Ted Grant

Stalinist land programme wins peasants

Chiang’s conscripts roped to prevent escape

Written: January 1949
Source: Socialist Appeal No. 66, January 1949
Transcription/Markup: Emil 1998, Francesco 2008
Proofread: Emil 1998
Note: Known from The Unbroken Thread as "The Chinese Revolution".

With the spectacular advance of the Chinese Red Army, the diplomats of the State Department in America and the Foreign Office in Britain are seriously discussing the possibility of the complete collapse of the Chiang Kai Shek regime. The entire capitalist press writes gloomily of the prospect of North and Central China to the Yangtse coming under Stalinist sway.

Within three years of the collapse of Japanese imperialism, the Red Army has conquered Manchuria and most of North China. The Chinese capital Nanking, with the richest city of China, Shanghai, which has a population of five million, are rapidly coming within the grasp of the Red Army. The territory which the Stalinists already dominate has a population of more than 170 million.

The British capitalists, with investments in China amounting to £450 million, are dismayed at the prospect of the loss of this lucrative field of investment. American imperialism, within whose sphere of influence China fell with the weakening of the other imperialist powers during the war, has given the Kuomintang government aid to the extent of $3 billion, in a fruitless attempt to save China for imperialist exploitation.

But the American imperialists now realise that further aid is merely throwing away good money after bad. With all the military and technical advantages in its favour in the early stages of the civil war that followed the world war, the Kuomintang has suffered defeat after defeat. The Kuomintang regime, under the dictatorial rule of Chiang Kai Shek, represents the feudal landlords and capitalists. It is controlled by an utterly corrupt military clique which oppresses the workers and peasants and battens on their masters.

Chiang’s rise

Chiang Kai Shek came to power after the defeat of the Chinese revolution of 1925-7 in which he played the role of chief butcher of the working class. He succeeded in this because of the policy of Stalin and Bukharin and the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

Their policy then was to form a bloc with the Chinese landlords, capitalists and feudal warlords, allegedly in the interests of the struggle against imperialism. In consequence, they sabotaged the attempts of the workers to take over the factories and the peasants to take the land. A “communist” Minister of Labour sabotaged strikes and punished striking workers. A “communist” Minister of Agriculture had peasants shot down when they attempted to seize the land.

A Sympathising Section

The capitalist Kuomintang was taken into the Communist international as a sympathising section. In The Third International After Lenin by Trotsky, the Stalinists’ role is shown in an explanatory note:

“The Kuomintang was admitted to the Comintern as a sympathising party early in 1926, approved by the Politbureau of the C.P.S.U., with the sole dissenting vote of Trotsky. Hu Han-min, right-wing Kuomintang leader, participated in the Sixth Plenum of the E.C.C.I., February, 1926, as a fraternal delegate from the Kuomintang. Shao Ki-tze a henchman of Chiang Kai Shek, was fraternal delegate to the Seventh Plenum, E.C.C.I., November, 1926 (Minutes German edition, pp. 403f.)” (London edition, 1936)

On March 21st and 22nd, 1927, the workers of Shanghai captured the city. Chiang immediately began preparations to butcher them. He conspired with the imperialists to crush the workers.

Instead of preparing for the struggle the Stalinists gave full support to Chiang. The Comintern official journal International Press Correspondence, French edition, March 23rd, 1927, page 443, said: “Far from dividing, as the imperialists say, the Kuomintang has only steeled its ranks.”

On March 30th they wrote:

“A split in the Kuomintang and hostilities between the Shanghai proletariat and the revolutionary soldiers are absolutely excluded for the moment…Chiang Kai Shek…himself declared that he would submit to the decisions of the party…A revolutionist like Chiang Kai Shek will not go over, as the imperialists would like to have it believed, to Chang Tso-lin (the Northern militarist) to fight against the emancipation movement…”

Chiang proceeded to organise a coup, massacre the flower of the workers, illegalise the trade unions, the peasant organisations, the Communist Party, and deprive the masses of all rights.

The masses were utterly defeated and the remnants of the Chinese leadership of the Communist Party fled to the peasant areas—and there tried to organise a peasant war.

Peasant army held out

The guerrilla struggle threw up leaders of remarkable military genius. Mao Tse Tung, Chu The(1) and others succeeded in evading the powerful military forces which the Kuomintang had arrayed against them.

Despite the false political line which led to successive disasters, in one of the most remarkable military feats in world history, Mao was driven from Central and South China in a 6,000-mile retreat to the mountain fastnesses around Yenan, where a “soviet” republic was set up. There, despite all the efforts of the Chiang regime to dislodge them, they succeeded in holding out against one attack after another. The secret of their success was that the land had been divided among the peasants in this small area, comprising, according to some estimates, about 10 million population.

Corrupt Chiang regime

In the intervening period between the wars, the Chiang regime piled up ever increasing burdens on the workers and peasants. In some areas the taxes were collected from the peasants by the corrupt local officials 80 years in advance.

There was an endless militaristic squandering of wealth, and the feeble Kuomintang regime showed itself incapable of waging a revolutionary struggle against the incursions of imperialistic Japan.

