From 1937-45, China became one of the main theatres of the Second World War. This entangling of China in World War II raised the country out of its subjugation on the world stage, such that at the War’s conclusion China was given a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Only 4 years later the immense Chinese revolution was finally completed, freeing China from imperialist domination. The war's violent dragging of China onto the world stage had effected a thoroughgoing internal transformation of China. In this article we examine the war and its effect on China, the role of the Chinese ruling class in the war, and the strategy and tactics of the Chinese Communist Party that led the revolution of 1949. [Editor's note: this was originally a 10 part serialised article, which has now been combined into a single article.]
“All this time was required to produce the philosophy of our day; so tardily and slowly did the World-spirit work to reach this goal. What we pass in rapid review when we recall it, stretched itself out in reality to this great length of time. For in this lengthened period, the Notion of Spirit, invested with its entire concrete development, its external subsistence, its wealth, is striving to bring spirit to perfection, to make progress itself and to develop from spirit. It goes ever on and on, because spirit is progress alone. Spirit often seems to have forgotten and lost itself, but inwardly opposed to itself, it is inwardly working ever forward (as when Hamlet says of the ghost of his father, “Well said, old mole! canst work i’ the ground so fast?”) until grown strong in itself it bursts asunder the crust of earth which divided it from the sun, its Notion, so that the earth crumbles away.” Hegel, Philosophy of History
In the dead of night on 8th July 1937, a unit of the Japanese Army opened machine gun fire on Chinese troops stationed around the Marco Polo or Lugou Bridge in Wanping, now a suburb of Beijing. The shots were fired in retaliation for the apparent (but not actual) kidnapping or killing of a Japanese soldier by the Chinese.
But by the end of the night, the bridge was back in Chinese hands and both sides swiftly came to a gentlemanly agreement to prevent anything like this happening again. However, the high-minded intentions of the peace-loving Japanese and Chinese Generals notwithstanding, by the very next day hostilities had not only recommenced but increased, beginning an unavoidable slide to all out war. How can an insignificant little skirmish quickly resolved have been allowed to start a war?
The Israeli occupation of Palestine has familiarised the contemporary reader with the principle that imperialist occupations have an insane logic of their own. The contradictions and injustice of the occupation are precisely the fuel for further encroachments and oppression; each act of resistance or even miscommunication a justification for ‘defensive’ assaults on the occupied. The Japanese occupation of China after 1931 was no different, and it was just such a ‘mistake’ which sparked the ‘Second Sino-Japanese War’ of 1937-45, which was to be the Pacific theatre of World War II, claiming around 32m lives, the vast majority Chinese civilians.
With a similar unconscious necessity, this entangling of China in World War II would raise the country out of its passivity and subjugation on the world stage, such that at the War’s conclusion China was given a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. But this violent dragging of China into world relations could not be achieved without effecting a thoroughgoing internal transformation of China. China could only match the tasks of modernity by throwing off all its accumulated baggage and mess from the past, and thus its modernisation and active participation in world politics meant the long overdue Chinese social revolution.
The ‘accidental’ spark known as the ‘Marco Polo Bridge’ or Lugouqiao Incident is possibly the best example of ‘necessity expressing itself through chance’ one could imagine. Crossed wires, mutual stubbornness and minor (or not so minor) outbreaks of verbal or actual hostilities are inherent in imperialist occupations, and of course they are always the responsibility of the imperialists. As the only point of connection between ‘free’ China and the key city of Beijing (not then China’s capital), the taking of the Marco Polo Bridge was naturally an immediate aim of the Japanese occupation of China, which was in reality a one-sided war ongoing since 1931 [see http://www.marxist.com/chinese-comminist-party-1927-37-part-8.htm].
For that reason the Japanese had been patrolling the bridge every night with the kind permission of Chiang Kai Shek (the dictator of China), on the condition that the Japanese only inform the Chinese each night of their plans. For one reason or another, on the night of 8th July 1937 this communication failed to take place, leading the Chinese troops to interpret the maneuvers as an actual attack, who as a result fired their weapons (ineffectively). When a Japanese soldier failed to return with his squad, it was assumed he was killed or kidnapped, leading ultimately to the Japanese attack.
Japan had its own reasons for using this pretext, which was an inevitable outcome of six years of occupation and exploitation, to further invade and enslave the profitable regions of China. But in addition to its main motivation of greed, several authors contend [see Guillermaz 1968, p287 and Eastman, Nationalist China During the Sino-Japanese War 1937-35] that a major cause of the Japanese aggression after this incident was the appearance of growing Chinese resolve to resist Japan as realised in the Guomindang government’s new alliance with the Chinese Communist Party [CCP]. They wanted to strike before the Chinese had time to mobilise.
The likelihood of this as a factor demonstrates the inseparability of the twins of the Sino-Japanese war and the Chinese revolution - as we have previously shown this resolve and unity came not from Chiang Kai Shek and his Guomindang. It was instead a product of the powerful impetus amongst the Chinese masses towards launching a revolutionary war against the Japanese invaders, an impetus that was fast propelling the CCP to the power it would finally take in 1949. Therefore, before we look at the eight years of war, we will examine this second unlikely alliance between the two nemeses of the Chinese revolution, the Guomindang and the CCP. This alliance to defend China was struck in the months before the Marco Polo Bridge Incident under revolutionary pressure. As Marxists we are naturally most interested in the perspectives and justification for the alliance that the CCP elaborated around 1937, in order that we can compare this with the actual history of the war and its aftermath.
The CCP’s Opportunist and Nationalist Perspectives in 1937
As explained previously, the CCP’s perspectives for the Chinese revolution and war with Japan had been changed under Moscow’s orders in late 1935 in the direction of opportunism. The first major ‘fruit’ of this perspective was the alliance struck with Chiang Kai Shek at gunpoint in late 1936. Why a revolutionary party, finding itself in possession of the defenceless dictator responsible for killing thousands of its own members, would then sign a deal with him on terms favourable to his regime, is analysed in our above linked article. Such a choice of action should in itself be enough to condemn the new perspectives of the CCP.
What followed was a rapid degeneration of the party’s programme along nationalist lines. National unity between the CCP and Guomindang was preached; talk of socialism was relegated, in its place the CCP promoted democratic reforms to be introduced by the Guomindang at its leisure; property, including of the landed kind, was not to be touched; rural soviets and the independent Red Army were to have their names changed and placed under Guomindang leadership.
Outlining to party members his new perspectives, Mao stated that
“the democratic [i.e. not socialist] revolution (will) transform (itself) in the direction of socialism. There will be several stages of development in the democratic revolution, all under the slogan of the democratic republic, not under the slogan of the Soviet...We maintain that socialism will be reached through all the necessary stages of the democratic republic...To maintain that the bourgeoisie should be eliminated because of its transitional nature and to accuse the revolutionary groups of defeatism and collaboration with the bourgeoisie are Trotskyite words with which we cannot concur. The present alliance between the bourgeoisie and the revolutionary group is a necessary bridge to socialism.” (Mao, speech to the National Conference of the CCP, 1937, our emphasis)
We have already explained at length why the perspective of a necessary bourgeois democratic stage to the Chinese revolution was utterly false, as was proven concretely in 1927. For now, it is sufficient to point out that the very man whose personal dictatorship of China proved in practice the falseness of this perspective, was the man whom the CCP was here allying with as the embodiment of the ‘present alliance between the bourgeoisie and the revolutionary group’. If Chiang Kai Shek obliterated his previous alliance with the CCP and all hopes for a democratic stage to the revolution in 1927 by staging a violent coup, why rekindle that alliance only ten years later, during which time he had done nothing but strive for the physical liquidation of the CCP?
Of course, what had changed since 1927 was the invasion by Japan. But it was elementary to anyone in the CCP that Chiang Kai Shek’s dictatorship was the primary obstacle to fighting Japan, since he had pursued a policy of total capitulation to the stronger Japanese forces, concentrating instead on eliminating the CCP. Thus the Japanese invasion only further increased his criminality. Nevertheless, Mao argued that “these policies must be carried out only with the consent of the Guomindang [i.e. of Chiang Kai Shek], because the Guomindang is at present still the largest party in power.” (Mao, Urgent Tasks of the Chinese Revolution since the Formation of the KMT-CCP United Front, 1937). Well, it was the only party in power, because China was a one-party dictatorship! It is not an exaggeration to say that at this stage, the CCP was transforming itself into the chief prop of Chiang’s dictatorship.
Such a perspective requires the substitution of the reactionary nationalist ideology of ‘national unity at all costs’ for one of class struggle. It is no surprise then, that at the same time the CCP, in a public statement only one week earlier than Mao’s above remarks, claimed that “the aggression of imperialist Japan can only be overcome by the internal unity of our nation...all our fellow-countrymen, every single zealous descendent of Huangdi [China’s first emperor] must determinedly and relentlessly participate” (CCP Public Statement on KMT-CCP Co-operation, 1937, our emphasis). To clear up what was meant by ‘all countrymen’, Mao stated “it is a united front of the whole nation...of all parties, groups, classes” (Mao, op cit., our emphasis).
The ideology of the CCP was at this time, under Mao’s leadership, drifting away from Marxism and internationalism and emphasising nationalism above all else. According to Brandt, Schwarz and Fairbank, Mao answered to the question ‘whether the Communists are Chinese first or Communist first’, with “Without a Chinese nation there could be no CCP.” The implication is clear - we are nationalists who use ‘Marxism’ only insofar as it is useful to achieve national ends. This compares very unfavourably with Marx and Engels’ statement in the founding document of Marxism that ‘the workers of the world have no country’. Mao’s biographer Schram believes that “for Mao himself, the alliance of all Chinese for the salvation of their country was not merely skilful tactics; it was a value in itself.” (Schram, Mao Tse-Tung, our emphasis). The same author points out that “the main content of political work [by the CCP at this point] both within the army and among the population was to preach national revival, to stimulate national consciousness” (ibid).
Defenders of the Party will argue that this emphasis merely reflected the concrete reality of fighting a war of national liberation, and that tapping into the national feeling to fight Japan was a revolutionary act, the first step on the road to social revolution. But the task of Marxists in preparing the masses for socialist revolution would in these circumstances be to elevate the national consciousness of the workers to class consciousness. This should not be hard to do given that the bourgeois nationalist party with which they were now in alliance, which was the only serious bourgeois party in China, had been practising a complete national sellout to the Japanese by refusing to fight them.
This is further underlined by the fact that the Guomindang’s new pledge to fight Japan was only won against their wishes and under revolutionary pressure from below. Contrary to Mao’s claims, the invasion did not ‘make possible the alliance of all classes’, instead it revealed the traitorous complicity of the ruling class in that invasion. To this should be added the general fact that, since the end of the Opium Wars, the Chinese bourgeoisie had always sacrificed the wider nation’s interests in favour of the imperialists’ for a share in the latter’s profits. The lesson for China was that, along with all other capitalist countries, it was not ‘one nation’ to be united but a class divided nation.
The perspectives outlined for the party by Mao in 1937 cut across the very real tendency for the CCP to gain support at the Guomindang’s expense (being rightly seen as the only force prepared to stand up for the oppressed Chinese). The new programme worked to lower the masses consciousness of the need for the overthrow of Chiang’s dictatorship.
This is clear from the extraordinary historical revisionism in the Guomindang’s favour which we find in Mao’s justifications for the alliance. He explained that “as a result of the co-operation between the two parties on major policies, the Great Revolution of 1925-7 was successfully guided[!!] to the point where we were able to achieve, within two or three years, the revolution for nationalism, democracy, and people’s livelihood” (Mao, op cit.). For those unclear on exactly what happened in the revolution of 1925-7, please see our series of articles here:http://www.marxist.com/90-years-of-the-chinese-communist-party-part-one.htm. For the aftermath of this ‘successful’ revolution, please see our subsequent series of articles: http://www.marxist.com/chinese-comminist-party-1927-37-part-1.htm. Suffice it to say here that the revolution of 1925-7 was wrecked because of this alliance, and its product was twenty two years of dictatorship, the virtual breakup of the nation into warlord’s fiefdoms, and the continuing domination of the country by Japan and the West. One can hardly imagine a less successful revolution.
This revisionism was followed up with poetic praise for China’s dictator and his apparent role in freeing China, “If [the Guomindang] do not consent [to our offer of an alliance to fight Japan], then...Japanese imperialism will not be defeated…[but] the more intelligent members and leader of the KMT will certainly not allow this to happen.” (Ibid).
No wonder then that Roosevelt’s personal envoy to Chiang Kai Shek Patrick Hurley “did not believe that Mao and his comrades were ‘real’ Communists” (Schram, op. cit.), and that Molotov had told him that “the Chinese were ‘radish’ Communists, red on the outside, white on the inside”! (Harrison, The Long March to Power).
The ‘alliance between the bourgeoisie and the revolutionary group’ in Practice
Given that Chiang Kai Shek described the Communists as China’s ‘disease of the heart’ as opposed to the mere ‘skin disease’ that were the Japanese, the second attempt at mixing the oil and water of the Guomindang and CCP would require a special recipe concocted to meet Chiang’s tastes. This can already be seen in the above quoted historical revisionism of Mao in which he paints the Guomindang’s history in bright colours. At this time Mao also predicted “a ‘brilliant future’ for the Guomindang, and praise[d] its ‘great leader’ Chiang Kai Shek” (Schram, op cit.), whom Mao also “especially hope[d]” would “take up the task of reform” (Mao, op cit.).
The concrete application in policy was of subordination to the Guomindang’s political programme and leadership, under the one precondition that the Guomindang remain committed to fighting the Japanese - though that too was predictably violated, as Mao admitted in 1945 that 64% of the fighting against the Japanese and 95% of that against Japanese puppets was carried about by the much smaller CCP forces (Mao, China’s Strategy for Victory).
This meant in practice that the CCP publicly pledged that it
“abandons all its policy of overthrowing the KMT by force and the movement of sovietization, and discontinues its policy of forcible confiscation of land from landlords...abolishes the present Soviet government and practices democracy based on the people’s rights in order to unify the national political power...abolishes the designation of the Red Army, reorganises it into the [Guomindang controlled] National Revolutionary Army, places it under the control of the Military Affairs Commission of the National government, and awaits orders” (CCP Public Statement on KMT-CCP Co-operation, 1937, our emphasis)
For any who still believe that in making such statements, the CCP was merely maneuvering to gain legality and breathing space for itself, or to tap into any feeling for ‘national unity’ without actually surrendering independence from the Guomindang, it must be noted that these public pledges were accompanied by a drive from Mao and the CCP for “a common political programme for both parties” (Mao, op cit.). In the same document of 1937 Mao argues for the need for “co-operation between officers and men” in the army, without in any way putting forward concrete demands regarding the character of the army, the election of officers or any other social or progressive content whatsoever. Such a position, when coupled with the offer of abolishing the Red Army, the ‘Soviet’ political bases and for a common political programme acceptable to the Guomindang dictatorship, could only mean supporting the domination of rank-and-file peasant soldiers by the corrupt Guomindang officers.
We have argued in our previous series on China that such a strategy of political alliance with the Guomindang may indeed have been ‘cleverly’ engineered to gain the party greater organisational breathing space; but as we showed, this only reveals a complete degeneration for a Marxist organisation. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels stress that “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” As we argued previously, “the point is that they publicly declared they were [following the Guomindang’s orders]. They publicly supported and propped up the Guomindang bourgeois dictatorship. They deflected popular anger away from Nanjing, and thus made themselves incapable of mobilising the masses for a political overthrow of the regime.”
This is borne out by the fact that little was gained in the way of recruits or influence from within the Guomindang. CCP members doing ‘entry’ work in the Guomindang “were generally isolated and for the moment served mainly in intelligence work” (Harrison, op cit, p350).
It must be understood that this inversion of priorities, of sacrificing the duty to raise the class consciousness of the masses for organisational gains, flows from its abandonment of its urban working class base for a strategy of using the countryside to win power militarily and independently of any mass class mobilisation. This thinking is revealed in a Party meeting in August 1937 in which a compromise was reached whereby the CCP accepted Guomindang military leadership and the "suspension of the political commissar system", but "would keep real control under the CCP". "Zhang Wentian proposed and won approval for, first, following nationalist orders in Shanxi and assigned areas in order to gain nationalist confidence... Then expanding into other areas." (Harrison, op cit.).
In September 1938 Mao reported to the CCP Central Committee that “to subordinate the class struggle to the present national struggle to resist Japan - that is the fundamental principle of the united front” (Ibid). “[I]n September and November he sent pledges of support for Chiang’s leadership” (Ibid), as did Zhou Enlai according to Chiang himself. “He even accepted in advance two limitations similar to those which Chiang had imposed in 1926 [and which aided his coup and subsequent slaughter of Communists] on the activity of Communists in the Guomindang: a complete list of Communist Party members who joined the Guomindang would be handed over to the latter, and Guomindang members would not be recruited into the Communist Party” (Schram, op cit.).
Finally, we can add to this that the party publicly promoted in its ‘Manifesto on the Current Situation’ that it was not only cooperating with the dictatorship under the special and dire circumstances of the war, but also that it “is determined to cooperate [with the Guomindang] for national reconstruction after the successful conclusion of the war” (Harrison, op cit., our emphasis). There can be no doubt that the CCP was in this time guilty of out and out opportunism and a complete abandonment of any Marxist, class based perspective for the war and China’s future. All this was justified under the tag ‘united front’. Let us therefore compare Mao’s ‘United Front’ with the classical United Front worked out by Lenin and Trotsky in the Third International.
Lenin’s United Front
The starting point for the united front tactic of Bolshevism is political independence. We mean by this not necessarily refusing to work with or in other parties and tendencies, but only steadfastly committing to a truthful Marxist analysis, irrespective of this or that trend or pressure. “In fact, the Bolsheviks were always independent, in the sense that they never compromised in the defence of their revolutionary programme, policy and theory” (Woods, Bolshevism). As Trotsky said on behalf of the leadership of the Communist International in 1922,
“In order to summon the proletariat for the direct conquest of power and to achieve it the Communist Party must base itself on the overwhelming majority of the working class. So long as it does not hold this majority, the party must fight to win it. The party can achieve this only by remaining an absolutely independent organization with a clear programme and strict internal discipline.”
The question of all questions for Marxist parties is how to help the working class become conscious of this programme and its necessity, in other words, how to unite the maximum possible number of proletarians around a revolutionary programme. It is the role of the united front tactic to bridge the gap between Marxists and their programme on the one side and the working masses on the other, many of whom will be involved in and loyal to non-revolutionary organisations.
Now, it is a rather difficult and clumsy discussion to compare the united front tactic as worked out in the Communist International under Lenin’s leadership, with Mao’s purported united front with Chiang Kai Shek’s Guomindang, since none of the conditions for the former apply to the latter. In particular, the united front is not operable outside the context of working class organisations. It has no purpose other than to raise the need for unity amongst workers and to reveal that the chief obstacle to that is the erroneous reformist leadership of many workers’ organisations, such as the Social Democracy.
Only those who cannot think dialectically imagine that a united front of different political forces requires the denial or suppression of those differences. On the contrary, it opens up a broader and more equal platform for the fighting out of those forces, within the confines of and in relation to certain agreed common aims. A common campaign allows all forces of that campaign to debate with one another as to the best means to achieve the campaign’s ends, and of course to debate the real causes of and solutions to the issue at hand.
Hence the fact that in the Communist International’s formulations for the United Front tactic to be employed under different circumstances by different sections, it was expressly stated that
“any sort of organizational agreement which restricts our freedom of criticism and agitation is absolutely unacceptable to us. We participate in a united front but do not for a single moment become dissolved in it. We function in the united front as an independent detachment. It is precisely in the course of struggle that broad masses must learn from experience that we fight better than the others, that we see more clearly than the others, that we are more audacious and resolute.” (Trotsky, On the United Front, 1922)
It is self evident that the logic of these two ‘united fronts’ is diametrically opposite. The united front of Marxists is a clear and carefully chosen political programme advanced to raise the revolutionary consciousness of the working class, and operates only in the context therefore of workers’ organisations. The demands and political content of the call for a united front must be framed in relation to the workers’ real problems and their solutions; thus the programme has an educational content. It is not so much about necessarily achieving unity in action, although that would be desirable, especially if under the instigation of the Marxists:
“A policy aimed to secure the united front does not of course contain automatic guarantees that unity in action will actually be attained in all instances. On the contrary, in many cases and perhaps even the majority of cases, organizational agreements will be only half-attained or perhaps not at all. But it is necessary that the struggling masses should always be given the opportunity of convincing themselves that the non-achievement of unity in action was not due to our formalistic irreconcilability but to the lack of real will to struggle on the part of the reformists.” (Ibid)
Mao’s United Front with Chiang Kai Shek, on the other hand, has a directly contrary logic. Mao was indeed correct to centre the CCP’s programme around the need for a war to be waged against the Japanese occupation. Given that there were no mass organisations of the working class in China at this time, there was no basis for a united front proposal to fight Japan, since workers were not loyal to reformist leaders. However, if we allow ourselves the luxury of imagining the Guomindang was a mass workers’ organisation, then it would have been necessary for the CCP from 1931 onwards to place the demand on it for a united front to fight Japan. This call could then be filled with a Marxist content - in other words, its concrete points would be that such a war should be organised by the workers’ organisations involving such weapons as a general strike, occupations of Japanese owned factories and the formation of a workers’ militia responsible to the trade unions etc.
There can be no doubt that such a call, if energetically campaigned for in the cities amongst the working class, would have gained an enormous echo and helped the CCP to rebuild in urban centres. It would not matter from this point of view if the proposal were rejected by the other party; the CCP would have made its point and would have advanced class consciousness thereby.
Precisely because the Guomindang was not a democratic workers’ organisation with a real base, but was instead a bourgeois party under the direct control of the state apparatus, the CCP’s offer of unity with it could have no such character. It would be useless and absurd to fill the proposal with a revolutionary class content, for the Guomindang represented a different class and was already detested by workers. That is why the proposal lacked any programmatic content. It served no educational value for workers and can only have alienated them from the CCP - which had up till 1936 regained a degree of respect from workers for being the only organisation willing to fight Japanese imperialism and for its unjust suppression by the Guomindang. At a stroke, the alliance with Chiang Kai Shek served to destroy much of this.
Mao’s sole justification for the alliance was that it “rallied a greater number of people to fight Japanese imperialism” because “armed invasion by Japanese imperialists has brought about changes in class relations in China, thus making imperative and making possible the alliance of all classes” (Mao, Urgent Tasks of the Chinese Revolution since the Formation of the KMT-CCP United Front, 1937, our emphasis). If that were the case, the Guomindang would have not spent the first six years of the occupation co-operating with the Japanese to fight the CCP. Why was the proposal for the alliance made before the intensification of the occupation after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, and why could the Guomindang’s hand in this alliance only be won on the basis of literally holding a gun to Chiang Kai Shek’s head, if the invasion had made possible and natural an alliance of all classes? As argued above, a far better way to ‘rally greater numbers to fight’ would have been to consistently make an appeal to the working class for a general strike and the formation of urban workers’ militias like in Shanghai in 1927 to overthrow the Japanese and the capitulationist dictatorship of Chiang, and to organise militias in the cities to cripple the Japanese.
