Trotsky on China


Text from the Militant (New York), October 1, 1930.

September 1930

During the last few months a peasant movement of considerable scope has again appeared in certain provinces of southern China. Not only the world press of the proletariat, but the press of its enemies as well, is filled with the echoes of this struggle. The Chinese revolution, betrayed, defeated, exhausted, shows that it is still alive. Let us hope that the time when it will again lift its proletarian head is not far off. And in order to be prepared for this, we must put the problems of the Chinese revolution on the agenda of the working class of the world.

We, the International Communist Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists), consider it our duty to raise our voices now in order to attract the attention of all communists, all advanced revolutionary workers, to the task of liberating this great country of East Asia and at the same time to warn them against the false policy of the dominant faction of the Communist International, which obviously threatens to undermine the coming Chinese revolution as it ruined the 1925-27 revolution.

The signs of the rebirth of the Chinese revolution in the countryside indicate its inner forces and immense potentialities. But the task is to transform these potentialities into reality. The first condition for success is to understand what is happening, that is, to make a Marxist analysis of the motive forces and to estimate correctly the current stage of the struggle. On both counts, the ruling circle of the Comintern is wrong.

The Stalinist press is filled with communications about a "soviet government" established in vast provinces of China under the protection of a Red army. Workers in many countries are greeting this news with excitement. Of course! The establishment of a soviet government in a substantial part of China and the creation of a Chinese Red army would be a gigantic success for the international revolution. But we must state openly and clearly: this is not yet true.

Despite the scanty information which reaches us from the vast areas of China, our Marxist understanding of the developing process enables us to reject with certainty the Stalinist view of the current events. It is false and extremely dangerous for the further development of the revolution.

For centuries the history of China has been one of formidable uprisings of a destitute and hungry peasantry. Not less than five times in the last two thousand years the Chinese peasants succeeded in effecting a complete redivision of landed property. Each time the process of concentration began anew and continued until the growth of the population again produced a partial or general explosion. This vicious cycle was an expression of economic and social stagnation.

Only the inclusion of China in the world economy opened up new possibilities. Capitalism invaded China from abroad. The backward Chinese bourgeoisie became the intermediary between foreign capital and the mercilessly exploited masses of their own country. The foreign imperialists and the Chinese bourgeoisie combine the methods of capitalist exploitation with the methods of feudal oppression and enslavement through usury.

The fundamental idea of the Stalinists was to transform the Chinese bourgeoisie into a leader of the national revolution against feudalism and imperialism. The results of this political strategy ruined the revolution. The Chinese proletariat paid a heavy price for knowledge of the truth that their bourgeoisie cannot, does not want to, and never will fight either against so-called feudalism, which constitutes the most important part of its own system of exploitation, or against imperialism, whose agent it is and under whose military protection it operates.

As soon as it was clear that the Chinese proletariat, in spite of all the obstacles put in its path by the Comintern, was ready to proceed on its own independent revolutionary road, the bourgeoisie, with the help of the foreign imperialists, beginning in Shanghai, crushed the workers' movement. As soon as it was clear that friendship with Moscow could not paralyze the uprising of the peasants, the bourgeoisie shattered the peasants' movement. The spring and summer of 1927 were the months of the greatest crimes of the Chinese bourgeoisie.

Frightened by the consequences of its mistakes, at the end of 1927 the Stalinist faction abruptly tried to compensate for its blunders of the past years. The Canton insurrection was organized. The Stalinist leaders assumed that the revolution was still on the rise; actually, it was already on the decline. The heroism of the vanguard workers could not prevent the disaster caused by the adventure of these leaders. The Canton insurrection was drowned in blood. The second Chinese revolution was completely destroyed.

From the beginning, we, the representatives of the International Left Opposition, the Bolshevik-Leninists, were against entering the Kuomintang and for an independent proletarian policy. From the very beginning of the revolutionary upsurge, we urged that the organization of workers', soldiers', and peasants' soviets be initiated; we urged that the workers take their place at the head of the peasant insurrection and carry through the agrarian revolution to its conclusion. Our course was rejected. Our supporters were persecuted and expelled from the Comintern; those in the USSR were arrested and exiled. In the name of what? In the name of a bloc with Chiang Kai-shek.

