Leon Trotsky

The Third International
After Lenin

III. Summary and Perspectives
of the Chinese Revolution:
Its Lessons for the Countries of the Orient
and for the Whole of the Comintern

(Part 1)

1. On the Nature of the Colonial Bourgeoisie

2. The Stages of the Chinese Revolution

BOLSHEVISM AND MENSHEVISM and the Left wing of the German and international social democracy took definite shape on the analysis of the experiences, mistakes, and tendencies of the 1905 revolution. An analysis of the experiences of the Chinese revolution is today of no less importance for the international proletariat.

This analysis, however, has not even begun – it is prohibited. The official literature is engaged in hastily selecting facts to suit the resolutions of the ECCI, the hollowness of which has been completely revealed. The draft program dulls the sharpest points of the Chinese problem whenever possible, but it sets the seal of approval upon the essential points of the fatal line followed by the ECCI in the Chinese question. The analysis of the great historical process is replaced by a literary defense of bankrupt schemas.

1. On the Nature of The Colonial Bourgeoisie

The draft program states: “Temporary agreements [with the national bourgeoisie of colonial countries] are admissible only in so far as the bourgeoisie does not obstruct the revolutionary organization of the workers and peasants and wages a genuine struggle against imperialism.”

This formula, although it is deliberately tacked on as an incidental proposition, is one of the central postulates of the draft, for the countries of the Orient, at any rate. The main proposition deals, naturally, with the “emancipation [of the workers and peasants] from the influence of the national bourgeoisie.” But we judge not from the standpoint of grammar but politically and, moreover, on the basis of experience, and therefore we say: the main proposition is only an incidental one here, while the incidental proposition contains what is most essential. The formula, taken as a whole, is a classic Menshevik noose for the proletariat of the Orient.

What “temporary agreements” are meant here? In politics, as in nature, all things are “temporary.” Perhaps we are discussing here purely practical agreements from one occasion to the next? It goes without saying that we cannot renounce in advance such rigidly delimited and rigidly practical agreements as serve each time a quite definite aim. For example, such cases as involve agreements with the student youth of the Kuomintang for the organization of an anti-imperialist demonstration, or of obtaining assistance from the Chinese merchants for strikers in a foreign concession, etc. Such cases are not at all excluded in the future, even in China. But in that case why are general political conditions adduced here, namely, “... in so far as the bourgeoisie does not obstruct the revolutionary organization of the workers and peasants and wages a genuine [!] struggle against imperialism”? The sole “condition” for every agreement with the bourgeoisie, for each separate, practical, and expedient agreement adapted to each given case, consists in not allowing either the organizations or the banners to become mixed directly or indirectly for a single day or a single hour; it consists in distinguishing between the Red and the Blue, and in not believing for an instant in the capacity or readiness of the bourgeoisie either to lead a genuine struggle against imperialism or not to obstruct the workers and peasants. For practical and expedient agreements we have absolutely no use for such a condition as the one cited above. On the contrary, it could only cause us harm, running counter to the general line of our struggle against capitalism, which is not suspended even during the brief period of an “agreement.” As was said long ago, purely practical agreements, such as do not bind us in the least and do not oblige us to anything politically, can be concluded with the devil himself, if that is advantageous at a given moment. But it would be absurd in such a case to demand that the devil should generally become converted to Christianity, and that he use his horns not against workers and peasants but exclusively for pious deeds. In presenting such conditions we act in reality as the devil’s advocates, and beg him to let us become his godfathers.

By its absurd conditions, which serve to paint the bourgeoisie in bright colors in advance, the draft program states clearly and definitely (despite the diplomatic and incidental character of its thesis) that involved here are precisely long-term political blocs and not agreements for specific occasions concluded for practical reasons and rigidly confined to practical aims. But in such a case, what is meant by demands that the bourgeoisie wage a “genuine” struggle and that it “not obstruct” the workers? Do we present these conditions to the bourgeoisie itself, and demand a public promise from it? It will make you any promises you want! It will even send its delegates to Moscow, enter the Peasants’ International, adhere as a “sympathizing” party to the Comintern, peek into the Red International of Labor Unions. In short, it will promise anything that will give it the opportunity (with our assistance) to dupe the workers and peasants, more efficiently, more easily, and more completely to throw sand in their eyes – until the first opportunity, such as was offered in Shanghai.

