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

Today we start the publication of the third series of articles written by Daniel Morley about the history of the Chinese Communist Party. This series will cover the period between 1937 and the 1949 Chinese Revolution.

Part two >>

“All this time was required to produce the philosophy of our day; so tardily and slowly did the World-spirit work to reach this goal. What we pass in rapid review when we recall it, stretched itself out in reality to this great length of time. For in this lengthened period, the Notion of Spirit, invested with its entire concrete development, its external subsistence, its wealth, is striving to bring spirit to perfection, to make progress itself and to develop from spirit. It goes ever on and on, because spirit is progress alone. Spirit often seems to have forgotten and lost itself, but inwardly opposed to itself, it is inwardly working ever forward (as when Hamlet says of the ghost of his father, “Well said, old mole! canst work i’ the ground so fast?”) until grown strong in itself it bursts asunder the crust of earth which divided it from the sun, its Notion, so that the earth crumbles away.”  Hegel, Philosophy of History

In the dead of night on 8th July 1937, a unit of the Japanese Army opened machine gun fire on Chinese troops stationed around the Marco Polo or Lugou Bridge in Wanping, now a suburb of Beijing. The shots were fired in retaliation for the apparent (but not actual) kidnapping or killing of a Japanese soldier by the Chinese.

But by the end of the night, the bridge was back in Chinese hands and both sides swiftly came to a gentlemanly agreement to prevent anything like this happening again. However, the high-minded intentions of the peace-loving Japanese and Chinese Generals notwithstanding, by the very next day hostilities had not only recommenced but increased, beginning an unavoidable slide to all out war. How can an insignificant little skirmish quickly resolved have been allowed to start a war?

The Israeli occupation of Palestine has familiarised the contemporary reader with the principle that imperialist occupations have an insane logic of their own. The contradictions and injustice of the occupation are precisely the fuel for further encroachments and oppression; each act of resistance or even miscommunication a justification for ‘defensive’ assaults on the occupied. The Japanese occupation of China after 1931 was no different, and it was just such a ‘mistake’ which sparked the ‘Second Sino-Japanese War’ of 1937-45, which was to be the Pacific theatre of World War II, claiming around 32m lives, the vast majority Chinese civilians.

With a similar unconscious necessity, this entangling of China in World War II would raise the country out of its passivity and subjugation on the world stage, such that at the War’s conclusion China was given a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. But this violent dragging of China into world relations could not be achieved without effecting a thoroughgoing internal transformation of China. China could only match the tasks of modernity by throwing off all its accumulated baggage and mess from the past, and thus its modernisation and active participation in world politics meant the long overdue Chinese social revolution.

The ‘accidental’ spark known as the ‘Marco Polo Bridge’ or Lugouqiao Incident is possibly the best example of ‘necessity expressing itself through chance’ one could imagine. Crossed wires, mutual stubbornness and minor (or not so minor) outbreaks of verbal or actual hostilities are inherent in imperialist occupations, and of course they are always the responsibility of the imperialists. As the only point of connection between ‘free’ China and the key city of Beijing (not then China’s capital), the taking of the Marco Polo Bridge was naturally an immediate aim of the Japanese occupation of China, which was in reality a one-sided war ongoing since 1931 [see].

Chiang Kai-shek uniformChiang Kai-shekFor that reason the Japanese had been patrolling the bridge every night with the kind permission of Chiang Kai Shek (the dictator of China), on the condition that the Japanese only inform the Chinese each night of their plans. For one reason or another, on the night of 8th July 1937 this communication failed to take place, leading the Chinese troops to interpret the maneuvers as an actual attack, who as a result fired their weapons (ineffectively). When a Japanese soldier failed to return with his squad, it was assumed he was killed or kidnapped, leading ultimately to the Japanese attack.

Japan had its own reasons for using this pretext, which was an inevitable outcome of six years of occupation and exploitation, to further invade and enslave the profitable regions of China. But in addition to its main motivation of greed, several authors contend [see Guillermaz 1968, p287 and Eastman, Nationalist China During the Sino-Japanese War 1937-35] that a major cause of the Japanese aggression after this incident was the appearance of growing Chinese resolve to resist Japan as realised in the Guomindang government’s new alliance with the Chinese Communist Party [CCP]. They wanted to strike before the Chinese had time to mobilise.

