The Chinese Communist Party and the Guómíndǎng

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written 27 September 1926


[Leon Trotsky on China, New York 1976, p. 113-120.]

Facts and documents from the political life of China in the recent period provide an absolutely indisputable answer to the problem of further relations between the Communist Party and the Guómíndǎng. The revolutionary struggle in China has, since 1925, entered a new phase, which is characterized above all by the active intervention of broad layers of the proletariat, by strikes and the formation of trade unions. The peasants are unquestionably being drawn into motion to an increasing degree. At the same time, the commercial bourgeoisie, and the elements of the intelligentsia linked with it, are breaking off to the right, assuming a hostile attitude toward strikes, communists, and the USSR,

It is quite clear that in the light of these fundamental facts the question of revising relations between the Communist Party and the Guómíndǎng must necessarily be raised. The attempt to avoid such a revision by claiming that national-colonial oppression in China requires the permanent entry of the Communist Party in the Guómíndǎng cannot stand up under criticism. At one time, the Western European opportunists used to demand that we Russian Social Democrats should work in the same organization not only with the Social Revolutionaries but also with the “Liberationists” on the grounds that we were all engaged in the struggle against tsarism. On the other hand, with regard to British India or the Dutch Indies, the very question of the Communist Party entering the national-revolutionary organizations does not arise. As far as China is concerned, the solution to the problem of relations between the Communist Party and the Guómíndǎng differs at different periods of the revolutionary movement. The main criterion for us is not the constant fact of national oppression but the changing course of the class struggle, both within Chinese society and along the line of encounter between the classes and parties of China and imperialism.

The leftward movement of the masses of Chinese workers is as certain a fact as the rightward movement of the Chinese bourgeoisie. Insofar as the Guómíndǎng has been based on the political and organizational union of the workers and the bourgeoisie, it must now be tom apart by the centrifugal tendencies of the class struggle. There are no magic political formulas or clever tactical devices to counter these trends, nor can there be.

The participation of the CCP in the Guómíndǎng was perfectly correct in the period when the CCP was a propaganda society which was only preparing itself for future independent political activity but which, at the same time, sought to take part in the ongoing national liberation struggle. The last two years have seen the rise of a mighty strike wave among the Chinese workers. The CCP report estimates that the trade unions during this period have drawn in some 1.2 million workers. Exaggeration in such matters is of course inevitable. Moreover, we know how unstable new union organizations are in situations of constant ebb and flow. But the fact of the Chinese proletariat’s mighty awakening, its desire for struggle and for independent class organization, is absolutely undeniable.

This very fact confronts the CCP with the task of graduating from the preparatory class it now finds itself in to a higher grade. Its immediate political task must now be to fight for direct independent leadership of the awakened working class — not of course in order to remove the working class from the framework of the national-revolutionary struggle, but to assure it the role of not only the most resolute fighter, but also of political leader with hegemony in the struggle of the Chinese masses.

Those who favor the CCP’s remaining in the Guómíndǎng argue that “the predominant role of the petty bourgeoisie in the composition of the Guómíndǎng makes it possible for us to work within the party for a prolonged period on the basis of our own politics.” This argument is fundamentally unsound. The petty bourgeoisie, by itself, however numerous it may be, cannot decide the main line of revolutionary policy. The differentiation of the political struggle along class lines, the sharp divergence between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, implies a struggle between them for influence over the petty bourgeoisie, and it implies the vacillation of the petty bourgeoisie between the merchants, on the one hand, and the workers and communists, on the other. To think that the petty bourgeoisie can be won over by clever maneuvers or good advice within the Guómíndǎng is hopeless utopianism. The Communist Party will be more able to exert direct and indirect influence upon the petty bourgeoisie of town and country the stronger the party is itself, that is, the more it has won over the Chinese working class. But that is possible only on the basis of an independent class party and class policy.

We have taken the above-quoted argument in favor of the CCP’s remaining in the Guómíndǎng from the July 14, 1926, resolution of the CCP Central Committee plenum. This resolution, along with other documents of the plenum, testifies to the extremely contradictory policies of the CCP and to the dangers flowing from that. The documents of the July plenum of the CCP Central Committee testify at every step to the “intensified process, during the past year, by which each of the two poles — bourgeoisie and proletariat — has defined its own separate position” (quoted from the same resolution).

