China 1928-1949: A link in the chain of imperialist war

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In the first part of this article (International Review No.81) we endeavoured to reclaim the real historical revolutionary experience of the working class in China. The Shanghai proletariat’s heroic attempted insurrection of 21st March 1927 was both the culmination of the spontaneous movement  of the working class begun in 1919 in China, and the last glimmer of the international revolutionary wave that had shaken the capitalist world since 1917.

However, the combined forces of capitalist reaction - the Kuomintang, the “war lords”, the great imperialist powers, relying on the complicity of the Executive of the rapidly degenerating IIIrd International - completely defeated this movement.

The events that took place after this had nothing at all to do with the proletarian revolution. What official historians call the “Chinese popular revolution” was, in reality, an unbridled succession of struggles for control of the country between antagonistic bourgeois fractions, behind whom were always to be found one or other of the great powers. China was converted into one of the “hottest” regions of the imperialist confrontations that came to a head in World War II.tc "The events that took place after this had nothing at all to do with the proletarian revolution. What official historians call the “Chinese popular revolution” was, in reality, an unbridled succession of struggles for control of the country between antagonistic bourgeois fractions, behind whom were always to be found one or other of the great powers. China was converted into one of the “hottest” regions of the imperialist confrontations that came to a head in World War II."

The liquidation of the proletarian partytc "The liquidation of the proletarian party"

The year 1928, distinguished by the official historians as decisive in the life of the Communist Party of China, was the year of the creation of the “Red Army” and the beginning of the “New Strategy” based on the mobilisation of the peasants, the so-called foundations of the “popular revolution”. And, indeed, this was a decisive year for the CPC, although not in the sense the official historians mean. In fact, the year 1928 marked the liquidation of the Communist Party of China as an instrument of the working class. Understanding this event constitutes the point of departure for understanding subsequent events in China.tc "The year 1928, distinguished by the official historians as decisive in the life of the Communist Party of China, was the year of the creation of the “Red Army” and the beginning of the “New Strategy” based on the mobilisation of the peasants, the so-called foundations of the “popular revolution”. And, indeed, this was a decisive year for the CPC, although not in the sense the official historians mean. In fact, the year 1928 marked the liquidation of the Communist Party of China as an instrument of the working class. Understanding this event constitutes the point of departure for understanding subsequent events in China."

On the one hand, with the defeat of the proletariat, the party was broken up and decimated. As we have already mentioned, around 25,000 communist militants were killed and many thousands more persecuted by the Kuomintang. The militants constituted the cream of the revolutionary proletariat of the great cities, who, due to a lack of council type organisations, had regrouped inside the party during the previous years. From now on, not only would no new generation of workers be integrated into the party, but its social composition would be as radically changed - as we will see below - as its political principles.

The liquidation of the party was not only physical but, above all, political. The period of the most ferocious persecution against the communist party coincided with the unstoppable rise of Stalinism in the USSR and in the International. These simultaneous events dramatically accelerated the opportunism which had been inculcated in the CPC for many years by the Executive of the International, until it turned into a process of rapid degeneration. Thus, between August and December the party lead a series of  reckless, desperate and chaotic uprisings, this “Autumn Revolt” also included: an uprising by thousands of peasants in certain regions which had fallen under the control of the party, a mutiny of nationalist troops in Nanchang (in which some communists were active); and finally, the so-called Canton “insurrection” - 11/14th December, which in reality was a “planned” attempted assault, which was not supported by the whole of the proletariat of the city and ended in yet another blood-bath. All of these actions ended in disastrous defeats at the hands of the forces of the Kuomintang, accelerating the dispersion and demoralisation of the Communist Party, and they marked the crushing of the last revolutionary impulses of the working class.

These reckless uprisings had been instigated by the elements that Stalin had placed at the head of the PCP, whose objective was to justify Stalin’s thesis about the “promotion of the Chinese revolution”. Later these failures were used to expel his opponents.

The year 1928 marked the triumph of the Stalinist counter-revolution. The 9th Plenum of the International accepted the “rejection of Trotskyism” as a condition for adhesion and , finally, the 6th Congress of the International adopted the infamous theory of “Socialism in one country”, in other words the definitive abandonment of proletarian internationalism, which marked the death of the International as an organisation of the working class. In this context, the 6th Congress of the CPC, also held in the USSR, took the decision to prepare a team of young leaders who unconditionally supported Stalin, beginning, the “official” Stalinisation of the party, in other words, its transformation into a different party, an instrument of ascendant Russian imperialism. This team of so-called “returned students” were to take over the leadership of the party two years later, in 1930.

The “Red Army” and the modern “Warlords”tc "The “Red Army” and the modern “Warlords”"

Stalinism was not the only road that the CPC took towards degeneration. The defeat of the series of adventures in the second half of 1927 had also lead to the flight of some participating groups towards regions where the governmental forces found access difficult. These groups began to unite into broader military detachments. One of these was that of  Mao Tsetung.tc "Stalinism was not the only road that the CPC took towards degeneration. The defeat of the series of adventures in the second half of 1927 had also lead to the flight of some participating groups towards regions where the governmental forces found access difficult. These groups began to unite into broader military detachments. One of these was that of  Mao Tsetung."

