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The New International, March 1938


Leon Trotsky

Class Relations in the Chinese Revolution


From New International, Vol.4 No.3, March 1938, pp.87-89.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


This article by Trotsky, written on April 3, 1927, was succeeded one week later by the counterrevolutionary Shanghai coup of Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang. By his analysis of the class struggle in the Chinese revolution, Trotsky then sought to warn Communist International against a policy in China such as guaranteed the inevitable defeat of the tempestuous upsurge of the workers and peasants and the triumph of the bourgeois nationalist reaction. Stalin-Bukharin had, however, then reached the point at which they could no longer tolerate a Bolshevik criticism of their course in China and they therefore suppressed the article of Trotsky, prohibiting its publication, although the author was still a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. We print it now for the first time in any language especially in light of the latest Comintern course in China which is, if anything, an exaggerated repetition of the 1925-1927 “bloc of four classes” in the form of a “national united front” but, fundamentally, the same attempt to subordinate the proletariat and peasantry to the bourgeoisie and its political machine. In this sense, the essay possesses both an historical and a topical importance – ED.

ISSUE 11 of the Communist International (March 18, 1927) printed as an editorial an article on the Fifth Congress of the Chinese CP and the Kuomintang which is in every way an exceptional mockery of the basic elements of Marxian theory and Bolshevik politics. This article cannot be characterized otherwise than as the worst expression of right Menshevism on questions of revolution.

As its starting point the article takes the proposition that “the problem of problems of the Chinese revolution at the present moment is the position of the Kuomintang, the further development of the Kuomintang as a party at the head of the South China state” (p. 4). Thus the problem of problems is not the awakening and the unification of millions of workers under the leadership of trade unions and the communist party, nor the drawing of poor peasants and artisans into the main stream of the movement, nor the deepening of the struggle of the CP to win over the proletariat, nor of the struggle of the proletariat for influence over the many-millioned masses of the disinherited – no, “the problem of problems” (!) is the position of the Kuomintang, i.e., a party organization which embraces, according to official figures, some 300,000 members – students, intellectuals, liberal merchants in general, and in part peasants and workers. “For a political party,” declares the article, “300,000 members is quite a considerable number.” A paltry parliamentary appraisal! If these 300,000 had emanated from the experiences of past class struggles, and the experience of leading proletarian strikes and peasant movements, then, naturally, even a smaller number of members could successfully assume the leadership of the revolution on its new and broader mass stage. But these 300,000 represent in their majority the result of individual recruitment among the tops. We have here the unification of nationalist-liberals or Cadets with right SR’s, with an admixture of young communists who are compelled in the period of their political framing to submit to the discipline and even the ideology of a bourgeois-nationalist organization.

“The development of the Kuomintang,” continues the article, “reveals alarming [!] symptoms from the standpoint of the interests of the Chinese revolution.” (p.4) And what is the nature of these “alarming” symptoms? Apparently it is this, that the power is in the hands of the center of the Kuomintang, and “the center has in the recent period gravitated in most instances definitely to the right”. It should be noted that all political definitions in this article are of a formal, parliamentary and ceremonial character, emptied of all class content. What is the meaning of this gravitation – to the right? What kind of Kuomintang “center” is this? It consists of the tops of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, middle-ranking functionaries and so on. Like all petty bourgeois, this center is incapable of carrying out an independent policy, especially in the period when millions of workers and peasants have entered the arena. This petty-bourgeois center can produce an ally for the proletariat only on the condition that. the proletariat carries out an independent policy. But there cannot even be talk of such a policy in China in the absence of an independent class party there. Communists do not simply “join” the Kuomintang but they submit to its discipline and even obligate themselves not to criticize Sun Yat Senism. In these conditions, the petty-bourgeois intellectual center can only trail behind the nationalist-liberal bourgeoisie, which is bound up by imperceptible gradations with the compradorian, i.e., overt imperialist bourgeoisie; and, in proportion as the struggle of the masses sharpens, go over openly to its side. Thus the Kuomintang is a party apparatus adapted for the political subjection of the mass movement through the medium of a top intellectual center to an out-and-out right, i.e., manifestly bourgeois leadership, which in these conditions unfailingly subjects the National government to itself, and will continue to do so. The article cites the fact that “lefts” predominate in conferences, congresses and the Executive Committee of the Kuomintang, but that this solacing circumstance is “not reflected in the composition and politics of the national government”. How astonishing! But, after all, the left petty bourgeoisie exists only to display its radicalism in articles, and at conferences and banquets, while handing the power over to the middle and big bourgeoisie.

