SCALAPINO, R and G.T. YU. The Chinese Anarchist Movement -8-


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Ou Sheng-pai vs. Ch’en Tu-hsiu

These problems with the work-study movement in France were complicated when Marxist-Leninists began to try to take control of the Chinese student movement. The Anarchists had hoped that many students would feel the pull of the same ideological and political currents that had captured them a decade or more earlier. The impact of this program was very substantial and some of the students of this period did gravitate toward Anarchism.

But, according to Liang Ping-hsien, the Chinese Communist Party began to organize in France during this period. [1] By 1922, the chief worker-student organization, the Work-Study Mutual Assistance Group, was controlled by Communist students. [2] In the winter of 1921, certain worker-students led by Wang Jo-fei, Chao Shih-yen, and Ch’en Yen-nien, organized a Socialist Youth Corps in Paris. It attracted a number of members and immediately established contact with the embryonic Chinese Communist Party which had held its first Congress in July 1921. In August 1922, this Corps served as the nucleus for the organization of a Main Branch of the Chinese Communist Party in Europe. [3] Chou En-lai came from Germany to Paris especially to participate in the founding meeting, and was elected a committeeman along with such other students as the three Youth Corps leaders mentioned above. The Chinese Anarchist students engaged the Communists in heated debates, but the latter were steadily gaining ground.

Indeed, after 1920, Communism became a truly formidable opponent to Anarchism, and the crescendo of debate within "progressive" circles rose. For the Communists, Ch’en Tu-hsiu quickly emerged as the leading spokesman. He fought one lengthy literary duel with the Anarchist Ou Sheng-pai, and fortunately their exchanges have been preserved. [4] To read them is both fascinating and instructive.

Let us first examine some of Ch’en’s major arguments against Anarchism as presented in these writings. One line of attack was that Anarchism had neither the capacity to wage successful revolution nor the capacity to hold power successfully in the aftermath of a revolution. [5] Revolution, he argued, could not be advanced by reliance upon separate, atomized units of undisciplined men. And if in the aftermath of a revolution, Kropotkin’s system of free federation were adopted instead of Lenin’s dictatorship of the proletariat, the Capitalists would soon regain their position. Frequently, Ch’en concerned himself with the nature of man and the basis of authority, those two most central questions to all political theory. Both he and Li Ta found the Anarchists too optimistic regarding human nature and too pessimistic regarding things political. [6] Not all men tended to be good, and even among those with such proclivities, many could not be reached by education during the Capitalist era. Some men were evil and reactionary; they could not be reformed. Until such men had been extinguished, any attempt to rule by virtue and education alone was unrealistic. Moreover, even people who could be salvaged eventually, were not to be trusted immediately after the overthrow of the old order. Thorough enlightenment - proper education - these things were not possible while militarists, tyrants, and Capitalists were in control. [7]

Ch’en made some surprising statements about mass movements and revolutions truly in the hands of the common man. He acknowledged that the "May 4th Movement" had had beneficial results. But most mass movements were ugly and irrational, like the Boxer Rebellion. Mass psychology was a blind force. "No matter how great a scientist one may be, once he is thrown in with the masses, he loses all sense of reason." [8] Ch’en was attempting to answer the Anarchist argument that a free society should be controlled not by laws but by the public will, as developed through "town hall" meetings and voluntary associations. "The public will," argued Ch’en, thrives on emotionalism and can be built up through the skillful application of pressures. What is enlightened about the collective judgment of ignorant men?