It should be noted, that from his earliest years as a militant, Mao Tsetung had not given much proof of proletarian intransigence. As a representative of the opportunist wing, he had held an administrative post of secondary importance during the period of the alliance with the Kuomintang. When this broke up he fled to his native region of Hunan, where following the Stalinist dictates, he set about leading the “the Autumn peasants’ revolt”. The disastrous end of this adventure obliged him, along with hundreds of peasants, to withdraw even further, until they reached the massive mountain range of Chingkang. There, in order to establish himself, he made a pact with the bandits that controlled the area, whose methods of assault he learnt. Finally, his group fused with the remnants of  a detachment of the Kuomintang under the command of the officer Chu Et, which had fled to the mountains after the failed uprising at Nanchang.

According to the official historians, Mao’s group was at the origins of the so-called “Red Army” or “People’s Army” and the “Red bases” (regions controlled by the CPC). Mao is supposed to have finally “discovered” the “correct strategy” for the Chinese revolution, according to this account. In reality, Mao’s detachment was one amongst many others in dozens of different regions. All of them began a policy of recruiting the peasants, offensives and the occupation of certain regions, which led to the resistance to the Kuomintang’s attacks for some years, until 1934. What is important to remember here is the ideological and political fusion between the opportunist wing of the CPC with parts of the Kuomintang (the party of the bourgeoisie), including mercenaries provided by gangs of déclassé peasants. In fact, the geographic displacement which took place in this historic scenario, from the cities to the countryside, did not correspond merely to a change in strategy, but clearly marked the change of the class character that took place in the Communist Party.

The Maoist historians tell us that the “Red Army” was a peasant army guided by the proletariat. In reality, it was not the working class which headed this army, but militants of the CPC almost all of them from petty-bourgeois backgrounds.These elements had never made the historical perspective of the class struggle completely theirs (a perspective that was definitively abandoned with the defeat of the revolutionary wave). Mixed in with these elements were embittered officials of the Kuomintang. Some years later, this  mixture was further consolidated, by a new displacement of professors, university students, nationalists and liberals towards the countryside: these were to form the cadre of “educators” of the peasants during the war against Japan.

Socially, the Communist Party of China was thus converted into the representative of layers of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie displaced by the prevailing conditions in China: intellectuals, professionals and career soldiers, who could find no place, either with the local governments which could only submit to the nobles, nor in Chiang Kai-Shek’s closed and monopolistic central government.

Consequently, the ideology of the leaders of the “Red Army” became a mixture of Stalinism and Sun Yat-Senism. A language full of pseudo-Marxist phrases about the “proletariat” hardly covered the increasingly openly declared aim of establishing another equally bourgeois, although “democratic”, government (with the support of a “friendly government”), opposed to the “dictatorship” of Chiang Kai-Shek. In the real world of capitalist decadence this meant completely immersing the  new CPC and its “Red Army” in imperialist struggles.

The Chinese peasantry: a special revolutionary class?tc "The Chinese peasantry\: a special revolutionary class?"

One thing is certain however: that the ranks of the “Red Army” were basically formed by poor peasants. This fact (along with the party continuing to call itself “Communist”) is to be found at the base of the creation of the myth of the “Chinese popular revolution”.tc "One thing is certain however\: that the ranks of the “Red Army” were basically formed by poor peasants. This fact (along with the party continuing to call itself “Communist”) is to be found at the base of the creation of the myth of the “Chinese popular revolution”."

From the middle of the 1920’s there already existed in the CPC a theorisation, especially amongst those with the least confidence in the working class, that attributed to the Chinese peasantry the character of being an especially revolutionary class. One could read, for example, that “the great peasant masses have risen up in order to complete their historic mission: breaking down of the rural feudal forces”.[1] In other words, they considered the peasants as an historic class, capable of realising certain revolutionary aims independently of other classes. With the political degeneration of the CPC, these theorisations went even further, attributing to the Chinese peasantry the capacity to substitute itself for the proletariat in the revolutionary struggle![2]

By pointing to the history of peasant rebellions in China, they claimed to demonstrate the existence of a revolutionary “tradition” (however, they do not talk about “consciousness”) amongst the Chinese peasantry. In reality, what this history demonstrates is precisely that the Chinese peasantry have lacked a viable revolutionary historic project of their own, as has been the case for the peasants in the rest of the world, and as Marxism has demonstrated time and time again. In the ascendant period of capitalism, in the majority of cases, they opened the way for the bourgeois revolution, but in the decadent period of capitalism the poor peasants can only carry out a revolutionary struggle if they adhere to the revolutionary aims of the working class, since otherwise they are turned into a tool of the ruling class.