Thus the “alarming” symptoms in the Kuomintang consist in this, that the Kuomintang does not personify the pure idea of a national-liberationist revolution, which the author of the article sucked out of his thumb, but rather reflects the class mechanics of the Chinese revolution. The author finds “alarming” the fact that the history of the Chinese people is unfolding in the form of a class struggle, proving thereby no exception to the history of all mankind. The article further informs us that the “Kuomintang and the national government are seriously concerned [a remarkable expression!] about the growth of the labor movement”. What does this mean? It only means that the intellectual petty bourgeoisie has become scared by fear of the bourgeoisie before the awakening of the working masses. In proportion as the revolution extends and deepens its base, radicalizes its methods, sharpens its slogans, groups and layers of proprietors and intellectual burghers bound up with them will inevitably split from it at the top. One part of the national government is joined with blood-ties to the bourgeoisie, and another part, fearful of breaking with ft, becomes “concerned” about the growth of the labor movement, and seeks to harness the latter. By this delicate expression, “concerned”, as previously by the words “alarming symptoms”, the article refers to the sharpening of class relations, and to the attempts of the nationalist-liberal bourgeoisie, by using the Kuomintang as a tool and by issuing orders through it to the national government, to place a halter on the proletariat. When and where have we ever appraised class relations as is done by the leading article in the Communist International? Whence come these ideas? What is their source?

What methods are proposed in the article to overcome these “alarming symptoms”? On these questions the article polemizes against the June (1926) Plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese CP which adopted the position that it was necessary for the CP as an independent organization to conclude a bloc with the Kuomintang. The article rejects this idea. It also rejects the proposal to organize a left faction in the Kuomintang as an ally of the CP. No, the task – it teaches – consists in “assuring a firm left orientation to the whole Kuomintang”. The question is solved easily. What is needed at the new stage of development, at a time when the workers are engaging in strikes against the capitalists, when the peasant are seeking, against the opposition of the National government, to drive out the landlords – what is needed at this new stage is to assure “a firm left orientation” to the Kuomintang, which represents the unification of a section of the bourgeoisie suffering from the strikes, a section of the landed intelligentsia suffering from the agrarian movement, the urban petty bourgeois intellectuals who are fearful of “repelling” the bourgeoisie to the side of reaction, and finally the communist party that is bound hand and foot. It is this Kuomintang which must acquire “a firm left orientation”. Nobody knows what class line this “firm left orientation” must express. And how is it to be attained? Very simply: It is necessary “to saturate it [the Kuomintang] with revolutionary worker and peasant elements.” (p.6) Saturate the Kuomintang with workers and peasants? But the whole trouble is that workers and peasants, unacquainted with the pure idea of national revolution, are trying to utilize the revolution in order to “saturate” themselves a little before they saturate the Kuomintang with themselves. To this end they are engaging in strikes and agrarian uprisings. But these unpleasant manifestations of class mechanics hinder the Kuomintang from acquiring “a firm left orientation”. To call a striking worker to join the Kuomintang is to run up against his objection: Why should I join a party which crushes strikes through the government appointed by it? The resourceful author of the article would probably reply to him: By joining a common party with the bourgeoisie, you will be able to push it to the left, you will eliminate “alarming symptoms” and dispell the clouds of its “concern”. In answer to this, the Shanghai striker will say that workers can exert pressure on their government and even achieve a change in government not through individual pressure on the bourgeoisie within the framework of a common party, but through an independent class party. Incidentally, it may well be that the Shanghai striker, who has already given evidence of advanced maturity, would not even continue to discuss any further, but shrug his shoulders, and give up his interlocutor as hopeless.

The article goes on to quote one of the leading communists who stated at the December 1926 party conference that the Kuomintang was dead and decomposing and that the communists have no reason for hanging on to a stinking corpse. In this connection the article says: “This comrade obviously [!!] had in mind the fact that recently the National government and especially government organs in the provinces have come out on a number of occasions against the development of the revolutionary struggle of the working class and peasantry.” (p.7) The penetration of the author of this article is truly astounding. When a Chinese communist says that the bourgeois-nationalist tops are dead so far as the revolution is concerned, he “obviously” has in mind the fact that the National government has been shooting strikers on a small scale. “Obviously”! Of course, “alarming symptoms” are in evidence, but “this danger may be averted, if we do not look upon the Kuomintang as a stinking corpse.” (p.7) The whole thing depends, it seems, on how one looks upon the Kuomintang. Classes and their parties depend on how we view them. The Kuomintang is not a corpse, it is only ailing. What of? Of a lack of blood of revolutionary workers and peasants. It is necessary for the Communist party to “assist in the influx of this blood”, etc. In short, what is needed is to perform the very-popular-of-late operation of blood transfusion not on an individual but already on a class scale. But, after all, the gist of the matter is that the bourgeoisie has begun to transfuse blood in its own way, by shooting, or helping to shoot, or winking its eyes at shootings of strikers and revolutionary peasants. [1] In short, while fulfilling this splendid prescription we run up against one and the same difficulty, to wit, the class struggle. The gist of the entire article is in its desire to have the Chinese revolution make a detour of the class struggle, by taking an economic, rational and expedient road. In a word, by using the method of the Mensheviks, and therewith, in the periods of their greatest backsliding. And this article appears in the theoretical organ of the Communist International which was founded on an irreconcilable break with the Second International!

