Veteran Chinese Trotskyist Wang Fan-hsi dies by Din Wong
also Alexander Buchman
On 16 January the funeral of the veteran Chinese Trotskyist Wang Fan-hsi took place. He was ninety five. As well as friends and family there were representatives and comrades from many of the revolutionary groups in Britain.
Alan Thornett spoke on behalf of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International about Wang's importance as a Trotskyist and other speakers highlighted his role as a teacher and a guide to many younger Chinese socialists and community activists. Professor Gregor Benton, who, with his family, was responsible for much of the care of Comrade Wang during his time in Leeds, provided the main speech. He highlighted the creative and critical element of Wang's thought, particularly in trying to learn lessons from the rise and victory of Maoism. Despite years of personal tragedy, illness and imprisonment Wang remained optimistic about the socialist future and confident in the progressive role of the Chinese working class.
Just back from China, Benton also reported how a new generation of dissidents and critics of the CCP regime are reading Wang's writings, now given a limited circulation, with sympathy and interest. The rapid industrialisation of China in the last twenty years, turning it into the new "workshop of the world", has produced a growth and new awakening in the organisation and struggles of the Chinese workers. With Wang's example and writings in mind we should share his confidence in the prospect of great things to come.i Din Wong assesses his life.
"I have spent the greater part of my life and effort in the struggle for socialism and against Stalinism." Wang Fan-hsi.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many on the left greeted the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in the USSR and Eastern Europe and the rise of US "New World Order" with dismay and despondency. But not Wang Fan-hsi, a life-long Trotskyist and Chinese communist revolutionary.
For Wang, the collapse of Stalinism was a vindication of his opposition to both the theory and practice of Stalinism, first in the Soviet Union and then in China. It was Trotskyists like Wang who consistently came out against the degeneration of the Soviet state, against its bureaucratic dictatorship and who exposed as an illusion the Stalinist idea of "building socialism in one country".
Born in 1907 in Hsia-shih (between Shanghai and Hangchow), Wang became politicised in high school at a momentous turning point in Chinese history - the May Fourth movement. As a student at Peking University in 1925, Wang Fan-hsi joined the Chinese Communist Party, at a time when the CCP was under instruction from the Comintern to subordinate itself to the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang KMT) and Chiang Kai-shek in a fatally opportunist interpretation of the united front tactic.
After the betrayal and massacre of workers in Canton and Shanghai by Chiang Kai-shek in 1926-7, Wang Fan-hsi was sent to Wuhan, the power base of the "Left" Nationalist leader, Wang Ching-wei with whom the Chinese Communist Party, under orders from Moscow, now made an alliance. He watched with growing unease as the Party once again agreed to the surrender of arms by trade unionists and workers' militia to the local garrison as a mark of their "loyalty" to the nationalist government, just as they had in Shanghai.
In 1928, Wang Fan-hsi arrived in Moscow for military training at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East, then in the thick of Stalin's campaign against Trotsky and the Left Opposition. Persuaded by Trotsky's analysis of the failure of the second Revolution, he joined, and soon became one of the organisers of, the clandestine group of Chinese Left Oppositionists.
When he returned to China in 1929, Wang worked as an aide to Chou En-lai in Shanghai until he was expelled from the CCP. He then worked for the unification of the four opposition groups to overcome their divisions regarding the nature of the coming revolution and the slogan for a constituent assembly. Unfortunately, soon after he was elected with Chen Tu-hsiu to the leadership of the unified opposition group, Wang was arrested and jailed for three years by the Nationalists. Not deterred by this, he returned to Shanghai and, in collaboration with the South African communist Frank Glass and the American Harold Isaacs, threw his energy into rebuilding the Trotskyist organisation and publishing theoretical and political periodicals.
Just before the outbreak of war with the Japanese, he was kidnapped by KMT special service agents and endured another jail term. Under interrogation, despite torture, Wang refused to divulge the names and addresses of his comrades and was put in solitary confinement. This period, described by Wang as the darkest days of his life, was cut short only by the action of a sympathetic jailer who unlocked his cell before fleeing from the approaching Japanese army.
Back in Japanese occupied Shanghai, Wang and his comrades resumed political activity under very difficult circumstances and at great risks to their lives. Their efforts centred on education, propaganda, writing, translation and the publication of Trotsky's work, including The History of the Russian Revolution. Just weeks before his assassination, Trotsky wrote of this, "The day I learned that my History of the Russian Revolution was to be published in Chinese was a holiday for me."
This clandestine political activity continued in Shanghai throughout the war years. When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the Trotskyists were able, despite a split in their ranks and a ban by the KMT government, to take some advantage of the situation in the cities where the CCP's concentration on the countryside had left a virtual vacuum in the leadership of the urban working classes.
When a CCP military victory seemed certain, however, Wang was sent to Hong Kong to set up a new co-ordinating centre. Un-welcomed by the British, he was deported to Macau, where he stayed until he came to England in 1975. His comrades in China were rounded up in 1952, and the last of them, Cheng Ch'ao-lin, one of Wang's closest comrade, was not released until 27 years later.
In Macau, having lost his family, relatives, comrades and friends, Wang recollected his part in the Chinese revolution and reflected on the defeat of the Chinese Trotskyist movement in his memoirs, which have now been translated and published in English, French, German and Japanese. He kept a critical watch on events in China and continued to publish his writing which included translations of Trotsky's works, studies on Mao Tse-tung's thoughts and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. He also wrote several plays.
Despite years of hand to mouth existence, perilous threats to his life and prison terms that were most injurious to his health, Wang was unshaken in his political beliefs. The terms of his exile in Britain did not allow him to be politically active, yet he kept up extensive political correspondence with revolutionaries around the world and, ever forward-looking, he encouraged and inspired, a new generation of radical Chinese youth in Hong Kong and Britain in the seventies and eighties.
With the recent partial rehabilitation of Chen Tu-hsiu in China, Wang's Memoirs of a Chinese Revolutionary and a new edition of his Study on the Thoughts of Mao have also now been published, although with restricted availability, in China. He was also very gratified to learn that some of his work is available on the Web, his only regret being that he was too old to learn how to use a computer.
If the downfall of Stalinism vindicated his commitment to the programme of Trotskyism, the emergence of a new workers' movement in China and of the anti-capitalist movement globally confirmed his continuing political optimism and enthusiasm. Undimmed and an internationalist till his last, he was still enquiring about the progress of the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements even in his very last days.
A modest and un-embittered comrade, generous and scrupulously fair to others in the Chinese Trotskyist movement with different views, his memory and his example will continue to inspire us all.
Wang is survived by his wife, at least two of his children, and some grandchildren, all except one are now in China.
Buchman, who was a supporter and comrade of Wang and the Chinese Trotskyists from the 1930s, died only a few days after Wang. They had maintained contact and remained friends until the time of their respective deaths. Along with fellow Americans Frank Glass and Harold Isaacs, both journalists, Buchman contributed to and learnt from the local movement. Buchman travelled to China to work as a newspaper photographer in Shanghai. He provided material aid and also legal cover for the work and press of the then persecuted Trotskyist organisation. To the best of my knowledge he was the last of that generation of young internationalist American comrade who during the 1930s bravely used the relative freedoms and independence of being a US citizen to help spread the ideas of revolutionary socialism and the critique of Stalinism throughout the world.