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Fourth International, January-February 1953


V. Grey

The Case of Owen Lattimore


From Fourth International, Vol.14 No.1, January-February 1953, pp.18-24.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


As part of a series of connected events, including the Eisenhower election victory, the coming perjury trial of Owen Lattimore will prove once again that there is a serious, and in fact, irreversible shift in the politics of the American bourgeoisie. So much so that former New Dealers and liberals must change their political character, or be branded as communists and the supporters of communists.

The policy of collaboration is being changed for the policy of the club. But the shift to the right is a shift in American politics abroad even more than at home. The policies of the American ruling class abroad, organically imperialistic, are now being implemented more and more with the weapons of desperation. And the human instruments of these policies tend more and more to be the most extreme jingoes rather than the calculating “experts” of diplomacy.

Only yesterday, the bourgeoisie hailed the victory of Eisenhower over Taft in the Republican convention as a victory of rationalism over blind reaction in international politics. But this victory was extremely provisional as Eisenhower’s endorsement of McCarthy soon revealed. Eisenhower, whom McCarthy treats like an appeaser, was compelled in some degree to appease McCarthy. The recent peace terms that Eisenhower offered the Soviet Union were not the terms of the middle-of-the-road policy Eisenhower was supposed to represent. They were the terms of the Tafts, the Jenners, the MacArthurs. When the most powerful American capitalists supported Eisenhower against Taft, their purpose was to continue the foreign policy of Truman with a somewhat firmer hand. Their purpose was to keep the extreme reactionaries on ice for some time to come. But their need has a constant element of desperation nowadays. In spite of everything they slowly gravitate in the direction of Taft, McCarthy and MacArthur. The bourgeoisie may never consciously, willingly or completely adopt these extremists. But the latter remain the political, moral, and military alter egos of the capitalist class.

The inner politics of the bourgeoisie, however, are not written down or worked out in advance. (That is, nowhere but in the most generalized predictions of Marxism.) The above process is taking place by means of a split, and by a struggle. It is a historical process, but it does not seem impersonal or objective. Quite the contrary. This struggle within the bourgeoisie, which for some time has centered on the question of who is responsible for “losing China,” is being fought out with calumnies, lies, character assassination. In morality it is a return to the piratical youth of the bourgeoisie, in politics, an imitation of the most savage fascists. One of the most educational by-products of their struggle is the phase, “how we lost China,” which they now toss around as unconcernedly as a farmer talking about his lost sheep. To describe the revolution of a people three times the population of their own country, as “our losing China” reveals a degree of arrogance difficult to measure.

A Debate With Murderous Intent

With the imperialists, these hysterical accusations and debates are not merely a blind product of enraged frustration at their “loss.” Nor do they hold these debates and investigations because they are really interested in finding out who killed Cock Robin. The debating is not carried on so as to learn from their mistakes in slave-owning statecraft, so as to do better next time. It is rather a matter of dumping the old leadership in order more unrestrainedly to follow the new course. When McCarthy and his friends publish “exposés” which supposedly explain why “we” lost China, they are doing so, not in order to educate the American workers in the slick tricks of diplomacy, but in order to compromise, to defeat, and utterly to ruin their opponents within their own class. They are now and have been for some time so destroying and ruining Owen Lattimore, one-time consultant to the State Department, and expert on the Far East.

It goes without saying that the campaign against the State Department Lefts is also a part of the more fundamental class campaign against the Soviet Union and the Communist Party. But it would be a mistake to regard that as the main point here. True, the government is imprisoning radicals and hounding all opponents of capitalism. This persecution creates a hysteria which spills over into the formerly pink-tinted, but now re-painted parlors of the liberal part of Washington. Hence the very atmosphere lends a murderous effectiveness to the wild charges of the extreme Rights. But the real fight over foreign policy within the bourgeoisie is not a fight of the pro-capitalists against pro-communists, or even pro-Stalinists.

