Leon Trotsky

Problems of the Chinese Revolution

First Speech
on the
Chinese Question

May 1927

Comrades! In the question under discussion you have been given the theses of comrade Zinoviev which have remained unknown to the Russian party up till now. Zinoviev was not permitted to come here, although he has the full right – politically as well as formally – to do so. I am defending here the theses of comrade Zinoviev as common to us both. The first rule for the political education of a mass party is: It must know not only what is adopted by the Central Committee but also what it rejects, for only in this way does the line of the leadership become clear and comprehensible to the Party masses. And that is how things have always been with us until now. The refusal to show the Party Comrade Zinoviev’s and my own reveals the intellectual weakness, the lack of certainty in their own position, the fear that the theses of the Opposition will appear more correct to the public opinion of the Party than the theses of the majority. There can be no other motives for the concealment of our theses.

My attempt to publish a criticism of Stalin’s theses in the theoretical organ of the Party was unsuccessful. The Central Committee, against whose line in this question my theses are directed, prohibited their publication, as well as the publication of other articles by Zinoviev and me.

Yesterday a decision of the Editorial Committee, signed by comrade Kurella, was distributed here. It relates to information on our proceedings. What is meant by this is not quite clear to me. In any case, the Executive Committee is meeting in a strange atmosphere of silence by the press. Only one article in Pravda has been devoted to the Plenum and this article contains a phrase of unheard-of impudence: “He would be a criminal who would think of shaking the unity of the ranks of the Comintern”, etc., etc. Everyone understands what is meant by this. Even before the drafts of the resolutions have been published, Pravda brands as a criminal whoever argues against the future resolutions. One can imagine how Pravda will inform the Party tomorrow about what is taking place here. Meanwhile, here in Moscow every expression of opinion, oral or written, in favour of the Opposition on the basic problems of the Chinese revolution is treated as a crime against the Party. The completely false theses of comrade Stalin have been declared de facto inviolable. Still more, in the very days of the proceedings of the Executive, those comrades who, in the discussions in their Party cells, protested against the baiting of comrade Zinoviev, are simply expelled from the Party or are at least threatened with expulsion. It is in this atmosphere, comrades, that you are acting and deciding. I propose that the Executive decide that every party, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union included, shall publish completely exact and objective reports on our deliberations, supplemented by all the theses and documents distributed here. The problems of the Chinese revolution cannot be stuck into a bottle and sealed up.

Comrades, the greatest of all dangers is the ever-sharpening Party régime. Every mistake of the leadership is made “good”, so to speak, through measures against the Opposition. The day the telegram on Chiang Kai-shek’s coup d’état was made known in Moscow, we said to each other: The Opposition will have to pay dearly for this – especially as demands for payment on their part have not been lacking recently.

The opportunity is always found to frame up a new “case” of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, Piatakov, Smilga, etc., so as to distract the attention of the Party from the most burning questions; expulsions of the Opposition, despite the approach of the Party congress – or rather just because of it – constantly increase. The same methods in every section of the Party: in every factory, in every district, in every city. In this situation there frequently emerge, of necessity, those elements who are always ready to accept in advance everything from above, because nothing is difficult for them. They lull themselves into the hope that after Trotsky or Zinoviev have been overcome, everything will be in order. On the contrary: the régime has its own inner logic. The list has only been opened, not closed. Along this road there are only difficulties and further convulsions.

This régime weighs heavily on the International. Nobody trusts himself to speak a word of criticism openly, on the false pretence of not wanting to harm the Soviet Union. But that is exactly how the greatest harm is done. Our internal policy needs revolutionary international criticism, for the wrong tendencies in foreign policy are only an extension of the incorrect tendencies in our internal policy.

I now turn to the draft resolution of comrade Bukharin. First, a question which directly touches the point on the agenda already acted upon. Listen, comrades:

“The Communist International is of the opinion that parties, and in general all organizations that call themselves workers’ parties and workers’ organizations, which do not conduct the most decisive struggle against intervention in China, which lull the vigilance of the working class and propagate a passive attitude on this question, objectively (sometimes also subjectively) help the imperialists ... in the preparation of war against the Soviet Union and in the preparation of new world wars in general.”

