MN Roy

The Lessons of the Chinese Revolution

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 9, November 1927, No. 11, pp. 660-668 (3,074 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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The revolution in China has suffered a defeat. It came very near to success, which, however, could not be attained in this first effort because of the treachery of the nationalist bourgeoisie. Worse still: at the critical moment even petty-bourgeois radical leaders like Wang Chin-Wei turned against the revolution. Indian revolutionaries must study the Chinese experience for their benefit. They will find great similarities in the experiences gained in both the countries.

The history of the Indian revolutionary movement will always remain soiled by the Bardoli resolution which killed a tremendous mass movement in order to save the interests of the landlords. China has also had her Bardoli, only on a much larger scale and with more disastrous effect. Like the Indian non-co-operation movement, the Chinese Revolution has suffered a temporary defeat because of the betrayal of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalist leaders. These turned against the revolution as soon as it threatened capitalist and land-owning interests. The development of the struggle for national freedom sharpened class-antagonism inside the Chinese society. Rather than sacrifice the sectional interests of the reactionary landlords and capitalists, the bourgeois nationalist leaders betrayed the revolution. Class solidarity cut across national solidarity.

During the last years, when the national liberation movement acquired such gigantic dimensions, seriously shook the position of imperialism and shattered the forces of its native agents (militarists), the driving force behind it was the working class. As a matter of fact, the Chinese nationalist movement had been a comparatively inconsequential affair based upon secret societies, diplomatic dealings and military intrigues till the working class appeared on the scene as a powerful political factor.

The democratic national bourgeoisie began its political career with cowardice and compromise. The republic founded by the revolution of 1911 was practically killed almost as soon as it was born. The bourgeoisie deserted Sun Yat-Sen to place Yuan Shi-Kai at the head of the republic. The political views of Yuan Shi-Kai were no secret. Commander-in-chief of the imperial army, he was frankly a monarchist. He induced the boy emperor to abdicate only to strengthen his (Yuan’s) hand in the fight against the republic. He went over to the republican side to destroy the republic. This design of his was quite evident. Still the bourgeoisie placed him at the head of the republic. Why?

It was not necessary to compromise with the arch-reactionary monarchist agent. In 1912, when the republican bourgeoisie capitulated to Yuan Shi-Kai, the correlation of forces was essentially not unfavourable to the republic. Fourteen populous and rich provinces of the south and south-west were under the republic. A powerful democratic mass movement swept through these provinces. The rapidity with which the republican movement spread in the south promised its early penetration of the northern provinces. The Manchu court was nearly paralysed with fear. Yuan Shi-Kai opened negotiation with the republicans and went over to them, because, even with his “model army,” he was not sure of victory. But the Manchu court and its generals were not the only people who were afraid of the potential forces of the revolution. The republican bourgeoisie was itself afraid that the revolution would go too far—further than the establishment of a National Assembly representing the bourgeoisie and limiting the absolutism of the corrupt court in the interests of the bourgeoisie. A repetition of the Taiping Rebellion was no more desired by the republican bourgeoisie than by the reactionary monarchists.

Yet the sure path to a real republic lay through the promotion of a mass upheaval. Signs of such an upheaval were discernible all around. The republic could be victorious, a democratic state established, modernisation of the country undertaken, a successful fight against foreign imperialism taken up only by leading the masses in the attack not only upon the Manchu dynasty, but upon the entire system of feudal-bureaucratic exploitation. This the bourgeoisie, who stood at the head of the revolution of 1911, did not want, did not dare to do. They would rather entrust the youthful republic to the mercy of the monarchist Yuan Shi-Kai than commit it to a revolutionary future. Sun Yat-Sen himself participated in that conspiracy to kill the republic. His “idealism” was cowardice. He also did not want to lead the republican movement to revolution. He had organised and led the anti-Manchu movement exclusively from the limited point of view of the bourgeoisie. He had to step aside at the behest of the bourgeoisie. He had not yet discovered the reservoir of revolutionary energy. Twelve years of bitter experience—of defeat and disappointment—finally brought him to the masses. It was only then that the real struggle against native reaction and foreign imperialism began.

