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The Communist League of China

From Revolutionary History, Vol.2 No.4, Spring 1990. Used by permission.

The following account reproduces pages 9-20 of a report by Frank Glass that was found in the Trotsky Archive in the Houghton Library of Harvard University, where it bears the number T2.16872. Our thanks are due to that body for according us permission to publish and make it available to a wider reading public. It confirms the devotion of the Chinese Trotskyists to the struggle of the working class after the Chinese Stalinists had abandoned them in favour of peasant based guerrilla warfare. The Niel Sih mentioned in the report is the pseudonym of Liu Renjing, Frank Glass’ main ally inside the Trotskyist movement, who was broken by torture in 1937 and joined the Guomindang, subsequently making his peace with Mao in 1949. The text was written after consultation with Harold Isaacs towards the end of 1939, and according to the correspondence in the Houghton archive, was sent to Trotsky on 21 January.

Frank Glass will be well known to the readers of this magazine from the obituaries we published on the occasion of his death in 1988. See Revolutionary History, Vol.1 no.2, Summer 1988, pp.1-4. See also Baruch Hirson, Death of a Revolutionary: Frank Class/Li Fu-jen/John Liang 1890-1988, Searchlight South Africa, no.1, September 1988, pp.28-41. He is frequently referred to by Wang Fanxi in his autobiography, and in an obituary in International Viewpoint, 16 May 1988.

And now to our movement in China. My information is valid only up to 1 September when I left Shanghai. Again, all factual information concerning our organisation is at best approximate. Even our own comrades vary considerably concerning such factual information as the number of comrades, etc.

The Communist League of China was founded in 1931, about four years following the Shanghai coup d’etat of Chiang Kai-Shek in April 1927. Subsequent to the coup, revolutionaries who disassociated themselves from Stalinism formed several different groups. These groups were united and consolidated, thanks mainly to Comrade Graves [1] who arrived from South Africa, in 1931 when the League was formally founded.

The present strength of our party is approximately 500 members throughout the country, of whom approximately half are active. The distribution is approximately as follows: 100 members at Shanghai, 100 members at Foochow, a port half-way between Shanghai and the British Crown Colony at Hong Kong, 100 members at Hong Kong and Kowloon, which are adjacent, 100 members in the Chungshan district, which is in the Pearl River Delta in South China, and the balance scattered throughout China. Comrades differ in their estimation of our strength. Some put the figure at 500, others state that 200 is more accurate. The war has made it impossible to ascertain the correct picture.

The number of comrades does not give a precise indication of the influence of the movement. We have in China close sympathisers in many quarters, particularly in student and intellectual circles. This is reflected somewhat by references in various publications to the Communist League and to the Fourth International.

The leaders of our party are all veteran revolutionists, many of whom were in the movement in China since 1921. Save for one member, I believe all members of the Central Committee have been in Guomindang jails. Among outstanding active comrades one might mention Comrade Wang Ming-yuan, [2] who was a Left Oppositionist from the very beginning in Moscow, Comrade Peng Shuzi, a original member of the CC of the CP of China, Comrade Chen [3] another original member of the CC of the CP of China, Comrades Chen Chi-chang, Loh, and Han.

About 60 per cent of all comrades are workers; others are intellectuals or white-collar workers.

With minor exceptions, all the work of the party is illegal. Prior to August 1937, some 50 of our comrades, including Comrade Chen Duxiu, were in jail. All were released at various intervals up to the fall of Nanking in December 1937. Prior to the war, our comrades were arrested on sight; two Central Committees were arrested en masse. These arrests were all made by the Guomindang or with the cooperation of the British or French Police, as the case might be. In general, the Guomindang at present takes no active steps against our comrades unless they are participating in legal activity. The Guomindang threat against our comrades has for the time being abated.

In the two foreign areas of Shanghai, our comrades now have relative safety, but the British or French police will turn them over to the Japanese hangmen upon the demand of the latter without trial. Up to the time I left, none of our comrades had been arrested in Shanghai since the two preceding years.

