Trotsky on China


Text from Biulleten Oppozitsii (Paris), no. 19, March 1931. Translated by N.Z. Korbokov

January 8, 1931

Dear Comrades:

During the last few months I have received from you a great number of Russian, as documents and letters in English, French, and well as a large number of Opposition publications in Chinese. Pressing work, followed by illness prevented me from answering you sooner. During the last days I have carefully studied all the documents received -- except, alas, the Chinese -- in order to be able to answer the questions you have raised.

To begin with, I will say that in studying the new documents I finally became convinced that there is no difference in principle at all among the various groups that have entered on the road to unification. There are nuances in tactics, which in the future depending on the course of events, could develop into differences. However, there are no grounds for assuming that these differences of opinion will necessarily coincide with the lines of the former groupings. Further on, I will attempt to analyze the controversial and semicontroversial questions as I see them from here.

1. The entrance of the Communist Party into the Kuomintang was a mistake from the very beginning. I believe that this must be stated openly -- in one or another document -- especially since in this instance the Russian Opposition to a large extent shares the guilt. Our group (the 1923 Opposition) was from the first, with the exception of Radek and a few of his closest friends, against the entry of the Communist Party into the Kuomintang and against the admission of the Kuomintang into the Comintern. The Zinovievists held the opposite position. With his vote, Radek put them in a majority in the Opposition center. Preobrazhensky and Pyatakov thought that we should not break our bloc with the Zinovievists because of this question. As a result, the United Opposition took an equivocal position on this question, which was reflected in a whole series of documents, even in the Opposition platform.147 It is worthy of note that all the Russian Oppositionists who adopted the Zinovievist or a conciliatory position on this question subsequently capitulated. On the other hand, all the comrades who are today in jails or in exile were from the very beginning opponents of the entry of the Communist Party into the Kunmintang. This shows the power of a principled position!

2. The slogan dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor does not contradict the slogan dictatorship of the proletariat but only supplements the latter, and makes it more understandable to the people. In China the proletariat is only a small minority. It can only become a force by uniting around it the majority, i.e., the city and village poor. This idea is in fact expressed by the slogan dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor. Naturally, we must point out in the platform and in programmatic articles clearly and distinctly that the role of leadership is concentrated in the hands of the proletariat, which acts as the guide, teacher, and defender of the poor. However, in agitation it is completely correct to employ the term dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor as a short slogan. In this form, it has nothing in common with "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry."

In a long document (December 15, 1929) signed by Ch'en Tuhsiu and others, the problem is formulated in the following manner: The tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in China (national independence, state unity, and agrarian revolution) can be solved only on condition that the Chinese proletariat, in alliance with the city and village poor and as their leader seizes political power. In other words, the conclusion and the victory of the bourgeois democratic revolution in China can only be attained in the Russian way, i.e., by way of a Chinese October. 148

I believe that this formulation is completely correct and excludes the possibility of any misunderstandings whatever.

3. On the question of the character of the Chinese revolution the Comintern leadership has reached an impasse. The experience of the events and the critiques of the Left Opposition have completely destroyed the conception of a "democratic dictatorship." However, if this formula is given up, then no other recourse is left except to turn to the theory of the permanent revolution. The pathetic "theoreticians" of the Comintern stand between these two theories in the unenviable position of Buridan's ass. 149

The anniversary article (Pravda, November 7, 1930) of Manuilsky is the very latest revelation on this subject. A baser mixture of ignorance, cretinism, and villainy cannot be imagined. The Buridanish theory of the Stalinist bureaucrats has been analyzed in the last number of the Biulleten Oppozitsii (nos. 17-18). 150 On this fundamental question at any rate we do not have the least difference with you, as all your documents demonstrate.

