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Reviewed by:
  • The Bolsheviks and the Chinese Revolution, 1919-1927
  • Chen-kuan Chuang (bio)
Alexander Pantsov. The Bolsheviks and the Chinese Revolution, 1919-1927. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2000. xii, 324 pp. Hardcover $45.00, ISBN 0-8248-2319-2. Paperback $23.95, ISBN 0-8248-2327-3.

This book is among the most recent of the numerous research studies of Bolshevik policy in China before and during the communist revolutionary movement in the first half of the twentieth century. Financial assistance from the British Academy, the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in the United States, and the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange in Taipei made it possible for Alexander Pantsov to collect materials that serve as the basis for the book. According to Pantsov, it was originally written in Russian around 1993 when he was doing research in the Moscow Institute of Comparative Political Science at the Russian Academy of Sciences, but no explanation is given for why it has not been published in Russia.

The disintegration of the Soviet regime in the early 1990s led to the opening to scholars and researchers of formerly restricted Soviet archives and the archives of the international communist movement (Comintern). Pantsov has woven the most recently discovered sources into a wondrous concoction that offers a glimpse into the strategy and tactics of the Russian Bolsheviks in China from 1919 to 1927, and in doing so he has revealed the impact of Bolshevik thinking on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the subsequent activities of various members of the CCP leadership.

Prior to Pantsov, many scholars had made serious and quite successful inquiries into Bolshevik policy in China before and during the modern Chinese communist movement of 1925-1927. Most of them focused on the profound influence of the Bolshevik leaders on the early Chinese revolution: how the nucleus of the first Chinese Marxist organization was nurtured under the close direction of the Russian leaders; how the strategy and tactics of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the 1920s were painstakingly formulated under Moscow's tutelage; what kind of role the executive committee of the Bolsheviks played in events that culminated in the early defeat of the CCP by the Guomindang (GMD), the CCP's ally in the first united front against Western imperialism in 1923-1927; and to what degree the Comintern, under the leadership first of Lenin and later Stalin, was responsible for this defeat. Would Leon Trotsky have been able effectively to shift the Chinese communist movement toward victory had his ideas been adopted as the guiding principle by the Comintern? What motivation inspired these three Soviet titans in fashioning their policies toward the Chinese communist movement in the 1920s? How distinctly did they differ from each other in their judgment of the strategy and tactics of their followers in China. [End Page 199]

Two approaches to these questions can be seen in contemporary Western historiography. Most historians and specialists in the field have tended to theorize that Lenin's united-front plan, designed at the Second Comintern Congress in July 1920 and detailed in 1921-1922, before his final illness, shaped an environment that enabled the Communist International to ensure the supremacy of the CCP over the Chinese national liberation movement and thus paved the way for a Bolshevik-style dictatorship in China.

Other Western critics of this movement, however, felt that Stalin's strategy was based on the belief that the anti-imperialist revolution in China would eventually triumph—but that victory had to be achieved at any cost, even the sacrifice of the CCP. Those who have followed this argument have claimed that from 1925 on, Stalin's intentions were deeply rooted in the idea of building "socialism in one country"—that is, the USSR—under a policy of national Bolshevism. Seen from this standpoint, during the period from 1925 to 1927, the goal of the Soviet Bolsheviks was first and foremost to safeguard the national interests of the Soviet Union in the Far East and to make every effort to spur the Chinese national revolutionary movement led by the GMD so as to topple British imperialism from its dominant position...


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