LAND AND REVOLUTION
27. The Peasant Speaks
AFTER V-J Day when the Communist party decided it dared struggle against
Chiang Kai-shek, it soon appeared that their power resources were insufficient
for opposing the Kuomintang state apparatus, and it became necessary for
the party to require the almost total participation of the people in the
war. In whose name could the Communists make such a demand? In the name
of socialism? Communism? Emphatically no. It had to be in the name of
the masses themselves. Such an abstract rallying cry, however, could only
be effective when it was rooted in a definite material program. This program
was found in the Communist land-reform policy.
First of all, in a revolution, it is necessary to understand the peasant,
not only as a human being, but as a political animal. Because he is isolated
from the rest of the world a peasant generally cannot raise his political
horizons beyond the boundary of his fields. For this reason, as Leon Trotsky
noted, he is implacable in his struggle against the landlords but most
often impotent against the general landlord incarnate in the state. "Hence
his need," said Trotsky, "to rely on some legendary state against
the real one." These remarks are applicable to China. In olden times
the peasantry created such pretenders to the throne as the 108 immortal
heroes of the Shui Hu Chuan, and during the Taiping Rebellion, they rallied
around the idea of a Peaceful Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. (1)
Yet, far from losing the support of the peasants and going to pieces, the Communists planted themselves more firmly in the hearts of the farmers and grew stronger. Why? What was the difference?
|原注一：太平天国的领导人洪秀全，是一个以救世主自居的落魄秀才，跟一个早期新教徒学了一些教义。他主张推翻满清统治，建立“人间的天堂”——太平天国。||(1) The leader of the Taiping Rebellion, Hung Hsiu-chttan, a poorly educated scholar of messianic vision, who had met an early Protestant missionary and become a Christian, advocated the overthrow of the Mancbus and the establishment of Tai Ping Tien Kuo - the Peaceful Kingdom of Heaven.|
The answer can be found almost entirely in conditions produced by the
Japanese war. Trotskyites were horrified, not at the fact that the Communists
submitted to the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, but that they gave up
"the heart of their program" to obtain an alliance. This seemed
to them like a complete betrayal of the revolution. But in fighting the
Japanese there was no question of making a revolution, there was only
a question of existing. Doomed as they were to fight in the heart of enemy
territory, surrounded on all sides by hostile forces, the only way the
Communists could even remain alive was to find bases among the people.
To have started a class war would have endangered these bases.
In taking to guerrilla warfare, which depends almost entirely on the people, the peasant also learned to distinguish between friend and foe. Because of all these circumstances, the abandonment of the revolutionary land program did not have such unrevolutionary results as might have been expected from first glance.
Nevertheless, the Communist program did alienate some of the poor peasants, the tenants and the long-term workers. From bitter experience the peasant had learned to distrust any intellectual who came to his village with fine promises. Only if you gave him land did the poor peasant think you meant business. When the Communists abandoned land confiscation and told the tenantry and the rural workers that they must forget about the landlords and fight the Japanese, these dispossessed men saw behind such fine promises nothing but the ancient double cross. "Fang kuo pi" ("dog-wind-blowing"), they muttered under their breath and went on their way.
Despite all the importunities of the poor, the Communists resolutely
kept the land from the peasants and merely went ahead with a rent-reduction
program based on Kuomintang legislation passed in 1926, which cut all
rents by one-quarter. Outwardly, this identified the Communists with the
Kuomintang. The difference, however, between the Kuomintang was that cadre
tried to enforce rent-reduction regulations. When the peasant saw this,
he stopped and turned around. Here was a different kind of official.
When these two forces in the villages saw that they could hold landlords accountable for specific deeds of exploitation, they began to go further and demand compensation for other forms of exploitation not necessarily connected with land rents - such as surtaxes, grain levies and labor requisitions. If the landlord saw the ground slipping beneath his feet, there was not much he could do about it. The very farmer who was most active in demanding rent reductions was often an armed militiaman who wanted recompense for the time spent from his fields in guarding the village from the Japanese. Short of turning over to the enemy and calling in his troops, the landlord was, while not powerless, hamstrung.
In the meantime the peasant demand swelled until it shaped into mass movements, centered around Accusation, Speak Bitterness and Struggle meetings. These were destined to become the organs of the Chinese Revolution.
| Every social revolution, as distinct
from a palace revolt, is truly creative. Out of the urgent necessity to
escape from the blind alley where society has cornered them, people in times
of revolution invent entirely new forms and methods by which they can struggle
to power. So these various organs created by Chinese peasants themselves
suggested to the Chinese Communists a way they might most effectively reach
It is impossible to overestimate the significance of these primitive organs of public opinion. They were not unions, not soviets, not even councils. They were merely instruments whereby the peasant could speak his mind in public and pour out his troubles to a host of sympathetic listeners. This in itself was revolutionary. An old saying in Shansi that "poor man has no right to talk" was literally quite true. A tenant, if he were unaffihiated with a secret society and had no connections with someone of influence, was not a man at all; he was a mere cipher in a landlord's rent equation. Most often, this humble beast did not even have a name, but was called by some aspect of his physical features. Scarface, Crooked Head, Lop Ear - the number of these nameless creatures was legion in the land. For such a man to stand up and speak before his fellow villagers, both rich and poor, constituted by its very nature a revolutionary break with the past. In the same moment that he burst through the walls of silence that had enveloped him all his life, the peasant also tore asunder the chains that had bound him to feudalism. Awkwardly at first the words crawled from his throat, but once the first word passed his lips, there came gushing forth, not only an unarrestable torrent of speech, but the peasant's soul.
Time and again, in village after village, I have heard these farmers confessing their bitterness to avid listeners. A poor peasant climbs to his feet and tells how his father died of starvation because the landlord took his crops to pay a loan made at an interest rate of 100 percent. Or a landless widow with two children who makes her living from spinning gets up and says: "Look, I have no man, no land. In one year I cannot harvest two catties of cotton. They say I must pay a levy of five catties. But when I cannot get it, they make me give them my children to work for them. Just look at me! I am a woman, but I must work as a man. But I am woek from hunger and I cannot work well. So I am beaten." and she breaks into tears. Tears of relief, as well as anguish, I might add; for at last in her own people she has found the priest to whom she can cry out her sorrows.
This psychological medal had its reverse social side. For as one man tells his troubles, another listens and identifies his own troubles with the words of the speaker. "My God!" he says to himself, "that happened to me, too." Or, as often happened, one peasant would interrupt another. "That you say is all well enough; but listen to me, my bitterness is much more." By such methods, the typically selfish peasant began to identify himself with other men. He began to generalize politically, to see himself both as an individual and as a part of society. For the moment, however, he confined himself to struggling against conditions in his own village.
| The methods of struggle varied according
to local conditions. The methods and forms also changed at various stages
of the struggle. But in general the early struggles had two stages. In the
first stage the peasant was still testing out his new-found powers of speech.
In the next stage, he demanded more sweeping reforms. Both tenant and rural
workers had started out by recognizing the landlord as boss, but as soon
as they saw the possibility of abolishing all landlords and taking the land,
the tenant and the worker ceased to be interested in questions of rent or
higher wages. They wanted land of their own. And at once.
During the war, many landlords had gone over to the Japanese and the demands of the people in these villages were particularly insistent. Toward the end of the war, the Communists gave in to some of these demands, but on the whole they were able to keep the peasants in line as long as the Japanese remained near at hand. With the Japanese surrender, however, poorer peasants could no longer be put off with talk. The Communists had awakened them to their rights and they wanted them. This demand spilled over into areas liberated from the Japanese and soon reached a threatening chorus.