Nationalists & Communists
The Fractured Alliance
The Alliance
After being forced into exile in 1913 by Yuan Shikai, [Sun Yat-sen] spent three years restructuring the Guomindang as a political party bonded to him by personal loyalty, and had greatly strengthened his personal leadership prerogatives. ... The Comintern agent Maring visited Sun in 1921, as Sun was trying to coordinate his national reunification drive in the south. Although their talks led to no specific agreements, Sun seems to have regarded the new economic policies launched by Lenin that year as a turn away from rigid state socialism on the Soviet Union’s part, a step that he found promising. ... In the fall of 1922, with Sun settled in Shanghai, the Comintern dispatched more agents to China, and Sun agreed to allow Communists into the Guomindang. Finally in January 1923, Sun held extended meetings with a Soviet diplomat, Adolf Joffe. The two men issued a joint statement that, despite its guarded language, marked the emergence of a new policy both for the Soviet Union and for the Guomindang:
Dr. Sun Yat-sen holds that the Communistic order or even the Soviet system cannot actually be introduced into China, because there do not exist here the conditions for the successful establishment of either Communism or Sovietism. This view is entirely shared by Mr. Joffe, who is further of the opinion that China’s paramount and most pressing problem is to achieve national unification and attain full national independence, and regarding this great task, he has assured Dr. Sun Yat-sen that China has the warmest sympathy of the Russian people and can count on the support of Russia. [SMC, 301-2]
  • Why was this alliance formed? What did each side (the GMD, the CCP, and the Soviets) hope to get out of the alliance ... and how did it fit into their long-term goals?
Consolidating Power
Borodin proceeded to strengthen Sun Yat-sen’s position and the general disciplinary structure of the Guomindang. Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People — anti-imperialist nationalism, democracy, and socialism — were declared the official ideology, and Sun himself was named party leader (zongli) for life. Borodin introduced the Soviet concept of “democratic centralism,” under which any Guomindang decision, once reached by a majority of members of the relevant committees, would be wholly binding on all party members. He expanded the Guomindang party’s organization into major cities, and actively recruited new members by coordinating operations of the regional party headquarters. Under the Central Executive Committee of the Guomindang he formed bureaus to deal specifically with rural and urban recruitment and policies, with youth, with women, and with military. Special staff began compiling data on Chinese social conditions. Union organizing especially was intensified, and Communist members of the Guomindang began to propagandize actively among the peasantry in the countryside. The young Hunan communist activist Mao Zedong proved an adroit and able head of Sun’s propaganda bureau, and he helped concentrate Sun’s power and defuse that of the liberal opposition. [SMC, 307]
Just as important as these organizational changes was the Soviet decision to strengthen the Guomindang military, so that it could become a vigorous force in Chinese politics. The island of Whampoa, ten miles downriver from Canton, was chosen as the site for a new military academy, and Sun’s friend Chiang Kai-shek, who had just spent several months in Moscow studying military organization as a member of a special Guomindang delegation, was appointed as its first commandant. ...
Although several cadets were already Communists or were recruited into the CCP ... the majority were not sympathetic to communism and became fiercely loyal to Chiang Kai-shek. This devoted group of tough young officers were to exert considerable influence in upcoming power struggles. ... [SMC, 307-8]
[I]n November 1924 [Sun Yat-sen] was invited to join a “national reconstruction conference” in Peking, convened by the dominant warlord there. ... A side trip to Japan was abruptly terminated by illness, and he hastened to Peking. Doctors operated on Sun in January 1925 but found he had terminal liver cancer. He died in Peking on March 12, aged fifty-nine, leaving a brief, patriotic, and pro-Soviet last will and testament. ...
Sun’s death, along with that of Lenin, whom Sun had himself eulogized just fourteen months before, did not stop the momentum of the strategies they had developed. Even as Sun was dying, in February 1925, the Whampoa-led armies of Chiang Kai-shek ... won a series of victories over the warlord Chen Jiongming near his main base of Shantou (Swatow), which Chiang’s forces captured in March. Three months later, in another remarkable victory, they routed two other warlords who had tried to seize Canton; on this second occasion Chiang’s troops took 17,000 prisoners and obtained 16,000 guns. They were beginning to perform like an army ready for national endeavors. ... [SMC, 308]
In 1924, as the Guomindang-Communist alliance in Canton was beginning to produce its first impressive results, the situation in Peking also entered a new stage. ... In October 1924, after a coup in Peking had cut into the power base of his primary rival, Wu Peifu, [the Manchurian warlord] Zhang Zuolin sent his troops south through the pass at Shanhaiguan. ... This success, when coupled with Zhang’s development of a Peking power base, gave the Guomindang forces, as nationalists seeking Chinese unification, an additional sense of urgency. [SMC, 310]
On March 20, 1926 ... [a] gunboat, the Zhongshan, commanded by a Communist officer, suddenly appeared before dawn off Whampoa Island. No one ever learned who had ordered it there, but the move was interpreted by Chiang Kai-shek and some of his supporters as the prelude to an attempt to kidnap him. Chiang at once invoked his powers as garrison commander and arrested the Zhongshan’s captain, put Canton under martial law, posted loyal cadets of police in crucial buildings, disarmed the workers’ pickets, and arrested the more than thirty Russian advisers now in the city. ... [In late April, Borodin] and Chiang reached a “compromise”: in the future no CCP members could head Guomindang or government bureaus; no CCP criticism of Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People was permitted; no Guomindang members could join the CCP; the Comintern had to share its orders to the CCP with a Guomindang committee, and a list of all current CCP members was to be given to the Guomindang Executive Committee. Borodin accepted these terms because Stalin was just entering on a critical power struggle in Moscow and could not afford the blow to his prestige that would be caused by a complete eviction of the CCP and the Soviet advisers from Canton. [SMC, 312]
The feuding among the Hunan generals grew so intense that the powerful northern warlord Wu Peifu began actively campaigning against them, to protect his own southern flank. When one of the leading Hunan commanders expressed his sympathy for the concept of the Guomindang Northern Expedition, and agreed to incorporate his troops into the Guomindang army, the time for action had clearly come. The Canton government thereupon named Chiang Kai-shek commander in chief of these hybrid forces in June 1926, and the official mobilization order for the Northern Expedition was issued on July 1. [SMC, 313-4]

“... a revoution is not like inviting people to dinner ...
it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle ...

