Nine Years of the Left Opposition

The Tragedy of
the Chinese Revolution

(June 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 25 (Whole No. 121), 18 June 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

When the full history is written of the second Chinese revolution (1925–1927), it will stand out as an everlasting monument of condemnation to the leadership of Stalin-Bucharin in the Russian party and the International. For the first time in history was it given to the young proletarian of the Orient to take the power into its hands. Such a victory would have extended the Soviet power from the frontiers of Poland to the Pacific coast, brought together close to a third of the world’s population under the triumphant banner of Bolshevism, and given such a mighty impetus to the world revolution as it has not had since October 1917. Victory lay within reach of the hand for the Chinese workers and peasants, but something unprecedented in history took place: the leadership, clothed in all the formal authority of the Russian revolution and the Communist International, stood in the way like a solid wall. Stalin and Bucharin prohibited the proletariat from taking power. In the Chinese revolution the epigones played to the end, and with tragic results, the role which Lenin’s struggle in the Bolshevik party in April–May 1917 prevented them from playing in tie Russian revolution.

The policy of the ruling faction during the most decisive period of the Chinese revolution was, as Trotsky puts it, a translation of Menshevism into the language of Chinese politics. The theory of Stalin, Bucharin and Martynov can be summed up as follows:

The Stalin Theory

They proceeded from the standpoint that China, as a semi-colonial country, was being submitted to the yoke of imperialism which pressed down upon the whole nation, and upon all the classes in it with equal severity. On this ground, the bourgeoisie was conducting a revolutionary war against imperialism and had to be supported by the masses of workers and peasants, in a struggle which was to be carried to victory by the establishment of a “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants”. The “revolutionary anti-imperialist united front” was to be constituted as a “bloc of four classes” – composed of the workers, the peasants, the petty and large bourgeoisie. The embodiment of this “bloc” was the bourgeois Kuo Min Tang, the party of Sun Yat Sen, and after his death, of Chiang Kai-Shek and Wang Chin Wei. The Kuo Min Tang according to Stalin, was a “revolutionary parliament”, a “workers’ and peasants’ party” into which all the Chinese Communists had to enter as a subordinated group. Even after the Shanghai coup d’état of Chiang Kai-Shek, Bucharin shouted that “we shall never surrender the blue banner” (that is, the banner of the Kuo Min Tang).

Since the bourgeoisie, according to this conception, was conducting an anti-imperialist war against the foreign brigands, the class struggle at home was considered liquidated. For the workers and the Communists to make any serious attacks upon the Chinese bourgeoisie would be to disrupt the “bloc of the four classes”. That is why Stalin compelled the Chinese Communists to submit quietly to the decisions of the Nationalist government which established compulsory arbitration in strike struggles. For the same reason, the peasants movement was checked with an iron hand in telegraphic commands from Moscow. Similarly, the Communists were instructed not to organize Soviets, first, because Soviets are the instruments of power of the proletarian dictatorship and “not of the democratic dictatorship”, and secondly because to form Soviets would mean to overthrow the “revolutionary center”, as Stalin called the Nationalist government of the bourgeoisie.

The principal arguments of the epigones against the Left Opposition were that “Trotsky did not understand” the “peculiar” position of China as a semi-colonial country where the revolution was “particularly distinguished” by the fact that it was anti-imperialist; further that Trotsky did not understand that this was a “democratic and not a socialist” revolution, consequently that its aim was a democratic and not a proletarian dictatorship; finally, that to “break the united anti-imperialist front” would be to alienate the bourgeoisie and “skip over stages”.

This was the guiding line of the leaders of the Comintern. Its practical effects led directly bo the victory of the bourgeois counter-revolution and the massacre of the vanguard of the Chinese proletariat and peasantry by the very “allies” whom Stalin had chosen for them.

