Victor Serge

Third Letter:

The Strength of the Agrarian Revolution:
The Red Spears

(August 1927)

From Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 3.
Originally published in Clarté (new series), No. 12, August 1927.
Translated by Gregor Benton & Al Richardson.
Transcribed by Alun Watson.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

NEXT to nothing is known in the West of the main factor in the Chinese Revolution, the peasant movement. First of all, let us deplore the fact that not a single serious work has been published on this subject. Some works do, however, exist in the Soviet Union, and information about events in China would be greatly improved for the French workers, if, for example, the remarkable study of A. Ivine on the Red Spears were put at their disposal. [1]

‘For 2,000 years’, writes Ivine, ‘the history of China has been based upon the agrarian question.’ In 2,000 years China has experienced no fewer than five great peasant rebellions, all led by vast secret associations of poor peasants against the big landowners, the usurers, the feudal lords and the state bureaucracy; all of them ended, having caused innumerable calamities, in the more or less complete expropriation of the rich classes; after which the process of the concentration of wealth and the pauperisation of the small cultivator began again, until the next peasant rising. The history of China therefore provides a spectacle of the tragic repetition of an economic process that for 20 centuries until our own day has only undergone minor modifications. Ivine lists the agrarian revolts of the ‘Red Eyebrows’ at the beginning of the first century of the Christian era [2]; the great peasant uprising of the ‘Yellow Turbans’, which went on for 20 years at the end of the second century [3]; the uprising of Huang Chao, which overthrew the Tang dynasty after a long and confused period of troubles at the end of the ninth century [4]; the national revolution that overthrew the Mongol Yuan dynasty in the fourteenth century, which was also an agrarian revolution in which the ‘White Lotus’ sect played an important role [5]; and the revolt of Li Zicheng and Zhang Xianzhong, which depopulated China at the end of the sixteenth century. [6] In modern history the revolt of the Taipings (1851-1865) led to the liquidation of the big landowners in various provinces. [7] Precise information seems to indicate that we are on the eve of a peasant movement comparable with the greatest ones of the past. Will the former cycle of revolutions be repeated once again? That is the question.

Ivine draws our attention to the following facts. The concentration of land ownership: since 1918, according to official statistics, three million rich families have owned more land than 31 million poor or middle families; about 50 per cent of the cultivators are without land and have to rent it; taxation burdens the peasant, on whom weigh all the charges of the local warlords; opium growing is imposed upon him; taxes are collected for years in advance; repeated contributions are added to those taxes; poverty declasses the peasant, often turning him into a hungry beggar, sometimes a mercenary soldier, and more frequently a bandit or a rebel; finally, in the course of the last few years, there has arisen the powerful peasant movement of the Red Spears, which has proved itself and is still proving itself in innumerable struggles every day.

