Ch'en Pi-Lan

The Real Lesson of China on Guerrilla Warfare

In Reply to a “Letter from a Chinese Trotskyist”

Written: January 10, 1971
Source: International Internal Discussion Bulletin, Volume X Number 2, February 1973. Published as a fraternal courtesy to the United Secretariat of the Fourth International by the (US) Socialist Workers Party
HTML Markup/Transcription/Proofing: Andrew Pollack
Public Domain: Ch'en Pi-Lan Internet Archive 2005. This work is completely free to copy and distribute. Please cite the Marxists Internet’s Ch'en Pi-Lan Internet Archive if the contents herein are reproduced.

Upon reading “Guerrilla Warfare: the Lesson of China,” which was published in issue No. 7, September 1970, of the International Information Bulletin as a “Letter from a Chinese Trotskyist,” I was surprised that the author did not put his name to it. Nonetheless I know that the author of the article was Wang, inasmuch as we received a copy of the original in Chinese. In order to help readers to understand better what the letter is about, I should like to say a few words about Wang.

He was the leader of a small group that split from the Communist League of China, the Chinese section of the Fourth International, early in 1942.

Prior to the outbreak of the Japanese-American war in December 1941, Wang advanced the theory that if such, a war were to occur, China would become involved in an interimperialist conflict and that this would lead to a qualitative change in the character of the “anti-Japanese war.” As a consequence, the Chinese national war of resistance against Japanese imperialism would lose its progressive nature. According to Wang’s reasoning, this would require us to adopt a defeatist attitude toward the war of resistance conducted under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek.

Peng Shu-tse argued against this, holding that the war of resistance against Japanese imperialism would retain its progressive character even if war broke out between Japan and the United States. So long as Japanese troops occupied China on a large scale it would be necessary to continue fighting Japanese imperialism in order to win freedom for China. Peng held that Wang’s proposed defeatist policy would objectively serve the interests of Japanese imperialism.

At the national convention of the Communist League of China in August 1941, Wang’s position was rejected and Peng’s proposed resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority. Wang, however, not only insisted on his defeatist position; he also violated the norms of democratic centralism by having his group (at that time consisting of only four members) publish an internal bulletin that continued to attack the resolution adopted by the convention. He followed this up by publishing a public journal that openly propagated a defeatist position. In this way the group led by Wang split from the Communist League of China shortly after hostilities opened between Japan and the United States. The split, as can be seen, took place not long after the Shachtmanite split from the Socialist Workers Party in 1940.

It is worth observing in addition that in June 1950 Wang published a pamphlet entitled The Soviet Union and Socialism in which he argued for the theory of bureaucratic collectivism. Analyzing the social layers and their relationship in the Soviet Union in detail, he held that the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union represented not a caste but a social class (he called it the “collective bureaucratic class”), since it controlled all the means of production in the country and had succeeded in expropriating the workers and peasants. His conclusion in accordance with this was that the character of the state in the Soviet Union had to be defined not as a degenerated workers state but as a collective bureaucratic class state; i.e., essentially a capitalist state. He proposed therefore that “the old position held by the Fourth International on the degenerated workers state, which was based upon the nationalization of property, should be abandoned.” And he called on the Fourth International to take the following stand: “If a third world war cannot be prevented and breaks out, our position will be, of course, to take a defeatist attitude toward both sides. Defense of a bureaucratic collectivist Soviet Union is just as reactionary as defense of an imperialist United States.” (The Soviet Union and Socialism, p. 70.)

Wang’s position on the Soviet Union, it is quite clear, reflected that held by Shachtman.

Confronted with the 1956 Hungarian revolution, Wang said that the new events could not be explained on the basis of his position on the Soviet Union. This position therefore had to be dropped. While he returned to Trotsky’s position of defense of the Soviet Union, he still maintained the correctness of his theory concerning the existence of social classes in the Soviet Union.

Finally, in my judgment, Wang was impressionistic. He often changed positions under the influence of passing events. Sometimes he shifted to the right, supporting opportunism, sometimes he shifted in favor of ultraleft adventurism. In the organization he was an advocate of democracy to the nth degree, a stand that often led to splits.

Let me now turn to Wang’s article, “Guerrilla Warfare: the Lesson of China.”

According to Wang, “Comrade Peng’s opinions about guerrilla warfare are absurd.” This is a reference to the article by Peng, “Return to the Road of Trotskyism” in the International Information Bulletin No. 5, March 1969. Unfortunately, Wang did not specify what part of Peng’s article was absurd. Wang claimed that Peng did not understand the lessons of the Chinese revolution or the experiences of the Chinese Trotskyists. Again, unfortunately, he did not specify what lessons. Instead, he cited two paragraphs written by Trotsky.

