Saturday, October 01, 2016

From The Archives- In Honor Of The 66th Anniversary Year Of The Chinese Revolution of 1949- From The Pen Of Leon Trotsky-Problems Of The Chinese Revolution (1927) – Comrade Lui’s Problem

From The Archives- In Honor Of The 66th Anniversary Year Of The Chinese Revolution of 1949- From The Pen Of Leon Trotsky-Problems Of The Chinese Revolution (1927) – Comrade Lui’s Problem  


Click on link below to read on-line all of Leon Trotsky's book, Problems Of The Chinese Revolution


Markin comment (repost from October 1, 2012 just change the year date as noted in the title above):


On a day when we are honoring the 63rd anniversary of the Chinese revolution of 1949 the articles by Leon Trotsky concerning the fate of the second Chinese revolution in the 1920s posted in this entry and the comment below take on added meaning. In the old days, in the early 1970s to put a time frame on the period I am talking about, 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 long now although I should point out that he, Ludwig, to use his old time party name which he insisted that I call him for memory’s sake (I never did get his real first name although after he died somebody mentioned the name Peter), had started his political career right around World War I in Poland at the time of  great revolutionary ferment in Europe after the rise of the Bolshevik Revolution in the wake of the slaughter in World War I. He was just a kid, had been drafted into something that sounded like the National Guard here, the Polish Home Guard. Did his time when the Armistice finally descended on Europe and then having had a belly-full of the old ways (his words) searched around like a lot of young alienated people then and gravitated toward Marxism.  


In those days before they were murdered by the reaction in Germany where they had been exiled (abetted by the old time German Social-Democratic leadership) in the aftermath of the Spartacist uprising that Polish party was run by Rosa Luxemburg and her paramour (okay, okay political co-thinker) Leo Jogiches. There was an old saying in the Communist movement of the 1920s and 1930s (before Stalin in the late 1930s virtually liquated the whole operation to placate his temporary partner, Hitler, in his/their designs on Poland) that the German party might have been the biggest (after the Soviet Union’s) in the Communist International but the Polish party was the best. So Ludwig came to his credentials with an impressive pedigree. Naturally he was a stalwart Communist rank and filer under the Pilsudski dictatorship from the mid-1920s forward, was torn apart politically by the failure of the German Communist Party to stop Hitler in his tracks when there was still time to do so in the early 1930s, and drifted (after flirting with the exiled Bukarinites, the rights in the Russian party and CI) toward the small but energetic Trotskyist group in the mid-1930s when to do meant to be hounded like a dog by both the Stalinist and Hitler-ite police apparatuses.


So when you ran into a guy like Ludwig, whether you agreed with his politics or not, you knew you were in the presence of a real revolutionary and not some armchair dilettante. (Many times I did not agree with him, especially all that stuff about the Trotskyist version of the theory of Permanent Revolution, having adamantly defended what the Vietnamese Stalinists had done there in their national revolution. Yeah, I learned but it took a while and it took the disaster in Chile and a couple of other places to wise up to “what was what” in 20th century revolutions).


So you (me), young and wet behind the ears with very slim revolutionary credentials if rather more élan, you (me) listened and thought through many of his comments. The one that I think is germane today and which continues to drive me some forty years later was the importance of the defense of revolutionary gains no matter how small has stuck with me until this day. And, moreover, is germane to the subject of these articles from the pen of Leon Trotsky -the defense of the Chinese revolution (in his case that of the second revolution in the mid-1920s) and the later gains of that third revolution (1949) however currently attenuated.


This old comrade, by the circumstances of his life, had barely escaped ahead of Hitler’s police 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 capitalist reversion 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 Ludwig from the start about this dispute was the cavalier attitude of the anti-Soviet opposition, especially among the wet-behind-the-ears youth of that day (so we of the generation of ’68 had forbears whether we acknowledged them or not), 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 that state then (and when the issue came to life as a political reality shortly thereafter when Hitler marched his troops east) left politics and peddled their wares in academia or business. Or if they remained in politics lovingly embraced the virtues of world imperialism. (The confessional literature of American ex-Stalinists, Trotskyists, and even-left Social Democrats from the 1950s especially is replete with “errand child gone wrong but now wiser” language most of it barely readable for any useful political purpose, or polemic).


