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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

The Long March to Liberation: The Communist Party of China 1921-1951

Today, in honour of the 102nd anniversary of the formation of the Communist Party of China, we share this early history of the party from 1951 when it was just 30 years old and only a year and half after the formation of the People's Republic of China.

It follows the amazing and heroic story of the party and the Chinese people from the 12 founding delegates in Shanghai through the Long March, the periods of revolutionary civil war and the resistance against Japanese militarism and invasion.

There are many historic photographs and artworks.

From China Pictorial, July 1951:

The Period of the First and Second Revolutionary Civil Wars (1921-1936)

The May Fourth Movement against imperialism and feudalism and the victory of the October Socialist Revolution in Russia made possible the integration of the Chinese working-class movement with Marxism-Leninism and paved the way for the foundation of the Communist Party of China. One year after the May Fourth Movement. Communist groups were formed in Shanghai. Peking, Hankow, Changsha and Canton. On July 1 1921, twelve delegates elected by these groups held the First Party Congress in Shanghai. The Congress adopted the first Constitution of the Communist Party of China. elected the central organ of the Party and founded the Communist Party of China.

The Third Party Congress held in June, 1923, formulated a policy of co-operation with the Kuomintang led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. by which means it was hoped that the alliance of the working class and other democratic forces could be brought about.

On March 24, 1927. in collaboration with the imperialists, Chiang Kai-shek staged a treacherous counter-revolutionary coup in Shanghai on April 12, massacred large numbers of workers and members of the Communist Party and declared his opposition to the Communists. On July 15 the Kuomintang made a formal break with the Communist Party and thus betrayed the revolution. In this way the First Revolutionary Civil War met with defeat.

Although the First Revolutionary Civil War failed, it taught the young Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people very important lessons, and bore out the following fundamental principles regarding China's democratic revolution:

1. The democratic revolution in present-day China must be undertaken by a united front led by the working class.

2. In China's democratic revolution, only when the peasants were won over as a revolutionary ally could revolutionary victory be achieved.

3. The main form of the revolution in China could only be that of an armed revolution opposing armed counter-revolution.

These lessons proved to be correct not only during the First Revolutionary Civil War but also in the subsequent periods.

In October, 1927, after the failure of the First Revolutionary Civil War. Mao led a contingent of the newly founded Workers and Peasants' Revolutionary Army to the Chingkang Mountain area, on the borders of Kiantsi and Hunan Provinces, established the Hunan-Kiangsi Border Region Workers and Peasants' Government, and initiated the distribution of the land.

After the troops under Chu Teh and Ping Teh-huai had joined forces with the troops under Mao0 the revolutionary bases expanded. Peasant guerrilla warfare and the struggles for the land developed under the leadership of the Party in Kiangsi and other provinces. Several more contingents of the Red Army and several more revolutionary bases were founded.

In February 1929 the Red Army advanced towards southern Kiangsi and western Fukien Provinces, where they established extensive bases and a wide range of guerrilla activities. On November 7. 1931, the First Soviet Representative Conference was held at Juichin.

At this time, the revolutionary bases and the revolutionary wars were the main content of the Chinese revolutionary struggle. They presented the main threat to Chiang Kai-shek's reactionary rule and represented the greatest hope of the labouring people throughout the country.

The Long March

The story of this year-long trek from Kiangsi to North China is one of unparalleled heroism and revolutionary ardour. 0f the 90,000 men, women and children who fought their way over 6000 miles of almost impassable trails, less than 30,000 reached their destination. These were the nucleus of the people's forces who were destined to deliver their country from the ravages of feudalism and imperialism.

After losing several divisions in a disastrous series of 'annihilation campaigns' against the Soviet areas, Chiang adopted a new strategy. By constructing a network of fortifications he expected to crush the Soviet districts in an ever-tightening economic blockade. This 'Fifth Campaign' failed in its main objective, which was to destroy the Red Army. A Soviet military conference was called, and on October 16, 1934, the order was given for the Long March.

Breaking through the Kuomintang fortifications in the south, 90.000 men, women and children commenced their world-astonishing march towards the anti-Japanese front In North China. The journey was covered on foot, over almost impassable trails and some of the highest mountains and greatest rivers of Asia. Food was often short and many of these thinly clad southerners perished from cold and hunger. Night marches and a series of manoeuvres of change of direction became necessary to outwit the pursuing Kuomintang forces.

Between battles with the enemy they called meetings in the towns and explained their aims of land reform and their anti-Japanese policy. They armed thousands of peasants and left cadres behind to train guerrilla forces.

Many dropped out on the march, but thousands of others joined in and filled the ranks. On October 20, 1935, just one year after their departure from Kiangsi, less than 30,000 footsore but triumphant survivors entered the Liberated Area of Shensi.

On September 18, 1931, Japanese imperialism launched its large-scale invasion of Northeast China. The Chiang Kai-shek government offered no resistance, stepped up the suppression of the Communists and intensified the fascist terror in the cities.

