Max Shachtman


Genesis of Trotskyism


The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution

When the full history of the second Chinese revolution (1925-1927) is written, it will stand out as an everlasting monument of condemnation to the leadership of Stalin Bucharin in the Russian party and the International.

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 for mal 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 pre vented them from playing in the Russian revolution.

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

They proceeded from the standpoint that China, as a semicolonial 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. The bourgeoisie was conducting a revolutionary war against imperialism and had to be supported by the masses of workers and peasants. In this struggle victory would be attained with 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 peas- ants, 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” which the Chinese Communist party was forced to enter as a subordinated group.

Since the bourgeoisie, according to this conception, was conducting an anti-imperialist war against the foreign brigands, the clasp 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”; secondly, because to form Soviets would mean to overthrow the “revolutionary center” as Stalin called the Nationalist government of the bourgeoisie.

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

What was the “bloc of four classes” in actuality? It was the form selected by Stalin and Co., in which the Communist, 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 doc trines of Sun-Yat-senism. At the height of the revolutionary storm the Communists played such an insignificant role that they did not possess a daily paper of their own, and even their weekly periodicals 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 did not become the leader in arousing and preparing the masses against the bourgeoisie. Instead, it was 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 rich peasants. 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.

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 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 compressors, 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 to a solution of 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 the struggle, it is necessary to establish 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 proletariat and the Communists establish for the victory of the revolution? Primarily, to rely upon themselves, 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. They are 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’etat in Shanghai.

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

For advancing 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. After he had massacred the Shanghai proletariat, 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 forces 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 unsparingly attacked. This would mean, 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 con tended, 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 second Chiang Kai-shek coup, Stalin doggedly maintained his course. Only, in place of the “Kuo Min Tang center” of Chiang Kai-shek which was sup posed 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.

The ghastly experiment in Menshevism was now 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 becoming 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 al ready 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.

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 underestimated 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 sup pressing the insurrectionary peasants! In this one episode is illumined 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.

At the very 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 pro claimed 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 foot- steps 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, a decade later in China, a 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. At every stage in the struggle, the Opposition defended the tested doctrines of Marxism. The Centrist apparatus crushed the Left Opposition. But in doing so it only crushed the Chinese revolution.


Last updated on 9.4.2005