R Arun Kumar
July 1, 2021 marks the centenary of the foundation of the Communist Party of China. To commemorate this historic occasion, we are publishing a four part series of articles outlining the course of the Chinese revolution led by the CPC and the development of the People’s Republic of China in the past seven decades.
Pre-revolutionary China, was a society of great misery and suffering under the oppression of colonial powers and domestic feudal lords. China was divided into zones of influence between various colonisers. A large section of the feudal lords collided with the colonisers in their exploitation of the local people, as a result, China remained a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country. Though there were many sporadic peasant uprisings and struggles against both feudal and colonial oppression, it was not until 1911, they assumed an organised form.
The 1911 revolution was essentially an anti-imperialist struggle that had called for the overthrow of the Qing dynasty – a tool in the hands of colonial powers – and succeeded. It awakened democratic consciousness and paved the way for the growth of revolutionary ideas among the people. However, it failed to end exploitation and meet people’s democratic aspirations due to its compromise with the feudal forces. Imperialist forces continued to exert their control over Chinese society. This failure led the progressive elements in China search for a correct path to guide their struggle against exploitation and oppression.
The October Revolution of Russia in 1917 evoked tremendous interest and inspired the progressive sections. They considered it to have taken place in a country that shared many similarities with their own country. For the first time, the ideas of scientific socialism and Marxism aroused a new hope and pointed to a revolutionary path. Study of Marxism gained great interest. In this background, the news of China’s capitulation to imperialist demands after the end of the First World War angered the people. A massive anti-imperialist student movement broke out on May 4, 1919 in Beijing against this capitulation. The nascent working class joined in support of the students’ movement. It showed for the first time the growing awakening among the 'modern' classes in the Chinese society and had laid the foundations for the birth of the Communist Party.
The first Communist group of China, set up in Shanghai, the centre of China's industrial and workers' movement, in August 1920, drafted the manifesto for the party. In the first national Congress held in Shanghai in 1921, 12 delegates, including Mao Tse Tung, representing more than 50 members and many communist groups, participated. As they noticed that they were being spied, the delegates moved to a boat on Nanhu Lake in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, to continue their meeting. The formation of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was announced, adopting the Party's first programme upholding Marxism-Leninism.
The CPC played a prominent role in the establishment of the Chinese Socialist Youth League and the convention of the first national labour conference in 1922. They actively organised and led working class struggles. In its second Congress, CPC adopted a programme of democratic revolution opposing imperialism and feudalism and calling for the formation of a democratic united front. This Congress also adopted the constitution of the CPC, explicitly stating that it is a proletarian party.
Many of the CPC led working class struggles were brutally attacked by the colonial rulers and their stooge feudal warlords, resulting in the death of hundreds and injuring thousands. These experiences had steeled their resolve and matured their understanding. The CPC adopted a resolution on its relation with the Kuomintang (KMT) in its national Congress held in 1923 and directed CPC members to join the KMT and work from within it to increase the ranks of communists. The influence of the CPC and the result of the joint actions with the KMT, reflected in the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal declaration adopted by the KMT, which had established a nationalistic government under the leadership of Sun Yat Sen in 1923.
Reviewing the joint actions with KMT, the Fourth Congress (1925) of the CPC stated that the Party should strive to maintain its independent identity and shed its compromising attitude towards the KMT. It decided to influence the internal struggle between the Left and Right sections in the KMT, to strengthen the Left forces. But the death of Sun Yat Sen that year had an adverse impact on the CPC-KMT relations.
1925 witnessed increased working class struggles with strikes taking place in many cities against imperialist repression. Mao, after his study on the character of classes in the Chinese society and analysis of class relations, stated that proletariat must unite with all the poor peasants, who accounted for a majority of the population and the middle peasants, win over the Left-wingers of the middle classes (mainly national bourgeoisie) in order to overthrow imperialism, warlords, landlords, comprador class and the Right-wingers of the middle classes and establish a joint rule by the revolutionary classes. Armed with this understanding, the CPC had for the first time issued the call for ‘land to the tillers’ in its resolution. This was completely opposite to the ideas of the KMT, who were for the rule of the national bourgeoisie.
