Victor Serge

The Class Struggle in the Chinese Revolution


From Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 3.
Transcribed by Alun Watson.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Introduction from Revolutionary History

Victor Serge
Bolshevism and Asia
(January 1927)

Victor Serge
First Letter: The Class Struggle
in the Chinese Revolution

(April 1927)

Victor Serge
Second Letter: The Communist Task
(June/July 1927)

Victor Serge
Third Letter: The Strength of the
Agrarian Revolution – The Red Spears

(August 1927)

Victor Serge
Fourth Letter: The Outcome of an Experience
of Class Collaboration

(August 1927)

Victor Serge
Fifth Letter
(September/October 1927)

Paul Sizoff
Canton, December 1927
(Start of 1928)

Introduction from Revolutionary History

One of Serge’s responsibilities as a supporter of the Left Opposition was to sit on the sub-committee it set up to frame a policy on the Chinese Revolution (Memoirs of a Revolutionary, p. 216). Since their prime source of information was the Comintern press itself, they were not always very accurately informed (or at times even informed at all, such as when they were not even told of the opposition of the Chinese Communist Party to its subordination to the Guomindang), and it is surprising how clear their analysis of the situation turned out to be.

Although this account has been reprinted as a full-length book in French (Savelli, 1977), Italian (Samonà e Savelli, 1971) and German (Verlag Neue Kritik, 1975), and the fifth and last items in Documents sur le mouvement révolutionnaire en Chine (part 2, Cahiers du CERMTRI, no. 55, December 1989), this is its first appearance in English. Apart from the last piece on Canton, which appeared over the pseudonym of ‘Paul Sizoff’ in La Lutte de Classes (no. 1, February-March 1928; cf. Memoirs, p. 239), they originally came out over Serge’s name in Clarté magazine, the first, Le Bolchevisme dans l’Asie, as a separate article (new series, no. 7, 15 March 1927), and the rest as five letters in a collection entitled La Lutte des classes dans la révolution chinoise (Clarté, nos. 9, 11, 12, 13 and 14, May-October 1927). The editors of Clarté since it resumed publication in June 1926 were sympathetic to the ideas of the Left Opposition, for amongst them were the future French Trotskyist leaders Pierre Naville and Gérard Rosenthal, who had been introduced to Trotsky by Serge at the tenth anniversary celebrations of the Russian Revolution. The magazine changed its name to La Lutte de Classes in the spring of 1928. The publication of these articles may have been the final cause of Serge’s arrest, though as he points out, this would have happened in the long run anyway (Memoirs, pp238-40).

As the ‘select bibliography’ appended to the 1984 Writers and Readers edition of Serge’s Memoirs reminds us, the text we print below was planned to appear some years ago. The original project to translate and annotate Serge’s writings on China was begun by Greg Benton, but pressure of work and the uncertain state of left-wing publishing at the time obliged him to relinquish his task when he had drafted out three of the chapters. Al Richardson had independently worked on two other chapters when Dr Benton was kind enough to hand over the texts of all the French originals and his own preliminary translations. The whole was then finished off and annotated by Al Richardson and checked against the original French by Harry Ratner, Ian Birchall and Greg Benton, who also helped with the footnotes, which as a result are far richer in our version than the simple reproduction of Serge’s own notes appearing in the modern French, German and Italian reprints. Except in the very few cases where Chinese names are so familiar in their previous Wade-Giles forms that changing them would only have added to the confusion of the reader, all proper names have been given in the modern Pinyin mode of transliteration (a brief table showing the differences can be found in Revolutionary History, Volume 2, no. 2, Spring 1990, p. 1). Again to avoid confusion, all quotations from the Marxist classics or from Stalin and Mao have been reproduced in the wording of the familiar Russian or Chinese-produced English versions.

Whilst the main thrust of Serge’s analysis has held up remarkably well over the years, not all of his opinions on these events have received confirmation from the further development of our knowledge. For example, his favourable verdict on Mao Zedong (repeated in his Memoirs, p. 220), whom he discusses as if this Chinese Socialist Revolutionary had Bolshevik politics, has not been endorsed by the development of the state Mao set up. Trotsky’s own views on these events can be followed in Leon Trotsky on China (New York 1976), and some of the opinions of the other Russian leaders can be consulted in the appendices to the New Park edition of Problems of the Chinese Revolution (London 1969) or in Pierre Broué’s La Question chinoise dans l’Internationale communiste (Paris 1965). For the overall historical background, the first edition of Harold Isaacs’ The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (London 1938) is still required reading, and Workers News has performed an invaluable service by reprinting Max Shachtman’s original preface to the Problems of the Chinese Revolution in its supplement for May-June 1992 (no. 38). Subscribers to Revolutionary History should also refer to the collection we brought together in Volume 2, no. 4 (Spring 1990). For first-hand reminiscences, Wang Fanxi’s Memoirs of a Chinese Revolutionary should be consulted in its second edition (New York 1991), whilst Peng Shuzhi’s L’Envol du communisme en chine as yet only exists in a French version edited by Claude Cadart and Cheng Yinxiang (Paris 1983). Greg Benton’s history of the Chinese Trotskyists is promised to appear later this year.

Last updated on 15.3.2011