Paul Sizoff

Canton, December 1927


From Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 3.
Originally published in La Lutte du Classe, No. 1, February-March 1928.
Translated by Gregor Benton & Al Richardson.
Transcribed by Alun Watson.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

CHINA has three natural revolutionary power centres. Two are in the north: the great industrial and commercial city of Hankou on the Yangtse in the heart of the country, on the Beijing-Guangzhou railway, and the great modern port of Shanghai, at the Yangtse’s mouth, with 600,000 proletarians. The other is in the south, the old port of Guangzhou, of far less industrial and commercial importance, but inhabited by workers and poor proletarianised artisans, amongst whom old revolutionary traditions maintained since 1900 by the struggles of Sun Yat-sen remain alive. The imperialists’ influence has been less effective over southern China than over northern China, for Guangdong is encircled by vast mountainous areas difficult to penetrate, and is therefore of less interest, in the view of foreign capitalists, than the fertile valleys of the Yangtse and the Yellow River. On the other hand, the Manchu yoke was less felt in this far-off province of the Empire [1], whose trade with Indo-China, Formosa, Malaysia and the Philippines afforded great possibilities for development. The Beijing emperors concerned themselves with Guangdong only every now and then to milk it, and to regulate its trade in favour of the northern ports. In 1840-42, the British took over the important entrepôt of Hongkong, at the mouth of the Zhujiang, 150 kilometres downstream from Canton: they also set about reducing and controlling the entire trade of Guangdong. Guangzhou’s revolutionary traditions in relation to Beijing and the foreign imperialists can also be explained by obvious economic reasons.

In 1927, as a result of a rapid succession of fatal mistakes, the Chinese proletariat lost the strong positions in Shanghai and Hankou that it had gloriously conquered at the head of the national movement. In April Chiang Kai-shek’s coup, which was prepared in broad daylight and should have been foreseen, robbed the workers of Shanghai. In August the sharp turn to the right by the ‘left’ Guomindang, on which had been based inadmissible hopes, robbed the workers of Hankou. In the meantime, the seizure of Changsha, carried out with the complicity of the Hankow government (in which the Communists participated), decapitated the Hunan peasant movement. After these grave defeats, followed as in all other social wars by the massacre of the vanquished – for as far as the bourgeoisie was concerned, it was not a matter of contenting itself with a political victory that could well prove to be ephemeral, but of inflicting a bloodletting on the exploited classes that would put them out of action for a long time – the Chinese revolution nonetheless maintained one position: Guangzhou.

This position was obviously also in the power of the counter-revolution. A general acting in alliance with Chiang Kai-shek had been in control of it since April. But in spite of repeated outbursts of white terror, the capital of southern China had maintained most of its revolutionary forces. Since they had not engaged in great battles, they had not been badly hit. General Zhang Fakui [2] even succeeded in expelling the more obviously reactionary Li Ti-Sin by investing in apparently ‘revolutionary’ slogans. Zhang Fakui even made advances to the Communists, and one of the speakers at the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR, Lominadze [3], was rightly pleased at the political maturity shown by the Chinese Communist Party in not allowing itself to be taken in by the demagogic patter of this warlord … The triumph of the Chinese counter-revolution required the smashing of the Guangzhou workers. Guangdong could yet again become the focus, the point of departure, for a fresh revolutionary wave. But this position has just been lost in circumstances that we will examine.

