The Second Chinese Revolution

Andy Warhol, [untitled], 1972


The events, their consequences and the strategic lessons of the second Chinese revolution

In 1928, Trotsky, by then already expelled from the Communist Party (PC) of the USSR since 1927, opens the debate on strategies on the experience of the so-called second Chinese revolution, bringing light to the discussion about the characterization of the bourgeoisie in colonial countries, the interrelation between the active classes, the very class character of the Chinese revolutionary process, as well as the strategic and tactical mistakes made by the Stalin-Bukharin bloc, then hegemonic in the conduct of the Third International's policy in the period.

This debate is found, to a large extent, in the compilation of articles, letters and pamphlets, present in the book called, in Brazilian edition, Stalin, The Great Organizer of Defeats – The 3rd International after Lenin.

The events, their consequences and the strategic lessons of the second Chinese revolution are addressed as part of Trotsky's general critique of the draft program of the Communist International (CI), presented a few weeks before the sixth congress of the CI.

Such criticism focuses both on the programmatic points present in the project, and, mainly, on the concrete experiences of the class struggle in previous years, which made evident the mistakes of analysis and consideration, by the bureaucratic bloc, ahead of the CI and PC apparatus. from the USSR.

The historical experiences of zigzags between the opportunism and adventurism of the bureaucracy, evidenced by the defeat of the German revolution in 1923, thanks to the capitulation of the German communists to the left social democrats; for the betrayal of the so-called “Anglo-Russian Committee” in 1926, with the insistent adaptation of the communists to the opportunist bloc with the labor liberals of the so-called “General Council” who, finally, betrayed, at the time of the progression of the revolutionary movement, the mining strikes and the British general strike; and, finally, by the sequence of defeats of the second Chinese revolution, from 1925 to 1927, promoted by the Menshevik orientation of the CI to submit the Chinese communists and workers, organizationally and politically, to the Kuomintang, the party of the “nationalist” bourgeoisie, undermining independence and tying the hands of the Chinese proletariat, constitute the core of the strategic reflection expounded by Trotsky in this work.

From this set, we will focus on the strategic problem faced by the revolutionaries in China from 1925 to 1927, also approaching the Bolshevik experience, as presented by Lenin and Trotsky, on the relationship between democratic flags and the search for the constitution of a workers' power.


China before the nationalist revolution (Xinhai) until the second revolution: the background

Since the XNUMXth century, control of the Chinese territory had been in the hands of the so-called Qing dynasty, of Manchu origin, a nomadic people from the Manchuria region in Northeast Asia, who rose to power after overthrowing the previous Ming dynasty.

Its 268 years of rule (1644-1912) were marked by a rigid and corrupt administration of society's affairs, as well as a rising wave of revolts, foreign domination and general misery of life for the majority of its population.

It is during the Qing government that the two “opium wars” take place, as a result of western foreign pressure, mainly English, French and German, for the dispute and control of the, then restricted and resistant, Chinese market, its ports and, finally, of entire territories.

Already in the XNUMXth century, the Chinese subordination to Western countries was such that, as reparation after the defeat of the Qing, in the aforementioned wars, entire portions of its territory were handed over as territorial “concessions” in which the empire abdicated the right to exercise any kind of power. of sovereignty.

Between 1876 and 1879, in the provinces of Hebei, Shandong and Shanxi, the so-called “Great northern Chinese famine” occurred, in which, as a result of a severe drought resulting from the now known El Niño phenomenon, crops were lost for years. successive years, leading to the deaths of 9 to 13 million Chinese.

Due to conflicts, such as the “First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95)”, whose Chinese defeat cost the empire possession of Taiwan and influence over Korea, in addition to famine, millions of peasants played a leading role throughout the 19th century waves of migration to different regions of the empire and also to other nations.

The great penury and misery of the majority of the peasant population, with a very low per capita income, combined with the privileges accumulated by foreigners and their companies, in addition to the direct territorial control exercised by their troops in some important regions, greatly strengthened nationalist sentiment as well as gave rise to a series of revolts of varying character throughout the XNUMXth century and the beginning of the XNUMXth century.

Some of the most important being the Taiping Rebellion, which lasted about 14 years, being crushed by a coalition of Qing, British and American forces; the rebellion of the Islamic minorities of southern China; and, finally, the Boxer Revolt, which broke out in 1900, supported by part of the dynasty and which expressed a national reaction to foreign control, relying on methods of persecution and destruction of properties of western citizens, businessmen and Christians. The Boxer uprising developed into a major revolt crushed by a coalition of 8 foreign countries, deepening control over Chinese territory and converting China, in practice, into a colony shared by the capitalist powers of its time.