Amongst the more or less secret peasant organisations of this immense country – the ‘Hard Stomachs’, ‘Big Knives’, ‘Fans’ and ‘Black Spears’ – that of the Red Spears is the most widespread and the most typical. Like all the rest it has its roots in the semi-religious secret societies that made the revolutions of past centuries, and above all in the ‘White Lotus’ sect of the fourteenth century. It is subdivided into two ‘orders’, major and minor, whose members wear red or yellow headbands; the weapon of both groups is a spear adorned with a red tassel. The adherent takes an oath to live honestly and fight the good fight. Study of the secret rites makes him at first ‘almost invulnerable’ and then ‘completely invulnerable’. The Red Spears, organised in groups of 10 and by detachments, maintain guard over the villages night and day, brought together in the event of danger by the sound of a gong, just as our peasant rebels of olden times assembled to the sound of the alarm bell. Their main objective is to protect the countryside against banditry and against pillaging armies. In reality they impose upon the rich minority the law of the poor majority. The rich peasants often pretend to follow the movement, to divert it or to profit from it; they put on the turban and take up the red spear. Splits followed by fierce struggles erupt even inside the movement, as in Henan between ‘great’ and ‘little’ spears, in other words once more between rich and poor. The strength of this movement can be judged by the following facts. In 1926 the district of Luoyang, in the province of Henan situated to the north of the Yangtse [8] alone counted 20,000 organised Red Spears; they were present in almost all villages. ‘All the east of Henan will soon be red’, wrote one Chinese journalist. The local authorities, unable to oppose the movement, opted for legalising it. The national revolutionary government of Guangzhou realised the importance of this movement only when the peasants inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Second ‘People’s Army’, commanded by its ally Yue Weijun and supported by the Guomindang. This army, having gone over to the national cause, occupied Henan at the beginning of 1926, enabling, you may recall, the First ‘People’s Army’ of Feng Yuxiang to occupy Beijing and Tianjin. Through its indiscipline, its pillaging and its excesses, the Second Army alienated the peasants. Yue Weijun, threatened by the ‘Red Spears’, attempted to smash the movement with the support, necessary from now on, of the rich and the reactionaries. ‘A real peasant war broke out in a region inhabited by more than 30 million souls’ says Ivine. The uprising began in mid-January 1926; the peasants took the town of Y-Li, threatened Luoyang, destroyed the railways and threatened Chang-chou (on the Beijing-Hankou railway), but were defeated to begin with. Their imprisoned leaders were shot. Wu Peifu, Britain’s man in central China, seized the opportunity to attack the People’s Army in northern Henan, which was harassed in the rear by Red Spears. Defeated by Wu Peifu, the Second People’s Army was literally finished off, crushed by the peasants who turned his retreat from Kaifeng to Shanxi into an indescribable rout. The soldiers avoided the villages in their desperate flight. The Red Spears collected a ‘colossal quantity of weapons, guns, machine-guns, etc.’ The army of Yu Weijun, which had numbered 60,000 men, was annihilated (the retreat of Feng from Tianjin and Beijing towards Mongolia was one of the consequences of this disaster). A missionary who was making his way through Henan at this time estimated the forces of the Red Spears at more than 100,000 men, and noted that ‘they understood how to make guns themselves’, firing Mauser bullets. Wu Peifu occupied Kaifeng, and attempted to corrupt the peasant leaders; a number even entered his army. But because of the Red Spears it was extremely difficult for him to start taxing again. The peasants soon rose up everywhere against him, under a leader who enjoyed immense popularity, Liu Po-Hsiun, whose programme was limited to a few words: abolition of iniquitous taxation, militarism, banditry and bureaucracy. Liu was defeated on 9 May; the peasants refused to hand him over; 30 villages were burned by way of reprisals. The struggle went on. These episodes are quite typical of the peasant war of Henan of which we knew nothing.

At practically the same time, southern Shandong was the scene of a peasant uprising in the region of Tai’an (the mountain mass to the south of Jinan), where 30,000 Spears inflicted a series of reverses on Northern regular troops, and were only at length brought to submission by negotiations as much as by weapons. The peasant war, however, continued with terrible ferocity in Shandong. Small armies of Red Spears held the countryside, occupied towns and spread terror. The White Spears and the Black Spears waged a war of extermination on them. Class formations can easily be guessed at behind these names. In order to acquire weapons, many peasants enrolled among the regular troops and then deserted.

The Victory of the Hunan Peasants

The Guomindang owed its victories in the Northern Expedition to the peasants and workers. The workers gave it Shanghai and Hankou. The peasants cleared the way for its armies towards the Yangtse. Let us quote one fact. The army of Chiang Kai-shek marching towards Hankou arrived before the fortified town of Pingjiang, to the north of Changsha (Hunan), firmly in the hands of the Northerners. The approaches to it were mined. Modern fortifications completed the defences. The peasant organisations delivered this citadel to the Southern Seventh Army, which had become discouraged by an assault as costly as it was fruitless. And the rapid advance of the Southern army continued thanks to the peasants, who built bridges in front of it, transported its baggage and cannon on human backs, informed the General Staff, and harassed the enemy … [9] If the truth about the victories of the Southern armies had been known earlier – and it is barely known, even in Russia – would we not have made a better assessment of the generals’ true role?

And what did the Guomindang do in the presence of this formidable peasant movement? I have already indicated that, in order to survive, the Guangzhou government had taken the tack of backing the peasant movement in Guangdong, though not without having first to overcome the resistance of the military. [10] Since March 1926 it has everywhere attempted to moderate, divert, obstruct, legalise and bureaucratise the movement of the ‘peasant associations’, forced as it was to tolerate their activity in its entirety, in spite of the number of conflicts between the bourgeoisie, the administrations, the generals and the peasants. Its agrarian programme, with an all too understandable moderation, is contained in a resolution of the Second Congress of the Guomindang in 1924 that advocated the organisation of the peasant masses, the dissolution of the armed bands of the counter-revolution, local autonomy, a struggle against usury, the fixing of a maximum land rent, the creation of agricultural banks, and labour legislation. This programme approved what could not be prevented, moderated the revolutionary initiatives in the economic sphere, and made wonderful promises to the country folk (agricultural banks, labour legislation, compulsory education). Its revolutionary significance does not appear to have been greater than, for example, the programme of the liberal Constitutional Democrats [11] in the Russian Revolution … Readers can verify this for themselves.