The first one reads as follows:

“Of course, we shall not ourselves be engaged in the guerrilla war (against the Kuomintang). We have another field of action, other tasks to perform. Yet we very earnestly hope that at least we should have our own men in some of the most powerful armed detachments of the Red Army. The Oppositionists should live and die together with these armed detachments. They should help maintain contact between the detachments and the peasants and should have the (guidance of the) organization of the Left Opposition when carrying on this kind of work.” (“Letter to the Left Opposition of China,” January 8, 1931.) (See International Information Bulletin, September 1970, p. 4.)[1]

Wang quoted only the latter part of the paragraph. The complete paragraph reads as follows:

“In some letters, complaints have been made about some groups or individual comrades taking a wrong position with regard to the Chinese ’Red Army’ by likening its detachments to bandits. If that is true, then a stop must be put to it. Of course lumpenproletarian elements and professional bandits are joining the revolutionary peasant detachments. Yet the movement as a whole arises from wellsprings deep in the conditions of the Chinese village, and these are the same sources from which the dictatorship of the proletariat will have to nourish itself, later on. The policy of the Stalinists toward these detachments is a policy of criminal bureaucratic adventurism. This policy must be mercilessly exposed. We must not share or encourage the illusions of the leaders and the participants of the partisan detachments. We must explain to them that without a proletarian revolution and the seizure of power by the workers the partisan detachments of the peasantry cannot lead the way to victory. [Emphasis added.] However, we must conduct this work of clarification as real friends, not detached onlookers and—especially—not as enemies. Without abandoning our own methods and tasks, we must persistently and courageously defend these detachments against the Kuomintang repression and bourgeois slander and persecution. We must explain to the workers the enormous symptomatic [emphasis in original] significance of these detachments. Naturally, we cannot throw our own forces into the partisan struggle—at present we have another field of endeavor and other tasks. [emphasis added.] Nevertheless, it is very desirable to have our people, Oppositionists, at least in the larger divisions of the ’Red Army,’ to share the fate of these detachments, to observe attentively the relations between these detachments and the peasantry and to keep the Left Opposition informed.” (See the Chinese edition of Problems of the Chinese Revolution, page 285, “A Letter to the Chinese Left Oppositionists” by Leon Trotsky, dated January 8, 1931.)

From the paragraph as a whole, it can clearly be seen that Wang took a section out of context to suit his own purpose, thereby grossly distorting Trotsky’s views. He presented a small excerpt from the latter part of the paragraph, not Trotsky’s fundamental views on the question of guerrilla warfare. Trotsky’s basic position was: “The policy of the Stalinists toward these detachments is a policy of criminal bureaucratic adventurism. This policy must be mercilessly exposed. We must not share or encourage the illusions of the leaders and the participants of the partisan detachments. We must explain to them that without a proletarian revolution and the seizure of power by the workers the partisan detachments of the peasantry cannot lead the way to victory . . . Naturally, we cannot throw our own forces into the partisan struggle—at present we have another field of endeavor and other tasks.”

In this letter, Trotsky did not specify what our field of endeavor should be or name our tasks. However, he had covered these in other documents. In his article “The Chinese Question After the Sixth Congress,” he advanced the following program of democratic demands for the period lying ahead; namely, the eight-hour working day; complete freedom of speech, of the press, and the right to strike; confiscation of the land; full national independence for China; a Constituent Assembly with full powers, elected by universal, equal, direct suffrage exercised through a secret ballot. Equipped with these slogans, the Left Oppositionists in China would be able to reorganize the workers and peasants in their fight against the military dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek. These were the tasks we persisted in carrying out.

Wang does not grasp Trotsky’s fundamental views concerning Stalin’s adventuristic policy. Nor does he grasp the import of the slogans that Trotsky worked out for the Chinese Left Oppositionists. He cites but a few sentences from Trotsky’s paragraph and asserts that “Trotsky repeatedly counselled his Chinese followers (circumstances permitting) to support and where possible participate in armed struggles against the Kuomintang...” (Op. cit.) If Wang’s assertion were correct, how explain Trotsky’s insistence on attacking the “policy of the Stalinists toward these detachments” as a “policy of criminal bureaucratic adventurism” and his insistence that “without a proletarian revolution and the seizure of power by the workers the partisan detachments of the peasantry cannot lead the way to victory”? And how explain Trotsky’s comment, “Naturally, we cannot throw our own forces into the partisan struggle—at present we have another field of endeavor and other tasks”?

The truth is that Trotsky was in fundamental opposition to the policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy toward these detachments. He sought to replace that policy with a policy based on a program of democratic demands. Numerous documents written by him in that period testify to this. Why then did he say: “Nevertheless, it is very desirable to have our people, Oppositionists, at least in the larger divisions of the ’Red Army,’ to share the fate of these detachments. . .”? Had the Left Opposition in China possessed a strong organization with a large membership at that time, this “hope” or opinion of Trotsky would have been acceptable to us. We could even have had our own people in the armies of the Kuomintang carrying out revolutionary work, not to mention the Stalinist guerrilla forces which by their nature were antiKuomintang and revolutionary minded. Unfortunately, we were too weak then.

I should point out that when Trotsky wrote his letter of January 8, 1931, the Left Oppositionists were split and had just begun unity negotiations. In that situation it was impossible to send people into the “Red Army.” Within two weeks after the Left Oppositionists achieved unity in May 1931, a number of cadres were arrested by the Kuomintang. Not long after that, another layer of cadres was arrested. These repeated arrests greatly depleted the newly unified Left Opposition.

After the Japanese imperialist army invaded Manchuria on September 18, 1931, a great movement against Japanese imperialism swept China. The Left Oppositionists gained some strength then. But a year later, a bigger disaster struck us. On October 15, 1932, Chen Tu-hsui, Peng Shu-tse, and a number of other cadres were arrested. These arrests almost completely disrupted and paralyzed the Left Opposition. The paralysis lasted five years until Chen, Peng, and other cadres were released from prison in August 1937. In the desperate situation we faced from 1931 to 1937 it was impossible to send people into the Stalinist “Red Army.”

