Sunday 19 December 2021

C.L.LR. James


EVEN WHILE THE STALINISTS, BY FALSIFICATION AND PHYSICAL repression, were destroying the propagandists of international Socialism, the world revolution which had seemed so remote in October, 1924, stirred itself, and even while the new theory was being made law presented the International with one of its greatest opportunities. We have to pass over how the Stalinists forced the Communist Party of Poland to support Pilsudski in the coup d’etat which put him in power. Purcell and Hicks, Pilsudski and Chiang Kai-Shek were Stalin’s allies in this period, and the greatest of these was Chiang Kai-Shek.


China remained comparatively untouched by European civilisation until less than a century ago, but even in those early days Britain was already too small for British Capitalism, and between 1839 and 1860 the British bombarded Chinese ports and massacred the Chinese people to ensure the continuance of the opium traffic, one of the main sources of revenue to British India. Besides the profits of this lucrative trade they extorted millions of pounds as indemnities, seized Hong-Kong and territory on the mainland, and opened Chinese ports to British trade by force. In 1842 the Treaty of Nanking limited the Chinese tariff to 5 per cent, ad valorem, to prevent Chinese industry developing behind a high tariff wall. This they maintained by brute force until 1925 when, under the menace of the revolution, the first small breaches were promised. In the war of 1857 the British Government, again at the point of the bayonet, added to the usual indemnity, seizure of territory, etc., a British Inspector General of Customs. The steady drain of silver from China for the purchase of opium, the ruin of Chinese handicraft industry, the breakdown of the Manchu government under the blows of the British navy, the corruption of the Chinese official class by the opium smuggling, undermined the foundations of the once great but now outpaced civilisation of China.

In the middle of the century a serious rebellion broke out in the South, held power in the Southern provinces for eleven years, and then failed. The British at Hong-Kong sided with the rebels, and the other powers followed their lead. But as the movement disintegrated the foreign powers, chiefly Britain, deserted it and (after first defeating the Manchu Dynasty and bringing it under its financial control) gave assistance against the rebels. By 1870 there were other rivals to Britain in the field. Russia and France stole large territories, the British seized Burma. China was still a market, and between 1851 and 1855 the excess of imports over exports from China was over £175,000,000. But the late eighties were the crisis years for European Capitalism, when for the export of goods was gradually substituted the export of capital. Africa was for the time being divided, but Africa was not enough. The Chinese people had now to give concessions and accept loans in order to buy iron and steel from Europe. They had no choice in the matter. The British Government on occasion offered them the choice of British loans or British shells.

In 1894, the scramble entered its most dangerous but inevitable phase. Japanese capitalism tried to annex a portion of China, but the annexation clashed with British and other European interests. Russia and France intervened and checked her “in defence of their own interests.” Japan was too weak to assert her rights (it is a different story today). Yet she got a treaty port and £34½ millions indemnity. To pay this, British and other European banks lent China £48 millions. God spoke to the American President, [1] and in 1898 America seized the Philippine Islands and entered the race. This organised banditry threw an ever-increasing load on the millions of peasants out of whose produce came the taxes to pay these loans. As far back as 1856 Karl Marx, basing himself always on the economic unity of modern Capitalism, had seen that the devastating influences of this unceasing plunder of China would end in revolution, destroy a great market for European Capitalism, and thus precipitate the revolution of the European proletariat. In its essential outlines the analysis is today as sound as when it was made. But the rottenness of the Manchu dynasty was propped up by the military and financial support given it by the European governments, and the Chinese native bourgeoisie, mainly commercial, could not provide the forces for the liberation of China. As in Russia, it was the entry of capital, and the consequent creation of a native proletariat organised and disciplined by large-scale production, that was to provide a means for the destruction of foreign capitalist domination in China.

It was this process which Lenin saw so clearly in 1908, [2] the inevitable intensification of the export of capital, and the consequent growth of the international revolution. He based on it his calculations for world revolution, described in his book, Imperialism. It is the unshakable foundation of the Permanent Revolution. Small though the Chinese or Indian proletariat might be, as in Russia it would have as allies the hundreds of millions of peasants, sucked dry enough before by Oriental feudalism, but now driven to ruin by the burden which capitalist exploitation placed upon them.


The growing Chinese bourgeoisie, now increased by the export of European capital, found itself hampered by the reactionary Manchu Government.

The first spontaneous uprising of the Chinese masses had been easily canalised into the anti-foreign Boxer rebellion at the end of the nineteenth century. But after that failure the Chinese bourgeoisie saw its main enemy in the Manchu dynasty. The Chinese bourgeoisie planned to build a railway with Chinese capital, Chinese material and Chinese labour. European capital stepped between and lent the money to the Chinese Government, and a year later, in 1911, the revolution broke out. Sun Yat-Sen, dreaming of a republic and a regenerated China, was made President. But Yuan Shi-Kai from the North, hitherto a supporter of the Manchus, but with large forces at his disposal, ousted Sun from the position of President. The Chinese Liberal bourgeois who were supporting Sun were afraid he might go too far, and thus, even before 1914, had shown their counter-revolutionary nature. Sun Yat-Sen formed the Kuomintang or People’s Party, but once again foreign capital came to the assistance of reaction and made a large loan to Yuan Shi-Kai, who crushed the revolution first in 1913, again in 1915, and died just as he was about to restore the monarchy. Meanwhile industrialisation of China under both European and native capital steadily increased, with the corresponding growth of native bourgeoisie and proletariat and the increasing misery of the peasantry.

The war accelerated all the processes at work in China. Japanese Capitalism seized the opportunity to enforce exorbitant demands on China. Sun Yat-Sen formed a Revolutionary Government in South China, traditionally the revolutionary section of China in revolt. Despite some maneuvering, his main enemy was now foreign capital which had established itself firmly in large concessions, Shanghai the chief, whence it controlled the economic life of the country and drained its blood away, supported reaction and conducted itself to all Chinese, rich and poor, with studied insolence. Yet the insulted Chinese bourgeois was under the domination of foreign capital, and Sun, though no Communist, by 1923 had realised that Chinese reaction, reinforced by foreign Capitalism, could not succeed without the assistance of workers and peasants. By 1923 China was in political chaos. Each huge province, from ancient times economically autonomous, was under the control of a Tchun or feudal military leader, who concentrated into his hands both civil and military power, taxed the peasants for the upkeep of his private armies, and engaged in ceaseless warfare with other Tchuns. The ablest and most powerful of these exercised some sort of overlordship of subsidiary groups and enjoyed the support of the Capitalist countries whose interests predominated in the particular regions he controlled. Thus in Manchuria Japan supported Chang Tso-Lin, while Britain supported Wu Pei-Fu, chief marauder over many provinces in Northern China, and Sung Chan-Fang in Central China. Sun Yat-Sen’s Government in South China, seeking to call a constituent assembly for all China, was constantly attacked by militarists supported by British and Japanese Capitalism. He appealed to America for assistance, but America was interested in the Chinese market, not in the aspirations of the Chinese people, and Sun turned at last to the Soviet Union. Russia stood high in Chinese favour for Lenin had given back all that Tsarist Russia had stolen. In 1923 Sun met Joffe, the Russian representative in Shanghai. The Soviet Union promised him assistance in the struggle to free China from imperialism, and its tool and ally, Chinese militarism. Sun Yat-Sen reorganised his party. He declared that the sole aim of the old members was to get rich and obtain posts as high officials, and that the workers and peasants were the only real forces of revolution. But he did not, in the Bolshevik manner, organise a party based on a single class; whence the ultimate ruin of all he hoped for. His reorganised Kuomintang was still a hotch-potch, a few big capitalists, the nationalist bourgeoisie, the petty-bourgeoisie, and workers and peasants. His programme promised the nine-hour day to one, high tariffs to another, reduction of rents to a third, land from the state for landless peasants and tenant-holders, the right of self-determination for the various nationalities, democracy, all lumped together under the one term – Socialism. A determined revolutionary and undoubtedly a great leader, even at the very end of his life, he was only able to leave to his party a programme that Ramsay MacDonald could have drawn up for him without any difficulty in half-an-hour.


But Lenin, too, in 1919 had been devoting himself to the problem of China and the colonial countries of the East, and in 1920 he presented theses on the Eastern Revolution to the Second Congress of the Third International. Lenin saw the Chinese revolution as part of the international proletarian revolution. Without the continued exploitation of the colonial people Capitalism in Europe would collapse. His practical proposals were, as always, based on the independent proletarian movement, intransigence in programme and organisation, flexibility in the formation of the United Front.

