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Fourth International, June 1949


Editorial Review

The Fall of Shanghai


From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.6, June 1949, pp.163-165.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


As this editorial is being written, the guns of the peasant armies are pounding the approaches to Shanghai. Its fall, now a matter of days or at most weeks, heralds the climax of the Chinese civil war. Once again, as during the northern expedition of the Kuomintang armies in the upsurge of 1925-27, Shanghai is the crucible of the Chinese Revolution. Within this largest of Chinese cities, possessing the greatest concentration of modern, class-conscious proletarians and the heaviest aggregate of foreign investment, the fate of world imperialism in the Orient, the future of class relations in China, the policies and strategy of Stalinism are being submitted to a decisive test.

The first impression gained from the struggle for Shanghai is the impotence of world imperialism. This is the city where a handful of white men ruled like lords for more than a century, cowing and subjugating millions of Chinese with the most brazen display of armed force. Now their one desperate thought is flight. For weeks Shanghai has been the scene of a scramble by the emissaries and retainers of world imperialism, by capitalists, businessmen – the whole assorted tribe of exploiters, slavedrivers and buccaneers – to obtain space on departing ships or planes, to get out while the getting is still good. This is the dominant trend although a few agents of Western capitalism stay on to test the possibilities of an agreement with the Stalinist leaders. Watching the humiliating and crippling – and deserved – punishment received by the British gunboats on the Yangtze, American imperialism, the most powerful of all capitalist nations, possessor of the atom bomb, quickly decided that discretion was the better part of valor. It has dismantled its military establishments, pulled its warships out of the range of fire. How the mighty have fallen!

The hasty withdrawal of world imperialism from Shanghai highlights the second dominant fact of the civil war – the utter chaos, corruption and disintegration that prevails in the Chinese capitalist class. Up to now foreign military forces have played the role of an auxiliary and reserve for the main body of Chinese capitalist counterrevolution. Chiang’s armies subjugated the revolutionary masses twenty-two years ago. The British helped, it is true, but the main counter-revolutionary work was carried out by indigenous forces. Today, the military establishment of Chinese capitalism, which required some three billion American dollars to create, has virtually vanished into thin air.

The “defenses” of Shanghai, which, according to correspondents on the spot, could not withstand a battery of pop-guns, are manned by a mercenary army commanded by a typical hijacking Chinese warlord. Expected by all to take to his heels as soon as the battle becomes serious, the General meanwhile is exploiting the siege of the city to blackmail Chinese and foreign capitalist interests for all the traffic will bear and to loot everything that isn’t nailed down. Yet payment, however reluctantly made, is for services rendered – the suppression of any revolutionary uprising which might break out before Mao’s armies enter the city.

The situation in Shanghai is thus typical of that in the country as a whole. A compradore class, isolated from and hated by the population as a whole, the Chinese bourgeoisie and its political agents have been totally incapable of defending their own interests, let alone conducting military engagements on the huge scale required by the civil war. Corruption vies with incompetence. While the top command of the Kuomintang army and the top politicians in the government grafted and manipulated foreign imperialist aid to fill their own coffers, desertion was rampant at the front while chaos and inflation abounded in the rear. As the struggle for Shanghai impends, the disintegration of the Nationalist armies parallels the collapse of the Kuomintang government.

The victories of Chinese Stalinism must be viewed in light of the specific conditions and relationships of class forces set forth above. Do these victories contradict the famous charge by Trotsky that Stalinism is “the organizer of defeats”? Not at all. On the whole, what has been won by the leadership of Mao Tse-tung has been won by default. One notes with amazement how, since the peasant forces swept down from the North, entire armies capitulated at the first shot or fled in panic leaving their arms and equipment behind them. Not even the Bolsheviks, who combined social warfare with military struggle, won such overwhelming victories so easily. Serious opposition, which would have long ago tested and wrecked the bankrupt policies of Stalinism as it has in the last three years in Europe, has been lacking in China. Neither world imperialism, preoccupied with its “cold war” in Europe, nor the decadent Chinese bourgeoisie could offer such opposition. Yet precisely because of these circumstances, the victories of Chinese Stalinism occur under magnificently favorable conditions. The danger of foreign intervention, the most potent threat to all revolutions, has been reduced to a minimum. Internal counter-revolution is likewise less menacing particularly in view of the impotence of native capitalism, the long accumulated grievances of the people, the sweeping nature of the victories of the peasant armies and the universal desire for peace after so many years of civil war. In addition tremendous revolutionary reserves in the whole colonial world are shaking the empires of Western imperialism to their foundations. But for one force, the events in China – when joined to those in Indonesia, Burma, Indo-China – could spell the beginning of the end of world capitalism which cannot live without the exploitation and super-profits of the East. That force is Stalinism.

