Review of Trotsky's Chinese Revolution Policy
From 'The Study of Scientific Communism' (No.28, 1970)
I would like to review the significance as well as the limitation of Trotsky's
criticism on the Comintern which under the leadership of Stalin and Buharin
misled the Second Chinese Revolution (1925-27). Before reviewing Trotsky's
theory, first, I want to have a glance at the Comintern policy of the Second
In its Third Conference (June 1923) soon after the inauguration, the Chinese
Communist Party (CCP) stated under the pressure of the Comintern: "The
Chinese Kuomintong (KMT, or Guomindong) certainly is the central force
of the National Revolution," and took the strategy to order its members
to join the KMT. Before this conference, the Comintern standing committee
made a decision, declaring: "The only real national revolution group
is the KMT which includes 1) liberal-democratic bourgeoisie and peti-bourgeoisie,
2) intellectual and labors." Since "the independent proletarian
movement is still too weak and China's urgent task is to fight against
the imperialism and the domestic feudal conspirators", "it is
better for the CCP to stay within the KMT" (Comintern documents, Part
The Comintern considered the KMT, as an alliance of "four blocks" of labor, peasant, intellectual and national bourgeoisie, was the only force to promote the Chinese Revolution. I would like to review this policy later, here I just indicate that such a "four blocks" policy, which based on the illumination of the revolutionary character of the Chinese national bourgeoisie, became the biggest cause for the failure of the Second Chinese Revolution. As the consequence of this policy, the proletarian class struggle was oppressed under the limitation of the bourgeoisie. Helped by the Comintern, the national bourgeoisie, with their political and military representative Jiang Jieshi, fully utilized the struggle of labors and peasants, committed the April 1927 Shanghai coup d'etat.
This time the Comintern changed its support from the counter-revolutionary
Jiang Jieshi to the KMT "left" Wuhan government. Stalin showed
hope for it, "Wuhan's KMT will fight against the war lords and imperialists
and become the real institute of democratic dictatorship of labor and peasants"
(Stalin's Collections, Vol. 9, p.25) However, Stalin's hope was broken
in two months. The Wuhan government, fearing the development of the labor
and peasant's struggle, began to negotiate with Jiang and purge the CCP
members and labors after June 1927. Finally in September, Wang Jingwei's
Wuhan government merged with Jiang's Nanking government.
Now, the Comintern ordered the CCP to make dangerous military uprisings.
After the miserable failures of the Nanchang Uprisings, the Autumn Harvest
Uprising, the Guangzhou Uprising paid the greatest sacrifices. Within three
days several thousands were killed. Until the end of the 1930s, too many
people became the victims of the counter-revolutionary terrorism.
"The KMT had not a statistic for the victims. By the CCP materials,
ten thousand in Shanghai, twenty thousand in Wuhan and twenty thousand
in Guangzhou were killed in 1927. Twenty thousand in Changsa of Hunan Provence
were killed between 1927 and 1928. The Chinese Red Cross reported 450,000
people died by the terrorism between 1927-29."(Iwamura, "A Modern
History of China," Vol.2, p.10)
The "four blocks" policy and the uprisings led the failure of
the Second Chinese Revolution. Under the KMT's white terrorism, the people's
movement and CCP's organizations in urban area were stamped out. The rate
of labor in the CCP deceased from 53.8% in April 1927 to 10% in July 1928
and to below 2% in 1931 (from the note of Trotsky's Selections, Vol.4).
The CCP lost its influence within labors. This is a general result of the
leadership of the Comintern. The CCP lost its organization by abandoning
the proletarian principle. From then on, the faction which sought bases
in countryside became the CCP's center, this caused the formulation of
1. The Meaning of Trotsky's criticism of the Comintern's China Policy
(1) The "four blocks" policy and Trotsky
The "four blocks" policy was completely a Menshevik stance. Let
us review the difference between the Bolshevik and the Menshevik views
on the Russian revolution. Lenin requested to push a proletarian-party-led
class struggle independent from any bourgeois or peti-bourgeois movement.
He considered the revolution only can be carried out by the democratic
dictatorship of labors and peasants. On the other hand, the Menshevists
considered that since the current revolution was a bourgeois democracy,
the proletariat should only assist the liberal and obey the leadership
of the bourgeoisie.
The Menshevik strategy was to restrict the proletarian struggle within the range of the bourgeois liberalism. Stalinists only changed "bourgeois liberal" to "national bourgeoisie" as their "four blocks" policy to the Chinese revolution.
To justify their policy, they had to continue to show the revolutionary
character of the Chinese national bourgeoisie.
Trotsky criticized this Stalin & Buharin created absurd theory based
on the revolutionary spirit of the colonial bourgeoisie: it "translated
the Menshevism to the Chinese revolution" (Trotsky's Selections Vol.4,
Trotsky further pointed out the connection between imperialism and the
national bourgeoisie. He said that the development of class struggles of
labors and peasants would strengthen the alliance of the national bourgeoisie
and the imperialism (Trotsky's Selections, Vol.6, p.21).
On the relation of the imperialism and the national bourgeoisie, Lenin
said in the second conference of the Comintern (in July-August 1920):
There is a close relation between the imperialist bourgeoisie and the colonial bourgeoisie. Though supporting the national movement, the colonial bourgeoisie meanwhile always opposes revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes with the imperialist bourgeoisie (Lenin's Works, Vol. 31, p.235).
From the above teaching, we conclude that the proletariat in a colonial
country must carry out its independent class struggle from the bourgeoisie
both in theory and in organization. Further, Lenin pointed out that even
toward the bourgeois liberation movement in underdeveloped countries with
a communist color, the Comintern must keep the independence of the proletarian
movement (Lenin's Works, Vol. 31, p141).
