W Rupert’s Preface to Trotsky on China 2020

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19/01/2022 by socialistfight

LEON TROTSKY ON THE PERMANENT REVOLUTION AND CHINA is the title of this compilation of Trotsky’s writings on China.

One month before he was assassinated in August 1940 by an NKVD agent, Leon Trotsky wrote, in an unfinished and uncorrected introduction to a Chinese edition of his History of the Russian Revolution:

“The misfortune of the present young generation in all countries, among them China, consists in this: that there has been created under the label of Marxism, a gigantic factory of historical, theoretical and all other kinds of falsifications.  This factory bears the name ‘Communist International’.”

Today, the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology contains even more falsifications than those created by the Communist International.  The CPC has broken further with Marxism than did the Comintern because it actually completed a counter-revolution and now erroneously claims that, today, China’s capitalism is a form of socialism.

The post-Lenin Bolshevik Party was disarmed theoretically over the course of the six years leading up to 1929, i.e., up to when Stalin had consolidated his personal control over the state bureaucracy of the USSR, the Bolshevik Party and the Comintern.

According to Trotsky, the chief ideological error of Stalinism is its program of socialism in a separate country.  At the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, in 1926, this program, often referred to as socialism in one country, was counterposed to the Marxist program of international revolution.  Stalinism also revised Marxism by, instead of building proletarian parties, it adopted the perspective of building “two-class workers’ and peasants’ parties” for the Orient.  In other words, though the CPC later led the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism in China and created the so-called People’s Republic in 1949, it did this not as a Marxist party or even as a proletarian party, but what was claimed to be a “two class” party[i] based on the proletariat and the petty-bourgeois peasantry.

Following Hitler’s ascent to power in January 1933, Trotsky observed, a few months later, that

“the evolution of the Comintern has unfolded not along the line of regeneration but along that of corrosion and disintegration.”

One year earlier, he had, however, considered the possibility that

“the Bolshevik-Leninists, basing themselves on the sharpening of the class struggle, could succeed in impelling the Comintern to take the road of actual struggle against fascism.”

But the Comintern’s policy assisted the German fascists in coming-to-power, and the Comintern’s leadership subsequently proved incapable of acknowledging its erroneous policy in Germany.  Trotsky concluded, in an article of July 15th 1933, that it was now necessary to build a new international party to replace the Comintern, i.e., to replace the Third International.

For Trotsky, breaking with the Comintern did not mean breaking with defence of the USSR.  In a number of written debates with various ultraleftists who, like Trotsky, also wished to build a new, i.e., a fourth International, Trotsky addressed theoretical questions relating to the class nature of the Soviet state.[ii]  Trotsky explained that despite the extreme degeneration of the Soviet state, it nevertheless remained a workers’ state, i.e., a state that defended the dictatorship of the proletariat despite the proletariat itself having very little or no direct control over the state.

The Seventh World Congress of the Comintern, in 1935, declared that socialism in the Soviet Union had “finally and irrevocably” triumphed.  For this claim to have been true, it would have been necessary for the Soviet economy to have achieved a higher productivity of labour than that achieved in the most-advanced capitalist economies.[iii]  In other words, socialism had not been established in the USSR.  The social regime and the economy were, according to Trotsky, both transitional and have never been socialist.

If socialism had been established in the USSR, the state would have died-away[iv], but instead, the state became more bureaucratised and more despotic.  In 1936, commenting on Stalin’s new constitution for the USSR, Trotsky wrote:

“State coercion is not being attenuated according to the new constitution, but on-the-contrary is acquiring an exceptionally concentrated, open and cynical character.  The soviets are destroyed.  The local and central, that is, the ‘municipal’ and ‘parliamentary’ institutions, built-up on-the-basis-of the plebiscitary system, have-nothing-in-common-with the soviets as the fighting organizations of the toiling masses.  Besides, they have been deprived, in-advance, of all genuine significance.  The new constitution officially and publicly unites the power and control, over all fields of economic and cultural life, in the hands of the Stalinist ‘party’, which is independent both of the people and of its own members and which represents a political machine of the ruling caste.