This wave of rebellions expressed the already drawn-out decay of the Qing who, through attempts at reform on the part of this same dynasty, with Emperor Guangxu as their greatest enthusiast, tried to pave the way for a political and economic modernization that would allow the relief of foreign control over the years. while they remained in power.

Frustrated in their attempts by the conservative wings of the empire, the paths to any peaceful reformist solution were closed and the nationalists followed the trail of property destruction, kidnapping and persecution of foreigners as their main method of struggle.

In 1905, the nationalist doctor Sun Yat Sen founded the embryo of the future nationalist party known as the Kuomintang, which became known as the Revolutionary League. As a grouping of nationalist students, merchants and republican bourgeois, in 1919 the party was formed.

Its program from the leagues was based on demanding the end of the Qing dynasty, the expulsion of foreigners, a parliamentary democracy as opposed to constitutional monarchy and an end to the plundering of national wealth by its companies, expressing the life-or-death intent of the Chinese bourgeoisie. in protecting the market for cheaper foreign products, while at the same time shedding the weight of the imperial dynasty.

This grouping of nationalist forces and ideas would prove fundamental to the spread of a revolutionary impulse among the troops and officers of the new armies organized according to Western patterns by the Qing as part of attempts to counterbalance foreign power.

Thus, as a result of this growing influence, in 1911 the so-called Wuchang revolt broke out, where the industrial and military center of these new armies was concentrated. The rebellion had officers and troops influenced by the ideas of Sun Yat Sen, at this point traveling in the United States, who, having been discovered by the Qing police, rose up and, over the months, until February 1912, won the support of various provincial governments in southern China against the dynasty.

This revolt marks the beginning of the nationalist or Xinhai revolution, which materializes with the return of Sun Yat Sen who, after briefly assuming the position of “president of the united provinces of China”, abdicates, for not having the military force capable of confronting the oligarchies. rural areas, in favor of the general commander of the northern troops, Yuan Shikai, to whom the last Manchu emperor handed over power.

Thus, Yuan assumes the position of first president of the new Republic of China, in which he will remain until 1916 when, after a brief attempt to reconstitute an imperial order, he dies.

His death opens the way to what became known as the “period of warlords”, in which Chinese national unity is compromised, giving way to the feudal-type dispersion of territories, dominated by rural and military elites (warlords), which they imposed a whole series of arbitrary taxes and domination on the peasant and city population.

This period will end only with the end of the so-called “northern expedition”, whose objective was the defeat of the warlords and which was carried out, with Soviet support, by the military chief of the Kuomintang, first commander of the military academy of Huangpu and ally of Sun Yat Sen, until his death, the rightist Chiang Kai Shek.


The first “united front” and the second Chinese revolution (1925-1927)

In response to the territorial division caused by the power vacuum, in 1924 the “first united front” was formed, a coalition involving the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China (PCCh) with the supposed objective of fighting the warlords.

Such a coalition, however, would prove to be, as León Trotsky analyzes, an example of open opportunism in the form of collaborationism. For the Bolshevik, the consequences of this policy would be the imposition of a Menshevik policy in a revolutionary era, by establishing a guideline that consciously prevented the independent action of the revolutionary party, the working masses and the working vanguard in relation to the Chinese national bourgeoisie. .

Over the years of development, the second Chinese revolution allowed us to analyze the depth of the reactionary and opportunistic character of the bourgeoisie in a colonial country like China. At the same time, the dominant policy carried out by the CI demonstrated all the error of historical appreciation of this character on the part of the Stalin-Bukharin bloc, the latter, author of the definition that the Chinese liberal bourgeoisie, organized around the Kuomintang, would fulfill a “objectively revolutionary” role in the struggle against imperialism.

An unfounded assertion (and recurrent in the justification of support for similar bourgeois sectors by representatives of Stalinism to this day), suffice it to note that even the fall of the dynasty, during the nationalist revolution inspired by Sun Yat Sen, took place with the direct participation of different nations imperialists, sometimes Japanese, sometimes French, sometimes American, which the nationalists sought hopefully as support for Chinese development, as Trotsky remarked on the accounts of Sun Yat Sen's memoirs.

We can say that the CCP/Kuomintang coalition starts from the foundation, in 1924, of the Huangpu military academy, with material, political assistance and advice from Soviet military officers, continuing until the final rupture, which occurred shortly after the massacre in Shanghai, in 1927.

