The Chinese Question After the Sixth Congress
October 4, 1928
The lessons and the problems in the strategy and tactics of the Chinese revolution constitute at the present time the greatest teaching for the international proletariat. The experience gained in 1917 has been altered, disfigured and falsified to the point of unrecognizability by the epigones brought to power on the waves of defeats of the world’s working class. Henceforth, one is compelled to extract the 1917 revolution from beneath mountains of impurities under which it has been buried. The revolution has verified the policy of Bolshevism by resorting to the method of reductio ad absurdum. The strategy of the Communist International in China was a gigantic game of “losers win”. The young generation of revolutionists must be taught the alphabet of Bolshevism by using the Chinese antithesis contrasted to the experience gained in October. China itself has a world importance. But what happens in this country decides not only its own fate, but the destiny of the Communist International in the full sense of the world. Not only has the Sixth Congress not drawn up the correct balance or introduced clarity, but on the contrary, it has consecrated the errors committed and has supplemented them by a new confusion which can create for the Chinese Communist Party a hopeless situation for a whole series of years. The bureaucratic thunderbolts of excommunication will manifestly fail to reduce us to silence when the fate of the international revolution is at stake. It is just those who excommunicate us who are the ones directly responsible for the defeats suffered; that is why they dread the shedding of light.
* * *
In the past five years, no party has suffered so cruelly from the opportunist leadership of the Communist International as the Chinese CP. We have had in China a perfect example (and that is just the reason why it led to a catastrophe) of the application of the Menshevik policy to a revolutionary epoch. What is more, Menshevism had a monopoly at its disposal, for it was protected against Bolshevik criticism by the authority of the Communist International and by the material apparatus of the soviet power. This combination of circumstances is unique in its kind. As a result, one of the greatest revolutions, according to its possibilities, was completely confiscated by the Chinese bourgeoisie; it served to strengthen the latter, something which, from all the data in our possession, the bourgeoisie had no reason to count on. The mistakes of opportunism have not yet been repaired. The whole course of the Congress discussion, the reports of Bukharin and Kuusinen, the speeches of the Chinese Communists – all these indicate that the line of conduct followed by the leadership in Chinese politics not only was false but remains false to this day. Passing over from the opportunism openly practised in the form of collaboration (1924-27), it made an abrupt zig-zag at the end of 1927 by resorting to adventures. After the Canton insurrection, it rejected putschism and passed into the third phase, the most sterile one, seeking to combine the old opportunistic premises with a purely formal, ineffectual radicalism, which at a certain period bore in Russia, the names of “ultimatism” and “Otzovism”, and which constitutes the worst variety of ultra-leftism.
No Chinese Communist can any longer take a single step forward now without first having estimated at its right value the opportunist leadership which led to destruction in the three stages (Shanghai, Wuhan, Canton) and without having completely understood the immense break produced by these defeats in the social and political, the internal and international position of China.
The Congress discussion showed what gross and perilous illusions still subsist in the conceptions of Chinese Communist leaders. While defending the Canton insurrection, one of the Chinese delegates referred triumphantly to the fact that after the defeat suffered in this city, the membership of the Party did not decrease but grew. Even here, thousands of miles from the theatre of the revolutionary events, it seems incredible that such monstrous information could have been presented to a world Congress without immediately encountering an indignant refutation. However, thanks to observations made on another point by a speaker, we learn, that while the CPC has gained (for how long?) tens of thousands of new members among the peasants, it has on the other hand lost the majority of its workers. It is this menacing process, characterizing without the possibility of error a certain phase of decline of the Party, that the Chinese Communists describe at the Congress as a sign of growth and progress. While the revolution is beaten in the cities and in the most important centres of the workers’ and the peasants’ movement, there will always be, especially in a country as vast as China, fresh regions, fresh just because they are backward, containing not yet exhausted revolutionary forces. On the distant periphery, the beginnings of the revolutionary wave will yet swell for a long time. Without having direct data on the situation in the Chinese-Muslim regions of the south-west, it is difficult to speak with precision of the probability of a revolutionary ferment being produced there in the approaching period. But the whole past of China renders such an eventuality possible. It is quite evident that this movement would only be a belated echo of the battles of Shanghai, Hankow and Canton. After the decisive defeat suffered by the revolution in the cities, the Party, for a certain time, can still draw tens of thousands of new members from the awakening peasantry. This fact is important as a precursory sign of the great possibilities in the future. But in the period under consideration it is only one form of the dissolution and the liquidation of the CPC, for, by losing its proletarian nucleus, it ceases to be in conformity with its historical destiny.
An epoch of revolutionary decline is by its very essence pregnant with dangers for a revolutionary party. In 1852, Engels said that such a party, having let a revolutionary situation escape it, or having suffered a decisive defeat in it, inevitably disappears from the scene for a certain period of history. The counter-revolutionary epoch strikes a revolutionary party all the more cruelly if the crushing of the revolution is caused, not by an unfavourable relationship of forces, but by the patent and indisputable blunders of the leadership, as was exactly the case in China. Add to all this the brief existence of the Chinese party, the absence in it of firmly tempered cadres and solid traditions; add to it, finally, the alterations made so light-heartedly in the leadership which, there as everywhere else, was converted into the responsible manager expiating the mistakes of the Communist International. Taken together, all this creates veritably fatal conditions for the CPC during the counter-revolutionary epoch, the duration of which cannot be determined in advance.
It is only by clearly and courageously posing the fundamental questions of today and yesterday that one can avert for the CPC the fate which Engels spoke of, in other words, liquidation, from the political point of view, for a certain period.
We have examined – the class dynamics of the Chinese revolution in a special chapter of the criticism to which we submitted the fundamental theses of the draft program of the Communist International. Today, we see no need of adding anything to this chapter, or, for that matter, of introducing any modifications into it. We arrived there at the conclusion that the subsequent development of the Chinese revolution can only take place in the form of the struggle of the Chinese proletariat, drawing hundreds of millions of poor peasants to the conquest of power. The solution of fundamental bourgeois-democratic problems in China depends entirely on the dictatorship of the proletariat. To oppose to this the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry is to devote oneself to a reactionary attempt which seeks to drag the revolution back to stages already traversed by the coalition in the Guomindang. This general political diagnosis, containing the strategical line of conduct for the coming period of the Chinese revolution, or more exactly, of the third Chinese revolution of the future, in no way annuls the question of the tactical problems of today and tomorrow.
1) The Permanent Revolution and the Canton Insurrection
In November 1927, the plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese party decided that:
The objective circumstances existing at the present time in China are such that the duration of a directly revolutionary situation will be measured not by weeks or by months, but by long years. The Chinese revolution has a lasting character, but on the other hand, it has no stops. By its character, it constitutes what Marx called a permanent revolution.
Is this right? Intelligently understood, it is right. But it must be understood according to Marx and not according to Lominadze. Bukharin, who showed up the latter precisely for having employed this formula, was no closer to Marx than the author of it. In capitalist society, every real revolution, above all if it takes place in a large country, and more particularly now, in the imperialist epoch, tends to transform itself into a permanent revolution; in other words, not to come to a halt at any of the stages it reaches, not to confine itself up to the complete transformation of society, up to the final abolition of class distinctions, consequently, up to the complete and final suppression of the very possibility of new revolutions. That is just what the Marxian conception of the proletarian revolution consists of, being distinguished by that from the bourgeois revolution, limited by its national scope as much as by its specific objectives. The Chinese revolution contains within itself tendencies to become permanent in so far as it contains the possibility of the conquest of power by the proletariat. To speak of the permanent revolution without this and outside of it, is like trying to fill the cask of the Danaïds. Only the proletariat, after having seized the state power and having transformed it into an instrument of struggle against all the forms of oppression and exploitation, in the interior of the country as well as beyond its frontiers, gains therewith the possibility of assuring a continuous character to the revolution, in other words, of leading it to the construction of a complete socialist society. A necessary condition for this is to carry out consistently a policy which prepares the proletariat in good time for the conquest of power. Now, Lominadze has made of the possibility of a permanent development of the revolution (on the condition that the Communist policy be correct) a scholastic formula guaranteeing at one blow and for all time a revolutionary situation “for many years”. The permanent character of the revolution thus becomes a law placing itself above history, independent of the policy of the leadership and of the material development of revolutionary events. As always in such cases, Lominadze and company resolved to announce their metaphysical formula regarding the permanent character of the revolution only after the political leadership of Stalin, Bukharin, Chen Duxiu and Tang Pingshan had thoroughly sabotaged the revolutionary struggle.
After having assured the continuity of the revolution for many years, the plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, freed from any further doubts, deduces from this formula conditions favourable to the insurrection.
“ Not only is the strength of the revolutionary movement of the toiling masses of China not yet exhausted, but it is precisely only now that it is beginning to manifest itself in a new advance of the revolutionary struggle. All this obliges the plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party to recognize that a directly revolutionary situation exists today (November 1927) throughout China.”
The Canton insurrection was deduced from a similar evaluation of the situation with perfect inevitability. Had a revolutionary situation really existed, the mere fact of the defeat of Canton would have been a special episode, and in any case, would not have transformed the uprising of this city into an adventure. Even in face of unfavourable conditions for the insurrection of Canton itself or its environs, the leadership would have had as its duty to do all that was necessary to realize the revolt most rapidly in order thus to disperse and weaken the forces of the enemy and to facilitate the triumph of the uprising in the other parts of the country.