“In-passing, the constitution liquidates de jure the ruling position of the proletariat in the state, a position which, de facto, has long-been liquidated.  Henceforth, it is declared, the dictatorship is ‘classless’ and ‘popular’, which, from the Marxian standpoint is pure nonsense.  The dictatorship of the ‘people’ over itself should have signified the dissolution of the state into society, that is, the death of the state.  In-reality, the new constitution seals the dictatorship of the privileged strata of Soviet society over the producing masses, thereby making the peaceful dying-away of the state an impossibility, and opens-up for the bureaucracy ‘legal’ roads for the economic counter-revolution, that is, the restoration of capitalism by-means-of a ‘cold stroke’, a possibility for which the bureaucracy directly prepares by its deception about the ‘victory of socialism’.”

Copying the CPSU, the CPC also transformed itself into a “party” that was a political machine of its apparatus.  As in the USSR, the CPC thus acquired, to use Trotsky’s words, “‘legal’ roads for the economic counter-revolution, that is, for the restoration of capitalism by-means-of a ‘cold stroke’”.  In other words, even prior to the creation of the People’s Republic, the CPC had united the power and control over all fields of economic and cultural life into its hands.

As we will see, the CPC did not actually institute a “cold stroke” until the early 1970s.  But first, we return to the prospects for the USSR, as Trotsky saw them in the late 1930s.

In the spring of 1935, a new world war appeared to be imminent[v].  Trotsky considered that the USSR could only be saved by international revolution:

“The USSR will be able to emerge from a war without a defeat, only under one condition, and that is if it is assisted by the revolution in the West or in the East.”

Indeed, World War II was accompanied by successful revolutions both in the West and in the East.  However, the Stalinist dogma of socialism in one country was adopted as the program of the leadership of all of these revolutions.

Despite Stalinism’s breaks with Marxism, Trotsky had nevertheless not ruled-out the possibility that the Chinese Stalinists “may go further than they wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie” and actually establish a workers’ and peasants’ government and, subsequently, a dictatorship of the proletariat.  Indeed, this is what actually took-place in China after Trotsky’s death.

Less than 10 years after the creation of the People’s Republic, the CPC erroneously announced that socialism had been established in China.  In reality, the social regime was, as in the USSR and other workers’ states, a transitional regime.  Trotsky had explained, in 1936, that

“the present Soviet régime, in all its contradictoriness, [is] not a socialist régime, but a preparatory régime transitional from capitalism to socialism.”

In Russia, the Bolshevik Party had seized state power in October 1917 and immediately established a workers’ and peasants’ government which was a coalition of Bolsheviks and some Left SRs.  When the Left SRs left the government in early 1918, the government was then led solely by the Bolshevik Party.

Trotsky wrote, in 1933, concerning how a dictatorship of the proletariat had been established in Russia:

“Not-only up to the Brest-Litovsk peace but even up to autumn of 1918, the social content of the revolution was restricted to a petty-bourgeois agrarian overturn and workers’ control over production.  This means that the revolution in its actions had not yet passed the boundaries of bourgeois society.  During this first period, soldiers’ soviets ruled side-by-side with workers’ soviets, and often elbowed them aside.  Only toward the autumn of 1918 did the petty-bourgeois soldier-agrarian elemental wave recede a little to its shores, and the workers went forward with the nationalisation of the means of production.  Only from this time can one speak of the inception of a real dictatorship of the proletariat.”

The nationalisations of autumn 1918 did not constitute a socialist economic revolution but simply the elimination of the economic dominance of the bourgeoisie.  This created a transitional economy.  In this sense, the October 1917 revolution was a socialist revolution only in its future intention of establishing socialism; but this was seen as happening internationally and not simply in an isolated and backward country.

Following the economic overthrow of the bourgeoisie, there were four years of civil war.  In China, the course-of-events that led up to the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat was different.  But it is not possible to give, here, an account of this process because there is a lack of readily-available and reliable information written in the English language.

