Leon Trotsky

Proletariat and Peasant War in China

A Letter to the Chinese Bolshevik-Leninists

(September 1932)

Written: 22 & 26 September 1932.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. V No. 43, 22 October 1932, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

(Continued from last issue)

Thus, In China, the causes and grounds for the conflicts between the army, which is peasant in composition and petty bourgeois in leadership, and the workers, not only are not eliminated but also all the circumstances are such as to make these conflicts extremely possible and even inevitable; and in addition thereto the chances of the proletariat are incomparably less favorable than was the case in Russia.

From the theoretical and political side the danger is increased manifold as a consequence of the fact that the Stalinist bureaucracy hides the contradictory situation under a blanket by its slogan of “democratic dictatorship” of workers and peasants. Is it possible to conceive of a snare more attractive in appearances and more perfidious in essence? The epigones go through their processes of thinking not by medium of social concepts, but by means of pigeon-holed phrases; formalism is the basic trait of bureaucracy.

A Reactionary Accusation

The Russian Narodniki (“Populists”) betimes accused the Russian Marxists of “ignoring” the peasantry, of not carrying on work in the villages, etc. To this the Marxists replied, “We will arouse and organize the advanced workers and through the workers we shall arouse the peasants.” Such in general is the only conceivable road for the proletarian party.

The Chinese Stalinists have acted otherwise. During the revolution of 1925-27 they subordinated directly and immediately the interests of the workers and the peasants to the interests of the national bourgeoisie. In the years of the counter-revolution they passed over from the proletariat to the peasantry; i.e., they undertook that role which was fulfilled in our country by the S.R.’s when they were still a revolutionary party. Had the Chinese Communist Party concentrated its efforts for the last few years in the cities, in industry, in the railroads; had it sustained the trade unions, the educational clubs and circles; had it, without breaking off from the workers, taught them to understand what was occurring in the villages – the share of the proletariat in the general correlation of forces would have been today incomparably more favorable. The party as a matter of fact tore itself away from its class. Thereby in the last analysis it can cause injury to the peasantry as well. For should the proletariat continue still to remain on the sidelines, without organization, without leadership, then the peasant war even if fully victorious will inevitably drive into a blind alley.

In old China every victorious peasant revolution was concluded by the creation of a new dynasty, and subsequently of a new group of large proprietors; the movement was confined within a vicious circle. Under the present conditions the peasant war by itself without the direct leadership of the proletarian vanguard can only pass on the power to a new bourgeois clique, some “Left” Kuo Min Tang or other, “a third party”, etc., etc., which in practise will differ very little from the Kuo Min Tang of Chiang Kai-Shek. And this would signify in turn a new onslaught on the workers with the weapons of “democratic dictatorship”.

What then are the conclusions that follow from all this? The first conclusion is that one must boldly and openly face the facts as they are. The peasant movement is a mighty revolutionary factor, insofar as it is directed against the large farm owners, militarists, serfdom and usurers. But in the peasant movement itself are very powerful proprietary and reactionary tendencies, and on a given stage it can become hostile to the workers, and sustain that hostility already equipped with arms. He who forgets about the dual nature of the peasantry is not a Marxist. The advanced workers must be taught to distinguish from among “Communist” signs and banners the actual social processes.

The operation of the “Red Armies” must be attentively followed, and the workers must be explained systematically the direction, the significance and the perspectives of the peasant war; and the current demands and the tasks of the proletariat must be tied up with the slogans for the liberation of the peasantry.

Study the Class Tendencies

On the bases of our own observations, reports and other documents we must painstakingly study the inner life processes of the peasant armies and the order established in the regions occupied by them; we must discover in living facts the contradictory class tendencies and clearly point out to the workers which tendencies we support and against which we are fighting.

With especial care must we follow the inter-relations between the Red Armies and the local workers, without leaving out of sight even the minor misunderstandings between them. Within the framework of particular cities and regions, conflicts, even if acute, might appear to be insignificant local episodes. But with the further development of events the class conflicts may take on a national sweep and lead the revolution to a catastrophe, i.e., to a new devastation of the workers by the peasants, hoodwinked by the bourgeoisie. History of revolutions is full of such examples.

The more clearly the advanced workers will understand the living dialectic of the class inter-relations of the proletariat, the peasantry and the bourgeoisie the more confidently will they seek unity with the strata of the peasantry closest to them, the more successfully will they counteract the counter-revolutionary provocateurs, within the body of the peasant armies themselves as well as within the cities.

The trade union must be built up and the party nuclei; the advanced workers must be educated, the proletarian vanguard must be fused together and must be drawn into the battle.

