An interesting piece by Lenin in which he develops a Marxist approach to a predatory imperialist war on the part of Tsarist Russia against China, with many lessons that can be applied to today's situation. The Tsarist regime claimed it was fighting “barbarism” and “civilising” China. The war was presented as one between “cultures”. Over one hundred years later the same arguments are being used by Bush to justify his war in Iraq. Today as in 1900, the real reasons are much easier to understand. The war in Iraq is a predatory imperialist war, just as the war of Russia against China was.
Russia is bringing her war with China to a close: a number of military districts have been mobilised, hundreds of millions of rubles have been spent, tens of thousands of troops have been dispatched to China, a number of battles have been fought and a number of victories won-true, not so much over regular enemy troops, as over Chinese insurgents and, particularly, over the unarmed Chinese populace, who were drowned or killed, with no holding back from the slaughter of women and children, not to speak of the looting of palaces, homes, and shops. The Russian Government, together with the press that kowtows to it, is celebrating a victory and rejoicing over the fresh exploits of the gallant soldiery, rejoicing at the victory of European culture over Chinese barbarism and over the fresh successes of Russia's “civilising mission” in the Far East.
But the voices of the class-conscious workers, of the advanced representatives of the many millions of the working people, are not heard amid this rejoicing. And yet, it is the working people who bear the brunt of the victorious new campaigns, it is working people who are sent to the other end of the world, from whom increased taxes are extorted to cover the millions expended. Let us, therefore, see: What attitude should the socialists adopt towards this war? In whose interests is it being fought? What is the real nature of the policy now being pursued by the Russian Government?
Our government asserts first of all that it is not waging war against China; that it is merely suppressing a rebellion, pacifying rebels; that it is helping the lawful government of China to re-establish law and order. True, war has not been declared, but this does not change the situation a bit, because war is being waged nonetheless. What made the Chinese attack Europeans, what caused the rebellion which the British, French, Germans, Russians, Japanese, etc., are so zealously crushing? “The hostility of the yellow race towards the white race,” “the Chinese hatred for European culture and civilisation”- answer the supporters of the war. Yes! It is true the Chinese hate the Europeans, but which Europeans do they hate, and why? The Chinese do not hate the European peoples, they have never had any quarrel with them-they hate the European capitalists and the European governments obedient to them. How can the Chinese not hate those who have come to China solely for the sake of gain; who have utilised their vaunted civilisation solely for the purpose of deception, plunder, and violence; who have waged wars against China in order to win the right to trade in opium with which to drug the people (the war of England and France with China in 1856); and who hypocritically carried their policy of plunder under the guise of spreading Christianity? The bourgeois governments of Europe have long been conducting this policy of plunder with respect to China, and now they have been joined by the autocratic Russian Government. This policy of plunder is usually called a colonial policy. Every country in which capitalist industry develops rapidly has very soon to seek colonies, i.e., countries in which industry is weakly developed, in which a more or less patriarchal way of life still prevails, and which can serve as a market for manufactured goods and a source of high profits. For the sake of the profit of a handful of capitalists, the bourgeois governments have waged endless wars, have sent regiments to die in unhealthy tropical countries, have squandered millions of money extracted from the people, and have driven the peoples in the colonies to desperate revolts or to death from starvation. We need only recall the rebellion of the native peoples against the British in India [The uprising for national liberation that began in India in 1857 and was suppressed by British troops in 1859.] and the famine that prevailed there, or think of the war the English are now waging against the Boers.
And now the European capitalists have placed their rapacious paws upon China, and almost the first to do so was the Russian Government, which now so loudly proclaims its “disinterestedness.” It “disinterestedly” took Port Arthur away from China and began to build a railway to Manchuria under the protection of Russian troops. One after another the European governments began feverishly to loot, or, as they put it, to “rent,” Chinese territory, giving good grounds for the talk of the partition of China. If we are to call things by their right names, we must say that the European governments (the Russian Government among the very first) have already started to partition China. However, they have not begun this partitioning openly, but stealthily, like thieves. They began to rob China as ghouls rob corpses, and when the seeming corpse attempted to resist, they flung themselves upon it like savage beasts, burning down whole villages, shooting, bayonetting, and drowning in the Amur River unarmed inhabitants, their wives, and their children. And all these Christian exploits are accompanied by howls against the Chinese barbarians who dared to raise their hands against the civilised Europeans. The occupation of Niuchuang and the moving of Russian troops into Manchuria are temporary measures, declares the autocratic Russian Government in its circular note of August 12, 1900 addressed to the Powers; these measures “are called forth exclusively by the necessity to repel the aggressive operations of Chinese rebels”; they “cannot in the least be regarded as evidence of any selfish plans, which are totally alien to the policy of the Imperial Government.”
