Lǐ Lìsān (Chinese: 李立三, Wade-Giles: Li Li-san) (March 1899–June 22, 1967) was an early leader of the Chinese communists, and the top leader of the Chinese Communist Party from 1928 to 1930.
Li was born in Liling, Hunan
province in China
in 1899, under the name of Li Rongzhi. His father, a Chinese traditional teacher, taught Li Chinese traditional poems and classics. In 1915, he arrived at Changsha
for high school and saw an advertisement in a newspaper written by a student from First Normal School of Changsha with the pen name 28 Strokes. Li met, and then became friends with, the young man whose real name was Mao Zedong
. Later, Li joined the army of a local warlord
. One of the Division Commanders, Cheng Qian（程潜 in Chinese), who was both Li's father's townsman and alumni, sponsored Li to study in Beijing
When Li reached Beijing, he applied to study in France
and arrived there in 1920. He worked part-time as assistant to a boilermaker
to earn his tuition. His boss was a member of Communist Party
, and Li was influenced in accepting Communism
, taking part actively in the struggles for Chinese labor rights in France. For his active and fearless revolutionary work, Li was labelled as a trouble-maker. In 1921, Li was expelled back to China with more than 100 other Chinese by the French authorities.
Back in China
When Li came back to Shanghai
, he was introduced by Chen Duxiu
to join the Chinese Communist Party
(CCP). The party assigned him to organize the labor activities in Anyuan Coal Mine. Being the most important labor work leader there, Li greatly increased the number of CPC members and perfected methods of organization. By the end of 1924, there were only 900 CCP members throughout China, 300 of whom came from Anyuan Coal Mine. It was at this time that Li showed his great talent in labor work and organization in conjunction with Liu Shaoqi
, who later became his deputy.
In 1926, Li came to Wuhan, the labor work center of China to lead the labor work. Although Xiang Zhongfa, who later became general secretary of the CCP, was the top leader at that time, Li was the man who actually made the decisions. In 1927, after the split of the alliance of Kuomintang with the CPC, Li was the first one to propose the Nanchang Uprising against the KMT, and took the job as director of the security guards. Though this uprising was proved to be imprudent and planless, and its failure unavoidable, Li was thrust into the central stage of the CCP for his prominence in labor work and his courage under fire.
Reign of Xiang
In the 6th National Congress of CPC held in Moscow
, Li's old friend Xiang Zhongfa
was elected as General Secretary with the support from the Comintern and the Soviet Union. During the reign of Xiang, Li Lisan played a gradually more important role. Xiang sacked Cai Hesen, the incumbent standing member of Politburo
of the CPC and Minister of Propaganda Department of the CCP for Cai's extremist way in directing the Sunzi Division of CCP, which resulted in extreme democracy and discontent at the CCP center. Xiang chose Li to replace Cai. Li became one of only four standing members of the politburo
of Propaganda Department
of the CCP in October of 1928.
When the Far East Bureau of the Comintern issued an order for anti-rightism and blamed the CCP for not being active enough in 1929, Xiang protested this decision. He knew Li was an appropriate candidate for doing the communication work because of his eloquence and energy. Thus, Li took the job of handling conflicts with the Comintern. When Xiang sent Zhou Enlai to Moscow for further instruction, Li took on Zhou’s work in organization too, which gave Li a large enough stage to prove his talent.
When Xiang learned of the Comintern’s decision on anti-rightism, he claimed that the Chinese revolution was in its peak period. Li turned this blindness into extremism, which was later known as Li Lisan line, calling for armed uprising in the cities and the extension of the revolution to the whole country.
From June 1930, Li Lisan line became mature under the support from Xiang. The CCP gave the daily operation from its headquarters to divisions in all provinces, setting up action committees in all provinces and preparing for the full-scale uprising in October. But the Comintern expressed its discontent, stating that it was working out systemic policies for the Chinese revolution, and the CCP should concentrate on the uprising in one or several provinces instead. Xiang supported Li and stood by his idea that it was the zero hour of the Chinese revolution. In several rounds of discussion, the tension between Xiang, Li and the Comintern rose greatly. Suspicion and criticism of the CCP towards the Comintern was the same as betrayal in the eyes of the Comintern.
In July 1930, the communist army under the leadership of Li Lisan captured Changsha in Hunan province, but KMT troops defeated his forces just a few days later. The uprisings in other cities were put down by KMT forces quickly. Furthermore, Li had turned many CCP members into his enemies by his authoritarian style. Some of these were old CCP members such as labor activists He Mengxiong and Luo Zhanglong who were blamed for their rightism only because they were against Li's extremism. Wang Ming and his group of 28 Bolsheviks came back from Moscow, designated to take the leadership of the CCP by their mentors in Moscow, but they only received a cold shoulder from Li.
With so many opponents both inside and outside the CCP, Li's doom was sealed. The Comintern sent Qu Qiubai
and Zhou Enlai
back to China to enforce its policy. And the 28 Bolsheviks took advantage of this opportunity to denounce Li. Xiang, and Li still did not realize the clear danger he was in and criticized these young immature students severely. Then Comintern sent a telegram to call Li to Moscow for repentance. Pavel Mif
, president of Moscow Sun Yat-sen University
and mentor of the 28 Bolsheviks, went to Shanghai
as an envoy of the Comintern also. Under Mif’s direction, the 4th Plenary Meeting of 6th National Congress of the CPC was held. Li was replaced by Mif’s protégé, Wang Ming
, and his associates in the 28 Bolsheviks took other important jobs.
Li went to Moscow for his confession and repentance. But he did not know it would be such a long time of redemption. In the next 15 years, Li suffered from rounds of reprimand, criticism
, and purge
. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union even refused to accept Li as a CCP member for several years. Moreover, when Wang Ming and Kang Sheng
came back to Moscow as representatives of the CCP to the Comintern, they persecuted Li by every means available. The only comfort was that in the Soviet Union Li met and later married Lisa Kishkin, a Soviet typesetter, who would later migrate to China with Li.
But Li's old friend Mao did not forget about him. Li was elected as member of the Central Committee of CCP in the 7th National Congress of the CCP held in Yan'an
. In 1946, Li was sent back to China. Li first came to Manchuria
to work for the local division of the CCP as Minister of the City Work Department. At the outbreak of Chinese Civil War
, Li was appointed as chief representative of the CCP part of the military arbitration panel consisting of members from KMT
and the USA
People's Republic of China
After the establishment of the People's Republic of China
in 1949, Li went back to the field in which he was most expert, being appointed as Minister of Labor to lead the labor union. Li was dedicated to his old cause and brought forth some guidance on democratic management measures in industry, which was later called by Mao as the Constitution of Anshan Steel Mill.
Consequences of China-Soviet split
But with the Chinese-Soviet Union split in the 1960s, Li 's life turned tougher and tougher again. Although his wife, Lisa Kishkin (Elizabetha Pavlovna Kishkina; Елизавета Павловна Кишкина; 李莎), handed in her Russian passport and took Chinese nationality to show her loyalty to her husband and his country, there still was no way to ease the situation. Especially when the Cultural Revolution
came, Kang Sheng spared no effort in denouncing his old rival. Li was labeled an agent of the Soviet Union and was tortured both mentally and physically by the Red Guards
. His wife and daughters were also imprisoned.
Unable to face this humiliation any more, Li committed suicide by taking sleeping pills after finishing a final letter to Mao. Li's biographer, Patrick Lescot, has cast doubt on the nature of Li's death.
- Patrick Lescot: Before Mao. The Untold Story of Li Lisan and the Creation of Communist China; ISBN 0-06-008464-2.