Chinese Communist Party (1921 - 1949)

First national congress of the Chinese Communist Party
First national congress of the Chinese Communist Party

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was formed in 1921. On October 1, 1949, with the founding of the People's Republic of China, it became the ruling party of that country.

The October Revolution in Russia in 1917 and the subsequent success of the Communist Party in the Russian Civil War were the main external influence in the founding of the CCP. Domestically, China's failure at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and the subsequent May Fourth Movement/intellectual revolution resulted in some left-wing Chinese, disillusioned with the West, to turn to Marxism.

They were led by Chen Duxiu (Ch'en Tu-hsiu) and Li Dazao (Li Ta-chao), dean of the faculty of arts and head librarian, respectively, of the National Beijing (Peking) University, who organized Marxist study groups in several cities across China.

In April 1920 Grigorii Voitinsky, an agent of the Third Communist International (Comintern), arrived in China; he conferred with Chen and Li, and they decided to organize a Chinese Communist Party. In 1921, 12 men (neither Chen nor Li could attend, but Mao Zedong [Mao Tse-tung] did) met secretly in the French Concession in Shanghai, formed the Chinese Communist Party, and elected Chen Duxiu general secretary.

Starting in 1921 Russian Communist representatives began to negotiate with the Chinese government to establish formal diplomatic relations; one was Adolf Joffe, who arrived in Beijing in August 1922. Hitting an impasse with the Beijing government, he went to Shanghai in January 1923 to meet Sun Yat-sen, father of the Chinese Republic and leader of the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), then out of power.

The result was a joint communique on January 26, 1923, whereby the Soviets agreed to assist Sun in reorganizing the KMT on the condition that the approximately 300 CCP members would be allowed to join it. The communique clearly stated that the communist social order and the Soviet system were not suited to China. Despite this many KMT members were opposed to the agreement. The CCP was not consulted about the Sun-Joffe agreement.

Political shifts in 1923 allowed Sun to establish a government in Canton in opposition to the warlord government in Beijing. Many Russian advisers arrived in Canton, headed by Michael Borodin, who became political adviser to both Sun and the KMT.

In January 1924 the KMT held its First Party Congress, which reorganized the party on Soviet lines and elected several CCP members, including Li Dazao and Mao, to key KMT committees. Sun's chief lieutenant in military affairs, Chiang Kai-shek, was sent to Russia to study the organization of the Red Army, and General Galen (Blücher) came to China to help him train army officers.

A Sun Yat-sen University was established in Moscow to train Chinese in revolutionary techniques—its first students included Chiang's son Chiang Ching-kuo (later president of the Republic of China on Taiwan) and Deng Xiaoping (Teng Hsiao-p'ing, later general secretary of the CCP). The United Front, however, was a marriage of convenience.

Mao declared the establishment of the People's Republic of China on 1 October 1949
Mao declared the establishment of the People's Republic of China on 1 October 1949

Sun needed Soviet help, and the Soviets were willing to aid him in order to give the CCP a chance for rapid growth. Sun died in 1925, but the United Front continued under left-leaning KMT leaders.

In 1926 Chiang Kai-shek was appointed commander in chief of the National Revolutionary Army and began a Northern Expedition to oust the warlords. Chiang was spectacularly successful due to his tactical brilliance, the fighting quality of an ideologically motivated army, an upsurge in nationalistic fervor, and Communist propaganda that won the support of peasants.

By early 1927 he had gained control to the Yangzi (Yangtze) River valley. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin intended to use the KMT to nurture the CCP to a point that it could seize power, then to throw out the KMT, in his words, like "squeezed out lemons." But Chiang squeezed first, expelling the Soviet advisers and purging the CCP.

Many Communists were killed, but the leaders fled to the hills in the Jiangxi (Kiangsi) province in southeastern China, where they organized the Chinese Soviet Republic with its capital at a little town called Ruijin (Juichin).

The Nationalist government ruled China from the capital city Nanjing (Nanking) between 1928 and 1937. Besides having to deal with several major warlord revolts, it was faced with the twin challenges of Japanese imperialism and the Communist revolt. Chiang launched five campaigns against the CCP in Jiangxi between 1930 and 1934.

The first four failed because they were poorly commanded. He took personal command of the fifth campaign in 1934 and through a combination of political and economic reforms and effective military techniques forced the greatly reduced Communists to flee in the Long March.

About 100,000 men and a few women fought as they fled through nine provinces from the southwest to northern Sha'anxi (Shensi) province between October 1934 and October 1935, with about 20,000 surviving. During the march the CCP held a conference at Zunyi (Tsunyi), where Mao emerged the most powerful leader.

Japan's attack on China in 1937 and the resulting Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) led to the forming of a Second United Front between the KMT and the CCP. Although Communist guerrilla forces also fought the Japanese, the KMT troops bore the brunt of the war and suffered the most losses.

The war years were also the Yan'an period in CCP history, during which Mao and his second in command, Liu Shaoqi (Liu Shaoch'i), wrote extensively on the theory and practice of Marxism and prepared their followers for the postwar struggle with the KMT.

The civil war that followed Japan's surrender initially favored the KMT forces, but the tide turned in favor of the CCP in 1948. By the end of 1949 the Nationalist government had been defeated on mainland China. With the establishment of the People's Republic, the CCP became the ruling party of China.