Revolution or War n°26

(January 2024)

PDF - 509.9 kb

HomeVersion imprimable de cet article Version imprimable

The Tactics of the Comintern from 1926 to 1940

We are continuing the publication of Vercesi’s contribution The Tactics of the Comintern, written for the Internationalist Communist Party’s Prometeo journal in 1946-1947.

The Chinese question, which culminated in the massacre of the proletariat perpetrated by Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang in Shanghai in 1927, was a key element – at first a product, then an accelerating factor – in the degeneration of the Communist International (CI). “As in England, a highly developed country, with the Anglo-Russian Committee [cf. the first part of the contribution published in RW #25], so also in China the International showed itself to be the decisive instrument of the counterrevolution.” In addition to its historical interest in understanding this process of degeneration through to its conclusion, the text reaffirms the internationalist principles that the CI, won over by Stalinist opportunism, betrayed at the time. It also exposes and criticizes Trotsky’s opportunist, albeit formally internationalist, position. Caught up in his adherence to the united-front policy launched by the International at its 3rd and 4th Congresses, he defended the Chinese CP’s adhesion to Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang. “Our current, on the other hand, departing from an analysis in line with Trotsky’s, defended the fundamental thesis of non-adherence to the Kuomintang.”

In so doing, and this is the hallmark of Italy’s Communist Left, the contribution reminds us that the Left – which became a fraction of Italy’s CP in 1928 – was far from content with the general defense of principles per se, but articulated them to the real situation, i.e. to the class struggle, establishing orientations and slogans that could have made it possible to draw up lines of defense both for the international proletariat and for China’s.

“In the situation that opened up after the “Canton Insurrection” a violent controversy was established between our fraction and Trotsky. (…) Our current, on the other hand, argued that if the non-revolutionary situation did not allow the fundamental slogan of dictatorship [of the proletariat] to be raised, (…) that this was not the reason why the party program should be revised, but that it should be reaffirmed in its entirety on the theoretical and propaganda level, while the retreat could only be carried out on the basis of the immediate demands of the masses and their corresponding class organizations.”

In our view, it is precisely this historical experience – the uncompromising defense of principles and their articulation into concrete orientations and even slogans, even in periods of proletarian retreat – that we need to recall and reappropriate today.

In addition, the contribution raises a whole series of theoretical, historical and political questions that should be revisited almost a century after the failure of the “Chinese revolution”. Among these, the reader will note the position that tends to reject “any prospect of raising China to the level of a great national and independent State”, despite recognizing, following Trotsky, “the direct domination of capitalist relations in China.” We can’t go into this question here, as it refers on the one hand to the role played by Maoism, i.e., Stalinist state capitalism, in both the crushing of the Chinese proletariat and the development of national capital around the war economy until the 1970s. On the other hand, China’s affirmation as a leading imperialist world power comes after the disappearance of the USSR and its imperialist bloc, and its integration into the WTO in 2001, encouraged by the Western powers. Here, it would be appropriate to return to capitalism’s response, what the bourgeoisie has called “globalization”, to overcome the unprecedented historical impasse caused by the disappearance of the generalized war to which the West-East imperialist antagonism was leading. The Communist Left, in this case the Left of Italy, remained convinced of the validity of the cycle "crisis-war-reconstruction-new-crisis..." Has it been belied by the collapse of the USSR?

Let us humbly admit that, for our part, we do not have the militant and political strength at the moment to do such a job. [1] But that is not the purpose of our republication of Vercesi’s contribution. Nor our priority. Readers will have understood.

The editorial team

The Chinese Question (1926-27)
Prometeo #3, October 1946

"If the English reactionary trade unions are willing to form with the revolutionary trade unions of our country [Russia], a coalition against the counter-revolutionary imperialists of their country, why would this bloc not be approved?" (Stalin at the joint session of the CC of the Russian Party and the Central Control Commission, July 1926). Trotsky rightly retorted, “if the reactionary trade unions were capable of fighting against their imperialists, they would not be reactionary.”