We will see in the course of these articles that there is no evidence that the unity of these two parties ensured a stronger resistance. Japan maintained its occupation and got what it wanted from China throughout the war until it was defeated by the US in 1945, and a class based mobilisation of strikes in the industries the Japanese were profiting from would have been far more effective. We will also see how, far from changing the class relations and somehow bringing the bourgeoisie into solidarity with the workers, the rotten Chinese bourgeoisie only intensified its plundering of the nation and used the oppression of the Japanese as an excuse to economically and politically crush the working class. Unfortunately, the CCP’s alliance with the bourgeoisie only aided the latter in doing so.
The CCP’s Direct Participation in the Regime
A Marxist organisation must be extremely flexible in its tactics. Any opportunity to reach a bigger audience with its ideas should be considered. That can even mean, in conditions of dictatorship or political repression, forging temporary alliances with liberals to gain political freedoms or changing the language of one’s publications to get it past the censor - but always under the condition that the fundamental revolutionary ideas and programme are not thereby violated. Indeed, the more the party understands correctly the necessary political programme for building socialism, the more confident it will be of applying this flexibly without selling out.
After the CCP’s mistaken alliance with Chiang was made, there were many more legal openings for the party to take. The question is, did they skilfully use these to advance a socialist programme to the working class?
One such political opening was the convening of the People’s Political Council in 1938, which is comparable to the Dumas formed under the Tsar in Russia, but without even the slither of democracy the Dumas represented. In the worker’s elections to the Shidlovsky Commission in 1905, the Bolsheviks rightly participated in the early stages, despite the sham democracy the elections represented. This is because for the first time in Russian history it afforded the working class a limited opportunity to express itself politically and organisationally, and so by participating the Bolsheviks linked themselves and their programme with the masses, gained a larger audience for their ideas and in turn themselves learnt from the working class.
However, there was a strict political limit placed on this tactic which was that there could be no democratic liberal intrusions into the politics they put forward. Instead, they used the opportunity of the elections to denounce the Tsarist regime and the idea of a peaceful, liberal democratic reform of it. At no point did the Bolsheviks use the elections to seek careers for themselves nor did they entertain any illusions in reforming the regime from within. In some cases they ran in the first round of elections, to gain a hearing, only to boycott the second round. In genuine bourgeois democracies, Marxists would participate in Parliament under certain conditions, but again would in no way seek to sow illusions in its democratic nature as the true ‘voice of the people’, but would instead simply use it as a soap box for revolutionary ideas.
Given the CCP’s perspectives of national unity with the Guomindang dictatorship, it is not surprising that when these legal openings for the CCP did arise after 1937 they did precisely the opposite of the Bolsheviks up to 1917. The People’s Political Council was a mere ‘consultative’ assembly formed by Chiang in 1938 to appease demands for democratic reform without threatening his own rule. Several leading Communists were invited (not elected) by Chiang to participate in this body. Given that this body had no democratic legitimacy or independence whatsoever, it is elementary that the CCP should have denounced this move and demanded instead a real Constitutional Assembly. Instead they participated in the council which they used chiefly not to address the masses with revolutionary ideas but to develop alliances with the liberals, both within and without the Guomindang, who also sat in this council. One can only imagine the spectacle this presented to the Chinese workers enduring the twin evils of occupation and Guomindang dictatorship as well as ruthless exploitation and poverty made constantly worse by hyper-inflation. The effect would not be dissimilar to that of the discrediting of social democracy in contemporary Western society in the eyes of the working class.
In total contradiction with this was Lenin’s method, which always warned most sharply against alliances and illusions in liberalism, the ‘nice’ face of the regime of capitalist dictatorship, “the most dangerous of advisers are those liberal friends of the workers who claim to be defending their interests, but are actually trying to destroy the class independence of the proletariat and its organisation.” (Lenin, The Liberals’ Corruption of the Workers, 1914)
At the same time, “Zhou Enlai was invited to attend the Guomindang National Executive Congress...he was even appointed Deputy Minister of Political Training in the army, maintaining the post until 1940, though its attributions were entirely honorific” (Guillermaz, op cit., our emphasis). In other words, the leading Communist Zhou Enlai accepted political and moral responsibility for the bourgeois Guomindang dictatorship without even gaining the consolation of a little control of the army!
It is interesting to note that at exactly the same time as this, the Stalinists in Spain (along with the Anarchists) were participating in another bourgeois government to ‘save the country’ from the threat of fascism. In both cases the tactic led to the negation of any effective working class based resistance to fascism, whether foreign or native.
Finally, the CCP’s self-debasement in favour of liberalism was completed when it enthusiastically lent support to the US government’s proposals for liberal reform in China in 1944, taking the opportunity to flatter the American imperialists at the same time by “heap[ing] lavish praise on the American democratic tradition” (Schram, op cit.) - despite the fact that at this time, as previously and as they would do in the civil war after Japan’s defeat, the US continued to arm and support the Guomindang against the CCP. Just before they agreed a ‘project’ with US General Hurley for liberal democratic reform (on terms agreeable to US imperialism of course), the CCP’s Liberation Daily wrote that: “Democratic America has already found a companion, and the cause of Sun Yat Sen a successor, in the Chinese Communist Party and the other democratic forces” (quoted in Schram, op cit.).
This reveals the full extent of the CCP’s descent into opportunism in the late 1930s on the eve of the war that would decide China’s fate and put all political and class forces to the test. With this understanding of the programme of the CCP and the alliance of political forces, we must now evaluate the playing out of the Second Sino-Japanese War not only so that we can better understand the background to the peculiar revolution of 1949, but also so that we can understand what could have happened had the party had a Marxist programme and leadership.
The Sino-Japanese War
If the Japanese leadership had not planned the Marco Polo Bridge Incident which sparked the full-scale war, they didn’t let that show. By October, only three months after the war started, the Japanese had already reached the most westerly point of the entire war.
They succeeded in totally destroying China’s air force in only a few weeks, which enabled them to mercilessly bomb civilians for the remainder of the war with no threat to themselves, like shooting fish in a barrel (Guillermaz, op cit. pp287). Between 1939 and 1941, the temporary capital of ‘free’ China, Chongqing, was bombed 268 times, with 4,400 being killed in the first two raids (Eastman, op cit.). Within a year Japan had effectively taken control of all the lucrative areas of China it desired - that is the industrially developed and agriculturally productive North and East of the country. In a number of key battles that were all over by the end of 1938, the Japanese brutally crushed any hopes of an effective Guomindang led resistance.
Losing 15 of 18 Provinces
We have argued that a far more effective means of fighting the Japanese would have been to organise a revolutionary war of resistance by mobilising the hundreds of millions of Chinese workers and peasants on a socialist programme to make the occupation impossible. Given that the CCP sacrificed this perspective for one of collaboration with the militarily stronger but politically reactionary Guomindang, it is our duty to honestly assess the calibre of this fighting force with which the CCP had allied at such great political cost.
Evidently, the Guomindang did not match up well to the Japanese since it only took the latter twelve months to achieve all it wanted - the control of North and East China and the total destruction of the Chinese air force. The anti-Japanese ‘united front’ for which Mao argued so vociferously failed spectacularly to defend China. But how and why?
Part of the reason for Japan’s rapid success was Chiang Kai Shek’s cruel contempt for the Chinese people. Despite Chiang’s ‘nationalism’, these hundreds of millions never entered his plans as China’s greatest force for resistance. Anticipating the war he argued in 1935 that “even if we lose 15...of the 18 provinces of China proper, with Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces in our control we will definitely beat any enemy” (quoted in Eastman, op cit.). Instead of spending the period from 1935 onwards to prepare the masses in the 15 other provinces to make the Japanese occupation impossible, he sacrificed those millions to Japan’s tender mercies with barely a fight.
The key northern cities of Beijing and Tianjin were taken with ease by Japan in only a few days in late July 1937 thanks to Japan’s already existing military occupation of Manchuria. Immediately after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Japan was able to mobilise 160,000 troops in Northern China in only a few weeks. The vital southern city of Canton (now Guangzhou) fell without a fight in October 1938.
The most graphic application of Chiang’s policy of sacrificing the majority of China to the Japanese was his ‘scorched earth policy’ in which he took the trouble to kill and destroy Chinese people and industry on behalf of the Japanese in order to make their occupation less feasible. For example, in November 1938, as the Japanese were approaching Changsha, capital of Hunan province, it was decided to set fire to the entire city to make its occupation strategically pointless and costly. Tragically, in their haste they started the blaze before everyone had evacuated, so not only was this historic city destroyed but so were the lives of 2,000 of its inhabitants.
A much worse incident had already taken place in June of 1938 on the Yellow River at Kaifeng, Henan province. Retreating from encircling Japanese forces, the Guomindang commanders hit upon the idea of destroying the entire valley behind them by diverting the great river in order to halt the Japanese. It worked rather too well, flooding 4-5,000 whole villages and leaving over two million homeless, destitute and without crops and food (Eastman, op cit.). Guillermaz even claims that millions of Chinese peasants died from the loss of harvest. It was a funny kind of national ‘united front against Japan’ when the nationalists were often responsible for more death and destruction of Chinese than were the Japanese.
The Invasion of Shanghai and the Nanjing Massacre
Despite the policy of retreat and self-sacrifice (or rather, the policy of sacrificing the Chinese masses on their behalf), there were some instances of determined Guomindang led-fight backs and even victories in the early days of the war, however these often only sparked off a more vicious Japanese assault for which the Chinese were not prepared.
Only one month after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the Japanese found a pretext for invading the lucrative city of Shanghai when a Japanese lieutenant was killed by a Chinese guard in August 1937. The Japanese lost no time in seizing the excuse for an invasion with a front line of troops formed outside the city in a couple of weeks. Feeling that to lose Shanghai without a fight would be too politically humiliating, Chiang moved in roughly 300,000 soldiers to the city to fight the 200,000 of Japan (Guillermaz, op cit. p291). However despite not only their numerical superiority but also their enormous ‘home advantage’, the Guomindang army lost the battle with around 270,000 killed and by November were retreating from Shanghai.
History shows that an occupying force, even one of tremendous technical superiority, can have enormous difficulties in winning a war in a large city if its inhabitants are united in fighting against the occupation. Every building becomes a war zone, a potential hiding place for snipers and bombs, every citizen a potential soldier. It is therefore testament to the Guomindang’s fear of and hostility to their own people, as well as their general ineptness and corruption, that they failed to hold Shanghai or make the Japanese occupation of it particularly difficult despite the fact that the latter had not even made plans to invade this far south. As Guillermaz points out (referring to later battles), “the Japanese action was helped at a political level by the unpopularity of the nationalist troops who, underfed and undisciplined, laid waste countryside already hit by severe famine.”
Had the CCP spent the decade since 1927 rebuilding a base in cities like Shanghai, campaigning against the bourgeois dictatorship of Chiang Kai Shek and for the need to wage a revolutionary war with Japan, they could have mobilised the working class of Shanghai (their original stronghold along with Canton) for a general strike and urban guerrilla warfare against this Japanese invasion.
But worse was to come from this defeat, for Chinese forces retreated in such a way as to give the Japanese open access to Nanjing, the then capital of ‘free’ China, failing even to use the deliberately constructed concrete fortifications outside the city, which the Japanese entered on 13th December 1937. This was when the defenceless population suffered the infamous ‘rape of Nanjing’ in which up to 300,000 civilians were raped and massacred, for which one of the chief perpetrators Prince Asaka was never tried. The methods of killing included burying alive and burning alive with kerosene (Eastman, op cit.).
The Guomindang government fled Nanjing and set up a temporary command in Hankou (now part of Wuhan) before reestablishing the national government in Chongqing, which would remain the capital until the end of the war.
The Character of Chiang Kai Shek’s Military
If war is a continuation of politics by other means, than it is no surprise to find the Guomindang’s army was as corrupt, inefficient, inept and exploitative as was his political tutelage.
We have already explained the reasons for the corruption and degeneracy of Chiang’s regime. In summary, despite being a so-called party of national unity and modernisation, because in coming to power it had to base itself on China’s weak and corrupt bourgeoisie in order to defeat the working class-led revolution, the party sunk into the worst backwardness. It abandoned itself to the most reactionary forces, in particular landlordism and warlordism, since those were the ones who were allies against the CCP.
Thus Chiang maintained his power by balancing between, flattering and bribing the archaic local warlords and the most corrupt speculative capitalists. His regime had to be one of corruption because its power base was an inherently corrupt class. He had no independent power to unite the country, and so it actually became more divided into competing warlord fiefdoms than before. Frequently, when his power loomed too large above those of his lords, they would forge alliances against him, and he would have to bribe one or the other with promises of political influence. Chiang very much resembled a feudal king or chief thief sitting uneasily atop many lesser thieves.
Given that Chiang’s power was based on that of local warlords, it is unsurprising that such corruption and disunity found its sharpest expression in the military and the war against Japan.
“Many Chinese commanders were hesitant and cowardly. Most of them had enjoyed regional autonomy too long to risk their lives and power merely at Chiang Kai Shek’s command. Governor Han Fuju, for example, ignominiously abandoned Shandong province to the Japanese, although he, in contrast to most, paid for his disregard of Chiang’s orders with his life. He was executed in January 1938...It was not, however, a united, national army, but a coalition of armies which differed in degrees of loyalty to the central government as well as in training, equipment and military capabilities...Long Yun, governor of Yunnan, for example, resisted central government encroaches upon his provincial power...Governor Yan Xishan, commander of the Second War Zone in North China and vice chairman of the Military Council, ruled his native Shanxi as an autonomous satrapy. He prohibited units of the Central Army from entering his war zone...since 1941, Yan had even maintained close and amiable relations with the Japanese.” (Ibid).
Eastman points out that from non-Central Chinese armies, 12 generals defected to the Japanese in 1941, 15 in 1942 and 42 in 1943, taking with them around 500,000 troops who were now used against the Guomindang and, in the main, the CCP! And of course we cannot leave out the most infamous of all desertions, that of Wang Jingwei, who in 1927 was trumpeted by the CCP as the leader of the Guomindang’s left wing and a reliable ally for the Communists. In 1938 he deserted the Guomindang and by 1940 was installed as the leader of Japan’s puppet ‘Reorganised National Government of China’ based in Nanjing.
As with all gangster politicians, Chiang demoted or minimised the influence of the few generals with actual talent since they posed a threat to his power with their independent ideas and incorruptibility. The others were promoted precisely because they were mediocre or came from powerful warlord backgrounds but typically with no idea how to fight a modern war - nor the desire to do so. The epitome of this was reached when in 1944 Roosevelt demanded that Chiang place the US general Stilwell in full command of the war effort since Chiang and his commanders could not be relied upon, and instead Chiang sent Stilwell back to America, understanding this as a mortal threat to his own power. Stilwell was replaced by General Wedemeyer, who quickly drew the same conclusions and hit the nail on the head when he described Chiang’s commanders as “incapable, inept, untrained, petty...altogether inefficient”.
Class exploitation in the Military
What they lacked in talent, determination and unity, they made up for in the art of exploitation and cruelty for their own troops. All males between 18 and 45 were subject to military conscription, however
“recruitment was left in the hands of the local gentry [again revealing Chiang’s complete dependence on these anachronistic classes and lack of any real national state apparatus], which meant that al the relatively well-off families escaped conscription. Consequently the poorest and physically weakest sections of the population found themselves herded into primitive depots, and then had to cover several hundred or thousand kilometres on foot to join their units. Out of 1,670,000 men conscripted in 1943, 750,000 never reached their destination.” (Guillermaz, op cit., p302, our emphasis)
In many cases peasants were simply rounded up without any formal conscription process taking place. Guillermaz quotes General Wedemeyer on the realities of conscription, “Conscription comes to the Chinese peasant like famine or flood, only more regularly - every year twice - and claims more victims. Famine, flood, and drought compare with conscription like chicken pox with the plague.”
Eastman adds more horrific details to the treatment of peasant conscripts,
“Frequently the recruits were tied together with ropes around their necks. At night they might be stripped of their clothing to prevent them from sneaking away. For food, they received only small quantities of rice, since the conscripting officers customarily ‘squeezed’ the rations for their own profit. For water, they might have to drink from puddles by the roadside - a common cause of diarrhoea. Soon, disease coursed through the conscripts bodies’. Medical treatment was unavailable, however, because the recruits were not regarded as part of the army until they had joined their assigned units...Within a month [of General Wedemeyer’s appointment] he realised that the soldiers were too weak to march and were incapable of fighting effectively, largely because they were half starved...An American expert, who in 1944 examined 1,200 soldiers from widely different kinds of units, found that 57% of the men displayed nutritional deficiencies that significantly affected their ability to function as soldiers.”
Unsurprisingly, not only did millions of soldiers die from starvation and disease - more than from fighting the Japanese - but in many cases over half the soldiers in a given unit would desert - sometimes to the CCP, others just fled in desperation. It is genuinely not an exaggeration to say that during the Sino-Japanese war, the most fearful and directly harmful enemy of the Chinese people was their own Guomindang government (and the class it represented).
This is the reality of the regime established by China’s ‘successful’ bourgeois revolution of 1927. It is undeniable proof that the Chinese bourgeoisie, to the extent it even existed, was incapable of taking society forwards or even holding it together. This was a rotten, bedraggled and crisis ridden regime ripe for the overthrow. We believe we have shown enough evidence of corruption, cruelty, ineptness and disunity to prove that the CCP’s about-face and silencing of all anti-Guomindang propaganda was profoundly wrong. The united-front was clearly a farce because the Guomindang could not even hold together its own army to fight Japan, not to speak of the way it ran the economy and exploited the working class (more on that soon).
And yet despite finding itself unable to organise an army worthy of the name, it did manage to keep one general’s forces well fed and trained - those of General Hu Zongnan, because it was his troops that in the early 40s - whilst the ‘united front’ was still being practiced by the CCP - that were charged with containing the CCP’s forces in the north. At times in the war Chiang committed as many as 500,000 of his best troops to blockading the CCP’s bases, especially after the Guomindang’s treacherous role in the ‘New 4th Army Incident’, which will be explained in part III. Throughout the war Chiang deliberately held back the anti-Japan war effort in order to save his forces for a future struggle to wipe out the CCP. This fact says everything about the sincerity of the Guomindang’s alliance with the CCP to defeat Japan.
The united-front was always a fiction dreamt up in Moscow and imposed onto the Chinese reality, because for Stalin the CCP was not an agent of the Chinese revolution but a bargaining chip in his negotiations with Chiang Kai Shek. This is underlined by the fact that the USSR “signed a treaty of nonaggression [with Chiang Kai Shek] on August 21, 1937, sent aid of about $300m to the Nationalists, and stationed as many as 500 military advisors and pilots with them, though none with the Communists, so far as is known. All this aid reportedly led Mao to query in December, 1937, “If so much could be given to Chiang Kai Shek, why could we not get a small share?” Why indeed.
The Literal Bankruptcy of Chiang Kai Shek’s Regime
The same ossified, fractured approach to the war effort was the defining characteristic of China’s economy in this period. Social and economic life was choked by an intolerably corrupt, short sighted and grasping bureaucracy taking advantage of the absence of a strong capitalist class able to control the state. This state of affairs, already firmly entrenched by the ten years of Chiang’s rule before 1937 fed off itself in a vicious circle; the dead end of Chinese capitalism and all pervasive corruption it caused only further encouraged those with the ability to fleece the state, workers, peasants and anyone else to do so with abandon.
Faced with a Japanese blockade of what was already an extremely sickly economy, the government increased its issuance of currency over 700 fold from 1937 to 1945; as a result average prices rose over the same period by a multitude of 2,395! There are a number of reasons why price rises were around three times as high as the increase in currency; the main one was most likely the huge decline in industrial output after Japan took possession of the most productive cities, meaning that supply could not meet demand. Industrial production fell to below 12% of the prewar level. As well as the loss of factories to Japan, within Guomindang controlled China 82% of factories folded due to a particularly short-sighted boom in 1939-40 (Eastman, op cit.). Farmers in turn started to hoard grain as they had lost confidence in the currency, the resulting lack of grain naturally caused this staple commodity to rise in price, worsening the inflation.
Additionally, during the 1930s the rural economy suffered under the iron fist of Chiang, who imposed compulsory labour onto the peasantry that benefited the rich landowners, and the brutality of this experience forced them into striking (Bianco & Lloyd, Peasant Movements, Cambridge History of China volume 13, p290). Agricultural production worsened still thanks to the Japanese invasion, especially from 1942 onwards, further impoverishing both rural and urban workers (Myers, The Agrarian System, Cambridge History of China volume 13, pp267-9).
Indeed the effects of this on the working class were devastating, as wages failed to rise by anything like this amount, a fact which Eastman perversely celebrates as the one ‘success’ of China’s hyper-inflation, “the consequences of inflation were not all negative. During the eight years of war, for example, real wages of workers rose only during 1938; thereafter, to the benefit of employers, they declined.” The destitution of the working class is always a silver lining for the capitalists when enduring a crisis!
With rampant inflation came rampant speculation, which had always been the chief vice of China’s capitalist class (see the above linked article), diverting investment from productive activity: “investors made substantially larger profits simply by storing the cotton than by chancing long term investment in mills that processed cotton” (Ibid). 86% of liquid capital went into speculation as opposed to real investment in 1944!
Thanks to all this, from 1937-45 industrial workers’ real wages fell by more than half! Roughly the same figure applies to rural workers, although farmers who owned their land ‘only’ saw their incomes fall by around 20%. But extraordinarily, the real wages of civil servants, university workers and professors and soldiers all fell by around 90%! (Ibid). The poverty of soldiers, professors and civil servants is explicable by the government’s austerity drive to counter the costs of inflation on war expenditure, and in the case of the civil servants also gives an insight into why corruption became so rampant.
We apologise for the lack of a discussion of the CCP’s analysis, propaganda and political intervention regarding this dire economic situation and class exploitation, but thanks to its alliance with Chiang Kai Shek and its absorption in rural and military survival, the CCP said and did little or nothing about this state of affairs. Consequently it failed to make political headway amongst urban workers, students and professors.
Rapidly spiralling prices, which the government had failed to anticipate, forced a reaction. In 1941 it started to scratch around for tax revenue to pay for the war. Thus it fell back on the hated ‘likin’ tax (again, please see above linked article), one of the most economically depressing taxes possible, as well as other ingenious taxes like the ‘contribute-sandals-to-recruits’ tax, the ‘comfort-recruits-families’ tax, the ‘train-antiaircraft-cadres’ tax, and the ‘provide-fuel-for-garrisoned-troops’ tax! (Fairbank & Goldman, China: A New History, p314).
For the same reasons the government also pursued a harsh austerity agenda. Through measures like holding down the wages of government employees during extreme inflation and cutting back on government support for industry, the government actually reduced its real expenditure during the war by more than three quarters, despite having to feed a huge army! Although, as we have seen, it barely fed the soldiers if it could help it.
