XLIII. THE CHINESE REVOLUTION
IN 1925 there erupted in China an immense revolutionary volcano that for two years belched its lava in gigantic floods which swept all before them. The Comintern was elated. The Chinese Communist Party grew in influence, and two of its members became Ministers in the new Nationalist Government. On April 5, 1927, Stalin spoke highly of Chiang Kai-shek, praising this general of the Kuomintang as a fine revolutionary fighter, and exchanging portraits with him. A week later, rivers of blood began to flow. By the winter of that year, the very flower of the revolution had been wiped out and, with the help of Chiang Kai-shek and others of the Kuomintang, about one hundred thousand Chinese communists and workers had been executed in unprecedented massacres. Never had there been such favorable prospects for Communism in China; never was such monumental criminality displayed by the Communist International. If the beheading of the Chinese Revolution did not mean the complete end of the Comintern as a revolutionary force it was solely because the action in China was not yet decisive for the proletariat all over the world. There had yet to come the disastrous events in Germany, culminating in the victory of Hitler, before the conclusion that the Communist International was spent as a revolutionary force would begin to be accepted in wide circles of advanced workers.
The modern revolutionary history of China can be said to have started in the year 1894, a year marked by the humiliating defeat of the Chinese Imperial Government by the Japanese. The Boxer War of 1900 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 also served greatly to awaken the Chinese people and to crystallize a political crisis in that country. In this period, too, began the open seizure of China and the policy of partitioning the country into spheres of influence monopolized by the great imperialist powers of the world. Taiwan was occupied by Japan in 1895, Kiaochow by Germany in 1898, Weihaiwei by England, and Port Arthur by Russia in the same year. In 1895, Japan forced China to recognize the independence of Korea, which formally was annexed to Japan in 1910. Furthermore, the imperialist Powers forced China to pay huge indemnities and extorted from her all sorts of special privileges and concessions, including the control of the customs.
Here we must note several important differences between the situations in India and in China. In India, control was vested in one imperialist overlord, England, which was interested in the spread of capitalism under its monopoly and for its benefit. To maintain its rule, Britain had to support the princes in power, thus uniting them behind her, to disarm the general population as far as possible, to break down the provincial barriers, and to institute free trade. With her powerful navy, Britain prevented all invasions and maintained order. In China, the situation was just the opposite. The whole Chinese scene was marked by the ruthless rivalry of the imperialist powers in China, one against the other, a rivalry constantly upsetting its internal system and rendering chaos perpetual.
World capitalism had to smash down the barriers erected in its path by the old Chinese dynasty. Imperialism thus had to work for the overthrow of the old regime and for the weakening of the aristocratic clique around it. Imperialism in China stood not for unification, as was the case in India, but for the partition of the country and the setting up of various military dictators who were armed by the imperialists to serve their purposes. In short, the invasion of capitalism in China meant constant turmoil, unceasing strife and warfare. The splitting up of China into provinces under separate control also gave the foreign merchants, who were free of taxation and special tolls, a great advantage over the native merchant or nascent manufacturer.
In India the National Congress arose in order to complete the national development and to give the native bourgeoisie more power. At the start, no group wanted to dissociate itself entirely from England or to lose England’s armed protection, In China, on the other hand, from the very beginning, the fight was a conflict against imperialist division of the country. Nationalism in India to a considerable extent could exist with loyalty to British control; nationalism in China would have to take on a revolutionary violent character from the outset. Here are in brief some of the differences that distinguish a colony from a semi-colony.
After the defeat of the Chinese Imperial Government by Japan, a few leading scholars petitioned the Government for reforms. Their basic principles were the teachings of Confucius, and their plan to save China was to adapt the applied science and practical arts of the West to the need of ‘he country. These elements created a Reform Party which was beginning to receive some favor from the Emperor when the latter was deposed and imprisoned; the Empress Dowager was put on the throne, and the reformers had to flee the country, some being killed. It now became very clear that the salvation of the country lay in the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty.
In 1894, Sun Yat-sen organized his society, the Shing Chung Hwei, ostensibly to unite patriotic Chinamen to cultivate the arts of wealth and of power for the purpose of reviving China and securing her unity; the real and secret aim was the overthrow of the government. Naturally the group that most ardently would support such a move at this time was the overseas Chinese merchants who were in a position to contrast the plight of their country with the capitalist prosperity of the West, and who wanted to modernize the social regime of China in their favor. In 1895 Dr. Sun tried to make an attack upon Canton, but failed. In 1900, another futile effort was made. The movement was at a stalemate when the great Russian Revolution of 1905 occurred, causing a change in the situation. In 1905, the Shing Chung Hwei was reorganized, at a great Tokyo conference, and the name Tung Ming Hwei (Revolutionary Alliance) was adopted.
“Several remarks may be made regarding the career of the Shing Chung Hwei, which lasted a full decade and ended in 1905 with the conference in Tokyo. Firstly, this Society was the embryo from which the Kuomintang had sprung up. This was the first organized body for the purpose of revolution in China. Second, the Society derived its financial support mainly from the overseas Chinese merchants, who identified themselves from the very beginning with the revolution and were Dr. Sun’s warm supporters throughout his life-time. Thirdly, a large number of Chinese students abroad had joined the Society, who were the directing intellectual force of the party. Fourthly, we may say that the work done at this time was more of a preparatory propaganda nature. It did no real harm to the Government. The people were very gradually won over to its cause. Revolutionary literature was smuggled into China and was rapidly circulated. The party was out for the overthrow of the Manchu Government, not as an end in itself, but as a means to stop the foreign invasion in order to save China. These men were out for the unconditional overthrow of the Government, which was regarded as the obstacle to China’s salvation.” (*1)
At the Tokyo Conference of the re-organized party, the following six articles were adopted as its program: 1. to overthrow the present wicked government; 2. to establish a republican form of government; 3. to maintain the peace of the world; 4. to nationalize the land; 5. to promote friendship between the peoples of China and Japan; 6. to ask the other countries to support the work of reform. From this program it can be seen that the organization was put on an entirely different basis than previously, and that a much broader appeal was being made to include strata of the petty bourgeoisie, liberal students, peasants, and others. At this time many military students joined Dr. Sun and began their work within the Imperial Army to undermine it for the cause.
In 1911 there occurred the successful uprising of the army in Wuchang. Rotten to the core, the Manchu dynasty collapsed. A revolutionary government was established at the temporary capital in Nanking and a Provisional Constitution was framed in the style of Western republics. Dr. Sun was made the Provisional President.
“In the words of Dr. Sun, two things were achieved by the revolution of 1911; ‘First, it effaced the shame of more than two hundred and sixty years standing, rendering races in China equal, and abolishing once for years all the aspect of inter-racial friction and exploitation; second, it wiped out the trace of monarchy, which was more than four thousand years old, thus making democracy to begin from now.’” (*2)
The parliamentary regime set up after the revolution of 1911, however, did not affect the mass of the people. The elections were participated in by only a handful and, within the party, the Right Wing, which refused to allow any self-government in cities and provinces, dominated the party. In protest, Sun resigned his presidency and permitted Yuan Shih-kai to become President in 1912, while he himself became concerned in a program of economic nationalism in which he envisaged a great growth of national railways throughout the country, with the help of foreign capital. In a short time, Yuan Shih-kai completed his own coup d’e’tat, dissolved the National Congress, drove out the members of the Kuomintang, and overthrew the Provisional Constitution. The emperor had been overthrown, but the old Mandarins were still in power.
The 1911 revolution was the Chinese variation of 1848 and was bound to fail as a permanent regime. On the one hand were the imperialists doing their best to cause dissension among the military generals of the party, now arming one and then the other, and causing each to strive to control the presidency. On the other hand there was no party offering to solve the basic economic problems of the masses. In the early part of the same year, the Kuomintang had been formed out of the Revolutionary Alliance and its base had been still further broadened. Now there were not only the liberal bourgeoisie, the intellectuals, broad sections of the city petty bourgeoisie, and the home workers but, at the same time, permanent connections were being sought with the working class and peasantry. No wonder the older bourgeois elements separated from the Left Wing and precipitated a schism in the party. In 1914 the Kuomintang was re-organized as the Revolutionary Party of China and, while the Mandarins and militarists were fighting in the North, Sun and his followers went down to Canton in the autumn of 1917 and set up a government there.
