The Chinese Question After the Sixth Congress
Excerpt from Leon Trotsky on China, pp 363 – 384
“There cannot even be any question,” said one of the Chinese delegates at the Congress, “of a consolidation of the power of the Guomindang” (Pravda, August 28, 1928). This is false. There most assuredly can be a “question” of a certain consolidation, even fairly considerable, of the power of the Guomindang for a certain period of time, even for a fairly important period.
The Chinese bourgeoisie, with an ease which it never expected, has won decisive victories, for the period in view, against the workers and the peasants. The re-awakening of its class consciousness which followed made itself clearly felt at the economic conference which met at the end of June in Shanghai and which represented, so to speak, the economic pre-parliament of the Chinese bourgeoisie. It showed that it wanted to reap the fruits of its triumph. Across this road stand the militarists and the imperialists with whose aid it vanquished the masses. The bourgeoisie wants customs autonomy, that stumbling block to economic independence, to the completest possible unification of China; the abolition of internal customs which disorganize the market; suppression of the arbitrariness of the military authorities who confiscate the rolling stock of the railroads and encroach upon private property; finally, the reduction of armaments, which today constitute a too heavy burden upon the economy of the country. It is to this, also, that belongs the creation of a unified currency and the establishment of order in administration. The bourgeoisie has formulated all its demands in its economic pre-parliament. From the formal point of view, the Guomindang has taken note of it, but being entirely divided among the regional military cliques, it constitutes at the present time an obstacle to the realization of these measures.
The foreign imperialists represent an even stronger one. The bourgeoisie considers, and not without cause, that it will exploit the contradictions between the imperialists with all the greater success, and that it will obtain an all the more favourable compromise with them, should it be successful in compelling the military cliques of the Guomindang to submit to the centralized apparatus of the bourgeois state. It is in this sense that the aspirations of the most “progressive” elements of the bourgeoisie and of the democratic petty bourgeoisie are now being directed. It is out of this that is born the idea of the National Assembly to crown the victories won, a means of bridling the militarists, the authorized state representative of the Chinese bourgeoisie for doing business with foreign capital. The economic animation which is already visible cannot but give courage to the bourgeoisie, obliging it to regard with particular hostility anything that impairs the regularity of the circulation of merchandise and disorganizes the national market. The first stage of economic stabilization will certainly increase the chances of success of Chinese parliamentarism and will consequently require that the Chinese Communist Party give evidence, in this question too, of timely political initiative.
For the Chinese bourgeoisie, having vanquished the workers and the peasants, it can only be a question of an arch-censored assembly, perhaps by simply giving formal representation to the commercial and industrial associations on the basis of which the economic conference of Shanghai was convoked. The petty-bourgeois democracy, which will inevitably begin to stir, seeing that the revolution declines, will formulate more “democratic” slogans. In this manner, it will seek to establish contact with the higher strata of the popular masses of town and country.
The “constitutional” development of China, at least in its next stage, is intimately bound up with the internal evolution of the Guomindang, in whose hands the state power is at present concentrated in every respect. The last plenum of the Guomindang, in August, decided, so far as can be understood, to convene for the first of January 1929 the Party congress which was adjourned for so long a time owing to the centre’s fear of losing power (as we see, the peculiarity of “China” is not very peculiar). The agenda of the congress includes the problem of the Chinese constitution. It is true that certain internal or external events may cause the collapse not only of the January congress of the Guomindang but also of the whole constitutional era of stabilization of the Chinese bourgeoisie. This eventuality always remains a possibility. But unless new factors intervene, the question of the state régime in China, the constitutional problems, will occupy the centre of public attention in the next period.
What attitude will the Communist Party take? What will it set up against the Guomindang’s draft of a constitution? Can the Communist Party say that since it is preparing, as soon as a new rise takes place, to create soviets in the future, it makes no difference to it up to then whether there exists or does not exist in China a National Assembly, that it matters little if it is censored or embraces the whole people? Such an attitude would be superficial, empty and passive.
The Communist Party can and should formulate the slogan of a Constituent Assembly with full powers, elected by universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage. In the process of agitation for this slogan, it will obviously be necessary to explain to the masses that it is doubtful if such an assembly will be convened, and even if it were, it would be powerless so long as the material power remains in the hands of the Guomindang generals. From this flows the possibility of broaching in a new manner the slogan of the arming of the workers and the peasants. The revival of political activity, connected with that of economy, will once more bring the agrarian problem to the foreground. But for a certain period it may find itself posed on the parliamentary field, that is, on the field of the attempts by the bourgeoisie and primarily by the petty-bourgeois democracy to “solve” it by legislative means. Obviously, the Communist Party cannot adapt itself to bourgeois legality, that is, capitulate before bourgeois property. It can and should have its own finished and rounded-out project for the solution of the agrarian problem on the basis of the confiscation of landed property exceeding a certain area, varying in accordance with the different provinces. The Communist project of the agrarian law must be in essence the formula of the future agrarian revolution. But the Communist Party can and should introduce its own formula into the struggle for the National Assembly and into the Assembly itself, should this ever be convened.