The likelihood of this as a factor demonstrates the inseparability of the twins of the Sino-Japanese war and the Chinese revolution - as we have previously shown this resolve and unity came not from Chiang Kai Shek and his Guomindang. It was instead a product of the powerful impetus amongst the Chinese masses towards launching a revolutionary war against the Japanese invaders, an impetus that was fast propelling the CCP to the power it would finally take in 1949. Therefore, before we look at the eight years of war, we will examine this second unlikely alliance between the two nemeses of the Chinese revolution, the Guomindang and the CCP. This alliance to defend China was struck in the months before the Marco Polo Bridge Incident under revolutionary pressure. As Marxists we are naturally most interested in the perspectives and justification for the alliance that the CCP elaborated around 1937, in order that we can compare this with the actual history of the war and its aftermath.

The CCP’s Opportunist and Nationalist Perspectives in 1937

As explained previously, the CCP’s perspectives for the Chinese revolution and war with Japan had been changed under Moscow’s orders in late 1935 in the direction of opportunism. The first major ‘fruit’ of this perspective was the alliance struck with Chiang Kai Shek at gunpoint in late 1936. Why a revolutionary party, finding itself in possession of the defenceless dictator responsible for killing thousands of its own members, would then sign a deal with him on terms favourable to his regime, is analysed in our above linked article. Such a choice of action should in itself be enough to condemn the new perspectives of the CCP.

What followed was a rapid degeneration of the party’s programme along nationalist lines. National unity between the CCP and Guomindang was preached; talk of socialism was relegated, in its place the CCP promoted democratic reforms to be introduced by the Guomindang at its leisure; property, including of the landed kind, was not to be touched; rural soviets and the independent Red Army were to have their names changed and placed under Guomindang leadership.

Outlining to party members his new perspectives, Mao stated that

“the democratic [i.e. not socialist] revolution (will) transform (itself) in the direction of socialism. There will be several stages of development in the democratic revolution, all under the slogan of the democratic republic, not under the slogan of the Soviet...We maintain that socialism will be reached through all the necessary stages of the democratic republic...To maintain that the bourgeoisie should be eliminated because of its transitional nature and to accuse the revolutionary groups  of defeatism and collaboration with the bourgeoisie are Trotskyite words with which we cannot concur. The present alliance between the bourgeoisie and the revolutionary group is a necessary bridge to socialism.” (Mao, speech to the National Conference of the CCP, 1937, our emphasis)

We have already explained at length why the perspective of a necessary bourgeois democratic stage to the Chinese revolution was utterly false, as was proven concretely in 1927. For now, it is sufficient to point out that the very man whose personal dictatorship of China proved in practice the falseness of this perspective, was the man whom the CCP was here allying with as the embodiment of the ‘present alliance between the bourgeoisie and the revolutionary group’. If Chiang Kai Shek obliterated his previous alliance with the CCP and all hopes for a democratic stage to the revolution in 1927 by staging a violent coup, why rekindle that alliance only ten years later, during which time he had done nothing but strive for the physical liquidation of the CCP?

Of course, what had changed since 1927 was the invasion by Japan. But it was elementary to anyone in the CCP that Chiang Kai Shek’s dictatorship was the primary obstacle to fighting Japan, since he had pursued a policy of total capitulation to the stronger Japanese forces, concentrating instead on eliminating the CCP. Thus the Japanese invasion only further increased his criminality. Nevertheless, Mao argued that “these policies must be carried out only with the consent of the Guomindang [i.e. of Chiang Kai Shek], because the Guomindang is at present still the largest party in power.” (Mao, Urgent Tasks of the Chinese Revolution since the Formation of the KMT-CCP United Front, 1937). Well, it was the only party in power, because China was a one-party dictatorship! It is not an exaggeration to say that at this stage, the CCP was transforming itself into the chief prop of Chiang’s dictatorship.

