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.
On the morning of May 4, 1919, student representatives from thirteen different local universities met in Beijing and drafted five resolutions:
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.
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. In Shanghai, a general strike of merchants and workers nearly devastated the entire Chinese economy. 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: