On a day when we are honoring the 63rd anniversary of the Chinese revolution of 1949 the article posted in this entry and the comment below take on added meaning. In the old days, in the days when I had broken from many of my previously held left social-democratic political views and had begun to embrace Marxism with a distinct tilt toward Trotskyism, I ran into an old revolutionary in Boston who had been deeply involved (although I did not learn the extend of that involvement until later) in the pre-World War II socialist struggles in Eastern Europe. The details of that involvement will not detain us here now but the import of what he had to impart to me about the defense of revolutionary gains has stuck with me until this day. And, moreover, is germane to the subject of this article from the pen of Leon Trotsky -the defense of the Chinese revolution and the later gains of that third revolution (1949) however currently attenuated.
This old comrade, by the circumstances of his life, had escaped that pre-war scene in fascist-wracked Europe and found himself toward the end of the 1930s in New York working with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party in the period when that organization was going through intense turmoil over the question of defense of the Soviet Union. In the history of American (and international) Trotskyism this is the famous Max Shachtman-James Burnham led opposition that declared, under one theory or another, that the previously defendable Soviet Union had changed dramatically enough in the course of a few months to be no longer worth defending by revolutionaries.
What struck him from the start about this dispute was the cavalier attitude of the anti-Soviet opposition, especially among the wet-behind-the-ears youth, on the question of that defense and consequently about the role that workers states, healthy, deformed or degenerated, as we use the terms of art in our movement, as part of the greater revolutionary strategy. Needless to say most of those who abandoned defense of the Soviet Union when there was even a smidgeon of a reason to defend it left politics and peddled their wares in academia or business. Or if they remained in politics lovingly embraced the virtues of world imperialism.
That said, the current question of defense of the Chinese Revolution hinges on those same premises that animated that old Socialist Workers Party dispute. And strangely enough (or maybe not so strangely) on the question of whether China is now irrevocably on the capitalist road, or is capitalist already (despite some very un-capitalistic economic developments over the past few years), I find that many of those who oppose that position have that same cavalier attitude the old comrade warned me against back when I was first starting out. There may come a time when we, as we had to with the Soviet Union and other workers states, say that China is no longer a workers state. But today is not that day. In the meantime study the issue, read the posted article, and more importantly, defend the gains of the Chinese Revolution.
Problems of the Chinese Revolution
The Chinese Revolution and
the Theses of Comrade Stalin
The Speech of Comrade Chen Duxiu on
the Tasks of the Chinese Communist Party
May 17, 1927
Neither Stalin nor we had this speech when Stalin wrote his theses and we wrote a criticism of them. Chen Duxiu characterizes the situation not on the basis of a general analysis of the circumstances but on the basis of his direct observations. Now, what does Chen Duxiu say of the new revolutionary movement? He declares plainly that “it would be a mistake” to consider the Wuhan government an organ of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship: “It is not yet a government of the worker and peasant masses but solely a bloc of leaders”. But is this not word for word what we said against Stalin?
Stalin wrote: “There is now no other governmental power than the government of the revolutionary Guomindang.” We answered him on that: “These words fairly reek with the apparatus-like and bureaucratic conception of revolutionary authority. the classes come and go but the continuity of the Guomindang government goes on forever [allegedly]. But it is not enough to call Wuhan the centre of the revolution for it really to be that” (cf. above). Instead of making it clear to the Chinese revolutionists, to the Communists primarily, that the Wuhan government will break its head against a wall if it imagines that it is itself already the only government in China; instead of turning relentlessly against the decorative hypocrisy of the petty-bourgeois revolutionists who have already destroyed so many revolutions; instead of shouting right into the ear of the uncertain, faltering, vacillating centre of Wuhan: “Do not be misled by outward appearances, do not be dazzled by the glitter of our own titles and manifestos, begin to perform the hard daily work, set masses in motion, build up workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ soviets, build up a revolutionary governmental power” – instead of all this, Stalin hurls himself against the slogan of the soviets and supports the worst, the most provincial and bureaucratic prejudices and superstitious views of those ill-fated revolutionists who fear people’s soviets, and instead have faith in the sacred ink-blots on the notepaper of the Guomindang.
54) With regard to the agrarian movement, comrade Chen Duxiu admits honestly that the agrarian program of the Party (reduction of rent payments) is completely insufficient. The peasant movement, he says, “is being transformed into the struggle for land. The peasantry arises spontaneously and wants to settle the land question itself.” Further on, comrade Chen Duxiu declares openly: “We followed a too pacific policy. Now it is necessary to confiscate the large estates” If the content of these words is developed in a Marxian manner, it constitutes the harshest condemnation of the whole past line of the Communist Party of China, and the Comintern as well, in the agrarian question of the Chinese revolution. Instead of anticipating the course of the agrarian movement, of establishing the slogans in time and throwing them among the peasant masses through the workers, the revolutionary soldiers and the advanced peasants, the Chinese Communist Party remained a vast distance behind the spontaneous agrarian movement. Can there be a more monstrous form of chvostism? “We followed a too pacific policy.” But what does a pacific policy of a revolutionary party mean in the period of a spontaneous agrarian revolution? It signifies the most grievous historical mistake that a party of the proletariat can possibly commit. A pacific policy (the reduction of rent payments), while the peasant is already fighting spontaneously for land, is not a policy of Menshevik compromise but of liberal compromise. Only a philistine corrupted by alleged statecraft can fail to understand this, but never a revolutionist.