The “Bloc of Four Classes”

What was the “bloc of four classes” in actuality? It was the form selected by Stalin and Co., in which the Communists, that is, the genuinely revolutionary vanguard, was subordinated, bound hand and foot, and delivered to the Chinese bourgeoisie. In the “bloc” the Chinese Communist Party did not retain a shadow of its own independence. The party, in a joint manifesto with the Kuo Min Tang, announced that it differed with the latter only “in some details”, that the “united anti-imperialist front” had to be maintained at all costs, and that the Communists pledged themselves not to criticize the petty bourgeois doctrines of Sun Yat Senism. At the height of the revolutionary storm the Communists played such an insignificant independent role that they did not possess a daily paper of their own, and even their weekly periodicals – we shall say nothing of their contents – were published irregularly. In whole sections of the territory conquered by the Nationalist armies of Chiang Kai-Shek, the Communist party and the trade unions continued to remain illegal The party, instead of becoming the leader in arousing and preparing the masses against the bourgeoisie, became the instrument of the bourgeoisie restraining the workers from striking against their bourgeois “allies” and preventing the peasants from rising to take the land and drive out the kulaks. Rendered impotent in the revolutionary situation, Stalin nevertheless left the Chinese party sufficient strength for it to hand over to the bourgeoisie the proletarian and peasant masses it should have led against Chiang Kai-Shek and Co.

What conception did the Opposition defend? It took as its point of departure the fact that the semi-colonial position of China made the struggle against foreign imperialism an immediate task of the democratic revolution. But, it pointed out it is precisely this position with relation to imperialism that makes inevitable the coming agreement between the national bourgeoisie – seeking customs autonomy – and the imperialists, both of them bound together by a common fear of the Chinese masses. The democratic revolution sets the task not only of liberation from the imperialist yoke but also the solution of the agrarian question. In China, however, the country usurer and landowner is so Intimately bound up with the urban big bourgeoisie, the compradors, and in the last analysis, the foreign bourgeoisie, that the agrarian revolution can only be carried out in violent struggle against all these elements. Will the bourgeoisie or even the petty bourgeoisie lead the masses in solving this problem? Quite the contrary. Only the proletariat of China can lead the peasantry in the struggle for liberation and the establishment of their own power. In this struggle, it is necessary to establish a bloc with the petty bourgeois masses, but a bloc which is led by the proletariat whose vanguard is organized into a separate Communist party, subordinated to no other party and acting independently.

What guarantees must the Communists establish for the victory of the revolution? Primarily, to rely upon themselves, upon their own armed forces, upon their own apparatus, and in the end, upon their own state machinery. The Canton government is not our government just as the Nationalist armies are not our armies and the Kuo Min Tang is not our party, but the armies and party of the bourgeoisie. The same holds true of the Wuhan government, established by the “Lefts” after Chiang Kai-Shek’s coup d’état in Shanghai.

Everywhere, therefore, the workers and peasants must form Soviets, for which they are already fighting instinctively.

The Smashing of the Opposition

For advocating this course of action, the whole apparatus of the Russian party and the International was converted into a machine to crush the Left Opposition. From Stalin and Martynov down to the last functionary an international campaign was conducted to prove that Chiang Kai-Shek was a reliable ally, and after he had drowned the Shanghai proletariat in its own blood, his place of honor in the campaign was taken by Feng Yu-hsiang and Wang Chin Wei. The whole Communist press lauded the bourgeois generals as “our own”. The Kuo Min Tang, which the Russian Political Bureau had decided (against Trotsky’s solitary vote) to admit into the Communist International as a “sympathizing” party, was presented to the world as only one step removed from Communism. To such lengths had Stalinism gone in the International that when Chiang Kai-Shek’s armies entered Shanghai to consecrate in proletarian blood the victory of the counter-revolution, the French Communist party sent him a telegram of congratulations on the formation of the “Shanghai Commune”!

