Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

New International, March 1948


M.Y. Wang

Problems of Chinese Trotskyism

Conclusion of the Minority’s Document

(November 1947)


From New International, Vol. 14 No. 3, March 1948, pp. 90–92.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


We here publish the second and concluding section of the discussion document of the minority Internationalist Group of the Communist League of China (Fourth International).

The first part, published last month, dealt with the problem of Marxist policy on China’s participation in the Second World War; the present section deals with current problems in China today. As noted last month, the document is addressed to the Socialist Workers Party (Cannonite) magazine, the Fourth International, in answer to their publication of a Report by Peng Shih-chi for the majority Struggle Group,

Space considerations have compelled us to condense this second part somewhat, but we believe that none of the points made or important material presented has been omitted. In particular, all references to the Workers Party (“Shachtmanites” or “American minority of 1940” in Comrade Wang’s usage) have been given in full, without cuts or condensation. Where passages have been condensed by paraphrasing, these are printed in italics within brackets to distinguish them, from the text; brief cuts are indicated by dots. The long eleven-point program of the Internationalist Group is condensed to the leading heads only; this is, however, enough to prove the point for which it is cited by Comrade Wang.

In this document Comrade Wang urges that all Trotskyist organizations “take sides” as between the two Chinese groups only on the basis of sufficient information and discussion. We agree, and take this recommendation very seriously. On the question here raised of attitude toward the Kuomintang-Stalinist civil war, the Workers Party has already expressed its view: no support to either side, each of which is the agent of one of the contending imperialist powers, Washington and Moscow. This is essentially analogous to the position taken by revolutionary Marxists during the war itself, the position of the “third camp.” We are equally in a position to affirm our disagreement with the Luxemburgist views on the national and colonial question described as held by Comrade Yvon Cheng, while agreeing wholeheartedly with the injunction that such views have to be rejected only on their own merits or demerits and not merely because they represent a departure from, the Leninist tradition.

On some other points discussed we can hold no opinion, for lack of the necessary information. When, for example, Comrade Wang seems to say that the Struggle Group ostensibly holds a “third camp” position on the civil war (like us) but “in reality” supports the Kuomintang, we are unable to gather from the document whether this is a position actually affirmed by that group or ascribed to it by Comrade Wang, as a deduction either from their activities or from the “third camp” position itself.

This is especially true since Comrade Wang, after declaring that Peng Shih-chi and the Struggle Group supported the defense of “poor little Finland” in 1940, twice adds that this was also the position of the Workers Party, the “Shachtmanites”! As all who are even slightly acquainted with our position on the war know, this is an infamous slander which has been assiduously spread by the SWP-Cannonites. It has apparently been accepted at face value (sad to say) even by comrades like Wang, who are not only the honest victims of this slander but who urge all others to “take sides” only on the basis of adequate information and discussion.

The fact is, of course, that the Cannonites spread this lie precisely in order to avoid meeting, discussing, and defending their views on the question itself – the Marxist policy of supporting neither Western imperialism. This is a tactic which Comrade Wang should be familiar with, judging from his document.

But these questions aside, the plea which permeates this second part and which is summed up in the concluding section – the plea for an unprejudiced and politically rational re-examination of the Trotskyist positions in the light of the international situation today – must meet with the hearty assent of all who have not been petrified into the monolithic mold of Cannonite “orthodoxy” worship. It is, in fact, exactly this aspect of the group’s approach which no doubt convinces the Cannonites of the Chinese minority’s affinity with the Workers Party.


Our tactical divergences at the present stage are centered on the question of the civil war now being waged between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Stalinists. In January 1946 the Struggle Group adopted a resolution on the civil war which declared the war to be a “meaningless strife between selfish gangs.” They ostensibly took the position of the “third camp,” but in reality they took the aide of the Kuomintang by branding the armed struggle led by the Chinese Stalinists as a manifestation of the “particularism of new war lords,” as “military adventurism,” and by demanding that the Chinese CP “give up their arms in order to fight for the constituent assembly.”

We reject and oppose this bankrupt position of theirs. We maintain that the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party represent different class forces in Chinese society. The former represents the landlords and bourgeoisie, while the latter represents mainly the poor peasants. Thus, if we take only its national factor into consideration, the present civil war in China is a kind of peasant war against the landlords and rural capitalists. As a peasant war, the civil war has a progressive character on the side of the peasants; but, as a peasant war only, the civil war is devoid of any perspective, and is even doomed to failure because of its Stalinist domination.

Basing ourselves on this estimate of the civil war, our attitude toward it is to defend the peasant forces from the oppression of the Wall Street-Kuomintang alliance on the one hand, and to attack the treacherous Stalinist leadership on the other.

