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The Contribution of the Organized Masses in Canton

The mass organizations have been credited by Marxist historians as being solely responsible for the victories of the Northern Expedition. On the other hand, these organizations are completely ignored in KMT military histories of the expedition. Somewhere between these polarized observa­tions lies the role of the organized masses—which term here will be restricted to labor unions and peasants’ associations. There were also student unions involved, but the students were intimately involved in the leadership of unions, peasants’ associations, parties, government, and the armies. These students will be considered as a part of these other groupings rather than as an organized “class,” since their numbers in given locations would not warrant their categorization as a class.

By the mid-1920s, students, as part of a growing portion of Chinese society knowledgeable in modern ways, were becoming increasingly aware of the suffering of the vast lower stratum. Modern concepts of nationhood depended on the commitment of the lowest social element as well as the literati, so long the center of attention in Chinese society. Elsewhere patriotic citizens who identified their futures with a national future had released outpourings of creative energies, energies that had already been harnessed in Western countries. The power of Western nationalism capti­vated the visionaries among the modern Chinese elite. The miracles of railroads, steamships, telegraph, newspapers, and even radio were already beginning to add to the centripetal pulls within China. The new elite hoped to better utilize the modern means of nation building. Young activists could 174be energized through practically instantaneous press coverage of gripping events like the May Fourth Incident of 1919, Sun Yat-sen’s current plans, and the revolutionary outbursts of 1925 in the treaty ports—the great crucibles of change in modern China.

The KMT responded to the times with organized social programs de­signed to better the living standards of workers, peasants, child labor­ers, women, seamen, overseas Chinese, actresses, and other oppressed groups. The older KMT members had to learn to communicate with younger members whose blood boiled with nationalistic and socialistic impulses. New attitudes, concepts, and vocabulary percolated through the KMT and Chinese society from a broad range of sources—from the Anglo-American mission schools and new translations of Western works to the placards of the May Fourth demonstrators. Traditional social and political attitudes among the KMT cadre at Canton showed the various stages of erosion. In the early 1920s, in China as in other parts of the world, there were those who boasted that they were entirely liberated from the bonds of tradition.

Both the KMT and the new CCP were drawn into the process of nation building and closely related social concerns. The KMT approach, although rather amorphous, generally saw Chinese society as fractionated elements that should be brought into harmony through humanistic nationalism. Blaming foreign oppression and exploitation, KMT ideology called for the improvement of the “people’s livelihood” to correct the plight of the vast lower class. A large portion of the Party membership was comprised of sons of the new merchants of the treaty ports; their leadership role in society was sanctioned by the KMT emphasis on social equality. They were eager to replace an old system, which had relegated merchants to a position of low status. Although, in theory, the KMT did not call for placing any one social element above the others, in practice, leadership seemed naturally to fall to the modern educated—especially the “returned students” eager to implement their new-found theories as leaders of a new China. The Three People’s Principles were to be implemented somehow for social and politi­cal reform, not in a purging of society. Sun Yat-sen was, therefore, uneasy in his entente with the Russians and their CCP protégés, who were zealously committed to class conflict and violent struggle.

The Labor Movement at Canton

KMT labor organizing at Canton by 1920 reflected the Party philosophy and the influence of the American labor movement. Party activists spon­sored and supported unions more as a means toward the attainment of economic gains that as a source of political power.1 However, the political environment of Canton in the early 1920s did not provide the freedom needed for widespread unionizing. The economy of the city was still primarily that of a coastal entrepôt rather than a modern industrial city; thus, there were only limited numbers of factory workers and those in large-scale operations who could be readily unionized. The KMT was fairly successful with its movement among that sector—but it was a small begin­ning. 175 With the then known means of organizing, the KMT lacked access to the larger labor force split up in the traditional paternalistic workshops.

One group of workers in the modern sector available to KMT efforts proved to be those in the transportation industries. A large number of Kwangtung men shipped out on steamers home-ported in Hong Kong that plied the trade routes of Asia. By 1920, the KMT was able to sponsor the organization of these sailors in the Union of Chinese Seamen with head­quarters in Hong Kong. Under KMT direction, the union did lead a strike in 1922 against Hong Kong steamers, in which it managed to draw in related stevedores, employees, and even workers on the Canton-Kowloon Railroad. In achieving a 20 percent raise in wages, the eight-week strike exemplified the economic aims of the KMT labor leaders.2

During the strike of 1922, the KMT at Canton assigned Ku Ying-fen as strike advisor and Ma Ch’ao-chün as Party agent in the Seamen’s Union. Their backgrounds further illuminate the sources of Party leadership. Cantonese Ku Ying-fen had been one of the early Chinese students to go to Japan, where he studied law and economics. While in Japan, Ku, like many later KMT members and nationalists, had been drawn into Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary movement against the Ch’ing regime. Following the Revolu­tion of 1911, Ku Ying-fen had remained an active functionary in the KMT.3 Ma Ch’ao-chün, who eventually advanced to head the KMT’s Labor De­partment, was born in 1886 of a T’ai-shan (Toishan), Kwangtung, family with members in the United States. Ma had met Sun Yat-sen while on a trip to San Francisco in 1903, and the following year, while enrolled in the Meiji University, Ma joined Sun’s party. He later claimed participancy in the 1911 revolution. Ma also learned to fly, and in 1916 he flew a bombing mission for the Party against Yüan Shih-k’ai’s forces at Tsinan. From running a school of aviation for the KMT, Ma turned to labor organizing.4 Returning to his native Kwangtung, he began work with the KMT’s Mechanics’ Union, destined to become one of the Party’s strongest unions.

