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Tom Kerry

A Mao-Stalin Rift: Myth Or Fact?

(September 1969)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.30 No.5, September-October 1969, pp.1-22.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The myth of Stalin’s infallibility was assiduously cultivated by the ruling bureaucratic caste in the Soviet Union until his death in 1953. The parvenu bureaucracy, which had usurped the state power, required a supreme arbiter to adjudicate its disputes and to reconcile any differences that might arise among members of the ruling group. During his lifetime Stalin had the last word and final decision.

By the time of Stalin’s death the world had undergone considerable change. The Soviet Union was no longer the sole custodian of “socialist” state power, upon whose authority the whole structure of Stalinist monolithism was erected. The social overturns in Eastern Europe and above all, the conquest of state power by the Chinese Communist Party [CCP], introduced a schismatic process that gave rise to “polycentrism”—that is, the conflict of interests inherent in the existence of separate national states, albeit national states resting on the foundation of socialist property forms and property relations.

With other times, came other needs. Stalin’s heirs found it expedient to initiate the process of deStalinization. The myth of Stalin’s infallibility was thoroughly demolished in the famous speech by Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956. Recently, under the inspiration of the Maoists, there has been a concerted attempt to refurbish the Stalin myth. But this is a hopeless task. Not all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can ever put humpty-dumpty Stalin back together again!

The Maoists need the Stalin myth to bolster an official mythology which seeks to elevate Mao to the status of a deity whose supernatural omnipotence—Mao’s thought—is invested with retroactive infallibility to prove that he was always right in the past— even as against Stalin. Past errors, where admitted, are attributed to the shortcomings of others.

It would be instructive to unravel the strands of this deification of Mao. In this article, however, we are concerned with a myth of a different order, the concept that Mao broke with Stalin to lead the Chinese revolution. This “theory” has been advanced in order to answer the seeming enigmas: How explain that the Chinese Communist Party, under a Stalinist leadership closely linked with the Kremlin, could carry through a revolutionary action and take state power in seeming contradiction to Stalin’s policy of class collaboration and peaceful coexistence?

This widely current myth of a Mao-Stalin schism on revolutionary strategy has unfortunately been taken up and elaborated in a recent collection of essays edited by Tariq Ali, the Pakistan-born British antiwar leader who has become a Trotskyist. [1]

“Stalin,” writes Ali, “had not believed that a socialist revolution was possible in China; his disastrous policies had resulted in the massacres of Shanghai and Canton. Perhaps he believed that since most of the leading Communist cadres had been wiped out it was now fairly safe for him to deal with Chiang Kai-shek. Stalin had reckoned without Mao Tse-tung. It is not necessary to go into details of how Mao organized the Chinese Communist Party and led it to victory. What is important to note is that if Mao had followed Stalin’s advice he would have disbanded the Chinese party and merged with Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists and in the process would, no doubt, have been liquidated. Despite paying lip-service to Stalin, Mao in fact did exactly the opposite. He fought the most protracted civil war in recent history, with no material aid from Stalin. Unless, of course, one counts a manual on partisan warfare which Stalin sent him as a gift and which Mao handed to Liu Shao-chi with the inscription: ‘Read this carefully if you want to end up dead.’ [Ali does not explain the source of this story. But it is of such stuff that myths are woven.—T.K.]

“The success of Mao’s armies,” Ali continues, “came as a shock to Stalin; right up to 1948 he had been persuading the Chinese Communists to come to some sort of agreement with the nationalists and this the Chinese steadfastly, and to their credit, refused to do. In October, 1949, exactly thirty-two years after the Bolshevik revolution, Mao’s peasant armies marched into Peking and proclaimed China a People’s Republic.”

Tariq Ali concludes his essay on the Chinese revolution with the assertion, “Mao’s stature as one of the greatest revolutionary leaders of this century is beyond question.” But the actual record which I propose to examine far from bears out this judgment. If Stalin had not believed that a socialist revolution was possible in China, as Ali correctly asserts, neither had Mao. And Mao persisted in this disbelief to the very end. That is why he proclaimed China a People’s Republic and not a Socialist Soviet Republic, as the Bolsheviks had done in October 1917.

Tariq Ali wrote this article for the anthology before the announcement of his adherence to the International Marxist Group, the British section of the Fourth International. Earlier this year, in a valuable eyewitness report from Pakistan, he published some trenchant criticism of the attitudes of the Chinese leadership and the native Maoists toward the mass upheavals against the military dictatorship in that country. [2]

Milovan Djilas’ Conversations with Stalin

Considering the historic significance of the events and the multitude of writings about them, there is remarkably little evidence to support the theory that Mao broke with Stalin during the Chinese revolution. Milovan Djilas reports a statement by Stalin in his Conversations with Stalin published in 1962. It concerned the postwar uprising in Greece, which Stalin insisted “must be stopped, and as quickly as possible” according to the former high Yugoslav official.

Djilas writes,

“Someone mentioned the recent successes of the Chinese Communists. But Stalin remained adamant: ‘Yes, the Chinese comrades have succeeded, but in Greece there is an entirely different situation. The United States is directly engaged there—the strongest state in the world. China is a different case, relations in the Far East are different. True, we, too, can make a mistake! Here, when the war with Japan ended, we invited the Chinese comrades to reach an agreement as to how a modus vivendi with Chiang Kai-shek might be found. They agreed with us in word, but in deed they did it their own way when they got home: They mustered their forces and struck. It has been shown that they were right, and not we. But Greece is a different case—we should not hesitate, but let us put an end to the Greek uprising.”

Djilas’ assertion is of dubious validity. The alleged conversation occurred in February 1948 when sharp differences had already arisen between Stalin and the Yugoslavs. Soon after this the Kremlin launched a public attack on the Yugoslav leaders and the open break occurred in June, 1948. It was not in character for Stalin to confess his “errors,” certainly not to the Yugoslavs at that time.

