Harold R. Isaacs

The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution

XIX. The Rise and Fall of “Soviet China”

Partisan warfare has a tradition in China as long almost as history itself. In great waves rising and lapsing through twenty centuries peasant wars repeatedly convulsed the country and toppled dynasties, only to exhaust themselves while economic relationships were restored and renewed in the ancient grooves of static Chinese society. In times of upheaval peasant armies aroused millions across whole provinces of the Empire. In the intervening periods of the rise and decline of new ruling houses, partisan bands continued in tens and hundreds in a thousand scattered localities to reject the new yokes offered for the old. Chinese economy and the society erected over it were indeed historically static. Yet Chinese history is by no means a placid saga of changelessly unrolling centuries. It has been a history filled with violence and bloodshed, with recurring revolts against the very self-renewing forms of servitude which condemned China to stagnate while the Western world grew.

These were the traditions stirred again to life in South and Central China by the revolution of 1925-7. The millions who unbent from their toil in a new effort to take the land for themselves were less than a century removed from those who had marched with the Long-Haired Taipings. Yet the peasants who rose in 1926-7 could for the first time hope to succeed where their insurgent forbears had invariably failed. Out of the society dissolving under the impact of imperialist penetration the elements of a new solution had taken form and awaited only to be compounded. By themselves the peasants, scattered, stratified, and backward, could play no independent role. The Chinese bourgeoisie, itself bound to the system of exploitation on the land, could not lead the struggle to smash it. But the new class of urban workers sought in its own interests a fundamental revision of property relations at the base of society, and by linking their fortunes to those of the workers the peasants could now hope for the first time to break through the vicious historical circle to which they had for so long been bound.

It was precisely the failure of the Communist Party to solder the links between the oppressed classes of town and country and to unite them under a bold revolutionary programme that had opened the path to the bourgeois counterrevolution. When the proletarian movement was checked, the agrarian revolt was left headless. It lost thousands of its leaders to the terror that scourged the countryside. What was more costly still, it lost the leadership of the city workers who alone could give the peasant revolt the coherence and economic-political framework within which the peasants could regain the land and hold on to it while new productive forms were developed with their help.

As a result, the movement that had for a brief time united ten million peasants was beaten down and its best militants dispersed. Scattered peasant detachments fled to the hills and resumed the role of partisan bands. They joined hands with companies and regiments of Kuomintang soldiers who had mutinied and taken refuge in the mountains. From the towns and cities fleeing the headsmen of Chiang Kai-shek and his allies, Communists—some workers, mostly intellectuals - came to the villages and in many places assumed leadership of the peasant-soldier partisan bands. From a fusion of these elements there emerged in 1928 “Red Armies” which acknowledged the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, although in many places the peasant revolt continued to flare quite independently of the Party’s participation.

The first and most important of these armies was formed at Chingkangshan, a mountain on the Hunan-Kiangsi border where many veterans of the abortive Autumn Harvest uprisings of 1927 made their way. Here came the German-educated Communist officer, Chu Teh, at the head of less than two thousand men, mainly the remnants of the army of Yeh Ting and Ho Lung. The Yeh-Ho army, it will be recalled, had revolted at Nanchang in August, 1927, and had marched south through Kiangsi to Kwangtung. There it was smashed in October in its attempt to take Swatow. With Chu Teh, many of the soldiers went to Hailufeng, the eastern Kwangtung districts where the peasants had risen in revolt, seized the land, and organized themselves into village Soviets. Yeh Ting went to Canton and after the insurrection disappeared from the political scene. Ho Lung set out with a small force and re-emerged later at the head of a partisan army in Hupeh province. After Hailufeng was reconquered by the Canton militarists, Chu Teh led a handful of men first to the northern districts of the province and then into Hunan. He recruited some peasants along the line of march and arrived in April, 1928, at Chingkangshan.

Here he found peasant detachments from southern Hunan, several companies of insurgent soldiers who had come from Wuhan and other Yangtze cities, and a peasant force from eastern Hunan led by the Communist Mao Tse-tung. In Wuhan Mao had served as head of the Peasant Department of the Kuomintang and there had carried out the policy of keeping the peasants in check while the counter-revolution advanced upon them. When the crash came he had fled to the districts of Pingkiang and Liuyang, in eastern Hunan. There he led the uprisings of the Autumn Harvest. When they failed, he led what was left of his little band to Chingkangshan. They joined there with a local bandit force headed by Yuan and Wang. After Chu Teh’s arrival, all the forces were merged and took the name of Fourth Red Army, with Chu as commander-in-chief and Mao Tse-tung as political leader. The official Party record describes it as an army of 10,000 men of whom 2,000 had rifles.[1]

This Red force did not spring from any large-scale spontaneous peasant movement. On the contrary, it was for a long time isolated from the peasantry in the surrounding country-side. Peasant committees set up by the guerrilla bands invariably collapsed and disappeared as soon as the armed Red forces passed on. During its months on Chingkangshan the army suffered repeated defections and endured dire hardships because of its isolation. Defeats often caused the peasant partisans to scatter back to their villages. The Hunanese detachments in particular repeatedly drifted away to revisit their homes. Only the most dogged perseverance on the part of the leaders and the harsh lash of necessity managed to keep the partisan force together, especially when winter set in and the strength of surrounding enemies made it impossible to forage for supplies. After nearly a year of aimless guerrilla raids, sorties, and retreats in the vicinity of Chingkangshan, it was decided to march southward in search of a better base. A small force under Peng Teh-huai, a Communist officer who had marched his men from Hunan to Chingkangshan in the Fall, was left behind to stand off approaching provincial troops. In January, 1929, Chu Teh and Mao Tse-tung led the way down the mountain passes at the head of a starving, freezing, ill-armed, straggling column of a few thousand men.

Out in the countryside they were confronted by the apathy and even the hostility of the peasants. “The masses completely failed to understand what the Red Army was,” raid a Party report. “In many places it was even attacked, like a bandit gang.”[2] After nearly meeting disaster in an unexpected clash with Kuomintang provincials near Tayu, the Reds circled towards the Kwangtung border. They marched among peasants who had been cruelly deceived not once but three times by armies that arrived flying revolutionary banners and promising them relief from their burdens. “The Red Army had no support from the masses. There were great difficulties in finding encampments, carrying on military operations, and securing information. . . . We marched across snow-covered and icy mountains, closely pursued by the enemy. We sometimes covered ninety li (thirty miles) in a single day. Our sufferings increased. We were defeated in battle four times.”[3]

On Chinese New Year’s Day in mid-February, 1929, the exhausted Red force suddenly came upon a division of Kiangsi troops in a valley lying between Juichin and Ningtu in southern Kiangsi. The Reds attacked with desperate fury. When their ammunition gave out, they used their empty rifles, stones, and the limbs of trees. The enemy fled. After that victory the Chu-Mao force won a badly needed rest. In these remote mountain districts they established a new base, where they were joined in March by Peng Teh-huai. Only the hardiest had survived. The whole force totalled 2,800 men. They went to work among the peasants, and when they began driving out the landlords and destroying land deeds, their ranks soon swelled. The territory they occupied they called the “Central Soviet district.”

Simultaneously other Red pockets were being similarly formed with even smaller forces in north-eastern Kiangsi, where the Communist Fang Chih-min headed a partisan band; in Hupeh near Hung Lake where Ho Lung was already making the lightning-like attacks and forced marches that made him a legendary figure. On the Honan-Anhwei and Hunan-Kiangsi borders and in other scattered mountain districts, small Red forces made their headquarters. These were the component parts, widely separated geographically, of what became known as “Soviet China.”

