L.D. Trotsky

Stalin and the Chinese Revolution

Facts and Documents


Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 1 (Whole No. 97), 2 January 1932, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2012. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

(Continued from Previous Issue)

6. How Did The Shanghai Overturn Occur?

In this connection we have the extraordinarily valuable testimony of a witness and participant, the Stalinite Chitarov, who arrived from China on the eve of the 15th Congress and who appeared with his information at the Congress. The most important points of his narrative have been deleted by Stalin from the Minutes with the consent of Chitarov himself; one cannot make the truth public if it so crushingly proves all the accusations of the Opposition directed against Stalin. Let us give the floor to Chitarov (Sixteenth Session of the XV Congress of the C.P.S.U., December 11, 1927) :

“The first bloody wound has been inflicted upon the Chinese Revolution in Shanghai by the execution of the Shanghai workers, April 11–12.

“I would like to speak in greater detail about this Shanghai overturn insofar as I know that in our Party there is little known about it. In Shanghai there existed for a period of 21 days the so-called, People’s Government, in which the Communists had a majority. We can therefore say that for 21 days Shanghai had a Communist government. This Communist government, however, manifested complete inactivity in spite of the fact that the overturn by Chiang Kai-Shek was expected from day to day.

“The Communist government, in the first place, did not begin to work for a long time under the excuse that, on the one hand, the bourgeois part of the government does not want to get to work, sabotaging it – and, on the other hand, – because the Wuhan government did not approve the composition of the Shanghai government. From the activity of this government three decrees are known, and one of them, by the way, speaks of the preparation of a triumphant reception for Chiang Kai-Shek who was expected to arrive in Shanghai.

“In Shanghai at this time the relations between the anmy and the workers grew sharp. It is known, for instance, that the army (that is, the Chiang Kai-Shek officers – L.T.) consciously drove the workers into slaughter. The army for a period of several days stood at the gates of Shanghai, did not want to enter the city because they knew that the workers were battling against the Shan Dunts, and wanted the workers to be bled in this struggle. They expected to enter later. Afterward the army did enter Shanghai. But among these soldiers there was one division that sympathized with the workers – the first division of the Canton army; the commander, Say-O, was in disfavor with Chiang Kai-Shek, who knew about his sympathies to the mass movement, because this Say-O himself came from the ranks. He was at at first the commander of a company and presently he commanded a division.

“Say-O came to the comrades in Shanghai and told them that there was a military overthrow in preparation, that Chiang Kai-Shek summoned him to headquarters, gave him an extraordinarily cold reception and that he, Say-O, will not go there any longer because he is afraid of a trap. Chiang Kia-Shek proposed to Say-O to get out of the city with his division and to go to the front; and he, Say-O, proposed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party to agree with him not to subordinate himself to the order of Chiang Kai-Shek. He was ready to remain in Shanghai and together with the Shanghai workers to fight against the military overthrow that was in preparation. To these our responsible leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, Chen Du Hsui included, declared that they know about the overturn that is in preparation, but that they do not want a premature conflict with Chiang Kai-Shek and that they proposed to Say-O that, either he goes to the front or that he retires, in order to prove his loyalty to Chiang Kai-Shek. The First Division was let out of Shanghai, the city was occupied by the Second Division of Bai-Sung Gee and, two days later, the Shanghai workers were shot down.”

Why was this truly stirring narrative left out of the Minutes (p. 32)? Because it was not at all a question of the Chinese Communist Party but of the Polit Bureau of the Soviet Union.

On May 24, 1927, Stalin spoke at the Plenum of the E.C.C.I.:

“The Opposition is dissatisfied because the Shanghai workers did not enter into a decisive battle against the imperialists and their myrmidons. But if does not understand that the revolution in China cannot develop at a fast tempo. It does not understand that one cannot take up a decisive struggle under unfavorable conditions. The Opposition does not understand that not to avoid a decisive struggle under unfavorable conditions (when it can be avoided), – means to make easier the work of the enemies of the revolution ...”

