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(en) History, Anarchism in North China

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 21 Aug 2004 07:55:54 +0200 (CEST)

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In the village where I was born there is a monument in a square
erected by the trades unions where fifteen Anarchists were
executed as common criminals engaged in a conspiracy against
the Empress in her last terror-stricken days. They were buried in
a common grave which became a place of honour to the
common people, who preserved it carefully. Our May Day
marches used to culminate in this spot, where we sang, "Those
who fought against injustice our victory will honour!"
I was banished from the village by the police and later I had to
change my identity and could not return. I came back after an
absence of thirty-five years on a visit.

As it was May the First, the first place I visited was "our square"
- both for sentimental reasons and because I knew if any of our
old friends were alive that is where they would be. Some old
people still put flowers on the monument. But of all our friends I
met only one old lady, who had been the beautiful girl who ran
the "Anarchist Newspaper of the North" from 1910 to 1930.
Despite all her many cares and the fact of marriage to a man who
did not share her ideals or her courage, she was still with us, but,
she told me "all the comrades are dead". These are words one
often hears in Northern China, from the lips of old people. There,
in that town where once a thousand youngsters marched behind
our banner, only two or three elderly people remained to testify of
our past. They met occasionally in company and backed each
other up in talk like old gossips; or they met privately in tea
sessions to talk of the old days. Red China had passed them by.