If Chiang-Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang were willing to fight for the revolution.... But the piles of proletarian corpses that concluded the epic struggle of the Chinese workers were to prove lugubriously that Chang-Kai-Shek and Kuomintang could be nothing more than the executioners of the proletariat and peasantry of that country.

In his book The Third International after Lenin, Trotsky rightly characterizes the general situation in China in the following terms: “Land ownership, large and medium, is intertwined there in the most intimate way with urban capitalism, including foreign capitalism” (p. 277 of the Rieder French edition), “An extremely rapid internal development of industry based on the role of commercial and banking capitalism which has subjugated the country, the complete dependence of the most important peasant regions on the market, the enormous role and continuous development of foreign trade, the total subordination of the Chinese countryside to the city; all this confirms the unconditional dominance, the direct domination of capitalist relations in China.” (op. cit. p. 305)

In a study that would be devoted to Trotskysm, the journal would explain the reasons that eventually lead Trotsky, despite his analysis that highlighted the determining relations of the entire Chinese economic order (including feudal and pre-feudal relations numerically far superior to capitalist ones) to absolutely inadequate tactical conclusions such as those of participation in the Kuomintang and throwing a series of democratic slogans which Trotsky defended against Stalin after the final defeat of the Chinese proletarian revolution, that is, after the failure of what the Comintern called “the Canton insurrection” (December 1927).

Our current, on the other hand, departing from an analysis in line with Trotsky’s, defended the fundamental thesis of non-adherence to the Kuomintang and, while it fought the Comintern’s tactic of the “revolutionary offensive”, it maintained in full its previous positions against “democratic slogans”, remaining firm on the thesis that the only slogan that should be raised on the question of State power was that of the proletarian dictatorship.

Indeed, events were to confirm that neither a revolutionary situation presented itself in China after 1927, nor could a democratic era of bourgeois independence and anti-imperialist China open up after and despite the revolutionary defeat of 1926-27.

It was in 1911 that the Manchurian dynasty abdicated in favor of the Republic and it’s also in this era that the Kuomintang is founded. The policy of Sun-Yat-Sen, the founder of the Party, even though he proclaimed anti-imperialist claims, for the “independence of China”, was nevertheless forced to limit himself to verbal declarations that did not worry foreign imperialists. History thus condemned China as unable to rise to the function of a great nation-State, and Sun-Yat-Sen is so convinced of this that, after China sided with the Entente in the first world war, in 1918 he turned to the victors to help China’s economic development, and tried to lean on the closest and at the time least intrusive imperialism, Japan, to loosen the grip of British imperialism that held the most important positions.

With capitalist relations dominating the interior of the country in the historical framework of capitalism’s financial imperialism, which does not leave any opening for colonial and semi-colonial countries to rise up and become truly independent nation States, the Chinese events begin in 1925, develop in 1926, and end with the violent suffocation of the so-called “Canton insurrection”.

Can these events, which take above all the form of a military march that starts in the South and goes from victory to victory towards the North, until it conquers the whole country, be characterized as a “democratic-revolutionary, anti-imperialist war of the Chinese bourgeoisie”? Obviously, in the course of these tumultuous events there were attacks against foreign concessions, but, apart from the fact that each time these attacks were never due to decisions of the Kuomintang leadership, but were the result of local initiatives which, in fact, as events got worse, were even disavowed by the central leadership of the Kuomintang – the question is rather different, and answering it correctly is a matter of characterizing it as a whole for what it really turned out to be instead of characterizing it according to episodes which had no real decisive effects in the overall scheme of things.

