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Manchurian Events and the Communists

(October 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 30 (Whole No. 89), 7 November 1931, pp. 1, 3 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SHANGHAI. – The dominant event now in Far Eastern politics is the Manchurian occupation which startled the world like lightning from the blue. Japanese imperialism has carried out the wishes and plans, which it entertained for years, to subjugate Manchuria to its own territory. It chose the right moment to strike since the world economic depression has so seriously affected the United States of America and England, even as it chose the right moment during the World War to put up the famous twenty-one demands upon China. The Japanese imperialists are always at work to keep China in a state of schism and discord, and to make the militarists fight each other in order to fish in the troubled waters.

After the suppression of the revolution, after the slaughter of tens of thousands of the revolutionary masses, the Nanking government is degenerating to the same fate as the former Peking government. It can offer no resistance against the aggression of foreign imperialists, except that it still uses many revolutionary phrases which are anachronistic reminiscences of the past revolution. In the face of a predatory war launched by Japan against China, the generals of the Chang Hseuh Liang group only retreated as the Japanese army advanced, and laid down arms to let the Japanese army have a free hand and complete control over the territory where they were the rulers. They look on helplessly at the Japanese bombarding burning, pillaging and killing.

The Resistance of the Chinese Masses

The Nanking government, at the head of which stands Chiang Kai-Shek, is no better. Chiang Kai-Shek preaches “calmness” and “endurance” to the people just as the Manchurian generals practise non-resistance in delivering the people to the claws of Japanese imperialism. A wave of indignation and fury is spreading throughout the whole of China, students are out in the streets haranguing the crowd, mass meetings are being held, anti-Japanese associations organized; the anti-Japanese boycott is to be strengthened, circulars, leaflets and placards distributed. But unfortunately the protests and resistance among the people up to now are chiefly words and sentimental phrases which are characteristic of the petty-bourgeois movement. The workers are not now participating actively in the anti-Japanese imperialism movement because they are not quite recovered from the wounds they suffered, and there are still rigorous restrictions against them.

What is to be done to beat off the foreign invasion? What will be the outcome of it? Many public and legal organizations are clamoring for a war against Japan. But a war against Japanese imperialism means a revolutionary war. It is impossible for the Kuo Mln Tang government to conduct such a war because it fears the awakening of the broad masses. The only alternative for the Kuo Min Tang government is to appeal to the League of Nations and to America for interference in favor of China .

Kuo Min Tang’s Shaky Position

Until now it only received a rebuff from the League of Nations. After all, the latter is quite in line with Japanese imperialism, expressing satisfaction over the sophistic Japanese explanation that the military invasion is not military occupation, etc. The only road open to the Nanking government is to negotiate directly with Japan, to put up with the loss of territory and to swallow the insult. But in the long run, will the people not be exasperated by the government’s capitulation to the clattering of weapons and the unsheathing of swords by Japan imperialism? The logic of events should lead to the serious shaking of the Kuo Min Tang rule and should open many possibilities for Communist agitation.

The Kuo Min Tang rule has experienced this year the most severe crisis since its advent to power in China in 1927; its inner deep antagonisms between the Chekiang and the Kwantung factions, the revolt of the Northern militarists, the peasant war in central China, the growing misery of the masses due to heavy taxation and high cost of living, the unprecedented flood disaster, and the Japanese occupation of Manchuria are bound to exert a revolutionary influence upon the masses. Here and there we hear always the bitter tone of enmity from the lowest strata of the masses against Chiang Kai Shek, Chang Hsueh Liang and the Kuo Min Tang because they advocate non-resistance to the Japanese aggression. But where is the Communist Party which can utilize successfully the hostility of the people against the Kuo Min-Tang to overthrow its rule? In other words, where is the Communist Party, the only party existing in China, which is against all shades of the Kuo Min Tang?

We need to write the history of the Chinese Communist Party in the last two years in order to understand the present situation of the Party. Between September 1930 and January 1931, there were two overturns in the Party which resulted in the complete elimination of the Li-Li-Sian group from leadership. It was sacrificed as a scapegoat to cover the adventurous sins of the Stalinist E.C.C.I.

Influence of the Past on Present Chinese C.P.

It is really amusing to read the Comintern’s letter, of last November to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, condemning the policy of the Li-Li-Sian group. The gist of the letter was that “the course of armed uprising is already decided, the significance of the establishment of the Soviet government lies in the fact that the Chinese Communist Party is on the road towards armed uprising in the big and biggest cities”, but “comrade Li-Li-Sian saw the ripening of the revolutionary situation on a national scale,” and “proposed to start an armed uprising in Hankow when the Chinese Communist Party has in that area only two hundred Party members and one hundred and fifty red trade union members.”

