Leon Trotsky

Problems of the Chinese Revolution

A Strangled Revolution
and Its Stranglers

June 13, 1931

Urgent work prevented me from reading sooner the article by Malraux in which he defends, against my criticism, the Communist International, Borodin, Garine, and himself. As a political publicist, Malraux is at a still greater distance from the proletariat and from the revolution than as an artist. By itself, this fact would not justify these lines, for it is nowhere said that a talented writer must necessarily be a proletarian revolutionist. If I nevertheless return to the same question again, it is for the sake of the subject, and not of Malraux.

The best figures of the novel, I said, attained the stature of social symbols. I must add: Borodin, Garine and all their “collaborators” constitute symbols of the quasi-revolutionary bureaucracy, of that new “social type” which was born thanks to the existence of the soviet state on the one hand, and on the other to a definite régime in the Comintern.

I declined to classify Borodin among the “professional revolutionists”, as he is characterized in the novel. Malraux endeavours to show me that Garine has enough mandarin’s buttons to give him the right to this title. Here, Malraux finds it in place to add that Trotsky has a greater quantity of buttons. Isn’t it ridiculous? The type of the professional revolutionist is not at all some sort of an ideal type. But in all events, it is a definite type, with a definite political biography and with salient traits. Only Russia created this type during the last decades; in Russia, the most perfect of this type was created by the Bolshevik Party. The professional revolutionists of the generation to which Borodin belonged began to take shape on the eve of the first revolution, they were put to the test in 1905, they tempered and educated (or decomposed) themselves during the years of the counter-revolution; they stood the supreme test in 1917. From 1903 up to 1918, that is, during the whole period when, in Russia, was being formed the type of professional revolutionist, Borodin, and hundreds, thousands of Borodins, remained outside of the struggle. In 1918, after the victory, Borodin arrived to offer his services. This does him honour: it is worthier to serve the proletarian state than the bourgeois state. Borodin charged himself with perilous missions. But the agents of bourgeois states in foreign countries, especially in colonial countries, also and that quite frequently, accomplish perilous tasks. Yet they do not become revolutionists because of that. The type of the functionary-adventurer and the type of the professional revolutionist, at certain moments and by certain qualities, can find points of similarity. But by their psychological formation as much as by their historical function, they are two opposite types.

The revolution pursues its course together with its class. If the proletariat is weak, if it is backward, the revolution confines itself to the modest, patient and persevering work of the creation of propaganda circles, of the preparation of cadres; supporting itself upon the first cadres, it passes over to mass agitation, legal or illegal, according to the circumstances. It always distinguishes its class from the enemy class, and conducts only such a policy as corresponds to the strength of its class and consolidates this strength. The French, the Russian or the Chinese proletarian revolutionist, will look upon the Chinese workers as his own army, of today or of tomorrow. The functionary-adventurer raises himself above all the classes of the Chinese nation. He considers himself predestined to dominate, to give orders, to command, independently of the internal relationship of forces in China. Since the Chinese proletariat is weak today and cannot assure the commanding positions, the functionary conciliates and joins together the different classes. He acts as the inspector of the nation, as the viceroy for the affairs of the colonial revolution. He arranges combinations between the conservative bourgeois and the anarchist, he improvises a program ad hoc, he erects policies upon ambiguities, he creates a bloc of four classes, he swallows swords and scoffs at principles. With what result? The bourgeoisie is richer, more influential, more experienced. The functionary-adventurer does not succeed in deceiving it. But for all that, he deceives the workers, filled with the spirit of abnegation, but not experienced, by turning them over to the hands of the bourgeoisie. Such was the role of the bureaucracy of the Comintern in the Chinese revolution.

Considering as natural the right of the “revolutionary” bureaucracy to command independently of the forces of the proletariat, Malraux informs us that one could not participate in the Chinese revolution without participating in the war, and one could not participate in the war without participating in the Guomindang, etc To this, he adds: the break with the Guomindang would have meant, for the Communist Party, the necessity of passing into illegality. When one thinks that these arguments sum up the philosophy of the representatives of the Comintern in China, he cannot refrain from saying: Indeed, the dialectic of the historical process sometimes plays bad jokes upon organizations, upon men and upon ideas! How easy it is to solve the problem: in order to participate successfully in the events directed by the enemy class, one must submit to this class; in order to avoid repressions on the part of the Guomindang, one must paint oneself up in its colours! There you have the secret of Borodin-Garine.

Malraux’s political estimate of the situation, of the possibilities and the tasks in China in 1925, is entirely false; it hardly reaches the border line where the real problems of the revolution begin. I have said elsewhere all that had to be said on this subject, and Malraux’s article gives no ground for a re-examination of what has been said. But even by standing on the ground of the false estimate Malraux gives of the situation, one can in no case justify the policy of Stalin-Borodin-Garine. In order to protest in 1925 against this policy, certain things had to be foreseen. In order to defend it in 1931, one must be incurably blind.

