Leon Trotsky

Problems of the Chinese Revolution

The Chinese Question
After the Sixth Congress

5) Appendix

A Remarkable Document on the Policy and
the Régime of the Communist International

We referred above several times to the remarkable resolution of the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (November 1927), precisely the one which the Ninth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International charged with “Trotskyism”, and about which Lominadze justified himself in such a variegated manner while Stalin very monotonously slunk off in silence. In reality, this resolution is a combination of opportunism and adventurism, reflecting with perfect precision the policy of the Executive Committee of the Communist International before and after July 1927. In condemning this resolution after the defeat of the Canton insurrection, the leaders of the Communist International not only did not publish it but did not even quote from it. It was too embarrassing for them to show themselves in the Chinese mirror. This resolution was published in a special Documentation, accessible to very few, printed by the Chinese Sun Yat Sen University (no.10).

No. 14 of the same publication, which reached our hands when our work (The Chinese Question After the Sixth Congress) was already completed, contains a no less remarkable document, even though of a different, that is, of a critical character: it is a resolution adopted by the Kiangsu District Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on May 7, 1928, in connection with the decisions of the Ninth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. Remember that Shanghai and Canton are part of the province of Kiangsu.

This resolution, as has already been said, constitutes a truly remarkable document, in spite of the errors in principle and the political misunderstandings it contains. The essence of the resolution amounts to a deadly condemnation not only of the decisions of the Ninth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, but in general, of the whole leadership of the Comintern in the questions of the Chinese revolution. Naturally, in conformity with the whole régime existing in the Comintern, the criticism directed against the Executive Committee of the CI bears a camouflaged and conventionally diplomatic character. The immediate point of the resolution is directed against the Central Committee itself as against a responsible ministry under an irresponsible monarch who, as is known, “can do no wrong”. There are even polite eulogies for certain parts of the resolution of the ECCI. This whole way of approaching the question by “manoeuvring” is in itself a harsh criticism of the régime of the Communist International; hypocrisy is inseparable from bureaucratism. But what the resolution says in essence about the political leadership and its methods has a much more damning character.

“After the August 7 (1927) conference,” the Kiangsu Committee relates, “the Central Committee formulated a judgement on the situation which was tantamount to saying that even though the revolution had suffered a triple defeat, it is nevertheless going through a rising phase.”

This appreciation is entirely in conformity with the caricature which Bukharin makes of the theory of the permanent revolution, a caricature which he applied first to Russia, then to Europe and finally to Asia. The actual events of the struggle, that is, the three defeats, are one thing and the permanent “rise” is another.

The Central Committee of the Chinese party draws the following conclusion from the resolution adopted by the Eighth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (in May):

“Wherever this is objectively possible, we must immediately prepare and organize armed insurrections.”

What are the political premises for this? The Kiangsu Committee declares that in August 1927

“the political report of the Central Committee pointed out that the workers of Hunan, after the cruel defeat, are abandoning the leadership of the Party, that we are not confronted with an objectively revolutionary situation ... but in spite of this ... the Central Committee says plainly that the general situation, from the economic, political and social [precisely! – L.T.] point of view is favourable to the insurrection. Since it is already no longer possible to launch revolts in the cities, the armed struggle must be transferred to the villages. That is where the centres of the uprising must be, while the town must be an auxiliary force.” (p.4)

Let us recall that immediately after the May Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, which entrusted the leadership of the agrarian revolution to the Left Guomindang, the latter began to exterminate the workers and peasants. The position of the ECCI became completely untenable. At all costs, there had to be, and that without delay, “left” actions in China to refute the “calumny” of the Opposition, that is, its irreproachable prognosis. That is why the Chinese Central Committee, which found itself between the hammer and the anvil, was obliged, in August 1927, to turn the proletarian policy topsy-turvy all over again. Even though there was no revolutionary situation and the working masses were abandoning the Party, this Committee declared that the economic and social situation was, in its opinion, “favourable to the insurrection”. In any case, a triumphant uprising would have been very “favourable” to the prestige of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. Given the fact that the workers were abandoning the revolution, it was therefore necessary to turn one’s back to the towns and endeavour to launch isolated uprisings in the villages.

