While Trotsky and the Left Opposition fought for the implementation of a correct economic policy within the Soviet Union, they insisted that the fate of the revolutionary regime depended on the extension of the revolution beyond the borders of the USSR. Without the victory of the working class in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and North America, the Soviet state would not survive. It was on this very question that the conflict between the Left Opposition and the Stalinist bureaucracy centered. In 1924 Stalin, with the support of Bukharin, proposed that socialism could be built on a nationalist basis in the USSR.
The promulgation of the theory of “socialism in one country” represented a fundamental repudiation of an essential tenet of Marxist theory and the world revolutionary perspective upon which the October Revolution had been based. It marked a turning point in the history of the USSR: the policies of the Soviet Union were severed by the bureaucracy from the fate of the world socialist revolution. The material interests that found expression in the program of “national socialism” were those of the bureaucracy itself. To the extent that state property was the source of its income and privileges, a nationalist policy of an essentially defensive character served the interests of the Stalinist regime. In the sphere of foreign policy, opportunist calculations of “national interest” replaced principled internationalist revolutionary considerations. The Stalinist regime converted the Communist International into an instrument of a nationalist Soviet foreign policy, utilizing local Communist parties to exert pressure on bourgeois governments. Herein lay the political origins of the class collaborationist policies that would eventually transform the Stalinist parties into instruments of political counterrevolution.
The international consequences of the shift in Soviet policy were demonstrated in the defeat of the general strike in Britain in May 1926. Stalin, seeking to curry favor with the national leadership of the British trade unions, instructed the British Communist Party to give the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), controlled by the bureaucracy, uncritical support in the build-up to, and during, the general strike. This left the working class unprepared for the TUC’s betrayal of the strike.
Even greater disasters followed. The Soviet bureaucracy attacked the Theory of Permanent Revolution and revived the Menshevik two-stage theory of revolution in countries with a belated capitalist development. In China in 1925-1927, Stalin directed the Communist Party to support the national bourgeois movement of the Kuomintang on the basis of the theory of the “Bloc of Four Classes” against imperialism.
Trotsky vehemently opposed this class-collaborationist policy and warned of its devastating consequences for the socialist revolution in China. The fact that China was oppressed by imperialism did not lessen the conflict between the Chinese bourgeoisie and the working class. Indeed, the opposite was the case. As Trotsky wrote:
The powerful role of foreign capital in the life of China has caused very strong sections of the Chinese bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy, and the military to join their destiny with that of imperialism. Without this tie, the enormous role of the so-called militarists in the life of modern China would be inconceivable.
It would further be profound naiveté to believe that an abyss lies between the so-called comprador bourgeoisie, that is, the economic and political agency of foreign capital in China, and the so-called national bourgeoisie. No, these two sections stand incomparably closer to each other than the bourgeoisie and the masses of workers and peasants...
It is a gross mistake to think that imperialism mechanically welds together all the classes of China from without... The revolutionary struggle against imperialism does not weaken, but rather strengthens the political differentiation of the classes.
Trotsky’s warnings were confirmed. In April 1927 the military forces of the Kuomintang, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, carried out a massacre of the Shanghai working class. A large section of the Chinese Communist Party leadership was murdered by the bourgeois nationalist forces. After April 1927, the Chinese Communist Party was ordered to enter the “left” Kuomintang led by Wang Ching-wei. The “left” Wang Ching-wei crushed the workers’ and peasants’ movement no less brutally than Chiang Kai-shek. Then, in August 1927, after the nearly complete demoralization of the Communist Party, the leadership of the Comintern demanded an immediate transition to armed insurrection. An attempt to implement this policy in Canton was drowned in blood within just three days.
These catastrophic defeats, which were to have such a far-reaching impact on the history of the 20th century, effectively marked the end of the CCP as a mass party of the Chinese working class. Fleeing into the countryside to escape the consequences of the disaster produced by Stalin’s policies, the surviving remnants of the CCP leadership, including Mao Zedong, reestablished the Communist Party as a peasant-based organization. It is not possible to understand the subsequent history of China—including its present-day emergence as a bastion of the most rapacious forms of capitalist exploitation—except within the context of Trotsky’s critique of Stalin’s “Bloc of Four Classes” and the tragedy of 1927.
“The Chinese Revolution and the Theses of Comrade Stalin,” in: Leon Trotsky on China (New York: Pathfinder, 1976), pp. 176-77.