Victor Serge

Fifth Letter

(September/October 1927)

From Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 3.
Originally published in Clarté (new series), No. 14, October 1927.
Translated by Gregor Benton & Al Richardson.
Transcribed by Alun Watson.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

‘UNDOUBTEDLY, the revolution will teach us and will teach the masses of the people. But the question that now confronts a militant political party is: shall we be able to teach the revolution anything?’ – N. Lenin, Preface to Two Tactics, July 1905 [1]

A Revolutionary Army in Shantou

The ‘red’ troops of Generals He Long and Ye Ting (who is a Communist), whose uprising in Nanchang on 1-2 August and victorious march towards Guangzhou (thanks to the support of the peasants) we reported on 26 September last, reached and took the port of Shantou, 200 kilometres as the crow flies from the capital of Guangdong. In two months they had crossed almost 600 kilometres of mountainous country with no railways, where the roads are poor. They had defeated all the forces sent to meet them. Everywhere on their journey the peasants backed them up. Ivine, the Pravda correspondent in Shanghai, telegraphed the following details (27 September) on the taking of Shantou. It was a repetition of the taking of Shanghai by the Southerners. A railway 60 kilometres long links Shantou, a port of 60,000 inhabitants, to Chaozhou in the interior. Upon the approach of the revolutionary troops, peasant bands rose up everywhere in the region. On 23 September the troops of He Long and Ye Ting entered Chaozhou. Shantou had been in the hands of the workers and peasants since the 21st. The local authorities formed a body of 600 coolies and the trade unions a detachment of 200 workers there to assist the advance of the revolutionary army, which on the night of the 23rd entered a celebrating city, where supporters welcomed it wearing red armbands …

The taking of Shantou was in itself only one episode in a campaign full of ups and downs. The revolutionaries held on in this town for only about 10 days. The superior forces of the counter-revolution, more or less supported by the Japanese, who had landed in order to ‘protect their nationals’, forced the troops of Ye Ting and He Long to evacuate Shantou on 2 August. The bourgeoisie, that is, local traders no doubt, boycotted them. To our mind, this reverse emphasises the difficulty, and the necessity at the moment, of providing territory for the revolution, and that such territory is indispensable for deepening and legitimising the social revolution over the area conquered by force of arms. On the other hand, far too many dispatches inform us that ‘perfect order’ reigned in the city occupied by the ‘Reds’. Isn’t this tantamount to saying that property and the bourgeoisie were respected there? The class war, above all in backward countries, does not take place with lace cuffs and ‘perfect order’ in captured cities. The proof of this lies in what we have already been told, that in the city recaptured by the troops of reactionary order, there have been mass shootings. This is obviously not perfect order, it is better – from the point of view of a social class that knows how to exploit the success of its arms. Have the small revolutionary armies of the south reverted to the errors that led the Chinese Revolution into this present crisis?

If the small revolutionary armies of the south enter resolutely on the path of calling upon the poor peasants to seize the land, if they assist the workers to form their own organs of power (soviets), to take over the dictatorship, and, by satisfying the demands of the workers and the poor peasants, to give a clear and deep social content to the struggle; and if these armies – whose structure, based on mercenaries, is still similar to that of all Chinese armies – are then reorganised as those of a rebellious people, it seems impossible that reaction, grappling with a vast country in ferment, and weakened by military anarchy, would be able to subdue them. But if the fatal policy of the ‘Left’ Guomindang is repeated in Shantou, if the proprietors are spared, if there is fear of ‘excesses’ as a result of the peasant revolution, if the activity of the masses is held back, if the army is not transformed, then the disintegration of the ‘red’ forces will be only a matter of time. The future of the Chinese Communists of the Twenty-Third and Twenty-Fourth armies lies largely in their own hands.