The Mechanics’ Union had been sponsored in 1919 by Party member and diplomat Wu T’ing-fang, whose son, C.C. Wu, continued his father’s work with the union.5 Gathering in skilled workers in the modern sector of the economy, the Kwangtung Mechanics’ Union operated both in Kwangtung’s urban centers and abroad in Southeast Asia where a mul­titude of provincials had settled. Both a provincial association and a work­ers’ union, its programs provided for housing, schooling, and medical care. Canton’s Mechanics’ Union operated dormitory facilities, schools, and a clinic, which were financed by the dues and donations of union members in Kwangtung and overseas. Union members also provided a source of finan­cial support for the KMT.6

Other workers’ organizations in Hunan, Hupei, Peking, Shanghai, and various treaty ports barely existed under the restrictions of repressive military regimes. As with various revolutionary organizations in China’s early twentieth century, unions assaulted the status quo most effectively from within the refuge of the foreign concessions. Outside, the sword of the warlord’s executioner slowed greatly the growth of unions. Even discount­ing 176 the arbitrary rule of the warlords, in all of vast China there were less then 2 million workers in modern factories and enterprises. In the early 1920s, KMT Party branches could do little more than nurture the infant union organizations and keep them alive.

When the CCP began its collaboration with the KMT in 1923, the situation, with such a limited proletarian class, was ripe for rivalry between them over the leadership of the labor movement. Since Marxist ideology made the role of the proletariat primary, the young CCP rapidly expanded its efforts to organize workers. Attracting workers with the promise of raising the economic incentives in their jobs, the CCP also aimed at using the workers as a base for its political power through its influence over unionized labor. In Moscow, the Comintern created Sun Yat-sen Univer­sity where several hundred Chinese students, selected throught the KMT and CCP apparatus, studied Marxist theory and techniques for organizing the masses.7

At this time the KMT was also in desperate need of means to build enough power to continue its existence among the military regimes of China. In the gloom of KMT despair after the long series of political failures in China, the success of the Bolshevik minority in Russia was not lost on the KMT. KMT civilian leaders devoted considerable attention to organiza­tional techniques, since experience had proven that they could not depend on warlord opportunists for support. In 1923 when Michael Borodin came to Canton via the Comintern grapevine, many of the KMT cadre valued this Russian expertise in political organizing more than the promised Russian material aid.8

During 1923 and 1924, the KMT and the CCP planned and laid ground­work for unions and peasants’ associations, and gained some experience in recruiting. But by 1925 there were still few “mass” organizations that were more than mere names. What first kindled modern nationalism and drew membership to the mass organizations of the Canton revolutionaries was the political heat generated in 1925 by the death of Sun Yat-sen, the May 30 “massacre” in Shanghai, more martyrs at Shameen, and the exciting launching of the Hong Kong-Kwangtung Strike against British im­perialism. The mass organizations blossomed rapidly in the “Red” heat.

This growth coincided with the expanding military presence of the KMT. With the increasing effectiveness of the Whampoa-trained Party Army and the proliferation of the “armies” within the KMT military confederation, Canton’s sphere of authority was expanded from the munic­ipal area to include the provincial countryside. On September 28, 1925, the Military Council launched the Second Eastern Expedition against Ch’en Chiung-ming and by mid-October had defeated him decisively at his Huichou stronghold on the East River. In that East River operation and in those into southwestern Kwangtung and Hainan, by late 1925, the succes­ses had been aided by the work of union members and peasants, as well as by cooperative natives.9 Organized civilians worked in corps that trans­ported military materiel, provided medical service, and propagandized. As the KMT military had expanded control outward, the Hong Kong Strike 177organization’s 200-man armed picket brigades had set up their own posts all along the Pearl River estuary—Fang-ts’un, Huati, Huang-sha, Shachi, Ch’en-ts’un, Taliang, Jung-ch’i, and Tanchou—and then southwest through Yanchiang, Shuitung, Leichou, Peihai, and Hainan Island. The domain the KMT had gained with the aid of the strikers, it had to share with the Strike Committee.

Using the strike organization, the CCP promoted further organizing of the seafarers of the coastal ports by the strike organization’s local branches. The CCP’s new Chinese Seamen’s Union grew by leaps and bounds. According to an article in the union’s periodical that reported its January 1926 national meeting, the union which “… previously had only been an empty title now had already become organized like an army.” The slogans promulgated for 1926 were:

Long Live the United Seamen of the World!

Long Live the Proletariat and the Liberation of the Oppressed Masses!

Long Live the World Revolution!

Knock Down the Capitalist Class!10

In 1925 during the period of the honeymoon between the KMT and its CCP collaborator, both sides profited from the alliance. The Eastern Expeditions, which had brought eastern Kwangtung into the KMT’s sphere, had also provided a greatly expanded sanctuary in which the CCP’s mass organizations could recruit members and mature. From this point on, the CCP peasants’ associations and unions moved away from KMT author­ity and were part of the rising tension that erupted into the March 20 Coup in 1926. The strike became expensive to the KMT, both financially and politically. This had been observed by the KMT’s Political Council as early as September 1925 when it had hoped for a settlement that would “… recognize our demands.”11

However, on September 28, 1925, when a delegation of Hong Kong merchants came to Canton to learn of those demands, the Strike Commit­tee claimed ultimate authority over the strike and quickly sent the “run­ning dogs” home.12 Then in December when the British consul at Canton requested the release of two Indian employees of a British firm from the Strike Committee’s prison, Canton’s Foreign Minister C.C. Wu was em­barrassed by his impotency in the matter.13 The Hong Kong-Kwangtung Strike, which in theory gave Canton’s Foreign Ministry leverage in dealing with the British government, in practice came to hamper Canton’s efforts due to the diverging aims of the Strike Committee. Ultimately, the strike helped to jeopardize the KMT alliance with Russia and the CCP, and the distractions it caused even outweighed the valuable Russian material and advisory aid. During the winter of 1925 and 1926, the strike apparatus proliferated and consolidated its influence on organized labor under the protective aegis of the KMT National Government—which became more and more uneasy about the nature of the organism it had helped to create.

