Leon Trotsky on China


March 29, 1927

Dear Comrade Alsky:

Thank you for sending me the book. I read it today, all to my interest and benefit. I think you are absolutely right when you object to naming the Southern Nationalist government "workers' and peasants'." Defining it in such a way is, of course, a serious mistake as should be especially obvious now after the occupation of Shanghai with the powerful class contradictions this entails.

But this is precisely why I believe that you have made an error, expressed with particular clarity on page 141, where you say that in China, "two camps that are bitterly hostile to one another" have come into being: in one are the imperialists and militarists and certain layers of the Chinese bourgeoisie; and in the other are "the workers, artisans, petty bourgeoisie, students, intelligentsia, and certain groups from the middle bourgeoisie with a nationalist orientation. . .." In fact, there are three camps in China -- the reactionaries, the liberal bourgeoisie, and the proletariat -- fighting for hegemony over the lower strata of the petty bourgeoisie and peasantry. It is true that before 1926 this division was less obvious than it is now, but even then it was a fact. But your book was published in 1927, and it was of the utmost importance to specifically describe this situation. If not, your review of Mif's book, and your evaluation in a number of places, and especially on page 141, would-in my opinion-provide the basis for grossly incorrect and dangerous conclusions. The Kuomintang in its present form creates the illusion that two camps exist, furthering the national-revolutionary disguise of the bourgeoisie, and consequently, making its betrayal easier. The Communist Party's entry into the Kuomintang, on the other hand, makes an independent proletarian policy impossible. It would be the purest charlatanism and betrayal of Marxism-you, of course, would agree-to point to the revolutionary heroism of the proletariat and the successes of the Canton forces as proof that in the sphere of proletarian politics everything is going favorably. That the workers and the revolutionary soldiers won back Shanghai is magnificent. But the question still remains: Who did they win it back for? If one thinks that "two bitterly hostile camps exist in China, it is clear that Shanghai has passed from the hands of one camp into the hands of the other. But if one bears in mind that there are three camps in China, then the question posed above takes on its full meaning.

The problem of a struggle for a workers' and peasants' government should in no case be identified with the problem of noncapitalist roads" of development for China. The latter can only be posed provision ally and only within the perspective of the development of world revolution. Only an ignoramus of the socialist-reactionary variety could think that present-day China, with its current technological and economic foundations, can through its own efforts jump over the capitalist phase. A conception of this type would be the worst caricature of the theory of socialism in one country, and carrying this conception to the absurd would render the Comintern a service, clearing its activity of such rubbish once and for all thereafter. If, thus, the problem of the Chinese revolution growing over into a socialist revolution is right now merely a long-term option wholly dependent upon the development of the world proletarian revolution, the problem of the struggle for a workers' and peasants' government has the most immediate importance for the course of the Chinese revolution as well as for the education in revolution of the proletariat and its party.

We know how complex and contradictory the course of the revolution is, especially in such a huge and-to an overwhelming extent-backward country like China. The revolution can still pass through a series of ebbs and flows. What we must safeguard in the course of the revolution is above all the independent party of the proletariat that is constantly evaluating the revolution from the point of view of three camps, and is capable of fighting for hegemony in the third camp and, by so doing, in the entire revolution.

I must say, I totally fail to comprehend why the call for soviets is not being raised in China. It is precisely through soviets that the crystallization of the class forces can keep pace with the new stage of the revolution instead of conforming to the organizational-political traditions of a bygone day, of the kind being offered by the present-day Kuomintang. How the Kuomintang will reorganize itself after the Communist Party withdraws from it-this particular question is of secondary importance to us. The indispensable condition is an independent proletarian party. The form for its closest collaboration with the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie is the soviets as organs of the struggle for power or as organs of power.

Large sections of the Chinese National Revolutionary Army are still green, and bourgeois landowners' sons wield great influence within the ranks of the commanding staff. Because of this, the future of the revolution is in danger. Once more, I do not see any other way to oppose this danger than soldiers' deputies joining workers' deputies, and so on.