During all this period there had taken place a steadily accentuated development of modern capitalism in China, a development which increased its tempo at a feverish pace during the War and afterwards. A native Chinese industrialist and capitalist class was arising of no mean importance. In 1925 this group controlled 60 per cent of the capital invested in the coal industry, 20 per cent in the iron, 67 per cent in the textile, 70 per cent in the match, 25 per cent in the sugar, 58 per cent in the railroad, 26 per cent in river and sea transport, and similar percentages in other industries. Twenty-seven Chinese banks had a capital of two hundred and fifty million Chinese dollars. Besides this, the trading capital of the native bourgeoisie also amounted to a large sum. (*3) It is interesting to compare this with the Russian situation prior to 1905. Then only 21 per cent of the total capital in Russia was indigenous, the rest being foreign; thus the Chinese percentage was much greater than the Russian had been, while, at the same time, the foreign investment in China appreciably was greater than the Russian, which stood at about one and one-fourth billion dollars.
As in Russia, so in China the factories that were being built were of the most modern design, huge plants that often embraced thousands of workers within each unit. By 1927 there were almost five million wage workers, including three million industrial workers employed in the mines, on the railroads, in textile and silk factories, in large iron mills, and similar works. These workers were exploited in truly horrible fashion, their condition being impossible for the average European to appreciate. The excessive toil of the Chinese working class, the super-exploitation of China by world imperialism, made it inevitable that once the workers got into action they should adopt revolutionary politics. From the very beginning the Chinese workers were affected, not by reformist socialists, but by revolutionary communists. This tendency was greatly strengthened after the 1917 Russian Revolution.
The vast population of over four hundred million in China, however, was composed not of modern factory workers and artisans who could be allied to them, but of peasants. 85 per cent of the population was agrarian, of which the overwhelming number was desperately poor, loaded to the breaking point by the exactions of the military governors, the rents of the landlords, and the interest payments to the usurers. Sometimes the peasant had to hand over one-half of his produce in rent. “The poverty of the Chinese peasant is not a comparative term, but is a condition where in some provinces one uses all his efforts to produce something that is not sufficient to support the mere existence of life.” (*4)
The distribution of land in the countryside was stated to be as follows: “63 per cent of the peasantry consists of poor peasants who do not possess more than two hectares of land and are exploited and enslaved by the large landowners and the kulaks. This 63 per cent of poor peasants possesses only one-fourth of all the cultivated land. 5 per cent of the rich kulaks and large landowners has 30 per cent of the total cultivated land; 10 per cent owns 20 per cent of the landed property; the middle-peasants—20 per cent of the total—have 26 per cent of the cultivated land in their hands.” (*5)
As in India, so far more in China the rise of capitalism in the country induced large numbers of students and industrialists, as well as the smaller capitalist elements, to struggle against the burdens of imperialism to which had been added the shame and ignominy of the destruction of national unity. In India there was a powerful central government; in China there had existed a decrepit monarchy which had given way to the futile rule of the Mandarins and their generals. It would be relatively easy to reform the regime were the imperialists to keep their hands off; therefore the struggle of these elements for their development had to lead to sharp anti-imperialist clashes. Only the wealthy sections of the Chinese, who were government functionaries or who were engaged as part of the comporadore class of traders and agents of foreign capital in China, were on the side of the imperialists. The rest found it easy to join the forces of revolution. This became all the more true in proportion as the people became unanimous in the need for a new regime. The nascent capitalist class of China and its theoreticians had no fear of the lower orders, since the wealthy never had experienced such revolts and could not properly estimate the effect of modern capitalism upon the toiling population, especially the proletariat.
In the midst of these processes there burst with full force upon all Asia the proletarian revolution in Russia and the victory of the Bolsheviks. Dr. Sun Yat-sen immediately sent a congratulatory telegram to Lenin and, as the revolution proceeded in Russia he could not help but contrast it with his attempts in China. He recognized that the Chinese party had not based itself enough upon the people; it had relied upon mercenary armies instead of building up its own; the whole technique would have to be reorganized. Dr. Sun began to visualize as the most powerful force in the regeneration of China no longer the old student groups and overseas merchants, but the mass of people whose problems had to be satisfied. He began to develop more clearly his formulation of the basic three principles of the Kuomintang, namely, nationalism, democracy, and security of livelihood for the people, including State capitalism.
It was now the turn of the Bolsheviks to show their hand. In July, 1919, the Soviet Government issued a “manifesto to the Chinese people” in which it offered to return all territory wrongfully taken from China by the Russian Imperial Government, to restore to China the control of the Chinese Eastern Railway, to renounce its claims to any share in the Boxer indemnity, to give up the rights of extra-territoriality enjoyed by Russians on Chinese soil, and to abandon all other special privileges inconsistent with the equality of nations.
In 1921, a revolution occurring in Outer Mongolia resulted in the formation of a Soviet Republic, which, however, was not affiliated directly to the Soviet Union but remained merely on a fraternal basis. This was a sign that Russia did not want to swallow the countries of Asia, but sincerely desired to make them friends. In 1922, Joffe was sent as the Russian representative to China; there he met Dr. Sun and, after a conference, both issued a joint statement of accord. “This statement affirmed in the first place that Dr. Sun believed that neither communism nor the soviet political system could be successfully introduced into China, because in his opinion the conditions for their successful establishment did not exist in China. In this belief Joffe concurred, declaring that China’s first task was to establish its national independence.” (*6)
Here, evidently, was the basis for an alliance between the Russian Bolsheviks and the Chinese social-revolutionaries and liberals. From the point of view of Russian nationalism, it was necessary to have both a strong and a friendly China; from the point of view of the international revolution, the Second Congress had already declared that the colonial world was ready for revolution, that the theory of permanent revolution could be applied, and the colonies, with the aid of the world proletariat, could form their soviets and move directly to socialism. Neither Lenin nor Sun Yat-sen were fooled by their mutual alliance; each understood the other, each hoped to use the other.
Although he met considerable resistance in his Russian policy and in his new attitude toward the communists and toward labor, Sun Yat-sen, in the historic Congress of the party in 1924, where the party was finally re-organized and renamed the Kuomintang of China, was able to win his point of view. To aid him there was the fact, first, that Russia of all the countries, voluntarily had made enormous concessions to Chinese nationalism and equality; and second, that imperialism had grown so strong that only a people’s movement could overthrow it. To build such a movement, the Chinese could well learn from the Russians. Always Western labor had been sympathetic to the Chinese revolutionary forces, and this was now the time to get in closer touch with it.
Just as the Russians were willing to use the capitalist for their purposes and even to initiate temporarily a form of State capitalism, making concessions to the enemy in order to learn economically from him, so the Chinese petty bourgeoisie conceived it possible to make concessions to the communists if the latter would teach it the art of revolution, while it remained loyal to the aims of Chinese nationalism. “The Russians have been so successful in their revolutionary methods and tactics that someone has ironically remarked that the Russians are as unequaled in civil warfare as the French are in international warfare. The Russian leaders are experts in revolution, so to speak. They are the masters of the revolutionary art. They put their experience at the disposal of the Kuomintang. They did everything they could to help the Kuomintang to improve revolutionary methods.” (*7)
To replace Joffe in 1923 there arrived Karakhan, who sent Borodin to Canton to help work with Sun Yat-sen. (*8) Borodin immediately undertook to reconstruct the Kuomintang on a disciplined basis in order to make it an efficient instrument for carrying on a struggle. In fact, he operated as though he did not understand the difference between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party. Having learned all the tricks possible from Borodin, the Nationalists were to use them later in killing the communists and in chasing Borodin out of the country.
Borodin insisted “that there be a definite body of party principles, unity of party organization, and strict party discipline.” Locals of the party were organized and put on a sound footing for action for the first time. “At the same time a political training institute was established in which party organizers and propagandists could be instructed in the technique of their professions … Borodin helped to establish also a military training institute, the Whampoa Academy, where German and Russian officers, and Chinese who had visited Russia, taught the elements of the art of war and reproduced the discipline of the Red Army.” (*9)
It was under Borodin’s influence that the party was called together in 1924 and entirely re-organized. Here it was resolved that a definite platform and constitution be given to the new Kuomintang, and here were elaborated the three principles of Sun Yat-sen. Thanks to the influence of the Russian Revolution, the Chinese nationalist movement received an immense impetus. It was at this conference, too, that it was decided to take communists into the party. This leads us to consider the important question concerning the relation of the labor and communist movement to the Kuomintang.
