Leon Trotsky

A Reply to the
Chinese Oppositionists

Written: 22 December 1929.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. 3 No. 10, February 1, 1930.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California.
Transcription/HTML Markup: D. Walters.
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Dear Comrades:

On December 20 I received your letter of November 15; it took thirty-five days from Shanghai to Constantinople. For my reply to reach you, at least as many days must be allowed. Nothing can be done about it. Neither airmail nor radio are as yet at the service of the Opposition.

The most important thing in your letter is the announcement that you have published a platform of the Chinese Opposition. You should immediately translate it into at least one European language. The whole international Opposition must have the possibility of knowing this highly important document. I await your platform with the greatest impatience.

In your letter you pose two questions connected with the platform: the Constituent Assembly and the United States of Asia. The second question is entirely new; I must put off my reply until I can devote a special article to it. On the question of the Constituent Assembly I will reply briefly:

The political task of the Chinese Communist Party, weakened and driven into illegality, is to mobilize not only the workers but also the broad social layers of the city and the countryside against the bourgeois-military dictatorship. It is this end that the simplest and most natural slogan under present conditions, the Constituent Assembly, must serve. Tireless agitation must be carried on under this slogan in correlation with other slogans of the democratic revolution: the transfer of the land to the poor peasants, the eight-hour day, the independence of China, the right of self-determination for the people who constitute it.

Agitation must be supplemented by propaganda that will make ;it least the most advanced sections of the proletariat understand that the road leading to the Constituent Assembly can only pass through the insurrection against the military usurpers and the seizure of power by the popular masses.

The government that will emerge from the victorious revolution of the workers and peasants can only be a government of the dictatorship of the proletariat, leading the majority of the exploited and oppressed people. But the difference must be clearly understood between the general revolutionary perspective which we must tirelessly develop in articles and in theoretical and propaganda speeches and the current political slogan under which we can, beginning today, mobilize the masses by actually organizing them in opposition to the régime of the military dictatorship. Such a central political slogan is the slogan of the Constituent Assembly.

This slogan is dealt with briefly in the draft of the platform of the Chinese Opposition, drawn up in Constantinople by some Chinese and foreign comrades. My young friend, N., I know, has transmitted this draft to you. With all the greater impatience do I await your platform so as to be able to judge, documents in hand, if there are differences between you and Comrade N. and if the separate existence of two groups is justified. Until I can become acquainted with the facts and the documents, I am obliged to refrain from formulating any judgment on this important question.

You report that Chinese Stalinists fired at an Oppositionist in the streets of Canton. Outrageous as this act may be, I do not consider it impossible. In his “testament,” Lenin accused Stalin personally of a tendency to abuse power, that is, of violence. Since then this trait has developed monstrously in the apparatus of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and has been extended to the Communist International. Naturally, the dictatorship of the proletariat is inconceivable without the use of force, even against certain sectors of the proletariat itself. The workers’ state, however, also requires that workers’ democracy exercise the most vigilant control in order to know why, how, and in whose name violence is employed. This question presents itself in an entirely different manner in the bourgeois countries, where the revolutionary party constitutes only a small minority of the working class and where it has to struggle in order to win the majority. Under such conditions, the use of violence against ideological opponents – not strikebreakers, or provocateurs, or fascists attacking treacherously, but ideological opponents, honest Social-Democratic workers included – is an enormous crime and madness that must inevitably turn upon the revolutionary party itself. In the bitter struggle that the Bolsheviks conducted against the Narodniks and the Mensheviks during the fifteen years that preceded the October Revolution, there was never a question of employing methods of physical violence. As for individual terror, we Marxists rejected it even with regard to the Tsarist satraps. Nevertheless, in recent times the Communist parties, or rather their apparatus people, have resorted more and more frequently to the disruption of meetings and to other methods for the mechanical suppression of adversaries, notably the Left Opposition. Many bureaucrats are sincerely convinced that this is what real Bolshevism consists of. They avenge themselves on other proletarian groups for their impotence against the capitalist state, and thereby transform the bourgeois police into an arbiter between us.

It is difficult to imagine the depravity engendered by this combination of impotence and violence. The youth become more and more accustomed to thinking that the fist is a surer weapon than argument. In other words, political cynicism is cultivated, which more than anything else prepares individuals for passing over into the fascist camp. An implacable struggle must be waged against the brutal and disloyal methods of Stalinism, by denouncing them in the press and in meetings, by cultivating among the workers a hatred and contempt for all these pseudo-revolutionists who, instead of appealing to the brain, take a crack at the skull.

