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Labor Action, 16 January 1950


Jack Brad

Battle over Formosa Ignores
Formosa’s Right to Freedom


From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 3, 16 January 1950, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The battle of Formosa which has raged over Washington these past weeks is now concluding its first phase. Truman’s announcement that the U.S. has no intention of intervening, since Formosa is Chinese territory and must be settled by Chinese political forces, does not close the matter. But it reduces the opposition to the position of critics rather than potential makers of policy.

That the real war for control of Formosa should be fought in Washington is indicative of the world power framework. For it is true enough that, having lost in Washington, the Nationalists have almost lost all. Their loss of the island is now largely a matter of time, barring a major change in the international scene. The second stage, the shooting battle, will be an anticlimax, however bloody.

In a sense, the Formosa issue itself is anticlimactic. That it arises at all is a consequence of the much greater disaster for American policy on continental China. It was Roosevelt who anchored U.S. Asiatic policy in China, where it has centered at least since the Panay incident of more than 10 years ago. Formosa is the backwash of this historic collapse and only because of it does it acquire significance.

The speedy mobilization of various reactionary interests on this issue arises because of their prior agreement on the China issue. The ridiculous position of these people is revealed in all its garishness by their pathetic effort to rally last-minute support to Chiang on his tiny island as their defiant answer to the victors across the narrow strait.

In spite of the transitory nature of the Formosa issue it has been revealing of the kind of thinking that dominates the leading governmental factions in the U.S. For obvious partisan reasons, the Republican Party produced the chief spokesmen for the extreme militarist-strategic approach.

Senator Taft and Herbert Hoover led off with demands for immediate intervention by the U.S. Navy to defend Formosa and the other off-shore islands for Chiang, against any invasion. Chiang would be reduced to his proper role as Chinese front for direct U.S. military control.

While Taff spoke for the anti-Vandenberg group in the party, Hoover, in addition, has a special interest. It is now distant in men’s memories, but he is a real old China hand, having made a considerable fortune in his buccaneering days. Haldeman-Julius, the inveterate muckraker, once accused Hoover of owning a leading interest in a smuggler shipping line engaged in the China slave and opium trade.

The less raucous but more consistent spokesmen for Chiang, like Representative Judd, bridled at this radical approach. They pointed out that Chiang was merely asking for a substantial military mission and the $90 million already voted by Congress for Asiatic arms. Since Chiang must reckon with politics, and not just naked force, his representatives are unwilling to yield the anti-Communist crusade in China to other hands. Let U.S. support the Kuomintang clique, guarantee its continued existence and stand by till the next world war. These corrupt looters desire mainly to retain a toehold while being kept well-heeled with American dollars.

Sordid motives and intrigue are common factors in this desperate effort to save something from the wreckage. The navy looked with favor on the Hoover-Taft plan because of the two excellent harbors on Formosa. Adoption of their thesis would shift the balance of power among the branches of the armed forces, since neither the U.S. air forces nor the army have any strategic interest there. U.S. intervention would not only be a big naval operation but, since the island is too close to China for land-based planes, the air task forces for the area would come under navy control.

Chennault and MacArthur

Inside each of the military high commands are factions susceptible to such pressures as General Chennault’s. Chennault recently acquired all remaining Chinese airlines, with the probable connivance of important government circles. As his attorney for legal, defense of this acquisition he has employed William Donovan, former OSS chief and a personage with many connections in Washington departments..

Looming over the scene is the shadow of General MacArthur. His voice is that of Senator Knowland of California, who favors extending the general’s jurisdiction to include the entire western Pacific, with Formosa as the useful immediate level for such extension. Know-land’s special contribution to the hue and cry was the revelation of a State Department document that Formosa could not be held by Chiang and that the U.S. could and should do nothing about it. Pointedly, this secret document leaked from Tokyo.

All these groups have in common, besides personal and financial motives, the basing of policy on ruthless strategic needs from the simplest military viewpoint and utter disregard of the peoples involved. This is the spirit of the thinkers of the American Century and Pax Americana. The direct economic motive of dollar imperialism is lacking. And this is not necessarily a sign of progress, but rather an indication of the low estate of capitalism.

Acheson and Truman reached their decision from the somewhat higher level of international politics. Their Formosa policy was an application of the thesis in the While Paper on China. Acheson pointed out that the Kuomintang was not short of funds, munitions or men; if they needed military advisers they could be hired. The State Department directive stated that intervention could “involve the U.S. in a long-term venture, producing at best a new area of bristling stalemate, and, at worst, possible involvement in open warfare.”

Let the Formosans Be Heard!

