Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

New Militant, 2 November 1935


Lo Sen

The Significance of the October Revolution for the Orient

Lenin’s Bolshevism and Stalin’s Menshevism –
Victory in Russia and Catastrophe in China


From New Militant, Vol. I No. 45, 2 November 1935, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Few were the countries under imperialist domination which failed in the post-war years to react to the revolutionary stimulus which radiated from proletarian Russia. The war had strained the imperialist world until it broke at its “weakest link.” This breach once made, the tide of revolt rose in the whole colonial and semi-colonial world. The October Revolution led not only to convulsions in Europe but directly opened the path to national revolutionary struggle in Turkey, Syria,Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Indo-China, Korea and China.

It was in China that this ferment developed to its greatest dimensions. China was in many ways – and still is – the key to the national emancipation movements thru-out the vast do-mains of imperialism. Upon the outcome of the struggle there depended in large, measure the correlation of class forces not only in the colonial world but between the struggling Soviet state and its enemies in capitalist Europe.

Reaction in Russia – Revolution in China

The revolutionary wave in Europe was already declining; the Soviet state, isolated and embattled, had been compelled to retreat to the New Economic Policy, when the wave of struggle began to rise high in China. The Chinese Revolution threatened imperialism with a new,and, perhaps this time mortal blow. Victory for the revolution in China could have broken down the isolation of the Soviet state. Events instead harshly decided that the disastrous defeat of the Chinese Revolution should itself become one of the most ghastly consequences of proletarian Russia’s isolation within a rim of hostile, capitalist states.

The bureaucratic stratum which had begun to solidify on the outer crust of the newly-formed Soviet state took Russia’s national isolation as its starting point. To justify itself it erected the theory of socialism in one country, the well-spring of Stalinism. In this culture the germs of opportunism thrived and waxed strong. The Soviet bureaucracy turned to the East not to help apply there the lessons of the Bolshevik victory but to seek allies in the national bourgeoisies of the Eastern countries. Toward this end it draped the mantle of Lenin around the death’s head of Menshevism and made it large enough to provide shelter for the national bourgeoisie of China. From this source flowed the policies which led to the ghastly tragedy which in 1927 plunged China into the maw of reaction.

It was China’s tragedy to receive the lessons and experiences of the October Revolution refracted through the dirty lenses of Stalinism. For these “lessons” the Chinese masses were forced to pay a frightful price. Today an understanding of the real relationship between the October and China’s revolutionary future has to be restored. A re-evaluation of the historical and theoretical lessons to be drawn from that relationship is imperative if the red day of revolution is ever again to dawn for China.

The Bond Binding Both Revolutions

Between the Chinese and Russian revolutions there is an organic bond, welded by the past and linked to a common future. The fate of the two countries is joined, in the first place, by a contiguous frontier which crosses Asia for a distance of almost 6,000 miles. There is, moreover, no real dividing line, either in the geographical or in the ethnical sense. The two countries and the two groups of peoples do not clash at a barrier, but tend gradually to merge, the one into the other.

Great similarities exist in the social composition of the two countries. In both there are a large number of races and nationalities with specific characteristics and cultures. In both the agrarian population overwhelmingly predominates and the proletariat is a small but decisive minority. Like Tsarist Russia, China is a backward nation in which the beginnings of capitalism are entwined with feudal forms of exploitation which hold the peasantry as a whole in their grip. Whereas in Russia the autocracy acted as a break on the growth of productive forces and perpetuated the barbarism of the past, in China imperialism in a far more drastic manner paralyzed the country’s social and economic growth. The backwardness in economy and social organization condemned the masses of both countries to conditions of helotry supported by the blackest of superstition, ignorance and the burden of tradition centuries old.