In defending the peasant forces we not only fight side by side with the masses but also call for unconditional peace. This is not a self-contradictory policy. This is so because the slogan “immediate cessation of the war without disarming the Stalinist armies” at the present time would constitute a blow against the Kuomintang war lords, and with the progress of events it would also mean a blow against the Stalinists. In war-weary China today there is no other slogan which can play as great a revolutionary role as the slogan of peace.

In a word, our position on the civil war is as follows: For the immediate and unconditional cessation of the war; in favor of participation in the de facto civil war on the side of the peasant forces; and at the same time to point out that the victorious outcome of the civil war can only be secured through the revolutionary leadership of the urban proletariat and the removal of the Stalinists from control of the peasant armed forces.

The Kuomintang Demonstrations

The position taken by the Struggle Group on the civil war is quite close to that of the Shachtmanites, but worse than that, they even openly take the side of the Kuomintang. Their participation in the Kuomintang-sponsored “Sovereignty Protection Movement” was an example of this position. In the Report they accused us of “boycottism” and “abstentionism” with respect to the “mass anti-Kremlin demonstrations,” while they, as they put it, “boldly plunged into it to expose all the evil intentions of the Kuomintang, expand and deepen it, and try finally to convert its leadership.”

[But these “anti-Kremlin demonstrations” were not really supported by large masses. Three such demonstrations have taken place since V-J Day, instigated by the most reactionary clique of the Kuomintang, organized as anti-Russian demonstrations but really intended only to counterbalance pro-Russian feeling and support the failing prestige of the Kuomintang and of American imperialism. The first, in February 1946, drew large mass support, and we did not boycott it. We did not stand aside but participated, in order the better to expose and fight its reactionary sponsors and to distinguish our policy from, that of the Stalinists. Our participation also produced good organizational gains for us.

[The second anti-Soviet demonstration, in March 1947, was a great failure. Nobody came out in support of it and no demonstrations of any size took place. Peng Shih-chi and the Struggle Group were in favor of “boldly plunging into it” but we considered that it was merely the affair of a few professional red-baiters and advocated boycotting it.

[The third, in June, organized with an equally reactionary motive though ostensibly directed against the invasion of the Mongolian army into Sinkiang province, was an abortive attempt and even -more miserable in scope than the second. Under the influence of our criticism, Peng Shih-chi and hie followers also took the stand of “abstentionism” in this case.]

This mistake of the Struggle Group was not accidental either. Here we believe it fitting to tell you of an old difference of opinion among the Chinese Trotskyists. In 1939, when Stalin waged war against Finland, Peng Shih-chi was the only one in the leadership of the Chinese section of the Fourth International who stood for the “defense of poor little Finland.” He stood on the position of national independence of Finland, and favored the adoption of defeatism in the USSR.

In spite of this fact, however, Peng Shih-chi now has the courage to tell you that he and his followers are simply “continuing the internal struggle in the American party” in China. What cheap flattery this is! Peng Shih-chi followed in the footsteps of the American minority and was converted to Trotsky’s point of view only after he read the letter’s article; but on fundamental points he has not changed his opinion – it reappeared on the question of the civil war and also on the question of “plunging into” an “anti-Kremlin” demonstration.

Legality at Any Price

Since the Struggle Group takes a neutral, even pro-Kuomintang, attitude on the question of the civil war; since they identify the left mass movement partially led by Stalinists with the quite isolated “patriotic” movement which was completely conducted by Kuomintang agents, it is quite natural that Peng Shih-chi cannot have correct views on party work.

A sort of liquidationist tendency has invariably decided the direction of the leadership of the Peng Shih-chi group. Their “general line” of activity is to “utilize the antagonism” between the Kuomintang and the Stalinists in order to seek a full legal existence under the Kuomitang regime. In order to attain this goal they are ready to pay, and have paid, no small price; until now, they did not dare to revive Struggle [their organ], which had been suspended for five years; they preferred the publication of “theoretical” magazines and “popular” periodicals with bourgeois scholars to the introduction and publication of any book or document of the Fourth International or of Trotsky; they discounted our slogans and adapted them to Kuomintang policy; they echoed the Kuomintang publicity ministry in branding the Chinese Communists as “new war lords” and demanding “the voluntary disarming” of the Stalinist army.

All this was done in the name of the struggle for legalization and in the belief that this was the shortest road for the Trotskyists to reach the “masses.” The direction of their policy can be justifiably called one of “legalization at any cost.” ...

Can the present Kuomintang regime grant the Chinese Trotskyists the right to legal activity? If this is possible then it is only on the following condition: that the Trotskyists will fight against the Stalinist party only and put this “fight” under the direction of the Kuomintang. If the Chinese Trotskyists were ready to accept this condition, the Kuomintang government would grant us not only legal status but “protection” and “subsidies” as well ...