Such a perspective requires the substitution of the reactionary nationalist ideology of ‘national unity at all costs’ for one of class struggle. It is no surprise then, that at the same time the CCP, in a public statement only one week earlier than Mao’s above remarks, claimed that “the aggression of imperialist Japan can only be overcome by the internal unity of our nation...all our fellow-countrymen, every single zealous descendent of Huangdi [China’s first emperor] must determinedly and relentlessly participate” (CCP Public Statement on KMT-CCP Co-operation, 1937, our emphasis). To clear up what was meant by ‘all countrymen’, Mao stated “it is a united front of the whole nation...of all parties, groups, classes” (Mao, op cit., our emphasis).

The ideology of the CCP was at this time, under Mao’s leadership, drifting away from Marxism and internationalism and emphasising nationalism above all else. According to Brandt, Schwarz and Fairbank, Mao answered to the question ‘whether the Communists are Chinese first or Communist first’, with “Without a Chinese nation there could be no CCP.” The implication is clear - we are nationalists who use ‘Marxism’ only insofar as it is useful to achieve national ends. This compares very unfavourably with Marx and Engels’ statement in the founding document of Marxism that ‘the workers of the world have no country’. Mao’s biographer Schram believes that “for Mao himself, the alliance of all Chinese for the salvation of their country was not merely skilful tactics; it was a value in itself.” (Schram, Mao Tse-Tung, our emphasis). The same author points out that “the main content of political work [by the CCP at this point] both within the army and among the population was to preach national revival, to stimulate national consciousness” (ibid).

Defenders of the Party will argue that this emphasis merely reflected the concrete reality of fighting a war of national liberation, and that tapping into the national feeling to fight Japan was a revolutionary act, the first step on the road to social revolution. But the task of Marxists in preparing the masses for socialist revolution would in these circumstances be to elevate the national consciousness of the workers to class consciousness. This should not be hard to do given that the bourgeois nationalist party with which they were now in alliance, which was the only serious bourgeois party in China, had been practising a complete national sellout to the Japanese by refusing to fight them.

This is further underlined by the fact that the Guomindang’s new pledge to fight Japan was only won against their wishes and under revolutionary pressure from below. Contrary to Mao’s claims, the invasion did not ‘make possible the alliance of all classes’, instead it revealed the traitorous complicity of the ruling class in that invasion. To this should be added the general fact that, since the end of the Opium Wars, the Chinese bourgeoisie had always sacrificed the wider nation’s interests in favour of the imperialists’ for a share in the latter’s profits. The lesson for China was that, along with all other capitalist countries, it was not ‘one nation’ to be united but a class divided nation.

The perspectives outlined for the party by Mao in 1937 cut across the very real tendency for the CCP to gain support at the Guomindang’s expense (being rightly seen as the only force prepared to stand up for the oppressed Chinese). The new programme worked to lower the masses consciousness of the need for the overthrow of Chiang’s dictatorship.

This is clear from the extraordinary historical revisionism in the Guomindang’s favour which we find in Mao’s justifications for the alliance. He explained that “as a result of the co-operation between the two parties on major policies, the Great Revolution of 1925-7 was successfully guided[!!] to the point where we were able to achieve, within two or three years, the revolution for nationalism, democracy, and people’s livelihood” (Mao, op cit.). For those unclear on exactly what happened in the revolution of 1925-7, please see our series of articles here: For the aftermath of this ‘successful’ revolution, please see our subsequent series of articles: Suffice it to say here that the revolution of 1925-7 was wrecked because of this alliance, and its product was twenty two years of dictatorship, the virtual breakup of the nation into warlord’s fiefdoms, and the continuing domination of the country by Japan and the West. One can hardly imagine a less successful revolution.

This revisionism was followed up with poetic praise for China’s dictator and his apparent role in freeing China, “If [the Guomindang] do not consent [to our offer of an alliance to fight Japan], then...Japanese imperialism will not be defeated…[but] the more intelligent members and leader of the KMT will certainly not allow this to happen.” (Ibid).

No wonder then that Roosevelt’s personal envoy to Chiang Kai Shek Patrick Hurley “did not believe that Mao and his comrades were ‘real’ Communists” (Schram, op. cit.), and that Molotov had told him that “the Chinese were ‘radish’ Communists, red on the outside, white on the inside”! (Harrison, The Long March to Power).

