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Fourth International, January-February 1950


C.L. Liu

A Chinese Trotskyist Reports:

China: An Aborted Revolution


From Fourth International, Vol.11 No.1, January-February 1950, pp.3-7.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Editor’s Note: The writer of this article is a veteran Chinese Trotskyist, prominent in the leadership of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Chinese section of the Fourth International. He spent several years in a Kuomintang prison where all the efforts of his jailers, including physical torture, failed to break his devotion to the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed. He wrote the following article in the Portuguese island colony of Macao, off the south coast of China, late last October, having just left Canton on the eve of the capture of that great south China city by the Stalinists. The article contains considerable information additional to that in the article on China which appeared in the December 1949 issue of Fourth International and affords valuable insight into developments under the regime of Mao Tse-tung.>

* * *

Now that the new Stalinist masters of China are settling down to the task of consolidating their rule, it is important to take note of the centrifugal forces already at work in the direction of undermining their power. Some bourgeois commentators have elected to see in the transference of power from the Kuomintang to the Communist Party a finished “social revolution.” This thoroughly superficial and completely false evaluation of events takes no account of the popular opposition to Stalinist rule which has developed concomitantly with the “Red” military victory. It ignores, too, the fact that the. Stalinist program itself is dedicated to the protection and preservation of capitalist property relations.

A Marxist appraisal of the situation, based on fundamental class considerations, can be condensed in the following formula: The liquidation of the Kuomintang regime and the advent to power of the Stalinists represents the completion of one stage in the third Chinese revolution. Social forces already at work are preparing the next stages, which will bring the Chinese working class to the fore as a unifying force leading all the oppressed toward the establishment of a socialist dictatorship of the proletariat.

Peasant Opposition to Stalinists

Peasant opposition to Stalinist rule is no longer a secret. It is all the more significant when it is remembered that land reform – “liberation of the peasants” – was the principal axis of the Stalinist program. The first inkling of peasant opposition was a report in a Kuomintang newspaper stating that a peasant uprising was in progress in the Kiangsu-Anhwei border region, close to Shanghai and Nanking. The fighting slogan of the insurgents was: “Uproot the Kuomintang! Fight against the Communists!” Reports of other uprisings followed in quick succession.

Because of distortion and exaggeration, there was at first a tendency to ignore these reports, especially in view ol their tainted source. But news finds its way and soon it became plain that the reported peasant uprisings against the Stalinists were not pure inventions of the discredited Kuomintang clique. At first, the Stalinists maintained silence. Finally, the Stalinist New China News Agency broadcasted an official report to the effect that uprisings were taking place.

Kuomintang press dispatches placed the strongest center of peasant rebellion in the Honan-Anhwei border region. In the province of Honan alone, we were told, some 300,000 peasants had taken up arms against the Stalinist rulers under the banner of the mystical Red Pearl Society, one of the more outstanding of the traditional secret societies of the Chinese peasantry. In Anhwei and Kiangsu provinces 100,000 peasants were reported in rebellion. Smaller guerrilla forces fighting Stalinist rule had appeared in eastern Shansi, Hupeh, Shantung, Chekiang and Kiangsi provinces. These forces had occupied old military bases abandoned by the Stalinists.

According to a Kuomintang spokesman, between 800,000 and one million peasants were in active revolt against Stalinist rule. Again allowing for exaggeration, there was pointed confirmation in a New China News Agency report from Hunan province dated Agust 20. 1949, which stated:

Everywhere we are making great progress in the work of exterminating bandits in Central China. In Hunan province, during the past year, about 38,700 bandits were killed, wounded, captured alive or forced to surrender. In Hupeh province, during the three months of May, June and July, the total number of bandits exterminated was more than 12,000 ... In Taiwo and the northeastern part of Kiangsi province, within three months, about 5,300 bandits were exterminated. Of these, about 3,300 put down their arms ...

It is instructive to note that the Stalinists have taken over, without amendment, the terminology of the Chiang Kai-shek gang in referring to rebellious peasants. They are “bandits.” The components of the insurgent forces, according to Kuomintang sources (the Stalinists give us no information) are:

  1. peasants and dispersed soldiers;
  2. local gentry and officials;
  3. students disillusioned with Stalinism who have deserted from the CP camp;
  4. the local Min Tuan (armed thugs employed by the landlords) and Self-Defense Corps members who did not submit to the new regime;
  5. dissatisfied Stalinist guerrillas.