The Kuo Min Tang became a real political party with programme, organisation, and systematic activities only in 1924. At the end of his eventful political life Sun Yat-Sen found his way to the people. The Kuo Min Tang became the fighting political organ of the people. Its base was removed from the rich merchants overseas and student clubs to the masses. The national revolutionary movement became a mass movement.

Neither Sun Yat-Sen nor the nationalist bourgeoisie came near the masses by choice. They were forced there. The nationalist centre of Canton could not be defended against native reaction and British intrigues from Hongkong without the support and sacrifice of the workers. The working class had appeared on the political scene independent of the Kuo Min Tang. Revolutionary activities of the proletariat had led to the organisation of trade unions and of the Communist Party. The Communist Party, representing the working class, on the instruction of the Communist International, in 1924, entered the Kuo Min Tang, thereby transforming it into a mass party. The Kuo Min Tang came into organic touch with the masses. It found a solid base.

The nationalist movement entered the new stage of development with two outstanding events. They were: (1) The anti-imperialist movement of Shanghai, beginning on May 30, 1925; and (2) the Hongkong strike of the same year. The dominating and decisive factor in both those events was the working class. The first staggering blow to the power and prestige of imperialism not only in China, but in the entire Far East, was dealt by the May 30 movement in Shanghai. The Hongkong strike led to a year-long blockade which nearly choked the economic life of that base of British imperialism. Those two events and many less outstanding ones placed the working class in the forefront of the nationalist movement. The political influence of the Communist Party grew enormously. Its influence inside the Kuo Min Tang increased proportionally. The Kuo Min Tang was pushed further towards revolution. It was forced to encourage the peasant movement directed against the landlords.

The bourgeoisie became alarmed. The most reactionary elements put up resistance to the revolutionisation of the nationalist movement. They conspired to force the Kuo Min Tang to break its relation with the masses. Failing to do that, they tried to split the Kuo Min Tang. They went to the extent of assassination of the Left Kuo Min Tang leader, Liao Chung-Hai. Nevertheless, the mass movement grew with tremendous rapidity, adding strength to the nationalist movement.

Supported by the workers and peasant masses, the nationalist armies defeated the forces of the war-lords, Wu Pei-Fu and Sun Chuang-Fang, paid and equipped by Anglo-American imperialism. In less than a year the nationalist armies crossed the Yangtse, occupied Shanghai and threatened the formidable militarism of the North. It should be remembered that before it won the support of the masses, the Canton Government had undertaken several military expeditions to expand its territories. All those purely military ventures ended in nothing. Now the nationalist army was welcomed by strikes and demonstrations paralysing all means of resistance by the reactionaries. Caught between the nationalist army and revolutionary action of the masses, the reactionary forces were driven back with ease. The Nationalist occupation of Shanghai was aided by two armed insurrections of the proletariat. The arrival of the Nationalist Government at Hankow was celebrated by the proletariat taking possession of the British Concession guarded by soldiers and protected by battleships.

Another stage of the national revolution had been passed. The masses had fought for the national revolution—sacrificed for the national revolution. The national revolution had achieved considerable success. The position of imperialism had been weakened, native militarists had been beaten back, nearly half of the country had been brought under the domination of the Nationalist Government. The revolution must enter a new stage of development. Fruits of victory must be tasted. The programme of the revolution must be realised. The most urgent demands of the workers and peasants must be met.

Military operations had coincided with a phenomenal growth of the mass movement. The peasants in the provinces occupied by the nationalist army had organised themselves into unions, whose aggregate membership came near to 10,000,000. The Kuo Min Tang had promised the peasants land, lower rents, freedom from oppression by the military-bureaucratic apparatus of the landowners, and local self-government. Now that the Kuo Min Tang had acquired power in half of the country, it was felt that it should fulfil its promise. The peasants demanded that. In some of the provinces the peasant unions were the only organised power. Where the Kuo Min Tang hesitated, they began the fight against the landlords. The revolution entered the village and the national revolution began to develop into agrarian revolution.