After the counterrevolutionary coup d'état in Shanghai and Wuhan we, the Communist Left Oppositionists, warned insistently that the second Chinese revolution was finished, that a temporary triumph of the counterrevolution had supervened, and that an attempt at insurrection by the advanced workers in the face of the general demoralization and fatigue of the masses would inevitably bring additional criminal blows against the revolutionary forces. We demanded a shift to the defensive, a strengthening of the underground organization of the party, the participation in the economic struggles of the proletariat, and the mobilization of the masses under democratic slogans: the independence of China, the right of self-determination for the different nationalities in the population, a constituent assembly, the confiscation of the land, the eight-hour workday. Such a policy would have allowed the communist vanguard to emerge gradually from its defeat, to re-establish connections with the trade unions and with the unorganized urban and rural masses, and to prepare to meet the new revolutionary upsurge fully armed.

The Stalinist faction denounced our policy as "liquidationist," while it, not for the first time, went from opportunism to adventurism. In February 1928, when the Chinese revolution was at its lowest point, the Ninth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International announced a policy of armed insurrection in China. The results of this madness were the further defeat of the workers, the murder of the best revolutionaries, a split in the party, demoralization in the ranks of the workers.

The decline of the revolution and a temporary lessening of the struggle between the militarists permitted a limited economic revival in the country. Strikes occurred again. But these were conducted independently of the party, which, not understanding the situation, was absolutely unable to present a new perspective to the masses and to unite them under the democratic slogans of the transitional period. As a result of new errors, opportunism, and adventurism, the Communist Party now counts in its ranks only a few thousand workers. In the Red trade unions, according to the figures given by the party itself, there are about sixty thousand workers. In the months of the revolutionary upsurge there were about three million.

The counterrevolution left its mark more directly and much more ruthlessly on the workers than on the peasants. The workers in China are few in number and are concentrated in the industrial centers. The peasants are protected to a certain extent by their numbers and their diffusion over vast areas. The revolutionary years trained quite a few rural local leaders, and the counterrevolution did not succeed in eliminating them all. A considerable number of revolutionary workers hid from the militarists in the countryside. In the last decade a large amount of arms was widely dispersed. In conflicts with local administrators or military units, these arms were obtained by the peasants and Red guerrilla bands were organized. Agitation flared up in the armies of the bourgeois counterrevolution, at times leading to open revolts. Soldiers, with their guns, deserted to the side of the peasants, sometimes in groups, sometimes in whole companies.

It is quite natural, therefore, that even after the defeat of the revolution, waves of the peasant movement continued to roll through the various provinces of the country and have now forcefully rushed ahead. Armed peasant bands drive out and exterminate local landlords, as many as can be found in their regions, and especially the so-called gentry and tuchuns, the local representatives of the ruling class -- the bureaucrat-proprietors, the usurers, the rich peasants.

When the Stalinists talk about a soviet government established by the peasants in a substantial part of China, they not only reveal their credulity and superficiality; they obscure and misrepresent the fundamental problem of the Chinese revolution. The peasantry, even the most revolutionary, cannot create an independent government; it can only support the government of another class, the dominant urban class. The peasantry at all decisive moments follows either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. So-called peasant parties may disguise this fact, but they cannot annul it. Soviets are the organs of power of a revolutionary class in opposition to the bourgeoisie. This means that the peasantry is unable to organize a soviet system on its own. The same holds true for an army. More than once in China, and in Russia and other countries too, the peasantry has organized guerrilla armies which fought with incomparable courage and stubbornness. But they remained guerrilla armies, connected to a local province and incapable of centralized strategic operations on a large scale. Only the predominance of the proletariat in the decisive industrial and political centers of the country creates the necessary basis for the organization of a Red army and for the extension of a soviet system into the coutryside. To those unable to grasp this, the revolution remains a book closed with seven seals.

The Chinese proletariat is just beginning to recover from the paralysis of the counterrevolution. The peasant movement at the present time is advancing, to a large degree, independently of the workers' movement, according to its own laws and at its own tempo. But the heart of the problem of the Chinese revolution consists in the political coordination and organizational combination of the proletarian and peasant uprisings. Those who talk about the victory of the soviet revolution in China, although confined to separate provinces in the South and confronted with passivity in the industrial North, ignore the dual problem of the Chinese revolution: the problem of an alliance between the workers and peasants and the problem of the leading role of the workers in this alliance.