Djilas did draw a generalization that is, on the whole, valid:

“As far as the pacification of the Chinese revolution was concerned, here [Stalin] was undoubtedly led by opportunism in his foreign policy. Nor can it be excluded that he anticipated future danger to his own work and to his own empire from the new Communist great power, especially since there were no prospects of subordinating it internally. At any rate, he knew that every revolution, simply by virtue of being new, also becomes a separate epicenter and shapes its own government and state, and this was what he feared in the Chinese case, all the more since the phenomenon was involved that was as significant and as momentous as the October revolution.”

Since the book was written in 1961, however, thirteen years after the event and at a time when the Sino-Soviet dispute had erupted, it is hard to decide whether to attribute Djilas’ prescience to foresight or hindsight. Stalin tried to guard against this “future danger” by innovating a new state form standing somewhere between a capitalist state and workers state, which he dubbed a people’s state, or a people’s democracy or people’s republic. There was no difference on this score between Mao and Stalin.

Maoist criticisms of Stalin

Aside from the Djilas revelation there is the evidence of differences between Mao and Stalin cited by the Maoists themselves. As part of the polemic between Peking and Moscow, the editorial departments of Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) and Hongqi (Red Flag) published a violent attack on Khrushchev’s 20th Congress speech, September 13, 1963. The article, republished as a pamphlet, was entitled On the Question of Stalin. In sort of a bookkeeper’s approach to politics, it totes up the pluses and minuses of Stalin’s career and concludes that, on balance, the pluses outnumber the minuses:

“Stalin’s merits and mistakes are matters of historical, objective reality. A comparison of the two shows that his merits outweighed his faults. He was primarily correct, and his faults were secondary.”

One “error” mentioned is the frightful blood-purges of the 1930s which decimated Lenin’s Bolshevik Party.

“In the work led by Stalin of suppressing the counterrevolution, many counterrevolutionaries deserving punishment were duly punished, but at the same time there were innocent people who were wrongly convicted; and in 1937 and 1938 there occurred the error of enlarging the scope of the suppression of counterrevolutionaries. In the matter of the party and government organization, he did not fully apply proletarian democratic centralism and, to some extent, violated it.”

How delicately put! The “error” of committing fratricide, you see, was a “fault” of secondary rank and hardly worth mentioning.

Stalin’s basic “error,” according to Mao’s pundits, was his failure to master Mao’s thoughts. For, they explain:

“In struggles inside as well as outside the party, on certain occasions and on certain questions he confused two types of contradictions which are different in nature, contradictions between ourselves and the enemy and contradictions among the people, and also confused the different methods needed in handling them.”

What unadulterated tripe!

On the question of Stalin’s errors in China the authors are quite vague. In one passage they remark that Stalin “had given some bad counsel with regard to the Chinese revolution. After the victory of the Chinese revolution,” they assert, “he admitted his mistake.” But the nature of this “mistake,” when it was supposed to have occurred in the Chinese revolution, and where Stalin admitted he was wrong, the authors do not say. They hasten on to another subject.

One more instance is cited:

“Long ago,” they write, “the Chinese Communists had firsthand experience of some of his mistakes. Of the erroneous ‘Left’ and Right opportunist lines which emerged in the Chinese Communist Party at one time or another, some arose under the influence of certain mistakes of Stalin’s, in so far as their international sources were concerned. In the late twenties, the thirties and the early and middle forties, the Chinese Marxist-Leninists represented by Mao Tse-tung and Liu Shao-chi resisted the influence of Stalin’s mistakes; they gradually overcame the erroneous lines of ‘Left’ and Right opportunism and finally led the Chinese revolution to victory.”

This pamphlet was published in 1963, when Liu’s name was still intimately coupled with that of Mao and before the “cultural revolution” disclosed that Liu Shao-chi was an imperialist agent, a diversionist and wrecker, as far back as 1924, the year the Chinese Communist Party first cemented an alliance with the Kuomintang. But that is another story. In what now reads as a monumental bit of irony, the authors of On the Question of Stalin contend that the Chinese Communist Party always disavowed the “cult of the personality”:

“While we attach importance [to] the role of leaders,” they aver, “we are against dishonest and excessive eulogy of individuals and exaggeration of their role.”

At any rate, this is the extent of the Maoist record of Stalin’s “mistakes” in China. It hardly constitutes proof of a break between Mao and Stalin on the question of the character or course of the Chinese revolution of 1949. In fact, the authors of On the Question of Stalin insist:

“But since some of the wrong ideas put forward by Stalin were accepted and applied by certain Chinese comrades, we Chinese should bear the responsibility. In its struggle against ‘Left’ and Right opportunism, therefore, our party criticized only its own erring comrades and never put the blame on Stalin.” (Emphasis added.)

Far from placing any “blame on Stalin” for “mistakes” made in the course of the Chinese revolution, Maoist historians go to great lengths to establish the fact that Mao was Stalin’s foremost disciple. On the occasion of Stalin’s seventieth birthday, Chen Po-ta, a leading exponent of the “cultural revolution” and militant protagonist of “Mao’s thought,” composed a eulogy entitled Stalin and the Chinese Revolution. It was published by the People’s Publishing House, Peking, May 1953. Here are samples of Chen Po-ta’s testimony on the question of Stalin’s “errors” and the relations between Mao and Stalin:

“Under the leadership of Comrade Mao Tse-tung, our party, by advancing along a devious path, finally overcame both the objective difficulties and subjective errors and carried the revolution to victory. This is because Comrade Mao Tse-tung’s views on the nature and tactics of the Chinese revolution were based on the teachings of Stalin and were identical with the views of Stalin.”

“Comrade Mao Tse-tung is Stalin’s disciple and comrade in arms. He is Stalin’s outstanding disciple and has been able to lead China’s revolution to victory because his method of work and his way of reasoning are those of Stalin. He uses Stalin’s methods to learn from Stalin ...”

And so forth and so on, ad nauseam.

It is quite obvious that the brief references by Mao and his historians to “subjective errors” and “mistakes” do not refer to Stalin’s basic line on the character and perspective of the Chinese revolution. Because of the disastrous consequences of the zig-zag policies followed by the Stalintern afier the death of Lenin, it became standard practice to fix the blame on those individuals and groups responsible for and identified with the carrying out of the “general line.” Thus arose the system of scapegoatism. With each zig-zag new leaders were created and old ones scrapped as “Left” or “Right” opportunists, depending on the thrust of the new turn. No one dared place the blame on Stalin—where it properly belonged. It was along this “devious path” that Mao became head of the Chinese Communist Party in January 1935.

