Trotskyism as anti-communist propaganda

Louis R Godena louisgodena at
Mon Sep 16 19:34:03 MDT 1996

Hugh Rodwell raises so many important points in his lengthy rejoinder to my
thread on Trotsky and his descendants ("Trotskyism as anti-communist
propaganda"), that I will have to respond to them discursively,  and
probably in installments.    While I look upon "Stalinism" as an important
(and profoundly ambiguous) legacy of the world communist movement,   I
cannot assign the same significance to the stale and by now forlorn
"Stalin/Trotsky Debate."   I would hope that the numerous and vital issues
arising from 1917-1991 could finally be cast,  not as a conflict between two
personalities possessing inviolable and categorical beliefs,  but as a
series of grave problems and historical achievements,  interwoven into the
fabric of Marxism and revolution that are pregnant with ramifications for
the future of the Marxian project.

An important example of this is certainly the issue of the Comintern and
Chinese policy in the 1920s.     Hugh,  like most high-church Trotskyists,
sees the issue in rather stark terms,  and tells us:

>... this split between the revolutionary Left Opposition and the
>counterrevolutionary Stalinist majority marks the boundary between the
>policies leading to the decapitation of the 1927 Chinese revolution by
>Chiang Kai-Shek, to whose tender mercies Chinese Communists were *ordered*
>to submit by the Stalinist Comintern,

I find this view rather novel (though it is meat and drink among the
epigoni) in light of what others have written who,  certainly,  were no
admirers of either Stalin or the Comintern.    E.H. Carr,  for example
(someone I know Hugh has some respect for) specifically denied this claim
and gave short shrift to the writings of Chen Tu hsiu (the leading
Trotskyist in China who later went over to Chiang and the imperialists),
who apparently originated the anti-Stalin criticisms in 1926 from within the
CPC.    Carr dismisses him as "unreliable"  (a claim,  it is fair to note,
that aroused the ire of Isaac Deutscher in a 1964 review of Carr's
*Socialism in One Country,  1924-1926* in the TLS entitled "The Comintern
Betrayed" [June 18,  1964].    Nonetheless,  even the most virulently
anti-Stalinist writers of our day--Adam Ulam,  Robert Tucker,  Richard
Pipes,  Robert Conquest,  Dimitri Volkogonov,  and Ronald Hingley---scarcely
give it credibility.    Only Deutscher,  in his admirable *Stalin* (1949)
makes an oblique reference to Chiang's "cruel" suppression of the
"Communists who had served under him" (p 401).    He does not elaborate,
nor does he give any source for this statement.

In fact,  the account that follows is drawn largely from sources hostile to
Stalin and,  in the case of Trotsky's early support for the Chinese policy
of the Comintern,  from the Trotsky Archives themselves.     This general
view is reflected in the leading recent work on the subject,  Han Suyin's
magesterial  *The Morning Deluge:  Mao-Tse-tung and the Chinese Revolution,
1893-1954*  (Boston,  1972).    This should be read in conjunction with
Trotsky's own *Criticism of the Draft Program of the Comintern,  1928*  (I
have the 1973 edition from Prometheus).    If Hugh or anyone interested in
this general topic has their own sources,  please share them with us.

The policy of including the Kuomintang in the Third International was
Lenin's,  not Stalin's.   It was concluded in a period when revolution
seemed to be in retreat throughout Europe.    This alliance had the support
of Trotsky himself who,  even after urging an official break between the CCP
and the Kuomintang,  still advocated an alliance of some sort with Chiang
Kai Sheck as recently as the month before the Shangai massacre [ "One can be
an ally of Kuomintang,  but an ally is to be watched like an enemy; one
should not be sentimental about one's allies"].

Up until the end of 1926, in fact,  the alliance seemed to be working fairly
well.   For the Kuomintang,  Soviet experts and Soviet advice transformed it
>from an impecunious clique of down-at-heels intellectuals jockeying for
power with this or that warlord group into a modern well-organized party.
Within Kuomintang,  the Soviet model was created and refined--though not
without serious flaws--in perfecting a technique for organizing amid the
contradictions of modern Chinese society;  the exploitation of the
peasantry,  the oppression of the growing working class by (mostly foreign)
employers,  the universal resentment against imperialism,  and the like.

For the Communists,  too,  there was in fact much to be gained,  at least
initially,  by the united front policy.     First of all,  it gave the tiny
Communist Party access to the mass of workers and peasants under Kuomintang
control.   In the period 1925-27,  more than 10 million peasants had been
organized in China by the Communists.    The Party itself had grown from a
few hundred to more than 60,000 by 1927.    Mao himself was head of the
Kuomintang's Peasant Movement Training Institute,  and Chou En Lai head of
its Military Institute.     Too,  there was a substantial left wing of the
Kuomintang led by the widow of Sun Yat Sen,  which in time provided the
nucleus of arms and logistics for the fledgling Red Army (although it
refrained from openly backing the Communists at the critical moment).

It was Stalin's hope that Chiang would eventually be "squeezed like a lemon"
and forced out of the leadership of the Kuomintang,  to be replaced of
course,  by generals more to the liking of Moscow.    It was a tenable
strategy.   Though,  as in the case of Stalin's support for the creation of
Israel in 1948,  and the subsidizing of Egypt's Nasser in the early 1950s,
it turned out to be a serious, even catastrophic miscalculation on the part
of the Soviet leadership.

But to categorically state that Stalin was "responsible" for the aborted
1927 "revolution" in China is to seriously distort history.   It was an
unfortunate but largely unforseen consequence of a policy which Trotsky
himself had supported,  with reservations,  right up to the fatal moment.

Louis Godena

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