What prospects would their success open up for us? The defeat inflicted by the bourgeoisie on the Chinese proletariat and the poor peasants is severe, but not decisive. The failure of the national revolution, the absence of reformist solutions to the land and labour questions, the disasters caused by military anarchy, the profound differences of interest between the petit-bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie properly so-called, and the semi-feudal ‘old order’ represented by the Northerners, make it impossible for us to envisage in the near future a social ‘stabilisation’ comparable, for example, to that experienced by Russia on the morrow of the defeated revolution of 1905. The Chinese counter-revolution has gained a mere truce, though of some duration, it is true. Heads cut off cannot be replaced. The cadres of the workers and peasants movement have been severely hit. In Changsha (Hunan) alone, according to Lozovsky, more than 1,000 revolutionaries were massacred. The proletariat has been decapitated in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hankou. The rise of the masses has been broken. The masses need time to recover, to overcome the inevitable crises of demoralisation, to dress their wounds, to create fresh cadres, to reform under conditions of illegality their destroyed organisations, and first and foremost the Communist Party. A few months, a few years? It would be a very brave man who attempted a precise guess. It would in any case not require many years, and we have just seen why. In these conditions, the aim of the southern revolutionaries can be defined thus: to conquer territory for the revolution, to gain time, to reform the proletarian organisations and to reorganise the army.

I spoke too little of the army in my former articles as a result of both lack of space and documentation. That historic law to which we know of no exceptions has been profoundly misunderstood in the Chinese Revolution: without the disintegration of the army of the ruling classes there can be no victorious revolution. The General Secretary of the Red International of Labour Unions, Lozovsky, who has recently returned from China, tells us that the Southern army was made up exclusively of mercenaries [2]:

The army in China is an undertaking based on commercial calculation: its aim is to obtain profits for the generals. Whilst raising taxes, the big military chiefs never forget to take their own share. The dictator of Guangzhou, Li Jishen, has two million dollars in the bank, and is a shareholder in a host of commercial and financial enterprises … The officers imitate their chiefs and amass money at the expense of the population. The officer corps is linked in its entirety to landownership and business … It is hard to tell in China where the bandit ends and the general begins … The Chinese army represents the organised counter-revolution … We must get it into our heads that for several years the revolution has not succeeded in organising the army on fresh foundations, or in getting enough revolutionary workers and peasants to enter it.

The Chinese workers’ distrust for this army was well grounded, of that we need not doubt … ‘The political services assisted the officers rather than the soldiers.’ And Lozovsky, after describing how the thieving generals – the Southerners – dispute the provinces amongst themselves and how they carried out the reactionary Changsha coup d’état on 21 May last, whose thread, so he said, went back to the Left Guomindang, sums up as follows:

This military system has proved itself to be very flexible and intent on making use of the revolution for its own benefit. Only one conclusion follows: either the revolution will annihilate this medieval military system, or this system will annihilate the revolution. [3]

And it is upon armies like this, often described as ‘red armies’, that the international proletariat has based such high hopes! [4] The mistake was obviously to consider the radical bourgeoisie as the leading class of anti-imperialist revolution: hence its army, whatever it may have been, has become sacrosanct. Indeed in Guangzhou there was a revolutionary military school – the Huangpu Academy – but in 22 months it trained only 1,700 young officers. The most disciplined and best army, the Cantonese, did not exceed 70,000 men; at the end of the northern campaign, when the Southerners arrived at the Yangtse, some hundreds of thousands of mercenaries in the pay of the bandit-generals joined them, submerging them.

Reactionary classes cannot be beaten by their own armies. The Marxist analysis of the social character of the Nationalist armies was in no way wrong. Extending the territory of the Guomindang by means of these fundamentally counter-revolutionary armies was to sacrifice the real revolution, that of the masses, which is incompatible with that of the generals. It was necessary to resist all the fatal illusions of class harmony ‘in the face of the foreign imperialists’.

If the revolutionaries wish to survive and to have a future, and to avoid falling back into the lamentable errors of yesterday, their main concern must be to reorganise themselves, by taking as their inspiration the example of the Russians and their army, and to become truly, as Trotsky put it, ‘the shield and sword of the oppressed’.

