Bolshevik Provocation and China: First Forays?

Having seized power in November 1917, the Bolsheviks pursued a complex foreign policy. Overtures were immediately made to the Germans to secure a ceasefire and lay the groundwork for peace talks. Allied recognition was sought for the new government, as well as support for an “armistice on all fronts”.

prolunite
“Proletarians of all countries, unite! Long live the international army of labour. Only commanders from the people will lead the Red Army to victory.” Poster by Dmitrii Moor, 1919. Source.

At the same time, Bolshevik diplomacy was avowedly revolutionary, addressing the international public over the heads of their governments. To fuel popular anger against the war, party newspapers soon made good on the threat to publish secret treaties. More importantly, the Bolsheviks hoped that the working classes of other countries – particularly Germany – would rise in revolution. If this did not happen spontaneously, they would help it along.

The Bolsheviks’ attention largely focused on Western Europe during this time, but their appeals could still reach Asian audiences. Allied diplomats were well aware of the incendiary potential of such messages and were anxious to avoid them getting through to China. A January 1918 meeting between British Counsellor Baermu – I am unsure of his identity, perhaps H.B. Orpen-Palmer – and Deputy Foreign Minister Gao Erqian illustrated this.

巴云:本館現得消息,俄京廣義派政府,又用無線電通告各國,請贊助該國與德國議和之舉。該派計劃,若各國政府不允所請,當即運動各國人民,群起革命,以反抗政府云。
次長云:中國萬不致被其煽惑。
巴云:請貴國政府密令內務,交通兩部,通知郵、電各局及各報館,遇有此項新聞事件,勿為傳達登載為要。並告內務、交通兩部,於通知所屬各機關函件上,標明秘密字樣,作為本部命令,不必提及系得某處報告,亦不必提及系由何機關轉行囑辦之件,並禁阻報館將此命令登報。
次長云:可以照辦。

Palmer: Our embassy has now received news that the Bolshevik government in Petrograd has again sent a wireless announcement to other countries asking them to support its efforts to negotiate peace with Germany. That party’s plan is, if other governments do not accede to its request, to immediately incite each country’s citizens to rise up in revolution, in order to rebel against their governments.
Gao: China will most certainly not be incited by them.
Palmer: Would your government send secret instructions to the Interior and Communications ministries to inform the postal and telegraph agencies and the various newspapers that, if they were to encounter this news item, it would be important not to transmit or publish it? In addition, the Interior and Communications ministries should label their notices to the various agencies and organisations as secret, as a means of informing them that there is no need to mention the receipt of any reports or from which organisation the instructions were issued. Also, the newspapers should be strictly prohibited from carrying these instructions.
Gao: This can be done.

Dialogue between Deputy Foreign Minister Gao Erqian and British Embassy Counsellor Palmer [unsure of name - ed.], 8 January 1918. Zhong-E guanxi shiliao: chubing Xiboliya, Minguo liunian zhi banian, p. 10.
sacrificeinternational
“Sacrifice to the International”. Anti-Bolshevik poster from 1919 depicting Lenin, Trotsky and a caricature of two East Asian internationalist soldiers. Source.

It is not clear which announcement Palmer was referring to; perhaps it was Trotsky’s “Appeal to the Toiling, Oppressed and Exhausted Peoples of Europe” of 19 December. At any rate, Gao’s complacency – that China was immune from Red provocation – was unfounded. Just days after 7 November, Chinese newspapers reported not only on the bare facts of the Revolution but also on Lenin’s and Trotsky’s views. English translations of their work soon began circulating, compiled and printed by American communists. By November 1918, Li Dazhao – one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party – would publish his groundbreaking “The Victory of Bolshevism“, which attributed the “victory over German militarism” to “the achievements of Lenin, Trotsky and Kollontai”.

Already in late January, the Foreign Ministry was taking the threat of Red propaganda far more seriously, especially in response to a warning from Russian Ambassador N.A. Kudashev.

俄國廣義派在俄京偽據國權后,於該派所發之機關報頒令內載,已將二百萬盧布撥寄駐外之代表,作為運動革命之費等語。查廣義派所委之人,或能潛至中國,且據得息,意欲與中國亂黨聯為一氣,本使署茲將其所頒之偽令,抄錄俄文一件,附送貴部查閱可也。俄使署。

俄國臨時政府之命令
臨時政府國民委員會以為委員會政權,要在根據各國勞動者聯合一致之宗旨,並以反對戰爭及帝制主義,當與各國勞動者共同進行,必如是始能獲得圓滿之勝利。故須竭盡能力,並以金錢輔助各國左黨工民之舉動,且不論其為敵國、協約國及中立國。茲特決定撥款二百萬盧布,交由臨時政府駐外委員,酌量協濟各國革命之舉動。此令。臨時政府國民委員會長馬利亞諾夫、臨時政府外交委員特羅次克、臨時政府國民委員會秘書郭爾崩諾夫。臨時農民政府機關報一千九百十七年十一月廿六日。第卅一號。

After Russia’s Bolsheviks usurped power in Petrograd, the party’s official newspaper published a resolution which stated that two million rubles had been disbursed to its representatives stationed abroad, as expenses for inciting revolution. Those people despatched by the Bolsheviks may enter China by stealth and, according to information received, wish to join forces with anti-government groups in China. Our Embassy is hereby attaching a Russian-language copy of the published so-called resolution for Your Ministry’s reference. Russian Embassy.