The vast flood of peasant revolts can unquestionably provide the impulse for the revival of political struggle in the industrial centers. We firmly count on it. But this does not mean in any case that the revolutionary awakening of the proletariat would lead immediately to the conquest of power or even to the struggle for power. The resurgence of the proletariat might at first assume the character of partial economic and political defensive and offensive struggles. How much time would the proletariat, and particularly the communist vanguard, require to rise to its role as leader of a revolutionary nation? At any rate, more than weeks or months. Bureaucratic command is no substitute for the independent growth of the class and its party.

At this juncture the Chinese communists need a long-range policy. They must not scatter their forces among the isolated flames of the peasant revolt. Weak and small in number, the party will not be able to take hold of this movement. The communists must concentrate their forces in the factories and the shops and in the workers' districts in order to explain to the workers the meaning of what is happening in the provinces, to lift the spirits of the tired and discouraged, to organize groups of workers for a struggle to defend their economic interests, and to raise the slogans of the democratic-agrarian revolution. Only through the process of activating and uniting the workers will the Communist Party be able to assume leadership of the peasant insurrection, that is, of the national revolution as a whole.

To support the illusions of adventurism and to conceal the weakness of the proletarian vanguard, the Stalinists say that a democratic dictatorship, not a proletarian, is the issue. On this central point their adventurism relies entirely on the premises of opportunism. Not satisfied with their Kuomintang experiment, the Stalinists are devising a new formula for the coming revolution with which to put to sleep and chain the working class, the "democratic dictatorship."

When the vanguard workers in China advanced the slogan of soviets, they were saying: we want to do what the Russian workers did. Only yesterday the Stalinists replied to this: no, you must not, you have the Kuomintang, and it will do what is necessary. Today the same leaders respond more cautiously: you will have to organize soviets, not for a proletarian but for a democratic dictatorship. They thereby tell the proletariat that the dictatorship will not be in their hands, that there is some other as-yet-undiscovered force which can introduce the revolutionary dictatorship in China. In this way the formula of the democratic dictatorship opens the gates to a new deception of the workers and peasants by the bourgeoisie.

To justify the slogan of the "democratic dictatorship," the Stalinists describe the Chinese counterrevolution as "feudal militarist and imperialist." Thus they exclude the bourgeoisie from the counterrevolution, that is, they again as before idealize the bourgeoisie. In reality the militarists express the interests of the Chinese bourgeoisie, which are inseparable from feudal interests and relations. The Chinese bourgeoisie is too hostile to the people, too closely tied up with the foreign imperialists, and too afraid of the revolution to be eager to rule in its own name by parliamentary methods. The militarist-fascist regime of China is an expression of the antinational, antirevolutionary character of the Chinese bourgeoisie. The Chinese counterrevolution is not a counterrevolution of feudal barons and slaveowners against bourgeois society. It is a counterrevolution of all property holders -- and first of all bourgeois -- against the workers and peasants.

The proletarian insurrection in China can and will develop only as a direct and immediate revolution against the bourgeoisie. The peasants' revolt in China, much more than it was in Russia, is a revolt against the bourgeoisie. A class of landlords as a separate class does not exist in China. The landowners and the bourgeoisie are one and the same. The gentry and tuchuns, against whom the peasant movement is immediately directed, represent the lowest link to the bourgeoisie and to the imperialist exploiters as well. In Russia the October revolution, in its first stage, counterpoised all the peasants as a class against all the landlords as a class, and only after several months began to introduce the civil war within the peasantry. In China every peasant uprising is, from the start, a civil war of the poor against the rich peasants, that is, against the village bourgeoisie.

The middle peasantry in China is insignificant. Almost 80 percent of the peasants are poor. They and they alone play a revolutionary role. The problem is not to unite the workers with the peasants as a whole, but with the village poor. They have a common enemy: the bourgeoisie. No one but the workers can lead the poor peasants to victory. Their mutual victory can lead to no other regime but the dictatorship of the proletariat. Only such a regime can establish a soviet system and organize a Red army, which will be the military expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the poor peasants.