The Way of Lenin … and the Other

The time seems to have come to draw up a balance sheet of yesterday’s mistakes. These mistakes originate from a set of ideas that unfortunately cannot be discussed with any great thoroughness in these columns, but whose basic points we should note.

People argued that in a large colonial country, nationalism must prevail over the class struggle; in other words, the conflict of interests between the indigenous bourgeoisie and the imperialists was greater than that between the bourgeoisie and the poor classes. We lost sight of the prime, essential role of the class struggle in history. So we misunderstood both the social nature of the national revolution in China and the anti-imperialist nature of the proletarian revolution in Russia in the frequent theoretical comparisons we made of the two movements.

The correct idea, emphasised on several occasions by Lenin, that the proletariat in struggle must not neglect possible alliances, and in colonial countries must not neglect an alliance with the revolutionary nationalist petit-bourgeoisie, has degenerated into a simplistic theory of class harmony in the face of the foreign imperialists, thus implying a sort of political abdication by the proletariat. The Communists feared to break the unity of fronts in the face of ‘the common enemy’ in times of war. The bourgeoisie, whose political experience is much greater than ours, never hesitated in times of war to repress the proletarian movement or to carry out coups d’état as long as it believed that they were in line with its interests. Lenin wrote:

The bourgeoisie were unafraid of seizing power at the price of civil war at times when the enemy threatened from without. The revolutionary proletariat will reckon just as little with this ‘argument’ [of the external threat – VS] from liars and lackeys of the bourgeoisie. [5]

The Guomindang was thought to embody a ‘bloc of four classes’ – bourgeoisie, petit-bourgeoisie, peasantry and proletariat – in other words, a government located above social classes. This was to turn Marxism back into liberalism. It was to forget the elementary Marxist truth that political power rests ultimately on economic power, and that in a society divided into classes government can only ever represent the possessing classes.

An attempt was made to replace the initiative of the masses, which necessarily entailed various excesses, by the action of a political apparatus which, in the given circumstances, could not fail to be bureaucratic.

This mistaken viewpoint is inspired by a schematic conception of successive phases of the movement (a national phase to begin with, then a revolutionary democratic phase, then a soviet phase). This was a case of purporting to assign directions to reality instead of taking account of reality. Obviously events are only ever connected by successive phases, as M. de la Palisse [6] has said. The mistake was obviously to accept that a ‘bourgeois-national’ phase would prepare for – instead of prevent – the proletarian and peasant phase of the movement. Moreover, it is not so easy to distinguish such phases in social conflicts as it is for the historian or theoretician to discover them later at his leisure.

None of these conceptions is new. Lenin tirelessly refuted them in 1905 and 1917, in the course of the two Russian revolutions. We continue to be gripped with admiration whilst reading in his work under present conditions. Right from the start of the revolution of 1905 he wrote:

The immediate arming of the workers and of all citizens in general, the preparation and organisation of the revolutionary forces for overthrowing the government authorities and institutions – this is the practical basis on which revolutionaries of every variety can and must unite to strike the common blow. The proletariat must always pursue its own independent path … always bearing in mind its great, ultimate objective, which is to rid mankind of all exploitation. But … [this must] never cause us to forget the importance of a common revolutionary onset at the moment of actual revolution. We … can and must act independently of the bourgeois-democratic revolutionaries and guard the class independence of the proletariat. But we must go hand in hand with them during the uprising, when direct blows are being struck at Tsarism, when resistance is offered by the troops, when the bastilles of the accursed enemy of the entire Russian people are stormed. [7]

On the necessity for intransigence, and the danger of concealing disagreements between the proletariat and the radical bourgeoisie, he wrote in February 1905:

