[Book] China: From Permanent Revolution to Counter-Revolution

Stalin Sets the Pattern for the Chinese Revolution

3.1 Introduction

The advice and material support of the Communist International (CI) was essential to the successful formation of the CCP. At first the CCP received genuine help and guidance but after Lenin’s death, with the rise to power of Stalin and his faction first in Russia and then in the CI, a new political line was systematically imposed on the CCP.

As practice proved the new line disastrously wrong, factional interests within the Russian Party became the determining factor and guidance gave way to direct orders. If challenged, the representatives of the CI threatened individuals and even the entire organisation with expulsion from the CI to force acceptance of their proposals. Individuals who attempted to organise opposition were expelled, and dark rumours persist that some in the leadership of the CCP actively betrayed oppositionists to the KMT’s secret police. Such actions were quite compatible with the methods used by the Stalin faction in Russia. During the Great Purges, carried out to maintain the Stalin faction in power, more Russian Communists were killed than during the civil war.

From the mid-1920s, until at least the start of the Korean War in 1950, Stalin’s wishes were decisive in determining the policies of the CCP on all important matters. The results were major political and military defeats for the CCP, the loss of any significant proletarian support and a twenty year detour during which the Chinese people were subject to horrendous suffering. Knowledge of the development of the Stalin faction within the Bolshevik Party, and how its policies for the Chinese Revolution derived from its own needs not the reality of China, are essential for an understanding of the defeat of the Second Chinese Revolution.

3.2 Russia after the October Revolution

3.2.1 Stalin Becomes General Secretary

The 8th Congress of the Bolshevik Party (March, 1919) agreed to Zinoviev’s proposal, made on Lenin’s behalf, that the CC should establish a Politburo (also known as the Political Committee) and an Orgburo. The former was intended to be the real leadership in the Party and because of its relatively small membership could decide all issues that mattered quickly and efficiently. The latter would allocate resources to carry out CC decisions. With Lenin’s strong support, the 8th Party Congress also endorsed Stalin’s appointment as Commissar of the newly created Rabkrin (Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate).[1]

Before 1920 Stalin had played no direct role in leading the party machinery but from now on his attention was on party affairs, and via these three posts Stalin participated in making policy decisions, was responsible for allocating party resources to implement them, and then in charge of the Commissariat which assessed how well he had done.[2] Lenin’s promotion of Stalin to such a decisive position may have been the advancement of an efficient functionary but it betrayed a calamitous misappraisal of the man.

By the 10th Congress (March 1921), Stalin was sufficiently powerful to have his supporters elected to the CC and its Secretariat in place of those friendly to Trotsky. The Orgburo was expanded to seven members to give Stalin an in-built majority.[3] The first plenum of the CC two days after the 10th Congress (March 1921) unanimously accepted the proposal of Kamenev naming Stalin as the General Secretary who could direct the work of the Secretariat of the CC. This included the selection and allocation of cadres to Party posts. With this extension of Stalin’s power, the office of General Secretary became the de-facto control centre of Party activities and the hub for the emerging Party hierarchy.[4]

There is no doubt that Stalin was able to point to a number of successes in streamlining Party organisation and making the Party more effective in carrying out Politburo and CC decisions. However, Stalin began to use the resources of the Party to strengthen a clique personally loyal to him. This unprincipled grouping began as all such groups do, based on gossip and backstabbing, with the principal target Leon Trotsky. Stalin’s undoubted organisational abilities were changing from a positive force for building the Party to a destructive force, making the Party apparatus a factor which would eventually destroy the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet Union. By the 13th Party Conference (16–18 January 1924), Stalin was the real power within the Party.

3.2.2 Ban on Political Parties and War Communism

Prior to October 1917, no leader within the Bolsheviks had ever suggested that after the revolution there would be a one-Party political system, and in the period immediately after the insurrection even the bourgeois Cadet Party remained legal. The only political organisation which was suppressed was the neo-fascist Black Hundreds, infamous for inciting pogroms. This was to be expected since the Bolsheviks had, until 1917, the governmental goal of “a freely convened constituent assembly of the whole people” to which “every class of the population” would turn.[5] In such a schema only die-hard Tsarists and landed aristocrats would seriously oppose the revolution, so the notion of banning political parties had never arisen.

But, contrary to expectations, the October Revolution had been a socialist revolution which meant that the urban middle class allies anticipated by Lenin in 1905[6] now opposed the Bolshevik insurrection. The initial response, on 9 November 1917, was a decree banning hostile newspapers, but the decree specifically stated that the ban was of a temporary nature, and would be rescinded as soon as normal conditions were re-established.[7]

However, under the protection of the Whites who were resourced mainly by England and France, and no fewer than thirteen armies of intervention which included Americans, French, Czech, and Japanese, the Right Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) and some Mensheviks, with support from Cadets were proclaiming their own governments in a number of places such as Archangel, Omsk, Samara, and Ufa. These people spoke in the name of democracy but, in fact, ceded real power to the counter-revolutionary armies. This made it impossible for these parties to have freedom of propaganda and agitation within Soviet-controlled areas. A sharp polarisation took place in the Soviets. The civil war gave the Bolsheviks no choice but to exclude Right SRs and Mensheviks from the Soviets.

By November 1918, of the 950 delegates at the 6th All-Russian Congress of Soviets, 933 were Communists.[8] But with Party monopoly of power, the separation of Party and state became unrealisable; whatever was determined in a Party caucus was binding on all Party members attending the Soviets. Generally, by 1921, at local level the Party branch secretary had replaced the chairperson of the Soviet as the leading official.[9] This situation posed a serious problem because less and less distinction between Party and state could only lead to a weakening of Soviet democracy and a bureaucratisation of the Party.

The 12th All-Russian Party Conference (4-7 August 1922) formalised the actual situation, and the resolution on The Registration of Associations and Unions meant the prohibition of all parties but the Bolsheviks.[10] The ban was necessary because of the counter-revolutionary activities of all the so-called socialist parties, but it was a signal warning of the effects of imperialist pressure on a socialist revolution in a backward country.

During the civil war the Bolsheviks were forced to adopt the policy of War Communism with intense centralisation and Party control of virtually every aspect of society, nationalisation of industries necessary to maintain supplies to the armies, and the removal of decision-making authority from state institutions and non-Party organisations.[11]

War Communism included the forced requisitioning of grain. However, once the Whites were defeated and they considered their land safe, the mass of peasants vigorously resisted requisitioning which they viewed as theft by the state. The peasants responded by planting only what they needed for themselves. This meant there was little or no grain to requisition.[12] The food situation in the towns went from bad to worse, to near starvation. On 1 March 1921, the sailors at the giant Kronstadt naval base rose in revolt – a reflection that the relations between the Soviet state and the peasant masses had reached an all-time low.[13] The mutiny was the final straw in demonstrating War Communism as unsustainable and at the 10th Congress of the All-Russian Communist Party (ARCP(B)) (8–16 March) it was agreed to move towards a New Economic Policy (NEP).[14]

However, War Communism had adverse long-term consequences: the replacement of internal Party democracy by top-down command, and the introduction of a system of appointment rather than election of local Party leaders. That these changes occurred in parallel with the banning of opposition parties meant War Communism brought into existence a hierarchical social system based on the Bolshevik Party which simultaneously became the gateway to a secure job.[15]

3.2.3 The New Economic Policy and Character of the New Members

The NEP meant that the peasants paid a tax on what they produced and sold their surplus on the open market. This move to a market economy satisfied the immediate demands of the peasantry but represented a turn by the Communist Party to the middle peasants and kulaks who were the most efficient and biggest producers of foodstuffs. With the adoption of the NEP by the Soviet regime, the process of equalisation of land-holdings that had taken place after October and intensified during War Communism was reversed.[16]

The NEP with its reliance on the market, strengthened the kulaks and NEPmen (capitalist speculators) to the detriment of the poor peasants and the proletariat. The kulaks had the largest and most fertile farms and the capital necessary for equipment, horses, and fertiliser; they made huge profits. Under the NEP the difference between the rich and poor in the villages began to grow at an alarming rate with the parallel danger of growing political opposition to the workers’ state.[17]

The NEP gave the Soviet regime the opportunity to catch its breath, but at the cost of increasing social differentiation. Production of goods and produce for a market economy led to the rapid enrichment not only of petty-bourgeois kulaks, shopkeepers and traders but also a number of sticky-fingered Party officials. Alongside the re-emergence of class divisions, the budding bureaucracies of the state, industry, and Party began to coalesce and flex their muscles.[18]

Material inequalities began to widen rapidly. In 1920, the government ruled that the highest-paid managers should earn no more than four times the minimum wage. With the advent of NEP that ratio was increased to eight times. A survey conducted in 1924 showed that more than 80,000 state officials admitted to earning more than the upper limit, 15,000 were on more than 15 times the minimum – to say nothing of corrupt and illegal earnings, which everyone believed were widespread.[19]

Private trade flourished but state enterprises were constrained by government policy to make good war damage while working without loss, and to fund any wage increases from higher productivity. This imposed considerable pressure on such revolutionary gains as the eight-hour day and women’s right to receive paid maternity leave or to take breaks to feed their babies being looked after in the factory nursery.[20] Factories reduced their costs by lay-offs, increasing the number of unemployed industrial workers from about 500,000 to 1,250,000 between autumn 1922 and summer 1923. Women were particularly hard hit.