The ‘alliance between the bourgeoisie and the revolutionary group’ in Practice

Mao1946Mao in 1946Given that Chiang Kai Shek described the Communists as China’s ‘disease of the heart’ as opposed to the mere ‘skin disease’ that were the Japanese, the second attempt at mixing the oil and water of the Guomindang and CCP would require a special recipe concocted to meet Chiang’s tastes. This can already be seen in the above quoted historical revisionism of Mao in which he paints the Guomindang’s history in bright colours. At this time Mao also predicted “a ‘brilliant future’ for the Guomindang, and praise[d] its ‘great leader’ Chiang Kai Shek” (Schram, op cit.), whom Mao also “especially hope[d]” would “take up the task of reform” (Mao, op cit.).

The concrete application in policy was of subordination to the Guomindang’s political programme and leadership, under the one precondition that the Guomindang remain committed to fighting the Japanese - though that too was predictably violated, as Mao admitted in 1945 that 64% of the fighting against the Japanese and 95% of that against Japanese puppets was carried about by the much smaller CCP forces (Mao, China’s Strategy for Victory).

This meant in practice that the CCP publicly pledged that it

“abandons all its policy of overthrowing the KMT by force and the movement of sovietization, and discontinues its policy of forcible confiscation of land from landlords...abolishes the present Soviet government and practices democracy based on the people’s rights in order to unify the national political power...abolishes the designation of the Red Army, reorganises it into the [Guomindang controlled] National Revolutionary Army, places it under the control of the Military Affairs Commission of the National government, and awaits orders” (CCP Public Statement on KMT-CCP Co-operation, 1937, our emphasis)

For any who still believe that in making such statements, the CCP was merely maneuvering to gain legality and breathing space for itself, or to tap into any feeling for ‘national unity’ without actually surrendering independence from the Guomindang, it must be noted that these public pledges were accompanied by a drive from Mao and the CCP for “a common political programme for both parties” (Mao, op cit.). In the same document of 1937 Mao argues for the need for “co-operation between officers and men” in the army, without in any way putting forward concrete demands regarding the character of the army, the election of officers or any other social or progressive content whatsoever. Such a position, when coupled with the offer of abolishing the Red Army, the ‘Soviet’ political bases and for a common political programme acceptable to the Guomindang dictatorship, could only mean supporting the domination of rank-and-file peasant soldiers by the corrupt Guomindang officers.

We have argued in our previous series on China that such a strategy of political alliance with the Guomindang may indeed have been ‘cleverly’ engineered to gain the party greater organisational breathing space; but as we showed, this only reveals a complete degeneration for a Marxist organisation. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels stress that “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” As we argued previously, “the point is that they publicly declared they were [following the Guomindang’s orders]. They publicly supported and propped up the Guomindang bourgeois dictatorship. They deflected popular anger away from Nanjing, and thus made themselves incapable of mobilising the masses for a political overthrow of the regime.”

This is borne out by the fact that little was gained in the way of recruits or influence from within the Guomindang. CCP members doing ‘entry’ work in the Guomindang “were generally isolated and for the moment served mainly in intelligence work” (Harrison, op cit, p350).

It must be understood that this inversion of priorities, of sacrificing the duty to raise the class consciousness of the masses for organisational gains, flows from its abandonment of its urban working class base for a strategy of using the countryside to win power militarily and independently of any mass class mobilisation. This thinking is revealed in a Party meeting in August 1937 in which a compromise was reached whereby the CCP accepted Guomindang military leadership and the "suspension of the political commissar system", but "would keep real control under the CCP". "Zhang Wentian proposed and won approval for, first, following nationalist orders in Shanxi and assigned areas in order to gain nationalist confidence... Then expanding into other areas." (Harrison, op cit.).

In September 1938 Mao reported to the CCP Central Committee that “to subordinate the class struggle to the present national struggle to resist Japan - that is the fundamental principle of the united front” (Ibid). “[I]n September and November he sent pledges of support for Chiang’s leadership” (Ibid), as did Zhou Enlai according to Chiang himself.  “He even accepted in advance two limitations similar to those which Chiang had imposed in 1926 [and which aided his coup and subsequent slaughter of Communists] on the activity of Communists in the Guomindang: a complete list of Communist Party members who joined the Guomindang would be handed over to the latter, and Guomindang members would not be recruited into the Communist Party” (Schram, op cit.).

