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THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY DURING THE ERA OF THE - page 22 / 48

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it by various groups in Shanghai. Indeed, Chen Duxiu was later to admit that despite the rhetoric, the movement in Shanghai had been really coordinated by the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce and genuine communist influence seems to have been slight. This opportunism was combined with attempts to take over leading positions in existing organizations rather than building up solid grass roots support.

The apparent initial success of this strategy lulled party leaders, particularly those in Shanghai, into a false sense of security. A CCP-led revolution on the back of a swelling nationalist, anti-imperialist revolution seemed to be a possibility. Thus, in May 1926, Chen Duxiu was moved to claim that 1.25 million workers were under CCP leadership. This claim was based on a head count of members in organizations whose representatives had attended the Third Labor Congress. However, the CCP had constructed no colossus but rather a Buddha that turned out to have feet of clay. As the strength of the movement ebbed, familiar problems resurfaced with labor work in Shanghai: the persistence of the guild tradition and the influence of the Green and Red Gangs.

In the twenties, the CCP did not develop the necessary support base in urban China nor was it able to build up solid support in the southern countryside. During this period, the CCP did not develop a coherent policy for the rural areas and moved from indifference through a radical plan for land confiscation to retreat once this alienated the GMD right. Mao Zedong, however, remained impressed with the power of the peasantry and would later combine rural organization with military power. Unlike the Party Center, Mao saw "excesses" in the peasant movement as necessary in order to overcome the counterrevolutionaries and the power of the local gentry. Mao provided a critique of revolutionary strategy as a whole. He does not explicitly renounce proletarian leadership but his report concentrates on the role and the strength of the poor peasantry.

The main developments in the peasant movement were all in the south in Hubei, Hunan, Guangdong and Jiangxi. As the Northern Expedition moved out from the GMD strongholds in the south, large rural areas came under joint GMD-CCP control. Here peasant associations were established, often under the leadership of professionally trained peasant organizers. CCP supporters ran many of the associations and the party leadership saw this as a way to gain control over the peasant movement. However, as in urban China, the CCP lacked sufficient local cadres. A July 1926 report on the peasant movement in Guangdong outlined the problem. While some 800,000 peasants were members of peasant associations in 60 counties, there were only 600 party members working in 20 counties. Thus, the party had weak links to many local communities. The CCP adopted the same head-counting, top-down approach to controlling the peasantry as they had used with respect to the working-class in urban China. Thus, at the CCP’s Fifth Congress, Chen Duxiu spoke of almost 10 million peasants being organized in the countryside via the peasant associations and seemed to count this as being synonymous with CCP control.

Yet, the communist presence was kept in place only by GMD military power. Once attacked by the GMD, CCP members had very little alternative other than to retreat into more inhospitable rural areas. Given the short history of the CCP and its small size, it was

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