The Origins of Chinese Communism

By Arif Dirlik | Go to book overview

11
Paths to the Future: Communist Organization and Marxist Ideology

I can best recapitulate the argument of this study by providing a summary account that contrasts with the account which (I suggested in the introduction) has heretofore dominated our views.

The Communist movement in China got under way in the spring of 1920, at a moment of crisis in Chinese radicalism, when the ideological and organizational premises that had informed radical activity during the preceding years seemed to have run into a dead end. Comintern intervention in the Chinese revolution in March 1920 brought to Chinese radicals the organizational principles of Bolshevism, which promised to resolve urgent problems of the social revolution radicals sought to bring about. The response to the promise was immediate. Within eight months, the core of a Communist movement had taken shape in China.

The emergence of a Communist movement at this time resulted from a conjuncture of internal and external developments. In 1918-1919, socialism appeared as a world political tide, nourished by the successful October Revolution in Russia, labor and social revolutionary movements in Europe and North America, and national liberation movements in colonial societies that found inspiration in socialist ideas. In China, the maturation of urban capitalism during World War I brought forth a labor movement, which first expressed itself politically during the May Fourth Movement spearheaded by students. The political emergence of labor had a traumatic effect on Chinese intellectuals and turned them rapidly to consideration of questions of socialism and social change. In a situation where China had become a part of a world market of commodities and ideas, socialism appeared immediately relevant to the resolution of social problems that had attended the emergence of capitalism there. In 1919 socialist ideas spread rapidly in China. Marxism appeared on the Chinese intellectual scene at this time as part of a still eclectic interest in socialism.

Nevertheless, the formation of a Communist movement was the work of radical activists mobilized by the New Culture and May Fourth movements of the late 1910's. These years witnessed the emergence of a radical intelligentsia which articulated its new-found self-consciousness in demands for a

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