The struggle over “who lost China” is first and foremost a struggle for leadership in the coming titanic war. The iron fist is throwing off its velvet glove. But such a transformation cannot take place as quickly as the figure of speech implies. The capitalist class is not a monolithic body with but a single arm. Its interests are often divided. Its political servants do not all reflect the needs of its system at all times. And today the system as a whole is being challenged from the outside, while stability seems to reign inside. So the most hard-boiled and ruthless servants of capitalism are successfully fighting the experimenters and the compromisers. The instinctive reflex-action of the slaveowner to slaughter every rebellious slave is proving stronger than the rational policies of the experts in soothing-syrup cures for rebellion. The reactionary defenders of a dying system are kicking its liberal defenders aside. And since they are in a hurry, they slander their opponents with the allegation that the whole velvet glove policy was made in Moscow.

But while the capitalists are not a monolithic mass it would be incorrect to regard the present struggle as between two specific economic “wings” of the bourgeoisie, such as between light industry and heavy industry.

A Policy Bypassed by History

There is not now a substantial left wing of the American bourgeoisie at all. There is only a Leftist bureaucracy, which is in turn, only a residue of the bourgeois Leftism created by the pressure of the proletariat (and the bourgeois “pump-priming” theories) in the Thirties. A certain body of thinking and policy-making was necessary to the bourgeoisie in that period. And a selection of personnel was made on. this basis. This personnel has outlived its usefulness to the bourgeoisie. But they cannot simply retire to the shadows. So they have to be destroyed.

The helpless vulnerability of these Leftist servants of capitalism is more clear when viewed in the above light. After all, the only defense of the Leftists would be to reveal the real process of deception they practiced against the proletariat and the subject countries. Thus, they might prove their true loyalty to capitalism, but at the same time they would have to give the whole show away. There is also the matter of their own personal integrity – leaving aside the belly-crawlers and capitulators to McCarthy. The personal orientation, the viewpoints, the ethics shaped over a period of decades cannot easily be reversed in serious self-respecting people. Besides, they would have to turn their own souls inside out in a way which would be quite impossible for them. They would have to understand the whole process which created them. True, the “socialist” Leon Blum could have the necessary proportions of historical objectivity and girlish naiveté to plead in the Vichy trial that his “Popular Front” government had saved capitalism in France. But Blum was a false servant of the workers with a bourgeois soul; Lattimore is an honest servant of the bourgeoisie with a logical mind.

The foreign policy of the bourgeois Leftist bureaucracy was an extension of their domestic policy. It is impossible to understand the Lattimore case without understanding the Leftist bureaucracy’s program for giving crumbs to the colonial bourgeoisie in exchange for tying their fortunes to the wheels of Wall Street. In the opinion of the extreme Rightists, such as McCarthy, the giving of crumbs only encourages the revolution. The actual revolution seems to prove this thesis. And since it actually deprives the bourgeoisie of material things in China, it enrages them, and pushes the great bulk of them into closer proximity with McCarthy.

Lattimorism was only a rational and liberal superstructure erected on the foundations of the uniquely American “dollar imperialism.” This imperialism in turn could grow up without any political colonies other than a few military outposts. But at the very time this dollar hegemony was creating the most beautiful and rational theories in the heads of the Lattimores, it exploded dialectically into the objective need for a lead-and-iron hegemony. America emerged from World War II as a super-global power at the very time when the slaves of the dollar were breaking away. The bourgeosie has not yet solved the question of the exact form of the new rule they hope to establish. But they have little doubt that its first premise is a war of pacification, no matter hqw intense, how destructive, or dangerous to themselves. Thus McCarthy’s frenzy, and thus the bourgeois shift in McCarthy’s direction.

McCarthy’s Man Hunt

McCarthy is not becoming more effective because he has backed up his charges with more facts. On the contrary, he has backed down on many of his charges including some of those against Lattimore himself. But he becomes more authoritative as the bourgeois right swing becomes more definite. Three years ago, when he began his duel with Lattimore, he was considered even by most Republican leaders as a shameless sensationalist.

