Li Fu-jen

Panay Incident Unmasks Aims of Imperialism

(December 1937)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 1 No. 20, 25 December 1925, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The sinking of the United States gunboat Panay and three American oil tankers in the Yangtze River at Nanking, occurring as an accompaniment to the capture of China’s erstwhile capital by the armies of Japanese imperialism, has posed before the working class of this country, in sharpest form, the role and aims of American imperialism in the Far East.

During more than five months of warfare in China, the activities and aims of the Japanese imperialists have come into repeated collision with the interests of Japan’s imperialist rivals – first of all, Great Britain and the United States. But both of these powers, unprepared to challenge Japan at arms, have been obliged to rely for the protection of their “stakes” in the Far East on such opposition to the Japanese invaders as the Kuomintang government was able to put up.

Tragic Rout at Nanking

Events, however, have exposed the regime of Chiang Kai-shek as a frail reed for the British and American imperialists to lean on. Incompetence, corruption, treachery, and the Kuomintang’s fear of mobilizing the Chinese masses, have converted China’s defense campaign into a tragic series of retreats and routs. Living forces have been heedlessly sacrificed. The “defense” of Nanking became a sacrificial display of self-immolation by thousands of brave Chinese soldiers who had been deserted by their officers. Results of the fighting to date have proved the Kuomintang to be incapable of defending itself, let alone the interests of the British and American imperialists.

In London and in Washington there is a lively appreciation of this fact. Roosevelt, in his Chicago “peace” speech, told Japan in no uncertain terms that American imperialism was preparing to defend with more than words its position in the Far East. British imperialism, spurred by the threat of a fresh Japanese military drive – this time into South China, nerve center of Britain’s Far Eastern interests – is considering the dispatch of additional warships to China waters and is feverishly building fortifications to protect its Hongkong territories against possible Japanese assaults. The touch-off of the new world war conflagration may well occur in the Far East, and that in the not distant future.

War Sentiment Created

In preparing for this event, mass sentiment in the United States is being created for war against Japan. Roosevelt has given the cue: America (meaning the American working class) must prepare to go to the shambles to preserve “democracy” against the fascist and militarist aggressors. The time is coming to “save” poor defenseless China from the Japanese bully. All the old deceptive phrases are trotted out.

All the liberals and pacifists are busy sowing illusions about the “peaceful’’ role of American imperialism. The editorial and news columns of the bourgeois press are given over to the chauvinistic drugging of working class opinion so that the masses may be corralled into support of the coming imperialist war. Vile atrocities committed in China by Japan’s armies help grease the wheels of the war propaganda machine. Agents of the bourgeoisie in the ranks of the working class, from the trade union bureaucrats who sponsor consumers’ boycotts of Japanese goods while doing nothing either to prevent shipment of munitions and supplies” to Japan or to stop the landing of Japanese goods in this country, down to the Stalinists who call on the Washington government to take “collective security” action against Japan in the name of “peace,” are the budding recruiting sergeants of American imperialism.

Meaning of Panay Incident

American trade with China amounts to about 3 per cent of the total foreign trade of the United States. This percentages relatively insignificant, assumes importance when it is remembered that in the foreign trade of China the leading place is occupied by the United States. A steady increase of American trade with China over a period of years gave promise of a growingly profitable export market for the throttled industries of this country. As this prospect recedes before the advance of Japanese imperialism, it becomes more and more apparent to the American ruling class that war, in the final analysis, is the only means by which the positions of American imperialism in the Far East can be guaranteed and extended.

U.S. Plans for Future

American investments in China, totalling less than $200,000,000, are only one-tenth of British investments in China and one-tenth of American investment in Mexico. China’s importance to Yankee imperialism, however, lies less in present investments than. in prospects for the future. The maintenance of the capitalist system requires not only foreign markets but also fields for investment. In the period of capitalist decline, the search for these economic outlets assumes added . urgency. Apart from Soviet Russia, China is the one large undeveloped country which has not yet become the colonial property of one or several of the imperialist powers. The world role of American imperialism is therefore closely linked with the fate of China.

Revolutionary socialists seek a revolutionary solution of the problem involved in the Sino-Japanese conflict. In China, they direct their efforts toward the independent mobilization of the masses in order to continue, on the plane of the revolutionary class struggle, the war for China’s independence from imperialism. In America and other strong, holds of imperialism, they promote the class struggle of the workers with the aim of overthrowing the imperialist bourgeoisie and establishing workers’ governments, which alone would be true friends and allies of the Chinese masses.

Position of Revolutionists

Scorning appeals to the imperialist government at Washington to save China from Japan – which is the line of the Stalinist traitors, serving only the interests of American imperialism – the revolutionary socialists turn to the American workers with a plea for solidarity with the Chinese masses. Such solidarity will not only aid the Chinese masses in their struggle, but will also advance the historic interests of the American workers. Every blow struck at imperialism advances the cause of the international proletariat, and therefore the interests of the American workers as well. If the American imperialists should succeed in realizing their aims in China, they will be able to fasten the shackles of wage-slavery still more firmly on the toilers of this country.

Last updated on 19 November 2014