This section of Stalin’s speech is titled: The Mistakes of the Opposition. In the Shanghai tragedy Stalin found mistakes ... of the Opposition. In reality the Opposition at that time did not yet know the concrete circumstances of the situation in Shanghai, that is, it did not know how much more favorable the situation remained for the workers in March and the beginning of April in spite of all the mistakes and crimes of the leadership of the Comintern. Even from the consciously concealed story of Chitarov it is clear that the situation could have been saved even at this time. The workers in Shanghai are in power. They are partly armed. There is a complete possibility of arming them incomparably better. Chiang Kai-Shek’s army is unreliable. There are parts where even the commanding staff is on the side of the workers. But everything and everyone is paralyzed at the top. We must not prepare for the decisive struggle with Chiang Kai-Shek, but for a triumphant reception to him. Because Stalin gave his categoric directives from Moscow: not only to resist his ally, Chiang Kai-Shek, but on the contrary, to prove loyalty to him. How? Lie down on the back and raise all four paws.

In the May Plenum of the E.C.C.I. Stalin on technical tactical grounds still defend this terrific abandonment of positions without a struggle, which led to the crushing of the proletariat in the revolution. Half a year later, at the XV Congress of the C.P.S.U. Stalin already kept silent. The delegates at the Congress extended Chitarov’s time to give him a chance to end his narrative which gripped even them. But Stalin found a very simple way out of it, by deleting Chitarov’s narrative from the Minutes. We publish here this truly historic document for the first time.

Let us note additionally one interesting circumstance: While smearing up the course of events as much as possible and concealing the truly guilty ones, Chitarov singles out the responsibility of Chen Du Hsui whom, on the contrary, the Stalinites until then had defended in every way against the Opposition, because he had merely carried out their directives. But at this time it was already becoming clear that comrade Chen Du Hsui would not agree to play the role of a silent scape-goat, that he wanted openly to analyze the reasons for this catastrophe. All the hounds of the Comintern were let loose upon him, not for the mistakes fatal to the revolution but because he did not agree to deceive the workers and to be a cover for Stalin.

7. The Organizers of the “Influx of Workers and Peasants Blood”

The leading organ of the Comintern wrote on March 18, 1927, about three weeks prior to the Shanghai overturn:

“The leadership of the Kuo Min Tang is at present ill with a lack of revolutionary workers and peasants blood. The Chinese Communist Party must aid in the influx of this blood, and then the situation will radically change.”

What an ominous play of the words! The Kuo Min Tang is in “need of workers and peasants blood”. The “aid” was rendered in the fullest measure: in April-May, Chiang Kai-Shek and Wang Chin-Wei received a sufficient “influx” of workers and peasants blood.

In regard to the Chiang Kai-Shek chapter of the Stalinist policy the eighth Plenum (May 1927) declared:

“The E.C.C.I. assumes that the tactic of the block with the national bourgeoisie in the already declining period of the revolution was absolutely correct. As historic justification of this tactic-even (!) this one northern expedition serves ...”

And how!

Here is Stalin in his whole stature. The northern expedition, which accidentally turned out to be an expedition against the proletariat, serves as a justification of his friendship with Chiang Kai-Shek. The E.C.C.I. has done everything to make it impossible to draw the lessons of the blood-bath of Chinese workers.

8. Stalin Repeats His Experiment With the “Left” Kuo Min Tang

Further on, the following remarkable point is left out of Chitarov’s speech:

“After the Shanghai coup, it has become clear to everyone that a new epoch is beginning in the Chinese Revolution: that the bourgeoisie is retreating from the revolution. This was recognized and immediately so stated. But one thing was left out of sight in connection with this, – that if the bourgeoisie retreats from the revolution, the Wuhan government did not even think of leaving the bourgeoisie. Unfortunately among the majority of our comrades this was not understood: they had illusions in respect to the Wuhan government. They considered the Wuhan government almost an image, a prototype of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”. (The omission is on page 33.)

“After the Wuhan overturn it became clear that the bourgeoisie is retreating ...”

