Problems of Our Policy with Respect to China and Japan

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written 25 March 1926


[Leon Trotsky on China, New York 1976, p. 102-110.]

1. In the case of China we must take into consideration factors which fall into three categories: (a) China’s internal forces; (b) the militarist organizations which, while expressing China’s internal forces in one or another form, are to a great extent dependent upon foreign governments; (c) foreign imperialist forces on the one hand, and the forces of the USSR and the proletarian revolutionary movement on the other.

All of the difficulty in finding an orientation flows from the interrelation of factors in these three categories from which everything derives its internal logic and tempo of development.

Of course, in the development of a newly awakened country with a population of 400 million, domestic factors are, in the last analysis, decisive. We must base our fundamental orientation on the development of these internal forces, i.e., chiefly on drawing the peasantry into the revolution and ensuring that proletarian organizations are in the leadership. Our decisive advantage is that we have the opportunity to conduct in China a policy of great historic scope.

While doing this it goes without saying that we cannot ignore the struggle of the militarist groups with all its episodic ups and downs, but we must not allow these episodes to draw us away from our fundamental political line.

I. The International Orientation of the Chinese Revolution and the USSR[edit source]

1. There is no information which would make us think that there will be a pause, however temporary, in the development of the internal forces of the Chinese revolution. On the contrary, we have every reason to believe that in the period ahead the movement of the broad popular masses — of workers and peasants — will be developed and consolidated. We, for our part, must do everything possible to give this movement its maximum scope. But the international situation has become far more difficult in light of Europe’s well-recognized stabilization, the Locarno Pact, and particularly given the way the imperialists have posed the China problem in its full scope. Under these circumstances China’s leading revolutionary forces, and even more, the Soviet government must do everything possible to impede the formation of a united imperialist front against China. At the present moment Japan could become extremely dangerous to the Chinese revolution in view of both its geographic position and its vital economic and military interests in Manchuria. The Chinese revolutionary movement has approached that stage when the question of its relations with Japan takes on the greatest importance. It is necessary to try to gain a respite, and this means in fact to “postpone” the question of the political fate of Manchuria, i.e., to actually be reconciled to the fact that southern Manchuria will remain in Japanese hands in the period ahead.

2. This political orientation, which in no case means, of course, a cessation of the general political struggle against Japanese imperialism, must be submitted in its entirety for the approval of the Chinese Communist Party and the Guómíndǎng. It is necessary however to consider in advance how difficult it will be for the revolutionary elements and broad public opinion in China to accept this orientation in view of the intense hostility toward Japan. Nevertheless, this orientation is dictated by the internal needs of the Chinese revolution which, until there is a new revolutionary wave in Europe and Asia, will not be able to withstand a combined onslaught from the imperialists.

The interests of the Chinese revolution fully coincide in this case, as in others, with the interests of the Soviet Union, which needs an extended respite just as much as the Chinese revolutionary movement needs to gain time.

3. From what has been said it is clear that the orientation toward intensifying the contradictions between the imperialist powers in the Far East and above all the orientation toward coming to a certain understanding with Japan must be carefully prepared with respect to the general attitude of China’s revolutionary forces so that this policy will not be incorrectly interpreted by ill-informed elements as a sacrifice of China’s interests, for purposes of a settlement in Soviet-Japanese political relations.

4. To properly orient Chinese public opinion it is particularly important to recognize the need to strengthen revolutionary and anti-imperialist influence on the Chinese press, not only by creating new organs but by influencing those already in existence.

5. In the event that Manchurian autonomy is established, which is what Japan is trying to bring about, we should get Zhāng Zuòlín to give up his campaign into the South and generally to stop meddling in the internal 'affairs of the rest of China. Under no circumstances, of course, can we take the initiative or even indirect responsibility in this matter, but a clear understanding of the implication of Manchurian autonomy under the present conditions in itself dictates the necessary line of conduct for the leading circles of the Chinese revolutionary movement on the one hand, and for us on the other.

6. In view of the general political plan outlined above, it is now more important for us than ever before to eliminate all unnecessary, incidental, and secondary issues that disturb Chinese public opinion. There is absolutely no doubt that in the actions of the various departmental representatives there were inadmissible great-power mannerisms compromising the Soviet administration and creating an impression of Soviet imperialism.

It is necessary to impress upon the corresponding agencies and persons the vital importance for us of such a policy and of even such an external form of the policy in relation to China so that any trace of suspicion of great-power intentions will be eliminated. This line — based on the closest attention to China’s rights, emphasizing its sovereignty, etc. — must be carried out on every level. In every individual instance of a violation of this policy, no matter how slight, the culprits should be punished and this fact brought to the attention of Chinese public opinion.

7. We must in various ways openly declare: Our policy is based fully on sympathy with the struggle of the Chinese popular masses for a single independent government and for democracy. We reject, however, the idea of any kind of military intervention whatever on our part. The Chinese problem can and must be solved by the Chinese people themselves. Until the realization of a unified China, the Soviet government endeavors to establish and maintain loyal relations with all of the governments existing in China, central as well as provincial.

