Leon Trotsky on China


March 4, 1927

Dear Friend:

It seems to me that your way of formulating the problems with respect to the Chinese Communist Party is inadequate, and owing to what it leaves out, must inevitably lead, upon its subsequent application, to mistaken conclusions, i.e., for all intents and purposes to support for the status quo with some left- wing criticism.

You write that the treacherous bourgeois politics of the Kuomintang have "not yet created a mass movement against the Kuomintang and have not fostered an understanding of the need for a special class party of the proletariat and the poorest peasantry." Undoubtedly, the supporters of the present situation will try to latch onto these words. This was precisely the reason Stalin revived the "theory of stages," explaining that "it is impossible to skip over a stage," etc. Since the masses have not become conscious of the need, therefore . . . and so on. Our reasoning is just the opposite: in order to make it easier for the masses to understand how treacherous Kuomintang policy is, what is needed is an absolutely independent party, even if small, criticizing, explaining, exposing, and so forth; and by so doing, paving the way for the new "stage."

It is as if the present situation in China had been specifically created so that the masses would not understand the need for an independent party. Indeed, with the full authority of the International and the Russian revolution we are telling China's working class vanguard that they already have an independent party-the Communist Party; that by force of the peculiar conditions in China this Communist Party must become a part of the Kuomintang at the present stage of the revolution; that Lenin's precepts demand this, and so on. Then the Kuomintang tells the communists: "Since Lenin's precepts demand that you join the Kuomintang, I, the Kuomintang, demand that you renounce Lenin's precepts and recognize the precepts of Sun Yat- sen.

To pose in the abstract the question of a painless transition from Sun Yat-sen to Lenin by presenting Leninism as the logical extension of Sun Yat-senism (although this method can in certain instances be used pedagogically with respect to the young revolutionary dilettantes of China) has, of course, proven to be untenable on the great historical scale. The class struggle has torn up the little artificial bridge we had constructed between Sun Yat-sen and Lenin. The Chinese proletariat must go through the process of directly and openly overcoming Sun Yat-sen, through an open struggle against Sun Yat-senism. If Marx demanded this even with respect to Lassalle, can it really be that we must not pose such a task with respect to Sun Yat-sen? Any moves to obscure, delay, or camouflage on this fundamental question will be not only dangerous but utterly disastrous for the Chinese proletariat.

When should the communists have withdrawn from the Kuomintang? My memory of the history of the Chinese revolution in recent years is not concrete enough, and I do not have the materials at hand; therefore, I will not venture to say whether it was necessary to pose this question point-blank as early as 1923, 1924, or 1925. In that period the preparatory arrangement expressed in your letter, evidently counting on a transitional state of a year or two, would have, perhaps, been admissible. But we are dreadfully late. We have turned the Chinese Communist Party into a variety of Menshevism, and worse yet, not into the best variety; i.e., not into the Menshevism of 1905, when it temporarily united with Bolshevism, but into the Menshevism of 1917, when it joined hands with the right SR movement and supported the Cadets. In giving our blessing to or merely tolerating this situation, we hamper the development of the class consciousness of the Chinese workers, only to afterward cite the insufficient development of their consciousness as the reason for dragging out still further the present state of things. With such a policy we are caught in a vicious circle.

If it were to turn out that the Chinese communists do not want to withdraw from the Kuomintang even in the present conditions of an unfolding class struggle, this would mean not that withdrawal is unnecessary, but that what we have there is a Martynovist party. I am afraid that to a large degree this is - precisely how things stand.

Our task would then be reduced to extracting the genuinely revolutionary elements from the Martynovist party and beginning the work of building a Bolshevik party, outside not only the Kuomintang, but also outside the present "Communist" Party of China. I say this hypothetically because I do not know the actual relationship of forces inside the Communist Party; in fact, I doubt that it could have developed much at all yet in view of the absence of a clear and precise formulation of the problem by any side whatever. If we want to try to save the Chinese Communist Party from ultimately degenerating into Menshevism, we do not have the right to put aside one day longer the demand for withdrawal from the Kuomintang.

You propose that we restrict ourselves to the call for the Communist Party to emerge from underground. But this misses the point. To emerge from underground work means to breach Kuomintang legality. How would it be done? On the spur of the moment? Without warning? Without an attempt to come to an understanding with the Kuomintang on new terms? Without making an agreement with the left wing? But this would be the worst kind of breach; one that would be depicted as treachery. We are not starting out in China with a blank slate. All aspects of the problem of the relationship between the communists and the Kuomintang have been discussed in China. The problem brought about conflicts, was resolved, and resulted in a specific structuring. To ignore what has gone on before is impermissible. The problem must be posed in terms of revising the party constitution. The communists should directly and openly propose that the organizational structure be revised, by mutual agreement, td provide for the full independence of both parties In the absence of such a clear and precise formulation, the tactic of "emerging from underground" will be incomprehensible to the communists themselves; but the fact of the matter is that they must understand what the tactic will lead to and have a perspective for the future. Of course, withdrawal from the Kuomintang is a painful process. A neglected illness always requires more drastic treatment. It is wrong to be afraid that we will "alienate the petty bourgeoisie." There will be an endless number of zigzags and waverings on the part of the petty bourgeoisie. It is very likely that our withdrawal from the Kuomintang will at first give rise to just such a zigzag. But the petty bourgeoisie can be won over only by a concrete policy, not by maintaining disguises, making diplomatic maneuvers, etc. In order to develop a policy that has the potential for winning over the petty bourgeoisie, it is necessary to have the instrument for this policy, i.e., an independent party.

That is why I have come to the following conclusions:

1. We must recognize that for the Communist Party to remain in the Kuomintang any longer threatens to have dire consequences for the proletariat and for the revolution; and above all, it threatens the Chinese Communist Party itself with a total degeneration into Menshevism.

2. We must recognize that if there is to be a leadership for the Chinese proletariat, a systematic struggle to gain influence in the trade unions, and finally, a leadership in the struggle of the proletariat to influence the peasant masses, there must be a totally independent, i.e., truly Communist (Bolshevik) Party.

3. The question of the forms and methods of coordination of the activities of the Communist Party and the Kuomintang must be fully and completely subordinated to the demand for the independence of the party.

4. All the genuinely revolutionary elements of the Chinese Communist Party must advance the program for action indicated above, demanding that its Central Committee raise before the Kuomintang and the working masses-in its full scope and unequivocally-the question of revising organizational relation- ships. Simultaneously, communists must everywhere "emerge from underground," i.e., actually begin to work as an independent party.

5. A congress of the Chinese Communist Party must be prepared under the call for the organizational independence of the Chinese Communist Party and the complete independence of its class politics and on the basis of a merciless struggle of its Bolshevik elements against the Menshevik elements within the party itself.

L. Trotsky


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