Harold R. Isaacs

The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution

XIV. Moscow and Wuhan

While in Changsha and a hundred other Hunan towns workers and peasants were being led out for execution by soldiers of the Kuomintang, delegates from all over the world were meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow at the eighth plenary session of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. Although Hsu Keh-chang’s military coup in Changsha took place three days after the plenum opened, only two or three of those present in Moscow knew that the ensuing days, until the plenum ended on May 30, were the bloodiest days of the terror in Hunan. The plenum itself met, however, in an atmosphere of terror all its own.

Theoretically, the Executive Committee of the Comintern was, after the world congress, the highest policy-determining body in the International. Actually policy was determined by the Russian delegation and the Russian delegation was dominated by Stalin. Stalin’s drive for the elimination of the Opposition led by Trotsky was entering its final phases. The sessions of the E.C.C.I. revealed the profound cleavage that already separated the contending forces, the nascent petty bourgeois reaction embodied in the Stalinist apparatus, and the Opposition, to which the best of the proletarian Old Bolsheviks adhered. It was revealed in the difference on all. the main issues of the day, the internal course in the Soviet Union, the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Unity Committee, the threat of war, and, most sharply of all, the problems and the fate of the Chinese revolution.

[The Opposition was not a homogeneous body. It was composed of a bloc of the original Left Opposition led by Trotsky and the so-called Leningrad Opposition of Zinoviev and Kamenev, who had originally united with Stalin in a “triumvirate” directed against Trotsky and had passed into opposition only in 1926. On the Chinese question important differences existed between the two groups and between Trotsky and Radek. As chairman of the Communist International Zinoviev had stood sponsor, as late as March, 1926, for the resolution of the Sixth Plenum of the E.C.C.I. which canonized the bloc of classes in China. Stalin, in 1924-5, had produced the idea of “worker-peasant parties” for the East, and had identified the Kuomintang as the model example of such parties. Following him, Radek had regarded the Canton regime as a worker-peasant government. In the subsequent Opposition bloc, these differences intruded themselves. The Zinoviev group demanded the insertion of the formula of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” into the Opposition platform. The Trotsky group, over Trotsky’s protest, voted to accept it for the sake of the general agreement on other issues. Trotsky, whose single vote had been consistently east in the Russian Polit-bureau against subordination of the Communist Party to the Kuomintang ever since 1923, continued, nevertheless, to present the essential kernel of his own views. The Stalin-Bukharin majority was able to contrast these views, with some effect, to those of Zinoviev, especially on the estimate of the attitude toward the Wuhan Government and the question of withdrawal from the Kuomintang. In their speeches and articles on the Chinese question, both Stalin and Bukharin devoted much time and space to baiting the Opposition on the basis of its internal differences.
  While the real differences were by no means unimportant, the fundamental logic of the Opposition standpoint as a whole led directly to the demand for withdrawal of the Chinese Communist Party from the Kuomintang, and this was always recognized by ha opponents as the essential Opposition demand. On the key question of the creation of Soviets there was no difference in the Opposition ranks.
  References in the text to the Russian Opposition mean primarily the consistent Left Opposition led by Trotsky. Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Radek capitulated to Stalin in 1928, but this act, and others that followed, did not save them from the fate that awaited them at the hands of the Thermidorian reaction eight years later.
  The differences within the Opposition deserve further study which lies beyond the scope of this book. Those relating to the Chinese question are touched on briefly in a letter from Trotsky to Max Shachtman in 1930, published by the latter in his introduction to Trotsky’s Problems of the Chinese Revolution, pp. 18-20. Zinoviev’s views will be found in his “Theses on the Chinese Revolution,” printed the appendices to the same volume.]

The plenum met at a time when events everywhere were directly confirming the crushing correctness of the Opposition’s criticisms of Stalin’s course. The domestic policy of orienting the regime on the support of the kulaks, or rich peasants, under Bukharin’s famous slogan: “Enrich yourselves!” had already undermined the proletarian power to an alarming degree.[1] Far more obvious, especially to the foreign delegates, was the bankruptcy of the Stalinist policies in Britain and in China. The two pillars of the Kremlin’s strategy in the struggle against British imperialism had collapsed, the Anglo-Russian Committee, the bloc with Purcell, Hicks, and Citrine,[2] and the Kuomintang, the bloc with Chiang Kai-shek.

The diplomatic break with Britain occurred while the plenum sat. The same week the Anglo-Russian Committee, regarded by Stalin as a prime weapon against the anti-Soviet war plans of Downing Street, dissolved into thin air. While the plenum sat, too, the new articles of faith in Wang Ching-wei, Tang Sheng-chih, & Co., in Wuhan and Changsha were being blotted out by the blood of Hunan workers and peasants.

