Are the Chinese Stalinists different? The very question is one of the more cruel hoaxes of our time, yet many people honestly believe that somehow the CP of China is not like other Stalinist parties.
We are not referring here to the economic or political programme of the Chinese CP, but only to its internal regime, to its attitude toward factions, relationship between members and leaders, freedom of internal expression — those organisational characteristics which determine whether or not a party is democratic, whether it sets its own policies or is subservient to alien powers.
Thus Harold Isaacs in his book, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, indicates that such was the case as long ago as the Great Revolution of 1925-27, through its Russian advisers, Borodin and Bluecher. The Russian mission had greater authority than the leaders of the party. In his novel, Man’s Fate, André Malraux’s hero does not go to Chen Duxiu or the other party leaders to get a reversal of policy; he travels 1500 miles to Hankow to see Borodin. It was the Stalin-Zinoviev majority in the Russian CP which, through its control of the Comintern, ordered those policies which resulted in the disastrous blood bath of 1927.
It was as an answer to Trotsky’s criticism of this policy that Li Li-san was ordered into the terrible adventure of the Canton Commune, where the militants followed orders, hearts heavy with foreboding of certain defeat. Then Stalin pointed to the bloody fiasco as an example of Trotskyist policy and used it as a polemical weapon in the Russian party. Li Li-san, who today is Stalin’s agent in Manchuria, was denounced as a Trotskyist and recalled to Moscow.
Isaacs describes Li’s ousting in revealing words: “A letter arriving from Moscow on November 16 (1930) ordered open warfare against him (Li Li-san) in the party. Under the personal supervision of MIF (Comintern agent to the Chinese CP — J.B.) Li Li-san was brusquely deposed — the young men so abruptly enthroned as ‘leaders’ of the Communist Party (replacing Li — J.B.) had all been students in Moscow during the years of revolution and had won their spurs conducting witch-hunts against Trotskyist sympathisers among the students at Sun Yat-sen University — these docile young men became the undisputed leaders of the party. Other leaders of the party won the right to remain in its ranks only by degrading themselves, by making the self-denying recantations.”
Chou En-lai, Li’s right-hand man denounced himself: “I call upon the whole party to condemn my mistakes.” Li himself became “reconstructed” and recanted in Moscow. This ignoble spectacle was the turning point in the Stalinisation of the Chinese CP. After 1930 the new leadership, which owed its elevation to Moscow and had no independent stature in the Chinese struggle, became the instrument for enforcing every twist of Stalinist policy in the weakened party.
When in 1935 the Comintern held its seventh world congress in Moscow and the programme of the so-called “third period” was reversed to one of “Popular Frontism,” the Chinese party leadership skidded to a halt and reversed itself also. The leadership of 1930 was removed peremptorily, denounced as adventuristic and capitulationist.
All this was done without a party congress. From 1921 to 1928 the party held six congresses. Between 1928 and 1945 there were no conventions. These were the years of Stalinisation. During this period two complete changes of leadership and programme occurred
The decision of the seventh world congress was part of the reorientation of Russian foreign policy to meet the threat created by the rise of Hitler. The Chinese party, not yet recovered from the butchery of Chiang, was ordered to make peace with him. Mao Tze-tung, the new leader, made his offer of peace to the Kuomintang and the bourgeoisie. The party even abandoned its agrarian programme, as Mao declared: “We have already adopted a decision not to confiscate land of the rich peasants. As for active anti-Japanese officers and big landowners, we can state that their estates are not subject to confiscation.”
The fact that the peasants did not sanction or desire this lenient policy made little difference. Nym Wales, a pro-Stalinist publicist, records the conversation of a CP leader on the change: “The people all liked the Soviet better — the landlords will perhaps like the new democracy better, but there are few landlords here to enjoy it. The people won’t let the landlords vote. In general, however, the people give up to the Soviets easily. They trust the leadership of the CP to do what is right for them.” (Inside Red China, page 214.)
When in 1945 the Russians marched into Manchuria and stripped electric dynamos, mines pumps, arsenal machines and tools, rolling stock, materiel and supply dumps, the CP of China made no protest whatsoever. There is a rumour, which has had wide circulation, that Mao did not like the Russian policy. But the Russians brought with them into Manchuria a ready-made leadership, Moscow-trained. These students from the Stalin school came as “Red” Army men, although they were Chinese. Their leader was none other than the completely renovated Li Li-san, who was immediately placed in the leadership of the party and made liaison man between the party and the Russian army. He retains this strategic post still today.
