Liu Shaoqi

Closed-Doorism, Adventurism, and Phrase-Mongering (1936)

The following are excerpts from articles written by Liu Shaoqi, published in a restricted publication of the Hebei Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, The Battle Front, in 1936.

More specifically, these translations were taken from Eliminate Closed-Doorism and Adventurism (10 April, No. 55) and Eliminate Phrase-Mongering Leadership (15 July, No. 58), in Liu Shaoqi Selected Works, Vol. 1.

Accordingly, the first half focuses on “Closed-Doorism” (a bias towards underground organizations) and “Adventurism” (a bias towards well-meaning action over hard-headed strategy), and the latter half focuses on “Phrase-Mongering” (repeating rhetoric mechanically).

If in the Red Army our strategic and tactical principles are to conserve and cherish our forces, to avoid being crushed piecemeal by the enemy, to avoid engagement with him under unfavourable conditions and to concentrate an overwhelming force to attack him in a relatively weak spot in order to win victory, [1] then our actions in directing the mass struggles in the cities under White rule have been diametrically opposed to these principles. No attempt was made to conserve and cherish the strength which had been accumulated, and certainly no attempt was made to preserve and cherish the leaders and cadres of the masses. We engaged the enemy on any occasion commemorating any anniversary, regardless of the conditions, and we waged struggles blindly, without a view towards victory. The result was that while the Red Army gained many great victories in its struggles, just the opposite was true of our struggles in the key cities under White rule. […]

Our comrades often considered themselves “the most revolutionary and the most zealous,” because they were bent on overthrowing all enemies, all imperialists and warlords, all local bullies and bad gentry, landlords, capitalists and rich peasants, all counter-revolutionary groups in or out of office and all yellow trade unions. [2] They stood for “no compromise or concessions” and wanted to overthrow everything, but in reality they could overthrow nothing. As a result, they rejected allies who could have temporarily co-operated with us and, in doing so, pushed them over to the side of the reactionary camp. This helped the enemy to consolidate its alliance against us and increase its strength as a whole.

The closed-doorists and adventurists are completely ignorant of the connection between overt and covert work. Under the ruthless White terror, the scope of overt work should be broadened as much as possible, and all that can be done openly should be done so. On the other hand, the scope of covert work should be reduced as much as possible, and only such work as cannot be done openly should be done covertly. Yet, our comrades did just the opposite. They had our underground organizations do much that could have been done in the open. They had many statements and articles that could have been published openly carried in our underground papers or published in the form of underground leaflets, proclamations and so on. They ignored or gave up chances to work in the open, while expanding without limit the underground organizations. Underground publications and documents were unusually long and numerous, and generally written in a rigid and stereotyped style. Thus, the scope of mass work became extremely narrow while everywhere underground organizations grew bloated, much to the convenience of enemy agents.

Both in form and method, overt and covert work should be kept strictly separate, while in content and in political objectives they should be closely connected. But what we did was to mix up and confuse the two in form and method, so that both kinds of work were undermined. Our comrades even named, in underground publications, mass actions and mass organizations, factories or schools which were led by the Party, and they also published when and where secret meetings had been held as well as what decisions had been made at the meetings. This helped the enemy to keep a watch on us. [3] In some places or factories where the enemy had not discovered our organizations, our activities could have escaped his notice, but our comrades distributed secret Party leaflets and put up Party slogans there. These completely unwarranted actions made it easy for the enemy to spot us. Instead of trying to get a mass organization to operate more openly and broaden its functions, our comrades gradually narrowed them until it could not operate openly at all. They even tried to turn every open and apparently neutral organization among the workers into a Red trade union, and they described this practice as “the central role of a Red trade union.” The result was that all open work was done away with and all the organizations that were affiliated with the Party had to go underground. […]

Closed-doorism stems from a fear of counter-revolutionary groups. Therefore the closed-doorists are afraid to form with these groups a temporary united front for struggle or to have any dealings with them or even to talk with them. The closed-doorists, having no confidence in themselves and fearing lest they should be swayed and influenced by these reactionary groups, shut themselves in. They underestimate the new situation and do not believe in the possibility of being joined in the revolution by the intermediate strata and many members of the upper strata of society. So they do not want a united front. In essence, this closed-doorism, though “Left” in form, originates from the same source as Right opportunism. […]

When a demonstration in Shanghai failed and even resulted in great losses, they still declared, by way of an appraisal, that it had been successful, had profound significance, had influenced many people, had pushed forward the revolution and had hastened the end of reactionary rule and that it was a harbinger of this or that event. They also said that it was necessary to combat opportunism characterized by underestimating its significance and so on. But they did not or would not see the fact that large numbers of cadres had been arrested and great losses incurred organizationally. To them, the losses meant very little or did not matter and would be made up as soon as the revolution succeeded on the next day. This kind of meaningless, exaggerated appraisal of situations often serves as the basis for adventurism.