The date is significant. Following the debacle of Stalin’s “Third Period” insanity, which paved the way for Hitler’s march to power in Germany, the Stalintern made a one hundred and eighty degree turn to the People’s Front. The leaders of the national sections of the Communist International were junked in wholesale lots, including the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. That Mao was a People’s Frontist from the beginning is testified to by Chen Po-ta in his pamphlet, Mao Tse-tung on the Chinese Revolution, written in 1951 and published in a revised edition in Peking in 1963.

After 1927 Mao repeatedly refuted the erroneous ‘Leftist’ ideological trend in relation to the question of the character of the revolution. He considered that the Chinese democratic revolution must be carried out to the end, saying:

“Only in this way can a socialist future of the Chinese revolution be fostered. Misconceptions such as denying this period of democratic revolution and considering that the opportune moment for a socialist revolution in China has arrived are extremely detrimental to the Chinese revolution.” (Resolution of the Sixth Congress of the Fourth Army of the Red Army, drafted by Mao Tse-tung, December 1928.)

Mao Tse-tung regarded the opinion then held by the Communist International that the character of the Chinese revolution remained bourgeois-democratic as completely correct. He said, “the struggle which we have gone through verifies the truth of the opinion of the Communist International.”

In the light of the concrete conditions in China, Mao Tse-tung developed the teachings of Lenin and Stalin regarding the continuous development of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into the socialist revolution.

He said:

“We advocate the theory of the continuous development of revolution, but not the Trotskyite theory of permanent revolution. We stand for the attainment of socialism through all the necessary stages of the democratic republic. We are opposed to tail-ism, but we are also opposed to adventurism and ultra-revolutionism.”

The theory of the revolution in stages was not unique with Mao and the Popular Front. It was developed as part of the theoretical arsenal of the reformist socialists in Europe and was advocated by the Russian Mensheviks in opposition to the course followed by the Bolsheviks. The latter, under Lenin and Trotsky’s leadership, refused to halt the revolution at its “bourgeois-democratic stage” following the overthrow of the Czar in February. They pressed forward to the socialist victory of October, along the line laid down by Trotsky in his theory of permanent revolution.

The theory of the revolution in stages leads ineluctably to the practice of class collaboration through coalitionism. If the bourgeois democratic stage was to prevail for a prolonged period—as Mao insisted it must—then the Chinese Communist Party would have to share power, as junior partner, with the political parties of the bourgeoisie, above all with Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang.

The theory of revolution in stages

Mao’s views on coalition government were elaborated in a political report to the Seventh National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party on April 24, 1945. The first Chinese edition in English, entitled On Coalition Government, was published in 1955. However, the text of this speech was published ten years earlier in this country in December 1945 by New Century Publishers, the Communist Party publishing house, with the title The Fight for a New China, and with an introduction by William Z. Foster. There are extensive changes, alterations, amendments and deletions in the later Chinese editions compared to the 1945 text. The citations which follow are from the earlier New Century edition.

In expounding the theory of the revolution in stages, Mao declared,

“Socialism can be reached only through democracy; this is an accepted truth of Marxism. The struggle for democracy in China still requires a prolonged period. Without a new democratic, united state, without the economic development of a new democratic nation, without the development of a broad private capitalist and cooperative economy, without the development of a national, scientific, popular and new democratic culture, without the emancipation and development of the individuality of hundreds of millions of people, in short, without the thorough, new bourgeois democratic revolution, to establish socialism over the ruins of the colonial, semi-colonial, and semi-feudal China would be a Utopian dream.”

How explain that “Communists” advocate the establishment, for a “prolonged period,” of a bourgeois-democratic state?

“Some people cannot understand why the Communists, far from being antipathetic to capitalism, actually promote its development. To them we can simply say this much: to replace the oppression of foreign imperialism and native feudalism with the development of capitalism is not only an advance, but also an unavoidable process; it will benefit not only the capitalist class, but also the proletariat.”

But, if the historical imperative dictates that the course of development proceed through the stage of bourgeois democracy, how explain the Russian revolution, which proceeded from the overthrow of the semi-feudal Czarist regime to the establishment of the bourgeois-democratic Provisional Government, to an abbreviated period of Soviet dual power, to the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship, all within the span of a few months? Mao advances a theory of Russian exceptionalism.

“Some people wonder if the Communists, once in power, will establish a dictatorship by the proletariat and a one-party system, as they have done in the Soviet Union. We can tell these people this: A new democracy of a union of democratic classes is different in principle from a socialist state with the dictatorship of the proletariat. China, throughout the period of her new democratic system, cannot and should not have a system of government of one-class dictatorship or one-party monopoly of government.”

As for Russia:

“Russian history determined the Soviet form of society. There the social system in which man exploits man has been abolished; a new democratic (socialist) political, economic and cultural system has been established; all anti-socialist political parties have been rejected by the people, who support only the Bolshevik Party. But even in Russia, where the Bolshevik Party is the only political party, the governmental authority is invested in the alliance of workers, peasants and intellectuals, or in the bloc of party members and non-party members, and not in the hands of the working class, or Bolsheviks alone. In the same way, Chinese history will determine the Chinese system. A unique form—a new democratic state and regime or a union of the democratic classes—will be produced, which will be different from the Russian system.”

“The carrying out of this program will not advance China to socialism. This is not a question of the subjective willingness or unwillingness of certain individuals to do the advancing; it is due to the fact that the objective political and social conditions in China do not permit the advance.” [3]

For how long?

“In the entire bourgeois democratic revolution stage, over scores of years, our new democratic general program is unchanged.”

Relations between capital and labor

Mao paints an idyllic picture of the harmonious relations that will exist between capital and labor in the “bourgeois democratic revolution” stage.

“Under the new democratic state the policy of harmonizing the relationship between capital and labor will be adopted. The interests of the workers will be protected. An eight to ten-hour day system, according to varying circumstances, will be established, as well as suitable relief for the unemployed, social security, and the rights of labor unions. On the other hand, the proper profits, under reasonable management, of state, private and cooperative enterprises will be assured. Thus, both labor and capital will work jointly for the development of industrial production.”

