Various Texts on China’s Revolutions, the Cultural Revolution, Nepal, Chinese Bureaucratism and Revisitations on Mao’s China
Harold R. Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (1925-27)
Read Online (with an introduction by Leon Trotsky)
Some remarks on the text:
The final gasp of the Chinese revolution—the Guangzhou uprising in December 1927—was nothing short of criminal. It was timed to coincide, not with a mass movement in Guangzhou, but with the opening of the Fifteenth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. Its main purpose was to enhance the reputation of the Stalinist leadership and to fend off the Left Opposition’s criticisms. Lacking mass support, the attempt to create a Soviet government with several thousand party cadres had no possibility of succeeding. Some 5,700 people, many of them the best of the surviving revolutionary cadres, were killed in the heroic battle to defend the short-lived Guangzhou “Soviet”.
Stalin’s Soviet theory was finally put to the test. Throughout the revolution, Stalin had argued that Soviets must only be created at the last moment, as the means of organising the insurrection and, most importantly, not before the “democratic” stage had been completed. But as Trotsky continued to insist, Soviets were, in reality, the means for drawing broad layers of working people into political struggle. They could not be imposed from the top, but emerged from the revolutionary grass roots movement, including factory committees and strike committees. As the revolutionary crisis developed, the Soviets would evolve into the new organs of working class power.
In Guangzhou, the CCP bureaucratically established a body called “Soviet” as the means for carrying out an insurrection in the city. But the “tremendous response” anticipated by Stalin did not eventuate, because ordinary workers and peasants did not even know their “deputies” to this so-called Soviet. Only a tiny number of workers supported the Guangzhou “Soviet” government, which was quickly crushed.
Stalin maintained that the tasks of Guangzhou uprising were bourgeois democratic. But, as Trotsky pointed out, even in this failed adventure, the proletariat was compelled to go further. During its limited life, the CCP was forced to take power by its own and to carry out radical social measures, including the nationalisation of large industries and banks. As Trotsky declared, if these measures were “bourgeois”, then it would be hard to imagine what a proletarian revolution in China would look like. In other words, even in the Guangzhou insurrection, the CCP leadership was compelled to follow the logic of the Permanent Revolution, not Stalin’s “two-stage” theory.
The failure of the Guangzhou uprising marked the end of the revolution in the urban centres. Those CCP leaders who did not join the Left Opposition such as Mao Zedong, fled to the countryside. Under pressure from the Stalinist bureaucracy to implement the Comintern’s “Third Period” line and create “Soviets,” a new current emerged in the CCP. Championed by Mao, this tendency effectively severed its roots in the working class and based itself on the peasantry. To continue the “armed struggle,” the CCP created a “Red Army” composed mainly of peasants, and established “Soviets” in China’s rural backwaters. By the early 1930s, the CCP had virtually abandoned its work within the urban working class.
When Kuomintang leader Chaing Kai-Shek landed at Shanghai on the afternoon of 26 March 1927 he was welcomed as a hero by the CP-led workers. The next day a demonstration of 50,000 filled the streets to greet him. The communist leaders failed to inform the workers that the nationalist army had delayed its advance on Shanghai in the hope that the workers movement would be contained or crushed by counter revolutionary forces.
Now the nationalist leaders had to take the situation into their own hands. The workers’ movement had served its purpose for them. It had given Chinese bankers and merchants a lever with which to extract concessions from the foreign capitalists. Now it had to be broken.
The process had started earlier in February when Chiang Kai-Shek had ordered the dissolution of the communist-led Kuomintang in the militant city of Nanching. Leaders had been arrested and the unions and student organisations had been suppressed. Once again the communist leadership failed to explain these facts to the Shanghai workers.
In Shanghai the repression had to be planned more carefully and reach a much higher level. Chiang prepared the ground by removing garrisons sympathetic to the workers and drafting in soldiers fresh from the country. He organised and made deals with occupying armies, particularly the French, but including British and Japanese units. He appeased the communist workers for a few weeks before unleashing a co-ordinated wave of terror.
Unarmed demonstrators were massacred with machine guns, working class areas were terrorised, activists picked up in their hundreds in dawn raids while special courts threw thousands into prison.
