Stalin and the Chinese Revolution

stal_nalb3The following presentation was made by Harpal Brar, Chairman of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), to the Stalin Society on 18 October 2009 to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the forthcoming 130th anniversary of the birth of Stalin. It is taken from Chapter 13 of his book, Trotskyism or Leninism? It was again published and is being reprinted here from the November/December 2009 issue of the British anti-imperialist and Marxist-Leninist journal, Lalkar:

Stalin and the Chinese Revolution:
Two lines on the Chinese Revolution - the line of the Comintern and Stalin versus the line of the Trotskyist opposition

In the latter half of the 1920s the Trotskyist opposition (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Radek and Kamenev) accused the ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ i.e. the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik) [CPSU(B)] and the Comintern of selling the Chinese Revolution and the Chinese communists down the river – of betraying the Chinese Revolution.

This slander has since then been picked up, and repeated thousands of times, by the Trotskyite counter-revolutionaries, revisionist renegades, social democrats, and even by some dubious Marxist-Leninists.  Every attempt is made by this gentry to invent sharp difference of opinion between Stalin and Mao Zedong, between the line of the Comintern, which was the same as that of Stalin and the CPSU(B), on the one hand, and that of Mao Zedong, on the other hand, on the question of the Chinese Revolution.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

That Mao Zedong and the Chinese communists held Stalin in extremely high regard is shown by the following words of Mao Zedong on the occasion of Stalin’s 60th birthday:

Stalin is the leader of world revolution. This is of paramount importance. It is a great event that mankind is blessed with Stalin. Since we have him, things can go well. As you all know, Marx is dead and so are Engels and Lenin. Had there been no Stalin, who would be there to give directions? But having him – this is really a blessing. Now there exist in the world a Soviet Union, a Communist Party and also a Stalin. Thus, the affairs of the world can go well. We must hail him, we must support him, and we must learn from him. … We must learn from him in two respects: his theory and his work” (Quoted by Chen Po-Ta in Stalin on the Chinese Revolution).

Comintern’s analysis of the Chinese Revolution as regards the prospects and character of the Chinese Revolution.

The Comintern held that the main character of the Chinese Revolution was anti-feudal, for feudalism and the survivals of feudalism were the most predominant factor in the Chinese countryside. China, at that time, had a population of roughly 400/450 million people, out of which 350 or 400 million people lived in the countryside. Roughly 90% of the people were peasants who were exploited to the hilt by feudalism and, therefore, the most predominant feature of the Chinese Revolution was the fight against feudalism.

Thus the Chinese Revolution was an agrarian revolution spearheaded against feudalism and the entire militarist-bureaucratic structure which rested on it. An agrarian revolution is the basis and content of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.  In China, at that time, the bourgeois democratic revolution could not fail to be an anti-imperialist revolution, because imperialism supported the whole structure of feudalism, the whole fabric of feudalism.

It is imperialism which fosters, inspires, supports and preserves feudalism and struggles on the side of feudalism. In colonial or semi-colonial countries, people fighting against feudalism cannot but at the same time be involved in a revolutionary fight for the overthrow of imperialism, because the interests of imperialism are inextricably intertwined with the interests of the feudal ruling class, as is happening today, for instance, in the Middle East.

As early as 1913, Lenin had the occasion to point out that the obsolescent bourgeoisie of Europe, out of fear of the rising strength of the proletariat, was “supporting everything backward, moribund and medieval” and “combining with all obsolete and obsolescent forces” in an effort to preserve the tottering system of wage slavery.  “And a more striking example of this decay of the entire European bourgeoisie”, he wrote, “can scarcely be cited than the support it is lending to reaction in Asia for the sake of the selfish aims of the financial manipulators and capitalist swindlers” (‘Backward Europe and Advanced Asia’)

Trotsky’s analysis of the Chinese Revolution

Trotsky under-estimated and gave no decisive importance to the strength of feudalism, maintaining that the Chinese Revolution was merely aimed at ending China’s state-customs dependence on the imperialist countries; that this revolution was anti-imperialist mainly because it was directed at the abolition of unequal treaties imposed on China by the various imperialist countries.

In May 1927, Trotsky submitted to the Central Committee of the CPSU(B) and to the Executive Committee of the Comintern (ECCI) the following thesis: “Fundamentally untenable is Bukharin’s attempt to justify his opportunist compromising line by references to the alleged predominating role of ‘feudal survivals’ in China’s economy. Even if Bukharin’s estimate of the Chinese economy were based upon an economic analysis, and not upon scholastic definitions, all the same, ‘feudal survival’ could not justify the policy which so manifestly facilitated the April Coup. The Chinese revolution bears a national bourgeois character for the basic reason that the development of the productive forces of Chinese capitalism is being blocked by China’s state-customs dependence on the imperialist countries” (Trotsky: The Chinese Revolution and  Stalin’s Theses) (my emphasis – HB).

No wonder Stalin characterised Trotsky’s viewpoint as “that of a state counsellor of ‘his Highness’ Chang Tso-lin”; As Stalin put it: “If Trotsky’s viewpoint is correct, then it must be admitted that Chang Tso-lin and Chiang Kai-shek are right in not desiring either an agrarian or a workers’ revolution and in striving only for the abolition of the unequal treaties and the establishment of customs autonomy for China” (Stalin’s emphasis).

And further, by way of comparison and summing up the line of the Comintern and of Trotsky, continues Stalin:

Thus we have two basic lines:

“(a) the line of the Comintern, which takes into account the existence of feudal survivals in China, as the predominant form of oppression, the decisive importance of the powerful agrarian movement, the connection of the feudal survivals with imperialism, and the bourgeois-democratic character of the Chinese revolution with its struggle spearheaded against imperialism;

“(b) the line of Trotsky, which denies the predominant importance of feudal-militarist oppression, fails to appreciate the decisive importance of the agrarian revolutionary movement in China, and attributes the anti-imperialist character of the Chinese revolution solely to the interests of Chinese capitalism, which is demanding customs independence for China.