But the executor Li-Li-Sian should have fully the right to ask the sages of the Comintern why they decided on the course of armed uprising in the big and biggest cities when they themselves admitted in the same letter that: “the rising tide of the labor movement, generally speaking, even in the decisive industrial cities (Hankow, Shanghai, along Yangtse, not to mention Canton, Hongkong, Darien, Harbin, etc.) lags behind the peasant movement. Even in Shanghai and Hankow, the spontaneous strike struggle did not develop rapidly. In the May and August demonstrations of this year (1931) ... the participators were only the vanguard of the vanguard. The proletariat is very weakly organized.” The defeat of the “red army” at Changsha in August 1930, and the subsequent regime of white terror made the E.C.C.I. shudder at the consequences of its own policy, and was the real reason for replacing the Li-Li-Sian leadership in order to save the face of the C.I. and to sidetrack the wrath of the Party ranks.

The letter blamed Li-Li-Sian for the failure “to organize and strengthen the revolutionary base, to unite the Soviet districts, to consolidate the conquests already made ... to organize the retreat and draw in the reserves”, and for the attempt to carry out “the tasks of the occupation of Changsha and the preparatory march on Hankow which the Red Army has not the strength to fulfill.” Upon such feeble arguments the E.C.C.I. announced the line of Li-Li-Sian to be principally antagonistic and mutually exclusive from the line of the E.C.C.I. and to be anti-marxist and anti-Leninist”. They adopted two formulas: to consolidate the revolutionary base” and “to struggle for the victory in one or several provinces”.

The Protective Ambiguity of the Stalinist Formulas

The Stalinist directives are always double-meaning and therefore infallible. Since the sixth congress of the party (1928), the perspective of the party had been to “struggle for victory in one or several provinces.” Whoever was doubtful of this perspective at the time of low tide of the revolution was called a liquidator and counter-revolutionary. But when the most loyal and most consistent Stalinist, Li-Li-Sian, seriously strove for this perspective (capture of Changsha and the preparatory march on Hankow), then he was all of a sudden found not to have consolidated the revolutionary base, he was branded as anti-Leninist and having principally nothing in common with the line of the E.C.C.I.

The letter of the E.C.C.I. was fatal to the party and opened a new page in its life or, rather, its degeneration. Politically it means the complete ideological disarming of the party, the loss of its perspective and orientation. Hitherto the whole party had been educated by the perspective, although a false one, of the immediate seizure of power “in one or several provinces” and “the armed uprising in the big and biggest cities”, but with the downfall of Li-Li-Sian in the party, this perspective was scattered to the winds. This perspective is replaced by such empty slogans as “Defend the Red Army”, “Defend the Soviet Government”, “Defend the Soviet Union”, “Down with the Kuo Min Tang”, “Down with Imperialism”, etc. In principle the party rejected the democratic slogans. The slogans of armed uprising and Soviets are not taken off the agenda. It is necessary to prepare. But either this perspective will not be taken seriously by the party ranks, or the party in the future will head into another catastrophe, the blame for which will be laid upon the executors. Such is the mechanism of the Stalinist leadership. Therefore, the letter of the E.C.C.I. swore that only those who have nothing in common with Bolshevism can interpret this line as a line of retreat Just the contrary, this is a completely disordered retreat which sowed confusion among the ranks of the party and lessened their confidence in the party leadership.

The Weakening of the Party Apparatus

Organizationally, the letter of the E.C.C.I. means the mechanical removal and the expulsion of responsible but not so meekly obedient party workers. Most of the old leading members and cadres were removed and replaced by inexperienced and theoretically poorly educated students returned from Moscow who enjoyed absolutely no confidence in the party and who are distinguished by their absolute obedience to the directives of the E.C.C.I. (its representative was Miff. Therefore, these students are also called Miff’s group). Some of the former leaders were relegated to local work. Others were expelled and formed a Right opposition which bears a prominent economist tendency. This opposition at first attracted many workers in Shanghai and North China and has its own centre and local organizations. Still other important workers, removed from positions, went over openly to the enemy, and organized skillfully the spy work which led to the arrest of tens of important party comrades (among them comrade Hsiang-Chu-Fa), to the disclosure of underground party organizations, and to the standstill of party work. The arrested comrades were shot immediately without any ceremony.

The party press often complains of the unprincipled and personal fights of the different groups. They become distrustful of each other and lack the spirit of comradeship. So long as the free discussion of the problems of the revolution is prohibited, and the leadership dominated by careerists, and the party demands obedience and lip-service from the members (members who fear to be expelled save themselves by formal recantations; those who are able and persevering are found outside the party); so long as these conditions exist, the party, as an organization which groups together men struggling for ideas, ceases to exist. The Chinese party is thus liquidated and destroyed by Stalin. He has completed what Chiang Kai-Shek has left undone. All that remains is a faint shadow of the party.

