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The New International, April 1938


Leon Trotsky

Class Relations in the Chinese Revolution

(Part 2)


From New International, Vol.4 No.4, April 1938, pp.123-124.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


This is the continuation of Trotsky’s article of April 3, 1927. The first part of which was published in our last issue.

A DIFFERENT path of development can be opened up only if the proletariat plays the leading role in the national democratic revolution. But the first and most elementary pre-condition for this is the complete independence of the Communist party, and an open struggle waged by it, with banners unfurled, for the leadership of the working class and the hegemony in the revolution. Failing this, all talk of non-capitalist paths of development serves only to cover up Right-Menshevist politics by Left-SR phraseology of the [Russian] pre-revolutionary period – the most revolting of all conceivable combinations. A program of assisting in the “influx of workers’ and peasants’ blood into the Kuomintang” (what an infamous phraseology!) gives nothing and means nothing. There also happen to be different kinds of workers’ and peasants’ blood. The blood which is being shed by workers of China is not blood shed for class-conscious tasks. Workers who enter the Kuomintang will become followers of the Kuomintang, i.e., the proletarian raw material will be recast in the petty bourgeois Sun Yat Senist mould. To prevent this from taking place, the workers must receive their education in a Communist party. And for this, the Communist party must be completely free from any outward restrictions to leading the workers in their struggle and opposing Leninism to Sun Yat Senism.

However, it may be the author of the article envisions, in the ancient and truly Martynovist style, the following perspective: First, the national bourgeoisie completes the national bourgeois revolution, through the medium of the Kuomintang which is, with the assistance of Chinese Mensheviks, infused with workers’ and peasants’ blood. And following this so to speak Menshevik stage of the national revolution will come the turn of the Bolshevik stage: The Communist party withdraws from the Kuomintang, the proletariat breaks with the bourgeoisie, wins the peasantry away from it and leads the country to a “democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants”. It is very likely that the author is guided by a conception which is a result of his failure to digest the two stratifications in the 1905 period – the Menshevik and the Bolshevik. But such a perspective must be declared pedantic nonsense.

It is impossible to achieve the national democratic revolution twice: first in the bourgeois and then in the proletarian spirit To be sure, if we were to hinder the proletarian vanguard from breaking with the bourgeoisie in time and utilizing the

revolutionary situation to prove to the masses in the non-recurring events of the supreme struggle its energetic and unwavering loyalty to the cause of the toilers; if we were to accomplish this end by further enslaving the CP to the Kuomintang, then the time would sooner or later come when the proletarian vanguard would break belatedly with the bourgeoisie in all likelihood not under the banner of Communism, and would perhaps renounce politics altogether. The past of the European labor movement would provide the revolutionary proletarians of China with a corresponding ideology in the shape of syndicalism, anarchism, etc. Under these conditions, the Chinese nationalist-democratic state would very easily arrive at methods of Fascism or semi-Fascism.

We have observed this in the case of Poland. Was it so very long ago that Pilsudsky was one of the leaders of the petty bourgeois revolutionary organization of the PPS? Was it so very long ago that he sat in the Peter and Paul fortress? His entire past gave him influence and authority among petty bourgeois circles and in the army; and he used this authority for a Fascist coup directed wholly against the proletariat. Will anyone wish to deny that in the staff of the Kuomintang its own Pilsudskys will be found? They will. Candidates can already be designated. If the Polish Pilsudsky required three decades to complete his evolution, then the Chinese Pilsudsky will require an interval far more brief to accomplish his transition from the national revolution to national Fascism. We are living in the imperialist epoch when the tempo of development is extremely accelerated, when convulsions follow upon convulsions, and each country learns from the experiences of another. To pursue the policy of a dependent Communist party, supplying workers to the Kuomintang, is to prepare the conditions for the most successful and triumphant establishment of a fascist dictatorship in China at that not very distant moment when the proletariat, despite everything, will be forced to recoil from the Kuomintang.

Menshevism, even in the period of its revolutionary “flowering”, sought to be not the class party of the proletariat which rises to all-national and then world tasks (Bolshevism) but a supervisor of national development, in which capacity the party of the proletariat was assigned in advance a subordinate place (to collaborate, to push, to effect blood transfusion and so on). But aspiring to such pseudo-Marxist supervision of history has always proved in action to be pedantic idiocy. The Mensheviks completely revealed this as far back as 1905; Kautsky did likewise somewhat later but no less decisively.

A national revolution in the sense of a struggle against national dependency is achieved through the mechanics of classes.

Chinese militarists represent a class organization. The compradorian bourgeoisie represents the most “mature” detachment of the Chinese bourgeoisie which does not want a Chinese February lest it arrive at a Chinese October or even a semi-October. The section of the Chinese bourgeoisie which still participates in the Kuomintang, constituting there an internal brake and an auxiliary detachment of the compradorian bourgeoisie and of the foreign imperialists will on the morrow seek to lean upon the bombardment of Nanking in order to exert pressure on the revolutionary rank and file and above all to put a harness on the proletariat They will succeed in doing so, unless the proletariat is able to counteract them from day to day by a well-directed class resistance. This is impossible so long as the Communist party remains subordinate to the Kuomintang, which is headed by the auxiliary detachment of the compradorian bourgeoisie and foreign imperialists. It is indeed embarrassing to have to explain this in the year 1927 and doubly embarrassing to have to direct these ideas against the leading article in the organ of the Comintern!