“The basic error of Trotsky (and hence of the opposition) is that he underestimates the agrarian revolution in China, does not understand the bourgeois-democratic character of that revolution, denies the existence of the preconditions for an agrarian movement in China, embracing many millions, and underestimates the role of the peasantry in the Chinese revolution” (Stalin: Revolution in China and the Tasks of the Comintern, speech delivered at the 10th sitting of the 8th plenum of the ECCI, 24 May 1927).

Trotsky’s under-estimation of the role of the peasantry is hardly new.  It follows from his theory of ‘Permanent Revolution’, which alone explains the degeneration of Trotskyism into a counter-revolutionary agency in the service of imperialism.

As Stalin said:

“It is this peculiarity of Trotsky’s scheme – the fact that he sees the bourgeoisie and sees the proletariat, but does not notice the peasantry and does not understand its role in the bourgeois-democratic revolution – it is precisely this peculiarity that constitutes the opposition’s principal error on the Chinese question.

“It is just this that constitutes the ‘semi-Menshevism’ of Trotsky and of the opposition in the question of the character of the Chinese revolution.

“From this principal error stem all the other errors of the opposition, all the confusion in its theses on the Chinese question” (Stalin: Revolution in China and the Tasks of the Comintern, speech delivered on 24th May 1927).

Other errors of Trotskyist opposition

Error 1:

Trotsky’s “logical incongruity” towards Wuhan.

In the period of the all-national  united  front  (the  Canton period), particularly the period between 1925 and 12th April 1927, for some time Trotsky and the rest of the opposition demanded that the communists should withdraw from the Kuomintang.

First, a few words about the Kuomintang (KMT) in this period: it was a bloc of several oppressed classes – it was a bloc of the national bourgeoisie, of the urban poor, of the peasantry, of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, and of the proletariat. It was a bloc of basically four classes. Between 1925 and April 12th, 1927, the national bourgeoisie played a progressive role (of this more later on).

Trotsky demanded that the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) withdraw support from the KMT. Why? Because the bourgeoisie is always counter revolutionary. Trotsky makes the error of comparing the Chinese bourgeoisie (in an oppressed country) with the Russian bourgeoisie (in an imperialist country).

The bourgeoisie of an oppressed country can for a certain period of time, under specific conditions, play a progressive role and become an ally of the proletariat.

Such an alliance is legitimate, as long as the proletariat is not hindered in its work of organising independently among the broad masses of people under its own programme. The fact is that being part of the KMT facilitated the work of the CPC

On 12 April 1927 the right-wing of the KMT, led by Chiang Kai-shek, launched its coup and started massacring the communists.  The national bourgeoisie set up its counter-revolutionary centre in Nanking, deserted the camp of revolution and sided with the counter-revolution and imperialism.

Why? It was a) the fear of the Agrarian Revolution; and b) the pressure put on Chiang Kai-shek by imperialism in Shanghai.

Following the desertion by the national bourgeoisie, the left-wing of the KMT set up its headquarters in Wuhan, which became the base for the maximum development of the agrarian revolution, which was led by the CPC.

How did the Trotskyist opposition characterise Wuhan?

Trotsky described it as a “fiction” – and yet did not advocate withdrawal from this “fiction”, of the CPC, which was at the time allied with the left-wing of the KMT in Wuhan.

Permit me to quote a passage from Stalin’s speech, which aptly describes Trotsky’s attitude – “this ‘logical’ incongruity” – towards Wuhan. Here is what Stalin said:

Let us assume that Wuhan is a fiction. But if Wuhan is a fiction, why does Trotsky not insist on a determined struggle against Wuhan? Since when have communists been supporting fictions, participating in fictions, standing at the head of fictions, and so on? Is it not a fact that the communists are duty bound to fight against fictions? Is it not a fact that if communists refrained from fighting against fictions, it would mean deceiving the proletariat and the peasantry? Why, then, does Trotsky not propose that the communists should fight against this fiction, if only by immediate withdrawal from the Wuhan Kuomintang and the Wuhan Government? Why does Trotsky propose that they should remain within this fiction, and not withdraw from it? Where is the logic in this?

Is not this ‘logical’ incongruity to be explained by the fact that Trotsky took up a swaggering attitude towards Wuhan and called it a fiction, and then got cold feet and shrank from drawing the appropriate conclusion from his theses?”

Such is the position of Trotsky on the question of Wuhan.

Zinoviev characterised the Wuhan government as a Kemalist government. A Kemalist revolution is a revolution of the upper stratum, of the merchant bourgeoisie against imperialism, which from its very beginning is directed against workers and peasants, a revolution that gets stuck at its very first stage, with the idea of passing into a socialist revolution being entirely out of the question.

Such a government does not fight against feudalism.  Therefore, there is no place for communists in such a government. If Wuhan was indeed such a government, the overthrow of such a government was absolutely necessary.  “But that is what ordinary people, with ordinary human logic, might think.” (Stalin)

Far from advocating its overthrow, Zinoviev concluded that the most energetic support be given to it!

Here is what Zinoviev said in his thesis, distributed at the plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU in April 1927:

It is necessary to render the most energetic and all round assistance to Hankow [Wuhan was a triple city of Wuchang-Hankow-Hanyang] and to organise resistance from there against the Cavaignacs. In the immediate future efforts should be concentrated precisely on facilitating organisation and consolidation in Hankow.”

Stalin’s comment on this peculiar stand of Zinoviev was: “Understand that if you can!”

Yes, comrades, understand that if you can!

This is how Stalin sums up the confusion of the opposition on the point under discussion:

What does all this show? It shows that the opposition has got entangled in contradictions. It has lost the capacity to think logically, it has lost all sense of perspective.

“Confusion of mind and loss of all sense of perspective on the Wuhan question – such is the position of Trotsky and the opposition, if confusion can be described as a position at all”.