These ring like honest words. But they become honest only when they are applied also to the Anglo-Russian Committee. For does it “conduct the most decisive struggle against intervention in China”?No! Does it not lull the vigilance of the working class? It does. Does it not propagate a passive attitude on this question! Without a doubt. Does it not thereby objectively (in its British half also subjectively) help the imperialists of Britain in their work of preparing the war? Obviously and without a doubt.

Compare this with what was declaimed here yesterday by Kuusinen on the Anglo-Russian Committee, in the language of Kuusinenized Purcellism. Whence this duplicity? The philosophy of customs certificates is far more appropriate in the customs office of a border state than on the tribune of the Comintern. This false and unworthy philosophy must be swept away with a broom.

Let us listen further to Bukharin’s resolution:

“The ECCI declares that the development of events [in the Chinese revolution, the estimate of its driving forces made at the last Enlarged Plenum of the CI] has confirmed the prognosis. The ECCI declares especially that the course of events has fully confirmed the prognosis of the Enlarged Plenum on the inevitable departure of the bourgeoisie from the national revolutionary united front and its going over to the side of the counter-revolution.”

The workers of Shanghai and Hankow will certainly be surprised when they read that the April events developed in complete harmony with the historical line of march which comrade Bukharin had previously outlined for the Chinese revolution. Could one ever imagine a more malicious caricature and more ridiculous pedantry? The vanguard of the Chinese proletariat was smashed by that same “national” bourgeoisie which occupied the leading role in the joint party of the Guomindang, subordinating the Communist Party, on all decisive questions, to the organizational discipline of the joint party. After the counter-revolutionary coup, which struck the Chinese workers and the huge majority of the working class of the world like a bolt from the blue, the resolution says: It all took place in accordance with the best rules of the Bukharinist prognosis. This really sounds like a bad joke.

What is to be understood here by a prognosis, what does this so-called prognosis signify under the given conditions? Nothing but an empty phrase on the fact that the bourgeoisie, at a given stage of the bourgeois revolution, must separate itself from the oppressed masses of the people. That this commonplace is pathetically called a “prognosis”, is a disgrace to Marxism. This banality does not separate Bolshevism from Menshevism for an instant. Ask Kautsky, Otto Bauer or Dan, and their answer will be: the bloc of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie cannot last for ever. Dan scribbled that in his rag only a short time ago.

But the kernel of the question is the following: To say that the bourgeoisie must separate itself from the national revolution is one thing. But to say that the bourgeoisie must take hold of the leadership of the revolution and the leadership of the proletariat, deceive the working class and then disarm it, smash it, and bleed it to death, is something quite different. The whole philosophy of Bukharin, in his resolution, is founded on the identity of these two prognoses. But this means that one does not want to make any fundamental contrast between the Bolshevik and Menshevik perspectives.

Let us listen to what Lenin said on this question:

“The bourgeois politicians have fed and deceived the people with promises in every bourgeois revolution. Our revolution is a bourgeois revolution – therefore the workers must support the bourgeoisie. This is what the good-for-nothing politicians of the liquidator camp say. Our revolution is a bourgeois revolution, is what we Marxists say, and therefore the workers must open the eyes of the people to the deceit of the bourgeois politicians, teach them not to believe them, but to rely on their own forces, on their own solidarity, on their own arms.” (March 1917)

Foreseeing the inevitable departure of the bourgeoisie, Bolshevik policy in the bourgeois revolution is directed towards creating an independent organization of the proletariat as soon as possible, impregnating it as deeply as possible with mistrust of the bourgeoisie, uniting the masses as soon and as broadly as possible and arming them, aiding the revolutionary uprising of the peasant masses in every way. The Menshevik policy in foreseeing the so-called departure of the bourgeoisie is directed towards postponing this moment as long as possible; while the independence of policy and organization of the proletariat is sacrificed to this aim, the workers are instilled with confidence in the progressive role of the bourgeoisie, and the necessity of political self-restraint is preached. In order to maintain the alliance with Purcell, the great strike-breaker, he must be appeased by declaiming about cordial relations and political agreement. In order to maintain the so-called bloc with the Chinese bourgeoisie, they must always be whitewashed anew, thereby facilitating the deluding of the masses by the bourgeois politicians.