I have before me a document of the greatest interest on the peasant movement in Hunan. It is a detailed letter written from Changsha on 18 February last by the Communist student Mao Zedong, and published in number 20 of the Russian magazine The Revolutionary East. [12] I am obliged to summarise it very briefly. The peasant associations of Hunan, clandestine until the arrival of the Southern troops, came out of illegality with more than 300 000 members. By last January they had two million for the most part heads of families, which meant that their real activity extended to 10 million souls. About half the peasants of Hunan were organised.

The peasants … went right into action and within four months [from October 1926 to January 1927] brought about a great and unprecedented revolution in the countryside… The peasants attack as their main targets the local bullies [administrators and local tyrants] and bad gentry [commercial bureaucracy, usurers, etc.] and the lawless landlords, hitting in passing against patriarchal ideologies and evil customs in the rural areas… Those who resist it perish … The privileges which the feudal landlords have enjoyed for thousands of years are being shattered to pieces … [as if] a tempest or hurricane [had blown them away] … The peasant association becomes the sole organ of authority.

They also administered justice. Sometimes the rich offered to pay an admission fee to be admitted into them. The mere threat of being entered on the blacklists of the peasant associations terrified them.

Naturally the urban petit-bourgeoisie, which was related to the gentry, quickly raised a cry about scandal, terror, etc. (it was like reading the Russian press in 1917, which unceasingly branded Bolshevism in analogous terms). ‘The peasants declared: Whoever has land is a thief. There are no gentry who are not criminals.’ They sacked the dwellings of the rich. These ‘excesses’ filled the towns with indignation. ‘All actions labelled as “going too far”’, wrote our Chinese comrade rightly, ‘had a revolutionary significance … To put it bluntly, it was necessary to bring about a brief reign of terror in every rural area.’ The leaders of the Guomindang described the revolutionary peasants as ‘criminals’. Just as in the Committees of Poor Peasants (Kombedy) [13] of the Russian Revolution organised on the initiative of Lenin in 1918, yesterday’s beggars were at the head of the movement:

All those who were formerly despised or kicked into the gutter by the gentry, who had no social standing, and who were denied the right to have a say, have now, to everyone’s surprise, raised their heads. They have not only raised their heads, but have also taken power into their hands.

Here we can recognise the initiative taken by a minority, as in all deeply rooted revolutions. [14] According to a survey of Changsha county, the poor peasants comprise 70 per cent of the rural population, the middle peasants 20 per cent, and the rich peasants and landlords 10 per cent … ‘This enormous mass of poor peasants … is the backbone of the peasant association, the vanguard in overthrowing the feudal forces.’ (It could not be otherwise; it never was in any way otherwise.) The Guomindang committees, compounding their ‘political errors’, imprisoned the peasant leaders, etc., when they were able to get away with it.

I have read much on the Chinese Revolution. But I have found no piece of Communist thinking of better quality than that of this young unknown militant Mao Zedong. He advances striking formulae that irresistibly call to mind those of Lenin in 1917-18. Here are his conclusions (and mine):

This leadership of the poor peasants is absolutely necessary. Without the poor peasants there can be no revolution. To reject them is to reject the revolution. To attack them is to attack the revolution. Their general direction of the revolution has never been wrong.

To give credit where due, if we allot 10 points to the accomplishments of the democratic revolution, then the achievements of the urban dwellers and the military rate only three points, whilst the remaining seven points should go to the peasants in their rural revolution.

If the leaders of the Chinese Revolution were inspired by so clear a concept of the class struggle, complete victory would be possible. Alas!

The Classic Manner of Conjuring Away a People’s Revolution

Some important facts stand out with stark clarity. The immense strength of these peasant masses is the essential, and moreover the most powerful factor, in a revolution that is above all agrarian, bourgeois to the extent to which it struggles against feudalism, and anti-capitalist to the extent – no less great – to which it challenges the principle of property, and attacks usurious capitalists or landowners, and supports the urban proletariat. This revolution could only be led and enlightened by the proletariat of the great centres and its Communist vanguard.

The middle bourgeoisie of the towns and the liberal, anti-imperialist, revolutionary nationalist, etc., bourgeoisie – in short, the leading circles of the Guomindang and of the Wuhan (Hankou) government – faced with this revolution obviously had to adopt a similar attitude to that of the middle bourgeoisie and the Russian liberals in 1917 in the presence of Bolshevism.

