It is impossible to understand the Chinese Revolution of 1944-49 without charting, at least in broad outline, the events which followed the defeat of the revolution of 1925-27.
That earlier revolution had a proletarian character, along the lines of the Russian Revolution, whereas there was an entirely different relationship of class forces in the revolution of 1944-49. Yet in a certain sense – and it might seem a paradox – the revolution of 1944-49 was an echo of the movement of 1925-27.
What were the consequences for the Chinese people of the defeat of the revolution of 1925-27? Politically it meant the establishment of a ruthless military dictatorship that suppressed all the democratic rights of the working people, and crushed the movement of the workers and peasants.
This regime murdered at least 35,000 Communist Party members in 1927, and altogether about 50,000 people in the course of that year in the cities alone. By 1929, as a minimum estimate, 150,000 people had perished as a direct result of the repression carried out by the Kuomintang regime.
All the democratic rights – the right to strike, freedom of assembly, the right to vote – were eliminated by Chiang Kai-shek. While utterly ruthless in relation to the smallest movement of the workers and peasants, the regime at the same time was completely impotent in the face of the encroachments of imperialism on China.
In particular Japanese imperialism moved in during the period that followed the events of 1925-27 to carve out a more favorable position for itself in terms of raw materials and markets. This was necessary to satisfy the requirements of its growing manufacturing industry.
It was not at all accidental that Japanese imperialism was to the fore in the consequent dismemberment of China. Japanese capitalism does not have any indigenous raw materials, and hungrily looked towards China’s reserves of coal, oil, etc.
Also, Japanese industry has always been heavily dependent on export markets. During the world depression of 1929-33, Japan’s exports of manufactured goods went down by two-thirds; half her factories were idle; and the importance of the Asian mainland as a market became crucial.
The Japanese imperialists, of course, were not alone in preying upon China. American, British and French imperialism likewise seized the opportunity that was presented by the weakness of China in the period following 1925-27 to extend their existing spheres of influence.
Japanese imperialism virtually conquered Manchuria in a number of campaigns between 1931 and 1935, establishing the stooge Manchukuo regime. British and American imperialism joined in the dismemberment of China.
In this situation, when the national oppression of the Chinese people – as well as their national indignation against imperialism – grew tremendously, Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang regime were utterly incapable of opposing the imperialist powers. In fact, Chiang Kai-shek summed up his policy as one of “nonresistance” to imperialism!
In the early 1930s the Japanese were able to advance, without meeting any serious opposition from the Kuomintang forces, to the occupation of Shanghai and other cities. Chinese generals actually supplies the occupying troops with the raw materials and oil they needed. Later in the war, too, Japanese imperialism found open collaborators in the Kuomintang regime and in its armies in particular.
During this period also, Chinese industry was more and more taken over by imperialist concerns. For instance, in 1934, British and Japanese capitalism controlled half the production of Chinese yarn.
It is against this background – on the one side the savage attacks on the conditions and the democratic rights of the working class, and on the other side the greater and greater dismemberment of China – that we have to view the role of the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders in the wake of the 1925-27 revolution.
At the height of the revolutionary upsurge, as Trotsky and the Left Opposition in the Communist International pointed out, the slogan of soviets (workers’ councils) should have been on the agenda and part of the program of the Chinese CP, as a preparation for taking power. Following the defeat of the 1925-27 revolution, however, when a military dictatorship exercised an iron grip over all the major cities of China, this would obviously no longer be correct.
Therefore, Trotsky put forward the idea that it was necessary now to raise a program of transitional demands – on wages, on hours, on conditions and also on all the democratic demands of the working people: the right to strike, freedom of assemble and so on. These were to be linked to the slogan of land to the peasants, which could have mobilized the rural masses around the working class and the CP as the most democratic and revolutionary force in society.
The crowning slogan would be for a revolutionary constituent assembly – a parliament of the masses, in other words, to be convened by the working class in the course of the struggle against the Kuomintang.
