The Chinese Communist Party 1937-49 – The Unfolding of Historical Necessity: China’s Great Revolution – Part Five

From the time of its birth in the early 1920s, the Chinese Communist Party, conceived by the revolutionary upheaval of Chinese society and the Russian led Communist International, could hardly have wished for a worse ‘upbringing’. Moscow’s leadership is analogous to that of a negligent and abusive parent whose selfishness scars the child for the rest of its life. As we shall now see, this absence of leadership continued right up to and even after the taking of power in 1949 and was one of several factors undermining, delaying and distorting the character of the revolution in 1949.

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If we are astounded by the extent and duration of the CCP’s alliance with its own nemesis, Chiang Kai Shek, a blunder which somehow was not sufficient to wreck the revolution, then the scale of Stalin’s duplicity seems only too believable knowing that he was the original author of this scandalous policy. From the mid twenties onwards Stalin and Bukharin had failed entirely to anticipate the actual course of the Chinese revolution, primarily because their own bureaucratic boneheadedness blinded them to the organisational and political power of the working class. They sacrificed the coming revolutionary tide which would sweep all before it, for the already established, and therefore doomed, verbal diplomatic agreement with the respectable bourgeois.

The course of the Chinese revolution and the CCP’s fortunes would continue to wrong-foot Stalin up to 1949. He could never understand the complex dynamics of class struggles, especially foreign ones. Knowing his own short-sighted limitations, he guided USSR policy on China during the Sino-Japanese and following Civil war into a mess of hedged bets so weak and compromised that they satisfied neither the Guomindang nor CCP. As a consequence the USSR’s influence over a revolution on its borders was reduced to practically nil and the final nails were driven into the coffin of Stalin’s relations with Mao.

Befitting his wretched bureaucratic mentality, Stalin hedged his bets more strongly on the side of Chiang and the existing Guomindang government than he did on the side of his ‘own’ Chinese Communist Party. Stalin always had a “lack of enthusiasm for a dynamic revolutionary movement which might not be under his control” (Schram, Mao Tse-Tung, p239). Indeed, Stalin’s jealousy of Mao and the CCP’s independence and power were so strong that he “personally intervened to prevent the publication in the Soviet Union of Miss Strong’s book on Mao [in 1947]...because it emphasised Mao’s original contribution” (Ibid, p254), an act which anticipated the subsequent Sino-Soviet split.

The press in the Soviet Union was actually behind that of the West in reporting the successes of the CCP in the war! Stalin is even quoted by Harrison as saying that “we told [the CCP leaders] bluntly that we considered the development of the uprising in China had no prospect and that the Chinese comrades should seek a modus vivendi with Chiang Kai-shek, that they should join the Chiang Kai-shek government and dissolve their army. The Chinese comrades agreed here with the view of the Soviet comrades, but went back to China and acted quite otherwise...Now in the case of China we admit we were wrong” (Harrison, The Long March to Power, p384, our emphasis).

Bourgeois Diplomacy

The difference between the CCP-Guomindang ‘United Front’ of 1923-7 and 1936 onwards, was that in the case of the former, Moscow spoke directly to its Chinese section in order to facilitate the alliance it wanted. In the latter case, Moscow and Yenan barely even spoke, and in reality the Chinese United Front in this period was only an emulation of Moscow’s attempt at a united front with Chiang independent and over the heads of the CCP. Not only had Moscow in 1936 pledged direct military aid to Chiang (not to the CCP) behind the CCP’s back, and consistently gave more money to the Guomindang government as aid than it did the CCP (as mentioned in Part II). It also campaigned in the League of Nations (which it had joined in 1934) for the US and UK to impose sanctions on Japan to aid the Chinese government and for the sake of ‘International Security’ in Moscow’s own words (Akira Iriye Japanese Aggression and China’s International Position, Cambridge History of China volume 13, p521).

By this time Stalin had dispensed entirely with the Comintern as anything other than an arm of Russian diplomacy within what today is euphemistically called ‘the International Community’. The Moscow bureaucracy had thoroughly adapted to this ‘thieves kitchen’, and its strategy within international bourgeois diplomacy entirely transcended any plans for the Comintern - hence the latter’s ignominious dissolution by Stalin in 1943 to suit the needs of his standing in the bourgeois world. Before it was wound up, the Comintern’s various sections, including the Chinese, had become little more than friendly acquaintances who could barely remember how and why they first met.

Having no interesting in using the worldwide Communist movement to appeal to the world working class to fight against bourgeois regimes everywhere, Stalin instead ended up using his key position in WWII to sign agreements with the US and UK to gain various privileges on the international stage at the expense of weaker nations, including China. The petty gains Stalin was thus able to win from China trumped his relations with the CCP entirely.

In the 1945 Yalta conference, which symbolised his ascension to the peak of bourgeois diplomacy, Stalin won promises from Roosevelt and Churchill that the USSR would have control of the Ports at Liaotung (Port Arthur) and Dalian (Dairen), and the Manchurian railways - all at China’s expense, within its territory (should Japan be defeated) and without consulting the Chinese government nor the CCP! This was won on the basis of a promise to help the US defeat Japan and also involved Stalin agreeing “ with Roosevelt that Chiang Kai Shek should remain the dominant figure in Chinese politics...Stalin could not, of course, ignore the Chinese Communists, but apparently he didn't believe that they would soon emerge as serious contenders power. Nor was he insistent on forming a coalition government in China. His primary concern was with seizing strategic areas in north-eastern Asia, and he judged that this could best be achieved through arrangement with the United States” (Ibid, p538).


