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Ria Stone

China Under the Stalinists – III

National Revolution and Peasant Revolt

(April 1944)

From New International, Vol. X No. 4 (Whole No. 85), April 1944, pp. 126–128.
Transcribed & marked up by Damon Maxwell.
Proofread by Einde O’ Callaghan (May 2013).

(Continued from last issue)

Ever since the great Russian Revolution of 1917 the Chinese masses have been inspired by the example of the Russian workers and peasants. From 1920 to 1927 they flocked to the banner of the Communist Party so that it grew almost overnight into a mass party. Even after the betrayal by the Stalinists in the 1926-27 revolution, the Red Armies in the interior were able to attract millions of peasants by driving out the landlords and sponsoring the division of the land.

Compromises with rich peasants and isolation from urban workers finally made it impossible for the Soviet districts to resist Chiang Kai-shek’s armies, and the Communists migrated to the Northwest. The “Long March” to the Northwest is itself a testimony to the strength of the Chinese masses in their desperation and to the great symbolic hold of the. Russian Revolution over their aspirations.

Today there are three main areas either completely or partially under Communist control or influence. These are:

  1. The frontier area, made up of the Northwest provinces of Shensi, Kansu and Ningshia.

    This area, west of the Yellow River and South of the Great Wall, is bounded on the north and west by Mongolia and Tibet. It has been one of the most backward sections of China and has a population of only approximately two million. The government of this area is a direct continuation of the Chinese Soviet Republic, formally liquidated when the anti-Japanese United Front was formed, but maintaining complete autonomy from the Chinese National Government.
  2. The “Border Region,” made up of the Northeastern provinces of Hopei-Chahar and Shansi.

    This region is completely within Japanese lines, and within it the Communist-influenced governments compete with the Japanese provisional government militarily, economically and politically. The old provincial governments are negligible, functioning only in unoccupied corners of their provinces or in exile. On a smaller scale than Chiang Kai-shek’s regime, they are but another variant of that modern phenomenon – the government in exile.
  3. The New Fourth Army zone in the Yangtze Valley, made up of sections of the East Central provinces of Anhwei, Kiangsu, Kiangsi, Fukian and Chekiang.

    In this area the Chinese Soviet Republic functioned before the “Long March” to the Northwest. Although officially abolished by Chiang in January 1941, the main forces of the New Fourth Army probably continue to function within the Japanese-occupied zones, where Chiang’s armies cannot reach them.

While differences exist between these areas in the degree Communist influence, autonomy, etc., they all exhibit the pattern of peasant revolt. The most informative and complete study of this pattern in China has been made by E. Taylor in his book, The Struggle for North China, with the Border Region. The latter will therefore be used as an example of the three areas.

The outstanding characteristics of peasant revolts are their local, dispersed and temporary character. Their possibilities and limitations have been classically described by Engels in his study, The Peasant War in Germany. The successes and failures of the Chinese Soviets from 1928 to 1934 are a modern instance of the inability of peasant armies to achieve the agrarian revolution on a national and permanent scale without the leadership and cooperation of the proletariat. Today, in occupied China, the temporary character of the successes of the guerrillas against the Japanese may be summarized in the statement that the Japanese rule by day and the Chinese guerrillas by night.

The unsuccessful national revolution of 1900, known as the Boxer Rebellion, had been a Northern movement. The republican revolution of 1911 had developed out of a Southern movement. Northern China, unlike Central and Southern China, barely experienced the revolution of 1926–27. The last orderly government in the experience of the population was the Manchu dynasty. The Kuomintang had never made serious inroads.

The cities of the North had remained picturesque souvenirs of ancient feudal China. Peking, for example, had been from 1900 on little more than a garrison for foreign troops and a center for imperialist intrigue. Industrialization in the North had been confined to the communications required by the imperialists to exploit the natural resources of the country. The areas lying between the railroads and roads were a hinterland, partially if not completely self-sufficient. However, relative to Southern and Central China, there is in the North a larger agricultural proletariat because the poor productivity of the land requires farming on a larger scale. [1]

The Bankruptcy of the Local Gentry

This economic and political background dictated the possibilities and necessities of Japanese expansion. With very little difficulty they were able to overrun the chief cities and railroads. For the rest, they were compelled and had the opportunity to introduce a new order for the people. The peasants at first put up no resistance “because the invasion directly and immediately threatened the security of the landlords ... When the poor peasants witnessed how the landlords were forced to become refugees overnight and to run for their lives, they were not sorry to see their rich oppressors suffer for a change.” [2]

The principles of the Japanese New Order were eradication of the evils of the Kuomintang, eradication of Communism, and the pan-racial unity of Asia. For the San Min Chu I, or Three People’s Principles of the Kuomintang, the Japanese substituted the Hsin Min Chu I, or New People’s Principles. In reality, the New People’s Principles meant that there would be no reduction of land rents, no revision of land taxation, no regularization of land tenure and no revision of village usury. Hence a fair proportion of the gentry were willing to become allies of the Japanese.

