Leon Trotsky

Problems of the Chinese Revolution

What Is Happening in China?

November 9, 1929

A Question Every Communist Must Ask Himself

Among the telegrams in Pravda there has been communicated several times during October, in the smallest type, that an armed Communist detachment under the command of comrade Zhu De is advancing successfully towards Chao-Cho (Guangdong), that this detachment has grown from 5,000 to 20,000, etc. Thus we learn, as if incidentally, from the laconic telegrams in Pravda that the Chinese Communists are conducting an armed struggle against Chiang Kai-shek. What is the meaning of this struggle? Its origins? Its perspectives? Not a word is breathed to us about it. If the new revolution in China has matured to the point that the Communists have taken to arms, then it would seem necessary to mobilize the whole International in the face of events of such gigantic historical importance. Why then do we hear nothing of the sort? And if the situation in China is not such as puts on the order of the day the armed struggle of the Communists for power, then how and why has a Communist detachment begun an armed struggle against Chiang Kai-shek, that is, against the bourgeois military dictatorship?

Yes, why have the Chinese Communists risen in rebellion? Perhaps because the Chinese proletariat has already found the time to heal its wounds? Because the demoralized and debilitated Communist Party has found the time to rise on the revolutionary wave? Have the city workers ensured their contact with the revolutionary masses of the country? Has the general strike pushed the proletariat to the insurrection? If such is the case, then everything is clear and in order. But then why does Pravda communicate these events in a few lines and in small type?

Or perhaps the Chinese Communists have risen in rebellion because they have received the latest comments of Molotov on the resolution on the “third period”?It is no accident that Zinoviev who, in distinction to the other capitulators, still pretends to be alive, has come out in Pravda with an article which shows that the domination of Chiang Kai-shek is entirely similar to the temporary domination of Kolchak, that is, is only a simple episode in the process of the revolutionary rise. This analogy is of course bracing to the spirit. Unfortunately, it is not only false, but simply stupid. Kolchak organized an insurrection in one province against the dictatorship of the proletariat already established in the greater part of the country. In China, bourgeois counter-revolution rules in the country and it is the Communists who have stirred up an insurrection of a few thousand people in one of the provinces. We think, therefore, we have the right to pose this question: Does this insurrection spring from the situation in China or rather from the instructions concerning the “third period”?We ask further, what is the political role of the Chinese Communist Party in all this? What are the slogans with which it mobilized the masses? What is the degree of its influence upon the workers? We hear nothing about all this. The rebellion of Zhu de appears to be a reproduction of the adventurist campaigns of Ho Lung and Ye Ting in 1927 and the Canton uprising timed for the moment of the expulsion of the Opposition from the Russian Communist Party.

Perhaps the rebellion broke out spontaneously? Well and good. But then what is the meaning of the Communist banner unfurled above it? What is the attitude of the official Chinese Communist Party towards the insurrection? What is the position of the Comintern in this question? And why, finally, in communicating this fact to us, does the Moscow Pravda abstain from any comment?

But there is still another explanation possible, which is perhaps the most alarming one: Have the Chinese Communists risen in rebellion because of Chiang Kai-shek’s seizure of the Chinese Eastern Railway? Has this insurrection, wholly partisan in character, as its aim to cause Chiang Kai-shek uneasiness at his rear? If that is what it is, we ask who has given such counsel to the Chinese Communists? Who bears the political responsibility for their passing over to guerrilla warfare?

It was not long ago that we decisively condemned the ramblings on the necessity of handing over so important an instrument as the Chinese Eastern from the hands of the Russian Revolution to those of the Chinese counter-revolution. We called to mind the elementary duty of the international proletariat in this conflict to defend the Republic of the soviets against the Chinese bourgeoisie and all its possible instigators and allies. But on the other hand it is quite clear that the proletariat of the USSR, which has power and an army in its hands, cannot demand that the vanguard of the Chinese proletariat begin a war at once against Chiang Kai-shek, that is, that it apply the means which the Soviet government itself does not find possible, and correctly so, to apply.

Had a war begun between the USSR and China, or rather between the USSR and the imperialist patrons of China, the duty of the Chinese Communists would be to transform this war in the shortest time into a civil war. But even in that case the launching of the civil war would have to be subordinated to general revolutionary policy; and even then the Chinese Communists would be unable to pass over arbitrarily, and at any moment at all, to the road of open insurrection, but only after having assured themselves of the necessary support of the worker and peasants masses. The rebellion in Chiang Kai-shek’s rear, in this situation, would be an extension of the front of the Soviet workers and peasants; the fate of the insurgent Chinese workers would be intimately bound up with the fate of the soviet republic; the tasks, the aims, the perspectives would be quite clear.

But what is the perspective opened up by this uprising of the today isolated Chinese Communists in the absence of war or revolution? The perspective of a terrific débâcle and of an adventurist degeneration of the remnants of the Communist Party.

In the meantime, it must be said openly: calculations based upon guerrilla adventure correspond entirely to the general nature of Stalinist policy. Two years ago, Stalin expected gigantic gains for the security of the soviet state from the alliance with the imperialists of the General Council of the British trade unions. Today, he is quite capable of calculating that a rebellion of the Chinese Communists, even without any hope, would bring “a little profit” in a precarious situation. In the first case, the calculation was grossly opportunist, in the second, openly adventurist, but in both cases, the calculation is made independently of the general tasks of the world labour movement, against these tasks and to the detriment of the correctly understood interests of the soviet republic.

We have not at our disposal all the necessary data for a definite conclusion. That is why we ask:

What is happening in China? Let it be explained to us! The Communist who does not pose the question to himself and to the leadership of his party will be unworthy of the name of Communist. The leadership that would like to remain discreetly on the sidelines in order, in case of a defeat of the Chinese partisans, to wash its hands and transfer responsibility to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party – such a leadership would dishonour itself – not for the first time. it is true – by the most abominable crime against the interests of the international revolution.

We ask: What is happening in China? We will continue to pose this question until we have forced a reply.

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Last updated on: 4.3.2007