At the end of 1927 the victory of the counter-revolution was decisive, and this victory was unfortunately not short-lived, because twenty years later we find ourselves in the same situation where, despite the Japanese defeat, we do not see at all an affirmation in an autonomous State of the Chinese bourgeoisie, which, if it can dispute with France the rank of the IV or V among the five Greats, still cannot avoid the fact that China, after the defeat of the revolutionary movement of 1926-27, has been reduced to becoming an immense territory where all the foreign capitalisms fight for their share of the pie, but not on a front where the Chinese bourgeoisie stands against all of these capitalisms. Against Stalin and also against Trotsky, the answer of history is absolutely unequivocal; it was not, in 1926-27, a matter of a revolutionary anti-imperialist war susceptible to evolve into a purely proletarian and communist movement, but of a gigantic uprising of hundreds of millions of exploited people who could only find their leadership in the proletarian vanguard, which, by establishing the proletarian dictatorship in China, would then be intertwined with the development of the world revolution.

The role of Chang-Kai-Shek and of the Kuomintang could not be the one played by the French bourgeoisie in 1793, but only the same role that Noske and company had played in the most developed countries. From the very beginning they represented the defense line against the gigantic revolt of the exploited Chinese people and the Kuomintang was the effective instrument of the cruel and victorious resistance of the Chinese and world counter-revolution.

As for the Chinese bourgeoisie, like the bourgeoisies of India and other colonial and semi-colonial countries, its function was not to strive for national autonomy, but to fit in with the organization of the dominant imperialist and foreign bourgeoisies. Chang-Kai-Shek had to show a terrible brutality against the Chinese proletarians as soon as the circumstances (the ebbing of revolutionary flow) allowed him to do so, at the same time that an angelic genuflection capacity towards the most powerful foreign imperialisms.

Moreover, at the 7th Enlarged Executive at the end of 1926, the Chinese delegate Tang-Ping-Sian stated in his report about Chang-Kai-Shek: "He has a passive demeanor, in the full sense of the word, in the field of international politics. He is not willing to fight against British imperialism; as for the Japanese imperialists, under certain conditions, he is willing to establish a compromise with them."

And as Trotsky suggestively points out, “Chang-Kai-Shek made war on the Chinese militarists, agents of one of the imperialist States. This is not at all the same thing as waging war against imperialism.” (Trotsky, op. cit., p. 268).

At the core of the struggle between the revolutionary masses and the counter-revolution, the war which the generals of the South and the North will wage will find, fundamentally, no other resolution besides crushing the insurgent proletariat and, secondly, of striving for the unification of China dispersed in a thousand provinces under a central authority. Central authority, we repeat, without any prospect of raising China to the level of a great national and independent State.

The imperialisms, on the other hand, did not prefer this or that general, but, conscious of the revolutionary reality in China and of the danger it represents for their class domination in the world, they will let the counter-revolutionary intervention of the International develop in full. After the interruption caused by the events of the war, the interweaving of capitalist relations will be re-established, starting from the metropolis, annexing the Chinese bourgeoisie and extending its domination over the immensity of the Chinese lands.

* * *

From the programmatic point of view, the International had, as its fundamental document, the Theses of the Second Congress (September 1920). The last paragraph of the 6th “supplementary” Thesis says: "Foreign domination constantly obstructs the free development of productive forces; therefore the revolution’s first step must be the removal of this foreign domination. The struggle to overthrow foreign domination in the colonies does not therefore mean underwriting the national aims of the national bourgeoisie but much rather smoothing the path to liberation for the proletariat of the colonies." [2]

As we can see, the perspective that permeates many documents of the foundation of the International, which is also contained in the same Manifesto (when Marx speaks of the bourgeoisie opening its own grave by extending its rule to all countries) this perspective has not been confirmed by events. In fact, faced with a movement of the magnitude of that of China in 1926-27, which will see hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants in armed struggle, a movement that has the unquestionable connotations of the untameable forces of history, if the alleged goal of liberation from foreign domination had been likely to determine the events we would have witnessed a struggle of these masses that, under the direction of the indigenous bourgeoisie, would have come to a decisive clash against foreign imperialism, or this same movement which, overriding the primitive bourgeois leadership, would have assumed the force of a proletarian revolution intercalating with the world revolution.