4. In some letters, complaints have been made about some groups or individual comrades taking a wrong position with regard to the Chinese "Red Army" by likening its detachments to bandits. If that is true, then a stop must be put to it. Of course, lumpenproletarian elements and professional bandits are joining the revolutionary peasant detachments. Yet the movement as a whole arises from wellsprings deep in the conditions of the Chinese village, and these are the same sources from which the dictatorship of the proletariat will have to nourish itself later on. The policy of the Stalinists toward these detachments is a policy of criminal bureaucratic adventurism. This policy must be mercilessly exposed. We do not share or encourage the illusions of the leaders and the participants of the partisan detachments. We must explain to them that without a proletarian revolution and the seizure of power by the workers the partisan detachments of the peasantry cannot lead the way to victory. However, we must conduct this work of clarification as real friends, not detached onlookers and -- especially -- not as enemies. Without abandoning our own methods and tasks, we must persistently and courageously defend these detachments against the Kuomintang repression and bourgeois slander and persecution. We must explain the enormous symptomatic significance of these detachments. Naturally, we cannot throw our own forces into the partisan struggle -- at present we have another field of endeavor and other tasks. Nevertheless, it is very desirable to have our people, Oppositionists, at least in the larger divisions of the "Red Army," to share the fate of these detachments, to observe attentively the relations between these detachments and the peasantry, and to keep the Left Opposition informed.

In case of a postponement of the revolution, of a new economic revival in China, and of a development of parliamentary tendencies (all these are interconnected), the detachments will inevitably degenerate, antagonizing the poor peasantry. Therefore it is all the more necessary for us to keep an eye on these detachments, in order to be able to adjust our position as necessary.

5. In several letters, the question of a national assembly is brought up anew. The problem of our political tasks is lost beneath guesses as to whether a national assembly will be set up, in what form, the relationship that might develop between the national assembly and the soviets, etc. Running through such speculation is a strong thread of political scholasticism. Thus, for instance, one of the communications reads:

We believe that the national assembly will most likely not be realized. Even if it should be realized, it could not be transformed into a "provisional government," since all the material forces are in the hands of the Kuomintang militarists. Regarding the government that will be organized after the insurrection, that will undoubtedly be the government of the proletarian dictatorship, and in that case it will not convoke a national assembly.

This supposition is extremely incomplete and one-sided, and therefore, leaves considerable room for misunderstandings and mistakes.

(a) First of all, we must not exclude the possibility that the bourgeois classes themselves may be forced to convoke something like a national assembly. If the reports of the European papers are correct, Chiang Kai-shek is nursing the idea of substituting control over some kind of sham parliament for his control over the Kuomintang, which is now restricting him. Certain circles of the big and the middle bourgeoisie which have come into conflict with what they find to be an exasperating party dictatorship may look with favor upon such a project. At the same time, a "parliament" would serve better as a cover for the military dictatorship in face of American public opinion. As the papers report, Chiang Kai-shek has adopted Americanized Christianity in the not unfounded hope that this will facilitate his credit rating with the Jewish bankers in Wall Street; Americanized Christianity, American Jewish moneylenders, and a Chinese pseudoparliament -- all these harmonize splendidly with one another.

In case of a parliamentary variant, the urban petty bourgeoisie, the intellectuals, the students, the "Third Party" -- all will be set into motion. The questions of a constitution, suffrage, and parliamentarism will come onto the agenda. It would be nonsense to contend that the masses of the Chinese people have already left all this behind them. Up to the present, they have only gone through the Stalin-Chiang Kai-shek school, i.e., the basest of all schools. The problems of democracy will inevitably, for a certain period, absorb the attention not only of the peasantry, but of the workers also. This must take place under our leadership.

Will Chiang Kai-shek convoke his own parliament? It is quite possible. But it is possible that the constitutional-democratic movement will go beyond the bounds planned by Chiang Kaishek, and this will force him to go further than he wants to at present. It is possible even that the movement will sweep away Chiang Kai-shek together with all his plans. No matter what the constitutional-parliamentary variants, we will not remain on the sidelines. We shall participate in the struggle under our slogans above all, under the slogans of revolutionary and consistent ("100 percent") democracy. If the revolutionary wave does not immediately sweep away Chiang Kai-shek and his parliament, we will be forced to participate in this parliament, exposing the lies of comprador parliamentarism, and advancing our own tasks.

