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the early communist organizations in China did not just emerge out of the blue nor were they summoned up by Voitinsky’s visit but evolved from the study societies set up during the May Fourth period

(The historic articles provide a glimpse back. They don’t provide a glimpse forward. This can be achieved only by the power of thought. Marxism is a spent force. We need ideology of the future. It’s likely to be around knowledge, both in its theoretical and practical aspects. It’s likely to be communist, both in theory and in practical living.)

Sun founds Kuomintang

Sun Yat-sen founds Kuomintang

The ideological complication of the proletariat joining a bourgeois party was swept aside with the assertion that the GMD was not a bourgeois party at all but a combination of four groups, the intelligentsia, the Chinese patriots overseas, the soldiers and the workers.

Initially, the united front (with GMD) had proved very successful for the small group of communists. Between January 1924 and May 1926, communist influence in the GMD grew steadily and CCP membership grew from just under 1,000 in January 1925 to almost 58,000 by April 1927.

1925-6: The success of the CCP and its more aggressive attempts to organize and expand brought concern within the ranks of the GMD and as the right began to gain control of the movement, clashes became inevitable

The tensions were particularly highlighted after the "Zhongshan Incident" of March 20, 1926. Chiang Kai-shek ordered martial law claiming that a gunboat under communist command, the Zhongshan, was planning to kidnap him. Whether the plot was real or not it provided Chiang with the chance to clip the wings of the communists. He placed some 50 together with the soviet advisers under house arrest. Borodin was able to negotiate their release but at a price. This included restricting CCP activity within the GMD, providing a name list of all its members in the GMD, and abandoning its separate organizations in the GMD. Further, CCP members could no longer serve as bureau head in nationalist organizations. This last point meant that the communist, Tan Pingshan, had to give up the powerful post of head of the organization department to Chiang Kai-shek. Borodin was also forced to support the Northern Expedition to which he had previously been opposed in return for Chiang’s promises to curb the GMD-right. Chiang was still, of course, dependent on Soviet arms and aid for the Northern Expedition and made it clear that his original actions had not been against the alliance with Soviet Russia as such. The Northern Expedition was officially launched at the beginning of July 1926 even though some units had gone north earlier.

Centrist line of the CCP, trying to compromise with the GMD: The CCP finished up pleasing no-one, the GMD government in Wuhan blamed the communists for the excesses and the peasant leaders blamed it for not supporting their radical actions and leaving them prey to the military force of warlords and GMD troops.

The possibility of breaking with the GMD-left was reduced further by the messages coming from Moscow. Given his struggles with Trotsky, it was impossible for Stalin to acknowledge the folly of continued cooperation with the GMD

1927: Under pressure from the Comintern, Chen Duxiu resigned his position as General Secretary. On 12 July, a new five-person temporary standing committee of the Politburo was chosen and the following day it issued an open statement critical of the Wuhan government. On 15 July, the Wuhan GMD Political Affairs Committee announced the end of cooperation; on 1 August, the CCP’s Nanchang Uprising was launched; and on 5 August, Wang Jingwei began a large-scale purge of communist activists. Cooperation was ending in tragedy

Mao Zedong, however, remained impressed with the power of the peasantry and would later combine rural organization with military power. Unlike the Party Center, Mao saw "excesses" in the peasant movement as necessary in order to overcome the counterrevolutionaries and the power of the local gentry. Mao provided a critique of revolutionary strategy as a whole. He does not explicitly renounce proletarian leadership but his report concentrates on the role and the strength of the poor peasantry.

Once attacked by the GMD, CCP members had very little alternative other than to retreat into more inhospitable rural areas.

The failure of the "First Revolution" was not caused directly by either rigid implementation of a misguided Comintern policy or the "capitulationism" and "opportunism" of Chen Duxiu vis-à-vis the GMD. It was more closely related to the CCP’s inability to develop genuine support in urban and rural China and to develop a military force with which to defend itself. The CCP tended to follow behind events in China, interpreting positive signs as the next revolutionary wave that would cause history to flow in the right direction. When the waves came, the party was unable to channel the flow to its own benefit. – failure is due to submitting to GMD.


This period is marked by two diverging tendencies. The first is the failure of continued attempts at urban-based revolution. In these attempts, the Comintern was able to exert a tighter grip over the central party apparatus in Shanghai. The second is the increasing autonomy of the CCP leaders in the base areas that were set up in the late-twenties and early thirties in parts of central and south China.

The new Conference strategy of rebellions, inciting army mutinies and initiating peasant uprisings was not successful leading to a further depletion of the communist forces. – Bad strategy leads to decrease in forces.

The defeat of the Guangzhou Commune coming so swiftly after the defeats of the communists in the Nanchang and Autumn Harvest Uprisings, made it clear that a shift in tactics was necessary. It was impossible for the Party Center under Qu Qiubai to continue with its "putschism." The party had lost contact with the working-class in major centers such as Shanghai, Wuhan and Guangzhou. The insurrectionary policy even where the peasantry had been mobilized had been intended to restore the initiative to the proletariat under the CCP’s leadership by seizing major urban centers. The failure of this approach signalled the effective end of the proletariat as the main force of the revolution – so, in China, Cuba, etc. the leading force were … the peasants! And CCP itself? Mao – a former librarian.

The "Chinese Oppositionists" became the targets of not only the GMD but also the CCP and indeed suffered worst at the hands of the latter than the former.

After the communist-directed insurrection in Shanghai had handed power to Chiang Kai-shek, party history was one of almost continual repression after Chiang turned on the communists on 12 April 1927. While party membership in Shanghai had been around 8,000 in April 1927, it had fallen to a mere 300 in 1934. The damaged to the communist dominated labor movement was equally severe. In 1930, communist sponsored organizations had 2,000 workers, a number that declined to 500 in 1932, and a mere handful in 1934.

At one point in 1927, membership had dipped as low as 10,000. By the end of 1930, membership had grown tenfold but the momentum had shifted from the urban to the rural soviets.

The soviets had been provided a breathing space to develop by Chiang Kai-shek’s conflict with Feng Yuxiang and Yan Xishan. However, the respite did not last long as Chiang was victorious in November 1930 and in October he had already launched the first of five "suppression" campaigns to annihilate the communists.

Bo Gu’s political report was a stunning example of being divorced from reality

“Positional warfare” is a bad strategy for a guerilla movement. It must be on the move, always.

A combination of a civil war with a war against imperialism – vs. Japan.

A GMD general forces Chiang Kai-shek into cooperation with the CCP

August 1937, the GMD accepted communist troops as part of the nationalist army.

1937-43: a new united front, collaboration

use mobile warfare as the main form of combat

It was not long before the new relationship began to sour. As the CCP began to spread its influence, it came into conflict with local GMD troops culminating in what CCP historians refer to as the "first and second anticommunist upsurges" (December 1939-March 1940 and January 1941). While these clashes did not end the united front they did reinforce Mao’s view that not all CCP resources should be channelled via the GMD. For Mao, the united front was more than an alliance with just Chiang Kai-shek. CCP policy turned towards isolating Chiang while trying to win over to its side significant sections of the anti-Japanese alliance.

During this period, Comintern direct influence on the CCP was slight

they supported the neutrality pact the Soviet Union concluded with Japan on 13 April 1941 – in view of revolution in China, this was clearly a mistake on the part of the USSR

The dissolution of the Comintern (15 May 1943) freed the CCP from any need to bow in its direction and re-affirmed what was already a reality for Mao and his supporters that the CCP should get on with creating its own revolution on its own terms. 

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