Yes, the moment of the departure of the bourgeoisie can thereby be postponed. But this postponement is utilized by the bourgeoisie against the proletariat: It seizes hold of the leadership thanks to its great social advantages, it arms its loyal troops, it prevents the arming of the proletariat, political as well as military, and after it has acquired the upper hand it organizes a counter-revolutionary massacre at the first serious collision.

It is not the same thing, comrades, whether the bourgeoisie is tossed to one side or it tosses the proletarian vanguard to one side. These are the two roads of the revolution. On what road did the revolution travel up to the coup? The classic road of all previous bourgeois revolutions, of which Lenin said:

The bourgeois politicians have fed and deceived the people with promises in every bourgeois revolution.

Did the false position of the leadership obstruct or facilitate this road of the Chinese bourgeoisie? It facilitated it to a great extent.

To prevent the departure of the bourgeoisie from becoming the destruction of the proletariat, the miserable theory of the bloc of four classes should have been denounced from the very beginning as genuine theoretical and political treason to the Chinese revolution. Was this done? No, just the contrary.

I have not time enough to present a historical description of the development of the revolution and of our differences, which Bukharin had full opportunity to do – extensively and falsely. I am prepared to undertake this retrospective treatment in the theoretical organ of the Party or of the International. Unfortunately, Bukharin touches on this question only where we have no opportunity to answer him properly, that is, with facts and quotations.

The following will suffice for today:

1) On March 16, one short month before the coup by Chiang Kai-shek, an editorial in Pravda indicted the Opposition for believing that the bourgeoisie stands at the head of the Guomindang and the national government and is preparing treason. Instead of making this truth clear to the Chinese workers, Pravda denied it indignantly. It contended that Chiang Kai-shek submitted to the discipline of the Guomindang, as if the conflicting classes, especially in the feverish tempo of the revolution, could submit to common political discipline. Incidentally: if the Opposition never had anything to say against the official line, as was said here by Smeral in his ponderous manner, then why are the speeches and articles by Bukharin for the last year filled with accusations against the Opposition on the most burning questions of the Chinese revolution?

If I have time, I will read here a letter by Radek: it is a repetition of his letter of last July. This letter was written last September and takes up the most burning questions of the Chinese revolution.

2) Only on April 5, that is, only a week before the coup d’état by Chiang Kai-shek, Stalin rejected Radek’s opinion at a meeting of Moscow functionaries and declared again that Chiang Kai-shek was submitting to discipline, that the admonitions were baseless, that we would use the Chinese bourgeoisie and then toss it away like a squeezed-out lemon. The whole speech of Stalin meant the soothing, the allaying of the uneasiness, the lulling to sleep of our party and the Chinese party. Thousands of comrades listened to this speech. This was on April 5. Truly, the prognosis is not so remarkable as Bukharin may claim. The stenogram of this speech by Stalin was never made public, because a few days later the squeezed-out lemon seized power with his army. As a member of the CC, I had the right to get the stenogram of this speech. But my efforts and attempts were in vain. Attempt it now, comrades, perhaps you will have better luck. I doubt it. This concealed stenogram of Stalin alone, without any other document, suffices to reveal the erroneousness of the official line, and to demonstrate how out of place it is to maintain that the events in Shanghai and Canton “confirmed” the very line that Stalin defended in Moscow a week before.

3) The CC received a report on March 17 from China, from three comrades who were sent there by the CC. This highly important document gives an actual description of what the line of the CI really looked like. Borodin acted, in the words of the document, sometimes as a right, at other times as a Left Guomindang man, but never as a Communist. The representatives of the CI also acted in the same spirit, by transforming it a little into the Guomintern; they hindered the independent policy of the proletariat, its independent organization and especially its armament; to reduce this to a minimum they considered their sacred duty. Heaven forbid, with arms in hand the proletariat would frighten the great spirit of the national revolution, hovering over all the classes. Demand this document! Read it! Study it, so that you will not have to vote blindly.

I could name dozens of other articles, speeches and documents of this type over a period of about one and a half to two years. I am prepared to do it in writing at any moment, with complete accuracy and a statement of date and page. But what has been said is already enough to prove how basically false is the assertion that the events confirmed the “prognosis” of that time.