A wave of strikes and disturbances swept the country sometimes led by stalwart Party members who, as active trade unionists, felt a responsibility to their workmates.[21] The response of the Party machine was to have the secret police (GPU) step in and arrest a number of such activists who were then summarily expelled. Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the GPU and a devout supporter of Stalin, demanded the members of the Politburo inform the GPU of any known oppositional activity.[22] This was the first time the GPU had been openly used against Party members, though it would soon be normal practice to spy on activists in the factories.[23]

The NEP generated a mood of personal aggrandisement, which often contaminated proletarian Party members returning home from the Red Army. Most of these would be given administrative jobs in the new state apparatus or factory management, cut off from the factory floors from which they had come. During this period, Party functionaries particularly the new influx, were finding their feet and beginning to forge relationships across and within government organisations, industrial management and the state apparatus. In part they were coalescing into an elite that would become the rulers of the Soviet Union.[24]

Over the period of the NEP, the majority of rank and file Party members went from supporting the actions of the factory workers in defence of wages and conditions to – under pressure from the local Party secretaries – siding with the factory managers against the workforce, supporting cuts in pay and working conditions and increased workloads. In many cases this led to disillusion and demoralisation of the rank and file who quit the Party. Those who remained had to develop a tough skin – and all too often these were the most politically backward members.[25]

The continued failure of a revolution to take place in a technologically advanced country left Russia isolated and provided the conditions for the growth of both alien class forces and internal bureaucratic degeneration.

The membership of the Bolshevik Party had been overwhelmingly proletarian in October 1917 and the early days of the civil war when capture by the Whites meant a certain and cruel death. During this period there was an open door policy towards recruitment. However, at the 8th Party Congress it was recognised that many of the enthusiasts who had joined did not have the necessary integrity, honesty, commitment or political understanding.[26] The decision was taken to sift out those who were ‘unworthy’, and within six months Party membership was reduced from about 250,000 to about 150,000.

However, by the autumn of 1919 the situation had changed again and the regime had its back to the wall, threatened by a ring of White armies. In such a situation the doors were again thrown open and between October and December 1919 nearly 200,000 new recruits entered the Party. By the 9th Congress in March 1920, the membership was over 600,000, and by the 10th Congress in March 1921, almost three-quarters of a million.[27] The large numbers flooding into the Party mean that by the 10th Congress only about 10% of members predated 1917. The new members were in their vast majority honest Communists, prepared to risk life and limb for the revolution, but their political education was more military manual than Marxist text. “It was a Party literally steeled on the fields of battle”[28] where some 200,000 lost their lives.[29]

In the civil war the resolution and solution of problems had to be immediate, with centralisation of decision-making and a non-elected command structure. The very purpose of the Red Army and the central role of the Party within it had enhanced the fusion of state and Party and increased centralisation of decision making within the Party itself. After 1920, the demobilised Communist soldiers who became administrators in the local soviets and the economy everywhere enhanced the trend towards expecting submission to one’s superiors and expecting obedience of one’s own orders.[30]

The need for Communists in senior positions in government and industry meant that on demobilisation, a large proportion of Party members were directly appointed to administrative posts. Pirani gives figures for the latter half of 1922 when in Moscow alone nearly 2,000 Party members were appointed to local and central state bodies.[31] By the end of 1921 the proportion of members who were still factory workers was no more than 20% while the proportion of members in peasant cells was 30%.[32]

From the Party Congress of 1922 to the Party Congress of 1923, gigantic strides were made in increasing the domination of the Russian Communist Party (RCP) over all aspects of Russian life: the proportion of regional leaders of trade unions who were members of the Party increased from 27% to 57%, the proportion of commanding staffs in the army from 16% to 24%, the proportion of managers of co-operatives from 5% to 50%, and so on in all important institutions of public life.[33] To marshal its forces, the Party Secretariat now had a Personnel Department with branches spread throughout the country and which kept detailed files on all members. It had the power to order members to change their occupation and place of residence at short notice, and this was used not only for promotion but also for maintaining discipline: a shift from the capital to the wilderness of Siberia could be the punishment for voicing dissent.

3.2.4 Ban on Factions and Authority Within the Party

After the civil war a Party card was almost a guarantee of a secure job, and careerists flooded in.[34] Lenin warned again and again against the dangers of careerist, capitalist, white-guard, Menshevik and SR infiltration of the Party, and was for their wholesale expulsion. Despite this, one estimate had former Mensheviks and SRs comprising about one quarter of the active higher cadres by 1927.[35]

One cannot properly understand the policies pursued by Lenin, and supported by Trotsky, in this period without remembering the actual situation in Russia: hunger, partial atomisation of the proletariat, economic catastrophe, very low cultural and technological levels of the population, and pressures from the petty-bourgeois peasant masses (which had doubled due to the NEP) – all consequences of the delay of the international revolution. In the face of such stresses how was the Soviet state to be maintained? Lenin was convinced that class enemies who had entered the Party were consciously using the differences raised by genuine Bolsheviks (e.g. the Workers’ Opposition) to weaken the Party for counter-revolutionary purposes.[36] Lenin’s fear was that with one Party rule, the RCP would begin to reflect the pressures of alien classes, which if allowed to express themselves as factions, would eventually split the Party on class lines. This would mean the overthrow of the workers’ state, since it was the Communist Party that held it together and guaranteed its continued existence.

Hence, the 10th Party Congress in early 1921 – with the Kronstadt revolt taking place almost at its door – banned factions within the Party. Lenin made it clear that this was a temporary measure brought in to deal with an exceptional situation and, moreover, favoured a flexible interpretation of this rule, rejecting attempts to make it definitive.[37]

This emergency measure which circumscribed the democratic rights of Party members strengthened the bureaucratic tendencies within the Party. As a ‘necessary evil’ imposed upon the Party it should have been lifted and full democratic rights restored as soon as conditions eased. But in fact, after Lenin’s death this temporary measure was made permanent as part of the manoeuvres by the Troika of Kamenev, Stalin, and Zinoviev in their struggle against Trotsky.[38] Ultimately, the ban on factions would be extended internationally and be a major weapon in defeating oppositionists in, e.g., China.

The Party had leapt from the underground to the heights of power and as times changed so too did people. More and more, Stalin was using his increasing domination of the Party organisation to recruit to important posts, people who were personally obligated and loyal to him. In his position of General Secretary as he dispensed favours and fortune, he was losing his moral integrity. The foundations were being laid for an inevitable conflict with Bolshevism.

With the ban on internal factions, power within the Party became progressively centralised in the Politburo and CC. This centralisation inevitably had its organisational form: the Secretariat (under Stalin) increasingly supervised (i.e. controlled) the appointment and allocation of Party personnel. As Kremlin files have become public, much attention has been concentrated on the details of the growth of a centralised system of Party functionaries effectively appointed by, and beholden to, the General Secretary. The wealth of detail now available only confirms the essential analysis made at the time by opposition currents within the RCP. The major difference is that the bureaucracy proved more servile and self-seeking than the Oppositionists ever dreamed.

By the time of the 9th Party Congress of September 1920, the appointment of secretaries of provincial committees was well established, though at that time, local recommendations for the posts were still preferred. Serge described how by the winter of 1920/21, a “state of siege had now entered the Party itself, which was increasingly run from the top, by Secretaries. We were at a loss to find a remedy for this bureaucratization.”[39]

Most leading members of the Stalin group were Old Bolsheviks with numerous personal links going back, in many cases, to before 1903. They were efficient capable organisers, hard-working, often patient and prudent, creatures of the apparatus and well aware of their own importance. They shared a common conservative outlook. Stalin, as General Secretary, embodied this new group, united them and brought them together. It was around him that they formed a growing freemasonry. To these ‘practical’ men, these ‘realists’, these ‘committee men’, the time and energy spent reaching a democratic decision was a waste of effort that delayed – even threatened – necessary work.[40]

At the 10th Congress (March 1921) it was reported that the Party Secretariat had been responsible for the transfer and/or appointment of 42,000 members to their posts. It can be argued that from this Congress, Stalin was in such a strong position in the Party that only Lenin’s direct opposition could have removed him because of the mechanisms he had in place for controlling who attended the decision-making conferences, ensuring the ‘right’ people became branch officers, etc.