One of the more persistent tenets of Maoist mythology is the alleged uncompromising hostility that Mao always held toward the imperialist powers, especially toward British and American imperialism. It is no wonder that those sections of his speech in which he expresses gratitude to these powers are carefully deleted from the revised Chinese versions. For example, in expressing his gratitude to the Soviet Union for its help, he adds:

“We are also grateful to Britain and the United States, particularly the latter, for their immense contribution to the common cause—the defeat of the Japanese aggressors. We are grateful to the governments and the peoples of both countries for their sympathy with the Chinese people and their help.”

But gratitude never cut much ice with the imperialist bandits. Mao dangled more tangible material benefits to whet their appetites. In the bourgeois-democratic stage, he pointed out,

“Large amounts of capital will be needed for the development of our industries. They will come chiefly from the accumulated wealth of the Chinese people, and at the same time from foreign assistance. We welcome foreign investments if such are beneficial to China’s economy and are made in accordance with China’s laws. Enterprises profitable to both the Chinese people and foreigners are swiftly expanding large-scale light and heavy industries and modernizing agriculture, which can become a reality when there is a firm internal and international peace, and when political and agrarian reforms are thoroughly carried out. On this basis, we shall be able to absorb vast amounts of foreign investments. A politically retrogressive and economically impoverished China will be unprofitable not only to the Chinese people, but also to foreigners.” [4]

In the light of subsequent developments it is no wonder that the Maoists subjected the text of On Coalition Government to extensive revisions. In his foreword to the American edition, William Z. Foster indicated the setting in which the speech was made.

“On April 24, 1945,” he wrote, “the day on which the great Chinese Communist leader, Mao Tse-tung, delivered the following report to the Seventh National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Allied unity was at a high point. On the following day the United Nations Conference was to open in San Francisco. In Europe the Red Army from the East and Anglo-American forces from the West were rapidly bringing to an end the Hitler state and the Nazi armies. Rangoon and Davao were about to fall to the Allies in the Pacific theater. American Marines were writing a glorious chapter in military history in Okinawa. The Soviet Union had already made clear its intention of joining the war against Japan by abrogating its treaty with the Mikado.”

These military victories induced a condition of euphoria in Stalinist circles throughout the world. Coalitionism, i.e., class collaboration, was touted as the wave of the future. On the basis of the pacts and agreements forged by the Big Three (Teheran, Yalta, etc.) the class struggle was declared outmoded. Peaceful coexistence was to reign supreme. With the exception of the Soviet Union, of course, the struggle for socialism was postponed to the Greek Kalends. In Europe, the French Communist Party entered a coalition government, disarmed the Resistance and, along with de Gaulle, proceeded to restore the bourgeois democratic order. The same process was duplicated in Italy. In Eastern Europe, coalition governments were hastily rigged under the umbrella of Soviet occupation forces.

To the consternation of the Stalinist pipedream of an era of permanent peace and prosperity following the war, however, the imperialist jackals resumed their scramble for spheres of influence, markets, areas for the investment of capital, sources of raw material, the super-exploitation of cheap labor and colonial dominion. The war had changed nothing in the nature of the beast. It was not that the wartime coalition was being “pried apart”—as the Stalinists cried— it was coming apart at the seams by virtue of its inherent contradictions. The class struggle, so cavalierly consigned to the limbo of innocuous desuetude, soon asserted its lusty presence.

Dual power in the Chinese revolution

In China, the path to coalition government was bestrewn with booby traps. The Chinese Communist Party headed a surging mass movement that made it a power to be reckoned with. The Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s sparked a recurrent and mounting wave of nationalist feeling that infected all sections of the population. The CCP rode that wave from the beginning. Stalin viewed a Japanese military presence in China with considerable alarm. It was a dagger pointed at the 3,000-mile Soviet eastern frontier and held the threat of a war on two fronts in the event of a military conflict in Europe.

In Thirty Years of the Communist Party of China, published by Lawrence and Wishart in 1951, Hu Chiao-mu, the vice-director of the propaganda department of the CCP central committee wrote that,

“... after the Japanese invaders had attacked China the Chinese Communist Party was the first to call for armed resistance. In January 1933, the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army declared that, on the three conditions of ceasing the attacks on the Red Army, safeguarding the peoples’ democratic rights and arming the masses, the Red Army was willing “to stop fighting and make peace with all other troops throughout the country for the purpose of jointly resisting Japanese aggression.”

Needless to say, Chiang Kai-shek rejected the proposal. The Kuomintang had less to fear from the Japanese invaders than from the Red Army. Instead, Chiang mounted a series of major military campaigns designed to encircle and destroy the Red Army. As a result of these offensives the Red Army was compelled to undertake its “Long March” to seek sanctuary in the remote Chinese hinterland. After incredible hardships the Red Army reached North Shensi in October 1935. Hu writes that before the retreat “the Red Army had expanded into a force of 300,000 troops, but after reaching North Shensi at the end of the Long March ... the Red Army totalled less than 30,000 troops.”

But the decrepit and corrupt Kuomintang government offered no effective resistance to the Japanese invaders. Dissatisfaction grew and along with mounting discontent a process of disintegration ensued which led to splits and defections by dissident groups in the Chiang forces. A number joined with the Red Army to carry forward the resistance. In the process, the Red Army and the Chinese Communist Party underwent an enormous expansion. Hu reports that by the time of the Mao speech at the Seventh Congress in April of 1945, there had been created under the leadership of the CCP, “nineteen Liberated Areas ... with a total population of 95,500,000, a People’s Liberation Army of 910,000 (including the Eighth Route Army, the New Fourth Route Army and other anti-Japanese people’s troops) and a people’s militia of 2,200,000 men who were simultaneously engaged in production.” Even allowing for some exaggeration, this was a force of considerable magnitude.