Thus, the Taiping rebellion (the “purest” and most important movement of the Chinese peasantry, which exploded in 1850 against the Manchu dynasty and which was totally crushed by 1864) already demonstrated the limits of the peasant struggle. The Taiping wanted to install the reign of the gods on earth, a society without individual private property, in which an authentic monarch, truly the son of the gods, would dispose of all the riches of the community. That is to say, a recognition that private property was the cause of their ills. However, this didn’t lead to a viable project for a future society, but only a return to a utopia of an idyllic lost dynasty. During the initial years the European powers left the Taiping alone because they destabilised the dynasty and the rebellion spread throughout the reign, but the peasants were incapable of forming a central government and administering the land. The movement reached its culminating point in 1856 with the failure to take Peking the imperial capital and, finally, it began to be extinguished through massive repression in which the great capitalist powers collaborated. In this way, the Taiping rebellion weakened the Manchu dynasty, only in order to open the doors to the imperialist expansion of Great Britain, France and Russia. The peasantry did the bidding of the bourgeoisie.[3]

Decades later, in 1898, a new, less widespread, revolt broke out,  that of the Yi Ho-tuan (Boxers). Initially it was against the dynasty and foreigners. However, this revolt marked the decomposition of the independent peasant movements, since the Empress gained control of it and used it in her own war against the foreigners. With the disintegration of the dynasty and the fragmentation of China at the beginning of the century, an increasing number  from among the floating mass of poor and landless peasants began to enrol in the professional armies of the regional “Warlords”. Finally, the traditional secret societies for the protection of the peasants were transformed into Mafiosi in the service of the capitalists, who used them in the cities to control the labour force and to act as strike-breakers.

It is true that the theorisations about the revolutionary character of the peasantry found a justification in the effective re-animation of the peasant movement, above all in  Southern China. Nevertheless, these theorisations passed over the fact that it was the revolution in the great cities that had provoked this reanimation and that any hope of emancipation for the peasantry only could come from the victorious revolution of the urban proletariat.

But the formation of the Chinese “Red Army” had nothing to do with the proletariat nor with the revolution. Nor did it have anything, as we have said, to do with the formation of revolutionary militias in periods of insurrection. It is certain that the terrible living conditions the peasants suffered pushed them to joined the “Red Army” in the hope of winning and defending their land, but these were the same reasons that caused other peasants to join the armies of the warlords that infested China at the time.

In fact the “Red Army”’s leaders had to issue orders prohibiting the looting of conquered regions. For the proletariat, the “Red Army” was something totally alien, as was shown in 1930, when it took the important city of Changsha and was only able to hold the city for a few days, due fundamentally to the indifferent, if not hostile,  reception it received from the workers of the city, who refused  the call to support it through a new “insurrection”.

The difference between the traditional “warlords” and the leaders of the “Red Army”, was that the new “warlords”, had already established themselves within the social structure of China and were visibly part of the ruling class, while the second had to struggle just to open up the way into it. This allowed them to feed the hopes of the peasants and it also conferred a more dynamic and aggressive character on them, a more clever and flexible disposition in order to make alliances and to sell themselves to the highest imperialist bidder.

In short, the defeat of the working class in 1927 did not catapult the peasants to the head of the revolution but, on the contrary, left them to be tossed about in the storms of the nationalist and imperialist struggles. In these struggles the peasants served only as cannon fodder.

The stage of imperialist conflicttc "The stage of
imperialist conflict"

With the defeat of the working class, the Kuomintang, for a while, was turned into the most powerful institution in China, the only one capable of guaranteeing the unity of the country -combating and forming alliances with the regional “warlords”- and, therefore, was converted into the focus of disputes between the imperialist powers.tc "With the defeat of the working class, the Kuomintang, for a while, was turned into the most powerful institution in China, the only one capable of guaranteeing the unity of the country -combating and forming alliances with the regional “warlords”- and, therefore, was converted into the focus of disputes between the imperialist powers."

We have already mentioned, in the first part of this article, how from 1911, the great imperialist powers were to be found behind the struggle to form the national government.  At the beginning of the 1930’s the relations of force between them had been modified in various ways.

On the one hand, the Stalinist counter-revolution initiated a new Russian imperialist policy. The “defence of the Socialist fatherland” of the USSR signified the creation of a zone of influence around it, which would also serve as a protective buffer at the same time. In China’s case, this became support for the “Red bases” formed from 1928 onwards - for which Stalin did not see a great future - and above all the search for an alliance with the Kuomintang government.

On the other hand, the United States, which was increasingly becoming an aspirant for the exclusive domination of  all the regions bordering the Pacific Ocean, was replacing the old colonial domination by the old powers such as Britain and France with its growing financial domination. Moreover, in order to achieve this, it first had to deal with the expansionist dreams of Japan. In fact, at the beginning of the century it was already clear that the Pacific was not big enough for the United States and Japan. And an open confrontation between Japan and the United States broke out (10 years before Pearl Harbour) with the war for the control of China and the Kuomintang government.

