A New Americanism
Why a Nation Needs a National Story
CHINESE Communism did not originate as a direct result of activities carried on in China by the Third International. It owed its first beginnings to Chinese students returned from Soviet Russia. Occupied with the consolidation of the Revolution and throwing the weight of its international effort toward Central Asia, Moscow did not realize the potentialities of China until 1919. Moscow then saw that China offered an almost priceless first step in the world revolution. Fomentation of Chinese turmoil would result in the destruction of the special position enjoyed by "capitalistic" states in China. From that time on Moscow was active. It worked at the beginning through the bourgeois intellectuals, who were to direct the revolution in its first stages, then through the proletariat, which was young, weak and lacking in class consciousness, and finally -- and most importantly -- through the peasants, who were to achieve an agrarian revolution within the social revolution.
In 1919 and 1920 Soviet Russia proclaimed its desire to establish friendly intercourse with China and its intention to scrap the so-called imperialistic features of the treaties signed during the Tsarist régime. As a result the Peking Government withdrew recognition of the White Russian Legation on September 28, 1920, although it was not until May 3, 1924, that a treaty was ratified with Soviet Russia. From 1920 on, then, the Third International possessed a strong focus for its activities in China. From this outpost, to which Joffe and Karakhan were successively assigned, there flowed a steady stream of direction and propaganda for seven years. Activity was concentrated among the students in Peking and among the laborers in the industrial centers, notably Shanghai, Hankow, Tientsin, Canton and Hongkong. It was non-spectacular, dangerous spade work; its value cannot be measured quantitatively, but its effects are still to be seen.
All this time there had been flickering in Canton under the inspiration of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and the control of the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party, the fitful flame of the Nationalist Government, in armed civil war with the Peking régime. Dr. Sun realized that military strength was a prerequisite for the survival of his government. He unsuccessfully approached several Powers for assistance, notably Great Britain, the United States and Germany. Finally he turned to Soviet Russia. He already had had contact with the Communists through Joffe; and in 1923 Karakhan, quick to perceive the opportunity, sent him Michael Borodin.
Borodin is the strongest personality that has impinged on the Far East in the twentieth century. Virile, alert, of pleasing appearance, fervid in his cause, insatiable in toil, with a genius for organization and with an iron will, he is a figure out of fiction. Had he succeeded in his work in China -- and he nearly did succeed -- he would have stood beside the Trotsky of 1917-19 in the Red pantheon. Even as it is, his return in person is rumored at every fresh surge of communist activity.
Borodin worked with and through Dr. Sun. Both of them saw the value of nationalism as a rallying cry and both of them realized the necessity of a political and military reorganization within the Kuomintang Party and its armed forces. Both realized that they were adopting a common cause -- nationalism -- for an identical end -- the dominance of China; but their views as to who were to be the eventual dominators were different.
In the reorganization the Kuomintang was provided with a working organization modeled on the Russian system of party government. The army was reorganized, and the propaganda system was provided with a "bite" such as had never before been seen in China. Arms, munitions and technical advisers were made available in quantity. Borodin, with funds at his disposal in substantial if not extravagant amounts, made every effort to place his own men in the key positions. Many of these were communists, although later events were to show that most of them were lacking in stern revolutionary fibre. Many others -- of whom Chiang Kai-shek, at present head of the government, is the archetype -- were not members of the Communist Party; but they were radical in outlook, and were committed to Borodin's program by self-interest and sometimes by an honest belief that the goal of a united China lay in the general direction that his road was leading, if not actually on it.
Sun Yat-sen failed physically and Borodin's efforts increased. Early in 1925, Dr. Sun went to Peking in search of a political solution to China's internal difficulties. There he died. Immediately dissension flared up in the Kuomintang between its so-called communist and non-communist elements, which were actually the Borodin and anti-Borodin factions. Borodin won and began to direct the party to the left with careful, steady pressure. The Communist Party, as such, which had been a secret organization since its formation, was tolerated if not recognized. Reorganization and training of the army continued. The Shanghai incident of May 30 and the Shakee incident at Canton gave a great impulse to nationalism, as interpreted in anti-foreignism and anti-imperialism throughout China. In the north, Feng Yu-hsiang received Russian subsidies, and it was hoped that he would give some military aid. By 1926 one aim of the Third International -- a strong bourgeois support of the revolution -- was realized. The northern expedition was ready to march from Canton.
