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As the Chinese revolution approached in the mid-1920s, Stalin’s leadership of the Comintern imposed on the young Chinese Communist Party a policy of subordination to the bourgeois Guomindang, thus stifling the Chinese Communists’ ability to bring together the workers and peasants under the banner of social revolution. In Part Two, Daniel Morley looks at the background to this situation.
As the Chinese revolution approached in the mid-1920s, Stalin’s leadership of the Comintern imposed on the young Chinese Communist Party a policy of subordination to the bourgeois Guomindang, thus stifling the Chinese Communists’ ability to bring together the workers and peasants under the banner of social revolution. In Part Two Daniel Morley looks at the background to this situation.

A relatively short span of time transpired between the first capitalist development in China and the maturing of the conditions for social revolution. In contrast, in Britain, where the working class first developed, almost exactly two hundred years passed between the bourgeois revolution of Cromwell and the beginning of the Chartist movement, the first working class movement in the world.

A further ten years transpired before the theory of Marxism was expressed in the Communist Manifesto, which was the first time that historical materialism, a scientific understanding of the class struggle, and the task of the working class to consciously overthrow capitalism and initiate a plan of production, was explicitly set forth.

In the meantime, the nascent working class was accumulating experience, developing class consciousness and forming the first trade unions. Many methods and ideas were tried out, including Luddism, which was a historical dead end. Innumerable anonymous proletarians sacrificed themselves in struggle before mass trade unions and mass working class parties that could fight for power could be formed. When the working class in the cities were still new and relatively numerically weak, the theories and experiments of utopian socialism were the only way in which the need for socialism could be expressed. Literally hundreds of years of these experiences had to be passed through before the ideas of Marxism could be formulated and fought for.

But the lessons of the history of the working class movement are global in their application, for the very reasons that were explained in Part One – the shared interests of the working class the world over, the interconnectedness of their struggle thanks to being tied through the same world market, and therefore the general validity of the most effective methods of struggle. These lessons can be, with an international leadership, quickly adopted in colonial or developing countries at their highest point of development. This is the essential task of Marxist theory and leadership – to generalise the global experiences of the working class and concretely apply them in specific conditions. That there is no need in such countries to repeat the mistakes and experiments once they have been made elsewhere is proven by the whole experience of the Chinese revolution and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Despite being more economically backward than Russia in 1917, not only did China go through no period of utopian socialism or reformism, it never even experienced a peasant revolutionary party in the style of the Russian Narodniks. Instead, almost as soon as the working class moved, they came to the ideas of Bolshevism, thanks to the existence of the very recent Russian Revolution.

Chen DuxiuChen DuxiuThe aid of the Comintern was absolutely essential in getting a real disciplined Bolshevik organisation capable of leading class struggle off the ground. Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao were not from working class backgrounds and had no experience of strikes or revolutions. Chen Duxiu was from a family of wealthy government officials and was now a university professor, Li Dazhao was from a peasant background. In fact, when the CCP was formed, the whole of China had little experience of strikes or open class struggle, and the experiences of Europe and other countries were only just beginning to be discussed. That the revolution was started by workers only four years after the founding of the CCP shows there was no time to waste for the party charged with leading the working class to power, and thus a substitute for decades of experience and debate had to be found. This substitute was of course the material and theoretical aid of the Comintern:

“Visits began in the summer of 1919, when a member of the Russian Communist Party, N. Burtman, who had been forced to take refuge in Tianjin, established contact with Li Dazhao... Over the next year, a number of other Russian émigrés called on Li Dazhao and others interested in Marxism. By late 1919, official Comintern representative had begun to arrive in China... Voitinski met with Chen, explaining to him the basic structures and purpose of a Chinese Communist party and helping him draft a programme for it. With Comintern assistance, Chen was able to construct the first official Communist cell, and in May 1920 he established a provisional Central Committee for the new Communist party... Even before the arrival of the Comintern representatives, Chen had taken steps to form a loose, new political party based on what he had assumed to be Marxist principles. But these Comintern representatives were important in helping Chen to reorganise the party and gradually build a Leninist style organisation, convincing him in 1921 to expel the anarchist elements from the party... In spite of his commitment to the idea of a Bolshevik-style organisation, it is clear that Chen was at first too naive about Leninist organisation to be able to organise the party without Voitinski’s help.” (Feigon, Chen Duxiu, our emphasis)”