The slogan of the National (or Constituent) Assembly is thus intimately linked up with those of the eight-hour day, the confiscation of the land and the complete national independence of China. It is precisely in these slogans that the democratic stage of the development of the Chinese revolution will express itself. In the field of international policy, the Communist Party will demand an alliance with the USSR. By judiciously combining these slogans, by advancing each of them at the proper time, the Communist Party will be able to tear itself out of its clandestine existence, make a bloc with the masses, win their confidence, and thus speed the coming of the period of the creation of soviets and of the direct struggle for power.
Well-defined historical tasks are deduced from the democratic stage of the revolution. But by itself the democratic character of these tasks does not at all determine as yet what classes, and in which combination, will solve these problems. At bottom, all the great bourgeois revolutions solved problems of the same type, but they did it through a different class mechanism. By fighting for democratic tasks in China in the inter-revolutionary period, the Communist Party will re-assemble its forces, will check up on itself, upon its slogans and its methods of action. If it should succeed, in this connection, in passing over a period of parliamentarism (which is possible, even probable, but far from inevitable), this will permit the proletarian vanguard to scrutinize its enemies and adversaries by examining them through the prism of parliament. In the course of the pre-parliamentary and parliamentary period, this vanguard will have to conduct an intransigent struggle to win influence over the peasants, to guide the peasantry directly from the political point of view. Even if the National Assembly should be realized in an arch-democratic manner, the fundamental problems would nevertheless have to be solved by force. Through the parliamentary period, the Chinese Communist Party would arrive at a direct and immediate struggle for power, but by possessing a maturer historical basis, that is, surer premises for victory.
We have said that the existence of the parliamentary stage was probable, but not inevitable. A new disintegration of the country, as well as external causes, may prevent its realization; at all events, in the first case, a movement in favour of parliaments for various regions might come forward. But all this does not remove the importance of the struggle for a democratically convoked National Assembly which would by itself be an entering wedge between the groupings of the possessing classes and would broaden the framework of the proletariat’s spirit of activity.
We know in advance that all the “leaders” who preached the bloc of the four classes, the arbitration commissions instead of strikes, who gave telegraphic orders that the agrarian movement should not be extended, who counselled that the bourgeoisie should not be terrorized, who prohibited the creation of soviets, who subordinated the Communist Party to the Guomindang, who acclaimed Wang Jingwei as the leader of the agrarian revolution – that all these opportunists, guilty of the defeat of the revolution, will now attempt to outbid the left wing and to charge our way of putting the question with containing “constitutional illusions” and a “Social-Democratic deviation”. We deem it necessary to warn the Communists and the advanced Chinese workers in time against the hollow, false radicalism of yesterday’s favourites of Chiang Kai-shek. One cannot rid oneself of a historical process by faked quotations, by confusion, by mile-long resolutions, in general, by every sort of apparatus and literary trick, which seeks to escape facts and classes. Events will come and furnish the test. Those for whom the tests of the past are not enough have only to wait for the future. Only, let them not forget that this verification nevertheless is effected on the bones of the proletarian vanguard.
3) The Soviets and the Constituent Assembly
We hope that it is not necessary to raise here the general question of formal, that is, of bourgeois democracy. Our attitude towards it has nothing in common with the sterile anarchist negation. The slogan and the norms of democracy, from the formal point of view, are deduced in a different way for the various countries of a well-defined stage in the evolution of bourgeois society. The democratic slogans contain for a certain period not only illusions, not only deception, but also an animating historical force.
“So long as the struggle of the working class for full power is not on the order of the day, it is our duty to utilize every form of bourgeois democracy.”