Error 2:

"Mankind can free itself from suffering only by the road pointed out by Stalin and with his help." Mao Zedong studying the writings of J. V. Stalin in the Yenan base area during the Chinese Revolution

The opposition’s demand for the establishment of the Soviets while the communists participated in the Wuhan government.

At the very time that the opposition was demanding that the Wuhan government be “energetically” supported (see Zinoviev’s thesis above) it also demanded the immediate establishment of the Soviets of workers’ and peasants’ deputies. But Soviets are organisational centres of revolution – organs of uprising against the existing system.  If not, they are bound to degenerate and become empty chat-shops, empty playthings and bound to lead to apathy, indifference and disillusionment among the masses, who quite naturally become fed up with the endless repetition of resolutions and protests.

Such a call in the spring of 1927, when the left-KMT government in Wuhan was revolutionary, would have been tantamount to ‘skipping’ the KMT phase of revolution, endangering the revolution, and rendering inestimable service to Chiang Kai-shek.

The incongruity of participating in Wuhan and yet calling for its overthrow was nothing short of sheer lunacy.

The Trotskyist opposition got entangled in this hopeless contradiction because:

(i) it confused bourgeois-democratic revolution in China with a proletarian revolution,

(ii) it confused the bourgeois-democratic revolution in China with the bourgeois-democratic revolution of February 1917 in Russia, which rendered it blind to the distinction between the bourgeoisie of an oppressed, semi-colonial country, which can, for a limited period of time, play, and did play, a progressive and anti-imperialist role, with the bourgeoisie of an imperialist country such as Russia which could not, and did not, play a progressive role.

Summing up:

the line of the Comintern and the line of the Trotskyist opposition

Here is Stalin’s apt summary of the two lines on the Chinese Revolution.

And so, we have before us two entirely different lines on the Chinese question – the line of the Comintern and the line of Trotsky and Zinoviev.

The line of the Comintern

“Feudal survivals, and the bureaucratic-militarist superstructure which rests upon them and which receives every support from the imperialists of all countries, are the basic fact of Chinese life today.

“China at the present moment is passing through an agrarian revolution directed both against the feudal survivals and against imperialism.

“The agrarian revolution constitutes the basis and content of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in China.

“The Kuomintang in Wuhan and the Wuhan government are the centre of the bourgeois-democratic revolutionary movement.

“Nanking and the Nanking government are the centre of national counter-revolution.

The policy of supporting Wuhan is at the same time a policy of developing the bourgeois-democratic revolution, with all the consequences resulting from that. Hence the participation of the Communists in the Wuhan Kuomintang and in the Wuhan revolutionary government, a participation which does not exclude, but rather presupposes strenuous criticism by the Communists  of the half-heartedness and vacillation of their allies in the Kuomintang.

“The Communists must utilise this participation to facilitate the proletariat’s role of hegemon in the Chinese bourgeois-democratic revolution, and to hasten the moment of transition to the proletarian revolution.

When the moment of the complete victory of the bourgeois-democratic revolution approaches, and when, in the course of the bourgeois revolution, the paths of transition to the proletarian revolution become clear, the time will have arrived when it is necessary to set up Soviets of workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ deputies, as elements of a dual power, as organs of struggle for a new power, as organs of a new power, Soviet power.

“When that time comes the Communists must replace the bloc within the Kuomintang by a bloc outside the Kuomintang, and the Communist Party must become the sole leader of the new revolution in China.

To propose now, as Trotsky and Zinoviev do, the immediate formation of Soviets of workers’ and peasants’ deputies and the immediate establishment of dual power now, when the bourgeois- democratic revolution is still in the initial phase of its development, and when the Kuomintang represents the form of organisation of the national-democratic revolution best adapted and most closely corresponding to the specific features of China, would be to disorganise the revolutionary movement, weaken Wuhan, facilitate its downfall, and render assistance to Chang Tso-lin and Chiang Kai-shek.

The line of Trotsky and Zinoviev

“Feudal survivals in China are a figment of Bukharin’s imagination. They either do not exist at all in China, or are so insignificant that they cannot have any serious importance.

“There does appear to be an agrarian revolution in China at this moment. But where it comes from, the devil only knows (laughter).

But since there is this agrarian revolution, it must, of course, be supported somehow.

“The chief thing just now is not the agrarian revolution, but a revolution for the customs independence of China, an anti-customs revolution, so to speak.

The Wuhan Kuomintang and the Wuhan government are either a ‘fiction’ (Trotsky) or Kemalism (Zinoviev).

“On the one hand, dual power must be established for overthrowing the Wuhan government through the immediate formation of Soviets (Trotsky). On the other hand, the Wuhan government must be strengthened, it must be given energetic and all round assistance, also, it appears, through the immediate formation of Soviets (Zinoviev).

“By rights, the Communists ought to withdraw immediately from this ‘fiction’, i.e. in the Wuhan government and the Wuhan Kuomintang. Why they should remain in Wuhan if Wuhan is a ‘fiction’? That, it seems, God alone knows. And whoever does not agree with this, is a betrayer and a traitor [my emphasis - HB]

“Such is the so-called line of Trotsky and Zinoviev.

“Anything more grotesque and confused than this so-called line it would be hard to imagine.

One gets the impression that one is dealing not with Marxists but with some sort of bureaucrats who are completely divorced from real life – or, still more, with ‘revolutionary’ tourists, who have been busy touring about Sukhum and Kislovodsk and such-like places, overlooked the Seventh Enlarged Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, which defined the basic attitude towards the Chinese revolution and then, having learned from the newspapers that some sort of a revolution – whether agrarian or anti-customs, they were not quite clear – was really taking place in China, they decided that it was necessary to compile a whole heap of theses – one set in April, another in the early part of May, a third in the latter part of May – and having done so, they bombard the Executive Committee of the Comintern with them, apparently believing that a plethora of confused and contradictory theses is the best means of saving the Chinese revolution [my emphasis - HB].

Such, comrades, are the lines on the question of the Chinese revolution.

You will have to choose between them”.