Now not only did the collision against imperialisms not take place, but the historical function of the Chinese bourgeoisie turned out to be exclusively that of a powerful counter-revolutionary bastion to tame with the masses which had risen up with extreme violence, and this while foreign imperialisms could only rejoice at the excellent work done by their commissioners: the Kuomintang and all its tendencies, the right wing of Chang-Kai-Shek, the center of Dai-Thi-Tao, as well as the self-styled communist left directed by the delegates of the Communist International in China.

The Theses themselves do not limit themselves to formulating a perspective, but, after having formulated the guiding criterion for the analysis of historical situations, they determine guarantees which, needless to say, have been shamefully betrayed by the International.

As a guiding criterion, Point 2 of the cited “Theses” reads: "the Communist Party, as the avowed champion of the proletarian struggle to overthrow the bourgeois yoke, must base its policy, in the national question too, not on abstract and formal principles but, first, on a precise appraisal of the specific historical situation and, primarily, of economic conditions; second, on a clear distinction between the interests of the oppressed classes, of working and exploited people, and the general concept of national interests as a whole, which implies the interests of the ruling class; third, on an equally clear distinction between the oppressed, dependent and subject nations and the oppressing, exploiting and sovereign nations, in order to counter the bourgeois-democratic lies that play down this colonial and financial enslavement of the vast majority of the world’s population by an insignificant minority of the richest and advanced capitalist countries, a feature characteristic of the era of finance capital and imperialism."[Theses on the National and Colonial...]

As for the guarantees, Thesis 5 will say: "It’s necessary to wage a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations. The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even if it is in its most embryonic form."

The application of these fundamental directives in the course of the Chinese events would certainly have determined a progressive clarification of some of the hypothetical elements contained in the Theses, which was moreover clearly foreseen in the first line of the 2nd thesis we have quoted, where it speaks of the necessity of basing analyses of the situation "on a precise appraisal of the specific historical situation and, primarily, of economic conditions." This notion could only lead to the recognition of the exclusively counter-revolutionary character of the Kuomintang and the lack of any historical possibility of it waging anti-imperialist struggle in function of the development of those economic forces (Thesis 6).

Our current, in violent opposition to the leadership of the International and to Trotsky’s tendency as well, maintained the thesis of non-adherence to the Kuomintang from the very beginning, qualifying this “People’s Party” for what it really was and for what it later cruelly revealed itself to be after the massacres of proletarians and peasants in 1927. It thus related to what Lenin said, in 1919, when he wrote: "The strength of the proletariat in any capitalist country is much greater than the proportion between the proletariat and the total population. This is because the proletariat economically commands the center and nerves of the whole system of the economy of capitalism and also because in the economic and political field the proletariat expresses under capitalist rule the real interests of the enormous majority of the laboring classes." [3] And as for the capitalist nature of economic relations in China, remember what we have already said marking our agreement with the analysis made by Trotsky.

Let us now take a brief look at the tactical approach of the International. It can be summarized in the formula of the “bloc of four classes” (bourgeoisie, peasants, urban petty bourgeoisie, proletariat), a formula which was expressly written in the resolutions of the International.

The review of the Communist International in its No. 5 of March 10, 1927 (note, just a month later Chang-Kai-Shek will unleash his white terror against the proletarians of Shanghai), contains a particularly striking article by Martinov. After premising that "the national liberation of China must necessarily, in case of success, turn into a socialist revolution, that the liberating movement of China is also an integral part of the world proletarian revolution, differing in this from the previous liberating movements which were an integral part of the general democratic movement”, after giving this movement, which is of “national liberation” only in the minds of the leaders of the International, a characteristic far more advanced than those that preceded it in the history of the formation of bourgeois nation States in Europe. Martinov arrives at the confusion that while "in Russia, in 1905, the initiative of the leadership emanated from the proletarian party” and "the Russian liberal bourgeoisie, during a certain time, dragged along in its wake striving at each temporary halt of the movement to conclude an agreement with the czarist autocracy, in China "the initiative emanates from the industrial bourgeoisie and the bourgeois intellectuals" and therefore "the Chinese Communist Party must strive to not create obstacles (emphasized by us) to the revolutionary army against the great feudal lords, against the militarists of the North and against imperialism."