Lenin, 20 January 1919, “Report at the Second All-Russian Trade Union Congress”
From the political point of view, the question of formal democracy is for us not only that of the attitude to be observed towards the petty-bourgeois masses, but also towards the worker masses, to the extent that the latter have not yet acquired a revolutionary class consciousness. Under the conditions of progress of the revolution, during the offensive of the proletariat, the eruption of the lower strata of the petty bourgeoisie in political life was manifested in China by agrarian revolts, by conflicts with the governmental troops, by strikes of all kinds, by the extermination of lower administrators. At the present moment, all the movements of this type are obviously diminishing. The triumphant soldiery of the Guomindang dominates society. Every day of stabilization will lead more and more to collisions between this militarism and the bureaucracy on the one hand, and on the other, not only the advanced workers but also the petty-bourgeois masses who predominate in the population of the country and towns, and even, within certain limits, the big bourgeoisie. Before these collisions develop to the point of becoming an open revolutionary struggle, they will pass, from all the available facts, through a “constitutional” stage. The conflicts between the bourgeoisie and its own military cliques will inevitably draw in the upper layer of the petty-bourgeois masses, through the medium of a “third party” or by other means. From the standpoint of economics and of culture, the former are extraordinarily feeble. Their political strength lies in their numbers. Therefore, the slogans of formal democracy win over, or are capable of winning over, not only the petty-bourgeois masses but also the broad working masses, precisely because they reveal to them the possibility, which is essentially illusory, of opposing their will to that of the generals, the country squires and the capitalists. The proletarian vanguard educates the masses by using this experience, and leads them forward.
The experience of Russia shows that during the progress of the revolution, the proletariat organized in soviets can, by a correct policy, directed towards the conquest of power, draw behind it the peasantry, fling it against the front of formal democracy embodied in the Constituent Assembly, and switch it on the rails of soviet democracy. In any case, these results were not attained by simply opposing the soviets to the Constituent Assembly, but by drawing the masses towards the soviets while maintaining the slogans of formal democracy up to the very moment of the conquest of power and even after it.
“That in the Russia of September-November 1917, the working class of the cities, the soldiers and the peasants, as a result of a number of special conditions, found themselves admirably prepared for the adoption of the soviet régime and the dissolution of the most democratic of the bourgeois parliaments – that is an undeniable and perfectly established historical fact. Yet the Bolsheviks did not boycott the Constituent Assembly; far from it, they participated in the elections not only before but even after the conquest of political power by the proletariat….
“Even a few weeks before the victory of the soviet republic, even after this victory, the participation in a parliament of bourgeois democracy, far from injuring the revolutionary proletariat, helps it to prove to the backward masses that these parliaments deserve to be dissolved, facilitates the success of their dissolution, brings nearer the moment when it could be said that bourgeois parliamentarism had ‘had its day politically’.”
Lenin, 1920, “Left Wing” Communism—an Infantile Disorder
When we adopted direct practical measures to disperse the Constituent Assembly, I recall that Lenin insisted particularly on having sent to Petrograd one or two regiments of Lettish light infantry, composed largely of agricultural workers. “The Petrograd garrison is almost entirely peasants; may it not hesitate in face of the Constituent?” That is how Lenin formulated his preoccupations. It was not at all a question of political “traditions”; indeed, the Russian peasantry could have no serious traditions of parliamentary democracy. The essence of the question lies in the fact that the peasant mass, aroused to historical life, is not at all inclined to place confidence in advance in a leadership coming from the cities, even if it is proletarian, especially during a non-revolutionary period; this mass seeks a simple political formula which would express directly its own political strength, that is, the predominance of numbers. The political expression of the domination of the majority is formal democracy.
Naturally, to affirm that the popular masses can and should never and under no conditions “leap” over the “constitutional” step, would be to manifest a ridiculous pedantry in the spirit of Stalin. In certain countries, the epoch of parliamentarism lasts long decades and even centuries. In Russia, it was only prolonged for the few years of the pseudo-constitutional régime and the one day of existence of the Constituent. From the historical point of view, one can perfectly well conceive of situations where even these few years and this one day would not exist.
Also, if the revolutionary policy had been correct, if the Communist Party had been completely independent of the Guomindang, if the soviets had been established in 1925-27, the revolutionary development could already have led China today to the dictatorship of the proletariat by passing beyond the democratic phase. But even in that case, it is not impossible that the formula of the Constituent Assembly, not tried by the peasantry at the most critical moment, not tested, and consequently still containing illusions, could, at the first serious difference between the peasantry and the proletariat, on the very morrow of the victory, become the slogan of the peasants and the petty bourgeoisie of the cities against the proletariat. Important conflicts between the proletariat and the peasantry, even in face of favourable conditions for the alliance, are quite inevitable, as is witnessed by the experience of the October revolution. Our greatest advantage lay in the fact that the majority of the Constituent Assembly, which had grown in the struggle of the dominant parties for the continuation of the war and against the confiscation of the land by the peasants, had profoundly compromised itself, even in the eyes of the peasantry, already at the moment of the convocation of the Constituent Assembly.