The policy of Stalinism remains essentially the same as that which led to the defeat of the Chinese revolution in 1925-27. It is class collaborationist and reformist – not revolutionary. The same policies then carried out in alliance with and in subordination to the Kuomintang, are today being practiced during the struggle against the Kuomintang. Now as then, the agrarian revolt is being exploited to provide troops for the advancing army but the Stalinists are not advocating or promoting any basic transformation of property relations in the countryside. Denominating the main enemy as “feudalism,” Mao and his central committee have repeatedly warned against “excesses” which take the form of peasant action against the rich capitalist land-owners and usurers who are the real oppressive force in the Chinese village, particularly in the South. The few reforms decreed by the Stalinists are not basically more radical than the rent reductions in land granted by Chiang Kai-shek to appease the peasant masses during his northern expedition twenty-two years ago.

The situation within Shanghai today when contrasted with that of two decades ago speaks volumes about the Stalinist attitude toward the Chinese proletariat. Let us briefly recapitulate the events of February-March 1927. A great general strike broke out within the city as the Nationalist armies were on the point of entering Shanghai. Although the action was directed against the military governor, against whom Chiang was presumably warring, he deliberately halted his armies at the outskirts of the city while the reactionary warlord butchered the insurgent workers. A few weeks later, recouping their losses, the workers of Shanghai rose again in a mighty insurrection and hurled the reactionary troops out of the city, taking power in their own hands.

Anticipating treachery from Chiang, the workers wanted to bar the approaches of the city to his armies. But in the eyes of Stalin and his Comintern, Chiang was the “liberator” of China fighting a “progressive” war against “imperialism and feudalism.” The Communist workers were ordered to bury their arms so as not to “provoke” Chiang. What happened is well known. While the French Stalinists were greeting the entry of the Nationalist armies into Shanghai as the beginning of the Chinese “Commune,” Chiang was launching a bloody white terror which set a goal for Hitler to equal a few years later. Unions, workers’ organizations and the Communist Party were smashed and driven into illegality.

So far, according to all reports, the Shanghai workers have remained passive and apathetic as the Stalinist armies prepare to invest the city. They are aware that there has been no serious change in the class-collaboration policies although the bloc with the Kuomintang no longer exists. Not one of the conditions of peace submitted by Mao to the Nationalist government was concerned with improving the lot of the workers, let alone reflecting their revolutionary aspirations. In cities already occupied by them, the Stalinists have rudely repulsed independent, actions by factory workers and even suppressed strikes for the most elementary – economic demands. The Stalinists have not uttered a solitary word of warning, not a hint of reprisal agairtst the militarist rulers of Shanghai who have been executing strike leaders and militant workers on the streets of the city in broad daylight. Is it any wonder that the victories of Mao’s armies have not kindled sparks of hope in the hearts of the oppressed masses of China’s greatest city?

Confronted with a proletarian revolution in Shanghai, the Chinese bourgeoisie, under the leadership of Chiang in 1927, gave up its independent aspirations and sold itself to the foreign imperialists in order to crush what it considered its main rival. What is to be expected of Mao? He has already promised to respect private property with the exception of “bureaucratic capital,” that is, the property of the most hated Kuomintang officials. It is not to be ruled out, however, that the Stalinists, in face of a tough and uncompromising attitude particularly by American imperialism, may be obliged to nationalize more foreign enterprises than was their original intention.

Such measures, taken to protect the political rule of the Stalinist regime, are not to be identified with a social revolution. Only the unleashing of all the seething forces of agrarian revolt embodied in the masses of the poorest peasants combined with the vast initiative of the Chinese working class and under its leadership can overturn capitalism, unify China and expel its imperialist oppressors. But if the living forces of the revolution are restrained and crushed, then the old, reactionary rot must return. It will revive on the countryside first where capitalist property relations are most deeply rooted. But it will not be slow in reappearing in the cities where the workers have been shorn of political power. The few score or even few hundred Moscow-trained Stalinists are hardly enough to administer the vast political apparatus in China. Where will Mao and Co., who hate and fear the proletariat, find the personnel to man the government except among the very elements who constituted the official bureaucracy of the Kuomintang?

Twenty-two years ago, the capitulation of Stalin and his agents to the Kuomintang saved Chinese capitalism. Today, ironically enough, the Stalinists are performing the same role against the opposition of the Chinese capitalists. They are overthrowing the Kuomintang but not Chinese capitalism. A political not a social overturn is occurring in China in which the Stalinists have utilized agrarian reforms and a minimum of social revolutionary measures to bring them to power. But since the Stalinists are neither the legitimate representatives of capitalism nor of the proletariat whose interests they have betrayed time and again, their rule can only be transitory; an interim stage .in the development of the class struggles in China.

The Stalinists can remain in power only until world imperialism – perhaps with an agreement with the Kremlin – frees its hands in the West to once again reorganize the forces of capitalist reaction in China; or until a new upsurge of the proletariat takes place under the leadership of the Chinese section of the Fourth International in alliance with the great peasant masses. Those remain the only basic alternatives for the Chinese revolution. Whatever its duration and its vicissitudes, the Stalinist rule is nothing more than a caretaker regime for one or the other.

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Last updated on: 7 March 2009