Leon Trotsky on China


March-April 1928

First Letter, March 2, 1928

Pravda prints in several installments an extensive article entitled, "The Significance and Lessons of the Canton Insurrection." This article is truly remarkable for the invaluable, substantiated, and firsthand information it contains as well as for its lucid exposition of contradictions and confusion of a principled nature.

It begins with an evaluation of the social nature of the revolution itself. As we all know, it is a bourgeois-democratic, a workers' and peasants' revolution. Yesterday it was supposed to unfold under the banner of the Kuomintang-today it unfolds against the Kuomintang.

But according to the author's appraisal, the character of the revolution, and even the entire official policy, remains bourgeois democratic. We turn next to the chapter that deals with the policy of the soviet power. Here we find stated that: "in the interests of the workers, the Canton Soviet issued decrees establishing . workers' control of production, effecting this control through factory committees [and] . . . nationalization of large-scale industry, transport, and banks."

It goes on to enumerate the following measures: "the confiscation of all the apartments of the big bourgeoisie for the use of the toilers. . .

Thus the workers were in power in Canton, through their soviets. Actually the entire power was in the hands of the Communist Party, i.e., the party of the proletariat. The program included not only the confiscation of whatever feudal estates still exist in China, not only the workers' control of production, but also the nationalization of large-scale industry, banks, and transport, as well as the confiscation of bourgeois apartments, and all their property for the use of the toilers. The question arises: If such are the methods of a bourgeois revolution, then what would the socialist revolution look like in China? What other class would do the overthrowing and by what sort of different measures? We observe that given a real development of the revolution, the formula of a bourgeois-democratic, a workers' and peasants' revolution applied to China in the present period, in the given stage of its development, proved to be a hollow fiction, a bagatelle. Those who insisted upon this formula prior to the Canton insurrection, and above all those who insist on it now, after this insurrection, are repeating (under different conditions) the principled mistake committed by Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, and the rest in the year 1917.

An objection may be raised that the problem of the agrarian revolution in China has not been solved as yet! True. But neither was it solved in our own country prior to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In our country it was not the bourgeois-democratic but the proletarian socialist revolution that achieved the agrarian revolution which, moreover, was far more deep going than the one that is possible in China, in view of the historical conditions of the Chinese system of land ownership. It may be said that China has not matured for the socialist revolution as yet. But that would be an abstract and a lifeless manner of posing the question. Was Russia, then, if taken by itself, ripe for socialism? Russia was ripe for the dictatorship of the proletariat as the only method of solving all national problems; but so far as socialist development is concerned, the latter, proceeding from the economic and cultural conditions of a country, is indissolubly bound up with the entire future development of the world revolution. This applies in whole and in part to China as well. If eight or ten months ago this was a forecast (rather belated, at that), then today it is an irrefutable deduction from the experience of the Canton uprising. It would be erroneous to argue that the Canton uprising was an adventure by and large, and that the actual class relations were reflected in it in a distorted form.

In the first place the author of the above-mentioned article does not at all consider the Canton insurrection as an adventure, but as an entirely lawful stage in the development of the Chinese revolution. The general official point of view is to combine the appraisal of the revolution as bourgeois democratic with an approval of the program of action of the Canton government. But even from the standpoint of appraising the Canton insurrection as a putsch, one could not arrive at the conclusion that the formula of the bourgeois-democratic revolution is viable. The insurrection was obviously untimely. It was. But the class forces and the programs that inevitably flow from them were disclosed by the insurrection in all their lawfulness. The best proof of this is: that it was possible and necessary to foresee in advance the relation of forces that was laid bare by the Canton insurrection. And this was foreseen.

This question is most closely bound up with the paramount question of the Kuomintang. Incidentally, the author of the article relates, with assumed satisfaction, that one of the fighting slogans of the Canton overturn was the cry: "Down with the Kuomintang!" The banners and insignia of the Kuomintang were torn down and trampled underfoot. But only recently, even after the "betrayal" of Chiang Kai-shek, and after the "betrayal" of Wang Ching-wei, we heard solemn vows that: "We will not surrender the banner of the Kuomintang!" Oh, these sorry revolutionists! .

