Publishing information: Robert J. Alexander, International Trotskyism 1929-1985: A Documented Analysis of the Movement. Copyright 1991, Duke University Press. Posted with permission. All rights reserved. This material may be saved or photocopied for personal use but may not be otherwise reproduced, stored or transmitted by any medium without explicit permission. Any alteration to or republication of this material is expressly forbidden. Please direct permissions inquiries to: Permissions Officer, Box 90660, Durham, NC 27708, USA; or fax 919.688.3524.
Transcribed: Johannes Schneider for the ETOL February, 2001
Differences over the Communist International’s policies during “the second Chinese Revolution” (1925-1927) were one of the first major issues which differentiated International Trotskyism from Stalin’s followers in the Comintern. Although there were Chinese Communist leaders who took positions similar to those of Leon Trotsky during the 1925-1927 period they only became aware of this community of ideas subsequently. When a Trotskyist movement finally emerged, it included among its initiators some of the principal founders and early leaders of the Chinese Communist Party. Chinese Trotskyism existed in the country for about two decades, and as an exile movement for at least two decades more. It began to be revived in nearby Hong Kong in the 1970s.
Two people were the pioneers in organizing the Communist Party of China. One of those was Li Dazhao, Head Librarian of Peking University, a Marxist intellectual writing by the time of World War I and one of the first Chinese to write extensively in praise of the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1918 he organized a Marxist Study Society in Peking. It was Li whom the first Comintern representatives, sent to China in the spring of 1920, were instructed to contact .
The second figure in the founding of Chinese communism was Ch’en Tu-hsiu (Chen Duxiu). He had participated in the 1911 revolution which overthrew the Chinese Empire and in 1915 had established a magazine, New Youth, in Shanghai, which became a major voice against Confucianism and in favor of cultural change, particularly the use of the vernacular in the written Chinese language. He did not become a Marxist until 1920 .
Grigori Voitinsky and Yang Mingzhai, the Comintern representatives, visited both Li Dazhao and Ch’en Tu-hsiu. They aided the latter in setting up the first avowedly Communist local group in Shanghai in the summer of 1920. That group made New Youth its official organ and established an illegal periodical, The Communist. It also established a Socialist Youth Corps among whose founders were P’eng Shu-tse (Peng Shuzhi) and Liu Shao-chi (Liu Shaoqi). Soon other Communist groups were established in Wuhan, Changsha, Canton and Tsinan.
The Comintern representatives and Ch’en Tu-hsiu decided that for the purpose of developing more or less rapidly a group of cadres for the Chinese Communist movement it would be useful to send a group of young people to the University of the Toilers of the East, which had been established in Moscow. A group of somewhere between thirty and sixty Chinese students arrived in Moscow by August 1921. Among those were P’eng Shu-tse, Liu Shao-chi, Ren Zuomin, and Xiao Jingguang .
Meanwhile the First Congress of the Chinese Communist Party met in Shanghai, attended by eleven to thirteen delegates representing the fifty-some members then belonging to the Communist groups in various cities. Although neither Li Dizhao nor Ch’en Tu-hsiu was able to attend the meeting, it adopted a draft program drawn up by the latter as well as a party constitution written by Chang Kuo-t’ao (Zhang Guotao). Two Comintern representatives, one of whom was Hendrick Sneevliet (Maring), were in attendance.
The CCP congress decided to establish a Labor Secretariat. It soon came to gain some influence in the nascent trade-union movement and in May 1922 organized the First National Congress which was attended by 160 delegates claiming to represent unions with 300,000 members.
In July 1922 the Chinese Communist Party held its Second Congress. It adopted a “Manifesto” which set forth the party’s objectives. This document carried a passage of great interest in view of the CCP’S later history. This was a warning against workers becoming “the appendage of the petty bourgeoisie,” and urging that they “must fight for their own class interests.” 