On the other hand, beginning in 1931 Chiang Kai-shek repeatedly sought to encircle and destroy the Stalinist “Red Army.” It finally had to give up its guerrilla bastion in Kiangsi Province in central east China and start the “long march” in 1934. By the time the “Red Army” reached Yenan in northwest China toward the end of 1935, it had lost over 90 percent of its initial 300,000 men, and was still constantly under threat of being encircled and wiped out by Chiang Kai-shek’s armies.

The Japanese imperialist armies then opened up fresh savage attacks in north China. Most of Chiang’s forces deployed against Yenan consisted of the “Northeast Army” which had withdrawn from its home base in Manchuria after the Japanese occupied this area in 1931. These soldiers were very indignant over Chiang’s policy of not resisting the Japanese—it had cost them the loss of their homeland, Manchuria. When Chiang went to the Sian base of the “Northeast Army” to order an attack on the “Red Army,” a group of lower-ranking officers rebelled and forced their commander, Chang Hsueh-liang, to kidnap Chiang. Their idea was to execute him. This became known as the “Sian incident of December 1936,” a rather famous event.

Stalin exploited the kidnapping of Chiang in his own way. He ordered the Chinese Communist Party to make peace with Chiang so as to fight jointly against Japanese imperialism. The CCP sent Chou En-lai to Sian to negotiate directly with Chiang. A deal was made: (1) The CCP guaranteed Chiang Kai-shek’s safety if he agreed to lead the fight against the Japanese. (2) The CCP agreed to liquidate the “Soviets” and the “Red Army” and to give up the agrarian revolution. This was the conclusion of the guerrilla warfare conducted by the CCP from 1928 to 1937. Trotsky referred to it as follows in the Transitional Program:

“Following the inevitable collapse of the Canton uprising, the Comintern took the road of guerrilla warfare and peasant soviets with complete passivity on the part of the industrial proletariat Landing thus in a blind alley, the Comintern took advantage of the Sino-Japanese War to liquidate ’Soviet China’ with a stroke of the pen, subordinating not only the peasant ’Red Army’ but also the so-called ’Communist’ Party to the identical Kuomintang, i.e., the bourgeoisie.”

That is Trotsky’s summary of the CCP’s ten years of guerrilla warfare (1928-37). This is the real “lesson of China.” But Wang did not mention this in his article. Clearly he is either completely ignorant or is deliberately distorting the real lesson of guerrilla warfare in China.

The second paragraph that Wang cited from Trotsky was: “I said all workers’ organizations in China should participate in the present war against the Japanese invasion. They should put themselves in the front lines. At the same time, they should not give up their program and their independent activities.”[2]

According to Wang this advice was never followed: “We did not participate in the anti-Japanese war, except by manifestoes and articles, although the conditions for such participation were excellent.

“For this false attitude toward armed struggle, Comrade Peng is not, of course, alone responsible. I, as one of the leading members of the organization, bear a share of the responsibility, although I did once attempt to enter the armed struggle and Comrade Peng condemned it. However, it was Comrade Peng who insisted most stubbornly on the false line of the Chinese Trotskyists in the question of armed struggle. He has not examined his attitude in retrospect and still clings to it.” (Op. cit., p. 5.)

Not only is Wang’s condemnation of Peng false; his boast about himself is completely contrary to the facts. Because of this it is necessary to take it up in detail by going back to those times.

After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in August 1937, three tendencies formed in the Communist League of China, the Chinese Trotskyist organization.

The first tendency, represented by Peng, held a position that was adopted by the majority of the CLC. In the military field we supported the war against Japanese imperialism being waged under Chiang; but politically we remained independent, criticizing Chiang’s reactionary policy of passive resistance and continual repression of the popular movement against the Japanese.

The second tendency, represented by Chen Tu-hsiu, was completely opportunistic. Chen supported the war against Japanese imperialism but in an uncritical way. He opposed publishing in our party press any criticism of the Chiang regime’s reactionary policy toward the popular movement.

The third tendency, led by Cheng Chao-ling was ultraleftist. Cheng considered the Sino-Japanese conflict to be a “war between the Chiang government and the imperialist Hirohito.” Consequently he advocated a policy of defeatism.

In addition to his uncritical support of Chiang’s conduct of the war against Japan and his opposition to our criticizing Chiang’s political acrobatics, Chen Tu-hsiu was firmly against rebuilding our political organization and developing its program. Following his release from prison in August 1937, he stated publicly that he no longer belonged to the Trotskyist organization. He was ready to cooperate with a petty-bourgeois “third party” in publishing a journal. Furthermore, through this group he made connections with a small Kuomintang warlord, and was prepared to send Wang and others to do “political work” in his army. This is the truth about what Wang claims to be his “attempt to enter the armed struggle.” He and his group did not need a Trotskyist organization and program. They wanted only to send a few men into Chiang’s army to do “political work” and to “propagate” uncritical support to Chiang’s leadership. Was this not a military gamble? Although Chen and Wang and company did not succeed in carrying out their plan of taking a gamble in the military. field, they did clearly reveal their opportunist tendency. It was this military opportunism that Peng harshly criticized.

After being criticized by Peng and in response to the pressure from the great majority of comrades, Wang moved a little closer to Peng’s position. But just before the outbreak of the war in the Pacific between Japan and the United States, Wang started to move “leftward,” finally landing in Cheng Chao-ling’s camp of ultraleftist “defeatism.” Here I should like to ask him a question. Since he supported Cheng’s “defeatism,” how could he have participated in the “armed struggle” against the Japanese under the banner of his defeatism; would he not have sought to defeat the war led by Chiang Kai-shek? Is this not a gross contradiction?