The workers of Canton outlawed the Kuomintang, proclaiming all its tendencies illegal. What does this imply? It implies that for the solution of the fundamental national tasks, not only the big but also the petty bourgeoisie could not put forward such a force as would enable the party of the proletariat to solve jointly with it the tasks of the "bourgeois-democratic revolution." But "we' are overlooking the many-millioned peasantry and the agrarian revolution. . . . A pitiable objection . for the key to the entire situation lies precisely in the fact that the task of conquering the peasant movement falls upon the proletariat, i.e., directly upon the Communist Party; and this task cannot be solved in reality differently than it was solved by the Canton workers, i.e., in the shape of the dictatorship of the proletariat whose methods from the very outset grow over inevitably into socialist methods. Conversely, the general fate of these methods, as well as of the dictatorship as a whole, is decided in the last analysis by the course of world development, which naturally does not exclude but on the contrary presupposes a correct policy on the part of the proletarian dictatorship, that consists of strengthening and developing the alliance between the workers and peasants, and of an all-sided adaptation to national conditions, on the one hand, and to the course of world development, on the other. To play with the formula of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, after the experience of the Canton insurrection, is to march against the Chinese October, for without a correct general political orientation, revolutionary uprisings cannot be victorious, no matter how heroic and self-sacrificing they may be.

To be sure, the Chinese revolution has "passed into a new and higher phase"-but this is correct not in the sense that it will begin surging upward tomorrow or the next day, but in the sense that it has revealed the hollowness of the slogan of the bourgeois- democratic revolution. Engels said that a party that misses a favorable situation and suffers a defeat as a result, turns into a nonentity. This applies to the Chinese party as well. The defeat of the Chinese revolution is not a bit smaller than the defeat in Germany in 1923. Of course, we must understand the reference to "nonentity" in a sensible way. Many things bespeak the fact that the next period in China will be a period of revolutionary reflux, a slow process of assimilating the lessons of the cruelest defeats, and consequently, the weakening of the direct influence of the Communist Party. Thence flows the necessity for the latter to draw profound conclusions in all questions of principles and tactics. And this is impossible without an open and all-sided discussion of all the fatal mistakes perpetrated hitherto.

Of course this activity must not turn into the activity of self- isolation. It is necessary to keep a firm hand on the pulse of the working class in order not to commit a mistake in estimating the tempo, and not only to identify a new mounting wave, but also to prepare for it in time.

Second Letter [Undated]

Your letter was also twenty-two days in transit. It is difficult to discuss vital questions under such conditions, and in my opinion the Chinese question belongs among the most vital ones, because the struggle is still unfolding in China, the partisan armies are in the field, and an armed insurrection has been placed on the agenda, as you no doubt know from the resolution of the last plenum of the ECCI.

To begin, I want to reply to a minor but aggravating point. You say that I needlessly polemicize against you under the pseudonym of Zinoviev. In this you are entirely mistaken. I believe, incidentally, that the misunderstanding arose as a result of the irregular mail delivery. I wrote about the Canton affair at a time when I was apprised of the famous letter of the two musketeers; in addition to this, reports came from Moscow that they had been supplied with secretaries in order to expose "Trotskyism." I felt certain that Zinoviev would publish several of my letters on the Chinese question in which I set out to prove that in no case would there be such a special epoch in the Chinese revolution as an epoch of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, because incomparably fewer preconditions exist there than in our own country, and as experience, and not theory, has already shown us, the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry as such failed to materialize in our own country. Thus, my entire letter was written with a view to the past and future "exposures" on the part of Zinoviev.

In referring to the charge of ignoring the peasantry, I did not for a moment forget certain of our disputes on China-but I had no reason whatever to put in your lips this banal charge against me: for you, I trust, recognize that it is possible, without in the least ignoring the "peasantry," to arrive at a conclusion that the only road for solving the peasant question lies through the dictatorship of the proletariat. So that you, my dear E.A.-please do not take offense at a hunter's simile-assume gratuitously the role of a startled hare who concludes that the rifle is being aimed at him when the pursuit follows a totally different track.