Finally, we can add to this that the party publicly promoted in its ‘Manifesto on the Current Situation’ that it was not only cooperating with the dictatorship under the special and dire circumstances of the war, but also that it “is determined to cooperate [with the Guomindang] for national reconstruction after the successful conclusion of the war” (Harrison, op cit., our emphasis). There can be no doubt that the CCP was in this time guilty of out and out opportunism and a complete abandonment of any Marxist, class based perspective for the war and China’s future. All this was justified under the tag ‘united front’. Let us therefore compare Mao’s ‘United Front’ with the classical United Front worked out by Lenin and Trotsky in the Third International.

Lenin’s United Front

The starting point for the united front tactic of Bolshevism is political independence. We mean by this not necessarily refusing to work with or in other parties and tendencies, but only steadfastly committing to a truthful Marxist analysis, irrespective of this or that trend or pressure. “In fact, the Bolsheviks were always independent, in the sense that they never compromised in the defence of their revolutionary programme, policy and theory” (Woods, Bolshevism). As Trotsky said on behalf of the leadership of the Communist International in 1922,

“In order to summon the proletariat for the direct conquest of power and to achieve it the Communist Party must base itself on the overwhelming majority of the working class. So long as it does not hold this majority, the party must fight to win it. The party can achieve this only by remaining an absolutely independent organization with a clear programme and strict internal discipline.”

The question of all questions for Marxist parties is how to help the working class become conscious of this programme and its necessity, in other words, how to unite the maximum possible number of proletarians around a revolutionary programme. It is the role of the united front tactic to bridge the gap between Marxists and their programme on the one side and the working masses on the other, many of whom will be involved in and loyal to non-revolutionary organisations.

Now, it is a rather difficult and clumsy discussion to compare the united front tactic as worked out in the Communist International under Lenin’s leadership, with Mao’s purported united front with Chiang Kai Shek’s Guomindang, since none of the conditions for the former apply to the latter. In particular, the united front is not operable outside the context of working class organisations. It has no purpose other than to raise the need for unity amongst workers and to reveal that the chief obstacle to that is the erroneous reformist leadership of many workers’ organisations, such as the Social Democracy.

Only those who cannot think dialectically imagine that a united front of different political forces requires the denial or suppression of those differences. On the contrary, it opens up a broader and more equal platform for the fighting out of those forces, within the confines of and in relation to certain agreed common aims. A common campaign allows all forces of that campaign to debate with one another as to the best means to achieve the campaign’s ends, and of course to debate the real causes of and solutions to the issue at hand.

Hence the fact that in the Communist International’s formulations for the United Front tactic to be employed under different circumstances by different sections, it was expressly stated that

“any sort of organizational agreement which restricts our freedom of criticism and agitation is absolutely unacceptable to us. We participate in a united front but do not for a single moment become dissolved in it. We function in the united front as an independent detachment. It is precisely in the course of struggle that broad masses must learn from experience that we fight better than the others, that we see more clearly than the others, that we are more audacious and resolute.” (Trotsky, On the United Front, 1922)

It is self evident that the logic of these two ‘united fronts’ is diametrically opposite. The united front of Marxists is a clear and carefully chosen political programme advanced to raise the revolutionary consciousness of the working class, and operates only in the context therefore of workers’ organisations. The demands and political content of the call for a united front must be framed in relation to the workers’ real problems and their solutions; thus the programme has an educational content. It is not so much about necessarily achieving unity in action, although that would be desirable, especially if under the instigation of the Marxists:

“A policy aimed to secure the united front does not of course contain automatic guarantees that unity in action will actually be attained in all instances. On the contrary, in many cases and perhaps even the majority of cases, organizational agreements will be only half-attained or perhaps not at all. But it is necessary that the struggling masses should always be given the opportunity of convincing themselves that the non-achievement of unity in action was not due to our formalistic irreconcilability but to the lack of real will to struggle on the part of the reformists.” (Ibid)