However, the Comintern’s representative, Sneevliet-Maring, had been meeting in Canton with Sun Yat-sen, leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT), concerning possible alliance between the Kuomintang and the CCP. Sun was the political leader of a regional regime based on Canton which was dominated by his party and was already laying plans to bring about a revolution throughout the country which hopefully would end the warlord system from which the country had suffered virtually since the end of the Empire in 1911.
On Sneevliet-Maring’s request, a meeting of the CCP Central Committee was held in August 1922 to discuss cooperation between the KMT and the Communists. Among those present were Li Dazhao, Ch’en Tu-hsiu, Ts’ai Hosen, Zhang Tailci, Cao Shangde, and Chang Kuo-t’ao.
Sneevliet-Maring reported that he felt that Kuomintang-Communist cooperation was essential because the KMT “was a strong national revolutionary political party with members in all strata of Chinese society.” However, he said, Sun Yat-sen did not regard the CCP to be an equal to the Kuomintang as a national party, and so would agree to “cooperation” only on the basis of Communists entering the KMT as individual members, a policy which Sneevliet apparently endorsed.
There has been discussion of whether Sneevliet was carrying out specific instructions which he had received from the Comintern, or was merely giving his own interpretation to what he thought the Comintern policy to be . In any case, there is a certain irony involved in the fact that Sneevliet, who was ultimately to become a Trotskyist himself, was the one to take the first step in the evolution of a policy which Trotsky was to denounce so roundly.
There were two sources of a Trotskyist current within the ranks of the Chinese Communists. One of these was the group of Chinese students at the University of the Toilers of the East and Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow; the other was opposition within the CCP leadership in China to the policy which Sneevliet-Maring had originally advocated and which became official Comintern policy early in 1923.
Although it was customary for foreigners who came to Moscow for training to become members of the Soviet Communist Party it was decided to make an exception of the Chinese. Many of them were organized instead into a “Moscow branch” of the Chinese Communist Party. P’eng Shu-tse was chosen secretary of that branch in August 1921 .
The Chinese students participated in a variety of activities. This was particularly the case with P’eng . He attended the First Congress of the Toilers of the Far East held in Moscow and Petrograd in January-February 1922. Various officials of the Comintern, including its Chairman, Gregory Zinoviev, addressed this meeting . P’eng Shu-tse also was a delegate to the Fifth Congress of the Communist International in June-July 1924, shortly before his return home. He later said that he was surprised that Trotsky had not attended that session .
By the time P’eng returned to China he had begun to have doubts about the situation in the Soviet party and in the Comintern. As a member of the Soviet party he had attended meetings at which the emerging struggle of Trotsky against the party leadership was first discussed. Although he had some sympathy at that time for the positions of Trotsky, he seems not to have taken a strong stand one way or the other on them .
However, P’eng had begun to be critical of the emerging Comintern policy of close collaboration with the Kuomintang in China. He was unsatisfied with arguments of Russian Comintern officials in defense of it, returning to China with an inclination to be critical towards the KMT-CCP alliance .
Subsequent to P’eng’s departure from Moscow, some of the Chinese Communist students who remained tended to gravitate towards Trotsky and his ideas. Joseph Miller has noted that “this grouping of very early Chinese Trotskyists were mainly younger activists who had been sent to Moscow to study during the years of revolution. They had no real experience with the revolutionary struggle inside of China. P’eng argues that ‘they were won over to Trotskyism solely on the basis of Trotsky’s writings and the influence of Karl Radek, who was the rector of Sun Yat-sen University at that time.’ ” 
Meanwhile, the Stalinists within the Chinese Communist Party apparatus in Moscow and within the Comintern had become anxious about the influence of the Left Opposition among the Chinese students in Moscow and within the CCP in China itself. A number of steps were taken to counteract this influence.
Karl Radek was succeeded by Pavel Mif as head of Sun Yat-sen University and a decision was taken to concentrate all of the Chinese students in that institution where they could be more closely watched by Mif. In June-July 1928 the Sixth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party was held in Moscow, and control over the organization was assumed by Wang Ming, Stalin’s most stalwart supporter within the CCP ranks.