Early in 1950, long after the witch-hunt had been well under way, and some time after McCarthy had begun his own crusade against the “pro-communists,” the senator startled the liberals in Washington, not to mention the New York Times and the rest of the world, by the accusation that Owen Lattimore was “the top espionage agent in the United States.” In the ensuing inevitable senatorial investigation, Lattimore put up a courageous and eloquent defense, which is summarized in his book, Ordeal by Slander. He was finally declared not guilty by Senator Tydings, speaking for the committee (majority).

But the Tydings Committee’s verdict of “not guilty” did not end the Lattimore Case, any more than the Loyalty Board’s favorable decisions at that time really freed Vincent, Davies, Service and the others. Lattimore was again called to testify early in 1952, this time before the McCarran Committee, where he again answered a similar line of questioning. The “top Soviet spy” issue was quietly dropped, but this time the verdict was that Lattimore was a “conscious, articulate instrument of Soviet policy” in China. He is furthermore now indicted on a criminal charge of perjury ... i.e. lying to the committee on seven counts, but principally denying that he had ever been a “sympathizer and promoter of communism and communist interests.” [The latter count, including three others, were recently struck from the indictment by Federal Judge Luther Youngdahl. – Ed.]

The forthcoming trial will re-hash the “communist” question, but with a vengeance. Not only Lattimore will be on trial, but a whole generation of liberals will be on trial. Not only Lattimore, not only members of the State Department, but a great host of middle and ruling class individuals had the same background in the Thirties, and are now subject to the same persecution if they do not get in line. They are not only vulnerable in the negative sense that they represent no solid wing of capitalism. They are doubly vulnerable because their policies dove-tailed with Stalin’s in so many respects that they now can be smeared as “enemy agents.”

Lattimore and Stalin

Stalinist foreign policy was for a long period largely congruent with American capitalist foreign policy. It is only secondary that many American foreign policy-makers also enjoyed the name of being radicals or pro-Soviet in a radical period, while they were furthering the best interests of American imperialism. Lattimore did not have this secondary enjoyment. He never claimed to be any kind of radical, and never thought of himself as one. But since his foreign politics were so close to the Stalinist, and since there is a case for claiming he was “architect of the US Far Eastern policy,” the proof of his “guilt” will all the more certainly convict the whole leftist bureaucracy.

To understand the Lattimore Case more fully, let us pass from the consideration of the Leftist bourgeois bureaucracy to the consideration of foreign policy itself, and more especially the historical currents which condition the policy. We shall see that the Right are not altogether wrong in their howls about the “collapse of American foreign policy in the East.”

Certainly the aims of Stalin in China had been only those calculated to advance the interests of the Stalin bureaucracy. These aims coincided almost entirely with the aims and interests of the capitalist United States at that time, and they coincided only in part (point no.1) with the interests of the Soviet Union itself. These aims were mainly:

  1. To drive Japan out of China.
  2. To create some kind of democratic China under Chiang, where the Chinese CP might have to be strong enough to keep Chiang in line, but not strong enough to frighten the Western capitalist nations with whom Stalin wanted peace.

The only trouble with the Lefts in the State Department was that they understood Stalin’s conservative aims to well, besides understanding China and a few other things too little. They did not see Stalin as the empiric he is, but as a programmatic leader, who leads in accordance with a program – a program whose anti-revolutionary content they well understood. They thought that Stalin was against the revolution in China, in principle, not understanding that Stalin never had a principle in his head, good or bad. Although they know Stalin could not control all the events, the Lefts, even more than the Rights, are now baffled by the Chinese Revolution. When the Rights accuse the Lefts of being duped by Stalin, and contend that the war and pre-war policies of Stalin were an elaborate and devious preparation for the Chinese Revolution and the “Cold War,” the poor Lefts think it just might be true, and they naturally have a feeling of secret guilt, of having, perhaps after all, done a great disservice to their class.

