A New History Making
Trotsky Book

(June 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 26 (Whole No. 122), 25 June 1932, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Problems of the Chinese Revolution
by Leon Trotsky
With an introduction by Max Shachtman
448 pages. Pioneer Publishers, New York. Paper, $1.00; cloth $l.50

The Eighth Plenum of the Communist International in May 1927 occupies a unique place in the annals of our movement, if only because formally speaking it occupies practically no place at all. Confronted as it was with problems more acute than those which faced some of the preceding international gatherings, there has yet to come out of it a record of the proceedings. The Plenum took place at a time when the Chinese revolution was approaching its highest point, with sufficient material at hand to draw the most instructive conclusions. In it were argued out the fundamental questions of revolutionary strategy and tactics. Opposing the official course were the two outstanding leaders of the Executive Committee – Trotsky and Zinoviev, as well as the secretary of the Young Communist International, Vuyovitch. What was decided there deeply affected the whole future of the world revolutionary movement. But to this day you will look in vain through all the voluminous accounts of the Congresses and Plenums of the Communist International for a definite report of the Eighth Plenum, for the documents presented to it and the speeches delivered.

Suppressing the Documents

In a word, Stalin and Bucharin suppressed all but the most meager account of this Plenum. The theses and articles of Trotsky and Zinoviev were put on the index expurgatorius as counter-revolutionary literature, punishable under the Soviet penal code; Stalin even suppressed one of his own speeches a week after it was delivered! This little detail in the mechanism of the inner-party struggle did not prevent Stalin from demanding that the whole membership of the International vote to condemn the Opposition’s standpoint in the Chinese question. And – let us remember it with a deep and bitter shame – such a vote was obtained without much difficulty. Just as the pre-war social democracy knew that its voyage towards opportunism would be facilitated by the suppression of Marx’s biting criticisms of their course, so Stalin kept the revolutionary criticism concealed from the parties so that Menshevism in China might the more easily get the stamp of approval from its principal foe, the Communist International.

But even when you have at your disposal what the social democrats did not have – a proletarian state apparatus – it does not suffice for all time. Little by little, sometimes only in fragments, the works of Trotsky have virtually been stolen out of the underground bureaucratic vaults and smuggled beyond the frontiers. These are the only terms that can be used to describe the conditions under Which the basic documents of Bolshevism have seen the light of day in recent years under the Stalin dispensation.

We have such a document, or more properly a series of documents, in the present work. Here is no fragment, but a closely-knit study of the problems of the Chinese revolution in the last seven years which will furnish us to the next generation with the fundamental exposition and critique of the most vivid chapter of the great epoch in which we are fortunate enough to be living.

The Value of Marxism

This bulky volume by comrade Trotsky is a most striking proof of the unequalled “practical” value of Marxism. For the professors, with and without diploma, Marxism is a dry closet philosophy. For the proletarian revolutionists, it is a searchlight whose batteries are the distilled essence of past experience, enabling us to throw a piercing light into tomorrow so that the course of the revolution may be properly guided. It is his mastery of Marxism that enabled the leader of the Opposition, as is shown by the contents of this book, to analyze each stage of the Chinese revolution, predict its next stage with accuracy and present the policy best calculated to meet the situation. That the Chinese revolution of 1925-1927 proved to be a tragedy can in no sense be ascribed to the Opposition. There was no excuse for the castastrophe from which the Chinese proletariat has not yet emerged, for the Opposition sounded the tocsin at every point. As you read the book, you are impressed by the fact that at no time did the Opposition make its criticism post factum, when it is not so difficult to be wise and see clearly.

The book deals with the revolution in a semi-colonial country, in which the young bourgeoisie and the proletariat and peasantry fought for a time on the same side of the barricades. There is nothing fundamentally new in this relationship or forces. Virtually every bourgeois revolution in which the proletariat had the possibility of marching a big step farther towards establishing its own power has offered a somewhat similar spectacle. We find it in the bourgeois revolutions of the last century, where the rising capitalist class fought together with the artisans and nascent proletariat against feudalism and absolutism. The policy of the bourgeoisie was: we make use of the people as troops, keep them subordinated to us in the name of the “united front against the dying order” or the foreign enemy; and as soon as our victory is assured, we crush the “counter-revolution at the Left”, that is, smash the allies of yesterday. As Marx said the proletariat which has followed the bourgeois watchwords of “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality” is rapidly confronted with new slogans of a now triumphant bourgeoisie: “Artillery, Cavalry, Infantry.”