But perhaps it is not a question here of political obligations exacted from the bourgeoisie which, we repeat, it will immediately agree to in order thus to transform us into its guarantors before the working masses? Perhaps it is a question here of an “objective” and “scientific” evaluation of a given national bourgeoisie, an expert a priori “sociological” prognosis, as it were, of its capacity to wage a struggle and not to obstruct? Sad to say, as the most recent and freshest experience testifies, such an a priori prognosis makes fools out of experts as a rule. And it would not be so bad, if only they alone were involved ...

There cannot be the slightest doubt on the matter: the text deals precisely with long-term political blocs. It would be entirely superfluous to include in a program the question of occasional practical agreements. For this purpose, a matter-of-fact tactical resolution On Our Current Tasks would suffice. Involved here is a question of justifying and setting a programmatic seal of approval upon yesterday’s orientation toward the Kuomintang, which doomed the second Chinese revolution to destruction, and which is capable of destroying revolutions in the future.

According to the idea advanced by Bukharin, the real author of the draft, all stakes are placed precisely upon the general evaluation of the colonial bourgeoisie, whose capacity to struggle and not to obstruct must be proved not by its own oaths but in a rigorous “sociological” manner, that is by a thousand and one scholastic schemes adapted to opportunist purposes.

To bring this out more clearly let us refer back to the Bukharin evaluation of the colonial bourgeoisie. After citing the “anti-imperialist content” of colonial revolutions, and quoting Lenin (without any justification whatever), Bukharin proclaims:

“The liberal bourgeoisie in China played an objectively revolutionary role over a period of a number of years, and not months. Then it exhausted itself. This was not all a political ‘twenty-four hour’ holiday of the type of the Russian liberal revolution of 1905.”

Everything here is wrong from the beginning to end.

Lenin really taught us to differentiate rigidly between an oppressed and oppressor bourgeois nation. From this follow conclusions of exceptional importance. For instance, our attitude toward a war between an imperialist and a colonial country. For a pacifist, such a war is a war like any other. For a communist, a war of a colonial nation against an imperialist nation is a bourgeois revolutionary war. Lenin thus raised the national liberation movements, the colonial insurrections, and wars of the oppressed nations, to the level of the bourgeois democratic revolutions, in particular, to that of the Russian revolution of 1905. But Lenin did not at all place the wars for national liberation above bourgeois democratic revolutions as is now done by Bukharin, after his 180 degree turn. Lenin insisted on a distinction between an oppressed bourgeois nation and a bourgeois oppressor nation. But Lenin nowhere raised and never could raise the question as if the bourgeoisie of a colonial or a semi-colonial country in an epoch of struggle for national liberation must be more progressive and more revolutionary than the bourgeoisie of a non-colonial country in the epoch of the democratic revolution. This does not flow from anything in theory; there is no confirmation of it in history. For example, pitiful as Russian liberalism was, and hybrid as was its Left half, the petty bourgeois democrats, the Social Revolutionists and Mensheviks, it would nevertheless hardly be possible to say that Chinese liberalism and Chinese bourgeois democracy rose to a higher level or were more revolutionary than their Russian prototypes.

To present matters as if there must inevitably flow from the fact of colonial oppression the revolutionary character of a national bourgeoisie is to reproduce inside out the fundamental error of Menshevism, which held that the revolutionary nature of the Russian bourgeoisie must flow from the oppression of feudalism and the autocracy.

The question of the nature and the policy of the bourgeoisie is settled by the entire internal class structure of a nation waging the revolutionary struggle; by the historical epoch in which that struggle develops; by the degree of economic, political, and military dependence of the national bourgeoisie upon world imperialism as a whole or a particular section of it; finally, and this is most important, by the degree of class activity of the native proletariat, and by the state of its connections with the international revolutionary movement.

A democratic or national liberation movement may offer the bourgeoisie an opportunity to deepen and broaden its possibilities for exploitation. Independent intervention of the proletariat on the revolutionary arena threatens to deprive the bourgeoisie of the possibility to exploit altogether.

Let us observe some facts more closely.

The present inspirers of the Comintern have untiringly repeated that Chiang Kai-shek waged a war “against imperialism” whilst Kerensky marched hand in hand with the imperialists. Ergo: whereas a ruthless struggle had to be waged against Kerensky, it was necessary to support Chiang Kai-shek.

The ties between Kerenskyism and imperialism were indisputable. One can go even still further back and point out that the Russian bourgeoisie “dethroned” Nicholas II with the blessings of British and French imperialism. Not only did Miliukov-Kerensky support the war waged by Lloyd George-Poincaré, but Lloyd George and Poincaré also supported Miliukov’s and Kerensky’s revolution first against the Czar, and later against the workers and peasants. This is absolutely beyond dispute.