Did the strategy of the functionaries of the Comintern bring the Chinese proletariat anything but humiliations, the extermination of its cadres and above all, a terrific confusion in the mind? Did the shameful capitulation before the Guomindang avert repression for the Party? On the contrary, it only accumulated and concentrated the repressions. Was not the Communist Party compelled to pass into illegality? And when? In the period of the crushing of the revolution! If the Communists had begun by illegal work, at the beginning of the revolutionary tide, they would have emerged upon the open arena at the head of the masses. By effacing and demoralizing the Party with the aid of the Borodins and Garines, Chiang Kai-shek compelled it later, with all the greater success to take refuge in illegality during the years of the counter-revolution. The policy of Borodin-Garine entirely served the Chinese bourgeoisie. The Chinese Communist Party must begin all over again at the beginning, and that on an arena encumbered with debris, with prejudices, with uncomprehended mistakes and with the distrusts of the advanced workers. Those are the results.

The criminal character of this whole policy reveals itself with particular acuteness in isolated questions. Malraux presents as a merit of Borodin and Company the fact that in turning over the terrorists to the hands of the bourgeoisie, he deliberately pushed under the knife of the terror the leader of the bourgeoisie, Chen Dai. This machination is worthy of a bureaucratic Borgia or of the “revolutionary” Polish szlachta (gentry and nobility) who always preferred to fire with the hands of others behind the backs of the people. No, the task was not to kill Chen Dai in ambush, but to prepare the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. When the party of the revolution is obliged to kill, it does it on its open responsibility, in the name of tasks and immediate aims understood by the masses.

Revolutionary morals are not abstract Kantian norms, but rules of conduct which place the revolutionist under the control of the tasks and aims of his class. Borodin and Garine were not bound up with the masses, they did not absorb the spirit of responsibility before the class. They are bureaucratic supermen who consider that “everything is permitted” within the limits of the mandate received from above. The activity of such men, effective as it may be at certain moments, can only be directed, in the last instance, against the interests of the revolution.

After having killed Chen Dai with the hands of Hong, Borodin and Garine then turn over Hong and his group to the hands of the executioners. This stamps their whole policy with the brand of Cain. Here too Malraux poses as a defender. What is his argument? Lenin and Trotsky also punished the anarchists. It is hard to believe that this is said by a man who came near the revolution, even if but for a moment. Malraux forgets or does not understand that the revolution takes place in the name of the domination of one class over another, that it is only from this task that revolutionists draw their right to violence. The bourgeoisie exterminates the revolutionists, sometimes also the anarchists (more and more infrequently, because they become ever more obedient) in the name of safeguarding the régime of exploitation and baseness. Under the domination of the bourgeoisie, the Bolsheviks always defend the anarchists against the Chiappes. After having conquered power, the Bolsheviks did everything to draw the anarchists over to the side of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They succeeded in actuality in drawing the majority of the anarchists behind them. Yes, the Bolsheviks severely punished those anarchists who undermined the dictatorship of the proletariat. Were we right or weren’t we? That depends upon the manner in which one evaluates our revolution and the régime instituted by it. But can one imagine for a single instant that the Bolsheviks – under Prince Lvov or under Kerensky, under the bourgeois régime – would act as its agents in the extermination of anarchists? It is enough to formulate the question clearly, to turn aside in disgust. Just as Bridoison interests himself only in the form and ignores the essence, so the quasi-revolutionary bureaucracy and its literary attorney interest themselves only in the mechanics of the revolution, ignoring the question of what class and what régime they should serve. Here lies the abyss between the revolutionist and the functionary of the revolution.

What Malraux says about Marxism is a joke. The Marxian policy was not applicable in China because, you see, the proletariat was not class-conscious. It would seem then that from this flows the task of awakening this class-consciousness. But Malraux deduces a justification of the policy directed against the interests of the proletariat.

The other argument is no more convincing and still less amusing: Trotsky speaks of the need of Marxism for revolutionary politics; but isn’t Borodin a Marxist? And Stalin, isn’t he a Marxist? Then it is not a question of Marxism. I defend, against Garine, the revolutionary doctrine, just as I would defend, against a sorcerer, the medical sciences. The sorcerer will say to me in his defence that diplomaed doctors also very often kill their patients. It is an argument unworthy of a moderately educated burgher, and not only of a revolutionist. The fact that medicine is not omnipotent, that the doctors do not always effect cures, that one finds among them ignoramuses, blockheads and even poisoners – can this fact serve as an argument for giving the right to practise medicine to sorcerers, who have never studied medicine and who deny its significance?

I must make one correction, after having read Malraux’s article. In my article I expressed the idea that an inoculation of Marxism would do Garine good. I don’t think so any more.

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Last updated on: 4.3.2007