China in the 1930s and 40s

stthomas saulthomas at
Sun Aug 15 05:08:44 MDT 1999

> Now is there
> anyone out there who would actually deny that the united
> front against Japanese imperialism was a success? It was a
> success not because the Kuomintang fought the Japanese
> bravely (they hardly fought them at all), but because it
> postponed the time when the communists would have to fight
> the nationalists and thus take on two enemies at once. Why
> focus on the twenties? The party was so young and virtually
> ignorant of marxism, having just been formed. Or is this
> focus just a handy rhetorical device? Rather like using the
> word "collaboration" with its load of connotations rather
> than "alliance".
> Tahir

You are right. I should not have implied that "class collaboration" is unacceptable
under all circumstances. My use of the word "collaboration" was taken from a previous
post in this discussion. It appears that referring to one of Trotsky's works labeled
me as a "mechanistic Trotskyist" or a "1920s obsessed Trotskyist". I dare not claim
that I know enough about Trotsky or the Trotskyist movement to call myself a
Trotskyist, but I do have some sympathy for some of his ideas.

The Trotskyist critique of CCP policy in the late 1920's and early 1930s was that
after Stalin's 1920s policy of alliance with the Guomindang failed, Stalin jumped to
the far left--thinking that the revolution was just around the corner--part of his
world-wide "third wave" theory. Stalin therefore ordered the battered remnants of the
CCP to carry out a policy of armed uprising in the cities and rural areas.

The Trotskyists thought that Chiang's coup and subsequent smashing of the workers and
peasant associations represented the consolodation of a capitalist regime--in spite of
the fact that not all of the "democratic tasks" of the bourgeois revolution had been
completed. They thought that Stalin's policy of calling for continued uprisings in the
early 1930s was doomed to failure. They thought that they should remain in the cities
to prepare the working class for the upcoming socialist revolution (which would not
take place right away).

The CCP did suffer serious losses by following Stalin's policy in carrying out
essentially suicidal uprisings. Again, struggles emerged in the party about the
viability of the current line. Mao eventually emerged as one of the more moderate
leaders, calling for the party to end the uprisings and consolidate rural soviets in
isolated areas. Again, Stalin was not taken to task for the failure of his policy, and
another couple of the party leaders, Qu Qiubai and Li Lisan, were scapegoated for
their "ultra-left" lines.

But was Mao's policy in the early 1930s an unmittigated success? In the late 1920s and
early 30s, Chiang's regime in fact was consolidating its power, and began to lead a
series of encirclement and extermination campaigns against the CCP's soviets. The
first four encirclement campaigns were defeated by the CCP, but after each subsequent
failure, Chiang was able to devote more and more resources to the succeding campaigns.
By Chiang Kai-shek's fifth extermination campaign, Chiang was able to allocate over a
hundred thousand troups and 200 planes to the attack. The party was forced to abandon
its last southern soviet and flee north on the famous long march. Ninety percent of
the party was destroyed along the way, with only a few thousand reaching the final
destination of Yan'an.

But also during the 1930s the Japanese fascist forces were making increasing
incursions into Chinese territory, going so far as to annex all of northeast China.
The CCP chose to take advantage of this situation to by attacking Chiang for carrying
out a civil war while the courtry was being invaded. Many patriotic youth rallied
behind the CCP's call for an end to the civil war, and tried to pressure Chiang to
stop fighting the Communists and start fighting the Japanese. Chiang refused, saying
that he was down to the "last minutes" his campaign to completely destroy the CCP. But
some patriotic GMD generals kidnapped Chiang and handed him over to the Communists.
Under threat of execution, Chiang agreed to a second alliance with the CCP, under the
condition that they forsake class struggle and again completely subordinate the
themselves to the orders of the GMD.

If the Japanese had not hadn't invaded, and if the CCP had not succeeded in kidnapping
Chiang and forcing him to agree with the an alliance, would the CCP have been able to
survive a final assault on their base in Yan'an? I am not by any means arguing that
the Trotskyists were right, I am just raising the question of effectiveness of Mao's
theories and policies in the 1930s. In order to say that it was Mao's superior
theoretical talent that was responsible for the rural party's survival at the time, it
seems to me that you would have to say that Mao knew that the Japanese were going to

Mao's policies during the war with Japan were spectacularly successful. In spite of
their aggreement with the GMD, the CCP in reality did retain its independence during
the war--much to Stalin's (who had moved again to the far right) and Chiang Kai-shek's
chagrin. The CCP refused to follow GMD orders and carried out their own policies,
including mobilizing the masses by allowing mild forms of class struggle against the
landlords. In retaliation for this insubordination, the GMD continued to concentrate
much of its energies on limiting CCP power, and they even attacked and destroyed a
large CCP unit in the Wan'nan incident in southern Anhui province.

The Trotskyists failed abysmally in the 1930s and 40s, mainly because of thier own
numerous shortcomings (including the poor leadership of Peng Shu-tse among others).
The Trotskyists were fragmented from the begining, and after Trotsky ordered the four
Chinese Trotskyist parties to hold a unification congress 1931, one of the leadership
turned traitor and had all of the other leaders arrested. The Trotskyists desire to
stay in the cities to remain in contact with the working class did not produce many
results when up against Chiang's Gestapo-like secret police force.

But I would argue that Trotskyist incompetence is not the entire reason for. In the
mid-30s, the CCP began in different publications to spread the rumor that the
Trotskyists were either working for the Guomindang or taking money from the Japanese.
During the war with Japan, this slander went into full steam. Echoing Stalin's slander
of the Russian Trotskyists as foreign agents, certain Stalinists within the CCP broke
the story that they had "proof" that Chen Duxiu and other Trotskyist leaders were paid
agents of the Japanese. In late 1938 in Yan'an Liberation Weeky there appeared a
headline: "The Trotskyists are the Enemies of the Enitire Chinese Nation and All
Humanity". Whether you're sympathetic to the Trotskyists or not, this kind of tactic
deserves to be condemned. During a war as brutal as that between China and Japan, to
call the Trotskyists agents of the Japanese was to condemn them as traitors in the
worst possible way--making their lives worthless in the eyes of CCP !
members. Hundreds of suspected Trotskyists were purged and killed in different base
areas during the war. So much for not treating comrades like enemies. If the
Trotskyists were completely without significance at this time, then why would it have
been necessary slander them as agents of the Japanese? This episode has been almost
entirely forgotten. The CCP slander was a enormously effective in tarring the name of
the Trotskyists during the war and after. It is only in the last few years that the
this slander was officially repudiated--in a footnote in the latest edition of Mao's
Selected Works.

Mao's policy of a United Front with the Guomindang was a success, as a result of the
CCP's refusal to follow their agreement with the Guomindang. But I still have many
reservations about Mao, and I think that we should still take a skeptical look at him
and his leadership. For example, one of the most unsettling things about Mao is that
throughout the 1940s Mao increasingly cultivated his own cult of personality. In party
propaganda, Mao was portrayed as the "savior" of the Chinese people, and the party
went so far as having "Mao Zedong Thought" enshrined in the party constitution as
their official ideology in 1947. The rhetoric about Mao's "genius" reached absurd
heights in the 1960s, with countless songs of praise, "loyalty dances", the little red
books, students beginning all of their school papers with quotes from Mao, etc. It all
seems pretty un-Marxist to me.

Saul Thomas

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