The Chinese CP leadership, however, entirely rejected this program. This leadership, after the resignation and subsequent expulsion of Ch’en Tu-hsiu, was in the hands of Li Li-san, who was completely obedient to Stalin and the bureaucracy in Russia. This was the ‘third period’ (ultra-left period) of Stalinism, when the slogan was “soviets everywhere!” – regardless of circumstances.
The CP leadership rejected democratic and transitional demands, which would have been the means of mobilizing the working class and peasantry to carry through the socialist transformation of society. Instead, when the workers went on strike in Shanghai, Hankow, Canton and other cities, the Communist Party called on them to organize soviets. The workers replied: “Excellencies, you are very good and talented, but please go away. All we can struggle for today is a piece of bread to feed our bellies.”
To convince these workers, the general idea of the socialist revolution would have to be linked with their day-to-day struggles against the capitalists and landlords. Instead, as a result of its insane police, the Communist Party completely lost its base in the industrial areas. It ceased to be a working-class party.
This is made clear by the facts and figures provided by the Chinese CP leaders in relation to the party membership. In 1927 there were 60,000 members of the CP, and 58% of the membership was proletarian in character.
In 1928, after the murders and persecutions of the counterrevolution, the membership of the CP had apparently grown. What this really reflected, however, was the fact that the party leadership had abandoned the cities and gone into the countryside. The working-class membership of the CP had shrunk to 10% of the total. In 1929 only 3% of CP members were industrial workers. By September 1930 the figure was 1.6%.
In other words, the Chinese Communist Party was no longer a proletarian party in the Marxist sense of the term.
The ex-leaders of the proletariat – the ex-leaders of the Shanghai and Canton working class in particular – had gone into the countryside following the 1925-27 debacle. To begin with, however, they did not find a big echo among the peasantry. As Mao Tse-tung himself reported subsequently, they were even attacked by peasants, who were accustomed to armies coming across their territory and plundering them. Initially the Red detachments were assumed to be just another marauding army.
In the period that followed, a number of allegedly ‘Red’ armies were created in different parts of China. One of them, in Hunan, was led by Mao Tse-tung, who subsequently became the political leader of the Red Army, with Chu Teh as the military leader. This army – I haven’t time to go into it – landed up in Kiangsi in the early 1930s.
Chiang Kai-shek, while utterly incapable of facing up to the attacks of imperialism, directed all his forces and energies instead against the small forces of the Reds in the predominantly peasant areas. In fact, no more brilliant pages have been written in Chinese history, than the victories that were scored between 1929 and 1934 by the Red forces against Chiang Kai-shek and the forces of the Kuomintang.
The Kuomintang armies – four, five and six times stronger – were sent against the Red forces particularly stronger – were sent against the Red forces particularly in Kiangsi province. But they were incapable of militarily dislodging the Reds by these means.
It was only after Chiang Kai-shek had assembled an army of half a million and completely surrounded the Red districts – when the Kuomintang was armed with all the resources of imperialism, including nearly 400 airplanes, while the Reds did not have a single airplane – only then was the Red Army leadership forced to decide to break out of the encirclement.
In October 1934 the Red Army began what became known as the Long March. Again, it is one of the greatest pages in the military and social history, certainly of China, and indeed of the world. The heroic detachments of the Red Army – totaling some 90,000 in the beginning, and accompanies by many thousands of peasants – undertook a march of exactly a year over an arduous route of nearly 10,000 km.
Under the direction of Chu Teh and Mao Tse-tung, they achieved this while repeatedly engaging enemy forces vastly outnumbering their own. Eventually they found refuge in the mountain fastness of Yenan in Shensi.
In 1932, at the time when the peasant ‘Red’ Army was scoring brilliant victories over the Kuomintang in Kiangsi, Trotsky had posed the question of what would happen if this army, after defeating the landlords, entered the cities.