Resolution of the Russian Provisional Government [sic]
The Council of People’s Commissars of the Provisional Government considers that its authority must be based on the principle of international proletarian solidarity, and that to oppose war and imperialism it is necessary to proceed in unison with the international proletariat in order to achieve full victory. Hence it must do its utmost and, through funds, assist the international left-wing proletarian movement, regardless of whether it may be in enemy, allied or neutral countries. Now it has been specially resolved to dedicate two million rubles to the Provisional Government’s overseas representatives, to assist the international revolutionary movement at their discretion. Signed, Chairman of the Provisional Government’s Council of People’s Commissars Malianov [sic, should be Ulianov – ed.], Commissar for Foreign Affairs Trotsky, Council of People’s Commissars Secretary Gorbunov. Provisional Peasants’ Government official newspaper, 26 November 1917 [sic]. Number 31.

Memo from Kudashev, 22 January 1918 (sent 19 January). Zhong-e guanxi shiliao, Minguo jiunian zhi banian (1917-1919). E zhengbian yu yiban jiaoshe (1), pp. 223-224
lenininternational
The First Comintern Congress, March 1919. From left to right: G.G. Klinger, Hugo Eberlein, Lenin, Fritz Platten. Source.

This two-million-ruble resolution – actually published by Izvestiia on 26 December 1917 and mentioned also by John Reed – was, again, not directed at China. But the comment about Bolshevik funds assisting “anti-government groups” certainly met its mark. The Foreign Ministry was concerned enough to convey Kudashev’s message to officials in the Sino-Russian border provinces on the very same day.

俄使稱,據報載俄廣義派現遣人至中國,多方鼓吹其革命主義,並決定發以二百萬盧布,酌量協濟各國革命舉動,請電邊疆地方,嚴加防範。並稱本使亦飭各該駐領嚴防,如果查獲亂黨,即由地方官解交駐領審辦等語。希查照,嚴加防範,並飭與俄領接洽辦理,並與俄領隨時接洽。外。

The Russian Ambassador writes that, according to newspaper reports, the Russian Bolsheviks are now despatching people to China, using all means to preach their revolutionary ideas, and they have issued two million rubles for them to assist the international revolutionary movement at their discretion. He asked that we wire the border regions to be on strict guard, and said that he had also instructed the various Russian consuls to take precautions. If anti-government elements are apprehended, local officials should hand them over to the consuls for trial. Please comply and be on strict guard, work with the Russian consuls on this, and cooperate with the consuls when necessary. Foreign Ministry.

Telegram to the civilian and military governors and foreign affairs officials in Fengtian, Jilin, Heilongjiang; the grand superintendant in Kulun; and the superintendant in Altai, 22 January 1918. Ibid., p. 225.

The next day, the same message was sent to special commissioners and foreign affairs officials across multiple provinces and cities where foreigners congregated: Shandong, Shanghai, Fujian, Zhili, Sichuan, Hubei, Zhejiang, Henan, Shaanxi, Yantai, Xiamen, Yichang, Ningbo, Wenzhou, Jiujiang, Suzhou, Zhenjiang, Chongqing, Jiangning, Shantou, Qiongzhou [Hainan], Guangdong, Yunnan, Guangxi and Hunan. The State Council was also duly informed of the threat.

marxstudygroup
The Marxist Study Group in Peking University, founded by Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu. Source.

Yet it is worth re-emphasising that China was not a priority for the Bolsheviks during this period. Whatever entanglements they had with the Chinese were directed towards the diaspora in Russia itself. A short-lived Red uprising in Harbin had been swiftly quashed by Chinese troops. Instead, it was non-Russian communist publications that first introduced Chinese radicals to Marxist ideas. Far more than any Bolshevik revolutionary pronouncement, English-, German- and Japanese-language materials stoked Chinese interest in Marxism. Only retroactively did this transform into an interest in the Soviets, and a receptiveness to the organisational efforts of Russian agents.

One thought on “Bolshevik Provocation and China: First Forays?

  1. Pingback: A Red Conference in Shanghai? – Shots Across the Amur 黑龍江對岸的槍聲

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