When the war in the Pacific ended with the unconditional surrender of Japan on August 14, 1945, de facto dual power existed in China. Unlike Russia in 1917, where the dual power was institutionalized in the form of Soviets of workers, peasants and soldiers deputies on one side, and the bourgeois government on the other, the dual power in China took the form of rival armies engaged in military conflict. The state, wrote Engels, consists of bodies of armed men. In China the Red Army exercised state power in the “liberated areas” through the administrative apparatus of the CCP and its “democratic allies.”

Hu Chiao-mu explains that the areas under Red Army control were adminstered by a “coalition” whereby

“... the ‘Three-threes representative system,’ namely the system whereby the Communists (representing the working class and poor peasants), the progressive elements (representing the petty bourgeoisie), and the intermediate elements (representing the middle bourgeoisie and enlightened gentry) each contributed one-third of the leading personnel of the government administration, was introduced in all Liberated Areas.”

But the real power resided in the Red Army controlled by the CCP.

This power existed alongside that of the National government ruled by Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang under a system of “political tutelage,” the political formula for Chiang’s one-party dictatorship. Chiang’s regime was recognized as the legitimate “national government” by the “Big Three,” Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, in the Moscow Declaration of October 30, 1943. In fact, upon the insistence of Roosevelt, the Big Three was expanded to include Nationalist China and became the Big Four, with the addition of Chiang Kai-shek.

The China White Paper, originally issued in August 1949 under the title United States Relations With China, With Special Reference to the Period 1944-49, records that in the fall of 1943:

“The United States insisted that China be included as a signatory, together with the United Kingdom, the USSR, and the United States, of the Declaration of Four Nations on General Security, signed in Moscow on October 30, 1943, which recognized the right and responsibility of China to participate jointly with the other great powers in the prosecution of the war, the organization of the peace, and the establishment of machinery for postwar international cooperation.”

The Moscow Declaration provided the juridical rationalization subsequently used to justify continued financial, material and military support, to the Chiang Kai-shek regime.

Marshall’s attempt to mediate the dispute

With the end of the war, both sides invited the US government to mediate the armed conflict which had erupted into full-scale civil war. In December, 1945, Truman designated General George C. Marshall as his personal representative to mediate the dispute.

The United States urged Chiang Kai-shek to “democratize” his regime and to broaden the base of the National government in order to include representatives of various “democratic” opposition groups. Washington favored participation of the CCP in such a “reformed” government. This policy was based on the conviction that the Red Army could not be eliminatedby military means. In his later testimony before a joint session of the House and Senate committees on foreign affairs, February 20, 1948, Marshall observed:

“Considering the military aspects of the problem it was clear from VJ Day in 1945 that the Chinese government was confronted by a military situation which made it, in the opinion of virtually every American authority, impossible to conquer the Communist armies by force.”

The alternative to a mediated political settlement in Marshall’s opinion would be a massive intervention by the armed forces of the United States in which the US “would have to be prepared virtually to take over the Chinese government and administer its economic, military and governmental affairs.” This was excluded. For, as Lyman P. Van Slyke observes in his Stanford University Press edition of The China White Paper,

“Not only were America’s resources insufficient for military intervention in [Marshall’s] opinion, but the American people would not sanction such a course.”

This view was bolstered, not only by the attitude of the American civilian population, but more importantly by that of the American army. When the Truman administration sought to shift American troops to Asia after the end of the war in Europe, there was a virtual rebellion which took the form of a movement to “Bring the Boys Home,” which received widespread support from an aroused citizenry in this country. The time was not propitious for a massive American military intervention in China.

Marshall arrived in China in January, 1946. The circumstances were not auspicious. The United States had made commitments to the Chiang regime beginning with the Moscow Declaration of 1943 and there was burgeoning opposition to compromise by the rabid anti-communists in Washington, among whom Chiang had his staunchest supporters. Van Slyke writes,

“By October 1944, when General Joseph W. Stilwell, who favored a tough quid pro quo policy toward Chiang, was recalled at the Generalissimo’s insistence, General Patrick J. Hurley had already arrived in China. He expressed clearly the goals of American policy: to keep China in the war, to support Chiang and the National government, to persuade Chiang to undertake certain reforms, and to promote the unity and democracy to which all Chinese parties proclaimed their dedication. It is clear now that these goals were irreconcilable, for if there was no possibility of withdrawing our support from Chiang, there was no way of getting him to make changes he did not choose to make. America’s role as mediator was compromised for the same reason. But this was far from clear at the time, except to those who knew the situation in China most intimately.”

Marshall was confronted with two opposing views on how a new “democratic” government was to be established. The CCP insisted that a coalition of the various political parties determine the conditions under which a National Assembly was to be convened and a draft constitution adopted. While granting the National government a substantial majority, they insisted upon certain safeguards in the form of minority representation sufficient to veto any attempt on the part of the majority to substantially alter the terms upon which agreement was reached.

Chiang insisted that inasmuch as his Kuomintang government was the only “legal” and recognized authority all other political parties should enter the National government with the rights of minority representation as defined by a new constitution adopted by a National Assembly and by the legislative and executive organs created by it. He remained adamantly opposed to granting the CCP minority veto power at any stage of the process of establishing the “new” bourgeois-democratic state.

Chiang’s position was publicly endorsed by Washington. In a statement defining United States Policy Toward China, December 15, 1945, Truman declared:

“The United States and the other United Nations have recognized the present National government of the Republic of China as the only legal government in China. It is the proper instrument to achieve the objective of a unified China.”

It was on this rock that all subsequent negotiations foundered.

Nevertheless, the extent of CCP representation in the post-civil-war government was not the only question open for negotiations between the warring sides, and in the last analysis, it was not the most important question. It was overshadowed by the question of the fate of the Red Army. Truman added in the same 1945 policy statement:

“The United States is cognizant that the present National government of China is a ‘one-party government’ and believes that peace, unity and democratic reform will be furthered if the basis of this government is broadened to include other political elements in the country. Hence, the United States strongly advocates that the national conference of representatives of the major political elements in the country agree upon arrangements which would give these elements a fair and effective representation in the Chinese National government. It is recognized that this would require modification of the one-party ‘political tutelage’ established as an interim arrangement in the progress of the nation toward democracy by the father of the Chinese Republic, Doctor Sun Yat-sen.

