Written: 2 April 1930.
Source: The Militant, Vol. III No. 23, 14 June 1930.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
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China has been and will continue to be one of the touchstones of Marxist theory and Leninist strategy in the Communist International. The Stalin regime has brought an incredible amount of confusion into the ranks of the Communists regarding the character, the perspectives and the slogans of the Chinese revolution. This important contribution by Trotsky on the slogan of the Constituent Assembly was written in reply to some questions of the Chinese comrades but it is of universal concern to all proletarian revolutionaries. – Editors
It seems to me that our Chinese friends import too much of metaphysics and even some scholasticism into the question of political slogans of democracy.
The “delicacies” begin with the name: Constituent Assembly or National Assembly. In Russia until the revolution we used the slogan of Constituent Assembly, because it most clearly emphasized our break with the past. But you write that in Chinese it is difficult to formulate this slogan. If so, it remains to adopt the slogan of the National Assembly. For the consciousness of the masses the contents of this slogan will depend, firstly, in the implication the revolutionary agitation will give it, and secondly, on the events. You ask: “Is it possible to carry on agitation for a Constituent Assembly while denying that it can be accomplished?” But why should we decide beforehand that it cannot be accomplished? Of course the masses will follow the slogan only if they consider it feasible. Who will accomplish it, and how will it be accomplished? Here only suppositions are possible, in case of the further weakening of the military-Kuomintang regime and the growth of discontent among the masses, particularly in the cities, it is possible that an attempt will be made by a part of the Kuomingtang together with a “third party” to convene something on the style of a National Assembly. Of course, they will as much as possible cut into the rights of the more oppressed classes and layers. Will we Communists, go into such a curtailed and manipulated National Assembly? If we will not be strong enough to replace it, that is to take over power, we will, of course, go in. Such a stage would in no way weaken us. On the contrary, it would help us gather and develop the forces of the proletarian vanguard. Inside the pseudo-assembly, and particularly on the outside of it, we would carry on our agitation for a new and more democratic assembly. In case of a revolutionary mass movement we would simultaneously build Soviets. It is very possible that in such an event the petty-bourgeois parties would convene a comparatively more democratic National Assembly, as a dam against the Soviets. Would we participate in such a sort of representation? Of course we would participate. Again, if we would not be strong enough to replace the assembly with a higher form of government, that is the Soviets. But such a possibility reveals itself only at the highest point of revolutionary ascent. But as it is presently, we have not as yet approached the beginning.
Even if the Soviets were a fact – which is not the case in China at present – this in itself would not be cause enough for the abandonment of the slogan of the National Assembly. The majority in the Soviets may be (and at the beginning will certainly be) in the hands of conciliatory and Centrist parties and organizations. We will be interested to have these parties exposed in the open forum of the National Assembly. By this method the majority of the Soviets will be won over to our side sooner, and much more certainly. When our conquest of the majority will become a reality, we will counter-pose the program of the Soviets against the program of the National Assembly, we will gather the majority of the country around the banner of the Soviets, which will give us the possibility, in deed and not on paper, to replace the National Assembly, this parliamentary-democratic institution, by Soviets, as the organ of the revolutionary class dictatorship.
