New Frontiers: Soviet Support for the early Chinese Communist Party

By Michael O’Sullivan, Explaining History Asia Correspondent.



The 21st century has been dubbed by some experts and observers as the “Asian Century” most especially with the dramatic rise of China in the global political and economic power structures since the 1980s. While initially founded as a Communist state following the Civil war in 1949, there has since been a debate as to whether modern China since the reign of Deng Xiaoping still fits that model. Indeed, it is the position of Rana Mitter and other scholars that the current political and economic model of China more closely resembles the semi capitalist and party dominated vision of the progressive wing of the Guomindang: “One can imagine Chiang Kai Shek’s ghost wandering around China today nodding in approval, while Mao’s Ghost follows behind him moaning at the destruction of his vision”. It must be said, that this debate has less to do with the Chinese state fitting strict Marxist-Leninism models then what popular culture imagines Communism to stand for as an ideology and a society.

This meditation was prompted by an excellent analysis of the history of Communism in Silvio Pons: The Global Revolution. As excellently argued by Pons, Marxism or Communism is primarily a Euro-centric ideology, whose models of a proletariat revolution based in industrial countries against a bourgeoisie does not accurately reflect the social, ethic, economic and political diversities outside of the European continent. It must be said, that the best Stalin could manage in understanding the revolutionary potential of Asia was the application of labels such as “not having an industrial proletariat, having a slightly developed proletariat and “national proletariats”
Indeed, following the turmoil of the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution the Bolshevik party began to shift their focus away from the project of European revolution towards launching a Asian “anti-imperialist” uprising. This image was so powerful that Nikolai Bukharin conceived the revolutionary potential of Asia as “the capitalist metropolis besieged by the unending countryside of the global periphery”.
For all the countries that attended the 2,000 strong “Congress of the Peoples of the East”, the country that the USSR placed all its hopes on for a further revolution was China. The “Congress of the Peoples of the East” was hosted by the Bolsheviks in Baku in September 1920 as a platform for the Soviet leaders to extoll anti-British imperialist ideologies and national self-determination for nationalists and communist operating from Turkey to the Far East. The conditions in China during the early Twentieth Century had produced the correct combination of nationalism and revolution to achieve the ideological goals of the USSR. This can clearly be seen in the USSR’s insistence of an alliance between the Chinese Communist Party and the Nationalist Kuomintang to oppose British Imperialism and reactionary warlords.
While it is a fact of history that a harmonious coexistence between the Chinese Nationalists and the Communists did not survive the Shanghai Massacre of 1926, it could be argued that this alliance proposed by the USSR has helped shape China into its current political model. As argued by Peter Zarrow, the alliance with the USSR helped shape the Guomindang into an ideological vanguard party (in a similar vein to Lenin’s Bolshevik party) guiding but not admitting the masses. Despite, its height hopes for the Chinese revolution, Stalin and the Politburo still insisted on the Nationalism alliance, ultimately with the intention of having largely urban based communist activists seize control of Nationalist organs of government rather than develop their own revolutionary committees la a the Soviets.
From this stance taken in the 1920’s it is perhaps possible to see the emergence of the principal characteristics of the modern Chinese state. While, it is possible to take states such as the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and analyse their characteristics according to strict Marxist axioms and how they deviate from them (in the case of the latter example identifying it as Neo Confucian) to do so misses the point. While commentators often point to the capitalist market reforms and emphasis on nationalism implemented by the CCP as having diluted the communist ethos of the state, in reality this conforms to notions of “National Bolshevism” an invented ideology that uses nationalism as a means of ensuring social unity and mobilizing it towards a class struggle based on national conflicts.
While the North Korean regime is certainly Neo-Confucian, and the PRC is deeply nationalist, to claim that these ideologies have supplanted Communism rather than existing in a symbiotic relationship with it is perhaps a mistake. In the case of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung at the time of the founding of the Korean’s Workers Party admitted the classically trained scholar (Yangban) class as members. This class served to help Kim craft a Confucian style ideology based on: the notion of sage kings, the veneration of the father ruler, the focus on social harmony and viewing society as an organic whole etc, onto which Soviet style ideas could be grafted.
Marxism is at its heart a Euro-centric ideology and to take the stance that the developments in states such as China has destroyed its legacy is a repeat of the same mistakes made by Soviet leadership in the 1920s and betrays a simplified understanding of the social, historical, religious and political realities of Asian countries.
While the ideology of Marxism then and now did not play out strictly according to the paradigms laid out by Marx and Engels, examining how the ideology adapted to realities in countries outside Europe offer accurate insights into how these societies developed, and more importantly illustrate their goals and worldviews.
While the People’s Republic of China does not conform to the strict tenants of Marxism as an ideology. Its marriage of Communism and Marxism has created a state and society mobilised towards ensuring its greatness and breaking the stranglehold of Western ideology and norms over global power relations. Which at its simplest was the goal of Marxism and the USSR the replacement of Western ideologies of capitalism and Imperialism with an alternative modernity corresponding to the state ideology of the USSR. To ignore the continued power of Marxism in the PRC simply produces an incomplete analysis of the countries and its goal, which is the anti-thesis of research, analysis and understanding.




Meyer, Isaac (Producer), (2016, August, 20th) The History of Japan Podcast: The Best of Frenemies Part 7 [Audio Podcast],
Mitter, Rana, Modern China: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016

Pons, Silvio, The Global Revolution, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014
Zarrow, Peter, China in War and Revolution 1895-1949, Routledge, 2005

2 thoughts on “New Frontiers: Soviet Support for the early Chinese Communist Party

    1. Hi Carla, I have read some Malraux but not that. I am fascinated by the engagement between the Western fellow traveller movement’s interactions with Stalinism and Maoism in general


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