J. V. Stalin

The Prospects of the Revolution in China

Speech Delivered in the Chinese Commission of the E.C.C.I.

November 30, 1926

Source: Works, Vol. 8, January-November, 1926, pp. 373-391
Publisher: Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
First Published: The magazine Kommunistichesky Internatsional, No. 13 (71), December 10, 1926
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Comrades, before passing to the subject under discussion, I think it necessary to say that I am not in possession of the exhaustive material on the Chinese question necessary for giving a full picture of the revolution in China. Hence I am compelled to confine myself to some general remarks of a fundamental character that have a direct bearing on the basic trend of the Chinese revolution.

I have the theses of Petrov, the theses of Mif, two reports by Tang Ping-shan and the observations of Rafes on the Chinese question. In my opinion, all these documents, in spite of their merits, suffer from the grave defect that they ignore a number of cardinal questions of the revolution in China. I think it is necessary above all to draw attention to these shortcomings. For this reason my remarks will at the same time be of a critical nature.


Lenin said that the Chinese would soon be having their 1905. Some comrades understood this to mean that there would have to be a repetition among the Chinese of exactly the same thing that took place here in Russia in 1905. That is not true, comrades. Lenin by no means said that the Chinese revolution would be a replica of the 1905 Revolution in Russia. All he said was that the Chinese would have their 1905. This means that, besides the general features of the 1905 Revolution, the Chinese revolution would have its own specific features, which would be bound to lay its special impress on the revolution in China.

What are these specific features?

The first specific feature is that, while the Chinese revolution is a bourgeois-democratic revolution, it is at the same time a revolution of national liberation spearheaded against the domination of foreign imperialism in China. It is in this, above all, that it differs from the 1905 Revolution in Russia. The point is that the rule of imperialism in China is manifested not only in its military might, but primarily in the fact that the main threads of industry in China, the railways, mills and factories, mines, banks, etc., are owned or controlled by foreign imperialists. But it follows from this that the questions of the fight against foreign imperialism and its Chinese agents cannot but play an important role in the Chinese revolution. This fact directly links the Chinese revolution with the revolutions of the proletarians of all countries against imperialism.

The second specific feature of the Chinese revolution is that the national big bourgeoisie in China is weak in the extreme, incomparably weaker than the Russian bourgeoisie was in the period of 1905. That is understandable. Since the main threads of industry are concentrated in the hands of foreign imperialists, the national big bourgeoisie in China cannot but be weak and backward. In this respect Mif is quite right in his remark about the weakness of the national bourgeoisie in China as one of the characteristic facts of the Chinese revolution. But it follows from this that the role of initiator and guide of the Chinese revolution, the role of leader of the Chinese peasantry, must inevitably fall to the Chinese proletariat and its party.

Nor should a third specific feature of the Chinese revolution be overlooked, namely, that side by side with China the Soviet Union exists and is developing, and its revolutionary experience and aid cannot but facilitate the struggle of the Chinese proletariat against imperialism and against medieval and feudal survivals in China.

Such are the principal specific features of the Chinese revolution, which determine its character and trend.


The first defect of the theses submitted is that they ignore or under-estimate the question of imperialist intervention in China. A study of the theses might lead one to think that at the present moment there is, properly speaking, no imperialist intervention in China, that there is only a struggle between Northerners and Southerners, or between one group of generals and another group of generals. Furthermore, there is a tendency to understand by intervention a state of affairs marked by the incursion of foreign troops into Chinese territory, and that if that is not the case, then there is no intervention.

That is a profound mistake, comrades. Intervention is by no means confined to the incursion of troops, and the incursion of troops by no means constitutes the principal feature of intervention. In the present-day conditions of the revolutionary movement in the capitalist countries, when the direct incursion of foreign troops may give rise to protests and conflicts, intervention assumes more flexible and more camouflaged forms. In the conditions prevailing today, imperialism prefers to intervene in a dependent country by organising civil war there, by financing counter-revolutionary forces against the revolution, by giving moral and financial support to its Chinese agents against the revolution. The imperialists were inclined to depict the struggle of Denikin and Kolchak, Yudenich and Wrangel against the revolution in Russia as an exclusively internal struggle. But we all know—and not only we, but the whole world—that behind these counter-revolutionary Russian generals stood the imperialists of Britain and America, France and Japan, without whose support a serious civil war in Russia would have been quite impossible. The same must be said of China. The struggle of Wu Pei-fu, Sun Chuan-fang, Chang Tsolin and Chang Tsung-chang against the revolution in China would be simply impossible if these counterrevolutionary generals were not instigated by the imperialists of all countries, if the latter did not supply them with money, arms, instructors, “advisers,” etc.