8. In Manchuria our diplomatic work must be wholly and completely transferred from Harbin to Shěnyáng.

9. We should negotiate with Zhāng Zuòlín on the following basis: It is clear to us that under the existing circumstances the Manchurian government must maintain good, stable relations with Japan. We will not encroach upon these relations. But at the same time it is to the Manchurian government’s advantage to maintain stable and peaceful relations with us, thereby guaranteeing itself a certain independence in relation to Tokyo.

During the negotiations we must point out to Zhāng Zuòlín that certain Japanese circles are ready to have him replaced with another buffer general, but that we see no reason for him to be replaced with another person while normal relations exist.

10. Working out a strictly businesslike administrative structure for the CER [Chinese Eastern Railroad] is the basic element in negotiations with Manchuria, i.e., an explicit procedure for settling (on an equal footing) all contested or disputed questions; in the event of any complications turning the question over to Shěnyáng.

Simultaneously our railway administrator, the consul in Harbin, and the consul general in Shěnyáng will be instructed that any attempt by the railway authorities to solve problems unilaterally, over the head of the Chinese authorities or — even worse — by means of ultimatums to the latter must be punished without mercy.

11. Following an agreement with Zhāng Zuòlín and the corresponding recognition of this agreement in Běijīng, an effort should be made to have a Chinese-Japanese-Soviet railway conference called with the aim of all three powers working out a joint economic and construction plan for the railroad in Manchuria, and an economic agreement concerning Manchuria based on full respect for mutual interests and rights.

12. While strictly keeping the actual apparatus of the CER in the hands of the Soviet government — which in the next period is the only way to protect the railroad from imperialist seizure — it is necessary to immediately adopt broad measures of a cultural-political nature aimed at the Sinification of the railroad, (a) The administration should be bilingual; station signs and instructions posted in the stations and in the cars, etc., should be bilingual, (b) Chinese schools for railroad workers should be established combining technical and political training, (c) At appropriate points along the railroad, cultural-educational institutions should be established for the Chinese workers and the Chinese settlements adjacent to the railroad.

13. It is necessary (for Comrade Serebryakov) to check whether turning the railroad directly over to the People’s Commissariat of Communications could be interpreted by the Chinese as a step toward our unilateral seizure of the railroad.

All details of changing the railroad’s administrative structure must be carefully thought through and worked out with the appropriate Chinese authorities.

14. We must take advantage of the present moment, while our activity on the railroad is totally unencumbered, to conduct a purge of the CER over a month-long period in accordance with the Politburo’s decision … transferring the elements of the administration and the workers who are of little use or who have compromised themselves to the railroads of the Soviet Union and replacing them in Manchuria with workers from the central railroads who are thoroughly reliable and politically educated.

15. On the other hand, it is necessary right now to carefully compile (and subsequently examine) all cases of tyranny and violence on the part of Chinese militarists, police, and Russian White Guard elements against Russian workers and employees of the CER, and also all cases of conflict between Russians and Chinese on national-social grounds. It is also necessary to devise the course and means for defending the personal and national dignity of Russian workers so that conflicts on this basis, rather than kindling chauvinist sentiments on both sides, on the contrary, will have a political and educational significance. It is necessary to set up special conciliation commissions or courts of honor attached to the trade unions, with both sides participating on an equal basis, under the actual guidance of serious communists who understand the full importance and acuteness of the national question.

The means for protecting the railroad employees from the tyranny of local Chinese authorities must be worked out in an appropriate agreement (with Shěnyáng and Běijīng) and furnished with all of the necessary organizational guarantees.

In this regard it is necessary to issue instructions and proclamations in Russian and Chinese and distribute them along the railroad line, posting them in the stations and similar premises as well as in the cars.

16. The staff of the consulate general in Harbin should be reorganized to conform with the policies described above.

17. One of the points of the agreement with Zhāng Zuòlín (and later on with Japan) should protect People’s Revolutionary Mongolia from Zhāng Zuòlín's encroachments.

18. Instead of immediately starting joint negotiations with Japan, we should concentrate on actually improving relations by carrying out all of the measures outlined above, and by influencing Japanese public opinion accordingly; and the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs shall be instructed to work out systematic measures in keeping with this approach. Without deciding beforehand the form of a possible tripartite agreement (USSR, Japan, China) the ground should be prepared politically and diplomatically in such a way that it will be impossible for the Chinese to interpret any concessions China may find itself temporarily forced to make to Japan as a division of spheres of influence with our participation. Chinese public opinion, especially in left-wing circles, should be made well aware that the only Chinese concessions to Japanese imperialism that we are prepared to tolerate are those necessary for the popular revolutionary movement in China itself in order to defend itself against a united imperialist offensive. With this perspective the possible joint negotiations should have as their aim, at the cost of some concessions, driving a wedge between Japan and Britain

19. In case it turns out that the people’s armies have to surrender ground to Wú Pèifú for a long period, it may prove expedient to try to reach an agreement with the latter in order to weaken his dependence on Britain while at the same time carrying out an ongoing struggle against Britain, the main and implacable foe of Chinese independence.