* * *
How does the resolution of the Congress, adopted after a reading of Bukharin’s report, characterize the present period of the development of China and the tasks to be deduced from this period? Paragraph 54 of this resolution says:
“At the present time, the principal task of the Party, in the period between two waves of revolutionary progress, is to fight to win the masses, that is, mass work among the workers and the peasants’ the re-establishment of their organizations, the utilization of all discontentment against the landed proprietors, the bourgeoisie, the generals, the foreign imperialists …”
There is really a classic example of double meaning in the manner of the most renowned oracles of antiquity. The present period is characterized as being “between two waves of revolutionary progress”. We know this formula. The Fifth Congress applied it to Germany. A revolutionary situation does not develop uniformly, but by successive waves of ebb and flow. This formula has been chosen with premeditation, so as to be able to interpret it as recognizing the existence of a revolutionary situation, in which there takes place simply a “calm” before the tempest. At all events, they will also be able to explain it by pretending to acknowledge a whole period between two revolutions. In both cases, they will be able to begin the new resolution with the words: “as we foresaw” or “as we predicted”.
Every historical prognosis inevitably contains a conditional element. The shorter the period over which this prognosis extends, the greater is this element. In general, it is impossible to establish a prognosis with which the leaders of the proletariat would, in the future, no longer have need of analysing the situation. A prognosis has not the significance of command but rather of an orientation. One can and one must make reservations on the point up to which it is conditional. In certain situations, one can furnish a number of variants of the future, delimiting them with reflection. One can, finally, in a turbulent atmosphere, completely abandon prognosis for the time being and confine oneself to giving the advice: Wait and see! But all this must be done clearly, openly, honestly. However, in the course of the last five years, the prognoses of the Communist International have constituted not directives but rather traps for the leaderships of the parties of the various countries. The principal aim of the “prognoses” is: to inspire veneration towards the wisdom of the leadership, and in case of defeat, to save its “prestige”, that supreme fetish of weak people. It is a method of oracular announcement and not of Marxian investigation. It presupposes the existence on the scene of action of “scapegoats”. It is a demoralizing system. The ultra-leftist mistake committed by the German leadership in 1923 flowed precisely from this same perfidious, double-meaning manner of formulating the question on the subject of the “two waves of revolutionary progress”. The resolution of the Sixth Congress can cause just as many misfortunes.
We have known the wave of the period before Shanghai, and then that of Wuhan. There have been many more partial and localized waves. They all rose in the general revolutionary progress of 1925-27. But this historical ascension is exhausted. This must be understood and said clearly. Important strategic consequences are to be deduced from it.
The resolution speaks of the necessity of utilizing “all discontentment against the landed proprietors, the bourgeoisie, the generals, the foreign imperialists”. This is incontestable, but it is too indefinite. Utilize it how? If we find ourselves between two waves of continuous revolutionary progress, then every manifestation of discontentment, no matter how small its importance, can be considered as the famous (according to Zinoviev-Bukharin) “beginning of the second wave”. Then the propaganda slogan of the armed insurrection will have to be transformed immediately into a slogan of action. From this can grow a “second wave” of putschism. The Party will utilize quite differently the discontentment of the masses, if it considers it by reckoning with a correct historical perspective. But the Sixth Congress does not possess this “bagatelle”, a correct historical perspective, on any question. The Fifth Congress was a failure because of this deficiency. It is on this score that the whole Communist International can also break its neck.
After having once more condemned the putschistic tendencies for which it itself prepares the ground, the resolution of the Congress continues:
“On the other hand, certain comrades have fallen into an opportunist error: they put forward the slogan of the National Assembly.”
The resolution does not explain what the opportunism of this slogan consists of. The scalded cat fears even cold water.
Only the Chinese delegate, Strakhov, in his closing speech on the lessons of the Chinese revolution, tried to furnish an explanation. Here is what he says:
“From the experience of the Chinese revolution, we see that when the revolution in the colonies [?] draws close to the decisive moment, the question is clearly posed: Either the dictatorship of the landed proprietors and the bourgeoisie, or that of the proletariat and the peasantry.”