It was upon these partisan forces called Red Armies that the Communist Party, impregnated with adventurist moods on the morrow of the defeat of the revolution, based itself and its activity and its belief in the arrival of the “new revolutionary wave.” The Party leadership glimpsed the danger of the shift to the country-side and for a time tried to resist it.” If the danger of peasant psychology is not vigorously corrected, the revolution will be liquidated entirely and the Party will die, “prophetically warned a circular of the Central Committee in November, 1928.[4]But these warnings grew more and more feeble as the Party’s base in the cities narrowed and its proletarian membership and following dwindled and almost entirely disappeared. In October, 1929, the Executive Committee of the Communist International described the peasant war as “the peculiarity of the Chinese national crisis and the revolutionary wave.” It was still, formally, a “side-current,” but a side-current “along which the powerful high wave of the revolutionary movement will grow in the entire country.” [5] Admitting the impotence of the Communist Party in the cities [“. . . The ideological and political influence of the Communist Party as well as the state of organization of the working class is still backward in comparison with the growth of mass discontent. . . The majority of the Red unions are not yet mass organizations. . . The Communist Party has not yet gathered around itself the leading revolutionary workers in the factories. Still less has it solved the task of capturing the majority of the working class.”—”Letter of E.C.C.I. to C.C.P., October 26, 1929,” Red Flag, Shanghai, February 15, 1930.] the E.C.C.I. nevertheless proclaimed the arrival of the “initial point of the new revolutionary wave” and laid down a programme of insurrection for the Chinese Communists to carry out. While in the cities the revolutionary labour movement was receding and the influence of the Communist Party was being wiped out, the partisan armies in the interior had already come to be regarded as the “determining factor “[6] or the “driving force “[7] of the “revolutionary upsurge.” Before long, all reservations were dropped. The “revolutionary up-surge” was “manifested not only in the rising (?) labour movement, but essentially and basically in the agrarian movement. The agrarian revolution is the source spring of the new revolutionary wave.”[8]

Yet the so-called Red Armies as they emerged in 1928 and 1929 in scattered mountain districts of the central provinces were not even primarily peasant forces. It was only much later that they were able to rally around them sections of the peasantry in the districts they occupied. They were composed in the main of dispossessed peasants, jobless agricultural labourers, mutinous soldiers, local bandits, all declassed elements, playing no direct role even in agricultural production. Their activity for nearly three years consisted exclusively of guerrilla fighting and dart-like raids. They were unable to establish any fixed base. When in 1930 Chen Tu-hsiu, the deposed and expelled leader of the Party,* published an article[9] in which he warned the Communist Party that the revolution could not be advanced by abandoning the workers and engaging in military adventures at the head of an army of lumpen-proletarians, he was viciously denounced as making common cause with the counter-revolution. Chen borrowed Engels’ definition of lumpen-proletariat, “the scum of the decaying elements of all classes,”[10] to describe some of the elements that dominated many of the partisan forces. Yet it is not at all difficult to find in the records of the Communist Party ample corroboration of Chen’s analysis of the Red Armies of that period. The Party had to fight a long and only partially successful struggle to transform these armies into authentic organs of peasant revolt.

* After the Conference of August 7, 1927, deposed him from leadership, Chen Tu-hsiu withdrew into retirement while the Comintern laid at his door exclusive responsibility for the disasters that had befallen the revolution. During the period of adventurism that followed, Chen wrote several letters to the Central Committee opposing the policy of staging futile and costly uprisings. In August, 1929, he addressed a letter to the Central Committee expressing his opposition to the Party’s course and demanding a re-examination of its policies. A few months later he and nearly one hundred others were expelled en masse as Oppositionists. In February, 1930, the Comintern asked him to come to Moscow. He refused, demanding that the issues of the revolution be thrown open instead to full discussion within the Party. Subsequently he solidarized himself with the Trotskyist Left Opposition that had been formed and was a leading figure in that organization until his arrest by the Kuomintang in 1932. He was sentenced to thirteen years’ imprisonment, but was released in the fall of 1937. There appears to be some doubt as to his present political views. See: Chen Tu-hsiu, “A Letter to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on the Questions of the Chinese Revolution,” August 5, 1929, in The Chinese Revolution and Opportunism, Shanghai, October, 1929; Letter to All the Comrades of the Chinese Communist Party, Shanghai, December 10, 1929; Chen Tu-hsiu and eighty others, Our Political Statement, Shanghai, December 15, 1929 . “Letter of Chen Tu-hsiu to the Communist International,” Le Prolétaire, Shanghai, July 1, 1930; Chen Tu-hsiu, Protest to the Kiangsu High Court, February 20, 1933.

The Sixth Congress of the Communist Party in 1928 deplored the tendency of the partisans to engage in “aimless plundering and burning” and described these activities as “the reflection of lumpen-proletarian psychology.”[11] Another Party report spoke of “bandit psychology, degeneration into a bandit existence of killing and plundering” and even borrowed phrases far stronger than any used by Engels or Chen Tu-hsiu to characterize some of the partisans as “Red bandits, burning, killing, and robbing.”[12] A reporter for the Central Committee complained early in 1930 that “in many of the partisan bands, lumpen-proletarian ideas persist . . . often expressing themselves in unorganized burning, plundering, and killing.”[13] Even publicly in the columns of no less a paper than Pravda, Mif wrote of the “very large percentage of . . . lumpenproletarian elements” in some of the Chinese Red Armies.[14]

The question, however, did not lie in the precise percentage of lumpen-proletarian elements in the Red Armies then or even later. These armies did become the spearhead of a peasant revolt over considerable, if scattered, territories. Such armies had often been known in Chinese history. The important factor was that the Communist Party was tending more and more to look upon these armies as the legitimate basis of its activity and to rationalize through them its growing isolation from the workers in the urban centres. It was the view of the Trotskyist Opposition that the Party’s lip service to” proletarian hegemony “over the peasant movement was a fraud so long as the Party was itself divorced from the proletariat. This hegemony became all the more mythical when the putschist policies in the cities, the attempts to force strikes, to convert them artificially into armed political demonstrations, were stifling at birth the incipient revival of defensive struggles by the workers.

“Proletarian leadership” of the peasant-partisan movement had to be exercised through a living movement and not through a fictional slogan paraded through the Party Press. It was on this basis that the International Left (Trotskyist) Opposition demanded that the Communist Party keep its roots in the cities and proposed a programme of democratic struggle and the slogan of a National Assembly, elected by universal suffrage, as a point of departure for making the Communist Party the truly authentic spokesman and leader of the Chinese workers. Revival of the labour movement under the impetus of a democratic programme, declared the Opposition in 1930, could alone provide the peasant revolt with the indispensable leadership of the city workers and lay the basis for worker-peasant collaboration in the march toward the third Chinese Revolution.[15] The Trotskyist Opposition, however, was too weak to make its influence felt. The Communist Party, throwing its main efforts and its best forces into the villages and replacing its disappearing worker-members with peasants, drifted farther and farther away from its work in the cities and finally practically abandoned it altogether. The militarist rivalries that split the Kuomintang camp and the constant economic difficulties which the regime could not surmount were regarded as sufficient symptoms of a ripe revolutionary crisis, and the Red Armies in fact came to be regarded as a sufficient instrument for bringing that crisis to a head.

Having discovered the “initial point of the new revolutionary wave” in October, 1929, the Comintern in July, 1930, declared that “the new upsurge of the Chinese revolutionary movement has become an indisputable fact.” Hence: “The immediate task of the Chinese Communist Party is to prepare and concentrate all forces in the process of struggle to meet decisive battles in the nearest future.”

“It is the peculiarity in the new upsurge,” the resolution went on, “. . . that in the initial stage there is a certain (!) weakness, namely, the fighting masses cannot at the very beginning occupy the industrial centres. . . . Only in the process of the further development of the revolutionary struggles can the peasant war, led by the proletariat, expand to new territory. Then the mutual correlation can improve to better advantage.” To this end attention had to be focussed on strengthening the Red Army so that “in the future, according to political and military circumstances, one or several political or industrial centres can be occupied.”[16]

While the Comintern, to be sure, surrounded itself with carefully-worded injunctions about the need, in general, for organizing the workers and peasants, it laid the basis for all the fatal misconceptions which achieved their most grotesque form in the politics of Li Li-san, who had now become leader of the Communist Party.

