Leon Trotsky on China  


August 1935

August 8, 1935 . . On the problem of the united front with the bourgeoisie: Trotsky did not believe Liu Jen-ching's conclusion that Chten Tuhsiu has become an opportunist. He thinks that Liu's argument was undialectical and that it tended to throw around ambiguous terminology. For instance, Trotsky thinks there should be a distinction between "united fronts" and "common action" . . . and he was rather amused by Liu's arrogant attitude of being a self-appointed representative of the Bolshevik tendency in the Chinese revolutionary movement.

August 9, 1935

To resume yesterday's discussion, Trotsky read my draft and pointed out a few weaknesses on the first page. He felt that my analysis of the different layers of the bourgeoisie and their subjective and objective viewpoints was insufficient and undialectical. He said that if we used such a pat formula, we would tend to be dogmatic and opportunist. He emphasized:

"Common action, especially a short-term common action, is one thing, but capitulation to the bourgeoisie in the form of a permanent 'united front' such as the French Popular Front is another. They are entirely different. It is good to keep our organization completely independent; but the heart of the matter is how to use this independence. We should continually carry out 'common action' with the students' and peasants' organizations."

I said that the question is not one of our relationship to the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry. On this point, Ch'en Tu-hsiu had adopted an emptier and more abstract formula than Liu Jen ching. At any rate, I had to send Sneevliet a telegram to ask him to send me Liu's document, "Five Years of the Chinese Left Opposition." (I had not brought it with me because I had thought Trotsky already had this document. We will discuss it more fully later on.)

August 9 (afternoon)

My oral report on the Chinese Red Army took up almost the whole meeting. In this report I also touched on the general political situation in China. Dr. F. and N. Sedova were also present. I drew a map and talked for an hour and a half. I talked about the origins, initial development, internal evolution, and eventual fate of the Chinese Red Army. I dealt with it as completely as possible so that at the conclusion there were almost no questions to be answered.

Trotsky only said that its general development verified the Opposition's prediction that without the leadership of the working class movement, the fate of the Red Army would either depend on the upper strata (merchants and middle and rich peasants) within its jurisdiction, or it would be suppressed by the superior military forces of the Kunmintang and the imperialists. Our viewpoint was that at present the Red Army wanted to go to Sinkiang province because only there could they answer the Soviet Union's diplomatic needs by establishing a buffer zone between the Soviet Union and the Japanese forces from Mongolia.'62 Trotsky considered this viewpoint correct, logical, and most likely. Near the end of the meeting, I raised the problem of the political perspective in China. I described Liu's ideological evolution on the problem of economic reconstruction, and also mentioned his search for a new solution and his attention to the Red Army and the possibility of its expansion into Szechwan province. At the end, I mentioned that the political perspective had to be clarified because this will be the foundation of the program of the Chinese Bolshevik-Leninist faction. This problem will be discussed in the later meetings.

August 13 (morning)

We discussed Liu's document. I could only cite major arguments and read the important quotations to him, and let him read it. We only had time to discuss the introduction and the chapters on the national assembly and the bourgeoisie. When I read the part (page 14) where Liu said the masses considered the national assembly and the dictatorship of the proletariat to be "the same thing" (i.e., the national assembly is the popular formula for the dictatorship of the proletariat), Trotsky interrupted me and said: "It would be more exact to say that Liu considers what is in his mind and what is in the minds of the masses to be 'the same thing."' He continued:

"One might say, looking at the historical development of countries such as England and France, that a long period of democracy is required before reaching socialism, and that this period could last several centuries. But in Russia, semidemocracy of the parliamentary period lasted only several years. Democracy during the February revolution lasted only eight months. In China, this period may not even last eight months. At any rate, the masses always want democracy in the beginning. Only when they follow this road will they be able to accept the soviet system and to seize power. For this matter we cannot form a detailed plan in advance; we have to rely on the thinking and actions of the masses to determine our action. In China the period of democracy may be very short, or even nonexistent. But this does not mean that the masses will think of the national assembly, or any democratic concept, and the dictatorship of the proletariat as 'the same thing.'"

I continued to read. He shook his head and said: "It is ridiculous to hinder our first steps with worrying about future problems. The first step should be to conduct propaganda and agitation for the national assembly. When the Kuomintang capitulates to the Japanese imperialists, the people should do something themselves. How? Call a national assembly! As simple as that! We should spread this idea among all strata of the people. The students, as before, could play a very big role in the initial stage. We have two tasks: (1) to arouse and to participate in the democratic mass movement; (2) to draw the proletariat into this movement so as to prepare them for the proletarian revolution. If we can recruit ten or a hundred cadres, they will be the future leaders of the proletariat.

