the book as a whole is furnished in the author’s introduction, in which we find praise for the pre-Pearl Harbor administration of the Philippines, “where the democratic but not yet independent Philippine Commonwealth was truly a beacon of light in the despotic darkness of Asia.” Howard does not attempt to explain how “democracy” could prevail under a native puppet regime of American imperialism when every act of the Legislature was subject to veto by the American High Commissioner. Nor does he define what he means by “democracy.” For him, presumably, a Congress or Parliament with periodic elections is sufficient proof of the reign of “democracy,” even if the acts of the Legislature can be overridden and nullified by a “dictator” (the High Commissioner) who is responsible only to an alien government. And when he casts his learned gaze toward India (in which country he has never set foot, incidentally) we are not surprised to find him discovering democracy there – in the Mohammedan provinces. The Viceroy can veto every act of the provincial assemblies. He can even dissolve them and send the members home. But no matter.

Howard perhaps reaches his muddled and childish best in his chapters on Japan. Very correctly, he differentiates between the common people of that country and the militarists, and decries “propaganda of hatred” against the former, who are victims of the imperialistic militarists. But then his thought dissolves into the nothingness of abstraction and confusion. “We,” he says, must “encourage” the “democratic opposition” in Japan “by making it clear and specific that we are determined to end Japanese militarism, and that we appreciate and will cooperate with the common people of Japan in their desire to earn a decent living by legitimate labor and trade and legitimate investment at home and abroad.”

A “Program” for Japan

Who are the “we” whom Mr. Howard wants to “encourage” the “democratic opposition” in Japan? Presumably the hard-boiled imperialist administration in Washington which has already so tellingly illustrated its love of democratic oppositions by placing the fascists Darlan and Giraud in power over the natives of “liberated” North Africa and the “democrats” Badoglio and King Victor Emmanuel in the “liberated” part of Italy. It cannot be doubted that when the time comes the same gentlemen in Washington will have no difficulty in finding a “democratic” militarist in Tokyo to rule over the “liberated” Japanese people – unless the Japanese people forestall them by carrying through their own revolution. And since when have the common people of Japan, the poverty-stricken workers and peasants, ever had a desire for “legitimate investment at home and abroad”? Here the author descends to the most arrant nonsense, for it is only the imperialists of Japan, whose interests the militarists serve, who have any such desire or the means to implement it.

The common people can scarcely manage to exist, let alone invest. It is precisely the imperialists’ desire for “legitimate trade and investment” that led them to plunge the common people into a terrible war which has brought and can bring them nothing but suffering. And it is precisely to nullify and stifle Japanese “legitimate investment,” and to make East Asia safe for American imperialism and its “legitimate investments,” that Roosevelt and his class backers are making war on Japan. Yet Howard assigns the American imperialists the impossible task – impossible because it would be contrary to their deepest interests – of encouraging the Japanese imperialists (that’s whom it comes down to in reality) to make “legitimate investments.” This is his alternative to Japanese militarism. This is his program for peace in the Far East. It would be hard to imagine anything more stupidly fantastic.

Perhaps it is unprofitable to attempt the untangling of such nonsense. But Mr. Howard has set himself up as an instructor on Far Eastern affairs and appears on lecture platforms as an “authority.” Adequate warning against this charlatan is therefore in order. Having no program to oppose to the program of imperialism, Howard takes refuge in vague generalities. Thus he wants “us” (who – the American imperialists, the workers, the farmers?) to tell and convince the Japanese people that “we are determined to destroy this evil power (Japanese militarism) and all that it means, and to establish an order of things which will permit the Japanese like every other Asiatic people to live and work in freedom and security. “What kind of an “order of things” – capitalism or socialism, the rule of the imperialist bourgeoisie or the rule of the common people? These are the real alternatives. The imperialist leaders know that the only alternative to imperialism is the socialist revolution and they firmly choose to maintain imperialism even if that requires the decimation of half the human race. Howard keeps mum on this point and takes refuge in meaningless phrases. Thereby he stamps himself as a supporter of imperialism.

Addressing a plaintive query in the direction of Washington, Howard asks: “How far has our Government come to the realization that not merely Japanese Empire, but all domination of one people by another people means inevitable and unending conflict over the spoils of such Empire?” In other words, he wants “our” government to cease being imperialist. The imperialists, you see, are simply short-sighted people who only need the light of Howard’s wisdom to turn them from their evil ways. Says he: “The darkest of perspectives opens before us, if peace is made by men as short-sighted as those who directed the war and the ‘peace’ a quarter of a century ago.” Being myopic himself, Howard attributes the same defect of vision to the imperialists. Alas, it is not the imperialists who are short-sighted. They look after their interests well, in war and in peace, without benefit of Mr. Howard’s advice.