Dazzled by the Comintern’s commission to him to “overthrow the power of the landlord-bourgeois bloc, to establish a worker-peasant dictatorship . . . to unfold mass political strikes and demonstrations, to expand the partisan warfare . . . and to turn the militarist war into class civil war,”[17] Li Li-san began to perceive on all sides the shadows of coming upheavals. When Chiang Kai-shek and a northern coalition headed by Feng Yu-hsiang began a long and bitter civil war in 1930, Li was certain that the earth was ready to swallow up the Kuomintang and all its generals. “Prepare for the establishment of the revolutionary power!” he cried in March.[18] In June his Political Bureau adopted a resolution which saw the masses “marching in seven-league boots toward the revolutionary high wave” and called for active preparation of a country-wide uprising. Taking the Comintern’s prattle about the “third period” of the final crisis of world capitalism quite seriously, Li envisaged the Russian Red Army marching in from Mongolia to support the resurgent Chinese Revolution.[19]

Quite in passing, Li deplored the depression of the labour movement, but he was naively confident that the workers were only awaiting the Party’s call to rise. He was sure that a single puncture in the Kuomintang dam would be enough to precipitate a revolutionary flood. “When the revolutionary high wave arrives,” he was later quoted as saying, “90,000,000 can be organized in three days.”[20] In the June resolution he wrote: “Long ago the masses said: ‘When there is an uprising let us know and we shall surely come.’ Now is the time when the Party must bravely call upon the masses: ‘The time for insurrection has come! Organize yourselves!‘ “[21] He created what he called a General Council of Action into which he merged the Party, the Young Communist League, and the “red” trade unions. In Shanghai he formed a “Red Guard” composed of exactly one hundred and seventysix workers to prepare for the “fourth uprising.”[22] He plotted an insurrection in Nanking with a handful of soldiers. To the Red Armies he gave orders to march on the cities. “The aim of the local uprisings is to capture local cities. . . . The perspective must inevitably be to converge with the central cities to accomplish the victory of the insurrection in the whole country.” [23]

In words both the Comintern and Li Li-san recognized that the proletariat had to lead the peasantry. Many long and even eloquent passages were devoted in all documents to this necessity under the heading “proletarian hegemony.” Unfortunately, the proletariat had yet to re-marshal its own ranks and collect its own forces, scattered and crushed by the defeat of the revolution and the reign of Kuomintang terror that followed it. The Communist Party tried to substitute itself for the proletariat as a class. In the process, however, it was transformed into a peasant party. Since the revolution could not radiate from the cities to the country, it was necessary to mobilize the country to close in on the cities.

It was with this in view that the Fifth Red Army under Peng Teh-huai marched westward from Kiangsi and on July 28, 1930, succeeded in occupying Changsha, capital of Hunan province. Li Li-san firmly counted on this as the signal for a spontaneous country-wide uprising with its centre at Wuhan, where he expected to establish the capital of a “Central Soviet Government.” Unfortunately, the Communist Party had at its disposal in Wuhan only 200 Party members and 150 “red” trade unionists![24] Contrary to Li’s expectations, there was no echo anywhere. There was no insurrection in the rest of the country. The 90,000,000 remained passive. American, British, Japanese, and Italian gunboats, having evacuated frightened foreigners, steamed up the Siang River and mercilessly bombarded the occupied city.[25] The Red Army withdrew. Ho Chien, Governor of Hunan, returned with fresh divisions and began a slaughter of the helpless city population that did not pause until more than five thousand corpses choked open graves and until even the Changsha Chamber of Commerce appealed to Nanking to make him stop. Reinforced by the Chu-Mao Fourth Army, the Reds made another attempt early in September to hammer their way back into the city, but this time they failed and retreated once more toward the mountains of southern Kiangsi.

The Changsha episode bared at a stroke the fatal weakness of the whole Red Army course. The partisan forces had no connection with the workers in the city. When the Red Army marched in and “proclaimed the Soviet power, the power of the workers, peasants, and soldiers,”[26] the great mass of the city’s 500,000 people remained inert, frightened, or just curious. The proclamation of “Soviet power” was the gift of a conquering army. It was not the product of mass action in the city itself. “There was insufficient connection between the attack of the Red Army and the mass struggles in Changsha,” it was later admitted.[27] The result was a repetition on a different plane of the Canton fiasco. “In Changsha there was no mass Soviet elected by factories or streets.”[28] Red flags were broken out all over the city and a mass meeting was called, but only three thousand people appeared. Another effort two days later was only slightly more successful.[29] The army impregnated with the fundamental strategy of the peasant partisan—to strike, seize, destroy, and run—did not regard its occupation of Changsha as a permanent thing. “Its position was not consolidated. No city power was organized.” [30] Instead it taxed the Chamber of Commerce for $400,000, which was collected from the people by the merchants, and when the imperialist bombardment began it resisted briefly and withdrew.

When it left, three thousand workers recruited in the city went with it. In other words, the most advanced of Changsha’s workers, the possible nucleus of a revived labour movement, were withdrawn from their factories and shops and converted into partisan-soldiers completely divorced from the town. The job of decapitating the Changsha labour movement, begun in this way by the Red Army, was completed by Ho Chien’s executioners. This was the net result of the Changsha adventure.

Sporadic attempts continued through the summer to encircle Wuhan and to take other cities without result. In October the Red Army captured Kian, in Kiangsi, but here again it confined itself to “recruiting new soldiers” and sent off its best forces in an effort to capture Nanchang and Kiukiang. “Organization of the masses was completely ignored.”[31] Kian had to be evacuated a few weeks later.

The strategists in Moscow, however, had already begun to realize that the Red Armies could not successfully attack the large cities. At the Third Plenum of the Central Committee in September, Chow En-lai, freshly back from Moscow, cautiously counselled retreat. “The Central Committee,” he said, “has had some mechanical conceptions, thinking that the Central (Soviet) Government had to be established in Wuhan, or at least in Changsha or Nanchang. . . . Of course it would be better to get established in the bigger cities than in the smaller ones, but this is a secondary question.” He reminded the Committee that the Comintern had fixed as the “primary task” the consolidation of the Red Armies and the broadening of the mass base underlying them. “We must consolidate the present scattered Soviet districts,” he reported, “weld them together, strengthen and centralize the leadership of the Red Armies, set broader peasant masses in motion, and establish a Central Soviet Government to develop toward the industrial cities.”

Chow sharply denied that this meant retreat or that there was any contradiction between the advice of the Comintern and the policies of Li Li-san. For the cities, he repeated, the central task was still “to prepare actively for armed uprising.” Li had merely “over-estimated the tempo,” made some “isolated tactical mistakes,” and had a few “mechanical conceptions,” but was otherwise in “complete harmony with the Comintern.” [32]

But Li Li-san’s “over-exaggeration” of the Comintern’s line had practically destroyed the Party and demoralized its members. It was no longer possible to preserve in Li Li-san the myth of an infallible leadership. Accordingly all the heavy artillery was trundled out and turned on the hapless Li. All the hyphenated invective he had employed against his predecessors was now applied to him. A letter arriving from Moscow on November 16 ordered open warfare against him in the Party. Under the personal supervision of Mif, Li Li-san was brusquely deposed. What was called the Fourth Plenum of the Central Committee met on January 7, 1931, and Mif’s own protégé, Chen Shao-yu, was elevated into the leadership of the Party on a programme of “unconditional devotion to the line of the Communist International.”

The young men so abruptly enthroned as “leaders” of the Communist Party had all been students in Moscow during the years of the revolution and had won their spurs conducting witch-hunts against Trotskyist sympathizers among the students at Sun Yat-sen University. To give them control Mif shouldered aside the group of old militants who had served, not without opposition,[33] under the leadership of Li Li-san. A group of these older Party members and trade unionists, and some younger men, led by the veteran Ho Mung-shung, met at a Shanghai hotel on the night of January 17 to consider the new situation with which they were confronted. In circumstances which are still a whispered scandal in the Party ranks, that meeting was betrayed to the British police of the International Settlement. Ho Mung-shung and twenty-four others were arrested, handed over to the Kuomintang authorities and executed at Lunghua on February 7. Mif’s docile young men became the undisputed leaders of the Party.

