LETTER FROM THE ECCI
TO THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE OF THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY
ON THE PEASANT QUESTION
7 June 1929 Strategiya i Taktika Kominterna, p. 236
The need for a special letter is dictated in particular by the fact that some leading comrades still permit serious errors in decisions on the peasant question. Thus the most recent documents and material we have received from the CC . . . show that many party members are not quite clear about the tactics which the party should apply in the present circumstances on the peasant question, not quite clear about the attitude which the proletariat should adopt to the different social strata in the Chinese village. This kind of question is doubly important for the Chinese CP; incorrect answers may have grave and wholly undesirable consequences.
That is why we ask you with all seriousness to examine the peasant question again, taking account of what we say here.
. . .
The severe and prolonged agricultural crisis makes it certain that the position of the basic peasant masses will get steadily worse, that their pauperization will continue. Chinese reaction is wholly unable to halt this process, to ameliorate the crisis. It is well known that any real and notable development of agricultural productive forces in China is possible only with the liquidation of every survival and remnant of the feudal relations in which the Chinese village is entangled and which act as a brake on the general economic growth of your country. It is also well known that in this respect Chinese reaction has had no success. And that is understandable.
The dominant strata of the Chinese bourgeoisie are closely linked with the landlords, with the entire system of feudal exploitation. The landlord-bourgeois bloc represented by the Nanking Government has demonstrated that it has neither the capacity nor the desire to solve the agrarian question even in a half-hearted and partial way.
It is true that the Nanking Government is now preparing certain agrarian reforms.
. . .
But it is beyond doubt that these reforms will operate in a way that makes the position of the peasant masses worse than it is now. It is not difficult to foresee that the entire burden of the proposed new land tax will fall on the poor peasants.
. . .
Operations of this kind will completely destroy whatever illusions exist about the possibility of ameliorating the agricultural crisis and improving the conditions of the peasant masses so long as power is held by the bourgeois-landlord bloc.
But the worsening economic and political situation of the peasant masses against the background of spreading agricultural crisis will unquestionably intensify the class struggle in the Chinese village, will deepen and sharpen the conflicts between the peasant masses and the exploiting elements who sit on their backs, will create the conditions for a new and powerful surge of the peasant movement, will stimulate the growth of peasant organizations, will accelerate the pace at which the broad peasant masses become revolutionary. This sort of prospect is already being confirmed in the unceasing peasant disturbances taking place in different provinces of your country.
. . .
Although a substantial number of these movements are led by reaction ary elements, this should by no means take the edge off party activity; on the contrary, it obliges the party to wage an even more determined struggle to conquer the leadership of these spontaneous, objectively revolutionary peasant movements for land and against the requisitions of the warlords.
We do not wish to be understood to mean that the facts we have adduced prove that there is already a powerful advance of the revolutionary wave, particularly the peasant movement. Such a conclusion would not correspond with the actual state of affairs. In noting these facts, we wish only to emphasize that the prospects before the Chinese Communist Party are extremely favourable for work among the exploited peasant masses. The party should take advantage of this situation to conduct propaganda for its agrarian programme, to re-establish the revolutionary peasant organizations, to prepare for the approaching revolutionary wave, to mobilize the masses under the banner of irreconcilable struggle against imperialism and Chinese reaction, to expose the Kuomintang, which condemns the overwhelming majority of the peasantry to extinction, poverty, and ruin in the interests of landlord rule.
But success in the struggle to win the peasant masses is impossible without a correct attitude to the different social strata in the village. And it is at this point that we must deal, first of all, with the question of the attitude to the kulak, since it is in this respect that the Chinese comrades have permitted the most substantial errors.
The question is not a new one for the Chinese party; it was examined at the sixth CCP congress. At that time, analysing the relation of class forces in the country, the congress, in speaking of the alliance of the proletariat with the entire peasantry, singled out the kulak, who is playing, whether openly or implicitly, a partially counter-revolutionary role in the movement. The congress therefore came to the conclusion that the poor peasant was the proletariat's firm prop in the village, and the middle peasant its powerful ally. Why was it necessary to single out the kulak from among the peasantry as a whole? This question is still not clearly understood by many Chinese comrades. Mechanically taking over the Leninist formulation of the attitude of the working class to the peasantry in the bourgeois-democratic stage of the revolution, they continued to count the Chinese kulak among the allies of the proletariat.
The Leninist formula does indeed remain valid for China too, but Lenin never proposed an alliance with the kulak. In no circumstances is an alliance with the
kulak permissible. The slogan of 'alliance with the kulaks' advanced in a number of Chinese party documents does not follow by any means from the Leninist formula.
. . .
Agrarian overpopulation, the insecurity of the land tenure of the great mass of the peasants, permit the kulak, like the landlord, by imposing crushing rents and charging usurious interest, to make great profits from his capital and his land.
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And those Chinese comrades who put an opportunist interpretation on the Leninist formulation of the question of the alliance between proletariat and the entire peasantry, without taking account of the specific peculiarities of the Chinese kulak, are making a serious mistake, condemning the party to an incorrect line on a question that is of the utmost importance for the Chinese party. The mistake is the more significant as, since the defeat of the Chinese revolution, the kulak elements in the village are by and large going over to the side of reaction against the revolutionary struggle of the peasant masses.