Tasks equal in greatness to those carried out by the Bolsheviks fell onto the CCP four years after its founding, whereas the Bolsheviks had fully 19 years to prepare. For this reason the Chinese revolution depended on the leadership of the Comintern. As the above quote indicates, Chen Duxiu’s instinct was to form a more loosely organised party comprising many disparate elements. No doubt left to themselves such an organisation would have been a poll of attraction and would have played an important role in the coming revolution. But without a clearly defined perspective on what was to take place in China (a working class led revolution) and what tasks would fall on the revolutionary party as a result, it is likely that the nascent CCP would have lagged behind the mass of revolutionary Chinese workers. Indeed, as we shall see, this did in the end happen, although not because the CCP was isolated but precisely the opposite – because of an erroneous leadership imposed onto the party by Stalin. But the importance of the disciplined party, with a clear, implacable revolutionary position, was only really grasped in Europe by Lenin as a result of decades of experience and discussion in that continent. So it is unsurprising that Chen Duxiu should not instantly come to such a conclusion based purely on his own experiences.

The Independence of the Working Class

The need for a disciplined, professional revolutionary party flows from the need for the proletarian party to be completely independent of other classes. History has shown that there is a constant tendency for the leadership of workers’ parties to come under pressure from the bourgeois and petty bourgeoisie, and as a result to become reformist, to give up the struggle against capitalism. To combat this tendency what is needed is a disciplined cadre of committed, conscious revolutionaries. Tragically, it was precisely this lesson of Leninism which was to be forfeited by the Comintern precisely when the CCP needed it most.

The Chinese working class could not wait for the CCP to develop itself into the necessary instrument for taking power. We have already explained how the mass protests in 1919 involved mass strike action by the workers for the first time, and they got a taste of their own power by successfully freeing gaoled protestors. The May 30th Movement of 1925, which marks the ‘official’ beginning of the revolution of 1925-7, was like a more intense rerun of the movement of six years previously. In other words, the second Chinese Revolution was started by the working class. Militant strikes had been taking place at a Japanese owned cotton mill in 1925 in Shanghai. One of the Japanese foremen shot dead a protestor. During the mass student solidarity demonstrations that followed, British police shot at and killed several protestors, sparking off a massive nationwide anti-imperialist conflagration. The floodgates were opened, and over the next few months demonstration after demonstration and strike after strike shook China. The imperialists and their puppet government knew not what to do, so furious and comprehensive was the revolt, and several more shootings like the ones on May 30th followed. The working class was from the very beginning at the forefront of this militancy, a fact of enormous social significance and one that should have reminded leaders of the Comintern of the victorious Russian Revolution that brought them to power.

“In May 1922 the first national labour conference met in Guangzhou under the leadership of the triumphant seamen. The conference was attended by delegates of 230,000 union members... The labour movement grew with astonishing speed and militancy. On May Day 1924, in Shanghai, 100,000 workers marched through the streets and twice that number marched in Guangzhou... It is obvious that by the time the Kuomintang was reorganised in 1924, workers in China had already begun to organise themselves in a movement marked by its independent spirit and militancy... G. Voitinski reported at the time that the delegates ‘gave a cold and dubious reception to the declaration of the responsible representative of the Kuomintang, who called upon the workers to form a united front with the peasants and intellectuals, but not under the hegemony of the proletariat’.” (Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution)

The “hegemony” or leadership of a class in society is dependent on its social strength determined by its relationship to the means of production. By this time the Chinese working class was no doubt still numerically small, but had an enormous social weight, first of all in its essential economic role in carrying out the work in all the key areas of the economy – transport, manufacturing, extraction of raw materials and energy, and secondly in its ability to develop a consciousness of this power, an ability which was clearly realised by 1925 in the form of mass unions and militant strike activity that was largely victorious. Marxists do not measure a class’s political power and role from a moralistic standpoint, nor with some sort of arithmetical calculus which would automatically declare the most numerous class as the rightful ruling class. Instead we measure it by its objective economic strength in society. As the events of 1925-7 will show, the Chinese working class was already extremely powerful despite its small size. This social fact has remained the case in China ever since.

