Fruits and perils of the 'bloc within': The Comintern and Asia 1919-25 (Part 3)

Riddell, John

Publisher:  Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal
Date Written:  28/01/2018
Year Published:  2018  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX22536

The most advanced experience of Communist alliance with national revolutionists occurred in Indonesia (Dutch East Indies) prior to the Baku Congress. However, it was not mentioned at the congress, even though one of its architects – the Dutch Communist Maring (Henk Sneevliet) – was present in the hall. Maring had been a leader for many years of revolutionary socialist Dutch settlers in Indonesia, who had achieved the remarkable feat of transforming their group into one predominantly indigenous in leadership, membership, and programmatic orientation. The key to success had been a close alliance with a mass national-revolutionary organization of the type described by the Second Congress, called Sarekat Islam.



The Far East in upheaval

The restabilization seen in the Middle East and Central Asia in 1921 did not extend to the Far East. A Japanese interventionist army still occupied Vladivostok and Russia's Pacific maritime provinces; counterrevolutionary armies operated that the region and in Mongolia. Through an extended campaign lasting through 1922, Soviet forces defeated the White Guard armies and forced the Japanese army to withdraw. In the process, pro-Soviet forces prevailed in Mongolia, which regained its independence as an ally of Soviet Russia.

To the south, however, China remained dismembered by rival warlord armies and the intrusion of many rival imperialist powers, including Japan. The revolution of 1911 had overthrown the emperor and established a republic, but reactionary and centrifugal forces soon gained the upper hand. Sun Yatsen (Sun Zhongshan), a leader of the revolution and first president of the republic, launched a political movement, the Guomindang (GMD – also known as Kuomintang or the Chinese "Nationalists"), to seek realization of the revolution’s progressive ideals. In 1921, Sun established a regional government in Guangdong, an important southern province. Meanwhile, in July 1921, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was formed by a small group of revolutionary intellectuals. The GMD and the CCP remained the main actors in Chinese political life until the triumph of the Communist-led revolution in 1949.

The Moscow congresses: Progress and frustration

The Comintern's Third World Congress held its final week of sessions in the very month when the CCP was formed, July 1921. The International was gripped by a grave crisis arising from events in Germany, and no time was found in the three-week event for a substantive discussion of the colonial and semi-colonial countries. Three sets of theses, reflecting experience of communists in Iran, India, and China, were submitted to the congress, but they were not taken up. Efforts to draft a resolution on the East were unsuccessful. The single session dedicated to the East provoked a strong protest from M.N. Roy for its slipshod approach, while French delegate Charles-Andre Julien complained that "the main role has been played by cinematography."

The three sets of draft theses differed in their approach, reflecting a diversity of experience in Iran, India, and China. M.N. Roy’s draft stressed the revolutionary potential of the nascent proletariat in the colonies; drafts by Sultanzade and Zhang Tailei called for a revolutionary anticolonial alliance, anticipating what became known as a revolutionary anti-imperialist united front.

There were similar frictions at the Second, Fourth, and Fifth World Congresses regarding the weight accorded to discussion of the East. What is more, none of the three major expanded Executive Committee conferences of the Comintern in 1922 and 1923 took up struggles of colonized peoples. The tensions on this issue reflected an underlying disproportion. The victims of colonial and semi-colonial subjugation, as Lenin had pointed out, made up 70% of the world’s population, but in 1921 communists from these regions amounted to only about 1% of the International’s membership. The Comintern's magazine Kommunistische Internationale devoted about 10% of its articles in the early 1920s to the "East," a creditable achievement under the circumstances but far less than what was needed to develop policy for still poorly understood regions.
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