The United Front strategy in China and Korea was the implementation of the theory that Communist groups should form a united front with Nationalists to win their liberation before beginning their socialist revolutions.

The United Front strategy developed from a belief of the Soviet Comintern (the international organization of Communist parties) that Communist groups in nations subject to foreign subjugation should form a united front with nationalists to win their liberation before beginning their socialist revolutions. The Russian Communist leader Vladimir Lenin expressed this tenet succinctly: “Hostile classes are united by a common interest in opposing foreign exploitation” (Schram 1969, 134). The strategy was first used in China and, after a successful start there, was adopted by Korea. In the end both attempts were unsuccessful, and the societal divisions that emerged linger in the divided Korean Peninsula and in the politically divided governments of China and Taiwan.

In China until the Communist purge in 1927, the union of the Communists and the Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party) led to the formation of a government with Communist participation; one Russian adviser even noted that members of the right-wing Guomindang were moving toward the left. This observation was premature, with the brutal purge of the Communists by Chiang Kai-shek’s (1887–1975) Nationalist group ending any hope of a strong united front to challenge Japanese imperialism in China.

In Korea the United Front strategy was intended to create “a broad national revolutionary front that included handicraftsmen, the intelligentsia, and the petty and middle bourgeoisie along with the workers and peasants” (Scalapino and Lee 1972, 95). The structure for this united front was the Korean National Party (KCP), which was formed in early 1926, organized by Korean Communists in an attempt to form an alliance with Korean nationalists. It thus placed Korean Communist Party members at its core. This effort was weakened by the roundup of many KCP leaders by the Japanese after the funeral of former Emperor Sunjong in June 1926.

Formation of the Singanhoe (New Korean Society) in 1927 was Korea’s best chance to unify rival factions. The society accommodated a variety of groups ranging from the moderate to the radical and soon established a national network of 386 branches with more than seventy-five thousand members. The beginning of the end for the New Korean Society came in 1929 when its leaders were rounded up by Japanese police and charged with supporting the student riots in Kwangju in 1929. The society’s subsequent move to the right caused many leftist members to quit, resulting in its demise in 1931 and ending hope for a Korean united front against Japan.

These efforts by the Soviets to create united fronts in China and Korea failed because of the political differences facing the leaders of the respective nationalist and conservative parties. In both nations these differences eventually erupted into civil wars, deepening divisions that persist into the twenty-first century.

Further Reading

Eckert, C. J., Lee, Ki-baik, Lew, Young, Robinson, M., & Wagner, E. W. (1990). Korea old and new: A history. Cambridge, MA: Korean Institute, Harvard University.

Scalapino, R. A., & Lee, Chong-sik. (1972). Communism in Korea, Vol. 1: The society. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Schram, S. R. (1969). The political thought of Mao Tse Tung. New York: Praeger Press.

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Chǐ duǎn cùn cháng

Source: Caprio, Mark E. (2009). United Front Strategy. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2339–2340. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

United Front Strategy (Tǒngyī zhànxiàn cèluè sīxiǎng 统一战线策略思想)|Tǒngyī zhànxiàn cèluè sīxiǎng 统一战线策略思想 (United Front Strategy)

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