The existence of autonomous armies such as that of the Communist army is inconsistent with, and actually makes impossible, political unity in China. With the institution of a broadly based representative government, autonomous armies should be eliminated as such and all armed forces in China integrated effectively into the Chinese National Army.” (Emphasis added.)

General Marshall’s primary assignment in China was to preside over the liquidation of the Red Army and this he failed to do. But the reason does not lie in political intransigence on Mao’s part toward reorganization of the Communist forces in the interest of forming a “new” state. Marshall’s failure is fundamentally to be explained by Chiang’s terms for formation of the postwar government. The Generalissimo insisted on unconditional surrender. His terms would have been virtually suicidal for the Communists to accept.

The Political Consultative Conference

When Marshall arrived in China in January 1946, he was gratified to find that considerable progress had apparently been made toward the achievement of his objective. Under prodding from the Americans, both sides had agreed to the convening of a “Political Consultative Conference” [PCC] in Chungking to begin the process of forming a unified national government. A truce had been declared and a joint “Order for the Cessation of Hostilities,” had been issued on January 10 in the name of Generalissmo Chiang Kai-shek and Chairman Mao Tse-tung. A number of basic documents were adopted by the PCC designed to lay a foundation for the new state order. These included a Resolution on Government Organization and a Resolution on Military Problems. Examination of these two documents shows how far Mao was willing to go toward the formation of a coalition government and also the points on which Mao and Chiang ultimately could not reach agreement.

The Resolution on Military Problems is divided into four sections “Section I” itemizes “fundamental principles for the creation of a national army”:

“Point 1) The army belongs to the state. It is the duty of the soldier to protect the country and love the people.”

“Point 3) The military system shall be reformed in the light of the democratic institutions and actual conditions prevailing at the time.”

“Point 5) Military education shall be conducted in the light of the foregoing principles, and shall forever be dissociated from party affiliation and personal allegiance.”

“Section II” sets forth the “fundamental principles for the reorganization of the army.” “Point 1” provides: “Separation of army and party.” “Subsection A” under “Point 1” states, “All political parties shall be forbidden to carry on party activities, whether open or secret, in the army.”

“Section III, Point 5) A military Committee shall be established within the Ministry of National Defense to be charged with the double duty of drawing up schemes for the creation of a national army and of seeing to it that the schemes are faithfully carried out. Members of the committee shall be drawn from various circles.”

“Section IV” covers the “practical methods for the reorganization of the army.” Under

“Point 1) The three-man military commission shall proceed according to schedule and agree upon practical methods for the reorganization of the Communist troops at an early date. The reorganization must be completed as soon as possible.”

“Point 2) The Government troops should be reorganized, according to the plan laid down by the Ministry of War, into ninety (90) divisions. The reorganization should be completed within six (6) months.”

“Point 3) When the reorganizations envisaged in paragraphs 1 and 2 have been completed, all troops of the country should be again reorganized into fifty (50) or sixty (60) divisions.”

And in this way would be created the “new” democratic army of the “new” democratic Republic of China.

The “Resolution on Government Organization” provides that,

“1) Pending the convocation of the National Assembly, the Kuomintang, as a preliminary measure preparatory to the actual inauguration of constitutionalism, will revise the Organic Law of the National government in order to expand the State Council.”

It was around the question of the composition of this “State Council” that an irreconcilable dispute subsequently occurred.

“Point 1” under “Section I” reads:

“There will be forty (40) State Councillors, of whom the Presidents of the Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Examination, and Control Yuan will be ex-officio members.”

“Point 3) The State Council is the supreme organ of the Government in charge of national affairs.”

“Point 6) General resolutions before the State Council are to be passed by a majority vote of the State Councillors present. If a resolution before the State Council should involve changes in administrative policy, it must be passed by a two-thirds vote of the State Councillors present. Whether a given resolution involves changes in administrative policy or not is to be decided by a majority vote of the State Councillors present.” (Emphasis added.)

“Point C) Half of the State Councillors will be Kuomintang members and the other half will be members of other political parties and prominent social leaders. The exact number of members of other political parties and prominent social leaders who are to serve as State Councillors will form the subject of separate discussions.” (Emphasis added.)

The Resolution on Military Problems was the first to be implemented. An executive “Committee of Three” was established to supervise the cease-fire and to begin the process of “Military Reorganization and Integration of Communist Forces into National Army.” The committee was composed of a representative of each of the three parties underwriting the agreement: General Chan Chih Chun, representing the National government; General Chou En-lai, representing the CCP and General George C. Marshall, acting as chairman and listed as “advisor,” representing the United States. The process of “integration” was to encompass a period of eighteen (18) months. At the end of this period it was envisaged that all troops would be under the command of the Minister of War to be designated after the National Assembly had established a new government.

The agreement to establish an “Executive Headquarters” to be administered by the Committee of Three was signed by Chan Chun and Chou En-lai on January 10, 1946. But trouble broke out almost immediately. Manchuria had been invaded by the Soviet Union after it had declared war on Japan in August 1945. To secure the territory for the National government, the United States placed at the disposal of Chiang the planes, ships and personnel to transport his armies to Manchuria. Red Army units in the area also converged on the territory. An open clash was inevitable.

Both sides had agreed to stay away from those areas occupied by Soviet troops. But who was to exercise control in the remainder of the territory? Soon charges and countercharges were hurled by each side that the other was guilty of violating the terms of the cease-fire. The Executive Headquarters of the Committee of Three was paralyzed since the agreement provided that all of its decisions were to be by unanimous consent.

Chiang demanded that the provision for unanimous decision be amended to provide for majority rule. The Americans were all for it but the CCP balked. In June 1946 the Generalissimo issued an ultimatum declaring a 15-day truce in the fighting in Manchuria and demanding that the Red Army withdraw within that period or suffer the consequences. The ultimatum was condemned by the CCP as a violation of the January cease-fire agreement and contrary to the spirit of the PCC resolutions. At this Chiang launched a general offensive against the major forces of the Red Army concentrated in Northern China.