Ultimately, any class which is capable of wielding power and transforming society in accordance with its interests must manifest this capability in a powerful political party. But it is not sufficient to have a political party that some individual has merely given the abstract name of the class, rather the class in question, the working class, must see and understand that party as its own and express itself through such a party on a mass scale. Only then is the party really worthy of the name. In that case such a proletarian party has gigantic potential power; it is the mightiest leaver with which to change society. All that is then required is for the working class and its leadership to be conscious of this fact.

Looking at the facts it should be clear that by 1925, the Chinese working class was sufficiently economically strong to lead the revolution, for as we shall see their strikes had a decisive impact on society at that time. But it was also sufficiently conscious and politically organised to carry through the tasks of the revolution, i.e. to take power itself, rather than merely to support another class in its endeavours. For the Chinese Communist Party, with the publicly self-declared goal of leading the working class to take power and overthrow capitalism, and its open association with the Russian Revolution, had already gained a mass following and played a decisive role in establishing and leading the very unions that were organising the working class. According to Peng Shuzhi, “by the time the revolution had reached its greatest height (March-April 1927) the CCP had in fact become a mass party... it lead three million organised workers and fifteen million organised peasants.” Its own membership numbered in the hundreds of thousands only a few years after its founding. The combination of these factors, with the addition of the world’s first workers’ state with its powerful Communist International on the Chinese border, should have assured the victory of the second Chinese Revolution in 1925-7 as a workers’ revolution.

Incidentally, this experience of sudden, dramatic revolutionary developments in a country with no previous proletarian revolutionary or even reformist tradition is very instructive today, and not just for China. There is a constant and tedious chatter on “the left” about the parlous state of the very same official “left” the world over. The apparent disappearance of working class traditions and the electoral weakness of the workers’ parties are constantly drawn attention to as proof that no serious revolutionary movement may again occur. Yet not only is it an exaggeration to say these traditions have gone – indeed in many respects the working class has a greater awareness of its rights than ever before – but this fails to address the question as to how these traditions were created in the first place?

This period of Chinese history is extremely instructive on this matter. There was an explosive combination of revolutionary events elsewhere, a global crisis of imperialism (WWI), and the rapid creation of a new, urban and super-exploited class in sharp opposition to the anachronistic compradore bourgeois/landlord class. The objective necessity to better their conditions, and the perception of intolerable injustice engendered by imperialist occupation, forced the new working class to clash violently with the ruling class. It is these unavoidable clashes, historic events, which are the turning points in history after which all else is changed. One has to speak of China “before” and China “after” the 1920s. Unfortunately for the present bourgeois, the intolerable contradictions of capitalism the world over are evidently reaching the point at which dramatic events and class conflict are no longer postponable, and these events will serve to renew militant traditions and consciousness in a big way. Indeed, they already are.

A Revolutionary Policy

Thus the leadership of the working class in the Chinese Revolution by the early 1920s was fairly evident. Of course it is natural that the mass of these politically inexperienced workers would, despite their newfound militancy, tend to look to the “big names” of the bourgeois republican nationalist movement, such as Sun Yat Sen, for leadership in this outbreak of anti-imperialist struggle in 1925.

LeninLeninIn the beginning of all revolutions there is an optimistic striving for unity with all the various progressive forces in society. It is only after these initial experiences that a polarisation then takes place, as the working class, unsatisfied with changes in personnel at the top, or the promise of coming elections, begins to place its own more radical demands on the agenda. As soon as the revolution begins there is an embryonic split in the movement along class lines.

For instance, in the case in question, the revolution was first set in motion by workers on strike. Although it is true that the new trade unions were already being organised by the CCP and not the Guomindang, their demands were generally formally acceptable to the bourgeois Guomindang leadership – simple economic demands for a shortening of the working day, union recognition, and political demands for national sovereignty.

However, the methods used by trade unions betrayed their class character, a class just as much in contradiction with the burgeoning Chinese capitalists and foremen as with the foreigners. Strikes would not be welcomed by otherwise “anti-imperialist” Chinese businessmen, to the extent that such nationalist businessmen even existed. With foresight of the inevitable coming split along class lines within the nationalist movement, the CCP could have lead the more uncompromising toiling masses away from a compromising bourgeois leadership that would, as we shall see, come to betray the nationalist movement.