Although the KMT could not forget the service the mass organizations had provided during the Eastern Expeditions, the economy of Kwangtung 178suffered as the level of disruptive political activities heightened. Wholesal­ers and businessmen with Hong Kong connections often found themselves in the East Park prison of the Strike Committee.14 With Kwangtung’s main deepwater port at Hong Kong, the province’s economy felt the effects of a blockade of all intercourse with Hong Kong. As strike pickets seized goods and people suspected of trafficking in Hong Kong merchandise or of shipping goods there, voices rose against the arbitrary confiscations and to condemn the pickets as “daylight bandits” who seized goods and then profited by their resale at the auctions authorized by the Strike Committee.15 When the strike pickets seized coal shipments bound for a provincial rail line, Canton’s Construction Ministry found that the line it had been promoting at T’ai-shan had to halt service.

Promising better economic incentives, the labor organizations affiliated with the Strike Committee grew, and strikes spread in many areas of the provincial economy. Striking workers soon became dependent on the union formed for them for their sustenance while unemployed. Moving rapidly into new areas of nonunionized industries, the Strike Committee cadre gathered an estimated 170,000 Cantonese workers into the framework of the CCP’s National General Labor Union (GLU) and into the Assembly of Delegates of the Hong Kong Strike organization.16 This rapid growth and the dynamic recruiting efforts strained relations with the existing KMT unions and other nonpartisan unions. Violent rivalry de­veloped over the control of workers and industries.

Neither side was adverse to the use of force to defend or further its interest. When muscle was needed, the unions under CCP patronage called on the Strike Committee, which dispatched units of strike pickets. The unarmed, nonpartisan unions found it difficult to coexist. When under threat, the older KMT unions of the Kwangtung General Labor Union called upon the Canton police. These confrontations pitted the power of the Strike Committee against the police, who symbolized KMT authority in Canton. By early 1926, the bipartisan system in Canton was under considerable strain. Claiming that Canton’s police chief Wu T’ieh-ch’eng continually used his police to aid the KMT’s KGLU member unions, the CCP and the Strike Committee considered Wu its archenemy.17 The CCP’s labor specialists were better trained in organizational technique and more aggressive in their actions; they were moving ahead well toward their goal of developing an all-inclusive national labor system responsive to CCP leadership through democratic centralism. KMT members could not ig­nore this growth of potential power that would be responsive to CCP influence. Even KMT members considered Leftist because of their sup­port of the CCP alliance “wavered” in their support of the strike and its proliferating organizations.18 The tensions ensuing from the polarizing labor movement ranked high among the causes of the growing ill-feeling between the KMT and CCP. While many in the KMT wanted the strike settled in order to get on with the military reunification of China, the CCP had linked its future as a proletarian movement with the strike’s con­tinuance.

179One of the first objectives in the coup Chiang unleashed on the morning of March 20 was the disarming of the Strike Committee. Following the orders of Whampoa principal Chiang, the cadets rushed to seal off the East Park strike headquarters by land and to cut off the East Park from the adjacent Pearl River at the bund.19 The leaders of the coup had anticipated possible joint resistance from the strike organization, Canton’s navy in the Pearl River, and Canton’s Russian advisors. At East Park, Chiang’s force disarmed 1,000 strikers and placed the area under martial law.20 In what may not have been a coincidence, the coup took place on the day on which the Strike Committee had scheduled an Assembly of Kwangtung Labor Delegates—which was postponed indefinitely. Several of the strike leaders were taken into custody as well.21

Although the inner motivations of the coup are still shrouded in mystery, one of the functions appears to have been to confront the recalcitrant Strike Committee and the CCP unions with a show of force that would encourage their obedience and subordination. That, in this case, the coup was to act as a warning rather than to initiate suppression of the CCP seems more likely since the strike headquarters was permitted to post notice of its reopening on the very evening of March 20.22 The cordon of Whampoa cadets around East Park remained only until March 22.23

From March 20 into May 1926, leaders of the KMT, CCP, and the Russian mission met to achieve a modus Vivendi for the polarized rev­olutionary movement. Although Stalin had his finger in several pies in China, with pro-Russian Feng Yü-hsiang losing his hold at Peking in the spring of 1925 Stalin could ill afford to lose Russia’s investment at Canton. At stake were the Hong Kong Strike, which had become, perhaps, Russia’s most powerful weapon against British capitalism, and the burgeoning mass organizations run by the CCP.24 The CCP needed this proletarian move­ment to legitimize its existence as a Marxist party in China.

Stalin insisted that the CCP continue the United Front with the KMT in the National Revolution. Ultimately, Moscow promoted an apology from the CCP admitting that in its revolutionary zeal it had worked with labor, independent of the KMT Left.25 Since Chiang obviously had military superiority, the Russians conceded that their side would not interfere with the military aims of the KMT. Thus, Chiang and his supporters removed known CCP members from the posts of KMT Party Representatives in the various army corps. In Chiang’s own First Army centered around Wham­poa, the anti-Communist Sun Yat-senist Society helped ferret out CCP members. However, in exchange for their removal from the military and from the departmental or ministerial level of the KMT Party and National Government, the CCP gained valuable concessions.

