Editorial: The Socialist View of the Situation in China
The present disturbances in those of China occupied by foreign settlements may be said to have had their immediate origin in a strike which took place in February last. Chinese workers employed in Japanese textile factories in Shanghai protested against the ill-treatment of a girl who was seriously injured by a Japanese foreman. Her offence was that she was found asleep after a twelve-hour night shift. The strikers demanded that fines and personal violence of this kind be abolished, and a 10 per cent, increase of their wages. The strike appears to have been unsuccessful, but even so the employers failed to keep the terms of settlement.
In May this and many long-standing grievances led to a general strike movement in Shanghai, and feeling was quickly inflamed by the death of a striker at the hands of a Japanese factory official. On May 30th a number of Chinese students paraded in protest after having been forbidden to do so by the police. Some students were arrested and the remainder demanded their release. Shanghai police in the charge of a British inspector were then ordered by him to “shoot to kill” only 10 seconds after he had announced his intention to the few bystanders who were near enough to hear his words. The result was that 6 were killed and 40 wounded. Within 6 days the victims in the ensuing riots numbered 70 dead and 300 wounded —all Chinese.
The movement rapidly spread to Hong Kong, Canton and other industrial and commercial centres, being added to and made more complex by the race hatred of British, French, Japanese and other foreigners who have at different times occupied Chinese territory and maintained their occupation by force, in spite of the opposition of Chinese governments. It has been easy enough to induce the strikers to believe that their enemy is the “foreigner,” because the majority of the factories happen to be foreign owned. There is actually, of course, no question of the Chinese exploiter being any less brutal in his treatment of his employees than are his alien rivals. The abominable conditions which prevail in the foreign mills—as bad as those common in this country in the early days of the factory system—are equalled, if not surpassed, by those in Chinese establishments in and outside the foreign settlements.
The foreign settlers, backed by their respective governments, are thus threatened by two quite different but at present associated movements—by their Chinese employes, who want better conditions, and by the propertied and educated Chinese, who burn with hatred of the foreign invaders and demand independence. They resent their position of political and social inferiority and (most intolerable of all the burdens a would-be ruling class can be made to bear) they have had to suffer the indignity of seeing the proceeds of the exploitation of Chinese workers pocketed by European and Japanese capitalists. The first principle of patriotism in China, as elsewhere, is that robbery, like charity, should begin—and end—at home.
For their part the foreigners are by no means more than superficially united. Great Britain arrived early and obtained the best ports and most extensive spheres of interest, and now in consequence has to face the hardly disguised hostility of the late arrivals who seek to gain commercial and financial advantage by other means than those adopted by Great Britain. Thus Russia and U.S.A. both go out of their way to pose as friends of China. Russia has already relinquished all special privileges in China, and America chooses this moment to announce that it foregoes the last instalments of the Boxer indemnity. American missionaries supported the policy of their Government by giving evidence on behalf of the arrested Chinese students, while British and others were defending and glorifyingf the brutality of the British controlled police.
As for the disturbances, we are familiar enough with the customary violent and hypocritical attitude of the European ruling classes towards their workers not to be surprised at the use of similar methods in Shanghai. All the blame was as a matter of course laid on the Chinese students and “agitators,” but little by little evidence has accumulated which badly damages the pretensions of the guardians of “law and order.”
In the demonstration the only casualties were Chinese; two out of three doctors stated at the trial that the wounds were nearly all in the back, which would be inexplicable if the crowd had been attacking the police; the third doctor said, “I am not sure whether the bullets were shot from the back or the front.” (Daily Herald, July 21st.) The judges found “that there was no violence or indication of violence, that most of the arrests took place before the shooting. …” The students were all acquitted. The Commission appointed by the diplomatic body blamed the police and recommended the dismissal of those responsible (Daily Herald, 22nd July). This finding has been overlooked or suppressed by most of the Press.
The recent movement is, however, only a symptom of a change which coming over China—the change from a static peasant system to an aggressive and progressive capitalism.
“China is passing through the first phases of the industrial revolution. … In the seven years from 1915 the number of spindles rose from one to two millions.”—” Manchester Guardian,” 19th June, 1925.
A propertyless industrial working class is massing and slowly learning to organise against vile factory conditions and low wages. Whether they will or no they are being brought into dependence on world capitalism, and they will in time take their part in the struggle for the overthrow of that system.
Unfortunately this critical phase finds them overwhelmed with interested parties offering them bad advice, anxious to divert them into various blind alleys.
The Chinese capitalists, the Communists and the Labour Party are all “friends” of the Chinese worker. If the Chinese workers are led to support the Chinese capitalist independence movement, experience will soon teach them that nationality means nothing whatever to the workers ; their lot will be no degree better if and when their exploiters are all Chinese.
The Communists’ willingness to deceive other people is only equalled by the ability to deceive themselves. They disregard the fact that at present only a small fraction of China is industrialised, they slur over the Capitalist aims of the independence movement and urge the workers to support anti-working class political groups to fight issues of no moment except to Chinese capitalists.
What they cannot or do not wish to see is plainly visible to others. The Chinese representative in London of the “Sin Po” (Batavia) writes as follows in “Foreign Affairs” (July, 1925):
“China, a land of conservatism and tradition, of peasant proprietorship, is the worst imaginable ground for the sowing of Marxian ideas. China being so vast, it is not surprising that in certain parts of the country the extreme Left wing of the Kuomintang is Communist ; but the body of the organisation is bourgeois and capitalistic with the mediaeval capitalism (“distributism”) of Mr. G. K. Chesterton. Let not Europeans be deceived by their newspapers: the present trouble in China, in so far as it is political, is a manifestation of nationalism in which merchants and bourgeois join with workers and students to resist foreign exploitation.”
The British Labour Party and Trades Union Congress have passed resolutions of sympathy protesting their solidarity with the Chinese workers. How little their socialist understanding and how little the value of their sympathy is shown by the fact that on 25th May the General Council sent a deputation to the President of the Board of Trade
“To protest against the continued employment of Chinese and cheap Asiatic labour on British steamers. The deputation asked the Government to introduce a Bill to make illegal such employment west of the Suez Canal.”—” Daily Herald,” 26th May.
The industrial workers of China are few at present. They should organise and work to defend their class interests on the economic field against capitalists irrespective of nationality, and prepare for the future when conditions will have been prepared making working class emancipation possible through Socialism.
(Socialist Standard, August 1925)