Other leaders of the Party won the right to remain in its ranks only by degrading themselves, by making the selfdenying recantations that had already become a fixed feature of Stalinist Party methods and which only ten years later flowered into the “confessions” of old Bolshevik leaders put on trial for their lives in Moscow. Chiu Chiu-pei was compelled to denounce his own “cowardly rotten opportunism.” Chow En-lai flagellated himself. “I call upon the whole Party to condemn my mistakes,” he cried.[34] Li Li-san had already left for Moscow and once arrived there had hastily recanted of his sins. Even the hardened cynics in the Comintern apparatus were a little shocked by his eager self-repudiation. At a discussion held by the presidium of the Executive Committee of the Comintern in December, Manuilsky expressed his astonishment: “If Li Li-san here defended his own ideas and disputed with us one article after another,” he said, “then I would be easier in my mind. But Li-san so quickly abandoned his views. This alarms me!”[35] Chiu Chiu-pei, Chow En-lai, Han Yin, the trade union leader, and others, were sent to obscure posts in Kiangsi. Li Li-san himself disappeared from view.[Chiu was captured in Fukien in 1935 and shot by direct order of Chiang Kai-shek. Han Yin was captured and apparently suffered the same fate. Many other leaders were also shot or imprisoned. Deng Cheng-tsah and Lo Teng-hsien, leaders of the Hong Kong strike of 1925, were executed at Nanking in 1933, words of loyalty to the proletarian cause on their lips to the last. See China Forum, Shanghai, November 7, 30, 1933. Li-san re-emerged in 1937 at Yenan, Shensi, the new Communist Party centre, where he was introduced to a New Masses writer as an “old associate of Dr. Sun Yat-sen.”— New Masses, October 12, 1937.]

The new leadership had the task of retreating from the disastrous ultra-adventurism of Li Li-san to a more modest adventurist policy that took the Party’s real strength more soberly into account. There was no intention of making any more fundamental change. The main features of the shift had already been indicated by the Comintern in its November letter. “The military and technical weakness of the Red Army must not be forgotten, the poverty of armament and ammunition, lack of artillery, etc. Such conditions make it impossible to occupy big cities, to attack the modern armies of imperialism, and to conquer the main centres. The experience of the occupation of Changsha and the attack on Wuhan has already shown that such tacks cannot be carried out by the present Red Army.” It was necessary now “to concentrate the best forces of the Party” to build a” real workers-peasants Red Army” and to establish a Central Soviet Government in one of the existing Soviet districts as a basis for future expansion. “Only those who have nothing in common with Bolshevism can interpret this as a line of retreat,” the letter said. “It is not a retreat but an offensive. The line of insurrection is fixed.”[36]

But a retreat it was, a retreat from the grandiose dreams of Li Li-san. The new Party leadership dropped the slogan of “local uprisings” and denounced as “Blanquist” the attempt to organize isolated mutinies in the armies of the Kuomintang.[37] The concentration of the “best forces” of the Party for the “primary task” of strengthening the Red Army and creating a central Government also signalized the completion of the shift from city to country, from proletariat to peasantry. It was now not so much a question of bringing the urban labour abreast of the peasant revolt in order to lead it. Instead: “Every strike is a rear support for the Soviet districts.”[38] Instructions issued to the Party in June and again in September, 1931, dealt almost exclusively with the problems of the Red Army and the Soviet districts. Where they dealt briefly with the urban labour movement, it was to urge more intensive work in the cities in order “to create powerful support for our worker-peasant Red Army.” It was the main task in the “non-Soviet” districts “to intensify support for the great victories of the Red Armies . . . to recruit soldiers for the Red Armies. . . “[39]

Shanghai, Wuhan, Tientsin, Canton, and all other centres of industrial and proletarian concentration had become, in effect, the “rear” of the mountains of southern Kiangsi. In September, 1930, when he was trying to justify his plans for capturing Wuhan and making it the “Soviet capital,” Li Li-san had said: “I thought it would be a joke if we established the capital in the mountains.”[40] But it was precisely to the mountains that they had to go and stay. Deep in the hills of south Kiangsi in the village of Juichin the Red Armies established their capital and there, on November 7, 1931, they proclaimed the creation of the “Chinese Soviet Republic” and set up a Provisional Soviet Government.

The “Chinese Soviet Republic” consisted in 1932-3, the years of its maximum development, of six widely separated areas scattered along the border regions of the Central China provinces. Wang Min (Chen Shao-yu) boasted at the end of 1933 that the territory of Soviet China occupied “one-fourth of the vast territory of China proper.” One-sixth, or onefifth—both fractions were cited in the same speech—he described as “stable” Soviet domain.[41] Around the world the Press of the Communist International boasted that the flag of the Soviets ruled 50,000,000, 75,000,000, 80,000,000 of the Chinese people.[42] In a book that had the misfortune to hall the dawn of “Soviet China” just as twilight descended upon it, one Comintern writer put the population at 90,000,000.[43] The figures never agreed but were all enormous and all enormously exaggerated. The reality was far more modest and the men on the spot who had to deal with realities and not propagandist myths were more soberly truthful.

Because the Red Armies and partisan forces were for the most part, to use a favourite Chinese phrase,” like flowing water and moving clouds, “the territory they occupied expanded and contracted according to the fortunes of war. At various times the Red Army, led by Chu Teh, undoubtedly crossed or temporarily occupied at least sixty or seventy of Kiangsi’s eighty-one hsiens (counties); but there is ample authority for the statement that the most important and most stable Red Army area, the so-called “central Soviet district,” held more or less permanently from 1930 to the end of 1934, comprised about seventeen hsien astride the Kiangsi-Fukien border, with a total population of 3,000,000. This fact was frequently cited by Mao Tse-tung, president of the “Soviet Republic,” and other Communist Party spokesmen, although it was conveniently ignored by the Comintern Press abroad.[44] The other Soviet districts, along the Hupeh-Hunan, HunanKiangsi, north-eastern Kiangsi, Honan-Hupeh-Anhwei, and Hupeh-Hunan-Kiangsi borders were all smaller, less stable, and more frequently compelled to dissolve under the pressure of repeated attacks.

The Red Armies themselves varied no less in size and strength, both in their more or less regular formations and in the auxiliary corps of peasant Red Guards who functioned with them in the incessant civil war against Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang forces. In 1932 one quite carefully checked estimate based on Communist records put the grand total of all armies operating in all districts at 151,000, of whom only 97,500 had rifles.[45] The same creative spirit who from his observation post in Moscow saw one-quarter of China under Soviet rule also expanded the Red Army to a force of 350,000 at the end of 1933.[46] Unfortunately again, a civil war could not be fought with soldiers represented only by digits scratched on Comintern copy paper. Chu Teh, certainly one of the most remarkable military leaders in all history, led a force in 1932 that numbered no more than 40,000 and which, according to the most sober estimates of responsible Communist representatives in Shanghai, never in its best Kiangsi days exceeded 70,000. Ho Lung’s wraith-like force never exceeded 10,000. The other scattered forces were even smaller. All of them, of course, were aided by peasant auxiliaries whose number varied greatly from time to time and whose chief uses were in scouting and raids for supplies and creating diversions in the conduct of guerrilla operations.

That these forces and the territory they permanently occupied were in reality so small sharpens into all the bolder relief the quality of their achievements. No more brilliant pages have ever been written in the history of peasant wars than those which must record the exploits of the Chinese Red Armies engaged in a civil war against enemies five, six, and seven times their number and a thousand times their superior in armaments. For more than five years, the Red Armies outmanoeuvred and defeated five successive Kuomintang campaigns against them. Because of the incomparable advantage of the support of the population, their superior mobility and generalship, their knowledge of the terrain, the Reds cut off and defeated division after division of Chiang Kai-shek’s best troops and armed themselves exclusively with the weapons they captured. The slogans of land to the peasants and freedom from the rapacity of the Kuomintang regime ploughed like tanks through the columns of Chiang’s hired soldiers.[47]

Marvelling at the many-sided aid given the Reds by the local peasants, a missionary correspondent of the North China Daily News found it “a strange thing that so many people are willing to undertake what they know means death.”[48] Almost everywhere they went the Red Armies expelled landlords, destroyed land deeds, debt bonds, and contracts. The peasants still suffered from many disabilities, but they understood that the Kuomintang campaigns were waged to restore the land-lord his land and his power. All the pompous “rehabilitation” plans announced by the Nanking Government with each campaign were designed for this purpose only.[49] Resisting this, the peasants gladly fought and died. This was the heroism, the grandeur, too simple, too elemental for the missionary mind to grasp. It gave its blessing instead to the slaughter, rapine, and wanton destruction with which Chiang Kai-shek scourged the province in his effort to stamp out the peasant revolt.