The "four blocks" theory and what the Comintern conducted are
completely against Lenin's above thought. The Comintern ordered the CCP
to enter the KMT, losing the independence of the proletarian movement.
Trotsky severely criticized such a strategy and insisted the necessity
of the independent proletarian party. Trotsky was correct. His weak point
was only not to make the effort to realize it in practice.
(2) The Strategy of People's Uprising and the Labor-peasant Soviet
Since the proletariat must develop its independent struggle from the bourgeoisie,
the struggle would eventually develop into people's actions of the military
uprising. To develop the class struggle into military uprisings is communists'
fundamental task. Trotsky appealed to organize the independent proletarian
organization as soon as possible against the bourgeoisie, to arm the people,
to assist peasant uprisings (Trotsky's Selections Vol.6, p.73).
In China, organized labor increased from 450,000 (in 1925) to 2,800,000(in
1927), organized peasants increased from 200,000 (1925) to 3 million (1926)
and 9.8 million (1927) (Iwamura, "The History of the Chinese Revolution,"
What the Chinese communists should do is to organize them to the proletarian struggle, in the form of the labor soviets and peasant soviets (Trotsky's Selections Vol.6, p.87).
However, Stalin opposed the establishment of soviets (in Wuhan area). He
was afraid of the people uprising toward the "revolutionary KMT."
He helped Jiang Jieshi to crack down on the revolution.
Trotsky was correct. The criticism toward him by Stalinists showed that
they abandoned revolutionary principles.
2. The Limitation of Trotsky's Chinese Revolution Theory
(1) The Problems of the Alliance Policy with the KMT
However, Trotsky did not oppose allying with the KMT, he even agreed to
enter the KMT with some conditions. He considered leaving the KMT means
to leave the struggle stage of the revolution. What he wanted was to prepare
a true equal alliance with the "revolutionary" KMT.
As Lenin said, in the underdeveloped countries, sometimes it was necessary
to unite the bourgeois democrats. However, the proletariat must keep its
independence. Trotsky asked the communists to act within the organization
of the KMT. This stance was close to Stalin. Although Trotsky emphasized
the independent condition of entering the KMT, such condition became meaningless
once the communists entered the KMT. The communists could not keep their
independence within the KMT. Otherwise, the KMT was no more a national
bourgeois party. For the communists, the first task is to promote the proletarian
struggle. Only when the proletariat insists this stance, the communists
can lead the bourgeois democrats to fight together.
We must point out that Trotsky was also one of the Comintern leaders to
promote the "united front" strategy. Lenin requested the task
to gain the support of majority to clear out the ultra-left forces in the
third Comintern, however, Trotsky took this task only superficially and
take the policy to unite with the social democrats with the top importance.
This was close to Stalin's position. Trotsky was still a revolutionary,
though. He could admit the failure result.
(2) The Extension of the "Continuing Revolution Theory"
The Comintern defined the Chinese revolution as the democratic dictatorship of labor and peasants. Trotsky considered it the reason of the failure of the second Chinese revolution. By Trotsky, the Chinese revolution should be directly the proletarian revolution (Trotsky Selections Vol.6, p.109-110).
The Guanzhou Uprising was the answer to the Comintern's mistake because
"the revolutionary uprising automatically led to the proletarian dictatorship"
(Trotsky's Selections Vol.6, p.111). For the Chinese revolution, there
was no road except the proletarian dictatorship. This is the extension
of Trotsky's "continuing revolution theory" to the Chinese revolution:
in an underdeveloped country, the democratic revolution can only be completed
by the proletarian dictatorship, then from there to the socialist
revolution . . .
Trotsky tried to justify his theory by the situation of China's class relations.
In China, grand & middle landlords hold close connections with urban
capitalists. There is no landlord class opposing the bourgeoisie. So the
peasant revolution meanwhile is a revolution against the bourgeoisie(Trotsky's
Selections Vol.6, p.112).
However, by a rough research of the KMT in 1926, the 333.6 million peasants were 80%of the whole population, and 55% peasants had no land, 20% peasants had land less than 66 ares, and 6.3% peasants (landlords) had 62% land (Iwamura, "The History of the Chinese Revolution," p.82,83).
China's class relation was the pre-capitalist relation, so the Chinese revolution must be a bourgeois revolution. In the proletarian struggle, the land reform was an urgent issue and peasants become another promotor of the revolution. Since the alliance with peasants was so important, so the Chinese revolution could not only struggle for the interest of the proletariat. The central revolutionary task becomes the dictatorship of labors and peasants, not the dictatorship of the proletariat. Trotsky declaimed the weakness of Chinese peasants to justify his "proletarian dictatorship" theory (Trotsky Selections Vol.6, p.113).
However, the strength of peasants in the process of the Chinese revolution
from the Northern Expedition (1926) to the Liberation War (1946-49) showed
that Trotsky made a big mistake on this issue. The Chinese revolution and
the later Vietnam revolution showed that in underdeveloped countries, the
revolution could not make any progress without peasants' attendance. China's
peasant population's share was more than in Russia, Trotsky's theory was
only a subjective desire without solid ground, he could not overcome the
mistake of the Comintern too.
The peasant war itself belongs to a bourgeois struggle, as Lenin told us
(Lenin's Works, Vol. 31, p.234), although in an underdeveloped country
it has the revolutionary meaning. This character will not change even though
the revolution is led by communists "with clear consciousness."
The task of the proletariat is to develop this movement further to connect
with the urban proletariat. However, Maoism justifies the peasant war as
the main task of the Chinese revolution, putting the proletarian struggle
automatically as a socialist revolution.