Wherein lies the strength of the Canton troops? In the fact that they are inspired by an ideal, by enthusiasm, in the struggle for liberation from imperialism; in the fact that they are bringing China liberation. Wherein lies the strength of the counter-revolutionary generals in China? In the fact that they are backed by the imperialists of all countries, by the owners of all the railways, concessions, mills and factories, banks and commercial houses in China.

Hence, it is not only, or even not so much, a matter of the incursion of foreign troops, as of the support which the imperialists of all countries are rendering the counter-revolutionaries in China. Intervention through the hands of others—that is where the root of imperialist intervention now lies.

Therefore, imperialist intervention in China is an indubitable fact, and it is against this that the Chinese revolution is spearheaded.

Therefore, whoever ignores or under-estimates the fact of imperialist intervention in China, ignores or under-estimates the chief and most fundamental thing in China.

It is said that the Japanese imperialists are showing certain symptoms of “good will” towards the Cantonese and the Chinese revolution in general. It is said that the American imperialists are not lagging behind the Japanese in this respect. That is self-deception, comrades. One must know how to distinguish between the essence of the policy of the imperialists, including that of the Japanese and American imperialists, and its disguises. Lenin often said that it is hard to impose upon revolutionaries with the club or the fist, but that it is sometimes very easy to take them in with blandishments. That truth of Lenin’s should never be forgotten, comrades. At all events, it is clear that the Japanese and American imperialists have pretty well realised its value. It is therefore necessary to draw a strict distinction between blandishments and praise bestowed on the Cantonese and the fact that the imperialists who are most generous with blandishments are those who cling most tightly to “their” concessions and railways in China, and that they will not consent to relinquish them at any price.


My second remark in connection with the theses submitted concerns the question of the revolutionary army in China. The fact of the matter is that the question of the army is ignored or under-estimated in the theses. (A voice from the audience: “Quite right!”} That is their second defect. The northward advance of the Cantonese is usually regarded not as an expansion of the Chinese revolution, but as a struggle of the Canton generals against Wu Pei-fu and Sun Chuan-fang, as a struggle for supremacy of some generals against others. That is a profound mistake, comrades. The revolutionary armies in China are a most important factor in the struggle of the Chinese workers and peasants for their emancipation. Is it accidental that until May or June of this year the situation in China was regarded as the rule of reaction, which set in after the defeat of Fen Yuhsiang’s armies, but that later on, in the summer of this year, the victorious Canton troops had only to advance northward and occupy Hupeh for the whole picture to change radically in favour of the revolution? No, it is not accidental. For the advance of the Cantonese means a blow at imperialism, a blow at its agents in China; it means freedom of assembly, freedom to strike, freedom of the press, and freedom to organise for all the revolutionary elements in China in general, and for the workers in particular. That is what constitutes the specific feature and supreme importance of the revolutionary army in China.

Formerly, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, revolutions usually began with an uprising of the people for the most part unarmed or poorly armed, who came into collision with the army of the old regime, which they tried to demoralise or at least to win in part to their own side. That was the typical form of the revolutionary outbreaks in the past. That is what happened here in Russia in 1905. In China things have taken a different course. In China, the troops of the old government are confronted not by an unarmed people, but by an armed people, in the shape of its revolutionary army. In China the armed revolution is fighting the armed counter-revolution. That is one of the specific features and one of the advantages of the Chinese revolution. And therein lies the special significance of the revolutionary army in China.

That is why it is an impermissible shortcoming of the theses submitted that they under-estimate the revolutionary army.

But it follows from this that the Communists in China must devote special attention to work in the army.

In the first place, the Communists in China must in every way intensify political work in the army, and ensure that the army becomes a real and exemplary vehicle of the ideas of the Chinese revolution. That is particularly necessary because all kinds of generals who have nothing in common with the Kuomintang are now attaching themselves to the Cantonese, as a force which is routing the enemies of the Chinese people; and in attaching themselves to the Cantonese they are introducing demoralisation into the army. The only way to neutralise such “allies” or to make them genuine Kuomintangists is to intensify political work and to establish revolutionary control over them. Unless this is done, the army may find itself in a very difficult situation.