Naturally, when the revolution (and certainly not only in the colonies) “draws close to the decisive moment”, then every mode of action in the Guomindang style, that is to say, all collaborationism, is a crime involving fatal consequences: one can then conceive only of a dictatorship of the possessors or a dictatorship of the workers. But as we have already seen, even in such moments, in order to triumph over parliamentarism as revolutionists, one must have nothing in common with the sterile negation of it. Strakhov, however, goes even further:
“There [in the colonies], bourgeois democracy cannot exist; only the bourgeois dictatorship, operating openly, is possible It cannot have there any constitutional path.”
This is a doubly inexact extension of a correct thought. If, during “decisive moments” of the revolution, bourgeois democracy is inevitably torpedoed (and that not only in the colonies), this in no wise signifies that it is impossible during inter-revolutionary periods. But it is Strakhov and the whole Congress who do not want to recognize that the “decisive moment”, during which it was precisely the Communists who occupied themselves with the worst democratic fictions within the Guomindang, has already passed. Now, before a new “decisive moment”, a long period must be passed through, during which the old questions will have to be approached in a new manner.
To assert that in the colonies there can be no constitutional or parliamentary periods of evolution, is to renounce the utilization of methods of struggle which are essential to the highest degree, and is, above all, to make hard for oneself a correct political orientation, by driving the Party into a blind alley.
To say that for China, as, moreover, for all the other states of the world, there is no way out towards a free, in other words, a socialist development, by following the parliamentary path, is one thing, is right. But to claim that in the evolution of China, or of the colonies, there can be no constitutional period or stage, that is another thing, that is wrong. There was a parliament in Egypt, which is at the present time dissolved. It may come to life again. There is a parliament in Ireland, in spite of the semi-colonial situation of that country. The same holds true for all the states of South America, not to speak of the dominions of Great Britain. There exist semblances of “parliaments” in India. They can also develop later on: in such matters, the British bourgeoisie is pretty flexible. What reason is there for asserting that after the crushing of the revolution which has just taken place, China will not pass through a parliamentary or pseudo-parliamentary phase, or that it will not go through a serious political struggle to gain this stage of evolution? Such an assertion has no foundation at all.
The same Strakhov says that it is precisely the Chinese opportunists who aspire to substitute the slogan of the National Assembly for that of soviets. This is possible, probable, even inevitable. It was proved by all the experience of the world labour movement, of the Russian movement in particular, that the opportunists are the first to cling to parliamentary methods, in general to everything which resembles parliamentarism, or even approaches it. The Mensheviks clung to activity in the Duma as against revolutionary activity. The utilization of parliamentary methods inevitably brings up all the dangers connected with parliamentarism: constitutional illusions, legalism, a penchant for compromises, etc. These dangers and maladies can only be combated by a revolutionary course in policies. But the fact that the opportunists put forward the slogan of the struggle for the National Assembly in no way constitutes an argument in favour of a formal, negative attitude on our part towards parliamentarism. After the coup d’état of June 3, 1907 in Russia, the majority of the leading elements of the Bolshevik Party favoured boycotting the mutilated and tricked Duma. This did not prevent Lenin from coming forward resolutely in favour of the utilization of even the “parliamentarism” of June 3, at the Party conference which at that time still united the two factions.
Lenin was the only Bolshevik who voted with the Mensheviks in favour of participation in the elections. Obviously, Lenin’s “participation” had nothing in common with that of the Mensheviks, as was shown by the whole subsequent march of events; it was not opposed to the revolutionary tasks, but served them for the epoch included between two revolutions. While utilizing the counter-revolutionary pseudo-parliament of June 3, our party, in spite of its great experience of the soviets of 1905, continued to conduct the struggle for the Constituent Assembly, that is, for the most democratic form of parliamentary representation. The right to renounce parliamentarism must be won by uniting the masses around the Party and by leading them to struggle openly for the conquest of power. It is naïve to think that one can simply substitute for this work the mere renunciation of the revolutionary utilization of the contradictory and oppressive methods and forms of parliamentarism. This is the crudest error of the resolution of the Congress, which makes here a flippant ultra-leftist leap.
Just see how everything is turned topsy-turvy. According to the logic of the present leadership, and in conformity with the sense of the resolutions of the Sixth Congress of the Communist International, China is not approaching its 1917, but rather its 1905. That is why the leaders conclude mentally: Down with the slogan of formal democracy! There really does not remain a single joint which the epigones have not taken care to dislocate. How can the slogan of democracy, and especially the most radical one, the democratic representation of the people, be rejected in the condition of a non-revolutionary period, if the revolution has not accomplished its most immediate tasks from the point of view of the unity of China and its purging of all its feudal and military-bureaucratic rubbish?
