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New International, February 1948


M.Y. Wang

Chinese Trotskyism in the War

Was China’s War Progressive?

(November 1947)


From New International, Vol. XIV No. 2, February 1948, pp. 58–62.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


We print the following document for the information of our readers and of the international movement on the points of view developed in the Chinese Trotskyist organization on the problems arising out of the Second World War.

As is explained in the accompanying letter by Comrade Yvon Cheng, the Communist League of China split after Pearl Harbor into: a majority – the Struggle Group, so called after the title of its paper, led by Peng Shih-chi; and a minority – the Internationalist Group, which now publishes the New Banner, led by Wang Ming-yuen and Yvon Cheng, the former being the signatory to the present document.

Part I, dealing with the problem of wartime policy, is printed in this issue. Part II, dealing with the current problems of attitude toward the Kuomintang-Stalinist struggle and problems of party work, will appear next month. The text, sent to us by the Chinese comrades in English, is given here with some stylistic editorial revision.

The problems here discussed were also discussed by our own party in America. Up to recently, however, there was very little information available on what had been going on among the Chinese revolutionists themselves. A document of the majority Struggle Group was published in the Fourth International of July–August 1947; it is referred to below as the Report. The document here given is a reply to that Report and an independent account of the questions, by the minority Internationalist Group whose resolution appeared in our issue of last October.

The position of the Workers Party on the nature of China’s participation in the Second World War may be seen in the June 1942 special supplement to The New International, entitled China in the World War by Max Shachtman. The position of the Internationalist Group as here presented is obviously quite close to ours, certainly so with regard to its conclusion of non-support to China in the war at least after Pearl Harbor, on the ground that it had become an integral part of the world imperialist struggle.

With due regard to the possibility of a terminological misunderstanding, it would seem, however, that the Chinese comrades go too far in their generalization that: “if the task of the revolutionary conquest of power by the proletariat is put before the world working class in general, then once war breaks out no matter in what country and no matter what character it may assume, the fundamental attitude toward the war which a revolutionist should take must be one which is nearer to ‘defeatism’ and farther from ‘defensism.’”

The formulations in this section would seem to apply equally to the Spanish Civil War or to any revolutionary colonial war against imperialism in the future. We trust that it will be possible to clarify this question further in discussion with the Chinese comrades. An editorial footnote also is appended at one point where Comrade Wang refers to what he apparently believes to be the Workers Party point of view; this second matter will be discussed again next month in connection with Part II.

The document is addressed “To the Editorial Board of The Fourth International” in reply to the majority Report – copy to us. A brief introduction to it notes that “The Report aroused no little indignation in our ranks. It is a combination of slanders, distortions, black lies and irresponsible boasts.” It adds that “we are surprised and embittered” by the fact that the majorityites should write such a piece and the Cannonites print it. Whether or not the Fourth International carries this reply, we believe the Internationalist Group’s voice should be heard in the ranks of our movement.


The Struggle with Chen Du-hsiu

The Report begins with a description of the struggle carried on between the Chinese Trotskyist organization and Chen Du-hsiu. It attempts to describe the relations which existed between the Chinese Old Man and the old revolutionists of the 1925–27 generation. The Report says of Chen Du-hsiu:

“He turned his back upon our League almost immediately after he left prison” and “declared in a letter to one of our old comrades in Shanghai that he had decided to combat damned Bolshevism to the very end of his life!”

Such a description is oversimplified, therefore incorrect. Chen Du-hsiu, “the father of Chinese communism,” the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party from its very inception until August 1927, the No. 1 leader of the Chinese revolution of 1925–27, who became a Trotskyist after the debacle of the revolution, became one of the founders and leaders of the Chinese Trotskyist movement, served four years in a Kuomintang prison while remaining a staunch Trotskyist – Chen Du-hsiu did break with Bolshevism during the Second World War. But this break did not take place “immediately” and it was not final.

During the period from the beginning of the anti-Japanese war down to the outbreak of the Second World War, he held the position that the Chinese Trotskyists could do nothing else than support the anti-Japanese war unconditionally. In his opinion it was quite out of the question to speak of revolution during the war or of transforming the war into a revolution. But as usual with him, Chen Du-hsiu did not present this position as a matter of principle but rather empirically and tactically. He justified his position in the following manner: We must at present support the war; as for this revolution, let’s speak of it later. You can see from this that Chen Du-hsiu’s position was false; but it was neither final nor systematic.

