Chapter 02: From Defeat to Victory

(i) The “Third Period”

The defeat of 1927 was severe. For the Kuomintang the terror of revolution rang down the years, exaggerated by world economic crisis, Japanese invasion and the onset of a new World War. As Trotsky had predicted, the Kuomintang became an unstable coalition of warlords, capitalists and landlords, preserving its power by compromising with the imperialists. In the fight against Japan, Chiang substituted intrigue for defence. The 1933 T’ang-ku agreement was part of the continuing efforts by Chiang to accommodate Japanese depredations. Chiang formally recognized the Japanese puppet state, Manchukuo, in return for promised Japanese aid to consolidate Kuomintang power in China.

The victory of the Kuomintang in 1927-8 reversed all the gains made by workers in the preceding three years. Wage cuts followed the coup in Shanghai. Rising inflation robbed real wages, and unemployment rapidly increased in the wake of the world slump. With Chiang’s patronage, gangsters created “alternative trade unions”. They acted as employment agents, strike breakers, traders in child labour and opium, taking a cut from workers’ pay and contributions from employers. [18]

However, workers continued to defend themselves. Even the corrupt unions, called “yellow unions” by the Communists, were obliged to fight limited battles on behalf of their members. For example, there was a major post office strike in 1928, and 300,000 Kiangsi porcelain workers followed suit. In 1930, the number of workers who struck reached some sixty per cent of the 1926 level, and in 1935, the numbers were even higher. [19] Such action produced successive government “reorganizations” of the unions.

The workers’ actions were defensive, more often limiting defeat than making a positive advance. The tactics Communists should follow in such a situation had been outlined at the third Congress of the Communist International in 1921. The party should try to take up the limited material interests of workers through established trade unions, no matter how corrupt their leadership, to build a defensive “united front” of all workers in order to restore their confidence in their capacity for collective action. In Tsarist Russia, the Bolsheviks had survived defeat by such methods. [20]

The Chinese Communist party could not follow suit, however, because the International did not permit it. The defeat of 1927 coincided with a premature rehearsal of what became known as the “Third Period”. Stalin maintained that, in China, there had been no defeat. The movement might be temporarily checked, but the Chinese revolution was ascending. Armed insurrection, the very final point of revolution, was now on the “order of the day”. Communists must therefore prepare for armed uprising. They must have no truck with the established unions, but form their own, Red, unions. Modest demands for the defence of basic conditions were “reformist” obstacles to the revolution. Every strike movement must be converted into a mass strike and the conquest of State power.

Such a programme related in no way to the defensive tactics open to a defeated labour movement. Third Period slogans terrified the mass of workers, since they portrayed every defensive action as a challenge to the State, a provocation to the police. The Communists necessarily isolated themselves and demoralized their most loyal supporters. The party in the industrial cities shrank with great speed. What Chiang’s police and soldiers could not accomplish, the International did for them. It rendered it impossible for the Chinese party to re-establish roots in the Chinese working class.

The party leadership committed itself wholeheartedly to implementing the tactics laid down by the International. When it failed, it was purged. As a result, not only did the party lose its social basis, its leadership was decimated.

In 1927, the men who had led the party from its formation were obliged to bear the responsibility for defeat and were sacked. The new leadership then launched itself upon a wave of insurrection. In every case, the party was defeated. The following year, the party leadership was dismissed by the International. The new leadership – the most prominent member of which was Li Li-san – had longer to prepare. But in the insurrection of July 1930, it achieved no more than the leadership it had replaced. In November, Li was dismissed, accused of a sensational list of crimes against the International. Those who succeeded him carried out yet another purge, but by now the party was so small, there was no possibility of an armed uprising.

The only force which survived intact was the partisans, operating in areas remote from the cities. In the autumn of 1932, the Central Committee finally accepted the impossibility of reconciling Third Period slogans with the survival of the party. It fled from Shanghai to join the partisans, now based in a small republic in Kiangsi.

The Red Partisans

In origin the partisans were no more than the armed wing of a mass movement about to conquer power. The mass movement and the prospect of power disappeared. As a result, the partisans became the centre of the strategy, and the party came to argue that only after armed struggle would it become possible to create the mass movement of which the partisans were supposedly the instrument. As Mao put it in 1930: “Only after wiping out comparatively large enemy units and occupying the cities can we arouse the masses on a large scale and build up a unified political power over a number of adjoining counties. Only thus can we arouse the attention of the people far and wide.” [21]

It followed that urban workers became no more than ancillary. The militants of the labour movement were now required to leave the cities as recruits for the partisans. The supposed vanguard became a rear-guard. [22]

Rural guerilla warfare imposed its own constraints. It was not a form of struggle open to a settled working class. To participate, a worker was obliged to become a professional soldier. For guerilla warfare, secrecy and surprise were essential, not open political debate. The mode of struggle determined the type of contender. The party in the cities could advance Third Period slogans only at the cost of its survival. The partisans alone could advance those slogans with impunity where they possessed military power; but the slogans did not secure their power, only their arms did that. Thus, Third Period politics in China made necessary the partisans and so identified a different social stratum to propagate them, those who were socially rootless, members of the intelligentsia, workers who had abandoned their place of work and rural vagrants (yu-min). [23]

If China was, as Stalin argued, on the verge of revolution, there was no need for an agrarian programme that compromised with the most advanced demands. The elimination of landlords and rich peasants, and land nationalization were to be the immediate aims.