Partly through the leverage of Russian aid, the CCP gained the approval of the KMT to continue its organization of the masses. Thus, the strike was discussed, but if Chiang’s faction hoped to end it quickly they were unable to realize this hope. The Strike Committee continued to flourish and expand its constituency with the aid of its armed pickets. The arrangement following the coup allowed the peasants’ associations not only to continue 180under CCP leadership but to protect themselves with auxiliary armed antibandit forces.26 It was also conceded that the CCP would further utilize its expertise to extend KMT authority in rural Kwangtung through the organization of peasants. Symbolizing the elevation of the CCP’s role with the peasantry was the turning over to Mao Tse-tung of the Peasants’ Movement Classes, initiated by the KMT earlier.27 Mao’s new influence in the peasants’ movement was reflected within the KMT Party structure by his appointment as Secretary of the KMT Peasants’ Department.28

Peasants’ Associations in the Revolutionary Base

Preceding the March 20 Coup, the KMT had been active on its own in the organization of peasants. The KMT had its Peasants’ Department, the Peasants’ Movement Classes, and organized peasants’ associations claim­ing to represent 800,000 peasants. After the coup, the KMT did not exclude the CCP from the peasants’ movement, but rather seemed to have forced a transfer of CCP cadre out of their work in the armies and into work with the peasants. As a successful centrist, Chiang had to balance one faction against another, and it may be that he counted on the masses of organized peasants to check the smaller but strident faction of KMT anti-Communists. That Chiang did not repress peasant organization was evidenced in the mid-summer Second Kwangtung Delegates’ Conference representing the peasants’ associations, as well as in the uninterrupted program of the Peasants’ Movement Classes led by the Secretary of the KMT Peasants’ Department, Mao Tse-tung.29

Mao’s course convened a matter of days after the coup—in late March. The class met in a confiscated temple in P’anyü in the lush Pearl River estuary just south of Canton.30 The former Confucian temple is now, symbolically, a shrine to Chairman Mao. In 1926, 327 KMT and CCP activists with primarily rural gentry origins were recruited mainly through the students’ movement.31 As a result of the postcoup arrangement, all six instructors in the course were CCP cadre; leader Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-lai, Li Li-san, P’eng Pai, Shao Ch’u-nü, and Yün Tai-ying of the Shanghai Communist Youth Corps.32 All helped to weigh the course heavily in Marxist theory and technique.

Where the five preceding Peasants’ Movement Classes had related the peasantry to the Three Peoples’ Principles and the KMT, under Mao’s program only 12 hours of a total of 252 hours of classwork dealt with the KMT and Sun. P’eng Pai lectured on his work with the peasants’ associa­tions in his native hsien of Haifeng. His work dated back to the early 1920s when he was a part of Ch’en Chiung-ming’s provincial administration. Later in the program the class visited P’eng’s hometown where for two weeks it observed and worked with the peasants’ association (another 128 hours of practical work for the course).

The course books, too, showed the bias with less than one-third of the thirty books representing KMT doctrine, while the rest presented CCP and Marxist ideals. The instruction had more to do with rural political technique than agriculture. The curriculum aimed at producing cadre who could spread the message of Marxist socialism to the peasantry in their own language, not that of the literati, as witnessed by the lectures on folk songs, “sayings and idioms,” village education, and revolutionary art and song.181

Curriculum of the 1926 Peasants’ Movement Institute

Topic Instructor Hours of classwork and lecture
Three People’s Principles     6
History of the KMT     6
Problems of the Chinese Peasants   23
Peasant Village Education Mao Tse-tung   9
Imperialism Shao Ch’u-nü 14
History of the Chinese National Revolutionary Movement Shao Ch’u-nü   5
Social Problems and Socialism Shao Ch’u-nü   9
The Chinese Political Situation   12
The Chinese Financial and Economic Situation     4
Common Sense of Economics   18
The Soviet Situation   18
Outline of Chinese History Yün Tai-yin 16
Geography Mao Tse-tung   4
Chinese Labor Movement Li Li-san 17
Resolutions of the Second Kwangtung Representatives Assembly (early May 1926)   15
Situation of the Peasants’ Movement in Kwang-ning, Kao-yao, and Ch’ü-chiang Mao Tse-tung   6
The Peasants’ Movement in Haifeng and Tung-chiang P’eng Pai   4
The Military and the Peasants’ Movement Chou En-lai   6
Common Sense on Law     9
Statistics     9
Common Sense of Agriculture   16
Introduction to Peasant Village Cooperatives   10
Revolutionary History of Nations     9
Revolutionary Art   14
Revolutionary Song     4

Source; “The History of the Sixth Peasants’ Movement Class,” Chinese Peasant Monthly 9 (November 1926), which claimed that the actual instructional time totaled 252 hours.

The student body of more than 300 students divided up into thirteen seminar groups according to provincial origins or to assignments that 182studied peasant problems in their own provinces and regions. Of the thirty-six reports and seventeen publications that were tangible products of the class, the following topics are examples:

Rent Resistance, Lowering Rent, and Means for Relief

Nonpayment of Rent and the Demanding of Rent Money with Force

The Movements to Resist Rice Payments in Various Provinces

Tenant Relationships

Interest on Loans

Local Political Organizing

Societies and Bandits

The Sale and Influence of Foreign Goods.33

Besides its field trip to Haifeng, the class attended the Second Kwangtung Delegates’ Conference and then a hsien-level delegates’ conference rep­resenting the peasants around coastal Lufeng. A technique learned there was the issuance of admittance passes to delegates by the hsien committee, thus providing a means of controlling the membership in an assembly.34

The class was also divided up into units for training by military instruc­tors in the leadership of the antibandit or self-defense corps of the coun­tryside, a responsibility that had apparently been turned over to CCP di­rection as part of the KMT-CCP compromise. Thus, Mao’s curriculum included considerable practical work as well as formal instruction and resembles Mao’s later emphasion on work-study situations, as does consid­eration of the peasants’ associations as paramilitary units.