Read further in the resolution:

“The ECCI is of the opinion that the tactic of a bloc with the national bourgeoisie in the period of the revolution already passed was fully correct.”

Still more. Bukharin contends even today that the renowned formula of Martynov that the national government is the government of the bloc of four classes, suffers from only one trifling defect, that Martynov did not emphasize that the bourgeoisie stands at the head of the bloc. A quite insignificant trifle! Unfortunately, Martynov’s masterpiece shows many other defects. For Martynov contends quite openly and clearly in his Pravda article that this national Chiang Kai-shek government was no (no!) bourgeois government, but (but!) the four-class-bloc government. Thus is it written for him in the holy scriptures.

What does this mean, anyway – bloc of four classes? Have you encountered this expression in Marxist writing before? If the bourgeoisie leads the oppressed masses of the people under the bourgeois banner, and takes hold of the state power through its leadership, then this is no bloc but the political exploitation of the oppressed masses by the bourgeoisie. But the national revolution is progressive, you reply. To be sure. Capitalist development in backward countries is also progressive. But its progressive character is not conditioned by the economic co-operation of the classes, but by the economic exploitation of the proletariat and the peasantry by the bourgeoisie. Whoever does not speak of the class struggle but of class co-operation in order to characterize capitalist progress, is not a Marxist but a prophet of peace dreams. Whoever speaks of the bloc of four classes so as to emphasize the progressive character of the political exploitation of the proletariat and peasantry by the bourgeoisie, has nothing to do with Marxism, for herein really lies the political function of the opportunists, of the “conciliators”, of the heralds of peace dreams.

The question of the Guomindang has the closest connection with this. What Bukharin makes out of it is real political trickery. The Guomindang is so “special”, something unprecedented, something that can only be characterized by the blue flag and blue smoke – in a word: whoever does not understand this highly complicated “special thing“ – and it cannot be understood for, according to Bukharin, it is just too “special“ – understands nothing about the Chinese revolution. What Bukharin himself understands about it, however, is not to be understood at all from Bukharin’s words. The Guomindang is a party, and in time of revolution, it can be understood only as a party. In the recent period, this party has not embodied the “bloc of four classes”, but the leading role of the bourgeoisie over the masses of the people, the proletariat and the Communist Party included. The word “bloc” should not be misused, especially not in the this case where it is done only for the good of the bourgeoisie. Taken politically, a bloc is the expression of an alliance of sides “with equal rights”, who come to an understanding on a certain joint action. Only, this was not the case in China, and still is not to this day. The Communist Party was a subordinated part of a party at whose head stood the national-liberal bourgeoisie. Last May, the Communist Party bound itself not to criticize even the teachings of Sun Yat Sen, that is, the petty-bourgeois doctrine which is aimed not only against imperialism but also against the proletarian class struggle.

This “special” Guomindang has assimilated the lesson of the exclusiveness of the party which exercises the dictatorship and draws from this the conclusion as regards the Communists: “Hold your tongue!”, for in Russia – they say – there is also only one party at the head of the revolution.

With us the dictatorship of the party (quite falsely disputed theoretically by Stalin) is the expression of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat. In China we have the bourgeois revolution, and the dictatorship of the Guomindang is directed not only against the imperialists and the militarists but also against the proletarian class struggle. In that way, the bourgeoisie, supported by the petty bourgeoisie and the radicals, curbs the class struggle of the proletariat and the uprisings of the peasantry, strengthens itself at the cost of the masses of the people and the revolution. We stood for this, we made it easier for them to go on with it, we want to sanction it now also by talking nonsense about the “special nature” of the Guomindang without showing the proletariat the vicious class manoeuvres that have been and are concealed behind this “special nature”.