In these circumstances Stalin was not inclined to provide the Opposition with the public forum to which all the traditions of Bolshevism and the real interests of the Soviet Union and the international revolutionary movement entitled it. The plenums of the Executive Committee of the Comintern had previously taken place in Andreyev Hall, the former throne room of the Czars inside the Kremlin. Hundreds of Communists, Russian and foreign, used to fill the great hall to listen to the reports and the speeches. These were reproduced verbatim in day-to-day accounts published in the Russian Press and in the English, German, and French organs of the Comintern. This procedure, still followed as recently as the two plenums held during the preceding year,[3]was now abruptly scrapped. The Eighth Plenum, contrary to all precedents in the history of the Communist International, met under quasi-conspiratorial conditions. Only a brief, belated, eight-line communique in the Press announced that it had convened.[4]

Albert Treint, than a member of the presidium of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, a member of the special sub-committee on China at the Eighth Plenum, and a confirmed opponent of “Trotskyism,” described the session in the following words:

“The last plenum of the Executive was held in the small room usually used for meetings of the presidium—and this on the pretext that in Moscow, capital of the world revolution and the proletarian State, there was no other room available for the Executive Committee of the Comintern. In reality, it was a question of preventing the Russian comrades, usually invited to our international sittings, from attending the discussions, where they could have learned some of the things hidden from them. Political documents, bearing no secret character whatever, were delivered to the delegates only on the eve of the opening session of the Executive. Then the sessions of the plenum and its committees went on in unbroken succession, giving the delegates time to read these documents only most superficially if at all.

“Delegates were forbidden to take copies of the stenograms of their own speeches or to communicate them to anyone. As soon as the plenum ended, all documents had to be returned immediately, on pain of not receiving permits to leave. They tried to forbid members of the Executive from making declarations when voting, but in the end, following several protests, this decision was applied only to members of the Opposition. For the first time in the history of the International, no record of the discussions was published either in the Press of the U.S.S.R. or in the international Communist Press. Only the resolutions adopted and a few statements made during the discussion were published, but these lost their real meaning when detached in this way from the discussion from which they emerged.”[5]

Beside the resolutions, a brief editorial by Pravda on May 31, and a communiqué by the secretariat of the E.C.C.I.,[6] the Press a month later published Stalin’s speech[7] and a report made by Bukharin about the plenum to a Moscow Party meeting.[8] It was not until a year later, after oppositionists abroad had begun to publish the speeches made by Trotsky, that the Comintern issued a slim pamphlet in German containing a few of the speeches on the Chinese question at the plenum.[9] The full report of the proceedings was never published.

Yet it was here that the differences on China were brought forward in boldest relief, especially when considered in conjunction with the events that were in precisely those days taking place on the territory of the Wuhan Government. In his speech, delivered on May 24, that is, three days after the Changsha overturn, Stalin reiterated his opposition to the creation of Soviets on the grounds that the Hankow Government and the Kuomintang were the organs of the agrarian revolution in China.

“The agrarian revolution,” he said, “constitutes the foundation and content of the bourgeois democratic revolution in China. The Kuomintang in Hankow and the Hankow Government are the centre of the bourgeois democratic revolutionary movement.”

Again: “Does the Opposition understand that the creation of Soviets of workers’ and peasants’ deputies now is tantamount to the creation of a dual Government, shared by the Soviets and the Hankow Government, and necessarily and inevitably leads to the slogan calling for the overthrow of the Hankow Government? . . . It would be quite another matter were there no popular, revolutionary democratic organization such as the Left Kuomintang in China. But since there is such a specific revolutionary organization, adapted to the peculiarities of Chinese conditions and demonstrating its value for the further development of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in China—it would be stupid and unwise to destroy this organization, which it has taken so many years to build, at a moment when the bourgeois democratic revolution has just begun, has not yet conquered, and cannot be victorious for some time.”

Again: “Since China is experiencing an agrarian revolution, . . . since Hankow is the centre of the revolutionary movement in China, it is necessary to support the Kuomintang in Wuhan. It is necessary that the Communists form a part of that Kuomintang and its revolutionary Government, on condition that the hegemony of the proletariat and its Party be secured both within and without the ranks of the Kuomintang. Is the present Hankow Government an organ of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry?

No. So far it is not, nor will it be so very soon, but it has all the chances of developing into such an organ in the further development of the revolution. . . .”[10]

Stalin wanted the “hegemony of the proletariat” in the Kuomintang and the Hankow Government which he expected to carry through the agrarian revolution. Trotsky argued in reply that the Wuhan leaders would break on the issue of the agrarian revolution and that the “hegemony of the proletariat” was realizable only if the masses were mobilized into Soviets really capable of leading the peasants in the crucial struggle for the land.

