Leon Trotsky

Problems of the Chinese Revolution

The Chinese Revolution and
the Theses of Comrade Stalin

The Speech of Comrade Chen Duxiu on
the Tasks of the Chinese Communist Party

May 17, 1927

52) What purpose does Marxism serve in politics? To understand that which is and to foresee that which will be. Foresight must be the foundation of action. We already know what has happened to the predictions of comrade Stalin: one week before the coup d’état of Chiang Kai-shek, he defended him and blew the trumpet for him by calling for the utilization of the right wing, its experiences, its connections (speech to the Moscow functionaries on April 5). In the theses analysed by us, Stalin gives another example of foresight which has also been tested by life. The central question of our criticism of Stalin’s theses was formulated by us above as follows: “Does there already exist a new centre of the revolution or must one first be created?” Stalin contended that after the coup d’état of Chiang Kai-shek there were “two governments, two armies, two centres: the revolutionary centre in Wuhan and the counter-revolutionary centre in Nanking”. Stalin contended that no soviets can be built because that would signify an uprising against the Wuhan centre, against the “only government” in Southern China. We called this characterization of the situation “false, superficial, vulgar”. We called this so-called Wuhan government the “leaders of Wuhan” and showed that in Southern China, after the abrupt veering of the civil war to another class line, there is no government as yet, that one must be first created.

In Pravda of May 15 the speech of comrade Chen Duxiu at the convention of the Chinese Communist Party (April 29) is reprinted.

Neither Stalin nor we had this speech when Stalin wrote his theses and we wrote a criticism of them. Chen Duxiu characterizes the situation not on the basis of a general analysis of the circumstances but on the basis of his direct observations. Now, what does Chen Duxiu say of the new revolutionary movement? He declares plainly that “it would be a mistake” to consider the Wuhan government an organ of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship: “It is not yet a government of the worker and peasant masses but solely a bloc of leaders”. But is this not word for word what we said against Stalin?

Stalin wrote: “There is now no other governmental power than the government of the revolutionary Guomindang.” We answered him on that: “These words fairly reek with the apparatus-like and bureaucratic conception of revolutionary authority. the classes come and go but the continuity of the Guomindang government goes on forever [allegedly]. But it is not enough to call Wuhan the centre of the revolution for it really to be that” (cf. above). Instead of making it clear to the Chinese revolutionists, to the Communists primarily, that the Wuhan government will break its head against a wall if it imagines that it is itself already the only government in China; instead of turning relentlessly against the decorative hypocrisy of the petty-bourgeois revolutionists who have already destroyed so many revolutions; instead of shouting right into the ear of the uncertain, faltering, vacillating centre of Wuhan: “Do not be misled by outward appearances, do not be dazzled by the glitter of our own titles and manifestos, begin to perform the hard daily work, set masses in motion, build up workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ soviets, build up a revolutionary governmental power” – instead of all this, Stalin hurls himself against the slogan of the soviets and supports the worst, the most provincial and bureaucratic prejudices and superstitious views of those ill-fated revolutionists who fear people’s soviets, and instead have faith in the sacred ink-blots on the notepaper of the Guomindang.

53) Comrade Chen Duxiu characterizes the situation on the basis of his own observations with exactly the same words with which we characterized the situation on the basis of theoretical consideration. No revolutionary government but only a bloc of leaders. But this does not at all mean that comrade Chen Duxiu himself draws correct conclusions from the circumstances correctly characterized by him. Since he is bound hand and foot by false directives, Chen Duxiu draws conclusions which radically contradict his own analysis. He says: “We have before us the task of beginning to build up a genuinely revolutionary and democratic government as soon as the situation in the sphere of the national government has changed and the threat of foreign intervention and the offensive of the militarists have disappeared.”

Here we must say directly and openly: put the question this way and you adopt the surest and shortest road to ruin. The creation of a genuinely revolutionary government basing itself on the popular masses is relegated to the moment when the dangers have disappeared. But the central danger consists precisely of the fact that instead of a revolutionary government in Southern China, there is for the time being only a bloc of leaders. Through this principal evil, all the other dangers are increased tenfold, including also the military danger. If we are to be guarded to the highest possible degree against the foreign and our “own” militarist bands, we must become strong, consolidate ourselves, organize, and arm ourselves. There are no other roads. We should not stick our heads in the sand. No artifice will help us here. The enthusiasm of the masses must be aroused, their readiness to fight and to die for their own cause. But for this the masses must be gripped as deeply as possible, politically and organizationally. Without losing even an hour, they must be given a revolutionary program of action and the organizational form of the soviets. There are no other roads. Postpone the creation of a revolutionary government until somebody has eliminated the danger of war in some way or other, and you take the surest and shortest road to ruin.