Intervention was discarded because it could not serve the higher political interests of U.S. diplomacy, which is now shifting its base to India and Japan. The State Department, for example, is heavily involved in the British Empire Conference at Colombo, Ceylon. The State Department also cherishes the thesis that, if not open Titoism, at least deep fissures, can be made in the Chinese CP leadership by a more benevolent policy.

But like the rabid militarists, this “enlightened” policy has power politics as its point of departure. And like the former, it disregards the Formosan people.

Nor is the Chinese CP in any different position. It too simply asserts its legal right to Formosa, basing this right on the notorious Yalta decision where small and large nations were distributed as on a chessboard.

None of these groups have proposed fo let the pawns speak for themselves. No one in a position of power has spoken up in defense of the rights of the six million Formosans. Yet no one has a better right to be heard.


There is no better single criterion for nationhood than the struggle of a body of people to become a political entity.

Formosa is largely peopled by Chinese, many of them old settlers dating back to the collapse of the Ming dynasty in 1644. After the Sino-Japanese war of 1890, Japan took Formosa and held it for 50 years. During this time the island was transformed. It became alienated from the main currents of Chinese life and instead entered on the road of modernization taken by Japan.

It became an integral part of the inner empire and was an administrative unit of the central Japanese government rather than a colony. It became the Hawaii of Japan, its sugar bowl. Extensive railroads, airfields and harbor installations were developed along with modern mines and industrial establishments. Yet its people did not become Japanese.

The Ordeal of Formosa

While the Formosans never became quite reconciled to Japanization, the gap with China became wider than they knew. Formosa was a relatively modern society while China groaned in the agony of the most corrupt warlordism. When Chiang and his carpetbaggers moved in on the island in 1945 they were received as liberators because of the feeling of common cultural origins. But the Formosans soon saw their error.

The Kuomintang brought with it its secret police, its inefficiency, the personal squeeze, labyrinthine bureaucracy – and its provincial, cliquish, stultified culture. Like locusts, every official brought his swarm of retainers. In place of her modern Japanese taxation system, there was introduced the system of repeated, uncertain, pyramiding taxes, much of which remained in personal pockets. Cynical repression replaced the efficient foreign administration.

The Formosans were pressed to the limits of endurance. When cholera broke out in 1946 the Chinese officials sold UNRRA medicines on the black market to the helpless victims at whatever the traffic could bear. A thousand lepers were loosed from the leprosariums because the administration would not spare funds for their maintenance. Japanese as a language was suppressed and Chinese made mandatory. Bribery became the national means of getting along among a people who had lived under the Japanese code of honest administration. Concubinage was introduced. Prostitution became common.

While the medieval minds of the Kuomintang could strip a people of wealth, they did not know how to operate a modern industry. Gradually the modern installations came to a halt. Agriculture and industry both fell into decline. Black-market prices rose to 800 per cent of official prices. Inflation is increasing daily.

The Revolt of 1947

This was the background of the Formosan revolt of 1947 – an unarmed uprising of desperate people. The object of the revolt was not yet independence but simply the reform of government, to lighten the tax burden and reduce corruption. To guarantee this the Formosans set up local governments of their own which, however, acknowledged the sovereignty of the central regime and agreed to carry out its laws.

Chiang’s response was the massacre of 20,000 people. Troops poured in from the mainland and were let loose on helpless civilians. The people fell into despair. Hatred for all things Chinese went underground.

Yet, at no time did the Communist Party ever gain a foothold. Whatever the reason, the fact is clear. Stalinism has no strength on this island.


The dwindling fortunes of the Nationalists do not have a long future on Formosa, left to themselves. Barring U.S. intervention, the people will grow stronger against this rotting power. On the other hand, a Stalinist invasion will not only bring war to the island but, if victorious, will establish a new Chinese and Stalinist tyranny. The people of Formosa have not been participants in the Chinese civil war and neither side has a claim to rule them. Of recent years their only politics has been first anti-Japanese and then anti-Chiang. Their only desire is to disengage themselves from Chinese political struggles.

All this does not yet make a nation. But in the last two years an independence movement has begun to grow. From Hong Kong and Tokyo its agents have begun to organize a Free Formosa party. This movement is still in its infancy and it is small, because the police regime keeps if suppressed. Yet it is bound to grow as against the Kuomintang because the latter can only grow weaker. If Stalinism conquers, this movement will be suppressed with a far heavier hand.

Socialists should defend the rights of the Free Formosans. Its people have a right to peace and this is possible only through independence. Socialists should oppose the Stalinist invasion as much as the Chinese dictatorship. This program for a Free Formosa also applies to other areas such as Tibet.

Let the people decide their own future! That is the only democratic road.

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