Lenin’s awareness of this class logic within the anti-imperialist movements lead him to lay down the following formula for the Communist International’s strategy in the colonial world,

“With regard to the more backward states and nations, in which feudal or patriarchal and patriarchal-peasant relations predominate, it is particularly important to bear in mind:

“[...] the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations. The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even if it is in its most embryonic form.” (Lenin, Draft Theses on the Colonial and National Questions, presented to the Second Comintern Congress 1920)

Thus according to the programme of the Comintern under the leadership of Lenin, the overarching strategy of the CCP should have been to participate in the national movement under the leadership of the Guomindang only on condition that the party maintain its independence. It must freely criticise the Guomindang, and prepare always for the day when the CCP would be strong enough to openly oppose the Guomindang. As soon as the CCP was strong enough to do so, the Guomindang would quit the revolution precisely in order to make a pact with the imperialists to attack the too powerful CCP. As we have said, the Chinese bourgeois would always have more to fear from their own aroused working class than from British imperialism. At least with the latter in power they could retain some of their privileges. And finally, the CCP must not give the Guomindang a “communist colouring”, allowing the latter to fool the masses as a “friend” of the people. All this is exactly in accordance with the founding principles of the CCP as quoted in the previous part.

In reality, even this programme of the Comintern, which was of course not written for China but the colonial world in general, does not apply exactly to the details of China in 1925. For one could not really describe this revolution as “bourgeois democratic”, being led from the beginning as it was by the CCP, or at least the unions it helped create, and being carried out with working class methods in the towns and peasant-insurrectionist methods in the countryside.

Although they were linked with the Guomindang, which was the more well-known party, the peasant organisations were from the start more influenced by the working class than the merchants, “On May Day 1925, the 2nd National Labour Conference and the 1st Provincial Assembly of the Peasant Association took place simultaneously in Guangzhou... the delegates paraded jointly, together with thousands of Guangzhou workers and farmers who poured into the city from the countryside” (Isaacs, op cit.). Yes, immediately preceding the revolution in 1924, the Guomindang did manage to use the rising tide of the masses as a base to take control of Guangzhou, and yes, in the eyes of most workers and peasants, probably both the CCP and the Guomindang were to be supported as anti-imperialist. But considering that its membership ran into the hundreds of thousands, and had organised millions of workers, there was never really any need for the CCP to play second fiddle to the Guomindang, even if it was, as Lenin outlined, only to prepare itself for ultimately breaking with the Guomindang.

This was indeed the attitude of Chen Duxiu and the other original leaders of the CCP. “Chen... insisted that the Guomindang was the party of the bourgeoisie.” (Feigon, op cit.). So what was the problem?

Peaceful Coexistence

The source of the problem lay outside China’s borders. The necessary internationalism of the socialist revolution works both ways – on the one hand, the emergent working class in the colonial world needed the speedy material help and experience of the Russian working class for their own liberation, but on the other hand, the victorious Russian proletariat desperately needed to export its revolution or suffer its degeneration in isolation. The Russian working class needed the victory of the German (and later the Chinese) working class to assist in the building of socialism. Since the German revolution was defeated in 1918 and 1923, the German working class could offer no assistance. It is no coincidence that only one year after this German defeat, Stalin’s bureaucratic power began to consolidate itself and expressed his theory of “socialism in one country”.

Joseph StalinJoseph StalinThere is no time here to go into a lengthy explanation of how the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) abandoned Bolshevik methods and programme. Trotsky was of the opinion that in the mid 1920s Stalin’s policy was not to consciously betray or destroy revolutions elsewhere. Rather the outlook of “socialism in one country” expressed an inherent bureaucratic need to seek so-called “peaceful coexistence” with the powerful capitalist states. From the narrow point of view of preventing an immediate attack from the imperialists, of course seeking to appease them is the obvious answer. But the very existence of a successful revolution and planned economy was anathema to imperialism, especially one so disease ridden as European imperialism was in the first half of the twentieth century, such that no amount of compromising could avert their attempts to destroy the USSR. This is proven by the German invasion of Russia even after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, as well the whole of the Cold War.

