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New International, September–October 1934


Gatto Mammone

Russia, Japan and “Red Mongolia”

From New International, Vol. I No. 3, September–October 1934, pp. 88–89.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


GENERAL Tanaka begins his celebrated memorandum of 1927, which lays bare the rapacious aspirations of Japan, with the following words: “In order to conquer China, we must first conquer Manchuria and Mongolia.” The first part of this program is today an accomplished fact: the annexation of Manchuria, established as a vassal empire. Now it is Mongolia that Nipponese imperialism aims to attack, “Red” or Outer Mongolia. It is thus named to distinguish it from Inner Mongolia which still remains under more or less effective dependence upon China, and is a very extensive region of more than 500,000 square miles, almost entirely desert land (the Gobi) with the exception of its eastern part which is still touched by the lingering breath of the Chinese monsoon. It is mainly at the foot of its mountain ranges, with its grassy plains, that a nomadic Mongol population is situated (some 600,000 inhabitants) and engages in breeding. The nature of the soil, the climate, manifestly determine this occupation and the nomadic life that flows from it. The grassy plains being held in common, the pastures belong to all by the same token. Not all the Mongols, however, own livestock. Moreover, the social distinctions are determined by the quantity of cattle owned. According to recent statistics, 74% are arats, that is, shepherds, 24% are lamas, that is, Buddhist monks, and 2% are princes, nobles and officials. In every family, all the male children (with the exception of the eldest who remained a “black” man, that is, a layman as distinguished from the monk who took the red or yellow robe) became lamas. Monachism was thus so far developed that in 1918 the lamas made up 44% of the male population of the country. But not all the lamas lived in a lamasery, some engaged in commerce, others lived on alms and even to this day there is no want of lamas among the highwaymen or “brigands” so much heard about in China. In Urga, the Mongolian city, resided also a Grand Lama who occupied, in the lamaic hierarchy, the first place after the Grand Lama of Tibet.

The Mongols who did not belong to any of the noble families, were serfs. Not serfs of the soil, but of the yurts (tents), from which they tended the herds of their masters.

Out of this motley, and socially backward milieu, emerged the people’s republic of Mongolia, or Urga. Back in 1911, under the influence of czarist Russia, Outer Mongolia broke away from China in order to establish itself as a sovereign state headed by the Living Buddha of Urga, called the “Great Saint” (Hu’ktu’ktu). Mongolia was thus a feudal theocratic state, with the Buddha at its head incorporating its temporal sovereign and religious chieftain.

The tripartite accord of 1915, according to which Mongolia formed an autonomous state under the suzerainty of China and the protectorate of Russia, did not last long. Indeed, after the Russian revolution, the Soviet republic renounced – as it did for Constantinople – all its protectorate rights, and China proclaimed the annexation of Mongolia. Even after the establishment of the people’s state of Mongolia, in 1921, China retained its claims upon it and the Russo-Chinese agreement of 1924 acknowledged them by declaring that Outer Mongolia was an integral part of China. Obviously, it was a purely platonic declaration which remained on paper.

After the February revolution in Russia, a union almost exclusively of Russian workers and employees was founded in Urga. This organization, which took a socialist position, was persecuted by the “autonomous government” of Mongolia at the instigation of the Russian consul general who was the real master of the country. When later on, in February 1921, Urga was occupied by the Whites under Baron Ungern, in the service of Japanese imperialism, the first class movement in Mongolia was completely liquidated. It is at the same period that revolutionary Mongol elements, made up mainly of fugitive intellectuals on Russian territory (petty officials back in Mongolia), held a conference in the frontier town of Kiakhta which gave birth to the Revolutionary People’s Party of Mongolia. The social composition of the delegates to this conference was as follows: three lamas, two shepherds, two officials. All the social layers of Mongolia were represented. A few days after the conference, a revolutionary government of the people was constituted with its seat at Maimashan, also a frontier town, but situated on Mongolian territory. In July 1921, the Mongolian Red Army, led by Sukhe Bator, who gave his name to the city of Urga, and supported by Soviet troops, freed the territory of Mongolia from the White bands and thereby vested the people’s government of Mongolia with a genuine existence.