Already at the May Plenum (1927) of the ECCI, we pointed out that the adventurist uprisings of Ho Lung and Ye Ting were inevitably doomed to defeat because of insufficient political preparation and because they were bound up with no movement of the masses. That is just what happened. The resolution of the Kiangsu Committee says on this subject:

“In spite of the defeat of the armies of Ho Lung and Ye Ting in Guangdong, even after the November Plenum the Central Committee persists in clinging to the tactic of immediate uprisings and takes as its point of departure an estimation leading to the direct ascent of the revolution.”

For understandable reasons, the Kiangsu Committee passes in silence over the fact that this appreciation was also that of the Executive Committee of the Comintern itself, which treated as “liquidators” those who correctly estimated the situation, and the fact that the Chinese Central Committee was forced, in November 1927, on pain of being immediately overthrown and expelled from the Party, to present the decline of the revolution as its rise.

The Canton insurrection sprang up by basing itself upon this tip-tilted manner of approaching the question; manifestly, this uprising was not regarded as a rearguard battle (only raging madmen could have urged passing over to the insurrection and to the conquest of power through a “rearguard battle”); no, this uprising was conceived as part of a general coup d’état. The Kiangsu resolution says on this point:

“During the Canton insurrection of December, the Central Committee decided once more to launch an immediate uprising in Hunan, Hupeh and Kiangsu in order to defend Guangdong, in order to extend the framework of the movement all over China (this can be verified from the information letters of the Central Committee, nos. 16 and 22). These measures flowed from a subjective estimation of the situation and did not correspond to the objective circumstances. Obviously, under such conditions defeats will be inevitable.” (p.5)

The Canton experience frightened the leaders not only of China but also of Moscow. A warning was issued against putschism, but in essence the political line did not change. The orientation remained the same: towards insurrection. The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party transmitted this ambiguous instruction to the lower bodies; it also warned against the tactic of skirmishes, while setting down in its circulars academic definitions of adventurism.

“But being given the fact that the Central Committee based itself in its estimation of the revolutionary movement, upon an uninterrupted advance,” as the Kiangsu resolution says correctly and pointedly,

“no modifications were brought into this question at the bottom. The forces of the enemy are far too greatly underrated and at the same time, no attention is paid to the fact that our organizations have lost contact with the masses. Therefore, in spite of the fact that the Central Committee had sent its information letter no.28 (on putschism) everywhere, it did not at the same time correct its mistakes.” (p.5)

Once more, it is not a question of the Central Committee of the Chinese party. The February Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International introduced no modifications into its policy either. While warning against the tactics of skirmishes in general (in order to insure itself against all eventualities), the resolution of this Plenum pounced furiously upon the Opposition which spoke of the necessity of a resolute change in the whole orientation. In February 1928, the course continued as before to lead towards insurrection. The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party only served as a mechanism to transmit this instruction. The Kiangsu Committee says:

“The Central Committee circular no.38, of March 6 [take careful note: March 6, 1928! – L.T.] shows very clearly that the Central Committee still finds itself under the influence of illusions about a favourable situation for general insurrection in Hunan, Hupeh and Kiangsu, and the possibility of conquering power throughout the province of Guangdong. The radical quarrel over the choice of Changsha or Hankow as the centre of insurrection still continued between – the Political Bureau of the Central Committee and the instructor of the Central Committee in Hunan and Hupeh.” (p.5)

Such was the disastrous significance of the resolution of the February Plenum, not only false in principle, but deliberately ambiguous from the practical point of view. The thought concealed behind this resolution was always the same: if, contrary to expectations, the uprising extends itself, we shall refer to that part which speaks against the liquidators; if the insurrection goes no further than partisan affrays, we will point a finger at that part of the resolution which warns against putschism.