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 the position that China is today still hanging by a thread as a workers’ state (deformed in our language, deformed from its inception since the Chinese working-class decimated and cowered by the reaction in the second revolution in the 1920s played no significant independent role in the third revolution) 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 of East Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, say that China is no longer a workers state. But today is not that day.


In the meantime study the issue, read the posted articles, and more importantly, defend the gains of the Chinese Revolution as tenaciously as in his time old Ludwig defended the gains of the Soviet Union in the interests of the world’s working classes and oppressed.


Comrade Liu’s Problem


(Nobody in the Chinese Communist Party, the party that he was finally to come to see represented his political perspectives ever knew him as anybody other than Comrade Lui and so we will stick with that name, although later investigation found that he was the first son of a rich Shang-hai merchant family whose name was Ki Zhou but Comrade Lui will do for our purposes here.)


(I will use the old time Chinese language usages here in the interest of some kind of historical accuracy although everybody by now should be aware that for the past several decades there have been almost universal spelling and phonetic changes when Chinese turns to English.) 


In the fall of 1918, the year Comrade Liu entered Peking University held many portents for the brash young man who refused to discuss his family origins other than that he had come like virtually every young student in the post- revolutionary period (the first revolution of 1911-12 which dispose of the dynasty like some much dirty linen and with about as much effort as throwing such material in the laundry) from some wealth and that he was seriously attracted to the anarchists and bookish intellectuals who held sway there in the wake of World War I.

Like many of the young of most modern generations who  came up in some measure of privilege, came up in Comrade Lui’s case in the stifling atmosphere of old China the breath of fresh air provided by the university was both exhilarating and filled with many doubts about the old ways, about the way that he grew up. And so like more than a few young first generation intellectuals he gravitated to those ideas which were farthest away from his home life, from his strident worker bee youth studying to make university life. That over he breathed in the new ideas, and no ideas hit newly liberated students harder than the ideas of anarchism, at least as understood by those so liberated.

Comrade Liu like many others was first influenced by that old Russian dog, Prince Kropotkin, and his eclectic communal ideas, his idea of oneness of the whole universe which had a certain Zen-like attraction to those born into the stratified old Chinese ways (including, as has been noted, the tremendous efforts to make sure the first son succeeded at the expense of younger brothers. Daughters did not even enter the picture), and his basically moralistic way to transform society. That held many attentions for a while but if anything universal came out the First World War it was that  the younger generations were looking to break-out of the old ways and so they were looking for more activist ways to change society. Comrade Liu with others formed a semi-secret group of like-minded individuals bent on action to make a new anarchist-derived world. They called themselves the Black Flag Front. That is the state of affairs as the May Fourth Movement hit all Chinese students, from anarchists to extreme nationalists, like a storm.  

Comrade Liu and his comrades in the Black Flag Front while then not in the leadership of the student movement having just started to finish their first year’s studies participated fully when that big day came. This was the action they were looking for, the chance to create that more equalitarian society they were discussing in their rooms. Here is a little of what the movement itself was attempting to do which forms the background for most of what Comrade did until that time in the mid-1920s when he moved away from the Black Flag Front and began to toy a little with Communism.   

On the morning of May 4, 1919, student representatives from thirteen different local universities met in Beijing and drafted five resolutions:

1.    to oppose the granting of Shandong to the Japanese under former German concessions.

2.    to draw awareness of China's precarious position to the masses in China.

3.    to recommend a large-scale gathering in Beijing.

4.    to promote the creation of a Beijing student union.

5.    to hold a demonstration that afternoon in protest to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

On the afternoon of May 4 over 3,000 students of Peking University and other schools marched from many points to gather in front of Tiananmen. They shouted such slogans as "Struggle for the sovereignty externally, get rid of the national traitors at home", "Do away with the 'Twenty-One Demands'", and "Don't sign the Versailles Treaty". They voiced their anger at the Allied betrayal of China, denounced the government's spineless inability to protect Chinese interests, and called for a boycott of Japanese products. Demonstrators insisted on the resignation of three Chinese officials they accused of being collaborators with the Japanese. After burning the residence of one of these officials and beating his servants, student protesters were arrested, jailed, and severely beaten.[4]