He knew that the workers and peasants alone could liberate China. But he knew that the chief danger to their activity was exactly such a Popular Front type of Government as the Kuomintang, which would end inevitably by betraying. He therefore called for “determined war” against the attempt of all those quasi-Communist revolutionists to cloak the liberation movement in the backward countries with a Communist garb. “The exclusive purpose” of the Communist International in all backward countries was to educate the Communist movements in those countries, however small, to “the consciousness of their specific tasks, i.e. to the tasks of the struggle against the bourgeois democratic tendencies within their respective nationalities.” It was by fighting against their own bourgeoisie that the workers and peasants would drive out the imperialists. The Communist international would establish temporary relations and even unions with the revolutionary movements in these countries. But it must never amalgamate with them, “always preserving the independent character of the proletarian movement even though it be still in its embryonic state.”

In China the peasant question was far more acute than it had been in Russia before 1917. Consequent on the whole Russian experience, therefore, the most inexperienced Bolshevik could formulate the second step after the organisation of the proletarian party. “Above all, we must strive as far as possible ... to give the peasant movement a revolutionary character to organise the peasants and all the exploited classes into the Soviets.” Lenin wrote this in 1920. In three years the Chinese proletariat had passed even more rapidly than the Russian proletariat before 1905 to the stage where it was mature for revolution. We have to trace this process in some detail, for early in 1923 it was not only already clear that the Chinese Revolution was on its way, but obvious also that the theory of the permanent Revolution and Lenin’s organisational principles could carry it to success.


The post-war crisis, the resumption of industry in the West, hit Chinese industry severely. There had been small strikes in 1912, and the beginning of a Labour and Socialist movement before the war; an attempt had been made to form a Trade Union in Hong-Kong in 1915. But the Chinese workers who had served in the war brought back with them experience of Labour organisation. In September 1919 the Chinese Returned Labourers’ Association was organised in Shanghai to fight for better wages, the right to hold meetings, the right to make public speeches for promoting the welfare of the workers. The more backward the country, the closer the relation between economics and politics.

After the war the Japanese attempted to hold Shantung and in May 1919 a score of students attacked the residences of pro-Japanese ministers in Peking and were arrested. When the news reached Shanghai, Labour leaders declared a strike which spread rapidly even to the public utilities. In a few days the Peking Government was compelled to remove the offending ministers and release the agitators. In 1920 the Overseas Labour Union appeared in Canton. Hundreds of pre-war publications dealing with Syndicalism, Socialism, Anarchism and all phases of the Labour movement were being published. On May 1, 1920, in Peking, Canton and Shanghai, Chinese workers celebrated the workers’ anniversary. On January 12, 1922, the Chinese Seamen’s Union of Hong-Kong presented its third petition for an increase in wages, and demanded an answer within twenty-four hours. 1,500 men struck the next day. On February 1st the British Governor of Hong-Kong declared the Chinese Seamen’s Union an unlawful assembly. The reply was a sympathetic strike of 50,000, a symbolical general strike, representing every trade in the island. The strike lasted for nearly three months, when the seamen won a wage increase of twenty to thirty per cent. The young Communist Party of China organised in Canton the first Chinese Congress of Trades Unions with 170 delegates. Mediaeval Chinese Tchuns and postwar European Capitalism recognised a common enemy. In the autumn of 1922 the British police fired on Chinese workers and killed several of them. In February, 1923, Wu Pei-Fu, the British Tchun, banned a railwaymen’s conference. On the 6th a conference took place between the foreign consuls, Wu Pei-Fu’s military representatives, and the directors of the Peking-Hankow railway. The next day troops in big railway stations opened fire on the crowds of railwaymen. In Hankow alone sixty were killed. The result was a railway strike of 20,000 men. The workers were ready to resist, but parliamentarians in Peking pressed for an investigation, placatory resolutions were passed, the edge of the workers’ attack was blunted, and the strike was called off. At once the repression began; arrests, executions, the closing down of workers’ papers, the driving of the Trade Union movement into illegality. Like the Russian workers, the Chinese workers were learning the close connection between economics and politics in a country with a backward or disorganised economy.

It was at this time, in the spring of 1923, that Lenin, writing his last article, spoke with supreme confidence of the coming revolution in the East. China he knew would unloose India. For in addition to the insoluble contradictions of their internal economy, the Russian Revolution had given all these millions a concrete example, more potent than a hundred years of propaganda. But after that spring Lenin never worked again, and at once, in the autumn of 1913 Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev in Moscow again revealed their lack of principle and their ingrained opportunism by sending the Chinese Communist Party into the Kuomintang – the first and most criminal error. Trotsky, as so often in those days fighting alone for Lenin’s ideas, voted against. Had Lenin been sitting as chairman such an entry could never have taken place. It is in this way that men make history. In that autumn Borodin and other advisers went to Canton and opened a military school at Whampoa to train and organise the Kuomintang army. For the average bourgeois observer such a collaboration was well worth to Stalin even the temporary subordination of the Communist movement. It is here that the wide gulf between Menshevism and Bolshevism opens at once. Always when faced with such a choice Lenin chose the proletarian way. He did under certain circumstances advocate the temporary subordination of a revolutionary organisation, not large enough to be a party, to a centrist organisation; to a Social Democratic, or worse still, a bourgeois organisation, never. The sketch we have given of the Chinese proletariat between 1920 and 1923 shows that to the discerning eye the movement was mature. Stalin, an organic Menshevik and profoundly ignorant of international affairs as well as of Marxism, instinctively chose the other way, and Zinoviev and Kamenev followed. The test lies not in argument but in history.

In January, 1924, the reconstituted Kuomintang held its first meeting in Canton. Sun Yat-Sen agreed to admit the Communists into its ranks. But they entered not as a party, only as individuals, and had to swear to abide by the rules of the Kuomintang. The only conceivable justification for such a step was to consider it as a highly dangerous manoeuvre. [3] The Chinese Communists might possibly, under a strong and supple leadership, have worked under cover of the Kuomintang for a certain period of time and then, having spread their influence, left demonstratively on some political issue understandable to the masses, and resumed their organisational and programmatic independence. They could make a temporary agreement for some specific objective even with the Liberal bourgeoisie, tenaciously guarding their independence. No one in 1923 could have foreseen that under Stalin’s orders they were going to cling desperately to the Kuomintang for four years until hacked off by the swords of Chiang Kai-Shek’s soldiers.

For the moment, however, the Communists, taking advantage of their new position, began with energy to help the proletariat in its task of organising itself.


At the beginning of 1925 Feng Yu-Hsiang, a nationalist leader, defeated the pro-British Wu Pei-Fu, drove him out of Peking, and proclaimed his army the army of national liberation. The nationalist movement awoke. In Shanghai some worker delegates, elected to negotiate with the management in a dispute, were dismissed. The other workers protested, and the Anglo-Indian police, being summoned, fired on them, seriously wounding five. The Shanghai workers rose against this brutality. They did not know it at the time, but they were beginning the Chinese Revolution. That is the way a revolution often comes, like a thief in the night, and those who have prepared for it and are waiting for it do not see it, and often only realise that their chance has come when it has passed. The protest movement was fed not only from the immediate arrogance and rapacity of the foreigner. It was the whole history of China which was soon to express itself through this channel. The Chinese workers and peasants had reached one of the breaking-points of their history. Inside and outside the foreign concessions the Chinese workers, men, women and children, suffered from some of the most inhuman conditions of labour that obtained in any part of the globe; twelve hours and more seven days a week, no time for meals, no sanitary conveniences in the older factories, foreign and native overseers with loaded rifles to keep discipline, and all for a few pence a day. National liberation rested on the solid foundation of millions of workers, seeking a way out of intolerable conditions.

