Victor Serge

Fourth Letter:

The Outcome of an Experience
of Class Collaboration

(August 1927)

From Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 3.
Originally published in Clarté (new series), No. 13, September 1927.
Translated by Gregor Benton & Al Richardson.
Transcribed by Alun Watson.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

‘THE Chinese Revolution will be that of the workers and peasants, or it will not triumph’, I wrote in a former article, because ‘there can no longer be in our time a bourgeois revolution in the classic sense of the word in the great economically developed colonial countries (China, India and Egypt); the bourgeois revolution must be transcended, or it will remain unfulfilled.’ I did not expect to see events providing so literal a confirmation of such broad Marxist formulae in so short a time. The Chinese proletariat is defeated at the moment, and the halt in the revolution (even in the bourgeois revolution) is a fact.

Ever since the coup of Chiang Kai-shek in mid-April, it would appear that the military successes of the southerners have come to an end. By stabbing the Shanghai proletarians in the back, the Chinese bourgeoisie has gradually reduced itself to impotence. For war is a continuation of politics: the national anti-imperialist war must have the emancipation of the oppressed classes as its point of departure. It cannot base itself on reaction at home. Generals and politicians will be able to weave the most elaborate intrigues with a view to ‘taking Beijing’. Chiang has stabbed the revolution in the back. His armies owed their victories solely to the workers and peasants. In conflict with the workers they will be able to do no more than hold on, perhaps with great effort, to the positions they have conquered. The southerners cannot march on Beijing with troops that have become reactionary in the eyes of the poor population, that have been consigned to unpopularity, who will leave behind them a country in ferment, delivered over to oppression, to uprisings and to clandestine activity.

The Wuhan (Hankou) government – with two Communist ministers – could still, it is true, save the situation by an appeal to the masses to reverse the Shanghai counter-revolution. But this is a purely theoretical possibility. For in reality this government is one of the radical petit-bourgeoisie, greatly influenced over a long period by the bourgeoisie, very anxious for a compromise with the foreign imperialists, and very hostile to the masses whom it has never ceased to persecute. To it, Chiang’s coup seems premature; a sort of division of labour has been established between Wuhan and Nanjing. There they are beheading Communists; here they are preparing to do so. The proletarians and peasants are too powerful in Hunan and the regions around Hankou for the Wuhan government to break quickly with them. Chiang Kai-shek has given the game away. Will they not defend themselves, and take the offensive? The heads of the Guomindang are trembling. But the proletarians have no real revolutionary leaders, or cadres, capable of leading them into a civil war. Their party has lost its way. Right up to the last minute the leaders of the Communist Party and the trade unions equivocated. One and all, they fear above all else ‘ultra-leftist errors’, and a break with the petit-bourgeoisie, whose equivocal role they do not understand. They fetishise the Guomindang, which is no more than a trap.

The radicals of the ‘Left’ Guomindang, Wang Jingwei, Sun Fo and others, gave way to multiple pressures in mid-August. There are the guns of the imperialist fleets anchored in the Yangtse; the peasant revolution which is rising in the adjoining regions; the ferment of the working class and the new orientation required of the Communist Party by the Third International; and, finally, there is Nanjing’s demanding example. Step by step the ‘revolutionary democrats’ of Wuhan are carrying out their coup d’état using a technique that we would do well to remember. To begin with, they are unleashing a press campaign against Marxism, naturally not without depriving the Communists, their party comrades in the Guomindang, of their right of reply… A great ‘discussion’ in the Guomindang (a discussion, in other words, in which the official leaders alone speak). The pernicious nature of Communism is demonstrated with the aid of innumerable quotations from Sun Yat-sen, Dostoevsky, Bakunin [1], and even Lenin (against ‘Leftism’!!!). Listen to one witness. [2] Wang Jingwei and his ilk ‘… whilst roundly cursing the evil misleaders of the proletariat, are proclaiming their unshakeable devotion to the worker and peasant masses …’:

The clamour of the radicals masks the reactionary coup d’état. Whereas meetings and demonstrations are loudly calling for an immediate campaign against the traitor Chiang Kai-shek, the generals are carrying out their work in silence. The troops of General He Jian [3], notorious for their suppression of the peasant movement in Changsha, are quietly occupying the headquarters of the working-class organisations. The workers, anxious to avoid provocation, no less silently leave the scene. Trade union headquarters are empty, and active militants pass over into illegality. The leaders of the Guomindang are hesitating right up to the last minute; they fear a break [with the Communists], but are no more than puppets in the hands of the military chiefs. The definitive solution [the ejection of the Communists], in theory postponed until the conference of the Guomindang, is already being applied. The weather is oppressively hot; the political atmosphere is even more so.