Far from uniting the working class with the bourgeoisie, the rigours of the war revealed the bourgeoisie’s rotten, self-serving and venal characteristics, preferring as it did to use the chaos of war to speculate and hoard, driving millions to starvation. Wartime, more than any other, demands the superiority of a collective plan and unified effort to overcome what are profoundly social questions. Such an effort and coordination was far beyond the capacities of a class raised on a diet of usury and easy money.
Whereas the planned economy of the USSR was able, despite all its bureaucracy, to move the key war industries in a short space of time from European Russia to behind the Urals, the anarchic Chinese capitalists failed in their equivalent task. Despite the government’s bribery of guaranteed 5-10% profit rates for 7 years, plus low interest rate loans and free factory sites for capitalists who moved their factories into the interior far away from the Japanese, only 120,000 tons of equipment ever got moved, far less than both what was available to be moved and what needed to be moved. “[M]ost industrialists and financiers felt little or no personal involvement in the cause of Chinese resistance...They did not allow patriotism to dull their business instincts. (Eastman, op cit.).” And yet the CCP remained wedded to this ‘patriot’ class right to the end of the war.
Indeed the failures of the capitalist class in the war forced the government to play the leading economic role long before the CCP nationalised the means of production after 1949. By 1942 the state controlled 17.5% of all factories, 70% of all capital, 32% of workers and 42% of horsepower (ibid). This tendency towards statisation of Chinese capitalism is important to note for the later discussion on exactly why - contrary to their stated aims and perspectives - the CCP proceeded to expropriate capitalism after taking power. It also forms important evidence in our argument that the alliance with the bourgeoisie was totally unjustified for it lacked the capacity to and interest in taking China forwards.
Of course, this had been obvious ever since the bourgeoisie backed Chiang Kai Shek to become the dictator of China. His autocracy was the political expression of the same inability of Chinese capitalism to develop the productive forces that forced the government to play an increasingly large economic role. The terms of the CCP’s deal with Chiang was that his regime would gradually reform itself into a democratic one in which the CCP could legally participate, and yet in 1939 the Military Affairs Commission, chaired by Chiang, arrogated to itself all administrative functions of government, making Chiang’s control direct for every aspect of China’s life.
Chiang Alienates the Imperialists
Given the basket case of China under Chiang Kai Shek, the British and American imperialists were in 1939 giving serious thought to forging an alliance with Japan, which they correctly estimated as being so much stronger than China that it might be worth abandoning the latter. The British, perhaps understanding how rotten and unpopular Chiang’s regime was, even wanted to wait to see if Wang Jingwei’s Japanese puppet regime in Nanjing might manage to be more popular than that of Chiang’s before choosing whether to back China or Japan. However these designs were scuppered by Japanese intransigence with regard to British and American interests in China (Akira Iriye Japanese Aggression and China’s International Position, Cambridge History of China volume 13, pp525-6). The imperialists had no concern for the plight of the Chinese masses under the heel of Japan and only sided with China to protect their narrow interests there, and in the hope that China could be used in an American dominated post-war setup to contain Russia and grind Japan and Germany into the ground.
With China apparently an important inclusion in the schemes of the imperialists, the egotistical Chiang began to fantasise that this had elevated China into one of the world’s great powers. In reality China’s lying prostrate in the face of Japanese imperialism meant that it required the American and British imperialists, who were concerned about the Japanese threat to their interests only, to fight the battle on its behalf. We have already seen how the Chinese capitalists were not prepared to lead the fight themselves, economically or militarily. Chiang’s foolish delusion that having the US fight on his behalf (whilst he concentrated on the CCP) would mean the future elevation of China at the hands of the US led to increasing frustration from the US, to the point where they refused Chiang’s government a $1bn loan and considered supporting the CCP more (which they saw as the better fighters, and not really Communists anyway).
Chiang Kai Shek was a miserable, grasping and lazy leader only ever interested in the preservation of his own power. He staffed his army with incompetent generals simply because they were loyal, and concentrated his best troops not against Japan but the CCP. As disastrous as this was for the Chinese ruling class, they could have it no other way, for they had not the means to effectively resist Japan without arousing the masses to military activity, the last thing they wanted. Chiang’s cowardice and preference for passivity in the war by banking on the US to fight on his behalf, and his determination to get the maximum for his regime from the US with the minimum disturbance to his kingdom, is the true political expression of a capitalist class born too late and with no role to play.
The CCP at war
For twenty two years after 1927 the comrades of the CCP knew of no state other than constant war. Physically liquidated from the cities in 1927-8, they fled to the countryside, where they suffered one extermination campaign after another by the Guomindang, forcing them to embark on the Long March in 1934. This exhausting state of affairs brought the party to near extinction (it certainly was enough to destroy its Marxist programme), a big factor in its forging an alliance with Chiang Kai Shek in 1936 to gain breathing space. And yet no sooner had this truce been signed when Japan launched an all out war with China, a war whose secondary motivation for the Japanese (after the exploitation of Chinese industry and raw materials) was the extermination of the communist threat.
Throughout this new and higher stage to the struggle, it must be noted that the CCP’s successes and survival owed themselves to its politics and not its military. Despite its erroneous support for Chiang’s dictatorship the party continued, at least to some extent, to be seen as the only genuinely anti-Japanese and anti-landlord force in China.
Beneath the surface of shoddy deals the CCP cadres continued to organise the peasants and dish out something resembling revolutionary ideas of a way out from endless poverty and exploitation. Of course, this was nothing as compared with what the party could have done had it retained political, revolutionary independence from the loathed Chiang regime. However it was something and that was enough to distinguish the CCP from the rest. In many cases the objective necessity for an independent left wing party was forced onto the CCP by events themselves.
The Expansion of the Red Bases through Political Work
Throughout this war the CCP’s headquarters, as agreed with Chiang, remained where they ended up after the Long March, in Yenan (now known as Yan’an; we will use Yenan as this is the form of the name most closely associated with the CCP), Shaanxi province, north west of China’s population centres.
Our thesis is that the CCP’s strength lay in its political role as apparent liberator of the peasant masses and leader of the anti-Japanese and anti-Guomindang movement and not in its armed struggle. This is backed up by the fact that when the CCP concentrated not on fighting the Japanese or Guomindang, but concentrated on consolidating its bases, implementing its (admittedly somewhat mild) land reforms and recruiting and training cadres, it significantly expanded its membership and areas under its control. “The Red Army fought no major battles for more than two years after late 1937, and its most rapid growth came during this period of relative calm, with the recruitment of up to 400,000 men into the Eighth Route Army and 100,000 into the New Fourth Army by 1940” (Harrison, The Long March to Power, p294).
Although the CCP forces managed to expand massively during the war, they were always playing catch up with the much larger and better equipped Japanese and Guomindang forces - in 1937 the Guomindang had around 1.5m troops in total, and the Japanese roughly 600,000, whereas the CCP had at most 100,000 - all of whom were worse equipped. The CCP expanded significantly, as the above figures suggest, but never nearly enough to catch up with the also expanding forces of their enemies.
The CCP’s one advantage would always be its independent political role and ability to inspire its own troops and the wider peasant population with its propaganda and land distribution. During the years 1937-9, when it fought no major battles, its military forces increased not through military victories but through political expansion and recruitment. Without any battles taking place, “the [Guomindang] government watched its rival’s steady military and territorial expansion far outreach the three divisions of the Eighth Army and the eighteen districts in the ‘Pien ch’u’ laid down by the agreement of September 1937...The population under communist control was to increase almost a hundredfold in eight years” (Guillermaz, A History of the Chinese Communist Party 1921-49, p345). Between 1937 and 1940, the party membership increased from 40,000 to 800,000!
Thanks to its political influence the CCP managed to expand into areas far away from its headquarters in Yenan, setting up new ‘soviet’ bases without military invasion. For example, it managed to recruit the remnants of anti-Japanese militias formed in the western Shandong province so that by 1943 the CCP controlled an area with 15 million inhabitants with a 500,000 strong militia (Harrison, op cit. p302). According to Guillermaz, from 1937 onwards the CCP even managed to maintain a force of up to 50,000 behind Japanese lines (Guillermaz, op cit. p308). Their effectiveness is proof of the military advantages the Red Army enjoyed thanks to its political basis, “The teams were organised on the ‘three in one’ principle - they were to fight as troops…, to do political work on behalf of the government but to act like the common people in ordinary times. Military and political struggles thus went hand in hand...The armed work teams would appear or disappear unexpectedly in the very heart of the enemy occupied areas. Their whereabouts were known to the people all the time, but the enemy could never find them.”
Naturally such political successes were profoundly uncomfortable for the Japanese and Guomindang alike, and therefore each square mile and military division gained by the CCP was pregnant with military conflicts. It is in fact not quite true that the CCP fought no battles whatsoever between 1937 and 1939, for in September 1937 Lin Biao’s 115th Division of the Eighth Route Army distinguished itself in a joint strike with the Guomindang on Japanese forces at the Battle of Pingxingguan in Shanxi province, capturing 1000 weapons and 100 vehicles and inflicting around 500 casualties on the Japanese (Ibid, p308). A similar, smaller scale success was achieved shortly after nearby. These were however ultimately insignificant and involved few CCP forces.
They did however allow the CCP to establish the Shanxi-Chahar-Hebei military zone on the basis of these victories, since Guomindang officials had left the area with the Japanese defeat (Harrison, op cit. p299). Out of this zone the CCP managed to form the Chin-Ch’a-Chi Border Region government, which involved a great many local residents in its administration who were not in the CCP. This government was very successful in organising the peasant masses of this region into women’s, youth and self-defence organisations, and in educating them and establishing medical facilities, and consolidated itself by recruiting disaffected Manchurian Guomindang troops and commanders who had disobeyed Chiang’s orders (we mustn’t forget that the Japanese had long established a colonial regime in Manchuria, to which Chiang’s regime had completely acquiesced, causing Manchurians to be much more sympathetic to the CCP than most).
It was strong enough to resist the Japanese counter-attack which involved the burning to the ground of this government’s capital in March 1938. Following the capture of another region further to the south by other CCP forces with the aid of local activists, the CCP was able in July 1941 to establish a much larger government linking these two and other bases in Shanxi, Hebei, Shandong and Hunan provinces, despite intense Japanese attacks (Ibid, pp301-2). These successes caused not only frictions with the jealous Guomindang but were part of the cause of the complete breakdown of relations between the two parties, more of which later.
The Conditions Behind CCP Lines in the Sino-Japanese War
There were however severe economic and military difficulties implicit in this strategy of forming politically independent rural bases. We have analysed at length the economic and political realities of such rural submergence in our previous series of articles ( http://www.marxist.com/chinese-comminist-party-1927-37-part-4.htm) , (http://www.marxist.com/chinese-comminist-party-1927-37-part-5.htm), and later in this series we will look more closely at the limitations of the peasant movement and how this conditioned the opportunist programme on which the party rose to power.
Nevertheless it should be pointed out here that the “new administrative systems [of the newly conquered areas] had great difficulty in gaining a foothold and their power was precarious right to the end. As the region was important both strategically and politically, the Japanese felt obliged to purge it from time to time. ‘Cleaning up campaigns’...acted as a deterrent to the inhabitants, who as far as possible avoided taking part in elections, with the risks they involved” (Guillermaz, op cit. p311).
In a moment we will take a look at both these attacks and others from the Guomindang. Before we do so, we must note that the effect on the CCP of having to maintain a viable administration responsible for leading the economic life of millions of peasants and landlords etc. Generally, the rural areas most revolutionary were those most densely populated and fertile, for these had the highest, most exploitative rents. The logic of taking administrative and military responsibility for certain areas, against constant attacks from two militarily stronger powers, politically consumed a party which had already lost all trace of proletarian politics and obliged it to seek solace in non-revolutionary areas and layers of the population (see Bianco and Lloyd, Peasant Movements, in The Cambridge History of China Volume 13 p324)
The CCP’s forces had therefore to be constantly replenished by new recruits. Its survival depended on the “fine quality of its cadres” and “its strict discipline” (Ibid, p328), and yet these cadres were regularly being killed or absorbed in the tasks of bare survival. True, its effective propaganda “conducted by ordinary people among other ordinary people who were their fellow-countrymen, in the language of their region or even their profession, could not fail to succeed among the Chinese” (Ibid, p335), and thus furnished a regular supply of new faces. However, this propaganda was limited in scope by the shackled political programme of the CCP we have discussed above.
The rapid turnover in membership and the influx of rural recruits lacking any political experience in organisations of their own (unlike the working class, who have experience in trade unions), led Mao in 1937 to decry the tendency towards warlordism in the Eighth Route Army, many of whose members “have become unwilling to submit strictly to Communist Party leadership, [and] have developed individualistic heroism” (quoted in Guillermaz, op cit. p329). Mao therefore stressed that the Red Army must oppose the danger in which “the military does not obey the political” and that the army must be one led by the proletariat (Ibid, p329). But that was exactly the problem - thanks to Moscow’s shortsighted strategy, to which Mao adapted so well, the party had long ceased to have any relation to the proletariat, and the army could in no way be led by anything other than the largely petty bourgeois individuals at the top of the CCP.
These very problems, inherent not only in submerging the party in a rural environment, but even more so in attempting to establish on that basis an alternative government under constant siege, were to lead in the early 1940s to the Zhengfeng or Rectification Campaign as the party leadership struggled to keep control of this band of ‘roving-rebels’. In this campaign around 10,000 were killed and was the precedent for the Cultural Revolution more than twenty years later.
The Hundred Regiments and Three Alls Campaigns
The CCP’s enormous gains in northern central China described above were as mentioned causing serious concern amongst both Japanese and Guomindang leaders. Their fears were proved correct when the CCP launched its biggest and most successful (unless we count its consequences, as we shall see) military campaign of the entire war period, ending its period of peaceful advance. This is known as the Hundred Regiments Campaign, and it lasted from August to December 1940 and involved 400,000 CCP led troops against roughly 290,000 Japanese. The fighting spanned five provinces in northern central China.
It is difficult to assess the damage inflicted by the CCP onto the Japanese forces, as both sides claimed (and still claim) wildly divergent figures. There is no doubt however that the initial battles were an enormous success for the CCP, with tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers killed and much of the Japanese military infrastructure destroyed. The ability of the CCP armies to fight head on a far more well equipped and trained imperial army is testament to the incredible growth of CCP forces from their political work and organisation, as well as their tactical nous.
Nevertheless the true results of this military adventure once again underline the futility of the strategy of armed rural struggle and further justify our contention that the CCP should have stuck to clandestinely recruiting workers in the cities with socialist propaganda. For ultimately the CCP was and always would be “powerless in the face of the Japanese army, which maintained complete freedom of action at a strategic level” (Ibid, p332).
This harsh fact was proven by the Japanese counter-attack to the Hundred Regiments Campaign, which was aptly named the Three Alls Policy - standing for ‘kill all, burn all, loot all’. Since the Japanese imperialists managed to so succinctly sum up the character of their invasion of China, I think it is only reasonable to suggest that their entire invasion of China and other countries be known by this name.
There was a calculated purpose behind such an indiscriminate strategy of literally killing, burning and looting everything within areas associated with the CCP, which, as with all ultra-reactionary and counter-revolutionary campaigns, was to punish the masses for daring to pose a political challenge to the status quo and to traumatise them into never doing so again. In particular, the aim of this campaign was to “‘drain the water’ from the Communist fish” (Harrison, op cit. p301) - in other words, to so effectively massacre the rural poor that the CCP could have no social basis in this region. According to Mitsuyoshi Himeta the death toll of this vile campaign totalled more than 2.7m Chinese.
This campaign devastated the CCP in northern central China, and the CCP would not launch another campaign of any significance against Japan for the remainder of the war. Although the CCP did manage to recover their influence in the region around three years later, this was tellingly achieved through political action and propaganda, not military offensives. Not only would it have been possible, it would have been easier and far more effective to carry out this political propaganda had the CCP concentrated on work amongst the urban proletariat and, having won influence this way, among the rural poor. This would have freed the party up both politically and organisationally to campaign for the need to paralyse the Japanese occupation with strikes and for a government of the workers’ to carry out a revolutionary war against the Japanese.
As if to underline the fact that the CCP had fallen into an opportunist trap by accepting the Guomindang’s proposal for Zhou Enlai to be Deputy Minister of Political Training in early 1938 (as discussed in Part I), a few months later the very government in which leading Communist Zhou Enlai was now a minister “dissolved a mass organisation [in Hankou] suspected of having strong communist sympathies.” The Guomindang then “rebuffed communist overtures towards forming a new inner block” (Guillermaz, op cit. p348).
These (entirely inevitable and predictable) traitorous actions should have been taken as a sign that the Guomindang was planning an attack on the CCP. No quantity of overtures and second-rate ministerial portfolios could protect the CCP from the Guomindang, which only lulled the CCP into a false sense of security. In the spring of 1939, 300 CCP guerrillas were allegedly slaughtered in Shandong province by Guomindang forces (Brandt, Schwartz & Fairbank, A Documentary History of Chinese Communism, p240).
What the communists represented both to the poor and the rich was in itself enough to invite repression. CCP speeches were sufficient to whet the peasants’ appetite for land and freedom, but proved unable to put that genie back in its bottle when the CCP line changed. Nor for that reason could such acquiescence ever convince the Guomindang and the ruling class of the CCP’s loyalty, especially when it had armed layers of the peasantry. Beneath the surface of the alliance the Guomindang was always maneuvering and strategizing to inflict mortal blows on the CCP. Different tendencies and factions within it proposed different ways to deal with the CCP’s continuing popularity, including dissolving its bases in different provinces by dictat. Local armed clashes with the CCP began to increase and “certain generals from Chongqing [the seat of governmental power since late 1938] were plotting with the Japanese” to attack the CCP (Guillermaz, op cit. p315).
These tensions were caused by the very objective forces which the CCP’s political allegiance with the Guomindang made it incapable of anticipating, explaining or consciously leading. Despite the formal alliance, these contradictory forces operated in and through these two parties because of their conflicting class bases. The political successes the CCP scored, particularly in Shanxi and around the western ends of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers as described above, by basing themselves on the peasant masses, made inevitable the Guomindang’s betrayal of their alliance.
Rising tensions led to more numerous skirmishes until the barely suppressed conflict exploded in the New Fourth Army Incident in 1941 in precisely this geographical area. This was already presaged by the Pinzhiang and Zhukou Incidents in June 1939, in which the Guomindang raided the New Fourth Army and executed CCP members and their families (see Harrison, op cit. p305 & Kataoka, Resistance and Revolution in China: The Communists and the 2nd United Front, p233).
The New Fourth Army Incident
In June 1940 an agreement had been reached between the two parties that the CCP could keep its newly conquered bases in the northern part of central China, i.e. north of the Yellow River, so long as it abandoned the peasants of central China in between the two great rivers. Chiang could not tolerate the success of the CCP in this area and here attempted to exploit the CCP’s opportunist policy. On the basis of this agreement, Chiang’s representatives showed active hostility to CCP forces in the central China region they had now been ordered to evacuate (Schram, op cit. p218). Because of this, as they were leaving the area the CCP forces successfully attacked Guomindang troops encountered on the way.
This caused Chiang to hasten his demand that the CCP’s New 4th Army evacuate the entirety of the area south of the Yellow River. For one reason or another, despite the vast majority of the army meeting the deadline, the 9,000 strong HQ force had failed to cross the river in time and in January 1941 it was ambushed and wiped out by the Guomindang. Following this, the Guomindang demanded the dissolution of the remainder of this strongest of CCP armies. This the CCP refused to do and the ensuing strengthening of the army ended the farce (though not officially) of CCP/Guomindang allegiance.
From a revolutionary point of view, we cannot help but conclude that the New Fourth Army Incident’s taking place was a good thing precisely because it brought the infamous national united front to an ignominious conclusion. This is proven by the fact that following this incident the CCP continued its meteoric rise throughout China, so much so that arguably “no single event in the entire Sino-Japanese war did more to enhance the Communists’ prestige vis- à-vis the Nationalists than the destruction of the New Fourth Army headquarters while it was ‘loyally following orders’” (Johnson, Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power: The Emergence of Revolutionary China, 1937-1945, p140).
Once again we can see that the CCP’s gains came not from military successes - indeed in this case its biggest success came from a defeat - but from its political role as the (perceived) opposition to a capitulationist government. In this case the objective forces, which required (and rewarded) such an opposition, were so strong that they were imposed onto the CCP against its will.
Interestingly, Mao, who was evidently under pressure from left wing critics inside the CCP, felt the need to explain that the New Fourth Army incident did not prove that the allegiance with the Guomindang was a mistake (see Mao, Conclusions on the Repulse of the Second Anti-Communist Onslaught, May 1941). He argued that the war with Japan meant that the primary contradiction of Chinese society was not a class one but a national one. In Mao’s article On Contradiction, he reveals his highly mechanical interpretation of dialectical materialism, whereby different contradictions supplant one another whilst remaining entirely unaffected and self-contained, like billiard balls knocking into each other. He uses this to justify the opportunism of allying with the Guomindang, for according to him the primary contradiction now being between China and Japan, the internal class contradictions of China are effectively negated. A real understanding of dialectics would teach the direct opposite - that Japan’s exploitation of China would happen through China’s class system, making the two inseparable. The New Fourth Army Incident is merely one in a long list of examples where the Chinese ruling class proved that the dynamic of the Sino-Japanese war was the class struggle.
There is one final betrayal of their ‘alliance’ by the Guomindang we ought to mention. In the remote province of Xinjiang the CCP struck a similar alliance with its warlord Sheng Shicai (who was not in the Guomindang) as its national alliance with Chiang. However, for the very same reasons as the New Fourth Army Incident, namely the CCP’s gains in Xinjiang (along with Moscow ceasing to butter-up Sheng with arms), Sheng turned in 1942. He joined the Guomindang and arrested 600 Communists, many of which he then executed, including Mao’s brother.
And yet flying in the face of reality the CCP continued to articulate a thoroughly acquiescent and frankly liberal line with regards to the Guomindang. One would expect and hope it would use its repression at the hands of the Guomindang as the political justification for the need to overthrow the Guomindang to liberate China from both imperialism and its stooge the Chinese ruling class. Instead the leadership demanded in March 1942 only legal status for the CCP and the recognition by the government of its war efforts, including the request for more troops. Proving the utter failure of the attempt since 1936 to ally with the Guomindang, even these demands were rejected.
It is very interesting to note that the character of these demands is not only exclusively bourgeois-democratic, lacking a single social demand, but also in its demands for political liberty refers only to the CCP, not the Chinese working class and peasantry. There are no demands for political liberty or a constituent assembly. More than a decade of isolation in rural armed struggle found its expression in the CCP’s inward looking demand for CCP, not Chinese, freedom.
When the Sino-Japanese war began in 1937, the CCP had already been an exclusively rural party for almost ten years. As we pointed out previously, this was an improvisation born out of the party’s confusion at Chiang’s power grab. By 1935, when Mao became the undisputed leader of the party, this improvisation and temporary retreat had been transformed into the party’s raison d’être.