Ho Ying-chin, Chiang’s Minister of War, complained in 1931 that the peasants supported the Reds and made it difficult for the invading armies to secure food or transport.[50] Chiang Kai-shek told a Japanese interviewer in 1933 that the punitive forces found it “impossible to draw any line between a good citizen and a Red partisan” and were assailed by the feeling that “the enemy is lurking everywhere.”[51] The story of the five anti-Red campaigns is a story of angry and frustrated complaints by Kuomintang generals, of mass desertions by companies, and whole regiments, of shrill threats and reproaches from the missionaries and the treaty port foreign Press. In the end Chiang Kai-shek had to put more than half a million men in the field and send aloft a fleet of more than three hundred American, British, and Italian bombing planes to lay waste whole districts and to exterminate whole sections of the insurgent peasantry.

The remoteness of the Soviet areas, the mountainous terrain, the absence of roads or rails, were all of great advantage in the military struggle of the Reds against the external enemy. These same factors, when raised from the military to the political and economic plane, became the source of insuperable internal obstacles. “Soviet China” was not only remote from the main urban centres and the principal arteries of communications which are the life-lines of a rural hinterland, but even within its own territory it ruled no cities or sizable towns. The chief cities of the province of Kiangsi,—Kiukiang, Nanchang, and even Kanchow,—deep in the heart of the Red area, remained in the hands of the Kuomintang, as did the links between them, the Kiukiang-Nanohang railway and the Kian River. Kiukiang was never seriously threatened. Nanchang was approached on several occasions but only for the purpose of creating military diversions. Kian, after the brief occupation of 1930, was never again conquered. Kanchow was repeatedly besieged but never taken. Even the hsien towns or county seats constantly changed hands with the shifting fortunes of the civil war. It was still theoretically the aim to capture at least “one or two central or secondary cities,”[52] but this was never achieved. Except for one sortie into Fukien, resulting in the occupation of Changchow for a few days in April, 1932, the Red Armies never again took or held any town of consequence. Instead, the increasing pressure of the Kuomintang attacks and the gradual tightening of the economic blockade held them ever more closely confined to their mountain fastnesses along the Kiangsi-Fukien border and along the fringes of other Central China provinces. The “Soviet movement” remained a movement of the villages alone.

The economic self-sufficiency of these villages had Long since disappeared. They produced only rice and small quantities of bamboo, paper, and wood oil, which they had to exchange for the most elementary necessities that had to come from the outside, such as salt, cloth, kerosene, farming implements, and matches. This trade was conducted by merchants who preserved contact with the external market. Within the Red areas the merchants were at the same time owners of land, lenders of money, and employers of labour. The peasants themselves were divided into strata with conflicting economic interests. The struggle among them only assumed new forms after the largest and most powerful of the landlords had been driven out. Still dominant in the villages were the rich peasants, who were semi-landlords, employers of agricultural labour, and often merchants and money-lenders as well. After them came the middle peasants, who owned barely enough land to satisfy their meagre needs and only occasionally hired hands to work in their fields. Finally there were the poor peasants, possessing inadequate land or no land at all and compelled to rent small plots or join the ranks of the agricultural labourers who possessed nothing but their labour power. The poor peasants and agricultural labourers were subjected economically to the rich peasants, while the middle peasants, in various gradations, fluctuated between them.

To these peasant classes, with their complex internal divisions and conflicts, the Communist Party claimed that it brought proletarian leadership.” It based its claims sometimes on the purely abstract view that the Communist Party was by definition the “Party of the proletariat” and that consequently its mere presence guaranteed working-class hegemony in the peasant revolt. To strengthen this illusion, the Party brought occasional workers in from the cities and gave them leading positions in the Red Army and in some of the governing committees that were established. The effect of this practice, however, was to deprive the workers in the cities of their most advanced representatives. If the vigilant terror of the Kuomintang did not cut them away from the labour movement, the Communist Party did. Once torn from their proletarian environment, these workers ceased to be proletarians and fell inevitably instead under the overwhelming influence of their peasant milieu. Divorced from the productive process, they could become neither the leaders of the proletariat nor the representatives of its leadership over the insurgent peasants.

Only real proletarian leadership of the agrarian revolt could save it from disintegration and dispersal. It alone could knit the poor and middle peasants and rural workers together for a common struggle against the village bourgeoisie. It alone could make this struggle effective by undertaking the complete reorganization of the national economy. But such leadership could be exercised only through the urban labour movement as a whole and through the establishment of its control over the centres of production and distribution on which rural economy so completely depended. In other words, the agrarian revolt had to fuse with a proletarian revolution to have successful issue.

Even under most favourable conditions, the general backwardness of the country meant that great obstacles would be encountered in reorganizing rural life and bringing industry to the direct aid of agriculture in a planned and systematic manner. In this the working classes of the more advanced countries would have to play an important and indispensable role. The scope and complexity of this problem was more than amply demonstrated in Russia where the proletariat holds power but where factors of national isolation and economic backwardness have placed the most severe difficulties in the way of establishing a harmonious balance between urban and rural economy. Reduced to the comparatively microscopic scale of “Soviet China,” scattered insurgent villages and mountain communities in a country still dominated as a whole by imperialist and native finance capital, the problem was proportionately more acute and the effort to solve it without a proletarian revolution was utterly hopeless.

The Communist Party had never accepted the perspective of a proletarian revolution in China. It still insisted, after the experience of 1925-7, on the “bourgeois-democratic character of the Chinese Revolution.” The theory of the “democratic dictatorship” which had been so thoroughly tested in Russia in 1917 and again in China ten years later remained the chief weapon in the ideological arsenal of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1925-7 it had led them to dependence on the bourgeoisie with disastrous results. Now it provided justification for depending upon a purely peasant movement, for relying, as before, on class interests which collided with those of the proletariat instead of fusing with them. The 1927 defeat had physically divorced the Party from the working class. The adventurist course after 1927 converted it into a peasant party without roots or influence among the workers. It had become the Chinese equivalent not of the Russian Bolshevik Party but of the Social Revolutionary Party, whose example it followed in proposing to carry out an agrarian transformation on the basis of bourgeois property relations. Isolated in purely rural and economically limited pockets, the Communist Party could not even begin to improve the status of the scattered semi-proletarians and agricultural workers in the districts under Red Army control, no less to bale a consistent and workable economic policy and political regime upon them. Despite all its pious resolutions and exhortations to the contrary, the Communists had to lean upon the rich peasants and merchants whose contact to the external market was indispensable to the maintenance of even a minimum existence for the Soviet areas. Despite itself, the Party became the instrument of the dominant groupings in the villages.

The rich peasants came forward as leaders of the peasant revolt, bent on annexing some of the landlords’ wealth and retaining their own. In many places they kept the movement limited to non-payment of rent and taxes. When the peasants drove beyond this to the division of the land, they acquired the best land for themselves and retained their implements and draught animals. The influence of their position in the village clans and the superficial conflict between rich peasant and landlord made it easy for the former to dominate the lower strata of the peasant population. So long as the village remained subject to the operations of commercial capital and the external market, the village bourgeoisie, the rich peasants, and the merchants had to remain the dominant village classes and they took every possible advantage of their strategic position.

