Trotsky on China


Text from the Militant (New York), June 14, 1930.

April 2, 1930

It seems to me that our Chinese fiends deal with the question of political slogans of democracy too metaphysically, even scholastically.

The "intricacies" begin with the name: constituent assembly or national assembly. In Russia until the revolution we used the slogan of a constituent assembly because it most clearly emphasized a break with the past. But you write that it is difficult to formulate this slogan in Chinese. If so, the slogan of a national assembly can be adopted. In the consciousness of the masses, the slogan's content will depend, firstly, on the implication revolutionary agitation gives it and, secondly, on events. You ask, "Is it possible to carry on agitation for a constituent assembly while denying that it can be achieved?" But why should we decide in advance that it cannot be? Of course the masses will support the slogan only if they consider it feasible. Who will institute a constituent assembly and how will it function? Only suppositions are possible. In case of a further weakening of the military Kuomintang regime and increasing discontent among the masses, particularly in the cities, it is possible that an attempt will be made by a part of the Kuomintang together with the "Third Party" to convene something on the style of a national assembly. They will, of course, cut into the rights of the more oppressed classes and layers as much as they can.

Would we communists enter such a restricted and manipulated national assembly? If we are not strong enough to replace lt, that is, to take power, we certainly would enter it. Such a stage would not at all weaken us. On the contrary, it would help us to gather together and develop the forces of the proletarian vanguard Inslde this spurious assembly, and particularly outside of it, we would carry on agitation for a new and more democratic a:ibelllUly. 1I tnere were a revolutionary mass movement, we would simultaneously build soviets. It is very possible that in such a case the petty-bourgeois parties would convene a relatively more democratic national assembly, as a dam against the soviets. Would we participate in this kind of assembly? Of course we would participate; again, only if we were not strong enough to replace the assembly with a higher form of government, that is soviets. Such a possibility, however, reveals itself only at the apex of revolutionary ascent. But at the present time we are far from there.

Even if there were soviets in China -- which is not the case -- this in itself would not be a reason to abandon the slogan of a national assembly. The majority in the soviets might be -- and in the beginning would certainly be -- in the hands of the conciliatory and centrist parties and organizations. We would be interested in exposing them in the open forum of the national assembly. In this way, the majority would be won over to our side more quickly and more certainly. When we succeeded in winning a majority we would counterpose the program of the soviets to the program of the national assembly, we would rally the majority of the country around the banner of the soviets, and this would enable us, in deed and not on paper, to replace the national assembly, this parliamentary-democratic institution, with soviets, the organ of the revolutionary class dictatorship.

In Russia the Constituent Assembly lasted only one day. Why? Because it made its appearance too late, the Soviet power was already in existence and came into conflict with it. In this conflict, the Constituent Assembly represented the revolution's yesterday. But let us suppose that the bourgeois Provisional Government had been sufficiently decisive to convene the Constituent Assembly in March or April [1917]. Was that possible? Of course it was. The Cadets used every legal trick to drag out the convening of the Constituent Assembly in the hope that the revolutionary wave would subside. The Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries took their cue from the Cadets. If the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries had had a little more revolutionary drive, they could have convened the Constituent Assembly in a few weeks. Would we Bolsheviks have participated in the elections and in the assembly itself? Undoubtedly, for it we who demanded all this time the speediest convening of the Constituent Assembly. Would the course of the revolution have changed to the disadvantage of the proletariat by an early convening of the assembly? Not at all. Perhaps you remember that the representatives of the Russian properti-ed classes and, imitating them, also the conciliators, were for postponing all the important questions of the revolution "until the constituent assembly,'' meanwhile delaying its convening. This gave the landowners and capitalists a chance to mask to a certain degree their property interests in the agrarian question, industrial '' question, etc.

If the Constituent Assembly had been convened let us say in April 1917, then all the social questions would have con*onted it. The propertied classes would have been compelled to show their cards; the treacherous role of the conciliators would have become apparent. The Bolshevik faction in the Constituent Assembly would have won the greatest popularity and this would have helped to elect a Bolshevik majority in the soviets. Under these circumstances the Constituent Assembly would have lasted not one day but possibly several months. This would have enriched the political experience of the working masses and, rather than retard the proletarian revolution, would have accelerated it. This in itself would have been of the greatest significance. If the second revolution had occurred in July or August instead of October, the army at the front would have been less exhausted and weakened and the peace with the Hohenzollerns might have been more favorable to us. Even if we assume that the proletarian revolution would not have come a single day sooner because of the Constituent Assembly, the school of revolutionary parliamentarism would have left its mark on the political level of the masses, making our tasks the day after the October revolution much easier.

Is this type of variant possible in China? It is not excluded. To imagine and expect that the Chinese Communist Party can jump from the present conditions of the rule of the unbridled bourgeoismilitary cliques, the oppression and dismemberment of the working class, and the extraordinarily low ebb of the peasant movement to the seizure of power is to believe in miracles. In practice this leads to adventurist guerrilla activity, which the Comintern is now covertly supporting. We must condemn this Policy and guard the revolutionary workers from it.

The political mobilization of the proletariat in leadership of the peasant masses is the first task that must be solved under the present circumstances -- the circumstances of the military-bourgeois counterrevolution. The power of the suppressed masses is in their numbers. When they awaken they will strive to express their strength of numbers politically by means of universal suffrage.

The handful of communists already knows that universal suffrage is an instrument of bourgeois rule and that this rule can be liquidated only by means of the proletarian dictatorship. You can educate the proletarian vanguard in this spirit beforehand. But the millions of the toiling masses can be drawn to the dictatorship of the proletariat only on the basis of their own political experience, and the national assembly would be a progressive step on this road. This is why we raise this slogan in conjunction with four other slogans of the democratic revolution: the transfer of the land to the peasant poor, the eight-hour working day, the independence of China, and the right of self determination of the nationalities included in the territory of China.

It is understood that we cannot rule out the perspective -- it is theoretically admissible -- that the Chinese proletariat, leading the peasant masses and basing itself on soviets, will come to power before the achievement of a national assembly in one or another form. But for the immediate period at any rate this is improbable, because it presupposes the existence of a powerful and centralized revolutionary party of the proletariat. In its absence, what other force will unite the revolutionary masses of your gigantic country? Meanwhile it is our misfortune that there is no strong centralized Communist Party in China; it has yet to be formed. The struggle for democracy is precisely the necessary condition for that. The slogan of the national assembly would bring together the scattered regional movements and uprisings, give them political unity, and create the basis for forging the Communist Party as the leader of the proletariat and all the toiling masses on a national scale.

That is why the slogan of the national assembly -- on the basis of universal, direct, equal, secret ballot -- must be raised as energetically as possible and a courageous, resolute struggle developed around it. Sooner or later the sterility of the purelY negative position of the Comintern and the official leadership of the Chinese Communist Party will be mercilessly exposed. The more decisively the Communist Left Opposition initiates and develops its campaign for democratic slogans, the sooner this will happen. The inevitable collapse of the Comintern policy will greatlY strengthen the Left Opposition and help it to become the decisive force in the Chinese proletariat.


Hosted by