I. Origin and Significance of the Victory of Mao Tse-tung
Ernest Mandel / Ernest Germain
|From Fourth International, Vol.11 No.5, pp.147-157.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
A half-billion inhabitants in a sub-continent as vast as Europe , nomad peoples living beside modern proletarians, the kerosene lamp and Rockefeller’s fuel oils penetrating to the smallest villages of the South while money remains unknown in entire regions – such is the China of today, classic example of the historically combined development of all Asia. The penetration of international capital industrialized an insignificant coastal strip and a few northern provinces; in the rest of the country its action was limited to the destruction of the centuries-old handicrafts and the crushing of the peasant under the burden of usury. Between international capital and the mass of the Chinese arose a class of intermediaries, the compradors, who. living on the commercial profit granted them by the foreign entrepreneurs and its conversion into usurer’s capital, bled the peasantry white.
Incapable on account of their social peculiarities of unfying the country, of assuring its independence, of resolving the agrarian question, this bourgeoisie of compradors, unable to play any progressive role in history, kept the country in chaos and prostration. The ancient Chinese culture disintegrated: in the countryside, ignorance and illiteracy reached their culmination. At the same time, in the big cities as a common means of communication with the foreign lords the infernal and highly symbolic jargon of “pidgin English” was coined in which “I am” is translated by “I belong.” Such is the country which is the theater of the most important revolution precipitated by the Second World War.
Chinese society, bastard child of the old China and world imperialism, did not cease suffering bloody convulsions. Principal theater of imperialist rivalries in the Far East, it was chopped up by warlords waging private wars subsidized by the big powers interested in Chinese commerce before duly falling victim to a war of conquest by Japanese imperialism. The defeat of the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 permitted no progressive solution of the contradictions in which this bastard society writhed. That is why there was a consequent slow decomposition of the lundamental productive relations on which Chinese society was based.
Japanese imperialism invested considerable capital in Manchuria, colonized in 1931. The equivalent in yen of close to 5.5 billion dollars flowed in. Vast industrialization doubled coal production there and tripled metallurgical production. But this industrial development did not profit the country as a whole. The great agricultural belts of the North and the South, which the Japanese never succeeded in occupying, were cut off from the developed industrial centers. In the North, above all in territories occupied by Communist guerillas or by local peasant militias, handicrafts underwent a new growth. Trade died down and the tendencies toward provincial and even district autarchy gained strength continually. The country turned in upon itself.
This had considerable consequences for agrarian economy. The links with the world market which made it possible to smooth the ups and downs in the supply of rice and wheat, were cut. The result was famine at each bad harvest. Entire provinces with tens of millions of inhabitants
At the same time, the officers of Chiang Kai-shek’s army, small local officials and other supports of the Kuomintang, suffering from the mounting inflation, appropriated for themselves immense stretches of communal and tenant peasant lands. In the province of Szechuan it was estimated that 20 to 30 percent of the landlords seized their lands during the war and their holdings represented 90 percent of the land owned by the old landlords. This evolution was again accentuated after the end of the war when the government through nationalized companies seized lands belonging to the Japanese. The North China Exploitation Company alone seized several hundred thousand mow of land in Hopei. (One mow equals approximately one-sixth of an acre.)
The tax in kind since 1941, the innumerable forced loans and requisitions of the army, dealt the final blow to a peasant economy that had been tottering for a long time. Numerous villages were depopulated – the number of farmers who died of starvation during and after the war is estimated at ten to fifteen million! Vast reaches remained uncultivated. The soil, exhausted by centuries of too numerous harvests and lack of care, rebelled in its turn against the archaic mode of production in northern China. The yield per mow dropped without cease. Belden estimates that at the end of the war 50 million mow of land were lying desolate in the three fertile provinces of Honan, Hupeh and Hunan. Hundreds of thousands of small and middle peasants were dispossessed. A considerable devaluation in the price of land occurred as numerous peasants found themselves forced to sell their tiny patches.
Thus the war and its immediate aftermath created on one side a new layer of speculators and parasitic owners, and on the other an enormous mass of expropriated peasants. This polarization of society signified an extreme exacerbation of the social contradictions and was the midwife of the third Chinese revolution.
China’s sudden reconquest of the big industrial centers upon the Japanese capitulation betokened brutal confirmation of a typical aspect of contemporary China – the submergence of the extremely weak industrial bourgeoisie by “bureaucratic capital.” From 1936 on, nationalizations acquired importance. Official statistics indicate that in 1942 the government possessed 20 power stations, eight iron and steel factories, many machine and electrical manufacturing plants and ten distilleries. At the end of the war, the government seized all Japanese-owned enterprises, thus appropriating the lion’s share of the textile and coal industries. Four families, Chiang Kai-shek, the Soongs, the Kungs and the Chen brothers skimmed the cream from these nationalized enterprises as their private domain, utilizing their political positions at the same time to amass fabulous fortunes in the management of these enterprises and to acquire in numerous sectors virtual monopolies for their private enterprises.
The reactionary American writer George Moorad, who remains nevertheless an apologist for the Kuomintang, decried the situation thus created in these terms:
By using government loans and UNRRA materials, and by confiscating enemy-alien properties, the state-family monopolies soon came to dominate mining, heavy industry, silk, cotton, spinning, sugar, transportation, and, of course, banking and overseas trade ... In addition to their controlling interest in the National government, Soong-Kung combine and its satellites also owned the China Highway Transport Company, Fu Chung Corporation, Yangtze Development Corporation, Central Trust of China, China Textile Development Corporation, and Universal Trading Corporation. Thus the great Japanese-owned cotton spinning mills in China, which, in 1937, had rivaled Bombay and Manchester productions, were taken over by the China Textile Development Corporation, which, receiving government loans and government cotton, was able to put private Chinese and British mills out of business. The monopolies also got preferences in allocations of fuel, transport and raw materials. (Lost Peace in China, E.P. Button & Co., New York, 1949, pp.197-98)
This is a form of the concentration of monopoly capital which the advanced countries have never known.