This coalition goes through the notable events known as the “Coup de Canton” of 1926, when Chiang Kai Shek establishes a military dictatorship in the territory and crushes the general strike that constituted a true situation of dual power in Canton and Hong Kong, initiating the purge and the persecutions of communists within the Kuomintang. As a result, any communists would be prohibited from assuming leadership positions within the Kuomintang or in the nationalist army, establishing a true straitjacket against the CCP.

It is crucial to point out that in 1923, under the guidance of the CI, the third congress of the CPC had decided on the individual entry of communists into the Kuomintang, on the grounds that the character of the Chinese revolution would be “bourgeois-democratic” and that this party would be the “party of the working and peasant masses”, a kind of two-class party. In Stalin's words (in Stalin, problems of Leninism), the Kuomintang was a “bloc between workers and the petty bourgeoisie in the form of a party”.

This decision was accepted by the leadership of the Kuomintang, interested in Soviet support for the warlords, in its congress of 1924, the same year in which the fourth congress of the CCP met, where the first voices resistant to the dissolution of the communists within of the nationalist party, such as that of Peng Shu Tzu and Wang Fanxi.

Chiang Kai Shek, staunch anti-communist, demonstrated all the ambiguous character of his fight against imperialism, in the first place responding to the vital need of the Chinese bourgeoisie (especially the southern one) for a unified market, being led to face the warlords who imposed a feudal order to China (militarist rural oligarchies that divided the territory and were based, above all, in the north), only later tending to a clash with agents and sectors linked to the British imperialists.

As reports from communists at the time point out, his posture, however, in relation to Japanese imperialism and the others was, at best, vacillating, always ready to reach an agreement, favoring clashes with British imperialism.

Trotsky will point out how, in assessing the character of the national bourgeoisie, the central point is the analysis of its posture in relation to the revolutionary historical tasks of its country.

Liberation from the imperialist yoke was, in China in the 20s, one of the most central revolutionary tasks, given the fierce competition for markets and territorial possession, maintained under the force of arms, of ports and regions by the imperialist powers, particularly the British.

The agrarian problem, on the other hand, was an urgent task in view of the great concentration of land, especially when power was fragmented, characteristic of the period of warlords, who were nothing more than large rural landowners.

In relation to both, the Chinese bourgeoisie demonstrated its vacillating character, if not directly reactionary.

After the coup d'état in Guangzhou in 1926, known as the Zhongshan incident, as a result of the atypical movement of a ship from the nationalist fleet by a communist commander, interpreted by Kai Shek as preparation for an attempted coup, relations between the CCP and Kuomintang have deteriorated heavily. Soviet and Communist advisers in the army and the Nationalist Party were expelled and arrested.

As it was in the interests of Chiang Kai Shek and the Chinese bourgeoisie to win under the warlords, the aforementioned agreement was struck between the CI leadership bloc and Kai Shek, preventing the communists from assuming leadership positions, which would prove crucial to its crushing in the following events, with the beginning of the expedition to the north. In June 1926, the expedition departs and the fighting begins against the three main forces of warlords, continuing until 1928.

Deprived of their leadership posts and harassed by attempts by the right wings to end the collaboration between the CPC and the Kuomintang, the communists, through Borodin, Stalin's envoy to China, then focused on influencing the left wing of the Kuomintang, led by the disaffected of Kai Shek and leader of the nationalist government of Wuhan, Wan Tin Wei, found themselves in a precarious situation in 1927.

In response to the victories obtained during the expedition, such as the conquest of Wuhan and advances to Nanchang, workers in Shanghai, whose unions were under the influence of the CCP, staged an uprising against the warlords controlling the city. The insurrection is successful and, with the exception of the international settlements, the entire city remains under workers' control, until the arrival of the nationalist army.

Upon arrival, the nationalist army settles in the city. Wang Tin Wei also heads to the city and meets with Communist leader Chen Duxiu, reaffirming cooperation with the CCP. After his departure, Chiang Kai Shek, expressing the fear of the right wing of the Kuomintang, the Chinese national bourgeoisie and the imperialist delegations, determined by secret law the purge of communists from all provinces and, even with the support of secret sects of criminals, began the arrest and massacre of thousands of CCP militants in Shanghai, the dissolution of its provisional government and trade unions, and the expulsion of Kuomintang communists in all provinces.