He painted out that the Red Army leaders were ex-workers. The Red forces were made up predominantly of peasants, ex-peasants or landless laborers, and also refugees from the various warlords. In the publications of the Communist Party itself complaints were voiced over the admission into the Red Army of lumpen proletariat and the lumpen agricultural population.
In other words, in social composition, the Red Army was the same mixture mainly of peasants and ex-peasants that had been seen in China over thousands of years: traditional peasant armies that had arisen against oppression and exploitation by the landlords.
In posing the question of what would happen if the Red Army entered the cities, Trotsky drew on the experience of Russia. He pointed out that there, after the October Revolution, the Red Army was initially made up of workers’ detachments, who fought the armies of counterrevolution (known as the ‘Whites’) throughout the length and breadth of the country. At the same time there were peasant detachments that arose.
So long as they were fighting against the Whites there was a common cause between the Red (proletarian) Army and the various peasant armies. But once the Whites had been vanquished, the different character of the armies came to the fore.
The tendency of the proletariat, organized in big industry, is to collectivize industry, to plan and organize production. The tendency of the peasantry, because it is so scattered, so stratified and so heterogeneous, is to divide up property and share out the booty.
What, asked Trotsky, if the peasant ‘Red Army’ in China, victorious in the countryside, were to enter the cities? Is it not possible, he said, that it would clash with the working class; that it would be hostile to the demands of the working class; and that its commanders, despite their ‘Communist’ label, would fuse with the capitalist class, resulting in a classical capitalist development? There were indeed many parallels in the previous two thousand years of Chinese history, when the leaders of victorious peasant armies had fused with the then ruling classes in the towns.
In a crucial respect that prognosis of Trotsky was nor borne out in the Chinese revolution of 1944-49, for as we know, capitalism was overthrown as a result of the victory of the Red Army. Nevertheless, as I shall go on to explain, Trotsky correctly foreshadowed the main features that were evident in the revolution on the basis of the class forces involved.
In the 1930s, Chiang Kai-shek was so preoccupied with fighting the Reds that he abandoned the defense of China against imperialist encroachments. Eventually, even within the Kuomintang itself, and particularly within the Kuomintang armies, there was an enormous hostility growing up – firstly, to the advance of imperialism, and secondly, to the impotence of Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang leaders in facing up to these attacks.
That culminated in 1936 when the Kuomintang general staff ordered their army in Shensi to attack the Red Army once again. There was enormous discontent; they reluctantly attacked and were defeated. As a result of that, the Kuomintang army was in a ferment of revolt.
Chiang Kai-shek, as was his wont, decided to fly to the battlefront in order to deal with the situation. While he was there, near Sian, the army rose in revolt. Chiang Kai-shek was found crouching on a mountainside in his nightshirt!
He was brought before the Kuomintang rank-and-file, and the cru went up “Bring the butcher of the Chinese people to a people’s trial!” It showed their readiness to be rid of the bourgeois Kuomintang dictatorship and face up to the struggle against Japanese imperialism.
But, as was the case in 1925-27, once again the Chinese Communist Party leadership came to rescue Chiang Kai-shek. Chou En-lai, as representative of Mao Tse-Tung, flew into Sian. He walked into the room where Chiang Kai-shek was held.
Let us recall that Chou En-Lai had been in the headquarters of the General Labor Union in 1927 at the time of the suppression of the Shanghai working class. He had seen the butchery of Chiang Kai-shek at first hand. So Chiang turned white when Chou En-Lai walked into the room at Sian! Quickly, he clicked his heels and saluted Chou as the generalissimo – as the leader – of the Chinese revolution.
In other words, the leader – the very fountainhead – of the counterrevolution was in the hands of the Reds. The troops of the Kuomintang were prepared to go over to the side of the revolution.
But instead of basing themselves on this fact, what policy did the Chinese CP leadership pursue? Chou En-Lai discussed “successfully with Chiang Kai-shek for about two days, and eventually a “united front” was forged – an allegedly united front that the Communist Party had been advocating since the world Comintern Conference of 1935.
