Leon Trotsky

On the Canton Insurrection

Three Letters to Preobrazhensky

(March/April 1928)

Published in New International [New York], Vol.3 No.2, April 1936.
Written in March-April 1928.
Transcribed by Heiko Khoo in 1997.
Additional HTML markup and editing for the Trotsky Internet Archive by David Walters.

First Letter, March 2, 1928

Pravda prints in several installments an extensive article entitled, The Significance and Lessons of the Canton Insurrection. This article is truly remarkable for the invaluable, substantiated, and firsthand information it contains as well as for its lucid exposition of contradictions and confusion of a principled nature.

It begins with an evaluation of the social nature of the revolution itself. As we all know, it is a bourgeois-democratic, a workers’ and peasants’ revolution. Yesterday it was supposed to unfold under the banner of the Kuomintang – today it unfolds against the Kuomintang.

But according to the author’s appraisal, the character of the revolution, and even the entire official policy, remains bourgeois-democratic. We turn next to the chapter that deals with the policy of the soviet power. Here we find stated that “in the interests of the workers, the Canton Soviet issued decrees establishing workers’ control of production, effecting this control through factory committees [and] ... nationalization of large-scale industry, transport, and banks.”

It goes on to enumerate the following measures: “the confiscation of all the apartments of the big bourgeoisie for the use of the toilers ...”

Thus the workers were in power in Canton, through their soviets. Actually the entire power was in the hands of the Communist Party, i.e., the party of the proletariat. The program included not only the confiscation of whatever feudal estates still exist in China, not only the workers’ control of production, but also the nationalization of large-scale industry, banks, and transport, as well as the confiscation of bourgeois apartments, and all their property for the use of the toilers. The question arises: If such are the methods of a bourgeois revolution, then what would the socialist revolution look like in China? What other class would do the overthrowing and by what sort of different measures? We observe that given a real development of the revolution, the formula of a bourgeois-democratic, a workers’ and peasants’ revolution applied to China in the present period, in the given stage of its development, proved to be a hollow fiction, a bagatelle. Those who insisted upon this formula prior to the Canton insurrection, and above all those who insist on it now, after this insurrection, are repeating (under different conditions) the principled mistake committed by Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, and the rest in the year 1917.

An objection may be raised that the problem of the agrarian revolution in China has not been solved as yet! True. But neither was it solved in our own country prior to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In our country it was not the bourgeois-democratic but the proletarian socialist revolution that achieved the agrarian revolution which, moreover, was far more deep-going than the one that is possible in China, in view of the historical conditions of the Chinese system of land ownership. It may be said that China has not matured for the socialist revolution as yet. But that would be an abstract and a lifeless manner of posing the question. Was Russia, then, if taken by itself, ripe for socialism? Russia was ripe for the dictatorship of the proletariat as the only method of solving all national problems; but so far as socialist development is concerned, the latter, proceeding from the economic and cultural conditions of a country, is indissolubly bound up with the entire future development of the world revolution. This applies in whole and in part to China as well. If eight or ten months ago this was a forecast (rather belated, at that), then today it is an irrefutable deduction from the experience of the Canton uprising. It would be erroneous to argue that the Canton uprising was an adventure by and large, and that the actual class relations were reflected in it in a distorted form.

In the first place the author of the above-mentioned article does not at all consider the Canton insurrection as an adventure, but as an entirely lawful stage in the development of the Chinese revolution. The general official point of view is to combine the appraisal of the revolution as bourgeois-democratic with an approval of the program of action of the Canton government. But even from the standpoint of appraising the Canton insurrection as a putsch, one could not arrive at the conclusion that the formula of the bourgeois-democratic revolution is viable. The insurrection was obviously untimely. It was. But the class forces and the programs that inevitably flow from them were disclosed by the insurrection in all their lawfulness. The best proof of this is that it was possible and necessary to foresee in advance the relation of forces that was laid bare by the Canton insurrection. And this was foreseen.