It is not hard to believe. The tactic of class collaboration with the national bourgeoisie has resulted in this strangulation. And reaction is throwing off its mask: the heads of the Communists are going to fall in hundreds, all the more easy to hunt down because they have been listed by name and number in the political party of their enemies. But what is hard to imagine is the confusion in the minds of the masses. The worst reactionaries use the most revolutionary language; Sun Yat-sen and Lenin, so necessary to each other yesterday, are shown to be incompatible today; the Communists, ministers only yesterday, are outlaws today; they proclaim their devotion to the Guomindang, and the Guomindang massacres them … A frightful battle in the darkness.

Finally, on about 15 July 15 the Communist Party announces the withdrawal of its members from the national government, and denounces the counter-revolutionary attitude of the leaders of the Guomindang. A few days later the hangmen come out into the open. He Jian carries out the execution of a hundred Communists, and machine-guns a demonstration.

This is the result of all too many mistakes. The Manifesto of the Central Committee of the Guomindang, while announcing the ejection of the Communists, includes these lines: ‘After the Hunan events, the Communists themselves recognised that the peasants’ action had been erroneous and premature; they even agreed that it should be limited.’ It is a fact that the Communist Party had blamed the ‘ill-considered actions of the peasants’ in a document dated 23 May. But a simple catalogue of dates and facts showing what the Wuhan (Hankou) government was doing all along, will demonstrate how the policy of support practised by our Chinese comrades with regard to that government was profoundly wrong:

13 May: The Wuhan government publishes an edict on the protection of Buddhist temples (these temples frequently serve as meeting places for workers’ organisations, and the edict is really aimed at them).

14 May: The government forbids any confiscations and arbitrary ‘requisitions’ of goods; justice must only be rendered by the regular authorities (this measure is obviously aimed at the rebellious peasants, who clearly cannot take account of legal forms).

17 May: The government orders the release of two counter-revolutionary industrialists of Hanyang, who had been arrested by the local Guomindang committee, and orders the restitution of their confiscated goods.

19 May: The Central Committee of the Guomindang orders the workers and bosses to collaborate in the national interest, and declares that the activity of the trade unions must be limited.

20 May: Tan Pingshan, the Communist Minister of Agriculture, assumes office. Same day: a message from the Central Committee of the Guomindang to party members condemning once again attacks on property.

21 May: The reactionary Changsha coup d’état. A military clique using barely 1500 bayonets takes power in the capital of Hunan, a huge province where the peasant revolution has triumphed. The strong organisations of the working masses, bureaucratised and held on a leash by the Guomindang, offer practically no resistance. The Communist Party ‘calls upon’ the Guomindang to intervene energetically. The Guomindang attempts to ‘allay the conflict’ by ‘reorganising’ the peoples’ organisations of Changsha.

23 May: General Tang Shengzhi declares himself a supporter of collaboration with the Communists.

24 May: The government declares the property of the officers of the national armed forces inviolate (which means transforming these armies into legal refuges for landlords).

26 May: The Communist Minister of Agriculture denounces in a manifesto the ‘leftist infantile disorders’ (sic) of the peasant movement, on which he urges moderation.

30 May: The Communist Minister of Labour assumes office. [4]

1 June: The Central Committee of the Guomindang restricts the activity of the army political services (a measure aimed at Communist propaganda).

In spite of their perpetual hesitation, it can be seen that those in charge of Hankou had a policy that consisted in curbing the agrarian revolution and the workers’ movement. Was it possible to force them to adopt a revolutionary attitude? Perhaps; but by force. And above all it was necessary to be under no illusions.