Chen’s Break with Movement

In 1939, one year after the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War, in order to acquaint himself with the position of the Chinese Old Man, Trotsky asked Comrade Li Fu-jen to make an inquiry of him. Chen Du-hsiu wrote a statement in answer which was given to Trotsky by Li Fu-jen. After reading Chen Du-hsiu’s statement Trotsky wrote Comrade Li as follows:

”I am extremely glad to know that our friend remained our friend politically, although there are some possible divergences existing between us; but right now I cannot judge these possible divergences with necessary precision ... However, I consider that what he expressed is essentially correct” (Trotsky’s letter to Li Fu-jen, retranslated from the Chinese, March 11, 1939.)

Chen Du-hsiu’s position moved further away from that of the Trotskyists after the signing of the German-Soviet pact and the outbreak of war in Europe. He held that we should support the democracies versus the fascist and Russian “imperialisms.” He was of the opinion that in order to facilitate the victory of the democracies in the war, the Indians should for the time being put a stop to their nationalist movement.

It goes without saying that this is the same as the position that was held by Plekhanov, Guesde & Co. during the First World War and that was held by the whole Second International, and by the Third International after the outbreak of the German-Soviet war, during the last slaughter of mankind. Needless to say, such a position meant a complete break with Trotskyism.

But, as we have said and as Trotsky had correctly observed, Chen Du-hsiu was not a theoretician of Plekhanov’s type but a revolutionist à la Lassalle. Lacking profound theoretical training, his action was always directed by impressions, his opinions were changeable and fallible; but at the same time and for the same reason he was often able to make bold corrections of his mistakes.

The over-thirty-years’ history of Chen Du-hsiu’s revolutionary activity was replete with such conflicts and mistakes. One’s defects sometimes become one’s merit. It was partially because of this “defect,” we believe, that Chen Du-hsiu was able to complete his evolution from a democrat to a communist and from a communist in general to a Trotskyist, in the brief period of seven or eight years.

We may speculate whether, if Chen had not died, he would have devoted the remaining years of his life to the cause of the Fourth International. We cannot give a definite answer to this question. That is why we also said that his break with Trotskyism could not be considered as final.

Old Comrades Opposed Chen

What attitude did we, the so-called “old comrades of the 1926–27 generation” take toward Chen’s false ideas? Comrade Li Fu-jen gave very good testimony on this point in the August 1942 issue of the Fourth International:

“This polemic, which was carried on by correspondence between the remote Szechwang village where Chen lived and the Central Committee in Shanghai, left Chen in a minority of one. [Our emphasis – M.Y.W.]

“How far the Chinese revolutionary movement has advanced beyond the political level which Chen represented is evidenced most strikingly in the fact that he could not find in the Chinese organization a single supporter for his later political ideas.”

Comrade Li Fu-jen is an old friend of the Chinese Trotskyists. He lived in China during the period from 1935 to 1941. He was a member of the Chinese organization, and more than that, he was once elected a member of the provisional Central Committee. Since he is quite conversant with the ideological groupings of Chinese Trotskyism, his testimony, of course, is trustworthy.

But the Report said, exactly to the contrary: “Almost all the comrades who belong to the 1926–27 generation were grouped around him; Chen’s retreat exercised a decisive influence over them.” What a black lie!

We, whom the Report calls the “old generation,” not only did not support Chen’s ideas but carried on a most uncompromising struggle with him; so much so that finally the “Old Man” became very angry with us and broke off all relations.

In attempting to describe the “old generation” the Report fell into a gross self-contradiction. In the first paragraph it said:

“... Only after the comrades who returned from the Nanking prisons provided the organization with a new impetus, only after a serious ideological re-education was the movement put in order …”

while in the second paragraph it said:

“... it was a question of the complete retreat and disillusionment of the old Bolsheviks ...”

Neither the first nor the second paragraph is correct. The former exaggerated the role of the “old comrades,” while the latter derogated them.