The Trotskyist students in the meantime formally organized a faction and elected a committee to lead it late in September or early in October 1928. At its height the group numbered among its members and sympathizers 150 of the 400 Chinese students at Sun Yat-sen University.
Finally, when it became known in Moscow that Ch’en Tu-hsiu had joined the ranks of the Left Opposition, there began a strenuous purge of the Chinese students in Moscow early in the summer of 1929. The GPU descended on Sun Yat-sen University, arresting about 200 suspected Trotskyists, most of whom apparently were sent to spend the rest of their lives in Stalinist jails and concentration camps. Sun Yat-sen University itself was closed down .
Even before these events the Russians had begun to send a number of the “doubtful” Chinese back home. When two of these, Lu Yen and Liang Gangiao, were sent home in 1928 they began to organize the first avowedly Trotskyist group in China, although it was outside of the CCP. Ultimately it was two Trotskyist sympathizers recently returned from Moscow who put some of the CCP leaders who had become increasingly critical of the party’s line into contact with Trotsky’s criticism of the Comintern’s Chinese policy. That was the catalyst which led to the development of a Trotskyist movement in China .
While Trotsky’s political positions were gaining open support among the Chinese Communist students in the Soviet Union some of the top leaders of the CCP were on their own developing a critical attitude towards the Comintern’s policy in China which was similar to that of Trotsky. This policy was the one which had first been presented by Sneevliet-Maring in the August 1922 Central Committee meeting.
Shortly after that meeting Communists began to join the KMT. At that point there apparently was no significant opposition to that idea. Among those who entered the Kuomintang and helped organize branches of it in various Chinese cities were Li Dazhao and Ch’en Tu-hsiu. The policy was strongly endorsed by the Third Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in June 1923 .
Meanwhile, both the organized labor movement and the peasant organizations were expanding rapidly. The Communists were playing important roles in the growth of both of these movements, and this fact made the question of the relations between the CCP and the KMT increasingly crucial.
On January 12, 1923, five months after the CCP Central Committee’s decision to work within the Kuomintang, the Executive Committee of the Communist International had adopted a resolution stressing the desirability of cooperation between the CCP and the KMT, a motion which Leon Trotsky opposed. It called the KMT “the only serious national-revolutionary group in China ... based partly on the liberal-democratic bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, partly on the intelligentsia and workers.” Consequently, it was “expedient for members of the CCP to remain in the Kuomintang.”
But at the same time the resolution directed the CCP to “maintain its independent organization with a strictly centralized apparatus” while “avoiding any conflict with the national-revolutionary movement.” The CCP was told that “while supporting the Kuomintang in all campaigns on the national-revolutionary front, to the extent that it conducts an objectively correct policy, the CCP should not merge with it and should not during these campaigns haul down its flag.” 
Soon after the passage of this resolution the Soviet diplomatic agent in China, A. A. Joffe, signed a statement with Sun Yat-sen which proclaimed that China was not ready for communism “or even the Soviet system,” and that “China’s most important and most pressing problems are the completion of national unification and the attainment of full national independence.” 
As a consequence of Comintern policy, supported by the leadership of the CCP, the Communists continued to collaborate with the Kuomintang even after the death of Sun Yat-sen. Apparently the CCP gained from this collaboration.
In January 1925 the Communists held their Fourth Congress, in Shanghai. It was reported that the party had one thousand members and the Youth Corps had some three thousand. At that congress P’eng Shu-tse was a delegate from the Moscow Branch and was elected to the Central Committee of the CCP. He then became the Politburo member in charge of party propaganda activities .
As a consequence of the Communists’ involvement in both the labor and peasant movements the party membership grew very rapidly. By November 1925 it was claiming 10,000 members, while the Youth Corps had 9,000 .