What had been a small dispute about wages and a protest against administrative injustice, became overnight a political weapon for the liberation of China. The four months and a half between May 1 to the middle of September showed like clockwork the class-forces which would struggle for mastery in the coming revolution. “Down with the imperialists,” was the slogan of the day. The Chinese Government in Shanghai thought it was dealing with a riot, and demonstrations and meetings were met with the killing and wounding of scores of people. The allies of Chinese reaction, foreign imperialism, of necessity rushed to aid in the repression. On June 4 the allied imperialists, whose gunboats are always in Chinese harbours to protect property and rights and interests, landed a party and occupied the University and other buildings in the city. The Shanghai proletariat replied with the general strike. Nearly a quarter of a million workers came out and paralysed the city, and as the mass force of the Shanghai proletariat showed itself, it drew in its wake (exactly as in France in June, 1936) the petty-bourgeois students, the artisans and the small traders, and, in the special conditions of China as a country struggling for national independence, even some of that treacherous brood, the Liberal Chinese bourgeoisie. A special committee was formed, the Committee of Labour, Education and Commerce, which along with delegates from the Trade Unions had representatives from students’ associations, the small shop-keepers and even some of the bourgeoisie. But the Trade Unions predominated and, far more clearly than in Russia, from the very start the Chinese proletariat was leading the nation. All classes seemed to support the strike. But in an industrialised country all classes never make a revolution, and as the strike developed, the necessity for Lenin’s lifelong principle, the proletarian organisations and party retaining their independence, emerged with startling clearness. After one month the Chinese bourgeoisie, who had never been very ardent, ceased to support the strike. During July and August the petty-bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, the students, wobblers from the very intermediate position they hold in society, began to weaken: nothing but immediate success and continued vigorous action can ever keep these to the proletarian movement. Aid from the international proletariat would have helped, but only the Third International agitated, collected money, made donations. The Second International, those perpetual preachers of self-determination, did nothing. The International Federation of Trades Unions behaved likewise. The British General Council, at this period consorting with the Russians in the Anglo-Russian Committee, refused even to answer telegrams of appeal from the Chinese Unions. Realising their limitations the Shanghai leaders in good time fell back to the defensive. Some of their most pressing economic demands were satisfied, the strike was called off and the Shanghai workers retired in good order and with a living, vital experience to help them in the future.

But so ripe was China that the Shanghai strike had acted as a detonator. There had been over a hundred sympathetic strikes in various towns, and out of one of these developed the Hong-Kong and Canton strike, demonstrating the fighting power and endurance of the proletariat in the manner that so constantly surprises even the most sanguine revolutionaries.


On June 23 a demonstration of protest against the Shanghai shooting took place in Canton. British police from the Anglo-French concession fired on the demonstration, killing and wounding scores of people. As in Shanghai the Chinese proletariat replied with a general strike and their comrades in Hong-Kong joined. The Chinese bourgeoisie in Canton rallied to the strikers, and supported them, owing to the long revolutionary tradition in Canton and the much more important fact that the strike was accompanied by a boycott of British goods. From all the Chinese communities in the Philippine Islands, East Indies and America, money poured in. The British tried to prevent Chinese money coming into Canton, but failed; in Hong-Kong they unloosed all the forces of repression to break the strike. The Hong-Kong workers were unshakable. In thousands they began to leave Hong-Kong for Canton. Estimates vary, but one Chinese writer claims that from start to finish about 100,000 Chinese left the island for Canton. There a strike committee was formed. The strikers organised propaganda meetings, study-courses and lectures, they drew up regulations for workers and submitted them to the Canton Kuomintang Government, they confiscated and stored contraband goods which British merchants tried to smuggle in, they captured, tried and imprisoned blacklegs, they organised pickets along the entire frontier of Kwangsi province to keep out British ships and British goods from Hong-Kong. They formed a Workers’ Guard which led the picketing, fought against smugglers and fought with the Kuomintang Government against counter-revolutionary Tchuns. The strike ruined British trade with China. Between August and December 1924 the British ships entering Canton numbered between 160 and 240 each month. For the corresponding period in 1925 the number was between 27 and 2 [?].

British Capitalism lost half-a-million pounds per day. In 1926 the British Empire lost half its trade with China, and three-quarters of its trade with Hong-Kong. After fifteen months the British began to give way and sought to placate the workers, handling recalcitrant Britishers very roughly. No Government can continue to fight against strikers who will not even stay to be imprisoned or shot at. After one year the strike still continued as powerful as ever, the Communist Party of China playing a leading part, and the spirit of the workers all over China rose steadily. Trades Union membership, in May, 1924, 220,000, reached 540,000 in May, 1925, and in May, 1926, over a million. In Shanghai alone during the 1925 Strike it had reached 280,000. And this unprecedentedly rapid industrial organisation of the workers was expressing itself in many strikes that were primarily political, which meant that the workers were looking to solve their industrial difficulties by the social revolution.

The Communist Party, 800 in 1925, by January, 1926, was 30,000, and to this powerful proletarian movement could be added the overwhelming revolutionary force of the starving Chinese peasantry. In Kwangtung, a province typical of the South, seventy-four per cent of the population held nineteen per cent of the land. In Wiush in Central China, 68.9 per cent of the poor peasantry held 14.2 per cent of the land. In Paoting in the North 65.2 per cent held 25.9 per cent of the land. Of the Chinese population, on a rough estimate, sixty-five per cent were driven by the most consistent and powerful revolutionary urge in all historical periods – the hunger of starving peasants for land.


The fundamental task of the Communist Party was basically the task of the Bolshevik Party in Russia – to link the proletarian movement with the peasant, organising the peasants into Soviets for the forcible seizure of the land. In no other way but on the basis of the proletarian and peasant revolution could China then or now achieve national independence. Sun Yat-Sen had learnt that by hard experience, though he shrank from drawing the full conclusions. He had hoped somehow to bring the revolutionary masses into the struggle led by the nationalist bourgeoisie. The thing is impossible. Now since the great strikes when it was clear that the Chinese proletariat was challenging the bourgeoisie, it was inevitable that at the first opportunity the Chinese bourgeoisie would join with imperialists and militarists and crush the revolution.

The farther East the bourgeoisie the more cruel and treacherous. The powerful French bourgeoisie in 1789 had joined with the counter-revolution, how much less likely was the weak Chinese bourgeoisie, far weaker than the Russian, to ally itself with a proletariat which had shown its power. That was the whole theoretical prognosis of the Bolshevik party, amply confirmed by the course of the Russian Revolution. After 1917 the main strategic line of the Chinese Revolution could only be as follows. The Chinese Revolution would begin as a bourgeois-democratic revolution, but only as an immediate slogan. While the Communist Party of China would not oppose this slogan, it would be aware that for a backward country with an advanced proletariat (we shall see it in Spain), the bourgeois-democratic regime is impossible. The revolution would conquer as the dictatorship of the proletariat, or not at all. The Communist Party had already shown that it knew how to link industrial with political demands. It had to strive to popularise the ideas of Soviets among the peasantry on the simple slogan – the land for the peasants – and, as the party which urged the seizure of the land, would ultimately have the firm support of the peasantry for its political demands. Guarding its own independence, the Communist Party would boldly raise the slogan of national independence based on the revolutionary demands of the proletariat and the peasantry. If the movement developed (there could have been no doubt of this after the Hong-Kong strike, and in Hupeh in 1926 the peasants were already seizing the land), the anti-imperialist pretence of the Chinese bourgeoisie would be exposed and the Chinese petty-bourgeoisie, the traders, the students, and some of the intellectuals would be swept in the wake of the proletarian movement, and follow the proletariat as leader of the national revolution. A Congress of Soviets would appoint a provisional Revolutionary Government, and call a constituent assembly, arranging the franchise to secure the predominance of the poor. In this assembly the Chinese proletariat, organised in the Communist Party and in the Trade Unions, would occupy a dominating position. According to the strength of the movement and the dangers of the revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat might be established immediately. But either the bourgeoisie would establish their dictatorship; or conversely the proletariat would establish theirs. It was this strategic line which would guide the Communist Party, already superior in the towns. It would jealously maintain its independence as the party of the proletariat and, if it could draw the hundreds of millions of peasants behind it, it would be the most powerful political force in the country. There was the danger of foreign intervention, but nothing would bind revolutionary China so firmly together as the sight of the Chinese bourgeoisie, but yesterday lovers of their country, attacking China along with the hated imperialists. China could stand a blockade far more easily than Russia. A Soviet China linked to a Soviet Russia, supported by the farflung Third International, would alter the whole relationship of the capitalist and revolutionary forces in the far East. Such a bloc would not only throw British and Japanese economy into the gravest disorder, but would unloose movements in India, Burma, and even Egypt and the Near East which would set the whole structure of Capitalism rocking. The movement might perhaps not develop so powerfully but there was a chance that, at least in a substantial part of China, the revolution might hold power and use it as a base for future extension. At worst it might be totally defeated. The proletariat was ready. But the boldness of its slogans, the strength of its attack would depend on the strength of the peasant movement it could develop.