So far as I know, the Chinese party has not had a program of its own. The Bolshevik Party arrived at the October revolution and accomplished it while armed with its old program, in the political part of which the slogans of democracy occupied an important place. In his time, Bukharin attempted to suppress this minimum program, just as he came forward later on against transitional demands in the program of the Communist International. But this attitude of Bukharin’s remained recorded in the history of the Party only as an anecdote. As is known, it was the dictatorship of the proletariat which accomplished the democratic revolution in Russia. The present leadership of the Communist International absolutely does not want to understand this either. But our party led the proletariat to the dictatorship only because it defended with the greatest energy, doggedness and devotion all the slogans and demands of democracy, including popular representation based upon universal suffrage, responsibility of the government to the representatives of the people, etc. Only such an agitation permits the Party to preserve the proletariat from the influence of petty-bourgeois democracy, to undermine its influence among the peasantry, to prepare the alliance of the workers and the peasants, and to draw into its ranks the most resolute revolutionary elements. Was all this nothing but opportunism? Spoitie, svietik, nie stydities!
* * *
Strakhov says that we have the slogan of soviets and that only opportunists can substitute for it the slogan of the National Assembly. This argument unmasks in most exemplary manner the erroneous character of the Congress resolution. In the discussion, nobody confuted Strakhov. On the contrary, his position was approved; it was ratified in the principal tactical resolution. It is only now that one sees clearly how numerous are those in the present leadership who went through the experience of one, two, or even three revolutions, letting themselves be drawn in by the course of events and the leadership of Lenin, but without themselves reflecting upon the meaning of what was happening and without assimilating the greatest lessons of history. One is therefore obliged to repeat again certain elementary truths.
In my criticism of the program of the Communist International, I have shown how the epigones have monstrously disfigured and mutilated the thought of Lenin, which affirms that the soviets are organs of insurrection and organs of power. From it was drawn the conclusion that soviets can be created only on the “eve” of the insurrection. This grotesque idea found its most consummate expression in the same resolution, recently revealed by us, of the November Plenum of the Chinese Central Committee held last year. It says there:
“Soviets can and should be created as organs of revolutionary power only when we are in the midst of an important, incontestable progress of the revolutionary movement of the masses and when the solid victory of the uprising is assured.”
The first condition: “important progress”, is incontestable. The second condition: “guarantee of victory”, and what is more, of a “solid” one, is simply pedantic stupidity. In the rest of the text of the resolution this stupidity, however, is developed at length:
“The creation of soviets obviously cannot be approached when victory is not yet absolutely guaranteed, for it might then happen that all attention is concentrated solely upon elections to the soviets and not upon the military struggle, as a consequence of which petty-bourgeois democratism might install itself, which would weaken the revolutionary dictatorship and would create a danger for the leadership of the Party.”
The spirit of Stalin, refracted through the prism of the infant prodigy, Lominadze, hovers over these immortal lines. However, all this is simply absurd. During the Hong Kong strike, during the Shanghai strikes, during all the subsequent violent progress of the workers and the peasants, soviets should and could have created as organs of an open revolution mass struggle which, sooner or later and not at all at one blow, would lead to the insurrection and the conquest of power. If, in the phase under consideration, the struggle did not rise to the point of insurrection, obviously the soviets too would be reduced to nothing. They cannot become “normal” institutions of the bourgeois state. But in that case, too, that is, if the soviets are liquidated before the insurrection, the working masses make an enormous acquisition, familiarizing themselves with the soviets in practice, identifying themselves with their mechanism. During the following stage of the revolution, the more successful and more extensive creation of soviets will thus be guaranteed: although, even in the phase that follows it may be that they do not lead directly, not only to victory, but even not to the insurrection.
Let us recall this very distinctly: the slogan of soviets can and must be put forward from the first stages of the revolutionary progress of the masses. But it must be a real progress. The working masses must flock to the revolution, rally under its standard. The soviets furnish an expression, from the organizational point of view, to the centripetal force of revolutionary progress. But in this way, it holds true at the same time that during the period of revolutionary ebb-tide and of the development of centrifugal tendencies in the masses, the – slogan of soviets will be doctrinaire, lifeless, or what is just as bad, it will be the slogan of adventurists. The Canton experience showed this better than anything else, in a striking and tragic manner.
At the present time, the slogan of soviets in China has an importance only from the point of view of perspective, and in this sense it has a propaganda value. One would not be conforming to anything at all by opposing the soviets, the slogan of the third Chinese revolution, to the National Assembly, that is, to the slogan that flows from the débâcle of the second Chinese revolution. Abstentionism, in an inter-revolutionary period, especially after a cruel defeat, would be a suicidal policy.