I came to the opinion that there would not be any democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in China from the time the Wuhan government was first formed. I based myself precisely upon the analysis of the most fundamental social facts, and not upon the manner in which they were refracted politically, which, as is well known, often assumes peculiar forms, since, in this sphere, factors of a secondary order enter in, including national tradition. I became convinced that the basic social facts have already cleared the road for themselves through all the peculiarities of political superstructures, when the Wuhan shipwreck destroyed utterly the legend of the left Kuomintang, allegedly embracing nine-tenths of the entire Kuomintang. In 1924-25, it was almost an accepted commonplace that the Kuomintang was a workers' and peasants party. This party "unexpectedly" proved to be bourgeois capitalist. Then another version was created, that the latter was only a "summit," but that the genuine Kuomintang, nine-tenths of the Kuomintang was a revolutionary peasant party. Once again, it turned out "unexpectedly" that the left Kuomintang, in whole and in part, proceeded to smash the peasant movement which, as is well known, has great traditions in China and its own traditional organizational forms that became widespread during these years. That is why, when you write in the spirit of absolute abstraction that "it is impossible to say today whether the Chinese petty bourgeoisie will be able to create any sort of parties analogous to our SRs, or whether such parties will be created by the right-wing communists who split off, etc.," I reply to this argument from "the theory of improbabilities" as follows:

In the first place, even were the SRs to be created, there would not at all follow from this any dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, precisely as none followed in our own country, despite immeasurably more favorable conditions; secondly, instead of guessing whether the petty bourgeoisie is capable in the future- i.e., with the further aggravation of class relations-of playing a greater or lesser independent role (suppose a piece of wood suddenly fires a bullet?), one should rather ask why did the petty bourgeoisie prove incapable of playing such a role in the recent past, when it had at its disposal the most favorable conditions -- the Communist Party was driven into the Kuomintang, the latter was declared a workers' and peasants' party, it was supported by the entire authority of the Communist International and the USSR, the peasant movement was far-flung and sought for leadership, the intelligentsia was widely mobilized since 1919, etc., etc.

You write that China still faces the "colossal problem of the agrarian bourgeois-democratic revolution." To Lenin, this was the root of the question. Lenin pointed out that the peasantry even as an estate is capable of playing a revolutionary role in the struggle against the estate of the landed nobility, and the bureaucracy indissolubly linked up with the latter, crowned by the tsarist autocracy. In the subsequent stage, says Lenin, the kulaks will break with the workers, and together with them a considerable section of the middle peasants, but this will take place during the transition to the proletarian revolution, as an integral part of the international revolution. But how do matters stand in China? China has no landed nobility; no peasant estate, fused by community of interests against the landlords. The agrarian revolution in China is aimed against the urban and rural bourgeoisie. Radek has stressed this often-even Bukharin has half-understood this now. In this lies the gist of the matter!

You write that "the social content of the first stage of the future third Chinese revolution cannot be characterized as a socialist overturn." But we run the risk here of falling into Bukharinistic scholasticism, and of occupying ourselves with splitting hairs over terminology instead of with a living characterization of the dialectic process. What was the content of our revolution from October 1917 to July 1918? We left the mills and factories in the hands of the capitalists, confining ourselves to workers' control; we expropriated the landed estates and put through the petty- bourgeois SR program of the socialization of land; and to crown it all, during this period, we had a coparticipant in power in the form of the Left SRs. One could say with complete justification that "the social content of the first stage of the October revolution cannot be characterized as a socialist overturn." I believe it was Yakovlev and several other Red professors who spilled a great deal of sophistry over this. Lenin said that we completed the bourgeois revolution en route. But the Chinese revolution (the "third") will have to begin the drive against the kulak at its very first stages; it will have to expropriate the concessions of foreign capitalists, for, without this, there cannot be any unification of China in the sense of a genuine state sovereignty in economics and politics. In other words, the very first stage of the third Chinese revolution will be less bourgeois in content than the first stage of the October revolution.

On the other hand, the Canton events (as earlier Chinese events, etc.) demonstrated that the "national" bourgeoisie, too, having behind it Hong Kong, foreign advisers, and foreign cruisers, assumes such a position in relation to the slightest independent movement of workers and peasants as renders workers' control of production even less likely than was the case among us. In all probability we shall have to expropriate mills and factories, of any size, at the very first moments of the "third Chinese revolution."



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