All that Lenin wrote in 1917 against the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries [15], against class collaboration during the revolution, class harmony, and the vacillations of the petit-bourgeoisie, can in its broad outlines be applied to brilliant effect to the social situation in China. At that time Lenin frequently made use of comparisons between France in 1848 and Russia in 1917; so we have even better reason to compare revolutionary China in 1927 with Russia in 1917. If this has not been done more often, it is because the anti-imperialist character of the Russian Revolution and the anti-capitalist character of the Chinese Revolution have both been misunderstood. The entire critique of the mistakes committed in China exists, for example, in embryo in an article written by Lenin on 16 June 1917, The Class Origins of Present-Day and “Future” Cavaignacs. The Guomindang leaders, the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries assured the Bolsheviks that they would be on their side ‘when a real Cavaignac comes’. Lenin retorted:

An excellent promise! Only, it is a pity that it reveals a misunderstanding of the class struggle, typical of the sentimental or timid petit-bourgeoisie. For a Cavaignac is not an accident … Cavaignac represents a class (the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie) and carries out the policies of that class. And it is that class and those policies that you … support today… It is to that class and its policies that you, who at the moment admittedly command a majority in the country, give predominance in the government … Once there is a shaky, vacillating petit-bourgeoisie dreading the revolution’s progress, the Cavaignacs are sure to appear.

These three prophetic pages, which warned about Kornilov several months in advance, and about Chiang Kai-shek, Tang Shengzhi and so many other celestial swordsmen 10 years in advance, ought to be quoted in their entirety. Let us note here the description of the vacillating Socialists, blinded by the idea of class peace:

Louis Blanc [16], too, was as far removed from Cavaignac as heaven is from earth. Louis Blanc, too, made countless promises ‘to fight in the same ranks’ as the revolutionary workers against the bourgeois counter-revolutionaries. Nevertheless, no Marxist historian, no Socialist, would venture to doubt that it was the weakness, the instability, the credulity of the Louis Blancs with regard to the bourgeoisie that brought forth Cavaignac and assured his success … [17]

The misfortune of the Chinese Revolution is that no one was found in Wuhan to repeat these old truths …

As was to be expected, the Chinese counter-revolution – the Cavaignacs! – after having ‘tricked’ and decapitated the Shanghai proletarians, delivered its second blow against the Hunan peasants, the Changsha coup d’état. And yet again the revolutionaries allowed themselves to be fooled. The Changsha coup d’état, like that of Wuhan, which did no more than put the stamp in broad daylight on the long prepared going over of the Guomindang (organisation, leaders, cadres) and of the national government to the counter-revolution, was the result of a conspiracy hatched in broad daylight. Between Chiang Kai-shek and the Guomindang government – with two Communist ministers handed over as ‘hostages’ to the bourgeoisie – there had never been anything other than a sort of division of labour against the workers and peasants. Three facts provide a bloody proof of this:

  1. The Wuhan government took no measure in support of the masses, but strove solely to hold back – that is, repress – the peasant movement.
  2. Amid a great din of sonorous declarations, it appointed to fight Chiang Kai-Shek a general no less reactionary than Chiang, the Buddhist Tang Shengzhi, a large landowner.
  3. Moreover, it eagerly and straightaway called off the struggle against Chiang Kai-shek in order to conclude with him a sort of united front ‘against the imperialists and the Northerners’ (!!!!), but in fact against the workers.

The ‘fine-sounding’ declarations of a Sun Fo [18], reprinted with satisfaction by the Soviet press, should have deceived no one. The double game of the Guomindang leaders put the majority of Communists so completely on the wrong track that the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, Stalin, approved their decision not to take the offensive against Chiang Kai-shek, so that they could concentrate their efforts against the Northerners. [19] The illusions that the shrewd Wuhan petit-bourgeois counter-revolutionaries inspired in us were so deep that at the very moment that their duplicity was beginning to be recognised by everyone in Russia, Doriot [20] was writing in l’Humanité of 25 June:

The Hankou government, which is the Guomindang stripped of its bourgeois wing [!], and representing the working class, [!!] peasant [!!!] and petit-bourgeois masses… is capable of carrying out this great historic task… By beginning [!] the agrarian revolution, it has made up in quality what it lost in quantity.

The truth that has since been recognised on all hands is that this government even opposed the agrarian revolution by repressing it… But at the Saint-Denis Conference of 26 June (see l’Humanité, 27 June, page 4) Doriot again said: ‘It is necessary to support the Hankou government so that it arms the peasants… Suspicious words against it are incorrect.’ Doriot was mistaken: suspicion against the maggoty Kerenskyism rehashed by the Wang Jingweis and Sun Fos with the lamentable agreement of two Communist ministers has prevailed to such an extent that some days later Bukharin published in Pravda a bitter indictment against those Chinese Communists guilty of allowing themselves to be taken in by the bourgeoisie.