However, not after “many years” but after a few months, it had to be acknowledged that the political situation had declined abruptly, and that before the Canton insurrection. The campaign of Ho Lung and Ye Ting were already developing in an atmosphere of revolutionary decline, the workers were separating themselves from the revolution, the centrifugal tendencies were gaining in strength. This is in no way contradictory to the existence of peasant movements in various provinces. That is how it always is.
Let the Chinese Communist ask themselves now: Would they have dared to decide upon fixing the Canton insurrection for December had they understood that for the given period the fundamental forces of the revolution were exhausted and that the great decline had commenced? It is clear that if they had understood in good time this radical break in the situation, they would in no case have put on the order of the day the appeal for the armed uprising in Canton. The only way of explaining the policy of the leadership, in fixing and carrying out this revolt, is that it did not understand the meaning and the consequences of the defeats in Shanghai and Hupeh. There can be no other interpretation of it. But the lack of understanding can all the less excuse the leadership of the Communist International since the Opposition had warned in good time against the new situation and the new dangers. It found itself accused for this, by idiots and calumniators, of having the spirit of liquidators.
The resolution of the Sixth Congress confirms the fact that an inadequate resistance to “putschistic moods” produced the fruitless uprisings in Hunan, in Hupeh, etc. What is to be understood by “putschistic moods”? The Chinese Communists, in conformity with the directions of Stalin and Bukharin, judged that the situation in China was directly revolutionary and that the partial revolts had every chance of being extended successfully to the point of becoming a general insurrection. In this way, the launching of these surprise attacks resulted from an erroneous estimation of the circumstances in which China found itself towards the second half of 1927, as a result of the defeats suffered.
In Moscow, they could prattle about the “directly revolutionary situation”, accuse the Oppositionists of being liquidators, while providing for themselves beforehand against the future (especially after Canton) by making reservations on the subject of “putschism”. But on the theatre of events, in China itself, every honest revolutionist was duty bound to do everything he could in his corner to hasten the uprising, since the Communist International had declared that the general situation was propitious for an insurrection on a national scale. It is on this question that the régime of duplicity reveals its deliberately criminal character.
At the same time the resolution of the Congress says:
“The Congress deems it entirely inexact to attempt to consider the Canton insurrection as a putsch. It was a heroic rearguard [?] battle of the Chinese proletariat, fought in the course of the period which has just passed in the Chinese revolution; in spite of the crude mistakes committed by the leadership, this uprising will remain the standard of the new soviet phase of the revolution.”
Here confusion reaches its zenith. The heroism of the Cantonese proletariat is brought in evidence as a screen to cover up the faulty leadership, not of Canton (which the resolution casts off completely) but of Moscow, which only yesterday spoke not of a “rearguard battle” but of the overthrow of the government of the Guomindang.
Why is the appeal to insurrection denounced as putschism after the experience of Canton? Because, thanks to this experience, the inopportuneness of the uprising was confirmed. The leadership of the Communist International had need of a new object lesson in order to discover what already appeared quite clear without it. But are not these supplementary lessons for backward people, given in life, too costly to the proletariat?
Lominadze, one of the infant prodigies of revolutionary strategy, swore at the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that the Canton insurrection was necessary, right and salutary, precisely because it inaugurated an era of the direct struggle of the workers and peasants for the conquest of power. He met with agreement. At the Sixth Congress, Lominadze recognized that the insurrection did not inaugurate an era of triumph but concluded one of defeat. Nevertheless, just as before, the uprising is considered necessary, right and salutary. Its name has simply been changed: from a clash between the vanguard of the forces at hand, they made a “rearguard battle”. Everything else remains as in the past. The attempt to escape the criticism of the Opposition by hiding behind the heroism of the Cantonese workers has as much weight as, let us say for example, the attempt of General Rennenkampf to take shelter behind the heroism of the Russian soldiers whom he drowned by his strategy in the Masurian swamps. The proletarians of Canton are guilty, without having committed mistakes, simply of an excess of confidence in their leadership. Their leadership was guilty of having had a blind confidence in the leadership of the Communist International which combined political blindness with the spirit of adventurism.
It is radically false to compare the Canton insurrection of 1927 with that of Moscow in 1905. During the whole of 1905, the Russian proletariat rose from one plane to the other, wresting concessions from the enemy, sowing disintegration in its ranks, concentrating around its vanguard ever greater popular masses. The October 1905 strike was an immense victory, having a world historical importance. The Russian proletariat had its own party, which was not subordinated to any bourgeois or petty-bourgeois discipline. The self-esteem, the intransigence, the spirit of offensive of the Party, rose from stage to stage. The Russian proletariat had created soviets in dozens of cities, not on the eve of the revolt but during the process of a strike struggle of the masses. Through these soviets, the Party established contact with the vast masses; it registered their revolutionary spirit; it mobilized them. The tsarist government, seeing that each day brought a change in the relationship of forces favourable to the revolution, passed over to the counter-offensive and thus prevented the revolutionary leadership from being able to gain the time needed for continuing to mobilize its forces. Under these conditions, the leadership could and should have staked everything so as to be able to test by deeds the state of mind of the last decisive factor: the army. This was the meaning of the insurrection of December 1905.
In China, events developed in a directly opposite way. The Stalinist policy of the Chinese Communist Party consisted of a series of capitulations before the bourgeoisie, accustoming the workers to support patiently the yoke of the Guomindang. In March 1926 the Party capitulated before Chiang Kai-shek; it consolidated his position while weakening its own; it discredited the banner of Marxism; it converted itself into an auxiliary instrument of the bourgeois leadership. The Party extinguished the agrarian movement and the workers’ strikes by putting into practice the directions of the Executive Committee of the Communist International on the bloc of four classes. It renounced the organization of soviets so as not to disturb the situation at the rear of the Chinese generals. It thus delivered to Chiang Kai-shek the workers of Shanghai, bound hand to foot. After the crushing of Shanghai, the Party, in conformity with the directions of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, placed all its hopes in the Left Guomindang, the so-called “centre of the agrarian revolution”. The Communists entered the Wuhan government, which repressed the strike struggle and the peasants’ uprisings. They thus prepared a new and still crueller devastation of the revolutionary masses. After all this, an instruction entirely permeated with the spirit of adventurism was issued, ordering an immediate orientation towards the insurrection. It is from this that was first born the adventure of Ho Lung and Ye Ting, and the even more painful one of the Canton coup d’état.
No, all this does not resemble the insurrection of December 1905 at all.
If an opportunist calls the events of Canton an adventure it is because it was an insurrection. If a Bolshevik employs the same designation for these facts, it is because it was an inopportune insurrection. It is not for nothing that a German proverb says that when two men say the same thing it does not mean the same thing. The officials à la Thälmann can continue, on the subject of the Chinese revolt, to recount to the German Communists the “apostasy” of the Opposition. We will know how to teach the German Communists to turn their backs on the Thälmanns. In actuality, the question of evaluating the Canton insurrection is the question of the teachings drawn from the Third Congress, in other words, of a lesson where the life of the German proletariat was at stake.
In March 1921 the Communist Party of Germany sought to engage in an insurrection by basing itself upon an active minority of the proletariat in the face of the passive spirit of the majority, which was tired, distrustful, expectant, as a result of all the preceding defeats. Those who directed this attempt at the time also sought to take shelter behind the heroism of which the workers gave proof in the March battles. However, the Third Congress did not congratulate them for this attempt when it condemned the spirit of adventurism of the leadership. What was our judgement in those days of the March events?
“Their essence,” we wrote, “is summed up in the fact that the young Communist Party, alarmed by a manifest decline in the workers’ movement, made a desperate attempt to profit by the intervention of one of the most active detachments of the proletariat in order to ‘electrify’ the working class and, if possible, to bring matters to a decisive battle.” 
Thälmann has not understood a thing of all this.
From July 1923 on, we demanded, to the great astonishment of Clara Zetkin, Warski and other old, very venerable but incorrigible Social Democrats, that the date of the insurrection in Germany be fixed. Then, at the beginning of 1924, when Zetkin declared that at that moment she envisaged the eventuality of an uprising with much “more optimism” than during the preceding year, we could only shrug our shoulders.
“An elementary truth of Marxism says that the tactics of the socialist proletariat cannot be the same in face of a revolutionary situation as when this situation does not exist.” 
Today, everybody acknowledges this ABC verbally, but how far they still are from applying it in reality!
It is not a question of knowing what the Communists must do when the masses are rebelling of their own accord. That is a special question. When the masses arise, the Communists must be with them, organizing and instructing them. But the question is posed differently: What did the leadership do and what should it have done during the weeks and months that immediately preceded the Canton insurrection? The leadership was duty bound to explain to the revolutionary workers that as a consequence of defeats, due to an erroneous policy, the relationship of forces had veered entirely in favour of the bourgeoisie. The great masses of workers who had fought tremendous battles, dispersed by the encounters, abandoned the field of battle. It is absurd to believe that one can march towards a peasant insurrection when the proletarian masses are departing. They must be grouped together again, fight defensive battles, avoiding a general battle, which obviously does not hold out any hope. If in spite of such a work of clarification and education, contrary to it, the masses of Canton had rebelled (which is very unlikely) the Communists would have had to put themselves at their head. But it is just the reverse that happened. The uprising had been commanded in advance, deliberately and with premeditation, based upon a false appreciation of the whole atmosphere. One of the detachments of the proletariat was drawn into a struggle which obviously held out no hope, and made easier for the enemy the annihilation of the vanguard of the working class. Not to say this openly, is to deceive the Chinese workers and to prepare new defeats. The Sixth Congress did not say it.