Moralistic Homilies

Howard’s book is extremely childish in parts, as, for example, when he discovers as “one of the most fundamental characteristics” of the Japanese their “dislike of superiors, especially when the latter are arrogant and overbearing.” Or, again, his statement that “the most distinctive characteristic of the Japanese soldier is his deep desire to avoid death and return home alive.” There is nothing Japanese about either of these attitudes. They are universal traits.

The author builds up an imaginary opposition between Japanese big business and the Japanese militarists, depicting the former as being opposed to wars for imperialist expansion. He admits that Japanese companies profited from the exploitation of Korea, but it is the Japanese army which exploits “both Manchuria and Japan.” It is, of course, true that the army consumes a great part of the profits of empire and this does lead to some conflicts between big business and the army. But this is not the same thing as a principled opposition. In this country, too, big business opposes army “waste,” because its only concern is profits and it wants the cost of empire kept as low as possible.

To deny the interest of the big corporations in Japanese military enterprises, however, is to deny that the Japanese ruling class has any effectual say in the nation’s affairs. Up until Pearl Harbor, after Japan had been engaged in almost continual warfare on the Asiatic continent for ten years, and despite the heaviest taxation, the Japanese corporations continued to reap vast profits, as their published balance sheets showed. In the occupied areas of China, the houses of Mitsui and Mitsubishi were presented, intact, industrial enterprises taken from Chinese by the Japanese army. Japan’s wars have been quite profitable for the bourgeoisie and they support these wars in the expectation of greater profits in the future, when, as they hope, the territorial conquests of the army can be exploited in peace. But Howard says, in effect, that Japanese big business has lost control, that it has been virtually expropriated, that the militarists are getting everything – as if they were a new ruling class! This view has been advanced before with regard to Italy and Germany, where the Fascists and Nazis, with no more justification, were depicted as having expropriated the big capitalists. It is strange that these same “expropriated” and powerless capitalists, in the case of Italy, were able, when forced by pressure from the masses, to get rid of Mussolini and his all-powerful Fascists when they no longer could serve their interests. We may see a similar development in Japan when the war-weary people refuse to fight any longer for imperialist aims. Mr. Howard will then discover that the Japanese militarists, now riding so high, are not so independent and all-powerful as he imagines.

Political Charlatanism

The author perpetrates numerous outright asininities which can be summarized briefly. The Monroe Doctrine, he blandly asserts, was intended to “preserve developing democracy in Latin America” and was “an emphatic veto upon the aims of European absolutism to re-establish its political system in South and Central America.” But, as every political literate knows, this is merely the official idealization of the Monroe Doctrine. By it, the Yankee imperialists in reality served warning on their foreign competitors that Latin America was their preserve for trade and investment. Democracy had nothing to do with it. Where in Latin America (with the single possible exception of Mexico) has there ever been any “democracy” to preserve from “European absolutism”?

He also tells us that “the financial mainstay of the Soong Dynasty at Chungking” (meaning the Chiang Kai-shek government) “is the United States Treasury.” This is a patent misstatement. The fearfully oppressed masses of China are Chiang’s financial mainstay. The amounts wrung from them in taxation, both direct and indirect, exceed by many times the total of China’s American loans, including the $500,000,000 made available by Washington last year and the rather paltry lend-lease advances – all of which, in any case, is intended ultimately to be repaid by China’s sweating, starving millions.

The Only Alternatives

Howard wants “democracy” in China – naturally. How is it to be obtained? Simple! “The People’s Political Council which now exists under the Chiang Kai-shek rule must be made a body elected by the Chinese people themselves, and not appointed by the Kuomintang. The Kuomintang itself must cease to be a dictatorial party.” The italics are Howard’s own, so he evidently attaches great importance to the words they emphasize. But who is going to make over the People’s Political Council, give it a democratic face-lifting? And by what magic process is the Kuomintang going to cease being a dictatorial party? Howard does not even pose these questions. Which alone justifies us in our previous description of the man as a charlatan.

Chiang’s regime, according to Howard, is simply “dictatorial.” But the Japanese puppet government at Nanking, headed by Wang Ching-wei, is (believe it or not!) “fascist.” This bald and unsupported political definition is of a piece with the rest of Howard’s obtuseness hiding in the garb of erudition. One suspects, however, that he uses the word “fascist” as a term of abuse rather than as a scientific political definition. And in this, perhaps, he is merely atoning for past friendly association with Wang Ching-wei’s regime. He was a contributor to Wang’s English-language organ, the People’s Tribune, for many years and the association continued until he left Shanghai in 1941. Significantly, he omits mention of this phase of his activities from the otherwise not entirely truthful outline of his Far Eastern career which appears on the dust jacket of his book. It would seem that he discovered the “fascist” character of Wang’s regime only after he had set himself up in business in New York as a “democratic” authority on the Orient.



1. Frank Glass was no longer in China but in the United States at this time.


Last updated on 23.8.2004