The next day, students in Beijing as a whole went on strike and in the larger cities across China, students, patriotic merchants, and workers joined protests. The demonstrators skillfully appealed to the newspapers and sent representatives to carry the word across the country. From early June, workers and businessmen in Shanghai also went on strike as the center of the movement shifted from Beijing to Shanghai. Chancellors from thirteen universities arranged for the release of student prisoners, and Peking University's Cai Yuanpei resigned in protest. Newspapers, magazines, citizen societies, and chambers of commerce offered support for the students. Merchants threatened to withhold tax payments if China's government remained obstinate.[5] In Shanghai, a general strike of merchants and workers nearly devastated the entire Chinese economy.[4] Under intense public pressure, the Beiyang government released the arrested students and dismissed Cao Rulin, Zhang Zongxiang and Lu Zongyu. Chinese representatives in Paris refused to sign on the peace treaty: the May Fourth Movement won an initial victory which was primarily symbolic: Japan for the moment retained control of the Shandong Peninsula and the islands in the Pacific. Even the partial success of the movement exhibited the ability of China's social classes across the country to successfully collaborate given proper motivation and leadership.

Certainly the efforts here by the students and the actions of the members of Black Flag did not point directly to a new society but the thrill of political activity, mixing with other groups and programs and also recruiting a small number of the most militant students (especially from those arrested and jailed by the government) gave rise to great expectations of things to come. It was during this period that Comrade Liu decided to devote his life to the struggle, a decision that he held to until the end of his life. 


One of the great mistakes students have made once they have led a movement, a radical or revolutionary movement in the struggle for power is that they fail to see the ebbs and flows of all social movements thinking that there is only one direction once the masses are in motion. The Chinese students and the now Comrade Liu-led Black Flag in particular composed mainly of students (although recruitment had brought a smattering of professionals and young workers from the textile mills in Shanghai just of the farms) fell prey to just that phenomenon. (They will not be alone in that failure as the French students in May 1968 and American students throughout the 1960s attest to.) So some formerly very militant young anarchists ready to man the barricades in a flash dropped away from the Front, got professional careers going , started families and the million and one other things people do when there is an ebb tide. This is the period when Comrade Liu, determined as ever, came to the fore, came to be recognized as the leader (although being anarchists they shied away from any official designation). And this is the period when Comrade Lui learned about the necessity of patience waiting for another opportunity to present itself that everybody knew was coming just as one could see the signs in Russia well before 1917 bring the masses into the struggle, to build those communes and local collectives that would create the new society.


The early years of the 1920s were not a good time to be an anarchist (or for that matter a dissident communist) once the Nationalist reaction under Chiang-kai-shek and the various warlords who effectively ruled vast swaths of China after the central government half-heartedly granted some of the demands of the initially student-led May Fourth Movement and sucked all the political air out any dissenting politics. Those were also the years that the fledgling Chinese Communist Party, under orders from the Communist International then led by the deceased Lenin’s old right-hand man, Zinoviev (and with the emerging leader Joseph Stalin’s blessing) to work within the Chiang operation, the Kuomintang (hereafter KMT). So the political space for some kind of radical commune short of taking power seemed less than fruitful since Comrade Lui, who had gone to school with some of the leading Nationalist cadre who emerged after 1919 and especially with the death of Sun-Yat-sen in leading positions in the national government refused to support that government despite various entreaties by his former schoolmates (always taking into consideration that the national government in many places was non-existent at various times and for many reasons including vast corruption at the center.


At that time the semi-secret Black Flag under a political program worked out by Comrade Liu and his closest associates. As the decade progressed toward the decisive struggles around the second revolution from 1925 on those associates tended to increasingly be first generation departed from the villages turned to factory workers. A few with some education and the few students left who had gone to study in Paris looked to the various strands of syndicalism that made  more sense to them that the old time Kropotkin moral commune. And as the ideas of factory-centered communes took hold of the organization a collective decision (urged on by Comrade Liu and his friend, Lu Chen, was made in late 1923 to move the main Black Flag operation out of Peking to Shanghai where the foreign settlements and their Chinese lackeys were building upon the factories created by the needs at home while the war in Europe had been going on where the imperialists were busy eating up their resources on the bloody battlefield and said the hell with the colonials and other lesser markets.