“The bloc of Hankow leaders is not yet a revolutionary Government,” he warned. “To create and spread any illusions on this score means to condemn the revolution to death. Only the . . . Soviets can serve as the basis for the revolutionary Government.”[11]

Again: “Stalin has again declared himself here against the 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. . . . We have nothing in common with this policy. We do not want to assume even a shadow of responsibility for the policy of the Wuhan Government and the leadership of the Kuomintang, and we urgently advise the Comintern to reject this responsibility. We say directly to the Chinese peasants: The leaders of the Left Kuomintang of the type of Wang Ching-wei and Co. will inevitably betray you if you follow the Wuhan heads instead of forming your own independent Soviets. . . . Politicians of the Wang Ching-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, draw soldiers’ representatives into the Soviets, shoot the generals who do not recognize the Soviets, shoot the bureaucrats and bourgeois liberals who will organize uprisings against the Soviets. Only through the peasants’ and soldiers’ Soviets will you win over the majority of Chiang Kai-shek’s soldiers to your side. You, the advanced Chinese proletarians, would be traitors to your class and your historic mission, were you to believe that an organization of leaders, petty bourgeois and compromising in spirit . . . is capable of substituting for workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ Soviets embracing millions upon millions. The Chinese bourgeois democratic revolution will go forward and be victorious either in the Soviet form or not at all.”[12]

The key passages of the resolution adopted at the plenum were the following:

“The Executive Committee of the Communist International deems erroneous the point of view of those who under-estimate the Hankow Government and deny its reality, its great revolutionary role. The Government of Hankow and the leaders of the Left Kuomintang represent by their class composition not only the peasants, the workers, and the artisans, but also a section of the middle bourgeoisie. That is why the Hankow Government, which is a Government of the Left wing of the Kuomintang, is not yet the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, but it is on the path toward such a dictatorship and, with the development of the class struggle of the proletariat, losing its bourgeois radicals temporarily travelling the same road, surmounting betrayals, it will inevitably develop toward such a dictatorship. . . .

“The Executive Committee of the Communist International particularly calls the attention of the Chinese Party to the fact that now, more than ever, contact between the revolutionary Government and the masses is necessary. It is only by this close contact, realized primarily with the aid of the Kuomintang, only through determined orientation toward the masses, that it will be possible to strengthen the authority of the revolutionary Government and its role as the organizing centre of the revolution. The task of the Communist Party is to assure such an orientation on the part of the Hankow Government. Without the realization of this task, without the unfolding of a mass movement, without the agrarian revolution, without a decisive improvement in the situation of the working class, without the transformation of the Kuomintang into a large and real organization of the toiling masses, without the future strengthening of the unions and the growth of the Communist Party, without the closest connection between the Hankow Government and the masses, it is impossible to lead the revolution to its crowning victory.

“In the present conditions in China, the Communist Party is for the war waged by Hankow. It is responsible for the policy of the Wuhan Government, into which it enters directly. It is for facilitating the tasks of this Government by every means. That is why the Communist Party can have nothing, ‘in principle,’ against the tactic of proceeding cautiously. Responsible for the policy of the Government, the Communist Party would commit an utter folly if, whatever the circumstances, it rejected the tactic of compromise, that is, it undertook to fight on all fronts at the same time.

“That is why the E.C.C.I. considers that this question Must be settled concretely in conformity with the concrete conditions, which cannot be foreseen in advance. . . . The admissibility of a tactic of tacking must be reflected in the economic policy of the Government, which is under no obligation at all to carry out the immediate confiscation of all foreign enterprises. . . .”[13]

Having thus left the door wide open to “proceeding cautiously,” the resolution called on the Chinese Communists to “deepen” the agrarian revolution, to arm and to mobilize the masses. These phrases would be cited later to prove that the Chinese Communist leaders had “sabotaged” the instructions of the Comintern. That the agrarian revolution was made wholly dependent upon the Hankow Government as the “organizing centre of the revolution” for which the Communists, under orders, assumed the fullest responsibility, would be conveniently forgotten, like the orders to mobilize the masses for recruitment into the Kuomintang—(”into the hands of the executioners,” said Trotsky)—and the orders to “strengthen the authority” of the Hankow Government. Without this link between Wuhan and the masses, achieved “primarily with the aid of the Kuomintang,” victory, the Comintern decreed, was impossible.

But what if the Hankow Government proved unwilling? What if it not only proved unwilling to go along with the agrarian revolt but openly opposed it? This crucial question was neither raised nor answered in the formal resolution adopted by the plenum. Stalin and Bukharin spoke of the “great revolutionary role” of the Hankow Government, but they knew perfectly well that the Hankow Government would never sanction, no less lead, the agrarian revolution. On the other hand, they regarded the co-operation of the politicians and generals of Hankow as indispensable, and from this they drew the logical conclusion that it was necessary to keep the agrarian revolution within limits that would not frighten away these allies. That is what was really meant by “proceeding cautiously.”

This was the point of view set forth by Bukharin at the meeting of the sub-committee on the Chinese question, composed of himself, Ercoli of Italy, and Treint of France. Treint, until that moment a staunch lieutenant of Stalin and a leader in the campaign against “Trotskyism,” balked at this perspective, declaring it would lead to the armed suppression of the peasants. Called into the discussion by Bukharin, Stalin declared that failure to check the peasants would “turn the Left bourgeoisie against us “, and he displayed telegrams from Borodin “showing that the leadership of the Kuomintang was determined to fight against the agrarian revolution even if it meant a break with the Comintern.” ”Against this possibility,” said Stalin, it was necessary to” manoeuvre.”[14]

“To fight now means certain defeat,” argued Stalin. “To manoeuvre is to gain, with time, the possibility of growing stronger and of fighting later in conditions where victory will be possible. It is possible to manoeuvre without compromising anything,” he went on. “The agrarian revolution frightens the Kuomintang only to the extent that it directly strikes at its own members and the officers of the armies. I propose to send instructions to Borodin to oppose the confiscation and division of land belonging to members of the Kuomintang or officers of the Nationalist army.”