However, doubts were being expressed within the CCP leadership about the alliance with the Kuomintang. P’eng Shu-tse as early as December 1924 published an article in the party periodical New Youth, of which he had become the editor, emphasizing the need for the proletariat to take the lead in the Chinese national revolution. He had at least tacit consent for this article from Ch’en Tu-hsiu .
By late 1925 Ch’en himself was clearly having serious doubts about continuing the alliance of the CCP with the KMT, at least in the form in which it then existed. At a CCP Central Committee Plenary session in October 1925 he urged that “we should be ready immediately to withdraw from the Kuomintang.” But his position was rejected by the Central Committee, with the support of the Comintern representative, Voitinsky .
A crisis was presented to the Communists on March 20, 1926, when Chiang Kai-shek, who had succeeded Sun Yat-sen as principal leader of the KMT, carried out a coup in Canton, arresting more than fifty Communists who were active in the political section of the Nationalist military. Although Chiang shortly released these people, a few weeks later he decreed that no Communists could hold strategic positions in the KMT or organizations dependent on it .
In the face of this the Shanghai committee of the CCP resolved that there should be a “reconsideration” of the party’s alliance with the Kuomintang. P’eng Shu-tse was sent to Canton with his wife, Ch’en Pi-lan, by the Shanghai organization. P’eng summoned a meeting of a special committee of Communists and left-wing Kuomintang people to consider relations with Chiang and the KMT right wing. On the insistence of the Comintern representative, Borodin, that meeting rejected P’eng’s suggestion that Communists withdraw from the Kuomintang but continue to cooperate with it as an independent organization .
Harold Isaacs has written that “the pressure to regain some measure of party independence was so strong that in June the Central Committee decided to propose that the Communist party resume its own existence and replace its current submersion inside the Kuomintang with a formal two-party bloc. This decision was sent to the Comintern in Moscow where it was immediately and drastically condemned and rejected,” largely because the idea was too close to what Trotsky was advocating within the Comintern .
James Miller has noted that in mid-July 1926 a further Plenum of the Central Committee of the CCP met in Shanghai. It rejected a motion submitted by P’eng and Ch’en Tu-hsiu for withdrawal of Communists from membership in the KMT. Again the Comintern representative strongly opposed the resolution .
Without being aware of the polemics of Leon Trotsky over Comintern policy in China, P’eng and some other Chinese Communists had reached conclusions similar to those of Trotsky, even using one of his most characteristic phrases, “permanent revolution.” Thus in an article appearing in January 1927 P’eng wrote that “the Chinese revolution is a national democratic revolution at present. ... It should be finally understood that national revolution is not the last stage of the revolution; it is only a road leading to the socialist revolution. ... The ultimate objective of Leninism is to lead humanity as a whole from the oppression of various societies to the freedom of communism. Thus ‘permanent revolution’ should be understood to mean the process leading directly from the national revolution into the proletarian revolution.” 
The correctness of the doubts of P’eng and Ch’en about the alliance with the Kuomintang was confirmed in April 1927 when, after his troops captured Shanghai, Chiang ordered the virtual extermination of the Communists in the areas under his control. Yet this did not end the faith of Stalin’s Comintern in the RMT-CCP alliance. This faith was transferred to a relationship with the “left-wing” Kuomintang government which was established in the city of Wuhan.
On April 24, 1927 the Fifth Congress of the CCP opened in Wuhan, with over one hundred delegates representing a reported 50,000 party members. The tendency of this congress was to blame Ch’en Tu-hsiu and those who were allied with him for the disaster in the Chiang Kai-shek controlled area. However, Ch’en was reelected secretary general; P’eng lost his position in the Politburo while remaining in the Central Committee .