When a member of one of these families, the financier T.V. Soong, ex-president of the Bank of China, ex-minister of foreign affairs, and ex-prime minister, was named governor of the rich province of Kwangtung in September 1947, four months after his resignation as head of the government under the pressure of public opinion, the press explained this nomination as the result of a gift which Soong himself had made to the charity fund of the Kuomintang of at least 500 billion Chinese dollars, or 10 million American dollars, in stocks and bonds of important commercial and industrial enterprises. “Bureaucratic capital,” hence, was the conquest of dominating positions in the economy by exploiting public office, combined with the purchase of controlling posts in the government by means of enormous profits wrung from the economy.
These extremes of corruption and despotism injured not only the foreign capitalists who saw themselves excluded from part of their traditional profits, but also the majority of the Chinese compradors themselves who found the most profitable fields monopolized by the “four families.” These native bourgeois layers, cut off from profitable commercial or industrial activity, concentrated all the more on speculation and usury, thus accelerating the disintegration of the economy and feeding the hate of all the productive classes toward the Kuomintang and its rotten regime.
But the factor which contributed most to the disintegration of the traditional social relations was the galloping inflation that developed during the course of the war and its immediate aftermath. In addition to the universal parasitism of the regime, the cause of this inflation resided above all in the enormous mass of unproductive governmental expenditures for the maintenance of a hypertrophied bureaucracy and army – approximately 70 percent of the budget was devoted to the army. This led to an enormous budgetary deficit surpassing two-thirds of the expenditures, and this deficit could not be covered except by unbridled printing of bank notes. By 1940 prices had already reached an average of 3,500 (taking the 1937 level as 100) and in some provinces even more than 5,500. The end of the war was marked by pronounced acceleration of the inflationary movement. During 1946 prices soared 700 percent in Shanghai. From January to July they mounted again by 500 percent. The circulation of money rose from 1.15 trillion Chinese dollars in January 1946 to 11.46 trillion in July 1947. From that time, the rhythm of inflation accelerated, as is indicated by the course of the American dollar on the Shanghai black market:
One American dollar was worth [in Chinese dollars] – in June 1947, 36,000; August 1947, 44,000; October 1947, 100,000; November 1947, 165,000; March 1948, 500,000; May 1948, 1,000,000; beginning of August 1948, 10,000,000. The magnitude of the inflation ended in the elimination of money as means of monthly payment of salaries and wages, payments being made with sacks of wheat. Inflation led to hoarding of gold and foreign money, to massive stockpiling of goods and from that to increasing scarcities. At the end of August 1948, the government made a last attempt at stabilization of the monetary situation. A new issue, the gold yuan, was put in circulation. Prices were stabilized and rigorous penalties instituted to curb speculation. But the public remained sceptical, since at the same time budget figures showed annual government revenue covered scarcely two months’ expenditures. And so, like agrarian reform, inflation on the morrow started up again worse than ever. Six weeks later the hike in prices reached 45 percent. Four weeks more, and the official index hit 81 percent. Between November 1948 and January 1949, prices mounted 500 percent. A new cycle of galloping inflation was opened.
The inflation led to complete prostration of business. “Production is paralyzed,” wrote the correspondent of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, October 17, 1948, “because of the lack of raw materials. The peasant producers refuse to sell their products so long as they cannot buy foods at official prices.” Fear of the inflation led to heavy disinvestment of capital. Such capital, transformed into gold bars or dollars, flowed to Hong Kong, the United States, Latin America. Plant equipment deteriorated. Machines were no longer repaired. Capital ceased to be renewed. Inflation devoured what reserves had remained intact in the country. Coal production fell to half the pre-war level; textile production to a similar level. Throughout Manchuria, industrial production in 1948 stood at 10 percent of its normal level. A typical case, cited in the report of General Wedemeyer, is that of the Hwainan Coal Mine in central China owned by the China Finance Development Corporation which is controlled by two of the four families, the Soongs and Kungs. This corporation possessed extensive foreign exchange assets, but refused to use them to rehabilitate the mine. The government itself had to start production moving by advancing more than one million American dollars. After exhausting this loan, things stopped at that. Finally, this situation led to a rupture in trade between city and country. Great stocks of foods and cotton accumulated in the villages of Manchuria and northern China while famine reigned in the cities. At the same time, huge stockpiles of coal accumulated in mining centers while the peasant population suffered terribly from the bitter cold of winter. All economic life in the country seemed to halt. The culpability of the regime was apparent to everyone.
American Intervention in China
Imperialist intervention had prevented transformation of China into a modern nation. At the same time it lent unexpected support to the particular social relations characterizing the China of the first half of the twentieth century. With the end of the war this situation was radically upset. Of the old powers protecting the Chinese social order, only Great Britain and the United States remained independent forces, and Great Britain was too weak to intervene effectively in China. On American imperialism fell the whole burden of defending that Christian civilization which had pressed on China the seal of opium, coolies and the licensed brothels of Shanghai.
The outbreak of war between Japan and the United States considerably accentuated American interest in China. While bankers and technicians prepared plans for credits and capital investments, General Stilwell sought to utilize the immense Chinese human potential for the creation of new armies endowed with modern equipment. It was in the course of these attempts that the Yankee military heads had their first prolonged contacts with the leaders of the Kuomintang and understood that the Chiang Kai-shek regime Was hopelessly corrupt and condemned to perish. The documents published by the American State Department contain secret reports of agents, written in 1943-44, which were all unanimous in predicting the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek in the event of civil war on the grand scale in China. The report of John Stewart Service characterizes the situation in the provinces controlled by the Kuomintang in the following way:
1. Morale is low and discouragement widespread. There is a general feeling of hopelessness.
2. The authority of the Central Government is weakening in the areas away from the larger cities. Government mandates and measures of control cannot be enforced and remain ineffective. It is becoming difficult for the Government to collect enough food for its huge army and bureaucracy.