Does all this signify that the Canton insurrection was only an adventure, allowing of but one conclusion, that is, that the leadership was entirely incompetent? No, that is not the sense of our criticism. The Canton insurrection showed that even after enormous defeats, with the manifest decline of the revolution, even in non-industrialized Canton, with its petty-bourgeois traditions of Sun-Yat-Sen-ism, the proletariat was able to rise in revolt, to fight valiantly and to conquer power. We have here a fact of enormous importance. It shows anew now considerable is the weight of the proletariat in its own right, how great is the political role which it can eventually play, even if the working class is relatively weak in numbers, in a historically backward country, where the majority of the population is composed of peasants and scattered petty-bourgeois. This fact, once more after 1905 and 1917, completely demolishes the philistines à la Kuusinen, Martynov and consorts, who teach us that one cannot dream of speaking of the dictatorship of the proletariat in “agrarian” China. Yet the Martynovs and the Kuusinens are at the present time the daily inspirers of the Communist International.
The Canton insurrection showed at the same time that at the decisive moment the proletariat was unable to find, even in the petty-bourgeois capital of Sun-Yat-Sen-ism, a single political ally having a distinct form, not even among the debris of the Guomindang, of the left or the ultra-left. This means that the vital task of establishing the alliance between the workers and the poor peasants in China devolves exclusively and directly upon the Communist Party. The accomplishment of this task is one of the conditions for the triumph of the coming third Chinese revolution. And the victory of the latter will restore the power to the vanguard of the proletariat, supported by the union of the workers and the poor peasants.
* * *
If “apostasy” must be spoken of, the traitors to the heroes and the victims of the Canton insurrection are those who seek to rid themselves of the teachings of this uprising in order to conceal the crimes of the leadership. The lesson to draw is the following:
- The Canton insurrection showed that only the proletarian vanguard in China is capable of carrying out the uprising and of capturing power. The revolt showed, after the experience of collaboration between the Communist Party and the Guomindang, the complete lack of vitality and the reactionary character of the slogan of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, opposed to the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat drawing the poor peasants behind it.
- The Canton insurrection, conceived and executed contrary to the course of development of the revolution, accelerates and deepens the decline of the latter, facilitating the annihilation of the proletarian forces by the bourgeois counter-revolution. This stamps the inter-revolutionary period with a painful, chronic and lasting character. The greatest problem now is the renascence of the Communist Party as the organization of the vanguard of the proletariat.
These two conclusions are equally important. It is only by considering them simultaneously that the situation can be judged and the perspectives fixed. The Sixth Congress did neither the one nor the other. By taking as its point of departure the resolutions of the Ninth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (February 1928) which assured us that the Chinese revolution “is continuing”, the Congress slipped up in its flight to the point of declaring that this revolution has now entered into a preparatory phase. But this flight will not help anything. We must speak clearly and sincerely, recognize firmly, openly, brutally the breach that has taken place, adapt the tactics to it and at the same time follow a line of conduct which leads the vanguard of the proletariat through the insurrection to its preponderant role in the soviet China of the future.
2) The Inter-Revolutionary Period and the Tasks That Present Themselves in the Course of it
Bolshevik policy is characterized not only by its revolutionary scope, but also by its political realism. These two aspects of Bolshevism are inseparable. The greatest task is to know how to recognize in time a revolutionary situation and to exploit it to the end. But it is no less important to understand when this situation is exhausted and is converted, from the political point of view, into its antithesis. Nothing is more fruitless and worthless than to show one’s fist after the battle. That, however, is just where Bukharin’s speciality lies. First, he proved that the Guomindang and the soviets are the same thing, and that the Communists can conquer power through the Guomindang, avoiding the fray. And when this same Guomindang, with the aid of Bukharin, crushed the workers, he began to show his fist. In so far as he did nothing but amend or “complete” Lenin, his caricatured aspect did not exceed certain modest limits. In so far as he pretends to give leadership himself, profiting by the total lack of knowledge in international questions on the part of Stalin, Rykov and Molotov, little Bukharin swells up until he becomes a gigantic caricature of Bolshevism. His strategy reduces itself to finishing off and mutilating, in the epoch of decline, that which escaped alive in the abortive and besmirched revolutionary period.
It must be distinctly understood that there is not, at the present time, a revolutionary situation in China. It is rather a counter-revolutionary situation that has been substituted there, transforming itself into an inter-revolutionary period of indefinite duration. Turn with contempt from those who would tell you that this is pessimism and lack of faith. To shut one’s eyes to facts is the most infamous form of lack of faith.
There remains in China a revolutionary situation in all its profundity, in so far as all the internal and international contradictions of the country can find their solution only on the road of the revolution. But from this point of view, there is not a single country in the world where there does not exist a revolutionary situation which must inevitably manifest itself openly with the exception of the USSR, where, in spite of five years of opportunist back-sliding, the soviet form of the proletarian dictatorship still opens up the possibility of a renascence of the October revolution by means of reformist methods.
In certain countries, the eventuality of the transformation of the potential revolution into an active revolution is closer; in others it is further off. It is all the more difficult to divine in advance what will be the rotation followed, since it is determined not only by the acuteness of the international contradictions, but also by the intersection of world factors. One may very reasonably assume that the revolution will be accomplished in Europe before taking place in North America. But the predictions which announce that the revolution will break out in Asia first and then in Europe already have a more conditional character. It is possible, even probable, but it is not at all inevitable. New difficulties and complications, like the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923, or else the accentuation of the commercial and industrial crisis, under the pressure of the United States, can in the nearest future confront the European states with a directly revolutionary situation, as was the case in Germany in 1923, in England in 1926 and in Austria in 1927.
The fact that only yesterday China was passing through a stirring revolutionary phase does not bring closer the revolution for today and tomorrow, but on the contrary, makes it more distant. In the course of the period which followed the revolution of 1905, it produced great revolutionary disturbances and coups d’état in the countries of the East (Persia, Turkey, China). But in Russia itself, the revolution revived only twelve years later, in connection with the imperialist war. Naturally, these intervals are not obligatory for China. The general speed of the evolution of world contradictions has now been accelerated. That is all that can be said. But one must take into account and bear in mind that in China itself the revolution is at the present time laid over into an indefinite future. And moreover: the consequences of the defeat of the revolution have not yet been completely exhausted. In Russia the wave of fall and decline went through the years 1907-08, 1909 and partly 1910, when, thanks in large measure to the revival of industry, the working class began to come to life. A no less abrupt descent confronts the Chinese Communist Party. The latter must know how to cling to every ledge, to hold tenaciously to every point of support so as not to tumble down and be smashed.
The Chinese proletariat, beginning with its vanguard, must assimilate the enormous experiences of the defeats and, by acting with new methods, recognize the new environment; it must redress its shattered ranks; it must renew its mass organizations; it must establish with greater clarity and distinctness than before what its attitude must be towards the problems which are arising before the country: national unity and liberation, revolutionary agrarian transformation.
On the other hand, the Chinese bourgeoisie must squander the capital accumulated by its victories. The contradictions which exist within itself, as well as between it and the outside world, must once more lay themselves bare and become sharpened. A new regrouping of forces must have its repercussions in the peasantry, reviving its activity. It is precisely all this that will signify that there is a renascence of the revolutionary situation on a higher historical basis.
“... Those who have had to live, said Lenin on February 23, 1918, through the long years of revolutionary battles at the time of the ascension of the revolution and at the time when it sank into the abyss, when the revolutionary appeals to the masses found no echo among them, know that in spite of everything the revolution always rose anew” 
The pace that the Chinese revolution will follow in “rising anew”, will depend not only upon objective conditions but also upon the policy of the Communist International.
The resolution of the Congress wheels diplomatically around these essential questions, planting reservations to the right and the left which will permit it to save itself, that is, like the lawyers, it creates motives in advance which will permit it to squash the case or appeal it.
It is true that this resolution recognizes that “the slogan of mass uprising becomes a propaganda slogan and it is only to the extent ... that a new rise of the revolution matures that it will again become immediately applicable in practice”. Let us point out in passing that as late as February of this year such an attitude was called Trotskyism. No doubt it must be understood that this term signifies the ability to take into account facts and their consequences more rapidly than is done by the leadership of the Communist International.
But the resolution of the Congress does not go beyond this transformation of the armed insurrection into a propaganda slogan. The reports say nothing more on this point. What is to be expected in the very next period? What must be prepared for? What line must be followed in the work to be effected? No perspective is established. To understand how much needs to be learned over again from the very bottom in this question, let us again cast a glance upon yesterday, upon the very same resolution of the Chinese Central Committee, which furnishes the most striking manifestation of “revolutionary” light-mindedness doubled by opportunism. 
The Plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, directed by the infant prodigies of left centrism, decided in November 1927, on the eve of the insurrection at Canton:
“In evaluating the general political situation created in China after the counter-revolutionary coup d’état in Hunan, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, already in its theses of August, formulated the affirmation that stabilization of the bourgeois military reaction in China was entirely impossible on the basis of the present social, economic and political relationships.”