Mao’s United Front with Chiang Kai Shek, on the other hand, has a directly contrary logic. Mao was indeed correct to centre the CCP’s programme around the need for a war to be waged against the Japanese occupation. Given that there were no mass organisations of the working class in China at this time, there was no basis for a united front proposal to fight Japan, since workers were not loyal to reformist leaders. However, if we allow ourselves the luxury of imagining the Guomindang was a mass workers’ organisation, then it would have been necessary for the CCP from 1931 onwards to place the demand on it for a united front to fight Japan. This call could then be filled with a Marxist content - in other words, its concrete points would be that such a war should be organised by the workers’ organisations involving such weapons as a general strike, occupations of Japanese owned factories and the formation of a workers’ militia responsible to the trade unions etc.

There can be no doubt that such a call, if energetically campaigned for in the cities amongst the working class, would have gained an enormous echo and helped the CCP to rebuild in urban centres. It would not matter from this point of view if the proposal were rejected by the other party; the CCP would have made its point and would have advanced class consciousness thereby.

Precisely because the Guomindang was not a democratic workers’ organisation with a real base, but was instead a bourgeois party under the direct control of the state apparatus, the CCP’s offer of unity with it could have no such character. It would be useless and absurd to fill the proposal with a revolutionary class content, for the Guomindang represented a different class and was already detested by workers. That is why the proposal lacked any programmatic content. It served no educational value for workers and can only have alienated them from the CCP - which had up till 1936 regained a degree of respect from workers for being the only organisation willing to fight Japanese imperialism and for its unjust suppression by the Guomindang. At a stroke, the alliance with Chiang Kai Shek served to destroy much of this.

Mao’s sole justification for the alliance was that it “rallied a greater number of people to fight Japanese imperialism” because “armed invasion by Japanese imperialists has brought about changes in class relations in China, thus making imperative and making possible the alliance of all classes” (Mao, Urgent Tasks of the Chinese Revolution since the Formation of the KMT-CCP United Front, 1937, our emphasis). If that were the case, the Guomindang would have not spent the first six years of the occupation co-operating with the Japanese to fight the CCP. Why was the proposal for the alliance made before the intensification of the occupation after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, and why could the Guomindang’s hand in this alliance only be won on the basis of literally holding a gun to Chiang Kai Shek’s head, if the invasion had made possible and natural an alliance of all classes? As argued above, a far better way to ‘rally greater numbers to fight’ would have been to consistently make an appeal to the working class for a general strike and the formation of urban workers’ militias like in Shanghai in 1927 to overthrow the Japanese and the capitulationist dictatorship of Chiang, and to organise militias in the cities to cripple the Japanese.

We will see in the course of these articles that there is no evidence that the unity of these two parties ensured a stronger resistance. Japan maintained its occupation and got what it wanted from China throughout the war until it was defeated by the US in 1945, and a class based mobilisation of strikes in the industries the Japanese were profiting from would have been far more effective. We will also see how, far from changing the class relations and somehow bringing the bourgeoisie into solidarity with the workers, the rotten Chinese bourgeoisie only intensified its plundering of the nation and used the oppression of the Japanese as an excuse to economically and politically crush the working class. Unfortunately, the CCP’s alliance with the bourgeoisie only aided the latter in doing so.

The CCP’s Direct Participation in the Regime

A Marxist organisation must be extremely flexible in its tactics. Any opportunity to reach a bigger audience with its ideas should be considered. That can even mean, in conditions of dictatorship or political repression, forging temporary alliances with liberals to gain political freedoms or changing the language of one’s publications to get it past the censor - but always under the condition that the fundamental revolutionary ideas and programme are not thereby violated. Indeed, the more the party understands correctly the necessary political programme for building socialism, the more confident it will be of applying this flexibly without selling out.

After the CCP’s mistaken alliance with Chiang was made, there were many more legal openings for the party to take. The question is, did they skilfully use these to advance a socialist programme to the working class?