The Stalinist bureaucracy in China claimed that its First Five-Year Plan, of 1953-57, had established socialism, but it then realised, by about 1972-73, that further development of this so-called socialism was seriously faltering.  Deng Xiaoping, a known advocate of a “capitalist road to socialism”, was resurrected within the CPC.  The bureaucracy then embarked on building capitalism in China whilst misleadingly calling it “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, and by continuing to erroneously claim that the CPC was guided by Marxism.  This claim was a delusion resulting from ignorance — as-was the claim that socialism had previously been established.  Thus, by building capitalism, the state bureaucracy of China embarked on a counter-revolution, the consequences of which persist to the present time.

By-means-of reforms, China began the transition from being a workers’ state into being a bourgeois state as the state made a qualitative turn towards defending bourgeois property and production relations.  This then led to the predominance of these capitalist relations.

In the late 1980s, the USSR, the first-ever workers’ state, also effected a “cold-stroke” that changed the class nature of the state, i.e., changed the character of the property and production relations that the state guarded and defended.  This was essentially not a conscious introduction of capitalism.  Instead, it was initiated by chaos created by the failures of perestroika.  This chaos wrecked some crucial aspects of the planned transitional economy.

Having both long-ago broken with Marxism, the CPSU and the CPC then, through further ignorance, progressed beyond Stalinism by destroying the functioning of the workers’ state.  Prior to this, Stalinism had defended the basic functioning of the state, albeit badly.  Under Stalinism, the form of state power was Bonapartism in a workers’ state.  Under capitalism, China and the states of the ex-USSR all still exhibit Bonapartist rule, but now it is Bonapartism within bourgeois states.

In July 1940, Trotsky had referred to Stalinism as “the most malignant form of Menshevism.”  The CPC and the CPSU later took Menshevism’s collaboration with the bourgeoisie one stage further by re-introducing bourgeois rule, i.e., dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

In October 1933, Trotsky had warned that proletarian rule in the USSR might collapse:

“The correct policies of a workers’ state are not reducible solely to national economic construction.  If the revolution does not expand on the international arena along the proletarian spiral, it must immutably begin to contract along the bureaucratic spiral within the national framework.  If the dictatorship of the proletariat does not become European and world-wide, it must head towards its own collapse.  All this is entirely incontestable on a wide historical perspective.”

“The correct policies of a workers’ state are not reducible solely to national economic construction.  If the revolution does not expand on the international arena along the proletarian spiral, it must immutably begin to contract along the bureaucratic spiral within the national framework.  If the dictatorship of the proletariat does not become European and world-wide, it must head towards its own collapse.  All this is entirely incontestable on a wide historical perspective.”

*  *  *

The Comintern dissolved itself in 1943.  In 1956, the Sino-Soviet split further ensured that there would be no co-operation on development of the international revolution nor on joint economic construction involving China and Comecon.  The dictatorship of the proletariat in both China and the USSR subsequently collapsed.  This collapse constituted a defeat for the program of socialism in one country and also ensured a defeat of the international revolution.

Lenin characterized the New Economic Policy (NEP), proposed by him in 1921, as an economic system that would include “a free market and capitalism, both subject to state control”.  But under the NEP, capitalist production relations never predominated in the transitional economy of the USSR.

If China can be considered to have embarked, in the 1970s, on an extended version of an NEP, it clearly did not embark on anything that can also be called socialism since, in the USSR, there was no talk of socialism in one country at the time of its NEP.  China’s alleged NEP coexists neither with socialism nor with a transitional economy but, instead, with the results of a counter-revolution that overthrew the transitional economy and the dictatorship of the proletariat.  China’s “NEP” is simply capitalism.

China’s neo-Liberal reforms since 2013 have followed a larger, more global pattern of financialization — a direction which China first began to follow in the mid-1990s.  China has subsequently embraced the Western model of financial capitalism, i.e., has more clearly become what Lenin referred to as an imperialist state, i.e., one that defends the interests not only of “ordinary” domestic capitalism but prioritises the interests of Chinese finance capitalism, i.e., of monopoly capitalists based in China.  Not only private individuals but sections of the Chinese state have become involved in finance capitalism.