… forces are spared … by a united, welded organisation which is at one on questions of principle, and not by lumping together heterogeneous elements … To achieve a ‘fighting unity’ in deed and not merely in word, we must know clearly, definitely, and from experience exactly wherein and to what extent we can be united … The history of revolutionary epochs provides many, all too many, instances of tremendous harm caused by hasty and half-baked experiments in ‘fighting unity’ that sought to lump together the most heterogeneous elements in the committees of the revolutionary people, but managed thereby to achieve mutual friction and bitter disappointment … We see in the independent, uncompromisingly Marxist party of the revolutionary proletariat the sole pledge of Socialism’s victory and the road to victory that is most free from vacillations. We shall never, therefore, not even at the most revolutionary moments, forego the complete independence of the … party or the complete intransigence of our ideology. You believe this rules out fighting unity? You are mistaken. [8]

Lenin saw the conditions for this unity – or, as we would say today, this united front – in the activity of the masses.

The Mensheviks claimed that it was necessary ‘to utilise all elements … wholly undismayed by the fact that they rob us of a share in the leadership’ (to ‘utilise’ the Guomindang, the generals, etc). Lenin replied:

If it is really our demands that are adopted by those we utilise, then they do not rob us of the leadership, but accept our leadership. If, on the other hand, all these elements really rob us of the leadership (and of course not only ‘technical’ leadership, because to separate the ‘technical’ side of a revolution from its political side is sheer nonsense), then it is not we who utilise them, but they us … Yesterday’s priest, general, or government official who becomes an adherent of the revolution may be a prejudice-ridden bourgeois democrat, and insofar as the workers will follow him the bourgeois democrats will be ‘utilising’ the workers. [9]

The Mensheviks went around saying: Above all, let us not frighten the bourgeoisie! Lenin summed up the viewpoint of their most persistent theoretician, Martynov [10]. in these terms:

If in the period of the democratic revolution the proletariat uses the threat of the Socialist revolution to frighten the bourgeoisie, this can lead only to reaction, which will also weaken the democratic gains already won. [11]

The Mensheviks, fearing to go beyond the aims of bourgeois revolution, rejected participation in any future revolutionary power. Lenin contended that only the proletariat, supported by the poor peasants and the lower layers of the urban petit-bourgeoisie could complete the bourgeois revolution by means of the bourgeois-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry – very different from the Socialist dictatorship of the proletariat. He wrote on 27 May 1905:

Every serious revolutionary situation confronts the party of the proletariat with the task of giving purposive leadership to the uprising, of organising the revolution, of centralising all the revolutionary forces, of boldly launching a military offensive, and of making the most energetic use of the revolutionary governmental power. [12]

The outcome of the revolution depends on whether the working class will play the part of a subsidiary to the bourgeoisie, a subsidiary that is powerful in the force of its onslaught against the autocracy, but impotent politically, or whether it will play the part of leader of the people’s revolution. The more intelligent representatives of the bourgeoisie are perfectly aware of this. [13]

They were perfectly aware of this in China, too …

Mass action and the leadership of the proletariat, such were Lenin’s directives for a bourgeois revolution, one destined, in other words, to end in a bourgeois democracy. There is no class harmony here, no impotent ministerial collaboration, no ‘bloc of four classes’.

Because it lacked an experienced Communist party, steeped in and familiarised with the history of the revolutions of the West, the Chinese proletariat, in spite of its great revolutionary qualities, fell far short of its real potential. The Chinese bourgeoisie, on the other hand, has given proof of consummate skill in the class struggle. It knew how to draw inspiration from our own methods, to imitate the structure of the Russian Communist Party within that of the Guomindang, to create political services in the army modelled on those of the Red Army, to manipulate the masses, and thus to turn our own weapons against us and to stop at nothing when its own interests were seen to be threatened.

Building the Chinese Communist Party

There is only one way of preparing for the future: build the Chinese Communist Party.