The Communists fostered rather than resisted this development. The Sixth Congress of the Party in 1928 adopted a conciliatory attitude towards the village bourgeoisie under the slogan of “not deliberately forcing the struggle against the rich peasants because to do so would be to confuse the fundamental contradiction between the peasant and landlord classes.”[53] Accordingly, rich peasant land was to be left intact. “Confiscate landlord’s land” was to be the principal slogan of the agrarian movement. In other words, the Communists now assumed the same antagonism between rich peasant and landlord as they had formerly assumed between the national bourgeois and compradore-landlord. They sought now to conciliate the rich peasants in the villages just as formerly they had tried, with such disastrous results, to adapt themselves to the national bourgeoisie in the cities. Even the familiar predictions about the “inevitable defection “of the rich peasants to the counter-revolution were dusted off and brought out,[54] and although in words some kind of limited or “secondary “[55] struggle was to be waged against these inevitable counter-revolutionists, in practice, as before, practical leadership was surrendered to them and their economic interests defended. The Party found itself compelled to call upon the peasant poor, the rural workers, the artisans, and handicraftsmen to sacrifice their own immediate interests in order not to alienate the rich peasants and the merchants.

“Owing to the alliance with the rich peasants,” admitted the Central Committee in 1929, “the interests of the agricultural labourers were sacrificed. . . . We feared the counterrevolutionary turn of the rich peasants and consequently asked the agricultural labourers to lower their demands.”[56] In western Fukien in 1930 the Communists leading the partisan bands had “to compromise with the merchants in order to solve the difficulty of the import and export of supplies. They not only proclaimed protection of the merchants, but exempted them from taxation while the peasants still paid a 15 per cent land tax. . . . They had no means of curbing the raising of prices by the merchants . . . and sometimes they went so far as to limit the economic struggles of the shop employees and workers.”[57]

In May, 1930, a secret “Soviet Delegates’ Conference” in Shanghai adopted a policy of frank conciliation towards the rich peasants and merchants.[58] The anti-proletarian consequences of this policy were not only pointed out in a brilliant analysis by a young Oppositionist, O Fong,[59] but were dimly realized by some in the Party itself. Chen Shao-yu criticized comrades in the Soviet districts who excused their failure to organize the agricultural labourers by declaring that “the peasants oppose it.”

“Shall we fail to organize the agricultural labourers for fear of the rich peasants?” he asked. “Then we are absolutely not the party of the proletariat. . . . In many Soviet villages rich peasant psychology dominates. Rich peasants occupy no small position in the mass organizations and in the Party. They are aware of rich peasant interests only. This means that we have come to regard rich peasant psychology as the basic psychology of the peasant masses. . . . For the same reasons they do not organize shop employees, handicraft, and small enterprise workers. In Hupeh-Honan, for example, the slogan ‘For the interests of the middle and small merchants‘ was openly proclaimed and as a result not a single demand of the shop employees and handicraft workers was put forward.”[60]

At the end of 1930, the Comintern described the situation in the following terms: “The agrarian revolution’s most important tacks have not been solved. Not only rich peasants but even small landlords make their way into the Soviets, into the organs of the new power, into the Red Army. The rich peasants seek to steal the fruits of the agrarian revolution. The rich peasant slogan—to distribute land according to productive implements—has not met with adequate resistance. In some places it was proposed to confiscate only the land of landlords holding more than fifty mow. Elsewhere there was a slogan for payment of debts to landlord-usurers owning less than fifty mow. . . . Equal division of land is the most important task of the agrarian revolution, but it has been carried out in very few places. The organization of the poor peasants has not even begun. . . . Coolies and agricultural labourers have not been organized into unions.”[61]

After Li Li-san was held duly responsible for this state of affairs and Chen Shao-yu put in his place, the situation not only failed to improve but grew steadily worse. “Two-thirds of the Government is in the hands of the rich peasants,” wrote a correspondent from one of the Soviet districts in 1931.[62] “Rich peasants are in all the Party posts,” wrote another in August that same year.[63] In 1933, at Juichin, the Soviet capital, a leading spokesman wrote: “The land was divided, but the landlords and rich peasants also received land and better land at that. A number of landlord and rich peasant elements still retain their authority and position in the villages. . . . Not a few of them are in control of Party and Government institutions and use them to carry out their own class interests. . . . In many places the land problem seems to be fully solved, but upon close scrutiny it appears that even landlords are found to have received land and the rich peasants still retain their superior land.”[64]

Mao Tse-tung, president of the “Soviet Republic,” wrote: “Many landlords and rich peasants put on a revolutionary coloration. They say they are for the revolution and for the division of the land. . . . They are very active and rely on their historical advantages—‘they can speak well and write well’—and consequently in the first period they steal the fruits of the agrarian revolution. Facts from innumerable places prove that they have usurped the provisional power, filtered into the armed forces, controlled the revolutionary organizations, and divided more and better land than the poor peasants.” Mao estimated that this was the case in “80 per cent of the area of the central district, affecting a population of more than 2,000,000.”[65] In his report to the Second “Soviet Congress” held at Juichin in January, 1934, Mao revealed the striking fact that during a land-inspection movement conducted in the summer of 1933, “in the central Soviet district 6,988 landlord families and 6,638 rich peasant families owning a huge excess of land were discovered and their land seized and money taken from them to the total of $606,916.”[66] Facts proved harsher and more compelling than Party resolutions. Even the attempts made to re-divide the land for the greater benefit of the poor peasants had to be abandoned in order not to unsettle crop production. At the end of the year a decree was announced prohibiting further re-division of the land because this practice had become “one of the most serious obstacles to an improvement in peasant agriculture.” [67]

The demands of the agricultural labourers, artisans, and other rural workers were no less of a menace to the feeble and limited economic structure in the Soviet districts. In the central district this class was estimated to number about two hundred thousand.[68] Working singly or in twos or threes, scattered on the land, in the villages, or itinerant, these workers occupied a subsidiary position in the peasant economy. The capitalist cannot exist without the factory worker, but the peasant can get along without a hired hand. In the sense that they were divorced from the means of production and sold their labour power for wages, these workers were proletarians. The fact that they were scattered and played no independent role in production meant, however, that they tended to form part of the general petty bourgeois mass of the peasantry. They could not, in any case, play an independent political role. It was impossible to base any consistent policy upon their interests. A proletariat in power will find the means of marshalling rural labour and providing them with the economic means which will raise their level of existence, but here they stood alone, and when they tried to shorten their hours or increase their wages, the peasants resisted sharply or simply discharged them. Operating on the slimmest of all margins, the peasant could not double his workers’ wages or the number of hands hired without utterly ruining himself. Similarly, in the shops and small enterprises, the merchants countered employees’ demands by the simple threat to suspend activity altogether. This meant slow suffocation of trade and the merchants knew they held the whip hand.

Shortly after it was established in November, 1931, the “Provisional Soviet Government” adopted an admirable labour law even more sweeping in its provisions than the labour legislation of the Kuomintang in its early days. It called for a universal eight-hour day for adults, a six-hour day for youths of sixteen to eighteen, and a four-hour day for younger workers, for increased wages and generally improved working conditions. For propaganda purposes outside the Soviet districts and especially abroad, the word was taken for the deed. In “Soviet China” itself, however, it was soon realized that a law “passed for big cities and large-scale production cannot be completely and mechanically applied in the economically backward Soviet districts.”[69] Attempts to enforce it had early been abandoned in the face of merchant-peasant opposition. “The comrades consider the labour law impracticable or else purely for propaganda purposes,” reported the Hunan-Kiangsi Party committee. “The Provincial Committee has combatted this tendency, but without much effect.”[70] Many excuses were devised for the failure to apply the law. One of the most frequent was the plea that the new working hours could not be put into effect “because there are no clocks to reckon time by!”[71] After berating the functionaries of the lower rank for their stubborn “disregard” of the law, the leaders of the top were finally compelled to admit also that it was “impractical.”

Lo Fu, a leading spokesman, described the unhappy result of attempts made to double the wages (from eight to sixteen dollars annually!) and cut the hours of farm-hands. The workers were simply discharged. “The result was that the peasants were dissatisfied and the labourers were sceptical about our leadership.” It was necessary, of course, to improve working conditions for the farm-hands, “but such improvements must also be regarded by the peasants as necessary and practicable.” The same applied to the apprentices in the shops and the boatmen engaged in the river trade. “I have here the petitions of many merchants and employers from which we can see that the mechanical application of the labour law will inevitably be the decline of industry and commerce.” It was necessary, of course, to improve the living standards and working conditions of the apprentices, “but we must make the employment of apprentices profitable, not unprofitable, for the master.”[72] The workers were asked to understand that while they were the “masters of the State” they had to consent to remain the “exploited class” at the same time and refrain from making “excessive demands “ or conducting strikes whose only effect was “to wreck the worker-peasant alliance.”[73] This was the real essence of the “democratic dictatorship” in “Soviet China.”