For his part, Stalin, in a polemical article against the Russian opposition (see Stato Operaio of May 1927) wrote: "In the first period of the Chinese revolution, in the period of the first march to the North, when the national army approaching the Yang-Tze river went from victory to victory, a powerful movement of workers and peasants had not yet developed, and the indigenous bourgeoisie (excluding the “compradors”) marched together with the revolution. This was thus the revolution of a single front that extended to the entire nation (emphasized by us). This doesn’t mean that there weren’t contrasts between the indigenous bourgeoisie and the revolution. It only means that the indigenous bourgeoisie, by giving its support to the revolution, endeavored to exploit it for its own ends by directing its development essentially along the line of territorial conquests and sought to limit its developments in another direction."

The events were to cruelly prove, through the unleashing of terror beginning in April 1927, that the “revolution of the single front of the whole nation” was in reality the subjection of the insurgent masses to the direction of the generals, and that finally there was sharp, strident, violent opposition between the “military march to the North under the direction of the Kuomintang” and the class struggles of the Chinese workers and peasants. All the Comintern’s pussyfooting was ultimately summed up in the directive that Martinov had specified: “do not create obstacles to the national army” (see quotation above).

Finally, as to the tactical approach of the International, let us recall Tan-Pin-Sian’s statement to the Seventh Enlarged Executive: "As soon as Trotskysm arose, the Chinese Communist Party and Communist Youth immediately adopted, unanimously, a resolution against it."

It is well known that under the label of Trotskysm were included all the tendencies that opposed the direction of the International. If we have quoted this quote, it is to prove that the Chinese Party had been vigorously “purged” in order to carry out, with full success, its counter-revolutionary policy.

* * *

The second half of 1926 and the first quarter of 1927 were characterized by a the peak of militancy of the events in China. During the whole of this period – which is purely revolutionary – the International violently opposes the tendencies which are manifested in the bosom of the proletarian vanguard towards the constitution of the Soviets; it stands firm on the directive of the bloc of four classes.

The Russian delegation in China, which lived in direct contact with the events, wrote a letter addressed to the Center in Moscow, in which it criticizes the policy of the Chinese Party and from which it appears with how much counterrevolutionary vigilance the tactical arrangements which were to lead to the collapse of this great movement were carried out. It reads: "According to the report of the Chinese Communist Party of December 13, 1926 on the dangerous tendencies of the revolutionary movement, the statement states that ’the greatest danger consists in this: that the movement of the masses will progress to the left’" (emphasis added)

On the question of the relations between the Party and the masses, we can deduce what they were from this passage:

"The relations between the Party leadership, the workers and the peasants were formulated in the best possible way, by Comrade Petrov, a member of the CC, on the occasion of the examination of the question of recruiting students for the special course (Communist Workers’ University of the East). It would have been necessary to obtain the following distribution: 175 workers and 100 peasants. Comrade Petrov told us that the Central Committee decided to designate only students and intellectuals."

On the peasant question: "At the December Plenum (1926, ed.) of the CC, with the participation of the representative of the EC of the International, a resolution concerning the peasant question was adopted. In this resolution there is not a single word about a program and the agrarian struggle. The resolution only responds to one of the most irritating questions, the question of peasant power, and it responds to it negatively: it says that the word of peasant power must not be launched in order not to frighten the petit-bourgeoisie. From this, it follows that the Party’s organs ignored the armed struggles of the peasantry." (They did not, in fact, ignore it, since they pushed the armed peasants into the arms of the Kuomintang generals, ed.).