Salvation Lay in Dual Power

At least from mid-April onwards some Russian militants were vigorously denouncing within the leading organs of the Communist Party of the USSR the equivocal and counter-revolutionary character of the Wuhan government [21]; it is known that they advocated an appeal to the masses, the rectification of the Chinese Communist Party’s class policy, and the formation of soviets throughout the country. Stalin replied to them in his theses of 22 April by declaring himself opposed to any dual power in Wuhan, and consequently to soviets. [22] Experience seems to show that, as in Russia in 1917, dual power was the only cure for a situation that is becoming more and more dangerous for the proletariat. At that time – when the popular revolution was in full flood – organs of mass power could have been formed (whether called soviets or otherwise, the reality matters, the name is immaterial), since the Guomindang leaders did not yet have the strength to break with the Communists and reduce them to illegality. These organs would have controlled, stimulated and spurred on revolutionary democracy and the official government; they would have thwarted the intrigues of the counter-revolution, and the Communists would have been able to prepare in them the seizure of power… Doubtless they would have hastened the conflict with reaction. But in any case, reaction would not have been able freely to choose its moment, and the proletariat would have been able to confront it better armed and better organised. Now it is too late: the slogan of soviets in China formulated by Pravda on 26 July is no more than an agitational slogan, however excellent. For the revolutionary proletarians are reduced to clandestine action, and soviets cannot be built in illegality.

At the end of May, in the Eighth Plenum of the ECCI, Stalin, in the course of a violent reply to Trotsky (published in Russian), declared: ‘The Guomindang in Wuhan and the Wuhan government are the centre of the bourgeois-democratic revolutionary movement.’ [23] From then on the error of assessment was blatant: even before then the Wuhan revolutionary democracy, with its lamentable vacillations, its fear in the face of the peasants and workers, who were the only true vehicles of the revolution, had been playing the game of the worst reactionaries. And it was easy to see where this game was leading.

After the seizure of the British concession in Hankou by a workers’ demonstration, the taking of Shanghai by a workers’ insurrection, and the tide of peasant revolution in Hunan, the bourgeoisie and the petit-bourgeois democracy were no longer able to continue the revolution and, all the more so, to take part in leading it. The time for class peace against the imperialists had passed. The revolution could only be led to victory from now on by the farsightedness of the proletariat, in other words, by a policy of class struggle that would restore the initiative and the ‘power of the masses’ [24] in opposition to the official government: the Communist Party, the party of social revolution; in opposition to the Guomindang bureaucracy; and the soldiers, the peasants, the red guards and the Red Spears in opposition to the landowners, the crafty ministers, the generals and the bourgeoisie. And from then on neither in Shanghai nor in Changsha nor in Wuhan could the workers have been surprised and defeated as they have been.

The Farsightedness of the Masses

Was this possible, or had we not yet arrived at the stage of mass action, as some have maintained? It was possible. It was necessary. Permit me to repeat once more that all the great epoch-making events of the Chinese Revolution are those of action by the masses and not by armies, nor by the generals, nor by the government, nor by the Guomindang,… Allow me to recall these events:

  1. The boycott of Hongkong by the Cantonese workers (a boycott the Guangzhou government attempted to break).
  2. The great Shanghai strikes of 1925.
  3. The Hankou exploit (the seizure of the British concession by the workers).
  4. The admirable exploit that was the Shanghai insurrection last March.
  5. The peasant struggles in the whole of China from Zhili to Guangdong.
  6. The peasant war in Henan.
  7. The victory of the peasant revolution in Hunan.

The proof is, I think, quite convincing.

The masses moved, the masses threw themselves into struggle, the masses saw clearly. Here is how the articles by Doriot in l’Humanité confirm my conclusions on this point. In a civil war atmosphere in Nanchang, Doriot overheard an enthusiastic soldier calling for an offensive against the revolution’s internal enemies. Unfortunately, notes our comrade, ‘the leaders of the various left organisations were far from understanding the situation in the army so clearly’ (l’Humanité, 12 July). Still in Nanchang, Doriot saw the people’s forces ‘infinitely superior to those of the reaction’ passively awaiting orders from the ‘centre’. An absurd bureaucratic discipline ‘paralysed the initiative of the popular masses’. [25]