The Peasants Sans CCP
According to Bianco and Lloyd, the revolutionary decade of 1922-31 saw no significant increase in all types of ‘peasant disturbances’ - from theft of landlords’ property to local uprisings. The fluctuations that do occur seem only correlated to particular years in which there happened to be a good or bad harvest. Furthermore, the type of action taken remained in its traditional form - riots or petitions - and rarely if ever escaped a purely local horizon. Furthermore, they contend that in any case the total number of disturbances remain extremely small (Bianco and Lloyd, Peasant Movements, in The Cambridge History of China Volume 13, pp278-9).
The peasants, without the CCP “would, quite simply, never have conceived the idea of a revolution” thanks to their parochialism “which overrode distinctions of class.” The typical village, to which peasants’ narrow horizons and allegiances were restricted, was a “ socially heterogeneous community that villagers sought to protect against attacks from outside.” This is “attested by the frequent incidence of vertical movements” resembling “wars between different peoples rather than social warfare. As in a national war, the natural enemy is not the privileged member in one’s community but the foreigner” (Ibid, p302).
Bianco and Lloyd give many examples of movements in the early 1930s, around the time the CCP was embedding itself in this milieu, which were based exclusively on opposition to new taxes, not rent, and thereby could unite peasants and landlords, with the latter more often than not initiating and leading the movements. The character of such movements, more common than those aimed against rent and landlordism, are not progressive since they aimed to preserve local privileges in the tax system, chiefly to the benefit of the local landlords. Indeed, “sometimes the wrongs against which the taxpayers rise up are purely imaginary. They suspect any project of fiscal reform...allow[ing] themselves to be incited into a revolt, which is harmful to their own interests, by a handful of large landowners practicing tax evasion on a large scale” (Ibid, p284).
Throughout these movements, what is notable is the lack of a questioning of landlordism by its peasant victims: “the principle of paying rent is almost never called into question” (Ibid, p278). Along with hostility to new tax codes, most peasant disturbances were strictly local in the sense that they pitted one village or ‘Xien’ against another. So one group of peasants, led by their landlord, would frequently fight those with the same conditions of poverty in a neighbouring village, because the latter had, say, dredged rivers to improve their crop, which threatened to flood the other village.
These conflicts, which Bianco and Lloyd argue should be known not as peasant but as rural disturbances due to their ‘vertical’ social character, frequently had an extremely violent character. They were spontaneous, chaotic and unplanned explosions of rage with no political perspective attached to them. They were not prepared and the “rebels do not appear to have had a strategy nor is there any discernable progression in the forms taken by the resistance.” “There was no fundamental questioning of the principle of tenancy, simply a protest against sudden changes in the status quo” (Ibid, pp274-5). Instead of landlords or even local government leaders being attacked, it was usually their ‘underlings’, who were more visible to the peasants. Bianco and Lloyd insist that we cannot even speak of a rural movement (other than the CCP’s army), only local flare-ups of fury.
The theory of Marxism has always explained that the peasantry can be an important ally of the revolutionary working class but can never politically lead. It must be led by a more organised and homogenous urban based class. This evidently applied to 1920s and 30s China, to the extent that Mao’s talk of the ‘Sinification of Marxism’ due to China’s special rural conditions and ‘revolutionary peasantry’ must be rejected entirely. According to the evidence, “the peasants themselves hardly ever take up arms offensively with a view to improving their lot”.
The apparent peasant basis of the 1949 revolution is therefore an outcome not of peasant revolutionary initiative and elan, but of the CCP’s dogged hiding out in its mountain fastness. The peasant revolts had nothing in common with the CCP’s Red Army, which latter had a national political character that the former lacked entirely. They were generally conservative, more interested in rising up to maintain old privileges, against local rivals or the mysteries of the government’s vicissitudes. They “were not inspired by any overall vision of society nor questioned the bases of its organisation” (Ibid, p303). It was precisely this parochialism and passivity that suited the CCP, because in the rural backwaters they were hard to find and suffered no danger of ambitious revolutionary demands from the politically passive peasants the Soviet bases administered. The rural submersion of the party was ideal for launching a military struggle but not a social and revolutionary one.
Wearing the Peasant’s Coarse Garb
As we shall see, the CCP’s approach in the countryside resembled the discredited strategy of the Russian Narodniks of the 19th Century. It is a profound irony that the Chinese offshoot of the Communist International should repeat the mistakes of the Russian forefathers of the Bolsheviks, when it was precisely the learning and overcoming of these mistakes that produced the Russian Marxist organisation that in turn gave birth to the Communist International!
When Peng Pai, before he joined the CCP, experimented with a ‘Chinese Narodnism’ in the early 1920s, he was initially, just like the Narodniks, rejected by the peasants as a strange outsider with grandiose and unrealisable goals. He found that he had to change his clothes and speech and “enticed and entertained [the peasants] as a conjuror and magician, taught the children a song of his own composition, had them listen to a gramophone he had brought along, and put on a puppet show” (Ibid, p308) in order to get them to take seriously his ideas of liberation.
Ten years later, the CCP found itself having to perform similar routines each time they settled in a new rural location. Because of the completely rural base of the party, the CCP was obliged to send any workers or ‘intellectuals’ it recruited in the cities to the countryside. Whereas in the cities they would have been able to carry out political work quite naturally, Mao explained the requirements of their work in the countryside: “they should enthusiastically go to the villages, exchange their student’s clothes for the coarse garb of the peasants, start willingly from the bottom...help awaken the peasants...and fight for the completion of the extremely important task in China’s democratic revolution - the rural democratic revolution” (Mao, < On Coalition Government<, April 1945).
Despite these efforts, the CCP leadership regularly found that the organisations of peasant liberation and awakening they had set up, “when left on their own, frequently pursued policies quite different from the Party line and resented the directions of ‘outsiders’, whatever their politics” (Harrison, < The Long March to Power<, p312). It is quite clear that the contradiction between the self-appointed leadership of the rural revolution in the CCP and the peasants themselves was never overcome. This relationship is in stark contrast to that of a Marxist organisation and the working class, since the aim of the former is always to win the confidence of the workers not by dressing up as them but by being part of and giving voice to the already existing class struggle. Marxists recruit, and themselves often are, workers. They do not parachute in members from elsewhere to occupy and administer workers’ districts!
Indeed the CCP sent vast swathes of its recruits away from the cities in which they were recruited, thus negating any potential they may have presented for building a permanent urban working class base for the party. They used the legal openings gained through the allegiance with the Guomindang not so much to begin building in the cities but to set up within them ‘Communist Liaison Offices’ to “facilitate the emigration of volunteers to Yenan” (Guillermaz, A History of the Communist Party 1921-49 , p348). Peng Shuzi, an early leader of the CCP before being expelled for Trotskyism, stresses that “the CCP did everything possible to encourage the most active elements of the working class to leave the struggle in the cities and join the peasants in the countryside. It was for precisely this reason that while the CCP considerably increased its armed peasant forces during the Resistance War, its influence remained extremely weak among the worker masses of the cities” (Peng, The Causes of the Victory of the Chinese Communist Party over Chiang Kai-Shek, and the CCP’s Perspectives).
The environment into which these workers and urban intellectuals were taken was one of extreme poverty and backwardness. As with the pre-Long March bases in Jiangxi and especially the Jinggangshan, Yenan made an effective base precisely because it was so barren and therefore hard to penetrate and considered strategically irrelevant by the Guomindang. Here CCP comrades, including leaders, were forced to live in caves carved into the cliffs. The area at the time had an “estimated 60% infant mortality rate, 1% literacy rate, the death of up to 2.5m people (one-third of the provincial population), and the migration of another half-million in the catastrophic famine of 1927-30” (Harrison, op cit., p310).
Because the Guomindang suspended its subsidy of $100,000 per month (part of the ‘united front’ agreement) in 1940 due to the above discussed breakdown in the alliance, the CCP was obliged to increase the tax burden on the Shaanxi population it was occupying, “especially of the peasants” (Ibid, p316). In other CCP bases inflation rose to even higher than in Guomindang controlled areas, but this failed to take place in Yenan as the economy was largely a barter one!
As described in more detail our previous series, the bare struggle to survive in these remote conditions absorbed the party’s attention to the detriment of its political and theoretical development - although it must be said that the biggest obstacle in that respect was not the rural conditions but the non-revolutionary programme. As a result the number of leaders with political and moral authority in the organisation remained extremely small for its size (Ibid, p.396). Such a scenario is also the cause of bureaucratic degeneration for a party, for the absence of articulate, trained cadres throughout its ranks makes inevitable a lack of democracy and the overbearing domination of that small layer of experienced leaders.
Of course, Marxists, especially in a mainly rural country like China in the 1930s, would neglect the peasantry and the possibility of armed struggle at their peril. In this respect the example of the Bolshevik’s conduct in the Russian Civil War furnishes a very useful comparison, for it too was a largely peasant country with an armed struggle in the countryside.
Mao often complained about the tendency to “indiscipline and anarchy, localism and guerrillaism,” and even a “roving-rebel” or banditry mentality in the Red Army thanks to its rural isolation. Indeed, leaders of the New Fourth Army in central China even lost all communication with HQ in Yenan for more than two years! Trotsky overcame this problem of indiscipline and ‘heterogeneous detachments’ in a peasant context by buttressing the Russian Red Army with worker-communists trained in Petrograd and Moscow, and political commissars from the central government in Petrograd “acquired the importance of revolutionary leaders, of direct representatives” of the workers’ government (Trotsky, < My Life<). He would hold conferences with representatives of both the army commanders and its ranks, along with leaders of local party organisations, the Soviet government and the trade unions. <
In this way the revolutionary army retained its working class, urban leadership and was inextricably linked to the holding of urban power. As Trotsky said, “The foundation for the successful upbuilding of the Red Army was the proper relationship between the proletariat and the peasantry throughout the country” (Ibid). Lacking that urban, working class orientation, and with a programme of allegiance to the Guomindang and mere bourgeois democratic reforms, we can only conclude that the CCP had become a rural petty bourgeois organisation throughout.<
The Absence of Proletarian Communists
We have already described how the CCP was now in the practice of taking recruited workers from the cities to fight in the countryside, necessarily restricting its urban, working class membership and influence to nothing. As we have also stressed, its non-revolutionary and compromised political programme also restricted its ability to recruit, educate and lead workers.<
This is most graphically revealed when in the period of the alliance with Chiang the CCP
“not only insisted on class collaboration in its propaganda but showed openly in its practice that “the workers should increase production to aid the government in the common resistance against Japan.” It rejected the “exorbitant demands” presented by the workers to the national bourgeoisie, charging that the Trotskyist policy of class struggle was a “policy of betrayal to aid the enemy,” thus slandering the Trotskyists as “traitors.” Naturally, in the workers’ real struggles the CCP was always on the side of the national bourgeoisie and against the workers’ reasonable demands, even sabotaging these struggles” (Peng, op cit.)
Later in the civil war with the Guomindang, after Japan’s defeat, it used its growing influence in the working class as a bargaining chip with Chiang to get the coalition government it was demanding, just like Stalin used the CCP as a bargaining chip in his negotiations with Chiang. Indeed, in the relative freedom immediately after the war many strikes did break out in cities throughout the country (Harrison, op cit. p403), but the CCP’s lack of building and preparation in the cities limited what influence they could gain from this, and the strikes fizzled out.
That lack of building and preparation in the working class is revealed in the fact that the CCP went from having 58% of its members industrial workers in 1927 (before the rural turn) to less than 1% by 1931 (3-4 years after the rural turn) by the party’s own admission! In 1933 the CCP publication Red Flag complained that in Shanghai “There is not a single real workers’ branch” (Peng, op cit).
The Zhengfeng Campaign’s Petty Bourgeois Basis
The total loss of a proletarian basis of the CCP over the ten years since 1927 was in inverse proportion to the rise of its petty bourgeois character, both in membership and ideas. Lacking an ideological grounding in the structures and power of the working class changed and weakened the political authority of the various layers of leadership. Both the responsibility of governing rural areas without recourse to the economic and political leadership of the urban working class, and the political commitment to a united front with Chiang Kai Shek, gave ample opportunity for careerists to infiltrate the party for influence and for local leaders to manipulate their access to administrative and military power as a substitute for gaining the support of the organised working class.
These tendencies are revealed very tellingly in a 1941 article by Liu Shaoqi, who complained of “some comrades who openly avail themselves of and rely on resources outside the Party to engage in the intra-Party struggle and threaten and blackmail the Party. For example, some rely on certain of their achievements, < on the troops they command or their weapons<, on their mass support or certain of their connections in the united front<, to carry on a struggle against the Party and higher organs and threaten them” (Liu Shaoqi, On the Intra-Party Struggle<, 1941).
Of course the efforts of bare survival in an encircled rural environment, with bases spread around the country and isolated from one another, was in itself enough to fragment the party politically and organisationally, and one would expect each area to be likely to come under different pressures and adapt to them in different ways. However this is only the most obvious problem, far deeper and more intractable questions faced the party.
As we have previously described, around 90% of the party perished on the Long March and during the encirclement campaign of the Jiangxi soviet base that preceded it. If we add to that the fact that the party had already lost the majority of its working class comrades in the repression of the new Guomindang regime, it is obvious that the internal structures of the party by the time of the establishment of the Yenan base in 1935 were dangerously weak.
Further compounding these dangers was the opportunist programme adopted in 1936 of uniting with Chiang, which as we have explained already represents the total loss of any Marxist or revolutionary politics for the party. It in fact represented a petty-bourgeois political line, as it necessarily involved expounding merely liberal democratic goals - national independence, class collaboration and parliamentary democracy.
The combination of this line with the need to rapidly rebuild the decimated party led to a situation where “as of the early 1940s, 90% of the 700,000 to 800,000 members of the newly expanded “party of the proletariat” were of “petty bourgeois” origin, mostly peasant or intellectual” (Harrison, op cit. p323). It is in the very nature of the petty bourgeoisie as a class to be competitive, fragmented and heterogeneous in its political and economic interests. It is a class incapable of forming mass trade unions to fight for collective interests.
In the same document Liu Shaoqi explains the source of all “erroneous, evil tendencies within the Party” as being the non-proletarian classes, such as the petty bourgeoisie, who had “infiltrated the Party”, influencing it in “ideology, living habits, theory, and action”. In particular, their malignant influence was said to express itself in a policy of political opportunism, liberalism and a watering down of the ‘proletarian’ character of the party: “Recently, a great number of intellectual elements and new Party members have entered the Party, bringing with them to the Party strong bourgeois, liberal ideas. Ideologically, politically and organisationally they have not been tempered by the iron discipline of the proletariat.”
Liu, Mao and other leaders frequently emphasise the proletarian character of the party, ‘leading’ the peasant masses. However, with a majority petty bourgeois membership, a petty bourgeois political line which, as we have seen, discouraged strikes as ‘damaging’ to the war effort and united front, and a base of operations miles from any major cities, we can only conclude that this ‘proletarian’ character was a product of wishful thinking.
All of this is asserted, but nowhere do we find an appraisal of who is responsible for such a state of affairs. It is obvious that the existing party leadership was responsible for taking the party into a rural, peasant environment, and in particular for converting the party’s programme into one fit for a liberal organisation: “Evidently some Party members, especially among the new recruits, had interpreted the spectacular shifts of the united front period to mean that the concepts of Western liberalism could be imported into the CCP itself” (Brandt, Schwarz and Fairbank, < A Documentary History of Chinese Communism<, p373).
Proving the point that the party had been led in such a way that would inevitably lead to such a state of affairs by basing itself on the disorganised peasantry, the party’s constitution was in 1945 changed from one where party branches based on the working class were given favourable weighting and priority over those of villages, to one where only 50 members in a village were required to form a party branch with rights, whereas a factory branch required 100 members.
The Party Structures
As Marxists, we base ourselves not on what people say about themselves, but by what they do. There was a layer of ‘old-guard’ comrades who had survived the trials of the Long March and even 1927, who were perturbed by the sheer opportunism and even liberalism of the ‘united front’ strategy. Finding themselves threatened by this overwhelming influx of new, ambitious, liberal-minded members, who by Liu’s account were doubly dangerous because in many cases they led bases and Red Army divisions, the party leadership was obliged to strike a blow to protect their own authority.
Without changing the opportunist line of the party, the leadership leant on the more revolutionary older members, who were anxious for some Marxist content. This is the real character of the much debated Zhengfeng campaign, a precursor to the later Cultural Revolution. Mao, Liu et al dipped into the deep well of revolutionary anger and stressed, in the abstract, the proletarian, socialist character of the party as a cover for the things they really wanted to achieve, which were primarily to crush any threat to their leadership, be that from more bourgeois, liberal types or indeed those backed by Moscow. Hence we see two key themes in the rhetoric of the Zhengfeng movement - a stressing of the party’s real revolutionary character (though abstract and divorced from its actual activity and programme in the united front with Chiang), and an attack on ‘dogmatic Marxists’ who could only repeat phrases from Moscow, as opposed to Mao’s apparently more nuanced, ‘Sinified’ Marxism.
One very important point that can be, and often is, easily overlooked when analysing Zhengfeng, is the party structures. Much of the talk from Liu and Mao focused around reasserting the party’s internally proletarian character. This they did because a) it gained the necessary support of the more revolutionary party members, and b) it allowed the leaders to assert, for their own reasons, the need for discipline and centralism in the party, thus attacking those ill-disciplined petty bourgeois careerists.
Throughout Liu’s document on the ‘Intra-Party Struggle’ we find an enormous quantity of abstract truisms such as “we must oppose right opportunism and at the same time oppose ‘left’ opportunism. We must struggle against both, and only then will we be able to maintain the proletarian substance of our party” (Liu, < On the Intra-Party Struggle<). These statements never develop into an actual analysis of the contradictions and sources of these twin errors to be guarded against, and thus the vagueness of such statements is little more than an excuse to attack each and every challenge, ‘left’ or ‘right’, to the leadership.
Of particular interest is the absence in the discussion of any mention of members rights to criticise and challenge the leadership. The importance of proletarian self-sacrifice, discipline and party loyalty are constantly emphasised, as in this typical example,
“the test of a CP member’s loyalty to the Party and to the task of the revolution and Communism is his ability, regardless of the situation, to subordinate his individual interests unconditionally and absolutely to those of the Party...He should see that his own individual interests are completely identical with Party interests, to the extent that they are fused...he can without the slightest hesitation or feeling of compulsion submit to Party interests and sacrifice individual interests...if he has no independent, individual objectives separating him from the Party, nor any selfish calculations…” (Liu, < On the Training of a Communist Party Member<, August 1939).
In the abstract, such a description of comradely behaviour is not false - although one can tell from the somewhat over the top emphasis on the lack of individual interests of members that there is something awry here. The stereotype of a Stalinist organisation is indeed one emphasising discipline and loyalty from the ranks to the leadership, however in this respect Stalinism is never consistent. We should bare in mind that while Stalinist organisations stress such discipline and centralism from their ranks, they also exhibited a woeful lack of consistency and unity at the top, with constant zig-zags in policy and, in 1943 (ironically around the same time the Zhengfeng movement took place) the dissolution of the entire Communist International at the stroke of Stalin’s pen.
No surprise then that in the 1945 constitution, there is not a single mention of internationalism as a principle of the Party, evidently a conscious decision since the old document stated that its aim was “to participate in the revolutionary struggle of the international and Chinese proletariat”. Mao “also affirmed the < independence < of his own leadership from Moscow [that is, from a higher, more central body - in direct contradiction, as well shall see in a moment, with his own demands for the Chinese Party]. In May 1943 he used the dissolution of the Communist International as an occasion to hail the independent achievements of his own party” and even praised the Communist International for not ‘meddling’ in the Chinese party’s affairs! (Schram, < Mao Tse-tung<, pp223-4). So much for loyalty, discipline and centralism!
For Marxists, loyalty, discipline and unity are won through genuine democratic freedom of discussion and the right to criticise and change policy. Through such a process, any unity arrived at will be much stronger and more genuine than one abstractly asserted from above. It is no surprise then that in these documents of the Zhengfeng campaign we find no corresponding elucidation of the democratic rights of the members. Certain rights are listed, such as of appeal if action is taken against a comrade, however no means whatsoever are mentioned whereby a comrade may move changes to the political programme of the leadership. If one has problems with the leadership in any way, one is not permitted to discuss this within one’s branch nor any other lay body. All a lay member could do was to petition the leadership.
Undermining any ability to exercise control over the leading bodies was the fact that elections to higher Party bodies had to be approved by the Party’s highest bodies, which negates any real democratic right to determine the makeup of the leading bodies (Harrison, op cit. p290). In line with this is Mao’s description of democratic centralism, in which there is no suggestion of the leadership and the line of the organisation being an outcome of a democratic process where all members have the right to propose policies. Instead we find out that in “democratic centralism...the lower ranks obey the higher ranks, the particular obeys the universal, and the entire Party obeys the CC” (Mao, Correcting Unorthodox Tendencies in Learning, the Party, and Literature and Art , February 1942). Such a line is correct only when preceded by genuine democratic participation and the guarantee of regular congresses in which CC decisions can be reviewed or overturned by all.
But at precisely this time the CCP had no congresses. The first national congress of the Party to take place since the onset of the Zhengfeng campaign happened in 1945, 17 years after the previous one! Here the Party’s central leadership was given enhanced powers to dissolve local party organisation’s electoral decisions. Although the party leadership remained ultimately responsible to the rank-and-file via the national congress, in the new 1945 constitution the Party was only required to call such a congress every three years, as opposed to every year as in the previous document. That means that the central leadership now had three years in which to act with impunity. Additionally, the Central Committee, elected by the congress and with the right to overrule the Central Political Bureau, now only met every six months (as opposed to every three) and only at the convocation of the Central Political Bureau. However, even these changes were a pale shadow of the real centralisation taking place against Party rules - the 1945 congress was as we have said the < first since 1928 and the last one until 1956, which in turn was the last one until 1969!< Indeed, at no point in the Party’s history since 1928 has there been less than four years between congresses.
This stands in sharp contrast to the history and spirit of Bolshevism. The impositions of the rural struggle are no excuse for the lack of congresses, not only because those impositions were a necessary result of CCP policy, but also because of the example the Russian Bolsheviks’ set, as Trotsky explains,
“During the civil war and the blockade, when the foreign delegates had to overcome unprecedented difficulties, and when some of them lost their lives en route , the congresses of the CPSU and of the Comintern convened regularly in conformance with the statutes and the spirit of the proletarian party” (Trotsky, < The Third International After Lenin<)<
In the Zhengfeng campaign, literally hundreds of thousands of comrades were ‘guided’ into making public ‘self-criticisms’ and ‘self-confessions’, in which, < according to Party documents of the time<, the use of torture was widespread (Harrison, op cit. pp341-2). It is thought that around 10,000 were killed in this process. It is rather ironic that those being expelled and killed were alleged Guomindang spies, whilst the Party leadership was at the same time in a formal alliance with the Guomindang itself!
Thus those documents by Liu and Mao we have quoted, in which what seem to be moderately undemocratic statements and rule changes are made, are only a timid expression in thought of the far more oppressive, undemocratic reality in action. One can have a party with the most democratic constitution in the world, but when one in twenty of its members are organised into ‘traitor-suppression committees’, ‘weeding out from the Party’ those it considers ‘spies’ etc., such democratic rights are just marks on paper.