Trotskyism chooses “inappropriate moments” to launch attacks on the communist movement

Comrade Stalin ended his speech with the following words:

I must say, comrades, that Trotsky has chosen an inappropriate moment for his attacks on the Party and the Comintern. I have just received information that the British Conservative government has decided to break off relations with the USSR. There is no need to prove that this will be followed by a universal campaign against the Communists. This campaign has already begun. Some are threatening the CPSU(B) with war and intervention. Others threaten it with split. Something like a united front from Chamberlain to Trotsky is being formed” [my emphasis - HB].

“It is possible that they want to frighten us. But it scarcely needs proof that Bolsheviks are not the sort to be frightened. The history of Bolshevism knows plenty of such ‘fronts’. The history of Bolshevism shows that such ‘fronts’ have invariably been smashed by the revolutionary determination and supreme courage of the Bolsheviks.

“You need have no doubt that we shall succeed in smashing this new ‘front’ too” (Applause).

Trotskyism had a long history of choosing inappropriate moments to launch attacks on Leninism – on Bolshevism.   It did this regularly from 1905 onwards all the way through to the 1920s and 1930s.

Reasons for the opposition’s mistakes: Tactics

In addition to its bankrupt programme concerning the prospect of the Chinese Revolution, the Opposition proved equally bankrupt on matters of tactics.

The first tactical principle of Leninism: consider the nationally peculiar features of a given country

Chinese poster of Stalin's portrait

Chinese poster of Stalin's portrait

Confusing the Chinese Revolution with the Russian Revolution, the opposition came up with the slogan in April 1926: No alliance with the Chinese bourgeoisie, when in the Canton Period the Chinese bourgeoisie played a progressive role and the national army reached Yang Tse, thus extending the revolutionary area enormously.

As a result of these victories, the opposition retreated, renounced its old formula and adopted a ‘new’ one, that is, the CPC must not withdraw from the KMT – that was the first punishment that befell the opposition for failing to take into account the national peculiarities of the Chinese revolution.

A second example: The opposition did not understand that the Chinese revolution was anti-imperialist, precisely because imperialism inspired, preserved and supported the immediate (feudal) exploiters of the Chinese people.  When tens of million of peasants became involved in the mass agrarian movement directed against feudalism and imperialism, the opposition was once again forced to admit that it had been wrong and retreat. This was the second punishment that befell the opposition.

A third example: In China the merchant bourgeoisie were buying land and leasing it to the Chinese peasantry.  Since the merchant was not a feudal lord, the opposition came out with a ready-made formula that feudalism and feudal survivals were of no consequence, that the Chinese Revolution was not an agrarian revolution directed, first and foremost, against feudalism, but a revolution for customs autonomy.  The opposition forgot that it was feudalism that exploited the Chinese people, that the entire military-bureaucratic structure in China rested on the domination of feudal survivals. Again, in consequence of mass participation if tens if millions of peasants in the anti-feudal and anti-imperialist struggle, the opposition had to retreat.  That was the third punishment that befell the opposition.

As Stalin commented “Disharmony between formulas and reality – such is the lot of the oppositionist pseudo-leaders” (my emphasis – HB).

The second tactical principle of Leninism: the question of allies

The proletariat cannot do without allies. But these allies must be mass allies, who do not prevent the proletariat from organising itself independently, who do not prevent the communist party from organising the proletariat and the broad masses of peasants, and rousing them to revolution, who would not in any way restrict its propaganda.

Subject to these conditions, the proletariat must avail itself of every opportunity to gain for itself a mass ally, even if such a mass ally is a temporary, weak, vacillating, unstable and an unreliable ally.  Such is the essence of the second tactical principle of Leninism.  Did the Chinese proletariat have such allies? Yes, it did.

In the first stage of the revolution (the Canton Period – the period of an all-nation United Front), these allies were: (i) the national bourgeoisie; (ii) the urban poor; (iii) the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, and (iv) the peasantry.

During this period, the KMT was a mass organisation and a revolutionary force.  At that time Canton was the centre of revolutionary struggle against imperialism.

What were the achievements of this period? The achievements of this period were:

(1) The extension of the territory of the revolution: the revolutionary troops reached as far as the Yangtze;

(2) The Chinese proletariat got a chance of openly organising itself. The CPC gained the possibility of openly organising the proletariat in trade unions, strike-committees, etc;

(3) The Chinese communists were able to form themselves from different groups into a mass party of five or six thousand people;

(4) The Chinese proletariat was able to create the first nuclei of the peasants’ organisations, the peasants’ associations; and

(5) The CPC was able to penetrate into the Army.

For the CPC, which at the time was a relatively small force, these were enormous gains.

On 12 April 1927, the national bourgeoisie deserted the revolution and established a counter-revolutionary centre in Nanking.  At this point in time the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia sided with the revolution, and a revolutionary centre was set up in Wuhan.

In this period the allies of the proletariat were: (i) the peasantry; (ii) the urban poor, and (iii) the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia.  It would have been wrong during this period, when the left-wing of the KMT had not yet disgraced itself, to have withdrawn from the Wuhan KMT; Wuhan at this time was the centre of the revolution.

The gains of the Wuhan period were:

(1) The Communist Party, from being an insignificant party of 5,000 to 6,000 members became a party comprising 50,000 or 60,000 members

(2) Trade unions grew into a tremendous force and they came to include 3 million members;

(3) Peasants’ organisations expanded to include several tens of millions of peasants in them;

(4) The Communist Party gained the possibility of openly organising the revolution;

(5) The Communist Party and the proletariat began to change from just being an insignificant factor into the hegemon of the Chinese Revolution. It became the most important factor of the revolution, rallying around itself the masses of the Chinese people.

Such were the achievements of this period.