The Japanese quickly occupied the whole of the Northeast. In January 1932 they invaded Shanghai. In 1933 they occupied Jehol and the northern part of Chahar. In 1933, they occupied the eastern part of Hopei. The invasion brought about a fundamental change in the political situation in China. To resist the Japanese invasion became the urgent task of the whole Chinese people. The Communist Party was the first to call for armed resistance against the Japanese and led the nationwide people's anti-Japanese movement and the anti-Japanese guerrilla war waged by the people of the Northeast.

Workers, peasants and students in all parts of the country responded to the call of the Party and a nation-wide movement developed against the Japanese invasion. Even the upper strata of the petit-bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie demanded that the Chiang Kai-shek government change its policy and resist the aggressor.

The War of Resistance to Japanese Aggression (1937—1945)

On July 7. 1937. the Japanese imperialists opened a new full scale aggression by launching an attack on the garrison at Marco Polo Bridge. Chinese troops, including Chiang Kai-shek's army resisted, and the national War of Resistance broke out.

The Communist Party reorganised its guerrilla forces from the south into the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army, and moved them to the North China and East China fronts.

In spite of an agreement for national unity against Japanese aggression, Chiang Kai-shek retained his aims of opposition to the Communist Party while passively resisting the Japanese. The Communist Party, however, freely organised the people's armed forces in the rear of the enemy, established anti-Japanese bases of resistance, and transformed the war into a great people's war.

During the eight years of the War of Resistance. the people's forces established 19 liberated areas with a population of 95 million, organised an army of 910,000 troops and more than two million militia, and engaged the enemy in more than a hundred thousand battles. They killed. wounded and captured more than 1,240,000 Japanese and puppet troops and held down five-sixths of the entire enemy forces.

The Third Revolutionary Civil War (1945 - 1949)

After the conclusion of the War of Resistance to Japanese Agression, Chiang Kai-shek, ignoring the desire of the Chinese people for peace and supported by American imperialism launched an all-out offensive against the peoples Liberated Areas in July 1946.

Although greatly outnumbered by the Kuomintang forces, the People's Liberation Army fought along lines of military strategy laid down by Chairman Mao aimed at annihilating the enemy forces rather than defending territory. In the early part of the war, by concentrating their forces against isolated units of the enemy, they were able to wipe out large numbers of the Kuomintang troops. By March 1947, Chiang Kai-shek was forced to change his strategy from an all-out offensive to a concentrated offensive. In July, the People's Liberation Army switched from the defensive to the offensive.

Within the Liberated Areas, the people's economy and the people's support for the war was steadily strengthened. On October 10, 1947, the Communist Party published the ''Outlines of Land Reform", and throughout the Liberated Areas the land was redistributed among the peasants.

From July 1946 to June 1950, the peoples forces put out of action more than eight million Kuomintang troops, captured vast quantities of arms and ammunition and liberated the whole of China with the exception of Taiwan.

The Great Victory of the Chinese People

The fall of Mukden marked the conclusion of the liberation of the Northeast. From this time

onwards the enemy was unable to establish any permanent line of defence. During this third year of war, more than one and a half million Kuomintang troops were taken prisoner and more than half a million crossed over to the people‘s forces. The Kuomintang rule was fundamentally overthrown and the Chinese people won victory on a nationwide scale.

The Founding of the People's Republic of China and the Period of Economic Recovery

The People's Republic of China was established on October 1. 1949, as the result of the 23 years of struggle of the Chinese people under the leadership of the Communist Party. The thousands of years of feudal oppression, the hundred years of encroachment by imperialist forces and twenty years of a bureaucratic capitalism that had involved the country in disaster and brought the people to misery were brought to an end.

New China's progress has fully justified the hopes of the millions of its well-wishers- Since its establishment, the Central People's Government has effectively unified the national economy, put an end to the 12 years of vicious inflation and carried out gigantic tasks in industrial and agricultural rehabilitation, water conservancy and re-construction of communications.

The aggressive acts of U.S. imperialism which have culminated in the invasion of the Chinese territory of Taiwan and in the bombing of the Northeast, have only strengthened the determination of the Chinese people to consolidate their New Democracy and to speed up their national work of reconstruction.

The Chinese People's Republic bases its foreign policy on the support of a lasting world peace. More than twenty countries have established or are in the course of establishing diplomatic relations with China. The signing of the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship Alliance and Mutual Assistance was greeted with heartfelt enthusiasm throughout China and by the world's peace-loving peoples. To the war-mongers. the Treaty came as a bitter blow for it is an immense contribution to the cause of peace.

With those countries that have already exchanged diplomatic representatives with China the Chinese people have been able to establish still closer and more friendly relations.

Chairman Mao hosts a banquet for visiting delegates and representatives of liberated Tibet.

Land reform in action


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