‘Lenin and Trotsky - What they really stood for’ in Chinese

We are proud to announce the very first Chinese language edition of Lenin and Trotsky - what they really stood for, making these ideas available to the workers and youth in the Chinese-speaking world: a vital section of the international working class.

Written by Alan Woods and Ted Grant and published in 1969, this book was a reply to the Communist Party of Great Britain's distortions and falsifications of what Trotsky stood for. At the time it had a significant impact on the socialist movement in Britain and remains to this day one of the best refutations of the ideas and methods of Stalinism. Below we publish the introduction to the present publication, written by Fred Weston.

Read the book in Chinese here, and in English here


To the Chinese readers of this book

The present work by Alan Woods and Ted Grant answered the distortions and falsifications about Trotsky and his relationship with Lenin, presented in a text by Monty Johnstone in Cogito, the journal of the Young Communist League in Britain in 1969. The purpose of this brief introductory note is not to repeat the contents of this book, which speaks for itself, and we will leave that to our Chinese readers to study and consider.

For people in China today who wish to understand the ideas of genuine Marxism-Leninism, this is a very important question. In particular, it is necessary to clarify what were the theoretical and ideological connections between Stalinism and Maoism. In a few words, we will attempt to shed some light on this question.

In his break with the Soviet Union during the famous Sino-Soviet split of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mao claimed to be upholding genuine Marxism-Leninism as opposed to the “revisionism” of the Soviet Union under Khrushchev. The conflict was presented as Mao being opposed to Khrushchev’s policy of “peaceful coexistence” with the West.

It was allegedly on this basis that a worldwide schism emerged between pro-Soviet Communist Parties and the pro-Chinese Maoists, who would distinguish themselves by adding the suffix “ML” to their party names, i.e. “Marxist-Leninist”. Thus, the split with the USSR is presented as being ideological.

In reality the conflict was to do more with the narrow nationalist outlook of both the Soviet bureaucracy and the Chinese bureaucracy. Had the two regimes been genuine workers’ states, i.e. regimes of workers’ democracy, with power in the hands of the working class, a socialist federation of China, the Soviet Union and East Europe would have been formed, combining the human and material resources of one third of the then-world population into an international socialist plan of production. This would have immensely benefited the people of all these countries.

The Soviet Union had developed industry and technique and this could have been provided to the Chinese workers and peasants to accelerate the pace of development of China. However, such a scenario would have been possible only by removing the interests of the privileged bureaucracy that governed over all these countries at the time.

Here we have one essential element that characterised both the Soviet Union under Stalin, and later after his death, and China under Mao: the idea of national roads to socialism. This stemmed from Stalin’s idea of “socialism in one country”, a concept that had never been part of the Leninist tradition. Lenin understood that socialism could only be achieved as an international system. That is why he placed such huge importance on the building of the Communist International.

At the Seventh Congress of the Russian Communist Party in March 1918 Lenin explained, “…if the German Revolution does not come, we are doomed.” A few weeks later he stated, “But we shall achieve victory only together with all the workers of other countries, of the whole world...” In May, he returned to the question: “… final victory is only possible on a world scale, and only by the joint efforts of the workers of all countries.” Lenin never gave up this view, to the very end of his life.

Stalin Mao Image public domainThe Sino-Soviet split reflected the narrow, nationalist interests of the respective Russian and Chinese bureaucracies. In reality, Stalin and Mao had a similar outlook / Image: public domain

It was only after the death of Lenin that Stalin was able to adopt the utterly anti-Marxist idea of “Socialism in One Country”. This idea reflected the interests of the rising bureaucracy in the Soviet Union that, while continuing in words to fight for socialism, in reality wanted to enjoy the gains they had achieved as a privileged layer standing above the working class and peasants. This meant they had no interest in fighting for international socialism, but sought an accommodation with world capitalism. Khrushchev’s idea of “peaceful co-existence” was a confirmation of this fact. Rather than fight to overthrow capitalism in the rest of the world, they limited themselves to defending their own “sphere of influence”.