Shanghai with its vast factories and up-from-hunger working class treated like their coolie forbears before them by foreign nationals and home-grown capitalists alike was a prime recruiting ground for the Black Flag with its newfound syndicalist orientation (the Communist Party was also gaining recruits and supporters as well among that same population). Shanghai was also the place where Comrade Lui learned his trade as a revolutionary cadre leader in integrating the raw recruits into the organization. It was his idea to set up reading circles where literary was taught and the classics of anarchism explained in simple terms. It was also his idea to set up some underground operations since he could read the signs that the big struggle ahead would require such an operation just like in Russia before 1917.This was also the time when Comrade Lui would start to mix it up politically with his arch political opponents, the Communists, who were gaining strength in the factories and it appeared in the government as well. (They, Comrade Lui and his associates, would laugh among themselves that the level of influence that the Communist Party had on Sun Yat-sen and after his death Chiang was directly proportional to the arms and other aid coming into KMT headquarters. Later when those guns were turned around the matter was no longer laughable and required a different appreciation of the situation).


On a personal note this period is also where Comrade Lui met his future wife, Li San, Li San who would stick by him through the rest of his life. They had met at a reading circle after Li had heard rumors about the Black Flag having moved its main operation to Shanghai. As noted previously this reading circle was the main way to organize young recruits under the increasingly hard conditions of the Nationalist government. The circle that Li would eventually join however was not a workers’ circle since she was a daughter of a Shanghai merchant family although not known to Comrade Liu previously and had been educated in Paris. The decision was made in order to not intimidate the raw young workers and to give them space to be heard and work toward leadership to keep the worker circles separate from the young professionals and academics until the training period was over. Li had been somewhat “liberated” for the times (she wore Western clothing, spoke English and French well, lived a half-Bohemian existence with a few other such women and men in a large house just outside the settlement area) and so she was intrigued by what the reading circle provided after she had dismissed out of hand the Communists (feeling as she confided to Comrade Lui that having come from a merchant family that the Communists would do like that had done to such families in Russia in the aftermath of the revolution. Her family, or what was left of it, fled to Taiwan in 1949.) 


After a formal old time courtship (to appease her family, his he had lost track of when he went underground although the family name was still on placard of the rice company doing business at the family’s old location according to a source that he sent to find out about the matter.  And so this is what the personal and political situation of Comrade Liu looked like when the great Shanghai uprising blew the final bit of old China away (although that process would take another twenty plus years).


The second revolution began in in 1925 and so we should take note of what that meant for Comrade Liu and his Black Flag comrades because although the revolutionary possibilities would find their greatest expression in Shanghai before the KMT machine guns started blazing away the initial impetus came from Canton:


“The Revolution Begins-the event that really sparked off the enormous movement of the working class was the shooting down of a demonstration of students and workers by British and French machine gunners on June 23, 1925. This provocation triggered off an explosion that had been gathering in the previous period. The workers of Canton and Hong Kong came out in a huge strike which lasted for about 16 months, and a paralyzed imperialism throughout the whole of China. This movement – a strike and the boycott of French goods, and of British goods in particular – was so complete that 100,000 Chinese workers moved from Hong Kong to Canton, where the workers were the real power. They cleared out the opium dens, closed down gambling joints, and improvised an embryonic soviet in Canton. (As things were fluid in the first days of the uprising the few Black Flag adherents in Canton were advised to enter the soviet and spread the anarchist word while doing the practical work noted just above. The won over many textile workers including an important trade union cadre who would later in Shanghai lead important textile mill strikes.) 

The anarchist movement had never been strong in China seeminly too esoteric for a tradition-bound society bound together at the family, kinship and village level (nor, for that matter the ideas of the post-World War I Social Democracy either as that tendency acted as accomplices of their national colonial enterprises). So unique opportunities really existed for the Communist Party. The independent movement of the working class began to change the relationship of forces in China in favor of the working class. But, the Communist Party deliberately subordinated themselves to the Kuomintang (KMT) and to Chiang Kai-shek. The counterrevolution over time gained ground using the gangsters of Canton and Hong Kong as well as shock troops to crush the labor movement. At this stage the slogan of the Communist Party in China, and of the Communist International under the direction of Stalin and Bukharin was ‘full support to the revolutionary Kuomintang’. The KMT was accepted as a sympathetic section of the Communist International in 1926.

The Shanghai working class was also looking expectantly towards the movement in Canton. Tragically, that did not happen, because the Chinese Communist Party subordinated itself to the Kuomintang while Chiang Kai-shek gathered the reins of power in his hands. After 1923, the Russian revolutionary leader, Leon Trotsky, opposed the entry of the Communist Party into the Kuomintang. He stood for the complete independence of the Communist Party from the Kuomintang. While tactically working on anti-imperialist actions that came up. This position would become important later when Comrade Liu was analyzing what had gone wrong in the second revolution. Trotsky was not opposed to a limited bloc on specific anti-imperialist action. But, Trotsky argued, the Communist Party should not have subordinated itself politically to the KMT and losing its anchor among the working class militants who were following its directives.