When Treint demanded to know whether the Communists would be expected to support Hankow in the armed suppression of the peasants, he says Bukharin replied in the affirmative. At this point, Stalin interjected: “Bukharin is drawing extreme logical conclusions, but things will not happen that way. We have sufficient authority over the Chinese masses to make them accept our decisions.” [Treint adds that he insisted on having a proviso added to the instructions ordering opposition to any attempt at a use of force by the Hankow regime. “We are agreed in principle,” he says Stalin replied, “but it is useless to send instructions relating to problems which are not before us. I repeat that we have enough authority over the masses in China to have no need of using force.” Treint made only mild reservations at the plenum itself, but he was shortly afterward expelled from the French Communist Party. It may be apropos to remark, in weighing this evidence, that Treint remains until this day, what he was then, a confirmed opponent of “Trotskyism.”]

Unfortunately, by the time the instructions of the Eighth Plenum and Stalin’s telegram arrived in Hankow on June 1, the Kuomintang generals were already exercising their own “sufficient authority” over the masses. Sponsorship of the agrarian revolt led inexorably towards a break with the Left Kuomintang leaders. Yet such a break was expressly forbidden. Creation of Soviets, which could provide a framework for the mobilization of the masses to carry through the agrarian revolt, was proscribed, for such a course meant “struggle against the revolutionary Kuomintang,” against the Hankow Government, the “organizing centre of the revolution.” The public resolution of the E.C.C.I. demanded independent action for the “deepening” of the agrarian revolution. Stalin’s telegram ordered that it be kept within the limits needed to preserve the alliance with the generals and the politicians. These directives cancelled each other and left the Chinese Communists in hopeless confusion.

Stalin’s telegram as given by Chen Tu-hsiu, who received it,[In a speech on August 1927, Stalin quoted from a directive “relating to May, 1927,” that was apparently the text or a draft of the June 1 wire. It listed all the points substantially as given by Chen Tu-hsiu. Stalin omitted only to quote the qualification concerning confiscation of officers’ land. According to his version, the directive began: “Without an agrarian revolution, victory is impossible.” A line further: “Excesses must be combatted, not, however, with troops, but through the peasant unions.” Stalin’s text italicizes the first sentence. We have italicized the second. Cf. Stalin, Marxism and the National and Colonial Question, p. 249] contained the following points:[15]

1. “Confiscate the land . . . not using the name of the Nationalist Government, but do not touch the land of the military officers.”

This was merely a repetition, in essence, of the formula already adopted in principle by the Kuomintang Land Commission and the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party. Wang Ching-wei had bitterly opposed any form of land confiscation precisely because he realized that “from the gentry of Hunan and Hupeh the majority of the subaltern officers of the Second, Sixth, and Eighth armies were drawn.”[16] Wang, on his part, preferred to stay with the generals than to go with the masses. As Chen Tu-hsiu later put it, “not a single one of the bourgeoisie, landlords, tuchuns (war-lords), and gentry of Hunan and Hupeh provinces but was the kinsman, relative, or old friend of the officers of that time. All the landowners were directly or indirectly protected by the officers.” [17] To use Trotsky’s phrase, these instructions converted the armies” into mutual insurance societies for the landlords, large and small.”[18]

2. “Check the peasants’ over-zealous action with the power of Party headquarters.”

“ We did execute this shameful policy,” wrote Chen Tuhsiu. The peasants’ “over-zealousness” was already being “checked,” not by the authority of the Communist Party but by the generals of the Kuomintang.

3. “Destroy the present unreliable generals, arm 20,000 Communists, and select 50,000 worker and peasant elements in Hunan and Hupeh to create a new army.”

Who was going to destroy the generals? And how was this to be done so long as the Communists had to remain inside the Kuomintang and inside its government? “I suppose,” said Chen Tu-hsiu, “that we should still have pitifully begged the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang to discharge them.” As we shall see, that was precisely the idea. How was a new army to be created without coming into collision at once with the generals of the Kuomintang? And how could this be achieved if no attempt had been made to organize the ranks of the army into their own Soviets, thus bringing them into direct contact with the masses of workers and peasants?

4. “Put new worker and peasant elements in the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang to take the place of the old members.”