The greatest danger in Shanghai, and elsewhere in China for that matter, at present lies in the GPU and Stalinists. Several of our comrades, including Comrades Peng and Graves, have been sent black-hand letters and warnings of one kind or another showing beyond any doubt a Stalinist or a GPU source. By linking the names in their press of our comrades with Japanese puppets, the Stalinists have in reality invited their assassination. Naturally in Shanghai our comrades take the greatest of precautions. Several, through fear of being recognized by Stalinists, live in complete hiding.

Recently the Stalinists in Shanghai published a leaflet in Chinese entitled The Crimes of the Trotskyists. These ‘crimes’ included the usual stock charges, which have been rather well discredited by our Party in bourgeois papers friendly to us. Unable to find any ‘crimes’, the Stalinists have resorted to personal slander and the pamphlet states, for example, that ‘almost all Trotskyites are homosexuals and hold orgies in bathhouses’. Another ‘crime’ is the accusation that Comrade Graves wrote a favourable review of Comrade Isaacs’ Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution.

These slanders appear from time to time in Stalinist papers as well. But the Stalinists have not been completely successful. In Chungking they stated that Comrade Chen Duxiu was working with the Japanese and was a ‘counter-revolutionary Trotskyite’. About 30 leading Chinese liberals, many of them very well-known public figures, wrote a vigorous denunciation of this statement. This denunciation, with the signatures of the writers, was widely published. Since then the Stalinists have said nothing publicly about Chen Duxiu. Chen also answered the accusation in a statement, widely printed, exposing with devastation the Stalinist accusation.

In Shanghai, our party through its sympathisers forced a Stalinist-controlled sheet to publish a retraction that Comrade Peng Shuzi was working with Japanese puppets. These two examples show that the Stalinists must tread carefully in their slander campaign against us in China.

In Hong Kong, up to the time that I left, the British government had given the Stalinists carte blanche to do whatsoever they wished. But not our comrades. Several of our comrades led a strike against work on a Japanese boat. They were arrested and spent several weeks in jail. The arrests, our comrades learned from the British police officers, came about as a result of betrayals of our comrades by Stalinists. Subsequently, and probably as a direct result, the Hong Kong Government passed laws providing for the arrest, imprisonment, or banishment without trial of any Chinese. Several of our comrades were forced to leave Hong Kong.

In areas under Guomindang control, work is likewise difficult. The death penalty has been decreed for strikes ‘or any other activities prejudicial to the interests of the state’. Early in 1938 two of our comrades, assisted by Neil Sih, [4] published a legal magazine entitled The Path of Struggle. This magazine was suppressed after the second issue. Comrade Chen Duxiu has written numerous articles on the war. The government has banned publication of at least half of them. One of these articles consisted of an appeal to Japanese troops. As far as is known, none of our comrades has been arrested in areas under Guomindang control since the start of the war. At least one of them, however – Comrade Lo Han, a veteran revolutionist – met his death in Chungking during a Japanese air raid.

Some time ago in Hankow students organised an anti-Japanese demonstration. Our comrades were active in this demonstration. The police, however, prohibited the demonstration while it was in progress. They succeeded in stopping the demonstration only by firing at the students, killing one of them. Enraged, the students attacked a guilty plainclothes man. Tearing his clothes away, the students found the man to be a member of the Blue Shirts, Chiang Kai-Shek’s terrorist gang. Not a word of this incident appeared in any papers in China, including the Stalinist press.



In areas under Japanese control, there are but few of our comrades, with the exception of the Chungshan district in South China near Canton in the Pearl River Delta. Here some five to 12 of our comrades have been leading a guerrilla partisan band of some 100 to 200 fighters under the flag of the Fourth International since the fall of Canton in the Autumn of 1938. Reportedly our comrades have engaged in several skirmishes with the Japanese with success. These comrades are led by a veteran of the Hong Kong Strike. In the Japanese-controlled areas, the Japanese usually kill any Chinese found engaged in what is termed anti-Japanese work, under which charge comes anything from not having a cigarette for a Japanese soldier, incorrect bowing to sentries, and possession of a Guomindang newspaper. In these areas the Japanese terror is directed not only against revolutionists, but against the entire population. Countless villages thought by the Japanese to have been assisting guerrilla forces have been wiped out by fire, the Japanese machine-gunning fleeing inhabitants. These stories are by no means fanciful. They have been corroborated time and time again. The result of this terror has been that the peasants who attempted to return to their farms in Japanese-occupied areas have, for the most part, sought the safety of foreign areas, or of cities, or have gone to the interior. It is estimated that the war in China has produced no less than 60 million refugees.