From a military point of view that expedition was completely successful. China south of the Yangtze was overrun and by the spring of 1927 was unified under Kuomintang control. But for the communists this success contained within it the germs of failure. The victorious northward march resulted in the dilution of the Kuomintang hierarchy with many feudal leaders who came over and made submission without digesting either the ideology of Sun Yat-sen or its interpretation by Borodin. Again, the professed communists in the Kuomintang were hampered in many cases by inexperience, timidity and venality. They were bold when they should have been inconspicuous. They fled when they should have struck. They yielded to seductions that the tried revolutionary would have scorned. In a word, in battle and in administration they gave communism a bad name. And as their power increased and as the pressure toward the left continued, communism came to be more and more mistrusted and feared. Finally the feudalists of the North, notably Chang Tso-lin and Sun Ch'uan-fang, were quick to take advantage of the opportunity presented. Unable to oppose the slogans of nationalism, they adopted the slogan of anti-communism. Chinese public opinion, that most intangible and unaccountable of all public opinions, veered against communism. The men who led the Kuomintang armies, restive under Borodin's yoke, saw a measure of salvation in the opportunity to link nationalism and anti-communism, and after months of uncertainty and turmoil, Chiang Kai-shek emerged as de facto head of the Kuomintang, the communists were read out of the Nationalist Party and on July 13, 1927, Borodin started back to Russia along the ancient imperial route of exile to the west. The first ground-swell in the tide of the social revolution in China had broken.
One day in Hankow, as the walls of his mighty edifice were obviously crumbling, Borodin was asked by a bourgeois observer what his next step would be. "The Revolution," he replied, "must go underground." In other words, the swing to the left having failed, the remedy was to move even further to the left. It must be conceded, however, that the element of compulsion in this reorientation was as evident as that of choice. Communism became anathema in Chinese political circles. Its advocates were relegated to the positions of national and international whipping boys for the explanation of untoward incidents. In intra-party feuds the first step taken by the various rivals was to compete for the opportunity of branding opponents as Reds. Following his raid on the Russian Embassy in Peking in 1927, Chang Tso-lin accused almost a score of the prisoners taken there of communism and had them executed. His example spread all over China, and the execution squads still give short shrift to those who espouse the cause of the social revolution.
In consequence, communism has become a very dangerous profession. This is noticeably so in the student world. Red propaganda has here become increasingly selective, owing to the trend toward elimination of bourgeois elements from the Communist Party and also to the fact that the direction of student thought is now emphatically national rather than communist. So while activity in this sphere has not been discontinued, its intensity is notably abated, and few (though probably more reliable) converts are obtained.
Work among the industrial and laboring proletariat is conditioned by numerous factors. While industry in China is still relatively unimportant, its growth continues at an exceedingly rapid rate. Furthermore, it is largely concentrated in a few centers, notably Shanghai, Hankow, Canton and Tientsin. Under the rule of the Kuomintang, which is fundamentally concerned with the improvement of labor conditions, unionization is encouraged, and the novelty of this idea permits of an easy extremism in the unions and a growth of class consciousness. On the other hand, strong repressive measures are invariably adopted by the authorities. All in all, it may be said that the communists are making steady progress among the proletariat. The Red uprising at Canton in December 1927, with its hideous toll of death and destruction, cannot be regarded as representative, for the proletariat there had been subject to organized and licensed propaganda for four years. But it is at least symptomatic, and local officials in the industrial centers do not sleep well when they think of it.
By far the most spectacular phase of this second wave in the Red tide, and the one which forms its dominant characteristic today, is the development of the agrarian revolution along the lines of the primary communist directive. The hammer and sickle have replaced the nine-pointed star of the Kuomintang throughout Hunan and Kiangsi, and in considerable areas of two adjoining provinces, Kwangtung and Fukien. Owing to the withdrawal of reliable government troops from these regions, owing to the oppressions of tax-gatherers who have bled the masses white, and owing most of all to a masterly adaptation of bolshevik methods to Chinese conditions, the groundwork of an out-and-out Soviet state is being laid in the very heart of China. Within its fluctuating but still expanding boundaries are approximately 180,000 square miles of territory and 50,000,000 people. The Red armies have captured such key cities as Changsha and Shasi. Installed on the banks of the Yangtze, they harass traffic on China's primary artery of communication.