The Traditional Ideological Differences within Chinese Trotskyism

The inception of the Chinese Trotskyist movement dates back to 1928. There were serious divergences, political as well as theoretical, in its ranks almost from its very birth.

During the nineteen years of existence of the Chinese Trotskyist organization there have been two main traditional issues on which there were great differences of opinion. These were: (1) the relation between the democratic revolution and the socialist revolution. (2) Tactical questions regarding our attitude toward the Kuomintang, centering around the slogan of the constituent assembly.

On the first question there were many comrades who showed Stalinist leanings, headed by Comrade Peng Shih-chi, the present leader of the Struggle Group, and the traitor Liu Jen-ching, known in the foreign press as Niel-si. The latter took and the former still takes the position that the democratic and socialist revolutions constitute two different and successive stages, if not two different historical epochs. In their opinion the future Chinese revolution will begin with the democratic revolution during which the power will be conquered, while the socialist revolution will begin only after the establishment of workers’ power.

The Report clearly describes this idea when it says: “We preach the elementary ideas of the permanent revolution, as a revolution starting from the democratic struggle to the goal of socialism.” (Fourth International, July–August 1947, p. 214.)

Another group of comrades, the present leading elements of the Internationalist Group, opposed this idea from the very beginning. They considered that such an explanation of the idea of permanent revolution has nothing in common with the Trotskyist theory, since the idea of “starting from the democratic struggle to the goal of socialism” can be accepted not only by Stalin but also even by Leon Blum and Attlee. We hold a different position, one which really follows Trotsky’s analysis of the character of China’s future revolution.

“Flower in the Looking Glass”

According to Trotsky the character of the future Chinese revolution will be socialist from the very beginning owing to the following considerations: (1) The class struggle, especially the struggle between bourgeoisie and working class, has become extremely sharp. (2) The agrarian revolution in China is anti-capitalist. (3) The struggle for the expropriation of the factories has become imperative. (See Trotsky’s The Third International After Lenin, p. 184, The Summary and Perspective of the Chinese Revolution)

In accordance with his ideas we are of the opinion that the democratic and socialist tasks of the Chinese revolution are interlaced with each other, not that they successively follow each other. Thus we held and still hold that the democratic tasks can only be solved, in passing, by the socialist revolution; that the scope of the democratic movement can be widened and deepened into a revolution; and that the revolution can have a perspective of development only when the democratic struggle merges into the socialist revolution, when the democratic struggle is waged as a factor of socialist revolution. If, on the contrary, we make socialism a “goal” and limit ourselves to staying within the circle of “democratic struggle” in the first stages of revolution, then the “goal” would become (as we Chinese put it) the “flower in the looking glass” which will never be reached.

The Constituent Assembly Slogan

There were also two positions opposed to each other from the very beginning on the second question – that is, on the tactical question of our attitude toward the Kuomintang, with the constituent assembly as the central slogan. One group, again beaded by Peng Shih-chi and the traitor Liu Jen-ching, saw in the constituent assembly slogan mainly a “historical driving force.” They hoped that there would be a parliamentary perspective of long duration in China, and that the Chinese proletariat would carry their socialist revolution on to a “higher historical plane.”

Starting from this elementary idea, they always leaned toward maintaining a “united front” with the “democratic” bourgeoisie and toward believing in the possibility of the solution (at least the partial solution) of the democratic and national tasks through “democratic means,” through the constituent assembly, etc. The traitor Liu Jen-ching gave a famous formulation on this point: “The constituent assembly is the popular formula for the proletarian dictatorship.”

This group of comrades, of course, entertained too much hope in the bourgeois “national and democratic struggles.”

The Permanent Axis

Another group, also represented by the leading comrades of the present Internationalists, has always taken the position that the importance of the constituent assembly slogan lies mainly in the fact that it is a means of consolidating the proletariat and helping them to re-enter the political scene. Starting from this position the attitude of this group on other tactical questions naturally emphasized the problem of how to mobilize the masses in opposition to the bourgeoisie.