20. With regard to the people’s armies it is necessary to conduct comprehensive political, educational, and organizational work (in the Guómíndǎng and Communist Party) in order to convert them into an effective stronghold of the popular revolutionary movement, independent of personal influence.

21. Guǎngzhōu: During a period of slow development of the revolutionary movement in China, Guǎngzhōu has to be considered as not just a temporary revolutionary beachhead, but also an enormous country with a population of 37 million. It needs a correct and stable economic and political administration. The Guǎngzhōu government should concentrate all its efforts on strengthening the republic internally by means of agrarian, financial, administrative, and political reforms; by drawing the broad popular masses into the political life of the South Chinese Republic, and by strengthening the latter’s internal defensive capacity.

The Guǎngzhōu government should in the present period emphatically reject any idea of an aggressive military campaign and, in general, any activity that would push the imperialists onto the path of military intervention.[1]

Note: Inquire of Comrade Rakovsky whether there is some chance for the Guǎngzhōu government to arrange either officially or unofficially some kind of modus vivendi with France, and if it would not be expedient to send a representative of the Guǎngzhōu government to Paris with the aim of sounding out the French government along this line.

22. In view of the fact that in a whole number of resolutions that have been adopted there are components that urge the leadership of the Guómíndǎng to assume a cautious and yielding stance on questions raised and meticulously outlined here, in order to avoid any kind of political deviation whatever from the general line, it is necessary to thoroughly explain that such concessions as are made necessary by circumstances must in no way reduce the revolutionary scope of the movement or curtail the broadest agitation either in China or beyond its borders for purposes of assisting the revolutionary movements of the neighboring oppressed colonial countries, etc., etc.

23. In view of the fact that the Chinese reactionaries, at the instigation of the imperialists, have demanded that Comrade Karakhan be recalled, we must recognize the necessity for organizing a very energetic political campaign in China (and as much as possible in other countries, above all in Britain and Japan) against this outrageous demand, explaining the meaning and content of the liberation policy Comrade Karakhan has been pursuing as a representative of the Soviet Union.

II. Railroad Problems in Manchuria[edit source]

1. It would be advisable to postpone the Manchurian railroad conference until attitudes toward the CER have improved.

2. On railroad construction the CER should make preliminary arrangements with Shěnyáng, keeping in mind that the USSR cannot proceed independently with railroad construction in Manchuria.

3. For the purpose of expanding CER railroad construction, expenditures on CER improvements should be cut back so that all available resources can be diverted toward construction.

4. The plan advanced by the People’s Commissariat of Communications for CER construction should be adopted.

5. For the construction of the individual spur tracks it would be advisable to form joint-stock companies that can attract local Chinese capital, with the Chinese taking the initiative wherever possible.

6. The CER should not restrict its tasks to laying spur tracks, but should also project the construction of paved roads for automobile transport and the development of shipping.

7. The CER should try with every means available to prevent the Japanese from constructing railroad lines to its north and also toward Hǎilún and to prevent linking up railroad lines such as the Kirin line with the CER.

8. In order to exert pressure on Japan we should spread information that we are constructing railroads from China across eastern Mongolia.

9. Our aim should be to begin work as soon as possible on a railroad running from Verkhneudinsk to Urga and Kalgan, and from Khabarovsk to Sovetskaya Gavan.

10. The People’s Commissariat of Communications should be instructed to ascertain what kind of disagreements between the CER and the Southern Manchurian Railroads on the questions of tariffs, rebates, or cost reductions on poor-quality goods, and freight distribution should be brought up at the conference of the governments.

11. We should reply in the following manner to Dobuchi in connection with Comrade Serebryakov’s trip: that the problems facing us will be ascertained on the spot since Serebryakov will personally visit Tokyo. After that our side will make concrete proposals aimed at settling disputed questions and eliminating friction on the basis of principles of mutual respect for the interests of all three parties concerned.

III. On Japanese Immigration[edit source]

When resolving the question of Japanese immigration to the Soviet Far East we must take into account the intense interest the Japanese public is showing in this matter. However, in view of the danger of Japanese colonization in the Far East, every step we take will have to be cautious and gradual. It is premature at this time to fix the number of Japanese immigrants who are to be allowed into the USSR, but, in any case, Japanese immigration should not be large. It should be strictly regulated and should result in the breaking up of Japanese-controlled resources by means of a special agency set up for that purpose. The Japanese colonists should be settled in a checkerboard fashion, being alternated with a reinforcement of colonization from central Russia. The land that is parceled out should be acceptable to the Japanese peasants and should be suited to the peculiarities of Japanese agriculture. There are areas of land suitable for the Japanese colonists in the vicinity of Khabarovsk and further south, but not in the Siberian interior. We must not allow Korean immigration into these regions under the pretense that it is Japanese. The question of Korean immigration must be examined separately. The Koreans can be granted land that is considerably farther into the depths of Siberia.

  1. * Stalin’s amendment — L.T., March 25, 1926.