It is interesting to note that throughout these documents authored by Liu and Mao, we find regular references to the need to secure the party’s structures to prevent Trotskyist ‘infiltrators’ gaining influence within the Party. The reality is that the Zhengfeng campaign, although partially a response to a growing petty bourgeois fracturing of the party, was in no way a return to democratic, Bolshevik and proletarian methods, but an assertion of the leadership’s authority against any challengers.
The Emergence of the Mao Cult and Infallibility
In key with the history of Stalinism in the USSR and elsewhere, and as the reader will by now be well aware, the CCP had gone through a great many programmatic zig-zags in its twenty or so years of existence - from independence, to alliance with the Guomindang, to adventurism and ultra-leftism in the late 20s, to rural based struggle, and back into alliance with the Guomindang again in the late 30s. “It is therefore quite possible that a Party member who was thoroughly devoted to the Party line in the Soviet period of the early 1930s, and who stubbornly clings to that line, may find himself a ‘left opportunist’ in the New Democracy period of the early 1940s. Heresies are thus likely to emerge in any quarter. The only ultimate criterion of Party loyalty is the disciplined acceptance of the Party line at any given moment, no matter how that line may shift” (Brandt, Schwarz and Fairbank, op cit, p355).
In this scenario we can see clearly how the extremely repressive character of Stalinism with which we are all familiar is a product of the inconsistent, opportunist and bureaucratic approach to leadership, which relegates the correctness of the political line beneath the upholding of the temporary needs of the party organisation and in particular, its leadership. The political programme ends up being a tool used and swapped by the leading bureaucracy at its convenience. When the line becomes an obstacle because it has been proven totally false by events, or has become inconvenient for winning this or that allegiance, it is discarded, and those who cannot understand this are ‘disloyal’ and ‘undisciplined’.
According to Harrison, throughout Mao’s tenure he held remarkably few high-level meetings and discussions, “Mao wanted ‘discussions’ when it suited him, but, as the subsequent record showed, he tried to force through his decisions on all essential questions” (Harrison, op cit. p400). Even the CCP publication the Shanxi-Suiyuan Daily in 1947 admitted that the Zhengfeng campaign had been “the effort of factions or individuals operating from the top down” (quoted in Harrison, op cit. p416).
In the face of such political instability, where suddenly the previous line was declared totally erroneous and anyone holding it to be a dangerous enemy, the leadership could not lead through genuine moral authority won in open debate. This tendency is the origin then of the ‘cult of personality’ around Mao, and in particular, the declaration of the infallibility of this leader as means to achieve unity without the necessary freedom to criticise and discuss. In the new constitution of 1945, which reflects the spirit of the Zhengfeng movement, the ‘ideas of Mao Zedong’ were declared to be those of the Party. This effectively made Mao infallible from the point of view of the Party, since anything Mao subsequently said represented, by definition, the ideas of Mao Zedong, and thus had to be correct and followed.
Concomitant with this was Mao’s election, in March 1943, as the chairman of the three-man Secretariat of the Party, on which body he had the automatic right to outvote the other two members! (Schram, < Mao Tse-Tung’s Thought to 1949<, in < The Cambridge History of China<, Volume 13 Part II, p861). One can only conclude that such a body was formed to mask Mao’s total control of the Party, for why else have such a committee when a single member of it can outvote the rest every time!
From the time of its birth in the early 1920s, the Chinese Communist Party, conceived by the revolutionary upheaval of Chinese society and the Russian led Communist International, could hardly have wished for a worse ‘upbringing’. Moscow’s leadership is analogous to that of a negligent and abusive parent whose selfishness scars the child for the rest of its life. As we shall now see, this absence of leadership continued right up to and even after the taking of power in 1949 and was one of several factors undermining, delaying and distorting the character of the revolution in 1949.
If we are astounded by the extent and duration of the CCP’s alliance with its own nemesis, Chiang Kai Shek, a blunder which somehow was not sufficient to wreck the revolution, then the scale of Stalin’s duplicity seems only too believable knowing that he was the original author of this scandalous policy. From the mid twenties onwards Stalin and Bukharin had failed entirely to anticipate the actual course of the Chinese revolution, primarily because their own bureaucratic boneheadedness blinded them to the organisational and political power of the working class. They sacrificed the coming revolutionary tide which would sweep all before it, for the already established, and therefore doomed, verbal diplomatic agreement with the respectable bourgeois.
The course of the Chinese revolution and the CCP’s fortunes would continue to wrong-foot Stalin up to 1949. He could never understand the complex dynamics of class struggles, especially foreign ones. Knowing his own short-sighted limitations, he guided USSR policy on China during the Sino-Japanese and following Civil war into a mess of hedged bets so weak and compromised that they satisfied neither the Guomindang nor CCP. As a consequence the USSR’s influence over a revolution on its borders was reduced to practically nil and the final nails were driven into the coffin of Stalin’s relations with Mao.
Befitting his wretched bureaucratic mentality, Stalin hedged his bets more strongly on the side of Chiang and the existing Guomindang government than he did on the side of his ‘own’ Chinese Communist Party. Stalin always had a “lack of enthusiasm for a dynamic revolutionary movement which might not be under his control” (Schram, Mao Tse-Tung, p239). Indeed, Stalin’s jealousy of Mao and the CCP’s independence and power were so strong that he “personally intervened to prevent the publication in the Soviet Union of Miss Strong’s book on Mao [in 1947]...because it emphasised Mao’s original contribution” (Ibid, p254), an act which anticipated the subsequent Sino-Soviet split.
The press in the Soviet Union was actually behind that of the West in reporting the successes of the CCP in the war! Stalin is even quoted by Harrison as saying that “we told [the CCP leaders] bluntly that we considered the development of the uprising in China had no prospect and that the Chinese comrades should seek a modus vivendi with Chiang Kai-shek, that they should join the Chiang Kai-shek government and dissolve their army. The Chinese comrades agreed here with the view of the Soviet comrades, but went back to China and acted quite otherwise...Now in the case of China we admit we were wrong” (Harrison, The Long March to Power, p384, our emphasis).
The difference between the CCP-Guomindang ‘United Front’ of 1923-7 and 1936 onwards, was that in the case of the former, Moscow spoke directly to its Chinese section in order to facilitate the alliance it wanted. In the latter case, Moscow and Yenan barely even spoke, and in reality the Chinese United Front in this period was only an emulation of Moscow’s attempt at a united front with Chiang independent and over the heads of the CCP. Not only had Moscow in 1936 pledged direct military aid to Chiang (not to the CCP) behind the CCP’s back, and consistently gave more money to the Guomindang government as aid than it did the CCP (as mentioned in Part II). It also campaigned in the League of Nations (which it had joined in 1934) for the US and UK to impose sanctions on Japan to aid the Chinese government and for the sake of ‘International Security’ in Moscow’s own words (Akira Iriye Japanese Aggression and China’s International Position, Cambridge History of China volume 13, p521).
By this time Stalin had dispensed entirely with the Comintern as anything other than an arm of Russian diplomacy within what today is euphemistically called ‘the International Community’. The Moscow bureaucracy had thoroughly adapted to this ‘thieves kitchen’, and its strategy within international bourgeois diplomacy entirely transcended any plans for the Comintern - hence the latter’s ignominious dissolution by Stalin in 1943 to suit the needs of his standing in the bourgeois world. Before it was wound up, the Comintern’s various sections, including the Chinese, had become little more than friendly acquaintances who could barely remember how and why they first met.
Having no interesting in using the worldwide Communist movement to appeal to the world working class to fight against bourgeois regimes everywhere, Stalin instead ended up using his key position in WWII to sign agreements with the US and UK to gain various privileges on the international stage at the expense of weaker nations, including China. The petty gains Stalin was thus able to win from China trumped his relations with the CCP entirely.
In the 1945 Yalta conference, which symbolised his ascension to the peak of bourgeois diplomacy, Stalin won promises from Roosevelt and Churchill that the USSR would have control of the Ports at Liaotung (Port Arthur) and Dalian (Dairen), and the Manchurian railways - all at China’s expense, within its territory (should Japan be defeated) and without consulting the Chinese government nor the CCP! This was won on the basis of a promise to help the US defeat Japan and also involved Stalin agreeing “ with Roosevelt that Chiang Kai Shek should remain the dominant figure in Chinese politics...Stalin could not, of course, ignore the Chinese Communists, but apparently he didn't believe that they would soon emerge as serious contenders power. Nor was he insistent on forming a coalition government in China. His primary concern was with seizing strategic areas in north-eastern Asia, and he judged that this could best be achieved through arrangement with the United States” (Ibid, p538).
It was precisely because of these treacherous agreements that Stalin found himself on the wrong side of the barricade in China after the end of the war, this time going beyond merely forcing an alliance between the CCP and Guomindang, but effectively siding with the Guomindang in a struggle between the two,
“Mao was vitally interested in laying the foundations for his ultimate triumph, whereas Stalin was more sensitive to the effect which open civil war might have on Chiang’s willingness to satisfy Russian demands accepted by Roosevelt at Yalta, such as the creation of a naval base at Port Arthur...On the very day of the Japanese surrender (14 August) Stalin had concluded, as agreed at Yalta, a treaty of friendship and alliance with the Chongqing [Guomindang] Government which, if faithfully carried out, would have given a large measure of satisfaction to Chiang Kai Shek on this point. A supplementary agreement provided that, as soon as any part of the territory in Manchuria occupied by the Soviet troops in their advance ceased to be ‘a zone of immediate military operations’, it would be turned over to representatives of the Chinese National Government for administration” (Schram, op cit. pp234-5).
Although Peng Shuzi is correct in his assessment that the USSR’s dismantling of factories in Manchuria and handing over weapons to the CCP were key factors in the latter’s coming to power (Peng, The Causes of the Victory of the Chinese Communist Party over Chiang Kai-Shek, and the CCP’s Perspectives), it must be said that Stalin’s behaviour in Manchuria amounted to treachery. The reason for the above quoted agreement with the Guomindang regarding the USSR’s exit from Manchuria was that the Guomindang knew that if the USSR withdrew immediately without such a promise, the CCP would inevitably use its nearby HQ at Yenan to takeover the whole region. Moscow even went so far as to allow Guomindang troops to gradually move into the region whilst under Russian military control! (Pepper, The KMT-CCP Conflict 1945-9, in The Cambridge History of China, Volume 13, p728). Indeed, many of the arms used by Chiang’s armies in fighting the CCP, from the New Fourth Army Incident onwards, were given to the Guomindang by the USSR as part of its aid which always preferenced the Guomindang over the CCP. Thus, although the existence of the USSR did help the CCP come to power, had Stalin behaved as a comrade of the Chinese revolution he could have brought the CCP to power much earlier.
Compensating for Hitler’s betrayal of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Stalin managed to exchange one pact with a fascist for another by signing a neutrality pact with Japan in 1941. This was done to avoid a war on two fronts (with Germany and Japan), but in doing so Stalin contrived to betray not only the CCP but the Guomindang and China as a whole too (not to mention the international Communist movement, to which he’d already done damage enough)! If we consider that the one slither of revolutionary politics left in the Communist movement in China, as well as the justification for its alliance with Chiang, was the insistence on fighting to liberate China from Japan, then Moscow’s de facto support for Japan against China in 1941 becomes all the more shocking and shameful.
It is hardly surprising, considering this incredible litany of betrayals to the Chinese people and CCP, that the USSR had by now exhausted its capital in the consciousness of the Chinese people, who previously held this revolutionary nation in such high esteem. These cynical deals, which “for certain points recalled irresistibly some of the Unequal Treaties” (Guillermaz 382) - imperialist treaties so exploitative they inspired the founding of the CCP itself - were enough to cause “very strong and hostile reactions among broad layers of the Chinese people, especially among the workers of Manchuria”, particularly “ever since the USSR seized Port Arthur and Dairen under the provisions of the Yalta Agreement, and after it acquired many other privileges, such as joint control of the Chungtung and Ch’ang-ch’un railways, and especially after it destroyed or moved away the majority of the industrial and mining installations in Manchuria” (Peng, op cit.).
In an act not only of betrayal but also of vain foolishness, Stalin continued to negotiate with and support the Guomindang government up till 1949, even when its position was so hopeless it was forced to move its seat of government to Canton (Guangzhou) in the southern extremity of China’s mainland! He did this to distance himself from ‘collusion’ with the CCP (as if the USSR could ever have done enough to allay the US’ fears it had close ties with its own offshoot party in China!), and in the pathetic hope he could protect Russian interests in Manchuria and Xinjiang by negotiating with the Guomindang even when its government was reduced to one city! Presumably Stalin intended on handing to the new, confident CCP government a claim to territory in these areas on the basis of respecting agreements it had with the now destroyed Guomindang regime! Extraordinarily, the USSR was the only country to accompany the Guomindang to its final refuge in Canton, instead of welcoming the victorious CCP as it entered Nanjing!
This is the story of how Stalin decorated himself in glory in the greatest chapter of the Chinese Communist Party’s history - after having authored its catastrophic failure in 1927, so traumatic it destroyed the Party’s proletarian roots, he bettered himself by conspiring with the enemy in 1949 in so cack-handed a manner that he failed to prevent the Guomindang’s demise and the CCP’s victory. Of course, once a political fact, he lost no time in celebrating the CCP led revolution. But he wasn’t fooling anyone: nobody credits Stalin with having foreseen or facilitated the Chinese revolution of 1949, the twin product of CCP tenacity and Guomindang incompetence.
If, by 1937, the war of national liberation against Japan was the immediate goal and cause of the mass movement of Chinese workers and peasants around the CCP, then the agrarian revolution was its true, final cause.
It was the promise of real change in their lives represented by the slogan ‘Land to the Tiller’ which enabled the CCP to continually recruit the thousands of self-sacrificing peasant soldiers that kept the CCP alive. For all their narrow political horizons and disorganised, crude methods, the peasantry was still motivated by the desire to put an end to the barbaric system of landlordism under which they suffered, even if they could not have formulated a political programme to this effect by themselves.
It is very important to understand the role land reform played in the CCP’s movement after it united with Chiang in the Sino-Japanese war. This economic component to their rural struggle against Japan provides the link to the subsequent civil war with the Guomindang in which the CCP was victorious. As elsewhere, we find that the CCP’s fortunes stand in clear contradiction to their political programme and leadership in the land reform movement. To a great extent, the CCP’s success was thanks to the extremely favourable objective conditions for revolution, and not its actual political line, which arguably hampered, delayed and distorted the revolutionary movement on which it sat.
The Moderate Land Policy
As we have seen in the previous series of articles, the CCP felt the need to moderate significantly its programme of land reform in the areas it had taken control of in the late 1920s/early 1930s. This was because it lacked the urban, industrial centres’ productive capacity, as well as the political power of the working class, and so had to base itself on the landowners’ more productive land and links to the cities to keep the economy going. A revolutionary workers’ government, centred in the industrialised cities, could have expropriated the large tracts of land owned by big landowners and turned them into voluntary collective farms equipped by modern technology produced in the factories. The smaller farms belonging to poorer farmers would have been freed from debt or rent and given the option of joining one of these larger collective farms. Lacking this urban basis, the CCP had instead learnt that it had to preserve landlordism in its bases.
The alliance with the Guomindang from 1936 onwards only strengthened this tendency to the detriment of poor peasants. As Guillermaz notes, “to maintain the united front and save the mediocre, fragile economy from total ruin, the communists observed a fairly liberal economic policy in the areas under their control. This was particularly obvious in their agrarian measures. As early as the summer of 1937 confiscation and redistribution of land stopped, except in the case of absent pro-Japanese collaborators” (Guillermaz, A History of the Chinese Communist Party 1921-1949, p339). In doing so, the CCP violated Marxist theory by asserting it was able to guarantee the property, civil and political rights of both landlords and the peasants whom they exploited! (Brandt, Schwartz & Fairbank, A Documentary History of Chinese Communism, pp275-6). Perhaps the Party could also support a strike whilst defending the boss’ right to sack the striking workers?
In the Decision of the Central Committee on Land Policy in the Anti-Japanese Base Areas from January 1942, we read that “the policy of the Party is only to help the peasants in reducing feudal exploitation but not to liquidate feudal exploitation entirely...the collection of rent and interest are to be assured...we must guarantee the landlords their civil liberties, political, land and economic rights in order to ally the landlord class with us in the struggle against the Japanese.” The same document urges ‘both sides’ of the rural class struggle to “bow to the overall interests of national resistance”. In this respect, the peasants must understand that they “are obliged to pay rent and interest” to their landlords - or presumably face punishment from the Red Army.
An elementary understanding of Marxism would teach that there is no way the class struggle can be cancelled, postponed or put aside for the mythical ‘national interest’. This is the language the ruling class speaks to the masses so that the latter is pacified whilst the former continues to wage class warfare unimpeded. We must be honest and say that in this programme the CCP was doing exactly that - pacifying the peasantry, for it could not pacify the rich landlords, as they held the economic levers on which the Soviet bases depended. This is why this same document asserts that the Peasant Association for National Salvation’s only task is to assist the CCP government in “mediating rural disputes” and “increasing agricultural production” - in other words, to control and limit the peasant’s appetite for land so that the landlords may continue producing.
This class-collaboration was justified not only by referring to the need for national unity against Japan, but also by the apparently Marxist assertion that “the capitalist mode of production is a relatively progressive mode of production in present-day China. The rich peasants are the capitalists of the rural areas and are an indispensable force; their work must be encouraged” (Decision of the Central Committee on Land Policy in the Anti-Japanese Base Areas).
But as Trotsky proved in his theory of ‘Permanent Revolution’, the capitalist class in colonial countries such as China did not represent a break with the past, but were in reality an outgrowth of it and an obstacle to ending feudal relations. Chiang’s bourgeois government had already proven this by actually strengthening the position of regional warlords and landlordism. It had no modern, bourgeois prop with interests distinct from the landlords. Indeed, the wealthy merchants were interchangeable with the landlords. Most merchants were from landlord and noble families, and studies have shown that most rich landlords interested in preserving China’s antiquated land relations “became wealthy originally through trade, money lending or as officials. They then purchased land” (Myers, The Agrarian Systemin Cambridge History of China volume 13, p241). Myers cites a study that shows that as far back as the 19th Century, 60% of rich landlords had formerly been (and still were), merchants.
The reality is that the Chinese capitalists were weaned on corruption, speculation and extracting middle-man profits from imperialist enterprises trading in China. They had no independence from this unproductive behaviour from which they were born. Capitalism was not an alternative to landlordism, but was its dark crown. The reason Mao clung to this mechanical theory that capitalism was the only step forwards for China was that the CCP, in its role as governor of large rural districts in isolation from urban industry (instead of being a political tendency in the urban workers’ movement before coming to power), was dependent on the rich landlords/merchants for production and trade. The CCP actually abolished commercial taxes for merchants willing to trade with or in their Soviet bases. It is ironic that by adapting to capitalism in this way, the CCP was unconsciously proving Marx’s principle that ‘social being determines consciousness’.
Fight Japan with the Agrarian Revolution
The bourgeois academic mindset is wont to approach the war against Japan from an abstract point of view, whereby it is imagined as something standing alone from other seemingly unrelated problems. From that strictly technical point of view, on which the CCP’s argument for allying with the bourgeoisie was based, it naturally makes most sense to combine the military forces of the Red Army with the Guomindang army to fight Japan, and to put off other questions such as giving land to peasants. Seen in this way, land for peasants is something entirely different from the military-technical question of the war, and pushing for it would surely only complicate matters.
This was also precisely the argument of the Stalinists in the Spanish civil war only a few years previously. Revolutionary measures such as expropriating the land of landlords for the peasants were seen as a distraction from the more urgent need of winning the war against Franco, and would only alienate wealthier allies in that war.
It is obvious that war is a profoundly political question, carried out on both sides for political reasons. War is never abstract nor conducted for the sake of it, but to achieve political ends - and for Marxists it is elementary that politics resolves itself into a question of class interests. Thus, Japan’s invasion of China was done to take raw materials and cheap or even slave labour to boost Japanese capitalism, and naturally therefore it found an (unstable) ally in the Chinese bourgeoisie, who could participate in this exploitation as a junior partner. From this point of view Chiang’s frequent capitulation to the Japanese makes perfect sense - he’d rather concentrate on fighting an enemy that really threatened his class’ interests - the Communists.
Similarly, a struggle against Japan would have to be waged politically. The only way to effectively fight Japan would be through the mass mobilisation of millions of workers and peasants, to make their occupation impossible through constant guerrilla warfare and strikes. Every Chinese person could become a potential covert soldier sabotaging the Japanese behind the lines. But there is a political prerequisite for mobilising and organising millions of Chinese on this basis, and that is to make such a life-and-death fight worthwhile for them, which cannot mean risking one’s life for the sake of re-establishing the old order of poverty, debt and exploitation.
In this respect the most powerful and fundamental arrow in the CCP’s quiver wasn’t simply their anti-Japaneseness but its investment with revolutionary social content. As we have explained elsewhere, the CCP only went half-way on this point, straying dangerously into a political no-man’s land. The compromised land reform programme we have just mentioned actually went no further than that of the Guomindang’s. In this respect they risked losing their basis of support in the poor and risked being driven out of their rural bases - just as they were driven from their Jiangxi base in 1934 partially by the dwindling of active peasant support for their presence.
However, unlike the Guomindang, the CCP actually implemented their land reform programme. As modest as it was, it not only represented the only alternative to the Guomidang’s wretched warlordism and corruption, but was also tangible, as the CCP really held power in parts of the country. This was the CCP’s chief weapon not only in its - now repressed - struggle against the Guomindang, but also the Japanese,
“a 1939 Party survey of a township near Yenchuan, about 50 miles northeast of Yenan, stated that only one of the 134 Party members who had joined the Party between 1927 and 1939 had done so primarily to fight Japan, while the rest had joined chiefly to push the land revolution in the township...a resolution on political work in the Shen-Kan-Ning Border Region similarly stated that 90% of the communist cadres at the subdistrict and township levels were the products of peasant revolutionary struggles.” (Harrison, The Long March to Power, pp272-3)
According to Bianco and Lloyd, those peasants rallying to the CCP banner “were seeking not so much the liberation of the country per se as protection against local insecurity” (Bianco and Lloyd, Peasant Movements in Cambridge History of China volume 13, p323). In other words, peasants were motivated to join the CCP not out of a sense of patriotism but because of the way the war interacted with their poverty and insecurity.
Proving the inseparability of the war against Japan and the war against landlordism, the CCP itself admitted in January 1942 (in the same above quoted document that assured the sanctity of rent and landlordism) that “where rent and interest rate reductions have been carried out more extensively, more rigorously, and more thoroughly, together with the guarantee of rent and interest collections[!!], the enthusiasm with which the local people have participated in the anti-Japanese struggle and in democratic reconstruction has been higher than elsewhere” (Decision of the Central Committee on Land Policy in the Anti-Japanese Base Areas). The document goes on to complain that in other areas of CCP rule rent and interest reductions (let alone abolition) has not even been carried out, and consequently “the enthusiasm of the masses cannot be developed and consequently they cannot be effectively organised to form an active base for the struggle against the Japanese.”