China’s culture, which is thousands of years old and of great intellectual richness, has moulded the brains of innumerable generations in an almost unique way. This culture is that of a society based on the feudal, bourgeois and bureaucratic exploitation of the peasant, the craftsman and the worker under very particular conditions of historical stability. The ideology, ethics, logic and even language of the Chinese are the result of efforts carried on unceasingly for 4000 years by the possessing classes to defend themselves against the exploited in struggles that broke out again and again between these three categories: feudalism, bureaucratic absolutism and peasant revolution. In the course of time, the entire intellectual activity of Chinese culture was adapted to the defence of the interests of the privileged classes. It could not be otherwise in a society divided into classes but without a large proletariat, for the proletariat alone, through its concentration, its fairly uniform conditions of existence, and the necessity imposed upon it of sustaining organised struggles, can rise to forms of consciousness different from those of its masters and thus introduce new elements into social consciousness. Neither peasants nor craftsmen are the creators of revolutionary intellectual values. [14] Until our own time, China never experienced (industrial) capitalist development, and its age-old culture is amongst those furthest away from that of which Marxism is, in the intellectual sphere, the ripest consummation. We must take account of this fact in order to appreciate the obstacles to the penetration of Marxism into China. The first ideologists of the labour movement were, in China as elsewhere, the intellectuals, but they were much more taken with idealism than were intellectuals elsewhere. The condition of the proletariat is still too wretched for it to be able to form theoreticians who would be its own true intellectuals (the Chinese proletariat has already produced agitators, organisers and militants in abundance; that is a great achievement, but it is not enough: the proletariat needs leaders, in other words men who possess class consciousness to the highest degree: a leader is an agitator, militant and organiser who is armed with a correct theory). The Chinese Communist Party was founded by intellectuals who originated from the comfortable or rich classes, [15] far more the prisoners of their ancestral culture than they doubtless themselves realised. Anarchism, Sun Yat-senism, the idealist teaching of Daoism [16] which deny class struggle, and various forms of nationalism are spiritual nets from which Chinese revolutionaries must free themselves if they are to assimilate dialectical materialism. Clear Communist consciousness is a precondition for the existence of the party. Chinese Communism must come into existence as a result of intellectual liberation, a decisive break with the past. From this viewpoint, the ideological compromises with the teaching of Sun Yat-sen have done great harm. [17]

We should not forget that in Pravda last July, Bukharin, angered at the opportunist compromises of the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, advocated calling an extraordinary conference of the party that would not stop short of expulsions in order to liquidate opportunism. This idea seems to have been abandoned, and a very good thing too. At the last Central Committee meeting of the Communist Party of the USSR. Krupskaya [18] asked rightly – but vainly – that the passage in paragraph 25 of the theses concerning the Chinese revolution that emphasises the responsibilities of the Chinese Communist Party be suppressed. ‘It is not fitting’, she said, ‘to remind it of its former responsibilities at a time when the party is hunted by the counter-revolution.’ The question of responsibilities, moreover, should be posed much more widely.

The ideological purge of the Chinese Communist Party must result from changes in its activity rather than from theoretical criticism. We do not know exactly what our comrades over there are now doing. But it seems to us that their slogans should be:

  1. An intransigent defence of the interests of the working class.
  2. Expropriation of the landowners and guerrilla warfare in the countryside.
  3. Propaganda for Socialist solutions to the problem of the extreme fragmentation of cultivated plots, which is the cause of poverty.
  4. Propaganda for soviets (and their formation in the region of Shantou).
  5. An alliance with the USSR – an alliance that would make revolutionary China truly invincible.
  6. The formation of real red armies.
  7. Regarding the lower layers of the petit-bourgeoisie, whom it is necessary to attract, an analysis and a close criticism of Sun Yat-senism, to which we oppose our principle of the proletariat (supported by its natural allies) as the sole liberator of the nation. [19]

India and China – Where Are We Now?