The 10th Congress had sanctioned a purge of careerists whose behaviour was too gross and blatant to tolerate, but after the 11th Congress (March/April 1922), which placed great emphasis on unity and Party discipline, the purge was also directed at crushing criticism and dissent.[41] The 11th Party Congress was the last Congress in which Lenin participated and the first at which appointment rather than election of Congress delegates was practised on a mass scale.[42] After the 11th Congress, from the summer of 1922 the Secretariat rapidly increased its control over the Party and state apparatuses, and extended the selection and imposition of elements loyal to Stalin.[43]

The practice of appointments had become so widespread by the 12th Congress (April 1923) that Preobrazhensky protested that some 30% of the secretaries of local committees had been recommended for their position by the Secretariat.[44] In fact, Preobrazhensky seriously underestimated the extent of the appointments, recent data shows 94 of the 191 secretaries of provincial committees had been recommended or directly appointed.[45] Soon all secretaries of district and provincial committees would acquire their positions in this way.

Publicly Stalin called for the free election of regional and provincial Party leaders but behind the scenes he was busy ensuring the domination of the centre and appointment from above. Any remaining element of internal democracy in the Party was strangled when the Secretariat appointed unelected provincial bureaux to oversee the work of the elected committees.[46]

The final organisational requirement for the bureaucratisation of the Party was the Secretariat’s take-over of the Control Commissions. These bodies, initially composed of independently-minded Party members, could act to protect the rank and file from overbearing and bureaucratic officials. At the 11th Party Congress, however, it was agreed that the Central Control Commission should play a much greater role in guiding the work of local Commissions. Of course, a majority of the seven members elected to the Central Control Commission were strong supporters of Stalin. In this way the Control Commission was made a parallel mechanism to the Party secretaries for control of the members. The function of the Commission was turned on its head; from defending the rights of the membership it became a mechanism for tighter control.[47]

Even the pre-revolution Old Guard was now coming under attack; a 1922 Secretariat report on cadre distribution harangues the ‘old boys’ as not being sufficiently ‘malleable’ and argued that post-civil war recruits were much more amenable and therefore preferable:

“the young, active worker, elected at some All-Russian Congress, meeting or conference, having attended and got the hang of things there, already has a great advantage over an authoritative, respected old cadre.”[48]

The dissatisfaction with Old Bolsheviks was precisely because of their independence of mind which inevitably brought them into conflict with the practices of the Stalin faction.

3.2.5 Privileges and Their Enshrinement

In 1920, some tens of thousands of Bolshevik Party members were attempting to bring order to Soviet society. Grossly overworked and with few, if any, material privileges, these Party officials were trying to lay the foundations of Soviet rule. Serge, who was one of these, described the situation:

“Our salaries were limited to the ‘Communist maximum’, equal to the average wage of a skilled worker … I would have died of hunger without the sordid manipulation of the black market, where I traded the petty possessions I had brought from France. The eldest son of my friend Yonov, Zinoviev’s brother-in-law, an Executive member of the Soviet … died of hunger before our very eyes. All this while we were looking after considerable stocks and even riches.”[49]

After 1921, one-Party rule was assured, and these same Party members together with specialists inherited from the Tsarist regime (industrial managers and technical intelligentsia), now directed the administrative machinery of both state and industry. As this layer exercised its authority it began to accumulate material benefits, first surreptitiously and then legitimised by the Party.

As Lenin talked of the proletarian nature of the Bolshevik Party being determined by the thin layer forming the Old Guard,[50] he was agreeing to take a step that would later be corrupted and used to legitimise material privileges in a way that broke with Bolshevik tradition and advanced the development of the bureaucratic elite. The 11th Congress instructed the CC to examine the material conditions of active comrades and “at all costs ensure them tolerable living conditions.”

The CC formed a commission, headed by Molotov (a close ally of Stalin), which reported back to the 12th Party Conference in August 1922 with a resolution providing for about 15,000 senior Party officials to receive: (i) salaries equivalent to middle and senior management grades plus 50%, (ii) guaranteed housing and medical support, and (iii) child care and education for their children. The conference, many of whose delegates would have qualified for the benefits, enthusiastically endorsed the proposals and then called on the CC to work out a similar system for Party officials in rural sub-districts who had not been included.[51]

Before the 12th Conference there was a strong material dis-incentive preventing factory managers from joining the Communist Party, but afterwards membership of the Communist Party provided substantial additional benefits. Carr considered the data for industrial managers who gave their background as non-worker, finding two trends: that the number of such managers almost doubled between 1922 and 1923, and the proportion of such managers who joined the Communist Party increased seven-fold.[52] Managers now saw joining the Communist Party as a means of protecting their material interests.

It is no surprise that at this time there was the gradual abolition of all those activities in and around the Party where free discussion on political matters took place. The first to go were the Party discussion clubs and study circles but later all free discussion, even pre-Congress, would be discouraged and then disappear.[53] In an organisation where votes are cast on the basis of factional loyalty and material interests, an objective, free discussion is not something that can be tolerated. The Party press had to be tightly controlled, Pravda and Izvestia, became a means of hiding the very sharp struggles taking place inside the Central Committee and the Politburo. The exceptions were those occasions when the Party machine mobilised to launch an attack on an opposition current, as occurred in the New Course debate against the Trotskyist opposition’s demands for greater internal Party democracy. The CC soon extended such control nationally and after 1925 regularly sent instructions to local newspaper editors about what should and what could not be published.[54]

3.2.6 International Setbacks

The period before and immediately after the 1st Congress of the Communist International was hugely optimistic.[55] A wave of mass strikes and street fighting swept across Europe and many of the sections of the CI transformed themselves into mass organisations – by the end of 1920 the German, Czech, and Italian CPs each claimed membership of over 300,000, the French section had 140,000, and the Bulgarian section over 21,000.

But the revolutionary wave was beaten back. The most decisive defeats were in Germany and Hungary. On 5 January 1919, the German CP (KPD) allowed itself to be provoked into premature armed conflict. The result was a catastrophe, right-wing army units ran riot, killing hundreds of working class militants including Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnicht. In Hungary, a soviet regime existed from 21 March to 1 August 1919 but collapsed in a mix of opportunism (agreeing to share power with the Social Democratic Party, which promptly betrayed the revolution) and ultra-leftism (refusing to distribute the landlords’ estates among the peasantry, giving them no reason to defend the Soviet regime).[56] In response to provocation, the Red Army had advanced into Poland generating enormous expectations of revolution in Poland or even Germany, only to retreat in confusion. These events strengthened every conservative and inward-looking trend in the Soviet Union.

By 1923, the situation in Germany was again rapidly approaching revolution due largely to the total collapse of the Deutchmark. In 1923 a barrow load of notes was needed to buy a cup of coffee with the resulting pauperisation of the working class and the ruin of the petty-bourgeoisie but with the export industries making fabulous profits. The trade union apparatus collapsed, belief in the parliamentary system evaporated, mass strikes led by factory committees erupted throughout the country, support for the KPD grew at an enormous rate – particularly amongst factory workers – largely because the Party had adopted a united front strategy.[57]

The ECCI assessed the situation as rapidly heading towards a revolution and approved an overly complex plan for the revolutionary seizure of power. Incredibly, despite the example of Hungary, the plan was based on the premise that the left SD governments of the central German states of ‘Red’ Saxony and Thuringia could be transformed into bastions of revolution. In many factories the KPD military organisation, the M-Apparat, began openly organising armed defence squads known as the Proletarian Hundreds. The central government moved quickly to demand they surrender their arms within three days. The ultimatum was ignored. On 21 October troops entered Saxony.[58]

In Saxony the left SD government refused to back armed resistance and rather than call for a general strike, abandoned office. The KPD hastily called a trade union conference in the great workers’ city of Chemnitz to launch the call for a national general strike. Invited to sit on the platform was SD Minister of Labour Georg Graupe who, when time came to vote for the strike, opposed the proposal on the grounds that it was unconstitutional! A poorly supported general strike simply petered out, the KPD leaders abandoned the plans for an insurrection, and the German October ended not with a bang but a hic-cup.[59]

The consequences had a much bigger impact on the political situation in Russia than in Germany. During the summer and early autumn of 1923, an internationalist, revolutionary fervour had shaken the Party. Meetings, banners and articles celebrated the approach of the German October and the end of the isolation of the Soviet Union. The younger generation responded with revolutionary enthusiasm and under their stimulus the Party temporarily revived. But the shock of the defeat of the German Revolution without a struggle and the disillusion it provoked, reverberated through the discussions in the Russian Party. The disillusionment, all the deeper because the Russian leaders had presented the victory of the revolution as guaranteed, was to weigh heavy on the morale and confidence of the Bolsheviks, strengthening the isolationist and inward-looking tendencies, to the great benefit of Stalin.[60]

3.3 Socialism in One Country

We can date Stalin’s adoption of the Theory of Socialism in One Country (TSOC) very precisely. In April-May 1924, Pravda published a series of seven lectures by Stalin entitled Foundations of Leninism which accurately expressed traditional Bolshevik policy:

“The overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of a proletarian government in one country does not yet guarantee the complete victory of socialism. … For the final victory of socialism, for the organisation of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country as Russia are insufficient.”[61]

The lectures were published as a booklet, but a few weeks later in August 1924, the booklet was withdrawn and in October a second edition was produced bearing the same title and date as the first but expressing the opposite view. The first edition does not appear in Stalin’s collected works, the second does:

“But the overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the power of the proletariat in one country does not yet mean that the complete victory of socialism has been assured. After consolidating its power and leading the peasantry in its wake the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society.”[62]

The TSOC is at the heart of Stalinism: it is the justification for the existence of the bureaucracy and its material benefits, it was a doctrine created in response to tiredness and disappointment.[63] It would lead to the return of capitalism, first to Russia and then to China.