In this remarkable thesis, dealing with stabilization, the same operation was carried through as was done with the revolutionary situation. These two conceptions have been transformed into certain substances, irremediably opposed to each other. If the revolutionary situation is assured for “many years” in the face of no matter what circumstances, it is clear that stabilization, no matter what happens, is “absolutely impossible”. The one supplements the other in a system of metaphysical principles. Bukharin and his friendly enemy, Lominadze, do not understand in such a case that the revolutionary situation, as well as its opposite, stabilization, are not only the premises of the class struggle but also constitute its living content. Outside of this struggle, neither the one nor the other exists.
We once wrote that stabilization is an “object” of the class struggle and not an arena established for it in advance. The proletariat wants to develop and utilize a situation of crisis, the bourgeois wants to put an end to it and to overcome it by its stabilization. Stabilization is the “object” of the struggle of these fundamental class forces. Bukharin first sneered at this definition; then he introduced it textually, as contraband, into his printed report to one of the plenums of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. But in acknowledging our formula, directed especially against his scholasticism, Bukharin failed absolutely to understand the meaning of our definition. As to the capricious leaps that Lominadze executes towards the left, their radius is very restricted, for the valiant infant prodigy does not dare break Bukharin’s thread. Naturally, absolute stabilization is absolutely opposed to an absolute revolutionary situation. The conversion of these absolutes into each other is “absolutely impossible”. But if one descends from these ridiculous theoretical summits, it turns out that before the complete and final triumph of socialism, the relatively revolutionary situation will very likely be converted more than once into relative stabilization (and vice versa). All other conditions remaining equal, the danger of the conversion of a revolutionary situation into bourgeois stabilization is all the greater the less capable is the proletarian leadership of exploiting the situation.
The leadership of the Chiang Kai-shek clique was superior to that of Chen Duxiu and of Tang Pingshan. But it is not this leadership that decided: foreign imperialism guided Chiang Kai-shek by threats, by promises, by its direct assistance. The Communist International directed Chen Duxiu. Two leaderships of world dimensions crossed swords here. That of the Communist International, through all the stages of the struggle, appeared as absolutely forthless, and it thus facilitated to the highest degree the task of the imperialist leadership. In such conditions, the transformation of the revolutionary situation into bourgeois stabilization is not only not “impossible”, but is absolutely inevitable. Even more: it is accomplished, and within certain limits it is completed.
Bukharin has announced a new period of “organic” stabilization for Europe. He gave assurances that one need not expect, in the course of the coming years in Europe, any renewal of the Vienna events or in general any revolutionary conclusions. Why? One does not know. The struggle for the conquest of power is entirely thrust aside by the struggle to be conducted against war. On the other hand, stabilization in China is denied, just as the Fifth Congress denied it in Germany after the defeat of the revolution of 1923. Everything passes and everything changes, except the mistakes of the leadership of the Communist International.
The defeat of the workers and the peasants in China corresponds inevitably to a political consolidation of the Chinese ruling classes; and that is precisely the point of departure for economic stabilization. A certain establishment of order in domestic circulation and in foreign commercial relations, following upon the pacification or the abatement of the civil war regions, automatically brings with it a restoration of economic activity. The vital needs of the completely devastated and exhausted country must make a path for themselves to some degree or other. Commerce and industry must begin to re-establish themselves. The number of employed workers must increase.
It would be blindness to close one’s eyes to the existence of certain political premises for the subsequent development of the productive forces of the country which, of course, take on the forms of capitalist servitude. The political premises alone do not suffice. There is still needed an economic impulsion without which the disorganization could be overcome only with relative slowness. This external shock may be furnished by the influx of foreign capital. America has already cut across the field, outstripping Japan and Europe, by consenting, for the sake of form, to conclude an “equal treaty”. The domestic depression, in the face of the available resources, makes more than likely an extensive economic intervention in China by the United States, before which the Guomindang will evidently hold the door wide “open”. One cannot doubt the fact that the European countries, especially Germany, fighting against the rapidly aggravated crisis, will seek to debouch upon the Chinese market.
Given the vast area of China and its multitudinous population, even feeble success in the field of road construction, even a simple growth in transportation security, accompanied by a certain regulation of the exchange, must automatically produce a considerable increase of commercial circulation and by the same sign an enlivening of industry. At the present time, the most important capitalist countries, among them and far from occupying last place, the United States, preoccupied with an outlet for their automobiles, are interested in the establishment of all kinds of roads.
In order to stabilize the Chinese exchange and to mark out the roads, a large loan from abroad is required. The possibility of concluding it is discussed and recognized as quite real in the influential Anglo-Saxon financial press. They speak of an international banking consortium to amortize the old debts of China and to grant it new credits. The well-informed press is already calling the future affair “the most important in world history”.
It is impossible to predict to what extent these grandiose projects will be put into effect without being better acquainted with all the documents, which relate in part to operations that take place behind the scenes. But there can be no doubt about the fact that for the near future the course of events will follow this direction. Right now, the press is bringing dozens of news items indicating that the extremely relative pacification of China and its still more relative unification have already given an impetus in the most diversified fields of economic life. A good harvest in almost the whole of China is acting in the same sense. The diagrams of domestic circulation, of imports and exports, show patent signs of progress.
Manifestly, one should not repeat the mistake committed yesterday, only the other way around. One should not attribute to semicolonial capitalist stabilization I do not know what rigid, unchangeable – in a word, metaphysical – traits. It will be a very lame stabilization, exposed to all the winds of world politics as well as to the still un-eliminated internal dangers. Nevertheless, this very relative bourgeois stabilization is radically distinguished from a revolutionary situation. To be sure, the fundamental material relations of the classes have remained the same. But the political relationships of their forces for the period in view have been rudely altered. This is expressed also by the fact that the Communist Party has been almost completely driven back to its starting point. It will have to regain its political influence by proceeding almost from the beginning.
What has been gained is experience. But this gain will be positive instead of negative on the single condition that the experience is judiciously assimilated. In the meantime, the bourgeoisie is acting with greater assurance, with greater cohesion. It has gone over to the offensive. It is setting itself great tasks for the morrow. The proletariat is falling back; it is far from always offering resistance to blows. The peasantry, deprived of any kind of centralized leadership, boils over here and there without having any real chances of success. Now, world capital is coming to the aid of the Chinese bourgeoisie with the clear intention of bowing down still lower to the ground, through the intermediary of the latter, the Chinese toiling masses. There is the mechanism of the process of stabilization. The day after tomorrow, when Bukharin runs his head into the facts, he will proclaim that heretofore the stabilization might have been considered as “incidental”, but it is now clear that it is “organic”.
The process of economic recovery will, in turn, correspond to the mobilization of new tens and hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers, to the tightening up of their ranks, to the increase of their specific gravity in the social life of the country and by that an increase in their revolutionary self-confidence. It is superfluous to explain that the re-animation of Chinese commerce and industry will soon give point to the problem of imperialism. However, were the Communist Party of China, influenced by the scholasticism of Bukharin and Lominadze, to turn its back to the process really taking place in the country, it would lose an economic point of support for the recovery of the workers’ movement.
At the beginning, the augmentation of the specific gravity and the class self-confidence of the proletariat will make itself felt in a rebirth of the strike struggle, in the consolidation of the trade unions. It is needless to say that serious possibilities are thus opened up before the Chinese Communist Party. Nobody knows how long it will have to remain in a clandestine existence. In any case, it is necessary to reinforce and to perfect the illegal organizations in the course of the coming period. But this task cannot be accomplished outside of the life and the struggle of the masses. The illegal apparatus will have all the greater possibilities to develop itself if the legal and semi-legal organizations of the working class surround it closely and the more profoundly it will penetrate into them. The Chinese Communist Party must not have doctrinaire blinkers over its eyes, and it must keep its hands on the pulse of the economic life of the country. It must put itself at the head of strikes at the proper time, charge itself with the resurrection of the trade unions and the struggle for the eight-hour day. It is only under these conditions that its participation in the political life of the country can obtain a serious foundation.
* * *
“There cannot even be any question,” said one of the Chinese delegates at the Congress, “of a consolidation of the power of the Guomindang.”  This is false. There most assuredly can be a “question” of a certain consolidation, even fairly considerable, of the power of the Guomindang for a certain period of time, even for a fairly important period.
The Chinese bourgeoisie, with an ease which it never expected, has won decisive victories, for the period in view, against the workers and the peasants. The re-awakening of its class consciousness which followed made itself clearly felt at the economic conference which met at the end of June in Shanghai and which represented, so to speak, the economic pre-parliament of the Chinese bourgeoisie. It showed that it wanted to reap the fruits of its triumph. Across this road stand the militarists and the imperialists with whose aid it vanquished the masses. The bourgeoisie wants customs autonomy, that stumbling block to economic independence, to the completest possible unification of China; the abolition of internal customs which disorganize the market; suppression of the arbitrariness of the military authorities who confiscate the rolling stock of the railroads and encroach upon private property; finally, the reduction of armaments, which today constitute a too heavy burden upon the economy of the country. It is to this, also, that belongs the creation of a unified currency and the establishment of order in administration. The bourgeoisie has formulated all its demands in its economic pre-parliament. From the formal point of view, the Guomindang has taken note of it, but being entirely divided among the regional military cliques, it constitutes at the present time an obstacle to the realization of these measures.