Failure of the National Revolution

The comedy is over, and the drama is on. There is a savage repression in the countryside; there are arrests, executions and assassinations in the towns. The Communists are outlawed, the trade unions dissolved; Fascist formations are masters of the streets. The government of a great national party that still pretended to represent the anti-imperialist revolution in mid-July represents no more than bourgeois counter-revolution, the natural ally of the imperialists… The proletarians and peasants are defeated, and the national (bourgeois) revolution is defeated along with them.

It is no longer a question of achieving the unity of China. The mercenary armies can do nothing without the help of the country people, and the Red Spears will not fail to deal with the perpetrators of the Hunan massacres in the same way as last year in Henan they dealt with the ‘Second People’s Army’ and Wu Peifu. Forced labour will not produce arms in the arsenals; forced labour on the railways will not improve communications. Scarcity is rampant in Hankou; burnt fields provide no food. The urban petit-bourgeoisie appears to triumph in this debâcle with the resignation of Chiang Kai-shek, whose policy was too straightforward, too sharp and too quickly exposed to be defensible in the eyes of the radical intelligentsia and, even less so, of the hesitant masses. [5] But having embarked on the road of counter-revolution, and no longer able to rely on popular forces, it could find no solution to its difficulties other than – the classic one – of Bonapartism [6] (subordinating itself, moreover, after a few painful delays, to the big bourgeoisie). So here we have, for the time being, returned in a slightly modified form to the war of the Dujun, in other words, the warlords [7] as autocrats in the provinces subject to their sabres: Feng Yuxiang to the north of the Yangtse and Li Zongren [8], as successors to Chiang Kai-shek in Shanghai, Tang Shengzhi in the Hunan region, He Jian in Hangzhou, and Li Jishen [9] in Guangzhou. Need I go on? ‘High policy’ is reduced to the intrigues, alliances and misalliances of this top brass, and a return to military anarchy.

The dollar, the pound sterling and the Nippon yen will recover at one fell swoop profitable fields of activity. Even if the reconciled politicians of Wuhan and Nanjing were to succeed in conferring a semblance of unity on this bunch of generals, how would they then win the respect of the foreign imperialists? Last year Britain abandoned its Hankou concession to the popular masses. It has just treated Shanghai’s national authorities with the most brutal contempt (the incident of 17-18 August: a British aircraft that had fallen on Chinese territory was detained for a few hours, so General Duncan occupied a railway junction, addressed an ultimatum to the Chinese, and obtained complete satisfaction …).

Balance sheet: A rebel army is on the way to Guangdong. Bombs are exploding in Guangzhou. The excesses of the White terror in Shanghai were such that they discredited Chiang even in the eyes of his political friends. On the eve of his resignation (13 August) Chiang Kai-shek, in his official organ, Gomin, deplored the great number of summary executions committed by his generals who, as he said word for word, ‘do not seem to have realised the seriousness of the capital punishments’ (!!).

‘All death sentences’, he ordered, ‘must henceforth be submitted to the General Staff before (!!) being carried out’. In a report datelined 17 August, the Pravda correspondent on the spot, M. Ivine, gives the following details on the situation in Hankou: All the working-class organisations are dissolved. Books suspected of Communism are destroyed in bookshops and libraries:

Fear of the troubles that repression and the intolerable economic and financial crisis could provoke forces the government to resort to the rigours of martial law. The catastrophic fall in the value of paper money, food shortages, the forcible disarmament of some of the troops billeted in the proximity of the city, and, to cap it all, a cholera epidemic have resulted in a panic flight of the inhabitants … The rice stocks were exhausted the day before yesterday. Rioters were dispersed by force … The compromise with the Nanjing generals must have been aimed at lifting the blockade of Hankou. (Pravda, 18 August)

Here are other aspects of the situation. The North China Courier writes (13 or 14 August): ‘In Wuchang Communists are being arrested and executed en masse. Many students and even traders have been arrested. They are being beheaded or shot on the spot.’ The purge commissions of the Guomindang are operating everywhere; new trade unions put under the control of the police and ‘workers’ section’ of the Guomindang are being formed … Jui Fu-San reports in the China Weekly Review: ‘The working class and peasant groupings of Hunan are completely destroyed. Those of the leaders who are not able to take flight are killed, buried alive, burned in boiling oil or mutilated.’