But how did matters stand in this respect in China? The “February” revolution in China took place in 1911. That revolution was a great and progressive event, although it was accomplished with the direct participation of the imperialists. Sun Yat-sen, in his memoirs, relates how his organization relied in all its work on the “support” of the imperialist states – either Japan, France, or America. If Kerensky in 1917 continued to take part in the imperialist war, then the Chinese bourgeoisie, the one that is so “national,” so “revolutionary,” etc., supported Wilson’s intervention in the war with the hope that the Entente would help to emancipate China. In 1918 Sun Yat-sen addressed to the governments of the Entente his plans for the economic development and political emancipation of China. There is no foundation whatever for the assertion that the Chinese bourgeoisie, in its struggle against the Manchu Dynasty, displayed any higher revolutionary qualities than the Russian bourgeoisie in the struggle against Czarism; or that there is a principled difference between Chiang Kai-shek’s and Kerensky’s attitude toward imperialism.

But, says the ECCI, Chiang Kai-shek nevertheless did wage war against imperialism. To present the situation in this manner is to put too crude a face upon reality. Chiang Kai-shek waged war against certain Chinese militarists, the agents of one of the imperialist powers. This is not at all the same as to wage a war against imperialism. Even Tang Ping-shan understood this. In his report to the Seventh Plenum of the ECCI (at the end of 1926) Tang Ping-shan characterized the policy of the Kuomintang; center headed by Chiang Kai-shek as follows:

“In the sphere of international policy it occupies a passive position in the full meaning of that word ... It is inclined to fight only against British imperialism; so far as the Japanese imperialists are concerned, however, it is ready under certain conditions to make a compromise with them.” [1]

The attitude of the Kuomintang toward imperialism was from the very outset not revolutionary but entirely opportunist. It endeavored to smash and isolate the agents of certain imperialist powers so as to make a deal with the self-same or other imperialist powers on terms more favorable for the Chinese bourgeoisie. That is all. But the gist of the matter lies in the fact that the entire formulation of the question is erroneous.

One must measure not the attitude of every given national bourgeoisie to imperialism “in general,” but its attitude to the immediate revolutionary historical tasks of its own nation. The Russian bourgeoisie was the bourgeoisie of an imperialist oppressor state; the Chinese bourgeoisie, a bourgeoisie of an oppressed colonial country. The overthrow of feudal Czarism was a progressive task in old Russia. The overthrow of the imperialist yoke is a progressive historical task in China. However, the conduct of the Chinese bourgeoisie in relation to imperialism, the proletariat, and the peasantry, was not more revolutionary than the attitude of the Russian bourgeoisie towards Czarism and the revolutionary classes in Russia, but, if anything, viler and more reactionary. That is the only way to pose the question.

The Chinese bourgeoisie is sufficiently realistic and acquainted intimately enough with the nature of world imperialism to understand that a really serious struggle against the latter requires such an upheaval of the revolutionary masses as would primarily become a menace to the bourgeoisie itself. If the struggle against the Manchu Dynasty was a task of smaller historical proportions than the overthrow of Czarism, then the struggle against world imperialism is a task on a much larger scale; and if we taught the workers of Russia from the very beginning not to believe in the readiness of liberalism and the ability of petty bourgeois democracy to overthrow Czarism and to destroy feudalism, we should no less energetically have imbued the Chinese workers from the outset with the same spirit of distrust. The new and absolutely false theory promulgated by Stalin-Bukharin about the “immanent” revolutionary spirit of the colonial bourgeoisie is, in substance, a translation of Menshevism into the language of Chinese politics. It serves only to convert the oppressed position of China into an internal political premium for the Chinese bourgeoisie, and it throws an additional weight on the scale of the bourgeoisie against the scale of the trebly oppressed Chinese proletariat.