On the question of the labor movement: "More than a million organized workers are deprived of central leadership. The trade unions are detached from the masses and, for the most part, remain staff organizations. Political and organizational work is replaced always and everywhere by compulsion, and the main fact is that reformist tendencies are growing inside as well as outside the revolutionary trade union movement. Friendly familiarity with the entrepreneurs, participation in the benefits, participation in the increase of labor productivity, subordination of the unions to the entrepreneurs and the bosses, these are the usual phenomena."

On the other hand, they refused to defend the economic demands of the workers. Being afraid of the elementary development of the workers’ movement, the Party allowed compulsory arbitration in Canton and later in Hangzhou (the very idea of arbitration belongs to Borodine, the official delegate of the Comintern). Particularly serious is the fear of the leaders of the Party of the non-industrial workers’ movement. After all, the overwhelming majority of the organized workers in China were non-industrial workers.

The CC’s report to the Plenum of December 1926 says: "It is extremely difficult for us to define the tactics with respect to the middle and petty-bourgeoisie, because the strikes of the artisans and the strikes of the clerks are nothing but conflicts within the same class. And since both sides in the struggle (i.e. the entrepreneurs and the workers) are necessary for the single national front (the front of the revolution, as Stalin says, see quote above), we can neither support one of the two contenders, nor remain neutral."

On the army: "The characteristic of the Party’s demeanor toward the army was given by comrade Tchou-En-Lai in his report. He says to the members of the Party: ’go to this national-revolutionary army, strengthen it, elevate its fighting capacity, but do not conduct any independent work in it.’ Until recent times there were no cells in the army. Our comrade political advisers were exclusively concerned with the political-military work of the Kuomintang." And further on: "The CC Plenum of December took the decision to create cells in the army, cells formed only of commanders with the prohibition of soldiers entering them."

The noose tied around the nooses of the masses of insurrectionary Chinese workers is solid and, unfortunately, indestructible. The whole movement is incorporated in the framework of the unity of all, exploited and exploiters, for an insubstantial war of “liberation”. At the bosom of the “purged” Party the proletarians are shoved all the way to the back, behind the intellectuals, in the unions it is proclaimed that the struggle between capitalist entrepreneurs and proletarians is a conflict “within the same class”, the armed peasants must be disciplined into the “national” army, while the “communist” cells are reserved for officers.

The noose was ready. It was pulled in Shanghai on April 12 of 1927, when Chang-Kai-Shek unleashed white terror against the masses.

Before discussing the events that follow, it’s necessary to highlight the spontaneous coupling, which should be defined as natural (to use terminology employed by Engels in his study on the course of the class struggle), between the movement of the masses and the Communist International. This is in order to answer to the many builders of revolutions, parties and Internationals that are swarming everywhere in other countries, and that in Italy fortunately do not come to light, who would like to suggest that in light of all this, that it’s clear that the Left made the mistake of not separating from the International before, and founding another organization.

The Chinese revolutionary movement is part of the same historical complex that had its origin in the Russian revolution and the Communist International. The precedents (the German defeat of 1923 and the events within the Russian party that followed) explain why this counter-revolutionary direction had become an inescapable historical necessity. And this same counter-revolutionary direction didn’t have to directly evoke the antagonistic force likely to overthrow it, but only to determine the premises for a much more distant reconstruction of the international organization of the proletariat, so distant that even today the historical possibilities do not present themselves, nor can they be determined by revolutionary militants.

The violent actions of Chang-Kai-Shek on April 12, 1927 closes the phase of the greatest revolutionary intensity in China. The Eighth Enlarged Executive of the International of May 1927 and the Plenum of the CC of the Chinese Party of August 7, 1927 would inaugurate a turning point in the tactics of the International.