Concerning the Chen Tu-hsiu group, I am pretty well acquainted with the policy it followed in the years of the revolution: it was the Stalin-Bukharin-Martynov policy, that is, a policy in essence of right-wing Menshevism. Comrade N. wrote me, however, that Chen Tu-hsiu, basing himself on the experience of the revolution, has come considerably closer to our position. It goes without saying that this can only be welcomed. In your letter, however, you categorically dispute Comrade N.’s information. You even contend that Chen Tu-hsiu has not broken from Stalin’s policy, which presents a mixture of opportunism and adventurism. But up to now I have read only one declaration of program by Chen Tu-hsiu and therefore am in no position to express myself on this question.

In other respects, I conceive a solidarity in principle on the Chinese question only on the basis of clear replies to the following questions:

As far as the first period of the revolution is concerned:

1. Did the anti-imperialist character of the Chinese revolution give the “national” Chinese bourgeoisie the leading role in the revolution (Stalin-Bukharin)?

2. Was the slogan of the “bloc of four classes” – the big bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, the peasantry, and the proletariat (Stalin-Bukharin) – correct, even for an instant?

3. Were the entry of the Chinese Communist Party into the Kuomintang and the admission of the latter into the Comintern (resolution of the Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party) permissible?

4. Was it permissible, in the interests of the Northern Expedition, to curb the agrarian revolution (telegraphic directives in the name of the Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party)?

5. Was it permissible to renounce the slogan of soviets at the time the broad movement of workers and peasants developed, that is, in 1925–27 (Stalin-Bukharin)?

6. Was the Stalinist slogan of a “workers’ and peasants’” party, that is, the old slogan of the Russian Narodniks, acceptable for China, even for an instant?

As far as the second period is concerned:

7. Was the resolution of the Communist International which said that the crushing of the workers’ and peasants’ movement by the Kuomintang of the right and the left signified a “transition of the revolution to a higher stage” (Stalin-Bukharin) correct?

8. Under these conditions, was the slogan of insurrection, issued by the Communist International, correct?

9. Was the tactic of guerrilla warfare, re-instituted by Ho Lung and Yeh-T’ing and approved by the Comintern at the moment of the political ebb tide of the workers and peasants, correct?

10. Was the organization of the Canton uprising by the agents of the Comintern correct?

As far as the past in general is concerned:

11. Was the 1924–27 struggle in the Communist International against the Opposition on the Chinese question a struggle of Leninism against Trotskyism or, on the contrary, a struggle of Menshevism against Bolshevism?

12. Was the 1927–28 struggle in the Communist International against the Opposition a struggle of Bolshevism against “liquidationism” or, on the contrary, a struggle of adventurism against Bolshevism?

As far as the future is concerned:

13. Under the present conditions of victorious counter-revolution, is the mobilization of the Chinese masses under democratic slogans, particularly that of the Constituent Assembly, necessary, as the Opposition believes, or is there any ground for limitation to the abstract propaganda of the slogan of soviets, as the Comintern has decided?

14. Has the slogan of the “workers’ and peasants’ democratic dictatorship” still a revolutionary content, as the Comintern thinks, or is it necessary, on the contrary, to sweep away this masked formula of the Kuomintang and to explain that the victory of the alliance of the workers and peasants in China can lead only to the dictatorship of the proletariat?

15. Is the theory of socialism in one country applicable to China or, on the contrary, can the Chinese revolution triumph and accomplish its task to the very end only as a link in the chain of the world revolution?

These are, in my opinion, the principal questions that the platform of the Chinese Opposition must necessarily answer. These questions have great importance for the whole International. The epoch of reaction that China is now passing through must become, as has always happened in history, an epoch of theoretical preoccupation. What characterizes the young Chinese revolutionists at the present time is the passion to understand, to study, to embrace the question in its entirety. The bureaucracy, lacking an ideological basis, stifles Marxist thinking. But I do not doubt that in the struggle with the bureaucracy the Chinese vanguard of the proletariat will produce from its ranks a nucleus of notable Marxists who will render service to the whole International.


With Opposition greetings,

L.D. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 30 May 2021