Lattimore does not share this feeling. The temporary congruency of American and Soviet policy in the Far East never confused him in the least. He was far too keen a student of history to misunderstand this. He thoroughly understood the three-way power politics (aside from the class analysis) of the United States, Soviet Union and Japan. He also understood the altered world power conditions that a free Asia would bring about. He naturally failed to understand Stalinist politics, because he failed to understand the dialectical interaction between the needs of the bureaucracy and the dynamics of the workers’ state which conditioned these needs. He was an honest, pragmatic, “realistic” servant of the bourgeoisie, with not even the slightest degree of sentimentalism. He could never have been idealistic enough to be a Communist nor cynical enough to be a Stalinist.

The Pragmatic Approach to the Revolution

He understood Mao much better than the State Department understood Stalin. But only to the extent that he understood China better than they understood the Soviet Union. Lattimore did see Mao as an empiric. But he saw him, and still sees him, as an empiric who is shaped entirely by the historical events. And since Lattimore understood the events as well (or as badly) as Mao from the theoretical side, he thought he could predict Mao’s politics. On the positive side, for example, he could see that if Chiang Kai-shek “refused” to lead the democratic revolution, Mao would have to take the leadership. But on the other hand the pragmatic Lattimore thinks Mao can yet be an ally of Wall Street, because the US is more powerful than the Soviet Union!

And yet Lattimore understands more clearly than his friends or enemies within his class what a revolution really is. There are some important gaps in his understanding as we shall attempt to show. But his wide experience and observation in China have taught him first of all that there is a tremendous upheaval that originates in the very bowels and vitals of the country, that includes everyone in its scope. And nobody can sell him on the proposition that the Communist Party hatched it out as a dark plot, or even consistently planned the actual taking of power.

Lattimore’s greatest crime in the eyes of the right wing of his class, is not his political actions, but his theories, his ideas, his very thoughts. True, he advocated the coalition government between Chiang and Mao at a time when Mao wanted it and Chiang refused it (just, as General Marshall, President Truman, and a few others also advocated it). But in addition to this “crime” – a real crime for a genuine communist – he has a theory about modern China which, if it is valid, can provide the logical foundation for a compromise between China and capitalist America – for a co-existence as it were.

This, of course, is not specifically mentioned in the list of Lattimore’s “crimes.” But because it is a basic compromise, it is this theory which the bourgeois Right is determined to crush, in crushing the Left bourgeois Lattimore.

Lattimore’s Theory on China

Lattimore’s theory is that China has been going through a tremendous democratic revolution ever since 1911; that this classical democratic revolution has some odd and strange aspects only because this is 1952 instead of 1776, and China is Oriental instead of American. He believes the right wing of his class is hopelessly out of date, that they are Colonel Blimps in an age when the old colonialism is dead. Asia is “out of control” he says, and American policy must accept this like a fact of geography. With the correct American policy, the Asian countries can be allies of the US or at worst, buffer countries between the US and the Soviet Union.

Lattimore is thus imperialist in his motives, tolerant and liberal in his sympathies, formal and pragmatic in his politics. Pragmatic politics even from the proletarian side, would of course be a defect in a Marxist. But in the present epoch, they are a hanging offense for a bourgeois professor.

Since he saw the civil war as essentially a democratic revolution, Lattimore reasoned that a healthy capitalist China would emerge from the birth pangs of the last forty years, and that this new capitalist state could not but be an ally of the United States, far more dependable than the leeching, bureaucratic government of Chiang Kai-shek ... if only the “correct” policies were followed by the US.

This new state furthermore could be very profitable to the US economy. The new free farm population would constitute a great new part of the world market. Newly independent farmers would need farm implements, etc. Small factory producers, instead of making more money by nonproductive activity (by black markets, speculation on shortages which are to the interest of the landlord-banker clique) would be compelled to produce more – and profit more – in a thriving laissez faire competition. They would need commercial and productive aid from the United State’s. There would be work for American engineers, and technicians, not as colonial exploiters, but as friends and equals.