In Russia, the Constituent Assembly existed only for one day. Why? Because it made its appearance too late, when the Soviet power was already in existence, and came into conflict with it. In this conflict, the Constituent Assembly represented the yesterday of the Revolution. But let us suppose that the bourgeois provisional government had been sufficiently decisive to convene the Constituent Assembly in March or April (1917). Was it possible? Naturally it was. The Cadets were busy with legal trickery to drag out the convening of the Constituent Assembly in the hope that the revolutionary wave would subside. The Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries took their cue from the Cadets. If the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries would have had a little more revolutionary drive in them they could have convened the Constituent Assembly in a few weeks. Would we Bolsheviks have participated in the elections and in the Assembly itself? Undoubtedly, for it was we who demanded all the time the speediest convening of the Constituent Assembly. Would the course of the revolution have changed to the disadvantage of the proletariat by an early convening of the Assembly? Not at all. Perhaps you remember that the representatives of the Russian possessing classes and following them also the conciliators were postponing all the important questions of the revolution “until the Constituent Assembly”, at the same time also dragging out the convening of it. This gave the landowners and capitalists a possibility to mask to a certain extent their property interests in the agrarian question, industrial, etc. If the Constituent Assembly would have convened let us say in April 1917 then all the social questions would have been raised before them. The possessing classes would have been compelled to show their cards, the treacherous role of the conciliators would have been apparent, the Bolshevik faction of the Constituent Assembly would have acquired the greatest popularity and have assisted the Soviets to elect a Bolshevik majority. Under these circumstances the Constituent) Assembly would have existed not one day but possibly several months but that would have enriched the political experiences of the laboring masses and not only would not have retarded the proletarian revolution but would rather have accelerated it. This in itself would have been of greatest significance. If the second revolution would have occurred not in October but let us say in July or August the army at the front would have been less exhausted and weakened and the peace with the Hohenzollerns might have been more favorable to us. Even if we should assume that the proletarian revolution would not come a single day sooner because of the Constituent Assembly, the school of revolutionary parliamentarism would not have passed without leaving its trace on the political level of the masses and this would have made our tasks the day after the October Revolution much easier.
Is this sort of a variant possible in China? It is not excluded. To imagine and expect that the Communist Party of China can make the jump from the present conditions of the rule of the unbridled bourgeois military cliques, the oppression and dismemberment of the working class, and the extraordinary low ebb of the peasant movement to the seizure of power – this would be to believe in miracles. In practise this leads to guerilla adventurism, to which the Comintern now lends its covert support. We must condemn this policy and guard the revolutionary workers from it.
The political mobilization of the proletariat and following it the peasant masses is the first task that must be solved in conjunction with the present circumstances. And these are the circumstances of the military-bourgeois counter-revolution, the power of the suppressed masses is in their number. When they awaken they strive to express their strength of numbers in politics through the medium of the universal suffrage. The handful of Communists know even today that universal suffrage is an instrument of bourgeois rule and that they can liquidate this rule only through the medium of the proletarian dictatorship. In this spirit you can educate beforehand the proletarian vanguard. But the millions of the toiling masses can come to the dictatorship of the proletariat only on the basis of their own political experience and the National Assembly would be a progressive step on this road. This is why we come out for this slogan in conjunction with, four other slogans of the democratic revolution: the transfer of the land to the peasant poor; the eight hour work-day; the independence of China; the right of self-determination of the nationalities included in the territory of China.
It is understood that we cannot deny also such a perspective – it is theoretically admissible – that the Chinese proletariat leading the peasant masses and supporting itself on the Soviets will come to power before the achievement of the National Assembly in one or another form. But for the immediate period this is at any rate improbable, because it presupposes the existence of a powerful and centralized revolutionary party of the proletariat. But in its absence what other forces will unite the revolutionary masses of your gigantic country? In the meantime it is our misfortune that there is no strong centralized Communist Party in China as yet. It first has to be formed. The struggle for democracy is the precisely necessary condition for that. The slogan of the National Assembly would unite the scattered provincial movements and uprisings, give them political unity and create the basis for welding together the Communist Party as an all-national leader of the proletariat and the entire toiling mass.
That is why the slogan of the National Assembly (on the basis of the universal, direct equal and secret ballot) must be raised as forcefully as possible and a courageous decisive struggle developed around it. A month sooner or later the sterility of the purely negative position of the Comintern and the official leadership of the Chinese Communist Party will mercilessly expose itself. This will happen the sooner, the more decisively the Left Communist Opposition will unfold and develop its campaign for the slogans of democracy. In this case the inevitable crash of the policy of the Comintern will greatly strengthen the Left Opposition and will help it become the decisive force in the Chinese proletariat.
April 2, 1930
Last updated on: 13.10.2012