Stalin’s immediate purpose was to counter what was, to the nascent bureaucracy, the ugly conclusion flowing from Lenin’s view expressed many, many times that the final victory of socialism in Russia alone was “impossible”[64] and “inconceivable.”[65] Lenin (and Trotsky) argued the Russian Revolution had to spread to Western Europe or it would eventually succumb to capitalist counter-revolution. Stalin now stated that Russia by its own efforts, could achieve socialism because of its vast spaces, riches of raw materials and the advantages of a planned economy.[66]

Stalin had turned Lenin on his head but from now on oppositionists would be presented as lacking confidence in the Russian Revolution, as being faint-hearted and pessimistic. In preparation for the 13th Party Conference Stalin opened an attack on his opponents that was as simple as it was illogical: “(For Trotskyists) … the only choice that remains for the revolution in Russia is: either to rot away or to degenerate into a bourgeois state.”[67] The ‘either … or’ dichotomy was completely false, the historical legitimacy of the Russian Revolution derived not from attempting to create an isolated socialist Russia, but as the start of the world socialist revolution.

The TSOC was to become the nationalist doctrine of the rising bureaucracy, a barrier against socialist internationalism and Marxism.[68] Stalin’s theory provided the theoretical basis for the belief of the new masters that nothing (barring a war) would shake their hold on Russia. In its early stages Stalin’s theory was posed defensively, claiming to enhance the world revolution by providing a stable base of support, and couched in terms which excluded achieving the “complete and final victory” of socialism in Russia alone.[69] However, the attraction of the theory was plain to all practical people; under the leadership of the RCP, Soviet Russia could move forward from its present misery towards prosperity without having to wait for a revolution elsewhere.[70] It must have sounded like music in the ears of the bureaucrats and officials; we now know it was a siren song.

It is amazing that Stalin was able to progress so far with such an obviously anti-Leninist policy before being challenged. The TSOC was presented at the 14th Party Congress in December 1925 where it was overwhelmingly approved.[71] Stalin then deliberately placed the TSOC as the central issue before the 15th Conference to lance the boil of Opposition criticism. He was eminently successful. The Conference literally howled down Opposition objections that the theory rested on an obvious misinterpretation of Lenin. From now on a loyal Party member would be one who unquestioningly accepted Stalin’s interpretations of ‘Leninism’.[72]

The TSOC replaced Lenin’s requirement for socialist revolutions in “at least several advanced countries” before socialism could be achieved in Russia,[73] with the need to stop imperialist intervention so the Russians could get on with the job on their own. With such a perspective it was just one step to seeing the national sections of the CI as bargaining chips to protect the USSR from imperialist attack.

Today, when we examine the theory of TSOC it is, at first sight, difficult to understand how so many hundreds of thousands of honest communists in the international movement could accept such damaging and reactionary nonsense. But, for a time, this theory appeared to have behind it the authority of the October Revolution and was supported by the material resources of one of the world’s superpowers which was prepared to use any methods to silence its opponents.[74]

Mao and the CCP accepted the TSOC unquestioningly and would carry it to the extreme of a short sharp war with the Vietnamese workers’ state in early 1979. Mao adhered so strongly to the policy of peaceful co-existence that in February 1972, Nixon, the most despised of all American presidents, was invited to Beijing after which he felt able to take a much stronger line against the Vietnamese war of independence, bombing rail links with China.

3.4 Stalinism and Egalitarianism

The founders of the Bolshevik regime accepted that post-revolutionary society would need a professional bureaucracy, but only for a limited time. It was expected to decline in importance and soon die away. After the defeat of the counter-revolutionary forces, society would have no need for internal state violence.[75] However, the actual development of Soviet society was in the opposite direction. The level of bureaucracy was increasing, material inequalities between citizens were becoming greater not less, repression by the state instead of dying away was increasing by leaps and bounds, real democratic rights were withering not growing; the regime appeared to be heading in exactly the opposite direction to socialism. The goals of the October Revolution had been strongly egalitarian but the reality of Soviet society was a new privileged layer and increasing social stratification and differentiation, creating conflicting social interests.

The Russian bureaucracy was built on a pyramid of privileges and thus Stalin was consistently hostile to egalitarian ideas. After Lenin’s death and throughout the thirties, wage and salary differentiation was pushed to extremes. On 5 January 1931, the CC announced an increase in wage differentials and Pravda led a press campaign against egalitarianism.[76] The regime used legitimate arguments against petty-bourgeois ideas of egalitarianism during the transition to socialism to justify pay differentials within the workforce. In this way they hoped to gain support amongst the more skilled and better paid workers for the system of pay differentials and privileges of which they were the main beneficiaries. In 1932 Stalin condemned egalitarianism in remuneration as ‘anti-socialist’ and approved the removal of the partmaksimum, which had limited the maximum salaries of Party members to about 250 to 300 rubles a month. This opened the floodgates of privilege.[77,78]

3.5 Women and the Family

In all major countries in 1917 women not only lacked the vote but were enmeshed in a thick web of discriminatory laws and sexist oppression. The Soviet government of October 1917 took swift action: women in Soviet Russia achieved full legal and political rights, including the right to hold property, act as head of the household, leave the marital home and obtain a divorce on request. Soviet law guaranteed women equal pay for equal work, while also providing on-the-job protection for them. Other laws protected and assisted mothers and assured full rights for children born outside marriage. Abortion became legal in 1920. Women’s freedom of choice was also strengthened by the Soviet law, adopted in 1922, legalising homosexual relations among consenting adults. Europe’s most backward country achieved more in five years than most advanced capitalist countries would accomplish by the new millennium.[79]

In 1919, the Bolshevik Party created the Zhenotdel (women’s department), an organisation that united women in struggle to affirm their newly-acquired legal rights. Thousands of Zhenotdel personnel went to workers’ districts and rural villages. They organised women’s clubs and through these enabled the election of tens of thousands of women delegates to local soviets and other organisations. For the first time women served as judges and were appointed to important positions in the state apparatus. However, a large proportion of the membership of Zhenotdel were Party members or the wives of Party members and this tended to make it a female auxiliary of the Party.[80]

With the rise of Stalinism, these moves were reversed. The international women’s monthly magazine was closed in 1925, the women’s secretariat in 1926, and the Zhenotdel in 1930.[81] These were part of a deliberate policy by the Stalinist regime to strengthen conservative attitudes and structures within soviet society; the question of women’s rights was pushed off the agenda. The bureaucracy found the traditional family useful, because it provided what the state did not – domestic work and child care – and also because it helped meet the bureaucracy’s need for conservative supports throughout society; thus, the regime now trumpeted the sanctity of the family. Marriage and family laws established by the October Revolution were rewritten. In the years immediately following the Revolution the government’s priority was the protection of children from “stagnant traditions” including the “natural” authority structure of the family. Now the Soviet regime made a sharp turn, becoming a wife and mother was the goal lauded by the state propaganda machine.[82]

In 1934, homosexuality was made a criminal offence, punishable with up to eight years of imprisonment. An energetic nationwide campaign was launched against sexual promiscuity, quick and easy marriage, and adultery. In 1936, legal abortion was abolished, except where life or health were endangered or a serious disease might be inherited.[83] A campaign was opened against too frequent and easy divorces and in 1935-36 a tax for divorce was introduced: fees of 50, 150 and 300 rubles for the first, second and subsequent divorces.[84]

The massive industrialisation and collectivisation of agriculture, launched in 1929, brought millions of women into the workforce. Employment of women creates conditions for their liberation but it is not necessarily liberation itself. Because improving the lives of women workers was not a political priority for the Stalinist regime, it never really progressed beyond seeing it as an economic problem, a cost on production. Thus, the condition of the social dining halls (e.g. factory canteens) and social laundries continued to be appalling; the better-off workers virtually stopped using them – meaning the return of workers’ wives to their pots and pans. The number of crêches and kindergartens continued to be much lower than the demand, and quality was dismal.[85]

A clear indication of the conservative attitudes of the bureaucracy and the reaction as regards the family reached its climax with the law of 8 July 1944, which made divorce virtually impossible to obtain and which re-established the legal differences between a child born in wedlock and one born out of wedlock. The latter could no longer claim the surname, the support or the inheritance of his or her father.[86]

3.6 Stalin, Mao, and Theoretical Innovations

Mao is credited with a number of original theoretical contributions to Marxism. However, careful study of his writings confirms the observation that Mao was a premeditated Stalinist and many of his so-called innovations were simply the conscious transfer to China of manoeuvres that Stalin had developed empirically in response to the need to protect the bureaucracy.[87]

In Russia, social inequality was growing with the advance of a “new privileged layer, yearning for power, thirsting for the good things in life, fearful of their positions, mortally fearing the masses and filled with hatred toward any opposition.”[88] To defend its material interests this layer was turning the Soviet regime into a bureaucratic tyranny and smothering protest with ever-increasing repression. The Soviet state was becoming a mechanism for the protection of privilege while the ordinary citizen was overworked, under-fed and inadequately housed. The existence of a so-called socialist state which supervised its citizens so closely and was so clearly repressive had to be justified.[89] Stalin’s justifications would be taken up, one way or another, and developed and applied by the Mao regime.