I already observed in Germany in 1923 the damage caused by the bureaucratisation of revolutionary organisations at times of civil war. [26] We shall have to return to this problem some day. Did not the Guomindang try to substitute the activity of its bureaucratic machinery for the activity of the masses? This certainly seems to me to be the case. As for the proletarian organisations, the damage came to them from class collaboration. Lenin observed similar facts in Russia in May 1917: the Russian revolution was more fervent in the provinces than in the centres:

The soviets [in the centres] are less proletarian in their make-up, the influence of the petit-bourgeois elements in the executive committees is incomparably wider, and there is – especially in the commissions – ‘cooperation with the bourgeoisie’, which curbs the initiative of the masses, bureaucratises the revolutionary movement of the masses and their revolutionary aims, and blocks all revolutionary measures that are liable to affect the capitalists. [27]

The opportunist errors of the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were the object of an intensive, although belated, criticism in Pravda beginning from 10 July. To illustrate these errors, I will quote only this monumental phrase of the Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Chen Duxiu, in his report to the congress of the party held in May in Hankou:

We must not fall into ultra-left deviations, but follow a centrist line. We must also await the further development of military actions [!!!] before seizing middle and large landed property. The only correct solution at the moment is that the extension of the revolution must happen before its development in depth. [28]

As if an appeal to the masses and the expropriation of the rich, as in all social revolutions in history, would not have been the only way of assuring military victory! It is distressing to state that no one corrected this blunder in our Communist press – a blunder hardly worse than the Shanghai manifesto published at the beginning of April under the signature of the two Secretaries of the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party, whose singular character I think I was the first to point out in Clarté no. 9, recently referred to by Bukharin.

Other Chinese Communists, on the other hand, seem to have seen more clearly. [29] Thus there were those in Shanghai who objected to making the workers enter the Southern army: ‘Let us not provide the bourgeoisie with cannon fodder’, they said, ‘let us rather form workers’ guards, for the workers do not want to enter the army.’ The army of Chiang Kai-shek was obviously a trap; the workers were not wrong to distrust it. Chen Duxiu himself seems to have been subject to opposing influences. ‘We do not want the workers to enter the Guomindang’, he said on 23 March, ‘because there they will fall under the influence of the right.’ And when the national government in Shaanxi nominated several Communists to administrative positions, the party’s Central Committee wrote: ‘These comrades will be cut off from the masses whose confidence our party will lose; they should therefore choose between their positions and the party.’ [30] The false position of the Communists as members of a nationalist party led by bourgeois elements and based on a bourgeois ideology, being members of a coalition cabinet where they were in a minority, as functionaries of the Wuhan government and soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek, was quite likely to give rise to political divisions. Such are the bitter fruits of a policy of class harmony.

But What Should Have Been Done?

Some conclusions impress themselves upon me. They are these:

  1. Not to subordinate Communism to Sun Yat-senism, and the Communist Party to the Guomindang (the alliance of the one with the other but without its subordination would have been much more fruitful). In this sense to apply strictly the directive of Lenin and of the Second Congress of the Communist International, ‘under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian party even if it is in its most embryonic form’.
  2. To support the peasant movement everywhere to the utmost, and not to hold it back or try to moderate it as has sometimes been attempted.
  3. To arm the workers and poor craftsmen of the towns instead of sacrificing the arming of them to the crafty ‘sensitivity’ of the ‘revolutionary’ nationalist bourgeoisie.
  4. To put the workers on their guard against the generals, and not to allow them to be surprised by ‘expected betrayals’, and not to allow oneself to be manipulated by the Chiang Kai-sheks, the Fengs, the Tang Shengzhis, etc.
  5. To support the ‘revolutionary’ middle bourgeoisie against reaction, to support Wuhan against Nanjing, but as the Bolsheviks ‘supported’ Kerensky against Kornilov, without ceasing to denounce him and keep on his heels before the masses.
  6. To imitate the example of Lenin, who without respite, without respite, appealed for the initiative of the masses in 1917-18.
  7. To get it well into our heads that a revolution is the work of the masses; that the apparatus of the proletarian party must assist and lead the masses, not substitute for them or hamper them.
  8. To set up as soon as possible organs of ‘mass power’, dual power being the only real guarantee of the organised progress of the revolution and the sole effective preparation for the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants.
  9. To base ourselves on the directives of Lenin at the Second Congress of the Communist International on the formation of soviets in the colonial countries ‘at the first opportunity’.
  10. To give priority to the expropriation of the landowners over the march of the Southern armies on Beijing, expropriation being the indispensable condition for the success of arms.
  11. To appeal to the troops to keep watch over the generals.
  12. To ensure abundant and precise information on the Chinese Revolution for the international Communist movement; and to initiate a fraternal, unceasing, wide and lively self-criticism about its struggles.