Let us state yet again that a failed revolution costs the workers far dearer than a victorious one … China, bloody and divided, is once again at the mercy of the foreigner. Can it hope to assert itself?

The agrarian problem cannot be solved by executioners. The extreme fragmentation of the land and the extreme poverty of the mass of the country people are major obstacles to an agrarian reform that, like Stolypin’s in Russia in 1906-07, would attempt to form a class of rich peasants, interested in preserving order. To attempt this reform requires a strong and centralised state that the Guomindang, caught between the hatred of the working masses and the hostility of the imperialists, will not succeed in founding quite so quickly. I have shown previously (Clarté, no. 9) why there is no place in China for a reformist solution to the demands of the working class.

The Nanchang Uprising

Will the Nanchang uprising mark a new point of departure for the revolutionary movement? It is not impossible. In any case, it reveals how strong were the positions of the Communists, and how great were the possibilities for action based upon the class struggle. We should recall that before the Shanghai coup d’état, Chiang Kai-shek had to reorganise the troops; he could not rely on all of them. It is well known that when he carried out his coup he had to disarm entire divisions. Learning at the end of July of the counter-revolution at Wuhan, two armies, the Twenty-Third, commanded by He Long, and the Twenty-Fourth, commanded by Ye Ting [10], amounting to almost 20,000 men, rose up at Nanchang in Jiangxi, 300 kilometres to the south of Wuhan. Communists flocked there from all over the country. The rivalry of the generals seems to have prevented the Guomindang from undertaking a prompt offensive against the rebels.

According to the latest news, the revolutionary troops, at whose head is said to be a committee to which several known Communists belong (we might mention the resigned ministers Tan Pingshan and Sou Zhaozheng), are approaching the frontiers of Guangdong after a skilful retreat. Their plan seems to be to threaten Guangzhou. Will they succeed in taking it in order to make it the red capital again? In Hunan, Jiangxi, Hubei and Guangdong, the peasant movement is neither vanquished, nor likely to be definitively so. The railwaymen of the Jiujiang (on the Yangtse-Nanchang route) have assisted the rebel movement. The Russian papers announced their entry into Dingzhou, in Fujian. They would therefore seem to have progressed half the way from Wuhan to Guangzhou.

We have no information about this revolutionary army, which by a successful manoeuvre, supported by the peasants, has just avoided an attempt at encirclement. In any case, its fate seems to me to depend upon its politics rather than on its strategy. If in the volatile countryside of southern China it proclaims itself the army of the workers’ and peasants’ revolution, if, in other words, it inscribes upon its banners ‘the expropriation of the great landowners, the moneylenders and the notables’, if it calls the masses to action and the poor to dictatorship, if it helps to form peasant soviets, if it places its generals under the control of soldiers’ committees, if, whilst prosecuting social war, it renounces the personal intrigues and traditional phraseology of the Guomindang, it is possible a priori, very possible, that it could provide a new point of departure for the revolutionary movement.

But if, on the other hand, it hesitates to embark upon this road, feats of valour by a few thousand revolutionaries sworn to sell themselves dearly will not prevent the Nanchang uprising from being an episode without a future.

The Causes: The Guomindang and the Communist Party

In order to disentangle the lessons of this defeat, let us try to get back to its causes.