This would be ridiculous if it had not sounded tragic. When Chiang Kai-Shek slayed the revolution in the face of the workers disarmed by Stalin, then the penetrating strategists finally “understood” that the bourgeoisie is “retreating”. But having recognized that his friend Chiang Kai-Shek is retreating, Stalin ordered the Chinese Communists to subordinate themselves to that same Wuhan government which, according to Chitarov’s information at the 15th Congress, “did not even think of leaving the bourgeoisie”. Unfortunately “our comrades did not understand this”. What comrades? Borodin, who was hanging on to Stalin’s telegraph wires? Chitarov does not mention any names. The Chinese Revolution is dear to him, but his hide – still dearer.

However, let us listen to Stalin:

“Chiang Kai-Shek’s coup d’état means that in south China there will from now on be two camps, two governments, two armies, two centers: The center of the revolution in Wuhan and the center of the counter-revolution in Nanking.”

Is it clear where the center of the revolution is? In Wuhan!

“This means that the revolutionary Kuo Min Tang in Wuhan, leading a decisive struggle against militarism and imperialism, will in reality be transformed into an organ of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” ...

Now we finally know what the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry looks like!

“From this it further follows,” Stalin continues, “that the policy of close collaboration of the Lefts and the Communists inside the Kuo Min Tang acquires a particular force and a particular significance at the present stage ... that without such a collaboration the victory of the revolution is impossible.” (Problems of the Chinese Revolution, pages 125–27)

Without the collaboration of the counter-revolutionary bandits of the “Left” Kuo Min Tang, “the victory of the revolution is impossible!” This is how Stalin step after step, – in Canton, in Shanghai, in Hankow – assured the victory of the revolution.

9. Against the Opposition – For the Kuo Min Tang!

How did the Comintern view the “Left” Kuo Min Tang? The VIII Plenum of the E.C.C.I. gave a clear answer to this question in its struggle against the Opposition.

“The E.C.C.I. rejects with all its determination the demand to leave the Kuo Min Tang ... The Kuo Min Tang in China is precisely that specific form of organization, where the proletariat collaborates directly with the petty bourgeoisie and peasantry.”

In this manner the E.C.C.I. quite corectly saw in the Kuo Min Tang, the realization of the Stalinist idea of the “two-class workers and peasants party”.

The not-unknown Rates, who was at first a minister under Petlura [1] and afterward carried out Stalin’s directives in China, wrote in May, 1927 in the theoretical organ of the C.C. of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union:

“Our Russian Opposition, as is known, also considers it necessary for the Communists to leave the Kuo Min Tang. A consistent defense of this viewpoint would lead the adherents of the policy to leave the Kuo Min Tang, to the famous formula proclaimed by comrade Trotsky in 1917: ‘Without a Czar, but a labor government’ [2], which for China might have been changed in form: ‘without the militarists, but a labor government’. To such consistent defenders for leaving the Kuo Min Tang, we have no occasion to listen.” (Proletarian Revolution, page 54)

The slogan of Stalin-Rafes was: “Without the workers, but with Chiang Kai-Shek”. “Without the peasants, but with Wang Chin-Wei!” “Against the Opposition, but for the Kuo Min Tang!”

10. Stalin Once Again Disarms the Chinese Workers and Peasants

What was the policy of the leadership during the Wuhan period of the revolution? Let us listen to the Stalinite Chitarov on this question. Here is what we read in the minutes of the 15th Congress:

“What was the policy of the C.C. of the Communist Party at this time, during this whole (Wuhan) period? The policy of the C.C. of the Communist Party was carried on under the slogan of retreat ........................”

“Under the slogan of retreat” – in the revolutionary period, at the moment of the highest tension of the revolutionary struggle: the Communist Party works and under this slogan surrenders one position after another without a battle. To this surrender of positions belongs: the agreement to subordinate all the trade unions, all the peasant unions and other revolutionary organizations of the Kuo Min Tang; the refusal of independent action without the permission of the central Committee of the Kuo Min Tang; the decision for the voluntary disarming of the workers’ pickets in Hankow; the dissolution of the pioneer organizations in Wuhan; the actual crushing of all the peasant unions in the territory of the national government, etc.