The foreign imperialists represent an even stronger one. The bourgeoisie considers, and not without cause, that it will exploit the contradictions between the imperialists with all the greater success, and that it will obtain an all the more favourable compromise with them, should it be successful in compelling the military cliques of the Guomindang to submit to the centralized apparatus of the bourgeois state. It is in this sense that the aspirations of the most “progressive” elements of the bourgeoisie and of the democratic petty bourgeoisie are now being directed. It is out of this that is born the idea of the National Assembly to crown the victories won, a means of bridling the militarists, the authorized state representative of the Chinese bourgeoisie for doing business with foreign capital. The economic animation which is already visible cannot but give courage to the bourgeoisie, obliging it to regard with particular hostility anything that impairs the regularity of the circulation of merchandise and disorganizes the national market. The first stage of economic stabilization will certainly increase the chances of success of Chinese parliamentarism and will consequently require that the Chinese Communist Party give evidence, in this question too, of timely political initiative.
For the Chinese bourgeoisie, having vanquished the workers and the peasants, it can only be a question of an arch-censored assembly, perhaps by simply giving formal representation to the commercial and industrial associations on the basis of which the economic conference of Shanghai was convoked. The petty-bourgeois democracy, which will inevitably begin to stir, seeing that the revolution declines, will formulate more “democratic” slogans. In this manner, it will seek to establish contact with the higher strata of the popular masses of town and country.
The “constitutional” development of China, at least in its next stage, is intimately bound up with the internal evolution of the Guomindang, in whose hands the state power is at present concentrated in every respect. The last plenum of the Guomindang, in August, decided, so far as can be understood, to convene for the first of January 1929 the Party congress which was adjourned for so long a time owing to the centre’s fear of losing power (as we see, the peculiarity of “China” is not very peculiar). The agenda of the congress includes the problem of the Chinese constitution. It is true that certain internal or external events may cause the collapse not only of the January congress of the Guomindang but also of the whole constitutional era of stabilization of the Chinese bourgeoisie. This eventuality always remains a possibility. But unless new factors intervene, the question of the state régime in China, the constitutional problems, will occupy the centre of public attention in the next period.
What attitude will the Communist Party take? What will it set up against the Guomindang’s draft of a constitution? Can the Communist Party say that since it is preparing, as soon as a new rise takes place, to create soviets in the future, it makes no difference to it up to then whether there exists or does not exist in China a National Assembly, that it matters little if it is censored or embraces the whole people? Such an attitude would be superficial, empty and passive.
The Communist Party can and should formulate the slogan of a Constituent Assembly with full powers, elected by universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage. In the process of agitation for this slogan, it will obviously be necessary to explain to the masses that it is doubtful if such an assembly will be convened, and even if it were, it would be powerless so long as the material power remains in the hands of the Guomindang generals. From this flows the possibility of broaching in a new manner the slogan of the arming of the workers and the peasants. The revival of political activity, connected with that of economy, will once more bring the agrarian problem to the foreground. But for a certain period it may find itself posed on the parliamentary field, that is, on the field of the attempts by the bourgeoisie and primarily by the petty-bourgeois democracy to “solve” it by legislative means. Obviously, the Communist Party cannot adapt itself to bourgeois legality, that is, capitulate before bourgeois property. It can and should have its own finished and rounded-out project for the solution of the agrarian problem on the basis of the confiscation of landed property exceeding a certain area, varying in accordance with the different provinces. The Communist project of the agrarian law must be in essence the formula of the future agrarian revolution. But the Communist Party can and should introduce its own formula into the struggle for the National Assembly and into the Assembly itself, should this ever be convened.
The slogan of the National (or Constituent) Assembly is thus intimately linked up with those of the eight-hour day, the confiscation of the land and the complete national independence of China. It is precisely in these slogans that the democratic stage of the development of the Chinese revolution will express itself. In the field of international policy, the Communist Party will demand an alliance with the USSR. By judiciously combining these slogans, by advancing each of them at the proper time, the Communist Party will be able to tear itself out of its clandestine existence, make a bloc with the masses, win their confidence, and thus speed the coming of the period of the creation of soviets and of the direct struggle for power.
Well-defined historical tasks are deduced from the democratic stage of the revolution. But by itself the democratic character of these tasks does not at all determine as yet what classes, and in which combination, will solve these problems. At bottom, all the great bourgeois revolutions solved problems of the same type, but they did it through a different class mechanism. By fighting for democratic tasks in China in the inter-revolutionary period, the Communist Party will re-assemble its forces, will check up on itself, upon its slogans and its methods of action. If it should succeed, in this connection, in passing over a period of parliamentarism (which is possible, even probable, but far from inevitable), this will permit the proletarian vanguard to scrutinize its enemies and adversaries by examining them through the prism of parliament. In the course of the pre-parliamentary and parliamentary period, this vanguard will have to conduct an intransigent struggle to win influence over the peasants, to guide the peasantry directly from the political point of view. Even if the National Assembly should be realized in an arch-democratic manner, the fundamental problems would nevertheless have to be solved by force. Through the parliamentary period, the Chinese Communist Party would arrive at a direct and immediate struggle for power, but by possessing a maturer historical basis, that is, surer premises for victory.
We have said that the existence of the parliamentary stage was probable, but not inevitable. A new disintegration of the country, as well as external causes, may prevent its realization; at all events, in the first case, a movement in favour of parliaments for various regions might come forward. But all this does not remove the importance of the struggle for a democratically convoked National Assembly which would by itself be an entering wedge between the groupings of the possessing classes and would broaden the framework of the proletariat’s spirit of activity.
We know in advance that all the “leaders” who preached the bloc of the four classes, the arbitration commissions instead of strikes, who gave telegraphic orders that the agrarian movement should not be extended, who counselled that the bourgeoisie should not be terrorized, who prohibited the creation of soviets, who subordinated the Communist Party to the Guomindang, who acclaimed Wang Jingwei as the leader of the agrarian revolution – that all these opportunists, guilty of the defeat of the revolution, will now attempt to outbid the left wing and to charge our way of putting the question with containing “constitutional illusions” and a “Social-Democratic deviation”. We deem it necessary to warn the Communists and the advanced Chinese workers in time against the hollow, false radicalism of yesterday’s favourites of Chiang Kai-shek. One cannot rid oneself of a historical process by faked quotations, by confusion, by mile-long resolutions, in general, by every sort of apparatus and literary trick, which seeks to escape facts and classes. Events will come and furnish the test. Those for whom the tests of the past are not enough have only to wait for the future. Only, let them not forget that this verification nevertheless is effected on the bones of the proletarian vanguard.
3) The Soviets and the Constituent Assembly
We hope that it is not necessary to raise here the general question of formal, that is, of bourgeois democracy. Our attitude towards it has nothing in common with the sterile anarchist negation. The slogan and the norms of democracy, from the formal point of view, are deduced in a different way for the various countries of a well-defined stage in the evolution of bourgeois society. The democratic slogans contain for a certain period not only illusions, not only deception, but also an animating historical force.
“So long as the struggle of the working class for full power is not on the order of the day, it is our duty to utilize every form of bourgeois democracy.” 
From the political point of view, the question of formal democracy is for us not only that of the attitude to be observed towards the petty-bourgeois masses, but also towards the worker masses, to the extent that the latter have not yet acquired a revolutionary class consciousness. Under the conditions of progress of the revolution, during the offensive of the proletariat, the eruption of the lower strata of the petty bourgeoisie in political life was manifested in China by agrarian revolts, by conflicts with the governmental troops, by strikes of all kinds, by the extermination of lower administrators. At the present moment, all the movements of this type are obviously diminishing. The triumphant soldiery of the Guomindang dominates society. Every day of stabilization will lead more and more to collisions between this militarism and the bureaucracy on the one hand, and on the other, not only the advanced workers but also the petty-bourgeois masses who predominate in the population of the country and towns, and even, within certain limits, the big bourgeoisie. Before these collisions develop to the point of becoming an open revolutionary struggle, they will pass, from all the available facts, through a “constitutional” stage. The conflicts between the bourgeoisie and its own military cliques will inevitably draw in the upper layer of the petty-bourgeois masses, through the medium of a “third party” or by other means. From the standpoint of economics and of culture, the former are extraordinarily feeble. Their political strength lies in their numbers. Therefore, the slogans of formal democracy win over, or are capable of winning over, not only the petty-bourgeois masses but also the broad working masses, precisely because they reveal to them the possibility, which is essentially illusory, of opposing their will to that of the generals, the country squires and the capitalists. The proletarian vanguard educates the masses by using this experience, and leads them forward.
The experience of Russia shows that during the progress of the revolution, the proletariat organized in soviets can, by a correct policy, directed towards the conquest of power, draw behind it the peasantry, fling it against the front of formal democracy embodied in the Constituent Assembly, and switch it on the rails of soviet democracy. In any case, these results were not attained by simply opposing the soviets to the Constituent Assembly, but by drawing the masses towards the soviets while maintaining the slogans of formal democracy up to the very moment of the conquest of power and even after it.
“That in the Russia of September-November 1917, the working class of the cities, the soldiers and the peasants, as a result of a number of special conditions, found themselves admirably prepared for the adoption of the soviet régime and the dissolution of the most democratic of the bourgeois parliaments – that is an undeniable and perfectly established historical fact. Yet the Bolsheviks did not boycott the Constituent Assembly; far from it, they participated in the elections not only before but even after the conquest of political power by the proletariat ...
