As the Chinese Communist Party gathers for its 18th Congress, we look back at the 1925-27 revolution, which was a heroic attempt of the Chinese workers to follow in the footsteps of the October 1917 Russian Revolution. However, due to its unprepared and irresolute leadership, it went down to a tragic defeat. Failed revolutions are always the greatest of tragedies. However, the only way of really honouring the many victims of the counter-revolution that ensued is to study the revolution and learn from its mistakes.
The Development of Chinese Trotskyism and the Heavy Price of the Failed Revolution
It was in fact the heroic defeats of the Paris Commune and the 1905 Russian revolution that created the Bolshevik leadership capable of leading the working class to power in 1917. Marxists therefore could not allow themselves to be lost in despair over the defeat of 1927.
The task for the temporarily defeated Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was to “know how to cling to every ledge, to hold tenaciously to every point of support so as not to tumble down and be smashed” (Leon Trotsky, The Chinese Question after the 6th Congress, 1928). In other words, to hold on to its best cadres and to absorb the harsh lessons of the defeat in order to emerged strengthened once the proletariat had recovered.
The Development of Trotskyism in China
But what was unprecedented about the failure of the Chinese revolution was the new factor of the Stalinised Communist International, whose heavy hand strangled the internal life of its affiliates throughout the world. Because of this the necessary process of free internal debate, self-criticism and reorientation was artificially restricted from without, leading to an enormously distorted development for the Chinese Communist Party. But the need to change course and to understand the tragic mistakes of the party had to take place in some form.
It did so with a dual character; the bulk of the party, remaining under Moscow’s dictatorship, was destined to suffer from the demoralising experience of constant changes in and purges of the CCP’s leadership. Moscow always blamed the local leadership for each and every defeat to prevent the party from understanding the real causes of failure - the opportunism of the Moscow bureaucracy. This confusing process was destined to lead to the development of Maoism, that is the transfer of the party’s base from the working class to the peasantry, since the inability to learn the real lessons of 1927 made it impossible to ‘cling to every ledge, to hold tenaciously to every point of support’ in the cities.
However, a minority of the party, despite its immense numerical and financial weaknesses, and with all of the Comintern bureaucracy aimed against it, took onboard the need for the party to bravely and honestly tell the truth to the Chinese Communists. They understood and explained that Stalin was to blame for the fundamentally false strategy of subordination to Chiang Kai-shek; that the defeat this engendered was so severe that it would take many years for the proletariat and the labour movement to recover; and that consequently it was necessary for the CCP to soberly adapt its slogans and strategy to the new, counterrevolutionary epoch. The ultimate truth was that the Marxists of China and the world had to wage a struggle in the Communist movement against the disease of Stalinism.
These were the Chinese Trotskyists.
Students in Russia
As counterrevolution began to engulf the CCP in the course of 1926 and 1927, many of the most promising young Chinese cadres were ‘exported’ into safety in Russia. There they were enrolled in the Communist University of the Toilers of the East (KUTV), which had been set up in 1921 to quickly train up cadres from the emerging Communist movement in Asia. During this period the university was headed by Karl Radek, who was an open Trotskyist and leading member of the Russian Left Opposition. He used his position amongst the Chinese students there to enrich Trotsky’s analysis of the situation in China and the errors of Stalin’s policy. He convinced wider and wider layers of these students of the correctness of the Left Opposition and the need to form a Chinese Left Opposition to combat the fatally erroneous line imposed by Moscow. The fact that he was able to do so for two years (he was expelled from his position in mid 1927) indicates that at this point the Stalinist bureaucracy had not yet conquered total control of the Russian party.
Nevertheless the weight of this bureaucracy was already suffocating, and the likes of Radek and Trotsky were swimming against a very strong stream. Thus the main reason for the success of Radek in recruiting a large layer of these students to Trotsky’s ideas was the students’ own experience, both of the falsity of Stalin’s line for China and of life in Russia itself.
