A Very Very Short History of the Chinese Communist Party (2 of 10)

Part 2 – The First United Front

 Up to 1912, China had been under dynastic rules for over two thousand years. The last one was the Qing Dynasty. In the final days of its reign, it had proven to be so incompetent and corrupt in dealing with the  Western Powers, Czar’s Russia, and Imperial Japan. It lost one war after another and was forced to sign one humiliating treaty after another to pay compensation to foreign powers. In addition to huge amount of monetary settlement, large chunks of territory were given away. One of the most famous pieces of land was Hong Kong Island, ceded to the British after the Opium War, and later the New Territory on a one-hundred-year lease. Meanwhile the Chinese people’s lives went bad to worse.

All these led to the 1911 Revolution, with the aim of abolishing the dynastic system and establishing a Republic in China. The revolution succeeded in its first goal.

However, establishing a Republic proved to be a daunting task.

Sun Yat-Sen, who was regarded as the founding father of the republic, was elected as the first interim president. He soon was manipulated out of power and replaced by Yuan Shikai as the 2nd president in 1913. Yuan soon claimed himself emperor of the new republic. His government was given the  derogatory term: the Bei Young Government.

After Yuan Shikai’s death in 1916, The Bei Young government was split into factions. The warlords started to fight against each other for power. China fell into disunity and a state of ongoing warfare.

Sun Yat-Sen and his Nationalist Party known as Guomindang or KMT vowed to unite China and restore the republic. But there was a huge problem. He had neither money nor army.

Sun Yat-Sen tirelessly lobbied Western nations and Japan for support, but to no avail. In the United State in particular, “Isolationism” was the prevailing post-war foreign policy of the day.

Out of desperation, Sun accepted the offer from Soviet Russia. The Russians would provide money, weapons, and training for Sun to create his National Revolutionary Army.

 But with a string attached.

The condition was that Sun must incorporate the newly founded Chinese Communist Party into his Party and the army.

Sun had no choice but to accept it.  In 1922, the first United Front was established. The policy of “ally with Russia and incorporate the Communists” formed the foundation for the United Front.

At the time, Sun’s Nationalist Party was already an established national party. The CCP, on the other hand, was in its infancy. The partnership was far from equal. Now with the support and protection of its the Soviet Russia, the CCP would have the perfect chance to grow as the parasite inside its host body of KMT.

With the help of Soviet Russia, the Huangpu Military Academy was inaugurated in 1924 in Guangzhou. It would train military officers to lead the National Revolutionary Army and made it possible for the Northern Expedition to defeat the warlords and to unify China.

Chiang Kai-shek was the first commandant of the academy. Many Communists, including future CCP’s Premier Zhou Enlai were appointed in various positions in the political department. Huangpu Military Academy would produce many future leaders for both KMT and the CCP.

In 1925, Sun Yat-sen died. He did not get to see his army to fulfil his dream of unifying China and his dream of a republic under his famous Three People’s Principles of people’s nationalism, people’s rights, and people’s livelihood.

Sun’s dream for China was doomed before it even took off  because of the policy of “allying with Russia and incorporating the Communists” .

After Sun’s death, Chiang Kai-shek took over the leadership for the KMT party and the National Revolutionary Army. Chiang knew one or two things about Communism. In 1923 he took a three-months tour in Soviet Union as the Sun’s representative. His visit changed his attitude towards Communism from admiration to hostility.

Chiang used to believe that Leninism would show the way to the Chinese on how to defeat the Western powers. The tour convinced him otherwise. He became a fervent anti-Communist.

Sun Yat-Sen’s policy allowed the Communist party members to join the KMT as individuals. But KMT quickly realized that the Communists had the hidden agenda: to infiltrate the KMT by secretly recruiting for the CCP. Their goal was to reshape KMT from within, and to divide and weaken the KMT. One of the tactics the Communists used was to ferment division between officers and soldiers using Marxist class struggle principles.

Initially Chiang Kai-shek thought he could contain the CCP within the KMT. But it proved to be impossible. He started to view the CCP as the cancer spreading its cells inside KMT.

At that time,  one-third of the KMT party leadership position was occupied by the CCP, and one-third were by KMT left wingers or CCP sympathizers. The reality was that the National Government had been fully infiltrated and controlled by the CCP.

In 1925, KMT held an important meeting called Xishan Conference where the Party was able to reach a consensus and pass a resolution to sever ties with both Soviet Russia and the CCP.

In 1926, the Nationalist Government formally embarked on the Northern Expedition from Guangdong. With the support of the people nationwide, the Northern Expedition marched northward triumphantly.

During the Northern Expedition, the CCP instigated many Communist violent uprisings in cities and carried out its agrarian revolutions in rural areas. Both led to civil unrest. It also caused much uproar among National Army soldiers and officers who were from landlord families. It was disheartened for them to see their families attacked and killed, and their land and property confiscated while they were fighting the war lords.

In 1927, KMT finally launched the Party Cleansing campaign. The CCP calls it Counter Revolutionary Coup.

On April 12, KMT started to arrest and execute CCP members and left wingers of the KMT on a large scale. Among them was Li Dazhao, one of founders of the CCP. The campaign was messy since the CCP never submitted the name list of its party members to KMT which made it difficult to identify who was who. It was inevitable that some of those accused and executed were innocent.

The United Front formally broke up. It is estimated that about 5000 were killed. The campaign was a bloody incident. No doubt about it. But wait until you find out what Communists later did to the KMT personnel after they took power. You will be shocked by the comparison.

In the same year, KMT government officially cut ties with Soviet Russia.

In 1928 the Northern Expedition troops entered Beijing. War lords were dismantled. China was unified, sort of, under the Nationalist government led by Chiang Kai-shek.

Or was it?

After the April 12th incident, the former partners had become deadly enemies. The CCP was weakened, but not wiped out. In many ways, it was more committed than ever to fight to the bitter end.

From this point on, the fight would be between the KMT and the CCP over the fate of China. The fight would be over which ideology to be the dominant one in China, Sun Yat-Sen’s Three People’s Principles or Marxism and Leninism.