A correct policy cannot by itself guarantee victory

When the Wuhan Kuomintang, when the left Kuomintang, deserted the revolution, the Trotskyist opposition started saying that this was because the Communist International had followed a wrong policy. But a correct policy cannot by itself guarantee victory. What is required for success to be achieved is not only a correct policy, but also a favourable balance of class forces. If the forces of reaction are stronger, the revolution may be defeated even though it is guided by a correct policy. One thing, however, is certain: for success to be achieved, in addition to a favourable balance of class forces, a correct policy, a correct programme and tactics, are necessary.

This is what Stalin had to say on the question under consideration:

The opposition ascribes the temporary defeat of the revolution [in China - HB] to the Comintern’s policy.”  But “only people who have broken with Marxism can say that. Only people who have broken with Marxism can demand that a correct policy should always and necessarily lead to immediate victory over the enemy” (Stalin: Notes on Contemporary Themes – China, ‘Pravda’, July 28th 1927)

And further:

A correct policy is by no means bound to lead always and without fail to direct victory over the enemy. Direct victory over the enemy is not determined by correct policy alone: it is determined first and foremost by the correlation of the class forces, by a marked preponderance of strength on the side of the revolution, by disintegration in the enemy’s camp, by a favourable international situation.

Only given those conditions can a correct policy of the proletariat lead to direct victory.

But there is one obligatory requirement which a correct policy must satisfy always and under all conditions. That requirement is that the party’s policy must enhance the fighting capacity of the proletariat, multiply its ties with the labouring masses, increase its prestige among these masses, and convert the proletariat into the hegemon of the revolution.

Can it be affirmed that this past period has presented the  maximum favourable conditions for the direct victory of the revolution in China? Clearly, it cannot.

Can it be affirmed that Communist policy in China has not enhanced the fighting capacity of the proletariat, has not multiplied its ties with the broad masses, and has not increased its prestige among these masses? Clearly, it cannot.

Only the blind could fail to see that the Chinese proletariat has succeeded in this period in severing the broad masses of the peasantry both from the national bourgeoisie and from the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, so as to rally them around its own standard” (Stalin, ibid; my emphasis – HB).

Owing to the correct policy pursued by the CPC during this period, its ties with the broad masses and its prestige among them increased enormously.  Even the Trotskyist opposition, during this period, declared that it was correct for the CPC to pursue the policy of a revolutionary bloc with the Wuhan KMT.

But as soon as Wuhan deserted the revolution, and because of this desertion, the opposition began to assert that the policy of a bloc with the Wuhan KMT was incorrect and sought to attribute the temporary defeat of the Chinese Revolution to the policy of the Comintern, thus showing its spinelessness, its break with Marxism and departure from the second tactical principle of Leninism – the need for the proletariat to secure for itself mass allies.

The third tactical principle: the question of educating the masses

This concerns the question of educating the masses; the question of how a slogan for the party can become a slogan for the masses. How must the communists lead the masses to  revolutionary positions, so that they (the masses) become convinced by their own political experience of the correctness of the Party’s slogan? How must the Communist Party lead the masses in order to turn a formula, a perspective for the immediate future, into a formula as a slogan of the day? How must the communists really act? This is of particular importance.

Trotskyites will always tell you “we were the first to tell you that the national bourgeoisie will desert”. Comrades, it isn’t a question of playing a game, it is not a question at all of who was the first one to tell us that the national bourgeoisie will desert. That is absolutely stupid. The question is what policy you advocate at a given particular time – a policy which is suited to the situation, and which neither runs too far ahead of the masses, nor lags behind them. If you are issuing a slogan long before the masses will accept it then it isn’t good enough for you at a later date to say that you were the first one to issue that particular slogan.

The communist party must see further than the masses, but at the same time it must not run far ahead of them.  If the communist party follows the tactics of perpetually overshooting or undershooting, such tactics cannot be called long-range tactics; these are haphazard tactics.

The conception of the United Front advocated

The opposition never tired of referring to a single telegram sent by the Comintern in October 1926, which said: “Until Shanghai is captured, the agrarian movement should not be intensified”.

This telegram was wrong and Stalin admitted that it was.  And the Comintern cancelled it within five weeks of its despatch.

The facts need to be noted in regard to this telegram:

1. It was the Communist International and Stalin who were responsible for cancelling this telegram and not the opposition;

2. The first time the opposition ever raised this matter of the telegram, was nine months after this telegram had actually been cancelled.

This telegram was an isolated, episodic affair; completely uncharacteristic of the line impressed on the CPC by the Comintern.

The line of the Comintern is contained in a number of well known documents which are conveniently ignored by the Trotskyite and other falsifiers of history.

In these the Comintern calls upon the CPC to “consolidate its alliance with the peasantry”, to “put forward a radical agrarian programme” and to identify itself “with the agrarian revolution”.

Here is an excerpt from the resolution (a document which really defines the line of the Comintern) of the Seventh Plenum of the Comintern, in November 1926, that is a month after the above- mentioned telegram:

The peculiar feature of the present situation is its transitional character, the fact that the proletariat must choose between the prospect of a bloc with considerable sections of the bourgeoisie and the prospect of further consolidating its alliance with the peasantry. If the proletariat fails to put forward a radical agrarian programme, it will be unable to draw the peasantry into revolutionary struggle and will forfeit its hegemony in the national liberation move-ment” (‘Resolution of the Seventh Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International’) (my emphasis – HB).

And further:

The Canton People’s Government will not be able to retain power in the revolution, will not be able to achieve complete victory over foreign imperialism and native reaction until the cause of national liberation is identified with the agrarian revolution” (my emphasis – HB).

Allow me to quote some passages from the speech that Stalin made in November of the same year – 1926. Stalin’s speech was published under the heading The prospects of the revolution in China. It is this speech, and not the above telegram, which is characteristic of the line of Stalin and that of the Comintern on the Chinese Revolution.

Here is what Stalin said in his speech:

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.”

And further:

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 underestimation 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?” (Stalin: The Prospects of the Revolution in China).