3. The governmental and military structure is being permeated and demoralized from top to bottom by corruption, unprecedented in scale and openness.
4. The intellectual and salaried classes, who have suffered the most heavily from inflation, are in danger of liquidation. The academic groups suffer not only the attrition and demoralization of economic stress; the weight of years of political control and repression is robbing them of the intellectual vigor and leadership they once had.
This appreciation of the Chinese situation placed American imperialism before an insoluble dilemma the moment the war in Asia came to an end. On the one hand, it was necessary to give maximum aid to Chiang Kai-shek to prevent the swift collapse of Kuomintang China. On the other hand, it was necessary to replace the Chiang Kai-shek government by a government capable of avoiding the outbreak of civil war on the grand scale, since the Kuomintang could not help losing such a war. But the sole means American imperialism had to put pressure on the Kuomintang was precisely the aid which it advanced. Unable to make up its mind to cut this aid in order to wring real concessions from the Kuomintang, it saw all its attempts to reach conciliation between the Chinese Communist Party and Chiang Kai-shek doomed to failure in advance.
Attempts at Compromise
The political and military basis for such a compromise was real nonetheless the first two years after the war. Chiang’s armies, equipped thanks to the Americans with ultra-modern materiel, were transported by American planes and ships to the big centers of Manchuria and the North, in order to speedily occupy the cities evacuated by the Japanese, then by the Russians. The groups of Communist partisans, officially united to the regular army under the name of the Eighth Route Army, had occupied some agricultural districts and a few cities, then had halted their operations. On October 11, 1945, an agreement was reached between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party providing for the convocation of a People’s Political Consultative Conference to iron out all the differences.
This conference was held in Chungking in January 1946 and after 21 days of discussion adopted a series of resolutions on the organization of a coalition government, the reconstruction of the country, military problems, convocation of a National Assembly, etc. It was not a question of a radical reform. Finally on February 25, 1946, under the aegis of General Marshall, in China on special mission as conciliator, the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party concluded an agreement for the unification of the armed forces. The road to “social peace” seemed open.
Nevertheless, at the very moment these agreements were reached, hostilities were again on the point of breaking out. Responsibility for this fell squarely on the Kuomintang, and several months later General Marshall did not hesitate to publish a declaration in which he listed “seven errors” of Chiang Kai-shek, seven flagrant cases of military aggression on the part of the Kuomintang’s forces in violation of the agreements previously reached with the Chinese Communist Party. In the summer of 1946, general hostilities resumed and at the end of that year the Kuomintang army opened a general offensive aimed at occupying the territories held by the Communist armies. A widespread civil war had blazed up.
Failure of Marshall’s Mission
Formally, General Marshall’s mission of conciliation was wrecked on the question of the occupation of territories which had changed hands after January 13, 1946, the opening date of the Political Consultative Conference. The Chinese Communist Party demanded the status quo ante and continuation of social reforms previously carried out in these areas. Marshall proposed evacuation of the territories and; their conversion into a kind of no-man’s land. Chiang Kai-shek demanded their occupation by “government” forces.
In reality, the landlords were convinced of the inevitability of peasant uprisings on a grand scale. They had no confidence that the Chinese Communist Party, following eventual entrance in a coalition government, would prove capable of halting these uprisings. They feared consequently that any prolongation of the period of relative freedom enjoyed by the peasants in the Communist-occupied regions would lead fatally to the seizure of land, and that the example set by these regions would spread throughout the Chinese peasantry. The sole means of avoiding this catastrophe was the rapid reconquest of these regions, as long as the relation of military forces was basically favorable to the Kuomintang. The Chinese ruling classes understood that time worked against them. The military adventure in which they plunged with a blindness rarely equalled was neither desired nor provoked by the Chinese Communist Party which seems to have genuinely sought the road to compromise.
The failure of General Marshall’s mission of conciliation and the following fact-finding mission of General Wedemeyer did not by any means signify abandonment by American imperialism of its policy of intervention and “pacification” of China. For two years, American policy continued to be buffeted between two contradictory aims – to avoid any breaching of Kuomintang power from one side; from the other to try to “liberalize” the regime and lead it to putting an end to the civil war. If American conciliatory intentions in China seem to have been genuine, in practice American intervention brought about prolongation of Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorship. The “pressure” exerted on the generalissimo to introduce some “progressive” reforms achieved only ridiculous results.
The total amount of American aid given the Kuomintang was considerable. It is a flagrant lie when reactionary circles in the United States and the world try to explain the victory of Mao Tse-tung by the “insufficient” support Washington gave Chinese reaction. So far as military aid strictly speaking is concerned, besides numerous American advisors in China and the transport of soldiers and materiel for the Kuomintang in American ships and planes, 700 million dollars’ worth of lend-lease deliveries were made after the end of the war in Asia, plus arms and munitions worth more than one billion dollars. As for economic aid, the official American figure is another billion dollars plus sale of surplus goods worth an additional billion dollars. Say a total of three billion dollars which could not save Chiang Kai-shek. In truth, nothing could have held back the mounting flood of the third Chinese revolution.
The Disintegration of Power
The defeat of Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese civil war cannot be understood if you consider it as the defeat of a “democratic” government in the face of the “totalitarian” power of the Chinese Communists. From the social point of view, the Kuomintang regime, based on an alliance of landlords and bourgeois compradors, was crushed by the uprisings of exploited peasants. Even from the formal point of view, it was the spontaneous initiative and a considerable degree of local self-government which permitted the Mao Tse-tung armies to overwhelm the rotten and universally detested despotism of the Kuomintang.