The resolutions, documents, and reports record, first, the growth of the Guómíndǎng right wing, then the rightward movement of the Guómíndǎng center, and after that, the vacillations and splits in the Guómíndǎng left. And all of this has followed the pattern of stepped-up attacks on the communists. For their part, the communists have been retreating steadily, from one position to the next, within the Guómíndǎng. Their concessions, as we shall see, are both of an organizational nature and of the kind involving matters of principle. They have agreed to limit the number of communists on leading bodies of the Guómíndǎng to no more than one-third. They have even agreed to accept a resolution declaring the teachings of Sūn Zhōngshān inviolable. But, as ever, each new concession only brings renewed pressure against the communists on the part of the Guómíndǎng forces. All of these processes, as we have said, are absolutely inevitable, given the class differentiation.

Nevertheless the Central Committee plenum rejected the views of those Chinese communists who proposed withdrawal from the Guómíndǎng. The resolution states:

“A completely incorrect point of view, which distorts the prospects for development of the liberation struggle in China, is held by those comrades who think that the Communist Party — if it were to break organizationally with the Guómíndǎng, that is, if it were to dissolve the alliance with the urban commercial and professional bourgeoisie, the revolutionary intelligentsia, and partly, the government — could now, by itself, lead the proletariat and behind it the other oppressed masses to carry out the bourgeois-democratic revolution.”

This line of argument seems to us, however, completely untenable. Whether the CCP will prove capable in the future, as an independent and decisive force, of leading the proletariat and peasantry to liberate and unify the country, no one can now predict. The further course of the revolutionary struggle in China depends on the play of far too many internal and international forces. Of course, the Communist Party’s struggle for influence over the proletariat and for the hegemony of that class in the national-revolutionary movement may not lead to victory in the next years. But that is no argument at all against an independent class policy, which is inconceivable without an independent class organization. It is fundamentally wrong to suggest that withdrawal from the Guómíndǎng means the breakup of the alliance with the petty bourgeoisie. The essential point is that the vague and formless alliance of the proletariat with the petty-bourgeois, merchant, and other elements, which is reflected in the Guómíndǎng, is now no longer even possible. The class differentiation has passed over into the realm of politics. From now on the alliance between the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie can be based only on strictly defined and clearly stated agreements.

The drawing of organizational lines, which inevitably flows from the class differentiation, does not rule out but, on the contrary, presupposes — under existing conditions — a political bloc with the Guómíndǎng as a whole or with particular elements of it, throughout the republic or in particular provinces, depending on the circumstances. But first of all, the CCP must ensure its own complete organizational independence and clarity of political program and tactics in the struggle for influence over the awakened proletarian masses. Only with this kind of approach can one speak seriously of drawing the broad masses of the Chinese peasantry into the struggle.

The direction of the CCP’s thinking can best be made clear by quoting the most striking passages from the CCP declaration issued by the July Central Committee plenum (July 12, 1926):

“The urgent demand of the Chinese people is for the alleviation of all these sufferings. This is not Bolshevism. Perhaps one could say that it is Bolshevism for the sake of saving our people, but it is not Bolshevism for the sake of communism.”

Further on, this manifesto states:

“They [the bourgeoisie] do not understand that the minimal expression of the class struggle that has occurred in the organization of the workers and in the strikes does not at all reduce the fighting capacity of the anti-imperialist and anti-militarist forces. Moreover, they do not understand that the welfare of the Chinese bourgeoisie depends on the success of the war waged in conjunction with the proletariat against the imperialists and militarists, and not at all upon the continuation of the class struggle by the proletariat.”

The path of struggle is to “call for a nationwide conference.” This should be done by the Guómíndǎng “as the party whose mission it is to carry out the national revolution.” To the objection that the militarists would make it impossible to convene a national assembly truly representative of the people, the manifesto replies with generalities about control being exercised by the parties and unity of all classes. In Point 23 of the platform a demand is inserted, and only in twelfth place, for freedom to form coalitions, freedom of assembly, etc.

The concluding section of the declaration states:

“They [the militarists] say that our platform is revolutionary. That may be. However, it corresponds to the most urgent and vital demands and needs of all layers of the people. And a united fighting front of all classes of the population should be based on a common platform. Those who take part in this struggle should firmly defend these demands. They should fight for the common interests, not egoistically defend the interests of their own class. …”

The entire declaration is permeated from beginning to end with the desire to convince the bourgeoisie and not to win the proletariat. This kind of position establishes the premises for inevitable retreats before the right, center, and pseudo-left leaders of the Guómíndǎng. The politics expressed in this declaration in fact have nothing to do with Marxism. This is Sūn Zhōngshānism, slightly touched up with Marxist terminology.