The attempt to organize the rural workers into unions produced in these circumstances either no organizations at all or alleged trade unions which functioned in reality against the interests of the workers. Figures on the trade unions “in the Soviet districts varied widely. Within the space of a single year different published versions ranged from 14,000 to 30,000, to 150,000, to 229,000, and even to 2,200,000![74] But the character of these unions, whatever their number, was so dubious that even the trade union centre of the Party at Shanghai had to complain. In its report for 1931 it spoke of the presence of “shopkeepers and rich peasants” in the unions.[75] The next year it addressed a scorching letter to the trade union officials in Kiangsi in which it accused them of admitting “peasants, priests, shop-owners, foremen, rich peasants, and landlords,” while “on the other hand considerable sections of the agricultural labourers, coolies, employees, and artisans are on various pretexts barred from membership.” The Party comrades engaged in this work were accused of being “contemptuous of the workers and insolent toward them.” The letter described the unions as “anti-proletarian in character, representing more the interests of the landlords, rich peasants, and employers.” [76]

“The Party in the Soviet districts, generally speaking, ignores proletarian hegemony,” wrote one Party leader in Juichin. “. . . Everywhere we see the serious phenomenon of the continual ignoring of the trade union movement. . . . The Committees never even discuss it. . . . Proletarian leadership exists still for the most part in words in Party documents.”[77]

This was the hard fact on which the Soviet experiment in Kiangsi broke its back. By driving out the landlords and sponsoring the division of the land, the Red Armies had aroused the enthusiasm of considerable masses of the peasantry. In the absence of effective economic control, however, and in the absence of an effective proletarian mass movement, not only in the great cities, but in the towns nearest the Soviet districts,[78] the rich peasants re-emerged as landlords and the merchants re-emerged as the dominant class. The poor peasants and rural workers could win and hold not even the smallest material gains. Prices of the simplest necessities rose to unreachable levels. Unemployment became widespread. Peasants and rural workers alike began to wonder why they were fighting and to wish for any kind of peace so long as there was peace. Mass enthusiasm lapsed. Desertions from the Red Army grew in number.[79] A creeping paralysis began at the fringes of the Soviet districts and soon spread toward the centre. Passivity corroded mass initiative. Pessimism gripped the leaders. This became known in Party parlance as the “Lo Min line” because Lo Min, Fukien Party leader, was one of the first to capitulate to these moods. “Even if our best leaders were to come, or to bring Stalin himself, or even resurrect Lenin from his tomb, and were to speak all together to the masses for three days and three nights, I do not think it would help change the moods of the masses,” said Lo Min.[80]

Through 1933, the “Lo Min line” spread like a virus through the veins of “Soviet China.” From Fukien it communicated itself to the Hwei-Hsen-An districts of south Kiangsi where Party functionaries, led by Teng Shao-pin, simply fled from their posts.[81] A Red Army enlistment campaign failed dismally and there was talk of conscription. Whole detachments of the Youth Guard auxiliaries deserted and actually clashed with pursuing detachments of the Red Army.[82] Peasants often fled to the mountains to avoid transport work for the embattled army. [83]

“The partisan bands not only rarely grow but are shrinking daily, as in Hwei-Hsen-An in the past and I-Chung and Nanfeng now. Desertions with rifles and betrayals are constantly occurring. . . . Corruption and degeneration constantly appear. Some partisan bands showed tendencies to banditry. . . . These are the conditions not only in the partisan bands but in the independent battalions, as in refusal to take orders, raids for money, etc. . . . The phenomenon of ‘soaking the tuhao‘ (raiding the hoards of the richer peasants) is very widespread. . . . Party workers going into the districts with small-size baggage soon increase it to large-size baggage. If they go with large-size baggage it soon grows into two loads for a carrying pole.”[84]

New Lo Mins cropped up everywhere, even in the Red Army command, and finally in departments of the Central Government at Juichin. Ho So-hen of the workers-peasants inspection bureau was ejected for declaring that of the 3,000,000 people in the Central Soviet district, 2,000,000 were oppressed by rich peasants and landlords and that “the Soviet governments of various grades have become instruments of the landlords and rich peasants for oppressing the masses.” [85] Chow En-lai appealed for “struggle against all kinds of wavering, pessimism, passivity, despair, weariness, and capitulation before difficulties.” [86] Other leaders complained that the high turnover in Party officials and the frequent changes in the districts were destroying mass enthusiasm, that the approach of any forces sent the peasants fleeing to the mountains. “They do not care if they are Red or White.” [87]

The truly heroic effort made by the Red Army in the face of these moods defeated Chiang Kai-shek’s drives in the summer of 1933, but the “victories” of those months were the beginning of the end. It was only a question of time before the superior strength of the Kuomintang, unassailed in the centres of its power, prevailed. It was only a question of time before the might of the Kuomintang military machine on land and in the air and the rigid tightening of the economic blockade produced their inevitable results. Chiang’s bombers devastated whole districts and his troops inched down the province building fortifications as they advanced. Chiang abandoned the old strategy of sending long columns deep into Red territory, where they were cut off and annihilated. His army of more than 500,000 men, schooled by the German General von Seeckt and armed with weapons of the latest design from the munitions factories of Europe and the United States, closed in on the tiny Soviet districts like a fine-meshed steel net. There were ghastly massacres, violent and swift, by bomb, gun, and torch, slow and agonising by calculated starvation. [88]

In August, 1934, one Red force of about 10,000 men, led by Hsiao Keh, broke through the cordon and escaped westward. They were followed in November by the main force under Chu Teh and Mao Tse-tung. On November 10, 1934, almost exactly three years after the proclamation of the Chinese “Soviet Republic,” Chiang Kai-shek’s troops triumphantly entered Juichin, the Soviet capital. Chiang had failed to exterminate all the Reds as he had promised, but he had succeeded in winning Kiangsi back for the landlords.

The Red forces marched and counter-marched across Hunan, Kweichow, Yunnan, and Szechwan into Shensi, suffering incredible hardships, performing more incredible feats of valour and cunning. That “Long trek” will be recorded as one of the most remarkable military exploits of all time, but it carried the Red Army still farther from the political and economic centres of the country. The defeat in Kiangsi could not terminate the peasant war, but it did deal a stunning blow to the organized insurgent peasant movement and consequently to the labour movement in the cities, then at its lowest ebb. New waves of terror, of capitulation and betrayals destroyed most of what remained of the Communist Party apparatus in the principal cities. Events had laid the ghosts of a thousand propagandist myths. Into the sparse desert land of the Chinese north-west the Communists marched toward a new impasse.


1 Tung Li, “Report on the History and Present Condition of the Chu-Mao Red Army, September 1, 1929,”Military Bulletin of the Central Committee, Shanghai, January 15, 1930.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 “Letter to All the Comrades, November 11, 1928,” Political Work After the Sixth Congress.

5 “Letter of E.C.C.I. to C.C.P., October 26, 1929.”

6 Political Resolution of the Second Plenum, Central Committee, C.C.P., June 1929. ¨

7 Circular No. 68, Central Committee, C.C.P.

8 M. James and R. Doonping, Soviet China, New York, 1932, p. 10.

9 Chen Tu-hsiu, “Concerning the Question of the So-called Red Armies,”Le Prolétaire, Shanghai, July 1, 1930.

10 Engels, Peasant War in Germany, New York, 1926, p. 18.

11 “Resolution on the Peasant Question,” Sixth Congress.

12 Chien Sung, Report of the Kiangsu Provincial Committee.

13 “A Discussion on the Peasant-Partisan War,” Military Bulletin of the Central Committee, January 15, 1930.