There is no doubt that the war with Japan was objectively a revolutionary one. The ruling class of oppressed nations are no more progressive than those of imperialist ones, and usually are the latter’s agent. It was no different for China. The almighty effort involved in standing up as a nation could not be done without rattling and even breaking the internal chains of its millennia old class system, and this was proven by the need to give peasants land before they could be organised and enthused to fight Japan.
The Way to Wage War on the Guomindang was through a Social and Revolutionary Programme
It is proven further still by the immediately ensuing class war which engulfed China upon Japan’s defeat. Ultimately Japan was defeated by forces external to China, and so we will not dwell on the details of that here. But a nation which is brought to its feet, as China was by the invasion of Japan (and the revolution preceding this in the 1920s), will never be the same again. There is nothing more dangerous for the ruling class than the oppressed masses gaining the appetite for struggle. Despite their compromising, the CCP was associated with the struggle for land rights, and once this cat was out of the bag not even the CCP could put it back. If the gain of lower rents and the promise of future land were the subtext of the Red Army’s campaign against Japan, then they became the explicit, overarching narrative of the subsequent civil war with the Guomindang,
“Moderate land reform, however, led inexorably to more radical steps. Even under the ‘rent and interest reduction’ campaigns of the anti-Japanese war, the Party had authorised the seizure of land of ‘stubbornly unrepentant traitors’ who collaborated with the Japanese, while the peasants frequently went on to seize the holdings of absentee landlords, disregarding Party policy. After 1945, in the ‘liberated areas,’ the peasants increasingly took over the lands they tilled, regardless of the wartime status of the owners, and thereby spontaneously, though often with the support of local Communists, accelerated Party Central’s timetable for moving to the more radical ‘land to the tiller’ policy.
“One of the more valuable accounts of the period eloquently describes the intensification of the land revolution in Lucheng County, Shanxi...What had begun in late 1945 as a chaotic but intense ‘anti-traitor movement’ to ‘settle accounts’ with Japanese collaborators of all classes, soon developed into a concentrated attack on the entire landlord class. Local Communists and peasants therefore seemed far more radical than the Central Committee, which still called for ‘rent and interest reduction’, although ‘demands for land kept coming from below’. As had been the case with the Northern Expedition in 1926, war had revolutionised the peasantry of North China: “The arming of the people for resistance had placed the peasants in a position to challenge the landlords and usurers in the countryside, and not even the tremendous prestige of the Communist Party or the critical situation in the country and the world could prevent this challenge from breaking out in one form or another and carrying with it many lower echelon cadres and Party committees.” (Harrison, op cit., pp408-9).
This was a revolution, a mass movement for fundamental change and power. The real force behind the CCP-Guomindang war that was about to unfold was not the CCP but the revolutionary force of the masses that they had semi-consciously helped to vocalise. From 1945 onwards there was an irresistible force pushing from below for a radical land programme, and in 1946-7 the Party began to buckle to this. The Party line shifted further and further to the left, and in September 1947 the Party formally changed its position to be in favour of complete abolition of landlordism and the cancellation of peasant debt. It encouraged peasant organisations to take land and distribute it equally regardless of age or sex. It was this upsurge from below and the changed land policy at the top that won the CCP the civil war.
This is the programme the Party should have adopted all along. Outside of the cities, which it had catastrophically lost, its only reliable base of support and the only force with an interest in taking society forwards, was the impoverished peasantry. All along it had resisted supporting them for fear of alienating the ruling class; in the end, the ruling class could never forgive the Communists their name and the peasants their very nature. Even in 1946 the Party was still apologising for the ‘excesses’ of the peasants in taking land, and its new 1947 programme was clearly imposed onto the Party by objective events it had failed to anticipate or understand. This is yet another example of the CCP’s long and entirely fruitless search for a progressive ally in the ruling class. In the 1947 land programme, and in the coming to power in 1949, the CCP had belatedly recognised the reality of the class struggle they were founded to lead. The party was dragged into a revolutionary policy by the masses.
Japan’s ‘prompt and utter destruction’ not in China but from nuclear blasts at home produced a surreal situation within China. In the chaos and desperation of WWII the capitalist states fought one another with such ferocity that capitalism itself was under threat. In Europe the Nazis’ actions produced an alliance of US and British imperialism with the Soviet Union, ultimately leading to the destruction of capitalism in Eastern and even parts of Central Europe.
Japan’s reckless imperialism fatally weakened the chief executor of the communists in mainland Asia, that is, the Guomindang. The situation was too critical for the US to prepare an effective strategy to prop up its Chinese ally, and thus at times it even proposed backing the CCP as a better fighter of Japan. The defeat of Japan suddenly revealed the changed balance of forces both within China and globally. In truth its invasion had rescued the CCP from probable annihilation and had over time strengthened the CCP militarily. Now Japan’s withdrawal gave the CCP an arena to finally engage the Guomindang in a combat it stood a chance of winning.
New Democracy - An Exclusively ‘Minimum’ Programme
Such a dramatic transformation made the CCP’s perspectives untenable. Since 1937 they had suppressed internal and external calls for a revolutionary break with the Guomindang under the pretext that Japan’s invasion was so oppressive of all China that it transformed the Chinese bourgeoisie into an unavoidable ally. The reality, as we have seen, was quite the opposite, and surely the swift culmination of Japanese hostilities would, by their own criteria, require a more revolutionary, anti-Guomindang and anti-capitalist programme from the CCP? Surely now it was freed to campaign for what its members really wanted?
On the contrary. The explicit programme around which the CCP was organising remained the same ‘theory’ of ‘New Democracy’ Mao had first described around 1940, which was essentially one of collaboration with the bourgeoisie and the Guomindang. After the Sino-Japanese war this perspective served as a ‘minimum programme’, an immediate set of bourgeois democratic demands to rally the masses against the Guomindang dictatorship - but not against the Guomindang or bourgeoisie in themselves. It is roughly analogous to Lenin’s slogan of the ‘Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry’, which was a deliberately vague and ‘algebraic’ concept which Lenin abandoned as the clarifications of the actual struggle in Russia made such imprecision in programme unsustainable.
The sharp dividing line between the immediate bourgeois-democratic goals of the CCP and its long term aim of achieving Chinese socialism, such that the CCP would struggle for the former without pushing for its transformation into the latter, is made clear by Mao himself on the eve of Japan’s defeat. Outlining his perspectives for the CCP in the post-Japan era in April 1945, Mao enunciated a range of progressive bourgeois democratic demands, such as the end of Guomindang dictatorship (but not its government), freedom of speech, aid and rehabilitation for anti-Japanese soldiers and their families, punishment of corrupt officials, agrarian reform, progressive income tax etc.
Listing demands when in opposition is however the easy part. The question is - how, on what economic basis and with what class forces, will these demands be realised? Prior to the Japanese invasion Trotsky had proposed that Marxists in China raise what are strictly bourgeois democratic demands in order to rally the masses against the immediate oppression of Chiang’s dictatorship. However, he added that “in the process of agitating for this slogan, it will obviously be necessary to explain to the masses that it is doubtful if such an assembly will be convened, and even if it were, it would be powerless so long as the material power remains in the hands of the Guomindang generals. From this flows the possibility of broaching in a new manner the slogan of the arming of workers and peasants”. “But by itself the democratic character of these tasks does not at all determine as yet what classes, and in which combination, will solve these problems.” (Trotsky, The Chinese Question After the Sixth Congress).
How, then, did the CCP answer this most pressing of questions: from which class and by what means political freedom could be won? In reality the programme was not a popular spearhead and means to rally the masses against the Guomindang, but a means to promote the CCP’s leadership in its negotiations with the Guomindang for freedoms for itself and the possibility of power sharing. It never explained to the masses that the likelihood of such democratic reform was extremely slim without a mass workers’ movement and that such a movement would be compelled to fight for socialist demands by its class nature. It left the exact form of government and economy extremely vague and abstract, constantly calling for a ‘coalition government’ (with who?), which would manage a state that would be “not one ‘monopolised by a few’, but a New Democratic state ‘owned by the ordinary people’” (Mao, On Coalition Government, April 1945).
A Coalition with the Shadow of the Bourgeoisie
The call for coalition government was in itself particularly abstract and baffling - unless we accept that the aim of the CCP’s New Democracy slogans were not to raise the masses to their feet in order to conquer power, but to dampen such mass impulses and manoeuvre the Party through the maze of negotiations and horse-trading that is bourgeois politics. It was baffling because coalitions are surely never political ends in themselves, but unavoidable compromises in the quest to place one’s programme in power. They therefore assume not only a relatively equal balance of political forces, but also a certain commonality of interests among the parties forming the coalition.
But ever since 1911 posed the question of transforming China into a modern and free nation, all illusions in a gentlemanly, negotiated institution of bourgeois political freedoms had, or should have been, exploded. Since the 1920s there were only two serious parties vying for power, and for all their faults represented conflicting class interests - the despotic bourgeois Guomindang and the CCP. In proposing a coalition government with bourgeois forces, the CCP was not only betraying the interests of the masses, but it was also unreal in that no viable parties existed with which to form such a coalition other than the Guomindang, hence the demand’s character as merely a means with which to negotiate with the Guomindang.
Eastman describes the non-Guomindang bourgeois parties found in the rubber stamp parliament The People’s Political Council as having no real relationship to the bourgeoisie (despite being liberal parties), as they were composed of foreign-educated intellectuals with no power base. The largest of them, the China Youth Party, could muster 30,000 members; none had anything approaching a “mass following. They were essentially congeries of intellectuals, highly elitist in outlook” (Eastman, Nationalist China During the Sino-Japanese War 1937-35 in The Cambridge History of China, p602). Discussing the same groups, Doak Barnett, who spent much time travelling around China and interviewing various politicians just before the CCP ascended to power, said that “none is really a political party at the present time, although several aspire to be. They are merely small political groups, each with a few hundred to a few thousand members. Not one of them has a mass following or a strong political organisation...In short, they have none of the obvious qualifications for successful independent action in the rough and tumble of contemporary Chinese politics. In terms of tangible power, they cannot make a showing.”
He adds that “as far as some of their top leaders are concerned, it is difficult to discover basic points of difference distinguishing them from Central Government leaders, except that they are now on the opposite side of the fence in the civil war”. These ‘opposition’ leaders were not only indistinguishable in principle from the Guomindang dictatorship but were also “virtually unknown, even to many people within their own country” (Doak Barnett, China on the Eve of Communist Takeover, p85).
Eastman explains that their weakness in the face of the Guomindang (and CCP) was such that “when council members became captious and even formed a political party, [the Guomindang] responded with customary ill grace. Publication of the federation [of non-Guomindang liberal parties] was suppressed by the censors, and its activities were constantly harassed by the secret police...outspoken members of the federation lost their membership [of the People’s Political Council], and a reapportionment of the members assured the Guomindang a dominant majority” (Eastman, op cit. p603).
When faced with such repression, these parties did not lead a mass campaign, backed by their progressive bourgeois funders, for democratic freedoms. If they had, one could understand something of the CCP’s programme for a coalition democratic government - such a slogan would be used to win influence from this wider campaign. Even then, they would have to fill that with socialist content to win those in this hypothetical campaign to the CCP. But such a campaign was never formed because there was no democratic bourgeoisie, and these parties were pygmies.
Rather than launch an anti-Chiang campaign, they engaged in attempts at behind-the-scenes coups, which for them had the merit of excluding any participation and enthusiasm of the masses, who would bring to the table their own demands. Such attempts were doomed because behind them stood nothing more than, in the words of the American consul at the time, “a heterogeneous group of feudal barons and radicals, idealists and practical politicians” (quoted in Eastman, op cit., p608).
These were the political parties the CCP was proposing a vaguely defined coalition with. Given the completely unrealistic nature of such a coalition and the CCP’s vast strength vis-a-vis these other parties, it is clear that the reason this was put forward by the CCP was as a means to avoid mobilising the masses for a revolutionary conquest of power. The CCP wanted to dampen any such expectations and sweep to power on a purely military basis. It would do so with a ready made excuse for not giving the working class and peasantry actual political and economic power, by saying ‘we’re not ready for workers’ control, workers’ soviets and nationalisation, first we need a New Democracy coalition to create democratic capitalism. Be patient’.
The Economic Relations of ‘New Democracy’
Taking Mao at his word, it is very difficult to say what the economic and class characteristics of ‘New Democracy’ were to be, for he himself does not seem to know. When he first outlined the theory, he stated that “the first step, i.e. the first stage of the revolution, is certainly not meant to, and certainly cannot, build up a capitalist society under the dictatorship of the Chinese bourgeoisie” (Mao, On the New Democracy, January 1940). One would think therefore that it is to be a workers’ government building socialism and expropriating capitalism, but in the next sentence he states that it “is meant to set up a new democratic society [on what economic basis?] of the joint dictatorship of all revolutionary classes.’ But Marxism has long explained that there is only one revolutionary class under capitalism, the working class. Moreover, if it is not to be a ‘capitalist society’ as he says, how were any section of the bourgeoisie supposed to participate in this coalition government?!
The governmental form, apparently taking inspiration from Lenin, was to be ‘democratic centralism’ - but ‘of the joint dictatorship of several revolutionary classes’. Nowhere is a description given of exactly which classes these are, how they are defined, what their interests are, and what they will get out of and contribute to this government. Instead Mao was wont to find the distinction only in the abstract terms of ‘progressive’ (or revolutionary) and ‘reactionary’. Thus, all ‘reactionaries’ were to be excluded, and ‘progressives’ included. No further definition or justification is given for these terms, other than the occasional point that reactionaries are those associated with ‘bureaucratic capital’, but exactly what this is and why ‘non-bureaucratic capital’ is so different and has more in common with the proletariat than its bureaucratic cousin is never explained.
Mao argues that “in such a republic as that mentioned above, our economy must be the economy of the new democracy, just as the politics is the politics of the new democracy”. This is a circular definition if ever there was one! Surely the politics of the ‘new democracy’ are defined by their economic basis, but all we find out about that is that it is of ‘new democracy’. In an equally empty statement, Mao defines “the culture of the new democracy” as “the proletarian-led anti-imperialist and anti-feudal culture of the masses” (Ibid).
In attempting a further elaboration, the only concrete proposals given are those that were formulated by the Guomindang in 1924, when it called for the nationalisation of the big banks and industries because they “manipulate the livelihood of the people”. Instead of criticising this thoroughly unscientific programme, which the Guomindang failed to carry out precisely because it based itself on capitalism as a whole, Mao simply approves it along with the general and highly subjective criterion contained therein, stating that the New Democracy “will not forbid the development of capitalist production that ‘cannot manipulate the people’s livelihood’” (Ibid). This is a very fortuitous criterion of course, because it is so subjective that any party can define it however they wish.
These ideas were continued well into the civil war with the Guomindang. Again, instead of calling for a constituent assembly as a means of opposing the masses to the dictatorship, whilst pointing out the limitations of democracy under capitalism, the Party called for such a parliament as a means to bring all the classes together into a sort of gentlemanly discussion to solve China’s problems, “indubitably, what China urgently needs is the establishment, through uniting all political parties and groups and non-partisan leaders, of a democratic, provisional coalition government, so that democratic reforms may be instituted...to establish a regular democratic government, of a similar coalition nature, embracing more broadly all parties and groups...this government will then lead the liberated people of the entire nation to build an independent, free, democratic, unified, prosperous, and strong nation” (Mao, On Coalition Government, April 1945, our emphasis).
Later on Mao clarifies a few points regarding the relations between capital and labour in the New Democracy, “Under the New Democratic system of government, a policy of readjusting the relations between capital and labour will be adopted. On the one hand, the interests of the workers will be protected. An 8- to 10-hour-day system, according to varying circumstances, will be adopted...On the other hand, reasonable profits of state, private, and co-operative enterprises will be guaranteed. In general, this will enable both labour and capital to work jointly for the development of industrial production” (Ibid).
Elsewhere in the same document Mao explains that “private capitalist economy...must be given facilities for extensive development, if the state, the people, and the forward development of our society are to be benefitted.”
New Democracy as a means to discourage the working class
Just as we mentioned at the end of Part III, the demands of the CCP were frequently formulated purely on the basis of what was expedient for the CCP. Thus in 1942, as discussed in Part III, they demanded political freedoms from the Guomindang - but for the CCP, not society. And here we consistently find demands for coalition government and the maintenance of capitalism, but formulated with no analysis of the objective conditions in Chinese society nor the nature of the coalition parties. The extremely abstract character of these demands, their being directed at the ruling class and not as demands to raise the workers to their feet, all heavily imply they were formulated merely to aid the CCP in its conquest of power independently of the movement of the masses, and not because they particularly believed in the need for, say, capitalism or a coalition.
Brandt, Schwarz and Fairbank point out that New Democracy did not “contain any essential theoretical novelty”, and taken at its own word made little sense, “it fails to reflect the striking developments which had actually occurred within the Chinese Communist movement. While the theory of New Democracy is basically similar to the theories used to justify the first CCP-KMT alliance of 1923-7, the realities which it supposedly reflects are entirely different. In 1940 the CCP already possessed its own territorial base, its own armed force, and its own growing mass peasant base. It confronted the Guomindang as an independent force with its own effective sources of power” ( Brandt, Schwartz & Fairbank, A Documentary History of Chinese Communism , p262).
Evidently the theory was advanced to lower awareness of the strength of the CCP’s position so that their inching closer to power did not inspire a mass movement of strikes and protests to finish off the Guomindang. It wanted to install itself in power with no pressure from below, no growth of independent workers’ organisations with whose demands it would have to contend,
“During this same period [i.e. after 1945] the CCP’s military strength and its political influence among the masses were growing rapidly. The workers’ struggles, the ferment of resentment and rebellion among the peasants, and widespread demonstrations by the students, accompanied by the corruption and insecurity of Chiang’s regime and the strengthening of the CCP, plainly created a prerevolutionary situation.
If the CCP had then been able to stay in step with the situation, that is, to accept the “pressure of the masses,” it would have raised slogans for the overthrow of the Chiang Kai-shek government (i.e., the slogan for the seizure of power). It would have joined this slogan to other demands for democratic reforms, especially the demand for agrarian revolution. And it would have been able to swiftly transform this prerevolutionary situation, to carry through the insurrection, and thereby arrive at the conquest of power in the most propitious way.
Unfortunately, however, the fundamental political line adopted by the CCP in this period was quite different. Contrary to what it should have done—mobilize the masses in the struggle for power under the slogans of overthrowing Chiang’s government and agrarian reform—it kowtowed to Chiang Kai-shek and pleaded for the establishment of a “coalition government.” (For this purpose Mao flew to Chongqing to negotiate directly with Chiang, and even openly expressed his support to the latter in mass meetings.) The CCP tried its best to pull together the politicians of the upper layers of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie in order to proceed with peace talks under the sponsorship of American imperialism.
As for the workers’ economic struggles, not only did the CCP not offer any positive lead to transform them into political struggles, which was quite possible at that time, but on the contrary, in order to effect a “united front” with the “national bourgeoisie,” it persuaded the working masses not to go to “extremes” in their conflicts. Moreover, it dealt obsequiously with the leaders of the “yellow trade unions” in order to check the “excessive” demands of the workers.” (Peng, The Causes of the Victory of the Chinese Communist Party over Chiang Kai-Shek, and the CCP’s Perspectives)
Mao’s defenders may say that the slogan of ‘New Democracy’ bore fruit in practice, i.e. the policy was sufficient to complete the revolution. But the point is that they did so in spite of, in contradiction with, these assertions. The CCP at all moments following 1945 dominated the Guomindang opposition and its 'progressive bourgeois' ally was a phantom. So what, they may say? It worked nevertheless. The problem was that in lowering the masses’ consciousness of the realities of the revolution, they ensured that mass participation was secondary and suppressed. They did the opposite then of what a Bolshevik organisation must do, which is to raise the self-confidence of the working class.
With total armed forces of 2.5m men compared to the CCP’s 1m in the aftermath of WWII, all bourgeois commentators and strategists now saw the Guomindang’s new war - against the CCP - as a formality. The government’s advantage was estimated at “almost three-to-one in fighting men and at least five-to-one in arms”, along with a complete monopoly of air and sea power (Harrison, China’s Long March to Power, p367). Not only that, but the CCP lacked any significant foreign backer, for the USSR, as explained above, treacherously continued to back the Guomindang even after Japan’s defeat.
Thus the Guomindang could count on the backing of both of the world’s superpowers, with the US’s military backing having completely restored the Guomindang’s army and air force to the largest and most modern ever seen in China (Guillermaz, A History of the Chinese Communist Party 1921-49, p378). To the world’s bourgeois strategists, not only the swiftness but the mere fact of the CCP’s victory was unbelievable and profoundly disheartening.
But it is not so hard to understand. Political impressionists and formalists, such as are the strategists of imperialism, can never understand nor predict revolution. Seeing everything in terms of money, famous ‘great men’ and the relative quantities of armed men, they always underestimate the forces of revolution, who by definition are relatively impoverished financially, militarily and in their possession of great ‘statesmen’.
As such thinkers now all admit (with the luxury of hindsight), the reason for the CCP’s success is not to be found in its pure military prowess but chiefly in the social and revolutionary crisis in which China had, in truth, been engulfed for more than two decades. Since it based its strategy on military conquests, naturally its military abilities played an important role in coming to power. But were it not for their status - often imposed on them against their will - as the leadership of the revolutionary movement against the Guomindang and the general state of capitalism in China - there is no doubt that all their military cunning would have been in vain. In fact the main source of their military cunning was precisely their deep roots in the life of the rural masses, their hardened knowledge of the countryside’s conditions, as well as their clean banner.
A Simmering Sea of Revolutionary Discontent
In fact the military struggle with the Guomindang - in which the CCP faced a huge uphill struggle against a much better armed opponent - was an enormous distraction for the CCP from the revolutionary opportunities elsewhere. Yes, its victory might have been assured, but it was assured for extra-military reasons. These social and political advantages for the CCP could have been much better exploited had it, like all traditional revolutionary organisations, based itself on a strictly political struggle of class forces, using the heavy weaponry of propaganda and mass strikes.
Having lost the Japanese occupation as an excuse for all ills, Chiang’s government rapidly found itself drowning in an explosion of spontaneous class struggle. Suzanne Pepper quotes the journalist and professor Chu Anping as saying in 1947 that “the basis of the present regime’s support has been the urban population: government employees and teachers, intellectuals, and business and industrial circles [he was careful to leave out the working class, who had never supported it]. At present, no one among these people has any positive feelings towards the Nanjing regime.” She herself adds that “by the end of 1945, virtually every sector of the population in the nation’s major urban centres had acquired specific grievances for which the government’s policies and the behaviour of its officials could be held directly responsible” (Pepper, The KMT-CCP Conflict 1945-9, in The Cambridge History of China Volume 13, p738).