The proposals of the Opposition for an independent Communist party in China were denounced without stint. This meant, cried Stalin and Bucharin, to leave the Kuo Min Tang, to “desert our allies”, to drive away the bourgeoisie from the “united front”, to “skip over stages”. The bourgeoisie had to be supported, they contended, and the bloc maintained. It is true that in the “bloc” it was the bourgeoisie who ruled and the proletariat who served, but this fatal “detail” was overlooked completely in the interests of the “national revolution.”

Even after the Chiang Kai-Shek coup (and it was not his first sign of counter-revolutionism), Stalin doggedly maintained his course. Only, in place of support to the “Kuo Min Tang center” of Chiang Kai-Shek which was supposed to be leading the “anti-imperialist revolution”, was now put the “Kuo Min Tang Left” of Wang Chin Wei, which was supposed to be leading the “agrarian revolution”. After Chiang Kai-Shek had led his troops to Shanghai in order there to join forces with the foreign imperialists against the Chinese masses, the government of the “Left” bourgeoisie was set up in Wuhan. In this case too the ghastly experiment in Menshevism was continued on a “higher scale”. Stalin called the Wuhan government of bourgeois politicians the “revolutionary center” of the South. According to Stalin, the Wuhan clique was nothing more nor less than the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”. And if this was the case, the proposal of the Opposition to form Soviets in the Wuhan territory was, you see, a criminal adventure. For if we already have the “democratic dictatorship” set up, what purpose is there in organizing Soviets, which are organs of power and must consequently be aimed at overwhelming the existing regime? This is how the Stalinists argued.

Stalinist Ministerialism

Into the Wuhan government were sent two Communist ministers, one as the minister of labor and the other, Tang Ping Shan, who had already distinguished himself in Moscow and China in the struggle against “Trotskyism” because it “under-estimated the peasantry”, as minister of agriculture. How did this bourgeois government, the “organ of the agrarian revolution”, proceed to act? In the customary manner of all bourgeois governments that exist only by grace of the ignorance, disorganization and weakness of the revolutionary masses. It sought to crush the workers’ and peasants’ movement, and in this task it found the signal support of the two Communist captives who served the Chinese bourgeoisie as ministers under instructions from Moscow. Wuhan proceeded to “organize the agrarian revolution” by sending the Communist minister and anti-Trotsky expert into the countryside at the head of an armed division for the purpose of suppressing the insurrectionary peasants! In this one episode is illuminated the whole counter-revolutionary course which Stalinism pursued in the Chinese revolution. The Communist vanguard was transformed by Stalin into the club with which the bourgeoisie smashed the masses into submission.

It must be acknowledged that Stalin’s allies in the camp of the Chinese bourgeoisie proved to be less faithful to him than he was to them. Practically at the moment when he was sharpening the knife for the neck of the Shanghai proletariat, Chiang Kai-Shek was being lauded in Moscow by Stalin, who proclaimed him a loyal ally, and condemned the Opposition for proposing measures against him. Stalin suffered the same inevitable disappointment with the Wuhan government. It followed with almost staged accuracy in the footsteps of Chiang Kai-Shek. The “Left Kuo Min Tang” leaders proved to be not one whit more revolutionary than their Right wing brothers-under-the-skin. The fantastic “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”, which Lenin had kicked into the dustbin of history in April 1917, proved to be, in China of a decade later, a reactionary noose around the necks of the proletariat and peasantry.

With his “workers’ and peasants’ party”, with his “anti-imperialist united front”, with his “bloc of four classes”, with his “revolutionary parliament of the Kuo Min Tang”, with his “democratic dictatorship” and opposition to the formation of Soviets under proletarian leadership – with all this Stalin played the reactionary part in China which Tseretelli and Chernov sought unsuccessfully to fill in the Russian revolution of 1917. This is the only way in which the tragedy of the second Chinese revolution will be recorded in history. At every stage in the struggle, the Opposition defended the tested doctrines of Marxism, of Bolshevism. The Centrist apparatus crushed the Left Opposition. But in doing so it only crushed the Chinese revolution.

The next article will deal with the struggle of the Opposition for the planned industrialization and agrarian collectivization in the Soviet Union.

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