1920s >> 1927 >> no-271-march-1927

Socialism or Chinese nationalism?

Although our attitude towards Chinese Nationalism has been stated several times, there are still readers who do not understand it or cannot reconcile it with what they supposed to be the socialist point of view.

Let us first separate two quite distinct questions which have unfortunately been confused in the agitation carried on by various wings of the Labour Party : First, ought the workers to support wars waged by capitalist States, including a possible war in China? Secondly, should the workers support nationalist movements, aimed at securing national independence, including the struggle to rid China of foreign control?

The only socialist answer in both cases is an unambiguous no ! We support no capitalist war and we support no nationalist movement.

Where the capitalist economic system exists (whether the government is Conservative, Liberal or Labour) armed forces are maintained for the protection of capitalist private property and capitalist interests generally. Foreign trade is one of the forces constantly creating friction with other capitalist competing countries and with “backward” races which are unfortunate enough to dwell in parts of the earth endowed with rich natural resources. When the governing sections of the capitalist class think their interests seriously menaced they set the armed forces in motion either at home or abroad. Those armed forces are organised and controlled by these governing sections and THEY ARE NEVER USED FOR ANY OTHER PURPOSE THAN THE PROTECTION OF CAPITALIST INTERESTS. Wars waged by capitalist State involves, therefore, no working-class issue, and on no account would socialists support them. The Socialist Party alone in this country consistently opposed the last war on socialist grounds, and opposes any and every capitalist war. The particular circumstances are to us a matter of supreme indifference. The German invasion of Belgium, the French occupation of the Saar, the Chinese threat to Shanghai, the Russian attempts to damage the British Empire, Irish or Indian or Egyptian demands for independence, Mexican threats to the property of oil companies, each and every one leaves us cold. In every instance the driving motive is the desire to seize or to protect captalist private property. Capitalist States fight only over the division of the loot obtained by the exploitation of wage workers. We are wage workers and are
only concerned with the abolition of exploitation.

But to come to the second question, if we will not fight to prevent the German capitalist class from plundering the Belgian and British capitalist class, we most emphatically will not assist Irish, Indian, German or Chinese captalists against British capitalists. We are interested in one kind of struggle only, class struggle, and primarily in that phase which consists in the endeavour by wage earners to overthrow capitalist private property and all forms of the wages system. The national movements blazing away in different parts of the world are not working-class, but capitalist, in their aim. We therefore oppose them. Patriotism has the effect of binding together the classes in each geographical area. Socialists desire that conflicting class interests shall be recognised, not obscured.

Socialism and patriotism are irreconcilably antagonistic. Patriotism is anti-working class and Chinese nationalism is no less so than is British. The one encourages the other. We wish to strangle both.

The Labour Party leads the workers to believe that hostility to a war with China implies the necessity of supporting Chinese nationalism. This is an anti-socialist attitude. Nationalism is merely an aspect of the rise of capitalism. Its history is a tragic record of working-class lives lost, working-class energies wasted and self-sacrifice betrayed. It has no relieving feature; it has brought no material gain to the workers. Nationalism has ever in the long run proved a treacherous basis for working-class organisation. In the capitalist French Revolution the great majority of the victims of the guillotine were not aristocrats but workers. The French commercial class did not hesitate to slaughter the misguided wage-earners who interpreted Liberty as meaning the Liberty of themselves.

In the revolutions which swept over Europe in 1848 under the twin capitalist cries of Democracy and Nationalism, the workers who fought under capitalist leadership were invariably betrayed and their hopes disappointed whenever the demands of the capitalists against their Feudal enemies were wholly or partly conceded. What have Italian or Balkan workers gained by the blood they poured out winning “freedom” from Austria and Turkey? In our own day, what have Irish workers benefited by the years of assassination and guerilla warfare against the armed forces of the British capitalist state? Does any intelligent observer believe for one moment that Irish, or Polish, or Indian, or Egyptian, or Chinese capitalists are one whit less brutal in their exploitation of their workers than are British, or German, or American, or any other Imperialist capitalist class?

The Chinese workers will be no better off when they have exchanged British and Japanese for Chinese masters. The Chinese workers are few in comparison with the enormous mass of peasants; they are not, or at best only weakly, organised. They cannot impose their will on the Nationalist Movement and, if they cannot do so now, much less will they be able to do so when Chinese Capitalism, flushed with victory over its foreign enemies, turns its attention to the paramount home problem of keeping the, workers in subjection. After generations of struggle and experience, the British and other European trade union movements are impotent to control their own sections of the capitalist class, yet their leaders do not hesitate to assume that the Chinese workers have done this or will succeed in doing so in a year or two.