Writing of this only a year later, Chiu Chiu-pei did not dare quote directly from Stalin’s telegram, but ventured to quote a parallel passage from No. 71 of the Communist International: “On the one hand we must consolidate the national revolutionary army and the Kuomintang. . . . On the other hand . . . we must seek means whereby, not shaking the united front, we shall change the class groupings within the Kuomintang, in the National Government, and in the armies.” This, wrote Chiu cautiously, “was indeed extremely difficult because to change the class groupings in the army meant the capture of the army by the Communist Party. . . . (It meant) a certain social policy (?) had to be put in force boldly to solve the livelihood problems of the soldiers, the peasants, and the broad masses. This not only required encroachment upon the bourgeoisie but also upon the petty bourgeois traders.”[19]/p>

5. “Organize a revolutionary court with a well-known member of the Kuomintang as its chairman to try the reactionary officers.”

This was the means proposed for “destroying” the reactionary generals. On this basis the Communists approved the appointment of Tang Sheng-chih to judge Hsu Keh-chang. Perhaps Moscow now wanted Wang Ching-wei to judge Tang Sheng-chih? That was the conclusion Roy drew.

The members of the Communist Central Committee, confused by the accumulated results of their own errors, were dumbfounded and perplexed by these instructions. Chen Tu-hsiu somewhat inelegantly expressed their feelings when he said it was like trying to take a bath in a urinal. Even Stalin’s own deputy, he relates, “saw no possibility of carrying them out.” The Central Committee wired its thanks to Moscow, pleading only that the designated objectives “could not be realized immediately.”[20]

Roy, however, was a sterling World Bolshevik and he understood that co-operation with the Kuomintang was the thing. He promptly showed Stalin’s telegram to Wang Ching-wei and asked him to endorse it. “I am quite sure,” he is quoted as saying to Wang, “that you would approve of it.”[21] Incomprehensibly, Wang did not approve at all. He did not want to “destroy the unreliable generals.” He preferred to unite with them to crush both the Communists and the mass movement. Roy learned to his dismay that the Left Kuomintang did have a way out other than “following us.” That was the one little detail Stalin had overlooked. His plan needed Wang Ching-wei’s approval. And Wang Ching-wei did not approve.

On May 28, in Moscow, Trotsky had written in a letter to the plenum: “The whole revolution cannot be made dependent upon whether or not the pusillanimous bourgeois leadership of the Kuomintang accepts our well-meaning advice. It cannot accept it. The agrarian revolution cannot be accomplished with the consent of Wang Ching-wei, but in spite of Wang Ching-wei and in struggle against him. . . . But for this we need a really independent Communist Party, which does not implore the leaders but resolutely leads the masses. There is no other road and there can be none.”[22]

Trotsky’s warnings were brushed aside, however, and a special resolution of the Eighth Plenum condemned him for advocating the creation of Soviets. [23] A brief communiqué announced that “the plenum approved the transformation of the Wuhan Government and the Kuomintang into a democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants,”[24] and Pravda solemnly proclaimed that “the decisions of the Communist International on the Chinese question give the only correct answer to the most important questions of the Chinese Revolution.”[25]

In Hankow the Chinese Communists were trying in their own way not to deny the “great revolutionary role” of the Kuomintang Government. That was why they countermanded the peasant attack on Changsha and turned instead to the Government with requests for a “settlement.” The Hupeh General Labour Union, the Provincial Peasant Association, and the Merchants’ Union issued a joint telegram:

“Unfortunately . . . a misunderstanding has arisen among the workers, peasants, and soldiers in Hunan province. But this will not interfere in our sacred task of revolution. The Government has despatched a special commission for conciliation. A satisfactory settlement may be expected in a few days. . . . We have decided unanimously to carry out all the policies and orders adopted and promulgated by the Government. We shall do our best to strengthen the united front of workers, peasants, and merchants to support the peasant policy of the Party. We thoroughly understand that the only way to save the present difficult situation is practical co-operation between the Government and the masses of the people. . . . As regards the incident in Hunan, we hope that the Government will settle the case . . . and will guarantee that hereafter similar incidents shall not occur.”[26]

Wang Ching-wei, however, declared that those responsible for the Changsha events were really the peasants, who had dared to seize the land for themselves. “He opposed the proposal of Borodin and the Communists that the Central Executive Committee (of the Kuomintang) should order the attack on the revolting army and the punishment of the guilty officers, as he realized that they had been acting under grave provocation. Instead, Tang Sheng-chih was sent to Changsha to investigate into the affair and restore peace.”[27]

To this decision the Communists bowed. Propagandist theses issued for use among the masses counselled “waiting patiently for a settlement.”[28] Having tried in vain to “pacify” the Hunan peasants, the Communists now hoped only to “pacify” Tang Sheng-chih, assuring the masses that he was a loyal believer in the Three People’s Principles and would see that justice was done. They could cling now only to these vain hopes and false promises because their whole previous course had cut them off from the landless peasants in the army, the rank and file soldiers to whom they might have appealed over the heads of the officers and the generals. That would have been a potent court of appeal. Unfortunately, it did not exist.