Finally, there was Japan, one of the powers meddling most in China, whose increasing need for markets, sources of raw materials, and cheap labour, led it to take the initiative in the imperialist struggles for China. In September 1931 it occupied Manchuria, and from January it began to invade the Northern provinces of China, establishing its bridgehead in Shanghai, after which it carried out “preventive” bombings of the working class areas of the city. Japan formed alliances with some of the warlords and began to install its own puppet régimes. Chiang Kai-Shek only offered a token resistance to the invasion, since he had already entered into a treaty with the Japanese. Then the United States and the USSR reacted, each for their own interests, putting pressure on the government of Chiang Kai-Shek to begin an effective resistance against Japan. The United States, however, took things very calmly, since it hoped that Japan would become bogged down in a long and exhausting war in China (which is what effectively happened).

Stalin, for his part, in 1932 ordered the “Red bases” to declare war on Japan, while simultaneously establishing diplomatic relations with the régime of Chiang Kai-Shek during the same period as this régime was launching savage attacks on the “Red bases”. In 1933, Mao Tsetung and Fang Chimin proposed an alliance with some generals of the Kuomintang that had rebelled against Chiang Kai-Shek because of his policy of collaboration with the Japanese. However, the “Returned students” rejected this alliance in order not break the links between Russia and Chiang’s régime. This episode demonstrates that the CPC was already tied up in the game of inter-bourgeois struggles and alliances. At this time Stalin saw the “Red Army” only as an “element of pressure” and preferred to rely more on a enduring alliance with Chiang Kai-Shek.

The Long March... to imperialist wartc "The Long March... to imperialist war"

It was in the framework of these mounting imperialist tensions during the Summer of 1934 that detachments of the “Red Army” based in the “guerrilla bases” in the South and Centre, began a movement towards the Northwest of China, through the rural regions most remote from the control of the Kuomintang, in order to concentrate themselves in the Shensi region. The movement known as the “Long March” is, for the official historians, the most significant and epic act of the “Chinese popular revolution”. The history books are full of heroic chapters about how detachments crossed rivers, swamps and mountains. However, an analysis of the events shows that hidden behind this movement are sordid bourgeois interests.tc "It was in the framework of these mounting imperialist tensions during the Summer of 1934 that detachments of the “Red Army” based in the “guerrilla bases” in the South and Centre, began a movement towards the Northwest of China, through the rural regions most remote from the control of the Kuomintang, in order to concentrate themselves in the Shensi region. The movement known as the “Long March” is, for the official historians, the most significant and epic act of the “Chinese popular revolution”. The history books are full of heroic chapters about how detachments crossed rivers, swamps and mountains. However, an analysis of the events shows that hidden behind this movement are sordid bourgeois interests."

Above all, the fundamental aim of the “Long March” was to enrol the peasants in the imperialist war which was brewing between Japan, China, Russia and the United States. In fact, Po Ku (a Stalinist of the group of “returned students”) had already posed the possibility of some units of the “Red Army” being sent to fight against the Japanese. The history books underline that the departure from the “Soviet zone” of the Southern region of Kiangsi was due to the unbearable siege by the Kuomintang, but become ambiguous when they deal with the fact that the forces of the “Red Army” were expelled , in great part, because of a change of tactics ordered by the Stalinists: from  the guerrilla struggles that allowed the “Red Army” to resist for several years, to frontal attacks on the Kuomintang. These confrontations provoked the rupture of the guerrilla zone’s “security” frontier and consequently meant it had to be abandoned. This was not a “grave error” by the “returned students” ( as Mao said later, although he participated in this strategy). This success for the Stalinists forced  the armed peasants to abandon their land, which they had defended with much effort up until then, in order to march North and formed them into a regular army suitable only for the approaching war.

The history books usually confer on the “long march” the character of a kind of social movement or class struggle. The “Red Army” is supposed to have been “sowing the seeds of the revolution”, propagandising and also redistributing the land between the peasants as it went along. In reality, these actions had as their aim the utilisation of the peasants as protection for the rearguard of the “Red Army”. Already at the beginning of the “long march” the civilian population of the “Red bases” had been used as a defence to allow the retreat of the army. This tactic - praised by some historians as “very ingenious” and consisting of turning civilians into targets in order to protect the movement of the regular army - is a tactic of the armies of the ruling classes. Contrary to the history books there is nothing “heroic” about allowing children and old people to be killed in order that the soldiers can save themselves.

The “Long March” was not on the road of the class struggle. On the contrary, it was the road towards accords and alliances with those who up until then had been categorised as “feudal and capitalist reactionaries” and who as if by magic had been turned into “good patriots”. Thus, on the 1st of August 1935, with the detachments of the “long march” stationed in Sechuan, the CPC launched the call for the national unity of all classes in order to drive the Japanese from China. In other words, the CPC called on all workers to abandon the class struggle in order to unite with their exploiters and serve as cannon fodder in their wars. The call was the anticipated application of the resolutions of the Seventh and last Congress of the Communist International, which had taken place during this time, and which launched the infamous slogan of the “anti-fascist popular front”, through which the Stalinised Communist Parties collaborated with the national bourgeoisie, converting them into recruiters of the workers for the second world slaughter that was already approaching.