However, reality was as obdurate in the countryside as in the cities. The peasant revolution of 1925-7 had died away by the time the partisans arrived, as Mao discovered in contrast to his earlier Hunan experience: “wherever the Red Army goes, it finds the masses cold and reserved”. [24]

When the partisans were able to settle in one area, they discovered the severe limits imposed by circumstances on the implementation of their programme. Land, in the backward and impoverished areas where they operated, was extremely scarce. Collectivization required, for full peasant confidence, reasonably permanent military security which the partisans could not guarantee. Indeed, the presence of the partisans invited attack by the Kuomintang and warlord armies. Furthermore, they required feeding from the exiguous food surplus of the peasants, and they took peasant sons into the forces. [25]

The economic blockade of the Kuomintang imposed severe hardships upon the partisans. Indeed, at one stage, Mao had doubts as to the capacity of the soldiers to withstand the economic strain. [26] Necessarily, immediate survival took precedence over the programme, particularly when it was the better-off cultivators who produced the surplus product which fed the army and, when marketed, permitted the import of goods from the cities (salt, cloth and arms). Furthermore, the richer farmers supplied the bulk of fighters for the enemy. Mao and his associates solved the contradiction between the programme and the actual material circumstances in which they operated by not implementing the demands. As he later expressed it: “Because the number of rich peasants was very small, we decided in principle to leave them alone and to make concessions to them. But the ‘leftists’ did not agree. They advocated ‘giving the rich peasants bad land, and giving the landlords no land’. As a result, the landlords had nothing to eat and some of them fled to the mountains and formed guerilla bands.” [27] Hypocrisy closed the gap – the party proclaimed radical agrarian transformation in the areas controlled by the partisans, but refrained from implementing the programme. [28]

Such a step implied that the interests of the landless labourers be restrained: “Owing to the alliance with the rich peasants, the interests of the agricultural labourers were sacrificed ... We feared the counter-revolutionary turn of the rich peasants and consequently asked the agricultural labourers to lower their demands.” [29] It entailed also that the rich peasants continue to play a disproportionate role in the administrative organs of the Soviet districts. [30]

In the Kiangsi Soviet (created from six separate areas in November 1931), the partisans received their most promising chance to establish a stable administrative area. In power, the Red Army undertook a range of social reforms in education and welfare. It was an impressive military feat to survive against an enemy five to six times larger (the Kuomintang launched five massive assaults on the Kiangsi republic). The sheer weight of arms, however, finally told. In 1934, the Kuomintang’s Fifth Encirclement Campaign, employing half a million men, extinguished the Kiangsi republic. The party fled, setting out without clear destination on what became justly celebrated as the heroic exploit of the Long March. If 1927 had, to the party members, seemed to destroy the possibility of the urban working-class strategy, the destruction of the Kiangsi republic seemed to have destroyed the partisan alternative.

Between 1928 and 1935 Mao Tse-tung rose to a position of supreme leadership in the party. Retrospectively, it has been suggested that he fashioned an alternative strategy to that of the official party leadership which, after 1935, led to victory. However, this is not at all evident from the record. Most of his writing – for example, as editor of the Kuomintang journal Political Weekly – has disappeared or been heavily edited. As an individual, he clashed with the party leadership on numerous occasions (he was three times removed from office and eight times reprimanded), but never on the scale which afflicted his colleagues. On his later accounts, he apparently wholeheartedly supported the politics of the alliance with the Kuomintang up to l927. [31] Whatever his private doubts, thereafter he acted as a loyal party member. None of the opposition factions in the party between 1928 and 1935 claimed Mao as member or inspiration.

Thus, if Mao had a separate political strategy, it cannot be detected in these years. His actions conformed to a combination of Comintern policy and the tactics of its implementation in small, isolated and backward districts of rural China. The result had some important features:

The party was obliged to assume that it was the proletariat of China. The peculiar circumstances of partisan warfare became the norm. As a result, the party implied it had no need of a continuing organic relationship to China’s industrial workers. [32] The class struggle was not what workers did in the factories, but what the party, and in particular, the partisans, did. Thus, the essence of the class struggle became the contest to secure military dominance. Only after military victory did the old sort of “class struggle”, workers fighting employers, become possible.
Because military power became the decisive factor, the party programme was in practice relegated to winning support by propaganda work, rather than stimulating the independent initiative of the population. The slogans became part of the party’s public relations work, and subordinate to the main questions of power and military strength. One aspect of this was the combination of radical slogans with relatively conservative practice. On the one hand, “Land to the Tillers” and “Down with Landlordism”; on the other, a limited administrative reform rather than a popular seizure of the land.

