16. The fall of Canton

Submitted by cathy n on 8 October, 2009 - 2:39 Author: Jack Brad

The fall of Canton brings a close to a two-and-a-half year civil war in China.

Except for the rice bowl of Szechuan, deep in the Yangtze valley, every major section of traditional China is in CP hands. Canton is not simply another city. It was the heart of native capitalism.

As long ago as the middle of the 16th century this city became the major trading port with the Portuguese and later with the Dutch and British. During the last century, it was here that the only major popular resistance was organised by the commercial classes over the heads of the corrupt imperial government at Peking. Canton was the heart of the Kuomintang and the city where Sun Yatsen was first able to set up a nationalist government. And in the great revolution of 1925–27 Canton supplied the armies for the northward march. Shanghai, by contrast, was always a foreign city, which grew to power around the imperialist concessions. Until 1927 the city was administered by foreigners. Canton was just the reverse. The British set up their concession on the island of Hong Kong outside the city, and the local tradesmen continued to flourish.

This week the leading citizens were negotiating the city’s surrender to the CP. They raised no objection to the desertion by the KMT nor did they demand that it defend them. The KMT was no longer their party or state. They showed no compunction in welcoming the new rulers.

Canton also has been the fortress of the working class. While for many years disorganised, this situation now presents a serious test in social relations to the CP. Since few of the industries there are immediately nationalisable because of their small size, it will be labour-capital relations. The problem will be how best to conquer the workers, crush them in the party’s embrace and still maintain good relations with both classes.

Finally, Canton brings the Chinese party to the Viet-Namese border for the first time. It can now make liaison with the forces of Ho Chi-Minh, and this would alter the relations between the various factions in the Viet-Nam national alliance. It is yet to be seen how Ho will react to the new situation and whether the Chinese CP will make direct overtures.

In any case, the French are faced with a new urgency in Indo-China. American policy has thus far followed the French to the present brink of disaster. But there is no way to turn with this policy any more. Long postponement of an American policy for Southeast Asia is no longer possible. No doubt Nehru’s current tour of the capitals of the imperialist world is related to this matter. The State Department’s White Paper offered no guide. These events tend to force the hands of capitalist imperialism, and the US and France will be forced to reorient their policies in Asia.

October 24, 1949