54) With regard to the agrarian movement, comrade Chen Duxiu admits honestly that the agrarian program of the Party (reduction of rent payments) is completely insufficient. The peasant movement, he says, “is being transformed into the struggle for land. The peasantry arises spontaneously and wants to settle the land question itself.” Further on, comrade Chen Duxiu declares openly: “We followed a too pacific policy. Now it is necessary to confiscate the large estates” If the content of these words is developed in a Marxian manner, it constitutes the harshest condemnation of the whole past line of the Communist Party of China, and the Comintern as well, in the agrarian question of the Chinese revolution. Instead of anticipating the course of the agrarian movement, of establishing the slogans in time and throwing them among the peasant masses through the workers, the revolutionary soldiers and the advanced peasants, the Chinese Communist Party remained a vast distance behind the spontaneous agrarian movement. Can there be a more monstrous form of chvostism? “We followed a too pacific policy.” But what does a pacific policy of a revolutionary party mean in the period of a spontaneous agrarian revolution? It signifies the most grievous historical mistake that a party of the proletariat can possibly commit. A pacific policy (the reduction of rent payments), while the peasant is already fighting spontaneously for land, is not a policy of Menshevik compromise but of liberal compromise. Only a philistine corrupted by alleged statecraft can fail to understand this, but never a revolutionist.

55) But from his correct, and therefore deadly, characterization of the relations of the party to the agrarian movement, comrade Chen Duxiu draws not only false, but positively disastrous conclusions. “It is now necessary,” he says, “to confiscate the large estates, but at the same time to make concessions to the small landowners who must be reckoned with.” In principle, such a way of posing the question cannot be assailed. It must be clearly determined who and in what part of China is to be considered a small landowner, how and to what limits he must be reckoned with. But Chen Duxiu says further:

“Nevertheless, it is necessary to await the further development of the military actions even for the confiscation of the large estates. The only correct decision at the present moment is the principle of deepening the revolution only after its extension.”

This road is the surest, the most positive, the shortest road to ruin. The peasant has already risen to seize the property of the large landowners. Our party, in monstrous contradiction to its program, to its name, pursues a pacific-liberal agrarian policy. Chen Duxiu himself declares that it is “now [?] necessary to confiscate the large estates”, but he immediately recalls that we “must not fall into left extremism” (Chen Duxiu’s own words) and he adds that we must “await the further development of the military actions” for the confiscation of the property of the large landowners, that the revolution must first be extended and only later deepened.

But this is simply a blind repetition of the old, well-known and outworn formula of national-liberal deception of the masses: First the victory, then the reform. First we will “extend” the country – for whom: for the large landowner? – and then, after the victory, we will concern ourselves very tranquilly with the “deepening”. To this, every intelligent and half-way sensible peasant will answer comrade Chen Duxiu: “If the Wuhan government today, when it finds itself encircled by foes and needs our peasant support for life and death – if this government does not dare now to give us the land of the large landowners or does not want to do it, then after it has extricated itself from its encirclement, after it has vanquished the enemy with our help, it will give us just as much land as Chiang Kai-shek gave the workers of Shanghai.” It must be said quite clearly: The agrarian formula of comrade Chen Duxiu, who is bound hand and foot by the false leadership of the representatives of the Comintern, is objectively nothing else than the formula of the severance of the Chinese Communist Party from the real agrarian movement which is now proceeding in China and which is producing a new wave of the Chinese revolution.

To strengthen this wave and to deepen it we need peasants’ soviets with the unfurled banner of the agrarian revolution, not after the victory but immediately, in order to guarantee the victory.

If we do not want to permit the peasant wave to come to nought and be splattered into froth, the peasants’ soviets must be united through workers’ soviets in the cities and the industrial centres, and to the workers’ soviets must be added the soviets of the poor population from the urban trade and handwork districts.

If we do not want to permit the bourgeoisie to drive a wedge between the revolutionary masses and the army, then soldiers’ soviets must be fitted into the revolutionary chain.

As quickly as possible, as boldly as possible, as energetically as possible, the revolution must be deepened, not after the victory but immediately, or else there will be no victory.

The deepening of the agrarian revolution, the immediate seizure of the land by the peasants, will weaken Chiang Kai-shek on the spot, bring confusion into the ranks of his soldiers, and set the peasant hinterland in motion. There is no other road to victory and there can be none.