All China was torn with demonstrations against continued Russian occupation and looting of Manchuria. The CP could no longer remain totally silent, though it tried. Finally, Li made a statement: “I want to tell you that the Chinese Communist is a patriot first and no matter who interferes with the rights of China he will certainly be opposed to them.”
After this fine beginning, Li stated the attitude of the CP toward Russian looting: “But I feel that the movement of machinery is not the important problem at all. Of course the Soviet Union moved some machinery but not a large amount compared to its war losses.” This remarkable condoning of the looting was part of official Russian propaganda.
They too claimed that what they took was but meager recompense for war losses. Apparently it did not occur to Li, the Chinese patriot, to point out that Russia had been at war with Japan exactly two weeks and its losses in those final days before surrender were small indeed relative to its permanent acquisitions via the Yalta Pact, whereas China too had been in the war. For 15 years she had been under Japanese attack and a claim might well be made for her losses.
Both before and since the war, Russia has been busy with its own dismemberment of China. Before the war she had already established control over Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia. During the war she set up the puppet East Turkestan Republic. The spoils of Yalta gave her the main ports of Manchuria, Dairen and Harbin, control of the railroad system; and since then a stranglehold on the entire economy of this most industrialised area in all China. Russia is now engaged in a deal to take control of all Sinkiang, the largest province in China. To all of these things the CP has answered with the assurance that the greatest threat was American imperialism. By not so much as a whisper have these “patriots” protested the dismemberment of their country.
the mao cult
There may very well have been differences of opinion over Russian policy in the Chinese CP leadership. There is no way of knowing. All opinions except the official one are kept in the Central Committee, carefully shielded from the world as well as from the CP members. Factions are forbidden, all decisions are handed down as finished. A monolithic front is maintained before the membership and the world.
The cult of Mao Tze-tung is, in its own primitive fashion, as assiduously cultivated as is the Leader cult elsewhere. The entire history of the party has been rewritten to heighten the achievements of Mao. All previous leaderships are damned and denounced, all have either been expelled, exiled or have recanted. In the literature of the party, phrases of obeisance to the superiority of Mao are always carefully included. As Anna Louise Strong, a Stalinist publicist, puts it so well in her revealing essay, “The Thought of Mao Tze-tung”; “since the leadership of Mao Tze-tung developed, the Chinese Communists do not consider that they have made any profound mistakes.”
Since 1928 purges have been common. Under the jargon-slogan “criticism and self-criticism”, the leadership have conducted struggles against “opportunism of the right” and “adventurism-Trotskyism of the left.” In addition, nests of "capitulationists“, “dogmatists”, counter revolutionists of many hues, have all been exposed and treated according to their desserts. The pattern and sequence of these purges has paralleled that of the Russian party. In the early thirties, Social-Democrats were everywhere in alliance with Trotskyists, of course, and both were alleged to be in alliance with Chiang. Earlier, in 1928, Trotskyists were hounded. During the Moscow Trials, Trotskyists were again uncovered, this time as allies of Japan since Chiang was now part of the “anti-imperialist front”.
Since 1929, Communist China has not been a party but a state. It has existed as a distinct state power with an army and political organs. Since the founding of the Chinese “Soviets” in the South, there has existed a special GPU or political police. The first head of the Chinese GPU was Teng Fo.
The first mention of a special GPU department occurs in 1931 when such a division was regularly established as one of ten government departments. Already by the end of that year the GPU was busy earning its place, for we read in Bela Kun’s Fundamental Law of the Chinese Soviets (p.10) “at that time we already knew that the counter revolution had their central organisation in our midst. Thereupon the State Political Department (GPU) [this parenthesis is in the original — J.B.] exposed several reorganisationalists... This conspiracy was completely exposed ...a purge of alien elements commenced in the party. In Hua Nang region, for instance, more than a hundred politically alien persons were expelled from the party.”
Later, in July 1931, the GPU again proved its vigilance: “Lately we have discovered an organisation of Trotskyists. From their depositions we learned that the Trotskyists united with the Social Democrats ... when we began to detect the organisations of the SDP we likewise called attention to other reactionary political groups.”
Again in 1931 a GPU official reports: “We pay very great attention to confessions made by counter-revolutionaries, to their voluntary repenting. The Kiangsi Provincial government has issued regulations about admission of guilt, with sincere confessions and a truthful description of the organisation and its plans being recognised as mitigating circumstances.” (Quoted by Dallin from Sovety v. Kitaye, p. 270–271.)