That was the conference at which the ‘third period’ was abandoned and Stalinism internationally swung over to Popular Frontism – the policy of alliance with the so-called “progressive” bourgeoisie. For this reason the Communist Party leaders in China, firmly under the control of Mao Tse-tung at this stage, were seeking a united front with the Kuomintang leadership against Japanese imperialism.
Eventually they did link up formally in a united front in 1936/37. This in turn was the moment chosen by Japanese imperialism to launch a full-blown military campaign in order to capture Chinese territory.
It is very interesting to examine in detail the process of this alleged “united front” – something which, unfortunately, there is not time to de here. But what is important about the whole experience in China in the 1930s is this: in the first phase when the Red armies went into Kiangsi, they drove out the landlords and began to carry through a land reform. But on the basis of signing this “united front” agreement with the Kuomintang – indeed as a precondition for it – a halt was called to the land reform in the Red areas.
Trotsky said at this stage that one would not rule out the possibility of coordinated military action against Japanese imperialism by the forces of the Kuomintang, led by Chiang Kai-shek, and the forces of the Reds. But this would be on condition that there was complete independence of the forces of the Reds and of the labor movement in China.
Moreover, as Trotsky stressed, and as the parallel experience of Russia had shown, the strongest weapon in fighting Japanese imperialism would be to carry through a social program of land to the tillers and the factories to the proletariat.
But in China, in the “united front” period, the Reds did not do that. On the contrary, within the Red areas, land was retained by the rich peasants; and the rich peasants began more and more to creep into the ranks of the Red Army and the embryonic state machine that existed in the Red areas. Even Chou En-Lai and Mao Tse-tung complained about this.
At the same time, in the towns that were controlled by the Reds there was a similar speculation to that which had occurred as a result of the CP policy in Shanghai and Canton during the 1925-27 revolution: class-collaboration with the capitalists; a deliberate attempt to restrict the movement of the working class; the workers were not to ask for more than the capitalists were prepared to give; and so on. But the most important feature of this so-called united front with the Kuomintang was that, in the course of the war itself, the Kuomintang was utterly incapable of resisting the advance of the Japanese forces. The Kuomintang forces retreated to the central and western parts of China. The only force that really fought Japanese imperialism was the Red Army.
The program of Japanese imperialism in the countryside of China was summed up in the horrific slogan of the Three Alls – “Loot all, burn all and kill all.” Through this absolute ruthlessness, the peasants were driven into the ranks of the Red Army and its leadership.
Already in the Red areas we saw the embryo of a state machine. In 1945, for instance, at the end of the Second World War, the area that was controlled by the Reds had a population of about 90 million. The embryonic state power of the Reds was such that they even produced their own currency.
The Kuomintang fought only an occasional engagement against the Japanese. The calculation of Chiang Kai-shek was that he would keep his forces in the west so that, as soon as Japanese imperialism was defeated in the World War by American imperialism, he would occupy the eastern seaboard of China once again.
He expected then that there would be a repetition of the events of 1925-27, and the capitulation of the Chinese CP leadership. This did not happen, for reasons I will go into in a moment.
It is important to emphasize that most of the energies of the Kuomintang during the war were directed against the Reds whenever it was possible to do so. In 1941-42 for example when the Red Army was attempting to engage the Japanese in combat, in the course of the crossing of a number of rivers the Kuomintang treacherously attacked the forces of the Reds.
This was in complete violation of the so-called “united front” against Japanese imperialism which had been agreed.
Outcome of the War
Eventually, as we know, Japanese imperialism was defeated in the course of the Second World War, capitulating in 1945 after the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then Chiang Kai-shek was faced with an enormous dilemma.
First of all, the Russian Stalinist bureaucracy intervened in Manchuria, and occupied practically the whole of it in a nine-day war. It was obvious that Stalin was even considering the establishment there of a puppet regime.