In July 1927 the left-wing Kuomintang regime also turned on the Communists, arresting and killing as many of them as it could lay its hands on. On that same day, Ch’en Tu-hsiu resigned as CCP secretary general, because “he could not continue as secretary general because the Comintern wanted the Communists to apply its policy but did not allow them to withdraw from the Kuomintang.” Comintern representative Borodin agreed with other CCP leaders to place the whole blame for the Chinese Communists’ disaster on Ch’en and his allies .
As a consequence of this agreement, a rump meeting of the CCP Central Committee on August 7, 1927 dismissed Ch’en as secretary general. It blamed the party’s failures on his “opportunism” - which, of course, had been dictated by the Comintern (although this was not stated). The meeting also decided to substitute a policy of violent insurrections in various parts of China for the previous policy of cooperation with the KMT. Ch’en and his supporters opposed that, as they had been against the earlier policy .
The adherents of the Stalinist line of the Comintern were clearly in control of the Chinese Communist Party after the August 1927 Plenum. Nevertheless, Ch’en, P’eng and their supporters continued for some time to carry on their opposition to the policies dictated to the Chinese party by the Communist International, although without doing so in terms of the wider factional struggle within the CI.
Harold Isaacs has noted that in the period after his removal from the CCP leadership Ch’en Tu-hsiu “wrote several letters to the Central Committee opposing the policy of staging futile and costly uprisings. In August 1929 he addressed a letter to the Central Committee expressing his opposition to the party’s course and demanding a reexamination of its policies. ...” 
When the Comintern leadership learned of the oppositionist attitude of Ch’en and P’eng they sent an invitation to the two Chinese to attend the Sixth World Congress of the International which was scheduled to meet in Moscow within a few months. Although Ch’en was first inclined to accept the invitation, he finally agreed with P’eng’s argument that their only alternatives if they were to go to Moscow would be to “confess their error” and thus be assured a continuing role in the CCP; or to state frankly their opposition to Comintern policy in China, which would almost certainly result in their not being allowed to return home. Both men turned down the invitation to the Sixth Congress . Harold Isaacs has noted that Ch’en Tu-hsiu turned down still another invitation to go to Moscow in 1930 .
In the spring of 1929 two of the Chinese students returning from Moscow brought with them two documents of Trotsky, “Summary and Perspective of the Chinese Revolution” and “The Chinese Question After the Sixth World Congress,” which they presented to P’eng Shu-tse . P’eng immediately came to the conclusion that he agreed with Trotsky’s analysis of the errors of the Stalinist Comintern.
P’eng showed the documents to Ch’en Tu-hsiu who also agreed with them. As a consequence the two men decided to organize a Left Opposition within the Chinese Communist Party. They quickly gained a wide range of adherents. P’eng later wrote that “we recruited a group of workers and cadres who were responsible for political work in the proletarian movement. Thus, our opposition faction consisted of party leadership and major cadres from different parts of the country.” 
For several months after the formation of the Left Opposition there was a bitter factional conflict within the party. In September 1929 a so-called “Communist Party Joint Conference” was held, before which P’eng was called to defend his position. P’eng spoke three times during this meeting. He denounced the attempt by the dominant group in the party to blame Ch’en and his allies for the “opportunism” of the party in its relation wit the Kuomintang, arguing that all of those who had suppoted the Comintern’s policy should admit their share of responsibility for what had happened. He also demanded that there be freedom within the party for members to discuss the positions of Chen and other leaders of the party who disagreed with the dominant group.
The Stalinist group accused the Trotskyists of “illegal” factional activity. They denounced the Left Opposition rather than arguing with the points which it raised. On November 15, 1929, Ch’en, P’eng, Wang Zekal, Ma Yufu and Cai Zhenda were expelled from the party, accused of “Trotskyism,” as well as of “factionalism and anti-party, anti-international activities.” . In all about one hundred members were expelled from the party at this time .
When an independent Trotskyist movement was finally organized in China it did not emerge as a single united organization. For several years there were four different groups claiming allegiance to Trotskyism. Although these were ultimately united, the differences among the various Trotskyist leaders in the early period of the movement were to bean element in further splits which occurred in later years.