In the world revolutionary wave following the War the Chinese labor movement got off to a firm start. In 1920 there were some strikes on the railways, but it was only in 1922 that the First National Labor Conference met in Canton. Some two hundred unions from twelve cities and representing a membership on paper of from three to four hundred thousand workers came together and bound themselves into a federation. Among them communists were active, the Communist Party really dating from the railway strike in 1920. Following the conference, the railway workers attempted organization in North China. A strike broke out on the Peking-Hankow line and was suppressed with great brutality, many of the leaders being executed. A strike of seamen at Hongkong was more successful and resulted in the recognition of the Seamen’s Union; from this dates a new era in the history of Chinese labor.
The Soviet Union was not unaware of the possibilities of revolution in Asia and formed in Moscow a Communist University for the Toilers of the Orient, in order to train party organizers and propagandists for Asiatic service. In 1925, the growing interest at Moscow in the Chinese Revolution resulted in the organization of a special training school for Chinese revolutionists, the Sun Yat-sen University, with Karl Radek at the head. At its period of greatest prosperity there were nearly one thousand students in attendance.
Before the arrival of Borodin, the Communist Party slowly had been gathering its forces and eking out an independent existence. With the new tendencies manifest in the Communist International, however, Borodin had a free hand to apply his theories that the revolution could come about not through the Communist Party but through the Kuomintang. Borodin accepted seriously the program of the Kuomintang of 1924 that it was going to fight imperialism, militarism, and feudalism, and believed that Sun Yat-sen’s three principles could include not only State capitalism but State socialism, on the road to communism. Thus it was his policy that the Communist Party should relinquish its independent existence and become part of the Kuomintang.
Originally, the communists under Lenin had set out to make a united front with Sun Yat-sen, both sides understanding their eventual incompatibility, but both willing temporarily to work together. With the new line extolling workers’ and peasants’ parties, however, working subserviently with officials of the British General Council, and idealizing the peasantry, the stage was all set for the incorporation of the communists into the Kuomintang. At the 1924 Kuomintang conference the communists were permitted to join the organization, but only as obedient individuals. “It is true that Dr. Sun consented to admit the communists into the Kuomintang as individuals, but not as a unit. So, speaking of it as the ‘alliance of the two parties’ is a misinterpretation of the facts by the communists.” (*10)
Thus we start the strange history of the Chinese upheaval of 1925-27 with the fact that the communists, instead of forming a limited united front with the Chinese nationalists, actually fused with them and became part of them. It might be said that this was the instruction given to the British Communist Party regarding the Labour Party of that country, and that this also should have been the procedure of the communists in regard to the Indian National Congress. Nevertheless, the situations of these two latter countries were entirely different from the Chinese. The resolutions of the Comintern specifically had declared that by all means must the independence of the revolutionary party be preserved. If the communists attempted to join the Labor Party, this was solely because there was no discipline in the Labor Party, no definite program, but rather it was a loose federated mass made up of various tendencies, each allowed to express its own point of view. In regard to the Indian Congress, the same situation prevailed; it was a federated body with its various tendencies allowed full play. But this was not the case with the Kuomintang after 1924, and, strange to say, it was the Communist International representative Borodin himself who insisted that program, discipline, and form be instituted within the old Revolutionary Party of the Nationalists.
The program of the Kuomintang was now very clear. It rejected the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and firmly advocated the national collaboration of all classes for the benefit of the native capitalists. The Right Wing indeed wanted merely to have a political revolution; the Left Wing wished for a social revolution; both desired capitalism in city and country. The Kuomintang leaders proposed State capitalism, not because they were socialistic, but simply because the grand projects which they contemplated for the modernization of the country called for such an outlay of capital as could be raised or controlled only by the State. As the Nationalists began to understand the vastness of their aims and the difficulty of accomplishing them, the officials realized that they needed the support of the workers and peasants; thus, after 1924, the Kuomintang did not prevent the organization of trade unions or peasant unions, and, as a matter of fact, later, frequently it was the workers that helped the Kuomintang to survive, calling strikes to prevent its enemies from prevailing, demoralizing the hostile forces with propaganda, and, in similar ways, building up the power of the Kuomintang.
The rising Chinese labor movement was all the more ready to do this work, since now the communists were inside the Kuomintang and were idealizing that organization, making it almost communist in character. The Kuomintang therefore gained greatly from posing as a semi-communist organization, utilizing to the full the heroism and devotion of the communists. The Kuomintang was officially recognized as a party sympathetic to the Communist International; its delegates sat at the Seventh Plenary Session of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, in the autumn of 1926. Thus, in spite of all the theses of Leninism, in spite of all the lessons of the many revolutions since 1917, the Communist Party fused with the party of opportunists controlled by capitalists and militarists. The only one on the Political Committee of the Bolsheviks to vote, as far back as 1923, against the communists’ joining was Leon Trotsky.
However, this was not the first time that the national movement in colonies had made use of communists. “The national movement in Turkey, led by Kemal Pasha, for a long time had an indubitably revolutionary character, and thoroughly deserved to be called a national revolutionary movement. It was directed against the old feudal regime in the country, against the Sultanate, as well as against imperialism, primarily against British imperialism. This movement swept along with it a tremendous mass of the peasants and to a certain degree, the Turkish working class. The Kemalist Party of that time resembled to a certain extent, the Kuo Min Tang of today. (But it must not be forgotten for a single moment that the working class in Turkey was, of course, far weaker than in China.) The Kemalist Party had its ‘council of People’s Commissars,’ it stressed its solidarity with Soviet Russia, etc., etc. In a telegram from Kemal Pasha to Chicherin, dated November 29, 1920, it says literally: ‘I am deeply convinced that on the day that the toilers of the West, on the one side, and the oppressed peoples of Asia and Africa, on the other, will understand that international capital uses them for mutual destruction and enslavement, solely for the benefit of their masters, on the day when the consciousness of the crimes of colonial policy will imbue the hearts of the toiling masses of the world—then the power of the bourgeoisie will be at an end!’ This did not prevent the same Kemal from cutting the throats of the communist leaders some time later, from driving the labor movement into illegality, from reducing agrarian reform to a minimum, and, in his domestic policy, from following a road to the bourgeoisie and the rich peasants.” (*11)
For this reason Lenin and the Second Congress had pointed out that the communists could not support every bourgeois democratic movement in colonial countries, since some were revolutionary and some were not. It was permissible to work with the national liberation colonial movement only where it allowed communists to educate and to organize the masses of the exploited in a revolutionary sense. This is precisely what the Komintang refused to permit the communists to do.
However, definite relations between the Kuomintang and the communists were by no means settled, and the correctness of joining the Kuomintang was still being debated when a sudden explosion shook the country. In Shanghai there occurred a textile strike which ended in a massacre of the workers by foreign troops led by the British. This was followed by another massacre of Chinese at Canton, also by the English. Tremendous resentment burst forth at once throughout the country. The so-called central government was paralyzed by a new outbreak of fighting among the northern militarists. At the same time, the bourgeoisie was discontented with the way the Washington Conference in 1922 had handled the question of extra-territoriality and special privileges to imperialism, and with its refusal of any satisfaction to China. Thus to the strikes of the workers was added the political determination of the nationalists to strike hard for the unification of China and for the accomplishment of the aims of the Kuomintang.
In Canton, the Kuomintang, having re-organized its party, immediately began the reconstitution of the army and, instead of using mercenary troops, opened up the Whampoa Academy for the training of officers under Russian influence. At the head of the Academy was Chiang Kai-shek who had played a subordinate role so long as Dr. Sun Yat-sen was alive, but who, at the death in the early part of 1925 of the founder of the movement, stepped forth as the leader of the militarist wing of the party. The significance of the change to Chiang Kai-shek was not clear in the beginning, since at the time he favored the continuation of Dr. Sun’s policy towards the communists; his role became increasingly clear as the movement developed.