Wang Fanxi, who would later go on to become a leading Chinese Trotskyist, saw the reality of Stalin’s Russia with his own eyes. Up until this point, as was the case with almost all Chinese Communists, he was blissfully unaware of the struggle being waged between revolution and counterrevolution inside the Russian Communist Party, and quite naturally assumed that Stalin was the rightful leader of Russian and world Leninism in whose hands the Chinese revolution was guaranteed.
But as he describes, immediately upon setting foot in Siberia, on his way to Moscow for the first time, Wang was forced to realise that something was unsettlingly wrong about the real Russia,
“We Chinese students occupied two sleeping compartments on the train [to Moscow]. Each compartment had an orderly to look after and keep an eye on the passengers...Ours was a middle-aged ex-Red Army man. He was agreeable and open towards us, and he looked after us very well. We became friends immediately, and he volunteered to teach us the Russian alphabet. We got on fine with him until one morning when we were sitting round in a circle, pencils in hand, practising the Russian alphabet. One of us traced out the word ‘Stalin’ in Russian. Our teacher took one look and turned away without saying anything. One of us gave him the thumbs-up sign and said: ‘Stalin! Stalin! Korosho! (good!)’. We were all grinning at our Russian friend, expecting him to react as enthusiastically as we did. To our astonishment, he stubbed out his cigarette, spat contemptuously and held up his little finger, saying ‘Eto, eto! (this one!),’ red in the face with anger. Then he raised his thumb and said ‘Trotsky! Trotsky! Khorosho!’ After that he stormed out into the corridor, where we could hear him muttering away angrily in Russian.” (Wang Fanxi, Chinese Revolutionary)
Throughout these memoirs Wang recounts the series of unexpected and shocking experiences he and many other Chinese students went through in Russia. Speeches were attended in which Trotsky and Trotskyism were denounced in the usual reassuring manner, only to be interrupted by sizeable sections of the audience screaming ‘liar!’ and ‘shame!’ and storming out. He recounts witnessing with giddy anticipation the momentous celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution in 1927, whose enthusiastic welcoming of the Chinese revolutionaries such as himself moved him to tears, only to later discover that a Left Oppositionist counter-demonstration had been broken up, demonstrators arrested and Trotsky’s car shot at. He describes a film screening of Eisenstein’s October, in which “every time Trotsky or Stalin appeared on the screen the audience erupted. Some clapped their hands and cheered, while others whistled and stamped their feet...In this battle of decibels, the support for Trotsky was at least as loud as, if not louder than, the support for Stalin...My own admiration for Trotsky dated from the showing of that film” (Ibid).
The intense experience of these heady days, thrown as they were from a failing revolution in one country into the tumult of a climaxing struggle between revolution and counterrevolution in another country, the ‘home of revolution’ in their eyes, must have challenged every preconception these young revolutionaries had. But on its own the correctness of the arguments of the Russian opposition were not enough to convince Wang and others. It was that in combination with witnessing the process in China, where all of Stalin’s arguments and his ‘revolutionary strategy’ were thoroughly, mercilessly exposed by the unforgiving realities of history. The events in China forced Wang and the other Chinese students in Russia to let go of their attachment to Stalin. Whereas “hundreds of the Chinese among [various foreign students at KUTV] became Trotskyists; of the thousands of non-Chinese, only a handful did.” (Gregor Benton, China’s Urban Revolutionaries, 1996, p22).
Thus when news filtered through that Chiang Kai-shek had staged a counterrevolutionary coup in Shanghai in April 1927, the embryonic interest in Trotskyism as an alternative to Stalinism amongst these Chinese students rapidly crystallised into a well organised, disciplined underground organisation of Chinese Left Oppositionists in Moscow. (Ibid, p21)
“By the Summer of 1928, most of the Chinese students in Moscow - including nine out of ten of those who had studied at KUTV - reportedly sympathised with the Trotskyists...In the early Autumn of 1928, a dozen or so Trotskyists held a secret meeting and elected three (or five) of their number to form a committee to support the Opposition.” (Ibid, p24).