All over the world today, popular sensitivity to collaboration with the invader exists on an unprecedented scale. However, in Asia even more than in Europe, the war brought to a head the social uselessness of the local gentry. In China, where the landlords could not claim any social function as managers, the Japanese found no social force of any consequence to collaborate with them in funding their New Order. If the Quislings stayed in the villages, the guerrillas branded them as traitors and meted out suitable corporal punishment. If they fled to the Japanese-occupied cities, their property at home was confiscated. In the cities, only a few were needed for fronts. The rest actually were competitors of the Japanese second “army” of merchants, officials and administrators. Many of the gentry therefore found it more expedient to re-main in or return to the villages and join in the anti-Japanese United Front. This shuttling back and forth did not help the “face” of the would-be Quislings. In some places, to restore their prestige, the landlords called themselves guerrilla commanders whenever they could gather five or ten people together. The landlord forces, in reality, permitted the activities of traitors in their areas, never attacked the Japanese and, instead, harassed the real popular guerrilla forces.

The Japanese occupation was also in the dilemma of encouraging the old classical education for political purposes, although the economic development of occupied China required vocational training of the masses. Without giving this technical training they could neither repair the economic damage they have caused nor promote large-scale development.

The Development of Mass Resistance

The inability of the Japanese to give political, economic and social stability to the occupation tremendously facilitated the tasks of the Communists in rallying the people for resistance. Functioning virtually within a vacuum, the Communists had the opportunity to create a new form of government. Their limitations have been self-imposed in accordance with the Stalintern’s policy of a united front against Japan.

The population had been accustomed by many decades of brigand armies to taxes without public services, and forced labor to landlord and warlord. To gain their support in the resistance it was necessary to point out a new road of cooperation between the military and the civilian. As in the days of civil war with Chiang Kai-shek, the Communists have had to depend upon guerrilla tactics; surprise and mobile warfare in small groups, self-reliance of lower officers, and capture of ammunition from the enemy. In the end, however, the basis of guerrilla tactics is the willingness of the population to cooperate.

The ignorant, illiterate and impoverished people had to be given something to fight for at the same time that they were shown an enemy to fight against. This has been achieved by direct but moderate economic reforms, such as suspensions or reduction of rents to landlords and interest to usurers, regulation of share-cropping and lowering of taxes. The property of traitors (comprising ten to twenty per cent of the land in this region) has been confiscated and redistributed, pending the “repentance” of the traitors. Army auxiliaries have been created to assist the peasantry in farming their land and to minimize the burden of supplying the military.

As in some areas of Chiang Kai-shek’s China, industrial cooperatives have been organized to produce the essentials for consumers and for the army. [3] Throughout there has been an emphasis on economic self-sufficiency and hence an employment of all hands in productive labor. Since no external trade with the Japanese is permitted, there has been a limitation on such crops as cotton. Production of essentials by simple handicraft has been restored to supply the population and keep labor from migrating to the cities. But economic penetration knows no borders, and despite border government control of trade, smuggling has been widespread.

Politically, the population of the guerrilla areas has been given a new sense of human dignity by its participation in village mobilization committees and county political councils. The principles of universal suffrage and political democracy have been instituted. For this role the people have been given education which, while limited mainly to political agitation, has opened up to the masses a whole new world. These are peasants who have depended entirely upon one man in a whole village to read and write their letters, and who have sold their daughters to repay a twenty-dollar debt. Today they grasp at even token recognition of their humanity.

In some places the villagers are so well organized in the anti-Japanese movement that they will evacuate their homes when the Japanese approach, bury food, remove all animals and utensils and retire into the hills.

The Communists, in line with their appeasement of Chiang Kai-shek, have persistently discouraged the increasing class tensions arising between the peasants and the landlords. In the tradition of peasant wars, the victories of the masses are nullified by compromise with the middle class. The Communist Party is pledged not to accept more than one-third of the elected positions in any local or hsien government. In the border region there is a farmers’ union in which the landlords are not permitted membership. The efforts of this union to gain economic advantages for the class it represents are discouraged by the United Fronters.

The party itself has admitted that it had difficulties in convincing the ranks of the Eighth Route Army to accept the United Front policy.

“... The men do not fully understand the reasons for such actions, some men actually accusing their leaders of ‘counter-revolutionary orders.’”

