Nationalism versus Internationalism in China

Recent nationalist, anti-Japanese demonstrations have brought to the surface many contradictions within Chinese society and also between China and its main rivals. The authorities have tolerated these demonstrations, as they do not threaten the regime as such. It shows how far the so-called Chinese Communist Party has degenerated in its ever-growing embrace of capitalism and all the monstrosities that go with it.

A wave of anti-Japanese protests has swept across South Korea and China. In Korea a mother and her son cut off their fingers, in China brick throwing students smashed shop windows, some Japanese nationals living in China were beaten up and Japanese diplomatic missions were attacked. In China anti-Japanese and nationalist fervour broke the taboo on unauthorised demonstrations in the core cities, something not seen since the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia was bombed by NATO forces in 1999.

The spark for these predominantly student protests has been the approval of Japanese history textbooks which apparently gloss over the barbarity of the Japanese occupations of other Asian countries. In 1999 and this year the Chinese government gave limited support to the protests, at the same time as not wishing to unduly upset their capitalist business associates in Washington and Tokyo.

China Daily on 5th April 2005 cited officials from China’s Education Ministry,

“‘Recently I read an argument that (anti-Japan sentiment) is a consequence of incorrect conveyance of information about Japan in textbooks and the media,’ one official said. ‘This is purely baseless and groundless to say that China is engaged in anti-Japan education.’

“According to statements by the Education Ministry, China promotes ‘patriotic education,’ which covers Marxism, the ideology of Mao Zedong and a review of the nation’s accomplishments.

“It also calls for rejecting foreign ideologies”

It is sometimes astounding how such base and ignorant comments are made by ‘Communist’ officials. If the curriculum ‘covers Marxism’ then how can one say Chinese education rejects ‘foreign ideologies’? And why when one goes to a bookshop are books by Marx and Lenin hard to find, and those of Chen Duxiu or Trotsky unavailable? Let us assume Marxism is not covered, and only Mao’s ideology is covered, was Mao not influenced by ‘foreign ideologies’? Did the Communist movement not come from Europe? Wasn’t Deng Xiaoping studying in France? The May 4th Movement started the path to Liberation and the main slogans expressed the need for ‘Mr Democracy’ and ‘Mr Science’, in other words the adoption of foreign ideas and skills to modernise China! In the 1920s the most advanced intellectuals adopted Marxism and Leninism from the USSR, and many of the early Communist Party leadership attended revolutionary universities in Moscow.

The China Daily article continues by quoting Mou Jianmin, a Chinese media consultant,

“Young Chinese do not understand the subtleties of Japanese politics or society, the left right political spectrum or the separation between the government and the people.”

What sort of “Marxist” or even “Maoist” history curriculum would fail to teach China’s 58 million teenagers that Japan has a ‘left right political spectrum,’ has a working class and a capitalist class? Or that the Japanese working class are the natural allies of the working class of China? The Japanese masses were not responsible for the atrocities carried out by their military masters in China. War is not the product of the national characteristics of a people or a nation, but of the conflicting interests between the ruling classes and castes of the different nations. This is part of the ABC of Marxism but is this taught in the schools in China or even inside the Communist Party? What sort of ‘Marxist’ education teaches Patriotic Nationalism as opposed to Proletarian Internationalism? Marxism and genuine Communism stand for the unification of the working classes of China and Japan, indeed of all Asia and the world.

The China Daily article explains that history classes are “presented in a way that promotes memorization for standardized exams.” Education is supposed to be about enquiry and understanding, about developing critical independent thinking people, capable of analysis and working out solutions to the problems of mankind. This rote learning system is one of the main reasons why the 50 years of “education in Marxism” since Liberation produced not a single Marxist thinker of any significance.

Japanese school textbooks are not the real issue. China and Japan are rivals for regional power. Japanese capitalism has the world’s second largest economy at over US$4trillion in GDP terms. Japan’s annual output is almost equivalent to that of Germany and France combined and roughly three and a half times the annual output of China. Some economists and politicians use the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) measure to assess national economies and claim that China is the world’s second largest economy. PPP takes a category of goods and services in different countries and assesses them according to imaginary currency exchange rates as the measurement of economic strength. This greatly increases the estimates for the economic strength of “developing” countries.

Unsurprisingly we find that whenever the so-called “threat from China” is talked about, particularly in US military circles, PPP is used to ‘prove’ that China is (if not a direct ‘present and immediate’ danger) an intermediate threat to the United States and its allies.