. . .
Hence the entire debate on the peasant question was conducted along incorrect lines. Instead of amending the inexact formulations of the sixth congress resolution, the comrades aggravated the error by trying to give a theoretical justification ... for the need for an alliance between proletariat and kulak.
A mistake of this kind is a serious danger, particularly in the present circumstances of the revolutionary movement in China. Formerly, in the conditions of agrarian revolution, during the first powerful wave of the peasant movement, in conditions of open armed struggle against imperialism and Chinese reaction, with a powerful partisan movement, with numerous Soviet centres and our communist armies, it was understandable that we should be careful not to create additional difficulties in relation to the smallholding peasantry, including the richer among them; conflicts with them were relegated to the background in face of the extremely sharp struggle against imperialism and the landlord class. In those circumstances there was some reason for the slogan of 'not sharpening the struggle against the kulak', since all revolutionary forces had to be concentrated in the first place on dealing blows at the more serious and fundamental enemies of the Chinese revolution. But even at that time, in so far as the kulaks appeared on the side of reaction, the formula established grounds for incorrect tactics. At the present time, with the defeat of the revolution, when our organizations have to be built up anew, when footholds for exerting our influence have to be created once more, it is impossible to mobilize the peasant masses and the village poor without a determined and fearless struggle against every form of oppression and exploitation. It is absolutely impossible to strengthen our influence among the village poor unless we put forward class slogans, and this presupposes the leadership of the struggle of the broad masses of the agricultural proletariat and the village poor against oppression and exploitation by landlord and kulak.
. . .
If it pursues the line of alliance with the kulak, or even if it only fails to intensify the struggle against the kulak, the communist party will be unable to take the lead in the class struggle of the village poor, it will dull the edge of their activities, to the benefit of the exploiting kulak strata in the Chinese village.
What the party should, on the contrary, be doing, now more than ever before, is to expand the movement of the rural proletariat, organize the village poor. This task should be undertaken without 'side glances' at the kulak, without the fear that he will 'quit the revolution'. Such fears are completely incomprehensible in the present situation, when the Kuomintang, not unsuccessfully, is using the kulaks to exert pressure on the peasant movement.
The struggle of the peasant masses should be closely linked with the revolutionary struggle of the urban proletariat. On the other hand, our tactics in the village should be in harmony with the party's work to win the urban proletariat in its day by day economic struggles. It is not in the least compulsory to begin the peasant movement with a direct summons to carry out an agrarian revolution, with guerrilla warfare and insurrections. On the contrary, the situation in China today makes it the task of the party to exploit small and partial conflicts, to stir them up, to extend the daily struggle of the basic peasant masses against every form of exploitation, raising it to a higher political level.
. . .
The organization of the agricultural proletariat, and the uniting of the village poor, are essential to the struggle for the leading role of the proletariat in relation to the basic peasant masses in the bourgeois-democratic revolution. Work among agricultural labourers should therefore also be designed to draw them into the ranks of active fighters in the anti-imperialist and agrarian revolution. The labourer is a landless peasant; he cannot and must not remain detached from the struggle of the entire peasantry for land and against feudal institutions. In this connexion it should not be forgotten that, although the peasant bourgeoisie and the kulak semi-landlords have become allies of Chinese reaction in respect to the peasant movement, the social basis and the chief pillar of the KMT and Chinese reaction in the village remain the landlords, the gentry, the tuchuns whose rule in the village has not been broken.
. . .
To achieve proletarian hegemony in the bourgeois-democratic revolution requires the most determined struggle to win the middle peasant, to remove him from the influence of the bourgeoisie and the kulaks, to make clear to him the reactionary character of bourgeois national-reformism of all shades, from the Chiang Kai-shek to the Tang Pin-san variety, all alike hostile to the real interests of the oppressed peasant masses of China.
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To end our letter, we would like to give warning against wholly incorrect and purely Trotskyist conclusions about the socialist character of the Chinese revolution to which some comrades may come who put an erroneous interpretation on the analysis of the kulak given here. In giving greater precision to the decisions of the sixth CCP congress on the attitude to the different social strata in the village, and in dropping the opportunist slogan 'alliance with the kulak', we do not waver in our analysis of the character of the coming stage of the Chinese revolution as the bourgeois-democratic stage. So long as the basic contradictions of the bourgeois-democratic stage remain unresolved (destruction of feudal-landlord agrarian relations, liquidation of the rule of foreign capital, destruction of the warlords, and the genuine unification of the country), so long does the bourgeois-democratic character of the revolution retain its validity, and this is true of the opening stage in the approaching revolutionary wave in China.
At the same time it must be pointed out that the uniting of the proletariat with the village poor and the consolidation of the leading role of the proletariat over the entire peasantry, which is already happening at the present stage of the liberation struggle, together with other circumstances, should in their turn have a favourable reaction on the speed with which the bourgeois-democratic stage develops into the socialist stage of the revolution.