Even if it failed, as the Russian Revolution of 1905, the Chinese proletariat would have acquired an invaluable experience, the more advanced elements in the peasantry would have had time to recognise with which party their future lay, and the party, with tried and experienced leaders, would be able to prepare for the inevitable return of the revolutionary wave as the Russian party prepared for the new revolution on the basis of 1905. Such is the theory and practice of the Permanent Revolution. Lenin, alive and well in Moscow, would from day to day have analysed the development of events and through the Chinese Communist Party would have made the road clear for the Chinese masses. The Chinese proletariat had, by 1926, shown what it was capable of. Starting in 1929, nearly a hundred million peasants were to show for five heroic years how ready for revolution was the Chinese peasantry. It was not only the objective conditions which were so favourable. The Russian Revolution and the Communist International exercised an enormous subjective influence. The Chinese workers and peasants knew broadly what the Russians had done, and wanted to do the same. They trusted the Chinese Communist Party which they knew to be guided by the now world-famous leaders in Moscow. And yet it was the Communist leadership in Moscow which led the revolution in China to disaster. Step by step Stalin mismanaged it with such incompetence and dishonesty that, one year after the final defeat in December 1927, the name of the International stank in Shanghai and Canton.

In April, 1927, the party had nearly 60,000 members, including 53.8 per cent workers; by July the percentage of workers in the party was seventy-five. On November 8, 1928, a circular of the Central Committee stated: “The party does not have a single healthy party nucleus among the industrial workers.“ In 1930 not two per cent were workers. In 1935 at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International the secretary admitted that they had failed to make progress in organising the industrial workers. The blight that Stalin and Bucharin cast on the Chinese revolution in 1925-27 is still upon it.


Stalin had had as little to do with international politics as with economics. Now in his important position as Lenin’s successor he continued the role he had begun in October, 1924, when he prophesied the imminent revolution in Europe. In May, 1925, the month in which the Shanghai strike began, he spoke at the University of the Peoples of the East and expounded his Leninism for the revolutionary movement in the Orient. There he put forward, for such countries as Egypt and China, what is from the Leninist point of view the most singular of all Stalin’s conceptions, surpassing even the relegation to the dust-heap of basic capital. He proposed a two-class party, a party of workers and peasants “after the model of the Kuomintang.“ Not all the red professors in Russia could find him any quotations from Lenin to support this doctrine, and the speech is remarkable as one of the few in the collected volumes which is not interspersed with “Lenin said.“

“They will have to transcend the policy of the united nationalist front, and adopt the policy of forming a revolutionary coalition between the workers and the petty bourgeois. This coalition may find expression in the creation of a single party whose membership will be drawn from among the working class and the peasantry, after the model of the Kuomintang. But such a party should be genuinely representative of the two component forces, the communists and the revolutionary petty-bourgeois. This coalition must see to it that the half-heartedness and duplicity of the great bourgeoisie shall be laid bare, and that a resolute attack shall be made upon imperialism. The formation of such a party, composed, as we have seen, of two distinct elements, is both necessary and expedient, so long as it does not shackle the activities of the Communists, so long as it does not hamper the agitational and propagandist freedom of the Communists, so long as it does not prevent the proletariat from rallying round the Communists, so long as it does not impair the Communist leadership of the revolutionary forces. But the formation of such a party is neither necessary nor expedient unless all these conditions are forthcoming; otherwise the Communist elements would become absorbed into the bourgeois elements and the Communists would lose their position as leaders of the proletarian army.” [4]

In that muddled blundering paragraph lay the germ of all the muddles and blunders which were to come. It is difficult to say where he got the idea of a party representing two classes from. It was due most probably to a misunderstanding of the phrase “the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.” That there can be only one proletarian or Communist Party, that a peasant may become a member of a Communist Party only by adopting the proletarian policy of the Communist Party, that a peasant party would be a separate entity led by the proletarian party, as the Social Revolutionaries formed a minority party in the Soviet Union between November 1917 and July 1918, that to talk about a party “composed, as we have seen, of two distinct elements" in which Communists would not be shackled by peasants, was the very antithesis of all that Lenin had fought for, was in complete opposition to what the Communist International stood for, was, in fact, the most dangerous nonsense, especially in the mouth of the leader of the international proletariat. To point out all this, of course, was Trotskyism.

Given Stalin’s obstinacy and the servility of his subordinates, we can see today that from that moment the Chinese Revolution was doomed. For Stalin and Bucharin the revolution, according to Leninism, was a bourgeois-democratic revolution against the foreign imperialists, and therefore was to be carried out by the bourgeoisie organised in the Kuomintang and the nationalist army of the Canton Government which Borodin was training. The business of the proletariat and the peasantry, therefore, was to do nothing which would impede the bourgeoisie and the Kuomintang in their struggle. Not for nothing had they spent the previous two years abusing the Permanent Revolution and all its teachings as the main vice of Trotskyism. After the imperialists had been driven into the sea by the united nation, by all classes, except the biggest of the bourgeoisie, then the proletariat and peasantry would turn upon the bourgeoisie and conquer. This in 1925, after 1905 and 1917, after over twenty years of reading and expounding Lenin.


The two-class party Stalin envisaged on the model of the Kuomintang quickly developed into the four-class party of the Kuomintang.

The Kuomintang, whatever Sun Yat-Sen [5] and his wife might think, was a Government party ruling a large extent of territory in Southern China. By 1925 its membership consisted of about a quarter of a million, big bourgeoisie, factory-owners, petty-bourgeoisie, professional men and petty-traders, landowners, gentry, rich peasants and also, after the reorganisation by Sun Yat-Sen, working men and poor peasants. But the proletariat was being organised in Trade Unions under the leadership of the Communist Party. We have watched its steady growth. And the Kuomintang, as organised, could from its very nature have nothing to do with a revolutionary seizure of land by the poor peasants. There might be a Right Wing and a Left Wing (January 1926 there were 168 Lefts to 45 Rights and Centrists out of 278 delegates), but such a party could never lead a revolutionary proletariat and a revolutionary peasantry. Why should it? Not only in Lenin’s thesis at the Second Congress, but also in supplementary theses presented at the Fourth Congress in 1922, the proletarian parties in the colonies had been warned against such parties, and in both sets of theses the Kuomintang had been mentioned by name as one of the specially dangerous. Trotsky therefore continued to demand that the Communist Party leave the Kuomintang. Whatever remote justification there might have been for its being in before, now that the revolution had begun, at all costs it must come out. It might be driven underground for a time. So had been the Bolshevik Party. The rise of the revolution would bring it out again with renewed force. Stalin and Bucharin condemned this as Trotskyism, and bound the Communist Party and the Chinese Revolution to the Kuomintang.

During 1925 the Left Wing of the Kuomintang had been following Sun Yat-Sen’s directions, and like good Liberals displayed much sympathy for the workers’ movements. [6] They had organised peasant leagues to fight against the Ming Tuans, a sort of Fascist militia on the countryside. But they warned the peasants against the seizure of land. That would come after, duly arranged by law. But even the formation of these peasant leagues had been causing dissatisfaction among the Right elements in the party.

The Executive Committee, however, was Left, and the Executive Committee ruled between congresses. Stalin and Bucharin, through Borodin, supported the Left against the Right, that is to say supported the petty-bourgeois traders and small capitalists against their greater brethren. The Political Bureau of nine members was Left. Wang Chin-Wei (the same who was Prime Minister to Chiang Kai-Shek until a few months ago – a bullet caused his retirement) was head of the party and of the Canton Government. He was absolutely Left, and Borodin, the Russian representative, was high in favour with Wang Chin-Wei. Borodin, with Wang’s support, drafted programmes for Kuomintang conferences which sounded revolutionary enough, and the Chinese Communist Party worked and grew within the shelter of the Left Kuomintang. But as the Shanghai strike began and unloosed the hundreds of thousands of striking workers on Canton itself, the Chinese bourgeoisie and landowners grew frightened and demanded the expulsion of the Communists. The Communists had now either to leave and fight for the revolution according to Lenin, or stay and fight for it according to the Left Kuomintang. Stalin chose the Left Kuomintang, and Borodin organised a plan of campaign to suit.