Yet we read in an appeal to the Comintern, R.I.L.U., etc., by the C.C. of the Chinese C.P. that it spoke as “the Communist party of China with its 190,000 members and the millions of workers and peasants ––”! (Inpreccor, No. 38). And still the rabid reaction rages throughout China. In fact, in the Shanghai Eastern district – the biggest industrial district – there are party members only in one big factory, numbering about 20, but when meetings were called, those attending were not as many as five! The late Hsiang Chu-Fa, in his report to the fourth plenum of the party (January of this year) said:

“The red trade union movement has sustained great loss and damage, the membership in the whole country greatly decreased. To take the example of Shanghai, the membership (in the red trade unions) has dwindled from 4,000 to about 1,000. In Shanghai, we have no connection with many workers’ struggles, there are many strikes which we cannot lead.”

In other industrial cities, the situation both of the party and the red trade union movement is only worse. There is not the least indication to prove that things have improved for the better.

The aforementioned letter of the E.C.C.I. has set the central tasks of the day for the party as follows:

  1. To select and consolidate immediately the real red army of workers and peasants. Even at the beginning it numbers only 40,000 to 50,000 strong.
  2. To establish immediately a powerful and capable Soviet government with a majority of Communists and get the best non-party workers, peasants, and soldiers to join in it.
  3. In the non-soviet districts to develop the economic and political mass struggle and in the process of struggles to organize the masses.

Actual Conditions in the “Soviet” Areas

Thus the chief attention of the Stalinist bureaucrats is paid to the Red Army and the Soviet government, and the slogans “Defend the Red Army”, ‘’Defend the Soviet government” are written as placards on all occasions whenever there is a big event taking place. The workers in the cities are induced not to believe in their own organizations and strength but to believe in the liberating role of some force outside them – the Red Army and the Soviet districts. But what are the real conditions in the Soviet districts and the Red Army?

First of all, it was Stalin who said at the 16th Congress of the C.P.S.U. that in China “it was said that there is formed a Soviet government.” But later on the letter of the E.C.C.I. categorically denied this and said: “there is not yet a Soviet government in China; if there is, it exists only in the leaflets, on paper, and is not a realized power.” A letter published by the party organ, Party Construction discloses the real condition in the Soviet districts which entirely confirms the views expressed by the Left Opposition. Let us quote a part of it.

“Concerning the influence of the party among the masses,” the letter from the Western Hunan and Hupeh: Soviet district runs, “because the propaganda work was not done on a general scale and done badly, the masses ... consider the Communist party is little better than the Kuo Min Tang, and in many places the masses adopt the attitude that since they are the subjects, it doesn’t matter what party comes to rule them”.

“Most party leaders in the Soviet districts are kept secret from the party ranks. The Communist members do not know what the Communist party is. At the time of the suppression of the Wang-Ching-Wei group (Kuo Min Tang Re-organizationists), they wept at home because they thought they had joined the reorganizationists. The responsible party workers forget the party. For three or four months, the party organizations and nuclei have not held meetings.”

In the mass organizations there are no party groups.

“The majority of the comrades of the red districts are corrupt, become bureaucrats and express a Right wing tendency They think that since political power is already conquered, nothing more is to be done, they engage themselves for whole days in the hunt of women ...”

“The responsible comrades of the Soviet government do not give solutions to the general practical demands of the masses. At the same time the rich peasants occupy two thirds of the positions in it. The majority of the commissars are bureaucrats, so that the masses have no confidence in the Soviets and address the commissars as ‘sir’, just as they addressed the former governors.”

“Owing to the fact that the masses do not understand the Soviet, therefore in the red districts there are concealed many reactionary elements, and the Soviets are helpless toward them ...” Party Construction – N. 3-3-1931)

Mismanagement in Peasant Affairs

The editor of this organ pointed out that such things happen also in the Kiangsi Soviet districts. The party press and the letter of the E.C.C.I. complained that the rich peasants, and even the small landlords creep into the Soviets, into the Red Army and into the new organs of power. The land was divided in favor of the rich peasants; the poor peasants, the agricultural laborers and the coolies are hot organized into unions. The Soviets are not elected but appointed, etc., etc. But the Chinese Stalinists, together with the E.C.C.I. attribute all this to the faulty line of Li-Li-Sian. Therefore they issue on paper such slogans as “Against corruptions”, “Against bureaucracy”, “Against the Right tendency”.

They fail to understand that the causes lie deeper: in the nature of the peasantry, which is completely incapable of independent political action; that when the city proletariat remains passive, it is inevitable that the peasant guerrila warfare degenerates.

The red peasants partisans have withstood three campaigns started by the Nanking government against them during the past year, even though troops, armed with modern munitions, often outnumbered them two or three times. Yet the red partisan army has defeated them successively, killing two divisions commanders. The weakness of the government army lies in the fact that dissensions exist among the generals and the soldiers are not quite willing to fight (they complain against their officers, underpay, bad treatment), while the red partisan army enjoys the support of the peasantry; this gives them a big advantage in conducting the war. If Chiang Kai-Shek is helpless even in the face ol the red partisans in one province, Kiangsi, when in the cities, dark reaction governs, how can he cope with the upheaval of the entire nation?

