Qu Qiubai’s report and proposal are disputed, and the Comintern intervenes to restore order.
Tony Saich, The Rise to Power of the Chinese Communist Party
Chang Kuo-t’ao [Zhang Guotao], The Rise of the Chinese Communist Party (2 volumes)
Daniel Kwan, Marxist Intellectuals and the Chinese Labor Movement: A Study of Deng Zhongxia, 1894-1933
Qu Qiubai, “The Past and Future of the Chinese Communist Party”
Various 6th Party Congress documents in Chinese Studies in History vol. 3, #4 through vol. 5, #1
Some names from this episode:
Nikolai Bukharin, general secretary of the executive committee of the Comintern
Qu Qiubai, Named head of provisional politburo at August 7, 1927 Emergency Conference
Chen Duxiu, Co-founder and first general secretary of the Communist Party
Zhang Guotao, Leading Communist
Pavel Mif, Top Comintern China specialist
Chen Shaoyu, Protégé of Mif (better known as Wang Ming)
Shen Zemin, Sun Yat-sen University student who translated at the 6th party congress
Welcome to episode 105 of the People’s History of Ideas Podcast.
This episode, we’re moving on from Nikolai Bukharin’s opening speech at the 6th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party to talk about that Congress in a more general way.
So first, some basic facts about the Congress. It was held in a Moscow suburb in what had been an old manor house from June 18 to July 11, 1928. There were 84 delegates in attendance with voting rights, and a further 54 people attending without voting rights. Apparently, the general atmosphere as the Congress opened was one of political disorientation caused by the severe defeats that the party had suffered, and there was an expectation on the part of many attendees that the Comintern would provide concrete political guidance for the road ahead. So, while I have noted in past episodes (and will again this episode) the heavy-handed way in which Bukharin and other Comintern leaders treated the Chinese Communists at this Congress, it is worth noting that the majority of attendees were definitely looking to the Comintern for leadership.
That first speech by Bukharin took up the first two sessions and lasted for nine hours. I know that back in episode 102 I said that I didn’t know how long the speech lasted precisely, but I have since found a source that gave nine hours as the length of the speech.
Bukharin’s speech was followed by a similarly lengthy talk by Qiu Qiubai, in his capacity as head of the provisional politburo that had been appointed at the August 7, 1927, Emergency Conference. Most of Qu’s talk consisted of explaining and summing up the history of the Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party. As you might imagine, of particular concern to the Congress was coming to a better understanding of how the united front with the Guomindang had collapsed and summing up the various efforts at armed uprisings in late 1927 that followed the collapse of the united front.
Just to give you a flavor of some of this discussion from Qu’s speech, here’s the paragraph where he summed up the Autumn Harvest Uprising in Hunan, an event that we discussed back in episodes 60 and 61.
If you will recall from back in those episodes, Mao himself, who led the uprising on the ground, was very critical of the role of the Hunan Provincial Committee (and was himself also criticized heavily by the Hunan Provincial Committee). But their main disagreement was about the importance of building a professional army led by the Communists (as Mao advocated), or just relying on armed masses, as the Hunan Provincial Committee argued for. During the course of the Autumn Harvest Uprising, as the peasant armed forces were stalled out and turned back as they marched on Changsha, and as martial law had been declared within Changsha, a decision was made to call off the proposed armed insurrection within Changsha itself, and to allow the remaining peasant armed forces to retreat to the mountains (where they eventually founded the Jinggangshan base area). On this point, both Mao and the Hunan Provincial Committee were in agreement.
As Qu indicates here, all of this was done against the direct order of the Party Center. But we also saw in episode 59 what happened to the Chinese Communists in Hubei province who followed Party Center orders to continue their armed uprising even after everyone leading the armed uprising on the ground could see that defeat was inevitable. They all died, and the revolution was set back, not advanced, by the sacrifice that they made.
In any case, what we see here in Qu’s summation of these events is not a critical summation of the events as they played out, and what were the strengths and weaknesses of the Party as it attempted this armed action. In fact, Qu even gets some basic facts wrong. For example, Liling was taken by Communist armed forces marching toward Changsha, and when those forces were driven out of Liling the next day by the Guomindang, they were still hoping to advance on Changsha. So, the seizure of Liling was in no way conceived of as an action to be taken instead of seizing Changsha. Now, does this error in Qu’s report reflect sloppiness on his part? Is it a deliberate lie to make for a better narrative in blaming his subordinates for the failure of the uprising? Or does it reflect the continued fog of war and imperfect flow of information and the quality of reports that made their way to the Party Center? I couldn’t tell you for certain. But it is striking that the official report to the Party Congress by the head of the Party would contain such an inaccuracy.
But aside from that point about Qu getting some important facts wrong, what really stands out is the approach taken by Qu here. Is this a summation where strengths and weaknesses can be discussed, and general lessons be learned for advancing the struggle? No. The issue here is one of blame and discipline. It is implied that, had the Hunan Provincial Committee not ‘lost its courage’ the uprising would have succeeded. And the matter was resolved by, as Qu puts it, reprimanding and reorganizing the Provincial Committee. Problem solved, apparently. Next time, if only the subordinates will obey the Party Center, surely the revolution will succeed and advance step by step in an orderly march toward victory. This, at least, seems to be the implication.
And it calls to mind something we remarked upon back in episode 57, where we quoted from something that Zhou Enlai said in 1944 in a long report at the Central Party School in the Yan’an base area which dealt with party history. He said that in the years following the August 7, 1927 emergency meeting, “bad precedents were created in inner-Party struggle… [T]hings reached the point where in any struggle against opportunism, one or two persons in responsible positions had to be singled out and attacked as if they were opportunism itself. Once they had been removed or transferred, it was believed that opportunism had been eliminated and everything was just fine.” And we can see this style being performed in Qu’s summation speech at the 6th Party Congress right here. Although the irony is that Qu himself is going to be blamed and removed from top leadership at this Congress because of the Party’s various defeats over the course of the past year.