We should recall that in August, after the Communists had fled Wuhan, where the Guomindang, of which they had been members, had revealed itself as a traitor party, where the government in which they had participated had been revealed as counter-revolutionary, and where their massacre had been openly prepared in the name of ‘the higher interests of the revolution’ – they had raised two divisions stationed in Nanchang and commanded by generals Ye Ting and He Long. In two months this small army, supported by the sympathy of the poor population, covered some 500 or 600 kilometres across mountainous country and on 26 September took the port of Shantou, which it held for no more than a few days. After that we received no more news (what words are there to describe such a deplorable lack of information?). Two months passed. On 10 or 11 December, Bukharin, speaking to the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR about the work of the delegation of the party to the ECCI, finally provided us with a swathe of unexpected good news:

The peasant soviets are masters of five districts in Guangdong. For the first time in the history of the Chinese peasant movement, soviet power has been installed on a rural basis and has declared a veritable war of extermination against the landed proprietors. The heads of between 300 and 400 landed proprietors have fallen … In this territory of several million inhabitants, the landed proprietors have been physically exterminated … The situation is extremely tense in Guangdong, and particularly around Guangzhou. Several indications suggest that very important events are ripening in China … The remains of the army of Ye Ting are maintaining themselves in Guangdong; if events unfold in Guangzhou, and if the activity of the workers and peasants meets with success, they could play the role of shock troops … (Pravda, 13 December)

The same day’s dispatches published in the same issue of Pravda announced the seizure of Guangzhou by the workers and peasants, and the formation of a soviet government in that city. A telegram from the Japanese agency Toho gave the following details. Workers’ and peasants’ detachments, operating in concert with regular troops, had taken public buildings by surprise on 11 December. The presence of a workers’ army of 5000 men in the city was noted. The shops were closed. The peasants held the areas around the city. The majority of the garrison troops had passed over to the Reds. Posters on the walls proclaimed:

Down with Li Ti-Sin, Chiang Kai-shek, Zhang Fakui and Wang Jingwei, enemies of the peasants and workers! Down with the Guomindang, agent of the counter-revolution! Rice and meat to the workers! Land to the peasants! The workers, peasants and red troops alone defend the masses!

The dispatches of 12 December announced the formation of the Soviet government of Guangdong, presided over by a member of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, Su Zhaozheng. General Ye Ting commanded the troops.

On the 15th, a manifesto of the ECCI, commenting upon the global significance of the exploits of the Cantonese workers, called upon the workers of all countries to assist the encircled city. It was too late. The Communists were able to hold on for only 48 hours. After prolonged assaults and prolonged street battles, the city was taken by the forces of generals Zhang Fakui and Li Fulin on the evening of the 13th. Artillery had started more than 50 fires. The workers’ and peasants’ detachments were retreating, leaving behind more than 300 dead (the Japanese and American press spoke of some 4,000 dead; we prefer to believe the later telegrams of the Soviet Tass Agency). Summary executions began the same day. Losses of vanquished rebels are always far higher after than during the battle. Up to today (according to the reports of 29 December), more than 2,500 people have been executed in Guangzhou.

The repression was frightful. Human torches were created. The condemned were paraded through the streets. The Soviet consulate in Guangzhou was pillaged, and its personnel were assassinated or arrested. Khassis [4], the Vice Consul, perished, along with some 20 Russians. The consular staff of the great powers remained impassive: they approved of what was happening. The Guangzhou insurrection had revived resentments within the Chinese counter-revolutionary camp against the USSR, whose representatives were naturally accused of grave malpractice. Subsequently, the governments of southern China and the USSR officially broke off diplomatic relations. [5] The Soviet consulates in Hankou and Shanghai were attacked, and their personnel were arrested and maltreated before being expelled. The consular staff of the other powers allowed this to happen everywhere, and even encouraged or facilitated these outrages.

