Leon Trotsky

Problems of the Chinese Revolution

A Retreat in Full Disorder

November 1930

Manuilsky on the “Democratic Dictatorship”

In the anniversary number of Pravda (November 7), Manuilsky once more shows the value of the present leadership of the Comintern. We will analyse briefly that part of his anniversary reflections devoted to China, and which amounts in essence to a cowardly, deliberately confused, and therefore all the more dangerous, semi-capitulation to the theory of the permanent revolution.

1) “A revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the peasantry and proletariat in China,” writes Manuilsky, “will differ essentially from the democratic dictatorship outlined [!] by the Bolsheviks in the 1905-06 revolution.”

The democratic dictatorship was “outlined” by the Bolsheviks not only in 1905, but also in 1917 and in all the years between the two revolutions. But only outlined. Events served as a test. Manuilsky, like his teacher Stalin, does not reflect upon the points of resemblance and the points of difference of the Chinese revolution with the three Russian revolutions – no, with such comparison they would be unable to preserve the fiction of the democratic dictatorship, and along with it, the fiction of their theoretical reputations. Therefore these gentlemen do not compare the Chinese revolution with the real Russian Revolution, but with the one that was “outlined”. It is much easier in this way to confuse and to throw dust in the eyes.

2) In what respect then does the revolution taking place in China differ from the one “outlined” in Russia? In the fact, we are taught by Manuilsky, that the Chinese revolution is directed against the “whole system of world imperialism”! It is true that this was the basis upon which Manuilsky yesterday depended for the revolutionary role of the Chinese bourgeoisie as against the Bolshevik position “outlined in 1905”. Today, however, Manuilsky’s conclusions are different: “The difficulties of the Chinese revolution are tremendous; and this is precisely why the victorious movement of the Chinese Red Army upon the industrial centres of China had to halt at Changsha.” It would have been much more simple and honest to say that the partisan peasant detachments, in the absence of revolutionary uprisings in the cities, found themselves powerless to take possession of the industrial and political centres of the country. Wasn’t this clear to Marxists beforehand?

But Manuilsky must needs save Stalin’s speech at the Sixteenth Congress. Here is how he fulfils this task:

“The Chinese revolution has at its disposal a Red army, it is in possession of a considerable territory, at this very moment it is creating on this territory a soviet system of workers’ and peasants’ power in whose government the Communists are in the majority. And this condition permits the proletariat to realize not only an ideological but also a state hegemony over the peasantry.” [Our emphasis.]

The fact that the Communists, as the revolutionary and most self-sacrificing elements, appear at the head of the peasant movement and the armed peasant detachments, is quite natural in itself and is also exceptionally important in the symptomatic sense. But this does not change the fact that the Chinese workers find themselves throughout their vast country under the heel of the Chinese bourgeoisie and foreign imperialism. In what way can the proletariat realize “state hegemony” over the peasantry, when the state power is not in its hands? It is absolutely impossible to understand this. The leading role of the isolated Communists and the isolated Communist groups in the peasant war does not decide the question of power. Classes decide and not parties. The peasant war may support the dictatorship of the proletariat, if they coincide in point of time, but under no circumstances can it be substituted for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Is it possible that the “leaders” of the Comintern have not learned even this from the experiences of the three Russian revolutions?

3) Let us listen further to Manuilsky: “All these [?] conditions lead to the fact that a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship in China will be confronted with the necessity of a consistent confiscation of the enterprises belonging to foreign and Chinese capital.” (Our emphasis.)

“All these conditions” is a commonplace whose purpose is to cover up the gap created in the old position. But the centre of gravity in the phrase quoted above is not in “all these conditions” but in one single “condition”: Manuilsky has been instructed to manoeuvre away from the democratic dictatorship and to cover up the traces. This is why Manuilsky so diligently, but not very skilfully, wags his tail.

The democratic dictatorship can be contrasted only to the proletarian socialist dictatorship. The one differs from the other by the character of the class holding power and by the social content of its historical work. If the democratic dictatorship is to occupy itself not with clearing the road for capitalist development, as stated in the Bolshevik schema “outlined in 1905”, but on the contrary, with a “consistent confiscation of the enterprises belonging to foreign and Chinese capital”, as “outlined” by Manuilsky, then we ask: wherein does this democratic dictatorship differ from the socialist? In no way. Then does it mean that Manuilsky, for the second time after a lapse of twelve years, has bitten into the apple of the “permanent” theory? He bit without really taking a bite: this will yet be seen.

4) We read one phrase after another. “The presence of socialist elements will be the specific [!] peculiarity of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in China.” Not a bad “specific” peculiarity!

The democratic dictatorship was always thought of by the Bolsheviks as a bourgeois-democratic dictatorship, and not as a supra-class one, and was contrasted to the socialist dictatorship only in this – the only possible – sense. Now it appears that in China there will be a “democratic dictatorship with socialist elements”. Between the bourgeois and socialist régimes, the class abyss thus disappears, everything is dissolved into pure democracy, and this pure democracy is supplemented gradually and planfully by “socialist elements”.

Who did these people learn from? From Victor Chernov. It is precisely he who, in 1905-06, outlined such a Russian Revolution as would be neither bourgeois nor socialist, but democratic, and would gradually be supplemented by socialist elements. No, Manuilsky did not make much use of the apple of wisdom!

5) Further: the Chinese revolution in its transition from capitalism to socialism will have more intermediate stages than our October revolution: but the periods of its growing over into a socialist revolution will be considerably shorter than the periods outlined (!) by the Bolsheviks for the democratic dictatorship in 1905.

Our astrologer has drawn the balance to everything in advance: to the stages, the periods, and the length of the periods. He only forgot the ABC of Communism. It appears that under democracy, capitalism will grow over into socialism in a series of stages. And the power – will it remain the same in this process or will it change? What class will hold power under the democratic dictatorship and what class under the socialist? If different classes will hold power then they can supplant each other only by a new revolution, and not through the “growing over” of the power of one class into the power of another. On the other hand, if it is assumed that in both periods one and the same class will dominate, that is, the proletariat, then what is the meaning of the democratic dictatorship as against the proletarian? To this there can be no answer. And there will not be. Manuilsky is ordered not to clear up the question but to cover up the traces.

In the October revolution, the democratic tasks grew over into socialist ones – under the unaltered domination of the proletariat. One can therefore draw a distinction (it is understood, only relatively) between the democratic period of the October revolution and the socialist period; but one cannot distinguish between the democratic and the socialist dictatorships because the democratic was – non-existent.

In addition, we have heard from Manuilsky that in China the democratic dictatorship, from the very beginning, will be confronted with a consistent confiscation of the enterprises, which means the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. This means that there will not even be a democratic stage of the proletarian dictatorship. Under these conditions, where will the democratic dictatorship come from?

Manuilsky’s injudicious construction would be entirely impossible were he to compare the Chinese revolution with the Russian as it actually developed, and not with the one that was “outlined”, and at that, to confuse and distort the outline. And all this to what end? In order to retreat without retreating, in order to give up the reactionary formula of the democratic dictatorship, or, as they say in China, to save face. But on the face of Stalin-Manuilsky have already written, first, Chiang Kai-shek and then Wang Jingwei! Enough! The face is already sufficiently descriptive. They cannot save it any more. Manuilsky’s theoretical confusion is directed against the basic interests of the Chinese revolution. The Chinese Bolshevik-Leninists will reveal this.

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Last updated on: 26.1.2007