Linked to this was another key element of Stalinist thinking: the idea that before socialism could be built in any country, first an advanced capitalist economy had to be in place. On this basis they declared in many countries that, given that the material conditions for socialism did not exist yet, the task of communists was to support the so-called “progressive bourgeoisie” in carrying out the bourgeois democratic revolution. This was an unashamed return to the ideas of the Mensheviks during the Russian Revolution of October 1917, who castigated the Bolsheviks for their insistence on the socialist nature of the revolution.

Based on this idea, the Communist Parties advised by Stalin and the Soviet bureaucracy played a crucial role in holding back the workers and peasants in many countries. This was clearly the case during the Chinese revolution of 1926, the Spanish Revolution in the 1930s, and later in Italy and France at the end of the Second World War. They entered what became known as Popular Fronts, i.e. alliances with the so-called democratic bourgeois parties, thus channelling safely the energies of the revolutionary workers and peasants away from socialist revolution.

In Eastern Europe, the situation was different. Here, Stalin was concerned with creating a buffer region between the Soviet Union and the major European powers, in particular Germany. The USSR emerged enormously strengthened from the Second World War, and from that position of power, Stalin was able to negotiate a deal in which Eastern Europe was to be considered within the Soviet sphere of influence. In the process, society in Eastern Europe was transformed, with the Soviet model of centralised planning being introduced.

When the great powers divided up the world at the end of the Second World War, China was not included as falling within the Soviet sphere of influence, and that explains Stalin’s initial advice to Mao that he should seek a compromise with Chiang Kai-shek. In August 1945, the USSR had signed a friendship treaty with Chiang’s KMT – as a result of the Yalta agreement – precisely at the moment when the CCP was emerging as a force that could take power, and in 1949, Stalin’s position remained that the CCP should seek some agreement with the KMT.

We saw a similar position in Greece, where the Greek Communists were abandoned to their fate during the civil war. Yugoslavia also was not supposed to become part of the Soviet bloc, but Tito’s partisan forces came to power independently, which also explains his later conflict with Stalinist Russia. Something similar happened in China.

As we have seen, it was expected that China would remain a capitalist country. And this was the initial perspective of Mao for China in the 1940s. According to the Stalinist approach, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was to seek an alliance with the progressive bourgeois. It is expressed clearly in many texts published in the mid-1940s by the Chinese Communist Party that building socialism was not and could not be the immediate task.

This is not the place to deal in detail with how the 1949 Chinese Revolution actually unfolded. Suffice it to say that things did not go according to plan. The Chinese bourgeois backed the KMT and fled with it when Mao came to power at the head of a peasant army. However, even from a position of power, Mao attempted to build an alliance with bourgeois elements. This was expressed in his idea of the New Democracy, which hypothesised an alliance of workers, peasants, petit bourgeois and the national bourgeoisie. In Mao’s thinking of the time, this was to last for many decades.

Mao Zedong 1959 Image public domainSome claim that Mao represented a genuine revolutionary tendency within the CCP, but his deeds speak louder than his words / Image: public domain

It was living experience that showed that the Chinese bourgeois, far from being in any way “progressive”, were completely reactionary. Therefore, the Maoist regime, in order to develop the economy, was forced to expropriate the property of the bourgeois class and introduce economic planning under state ownership. It was – albeit in a distorted manner – a confirmation of Trotsky’s perspective of the Permanent Revolution, i.e. the idea that the bourgeois-democratic revolution, in conditions where capitalist relations dominate the world, would have to move very quickly to socialist tasks or face defeat.

Thus, over 500 million Chinese were liberated from the yoke of landlordism and capitalism. Marxists welcomed the Chinese Revolution of 1949 as an immense step forward for the workers of the world, second in importance only to the 1917 Russian Revolution. However, Marxists also pointed out that, given its adherence to Stalinist thinking, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party was building a regime in the image of the Soviet Union, i.e. not that of the initial workers’ democracy of 1917, but that of the bureaucratically deformed regime under Stalin.