The Chiang regime resolved itself into one of bribery and police terror. In a period of two decades it became so completely degenerate from top to bottom that it had lost most of its support even among the middle class.

War changed situation

After the collapse of Japan, with a certain aid from the Red Army in Manchuria which helped the Stalinists to capture Japanese munitions, large parts of Manchuria and the North fell into the hands of the Stalinists.

The Chinese Red Army had waged a guerrilla struggle against Japanese militarism throughout the war and were in a strategic position to seize certain areas with the Japanese collapse. Even throughout the war Chiang’s main preoccupation was the social danger at home, to deal with the Stalinists and workers, and had it not been clear that Japan was going to be defeated in the later stages, it is quite likely that he would have capitulated and made a compromise with Japanese imperialism.

A Dying Regime

American imperialism assisted Chiang by pouring in munitions and other supplies, and even direct military intervention in the transport of Kuomintang troops to Manchuria and North China by the U.S. fleet and air force. Chiang had initial successes, but all in vain. He was leading a dying regime, more archaic than even the Czarist regime in Russia. So rotten was the regime that large parts of the supplies were sold by officials to the Stalinist armies for gold, and ministers and other officials in Chiang’s government pocketed a great part of the dollars supplied for the war by America. Only the lesser part of the supplies and munitions actually reached the Nationalist troops at the front.

The military commanders ceaselessly intrigued against one another, as in all doomed regimes. Chiang, for example, starved General Fu Tso Yi, the only outstanding general who showed any real capacity on the Nationalist side, of supplies, for fear he might seek to replace him. The generals were outclassed by the superior strategy and tactics of the Red Army command.

Social Questions Involved

However, the main reason for the victories of the Chinese Stalinists has been readily pointed out by Mao Tse Tung: the social questions involved. “Land to the peasants,” as in the Russian revolution, sounded the death knell of feudal landowners and their corrupt regime. In large part, the Chinese Stalinists have carried out the agrarian revolution. That is the significant difference between the struggle in 1927 and now. It is this which has been responsible for the melting away of the armies which Chiang tried to use to crush the agrarian rebellion. Chiang’s armies are composed of peasants—the poorest peasants at that—who have not enough money to escape conscription by bribing the officials.

“Roped together”

Even the News Chronicle (11th December, 1948) admits:

“There is discontent among the rank and file of the Nationalist army. Chiang’s privates get about five pence a month.

“In some villages conscripts are roped together on the way to barracks, and when they travel by train carriage doors and wagons are locked so that they cannot escape.”

Naturally, they desert with their arms, even to the extent of whole divisions when confronted with the agrarian programme of the Stalinists.

The Stalinist agrarian programme

At the national agrarian conference of the Chinese Communist party held on September 13th, 1947, it was proposed to carry through an agrarian law containing the following provisions:

“Article 1. The agrarian system of feudal and semi-feudal exploitation is abolished. The agrarian system of ‘land to the tiller’ is to he established.

“Article 2. The land ownership rights of all landlords are abolished.

“Article 3. The land ownership rights of all ancestral shrines, temples, monasteries, schools, institutions, and organisations, are abolished.

“Article 4. All debts incurred in the countryside prior to the reform of the agrarian system are cancelled.”

Article 10, aimed directly at the soldiers and even the officers of the Kuomintang reads, in part:

“Section c. All personnel of the People’s Liberation Armies, democratic governments, and all peoples’ organisations whose home is in the countryside shall be given land and properties equivalent to that of peasants for themselves and their families.

“Section d. Landlords and their families shall be given land and properties equivalent to that of the peasants.

“Section e. Families of Kuomintang officers and soldiers, Kuomintang Party members and other enemy personnel whose homes are in rural areas, shall he given land and properties equivalent to that of the peasants.”

Workers passive

One of the outstanding facts in the situation in China is the relative passivity of the working class. It is true that as a result of the collapse of the Chiang armies, there have been widespread strike struggles in the large cities, Shanghai, Canton, Hankow and Nanking, despite the repressive conditions. However, it is clear that as the Stalinists advance towards the big cities on the Yangtse, the workers, for lack of a mass alternative, can only rally to their banner. The workers never supported the Chiang Kai Shek regime.

Every socialist worker will wholeheartedly applaud the destruction of feudalism and of large-scale capitalism in this important section of Asia, even though it is carried out under the leadership of Stalinism. In its long-term implications it is as important as the October revolution itself.

How the capitalists see it

One could give no better Marxist analysis of the gloomy picture for the world capitalist class than that expressed in the editorial of The Times, 10th November, 1948:

“At the best this spells only a single check (Hsuchow held by the Nationalists at the time and since fallen) after months of gains which have swung the balance of power—military, industrial, ideological—to the communist side. Their widening hold on large areas of Northern and Central China has a much deeper meaning than the Japanese invasion of ten years ago, for the communists—decisively helped by Russia as they have been and Marxists as they remain—summon up and organise native revolutionary forces. In its vastness and in its all too likely consequences the present upheaval has rather to be compared with the Russian revolution of 1917—from which it directly and obviously springs. Wider success for the Chinese communists would offer wider influence, and at the ripe moment wider success, for the power with which they ally themselves. Long-cherished Soviet plans for swinging the backward millions of Asia into the camp which already stretches from the Oder to Sakhalin would receive the greatest measure of reinforcement so far.