To Clarify Ideas: Soviets and the Red Army

The proletariat needs clear ideas and a correct theory as much as it needs good information (which is woefully lacking). Nothing is more dangerous in this respect than the use of incorrect terminology liable to misrepresent the facts. On several occasions, the ‘Red Army’ commanded by Ye Ting has been referred to in connection with the events in Guangzhou. Let us not forget the social meaning of words! In Russia the ‘Red Army’ was born of proletarian revolution: it is a class army, a proletarian, or a peasant and proletarian army, but in the latter case formed from poor and middle peasants, organised, led and inspired by proletarians. An army does not become red because it hoists red flags, because its leaders are members of a Communist Party, or because it obeys a revolutionary or even a soviet government. Woe to those workers, woe to those Communists, who allow themselves to be deceived by such verbal tricks! The army of General Ye Ting, which we know was made up, like all Chinese armies, of mercenaries commanded by career officers belonging, at least by origin, to the ruling classes, could not in the course of a difficult campaign transform itself into an authentic Red Army, in other words, an army composed of workers, artisans and peasants, who are volunteers or mobilised by the proletarian authorities, and organised by Communist commissars who keep a check on the career officers. It was a revolutionary army, but not a Red Army. The workers’ detachments of Guangzhou could rightly be called Red Guards, comparable to those in Russia that paved the way to the formation of the Red Army. Let us use words precisely. An army means organisation, centralisation, method and broad scope in all its undertakings. A rebellious city can improvise red guards, but surely not an army.

The term ‘soviet government’ calls for similar observations. There can be no soviet government, obviously, without soviets. Was there a soviet, in other words, a workers’ council, in Guangzhou, when the new red government was set up there? No. Now a revolutionary government that has not developed from soviets has no right to call itself soviet. It can only be a revolutionary committee, which, moreover, can quite possibly set itself the task of creating soviet institutions called on to replace it (as happened, for example in Siberia, after the collapse of Kolchak). [6] The use of wrong terms in such circumstances risks casting discredit on the very idea of soviets.

On 14 December Marcel Cachin [7] wrote in l’Humanité:

The Chinese Revolution, an exclusively proletarian revolution, this time uniquely working class and peasant, is once more unleashed … An entire people, crushed and enslaved, is marching towards a soviet revolution in the Russian way.

Even more than wrong words we should fear ideological confusion, a serious obstacle in the way of class consciousness. Can we conceive of an ‘exclusively proletarian revolution’ in an immense peasant country, where the proletariat amounts to no more than a small minority of the population? Guangdong has 37 million inhabitants, 200,000 of them workers. And an ‘exclusively workers’ and peasants’ revolution’? Either the words ‘exclusively proletarian revolution’ mean ‘a Socialist revolution made by a proletariat so strong that it does not even need to grant important concessions to the petit-bourgeoisie’ (in this case ‘exclusively’ means to the exclusion of concessions) … or they mean nothing, and we have here nothing more than a wrong idea wrapped up in a fine-sounding phrase …

‘A soviet revolution in the Russian way’ is even more of a misnomer. The ‘Russian way’ was in a certain sense possible in China, a year ago: but we should have had to understand this at the time. Today, it is too late. What is this ‘Russian way’, if we are not to make a mockery of words? The soviets were born in Russia along with the revolution itself; they developed alongside, or rather concurrently with, the power of the bourgeoisie, and it is this same state of affairs that we call dual power; little by little, the Bolshevik Party, the party of proletarian intransigence, won a decisive influence in them and drove out the original opportunist leaders; never once did this party relinquish its independence, never once did it forget that its duty was not to support the parties of bourgeois revolution, but to allow the proletariat to prevail within the revolution. Whilst the support of the masses strengthened the Bolshevik soviets, whilst the uprisings of the peasants supported the activity of the city proletariat and saw in it a firm and far-sighted leadership, the bourgeois government was reduced little by little to impotence. The October Revolution was the final sweep of the broom. That was ‘the Russian way’. To attempt to imitate it, soviets would have had to be created in Shanghai and Hankou at the time of the Communists’ honeymoon with the Guomindang, even if such a step would have somewhat disconcerted the comradely effusions of the time, effusions that cost us so dear. It would have been necessary to combat opportunism step by step, to strengthen through dual power the control and initiative of the masses, to ‘foresee’ the treachery of the generals and the bourgeois politicians, fated to ‘betray’ everyone, apart from their own class, of course … We should not forget that comrades who did foresee this treachery at the time were very badly received. The ‘Russian way’ of which Cachin speaks is today completely impossible in China: the Russian Revolution of 1917 never experienced horrors comparable to those of the Chinese Revolution. Never were the proletarians of Moscow, Petrograd and Kharkov massacred on the same scale as their brothers in Shanghai, Hankou and Guangzhou …

A 48-Hour Feat of Arms …

Let us return to the Guangzhou events. The revolutionaries had little trouble capturing the city, but they were not able, in spite of their heroism, to hold it for more than 48 hours. These simple facts should make us think.