In Part II we explained the extraordinary impoverishment of professors, teachers and other government employees, a trend which continued after the war thanks to growing inflation. The visceral hatred the government earned itself from these ranks is an important factor in estimating its weakness and the impending revolutionary crisis, for a bourgeois government that loses the support of the middle-class is about as stable as a man trying to walk on air. It was in fact the university professors who, in 1947, created and led the Anti-Hunger Anti-Civil War demonstrations (Ibid, p745).
Coinciding and merging with these protests was the student anti-war movement, which was radicalised by government repression. The government treated these students as Communists, when in fact they were not. In the course of doing so their agents killed four students on one demonstration, and unsurprisingly thereby helped the CCP to gain influence in this urban context (Ibid, p746). Had the CCP spent decades consistently building a base in the cities and amongst the students, they would have found themselves in the leadership of such movements from day one and could have used them as a means to inspire a strike wave against the government.
Strikes and Inflation
This is proven by the mass strikes which took place at this time anyway, without CCP influence or leadership. Since in August 1948 prices were 5.5m times their figure in 1937, ‘external Bolshevik agitators’ were hardly needed to spark a strike wave.
“The inflation provided ready-made issues for a labour force suddenly freed, in August 1945, from the constraints of eight years of Japanese rule and ten years of Guomindang domination before that. After Japan’s surrender the Guomindang was unable to re-create the network of organisational control with which it had contained the labour movement from 1927 to 1937. Now labour flouted the officially established procedures for the resolution of labour-management disputes...In 1936, just prior to the Japanese invasion, there had been 278 strikes and labour disputes recorded for the whole country. By comparison, in 1946 there was a total of 1,716 strikes and labour disputes recorded in Shanghai alone. In 1947 the number for that city reached 2,538.” (Ibid, p742).
Doak Barnett quotes a Shanghai newspaper editor he spoke to at this time as saying that “nobody can really control the unions in Shanghai right now.” The weak government was “extremely wary about the possibility of antagonising labour”, and union members “together with their families, dependents, and hangers-on, altogether include almost half of the total population of Shanghai. The sheer size of the labour movement makes some people in Shanghai apprehensive about it.” (Doak Barnett, pp78-9).
And yet these mass unions strong enough to intimidate the government had to be improvised in a very short space of time, for the leaders of the official labour organisations were government agents who naturally “refrained from demanding general wage adjustments or a return to the pre-August system of wages, which was based on a cost-of-living index. They fear that if the entire system of controls collapses, the result will be economic chaos; they are also alarmed that this might be the final blow to the Central Government.” (Ibid, p74).
In spring 1948 price inflation caused rice riots to engulf a dozen cities. The aforementioned strike wave swept up 200,000 workers in Shanghai alone. “Chiang Kai-shek’s regime was tottering. If the CCP had called upon the workers and the masses in the big cities to rise in rebellion and overthrow the regime, it would have been as easy as knocking down rotten wood. But Mao’s party merely gave orders to the people to quietly wait for their “liberation” by the “People’s Liberation Army.”” (Peng, The Causes of the Victory of the Chinese Communist Party over Chiang Kai-Shek, and the CCP’s Perspectives).
Rebellions broke out throughout the entire country, whether the CCP was there or not. Despite being brutally ruled by the Japanese for around 50 years, the people of Taiwan did not welcome the return of Chinese rule by the Guomindang, and instead organised a rebellion against it. From the moment control of Taiwan was returned to mainland China, the Guomindang set about introducing the local population to all the evils of its regime in as short a space of time as possible, treating all the locals as Japanese collaborators, looting and dismantling the state structures and economy. “In February 1947, when unarmed demonstrators protested the corruption of the Nationalist occupation, the military government shot many of them down, sent for mainland reinforcements, and then for several days pursued a pogrom of murdering Taiwanese citizens. A sober estimate is that 8,000 to 10,000 were killed” (Fairbank & Goldman, China: A New History, p339).
The entire nation, from Manchuria to Yunnan, from Gansu to Taiwan, was on the cusp of revolutionary turmoil. There was a tangible hatred of the Guomindang from all quarters, spearheaded by the powerful strikes of the working class. The population overwhelmingly blamed the government, not the CCP, for the civil war.
Being not so much a party but a wing of an incredibly corrupt state, the Guomindang had by now “degenerat[ed] into a political organisation that has almost no roots, no mass following, and no programme or activities” (Doak Barnett, op cit. p152). The internal rot had completed its task, there was nothing left to be rotted. So disastrous was the situation that the big bourgeoisie was now abandoning all support for the party, despite having absolutely no alternative political party save the communists, whom they had spent the best part of twenty years funding the the Guomindang to defeat! Anti-Chiang cliques within the Guomindang once again began to surface; none of them could offer anything different and all failed. Such depths were plumbed that “people in the North East, as in Taiwan, a region with an even longer history of Japanese rule, were often heard to comment that Japan had given them better government than the Guomindang”! (Pepper, op cit., p767).
The Guomindang’s corruption and the impasse of Chinese capitalism were brought to their apex in the years after Japan’s defeat, because no ruling class can sustain the defeat of the imperialism with which it has collaborated. Knowing the dead-end they faced, with dwindling US support, mass strikes and a growing insurgency, what restraints this class had placed on its own corruption and depredation were now lifted. The unabashed debauchery of their final hours was a suitably ignominious way for Chiang’s clique and class to bow out.
A class with confidence in its future, finding itself suddenly in possession of the advanced factories built in China by Japan, would quickly put these to use to expand production, providing an economic base for the reunification of the country and a stable regime. But lacking the foresight and administrative ability to put proper procedures in place, the transfer of these productive forces into Chinese hands took place as an “unseemly scramble” of officials lining their own pockets.
“Everything was fair game: industrial machinery, public buildings, houses, vehicles, even furnishings and office equipment - all requisitioned for the use or profit of whoever was able to lay the first or at least the strongest claim to them. The carpetbagging official from Chongqing became the symbol of the period. According to popular saying he had but five concerns: gold bars, automobiles, houses, Japanese women, and face.
“Meanwhile, hundreds and thousands of workers suddenly found themselves unemployed due to the suspension of industrial production. Its cause was twofold, namely, the takeover process in the coastal areas, and the closure of wartime industry in the hinterland. Factory-owners and businessmen in free China had expected to be compensated with enterprises taken over from the Japanese and their collaborators, since some had suffered considerable losses in following the government to the south-west during the war. Instead, the government ignored these political obligations, while letting its officials and others take over the industrial wealth of occupied China. But the economy in the recovered areas soon deteriorated to the point where it was often more profitable to dismantle and sell machinery, which many did, than to operate it. More than a year after surrender, the Ministry of Economic Affairs admitted that only 852 of the estimated 2,411 factory units taken over from the Japanese and their collaborators had actually resumed operation.” (Ibid, p739).
No serious attempts were made to punish the criminal Japanese collaborators, many of whom were “entrusted with equally influential posts by the returning government” (Ibid, p740). On the other hand, ‘collaborators’ lower down the ranks - i.e. working and middle-class people working for Japanese controlled industries out of necessity - were treated ruthlessly as enemies by Chiang, demonstrating clearly the class nature of this policy.
These actions give the lie to Guillermaz’ entirely unfounded claim that Chiang Kai Shek could have averted the entire disaster by, from the beginning, “launching a revolution in the name of war” (what kind of revolution?) and “gathering about him energetic men of integrity” (Guillermaz, p371). There were no men of integrity on the bourgeois side of the struggle; any that could be found would prove an intolerable obstacle to the plunder that this class was built around. The fact that no serious opposition with ‘integrity’ and ability to overthrow Chiang ever emerged from within his own class, that the ruling class as a whole was evidently engaged in a gigantic act of swindle, and that after the war Japanese collaborators retained sufficient influence and credibility in the eyes of the rest of their class that they walked back into eminent posts, reveal the social and not personal character of this disgusting regime.
The endemic corruption and backstabbing, raised to their zenith after 1945, were only truthful manifestations of a dying ruling class judged by history. It is well known that doomed regimes sign their own death warrants in a fit of desperate intrigues and splits, like the writhing of a dying animal (Grant, Stalinist Land Programme Wins Peasants, 1949). “So rotten was the regime that large parts of the supplies were sold by officials to the Stalinist armies for gold, and ministers and other officials in CKS’ government pocketed a great part of the dollars supplied for the war by America.”
In a fitting finale, as his regime collapsed (forcing him to briefly resign leadership of the Guomindang) and faced total annihilation, Chiang, the ‘nationalist’, abandoned his homeland for Taiwan, but not before taking his regime’s remaining $300m of gold reserves and “a considerable store of art treasures” in mid 1949. Let us not forget that only a couple of months beforehand he had taken possession of Taiwan from the Japanese in such a brutal manner that the people there were heard to ‘miss’ Japanese rule. He maintained and rebuilt his personal dictatorship on that island chiefly on the basis of serving as an outpost for US imperialism in its intrigues against the Chinese revolution in 1949.
In 1948, in a ridiculously belated attempt to end the death spiral of inflation caused by money printing, hoarding and speculation, capital was forcibly converted into a new ‘gold yuan’ which would apparently fix prices. “But prices soon rose 85,000 times in six months...Thus the Nationalist Government acted out with a vengeance the role attributed in Chinese history to the ‘bad last ruler’ of a dynasty. The modern-trained Sino-liberal leadership in the Free China area did not go over to communism but rather gave up hope in the Guomindang.”
By now it should be clear that the all rounded disintegration of Chinese bourgeois society, which from the moment of its birth was a weakling kept alive by stronger, foreign parents, is the only real explanation for the CCP’s stunning military victory in 1949.
The succession of military victories are in themselves not especially interesting or meaningful once their social mainsprings are understood, however it is necessary to explain briefly the concrete events, forming as they do one of the greatest events in human history. It is also important that the reader understands the Stalinist, bureaucratic character of Mao’s regime as sealed in the manner in which they came to power.For the first two years following Japan’s defeat, not a great deal happened. We have already explained, at the end of Part III, how in 1942 the CCP issued political demands to the Guomindang that were not only exclusively bourgeois democratic but also pertained only to the CCP. We then explained how, in their political perspectives and demands in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s defeat, the CCP argued only for the need to be included in a coalition government with the Guomindang (and others).
This strategy of appealing to the Guomindang for concessions and possible power sharing remained the CCP’s approach until 1947. Despite the objective situation of unprecedented military contradictions between the two parties - the CCP now enjoyed a larger, more experienced and well armed force than ever before, despite still being much weaker in this regard than the Guomindang - the CCP put forward only one extremely tame demand in July 1945. This was for the replacement of the planned national assembly with a new political conference with three CCP, three Guomindang, three Democratic League and three independent members.
Once again, we must emphasise that this demand seems designed not to appeal to the increasingly revolutionary masses but merely to arrange a discussion behind closed doors. In the meantime, the CCP used the formal cover of negotiations to reorganise and if possible expand its bases.
In late 1945 a vague joint statement from both parties was drawn up which essentially just formalised the extremely unstable state of affairs. The CCP agreed to keep its own troops in demarcated zones and to reduce their numbers by three-quarters. But clearly the very existence of an alternative, armed state structure capable of appealing to the masses was intolerable for the bourgeois state, and inevitably this agreement was worthless. Within two weeks it fell apart as fighting broke out thanks to aggressive Guomindang troop movements (Guilermaz, A History of the Chinese Communist Party 1921-49, p383).
There followed a tedious toing and froing of skirmishes and violations of agreements, followed by the resumption of joint agreements and ceasefires no one took seriously. In 1946, leading CCP members participated in the Political Consultative Conference, a sham and illegitimate meeting to begin with, and were thus responsible for the hopeless proposals it put out, which did not even meet the standards of limited bourgeois democracy. It called for a National Assembly to be formed, not via universal suffrage, but by delegates from professions and political parties, all decided behind closed doors presumably. Ten mysterious ‘experts’ were to draw up a new constitution. Despite this timid agreement, fighting continued in fits and starts, generally to the government’s advantage. Frustrated at the inability to win a real ceasefire, which they felt necessary due to their complete lack of confidence in the Guomindang, the US representatives finally gave up and left Chiang to his fate at the beginning of 1947.
The Civil War and the Revolution
As we have already explained, the civil war, at its real commencement in early 1947, looked a foregone conclusion - the Guomindang outweighed the CCP by up to five times in troops and equipment. They held all the key cities and economic centres. We have already explained the social and economic causes of their snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Additionally, their military strategy and tactics further compounded the Guomindang’s staggering failure.
They began the campaign with a series of superficially great victories over the CCP. In central China huge numbers of Guomindang troops were used to smash areas of CCP control, but their success in doing so was misleading - the CCP was once again, quite brilliantly, employing its tactic of melting away into the countryside in the face of overwhelmingly superior forces. They thus retained the bulk of their forces whilst luring the Guomindang into fixed positions it felt obliged to retain. Indeed, excessive rigidity in tactics proved to be a large part in the Guomindang’s undoing, which reflects the ossified, conservative and blinkered character of Chiang’s regime, which arrogantly assumed it could score victories based purely on quantitative superiority, ignorant of local conditions wherever they went.
By 1948 the initiative was swinging decisively to the CCP’s side. The Guomindang had frittered away its strategic advantage, and the CCP was gaining in numbers through defections and constant recruitment from the peasantry. Their hidden advantage from their deep understanding and link to the countryside and peasantry is revealed in the fact that, whilst still possessing slightly fewer regular troops, every single one of them could be used for offensive operations, as the Red Army enjoyed the use of 2.5m in their local militia to act as their rearguard (Guillermaz, Ibid, p401). This now enabled the CCP to pass over from guerrilla tactics to fully fledged positional warfare on a huge scale. From flight, they turned to fight, and began to win battle after battle thanks to their superior, flexible tactics, in turn derived from their hardened experience of the countryside and their belief in their revolutionary mission.
The Guomindang’s numerical and technical advantage was decimated, along with their morale, in a few devastating battles that now took place. In 1948 the Guomindang threw everything it had at keeping the more industrialised North East, and lost everything. Partly this was due to the stupidity of Chiang and his generals, but in the main the Guomindang was strategically defeated by their political weaknesses - caring little for the countryside and its citizens, they concentrated on maintaining the big cities, which they already held. But they were not liked by the urban population and could not draw on any enthusiasm from their troops either. The CCP, on the other hand, controlled much of the countryside and were enmeshed in its population and geography, and were thus able to lay siege to the cities of Manchuria. By the Autumn of 1948 the CCP controlled Northeast China. “Manchuria had cost the government over thirty good divisions, half of which had American equipment. A large proportion of the men and all the equipment went over to the communists, who were now superior in numbers and armaments.” (Ibid, p407).
This process of disastrously throwing all their eggs in one basket was repeated in the Shandong area near Shanghai and Nanjing - the financial and political capitals of the Guomindang. In late 1948 the CCP was able to attack and defeat one by one the various army groups stationed to defend Shanghai, whilst the other groups simply stayed put in their rigid formation, despite totaling an overwhelming 550,000. Many also defected to the CCP in the course of the battle. By January 1949 this strategically decisive part of central China, the link from the north to Shanghai, Nanjing and Guangzhou in the south, had completely fallen along with a vast bulk of Guomindang troops. The victory of the CCP was assured.
At the same time the rest of north China fell as a formality. 1949 began with the surrounding and then surrender of both Tianjin and Beijing (not then the capital), the two most important cities in northern China, with little or no fight.
The Conspicuous Absence of the Working Class
The taking of these proletarian centres reveals more clearly than any programme or statement how totally the CCP had by now alienated itself from its original base. Only twenty five years previously, this party had led the founding of China’s mass trade unions and contained all the most class conscious workers in its ranks. But in 1949, “even though Tianjin is almost surrounded by the Communists - they are 30 miles west of the city, 40 miles south, and 30 miles north-east, and contains one of the largest concentrations of industrial proletariat in China, its labour force seems to be almost free from Communist infiltration and influence.” (Doak Barnett, China on the Eve of Communist Takeover, p58).
The same author describes the same process in Beijing. Despite the complete absence of morale, in which the Guomindang made no effort “to explain, to either soldiers or civilians, what was being done and why”, with “the complete undermining of whatever popular support the Nationalist regime had previously enjoyed”, it is clear that the CCP had no influence or base of any kind in this key city. Although the people “hoped that the Communists would take the city soon”, “only a small minority looked forward to Communist rule with enthusiasm.” Evidently no prior political work of enthusing the working class for the takeover, of preparing them for power, of offering them a programme and the perspective of workers control over industry, had been done, despite
“conditions in Beijing reaching the point where the city was ripe for revolution; that is, for some sort of mass action springing from the universal dissatisfaction existing among soldiers and civilians and directed against the authorities. It is significant that not only did no revolution occur, but there were not even any moves to exert mass pressure or influence on the government or army... the decisions that finally turned the city over to the Communists were made by a handful of men. Ordinary people knew almost nothing of what was going on...The Chinese Communist revolution finally engulfed Beijing, but it was born full blown and did not grow gradually from within the city itself. The revolution arrived in the form of a powerful peasant army which, after being handed the keys to the city by the Nationalists, marched in, with the political workers following close behind, to take over. This did not happen, however, until a few key individuals had completed the devious maneuvers and negotiations that finally resulted in a face-saving peace settlement.” (Ibid, pp324-5)
This, of course, was the rule throughout the country. It speaks volumes for how and why the gamble of building a movement in the petty-bourgeois backwaters necessarily led to the establishment of a Bonapartist regime, one that must be an obstacle to achieving socialism due to its exclusion of the masses from political control.
The CCP’s vaguely bourgeois-democratic programme had the twin effect of discouraging revolutionary actions from the working class, and encouraging the absorption of large numbers of corrupt, bourgeois and bureaucratic elements from the old regime as these rats fled the sinking ship. To pick just a couple of examples from the sea of high level defections, in August 1949 the governor of Hunan province, Chen Mingjen, and General Cheng Qian, who had been a contender for vice-President under Chiang Kai Shek, went over to the CCP and were given key positions in the new regime.
The Bolsheviks built a new state apparatus out of the real democratic organisations of the proletariat, and when they were compelled by circumstances to use the expertise of former Tsarist generals etc., these were placed under the political control of Bolshevik workers. The reason for the violent struggle of Stalin’s ascendency was the need for these Tsarist bureaucrats to free themselves from the constraints of Bolshevism to guarantee their privileges. The entire manner in which the CCP came to power, independently of the masses and in negotiations with the ancien regime, meant that this bureaucracy was installed from the beginning with no control from below.
Doak Barnett’s description of the establishment of CCP power in Beijing fully accords with this perspective,
“There were no huge crowds to greet [the Red Army troops], and the ordinary civilians watching from the curbs along their route seemed to express no emotion more intense than curiosity...The lack of any sort of excitement when the first troops marched in was striking. ‘The Communists have arrived,’ one man said. ‘And prices have gone up,’ said his companion. … “The first organisations affected were the obvious instruments of power, thought control, and propaganda. On February 1, the North China Daily News, Central News Agency, and Central Broadcasting Station were transformed into the People’s Daily, New China News Agency, and New China Broadcasting Station. With as little fuss as a chameleon changing colour, these organisations abruptly changed their propaganda line and continued operations...The protectors of law and order simply continued on their old beats.” (Ibid, p336 & 340)
Everywhere, upon taking over, the CCP ensured everything stayed business as usual and gave the masses no cause for hope nor opportunities to express their aspirations and demands. They would meet with the old managers of industry and public services, and simply agree to keep things as they were, except with a few leading Communists at the top and the odd Chiang loyalist rooted out.
The Commandism of Mao’s Party
This bureaucratic manner of carrying out the Chinese revolution was an inevitable outcome, not only of the general Stalinist conception of socialism foisted onto the party from Moscow, but especially of the peculiar rural, petty bourgeois basis of the entire party. We have already dwelt at some length on the effects of this environment in detaching the party leadership from the working class. All that remains is to demonstrate how Mao’s leadership conceived of and built for the revolution thanks to the rural armed struggle.
It is stated in the 1945 Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party that “the Chinese revolutionary struggle is complicated, and it must, for a very long time, find primary expression in armed struggle. Before the victory of the revolution in key cities, it will be pre-eminently important to consolidate the villages as a revolutionary base”. Such work relegates the revolution as a political, class struggle to an after-thought of the top-down workings out of the military struggle, whose life-and-death logic will frequently be at odds with the political needs of the revolution.
“The peculiar characteristics of guerrilla warfare, and its relatively independent aspect, helped develop [the party cadre’s] love of responsibility and an ability to take decisions [as removed from any accountability from below - how could there be, when such cadres were collectively roving from one village and battlefield to another]. The Party became more and more imbued with a military sense of organisation and discipline. This approach was extended to the state administrative bodies [upon taking power]” (Guillermaz, op cit. p362).
“The fact remains that, throughout the greater part of these twenty-two years, the party existed in significant measure as a soul or parasite in the body of the army. Even to the extent that the Chinese Communist Party appeared on the stage as an actor in its own right, it owed its very survival to the protecting shield of the Red Army, rather than to the solidity of its working class basis” (Schram, Mao’s Thought to 1949, in The Cambridge History of China, Volume 13, pp820-1).
As an activist emerging from the rural petty bourgeoisie himself, Mao from the beginning failed to grasp the Marxist understanding that the political balance of class forces is more fundamental than the military struggle, the balance of forces in the latter being subordinate to and transformed completely by revolutionary developments in the class struggle. For instance, in 1927 he argued that 60% of the party’s energies must be devoted to military matters, because ‘only armies can fight armies’. This he said in the midst of a revolution led by the working class, in which all Chinese institutions were splitting, being turned upside down, dissolved and destroyed! A mass revolutionary movement can ‘fight armies’ by winning their rank and file to the cause of the revolution, provided they can offer that rank and file a real political alternative to the status quo. Only because as the CCP abandoned the political struggle amongst the working class in the chaos of their failed perspectives in 1927, the military struggle had to absorb all the party’s energies.
This situation encouraged in Mao an extremely subjectivist understanding of the revolution and the building of socialism. Conducting as they were a vicious, life-and-death military and not mass political struggle, attributes such as will-power, determination, discipline for discipline’s sake and the notion that such attributes can smash through all objective obstacles were inevitably inculcated into Mao and his comrades. These attributes were substituted for a sober analysis of the class balance of forces, the level of consciousness of the working class and the best slogans to correspond to this.
In general the leadership of the party was wont to confuse the narrow and short term military and political needs of the party with those of the revolution and the masses. We have already seen this in their tendency to place demands on the Guomindang, even in the midst of the civil war, that were not even demands for bourgeois democracy for the people but simply the granting of freedoms for the CCP. It can also be seen in Mao’s insistence that the armed struggle is the logic of the revolution and must absorb 60% or more of the party’s time and energy, without in any way analysing the actual condition of the working class and its propensity to organise itself (which as we have seen, it was doing in the form of increasing strikes all over the country). The only justification given for why the revolution must be military and ignore the cities until the final moment, is that this happens to be the position the party finds itself in.