Nothing in fact could be further from reality than to call Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorship bourgeois democracy. The dictatorship was openly affirmed as such, since the Kuomintang openly declared that it was exercising tutelage over the Chinese people, not yet ripe for political sovereignty, up to 1947. And the formal abandonment of this “tutelage” came at the time when the dictatorship, basing itself on a secret service of 200,000 members, opened an unparalleled wave of repressions.
A very convincing example of the “democratic” nature of Chiang Kai-shek’s government is its reign of terror on the island of Formosa in 1947. On February 25, 1947, incidents broke out which led to a number of killings by Chinese soldiers. The population of Formosa rose up and organized political councils which demanded a democratic constitution for the island. The governor entered into negotiations with the populace to gain time pending arrival of reinforcements from the mainland. When the Chinese troops landed, a bloody repression began. The Americans fix the number of victims at 5,000 slain; the inhabitants of Formosa speak of 20,000 people murdered. History took its revenge on Chiang Kai-shek by abandoning him today to the stubborn, underground hatred of the unhappy people of this island.
As Trotsky long ago observed, the Kuomintang dictatorship was not fascist in character ; contrary to the fascist regimes it had no base of support in the petty-bourgeois masses, which were violently hostile to it. It was a military dictatorship based on an alliance between landlords, certain layers of compradors and the immense caste of military men and upper bureaucrats who profited from the regime. According to the Swiss journal Der Bund, China had 6,773 generals in active service. (June 15, 1948.) The war, however, altered the base of this regime. Cut off from the big industrial centers and the decisive levels of the compradors, Chiang Kai-shek was forced to support himself more fully on the most conservative and backward landlords. From this fact, the political weight of the representatives of this class (notably the clique of the Central Committee of the Kuomintang) became decisive. This explains the failure of the 1946 compromise which had been favored’ by the industrial bourgeoisie of northern China, who, on March 13, 1946, sent a delegation to Kuomintang headquarters to obtain immediate cessation of hostilities.
Career of a Generalissimo
The personality of Chiang Kai-shek is a faithful reflection of the regime which he incarnated. Harold Isaacs has drawn a portrait of the Chinese dictator as ferocious as it is faithful. Son of a landlord-trader of the province of Chekiang, Chiang Kai-shek came to Shanghai about 1911 where he tried to make a career as a stock broker. He got in touch with the secret societies and hobnobbed, says Isaacs, with “gangsters and bankers, smugglers and brothel-keepers, the money-changers and the scum of the treaty ports.” Headed for prison, he was saved by his comprador protectors, then went south to link his fortune with Sun Yat-sen. A young career officer, he was chosen by the father of the Chinese Republic to spend six months in Moscow in 1923. On his return, he became commander of the Whampoo Military Academy, constructed and maintained with Russian funds; and it was from this position that he left in 1925 for the military expedition which permitted him later to crush the revolution in 1927 and to unify China under his dictatorship. The massacres which he perpetrated left wounds that are felt to this day.
From April to December 1927, 37,985 persons were executed for “political crimes.” From January to August 1928, the number condemned to death was 27,699. At the end of 1930, it was estimated that 140,000 political, opponents had been put to death by the regime. In 1931, incomplete statistics referring to the cities of only six provinces mentioned 38,778 persons executed by the political police in the course of the year.
Changes Wrought by the War
Chiang Kai-shek maintained his dominant position, says Isaacs, by offering immediate benefits to all the ruling classes and by effective maneuvering among the mutually hostile military cliques. But the change in the relationship of forces between landlords and compradors during the war profoundly altered the Kuomintang’s seat of power. Even more fatal was the development in northern China and Manchuria during the same period of organs of self-defense and self-government among the peasants. In the lost villages where the Japanese troops had not been able to send more than advance scouts but which the Kuomintang troops precipitatejy abandoned, solid nuclei were organized of anti-imperialist resistance and local democracy. The village militia of secretly elected town administrations appeared even behind the Japanese lines.
The Communist Eighth Route Army soon began to coordinate this resistance movement under its leadership. Having insufficient cadres, it was compelled to leave the villages a high degree of autonomy and democracy. Administrative units put together in rather slack fashion were taken in hand by a central body created from above, the “government of the Shansi-Hopei-Shantung-Honan Border Region” which left considerable representation to local and non-Communist elements. Toward the end of the war, this “government” and the authoritative formations which the Communist partisans had constructed in other parts of the country already controlled close to 90 million people.
The mass of peasants, while observing with distrust the measures of the new authorities tending to prevent the agrarian reform up until 1946, nevertheless considered the new government as the first which had not acted forcibly and always against the people. They were ready to grant it their support from the moment their fundamental demand for land was carried out.
The Chiang Kai-shek regime thus found itself facing an adversary whose forces did not cease to grow. Its own resources did not cease to diminish, corroded by an unbridled corruption. Belden cites the case of a colonel due for promotion to command of a battalion who was rejected because of inability to pay the customary “gift” to his superiors. He was then made head of the transport unit of his regiment. In this capacity he had to give one-seventh of all the gasoline to the officer in charge of the supply depot. His superiors took another one-seventh of the gasoline for their personal graft. To supply the regiment, the colonel had to sell grease and lubricants on the black market himself in order to make up for the gasoline lifted by the corrupt officers. The Chinese writer Pei Wan-chung reports that the mayors of villages responsible lor sending young recruits to the army had organized, in the province of Hopei, a system according to which every family paying exorbitant sums could keep their sons home. At the same time the missing forces were inscribed on the regimental books so that the officers could put their pay in their own pockets. The result was that numerous armed formations did not have more than 60 percent of their presumed forces. The situation becomes clearer still when one adds that very often officers of the Kuomintang sold their arms to the Communists.
