Pamphlet Review: The Class Struggle in China
Recent events in the East have thrown once more into relief the economic and political forces operating there. Apropos of the subject there comes to hand a sixpenny pamphlet, “British Imperialism in China,” from the Labour Research Department, 162, Buckingham Palace Road, S.W.l.
The pamphlet traces briefly the rise of the Chinese bourgeoisie (or capitalist class) as a result of the invasion of the country by traders, manufacturers and financiers of Europe and America. Previous to that invasion China (like India and Russia) consisted of a vast population of peasants exploited in the main by feudal and autocratic methods.
Even to-day by far the greater part of the people are still peasants. To quote the pamphlet,
“As yet only the fringe of China has been industrialised. The population directly dependent on agriculture is estimated at over three hundred millions. . . . Their economic position is appalling. The small size of most of the peasant holdings would make it difficult enough to maintain a family; but when out of the scanty proceeds a substantial proportion goes in land tax and innumerable other taxes and military levies, the balance is hopelessly insufficient. The tenants pay enormous rents in produce . . . while their general poverty is such that they have to borrow frequently from merchants and usurers to pay initial charges or to carry on until the harvest.”
It is the old story of the peasant everywhere. The landlord, tax gatherer and moneylender form a holy trinity of parasites who by degrees drain the vitality from the very source of their own existence. The inevitable result is the collapse of their system and its replacement by one based upon more economical methods of exploitation, i.e., capitalism.
From among the peasants whose holdings cannot keep them there develops a class of hired workers who drift to the coast and along the rivers, there to become wage-slaves of Chinese and foreign employers in the factories, warehouses, ships and railways. Among these workers, during the last ten years, trade unions have made their appearance and as a result the political arena in China presents a confused spectacle to those who lack the key to the situation, i.e., Socialist knowledge.
The pamphlet sketches the various stages by which the foreign master class acquired the influence in China which now appears in danger. How the exclusiveness of Chinese society was broken down by force, the ports thrown open to trade, indemnities imposed and the Chinese Governments forced to accept loans—all this is a long story. The point which requires notice is that the Powers have been unable to obtain undisputed sway over the exploited masses. Competition between them has allowed a native class of capitalists to assert themselves and make a bid for political power. This class needs all the support it can get and so makes promises to the very workers and peasants whom it wishes to exploit to greater advantage. Hence we hear of Bolshevism in China. Lacking the necessary experience and knowledge the workers there swallow the promises of their masters and give them aid just as in Poland and Ireland and other places where nationalism has triumphed with dire results for the workers.
Concessions granted by a master class struggling for power are taken back again when it has become firmly fixed in the saddle.
Some rather rash claims are made in the pamphlet. On Page 61 we are told that “At the national conference of the Kuomintang held in February, 1924, a sharp divergence appeared between the right wing representing native merchants and capitalists, and the left wing based on the trade unions and led by Sun Yat Sen. The right wing stood for a nationalist party which should include all classes; the left wing for a revolutionary party . . . with a programme which clearly aimed at destroying the capitalist system. (Italics the present writer’s). The left was victorious.”
On Page 59, however, we are told that “The new programme of the Kuomintang ” contains among other items the following! Under the heading of “Economic” “To establish a National Bank for issuing loans at the lowest rate of interest to develop agriculture, industry and commerce.” Under the heading “Workers,” “To enact labour laws safeguarding the right of labourers to organise and to strike. To limit working hours to fifty-four per week and to establish health and unemployment insurance. To support the workers in the organisation of Consumers’ Co-operative Stores.” Experience in this and other countries shows that capitalism is quite capable of surviving such “revolutionary” shocks.
In this connection a column of the Manchester Guardian of December 30th, 1926, contains items of interest. It is headed, “Sun Yat Sen’s Gospel,’’ and gives a digest of a book by the late leader of the Chinese Nationalists. Under the heading “Nationalism” (one of the “ three principles of the people “), we are told that “In order to save our country we must first recover the nationalistic spirit!” Under the heading “Democracy,” “Our people have had too much personal freedom.” “All we can do is to give our people political equality.” Finally under “Socialism” (the third principle) we are told that “Before using Socialism as a means to solve our social problems we must first find out the focus of all our problems. Many people in the West have taken material problems as the central point in human history. We must reject that false idea.” “None of the forms of Socialism developed in the West are fitted for our country.” “Our commerce and industry have not yet been developed. All we need now is to prevent rather than to remedy the evils arising from modern industry and commerce.” “Our great and immediate problem is not a fight against capitalists but the prevention of the rise of capitalists in the future. Our method of solving this problem is to develop State industry. Since we do not have enough experience and capital to develop that, it would be wise for us to employ foreign specialists and to borrow foreign capital to help us.”
From the above extracts it is fairly clear that the situation is not so simple as our facile pamphleteers would have us believe. On their own showing the economic position in China is such as to make any destruction of capitalism and establishment of Socialism out of the question. That the peasants and small property owners will endeavour to free themselves from the grip of the money-lenders and resist the growth of large capitalists is only to be expected. That, however, is mere reaction, not revolution, while in order to achieve this end they appear to look to the foreign capitalists to assist them ! A case of out of the frying pan into the fire.
In any event it is clear that the workers of China and elsewhere have nothing to gain by supporting either party in this capitalist and property-owners’ struggle. The business of the Socialist is to destroy, not to build up the faith of the workers in .Nationalism and the promises of political leaders.
The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.