The graduates of the Sixth Peasants’ Movement Class under Mao show both the national scope of the Canton movement and the strength of Mao’s connections in Hunan and Central China. Of the graduates the following indicates the provincial origins in order of the size of the provincial con­tingents:

     Kwangsi 40 Anhui 15
  Hunan 36 Kiangsu 10
  Honan 29 Yunnan 10
  Hupei 27 Suiyüan   8
  Szechwan 25 Chahar   5
  Shantung 23 Jehol   4
  Kiangsi 22 Fengt’ien   2
  Hopei 22 Kwangtung   2
  Shansi 16 Kweichow   1
  Fukien 16    

With a surprisingly poor showing were the student contingents from the southern coastal provinces and the wealthy, populous provinces around the lower Yangtze.35 Apparently Kwangtung’s tiny contingent represented the maturity of the movement there, while Kwangsi, which had just been incorporated into the KMT sphere in March, had become the focus of new efforts. The first province to be traversed by the Northern Expedition would be Hunan, also Mao’s home territory. By the time the class graduated, Hunan had been liberated and was available for peasant or­ganizing.

183Kwangsi had been brought in through diplomatic overtures to its ruling generals whose authority Canton’s National Government legitimized. As provincial branch committee chairmen of the KMT and heads of the newly designated Seventh Army of the NRA, Huang Shao-hsiung and Li Tsung-jen had control over the new administrative apparatus that the KMT imposed—including the Peasants’ and Workers’ Department. When a plenary session to initiate peasant organizing convened at Nanning, Kwangsi, Huang and Li favored their own “local” gentry whom they nominated to lead the peasant movement. Excluded from leading the peasants, the CCP was frustrated in its organizational efforts in Kwangsi. The proletariat there was tiny and spread thin. By January 1, 1927, when the graduates of Mao’s class would have already set up their peasant movement in the provinces, only 8,000 peasants were recorded in Kwangsi’s peasants’ associations—despite the heavy enrollment of Kwangsi cadre in the course.36 Apparently the CCP’s efforts at mass organizing were more effective in a permissive atmosphere where the state protected and condoned the movements. The peasants’ and workers’ movements in Hunan, where initially the CCP had a good working rela­tionship with T’ang Sheng-chih, were tremendously successful from the spring of 1926 through to mid-1927, as had been the 800,000-member peasants’ associations of Kwangtung.

Mao’s experience in training cadre at the institute must have been invaluable. It allowed him a workshop in which to formulate theories and practices and most likely provided him later with a large group of graduates trained in work with peasants and potentially loyal to their teacher. Al­though the second-largest body of trainees were Hunanese (36), there were representatives from Kiangsi (22) and Fukien (16) who may have been helpful in the Chingkangshan Soviet of the 1930s, as the one hundred graduates from North China may have been in the 1940s. As fellow instruc­tors in the institute, Mao and Chou En-lai must have strengthened their ties, which remained functional into the 1970s.

The Union Movement in Canton after the March 20, 1926, Coup

The bipartisan compromise following the coup allowed the CCP the freedom it needed to unionize labor in Canton and the province. The strike organization was the heart of the movement. As early as a week following the coup, strike pickets had regained their confidence sufficiently to re­sume the seizure of goods and passengers en route to Hong Kong. On March 25, a picket launch fired on a British craft off Canton, wounding two foreigners and five Chinese passengers.37 By early May, a CCP specialist in unionizing noted that within the “past month or two” the movement “had developed very well.”38 With the Hong Kong Strike organization fulfilling such a valuable role for the Comintern and the CCP, the efforts of KMT leaders to end the strike met with frustration.

Flushed with victory following the coup, the anti-Communist Foreign Minister, C.C. Wu, had been optimistic that negotiations with British Hong Kong would be fruitful. The day of the coup, a letter under Wang Ching-wei’s signature reached Sir Cecil Clement, the governor of Hong 184Kong, proposing that each side appoint teams of three negotiators—a proposal duly implemented in April.39 As the April negotiations pro­ceeded, Canton police chief Wu T’ieh-ch’eng (another anti-Communist) attempted to neutralize the armed power of the Strike Committee by disarming the pickets—a move that the Strike Committee successfully dodged. Within the Canton government came the mandate that in order to bring the unions under closer surveillance, all unions must register all of their meetings with the police.40 As he had tried earlier in March, Chiang proposed bringing the strikers under government control by putting them on the payroll. In April, the KMT Central Head quarters announced that it had decided to favor the strikers with “work preferences” under the Whampoa Port Development Authority. One step further was a proposal that all unemployed strikers be transferred to the Whampoa project, and that Kwangtung landlords be taxed one-half an average month’s rent earnings to finance the port project.41

As the postcoup reconciliation evolved, the prime mover for a settle­ment of the Hong Kong Strike, C.C. Wu, fell as an element in the compromise and was forced into exile from Canton. The KMT’s CEC had not given in on their desire to end the strike. There was the reasoning that, if the Revolutionary Base’s economic foundation was to be a firm launching place for the avowed national reunification, a settlement must be negotiated. Of course the Communist labor movement was always a con­sideration. In early June another round of discussions began in Canton over the government’s policy on the strike. Included in the sessions were the new Foreign Minister Eugene Ch’en, Finance Minister T.V. Soong, Peasant-Labor Minister Ch’en Kung-po, and spokesmen for Kwangtung merchants.42 Observing that military expenditures were rising rapidly due to the pending expedition, on June 4, T.V. Soong warned that the Canton government might have to cut from its budget the $10,000 it funded to the Strike Committee daily if the strike were not settled soon. Other govern­ment members argued that the NRA was blocked by the strike from purchasing military supplies in Hong Kong. Because of that obstacle, the strike also made the regime especially dependent on Russian aid. When the negotiators did meet, although both the Hong Kong governor and the Canton representatives sought to reach an accord, they could not surmount the demands of the Strike Committee, which had the support of the Russians.