In the North Chang Tso-Lin, the pro-Japanese war-lord, had established a dictatorship in Pekin, and gathered some other military chiefs to oppose the nationalists in the South. Borodin and the Left Wing therefore outlined the national revolution as follows. In the coming spring the nationalist forces in the South under Chiang Kai-Shek would set out from Canton in the extreme South, raise the banner of revolution, conquering anti-nationalist Tchuns, uniting with those who wished a liberated China, and end by defeating Chang Tso-Lin and taking the ancient capital of Pekin. Chiang Kai-Shek was willing to lead this revolution but he did not wish to go marching off to Pekin and leave a Radical Kuomintang Government under the influence of Borodin behind him. Yet his party needed the temporary support of the International. It applied for membership as a sympathising party. The Stalinists agreed, as usual Trotsky alone dissenting. To the two plenums of the Executive Committee held in February and again in November, Chiang sent fraternal delegates. He and Stalin exchanged portraits. But on March 20, 1926, while Borodin was out of Canton, Chiang Kai-Shek coalesced with the Right Kuomintang, staged a coup d’etat, seized power and forced Wang Chin-Wei, and other Radical members of the Kuomintang to fly from the country. He had acted too early. He had control of the army, but the nationalist movement was too weak as yet to progress without mass support. There was a sharp reaction against Chiang, and in May Left and Right Wing were reconciled. But Chiang Kai-Shek became head of the party in place of Wang Chin-Wei, and at the May plenum in 1926 he laid down harsh terms. The Communist Party was pledged not to criticise the anticlass struggle doctrines of Sun Yat-Sen. It was compelled to give a list of its members in the Kuomintang to Chiang Kai-Shek (so that he could put his hands on them when he wanted them). It was forbidden to allow its members to become heads of any party or government department. In all important committees its members were limited to one. Members of the Kuomintang were forbidden to join the Communist Party. Borodin, under Stalin’s orders, agreed to all these conditions. In return Chiang Kai-Shek expelled some of the members of the Right Wing. (They went to Nanking to await him there.) Thus at the moment when the revolution needed the leadership of the Communist Party Stalin tied it hand and foot. Marxism apart, Chiang Kai-Shek stood revealed. Stalin, however, follows his policies to the end and never gives away to Trotskyism. The news of this coup d’etat would have reinforced Trotsky’s insistence that the Communist Party leave the Kuomintang at once. Stalin proved his own policy correct by his favourite method of argument. He suppressed the news. When news of the coup d’etat eventually leaked out, the International Press Correspondence of April 8, 1926, called it a “lying report.” In the May 6 issue of the same journal Voitinsky, one of the Russian delegation under Borodin, called it “an invention of the imperialists.“ Thus encouraged, Chiang made all strikes in Canton illegal, Borodin agreeing.

With his rear tolerably safe from revolution, Chiang set out in July to the North, ostensibly to fight the militarists. He carried with him printing presses and a huge propaganda apparatus, developed and run by Communists, who put forward Chiang’s slogans. Believing him to be the leader of the revolution, the masses rushed to his support and the anti-nationalist armies crumbled. As he gained confidence Chiang suppressed Trade Unions, the peasant leagues and the Communists. His support fell away. He recalled the Communists, who came willingly, again did propaganda for him, using the prestige of the October Revolution and the Soviet State in the service of Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of the revolution. Where the Bolsheviks in Russia had called for Soviets and the confiscation of the land, the Communists now agitated for better working conditions and a twenty per cent reduction in rent. That was all Chiang would allow them to do. Chiang resumed his triumphant progress. By September the Yangtze valley was in his hands, and Stalin and Bucharin and the Internationalist Press were delirious with joy. By October his army had captured the important triple town of Hankow, Wuchang and Hanyang, known as Wuhan. The Kuomintang Government was moved from Canton to Wuhan, and before it left Canton it called off unconditionally the Hong-Kong – Canton strike. This had lasted with undiminished vigour for sixteen months and in all its aspects it is the greatest strike in history. In Canton also the Kuomintang provincial Left Wing was replaced by the Right, the famous workers’ guard was disarmed, revolutionary workers were arrested, workers were forbidden to agitate among the peasantry, anti-English demonstrations were prohibited, and the gentry or small landowners in the villages encouraged. The Communist Party leadership submitted to everything. And as the news of all this leaked through to Russia, in Moscow the internal struggle between Stalin’s Leninism and Trotskyism was now extended to Stalin’s Kuomintang policy.


In July 1926 Radek, a member of the Opposition, rector of Sun Yat-Sen University in Moscow, wrote to the Politbureau of the C.P.S.U. and asked for answers to a series of questions so that he might bring his lectures into harmony with the policy of the International in China. The questions were awkward. What was the attitude of the party to the military dictatorship of Chiang Kai-Shek initiated after the coup d’etat of March, 1926, and supported by Borodin? What work was the Kuomintang doing among the peasantry? A manifesto had been issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese party, part of which ran: “We must carry on a minimum of class struggle, and when the policy of the Communist Party is designated as Bolshevik, it is not a matter of Bolshevism but of Bolshevism in the interests of the whole nation.” Did Stalin approve of this as Leninism?

Radek received no reply. He wrote a second letter in July. There was no reply. He wrote again in September. Still no reply. Stalin and Bucharin dared not as yet say openly that they were responsible for the instructions to the Communist Party of China to do nothing which would accelerate any conflict with Chiang Kai-Shek. But in November, 1926, after the Seventh Plenum of the E.C.C.I. (at which a fraternal delegate from Chiang Kai-Shek took part), the Executive issued a manifesto. Stalin had proposed a two-class party; Martynov, one of his henchmen, made the Kuomintang into a three-class party. Now this manifesto defined the revolutionary movement as a bloc of four classes, comedy in the mouths of Liberal bourgeois seeking to deceive the masses, but a shameful crime coming from Lenin’s International not three years after his death.

“The proletariat is forming a bloc with the peasantry (which is actively taking up the struggle for its interests) with the petty urban bourgeoisie and a section of the capitalist bourgeoisie. This combination of forces found its political expression in corresponding groups in the Kuomintang and in the Canton Government. Now the movement is at the beginning of the third stage on the eve of a new class combination. In this stage the driving forces of the movement will be a bloc of still more revolutionary nature – of the proletariat, peasantry and urban petty bourgeoisie, to the exclusion of a large section of the big Capitalist bourgeoisie. This does not mean that the whole bourgeoisie as a class will be excluded from the arena of the struggle for national emancipation, for besides the petty and middle bourgeoisie, even certain strata of the big bourgeoisie may, for a certain period, continue to march with the revolution ...“

What pen wrote this we cannot say. But there can be no mistake about the originator of these ideas. It was the same who called the struggle between Lenin and Trotsky a storm in a tea-cup, and urged support of the Provisional Government in 1917.

On the future Chinese Government Stalin had travelled far since the two-class party.

“The structure of the revolutionary State will be determined by its class basis. It will not be a purely bourgeois democratic State. The State will represent the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat, peasantry and other exploited classes. It will be a revolutionary anti-imperialist government of transition to non-capitalist (Socialist) development ...”

All of which meant that the Kuomintang would govern henceforth.

Boldly the manifesto came out for the agrarian revolution:

“The national Government of Canton will not be able to retain power, the revolution will not advance towards the complete victory over foreign imperialism and native reaction, unless national liberation is identified with agrarian revolution ...”

This sounded grand enough, but it was only one of the flourishes which Stalin habitually uses as a preface to the blackest reaction. The next paragraph was many flights lower:

“While recognising that the Communist Party of China should advance the demand for the nationalisation of the land as its fundamental plank in the agrarian programme of the proletariat, it is necessary at the present time, however, to differentiate in agrarian tactics in accordance with the peculiar economic and political conditions prevailing in the various districts in Chinese territory ...”

This meant simply that the views on property of Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang leaders of the revolution were to be respected. What, therefore, was the revolutionary programme? It had to be a programme that Borodin and Chiang could carry out peacefully together.

“The Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang must immediately carry out the following measures in order to bring over the peasantry to the side of the revolution.”

And the first of a long list of demands was:

To reduce rents to the minimum.

Stalin and Bucharin were asking the peasants of China to make a revolution in order "to reduce rents to the minimum."

Not once was the word Soviet mentioned, and the manifesto took good care to exclude every possibility of the organisation of one. “The apparatus of the National Revolutionary Government provides a very effective way to reach the peasantry. The Communist Party must use this way.” The Kuomintang therefore was to make the peasant revolution.

Chiang had severely limited the participation of the Communists in the organisation of the Kuomintang. Stalin and Bucharin, having hidden this from the International, with their tongues in their cheeks proceeded as follows:

“In the newly liberated provinces State apparatuses of the type of the Canton Government will be set up. The task of the Communists and their revolutionary allies is to penetrate into the apparatus of the new Government to give practical expression to the agrarian programme of national revolution. This will be done by using the State apparatus for the confiscation of land, reduction of taxes, investment of real power in the peasant committees, thus carrying on progressive measures of reform on the basis of a revolutionary programme ...“

They then dealt the now traditional blow at Trotskyism:

“In view of this and many other equally important reasons, the point of view that the Communist Party must leave the Kuomintang is incorrect ...“

The manifesto showed that they knew quite well the nature of the Kuomintang Government in Canton: “Since its foundation the real power of the Canton Government has been in the hands of the Right Wing Kuomintang (five out of the six commissars belong to the Right Wing) ...” But they called on the Communists to enter this Government to assist the revolutionary Left Wing against the right. As if four revolutionary classes were not enough they envisaged five.