The Guomindang led the revolution into this blind alley. Around 1900, Dr Sun Yat-sen founded the Guomindang, a radical revolutionary party that primarily recruited among intellectuals associated with the commercial bourgeoisie of the Pacific coast. The party played a leading role in the 1911 revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty, established the republic, and for a while brought Sun Yat-sen to the highest office of state; but because it did not appeal for the activity of the great popular masses it was soon strangled by a military dictator. Yuan Shikai had himself elected president of the republic in 1912, then proclaimed emperor in 1915, and ended by committing suicide in 1916 in the face of the rise of a new revolution. [11] China became split up into great military holdings. The era of the Dujun, in other words, the warlords, began with a series of internal wars. However, Sun Yat-sen and the former Guomindang exiles founded a republican government at Guangzhou in 1916. In 1922 the Guomindang reorganised itself in order to appeal to the working masses. Sun, who was a bourgeois revolutionary besotted with American ideas (democracy, industry, trade and class collaboration) and who had remorselessly repressed the working-class movement in his republic, felt a new social orientation all the more necessary since his unpopularity amongst the workers had caused him to lose power for a while. His meetings with Joffe, the Soviet Ambassador, succeeded in converting him to a ‘new course’. Henceforth, the Guomindang would support the peasants against the feudal lords and the big landowners, tolerate the working-class movement and even attempt to incorporate it, draw near to the Communists, and orientate itself no longer towards the United States, but towards the Soviet republic. This step marked the start of a new era in the history of this party. Nonetheless, Sun’s ideology did not fundamentally change. It still held to his three principles of bourgeois liberalism: nationalism (national independence), democracy (American style) and Socialism (as understood by the worthy French Radical Socialists …), and denied that there was a place in China for class struggle. This was an ideology as suitable for the purely liberal big bourgeoisie as for the advanced petit-bourgeoisie. Each could find a nuance in it to its taste.

The Chinese Communist Party was founded around 1920 by intellectuals who for the most part had come from radicalism, or Anarchism like Chen Duxiu, coming via the Guomindang. It acquired some dozens of militants in the working-class districts of Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. It held its first congress in Shanghai in 1921. In the following year – not without internal struggles – it joined the Guomindang, in order to draw near to the anti-imperialist petit-bourgeois masses, and to attempt to take over the Guomindang from within. The programme of the Chinese Communist Party adopted at its Third Congress in 1923 was, moreover, very moderate [12]: anti-imperialism, democracy, labour laws and agrarian reform. This party was still, so it seemed, as a whole a mere left wing of the Guomindang. It numbered around 1000 members at its Fourth Congress in 1925. Its situation was therefore extremely difficult. It supported the working-class movement, but it could not do so wholeheartedly; it influenced the government, but was suspect to it; it belonged to the ruling party, but it was always on the edges of illegality. Truly bad conditions for development! The year of 1925 saw the rise of the proletarian movement, notably magnificent strikes in Shanghai. Would this not be the time for the Communist Party to recover its complete independence, free itself from all official radicalism, and place itself at the head of the class struggle? But it feared the break with the ‘revolutionary’ petit-bourgeoisie, without understanding that it had sacrificed to the Guomindang its influence over the workers. For it was necessary to choose between political alliance with the middle and petit-bourgeoisie and proletarian action. I think that the main mistake of the Chinese Communist Party dates from 1925.

Its concessions to the Guomindang reduced its popularity without rendering it less suspect in the eyes of the bourgeoisie, terrified by the strikes and the example of Russia. Whereas from 1921 to 1925 the trade unions reached about 1.5 million members, the Communist Party had only between 13,000 and 15,000 of them around November 1925. [13] In March 1926 Chiang Kai-shek’s first coup, not mentioned by our press, excluded the Communists from government in Guangzhou. In reality, Chiang assumed the dictatorship. On 15 May 1926 the Guomindang succeeded in muzzling and paralysing the Communists by a resolution whose gist is as follows: ‘Criticism of the teaching of Sun Yat-sen is incompatible with membership of the party’; parties affiliated to the Guomindang are to hand over to it a detailed list of their members (what a trap!); only one third of the members of the Executive can belong to these parties (a ‘crushing’ majority and a ‘crushed minority’ if ever there was one). Members of the Executive of the Guomindang belonging to other parties cannot chair committees of the Guomindang; members of the Guomindang cannot create political organisations without prior authorisation (which prohibition prevents the Communists from forming workers’ circles!).

By a consummately skilled manoeuvre, the Guomindang leaders at the same time got their party accepted as a sympathising party of the Communist International (since the Guomindang has not been expelled from it, it still belongs to the Communist International at the time of my writing). [14] Let us stress this curious method of using weapons forged by the proletariat against the proletariat. The Guomindang had already in its internal organisation copied the organisation of the Russian Communist Party, a party of proletarian dictatorship. This is obviously because it wanted to set up a party of bourgeois dictatorship on the same model (since there cannot be a party and a fortiori a dictatorship of several classes at one and the same time). Chiang Kai-shek said:

Let us follow the example of the Russian Revolution, which only triumphed under the leadership of a single party … The Chinese Revolution forms part of the world revolution, which knows only one leadership: the Third International. The Chinese Revolution itself must also have a single leadership, the Guomindang.