The work of the party at the present stage is centred upon translations and publications, in strengthening the leadership, in building up the membership. There is relatively little agitational work at present, as such attempts as have been made have proved fruitless because of the passivity of the workers. Leaflets, however, are issued with frequency as special occasions arise, in both Chinese and Japanese.

Our party publishes two newspapers regularly. Doh Tseng (Struggle) is issued once or twice a month in 1000 copies, in tabloid format, of four to eight pages, with a circulation nationwide. Doh Tseng is published in Shanghai, and has appeared regularly since 1936, though it appeared irregularly some two years previously. Iskra has been published regularly in Hong Kong since 1937. It is issued once or twice a month, of four to eight pages, in tabloid size, in 1000 copies, with a circulation nationwide. These papers are printed on presses designed and built by our comrades, and the press work is done by our comrades. The presses are practically silent, and are very ingenious. Presses are also used for various pamphlets, leaflets, internal bulletins, etc. All our material in China is printed; workers will not look at a mimeographed page.

Our comrades stole most of the type from newspaper offices, printshops, etc. Originally our comrades had a sympathiser do the printing. This sympathiser gradually raised his prices. A crisis was reached. Finally, Comrade Graves and other comrades posed as foreign police officers and in a ‘raid’ seized the press and type. It was quite a task, but was successfully done. From then on, the organisation operated its own press.

The distribution of our papers presents numerous problems. But thanks to sympathisers in the Post Office, numerous copies go successfully through the mails. Others are distributed by our comrades and sympathisers in factories, among refugees, etc. Our comrades estimate that each copy of our paper has at least four readers.

With the disappearance of Guomindang influence in Shanghai in the past two years, our comrades have found it possible for the first time to publish legally, in the foreign areas of Shanghai, several Marxist and other books. In this the comrades have been greatly assisted by a sympathiser who is a publisher, and by a foreign comrade enjoying foreign protection who has set up a publishing concern, especially for this purpose. Our comrades now edit and publish a legal monthly (though not in the name of the party) which is the first legal publication of our party other than books. This monthly, called Tung Shan, or in English, The Living Age, had a first print of 1000 copies, almost all of which were sold. The only magazine in China to predict the Moscow-Berlin Pact, the magazine has gained great prestige and, provided it is not banned, may be of great importance ... Sympathisers edit and publish a daily legal newspaper for children, with a circulation of 3000 copies. Recently numerous books by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky have been published legally, in addition to numerous pamphlets. Other books include V Serge From Lenin to Stalin, Andre Gide’s Retour and Retouches, Malraux’ Les Conquerants, and Silone’s Fontamara. These translations mean a tremendous amount of work, the average requiring two comrades working from three to six months full time. At present our comrades are translating The Stalin School of Falsification and The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution. Since relatively few of our comrades know foreign languages well, translation work goes very slowly. These comrades must also support themselves by doing translations for bourgeois concerns.



As far as is known, there have been no betrayals of any of our arrested or other comrades since the founding of our organisation. There have been about five defections, three prior to 1936. In March 1937, four months prior to his scheduled release from prison, Comrade Niel Sih (Liu Renjing) capitulated to the Guomindang, but did not betray. Niel Sih was expelled from the organisation, and claimed he was unfairly treated. For a time he was in close touch with some of our comrades, and assisted them with some legal work, but later joined the Publicity Section of the National Military Council of the Guomindang ... Comrade Sze, an exceptionally capable and brilliant comrade, was released from prison in December 1937. He is now mentally deranged, and has become a Buddhist Monk. He claims to have discovered a new theory, and insisted that I send to Comrade Trotsky several huge volumes of Buddhist literature – in Chinese – for Comrade Trotsky’s perusal.