In their essence the many rich discussions within the Chinese Trotskyist movement during the past nineteen years can be reduced to the above-mentioned two questions. They revolved around these two questions as around a permanent axis. Chen Du-hsiu’s position on the two fundamental questions coincided with that of Peng Shih-chi & Co. except at the beginning of the thirties, when his ideas on the character of the future Chinese revolution were very close to ours. We are therefore justified in saying that Chen-Du-hsiu’s eventual break with Trotskyism was due largely to his position on the fundamental disputed questions within the Chinese Trotskyist organization.

It goes without saying that the two traditional divergences in Chinese Trotskyism reflected different social bases: the “democrats” represent the petty-bourgeois wing of our ranks, while the “socialist revolutionists” represent the proletarian tendency. But we are not ready to resort to this “class analysis” since the causes of our ideological division, we believe, is in no small degree due to infantilism and theoretical backwardness. In the case of only a few of the old leaders, such as Peng Shih-chi, is their opportunism systematic and obstinate.

Issues in the Split of 1942

The Report told you that the internal struggle among the Chinese Trotskyists in 1942 was “the continuation of the struggle in the American party in 1940.” This statement is false to the core, made with the obvious aim of winning your sympathy and support. In reality it was a continuation of the traditional struggle within the Chinese Trotskyists. It was merely the old divergences reflected in the new question of the Sino-Japanese war.

Prior to 1940 there were already differences of opinion among the Chinese comrades with respect to China’s anti-Japanese war, although these were still of minor and episodic character. Although they could be already considered as divergences of principle, yet all participants in the discussion had not fully developed their arguments on the plane of principle. This fact was mainly due to the weakness of the Chinese organization, and as a result of it, its position did not have the opportunity to be matched against the real development of events.

Among the potential and episodic disputes the following facts are important:

  1. After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war, Comrade Peng Shih-chi insisted on the withdrawal of our central slogan, “Down with the Kuomintang,” while, on the other hand, the late Comrade Chen Chi-chang fought with equal persistence to keep the slogan in our program. Peng’s proposal finally won out, when Comrade Yvon Cheng was out of Shanghai and Comrade Wang Ming-yuen was still in a Kuomintang prison; the traditional slogan of Chinese Trotskyism, “Down with the Kuomintang,” was thus withdrawn.

Views on the War

  1. Comrade Chen Du-hsiu looked upon the anti-Japanese war as a higher development of the national struggle of the Chinese people, while other comrades preferred to point out that China’s anti-Japanese war was a result of the defeat of the Chinese revolution.
  2. The conference which took place in November 1937 under the leadership of Peng-Shih-chi decided that we should center our attack upon the compromising tendencies of the Kuomintang in the anti-Japanese war, and called for a workers’ and peasants’ uprising to support the war with the aim of prolonging it. On the other hand, other comrades, first Chen Chi-chang and then Wang Ming-yuen, took the position of deepening the social basis of the war, above all, of “supporting” the war with agrarian revolution.
  3. Comrade Yvon Cheng was of the opinion that the Sino-Japanese war could only be considered as a part of the imperialist war; consequently, he opposed the war itself from the very beginning and wanted to apply the Leninist policy of revolutionary defeatism to the war. His position did not win a single supporter at that time.

If we ignore the tactical side of these questions, there were evidently two opposing fundamental tendencies behind the above-mentioned “episodic” divergences: on the one hand, a tendency which emphasized the meaning of the war itself and consequently considered it the means through which the national tasks of China might be solved; on the other hand, the tendency which looked at the anti-Japanese war from the point of view of proletarian revolution and consequently considered it mainly as a road through which one might or might not achieve the workers’ and peasants’ revolution.

The Dispute in 1940

The former is a position of pure democratism (national emancipation is only one of the democratic tasks), while the latter is the position of socialist revolution, namely, the position of permanent revolution. The former was represented by Chen Du-hsiu and Peng Shih-chi, while the latter was represented by the leading comrades of the present Internationalist Group (Comrades Chen Chi-chang, Yvon Cheng, Wang Ming-yuen and others). Such a line-up was not accidental but rather quite faithful to the traditional ideological groupment within the Chinese Trotskyists during nearly the past 20 years.

But the different views on the anti-Japanese war were not fundamentally and finally formulated until 1940 when the war between the imperialists and the Sino-Japanese war began to intertwine. At the end of 1940 the international situation posed a new problem to the Chinese Trotskyists, namely, the fact that the fast-approaching Japanese-American war in the Pacific was sure to make China’s anti-Japanese war a phase of the imperialist war. Should the Chinese Trotskyists then reconsider their attitude and policy on the war?