For the last 50 years Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have been militarily tied to the United States. Bizarre as it sounds, military strategists in the United States consider the control of East Asia as a core ‘national interest’. They fear that China will reshape the balance of power and drive the United States out of the region.

At the end of World War II the United States carpet bombed Japanese cities killing some 80,000 civilians. They then dropped nuclear bombs on the civilian population of Nagasaki and Hiroshima killing 300,000 people. This conventional and nuclear holocaust served no direct military objective. The US leadership had considered using a warning nuclear bomb but decided “shock and awe” were reasonable justification for the nuclear holocaust. This was aimed not just against Japan but also against the Soviet Union, then the dominant power on the Eurasian Continent. The United States correctly feared that communist revolutions could sweep across all Asia.

When the United States occupied Japan the fear of social revolution led the occupier to take a very lenient view of the Japanese military caste, although the rulers of Japan dragged Asia through an orgy of slaughter which reached its zenith in Nanjing in 1937 where some 300,000 Chinese people were massacred. After the war, US occupiers imposed the “Peace Constitution” on Japan which entails amongst other things a commitment not to participate in external wars and to maintain purely defensive military forces. The United States left leading figures of Japanese militarism like the Emperor Showa in power. They limited the scope of ‘war crimes’ tribunals to keep a cadre of Japanese capitalism intact, whilst simultaneously persecuting communists and socialists.

Japan has played no military role of any significance since 1945, although the United States has been encouraging the Japanese to take on a greater share of its ‘military responsibility’. Japan’s annual defence spending is over $40billion, China’s is $25 billion. However, US estimates multiply this figure by a factor of three, no doubt based on Purchasing Power Parity calculations! If the Chinese figures are massaged downwards, Japanese figures are, to say the least, extremely deceptive. Core components of any modern military are based on the industrial and technological power of the nation, not only its immediate power usage but the potential for the militarised restructuring of society. For example Germany was crippled after World War I and until 1930 barely had an army, yet within ten years it had the most powerful military machine the world had ever known. The key to this was Germany’s technical, scientific and productive potential. In this respect Japan is second only to the United States.

Although China has nuclear weapons facing Japan, Japan can probably produce such weapons within a matter of weeks, and is being encouraged to prepare to do so by some in the Pentagon. The pacificism of the mass of the Japanese people will be pushed aside and ignored just as surely as the pacificism of the British and United States populations was brushed aside in preparation for the invasion and conquest of Iraq.

After WWII, US fears of Communism were reinforced when in 1949 the Chinese revolution forced Chiang Kai Shek’s US backed ‘Nationalist’ Guomindang government to flee to Taiwan. From Taiwan the Guomindang claimed to be the legitimate government of all China, organising terrorist attacks on the mainland in preparation for the triumphant return of capitalism. For its part the Chinese Communist Party advocated Communism in Taiwan but now seeks reunification of the motherland by peaceful means ‘unless Taiwan declares independence’.

The peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the mainland is supposed to be a primary objective of the Chinese government. The US imperialists consider this a serious threat, and their plans for the military defence of Taiwan aim to thwart this. Japan until recently supported a one China policy, but the United States is pressuring for a change in policy.

The United States says it seeks the “peaceful evolution” of China towards a capitalist democracy, which it is argued would be friendlier to the US national interest. Hence the policy of ‘constructive engagement’ in spite of human rights ‘issues’. In reality the aim of US policy has been to support every measure to open the Chinese market to world capitalism and to privatise the Chinese economy. Even though a capitalist China will be a rival to US capitalism, for the United States it is preferable to a “Communist” China. US strategists calculate that the road to capitalism may weaken Chinese power through provoking social and possibly national disintegration.

Given the increasing problems with peasant protests and riots and worker discontent, nationalism provides the Chinese government with a cloak of legitimacy. The reunification of Taiwan with the mainland is seen in China as the means to end over a century of humiliation at the hands of imperialist powers. Conversely if the government fails to reunify China or tolerates separatist tendencies in Taiwan, national conflicts in Tibet and Xinjiang could reignite and we could see regional conflicts all over China.

There are undoubtedly strong national feelings in China, stemming from the humiliation and occupation by foreign powers from the 1850s. However, one might ask why there is no mass movement for reunification in Taiwan? Given the tremendous advances in the productive power of the Peoples’ Republic, reunification should be a natural aspiration for the Taiwanese masses. If mainland China were genuinely socialist and the people lived more freely than their Taiwanese compatriots, and if the living standards of the masses, rather than for a tiny minority, were increasing significantly, then national reunification would be inevitable. However, this would be just one part of the struggle to unify all East Asia and beyond into a Federation of Socialist Democracies.