The Kiangsi partisan warfare in a certain sense is a standing indictment of the crimes of Stalinist leadership in the second revolution, when it capitulated before the bourgeoisie. This time the Stalinist leadership capitulates before the peasantry, concentrates its whole work in the partisan warfare, dissolves the party into the peasant masses, giving up city work; makes the proletariat look up to the red partisan army as its savior just as it formerly made the proletariat believe in the bourgeois Kuo Min Tang as its savior. Let us entertain no illusions. The peasantry either follows the bourgeoisie or follows the proletariat.

It is just at this time, when the Manchurian events stir the whole nation, when the broad masses are indignant over the non-resistant policy of the Kuo Min Tang, when the mass movement flows over the dams of the Kuo Min Tang, when the students and the downtrodden masses come out spontaneously and write in handwritten placards against Japanese imperialism, just at this time, when the leadership of the Communist party is required, there is no Communist party. In face of such a great hurricane which arouses millions to the danger, the Chinese party completely fails to understand the meaning of this invasion as the grabbing of Chinese territory, the wringing of concessions and special rights which are possible because the Chinese Revolution is at its lowest point. The party sees the Japanese invasion only as an intervention against the Chinese revolution and the Soviet Union. Therefore their slogans, “Down with the intervention against the Chinese Revolution and the Soviet Union”, “Defend the Red Army and Soviets”, etc., are not grasped by the masses.

What an irony of leadership if we are to remember the following part of the letter of E.C.C.I. which said: “The E.C.C.I. deems it not only feasible but necessary to maneuver with the imperialists – we must at the same time with all means weaken the alliance of imperialism with the Chinese counterrevolution, to avoid the decisive conflict with it till we consolidate ourselves, to postpone the decisive struggle with the imperialists.’’

The Manchurian event is a great warning to the revolutionary Communists in China when a national ferment is not utilized owing to the absence of a Communist party. The ferment is so deep and strong that not only the lower sections of the Kuo Min Tang are more pronounced dissatisfied with the policy of the official Kuo Min Tang, not only is the military grip to a certain degree slackened so that the masses are to a great extent free to write slogans, hold meeting and express views; but even in the Nanking government, the strong bulwark of reaction and counter-revolution, certain opinions are expressed against the random slaughter of Communists because they are vigorous youths, and that the Kuo Min Tang itself is guilty since it cannot put the country in order. The masses need leadership. Provided with correct tactics, the Communist party would grow rapidly.

Progress and Hardships of the Left Opposition

The Chinese Left Opposition, after a long period of disunity, no sooner had achieved unity under the leadership of the International Secretariat and comrade Trotsky, then the blows of the Kuo Min Tang fell upon us. After the arrest on May 21–22 of 13 comrades, one of whom is a member of the standing committee, another important Opposition worker was arrested on August 16th. Despite the blows dealt to our organization, we still march forward, publishing a journal, organizing workers. In Shanghai, we are organizing anti-Japanese imperialism associations among the Kuo Min Tang workers.

Our central organ, The Spark, now has been transformed from a semi-monthly into a weekly, unfortunately in mimeograph form. Besides, there is a local Shanghai semi-weekly for the workers; we are planning to start another legal and printed paper. The workers now are beginning to move and we shall grow with their movement. The sustenance of the national movement hereafter will chiefly depend on whether the workers will actively enter the arena with anti-Japanese strikes and manifestations.

Despite the fact that the Stalinists continue to slander us and call us liquidators and counter-revolutionaries, the ruling Kuo Min Tang has a sober view upon us. The Stalinists fail to compromise us by expulsion; the public and the working-class recognize us as Communists, just as we never fail to recognize Wang Chang-Wei and Co. as Kuo Ming Tangists despite their expulsion by Chiang Kai-Shek. By the expulsions, the Stalinists only weaken Communism and make possible their bureaucratic self-preservation.

In the theses of the propaganda department of the C.C. of the Kuo Min Tang, sent to its local organizations, after analysing the controversy between the Stalinists and the Trotskyists, they reacted in the following words to the controversy: the tactics of the “Trotskyist” group towards China are more venomous and dangerous than those of the Stalinist group. After the defeat of the Stalinist tactics of guerilla warfare, the Communist party will go over to the Trotskyist tactic. In the near future, there will inevitably be a split into two parties.” The Kuo Min Tang indeed knows which of us is the more serious enemy. It is a better answer to the Stalinist slander than any on our own part. We hope only that the time is not far distant when this “danger” will be turned into a real one.

Shanghai, China
October 2, 1931


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