A disaster of tremendous importance overwhelmed China with the fall of Mukden. All Manchuria, with its million square miles and 40 million population, is now in Stalinist hands.
The rout of Kuomintang armies is complete in the North. Whole army corps surrendered, tens of thousands joined the Stalinist armies and the number of dead, wounded and lost runs into the hundreds.
The fall of Manchuria dramatises the shift in power to the Chinese Communist Party. The Kuomintang is proved completely incapable of defending its own territories and its own rule; the fortunes of the Kuomintang are at a nadir.
The Chiang regime has ruled by the successive extermination of all opposition. The secret of its power under great adverse stresses is that it has decapitated all possible alternative political formations. It remains to be seen whether it has succeeded to the point where, in the absence of an alternative, the feudal-bureaucratic ruling clique will keep power by default. But even if it does, it can only accelerate the collapse and increase the cost of its own destruction to all China. And in the process it too will undergo great alteration.
Already are heard cries of defeatism. Numerous groups are actively in favour of compromise with the Communist Party; others favour peace without terms and at any price; and still others favour retreat below the Yangtze, surrender of the Great Northern Plain, the Yellow River Basin — the heart of China — to establish a Southern bastion, there to wait for the outbreak of World War Three and American military intervention.
The forces of disintegration, of localism, of warlordism — all the deeply rooted centrifugal forces of feudal China have been given a head. The landlord cliques, the black-marketeers and speculators — the most the most corrupt elements of the ruling class — will now intensify their ghoulish ransacking of China’s prostrate body. For the defeats will worsen the economic situation, increase the inflationary pace, decrease the food supply and the raw material supply essential to industry. Relationship between Russia and the United States is also transformed. America is in jeopardy of being driven out of Asia. American policy, in President Truman’s second administration, begins with a very narrow base indeed. Even to stabilise a South China regime will require an enormous outlay running into billions of dollars, which would seriously alter the orientation of United States foreign policy. It is questionable whether the Marshall Plan and the Western Union lend-lease are possible simultaneously with a huge military and economic programme for China. For such a programme would require direct, massive intervention. Such an intervention would face great opposition among the Chinese masses and from many sections of the Kuomintang as well. The Communist Party would make great popular gains in a struggle against such intervention.
It may very well be that America’s day is done in China, that it is too late and the price is too great. The historic ambition of America’s China policy, for exclusive dominion over a unified, China is doomed for a long period to come, if not forever. Asia as a possible expansion ground for American capitalist expansion is no longer possible.
The CP will now be able to establish a stable and substantial state in North China from which to expand its military activities. The disintegration of the Kuomintang will move many elements toward the CP. Talks looking toward a new CP-sponsored coalition have been underway since May 1.
Groups of political exiles centered in Hong Kong, led by Marshal Li, many former generals and leading politicals of the Kuomintang, and the Democratic League are committed to entering such a coalition. which would have great attraction in the cities among students, intellectuals middle class and lower functionaries.
Such a national coalition may be launched shortly. now that a suitable capital is available in Mukden. It would claim to be the true government of all China. Its agrarian reform programme would have even greater appeal than that same programme now under exclusive CP aegis. The isolation of the Kuomintang would be increased. Many groups of bourgeoisie, especially in the Northern cities would look with favour upon such a coalition as their bridge to peace.
It is necessary to review certain questions which events have pushed to the fore. Just what was lost in Manchuria? Here is the greatest industrial development in Asia, and the most modem.
A much more serious problem is the political one. It is a little less than certain that Russia will encourage industrial reconstruction. In 1946 Russia was in a position to guarantee any regime it wished in Manchuria, thanks to Roosevelt’s blessing at Yalta. Russia did not choose to entrust the Chinese CP with the industries of Manchuria. Instead she looted, sacked and destroyed. If Japanese imperialism followed a course of forced industrialisation, Russian imperialism seeks to channelise and limit it.
Russian economic manipulations indicate a policy of tight control, and securing of guarantees over these plants. They issued a total of $8 billion in notes, with which they bought up everything that could not be squeezed under their inclusive formula of war-booty. One of the establishments thus obtained was the largest wholesale and retail merchandising house; also hotels, breweries and even private residences. There are unconfirmed stories that they also obtained joint control over much of the remaining enterprises. Russian policy was not to hand over the economy to the Chinese CP for the construction of a strong Stalinist state in North China. They were distrustful, arrogant and abusive toward Mao Tze-tung‘s armies and administrators.
The Chinese CP has distributed the land in its areas. But this is no solution to the agrarian problem; it is only the first step toward one. Where will the peasant sell, what will he buy, how will recurrent over-production on the land be prevented? Industrialisation alone can begin to supply these needs. Will the Russians assist or even permit such a development? They have acquired such a strangle-hold over the remains of Manchurian economy as to he able to determine its immediate future.
The resources are present, the potential is there, but it is doubtful if the Russians will permit Mao to plan a development which would of necessity contain the seeds of Titoism. The political antagonism within the Russian empire is the key to Manchuria’s economic future.
Are the Russians popular in China? A tentative answer would be in the negative. In South China there are illusions and the usual mythology among intellectuals and workers. But in North China where direct contact was made, the Russians are heartily feared and detested.