In Russia the comparatively small and youthful proletariat smashed the shackles of the old society and established its own class dictatorship. With state power in its hands it unloosed mighty creative energies, which opened the way for the industrialization and modernization of the country. It elevated the cultural level of millions of people thus lifted from the dregs of darkness to a new life illumined by science and by education. China’s victory still lies ahead, but in the experience of the Russian working class there are lessons of precious and vital significance without an understanding of which the Chinese proletariat will be unable, in its turn, to fulfill its historic mission.

Permanent Revolution – 1905 Lesson

Both the events and the governing ideology of the Russian revolution at its various stages exercised a direct influence upon the development of the Chinese revolution.

Russia’s 1905 was one of the world factors which directly contributed to the explosion in China in 1911which toppled the Dragon Throne of the Chings. From the 1905 experience Lenin and Trotsky had already arrived at the conclusion that the task of realizing the bourgeois democratic revolutions in the backward countries – and carrying them through to their end – devolved in the present epoch of world capitalism not upon the bourgeoisie but upon the proletariat allied with and leading the peasantry.

This tremendous concept, the very essence of Leninism and of the theory of the permanent revolution,possessed for China and for the whole East, as well as for Russia, a decisive significance. By 1911 the productive forces of China had not reached the point where it was possible for this idea to find expression in the actual relationship of class forces. Indeed, the state of productive forces was such that neither the bourgeoisie, stifled by imperialism, nor the proletariat, scarcely yet born, were in a position to replace the Manchu Dynasty by any new, unified class rule. Power, therefore, fell to the militarists whose warring satrapies became masks for the interplay of imperialist antagonisms in China itself.

But the 1911 revolution had nevertheless ushered in a new, transitional epoch involving not the rise of a new dynasty but the transformation of the economy and class structure of the country and of the state superimposed upon it. The dismal failure of two attempts, in 1916 and 1918, to restore the monarchy, showed that China had rounded a decisive mile post in her history.

Proletariat Emerges in China

In the war years great changes took place. The imperialist grip, tighter after 1911, relaxed. Productive forces leaped spectacularly forward. A modern Chinese proletariat came into being, seemingly overnight. But the whole historical development of the Chinese bourgeoisie condemned it, even in the period of its relative growth, to the position of a vassal dependent upon imperialism. This meant that the task of ultimately emancipating China would fall to the proletariat as part of the whole task of liberating Chinese society from the chains of its past and leading it to its new place in a new, socialist world. In 1917, in the struggle against Tsarism, the Russian proletariat showed exactly how this could be done. The Bolsheviks, under Lenin and Trotsky, translated daring theory into dazzling reality. October blazed the way for China and all the “backward” countries of the world.

The validity for China of the underlying strategic-theoretical concepts of the October Revolution was not immediately perceived. But the October itself, far more immediately and directly than in 1905, became a mighty stimulus to a new revolutionary upheaval in China. The war, the growth of productive forces expressed in the creation of modern industry, had set all classes in motion in China and out of this movement a social, literary and cultural renaissance emerged as the herald of the second Chinese revolution. When the intellectuals and then the workers began to intervene in the march of events and to seek to mold them in their own interests as they saw them, it was under the direct impetus and influence of the October Revolution. Even the Chinese bourgeoisie, its hopes for the independent development of capitalist economy revived and fluttering,tried to give its own class aspirations a Communist coloration – as Lenin foresaw it would – and its most conscious representatives sought the prestige of Russia’s support and put themselves at the head of the spontaneously growing movement of the workers and peasants.