This question is most closely bound up with the paramount question of the Kuomintang. Incidentally, the author of the article relates, with assumed satisfaction, that one of the fighting slogans of the Canton overturn was the cry “Down with the Kuomintang!” The banners and insignia of the Kuomintang were torn down and trampled underfoot. But only recently, even after the “betrayal” of Chiang Kai-shek, and after the “betrayal” of Wang Ching-wei, we heard solemn vows that “We will not surrender the banner of the Kuomintang!” Oh, these sorry revolutionists!

The workers of Canton outlawed the Kuomintang, proclaiming all its tendencies illegal. What does this imply? It implies that for the solution of the fundamental national tasks, not only the big but also the petty-bourgeoisie could not put forward such a force as would enable the party of the proletariat to solve jointly with it the tasks of the “bourgeois-democratic revolution.” But ‘we’ are overlooking the many-millioned peasantry and the agrarian revolution ... A pitiable objection. For the key to the entire situation lies precisely in the fact that the task of conquering the peasant movement falls upon the proletariat, i.e., directly upon the Communist Party; and this task cannot be solved in reality differently than it was solved by the Canton workers, i.e., in the shape of the dictatorship of the proletariat whose methods from the very outset grow over inevitably into socialist methods. Conversely, the general fate of these methods, as well as of the dictatorship as a whole, is decided in the last analysis by the course of world development, which naturally does not exclude but on the contrary presupposes a correct policy on the part of the proletarian dictatorship, that consists of strengthening and developing the alliance between the workers and peasants, and of an all-sided adaptation to national conditions, on the one hand, and to the course of world development, on the other. To play with the formula of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, after the experience of the Canton insurrection, is to march against the Chinese October, for without a correct general political orientation, revolutionary uprisings cannot be victorious, no matter how heroic and self-sacrificing they may be.

To be sure, the Chinese revolution has “passed into a new and higher phase” – but this is correct not in the sense that it will begin surging upward tomorrow or the next day, but in the sense that it has revealed the hollowness of the slogan of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. Engels said that a party that misses a favorable situation and suffers a defeat as a result, turns into a nonentity. This applies to the Chinese party as well. The defeat of the Chinese revolution is not a bit smaller than the defeat in Germany in 1923. Of course, we must understand the reference to “nonentity” in a sensible way. Many things bespeak the fact that the next period in China will be a period of revolutionary reflux, a slow process of assimilating the lessons of the cruelest defeats, and consequently, the weakening of the direct influence of the Communist Party. Thence flows the necessity for the latter to draw profound conclusions in all questions of principles and tactics. And this is impossible without an open and all-sided discussion of all the fatal mistakes perpetrated hitherto.

Of course this activity must not turn into the activity of self-isolation. It is necessary to keep a firm hand on the pulse of the working class in order not to commit a mistake in estimating the tempo, and not only to identify a new mounting wave, but also to prepare for it in time.

Second Letter [Undated]

Your letter was also twenty-two days in transit. It is difficult to discuss vital questions under such conditions, and in my opinion the Chinese question belongs among the most vital ones, because the struggle is still unfolding in China, the partisan armies are in the field, and an armed insurrection has been placed on the agenda, as you no doubt know from the resolution of the last plenum of the ECCI [Executive Committee of the Communist International].

To begin, I want to reply to a minor but aggravating point. You say that I needlessly polemicize against you under the pseudonym of Zinoviev. In this you are entirely mistaken. I believe, incidentally, that the misunderstanding arose as a result of the irregular mail delivery. I wrote about the Canton affair at a time when I was apprised of the famous letter of the two musketeers; in addition to this, reports came from Moscow that they had been supplied with secretaries in order to expose “Trotskyism”. I felt certain that Zinoviev would publish several of my letters on the Chinese question in which I set out to prove that in no case would there be such a special epoch in the Chinese revolution as an epoch of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, because incomparably fewer preconditions exist there than in our own country, and as experience, and not theory, has already shown us, the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry as such failed to materialize in our own country. Thus, my entire letter was written with a view to the past and future “exposures” on the part of Zinoviev.