Furthermore, the whole existence of the Soviet Union and Russian Revolution should have been directed to the realisation of world revolution, the only thing that could build socialism in Russia. The conservative aim to simply maintain the existence of the Soviet Union and, most importantly, the power and privileges of its bureaucracy, was not only insufficient for realising world revolution, but directly harmful to that cause. The Russian bureaucracy, in establishing diplomatic relations and trade treaties with bourgeois nations, came to know only their own counterparts in those countries, namely the bureaucracies of bourgeois states. It follows necessarily that consciously aiding a revolutionary struggle of the toiling masses against the various bourgeois states would have a deleterious effect on relations with said bourgeois states. For this reason Stalin inverted Lenin’s formula of Internationalism, of the subordination of the USSR’s interests to those of the world revolution, into the subordination of the interests of the world revolution to those of the USSR (and its most immediate interests at that). Stalin began to use the Communist parties affiliated to the Comintern, such as the CCP, as mere tools of Soviet diplomacy with the West.

“In China, the line was directed toward a rapprochement with the ‘solid’ leaders, based on personal relations, on diplomatic combinations, while renouncing in practice the deepening of the abyss between the revolutionary or leftward developing masses and the traitorous leaders. We ran after Chiang Kai-shek [leader of the Guomindang by mid 20s] and thereby drove the Chinese communists to accept the dictatorial conditions put by Chiang Kai-shek to the Communist party.” (Trotsky, Chinese Revolution and Theses of Stalin)

These are the reasons, entirely external to China and the CCP, that the Stalin/Zinoviev line for the Chinese Revolution contradicted Lenin’s theses on work in colonial revolutions, directly contradicted Chen Duxiu’s view of the Guomindang and the whole experience of its role during the 1911 revolution. In spite of everything, the Stalin controlled Comintern was to continually order from 1923 onwards that the CCP and the working class could play no leading role in the coming revolution, could at best offer an auxiliary to the Guomindang and the Chinese bourgeoisie, and that the CCP must do everything in its power to join the Guomindang and convince the working class and peasantry of the Guomindang’s necessary and progressive role. All this was designed to persuade the bourgeoisie that the CCP presented them with no danger whatsoever in the hope that such friendly relations would win the USSR an ally in China.

Stalin’s leadership of the Comintern was too short sighted to understand the class dynamics of Chinese society, too short sighted to spot the signs that the Chinese working class would impress its own methods of strike action onto the revolution irrespective of Comintern pleadings. Blinded by his desire for a “respectable” ally in the form of the Guomindang, he could not understand that the militancy of the Chinese workers would inevitably drive the Chinese bourgeoisie away from the striking working class and the CCP and into the hands of the imperialists, barring any possibility of a meaningful Comintern/Guomindang alliance. Having embarked on this bureaucratically driven policy, Stalin would cling to it rather than cave in and admit that Trotsky and the CCP’s own leadership were right for the sake of his own prestige.

The Revolutionary Policy Betrayed

Grigory ZinovievGrigory ZinovievIt is in no way an exaggeration to say that the source of the eventual bureaucratic degeneration of the CCP, including its present role in managing Chinese capitalism, is to be exclusively found in the bureaucratic degeneration of the Comintern. We have already outlined how without the leadership of the Comintern under Lenin and Trotsky, the creation of a healthy, democratic CCP clearly committed to overthrowing capitalism would not have taken place in 1921. Nevertheless, having been established, there is no doubt that this party, under the leadership of Chen Duxiu and committed to leading a socialist revolution in China, would not have taken the contradictory step of suddenly capitulating to the perspective of merely aiding a bourgeois national revolution were it not for the imposition of the bureaucratised Comintern.

This is proven by the opposition within the CCP to Stalin’s perspective of joining the Guomindang. Because of Chen Duxiu’s and others’ opposition to that erroneous perspective, the Comintern had to eventually force out the founding leadership and install an anti-democratic regime in the CCP to mirror that in the CPSU, creating an atmosphere of intolerance mixed with deference to the USSR. The party moved from having yearly conferences, a leadership freely elected from the membership and an open atmosphere of democratic discussion focused on the tasks at hand, to one of intrigues from Moscow, mass expulsions of those associated with the Left Opposition in Russia (many young CCP comrades were sent to Moscow to study, as a result of which a very large proportion joined or were sympathetic to Trotsky’s Left Opposition) and ignorance of the national and international situation as Moscow deliberately withheld from the CCP information that would contradict its line. At one point the CCP underwent 17 years without a conference!