But, we are told by Stalin and Bukharin, the authors of the draft program, Chiang Kai-shek’s northern expedition roused a powerful movement among the worker and peasant masses. This is incontestable. But did not the fact that Guchkov and Shulgin brought with them to Petrograd the abdication of Nicholas II play a revolutionary role? Did it not arouse the most downtrodden, exhausted, and timid strata of the populace? Did not the fact that Kerensky, who but yesterday was a Trudovik, became the President of the Ministers’ Council and the Commander-in-Chief, rouse the masses of soldiers? Did it not bring them to meetings? Did it not rouse the village to its feet against the landlord? The question could be posed even more widely. Did not the entire activities of capitalism rouse the masses, did it not rescue them, to use the expression of the Communist Manifesto, from the idiocy of rural life? Did it not impel the proletarian battalions to the struggle? But does our historical evaluation of the objective role of capitalism as a whole or of certain actions of the bourgeoisie in particular, become a substitute for our active class revolutionary attitude toward capitalism or toward the actions of the bourgeoisie? Opportunist policies have always been based on this kind of non-dialectical, conservative, tail-endist “objectivism.” Marxism on the contrary invariably taught that the revolutionary consequences of one or another act of the bourgeoisie, to which it is compelled by its position, will be fuller, more decisive, less doubtful, and firmer, the more independent the proletarian vanguard will be in relation to the bourgeoisie, the less it will be inclined to place its fingers between the jaws of the bourgeoisie, to see it in bright colors, to over-estimate its revolutionary spirit or its readiness for a “united front” and for a struggle against imperialism.

The Stalinist and Bukharinist appraisal of the colonial bourgeoisie cannot stand criticism, either theoretical, historical, or political. Yet this is precisely the appraisal, as we have seen, that the draft program seeks to canonize.

*  *  *

One unexposed and uncondemned error always leads to another, or prepares the ground for it.

If yesterday the Chinese bourgeoisie was enrolled in the united revolutionary front, then today it is proclaimed to have “definitely gone over to the counter-revolutionary camp.” It is not difficult to expose how unfounded are these transfers and enrollments which have been effected in a purely administrative manner without any serious Marxian analysis whatever.

It is absolutely self-evident that the bourgeoisie in joining the camp of the revolution does so not accidentally, not because it is light-minded, but under the pressure of its own class interests. For fear of the masses the bourgeoisie subsequently deserts the revolution or openly displays its concealed hatred of the revolution. But the bourgeoisie can go over “definitely to the counter-revolutionary camp,” that is, free itself from the necessity of “supporting” the revolution again, or at least of flirting with it, only in the event that its fundamental class aspirations are satisfied either by revolutionary means or in another way (for instance, the Bismarckian way). Let us recall the history of the period of 1848-1871. Let us recall that the Russian bourgeoisie was able to turn its back so bluntly upon the revolution of 1905 only because the revolution gave it the State Duma, that is, it received the means whereby it could bring direct pressure to bear on the bureaucracy and make deals with it. Nevertheless, when the war of 1914-1917 revealed the inability of the “modernized” regime to secure the basic interests of the bourgeoisie, the latter again turned towards the revolution, and made its turn more sharply than in 1905.

Can anyone maintain that the revolution of 1925–1927 in China has at least partly satisfied the basic interests of Chinese capitalism? No. China is today just as far removed from real national unity and from tariff autonomy as it was prior to 1925. Yet, the creation of a unified domestic market and its protection from cheaper foreign goods is a life-and-death question for the Chinese bourgeoisie, a question second in importance only to that of maintaining the basis of its class domination over the proletariat and the peasant poor. But, for the Japanese and the British bourgeoisie the maintenance of the colonial status of China is likewise a question of no less importance than economic autonomy is for the Chinese bourgeoisie. That is why there will still be not a few Leftward zigzags in the policy of the Chinese bourgeoisie. There will be no lack of temptations in the future for the amateurs of the “national united front.” To tell the Chinese communists today that their alliance with the bourgeoisie from 1924 to the end of 1927 was correct but that it is worthless now because the bourgeoisie has definitely gone over to the counter-revolutionary camp, is to disarm the Chinese communists once again in face of the coming objective changes in the situation and the inevitable Leftward zigzags of the Chinese bourgeoisie. The war now being conducted by Chiang Kai-shek against the North already overthrows completely the mechanical scheme of the authors of the draft program.