These were not peculiarly Chinese Communist inventions. They reflected the changes impelled in the International by its Russian patron. The same points emerged in the writing and speeches of Stalin. But Stalin was not making a revolution; he was using the State to industrialize backward Russia. Material force backed his words. By contrast, the Chinese party was struggling for survival against extremely threatening forces. Its temporary foothold in Kiangsi was far too small to constitute a political alternative. For that, it needed a political case that simultaneously appealed to a mass audience but was not inconsistent with the imperatives of the International. After 1934, that became possible as the result of events quite outside the party’s power.

(ii) The United Front

From 1932 to 1933, the Russian leadership became increasingly alarmed at the drift of the world powers to war, and at Russia’s diplomatic isolation. Russian foreign policy became directed to securing alliances with leading powers against Nazi Germany, and in 1934 it entered the League of Nations, a body once described by Lenin as “the League of Imperialist Bandits”.

In the Far East, policy became preoccupied with preventing an alliance between Kuomintang China and Japan. To this end, the Soviet Union recognized the Chiang government in Nanking and concluded a non-aggression pact. The International was similarly instructed to bend all efforts to securing Russia’s safety. Communist parties in industrialized countries must now reverse the slogans of the Third Period, and enter Popular Fronts with the parties of the bourgeoisie against the threat of fascism. In Asia, the aim must be a united front with all patriotic forces against imperialism.

The change of line occasioned some embarrassment. The Chinese delegate to the Comintern, Wang Ming, baldly repeated the Third Period imperative in 1933: “the overthrow of the Kuomintang as government of national betrayal and national disgrace is a condition of the successful prosecution of the national revolutionary war against the Japanese and other imperialists”. [33] But, by 1935, he was indignantly denouncing the idea that Communists call for the overthrow of the Kuomintang as “an absolutely false and unfounded legend spread by pro-Japanese elements ... a slander, a provocation”. [34] On the contrary, the Communists called for an alliance of all forces opposing the Japanese.

The Chinese party reflected the change. It appealed for a “united front from below” against the Kuomintang leadership and the Japanese invasion. In April 1932 the Kiangsi Soviet declared war on Japan, a symbolic gesture but of great significance for nationalist opinion. By 1935 and the Seventh Congress of the International in Moscow, the Russian leadership was urgent in its demands for a new alliance. Mao resisted, and in particular was reluctant to accept the implication that the party give up slogans which might jeopardize the Kuomintang’s social basis (notably, the attack on landlords). As late as July 1936, Chou En-lai could still promise Edgar Snow that any real war on Japan would destroy Chiang Kai-shek. [35] When in December two rebel Kuomintang generals interned Chiang in Sian, while the Russian press denounced them as traitors, Mao cabled his congratulations. [36]

However, the party’s rebellion was brief. Mao despatched Chou Enlai to Sian to secure the release of Chiang. In February of the following year, the party agreed to end its programme of agrarian reform and once more to embrace Sun Yat-sen’s Three People’s Principles. In sum, Mao promised: “We have already accepted a decision not to confiscate the land of rich peasants, and if they come to us to fight against Japan, not to refuse to unite with them. We are not confiscating the property and factories of the big and small merchants and capitalists. We protect their enterprises and help them to expand so that the material supply in the Soviet districts, so necessary for the anti-Japanese campaign, may be augmented.”

Furthermore, the events of 1927 were rewritten to highlight “the glorious history of collaboration between the Communist party and the Kuomintang”. [37] Chiang himself, the former “butcher of Shanghai”, received a facelift: “The Chinese Communist party has placed unquestioning confidence in Chiang Kai-shek’s fixed policy of conducting a war of resistance. No one else can lead the war except Generalissimo Chiang.” [38]

What was initially a short-term tactic became part of the party’s principles. By 1937 Chou En-lai was denouncing those party members who saw the united front as simply a tactic. [39] In 1939, Mao summed up the party’s politics in the following form: Our eighteen years of experience show that the united front and armed struggle are the two basic weapons for defeating the enemy. The united front is a united front for carrying on armed struggle. And the party is the heroic warrior wielding the two weapons.” [40]

Thus, unlike 1927, the party now had two weapons, of which its independent military force was the decisive one. On that basis, Chou En-lai and other Communist representatives joined Chiang’s Supreme National Defence Council, subsequently renamed the People’s Political Council. The Red Army became the 8th Route Army, and the Chinese Soviet governments were renamed as local authorities of the Kuomintang government.

The alliance in no way impeded the Japanese advance. On 7 July 1937 Japanese and Chinese forces clashed in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, and the Japanese attack on China proper began. Chiang’s forces rapidly evacuated the area. In August, Japanese troops invaded Shanghai, and in November, the Kuomintang abandoned its capital at Nanking while the Japanese were still 150 miles away. Undeterred by any serious opposition, the Japanese forces pillaged the city and inflicted one of the most barbarous massacres of modern times upon the citizens. The Kuomintang similarly abandoned its refuge in Wuhan and Chiang fled far west to Chungking.

Kuomintang China

The united front was justified by the Communists as a response to the threat of the Japanese. The threat was such, it was argued, that the class interests of workers and peasants must be subordinated to the national issue. Only in this way could there be a united national opposition to the invader.