As Chinese revolution extends geographically it at the same time deepens socially. Shanghai and Hankow – the two most important industrial centers which together embrace about three-quarters of a million workers – are in the hands of the nationalist government. Nanking was subjected to a bombardment by the imperialists. The struggle immediately passed into a higher stage. Having captured Hankow and Shanghai, the revolution has thereby drawn into itself the most developed class contradictions in China. It will no longer be possible to orient the policies on the handicraft-petty trade peasant of the South. It is necessary to orient either on the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. The proletariat must orient itself on the many-millioned rank and file in the struggle against the bourgeoisie. We have this on the one hand. And on the other – the imperialists show by their Nanking butchery that they are in no jesting mood. Are they hoping in this way to terrorize Chinese workers or to bring the agrarian movement to a halt? Hardly. In any case, this is not their immediate aim. They desire above all to compel the bourgeois tops of the nationalist movement to understand that the time has come for them to break with the rank and file, if they do not wish to have the guns of world imperialism trained upon diem. The bombardment of Nanking is propaganda for the ideas of compradorianism, i.e., the salutary nature of ties with world capitalism which is mighty, united, and armed, which can provide not only profits but also armed aid against one’s own workers and peasants.

It is frivolous to assert that the bombardment of Nanking will fuse the whole Chinese nation as one man, etc. Such declamation suits middle class democrats. The revolution has risen to a new level and a more profound differentiation within the nationalist camp, its splitting into a revolutionary and a reformist-compradorian wing flows with iron necessity from the situation as a whole. The British guns, after the initial wave of “universal” indignation will only speed this process. Hereafter, to drive workers and peasants into the political camp of the bourgeoisie and to keep the Communist party as a hostage within the ranks of the Kuomintang is objectively tantamount to conducting a policy of betrayal.

Should the representatives of the CP participate in the national government? Into a government that would correspond to the new phase of the revolution, into a revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ government, they must unquestionably enter. Into the present national government, under no conditions. But before raising the question of Communist representation in a revolutionary power it is necessary to consider the question of the Communist party itself. After the capture of Shanghai by the revolution, former political relations have already become absolutely intolerable. It is necessary to approve as unconditionally correct the resolution of the June plenum of the CC of the Chinese CP, which demands that the party withdraw from the Kuomintang and conclude a bloc with that organization through its left wing.

To deny the need of organizing a left faction within the Kuomintang and to recommend instead that the Kuomintang as a whole be made to acquire a left orientation, as is done by the leading article in the Communist International, is merely to occupy oneself with babbling. How can a political organization be given a left orientation if not by gathering within it the partisans of this orientation and setting them up against their opponents? The Kuomintang will, of course, object to this. It is quite possible that they will begin citing the resolution of our Tenth Party Congress against factions. We have already witnessed a masquerade of this kind on the question of the dictatorship of a single party. The arch-right wingers in the Kuomintang insist upon its unconditional necessity, citing the CPSU as an example in point. Similarly they will insist that a single party effecting the revolutionary dictatorship cannot tolerate factions in its midst. But this only signifies that the right wing of the nationalist camp, which assumed power through the Kuomintang, seeks in this way to prohibit the independent party of the working class and to deprive the radical elements of the petty-bourgeoisie of any possibility to obtain within the party a real influence on its leadership. The author of the article which we analyzed above goes all the way in all these questions to meet the bourgeois wing of the Kuomintang.

We must clearly understand that the Chinese bourgeoisie is still trying to cover itself with the authority of the Russian revolution and that, in particular, it is plagiarizing from the forms of the future dictatorship of the Chinese proletariat in order to strengthen its own dictatorship against the proletariat. That is why it is of utmost importance today not to permit any muddling in the determination of the stage through which the Chinese revolution is passing. It is a question not of the socialist but of a bourgeois democratic revolution. And within the latter, it is a question of the struggle between two methods: bourgeois conciliationist as against worker-peasant. It is possible today only to speculate as to the manner and conditions in which the national democratic revolution can rise to the socialist revolution, whether it will occur with or without an interruption and whether this interruption will be long or brief. The further march of events will bring the necessary clarification. But to smear over the question of the bourgeois character of the present revolution with general considerations of a non-capitalist development is to befuddle the Communist party and to disarm the proletariat. Let us hope we shall not live to see the International Central Control Commission calling the Chinese Communists to account for an attempt to build a left faction in the Kuomintang.

From the standpoint of the class interests of the proletariat – and we take them as our criterion – the task of the bourgeois revolution is to secure the maximum of freedom for the workers in their struggle against the bourgeoisie. From this standpoint the philosophy of the leaders of the Kuomintang in regard to a single centralized party which permits neither any other parties nor any factions within itself is a philosophy hostile to the proletariat, – a counter-revolutionary philosophy which lays down the ideological foundations for Chinese fascism on the morrow. It is absurd to say that the withdrawal of the Chinese CP from the Kuomintang signifies a break of collaboration. It is the termination not of collaboration but of servitude. Political collaboration presupposes equality between the sides and an agreement between them. Such is not the case in China. The proletariat does not enter into an agreement with the petty-bourgeoisie but rather submits to its leadership under a veiled form, with an organizational seal set upon this submission. In its present form the Kuomintang is the embodiment of an “unequal treaty” between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. If the Chinese revolution as a whole demands the abrogation of unequal treaties with the imperialist powers, then the Chinese proletariat must liquidate the unequal treaty with its own bourgeoisie.

It is necessary to summon the Chinese workers to the creation of Soviets. The proletariat of Hong Kong during the general strike created an organization very close in structure and functions to the elementary type of workers’ Soviets. With this experience as a basis, it is necessary to go further. The Shanghai proletariat already possesses the priceless experience of struggle and is fully capable of creating Soviets of Workers’ Deputies which will set an example for all China and thereby become the center of attraction for all genuinely revolutionary organizations.

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