Li Fu-jen

Shanghai Strike Indicates Growing Unrest in China

(14 March 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 11, 14 March 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

An event of great revolutionary, significance, with an extremely ominous culmination, took place in China during the week ended Feb. 19 when railroad and bus transportation workers at Shanghai – the country’s greatest industrial city and port – went out on strike and suffered brutal repression by troops of the local garrison commander, Gen. Tang En-po, one of Chiang Kai-shek’s henchmen.

Though hemmed in by martial law, and an edict against strikes which carries the penalty of death for disobedience, these workers, nevertheless walked off the job, demonstrating once again the fighting courage of the proletariat and its tremendous power as a revolutionary striking force.

Highly Symptomatic

Neither the immediate occasion for the strike, nor its duration, were given in the press of this country. The N.Y. Times of Feb. 19 reported the strike and its suppression as events incidental to other developments in Shanghai. There can be no doubt, however, that this – the first reported action by any section of the Chinese working class in the present political upheaval- – is highly symptomatic of a grow-ing revolutionary situation.

It confirms what we have said before, namely, that China’s workers, like the rural toilers, are no longer prepared to tolerate the old repressive and exploitive order of things. They want to destroy Kuomintang-capitalist rule. They are ready to march on to the field of revolutionary action.

But the Communist Party, the only supposedly revolutionary party widely known to the masses, holds the workers in check, tells them to preserve order (which means submission to Kuomintang-military rule, and to maintain production (which is for the benefit of the capitalist exploiters). The Stalinists have made themselves the protectors of bourgeois property. Thus the proletariat, for the time being, is politically disarmed in the face of its mortal foes.

Summary Executions

Shanghai is the economic center and the revolutionary heart of China. The tenseness of the situation there is revealed in the previously mentioned Times dispatch: “With the strikes of bus drivers and railway workers forcefully suppressed by the army in recent days, the fear, had arisen of mass disorders. Thursday night some soldiers seized three demonstrating bus drivers, court-martialed them summarily and executed them by firing squad for violating the antistrike proclamation.

“Armored cars moved through the milling street crowds. Helmeted soldiers with tommy guns and fixed bayonets were seen throughout the city. The military police, wearing shiny helmets, crowded into trucks and rumbled through the financial district where bankers and merchants could see them.”

Gen. Tang En-po is stated to be in command of some 250,000 troops in the Shanghai area. The size of this “garrison” testifies to the extreme importance which the ruling class attaches to the city. Yet most if not all of these soldiers could be won over to the side of the people, to the workers, if the Communist Party were a revolutionary party pursuing a revolutionary program and’ policy. The soldiers are underpaid and ill-fed. They remain “loyal” to the Kuomintang regime and to capitalist rule only because they are presented with no revolutionary alternative.

How shaky and unreliable is this garrison as a prop of the remnants of the Kuomintang regime is revealed in a N.Y. Times dispatch from Shanghai on Feb. 17. Here it was reported that Mayor K.C. Wu, another of Chiang Kai-shek’s henchmen, was pressing merchants to contribute 300,000,000 gold yuan monthly for Gen. Tang En-po to provide his soldiers with “better food.”

The Mayor gave threatening hints of possible dire results of failure to contribute when he addressed a gathering of merchants’ representatives and was “Reported to have said that the troops were underpaid and to have added pointedly that they have been behaving well so far and had not as yet taken over any industrial premises.” For the capitalists, the garrison certainly demonstrated its good behavior in smashing the bus and rail strike and killing militant strike demonstrators.

While this repressive action was taking place, the “Red” armies were sitting tight on the north bank of the Yangtse where they have paused now for over two months while the Stalinist leaders dicker with “liberal” Kuomintang politicians for “peace” and a coalition government. China’s ruling classes and their political representatives welcome this lengthy breathing-spell and are making the greatest possible use of it. Little did they dream that on the very edge of the precipice, face to face with their doom, they would be given another chance – by the “Communists.”

All of China south of the Yangtse (except for small rural pockets held by Stalinist guerrilla forces) is still under Kuomintang control. This territory includes the country’s greatest and richest cities. From his place of “retirement” Chiang Kai-shek is working night and day to firm up control of this vast area. He is in constant telephone communication with his provincial generals, press reports assert. Troops are being moved about freely and readied for action.

Both Shanghai and Nanking are held by troops whose top commanders are Chiang’s henchmen. The triple cities of Wuhan (Hankow, Wuchang, Hanyang) are held by large troop formations under Gen. Pai Chung-hsi, an old ally of Chiang. On the island of Formosa still another of Chiang’s generals, Sun Li-jen, is directing a large military training camp where “30,000 Nationalist soldiers are undergoing GI-style training with what United States equipment he (Gen. Sun) can procure.” (N.Y. Times, Feb. 19). “I am not the kind of man who gives up,” Gen. Sun told the correspondent. “Now we need. American moral and material aid.”

Chiang is also directing the policies and moves of the rump Kuomintang government at Canton. And since it is the troops of his general, Tang En-po, which are in control of Nanking (in addition to Shanghai), he probably has more than a finger in the doings of the “caretaker” government over which Gen. Li Tsung-jen (the Vice-President) presides in the former capital. Chiang is pursuing a clever strategy. Through the Canton government he bellows defiance at the Stalinists. Through the Nanking government he plays at negotiating with them. Behind the scenes, while gaining all the time he can, he prepares a military counter-stroke.

It is freely being predicted that in the not distant future Chiang will step forth openly on the stage again and take command of all the forces which he is now busily welding together. If Chiang can demonstrate his ability to hold the Stalinists and perhaps drive them back, and at the same time hold South, China as a firm salient of capitalist-landlord rule by ruthlessly suppressing the masses, the American imperialists may again come to his aid. The present ground-swell of reactionary activity could easily develop into a tidal wave of counter-revolution.

For the present ominous developments, for the bloody suppression of the workers at Shanghai, the Stalinists will bear full responsibility before history. They and they alone are making possible the reassembling and the rearmament of the nearly-defeated forces of capitalist-landlord reaction. The crime of crimes for a supposedly revolutionary party is the pursuit of a non-revolutionary, compromising policy in a revolutionary situation. This is precisely what the Stalinists are doing.

At the same time they are deliberately holding the revolutionary forces in check and giving the class enemies of the workers time in which to prepare a counter-stroke. They are helping Chiang Kai-shek to slay the third Chinese revolution as 22 years ago they helped him to slay the second.

Last updated on 29 February 2024