Against the expectations of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, Stalin declared the class struggle does not die away but becomes sharper in the period of transition to socialism. In 1933 Stalin argued that the bourgeois elements in the Soviet Union were “weak and impotent”, but (somehow) as their social weight declined and society progressed further down the path to socialism they became a bigger problem. This required increased state repression including imprisonment, exile and execution of “class-enemies”, suspension of democratic rights and further strengthening of the repressive mechanisms of the state for the common good.[90]

Later Mao would cite the danger of capitalist restoration (i.e. criticism of the excesses of the regime, especially by intellectuals) to justify the Anti-Rightist Campaigns and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. In reality, the degree of repression and the strength of the police state reflected the fear of the bureaucracy of the working class and those remaining revolutionary Communists who might act as sparks in a political crisis.

Stalin prettified the bureaucratic regime by redefining socialism. The successes of the First Five-Year Plan and the steps made in liquidating the kulaks as a class marked “the final and irrevocable victory of Socialism in the Land of the Soviets.”[91] Property ownership (e.g. nationalised industries and collectivisation) was deemed of overwhelming importance in defining the stage of development of the Soviet Union. Ignored was the horrendous state of poverty in which the ordinary Soviet citizen lived in order to pay for the Five-Year Plans. Ignored were the millions who had died of hunger due to mis-management, the breakneck speed of industrialisation and forced collectivisation.

Ignored was the low level of productivity and technique relative to the capitalist countries (the Soviet worker produced about one tenth as much as the American worker at this time), the means of distribution (the gross social inequalities which existed) and, most importantly, the lack of any genuine Soviet democracy. Parallel concepts would underpin the CCP definition of Chinese socialism.

On 11 June, 1936, the Central Executive Committee approved the draft of a new Soviet Constitution. The first section, entitled Social Structure, concluded with: “The principle applied in the USSR is that of socialism: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.’”[92] This would be a major consideration in the debates within the CCP on just when and how the Chinese workers’ state came into existence.

The formula was intended to justify the existing inequalities in the USSR. “From each according to his ability” was the extraction of the maximum labour by any means possible, including the whip of police intimidation; and “to each according to his work” meant the majority of the working population living in general want and on near starvation wages while preserving privileges and luxuries for the tops.[93] Stalin equated socialism in the USSR with the principle “to each according to his work” – a capitalist principle most obviously seen in piecework in factories.

In parallel, in the army, the hierarchy of officers was re-established, from lieutenant to marshal. The changes were not limited to the introduction of titles. There were also substantial material benefits for the officer corps: an accelerated building programme to improve living quarters and hefty increases in salaries (up to about 50%). These reforms had a purely political aim: to give a new social weight to the officers, to differentiate them from the ranks and to bind them closer to the ruling elite.[94]

Zhou Enlai proudly boasted that, in China, the socialist revolution in the ownership of the means of production was fundamentally completed by 1956.[95] How socialism was interpreted by Zhou and his co-thinkers is indicated by their introducing a formal system of ranks into the PLA just one year previously.

Stalin transformed the concept and theory of the revolutionary Party. In a series of iterations, the democratic centralist Leninist combat Party was transformed into a mechanism whereby the General Secretary controlled all aspects of political life within the USSR. From open and frank debate on the most important questions of policy (which took place even when fighting a civil war), through the replacement of free debate with slander and lies, through the use of bully-boy and hooligan tactics, through the anti-Leninist concept that the majority could never be wrong, through the use of the secret police to silence the opposition, Stalin moved step by step to a position where the Secretariat was everything and the Party purely subsidiary. This was also Mao’s understanding of the Party save that ‘Chairman’ replaced ‘Secretary’.

Stalin introduced anti-Marxist voluntarist concepts into Party work: he declared to the 17th Party Congress: “… the strength and prestige of our Party and (its) leaders, have grown to an unprecedented degree … it is their work that now determines everything, or nearly everything. … the part played by so-called objective conditions has been reduced to a minimum; whereas the part played by our organisations and their leaders has become decisive, exceptional. What does this mean? It means that from now on nine-tenths of the responsibility for the failures and defects in our work rest, not on ‘objective’ conditions, but on ourselves, and on ourselves alone.”[96] This puffed-up, vainglorious and anti-Marxist view was accepted by Mao and taken to extremes in the forcible imposition of Communes and the so-called Great Leap Forward.

3.7 Chinese Students in Moscow 1923–1929

The opening of the Soviet Communist Party and Comintern secret archives has given access to a mass of new information on the training of revolutionary cadres in the USSR.[97] There were a number of important training centres such as the International Lenin School which was for top Party officials, but it is the Sun Yat-sen University (UKT) which is of interest here because for an important period after 1930 this was where many of the key leaders imposed by the Comintern on the CCP were educated and trained.

From 1925, hundreds of young Chinese Communists began to flock to Russia to study at the UKT which attempted to completely mould a student’s thinking, starting from philosophical fundamentals and his/her world view, but central was a thorough training in Stalinist concepts of Party organisation and discipline.[98] It is no surprise then, to learn that the most important course was the study of Stalin’s Problems of Leninism.[99] After 1927 students were also expected to attend courses on ‘Trotsky’s mistakes’.

In November 1925, Sun Yat-sen University for the Toilers of China was officially opened in Moscow with nearly 300 students. The life span of this university was only five years and at its height it had less than a thousand Chinese students enrolled, but it was a crucial element in the domination of the CCP by the leading faction in the Russian Communist Party. Its students dominated the leadership of the CCP from about 1930 until 1935, and many continued to occupy important posts thereafter. For example, of the ninety-five members of the CC elected by the 8th National Congress of the CCP in 1956, more than a quarter had studied at the UKT.[100]

It is necessary to describe events at UKT to understand what practices these future leaders of the CCP accepted as normal to ‘Bolshevism’ and how they gained their authority.

Karl Radek was appointed Rector at the founding of the University.[101] However, beginning with Chiang Kai-shek’s coup in March 1926, he questioned the CCP policy of entrism and suggested it might be weakening the prospects of revolution. Stalin criticised him personally in Pravda of 21 April 1927 and he was removed as Rector.

Radek was replaced by Pavel Mif, a keen Stalin supporter who was first promoted to the directorship of the Chinese Section of the Comintern and then to Rector of the UKT. In two years Mif successfully organised around himself a group of students which would become known as the ‘28 Bolsheviks’ and whom Mif, as the CI representative in China would place into the leadership of the CCP. Mif quit as Rector in the summer of 1929 to go to China, and the University was closed the following year.

When Mif assumed his post as Rector, a student by the name of Wang Ming (Chen Shaoyu) made every effort to become associated with him and win his confidence. Wang Ming had joined the CCP after becoming a student at UKT so he had little or no experience of Communist Party work in China. He had been a member of the first class to graduate (in 1927, aged about 23) but he remained at the University as a translator, occasionally assisting Mif in studying the reports and other documents sent by the CCP to the Comintern. Mif recognised Wang Ming as someone who could be useful to him and from then on Ming acted as Mif’s mole reporting on university and Party affairs.

Initially the Chinese Communists in Moscow formed their own Party branch, probably as a matter of expediency as so few spoke Russian. However, in late 1926 the Moscow branch of the CCP was dissolved and its members transferred to the Russian Party, although most were demoted to candidate members with no vote on policy decisions. From this time on all Party meetings within the University were attended by ‘Russians’ employed or vetted by the secret police, and all key Party posts within the University were held by Russians.[102]

Usually there were twenty or so students in each Party cell, each with a Russian overseer. At meetings every student had to speak on the topic under discussion. No-one was allowed to remain silent – an approach designed to single out and deal with deviant ideas before they developed and ensure everyone adhered to acceptable views.[103]

In February 1927, Krupskaya was invited to speak at the University, and gave a talk, the formal topic of which was “Communist Education”. The Party branch had an especially tyrannical attitude towards women students which was codified in its document A Concrete Guide to the Work of Training, and from what Krupskaya said it would appear that she had been briefed about what was going on.