In the second place, the Chinese revolutionaries, including the Communists, must undertake a thorough study of the art of war. They must not regard it as something secondary, because nowadays it is a cardinal factor in the Chinese revolution. The Chinese revolutionaries, and hence the Communists also, must study the art of war, in order gradually to come to the fore and occupy various leading posts in the revolutionary army. That is the guarantee that the revolutionary army in China will advance along the right road, straight to its goal. Unless this is done, wavering and vacillation may become inevitable in the army.


My third remark concerns the fact that the theses say nothing, or do not say enough, about the character of the future revolutionary government in China. Mif, in his theses, comes close to the subject, and that is to his credit. But having come close to it, he for some reason became frightened and did not venture to bring matters to a conclusion. Mif thinks that the future revolutionary government in China will be a government of the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie, under the leadership of the proletariat. What does that mean? At the time of the February revolution in 1917, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries were also petty-bourgeois parties and to a certain extent revolutionary. Does this mean that the future revolutionary government in China will be a Socialist-Revolutionary-Menshevik government? No, it does not. Why? Because the Socialist-Revolutionary-Menshevik government was in actual fact an imperialist government, while the future revolutionary government in China cannot but be an anti-imperialist government. The difference here is fundamental.

The MacDonald government was even a “labour” government, but it was an imperialist government all the same, because it based itself on the preservation of British imperialist rule, in India and Egypt, for example. As compared with the MacDonald government, the future revolutionary government in China will have the advantage of being an anti-imperialist government.

The point lies not only in the bourgeois-democratic character of the Canton government, which is the embryo of the future all-China revolutionary government; the point is above all that this government is, and cannot but be, an anti-imperialist government, that every advance it makes is a blow at world imperialism—and, consequently, a blow which benefits the world revolutionary movement.

Lenin was right when he said that, whereas formerly, before the advent of the era of world revolution, the national-liberation movement was part of the general democratic movement, now, after the victory of the Soviet revolution in Russia and the advent of the era of world revolution, the national-liberation movement is part of the world proletarian revolution.

This specific feature Mif did not take into account.

I think that the future revolutionary government in China will in general resemble in character the government we used to talk about in our country in 1905, that is, something in the nature of a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, with the difference, however, that it will be first and foremost an anti-imperialist government.

It will be a government transitional to a non-capitalist, or, more exactly, a socialist development of China.

That is the direction that the revolution in China should take.

This course of development of the revolution is facilitated by three circumstances:

firstly, by the fact that, the revolution in China, being a revolution of national liberation, will be spearheaded against imperialism and its agents in China;

secondly, by the fact that the national big bourgeoisie in China is weak, weaker than the national bourgeoisie was in Russia in the period of 1905, which facilitates the hegemony of the proletariat and the leadership of the Chinese peasantry by the proletarian party;

thirdly, by the fact that the revolution in China will develop in circumstances that will make it possible to draw upon the experience and assistance of the victorious revolution in the Soviet Union.

Whether this course will end in absolute and certain victory will depend upon many circumstances. But one thing at any rate is clear, and that is that the struggle for precisely this course of the Chinese revolution is the basic task of the Chinese Communists. From this follows the task of the Chinese Communists as regards their attitude to the Kuomintang and to the future revolutionary government in China. It is said that the Chinese Communists should withdraw from the Kuomintang. That would be wrong, comrades. The withdrawal of the Chinese Communists from the Kuomintang at the present time would be a profound mistake. The whole course, character and prospects of the Chinese revolution undoubtedly testify in favour of the Chinese Communists remaining in the Kuomintang and intensifying their work in it.

But can the Chinese Communist Party participate in the future revolutionary government? It not only can, but must do so. The course, character and prospects of the revolution in China are eloquent testimony in favour of the Chinese Communist Party taking part in the future revolutionary government of China.

Therein lies one of the essential guarantees of the establishment in fact of the hegemony of the Chinese proletariat.