The passion for confessions and denunciation described above can be best understood by recalling that 1931 witnessed the first Moscow Trials of engineers and Social Democrats where the pattern of confession so widely used in the later trials was first employed.
Edgar Snow refers frequently to the Chinese GPU or Cheka in Red Star Over China, as does Nym Wales in her book Inside Red China. Nym Wales describes in some detail her relations to the GPU in 1936 in Yenan. Her object is to make it out as a friendly, protective force, and no doubt it was to her. It never seems to occur to her to wonder why such an institution should exist at all in the barren half-desert of Upper Shensin. Nor does she think to question accusations by the GPU of Trotskyism, counter-revolution and the rest of the Stalinist calendar of crimes.
In the few lines from our Shanghai friends, quoted elsewhere in this issue, it is clear that the regime of political denunciation and terror continues to be a part of Chinese Stalinism to this day. Like its counterparts everywhere, it roots out and physically exterminates its political enemies.
To give this the name of “democracy” is a brand of cynicism that is common enough these days, when all values are distorted. The claim is not made here that the Stalinists are organising a totalitarian police state in China at one full blow. The very backwardness of the country mitigates against its easy achievement. A police state based on a ubiquitous bureaucracy requires a measure of modernisation and material surpluses which are not yet at hand. But this is the direction of Chinese Stalinism. And in proportion as it does establish these very essential physical conditions — which under other conditions would be the guarantor of greater freedom and a better living standard — under Stalinism these material increases are precisely those instruments by which the police state is built. That is why those who are satisfied to point only to material progress serve to obscure the Stalinist inversion of the usual social process.
We do not mean here to discuss speculations about Titoist tendencies. There are such tendencies in Chinese Stalinism and its peculiar relationship to the economy of the country. The point is that Tito’s party is no less monolithic, no less authoritarian, no less characterised by political terrorism and leader worship than the Russian or the Chinese party. The Chinese Communist Party is aiming at a monopoly of political power. All compromises with coalitions, with propertied classes in city and village will not alter this basic fact. They will permit the city bourgeoisie to retain their factories and mercantile establishments (provided they do not encroach on big industry and big commerce which will be nationalised). But they will not permit them to organise political parties to represent these interests. They will support the village tukhoa (kulak), but at the same time insist that he accept the party as his sole political defender.
They will form unions and workers will be forced to join, but any party that arises to speak for the workers outside of officially created organisations will be dealt with as counter-revolutionary. Without political organisation and power to parallel and insure economic interests the compromises and coalitions with other classes are expedients depending on the good-will or exigencies of the ruling party.
In effect, the CP is establishing a sort of new “era of tutelage.” It is strange that many people who denounce Chiang’s fraudulent “tutelage” for the despotism it is accept the same trappings by the CP as good coin. That Chiang’s autocracy is feudal, while the Stalinists’ is anti-feudal is true; but that it is any the less despotic for this difference is not the case. In the current lexicon of political terms Stalinist economy is connoted as a “special form”, or as Henry Wallace would say, it is “economic democracy”.
There is no denying the transcendent importance of the abolition of feudalism, which will redistribute wealth and increase the peasants’ livelihood initially. (This will be considerably less true for workers in the cities.) However, like every class society and every totalitarianism, Chinese Stalinism will have its crises, which will be resolved in the only way open to a state with a monopoly of political power — at the expense of the people, through the imposition of great agonies and distress on whole masses, through the death and enslavement of millions, and finally through participation in imperialist war which in turn will destroy much of the economic gain.
The rising bureaucracy, precisely as economic advances are made, will tend to inhibit rather than release the unlimited energies and ingenuities of the people. It will distort the economy to the needs of Russian foreign policy. It will pay its tithe to the Russian master economically and politically. These are not guesses or speculations, for they have occurred elsewhere under similar circumstances. They are part of the history of the Chinese CP. Where there is no political democracy there is no barrier to such developments.
Political democracy means the right to determine economic policy, in the first instance. Criticism and disagreement, are the profound sources of inspiration to a people's ingenuity. These are essential ingredients to the construction of modern economy, for they are essential to the modern mentality. Without freedom, economic reconstruction is a burden imposed from above. This is the path of the Chinese CP.
February 7, 1949