“…They can draw upon the peasantry for their divisions, and they have been able to win over the support of the peasantry by expropriating most of the landlords and redistributing the land. So far the agricultural reforms of the communists have prospered the more obviously because they have not had to feed many large towns; the food has mainly been kept in the country areas.

“In some regions a commander has ruthlessly shot or imprisoned those whom he has judged to be anti-communist; in others there has been a show of tolerance with few changes in the traditional way of life. Businessmen and others have even been given the choice of staying or leaving. This show of tolerance seems to be the policy of Mao Tse Tung, the highly astute communist leader. His writings and speeches show him to he an unshakeable Marxist, but one who recognises that Marx’s analysis of the opportunities for revolution in the industrial Europe of last century cannot be applied strictly to the mainly agricultural and primitive state of much of China. He seems to have decided to reach his communist goal by two stages. First, there is to be a system of relatively free trading, similar to the New Economic Policy which Lenin introduced after the initial failure of militant communism in Russia. It is this stage which he proclaims at present, hoping, not without success—not only to win the peasants but to assuage the fears of many townspeople. Secondly when the first stage has been accomplished, he plans to make the further step to Marxist socialism.”

The references to Marxism and the communist policy of Mao are of course false. The policy of Stalinism in Russia, in Eastern Europe and in China has been labelled Marxist by all present day capitalist journalists. It is a perversion of Marxism. Nevertheless The Times sees that the tactics of the Chinese Stalinists will be similar to those of the Stalinists in Eastern Europe.

Two sides of the coin

While supporting the destruction of feudalism in China, it must be emphasised that only a horrible caricature of the Marxist conception of the revolution will result because of the leadership of the Stalinists. Not a real democracy, but a totalitarian regime as brutal as that of Chiang Kai Shek will develop. Like the regimes in Eastern Europe, Mao will look to Russia as his model. Undoubtedly, tremendous economic progress will be achieved. But the masses, both workers and peasants, will find themselves enslaved by the bureaucracy.

The Stalinists are incorporating into their regime ex-feudal militarists, capitalist elements, and the bureaucratic officialdom in the towns who will occupy positions of privilege and power.

On the basis of such a backward economy, a large scale differentiation among the peasants (as after the Russian revolution during the period of the N.E.P.) aided by the failure to nationalise the land: the capitalist elements in trade, and even in light industry, might provide a base for capitalist counter-revolution. It must be borne in mind that in China the proletariat is weaker in relation to the peasantry than was the case in Russia during the N.E.P. owing to the more backward development of China. Even in Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European countries similarly, where the capitalist elements were relatively weaker, nevertheless the danger of a capitalist overturn existed for a time. The fact that the workers and peasants will not have any democratic control and that the totalitarian tyranny will have superimposed upon it the Asiatic barbarism and cruelties of the old regime, gives rise to this possibility. However, it seems likely that the capitalist elements will be defeated because of the historical tendency of the decay of capitalism on a world scale. The impotence of world imperialism is shown by the fact that whereas they intervened directly against the Chinese revolution in 1925-7, today they look on helplessly at the collapse of the Chiang regime.

However, it is quite likely that Stalin will have a new Tito on his hands. The shrewder capitalist commentators are already speculating on this although they derive cold comfort from it. Mao will have a powerful base in China with its 450-500 million population and its potential resources, and the undoubted mass support his regime will possess in the early stages. The conflicts which will thus open out should be further means of assisting the world working class to understand the real nature of Stalinism.

Balance of forces changed

The world balance of forces is being decisively changed. The effect of the Chinese revolution, in however distorted a form, will inevitably prepare the way for upheavals in an Asia already beset with colonial wars of independence and civil wars between the classes in Asiatic society. Imperialism will be irreparably weakened.

Many decades ago Marx wrote that revolution in China could presage the collapse of capitalism in Europe. The editorial writer of the Daily Telegraph , 30th November, 1948, wrote with foreboding of its effect on Western Europe:

“Even the defeat of Communist efforts to get control of Western Europe might scarcely compensate for the loss of China, with its immense population and, in Manchuria, valuable industrial potential.”

In Shangai, Canton and other big cities, the Trotskyists have established groups among the workers with quite a big influence in some of the illegal trade unions. They remain true to the principles of Marx and Lenin. They are establishing the tradition for the Marxist movement which in the long run will lead to the overthrow by revolutionary means, of the bureaucratic regime of Stalinism and the setting up of a healthy workers’ state in which democratic control will rest in the hands of the masses.


(1) Chu Teh joined the Chinese C.P. (C.C.P.) in 1922. His military forces joined with those led by Mao Tse Tung in 1928. Chu became the principal military leader of the C.C.P. on the long March and in the civil war against Japan.