Up to 1924, religious affairs were left in the hands of the Grand Lama of Urga. It was only after his death that an end was put to his “reincarnations”. All power was in the hands of a coalition government in which sat members of the revolutionary party and the progressive and anti-Chinese elements of the feudal and clerical strata.

Outer Mongolia was not a Soviet land, but a democratic republic: no Soviets but a parliament, the “Grand Kuruletan” convened for the first time in 1926, with its members elected by universal suffrage, was the basis of the popular power. Only the feudal nobility was excluded from participation, in elections. In this connection, the new fiscal policy aimed at expropriating the wealth of the nobility, made its appearance only towards the end of 1929. At that time, taking as the fiscal unit the bodo, which is the equivalent of the price of a single unit of horned cattle or a dozen small animals, there were 46% poor arats (with less than 10 bodos) or arats with no livestock at all, 46% of middle arats (with 10 to 100 bodos) and 8% with more than 100 bodos. The latter constituted the 8% of the population owning 48.2% of the entire national wealth.

The old fiscal law exempted from taxation only those 5% of the arats who owned no livestock at all or only one animal. The new law exempts all who have less than 20 bodos, that is, 63.6% of the population.

Another thorny problem is the religious question. In Mongolia, even today, the clergy constitutes a prodigious social force, and the monasteries own 15.7% of the national wealth. The livestock belonging to monasteries is tended by their vassals, who are reduced to virtual slavery. A considerable section of the party and the youth organization has not yet divested itself of religious influences and the wealth of the lamaseries has not yet been expropriated. Instead, it has been put in the same category as the arat’s in order to avoid complications inside the country.

No communist party was constituted in Mongolia on the pretext that the backward conditions of the country prevented its formation. In reality, its place was taken by the Revolutionary Party and by the youth federation which adhere to the Communist and Youth Communist Internationals.

The “Revolutionary People’s” Party which had only 150 members in 1921, now has 10,000 members and the federation of the revolutionary youth some 8,000 members. As in Russia, they are totalitarian organizations which exclude any possibility of the creation of oppositional parties.

The trade union movement of Mongolia was centralized, in 1922, in a Pan-Mongolian trade union committee, adhering to the Red International of Labor Unions. The movement is still very weak, embracing some 10,000 members at most and above all, is only beginning its recruitment among the shepherds and the agricultural workers. What are the reasons for the retardation and the obstacles that are found in the development of “Red” Mongolia towards socialism?

In the period of the struggle against the Whites and the Chinese authorities, a large section of the feudal nobility and the big clergy was on the side of the Revolutionary party and even belonged to it.

The national “liberation” movement of 1921 did not curb the economic power of the seignoral layers (feudal and clerical). The nobles, did, it is true, lose some of their political power. In addition, of their own accord, like the nobles of the revolution of 1789, they gave up their patents of nobility, renounced their privileges, and in witness thereof, cut off their little braid which only the nobles had the right to wear. Only, they retained the real wealth of the country: the livestock and the masses of arats remained in their service as of yore. It is clear that after the establishment of the democratic power, after its consolidation, after the suppression of feudal privileges in the political regime of the country, a beginning should have been made in extirpating the feudal relations in the economic life of the country, in realizing an anti-feudal reformation and a re-division of the national wealth (the livestock).

But a large section of this nobility speedily turned hostile to the new power. As far back as 1922, a conspiracy was discovered in which members of the government had participated. Among the fifteen persons who were then shot, was Bodo, the former prime minister, and a couple of other ministers, notably the minister of justice. Shortly afterward, it was the commander of the army who was shot in 1924 by order of the third congress of the party, because of his relations with China.