Thanks to the policies and active collaboration of the communist leaders the working class was taken completely off guard and was unable to defend itself effectively. The carnival of reaction that followed was evidence of the fact that every section of the Chinese bourgeoisie felt in the end of the day closer to the imperialist capitalists than to the Chinese masses. There were of course different sections of the Chinese bourgeoisie. The comprador capitalists, brokers of foreign capital, were the most conservative and corrupt section of the Kuomintang alliance. But once the workers’ rebellion was in full swing even the most liberal of the Chinese middle classes became alarmed. They acknowledged that the labour movement had been useful but the feeling grew, in the words of one amongst them, that ‘it is one thing to utilize the workers… but quite another to let them bite off more than they can chew.’
Unbelievably the Communist Party learned nothing from this disaster of Shanghai. A year after the massacre, Mao Tse Tung, the future leader of the Red Army, was once more promising the nationalist leaderships that the party had renounced the struggle for workers’ power. He even provided guarantees that if the forces of revolution raise their heads again the Chinese Communist Party would play the role of executioner.
The theory of the two stages of the revolution had been completely internalised by the world Communist movement. What this really amounted to was the internalisation of bourgeois nationalist politics, the accommodation of Marxism to the demands of national capitalist development. Workers played no role in the final liberation of China, not because they were unorganised, but because they were told not to by the CP. As they approached the cities Red Army leaders sent orders ahead that ‘workers and employers in all trades will continue to work and business will operate as usual.’ When Mao announced that the transformation to socialism would come later what he meant was workers’ rights would have to wait and workers aspirations would have to be put on hold, as the first and only priority was capital accumulation.
Rajesh Tyagi and Francesco Merli, Nepalese Maoists and the Question of Power (2008)
Excerpt from the above text:
It was Stalin, who after the demise of Lenin once again went back to the idea of forging an alliance with the so-called “progressive” national bourgeoisie. This idea was taken from the dustbin of history and applied it to China, Spain and elsewhere. The defeat of the proletarian revolution of 1925-27 in China and later the victory of Franco in Spain, were the offshoots of this bogus idea.
Mao further diluted this alliance, and tried to enroll the Chinese bourgeoisie as a partner in the “bloc of four classes”, but the bourgeoisie was defeated and fled the country together with Chang Kai Shek while the state collapsed. Real power was left in the hands of Mao and the communist leaders through the peasant guerrilla army. Although they had the perspective of a prolonged stage of capitalist development for China before socialism would become possible, in order to consolidate their power they were forced by the circumstances, to move towards the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and set up a planned economy, a step that was progressive, but it not the product of the conscious action of the working class in the revolution. The peasant army took power, under Stalinist leadership, while the working class was kept passive and if necessary even repressed. Because of that, the new regime that arose from the Chinese revolution was hugely distorted right from the beginning and assumed right from the beginning a bureaucratic character, following the model of the Stalinist Soviet Union.
The Maoist bureaucracy which took power in 1949 under the red banner, consolidated soon as a privileged caste that was benefiting from its control over the planned economy. The unprecedented growth of the productive forces thanks to the abolition of private property and economic planning guaranteed to the leaders of “Socialist” China a huge authority over the masses throughout South East Asia and well beyond. Later on, conflict with the USSR generated the illusion that Maoism was the real revolutionary force, but the Chinese bureaucracy proved to be no different from its Russian counterpart and became more and more a fetter on the revolution. Once again the “two stage” theory was put forward in order to defend the interests of the bureaucracy which, under Deng Xiao Ping, was introducing capitalist “reforms” in China and didn’t want workers’ revolutions to interfere with their call for foreign investment and other dealings with imperialist powers.
The Stalinist-Maoist parties thereafter swung from guerrilla war based on the peasant masses to open collaboration with the bourgeoisie.
Chen Duxiu, Appeal to All the Comrades of the Chinese Communist Party
Neeraj Jain, On Stalin, Trotsky, and Mao
Ye Sang, China Candid: The People on the People’s Republic
Anita Chan, Stanley Rosen, and Jonathan Unger, Students and Class Warfare: The Social Roots of the Red Guard Conflict in Guangzhou
Pavitra Mohan Ram, The Revolutionary Potential of the Peasants According to Lenin and Mao
Ted Grant, Bureaucratism or Workers’ Power (1967)
The Nepalese Revolution: How to Unlock It (February 2011)
Nepal: A Maoist Heads the Government (September 2011)