With this question as a starting point there broke out a very sharp internal struggle which caused the traditional divergences of Chinese Trotskyism to again burst forth deeply and extensively on the question of policy on the anti-Japanese war in particular and on the national question in general.

What Were the Different Views?
How Did the Discussion Take Place?

The first question discussed at that time was formulated in the following manner: Did the Sino-Japanese war become an integral part of the imperialist war in the autumn of 1940, when the so-called “ABCD front” in the Pacific was formed? To this question nearly all Chinese Trotskyists answered in the affirmative. They had some differences only on the question of the time. Peng said: the Sino-Japanese war will become a part of the imperialist war only after the outbreak of the war in the Pacific; Wang Ming-yuen said: the Sino-Japanese war has already been intertwined with the undeclared and not-yet-shooting war between Japan and the USA; while Yvon Cheng said: “It was a part of the imperialist war from the very beginning.”

The second question was: Is there any difference in the character of China’s anti-Japanese war now that she is fighting as the junior partner of an imperialist power as compared with the time when she was fighting independently? In answering this question Comrade Peng said: The character of China’s anti-Japanese war will not be changed in the least regardless of how it is fought. Other comrades [1] – that is, all members of the Political Committee except Peng Shih-chi – were of the opinion that the anti-Japanese war was progressive when fought by China more or less independently bUt that it was reactionary when fought as a part of the imperialist war. In different cases the character of the same anti-Japanese war was different as well. In the course of discussion, however, Comrade Liu Chia-liang changed his views and went over to Peng Shih-chi’s position.

What IS Defeatism?

The third question: If the character of the war has changed, should our attitude toward it be changed accordingly? Comrade Wang Ming-yuen, the sponsor of the “changing-character theory,” insisted that once the character of the war had changed from progressive to reactionary, our attitude must be changed from defensism to defeatism. Comrade Yvon Cheng, who had been a defeatist from the very beginning, naturally supported Comrade Wang’s position, while on the other hand Comrade Peng, and later on also Liu, fought desperately against the defeatist position.

The fourth question: What is defeatism? Is Trotsky’s position on the Chinese war defensist or defeatist? This question, as you may easily see, is merely a continuation of the third question. We, four out of six of the then editorial board of Struggle, were of the opinion that especially in the case of China’s anti-Japanese war, the meaning of defeatism should be understood as a policy of prosecuting the class struggle during the war with the aim of developing this struggle into a civil war. To take a historical analogue, the “defeatism” of the Chinese Trotskyists may be compared, in a not very exact manner, to the “defeatism” of the Russian Bolsheviks after the February revolution when they “supported” Kerensky in the fight against the Germans and Kornilovists.

Peng Shih-chi & Co., either out of simple ignorance or intentional distortion, declared that revolutionary defeatism with respect to China’s side of the war meant favoring the victory of Japanese imperialism and, even worse, it meant “sabotage and other destructive activities in the Kuomintang area.” This explanation of defeatism by Peng Shih-chi is in reality as great a distortion as was the prosecutor’s accusation against the SWP leaders in the Minneapolis court!

What position, in fact, did Comrade Trotsky adopt on China’s anti-Japanese war? In his letter to Diego Rivera (published in La Lutte Ouvrière, organ of the Belgian PSR, No. 43, October 23, 1937), he repudiated “defeatism”; but in the same letter he outlined the following tactical line for us Chinese Trotskyists:

“It is necessary to win influence and prestige in the course of the military struggle against the foreign enemy’s invasion, and in the political struggle against the weakness, failures and betrayals within. At a certain point which we cannot fix in advance, this political opposition can and must be transformed into armed struggle, for civil war like any other war is nothing else than the continuation of politics.”

Defeatism in China

To fight against the internal enemy politically, and more than that, to transform this political opposition into armed struggle – i.e., to transform the national war into civil war – is a thoroughly revolutionary policy. In our opinion, this policy, no matter on what position we stand when we carry it out, is essentially different from traditional defensism and even from defensism à la Clemenceau, but quite close to the Leninist policy of revolutionary defeatism.