In referring to the charge of ignoring the peasantry, I did not for a moment forget certain of our disputes on China – but I had no reason whatever to put in your lips this banal charge against me; for you, I trust, recognize that it is possible, without in the least ignoring the “peasantry”, to arrive at a conclusion that the only road for solving the peasant question lies through the dictatorship of the proletariat. So that you, my dear E.A. – please do not take offense at a hunter’s simile – assume gratuitously the role of a startled hare who concludes that the rifle is being aimed at him when the pursuit follows a totally different track.

I came to the opinion that there would not be any democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in China from the time the Wuhan government was first formed. I based myself precisely upon the analysis of the most fundamental social facts, and not upon the manner in which they were refracted politically, which, as is well known, often assumes peculiar forms, since, in this sphere, factors of a secondary order enter in, including national tradition. I became convinced that the basic social facts have already cleared the road for themselves through all the peculiarities of political superstructures, when the Wuhan shipwreck destroyed utterly the legend of the left Kuomintang, allegedly embracing nine-tenths of the entire Kuomintang. In 1924-25, it was almost an accepted commonplace that the Kuomintang was a workers’ and peasants party. This party “unexpectedly” proved to be bourgeois capitalist. Then another version was created, that the latter was only a “summit”, but that the genuine Kuomintang, nine-tenths of the Kuomintang, was a revolutionary peasant party. Once again, it turned out “unexpectedly” that the left Kuomintang, in whole and in part, proceeded to smash the peasant movement which, as is well known, has great traditions in China and its own traditional organizational forms that became widespread during these years. That is why, when you write in the spirit of absolute abstraction that “it is impossible to say today whether the Chinese petty-bourgeoisie will be able to create any sort of parties analogous to our SRs, or whether such parties will be created by the right-wing communists who split off, etc.” I reply to this argument from “the theory of improbabilities” as follows:

In the first place, even were the SRs to be created, there would not at all follow from this any dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, precisely as none followed in our own country, despite immeasurably more favorable conditions; secondly, instead of guessing whether the petty-bourgeoisie is capable in the future – i.e., with the further aggravation of class relations – of playing a greater or lesser independent role (suppose a piece of wood suddenly fires a bullet?), one should rather ask why did the petty-bourgeoisie prove incapable of playing such a role in the recent past? When it had at its disposal the most favorable conditions the Communist Party was driven into the Kuomintang, the latter was declared a workers’ and peasants’ party, it was supported by the entire authority of the Communist International and the USSR, the peasant movement was far-flung and sought for leadership, the intelligentsia was widely mobilized since 1919, etc., etc.

You write that China still faces the “colossal problem of the agrarian bourgeois-democratic revolution.” To Lenin, this was the root of the question. Lenin pointed out that the peasantry, even as an estate, is capable of playing a revolutionary role in the struggle against the estate of the landed nobility, and the bureaucracy indissolubly linked up with the latter, crowned by the tsarist autocracy. In the subsequent stage, says Lenin, the kulaks will break with the workers, and together with them a considerable section of the middle peasants, but this will take place during the transition to the proletarian revolution, as an integral part of the international revolution. But how do matters stand in China? China has no landed nobility; no peasant estate, fused by community of interests against the landlords. The agrarian revolution in China is aimed against the urban and rural bourgeoisie. Radek has stressed this often – even Bukharin has half-understood this now. In this lies the gist of the matter!