*  *  *

But the principled error of the official formulation of the question will doubtless appear more glaringly, more convincingly, and more incontrovertibly if we recall the fact which is still fresh in our minds, and which is of no little importance, namely, that Czarist Russia was a combination of oppressor and oppressed nations, that is of Great Russians and “foreigners,” many of whom were in a completely colonial or semi-colonial status. Lenin not only demanded that the greatest attention be paid to the national problem of the peoples in Czarist Russia but also proclaimed (against Bukharin and others) that it was the elementary duty of the proletariat of the dominant nation to support the struggle of the oppressed nations for their self-determination, up to and including separation. But did the party conclude from this that the bourgeoisie of the nationalities oppressed by Czarism (the Poles, Ukrainians, Tartars, Jews, Armenians, and others) were more progressive, more radical, and more revolutionary than the Russian bourgeoisie? Historical experience bears out the fact that the Polish bourgeoisie-notwithstanding the fact that it suffered both from the yoke of the autocracy and from national oppression – was more reactionary than the Russian bourgeoisie and, in the State Dumas, always gravitated not towards the Cadets but towards the Octobrists. The same is true of the Tartar bourgeoisie. The fact that the Jews had absolutely no rights whatever did not prevent the Jewish bourgeoisie from being even more cowardly, more reactionary, and more vile than the Russian bourgeoisie. Or perhaps the Esthonian bourgeoisie, the Leftish, the Georgian, or the Armenian bourgeoisie were more revolutionary than the Great Russian bourgeoisie? How could anyone forget such historical lessons!

Or should we perhaps recognize today, after the event, that Bolshevism was wrong when – in contradistinction to the Bund, the Dashnaks, the PPSers, the Georgian and other Mensheviks – it called upon the workers of all the oppressed nationalities, of all the colonial peoples in Czarist Russia, at the very dawn of the bourgeois democratic revolution, to dissociate themselves and form their own autonomous class organizations, to break ruthlessly all organizational ties not only with the liberal bourgeois, but also with the revolutionary petty bourgeois parties, to win over the working class in the struggle against these parties, and through the workers fight against these parties for influence over the peasantry? Did we not commit here a “Trotskyist” mistake? Did we not skip over, in relation to these oppressed, and in many cases very backward nations, the phase of development corresponding to the Kuomintang?

As a matter of fact how easily one could construct a theory that the PPS, Dashnak-Tsutiun, the Bund, etc., were “peculiar” forms of the necessary collaboration of the various classes in the struggle against the autocracy and against national oppression! How can such historical lessons be forgotten?

For a Marxist it was clear even prior to the Chinese events of the last three years – and today it should be clear even to the blind – that foreign imperialism, as a direct factor in the internal life of China, renders the Chinese Miliukovs and Chinese Kerenskys in the final analysis even more vile than their Russian prototypes. It is not for nothing that the very first manifesto issued by our party proclaimed that the further East we go, the lower and viler becomes the bourgeoisie, the greater are the tasks that fall upon the proletariat. This historical “law” fully applies to China as well.

“Our revolution is a bourgeois revolution, the workers must support the bourgeoisie – say the worthless politicians from the camp of the liquidators. Our revolution is a bourgeois revolution, say we who are Marxists. The workers must open the eyes of the people to the fraud of the bourgeois politicians, teach them not to place trust in promises and to rely on their OWN forces, on their OWN organization, on their OWN unity, and on their OWN weapons alone.” [2]

This Leninist thesis is compulsory for the Orient as a whole. It must by all means find a place in the program of the Comintern.

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2. The Stages of the Chinese Revolution

The first stage of the Kuomintang was the period of domination of the national bourgeoisie under the apologetic label of a “bloc of four classes.” The second period, after Chiang Kai-shek’s coup d’etat, was an experiment of parallel and “independent” domination of Chinese Kerenskyism, in the shape of the Hankow government” of the “Left” Wang Ching-wei. While the Russian Narodniks,” together with the Mensheviks, lent to their short-lived “dictatorship” the form of an open dual power, the Chinese “revolutionary democracy” did not even reach that stage. And inasmuch as history in general does not work to order, there only remains for us to understand that there is not and will not be any other “democratic dictatorship” except the dictatorship exercised by the Kuomintang since 1925. This remains equally true regardless of whether the semi-unification of China accomplished by the Kuomintang is maintained in the immediate future or the country is again dismembered. But precisely at a time when the class dialectics of the revolution, having spent all its other resources, clearly and conclusively put on the order of the day the dictatorship of the proletariat, leading the countless millions of oppressed and disinherited in city and village, the ECCI advanced the slogan of a democratic (i.e., bourgeois democratic) dictatorship of the workers and peasants. The reply to this formula was the Canton insurrection which, with all its prematurity, with all the adventurism of its leadership, raised the curtain of a new stage, or, more correctly, of the coming third Chinese revolution. It is necessary to dwell on this point in some detail.