This theory of the unity of leadership, supported by affiliation to the Communist International, was all of a piece, the same as that of the Guomindang ‘monolith’ directed against the Communist Party, implicitly accused of wanting to divide the revolution by inflicting on it the pernicious system of two parties. Chiang Kai-shek concluded this remarkable speech to the Central Committee of the Guomindang on 25 May 1926 by reaffirming the need to curb the class struggle and retain the independence of the Guomindang with regard to the Communist International in specifically Chinese matters. It was a masterpiece of political fraud.

The Communist Party reacted healthily. One month later, it decided to change from affiliation to the Guomindang to alliance with the Guomindang, and henceforth to maintain an independent class policy. The Communist International disapproved of this attitude, in which it saw the threat of a split with the revolutionary petit-bourgeois who formed the left wing of the Guomindang (there was no left wing in the Guomindang, said some Chinese Communists, whom events have unfortunately proved right). [15]

For the same reason, the Communist Party had to give up its daily paper and content itself with a weekly (a Communist Party without a daily paper during a period of revolution!). Its influence decreased in the army. The Communists had contributed to forming the army’s political services (education, propaganda and control), conceived after the model of those services that maintained the morale of the Red Army.

This admirable instrument forged by the proletariat in arms was turned against it. ‘We had to make concessions (in the army)’, wrote a Chinese militant, and he quoted the titles of leaflets and tracts disseminated in 16 million copies in the course of a campaign against Wu Peifu. Here are some of these titles: Down with Wu Peifu!, Down with imperialism!, Call a Constituent Assembly!, Down with the unequal treaties! [16] Not one title with a hint of Communism! Not one word about workers’ rights! Our comrades had formed the powerful apparatus of the political services of the army; the bourgeoisie put its content into it and turned the machine back on us:

No Socialist propaganda was carried out in the army and amongst the masses of the soldiers, because this propaganda would be opposed by the army commanders, and because anti-imperialist propaganda and activity was considered to be the sole need of the moment … The overwhelming majority of the officers belonged to the possessing classes, and principally to the agrarian bourgeoisie. [17]

In the Light of the Facts

It was under these disquieting auspices that the northern campaign of the southern armies began. Chiang Kai-shek undertook it to rebuild his prestige. Some Communists would have preferred first of all to settle by struggle the vital questions of the internal politics of the Guangzhou government. The southern armies, supported by the workers of town and country, went from victory to victory, reaching first Hankou and then Shanghai. But whilst the Communists showed themselves above all anxious not to break the policy of class collaboration against the imperialists, the Chinese bourgeoisie refused them legal status in the provinces, repressed agrarian disturbances, forbade strikes, instituted compulsory arbitration between capital and labour, attempted to disarm the working-class ‘pickets’ and continued to set up yellow unions.

In Shanghai, under the bloody dictatorship of the northerner Sun Chuanfang [18], who himself gave allegiance to Zhang Zuolin, the trade unions organised themselves, won legal status in a city traversed each night by squads of executioners who decapitated agitators on street corners, and armed themselves clandestinely under the guns of the imperialist fleets … Strikes spread. Half a million workers were on strike during 20-26 February. Sun Chuanfang had 31 strikers executed. The northern fleet sympathised with the people. The workers’ actions continued irresistibly, in spite of the presence of 36 warships and 13,000 imperialist troops (7,000 of them British). But around 20 March, some days before their victorious insurrection, when the Shanghai trade unions drew up their list of 22 demands, the Guomindang enjoined them to delete the economic demands (read those of the working class), since the strike was supposed to be strictly ‘political’ and national! The provincial government of Guangzhou had just restricted by a decree of 25 February the rights of the workers and trade unions. Thus the worker and peasant masses arose, fought and provided the southern generals with victories and provinces; the Guomindang, dead set on restricting the revolution to its national objectives, defended the bourgeoisie and resisted the masses step by step. As far as the Guomindang was concerned, it was a matter of using the popular forces for its own ends. We shall see what happens next.