The Hong Kong government claimed that even with the aid of the local Chinese merchants it could not afford the year’s back wages that the Strike Committee demanded. The committee refused to budge from that position despite the alternative British offer of a loan for construction of railroads.43 As July progressed, Chiang postponed accompanying the Northern Expe­dition at the front so that he could see the strike negotiations through to a satisfactory conclusion.44 However, the Strike Committee remained un­moved and on the matter of back wages the talks again ended on July 23, 1926.45 Resigned to this impasse, on July 27 Chiang departed Canton for Shaokuan on the border.

185With the Strike Committee secure in its role, its union movement went into high gear during the spring and summer of 1926. With each new union striking for economic gains and recruiting members, Canton was more than ever convulsed by proletarian conflict. Contrary to Marxist ideology, most the struggle was that of workers fighting violently against other workers. Back in March just a week after the coup, a fracas broke out between the Communist stevedores’ union and a party of nonunion stevedores caught working near the Shameen bund. Five of the strikebreakers suffered death—some from stoning and some from drowning after being pushed from the bund into the river. Only when the conflict reached proportions of a riot did the police intervene.46 With the charged atmosphere of Canton contributing to a polarization of forces, the violence spread to the student movement. Two days after the riot on the bund, the Canton police had to be summoned again—to quiet a battle between the new Communist Student Union and the older Student Union, which was defending its authority.47 During the same spring that Chiang was centralizing KMT powers around himself in preparation for launching the expedition, the unions also grew in power. With his various sources of power, the new C-in-C could not seem to influence the union movement, which was under Russian patronage.

Labor elements appeared bent on capturing or disrupting the economy. An example of the disruptions to the private sector of the economy would be the April 12 incident in which armed pickets moved into the Takuang Dry Goods Store of Canton, drove out the employees, confiscated the stock, and locked out the owners.48 These pickets represented a newly formed Union for Workers and Clerks in Foreign and Chinese Dry Goods Stores of Canton, which announced in mid-April that it had taken over the jurisdiction of dry goods stores.49 Fear mounted among Kwangtung businessmen over the power of the strike pickets. A manufacturer claimed he held a shipping permit purchased from the Strike Committee, but that he had lost ninety-three cases of his product which was bound for Shanghai because the shipment was to pass through Hong Kong.50 The disruptions were not confined to the private sector of the Kwangtung economy.

Since the Strike Committee was trying to tie together all workers under the discipline of the GLU, a disturbance involving one union tended to bring in other unions. In April, when a policeman arrested a unionized truck driver in an accident with a pedestrian, not only did the transporta­tion union strike, but the Postal Workers’ Union also struck in sympathy.51 The union movement of the GLU struggled against the operations of the Canton government, regardless of the strains placed upon the Northern Expedition. When the typesetters who worked on Canton’s revenue stamps struck, the government issued a work order against the Lithog­raphers’ Union. However, returning workers were unable to pass through the picket line at the entrance to the building until the government called in the police.52 For the Strike Committee to have called a moratorium on those strikes that slowed the war effort would have deprived the union organizers of their most valuable means of gathering workers into unions. 186The most common pattern was for the union cadre to promote a strike, implemented by armed pickets, prior to unionizing an industry’s workers. Upon striking, the workers became dependent on the newly created union, which offered them material sustenance and the promise of higher wages, which “their” union could obtain.

The union movement in Canton during 1926 was a learning experience for both the CCP and the KMT. CCP organizational specialists polished their skills to a new brilliance as they put theory into practice. The KMT experienced frustrations with mass organizations not under its control. Within the National Government, labor problems seemed to involve all departments. During May and June, while Eugene Ch’en futilely tried to negotiate a strike settlement, Canton saw a succession of mass demonstra­tions and assemblies led by the Strike Committee, which claimed to represent hundreds of thousands of obedient workers, peasants, and stu­dents. The demonstrations openly demanded a long, protracted effort against the British imperialists. The Police Department of Canton had to deal with the violence of union pickets who “arrested” shop workers against police orders. Before Peasant-Labor Minister Ch’en Kung-po were placed charges that the Strike Committee and its union leaders were embezzling union funds and extorting fees from workers.53

The KMT searched for some means to bring the mass organizations back under KMT discipline. Ordering all unions and peasants’ associations to re-register, the Peasant-Labor Ministry hoped to establish control by withholding the legitimization of the greatly proliferated unions and peas­ant groups.54 The contradictions latent in the KMT’s all-class movement most troubled that ministry since it received the complaints of “persecu­tion” made by landowners and merchants. When the ministry ordered mass organizations to cease and desist from illegal acts against employers and landowners, it was ignored. One such act was the announced imposi­tion of a new rent system by a 60,000-member peasants’ association near Swatow under which the tillers were to keep 60 percent of the produce, and the remaining 40 percent would be split by the landowner and the peasants’ association.55 Since the ministry had no means of its own to implement orders, the problem found its way to the local Party member holding real power-General Ho Ying-ch’in who both headed the East River branch executive committee and commanded units of the First Army.

Ho used the army units under him to back up his orders prohibiting: law by union authority, intimidation of local officials by mass organizations, slanderous accusations, illegal seizure of arms from the rural self-defense groups (min-t’uan) by the new auxiliaries of the peasants’ associations, and the use of arms in mass demonstrations. Ho accused the union and peasant leaders of “interfering and overstepping” their authority merely because they held KMT membership.56

Many KMT leaders had come to view the “dual membership” of the CCP cadre within the KMT as a sham, since they seldom bent to the will of the KMT unless it suited the CCP’s best interests. In mid-1926, the autonomy of the Strike Committee was such that its members considered their organization to be “actually a revolutionary government.”57 Having failed 187with unenforced legislation and halfway police repression to curtail CCP activity, the KMT tried to gather its own mass support to counter the CCP masses. Using the ideal of the all-class union, the Party gathered a new alliance of workers, peasants, and merchants—a harmony of all social elements. The core of the movement included the earlier KMT organs: the KGLU, the Mechanics’ Union, KMT peasants’ associations, student unions, chamber of commerce and merchants’ associations. A mass rally of 100,000, over one-half of whom were union members, inaugurated the new alliance at the East Parade Ground on June 14, 1926, just one month prior to the launching of the Northern Expedition. Climaxed by fireworks and a night parade of lanterns and banners, the rally was intended to demonstrate the solidarity for the National Government emanating from the whole of society. Waving banners that proclaimed “Support the Na­tional Government and the Kuomintang,” the marchers paraded past the government buildings and KMT Central Headquarters.58