Have we really carried through three revolutions within two decades only to forget the ABC of the first of them? Whoever carries on a pacific policy during the agrarian revolution, is lost. Whoever postpones matters, vacillates, temporizes, loses time, is lost. The formula of Chen Duxiu is the surest road to the destruction of the revolution.

Slanderers will be found who will say that our words are dictated by a hatred of the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders. Was it not once said that our position on the Anglo-Russian Committee signified a hostile attitude towards the British Communist Party? The events confirmed the fact that it was we who acted as loyal revolutionists towards the British Communists, and not as bureaucratic sycophants. Events will confirm the fact – they confirm it every day – that our criticism of the Chinese Communists was dictated by a more serious, more Marxist, revolutionary attitude towards the Chinese revolution than was the attitude of the bureaucratic sycophants who approve of everything after the fact, provided that they do not have to foresee for the future.

The fact that the speech of comrade Chen Duxiu is reprinted in Pravda without a single word of commentary, that no article revealing the ruinous course of this speech is devoted to it – this fact by itself must fill every revolutionist with the greatest misgivings, for it is the central organ of Lenin’s party that is involved!

Let not the pacifiers and flatterers tell us about “the unavoidable mistakes of a young Communist Party”. It is not a question of isolated mistakes. It is a question of the false basic line, the consummate expression of which is the theses of comrade Stalin.

The Necessary Final Accord

In the May 9 number of Sotsialisticheski Vestnik, it says in the article devoted to the theses of comrade Stalin:

“If we strip the envelope of words that is obligatory for the theses of a Communist leader, then very little can be said against the essence of the ‘line’ traced there. As much as possible to remain in the Guomindang, and to cling to its left wing and to the Wuhan government to the last possible moment: ‘to avoid a decisive struggle under unfavourable conditions’; not to issue the slogan ‘all power to the soviets’ so as not ‘to give new weapons into the hands of the enemies of the Chinese people for the struggle against the revolution, for creating new legends that it is not a national revolution that is taking place in China, but an artificial transplanting of Moscow sovietization’ – what can actually be more sensible for the Bolsheviks now, after the ‘united front’ has obviously been irremediably destroyed, and so much porcelain has been smashed under the ‘most unfavourable conditions’?” [8]

Thus, after Sotsialisticheski Vestnik, in its April 23rd number, acknowledged that Martynov analysed the tasks of the Chinese revolution in Pravda “very impressively” and “entirely in the Menshevik manner”, the leading article in the central organ of the Mensheviks declares in its latest number that “very little can be said against the essence of the ‘line’ traced” in the theses of comrade Stalin. This harmony of political lines hardly requires special elucidation.

But still more: The same article in Sotsialisticheski Vestnik speaks further on in a mocking tone – we quote literally! – of “the line of Radek which, covered with extreme ‘left’ slogans, (withdrawal from Guomindang, ‘propaganda of the soviet system’ etc.), simply desires in reality to give up the game and to step aside”. [9] The line of Radek is characterized here with the words of the leading articles and the feuilletons of Pravda. After all, it cannot be otherwise: Radek cannot say anything openly in the press about his line, for otherwise the Party would learn that Radek’s line is being confirmed by the whole course of events. The editors of Sotsialisticheski Vestnik not only describe “the line of Radek” with the words of Pravda but also evaluate them in full accord with the articles of Pravda: The line of the Opposition, according to Dan, gives the possibility, “covered with extreme ‘left’ slogans”, in reality “to give up the game and to step aside”. We have already read in the articles of Pravda that “a mass for the dead must be read” for the Chinese revolution, that the Chinese Communists must “retire within themselves”, that they must renounce “great deeds and great plans”, and that all this is the “sermon of the liquidation of the Chinese revolution“ – if the line of the Opposition is adopted. This was said literally, for example, in the leading article in Pravda of May 16, 1927. As we see, it is word for word the same thing that Dan says, or more correctly, Dan says of the Opposition word for word what Pravda has said in a series of its articles. Dan approves the theses of Stalin and derides the “liquidator” Radek, who covers his liquidation with extremely left phrases. Everything is clear now: The liquidationism of Radek is the same liquidationism which is evaluated as such by the renowned revolutionist Dan. That is the lesson that the leading articles in Sotsialisticheski Vestnik presents to those who are still capable of learning anything.

It is surely portentous that the quoted number of Sotsialisticheski Vestnik should arrive in Moscow on the eve of the opening of the session of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, which must consider the problem of the Chinese revolution in its full scope.


8. Sotsialisticheski Vestnik, no.9 [151] p.1.

9. Sotsialisticheski Vestnik, no.9, [151] p.2.

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Last updated on: 25.1.2007