The first avowedly Trotskyist organization to be established in China was the “Our Words” group, named after a periodical it began to put out. Our Words was established by a group of students returning in 1928 from the Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow. It was a very small group, reportedly having only nine members when it was formally organized in January 1929. Soon afterward two of these, Ou Fang and Chen Yimou, settled in Hong Kong where they began to acquire a modicum of influence among the dock workers. They also had groups in Shanghai and Peking. Even so, they probably never achieved a membership of more than thirty. From the beginning Our Words was established outside the Chinese Communist Party .
The second Trotskyist organization was that set up by Ch’en Tu-hsiu, P’eng Shut-tse and their associates upon being expelled from the Communist Party. It was generally known as the Proletarian faction, after the name of a periodical it began to publish in March 1930 .
Almost immediately upon their expulsion from the CCP, Ch’en issued an “Appeal to All the Comrades of the Chinese Communist Party.” It argued that the “opportunist” policy which the Comintern had retroactively accused the CCP of following under Ch’en’s leadership had been principally the responsibility of the Comintern’s leadership, headed by Stalin and Bukharin. It ended by demanding “a return to the spirit and political line of Bolshevism,” and urged party members to “stand straightforward on the side of the International Opposition led by Comrade Trotsky, that is, under the banner of real Marxism and Leninism.” 
Five days alter issuance of Ch’en’s appeal a statement entitled “Our Political Views” was issued over the signatures of eighty-one members (or recent ex-members) of the Communist Party. Twenty-eight of the signatories were workers, ten were former students in Moscow, and the rest were local party officials. This document, which was the first programmatic statement of Chinese Trotskyism, was divided into five sections.
The document dealt with the evolution of Stalinist control in the Comintern and traced the errors of the Chinese party’s policy to that control. It condemned both the opportunism of the policy of continued collaboration with the Kuomintang between 1923 and 1927 and the “adventurist” subsequent attempt to organize insurrections in various cities. It endorsed the positions Trotsky had taken on these issues, saying that “if only we had had the benefit of Comrade Trotsky’s political leadership before 1927, then we might have been able to lead the Chinese revolution to victory. Even if we were defeated, there would not have been such political confusion and organizational destruction. ...” 
After giving Trotsky’s analysis of the rise of bureaucratization of the Soviet Union, the document set forth “Our Attitudes and Proposals.” It summed these up by saying that “In order to support a true proletarian line and realize Bolshevik-Leninist unity, the Opposition has no choice but to carry out an organized and resolute struggle with the present opportunist leadership.” .
The Proletarian group was undoubtedly the most important of the original Chinese Trotskyist factions both in terms of the status of its leadership and the number of members and cadres it attracted from the Communist Party. It has been estimated that by 1931 the group had about five hundred members .
The third faction was that known as the October Society. It was led by Liu Renjing, a founder of the Communist Party, and Wang Fanxi (real name, Wang Wenyuan), who had belonged to the party since 1925. Liu had returned from the Lenin Institute in Moscow in the summer of 1929 after having stopped over for interviews with Alfred Rosmer in Paris and with Trotsky in Turkey. Trotsky sent back with him a document entitled “The Political Situation in China and the Tasks of the Bolshevik-Leninist Opposition,” which Liu gave to P’eng Shu-tse in September 1929.
After discussions with P’eng and others Liu joined the Our Words group. However, in the summer of 1930, Liu and Wang Fanxi led a number of people, including some from Shanghai, in establishing a new faction. It published a short-lived journal, October.
The fourth Trotskyist faction was the Struggle Society, established in the summer of 1930 with seven members, including Chao Ji and Wang Pingui, the two Moscow ex-students who had first turned over the documents of Trotsky from the Sixth Comintern Congress to P’eng Shu-tse early in 1929. A third leader was Liu Yin. It probably never came to have more than thirty members .
Last updated on: 13.2.2005