The Chinese Communist Party 1937-49 – The Unfolding of Historical Necessity: China’s Great Revolution – Part Eight

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.

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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).

End Time

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.”