Because of news censorship, exercised as stringently by the Stalinists as it was previously by the Kupmintang, we can learn but little of the political physiognomy of the new peasant uprisings. The multitudes who have again taken up arms are just “bandits.” And the Stalinist newshounds seldom fail to add that they are “agents of the Kuomintang” and of US imperialism.

The unexpected flare-up of a new peasant war has of course awakened new hope in the dying camp of the Kuomintang. Yet the rebellion of the South China peasants is certainly not occasioned by any desire to restore the hated rule of Chiang Kai-shek. Rather it is directed against the gross betrayal of the interests of the rural masses by the new Stalinist rulers of the country. Of this we shall have more to say later, when we deal with the Stalinist agrarian program as it has been carried out in reality – a program which raised high hopes now dashed to the ground in bitter disappointment.

Finding a Scapegoat

The widespread character of the peasant opposition has of course occasioned alarm in the Stalinist camp. The top Stalinist leadership naturally admits no error, no betrayal of the interests of the rural masses. If there is blame to be apportioned, let it fall on the heads of “local leaders” and “political workers” who have “lost their class alertness.” And in what did this loss of alertness consist? In failure to act in the interests of the people? By no means. The Stalinist commissars, it seems, “paid no attention to the timely extermination oj bandits.” Which, interpreted, means that they failed to crack down hard on any one who manifested opposition to the rotten policies handed down from the heights occupied by Mao Tse-tung and his clique.

But there was a problem: How to handle the growing rebellion? The Stalinist high command set up a special headquarters for “bandit extermination.” Part of the regular field army was reorganized into local police corps. (Under Chiang Kai-shek they were called bandit suppression corps.) But Mao Tse-tung & Co. understood that brutal suppression alone could not halt the spreading fire of peasant opposition. On July 7, 1949, the birthday anniversary of the Chinese Communist Part), Lin Piao, army commander and top Stalinist commissar in Central China, issued a directive to the party membership, emphasizing the serious situation in the countryside.

Power in the village, the directive pointed out, still rests in the hands of the landlords and local militarists. The peasants are neglected and abandoned to terrible conditions of living, “Our cadres,” Lin said (meaning the local Stalinist functionaries) have become “content with city life.” They consider they have earned a right to rest and comfort. They prefer to live in the industrial centers rather than in the grimy, grubby countryside. “That is a great mistake.” Command: “All cadres must prepare to return to work in the countryside.

The cadres evidently resisted reorganization into local police corps in Hunan province – the only area about which we have more or less definite information. Perhaps they shrank from throwing themselves into military opposition to the peasants. Or they may also have been motivated, in part, by the lure of the comfortable city life. At all events, their passive opposition called forth a new directive. The Hunan CP on Sept. 5, 1949 issued “Instructions Regarding Work,” of which the following is the core:

Unwillingness to be reassigned to local police corps or to engage in minor campaigns for the extermination of bandits is contrary to the need for developing the revolution and harmful for the realization of the immediate tasks of the party and the final victory on a national scale. Any idea of sitting down to enjoy the crops, waiting idly, is incorrect. Notions of resting in a pleasant place, reluctance to work in wild and lonely mountain regions, yearning for a comfortable home life in the city – these are individualist ideas which do harm to our immediate plans and cause isolation from the masses. We must be vigilant and overcome this retrogressive tendency.

Application of the Land Policy

As can be seen quite plainly, the blame for all evils is placed by the Stalinist tops on the sins of the lower cadres, which is in accord with the time-honored practice of the Moscow mentors of Mao Tse-tung & Co. But how did it come to pass that power in the villages continued to rest in the hands of the landlords and local militarists in areas which were supposed to have been “liberated” from their rule? In the answer to this seeming political riddle we shall discover the real causes for the new upsurges of peasant rebellion. Involved here are not just minor administrative mistakes of the lower functionaries on the provincial or district level. What is involved is the Stalinist land policy itself. When the new “liberators” overran the southern part of China, the program of agrarian reform as it had been applied earlier in the north was given a sharp twist to the right. The old land relationships were left virtually intact. From a policy of reliance on the village poor, the Stalinists, once national power was within their grasp, began more actively to carry out their avowed policy of collaboration with the exploiting classes. Collaboration with the capitalists necessarily means collaboration with the landlords, too, for the two are closely tied together by innumerable economic and social threads.