However, under the impact of Japanese attack, the Kuomintang became increasingly tyrannical, its corruption a byword. Japanese forces purchased the Kuomintang evacuation of Shanghai without a fight. It is said that, in return for 80,000 dollars, the Kuomintang general thoughtfully provided petrol reserves for the use of Japanese trucks landing at the wharves. In Chungking, army officers and government officials moved into business – the State became the main employer – and used it to line their pockets. Finance Minister H.H. Kung is said to have made his fortune in this way. Mrs Chiang dealt in military aircraft contracts. United States military assistance, beginning in 1938, provided further opportunities for gain (comparable to the fortunes made by a few in Saigon twenty-five years later).

Kuomintang troops – five million in the field, and ten million in reserve – were cruelly mistreated. Officers and NCOs sold their equipment, clothes and even foodstuffs. In battle, units were abandoned, and the wounded left to the mercy of the enemy. Only terror could force them to face Japanese arms. Not even the Communist party could persuade them that Chiang’s China was worth defending.

Yet the soldiers were better off than the mass of the population. After fleeing to the west, the Kuomintang lost its labour force in the east. It press-ganged villagers into the army and to forced-labour projects on highways, railways and airfields. There was, occasionally, fierce opposition. As the war proceeded, so the burden of arbitrary taxes, appropriations and bribes grew. No political force championed the interests of the cultivators, nor showed how the defeat of the Japanese would alleviate their condition.

In the cities, it was scarcely any better. There was tight military control of the labour force to prevent revolt. Inflation and wage controls produced a disastrous decline in real wages. The Chungking retail price index (1937: 100) reached 5,304 by March 1942, and 10,000 in 1944. [41] Real wages were halved in a year. Strikes were outlawed in 1937, and the death penalty decreed for those who disobeyed.

Yet the Communists continued officially to support the government and did not raise even elementary demands either at a popular level or directly with their “allies”. As a supporter of the party notes: “The Communists in 1937-45 opposed strikes as detrimental to the war effort, and undertook no independent organization of labour (or the peasants) in Kuomintang administered areas.” [42] The result was to increase the power of the Kuomintang and to weaken the resistance of the mass of the population to the Japanese, the supposed justification for the united front.

Chiang was no fool, and while independent Communist military forces existed, they were a perpetual threat to his power. There were armed clashes between Communist and Kuomintang forces through 1939, and a major battle in January 1941. An uneasy stalemate persisted through much of the war. Yet even this did not prompt the Communist leadership to end the alliance. To have done so would have been to betray the Russian government and its most prominent member, Joseph Stalin, now seated at the high table of allied power with Roosevelt and Churchill. Furthermore, in China itself, the Communist leadership endeavoured to win United States support away from Chiang. From 1942, the party persistently raised the question of US aid to their forces at Yenan (and succeeded in winning a visit from a US military delegation in June 1944). [43] The Communist political credibility turned upon the fact that it was a more determined advocate of national unity than the Kuomintang. Chiang, with splendid effrontery, threatened Washington that, if the US used its military aid to force the Kuomintang into coalition with the Communists, he would turn to the Soviet Union for aid.

Peasants, workers and the party

The years of the Second World War consolidated the party’s policies. Before the war, the party had gone some way to reconcile itself to landlordism. During the war, “anti-Japanese” landowners became “landlords who do not oppose fighting Japan”. Reforms must be introduced, the party argued, but not reforms which affected the basic material interests of the dominant classes. In sum, the party aimed at balance between existing classes rather than tilting the balance. As Mao put it: “The workers have been advised not to put up demands which may be in excess of what can be granted by the enterprise in question. In the non- Soviet districts, it is our intention not to accentuate the anti-capitalist struggle.” [44]

The politics of balance were difficult to apply. Mao was obliged to overcome the confusion of the cadres. He stressed that reforms were needed to “arouse enthusiasm” for the war effort, but arousing enthusiasm always tended to spill over into land confiscation. To avoid this, the reforms must be modest: “this is not the time for a thorough agrarian revolution ... On the one hand, our present policy should stipulate that the landlords shall reduce rent and interest, for this serves to arouse enthusiasm of the basic peasant masses for resistance to Japan, but the reductions should not be too great.” [45]

Or again, and more bluntly: “Recognize that most of the landlords are anti-Japanese, that some of the enlightened gentry also favour democratic reforms. Accordingly, the policy of the party is only to help the peasants in reducing feudal exploitation but not liquidate feudal exploitation entirely, much less to attack the enlightened gentry who support democratic reforms ... The policy of liquidating feudal exploitation should only be adopted against stubbornly unrepentant traitors.” [46]

The party reserved the right to administer the “class struggle” as a punishment for moral failings. Only the most incorrigibly eccentric landlords could have favoured the Japanese in the Liberated Areas. (i.e. under Communist authority).