Isn’t it obvious that under such conditions the chances of victory would be infinitely greater, and even the defeats more fruitful?

1 August 1927


1. This pseudonym is that of a Russian Sinologist. Cf. the study by Marcel Fourrier in Clarté, nos. 10 and 11. [Author’s note]

2. The Red Eyebrows were peasants whose revolt brought the rule of the usurper Wang Mang to an end in 23 AD.

3. The Yellow Turbans were a Daoist-inspired peasant revolt in 184 AD, which broke the power of the Later (or Eastern) Han dynasty (25-220 AD).

4. Huang Chao led a peasant revolt in Hunan that sacked Guangzhou in 879 AD. He was defeated only with difficulty five years later. From then on, the rulers of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) lost control of China.

5. The movement that ended in the overthrow of the Yuan Dynasty (1260-1368) and brought the Ming Dynasty to power (1368-1644) began with the peasant uprising of the White Lotus sect.

6. A serious famine in 1628 gave rise to a ‘bandit’ movement led by Zhang Xianzhong and Li Zicheng, which controlled a large area between the Yangtse and Yellow rivers and undermined the Ming rulers, so that they easily fell prey to the Manchus.

7. The Taiping or ‘Heavenly Kingdom’ revolt against the Qing or Manchu Dynasty (1644-1911) advocated a type of Christian Communism, and had considerable success in the south of China, setting up a rival court at Nanjing. It was put down only with assistance from the Western powers, who feared a resurgence of national feeling if the Manchus were overthrown. In order to cope with the extent of the uprising, the Manchus had to concede the right of direct taxation to local military governors, thus fatally weakening the central imperial power, and leading to the rise of warlordism.

8. In an area considered under the control of the northern militarists. [Author’s note]

9. A. Ivine, Red Spears, the Canton Army and the Peasants, Moscow 1927. [Author’s note]

10. Clarté, nos. 9 and 11. [Author’s note]

11. The Party of the Constitutional Democrats, or Kadets, was founded in 1905 by Paul Milyukov.

12. What a shame it is that documents of such freshness, such force, and such great interest have not been translated into French! [Author’s note] – Cf. Mao Zedong, Report of an Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan, March 1927, Selected Works, Volume 1, London 1954, pp. 23, 27, 28, 31-2. It should be noticed that this text has been ruthlessly edited by Mao’s compilers. The final passage allotting the points of the revolution is not to be found in the Lawrence and Wishart edition, but appears in that quoted by Stuart Schram, The Political Thought of Mao Tse-Tung, Harmondsworth 1969, p. 252. The sentence stating that ‘the peasants declared: Whoever has land is a thief, there are no gentry who are not criminals’ appears in neither edition. Perhaps it was removed because it contradicted the appeal to the gentry and rich peasants contained in the policy of the ‘Bloc of Four Classes’.

13. The Committees of Poor Peasants (Kombedy) were established by a decree of the Bolshevik government on 11 June 1918 in order to establish a base for the Soviet regime amongst the rural poor, and to help with food requisitioning for the urban centres. They were later integrated into the rural soviet structures.

14. This is how Taine describes the provincial Jacobins (Origines de la France Contemporaine). [Author’s note]

15. The Mensheviks were a minority of the delegates when the Russian Social Democrats split at their Second Congress in 1903, and constituted themselves as a separate party in 1912 under the leadership of Martov, Dan, Chkeidze, Tsereteli and Abramovitch. Both Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries held seats in the Provisional Government of 1917 that was overthrown in the October Revolution.

16. Louis Blanc (1811-1882), a revolutionary voluntarist, was a member of the provisional government in France in 1848 responsible for providing work for the people. He was falsely accused of advocating an insurrection.

17. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 25, Moscow 1964, pp. 95-6.

18. Sun Fo [1891-1973], Sun Yat-sen’s son and one of the leaders of the extreme right of the Guomindang, was amongst the inspirers of the … left policy of the Wuhan (Hankou) government!!! Here is a simple recall of the facts:

Mid-April: The Wuhan government puts Feng Yuxiang and Tang Shengzhi at the head of the armies. The latter announces an offensive against Nanjing … and buries its offensive without a sound.