Here is a third document of December 1926 which was sent to the CPC by the Communist International:

A general policy of retreat in the towns and of curtailing the workers’ struggle to improve their conditions would be wrong. The struggle in the countryside must be extended, but at the same time advantage must be taken of the favourable situation to improve the material conditions and legal status of the workers, while striving in every way to lend the workers’ struggle an organised character, which precludes excesses or running too far ahead. Special efforts must be exerted to direct the struggle in the towns against the big bourgeoisie and, above all, against the imperialists, so as to keep the Chinese petty bourgeoisie and middle bourgeoisie as far as possible within the framework of the united front against the common enemy. We regard the system of conciliation boards, arbitration courts, etc., as expedient, provided a correct working-class policy is ensured in these institutions. At the same time we think it necessary to utter the warning that decrees directed against the right to strike, against workers’ freedom of assembly, etc., are absolutely impermissible”.

Here is a fourth document issued six seeks before Chiang Kai-shek’s coup:

The work of the Kuomintang and the Communist units in the army must be intensified; they must be organised wherever they do not now exist and it is possible to organise them; where it is not possible to organise communist units, intensified work must be conducted with the help of concealed communists.

“It is necessary to adopt the course of arming the workers and peasants and converting the peasant committees in the localities into actual organs of governmental authority equipped with armed self-defence, etc.

“The Communist Party must everywhere come forward as such; a policy of voluntary semi-legality is impermissible; the Communist Party must not come forward as a brake on the mass movement; the Communist Party should not cover up the treacherous and reactionary policy of the Kuomintang Rights, and should mobilise the masses around the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party on the basis of exposing the Rights.

The attention of all political workers who are loyal to the revolution must be drawn to the fact that at the present time, in connection with the regrouping of class forces and concentration of the imperialist armies, the Chinese revolution is passing through a critical period, and that it can achieve further victories only by resolutely adopting the course of developing the mass movement. Otherwise a tremendous danger threatens the revolution. The fulfilment of directives is therefore most necessary than ever before” (Stalin: About China, the International Situation and the Defence of the USSR, 1927, CW Vol X).

In fact, as early as April 1926, a year before the coup staged by the Kuomintang Rights and Chiang Kai-shek, the Comintern had warned the Chinese Communist Party, and pointed out that it was necessary to work for the “resignation or expulsion of the Rights from the Kuomintang”.

The above documents clearly reveal the Comintern tactics of a United Front against imperialism during the first stage – the Canton period – of the Chinese Revolution, when the revolution was striking its blows chiefly at foreign imperialism, and when the national bourgeoisie found itself in the revolutionary camp and supported the revolutionary movement.

All these documents were known to the opposition, but it carefully avoided mentioning them.  As Stalin said: “Why does it [the opposition] say nothing about them [the above documents]?  Because its aim is to raise a squabble, not to bring out the truth” (Speech to a Joint Plenum of the Central Committee of the Central Control Commission of the CPSU, 1 August 1927).

Stalin went on to refer to the February- March 1926 Sixth Plenum of the Comintern at which a unanimous resolution was passed, and which gave approximately the same estimate of the first stage of the Chinese Revolution (the Canton period) as given by the Comintern, which the opposition repudiated a year later.  Zinoviev voted for this resolution, and not a single member of the CC of the Comintern, not even Trotsky, Kamenev or other leaders of the opposition, objected to it.

The second stage of the Chinese Revolution: the Wuhan period

The opposition was to assert that the Comintern had failed to warn the CPC of the possible desertion of the left Kuomintang to the side of counter-revolution.  This assertion is refuted by two documents of May 1927, in which the Comintern impressed on the CPC the need to develop the agrarian revolution systematically; to organise eight or ten divisions of revolutionary peasants and workers with absolutely reliable officers; to organise and intensity disintegrating activities in the rear and in Chiang Kai-shek’s units; and to draw in new peasant and working-class leaders into the CC of the KMT, in order that their bold voices may stiffen the backs of the old leaders or effect their removal.

Dependence upon unreliable generals must be eliminated. Mobilise about 20,000 communists, and about 50,000 revolutionary workers and peasants from Hunan and Hupeh, form several new army corps, use the students at the officers’ school as commanders and organise your own reliable army before it is too late. If this is not done there is no guarantee against failure. It is a difficult matter, but there is no alternative.

Organise a Revolutionary Military Tribunal headed by prominent non-communist Kuomintangists. Punish officers who maintain contact with Chiang Kai-shek or who incite the soldiers against the people, the workers and peasants.  Persuasion is not enough. It is time to act.  Scoundrels must be punished. If the Kuomintangists do not learn to be revolutionary Jacobins they will perish so far as the people and the revolution are concerned” (see Stalin’s speech of 1st August 1927) (Stalin’s emphases).

Summation of the Errors of the Opposition

At this stage, it would be extremely useful to sum up the errors of the Trotskyist opposition on the question of the Chinese Revolution in the following words of Stalin:

The chief mistakes of the opposition are:

“(1) The opposition does not understand the character and prospects of the Chinese Revolution;

“(2) The opposition sees no difference between the revolution in China and the revolution in Russia, between revolution in colonial countries and revolution in imperialist countries;

“(3) The opposition is departing from Leninist tactics, on the question of the attitude to the national bourgeoisie in colonial countries at the first stage of the revolution;

“(4) The opposition does not understand the question of the Communists’ participation in the Kuomintang;

“(5) The opposition is violating the principles of Leninist tactics on the question of the relations between the vanguard (the party) and the rearguard (the vast masses of the working people);

“(6) The opposition is departing from the resolutions of the Sixth and Seventh Plenums of the Executive Committee of the Communist International”.

Continues Stalin:

The opposition noisily brags about its policy on the Chinese question and asserts that if that policy had been adopted the situation in China today [i.e. August 1st, 1927 - HB] would be better than it is. It scarcely needs proof that, considering the gross mistakes committed by the opposition, the Chinese Communist Party would have landed in a complete impasse had it adopted the anti-Leninist and adventurist policy of the opposition [my emphasis - HB].