A revolution is an uprising, an act of violence whereby
one class overthrows the power of another.”
[Mao Zedong and China’s Revolutions, 47]

Shanghai Spring
As the troops commanded by Chiang pressed northward from Canton, their new Hunan allies fought a path through to Changsha, which they captured on July 11. ... In extremely heavy fighting during the last week of August, the Nationalists seized the bridgeheads — heavily fortified with barbed wire and machine guns — that guarded the approaches to Wuhan. ... In early September the tricities of Wuhan, where Wu Peifu planned a determined stand, began to fall to Guomindang forces. ... In late 1926, the Guomindang and the Communists began to consolidate their hold over Wuhan, and Chiang Kai-shek shifted his attention to the Jiangxi campaign. The fighting was heavy ... [but by mid-November] the National Revolutionary Army had firm control over both Jiujiang on the Yangzi, and Nanchang, the key road and rail junction on the west of Boyang Lake. ... Despite heavy fighting, in mid-December 1926 the troops of the National Revolutionary Army entered the Fujian capital of Fuzhou. [SMC, 315-6]

On March 21, 1927, the General Labor Union in Shanghai, under CCP direction, launched a general strike and an armed insurrection against the warlords and in support of the approaching Guomindang forces. Some 600,000 workers were involved, and again the city came to a standstill. ... The next day the first division of Nationalist troops entered the city, and on March 27 the General Labor Union, now with no need for concealment, held a public inauguration of its new headquarters in a former guild hall, with 1,000 delegates representing 300 union branches. In all, according to their released figures, there were now 499 unions in the city, representing 821,282 workers. ... Chiang Kai-shek himself entered the city at the end of March. He issued reassuring statements to the foreign community and praised the unions for their constructive achievements. While the CCP kept the union membership conciliatory and muted, pressed them to disarm, and withdrew their demands that the foreign concessions be returned to China, Chiang held meetings with wealthy Shanghai industrialists, centrist Guomindang figures like Wang Jingwei and former Peking University president Cai Yuanpei, and leading Green Gang and underworld figures. These Green Gang leaders formed a so-called Society for Common Progress, headquartered at the house of the chief of detectives in the French Concession. This was a front organization under cover of which a force of around 1,000 armed men was built up. At the same time, Chiang arranged for generous loans from Shanghai bankers, and transferred out of the city those army units known to be sympathetic to the workers.
At 4:00 A.M. on April 12, the men of the Society for Common Progress, heavily armed but dressed in civilian clothes of blue cloth with white arm bands, launched a series of attacks against the headquarters of all the city’s large unions. These paramilitary anti-union groups operated with the knowledge (and at times the assistance) of the foreign-concession authorities, and as the fighting wore on through the day they were often assisted by troops from the National Revolutionary Army. Many union members were killed, hundreds arrested, and the pickets disarmed. When Shanghai townspeople, workers, and students staged a protest rally the next day, they were fired on by Guomindang troops with machine guns and almost 100 were killed. Arrests and executions continued over the next several weeks, the General Labor Union organizations were declared illegal, and all strike activity in the city ceased. The Shanghai spring was over. [SMC, 320-1]
Purging the CCP
Official Guomindang Statement, April 1927
To understand clearly the objects of the movement for the purification of the Guomindang Party, it is necessary to know first the actual conditions of the present time. We have not yet accomplished the aims of the Revolution. We are only at the beginning of the task; and while victory is already in sight, it is of the utmost importance at this juncture to carry on the Revolution to a successful end. We must stand together and face the common cause with a united mind. The slightest neglect on our part will not only defeat the Revolution, but will also make it impossible to attain the objects of liberty and equality for the Chinese nation.
       Therefore, all members of the party must know the gravity of their responsibility. At this critical moment, the undesirable elements are unscrupulously and untiringly doing the work of destruction, and if we do not check it in an effective manner, it will not only mean the fall of the Party but also the failure of the Revolution. With this in view, we adopt the following for the purification of the Party. First, to purge the Party of the Communists, and Secondly, to purge the Party of the opportunists and other undesirable elements.
       It will be remembered that when Dr. Sun Yat-sen admitted members of the Communist Party into the Guomindang, he was quite aware of the fact that Communism was not fit for China. But as the Communist Party members were ready to give up their Communist belief, and willing to be directed by the Guomindang in order to co-operate in the work of the Revolution, it was only natural that they should be admitted into the Party. But since the beginning of the Northern Expedition, while members of the Guomindang have been labouring faithfully either on the field of battle or elsewhere, and while the militarists of the country have been gradually eliminated, the Communists, taking advantage of our success, have seized important cities as their centers for propaganda and usurped the power of the Party. Our military successes are being utilized by them to inflame the undesirable sections of the populace to undermine our forward move and to create disturbances in the rear. [
DC, 252-3]
  • Was Chiang Kaishek justified in purging the Guomindang of the Communists?