When the situation goes to the left, as it did until April 1927, the bloc of the four classes repressed the masses under the discipline of the Kuomintang. The situation changes, it goes to the right, the International will go to the left, and in the two meetings mentioned above one can already see premonitions of what would be come to be known as the Canton “insurrection” of December 1927.

The united Kuomintang flows into the anti-worker terror of April 1927. A split is made in the “People’s Party” and a left-wing Kuomintang is formed in Ou-Thang. The Communists even enter the government while Stalin will proclaim that the "core of the Chinese revolution consists in the agrarian upheaval." The CC of the Chinese Party in the previously mentioned session declared that "we are in the presence of an economic, political and social situation favorable to insurrection, and that since it is no longer possible to start revolts in the cities (Chang-Kai-Shek, thanks to the Comintern’s tactics, was in charge of enforcing this impossibility), it is necessary to transport the armed struggle to the countryside. It is here that the hotbeds of the insurgency are to be found, while the city must be an auxiliary force." And said CC concludes: "it is necessary, wherever this is objectively possible, to immediately organize insurrections."

The result of this turn, characterized on one hand by an analysis that affirms the existence of a revolutionary situation while at the same time denying that it exists in the urban centers, and on the other hand by the participation of the communists in the government, was not long in manifesting itself through the terror of the left Kuomintang against the peasants who continued the struggle.

* * *

Thus we find ourselves at the “insurrection” of Canton in December 1927. The political evaluation that preceded this “insurrection” will be found in the Plenum of the CC of the Chinese Party of November 1927, about which the resolution of the Jiangsou Province of the Chinese Communist Party of May 7, 1929, provides interesting indications.

We recall that the sacrifice of the masses to the Kuomintang had led to the violent crushing of the labor movement in the cities, that the sacrifice of the peasant masses to the left Kuomintang had led to a similar violent repression of the peasants in the Hounan. And on that route we thus approach the final chapter of December of 1927.

Was it really an “insurrection”? The Ninth Enlarged Executive of the International which was to be held shortly thereafter, in February 1928, made "comrade N. responsible for the fact that there was no elected soviet in Canton." (underlined in the text of the resolution). In the communist movement there could be no doubt that the soviets appear only in the course of a revolutionary situation and that therefore either political conditions exist which create them, and then they can only be elected (apart from the formal and trivial question of the election, what matters is that they’re the spontaneous product of the movement of the masses in upheaval), or they do not exist and what exists is artfully constituted bodies that do not correspond in the slightest to a real possibility of the exercise of power by the proletariat that are then titled “Soviets”.

But, in fact, all we were witnessing was the maturing of the new turning point of the International, whose primitive elements are found in the 8th Enlargement and in the meeting of the CC of the Chinese Party of August 1927. The “insurrection” will be decided by the central organs precisely when the pre-requisites for its success no longer exist. It is only then that there’s will talk of a Soviet, of that most crucial word which had been strictly forbidden at the height of the revolutionary offensive of the masses, in the second half of 1926 and the first quarter of 1927. The proletarians of Canton (it should be noted that it was precisely the least proletarian city in China) were struggling against all the tendencies of the Kuomintang, and the “insurrection” was limited to a single center, historically isolated (since the revolutionary movement was obviously declining), and thus the only possible result was its quick defeat. In the meantime, the International gave itself a third counter-revolutionary medal (after those of Chang-Kai-Shek and Hunan) since a mortal blow was given to the revolutionary aspiration of the Chinese masses who now convinced themselves of the impossibility of the realization of their Soviet power.

Here, in the tactics followed in Canton, we have an anticipation of the tactics that will be followed in all countries from 1929 to 1934, the tactics of the “revolutionary offensive” of which we will speak in the next chapter. Our current at that time could only limit itself, on the one hand, to pointing out that the proletarian movement could only encounter, even in colonial China, the violent opposition of every landowning classes in the country and of all their political formations, on the other hand, to emphasize that the reasons for the immediate defeat weren’t due to the fact that proletarian power was impractical, but to the fact that these directives were given not when the objective conditions for revolutionary victory existed but precisely when they had already been sacrificed by the counter-revolutionary tactics of discipline to the Chinese bourgeoisie.