We must turn to all the members of the official Communist party with words of explanation and challenge. It is quite probable that the rank and file Communists who have been led astray by the Stalinist faction will not understand us at once. The bureaucrats will set up a howl about our “revolution” of the peasantry, perhaps even about our “hostility” to the peasantry (Chernov always accused Lenin of being hostile to the peasantry). Naturally, such howling will not confuse the Bolshevik-Leninists. When prior to April 1927 we warned against the inevitable coup d’état of Chiang Kai-Shek, the Stalinists accused us of hostility to the national Chinese revolution. The events have demonstrated who was right. The events will provide a check this time as well. The Left Opposition may turn out too weak to give the events the direction in the interests of the proletariat at the present stage. But it is sufficiently strong even now in order to point out to the workers the correct way, and by depending upon the further development of the class struggle to demonstrate to the workers its correctness and its political insight. Only in this manner can a revolutionary party gain confidence for itself, only thus will it grow, become strong and take its place at the head of the national masses.

Prinkipo, September 22, 1932


P.S. In order to express my ideas with the greatest possible lucidity, I shall sketch the following variant which is theoretically quite possible.

Let us presume that the Chinese Left Opposition carries on within the nearest future – widespread and successful work among the industrial proletariat and attains the preponderant influence in its midst. The official party, in the meantime, continues to concentrate all its forces on the “Red armies” and in the peasant regions. The moment arrives when the peasant armies take occupation of the industrial centers and are brought face to face with the workers. In such a situation, in what manner will the Chinese Stalinists act? It is not difficult to foresee that they will counterpose in a hostile manner the peasant army against “the counter-revolutionary Trotskyists”. In other words, they will sic the armed peasants on the advanced workers. This is what the Russian S.R.’s and the Mensheviks did in 1917; having lost the workers, they fought might and main for their support among the soldiery, inciting the barracks against the factory, the armed peasant against the worker Bolshevik. Kerensky, Tseretelli and Dan, if they did not label the Bolsheviks outright as counter-revolutionists, called them either “unconscious aids” or “involuntary agents” of counter-revolution. The Stalinists are less choice in their application of political terminology. But the tendency is the same, malicious baiting of the peasant – and generally petty-bourgeois-elements against the vanguard of the working class.

Centrism Seeks Support from the Right

Bureaucratic Centrism, as Centrism, cannot have an independent class support. But in its struggle against the Bolshevik-Leninists it is compelled to seek support from the Right, i.e., from the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie, counterposing them to the proletariat. The struggle between the two Communist factions, the Stalinists and the Bolshevik-Leninists bears in itself, in this manner, an inner tendency toward transformation into a class struggle. The revolutionary development of events in China may draw this tendency to its concision, i.e., to a civil war between the peasant army led by the Stalinists and the proletarian vanguard led by the Leninists.

Were such a tragic conflict to arise, due entirely to the Chinese Stalinists, it would signify that the Left Opposition and the Stalinists ceased to be Communist fractions and had become hostile political parties, having a different class foundation.

However, is such a perspective inevitable? No, I do not think so at all. Within the Stalinist fraction (the official Chinese Communist Party) there are not only peasant, i.e., petty bourgeois tendencies but also proletarian tendencies. It is important in the highest degree for the Left Opposition to seek to establish connections with the proletarian wing of the Stalinists, by developing for them the Marxist evaluation of “Red armies” and the inter-relations between the proletariat and the peasantry in general. While maintaining its political independence, the proletarian vanguard must be invariably ready to assure the united action with revolutionary democracy. While we refuse to identify the armed peasant detachments with the Red Army; and while we have no inclination to shut our eyes to the fact that the Communist banner hides the petty-bourgeois content within the peasant movement; we, on the other hand, take an absolutely clear account of the tremendous revolutionary-democratic significance of the peasant war, we teach the workers to comprehend this significance and we are ready to do all in our power in order to achieve the necessary military alliance with the peasant organizations.

Consequently our task consists not only in not permitting the political and military command over the proletariat on the part of the petty-bourgeois democracy that leans upon the armed peasants but also in preparing and assuring the proletarian leadership of the peasant movement, its “Red armies”, in particular.

The more clearly the Chinese Bolshevik-Leninists comprehend the political environment and the tasks that spring from it, the more successfully they extend, their bases within the proletariat and the more persistently they put through the policy of the united front in relation to the official party and the peasant movement that is led by it, all the more surely will they succeed not only in shielding the revolution from the frightfully dangerous conflict between the proletariat and the peasantry, and in assuring the necessary united action between the two revolutionary classes, but also in transforming their united front into the historical step toward the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Prinkipo, September 26, 1932


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