The position of the Communist League of China, which Peng represented, was on the one hand to support Chiang’s anti-Japanese war militarily, while on the other hand to criticize his reactionary policy politically. The CLC called on “all the workers’ organizations in China to participate in the present war against the Japanese invasion.” This call was clearly stated in the political resolution passed at the emergency meeting of the CLC in November 1937. Yet Wang holds Peng responsible for the organization’s not actually participating in the anti-Japanese war “except by manifestoes and articles.”

The fact is that the Chinese Trotskyist organization fell into a state of complete paralysis after Chen and Peng and a number of other cadres were imprisoned in 1932. These comrades were not released until after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese. war in August 1937. After they were released, their most urgent and fundamental tasks were to restore the Trotskyist organization, to reestablish a leadership, to design a program for participating in the anti-Japanese war, to publish a party organ, to restore connections with local branches, and to reestablish our connections with the masses, etc. In such a situation, where everything had to be started anew, how could we have had sufficient strength to send people to participate in “armed struggle”?

In 1940, with the expansion of the organization and the development of new opportunities, Peng consulted with a branch in Chekiang Province about the possibility of their organizing a peasant guerrilla force in the villages to participate in the anti-Japanese “armed struggle.” Because of the limited number of cadres and the weakness of our relations with the peasants, it was not possible to organize the peasants on sufficient scale to begin armed struggle immediately. We had to prepare. It was just at that time that Wang announced his theory of a possible qualitative change occurring in the anti-Japanese war (August 1940). He proposed that as soon as the Japanese-American war broke out, we should adopt a policy of defeatism toward Chiang’s anti-Japanese war. This touched off a stormy dispute and caused considerable confusion in the Chinese Trotskyist organization. Under such circumstances we had to give up preparations for “armed struggle.”

After the outbreak of the “Japanese-American” war in December 1941, the Japanese army occupied Shanghai and the entire area of southeast China. Our party now suffered the heaviest blows of all. Connections with almost all the. local branches were cut off. A number of cadres were arrested by the Japanese military police. A large number of our books and documents were confiscated. The minority group led by Wang split away. That was the difficult situation we faced in which Wang, in retrospect, now condemns Peng for not having sent comrades to participate in the armed struggle. This not only reveals Wang’s complete blindness with regard to the difficult and even disastrous situation in which the Chinese Trotskyists found themselves, it also exposes his ill will toward a political opponent. Let me ask him again: Why didn’t he and his “defeatist” followers engage in an armed struggle to help defeat Chiang in the anti-Japanese war?

Wang said: “The Chinese Trotskyists formally organized themselves into a unified political group in 1931. When the Chinese Communist Party seized power, they had existed as a political tendency, if not as a party, for twenty years. Yet they had carried out no significant action or any work of great significance. One could advance many reasons, whether real or imaginary, to explain this regrettable fact. The most important, or one of the most important, however, was our erroneous position toward armed struggles . . . Hence we never thought of sending some of our comrades to work in the anti-Kuomintang armed detachments . . . We did not participate in the anti-Japanese war ... ”

I have pointed out above that from 1931 to 1945 the Chinese Trotskyist organization was under double repression—from Chiang Kai-shek and from the Japanese imperialists. It had suffered severe damage. This fact alone is sufficient to expose the fallaciousness of Wang’s reasoning and to show that he is either blind to the facts or is deliberately spinning tales to deceive comrades abroad.

I should point out one thing: If it is true that “for twenty years the Chinese Trotskyists, because of various setbacks, “had carried out no significant action,” they did consistently uphold the concepts and tradition of Trotskyism and did take a correct stand on the Stalinist “policy of criminal bureaucratic adventurism.” After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war they waged an uncompromising struggle against Chen Tu-hsiu’s rightist opportunism and Chen Chao-ling’s ultraleftist “defeatism.” In particular in 1940, on the eve of the Japanese-American war, they conducted a serious struggle against Wang’s defeatism as embodied in his theory of a qualitative change in the character of the anti-Japanese war, and his petty-bourgeois democratism that threatened to destroy democratic centralism in the party. The Chinese organization consistently upheld Trotsky’s correct position on the anti-Japanese war in China, the Second World War, and the class nature of the Soviet Union, as well as upholding the principle of democratic centralism. These were the contributions of the Chinese Trotskyists during that period, and we should always remain proud of them.

In addition, after the victory of Mao’s party in 1949, the Chinese Trotskyists contributed an objective, correct analysis of the cause of this victory and forecast the eventual outcome of that victory. All these analyses and forecasts have held up under the test of events in the past twenty years (see Peng’s “Report on the Chinese Situation”). We made objective analyses as well as taking correct positions with regard to Mao’s policies in the Great Leap Forward, the People’s Communes, and the Cultural Revolution. Peng’s numerous documents on these subjects can be cited on this. But what did Wang contribute during these major events? Absolutely nothing! What he has done is to confuse the issues and to commit gross errors. An example is his attributing the cause of the victory of the CCP to its twenty years of guerrilla warfare and armed struggle. I shall discuss this problem below.