In North China ...

In North China, referred to in Stalinist documents as the “old and semi-old liberated areas,” and comprising all territory north of the Yellow River, the redistribution of land among the peasants was more or less seriously carried out. Yet even here there is considerable dissatisfaction. Three zones were designated in this vast area, in each of which the land program was applied differently. A study of Stalinist documents on the subject, from which we shall quote in part, show how matters have gone in each of the three zones.

In North China, as we can see, the land reform has been carried out unevenly. Land hunger is still far from being appeased. And, as the foregoing excerpts from Stalinist reports show, a new class of “kulaks” among whom are included the hordes of party “cadres,” has sprung into being. Thus, while supposedly tackling the land problem in a fundamental way, the Stalinist program has created the groundwork for a restoration of all the old inequalities against which the peasants rose in rebellion.

In South China ...

In South China ... (the “newly-liberated areas”), on the other hand, there has been a cynical betrayal of the peasants’ demands. For the program of land redivision instituted in the North there was substituted by decree an alternative program calling merely for reduction of land rents and interest rates. In other words, there is no pretense of expropriating the landlords in order to provide land for the landless.

This right turn was made under the official claim that it was necessary “to consolidate all strata of the Chinese people and eliminate all unnecessary obstacles to the establishment of the broadest anti-American and anti-Kuomintang united front in order to achieve complete victory in the people’s liberating war.” Here we encounter once again the classic formula of People’s Frontism as opposed to the policy of class struggle.

To any one acquainted with the structure of China’s economy and the history of the country over the past half-century, the abandonment of land reform in South China represents a monstrous crime. For it is precisely in the South China provinces that the plunderings of the landlords assumed the greatest proportions and land hunger is greatest. South China has been a furnace of peasant uprisings throughout modern history. The peasant movement led by Mao Tse-tung was itself born in Hunan. And now, after many years of struggle, Mao returns to his native province, no longer as the pioneer leader of the peasant uprising, but as a prodigal son of the landowners!

Historical experience in abundance testifies to the fact that when power and the land, inseparably linked, remain in the hands of the landlords, all talk about reducing rent and interest is a cruel deception. One way or another the landlord always succeeds in taking back from the peasants anything he may be forced to concede by means of such “reforms.” For the peasants of South China the Stalinist “liberation” has brought more staggering burdens than ever before. Not only are they still enslaved to the landlords, but their “People’s Government” saddles them with requisitions of food and manpower. They must carry the burden of feeding the urban population and the swollen armies of Mao Tse-tung. The peasant is striking back as he always has done throughout history when his lot becomes intolerable. Yesterday he took up arms against the Kuomintang. Now he goes to battle against his false “Communist” liberators.

What Happened in the Cities

So much for the situation in the countryside. What about the urban centers and the industrial working class? Mao Tse-tung came to Shanghai as a Messiah. To the workers he represented himself as their spokesman and defender in the coalition government-to-be. In reality, he said, they were now the masters of the country. But at the same time he turned politely to the bourgeoisie with the assurance that their properties would be protected and that they would be given every opportunity to develop their enterprises. “A reasonable profit,” a high Stalinist official told the worried capitalists, “is not exploitation.” He promised that production would continue smoothly under “a reasonable regime of harmonious cooperation between capital and labor.”

The workers took their supposed “liberation” much more seriously, as a signal to free themselves from iniquitous exploitation. Strikes marked by the boldest demands took place. The workers succeeded in establishing the price of rice, their staple food, as the basic measure of wages. In some instances they laid rough hands on factory administration. The capitalists complained and their flood of grievances quickly reached the sensitive ears of the new rulers. In some instances the capitalists closed down the factories rather than concede workers’ just demands. Unemployment increased rapidly. Inflation added to the miseries of the poor. Attempts by the Stalinists to blame everything on Kuomintang saboteurs and American imperialism were not convincing. In this menacing situation the Stalinists were obliged to act. True to color, they acted not against the capitalists but against the workers. Compulsory arbitration of all labor disputes by the Labor Bureau of the Shanghai Municipal Government was decreed. Lin Piao, the Stalinist commander, declared that all conflicts between capital and labor must be eliminated in order to “promote the prosperity of urban industry and commerce.” Workers were coerced into taking wage-cuts and lengthened working hours. To cope with the growing unemployment, a decree of compulsory evacuation was issued which called for removing three million, or two-thirds, of the Shanghai population out of the city. The attempts to execute this decree met fierce resistance. Shanghai’s population had been swelled by poverty-stricken people from the countryside who hoped to find means of survival in the city. Lin Piao’s “solution” for their plight was to dump them back in the countryside again.