Krupskaya was concerned to demolish the Guide’s insistence that Party members had no right to individual free will, a common attitude amongst the bureaucracy at that time. In communist organisations there has to be discipline and direction, but it should be the self-discipline generated through carrying out mutually agreed tasks for a common goal. Krupskaya argued that a Communist worked according to Party instructions but beyond that a Communist had his/her own life to live. After all, both joining and leaving the Party were individual acts. It was quite incorrect to see free will as a manifestation of lack of discipline. Party unity could not be achieved by the terroristic imposition of ideas on Party members, rather it required the conscious agreement of Party members on the issue involved. Creating an atmosphere in the Party whereby members were suspicious of each other could seriously damage the Party as a whole. Party unity, she said, should be based on trust and understanding. Such arguments implicitly criticised the Party regime and helped many potential oppositionists make up their minds.

After the hall was cleared of men, she met with the women students of the University. An important topic raised was the heavy criticism of female Party members if they became pregnant. The Party branch had taken the position that Communist women must not bear children. To do so, the branch contended, turned them into mere housewives, who gave a higher priority to raising a family than carrying out revolutionary work. Some students had been intimidated into having abortions. Krupskaya conceded that having a child could make working in the underground difficult, but argued that forced abortions were not the solution. She suggested that the University nursery for the children of female students, located in suburban Moscow, should be extended for this purpose. Krupskaya’s visit gave the women students enormous intellectual and emotional support.

The upsurge in spirits felt by the students at the March 1927 seizure of power by the workers in Shanghai made Chiang Kai-shek’s subsequent betrayal all the more shocking (see Section 6.3). The students were expected to accept that Chiang’s coup was for the best because the slaughter of thousands of Communists represented the KMT getting rid of its right wing. Dutifully the student body followed the Party line and declared its support for the ‘truly revolutionary’, Left KMT government in Wuhan headed by Wang Ching-wei (Wang Jungwei). However, Stalin’s previous policy of cuddling up to Chiang (the Moscow Party had planned to display a huge effigy in honour of Chiang at the May Day demonstration) led inevitably to questions being asked about Comintern Chinese policy.

On 13 May, Stalin attended the University to explain policy on China.[104] Stalin’s obvious faith in the Left KMT government in Wuhan as “the centre of the struggle of the Chinese labouring masses against imperialism” and his projection that it could become the “organ of a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” would soon be shown to be dangerous nonsense. The Party bureau arranged for all Party cells in the University to hold meetings to discuss the speech. The cell directors were instructed to use the meetings not to defend Stalin’s speech but to criticise the opposition. There was to be no attempt to discuss the Chinese Revolution from the standpoint of seeking valid answers to pressing issues, the meetings being solely to support Stalin in the faction struggle taking place within the AUCP(B). This approach did not go down well with the students.[105]

Within two months the killing of Communists began in the area governed by the ‘truly revolutionary’ Left KMT. The students (now numbering over 550) asked the obvious question: What was wrong with the Comintern policy that it had led to the slaughter of thousands of CCP members, not once but twice? To many students it was incomprehensible that the ECCI had passed a resolution (14 July 1927) instructing the Chinese Communists to remain within the Left KMT at a time when Left KMT generals were killing Communists. They also found it hard to stomach the idea that free discussion of these events and differences within the Party were so severely repressed.[106]

The attitude of the Party branch committee became more repressive, reports at meetings were now largely limited to the ‘crimes’ of the opposition, reading material to gain an objective view of events was actively discouraged, attempts were made to ensure opposition documents did not enter the University, only material expressing unreserved support for the Central Committee was approved. Such restrictions served only to increase the natural interest of many students to discover what the Opposition was really saying.[107]

Faced with a disaster in China, Stalin moved quickly and decisively. On 11 November 1927, the CC announced that meetings of oppositionists, even in private dwellings would be broken up by force.[108] Three days later a special session of the CC and Control Commission expelled all oppositionists who were members of the CC (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rakovsky, Smilga, and Yevdokimov). In the days that followed, hundreds of oppositionists were arrested. The 15th Party Congress (2–19 December 1927) opened with not one of the 1,600 delegates from the Opposition, and unanimously declared the programme of the Opposition to be incompatible with Party membership.[109]

To demonstrate to his own followers that his policies on China were correct, Stalin had the CCP organise a stunt to coincide with the Congress. An uprising was to take place in Canton as proof that his political line for China was correct and had enabled the CCP to launch a successful bid for power. The Congress accepted the news at face value and enthusiastically hailed this “victory”.

The reality was very different. With little or no preparation, with no support either from the urban masses or the surrounding peasants, and with many thousands of KMT soldiers in and around Canton, the Communist International demanded the CCP seize the city (see Section 6.3 for details). Elleman has described how the dates of Congress and insurrection were juggled so that the insurrection would have greatest impact, and argues that over seven thousand workers paid with their lives to hide Stalin’s mistakes in China.[110] By 14 December, the last of the defenders of the Canton Commune had been wiped out and the reign of terror began, although that news was not brought before the Congress.

While formally endorsing all Party resolutions there was a growing mood in the student body that the CI could not be relied upon to correctly guide the revolution in China. Under pressure of events, many students opened their minds and searched for answers to their questions. Many of these would become members of the Trotskyist Opposition. However, those students on the right (e.g. the 28 Bolsheviks) were coming to very different conclusions; that it was the unrealistic demands made by the peasants for freedom and land that had triggered Chiang’s two coups.[111]

At the beginning of 1928 a number of veterans of the failed Canton, August Harvest, and Nanchung uprisings together with activists from the women’s movement began to arrive at the UKT.[112] The reports and stories these people provided did much to radicalise many independently-minded students and cause them to doubt the official line.

Due to Mif’s absence in China (with Wang Ming in attendance), there was a short hiatus between Radek leaving and Mif taking up the post of Rector. In that short time a bitter struggle for personal authority erupted between two factions: on the one hand the Party Branch faction dominated by the ousted leaders of the Moscow CCP branch (‘the survivors’) and on the other the Academic Affairs faction led by senior academics supported by a significant number of students. Mif returned and with Wang Ming rallying the uncommitted majority of students, the Rector was soon in charge. In this brief struggle Wang Ming emerged as the Rector’s spokesperson and thus a leader in the student body; in this capacity he began to form alliances that would be the basis of the 28 Bolsheviks.

Almost immediately afterwards, the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution took place and during the celebrations students from UKT staged a public demonstration of support for the Opposition. With the help of a member of staff (Bella Epshtein, who would be shot in the spring of 1938), ten or eleven students constructed placards with the slogan “Long live the leaders of the world revolution; Zinoviev, Radek, Preobrazhensky.”[113] These students marched with the KUTK contingent and then, when opposite Lenin’s mausoleum, unfurled their banner and began to shout slogans in support of the Opposition. A shocked Stalin instructed Mif to conduct a thorough investigation of Trotskyist activities at the UKT and to report his findings promptly to the CC of the AUCP(B).

The subsequent hurried investigation unanimously decided to expel from the Party Epshtein and those students they managed to identify. Staff members found to be Trotskyists or even Trotskyist sympathisers were expelled from the Party and fired.[114] It was during this episode that the political crystallisation of the 28 Bolsheviks took place.

Importantly, the 28 Bolsheviks did not need a separate organisation of their own because with the support of the Russian authorities they now controlled the Party branch. Mif did not create the 28 Bolsheviks; their performance in this, the first anti-Trotskyist struggle at UKT, was a self-selection process whereby they came to Mif’s attention as a force which could be useful to him. Once formed, the 28 Bolsheviks determined to root out any potential threats to their dominance, and moved against the remnants of the Academic Affairs faction (now under the name Second Line) which was beginning to re-assert itself.

The charge was that Second Liners – the majority of whom came from Kiangsu and Chekiang provinces – had formed an illegal anti-Party association, the “Jiangsu-Zhejiang Friendly Association”, based on provincial loyalties.[115] Whilst levelling this charge, the 28 Bolsheviks worked hard to hide the fact that nearly every one of them came from the Yangtze River valley.[116]

The 28 Bolsheviks could produce nothing solid and finally the Central Control Commission of the AUCP(B) resolved that there was inadequate evidence to support the anti-Party accusations. As Yueh, one of the 28 Bolsheviks, later admitted:

“Some slight evidence was uncovered to suggest the vague possibility that such an organisation may have been formed, although at the time I did not believe that it existed formally. But the use of exaggeration as a weapon in power struggles is not an unusual undertaking anywhere, and perhaps this weapon is used within Communist parties more freely than elsewhere.”

The tactics of the 28 Bolsheviks went beyond unfounded accusations to include using the GPU against their fellows. This alienated the student body which in its majority now rallied to the Second Line. Such behaviour speaks volumes on the mindset of the 28 Bolsheviks who – to further their positions within the University and Party – were quite prepared to make unfounded accusations that would result in a number of the Second Line leaders being sentenced to years of forced labour in unspeakable conditions. It should be remembered that this was a struggle for positions of personal authority between two Stalinist groups, and that Wang Ming stopped at nothing to achieve his goal of top place, considering any tactic legitimate, no matter how shameful.