If the attack on feudalism – and so any attempt to improve the condition of the landless – was muffled, capitalism became positively desirable [47]: “Recognize that the capitalist mode of production is the more progressive method in present-day China, and that the bourgeoisie, particularly the petty bourgeoisie, represents the comparatively more progressive social elements and political forces in China today.” [48] They should be encouraged, and State activity curbed, to stimulate private enterprise. In like fashion, foreign investment was to be welcomed in the new China. [49]

In the Liberated Areas, life was hard but ordered, austere but adequate, in striking contrast to the squalid corruption and barbarities of the Kuomintang areas. The land revolution might be postponed, but nonetheless, party rule ended famine and oppression, and improved educational and health facilities. For those who escaped Kuomintang or Japanese rule, these were tangible benefits.

In Yenan, the party grew for the first time since 1927 into a significant political force. From its claimed membership of a few thousand, and forces numbering 20,000 at the end of Long March (the party claimed 300,000 troops at the beginning), it attained a membership of 40,000 in 1937, 800,000 in 1943, 1.2 million in 1945, and 3.3 million in 1950. The central cadre was quite small – Mao estimates that only 800 members survived from the early 1930s to 1945. [50] The seventy leading figures in the party were overwhelmingly drawn from the respectable classes, the hsüeh-cheng (“students from families of small farmers, merchants and even aristocratic official families”). [51]

The party was a qualitatively different organization to that of 1927. In late 1944, it was estimated that ninety-three per cent of party members had joined since the outbreak of war, and ninety per cent of the recruits were of peasant origin. By 1945, the party had acquired a distinctive style, with a recurrent stress on education, rectification through cultural reforms and manual labour in the villages, continual campaigns against bureaucracy, authoritarianism, arrogance, and a growing cult of Mao Tse-tung thought.

Civil war and victory

The end of the world war found both contenders for China’s national power poised to race eastwards to establish their claims. The first phase of hostilities ceased on American initiative in January 1946. By March of the following year, the pause – and the united front with the Kuomintang – was over, and civil war broke out in earnest.

Both the Soviet Union and the United States had endeavoured to create a coalition between the two forces, while offering main support to the Kuomintang. In August 1945, the Soviet Union signed a new treaty with the Kuomintang which restored Russian rights in Manchuria. Privately, Stalin advised the Chinese Communists to “join the Chiang Kai-shek government and dissolve their army”. [52] The victories of the People’s Liberation Army received no mention in the Russian press until the last year of hostilities. Indeed, in May 1949, when it was already clear that the People’s Liberation Army was about to win the whole of China, the Russians renewed one of their treaties with the Kuomintang government. When Nanking fell on 2 February, the Russian ambassador, N.V. Roschin, was the only diplomatic representative to the Kuomintang government to flee with Chiang Kai-shek to Canton.


Despite the end of the alliance, agrarian policy remained strikingly conservative between 1937 and 1945. Enthusiasm required rent reductions for the peasants, but the landlords must be permitted to make a living or they would join the Kuomintang. Furthermore, Mao said, without rent reductions, “the masses in the newly liberated areas will not be able to tell which of the two parties, the Communist party or the Kuomintang, is good and which is bad”. [53]

In the north-east, the party confiscated and redistributed Japanese land. It encouraged landlords everywhere to move their assets out of land into urban industry, operating a tax policy and denationalizing some government assets to encourage them. [54] When peasants challenged this as a manoeuvre to escape retribution, Mao instructed the party to defend the urban properties of landlords.

Rent and interest reductions were invariably described as “solving the land problem”. However, in May 1946, the party proposed a scheme to purchase the “excess” land of landlords (landlords were permitted fifty per cent more acreage than middle peasants, and one hundred per cent if they had been active in the war against Japan), and sell it at half price to peasants with the funds to buy it. [55] At the end of the year, a draft law was issued for the compulsory purchase of “excess” land in the Shensi- Kansu-Ninghsia Border Region (of which Yenan was the capital), indicating that in an area held by the Communists since 1935, the land had not already been redistributed.

In October 1947 a quite different land law was published. This decreed, for the first time, “the confiscation of all properties of the landlords and all the surplus properties of the rich peasants, the assignment of supreme power in the disposition of confiscated properties to poor peasants and labourers, and the overthrow of the landlord class without mercy”. [56] However, the cadres were to retain the power of confiscation; the poor peasants and labourers were restricted to distributing the land. Nonetheless, the new law was a revolutionary step.

The moment was brief. There were too few cadres to curb the peasant masses in Hopei. The party was so slow in administering the act, the poor moved into direct action. Through the winter of 1947-8, peasant associations sprang up in the province, launching indiscriminate attacks on landlords, rich peasants and some of those officially classified as “middle peasants”. Naïvely, they thought they knew who the landlords were without needing party instruction, and that their actions constituted “the overthrow of the landlord class without mercy”. The party’s conflicting and confused classification of the rural population was blown aside. [57] When the cadres loyally attempted to restrain the movement, they too were overturned. The peasants demanded complete equality in the countryside and the right to supervise the party itself. They seized all the land of those identified by the party as rich peasants, pursued and assaulted them, and marched to the towns to seize the urban, industrial and commercial properties of the rural rich.