Wang spent a good part of his “letter” dealing with the cause of the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. He charged Peng with inability to comprehend the cause of the CCP’s victory. He claimed that the victory of the CCP resulted from guerrilla war and armed struggle waged by the Kuomintang after the defeat of the second Chinese revolution in 1925-27. If Wang thinks his view is correct, he should first of all blame Trotsky, because Trotsky clearly stated that the “policy of the Stalinists toward these detachments is a policy of criminal bureaucratic adventurism . . . without a proletarian revolution and the seizure of power by the workers the partisan detachments of the peasantry cannot lead the way to victory.” (Emphasis added.) Why doesn’t Wang criticize Trotsky?

I have pointed out that the policy of waging guerrilla war against the Kuomintang, which the CCP started in 1928, ended in bankruptcy in 1937 when it capitulated to Chiang Kai-shek. Trotsky summarized the main lesson in the Transitional Program. Does Wang propose to erase this disastrous and bloody chapter in history and revise the “lesson of China” which Trotsky included in the Transitional Program?

As to how the CCP entered the anti-Japanese war in 1937, at first under the (nominal) command of Chiang Kai-shek, how the CCP escalated its conflict with him during the anti-Japanese war, and how the CCP at last overthrew the Chiang Kai-shek government in 1949, we can only explain this process in the light of the “exceptional historical circumstances created as a result of the Japanese invasion of China and the Second World War.” Peng has given a most detailed explanation of the various causes of this victory in his “Report on the Chinese situation.” (See “The Chinese Revolution,” Education for Socialists, published by the Socialist Workers Party, Part I.) Here is an excerpt:

“From the facts illustrated above, we are able to make out a clear picture as follows: the bourgeois-landlord regime of Chiang Kai-shek collapsed automatically in toto, both on the economic and political planes and in its military organization. Its only supporter, American imperialism, foresook it at last. The peasant army of the CCP, having won the support of the peasants and the petty bourgeoisie in general and especially having obtained military aid from the Soviet Union, had become a colossal and more or less modernized army. The combination of these objective and subjective factors paved the way for this extraordinary victory...

“Now we can comprehend that it was under the specific conditions of a definite historical stage—the combination of various intricate and exceptional conditions emerging from the Second World War that the CCP which relied on the peasant army isolated from the urban working class could win power from the bourgeois-landlord rule of Chiang Kai-shek. The essential features of these exceptional conditions are as follows: the whole capitalist world wherein China is the weakest link, tended to an unparalleled decline and decay; the automatic disintegration of the bourgeois Chiang Kai-shek regime was only the most consummate manifestation of the deterioration of the whole capitalist system. While on the other hand, resting on the socialized property relations of the October Revolution and exploiting the contradictions among the imperialist powers, the Soviet bureaucracy was able to achieve an unprecedented expansion of its influence during the Second World War, and this expansion greatly attracted the masses, who were deprived of hope under the extreme decline and decomposition of the capitalist system, especially the masses of the backward oriental countries. This facilitated the hypertrophy of the Stalinist parties in these countries. The CCP is precisely a perfected model of these Stalinist parties.

“Meanwhile, placed in an unfavorable position in the international situation—the situation brought forth by the Second World War—American imperialism was obliged to abandon its aid to Chiang and its interference with Mao. Whilst the Soviet Union, which had secured a superior position in Manchuria at the end of the war, inflicted serious damage upon Chiang’s government and provided direct aid to the CCP on this basis, enabling the latter to modernize its backward peasant army. Without the combination of these conditions, the victory of a party like the CCP which relied purely on peasant forces would be inconceivable. For example, if Manchuria had not been occupied by the Soviet Union but had fallen entirely under Chiang’s control, Chiang Kai-shek would have utilized the economic resources and the Japanese arms in Manchuria to cut off direct connection between the CCP and the Soviet Union, and block the armed support by the latter to the former. Similarly: if the situation at that time had permitted direct intervention by American imperialism in relation to the military activities of the CCP—under either of these two conditions—the victory of Mao Tse-tung would have been very doubtful. Or on the other hand, if we recall the defeat which the peasant army of the CCP suffered during the Kiangsi Period of 1930-1935 when the power of the bourgeois Kuomintang was considerably stabilized, owing to the incessant aid from imperialism and the isolation of the CCP from the Soviet Union, we can also derive sufficient reason to justify the conclusion that today’s victory of the CCP is entirely the result of the specific conditions created by the Second World War.” (pp. 26-27.)

From this quotation we can see the correctness of the following judgment made by Peng, which was quoted by Wang: “The taking of power in 1949 by the CCP, however, was in no way a result of the guerrilla warfare strategy itself, but rather, a result of the exceptional historical circumstances created as a result of the Japanese invasion of China and World War II.” (“Return to the Road of Trotskyism,” International Information Bulletin, March 1969, p. 20.) Wang closed his eyes completely to the historical fact of the CCP’s surrender to Chiang Kai-shek in 1937, and to the “exceptional historical circumstances created as a result of the Japanese invasion of China and World War II.” Yet he has the audacity to say of Peng that “if he has not forgotten anything, he has learned nothing either”!

Continuing his ridiculous argument, Wang asks: “If the Chinese Communist Party had not engaged in armed struggle against the Kuomintang during the preceding twenty years, how would they have been able to take advantage of the ’exceptional historical circumstances’ created as a result of the World War II”?

But one could ask him: If there had been no such “exceptional historical circumstances,” what would the CCP have achieved even if they had “engaged in armed struggle against the Kuomintang during the preceding twenty years”? Didn’t they in 1937 abolish the “Soviets” and the “Red Army,” abandon the agrarian revolution, and surrender to Chiang Kai-shek? Had there been no such “exceptional historical circumstances” created as a result of the Japanese invasion of China and World War II, the CCP would not only have been unable to take power—its military forces would have been crushed by Chiang Kai-shek.