These students took advantage of their close proximity to one another and to far more experienced Russian Left Oppositionists to quickly raise their understanding of Marxism and to try to gasp the fundamental problems of the Chinese revolution. However, by 1929 much of the group had been exposed to the authorities, and most Chinese students, oppositionist or not, were being sent back to Chiang Kai-shek’s China anyway. Before leaving, this group of relatively consolidated Trotskyists agreed to what was a broadly correct and non-sectarian strategy for work in the extremely difficult conditions in China, which were as follows:
1. When we returned to China we should stay in the CCP and thereby prove ourselves to be good Communists. We reasoned that it was only by establishing ourselves as brave fighters, and by winning the respect and confidence of our fellow Party members through our part in the actual revolutionary struggle, that we could earn the right to put forward our views and win support for them...We therefore decided that in our actions we would abide by party discipline and obey the decisions of the majority, while in ideological or political discussions we would criticise the wrong tactical and strategic decisions adopted by the Sixth Congress of the CCP [...]
2. Since we still considered ourselves to be a faction of the CCP, and saw our task as rectifying the mistakes in the Party caused by the dominant influence of Stalinism, we did not intend to form a new political party.” (Wang Fanxi, op cit., pp95-6)
Chen Duxiu and the Development of Trotskyism Within China
Those green, promising young Chinese communists won to the cause of Trotskyism in Russia owed a great deal of their political and ideological development to their Russian experience, and thanks to this many of them would go on to play leading roles in the Chinese Left Opposition later on. However, as this was taking place a parallel development took place amongst many of the leading, more experienced cadres within China, including the founder of the party, Chen Duxiu. These comrades lacked the time and space for the development of their grasp of Marxist theory which those like Wang Fanxi were lucky enough to have. They also lacked Wang Fanxi’s and others experience of regular discussions with experienced Russian Bolsheviks. But Chen Duxiu more than made up for this with direct experience in leading the Communist Party of China and the immense political and moral authority he held amongst Chinese communists and youth.
The history of Chinese Trotskyism is sadly neglected and even repressed, thanks to the extraordinarily unfavourable circumstances they found themselves in. It is clear that the Chinese Left Opposition and latterly the Chinese section of the Fourth International were not well integrated into the world Trotskyist movement, and the assumption many have is that Trotskyism in China barely ever existed, the movement there being dominated by Maoism. These people will be shocked to learn that not only did this Left Opposition win significant numbers from the CCP - “most of the workers’ branches of Shanghai were won over to the Left Opposition” (Peng Shuzi, The Causes of the Victory of the Chinese Communist Party over Chiang Kai-Shek, and the CCP’s Perspectives, 1951) - but they even won the founder of the CCP, China’s most famous and respected revolutionary, Chen Duxiu.
Chen had originally always classified the Guomindang as the party of the Chinese bourgeoisie, and along with many others, was consistently opposed to working in it. In 1929 Chen referred to five occasions in which he moved resolutions opposing work inside the Guomindang; every single time Moscow overruled the leader of the Chinese Communist Party.
But documented history never got in the way of Stalin before, so why should it in China? Since Chiang Kai-shek’s April coup forced Moscow to recognise the very fact that they had been denying for the past 4 years, that is the bourgeois and counterrevolutionary character of the Guomindang, a way had to be found to ‘discover’ that a gross error had been made in supporting the Guomindang all this time. This had to be ‘discovered’ in such a way that showed that Stalin was the victim of this crazy policy, rather than its chief advocate. So in the time-honoured methods of Stalinism, Chen Duxiu, despite the fact that he had led the calls to leave the Guomindang from day one but had been overruled by none other than Stalin, was found to have been recklessly pursuing an opportunist policy toward Chiang Kai-shek in open defiance of Moscow. That is to say that the very opposite of the truth was declared.