The success of the revolutionaries shows how great were their forces, and how solid and well rooted was their clandestine organisation. In a word, it proves that in Guangdong the Chinese Revolution retained considerable forces and great potential. The overwhelming defeat that followed shows that the time of the offensive was badly chosen, that insufficient account had been taken of the adverse forces, and that the coup was, in a word, adventurously premature.

In what circumstances might revolutionaries find it necessary to take part in a manifestly premature insurrection? Here two situations can be envisaged: when a spontaneous mass movement goes beyond the party, the latter, even though it judges the time ill-chosen, can do no more than support the masses unreservedly; or when the party, on the eve of a surprise attack by hostile classes, on the point of being outlawed or strangled, feels it can try to ward off the danger by some sort of preventive action. Basically, in both cases, it has no choice. In the first case, you would discredit yourself if you abandoned the workers (and you would not escape the consequences of defeat); in the second, why wait to be strangled? But it very much seems that the Cantonese Communists were in neither of these situations. There have been no reports of mass action before the coup: the general strike followed rather than preceded or prepared for the seizure of Guangzhou. The very success of the insurrection eliminates the second hypothesis; the revolutionaries were not on the eve of being surprised, on the contrary, they surprised their enemies, who were much stronger than they were. [8]

It is possible that important reasons at which we cannot guess at this distance might have militated in favour of an adventurist action. But whatever may have been the infinitely dangerous consequences of playing for time or abstaining, they would doubtless have been less serious than those of a defeat that resulted in the decapitation of the southern proletariat. After the opportunist errors of the past year, we have the impression in the face of these precipitate events, this hasty ‘sovietisation’, this apparently premature offensive, of an abrupt and clumsily executed turn to the left; the leadership of the movement having passed to men who had more courage and heroism than good sense; more faith in themselves, their devotion and their will than Marxist training; and more faith in the magic of slogans than proletarian realism. We have the impression that we have here witnessed one of those ‘leftist errors’ that Lenin and Trotsky so vigorously criticised at the Third Congress of the Communist International after the German insurrection of March 1921.

On the other hand, the slogans of the Guangzhou ‘soviet government’ seem to have been very vague. ‘Land to the Peasants’, is of course entirely correct. But ‘Rice and Meat to the Workers’? This is not a slogan. No government, even a reactionary one, would claim to refuse rice and meat to the workers. This is not a real slogan. Was there no announcement or decision regarding workers’ control of production, the confiscation of foodstocks, and the requisition of housing? We know nothing of any such measure. These vague slogans, coinciding with the decidedly military character of the action, confirm our first impression. [9]

Obviously, social problems that the revolution could not resolve will not be resolved by the reaction. The machete will provide no solution to the agrarian problem. In this sense, the Chinese Revolution has not ended. Obviously, this great nation of exploited people can pour out its blood in endless waves, without, for all that, ceasing to be immortal. And being immortal, it will triumph. In this very broad sense, the Chinese Revolution is invincible. But that is scant consolation, after all, when the massacres of Guangzhou are depriving the Chinese Revolution of its last base of operations. The oppressed masses are only in the long run invincible. The European proletarians who witnessed the defeat of the revolutions in Finland, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria know that. [10] We would be foolish to ignore the seriousness of the Guangzhou defeat.