In the course of the Leftward swing of the Kuomintang, and the development of its new “Model Army,” there occurred in Canton several attempts to reinstall the old reactionary regime. The Canton bourgeoisie through its organization, the Paper Tigers, staged an attempt to overthrow the Kuomintang police and to establish its own. The workers responded to the battle immediately and, with their aid, Chiang Kai-shek was able to defeat these elements. Similarly, when mercenary soldiers attempted to challenge the rule of the Kuomintang in Canton, again the people moved to isolate the reaction and again the new “Model Army” was overwhelmingly victorious. While careful to gather for himself all the prestige possible from these victories, Chiang Kai-shek was made to feel the necessity of the people’s movement aiding his small military forces before he could take Shanghai and Pekin. For this he needed the aid of the communists.
Within the Kuomintang, although the mass of members incorporated were, in the main, elements who could be won by the communists, it was the Right Wing allied with the military generals who were in control of the Party. This Right Wing laid down the rules for the government of the region over which it controlled. Although Dr. Sun Yat-sen also had worked out a provisional constitution calling for a constitutional democracy, the Right Wing decided there would be no democratic rule, but a Party dictatorship. On the surface, it might seem as though this new situation resembled the one in Russia, but there was this mighty difference: in China there existed at this time no soviets. The Kuomintang had locals which theoretically controlled the executive, and the theme of the party leaders was that the party dictatorship was infinitely better than military dictatorship. Indeed, they repeated that this political dictatorship was quite in line with the basic principles of Sun Yat-sen, since he himself had worked out three stages of rule, military rule until the enemy was crushed, political tutelage of the party until the masses were ready for democracy, and then full democracy. None the less, the fact remained that the locals met very seldom, had no control over the executive, and that the executive itself was in the hands of the military.
Thus if any distinction could be drawn between the budding militarists of the South and the hardened reactionary elements of the North it was that the Southern nascent military leaders were more flexible, were learning from history, were using the communists and the people for their own benefit, and understood that their military dictatorship was far more secure when buttressed by a Party. The Southern militarists were alert enough to try to represent a class as a whole, the Chinese bourgeoisie; they understood the need of collective effort and national control as superior to individual rule.
In any case, the communists who joined the Kuomintang were now compromised by a system of government set up by that party which, far from favoring soviets, was opposed even to ordinary democracy. “Such political system clearly had nothing to do with democracy. No such claim was. made for it by the Nationalist leaders.” (*12) And it was this party that was allowed a delegate to the sessions of the Executive Committee of the Comintern!
The British outrages had occasioned a mighty mass movement that was to prove irresistible. A four months’ strike was waged in Shanghai and, in Canton, a boycott of British goods was begun which for a year and a half completely paralyzed the port of Hongkong. The cry went up for the termination of foreign imperialism in China and the downfall of the militarists who were its agents. But behind these slogans went other demands of the people, of the peasants, and of the workmen for their own interests. On all sides unions of laborers and peasant unions began to be formed. A large number began to join the Kuomintang. What is more significant, they joined the communist wing, causing one of the leaders of the Kuomintang to write: “The rise of any political party in history cannot be compared with the rapid rise of the Chinese Communist Party. The rapidity with which it developed was unparalleled. Of course, the Kuomintang has contributed to its growth by working hand in hand with it for several years, but that is not the main reason for its growth. The main reason for its growth must be looked for in the political and economic conditions of the country.” (*13)
"It is interesting to note the type of men and women that were drawn into the Chinese Communist Party. At first, only students came in, led by some intellectuals …. Later in the stages of the development, workmen began to come in …. Peasants also joined but in very small numbers. The main strength of the Chinese Communist Party consists of students, who are its leaders, and the workmen who are the rank-and-file of the party and who also furnished a number of leaders…. One may safely say that all the great labour strikes in Shanghai and elsewhere are directed in one way or another by this party, for it is the party of labour." (*14) Soon the Communist Party had a membership of fifty thousand, with thirty thousand in the Young Communist League, out of the total of three hundred thousand in the entire Kuomintang.
If, in the beginning, there had been some confusion whether the communists should form their own independent organization, there could have been no difference of opinion among Leninists by the time the masses were stirring in their own right, when one and one-half million men were organizing in labor unions, and peasants were taking up arms in their own behalf, particularly when the Kuomintang itself was controlled by military generals and was pursuing a scandalous policy.
So long as the disturbances occurred in territories not controlled by the Kuomintang the Right Wing benevolently appraised the outbreaks of the workers and peasants; as soon as the Kuomintang seized control, strikes were ruthlessly put down, workers and peasants were disarmed, and the bourgeoisie was allowed to organize its own armed forces to suppress the workers. Yet all this time the Communists not only did not break from the Kuomintang militarists, but actually carried out the orders of these men.
In July, 1925, the test between the Right Wing and the Left came in the elections to control the party in Canton. Owing to the great mass movement at the time, the Left won a sweeping victory. At once the Right Wing met separately and, put forward the following demands: 1. to expel the Communists; 2. to end the Political Bureau of the Party and to give power to the Military staff; 3. to dismiss Borodin and his Russian military advisers; 4. to move the seat of the Central Executive Committee to Shanghai. Although this group was defeated nationally because of the revolutionary events, the great stride forward of the Nationalists and the need of the militarists for popular support in their contemplated Northern expedition to seize the capital of the country, it had become clearly evident that the two groups were reaching an irreconcilable conflict.
However, in spite of even these provocations, the communists held firm to their policy of remaining inside the Kuomintang. Wang Ching-wei, member of the Left Kuomintang, who wanted both sides to remain temporarily within the Kuomintang, now tried to be peacemaker and urged that disputes concerning the compatibility of the ultimate aims of the nationalists and the communists could safely be postponed until the attainment of their more immediate objects. “Both Communists and nationalists were practical revolutionists, he argued, and could work well together for the equality of China among the nations. That was enough for the time being. And Borodin supported his argument by publicly discountenancing all purely Communistic propaganda.” (*15) At this juncture there arrived a telegram from Moscow sent by Hu-Han-min, Kuomintang delegate, to the effect that the Third International had agreed that China was not ripe for communism, that the economic and social conditions of the country made a successful revolution of the Russian type impossible. The communists agreed to help the Chinese nationalists on their own terms. (*16)
But now the Right Wing was to assert itself more boldly. Chiang Kai-shek, having made himself generalissimo of the nationalist armies, suddenly swept down upon Canton in March, 1926, at the head of his most trusted recruits, shot a number of workers, and arrested several prominent revolutionists whom he charged with communist proclivities and a conspiracy against the nationalist Government. At the same time, he pursued those in the armed forces whom he considered disloyal and completely routed them. Thus, from now on the army was to be solidly in control of the Right Wing and militarists, while Canton suffered a severe setback. Still no break occurred between the communists and the Right Wing. On the contrary, the Communist International refused to allow any item of the events in Canton to appear in any of its papers, so that none of the parties outside of China knew of the upheaval. Furthermore, although by now the character of the armed forces of the Kuomintang was becoming perfectly plain, no effort whatsoever was made to win them over to the side of the communists. Before starting on its northern expedition, the Right Wing was ready to drive its victory still farther.
A special plenary session of the Central Executive Committee was held in May, 1926, which laid down the following rules concerning the Communist Party. 1. They were not to criticize the principles of Sun Yat-sen but were to abide by them implicitly. 2. The Communist Party must hand over its complete membership list to the Kuomintang (in order that the generals could massacre them later on). 3. Communists could not control more than one-third of the higher executive committees. 4. They could not serve as heads of departments in the central party organization. 5. Without authorization from the party, no member of the Kuomintang could call any meeting in its name to discuss party affairs. 6. Without the authorization from the highest body in the party, no member of the Kuomintang was allowed to be a member of any other political organization or to engage in any other political activity. 7. If the Communist Party wanted to send instructions to its members in the Kuomintang, such instructions first had to be submitted to a joint committee of which the majority was non-communist, for approval. 8. No member of the Kuomintang could join the Communist Party before tendering his resignation and, once a member had resigned, he could not rejoin the Kuomintang. 9. All those who violated the rules were to be punished. (*17)
Thus the activities of the Communist Party fatally were curtailed. Not only were the communists prevented from forming soviets, from advocating the arming of the people and the disarming of the bourgeoisie, not only were they forced to subscribe to all the capitalist principles of Sun Yat-senism, but they themselves were destined to be consumed entirely by the Chinese dragons of the military. They could not issue any publications (they never had an official organ), they could not form a faction to fight against the line of the Kuomintang, they could not criticize the leadership of the Right Wing to any effective degree, they could not work within the nationalist army; in short, all that was permitted them was to become the coolies for the bourgeois nationalists. They were the rear of the united front. It was precisely after these stringent terms had been laid down for the communists that the Communist International hailed the Kuomintang as a friendly and revolutionary party, and seated its delegates in Moscow with consultative voices.
