CHINA: Wang Fanxi's revolutionary life

Issue 

BY
EVA CHENG

Wang Fanxi died in Leeds, England, on December 30. Born in 1907,
Wang became politically active during the anti-imperialist upsurge in China
in the 1920s and participated in the revolutionary communist movement there
for almost three decades. Long persecuted for his anti-Stalinist activities,
even before Communist Party of China (CPC) took power in 1949, Wang was
forced into exile in Macao in 1949, where he lived for 26 years. He spent
the last 27 years of his life in Leeds.

Wang didn't pass away in obscurity. He was deeply respected by the newer
generations of anti-Stalinist fighters in Hong Kong (which was reintegrated
back into China in 1997) and beyond.

In exile, Wang produced political analyses of China before and after
the revolution 1949 from an anti-Stalinist perspective, providing a valuable
source for young Chinese activists. His main work, Wang Fan-hsi: Chinese
Revolutionary, Memoirs 1919-1949,
is a rare first-hand account by a
significant participant in the Chinese revolutions, free from the pressure
and bias of having to tell the “victor's” story. It was first translated
and published in English in 1980, then in Japanese, French and German.

Terrified, but not totally surprised, by the purges in China since the
1950s, which peaked during the 1960s Cultural Revolution, Wang's main observations
were later published in Studies on Mao Tse-tung Thought under the
pseudonym of “Shuang Shan”.

One of Wang's most recent analyses, a rebuttal of Tang Baolin's falsifications
in his History of Chinese Trotskyism, appeared in Gregor Benton's
1996 book, China's Urban Revolutionaries: Explorations in the History
of Chinese Trotskyism, 1921-1952.
Throughout his exile, Wang maintained
active contact with revolutionaries from anti-Stalinist and Trotskyist
traditions, especially those sympathetic to the Fourth International.

Wang was born in Hsia-shih near Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province,
four years before China's emperor system was overturned by the 1911 revolution.
The aftermath of China's first wave of anti-imperialist struggle in 1919
impacted on Wang. Awoken by the massacre of striking workers and students
in 1925 in Shanghai, Wang dived into the wave of anti-imperialist mobilisations
that swept China between 1925-27 and joined the underground CPC in Beijing.
Revolutionary activities then took him to Quangzhou and Wuhan, revolutionary
centres of the time.

Under the direction of the Stalin-dominated Comintern, the CPC schematically
believed that China was confronting a bourgeois revolution and therefore
it must be led by China's bourgeois party, the Kuomintang (KMT), headed
by Chiang Kai-shek. In the “united front” with KMT, the CPC was in fact
politically subordinate to it. In the wake of repeated massacres of strikers
by Chiang's army, the CPC's ranks were left utterly demoralised and confused.

To preserve its forces, hundreds of CPC cadre were sent to Moscow for
“study” and recuperation. Wang was one of them. It was late 1927, at the
height of the Left Opposition's struggle against Stalin's control of the
Soviet leadership. One of the main debates was on the 1925-27 Chinese revolution.
A majority of the Chinese party members in Moscow (including Wang) were
won to the Left Opposition, which was led by Leon Trotsky.

In Moscow, Wang and his comrades also got a first-hand glimpse of the
emerging bureaucratisation of the Russian Revolution and of Stalin's political
and organisational intrigues — especially of how Stalin groomed stooges
who would later be manoeuvred into leading positions in the CPC. Under
Stalin's direction, not only did the CPC refuse to acknowledge the defeat
of the 1925-27 revolution, but it pushed workers nearer to Chiang's murderous
firing squads by undertaking adventurous “uprisings” to meet its projections
of new “revolutionary upsurges”.

Wang and other Chinese oppositionists returned to China in the late
1920s convinced of the need to work within the CPC as a faction to try
to win others to their perspective. Wang worked intensely for five years
within the CPC, mostly under Zhou Enlai (who would later become Chinese
premier, until 1975), before being expelled. Escalating persecution then
forced the Chinese Left Opposition to leave the CPC to found the Communist
League of China in 1936.

Four rival groups emerged from among the oppositionists in 1930; Wang
was a leader of the October group. The groups unified in 1931, but a month
later almost the entire leadership body was arrested. The remaining comrades
continued to organise. Wang was jailed between 1931-34 — and tortured —
and again until the Japanese imperialists launched a full-scale attack
on China in 1937.

Despite the setbacks and their group's small size, the united oppositionists
were active in some urban areas during the 1930s and drew more people into
their ranks. Chen Duxiu, renowned leader of the 1919 May Fourth Movement,
also joined them. As a key leader, Wang collaborated closely with Chen
at different periods.

Since the late 1930s, the Chinese Trotskyists were able to deepen their
political education through periodicals and publications. Wang played a
central role in these tasks, leading as well as a political writer and
thinker.

In 1941, conflicting assessments of the Pacific war split the Chinese
Trotskyists into the Revolutionary Communist Party and the International
Workers Party of China. Wang was in the latter. Early in 1949, when the
CPC victory was imminent, Wang's group decided to stay in China and fight,
but sent Wang to set up a backup coordinating centre outside China in Hong
Kong. However, Wang was expelled from there four months later and fled
to Macao.

In December 1952, a few hundred of Wang's comrades who were still in
China were arrested in one big operation. Their fate remains unknown. Twelve
were released in 1979, a few years after Wang was expelled from Macao.
In Leeds, his new place of exile, Wang reestablished contact with some
of them for the first time in 27 years.

Wang's optimism was impressive. He wrote in 1980: “Now that I'm approaching
the end of my life's journey, I cannot but feel happy to find that what
appears before me is not the darkness after sunset, but the bright glimmering
of daybreak.”

From Green Left Weekly, January 29, 2003.

Visit the Green Left Weekly
home page.



If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left, a vital social-change project, makes its online content available without paywalls. But with no corporate sponsors, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month we’ll send you the digital edition each week. For $10, you’ll get the digital and hard copy edition delivered. For $20 per month, your solidarity goes a long way to helping the project survive.

Ring 1800 634 206 or click the support links below to make a secure payment.