My fourth remark concerns the question of the peasantry in China. Mif thinks that the slogan for forming Soviets—namely, peasant Soviets in the Chinese countryside—should be issued immediately. In my opinion, that would be a mistake. Mif is running too far ahead. One cannot build Soviets in the countryside and avoid the industrial centres of China. But the establishment of Soviets in the industrial centres of China is not at present on the order of the day. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that Soviets cannot be considered out of connection with the surrounding situation. Soviets—in this case peasant Soviets—could only be organised if China were at the peak period of a peasant movement which was smashing the old order of things and building a new power, on the calculation that the industrial centres of China had already burst the dam and had entered the phase of establishing the power of the Soviets. Can it be said that the Chinese peasantry and the Chinese revolution in general have already entered this phase? No, it cannot. Consequently, to speak of Soviets now would be running too far ahead. Consequently, the question that should be raised now is not that of Soviets, but of the formation of peasant committees. I have in mind peasant committees elected by the peasants, committees capable of formulating the basic demands of the peasantry and which would take all measures to secure the realisation of these demands in a revolutionary way. These peasant committees should serve as the axis around which the revolution in the countryside develops.

I know that there are Kuomintangists and even Chinese Communists who do not consider it possible to unleash revolution in the countryside, since they fear that, if the peasantry were drawn into the revolution it would disrupt the united anti-imperialist front. That is a profound error, comrades. The more quickly and thoroughly the Chinese peasantry is drawn into the revolution, the stronger and more powerful the anti-imperialist front in China will be. The authors of the theses, especially Tang Ping-shan and Rafes, are quite right in maintaining that the immediate satisfaction of a number of the most urgent demands of the peasants is an essential condition for the victory of the Chinese revolution. I think it is high time to break down that inertness and that “neutrality” towards the peasantry which are to be observed in the actions of certain Kuomintang elements. I think that both the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang, and hence the Canton government, should pass from words to deeds without delay and raise the question of satisfying at once the most vital demands of the peasantry.

What the perspectives should be in this regard, and how far it is possible and necessary to go, depends on the course of the revolution. I think that in the long run matters should go as far as the nationalisation of the land. At all events, we cannot repudiate such a slogan as that of nationalisation of the land.

What are the ways and means that the Chinese revolutionaries must adopt to rouse the vast peasant masses of China to revolution?

I think that in the given conditions one can only speak of three ways.

The first way is by the formation of peasant committees and by the Chinese revolutionaries entering these committees in order to influence the peasantry. (A voice from the audience: “What about the peasant associations?”) I think that the peasant associations will group themselves around the peasant committees, or will be converted into peasant committees, vested with the necessary measure of authority for the realisation of the peasants’ demands. I have already spoken about this way. But this way is not enough. It would be ridiculous to think that there are sufficient revolutionaries in China for this task. China has roughly 400 million inhabitants. Of them, about 350 million are Chinese. And of them, more than nine-tenths are peasants. Anyone who thinks that some tens of thousands of Chinese revolutionaries can cover this ocean of peasants is making a mistake. Consequently, additional ways are needed.

The second way is by influencing the peasantry through the apparatus of the new people’s revolutionary government. There is no doubt that in the newly liberated provinces a new government will be set up of the type of the Canton government. There is no doubt that this authority and its apparatus will have to set about satisfying the most urgent demands of the peasantry if it really wants to advance the revolution. Well then, the task of the Communists and of the Chinese revolutionaries in general is to penetrate the apparatus of the new government, to bring this apparatus closer to the peasant masses, and by means of it to help the peasant masses to secure the satisfaction of their urgent demands, either by expropriating the landlords’ land, or by reducing taxation and rents—according to circumstances.

The third way is by influencing the peasantry through the revolutionary army. I have already spoken of the great importance of the revolutionary army in the Chinese revolution. The revolutionary army of China is the force which first penetrates new provinces, which first passes through densely populated peasant areas, and by which above all the peasant forms his judgment of the new government, of its good or bad qualities. It depends primarily on the behaviour of the revolutionary army, on its attitude towards the peasantry and towards the landlords, on its readiness to aid the peasants, what the attitude of the peasantry will be towards the new government, the Kuomintang and the Chinese revolution generally. If it is borne in mind that quite a number of dubious elements have attached themselves to the revolutionary army of China, and that they may change the complexion of the army for the worse, it will be understood how great is the importance of the political complexion of the army and its, so to speak, peasant policy in the eyes of the peasantry. The Chinese Communists and the Chinese revolutionaries generally must, therefore take every measure to neutralise the anti-peasant elements in the army, to preserve the army’s revolutionary spirit, and to ensure that the army assists the peasants and rouses them to revolution.