Cold war and a turn in China

Up to this point there had been no reason for a rift between Mao and Stalin. Mao had faithfully adhered to Stalin’s coalition line. But the events following the convening of the PCC in January 1946, marked a definite shift in China toward increasing friction, then open hostilities and later, resumption of full-scale civil war. It was this turn of events, I believe, which in retrospect led some to the conclusion that a “break” had occurred between Mao and Stalin sometime in the period 1946-47.

The turn in China was in large part a reflection of the change in the international situation. As has already been noted, the wartime coalition between the imperialists and Stalin came apart with the end of the war. The break was heralded by increasing friction and was publicly proclaimed in Winston Churchill’s famous “iron curtain” speech in Fulton, Missouri, March 5, 1946—the opening salvo of the cold war.

Churchill’s speech created a sensation. It was obvious that the time, place and setting of the speech was arranged in collaboration with Truman. In China, the turn toward cold war politics along with increased US military aid hardened Chiang Kai-shek’s position that the CCP enter the National government on his terms or not at all. Failing a “negotiated” agreement which would lead the CCP into a suicidal trap Chiang was convinced that Washington would have no alternative but to support his preferred course of mounting an all-out military assault and smashing the Red Army as a prelude to “national unity.” Yet, the coalition charade continued until the end of the year.

It took the form of a dispute over the number of representatives to be allotted the CCP on the State Council which was to convene the National Assembly. Of the forty State Councillors fixed by the PCC, 50 per cent, or twenty councillors were allotted to the Kuomintang. Of the balance, the PCC Resolution on Government Organization provided that the “exact number” to be allotted to other political parties would “form the subject of separate discussions.”

Chiang proposed that the CCP be allotted eight seats and that its front organization, the Democratic League, would get four, or a total of twelve. This number was just short of the one-third required to block any “changes in administrative policy” under the State Council setup. The CCP rejected this proposal. On September 21, 1946, Chou En-lai wrote General Marshall:

“If the Kuomintang would agree to appropriate fourteen seats of the State Council to the Chinese Communist Party and the Democratic League, thus definitely ensuring a one-third vote to safeguard the PCC common program from being infringed upon, the whole issue of the State Council can be settled almost overnight.”

Under prodding from General Marshall the Generalissimo was constrained to offer a “compromise.” On October 2, 1946, he wrote Marshall:

“The Chinese Communist Party has been incessantly urging the reorganization of the National government. This hinges on the distribution of the membership of the State Council. The government originally agreed that the Chinese Communist Party be allocated eight seats and the Democratic League, four, with a total of twelve. The Chinese Communist Party, on the other hand, requested ten for themselves and four for the Democratic League with a total of fourteen. Now the government makes a fresh concession by taking the mean and offering one seat for the independents to be recommended by the Chinese Communist Party and agreed upon by the government, so that, added to the original twelve, it makes a total of thirteen seats.”

He couples this “concession” with the demand that the CCP immediately produce their list of candidates for the State Council and their list of delegates to the National Assembly and that it proceed immediately to implement the PCC program for the “reorganization” of the Red Army and its withdrawal to previously “assigned areas.”

Thirteen seats was still short of the one-third “safeguard.” The “compromise” proposal was rejected in a letter from Chou En-lai, October 9, 1946, to Marshall, in which the demand for fourteen seats “to ensure that the Peaceful Reconstruction Program would not be revised unilaterally.” Back and forth, the controversy raged. Chiang Kai-shek refused to be budged.

The US withdraws

While this exercise in parliamentary bickering continued, the real battles were being waged by the opposing armies in the field. Temporary military successes bolstered Chiang’s conviction that a military victory was in the cards. Brushing aside the proposals in the October 9 letter from Chou which set forth the terms on which the CCP would participate in the forthcoming National Assembly, Chiang proceeded full-speed ahead to convene the National Assembly, November 15, 1946. This body, in the absence of the CCP, adopted a “democratic” constitution and proceeded to form a “new” bourgeois democratic state with all of the parliamentary trappings attendant thereon. The split became definitive. The CCP was frozen out. The question of state power in China could be resolved only by force of arms.

General Marshall took his departure with a parting shot at Chiang on January 7, 1947, exactly one year from the day he arrived. In a “personal statement” Marshall observed:

“I think the most important factors involved in the recent breakdown of negotiations are these: On the side of the National government, which is in effect the Kuomintang, there is a dominant group of reactionaries who have been opposed, in my opinion, to almost every effort I have made to influence the formation of a coalition government. This has usually been under the cover of political or party action, but since the party was the government, this action, though subtle or indirect, has been devastating in its effect. They were quite frank in publicly stating their belief that cooperation by the Chinese Communist Party in the government was inconceivable and that only a policy of force could definitely settle the issue. This group includes military as well as political leaders.”

Marshall returned to the United States to become Secretary of State. His mission, which sought to resolve the state of dual power by persuading the CCP to liquidate the Red Army contingent upon the establishment of a coalition government with Chiang Kai-shek failed because of Kuomintang intransigence.

On January 29, 1947, the US Department of State issued a press release which read:

“The United States government has decided to terminate its connection with the Committee of Three which was established in Chungking for the purpose of terminating hostilities in China and of which General Marshall was chairman. The United States government also has decided to terminate its connection with Executive Headquarters which was established in Peiping by the Committee of Three for the purpose of supervising, in the field, the execution of the agreements for the cessation of hostilities and the demobilization and reorganization of the Armed Forces in China.”

On its part, the CCP continued to press its demand for a coalition government, but this time excluding Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang “reactionaries.” (An editorial broadcast by the North Shensi Radio as late as May 24, 1948, called for the “swift convening of a new political consultation conference by all liberals, democrats and independent groups and organizations and all social luminaries to discuss and approve the calling of a People’s Congress to establish a Democratic Coalition government.”)

The Communist Party chooses to fight

Meanwhile the cold war continued to heat up. On March 12, 1947, the White House called a joint session of Congress to hear Truman request emergency authority to aid Britain against a new upsurge of the Greek revolution. In this speech Truman laid down what has since become known as the “Truman Doctrine”: Washington’s manifest destiny to “defend” the “Free World” against “Communist aggression.” It was a virtual threat of war against the Soviet Union.