It goes without saying that defeatism, as applied to China, cannot be fully equal to the defeatism which was held by Lenin in 1914–1918 in relation to the Russo-German war. But this does not prevent us from considering Trotsky’s position on the Chinese war as defeatist in essence, just as the defeatism adopted by the French, English and American revolutionists during the Second World War was also somewhat different in application and implication from, that of the Russian revolutionists in the First World War.

The victory of Hitler was not a “lesser evil” for the French, English and American working classes. Therefore, during the Second World War, in the democratic imperialist countries, the defeatist position could and should be understood merely as a policy of prosecuting the class struggle during the war and transforming the national war into civil war. These two fundamental ideas were obviously implied in Trotsky’s position on China’s anti-Japanese war from the very beginning.

Thus, in the course of the discussion the attitudes of Comrade M.Y. Wang and Comrade Yvon Cheng on the anti-Japanese war became identical. The former also granted that the attitude which we adopted toward the war should be “defeatist” or nearly “defeatist” in essence from the very beginning, although he still insisted that China’s anti-Japanese war was objectively progressive in its first period.

With the deepening of the questions in dispute, the comrades who later organized the Internationalist Group came to the conclusion that the Leninist defeatist line was less concerned with the character of the war than with the task imposed upon a revolutionary party of conquering power during the war. They believe that if the task of the revolutionary conquest of power by the proletariat is put before the world working class in general, then once war breaks out, no matter in what country and no matter what character it may assume, the fundamental attitude toward the war which a revolutionist should take must be one which is nearer to “defeatism” and farther from “defensism.” It cannot be otherwise if the revolutionists wish to seize power during the war. In other words, to transform the war into civil war is the strategic line of “defeatism,” no matter on what tactical basis one puts this line into effect.

Right Wing Supported Chiang

On the other hand, Peng Shih-chi and his similars had an opportunistic and obstinate attitude on this question. They were not willing to move a single step from their interpretation of “defeatism” on the basis of their ridiculous definition, namely, “to explode bridges for the enemy.” From Trotsky’s position on the Sino-Japanese war they remembered only the term “defensism.” Its content – that is, “to transform political opposition into armed struggle,” “to overthrow the Kuomintang during the war” – was forgotten by them completely.

Their essentially compromising attitude toward the Kuomintang thus became clearer as a result of the discussion. They openly declared that “so long as the Kuomintang fights against the Japanese we cannot change our attitude toward the war and toward the Kuomintang government, we cannot put the slogan ‘Down with the Kuomintang’ again in our program.” According to their opinion therefore, it is absurd and false to subordinate the interests of war to that of revolution.

Thus the Peng Shih-chi group supported Chiang Kai-shek’s war up to V-J Day. Before V-J Day they invariably declared that “in spite of the intertwining of the Sino-Japanese and Japanese-American wars, China’s war of resistance will never lose its great historical significance of regaining national independence from the hands of Japanese imperialism.” But after the “victory” they had to admit in a resolution, as if suddenly awakened out of a dream, that “China is going to be a second Philippines!” They did not even bother to ask themselves the following question: Were not Peng Shih-chi & Co. among those supporters of the war to the “victorious end” who had helped to make China “a second Philippines”?

Imperialism or Socialism

The fifth question was on the possibility of an independent bourgeois China. We said and still say that while struggling for the independence of China we must make clear the following truth to ourselves as well as to the advanced workers: In the present stage of imperialism there are only two alternatives for China – either an independent soviet socialist China (an integral part of the world socialist union) or else a colony under the control of American imperialism. There is not and cannot be any middle way.

An independent capitalist China is an illusion. Peng and his followers, however, opposed this position of ours with all their strength, declaring that the “imperialism or socialism” formula is false, a sort of “ultra-leftism.” For them a non-capitalist and non-socialist perspective for China is possible. But you know no less than we that outside of the formula “imperialism or socialism,” there are only Shachtman’s “socialism or bureaucratism or barbarism” [2] or Mao Tze-tung’s “new democratism” left for Peng Shih-chi to support.

The difference on this question clearly reveals two opposing tendencies: permanent revolution on the one hand, and on the other, the theory of a purely democratic revolution.