Under these conditions it can no longer come as a surprise that the communists found it possible to accept the following policy statement of the Guómíndǎng Central Committee, adopted on Jiǎng Jièshí’s motion:

“The Guómíndǎng must see to it that every member of another party entering the Guómíndǎng [i.e., the Communist Party — L.T.] understands that Sūn Zhōngshānism, founded by Sūn Zhōngshān, is the basic principle of the Guómíndǎng and that there must not be any doubts or criticism expressed in regard to Sūn Zhōngshān or Sūn Zhōngshānism.”

It is quite obvious that when matters are presented this way, the whole reason for the CCP’s existence disappears.

Sūn Zhōngshānism as an idealist, petty-bourgeois doctrine of national solidarity was able to play a relatively progressive role in the period when the communists could get along in the same organization with the students and progressive merchants on the basis of a vague and informal alliance. The present class differentiation within Chinese society and within the Guómíndǎng is not only an irreversible but also a profoundly progressive fact.

Moreover, it means that Sūn Zhōngshānism has become altogether a thing of the past. It would be suicidal for the CCP to refrain from criticizing this doctrine which, as events unfold, is sure to bind the Chinese revolution hand and foot and ever more tightly. The imposition of this kind of obligation results from enforced organizational cohabitation within the bounds of a single political organization in which the communists voluntarily accept the position of a systematically discriminated-against minority,

The way out of this profoundly contradictory and absolutely unacceptable situation cannot be found along the lines pursued by the last plenum of the CCP. The way out does not lie in trying to “take the place of” the left wing in the Guómíndǎng, or in gently and unobtrusively trying to educate and nudge them along, nor in trying to “help create a left-Guómíndǎng periphery out of the organizations of the petty bourgeoisie.” All these recipes and even the way they are formulated are cruelly reminiscent of the old Menshevik cuisine. The way out is to draw the line organizationally as the necessary prerequisite for an independent policy, keeping one’s eyes, not on the left Guómíndǎng, but above all, on the awakened workers. Only under this condition can a bloc with the Guómíndǎng or with any of its elements be anything more than a castle of sand. The sooner the policy of the CCP is turned around the better for the Chinese revolution.

Two Conclusions

1. In the foregoing we have criticized the recent decisions of the CCP Central Committee. On the basis of past experience we can expect attempts to depict our criticism as an expression of hostility toward the fraternal Chinese party.

One or another sentence may be torn out of context with the aim of showing that to us, the CCP is a “brake” on the revolutionary movement. There is no need to comment on the harm done by such low grade “criticism.” But facts are stronger than fabrications and insinuations. Properly evaluated and foreseen in time, the facts can still prove convincing even if the insinuations are disseminated in huge editions. Our criticism of the central leadership of the CCP is dictated by the desire to help the proletarian revolutionists of China to avoid mistakes that have long since been tested out in the experience of other countries. The responsibility for the CCP Central Committee’s mistakes lies first of all with the leading group of our own party. The policy of remaining in the Guómíndǎng in spite of the whole trend of developments was dictated from Moscow, as the highest precept of Leninism. The Chinese communists had no alternative but to accept the political conclusions flowing from this organizational precept.

2. Politics is expressed through organization. That is why opportunism in organizational matters is entirely possible, as Lenin taught us. Such opportunism can be expressed in various ways, depending on the circumstances. One form of organizational opportunism is tailendism, i.e., the desire to hold on to organizational forms and relations that have become outdated and therefore turn into their opposites. We have seen organizational tailendism in the recent period in two cases: (a) on the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee; and (b) on the question of the relations between the CCP and the Guómíndǎng. In both cases, the tailendism consisted in clinging to an organizational form that had already been stood on its head by the course of the class struggle. In both cases the outdated organizational form has helped right-wing elements and bound the left hand and foot. We must learn from these two examples.

[Postscript dated September 30, 1926.]

From Comintern leaders in China we have heard a voice of warning — though phrased, to be sure, in a very cautious way — on the question of relations between the CCP and Guómíndǎng. Thus, the report on CCP tactics toward the Guómíndǎng which was received after the May plenum of the Guómíndǎng Central Committee states:

“In carrying out these decisions [i.e., the decisions defining our organizational ties with the Guómíndǎng], we should stretch them somewhat, that is, remain formally within the Guómíndǎng, but in practice, make a division of labor that would, as much as possible, give them the form of collaboration between two parties, i.e., make a gradual transition from the form of collaboration based on inner unity to that of contacts and consultations between allies.”

Thus, from China the proposal has come that we, without formally negating the directives, should violate them in fact and turn the relations between the CCP and Guómíndǎng in the direction of an alliance between two independent parties. This proposal, which was called for by the whole course of events, met with no sympathy, however, and as a result we have had the decisions of the July plenum of the CCP Central Committee, decisions that are obviously mistaken, profoundly contradictory, and tending in a dangerous direction.