To strengthen this wave and to deepen it we need peasants’ soviets with the unfurled banner of the agrarian revolution, not after the victory but immediately, in order to guarantee the victory.
If we do not want to permit the peasant wave to come to nought and be splattered into froth, the peasants’ soviets must be united through workers’ soviets in the cities and the industrial centres, and to the workers’ soviets must be added the soviets of the poor population from the urban trade and handwork districts.
If we do not want to permit the bourgeoisie to drive a wedge between the revolutionary masses and the army, then soldiers’ soviets must be fitted into the revolutionary chain.
As quickly as possible, as boldly as possible, as energetically as possible, the revolution must be deepened, not after the victory but immediately, or else there will be no victory.
The deepening of the agrarian revolution, the immediate seizure of the land by the peasants, will weaken Chiang Kai-shek on the spot, bring confusion into the ranks of his soldiers, and set the peasant hinterland in motion. There is no other road to victory and there can be none.
Have we really carried through three revolutions within two decades only to forget the ABC of the first of them? Whoever carries on a pacific policy during the agrarian revolution, is lost. Whoever postpones matters, vacillates, temporizes, loses time, is lost. The formula of Chen Duxiu is the surest road to the destruction of the revolution.
Slanderers will be found who will say that our words are dictated by a hatred of the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders. Was it not once said that our position on the Anglo-Russian Committee signified a hostile attitude towards the British Communist Party? The events confirmed the fact that it was we who acted as loyal revolutionists towards the British Communists, and not as bureaucratic sycophants. Events will confirm the fact – they confirm it every day – that our criticism of the Chinese Communists was dictated by a more serious, more Marxist, revolutionary attitude towards the Chinese revolution than was the attitude of the bureaucratic sycophants who approve of everything after the fact, provided that they do not have to foresee for the future.
The fact that the speech of comrade Chen Duxiu is reprinted in Pravda without a single word of commentary, that no article revealing the ruinous course of this speech is devoted to it – this fact by itself must fill every revolutionist with the greatest misgivings, for it is the central organ of Lenin’s party that is involved!
Let not the pacifiers and flatterers tell us about “the unavoidable mistakes of a young Communist Party”. It is not a question of isolated mistakes. It is a question of the false basic line, the consummate expression of which is the theses of comrade Stalin.
The Necessary Final Accord
But still more: The same article in Sotsialisticheski Vestnik speaks further on in a mocking tone – we quote literally! – of “the line of Radek which, covered with extreme ‘left’ slogans, (withdrawal from Guomindang, ‘propaganda of the soviet system’ etc.), simply desires in reality to give up the game and to step aside”.  The line of Radek is characterized here with the words of the leading articles and the feuilletons of Pravda. After all, it cannot be otherwise: Radek cannot say anything openly in the press about his line, for otherwise the Party would learn that Radek’s line is being confirmed by the whole course of events. The editors of Sotsialisticheski Vestnik not only describe “the line of Radek” with the words of Pravda but also evaluate them in full accord with the articles of Pravda: The line of the Opposition, according to Dan, gives the possibility, “covered with extreme ‘left’ slogans”, in reality “to give up the game and to step aside”. We have already read in the articles of Pravda that “a mass for the dead must be read” for the Chinese revolution, that the Chinese Communists must “retire within themselves”, that they must renounce “great deeds and great plans”, and that all this is the “sermon of the liquidation of the Chinese revolution“ – if the line of the Opposition is adopted. This was said literally, for example, in the leading article in Pravda of May 16, 1927. As we see, it is word for word the same thing that Dan says, or more correctly, Dan says of the Opposition word for word what Pravda has said in a series of its articles. Dan approves the theses of Stalin and derides the “liquidator” Radek, who covers his liquidation with extremely left phrases. Everything is clear now: The liquidationism of Radek is the same liquidationism which is evaluated as such by the renowned revolutionist Dan. That is the lesson that the leading articles in Sotsialisticheski Vestnik presents to those who are still capable of learning anything.
It is surely portentous that the quoted number of Sotsialisticheski Vestnik should arrive in Moscow on the eve of the opening of the session of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, which must consider the problem of the Chinese revolution in its full scope.