For its new leadership in China, the Comintern did not turn to the Soviet areas but to Wang Ming and the "returned students." There were substantial changes in the Politburo with Wang Ming, who had not even been a CC member before the Plenum becoming a full member. While Xiang Zhongfa remained General Secretary, real power lay with Wang Ming. Several months after the Plenum, the strength of the "returned students" was increased with the promotion of Bo Gu and Zhang Wentian. Excluded from the new leadership was the group gathered around the workers’ activists He Mengxiong and Luo Zhanglong. They felt that the policies were destroying the labor movement that they had been intimately involved in developing. They set up an opposition organ and demanded that an emergency congress be convened and Mif recalled. In still unexplained circumstances, the group was betrayed and arrested by the British police. The police turned them over to the GMD and they were executed. Wang Ming denied involvement in the betrayal but it was certainly convenient as it removed the group within the CCP that had the best links with labor.
However, the failure of the Li Lisan strategy fatally wounded the strength of the CCP in the urban areas and many key figures in the communist movement were rounded up and almost all of the underground branches were rolled up. The story of the CCP in these years in Shanghai reads like an adventure story with spies, Chinese and foreign police, safe houses, and deals with gangsters. The problem is that it was reality and it was often CCP members who lost out. After the communist-directed insurrection in Shanghai had handed power to Chiang Kai-shek, party history was one of almost continual repression after Chiang turned on the communists on 12 April 1927. While party membership in Shanghai had been around 8,000 in April 1927, it had fallen to a mere 300 in 1934. The damaged to the communist dominated labor movement was equally severe. In 1930, communist sponsored organizations had 2,000 workers, a number that declined to 500 in 1932, and a mere handful in 1934.
The most devastating blow came when Gu Shunzhang, the head of the CC’s special services unit was caught in April 1931 and turned by the GMD. His information led to the break-up of CCP organizations in Hankou, Nanjing, Tianjin, Beijing, and Shanghai. There ensued the start of what is referred to as the "white terror." Although Zhou Enlai was tipped off and escaped from Shanghai, others were not so lucky. Xiang Zhongfa was caught in June and some 40 other high-ranking CCP members were caught along with 800 others at the local level. In June, the crack-down also led to the arrest of Noulens who was actually Chief of the Department for International Liaison (the communications and intelligence organ) of the Comintern’s Far Eastern Bureau. he worked under the cover of his formal position as secretary general of the Pan-Pacific Trade Union. Noulens and his wife were arrested by the Shanghai Municipal Police and this seriously hampered the work of the Comintern in China, even if it did not cause it to stop completely.
However, as Stranahan has shown, while badly wounded the party did continue to function to the best of its ability in Shanghai. The onset of Japanese aggression and GMD repression gave it a chance to survive and develop very limited support and it began to network with a number of multiclass organizations that it was able to infiltrate. These were the "Red Mass Leagues," organizations such as the Chinese Association to Relieve