“Even a few weeks before the victory of the soviet republic, even after this victory, the participation in a parliament of bourgeois democracy, far from injuring the revolutionary proletariat, helps it to prove to the backward masses that these parliaments deserve to be dissolved, facilitates the success of their dissolution, brings nearer the moment when it could be said that bourgeois parliamentarism had ‘had its day politically’.” 
When we adopted direct practical measures to disperse the Constituent Assembly, I recall that Lenin insisted particularly on having sent to Petrograd one or two regiments of Lettish light infantry, composed largely of agricultural workers. “The Petrograd garrison is almost entirely peasants; may it not hesitate in face of the Constituent?” That is how Lenin formulated his preoccupations. It was not at all a question of political “traditions”; indeed, the Russian peasantry could have no serious traditions of parliamentary democracy. The essence of the question lies in the fact that the peasant mass, aroused to historical life, is not at all inclined to place confidence in advance in a leadership coming from the cities, even if it is proletarian, especially during a non-revolutionary period; this mass seeks a simple political formula which would express directly its own political strength, that is, the predominance of numbers. The political expression of the domination of the majority is formal democracy.
Naturally, to affirm that the popular masses can and should never and under no conditions “leap” over the “constitutional” step, would be to manifest a ridiculous pedantry in the spirit of Stalin. In certain countries, the epoch of parliamentarism lasts long decades and even centuries. In Russia, it was only prolonged for the few years of the pseudo-constitutional régime and the one day of existence of the Constituent. From the historical point of view, one can perfectly well conceive of situations where even these few years and this one day would not exist.
Also, if the revolutionary policy had been correct, if the Communist Party had been completely independent of the Guomindang, if the soviets had been established in 1925-27, the revolutionary development could already have led China today to the dictatorship of the proletariat by passing beyond the democratic phase. But even in that case, it is not impossible that the formula of the Constituent Assembly, not tried by the peasantry at the most critical moment, not tested, and consequently still containing illusions, could, at the first serious difference between the peasantry and the proletariat, on the very morrow of the victory, become the slogan of the peasants and the petty bourgeoisie of the cities against the proletariat. Important conflicts between the proletariat and the peasantry, even in face of favourable conditions for the alliance, are quite inevitable, as is witnessed by the experience of the October revolution. Our greatest advantage lay in the fact that the majority of the Constituent Assembly, which had grown in the struggle of the dominant parties for the continuation of the war and against the confiscation of the land by the peasants, had profoundly compromised itself, even in the eyes of the peasantry, already at the moment of the convocation of the Constituent Assembly.
* * *
How does the resolution of the Congress, adopted after a reading of Bukharin’s report, characterize the present period of the development of China and the tasks to be deduced from this period? Paragraph 54 of this resolution says:
“At the present time, the principal task of the Party, in the period between two waves of revolutionary progress, is to fight to win the masses, that is, mass work among the workers and the peasants’ the re-establishment of their organizations, the utilization of all discontentment against the landed proprietors, the bourgeoisie, the generals, the foreign imperialists ...”
There is really a classic example of double meaning in the manner of the most renowned oracles of antiquity. The present period is characterized as being “between two waves of revolutionary progress”. We know this formula. The Fifth Congress applied it to Germany. A revolutionary situation does not develop uniformly, but by successive waves of ebb and flow. This formula has been chosen with premeditation, so as to be able to interpret it as recognizing the existence of a revolutionary situation, in which there takes place simply a “calm” before the tempest. At all events, they will also be able to explain it by pretending to acknowledge a whole period between two revolutions. In both cases, they will be able to begin the new resolution with the words: “as we foresaw” or “as we predicted”.
Every historical prognosis inevitably contains a conditional element. The shorter the period over which this prognosis extends, the greater is this element. In general, it is impossible to establish a prognosis with which the leaders of the proletariat would, in the future, no longer have need of analysing the situation. A prognosis has not the significance of command but rather of an orientation. One can and one must make reservations on the point up to which it is conditional. In certain situations, one can furnish a number of variants of the future, delimiting them with reflection. One can, finally, in a turbulent atmosphere, completely abandon prognosis for the time being and confine oneself to giving the advice: Wait and see! But all this must be done clearly, openly, honestly. However, in the course of the last five years, the prognoses of the Communist International have constituted not directives but rather traps for the leaderships of the parties of the various countries. The principal aim of the “prognoses” is: to inspire veneration towards the wisdom of the leadership, and in case of defeat, to save its “prestige”, that supreme fetish of weak people. It is a method of oracular announcement and not of Marxian investigation. It presupposes the existence on the scene of action of “scapegoats”. It is a demoralizing system. The ultra-leftist mistake committed by the German leadership in 1923 flowed precisely from this same perfidious, double-meaning manner of formulating the question on the subject of the “two waves of revolutionary progress”. The resolution of the Sixth Congress can cause just as many misfortunes.
We have known the wave of the period before Shanghai, and then that of Wuhan. There have been many more partial and localized waves. They all rose in the general revolutionary progress of 1925-27. But this historical ascension is exhausted. This must be understood and said clearly. Important strategic consequences are to be deduced from it.
The resolution speaks of the necessity of utilizing “all discontentment against the landed proprietors, the bourgeoisie, the generals, the foreign imperialists”. This is incontestable, but it is too indefinite. Utilize it how? If we find ourselves between two waves of continuous revolutionary progress, then every manifestation of discontentment, no matter how small its importance, can be considered as the famous (according to Zinoviev-Bukharin) “beginning of the second wave”. Then the propaganda slogan of the armed insurrection will have to be transformed immediately into a slogan of action. From this can grow a “second wave” of putschism. The Party will utilize quite differently the discontentment of the masses, if it considers it by reckoning with a correct historical perspective. But the Sixth Congress does not possess this “bagatelle”, a correct historical perspective, on any question. The Fifth Congress was a failure because of this deficiency. It is on this score that the whole Communist International can also break its neck.
After having once more condemned the putschistic tendencies for which it itself prepares the ground, the resolution of the Congress continues:
“On the other hand, certain comrades have fallen into an opportunist error: they put forward the slogan of the National Assembly.”
The resolution does not explain what the opportunism of this slogan consists of. The scalded cat fears even cold water.
Only the Chinese delegate, Strakhov, in his closing speech on the lessons of the Chinese revolution, tried to furnish an explanation. Here is what he says:
“From the experience of the Chinese revolution, we see that when the revolution in the colonies [?] draws close to the decisive moment, the question is clearly posed: Either the dictatorship of the landed proprietors and the bourgeoisie, or that of the proletariat and the peasantry.”
Naturally, when the revolution (and certainly not only in the colonies) “draws close to the decisive moment”, then every mode of action in the Guomindang style, that is to say, all collaborationism, is a crime involving fatal consequences: one can then conceive only of a dictatorship of the possessors or a dictatorship of the workers. But as we have already seen, even in such moments, in order to triumph over parliamentarism as revolutionists, one must have nothing in common with the sterile negation of it. Strakhov, however, goes even further:
“There [in the colonies], bourgeois democracy cannot exist; only the bourgeois dictatorship, operating openly, is possible It cannot have there any constitutional path.”
This is a doubly inexact extension of a correct thought. If, during “decisive moments” of the revolution, bourgeois democracy is inevitably torpedoed (and that not only in the colonies), this in no wise signifies that it is impossible during inter-revolutionary periods. But it is Strakhov and the whole Congress who do not want to recognize that the “decisive moment”, during which it was precisely the Communists who occupied themselves with the worst democratic fictions within the Guomindang, has already passed. Now, before a new “decisive moment”, a long period must be passed through, during which the old questions will have to be approached in a new manner.
To assert that in the colonies there can be no constitutional or parliamentary periods of evolution, is to renounce the utilization of methods of struggle which are essential to the highest degree, and is, above all, to make hard for oneself a correct political orientation, by driving the Party into a blind alley.
To say that for China, as, moreover, for all the other states of the world, there is no way out towards a free, in other words, a socialist development, by following the parliamentary path, is one thing, is right. But to claim that in the evolution of China, or of the colonies, there can be no constitutional period or stage, that is another thing, that is wrong. There was a parliament in Egypt, which is at the present time dissolved. It may come to life again. There is a parliament in Ireland, in spite of the semi-colonial situation of that country. The same holds true for all the states of South America, not to speak of the dominions of Great Britain. There exist semblances of “parliaments” in India. They can also develop later on: in such matters, the British bourgeoisie is pretty flexible. What reason is there for asserting that after the crushing of the revolution which has just taken place, China will not pass through a parliamentary or pseudo-parliamentary phase, or that it will not go through a serious political struggle to gain this stage of evolution? Such an assertion has no foundation at all.
The same Strakhov says that it is precisely the Chinese opportunists who aspire to substitute the slogan of the National Assembly for that of soviets. This is possible, probable, even inevitable. It was proved by all the experience of the world labour movement, of the Russian movement in particular, that the opportunists are the first to cling to parliamentary methods, in general to everything which resembles parliamentarism, or even approaches it. The Mensheviks clung to activity in the Duma as against revolutionary activity. The utilization of parliamentary methods inevitably brings up all the dangers connected with parliamentarism: constitutional illusions, legalism, a penchant for compromises, etc. These dangers and maladies can only be combated by a revolutionary course in policies. But the fact that the opportunists put forward the slogan of the struggle for the National Assembly in no way constitutes an argument in favour of a formal, negative attitude on our part towards parliamentarism. After the coup d’état of June 3, 1907 in Russia, the majority of the leading elements of the Bolshevik Party favoured boycotting the mutilated and tricked Duma. This did not prevent Lenin from coming forward resolutely in favour of the utilization of even the “parliamentarism” of June 3, at the Party conference which at that time still united the two factions.