It was with this in mind that Marx, drawing the lessons of the uprisings of 1848, wrote to the Communist League in 1850 his brilliant strategical outline of the permanent revolution, the theory that the proletariat, even in embryonic form, does not come to a halt with the victory of its “ally”, the bourgeoisie, but strides forward from the bourgeois revolution against feudalism to the proletarian revolution against the bourgeoisie. The whole policy of the Left Opposition in the Chinese revolution was animated by the same idea which, while it was no absolute guarantee against defeat, was nevertheless the only possible road to victory.

China and Russia

With this in mind, it is a happy coincidence that comrade Trotsky’s work on China appears at the same time as his history of the Russian revolution. Place the two side by side and you have a staggering contrast between the policies of Bolshevism and Menshevism in the acutest moments of the two outstanding post-war revolutionary movements.

After the February revolution in Russia, the workers were urged by Chernov and Tseretelli (and, let us add, by Stalin) to support the national bourgeoisie “in so far as” it fought against the foreign enemy. In China, Stalin and Bucharin commanded the Communists to bear in mind that the “outstanding feature” of the revolution was its “anti-imperialist character”, which allegedly required that the bourgeois Kuo Min Tang be supported. In Russia, the Mensheviks sought to liquidate the class struggle by their “contact commission”. In China, the Stalinists sought to do the same with their support to the arbitration commissions. In Russia, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionists curbed the agrarian revolution, sought to emasculate the Soviets in the villages, told the peasants to wait for land – until the provisional government was firmly established and the threat of war had subsided. In China, Stalin telegraphed instructions that the agrarian movement be stopped, he argued that Soviets must not be formed, that the bourgeoisie must not be alienated “prematurely”. In Russia, the Marxian conception of the class nature of the state was replaced by the Tseretellis with the mystical idea of the “government of the revolutionary democracy” (the “democratic dictatorship!”), which is what the socialists are doing in Spain at the present moment. In China, the Stalinists shattered this cornerstone of Marxism by championing the government and the bloc “of the four classes”.

But while in Russia this miserable Menshevist burlesque of Marxism was swept off the stage of events by the wisdom and authority of Lenin, the Russian revolution and the Comintern, authority usurped and violated by the present ruling clique. The essential difference between the two revolutions is that in Russia, the brief farce of Menshevism was played by the Menshevik party leaders, whereas in China their role was assumed with calamitous consequences by Stalin and Bucharin, the official spokesmen for Bolshevism! What sardonic satisfaction it must have given the ghost of Martov to see himself so well impersonated, with his worst features and to the bitter end, in the events of the Chinese revolution! Not even the most elaborate review – and much less a brief one – can do justice to the present volume. For that, you must read and study the book itself. In the literature of Stalinism, there is very little to be read about the Chinese revolution. That is comprehensible, for the bureaucrats must feel that the less said about this question the better for them. The opportunists hate to be confronted with their own recent past; they thrive on the forgetfulness or ignorance of the masses.

But that is only an additional reason for the publication and distribution of comrade Trotsky’s book. It does not deal with the past alone but with the present as well. Starting with the principal thesis submitted by Trotsky to the Eighth Plenum, with some articles written at the same time on current Chinese events, the reader is taken through all the stages of the movement to the present time. The Canton insurrection of December 1927 is dealt with extensively; so is the whole question as it was posed after the Sixth Congress of the Comintern. There will be found Trotsky’s later polemics against Zinoviev, Manuilsky and Malraux, the French apologist for Stalinism. The period of ultra-Leftist adventurism in China is brought up to date, and capped with a thorough ly documented study called Stalin and the Chinese Revolution, a compendium of the blunders and worse of the present regime.

In the appendix will be found Zinoviev’s thesis in May 1927 which, while not identical with Trotsky’s position, is filled with important facts. The suppressed speech of Vuyovitch at the Eighth Plenum is also among the appendices, showing how the Opposition gave its warnings in time and all the time. The last appendix is the famous Letter of Three Comrades, Stalinist supporters in China who, independently, corroborated all the contentions put forward against the party line in Moscow by the Opposition leaders. A convenient glossary of names and terms completes the book.

This work of some 450 pages, well printed and bound, sells at the exceedingly low price of $1.00 in paper and $1.50 in cloth, prices not only more than in accord with the times but also with the need of distributing it as widely and speedily as possible. With all respects to pamphleteering and if we are not to be misunderstood, this is not simply a transient pamphlet. It is the most fundamental study of the Chinese revolution to appear in the camp of the Marxians. We may well be proud of having produced it in English when most of it has yet to appear in other modern languages. It is a tremendous weapon in our hands, an instrument for opening up closed minds, for educating even those who are educated ... It is a permanent contribution, in the same sense as were Marx’s and Lenin’s studies of the defeats suffered by the proletariat in other epochs. Like them, it will clear the road to the victory.

Shachtman button
Max Shachtman
Marx button
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 25.6.2013