In China, the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in July 1921 was considered a key event in the CCP’s establishment. Writings about it often include the names of its 15 participants and sometimes their pictures.
What the public doesn’t know is that, out of those 15 people, only two were able to continue their belief in communism with no major setbacks. The rest either abandoned the communist ideas early on or became victims of political struggles within communism.
Here we will review the experiences of three top leaders of the CCP.
The First Party General Secretary
Following the system of the Soviet Union, the highest position in the CCP is the General Secretary. As the first general secretary, Chen Duxiu was considered the founder of the CCP.
Working as a dean at the renowned Peking University, Chen and others were looking for a new path for China. With support from the Soviet Union, Chen became the first general secretary and launched the CCP under the direction of the Soviet Communist Party (SCP).
Influenced by traditional Chinese culture, however, Chen was often at odds with the Party’s direction. As SCP instructed CCP leaders to join the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) for its survival and growth, Chen opposed it, citing ideological differences between the two. Later on he gave in and became a Kuomintang member just like other CCP leaders. Nonetheless, tension grew and led to his demotion by the SCP in July 1927.
During a conflict between China and the Soviet Union regarding the railroad in northeast China in 1929, CCP leaders proposed to support the SCP at the price of sacrificing Chinese people’s interests. Chen opposed the idea and was expelled from the CCP in November 1929.
After being arrested by Kuomintang in October 1932, Chen studied traditional Chinese culture in prison and chose to abandon communism. In a letter in March 1938, he said the CCP had done whatever it took to advance its own agenda. “Those who listen to you are soldiers, while those who have different opinions are considered traitors. Have you ever considered moral values?”
In 1940, Chen wrote, “The dictatorship of the proletariat does not exist, since it only leads to dictatorship of the party or the party leader. Any dictatorship will cause brutality, cover-up, deceit, bribery, and corruption.”
A CCP Leader Who Always Wore a “Mask”
Qu Qiubai, another attendee of the first national congress, replaced Chen as the top leader after Chen’s demotion in 1927. Between 1928 and 1930, he also represented the CCP in the Communist International. Due to political struggles, however, he was demoted in 1931 and arrested by the Kuomintang in February 1935.
One month before his execution in June 1935, Qu wrote a long article titled “Superfluous Words.” He said it was a mistake for him to be a CCP leader because he was just a plain intellectual. Although only 36 years old, he was already very tired with no ambition or interest in politics or even entertainment.
Throughout his life, Qu rarely read books on Marxism. During meetings, he learned to be politically savvy and did not make his own decisions. Still, he was criticised, and all the criticism further confused him. Therefore, he was happy for others to play dominant roles. He said he could use his little knowledge of Marxism to analyse issues, but the methodology itself could be anti-Marxist, since he did not know other ideas.
In addition, Qu said he lacked confidence and always relied on others. His personality did not qualify him to be a communist, and it was painful for him to play the roles he did. That was why he was happy his comrades called him a traitor; his heart had left them long before that.
Qu described his roles in the CCP as performing on a stage, which was different from his true self. He was not frank with others, including even his wife. “Through the years, I always wore a mask and I am so happy to get rid of it,” he said.
A Statement of Quitting the CCP
Zhang Guotao was also a senior official in the CCP organisation. He was the chairperson of the first national congress in 1921. In addition, he was the only Chinese leader who had met Vladimir Lenin in person.
Zhang once had unparalleled power in the Party. For example, as the Red Army troops met in 1935 after the Long March, Zhang’s Fourth Front Army had nearly 80,000 soldiers, while the First Front Army of Mao Zedong and other top leaders only had less than 30,000. During the internal conflicts that followed, however, he was stripped of his leadership role in 1936. A large portion of his troops was also nearly all destroyed. Mao and other top leaders then launched numerous attacks on him.
As the situation deteriorated, Zhang fled in April 1938 and turned to the Kuomintang on April 2, 1930. Three days later, he made an announcement of quitting the CCP. He said he had been wrong to join the CCP. In fact, the CCP’s actions were already against the interests of Chinese people, and it had become an organisation of constant plotting and riots.
In 1948, Zhang launched the Chuangjin magazine in Shanghai. He wrote numerous articles stating the CCP “focused on power struggles,” “did not care about moral values or the country at all,” and “treated citizens like dirt.” He also predicted, “If the CCP succeeds, the military rule would inevitably lead to totalitarian politics.” His prediction became reality within several years.
Zhang was fortunate not only because he followed his conscience and stopped following the CCP; by doing so, he also avoided becoming a victim of the Party’s countless internal political struggles. Top leaders such as Liu Shaoqi (former chairperson of China) and Peng Dehuai (the most accomplished general) all died miserably after humiliation and countless other types of mistreatment.
Lessons from the Soviet Union
The establishment of the CCP occurred largely because of assistance from the Soviet Union. Nearly 30 years have passed since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, but the tyranny of communism still continues in China.
The CCP has grown significantly in the past few decades. With the end of cold war, the West invested heavily in China, hoping the economic improvement would lead to democracy and political openness. With the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, however, the CCP proved that it would continue to dominate China with violence and lies.
Since then, continued support from Western countries, including the admission of China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, boosted China’s economy, giving the CCP more leverage to intensify its censorship, manipulate public opinion, and suppress human rights.
One example is the persecution of Falun Gong, a meditation discipline based on the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance, that has been going on since July 1999.
Boris Yeltsin, former top leader of the Soviet Union, announced his resignation from the SCP during the 28th Communist Party Congress on July 12, 1990. “As the highest elected figure in the republic, I can only subordinate myself to the will of the people and its elected representatives. I therefore announce my resignation from the Communist Party of Soviet Union,” he announced in front of the Party members.
With the dissolution of Soviet Union, people also reflected on history and tragedies such as those described in The Gulag Archipelago. Mikhail Gorbachev, who ended the SCP in 1991, recalled this dissolution process during an interview with The Guardian in 2011.
When asked to name the things he most regretted, he replied without hesitation, “The fact that I went on too long in trying to reform the Communist party.” He said the Party had become a roadblock for all the necessary changes needed in the country. The article is titled “Mikhail Gorbachev: I should have abandoned the Communist party earlier.”
After the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party was published in 2004, over 361 million people have renounced their current and past memberships in CCP organisations. How long will it be until the Chinese people regain their freedom? Only time will tell.