The KMT at Canton was apparently bidding for time—avoiding another direct confrontation with the Russians and the CCP over their collabora­tion in the National Revolution. Such an open quarrel could shatter the base from which the expedition was to be launched. It was hoped that once the KMT could move out of the Kwangtung base it would be more free of CCP-Russian influence. Many of the anxieties found their way to the office of Peasant-Labor Minister Ch’en Kung-po. Charges and complaints against the mass organizations had to be investigated and followed up with Ch’en’s only means of influence—more unheeded regulations. By late June, Minis­ter Ch’en faced the threat of strikes against: the National Government’s arsenal, the Canton-Kowloon Railroad over wages lost when the workers cooperated in the Eastern Expeditions of 1925, and all Canton restaurants, which the extralegal armed pickets of the waiters’ union planned to seal off. On June 28, when the National Government Committee ordered the Ministry of Peasants and Labor to restrain irregular picket actions, Ch’en felt his usefulness was ended.59 Frustrated and harassed by an insoluble dilemma, the Leftist resigned his post on July 6 and departed Canton with the expeditionary forces.60

At the time of Ch’en’s resignation in early July, he released to the press a list of problems in the labor movement that the Party would have to solve.

  1. The KMT had insufficient time to improve labor conditions.
  2. Union leadership had not followed KMT discipline.
  3. Labor struggled between two factions: the GLU and the KGLU.
  4. Unions lacked real interest in the workers, but charged them C$30-50 fees to join.
  5. More than one union in each industry.
  6. Ignorant labor leaders who exploited and plundered workers.
  7. Use of force by pickets in unionizing workers.
  8. Merchants played one union faction against the other.61

The portfolio of the Minister of Workers and Peasants went unfilled for nearly a month until the KMT appointed to it Ch’en Shu-jen who was committed to bringing the troublesome mass organizations into line. How­ever, 188 perhaps because of his intentions, the month of August saw inter-union violence in Kwangtung reach a new height.

Even that favorite of the KMT Left, Eugene Ch’en, still seeking to negotiate an end to the Hong Kong Strike, avoided the power of the Strike Committee so that he could utilize his diplomatic authority as plenipoten­tiary of the National Government “… free from labor interference.”62 When the Strike Representatives’ Assembly invited him to meet with them to discuss the British boycott, Foreign Minister Ch’en declined.63 By July, Ch’en felt constrained to negotiate secretly with the British rather than submit to the pressuring of the Strike Committee.64

Another KMT luminary to feel the frustration of dealing with the Strike Committee was Sun Fo, heir of Sun Yat-sen. He had been one of the negotiators in the postcoup talks with Hong Kong that had accomplished little. As Minister of Construction and then mayor of Canton, Sun failed in his attempts to bring the strikers under the authority of his offices as Party employees. In late June, Sun found himself drawn into a conflict between Canton’s foreigners and militant labor when pickets arrested the entire Chinese staff of the foreign-run Canton Customs Office. The employees had resisted joining the union with which the pickets were affiliated. When the Canton customs commissioner, a Mr. Bell, approached him, Mayor Sun Fo had to admit that he had no authority to interfere in picket activities.65 At the same time, strikers and two British armored cars in Canton exchanged gunshots when the British refused to surrender the shipment they were delivering to a British ship bound for Shanghai. These acts by Canton unions over which the KMT had no apparent control embarrassed the Foreign Ministry, which was angling with the foreign powers for recognition as the national government. Mayor Sun also had just been embroiled in efforts to force the strikers out of private buildings they had confiscated—a task that he turned over to the Canton police, the archenemy of the Strike Committee.66

Thus, the members of the KMT hierarchy in Canton had different opinions from those of the CCP as to the worth of the mass organizations when the Northern Expedition finally began in July 1926. For a KMT member, it seemed that while the strike organization and the peasants’ associations had been valuable during the Eastern Expeditions in securing Kwangtung, afterward they had turned to serving the CCP as it developed autonomous powers. From the CCP viewpoint, the collaboration with the KMT in Kwangtung had reaped rewards beyond all expectations for the Party and its mass organizations. Membership in the CCP and its mass organizations had burgeoned within KMT territory. However, since it was questionable whether this KMT permissiveness would continue once the KMT had moved out beyond Kwangtung’s limited resources and the dependence on Russian aid, the CCP and its Russian patrons feared the Northern Expedition. They criticized its launching as premature and resisted the National Government’s efforts to bring the tens of thousands of strikers into a relationship of subordination. First the Strike Committee had refused to release strikers for work on government projects, then, 189when it did agree grudgingly to send strikers on the expedition, it or­ganized only a few thousand for carrier duty under the Supply Corps of the expedition’s headquarters. That was but a tiny fraction of its potential. Both the CCP and the Strike Committee at Canton saw that a transfer of disciplined proletarians (hard to come by in China) to KMT jurisdiction would leave the committee and the CCP separated from the base of its power. The CCP was certainly not about to devote the energies of its mass organizations to the success of the KMT’s Northern Expedition, except where the CCP’s social revolution could be furthered.67


1. Kuowen (July 25, 1926), pp. 11-15. Paul Monroe, China: A Nation in Evolution (New York: Macmillan, 1928), p. 192, cites his observations of China in 1920 and 1921. 1st Workers Movement, pp. 187-188.