"The problems of the future perspective are part of cadre education, but these problems should not be allowed to paralyze and interfere with our propaganda work for a national assembly. The most important task at the moment is to do everything possible to promote the idea of a national assembly. Then we will watch the result of this agitation closely. For instance, if Chiang Kai-shek attempts to call his own national assembly -- which will eventually cause a split among the bourgeoisie -- the right wing will oppose this idea and the left wing will try to utilize the movement. Then we will attack it and expose it. If the radical wing of the bourgeoisie attempted to carry out the national assembly, we should on the one hand push them to act, for instance to overthrow Chiang Kai-shek and form their own government; and on the other hand we have to expose their deception to the masses. We should start now to agitate for the national assembly. We will discuss the second step later."

"But," I interrupted, "you said we should participate in this democratic mass movement. This is a problem, because at the moment we do not have such a movement. Our task is to create one in order to resurrect mass activity." I then briefly described the present situation of pessimism, discontent, and lack of organization of the workers and of the petty-bourgeois intellectuals. Trotsky said:

"It frequently happens that we cannot push the masses forward. We cannot create a miracle. The defeat of the revolution was deeply felt by the masses. It is a fact that we recognized the defeat in 1928. On the one hand, there was a certain impulse imparted by this defeat (the Red Army, etc.), and on the other hand there were the deepening psychological effects among the masses. If simultaneously the economic crisis deepens, the number of workers declines, production shrinks, and the peasant movement is suppressed, this will mean that the counterrevolution has deepened. But its basis is still undetermined. We will then have to carry out the task of education through our cadres. We will use all means to spread the idea of a national assembly, and we will watch the effect of our propaganda. If there is not yet a response, we will try again, again, and again, until we get a response.

"In the past, we made a theoretical assumption that if the Red Army were to occupy large cities, it would awaken the workers' movement. We also said that this was probable but not inevitable, and that if an economic boom should coincide with advances by the Red Army, it could accelerate the rise of the mass movement. But these lucky coincidences did not occur. Therefore we have to start over again, go back to 1922-23. But if and when the movement rises for the second time, its tempo will be much quicker. The entire contents of the second revolution will be run through again as a brief overture to the third revolution. We will start with our democratic slogan. The slogan of the national assembly can play a big role among the masses. We will talk to the workers through literature and conversations. We should get some response from the workers. This is the only way to advance our work."

Trotsky then described the circumstances of the revival of mass political activity in Russia in 1893, after ten years of reaction following the suppression of the "People's Will." Plekhanov and his group published a document that year evaluating the progress of the Marxist movement in which they expressed their disappointment at the small results. But it was to be in that very year that Marxism was to grow into a big movement that swept the whole country.163

"But I have to explain that the revival was the result of ten years of growth and development of Russian capitalism, which had completely changed the face of the nation. If the deepening of the counterrevolution in China is paralleled by an economic crisis, then our agitation will have no results. Then we will have to prepare our cadres and wage our propaganda. Although our results seem small, we are preparing our future leaders and we do not expect any miracles. What then can bring about the revival of the revolutionary mass movement? Various factors can have this effect: war or revolution in other countries -- a new war will bring a new revolution -- such was the effect of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Don't forget that without our 1905 revolution, there would have been no Persian revolution, and there would have been no 1911 revolution in China.164 Our 1905 made a big impact on the Far East.

"As for who will convoke the national assembly, at the moment that is still a hypothetical question. Our agitation should concentrate on the need for a national assembly. First the masses must become convinced of the need for a national assembly. As our agitation progresses, we will proceed further on the basis of the results of the last step. In all events, we must start to agitate around the demand for a national assembly to oppose Kuomintang rule. Comrades participating in this struggle must have an adequate slogan, a slogan that covers various possible circumstances.

"I do not yet thoroughly understand these controversies [between Chten and Liu] so I cannot express my opinion. I shall study them more carefully. But I can say one thing: even if Ch'en Tu-hsiu holds some opportunist ideas, he is, after all, older and has a lifetime of experience. It is possible that he can contribute many good ideas. I have the impression -- with some reservations -- that Liu Jen-ching has exaggerated this disagreement. Maybe Ch'en posed his opinion as a tactical formula, and Liu considered it a strategic one. If this is Ch'en's strategic line then many of Liu's criticisms may be right. But I think these differences have been greatly exaggerated. I think it is impermissible to conduct a split with Ch'en Tu-hsiu.~6-' We need his cooperation in the Fourth International. The unfortunate thing is not that a serious dispute has arisen over a small difference, but that this small difference has blocked our action."


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