The Communists have sought to remove all obstacles in the way of those gentry who may wish to return from the occupied areas. The border government actually collects rents for absent landlords and holds them in reserve for the prodigals’ return. Mao Tse-tung, the Communist leader, has summarized the compromise policy of the Communists beyond any misunderstanding:

“Regarding agrarian problems, on the one hand, we advocate a policy of reducing rents and interests so that the peasants can have clothing and food; on the other hand, we are also carrying out a policy of recognizing the payment of rents and interest as obligatory so that the landlords can also have clothing and food. Regarding the relation between labor and capital, on the one hand, we are realizing the policy of helping the workers so that they may have food and clothing; while on the other hand we are also carrying out a policy of industrial development which will provide the capitalists with profit.”

There can be no clearer statement of anti-revolutionary policy.

The compromise policy of the Stalinists against the Chinese bourgeoisie in 1925–27 brought death, imprisonment and disillusionment to hundreds of thousands of workers in Industrialized China. Their compromise policy against the rich peasants in 1933 brought pessimism, mass desertions, and eventually defeat of the agrarian revolutions following in the wake of the proletarian revolution. Their pressure for the release of Chiang from Sian in 1926 produced cynicism and confusion among the soldiers in the Northern armies. Today the threat of the foreign enemy holds the people together in the United Front. As the end of the war approaches, the class tensions will emerge more openly. After the war, the Chinese Communist Party will have more difficulty in imposing the Kremlin’s will on masses who have fought, and died by the thousands, in a supposedly revolutionary cause.

Training for the Social Revolution

Today the peasants are being given invaluable training for the social revolution. They have learned that bona fide national defense depends on them and that there is political meaning to their instinctive rebellion. They have learned that rights must accompany responsibilities and they are learning to enjoy popular government. They are acquiring a modicum of literacy and tools for self-expression and they are also receiving some industrial training through the Indusco movement. They have learned how to deal with the treacherous gentry by assassination and by confiscation of property. They have seen a popular army in the process of development and become part of it, acquiring the consciousness that the sword belongs to the community. Into the backward North there have migrated thousands of peasants and intellectuals from the South, where they have lived in closer contact with the modern world.

Moreover, the Chinese masses in Communist-controlled China have been indoctrinated with an international outlook. The Soviet districts regarded themselves as part of the world proletariat. The course of the civil war and the conquest of Abyssinia were followed with intense interest. In view of this background, it is possible to credit the report of a split in the Chinese Communist Party over the dissolution of the Comintern.

The border region has also stressed solidarity between the Japanese and the Chinese masses against their common enemy, the Japanese militarists and capitalists. The Eighth Route Army especially employs the technique of indoctrinating Japanese prisoners and sending them back to educate their comrades-in-arms.

This training in the techniques of social revolution is constantly on the verge of overflowing into practice. No modern revolution has been able to linger for long at the bourgeois democratic stage. It has either moved forward under the impulsion of the masses or succumbed to bourgeois dictatorship. Hence the intense mutual hostility of the China of Chiang Kai-shek and the China that is Communist-led. [4] Ideas and techniques cannot be limited by geographical boundaries, nor hemmed in by mass armies made up of peasants.

As Trotsky said in 1928:

“... With a new rising wave of the proletarian movement ... one will be able to speak seriously about the perspective of an agrarian revolution.”

(To be continued)


1. Forms of Farm Labor In China, Agrarian China, page 69.

2. The Organization of a Typical Guerrilla Area in South Shantung, by Wang Yu-chuan, appendix to The Chinese Army, by E.F. Carlson.

3. It is generally agreed by everyone except the enthusiastic sponsors of the Indusco movement that even the very moderate success of the movement is only a temporary phenomenon, possible only because of wartime isolation of various areas from the world and national market. Out of a proposed 30,000 corps, only 2,800 have been established with 80,000 workers. For an uncritical appraisal of Indusco, see China Shall Rise Again, by Madame Chiang Kai-shek. For more critical accounts, see Snow, Battle for Asia, and Mitchell, Industrialization in the Western Pacific.

4. The New York Times of September 8, 1943, reports that Communists numbering 10,000 made two unprovoked attacks against the pacification corps in Southwestern Shantung on July 20 and August 6. In the summer of 1943, five divisions of Chiang’s best armed and fed troops were moved into the Northwest area away from the Japanese front. At the Plenum of the Kuomintang in September 1943, a resolution was adopted accusing the Chinese Communist Party of subversive activities and calling upon it to fulfill its promise to abandon the Communist movement, dissolve the Soviet government and disband the Red Army. Only one of seven Communist delegates attended the subsequent session of the People’s Political Council. See Amerasia, October 1, 1943.

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