Why did it find itself in this position? Because in 1925-7 it systematically failed, under Stalin’s imposition, to grasp and give expression to the revolutionary movement of the working class. It was this catastrophic failure that forced the party into the countryside for bare survival, and it was, again under Stalin’s pressure, its failure to honestly and democratically assess the causes of its failure, that led it to blindly pursue the path of rural armed struggle which nearly destroyed the party in 1934-5.
Mao continually complained of the inability of party cadres to relate to the rural masses of the local districts, for the reason that they were outside occupiers of these districts who did not have the trust and understanding of the local peasants. There could be no mass, democratic control of the party on this basis. He complained of the failure of local parties to connect with and mobilise the masses, and tried to find means to stir them into activity.
But such means could only ever take the form of directives from above, abstract and assertive because they did not reflect real, concrete struggles from the self-organised below - for there was no self-organised peasantry. This mentality is summed up early on in the voluntarist Canton Commune, in Li Lisan’s statements in the late 1920s that “When the revolutionary high wave arrives, 90,000,000 can be organised in three days”, and “Long ago the masses said: ‘When there is an uprising let us know and we shall surely come.’” It is crowned in the party’s coming to power via negotiations and military victories, both of which passed by the urban workers, and finally in the continuing ‘will to power’ of Mao’s regime after 1949, in which the commanding bureaucracy imagined socialism could be built in 5 years through sheer willpower and ‘Chinese characteristics’.
There is really little to be added about that actual assumption of power by the CCP. Following the above described military victories, the political process proceeded in a smoothly controlled manner, with only the minor hiccough of the loss of Taiwan (then known as Formosa) to Chiang’s fleeing regime. A ‘New Political Consultative Conference’ was called in September by the CCP, and was composed according to the CCP’s wishes - having won a crushing military victory, no one else had any authority to set their seal on the new regime. The CCP, according to its bonapartist strategy of balancing between different political forces tried and tested in the countryside, artificially and arbitrarily refrained from taking a majority in this assembly, which was nothing more than a fig-leaf for its crushing political and military dominance.
From this body of dubious legitimacy, Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People’s (not workers) Republic of China at the Imperial Palace in Beijing on 1 October 1949. Via the most circuitous and improbable of imaginable routes, the Chinese Communist Party had succeeded in finally overthrowing the tottering bourgeois state and, against its own prognoses, carrying out a revolution that would abolish capitalism and the capitalist class with it. It was one of the most momentous events in history. An apparently socialist revolution had taken place with no movement of the working class and in a backwards, rural and non-Western country. And yet, by being obliged by the logic of events to abolish capitalism, the CCP had unconsciously confirmed, in a very distorted manner, Trotsky’s thesis on the ‘permanent revolution’.
To most people’s ears, the name ‘People’s Republic of China’ is invested with intransigent Marxist dogma, to the extent that right wing journalists and politicians mockingly referred to councils run by the British far left as being ‘The People’s Republic of ...’. But far from motivations of the Marxist ‘dogma’ of irreconcilable class struggle, this name was carefully chosen by the CCP as an anti-Marxist blurring of class distinctions. It is the consummate expression of the CCP’s bonapartist methods of coming to power, that is to say, its establishment of power through the balancing and playing off of the various classes in society.
It was confirmed in this announcement, on 1 October 1949, consistent with the prior calls for ‘coalition government’ and ‘New Democracy’, that the new regime would be not be a workers’ government, but a ‘people’s’ one in which all who were not ‘reactionary’ would seemingly have their interests represented - including the ‘national’ bourgeoisie. The very name of the country was made vague as an expression of this triumphant bonapartism which wanted to pour cold water on the ambitions of each and every individual class. Just so long as it was defined as a ‘democracy for the ‘people’’, the government, who held unparalleled military power, had a ready made excuse to limit the democratic expression of the working class as its own class (since this would violate the fictitious democratic unity of all the classes).
Indeed, classing those to be excluded vaguely as the ‘reactionaries’, as opposed to the bourgeoisie, was tremendously advantageous for the new power, for “it is quite conceivable that an industrial worker, who proves obdurate in clinging to incorrect opinions, my turn out to be a tool of reaction. It is also conceivable that a former ‘bureaucratic capitalist’ who zealously and conscientiously clings to the Party line, may become a genuine representative of the ‘people’.” (Brandt, Schwartz & Fairbank, A Documentary History of Chinese Communism, p 448).
The People’s Republic of China as Initially Bourgeois Bonapartist
If we were to look at the first couple of years of CCP rule in isolation, they could be defined as bourgeois bonapartist - that is, a regime in which the bourgeoisie has been politically but not economically expropriated, indeed one in which private capitalist property is protected by the state.
The new regime nationalised only what it defined as ‘bureaucratic’ or reactionary capital - key and monopolistic industries such as finance, transport and communication, much of which had been state controlled under the Guomindang anyway. In its first year
“the CCP assiduously conciliated the bourgeoisie, landlords, and rich peasants; and pulled toward itself all kinds of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois politicians and military men, including some of the Kuomintang bureaucrats and agents, in an attempt to disintegrate the enemy and strengthen its own power. But the regime did its best to suppress the activities of the workers and peasants. Cases were often heard of workers being arrested or even killed on account of protests and strikes.” (Peng Shuzi, The Causes of the Victory of the Chinese Communist Party over Chiang Kai-Shek, and the CCP’s Perspectives)
As with any regime aiming to placate or balance itself on the capitalist class, it had to over-tax and burden the working class and peasantry to finance itself and keep the system working for business owners - otherwise there would be no point in not expropriating capitalism as a whole. And despite its claims to protecting and incorporating only progressive, ‘national’ capitalists, the new regime actually assured the “protection to the properties of all foreigners in China” (quoted in Peng, op cit.). This was short lived however because of the blockades on China now enacted by the imperialists, leading to the CCP expropriating their properties. Such is the objective and international logic of the class struggle.
Why did the Chinese Communist Party, having finally wrested power away from the corrupt representatives of the bourgeoisie, proceed to protect their interests? One reason is that, having come to power without any prior urban base and organised working class, the party was utterly alien to industry and lacked any organised, conscious movement and structure with which to replace bourgeois structures. “The Communist Party’s policy concerning industrial economy and trade was much more conservative than their land policy...the Party lacked the urban experience to take it over...Party committees and cadres received instruction to protect industrialists and tradesmen” (Guillermaz, A History of the Chinese Communist Party 1921-49, p345 pp432-3). Harrison makes a similar point, “How could Communists master China’s intractable urban problems in view of the Party’s inadequate urban experience?...By 1956, still only 14% of Party members were of proletarian origin, 11.7% were intellectuals, and 69.1% were peasants...The army would have to bear much of the burden in ‘taking over and administering the large cities” (Harrison, The Long March to Power, p430).
The Party instructed its members that “private industrial capitalism must continue to develop within the framework fixed by the state”, and told its leaders that they must “learn to restore their production and to get to know techniques of production” (Guillermaz, op cit, p438). Evidently, the party had no real urban base, no workers familiar with production ready to lead the occupation and running of factories under workers’ control, nor had they any intention of handing economic control over to workers, who for them would have represented a dangerous and unknown quantity likely to go too far in challenging the monopoly of power by the CCP leadership. Consequently, they had to retain the same bourgeois managers and, where possible, the same ownership structures to keep the economy going - at least until their own bureaucrats had learnt the necessary tricks of the trade, sealed off from influence by the workers below them.
This is demonstrated explicitly in a resolution of the CCP’s Central Committee in March 1949: “the Party must do its utmost to learn how to lead the urban population to struggle successfully, and to learn how to administer and build up the cities. In leading the struggle of the urban population, the Party must rely on the working class, rally the other labouring masses, win over the intelligentsia, and win over as many as possible of the petty bourgeoisie and liberal bourgeoisie and their representative personages who can cooperate with the CCP... the Plenum called on all Party comrades to devote all their energy to learning the techniques and management of industrial production; and to learn commercial, banking, and other work closely related to production.”
The way in which the CCP came to power created an enormous contradiction between the formal political rights granted to workers by the new state apparatus and the actual concentration of power vested in the new state apparatus. Chinese workers did (and continue to) have a lot of rights in the new constitution - on paper. In reality, all strikes and independent workers’ organisations were prohibited.
In a bourgeois republic the right to form trade unions, for instance, is always limited by the demands of capital. However this does not prevent workers from forming trade unions and contesting in their elections in relative freedom, nor does it deny the ability of trade unions to influence political parties. This is because in a bourgeois democracy political freedoms are granted to better enable the free movement of capital and the legal buying and selling of politicians in parliament via such instruments as the ‘free’ bourgeois press. Within that system, workers inevitably find a certain amount of space in which to organise themselves, and consequently the trade unions are more or less independent of the state apparatus.
But the CCP’s regime - and that of the Guomindang before it - was not molded and perfected in the interests of a wealthy bourgeoisie, but was an expression of the inability of capital to run China. Although the manner of coming to power via a peasant army emblazoned with the hammer and sickle was highly unusual, in this sense it was classically bonapartist - that it was the ‘armed bodies of men’ that constitute the state, free from the control and influence of all classes. Having played no part in its coming to power, and violently suppressed by the twin evils of the Japanese occupation and the Guomindang, the working class’ political rights were not concrete expressions of its organised power but ceremonial medals granted it by the new regime. The new, modern, progressive constitution enacted by the CCP was largely a propaganda tool in its maneuvers to cement and stabilise its unquestioned authority over society.
In the vast expanse of their rural heartland the CCP at this time gave a freer hand to the peasantry precisely because of the latter’s inherent political weakness as a class. Superficially it appears that it is here we find the truly revolutionary Mao, for he “urged the peasants to rise and kill not merely one or two, but a goodly number of landlords” to carry through the land reform. And yet despite this seeming radicalism, the economic transformation of which the landlord killings were the political methods were “exceedingly moderate” with only the land of the biggest landlords being redistributed - who constituted an insignificant minority (Schram, Mao Tse-tung, p259). Furthermore the peasants were not allowed to expropriate landlords’ land themselves.
It was not actually until later in the 1950s that Mao’s forced collectivisation and the radical transformation of the countryside took place. As with much else, the economic changes in the countryside were limited for the first few years. The brutality of the methods encouraged by Mao in this instance were political measures used to cow what remained of the old ruling class and to establish the untrammelled authority of the new regime, gaining a little revolutionary credibility in the process from a class who unlike the workers could pose no threat themselves.
The Expropriation of the Bourgeoisie
By 1949 the Stalinised parties of the by now defunct Communist International had picked up an impressive catalogue of capitulations to capitalism, not least of which was in China in the 1920s. This history, combined with the vague, compromising and bureaucratically issued programme for power it put forward, convinced many - from US imperialists to leaders of the Trotskyist movement - to conclude that Mao’s regime was to be merely a more effective form of bourgeois bonapartism than that of Chiang Kai Shek.
Such people had failed to grasp just the peculiar internal dynamics of China’s revolution. Chiang, despite being a burden and liability for the the capitalist class, was nevertheless brought to power in the pay of Shanghai financiers in a battle against the working class and Communist Party; the logic of his rule was therefore naturally to preserve capitalism - with a bias to his cronies of course.
Mao’s CCP, on the other hand, had risen to power in struggle against this tendency which was so fused with the capitalist class as a whole. Despite repeated attempts to negotiate compromises with the Guomindang and capitalists, the CCP had never really made any breakthroughs and remained completely independent from China’s capitalists. Having fought in the countryside for twenty two years, the CCP had forged in violent struggle an extremely disciplined, close-knit and self-sufficient political-military instrument of power. Therefore, once it had utilised the excuse of the need to develop capitalism to pacify the workers, the CCP had no need for the capitalists as a source of power.
Mixed with this internal strength of the CCP was the international strength of Stalinism in this key turning point in world history. The Soviet Union, unlike in the mid twenties, was no longer an international weakling withdrawn into itself to build ‘socialism in one country’, but a world superpower that had almost single-handedly defeated fascism and expanded into half of Europe. Bonapartism, that historical tendency of the state to free itself from the control of any one class by exploiting the weaknesses of all classes, was now given a new means of expression - the ability to lean on the working class and the Soviet Union as a prop and shield against imperialism. Mao himself made this explicit in a speech in the middle of 1949, “without exception, the Chinese people either lean to the side of imperialism or to the side of socialism...Not only in China but also in the world, without exception, one either leans to the side of imperialism or to the side of socialism” (Mao Zedong, On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship).
After having spent years ‘leaning’ to the side of the Chinese bourgeoisie and US imperialism, Mao now found that the Soviet Union and its ‘socialism’ was strong enough a support to lean on. What remained of the Chinese bourgeoisie was by the early 1950s no longer strong enough to lean upon (nor would it tolerate being leant upon by ‘Communists’) and found its property nationalised. Ultimately it was a question of which class - both in China and internationally - presented a stronger prop for the CCP to lean upon.
Indeed this tendency - for the state to expropriate the bourgeoisie owing to the latter’s extreme economic and political weakness in China - was visible before the CCP’s ascent to power, and can be seen in many other countries in 20th Century history. Ted Grant analysed these tendency in his theory of the Colonial Revolution, which was crucial to understanding the post WWII world. Not only did Chiang Kai Shek’s government itself, despite being based on the corrupt comprador bourgeois class, nationalise key industries, but Yan Xishan, warlord governor of Shanxi and at one time touted as future President of China, found himself obliged to take over the running of the economy from the local capitalists and landlords and implement social programmes in order to modernise his province (Doak Barnett, China on the Eve of Communist Takeover, pp167-70). This he did despite being a reactionary warlord.
The Flight of the Bourgeoisie
Above all the real objective significance of the CCP’s revolutionary victory is not to be found in its own programme, which as we have been at pains to point out was vague, compromising and contradictory, but in the unavoidably violent and uncompromising method of its taking of power. The objective incompatibility of Chiang’s bourgeois regime with the rule of the CCP is encapsulated best in Chiang Kai Shek’s flight from mainland China to set up a new government safe for himself, his cronies, what remained of the Chinese capitalists and US imperialism. That Chinese capitalism fled its vast homeland and licked its wounds on a comparatively tiny island protected by the US Navy is a fitting symbol for its failed, stillborn character.
A key factor in the establishment of a revolutionary CCP regime which expropriated capitalism was always the total inability of China’s bourgeoisie to take society forwards. So narrow and corrupt was its economic basis that they could never tolerate a democratic field of struggle against the Communist Party and thus always had to resort to the crudest means of suppression.
By 1949, those methods had exhausted themselves, and there was nothing for this jealous class to do but to flee China, taking as much of its loot as it could carry, to Taiwan. The ‘blame’ for this can only be put at the bourgeoisie’s door. In Western Europe, the capitalist classes had long pursued a tactic of accommodating the leaders of the working class, buying them off with small concessions instead of engaging them in a life-and-death struggle (for the most part). One could hardly accuse the Communists of revolutionary intransigence within China, for as we have seen, under Stalin’s guidance the CCP had spent the greater portion of its active life in seeking out compromises with the bourgeoisie where there were none to be had. Thus, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie after 1949 has to be seen not as a consequence of a bold revolutionary programme, but of the irreconcilability, despite the CCP’s compromising intentions, of the Chinese capitalists with anything associated with the working class and socialism.
History moves forward with a necessary logic in spite of, or rather because of, the mutually contradictory actions of countless individuals, parties and classes whose motivations are more often than not contrary to the actual historical developments that can and must take place. It is precisely because of the partial, confused and clashing actions of society’s actors that the historical outcome is necessarily other than what any one group usually foresaw, as Engels pointed out.
The Chinese revolution represents perhaps the clearest example of the objective outcomes expressing their necessity not through the conscious will of the victorious party but in the intractable struggle they found themselves obliged to wage. The revolution of the 1920s showed that the capitalists were incapable of leading a democratic revolution; the conclusion the CCP should have drawn was that they needed to lead the urban working class to the conquest of power instead.
They did not draw this conclusion, and yet the real danger of socialist revolution which this Party embodied drove the leader of China’s degenerate bourgeoisie to violently suppress the CCP. The sheer ferocity of this fight for survival - imposed onto the CCP against its perspectives - hammered into the party an incredible discipline and military determination. Whereas in the western European countries, the relatively gentlemanly conditions of the class struggle up to 1914 produced loose, ill-disciplined and middle-class leaderships of the working class, who baulked at the decisive revolutionary moments, in China a fiercely determined and disciplined leadership and party were forged not by conscious design but by the logic of the class struggle which exerted itself in spite of and through the peculiar distortions of Stalin’s two-stage perspectives.
Additionally, such a party, well-armed and experienced in fighting, represented a terrifying prospect for the discredited bourgeoisie. Whereas almost all workers’ parties in the world have had an acute consciousness of their weakness in face of the armed bourgeois state, and almost always have capitulated to that fearful strength, uniquely in China by 1949 it was the other way around - the ‘workers party’ represented a much more formidable fighting force than the bourgeoisie’s apparatus of oppression, and in fact had already beaten the latter in battle. Consequently, the CCP was peculiarly free from the typical servile fear of the ruling class and was highly resolute, and the bourgeoisie was unusually demoralised and unsure of itself. The truth was that the CCP was not a workers party at all, but a peasant army that captured a crumbling state.
There are other very important factors which enabled the surprising victory of the CCP. Along with the unprecedented weakness of the Chinese capitalists, we also find at this juncture in history the inability of US imperialism to intervene in its usual manner. It was exhausted in fighting the Japanese and could not expend more blood and treasure defending the hopeless ally that was Chiang Kai Shek. It could not afford to bankroll his regime in the way it did smaller and more developed countries like those of Europe after WWII. It therefore made a tactical decision to abandon Chiang and his class to their fate.
Even more important in molding the historical events was Japan’s vicious invasion of China, which exacerbated and exposed the traitorous character of China’s ruling class and gave the CCP a lifeline by distracting the Guomindang. However, as fortunate as this world historical episode was for the CCP, it cannot be seen as a pure accident, for the general carnage of WWII represented the death agony of capitalism in its highest stage of imperialism. All over the world, the all-out destruction of this war had revolutionary implications and led to the expansion of Stalinism not just in China but also into Eastern Europe, Korea and Vietnam.
As already explained, we also have the unique factor of the sudden strength and viability of the Soviet Union as a model to inspire leaders around the world of an alternative to US hegemony and a way to build a modern country. In the civil war with the Guomindang, the CCP received small but decisive military aid from the USSR in Manchuria.
One other factor which may have contributed, in a negative form, to the victory of the CCP in China, is China’s remarkable cultural unity. Without doubt one of the most common elements in failed revolutions throughout the world is the successful manipulation of racial, religious and cultural sectarianism to divide the working class. The partition of India - a country of similar size and economic development to China - at around the same time as the Chinese revolution is the clearest case in point of the derailment of a potential revolution through manipulation of sectarianism.
This factor is almost entirely absent from the narrative of the entire Chinese revolution - that is, from 1911 to 1949. In spite of China’s slipping into local warlordism in that time, the ruling class never managed to find a racist or sectarian ledge to cling to in its struggle against the CCP. This can only be owing to China’s long history of continuous political unity and the overwhelming preponderance of the Han Chinese in the composition of this nation. The rare absence of this factor can only have helped swell the currents moving in favour of socialist revolution in China.
We began our series of articles on the history of the CCP by claiming that
“The Chinese revolution of 1949 (preceded by a botched revolution in 1925-7 in which the newly formed CCP played a key role) stands as one of the greatest proofs of the proposition that, in the final analysis, it is the development of the means of production which determines the political superstructure of a society. For despite the heavy weight of the Stalin led Communist International (Comintern) on the burgeoning Chinese revolution, which artificially imposed onto the CCP a false political line conjured up to suit the interests and prejudices of the Russian bureaucracy rather than the needs of the Chinese revolution, the victory of the Chinese revolution could only be delayed. Although it is true that the peculiar course of development that the CCP subsequently undertook under erroneous direction from Stalin, that is heavy bureaucratisation and the abandoning of the working class for the peasantry, profoundly altered the social and economic history of China, nevertheless the underlying and unavoidable trend, visible since the 1840s, of the economic development of China under pressure from imperialism, creating a powerful working class capable of expropriating capitalism, asserted itself in spite of and through the political mistakes of the Comintern in Russia. Such were the contradictions of capitalism in China that all the political errors and meddling from Stalin could not hold back the course of history.”
Historical materialism is a dialectical theory; it does not reduce all to pure economic forces, but sees all sides of historical development as part of an integrated whole; each side, whether economic, political or cultural, is inseparable from the totality and is defined by it. The wrong ideas of Stalin did divert history so to speak. They flowed from the peculiar development of the USSR and were thus in a sense alien to or in contradiction with the development of China. Does this disprove the law-governed, economically determined development of Chinese society as explained by Marxism?
For sure the process of China’s revolution was altered and complicated by the narrow interests of Stalin. But we mustn’t stop at that statement, but must follow it through - what then happened after the ‘abortion’ of 1927? Did the bourgeois regime reside in its success thanks to Stalin, did it sit comfortably due to the ‘historically inevitable’ proletarian revolution having been botched?
Far from it. Political mistakes - i.e. acts that conflict with the inner necessity of historical development - do indeed happen and yes, influence reality. But because they are mistakes, they conflict with reality, reality does not develop as they want, but takes its revenge. After all an idea is defined as wrong or mistaken by nothing other than the real effect it has, by the fact that the effect is other than what was intended - but the effect is no less real for that.
Historical necessity is not something external to society but is merely the summation of the overall trends of the totality of society; thus mistakes represent the particularity of one part in contradiction with the totality. The part can influence and change the whole, since it is a real part of it, but we must bear in mind that it cannot do so without itself being profoundly altered by the whole of which it is a dependent part, and also that the change will be determined not only by the mistaken ideas of the political actors but also by the lawful characteristics of the society on which they are acting.
Time and again the Chinese Communist Party pursued a course contrary to historical materialism, in other words it attempted to lead society by allying opposing classes. And what resulted? Those actions caused developments which forced the hands of the Stalinists in ways they did not foresee. To grasp historical necessity we have to see the sum total of the process from beginning to end, how all the mistakes and short sighted actions produced an aggregate of results in one direction and not another.
And we must comprehend the necessity of the mistakes also. Nothing is purely random. Thus the mistakes were themselves merely particular products of historical development and they do add up in a certain way. The mistake of their policy had a certain character not totally unique to China - that is to say, they were opportunist mistakes representing a capitulation of the revolutionary party to the ruling class. They produced a predictable dictatorial reaction from the regime, just as we have seen in other countries where the revolution is led by compromisers who fail to take power. And the very repression of the ruling class, in the first place a response to revolution, was not able to erase the forces that gave rise to revolution but in the end only invited a new wave of revolution and the ruling class’ own exhaustion and collapse.
Now, nearly 70 years after this titanic historical event, China stands on the brink of a similar revolutionary process. The regime is corrupt, inequality is rampant, and economic forces have thrown together hundreds of millions into a cauldron of proletarian exploitation. The city has taken its revenge on the countryside which in 1949 surrounded it and militarily defeated it. This time there will be no peasant army with its bureaucratic officer caste dictating the revolution. Nothing will be able to stop the eight hundred million strong army of the proletariat when it finally stands straight to complete its unfinished business of 1927 and 1949 and seizes political and economic power for itself