With respect to the party work and the party paper, our attitude is precisely contrary to that of the Peng Shih-chi group above mentioned. We maintained and still maintain that, no matter how bad the circumstances of our organs (Internationalists from 1942 to October 1945 and The New Banner from June 1946 until now), we would rather translate and publish Trotsky’s books and the documents of the Fourth International than cooperate with bourgeois scholars in issuing legal magazines. We would rather that our New Banner were banned by the Kuomintang (October 1946) than change our attitude toward the government; we would rather assemble insignificant worker revolutionaries under the program of the Fourth International than to recruit more petty-bourgeois sympathizers under the “democratic banner” of a “third party.”

Needless to say, we are not fetishists on “underground work,” and we know no less than they the significance of the struggle for legality. But at the same time we firmly believe that it would be a betrayal of our cause if we were ready to pay the price of legality: suspension of our party organ, refraining from propaganda for the ideas of the Fourth International and Trotskyism, cessation of fire against the Kuomintang, and finally, supporting the Kuomintang and conducting a one-sided attack against the Stalinists. We believe that a revolutionary party’s struggle for legal existence is an uncompromising fight, not an adaptation to the reactionary laws, still less to the reactionary policy, of the ruling class. But the “struggle for legality” made by the Struggle Group in recent years has consisted precisely of a series of political concessions. That is why we could do nothing else but criticize and oppose them mercilessly.

Revision on the Colonial Question

The favorite accusation which the Struggle Group directs against us is that we “attacked the Transitional Program,” that we “revised the colonial program of the Fourth International.” ... According to them, it is absolutely impermissible to “attack” or “revise” the Transitional Program, regardless of how the program is revised and whether the revision is right or wrong. The demand for, or attempt at, revision is in itself in their opinion a sort of “betrayal” or “crime.” We consider this attitude far from a healthy one and quite contrary to the spirit of Trotskyism. In this respect Trotsky said correctly: “but a platform is not created so as not to part from it, but rather to apply and develop it.” (Fourth International, Sept.–Oct. 1947, page 254.)

[The Struggle Group attacks Comrade Wang and others as “eclectics.”] According to these “eclectics,” the anti-imperialist war of a colonial or semi-colonial country is progressive, even if it is under the leadership of the bourgeoisie. This is, of course, the traditional Leninist position and also the position of the Transitional Program. But, these comrades say, if the leadership of the emancipation movement of a colonial country remains in the hands of the bourgeoisie for long, then the progressive movement will sooner or later degenerate into a kind of counter-revolution, serving the interests of the imperialists and against the interests of the native workers and peasants. In addition these comrades hold the opinion that, once the anti-imperialist war of a colonial country intermeshes with a war waged between rival imperialist powers, it is in no circumstances progressive but becomes reactionary in character. Therefore, according to them, China’s anti-Japanese war was no longer progressive since it had become intermeshed with the anti-Japanese war of American imperialism.

This position cannot be found in the Transitional Program of the Fourth International, because at the time the program was drafted such a situation did not exist and consequently there was no need for a corresponding answer to be given to it. Here, quite clearly, it is not a question of revision or non-revision of the program; in this respect there is nothing to be revised in the program. But if we consider the question in the light of the fundamental ideas as well as the writings of Lenin and Trotsky, we can easily see that such a position rather coincides with the tradition of revolutionary Marxism.

In his History of the Russian Revolution Trotsky said; the participation of China in the First World War was “the interference of a slave in the fight of the masters.” (Page 38) “The interference of a slave in the fight of the masters” is, of course, not progressive. As for Lenin, it is well known that he had two different views on the first and later stages of Serbia’s war of resistance against Austria in World War I in 1916. In a polemic against Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin also admitted, in an article entitled The Military Program of Proletarian Revolution, that the “national wars may be swallowed up by the war between rival imperialists and become imperialist in character.” On this question we believe that we have not revised the program but have supplemented it with something which was not said previously.

Revision Is Not a Crime

[However, the Struggle Group’s fiercest criticism has been leveled against Comrade Yvon Cheng. They attack him for “revising” the program but do not bother to criticize the content of his “revision.” There are two points to Comrade Cheng’s view. At first, he said only that China’s war had been a part of the imperialist war from the beginning; that it was reactionary from, the beginning; but he still agreed that the anti-imperialist war of a colonial country alone is progressive.]

Secondly – that is, later on – having studied Lenin’s theses on the national and colonial question, Comrade Cheng arrived at the conclusion that in the imperialist epoch all emancipation movements or national wars led by the colonial bourgeoisie are doomed to be impotent and devoid of progressive significance. He developed this idea in a pamphlet called The Permanent Revolution and the Chinese Revolution. It found some supporters in our organization.

