The rise to power of the Chinese Communist movement has shaped the history of China for most of the twentieth century. Almost from the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1920 to its seizure of state power in 1949, its struggle with the Guomindang (GMD, Nationalist Party) dominated the domestic stage of Chinese politics. The main elements of this history are well-known but the period of reform in China launched in 1978 has been accompanied by the release of an unprecedented amount of new documentation that has enabled a refinement of key components of the story. This newly available documentation shows how the CCP interpreted the revolution in which it was a key player, how its policies evolved to meet the changing circumstances, how policy was communicated both to party members and to the public at large, and how the CCP dealt with its complicated and crucial relationship with the Comintern. The message was not always the same, not even for party members. How much one was entitled to know or which particular interpretation of an event one was entitled to see depended on party rank.
The precise details of the Chinese revolution during the twentieth century are, of course, unique but there are a number of general features that will be familiar to students of revolutions elsewhere. First, the traditional system under the Imperial household and hybrid successors had ceased to "deliver the goods" for its citizens and crucially for key groups such as the urban elites and intellectuals. Disillusionment set in and the imperial system lost its monopoly over feasible alternatives, allowing disaffected intellectuals to challenge the premises of state power. Second, the communist movement was able to thrive where the bases of power of local elites had been destroyed or lost the capacity to repress alternatives to its rule. In these environments the communists could establish local military superiority. Third, for the revolutionaries, the organization and organizational ethos were crucial in terms of providing the movement with its direction and purpose. This gave the activists their frame of reference. It enabled them to channel the energies of other social forces when necessary and to overcome the resistance and apathy of the local population.
This chapter will cover three issues. First, some general problems in the relationship between the Comintern and the CCP are discussed. Second, a detailed overview of the development of the CCP and its relationship to other social forces is provided. This traces the development of the CCP from a small group of clandestine plotters to an armed force ruling over significant sovereign territory. Third, a review of some of the key sources available for the study of the CCP within its socio-economic and political contexts is provided.
The Comintern and the CCP: Some General Observations
During the fifties, the assumption in the West that the CCP was under the tutelage of Moscow led to attempts to see Comintern influence on the CCP in earlier phases of the revolution. It was not difficult to find. Indeed some western scholars saw the destruction of the first united front in China between the CCP and the GMD (1924-27) as amounting to a failure of Soviet policy or even more particularly that of Stalin himself. Interestingly, this is also the conclusion of more recent scholarship by historians in the People’s