Yalta Conference1945It was precisely because of these treacherous agreements that Stalin found himself on the wrong side of the barricade in China after the end of the war, this time going beyond merely forcing an alliance between the CCP and Guomindang, but effectively siding with the Guomindang in a struggle between the two,

“Mao was vitally interested in laying the foundations for his ultimate triumph, whereas Stalin was more sensitive to the effect which open civil war might have on Chiang’s willingness to satisfy Russian demands accepted by Roosevelt at Yalta, such as the creation of a naval base at Port Arthur...On the very day of the Japanese surrender (14 August) Stalin had concluded, as agreed at Yalta, a treaty of friendship  and alliance with the Chongqing [Guomindang] Government which, if faithfully carried out, would have given a large measure of satisfaction to Chiang Kai Shek on this point. A supplementary agreement provided that, as soon as any part of the territory in Manchuria occupied by the Soviet troops in their advance ceased to be ‘a zone of immediate military operations’, it would be turned over to representatives of the Chinese National Government for administration” (Schram, op cit. pp234-5).

Although Peng Shuzi is correct in his assessment that the USSR’s dismantling of factories in Manchuria and handing over weapons to the CCP were key factors in the latter’s coming to power (Peng, The Causes of the Victory of the Chinese Communist Party over Chiang Kai-Shek, and the CCP’s Perspectives), it must be said that Stalin’s behaviour in Manchuria amounted to treachery. The reason for the above quoted agreement with the Guomindang regarding the USSR’s exit from Manchuria was that the Guomindang knew that if the USSR withdrew immediately without such a promise, the CCP would inevitably use its nearby HQ at Yenan to takeover the whole region. Moscow even went so far as to allow Guomindang troops to gradually move into the region whilst under Russian military control! (Pepper, The KMT-CCP Conflict 1945-9, in The Cambridge History of China, Volume 13, p728). Indeed, many of the arms used by Chiang’s armies in fighting the CCP, from the New Fourth Army Incident onwards, were given to the Guomindang by the USSR as part of its aid which always preferenced the Guomindang over the CCP. Thus, although the existence of the USSR did help the CCP come to power, had Stalin behaved as a comrade of the Chinese revolution he could have brought the CCP to power much earlier.

Compensating for Hitler’s betrayal of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Stalin managed to exchange one pact with a fascist for another by signing a neutrality pact with Japan in 1941. This was done to avoid a war on two fronts (with Germany and Japan), but in doing so Stalin contrived to betray not only the CCP but the Guomindang and China as a whole too (not to mention the international Communist movement, to which he’d already done damage enough)! If we consider that the one slither of revolutionary politics left in the Communist movement in China, as well as the justification for its alliance with Chiang, was the insistence on fighting to liberate China from Japan, then Moscow’s de facto support for Japan against China in 1941 becomes all the more shocking and shameful.

It is hardly surprising, considering this incredible litany of betrayals to the Chinese people and CCP, that the USSR had by now exhausted its capital in the consciousness of the Chinese people, who previously held this revolutionary nation in such high esteem. These cynical deals, which “for certain points recalled irresistibly some of the Unequal Treaties” (Guillermaz 382) - imperialist treaties so exploitative they inspired the founding of the CCP itself - were enough to cause “very strong and hostile reactions among broad layers of the Chinese people, especially among the workers of Manchuria”, particularly “ever since the USSR seized Port Arthur and Dairen under the provisions of the Yalta Agreement, and after it acquired many other privileges, such as joint control of the Chungtung and Ch’ang-ch’un railways, and especially after it destroyed or moved away the majority of the industrial and mining installations in Manchuria” (Peng, op cit.).

In an act not only of betrayal but also of vain foolishness, Stalin continued to negotiate with and support the Guomindang government up till 1949, even when its position was so hopeless it was forced to move its seat of government to Canton (Guangzhou) in the southern extremity of China’s mainland! He did this to distance himself from ‘collusion’ with the CCP (as if the USSR could ever have done enough to allay the US’ fears it had close ties with its own offshoot party in China!), and in the pathetic hope he could protect Russian interests in Manchuria and Xinjiang by negotiating with the Guomindang even when its government was reduced to one city! Presumably Stalin intended on handing to the new, confident CCP government a claim to territory in these areas on the basis of respecting agreements it had with the now destroyed Guomindang regime! Extraordinarily, the USSR was the only country to accompany the Guomindang to its final refuge in Canton, instead of welcoming the victorious CCP as it entered Nanjing!

This is the story of how Stalin decorated himself in glory in the greatest chapter of the Chinese Communist Party’s history - after having authored its catastrophic failure in 1927, so traumatic it destroyed the Party’s proletarian roots, he bettered himself by conspiring with the enemy in 1949 in so cack-handed a manner that he failed to prevent the Guomindang’s demise and the CCP’s victory. Of course, once a political fact, he lost no time in celebrating the CCP led revolution. But he wasn’t fooling anyone: nobody credits Stalin with having foreseen or facilitated the Chinese revolution of 1949, the twin product of CCP tenacity and Guomindang incompetence.