Wang thinks that the reason why the CCP was in position to take advantage of the “exceptional historical circumstances” was owing to their having “engaged in armed struggle . . . during the preceding twenty years.” This is equivalent to admitting that it was correct of Stalin to engage in an adventurist policy of armed struggle which he ordered the CCP to carry out after the defeat of the second Chinese revolution. It follows logically from this that Trotsky’s criticism of Stalin’s policy was erroneous. See what a trap Wang has fallen into! Under the impact of the CCP’s victory, he so completely lost his bearings that he entirely forgot the teachings of Trotsky and fell into a position where—if he were logical—he would revise his position on the Stalinist policy of “criminal bureaucratic adventurism” and become its defender!

I should like to remind him at this point: Despite the CCP’s taking power in 1949, its Stalinist adventurist policy of “armed struggle” after the defeat of the second Chinese revolution in 1927 was fundamentally wrong. This policy led to great disasters. More than 30,000 fighters were lost when the CCP ordered Ho Lung and Yeh Ting to stage the Nanchang uprising on August 1, 1927. In the Autumn Harvest uprising in the provinces of Honan and Hopei in the fall of 1927, the bases of peasant organizations extending over wide areas were destroyed. In the peasant revolt and ensuing Soviet movement in Hai-Fond and Lu-Fong counties in the province of Kwantung, the powerful peasant organization in that region was destroyed. In the Canton uprising on December 11, 1927, entire organizations of the workers in that city were destroyed and more than 5,000 party members and workers lost their lives. In the guerrilla war during the ensuing ten years (1928-37), more than 10,000 party members and more than 1,000,000 workers and peasants were killed. In short, the CCP’s adventurist policy of “armed struggle” cost the lives of the great majority of the most militant cadres and party members and the complete liquidation of strong bases among the workers and peasants. The CCP then transformed itself from a proletarian party into a petty-bourgeois party based mainly on the peasantry. Its guerrilla war (or “armed struggle”) was defeated in 1934. It escaped from Kiangsi in central-east China to Yenan in northwest China in 1935 and surrendered politically to Chiang Kai-shek in 1937. In the eyes of Wang, all these grim historical facts and man-made disasters either did not occur or lacked any significance! He sees only the fact that the CCP came to power; he has forgotten the great disaster brought on by that adventurist policy.

To this it should be added that if the CCP had carried out Trotsky’s defensive policy instead of Stalin’s adventurist policy of “armed struggle” after the defeat of the second Chinese revolution—in other words, if the CCP had followed the process proposed by Trotsky of reorganizing the workers’ and peasants’ organizations and mobilizing the masses to wage a struggle against the military dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek-the aftermath would have been entirely different.

First of all, the CCP could have retained its strong organizational bases among the revolutionary workers and peasants and could have avoided the unnecessary sacrifice of the lives of more than 10,000 of the most militant members of the party and the Young Communists. On this huge mass base, the CCP could have turned to account the conflicts between Chiang Kai-shek and the various warlords, the factional struggle within the Kuomintang, and the anti-Japanese and anti-Chiang Kai-shek sentiments of the masses to topple the government. This held especially true in the period following the Japanese occupation of Manchuria on September 18, 1931, and the Japanese invasion of Shanghai on January 28, 1932, when opposition to Japanese imperialism swept like a tide over all of China. In protest against Chiang Kai-shek’s policy of nonresistance, the student masses from Peking and Shanghai marched to Nanking, then the capital of the Chiang Kai-shek government, occupied the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Kuomintang, and beat up high-ranking Kuomintang officials. Chiang Kai-shek fled from the capital, and his military dictatorship stood on the verge of collapse. Had the CCP followed Trotsky’s policy of maintaining strong party and mass bases in the cities instead of turning to guerrilla warfare in the remote countryside, it could at a certain point have turned from the defense and taken the offensive, calling upon the people of the entire country to fight against the Japanese invasion of China and the nonresistance policy of Chiang Kai-shek. In this way the CCP could have become the leader of the countrywide anti-Japanese and anti-Chiang Kai-shek movement. The third Chinese revolution could have occurred in the thirties, enabling the CCP to take power and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasants before World War II. This would have had tremendous repercussions internationally, above all in the Soviet Union where it would have shaken Stalin’s bureaucratic dictatorship. It could even have prevented the outbreak of World War II.

Unfortunately, the path followed by the CCP after the defeat of the second Chinese revolution was not that pointed to by Trotsky but the one ordered by Stalin—the adventurist policy of guerrilla war that Wang calls “armed struggle.” This erroneous policy of “armed struggle” not only destroyed a great majority of the party’s cadres, its entire organizational bases in the cities, the huge workers’ and peasants’ mass organization, and its clandestine forces in the Kuomintang army (such as the forces of Hu Lung and Yeh Ting and a number of sympathizers of the Kuomintang army), but also drove the various Kuomintang warlords into a united front in pursuit of the common aim of defeating the guerrillas of the CCP. As a result of all this, Chiang Kai-shek was able to stabilize and strengthen his military dictatorship and concentrate his entire military force on the objective of encircling and attacking the CCP guerrillas, driving them from central-east China to northwest China, and forcing their eventual political capitulation in 1937.