The foreign policy of the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong was governed by the narrow interests of conflicting layers of the ruling bureaucratic caste. One of the biggest mistakes of Mao Zedong was to clash with the Soviet Union on nationalist lines, instead of appealing to the Soviet workers to establish a single unified plan of production. Such a plan encompassing most of the Eurasian continent could have developed all the planned economies far more rapidly, averted the collapse of the Soviet Union and acted as a powerful impetus to the world revolution.

A worker from Baoshan Steel works told me that in 1968 during the Cultural Revolution some factions in Shanghai argued that were there to be revolution in China the whole world would turn socialist. They were probably correct. In fact even the protests of 1989 could have been such a catalyst, occurring at a time of revolutionary discontent all across the Stalinist world. The disorientation, misdirection and misleadership of these revolutions were responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the victories of capitalism in Eastern Europe. This will only be reversed by new Socialist revolutions.

Despite protestations to the contrary, the Chinese Communist Party leadership have abandoned Marxism and Maoism except for the occasional use of empty phrases, Red Flags and such symbols which are used to fool the masses. Nowhere does the Chinese Communist Party support a policy of proletarian internationalism; nowhere do they support workers’ and peasants’ movements. Even in countries where there are groups claiming to adhere to Maoist ideals who can initiate mass revolutionary struggles, the CCP remains at the best aloof or at worst openly hostile.

After the death of Mao all talk of supporting revolutionary movements was quietly shelved with no discussion inside or outside the Communist Party. What happened to the ill-fated support by the CCP under Mao for revolutions in Indonesia, Nepal, India, the Philippines to mention but a few? Or should Chinese Communists not discuss history unless it is written in Japanese?

Proletarian internationalism is at the core of Marxism. It has been replaced with the crudest nationalism which is in essence no different to the ideology of the Guomindang. No wonder the Guomindang leader Lien Chan is meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing this week. This is the first time a Guomindang leader has held talks with leaders in China since 1949! Given the present march to capitalism, some ask why there was a civil war at all. Thus the saying, ‘After decades of bitterness, things are what they were before Liberation.’

All genuine communists know that the abandonment of Marxism is a betrayal of the revolution. The abandonment of even the pretence of communist ideals has left a huge vacuum into which is sucked all the old crap and some new crap for good measure. Now this crap is being spewed out in the form of nationalism, money worship, feudal beliefs, Falonggong, Buddhism, religious mysticism, Confucianism, Christianity, the crude self-interest of capitalism, gambling, the persecution of minorities, slavery, the list goes on. Is this what is called patriotic education?

According to the China Daily 5th April 2005, “Calculations show Japanese enterprises in China have employed 9.2 million people, and in 2004 they paid taxes of 49 billion yuan (US$5.9 billion).” If a Chinese communist wants to fight Japanese capitalism it is their duty to organise these workers. One example of a direct conflict with Japanese capitalism is the strike and factory occupation by 10,000 workers in the Japanese-invested Uniden Electronics factory in Fuyong Town, Shenzhen, reported in the China Labour Bulletin, which began on 17 April 2005. (

The factory supplies cordless phones to US giant Wall Mart. According to the China Labour Bulletin this is the first time Chinese workers have gone on strike to demand a trade union be set up. Here we find that Chinese workers are confronting their own “Communist” government, as well as Japanese and US capitalist interests. The working classes are losing their fear and will rapidly pass from trade union to political consciousness.

Unfortunately nowadays when the Chinese Communist Party organizes workers it is primarily to assist the exploitation of the Chinese working class by the capitalists of the entire world, be they from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the USA. In fact anyone is welcome if they want to exploit the Chinese workers, to squeeze the blood and sweat from the masses to enrich the few. However, when Chinese workers organize to defend themselves they face harassment and imprisonment for defending the very ideas on which the Chinese Communist Party was founded.

Nationalism is a dead end for the Chinese masses, progressive minded students should investigate their own history as well as Japanese and world history. The genuine ideas of Marxism uncover the dynamics of the class forces which shape history. Instead of flag waving and chest beating cries of “I am superior because I am Chinese”, what is needed is a continuation of the search for the universal ideas of genuine Marxism, a search that was started in China by Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu. These ideas will assist China’s working people and poor to unite with the workers and poor of the whole planet.