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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

The Wrangle Over China

Part IV

(17 March 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 11, 17 March 1947, p. 4..
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

A three weeks’ cold spell – and the faded tapestry of British imperialism falls to pieces before the eyes of everyone. That is the measure of the decline of the greatest colonial empire in the world, based upon 400 years of war, pillage, slavery, and exploitation.

As the empire stumbles from one crisis to another – now Greece, now Palestine, now India – the United States is forced to take over its commitments. This it does not do by the classic means of occupation and direct rule. Neither the restive colonial masses nor the temper of the American people at home now permit such an ambitious undertaking. Rather does U.S. imperialism largely control by deploying its tremendous material wealth in credit, loans, UNRRA supplies, food, shipping, and arms. These furnish the backbone for the activities of quislings of one stripe or another all over the globe. This is the method currently being employed in China.

The United States urgently needs economic stability in China. Especially as domestic consumption in the United States tapers off in the ensuing period will China become an important market for capital investment and for American commodities. Political stability is needed precisely to guarantee economic well-being. The present warfare destroys the possibility of normal commercial relations. The army alone consumes seventy per cent of the government income. Political stability is further necessary in China to bold down the acceleration of political consciousness in the Orient as a whole.

The United States’ Dilemma

To do this in the face of Stalinist encroachments means to find a force in China which will gain the support of the Chineáe masses against the Stalinists through solving the major economic problem, the agrarian question, and the problem of political freedom. This the Kuomintang cannot do. This presents U.S. imperialism with a dilemma which has been neatly expressed by the London Economist:

“When it comes to actual official policy, therefore, a British or American government is in a difficult position; it wishes to find some counterweight to the influence of Moscow and seeks a political force which is both democratic by faith and practice and effectively organized. But where is such a force to be found in a country which has no democratic or parliamentary traditions and suffers from all the social strains and stresses of a backward economy? Inevitably policy tends toward reliance on forces which can fairly be called ‘reactionary’ or even ‘Fascist.’ But even if official quarters come to accept such a position under pressure of raison d’état, public opinion is uneasy and rebellious.”

These contradictions the Marshall mission of 1945 attempted to solve. The aims of U.S. policy were summed up in a statement released on December 18, 1946, by Truman, the man who is living proof of the contention that almost anybody can – and, alas, does – become president of the United States:

“The agreements provided for an interim government of a coalition type with representation of all parties, for revision of the draft constitution along democratic lines prior to its discussion and adoption by a national assembly and for reduction of the government and Communist armies and their amalgamation into a small modernized truly national army responsible to a civilian government.”

The Club Held Behind the Back

To make these proposals go down easier a grant of $66,000,000 was made, chiefly for the purchase of raw cotton, ships and railroad repair material. A further more substantial sum of $500,000,000 was earmarked as additional credits by the Export-Import Bank – contingent upon the implementing of the U.S. policy.

Chiang Kai-shek could not meet these conditions. To do so would have meant encroachments upon the economic and political prerequisites enjoyed by his banker, landlord, and merchant supporters. Such a truce would have permitted the continued growth of the Stalinists, whose strength was based not primary upon their military activity, as was Chiang Kai-shek’s, but upon their political program. Further, the strength of the Stalinists had increased greatly during the war and in the post-war period. The prestige of the Kuomintang had simultaneously declined, when areas previously unacquainted with Kuomintang practices had come, under its rule during the war.

The recovery of territory held by the Stalinists, particularly the rich Manchuria area, is of prime importance to Chiang Kai-shek. Always present in the back of his mind also, is that the extension of reforms might overflow safe limits and result in a revolutionary situation such as obtained in the mid-twenties.

To motivate continuing the war against the Stalinists the Kuomintang leadership employs the argument that the current economic and political stalemate must be broken so that reconstruction «an begin, and that United States intervention on the side of the Kuomintang is ultimately guaranteed because of its clash of interest with Russia. Opposition to the war by the “liberals” is motivated by their belief that the continuation of the war will only strengthen the Stalinists. But such opposition, which is composed largely of merchant-capitalist elements in the Kuomintang, is weak because of the increased interpenetration of landlord-merchant capital which took place during the war, the landlord class, of course, having especially direct interest in recovering land from the Stalinists.

Further, because of the previous all-out and unconditional aid given upon demand to Chiang Kai-shek by the U.S. the opposition lacks influence.

Under these conditions it was almost guaranteed in advance that if only because of the Kuomintang attitude the truce arranged by Marshall would quickly break down.

Such proved to be the case.

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