Even though the Kiangsu resolution nowhere dares to criticize the Executive Committee of the Communist International (everybody knows what this costs), nevertheless, in none of its documents has the Opposition dealt such deadly blows to the leadership of the Comintern as does the Kiangsu Committee in its arraignment, aimed formally at the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. After listing chronologically the policies of adventurism month after month, the resolution turns to the general causes for the disastrous course.

“How is one to explain,” asks the resolution, “this erroneous estimation of the situation established by the Central Committee which influenced the practical struggle and contained serious errors? It is to be explained as follows:

“1. The revolutionary movement was estimated as an uninterrupted ascent [the “permanent revolution” à la Bukharin-Lominadze! – L.T.].

“2. No attention was paid to the loss of contact between our party and the masses, nor to the decomposition of the mass organizations at the turning point of the revolution.

“3. No account was taken of the new regrouping of class forces inside the enemy camp during this turn.

“4. No consideration was given to leading the movement in the cities.

“5. No attention was paid to the importance of the anti-imperialist movement in a semicolonial country.

“6. During the insurrection, no account was taken of the objective conditions, nor of the necessity of applying different methods of struggle in conformity with them.

“7. A peasant deviation made itself felt.

“8. The Central Committee, in its estimation of the situation, was guided by a subjective point of view.”

It is doubtful if the Kiangsu Committee has read what the Opposition wrote and said on all these questions. One can even say with certainty that it did not read it. As a matter of fact, if it had, it would have feared to formulate with such precision its considerations, coinciding entirely in this part with ours. The Kiangsu Committee repeated our words without suspecting it.

The eight points enumerated above, characterizing the false line of the Central Committee (that is, the Executive Committee of the Communist International) are equally important. If we wish to say a few words on the fifth point, it is simply because we have here a particularly striking confirmation “by facts” of the justice of our criticism in its most essential features. The Kiangsu resolution charges the policy of the Central Committee with neglecting the problems of the anti-imperialist movement in a semicolonial country. How could this happen? By the force of the dialectic of the false political line; mistakes have their dialectic like everything else in the world. The point of departure of official opportunism was that the Chinese revolution is essentially an anti-imperialist revolution, and that the yoke of imperialism welds together all the classes or at the very least “all the living forces of the country”. We objected that a successful struggle against imperialism is only possible by means of an audacious extension of the class struggle, and consequently, of the agrarian revolution. We rose up intransigently against the attempt to subordinate the class struggle to the abstract criterion of the struggle against imperialism (substitution of arbitration commissions for the strike movement, telegraphic advice not to stir up the agrarian revolution, prohibiting the formation of soviets, etc.). This was the first stage of the question. After Chiang Kai-shek’s coup d’état, and especially after the “treason” of the “friend” Wang Jingwei, there was a turn about face of 180 degrees. Now, it turns out to be that the question of customs independence, that is, of the economic “(and consequently, the political)” sovereignty of China is a secondary “bureaucratic” problem (Stalin).

The essence of the Chinese revolution was supposed to consist of the agrarian upheaval. The concentration of power in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the abandonment of the revolution by the workers, the schism between the Party and the masses, were appraised as secondary phenomena in comparison with the peasant revolts. Instead of a genuine hegemony of the proletariat, in the anti-imperialist as well as in the agrarian struggle, that is, in the democratic revolution as a whole, there took place a wretched capitulation before the primitive peasant forces, with “secondary” adventures in the cities. However, such a capitulation is the fundamental premise of putschism. The whole history of the revolutionary movement in Russia, as well as in other countries, is witness to that. The events in China of the past year have confirmed it.

In its estimation and its warnings, the Opposition took as its point of departure general theoretical considerations, basing itself upon official information, very incomplete and sometimes deliberately distorted. The Kiangsu Committee has as its point of departure facts which it observed directly at the centre of the revolutionary movement; from the theoretical point of view this Committee still writhes in the toils of Bukharinist scholasticism. The fact that its empirical conclusions coincide completely with our own has, in politics, the same significance as, for example, the discovery in laboratories of a new element whose existence was predicted in advance on the basis of theoretical deductions has in chemistry. Unfortunately, the triumph from the theoretical point of view of our Marxian analysis, in the case before us, has as its political foundation mortal defeats for the revolution.