The Stalinists say that the democratic dictatorship, as the next stage of the revolution, will grow into a proletarian dictatorship at a later stage. This is the current doctrine of the Comintern, not only for China but for all the Eastern countries. It is a complete departure from the teachings of Marx on the state and the conclusions of Lenin on the function of the state in a revolution. The democratic dictatorship differs from the proletarian in that it is a bourgeois democratic dictatorship. The transition from a bourgeois to a proletarian dictatorship cannot occur as a peaceful process of "growing over" from one to the other. A dictatorship of the proletariat can replace a democratic, or a fascist, dictatorship of the bourgeoisie only through armed insurrection.

The peaceful "growing over" of a democratic revolution into a socialist revolution is possible only under the dictatorship of one class -- the proletariat. The transition from democratic measures to socialist measures took place in the Soviet Union under the regime of the proletarian dictatorship. This transition will be accomplished much faster in China because its most elementary democratic problems have much more of an anti-capitalist and antibourgeois character than they had in Russia. The Stalinists apparently need one more defeat, paid for by the workers' blood, before they can bring themselves to say: "The revolution has reached the highest stage, whose slogan is the dictatorship of the proletariat."

At this moment nobody can tell the extent to which the present peasant insurrection combines the reflection of the second revolution with the summer lightning of the third. Nobody can foretell now whether the hearths of the peasant revolt can keep a fire burning through the whole long period of time which the proletarian vanguard will need to gather its own strength, bring the working class into the fight, and coordinate its struggle for power with the general offensive of the peasants against their most immediate enemies.

What distinguishes this movement in the countryside today is the desire of the peasants to give it the form of soviets, at least in name, and to fashion their own guerrilla armies as much as possible after the Red Army. This shows how intensely the peasants are seeking a political form that would enable them to overcome their dispersion and impotence. From this point of departure, the communists can proceed successfully.

But it must be understood in advance that in the consciousness of the Chinese peasant the general slogan of soviets does not by any means signify the dictatorship of the proletariat. The peasants cannot speak for the proletarian dictatorship a priori. They can be led to it only through the experience of a struggle that will prove to them in life that their democratic problems cannot be solved in any way except through the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is the fundamental reason why the Communist Party cannot lead the proletariat to a struggle for power except under democratic slogans.

The peasant movement, although adorned with the name of soviets, remains scattered, local, provincial. It can be elevated to a national movement only by connecting the struggle for land and against oppressive taxes and burdens of militarism with the ideals of the independence of China and the sovereignty of the people. A democratic expression of this connection is the sovereign constituent assembly. Under such a slogan the communist vanguard will be able to unite around itself the vast masses of workers, the oppressed small townspeople, and the hundreds of millions of poor peasants for an insurrection against foreign and native oppressors.

The organization of workers' soviets can be attempted only on a rising tide of revolution in the cities. In the meantime we can prepare for it. To prepare means to gather strength. At present we can do it only under consistent and courageous revolutionary democratic slogans.

And we must explain to the vanguard elements of the working class that a constituent assembly is only a step on the revolutionary road. We are setting our course toward the dictatorship of the proletariat in the form of a soviet regime.

We do not shut our eyes to the fact that such a dictatorship will place the most difficult economic and international problems before the Chinese people. The proletariat in China constitutes a smaller part of the population than the proletariat in Russia did on the eve of the October revolution. Chinese capitalism is more backward than was Russia's. But difficulties are conquered not by illusions, not by an adventurist policy, not by hopes in a Chiang Kai-shek or in a "democratic dictatorship." Difficulties are conquered by clear thinking and revolutionary will.

The Chinese proletariat will take power not in order to resurrect the Chinese Wall and under its protection construct national socialism. By winning power the Chinese proletariat will win one of the most important strategic positions for the international revolution. The fate of China, like that of the USSR, is bound up with the fate of the revolutionary movement of the world proletariat. This is the source of greatest hope and the justification of highest revolutionary courage.

The cause of the international revolution is the cause of the Chinese revolution. The cause of the Chinese revolution is the cause of the international revolution.


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