The monetary reform of August 1948 installing the gold yuan had been prepared so secretly that not even the American advisors of the Chinese governmelnt had been informed. Yet it soon appeared that the General Secretary of the Ministry of Finance had organized his own little speculation in the Shanghai stock exchange through the fact that he knew the date and details of this reform! General Wedemeyer’s report affirms that tax officials took more from the peasants than they could pay, while rich businessmen and merchants evaded tax obligations by presenting fake accounts. The same report declares that “In pre-war years, the reputation of the Chinese-Maritime Customs for efficiency and honesty of administration was unexcelled throughout the world. At the present time ... corruption ... is widespread, more so ... than at any time in the last 94 years.” Merchants bribed customs officials to pass their goods illegally, evading license fees and customs duties to get around price controls or simply to expedite action. The administrative costs of collecting duties, however, averaged only 10 percent; while in the Direct Tax Bureau of the Ministry of Finance the “administrative” expense of tax collection ran as high as 60 percent.
Middle Class Rebellion
In contrast to the high dignitaries of the regime who organized fraud and corruption as a private racket, the bulk of the small functionaries were pushed on the road of corruption because of the flagrant insufficiency of their salaries. Inflation hit the functionaries and salaried middle classes harder than it did the industrial workers. In March 1948, a university professor earned 10 million Chinese dollars (equivalent to 20 American dollars). He had no way of obtaining supplementary income to this starvation wage. Hardly surprising then, in these conditions, that “the cultured, intellectual classes should be almost completely alienated from the regime”. And in token of this hostility, imposing protest movements centered around the universities.
In 1946 especially there were demonstrations greeting establishment of the truce; but the demonstrators who acclaimed the leaders of the Kuomintang as well as those hailing the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were attacked by the police and army. At Suchow, 12 students were killed and 27 wounded. The dean of the school was likewise killed. At Kunming, two professors were murdered after having spoken at a meeting in favor of the truce. In 1947, the movement was much larger. Students of the universities of Shanghai, Peking and Nanking proclaimed a general strike. Some 3,000 students of the Transport High School occupied the North Station in Shanghai and seized a train, demanding that it take them to Nanking to talk with the government. The students tried to organize the nationwide general strike for June 2. Repression was rapid and violent. Thousands of soldiers and police closed in on the universities of Shanghai and Nanking, arresting and beating hundreds of students. At Hankow and Chungking likewise, the number of victims was high. Nine hundred and twenty-three arrests, dozens of deaths, a thousand wounded – such was the balance sheet of the student movement of 1947.
In 1948, the movement started again in the spring. At Peking a mass demonstration clashed with a barrier of police. There were a number of dead and wounded on both sides. At Kunming, July 15, 1948, police staged a raid on the University, killing five students, wounding a hundred and arresting 1,200, of whom 300 were sent to concentration camps. The prisoners were submitted to infamous tortures; 30 were buried alive. In August 1948, a special court was set up to handle “student insubordinations.” Thousands of students and hundreds of professors were dismissed from the middle and higher schools.
The sliding scale of wages was won and the workers obtained numerous supplementary bonuses to offset the effects of the worst inflation. In 1947, there was a new wave of strikes which in Shanghai in May almost reached a general strike protesting the temporary banning of the sliding wage scale system. The system was restored. In 1948, however, the acceleration of the inflationary movement and the aggravation of the military situation brought on a period of retreat in the labor movement. The struggle for elementary personal and family needs became paramount. Apathy spread among the people who began to look toward the armies to resolve their difficulties. There were only the disturbances of the famine, the rice riots.
Government authority disappeared completely. The desire for peace was universal. All classes of the nation felt profound loathing for the regime. Still, a class was needed to deal it the final blow. It was the peasant insurrections that overthrew Chiang Kai-shek.
The Agrarian Question
The unequal historic development of China finds its most faithful reflection in the unequal development of agriculture in the different Chinese regions. Hence it is impossible to give a simple sketch of class relations in the Chinese village since these relations vary enormously from region to region. A certain number of generalizations nevertheless remain possible. Agriculture in the provinces south of the Yangtze is in general more advanced than that of the northern provinces; in the same way, in the North in places remote from the coast and principal railway lines one finds stronger vestiges of feudalism in agriculture. In southern China, farms are smaller than in the North. But this difference simply reflects the poverty of agriculture in the North where the peasants are unable to eke out a living on smaller plots. Thus in the South of China only half the farms have an area greater than 1.64 acres and 20 percent an area greater than 3.29 acres. In northern China, 73 percent of the farms have more than 1.64 acres, not more than 50 percent are larger than 3.29 acres and 35 percent exceed 4.94 acres. These figures also indicate the extremely small dimensions of Chinese farms.
In the North of China, the small landlord system predominates; in the South, tenants and sharecroppers constitute the majority of the peasants. However, throughout China the number of independent peasants has diminished considerably since the turn of the century, as is recognized by official Kuomintang sources. In some provinces of southern China, the percentage of peasants owning their land fell extremely low – in the province of Chekiang (south of Shanghai along the sea) to 18 percent; in the rich province of Kwantung, where Canton is located, 21 percent; in Fukieng, between Chekiang and Kwantung, 25 percent, etc. More agriculture is capitalist and more small farmers have given way to the tenant and sharecropper.
Chinese agriculture is likewise marked by a strong differentiation in the form of payment of agrarian rent. This rent is paid sometimes in kind at a fixed rate, sometimes as a portion of the annual harvest. In general, industrial crops (cotton, tea) pay rent in money, food crops predominantly in kind. This rent is extremely high. Official Kuomintang sources fix “the average” at 40 to 60 percent of the harvest, but in numerous cases the landlords receive more than 60 percent of the harvest, as the following figures demonstrate:
|Percentage of farms paying on the harvest|
|Province||From 50% to 60%
(of the crop)
|From 60% to 70%
(of the crop)
|More than 70%
(of the crop)
To complete this picture, it must be added that in practice the landlord fixed the rate of rent as he pleased and this rate often varied from harvest to harvest in the absence of any written contract. Even with a written contract, it remained with the landlord to interpret it as he pleased since the peasant was most often illiterate. Finally, it is necessary to say that the rates cited above refer solely to rent of the land. If the landlord likewise furnished some farm tool or fertilizer, he demanded additional payment.