We are told that the revolutionary army is welcomed in China with open arms, but that later, when it instals itself, a certain disillusionment sets in. The same thing happened here in the Soviet Union during the Civil War. The explanation is that when the army liberates new provinces and instals itself in them, it has in some way or other to feed itself at the expense of the local population. We, Soviet revolutionaries, usually succeeded in counter-balancing these disadvantages by endeavouring through the army to assist the peasants against the landlord elements. The Chinese revolutionaries must also learn how to counter-balance these disadvantages by conducting a correct peasant policy through the army.


My fifth remark concerns the question of the Chinese proletariat. In my opinion, the theses do not sufficiently stress the role and significance of the working class in China. Rafes asks, on whom should the Chinese Communists orientate themselves—on the Lefts or the Kuomintang centre? That is a strange question. I think that the Chinese Communists should orientate themselves first and foremost on the proletariat, and should orientate the leaders of the Chinese liberation movement on the revolution. That is the only correct way to put the question. I know that among the Chinese Communists there are comrades who do not approve of workers going on strike for an improvement of their material conditions and legal status, and who try to dissuade the workers from striking. (A voice: “That happened in Canton and Shanghai.”) That is a great mistake, comrades. It is a very serious under-estimation of the role and importance of the Chinese proletariat. This fact should be noted in the theses as something decidedly objectionable. It would be a great mistake if the Chinese Communists failed to take advantage of the present favourable situation to assist the workers to improve their material conditions and legal status, even through strikes. Otherwise, what purpose does the revolution in China serve? The proletariat cannot be a leading force if during strikes its sons are flogged and tortured by agents of imperialism. These medieval outrages must be stopped at all costs, in order to heighten the sense of power and dignity among the Chinese proletarians, and to make them capable of leading the revolutionary movement. Without this, the victory of the revolution in China is inconceivable. Therefore, a due place must be given in the theses to the economic and legal demands of the Chinese working class aimed at substantially improving its conditions. (Mif: “It is mentioned in the theses.”) Yes, it is mentioned in the theses, but, unfortunately, these demands are not given sufficient prominence.


My sixth remark concerns the question of the youth in China. It is strange that this question has not been taken into account in the theses. Yet it is now of the utmost importance in China. Tang Ping-shan’s reports touch upon this question, but, unfortunately, do not give it sufficient, prominence. The question of the youth is one of primary importance in China today. The student youth (the revolutionary students), the working-class youth, the peasant youth—all this constitutes a force that could advance the revolution with giant strides, if it was subordinated to the ideological and political influence of the Kuomintang.* It should be borne in mind that no one suffers from imperialist oppression so deeply and keenly, or is so acutely and painfully aware of the necessity to fight against it, as the Chinese youth. The Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese revolutionaries should take this circumstance fully into account and intensify their work among the youth to the utmost. The youth must be given its place in the theses on the Chinese question.


I should like to mention certain conclusions—with regard to the struggle against imperialism in China, and with regard to the peasant question.

There is no doubt that the Chinese Communist Party cannot now confine itself to demanding the abolition of the unequal treaties. That is a demand which is upheld now by even such a counter-revolutionary as Chang Hsueh-liang. Obviously, the Chinese Communist Party must go farther than that.

It is necessary, further, to consider—as a perspective—the nationalisation of the railways. This is necessary, and should be worked for.

It is necessary, further, to have in mind the perspective of nationalising the most important mills and factories. In this connection, the question arises first of all of nationalising those enterprises the owners of which display particular hostility and particular aggressiveness towards the Chinese people. It is necessary also to give prominence to the peasant question, linking it with the prospects of the revolution in China. I think that what has to be worked for in the long run is the confiscation of the landlords’ land for the benefit of the peasants and the nationalisation of the land.

The rest is self-evident.

Those, comrades, are all the remarks that I desired to make.



1. Note. Such a policy was correct in the conditions prevailing at the time, since the Kuomintang then represented a bloc of the Communists and more or less Left-wing Kuomintangists, which conducted an anti-imperialist revolutionary policy. Later on this policy was abandoned as no longer in conformity with the interests of the Chinese revolution, since the Kuomintang had deserted the revolution and later became the centre of the struggle against it, while the Communists withdrew from the Kuomintang and broke off relations with it.