Following Bukharin’s and Qu’s reports, there was a period of open discussion at the Congress of these reports. There were some substantial disagreements among the Chinese communists in attendance. There was still a small group of people who remained politically close to Chen Duxiu, and who totally opposed anything that Qu Qiubai said. Then there was another small group very closely associated with Qu and who supported him 100%. Between these two extremes, there was a range of opinions about just how bad the errors were that had been committed under Qu’s leadership over the course of the past year, and therefore how much rectification (in the form of self-critical acknowledgement of error and formulation of substantially changed ways of moving forward) would be necessary in order for him to continue in leadership, or whether a whole new leadership would need to be selected.
Before many of the comrades felt that the discussion of Bukharin and Qu’s reports had been properly concluded, Qu went ahead and tried to end the conversation. The next phase of the Congress would consist of the formation of various committees. Zhang Guotao described the work of these committees as consisting of “examining various reports and proposals and of drafting resolutions for final approval by the congress.” So, for example, some of the resolutions that have come down to us from the Congress include resolutions on organization; the trade union movement; the land question; the peasant question; on the question of soviets (or the local organization of political power in areas controlled by the communists); on military affairs; on propaganda work; on the work of the Communist Youth League; on the women’s movement; a resolution to fix a regular memorial day to commemorate the Guangzhou Uprising; a resolution on the need to draft a party program; and a resolution on the question of national minorities. There was also a political resolution which was drafted which was based on Bukharin’s report to the congress.
All of these reports were the work of committees, or we might call them working groups, formed during the congress.
Anyways, what happened was, Qu Qiubai tried to cut short the discussion of his and Bukharin’s reports which had opened the Congress (taking up the first four sessions or so), before many comrades felt that the reports had been fully discussed. He did this by putting forward a slate of candidates to form these various committees which would spend the next phase of the congress working to put together these reports. This slate of candidates to form these working groups excluded people who disagreed with Qu, and so he really aroused a lot of opposition from the delegates to the Congress. And as I mentioned a minute ago, most delegates felt that he needed to demonstrate some level of self-critical acknowledgement of error, even though there was not unanimity on how far this needed to go. So, when he put forward this slate of candidates for the working committees of the Congress which would put together the various resolutions that would later have to be discussed and then finalized by the Congress, he clearly signaled that he was not very open to a serious acknowledgement of error and political change of course.
So, when Qu Qiubai put forward this loyalist slate of candidates to form the working committees of the congress, there was a big outcry and eventually his slate of candidates was voted down. Qu, I think correctly, interpreted this as a vote of no confidence, and stormed out of the conference hall to go and call on the Comintern for help in dealing with the situation. According to Zhang Guotao’s account of the congress, “as a result, the Comintern sent four experienced officials who, partly by pressure and partly by mediation, eventually managed to have the slate amended acceptably and approved by the congress.”
Working groups were finally created on the seventh day of the congress, and in addition to the committees formed to write the resolutions mentioned earlier, there were also two committees formed to review the strategic errors of the Nanchang Uprising and Guangzhou Uprising respectively. However, these committees were dissolved two weeks later by the Comintern representative who was most involved in overseeing the congress, who thought the Executive Committee of the Comintern should take responsibility for these reviews.
This was a man named Pavel Mif. He was the Comintern’s top China specialist and was the head of Sun Yat-sen university in Moscow, which was the Comintern’s school for training Chinese communists. In these capacities, the Comintern had given him oversight responsibilities for the Chinese Revolution. As head of Sun Yat-sen University, he was in the process of training a whole new generation of leading Communists for the Chinese Revolution who would soon be counted on to hew precisely to what the Comintern told them to do. Zhang Guotao gives an account of the behavior of Mif’s Chinese proteges at the Congress here:
This first guy that Zhang mentioned, Chen Shaoyu, is better known to history by the name Wang Ming, and he is going to become general secretary of the party in 1931. But since it would be a little while still before these guys would be sent to China to take over. In the meantime, Mif had to contend with the current Chinese leadership, and with his continual interventions at the 6th Party Congress, Mif managed to irritate all sides of the debates at the congress. Mif took the initiative to reconcile Qu Qiubai, the main representative of what was coming to be called the ‘putschist’ line, and Zhang Guotao who, as we discussed in earlier episodes, had been given partial blame for the failure of the Nanchang Uprising and Southern Expedition at the November 1927 politburo meeting in Shanghai (which we discussed back in episodes 71 and 72).
Here’s Zhang’s account of Mif’s effort to reconcile him and Qiu Qiubai:
So, we can see here that Qiu Qiubai and Zhang Guotao, despite very strong disagreements and some degree of personal antipathy, could reach some form of reconciliation with each other, but that Mif managed to engender a fair bit of enmity in the both of them. To me, the exact words that Zhang has Mif saying in this account don’t sound so overbearing by themselves, but I think that judging from both Zhang and Qu’s reactions as related here, and also judging by how other people in other accounts talk about Mif’s behavior in general, he must have really leaned on these guys very hard and made a couple of people who were used to being seen as leaders really feel themselves to be subordinated to someone who, after all, had not been in the trenches with them in China. And I think it’s fair to say that, aside from his direct proteges, this is the reaction that Mif is going to generally engender among the Chinese communist leading cadres. Anyways, we’ll be hearing more about Mif in the future.