Leon Trotsky
Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Sri Lanka)

The Chinese Revolution

8-1. In China, the political difficulties confronting the working class in the immediate post-war period were presented very starkly. In the wake of the defeat of the 1925–27 revolution, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) retreated to the rural hinterland and increasingly based itself on the peasantry. While retaining its links with the Third International and the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, the CCP’s turn to the peasantry shifted the party’s class axis away from the proletariat. The CCP’s Stalinist ideology based on the two-stage theory and class collaboration with the national bourgeoisie was also infused with peasant populism and the strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare. Mao Zedong, who had always been on the right-wing of the party, assumed leadership of the CCP in 1935 and accentuated the party’s orientation towards the peasantry. The Chinese Left Opposition, which formed after 1927, remained in the urban centres and oriented to the working class despite widespread repression by the Kuomintang, which was aided by the Stalinists.

8-2. In a farsighted letter to Chinese supporters in 1932, Trotsky warned of the dangers that the working class could face from Mao’s peasant armies. Explaining the fundamentally different class orientation of the peasantry, Trotsky wrote: “The peasant movement is a mighty revolutionary factor insofar as it is directed against the large landowners, militarists, feudalists and usurers. But in the peasant movement itself are very powerful proprietary and reactionary tendencies and at a certain stage it can become hostile to the workers and sustain that hostility already equipped with arms. He who forgets about the dual nature of the peasantry is not a Marxist. The advanced workers must be taught to distinguish from among ‘communist’ labels and banners the actual social processes.”[1]

8-3. Trotsky further explained: “The true Communist Party is the organisation of the proletarian vanguard. But we must not forget that the working class of China has been kept in an oppressed and amorphous condition during the last four years, and only recently has it evinced signs of revival. It is one thing when a Communist Party, firmly resting on the flower of the urban proletariat, strives through the workers to lead a peasant war. It is altogether another thing when a few thousand or even tens of thousands of revolutionists, who are truly communists or only take the name, assume the leadership of a peasant war without having any serious support from the proletariat. This is precisely the situation in China. This acts to augment to an extreme the danger of conflicts between the workers and armed peasants.”[2]

8-4. The CCP, following the line dictated from Moscow, formed a Popular Front alliance with Chiang Kai-shek’s regime against the Japanese armies that invaded China in 1937. Trotsky insisted that the war by China, an oppressed nation, against Japanese imperialism had a progressive content and opposed sectarian tendencies that branded his stance as “social patriotism” and “a capitulation to Chiang Kai-shek.” He stressed, however, that in supporting the war the working class had to retain its political independence. Instead, in forging an alliance with the Kuomintang, the CCP subordinated the interests of the masses to the bourgeoisie—renouncing its own land reform program and explicitly abandoning the interests of workers so as not to offend the KMT landlords and capitalists. Following the Japanese defeat, the CCP, in line with Stalin’s policy of collaboration with bourgeois parties and governments in Europe and Asia, sought to continue its wartime alliance with the KMT.

8-5. Despite obvious signs that Chiang Kai-shek, with US backing, was preparing for war against the CCP, it was not until October 1947, as the Cold War was emerging, that Mao finally called for the overthrow of the KMT regime. Facing the prospect of military annihilation at the hands of a KMT offensive in Manchuria, the CCP revived its policy of land reform in order to exploit the widespread ferment among the peasantry. Chiang Kai-shek’s subsequent defeat had less to do with Mao’s supposed strategic genius, than the inherent weakness of the thoroughly corrupt and oppressive KMT regime, which lacked any significant political base, was besieged by financial crisis and confronted an immense revolutionary upheaval of the working class and peasantry. Mao’s armies defeated the KMT troops in Manchuria with the help of captured Japanese weapons handed over by the Soviet army and encountered no major military resistance as they swept south. The People’s Republic of China was proclaimed in October 1949.

8-6. The CCP modelled its new regime on the “bloc of four classes” by including elements of the bourgeoisie who had not fled to Taiwan and by initially limiting the extent of land reform and the nationalisation of industry. However, such was the extent of the revolutionary movement and the popular expectations of the CCP, which many identified, falsely, with the heritage of the Russian Revolution, that the Stalinists were compelled to go further than they intended. Confronted with the danger of imperialist intervention as a result of the Korean War, the regime was forced to make concessions to workers and peasants as it mobilised the population for war. In rural areas, the expropriation of the landlord class was completed. As part of its “three anti” and “five anti” campaigns in 1951–52, the CCP targeted industrialists and merchants for their “corrupting influence” on the party and the state. In 1953, the first five-year plan was drawn up and subsequently most remaining private businesses were nationalised. None of the complex economic and social problems facing the government, however, could be resolved on the basis of the reactionary Stalinist theory of “Socialism in One Country.” The CCP created a series of disasters as it lurched from one pragmatic, nationalist policy to the next—including a devastating famine in the late 1950s produced by the “Great Leap Forward.”

8-7. The bureaucratic CCP regime acted at every point as a brake on the revolutionary movement of the masses, especially the working class. As Mao’s troops entered the cities and towns in 1949, the CCP imposed severe restrictions on any activity by workers. Strikes were suppressed by force with instances of workers being gunned down by troops or arrested and executed. The CCP’s organic hostility to the independent political mobilisation of the proletariat found its highest expression in the ruthless crackdown on Chinese Trotskyists, which began in 1949 and continued down to the mass detentions of 1952.

8-8. In the international arena, the CCP continued its alliance with the Soviet Union and relied heavily on Soviet experts and aid in the 1950s to expand the economy, particularly to develop heavy industry. The CCP’s economic management of nationalised industries was closely modelled on Stalinist bureaucratic planning in the Soviet Union. The Sino-Soviet split in 1962 reflected the competing national interests of the two Stalinist bureaucracies. The Soviet Union backed India against China in the 1962 Sino-Indian border war. The CCP, which was critical of Khrushchev’s exposure of Stalin’s crimes in his 1956 secret speech, never broke with the basic conceptions of Stalinism and continued to defend all of its betrayals. The CCP’s advocacy of the two-stage theory and an alliance with the bourgeoisie in backward countries produced catastrophes for the masses of Asia, including the bloody 1965–66 Indonesian coup.


Leon Trotsky on China, p. 528.


Ibid., p. 525.