We have already in these pages given the evidence of unprejudiced observers as to the essentially capitalist origin and aims of the Cantonese movement. To reply, as some of their apologists do, that the organised Chinese workers support this movement, is evidence only of the political inexperience of the Chinese workers. We have hardly had time to forget that in 1914 the organised workers in Europe rushed madly into the slaughter under their respective national flags. Will anyone now suggest that this is proof of the non-capitalist origins and objects of that war? And, further, can anyone assert that the working class gained anything whatever by their support? Many of those who were preaching hatred then in the name of Nationalism and in the service of the capitalist class, are now parading the same anti-socialist principles on behalf of China. Ben Tillett “hailing the new spirit in China” on the platform of the Albert Hall (Daily Herald 7th February), and being rapturously cheered by workers, is as pitiful a spectacle as was shown during the war, when similar unthinking people were misled by the same Ben Tillett, while he was earning an honest penny on the music halls, devoting his oratorical gifts to inflaming bestial passions with filthy lies about German atrocities.

Merely to assume that the enemies of British capitalists are necessarily the friends of socialism is too shallow to need refutation, but another cause of confusion about China is the fact that the Russian Government is actively supporting the Kuomintang Party. What rnust be remembered is that the Russian Gowernment has other reasons for its activity besides its direct working-class sympathies. Russian foreign policy, for instance, led to some kind of tacit understanding with Fascist Italy, because, for a time, both Russia and Italy happened to be at loggerheads with Rumania. And, in China, while the Bolshevists have no illusions about the Nationalist Movement, they do urgently want a strong independent China, able to resist European and particularly British influences in the East.

Lewis S. Gannett, writing on his visit to China in the New Masses (New York, February, 1927, an “unofficial” Communist journal), has the following :—

“The Russians …. want to see in China a strong National State which will resist the encroachments of those Western States which Russia perforce regards as enemies; and they know full well that a semi-bourgeois Nationalist China, if strong, will mean far more help to Soviet Russia than a struggling little Communist nucleus, pure but ineffective,”

and again

“They [the Russians] know perfectly well that there is no more chance of a Communist revolution in China to-day than there was in America in 1776.”

According to Gannett there are only some 3,000 Communists in China.

A recent Thesis of the Communist International on the Chinese question, states that no less than five out of six of the Commissars of the Kuomintang Party belong to the right wing, i.e., represent purely capitalist interests, recognising, however, that at present they cannot dispense with working-class support.

(For extracts from Thesis, see Manchester Guardian, 14th February.)

Further, leaders of the daily press will have noticed that various religious organisations are supporting the Nationalist Movement. The Executive of the National Christian Council, “which represents the vast majority of Protestant Churches in: China and the great majority of Missionary Societies, British, American and Continental,” has issued a manifesto declaring that they “hare in the Nationalist aspirations . . . They are prepared to accept risks and even to face persecution rather than: oppose the most hopeful movement in modern China.” (Manchester Guardian, 14th February). A working-class movement, whether in China or England, would not move organised religious movements to such enthusiasm.

There is a last and fairly powerful argument in favour of supporting Nationalist Movements. It is true that the existence of foreign control enables capitalist politicians to blame the evils of their system on to the “foreigner.” Thus it was not until Ireland became “free” that Irish workers fully learned what Irish capitalists are capable of. Against this, however, must be placed the great harm wrought by the exaggeration of national feeling, and hatred of foreigners. This breeds a state of mind quite unsuited to working-class organisation: and saps the solidarity of members of the working-class to each other. It cannot be doubted that the virtual suspension of organised trade union activities in Ireland during the Civil War and in England during the “Great” War, enormously weakened the strength of the organisations concerned, and buried their avowed objects under masses of the vilest war propaganda.

True, it is not easy to oppose mass patriotic movements, whether in Ireland, or England, or China, but that difficulty is not removed by closing one’s eyes to it, nor is it lessened by postponing it until “after the war.” If those who wish to organise and educate the Chinese workers lend themselves to Nationalist propaganda now, they will find it immeasurably more difficult to return to working-class principles after they have won for their masters the reality and for themselves the illusion of Chinese independence. Our advice to the Chinese workers is to build up organisations to fight their own capitalist class—they will need them soon enough. Our advice to British workers is to acquaint themselves with their own class interests and get rid of the two illusions that organisations which have suffered for five or six years an almost unbroken series of defeats at home at the hands of the powerful British ruling class, is able, by passing resolutions, to dictate foreign policy to its masters, or wise to urge young mobements like the Chinese, to follow the disastrous British policies, which have wrought such tragic results.

(Socialist Standard, March 1927)

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