At the same time, the national army underwent a profound change. The haughty generals, anxious to avoid unpopularity, rallied to it one after the other and were well received, no matter what was their past record as adventurers. Amongst the southerners, these troops who had gone over immediately became much more numerous than the Cantonese soldiers. And the workers remained disarmed. They possessed only a few thousand rifles in the whole of China – even though in March they had held the Shanghai arsenal …

It was at least necessary to accord the popular masses some semblance of satisfaction. Had the Communists placed themselves at their head, that would have been too serious a step. Radical declarations followed one after the other. Chiang Kai-shek produced them at every opportunity. A Guomindang conference meeting in Hankou on 13-15 March recalled the exiled leader of the left, Wang Jingwei, and granted two out of eight ministerial portfolios to the Communists – with the right also gaining two and the centre four, what a fine coalition it was! At the same time, the Guomindang forbade its members any manifestation of disagreement with the party’s official policy. It would be superfluous to recall here the subsequent events. The two Communist ministers entered officially into their functions only two months later, at the end of May. I do not know if they were sharing power from March to May. But during that difficult period, which included the preparation of the Shanghai coup d’état and its immediate aftermath, the authority of the Communist Party shielded the Guomindang.

This dangerous situation, so contrary to the teachings of Lenin and the experiences of the Russian revolutions, required theoretical justification. It required the theory, expounded time and again, of the ‘bloc of four social forces’ – ‘the industrial bourgeoisie, the proletariat, the peasants and the urban petit bourgeoisie’ [19] – represented by the Guomindang. We might add: ‘the left tendency of the Guomindang, including the Communist Party, amounts to 220,,000 supporters; the centre and the right share the remaining 30,000’. [20] Does history know of a single example of a government that achieved a ‘bloc’ of antagonistic classes? For any Marxist, the state is by definition an instrument of class domination (of the domination of certain classes over certain others). The bourgeois state assures the domination of the possessing classes. Nonetheless, all bourgeois states pretend – and you can understand that this is in their interest – to represent the interests of all classes, to be above classes. But as far as we are concerned, we are not fooled by this stale verbiage.

What state did the Guomindang really represent? All bourgeois parties, in all countries, pride themselves on incorporating all levels of the population; and reactionary parties often contain a great number of workers. Everyone knows that the nature of a party depends essentially on the social composition of its leading circles. Those of the Guomindang were formed from bourgeois and petit-bourgeois politicians; we have just seen under what conditions a small Communist minority entered into it, representing the workers and the poor peasants, in short, the overwhelming majority of the population. Moreover, the Guomindang maintained the old administrations everywhere, restricting itself to imposing compulsory membership on numerous functionaries. This party, within which rank and file organisations had no say, was in reality a bureaucratic governmental apparatus, led by right-wingers. For the rank and file to take it over, the structure had to be broken.

31 August 1927

‘Communists are in duty bound, not to gloss over shortcomings in their movement, but to criticise them openly so as to remedy them the more speedily and radically.’ – Lenin at the Second Congress of the Communist International (1920) [21]


1. The writer F.M. Dostoevsky (1822-1881) advocated a form of Christian pacifism; Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin (1814-1876), on the other hand, was an Anarchist advocate of violent insurrection.

2. D. Zaslavsky, Izvestia correspondent in Hankou, Sunday, 22 August. [Author’s note]

3. General He Jian (1887-1956) suppressed the Communists in July 1927.

4. On the same day, 30 May, the Eighth Plenum of the ECCI sitting in Moscow adopted a resolution on the Chinese question that stated in particular:

VI: The ECCI considers incorrect the view which underestimates the Wuhan government and in practice denies its powerful revolutionary role. The Wuhan government and the leaders of the left Guomindang by their class composition represent not only the peasants, workers and artisans, but also a part of the middle bourgeoisie. Therefore the left Guomindang Wuhan government is not the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, but is on the road to such a dictatorship … It is effectively leading a revolutionary struggle against the imperialists and feudal lords, and now, also, against an important part of the bourgeoisie of its own country. (Cahiers du Bolchévisme, no. 75, 25 June 1927, p. 749) [Author’s note]