Li Li-sam (whom I mentioned before as a stooge of Stalin) had been removed from the Chinese CP leadership in 1930 and had remained in Moscow after that. Now he was brought back on the heels of Stalin’s troops as part of a half-hearted attempt by the bureaucracy in Russia to establish their position in Manchuria.
Manchuria actually contained most of Chinese industry at that particular stage. When the Stalinist bureaucracy occupied Manchuria, they proceeded – in the same hooligan fashion as they did in Germany – to strip the whole area of its factories, of its technical expertise, and transport it back to Russia.
This was in complete contradiction to all the principles of internationalism that Lenin and the Bolsheviks had established in 1917. The narrow, nationalist, bureaucratic concepts of Stalinism resulted in the looting of Manchuria.
The Red Army having penetrated Manchuria, Chiang Kai-shek was flown in by the Americans from western areas that he occupied. Chiang now found himself in the position that Japanese imperialism had been in previously. He had the towns and some parts of the railways – those parts of the railways that the peasants had not ripped up. (In a very famous tradition of Chinese peasant resistance, they bent the rails to make them unusable.)
Chiang Kai-shek then had to think about importing his troops and equipment into northern China and Manchuria by sea, with the aid of American imperialism. In all, he was in a very difficult strategic position.
But at the end of the Second World War, there was tremendous pressure on the Chinese Red Army, which was predominantly a peasant force, to come to an agreement with Chiang Kai-shek. In 1945 there was considerable war-weariness, and in that year the Red Army leaders decided once more to negotiate with the Kuomintang.
I mentioned before that Trotsky had expected that, when the Red Army entered the citied, the leaders might fuse with the capitalist class, with the result that a classical development would take place. But let us recall that, by the end of the Second World War, two decades had elapsed since the 1925-27 revolution and the capitulation at that time of the Chinese CP leaders to the Kuomintang bourgeoisie.
Now Chinese society was completely in an impasse. Landlordism and capitalism had had the opportunity in two decades to solve the problems of Chinese society, and had been found wanting. Chinese capitalism was incapable of tackling the land problem; incapable of unifying China; impotent against imperialism; incapable of stopping the bloodletting and the suffering of the Chinese people.
To take just one example of the terrible bankruptcy of the capitalist system in China – the rate of inflation in one year after the Second World War was 10,000%! Money became completely worthless. The whole of Chinese society was completely disorganized.
Moreover, during the period of the Kuomintang dictatorship, as a minimum estimate one million people had perished in China as a direct result of the monstrous repressive measures of this regime. That is apart from the slaughter carried out by Japanese imperialism.
Nevertheless, at the end of the war there was pressure, on account of war-weariness, for the Kuomintang and the Communist Party to collaborate. Some Marxists in the West – alleged Marxists, that is – said: “Ah, look! Mao Tse-tung is attempting to capitulate to Chiang Kai-shek.”
But was this the case? It was correct, in fact, for the Red Army leadership to negotiate with the Kuomintang at that stage. This was necessary in order to make it clear to the masses that the Reds were not the ones who should be held responsible for continuing the war, but that they were in favor of peace.
And what was the program that Mao Tse-tung put forward at this paint? It is very interesting to examine this program:
- Punish the war criminals. Who were the war criminals? Mostly the tops of the Kuomintang – who, by the way, in Manchuria, had taken over and absorbed into the Kuomintang armies all the collaborators with Japanese imperialism. The war criminals were the leadership of the Kuomintang.
- Abrogate the bogus constitution – on which the Kuomintang rested.
- Abolish the pretended legitimacy of Kuomintang power. This meant that the Kuomintang leaders were no longer to be considered the legitimate holders of political power.
- Reform all reactionary armies in accordance with democratic principles – a devastating blow against the Kuomintang officer caste and ruling clique.
- Confiscate bureaucratic capital. That was, in effect, a pseudonym for “Take over capitalism” – nationalize the capital that was controlled by imperialism and by the tops of the Kuomintang and their supporters.
- Reform the agrarian system.
- Abrogate treaties of national betrayal.