2. Wang Chien-min, vol. 1, p. 161. Chang Kuo-t’ao, vol. 1, pp. 228-230.

3. Kuowen (July 10, 1927), n. p.

4. Ma Ch’ao-chün chuan-chi [The biography of Ma Ch’ao-chün] (Taipei, 1966, mimeo­graphed), printed to honor Ma on his eightieth birthday.

5. Ma, Labor, vol. 1, p. 136.

6. Ibid., pp. 102-103.

7. Sheean, “Moscow,” pp. 468-486.

8. Interview with Sun Fo at Yangmingshan, Taiwan, May 25, 1966.

9. Ma, Labor, vol. 2, p. 401.

10. 1st Workers’ Movement, p. 182, copies Chung-kuo hai-yüan [Chinese seaman], 4 (March 1, 1926).

11. Teng Chung-hsia, p. 131.

12. Ibid.

13. SCMP (March 24, 1926), p. 12.318

14. SCMP (March 5, 1926), p. 1.

15. SCMP (March 6, 1926), p. 1.

16. Akimova, p. 233.

17. Teng Chung-hsia, p. 137.

18. Ibid., p. 141.

19. SCMP (March 22, 1926), p. 8.

20. HKDP (March 25, 1926), p. 5. SCMP (March 22, 1926), p. 8.

21. SCMP (March 25, 1926), p. 8.

22. HKDP (March 23, 1926), p. 5.

23. HKDP (March 25, 1926), p. 5.

24. Chung-kuo Kung-ch’an-tang ti-ssu-chieh erh-chung ch’uan-hui erh-ts’e chung-yang kuo-ta chih-hsing wei-yüan-hui yi-chüeh-an [Decisions of the 2nd enlarged central commit­tee of the CCP, 4th session] (Shanghai?: CCP July 12, 1926), p. 4. Hereafter cited as CCP 2nd Enlarged CEC Meeting.

25. Ibid., p. 5.

26. Ti-yi-tz’u kuo-nei ko-ming chan-cheng shih-ch’i-te nung-min yün-tung [The peasant movement during the first national revolutionary war] (Peking: People’s Press Agency, 1953). Hereafter cited as 1st Peasants’ Movement.

27. Ibid.

28. Interview with Ma Ch’ao-chün, Taipei, Kwangtung Provincial Association Hall, July 15, 1966.

29. 1st Peasants’ Movement, p. 38, copies in its entirety a passage from Chung-kuo nung-min yüeh-k’an [Chinese peasant monthly], No. 9 (November 1926). Hereafter cited as Chinese Peasant Monthly. The same passage is copied in Kung-fei huo-kuo shih-liao hui-pien [Collection of historical materials on the betrayal of the nation], vol. 1 (Taipei, 1961), pp. 133-136.

30. 1st Peasants’ Movement, p. 20.

31. Interview with Wang Chien-min, April 21, 1966, Mu-chia, Taiwan. According to the 1st Peasants’ Movement, p. 20, 318 graduated.

32. CCP Martyrs, pp. 79-81, gives Yün Tai-ying’s biography. Wang Chien-min recalled Yün as a leader of the Student Union of Wuhan during the preceding year of 1925.

33. Chinese Peasant Monthly, p. 21.

34. 1st Peasants’ Movement, p. 36, includes a photograph of the official admittance pass issued for the conference.

35. Chinese Peasant Monthly, p. 21, which presents the tally during July when those enrolled totaled 313; 14 more joined, but then 9 withdrew.

36. 1st Peasants’ Movement, p. 436, copies “Report on the Chinese Peasant Question,” dated January 1927.

37. SCMP (March 25, 1926), p. 12, and (March 26, 1926), p. 9, and (March 27, 1926), p. 9.

38. 1st Workers’ Movement, p. 188, copies Chang Ch’iu-jen, “Kuo-min cheng-fu-hsia-ti kung-jen yün-tung” [The workers’ movement under the national government] in Cheng-chih chou-pao, no. 10 (May 3, 1926).

39. HKDP (March 26, 1926), pp. 4-5. Teng Chung-hsia, p. 144.

40. HKDP (April 2, 1926), p. 5.

41. HKDP (April 17, 1926), p. 5.

42. SCMP (June 7, 1926), p. 8.

43. SCMP (July 26, 1926), p. 8. 1st Workers’ Movement, p. 148.

44. Kuowen (July 25, 1926), p. 26. SCMP (July 26, 1926), p. 8.

45. 1st Workers’ Movement, p. 148.

46. HKDP (April 5, 1926), p. 5, and (April 14, 1926), p. 5.

47. HKDP (April 8, 1926), p. 5.

48. Kuowen (July 25, 1926), pp. 11-17.

49. HKDP (April 17, 1926), p. 5.

50. HKDP (April 14, 1926), p. 5.

51. Ibid.

52. SCMP (June 1, 1926), p. 9.

53. SCMP (June 9, 1926), p. 9.319

54. SCMP (June 11, 1926), p. 8.

55. SCMP (June 14, 1926), p. 8.

56. Kuowen (July 25, 1926), p. 13.

57. Su Ch’ao-ch’eng, p. 12.

58. SCMP (June 16, 1926), p. 10.

59. SCMP (June 22, 1926), pp. 8-9, and (June 30, 1926), p. 8.

60. SCMP (July 26, 1926), p. 8.

61. SCMP (July 9, 1926), p. 8.

62. SCMP (July 12, 1926), p. 8.

63. SCMP (July 1, 1926), p. 8.

64. SCMP (July 6, 1926), p. 8.

65. SCMP (July 2, 1926), p. 8.

66. SCMP (June 28, 1926), p. 9.

67. Chang Kuo-t’ao, vol. 1, pp. 528-530.

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