The party leadership swung hard to the Right. Only three months after the introduction of the law, Party leader Jen Pi-shih demanded an end to redistribution until the peasants had been properly educated. [58] Six days later, Mao himself weighed in against “Left excesses”, urging that “new rich peasants” in the old Liberated Areas should be treated as “middle peasants”, that former landlords and rich peasants could be reclassified, that no one should pursue landlords into the towns, that poor peasant associations should be compelled to admit rich peasants, landlords and the “enlightened gentry”: “there has been an erroneous emphasis on ‘doing everything as the masses want it done’, and an accommodation to wrong views existing among the masses, one-sidedly propagating a poor peasant-farm labourer line ... that the democratic government should listen only to the workers, poor peasants and farm labourers, while no mention at all was made of the middle peasants, the independent craftsmen, the national bourgeoisie and the intellectuals”. [59]

In the spring of 1948, Mao himself arrived in Hopei to unite the war command again. He stressed that there was no urgency about introducing agrarian reforms; they could be left for “one, two or three years”. There were three conditions: the enemy must have been wiped out, the masses must demand it, and the “Party cadres must be adequate both in numbers and quality to grasp the work of land reform and must not leave it to the spontaneous activity of the masses”. [60]

Officially, policy returned to the promise of rent and interest reduction. The peasant war was not to contribute to the defeat of the Kuomintang or any popular revolution. It was postponed until after power had been won by military conquest. The party, perforce, must tolerate rich peasant and even landlord predominance in sections of the party. [61] We do not know whether some of the enormous numbers of bandits’ destroyed by the People’s Liberation Army were in fact the landless attempting to persist in the land revolution begun in 1947. [62]

The workers

The labour movement in the cities revived as the Japanese relinquished control. Strikes increased rapidly. Workers in Japanese factories seized the plants as the Kuomintang armies approached Shanghai. Once in power, the Kuornintang attempted to restore its former labour laws, but did not succeed in curbing the strike wave.

Post-war slump exaggerated the effects of the civil war. Hyperinflation, large-scale lockouts, sackings and pay cuts afflicted workers, but few presented a political alternative. If they saw hope in the arrival of the People’s Liberation Army, they did not (as in 1926-7 with the arrival of the Northern Expedition) seize the city to welcome the New Fourth Army.

To have seized the city, or even a factory, would have been to risk the displeasure of the Communist party leadership. Mao instructed workers to “co-operate with the capitalists, so that maximum production can be attained”. [63] Many of the cadres who went into the cities, however, found this a difficult policy to argue, given the great excitement and hopes of city workers. They fell into what Mao called a “relief standpoint”: “the one-sided and narrow-minded policy of ‘relief’ which purports to uphold workers’ welfare but in fact damages industry and commerce and impairs the cause of the people’s revolution”. [64] The real task, he stressed, was to secure the co-operation of workers and capitalists in order “to do everything possible to reduce costs, increase output and stimulate sales”. [65] Party leaders condemned the Labour Maintenance Law of October 1945 because it set wages too high, introduced “excessive” labour welfare measures and reduced incentives to work. [66] They complained – in conditions of considerable unemployment – that too many people were employed, too many cadres promoted themselves without experience or competence in production, and wages were excessive.

The policies attacked had been encouraged when the People’s Liberation Army held cities only temporarily. Then “Left excesses” produced “enthusiasm” which left a legacy of goodwill among workers that might encourage them to emigrate to the Liberated Areas or support the party in other ways. But by 1948, the party was no longer a temporary urban visitor. It was about to inherit the cities. It needed to take them seriously. As in the agrarian field, policy moved to the Right, and maintaining existing production took priority. The wage system then became, not a method of “raising enthusiasm”, but of making people work harder. Mao warned the cadres: “Do not lightly advance slogans of raising wages and reducing hours. In wartime, it is good enough if production can continue and existing working hours and original wage levels can be maintained. Whether or not suitable reductions in working hours and increases in wages are to be made later will depend on economic conditions, that is, on whether enterprises thrive.” [67] Where possible, working hours should be increased, holidays reduced, staff pruned, politics not permitted to impede production, and the public sector used to assist the private.

The same standpoint covered all reforms in the cities. Mao adjured the cadres: “Do not be in a hurry to organize the people of the city to struggle for democratic reforms and improvements in livelihood. These matters can be properly handled in the light of local conditions only when the municipal administration is in good working order, public feeling has become calm, surveys have been made.” [68]

And if the poor, not daring to hope for revolution, might yet think they would at least be fed: “Do not raise the slogan, ‘Open the granaries to relieve the poor’. Do not foster among them the psychology of depending on the government for relief.” [69]

The scale of the war was vast. Despite initially much smaller forces, the People’s Liberation Army inexorably drove back the Kuomintang forces. The long years of isolation, of living off an impoverished land, constantly fighting against a more powerful enemy, now began to tell. By 1949, the outcome was clear. In January, Peking peacefully surrendered. On 1 October, Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. The “protracted struggle”, in terms of numbers and terrain the most gigantic struggle for national liberation in history, had reached victory. Now, at long last, the party was free to do as it chose, free of the tactical feints imposed upon it by the International.