Is this really all that remains of that great movement of
Anarchism in North China which still gives the bureaucrats of
Peking devil-induced jerkings awake from their slumbers.? So I
asked myself. But the poor bureaucrats are not entirely fools. For
there is the disturbing fact that after a propaganda drive by the
State unequalled in history, when private thoughts are high
treason they have not managed to obliterate from memory the
martyrs up in the square. The municipality no longer cleans it,
but somebody does, voluntarily. None of my friends knew whom,
"Some of the workers do it" they said vaguely. Now and again a
Red student, full of his importance as a cadet officer, will stop an
old peasant and angrily reproach him for putting a bunch of
flowers there. It is "transferred ancestor worship," he tells him
sternly. He is greeted with the usual maddening shrug of the
shoulders and assumed stupidity of the countryman. "They were
very bad days" says the old man (using the very phrase in vogue
with the Red students when admonishing unprogressive working
men). And sometimes when there has been quite a lot of
marching and speechmaking and great patriotic demagogy, and
the workers and peasants have been thoroughly denounced for
not working as hard as The Chairman, somebody will whistle,
"Victory will honour" - it is our "ca ira" there in the countryside -
or perhaps somebody will murmur what is not a cant, and most
impertinent phrase "What would they make of it up at the
If victory has not honoured, defeat has not forgotten. Romember
that. For in the countryside around, there are dozens of
townships where once free communes were set up, where a
handful of Anarchist militants leading fugitive lives had come to
the town square and called for an insurrection, and where the
whole population had rallied round and refused to pay taxes or
rents, and had lived independent and free while the national
armies fought each other and were unable to impose the tribute
of the State. The Peking bureaucrats do not forget. Neither do
the people.
When I came to the capital of our province as it now is, that was
large in 1934 and is now swollen beyond belief, I contacted the
local group whom were known to me for their scarcity of
numbers, "In this town, where once we had a hundred groups,
we have now ten individuals", said my contact sadly. But he
knew nothing of those in the villages. Another comrade was
however more optimistic. "Don't mistake what we are with what
we could be. If you had now come from the city to tell us - as
they used to in the old days - that the army was in retreat and the
government powerless I would need only to run up a pair of black
knickers on a pole and shout 'Long Live Anarchy' and ten,
twenty, thirty thousand men and women would rally and many
would bring their rifles with them."
Well, which was true? Let me tell you one more story. As I left to
go to the railway station I looked around and saw the same
glorification of the Leader, the same uniformity of slogans, the
same picture of the Nation State marching in goosestep that one
sees all over China but, emboldened by my friend's assertions
when the railway clerk asked me my destination, I was foolish
enough to hum the old words indelibly associated with our
movement: "Freedom is my destination don't ask me for a
place-name". The clerk shouted angrily "Don't be flippant." "We
have a serious job to do!" I felt a little humiliated in front of the
crowd. I meekly told him my home town. Then another
railwayman came forward to take my ticket and my luggage. He
put me on the train without a word. To my surprise the clerk
came out too to see me on board and when I said I had not paid
they both smiled, "Go on good luck" they said. Later, a little girl
brought me a basket of fruit with the anonymous message, "Your
journey may be very long and this may be useful." How should I
interpret this?
One more incident. An elderly lady sitting opposite me observed
the incident of the little girl. There were in the carriage many
important looking Party functionaries and people in evident good
standing. She said nothing to them but later remarked to me
apparently in regard to nothing, "I am for everybody and
everything but my two sons work on the railway and I am against
blowing up civilian trains in time of peace". (The expression
"trainwreckers" is often used, maliciously, to describe rebels - it
has become a synonym in officialese, like ‘anarchy‘and
‘chaos‘). I replied with a literary quotation, "The
trainwreckers do not wreck trains and the officers of the law do
not bring justice". She smiled knowing exactly what I meant.
When I added,. "It is a great crime in 'War-time too" she threw a
frightened and imploring look.
When she got off the train she slipped some money in my hat.
All over North China the people believe that all the Anarchists
need is money. They do not understand our situation south,
where comrades are in good jobs and think we must still be
fugitives. It is an insult to refuse money, yet like our foreign
comrades they do not see that money cannot buy us printing
presses or guns to defend them. (In fascist countries a group with
money may buy a duplicator under cover of a legitimate business.
Here all is state controlled.)
These stories may illustrate why the bureaucrats are still
frightened of us. There are too many who remember when the
working-class movement fought for freedom and was not a tool
of the Nation State. With the young people I seldom mixed. Our
working-class youth is (rightly) suspicious of its elders; our
students, unlike those abroad are dogmatic supporters of the
existing power. Only to those in our groups did I have the chance
to speak. Is it true that a young generation is rising that is given
"the chance to speak" and that takes "great provocations"? Yes,
it is true. In many big cities, on May Day our young friends
decided to carry out an order of the Young- Communists to
"denounce anarchism". Many skilful young artists who had read
of the "overcheer" anarchists in the U.SA., prepared some
beautifully-executed signs:-
"Those lying devils the anarchists said state socialism would
bring about a new tyranny. Either they are mad or we are!"
"What a wicked scoundrel was the Anarchist Shih Fu who said
the workers could manage their own affairs without a party
"When Peter Kropotkin said the the peasants could be free to till
the land without State intervention, all Marxists recognised in
him the paid-agent of the Russian Czar!"
Even more daring was: "The bourgeois Anarchists maintained
that libertarian socialism would come since all men were born
free, and were naturally good. Mao Tse Tung has proved them
Many did not know how these slogans should be taken, since
they are neither more nor less than current Party slogans, but
nobody dared protest in case they were not sarcastic but officially
inspired. These banners were carried in the open air before
thousands of people, including police and army officers, Party
officials, foreign observers and the ironic cheering of many
ordinary people showed that some understood the message.

How then am I expected to report the state of the movement in
North China? Our friends abroad ask me to tell them "have we a
movement in China? If so, what does it consist of?" I cannot tell
them any more than I can write here. Do I write that in North
China all the comrades are dead or that everywhere the peasants
sympathise with us; that we have ten members in such-and-such
a town or thirty thousand; that the railway workers are with us or
that some people were kind to me; that our banners wave at the
head of the May Day processions? Which is true, which is a lie?
Are we many are we few? Should the bureaucrats worry about us
no longer, should they bring back beheading for our views? Sleep
easy gentle people, the revolution is not yet upon you. But in the
moments when you are awake be careful not to demand too
many sacrifices of your people or engage your army in too many

This article was originally written for the Chinese Anarchist
paper, "Mutual Aid". Scanned in from Black Flag - Vol 2. No 1.
January 1971.
Copied from struggle.ws

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