Comrade Chen Duxiu was released from prison in August 1937. He went subsequently to Hankow, where he wrote for several legal publications. When denounced as a Trotskyist by Stalinists, Chen stated publicly that he wrote in his own name only and was not associated with any party or group. Later, a correspondent of the New York Times, who is a close sympathiser, interviewed Comrade Chen. Perhaps because of language difficulties, the interview was very unfortunate and Comrade Chen is said to have expressed the opinion that it would be best if Japan succeed in conquering China, because only this would give any perspective to the revolutionary movement. Fortunately, the correspondent mentioned this interview to no one save our comrades. Comrade Chen’s statement that he belonged to no group drew great fire from our younger comrades. Finally, a comrade was sent to visit Chen and reported as follows: Chen stands 100 per cent with the Fourth International, but publicly disavows any party allegiance. In essence, the comrades decide neither to avow nor disavow, publicly, Comrade Chen, as long as in the net balance he proved helpful to the movement as a whole. This is, I believe, the situation at present. At present Chen, who is in his seventies, is exceedingly ill. He is now living near Chungking, and is said to be too ill now even to write. Concerted attempts were made to persuade Comrade Chen to go to the United States. When, finally, he agreed, it was too late: permission to travel was refused by the Guomindang, and also, his health now makes travelling impossible. Both because of his relative inactivity and his tremendous prestige, I do not personally believe Comrade Chen is in any danger from the Guomindang or GPU. He does, however, take precautions.

Aside from the case of Chen Duxiu, there have been no serious factional disputes for the past three years. There have been some minor disputes. One, as to whether our comrades should play an active role in forming anti-Japanese organisations, disappeared with the onslaught of the war. The other, concerning Chen Duxiu, has been practically liquidated. Up to the time I left, there had been no differences whatsoever concerning ‘unconditional’ defence or ‘conditional’ defence of the Soviet Union. The party stood unanimously for unconditional defence. In general, one may say that the Chinese organisation is at present free from any serious factional disputes. It is a closely-knit, well-grounded organisation. There is an almost complete absence of petty jealousies and politics. From 1931 to 1937, there were indeed severe disputes and factional fights. These resulted mainly from carry-overs from Stalinism. In these years of dispute, the party was set on a firm basis, its leaders schooled, and its programme was made clear and firm.

Shanghai is a complex city, but consists, briefly, of two foreign areas surrounded by Chinese areas. These latter areas are now in the hands of the Japanese. At least half of the Chinese industries were situated in these Chinese districts. Both at Shanghai and throughout China where the Japanese have conquered, industry has been completely smashed and there has been no revival whatsoever. Industries are flourishing, however, within the foreign areas of Shanghai and at Hong Kong. The cost of living in the past two years has increased tremendously. Rents alone are 150 per cent up, while food is up at least 50 per cent. The depreciation of the Chinese currency has also severely lowered the standard of living. Wages have been raised about 15 per cent in big industries, but in actuality real wages are much less than before hostilities started. The average wage in a cotton mill, for example, is 15 Shanghai dollars a month for a 12-hour day with one holiday per month. In American currency, this would be about $1.15. These conditions, plus the oversupply of labour caused by the war, plus the complete passivity of the workers and peasants towards the war, have made it exceedingly difficult for our organisation to gain new members. Nevertheless, there are several new comrades, most of them being workers and students, especially the latter. For the first time, there are several women comrades. It is significant that in the single city under Guomindang control which has enjoyed ‘prosperity’, that is, in Foochow, the only remaining open coastal port, our strength has grown tremendously. The same is true to a lesser extent in such cities in the Southwest such as Kweilin, Yunnanfu, and other now important transport and industrial centres.



1. i.e. Frank Glass.

2. i.e. Wang Fanxi.

3. i.e. Zheng Chaolin.

4. i.e. Liu Renjing.

Revolutionary History,Vol.2 No.4, Spring 1990

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