One of the most important developments in the Chinese revolution was undoubtedly the heroic movement of the proletariat in Shanghai in 1927. Chiang’s Northern Expedition reached the gates of that city by January or February. When the first detachments of the Kuomintang were 25 miles from Shanghai, the trade unions there, particularly the General Labor Union, called for the workers to come out in a general strike. (Black Flag trade union militants, especially in the Delwar Textile Mills, were central to bring out the workers in the whole industry.) 

On February 19 approximately 350,000 workers answered the call for a general strike. Then, however, the detachments of the northern warlords went out into the city, joined by the imperialists from the foreign concessions of Shanghai, and shot down demonstrating workers. A worker found reading a leaflet was immediately beheaded and his head put on a stake and paraded through the city in order to terrorize the Shanghai working class. A reign of terror ensued in the following week. Yet the Kuomintang armies refused to go into the city. Instead they waited for the Chinese capitalists to crush the workers. There was a pause, then on March 21 at least 500 workers were executed.

The Shanghai working class rose again on March 21, 1927, when about 800,000 workers came out onto the streets. They improvised an army of 5,000 workers. Armed with a few pistols, mostly with bare hands, they marched against the barracks and against the troops of the northern warlords and smashed them. The First Division of the Kuomintang – seasoned troops largely influenced by the Communist Party – decided that they would delay no longer and marched into Shanghai in defiance of Chiang Kai-shek’s orders. The leader of the First Division was a general who looked towards the Communist Party. The whole of Shanghai was in the hands of the working class within two or three days. Secretly, on the outskirts of Shanghai, Chiang Kai-shek met with gangsters and representatives of the imperialist powers. Together they discussed a program of repression to crush the workers’ movement in the city.

Despite the experience of Canton 12 months before, the Communist Party again reinforced the illusions of the Shanghai workers in the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek, with calls of ‘Long live the heroic general! Long live the Kuomintang army!’ Had the Communist Party based itself on an independent movement of the working class, it could have taken power. The police had been smashed, and the policing of Shanghai was under workers’ control. The trade unions in effect controlled Shanghai and the working class was in the majority, yet the trade unions and Communist Party formed a coalition with the capitalist party – the Kuomintang. Of the 19 representatives in the government, the Communist Party had only 5.

The blow was struck on April 12, 1927. The Kuomintang troops used all the dirty tricks of the capitalists. When they attacked one workers’ headquarters in Shanghai, these Green gangsters dressed up in workers’ blue denim overalls. Kuomintang troops came along to ‘mediate’. Once inside the headquarters, the troops lined up the workers against the wall and shot them, including Comrades Wong and Chan two well-known leaders in the Delwar Textile Mills. The workers were politically disarmed because they had been told that the Kuomintang troops were on their side.

In the days preceding the coup of April 12, the General Labor Union had actually warned that a coup was being prepared and that a general strike should be organized. Never once was the fountainhead of the counterrevolution – Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang leaders – mentioned by the Communist Party or the workers’ leaders of Shanghai.

The Shanghai working class was crushed in blood. An estimated 35,000 workers, many of them Communist Party members, were killed in Shanghai alone between April 12 and the end of 1927.

The defeat of the Shanghai working class in 1927 meant the crushing of the Chinese working class for a whole historical era, but it was not the end of the matter. There were the beginnings of movements in Hunan and Hupei, the other two important provinces of China where the peasantry, and the working class, had begun to move into action.


Naturally the Black Flag was in the thick of things in a small way in Canton where they had some supporters and the influence of the Communists was not as strong as in Shanghai. When things were tense there Comrade Ming and Chou (their organizational names since nobody knew them as anything else) before they were executed and dumped into a mass grave by the government troops when the reaction triggered by the demands of British and French concessionaries went to work did excellent and well-regarded work.  They were even were well thought of by the rank and file Communists in the days before the hard lines between Communists, Left-Communists (Trotskyists), and the various anarchists’ collectives set in. Comrades Ming and Chou were central figures in the commune set up at the Trafalgar Textile Works and they were fingered by company spies, Chinese company spies paid for by as it turned out Chinese capitalists doing lackey work for the foreign nationals, for their leadership roles. 