As Trotsky points-out[vi], though Lenin conditionally used the term “state capitalism”, i.e., he placed the term within quotation-marks, to describe elements of the NEP in the USSR, the original Marxist understanding of state capitalism was that it refers to “only the independent economic enterprises of the state itself”.   Trotsky also explains that:

“When the reformists dreamed of overcoming capitalism by-means-of the municipalization or governmentalization of ever greater numbers of transport and industrial enterprises, the Marxists used-to reply in refutation: this is not socialism but state capitalism.”

In other words, today, China is not partly socialist, as reformists might think, but is capitalist and it exhibits examples of state capitalism.

If it is deemed that, today, China is practicing a version of NEP, then it is now involved in “state imperialism”.  But, in reality, China is simply an imperialist state.  For example, it is extending its imperialist interests into Africa and elsewhere.  The Chinese state claims that China is helping African countries, but its primary role is to assist Chinese imperialist interests in their super-exploitation of workers within these countries.

Today, Chinese finance capital is an integral part of world finance capital.  “Finance capital” refers to the leading sub class of the world bourgeoisie, and it plays a hegemonic role in both world politics and the world economy.  In 1930, Trotsky wrote:

“We, the International Left, consider world economy and world politics not as the simple sum of national parts.  On-the-contrary, we consider national economy and national politics only as highly distinctive parts of an organic world totality.”

The conflict between the world productive-forces and the national state framework has become, since the late 1930s, the principal driving-force towards war.

In his book Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin explained that imperialism exhibits features of “a higher social and economic system”, i.e., features of socialism.  But these features cannot be somehow transformed into real socialism by-means-of reforms enacted under China’s bourgeois state.  Instead, the first step towards socialism must be a conquest of state power in China, and, as we will see, this conquest must be made by the proletariat, which

“as the leader of the democratic revolution, is inevitably and very quickly confronted with tasks, the fulfilment of which is bound-up-with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property.”

China attempts to foster illusions that it is playing a revolutionary political role at a world level.  In reality, the CPC is continuing the counter-revolutionary role that it played when it liquidated the Chinese workers’ state in the 1970s.  Rather than promoting world revolution or drawing China closer to socialism, the CPC is extending its counter-revolutionary role by continuing to build a decadent imperialist state that defends the collective interests of world finance capital.  This essential role is not negated by China also competing with other imperialist states.

Domestically, China has increased the rate of exploitation above that which generally exists in the West.  China has been able to sell goods cheaply on the world market not because it has established a higher productivity of labour than any capitalist country — an essential characteristic of genuine socialism — but because it has resorted to suppression of workers’ rights, wages and conditions, and has continued to destroy the environment.

The political rule of the Chinese state bureaucracy must be overthrown by a conquest of power by the poorest section of the working class, i.e., the proletariat.  If this revolution takes-place before revolution in other countries, it will restart the international proletarian revolution that began in Russia in October 1917.

Lenin explained that

“When we began … the international revolution, we did this not with the conviction that we could anticipate its development, but because a whole series of circumstances impelled us to begin this revolution.  Our thought was: Either the international revolution will come to our aid, and in that case our victories are wholly assured, or we will do our modest revolutionary work in the consciousness that in-case-of defeat, we have nevertheless served the cause of the revolution, and our experiment will be of-help to other revolutions.”

Fortunately, Trotsky was able to document how the subsequent failures and defeats of the international revolution had isolated the October revolution, and how the post-Leninist bureaucracy had become inward-looking, adopting a national socialist ideology instead of a program of international revolution.

Unlike the ideologies of Stalinism, Maoism and the counter-revolutionary falsifications and obfuscations of the present Chinese bureaucracy, Trotsky remained a Marxist and a Leninist.  As Trotsky explains in The Permanent Revolution, Lenin gave-up, in April 1917, the perspective of a “democratic dictatorship”, replacing it with that of a proletarian dictatorship.  Lenin realised that the proletariat was the only class capable of carrying-out the tasks of the bourgeois revolution in Russia.  This is the basic idea of permanent revolution as Marx had conceived it.

The Communist Manifesto of 1847 includes a 10-point program of measures that the proletariat should enact once it has state power in its hands.  This program is now somewhat outdated but it demonstrates Marx’s conception of a democratic revolution that subsequently grows-over into a socialist revolution.  Trotsky explains this idea:

“The dictatorship of the proletariat which has risen to power as the leader of the democratic revolution is inevitably and very quickly confronted with tasks, the fulfilment of which is bound-up-with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property.  The democratic revolution grows-over directly into the socialist revolution and thereby becomes a permanent revolution.”