8-10 June: Whilst the Wuhan government is preparing its offensive against Beijing (!) and neglecting Chiang Kai-shek, a counter-revolutionary coup d’état is carried out by its military cliques in Changsha, the capital of Hunan. The Communist Party addresses an ultimatum full of moderation to the Central Committee of the Guomindang (rather like beseeching Kerensky to alter his character).

Mid-June and end of June: Friendly negotiations between Feng and Chiang. Feng’s ‘betrayal’.

28 June: In order to avoid conflicts with the army (!!), the Hankou trade union leaders decide upon the disarming of the workers’ organisations. Immediately the army ransacks the headquarters of several trade unions.

4 July: The workers’ youth organisations are disarmed in the same way by opportunist leaders, who denounce their ‘dangerous leftist infantile disorder’ (sic!). The Communist Minister of Agriculture, Tan Pingshan, resigns … for health reasons.

10 July: Bukharin’s first article denouncing the opportunist errors of the Chinese Communists. Tang Shengzhi’s ‘betrayal’.

Mid-July: The leaders of the Guomindang left break with the Communists. Bloodless coup d’état in Wuhan.

15 July: The Chinese Communist Party denounces the counter-revolutionary character of the policy of the Wuhan government and declines all responsibility … (It is high time. And what a lot of euphemisms!) [Author’s note]

19. To the question ‘Why is the Wuhan government not conducting an offensive against Chiang Kai-shek, but is attacking Zhang Zuolin?’, Stalin replies: ‘You are asking too much of the Wuhan government… Let Chiang Kai-shek rather continue to flounder in the Shanghai area and hobnob there with the imperialists… Would it not be more expedient first to join forces with Feng, acquire sufficient military strength, develop the agrarian revolution…?’ Feng, alas, was no better than Chiang, with whom he was no doubt already negotiating. And the Wuhan governments were only playing for time and searching for good ‘strategic’ reasons for not fighting the murderer of the Shanghai proletariat. [Author’s note] – J.V. Stalin, Talk with Students of the Sun Yat-sen University, Moscow, 13 May 1927, Works, Volume 9, London 1975, pp. 258-60.

20. Jacques Doriot (1898-1945) visited China in 1927 along with Earl Browder, Tom Mann and Henry Sara, and supported the Wuhan government. He was expelled from the French Communist Party in 1934 for advocating a united front of Socialists and Communists to fight the Fascists, but became a Fascist himself a few years later.

21. Radek, Trotsky, Zinoviev [Grigorii Yevesyevich Zinoviev (Radomyslsky, 1883-1936), Bolshevik leader, opponent of the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, sided first with Stalin and then with Trotsky, capitulated to Stalin in 1927, and was executed after the first Moscow Trial] and the Oppositionists of the Communist Party of the USSR, amongst whom a certain number of comrades should be mentioned who know China well: Joffe, Alsky, Dalin and Vikhensky-Serebriakov [1890-1937]. Their theses not having been published, their approximate content is only known to us from the numerous refutations of which they have been the target. [Author’s note]

22. J.V. Stalin, Questions of the Chinese Revolution, Works, Volume 9, pp. 224-34. Cf. Trotsky’s reply of 7 May 1927, The Chinese Revolution and the Theses of Comrade Stalin, Leon Trotsky on China, pp. 158-98.

23. J.V. Stalin, The Revolution in China and the Tasks of the Comintern, 24 May 1927, Works, Volume 9, p. 314.

24. ‘Power to the masses!’ I mentioned in my former articles that last year this had been one of the slogans of the Chinese Communist Party, an excellent translation of ‘Soviets to Power’. [Author’s note]

25. I am condensing it a little. These are the very words Doriot uses in l’Humanité on 14 July. These articles should be read again and considered. [Author’s note]

26. Victor Serge, Le parti communiste allemand se critique lui-même, Notes d’Allemagne (1923), Paris 1990, pp. 191-8.

27. V.I. Lenin, Draft Theses to the Resolution on the Soviets, 8-9 May 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, Moscow 1964, p. 255.

28. International Correspondence, 4 June. I am slightly correcting a rough translation. [Author’s note]

29. I should recall that the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party had decided in June 1926 to move from affiliation to the Guomindang to alliance with it, and to have its own class policy … This resolution was censured at the time in the editorial of Communist International, no. 11. [Author’s note]

30. I have borrowed these quotations from an article in the Moscow Pravda of 16 July signed by T. Mandalyan. The author seems to me to include in the same condemnation two different tendencies in the Chinese Communist Party, one opportunist, and another that could be described as of the left. It is possible, as he maintains, that for otherwise opposite reasons both of them had hampered the application of the directives of the Communist International. [Author’s note]

Last updated on 15.3.2011