You write that “the social content of the first stage of the future third Chinese revolution cannot be characterized as a socialist overturn.” But we run the risk here of falling into Bukharinistic scholasticism, and of occupying ourselves with splitting hairs over terminology instead of with a living characterization of the dialectic process. What was the content of our revolution from October 1917 to July 1918? We left the mills and factories in the hands of the capitalists, confining ourselves to workers’ control; we expropriated the landed estates and put through the petty-bourgeois SR program of the socialization of land; and to crown it all, during this period, we had a coparticipant in power in the form of the Left SRs. One could say with complete justification that “the social content of the first stage of the October Revolution cannot be characterized as a socialist overturn.” I believe it was Yakovlev and several other Red professors who spilled a great deal of sophistry over this. Lenin said that we completed the bourgeois revolution en route. But the Chinese revolution (the “third”) will have to begin the drive against the kulak at its very first stages; it will have to expropriate the concessions of foreign capitalists, for, without this, there cannot be any unification of China in the sense of a genuine state sovereignty in economics and politics. In other words, the very first stage of the third Chinese revolution will be less bourgeois in content than the first stage of the October Revolution.

On the other hand, the Canton events (as earlier Chinese events, etc.) demonstrated that the “national” bourgeoisie, too, having behind it Hong Kong, foreign advisers, and foreign cruisers, assumes such a position in relation to the slightest independent movement of workers and peasants as renders workers’ control of production even less likely than was the case among us. In all probability we shall have to expropriate mills and factories, of any size, at the very first moments of the “third Chinese revolution.”

To be sure, you propose simply to set aside the evidence of the Canton uprising. You say “since” the Canton insurrection was an adventure – i.e., not an undertaking that grew out of a mass movement – therefore “how can such an undertaking create a new situation ...?” Now, you yourself know that it is entirely impermissible thus to simplify the question. I would be the last person to argue against the fact that there were elements of adventurism in the Canton uprising. But to picture the Canton events as some sort of hocus-pocus from which no conclusions flow is an oversimplified attempt at evading the analysis of the actual content of the Canton experience. Wherein did adventurism lie? In the fact that the leadership, striving to cover up its past sins, monstrously forced the course of events, and caused a miscarriage. The mass movement existed, but it was inadequate and immature. It is wrong to think that presumably a miscarriage can teach us nothing about the maternal organism and the process of gestation. The enormous and theoretically decisive significance of the Canton events for the fundamental questions of the Chinese revolution lies precisely in the fact that we have here – “thanks to” the adventure (yes! of course!) – what happens so rarely in history and politics: virtually a laboratory experiment on a gigantic scale. We paid very dearly for it, but that is all the less reason to wave its lessons aside.

The conditions for the experiment were almost “chemically pure.” All the previously adopted resolutions had set down, sealed, and canonized, just like two times two equals four, that the revolution is bourgeois-agrarian, that only those “who leap over stages” could babble about the dictatorship of the proletariat based upon an alliance with the peasant poor, who compose 80 percent of the Chinese peasantry, etc., etc. The last convention of the Communist Party of China met under this banner. A special representative of the Comintern, Comrade N., was present. We were told that the new CEC of the Chinese CP was above all suspicion. During this time, the campaign against so-called Trotskyism attained the wildest tempo, in China as well. Yet, on the very threshold of the Canton events, the CEC of the Chinese CP adopted, in the words of Pravda, a resolution declaring that the Chinese revolution had assumed a “permanent” character. Moreover, the representative of the Comintern, Comrade N., held the same position.

Under the “permanent” character of the revolution we must here understand the following: face to face with the supremely responsible practical task (though it was posed prematurely) the Chinese communists and even the representative of the Comintern, after taking into account the entire past experience and, as it were, all the political assets, drew the conclusion that only the workers led by the communists could lead the peasants against the landowners (the urban and rural bourgeoisie); and that only the dictatorship of the proletariat based on an alliance with the hundreds of millions of peasant poor could ensue from such a victorious struggle.