The dictatorship of a party is a part of the socialist revolution. In the bourgeois revolution, the proletariat must absolutely insure the independence of its own party – at any price, cost what it may. The Communist Party of China has been a shackled party in the past period. It did not have so much as its own newspaper. Imagine what this means in general and especially in a revolution! Why has it not had, and has not yet to this day, its own daily paper? Because the Guomindang does not want it. Can we tolerate anything like this? This means disarming the proletariat politically. Then withdrawal from the Guomindang – cries Bukharin. – Why? Do you want to say thereby that the Communist Party cannot exist within the “revolutionary” Guomindang as a party? I can accept remaining within a really revolutionary Guomindang only under conditions of complete political and organizational freedom of action for the Communist Party, with a guaranteed common bias for action by the Guomindang together with the Communist Party.

The political conditions for this have been enumerated in the thesis of Zinoviev as well as in my own (no. 39) more precisely in points a, b, c, d, e, f, g, and h. These are the conditions for remaining in the Left Guomindang. If comrade Bukharin is for remaining unconditionally – under all circumstances and at any price – then we do not go along with him.

(Remmele: Where is that in the resolution?)

The maintenance of a bloc or the organizational form of a bloc at any price leads to the necessity of throwing oneself at the feet of one’s partner. The Berlin session of the Anglo-Russian Committee teaches us that.

The Communist Party must create its own completely independent daily press, at any price. Thereby it will for the first time really begin to live and act as a political party.

Let us read further:

“The ECCI considers radically false the liquidatory [Look, look!] view that the crisis of the Chinese revolution is a long-term defeat.”

On this point, we have expressed ourselves in our thesis with complete clarity. That the defeat is great I consider self-evident. To seek to minimize it only means to stand in the way of the education of the Chinese party.

No one is today in a position to prophesy exactly if the defeat will last, or for how long. At any rate, in our theses we proceed from the possibility of the speedy overcoming of the defeat by the proletariat. But the preliminary condition for this is a correct policy on our part. The policy represented by comrade Chen Duxiu, the leader of the party, in his speech at the latest convention of the Communist Party of China (published recently in Pravda) is basically false on the two most important questions: that of the revolutionary government, and that of the agrarian revolution. If we do not correct with the greatest energy the policy of the Chinese and our own party on these two decisive questions, the defeat will become deeper and weigh heavily on the Chinese working people for a long time. What is most essential concerning this has been said in my thesis, in the postscript to the speech of comrade Chen Duxiu. I must limit myself greatly, and I point to the theses and other documents. I have promised to read also the letter from Radek to the Central Committee. Unfortunately I cannot here refute wholly frivolous and absurd assertions about the “surrender” of the Chinese Eastern Railway, etc. Bukharin, like myself, has no documents on this, because the question was considered quite cursorily at one session of the Politburo.

(Bukharin: It is shameless to deny this.)

If I am given three minutes for it, I will immediately refute the shamefaced Bukharin, for what he says is a lie. The only thing I proposed at that time – after the words of comrade Rudzutak, who said this railway becomes an instrument of imperialism now and then (for which Bukharin attacked Rudzutak) – was a declaration from our side in which we repeat, in an open and solemn manner, that which we had already said once in the Peking decisions: The moment the Chinese people has created its own democratic unified government, we will freely and gladly hand over the railway to them on the most favourable conditions. The Politburo said: No, at this time such a declaration will be interpreted as a sign of weakness, we will make this declaration a month from now. Although not in agreement with this, I raised no protest against it. It was a fleeting discussion which was only later transformed in a wretched manner, in an untruthful way, then, turned into a rounded-off formula, launched in the Party organization, in the Party cells, with warped insinuations in the press – in a word, dealt with just as has become the custom and practise with us in recent times.

Chairman: Comrade Trotsky, I call your attention to the fact that you have only eight more minutes to speak. The Presidium granted you forty-five minutes and after that I must let the Plenum decide.

Remmele: Besides that, I must request the Plenum to reject certain imputations and expressions; to speak of a shameless Bukharin is the lowest I have yet heard.

Trotsky: If I am reproached for shamelessness and I speak of the shamefaced, protest is made – against me. I speak of the shamefaced Remmele who accuses me of shamelessness. It is you who speak of shamelessness, I always speak only of shamefacedness.

Chairman: I strongly request you to abstain from such expressions. Do not think that you can behave here just as you please.

Trotsky: I bow before the objectivity of the chairman, and withdraw every suspicion of “shamefacedness”.