Thus an emergency conference to remove Chen was called for August 7th 1927, but not by the Central Committee or any other body of the Chinese Communist Party, but by the Comintern in Moscow (Conrad Brandt, Benjamin Schwartz & John K. Fairbank, A Documentary History of Chinese Communism, 1959, p98). Ambitious young leaders of the party such as Qu Qiubai (who was to be the new leader following Chen’s removal), Zhou Enlai and Li Lisan worked with Moscow to support these endeavours and to help in the campaign within the party to slander Chen as solely responsible for the previous opportunism. The Moscow bureaucracy needed to recruit a new layer to lead the party, and of course this presented problems for them, since this latest manoeuvre was such a blatant act of falsification. It needed leaders prepared not only to follow orders from Moscow, but also willing to accept and repeat blatant lies. Those stepping up to the task had to be prepared to do this since those sticking the knife into Chen were guiltier than he of the sin of opportunism:
“What remains to be noted here is the implementation of this policy [of opportunism towards the Guomindang] by some of the very men who now posed as its opponents. On the Party level, the orders to restrain the peasant rebellion in 1927 had been issued by Qu Qiubai, then head of the Peasant Bureau of the CCP Central Committee. Similarly, the ‘cowardly and irresolute leading organ’ which cancelled an impending attack on Changsha in late May turns out to have been Li Weihan (Lo Man), a member of the CCP Politbureau and chairman of the Hunan Provincial Council, a close ally of Qu at the August 7 Conference.” (Ibid)
The method of slander and falsification proved successful, although at untold cost to the integrity of the party, and on August 7th 1927 the founder of Chinese Marxism was removed from the leadership of the party he founded.
For two more years Chen remained in the party in open opposition to the leadership, and in particular their policies of continued deference to the Comintern leadership and their refusal to honestly assess the causes for the CCP’s failures and their true source - Moscow. Since Moscow could not shut up the outstanding leader of the Chinese communist movement, they disgracefully had him expelled on November 15 1929, just as they had done to Trotsky two years previously, and only eight years after Chen had founded the party. A more rapid and spectacular rise and fall is hard to find, but such are the bizarre zig-zags that have always characterised Stalinism.
A month later Chen wrote an extremely impassioned, bravely honest and humble open letter to all comrades of the party, exposing the sham of democratic rights for the CCP in the Comintern. This letter, written as it was by the leading participant of the events themselves, is all the proof any Communist would ever need of Stalin’s responsibility for all the errors of the CCP since its inception. Chen also correctly criticised the contemporaneous ultra-left line of the party, which he said would lead to the destruction of any workers’ struggles having the misfortune to be led by the CCP, as indeed it did. And instead of writing an article denouncing the Left Opposition, as the new leadership insisted he do (knowing that he wouldn’t, thus manufacturing an excuse to expel him), he now “recognised fundamentally that Comrade Trotsky’s views are identical with Marxism and Leninism” (Chen Duxiu, Appeal to all the Comrades of the Chinese Communist Party, 1929).
Chen’s expulsion from the CCP marks the real beginning of Chinese Trotskyism, and this letter is its founding document. One has to bear in mind that the CCP at this stage was still a very young party at nine years old, and as such much was heterogeneous and unclear in its political-ideological composition. The Moscow bureaucracy had played a shameful role and the most respected leader of the party had just exposed this fact.
The need for Moscow to undemocratically force false positions onto the CCP and to persecute all who dissented in no way flowed from the needs of the Chinese revolution or even of the bureaucracy of the Chinese party (except to the extent that this bureaucracy needed Moscow to survive). Indeed there barely even was a degenerate bureaucracy in the CCP at this time. Stalin’s desire to find a strong, respectable ally for the USSR in the person of Chiang Kai-shek, the butcher of the Chinese working class, as well as the need to doggedly contradict whatever position Trotsky took, had nothing to do with the CCP and everything to do with Moscow.
For these reasons the vast bulk of the membership of the CCP would not have understood this struggle for control of the CCP and if anything would have been more sympathetic to Chen Duxiu, both because of his political authority and the evident correctness of his criticisms of the leadership in his open letter.