Poor Imperial Government! So Christianly unselfish, and yet so unjustly maligned! Several years ago it unselfishly seized Port Arthur, and now it is unselfishly seizing Manchuria; it has unselfishly flooded the frontier provinces of China with hordes of contractors, engineers, and officers, who, by their conduct, have roused to indignation even the Chinese, known for their docility. The Chinese workers employed in the construction of the Chinese railway had to exist on a wage of ten kopeks a day-is this not unselfish on Russia's part?
How is our government's senseless policy in China to be explained? Who benefits by it? The benefit goes to a handful of capitalist magnates who carry on trade with China, to a handful of factory owners who manufacture goods for the Asian market, to a handful of con tractors who are now piling up huge profits on urgent war orders (factories producing war equipment, supplies for the troops, etc., are now operating at full capacity and are engaging hundreds of new workers). This policy is of benefit to a handful of nobles who occupy high posts in the civil and military services. They need adventurous policies, for these provide them with opportunities for promotion, for making a career and gaining fame by their “exploits.” In the interests of this handful of capitalists and bureaucratic scoundrels, our government unhesitatingly sacrifices the interests of the entire people. And in this case, as always, the autocratic tsarist government has proved itself to be a government of irresponsible bureaucrats servilely cringing before the capitalist magnates and nobles.
What benefits do the Russian working class and the labouring people generally obtain from the conquests in China? Thousands of ruined families, whose breadwinners have been sent to the war; an enormous increase in the national debt and the national expenditure; mounting taxation; greater power for the capitalists, the exploiters of the workers; worse conditions for the workers; still greater mortality among the peasantry; famine in Siberia-this is what the Chinese war promises and is already bringing. The entire Russian press, all the newspapers and periodicals are kept in a state of bondage; they dare not print anything without permission of the government officials. This is the reason for the lack of precise information as to what the Chinese war is costing the people; but there is no doubt that it requires the expenditure of many hundreds of millions of rubles. It has come to our knowledge that the government, by an unpublished decree, handed out the tidy sum of a hundred and fifty million rubles for the purpose of waging the war. In addition to this, current expenditures on the war absorb one million rubles every three or four days, and these terrific sums are being squandered by a government which, haggling over every kopek, has steadily cut down grants to the famine- stricken peasantry; which can find no money for the people's education; which, like any kulak, sweats the workers in the government factories, sweats the lower employees in the post offices, etc.!
Minister of Finance Witte declared that on January 1, 1900, there were two hundred and fifty million rubles available in the treasury. Now this money is gone, it has been spent on the war. The government is seeking loans, is increasing taxation, is refusing necessary expenditures because of the lack of money, and is putting a stop to the building of railways. The tsarist government is threatened with bankruptcy, and yet it is plunging into a policy of conquest-a policy which not only demands the expenditure of enormous sums of money, but threatens to plunge us into still more dangerous wars. The European states that have flung themselves upon China are already beginning to quarrel over the division of the booty, and no one can say how this quarrel will end.
But the policy of the tsarist government in China is not only a mockery of the interests of the people-its aim is to corrupt the political consciousness of the masses. Governments that maintain themselves in power only by means of the bayonet, that have constantly to re strain or suppress the indignation of the people, have long realised the truism that popular discontent can never be removed and that it is necessary to divert the discontent from the government to some other object. For example, hostility is being stirred up against the Jews; the gutter press carries on Jew-baiting campaigns, as if the Jewish workers do not suffer in exactly the same way as the Russian workers from the oppression of capital and the police government. At the present time, the press is conducting a campaign against the Chinese; it is howling about the savage yellow race and its hostility towards civilisation, about Russia's tasks of enlightenment, about the enthusiasm with which the Russian soldiers go into battle, etc., etc. Journalists who crawl on their bellies before the government and the money-bags are straining every nerve to rouse the hatred of the people against China. But the Chinese people have at no time and in no way oppressed the Russian people. The Chinese people suffer from the same evils as those from which the Russian people suffer-they suffer from an Asiatic government that squeezes taxes from the starving peasantry and that suppresses every aspiration towards liberty by military force; they suffer from the oppression of capital, which has penetrated into the Middle Kingdom.
The Russian working class is beginning to move out of the state of political oppression and ignorance in which the masses of the people are still submerged. Hence, the duty of all class-conscious workers is to rise with all their might against those who are stirring up national hatred and diverting the attention of the working people from their real enemies. The policy of the tsarist government in China is a criminal policy which is impoverishing, corrupting, and oppressing the people more than ever. The tsarist government not only keeps our people in slavery but sends them to pacify other peoples who rebel against their slavery (as was the case in 1849 when Russian troops suppressed the revolution in Hungary). It not only helps the Russian capitalists to exploit the Russian workers, whose hands it ties to hold them back from combining and defending themselves, but it also sends soldiers to plunder other peoples in the interests of a handful of rich men and nobles. There is only one way in which the new burden the war is thrusting upon the working people can be removed, and that is the convening of an assembly of representatives of the people, which would put an end to the autocracy of the government and compel it to have regard for interests other than those solely of a gang of courtiers.
Published in Iskra, No. 1, December 1900, and in Lenin's Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Vol. 4, pp 372-377.