Some of Ch’en’s most trenchant remarks were directly aimed at the Chinese people. They were guilty of corruption and backwardness. If they were to be saved, there had to be "strict interference" in economic and political matters There had to be an "enlightened despotism" both in name and in fact. The chief obstacle to this was the "lazy, wanton, illegal sort of free thought that forms a part of our people’s character." [9]

Ch’en was Leninist in his rather extensive defense of authority and the state, and in his conspicuous doubts concerning the common man. Above all, he was Leninist in his espousal of vanguardism, an intellectual vanguardism that would shape and guide the common man until he could be trusted. There is no better way to see the authoritarian elements in Communist theory than to read the Communist polemics directed against the Anarchist. Ch’en pursued another theme with vigor Anarchism would have man return to primitivism. Economically, it would take him back to the era of handicraft industries. Politically, it would remove him to the days of tribalism. [10]

Ou Sheng-pai struck back at Ch’en forcefully. He argued that Syndicalism was a feasible method both of conducting revolution and of maintaining post-revolutionary power. Anarchism did not hesitate to use violence against evil. Why did Anarchists assassinate officials and seek to overthrow capitalist societies? But Anarchism was opposed to institutionalized power and law, because these forces inevitably resulted in indiscriminate oppression. Laws were dead. They were the fixed instrumentalities of the ruling class. Did laws stop officials from robbing people? [11]

Anarchism had as its central quest the freedom of every man. Ou, however, distinguished himself from the individualist branch of Anarchism. Freedom, as Bakunin had indicated long ago, did not have meaning without relation to society. It was not to be equated with rampant individualism. But freedom in society could be obtained only when law had been replaced by free contracts based upon common will. There was no conflict between freedom and association, argued Ou, because the key lay in Kropotkin’s concept of free contracts, and in the idea of free federation. And because each man would be free to join and free to withdraw, modern society could function without disruption.

Ou insisted that most men were "stubborn" because they had insufficient knowledge, and he professed much greater hope in education, both before and after the revolution than Ch’en. if an offender persisted in wrong-doing in an Anarchist society, Ou asserted, he would be asked to leave; and he insisted that there were no men so shameless as to disregard such a demand from the whole society. In answer to Ch’en’s remarks about mass movements and their motivating forces, Ou asserted that with the progress of science, the force of emotionalism among mankind would recede. [12] He looked toward a more rational man and a more rational world.

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[1Liang Ping-hsien, op. cit., No. 85, December 26, 1951, p.4.

[2Sheng Chieng, op. cit., pp. 68-69.

[3Ho Ch’ang-kung, op. cit., pp. 74-75.

[4A collection of writings, including the Ch’en-Ou exchange was published by the Editorial Department, New Youth Society, entitled She-hui chu-i t`ao-lun chi (Discussions on Socialism), Canton, 1922.

[5Ch’en Tu-hsiu, "Speaking on Politics," Ibid., pp.1-16.

[6For example, in a speech before the Canton Public School of Law and Politics, entitled "Criticism. of Socialism," Ch’en said:"From the political and economic aspects, Anarchism is absolutely unsuitable. Anarchism is based upon the assumption that man is by nature good and that education has been popularized. But the rise of political and economic systems is precisely due to the fact that men are not all good by nature and popular education has not been realized. What we need is to reform slowly the political and economic institutions so as to make men good and popularize education." op. cit., pp. 74-96. See also Li Ta, "The Anatomy of Anarchism," Ibid., pp. 219-238.

[7"Another Answer by Ch`en Tu-hsiu to Ou Sheng-pai," Ibid., p. 119.

[8See Ou’s answer in "Another Reply of Ou Sheng-pai to Ch’en Tu-hsiu," Ibid., pp. 125-6, and Ch`en’s reply, "Ch’en Tuhsiu’s Third Reply to Ou Sheng-pai," Ibid., pp. 137-138. "Another Answer by Ch’en Tu-hsiu to Ou Sheng-pai," op. cit., p.125.

[9See Ch’en Tu-hsiu, "Chinese Style Anarchism," Hsin Ch’ing- nien, Vol.9, No. 1, May 1, 1921, pp. 5-6.

[10"Ch`en Tu-hsiu’s Third Reply to Ou Sheng-pai," op. cit., pp. 140 -1

[11"Ou Sheng-pai’s Answer to Ch’en Tu-hsiu," Ibid., p. 118. See also "Another Reply of Ou Sheng-pai to Ch’en Tu-hsiu," op. cit., pp. 127-128.

[12Ibid., p. 119