It must not be forgotten for a moment that every important action of the Chinese communists either was ordered by the Communist International itself, now headed by Stalin and Bucharin, or was supervised and approved by them. So inexperienced were the Chinese communists that, with the utmost naivete’, they accepted all advice from the Russians implicitly, and carried out their instructions to the letter. The Chinese Revolution was directed, not by the Chinese, but by the Russian leaders of the Communist International. Inside the leadership of the International a great struggle raged on the Chinese question now, since, besides the Trotsky faction, there had also been formed the Zinoviev faction, which had united with Trotsky on the question of China, to demand the formation of soviets, the arming of the workers, nationalization of landed property and railroads, the eight-hour day for the workers, a whole series of labor laws, the agrarian revolution with all its implications, including the confiscation of wealthy estates and the partition of the land among the poor peasantry, confiscation of Chinese shops and factories, large and medium, leading to the confiscation also of foreign factories or an agreement with some of the foreign owners to buy them out, nationalization of the banks, creation of a regular and genuine Red Army, emancipation of women, abolition of the remnants of feudalism, disarming of the counter-revolutionary forces, abolition of rent payments or immediate drastic reductions, suppression of illegal taxes and collections, the driving out of rural gentry from their strongholds, and the wiping out of the usurious parasites.
These were demands that only soviets could enforce, and the mere raising of these demands would mean eliminating the power of the Right Wing of the Kuomintang and winning the Kuomintang to the side of the communists. It must be borne in mind constantly that in this great revolutionary period in China the masses were organizing in their own right and were taking action themselves. It was their action that was creating the easy victories for the Kuomintang, and not the sham battles of the Chiang Kai-shek forces. Hence, had the communists issued this program they would have increased their power enormously and would have become superior to the entire Kuomintang. The roles of the two would have been reversed. This is another way of saying that in China there was no class besides the proletariat that could really ally itself with the overwhelming mass of poor peasantry to accomplish the titanic task of ridding China of foreign imperialists and to move to the solution of the great economic problems of that unfortunate country.
The better to stifle the opposition that was growing mightily against the policies of Stalin and Bucharin, the official apparatus decided to call no Congress of the International throughout the entire period of the Chinese Revolution. Under Lenin it had been decided to hold International Congresses every year; under Zinoviev at Lenin’s death this had been changed to once every two years at the latest; now four solid years were to go by, from 1924 to 1928, before a Congress would be held, and the next Congress would not be held until seven years later, in 1935. The apparatus had to arrange that there be no discussions, that reports and speeches be suppressed, that a reign of terror be instituted in the Party, and that the leaders of the opposition be arrested, exiled and shot, before a Congress could be considered safe.
In their guidance of the Chinese Communists, the Stalin-Bucharin factions in control of the Comintern violated every fundamental principle of Leninism. First, they declared that China was not ready for communism or for soviets, despite the theses of the Second Congress on the colonial question and the history of Russia itself, which had experienced a general capitalist development similar to that of China. Then the Comintern leadership affirmed that, in colonial and semi-colonial countries, the workers could form an alliance with the revolutionary native bourgeois elements fighting imperialism and thus create a bloc of four classes, the workers, the peasants, the lower middle class, and the industrial capitalists, against the comporadores, the militarists, the feudalists, and the imperialists. This was the theory of Stalinism.
In vain the Opposition pointed out that always the tactics of the Marxists and Leninists from 1848 on had been to form independent organizations of the working class, even where that class could co-operate with bourgeois revolutionary sections for the moment. It was inevitable that at a certain moment the nationalist capitalists of China would break from the working class and fight the latter, and the workers had to have their own organizations for defense. In vain it was urged that, while the workers could form a close alliance with the peasantry, the communists must try to keep both these classes separated from the bourgeoisie.
Furthermore, what was being created was not a bloc at all. There was no united front of independent organizations for a temporary concrete objective, which is the true meaning of a bloc. On the contrary, “The Chinese Communist Party, in this whole period, had not been in alliance with the revolutionary petty bourgeois section of the Kuomintang, but in subordination to the whole Kuomintang, led in reality by the bourgeoisie which had the army and the power in its hands.” (*18)
In defense of their position, the Comintern leaders attacked the whole theory of permanent revolution laid down by Marx and so brilliantly followed through by Lenin. They maintained that, since China could have only a bourgeois revolution, it was necessary for the bourgeoisie to take the lead. To maintain otherwise was denounced as Trotskyism and the skipping of necessary stages of social and political development. But it was Lenin’s genius to have seen that, because the revolution would start as a bourgeois democratic one, the workers and peasants should keep their forces separate from the bourgeoisie so as to be able to push the revolution forward at the proper time, establish the dictatorship of the workers and poor peasants, and make the revolution permanent.
To gloss their errors, the Russian leadership began to idealize the Right Wing of the Kuomintang and to paint the military generals behind Chiang Kai-shek as revolutionists. Moreover, when reports arrived from China from the leaders of the Communist Party, Chen Du-siu and Tang Ping-shan, to the effect that "We followed a too pacific policy," "We sacrificed the interests of the workers and peasants in practice," these reports were not allowed to be printed, and were not revealed even to the members of the Central Executive, an unprecedented bureaucratic action.
To defend the “bloc,” the apparatus had to declare that the generals did not really control the Kuomintang, but were obedient to the Left. Only a short month before the terrible events in Shanghai which we shall describe later, an editorial in the communist Pravda denounced the opposition for declaring that the bourgeoisie stood at the head of the Kuomintang and were preparing treason. “Only on April 5, that is, a week before the coup d’etat of Chiang Kai-shek, Stalin rejected Radek’s opinion in a meeting of Moscow functionaries and declared again that Chiang Kai-shek is submitting to discipline, that the admonitions are baseless, that we will use the Chinese bourgeoisie and then toss it away like a squeezed-out lemon.” (*19) This speech by Stalin was ordered suppressed by the spokesman himself.
The Comintern apparatus defended itself from attacks of the opposition by affirming that Trotsky and the others were too impatient, that they were making mistakes in tempo, that of course the Right Wing would break away and the communists eventually would have to fight the Kuomintang, but this was neither the time nor the occasion. They suppressed the reports that showed that the Communist Party was limping far behind the events. They forgot that soviets were to be formed, not suddenly, but at the very beginning of a movement that was developing into revolution.
The official Russian apparatus also undertook to defend the Kuomintang as a sort of unique combination of party and Soviet, thereby trying to substantiate the argument that it was unnecessary to build Soviets. As a matter of fact, the Kuomintang not only stood against Soviets, it had rejected ordinary parliamentary democracy, just as the leaders suppressed all democracy within the party itself. But to compare the Kuomintang with Soviets was truly a malicious interpretation of history. In Russia, out of a population of one hundred and sixty-five million, the Soviets contained literally tens of millions in their ranks; in China, out of a population of over four hundred million, the Kuomintang had about,three hundred thousand members. To maintain that this small Chinese group was equivalent to Soviets was to fail completely to understand what are Soviets, and what was indeed the role of the Kuomintang. However, what was lacking with the Russian leaders was not so much understanding as international class loyalty.
In the meantime, while these debates were being conducted, Chiang Kai-shek began his great Northern expedition. Everywhere the enemy, although far superior in numbers, equipment and training, either fled at the approach of the nationalists, or were demoralized by propaganda of the communists, or paralyzed by vast strikes and guerrilla warfare in their rear and all around them. To facilitate this action of the masses, the Second Congress of the Kuomintang in 1926 had worked out demands of a social reform character for the peasantry and for the workers. This inspired the masses to fight most heroically, so that often the nationalist armies conquered their opponents without a shot, and their expedition took on the appearance of a great parade. However, no sooner were the nationalist generals in control than there began again the shooting of workers, compulsory arbitration, the disarming of the people, and the arming of the industrialists, already noted. The Labor Code was forgotten, the agrarian reforms postponed. None the less the movement grew mightily. The number of organized workers grew to the enormous total of three million. In one province alone, Honan, it was recorded that thirty million peasants had joined the peasants union. The generals, having used the masses as long as they could, determined to settle accounts as soon as possible.