The fact that the Communist Party of China has in a short period grown from a small group of five or six thousand into a mass party of 60,000 members; the fact that the CPC has succeeded in organising nearly 3,000,000 proletarians in trade unions during the period; the fact that the CPC has succeeded in rousing the many millions of the peasantry from their torpor and in drawing tens of millions of peasants into the revolutionary peasant associations; the fact that the CPC has succeeded during this period in winning over whole regiments and divisions of national troops; the fact that the CPC has succeeded during this period in converting the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat from an aspiration into a reality – the fact that the CPC has succeeded in a short period in achieving all these gains is due, among other things, to its having followed the path outlined by Lenin, the path indicated by the Comintern.

Needless to say, if the policy of the opposition, with its mistakes and anti-Leninist line on questions of colonial revolution, had been followed, these gains of the Chinese revolution would either not have been achieved at all, or would have been extremely insignificant.

Only ‘ultra-left’ renegades and advent-urers can doubt this” (ibid) (my emphasis – HB).

Defeats of 1927 mainly due to opportunism of the Chen Tu-hsiu clique

The CPC’s successes and failures closely related to whether or not it adhered to the line of the Comintern and of Stalin.

Headed by the notorious Chen Tu-hsiu, the CPC at the time failed to deepen the agrarian revolution and thoroughly expose the KMT right.

Soon after the defeats of 1927, Chen Tu-hsiu was defeated, after which he made an unsuccessful attempt to launch a Trotskyist movement in China, and on 10 December 1929 made a statement that it was necessary to “work undeviatingly on the side of the international opposition led by Comrade Trotsky”.

As to the defeats of 1927, which were due to the failure of the CPC, under his leadership, to carry out the policy advocated by the Comintern and Stalin, he attempted to whitewash his own opportunist role and blame Stalin for it with this malicious slander:

“I [Chen Tu-hsiu], whose understanding was not sufficiently clear, whose opinion was not sufficiently resolute, deeply mired in the atmosphere of opportunism, sincerely supported the opportunist policy of the Third International. I unconsciously became an instrument of the narrow Stalin faction; I did not have an opportunity to develop; I could not save the party; I could not save the revolution…”.

The malicious lies in the above statement are refuted not only by the subsequent victorious path traversed by the Chinese Revolution under the brilliant leadership of Mao Zedong, but also the following statement which the Executive Committee of the CPC issued on 7 August 1927 by way of self-criticism.

The Communist International has repeatedly instructed the CPC to fight for the improvement of the material conditions of the working masses. … At the same time, the Communist International points out that it is necessary to arm the workers speedily, boldly and resolutely, especially those elements which are most class-conscious and best organised. … But the leading organ of our Party has developed a different course. It has simply hindered and minimised the class struggle and the revolutionary actions of the workers. Instead of spreading and promoting strike movements, the Central Committee, together with the leaders of the Kuomintang, decided on an arbitrary method of mediation and ruled that the final authority belonged to the government. Under the government of a coalition of classes, led at this first stage by the bourgeoisie, this kind of policy actually served merely to protect the interests of the bourgeoisie and greatly obstructed the workers’ movement. …

The agrarian revolution is the crux of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in China. The Communist International has repeatedly explained itself concerning this question.

The relation between the Party and the Communist International was also not in accordance with accepted organisational procedure. There has never been a case in the history of the Communist International where the instructions and resolutions were actually rejected in such a critical situation. This was no longer merely a simple breach of discipline, but a criminal act against the Chinese and International Communist movement. … The Chinese Communist Party not only carried out an erroneous policy, a policy that brought the revolution to defeat, that voluntarily liquidated the revolution and capitulated to the enemy, but also would not admit its errors and obey the instructions of the Communist International…” (my emphasis – HB).

The truth contained in the above statement of the CPC is further corroborated by the following extract borrowed from the pamphlet, Stalin and the Chinese Revolution, by Chen Po-ta:

The Chen Tu-hsiu opportunism of 1927 was precisely opposed to this dialectical analysis [of the character of the Chinese Revolution, according to which the Chinese Revolution was of an anti-feudal as well as an anti-imperialist nature - HB] by Stalin. The Chen Tu-hsiu opportunism later merged with counter-revolutionary Trotskyism. This is well known and will not be dwelt on further.”

The opportunists in the CPC went so far as to suppress Stalin’s writings on the Chinese Revolution. “Both in 1927 when Chen Tu-hsiu was in power and afterwards, the opportunists either intentionally or unintentionally obstructed the dissemination inside the Chinese Party of Stalin’s many works on the Chinese question” (Chen Po-ta, ibid).

It should be pointed out in this connection that during the twenty-odd years since 1927, the errors of both Right and ‘Left’ opportunism which occurred within our party were usually, in the first place, violations of this dialectical analysis by Stalin regarding the nature of the revolution, by overlooking either the anti-imperialist or the anti-feudal aspect” (Chen Po-ta writing in 1949, ibid).

During the ten-year civil war period, the ‘left’ opportunists, forgetting the anti-imperialist character of the Chinese Revolution, opposed the policy of joining the anti-imperialist united front.

However, during the Resistance to Japanese aggression, these ‘left’ opportunists transformed themselves into right opportunists, coming to hold views akin to those held by Chen Tu-hsiu.  They failed to realise the decisive significance of deepening the agrarian movement.

Stalin had precisely these people in mind when he said that:

I know that there are … 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”.

They forgot the Leninist teaching of Stalin that “the anti-imperialist front in China will become stronger and more powerful, the sooner and more solidly the Chinese peasantry is drawn into the revolution”.

They advocated giving up the leadership of the proletariat.  They “saw only the bourgeoisie”  and failed to see a future victory of the people’s democratic revolution and that of socialism. They forgot the Leninist teaching of Stalin and of the Comintern on the Chinese Revolution that “the role of the initiator and leader of the Chinese Revolution, the role of the leader of the Chinese peasantry must inevitably fall to the Chinese proletariat and its party”.