The Russian armies behaved like conquerors. They looted freely, they were arrogant and openly despised the native population. The Russian Commandant at Mukden permitted himself to say for publication that the Chinese were “people of low culture.” When in 1946 the Russians overstayed the agreed period of occupation, anti-Russian riots tore through China.
Russia has not had to give material aid to the CP armies. It has been able to afford the luxury of just standing by. The CP obtained the bulk of the Japanese weapons and has continued to supply itself with huge stacks of American arms captured from the Kuomintang so that Russia has escaped blame for the civil war itself. The US, by contrast, has intervened openly on behalf of Chiang and it suffers all the effects of Kuomintang disasters.
Russia is now the pre-eminent Asiatic power. Through the native Stalinist parties she can expect the conquest of Asia without war, if no new force enters the picture.
What accounts for the Stalinist victories? One thing does not account for them — Russian help in arms, finances, military direction. There is no evidence to support such claims. The Russians simply have not had to do these things.
The Stalinists win because they have a social programme for the peasantry which corresponds in some degree to the needs and desires of China’s millions. There are other factors, but this is the primary one. That their programme is inadequate, that it does not measure up to the historic potential revealed in the 1925-26 Revolution, that its politics are reactionary and oppressive, that it cannot solve the agrarian problem without industrialisation and planning, that it is an organ of Russian imperialism — all this is true. But it does divide the land, throw out the landlords, reduce taxes and rents from 70 to 80 percent to possibly 30 to 40 percent.
It imposes these reforms rather than rallying the peasantry in great revolts throughout China. The Communist Party does not call upon the peasantry to act in its own behalf. It reserves to itself the exclusive right to liberate the peasantry from landlord tyranny. But it does abolish feudalism and that is China’s crying need. This is the programme which causes Kuomintang conscripts to desert by tens of thousands, which disintegrates Kuomintang armies and wins battles. There is no existing alternative to it. The alternative of the Kuomintang is landlordism and political reaction also.
The CP has two other weapons. First, the Chiang regime, whose corruption is unimaginable to the West. The internal decay of the Kuomintang, its alienation from the people, its persecution of all opponents and destruction of all liberties, its cruel and medieval tyranny over the people are weapons in the Stalinist arsenal.
Second, is the US policy which is identified with Chiang. It is understood that American sustenance alone maintains the Kuomintang in power. The anti-American riots of last summer were abetted but not initiated by the Stalinists. At the end of the war America was the hope of Asia but that hope has been bitterly dissipated. American intervention was popular so long as it might have introduced social change. Today America is looked upon as the bastion of reaction and imperialism. The Stalinists have gained by this. Such a conservative observer as Nathaniel Peffer writes: “Had there never been a Russian Revolution, the difference in Asia would be one of degree only.” The realities of Asiatic misery and the awakening to the possibility of change provides the seeds of revolt. This is the groundswell for Stalinist victory, which disorients the revolution to its own purposes.
US–Russian antagonism establishes an imperialist framework for the expression of these desires. Within this framework the United States acts as the decisive reactionary and imperialist force in Asia, especially on the land question. If this antagonism did not exist, or if the US were not an Asiatic power, the struggle for emancipation might break through these deep rutted channels to freedom. American policy in Asia assists Stalinism by channelising independence and anti-feudal movements toward it. The moment a peasant rebels against his landlord he finds himself opposing America and looks for aid in the opposite camp.
Why has America failed with all its vast resources to at least limit Stalinist expansion? America’s difficulty is that it arrived too late; Asia’s masses are no longer docile. They demand basic social revolution. America, however, represents imperialist reaction which supports all those forces which seek to maintain the people in bondage. United States supports the French against Viet Nam, the Dutch against the Indonesian Republic, the British against the Malayan Independence movement, Syngman Rhee against the peasantry of Korea, and Chiang against all of China. American failure is the result of this reactionary policy throughout the colonial world. It is not an alternative to Stalinism or to native reaction. That is why the fight for freedom begins with the anti-imperialist struggle against America.
In 1945–1947 the United States poured billions into China to no avail. The Marshall policy in 1948 limited China aid until Chiang made concessions. But the United States never demanded social reform, only greater efficiency and less graft.
What next in Nationalist China? Serious changes will take place in the government but the only way which fundamental changes can occur is by the intervention of the masses against the state. American policy may try to reduce graft and introduce efficiency but it cannot drive the landlords out of the Kuomintang or the bureaucratic cliques from the economy without destroying the only social base the Kuomintang has.
As the physical base for exploitation narrows, the rapacity of the ruling groups will increase. The axis of their rule will be greater dependence on the US and concomitantly greater alienation from the masses. The inner decay is rooted in a social soil that has been rotting for centuries.
Its hope now is American-Russian hostilities. It is dedicated to World War III. There does not exist a section of this class which contains the seeds of reformation. The small groups who do want reform find it easier to go over to Stalinism than to struggle against the Kuomintang. America has not found any political or social group on which to base its policy as against Chiang. That is why it continues to support his regime in spite of overwhelming disaster. Chiang will hardly permit it to find such an alternative now that US aid will be more lavish than ever.
For socialists the beginning of policy is the rejection of both Kuomintang and Stalinist reaction and of both imperialisms. For US socialists the first step is the demand evacuation of all American interests and pressures. It is necessary, finally, to find ways of saving and defending the remnants of revolutionary socialists.
November 8, 1948