Joseph Hansen

Soviet Policies in China 1917-1924

(Summer 1955)

Source: Fourth International, Vol.16 No.3, Summer 1955, pp.106-107.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

Soviet Policies in China 1917-1924
by Allen S. Whiting
Columbia University Press. 1954. 350 pp. $6.

Just as the generals have drawn back to reassess the military requirements for putting the house flags of American Big Business on every part of an unreceptive globe, and the diplomats have given up chip-on-the-shoulder protocol for a try at appearing amiable, so the scholars are taking their first real look at the views and organisations and actions of those they list in the opposing class camp.

Scholarly research is evident on every page of Whiting’s book – obscure source materials, comparison of variant texts, relentless probing of minutia – and much, I confess, is quite fascinating since it deals with the early years of Soviet policy in China.

The best chapter is Before November: Lenin on China. Whiting rates Lenin as the one Bolshevik leader most concerned before the November 1917 revolution about China and especially about the problem of the revolutionary role of the Chinese peasantry.

However, Whiting suffers from the current academic thesis: that Soviet policies today represent a continuation of Leninism and that they are, moreover, imperialist.

So Whiting scarcely indicates the great debate in the communist movement and in top Soviet circles in the middle 20’s over what policy to follow in China. To argue that Whiting is interested only in the period 1917-1924 is to admit the academic narrowness of the book. How can you understand anything about Soviet history, including its foreign policy, without understanding Trotsky’s theory and program of permanent revolution and the opposing theory of “socialism in one country” around which the usurping caste rallied under Stalin’s leadership ? And especially the big changes in Soviet policy in China – how can they be understood except as reflections of shifts in Soviet leadership representing corresponding shifts in basic theory and program?

Whiting’s account breaks off precisely when the life-and-death struggle between the Leninist vanguard and the Stalinist counter-revolution flared violently in to the open, particularly over the great issues of the Chinese revolution.

But 1924 was as far as Whiting’s thesis required him to go. He wanted first to try to demonstrate that the Soviet government, the Communist International and the Chinese Communists followed different, even contradictory policies in Lenin’s time. The purpose of this, I suppose, is to try to belittle the importance of the shifts and turns under the Stalinist degeneration.

By thus eliminating the question of the differences under Lenin and Stalin, Whiting finds what he considers to be the constant in the seeming maze of contradictions in Soviet policy toward China. This was – after the first year or so of “a program of self-denial” – a foreign policy that “can only be characterized as imperialistic in aim ...” Although “the most dramatic aspects of Comintern policy evolved after Lenin’s death, the groundwork was laid during the years 1917 to 1924.”

All of Whiting’s “proofs” that the Soviet Union acted imperialistically in China are based on nothing but interpreting the defense of the young and beleaguered workers’ state as “imperialistic” wherever that defense involved interests extending beyond Soviet borders such as the Chinese Eastern Railway.

One wonders just how valuable such a book is to the bourgeois statesmen. How much can they depend for guidance of the opinions of a scholar incapable of telling when the policy of the Soviet government is anti-imperialist, as in Lenin’s day, and when it plays into the hand’s of imperialism as in times and places where Stalin could deliver, or when even in contradiction to Stalin’s major foreign policy it became anti-imperialist as in the defense of the Soviet Union against the German armies?


Last updated on: 22.2.2006