Comrades, empty phrases can do no good, only harm. We hope that comrades, especially leading comrades, will refrain from indulging in idle talk. You should be more objective, more thoughtful, more sincere. Say what you have to say. If you understand something, say so; if you don’t, don’t say you do. You must study with appropriate humility and try by every means to clarify issues which you have not grasped or understood clearly. Do not instruct or educate others on issues about which you yourselves are not clear. It is better to give the lower levels less guidance than to misguide them.

I recommend that, except when absolutely necessary, you make less use of directives and orders to the lower levels, and more use of suggestions, recommendations or discussions. There should be fewer categorical statements, and more room for modifications. Reprimand those at the lower levels less and help them more. It is absolutely impermissible to brand at will the lower levels or particular comrades as opportunist. If those lower down do not understand certain questions or have not understood them correctly, your task is to set things right and help them understand. If they have not paid any or enough attention to certain questions, your task is to call their attention to these questions. There is no need to put on pedagogical airs and rebuke them. This will do no good at all.

At present our overall task is to prepare for a large-scale war of resistance against Japan and the traitors. The general strategy for carrying out this task is to build a broad national united front. This is the conclusion we have reached after detailed analysis of the present world situation and of the situation in China. All our comrades should make a careful study of this issue so that they are quite clear about it. But having become clear on this score, and provided there are no major developments, we have no need to analyse the international and China’s situation over and over again in every document and speech. (There is a tendency to do so nowadays, whenever we discuss anything, but very few comrades ever make a serious effort to study any specific situation.)

Instead of simply chanting “prepare for a war of resistance” or “form a united front” as though they were Holy Scripture, comrades everywhere should carry out actual preparatory work for the war of resistance and the united front in the light of the specific conditions in each locality, factory, school, village or military establishment. While there is only one overall task and general strategy, when it comes to actual work, all the localities or sectors differ from each other. Our comrades should become skilled at making careful analyses of the special conditions of each locality or sector in order to decide what action to take this very day in this factory or that village, what can be realistically accomplished and what means should be used, and what should be done tomorrow after this has been accomplished. If our comrades can work in this way, there will be no danger of departing from reality.

The peasants in some villages do not understand the seriousness of the national crisis. They are still preoccupied with their daily economic demands. If, ignoring these specific circumstances, our comrades go to such a village and call on the peasants to hold anti-Japanese demonstrations or to organize a national salvation association, it would be just so much idle talk. On the other hand, it is no longer empty talk among the students of Beijing or Tianjin. An actual task is always decided in the light of the circumstances in each locality. If we neglect or depart from specific circumstances, all our good resolutions will be empty talk. We are against the theory that the countryside is a special case because, as its exponents hold, no anti-Japanese movement can be organized there. If the peasants are interested in everyday economic demands, then we must lead their economic struggle while at the same time explaining the current national crisis to them. It will be possible to lead them towards the national struggle through the economic struggle. There is no contradiction between the economic and the national struggles.

Our comrades must pay serious attention to the question of where to start our work. This must likewise be decided according to the specific circumstances of each factory, school or village and according to the capability of our comrades. One could begin by publishing a newspaper in one place and by organizing a study society in another. In this place one can launch an economic struggle; in that place all one can do is to find someone to chat to about books and newspapers. But if we take the first steady step, we can go on to the next. If we firmly grasp the first link, we can go on to take hold of another. […]

We do not need blind belief and blind obedience; we need comrades who really understand the Party’s tactics and tasks and who are able to apply them in many different kinds of circumstances. I often wonder why it is that when our new resolutions and tactics come to be known in the North, they never arouse debate or doubt among our comrades. This does not prove that our comrades have no questions. As a matter of fact, I have seen no sign of a true understanding of the new tactics, although many writers express full support for them and employ them in abusing others. Obviously, these comrades have taken a bureaucratic and phrase-mongering attitude towards the Party’s resolutions. We do not oppose, rather we welcome, a certain amount of debate among the comrades about the Party’s documents and resolutions so comrades can raise their doubts, demand explanations, and so on. Debates about practical work are all the more permissible. Provided such debates do not turn into phrase-mongering, they can benefit the Party’s work.

It is quite necessary for us to oppose empty phrase-mongering if our work is to develop and advance. But we must not counter empty talk with empty talk or with stereotyped writing. Rather we must change our phrase-mongering style of work and the hollow style of our leadership. We must understand issues and comprehend conditions and we must plan, assign and direct our work in a down-to-earth way.

  1. For more on military tactics, see “Mao’s Military Dialectics” in J. W. Freiberg’s The Dialectic in China: Maoist and Daoist (1977). [web] — R. D. 

  2. The term “yellow unions” originally referred to trade unions bought over and controlled by the bourgeoisie. In 1887 when the workers of Monteau-les-Mines in France staged strike, the capitalists employed scabs and set up a bogus trade union to destroy the strike. When the striking workers broke the windows of the head quarters of the bogus union, agents of the capitalists covered the windows with yellow paper and, thereafter, capitalist-controlled trade unions were called yellow unions. In China, the term referred to unions controlled by the Kuomintang after the failure of the First Revolutionary Civil War. 

  3. For a similar lesson drawn from a very different context, see Sundiata Acoli’s A Brief History of the Black Panther Party and Its Place In the Black Liberation Movement (2008). [web] — R. D.