One such political opening was the convening of the People’s Political Council in 1938, which is comparable to the Dumas formed under the Tsar in Russia, but without even the slither of democracy the Dumas represented. In the worker’s elections to the Shidlovsky Commission in 1905, the Bolsheviks rightly participated in the early stages, despite the sham democracy the elections represented. This is because for the first time in Russian history it afforded the working class a limited opportunity to express itself politically and organisationally, and so by participating the Bolsheviks linked themselves and their programme with the masses, gained a larger audience for their ideas and in turn themselves learnt from the working class.

However, there was a strict political limit placed on this tactic which was that there could be no democratic liberal intrusions into the politics they put forward. Instead, they used the opportunity of the elections to denounce the Tsarist regime and the idea of a peaceful, liberal democratic reform of it. At no point did the Bolsheviks use the elections to seek careers for themselves nor did they entertain any illusions in reforming the regime from within. In some cases they ran in the first round of elections, to gain a hearing, only to boycott the second round. In genuine bourgeois democracies, Marxists would participate in Parliament under certain conditions, but again would in no way seek to sow illusions in its democratic nature as the true ‘voice of the people’, but would instead simply use it as a soap box for revolutionary ideas.

Given the CCP’s perspectives of national unity with the Guomindang dictatorship, it is not surprising that when these legal openings for the CCP did arise after 1937 they did precisely the opposite of the Bolsheviks up to 1917. The People’s Political Council was a mere ‘consultative’ assembly formed by Chiang in 1938 to appease demands for democratic reform without threatening his own rule. Several leading Communists were invited (not elected) by Chiang to participate in this body. Given that this body had no democratic legitimacy or independence whatsoever, it is elementary that the CCP should have denounced this move and demanded instead a real Constitutional Assembly. Instead they participated in the council which they used chiefly not to address the masses with revolutionary ideas but to develop alliances with the liberals, both within and without the Guomindang, who also sat in this council. One can only imagine the spectacle this presented to the Chinese workers enduring the twin evils of occupation and Guomindang dictatorship as well as ruthless exploitation and poverty made constantly worse by hyper-inflation. The effect would not be dissimilar to that of the discrediting of social democracy in contemporary Western society in the eyes of the working class.

In total contradiction with this was Lenin’s method, which always warned most sharply against alliances and illusions in liberalism, the ‘nice’ face of the regime of capitalist dictatorship, “the most dangerous of advisers are those liberal friends of the workers who claim to be defending their interests, but are actually trying to destroy the class independence of the proletariat and its organisation.” (Lenin, The Liberals’ Corruption of the Workers, 1914)

At the same time, “Zhou Enlai was invited to attend the Guomindang National Executive Congress...he was even appointed Deputy Minister of Political Training in the army, maintaining the post until 1940, though its attributions were entirely honorific” (Guillermaz, op cit., our emphasis). In other words, the leading Communist Zhou Enlai accepted political and moral responsibility for the bourgeois Guomindang dictatorship without even gaining the consolation of a little control of the army!

It is interesting to note that at exactly the same time as this, the Stalinists in Spain (along with the Anarchists) were participating in another bourgeois government to ‘save the country’ from the threat of fascism. In both cases the tactic led to the negation of any effective working class based resistance to fascism, whether foreign or native.

Finally, the CCP’s self-debasement in favour of liberalism was completed when it enthusiastically lent support to the US government’s proposals for liberal reform in China in 1944, taking the opportunity to flatter the American imperialists at the same time by “heap[ing] lavish praise on the American democratic tradition” (Schram, op cit.) - despite the fact that at this time, as previously and as they would do in the civil war after Japan’s defeat, the US continued to arm and support the Guomindang against the CCP. Just before they agreed a ‘project’ with US General Hurley for liberal democratic reform (on terms agreeable to US imperialism of course), the CCP’s Liberation Daily wrote that: “Democratic America has already found a companion, and the cause of Sun Yat Sen a successor, in the Chinese Communist Party and the other democratic forces” (quoted in Schram, op cit.).

This reveals the full extent of the CCP’s descent into opportunism in the late 1930s on the eve of the war that would decide China’s fate and put all political and class forces to the test. With this understanding of the programme of the CCP and the alliance of political forces, we must now evaluate the playing out of the Second Sino-Japanese War not only so that we can better understand the background to the peculiar revolution of 1949, but also so that we can understand what could have happened had the party had a Marxist programme and leadership.