Letter:Victor Serge and China

Dear Comrades
Revolutionary History (Volume 5, no. 3) has filled a gap by printing in full Victor Serge’s The Class Struggle in the Chinese Revolution. However, the claim that this was the first appearance of the work in English needs qualification. A summary of the work (in English) was published, and, although it does not seem to have been widely known, it provided readers with a condensed version of Serge’s analysis.

I was not able to ascertain who printed the summary, and there was no date attached. However, there was a short introduction in which it was observed that in the 1930s the French comrades had revised their views after reading the work, which was available to them, as you state, in French. In pre-war opposition groups, the major topics of discussion, besides the forthcoming war, were the nature of the Soviet Union, the failed revolution in China, and the Spanish Civil War. Yet the literature available on China was sparse, and Serge’s work was eagerly sought.

It would seem that besides the few who hailed Mao as the ‘great leader’ – and they had little time for historical investigation – the events leading up to 1927 and the massacre of the workers and peasants by the Guomindang are largely forgotten. With a few notable exceptions, there are few Marxists prepared to study and write about events in China, and, in the debates about the Second World War, I have seen little mention of the war in the East. Is it not perhaps ironic that the majority Trotskyist position in China was to fight the Japanese invaders, and to continue to fight if and when the western powers intervened. Yet such a policy was rejected for Europe. Was this a contradiction in revolutionary policy – or were there good reasons for maintaining different approaches inside a wider revolutionary (and even defeatist) policy?

In referring to Chinese internal politics, can I also note that in footnote 42 of the article in Revolutionary History, Serge is ‘corrected’, and his contention that Eugene Chen was Minister of Foreign Affairs is altered. It is possible that Chen held other portfolios in the government, but the letters I have acquired, together with articles written at the time, show that Serge was correct.

There is a dearth of material on the Left Guomindang (LGMT) during the crucial period, 1925–27, and it was a chance discovery in the Frank Glass/Li Fu-jen papers of the letters of Rayna Prohme (Glass’s sister-in-law) in 1927 which sheds new light on that body and the involvement of the Comintern in nationalist politics in China. Rayna Prohme, a person long since forgotten, was well known at the time when she edited the Left Guomindang’s paper, The People’s Tribune, and her husband, William Prohme, started and ran the National News Agency through which the LGMT sent its news releases. Rayna joined Madam Sun Yat-sen (Soong Quingling) and Eugene Chen when they all fled to Moscow in 1927. It was on the trans-Siberian train journey to Moscow, and then in Moscow, that Rayna wrote the letters I found.
The chapter in Vincent Sheean’s Personal History on events in China in 1926 includes a eulogy to this remarkable woman. [1] In collaboration with others I hope to publish Rayna Prohme’s letters with a commentary on the LGMT, its principal figureheads and Michael Borodin, the Comintern’s functionary. If any readers have material of interest on that period, I would welcome the opportunity of hearing from them.

Yours fraternally

Baruch Hirson

Note1. See also Vincent Sheean, Some People From Canton: Riders in the Storm of Destiny, Whirled with Their China to the Unknown, Asia, October 1927. He states that the first Minister of Labour in the Wuhan government was Su Shaoren, a member of the Communist Party of China. Eugene Chen is described as Foreign Secretary. There is a copy of the journal in the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.