The “long march” officially ended in October 1935, when Mao’s detachment arrived in Yenan (the Shensi province in the North West of China). In later years, in the Maoist pantheon the “long march” was the exclusive and glorious work of Mao Tsetung. The official histories skip over the fact that Mao arrived at a “Red base” that had already been established before hand, and that his arrival marked a disaster because  only about 7,000 of the 90,000 men who had originally left Kiangsi made it. Thousands had died (victims of nature more than of Kuomintang attacks), and thousands more remained in Sechuan, because of a split amongst the leading cliques. It was only at the end of 1936 that the bulk of the “Red army” was really gathered together with the arrival of the detachments from Junan and Sechuan.

The CPC’s alliance with the Kuomintangtc "The CPC’s alliance with the Kuomintang"

From 1936, the work of recruiting the peasants carried out by the CPC was backed up by hundreds of nationalist students who moved to the countryside after the anti-Japanese movement of the intellectuals at the end of 1935.[4] This does not mean the students became “Communists”, on the contrary, as we said above, the CPC was already an organisation that the bourgeoisie saw as one of their own, sharing the same class interests.tc "From 1936, the work of recruiting the peasants carried out by the CPC was backed up by hundreds of nationalist students who moved to the countryside after the anti-Japanese movement of the intellectuals at the end of 1935 (4). This does not mean the students became “Communists”, on the contrary, as we said above, the CPC was already an organisation that the bourgeoisie saw as one of their own, sharing the same class interests."

The Chinese bourgeoisie, however, was not unanimous in its opposition to the Japanese. There were divisions in their inclinations towards one or other of the great powers. This was reflected by Generalismo Chiang Kai-Shek who, as we have already seen, was uncertain about launching a frontal attack against the Japanese and tried to wait until the balance of  imperialist forces clearly leant towards one gang or other. The Kuomintang generals and the regional “warlords” were similarly divided.

The so-called “Sian incident” took place in this atmosphere. In December 1936, Chang Hsuehliang - an anti-Japanese Kuomintang - and Yang Hucheng - the “warlord” of Sian -  who were on good terms with the CPC, arrested Chiang Kai-Shek and were going to  prosecute him as a traitor. However, Stalin immediately and incisively ordered the CPC not only to free Chiang Kai-Shek, but furthermore to include his forces in the “popular front”. In the days that followed talks took place between Chou Enlai, Yeh Chienying and Po Ku as representatives of the CPC (in other words of Stalin), Tu Song (the biggest and most corrupt monopolist in China, a relative of Chiang) as the United States’ representative, and Chiang Kai-Shek himself. The result of these negociations was that Chiang was “obliged” to take the United State’s and the USSR’s side - at this time the US and Russia were allied against Japan. In return for doing this he was allowed to remain as head of the national government, while the CPC and the “Red Army” (which would change its name to the “Eighth Army”) were placed under his command. Chou Enlai and other “Communists” took part in Chiang’s government, while the United States and the USSR supplied Chiang Kai-Shek with military support. As for Chang Hsuehliang and Yang Hucheng, they were abandoned to Chiang’s revenge, the first was imprisoned and the second killed.

Thus, the new alliance between the CPC and the Kuomintang was signed.  It was only by means of the most grotesque ideological contortions and the most abject propaganda that the CPC could justify in the workers’ eyes its new treaty with Chiang Kai-Shek, the same butcher that had ordered the crushing of the proletarian revolution and the killing of tens of thousands of workers and communists in 1927. It is true, that from the middle of 1938, the hostilities between the forces of the Kuomintang  led by Chiang and those of the “Red Army” were renewed. This allows the official historians to maintain the idea that the pact with the Kuomintang was only a “tactic” of the CPC in the “revolution”. However, the historical significance of the pact lay not in its disintegration or in the collaboration between the CPC and the Kuomintang, but in the fact that between these two forces there were no class antagonisms but on the contrary, the same class interests. This CPC had nothing in common with the CPC of the 20’s that had confronted capital: it was now nothing but a tool of capital, the number one recruiting sergeant of the peasants for the imperialist massacre.