What will be the international consequences of the defeat of the Chinese proletariat? The British government’s nervousness about the USSR has decreased a little, which only shows how susceptible are the British Conservatives to panic. If the Chinese bourgeoisie succeeds in achieving a certain degree of social stability, the encirclement of the USSR in Asia will be achieved at a blow; we will then have to wait for Zhang Zuolin, Japan and Britain to raise the question of Mongolia, which since the decisive sovietisation of Siberia has become a friendly people’s republic allied to the USSR. The semi-official press, both British and French, has already made allusions to this question. Shady deals have taken place between Chinese Turkestan, bordering on Soviet Turkestan, and Zhang Zuolin. The ‘defeat of Bolshevism in Asia’ would not fail to provoke within the international proletariat a wave of discouragement similar to that following the setback of the German Revolution in 1923 (this is how the internal differences of the Russian Communist Party were accentuated). But we are far from finished! As we have seen, it seems unlikely that China will achieve stability at present. Tendencies in the direction that we have just indicated will, however, appear in the course of the present lull, and we must neutralise them by closely following events, by securing good information, and by the support of the international labour movement for those revolutionaries who are continuing their heroic action, subject to partial reverses, but in the end invincible.

The balance sheet of the Chinese experience should aim at correcting the position of the Communist International. There is a very strong current in favour of the creation in other colonial countries of large revolutionary nationalist parties analogous to the Guomindang. Stalin, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, again told the students of Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow 13 May last:

I was thinking of it [the Guomindang] … as the type of structure of a distinctive people’s revolutionary party in the oppressed countries of the East, especially in such countries as China and India; as the type of structure of such a people’s revolutionary party as must be based on a revolutionary bloc of the workers and the petit-bourgeoisie of town and country. I plainly stated at that time [in May 1925] that ‘in such countries the Communists must pass from the policy of a united national front to the policy of a revolutionary bloc of the workers and petit-bourgeoisie’. [20]

At the same time l’Humanité published an article devoted to the revolutionary movement in British India that expounded the same thesis. In these circumstances, what was to become of the directives of the Second Congress of the Communist International, so wisely adopted on the proposal of Lenin, that explained the need to ‘uphold the independence of the Communist Party, even if it is in its most embryonic form’? Alarmed by ‘the popularity acquired in India by the idea of a people’s party, following the successes of the Guomindang’, an Indian comrade on the eve of the bankruptcy of the Guomindang timidly raised these insidious questions:

Would not the realisation of this idea lead to the control of the petit-bourgeoisie – and not the proletariat – in the Indian revolutionary nationalist movement? Would it not be better to say to those who wish to organise a people’s party: ‘Organise yourselves in the Communist Party, and strengthen it, because it is the only party capable of directing the national movement.’? [21]

To understand the lying and anti-proletarian nationalism of the type epitomised by the Guomindang whose rise these unfortunate tendencies could assist, it is enough to read Arthur Hollitscher’s interviews with the leaders of the Indian national movement in his excellent book A travers l’Asie effervescente [22]: here we find only equivocation, honeyed phrases, and veiled denials of the class struggle. But the experience of the Guomindang is so decisive that Bukharin was able to tell the Leningrad militants on 11 August:

In my opinion we should not necessarily apply the entire tactic used in China in other colonial countries. We are studying the question of India in the Communist International … The bourgeoisie of this country is far more closely linked with the British imperialists, against whom it is unlikely to take real measures. We cannot mechanically transpose the Chinese experience to India …

This is reassuring – in part, at least.

It is necessary to make the point in a general fashion, to pass a clear and justified verdict on the roads travelled. Political experiences of this importance are the legacy of our international party. Now too many aspects of them remain obscure. Where are we now? Is the directive of the Communist International to the Chinese Communists to remain in the Guomindang at all costs, even against the will of its Central Committee, still in force? Or has it been rescinded? Is the Guomindang still a sympathising party of the Communist International (it has not been excluded from the International, as far as I am aware)? Should we still base our hopes on some mythical Guomindang ‘of the left’? L’Humanité of 31 August reproduced at length the opinions of Sun Yat-sen’s widow, Song Qingling [23], who has taken refuge in Moscow, without adding any Communist commentary. Inspired by the best of intentions, and sincerely attached to the revolutionary cause, the widow of the great Sun distorts history to no slight degree: Sun, who always denied the class struggle, becomes in this eloquent but barely convincing message the apostle of a people’s revolution: he who only ever spoke about agrarian reform is represented as having ‘preached an agrarian revolution’.