Lenin was the only Bolshevik who voted with the Mensheviks in favour of participation in the elections. Obviously, Lenin’s “participation” had nothing in common with that of the Mensheviks, as was shown by the whole subsequent march of events; it was not opposed to the revolutionary tasks, but served them for the epoch included between two revolutions. While utilizing the counter-revolutionary pseudo-parliament of June 3, our party, in spite of its great experience of the soviets of 1905, continued to conduct the struggle for the Constituent Assembly, that is, for the most democratic form of parliamentary representation. The right to renounce parliamentarism must be won by uniting the masses around the Party and by leading them to struggle openly for the conquest of power. It is naïve to think that one can simply substitute for this work the mere renunciation of the revolutionary utilization of the contradictory and oppressive methods and forms of parliamentarism. This is the crudest error of the resolution of the Congress, which makes here a flippant ultra-leftist leap.
Just see how everything is turned topsy-turvy. According to the logic of the present leadership, and in conformity with the sense of the resolutions of the Sixth Congress of the Communist International, China is not approaching its 1917, but rather its 1905. That is why the leaders conclude mentally: Down with the slogan of formal democracy! There really does not remain a single joint which the epigones have not taken care to dislocate. How can the slogan of democracy, and especially the most radical one, the democratic representation of the people, be rejected in the condition of a non-revolutionary period, if the revolution has not accomplished its most immediate tasks from the point of view of the unity of China and its purging of all its feudal and military-bureaucratic rubbish?
So far as I know, the Chinese party has not had a program of its own. The Bolshevik Party arrived at the October revolution and accomplished it while armed with its old program, in the political part of which the slogans of democracy occupied an important place. In his time, Bukharin attempted to suppress this minimum program, just as he came forward later on against transitional demands in the program of the Communist International. But this attitude of Bukharin’s remained recorded in the history of the Party only as an anecdote. As is known, it was the dictatorship of the proletariat which accomplished the democratic revolution in Russia. The present leadership of the Communist International absolutely does not want to understand this either. But our party led the proletariat to the dictatorship only because it defended with the greatest energy, doggedness and devotion all the slogans and demands of democracy, including popular representation based upon universal suffrage, responsibility of the government to the representatives of the people, etc. Only such an agitation permits the Party to preserve the proletariat from the influence of petty-bourgeois democracy, to undermine its influence among the peasantry, to prepare the alliance of the workers and the peasants, and to draw into its ranks the most resolute revolutionary elements. Was all this nothing but opportunism? Spoitie, svietik, nie stydities!
* * *
Strakhov says that we have the slogan of soviets and that only opportunists can substitute for it the slogan of the National Assembly. This argument unmasks in most exemplary manner the erroneous character of the Congress resolution. In the discussion, nobody confuted Strakhov. On the contrary, his position was approved; it was ratified in the principal tactical resolution. It is only now that one sees clearly how numerous are those in the present leadership who went through the experience of one, two, or even three revolutions, letting themselves be drawn in by the course of events and the leadership of Lenin, but without themselves reflecting upon the meaning of what was happening and without assimilating the greatest lessons of history. One is therefore obliged to repeat again certain elementary truths.
In my criticism of the program of the Communist International, I have shown how the epigones have monstrously disfigured and mutilated the thought of Lenin, which affirms that the soviets are organs of insurrection and organs of power. From it was drawn the conclusion that soviets can be created only on the “eve” of the insurrection. This grotesque idea found its most consummate expression in the same resolution, recently revealed by us, of the November Plenum of the Chinese Central Committee held last year. It says there:
“Soviets can and should be created as organs of revolutionary power only when we are in the midst of an important, incontestable progress of the revolutionary movement of the masses and when the solid victory of the uprising is assured.”
The first condition: “important progress”, is incontestable. The second condition: “guarantee of victory”, and what is more, of a “solid” one, is simply pedantic stupidity. In the rest of the text of the resolution this stupidity, however, is developed at length:
“The creation of soviets obviously cannot be approached when victory is not yet absolutely guaranteed, for it might then happen that all attention is concentrated solely upon elections to the soviets and not upon the military struggle, as a consequence of which petty-bourgeois democratism might install itself, which would weaken the revolutionary dictatorship and would create a danger for the leadership of the Party.”
The spirit of Stalin, refracted through the prism of the infant prodigy, Lominadze, hovers over these immortal lines. However, all this is simply absurd. During the Hong Kong strike, during the Shanghai strikes, during all the subsequent violent progress of the workers and the peasants, soviets should and could have created as organs of an open revolution mass struggle which, sooner or later and not at all at one blow, would lead to the insurrection and the conquest of power. If, in the phase under consideration, the struggle did not rise to the point of insurrection, obviously the soviets too would be reduced to nothing. They cannot become “normal” institutions of the bourgeois state. But in that case, too, that is, if the soviets are liquidated before the insurrection, the working masses make an enormous acquisition, familiarizing themselves with the soviets in practice, identifying themselves with their mechanism. During the following stage of the revolution, the more successful and more extensive creation of soviets will thus be guaranteed: although, even in the phase that follows it may be that they do not lead directly, not only to victory, but even not to the insurrection.
Let us recall this very distinctly: the slogan of soviets can and must be put forward from the first stages of the revolutionary progress of the masses. But it must be a real progress. The working masses must flock to the revolution, rally under its standard. The soviets furnish an expression, from the organizational point of view, to the centripetal force of revolutionary progress. But in this way, it holds true at the same time that during the period of revolutionary ebb-tide and of the development of centrifugal tendencies in the masses, the – slogan of soviets will be doctrinaire, lifeless, or what is just as bad, it will be the slogan of adventurists. The Canton experience showed this better than anything else, in a striking and tragic manner.
At the present time, the slogan of soviets in China has an importance only from the point of view of perspective, and in this sense it has a propaganda value. One would not be conforming to anything at all by opposing the soviets, the slogan of the third Chinese revolution, to the National Assembly, that is, to the slogan that flows from the débâcle of the second Chinese revolution. Abstentionism, in an inter-revolutionary period, especially after a cruel defeat, would be a suicidal policy.
One might say (for there are many sophists in the world) that the resolution of the Sixth Congress does not at all mean abstentionism: there is no National Assembly, nobody is as yet convoking it or promising to convoke it, consequently there is nothing to boycott. Such reasoning, however, would be too pitiable, purely formal, infantile, Bukharinistic. If the Guomindang were compelled to proclaim the convocation of a National Assembly, would we boycott it in the given situation? No. We would pitilessly unmask the lie and duplicity of the Guomindang’s parliamentarism, the constitutional illusions of the petty bourgeoisie: we would demand the complete extension of electoral rights; at the same time we would throw ourselves into the political arena to oppose, in the struggle for the parliament, in the course of the elections and in the parliament itself, the workers and the poor peasants to the possessing class and their parties. Nobody would presume to foretell how great would be the results thus obtained for the present party, debilitated and reduced to a clandestine existence. If the policy were correct, the advantages could be very considerable. But in this case, is it not clear that the Party can and must not only participate in the elections if the Guomindang promulgates them, but also demand that they be held by mobilizing the masses around this slogan?
From the political point of view the question is already posed, every new day will confirm it. In our criticism of the program, we spoke of the probability of a certain economic stabilization in China. The newspapers have since then brought dozens of indications of the economic revival that is beginning (see the Bulletin of the Chinese University). Now it is no longer a supposition, but a fact, even though it is only in its very first phase. But it is just in the course of the first phase that the tendencies must be perceived, otherwise it will not be a revolutionary policy that is pursued, but a dragging at the tail of events.
The same holds true for the political struggle around the questions of the constitution. This is now no longer a theoretical forecast, that is, a simple possibility, but something more concrete. It is not for nothing that the Chinese delegate frequently recurs to the theme of the National Assembly; it is not by chance that the Congress thought it necessary to adopt a special (and a particularly false) resolution on the subject of this question. It is not the Opposition which has posed this question, but rather the evolution of Chinese political life. Here too one must know how to perceive a tendency at the very outset. The more audaciously and resolutely the Communist Party comes forward with the slogan of the democratic Constituent Assembly, the less place it will leave all sorts of intermediary parties, the more solid will be its own success.
If the Chinese proletariat is obliged to live a few more years (even if it were only another year) under the régime of the Guomindang, could the Chinese Communist Party abandon the struggle for the extension of legal possibilities of all sorts, for the freedom of press, of assembly, of organization, of strike, etc.? Were it to abandon this struggle, it would transform itself into a lifeless sect. But that is a struggle on the democratic plane. Soviet power signifies the monopoly of the press, of assembly, etc., in the hands of the proletariat. Perhaps the Chinese Communist Party will put forward these slogans precisely at this time? In the situation under consideration, it would be a mixture of childishness and madness. The Communist Party is fighting at present not for power, but to maintain, to consolidate and to develop its contact with the masses for the sake of the struggle for power in the future. The struggle to win the masses is inevitably bound up with the struggle conducted against the violence which the Guomindang bureaucracy practices towards the mass organizations, their meetings, their press, etc. During the period that is to follow immediately, will the Communist Party fight for freedom of the press or will it leave this to be done by a “third party”? Will the Communist Party confine itself to presenting democratic, isolated, partial demands (freedom of the press, of assembly, etc.), which would amount to liberal reformism, or will it put forward the most consistent slogans of democracy? In the political sphere, this signifies popular representation based upon universal suffrage.