Just as during the Paris Commune, which also had in it elements of a laboratory experiment (for the uprising took place there in a single city isolated from the rest of the country), the Proudhonists and Blanquists had to resort to steps directly contrary to their own doctrines, and thus (according to Marx) revealed all the more clearly the actual logic of class relations – so in Canton, too, the leaders, who were stuffed to the ears with prejudices against the bogie of the “permanent revolution,” once they set to work, proved guilty of committing this original permanent sin from their very first steps. What happened, then, to the antitoxin of Martynovism that had been injected in bovine and asinine doses? Oh no! If this were only an adventure, i.e., a sort of hocus-pocus, showing nothing and proving nothing, then this adventure would have assumed the image and likeness of its creators. But no! This adventure came in contact with the earth, it was fed by the juices of real (though immature) mass movements and relations; and it was on this account that the said “adventure” seized its own creators by the scruff, impolitely picked them up, shook them in the air, and then deposited them on their heads, tapping their skulls, for firmness’ sake, against the Chinese pavements ... As the latest resolutions and the latest article on this subject testify, these said “creators” are still standing on their heads, “permanently” dancing with their feet in the air.

It is ludicrous and impermissible to say that it is “inopportune” to draw conclusions from living events which every worker-revolutionist must think through to the end. At the time of the Ho Lung-Yeh T’ing uprising I wanted to pose openly the question that, in view of the consummation of the Kuomintang cycle of development, only the vanguard of the proletariat could aspire to power. This would presuppose a new standpoint for it, a new self-appraisal on its part – after a reevaluation of the objective situation – and this very thing would have excluded such an adventuristic approach to the situation as “We’ll bide our time in a little corner, the peasant will come to our assistance by starting things, and somebody will somehow seize power and do something.” At that time, certain comrades said to me, “It is inopportune to raise these questions now in connection with Ho Lung who apparently has been crushed already.” I did not at all tend to overestimate Ho Lung’s uprising; I did consider, nevertheless, that it was the last signal in favor of the necessity to review the orientation in the Chinese revolution. Had these questions been opportunely posed at that time, then, perhaps, the ideological authors of the Canton adventure might have been compelled to think things over, and the Chinese party might not have been so ruthlessly destroyed; and if not, then in the light of our prognosis and our warning, the Canton events would have entered as a weighty lesson into the consciousness of hundreds and thousands, as for example, did Radek’s warning about Chiang Kai-shek, on the eve of the Shanghai coup d’etat. No, the propitious time has passed. I do not know when the Chinese revolution will revive. But we must utilize whatever time remains at our disposal entirely for preparation and, moreover, on the basis of the fresh course of events.

You write that it is necessary to study the history of China, its economic life, statistical data, etc. Nobody can object to this (unless this is intended as an argument to postpone the question to doomsday). In my own justification, however, I must say that since my arrival in Alma Ata I have occupied myself only with China (India, Polynesia, etc., for comparative study). Of course more gaps remain than completely covered places, but I must say nevertheless that in all the new (for myself) books I am reading, I find even today nothing new in principle. But the chief point still remains – the confirmation of our prognoses by experience – first in relation to the Kuomintang as a whole, then in relation to the “left” Kuomintang and the Wuhan government, and finally, in relation to the “deposit” on the third revolution, in the shape of the Canton uprising.

That is why I consider that there cannot be any postponement.

Two final questions:

You ask: Was Lenin right when during the war he defended against Bukharin the idea that Russia was still facing a bourgeois revolution? Yes, he was right. The Bukharin formulation was schematic and scholastic, i.e., it represented the self-same caricature of the permanent revolution that Bukharin tries to ascribe to me now. But there is also another side to this same question: Was Lenin right when against Stalin, Rykov, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Frunze, Kalinin, Tomsky, etc., etc. (let alone all the Lyadovs), he advanced his April Theses? Was he right when against Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Milyutin, etc., etc., he defended the seizure of power by the proletariat? You know better than I that had Lenin failed to reach Petrograd in April 1917, there would have been no October Revolution. Up to February 1917, the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry was historically progressive; after the February overturn the same slogan – of Stalin, Kamenev, and the rest – became a reactionary slogan.