In February, 1927, that is before Chiang Kai-shek’s overturn, the central organ of the Communist International had written: “The Chinese Communist Party and the conscious Chinese workers must not in any circumstances pursue a tactic which would disorganize the revolutionary armies, just because the influence of the bourgeoisie is to a certain degree strong there.”[29] What was the result of leaving untouched by propaganda and organizational work this “certain degree” of “bourgeois influence”? Turn again to Chiu Chiu-pei:[30]

“We did not pay any attention to the soldiers. Even where there were cases of fraternization between the soldiers and the workers, it was only superficial. The concrete demands of the soldiers were not set forth. They were not propagandized. The demands of the worker and peasant and soldier masses were not combined. We paid attention only to the connections with the army and divisional commanders or to the decorative work of the political departments. These political departments beautified the ugly counter-revolutionary faces of the division and army commanders. If the masses were disgusted with the military, they often expressed it in a disgust for the soldiers. The soldier masses were thereby very easily deceived by the militarists and persuaded that the workers, peasants, and Communists were against the armies, seeking only to destroy provisions and cause troubles in the rear.”

[ A comparison of this passage with several from Trotsky’s May 7 Theses is not uninstructive:
  “The political leadership, instead of embracing the masses of the army through soldiers’ Soviets, has contented itself with a purely external copy of our political departments and commissars which, without an independent party and without soldiers’ Soviets, have been transformed into an empty camouflage for bourgeois militarism.”
  Again: “One would at least think that the military coup d’état of Chiang Kai-shek had finally hammered into the minds of every revolutionist that trade unions separated from the army are one thing, and united workers’ and soldiers’ Soviets . . . are quite another thing.”
  Again: “If we do not want to permit the bourgeoisie to drive a wedge between the revolutionary masses and the army, then soldiers’ Soviets must be fitted into the revolutionary chain (of workers’, peasants’ Soviets).”—Trotsky, Problems, pp. 49, 58, 78.
  The difference between Trotsky and Chiu Chiu-pei is that the former wrote these words in May, 1927, when corrective action was still possible. Chiu Chiupei’s “confession” comes more than a year after the event. This is the difference between Marxism and empiricism. ]

It was not surprising, therefore, that the “national revolutionary” armies, which Stalin had called the “armed people,” should be transformed into instruments of the counterrevolution as soon as the “revolutionary” generals decided that the time for being “revolutionary” had come to an end. The Communists now could only cling to Tang Sheng-chih’s bootstraps, desperately hoping that he would not kick them loose. When Tang arrived from the front on June 14 on his way to Changsha, the Communists issued a leafiet which raid that the “Hunan coup was a revolt against Tang Sheng-chih because Tang . . . has expressed good will towards the oppressed peasants.” [31]

An attempt was made to develop a campaign in favour of a punitive expedition against Hsu Keh-chang. Several mass meetings were held and manifestoes were issued by various Communist mass organizations calling upon the Government to take decisive action to liberate the peasants in Hunan. A group of eighty refugees from Hunan called at Central Kuomintang headquarters. “Although the Hunan delegates have been in Wuhan for more than twenty days . . . still terror reigns in many districts of Hunan. The Central Kuomintang must send a punitive expedition against Hsu Keh-chang.”[32] A still larger party of delegates from Hunan organizations called on General Tang personally to ask for action against Hsu.

“Labourers and peasants will never be suppressed,” he promised them, “although some immature actions of the labour and peasant movements should be corrected by the Central Kuomintang. . . . Long live the revolutionary masses in Hunan!” he cried.[33] The soldiers slaughtering the peasants in Hunan were men under his command.

Assigned by the Eighth Plenum to the task of assuring that the Hankow Government would resolutely orient itself towards the masses, the Communist Party on June 16 addressed the following letter to the Kuomintang:

“The moment for carrying out the agrarian policy is the present. This is the historic task of the Kuomintang. The future of the revolution depends upon whether or not the Kuomintang takes decisive steps in this question. . . . The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party proposes the following measures for the suppression of the counterrevolution: The Nationalist Government must issue a decree declaring the committee of the insurrectionaries in Changsha to be counter-revolutionary and calling upon all soldiers to overthrow it. This committee must be dissolved and the rightful Government of the province re-established. A punitive expedition must be sent immediately to suppress the insurrection. Tang Sheng-chih must be authorized to send troops to overthrow the counter-revolution. The usurping local committee of the Kuomintang must be dissolved. . . . The workers’ and peasants’ organizations and the Communist Party must continue to exist unmolested in the province of Hunan. The Nationalist Government must order all arms to be returned to the workers’ and peasants’ guards. The peasantry must be armed to create a guarantee against further reactionary outbreaks. The Kuomintang must now take closer feeling with the masses of the people and lead them unanimously against the counter-revolution. Unless the Kuomintang and the Nationalist Government do this, the revolution will be endangered.” [34]

Tang made a swift trip to Hunan, not to punish but to “investigate.” Naturally his report completely justified the military coup there.