Seeking to insure themselves against their past sins, the leadership monstrously forced the course of events at the end of last year and brought about the Canton miscarriage. However, even a miscarriage can teach us a good deal concerning the organism of the mother and the process of gestation. The tremendous and, from the standpoint of theory, truly decisive significance of the Canton events for the fundamental problems of the Chinese revolution is conditioned precisely upon the fact that we have here a phenomenon rare in history and politics, a virtual laboratory experiment on a colossal scale. We have paid for it dearly, but this obliges us all the more to assimilate its lessons.

One of the fighting slogans of the Canton insurrection, according to the account in Pravda (No. 31), was the cry “Down with the Kuomintang!” The Kuomintang banners and insignia were torn down and trampled under-foot. But even after the “betrayal” of Chiang Kai-shek, and the subsequent “betrayal” of Wang Ching-wei (betrayals not of their own class, but of our ... illusions), the ECCI had issued the solemn vow that: “We will not surrender the banner of the Kuomintang!” The workers of Canton outlawed the Kuomintang party, declaring all of its tendencies illegal. This means that for the solution of the basic national tasks, not only the big bourgeoisie but also the petty bourgeoisie was incapable of producing a political force, a party, or a faction, in conjunction with which the party of the proletariat might be able to solve the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution. The key to the situation lies precisely in the fact that the task of winning the movement of the poor peasants already fell entirely upon the shoulders of the proletariat, and directly upon the communist party; and that the approach to a genuine solution of the bourgeois-democratic tasks of the revolution necessitated the concentration of all power in the hands of the proletariat.

Pravda carried the following report about the policies of the short-lived Canton Soviet government:

“In the interests of the workers, the Canton Soviet issued decrees establishing ... workers’ control of industry through the factory committees ... the nationalization of big industry, transportation, and banks.”

Further on such measures are mentioned as: “The confiscation of all dwellings of the big bourgeoisie for the benefit of the toilers ...”

Thus it was the Canton workers who were in power and, moreover, the government was actually in the hands of the communist party. The program of the new state power consisted not only in the confiscation of whatever feudal estates there may be in Kwangtung in general; not only in the establishment of the workers’ control of production; but also in the nationalization of big industry, banks, and transportation, and even the confiscation of bourgeois dwellings and all bourgeois property for the benefit of the toilers. The question arises: if these are the methods of a bourgeois revolution then what should the proletarian revolution in China look like?

Notwithstanding the fact that the directives of the E.C.C.I. had nothing to say on the subject of the proletarian dictatorship and socialist measures; notwithstanding the fact that Canton is more petty bourgeois in character than Shanghai, Hankow, and other industrial centers of the country, the revolutionary overturn effected against the Knomintang led automatically to the dictatorship of the proletariat which, at its very first steps, found itself compelled by the entire situation to resort to more radical measures than those with which the October Revolution began. And this fact, despite its paradoxical appearance, flows quite lawfully from the social relations of China as well as from the entire development of the revolution.

Large and middle scale landed estates (such as obtain in China) are most closely interlinked with city capital, including foreign capital. There is no caste of feudal landlords in China in opposition to the bourgeoisie. The most widespread, common, and hated exploiter in the village is the kulak-usurer, the agent of finance capital in the cities. The agrarian revolution is therefore just as much anti-feudal as it is anti-bourgeois in character. In China, there will be practically no such stage as the first stage of our October revolution in which the kulak marched with the middle and poor peasant, frequently at their head, against the landlord. The agrarian revolution in China signifies from the outset, as it will signify subsequently, an uprising not only against the few genuine feudal landlords and the bureaucracy, but also against the kulaks and usurers. If in our country the poor peasant committees appeared on the scene only during the second stage of the October revolution, in the middle of 1918, in China, on the contrary, they will, in one form or another, appear on the scene as soon as the agrarian movement revives. The drive on the rich peasant will be the first and not the second step of the Chinese October.

The agrarian revolution, however, is not the sole content of the present historical struggle in China. The most extreme agrarian revolution, the general division of land (which will naturally be supported by the communist party to the very end), will not by itself provide a way out of the economic blind alley. China requires just as urgently national unity and economic sovereignty, that is, customs autonomy, or more correctly, a monopoly of foreign trade. And this means emancipation from world imperialism – imperialism for which China remains the most important prospective source not only of enrichment but also of actual existence, constituting a safety valve against the internal explosions of European capitalism today and American capitalism tomorrow. This is what predetermines the gigantic scope and monstrous sharpness of the struggle that faces the masses of China, all the more so now when the depth of the stream of the struggle has already been plumbed and felt by all of its participants.