14 P. Mif, “Toward the Storm of the Chinese Revolution,”Pravda, April 28, 1930, tr. in Red Flag, June 25, 1930.

15 Cf. L. Trotsky, “The Chinese Political Situation and the Tasks of the Chinese Bolshevik-Leninists, June, 1929,” Le Prolétaire July 1930 ; “On the Chinese Revolution,”Militant, New York, January 25, 1930 ; “The Slogan of the National Assembly in China,”Militant, June 14, 1930 ; “Perspectives and Tasks of the Chinese Revolution, Manifesto of the International Left Opposition,”Militant, October 1, 1930.

16 “Resolution on the Chinese Question, by the Political Secretariat of the E.C.C.I., July 23, 1930,”Truth, October 23, 1930.

17 “Letter of the E.C.C.I. to C.C.P., October 26, 1929.”

18 Red Flag, March 26, 1930.

19 “The New Revolutionary Wave and the Victory in One or Several Provinces, adopted by the Political Bureau, June 1930,”Red Flag, July 19, 1930.

20 Truth, December 9, 1930.

21 “New Revolutionary Wave, etc.”

22 Lo Mai, Speech before Shanghai Activists, Shanghai, December 3, 1930.

23 “New Revolutionary Wave, etc.”

24 “Letter of E.C.C.I. to C.C.P., received November 16, 1930,”Truth, December 14, 1930.

25 China Weekly Review, September 6, 1930.

26 International Press Correspondence, August 7, 1930.

27 “The Political Situation and the Tasks of the Communist Party, Resolution of the Third Plenum, Central Committee, C.C.P. (September, 1930),”Truth, October 30, 1930.

28 Speech of Kuchiumov, “Discussion on the Li Li-san Line, by the Presidium of the E.C.C.I., December 1930,”Bolshevik, Shanghai, May 10, 1931.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid.

31 Chiu Chiu-pei, “Capture and Loss of Kian,”Truth, December 9, 1930.

32 Chow En-lai, “Report to the Third Plenum on Transmitting the Resolution of the E.C.C.I., September 24, 1930,”Materials of the Third Plenum, No. 9.

33 Ho Mung-shung, Statements to the Central Committee, September 8, October 2, 9, 1930, Shanghai, January 6, 1931.

34 “Statement of Comrade Chiu Chiu-pei, January 17, 1931,”Materials of the Fourth Plenum ; Statement of Comrade Chow En-lai, January 3, 1931 (Prefatory Note to leaflet containing text of Chow’s report to the Third Plenum).

35 Bolshevik, May 10, 1931.

36 “Letter of E.C.C.I. to C.C.P., received November 16, 1930.”

37 “The Present Political Situation and the Central Tasks of the Party,”Truth, February 2, 1931.

38 “Letter of E.C.C.I. to C.C.P., received November 16, 1930.”

39 “Instructions to the Red Armies and All Party Organizations, June to, 1931” ; “Resolution of the Central Committee on Urgent Tasks,”Bolshevik, November lo, 1931.

40 “Speech of Li Li-san to the Third Plenum,”Materials of the Third Plenum, No 10.

41 Wang Min and Kang Sin, Revolutionary China To-day, pp. 8, 28.

42 International Press Correspondence, September 8, 1933, April 20, 1934 ; Mosses, New York, March 13, 1934.

43 Agnes Smedley, China’s Red Army Marches, New York, 1934, p. xx.

44 Cf. Liang Pin, “May 1 and Several Important Questions of Red Army Building,”Struggle, Juichin, May 1, 1933 ; “Summary of Conference of Kiangsi Party Organizations,”Struggle, May 20, 1933 ; Lo Fu, “Fire Against Right Opportunism,”Struggle, July 5, 1933 ; Liang Pin, “The Question of Cash in the Sovjet Districts,”Struggle, August 5, 1933 ; Mao Tse-tung, “Smashing the Fifth Campaign and Tasks of Economic Construction,”Red Flag, November 20, 1933.

45 Isaacs (ed.), Five Years of Kuomintang Reaction, p. 129.

46 Wang Min and Kang Sin, Revolutionary China To-day, p. 9.

47 China Forum, Shanghai, January 20, 1932.

48 North China Daily News, August 19, 1931.

49 Cf. “Survey of Certain Localities in Kiangsi,”Annexes, to the Rajchmann Report.

50 Shanghai Evening Post, November 10, 1931.

51 Chung rang Kung Lien, June, 1933, quoted in Revolutionary China To-day, p. 40.

52 “Resolution on Urgent Tasks,”Bolshevik, November l0, 1931.

53 “Political Resolution,” Sixth Congress.

54 Political Resolution of the Second Plenum, June, 1929.

55 Letter of the E.C.C.I. to the C.C.P. on the Peasant Question, June 7, 1929.

56 Resolution of the Central Committee on Accepting the Directives of the E.C.C.I. on the Peasant Question, August, 1929.

57 Yuen Tai-ying, “Past and Future of the West Fukien Sovjet,”Red Flag, March 26, 1930.

58 Cf. Special Issue of the Red Flag, June 4, 1930, on the Sovjet Districts Delegates’ Conference ; “Propaganda Thesis on the First Delegates’ Conference,”Red Flag, June 21, 1930.

59 O Fong, “Results of the Sovjet Districts Delegates’ Conference,”Our Word, Shanghai, August 30, 1930.

60 Chen Shao-yu, “Why Not Organize Agricultural Labourers’ Unions ? “ Red Flag, May 17, 1930.

61 “Letter of E.C.C.I. to C.C.P., received November 16, 1930.”

62 Party Construction, Shanghai, March 8, 1931.

63 “Correspondence from the Hunan-Hupeh Soviet District, August 14, 1931,”Workers and Peasants’ Correspondence, Shanghai, March, 1932.

64 Lo Fu, “Class Struggles under the Sovjet Power,”Struggle, Juichin, June 5, 1933.

65 Mao Tsetung, “Re-Examination of Land Distribution in the Sovjet Districts is the Central Task,”Red Flag, August 31, 1933.

66 Mao Tse-tung, Red China, London, 1934, p. 22.

67 Wang Min and Kang Sin, Revolutionary China To-day, p. to.

68 Struggle, Juichin, May 10, 1933.

69 Lo Fu, “May 1 and the Examination of the Execution of the Labour Laws,”Struggle, May 1, 1933.

70 “Report of the Hunan-Kiangsi Party to the Central Committee,”Red Flag, March 11, 1932.

71 Red Flag, March 11, 1932; Struggle, February 4, 1933.

72 Lo Fu, “May 1 and the Labour Laws.”

73 Lo Fu, “Class Struggles under the Sovjet Power.”

74 Red Flag, March 11, July 10, 1932 ; Struggle, February 4, 1933 ; Mao Tse-tung, Red China, p. 20 ; Communist International, September 15, 1933.

75 Red Flag, March I I, 1932.

76 “Letter to the Labour Unions in the Soviet Districts on the Question of Labour Union Membership, from the Standing Committee of the All-China Trade Union Federation,”Red Flag, November 15, 1932.

77 Teng Yen-tsao, “Examination of the Struggle for Strengthening the Proletariat,”Struggle, February 4, 1933.

78 “The Political Situation in China and the Tasks of the Chinese Communist Party,” Communist International, September 15, 1933.

79 Struggle, April 5, 25, 1933.

80 Quoted by Po Ku, “For a Bolshevik Line in the Party,”Struggle, February 23, 1933.

81 Lo Fu, “The Lo Min Line in Kiangsi,”Struggle, April 15, 1933.

82 Struggle, May 1, 1933.

83 Ibid., August 29, 1933

84 Lo Mai, “For a Bolshevik Tum,”Struggle, August 22, 1933.

85 Lo Fu, “Fire Against Right Opportunism,”Struggle, July 5, 1933.

86 Chow En-lai, “Smash the Fifth Campaign,”Struggle, August 29,

87 Struggle, October 21, 19.33.

88 For a detailed description of the blockade in Kiangsi, see the report of its special correspondent with the Kuomintang armies, Ta Kung Pao, Tientsin, September 2, 3, 4, 1934.