This reckoning was made all the more imperative by the fact that now the nationalists had reached the Yang-tze valley and had taken the key cities of Hankow and Wuchang, which contained a proletariat second only to Shanghai and more important than that of Canton. These workers had joined the Left Wing and the communist forces, and now it seemed that the masses were getting out of control. The national leadership of the Kuomintang was now in the hands of the Left nationalists headed by such as Wang-Ching-wei, Sun-fo, Madame Sun Yat-sen, T. C. Wu, and others who wanted to retain the collaboration of the communists. The Communist Party ardently believed that the Kuomintang could be won over as a body for communism. “At no time had the relations between the Nationalist and Communist Parties seemed more intimate and cordial than in the early spring of 1927.” (*20) Two communists became Ministers in the new Nationalist Government which had its seat at Hankow.
At the Communist Party conference held in Hankow at the time, the Left Kuomintang leaders like Wang-Ching-wei were invited, and the Party tried its best to identify its program with that of these Lefts. At the conference the Comintern representative, Roy, of Indian fame, declared: “The Communist Party is going to work with the Kuomintang, not only to share responsibility, but also to share power. In this stage of the revolution, therefore, it is very necessary that our conceptions of the revolution be made mutually clear. The task which the Communist International has put before the Communist Party of China is not the struggle for the immediate realization of socialism…. The Kuomintang is a revolutionary organization … because it struggles against imperialism.” (*21)
The generals, however, had different plans. In the course of their triumphant march northward they had incorporated into their ranks large numbers of soldiery and officers of their former mercenary enemies. Thus the Right Wing had swelled considerably with careerist and reactionary elements. It had been decided by the Kuomintang that the army should take Pekin and should establish a national government. The army generals, however, decided to violate these decisions and to march on Shanghai instead. On the surface it looked as though Chiang Kai-shek was going to attack the heart of imperialism and make open war against it; in reality, the militarists were marching to unite with imperialism in order to shoot down the people. This could be seen by their demand that the party move its headquarters from the Wu-Han district, with its center at Hankow, and transfer it to Nanking, which the army controlled. As the Left Wing refused to comply, the generals now acted entirely upon their own initiative. Thus the communists both at Wu-Han and at Shanghai had ample notice that the militarists intended to break. Still nothing was done to warn the people; while the militarists were preparing to strike, the Left Kuomintang leaders were parlaying with the communists and politically disarming them before the slaughter.
The march on Shanghai was met with tremendous enthusiasm of the masses who believed that the real struggle against imperialism would begin now, with the defeat of the northern military puppets. Long before the army could reach Shanghai, a huge general strike broke out which took control of the city; for twenty-one days there ruled the so-called People’s Government in which the communists had a majority. At this point we turn for a report of the situation to Chitarov, one of the leading young communists of Russia who had been sent as a representative to China and who reported at the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, December 11, 1927.(*22)
Chitarov states: “We can therefore say that for twenty-one days Shanghai had a Communist Government. This Communist Government, however, revealed a complete inactivity in spite of the fact that the overturn by Chiang Kai-shek was expected any day.
“The Communist Government, in the first place, did not begin to work for a long time under the excuse that, on the one hand, the bourgeois part of the government did not want to get to work, sabotaging it, and, on the other hand, because the Wuhan government did not approve of the composition of the Shanghai government. Of the activity of this government three decrees are known and one of them, by the way, speaks of the preparation of a triumphal reception to Chiang Kai-shek, who was expected to arrive in Shanghai.
“In Shanghai, at this time, the relations between the army and the workers became acute. It is known for instance that the army (*23) deliberately drove the workers into slaughter. The army for a period of several days stood at the gates of Shanghai and did not want to enter the city because they knew that the workers were battling against the Shantungese and they wanted the workers to be bled in this struggle. They expected to enter later. Afterward the army did enter Shanghai. But among these troops there was one division that sympathized with the workers -----the First Division of the Canton army. The commander, Say-O, was in disfavor with Chiang Kai-shek, who knew about his sympathies for the mass movement, because this Say-O himself came from the ranks. He was at first the commander of a company and later commanded a division.
“Say-O came to the comrades in Shanghai and told them that there was a military overthrow in preparation, that Chiang Kai-shek had summoned him to headquarters, had given him an unusually cold reception and that he, Say-O, would not go there any longer because he fears a trap. Chiang Kai-shek proposed to Say-O to get out of the city with his division and to go to the front; and he, Say-O proposed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party to agree that he should not submit to Chiang Kai-shek’s order. He was ready to remain in Shanghai and fight together with the Shanghai workers against the military overthrow that was in preparation. To all this, our responsible leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, Tchen Du-siu included, declared that they know about the overturn being prepared, but that they do not want a premature conflict with Chiang Kai-shek. The First Division was let out of Shanghai, the city was occupied by the Second Division of Bai-Sung Gee and, two days later, the Shanghai workers were massacred.”
The reply of the official apparatus to this most damning report from one of its own members was to order the narrative deleted from the minutes! For even now the official policy was to remain with the Kuomintang; even now no soviets were to be organized; even now the way was prepared for a repetition in Wu-Han of what had happened in Shanghai. The murder of thousands of workers took place in April; in May, Stalin was declaring, when it was as yet by no means too late to remedy matters, that to enter into struggle would mean victory to the enemy. To give up a revolutionary situation without even a fight, a characteristic of Stalin’s policy first dramatized in Shanghai, was to find a gigantic elaboration later in Germany in 1933.
At this time, Trotsky, still permitted to speak, summed up matters as follows: “We continued to maintain the bloc with the bourgeoisie at a time when the working masses were driving towards independent struggle. We attempted to utilize the experience of the ‘Rights’ and became playthings in their hands. We carried on an ostrich policy in the press, by suppressing and concealing from our own party the first coup d’etat by Chiang Kai-shek in March, 1926, the shooting of workers and peasants, and in general all the facts that marked the counter-revolutionary character of the Kuomintang leadership. We neglected to look after the independence of our own party. We founded no newspaper for it. ‘We sacrificed the interests of the workers and the peasants in practice’ (Tang Ping-shan). We did not take a single serious step to win over the soldiers. We allowed the Chiang Kai-shek band to establish a ‘military dictatorship of the Center,’ that is, a dictatorship of the bourgeois counter-revolution. On the very eve of the coup d’etat we blew the trumpets for Chiang Kai-shek. We declared that he had ‘submitted to discipline,’ and that we had succeeded ‘by a skillful tactical maneuver, in forestalling an abrupt turn to the Right that threatened the Chinese revolution.’ (Raskolnikov’s foreword to the pamphlet by Tang Ping-shan.) We remained behind the events all along the line.” (*24)
The victory of the Right Wing in Shanghai, however, compelled the communist leadership somewhat to change their line. Even the Central Committee of the Kuomintang, controlled by the Wang Ching-wei’s, had issued a tearful apology to the workers and had declared “it only remains for us to regret that we did not act when there was still time.” The Political Bureau called together the Eighth Plenary Session of the Comintern, in May, 1927, to consider the situation. (*25) Although the Political Bureau had not even read the Theses of Stalin, these Theses were advanced in its name for discussion. Only now did Stalin issue the statement that the policy of isolating the Right should be replaced by a policy of struggle. Only now did Stalin advocate the arming of the workers and the peasants, although he still maintained that it was wrong to attempt the formation of soviets. How it was possible simultaneously to arm the people and yet prevent soviets the Russian revolutionists, least of all, would be able to tell. At this Plenary Session, Stalin again defended the bloc for four classes and forbade the communists to split from the Left Kuomintang.
But now the policy of the International leadership was meeting with stern resistance from important sections of the Chinese communists themselves. The workers were beginning to take matters into their own hands. At Wu-Han they inflicted decisive defeats to the militarists. At that time “In every action of any importance, nearly two-thirds of those who participated were killed. The severity of the campaign, and the heroism displayed by the troops will always be remembered in the history of the Party.” (*26) The masses broke through the foreign concession granted to England and took possession of it in spite of the fact that the navies of the imperialist powers of the entire world had gathered in the waters of the Yang-tze, ready to unite against the revolution. Eventually England had to relinquish this concession, the first important direct Chinese victory against world imperialism.