“I have found,” he wired from Changsha on June 26, “that the workers’ and peasants’ movement, under the misguidance of their leaders, have broken loose from control and precipitated a reign of terror against the people (!). In defiance of the explicit orders of the Central Government for the protection of the revolutionary soldiers’ families, they have everywhere extorted taxes and fines, abused people, and even murdered people. . . . Seeing this state of affairs . . . the soldiers who were stationed in Hunan rose for their self-defence. . . . Although Hsu Keh-chang’s actions were animated by a passion for justice, he has overstepped the limits of law and discipline. He should receive a light punishment in the form of a demerit but should be retained in the army service.” He concluded with a demand that the provincial regime be “reorganized,” and asked for power to deal with “a few party members who are . . . planning to defy the Government.”[35] Three days later the Government obediently responded by naming Tang Sheng-chih chairman of the Hunan provincial Government and distributing all the important provincial posts to his underlings.[36]

Moscow had “approved the transformation of the Wuhan Government and the Kuomintang into a democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants,” but the Wang Ching-weis of Wuhan, instead of taking this “inevitable” road, preferred to nestle in the bosom of Tang Sheng-chih. Hunan was irretrievably lost to the reaction.

On the same day that the text of Tang Sheng-chih’s telegram was published in Hankow, the central organ of the Communist International boasted reassuringly:

“The panic-mongers of the Opposition have made much noise about the Changsha coup. They have spoken of a new defeat for the Chinese Revolution. Their cries will convince no one. Our party is closely following the events in China .. . confident in the strength of the Chinese Revolution. The uprising of the officers at Changsha, which met with the decided resistance of the workers and peasants (?), has already been suppressed.” [37]

Shortly after the Hunan events, General Chu Pei-teh, who held Kiangsi province nominally in behalf of the Wuhan Government, expelled all Communists, trade union and peasant leaders, political commissioners and party workers. Before this new onslaught the Communists again retreated, deciding not to raise the demand for General Chu’s dismissal because they “feared to drive General Chu away from the revolution,” and they hoped to “neutralize” him by keeping quiet.[38]

“The mass of the poor peasants is the reliable basis of the revolutionary Wuhan Government, which can count upon the firm support of the peasant population,” the central organ of the Comintern was still telling its readers on June 23.[39] In truth, the masses had counted on the “revolutionary Wuhan Government “to support them.” The workers have faith in the Kuomintang leadership,” said Tu Cheng-tsu, chairman of the General Miners Union of Hunan. “(They) feel that the Central Party will never sanction the suppression of labour and it is on this basis that they give the Party their support.”[40] The masses were taught to count on Wuhan. Only Wuhan did not count on the masses. Instead it helped destroy the mass movement.

Kiangsi had been lopped off without a struggle. Hunan was drenched in terror. Within an ever-narrowing circle, right up to Wuhan itself, the mass movement was abandoned to its fate. In Hupeh, “in Chienmen, Yitsang, and other hsien, the massacre goes on,” ran the sombre report of a peasant union official on June 13. “Even ten li (three miles) from Hanyang, the tuhao are surrounding and killing the peasants. There used to be fifty-four hsien with peasant associations, but last week there were only twenty-three. According to our estimate, the day before yesterday of these twenty-three hsien there were only four in which the peasants were holding their own. To-day, not one hsien is left.”[41]

Without the independent organization of the masses into Soviets, without the liberation of the Communist Party from its Kuomintang shackles, Trotsky had warned that the peasant revolt would “come to naught and be splattered into froth.”[42] Few predictions have ever been more swiftly or more tragically confirmed.

Mif, who helped represent the Comintern in Wuhan, summed up the attitude of the Chinese Communists in these critical days in the following words: “We cannot struggle against the reaction with our own forces. By this we would undermine the authority of the National Government and counterpose ourselves to it. We must support the National Government; we must wait until it acts. We must push it on that road. But we must not take any measures against the reaction ourselves.”[43] Mif is writing a year later. He stigmatizes this attitude as “shameful, cowardly, treacherous.” But might he not have been quoting from the documents of Stalin and the Eighth Plenum? Were not Soviets, the only road to independent action, proscribed because they would “undermine the authority of the National Government,”Stalin’s “only governmental authority”? Were not Soviets proscribed because this would have meant to “counterpose ourselves” to the Wuhan Government—because they were, in Stalin’s words, “a slogan of struggle against the revolutionary Kuomintang”?

This course had led directly and swiftly to ruin. The mass movement was being “splattered into froth.” While the workers and peasants died under the swords and rifles of the Kuomintang executioners, the Communist Party was still trying to maintain “a determined course towards the masses,” “secured primarily with the aid of the Kuomintang,” for the purpose of “bringing the masses into the Kuomintang.” But the Wuhan leaders shrugged. “The Communists propose to us to go together with the masses,” declared Wang Ching-wei at a metting of the military council. “But where are the masses? Where are the highly praised forces of the Shanghai workers or the Kwangtung and Hunan peasants? There are no such forces. You see, Chiang Kai-shek maintains himself quite strongly without the masses. To go with the masses means to go against the army. No, we had better go without the masses but together with the army.” [44]

That Wang Ching-wei would not go with the masses did not prevent the Comintern and the Communist Party from trying to go with Wang Ching-wei. The slogan of Soviets had been declared premature in the spring of 1927 because “the possibilities of collaboration with the Left Kuomintang had not yet been completely exhausted.”[45] One after another these “possibilities” had been probed, first Chiang Kai-shek, now Wang Ching-wei. It was not yet time, however, to stop “imploring leaders” because not all the “possibilities” had even yet been exhausted. There still remained—Feng Yu-hsiang.