The article upbraids the Chinese communists for not participating in the National government and its local organs. They would be able there to push the government to the left from within, guard it against false actions towards the masses, etc., etc. The entire experience of the past, and above all the experience of the Russian revolution has been scrapped. The authority of the leadership of the revolution is handed completely over to the Kuomintang, the responsibility for violence over the workers must be assumed by the communists. Bound hand and foot within the Kuomintang, the communists are powerless to offer the many-millioned masses an independent line in the field of foreign and domestic politics. But the workers are justified in charging the communists, especially if they participate in the National government, with complicity in all anti-proletarian and anti-people’s actions of the nationalist bourgeoisie. The entire experience of our revolution has been scrapped.

If the communists, despite the mass labor movement, despite the powerful growth of the trade unions and the revolutionary agrarian movement in the villages, are obliged as hitherto to constitute a subordinate section of a bourgeois party, and enter as an impotent appendage into a national government formed by this bourgeois party, then it must be flatly stated that the time has not yet come for the formation of the communist party of China. For it is far better not to build a communist party at all than to compromise it in the epoch of revolution, i.e., precisely at the time when the ties between the party and the working masses are sealed with blood, and when great traditions are created which exert their influence for decades.

Developing a scintillating program in the spirit of right Menshevism in its period of decline, the article refurbishes it in the modest modern spirit by consoling China with the fact that she possesses objective pre-conditions for “skipping over the capitalist stage of development”. Not a word is said in this connection to the effect that the anti-capitalist perspective of China’s development is unconditionally and directly dependent upon the general course of the world proletarian revolution. Only the proletariat of the most advanced capitalist countries – with the organized assistance of the Chinese proletariat – will be able to take in tow the four hundred-million mass of atomized, pauperized, backward peasant economy, and through a series of intermediate stages lead it to socialism, on the basis of a world-wide exchange of commodities, and direct technical and organizational assistance from the outside. To believe that without the victory of the proletariat in the most advanced capitalist countries, and prior to this victory, China is capable wih her own forces of “skipping over the capitalist stage of development” is to trample under foot the ABC of Marxism. This does not concern our author. He simply promises China a non-capitalist path – obviously in recompense for injuries she has borne, and also for the dependent character of the proletarian movement, and especially the degraded, disfranchised position of the Chinese CP.

How can and must the question of the capitalist and socialist paths of China’s development be posed in reality?

Above all it must be made clear to the vanguard of the Chinese proletariat that China has no pre-requisites whatever economically for an independent transition to socialism; that the revolution now unfolding under the leadership of the Kuomintang is a bourgeois national revolution; that it can have as its consequence, even in the event of complete victory, only the further development of productive forces on the basis of capitalism. But it is necessary to develop no less forcefully before the Chinese proletariat the converse side of the question as well: The belated bourgeois national revolution is unfolding in China in conditions of the imperialist decay of capitalism. As Russian experience has already shown – in contrast, say, to the English – politics does not at all develop in parity with economics. China’s further development must be taken in an international perspective. Despite the backwardness of Chinese economy, and in part precisely due to this backwardness, the Chinese revolution is wholly capable of bringing to political power an alliance of workers and peasants, under the leadership of the proletariat. This regime will be China’s political link with the world revolution. In the course of the transitional period, the Chinese revolution will have a genuinely democratic, worker-and-peasant character. In its economic life, commodity-capitalist relations will inevitably predominate. The political regime will be primarily directed to secure the masses as great a share as possible in the fruits of the development of the productive forces and, at the same time, in the political and cultural utilization of the resources of the state. The further development of this perspective – the possibility of the democratic revolution growing over into the socialist revolution – depends completely and exclusively on the course of the world revolution, and on the economic and political successes of the Soviet Union, as an integral part of this world revolution. If the Chinese revolution were to triumph under its present bourgeois nationalist leadership, it would very quickly go to the right, demonstrate its good intentions to the capitalist countries, soon gain recognition on their part, offer them concessions on new bases, obtain loans, in a word, enter into the system of capitalist states as a less degraded, less colonial, but still profoundly dependent entity. Furthermore, the Chinese republic would hold in relation to the Soviet Union in the best variant the same position as the present Turkish republic.





1. Written prior to the Shanghai massacre.

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