After the coup of Chiang Kai-shek at Shanghai there had been objectively established a sort of dual power, the Left being gathered in Wu-Han. Now it would seem certain the Russian experiences would be evaluated and the independence of the Communist Party secured so that it could organize soviets and arm the masses. Yet precisely the same policy was carried out in Wu-Han with Wang-Ching-wei and the generals Tang-San- chi and Feng that was carried out with the Right Wing and Chiang Kai- shek! The Comintern repeated “We will not give up the Kuomintang banner.” The Central Committee of the Communist Party ordered the workers to render increasing obedience to the Kuomintang and insisted that the trade unions arrest no one, not even counter-revolutionaries, but must always apply to the authorities when they consider an arrest necessary. According to the Communist Party, the Left Kuomintang represented not a Kerensky regime which had to be overthrown, but a democratic-dictatorship of the workers and peasants growing into socialism
Instead of immediately breaking with the bourgeoisie in the Kuomintang, the communist officialdom ordered the building up of the Kuomintang; instead of forming soviets when there was still time, Stalin declared “It is clear that whoever calls at present for the immediate creation of soviets of workers’ deputies in this Wu-Han district, is attempting to jump over the Kuomintang phase of the Chinese revolution and he risks putting the Chinese revolution in a most difficult position.” (*27) Instead of taking the offensive against the Right Wing, the communists ordered a retreat which included the subordination of all the trade unions, the peasant unions and other revolutionary organizations to the Kuomintang, the rejection of independent action on the part of the toilers, the voluntary disarming of the workers, and the crushing of the people.
In his report, Chitarov described the behavior of the communists in Wu-Han. “You know that there were two Communist ministers in the Government. Afterwards, they stopped coming around to the ministries altogether, failed to appear themselves, and put in their places a hundred functionaries. During the activity of these ministers, not a single law was promulgated which would ease the position of the workers and peasants. This reprehensible activity was wound up with a still more reprehensible, shameful end. These ministers declared that one of them is ill and the other wishes to go abroad, etc., and therefore asked to be released. They did not resign with a political declaration in which they would have declared: ‘You are counter-revolutionists, you are traitors, you are betrayers—we will no longer go along with you.’ No. They declared that one is allegedly ill. In addition, Tang Ping Shan wrote that he cannot cope with the magnitude of the, peasant movement, therefore he asked that his release be granted. Can a greater disgrace be imagined? A Communist minister declares that he cannot cope with the peasant movement. Then who can? It is clear, the military, and nobody else. This was an open legalization of the rigorous suppression of the peasant movement, undertaken by the Wuhan government.” (*28)
This part of the report also was suppressed, for it was clear that the communist ministers only were following the line of the top leadership to curb the peasant movement and prevent soviets from being formed. Even Chitarov was bound to report that the local communists were not at fault. “To my deep conviction (I have seen many sections of the Comintern), there isn’t another such section so devoted to the cause of Communism, so courageous in its fight for our cause as are the Chinese Communists.” (*29)
The criminal policy carried out in Wu-Han now brought its retribution. The generals Tang and Feng also moved against the communists, and the Left Kuomintang element now deserted the proletarians. Chitarov reported the overturn in Wu-Han which took place May 21-22, 1927: “The overturn took place under simply unbelievable circumstances. In Changsha the army consisted of one thousand seven hundred soldiers, and the peasants made up a majority of the armed detachments gathered around Changsha to the number of twenty thousand. In spite of this, the military command succeeded in seizing power, in shooting all the active peasants, in dispersing all revolutionary organizations, and in establishing its dictatorship only because of the cowardly, irresolute, conciliatory policy of the leaders in Changsha and Wuhan. When the peasants learned of the overturn in Changsha, they began to prepare themselves, to gather around Changsha in order to undertake a march on it. This march was set for May 21. The peasants started to draw up their detachments in increasing numbers toward Changsha. It was clear that they would seize the city without great effort. But at this point a letter arrived from the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in which Tchen Du-Siu wrote that they should presumably avoid an open conflict and transfer the question to Wuhan. On the basis of this letter, the District Committee dispatched to the peasant detachments an order to retreat, not to advance any further; but this order failed to reach two detachments. Two peasant detachments advanced on Wuhan and were annihilated by the soldiers.” (*30)
Although tens of thousands had been sacrificed in Shanghai and more tens of thousands at Wu-Han, there was still the third great city to be heard from, Canton, where the communists and workers had not yet been defeated and executed. In a short time, however, the Stalinist leadership was to correct this defect also and to provide a third blood bath for the workers. The terrible drama of the Chinese Revolution had yet one more chapter to unfold.
The workers by now had been severely defeated in the North. The whole movement should have been reorganized, the Party prepared for the new events. In a period of retreat the slogan raised should have been one demanding a Constituent Assembly and the application of social reforms; on that basis, soviets could be organized at the proper time. It was necessary to entrench, to redress the ranks, to work among the soldiery, and to prepare for the future events.
The contrary was done. Suddenly, in August, 1927, a special conference of the Chinese Communist Party was called which denounced the old leadership which had all too faithfully followed the line of the Comintern. Preparations for an immediate insurrection were ordered. Thus soviets, which had not been organized when the revolutionary wave was moving forward, were decreed in a period of retreat and depression. The communist leadership refused to acknowledge that the period was one of retreat; they refused to consider the consequences of the fact that all this time they had done no work whatever within the armies of the Kuomintang but, on the contrary, had hailed them as revolutionary and had forbade their own members under any circumstances to disorganize the armed ranks.
Having ordered soviets, the Communists now burst forth with a totally unprepared insurrection in Canton in December, 1927. Suddenly it was announced that soviets had taken over the city, but these soviets were organized so hastily that nobody knew anything about them. Soviets usually have been spontaneously organized bodies springing from the depths of the people and having around them the vast majority of toilers whose expression they are. The soviets in Canton, however, were not even elected bodies. Soviets not elected! Was any worse parody of Soviets ever perpetrated? The soviets were communist-appointed bodies totally divorced from the people and formed artificially when the revolution already decisively was defeated. The net result was a new massacre of the people in Canton that definitely crushed the last remnants of the revolution.
But even then the Communist International would not admit the facts. As late as February, 1928, Pravda wrote: “The Chinese Communist Party is heading towards an armed insurrection. The whole situation in China speaks for the fact that this is the correct course.” (*31) Although the best revolutionists had been slaughtered by the tens of thousands, the official apparatus, attempting to conceal their crimes, still was declaring that the attack would be pursued, that the revolution was in progress. At last the Chinese representatives had to inform the center in Moscow that the Canton defeat had marked the end of the first stage of the Chinese Revolution, and that a definite depression was occurring in the labor movement. As the report of the international delegates to China declared: “The responsibility for all this lies equally with the Right wing of the leadership and the representative of the E.C.C.I. (Executive Committee, Comintern).” (*32)
In the Chinese Revolution of 1925-1927, the Russian Bolshevik Party played a role scandalously worse than that of the Mensheviks in the Russian Revolution of 1905. The Mensheviks at least never had opposed the strikes of the workmen. They never had resisted the formation of soviets, nor of revolutionary parties independent of and critical of the capitalist class. They never had decided not to build up their own press. They never had declared that the workers could take power through any party other than the Marxist Party, Through this comparison we can gauge to what depths the degeneration of the Communist International had sunk. (*33)
It is impossible to believe that the leaders of the Comintern were ignorant of the lessons of the Russian Revolution or of the teachings of Marxism. We can explain the policies of these functionaries only as a result of a deliberate conscious policy. That policy was expressed in the formula: “Socialism in One Country.” The capitulation to Chinese nationalism could be made only because, under the pressure of international capitalism, the Russian leaders already had permitted full play to Russian nationalism and had abandoned the world revolution.
Nationalism and internationalism dialectically were interwoven in the Chinese revolution. The fact that nationalism had conquered the Russian Party meant that the great resources of the soviets were used not for the furthering of the world revolution but for distinctly nationalist purposes. The victory of the toilers in China was bound to lead directly and immediately to united armed intervention on the part of all of the imperialist powers whose vast naval might constantly was displayed in the Chinese ports and on the rivers. This would have led to a new war in which the soviet would have been involved. But the theory of the Stalinists required that they be let alone to build socialism in one country. Their motto could be expressed; “We have made our revolution; let the others worry about making theirs.”
