Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 3


Trotsky and the Guomindang

Dear Editor

Thank you very much for sending me a copy of C.L.R. James’ World Revolution. Having read your new preface, I would like to make a brief commentary on an important point. Referring to Paolo Casciola, you write that there is no evidence that Trotsky ever opposed the Chinese Communists’ membership of the Guomindang before 1927. However, this does not correspond to the facts.

We know of a document written in mid-September 1926 that unambiguously demands an organisational delimitation/demarcation of the Communist Party and the Guomindang, and says: ‘Now the Chinese Communist Party can no longer remain a propaganda group within the Guomindang, but must set itself the task of building an independent proletarian class party, which is fighting for the hegemony of the working class in the struggle for national liberation.’ Up to now, this is the earliest known written statement showing Trotsky’s opposition to the CCP’s membership of the Guomindang. The document, which is occasionally mentioned in secondary sources (such as Robert Daniels’ Conscience of the Revolution), is a draft thesis for the forthcoming Fifteenth Conference of the Soviet Communist Party, which opened on 26 October and closed on 3 November 1926. The first time this text, or, to be more precise, the part concerning Communist policy in China, was ever published was in 1990 in our Trotzki-Schriften, Volume 2.1: Über China (1924–1928), p. 102.

Further evidence is provided by … Stalin, who, trying to exploit contradictory statements of various leaders of the United Opposition, claimed on 1 August and 27 September 1926 that the Opposition had demanded the ‘immediate withdrawal of the Communists from the Guomindang in April 1926’ (J.V. Stalin, Die internationale Lage und die Verteidigung der UdSSR, and Die politische Physiognomie der russischen Opposition, Werke, Volume 10, Berlin DDR, 1951–5, pp. 21, 134).

True, up until now we did not have any documentary evidence which would prove Trotsky’s claim that he had already opposed the Communists’ membership of the Guomindang in 1923, as he wrote in his letter of December 1930 to Max Shachtman. This can only be checked in the so far unpublished minutes of the Soviet Politbureau. But we have little reason to doubt his judgement.

As you mention, Trotsky wrote in My Life that he had demanded the withdrawal of the Communists from the Guomindang ever since 1925. All we can say today is that it was mainly after an independent militant movement of the working class began to emerge in 1925 – general strikes in Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong, the Thirtieth of May Movement, a massive rise of workers’ unions, etc. – that Trotsky devoted more attention to the problems of the Chinese Revolution. He may well at first have voted against the inclusion of the CCP in the Guomindang (‘Einschließung’, to use the term he used in his letter to Shachtman, which was written in German) when the Politbureau addressed this question in 1922 or 1923, but he surely did not begin a struggle on that question until much later. In January 1922 or January and February 1923, when the Executive Committee of the Communist International carried resolutions urging the Chinese Communists to join the Guomindang, Trotsky was still far from considering forming an opposition, and far from leading an open struggle on any question at all. (Add to this that even in later years, on the question of the CCP’s membership of the Guomindang, he stood almost alone even amongst his fellow comrades in the Opposition.)

In 1925-26, however, things were quite different, both in China and the Soviet Union. Stalin says that the Opposition was motivated in its demand for withdrawal from the Guomindang by pointing to Chiang Kai-shek’s coup of 20 March 1926 in Canton (arresting Soviet advisers, putting heavy pressure on CCP members in the Guomindang, etc). That seems very plausible. It was after the events of March 1926 that Trotsky voted in the Soviet Politbureau against the admission of the Guomindang into the Communist International as a sympathising section (cf. our remark in the Trotzki-Schriften, Volume 2.1, p. 286). Then, on 27 September 1927, he wrote: ‘The participation of the CCP in the Guomindang was perfectly correct in the period when the CCP was a propaganda society which was only preparing itself for future independent political activity, but which, at the same time, sought to take part in the ongoing national liberation struggle.’ And he goes on to say that the ‘immediate political task’ of the CCP ‘must now be to fight for direct independent leadership of the awakened working class’: ‘The CCP must ensure its own complete organisational independence and clarity of political programme and tactics in the struggle for influence over the awakened proletarian masses.’ (L.D. Trotsky, Leon Trotsky on China, New York, 1976, pp. 114, 116; Schriften, Volume 2.1, pp. 104, 107)

So if we still cannot prove that Trotsky voted against the entry of the CCP into the Guomindang in 1923, careful reading of the available texts shows that he clearly demanded its withdrawal well before 1927.

Yours sincerely

Horst Lauscher

The Editor replies:

Thank you for your letter, which raises an important question which also came up at a Workers International League presentation at the Lutte Ouvrière Fête this year, where these comrades were roundly denounced with copious quotations from Trotsky’s writings on China by a variety of sectarians for even suggesting work inside the African National Congress. I think it is a perfect illustration of how Trotsky’s epigones reduce his dialectical forms of analysis to fixed categories which they then use as biblical quotations to establish eternal verities. In this case, the arguments we hear all the time (especially as regards South Africa) are that the revolutionary organisation must never belong to a national liberation movement in a country in which this is still an issue, and that the experience of the Chinese Communist Party in the Guomindang is proof of this.

To get a minor point out of the way to begin with, as regards your third paragraph, the statement that ‘there is no evidence that Trotsky ever opposed membership of the Chinese Communists in the Guomindang before 1927’ is not my comment, as you claim, but a quotation I take from Paolo Casciola. My own opinion would be that there is sufficient evidence for the date to be put in the previous year, but no more than that.

But on the main issue, the contention that Trotsky opposed membership of the Guomindang as such from the beginning can be shown to be untrue. I refer you to Victor Serge’s articles on China in this issue of Revolutionary History, of which a German version already exists, and you can check the truth of my statements from it. Serge was, as you know, on the committee set up by the Left Opposition to investigate the Chinese affair, and if you examine what he says closely enough you will see that he does not attack the original decision of the Comintern for the Chinese Communist Party to be inside the Guomindang, but the decision to remain within it after the initial period of growth from tiny origins, after the spread of the workers’ and peasants’ revolutionary movement, and after the leadership of the Guomindang had demonstrated its counter-revolutionary character in the face of these events.

A letter from Trotsky to Harold Isaacs on 1 November 1937 confirms the point. He says:

The entering in itself in 1922 was not a crime, possibly not even a mistake, especially in the south, under the assumption that the Kuomintang at this time had a number of workers, and the young Communist party was weak and composed almost entirely of intellectuals (this is true for 1922?). In this case, the entry would have been an episodic step to independency, analogous to a certain degree to your entering the Socialist Party. The question is what was their purpose in entering, and what was their subsequent policy?

Updated by ETOL: 22.9.2011