*   *   *

The abrupt and essentially adventurist turn in the policy of the Executive Committee of the Communist International in the middle of 1927 could not but provoke painful shocks in the Chinese Communist Party, which was taken off its guard by it. Here we pass from the political line of the Executive Committee of the Communist International to the régime of the Comintern and to the organizational methods of the leadership. Here is what the Kiangsu Committee resolution says on this point:

“After the conference of August 7 (1927), the Central Committee should have assumed the responsibility for the putschist tendencies, for it demanded rigorously of the local committees that the new political line be applied; if anybody was not in agreement with the new line, without further ceremony he was not permitted to renew his party card and even comrades who had already carried out this operation were expelled At this time, the putschist mood was making headway throughout the Party; if anybody expressed doubts about the policy of uprisings, he was immediately called an opportunist and pitilessly attacked. This circumstance provoked great friction within the Party organizations.” (p.6)

All this took place with the accompaniment of pious academic warnings against the dangers of putschism “in general”.

The policy of the sudden, hastily improvised armed insurrection demanded a speedy overhauling and a regrouping of the entire Party. The Central Committee tolerated in the Party only those who silently acknowledged the course of armed insurrection in the face of an obvious decline of the revolution. It would be well to publish the instructions furnished by the Executive Committee of the Communist International during this period. They could be reduced to one: an instruction for the organization of defeat. The Kiangsu resolution sets forth that

“The Central Committee continues not to take notice of the defeats and the depressed mood of the workers; it does not see that this situation is the result of the mistakes of its leadership.” (p.6.)

But that is not all:

“The Central Committee accuses someone or other [just so! – L.T.] for the fact that:

“a) the local committees have not sufficiently well checked up on the reorganization;

“b) the worker and peasant elements are not pushed ahead;

“c) the local organizations are not purged of opportunist elements, etc.”

All this happens abruptly, by telegraph: somehow or other, the mouth of the Opposition must be closed. But nevertheless since matters are in a bad way, the Central Committee asserts that: “the disposition of the masses would be entirely different if the signal for revolt had been given at least in one single province. Does not this last indication bespeak a one hundred per cent putschism of the Central Committee itself?” (page 6) asks the Kiangsu Committee with full justice, passing prudently over in silence that the Central Committee only executed the instructions of the Executive Committee of the Communist International.

For five years the Party was led and educated in an opportunist spirit. At the present moment, it is demanded of it that it be ultra-radical and “that it immediately put forward” worker-leaders. How? ... Very simply: by fixing a certain percentage of them. The Kiangsu Committee complains:

“1. No account is taken of the fact that the ones who are to supplement the leading cadres should be advanced in the course of the struggle. Whereas the Central Committee confines itself to a formal establishment of a percentage fixed in advance of workers and peasants in the leading organs of the various organizations.

“2. In spite of the numerous failures, they do not examine the point to which our party is already restored, but they simply say formally that it is necessary to reorganize:

“3. The Central Committee simply says dictatorially that the local organizations do not put forward new elements, that they do not rid themselves of opportunism; at the same time, the Central Committee makes baseless attacks upon the militants of the cadres and replaces them light-mindedly.

“4. Without paying attention to the mistakes of its own leadership, the Central Committee nevertheless demands the most severe party discipline from the rank-and-file militants.”