Obviously, the peasant movement will not be extinguished in this huge country; has it not already gone on for many years? But as Communists, we know that it can only succeed if it is backed by the city proletariat, called upon to provide it with cadres, leaders and decisive support. All this leads us to think that China is now entering a period of military anarchy, in the course of which the proletarians and peasants will for a while no longer be able to join in great struggles: they will only recover their ability to act after having recuperated their strength.

Will the counter-revolution, by putting this lull to good use, succeed in stabilising its position? I very much doubt it. The defeat of the proletariat is also that of the national revolution. It represents a halt in the development of the nation, a painful and bloody interregnum before fresh social conflicts erupt.

We should not drift into the revolutionary fatalism of those who claim that the proletariat will necessarily arise strengthened after each defeat. If that were true, we would only need to pile up defeats in order eventually to win the most shattering victories in the class struggle. But these ‘optimistic’ (!?) rationalisations are hardly worth refuting. A victory for the Chinese bourgeoisie – capitalist stabilisation in China – is not impossible. It does not seem possible at this moment, none of the goals of the bourgeois national revolution having been attained. If the bourgeoisie had only turned on the proletariat after the gaining of national independence, after the liquidation of feudalism and military anarchy, and after the unification of the country, the prospects would have been otherwise. The tragedy of the situation is that the bourgeoisie feared – and rightly feared – being carried away by the workers’ and peasants’ revolution along with its enemies. The bourgeoisie was the first to realise that in our time there can no longer be a bourgeois revolution in the classic sense of the word in the most advanced colonial countries.

For a Correct Theory

At the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR [11] the Chinese Revolution was the subject of several interesting interventions in the course of the discussion of Bukharin’s report on the Communist International. Unfortunately, the great struggles of 1927 had not yet been subjected to serious debate within the Communist International; it would have been worthwhile to hold such a debate. Let us look at the new documentation that is now available to us. Two speeches in particular appear to be worth considering: that of Khitarov [12] (in Pravda, 15 December) and that of Lominadze (in Pravda, 14 December). [13]

Khitarov’s speech in particular is of historic interest, and of the first rank. This comrade seems to have followed the Shanghai and Wuhan events closely. He informs us that in April 1927 the Shanghai revolutionary leaders were expecting Chiang Kai-shek’s coup d’état, but refused to listen to the advice of those who proposed hiding the workers’ weapons. Legalistic illusions had the upper hand, no one hid the weapons, and they were taken … Khitarov further informs us that the Wuhan government included many of Chiang’s political friends. Khitarov gives us some details about this period of the revolution: How the counter-revolutionary coup of Changsha [14] – undertaken by a military clique in the provincial capital of Hunan, where the peasant revolution had reached its highest pitch – was carried out by officers of the Generalissimo of the Wuhan army (Tang Shengzhi) with 1700 men ranged against 20,000 armed peasants. The army, having carried out numerous summary executions, found themselves practically surrounded by peasants who were to march on the town on 31 May. In the meantime, the Communist committee received a letter from Chen Duxiu, General Secretary of the Party, saying: ‘Avoid conflict [!!?], take the matter to Wuhan.’ This is what Khitarov adds:

The committee immediately ordered the peasant detachments to halt their advance. Two detachments that did not receive this order marched on Changsha and were wiped out there … Thus the counter-revolution strengthened itself without the slightest effort in a province that was the centre of the revolutionary movement in China, and that contained five million organised peasants …

A few days later, General Chou Pei-De carried out his coup in Jiangxi. Having invited all the leaders of the workers’ and peasants’ movement, of the left Guomindang and the Communist Party to a banquet, he made the following speech: ‘I respect you extremely, my dear friends, but you are obstructing me: here is a boat, here is some money, clear off!’ Once he had exiled the leaders, he set about exterminating the peasants. In order ‘not to shed blood’ he buried them alive … The destruction of the peasant unions of Hubei began at the same time …