“The Communist Party of China must strive to develop the Kuomintang into a real Party of the People – a solid revolutionary bloc of the proletariat, peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the other oppressed and exploited classes which must carry on a decisive struggle against imperialism and its agents ...”

Stalin and Bucharin might talk about bourgeois-democratic revolution and the democratic dictatorship of proletariat and peasantry and the remaining classes which made up the five, but the Kuomintang Canton Government with five Right-wingers out of its six commissars was quite good enough for them.

“The Canton Government is a revolutionary State primarily owing to its anti-imperialistic character ...”

The industrial programme of the revolution was to be:

“(a) Nationalisation of railways and waterways.
(b) Confiscation of large enterprises, mines and banks having the character of foreign concessions.
(c) Nationalisation of land to be realised by successive radical reform measures enforced by the revolutionary State.” [7]

For twelve years before 1917 the Bolsheviks had tirelessly preached the simple slogans, the democratic republic, the eight-hour day, the land for the peasants. Yet with the Chinese proletariat already in action and millions of hungry peasants ready to fight, this was the programme and policy imposed on them with all the authority of the October Revolution and the Communist International. This cruelly deceptive and dangerous document went to Borodin and the Communist Party of China, through them to demoralise the ardent but trusting Chinese masses and lead scores of thousands into the death-trap of the Kuomintang.


But it was all that Borodin and the Communist Party could do to hold back the Chinese masses. By January 1927 the membership of the C.P. was nearly 60,000; the Young Communist League of China was 35,000, and the organised workers, 230,000 in 1923, were now 2,800,000, a greater number than in the Russia of October 1917. However much Stalin might wish to hold them down in order not to displease Chiang Kai-Shek, the masses in Canton and Wuhan could feel on their backs the blows of reaction. In the Southern provinces by March 1927 ten million peasants had been organised in the peasant leagues. In Hupeh the peasants were already seizing the land on a large scale. Furthermore, Chiang Kai-Shek’s treachery, made so clear in March, was now becoming open to the masses. In the early months of 1927 he was carrying on negotiations with the Japanese and the pro-Japanese reactionary war-lords; and the Communist Party knew it. The nearer he got to Shanghai the more he threw off the thin mask. Since December he had been in open conflict with Borodin, Galen and other Communists. But their only strength lay in the mass movement, and this they had, by Stalin’s manifesto, to subordinate to the Kuomintang.

Suddenly the masses broke away. On January 3 the workers and petty-bourgeoisie of Hankow were holding a meeting near the British concession. The British authorities got into conflict with them and the masses spontaneously occupied the concession, organised a workers’ guard and maintained control. The revolution in the South flared up again, and so powerful wave of nationalist sentiment flowed through the country that even the Japanese supporter, Chang Tso-Lin in Pekin, found it politic to speak of the return of the concessions. Chiang Kai-Shek, now at Nanking, then as today a stronghold of reaction, afraid of the militant workers in the South, demanded that the Government seat should be transferred to Nanking. But the Left Kuomintang, between whom and Chiang there had always been almost open hostility, insisted that according to a resolution passed in Canton the Government should remain at Wuhan. For weeks there existed practically two Kuomintang Governments, two central committees, two political bureaux. Chiang, not yet ready to come out openly against the International, praised Trotskyism because the Trotskyists were demanding the withdrawal of the party from the Kuomintang. [8] In the Russian delegation three young Communists (all anti-Trotskyists), Nassonov, Fokine and Albrecht, were chafing at the suicidal policy of Borodin. The bold action of the Chinese proletariat at Hankow had given Borodin an opportunity. The Left Kuomintang rallied round him and stiffened its resistance to Chiang Kai-Shek. But Borodin, shackled by Stalin, did not know what to do. To the masses holding Hankow neither Borodin nor the Chinese party gave any directives. Instead they rebuked the workers who had formed the guard and were keeping order in Hankow.

Nassonov, Fokine and Albrecht urged Borodin to leave Shanghai and go to Wuhan to rally the Left Kuomintang, initiate a broad mass campaign on the rising militancy of the masses, explain that the quarrel over the Government seat was not personal but political, and demand openly from Chiang Kai-Shek a clear and distinct political declaration. Borodin stuck to Stalin’s manifesto.

Chiang took the offensive, and he and the bourgeois and imperialist press brought the struggle against Borodin into the open. On February 21 Chiang delivered a pogrom speech against the party, and the conflict could no longer be hidden. Borodin and the party remained silent before the bewildered masses. Urged to unloose the peasant movement against Chiang, they declared that the peasants did not want land.


In Shanghai the revolutionary proletariat, roused to fever-heat by the victories and approach of Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of the revolution, received the news that Chiang had defeated Sun Chang-Fang, the reactionary feudal general who dominated Shanghai and the surrounding area. The joy of the workers broke out on February 18 into a spontaneous general strike in which 300,000 workers joined. A section of the petty-bourgeoisie shut up their shops and joined in the strike, the fleet came over to the side of the workers and the strike developed into an armed uprising. A detachment of Sun Chang-Fang’s troops in the city broke under the strain. Some began to loot and pillage, others wanted to join the nationalist revolution. But the Chinese Central Committee, which did not expect the strike, deliberated as to whether the rising should take place or not, even while it was taking place. No directives were issued. The slogans were “Down with Sun Chang-Fang,” and “Hail the Northern Expedition,” “Hail Chiang Kai Shek.” Not one anti-imperialist slogan was issued in Shanghai, the centre of foreign imperialism in China. The movement collapsed.

Nassonov, Fokine and Albrecht, seeing the revolution being destroyed by those who were supposed to lead it, sent to Moscow a long and bitter complaint against the leadership of Borodin and the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party.

“The slogan of the democratic national assembly, which we had advanced shortly before the strike, was conceived of as a new means of combinations at the top, and was not launched among the masses. As a result, we let slip an exceptionally favourable historical moment, a rare combination of circumstances, where power lay in the streets but the party did not know how to take it. Worse still, it didn’t want to take it; it was afraid to.

“Thus, the Right tendency, which has already contaminated the party for a year, found a crass and consummate expression during the Shanghai events, which can only be compared with the tactics of the German Central Committee in 1923 and of the Mensheviks during the December uprising in 1905. Yet there is a difference. It lies in the fact that in Shanghai the proletariat had considerably more forces and chances on its side and, with an energetic intervention, it could have won Shanghai for the revolution and changed the relationship of forces within the Kuomintang.

“It is not by accident that the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party committed these errors. They flowed from the Right Wing conception of the revolution, the lack of understanding of the mass movement and the complete lack of attention towards it.” [9]

But the Right Wing conception of the revolution which had contaminated the party for a year had come from Stalin. Stalin dealt with the protest against his policy in the usual manner. He suppressed the letter, recalled Nassonov in disgrace and banished him to America.

While the Shanghai proletariat fought, Chiang Kai-Shek, but two days march outside the city, would not enter. He waited while the soldiers of the reaction “bled” the workers. (The military governor of Shanghai was later to receive a command in Chiang’s army.) Instead Chiang spread terror in the outlying provinces. Nassonov and his friends had written their despairing letter on March 17, in the belief that the Shanghai proletariat was crushed for some time to come. But on March 21 the workers of Shanghai again rose spontaneously, and this time drove out the Northern forces. Millions of workers all over the globe have suffered at the hands of the Stalin-dominated International, but none so much as the valiant proletariat of Shanghai. For three weeks they held the city. By this time the masses knew that Chiang Kai-Shek meant mischief, for his army had stood outside the gates for several days while they fought with the reactionaries inside. The majority of the workers wished to close the gates to Chiang and fight him. But Stalin’s orders were rigid. Mandalian, a Communist official in Shanghai at the time, has written that the orders to the workers were “not to provoke Chiang” and “in case of extreme necessity to bury their arms,” [10] and Bucharin, in his Problems of the Chinese Revolution, has confirmed this. From Chiang’s army itself came a warning of the coup that Chiang was preparing. His army was not homogeneous, and contained elements devoted to the revolution. Certain sections of Chiang’s army entered the city but took no action. The first division was led by Say-O, who had been promoted from the ranks, and he and his division were in sympathy with the mass movement. Chiang Kai-Shek knew this and hated Say-O. While the main army stood outside the gates of Shanghai, Chiang called Say-O to headquarters, received him coldly and proposed that he leave the city and go to the front. Say-O sought the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and told them that he would not go back to Chiang Kai-Shek because he feared a trap. He was willing to remain in Shanghai and fight with the workers against the counter-revolutionary overthrow which Chiang was preparing. Tchen Diu-Su and the leaders of the Chinese party told him that they knew the overthrow was being prepared, but that they did not want a premature conflict with Chiang Kai-Shek. Say-O therefore led his division out of the city. [11]

But the split in the Kuomintang ranks and the coming treachery of Chiang were now no secret and were openly discussed even in the imperialist press. The Chinese party holding fast to Moscow, reassured the doubting Shanghai workers.