“Aha!” declare the McCarthys, Kerns, Jenners, Knowlands, Tafts, and MacArthurs, “Wasn’t this precisely the Communist Party line? Didn’t they too swear it was only a democratic revolution? Now they are dictating terms to the capitalists. You are too smart to have fallen into their trap. Therefore you must be their agent.”

If it would bring any comfort to the above worthies, Mr. Lattimore might well reply that this is still the essence of the CP line to this day. The Chinese CP believes they are leading primarily a democratic revolution, not a socialistic one. Nor do they regard their own regime as a workers’ dictatorship. But he could not answer in this vein. Lattimore is a pragmatist to the bitter end. He sees the results. Like his attackers, he sees China’s alliance with the Soviet Union, the socializing of so many projects, the creation of state industries – and he concludes in his own mind that the CP have now become communist revolutionaries where they were not so before. His accusers say that this was the fact all along. (Both sides, of course, are wrong.) He only adds that the stupid policies of the American reaction have forced the Chinese CP to become communist when they could have been weaned away from this path with the proper tactics.

The New Regime Moves Left

But this is not so! Yes, US imperialism pushed the new Chinese regime to the left (that is, further to the left). But it did so because imperialism is imperialism, and it must act in a certain way toward colonial countries in revolt. And the imperialists did not create the revolutionary government as Lattimore half believes. Their actions only hardened the new Chinese regime, forced them into the alliance with the Soviet Union sooner rather than later, compelled them to divide land faster to create a greater military base among the peasantry. But the McCarthys can hardly be blamed for the division of the land itself. A democratic capitalist regime in China, if there could be any such animal, would find it utterly impossible to do such a thing under any circumstances. Moreover, it is equally correct to say that the events in China forced an earlier rearmament of Japan. Thus the new Chinese regime hardened the will of capitalism to fight, just as the capitalist reactionaries compelled the Chinese to fight back.

On the other hand, it is not true that the Chinese CP is, or was in the Thirties, a genuine communist party. The Chinese CP, in spite of all their long struggles, in spite of the undisputed heroism of their membership, still remain Stalinists, who, even with a Menshevik theory, have been forced to take the power. The Chinese Communist Party combined the democratic capitalism theory of the Mensheviks, with Stalinist world politics – and their own armed power. In 1946, nineteen years and millions of tortured deaths after the defeat of the Stalin-Menshevik policies of 1925-27, they agreed to a coalition government with Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang told them they would have to give up their armed power. But this armed power was the only guarantee that the democratic reforms and the alliance with the Soviet Union would be carried out. Somewhat important also – it was the only guarantee of their own heads.

The coalition thus failed to materialize. The international situation converged with the forces of the Chinese Revolution to push them inexorably onto the road to power. The problems of state power now turn everything upside down, including their own theory. State power has a relentless logic of its own, as Stalin found out long ago. It has already compelled the new “Mensheviks” to do strange, un-Menshevik things. But regardless of the character of the new state, all its pressures and needs cannot transmute themselves into a revolutionary theory in the heads of the new ruling group, nor make this group fully capable of solving the tasks history is about to impose upon them.

The Dream of Democratic Capitalism in China

Lattimore, the bourgeois with a Menshevik brain, saw the possibility of developing democratic capitalism in China. But the Kerensky period of 1917 proved that this could not be done in a backward country. And if Lattimore understood Marxism one-tenth as well as he understood the specific problems of the Chinese people, he would have seen that Chiang Kai-shek’s main accomplishment for twenty years was to prove again that capitalist democracy was as impossible in the colonies as the democratic revolution was imperative. A contradiction? Yes, but if it could not be understood by Lattimore, McCarthy, or the Stalinists, it was hammered into the bones, and finally the brains, of countless illiterate peasants by the blows of the Chiang Kai-shek reaction.