‘I am sure that all members of the Guomindang worthy of the name would wish to continue along the revolutionary path’, concludes Madam Sun. It is a nice thought: but where are these members of the ideal Guomindang … unless they are in the prisons of the real, majority, official Guomindang, the legal master of an immense territory? The illusions of a worthy lady must not cause us to lose sight of social realities. Finally, the Chinese Revolution has given rise to very lively discussions inside leading circles of the Communist International and the Communist Party of the USSR, about which we know only that revolutionary minds of the first order have unceasingly issued warnings that have been rejected, and obstinately supported theses that have been invariably condemned. Should we not now coolly face up to yesterday’s contrary opinions, and coolly and for the greatest profit of the International and of the young Chinese party draw up the balance sheet of a battle of ideas which has brought into conflict some of the best of the world’s Communists? History has delivered its verdict. It should be possible from now on to verify ideas by deeds and facts. We should then be able to see better how revolutionary Marxism emerges strengthened from this daunting test.

September-October 1927


1. V.I Lenin, Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, Collected Works, Volume 9, Moscow 1977, p. 18.

2. Lozovsky has published a very interesting series of articles entitled Revolution and Counter-Revolution in China in Pravda in September. His documentation and even his conclusions very much confirm the point of view expressed in these studies. His final words are: ‘Either complete submission to imperialism and restoration, or workers’ and peasants’ revolution.’ This is exactly what we have always said. [Author’s note]

3. Lozovsky, Pravda, 8 September. [Author’s note]

4. From this point of view, the greatest mistakes were committed by the French Communist press in assessing the role of the Nationalist army. After the famous ‘betrayal’ of Chiang Kai-shek, Péri [Gabriel Péri, 1902-1941, French Communist deputy] wrote on the front page of l’Humanité of 16 April an article in which he voiced the hope that the revolution would continue and triumph thanks to the Red Army: ‘Chiang’s soldiers are not mercenaries; they are the brothers of the 800,000 workers who opened the gates of Shanghai to them. Their chief is passing over to the enemy at a time when the Duncans, the Williams and the Bazires are pointing cannon at their breasts. The red soldiers will not follow their unworthy chief … Their sole aim is to reserve for their general the punishment that counter-revolutionary traitors deserve, etc. …’ Obviously lack of documentation caused this error. But speaking in front of 15,000 Parisian workers on 17 June at the Cirque de Paris, Doriot, who had just returned from China, ‘declared his confidence in the final victory of the Hankou armies’: ‘I say our army [!] because it is a revolutionary army [!]’, etc., etc. ‘The Chinese army’, says Lozovsky, speaking of the Southerners, ‘represented the organised counter-revolution.’ [Author’s note]

5. V.I. Lenin, They Do Not See the Wood For the Trees, 19 August 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, Moscow 1964, p. 253.

6. Jacques de la Chabannes, Marshal of France and Seigneur de la Palice (c.1470-1525) was killed at the battle of Pavia. He is famous in French literature for stating the obvious, though not all the remarks attributed to him are true.

7. V.I. Lenin, The Beginning of the Revolution in Russia, Collected Works, Volume 8, Moscow 1977, pp. 99-100.

8. V.I. Lenin, A Militant Agreement for the Uprising, Collected Works, Volume 8, pp. 158-9.

9. V.I. Lenin, Should We Organise the Revolution?, Collected Works, Volume 8, pp. 174-5.

10. In 1922 Martynov joined the Russian Communist Party. Three days before the coup d’état of Chiang Kai-shek in Shanghai, he wrote in Pravda of 10 April last that the distrustful attitude towards the Wuhan government and Chiang advocated by Radek ‘would lead to an alliance of the urban petit-bourgeoisie and the big industrial bourgeoisie against the workers and peasants’. He concluded that fortunately ‘judging by the latest news, the Chinese Communist Party is on the right road’. [Author’s note] – During the 1905 Revolution, Aleksandr Samoylovich Martynov (1865-1935) occupied a position on the extreme right of Menshevism, arguing that the working class must ally with others in a multi-class bloc, and not frighten away bourgeois democrats with talk of insurrection. He was the originator of the theory of the ‘bloc of four classes’ that was the basis of the Comintern’s approach to the Guomindang.

