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First United Front

What led to the formation of the First United Front between the
Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1924?
Why did they drift apart?
In China, the First United Front denotes the period from 1924-1927. During
this period, the Chinese Communist Party made a joint front with the
Kuomintang in order to end:
Colonialism, represented by the imperialist Western powers
Feudalism, represented by the warlords in China
The formation of the United Front in China came about at the initiative of the
Communist International, the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang.
The reasons for its formation were partly ideological and had partly to do
with practical considerations.
The Communist International established friendly relations with the
Kuomintang, apart from the Chinese Communist Party. This friendly
collaboration with both the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party
enabled the Communist party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) to act as an
intermediary in initiating the formation of the United Front of the Chinese
Communist Party and the Kuomintang.
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Chinese Communist Party
The Communist movement had emerged in China in the context of the
growth of nationalism and the movement for democracy. National liberation
was, therefore, a primary goal of the Chinese Communist Party. The leaders
of the Chinese Communist Party realized that there could be no democracy
and no improvement in the lives of the people without first freeing China
from the strangle hold of the imperialist powers.
The Chinese Communist Party saw that Kuomintang was opposed to both
-Imperialism and warlordism. Its leaders also realized that the Kuomintang in
1924 was a much stronger force in China than the Chinese Communist Party
was. It had:
A much larger mass base and support among the Chinese people
More intellectuals and professionals as members
More influence within the armed forces
Greater finances and military equipment at its disposal
It could, therefore, be a useful ally in a struggle against the common enemy,
even if it did not represent the everyday demands of the workers and
peasants. The Chinese Communist Party leaders had moreover a good
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opinion of Sun Yat Sen, the Kuomintang leader. In the context of the
immediate political tasks before them, they agreed that there was greater
scope for collaboration than differences. They also felt that this collaboration
need not mean that the Chinese Communist Party confine its activities to the
common tasks. Therefore, they decided on the United Front with the express
understanding that the Chinese Communist Party would continue with its
independent demands even as they fought together with the Kuomintang for
national liberation and against the warlords.
The United Front was, therefore, the only way to unite large sections of the
Chinese people in order to isolate the enemies.

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Kuomintang
The experiment with republicanism in the decade after the 1911 Revolution
brought neither economic nor political stability in China. The political
ineffectiveness of the Republican government made Sun Yat Sen think in
terms of evolving new ways of fighting the imperialists and the warlords. The
rising tide of the left and the workers movement added new diversions to the
struggle for national liberation. It meant that the nationalist forces could be
enlarged in their social base to include the workers and peasants of China.
Sun Yat Sen's own effectiveness coupled with the growing Communist
movement:
It was imperative that the Kuomintang should be reorganized.
It was no longer possible to fight the imperialists and warlords alone.
The answer to him seemed to be a reorganized Kuomintang which should
incorporate, within itself the support of all sections of Chinese people. This
could only be achieved through a United Front with the Communists, and the
friendly help of the Soviet Russia.

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The First United Front was an alliance established between the
Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party. The aim of the front was to
defeat the warlords and reunite China through the joint National
Revolutionary Army. The communists viewed the United Front as a bloc
within. It was an opportunity to merge with the nationalists, so to better
pursue their joint interests, whilst still retaining their identity. The
Kuomintang, in contrast, viewed the United Front as an opportunity to
control the communist threat.

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Nature
The first and most important feature of the United Front policy was the
emergence of the Kuomintang as a revolutionary organization capable of
leading the struggle for national liberation and against Warlordism in China.
The entry of the Communists into Kuomintang meant that the capabilities
and experience of a great number of very dedicated revolutionaries was
harnessed in the nationalist struggle. Among the five members elected to the
Presidium of the Kuomintang was also Li Ta-Chao, a Communist. Among the
24 members elected to the Central Committee, there were 5 leftists and 3
communists. Although not in a majority, the leftists and communists were
more influential in making policy decisions. As a result there emerged a
strong left wing within the Kuomintang. This meant that the Kuomintang as a
whole became far more radical in its politics and support to the workers and
peasants movement than it had ever been in the years prior to 1924.
The new interpretation given to the three principles also suggests the same:
Firstly, nationalism now had a much stronger anti-imperialist content which
laid emphasis on an independent struggle and also advocated full equality for
all the nationalists within China.

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Secondly, the new principle of Democracy stressed on the democratic rights
of not only the privileged and the educated, but of all the working people as
well as of all the individuals and organizations that opposed feudalism and
imperialism. In practice this entailed the right to free speech, to organize and
struggle for a better living.
Thirdly, in relation to livelihood for all, it included anti-feudal demands such
as equalization of landownership, land to the tillers, control of capital
and improvement of the living conditions of the workers. This in practice
meant opposing the control of national wealth by a small section of capitalists
and landlords.
The United Front led by Kuomintang called for a coalition of the national
bourgeoisie and the workers and peasants to work towards the establishment
of a democratic coalition government. This was carrying out precisely the
immediate tasks underlined in the Chinese Communist Party programme.
This also meant that the most radical programme put forward by any political
grouping in China was being implemented within the framework of the
United Front policies.
The United Front (1924-27) of the Chinese Communist Party and the
Kuomintang began to break down on 12th April 1927 when Jiang Jie Shi, the
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leader and army chief of the Kuomintang unleashed unprecedented
repressions in China. On 15 July, he formally expelled the Communists from
the Kuomintang who were forced to go into hiding. The Kuomintang had
within its ranks sections of the warlords, urban merchants and financiers, and
some industrialists who were all opposed to the radical programmes outlined
by the revolutionary forces. For them the workers, and the peasants (and the
Communists) were bigger threats than the imperialists who did not threaten
their privileges. These sections prevailed over those in the Kuomintang who
wanted co-operation with the Chinese Communist Party to continue till the
overthrow of the imperialist forces. Thus, the First United Front failed. This
failure, however, was a boon in disguise for the Chinese Communist Party as
it initiated the process of reorganisation of the revolutionary forces as well as
the formation of a new strategy for revolution.
After this severe jolt, the Communists at first planned to occupy some of the
larger cities and use them as bases from which to counter the armed
opposition of the Kuomintang and, when this strategy failed, attention was
shifted to the hitherto despised peasants. Since then, the peasants began to
play the dominant role in the Chinese Communist Movement. This shift in
policy under the leadership of Mao Zedong in the 1930s and 1940s, led to the
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strengthening of the Red Army in order to protect Communist rural areas
rather than attacking the Kuomintang strongholds in the cities.

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Conclusion
The emergence of United Front as a social force was more of a strategy on
the part of the partners rather than an ideological configuration. This
combined effort initiated by Kuomintang between the workers' movement
and bourgeoisie aimed at a common cause i.e. fighting warlordism and
imperialism. Hence, the United Front was an alliance between Communists
and Nationalists geared up against imperialist force and Warlordism. National
liberation and establishment of a democratic polity were the hallmarks of this
joint strategy. This United Front served the interests of both the groups, i.e.,
the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang initially. However, in the
long run, the development of many larger popular movements in China really
shook the very foundation of this front and disturbed the common purpose
behind it. The popular movements that arose from 1925-26 connected with
the consolidation of revolutionary base at Canton and the offensive attitudes
shown by the Southern armies against the warlords deepened the crisis in the
organizational set up of the alliance. The victory achieved by the
revolutionary wave created discontent among the Right Wing forces. Thus,
there was a break within which surfaced outside and culminated in the fall of
Wuhan government in 1927. This gave a death blow to the whole structural
set-up of the United Front. The Kuomintang adopted a repressive policy
towards the workers, peasants and the Chinese Communist Party.
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