The sixth question is on the meaning of the theory of permanent revolution. This is simply a revival of an old divergence. As we said above, Peng and his followers “preached the elementary ideas of the permanent revolution as a revolution starting from the democratic struggle to the goal of socialism.”

Dear comrades, are you satisfied with such an explanation of permanent revolution? What is meant by “to the goal of socialism”? Do not Attlee and Leon Blum also take socialism as their “goal”? Are we not correct in condemning this position as “opportunism”? We said that, to speak more exactly, we only followed Trotsky in saying that the future Chinese revolution will be socialist from the very beginning. This is so, first of all, because we, together with the proletariat, in the future revolution will orient ourselves on the road of struggle for power at the first revolutionary tide, regardless of whether the immediate cause of revolution is democratic or nationalist. Secondly, because the democratic and nationalist tasks of the Chinese revolution – that is, the agrarian revolution and the anti-imperialist struggle, just as Trotsky analyzed them – themselves have an anti-capitalist character. Therefore, he said,

“The third Chinese revolution ... will not have a ‘democratic’ period ... But it will be compelled from the very outset to effect the most decisive shake-up and abolition of bourgeois property in city and village.” (The Third International After Lenin, pp. 184–185)

Back to the Permanent Revolution!

Is it not clear from this quotation that, according to Trotsky, “socialism” in the future Chinese revolution will be the means of carrying on the revolution, not a “goal” to be reached? If we believe that the third Chinese revolution “will be compelled from the very outset to effect the most decisive shake-up and abolition of bourgeois property in city and village,” then we are justified in asserting that the future revolution will be socialist from the very beginning.

In his article entitled Summary and Perspective, after quoting Ferdinand Lassalle, Trotsky wrote in 1906 that “the future Russian revolution must be declared socialist from the very beginning.” The same view must be held by us on the character of the Chinese revolution. Trotsky has dealt with the same question in great detail in his Letters to Preobrazhensky, A Criticism of the Draft Program of the Communist International, Retreat in Disorder, and other documents. His ideas constitute a flat refutation of the theory of “socialism as a goal.”

It is our hope, therefore, that international Trotskyism will return to the old fundamental platform, Trotsky’s ideas on the character of the Chinese revolution, which as you well know has been one of the few most important questions marking the division between Stalinism and Trotskyism.

November 12, 1947

M.Y. Wang


1. The leading body of the Communist League of China was the editorial board of Struggle, corresponding to the Political Committee of your party. Six comrades constituted the board; these were Comrades Chen Chi-chang, Kou Woo, Wang Ming-yuen, Yvon Cheng, Peng Shih-chi and Liu Chia-liang. – M.Y.W.

2. Comrade Wang here gives sad evidence of the effects of the systematic slander and misrepresentation campaign against the Workers Party carried on by the Cannonite agents abroad, especially among: those Trotskyist groups not yet in close contact with us. He is the undoubtedly honest victim of these slanders, having not yet learned to distrust their purveyors. There are only two things wrong with his reference here to Shachtman’s “socialism or bureaucratism or barbarism.” (1) Neither Shachtman nor the Workers Party has ever, anywhere, put forward such a triple formula. We accept as ours only Trotsky’s and the Fourth International’s “socialism or barbarism” as the historic alternatives before society. We do add that the “barbarism” here counterposed to socialism can mean a form of totalitarian bureaucratic statism or bureaucratic collectivism – but that much even Trotsky said already in his In Defense of Marxism. The only place where this absurd triple-alternative formula can be read written down in print is, to be sure, in an SWP attack upon us (see Shachtman’s The Nature of the Russian State, NI, April 1947). (2) In any case, neither the use of “socialism or barbarism” by us or Trotsky, nor our view that Russia is a totalitarian bureaucratic-collectivist society has anything to do with the more immediate alternatives of “imperialism or socialism” for China today, it is undoubtedly correct that either China breaks with all imperialism through a revolutionary socialist workers’ government or it remains under the direct or indirect control of imperialism. We urge the Chinese comrades to remember that the same Cannon who prints what they call Peng Shih-chi’s slanders against them is the master workman in that field, Peng at worst only the apprentice. – Ed.

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