Before the end they had been able to set up working committees to oversee materials, transport, repair, and the commissary that effectively ran the factory and provided goods to the local population at good prices, (Whether they would be able to sustain that work as an individual enterprise over the long haul was problematic and in any case that situation never developed although we know from Spain, particularly Catatonia, that such workers’ collectives were able to survive for almost a year so outside the long term question of state power and who has it the prospects were far from impossible.) The situation in Canton by the end where armed resistance, general strikes were met by the overweening desire of the foreigners to impose the greatest butchery on the workers (and their peasant supporters who were beginning to awaken once the news from their former farm boys came through talking about the classic peasant question- “land to the tiller”) had worked their courses things began to be questioned within the Black Flag about its role in the revolution.  That huge defeat in Canton and the aftermath made the Black Flag comrades think things through a bit more critically as Shanghai became the center of the struggle in 1927.


Nobody thought things through in Shanghai more than Comrade Liu. He was still adamantly opposed to any support to the Kuomintang having an almost visceral distrust of those whom he had known at school and in the early days of the May Fourth Movement as well as his well-thought out political opposition to working with bourgeois forces except in tactical situations where a temporary common front was required to confront a situation, usually a military situation. After examining what went right and wrong in Canton (based on reports sent back by comrades and supporters there as great peril) Comrade Liu knew great events were going to be decided in Shanghai, a final show-down among the various contenders for power was already in the making before Chiang made his various moves to take individual power. More importantly he that the Communists were much stronger than the Black Flag forces, although that situation was somewhat fluid at the rank and file level since many militant but uneducated workers were flooding into the party. He also knew that if the Black Flag was to have any influence on the Shanghai workers who were being organized into trade unions, workers committees and street collectives as a very quick pace he, they, needed to get to the still unformed Communist rank and file (the leadership too was open to greater prospects of influence than later after Stalin in Russia and then via the Communist International internationally including the Chinese party hardened those left up). Moreover Comrade Liu on the basis of the Canton commune experience was beginning to see that as important as factory committees, as that syndicalism that had animated the work of the Black Flag for the previous few years was that the Russian soviet idea, particularly its role in the struggle for state power, was the only way to get rid of the foreigners, their military operations and their damn Chinese lackeys.

And so not without some trepidation, and not without some fear that the Black Flag comrades would be devoured by the Communists a decision was made to enter the Chinese Communist Party and work there for the ideas that had made them revolutionaries. Comrade Liu in the bargain worked out with the local Communist leadership was placed in charge of the political commissars in the factories since he was well-known in those locations and trusted by many of the factory workers. (By the way the local Communist leadership, some who had known Comrade Liu since the May Fourth Movement days, unlike later was happy to see a small experienced factory cadre come to their organization even though they still were personally a little wary of Comrade Liu on his adamant opposition to working in the KMT) 


And once Comrade Liu entered the Communist Party there was no better communist, just like there had been no better anarchist/syndicalist in the independent Black Flag operation. A number of comrades would speculate later, after the second revolution ground to a halt, and once the reaction took its bloody revenge, that such comrades like Liu were hard to come by and that it would take maybe a few generations to produce masses of such cadre. But back to the moment. Comrade Liu began immediately to set up readers’ circles in the factories (aided now in this work by Comrade Li who had developed a very patience and winning style that made her ideal for such work especially among woman workers and housewives who had become politicized of necessity by the situation).


Those who know the least bit about the history of the second Chinese revolution and its aftermath know that that revolution was drowned in blood by the barbarous former “allies” Chiang and his KMT troops. While we do not know all the specifics since Chiang put a veil of secrecy over most of his bloody actions once he was victorious we do know that the mass of rank and file communist workers in Shanghai were executed on his orders, and know that in the first rank, since there was then no reason to eliminate the heroic city past by the Communists, who fought Chiang were rank and file members of the Black Flag who were especially effective against the criminal gangs employed by Chiang to aid in his dirty work. That remnant was decimated in the fight and Comrade Liu (and Li) who had gone underground before the Nationalists entered Shanghai was one of the few that survived. But survive he did, survived to take part in the discussion about what the hell went wrong, what policies were followed that precluded victory.