“Most of the leaders of the CCP had only the sketchiest understanding of theory... the result was that Moscow did their thinking for them... But unfortunately those doing the thinking were no longer Lenin and Trotsky, who had brought the [Russian] revolution to fruition, but Stalin, who had betrayed it. Although Trotsky and his fellow thinkers had a strategy which could have led the Chinese Revolution to victory, their views were suppressed by the Stalinists, who advanced what amounted to a Menshevik line for China.” (Wang Fanxi, Chinese Revolutionary)

The freedom to criticise is inadmissible to the maintenance of any leadership whose existence is directly contrary to the needs of the party.

Peng Shuzhi, a participant in these events, describes the process whereby Chen Duxiu and the entire CCP leadership’s resistance to the new Guomindang policy was overcome:

“Just as the CCP was determining its policy toward the Chinese revolution at its Second Congress, the Communist International made a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn in its policy... In early August 1922, Maring arrived at Shanghai and, after meeting with Sun Yat Sen [i.e. the Comintern met with the leader of an opposing party over the heads of the CCP leadership], asked the CCP Central Committee to call a special meeting at which instructions from the Comintern would be discussed. These instructions were: CCP members were to join the Guomindang as individuals... all those in attendance at this meeting opposed this proposal, the main reasons being: the Guomindang represents the interests of the bourgeoisie.” (Peng Shuzhi, Introduction to Leon Trotsky on China)

Naturally the basis for an international leadership of the revolutionary movement is not the identity of conditions in each and every country, but rather the unity of the world economy through difference. The wealth and power of developed capitalist nations is not repeated elsewhere, but is precisely the precondition for the poverty and weakness of undeveloped nations. The one depends on the other. It is because of the specific conditions in various parts of the world that a genuinely revolutionary international leadership must take into account the experiences and points of view of the respective sections of the International, rather than arrogantly ignore them. Bureaucratically imposing a line onto a national section that does not agree will only damage that section and the International as a whole.

If it were the case that the CCP’s anti-Guomindang instincts were wrong (and they weren’t), the Comintern leadership should have respected the delicate condition of this new party and opened a democratic, friendly discussion on the matter with the CCP. Above all, despite their inexperience, no one could have known what the real situation on the ground was better than the Chinese communists, “domestic factors are, in the last analysis, decisive. We must base our fundamental orientation on the development of these internal forces.” (Trotsky, Problems of our policy with respect to China and Japan).

Instead they went behind their backs, essentially striking a deal with the Guomindang, and used this done deal as well as the prestige of the Comintern leadership to twist the young CCP’s arm into agreeing. “Since Chen Duxiu expressed this opposition when he attended the Fourth Comintern Congress, the chairman of the Comintern, Zinoviev, formally raised the question for discussion in the RCP Politburo in early January 1923. Except for Trotsky, all the others, such as Stalin, Zinoviev, and Bukharin, approved having CCP members join the Guomindang” (Peng Shuzhi, op cit.).

That they felt the need to use such underhand tactics betrays a lack of confidence in their own position. The resolution that came out of this meeting also expressed a criminal lack of confidence in the Comintern’s own section in China, compromising the whole purpose of the CCP as an independent party of the proletariat from the start:

“The only serious national-revolutionary group in China is the Guomindang, which is based partly on the liberal-democratic bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie... since the independent workers’ movement in the country is still weak... still being insufficiently differentiated as a wholly independent social force, the ECCI [executive committee of the Communist International] considers it necessary that action between the Guomindang and the young CCP should be coordinated.”

The agreed terms of this “coordination” were not at all equal, the CCP comrades having to join the Guomindang as individual members but were denied the right to criticise its leadership. So the Comintern was not only ignoring the fact that the workers’ movement was already independent and the strongest progressive force in society at that time, but was also producing a self-fulfilling prophecy – by tethering the CCP to a bourgeois party, gagging the former in the process, their strategy could only serve to prevent the CCP and workers’ movement from gaining the necessary independence and strength. Despite their correct misgivings the CCP submitted to the discipline of the Comintern leadership and embarked on the policy of Guomindang cooperation.

The Struggle for a (Bourgeois) Revolutionary Party

When a revolutionary party is being built, enormous attention must be paid to the education of its first layers of membership, to prepare them for the enormous tasks of the future but also so that they can carry out the painstaking work of party building itself, which requires a lot of time and patience. However, the effect of the policy of seeking greater participation with the Guomindang under the understanding that the CCP could not hope to lead the revolution and that it must instead merely pressurise the Guomindang into carrying out the bourgeois national revolution, was inevitably the neglect of the building of the CCP and an abdication of responsibility towards leading the workers’ movement.