Initially Wang Tin Wei and several members of the Kuomintang central committee condemned Kai Shek's action, leading to a split between the right and left wings of the party, expressed in the governments of Nanquing and Wuhan. Such rupture, however, did not last very long, with the following rupture by Wang Tin Wei with the CCP and with Stalin, in the face of the improvised and belated attempt by the communists to form an army of peasants and workers to resist attacks by the rightists.

The result of the well-known “Shanghai Massacre” was that of around 10 communists arrested or murdered in less than 20 days, throughout several provinces, such as Guangzhou, Nanquing, Fujon, among others.

Faced with the tragedy, the Stalin-Bukharin bloc did not have much choice but to decree the end of cooperation with the Kuomintang, leading to “bouts of coupism and adventurism”, which motivated, in the period of ebb of revolutionary forces and stabilization of the domination of the Kuomintang, the attempted insurrection and formation of a soviet from above, without election, artificially created by the leadership of the CP in Canton. Such an episode led to the decree of a “date for the insurrection” in an inopportune situation, in late 1927, causing it to be quickly crushed.

In this way, the imposition of a counterrevolutionary situation in the third “stage” of the second Chinese revolution is implemented, which, after the first, in which communist subordination to the national bourgeoisie at the head of the Kuomintang and its theory of the “bloc of the 4 classes” prevails. , and the second, of the creation of the government in Wuhan by the ephemeral left wing of the KMT, of Wan Tin Wei, in which the Communist International unsuccessfully sought refuge, saddles, with an adventurous turn at an inopportune moment, the general reflux of revolutionary forces.


Democratic flags and Soviet strategy

For Trotsky, as for Lenin, the problem of party orientation is closely linked to the analysis of power relations in a specific situation. The correct diagnosis, fruit of the analysis of the interrelation between the classes, is crucial for the determination of the revolutionary prognosis. The same cartel of political positions is not used in a revolutionary situation as in a non-revolutionary situation.

In this way, the author presents us with the mosaic of fatal errors committed by the orientation proposed by the IC and taken forward by the leadership of the PCCh, the result of a mistaken theoretical appreciation, both in relation to the characteristics of the Chinese revolution, and in relation to the correlation of forces during its implementation.

Already in 1925-27, at the height of the revolutionary struggle in Shanghai and the emergence of the general strike with self-organized committees in Guangzhou, if the Chinese party had constituted itself as an organization and oriented itself independently of the Kuomintang, forming soviets as the way to lead the masses “through the necessary stages”, from, including, the beginning of the march to the north, implementing the socialist program in the liberated regions, it was possible to strengthen the communist position, to form its army and, thus, to take over of power.

It so happens that this path was blocked by the false definition that the Chinese Revolution had an exclusively bourgeois-democratic character, which thus led the workers and peasants to obligatory subordination to the bourgeois leadership of the KMT and to the muzzle of communist action: the workers would be prohibited from taking power as long as a “democratic government” was not in place in China.

In this way, the leadership of the Stalin-Bukharin Bloc prohibited and hindered the adoption of the banner of formation of Soviets or workers' councils, for agitation and practice, during the entire revolutionary upsurge, since these should only be fomented "on the eve" of the insurrection, during the transition to the proletarian revolution. More absurdly, they even asserted its validity "only when solid success is assured (sic)".

Em Stalin – the great organizer of defeats, Trotsky points out how, from this essentially opportunist position, after Chiang Kai Shek's coup turn, implemented with the gag (1926) and the subsequent massacre of the communists (1927), the subsequent response was the ultra-left turn by the IC and Chinese leadership , as an attempt to make up for their past mistakes and “electrify the masses” in rout.

The convening of the Soviet "by proxy" in 1927, in Canton, was the tacit example of this turn, whose only effect was to facilitate the work of crushing the revolutionary vanguard, which still resisted in the situation of reflux opened with the strengthening of Kai Shek's position. and the KMT.

After such an event, Trotsky said, a new moment of stabilization would open up, in which the national bourgeoisie of the KMT, seeing itself politically safe, would make an effort to rebuild roads, exchange rate stabilization, rebuild transport and, thus, by an increase in commercial circulation that would provide it with a breath for the tasks of maintaining Chinese unification, industrialization and consolidation of its political domination.

In this scenario, the communist party would have to start from almost zero, probably suffering the hardships of a clandestine life, having to seek to merge, through all defensive struggles, unions, rural organizations, with the proletarian and peasant mass that would see a Numerical rise due to economic growth.

Under these circumstances, a total alteration of prognosis takes place and, thus, the struggle for the most elementary democratic flags, in a country whose experience with liberal democracy and parliamentarism is scarce, gains enormous prominence as the way to recompose the influence and relationship of the communists with the proletarian masses.

