In 1915 the southern province Hunan declared its independence and between 1916-1918 a growing polarisation between Northern and Southern warlords led to a wave of military conflicts. Thus when World War 1 came to an end in 1918 in Europe, China had been fractured by rival military regimes to the extent that no one authority was able to subordinate all rivals and create a unified and centralized political structure. The nation state had to be abolished altogether, if society was to avoid demise into militarism and chaos. As the Communist International recognised in its Manifesto of 1919 “The national state, which gave a mighty impulse to capitalist development, has become a fetter on further development of the productive forces.” But while the Communist International was far sighted in its clarity of the need to abolish all states, this emphasis of its founding congress was quickly clouded afterwards. The more the revolution went into retreat and the more the Comintern became desperate in its attempts to win support for the isolated revolution in Russia, it practised an opportunistic policy. At its 4th World Congress in 1922 the Comintern propagated a united front between certain Communist Parties and what it called the "left" or "democratic" wings of the respective bourgeoisie. In China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in accordance with the Comintern in 1922 declared in its “First Manifesto of the CCP on the Current Situation” (June 10, 1922) “We welcome a war to achieve the triumph of democracy, to overthrow the military... The proletariat’s urgent task is to act jointly with the democratic party to establish a united front of democratic revolution... This struggle along a broad united front is a war to liberate the Chinese people from a dual yoke – the yoke of foreigners and the yoke of powerful militarists in our country.”.1
This orientation of launching a coalition of proletarian and bourgeois forces with the goal of fighting a war against foreign capital was strongly opposed by the emerging forces of the Communist Left.
Within the framework of this article we cannot elaborate more on this aspect of developments. We have extensively dealt with this question in a series of articles in our International Review.2
The “united front” course of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was a disaster for the working class since it forced the workers to submit to the KMT (Kuomintang) and it contributed to the triumph of the KMT as the dominant force of the Chinese bourgeoisie.
As we have illustrated in other articles of our press, the experience of the wave of struggles in 1925-27 showed, that the Comintern imposed united front policy paved the way for an even higher degree of militarization.
While in Europe there was a time span of two decades between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II (heralded by the war in Spain in 1936), China irreversibly continued in its descent into militarism immediately after the end of World War I. From the early 1920s on a series of wars between different warlords continued to wreck the country. The number of regular troops rose from 500,000 in 1916 to two million in 1928. The number of armed people must have been much higher, each defeat of an army led to an explosion in the number of bandits.
Amongst the forces of the Chinese bourgeoisie, the KMT was the most coherent and most determined in its defence of the interests of national capital. Chiang Kai-shek’s party could only pursue the attempts of unification of the country on a militarist path. With the support of the CCP, in spring 1926 Chiang Kai-shek launched a military expedition to eradicate various feuding warlords in central and northern China. In spring 1927, at a time, when a massive wave of strikes shook the most important Chinese city, Shanghai, the KMT, the force which for years had been hailed by the Comintern as the “the democratic party” with whom the working class should struggle for a “democratic revolution” showed its real face. The KMT spearheaded the massacre of thousands of workers in Shanghai and Nanking. The first KMT led government - known as the first 'National Government' - was established in Nanking on April 18, 1927. This first government of a “unified” China could only rise to power through a massacre of the working class. But even if the Nanking government meant the highest level of centralisation of national capital since 1911, militarism did not come to a halt. Because, although China’s unity was nominally established around the Nanking government in 1928, the Central government was forced to pursue its combat against war lords without interruption – because neither in the north nor in other areas had the local warlords been eliminated, even after the establishment of the Nanking central government.
1 (“First Manifesto of the CCP on the Current Situation”, June 10, 1922, in Conrad Brandt, Benjanmin Schwarz and John K. Fairbank, A Documentary History of Chinese Communism, New York: Atheneum, 1971, pp. 61-63)
2 (see”A link in the chain of imperialist war” International Review no 81, 84, 94 series).