Bilan: a gleam of light in the darkness of counter-revolutiontc "Bilan\: a gleam of light in the darkness of counter-revolution"

In July 1937, the Japanese undertook a large-scale invasion of China: this was the beginning of the Sino-Japanese war. Only a handful of Left Communist groups that had survived the counter-revolution, such as the Dutch Internationalist Communist Group or the Italian Left Communist Group that published Bilan in France, were able to forecast and denounce the fact that what was happening in China was no “national liberation” war, still less the “revolution”, but a war for domination between the great powers with interests in the region: Japan, the USSR, and the United States; that the Sino-Japanese war, like the Spanish Civil War and other regional conflicts, was the deafening prelude to the second world imperialist slaughter. By contrast, Trotsky’s Left Opposition, which at its formation in 1928 had also denounced Stalin’s criminal policy of collaboration with the Kuomintang as one of the causes of the defeat of the proletarian revolution in China, was now prisoner of an incorrect analysis of the historic course, which made it see a new revolutionary possibility in each new regional imperialist conflict. Prisoner also of its own growing opportunism, it considered the Sino-Japanese war as “progressive”, and a step forwards towards the “third Chinese revolution”. At the end of 1937, Trotsky shamelessly declared that “if there is such a thing as a just war, then it is the war of the Chinese people against its conquerors... all the Chinese working class organisations, all the progressive forces in China, without giving up anything of their programme or political independence, will do their duty to the utmost in this war of liberation, independently of their attitude to the Chiang Kai-Shek government”.[5] With this opportunist policy of national defence “independently of their attitude to the Chiang Kai-Shek government”, Trotsky opened wide the doors to recruiting the workers in imperialist war behind their governments, and with World War II, to the transformation of the Trotskyist groups into recruiting officers for capital. By contrast, the Italian Communist Left’s analysis of China firmly maintained the internationalist position of the working class. The position on China was one of the crucial points of rupture in its relations with Trotsky’s Left Opposition. For Bilan, “The communist position on the events in China, Spain, and the current international situation can only be fixed on the basis of the rigorous elimination of all those forces acting within the proletariat, and which tell the proletariat to take part in the slaughter of imperialist war”.[6]The whole problem is to determine which class is conducting the war, and to a establish a policy accordingly. In the present case, it cannot be denied that it is the Chinese bourgeoisie which is waging the war, and whether it be aggressor or victim, the proletariat’s duty is to struggle for revolutionary defeatism in China as much as in Japan”.[7] In the same sense, the Belgian Fraction of the International Communist Left (allied with Bilan) wrote: “Alongside Chang Kai-Shek, the butcher of Canton, Stalinism is taking part in the assassination of the Chinese workers and peasants under the banner of a “war of independence”. And only a total break with the National Front, their fraternisation with the Japanese workers and peasants, their civil war against the Kuomintang and all its allies, under the leadership of a class party, can save them from disaster”.[8] A defeated and demoralised working class failed to hear the firm voice of the groups of the Communist Left, and allowed itself to be dragged down into a worldwide massacre. However, these groups’ analytical method and positions represented the permanence and deepening of marxism and formed the bridge between the old revolutionary generation which had lived through the proletariat’s insurrectional wave at the beginning of the century, and the new revolutionary generation which emerged with the end of the counter-revolution at the end of the 1960s.tc "In July 1937, the Japanese undertook a large-scale invasion of China\: this was the beginning of the Sino-Japanese war. Only a handful of Left Communist groups that had survived the counter-revolution, such as the Dutch Internationalist Communist Group or the Italian Left Communist Group that published Bilan in France, were able to forecast and denounce the fact that what was happening in China was no “national liberation” war, still less the “revolution”, but a war for domination between the great powers with interests in the region\: Japan, the USSR, and the United States; that the Sino-Japanese war, like the Spanish Civil War and other regional conflicts, was the deafening prelude to the second world imperialist slaughter. By contrast, Trotsky’s Left Opposition, which at its formation in 1928 had also denounced Stalin’s criminal policy of collaboration with the Kuomintang as one of the causes of the defeat of the proletarian revolution in China, was now prisoner of an incorrect analysis of the historic course, which made it see a new revolutionary possibility in each new regional imperialist conflict. Prisoner also of its own growing opportunism, it considered the Sino-Japanese war as “progressive”, and a step forwards towards the “third Chinese revolution”. At the end of 1937, Trotsky shamelessly declared that “if there is such a thing as a just war, then it is the war of the Chinese people against its conquerors... all the Chinese working class organisations, all the progressive forces in China, without giving up anything of their programme or political independence, will do their duty to the utmost in this war of liberation, independently of their attitude to the Chiang Kai-Shek government” (5). With this opportunist policy of national defence “independently of their attitude to the Chiang Kai-Shek government”, Trotsky opened wide the doors to recruiting the workers in imperialist war behind their governments, and with World War II, to the transformation of the Trotskyist groups into recruiting officers for capital. By contrast, the Italian Communist Left’s analysis of China firmly maintained the internationalist position of the working class. The position on China was one of the crucial points of rupture in its relations with Trotsky’s Left Opposition. For Bilan, “The communist position on the events in China, Spain, and the current international situation can only be fixed on the basis of the rigorous elimination of all those forces acting within the proletariat, and which tell the proletariat to take part in the slaughter of imperialist war” (6). “The whole problem is to determine which class is conducting the war, and to a establish a policy accordingly. In the present case, it cannot be denied that it is the Chinese bourgeoisie which is waging the war, and whether it be aggressor or victim, the proletariat’s duty is to struggle for revolutionary defeatism in China as much as in Japan” (7). In the same sense, the Belgian Fraction of the International Communist Left (allied with Bilan) wrote\: “Alongside Chang Kai-Shek, the butcher of Canton, Stalinism is taking part in the assassination of the Chinese workers and peasants under the banner of a “war of independence”. And only a total break with the National Front, their fraternisation with the Japanese workers and peasants, their civil war against the Kuomintang and all its allies, under the leadership of a class party, can save them from disaster” (8). A defeated and demoralised working class failed to hear the firm voice of the groups of the Communist Left, and allowed itself to be dragged down into a worldwide massacre. However, these groups’ analytical method and positions represented the permanence and deepening of marxism and formed the bridge between the old revolutionary generation which had lived through the proletariat’s insurrectional wave at the beginning of the century, and the new revolutionary generation which emerged with the end of the counter-revolution at the end of the 1960s."

