Socialism or Chinese Nationalism: A Criticism from Australia

In the March, 1927, issue appeared an article under the title “Socialism or Chinese Nationalism.” In it was set out the Socialist attitude towards the plea of the patriot that all citizens ought to defend the independence of the country in which they live. Our answer—the answer we gave in 1914—is plain and definite. Under capitalism all the workers in every land are wage slaves. They have, under capitalism, no means as a class of escaping from wage slavery. Victory or defeat, in wars between capitalist nations, each leaves their position in society unchanged. Even the standard of living of the workers in both the “victorious” and “defeated” countries has altered little or not at all since 1914. The abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism is the only first-class issue for the Socialist. The enemy of the working class is the capitalist class.

Therefore to urge the workers to fight for Irish, or Indian, or Chinese, or English, or German national independence, is to ask them to neglect the problems and the interests of their class. Such propaganda under capitalism, on whatever pretext, is anti-Socialist.

The Communists, like other reformist organisations, urge the workers on various tactical pleas to take this anti-Socialist course of action. The Irish workers, having been told to fight for Sinn Fein, are now told to support their equally capitalist opponents in De Valera’s party. German workers were urged to resist the French occupation of the Ruhr. Communists in Alsace are now agitating for independence. Indians and Chinese workers are told by the Communists to support first one and then another of the various capitalist nationalist parties in the respective countries.

The Australian Communist journal, The Workers’ Weekly (Sydney, 10th July, 1927). angrily attacks the attitude of the Socialist Party. They are angry first of all because the article in question referred to a “possible war in China.” This, says The Workers’ Weekly, is “opportunism” and is “traitorous,” because in fact hostile acts were being committed even if war had not openly been declared. The criticism is pointless and childish. Our attitude is the same whether hostilities are veiled or open; we tell the English workers and the Chinese workers that the attack and the resistance to attack are alike not deserving of the support of the working class.

In comparison with the loss of working class life and limb in war the difference between exploitation by Chinese capitalists and exploitation by foreign capitalists matters nothing at all to the Chinese workers. (The Kuomintang Party estimates that already 100,000 lives have been lost in the Chinese wars of the past year or two, in the Nationalist Army alone.)

The Workers’ Weekly goes on to state the hypothesis of a bombardment of Southampton, Liverpool and London, and asks whether we would refer to that as a “possible war on England.” Our critic forgets the fact that during the war 1914-1918 we did consistently maintain the attitude we now place before the Chinese workers, the attitude of unqualified hostility to capitalist wars. (It would, incidentally, be interesting to know if our critics can offer as consistent a record.)

We are branded as “henchmen” of our “Imperialist masters” because we tell the workers that rule by one section of the capitalist class does not differ in essentials from rule by another section. We are asked to enthuse over the “aspirations of subject peoples such as India, Egypt or China.” Instead we tell the truth, which is that Indian or Chinese “independence” matters no more to the workers there than does English “independence” matter to us. They are all capitalist movements. Just as we told the English workers in 1914 not to support the war against Germany, so we tell the Chinese workers now. Perhaps our critic will enlighten us by explaining what the Chinese workers stand to gain by defending Chinese capitalism against European capitalist Governments, and what the English workers stood to gain in 1914 by defending English capitalism against German.

The Workers’ Weekly repeats the familiar Communist arguments about supporting nationalist capitalist movements for tactical reasons.

The national movement should be supported, they say, “not as an end in itself, but for the weakening of the might of the Imperialist State, the getting of our propaganda to the broad masses, the gaining of their confidence, their acceptance of our leadership, the prerequisites for the Social Revolution.”

China is an excellent example of the suicidal nature of that policy. Capitalism as a world system is not weakened but strengthened by the emergence of new and powerful independent or semi-independent capitalist nations like Ireland, China, India, Egypt, etc.

The entry of Communists into nationalist parties like the Kuomintang in China did not aid Communist propaganda. Communist propaganda was in the first place inevitably subordinated, as it was in Ireland, to nationalist propaganda in the interests of the so-called “national crisis.” And as soon as the various Chinese nationalist leaders, whom the Communists supported in turn, had no further use for their Communist supporters, they got rid of them by execution and other means. Literally thousands of lives of politically active Chinese workers were needlessly sacrificed in this way.

In fact the Communists in China have not succeeded in winning the confidence of the masses, or in getting positions of leadership, but if they had it would not materially help Communism. Teaching Chinese workers that the “national independence” is a working class issue is not Communist propaganda. Winning positions of power and eminence as Chinese patriots, or Irish or English or German patriots, is playing the capitalist game. It is not destroying but building up the dangerous illusions of patriotism. For the Russians it may well prove an exceptionally dangerous double-edged weapon. China is rapidly moving towards the position of an independent capitalist republic, and it may very well be that the Chinese nationalism fostered for “tactical” reasons by Russian Communists will provide the screen behind which the Chinese capitalists will prepare to enforce their class interests should these conflict with Russian territorial and other claims.

In conclusion, let us remind the Communist Party of Australia that the Socialist Party of Great Britain can boast that it has never urged the workers to fight in or prepare for capitalist wars, and has never, directly or indirectly, aided any party doing so. The Communist Party of Australia, on the other hand, actively supports the Australian Labour Party, which is notorious for its support of the last war and for its “big navy” and air force programme.


(Socialist Standard, March 1928)

Leave a Reply