Backwardness of Land Relations
The landlords were themselves quite different. In the North, they lived in general amid their lands; capital went from the city to the countryside; the merchant tended to become a landlord. Contrariwise, in the South, the owner generally lived in the city. He invested the rents he received in business or industry. Capital went from the countryside to the city. In both cases, however, the capitalization of the land rent was never made through the industrialization or mechanization of agriculture, the improvement of the land or increase in the productivity of labor. It was done either by taking the land from ruined peasants and parceling it out to other peasants toiling with the same archaic methods, or by usury, trade, or by a combination of these different operations. This explains the considerable backwardness in the development of agriculture in relation to the growth of the population.
Bourgeois economists try to explain this backwardness by the lack of arable land or the excessive birth rate. In reality, it is a question of a phenomenon already well known in Russia and again today in India. Because of the lack of land, the landlord is interested in maintaining production within the limits of intensive small production similar to truck gardening, without introducing the methods of production and instruments of modern technique. Each year, all the surplus product and a part of the means of subsistence are taken from agriculture to feed and enrich the landlords, the bureaucrats and innumerable officers. This permanent crisis in agriculture cannot be resolved unless the owners are expropriated, a new concentration of land rendered impossible by the nationalization of the soil, the buying and selling of land forbidden and the countryside thus made capable of providing a market for the industries of the city, which in turn will furnish the countryside with the instruments needed to considerably raise agricultural production.
The Burden of Taxes and Usury
In addition to this basic cause of the poverty of the Chinese peasant, other evils overwhelmed him too, principal among them being the feudal vestiges, usury and the exorbitant taxes. Feudal vestiges were heavy in northern China and even in certain inland provinces of southern China. Not very far from Shanghai one could see the adobe castles of the landlords surrounded by the miserable huts of the peasants. The head of each sai (social unit composed of a number of villages) was at once judge, merchant, tax collector, usurer and executioner. He had his own army recruited on a “voluntary” basis among his servants and the poor peasants of the area. Forced labor, the lord’s feudal right over wives of the peasants, concubinage, existed on a wide scale.
Usury was the direct consequence of the exorbitant rate of rent which prevented the peasants from accumulating the least reserve fund. It expanded considerably with the commercialisation of agriculture which tied the value of the harvests to the fluctuations of the world market. If for natural causes or in consequence of the movement of prices a poor harvest made it impossible for the tenant to pay his taxes to the government and his rent to the landlord, he was obliged to borrow money from the usurer, the landlord himself or a member of his family. He was often obliged to borrow seed for the coming season or even food in order to give his family its meager pittance of millet or rice. Interest was extremely high and did not cease to mount in later years. On the eve of the war, it reached 40 to 60 percent a year. During the war it exceeded 100 percent for three months.
Who could be astonished in these conditions that “the most massive and best-built houses in the villages and small towns were always the pawnshops”? Or that the poor peasants of the province of Shansi had a bitter verse: “In good years, the landlord grows crops in the fields. In bad years, the landlord grows money in his house.”
During the war the four families sought to move in on the considerable profits of usury. Their Farmer’s Bank and above all the “government” farm cooperatives, which before the war had never advanced more thn 15 percent of the sums borrowed by the peasants, now furnished them 80 percent. These cooperatives loaned money to the village heads and small landlords who in turn loaned it to the peasant. As in the celebrated cartoon at the time of the peasant war, the tenant alone bore the cost of all these beautiful institutions which crushed him and pushed him into revolt.
The exorbitant character of the taxes has been emphasized again and again. In the history of China, the examples of insupportable tax systems which have pushed the peasants into revolt are innumerable. But never were any pushed to such extremes as in the final years of Kuomintang rule. Besides the land tax, there were a dozen different additional taxes which from 1941 on began to be collected in kind. In 1942, government monopolies were established for the sale of salt, sugar, tobacco and matches. At the same time, they established and extended the system of military requisitioning of manual labor and agricultural products which bled entire areas white.
In the article already cited, the writer Pei Wan-chung reports that in the province of Hopei in 1946 no one would accept a mow of land as a gift, the special tax exceeding in effect the annual revenue which one could squeeze from this morsel of land. Belden tells of a case where the special land tax passed annual production by more than 100 percent in the plain of Chengtu. And in the province of Honan, the same author discovered a case where the military requisitions of the Kuomintang army were one thousand times greater than the land tax. This had a precise significance – the peasants lost not only their land, their food and their clothing, they still had to sell their women and children as concubines or servants to the tax collectors or officers in charge of the requisition.
If the predominant mode of agriculture was that of small plots, the continuous expropriation of the small peasants through very high rates of rent, usury and taxes ended in the concentration of property in the hands of the village lords, usurers and merchant-usurer-compradors. It was not rate to find landlords possessing 20,000 mow (3,333 acres) or more. Ten percent of the agricultural population of China – lords and rich peasants – possessed 55 to 65 percent of the land. In the province of Shansi, 0.3 percent of the families possessed 24 percent of the land. In Chekiang, 3.3 percent of the families possessed half the land, while 77 percent of the poor peasants possessed no more than 20 percent of the land. And in Kwantung where 2 percent of the families possessed 53 percent of the land, 74 percent possessed only 19 percent of the land.
This explains why the insatiable land hunger of the peasant soon became transformed into a class hate with an exact object – hate for the landlord and all those allied with him. This hate precipitated the downfall of Chiang Kai-shek.