The enormous role of foreign capital in Chinese industry and its way of relying directly in defense of its plunder on its own “national” bayonets,[3] render the program of workers’ control in China even less realizable than it was in our country. The direct expropriation first of the foreign capitalist and then of the Chinese capitalist enterprises will most likely be made imperative by the course of the struggle, on the day after the victorious insurrection.

Those objective socio-historical causes which pre-determined the “October” outcome of the Russian revolution rise before us in China in a still more accentuated form. The bourgeois and proletarian poles of the Chinese nation stand opposed to each other even more irreconcilably, if this is at all possible, than they did in Russia, since, on the one hand, the Chinese bourgeoisie is directly bound up with foreign imperialism and the latter’s military machine, and since, on the other hand, the Chinese proletariat has from the very beginning established a close bond with the Comintern and the Soviet Union. Numerically the Chinese peasantry constitutes an even more overwhelming mass than the Russian peasantry.[4] But being crushed in the vise of world contradictions, upon the solution of which in one way or another its fate depends, the Chinese peasantry is even less capable of playing a leading role than the Russian. At present this is no longer a matter of theoretical forecast, but a fact verified completely in all its aspects.

These fundamental and, at the same time, incontrovertible social and political prerequisites of the third Chinese revolution demonstrate not only that the formula of the democratic dictatorship has hopelessly outlived its usefulness, but also that the third Chinese revolution, despite the great backwardness of China, or more correctly, because of this great backwardness as compared with Russia, will not have a “democratic” period, not even such a six month period as the October Revolution had[5] (November 1917 to July 1918); but it will be compelled from the very outset to effect the most decisive shake-up and abolition of bourgeois property in city and village.

To be sure, this perspective does not harmonize with the pedantic and schematic conceptions concerning the interrelations between economics and politics. But the responsibility for this disharmony so disturbing to the prejudices which have newly taken root and which were already dealt a not inconsiderable blow by the October Revolution must be placed not on “Trotskyism” but on the law of uneven development. In this particular case this law is especially applicable.

It would be unwise pedantry to maintain that, had a Bolshevik policy been applied in the revolution of 19251927, the Chinese Communist Party would unfailingly have come to power. But it is contemptible philistinism to assert that such a possibility was entirely out of the question. The mass movement of workers and peasants was on a scale entirely adequate for this,[6] a was also the disintegration of the ruling classes. The national bourgeoisie sent its Chiang Kai-sheks and Wang Ching-weis as envoys to Moscow, and through its Hu Han-mins knocked at the door of the Comintern, precisely because it was hopelessly weak in face of the revolutionary masses; it realized its weakness and sought to insure itself. Neither the workers nor the peasants would have followed the national bourgeoisie if we ourselves had not dragged them by a rope. Had the Comintern pursued any sort of correct policy, the outcome of the struggle of the communist party for the masses would have been pre-determined – the Chinese proletariat would have supported the communists, while the peasant war would have supported the revolutionary proletariat.

If, at the beginning of the Northern expedition we had begun to organize Soviets in the “liberated” districts (and the masses were instinctively aspiring for that with all their might and main) we would have secured the necessary basis and a revolutionary running start, we would have rallied around us the agrarian uprisings, we would have built our own army, we would have disintegrated the enemy armies; and despite the youthfulness of the Communist Party of China, the latter would have been able, thanks to proper guidance from the Comintern, to mature in these exceptional years and to assume power, if not in the whole of China at once, then at least in a considerable part of China. And, above all, we would have had a party.

But something absolutely monstrous occurred precisely in the sphere of leadership-a veritable historical catastrophe. The authority of the Soviet Union, of the Bolshevik party, and of the Comintern served entirely, first, to support Chiang Kai-shek against an independent policy of the communist party, and then to support Wang Ching-wei as the leader of the agrarian revolution. Having trampled underfoot the very basis of Leninist policy and after breaking the spine of the young Communist Party of China, the E.C.C.I. predetermined the victory of Chinese Kerenskyism over Bolshevism, of the Chinese Miliukovs over the Kerenskys, and of British and Japanese imperialism over the Chinese Miliukovs.

In this and in this alone lies the meaning of what took place in China in the course of 1925–1927.

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1. Minutes of the Seventh Plenum, ECCI, Vol. I, p. 406.