In contrast to this understanding, the CPC today sees no need for “deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property” and is content, instead, to control a state which guards and defends bourgeois property relations and production relations.  It also denies the Chinese people basic democratic rights whilst expanding Chinese imperialist interests on a world scale.  And, of-course, it also defends the huge privileges of the state and “party” bureaucracy.

*  *  *

The vanguard of the Chinese proletariat is now obliged to lead a fourth revolution in China.  The program of this should include a number of transitional democratic demands.  The now-defeated third Chinese revolution of 1946-49 secured the independence of China but it did not complete other democratic tasks, e.g., solving the land question for the poor peasants, despite some advances having now been made.  After the defeat of the second Chinese revolution of 1925-27, Trotsky proposed a number of democratic demands: a constituent assembly, the eight-hour day, and the right of nations to self-determination.  These demands should be a starting-point for the elaboration of a program for the future fourth revolution.

It is necessary to build a Bolshevik party in China.  Whilst the basic program of this party is socialism, it also needs a transitional program that includes selected democratic demands.  The task of this program, according to Trotsky, “lies in systematic mobilization of the masses for the proletarian revolution”.

The existence, today, of a large labour aristocracy in China presents some particular problems for building a Bolshevik party.  The failure of the German revolution of 1918-19 was due to the absence of a Bolshevik party in Germany.  Trotsky explained, in 1937, that

“The Paris Commune [1871] proved that the proletariat, without having a tempered revolutionary party at its head, cannot wrest power from the bourgeoisie.  Meanwhile, the prolonged period of capitalist prosperity that ensued [leading up to 1913] brought-about not the education of the revolutionary vanguard but, rather, the bourgeois degeneration of the labour aristocracy, which became, in-turn, the chief brake on the proletarian revolution.”

In his 1920 preface to Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin wrote:

“This stratum of workers-turned-bourgeois, or the labour aristocracy, who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their entire outlook, is the principal prop of the Second International, and in-our-days, the principal social (not military) prop of the bourgeoisie.  For they are the real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement, the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, real vehicles of reformism and chauvinism.

During the post-World-War-II boom, which ended with the recession of 1973-75, the advanced capitalist economies experienced a growth of the labour aristocracy.  This hindered the building of genuine Bolshevik parties in these countries.

Today, there is no such thing as a “middle class”.  The term middle class often refers to the labour aristocracy.  Also, the petty bourgeoisie is not a “middle class” but is a stratification of sub-classes of the bourgeoisie.

Lenin wrote, in 1915, concerning the labour aristocracy:

“The epoch of imperialism cannot permit the existence, in a single party, of the revolutionary proletariat’s vanguard and the semi-petty-bourgeois aristocracy of the working class, …”

One danger of permitting labour aristocrats free access to the revolutionary party is that this party may then become an intellectual petty-bourgeois party as-distinct-from a proletarian party.  In 1940, when this possibility had become a danger to the U.S. section of the Fourth International, Trotsky explained that:

“Predominance, in the organization, of intellectuals is inevitable in the first period of the development of the organization.  It is, at-the-same-time, a big handicap to the political education of the more gifted workers….”

Trotsky recommended that special measures be taken to minimize the effects of this “big handicap”.

Both the Second and Third Internationals succumbed to national socialism and to what Lenin had called social chauvinism.  As Lenin insists, above, it is particularly the present epoch, i.e., the epoch of imperialism, that cannot permit the existence of an influential “semi-petty-bourgeois aristocracy of the working class” within the revolutionary proletarian party.  This is because, as Lenin explains above, the labour aristocracy is the principal social prop of the bourgeoisie by being a vehicle of reformism and social chauvinism.

The imperialist epoch is the epoch of wars and revolutions.  Imperialist rivalry continues to create new wars and the danger of a third world war.  For these reasons, and given the size of the labour aristocracy in China, Trotsky’s 1938 article “Lenin and Imperialist War” has been included in this digital book.

At present, i.e., in 2020, a Bolshevik party in China would have to operate illegally.  Trotsky’s article, “Underground Work in Nazi Germany”, has been specifically included in this digital book because of its particular relevance to the task of building an underground party in China.

*  *  *

This digital book contains all of Trotsky’s articles, letters and speeches that were published in the 1932 book Problems of the Chinese Revolution.  In addition, it includes the three chapters of his June 1928 book The Third International After Lenin, which criticised the draft program of the Comintern, submitted for its Sixth Congress.  In the first chapter of the book, Trotsky counterposes a program of international revolution to a program of socialism in one country.  Also contained in this digital book, is Trotsky’s October 1928 book The Permanent Revolution.  In addition, various individual articles by Trotsky, and extracts from articles, have been included.

The text of this digital book retains the wording of the original translations of Russian originals.  The punctuation of these translations has frequently been changed to improve readability.  Word-spellings have sometimes been altered to achieve standardisation or to correct mistakes in the original translations.  In general, original versions of translations have been used whenever practically possible.  (Often, later versions or editions contain unacknowledged changes, and they have therefore been generally avoided whenever possible).

Square brackets, containing text, appear in this digital book.  These brackets have been used for a number of different reasons.  Some identify words that have been added, by the present editor, to improve readability.  Generally, those square brackets that appear within quotations have been inserted by Trotsky himself.  Elsewhere, the square brackets have been inserted by either the present editor or by the original editor[s] of the English translations.

The endnotes section of this digital book has been prepared by the present editor, but it often uses unverified information simply copied from source documents.

The English-language translations contain many idioms (idiomatic expressions; prepositional idioms; proverbs and sayings; poetic language; slang; artistic, outdated and sometimes pretentious prose; and idiomatic word-pairs).  Readers whose first language is not English may find these idioms difficult to understand.  Therefore, in this digital book, extensive use of hyphens has been made to hopefully help to identify these idiom.

For example, the first article in this digital book contains the sentence:

“Moscow agents have egged-you-on!”

Here, an idiomatic expression (egged you on) is indicated by using two hyphens.

A further difficulty arises because, sometimes, idioms are “buried” within what appears to be normal text.  For example, a popular idiom in this digital book is, “to play-the-role”, and it often appears in a buried form.  The basic idiom literally means: to act the part of a particular character in a film or play.  This basic idiom is often buried within a phrase, e.g.,

“… who will play the leading role in this struggle”.

In many cases, no attempt has been made to identify the basic idiom by using hyphens because of the difficulty involved and the confusion that this might create.

In-order-to use hyphens to identify idioms, etc., its “normal” usage has often been avoided unless it is necessary to avoid ambiguity.  For example, it is normal to refer to the “working-class movement”, but in this digital book, the hyphen has been omitted because no ambiguity exists as-to the meaning of the term “working class movement”.  However, due to shortage of time, this “rule” has not been followed strictly.

W. Rupert



[i].      Elsewhere, Trotsky refers to “the impossibility of a bi-composite, that is, a two-class party expressing simultaneously two mutually exclusive historical lines — the proletarian and petty-bourgeois lines”.  Such a two-class party tends to gravitate towards expressing the historical line of the bourgeoisie because the petty bourgeoisie is not an independent class but a stratification of subclasses of the bourgeoisie.  Thus, petty-bourgeois parties are, inevitably, temporary historical phenomenon, e.g., Stalinist parties.

[ii].     See “The Class Nature of the Soviet State” and “Not a Workers’ and not a Bourgeois State?” in this digital book.

[iii].     Trotsky explains this in, for example, “The Struggle for the Productivity of Labour” in this digital book.

[iv].     See “Socialism and the State” in this digital book.

[v].      Trotsky wrote, at this time:

          “Thrashing in the grip of insolvable contradictions, capitalism is preparing to plunge into a new slaughter of the peoples.  Ministers and diplomats openly speculate whether the outbreak of the war will come in one or in three years from now.”

[vi].     See the article “The Class Nature of the Soviet State” in this digital book — in particular, its sections: “‘State Capitalism’” and “The Economy of the USSR”.

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