18. See Five years of Kuomintang Reaction, China’s Forum, Shanghai, 1932. See also Lowe Chuan-hua, Facing Labour Issues in China, Shanghai, 1933, p.50. On the situation in the immediate aftermath of the 1927 coup, see Lo Chao-lung, The Chinese Trade Union Movement in 1928, China Tomorrow, Shanghai, 20 February 1929

19. Nym Wales, The Chinese Labor Movement, New York, 1945, pp.166-7

20. For example, the Moscow district party, with 5,320 members in May 1906, declined under police repression to 180 in 1908, and in 1910 ceased to exist – cited by Tony Cliff, Lenin, London, 1975, I, p.240. As late as 1914, Krupskaya could complain: “The illegal organization is cut to ribbons. There are no solid regional centres. The local organizations are cut off from one another, and in the majority of cases everywhere, there are only workers in the organizations, the professionals have vanished long since”, cited from Istoricheskii Archiv, 1957, 1, p.26, by R. H. McNeal, Bride of the Revolution, Krupskaya and Lenin, London, 1973,p.145

21. Mao, January 1930, in Selected Works, Vol.1, p.123 (SW; cf. Notes to Reader for explanation of edition employed)

22. Compare Manuilsky of the ECCI: “Hitherto, we have regarded the partisans as the rearguard fight of a revolution in the course of a general retreat. Today, their character has changed. They form a constituent of the upsurge and one of the most important signs of the rising tide of revolution”, Inprecor, 10 Mar. 1930, p.267. By the autumn, the partisans had become evidence that the working class had a Red Army and a State even before the final victory of workers and peasants – Inprecor, 1930, p.1065; cf. also Kuchynov, in Communist International 8, 6, 1 March 1930, p.166, cited J.P. Harrison, The Li Li-san Line and the CCP in 1939, 11, CQ15, Summer 1963, p.154

23. See Mao’s observation: “When we started to fight battles, we depended on vagrants becaused they dared to die. There was a time when the army wanted to weed out the vagrant elements, but I opposed it”, Forum on Central Committee Work, 20 December 1964, in Miscellany, op. cit., II, p.421. For other sources, cf. Stuart Schram, The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung, London, 1963, pp.196, 200. The first efforts in the Chingkang Mountains obliged Mao to collaborate with two bandit chiefs, Wang Tso and Yuan Wen T’sai. cf. Snow, Red Star over China, London, 1937, p.165

24. See comment by leading party member: “When we say that we must distribute the land among the poor peasants and soldiers, this sounds good. But all of the available land is already being worked, and after it has been distributed, it will as before be worked by the same tenants. In such a case, where can one take the land for distribution among poor peasants and soldiers?”, cited by Yun Taiying, in L. P. Deliusen, Agrarno-krestianskii vopros v politike KPK, 1921-28, Moscow, 1972, Chapter VII, pp.326-75, translated in Chinese Studies in History, Summer 1974, VII/4, p.41

25. In two districts of the Kiangsi Soviet, Mao claimed that between eighty and eighty-eight per cent of the males in the age group sixteen to forty-five years were serving in the Red Army – Report to the Second Chinese National Soviet Congress, Juichin, Kiangsi, 22 January 1934, London, Sept. 1934

26. Mao: “not only is such economic strain intolerable to the intermediate class, but some day it will prove too much even for the workers, peasants and Red Army men” – SW I, p.89

27. In Mao Unrehearsed, Talks and Letters, 1956-71, edited by Stuart Schram, London, 1974, p.97. See also On Policy, 25 December 1940, SW II, p.441, and The present Situation, Dec. 1947, SW IV, p.169

28. The Hsinkuo hsien agrarian law is included in Liu Kung, Reference materials for the study of the Agrarian Reform Law, Shanghai, 28 June 1950, and cited in Chao Kuo-chün, Agrarian policy of the Chinese Communist party, 1921-59, Bombay, 1960, pp.67-9; the Kiangsi Land Law is included in A Documentary History, op. cit., pp.224-6; see also Hsiao Tso-liang, The Land Revolution in China, 1930-34 (Documents), London, 1969

29. Central Committee resolution, August 1929, cited Isaacs, 1938, p.416

30. In 1933, Mao alleged that the rich peasants dominated “80 per cent of the area of the central district, affecting a population of more than two million”. The re-examination of land distribution in the Soviet districts is the central task, Red Flag, 21 August 1933, cited Isaacs, ibid., p.420; see also A Documentary History, p.219

31. See the Chinese version of Resolution on certain questions in the history of our party, Appendix to: Our study and the current situation, SW III, cited by John E. Rue, Mao Tse-tung in Opposition, 1927-35, Stanford, 1966, p.13

32. See Nym Wales’s comment: “the Chinese Communists seem to consider their party itself equivalent to direct participation by the proletariat”, in Inside Red China, New York, 1939, p.221

33. Thirteenth Plenum, ECCI, December 1933, in Revolutionary China, Peiping, 1933, p.33

34. Communist International, 14/10, October 1937; see also the call for an “All-China United People’s Government of National Defence” in Revolutionary Movements in the Colonial Countries, Seventh Congress, Communist International, New York, 1935, pp.15, 20-21