2. Lenin, Works, Vol. XIV, part 1, p. 11.

3. The total of foreign investments in China was estimated, as of 1931, at U.S. $3,300,000,000. Of this total 78.1% was directly in business and trade enterprises and 21.9% in loans to the Chinese Government. Foreign capital controls nearly half the Chinese cotton industry. It directly controls about one-third of China’s railways and has a mortgage of more than $200,000,000 on the rest, with a total railway investment of $641,300,000. Foreign bottoms carried 81.31% of China’s foreign and coastal trade. Trade figures show a total adverse trade balance since 1902 of more than $3,000,000,000. There was an unrecorded but enormous drain of silver as a result of the opium trade during the 19th century. (For tables see C.F. Remer: Foreign Investments in China, N.Y. 1933, pp. 58; H.D. Fong: Cotton Industry and Trade In China, Peking 1932; H.D. Fong: China’s Industrialization, Shanghai 1931; China Year Book). It is interesting to note that the total foreign investment in Russia on the eve of the Great War was $3,882,000,000. To protect these investments the imperialist powers maintain military garrisons in key Chinese ports which totaled in 1927, 11,880 American, British, Japanese, French and Italian marines and soldiers. There are also regularly stationed American, British, Japanese, French and Italian fleets, patrolling the coasts and rivers. They include cruisers, aircraft carriers, destroyers, submarines and gunboats. There is also a large foreign police personnel in the foreign concessions. All these forces were increased during 1926–1927.

4. In the absence of authentic and complete population statistics in China, there exist only estimates and partial studies. A count of factory workers in 29 cities in 9 provinces in 1931 totaled 1,204,318. Another estimate including transport workers, dockers, construction workers and miners, brought the total to 2,750,000. Handicraftsmen, coolies engaged in miscellaneous labor, carriers, shop employees, apprentices, artisans, were estimated at 11,960,000 for all China in 1927, giving an approximate total for proletariat and semi-proletariat of about 15,000,000. This may be compared to the estimated Russian factory population in 1905 of about 10,000,000. The best estimates and studies of class divisions in the peasantry, who form about three-quarters of the whole population, have been made by Chen Han-seng, the noted agrarian economist, who found that in Kwangtung, as typical of the South, poor peasants formed 74% of the population and held % of the land. In Wusih, Central China, poor peasant families were 68.9% of the total and held 14.2% of the land. In Paoting, in the North, poor peasants were 65.2% with 25.9% of the land. Prof. Chen lists 65% of China’s farm population as land hungry. (For statistical tables and different estimates see: Chen Han-seng, The Present Agrarian Problem in China, Shanghai 1933; H.D. Fong, China’s Industrialization, Shanghai, 1931; Fang Fu-an, Chinese Labour, Shanghai 1931; Lowe Chun-hwa, Facing Labor Issues in China, Shanghai 1933; Proceedings of the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Conference, Hankow 1927.)

5. The distinction between the so-called democratic and the socialist periods of the Russian Bolshevik revolution are described by Lenin as follows: “First there was a movement, in conjunction with the entire peasantry, against the monarchy, against the landlords, against medievalism, and to that extent the revolution remained a bourgeois, a bourgeois-democratic one. Then it became a movement, in conjunction with the poorest peasantry, with the semi-proletariat, with all the exploited, against capitalism, including the village rich, the village vultures and the speculators, and to that extent the revolution became a socialist one. To attempt to put artificially a Chinese wall between the two stages, and to separate them by any other factor than the degree of preparedness of the proletariat and of its unity with the village poor, means completely to pervert and vulgarize Marxism and to replace it by liberalism. It means to smuggle through a reactionary defense of the bourgeoisie against the socialist proletariat, under the cloak of quasi-learned references to the progressive character of the bourgeoisie as compared with medievalism.” (N. Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and Kautsky the Renegade, London 1920, p. 92.)

6. Organized workers in China rose from 230,000 in 1923 to 570,000 in 1925, 1,264,000 in 1926 and 2,800,000 in 1927. (Pan-Pacific Worker, No. 2, Hankow, July 15, 1927.) More than 800,000 workers participated directly in the wave of strikes which followed the massacre of students by British police in Shanghai on May 30, 1925. General strikes completely paralyzed Shanghai and Hongkong, the latter strike lasting sixteen months. The peasant movement, which took on modern forms of organization only in 1922, directly embraced 9,720,000 peasants by March 1927, in Kwangtung, Hunan, Kiangsi and Hupeh provinces alone where independent seizure of the land was begun by the peasants in 1926 and carried out on a large scale, especially in Hunan, in the Spring of 1927.

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Last updated on: 15 February 2022