If there can be a capitalist development for China; if this development can complement the growth of American capitalism; if, in a word, capitalism still retains its basic progressive function; then Lattimore is not merely a mistreated public servant of the capitalists. He is a great social prophet with the historical right on his side. The capitalist class would in the long run follow out his line. And we ourselves would be compelled to alter our program.

A sensible, rational man like Lattimore can well ask the capitalists the following question: instead of allocating millions of tons of steel for war production to destroy Chinese villages at great cost to yourselves, why not send these millions of tons peacefully and profitably to build great cities? Why indeed? This question is answered by another question more to the point. Why did the capitalists not do this during the great American depression when their furnaces were idle and their friend Chiang Kai-shek was in power in China?

Even more to the point: Why did ‘the American bourgeoisie at the very time they were fighting the feudal slave power in their own country, help the British crush the Taiping Rebellion in China? Lattimore, who knows China’s history so well, has never asked himself the fundamental reasons for this. The long-haired Taipings, as they were called, attempted to unify China on a nationalist, democratic revolutionary basis. They divided the land, abolished the queue, instituted equality of sexes, opposed binding of the feet, etc. They took over a large part of China. They would surely have crushed the outlived Manchus completely, but for the English, and American material support of that reactionary dynasty.

For those interested in the hypocritical curiosa of the history of the American bourgeoisie, it is interesting that the Taipings were for Protestant Christianity, i.e. American Christianity. But the upright church-going American capitalists of those days preferred to support the “heathen” Manchus. And they have ever since taught American school children how backward the Oriental pagans are, how they bind the feet of little girls, etc.

Who Can Develop China?

But all bitter jokes aside, does this incident not prove to the hilt that the bourgeoisie could not possibly accent Lattimore’s program for China? The American bourgeoisie in their most progressive (even radical!) period could only ally themselves with the most reactionary forces in China. Even at that time the China trade had its exploitative basis. Even the progressive cross-continental American railroad building was taking place largely in response to the drive for a quicker route to the despoliation of the Orient!

Today American capital can only “develop” China (and then only one-sidedly) by making profits for Wall Street on top of the “squeeze” for the Chinese capitalists and other reactionary rulers. This would make still further slaves out of the Chinese people. And as Lattimore patiently explains to his persecutors, this last is no longer possible.

On the other hand, China is demanding in every way to be developed. And the Chinese themselves can develop China in only one way – that is, cooperatively, socialistically.

Take the question of railroads alone. Railroads in China are so important that most of the older lines were each a factor in world politics for many years. Any government that wishes to resist foreign domination must not only operate, but own these roads. Furthermore, these roads, with the exception of the Manchurian network, are in the east, connected to the seaports, in order to facilitate the domination of the western, maritime nations. Independence, economic progress and the unity of China demand a system of railroads and feeder lines in the interior and that in the shortest possible time.

Nobody but the government will take on such a giant undertaking. Surely no little group of landlords is going to change their little rice granaries into the tremendous tonnage of steel rails and locomotives necessary to tame the Chinese deserts. No. There would either first have to be a reasonable development of capitalism (such as the first two or three centuries in England, or the first seventy years or so in the virgin soil of the United States) in order to produce enough liquid private capital for stocks and bonds – or else it must be undertaken as a colossal project by the whole Chinese people. And that is exactly what they are planning and have even begun to do.

To repeat: this railroad system must be built. It must be built not only to satisfy the demands of the people for a better life. It is necessary to prevent the living standards from being further depressed by the exploitation of imperialism which has now been transmuted into a form of attempted annihilation. Not only to have their labor count in the world market, but to have their labor resist the cheap bullets as well as the cheap products of imperialism, the Chinese must transport the products in the socially necessary amount of labor time. This means socialist construction – a drive to a socialist system.

