The Chinese Communist Party was founded in a Shanghai gangster region a hundred years ago.
Life in the so-called French concession, an area of great police corruption, was conducive to criminal activity in the metropolis, which already had 1.7 million inhabitants and had become a major center of opium trafficking. A prominent mafioso of the time, Du Yuesheng, operated there.
Precisely because of less rigid control, the region was also a point of political movement. The Chinese Communist Party held its first congress in a shikumen-type building, an architectural style of Chinese and Western inspiration typical of Shanghai, in 1921. The site, transformed into a political memorial to the regime, can be visited today.
The exact date and number of participants would become the subject of historical controversy. The official founding day was marked as July 1, apparently due to an error in the memory of Mao Tse-tung, the main leader of the communist revolution, as a New York Times article pointed out. Later information showed that the foundation took place on July 23.
The main leaders at the time were Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu, but none were present. There were officially 13 delegates, in addition to two representatives of the Communist International, but it is possible that more people showed up (and that their names were subsequently suppressed by the regime).
“There were a total of seven sessions of the congress, the last one on a boat in Jiaxing [cidade próxima a Xangai] on July 30, after the police had apparently received information on the scene of the event, “writes British historian Stephen Anthony Smith in” A Road is Made: Communism in Shanghai, 1920-27 “.
Smith points out that the deliberation adopted at the First Congress placed the proletarian revolution as a priority over national liberation, not exactly in concert with the path of the Communist International, dominated by Moscow. “We defend the dictatorship of the proletariat until the end of the class struggle. We defend the abolition of private capitalist property and the confiscation of machines, land, factories and goods and their transformation into public property.
In the version of the China Daily, the official party newspaper, “the CP, for the first time in Chinese history, launched a revolutionary program against imperialism and feudalism and defined it as the reason for the struggle. of the Chinese people ”.
The party emerged as a result of the so-called May 4 Movement, which channeled, into protests and strikes in 1919, growing discontent with the country’s internal divisions after the end of the Qing Dynasty and with the strengthening of Japan. in Asia. “The revolution of 1911 had accomplished little more than the displacement of the political system from empire to republic”, describes the book “The Oxford Companion to the Politics of the World”, edited by Joel Krieger.
In the mess that China had become during that decade, Marxist ideas gained ground after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Soviet influence would decline over the following decades.
Interestingly, the 27-year-old who would go on to become the party’s greatest leader had become one of the few participants in the foundation even though he was only recently interested in Marxism, as Jonathan Spence recounts in his biography. of Mao. He had acquired some knowledge by exchanging letters with friends in France and by reading a new magazine on the subject, launched in Shanghai.
“But why was he called? There is no clear answer, ”says Spence. Mao had good contacts and a certain closeness with Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu, the first names of the group until now. And he had a good business history, having managed to increase the number of stores in the Sociedade Cultural de Livros chain, which he had founded. Upon his return from Congress, he was given the task of doing something similar to the new party base in Hunan.
In the year following the congress, what was an “amateur politician” had become “a professional organizer of the revolution”, according to his biographer’s definition.