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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

The Wrangle Over China

Part I

(24 February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 8, 24 February 1947, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

The Marshall report on China, if it did little to reveal the actual economic and political forces intersecting in China, at least had the merit of focusing attention on that tortured land. Just what is going, on there?

Needless to say, the actuality is considerably different from the simplicities of the Marshall report. If it is convenient to set dates, the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942 greatly reduced British influence in the Far East. The crushing defeat of Japan by the United States three years later guaranteed the dominant role of United States imperialism in the orient for the coming period. But the dominant role is not synonymous with the sole one. For a struggle with Russia, symmetrical to the one taking place in Europe, is being enacted throughout the orient. It is this antagonism which forms the basis of United States, foreign policy in the Far East.br />  

What the U.S. Wants

What does the United States want? Stated most simply it wants to line up in the American camp the largest possible number of Asiatic peoples for the war against Russia which is being openly and systematically prepared. Hence the exceptionally judicious treatment of the Japanese. Hence the very rude pressure being applied to decadent French imperialism, whose contemptible warfare against the Indo-Chinese threatens to detonate the accumulated hatred of imperialist exploitation in the entire Far East.

How does Washington view China? A. Suchsdorf, writing in The American Scholar, does not put it badly:

“She is a market, a political proving ground, a reservoir of military manpower, a strategic base, and one-fifth of the Big Five. As China goes, so in time will, go the colonial peoples today squatting on their haunches in Lahore, in Surabaya, in Leopoldville ... China’s troubles have become universal ... These days, if you punch China, we roar.”

Unfortunately for Wall Street’s global aspirations, Stalinist Russia also views China in much the same light. The Kremlin gang, disposing of a large Stalinist party in China itself, and a very large, if poorly equipped, peasant army, is able to intervene directly in Chinese affairs in a manner totally denied United States capitalism. In 1937 the Stalinists had an army of 100,000 men and governed 1,500,000 people. By the summer of 1946 they claimed to have a regular army of 1,000,000 men supported by a peasant militia of 2,000,000 and to govern 131,000,000 persons.br />  

The Chinese Stalinist Armies

The tidal wave of revolutionary struggle generated by World War I struck China in the midtwenties. A surge of anti-imperialist activity inundated China. At the point of its greatest amplitude in 1927 the movement collapsed, due to the counter-revolutionary attacks of Chiang Kai-shek upon the radical labor movement and to the false policy of the Comintern, already badly degenerated. The Communist Party lost its base in the urban working class and was never able to reestablish it.

From that time on Stalinist influence in China has been based upon the peasantry. Generally speaking, the Kuomintang has controlled the urban centers and the more developed areas along the seaboard. The influence of the Stalinists over the peasantry is based upon its ability, if not to resolve, then to ameliorate the inequities of the holding system – a key problem in a semi-colonial country like China cursed with all sorts of vestigial remnants of feudalism.

The Stalinist agrarian program has varied somewhat according to the necessities of Russian foreign policy. But its main outlines have remained the same. Outright expropriation of the landlord class, as took place during the Russian revolution, has not been resorted to. The Stalinists have sought, rather, to modify excesses of the landlord system: taxes and rents have been reduced and wages, hours and working conditions fixed. Seizure of lands was relatively limited.

During the war, in the interests of a working agreement with the Kuomintang against the Japanese, policies were considerably modified.

“These called for,” says Tillman Durdin, writing from Nanking, “regard for the landlords’ rights under proper regulation and for reducing large holdings through a progressive tax system and urged social unity and cooperation between the classes.”

Policy Following the War

The defeat of the Japanese, and the control of the extensive areas turned over to the Chinese Stalinists by the Russians as they withdrew, permitted the Stalinists to exercise a freer hand.

“... they instituted a limited distribution through the confiscation of the lands of persons classed as traitors or puppets. These lands were given to landless peasants. In a second stage, confiscation was enlarged to include the taking of land in ‘fines’ from the ‘bad gentry.’

“The third stage was inaugurated last summer. This is characterized by a general confiscation of the bigger part of the large landholdings regardless of the characteristics of the landowner ... In some areas all the lands were split up more or less equally. In others the landlord was allowed to keep a fairly large part of his holdings if he was cooperative or ‘patriotic,’ as the Communists termed it.”

It is this land policy which is the source of the Stalinists’ strength. It must even have a certain appeal to certain of the landlords who have seen the Stalinists intervene against the “excesses” of the peasantry who resorted to direct action, especially during the period following the defeat of Japan.

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