The Collapse of Chiang Kai-shek
When the economic and political situation becomes insupportable to all the productive classes of a society; when all the conflicts tend to become marked by force; when the classes supporting the decrepit power have lost all confidence in themselves; when indignation and revolt constantly mount; when the past and the future confront each other in every social conflict; at such a crucial time, the rulers of the country, seeing their power falling away definitively, end up despite themselves risking all in a fatally imprudent action because they are powerless to reverse the course of events. What the Varennes flight of Louis XVI was for the French aristocracy and the Kornilov coup d’etat for the Russian bourgeoisie, such was the Manchurian adventure of Chiang Kai-shek for the Chinese ruling classes.
We have seen that at the time the truce was agreed upon under the aegis of Marshall at the beginning of 1946, the Kuomintang still possessed considerable military superiority over the Communist armies. At that time nothing was yet clear-cut. The peasants had not yet definitively chosen. The uprisings were still sporadic. It was then that Chiang Kai-shek, against the advice of the Americans but with their aid, took his best armies to the north of China and Manchuria and began an offensive to drive the Communists out of the few cities which they still occupied after the departure of the Russians.
This maneuver proved fatal on all counts. Militarily, it lengthened the communication lines of the government armies to the extreme and ended in their isolation and complete encirclement far from the supply centers and vital centers of central China. Politically, it forced the Chinese Communist Party to proclaim agrarian reform to obtain the active support of the peasantry. And socially, it provoked the indignant hostility of this same peasantry because of the vexations and reprisals inflicted on them, and thus unleashed the uprisings on such a scale that the downfall of the Kuomintang became inevitable.
In vain the American advisors, including General Wedemeyer himself, counselled Chiang Kai-shek against the Manchurian campaign and proposed that he first consolidate his positions on the North plain. The generalissimo was obliged to take his chances as he had been obliged to sabotage the agreement with Mao Tse-tung. Chiang had used this tactic with success in crushing the revolution of 1927. But the revolutionary fires were then less numerous and more isolated. Now it was a question of the entire country. That is why in 1927 the lightning-blow of a concentrated force could overwhelm the main revolutionary centers one by one, while twenty years later a similar concentrated force found itself outflanked on all sides by the extent of the uprisings.
At first the generalissimo’s action seemed crowned with success. On May 23, 1946 government forces seized the important city of Changchun in Manchuria; the Communists were obliged to lift the siege of Tatung, important communication center in the province of Shansi. On October 10, the government troops seized Chihfeng, last important Communist center in the province of Jehol, and the big city of Kalgan. In November, they occupied the city of Tunghua in Manchuria, and finally, in March 1947, they occupied Yenan, which had been the Communist capital during the war with Japan.
Communists Gain Initiative
These quick successes would not have been possible had not the Communist command avoided being drawn into big engagements. The Communist troops retired systematically from the cities toward the countryside, contenting themselves with cutting communication lines between the urban centers occupied by the government troops, and harassing them constantly. Although the Kuomintang troops at the beginning of 1947 still had a numerical superiority of two to one and still greater superiority in arms, the immobilization of important contingents of the Kuomintang used to garrison the cities soon gave the advantage of the initiative to the Communist troops.
This initiative was utilized by the Communists in an audacious maneuver that was crowned with complete success. The armies of the Communist general Liu Po-cheng marched from their base positions in Shantung, close to the sea, toward the province of Honan in central China, separating the government forces which had conquered Yenan to the west from the main forces of the Kuomintang in the Suchow-Nanking area. The forces of General Liu gained the Yangtze and began to cross it in the month of June 1947. Other Communist forces followed and a new front was opened by the Communist troops on the two banks of the Yangtze in central China. At the same time, Liu continued his march, ending by establishing his general headquarters in the autumn of 1947 in the mountains between Nanking and Hankow, the very heart of the Kuomintang empire, from where in 1948 the decisive attacks were directed against the government forces. Thus began to develop the grandiose encircling maneuver which in 1948 overwhelmed the troops of the Kuomintang in the battle of Suchow and destroyed them there.
It would however be unjust to ascribe the success of the Communist maneuvers and the failure of the government maneuvers solely to the difference in strategic ability of the generals of the Kuomintang and those of the Chinese Communist Party. It is true that this difference existed, and that, adhering to the fundamental rules of the military art, the Communist chiefs sought above all to destroy the enemy , while the Kuomintang generals sought to occupy the big cities.
But in these different strategies was reflected the different structure of the two armies and the difference of their social function. Army of social conservatism, dragging with it an interminable train of parasites, living off the country and universally detested by the population, constantly losing forces when in march because of desertions and carelessness; cut from its supply bases in the South, and for that reason obliged to group itself around aviation fields where its food came by air – the army of Chiang Kai-shek was heavy, immobile, harassed continually from the rear by partisans, exposed more and more to demoralization. Army of social revolution, consciously seeking to gain the sympathy of the peasants by distribution of the land and food stocks , capable of dividing itself into innumerable columns which in course of the way became armies that grew larger with peasants in revolt; without baggage or a train of camp-followers, limiting itself to the most frugal nourishment on the level of the population of the area it traversed – Mao Tse-tung’s army enjoyed extreme mobility, unseizable by the forces of the adversary, utilizing with constantly repeated success the tactics of infiltration, seeing its morale growing at each new success and at each extension of the peasant uprisings. No matter what Chiang’s strategy, he would have lost this civil war in advance.
As military operations, extended to an ever greater number of provinces and districts, the peasant uprisings similarly widened and deepened. The peasants had hesitated up to the summer of 1946. At that time, after months of hesitation and evasion, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party decided to permit distribution of the land. This was the sole means available to halt the offensive of the government armies at the edges of the big cities and to recruit new forces. Peasant uprisings began to be felt behind Communist lines in territories under jurisdiction of the “Border Region Government.” Organizing at first with hesitation, then with growing courage as they became conscious of their forces in the frequently held public meetings , the poor peasants expropriated 21,000 landlords in the Shansi-Hopei-Shantung-Honan Border Region during the summer of 1947. This example exercised an irresistible attraction on the peasants in neighboring areas, then on the peasants of all China.