35. Random Notes on Red China, Cambridge, Mass., 1968, pp.56-7

36. And a proposal for a national conference in Nanking on “the problem of how to dispose of Mr Chiang Kai-shek”, text in Kuo, Chinese Communist Party, pp.272-3, cited by Gregor Benton, The Second Wang Ming Line, CQ61, March 1975, p.61

37. Letter to Chang Nai-chi and others, in Mao Tse-tung et al., China: the March Towards Unity, New York, May 1937, p.75

38. United Press interview with Po Ku, Chungking, 8 November 1938; cf. the slogan, “Let us support General Chiang to lead in the anti-Japanese war”, cited in China Today, Shanghai, July 1937

39. “Comrade Chang Hao’s error at that time [during a course of lectures at Yenan University, February 1937] was to consider the national anti-Japanese front to be a temporary tactical change whereas the Central Committee of the Party definitely views it as a revolutionary strategic change during a historical phase”, Chieh-fangpao 36, 29 April 1938, pp.11-12, cited L.P. Van Slyke, Enemies and Friends, the United Front in Chinese Communist History, Stanford, 1967, p.60, from Inprecor 16, 10, p.377

40. SW II, p.295, also p.445

41. Nym Wales, 1945, op. cit., p.120

42. Epstein, op. cit.

43. See US Relations with China, US Department of State, included in Strengthening the Forces of Freedom, Washington, 1950, pp.2378-80; and Yalta Papers, Hurley to Roosevelt, 14 January 1945, pp.346-51; both cited by John Gittings, The Origins of Chinese Foreign Policy, in D. Horowitz (ed.), Containment and Revolution, London, 1967, p.182ff.

44. China. the March, op. cit., p.76

45. On Policy, 25 December 1940, SW II, p.446

46. SW II, p.278

47. “In the matter of raising wages and improving the living conditions of the workers in the rural areas, we must especially not make excessive demands on their behalf, or the peasants would protest, the workers would lose their jobs, and production would decline”, SW II, p.446

48. Decision of the Central Committee on Land Policy in the anti-Japanese base areas, 28 January 1942, in A Documentary History, p.278

49. Mao: “We welcome foreign investments, if such are beneficial to China’s economy and are made in observance of China’s laws ... we shall be able to absorb vast amounts of foreign investments”, A Documentary History, p.312; the passage is omitted from the version in SW III, p.304

50. Miscellany II, op. cit., p.341

51. Nym Wales, op. cit., p.335

52. Reported by Vladimir Dedijer, Tito, New York, p.322

53. Policy for work in the Liberated Areas for 1946, inner party document, 15 Dec. 1945, SW IV, p.76

54. Report, Hsueh Yuah in New International, December 1949, p.329

55. This measure is omitted from SW, although referred to – SW IV, footnote 4, p.118

56. Struggle for the purification of the organization of the party, cited by Chao Kuo-chün, op. cit., p.90

57. Mao repeatedly strove to restore the classification – see for example, 13 January 1948, SW IV, p.239; on the confused and contradictory nature of the classification, see Ygael Gluckstein, Mao’s China, London, 1957, pp.85-9

58. Some problems in land reform, 12 January 1948, cited Chao Kuo-chün, op. cit., p.84

59. Correct the “Left” errors in land reform propaganda, 11 February 1948, SW IV, p.197; on protecting landlord urban interests, see also ibid, p.203

60. Tactical problems of rural work, 24 May 1948, SW IV, pp.251, 255; see also The work of land reform, 25 May 1948, ibid.

61. See “Many landlords, rich peasants and riffraff have seized the opportunity to sneak into our Party ...”, SW IV, footnote, p.166. Another party leader, Nieh Yung-jin, observed that: “Those elements occupy most of the positions in our party ... considered in the light of agrarian reform, our policy appears to reflect the views of the landlords and the rich peasants”, Renewal of our Ranks, 1948, cited Hsueh Yueh, op. cit., p.328

62. For example: “Everywhere we are making great progress in the work of exterminating bandits in central China. In Hunan province, during the past year [1948-9], about 38,700 bandits were killed, captured alive or forced to surrender. In Hupeh province, during the three months of May, June and July, the total number of bandits exterminated was more than 12,000” - New China News Agency (NCNA), Hunan report, 20 August 1949

63. United Press correspondent, citing Peking Radio broadcast by Mao, 4 June 1949; see also SW IV, pp.397-8, 247

64. 27 February 1948, SW IV, p.203; also ibid., p.219

65. Ibid., p.203

66. See Ch’en Po-ta et al., On Industrial and Commercial Policy (Kuan-yu kung-shang-yeh te Cheng-tse), NCNA, Hong Kong bureau, Oct. 1949, pp.65-7, cited by Kenneth Lieberthal, Mao versus Liu? Policy towards Industry and Commerce, 1946-9, CQ49, July-September 1971, p.497

67. 8 Apr. 1948, SW IV, p.248

68. SW IV, p.248

69. Ibid., p.248