I cannot read the whole of Radek’s letter; perhaps I will do it when I speak a second time. The letter from Radek, which was sent to the CC in full agreement with myself and Zinoviev, and which raised the most burning questions of the Chinese revolution which we are discussing here today, was not answered by the Politburo of the Party. I must therefore now speak only on the general political consequences created by the very heavy defeat of the Chinese revolution.

Comrade Bukharin has already made the attempt to refer to the fact that Chamberlain broke off diplomatic relations. We were – I have already observed – in a very difficult situation, where we were surrounded by enemies, and Bukharin and other comrades participated then in a great party discussion to find the correct way out of the difficult situation. A revolutionary party can renounce its right to analyse the situation and draw the necessary conclusions for its policy just as little in a difficult situation as in a favourable one. For I repeat again, if a false policy can be harmless in a favourable situation it can become fatal in a difficult situation.

Are the differences of opinion great? Very great, very significant, very important! It cannot be denied that they have become deeper in the course of the last year. No one would have believed in the possibility of the Berlin decisions of the Anglo-Russian Committee a year ago, no-one in the possibility that the philosophy of the bloc of four classes would be flaunted in Pravda, that Stalin would present his squeezed-out lemon on the eve of Chiang Kai-shek’s coup d’état, just as Kuusinen yesterday presented his customs certificate. Why did this quick development become possible? Because the incorrect line was checked by the two greatest events of the last year, the great strikes in Britain and the Chinese revolution.

Comrades have come forward – and we shall certainly hear such voices again – who said: since the contradictions have become sharpened, the road leads necessarily to two parties. I deny this. We live in a period where contradictions do not ossify, because great events teach us better. There is a great and dangerous push towards the right in the line of the CI. But we have enough confidence in the force of the Bolshevik idea and the power of great events to reject decisively and determinedly every prophecy of split.

The theses of comrade Bukharin are false. And, moreover, in the most dangerous manner. They suppress the most important points of the question. They contain the danger that we shall not only fail to make up for lost time but that we shall lose still more time.

1) Instead of continually sounding alarms about wanting to withdraw from the Guomindang (which is not proposed at all) the political independence of the Communist Party must be put above all other considerations, even that of remaining in the Guomindang. A separate daily press, relentless criticism also against the Left Guomindang.

2) The postponement of the agrarian revolution until the territory is secured militarily – the idea of Chen Duxiu – must be condemned formally, for this program endangers the life of the revolution.

3) The postponement of the reorganization of the government until the military victory – a second idea of Chen Duxiu’s – must also be characterized as endangering the life of the revolution. The bloc of Hankow leaders is not yet a revolutionary government. To create and spread any illusions on this score means to condemn the revolution to death. Only the workers’, peasants’, petty-bourgeois and soldiers’ soviets can serve as the basis for a revolutionary government.

Naturally, the Hankow government will have to adapt itself to the soviets in some way or other, or else – disappear.

4) The alliance between the Communist Party and a really revolutionary Guomindang must not only be maintained but must be extended and deepened on the basis of mass soviets.

Whoever speaks of arming the workers without permitting the workers to build soviets is not serious about arming them. If the revolution develops further – and we are fully confident that it will – the impulse of the workers to build soviets will grow ever stronger. We must prepare, strengthen and extend this movement, but not hamper and apply brakes to it as the resolution proposes.

The Chinese revolution cannot be advanced if the worst right deviations are abetted, and smuggled Menshevik goods are allowed to be circulated under the customs seal of Bolshevism – comrade Kuusinen did this for a whole hour yesterday – while on the other hand the really revolutionary warnings of the left are mechanically smothered.

Bukharin’s resolution is false and dangerous. It directs the attack towards the left. The Communist Party of China, which can and must become a really Bolshevik Party in the fire of the revolution, cannot accept this resolution. Our party and the entire Comintern cannot declare this resolution their own. The world historical problem must be openly and honestly discussed by the whole International. The discussion, may it be ever so sharp politically, should not be conducted in the tone of envenomed, personal baiting and slander. All the documents, the speeches, the theses, the articles must be made available to the membership of the International.

The Chinese revolution cannot be stuffed into a bottle and sealed from above with a signet.

Problems of the Chinese Revolution Index

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Last updated on: 4.3.2007