“Many Communists who did not become Trotskyists wanted to see the rift between the Opposition and the official party healed and felt that it had been wrong to expel Chen Duxiu. One example of a call for reconciliation is that by the three CCP martyrs Peng Pai, Yang Yin, and Yan Changyi, who from their death cells in late 1929 sent out a last testament imploring the Central Committee to solve its dispute with the Chen Duxiu-ites by peaceful means.” (Gregor Benton, op cit., pp57-8)
It was therefore not impossible that with a sustained and well organised campaign directed at the rank-and-file of the party, the Trotskyists under Chen Duxiu’s leadership could have won a huge chunk of the party membership to their position and fatally wounded Stalin’s leadership of the Comintern,
“At the time of [the Trotskyists’] Unification Congress in 1931, the prospects of an even more massive conversion to the Opposition looked extremely bright. The official party, to which the Trotskyists still vowed allegiance, was in terrible disarray. It had changed its leader four times in as many years and was racked by factionalism, largely a direct result of Russian interference. In late 1929, many branches of the CCP had not yet discussed the new political line decided on at the Sixth Congress in Moscow, and others were inactive; moreover the new ultra-left Li Lisan line did much harm to the party’s security and standing...
“The Trotskyists, in contrast, were freshly united under the party’s founding father. They had an explanation for the long row of defeats and claimed to have discovered a new way forward for the revolution.” (Ibid, pp.58-9)
The essence of a Marxist organisation lies not in its quantity of members nor in its organisational make-up, but in its ideological clarity, its scientific analysis of the class struggle and its adherence to revolutionary principles above prestige politics. For that reason the new Trotskyist organisation in China, with Chen Duxiu at its head, represented the genuine heritage and tradition of Chinese Marxism, for these comrades were prepared to forego important positions in the official Chinese Communist Party to preserve their commitment to the truth. That does not discount the thousands of sincere and heroic revolutionaries who remained supporters of the official leadership in China and in Moscow, whom it was the duty of the Trotskyists to win and to fight alongside. Indeed it is those committed revolutionaries not won to Trotskyism whose story makes up the bulk of this work. Indeed the fact that the story of the Chinese revolution is predominantly not about the Trotskyists proves that they represented genuine Chinese Marxism only in potential.
The Price Paid by the Chinese Working Class
With the loss of the revolution and the victory of the counterrevolution there always comes a brutal wave of oppression. This is intended to leave deep ideological scars on the working class and to smash its organisations. It is always the layer of activists that suffer the most, but all the working class pays a heavy price.
However, because of the newness and relatively small size of the Chinese working class, the establishment of Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorship in 1927 meant not only severe repression but the actual near destruction of this working class. Whereas those working in factories went from virtually nothing in the first decade of the 20th Century, to 660,000 in 1913 and over one million in 1919, by 1933, six years after Chiang Kai-shek came to power, it had failed to grow beyond the level of 14 years previously (James Pinckney Harrison, The Long March to Power, 1972, p9). Many workers retained their ties to the countryside and so with the combination of brutal repression, the resulting inability to fight for better wages and conditions and the effects of the Great Depression, thousands returned to their rural ancestral homes. This objectively regressive process is the underlying basis for the CCP’s shift from the cities to the hinterland.
In the mid ‘20s the comrades in the CCP had founded and led China’s trade unions and its first council of all trade unions, the National General Labour Union. Roughly 2.8m industrial, transport, utilities, mining and service sector workers were organised under its banner (Leon Trotsky, Stalin and the Chinese Revolution, 1930). It was the real centre of the proletarian led revolution of 1925-7. By 1929, its membership had gone down to 60-70,000, and of this 60% were actually rural based, that is not bona-fide proletarians (James Pinckney Harrison, op cit., p161). In the heat of counterrevolution in 1927, 37,986 trade unionists were killed, roughly 25,000 of which in fighting Chiang Kai-shek’s forces, and another 13,000 were executed (Jacques Guillermaz, A History of the Chinese Communist Party 1921-1949, 1972, p.226).
CCP worker-activists were of course drowned in this bloodbath, with a far greater proportion of their members executed than within the working class as a whole. Between 1927 and 1937, the Guomindang “claimed to have arrested as many as 24,000 Communists and 155,525 ‘red masses’ or radicals, while the Communists charged the Nationalists with ‘butchering’ more than 300,000 ‘progressive youths’” (James Pinckney Harrison, op cit., p220).