In the 1927 breakdown of Borodin's effort to dominate the Kuomintang, two generals on the Kiangsi-Fukien border definitely espoused communism. They were said to control some 60,000 men but they soon dropped out of the news. However, in the winter of 1929-30 word began to drift out from Central China that various Red armies were pushing out from that same region and filling the vacuum caused by the withdrawal of government troops to fight in the north. Furthermore, the area under their control was growing and they seemed to be taking permanent root in the lands they occupied.
The methods adopted in this politico-military conquest are an effective blending of Chinese and Russian experience. An area is selected as ripe for overrunning. A Red army appears before the walls of its chief community and by a suitable mixture of force, persuasion, treachery and bribery gets into the town. So far the process is typical of normal Chinese warfare. But once in possession, the Red army inaugurates a reign of class terror. Civil officials and families of wealth are slain wholesale. Their possessions are pillaged. Land records are burned. The poorer elements of the populace are incited to take part in the violence. Most important of all, a general propaganda is instituted in favor of a Soviet government in its lowest terms of "take from the rich and give to the poor." Before long government forces usually reappear in enough strength to recapture the town. The Reds decamp, but as soon as the garrison is reduced they return and the process is repeated. Special vengeance is then taken on those who have curried favor with the government agencies, and the category of the "rich" is expanded to include the upper bourgeoisie who escaped during the previous jacquerie. In a few weeks or months the region is prostrate and helpless. Fear of vengeance makes appeal to the national agencies unthinkable. Local Soviet government is then erected. This is usually a very simple affair, as local Chinese administrative agencies are traditionally primitive, and land tenure can be roughly equalized out of the holdings of the dispossessed bourgeoisie.
The forces at work in this convulsion are complex. They involve not only the driving force of the communists but also both banditry and the long-recognized right of the Chinese peasant not to revolution, but to rebellion. The Red armies are the conventional stuff of Chinese soldiery, no more communist in the rank and file than were the Russian Red armies that defeated Kolchak and Wrangel. They are, of course, subjected to the usual flood of propaganda. Some twenty of these armies have been identified and the aggregate of their fluctuating strength is estimated at 75,000 men.
Singularly little is known as to the personalities of the limited number of leaders who direct the armies and the movement as a whole. This is partially because they operate in a remote part of China and consequently are difficult of access by bourgeois, be they Chinese or foreign. According to the reports of ex-prisoners, they are all young, alert, cruel in a rational and detached manner, thoroughly indoctrinated with the concepts of the social revolution and of the special directive for China. They feel they are an integral part of the world revolution. Most of them have never been out of their own country. They are totally lacking in the military-political background which mantles most Chinese leaders. They are a new generation, forceful, sincere, going about a task which they profess to understand. No Russians have been reported among them, though the manner in which their organization dovetails into the machine of the Third International necessarily implies a most intimate contact between the two.
With the second surge of communist effort in China still mounting, it is difficult to evaluate its force at any given period or to predict its mass effect. However, four general observations may be considered valid at this time.
The most important and the most undesirable fact is that the Third International and the Chinese Communist Party are attaining success in developing in China men dedicated to their cause. The politician who shook hands with communism to gain personal or party ends has vanished, and in his place stands the experienced, sincere revolutionary. This is an omen for the future.
The work of creating a class-conscious proletariat proceeds steadily. The relative growth is rapid, the absolute growth small. The potentialities of this newly class-conscious proletariat as the basis of future communist activities in China should never be forgotten.
The external effects of the movement are on the whole impalpable. The very existence of the class struggle in China has an important moral effect on similar conflicts abroad, particularly in the Far East. The Third International sees to it that its victories are properly emphasized and its defeats minimized. But the concrete effect on China as "an economic colony" is probably small. China has been practically eliminated as a field for foreign investments since the World War. Her foreign trade has fallen off since 1927, but this is ascribable to generally unsettled conditions. The communist's share in bringing about the present economic state of affairs may be regarded as insignificant.
The least predictable situation is the most immediate one, the agrarian movement in Central China. The movement is favored by intelligent and desperate men, by the discontent of the peasants, by the surprising talent of the Chinese masses for being ruled, and by the internecine quarrels between its enemies. On the other hand, the stabilization of the régime would seem to demand the transformation of a jacquerie into a governmental process, and this requires time and immunity from external interference.
The fact must be recognized that communism has taken root in China. It is no longer an agitation conducted largely from outside. It is no longer a purely political phenomenon. It is a social force. Because of the clarity of its objectives and the capacity of its leaders, its extirpation -- and nothing less will serve to subdue it -- can be achieved only with the greatest difficulty.