Even more absurd is the following question asked by Wang: “If the Chinese Communists had not trained themselves as ’soldier-revolutionaries,’ how could they have utilized the modern weapons given them by the Russians?” We could ask him in return: If the Russians had not occupied Manchuria at the end of World War II, had not captured the modern weapons from the Japanese armies, and had not given these weapons to the CCP, how could the “soldier-revolutionaries” have utilized their training? Did not the CCP train several hundred thousand “soldier-revolutionaries” in central-east China when they started to engage in “armed struggle” in 1928? Were they not driven by Chiang Kai-shek from central-east China to northwest China in 1934-35? Did they not capitulate to Chiang Kai-shek in 1937?

Still another theoretical question might be asked Wang: In order to organize and lead the working class to power, should the proletarian vanguard party in its initial stage begin to engage in “armed struggle” so as to provide some training for its “soldier-revolutionaries”? If Wang’s position were correct, it would be very difficult for the proletarian vanguard party to take power, inasmuch as the proletarian vanguard party in the advanced capitalist countries (and even in the backward ones) cannot arbitrarily engage in “armed struggle” to train its “soldier-revolutionaries.” Before 1917, the Bolsheviks did not train its “soldier-revolutionaries” by such means. What made it possible, then, for them to win power in October through armed struggle of a different kind?

Wang should understand that a Marxist revolutionary party cannot and should not attempt to wage “armed struggle” in the initial stages of preparing for the revolution in order to provide the military training required for its “soldier-revolutionaries” in the process of leading the working class toward the conquest of power. It is not that easy, not that simple. The primary task for the party in the beginning is to patiently conduct propaganda work among the working class and other poor people, to organize them, and to bring them to an understanding of the irreconcilability of their interests with preservation of the capitalist system. Furthermore, the vanguard party needs to convince the working class that its emancipation depends on doing away with the capitalist system completely and constructing a socialist society. With this aim in mind, the vanguard party must organize the working class, win their support, and become a truly revolutionary mass party. Then it will be in position to stage an “armed uprising” to seize power and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The timing of the “armed uprising” is very important. It should take place at the height of the revolutionary tide, when the bourgeoisie has become completely shaken and demoralized, when the lower layer of the petty bourgeoisie is utterly disillusioned with the rule of the big bourgeoisie and wants a radical change, and when a serious differentiation has eroded the bourgeois army so that a large section of it has become sympathetic to the revolution or is turning toward it. Only under these conditions is it possible for the proletarian vanguard party to project without adventurism an “armed uprising” to seize power from the bourgeoisie. The October revolution constitutes a model in this. On the eve of the October revolution, Lenin stressed:

“To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class. That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon a revolutionary upsurge of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon that turning point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest. That is the third point. And these three conditions for raising the question of insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism.

Once these conditions exist, however, to refuse to treat insurrection as an art is a betrayal of Marxism and a betrayal of the revolution.” (“Marxism and Insurrection,” Collected Works, Vol. 26, pp. 22-23. Emphasis in original.)

Recognition of these conditions for a successful insurrection is of utmost importance, for they are decisive. But when Wang talks about his type of “armed struggle,” he never mentions these conditions. This shows that the kind of “armed struggle” he advocates in such an emphatic way is nothing but a version of adventuristic Blanquism.

We should note with regard to this Wang’s formulation: “... the question of armed struggle (including guerrilla warfare as one of its forms) must be considered and dealt with on the level of strategy.” (Wang’s “letter,” p.6.) This formulation, which is linked to his adventuristic position, reveals the fact that he does not understand the point concerning tactics and strategy that arose during the discussion on orientation in Latin America. The line adopted by the majority reflected the view that guerrilla war should be followed as a strategy offering the best chances for success to the revolutionary struggle. Counterposed to this concept was the view held by the minority that the correct strategy is to construct a revolutionary mass party, that is, the political leadership needed to organize the masses and guide them to the conquest of power. The latter concept places armed struggle on the level of a tactical question within the general process of building a revolutionary party able to lead the masses along the road outlined in the Transitional Program. The problem of armed struggle, the minority delegates held, must be fitted within the party building strategy.

The question of armed struggle, even though tactical in character, is an acute one, for it is precisely here that the responsibility of the leadership is heaviest The purpose of the armed insurrection is to destroy the bourgeois state and to seize power from the bourgeoisie. If it is not successful, the revolution will end in a disastrous defeat. Consequently an armed insurrection cannot be staged arbitrarily. It must come within the context of the preconditions pointed out by Lenin: “Insurrection must rely upon that turning point in the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height ...”

The tactic of guerrilla warfare can and should be used in the countryside to aid the armed insurrection of the working class in the cities when the conditions are ripe for an insurrection in the main cities. The tactic of guerrilla warfare or “armed struggle” should not be used when the conditions for an insurrection by the working class in the cities do not exist. To wage a premature guerrilla war or “armed struggle” results in either its being smashed by the ruling classes or in a protracted struggle that not only entails immense suffering but can lead to eventual surrender to the ruling class. The guerrilla war waged by the CCP from 1928 to 1937 is clearly a case in point. As to why the CCP came to power in 1949, that is a different problem which I have dealt with above.

The line of “armed struggle” advocated so strongly by Wang means abandoning the working class and the peasant masses for the sake of organizing small groups of guerrilla bands in the countryside with the idea that ultimately this will make it possible too take power in the country as a whole. This is Blanquism, or Stalinist adventurism, and has nothing in common with Marxism.

