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Albert Gates

Gen. Marshall, Ambassador Extraordinary, and

The Nature of the Chinese “Civil War”

(7 January 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 1, 7 January 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The arrival of General George C. Marshall in China as the new ambassador from the United States is an event of symptomatic importance. He has been given the task of resolving the current “civil war.” between Chungking and Yenan. This fact alone emphasizes the interventionist role of Washington in Chinese affairs and the complete dependency upon the United States of the Chiang Kai-shek regime.

Marshall replaced General Patrick J. Hurley, who resigned following charges that members of his staff in China, assisted by Under-Secretary of State Acheson in Washington, were secretly undermining his policy of support to Chiang in favor of support to the Stalinist forces in Yenan.

Obviously United States imperialism has not abdicated its powers in China. Marshall’s role would then be inexplicable. China remains now just as much dependent upon U.S. economic and military strength as she was throughout her long war against Japan. The United States has kept Chiang in power because he represents the most important bulwark of American aims in the most populous country in the Orient.

It is no secret that American friendliness toward China arises from the far-sighted imperialist understanding of a section of the capitalist class which sees in China a tremendous potential market for goods of all kinds. What has hindered a thorough exploitation of this tremendous nation with the largest working class in the colonial world has been decades of internal warfare between “bandit” generals (mercenaries who fight for a price), the civil wars between the government forces and the workers’ and peasants’ movements, the Stalinist Communist armies and, finally, the Sino-Japanese war.

U.S.-Russian Rivalry

The Chiang regime represents for the United States the strongest force for order in the country, provided it is possible to organize the peace. That Chiang came to power as head of the counter-revolution in 1927; that he retained his power through a reign of terror during all these years; that a reactionary band of industrialists, financiers, landlords and politicians rule the country for their own benefit, and that there is no real freedom, peace or democracy for the tens of millions of workers and peasants – all of this is of no great importance to Washington.

What is of importance is that a sharp conflict has been going on for years between the Chiang regime and the formidable forces of Yenan, the Stalinist Communist armies, which have the backing of Russia in the fight against the Kuomintang government.

U.S. imperialism will never permit China to become another Poland, that is, a vassal state of Russia. But she still understands that it is necessary to come to some understanding with Stalin in order to win the peace in China and thus permit exploitation of the country.

Thus not China but two foreign powers and, in the first place, the United States, will decide that nation’s fate. This is what General Hurley did not understand. He considered every concession made to Yenan – that is, the Kremlin – a surrender of American interests and the sovereignty of Chiang. General Marshall now, has the job of reconciling the great conflict in China in order to achieve what General Hurley did not achieve – peace through a “bandits’ agreement.” The Chinese people will, of course, have nothing to say in the matter, for they are ruled by an authoritarian military regime which has destroyed all the democratic rights of the people.

Contending Forces

U.S.-Russian rivalry explains many things about what has happened in China. The Sino-Russian treaty, in which Stalin recognized the sovereignty of Chiang in exchange for concessions in Manchuria (an action which seemed to be directed against the Stalinist forces of Yenan); the Russian withdrawal of troops from Manchurian centers before Chiang’s could arrive but in time to permit Yenan forces to occupy these cities; Russia’s subsequent assistance to Nationalist Army troops to occupy other cities and the Russian announcement of its withdrawal of all troops from China and Yenan, represent the ebb and flow of the struggle which depends in the last analysis on relations between the United States and Russia within the Big Three.

Since the Moscow meeting of the foreign representatives of the Big Three has reached a new agreement, it is quite possible that the Chinese situation will be quickly settled. This brings us to the heart of the Chinese question from the point of view of the international as well as Chinese working class interests. It is too early to write about the agreement that will be reached, but already the proposals of the Chinese government and the counter-proposals of Yenan, which provide for the cessation of fighting and the basis for a wider selection of those parties and movements to make up the new government, seem to be certain. General Marshall occupies the unique role of an ambassador from a foreign nation which is acting as the mediator in a conflict between the government and Stalin’s Chinese battalions. This fact illustrates that China is not, either that part under Chiang or that under Yenan, a free and independent nation, but that freedom and independence have yet to be won.

The question is asked: Does not Yenan represent the forces of the social revolution in China? Does it not represent the movement of the new society and should not all revolutionary socialists support Yenan in this “civil war”?

A Social Revolution?

The struggle between Chungking and Yenan is not a “civil war” in the sense of the Russian Revolution, or the Spanish Civil War of 1936. Yenan does not represent the independent movement of the Chinese workers and peasants fighting against an internal reactionary regime. Yenan is a Stalinist government, patterned after its Russian model and, like all Stalinist movements, represents first and foremost Russian interests in China. Like all Stalinist movements, it draws its strength from the masses, rests upon the workers and peasants and, depending upon the given situation, issues revolutionary, reformist or reactionary demands. Thus the Stalinist movements exploit the feelings and desires of the people for the purpose of betraying them in the end.

If Chiang is a reactionary enemy of the Chinese people, then an implacable struggle against him must be waged. But, it may be asked, do not the Chinese Stalinist-Communists carry on just that struggle? The answer to this question is: only when it appears that Russian relations with the United States and Chiang appear to be deteriorating, do the Chinese Stalinists employ their blackmail “civil war” to force a settlement in favor of Stalinist imperialist aims. Otherwise, it is impossible to explain the following statement of General Chou En-lai, aide to General Mao, head of the Yenan government:

“Mr. Chiang is not only the leader of China today. It is our hope that he will be the leader of China during the period of peace and national reconstruction.”

It is important to understand this about China: none of the important revolutionary demands of 1925.27 have been won under the reactionary Chiang regime. The workers do not have the right to organization, press and assembly. The trade union movement has been driven underground. The working class undergoes severe exploitation at the hands of brutal native and foreign bosses.

The peasants of China have still to achieve the agrarian revolution. They have still before them the job of destroying landlordism and breaking up the remnants of feudalism in land. To do this means to struggle against Chiang and his regime, whether he stands alone or whether he rules in alliance with the Chinese Stalinists from Yenan and the Democratic League (which acts as a bridge between Chiang and the Stalinists).

Against Imperialism

Yenan does not and cannot represent the revolution in China. It is, like all other Stalinist governmental formations in Eastern Europe, the spearhead of counter-revolution. Some point to the collectivization of land in Yenan, plus other reforms, as examples of the revolutionary nature of the Yenan government. But its collectivization, like that of Russia, is thoroughly bureaucratic and, from the point of view of the mass of peasants who are ruled in the same bureaucratic manner as the Kremlin rules the Russian peasants, the Yenan regime is reactionary. The question is not whether Yenan collectivizes the land, but what kind of collectivization it carries through. And it is abundantly clear from the accumulated experiences with Stalinism on a world scale, that its collectivization, while progressive as against the old feudal land relations in China, nevertheless represents totalitarianism and in the final analysis redounds against the best interests of the people.

To grant critical support to Yenan on the ground that it represents the “social revolution” in China is to deceive the Chinese people and the workers of the world. For to give critical support to Yenan means to give support to Stalinism in its struggle for power. No revolutionary socialist can do this without imperiling his principles in the same way that Stalinism imperils the progress of humanity.

What is needed in China is an independent revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants devoted to a liberation of the country from foreign imperialism and to the struggle for a workers’ China, a China of the masses which will carry out the revolutionary progressive program of 1925.

That means not merely getting rid of Chiang, but of imperialism and, in the first place, U.S. imperialism.

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