1 See La Platforme de l’Opposition, Paris, 1927, pp. 9-24 ; Trotsky, The Real Situation in Russia, New York, 1928, Chaps. III and IV ; Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, New York, 1937, pp. 25-32.

2 See Trotsky, Problems, pp. 61-7 ; Trotsky, The Third International after Lenin, pp. 128-34.

3 e.g., reports of the proceedings of the Sixth Plenum in February-March, 1926, filled nine numbers of International Press Correspondence, occupying 202 closely printed pages. Reports of the Seventh Plenum in November, 1926, were even lengthier, filling sixteen issues of the same publication.

4 La Correspondance Internationale, May 25, 1927.

5 “Déclaration de Camarade Treint,” Documents de l’Opposition Francaise, p. 65.

6 “Communique de Secretariat de C.E. de l’I.C. sur les Travaux de la Sance Pleniere de Comite Executif,” La Correspondance Internationale, June 8, 1927.

7 J. Stalin, “The Revolution in China and the Tasks of the Communist International,” Communist International, June 30, 1927.

8 N. Bukharin, “Les Resultats de Plenum de Comite Executif de l'I. C.,” La Correspondance Internationale, June 29 and July 2, 1927.

9 Die Chinesische Frage auf dem 8 Plenum des Exekutive der Kommunistische Internationale, Hamburg-Berlin, 1928.

10 Stalin, “Revolution in China.”

11 Trotsky, “First Speech on the Chinese Question,” Problems, p. 100.

12 Trotsky, “Second Speech on the Chinese Question,” Problems, pp. 102-4.

13 “Resolution sur la Question Chinoise,” La Correspondance Internationale, June 11 and 15, 1927.

14 Albert Treint, ”Compte Rendu Analytique de la Petite Commission Chinoise, Mai, 1927.” This document was written by Treint from notes in August, 1935, at the request of the author. He subsequently published it in Paris and it was reprinted in the New Militant, New York, February 8, 1936. Its essential points were included in the “Declaration de Camarade Treint“ (made on July 22, 1927), p. 64.

15 Chen Tu-hsiu, Letter to the Comrades ; see also Tang Leang-li, Inner History, p. 280 ; cf. Stalin, Marxism and the National and Colonial Question, p. 249.

16 Tang Leang-li, Inner History, p. 273.

17 Chen Tu-hsiu, Letter to the Comrades .

18 Trotsky, “Speech at the Joint Plenary Session of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission, August 1, 1927,” Stalin School of Falsification, p. 165.

19 Chiu Chiu-pei, Chinese Revolution, p. 90.

20 Chen Tu-hsiu, Letter to the Comrades .

21 Tang Leang-li, Inner History, p. 280 ; the fatt that Roy showed the wire to Wang Ching-wei is confirmed by Chen Tu-hsiu, Letter to the Comrades.

22 Trotsky, Problems, pp. 121-2.

23 “Resolution sur les Interventions de Trotsky et de Vouivitch au Plenum de C.E. de l’I.C.,” La Correspondance Internationale, June 8, 1927.

24 “Communiqué de Secretariat,” La Correspondance Internationale, June 8, 1927.

25 Pravda, May 31, 1927, reprinted in La Correspondance Internationale, June 11, 1927.

26 People’s Tribune, June 2, 1927.

27 Tang Leang-li, Inner History, p. 274.

28 Chiu Chiu-pei, Chinese Revolution, p. 113.

29 Die Kommunistische Internationale, February p. 292.

30 Chiu Chiu-pei, Chinese Revolution, Chap. II.

31 “August 7 Letter.”

32 People’s Tribune, June 12, 1927.

33 Ibid., June 21, 1927.

34 International Press Correspondence, June 30, 1927.

35 People’s Tribune, June 29, 1927.

36 Ibid., July 2, 1927.

37 E. Zeitlin, “La Nouvelle Etape de la Revolution Chinoise,” La Correspondance Internationale, June 29, 1927.

38 “August 7 Letter” ; Mif, Kitaiskaya Revolutsia, p. 141.

39 Sia Ting, “The Peasant Movement in China,” International Press Correspondence, June 23, 1927.

40 People’s Tribune, June 30, 1927.

41 Min Kuo Jih Pao, June 13, 1927.

42 Trotsky, Problems, p. 78.

43 Mif, Kitaiskaya Revolutsia, p. 139.

44 Ibid.

45 Fischer, Soviets in World Affairs, v. II, p. 672.