While attempting to thin out the population by forcible evacuation measures, the new rulers also decreed a plan for thinning out industry. The pretexts for this were various and unconvincing. The most likely explanation is that the Stalinists, fearing future working-class opposition and revolt, want to thin out the proletariat of this largest of Chinese cities and thus reduce its effectiveness as a class force. At all events, several smaller factories were forced to dismantle and move. Owners of the larger plants, together with the workers, objected to their plants being moved.

An order was issued to the Sun Sun Textile Factory No.9 to dismantle and move to Manchuria. Workers barricaded themselves in the plant to resist. Troops of the Stalinist “liberating” army were sent to carry out the order. A bloody clash ensued in which 10 workers were killed or wounded and three soldiers killed. There was irony in this incident, for only a year previously, before Shanghai’s “liberation,” the Stalinist leadership in this same plant had provoked a bloody clash between strikers and Kuomintang police! We may be sure that this lesson, showing up the true character of the Stalinists, was not lost on the Shanghai proletariat with its lengthy tradition, of class struggle and revolution.

The New Coalition Gov’t

On October 1, 1949 the Stalinists formally proclaimed the establishment of the Chinese People’s Democratic Republic. Everything was arranged in advance by a hand-picked Political Consultative Conference, that is, behind the backs of the masses whom the new government is supposed to represent. The new government power is a “coalition” of the People’s Front variety in which the Stalinists have joined hands with the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie represented by the Revolutionary Kuomintang and the Democratic League. Abandonment of the land reform in South China was part of the price Mao Tse-tung paid for securing the cooperation of these elements. The Democratic League is a varied assortment of groups and individuals – professors, petty politicians, professional negotiators and defeated generals – who speak for no one but themselves.

The more substantial partner in the coalition is the Revolutionary Kuomintang, led by the Cantonese ex-warlord Li Chi-sen. It is around this new party that important elements of the bourgeoisie rallied as they scurried away from Chiang Kai-shek’s sinking ship of state. The Revolutionary Kuomintang is the new political axis of the exploiting classes, the wide-open gateway through which they jostled into the safe haven of the new “People’s Republic.” Through it they hope to restore the damage to their fortunes and, in due time, get back into the political saddle.

Some of Mao’s Allies

A brief glance at the political biographies of some of the leading lights in the new government will enable us to appreciate the class character of the Revolutionary Kuomintang and the infamous composition of the new government.

New Crisis Developing

Under the new regime, the contradictions and conflicts of Chinese society, far from being mitigated, will inevitably become more acute. The new regime can be no more stable than the relationship of classes. Because the needs and aspirations of the masses have not been satisfied, nor a foundation laid for their satisfaction, the class struggle will continue. This struggle has both national and international aspects.

South China, where land reform has been abandoned and where the real power continues to reside with the landlords and capitalists, furnishes a counter-balance to the North, where a more or less radical land reform has been accomplished. It is the North which Stalin seeks to convert into a defensive bastion on the eastern borders of the Soviet Union. That is why Peipihg, rather than Shanghai or Nanking, was chosen as the seat of the new national government.

When social crisis rears its head the stability of the new regime will be threatened. In the sphere of international relations it will be the same. Today, the bourgeois representatives in the coalition join in the Stalinist chorus against American imperialism. But the material basis is decisive. Capitalist and landlord property, sanctified by the Stalinists, inevitably projects South China toward the orbit of imperialism. The bourgeois spokesmen in the coalition will function more and more openly, as the situation develops, as transmitters of the pressure of the capitalist world in the West. In carrying out his plans for economic recovery, Mao will encounter only disappointment in his dealings with the Kremlin. The imperialists will capitalize on this disappointment, as they did with Tito, and do everything they can to push Mao toward a westward orientation.

At present, in order to blackmail the American imperialists, Mao pays ostentatious court to the Kremlin. In order to win complete power by a short cut, he compromises with the bourgeoisie at the expense of the peasants and workers. Thus is the way being paved for new internal and international upheavals.

Macao, October 20, 1949

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