It goes without saying, the means for selecting the deputies would have to be very carefully adapted to suit the conditions and particular features of a city, a village of a given area, the army, etc., so as not to give an accidental advantage to the reactionary elements or bring disorganization to the revolutionary forces, and so on. But I repeat: I see no other means for testing and organizing the revolutionary movement and the revolutionary power that grows out of it than a system of soviets. Why is nothing said about it? Explain it to me, please! This is what I can in no way understand.

Instead of clearly and concisely posing the question of the struggle for a workers' and peasants' (and artisans' and soldiers') soviet of deputies they are devoting themselves to the artificial and, therefore, reactionary perpetuation of an organization of the past -- the Kuomintang-forcing the Communist Party to submit to the discipline of a bourgeois organization, at the same time consoling the party with talk about "noncapitalist roads" of development.

In his speech, Comrade Rafes stated that the present-day Kuomintang must be preserved "as a transmission belt." When people move away from Marxism, they invariably substitute all sorts of meaningless images for a class understanding. A transmission belt is an excellent device. One only needs to know what it is transmitting from and what it is transmitting toward. While driving the Communist Party away from a strictly defined organizational position and subjecting it to the ideological discipline of Sun Yat-senism, the Kuomintang will necessarily and inevitably transfer power to the most influential, weighty, and organized elements of the "united" national camp, i.e., bluntly speaking, to the liberal bourgeoisie. Thus, the Kuomintang under the present conditions is a "transmission belt" for delivering the revolutionary popular masses into the hands of the bourgeoisie, for politically subjugating them to it. Any other interpretation is stupidity or charlatanism.

Members of the Kuomintang (those with brains) not only demand that communists unconditionally observe "revolutionary discipline" but when doing this they refer to the experience of the October revolution with its dictatorship of one party. We, for our part, are supporting such a way of formulating the question insofar as we are compelling the Chinese Communist Party- against its will-to be part of a united Kuomintang and to submit to its discipline. In so doing we are leaving out of our reckoning the "petty detail" that what is taking place in China is not a socialist overturn but a bourgeois-national revolution, the "completion" of which means not the dictatorship of one party but a guarantee of the maximum democracy; so, from our point of view it means above all total freedom for the party of the proletariat. Now, when the wave is rising, there is nothing easier than to warm up our singing voices on "noncapitalist roads of development." But with the first big revolutionary lull, or especially a full-fledged ebb, it can become immediately obvious that China lacks the fundamental instrument for revolutionary struggle and revolutionary successes-an independent Communist Party acquiring experience and understanding the situation.

[Postscript, March 29, 1927]

PS: In your book it says that the Hong Kong-Canton Strike Committee represented the "Chinese version of the soviet of workers' deputies." This is absolutely true if "Chinese version" is understood not in the sense of some sort of decisive national peculiarity, but in the sense of the character of a stage of development of the soviet system: it was a soviet of deputies of the type that existed in the summer of 1905 in Ivanovo Voznesensk. Why can't this system be developed further? What is standing in its way? I maintain that it is the fact that the Communist Party has been bound hand and foot. If it is called upon to openly struggle for influence over the workers and- through the workers-over the peasantry under the banner of Marxism, and not Sun Yat-senism, and in direct struggle against the reactionary application of Sun Yat-senism, simultaneously collaborating with all revolutionary elements, groups, and layers of the petty bourgeoisie in the city and in the countryside; then it is impossible to devise a better form for such a struggle and for such collaboration than soviets.

PPS: I would not attach such great importance to your words about "two camps" if in the beginning of your book there were not a dedication to the Kuomintang and the Communist Party. I believe such a dedication is a serious mistake. The Kuomintang and the Communist Party are parties representing two opposing classes. It is not possible for one and the same book to be simultaneously dedicated to both. It is permissible to be in an alliance with the Kuomintang, but such an ally must be as carefully watched as an enemy. However, to be sentimental about such an ally is impermissible.

L. Trotsky


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