Lominadze, in his intervention, tried to explain the past and present phases of the Chinese Revolution. In his opinion, the defeat of 1927 stemmed from the fact that the advance of the peasant movement did not coincide with that of the workers’ movement: ‘At the time of the counter-revolutionary coup d’états of Shanghai and Wuhan, the peasant movement did not have so revolutionary a character as at present.’ That is profoundly inaccurate. At the beginning of 1927 in Hunan, as in Henan, the peasant movement broke out with extreme violence. [15] We should add that, led as described by Khitarov, it naturally failed to win a striking victory … For Lominadze, the proof that today’s peasant movement is more powerful lies in the fact that soviets were created here and there in Guangdong, and that they were executing the landowners. Does he not realise that the peasants would not be prepared to wait forever, as they had done previously, to receive the necessary directives to show no mercy to their oppressors? And that if they had not formed soviets in the previous year, was that not because they had been advised not to do so, just as they had been forbidden to revenge themselves upon the Changsha military clique?

Lominadze has confidence in the Chinese proletarians. ‘I consider that the forces of the Chinese proletariat and peasantry are fully sufficient to ensure the revolution complete victory’, he says, ‘these forces are enough for China to throw off the yoke of the landowners, the bourgeoisie and the foreign imperialists.’ But if these forces are still sufficient, even after the defeats in Shanghai, Wuhan and the south, why consider them as insufficient in 1927, when they were certainly greater and more enthusiastic than they are today, and when all hopes were based upon the coalition with the nationalist revolutionary bourgeoisie, the Guomindang and the generals?

Incidentally, Lominadze confirms the Opposition’s criticism of the composition of the cadre of the Chinese Communist Party, which is made up, he says, ‘not of workers or of peasants, but of petit-bourgeois intellectuals, who maintained their prejudices and all their hesitations … Even today, the best decisions of the Central Committee are distorted by those who are applying them on the spot.’ Let us observe that even – and we would prefer to say especially – in an advanced colonial country the cadre of the Communist Party should not be composed, as this speaker seems to suppose, ‘of workers or of peasants’, but of an overwhelming majority of workers. To forget that is to forget one of the first truths of revolutionary Marxism.

After the brief occupation of the port of Shantou by the revolutionary army of Ye Ting and He Long, a feat of arms that constituted a sort of repetition of that of Guangzhou, we would have hoped that there would be no repetition of the fatal policy of the Guomindang left, that the possessing classes would not be spared, that the peasant movement and the general activity of the masses would not be held back, in a word, that everything would not be done to disorientate the ‘red’ forces. But what does Lominadze tell us at the Fifteenth Congress?

The mistakes that the Chinese Communist Party openly recognised and criticised at its conference [16] have been repeated by the Communist leaders – intellectuals – of the armies of Ye Ting and He Long. The absence of any link with the peasant masses, the insufficiency of work amongst the peasants, the absence of revolutionary slogans have caused the army, through lack of timely support from the peasants, to be defeated… just as the purely military leadership of the operations was rendered impotent.

Do these criticisms apply only to the Shantou period (the end of September)? Do they not also apply to the Guangzhou events, which seem to have been carried out by the same people, and inspired with the same spirit? ‘The Chinese Communist Party’, Lominadze now says, ‘has decided to form soviets only when there are guarantees of a durable victory.’ Instead of ‘guarantees’ – are there ever guarantees in the Socialist struggle? – we would prefer to say ‘serious chances’, but the idea is right. ‘We must not play at insurrection’, said Marx; Lenin said the same thing in September 1917. The Second Congress of the Communist International repeated the same message in special theses that had to be adopted to prevent the German and Austrian Left Social Democrats from discrediting the soviets by opportunist adventures. But did our Chinese comrades properly digest these correct ideas? Generally speaking, soviets can and must arise in periods of upsurge of the revolutionary movement; they should have arisen at the time of the seizure of Shanghai by the working-class insurrection, an undeniable and admirable upsurge. Is the Chinese Revolution going through a similar period of upsurge now? We rather get the impression of a period of scattered and desperate resistance in the face of anarchic counter-revolution. As for propaganda for the idea of soviets, it is, it was, relevant at all times: the decisions of the Second Congress of the Communist International are as precise with regard to this point as are the recommendations of Lenin.