Tragically for Chen Duxiu, he shared with Trotsky not only his analysis of the Guomindang as a counterrevolutionary party, but also having both his sons murdered by the counterrevolution. Li Dazhao, the co-founder of the CCP with Chen, was executed in 1927 on the orders of the warlord Zhang Zuolin after the Soviet embassy was raided.
Therefore thanks to the false line pursued by the CCP in the revolution, which unnecessarily gifted Chiang Kai-shek absolute power, a near extinction of the CCP’s proletarian and urban base was inevitable. According to Zhou Enlai’s Report to the Third Plenum of the Party in September 1930, “though there are 120,000 Party members, the industrial worker members only number a little more than 2,000.” In this report, Zhou is extremely frank about the numerical weaknesses of the party. However, by failing to point out and explain why the party went from having hundreds of thousands of worker members leading trade unions with millions of members, to having only 2,000 workers out of 120,000 members three years later, he refused to address the problem honestly. But of course to do so he would have to go into opposition to Stalin himself.
The impressive sounding figure of 120,000 members was also misleading as the vast majority were recruited in the rural areas, not so much due to the party’s correct intervention in the class struggle but more due to leading a petty-bourgeois adventure in the wastelands. Hence Guillermaz’s contention that at this point the party was “virtually lacking in all popular support” (op cit.). Because this adventurism carried enormous risks for the party, as we shall soon see, by 1936 membership was down to 30,000 (Pinckney Harrison, op cit., p5).
In the aftermath of 1927 Trotsky presciently wrote that “Engels said that a party that misses a favourable situation and suffers a defeat as a result, turns into a non-entity” (Leon Trotsky, Three Letters to Preobrazhensky, 1928). The CCP did not become a political non-entity. But the missing of its ‘favourable opportunity’ and Stalin’s refusal to allow them the necessary democratic space to absorb the lessons of this certainly did reduce the CCP to a non-entity in the urban working class. The scale of this defeat meant that the CCP would be incapable of leading a proletarian, socialist revolution.
‘Third Period’ Ultra-leftism and the Liquidation of the Cadres
It cannot be stressed often enough that the most precious commodity in a revolutionary, Marxist party is its theoretical clarity and correct perspective on the class struggle. With that comes its base of cadres, that is those who have absorbed this perspective, can explain it in the movement and develop the party’s analysis as conditions change. The mass organisations of the working class can and will be rebuilt, moreover the task of building them can only belong to the working class itself, not to the relatively small numbers of Marxist activists.
But it takes years of reading and discussion to produce a layer of Marxist cadres, which is the unique contribution of a Marxist organisation to the labour movement. Such a layer cannot be improvised at the moment of revolution and so it is the duty of the leadership of such an organisation to carefully preserve and develop its cadres over time. To do this it is necessary for the party to maintain a sober head with a clear understanding of the development of the class struggle - where events are going, what the consciousness of the working class is, what the balance of class forces is, etc. - so that it does not miseducate its members. It must train them on how to intervene in the class struggle in a way that can connect with and advance class consciousness. A correct analysis, internal democratic discussion and a sense of proportion minimise the risk of this party frittering away its cadres in fruitless struggles completely out of proportion with the real balance of forces.
The reorganisation conference of August 7th in 1927 would be vital in setting the party on the correct path, but under Moscow’s directives the comrades set off on the wrong foot. Rather than begin an internal and open discussion on what had gone so terribly wrong between 1925 and 1927, instead the same basic policy of continuing to work in the Guomindang was maintained. Chen Duxiu was removed and blamed for everything, as if the failure of an entire revolution can be the fault of one man and yet not the policies he pursued. This was the exact opposite of what the CCP needed. Chen Duxiu was the outstanding leader and had also shown he was prepared to critically assess the party’s failures; therefore he would be vital to the correct reorientation of the party. Instead he was removed and the policies which were to blame were maintained. Thus Moscow served to educate the CCP in the methods of Stalinism.