The work of the communists from within the KMT increased their influence and resulted in many military victories against the warlords. Chiang Kai-shek, who had assumed the leadership of KMT, was alarmed by the growing communist influence and assiduously acted against them. This led to the deterioration of the relationship between the CPC and the KMT.
The compromising attitude of the CPC leadership did not heal these relations. On the other hand, it led to a Right deviation and slogans like ‘land to tiller’ that were attracting peasantry in large numbers were given away to please the KMT leadership. This emboldened Chiang Kai-shek to consolidate and eliminate communists from all their key responsibilities. In its Fifth Congress, the CPC criticised the central committee for the Right deviation and failure to struggle against the bourgeoisie. Criticising the anti-communist shift of the KMT, the CPC withdrew from the national government.
CPC asserted its independent leadership over the revolutionary armed struggles and established the People’s Revolutionary Army. The CPC achieved a major victory in its anti-imperialist struggle in 1927, when they forced the British to return their concessions in Hankou and Jiujang. The CPC suffered some serious reverses too as the working class struggles that had developed into armed uprisings were brutally suppressed.
The counter-revolutionary role of the KMT resulted in the massacre of communist and working class leaders. The KMT openly advocated a policy against the CPC and the Soviet Union. CPC decided to resist these attacks, concentrate its efforts on carrying out an agrarian revolution and staged autumn harvest uprisings in many provinces. The influence and prestige of the CPC grew among the peasants and its armed strength too grew with the merger of the army led by Zhu De and the Red Army of the CPC. However, the 'Great Revolution' of 1927-1928, as the uprisings of this period were called, did not succeed. The revolution was at a low ebb. The Party identified certain ‘Left putschist’ errors that continued attacks and opposed any retreat, and over-estimation of the revolutionary situation as reasons for these great losses. Despite these losses, it noted the spread of revolutionary influence and establishment of rural revolutionary bases.
In 1930, Mao, summing up the experience of the various revolutionary base areas, developed the idea of ‘workers and peasants armed independent regime’, ‘encircling the cities from the rural areas’, ‘setting up and expanding red political power in the rural areas’ and ‘seizing national political power when the conditions were ripe’.
The fight against subjectivism, individualism, putschism, Left deviation and over-estimation, which led to the blurring of the distinction between the democratic revolution and the socialist revolution was continued, to strengthen the Party. The political leadership of the Party over the military, was emphasised. The Red Army was clearly defined as an armed body for carrying out the political tasks of the revolution under the leadership of the Party.
Along with this internal struggle to lead the Party on a correct Marxist-Leninist path, the CPC was forced to fight and repel KMT's ‘encirclement and suppression’ campaign. To overcome the ‘encirclement’ of the enemy forces and regroup its forces, CPC embarked on the historical Long March in 1934. Initially, the Left adventurist positions of the Party resulted in great losses. Correcting these mistakes, an enlarged meeting of the Party Political Bureau in January 1935 decided to attack the enemy at its weakest points, adopt highly flexible mobile warfare and march northwards. This proved to be a turning point in the history of the Party at a critical point of time and contributed to its survival and resurgence.
The Long March was a heroic saga of endurance, commitment and determination, as it marched eluding pursuit and breaking through blockades by large numbers of KMT troops, overcoming the natural barriers of snow-capped mountains, rivers and grasslands, suffering cold, hunger, wounds, sickness and surmounting inner-party crisis. Red Army marched with an unswerving faith in the victory of the revolution and completed the Long March under conditions of extreme hardship. It had traversed 12,500 kilometres and lasted for 370 days. Thousands of comrades perished in this arduous task, but it succeeded in breaking through the encirclement and culminated in Shaanxi province in 1935.
At the end of the Long March, the Red Army numbered less than 30,000. These troops that remained after rigorous testing, were the cream of the Communist Party and of the Red Army. They spread the seeds of revolution everywhere along the way. The triumph of the Long March was the turning point in the Chinese revolution and is of historical importance.
The Red Army contingents joined forces in Shaanxi, not far from the Japanese battlefront, as the flames of war with Japan were about to ignite across the country.