The differentiation within the leading organs of the party and consequently also in the state apparatus – which is now composed exclusively of party members – gave birth to a Right wing which took over the party. It was supported by the feudal elements, the officialdom, the Grand Lamas, the well-to-do sections of the arats, and allied itself with the nascent Mongol bourgeoisie formed by commercial and foreign (primarily Chinese) capital. In particular, the interests and the hopes of this nascent bourgeoisie manifest themselves in the tendency “towards the East”, that is, towards the separation of the Mongolian People’s Party (the word “revolutionary” has been eliminated) from the Comintern, the breaking off of relations between Outer Mongolia and Soviet Russia, the alliance with the Kuo Min Tang and even with Japanese imperialism. The opposition which manifested itself inside the party on the part of the houdons, shepherds and poor peasants without land or live stock, was smashed.

It goes without saying that the triumph of Centrism in Russia, the crushing of the Chinese revolution in 1927, have had very important repercussions within the party and have resolved its crisis in a negative manner.

In conclusion, Mongolia is not only dominated militarily by Russia – detachments of the Russian cavalry are located in Mongolia and the Mongolian Red Army is constituted on the model of the Russian army, its officers coming from the Moscow Military School – but it is also dominated economically. If the land is almost entirely in the hands of Chinese, Mongolian export trade (wool, pelts, leather) runs to 21½ million tourikh (the tourikh is worth half a dollar) to Russia and 6 million to China.

Not only in order “to be able to conquer China”, but also for the immediate task of occupying the maritime provinces of Asiatic Russia, the Japanese imperialists and militarists deem it indispensable first to occupy Outer Mongolia.

Already in March 1918, the Japanese, using the assassination of a national in Vladivostok as a pretext, disembarked their troops, who occupied the maritime provinces and advanced into the very heart of Siberia, supporting the Whites on the way. But faced with a victorious offensive of the Reds, and above all because it did not feel fit to risk a war, Japan retreated and did not press its military march further. On October 24, 1922, the last Japanese soldier had abandoned Vladivostok. And in 1925, half the island of Sakhalin, occupied in 1920, was also evacuated and restored to Russia.

But this renunciation by Japan is only temporary. Today, in 1934, Japan is once more turning to these lands. The occupation of Mongolia in particular, would signify an appreciable gain for Japan both from the economic and the military standpoints. Besides its unexploited subterranean wealth, Mongolia has 1,340,000 horses, 270,000 camels, 1,500,000 head of horned cattle and 10,600,000 head of small cattle. From the military standpoint, and that of the consolidation of its strategic positions, the occupation of Mongolia is necessary to Japan. The fact is that after the creation of the Manchurian empire, Japan has shifted its frontiers to the Amur river. Once it has occupied the maritime province and the whole of the island of Sakhalin, the Sea of Japan would become one in reality and not only in name. The ceding of the Eastern Chinese railway by Russia to Manchuria, would leave the maritime province of Asiatic Russia standing on one foot.

But beyond the Amur river there is still the Red army of the Far East, which is spread from Lake Baikal to Vladivostok, with its cavalry forces in Red Mongolia, The Japanese occupation of Mongolia would mean a shaft in the flank of the Red army, the possibility of carrying out a more or less dangerous sortie on Chita where the General Headquarters of Blücher, the commander of the Red army, are located. In this way, the moment the Japanese army would try to force a passage from the Amur towards Harbin and the maritime province, it could threaten by way of Mongolia to cut off the Trans-Siberian railway which still remains the principal commercial and provisions line, pending the building of new “Arctic” railways.

The occupation of Outer Mongolia would then be an eventual base for Japanese penetration of Central Asia and Turkestan, whose natural wealth (especially cotton) was not neglected in the celebrated memorandum of Tanaka.

The offensive of Nipponese imperialism is moving ahead in Asia. Yesterday it was Manchuria, today the threat is aimed at Outer Mongolia. But here the dangers of a conflagration with Soviet Russia may be possible (without being certain), despite the fact that Russia seems to have decided upon making the greatest concessions in order to avert a war.

One may thus affirm that the policy of Centrism in “Red” Mongolia has tended to weaken the exploited strata upon which the Soviet state could have based itself in the situations of tomorrow, and has strengthened the nascent bourgeoisie and the Mongolian feudal elements who will openly support the plans of Japanese imperialism when it passes over to the attack.

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Last updated on 25 February 2016