This position of Comrade Cheng’s is, of course, a revision of a certain point in our Transitional Program. But, whether we support or oppose his ideas, the fact of “revision” itself is not a “crime.” Instead of calling it so, we should rather call for its consideration and discussion. Now, there are not a few comrades in the Fourth International who propose to give up the slogan of “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union.” This is also a revision of a very important part of the Transitional Program. We can and should discuss such revisions in the field of theory, fight against or in favor of them; but we cannot simply attack them and refuse to discuss with their proponents on the sole ground that our program is “not to be parted from.”

Positions resembling Comrade Cheng’s were held thirty years ago by Rosa Luxemburg, and during the first years of the Communist International they were held by some Italian Communists. Yet we never heard that Lenin or Trotsky refused to cooperate with, or refused to make attempts to unite with, Luxemburg or Serrati because of this difference – or called them “traitors.” Twenty or thirty years have elapsed since then; during these stormy years there have been revolutions and counter-revolutions in Turkey, Iran and China. Many colonial wars took place during and after the Second World War. History has provided us with a great deal of experience and many lessons which are worth our most careful study and attention. We sincerely hope, therefore, that the Fourth International and its sections will carry on an unprejudiced consideration and decision on the colonial question. Only then can we decide what should be preserved out of our traditional positions, what should be revised, and what should be developed.

[In order to refute the Struggle Group’s accusations that we are “opportunist,” “sectarian,” and “ultra-leftist,” we cite our program. You can clearly see whether we have “abandoned the transitional demands,” “want no democratic struggles but only socialism,” or “yield to the pressure of Stalinist-controlled public opinion.”]

  1. For the immediate cessation of the civil war ...
  2. For workers’ security and the improvement of their livelihood ...
  3. Land to the poor peasants ...
  4. For the democratization of the army ... (Kuomintang and Communist) ...
  5. Defend the standard of living of the urban poor ...
  6. Equality in education and job security for the youth ...
  7. Freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, demonstration, appeal, striking and picketing ...
  8. For the national independence of China and self-determination for minorities ...
  9. Defense of the USSR. Down with the policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy! Against the Kuomintang as the cat’s-paw of American imperialism to attack the Soviet Union ...
  10. Solidarity with the working class and oppressed peoples of the world ...
  11. For the immediate convocation of an all-powerful constituent assembly elected on the basis of universal suffrage ... For a workers’ and peasants’ government ...


At the end of this long letter we wish to say a few words about the publication of the Struggle Group’s Report in your magazine. The writer of that Report repeated the following many times:

“Our struggle was obviously the continuation of the struggle in the American party in 1940.”

“Our minority had the same class basis as the Shachtmanites.”

“The Chinese minority was a miniature of the Shachtmanites.”

In publishing their Report, you did not express your opinion of it. That was cautious. But readers of your magazine were naturally impressed with the fact that you were satisfied with the declarations made in the Report, and that you had thus taken sides in the internal polemics of the Chinese organization. We admit that the ideological groupment in the ranks of Trotskyism will take place on an international scale; but we do not think that such groupment has taken place definitely in the national sections as in the whole International.

For example, on questions like the character of the USSR, the estimation of the international situation, the civil war in China, national questions in Europe, etc., our position still coincides with yours; while on the question of the attitude toward China’s anti-Japanese war after it had been merged with the imperialist war, the Shachtmanites took, after the Pearl Harbor debacle, the same position which we held before that event. On the other hand, the Struggle Group, especially its leader Peng Shih-chi, took the same attitude toward the Soviet-Finnish war as the Shachtmanites, and their position on the present Chinese civil war was and is quite close to that of the Workers Party of the U.S. But on the question of China’s war, their position coincides with yours.

In such circumstances, which group in the Chinese organization shall be labeled as the “petty-bourgeois wing,” and which group as the “proletarian tendency”? Again: the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, for example, took the same point of view on the colonial anti-imperialist war, during the World War, as we did; should the B-LPI be called the Indian “miniature of the Shachtmanites”? Of course not!

A sharp process of ideological regroupment is taking place in the world Trotskyist movement. This is a result of the development of the world situation. We are not pessimistic about it. On the contrary, we rather consider it quite natural. But instead of weakening or destroying world Trotskyism, artificial factional prejudices must be carefully avoided in order to strengthen and consolidate it. To reach that goal, we hope that the Trotskyists of all countries will take the trouble to learn and study the polemics arising in the various national sections before taking sides on them.

We agreed completely with Comrade Li Fu-jen when he said in his last letter to us that “it was an error to print the article [the Report] as it was written,” although we also agreed with him when he said in the same letter that you “cannot be blamed for it as you are not conversant with the affairs of China.” – With Trotskyist salutations,

November 12, 1947
Shanghai, China

The Communist League of China (Internationalists)
M.Y. Wang

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 23 December 2015