From April to May 1927 I supported the slogan of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry for China (more correctly, I concurred with this slogan) inasmuch as the social forces had not as yet passed their political verdict, although the situation in China was immeasurably less propitious for this slogan than in Russia. After this verdict was passed by a colossal historical action (the experience of Wuhan) the slogan of democratic dictatorship became a reactionary force and will lead inevitably either to opportunism or adventurism.

You further argue that for the October leap we had the February running start. That is correct. If, even at the beginning of the Northern Expedition, we had begun to build soviets in the “emancipated” regions (and the masses were striving for that), we would have obtained the necessary running start, would have disintegrated the armies of the enemies, obtained our own army, and we would have assumed power – if not in the whole of China at once, then in a very considerable section of it. At present, of course, the revolution is on the decline. The babbling of the light-minded scribblers about the fact that the revolution is on the verge of a new upswing, inasmuch as, in China, if you please, countless executions are taking place and a cruel commercial and industrial crisis is raging – this is criminal idiocy. After three of the greatest defeats, the crisis does not arouse but on the contrary oppresses the proletariat, while the executions are destroying the politically weakened party.

We have entered the period of reflux. What will provide the impulse for a new mounting wave? Or to put it differently: What conditions will provide the necessary running start for the proletarian vanguard at the head of the worker and peasant masses? This I do not know. The future will show whether only internal processes will suffice or an impulse from without will be necessary. I am willing to allow that the first stage of the movement may repeat in an abridged and altered form the stages of the revolution that we have already passed (for example, some new parody of the “all-national front” against Chang Tso-lin); but this first phase will perhaps suffice only in order to enable the Communist Party to advance and proclaim to the popular masses its “April Theses,” i.e., its program and strategy of the conquest of power by the proletariat. If, however, we enter into the new upswing, which will unfold with an incomparably more rapid tempo than in the past, with a schema of a “democratic dictatorship” that is already outworn today, then one could stake his head beforehand that in China very many Lyadovs will be found, but hardly a Lenin in order to effect (against all the Lyadovs) the tactical rearming of the party on the day after the revolutionary spurt.

Third Letter [Undated]

Dear E.A.:

Received your airmail letter yesterday. Thus, all the letters have arrived. The last letter took sixteen days in transit, i.e., six days less than ordinary mail. Two days ago I sent you a detailed answer to your objections on the Chinese revolution. But on awakening this morning I recalled that I had failed (apparently) to reply to the argument you deem most important, as I understand it. You write:

“Your basic error lies in the fact that you determine the character of a revolution on the basis of who makes it, which class, i.e., by the effective subject, while you seem to assign secondary importance to the objective social content of the process.”

Then you go on to adduce as examples the November revolution in Germany, the 1789 revolution in France, and the future Chinese revolution.

This argument is in essence only a “sociological” generalization (to use Johnsonian terminology) of all your other concrete economic and historical views. But I want also to reply to your views in their generalized sociological formulation, for in so doing the “fundamental error” (on your part and not mine) stands out most clearly.

How to characterize a revolution? By the class which achieves it or by the social content lodged in it? There is a theoretical trap lodged in counterposing the former to the latter in such a general form. The Jacobin period of the French revolution was of course the period of petty-bourgeois dictatorship, in addition to which, the petty-bourgeoisie – in complete harmony with its “sociological nature” – cleared the way for the big bourgeoisie. The November revolution in Germany was the beginning of the proletarian revolution but it was checked at its very first steps by the petty-bourgeois leadership, and succeeded only in achieving a few things unfulfilled by the bourgeois revolution. What are we to call the November revolution – bourgeois or proletarian? Both the former and the latter would be incorrect. The place of the October Revolution will be determined when we both give the mechanics of this revolution and determine its results. There will be no contradiction in this case between the mechanics (understanding under it, of course, not only the motive force but also the leadership) and the results – both the former and the latter are “sociologically” indeterminate in character. I take the liberty to put the question to you: What would you call the Hungarian revolution of 1919? You will say: proletarian. Why? Didn’t the “social content” of the Hungarian revolution prove to be capitalist! You will reply: This is the social content of the counterrevolution. Correct. Apply this now to China. The “social content” under the dictatorship of the proletariat (based on an alliance with the peasantry) can remain during a certain period of time not socialist as yet, but the road to bourgeois development from the dictatorship of the proletariat can lead only through counterrevolution. For this reason, so far as the social content is concerned, it is necessary to say: “We shall wait and see.”