All the speakers at the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR have affirmed that the Guomindang is now a counter-revolutionary organisation. No one has any reservations about the left Guomindang, a myth henceforth abolished. Lominadze has gone so far as to say that the Guomindang, split into four or five sections, and frequently purged by ‘non-party’ warlords, no longer exists ‘as a political party’. Divided or not, at the service of unprincipled soldiers or employing them, the Guomindang has phraseology, doctrines, a history, politicians and cadres; divided or not, it remains more or less what it clearly always was: the apparatus of bourgeois dictatorship. It is a dictatorial ‘party’, neither more nor less than Mussolini’s party, as monolithic as the latter, which nevertheless in no way resembles class political parties such as we ought to define them. By definition, a party is a voluntary association based upon a community of interests, of ends and means. Neither the Fascio, nor the Guomindang, nor the Kemalist party [17] correspond to this definition. Let us not engage in theoretical debate on this subject: let us observe that new parties have been formed that are in reality no more than a dictatorial apparatus. Let us not refuse them the titles with which they successfully clothe themselves; to do so would be playing with words.

Lominadze went further, so much further that we are surprised to see him lose sight of the most elementary propositions of Marxism, when he said:

The Chinese bourgeoisie has been no more than an historical abortion. As soon as it passed over to counter-revolution, it fell apart, and ceased to be a unitary political force. Its detached groups are at the command of the militarists. [A voice: ‘You are exaggerating!’] I am exaggerating nothing. Look at the Guomindang … [Then follows the argument that we have reported above – VS] The Guomindang is no more insofar as we are speaking of a party. [Stalin: ‘And what remains of the bourgeoisie?’] There are only scattered bourgeois left. [Laughter]

These propositions, even worse than the puerile mouthings of Marcel Cachin, and quite astonishing from the lips of a Communist militant enjoying such authority and spoken before the highest body of the International’s greatest party, reveal the ideological confusion created by the present defeat of the Chinese Revolution. There can be only one way of remedying the mess; to bring out into the open, by means of a serious scientific – and non-polemical – examination, the ideas, facts and lessons of a year of struggle. To say that there remains of the bourgeoisie only some ‘scattered bourgeois’, is to forget that the bourgeoisie is not defined by its class consciousness, nor by its level of political organisation: there is a bourgeois class, and it is absurd to talk of ‘scattered bourgeois’, as long as there are owners of the means of production (or of capital) employing wage labour. Moreover, the Chinese bourgeoisie is far from having suffered the political bankruptcy that is ascribed to it. It would be far more correct to speak of the failure of the revolutionary-nationalist petit-bourgeoisie, whose opportunist illusions have been subjected to a severe test by the class struggle. The Chinese bourgeoisie knew all too well how to take advantage for the time being of the revolutionary energy of the proletariat; and a little later on, it knew very well how to wring the necks of the workers and peasants, its momentary allies against the foreign imperialists. First, it deceived the authentic revolutionaries; then, since they threatened it, it massacred them. These are no small successes in the class struggle. Will it overcome the military anarchy and an economic crisis that grows more serious from day to day? That is the problem. We would be wrong, whatever may be the result in the short term, and without doubting, moreover, the final victory of the Chinese workers, to deny the energy and political skill of enemy classes who have just inflicted such cruel defeats upon us.


1. The Qing dynasty set up its capital in Beijing.

2. General Zhang Fakui (1896- ) was the commander of the Fourth Army of the Guomindang who crushed the Nanchang uprising.

3. Vissarion Lovenadze, known as Lominadze (1898-1934), presided over the emergency conference of the Chinese Communist Party. On his return to the USSR he sided with Bukharin against the forced collectivisation. He committed suicide at the time of the assassination of Kirov.