As Lattimore himself has eloquently shown, irrigation is needed on a tremendous scale in China. There are great rivers whose destructive floods, once harnessed, would provide fertility and abundance instead of destruction. Even large parts of the Chinese desert are potentially as fertile as California. A sort of dry muck called “loess” pervades the desert, in some places twenty feet deep. With the right amount of water it becomes very productive soil. And flowing over these “wastes” there are torrential rivers in the spring, which trickle dry in the torrid summer. They only await damming and sluicing to provide good farms for millions.

Such an irrigation program plus internal railroad building would provide the greatest leap in productivity that the Chinese have made for two thousand years. In the smaller spaces of Japan the building of a few hundred miles of railroad eliminated food famines by the simple expedient of making it possible for the first time, to trans--port food from crop surplus areas to crop deficiency areas. In China, where there are simply not enough surplus areas, it may be said categorically that modern irrigation plus modern railroads would stop forever the eternal famines of that country and put it among the great crop producing countries of the world.

But huge armies of workers are needed to construct these things. No amount of private capital would be able or willing to assemble such armies. Only the totality of the peasants feeding and clothing these workers through

the instrumentality of the government can bring them together. Moreover, this is a project that cannot wait for the end of the (Korean) war. The war (as well as Stalinist policy) will demand compromise with the peasant on revolutionary issues, only to command even more imperiously, at a later stage, the communizing of the countryside.

Korean War Draws True Picture

”But the war is not my fault,” Lattimore might well plead. “I, too agree, and even contend, that the war is pushing China further from capitalism. Truman and MacArthur should never have started the Korean War in the first place.” But the Korean War was not the qualitative change which really began the governmental expropriations and constructions. The qualitative change here was the Chinese Revolution and the conquest of state power in December 1949. This was the turning-point for class relations in China. By 1950, it was impossible for American imperialism to listen to Lattimore’s advice, even if a few honest capitalists might continue to say it was well-meant. Looking backward, it seems inevitable that the war had to break out in a few months. The war is only the same old imperialist politics in greatly exacerbated form in the epoch of the downfall of imperialism. It expresses the true relationship between the United States and China far, tar better than the words and wishes of Lattimore. To say for the thousandth time what will certainly have to be said a thousand times again: Imperialism is a function of declining capitalism, not a policy to be taken up or dropped at will.

We should add that the advanced countries gave China somewhat more than suffering and death. They gave China also the irrepressible need to develop itself on the same level as its tormentors. To apply Marx’s term to the Leninist epoch, they held up to China the mirror of its own future. But in preventing the rational realization of this picture-image by their imperialist subjugation, they compelled China to fight for it arms in hand, not only tearing away all the encrusted social institutions within China but unfixing the very root of world capitalism in the process.

It is not that the McCarthyites understand this dialectic better than Lattimore. Not at all. Lattimore is infinitely more scholarly than his attackers. But his class instinct is weaker. He sees the democratic revolution liberating the energies of the free farmer, thus creating an economic backbone for capitalism as did the French Revolution, or the American Homestead Act – creating a great internal market. True, the land is being divided with a revolutionary knife even sharper than the French Revolution’s with many more private owners than the Homestead Act ever made. But how is a Chinese peasant going to use a McCormick Harvester on a two-acre farm? Thus the revolution poses the question of socialism rather than that of American salesmanship. The errant, ignorant McCarthy instinctively scents the truth, while the scholarly Lattimore is the victim of his own forrnalistic scholarship.

In this connection, who can fail to recall the happy title phrase of the book, Four Hundred Million Customers? The ideological servants of capitalism correctly see the expansion of capitalism as the exportation of an immense amount of commodities throughout the world. But every little grocer who sees a crowd pass his store can imagine them all as potential customers. It does not occur to him that a sale is an exchange of equal values with the customer, since his income is derived from a commission on the sale. The little bourgeois has his eye hypnotically fixed on the process of circulation. The big bourgeois, the producer, to whom sales are no less important, looks upon sales as above all, the realization of his surplus value. He must coin the sweat of the American’ worker not only into pure gold, but ultimately into an exchange of Chinese commodities. But this is just what the Chinese do not have.

