1920s >> 1927 >> no-275-july-1927

The “Plebs” on China

In the June Plebs, a writer signing himself “Zed,” tries to explain the meaning of the Chinese Nationalist movement for the benefit of the Marxists who can see in it “no more than in the various bourgeois nationalist movements of the past.” As we are Marxists who can see in capitalist nationalist movements nothing but capitalist nationalism (except, maybe, nationalised capitalism) possibly “Zed” is speaking of and to us. When, however, he says that the “defection of Chiang-Kai-Shek” must seem to these Marxists “an inexplicable surprise,” we can assure him that the boot is on the other foot. The people who were most surprised—apart from the Chinese workers whose heads Chiang-kai-Shek cut off when he had no further use for their propaganda activities, were precisely those who urged the workers to support the Chinese Nationalist Movement and its leaders. As was pointed out in our May issue, almost at the moment when Chiang was openly suppressing the trade unions, the Labour Research Department was explaining why the workers could go on supporting him with confidence in his aims and integrity. It is not a personal question, but one of class interests, as “Zed” correctly remarks, but it is emphatically not correct that the Chinese Nationalist Movement is “a bloc united by a common interest . . . against Imperialism.” “Zed” is led astray by his unquestioning acceptance of the view that peasants and workers can be lumped together as one class. This is as unsound as his further assumption that these two classes and the Chinese capitalists have a common interest in resisting foreign capitalism. True, peasants and workers are both, in their different ways, exploited, but the formers’ desire for private ownership of the land free from punitive taxation, and their desire for good marketing facilities for their products, do not make them allies for the workers, either in the struggle for higher wages or for the abolition of capitalist. In the fight for and against private property they are on opposite sides.


“Zed” does not offer one scrap of evidence that the Chinese workers have an interest in fighting foreign capitalist governments. The interests served in China by the Nationalist Movement are those of the Chinese capitalists and peasants, not those of the Chinese workers. We therefore expected from the first that the leaders of that movement would never permit their own workers to get out of hand, and that any danger to capitalist interests from that quarters would be ruthlessly suppressed. Nor are we surprised to learn that Chang, the Northern anti-Nationalist dictator, who represents another section of the exploiters, contemplates hoisting the flag of nationalism to cover the too blatant class interests he represents. It is only the too-trustful “Zed” and the Chinese dupes of this anti-working-class theory who are surprised at what takes place.


“Zed” goes on to consider why, in such movements, the capitalist nationalists ultimately ally themselves—on terms—with their “Imperialist enemies.” It is because we recognise that this is inevitable that we urge the workers everywhere to oppose their own capitalist class from the outset and build up their own independent organisations. If this were done, so soon as the organisations of the workers became anything of a power, the employers would come to terms with foreign capitalists, and the confusion of a nationalist struggle, with its obscuring effect on the class issues, would be avoided. To justify the alternative policy “Zed” needs to offer some substantial evidence that the workers have ever gained by supporting the employing class in a struggle with foreign capitalists. In which of the European nations between 1914 and 1918 did defence of the “fatherland” bring: gains to the working-class movement.


What were the concessions won from capitalist governments by the fraudulent “National Socialist Parties” which littered Europe in those days, whether our own Labour Party, that in Germany or those in the new Polish, Czecho-Slovak and other republics?
Let “Zed” tell us what the Indian, Egyptian and Irish workers have secured by pursuing the will o’ the wisp of nationalism. In truth, of course, none of these movements ever pretended to aim at working- class emancipation. The Kuomintang, like Sinn Fein, has purely propertied-class aims. In “Lansbury’s Labour Weekly” (another journal urging support of what it is pleased to call “Socialist-nationalism”) Feng-Yu-hsiang, Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Revolutionary Army, sets out “Our Programme” (June 4th). It contains not the slightest reference to any working-class problem. It is “revolutionary” enough : it involves, among other things, the complete evacuation of all foreign troops, but “Zed” must surely appreciate the fact that revolutions are not the monopoly of the working-class, a change over from feudal land tenure to peasant proprietorship in China is a revolutionary change, but it is not one which will aid the workers.


May we advise “Zed” to read in the same issue of the “Plebs” an article on Ireland. In it A. Ellis writes as follows:—

  Republican capitalism once it had become a partner with European capitalism sets about to share the exploitation of the Irish workers. Their reactionary measures have strengthened the hands of the reactionaries in the North, providing additional material for the division of the workers as Loyalists, Republicans, Nationalists, Catholic and Protestant, to the confusion of the real issue of capital versus Labour.

The Irish workers have gained nothing by helping the Republican Movement. There are yet hardly the beginnings of a genuine working-class movement in Ireland. The war for independence has only embittered the relations between the Irish workers, and workers outside the Free State, by stressing racial and religious divisions, and by strengthening the illusion of a common bond between the classes in the Free State. “Zed” wants us to persuade the Chinese workers to copy this fatal example.


In passing, it is amusing to notice that, in exchange for the spilling of much blood, the Irish have not even won the sentimental satisfaction of having done for ever with the hated British troops. Their Minister for External Affairs recently declared in the Dail that the Free State troops “would co-operate in resisting a general attack” on Great Britain, and Ireland, and that “it is practically inconceivable that our army would be opposed to the British Army.” (“New Statesman,” February 19th).


In the last war the Irish effectively resisted the application of conscription in that country. Having fought voluntarily for “freedom,” they have great hopes next time of enjoying the compulsory privilege of being enrolled with their British fellow-dupes. What a victory for nationalism!


Edgar Hardcastle