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Vol. 74/No. 1      January 4, 2010

Lessons from the
1925-27 revolution in China
(Books of the Month column)
Printed below is an excerpt from Leon Trotsky on China, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for January. In articles and letters compiled in this book Trotsky explains that the 1925-27 revolutionary upsurge in China opened the possibility for working people in that country to take political power and follow the road of the October 1917 revolution in Russia. Trotsky was a central leader of the Bolshevik Revolution. But the revolt in China was crushed by Chiang Kai-shek and his bourgeois and landlord allies. A central cause of the defeat was the disastrous course of Joseph Stalin in subordinating the Chinese Communist Party to an alliance with the capitalist Nationalist Party (Kuomintang). Trotsky sought to lead a fight against this course as the piece below, written on Sept. 27, 1926, explains. Copyright © 1976 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

Facts and documents from the political life of China in the recent period provide an absolutely indisputable answer to the problem of further relations between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang. The revolutionary struggle in China has, since 1925, entered a new phase, which is characterized above all by the active intervention of broad layers of the proletariat, by strikes and the formation of trade unions. The peasants are unquestionably being drawn into motion to an increasing degree. At the same time, the commercial bourgeoisie, and the elements of the intelligentsia linked with it, are breaking off to the right, assuming a hostile attitude toward strikes, communists, and the USSR.

It is quite clear that in the light of these fundamental facts the question of revising relations between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang must necessarily be raised. The attempt to avoid such a revision by claiming that national-colonial oppression in China requires the permanent entry of the Communist Party in the Kuomintang cannot stand up under criticism. At one time, the Western European opportunists used to demand that we Russian Social Democrats should work in the same organization not only with the Social Revolutionaries but also with the “Liberationists” on the grounds that we were all engaged in the struggle against tsarism. On the other hand, with regard to British India or the Dutch Indies, the very question of the Communist Party entering the national-revolutionary organizations does not arise. As far as China is concerned, the solution to the problem of relations between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang differs at different periods of the revolutionary movement. The main criterion for us is not the constant fact of national oppression but the changing course of the class struggle, both within Chinese society and along the line of encounter between the classes and parties of China and imperialism.

The leftward movement of the masses of Chinese workers is as certain a fact as the rightward movement of the Chinese bourgeoisie. Insofar as the Kuomintang has been based on the political and organizational union of the workers and the bourgeoisie, it must now be torn apart by the centrifugal tendencies of the class struggle. There are no magic political formulas or clever tactical devices to counter these trends, nor can there be.

The participation of the CCP in the Kuomintang was perfectly correct in the period when the CCP was a propaganda society which was only preparing itself for future independent political activity but which, at the same time, sought to take part in the ongoing national liberation struggle. The last two years have seen the rise of a mighty strike wave among the Chinese workers. The CCP report estimates that the trade unions during this period have drawn in some 1.2 million workers. Exaggeration in such matters is of course inevitable. Moreover, we know how unstable new union organizations are in situations of constant ebb and flow. But the fact of the Chinese proletariat’s mighty awakening, its desire for struggle and for independent class organization, is absolutely undeniable.

This very fact confronts the CCP with the task of graduating from the preparatory class it now finds itself in to a higher grade. Its immediate political task must now be to fight for direct independent leadership of the awakened working class—not of course in order to remove the working class from the framework of the national-revolutionary struggle, but to assure it the role of not only the most resolute fighter, but also of political leader with hegemony in the struggle of the Chinese masses.

Those who favor the CCP’s remaining in the Kuomintang argue that “the predominant role of the petty bourgeoisie in the composition of the Kuomintang makes it possible for us to work within the party for a prolonged period on the basis of our own politics.” This argument is fundamentally unsound. The petty bourgeoisie, by itself, however numerous it may be, cannot decide the main line of revolutionary policy. The differentiation of the political struggle along class lines, the sharp divergence between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, implies a struggle between them for influence over the petty bourgeoisie, and it implies the vacillation of the petty bourgeoisie between the merchants, on the one hand, and the workers and communists, on the other. To think that the petty bourgeoisie can be won over by clever maneuvers or good advice within the Kuomintang is hopeless utopianism. The Communist Party will be more able to exert direct and indirect influence upon the petty bourgeoisie of town and country the stronger the party is itself, that is, the more it has won over the Chinese working class. But that is possible only on the basis of an independent class party and class policy.  
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