China can produce surplus value for the US only as a subject nation. That is why McCarthy and Co. correctly conclude for their class that in the present period the only trade can be with bullets. Surplus value can only be bombed and blasted out of China now, they reason. Capital is a relation between people, Marx tells us. In the age of imperialism, it is a relation between whole countries. Is that relation to stand, or is it to be destroyed? In all his preoccupation with world power politics, this class formulation of the question does not occur to Lattimore. It is the objective reality, however. And its iron logic inexorably dictates the shooting politics of the big bourgeoisie.

There is a great deal for Marxists to learn from Lattimore’s books on China. The facts, the background, the world power politics are well presented, he even half-understands the revolution itself. The trouble is that such events must be comprehended wholly. He saw the democratic revolution, but being bourgeois himself, failed to see the decline of world capitalism which gave this revolution its special, “permanent,” character.

China’s Fate – and Lattimore’s

The driving forces of the democratic revolution, so long repressed in China, finally proved too powerful, even for the false program which was Lattimore’s as well as the Stalinists’. These driving forces broke through the restrictions of a narrow theory, and crashed into a new field of history, carrying the Stalinist party with them, like a bull crashes through a stable wall, and paws the open ground, with the old boards still clinging to his horns, before taking off for fresher fields.

The final word has not yet been said in China. Far from it. China will never be socialist without the Trotskyist program. But in the meantime, there is the new regime: and there is American imperialism. There is Eisenhower; and there is McCarthy. And there is the inevitable war against China. Lattimore’s middle way is finished, he sees that China is not yet socialist. He sees that there is a transition period. But he fails to see that it is a special kind of transition period with its own laws. He confuses a transition with a never-never land. Not so McCarthy, and not so, most of the bourgeoisie. They have no clear idea of the nature of the Chinese state. But they do not need one. They are sure, however, that it must be destroyed. The present author believes this transition period in China to be the dictatorship of the proletariat in a distorted, Stalinized form, but a workers’ state nonetheless, with very real concrete laws governing its existence. It cannot be maneuvered or “dealed” out of existence. On the other hand, the leadership cannot, and will not, lay out a socialist program. But the question of socialism has been squarely posed in China regardless of the subjective position of the leadership. This posing of the question has opened the floodgates of worl’d counter-revolution, bringing closer, among other things, the inevitable war against the Soviet Union as well as against China. On this point, McCarthy is much more clear than Lattimore. Lattimore and his friends still think there may be some trick formula to ally Mao’s government with Wall Street against the Soviet Union. All that is needed is the proper approach. (Which according to him does not include bombing China!)

But the American bourgeoisie does not want or need this kind of thinking today. McCarthy, who only yesterday was considered on the lunatic fringe of capitalism, is now aided by the majesty of the US Federal Court? in his drive to burn out, to expunge, to destroy root and branch, the left bourgeois philosophy of Owen Lattimore.

This is unfortunate for all liberalism as well as for Lattimore. It is the end of the relative bourgeois freedom that could still exist here and there as long as there was a spark of economic vitality left in capitalism. But let us conclude with the remark that the whole process described above is only the blunter side of a two-edged historical sword. The bourgeoisie’s reckless drive to the Right is only pushing the working class ever more sharply to the Lett. This process within the working class must have its qualitative changes also. Only the remaining stability of capitalism in the West during its pre-war, pre-crisis period, is supporting the facade of fakers in the workers’ movement East and West. This stability, preventing the American working class from recognizing the Chinese masses as its great ally, also prevents the reckoning of the world working class with its leadership. But the crisis will grow. The same historical forces which compel the bourgeoisie to dismiss its honest pragmatists will compel the proletariat to reject its dishonest, and inadequate empirics, in favor of revolutionary Trotskyism.

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Last updated on: 28 March 2009