On April 6 Stalin addressed a meeting in Moscow, and the meeting unanimously adopted a resolution condemning Trotskyism and endorsing the line of the Chinese Communist Party:

“This meeting considers the demand that the Communist Party of China leave the Kuomintang to be equivalent to the isolation of the C.P. of China and the proletariat from the national movement for the emancipation of China and further considers this demand to be absolutely false and erroneous.” [12]

All over the world the Communist International, drugged by the Stalinist policy and the Stalinist lies, was waiting for the victory of Chiang Kai-Shek. On March 23 the Communist Party of France held a great meeting in Paris at which appeared Cachin, Semard and Monmousseau. They sent a telegram to Chiang Kai-Shek:

“The workers of Paris greet the entry of the revolutionary Chinese army into Shanghai. Fifty-six years after the Paris Commune and ten years after the Russian, the Chinese Commune marks a new stage in the development of the world revolution.”

But the Shanghai workers knew that Chiang was a traitor. The British and Americans bombarded Nanking and killed 7,000 Chinese and the imperialists were openly inciting Chiang against the workers. To allay feeling, therefore, Communist Party and Kuomintang issued a joint manifesto in Shanghai on April 6. In all the misleading literature of the Stalinist International this manifesto is perhaps the most criminal.

“The national revolution has reached the last basis of imperialism in China, Shanghai. The counter-revolutionaries both inside and outside China are spreading false reports in order to bring our two parties in opposition to each other. Some say that the Communist Party is preparing to form a Worker’s Government, to overthrow the Kuomintang and to recover the concessions by force of arms. Others say that the leaders of the Kuomintang intend to make war on the Communist Party, to suppress the labour unions and to dissolve the workers’ defence organisations.

“Now is not the time to discuss the origin of these malicious rumours. The supreme organ of the Kuomintang declared at its last plenary session that it has not the least intention of attacking the Communist Party or of suppressing the labour unions. The military authorities in Shanghai have declared their complete allegiance to the Central Committee of the Kuomintang. If differences of opinion exist they can be amicably settled. The Communist Party is striving to maintain order in the freed territories. It has already completely approved of the tactic of the National Government not to attempt to force a return of the concessions by armed force. The trades council of Shanghai has also declared that it will make no attempt to enter the concession by violence. At the same time it declared that it fully approved of the co-operation between all oppressed classes through the formation of a local government. In face of these facts, there is no basis whatever for these malicious rumours.” [13]

On April 12 Chiang Kai-Shek, having concluded his arrangements with the imperialists, launched the terror on the Shanghai workers. Chiang’s long-sword detachments marched through the streets, executing workers on the spot; some of the strikers in the Railway Department were thrown into the furnaces of the locomotives. Communist Party, Trades Union movement, all workers’ organisations, were smashed to pieces and driven into illegality. The Chinese counter-revolution, backed by imperialism, reigned triumphant in Shanghai, while Stalin and Bucharin in Moscow led the whole Communist International in an ear-piercing howl of treachery.

Shanghai might be lost, but one thing had to be saved – Stalin’s prestige against Trotskyism. In the following month at the Eighth Plenum of the E.C.C.I., Stalin exposed the mistakes of the Opposition:

“The Opposition is dissatisfied because the Shanghai workers did not enter into a decisive battle against the imperialists and their myrmidons. But it does not understand that the revolution in China cannot develop at a fast tempo. It does not understand that one cannot take up a decisive struggle under unfavourable conditions. The Opposition does not understand that one cannot take up a decisive struggle under unfavourable conditions. The Opposition does not understand that not to avoid a decisive struggle under unfavourable conditions (when it can be avoided), means to make easier the work of the enemies of the revolution ...“

For at the Eighth Plenum Stalin and Bucharin insisted that the Communists should remain within the Kuomintang and should now support the Left Kuomintang and the Wuhan Government as leaders of the revolution. Wang Chin-Wei was substituted for Chiang Kai-Shek. Borodin in China was sending urgent messages to Stalin telling him that the Kuomintang leaders in Wuhan were determined to prevent the growing agrarian revolution even at the cost of a split with Moscow. From Stalin’s point of view the only thing was to hold the agrarian revolution in. For him now the Left Kuomintang Government at Wuhan, with two Communists in it and supported by Feng Yu-hsiang, (the Christian general)[14] was now the Revolutionary Government, and its head, Wang Chin-Wei was immediately baptised leader of the Chinese Revolution.

It is at this stage that the personal responsibility of Stalin (and Bucharin) assumes international proportions. They could have changed the policy then. It is true that Stalin had the power he held because he was the ideal representative of the bureaucracy. But a change of policy did not in any way involve the internal position of the bureaucracy. Proof of this is that in a few months the policy was violently changed. But Stalin’s stubborn ignorance and political blindness held the revolution down.

Seven years before Lenin had said China was ripe for Soviets. Now, in May, 1927, after two years of revolution, Stalin rejected outright the policy of Soviets for which the Left Opposition pressed.

“Now can we say that the situation in Russia from March to July 1917 represents an analogy to the present situation in China? No, this cannot be said ... The history of the workers’ Soviets shows that such Soviets can exist and develop further only if favourable premises are given for a direct transition from the bourgeois-democratic revolution to the proletarian revolution ...”[15]

Trotsky, though conscious that against the Stalinised International arguments were useless, led the attack of the Left Opposition with undiminished vigour and courage.

“Stalin has again declared himself here against workers’ and peasants’ Soviets with the argument that the Kuomintang and the Wuhan Government are sufficient means and instruments for the agrarian revolution. Thereby Stalin assumes, and wants, the International to assume the responsibility for the policy of the Kuomintang and the Wuhan Government, as he repeatedly assumed the responsibility for the policy of the former ‘National Government’ of Chiang Kai-Shek (particularly in his speech of April 5, the stenogram of which has, of course, been kept hidden from the International) ...

“The agrarian revolution is a serious thing. Politicians of the Wang Chin-Wei type, under difficult conditions, will unite ten times with Chiang Kai-Shek against the workers and peasants. Under such conditions two Communists in a bourgeois Government become impotent hostages, if not a direct mask for the preparation of a new blow against the working masses. We say to the workers of China: The peasants will not carry out the agrarian revolution to the end if they let themselves be led by petty-bourgeois radicals instead of by you, the revolutionary proletarians. Therefore, build up your workers’ Soviets, ally them with the peasant Soviets, arm yourselves through the Soviets, shoot the generals who do not recognise the Soviets, shoot the bureaucrats and bourgeois Liberals who will organise uprisings against the Soviets. Only through peasants’ and soldiers’ Soviets will you win over the majority of Chiang Kai-Shek’s soldiers to your side ...”[16]

The Plenum adopted a resolution against Trotskyism:

“Comrade Trotsky ... demanded at the Plenary Session the immediate establishment of the dual power in the form of Soviets and the immediate adoption of a course towards the overthrow of the Left Kuomintang Government. This apparently ultra-Left but in reality opportunist demand is nothing but the repetition of the old Trotskyist position of jumping over the petty bourgeois, peasant stage of the revolution.“

Barring a note which said that the line of the C.I. had been quite correct, no accounts of this May Plenum were ever published until a year after, long after the Opposition had been expelled and had made some of the documents public. For even while the Plenum was sitting the generals seized power in the province of Honan, a month later Feng Yu-hsiang allied himself with Chiang Kai-Shek, and before another month Wang Chin-Wei, the new leader of the revolution, and the Wuhan Government had come to terms with Chiang Kai-Shek and put to the sword the workers’ movement in Wuhan. Even more bitter than that of the workers of Shanghai was the experience of the peasants in the revolutionary district of Changsha, an important revolutionary centre near to Wuhan. The Kuomintang army in Changsha consisted of only 1,700 soldiers, and the peasants around had armed detachments consisting of 20,000 men. When the peasants heard that the counter-revolutionary generals had started to crush the national movement they gathered round Changsha, preparing to march on the city. But at this point a letter came from the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Faithful to their instructions from the great revolutionists in Moscow, they told the peasants to avoid conflict and to transfer the matter to the Revolutionary Government in Wuhan. The District Committee ordered the peasants to retreat. Two detachments failed to get the message in time, advanced on Wuhan itself and were there destroyed by the soldiers of Wang Chin-Wei.