If the Stalinists had refused to interfere in China and had confined their efforts to Russian nationalism, resulting events might not have been so disastrous. But the Russians controlled the whole Communist International and instructed the Communist Parties all over the world. The theory of Socialism in One Country had to be adopted not only by the Russians but also by communists everywhere. Thus the nationalism of Stalin was inflated into an international policy and directly and fatally affected the Chinese revolution. As we have seen, it was the Russians who directed from first to last every important measure of the Chinese communists and led them to a terrible defeat.
In this way the communists used the glorious prestige of the Russian Revolution to destroy the Chinese Revolution; they utilized the soviets of Russia to prevent the formation of the soviets in China; they employed the victories of the Russian Red Army to stop the formation of the Chinese Red Army; the Comintern did its best to stifle the creation of a genuine Communist Party of China. Hence the Communist Party leaders became veritable lackeys of the Chinese reactionaries and of the foreign imperialists. The fact is, the unification and emancipation of China was too big a task for the Chinese workers alone to carry out; they needed international aid. But the only international aid forthcoming was such as to destroy their revolution.
From now on it should have become increasingly evident that the Communist International as a revolutionary force was absolutely worthless. But there was a decided lag between the facts of the case and the consciousness, appreciation, and widespread dissemination of these facts. As we have seen, the reports systematically were suppressed by the Stalinist machine. Immediately after the Chinese Revolution was terminated, the Russian oppositionists in possession of the facts were exiled and severely persecuted. Only years later were the facts published. This was the manner by which communist officialdom tried to postpone the inevitable reckoning of history. Thanks to its method of suppression and its crushing of the opposition, the Comintern would be exposed only much later, by the events of Germany in 1933. Then the crisis which had affected the Chinese communist movement would become universal. A call for a Fourth International would be made and it would be seen that China had been only a colonial dress rehearsal for the crimes in Germany leading to the victory of fascism in the most important industrial country of Europe.
The Chinese Revolution had been beheaded, but the virility of that body of people was too great for the huge torso of the Chinese toilers not to begin to produce new heads. Although in the cities the workers took to strike movements of an economic nature and the Communist Party rapidly disintegrated, the new Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-shek was too weak to control the entire country. In the North, the military chieftains began a new struggle for power, each one supported by some particular foreign imperialism. The imperialists refused to give up any of the concessions and special privileges they had wrested from China. The Kuomintang rapidly shriveled to a mere apparatus and an army, just another group of military bandits.
Deep in the interior of China, a new peasant movement developed, led by the Chinese Communist Party. This movement showed that by no means was the revolution over, but rather that there existed simply a lull preceding a new revolutionary wave to rise when the Chinese proletariat should have recovered from its terrible loss of life. To the surprise of the imperialists, this peasant movement, instead of diminishing steadily, began to grow until peasant soviets covered a vast territory and controlled seventy-five million people. A number of campaigns of Chiang Kai-shek came to nothing; in four months of one year it was reported that the soviet armies had captured nearly one hundred and fifty thousand rifles, fourteen hundred heavy and light machine guns, one hundred heavy and light cannon, six airplanes, twenty radio sets, and other material, and that the force now numbered three hundred fifty thousand effectives. (*34)
Here was a cancer eating the very heart of the Chinese militarists. The people now were acting in their own behalf. The old pacifist precepts of Confucius which had derided the soldier were giving way to entirely new ideals. Under the soviets it is true there was no Socialism, no confiscation of the means of production, no abolition of capitalism. On the contrary, a sort of Jacobin equalitarianism was the most extreme tendency that could be said to prevail. A land law was carried out which helped the mass of poor peasants; a labor code was adopted to carry out social reform; the army, workers and the poor agrarians were exempted from taxation. There was no nationalization of industries, but there existed some form of workers’ control over production, and the confiscation of all property of those capitalists who practiced sabotage.
The Communist International leadership was not content, however, with stating the facts and preparing for new uprisings later on. They had to affirm that this signified that a new Chinese revolution was in progress, that the army was a real Red Army, and that the soviets were introducing socialism so that, in China, it would not be the proletariat of the big cities that would free the peasantry, but rather the peasantry who would march to the cities, blow down the walls, and free the proletariat. The effect of this policy was to withdraw the attention of the Chinese communists from the city and to throw them into military adventures on the countryside.
Foreign imperialists had recognized clearly the menace of this unceasing civil war. Since the Nationalist Government could not put down the people, it was time for the big powers to act. The only one really free to act was Japan and, soon after the defeat of the attempt of the Northern militarist Chang Tso-lin to seize the Chinese Eastern Railway, Japanese troops marched into the country, seizing the whole northern area. Chiang Kai-shek made no real effort to oppose the Japanese, hoping that they would co-operate with him to destroy the communists within China and their source of inspiration in Russia.
This invasion of North China, Manchuria, and Mongolia by Japan greatly has revived the revolutionary movement in China. The masses understand that the only way to fight Japan is to overthrow the Chiang Kai-shek regime and take over power themselves. This was demonstrated by the heroism of the workers in the Chapei district of Shanghai and the soldiers of the nineteenth Route Army of Canton at Woosung when Japan attacked these regions. Now is the time for the Leninists to combine the struggle against their internal enemies with the struggle to free China from Japanese and other aggression. At this moment the slogan demanding the convocation of a Constituent Assembly to consider the questions of war against Japan and of social reform for the masses can be a fine lever for the creation of soviets and the revival of the whole revolutionary movement on a higher level.
Regardless of the momentary trend of affairs, war against Japan by China is inevitable. Such a war will stir up all of Asia and, if coupled with the defense of Russia against foreign invasion, will be bound to end forever the disastrous theory of Socialism in One Country and lead the revolution to a new world plane.
1. T. C. Wu: The Kuomintang and the Future of the Chinese Revolution, p. 25. The author’s name is also spelled T. C. Woo.
2. The same, p. 28.
3. See “Theses of Zinoviev” given as an appendix in L. D. Trotsky: Problems of the Chinese Revolution, p. 322.
4. T. C. Wu: work cited, p. 185.
5. Theses of Zinoviev, work cited, pp. 323-324.
6. A. N. Holcombe: The Chinese Revolution, p. 160.
7. T. C. Wu: work cited, p. 134.
8. Borodin, it seems, was born with the name Grusenberg which he changed to Berg when he was operating a business school in Chicago. It became Borodin later. Before serving in China he had been sent on missions to Mexico and Turkey and witnessed the nationalist revolutionary movements there.
9. A. N. Holcombe: The Chinese Revolution, p. 163.
10. Chen Tsung-hsi, Wang An-tsiang and Want I-ting: General Chiang Kai-shek, Builder of New China, pp. 96-97.
11. Theses of Zinoviev, work cited, pp. 316-317.
12. A. N. Holcombe: work cited, p. 184.
13. T. C. Wu: work cited, p. 148.
14. The same, p. 140.
15. A. N. Holcombe: work cited, p. 194.
16. The same, 195-196.
17. See T. C. Wu: work cited, pp. 176-177.
18. L. D. Trotsky: Problems of the Chinese Revolution, p 41.
19. The same, p. 91.
20. A. N. Holcombe: work cited, p. 210.
21. Speech quoted in A. N. Holcombe: work cited, p. 210.
22. This report is given in L. D. Trotsky: work cited, pp. 274-276.
23. Chitarov here means Chiang Kai-shek’s officers.
24. L. D. Trotsky: work cited, pp. 45-46.
25. The whole plenary session was censored and very little of the reports got out to the communist membership.
26. T. C. Wu: work cited, p. 233.
27. L. D. Trotsky: work cited, quoting from Stalin’s speech delivered May 24, 1927, p. 284.
28. L. D. Trotsky: work cited, pp. 286-287.
29. Given in L. D. Trotsky: work cited, p. 291.
30. Given in L. D. Trotsky: work cited, pp. 289-290.
31. See L. D. Trotsky: work cited, p. 294.
32. Report of Nassonov, Fokine and Albrecht, given in L. D. Trotsky: work cited, p. 430.
33. Compare A. Weisbord: For a New Communist International!, pamphlet, p. 8.
34. See Laws of the Chinese Soviet Republic, p. 8.