1937 - 1949: with the USSR or the USA?tc "1937 - 1949\: with the USSR or the USA?"

As we know, World War II ended in 1945 with the defeat of Japan and the Axis powers, and this defeat meant Japan's complete withdrawal from China. However, the end of World War II was not the end of imperialist confrontations, since immediately afterwards a rivalry between the two great powers - the USA and USSR - was established, which lasted for more than 40 years and brought the world close to a third - and last - world war. And China was immediately turned into a terrain of confrontation between the two powers.tc "As we know, World War II ended in 1945 with the defeat of Japan and the Axis powers, and this defeat meant Japan's complete withdrawal from China. However, the end of World War II was not the end of imperialist confrontations, since immediately afterwards a rivalry between the two great powers - the USA and USSR - was established, which lasted for more than 40 years and brought the world close to a third - and last - world war. And China was immediately turned into a terrain of confrontation between the two powers."

The aim of this article is to demystify the so-called “Chinese popular revolution”, not to present the many interests related to the vicissitudes of the Sino-Japanese war. However, these interests highlight two aspects in relation to the policies carried out by the CPC during these years.

The first is related to the rapid expansion of the area occupied by the “Red Army” between 1936-1945. As we have said Chiang Kai-Shek did not engage his forces directly against the Japanese. Faced with the Japanese advance his forces fell back, retreated. On the other hand, the Japanese army’s rapid advance towards the Chinese interior was not backed up by an ability to set up their own administration in all the regions they occupied, and they were rapidly limited to occupying the communication routes and important cities. This situation gave rise to two phenomena: firstly, the regional warlords either remained loyal to the central government but were isolated from it, collaborated with the Japanese in the formation of puppet governments, or else collaborated with the “Red Army” in resisting the invasion. Secondly, the CPC cleverly used the power vacuum in the rural North West of China, created by the Japanese invasion, to establish its own administration.

This administration, known as the “new democracy”, has been praised by historians precisely as a “democratic” régime of a “new kind”. The only novelty about it, was that for the first time in history, a “Communist” party established a government of class collaboration,[9] that is to say, it was concerned about zealously protecting the interests of the capitalists and the great landlords: the maintenance of stable relations of exploitation. The CPC discovered that it was not necessary to confiscate the land and give it to the peasants in order to gain their support. The peasants were so overburdened with levies that it was enough to bring about a small reduction in taxes (so small in fact that the landlords and capitalists agreed with it) for the peasants willingly to accept the CPC’s administration and enrol in the “Red Army”. In accordance with this “new régime” the CPC also established a government of class collaboration (between the  bourgeoisie, the landlords and peasants), known as the government “of three parts”, where a third of posts were held by the “Communists”, a third by peasants’ organisations and another third by the landlords and capitalists. Once again, it was only through the most convoluted ideological contortions by “theoreticians” such as Mao Tsetung that the CPC could explain this “new kind” of government to the workers.

The second aspect of the CPC’s policy is less well known, since for ideological reasons, both the Maoist and pro-US historians want to hide it. The CPC was moving strongly towards the United States for the following reasons:

  • the USSR’s involvement in the European war, meant that for some years it was difficult for it to give any serious help to the CPC;
  • Chiang Kai-Shek’s new oscilations between the US and Japan from 1938 in the hope of a definite outcome to the world war;[10]
  • the USA’s entry into the Pacific war from 1941.

From 1944 the United States government established an observation commission in the main “Red Base” in Yenan, with the aim of sounding out the possibility of collaboration between the USA and the CPC. The leaders of the CPC - in particular Mao Tsetung and the Chu Teh clique - were clear that the United States would be the strongest victorious power at the end of the war and wanted to shelter in its shadow. The correspondence of John Service,[11] one of the agents of the mission, insistently pointed out that the leaders of the CPC said:

  • that the CPC considered the installation of a Soviet government to be very remote and, more than that, it wanted to install a Western “democratic” type régime in China, that it was disposed to enter a coalition government with Chiang Kai-Shek in order to avoid a civil war at the end of the war against Japan;
  • that the CPC considered that a very long period (of many decades) would be necessary for the development of capitalism in China, before they could think of installing Socialism, and if the day did arrive it woud be done very slowly (and not through violent expropriations). That therefore in order to establish a national régime, the CPC would maintain an “open door” policy towards foreign capital, principally North American.
  • that the CPC, seeing the weakness of the USSR on one side and Chiang Kai-Shek’s corruption and propensity for Japan on the other, wanted the political, financial and military support of the United States. That the CPC would be disposed to change its name (as they had already done with the “Red Army”) in order to receive help.