Because of the way things developed in China, many Chinese Communists may object to the term Stalinist being used to describe the Maoist regime. Mao attempted to nurture the myth that he was essentially different to the Soviet bureaucrats. Undoubtedly, there were differences between Mao and Stalin. Mao actually led a successful revolution and liberated hundreds of millions of Chinese peasants and workers from the yoke of landlordism and capitalism, whereas Stalin played a secondary role in the Russian Revolution, in which Lenin and Trotsky were the two outstanding leaders.

However, in terms of their theoretical outlook, both Stalin and Mao adhered to fundamentally the same idea that, in backward countries, the revolution would go through stages. The first stage would be the bourgeois-democratic revolution, which would be followed by a long period of capitalist development. And only then would the conditions mature for the second stage: the socialist revolution. Even then, the perspective was not one of world revolution but of national roads to socialism, with each country building “Socialism in one country”.

That is why, for genuine Marxists, the term “Stalinist” does not refer simply to the figure of Stalin the man, but to a whole theoretical outlook which was the product of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union. That outlook continued to be expressed by Maoism even when it had formally broken with the Soviet Union.

Some within the Left claim that Mao somehow represented a genuine revolutionary tendency within the CCP, especially during the Cultural Revolution, because in that period he declared war against the “bureaucracy” and at times even invoked slogans of internationalism, or spoke in support of mass movements taking place in other countries.

This is not the place to develop a thorough analysis of the Cultural Revolution and of Mao’s role over the years. This is available in other material published by Wellred. However, we would like to draw your attention to how Lenin and Trotsky analysed the process of bureaucratisation and compare that to what Mao and his allies in the 1960s said about this phenomenon.

The internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky was not limited to words, but was expressed in their efforts to establish a world organisation and leadership in the form of the Communist International, something which Mao never attempted to do, despite his rhetoric. But it was not just a case of failing to build an international communist organisation.

Later in his life, Mao, because of his conflict with the USSR, found himself supporting reactionary forces, such as in Angola and Mozambique; or Ayub Khan in Pakistan; Sukarno in Indonesia and other extreme reactionaries, while reconciling with US imperialism, simply because they were in opposition to pro-Soviet movements. His deeds speak louder than his words in that period.

All the Stalinist bureaucracies, from that of the Soviet Union, to that of Maoist China, Vietnam or East Germany, attempted to create an image of themselves as continuing in the footsteps of Lenin. In order to do this, they had to distort, hide and falsify the genuine ideas of Lenin. At the same time, they depicted Trotsky as being diametrically opposed to Lenin. In this, both the Soviet bureaucracy and the Chinese found common ground. The present work brings out the truth about what Lenin and Trotsky really stood for, the genuine ideas of revolutionary Marxism.

Today’s Chinese workers and youth should look back at what later happened in both the Soviet Union and China. In the Soviet Union in 1991 we saw how the old Stalinist regime collapsed and subsequently many former Stalinists jumped ship and became ardent supporters of capitalism. In China, the process has taken a different road, but nonetheless we have Communist Party bureaucrats holding onto power while guiding China back to capitalism. This is the logical consequence of the rise of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and its later application to China.

We invite you to read this book, study it and absorb the lessons of the past. We are now facing an unprecedented crisis of capitalism worldwide. China, having become integrated into the world capitalist system, cannot escape the effects of this crisis and because of that it will see class struggle on a scale never seen before in history. A new Chinese revolution is therefore being prepared. The only road it can follow, if it is to be successful, is the socialist road as part of a worldwide process of socialist revolution.

This will involve undoing all the capitalist transformations that have taken place in past decades, with the renationalisation of what has been privatised, together with the expropriation of the multinational corporations, and the return to a planned economy. This time, however, the essential element that was missing in 1949 must be introduced, that is workers’ democracy. The working class of China today is far more powerful than it was in 1949 and it will play a key role in the worldwide struggle for socialism in the 21st century.