However, a small concession to reality was made, and with the removal of Chen Duxiu came the admission that the party had failed due to its opportunism in seeking an alliance with the Guomindang, although bizarrely this alliance was maintained as the aim of the party. But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and the realisation that the party had been too conservative at the peak of the revolution, led to the false conclusion that now, as the revolutionary mood in the working class was subsiding, the party must go on an all out offensive. This mentality already displays the subjectivist tendencies of Stalinism, that is in imagining that the working class and the revolution can be made to obey orders and the interests of the Communist Party’s bureaucracy.
Therefore the new Qu Qiubai led CCP carried out several insurrections throughout the latter half of 1927, as described in previous articles, all of which were disastrous failures. Consequently Qu was removed at the following 6th Congress of the CCP. This took place in Moscow from July to September 1928, since it was too dangerous for the CCP to hold a large meeting under the Guomindang’s dictatorship. Incredibly such were the difficulties the party would now face, that this was the last full congress the CCP would hold until 1945! The new politbureau ‘elected’ was apparently chosen beforehand by Bukharin and Stalin (Pinckney Harrison, op cit., p.156).
This second post-revolution congress did mark a genuine attempt by the CCP to honestly assess the failure of the revolution and what the character of the Chinese revolution must be. The ‘national bourgeoisie’ was now counterrevolutionary (previously it was an ally of the revolution, only the ‘compradore bourgeoisie’ was counterrevolutionary), as was all of a sudden the Guomindang, whom the CCP took upon itself to overthrow rather than to work in. And it was admitted (one year late) that the revolution had been defeated.
But the Comintern’s chief interest lay not in the healthy development of the CCP and the success of the Chinese revolution, but in its increasingly sharp struggle against Trotsky. It was a categorical imperative that anything resembling Trotsky’s position must be negated. Unfortunately for the CCP leaders having to tow the Moscow line, reality in China had an annoying resemblance to Trotsky’s position, which was that the revolution had been decisively defeated due to the CCP’s opportunist capitulation to the Guomindang, and that the party must now adapt its slogans to this reality to recover its base. This unfortunate accuracy therefore restricted in advance the CCP’s ability to take a correct position.
So the new leadership emerging in mid 1928 was forced to take a completely abstract, vague and contradictory position. Whilst the Guomindang and national bourgeoisie were counterrevolutionary, they were still in a ‘subordinate’ position to the feudal classes, and thus the door was left open to their supposed ‘revolutionary’ character. Whilst the revolution had been defeated, it remained only in a ‘trough between two waves’ and so the CCP must start preparing for armed insurrections (Conrad Brandt, Benjamin Schwartz & John K. Fairbank, op cit., p125).
Indeed the documents that were produced by this congress in Moscow betray the despotism of the Moscow bureaucracy over the CCP at every step. The first statement of the Political Resolution (the most important resolution) is to assert that the Sixth Congress “agrees entirely with the evaluation of the Chinese revolution by the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Plenums of the Executive Committee of the Communist International [that is, every Comintern position from 1926 to 1928, thus absolving Moscow from any responsibility or association with the failure of 1925-7]” (Political Resolution of the Sixth National Congress if the CCP, 1928). The failure of 1925-7 was entirely due to the fact that “the leadership of the CCP failed to carry out the directives of the Communist International” (Ibid), which were presumably infallible. Thus again the epic drama of revolution was trivialised and subjectivised.
Whilst it is very careful to isolate the causes of failure from Moscow, this crucial resolution developed no strategic or tactical elucidations whatsoever other than that the CCP must somehow, somewhere, organise armed insurrections, which are apparently to be the sole method of the revolution. How these are to be organised or carried out was not explained, nor do we find any analysis of the class struggle as it actually is - the methods to be used are always argued for on the basis of what would be best for the party, which tactic is too mechanical, which one too hasty etc., and never explained on the basis of which one flows from the real situation in the working class.
[To be continued...]