The members of the United States mission insisted to their government that the future was on the side of the CPC. However, the United States never decided to help the “Communists” and, finally one year later in 1945, before the defeat of Japan, Russia rapidly invaded Northern China, leaving the CPC and Mao no other choice than to align themselves (temporarily!) with the USSR.

***tc "***"

From 1946 to 1949, the confrontation between the two super powers led directly to a war between the CPC and the Kuomintang. During the war other Kuomintang generals went over, along with their arms and men,to the side of the “popular forces”. In this way, we can see four successive stages in which the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie nourished the CPC: the one that followed the defeat of the working class, from 1928; the one rooted in the student movement of 1935; the period of the war against Japan and finally that provoked by the collapse of the  Kuomintang. The “old” bourgeoisie - with the exception of  the great monopolists linked directly with Chiang Kai-Shek, such as Soong - merged into the CPC and founded the “new” bourgeoisie that arose during the war.tc "From 1946 to 1949, the confrontation between the two super powers led directly to a war between the CPC and the Kuomintang. During the war other Kuomintang generals went over, along with their arms and men,to the side of the “popular forces”. In this way, we can see four successive stages in which the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie nourished the CPC\: the one that followed the defeat of the working class, from 1928; the one rooted in the student movement of 1935; the period of the war against Japan and finally that provoked by the collapse of the  Kuomintang. The “old” bourgeoisie - with the exception of  the great monopolists linked directly with Chiang Kai-Shek, such as Soong - merged into the CPC and founded the “new” bourgeoisie that arose during the war."

In 1949 the Communist Party of China, headed by the Red Army, took power and proclaimed the People’s Republic. But this never had anything to do with Communism. The class character of the “Communist” party that took power in China was completely alien to communism and antagonistic to the working class. From the beginning, the régime was only a form of state capitalism. The USSR controlled China for hardly a decade and this ended with the breaking off of relations between both countries. From 1960, China played an “independent” game from the super powers and saw itself as a great power capable of creating a “third bloc”, although from 1970 it had moved definitively towards the US-dominated Western bloc. Many historians - beginning with the Russians - accused Mao of being a “traitor”. We now know that the China’s journey towards the United states was not  treason by Mao, but the final realisation of his dream.

tc ""

Ldotc "Ldo"



[1]  “Report on an investigation of the peasant movement in Hunan”. March 1927. In Collected Works of Mao Tsetung, Peking 1976.

[2] Isaac Deutscher, amongst others, some years later arrived at the same absurd conclusion that, if the displaced sections of the bourgeoisie and urban petty-bourgeoisie could lead the Communist Party, then there was no reason why the peasantry could not replace the proletariat in a “Socialist” revolution (Maoism, its origin and Outlook. The Chinese cultural revolution, 1971)

[3] The absence of a viable historical project was a general characteristic shared by the great peasant movements (for example, the war in Germany in the 16th century, the Taiping rebellion and the 1910 “Mexican revolution” in the South): despite their communitarian  features, their utopian ideology looked for the recovery of an irretrievably lost social situation; despite the way that the peasant armies were able to demolish the great landlords, they were unable to form unified central governments, the result of this was the opening of the way for the bourgeoisie (or fractions of it).

[4] We need to remember that the universities of this period were not the massive universities of our day, to which some workers’ children go. In that period, amongst the students “many were the sons of well-to-do bourgeois or state functionaries of various levels... who had seen their incomes fall with the ruin of China and could see even more disasters to come due to the Japanese invasion” (La rivoluzione cinese, Enrica Colloti Pischel).

[5] Lutte Ouvrière no.37, quoted in Bilan no.46, January 1938.

[6] Bilan no.45, November 1937.

[7] Bilan no.46, January 1938.

[8] Communisme no.8, November 1937.

[9] In the USSR the bourgeoisie also dominated, but that was a question of a new bourgeoisie, emerging from the counter-revolution.

[10] From the middle of 1938, Chiang Kai-Shek once again began to act against the CPC. In the August of that year he outlawed the organisations of the “Communist” party and in October he laid siege to its Shensi base. Between 1939 and 1940 there were a number of confrontations between the Kuomintang and the “Red Army”, in January 1941 Chiang ambushed the 4th Army (another detachment of the “Red Army”), which had been formed in central China. With all these actions he looked to gain the support of the Japanese without breaking his ties with the Allies. Chiang continued to play one side off against the other, while waiting for a definite outcome to the war.

[11] Published in 1974 after China’s turn towards the United States, with the title Lost chances in China. The World War II despatches of John S. Service, JW Esherick (editor), Vintage Books, 1974.