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Sherman Stanley

Breaking Through the Oriental Censorship

The Tragedy of China’s National War

(October 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 26, 14 October 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SHANGHAI – The undeclared war between Japan and China is now wearily dragging its way through the early stages of its fourth year. An elementary taking of inventory reveals a sorry picture indeed so far as the position of Chinese nationalism, revolutionary potentialities and the fate of China’s masses are concerned. We must nevertheless recognize the bitter truth for what it is.

Any bridge that may have led to a possible settlement of the conflict between Japanese imperialism and the Chinese colonial bourgeois class now appears to have been blown up beyond possibility of reconstruction. Japan, tin the eve of “recognizing” its miserable caricature of a Puppet State headed by the pitiful Wang Ching-wei at Nanking, has pushed too far ahead to re-open negotiations with Chiang Kai-shek. The subtlety of these Nipponese agents slays one! Owning the Nanking regime lock, stock and barrel they have now prepared an elaborate “treaty” which no doubt will be signed with all that ornate ceremony of which only the Japanese are capable. The treaty will give them economic monopolies to exploit all of occupied-China – which exploitation can hardly begin to take place because of the simple fact that Japan doesn’t have the necessary initial capital to invest.

War Fronts Frozen

And Chiang kai-shek, always amenable to a favorable agreement, he too apparently has burned all his bridges behind him. Thus the long-existent military and political stalemate – there is barely any military action with the exception of a stupid and indiscriminate bombing of Chungking which only displays the hysterical anxiety of the Japanese to “do something” and make an end of the bloody mess they’ve gotten into – remains and probably can continue indefinitely.

On both sides, the war fronts are frozen stiff. The Japanese – told that the “holy incident” would end in three months – have gotten nothing out of the war except additional loads to bear and further melancholy reflections to store away in their warehouse of Oriental fatalisms. As for the Chinese, the reactionary Chinese Kuomintang having done everything possible to prevent a raising of the national consciousness they are yet more indifferent and tired of it all.

A Worried Man

What if China’s position today? While it is true that the country is not “conquered” and that 1¼ million Japanese soldiers as well as large naval forces are inextricably tangled up like a helpless new-born babe twisted in its umbilical cord, nevertheless the fact remains that Japanese imperialism can make something out of the situation, while the Chiang Kai-shek regime cannot. The stupidity of those liberal bourgeois folk who prate about China winning the war through sheer weight and attrition – particularly now with the practical abandonment of the Chungking regime by the “democratic” imperialist powers – is beyond contempt. No war was ever won by back-pedaling Generals and retreating armies, not even in China! Then why does Chiang Kai-shek continue? Partly because there is nothing else for him to do; partly because he hopes that a change in the international situation may revive his hopes of loyally serving his imperialist masters of France, England and America. But he is a very worried gentleman indeed! He sees himself dependent entirely upon Stalinist Russia for external supplies which, in turn, means a tighter squeeze from his dubious allies of the Eighth Route (Stalinist) Army.

In his final speech before the plenary session of the Kuomintang Executive Committee (July 8), Chiang sweated hard attempting to explain that the statement of Mr. Stephen Early to the effect that “There should be applications of the Monroe Doctrine in Europe and Asia ...” did not signify an extension of the glad-hand from Yankee imperialism to Japan. But many of China’s so-called nationalist leaders fear otherwise.

No Victories Here

Today huge and rich areas of China are occupied. The coast from tip to tip is Japanese controlled. Only the Russian supply route remains open. The industrial, commercial and modern cities of the coast are all in enemy hands. All that remains of Free China is the peasant hinterland. When the last Japanese “peace” offer was turned down the Nipponese responded with new offensives on land and in the air (these have since petered out), with a further intensification of their naval blockade of the coast and with successful isolation moves in the South.

Internally, China’s situation is still worse. With the exception of the Shanghai area practically all modern industry has been destroyed either by military action of the Japanese or “scorched earth” action of the Chinese. Free China has virtually no industry. Its food and land problems remain as before, with great famine and malarial districts, floods, epidemics etc. sweeping the land. Estimates of those who have died in the past 3 years range from 6 to 10 million, mostly from disease and famine. Rice prices are colossal, while the Chunking dollar goes

down and down and down. Descriptions of inland China, with its millions of refugees, make it appear as a land struck simultaneously by the Seven Plagues of the Old Testament! There are no “victories” to be read in all of this.

Upon whom must responsibility be fixed for this tragic state of affairs? What has caused this sharp dip in China’s national and revolutionary movements so that today one must frankly recognize that the labor movement of the country is in effect, temporarily dead, organizationally non-existent.

For the “democratic” capitalist powers {England, France and America) China’s struggle for national liberation was, from the beginning, only a convenient weapon in their campaign of imperialist rivalry against the Japanese. And, as is often the case, when New York scrap iron merchants and California oil men found it profitable to sell to Japan they did so without hesitation or thought of the “broader” aims of imperialist strategy.

“National Hero”

By far the greatest responsibility devolves upon the Chinese Kuomintang, political organization of the Chinese property class, and its allies of the Chinese Stalinist organizations. For three years, Chiang Kai-shek has done everything to prevent the war from broadening its base – he has catered to the most cynically corrupt Chinese generals and war lords; he has been blind to the most incredible profiteering on food, money exchange and war contracts (in front of his nose the wife of his Finance Minister sells Chunking money short on the Shanghai exchange!); he has permitted the most treacherous officers and commanders to continue; he has destroyed embryonic labor unions in his own territory and denied all democratic liberties; he has based his armies on the forced draft and and accomplished his labor through the forced levy; he has conducted the war on the military plane solely, leaving intact feudal and landlord China.

Chiang Kai-shek, man of the foreign imperialists, Chinese bankers, merchants and landlords, has accomplished his task well. Among the Chinese masses he is no more of a “National Hero” than Hoover is in America. As for his wife – puffed up to heroic proportions by American journalism and Pearl Buck – she proved so incompetent as Commander of the Chinese Air Force (which never takes to the air) that her husband was forced to remove her from the post.

Stalin’s Tool

Although there have been and still are numerous clashes between the Kuomintang forces and the Stalinist Red Army they are of a purely bureaucratic nature. The policy of confining themselves to a stipulated area, of abandoning their socialist program for the capitalist program of the Kuomintang has been consistently followed by the Chinese Stalinists. The clashes are not those of political principle, but are quite analogous to those between the Chungking government and rival, provincial war lords who have the annoying habit of raising their heads every so often. In addition, there is the fact that the Eighth Route Army is a useful pressure tool in the hands of the Moscow oligarchy – “now we threaten Japan, now we threaten Chiang Kai-shek!” That is the deep “strategy” of the so-called Red Army of China.

The laws of revolutionary history and revolutionary strategy in particular seem to be proven only in a negative – that is, reactionary and counter-revolutionary – fashion in our disastrous times. So it is with China and its war of national emancipation. Here we have definitive and classic evidence that the colonial, national bourgeois class is incapable not merely of leading a progressive struggle to a successful conclusion, but incapable of even partial successes! If the colonial masses remain quiescent of are duped, only disaster can result. The horror and tragedy of modern China is before us. Today, the men of property in Europe and America are capable only of destroying whatever remains of civilization; their lesser lights and pale shadows in the colonial world are proving themselves not one whit less destructive or pernicious to the interests of civilization.


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