Wang Ming now prepared to challenge the authority of the entire Chinese Comintern delegation by tying it to the Second Liners and spicing the charge of provincialism with allegations of ‘Trotskyism’. The 28 Bolsheviks now extended the critique to include an attack on Ch’u Ch’iu-pai on the grounds of ‘left opportunism’. Ch’u Ch’iu-pai had been elected General Secretary of the CCP on 7 August 1927 and now, as was becoming common practice in the CI, he was being deemed responsible for the recent failures of the CCP.[117] Mif took these criticisms to the ECCI and Ch’u was removed from the post of General Secretary in July 1928 at the 6th Congress of the CCP and kept in Moscow as Chinese delegate to the CI. Zhou Enlai who had been present assessed just how ambitious was the attack made by Wang Ming: “In opposing the Chinese delegation, the Wang Ming faction was in fact opposing the Central Committee of the Chinese Party, asserting that it was no longer competent and its members must be changed.”[118] After receiving Zhou Enlai’s report, the CC of the CCP formally accepted the judgement of the Comintern!

By the 6th World Congress of the CI Stalin had concluded that the CC of the CCP did not contain “a single Marxist mind … capable of understanding … the events now occurring.” In a letter of 9 July 1928, he spelled out his solution:

“It’s time to really busy ourselves with the organisation of a system of Party advisors attached to the CCP Central Committee, the Central Committee departments, regional organisations in each province, the departments of these regional organisations, the Party youth organisation, the peasant department of the Central Committee, the military department of the Central Committee, the central organ [newspaper], the federation of trade unions of China … The structure has to be set up so that all these Party advisors work together as a whole, directed by the chief advisor to the Central Committee (the Comintern representative). … The Party advisors will compensate for the enormous shortcomings of the CCP Central Committee and its top regional officials. They will serve (for the time being) as the nails holding the existing conglomerate together as a Party.”[119]

This proposal revealed Stalin’s approach toward fraternal relations with the CCP, which was to take control of it from top to bottom through his agents. Mif who was Stalin’s appointee would be well aware of Stalin’s wishes; it is obvious that the 28 Bolsheviks were an important step in that direction.

The 16th Conference of the AUCP(B) of April 1929, initiated a purge within the Russian Party and it was decided to extend this to a vigorous purge of all foreign communists in the Soviet Union.[120] In the autumn of 1929: “iron faced” purge commissars, experienced secret policemen toughened by numerous opposition witch hunts, descended on UKT.[121] A series of meetings was scheduled over which these commissars presided. Wang Ming carefully selected members on whose loyalty he could count and these members were given the task of bombarding ‘anti-Party’ elements with accusations.

The purge meetings at UKT were shattering experiences, the slightest political or personal blemish was publicly and endlessly questioned until an atmosphere of hysteria prevailed. This witch-hunt resulted in at least one suicide amongst the students. By the end the GPU had the names of some eighty to ninety students. These were arrested as suspected leaders of the opposition and immediately taken to the underground jail beneath the GPU HQ on Lubyanka Square in Moscow. The automatic method of interrogation was sleep deprivation while being forced to stand to attention until a ‘confession’ was obtained; members of the 28 Bolsheviks participated in these interrogations.[122] The interrogation techniques used on those who did not immediately confess are not described.

The purge increased in intensity and sophistication and by its end the GPU had arrested 171 Chinese as Trotskyists. The fate of most of these is not known, but the overwhelming majority were immediately expelled from the Party, a good proportion was sent to concentration camps such as the forced labour camps of the Altai gold mines in Siberia where it has been reported many were worked to death; few were sent back to China as there was no wish to spread Trotskyism.[123]

Wang Ming returned to China in early 1929. The main force of the 28 Bolsheviks returned by the end of 1930 and made Shanghai their headquarters. In November or December 1930, Mif went to Shanghai where he secretly met with the 28 Bolsheviks to plan a leadership coup within the CCP to overthrow and replace the Party Secretary, Li Lisan, and establish the ‘Wang Ming Empire’ with Wang appointed General Secretary at the 4th Plenum of the CC in January 1931 at the tender age of 26, with no practical experience of political work in China.[124]

During a key period in the growth and development of the CCP its leadership was largely in the hands of those who had been thoroughly trained in the ideas of the TSOC. But these people had also been trained in the Stalinist methods used during the purges in Russia. They had practical experience of suppressing internal Party democracy, of using outright lies, smears, blackmail, threats, intimidation and even physical violence as acceptable means of settling political disputes within the Party. These people had, in many cases, personally participated in brutal GPU interrogations of Trotskyists and others.[125]

3.8 Summary

The degeneration of the Russian Communist Party began with an unprincipled alliance of Lenin’s closest collaborators to prevent the promotion of Trotsky, and ended with the coming to power of the Stalinist bureaucracy. From personal slanders, political lies and suppression of the truth, the Stalin faction descended to organisational and physical intimidation of political opponents, then torture and execution. A witch-hunting hysterical atmosphere was deliberately created to isolate and silence oppositionists; it was in this atmosphere that the Chinese students at Sun Yat-sen University received their training. To their credit it was a magnificent achievement that as many as a third sided with the Trotskyist Opposition. However, from the remainder, who were prepared to stain their hands with the blood of Oppositionists, the Stalinists chose those who were to lead the CCP for the next period.

The course of events in the Soviet Union was determined by historical causes far deeper than the personal qualities of those leading the Bolshevik Party. The mood and orientation of the Russian working class changed in reaction to the enormous effort expended in the civil war. Tired from their heroic efforts, downhearted after the defeats of socialist revolutions internationally, and in a predominantly peasant country where the proletariat maintained close links with the peasants, there was an inevitable revival of petty-bourgeois tendencies in the proletariat itself.

The formation of the Troika marked a qualitative change in the nature of the leadership of the Bolshevik Party; previously the differences that arose had been corrected as events proved one side or the other right or wrong, but from now on matters would be decided on a factional basis. It would soon become common practice for loyalty to the majority faction to replace loyalty to the Party, and for those opposing the faction to be treated as opposing the Party. To defeat the opposition became more important than reaching correct conclusions and projecting a line that matched the needs of the situation. Events that gave the lie to the faction line were hidden from the membership. At the very top of the Party, personal considerations replaced political, and this gave the struggle between the Troika and Trotsky its bitterness and led to the rapid degeneration of the Party leadership.

Stalin immediately took pole position in developing the cult of Lenin and the Party propaganda machine went into a frenzy of activity; Lenin had always been correct on every issue, every question, every dispute, and the comrade always at his side had been Stalin. In this, the natural affection and esteem, love and respect felt for Lenin by all his old comrades was cleverly used by Stalin to transform Lenin into an icon, to whitewash away all his mistakes and give his political thought a linearity that had never existed in reality. Criticism of Lenin became impossible in the world communist movement.

Completely wiped out was the dynamic of Lenin’s political heritage. Importantly, this meant Lenin’s change in 1917 from a stagist to a permanentist perspective was erased. Lip service was paid to all Lenin’s proposals while moving in the opposite direction. At the end of the 12th Congress, the situation in the RCP was such that Stalin was, de-facto, irremovable as General Secretary. His narrowness of outlook, lack of creative imagination, empiricism, personal aggrandisement, and vanity came to the fore and made him the natural leader of the rising bureaucracy.


[1] Segal, R. The Tragedy of Leon Trotsky, Peregrine Books, 1983, p232/3.

[2] Souvarine, B. Stalin, a Critical Survey of Bolshevism. 1939, w.m.org.

[3] Daniels, R.V. The Conscience of the Revolution, Harvard U. P., 1965, p424.

[4] Podsheldolkin, A. The Origins of the Stalinist Bureaucracy – Some New Historical Facts 1990, w.m.org.

[5] Lenin, V. Our Tasks in the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, 1905, CW10:26 and 28.

[6] Lenin, V. Two Tactics of Social Democracy…, July 1905, CW9:15-140.

[7] Bunyan, J and Fisher, H. The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1918: Documents and Materials, Stanford U.P., 1961, p220.

[8] Cliff, T. Lenin 2:191, Bookmarks, London, 1987.

[9] Schapiro, L. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Methuen, 1960, p243.

[10] Podsheldolkin, Op. cit.

[11] Sakwa, R. The Communist Party and War Communism in Moscow, 1918-1921, PhD Thesis, Univ. of Birmingham, 1984, www.history.ac.uk.

[12] Cliff, T. Lenin, 3:139-142.

[13] Wright, J. The Truth about Kronstadt, February 1938, w.m.org.

[14] Cliff, T. Trotsky, Pluto Press, 3:182.