This was followed on June 5 by a speech at Harvard by General Marshall outlining a plan for the rehabilitation and stabilization of capitalism in Europe. The details were worked out at a number of conferences and the “Marshall Plan” was adopted by Congress in November.

These developments threw the Kremlin into a panic. It seemed that once again the question of world war was placed high on the agenda. The spurious “coalition” governments artificially imposed on the occupied countries of Eastern Europe were summarily jettisoned and replaced by “People’s Democracies” headed by the various Communist parties. An international center was established in Belgrade designated as the Communist Information Bureau, or Cominform. As its official organ, the Cominform published a paper with the mouth-filling title: For a Lasting Peace—For a People’s Democracy. In China, Mao hailed these developments as a turning point in the struggle. In a speech to the central committee of the CCP, December 25, 1947, on the Present Situation and Our Tasks, he declared

“The revolutionary war of the Chinese people has now reached a turning point.”

After commenting on the continued advances of the Red Army in the civil war Mao observed

“The various new democratic countries of Europe are consolidating themselves internally and uniting with one another. The anti-imperialist forces of the people of various European capitalist countries, especially in France and Italy, are growing. Within the United States the people’s democratic forces are daily growing.”

(The latter refers to the movement by the American CP to organize the Progressive Party to run Henry Wallace for president in 1948.) And most important of all:

“The Communist parties of nine European countries have organized an information bureau and published a summons to battle, calling on the people of the whole world to arise in opposition to the imperialists plans of enslavement.”

While Mao is so given to hyperbole that he cannot refrain from exaggeration, the essence of the matter was that a critical division between the Soviet bloc and its imperialist antagonists had developed.

Under the circumstances Stalin could only view with jaundiced eye the prospect of a Nationalist victory in the Chinese civil war or even a coalition regime in which the CCP was stripped of its armed forces to become hostage to a puppet of American imperialism. Stalin was prepared to go to considerable lengths to avoid the danger of a war on two fronts inherent in the control of China by a hostile regime. In the period from June 1946 to the definitive split in China in January 1947 and after, there was no valid reason, either from a political or military view, for a “break” between Stalin and Mao. On the contrary, the interests of the Soviet Union required a friendly ally on its eastern frontier.

Given the choice of unconditional surrender or fight, the CCP elected to fight. Once the war erupted in earnest, the inner decay of the Chiang regime was quickly revealed. Documents in The China White Paper offer eloquent testimony: On January 12, 1948:

“Observers report no improvement in the morale of the Nationalist forces, now at a dangerously low ebb. Field Commanders and troops are unwilling to fight, except as a last resort, and large-scale defection of combat elements confronted with battle can be expected to continue.”

On November 8, 1948:

“Within the past few weeks, the government’s military power and economic position have so deteriorated that we seriously question its ability to survive for long. There is just no will to fight in Nationalist government armies and in high official circles there is only befuddlement.”

From the same dispatch:

“Only a few days before Mukden fell, the government had five well-equipped, supplied and trained armies in the Manchurian field, the most formidable striking force at its command, and within a few days these armies were lost. They were lost not from battle casualties, but from defection, although among their commanders were numbered officers long associated with the Gimo [Generalissimo], and in whose loyalty he trusted implicitly. The troops at Hsuchou are far inferior to the Mukden garrison, and their commanders are already resigned to defeat. There is no reason to believe in their will or ability to resist an offensive. And when they are gone, Nanking has no defense worthy of the name.”

And again:

“There appears no reason to believe that the Gimo has, or will consider, a negotiated peace with the Communists, even should they agree to deal with him. This intransigence will prolong the conflict as long as there are any who will stand by him. It remains to be seen how many of his followers will remain when the news of Mukden becomes generally known. Their members will be appreciably less when the assault on Hsuchou begins. Whether he will have enough of a following to attempt a defense of Nanking is problematical, even doubtful, but it seems clear that once he has left Nanking in flight, he will never again be a really effective political force in this country.”

Chiang’s armies melted away before the advance of the Red Army so that at the end some of the larger urban centers, including the largest city in China, Shanghai, fell without a shot. Unfortunately, because of the CCP policy to restrain the city workers from rising in solidarity with the approaching Red Armies, Chiang was able to evacuate the remainder of his armed forces to Formosa where he quelled an incipient rebellion and established himself as ruler of Taiwan.

* * *

The theoretical possibility of a Stalinist party taking state power, even with its class collaborationist program and practice, was not ruled out by Trotsky. In the Transitional Program, adopted by the founding conference of the Fourth International in 1938, Trotsky observed that

“... one cannot categorically deny in advance the theoretical possibility that, under the influence of completely exceptional circumstances (war, defeat, financial crash, mass revolutionary pressure, etc.) the petty-bourgeois parties, including the Stalinists may go further than they themselves wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie.”

That, it seems clear to me, is what occurred in China in the period of June 1946 to October 1949. Capitalism was toppled in China in spite of Mao’s program and policies, not because of them.. Even a few months before taking state power, Mao held out the perspective of indefinite coexistence with capitalism. “Our current policy is to control capitalism, not abolish it,” he declared in July, 1949.

If there was a bourgeois-democratic stage in the third Chinese revolution it can be said to have begun with the abolition of the period of “political tutelage” and the convening of the National Assembly on November 15, 1946. But, in line with the theory of permanent revolution, the National Assembly failed—it did not even try—to carry through the democratic tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The carrying through of these tasks was undertaken by the regime established by the Chinese Communist Party through a new “Political Consultative Conference” of September 29, 1949—the regime characterized as the “People’s Democratic State.”

This required no break with the Kremlin; the evidence is overwhelming that Mao considered the conquest of state power by the Red Army and the establishment of a “People’s Republic” a consequence of the “teachings of Stalin” and, in the given international situation, in conformity with the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy.



1. The New Revolutionaries: A Handbook of the International Radical Left. Morrow. 319 pp. S5.95.

2. Report on the Political Situation in Pakistan, Intercontinental Press, Vol.7 No.17, May 5, 1969.

3. This paragraph is deleted from revised Chinese editions.

4. Deleted from revised Chinese editions.

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