One might say (for there are many sophists in the world) that the resolution of the Sixth Congress does not at all mean abstentionism: there is no National Assembly, nobody is as yet convoking it or promising to convoke it, consequently there is nothing to boycott. Such reasoning, however, would be too pitiable, purely formal, infantile, Bukharinistic. If the Guomindang were compelled to proclaim the convocation of a National Assembly, would we boycott it in the given situation? No. We would pitilessly unmask the lie and duplicity of the Guomindang’s parliamentarism, the constitutional illusions of the petty bourgeoisie: we would demand the complete extension of electoral rights; at the same time we would throw ourselves into the political arena to oppose, in the struggle for the parliament, in the course of the elections and in the parliament itself, the workers and the poor peasants to the possessing class and their parties. Nobody would presume to foretell how great would be the results thus obtained for the present party, debilitated and reduced to a clandestine existence. If the policy were correct, the advantages could be very considerable. But in this case, is it not clear that the Party can and must not only participate in the elections if the Guomindang promulgates them, but also demand that they be held by mobilizing the masses around this slogan?
From the political point of view the question is already posed, every new day will confirm it. In our criticism of the program, we spoke of the probability of a certain economic stabilization in China. The newspapers have since then brought dozens of indications of the economic revival that is beginning (see the Bulletin of the Chinese University). Now it is no longer a supposition, but a fact, even though it is only in its very first phase. But it is just in the course of the first phase that the tendencies must be perceived, otherwise it will not be a revolutionary policy that is pursued, but a dragging at the tail of events.
The same holds true for the political struggle around the questions of the constitution. This is now no longer a theoretical forecast, that is, a simple possibility, but something more concrete. It is not for nothing that the Chinese delegate frequently recurs to the theme of the National Assembly; it is not by chance that the Congress thought it necessary to adopt a special (and a particularly false) resolution on the subject of this question. It is not the Opposition which has posed this question, but rather the evolution of Chinese political life. Here too one must know how to perceive a tendency at the very outset. The more audaciously and resolutely the Communist Party comes forward with the slogan of the democratic Constituent Assembly, the less place it will leave all sorts of intermediary parties, the more solid will be its own success.
If the Chinese proletariat is obliged to live a few more years (even if it were only another year) under the régime of the Guomindang, could the Chinese Communist Party abandon the struggle for the extension of legal possibilities of all sorts, for the freedom of press, of assembly, of organization, of strike, etc.? Were it to abandon this struggle, it would transform itself into a lifeless sect. But that is a struggle on the democratic plane. Soviet power signifies the monopoly of the press, of assembly, etc., in the hands of the proletariat. Perhaps the Chinese Communist Party will put forward these slogans precisely at this time? In the situation under consideration, it would be a mixture of childishness and madness. The Communist Party is fighting at present not for power, but to maintain, to consolidate and to develop its contact with the masses for the sake of the struggle for power in the future. The struggle to win the masses is inevitably bound up with the struggle conducted against the violence which the Guomindang bureaucracy practices towards the mass organizations, their meetings, their press, etc. During the period that is to follow immediately, will the Communist Party fight for freedom of the press or will it leave this to be done by a “third party”? Will the Communist Party confine itself to presenting democratic, isolated, partial demands (freedom of the press, of assembly, etc.), which would amount to liberal reformism, or will it put forward the most consistent slogans of democracy? In the political sphere, this signifies popular representation based upon universal suffrage.
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One might ask if the Democratic Constituent Assembly is “realizable” after a defeated revolution in a semi-colonial China encircled by the imperialists. This question can only be answered by conjectures. But the simple criterion of the possibility of realizing some demand, in the face of conditions existing in bourgeois society or in a given state of this society, is not decisive for us. It is very probable, for example, that the monarchical power and the House of Lords will not be swept away before the establishment of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. Nevertheless, the British Communist Party must formulate among its partial demands this one as well.
It is not by devoting oneself to empirical conjectures as to the possibility of realizing some transitional demand or not, that the question relating to it is settled. It is its social and historical character that decides: is it progressive from the point of view of the subsequent development of society? Does it correspond to the historical interests of the proletariat? Does it strengthen the consciousness of the latter? Does it bring it closer to its dictatorship? Thus for example, the demand for the prohibition of trusts is petty-bourgeois and reactionary and, as the experiences of America have shown, it is completely utopian. Under certain conditions, on the contrary, it is entirely progressive and correct to demand workers’ control over the trusts, even though it is more than doubtful that this will ever be realized within the framework of the bourgeois state. The fact that this demand is not satisfied so long as the bourgeoisie rules must push the workers to the revolutionary overthrow of the latter. Thus, the impossibility of realizing a slogan from the political point of view can be no less fruitful than the relative possibility of putting it into practice.