In vain the landlords supported themselves on the forces of the Kuomintang or on their own armed bands, seeking to dam the insurrections. The “fire brigades” which they organized against the “bandits” conducted a reign of terror in the villages, but this terror continually brought new recruits to the armies and partisan groups of Mao. Numerous students and functionaries escaped from the big cities to join the Communist forces. In the second half of 1947, the peasant insurrections in Hopei, Honan and Shantung brought together a new armed force. Farther to the south, an insurrection in Kiangsi forced the Kuomintang to open a new front. Along with the students and small functionaries, women joined their forces in the revolt, rising against the thousand-year-old slavery, covering the villages with their “Women’s Associations” which had written the emancipation of women on their banners. The downfall could not be delayed longer. But the Communists understood that the easiest and most crushing victory is not that carried off on the fields of battle, but the one conquered in the minds and hearts of the opposing army. Beginning in 1948, they concentrated all their forces on the disintegration of the government armies. The democratic structure of their army, the lack of privileges among their officers, the attention paid the ranks, the consideration with which prisoners were treated, paved the way for a radical reversal of the situation.
Chiang’s officers, already profoundly demoralized, treated their own soldiers as brutally at the first military reverses as the Chiang Kai-shek regime had treated its own peasants. Thousands of wounded were abandoned without any aid, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, destitute of food and clothing, did not even receive their pay. It was on these detachments that the Communists concentrated their efforts, efforts at fraternization. Beginning in May 1947, the press announced that special “supervisory” detachments would prevent the mass desertions of government troops in Manchuria. In January 1947, the whole American-equipped 26th Division went over to the Communist camp.
A year later this movement became irresistible. In September 1948, Tsinan, capital of Shantung, was captured thanks to the desertion of the troops of the general defending the city. In the same month, the important city of Kaifeng likewise surrendered at the same time as other centers. Chiang Kai-shek lost within a few weeks three armies and 300,000 men. The situation of his best armies in Manchuria became untenable. Besieged in Changchun, the 60th and the 7th government armies lost 13,000 soldiers and officers within a few weeks to the Communist camp; then it surrendered almost without a fight. At Chinchow, another Manchurian city, 120,000 men surrendered. The Communist troops took Mukden, capital of Manchuria, rejoining under forced march in December 1948, the Communist forces of the Great Plain, occupying rapidly Tientsin and Peking and destroying the bulk of the troops of the Kuomintang in the battle of Suchow.
The military collapse of the Kuomintang completely shook the foundations of the regime. Important military chiefs like General Fu Tso-yi, commander of Peking, went over to Mao’s camp. A spirit of everyone-for-himself marked the definitive disintegration of the party in power. Seeking to save itself by desperate measures, it opened a reign of terror in Shanghai, directed not only against the Communists but even against the bourgeoisie. The latter threw its weight in the scales and demanded the end of the civil war at any price. Chiang Kai-shek resigned as head of the government and retired to his home province. Peace parleys which could not lead to anything were undertaken. Meanwhile, the Communist armies regrouped along the whole Yangtze, central artery of China.
At midnight, April 20, 1949, when the Communist ultimatum for the acceptance of terms expired, Communist troops crossed the river at numerous strategic points in face of insignificant resistance. The triumphal march on Shanghai, Nanking, Hankow, Canton and Chungking began. In a few months, Mao Tse-tung became master of all continental China. The dictatorship of the Kuomintang had lasted 22 years, exactly the same as that of Mussolini.
May 1, 1950
(The second part of this article gives a description of the current situation in China, a study of the evolution of the policy of the Chinese Communist Party in the civil war, a criticism of the intervention of the USSR in China, an analysis of the class nature of the Chinese revolution and a sketch of the future perspectives of this revolution.)
Including Sinkiang and Manchuria, excluding Tibet and Outer Mongolia, China has an area of some 3.75 million square miles, that is, somewhat less than that of Europe. With Tibet and Outer Mongolia, China becomes 15 percent bigger than Europe.
In an interview with Marshall. December 1, 1946, Chiang-Kai-shek felt confident “the Communist forces could be exterminated in eight or ten months.” Previously, his military advisors had even declared that the Communist armies could be brought to terms within three months! (Ibid., pp.212, 216.)
See the declaration of Chu Teh, commander in chief of the Communist armies: “If the Kuomintang had carried out the People’s Consultative Council’s agreements in February, there would never have been a civil war.” (Robert Payne, China Awake, Dodd, Mead and Co., New York 1947, p.304.) Payne likewise reports that the Communist Party proposed as arbiter of a common administration of the town of Changchun, a big Manchurian capitalist, Mo Ti-huei.
Thus, to combat inflation, the government decided in September 1947 to bar importation of cosmetics and to limit the duration of banquets to two hours, limiting the number of dishes to the number of guests only, with a ceiling of 8 dishes! (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Sept. 14, 1947).
Belden cites on this subject (op. cit., p.147) the following facts: From about 1650 to the present, the population of China grew from 70 million to 450 million, while the area under cultivation increased from 130 million acres to only 260 million!
Notably by the execution of speculators, the arrest of owners of the biggest textile mills and Tu Yueh-sen, opium king of Shanghai and head of the yellow “trade unions” of the Kuomintang. (Belden, op. cit., p.409.) Belden, as well as others, indicates that the bourgeoisie was forced to resume commercial relations with the areas occupied by the Communists. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung of November 19, 1948, estimates that 25 to 40 percent of the goods imported in the Kuomintang ports went past the Communist lines.