The gist of the matter lies precisely in the fact that although the political mechanics of the revolution depend in the last analysis upon an economic base (not only national but international) they cannot, however, be deduced with abstract logic from this economic base. In the first place, the base itself is very contradictory and its “maturity” does not allow of bald statistical determination; secondly, the economic base as well as the political situation must be approached not in the national but in the international framework, taking into account the dialectic action and reaction between the national and the international; thirdly, the class struggle and its political expression, unfolding on the economic foundations, also have their own imperious logic of development, which cannot be leaped over. When Lenin said in April 1917 that only the dictatorship of the proletariat could save Russia from disintegration and doom, Sukhanov (the most consistent opponent) refuted him with two fundamental arguments: (1) the social content of the bourgeois revolution has not yet been achieved; (2) Russia had not yet matured economically for a socialist revolution. And what was Lenin’s answer? Whether or not Russia has matured is something that “we shall wait and see”; this cannot be determined statistically; this will be determined by the trend of events and, moreover, only on an international scale. But, said Lenin, independently of how this social content will be determined in the end, at the present moment, today, there is no other road to the salvation of the country – from famine, war, and enslavement – except through the seizure of power by the proletariat.

That is precisely what we must say now in relation to China. First of all, it is incorrect to allege that the agrarian revolution composes the basic content of the present historical struggle. In what must this agrarian revolution consist? The universal partition of the land? But there have been several such universal partitions in Chinese history. And then the development always returned to “its proper orbit.” The agrarian revolution is the destruction of the Chinese landlords and Chinese functionaries. But the national unification of China and its economic sovereignty imply its emancipation from world imperialism, for which China remains the most important safety valve against the collapse of European and, tomorrow, of American capitalism. The agrarian overturn in China without national unification and tariff autonomy (in essence: monopoly of foreign trade) would not open any way out or any perspectives for China. This is what predetermines the gigantic sweep and the monstrous sharpness of the struggle facing China today, after the experience already undergone by all the participants.

What then should a Chinese communist say to himself under these conditions? Can he really proceed to reason as follows: The social content of the Chinese revolution can only be bourgeois (as proved by such and such charts). Therefore we must not pose ourselves the task of the dictatorship of the proletariat; the social content prescribes, in the most extreme case, a coalition dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. But for a coalition (in question here, of course, is a political coalition, and not a “sociological” alliance of classes) a partner is needed. Moscow taught me that the Kuomintang is such a partner. However, no left Kuomintang materialized. What to do? Obviously, there only remains for me, a Chinese communist, to console myself with the idea that “it is impossible to say today whether the Chinese petty-bourgeoisie will be able to create any sort of parties” ... or whether it will not. Suppose it suddenly does?

A Chinese communist who reasons along such a prescription would cut the throat of the Chinese revolution.

Least of all, of course, is it a question here of summoning the Communist Party of China to an immediate insurrection for the seizure of power. The tempo depends entirely upon the circumstances. The task lies in seeing to it that the Communist Party is permeated through and through with the conviction that the third Chinese revolution can come to a triumphant conclusion only with the dictatorship of the proletariat under the leadership of the Communist Party. Moreover, it is necessary to understand this leadership not “in a general” sense, but in the sense of the direct wielding of complete revolutionary power. And so far as the tempo with which we shall have to build socialism in China is concerned, about this “we shall wait and see.”

Leon Trotsky

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Last updated on: 15.4.2007