The Soviet flag, that is, the path to seizing power, acquires a propagandistic character, whose role is to open a perspective and point out the main objective, the seizure of power. However, in these circumstances, the struggle for the 8-hour day, for freedom of the press, organization, assembly, strike, as well as those referring to unresolved democratic tasks, such as the distribution of land to peasants and national unification, gain evidence. as ways to win over the masses and separate them from the influence of “bourgeois democratic” political currents, which sell the illusion of solving such problems through normal legal channels and respecting bourgeois property.

Trotsky, after the defeat of the insurrection and the puppet Soviet of Canton, takes up the resolution of the Chinese delegate to the Sixth Congress, Strakhov, to illustrate the catastrophic consequences of the turn of the Communist International: in it, it is affirmed that in China only the opportunists want to replace the watchword of Soviets by that of the National (Constituent) Assembly. In this way, the total misunderstanding regarding the diagnosis of the counterrevolutionary situation became evident and new defeats were prepared.

The author demonstrates how, in the counterrevolutionary situation that opened after 27, the task of preserving the proletariat from the influence of the petty-bourgeois democrats and regaining the ties and influence of the party among the masses, can only pass through the resolute defense of all democratic flags, and even , of a National Assembly. Such an experience is consistent with the Bolshevik line throughout the period after 1905, which guaranteed it the authority and ties within the class to foment the emergence of soviets and move towards insurrection in 1917.

Thus, the flag of the “third Chinese revolution”, the soviets, whose existence must take place as an “organizational form” of the “centripetal” forces, of unity, which a peak of proletarian struggle sets in motion, does not oppose the flags of democracy formal (bourgeois) form, including in its supreme form, a National Assembly, which stem from the defeat of the “second Chinese revolution”, in which, due to a false leadership, the revolutionary peak was lost and a moment of recomposition of forces opened , communist influence and leadership among the workers, a situation in which “centrifugal forces” predominate among the proletarians.

In this way, it becomes evident that not only in this situation does the defense of democratic flags play a strategic role, but also that it must have a privileged role in the agitation of the party. This agitation must not rival the socialist program and the Soviet perspective of organizing for struggle and insurrection. Its value lies precisely in the perspective it opens up to broader layers of workers.

Trotsky will remind us at the end of his comments on the Chinese question, that the importance of democratic slogans lies in the fact that they allow to lead to a revolutionary path and, in relation to the main objective, the seizure of power, they have only a secondary and secondary character. episodic. Its focus should be on combating all elements of the petty bourgeoisie that try to sell the illusion of solving the fundamental problems of the nation through parliament and bourgeois legality, demonstrating that power does not rest on votes or forms of liberal democracy, but in the monopoly of arms and property.

In this way, from the beginning of the possible high moments of the revolutionary struggle, the party must fight to foment the creation of councils (soviets) as organs of the open struggle of the masses, centralizing their forces, articulating the different sectors of proletarians in struggle, assuming tasks growing and rivaling the bourgeois power, which, sooner or later, can lead to insurrection and seizure of power.

In the worst case, there would be a broadening of workers' experience with the “supreme” organs of struggle and proletarian united front and future organs of power of a workers' state, a crucial element for future successful uprisings.

An example of this dynamic interrelationship can be seen in Russia in 1918. There, the democratic revolution, that is, the question of land, war and nationalities, was resolved by Soviet direct democracy, after the seizure of power. Even so, the Bolsheviks were in favor of maintaining the Constituent Assembly (AC), elected in 1917 and with a majority of conciliatory opportunists. Its occurrence fulfilled a unique propagandistic function: In its only day duration, the majority position of the CA was against the handing over of land to the peasants and defended the maintenance of the Russian participation in the First World War.

There could be, then, no clearer lesson of the superiority of Soviet democracy over bourgeois democracy before the masses, which led to the dissolution of the CA, without any difficulty, after one day of existence.

* André Bof He holds a degree in social sciences from USP.



BENTON, G. Prophets Unarmed: Chinese Trotskyists in Revolution, War, Jail,

and the Return from Limbo, Historical materialism book series. 2017.

ISAACS, H. The tragedy of the Chinese revolution. Haymarket Books. 2010.

TROTSKY, L. Stalin: the Great Organizer of Defeats. Sundermann Publisher. 2010

___ Problems of the Chinese Revolution, MIA, 1928.

___ Peasant War in China and the Proletariat, MIA, 1933.


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