In the cities, the workers also demanded that they should begin to taste the fruits of victory. They wanted higher wages, they wanted control of capitalist exploitation, they wanted political rights. The membership of the All-China Labour Federation had grown to over 2,500,000. The proletariat was to be found in the forefront of every struggle, whether against foreign imperialism or against native reaction. The trade unions were the bulwark of strength supporting the Nationalist Government and constantly fighting the reactionaries. In the process of struggle they assumed considerable political power. The function of municipal government, including police-power, fell in their hands.

The nationalist bourgeoisie became alarmed. The revolution was going too far. It was going beyond their control. The proletarian and peasant masses were not willing to relapse quietly to wage-slavery and serfdom after having conquered power for he native bourgeoisie. They demanded a share in the power. They demanded the fruits of the victory they had won. The bourgeoisie looked askance at these tendencies of the workers and peasants. By national freedom they meant the freedom for their class to exploit the Chinese workers and peasants. It became clear that the bourgeoisie and the working class had not participated in the nationalist movement with identical objects. The conflict of class interests was laid bare by the initial successes of the national revolution.

In consequence of this situation, the Kuo Min Tang found itself in a severe crisis. The feudal-bourgeois right wing, led by the commander-in-chief of the nationalist army, Chiang Kai-Shek, broke the united nationalist front, split the Kuo Min Tang and turned against the revolution. A fierce attack began upon the workers and peasant masses whose support had enabled the nationalist army to win the spectacular victories. In the provinces of Kwantung, Kiangsi, Fukien, and Kiangsu, occupied by feudal-militarist associates of Chiang Kai-Shek, workers’ and peasants’ organisations were dissolved.

At the end of February, when the nationalist forces, under Chiang Kai-Shek, were within striking distance from Shanghai, the Shanghai proletariat declared a general strike and finally rose up in an armed insurrection to help the nationalist army occupy the city. The insurgent proletariat nearly captured power. The Northern forces in possession of Shanghai were demoralised, the imperialist powers did not dare intervene although they had a formidable contingent of troops and battleships ready at hand. But Chiang Kai-Shek remained idle. He refused to hold the hand of the revolutionary proletariat extended to him so heroically. Thus betrayed by the nationalist generals, whom they wanted to help in the fight against Northern militarism and foreign imperialism, the Shanghai proletariat was defeated. While white terror reigned in Shanghai, massacring the proletariat en masse, Chiang Kai-Shek watched callously.

A month later Shanghai was occupied by Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces. For years the Shanghai proletariat together with the democratic petty bourgeoisie had fought for economic and political rights. Under the nationalist regime, in the establishment of which they had assisted so heroically, the proletariat demanded an unconditional struggle against imperialism. The bourgeois nationalists wanted a compromise with imperialism to crush the revolutionary proletariat. Hardly two weeks after his troops had occupied Shanghai, Chiang Kai-Shek turned upon the proletariat. Workers were shot down in the streets just as they had been in the former days by imperialists and northern militarists. Workers’ organisations not accepting the military dictatorship of Chiang Kai-Shek were suppressed and their leaders killed.

The imperialists had rushed sufficient naval and military forces to prevent nationalist occupation of Shanghai. But when Chiang Kai-Shek turned against the revolution and attacked the working class fiercely, it became clear that occupation of Shanghai by him would not harm the interests of imperialism. As a matter of fact he waited near Shanghai until he could get the permission of the imperialists to occupy the city. He could not have got the permission except on the condition that he would not touch imperialist interests—that he would join hands with imperialism to fight the revolution.

Development of the revolution menaced the interests of the capitalist and landowning classes. Further fight against imperialism would inevitably have caused revolution in the internal social-economic relations. The land should have been given to the peasantry. The proletariat should have been secured against unlimited capitalist exploitation. The entire economic life of the country needed to be freed from the fetters of feudal-militarist oppression. In short, imperialism could not be overthrown unless its native allies were destroyed. Complete national liberation could be realised, conditions for rapid political-economic development of the Chinese people could be created only by seriously encroaching upon the privileged position of the classes whose representatives led the nationalist movement. This was the social contradiction inside the Chinese nationalist movement.