- Convoke a consultative conference without the participation of reactionary elements.
It was absolutely impossible for the Kuomintang leadership to enter into an agreement with the Red Army on any of these measures – measures so obviously necessary and acceptable to the mass of the Chinese people. There followed a short inter-regnum in which American imperialism tried to exert pressure for a coalition. That was not successful, and in turn resulted in the resumption of the civil war in 1946.
Really the civil war in China took place between 1946 and 1949. In a whole series of battles the forces of the Kuomintang were smashed. In Manchuria, they were surrounded in the cities, which eventually fell. Then the Red Army moved into the central and eastern provinces.
If we look at the combination of factors that existed in Chinese society at that stage, it was obvious that the situation was not as Trotsky had anticipated in the period before the Second World War. The impotence and bankruptcy of landlordism and capitalism – its utter inability to show a way forward for Chinese society – had by now gone much further than could have been foreseen.
It would be wrong to think that it was military superiority which guaranteed the victories of the Red Army in clashed that took place in the Chinese civil war. On the contrary, the Kuomintang had overwhelming superiority in military terms. There were roughly one million troops in the Kuomintang armies, and they were armed with the very latest in weapons and technique by American imperialism.
What happened is that, in every battle which took place, the Kuomintang was defeated by the revolutionary propaganda of the Red Army – in particular by the call of “land to the tillers!”
Under the impetus of the mass movement that developed in 1947, Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese CP leadership had been forced to adopt a much more radical land program than had existed in the Red areas during the earlier “united front” period. As a result, the propaganda of the Red Army was like tanks going through the lines of the Kuomintang armies.
When they defeated an army of the Kuomintang, the Reds did not take the troops prisoner. They released the Kuomintang troops – and imbued them with the idea that the Reds wanted them to take over the land and smash the landlord and capitalist exploiters.
That was more successful than airplanes, bullets and all the latest word in armaments in disintegrating the Kuomintang armies. Eventually it resulted in the total collapse of the Kuomintang in 1947-48.
But even as late as 1948 there were alleged “Marxists”, alleged “Trotskyists”, who were insisting that Mao Tse-tung was attempting to capitulate to Chiang Kai-shek! As one wag in America said, “If that is true, the problem is he can’t catch him” – because, in fact, Chiang Kai-shek and his forces were running away from the forces of the Reds, from the north of China right down the eastern seaboard to the southern coast itself.
Another claim that was put forward, by the allegedly “Trotskyist” SWP in America, was that Mao Tse-tung would never cross the Yangtze River. However, on the day that they published this in their paper, Mao was already 60 km beyond the Yangtze.
They were operating with all the old formulas that Trotsky had worked out in the inter-war period – but they were incapable of understanding Trotsky’s method and of relating his ideas to the changing situation, and the new combination of factors and forces that had arisen in the period of 1944-49.
Chinese landlordism and capitalism was utterly impotent to develop society any further. A vacuum existed in Chinese society. Japanese imperialism had been defeated and could not intervene. American imperialism itself was not able to intervene directly.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, throughout the whole of Asia there were massive movements of American troops wanting to go home. The famous “Bring the Boys Home” movement developed throughout the West.
So American imperialism could supply Chiang Kai-shek with the latest armaments (which by the way, were subsequently captured by the Reds and used not only in China, but also against American imperialism in Korea), but they were not able to bolster up the armies of the Kuomintang troops. They could not stop the disintegrating effects on the Kuomintang armies caused by the social situation that existed in China at that time.
The incapacity of imperialism to intervene was summed up in one famous – or infamous – incident (depending on your point of view). That was the “Amethyst” incident.
Let us remember that in Shanghai and Canton, at the time of the 1925-27 revolution, the British imperialists brazenly shot down Chinese workers and peasants. Yet in 1949 when the British warship Amethyst managed to sneak down the Yangtze River, evade the Red gun-boats, and escape, that was hailed as a “great victory” in the British press. That was a graphic illustration of the impotence of imperialism to intervene against the Chinese revolution.