Beginning in 1928 the situation in China will take a leap backwards. Fragmentation will become even more serious than that which existed before the revolutionary movement of 1926-27, the generals will rule their own established zones as warlords, and “Communist China” will also arise. These are among the most backward regions of China where, alongside with the rudimentary forms of the primitive economy, persists the necessities of an even more intense exploitation of the masses than in other zones. The “communist” ruling clan will establish, together with the payment in kind of wages (a real market does not exist and the current system is that of barter), the compulsory conscription extended to the whole population, since the army has not only the military task of defending “the communist country”, but also the other economic and social task of sharing the products. At the current moment we cannot exclude the possibility of seeing a mobilization of the masses in defense of these extra-reactionary regimes, if the evolution of the capitalist world were to go through a phase of conflict between the United States and Russia in the Asian territories.

In the situation that opened up after the “Canton Insurrection” a violent controversy was established between our fraction and Trotsky. The respective fundamental positions are not new, but they were continuations, regarding the Chinese question, of the divergences which were determined at the IV and V Congress of the International. In the new circumstances which evidently no longer permitted the launching of the slogan for the proletarian dictatorship, Trotsky maintained that a transitional slogan must be raised in the question of power: that of the Constituent Assembly and of a democratic constitution in China. Our current, on the other hand, argued that if the non-revolutionary situation did not allow the fundamental slogan of dictatorship to be raised, if, therefore, the question of power no longer arises in an immediate form, that this was not the reason why the party program should be raberized, that it should be reaffirmed in its entirety on the theoretical and propaganda level, while the retreat could only be carried out on the basis of the immediate claims of the masses and their corresponding class organizations. [4]

In the course of all this controversy, voices reached our current that an opposition had been determined within the Trotskyst organization itself, but there was no possibility of establishing links with these militants; for while the possibilities of communication are being extended, the forms of cloistered solidification of non- and counter-revolutionary organizations are also being extended, and these will form a wall against the establishment of links between the forces of the revolution.

We have endeavored to give – within the narrow limits of an article – the most documented report on these formidable events which, taking place in an extremely backward economic environment, had shown the revolutionary possibilities of the proletarian class even in faraway China. As in England, a highly developed country, with the Anglo-Russian Committee, so also in China the International showed itself to be the decisive instrument of the counterrevolution, since it alone had the authority and the possibility to counter a revolutionary movement of incalculable historical importance, which ended in a disastrous failure of the communist movement.

(Prometeo #3, 1946, from The Communist Party’s website, to be followed)



[1. We have noted that there have been some initial attempts to return to this issue. In many cases, they have been made by political “forces” claiming to be more or less part of the Communist Left, and by comrades who have been members of Communist Left organizations – in particular the ICC. We do not share their current political approach, which, to put it simply, is far removed from the fight for the party. Among these, we feel that the contributions in the book Capitalism’s Endgame, Historical Materialism and Capitalism in Decline and Accumulation of Catastroph are worth a look, if only for the work they have accomplished and the questions they may raise. :

[2We could not find the English version of these "additional theses" to the theses on the national and colonial question of the 2nd Congress of the IC on ( They can be found in the French pages ( We translate them ourselves from French.

[3“Complete Works”, vol. XVI, pages 458, quoted by Trotsky in “The International after Lenin”

[4. We had to change the English version of this last sentence. The translation made by The Communist Party from which we took back here makes a political counter-sense: “Our current, on the other hand, argued that if the non-revolutionary situation did not allow the fundamental slogan of dictatorship to be raised (...), that does not mean that the Party’s program should be reaffirmed in its entirety on the theoretical and propaganda level… ” (