The petty bourgeois left wing of the Kuo Min Tang, in collaboration with some militarist rivals of Chiang Kai-Shek, resisted the latter’s dictatorship. But before long they were faced with the same problem of class antagonism. The design of the feudal-bourgeois elements to betray the revolution and come to a compromise with imperialism could be frustrated only by the action of the masses. The revolutionary nationalist government of Wuhan could not exist without the support of the working class. When the big bourgeoisie went against the revolution, there were two ways before the petty bourgeois radicals: namely, to join whole-heartedly the workers and peasants in a determined attack upon the reactionary classes that were hostile to the revolution; or to follow the big bourgeoisie into the camp of counter-revolution.

The bourgeoisie, supported and encouraged by imperialism, began to mobilise all the forces of reaction against the revolutionary centre of Wuhan. But the petty bourgeois leaders of Wuhan hesitated to attack the roots of reaction in the territories under their control. The proletariat and peasantry, however, did not hesitate. They began the attack. Led by the Communist Party (the political organ of the proletariat), the peasantry rose up in revolt. The National revolution became essentially an agrarian revolution. In the cities the proletariat began to arm themselves to defend the revolution.

The officers of the nationalist army were mostly landlords. They were hostile to the peasant movement. They were against any agrarian reform. When the peasants put forward the demand for the confiscation of landlords’ lands, the army under feudal officers attacked the peasant movement. Counter-revolutionary insurrections took place, demanding that the Wuhan government should suppress the workers’ and peasants’ movement and that the Kuo Min Tang should break with the Communist Party. The petty bourgeois radicalism of the Wuhan government went bankrupt. It capitulated before the reactionary officers defending the interests of the landowning classes. Workers’ and peasants’ organisations were attacked by it as fiercely as by the northern militarists and by the counter-revolutionary generals of Chiang Kai-Shek. The Communist Party became the object of bitter hatred. The Communists were arrested and executed by hundreds. Counter-revolution became triumphant throughout the nationalist territories. The petty bourgeois nationalists capitulated to the counter-revolutionary feudal-bourgeois-militarist block which had already sold the country to imperialism.

The nation was sacrificed on the altar of class interests. The democratic (non-class) ideals of the Kuo Min Tang were lost in the fierce clash of class interests.

The lessons of these revolutionary and counter-revolutionary events in China are, that the nationalist bourgeoisie in the colonial and semi-colonial countries are essentially counter-revolutionary; that the national revolution to be successful must be an agrarian revolution; that not only the big bourgeoisie, but even the petty bourgeoisie, in spite of their radical phrases, cannot and will not lead the agrarian revolution; that the petty bourgeoisie when placed in power by the support of the workers and peasants do not share and defend this power with the working class, but hand it over to the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie; and that the working class operating through their independent political party (Communist Party) is the only guarantee for the success of national revolution.

The treachery and capitulation of the petty bourgeois left of the Kuo Min Tang was instantly replied to by the insurrection of the revolutionary troops led by Communists. The insurrection became the rallying ground of all the revolutionary forces, including the petty bourgeois democratic masses. The revolutionary consciousness of these has been quickened by the treachery of their leaders. They are now convinced that the way out of the present political slavery and economic backwardness lies through a revolution affecting the very roots of the existing social system, and that the proletariat is the only force that can lead this revolution.

The temporary character of the victory of counter-revolution is already apparent. The revolutionary army is raising peasant revolts. The peasants are arming themselves and beginning guerilla war covering wide regions. The proletariat in Shanghai, Canton, Wuhan, and other cities are attacking reaction through constant strikes and demonstrations. The big bourgeoisie have become openly counter-revolutionary. The petty bourgeois leaders have sold themselves to feudal-bourgeois reaction. The working class alone stand true to the revolution and will fight till the final victory is won.

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