5. ‘Chiang Kai-shek’, I wrote in Clarté, no. 9, ‘will last for a few weeks or a few months; the tide will sweep him away.’ The man of the Shanghai coup d’état will obviously return to the scene only if reaction succeeds in asserting itself. [Author’s note]

6. ‘Bonapartism is a form of government which grows out of the counter-revolutionary nature of the bourgeoisie, in the conditions of democratic changes and a democratic revolution’, wrote Lenin on 19 August 1917. [Author’s note] – V.I. Lenin, They Do Not See the Wood For the Trees, Collected Works, Volume 25, Moscow 1964, p. 255.

7. On the Dujun, or warlords, cf. above, n91.

8. Li Zongren (1890- ) was leader of the Guangxi clique of warlords; he supported Chiang Kai-shek’s purge of the Communists in April 1927.

9. Li Jishen (1886-1959) was a Guomindang general favourable to the Chinese Communist Party.

10. He Long (1896-1969) and Ye Ting (1897-1946) were Guomindang generals who supported the Chinese Communist Party.

11. Yuan Shikai (1859-1916) was the general in charge of the modern part of the army in the Beijing district during the 1911 ‘Double Tenth’ revolution that overthrew the Manchus. To avoid civil war, Sun Yat-sen handed over the presidency to Yuan, who in return deposed Pu Yi, but Yuan quickly converted his position into a dictatorship. Other warlords eventually rose up against him, plunging China into anarchy. Serge is mistaken about the causes of his death. He died of urenia, brought on by nervous prostration.

12. Did it even conform with the Twenty-One Conditions for adherence to the Communist International decided by the Second Congress of the Communist International? [Author’s note]

13. The membership of the Chinese Communist Party reached 58,000 at its Fifth Congress held at Hankou last May. But we should ask ourselves if so rapid a growth, at a time when, on Bukharin’s admission, the policy of the party was strongly tainted with opportunism, could be considered healthy. [Author’s note]

14. The Guomindang was accepted as a sympathising section of the Communist International in March 1926, and Chiang was made an honorary member of the Praesidium of its Executive Committee.

15. Let us summarise the different political positions taken up with regard to this by the Communists. The resolution of the Eighth Plenum of the ECCI in June 1927 ordered the Communist Party to remain in the Guomindang and to take it over from below, whilst engaging in energetic revolutionary activity. Some time previously, the Opposition of the Communist Party of the USSR had drawn up minimum conditions of freedom of action regarding affiliation to the Guomindang for the Chinese Communist Party. A little later it demanded the withdrawal of the Chinese Communist Party from the Guomindang. Bukharin, on the other hand, wrote in Pravda on 10 July: ‘Even if the Central Committee of the Guomindang declares the expulsion of the Communists (which is almost certain), the Communists must defend their positions inside the Guomindang as they do in the British Labour Party and trade unions.’ How can we fail to observe, here, that the Labour Party is a working-class party, whereas the Guomindang is a bourgeois party; and that heads are not chopped off in Ramsay MacDonalds’s party, which is a capital question all the same. [Author’s note]

16. L’Orient Révolutionnaire, no. 2/1927, Moscow. The article is signed Li-Dzi-Kou. [Author’s note]

17. A. Ivine, Pravda, 10 July 1927. [Author’s note]

18. Sun Chuanfang (1885-1933) was the warlord of Shanghai, closely associated with the British.

19. Martynov, Pravda, 10 April 1927. [Author’s note] For Martynov, cf. note 145 below.

20. Pierre Semard, l’Humanité, 12 April 1927. Our comrade also wrote whilst commenting on the first news in the bourgeois press about the repression of Communism by Chiang Kai-shek: ‘Even if this information were partially true, that would not put the revolutionary movement at risk …’ [Author’s note] – Pierre Semard (1887-1942) was a French Communist trade union leader.

21. V.I. Lenin, Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Second Congress of the Communist International, 4 July 1920, Collected Works, Volume 31, Moscow 1966, p. 185.

Last updated on 15.3.2011