The power vacuum that existed in China was more important in determining the outcome of the revolution than all the speeches of Mao Tse-tung, when he said, for instance, that national capitalism in China would last a hundred years.
Understanding this enabled the Marxist tendency, which today is gathered around the Mililtant newspaper (and we trace our antecedents right back to that period), to grasp correctly the process of the revolution that was taking place in China.
The Marxists of the Militant Tendency argued that the development would not be as Trotsky had anticipated in the inter-war period. Certainly it would not be a conscious movement of the proletariat like the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. It would be a peasant army entering the cities, as Trotsky clearly foresaw. But instead of the commanders of the peasant army fusing with the capitalist class and a capitalist development taking place, it was now inevitable that capitalism would be overthrown.
This was because of the exhaustion and bankruptcy of Chinese capitalism; because of the weakness of imperialism on a world scale in the aftermath of the Second World War; because of the greatly increased strength of Stalinism as a result of the Second World War, in Russia and Eastern Europe; because, also, Mao Tse-tung and the leaders of the Red Army had a model of the kind of state and the kind of society that they could confidently move to create in China.
But while, therefore, the outcome of the revolution would not be as Trotsky had expected in the interwar period, by no stretch of the imagination could Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese CP and Red army leaders be considered communists, in the classical sense of the term.
They were not Marxists in the sense that they did not base themselves on the proletariat – which is absolutely fundamental to the Marxist approach, method, strategy and tactics. On the contrary, they were deadly fearful of the movement of the proletariat and of any action by the workers which they could not directly control.
The Chinese CP leaders were Bonapartist leaders, resting on the peasant Red Army, and maneuvering in order to gather absolute power over society into their own hands. From the outset the model for their regime was the Stalinist dictatorship in Russia, which had arisen out of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Mao began at the point which Stalin had already reached.
This was the explanation and analysis put forward by the Marxists of the Militant Tendency at the time of the Chinese Revolution itself. It was explained that, like Stalin, Mao would balance between the classes while consolidating his regime, and in the process ruthlessly suppress all independent actions and initiatives by the workers.
As in Russia, so in China capitalism was eliminated and a nationalized and planned economy introduced. But while the Russian workers’ state began on healthy lines of workers’ democracy and subsequently degenerated, the state established in China by the Red Army was a deformed workers’ state from the outset.
The differences between the Russian and Chinese revolutions was enormous also in the different international repercussions which they produced. The October Revolution in Russia inspired tremendous movements of the working class throughout the world. An example was the revolutionary events in Italy, in 1920, where the workers occupied factories.
An indication of the way that the proletariat internationally identified with the Russian Revolution was, paradoxically, indicated by the barrage of propaganda put up by the capitalist press at the time. The propaganda against the Russian Revolution pit in the shade the lies and filth that we encounter in the Daily Express, for instance, today.
To give one humorous example: the New York Times carried over a hundred articles between 1918 and 1921 which said either that Trotsky had bumped off Lenin, or that Lenin had bumped off Trotsky! One headline was “Trotsky assassinates Lenin in Drunken Brawl”! Now, if that was in a serious journal such as the New York Times, imagine the kind of stories that would appear in the yellow press.
But despite the propaganda, the working class internationally instinctively knew that their class was in power, and it inspired them.
In Russia there had been democratic organs of control and management in the form of the soviets. Nothing of this character existed in China between 1946-49 or in the aftermath.
In the main, in the big cities, “…Political apathy and inertia were stronger even than universal dissatisfaction … the revolution finally engulfed Peking, but it was full-grown and did not grow gradually within the City itself.” (Communist China on the Eve of Takeover by A. Doak Bennet, p. 325.)
Furthermore, the Stalinist leaders of the Chinese Communist Party and Red Army displayed the fear of the ‘full-grown’ bureaucracy towards any independent movement by the working class. In their eight-point peace program, presented as a maneuver before they occupied Peking, they unashamedly warned the working class: “Those who strike or destroy will be punished … those working in these organizations (factories) should work peacefully and wait for the takeover.”