(b) Can we assume that the revolutionary democratic movement may take on such dimensions that Chiang Kai-shek will no longer be able to keep the military apparatus under control, while the communists are not yet in a position to seize power? Such a transitional period is very likely. It could advance some sort of Chinese variety of dual power, a new provisional government, a bloc of the Kuomintang with the Third Party, etc., etc. Such a regime would be very unstable. It could only be a step toward the dictatorship of the proletariat. But such a step is possible

(c) "After the victorious insurrection," says the document which we have quoted, "a proletarian dictatorship might be instituted and in that case a national assembly would not be convoked." Here, too, the question is oversimplified. At what moment will the insurrection take place and under what slogans? If the proletariat has assembled the poor peasantry under the slogans of democracy (land, national assembly, etc.) and in a united onslaught overthrows the military dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, then, when it comes into power, the proletariat will have to convoke a national assembly in order not to arouse the mistrust of the peasantry and in order not to provide an openinF for bourgeois demagogy. Even after the October insurrection the Bolsheviks had to convoke the Constituent Assembly. Why should we conclude that this variant is impossible for China? The peasantry does not develop at the same rate as the proletariat. The proletariat can anticipate many things, but the peasantry will only learn from the facts. It may be that the Chinese peasantry will need to go through the living experience of a national assembly.

Since the bourgeoisie in Russia delayed convoking the Constituent Assembly for a long time, and the Bolsheviks exposed this, they were compelled, after they had come into power, to convoke the Constituent Assembly rapidly, on the basis of the old election results, which put them in a minority. The Constituent Assembly came into conflict with the soviets before the eyes of all the people and it was dissolved.

In China we can conceive of another variant. After it comes to power, the proletariat may, under certain conditions, postpone convoking a national assembly for several months, develop a broad agitation in the countryside, and assure a communist majority in the national assembly. The advantage would be that the soviet system would be formally sanctioned by the national assembly, immediately depriving the bourgeoisie of a popular slogan in the civil war.

6. Of course, the variations we have considered above are only historical hypotheses. There is no way of predicting what the actual course of developments will be. The general course, toward the dictatorship of the proletariat, is clear in advance. We should not engage in speculation over possible variations, stages, and combinations, but instead intervene as the revolutionary factor in what is happening and develop powerful agitation around democratic slogans. If we take the initiative in this field, the Stalinist bureaucracy will be brushed aside and the Bolshevik Leninists will become within a short time a powerful political force.

7. The question of determining what possibilities may open up in the near future for Chinese capitalism is not a matter of principle but of fact. To decide in advance that capitalist development in China can no longer take a step forward would be the purest doctrinairism. A significant inflow of foreign capital into China is not at all excluded. Because of the world crisis, idle capital is accumulating that needs a field of investment. It is true that at present even American capital, the most powerful of all, is paralyzed, perplexed, apprehensive, and deprived of initiative, since only recently it fell from the peaks of prosperity into the depths of the depression. But it has already begun to look for an international bridgehead as the springboard from which it could touch off a new economic upsurge. It is beyond doubt that under these conditions China offers serious possibilities. To what degree will these be realized? This is not easy to predict either. Here we must not guess a priori, but watch the actual economic and political processes. All the same, it is not at all excluded that while the bulk of the capitalist world is still struggling in the grip of the crisis, the inflow of foreign capital will create an economic revival in China. We must be prepared for this variant, too, by focusing our attention in good time on organizing and strengthening the trade unions and assuring them a correct leadership.

Naturally, an economic upsurge in China would postpone immediate revolutionary perspectives for some time, but this revival will in turn open up new possibilities, new forces, and new sources of strength for victory. In any case, the future belongs to us.