No question that the number one question when the survivors were looking for “scapegoats” was the policy of entry into the KMT, the unending, uncritical carte blanche entry complete with Communist International/Soviet Army guns and military expertise which was turned against the party and its supporters by Chiang. At this point Comrade Liu, who had personally buried himself in work to avoid having to deal with the question while the party was under the gun, spoke up strongly although without rancor about the false policy of depending on the good offices of the KMT to the end. Worse to still exhibit naïve about the way the KMT used the Chinese party. To be naïve at a personal level about Chiang and his cohorts. Initially Comrade Liu’s analysis centered strictly on the perfidy of the KMT, the bourgeois nature of the organization and less on what role in the wake of the Russian revolution the bourgeoisie as represented in China by the KMT (and the warlords in the outer regions) would play in colonial and undeveloped nations’ revolutions. Always a thoughtful man Comrade Liu began to question exactly what type of revolution China needed and what process would lead to the revolution. As a syndicalist that question, really as always the question of state power, of whose interests will be taken care of in the revolution, was secondary to creating those organizations at the base of society that would somehow carry themselves to the top and the question of state power would wither away of its own uselessness.


The flow of the second revolution put a huge crimp in Comrade Liu’s thinking on the matter. He knew instinctively that the rotten Chinese bourgeoisie (and remember he came from that strata so he had some experience at how rotten they really were) so very connected with the European imperialists were not going to make a great social revolution for the coolies and peasants who they lorded it over. And so he belatedly came to see that the social revolution was now on the agenda just like in Russia in 1917 although he was then unfamiliar with Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution and so he was not quite sure how this would work out in China with its mass of peasantry not quite ready to do much more than fight for the land.


Needless to say there would be recriminations over the failed policies that derailed the promising Chinese revolution. The national leadership, the Chen leadership, took it on the neck even though Chen had personally argued for a political break with the KMT fairly early on but was overruled by the agents of the Communist International who had flooded into China along with the military aid to the KMT. Comrade Liu, too low then to be on the CI radar, was left alone (he also had protectors in the party who vouched for him and his work something that could be done, done for the last time then before the lines hardened) and so he continued his low level underground work as the leadership fights boiled over.

Of course the leadership struggle centered on what the hell to do about insuring the survival of the party and what forces to try to organize now that defeat stared the party in the face for who knew how long. Without going into great detail here the argument would be between those like Mao, who eventually had his way, wanted to move out of the clamped down cities and depend on the volatile peasantry to drive the social revolution and those like Comrade Liu who argued that a working-class revolution had to be based on the workers and the workers were in the cities. Comrade Liu and those like him would lose that argument but he would remain in Shanghai all through the dispute and all through the various extermination campaigns that Chiang was endlessly trying to carry out that would ultimately lead Mao and his party remnant on the long march to Yenan.


Little is known of the work of Comrade Liu during this period except that people remember that there were always reading circles popping up around Shanghai associated with his name (and Li’s) and that he secretly recruited many to the underground party. What is known, known now through the exile literature of the time was that Comrade Liu had received literature from the Trotsky-led Left Opposition in Russia over the debates on the China question in the late 1920s and had formed a very secret circle in Shanghai supporting that position although he was never bothered by the party about it as he most certainly would have been in Russia. Probably, according to later speculation, the main forces with Mao were too busy trying to survive themselves to worry excessively about political deviations at the time.

What is known is how Comrade Liu ended. Once Mao had established himself in Yenan and communications back to the cities were set up he put out the call for those like Comrade Liu with experience in readers’ circles to go out there to educate the masses of peasants who were coming to the party in throngs. Comrade Li was not invited. Although there is still some uncertainty about who did the deed as Comrade Liu was travelling to the now familiar if still difficult path to Yenan he was killed either by KMT soldiers who had been warned that he was travelling to Yenan or that agents of the Green Tea Gang who had had it in for Comrade Liu since the Shanghai days and his efforts to eliminate these treacherous criminal gangs got to him. He died a good communist. Li San would stay in Shanghai underground and do work in the women’s section of the party, a job that would turn into a government job once the party came to power in 1949. Her date of death in uncertain since she was rounded up in the aftermath of the Hundred Flowers experiment and not heard from again.

As for Comrade Liu’s problem, the problem that animated this piece, the problem of how to overthrow the old order and what kind of more equitable society to form in the wake of the overthrow of the capitalist class, although he was not around to see it, and the state created probably was far from what he had envisioned when he started on the political road with the May Fourth Movement, he probably would have been proud that old Chiang got beaten out in the end and that the forgotten of China would be better off than they had ever been in history. Not a bad epitaph.

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