Civil Wars, Invasion, and
the Rise of Communism
The betrayal of China in 1919 by the Western democracies marked a major turning point in Sun Yat-sen’s political career and in the history of modern China. Before this time, Sun had looked primarily to the West for support of a progressive and democratic China. Now, the Western democracies seemed more concerned with foreign rights and privileges in China, and with the warlords of Beijing, than with Sun Yat-sen and his cause. Moreover, the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 in Russia suggested to many that a Marxist movement could seize power in a poor backward country and jump-start the process of rapid modernization, building a wealthy, powerful, and independent nation.
The German thinker and revolutionary Karl Marx had argued that capitalism was a major historical advance over feudalism, releasing new powers of productive capacity that promised to liberate human beings from the precarious struggle for survival. But capitalism, in Marx’s view, required such severe exploitation of workers by their capitalist overlords that it would inspire a lethal class struggle and eventually collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. The industrial workers leading this struggle would establish an egalitarian socialism in which all workers would enjoy the full fruits of their labors. Co-owning the factories where they worked, they would develop their full potential as well-rounded and cultured human beings.
Marx thought socialist revolutions could only occur in the most advanced capitalist countries with a large industrial proletariat. In Russia, the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin argued that a highly disciplined socialist party with its own army could seize power in a poor, backward country like Russia and move directly from precapitalist feudalism to a workers’ socialism, tolerating enough capitalism on the way to bring prosperity and equality to the country simultaneously. In a very influential pamphlet, Imperialism as the Last Stage of Capitalism, Lenin