4. Khassis was the Soviet Vice-Consul in Guangzhou.

5. The day after the first shootings of workers in Shanghai and the first attack against the Soviet consulate in that city (last April-May), Bukharin felt that he had to make clear, in a declaration reproduced in the Soviet press, that the USSR did not see any reason for breaking off diplomatic relations with the Nanjing government. Chiang’s compliance with the imperialists was nevertheless no longer in any doubt. Perhaps now we should ask whether the USSR would not have done better at that point to have itself broken off all relations with the executioner of the Shanghai proletarians. It would have been a natural gesture to make. [Author’s note]

6. Admiral Alexander V. Kolchak (1873-1920) was a Whiteguard commander who set up a government in Siberia during the Russian Civil War, and attacked the Bolsheviks along the Trans-Siberian Railway.

7. Marcel Cachin (1869-1958) was one of the more discreditable leaders of the French Communist Party, who in 1915 had been sent by the French government to urge Mussolini to carry on a campaign for the entry of Italy into the First World War.

8. We learned this from an incidental declaration made at the Fifteenth Party Congress of the USSR. [Author’s note]

9. Here are the political slogans that were launched by the Chinese Communist Party according to l’Humanité of 6 February: ‘Immediate freeing of political prisoners, arming of the proletariat, freedom of the press and assembly, the right to organise and strike, the restoration to the revolutionary trade unions of their headquarters, the dissolution of the yellow unions, unemployment benefit, an increase in soldiers’ pay from 12 to 20 dollars a month, land to the peasants, against all the reactionary generals, an alliance with the Soviet Union and the world proletariat.’ And here are their agitational slogans: ‘Rice to the workers, land to the peasants, down with militarist war, all power to the soviets of workers, peasants and soldiers.’ Here is the list of decrees that were issued over 48 hours:

  1. The establishment of soviet power.
  2. The organisation of the armed forces of the revolution.
  3. The suppression and annihilation of all forces of the counter-revolution.
  4. An eight-hour day. Unemployment benefit. A rise in wages.
  5. Nationalisation of the factories and the land. Land redistribution. The abolition of the large landowners. The legalisation of village soviets.
  6. Confiscation of the property and houses of the bourgeoisie. The cancellation of rent agreements.
  7. A rise in soldiers’ pay, revolutionary soldiers’ committees, one year’s voluntary service.
  8. Legalisation of the All-China Federation of Workers’ Trade Unions. [Author’s note]

10. The Finnish Revolution was put down by Mannerheim with the aid of German troops in 1918; the German Revolution was smashed by the Freikorps and the Reichswehr in 1918-19, 1921 and 1923; in 1920 the Italian workers occupied the factories, but the strike wave burned itself out, and Mussolini came to power in 1922; the short-lived Hungarian Soviet regime of Béla Kun was overthrown by a Romanian and White invasion in August 1919; and a right-wing coup overthrew Alexander Stambolisky’s peasant government in Bulgaria in June 1923.

11. The Fifteenth Congress of the CPSU took place in Moscow on 2-19 December 1927, and ratified the expulsion of the leaders of the Opposition. Whilst it was sitting, the Guangzhou uprising took place; it was intended to restore Stalin’s by then considerably damaged revolutionary reputation.

12. Rafael Moisevich Khitarov (1900-39) took part in the Russian revolution whilst still a young man, and was the Young Communist representative to the Communist International in the mid-1920s, in which capacity he made several trips abroad. Although a loyal Stalinist, he perished in the purges.

13. See also the Letter from Shanghai. [Author’s note]

14. On 21-22 May 1927. [Author’s note]

15. On this subject cf the article by Victor Serge in Clarté, no. 2. [Author’s note]

16. The press has published nothing on this question. [Author’s note]

17. The Fascio was the sole legal party allowed under Mussolini’s dictatorship. Kemal Atatürk also set up a state with a single party, the Republican Peoples Party (cf. note 1 above).

Last updated on 16.3.2011