Lenin’s Teachings

Here the fundamental requirement of the Chinese proletariat was a party of its own, deeply impregnated with the experience and fundamental strategy of the October Revolution. Such were the parties for the Eastern countries envisaged by Lenin at the Second Congress of the Comintern in 1920. At that Congress Lenin had given the strategical lead to the East, particularly to China where the development of class forces already provided the most fertile ground for the planting of the Bolshevik seed. Imperialist domination, he pointed out, stifled the forces of production and therefore the proletariat had to take the lead in the struggle against it – “but from this it does not follow at all that the leadership of the revolution will have to be surrendered to the bourgeois democrats.” To the contrary,the Communists must prevent the bourgeoisie from securing control of the national movement. They must develop the class consciousness of the masses, lead them to the organization of soviets and with the help of the proletariat of the advanced countries, to Communism. In this process the Communists would find it “useful” and even necessary to ally themselves to the national revolutionary movements, “not however amalgamating with them, preserving the independent character of the proletarian movement, even though it is still in its embryonic form.” They must put the masses on guard against the attempt to cloak a bourgeois democratic movement in a Communist garb.

But Menshevism Leads in China

These were the clear and unequivocal terms in which Lenin laid down for the East the essential lessons of the October Revolution. But by the time the workers of the East, particularly of China, were ready to absorb and apply these ideas, Lenin was gone. The thoroughly reactionary concept of socialism in one country had replaced Leninist internationalism. A bureaucracy which hoped for nothing better than a Chinese Kemal Pasha had replaced the leaders who looked not for nationalist but for class allies. A mechanical, non-dialectic theory of stages replaced the historical dynamics embodied in the theory of the permanent revolution. The Menshevik ideas which might have wrecked the Russian revolution had it not been for Lenin were dragged out of the past by the same men who had defended those ideas against Lenin in 1917, the Stalins, the Bucharins, the Martinovs. This Menshevik baggage was labelled with Lenin’s discarded slogan of the democratic dictatorship, decked out with devious, tortuous interpretations which outraged Lenin’s very memory. Thus fortified, and backed by the prestige of the whole Russian proletariat, the Borodins and the Voitinskys came to China to teach the Chinese workers that the “national” struggle for liberation preceded the class struggle of the working masses against their own exploiters.

This was the monstrous thing, that from the land of the October came men who taught that imperialism had the effect of welding into a common front of struggle against it all the classes of Chinese society except the old feudal militarists. From this to the “bloc of four classes,” the stifling of the mass movement wherever it menaced bourgeois interests and there-fore the “national united front,” the recognition of and subordination to bourgeois leadership through the Kuomintang, from all this to the shattering catastrophes of Canton, Shanghai, Wuhan, Changsha it was but a step – a step taken over the dead bodies of the flower of the Chinese proletariat and peasantry.

Executioners in Russia and Orient

When against this betrayal Leon Trotsky raised the voice of the Opposition, the voice of Marx, of Lenin, of the October, he and his adherents were driven from the party by the club of the apparatus, driven into prison, into graves or into exile. How bitter It is to think that while in China workers, peasants and intellectuals, victims of the Stalinist betrayal, went down under the lash of the terror wielded by Stalin’s great and good allies of yesterday, the Chiang Kai-Sheks, the Wang Ching-weis, the Feng Yu-hsiangs; in Russia Stalin used the apparatus of the Soviet state to whip the Leninists who had tried to save the Chinese workers from the Cavaignacs and Gallifets into whose hands he, Stalin, had delivered them!

The course of the post-revolutionary period, the inevitable lurch to insane adventurism, from August 1927 to the end of 1930, and the subsequent attempt to cloak an insurgent peasant movement with a proletarian garb, only led to new disasters, to new blind alleys. It did not lead to the Chinese October. Instead it has only fed the finest fighters of the revolution into the maw of Kuomintang reaction. It only facilitated the Kuomingtang’s betrayals to imperialism and its destruction of the very lifeblood of the Chinese people.

For an end to this tragedy, too long, too costly! Like everywhere else Stalinism in China has left only smoking ruins and the bodies of heroic dead in its wake. Its dead hand must be torn away from the throat of the world proletariat. In China as elsewhere we must build a new revolutionary party, the party of the Fourth International, a party which will know how to face the problems of the Chinese revolution with a real understanding of the significance, for China, of Russia’s October.

Top of page

Main Militant Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 6 February 2018