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Sherman Stanley

Breaking Through the Oriental Censorship

Shanghai: A City in Turmoil

(October 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 28, 21 October 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SHANGHAI, September – In Shanghai, the local merchant and property-owning class has a special law unto itself that it puts into constant operation. “Never save for to-morrow what you can spend tonight!” Such is the economic base upon which the innumerable night clubs, gambling joints, brothels, opium dens, horse and dog race tracks, etc., operate.

Probably Shanghai reflects more than any other city the vicissitudes of the modern imperialist world. Nobody knows what will happen next – not the next day, but the next hour! Money (and every kind of money floats around Shanghai) therefore burns fiercely in the pockets of those speculators and compradores privileged to possess it. Nowhere in the world does the bourgeois class so proudly exhibit its inherent vice and corruption as in this city. Particularly now, with important changes shortly to be put into effect, are these people, pursuing the rule of “anything goes.”

Reign of Terror

For a double-edged campaign aiming at undermining the status of the famous International Settlement and the French Concession (Shanghai’s two old foreign imperialist areas) is now underway. The pressure is applied from two sources: the miserable puppet regime of Wang Ching-wei having its center in Nanking, the Japanese military authorities operating from Hongkew, the section of the city they have occupied. Everyone understands, of course, that the Japanese are really behind the whole business and are simply preparing to establish their full authority over the entire area. Already they dominate Shanghai militarily, control its communications

and access to the sea. Now they wish to complete the job by driving out. the remnants of the rival imperialists.

Thus a reign of threats, assassinations, intimidations and gangster rule has opened up. The British troops have made their inglorious departure for Southern points, the French Concession authorities each day yield more and more to the demands of the Japanese. Only American marines and 100-odd Italian soldiers remain in the International Settlement. The Japanese are now negotiating to take over police control in those areas abandoned by the British. The road ahead is clear, for who will stay their hand? It was all summed up by a spokesman for the Puppet Government who stated recently, “Only the submission of the local authorities to the National (i.e., Wang Ching-wei) Government at Nanking, and the assumption of direct authority over the entire Shanghai area by the National Government can restore the rule of law.”

But if the imperialists are settling (with much heart-break) the status of Shanghai among themselves, all is not so well among the Chinese masses. It must be borne in mind that even if you lump all of Shanghai’s foreigners together (Japanese Russian émigrés; German-Jewish refugees – who, by the way, live miserably in a Hongkew ghetto for the most part and have learned nothing from their Hitler experience; British, French and American agents, etc.) you still have considerably less than 5% of Shanghai’s total population! Walk two minutes’ distance off one of the main streets and a foreigner is rarely seen, only the Chines masses living in miserable slum sections.

Shanghai has experienced a real strike wave this year. Basically of an economic character its causes have been described as follows by the China Weekly Review (August 17, 1940),

“The basic reason for the current strike wave is the terrifically high cost of living. This, in turn is due to the fall in the exchange value of the Chinese national dollar; hoarding and manipulation by profiteers; political factors, such as the general deterioration in the European situation, and the disappearance of subsidiary coins, which dealt a severe blow to petty merchants and pedlars who were almost ruined.”

Strikes have been pulled by bus workers, utility men, dockyard laborers, textile workers, and have affected iron works, tobacco factories, newspaper offices, laundries, etc. In the first half of this year there have been 156 strikes, although the annual average for Shanghai since 1918 has been only 79. Examination of the Shanghai Municipal Council index prices quickly reveals the driving force behind these strikes. Taking 100 as the living cost of Shanghai workers in 1936 (before the Sino-Japanese war), the figure for June 1940 stands at 422.91! The purchasing power of the Chinese dollar is now 23.65% of its pre-war value! It is estimated that at the end of July it cost a Chinese worker 4.5 times as much to live as it did in 1936, while his wages in most cases have barely even doubled. As the China Weekly Review neatly puts it, “Strike or starve – that is the alternative facing them (the Shanghai workers).”

Can’t Be Settled

Unfortunately, the strike wave now shows signs of petering out. Brought about and organized through spontaneous labor action (there is no organized labor movement in all of China), these strikes succeeded in travelling a certain distance on the economic front but were incapable of tackling the dominant political front. Any strike in China today soon confronts the organized might of Japanese or foreign imperialism. The tragedy of the whole situation is the total lack of interest displayed by the Chunking (Chiang Kai-shek) regime in these workers who are, in reality, its only genuine allies.

But while the strike wave may temporarily die away and the rival imperialists may affect a temporary settlement by handing over all of Shanghai to the Japanese, the “strike or starve” alternative remains and the class struggle of China’s workers will continue.


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