8. Some of the letters from Shanghai pose the question: Should we carry out a complete unification in the individual localities, fuse the press of all the groups, and convoke a conference on the basis of the unification that has already been achieved, or should we permit separate groups to continue within the united Opposition until all the tactical problems have been solved? In such organizational matters, it is difficult to offer advice from afar. It is even possible that the advice would arrive too late. Still, I cannot refrain from saying this to you: Dear friends, fuse your organizations and your press definitioely this very day! We must not drag out the preparations for the unification a long time, because in that way, without wanting to, we can create artificial differences.

By this I do not mean to say that all the questions have already been settled and that you (or more correctly, we) are assured that no differences will arise in the future. No, there is no doubt that the day after tomorrow and the day after that, new tasks will arise, and with them new differences. Without this the development of a revolutionary party is impossible. But the new differences will create new groupings in the framework of the united organization. We must not tarry too long over the past. We must not mark time. We must go onward toward the future.

9. That new differences are inevitable is proved by the experiences of all the sections of the Left Opposition. The French League, for example, was formed from various groups. Thanks to its weekly journal, the League has accomplished very serious and very valuable work, not only from the national, but from the international point of view as well. It has demonstrated that the unification of the different groups was a progressive step. But in recent months some very serious differences have arisen in the League, particularly on the trade union question. A right wing has formed and taken a position that is false to the core. This question is so important and so profound that it can even lead to a new split. Naturally, absolutely everything will have to be done to avoid this. But if that does not succeed, it will not at all prove that the unification of yesterday was a mistake. We do not make a fetish of unity, nor of splits. It all depends upon the conditions of the moment, on the depth of the differences, on the character of the problems.

10. In Spain, conditions are apparently different from those in all the other countries. Spain is at present going through a period of clear and definite revolutionary upsurge. The heated political atmosphere should greatly facilitate the work of the BolshevikLeninists as the boldest and most consistent revolutionary wing. The Comintern has smashed the ranks of Spanish communism, it has weakened and rendered lifeless the official party. As in all other important cases, the Comintern leadership has let a revolutionary situation slip by. The Spanish workers have been left to their own devices at a most crucial moment. Left almost without leadership, they are developing a struggle through revolutionary strikes of notable scope. Under these conditions, the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninists are issuing the slogan of soviets. According to the theory of the Stalinists and the practice of the Canton insurrection, it appears that soviets must be created only on the eve of the insurrection. Disastrous theory and disastrous practice! Soviets must be created when the real and living movement of the masses manifests the need for that type of organization. Soviets are formed at first as broad strike committees. This is precisely the case in Spain. There is no doubt that under these conditions the initiative of the BolshevikLeninists (Opposition) will receive a sympathetic response from the proletarian vanguard. A broad perspective can open up in the near future for the Spanish Opposition. Let us wish our Spanish friends complete success.

11. In conclusion, I come once more to the question of unity, in order to point out the extremely pitiful experiences of Austria in this domain.

For a year and a half, three Austrian groups occupied themselves with "unification" and each thought up in turn such conditions as to make the unification impossible. This criminal game only reflected the generally sorry state of the Austrian Opposition which has been overcome by the decay of the official Communist Party. This year each of the Austrian groups has succeeded in more than amply demonstrating that it is ready to give up the ideas and principles of the International Opposition but in no case its own sectarian pretensions. The more barren the ideological base of these groups, the more venomous the nature of their internal struggles. They delight in dragging the banner of the International Opposition into the mud and demand that the International Opposition use its authority to cover up their unworthy work.

Obviously the International Opposition is not going to do this. To bring unprincipled groups into the International Opposition would mean poisoning one's own organism. In this respect, strict selection is demanded. I hope that at its conference the International Opposition will adopt the "twenty-one conditions" for the admission of organizations into its ranks and that these conditions will be sufficiently severe.l5l

In contrast to the Austrian Opposition, the Chinese Opposition did not develop on the basis of petty backroom intrigues, but from the experiences of a great revolution that was lost by an opportunist leadership. Its great historic mission places exceptional responsibilities on the Chinese Opposition. All of us here hope that the Chinese Opposition will rid itself of the spirit of clannishness, and, rising to its full height, prove equal to the tasks it faces.


L. Trotsky


Hosted by