Mao Zedong applied the Comintern line to China

It is indeed the great merit of Mao Zedong that he fought courageously against the ‘Left’ and Right opportunist deviations within the CPC; that he fought for the implementation of the Leninist policy advocated by the Comintern and by Stalin; that he delivered crushing blows at the dogmatists and the Rightists in the Chinese Party; and above all, that, he, in a most creative way applied the Comintern line to the situation in China and in so doing further developed it to a still higher stage. It was this skilful integration, by the CPC, under the brilliant leadership of Mao Zedong, of the line of the Comintern with the concrete practice of the Chinese Revolution which, among other things, led to the success of the Chinese Revolution.

Under the brilliant leadership of Comrade Mao Zedong, the CPC never for a moment ignored either the anti-imperialist or the anti-feudal aspect of the Chinese Revolution. While carrying out its task of leading the peasantry in the agrarian revolution, it never missed an opportunity of broadening the anti-imperialist front of the Chinese Revolution by forming a national united front, thereby also overcoming the isolation of the agrarian revolution. The formation in 1937 of the anti-imperialist front at the insistence of the CPC was a culmination of the brilliant tactics of the CPC under the wise leadership of Comrade Mao Zedong.

The fact that the Chiang Kai-shek bandits were forced to agree to a united front with the Communist Party in order to wage the War of Resistance of the Chinese people against Japanese aggression was a brilliant victory for the line of Mao Zedong, for the line of Stalin and that of the Comintern. It was at the same time a refutation of the counter-revolutionary nonsense of the Trotskyites.

It is also the great merit of Mao Zedong that under his leadership, the CPC avoided the mistakes of the 1927 period and firmly upheld the principle of the independence of the Communist Party within the Anti-Japanese United Front as well as the principle of rousing the peasantry to revolution.  The CPC, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, fought against the dogmatists when they opposed the formation of the United Front and advocated “overthrowing everybody”. Comrade Mao Zedong addressed the dogmatists thus:

You cannot overthrow those in power, so you want to overthrow those who are not in power. They are already out of power, yet, you still want to overthrow them.”  

The CPC also fought against the dogmatists when, during the War of Resistance against Japan, the latter swung over to advocating “unity with everybody”.

So, it was by following the correct Marxist-Leninist line in regard to the nature of the Chinese Revolution and in the matter of tactics that the CPC, under the correct leadership of Comrade Mao Zedong, was able to lead the Chinese people successfully to achieve the People’s Democratic Revolution and then pass over to achieve socialism in China.

Had the counter-revolutionary jumble, advocated by the Trotskyite opposition, been followed by the CPC, it would certainly have meant either the victory of imperialism or the establishment of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in China. It could on no account result in the establishment of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry under the leadership of the proletariat, leading in course of time to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

To those who sow dissension between the lines of Mao Zedong and of Stalin

There are many Trotskyites, as well as those who are not Trotskyites, who assert that there were fundamental differences between Comrade Stalin and Comrade Mao Zedong; that Stalin did not render any assistance to the Chinese Revolution and that he tried his best to betray the cause of the liberation of the Chinese people. In view of these persistent slanders and misrepresentations, I find it necessary to conclude my speech this afternoon with a few remarks that Comrade Mao Zedong made in a speech delivered by him on December 20th, 1939, on the occasion of the 60th birthday of Stalin. This is what he said:

However, there are friends of another kind, friends who have real sympathy with us and regard us as brothers. Who are they? They are the Soviet people and Stalin.

No other country has renounced its privileges in China; the Soviet Union alone has done so.

All the imperialists opposed us during our First Great Revolution; the Soviet Union alone helped us.

No government of any imperialist country has given us real help since the outbreak of the War of Resistance Against Japan; the Soviet Union alone has helped China with its aviation and supplies.

Is not the point clear enough?

Only the land of socialism, its leaders and people, and socialist thinkers, statesmen and workers can give real help to the cause of liberation of the Chinese nation and the Chinese people, and without their help our cause cannot win final victory.

Stalin is the true friend of the cause of liberation of the Chinese people. No attempt to sow dissension, no lies and calumnies, can affect the Chinese people’s whole-hearted love and respect for Stalin and our genuine friendship for the Soviet Union”. (Mao Zedong: Selected Works).

No comment is necessary. These remarks of Comrade Mao Zedong, the leader of the victorious Chinese Revolution, are more than sufficient to refute the campaign of lies of the open, and hidden, Trotskyites, who have been doing their best to “sow dissension” and cause confusion, who have been trying their best to represent the revolutionary line of Mao Zedong as being different from the revolutionary line of Stalin; these remarks are more than sufficient to refute the slanderous propaganda, of ‘friends’ and enemies alike, against Stalin.

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2 responses to “Stalin and the Chinese Revolution

  1. I think that it interesting for everyone who (like me) has tried to study on the Chinese revolution. The best book on this is, I think: The morning deluge of Han Suyin. The only problem is that Han Suyin had not the time to really study on what was happening in the SU and the advices that came from the CPSU (and were tied to the person of Stalin by her) Those “advices” were sometimes contradictionarry…. and sometimes Han Suyin gave critic…. to Stalin, were probably an “advice” had come out of the SURROUNDINGS of Stalin….. perhaps Trotsky…
    But with your information it becomes clear that IN the socalled “advices of Stalin” there was ALSO a struggle between two lines (simplified you can say the line of Stalin against that of Trotsky). A second fact is that the socalled 28 communists that have studied in the SU, and tried to put their view on the CPC (with the claimed authority of Stalin behind them, so they were sometimes called “stalinistes” by Han Suyin, in the critique of Mao upon them) had in fact conceptions that were closer to….. Trotsky.

  2. Stalin has a multitude of critics. Much of the criticism is based on allegations — anti-Semitism, engineered famine in the Ukraine, etc. — which are simply lies. But what has always struck me as the strongest clue pointing a revolutionary to look past the lies is the consistent correctness of what Stalin wrote.

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