* * *
One might ask if the Democratic Constituent Assembly is “realizable” after a defeated revolution in a semi-colonial China encircled by the imperialists. This question can only be answered by conjectures. But the simple criterion of the possibility of realizing some demand, in the face of conditions existing in bourgeois society or in a given state of this society, is not decisive for us. It is very probable, for example, that the monarchical power and the House of Lords will not be swept away before the establishment of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. Nevertheless, the British Communist Party must formulate among its partial demands this one as well.
It is not by devoting oneself to empirical conjectures as to the possibility of realizing some transitional demand or not, that the question relating to it is settled. It is its social and historical character that decides: is it progressive from the point of view of the subsequent development of society? Does it correspond to the historical interests of the proletariat? Does it strengthen the consciousness of the latter? Does it bring it closer to its dictatorship? Thus for example, the demand for the prohibition of trusts is petty-bourgeois and reactionary and, as the experiences of America have shown, it is completely utopian. Under certain conditions, on the contrary, it is entirely progressive and correct to demand workers’ control over the trusts, even though it is more than doubtful that this will ever be realized within the framework of the bourgeois state. The fact that this demand is not satisfied so long as the bourgeoisie rules must push the workers to the revolutionary overthrow of the latter. Thus, the impossibility of realizing a slogan from the political point of view can be no less fruitful than the relative possibility of putting it into practice.
Will China come for a certain period to democratic parliamentarism? What will be the degree of its democratism? What strength and what duration will it have? All this is a matter of conjecture. But it would be radically wrong to base oneself on the supposition that parliamentarism is unrealizable in China in order to conclude that we cannot hale the cliques of the Guomindang before the tribunal of the Chinese people. The idea of the representation of the entire people, as has been shown by the experience of all the bourgeois revolutions and especially those which liberated nationalities, is the most elementary, the most simple and the one most apt to embrace really vast popular strata. The more the ruling bourgeoisie resists this demand of the “entire people”, and the more the proletarian vanguard rallies around our banner, the riper the political conditions will become to win the real victory against the bourgeois state, little matter whether it be the military state of the Guomindang or the parliamentary.
It may be said: a real Constituent Assembly will not be convoked except through the soviets, that is through the insurrection. Would it not be simpler to begin with soviets and to confine oneself to them? No, it would not be simpler. It would be just like putting the cart before the horse. It is very likely that it will not be possible to convoke the Constituent Assembly except through the soviets and that in this way the Assembly might become superfluous even before its birth. This may happen, just as it may not happen. If the soviets, through whose medium a “real” Constituent Assembly might be called together, were already here, we would see if it was still necessary to proceed with its convocation. But there are no soviets at the present time. One cannot start to establish them except at the beginning of a new advance of the masses, which may take place in two or three years, in five years, or more. There are no soviet traditions at all in China. The Communist International conducted an agitation in that country against soviets and not in favour of them. In the meantime, however, constitutional questions are beginning to emerge from every cranny.
Can the Chinese revolution, in the course of its new stage, leap over formal democracy? It follows from what has been said above that, from the historical point of view, such a possibility is not excluded. But it is entirely inadmissible to approach the question guided by this possibility, which is the most distant and the least likely. It is to manifest light-mindedness in the political domain. The Congress adopts its decisions for more than one month, and even, as we know, for more than a year. How then can the Chinese Communists be left bound hand and foot, by designating as opportunism the form of political struggle which, from the next stage onwards, may acquire the greatest importance?
* * *
It is incontestable that by entering the path of struggle for the Constituent Assembly, the Menshevik tendencies in the Chinese Communist Party may be revived and strengthened. It is no less important to fight against opportunism when the policy is directed towards parliamentarism or towards the struggle for it, than when one is confronted with a direct revolutionary offensive. But, as has already been said, it does not follow from this that the democratic slogans should be called opportunistic, but that guarantees and Bolshevik methods of struggle for these slogans must be worked out. In broad outline, these methods and guarantees are the following:
- The Party must have in mind and must explain that in comparison with its principal aim, the conquest of power with arms in hand, the democratic slogans have only an auxiliary, a provisional, an episodic character. Their fundamental importance consists of the fact that they permit us to debouch on the revolutionary road.
- In the process of the struggle for these slogans of democracy, the Party must shatter the constitutional and democratic illusions of the petty bourgeoisie and of the reformists who express their opinions, by explaining that power in the state is not obtained by the democratic forms of the vote, but by property and by the monopoly of information and armaments.
- While making full use of the differences of views existing within the petty and the big bourgeoisie on the subject of constitutional questions; while opening up every possible road towards an openly exercised field of activity; while fighting for the legal existence of the trade unions, the workers’ clubs, the labour press; while creating, whenever and wherever possible, legal political organizations of the proletariat under the direct influence of the Party; while trying as soon as possible to legalize more or less the various fields of activity of the Party; the latter must above all assure the existence of its illegal, centralized, well-built apparatus, directing all the branches of the Party’s activity, legal as well as illegal.
- The Party must develop systematic revolutionary work among the troops of the bourgeoisie.
- The leadership of the Party must implacably unmask all the opportunist hesitations seeking a reformist solution of the problems confronting the proletariat of China and must cut off all the elements who consciously pull towards the subordination of the Party to bourgeois legalism.
It is only by taking these conditions into account that the Party will preserve the necessary proportions in the various branches of its activity, will not let pass a new turn in the situation which leads towards a revolutionary advance, so that its first steps proceed along the road of the creation of soviets, of mobilizing the masses around them and of opposing them to the bourgeois state, with all its parliamentary and democratic camouflage, should this happen to be realized.
4) Once More on the Slogan of the Democratic Dictatorship
The slogan of the Constituent Assembly is just as little opposed to the formula of the democratic dictatorship as it is to that of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Theoretical analysis and the history of our three revolutions indicate that.
In Russia, the formula of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry was the algebraic expression, in other words, the most general, the broadest expression of the collaboration of the proletariat and the lower strata of the peasantry in the democratic revolution. The logic of this formula was conditioned by the fact that its fundamental magnitude had not been checked up in action. In particular, it was not possible to predict quite categorically if, in the conditions of the new epoch, the peasantry would be capable of becoming a more or less independent political power, to what extent it would be such, and what would the reciprocal political relations of the allies in the dictatorship which would result from it.
The year 1905 did not bring the question to the point of a decisive verification. The year 1917 showed that when the peasantry bears on its back a party (the Socialist Revolutionaries) independent of the vanguard of the proletariat, this party proves to be in complete dependence upon the imperialist bourgeoisie. In the course of the period from 1905 to 1917, the growing imperialist transformation of the petty-bourgeois democracy as well as of international Social Democracy, made gigantic progress. It was because of this that in 1917 the slogan of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry was really realized in the dictatorship of the proletariat, drawing with it the peasant masses. By this very token, the “transformation by growth” of the revolution, passing from the democratic phase to the socialist stage, took place with the dictatorship of the proletariat already established.
In China, the slogan of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry might still have had a certain political logic, much more limited and episodic than in Russia, if it had been formulated at the right time in 1925-26, in order to test out the animating forces of the revolution, so as to be replaced, also at the right time, by the dictatorship of the proletariat, drawing behind it the poor peasants. All that is necessary has been said about this in The Criticism of the Draft Program. Here, it still remains to ask: Does not the present inter-revolutionary period, bound up with a new regrouping of class forces, allow one to discern possibilities of the rebirth of the slogan of the democratic dictatorship? To this we reply: No, it makes this possibility disappear completely.
The period of inter-revolutionary stabilization corresponds to the development of the productive forces, to the growth of the national bourgeoisie, to the growth and the increase of the cohesion of the proletariat, to the accentuation of the differentiation in the villages and to the continuation of the capitalist degeneration of democracy à la Wang Jingwei or any other petty-bourgeois democrat, with their “third party”, etc. In other words, China will pass through processes analogous in their broad outlines to those through which Russia passed under the régime of June 3. We were certain in our time that this régime would not be eternal, nor of long duration, and that it would terminate by a revolution. That is what happened (somewhat aided by the war). But the Russia which came out of the régime of Stolypin was no longer what it had been when it entered it.
The social changes which the inter-revolutionary régime will introduce in China depend especially upon the duration of this régime. But the general tendency of these modifications is henceforth indisputable: it is the sharpening of the class contradictions and the complete elimination of the petty-bourgeois democracy as an independent political power. But this signifies precisely that in the third Chinese revolution, a “democratic” coalition of the political parties would acquire a still more reactionary and more anti-proletarian content than that of the Guomindang in 1925-27. There is therefore nothing left to do but to make a coalition of classes under the direct leadership of the proletarian vanguard. That is the road of October. It involves many difficulties, but there exists no other.
2. Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and th4e Renegade Kautsky, Works, Vol.XV, p.499.
4. It goes without saying that Pravda has not published this resolution to which we have already referred above. It can only be found in the Material on the Chinese Question (no.10, 1928, issued by the Chinese Sun Yat-Sen University), and is very hard to procure. It is this same resolution that is officially charged with “Trotskyism”, although it is, in reality, nothing but Stalinist-Bukharinist opportunism upside down. – L.T.
5. Pravda, August 28, 1928.