Here is pictured quite frankly the policy of the Chinese Communist Party, the leadership of which actually helps the “national” bourgeoisie to crush the people’s uprising and to annihilate the best fighters of the proletariat and peasantry.

But the frankness here is treacherous: the above citation is printed in the minutes after the omission cited above by the line of periods. Here is what the section concealed by Stalin says:

“At that time some responsible comrades, Chinese and non-Chinese, invented the so-called theory of retreat. They declared: The reaction is advancing upon us from all sides. We must therefore immediately retreat in order to save the possibility of legal work, and, if we will retreat, then we will save this possibility, but if we will defend ourselves or attempt to advance, then we will lose everything”.

Precisely in those days (end of May 1927) when the Wuhan counter-revolution began to crush the workers and peasants in the face of the Left Kuo Min Tang, Stalin declared at the Plenum of the E.C.C.I. (May 24, 1927):

“The agrarian revolution is the basis and content of the bourgeois democratic revolution in China. The Kuo Min Tang in Wuhan and the Wuhan government are the center of the bourgeois democratic revolutionary movement.” (page 154)

To a written question of a worker, why there are no Soviets created in Wuhan; Stalin replied:

“It is clear that whoever calls, at present, for the immediate creation of Soviets of workers’ deputies in this (Wuhan) district, attempts to jump (!) over the Kuo Min Tang phase of the Chinese revolution, and he risks putting the Chinese revolution in a most difficult position.”

Precisely: In a “most difficult” position! On May 13, 1927, in a conversation with students, Stalin declared:

“Should Soviets of workers and peasants deputies, in general, be created in China? Yes, they should, absolutely they should. They will have to be created after the strengthening of the Wuhan revolutionary government, after the unfolding of the agrarian revolution, in the transformation of the agrarian revolution, of the bourgeois democratic revolution into the revolution of the proletariat.”

In this manner Stalin did not consider it permissible to strengthen the position of the workers and peasants, through Soviets, so long as the positions of the Wuhan government, of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, were not strengthened.

In reference to the famous theses of Stalin which justified his Wuhan policy, the organ of the Russian Mensheviks wrote at that time:

“Hardly much can be objected to in the essence of the ‘line’ laid down in the theses. As long as possible not to leave the Kuo Miu Tang and to cling to the last to its Left wing and the Wuhan government; ‘to avoid the decisive struggle under unfavorable conditions’; not to advance the slogan, ‘All Power to the Soviets’, in order not to ‘give the enemies of the Chinese people a new weapon in their hands in the struggle against the revolution, for the creation of legends about the fact that in China there is not a national revolution in progress, but an artificial transplanting of Moscow Sovietism’, – what in reality can be more sensible? ...” (Socialistiche Vestynik, 9-151, 9-v – page 1)

On its part the VIII Plenum of the E.C.C.I. which was in session at the end of May, 1927, that is, at a time when the crushing of the workers and peasants organizations in Wuhan had already begun, adopted the following decision:

“The E.C.C.I. insistently calls the attention of the Chinese Communist Party to the necessity of all possible measures for the strengthening and developing of all mass organizations of workers and peasants ... within all these organizations it is necessary to carry on an agitation for the entrance into the Kuo Min Tang, transforming the latter into a mighty mass organization of the revolutionary petty bourgeois democracy and the working class.”

“To enter the Kuo Min Tang” meant to voluntarily bring one’s head to slaughter. The bloody lesson of Shanghai passed without a trace. The Communist as before were being transformed into cattle herders for the party of the bourgeois executioners (Kuo Min Tang), into suppliers of “workers and peasants blood” for Wang Tin Wei and Company.


1. A Ukrainian White Guard general.

2. In reference to this nonsense see L. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, Pioneer Publishers, New York, page 84.

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Last updated on: 26.3.2013