Mao Zedong ca 1920Mao Zedong ca 1920Under the pressure of the Comintern, Chen Duxiu retrenched his earlier views regarding the Guomindang, saying that “cooperation with the revolutionary bourgeoisie is the necessary road for the Chinese proletariat.” Mao Zedong, at this point a young Central Committee member, expressed the party’s newfound hope that the bourgeoisie would take the lead that the CCP was so kindly giving them:

“This revolution is the task of the people as a whole. The merchants, workers, peasants, students should all come forward to take on the responsibility for a portion of the revolutionary work; but because of the historical necessity and current tendencies, the work for which the merchants should be responsible in the national revolution is both more urgent and more important than the work that the rest of the people should take upon themselves... The merchants are the ones who feel these sufferings most acutely and most urgently.” (Mao Zedong, quoted in Peng Shuzhi, op cit.)

This characteristic of pleading with the bourgeoisie, urging it to fulfil its “historical role”, signifies that the bourgeoisie was not playing this role, was shirking the coming revolution. If they were leading a struggle against imperialism, the natural thing to do would be to organise independently to place demands on them, not cheer them on from the rear. In truth it was the CCP and the workers’ movement that were at the forefront, and so it was necessary for them to issue a request that the bourgeois might take its rightful role at the head of the revolution now that all else was in place, like the sounding of the intermission bell calling theatre goers to take their seats. In the classical national bourgeois revolutions, the task of leadership naturally fell to the bourgeoisie since there was no organised working class to speak of. Here we have the farce of an organised, militant working class denying itself in the hope that the revolution may thereby retain its bourgeois character!

So the CCP chased after the Guomindang instead of building its own forces.

“Mao Zedong, a standing member of the Central Committee and organisational secretary, put all of his time into propaganda work for the Shanghai executive headquarters of the Guomindang and completely abandoned organisational work for his own party... In other provinces and cities, such as Hunan, Hupei, Sichuan, Beijing, and Tianjin, all CCP cadres worked hard to reorganise the Guomindang and directly took over the party’s work... thus putting a stop to the organisational work of the CCP. The workers’ movement was forgotten, even to the point of disbanding the CCP’s labour secretariat!” (Ibid)

Why was it necessary to do this? Surely this party which was to inevitably lead the revolution could organise itself? According to Gregor Benton, the first hand experience of the Chinese communists, experience which the Comintern should have sought out and listened to, taught them that the Guomindang was “’dead’ even in the early 1920s” (Benton, China’s Urban Revolutionaries). So weak was this famous party, that “early in 1924... Guomindang branches in most places came under Communist control” (Zheng Chaolin, Chen Duxiu and the Chinese Trotskyists). Only this “control” was purely organisational, i.e. not political, since the CCP, operating under the illusion of Guomindang revolutionary strength, used their work and influence in the party not to win over more people to a Marxist programme, but to win the approval of its leadership. In doing so they inevitably propped up that tottering leadership, gave it a life line and bought it time with which to reorganise in order to attack the labour movement it so feared.

Although the Guomindang leadership must have welcomed the material aid (with no strings attached!) from the Comintern, they maintained a class hatred for the communists in their own country (Sun Yat Sen explicitly states “it was not Chen Duxiu’s but Russia’s idea to befriend us”) and always strove for a deal with the West, just as they had in WWI in the hope of regaining Shandong Province, “since the Communist Party joined the Guomindang... all its propaganda against British, American, French, and Japanese imperialism has served to undermine the Guomindang’s international image... and that [propaganda] against militarism has served to destroy any chance for cooperation between the Guomindang and powerful internal forces.” (Chang Chi et al., quoted in Peng Shuzhi, op cit.).

So the CCP chased after the Guomindang, and the Guomindang chased after the militarists and imperialists, i.e. the sworn enemies of any change in the status quo! Truly, perceived dependence upon others has always been the greatest weakness of the global labour movement.

In this way, the CCP went from having the most promising of beginnings to finding itself criminally unprepared for the revolution. One can only imagine the confusion and demoralisation this process must have had on its membership as they struggled to make sense of and implement the Comintern’s mad policies. What could have been the world’s second successful proletarian revolution was as a result doomed from the very start.