Does it not seem as though all these paragraphs are copied from the Platform of the Opposition? No, they are copied from life. But since the Platform is also copied from life, there is no coincidence. Where then is the “peculiarity” of Chinese conditions? Bureaucratism levels down each and every peculiarity. The policy as well as the régime are determined by the Executive Committee of the Communist International, more exactly by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party drives both of them down into the lower organs. Here is how this takes place according to the Kiangsu resolution:

“The following declaration made by a comrade of a district committee is very characteristic: ‘At present it is very difficult to work; but the Central Committee shows that it has a very subjective manner of regarding the problem. It pounces down with accusations and says that the Provincial Committee is no good; the latter in its turn accuses the rank-and-file organizations and asserts that the district committee is bad. The latter also begins to accuse and asserts that it is the comrades working on the spot who are no good. And the comrades declare that the masses are not revolutionary’.” (p.8)

There you really have a striking picture. Only, there is nothing peculiarly Chinese about it.

Every resolution of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, in registering new defeats, declares that on the one hand all had been foreseen and that on the other it is the “executors” who are the cause of the defeats because they did not understand the line that had been pointed out to them from above. It remains unexplained how the perspicacious leadership was able to foresee everything save that the executors did not measure up to its instructions. The essential thing in the leadership does not consist of presenting an abstract line, of writing a letter without an address, but of selecting and educating the executors. The correctness of the leadership is tested precisely in execution. The reliability and perspicacity of the leadership are confirmed only when words and deeds harmonize. But if chronically, from one stage to the other, in the course of many years, the leadership is obliged post factum to complain at every turn that it has not been understood, that its ideas have been deformed, that the executors have ruined its plan, that is a sure sign that the fault devolves entirely upon the leadership. This “self-criticism” is all the more murderous by the fact that it is involuntary and unconscious. According to the Sixth Congress, the leadership of the Opposition must be held responsible for every group of turncoats; but per contra the leadership of the Communist International should in no wise have to answer for the Central Committee of all the national parties in the most decisive historical moments. But a leadership which is answerable for nothing is an irresponsible leadership. In that is to be found the root of all the evils.

In protecting itself against the criticism of the ranks, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party bases itself on the Executive Committee of the Communist International, that is, it draws a chalk line on the floor which cannot be stepped over. Nor does the Kiangsu Committee overstep it. But within the confines of this chalk line, it tells some bitter truths to its Central Committee which automatically extend to the Executive Committee of the Communist International. We are once more forced to quote an extract from the remarkable document of Kiangsu:

“The Central Committee says that the whole past leadership was exercised in accordance with the instructions of the Communist International. As if all these hesitations and errors depended only upon the rank-and-file militants. If one adopts such a manner of regarding the question, the Central Committee will itself be unable either to repair the mistakes or to educate the comrades to study this experience. It will not be able to strengthen its ties with the lower Party apparatus. The Central Committee always says that its leadership was right; it charges the rank-and-file comrades with all the mistakes, always especially underscoring the hesitations of the rank-and-file Party committees.”

A little further on:

“If the leadership only attacks light-mindedly the local leading comrades or organs by pointing out their errors, but without actually analysing the source of these mistakes, this only produces friction within the Party; such an attitude is disloyal [“rude and disloyal” – L.T.] and can do no good to the revolution and to the Party. If the leadership itself covers up its errors and throws the blame on others, such conduct will do no good to the Party or to the revolution.” (p.10)

A simple but classic characterization of bureaucratic centrism’s work of decaying and devastating the consciousness.

The Kiangsu resolution shows in an entirely exemplary manner how and by what methods the Chinese revolution was led to numerous defeats, and the Chinese party to the brink of catastrophe. For the imaginary hundred thousand members who figure on paper in the Chinese Communist Party only represent a gross self-deception. They would then constitute one-sixth of the total membership of the Communist parties of all the capitalist countries. The payments which Chinese Communism must make for the crime of the leadership are still far from completed.

Further decline is ahead. There will be great difficulty in rising again. Every false step will fling the Party into a deeper ditch. The resolution of the Sixth Congress dooms the Chinese Communist Party to errors and false steps. With the present course of the Communist International, under its present régime, victory is impossible. The course must be changed. This is what the resolution of the Kiangsu Provincial Committee says once more.

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Last updated on: 4.3.2007