Will China come for a certain period to democratic parliamentarism? What will be the degree of its democratism? What strength and what duration will it have? All this is a matter of conjecture. But it would be radically wrong to base oneself on the supposition that parliamentarism is unrealizable in China in order to conclude that we cannot hale the cliques of the Guomindang before the tribunal of the Chinese people. The idea of the representation of the entire people, as has been shown by the experience of all the bourgeois revolutions and especially those which liberated nationalities, is the most elementary, the most simple and the one most apt to embrace really vast popular strata. The more the ruling bourgeoisie resists this demand of the “entire people”, and the more the proletarian vanguard rallies around our banner, the riper the political conditions will become to win the real victory against the bourgeois state, little matter whether it be the military state of the Guomindang or the parliamentary.
It may be said: a real Constituent Assembly will not be convoked except through the soviets, that is through the insurrection. Would it not be simpler to begin with soviets and to confine oneself to them? No, it would not be simpler. It would be just like putting the cart before the horse. It is very likely that it will not be possible to convoke the Constituent Assembly except through the soviets and that in this way the Assembly might become superfluous even before its birth. This may happen, just as it may not happen. If the soviets, through whose medium a “real” Constituent Assembly might be called together, were already here, we would see if it was still necessary to proceed with its convocation. But there are no soviets at the present time. One cannot start to establish them except at the beginning of a new advance of the masses, which may take place in two or three years, in five years, or more. There are no soviet traditions at all in China. The Communist International conducted an agitation in that country against soviets and not in favour of them. In the meantime, however, constitutional questions are beginning to emerge from every cranny.
Can the Chinese revolution, in the course of its new stage, leap over formal democracy? It follows from what has been said above that, from the historical point of view, such a possibility is not excluded. But it is entirely inadmissible to approach the question guided by this possibility, which is the most distant and the least likely. It is to manifest light-mindedness in the political domain. The Congress adopts its decisions for more than one month, and even, as we know, for more than a year. How then can the Chinese Communists be left bound hand and foot, by designating as opportunism the form of political struggle which, from the next stage onwards, may acquire the greatest importance?
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It is incontestable that by entering the path of struggle for the Constituent Assembly, the Menshevik tendencies in the Chinese Communist Party may be revived and strengthened. It is no less important to fight against opportunism when the policy is directed towards parliamentarism or towards the struggle for it, than when one is confronted with a direct revolutionary offensive. But, as has already been said, it does not follow from this that the democratic slogans should be called opportunistic, but that guarantees and Bolshevik methods of struggle for these slogans must be worked out. In broad outline, these methods and guarantees are the following:
- The Party must have in mind and must explain that in comparison with its principal aim, the conquest of power with arms in hand, the democratic slogans have only an auxiliary, a provisional, an episodic character. Their fundamental importance consists of the fact that they permit us to debouch on the revolutionary road.
- In the process of the struggle for these slogans of democracy, the Party must shatter the constitutional and democratic illusions of the petty bourgeoisie and of the reformists who express their opinions, by explaining that power in the state is not obtained by the democratic forms of the vote, but by property and by the monopoly of information and armaments.
- While making full use of the differences of views existing within the petty and the big bourgeoisie on the subject of constitutional questions; while opening up every possible road towards an openly exercised field of activity; while fighting for the legal existence of the trade unions, the workers’ clubs, the labour press; while creating, whenever and wherever possible, legal political organizations of the proletariat under the direct influence of the Party; while trying as soon as possible to legalize more or less the various fields of activity of the Party; the latter must above all assure the existence of its illegal, centralized, well-built apparatus, directing all the branches of the Party’s activity, legal as well as illegal.
- The Party must develop systematic revolutionary work among the troops of the bourgeoisie.
- The leadership of the Party must implacably unmask all the opportunist hesitations seeking a reformist solution of the problems confronting the proletariat of China and must cut off all the elements who consciously pull towards the subordination of the Party to bourgeois legalism.
It is only by taking these conditions into account that the Party will preserve the necessary proportions in the various branches of its activity, will not let pass a new turn in the situation which leads towards a revolutionary advance, so that its first steps proceed along the road of the creation of soviets, of mobilizing the masses around them and of opposing them to the bourgeois state, with all its parliamentary and democratic camouflage, should this happen to be realized.