At the root of Wang’s adventurist line of “armed struggle” lies his reaction to the experience of the CCP’s victory in 1949, what he calls “the lesson of China.” Overwhelmed by the victory of the CCP, he missed seeing that the cause of the victory lay in the “exceptional historical circumstances created as a result of the Japanese invasion of China and World War II.” And he did not bother to examine the causes of the failure of guerrilla warfare in Burma, Malaya, and the Philippines after World War II. He simply plunged ahead, recommending the “lesson of China” to the sections of the Fourth International and asking them to engage in “armed struggle.” This is the same trend of thought to be seen in the line of the present majority in the International who oriented toward “guerrilla warfare” in Latin America.

Bedazzled by the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959, these comrades never studied whether in the light of its specific causes it could be repeated elsewhere in Latin America. Nor did they draw the true lesson of the defeats suffered in the guerrilla wars in Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, and especially the tragedy that ended Che Guevara’s attempt in Bolivia. They simply went ahead to wage “guerrilla war” in Bolivia with the aim of establishing a second Cuba there. What was the result? In July 1969, the Bolivian guerrilla front led by Inti Peredo collapsed miserably. Inti was murdered by the police in September 1969. Last summer his brother Osvaldo “Chato” Peredo tried again, but still did not succeed. These fresh tragic facts are sufficient to prove the indefensible nature of the mistake committed by these comrades in insisting on a policy of guerrilla warfare.

In his letter to a “Dear Friend,” Wang repeatedly condemned Peng as being interested in nothing but publishing magazines and writing articles and manifestos, paying no attention to engaging in “armed struggle.” The obvious implication of this is that Peng is an opportunist, a reformist, who has been perennially against a policy of “armed struggle.” This is completely without foundation. To refute this charge, I should like to call attention to the following items:

1. In an article commemorating the seventh anniversary of the October revolution, published in the November 7, 1924, issue of the Guide Weekly, Peng wrote: “The Chinese revolution must follow the path of the October revolution.” In other words, in the process of the national democratic revolution, the proletariat in China must be prepared to undertake an armed insurrection in order to take the power into their own hands.

2. In an article commenting on the shutdown of the Shanghai Inter-City Trade Union, Peng wrote in the October 5, 1925, issue of the Guide Weekly: “In the future, they [the workers in Shanghai] will advance further along the road of armed insurrection, following the example set by the workers of Petrograd from the February revolution to the October revolution.”

3. The armed uprising of the workers in Shanghai on March 21, 1927, was directly led by the Standing Committee of the Central Committee of the CCP. Peng was one of the members of the Standing Committee. Our residence was used as the headquarters to direct that uprising. This was also the seat of the party’s Propaganda Department which was headed by Peng.

After the defeat of the second Chinese revolution, Peng was undoubtedly against Stalin’s adventurist policy of guerrilla warfare. As party secretary of the north China region in the fall of 1927, Peng used the excuse of insufficient preparations for an armed uprising in that region as a delaying tactic to avoid carrying out the orders of the Political Bureau headed by Chu Chui-pai, thus blocking unnecessary sacrifices. Because of this he was ousted by Chu. From then on, Peng consistently criticized the CCP for carrying out the Comintern’s adventurist policy of guerrilla warfare.

On the basis of the fundamental Marxist concept of the role of armed insurrection, the experience of the October revolution, and forty years of tragic experiences in the use of guerrilla warfare in a number of countries where revolutionary groups fought by themselves in complete isolation from the worker and peasant masses, Peng is resolutely opposed to any section of the Fourth International, especially the tiny sections in Latin America, attempting to organize small bands to engage in guerrilla warfare or “armed struggle.” He is of the opinion that adventuristic guerrilla warfare of this kind invites failure, the sacrifice of the most militant cadres, and the hopeless isolation of these sections from the workers, peasants, and other sectors of the revolutionary masses.

In my opinion, Peng’s criticism of the strategy of guerrilla warfare now being implemented by the International in Latin America is completely correct. (See “Return to the Road of Trotskyism.”) It is not necessary for me to repeat what he has said with regard to this. I only hope that the leading comrades of the majority in the International seriously reconsider their position on guerrilla warfare or “armed struggle” in Latin America and correct their mistake in time. Otherwise they will become responsible for the failure of this orientation and the future of the whole movement in Latin America.

In closing, I should point out that the criticism of the “new statutes” of the Fourth International made by Wang in his letter, is abstract and lacking in both content and meaning. Moreover, in view of his present status, that is, a person who has split from the Fourth International, he is not at all qualified to criticize the statutes of our International.

January 10, 1971


1. The English translation from the original Russian reads somewhat differently from the above translation from the Chinese version: “Naturally, we cannot throw our own forces into the partisan struggle—at present we have another field of endeavor and other tasks. Nevertheless, it is very desirable to have our people, Oppositionists, at least in the larger divisions of the ’Red Army,’ to share the fate of these detachments, to observe attentively the relations between these detachments and the peasantry and to keep the Left Opposition informed.” The full text of the letter has been published by Intercontinental Press (November 6, 1972, pp. 1217-20).—Translator.

2. The text of the letter was published by Pathfinder Press in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38), p. 107. There the sentence in question reads: “In my declaration to the bourgeois press, I said that the duty of all the workers’ organizations of China was to participate actively and in the front lines of the present war against Japan, without abandoning, for a single moment, their own program and independent activity.”


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