[15] Pirani, S. The Russian Revolution in Retreat 1920-1924, Routledge, 2008, p19-20.

[16] Carr, E. History of Soviet Russia, Pelican, 1966, 4:14.

[17] Woods, A. Lenin’s Last Struggle, Wellred Books, 2009.

[18] Pirani, S. The Communists’ Dilemma. www.solidarity-us.org/atc 2008.

[19] Medvedev, R. On Socialist Democracy, Spokesman Books, 1977, p221.

[20] Murphy, K. Class Struggle in a Moscow Metal Factory, Berghan Books, 2005, p83.

[21] Murphy, Op. cit. p87.

[22] Allen, N. The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25), Pathfinder Press, 1975, p50.

[23] Murphy, Op. cit. p102 et seq.

[24] Pirani, S. The Russian workers and the Bolshevik Party in power, 2006, www.revolutioninretreat.com.

[25] Murphy, Op. cit. p89.

[26] Liebman, M. Leninism Under Lenin, Merlin Press, 1975, p307.

[27] Schapiro, Op. cit., p231 et seq.

[28] Pirani, The Russian workers … Op. cit.

[29] Rigby, T. Communist Party Membership in the USSR 1917-1967. Princeton U.P., 1968, p241-242.

[30] Trotsky, L. Stalin, Hollis and Carter, 1947, p384-5.

[31] Pirani, S. The Party Elite, Industrial Managers, Specialists and Workers, 1922-23. 2006, www.revolutioninretreat.com.

[32] Schapiro, Op. cit. p234/6.

[33] Daniels, Op. cit. p201.

[34] Lenin, V. Speech Closing the 4th Congress, April, 1920, CW30:485.

[35] Murphy, Op. cit. p164.

[36] Lenin, V. Preliminary Draft Resolution of the 10th Party Congress of the CPU on Party Unity, CW32:241.

[37] Lenin, V. Resolution on Party Unity, March 1921, CW32:261.

[38] Liebman, Op. cit. p292/300.

[39] Serge, V. Year One of the Russian Revolution, Pluto Press, 1992 p118/9. Serge, V. Memoirs of a Revolutionary 1901-1942, O.U.P.,

[40] Krupskaya, N. Memories of Lenin, Panther History, 1970, p124-5.

[41] Daniels, Op. cit. p163.

[42] Segal, Op. cit. p253.

[43] Daniels, Op. cit., p170.

[44] Cliff, Lenin, Op. cit. 3:365.

[45] Podsheldolkin, Op. cit.

[46] Deutscher, I. Stalin Pelican Books, London, 1984 p259.

[47] Schapiro, Op. cit. p256 et seq.

[48] Pirani, S. The Party Elite …. Op. cit.

[49] Serge, Op. cit. p79.

[50] Lenin, V. Letter to Molotov, CW33:257.

[51] Pirani, The Party Elite… Op. cit.

[52] Carr, Op. cit. 4:40.

[53] Deutscher, Op. cit. Chapter 7.

[54] Podsheldolkin, Op. cit.

[55] Degras, J. (ed), The Communist International 1919 – 1943, Documents, OUP, 1956,1:26.

[56] Riddell, J. Comintern – Revolutionary Internationalism in Lenin’s Time, A Socialist Voice Pamphlet, 2008.

[57] Broue, P, Revolution in Germany (1917-1923), Brill, Ch37.

[58] Sewell, R. Germany: from Revolution to Counter-Revolution, Wellred, 2012.

[59] Broue, Op. cit. P, Revolution in …, p806-808.

[60] Broue, P. History of the Bolshevik Party (CP) of the USSR w.m.org.

[61] Grant, T. Russia: From Revolution and Counter Revolution, Wellred, 1997 p122-123.

[62] Stalin, J. Foundations of Leninism, April 1924, CW6:17-196.

[63] Segal, Op. cit. p288/9.

[64] Lenin, V. Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets, January, 1918, CW26:470.

[65] Lenin, V. Speech on the International Situation, November, 1918. CW28:151.

[66] Deutscher, Op. cit. p283/6.

[67] Stalin, J. October Revolution and the Tactics of Russian Communists December 17 1924 6:394.

[68] Carr, Op. cit. 2:43.

[69] Stalin, J, Foundations Op. cit.

[70] Segal, Op. cit. p288/9.

[71] Deutscher, Op. cit. p293.

[72] Daniels, Op. cit. p282/3.

[73] Lenin, V. Speech on the International Situation, November, 1918. CW28:151.

[74] Woods, A. and Grant, T. Lenin and Trotsky What They Really Stood For, 1969, w.m.org.

[75] Lenin, V. Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, October 1917, CW26:87-136.

[76] Hiroaki Kuromiya, Stalin’s Industrial Revolution, CUP 1988.

[77] Chattopadhyay, K. The Marxism of Leon Trotsky, Progressive Publishers, India, 2006, p393.

[78] Stalin, J. New Tasks in Economic Construction, June 23, 1931, CW13: 53-82.

[79] Riddell, J. Comintern: Revolutionary Internationalism in Lenin’s Time, Socialist Voice, 2008.

[80] Atkinson, D. Women in Russia, Stanford, U.P., 1977, p122.

[81] Riddell, Op. cit.

[82] Trotsky, L. The Revolution Betrayed, Pathfinder Press, 1972. p153-154.

[83] Cliff, T. Class Struggle and Women’s Liberation, Bookmarks, 1984, p148-149.

[84] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, Op. cit. p152.

[85] Ibid p145-147.

[86] Cliff, Class Struggle … Op. cit. p150-151.

[87] Grant, Op. cit. p301-303.

[88] Rogovin, V. 1937 Stalin’s Year of Terror. Mehring Books 1998, p140-141.

[89] Cohen, Op. cit. A. The Communism of Mao Tse-Tung. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1966.

[90] Stalin, J. The Results of the First Five-Year Plan, Report Delivered to the Joint Plenum of CC and CCC on January 7, 1933. 13:215-216.

[91] Degras, Op. cit. 3:359.

[92] Stalin, J. Constitution (Fundamental law) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics 5 December 1936 w.m.org.

[93] Weaver, S. The New Soviet Constitution, w.m.org.

[94] Souvarine, B. Stalin, a Critical Survey of Bolshevism. 1939, w.m.org.

[95] Zhou Enlai, Report on the Work of the Third National Congress of the People’s Republic of China, Peking, 1965, p26.

[96] Stalin, J, Report to the 17th Party Congress on the Work of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U.(B.) 1934, CW13:374.

[97] Pantsov, A. Chinese Students at the International Lenin School, in Moscow 1926-1938, Capital University.

[98] Saich, T. The Chinese Communist Party during the Era of the Comintern (1919-1943), www.hks.harvard.edu.

[99] Benton, G. Bolshevising China: From Lenin to Stalin to Mao, 1921–1944. Leeds University, East Asia Papers No 22.

[100] Yueh Sheng, Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow and the Chinese Revolution: A Personal Account. Univ. of Kansas, Center for East Asian Studies, East Asian Series, 1971, p1.

[101] Pantsov, A. The Bolsheviks and the Chinese Revolution 1919-1927, Curtzon. 2000. p114.

[102] Yueh, Op. cit. p116.

[103] Yueh, Op. cit. p81.

[104] Stalin, J. Talk with Students at Sun Yat-sen University May 13 1927, 9:243–273.

[105] Yueh, Op. cit.

[106] Pantsov, A, Chinese Students … Op. cit.

[107] Wang Fan-hsi. Memoirs of a Chinese Revolutionary, Columbia U.P., 1991.

[108] Trotsky, L, The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-27), Pathfinder Press, 2003, p535.

[109] Deutscher, Op. cit. p312.

[110] Elleman, B. Moscow and the Emergence of Communist Power in China 1925-1931, Routledge 2010.

[111] Wang Fan-hsi. Op. cit.

[112] Pantsov, The Bolsheviks …. Op. cit.. p163-174.

[113] Pantsov, The Bolsheviks … Op. cit. p183.

[114] Pantsov, A, Chinese Students … Op. cit.

[115] Pantsov, A, Chinese Students … Op. cit.

[116] Yueh, Op. cit. p217.

[117] Boorman, H. and Howard, R. Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, Columbia U.P., 1967, Vol. 3.

[118] Chou En-Lai, The Communist International and the Chinese Communist Party, 1960 FLPH, Selected Works, 2:314.

[119] Lih, L. Stalin’s Letters to Molotov 1925-1936, Yale U.P., 1995.

[120] Pantsov, Chinese Students … Op. cit.

[121] Yueh, Op. cit. p174 – 175.

[122] Yeung, Op. cit p180-182.

[123] Pantsov’s interview with Wang Fanxi, Leeds 1992, p 187.

[124] Kegan, R. The Comintern, the 28 Bolsheviks and the Alumni of Sun Yat-sen Unversity. Int. Rev. of History and Political Science, Vol 11, p79-80, 1974.

[125] Yueh, Op. cit. p118.