11. V.I. Lenin, Social Democracy and the Provisional Revolutionary Government, Collected Works, Volume 8, p. 283.

12. V.I. Lenin, On the Provisional Revolutionary Government, Collected Works, Volume 8, p. 481.

13. V.I. Lenin, Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, Collected Works, Volume 9, p. 19.

14. Even though they tried to imbue traditional ideas with revolutionary meaning, the people of the communes of the Middle Ages often used Christianity to attack the high clergy, the natural ally of the feudal lords. [Author’s note]

15. The role of intellectuals was no less great in the original founding of the Bolshevik party. Cf. Lenin, What is to be Done?. [Author’s note] – Serge is wrong to lay the blame for the disastrous policy of the Chinese Communist Party on the class origins of its leaders, who made repeated attempts to cut free from their enforced subordination to the Guomindang in 1922.

16. Daoism is an ancient school of thought that advocated integration with the flow of life instead of an effort to transform it.

17. On this topic, here is a fact that sadly speaks for itself. On 4 July 1926 the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Chen Duxiu, published an open letter to Chiang Kai-shek, who had carried out a reactionary coup d’état four months previously. In it we find these lines:

Sun’s Three Principles constitute the common belief of the Guomindang, which is a party of collaboration of all classes, and not the party of one class. It is also necessary to recognise the right of each class represented inside the Guomindang to have its own beliefs in addition to the common belief … We cannot forbid the worker who is a member of the Guomindang from believing in Communism, in addition to the Three Principles, just as the trader or the industrialist believes in capitalism… The Communist Party recognises no other leader than Sun Yat-sen … [!!!]

The concluding sentence is quite frankly outrageous. Judge for yourself. Chiang was complaining that the Communists were discrediting him. Discrediting a general who, since 20 March (and we are now in July), though a dictator, presented himself as an irreproachable revolutionary (sic!), and discrediting him in wartime, in the face of the enemy (itemised as British, Japanese, Zhang Zuolin, etc.) is, Chen declares, to become complicit in a counter-revolutionary conspiracy. ‘Moreover’, wrote the Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party to the barely concealed Chinese Gallifet, ‘if amongst the comrades of the Communist Party there are any who harbour ideas of such a counter-revolutionary conspiracy, [!!] you should shoot them [!!!] without the least ceremony. [!!!!]’ [Author’s note] – Gaston de Gallifet (1830-1909) was responsible for many of the executions following the suppression of the Paris Commune.

18. Nadezhda K. Krupskaya (1869-1939) was Lenin’s widow, an adherent of Zinoviev, and therefore formerly a supporter of the Joint Opposition, who had since made her peace with Stalin.

19. During the economic warfare in the Ruhr in 1923, the German Communists rightly emphasised this principle. [Author’s note]

20. J.V. Stalin, Talk with Students of the Sun Yat-Sen University, Works, Volume 9, pp. 250-1.

21. Savdar, Mouvement révolutionnaire aux Indes et les Evénements de Chine, L’Orient Révolutionnaire, no. 2. [Author’s note]

22. Published by Fischer Verlag in Berlin. Some of the pages of this book really must be translated into French. [Author’s note]

23. Song Qingling (1892-1975), Sun Yat-sen’s widow, became a fellow traveller of the Communist Party, and later formed part of the rump Guomindang set up after Mao’s triumph in 1949.

Last updated on 15.3.2011