And true to their word, any independent action by the working class was met with ruthless repression. Contrast this attitude with that shown by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks looked toward the working class as the main agent of change and urges: “the land to the tillers and the factories to the producers.”
Without any question, the Chinese revolution of 1944-49 was one of the greatest events in human history. It was the second greatest event, surpassed only by the October Revolution of 1917.
One quarter of mankind stepped onto the stage of history, and put behind them once and forever the disease, the ravages, the misery that landlordism and capitalism had meant for them.
The Chinese revolution inspired and gave a push to the colonial revolution in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It was an event of great historical importance, but at the same time an event that could not have the same effect as the Russian Revolution on the working class internationally.
It established a planned economy, as most of industry was gradually taken over by the state, and a thoroughgoing land reform was carried through. But at the same time there was the establishment of a one-party totalitarian regime.
The idea that there was a democracy in China in 1949 is a fairy-tale, for the consumption of children of 10 or younger.
Now, if we look at the situation in China at that particular stage, we see that Mao Tse-tung formed a “coalition” with the Kuomintang. To be more exact, he formed a coalition with the “People’s Kuomintang” – supposedly representing the ‘national’ capitalists – which had a total membership of a few hundred. Not exactly a mighty force, in a population of three-quarters of a billion.
On the surface what Mao Tse-tung had done coincided with a phrase that Trotsky had used in the 1930s in relation to Spain. This is where a lot of “Trotskyists”, who used only the phrases of Trotsky without grasping his meaning, made hopeless mistakes in relation to China.
Trotsky said that in Spain the Stalinist CP had formed a coalition, not with the capitalist class, but with their shadow. What he meant by this was that the capitalists in reality all fled to the side of General Franco and the counterrevolution; and the workers’ leaders had formed a coalition with the ex-representatives of the capitalists in Spain.
This was the ‘Popular Front’ which served to hold the working class back from taking state power, and thus preserved capitalism in Spain. Gradually the “shadow” got substance, and the workers’ movement in Republican Spain was smashed.
On the face of it, in China, Mao Tse-tung had entered into a coalition with the shadow of the capitalist class. But there was a crucial difference in China at this time, as opposed to Spain in 1936-39. The real levers of state power were not in the hands of the bourgeois partners of the Red Army, in the so-called People’s Kuomintang. They were entirely in the hands of Mao Tse-tung, the Red Army and the so-called Communist Party – particularly the police, the military, and so on.
The “coalition” with the capitalist People’s Kuomintang counted for nothing against the enormous objective pressures forcing the regime to move into state hands. Therefore we had in China the development of a totalitarian one-party regime based on a progressive economic system – a planned economy.
Only by understanding the relationship of forces in the Chinese Revolution is it possible to grasp the very complex processes that are taking place in Asia, Africa and Latin America at the present time. The processes are mot according to any schema laid down in advance by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky – yet only the method developed by these great teachers in their time enables us to understand what is taking place.
We can understand the process if all the comrades gain a fuller grasp of the features of the Chinese revolution of 1944-49, and the way that revolution developed. It was not a case of the working class playing the main role in the revolution, but of a victorious peasant army entering the cities. It was a case of a Bonapartist regime which established a planned economy – which in that sense historically expressed the material interests of the working class.
But in no sense was it a regime of workers’ democracy along the lines of the Bolshevik regime in Russia in 1917. It was not – and is not – a socialist regime moving towards the development of socialist society. That is impossible unless power is in the hands of the working class, and a regime of workers’ democracy prevails.
Unfortunately, because of the way the regime developed in China, the Chinese working class will have to pay with a new revolution – this time a political revolution – establishing workers’ democracy on the foundations of the planned economy. Only then will the way be clear for Chinese society to move towards socialism in the context of a world socialist federation.
Peter Taaffe, 1980