The pitiless exposure of the false policy in China only intensified Stalin’s attacks against the policy of the Opposition at home, and confusion in the ranks of the Opposition gave Stalin and Bucharin the opportunity to win ideological victories. In the early stages of the Chinese Revolution, Zinoviev, as President of the Communist International, had lent himself to Stalin’s Leninism. When the Zinoviev-Trotsky bloc was formed, Trotsky’s uncompromising stand for the immediate withdrawal from the Kuomintang which he had maintained since 1923 was voted down by Zinoviev, and Trotsky was compelled for the sake of discipline to moderate his demand for the immediate withdrawal. Stalin and Bucharin knew quite well the differences between Trotsky and Zinoviev, but seized on this divergence and made great play with it against the Opposition, while Chiang Kai-Shek and Wang Chin-Wei massacred tens of thousands of deluded Chinese workers and peasants. After Wuhan the Trotsky Wing won over the Zinoviev Wing and came out unequivocally for the withdrawal from the Kuomintang. Stalin still refused.


The proletariat had been totally defeated in Shanghai and Wuhan. The peasant movement, which was to show its force a year later, was still hobbled by the Stalinist policy. As always, this was the time chosen by Stalin to make a sharp turn to the Left. Soviets, inadmissible in May, were in July proclaimed the immediate task. Prestige, however, had to he maintained. The first thing to do was to throw the blame on the leadership in China, which was condemned root and branch. Bucharin did the dirty work and let loose a stream of abuse on them. A new representative was sent to replace Borodin. Telegrams from Moscow called a hasty conference. A new leadership was set up and the course set for mass revolt. The Left Opposition raised a protest at the cruel massacres and disillusionment which would inevitably follow. They were now violently abused as liquidationists. On August 9 a joint session of the Central Committee and of the C.P.S.U. made the following declaration: “The Chinese Revolution is not only not on the ebb, but has entered upon a new higher stage ... Not only is the strength of the toiling masses of China not yet exhausted, but it is precisely only now that it is beginning to manifest itself in a new advance of the revolutionary struggle.” On this dreadful orientation the defeated revolution was pounded to pieces. Rising after rising, doomed in advance to failure, destroyed some of the finest and bravest of the Chinese revolutionaries. On September 19, after two risings had been crushed, the Kuomintang was abandoned at last. But Moscow still preached the rising of the revolution to a higher stage and inevitable victory.

All in China who opposed this policy were driven ruthlessly out of the party. In Moscow the Left Opposition were jeered at as counter-revolutionary. This was the Leninism that led to the ill-fated Canton insurrection in December 1927, when, without preparation, without a sign as yet of a mass peasant rising, with thousands of Kuomintang soldiers in and near Canton, the Communist International encouraged the workers to seize the city which they held for two or three days. The insurrection had been timed to coincide with the Fifteenth Congress of the Russian Party, where Stalin was expounding the mistakes of the Opposition. Over seven thousand workers paid with their lives for this last Stalinist adventure. From first to last 100,000 Chinese workers and peasants lost their lives, making the Kuomintang revolution.

Some Communists who escaped from the Canton Commune with other remnants of the revolutionary movement, insurgent peasant-bands and ex-Kuomintang soldiers, raised the countryside in Central China and formed Soviet China. With the proletarian movement dead the Chinese Peasant Soviets were bound to be defeated, but it took Chiang Kai-Shek six years to do it and demonstrated what could have been accomplished in China by a combination of proletariat and peasantry. The remains of the Red Army are now wandering somewhere in North China. While Red China lasted, the Communist International, in writings and speeches, trumpeted. Not so Stalin. With the defeat of the revolution his open role as revolutionary strategist came to a final end. In the second volume of his collected speeches there is only one direct reference to the revolution. It is in the best Stalinist vein, and deserves consideration. It is one of those revealing statements which explain so many things in the history of Soviet Russia. “It is said that already a Soviet government has been formed there. If that is true, I think it is nothing to be surprised at. There can be no doubt that only the Soviets can save China from final collapse and beggary.” [17] Thus the leader of the international proletariat in his political report to the Sixteenth Congress. But not only on revolution in China has he been silent. Never since has he openly taken upon himself the responsibility for the policy of the International. He could send the Opposition to Siberia and pass innumerable resolutions condemning their policy and justifying his own, which would have been successful but for the mistakes of the leadership in China. But nothing could wipe away his responsibility for the hideous failure there, and he would not run that risk again.

What explanation can be given of the policy in China between 1923 and 1927? Bucharin’s share in it may be neglected. Stalin has used one after the other of the old Soviet leaders as his mouth-piece: and then cast them aside if the policy failed. The policy was his. What lay behind it? Not conscious sabotage.

That was to come later. Stalin spent enormous sums in China. He knew that a successful Chinese Revolution would enormously strengthen Russia in the Far East, the failure would leave Russia in the position she is in today, with the Chinese Eastern Railway lost, threatened by both China and Japan. He wanted a Chinese Revolution, but he had no belief in the capacity of the Chinese masses to make one. This man of steel, fierce Bolshevik, etc., is first and foremost a bureaucrat (and is therefore the representative man of the Russian bureaucracy). Like Blum, Citrine, Wels, Leipart, Otto Bauer and the other Mensheviks, he believes in the bourgeoisie far more than he believes in the proletariat. He was prepared in 1917 to support the Russian bourgeoisie rather than depend upon the international proletariat. In 1925–1927, despite all facts and warnings, he stuck to Chiang Kai-Shek and Wang Chin-Wei. The consequences, however, did not lead him to recognise error. It had the opposite result. The bureaucracy now not only in theory but in fact turned its back on the revolution. Henceforward the International had one exclusive purpose – the defence of the U.S.S.R.


[1] He (Mackinley) has told us himself. See Imperialism, the Last Stage of Capitalism, by Lenin, in the Little Lenin Library. Martin Lawrence, p. 126.

[2] See p. 63.

[3] Lenin’s thesis to the Second Congress should be read in full, in order to understand how clearly he saw the main business of the Chinese proletarian party to be opposition to the bourgeois leadership.

[4] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 278

[5] He died in March 1925, and later, as the Chinese bourgeoisie was revealed in its true colours, Madame Sun became a Communist.

[6] As has been pointed out the Social Democrats do more; they even organise and lead it.

[7] The manifesto appears in full in The Communist, March, 1927.

[8] Stalin’s representatives in Shanghai stated explicitly Chiang’s treacherous reason for so doing.

[9] Problems of the Chinese Revolution, by L. Trotsky, Pioneer Publishers, New York. The letter is printed as an appendix. Its authenticity cannot be doubted, for Andrews, the British Stalinist, quotes from it (most probably unwittingly) in Where is Trotsky Going? by R.F. Andrews, p. 57. Cp. Problems, p. 404. See also note on p. 256 of this book.

[10] International Press Correspondence. French edition, March 13, 1927.

[11] This narrative Trotsky, who is our authority here, claims was told to the sixteenth session of the XV Congress of the C.P.S.U., December 11, 1927, by Chitarov, home from China. Stalin had the most damaging passages deleted from the minutes and Trotsky quotes the pages, 32 and 33, of the chief omissions. The fanatical obedience of the leadership was due to the prestige of Stalin as representative of the Russian Revolution and the strong backbone of control from above in the International. We shall see it even more strikingly and with more disastrous consequences in Germany, 1930–33.

[12] International Press Correspondence, April 14, 1927.

[13] International Press Correspondence, April 14, 1927.

[14] He made his soldiers sing Methodist hymns every day, and say grace at meals. America, it was stated, backed him.

[15] Minutes of the Plenum, German edition, Hamburg-Berlin 1928, p. 66. See Third International after Lenin, by L. Trotsky, p. 840

[16] Problems of the Chinese Revolution, pp. 102 and 103.

[17] Leninism, Vol. II, p. 318.

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