This Day in History: The Foreign Founder Member of the CPC

By Ned Kelly, July 23, 2019

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On this very day - July 23, 1921 - 13 men converged at 106 Rue Wantz in Shanghai, in what was then the French Concession and is now No.76 Xingye Road in Xintiandi, for the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China (you'll find the Museum of the First National Congress of the CPC there today).

Some big names were there – Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao and a certain Mao Zedong – as was one particularly long one: Hendricus Josephus Franciscus Marie Sneevliet. As you’ve probably guessed from his (numerous) names, Henk, as he was known, wasn’t Chinese. He was a Dutchman, and a representative of the Russian Comintern.

Born in Rotterdam in 1883, Sneevliet began working for the Dutch railways, where he became chairman of the union, and one of its more outspoken members. When an international sailor strike was called in 1911, several of the more radical Dutch unions took part, but the majority of the union movement were against it, leaving Sneevliet alienated and prompting a move to the Dutch East Indies.

He was soon active in the struggle against Dutch rule, founding the Indies Social Democratic Association and turning the hitherto moderate Dutch East Indies railway union into a more modern and aggressive outfit, with a majority of Indonesian members. The union would later form the base for the Indonesian communist movement.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Sneevliet's radicalism gained enough support amongst both the Indonesian population as well as Dutch soldiers, and especially sailors, that the Dutch authorities got nervous, and he was forced to leave the Dutch East Indies in 1918.

Hendricus Josephus Franciscus Marie Sneevliet (May 13, 1883 - April 12, 1942)

His actions as an agitator had won him friends in Moscow though, and it was while there as a representative of the Partai Komunis at the second congress of the Comintern in 1920 that Lenin was impressed enough to send him, under the pseudonym Maring, to China to help the formation of Communist Party of China.

Hence his presence at the historical birth of the Chinese Communist Party.

Sneevliet was not impressed by the party, however, and argued for cooperation with the Kuomintang and Sun Yat-sen, with whom he had personally established contact, in order to move out from political isolation and to find a bridge to influence the Chinese masses, arguing that it was easier to transform the Nationalist Party from the inside than to duplicate its success.

The policy, which seemed reasonable at the time, proved disastrously wrong within a few years, whereupon Sneevliet came under criticism and, to his intense disappointment, was called back to the Soviet Union.

The international fight for world communism continued though, and at the outbreak of WW2 he founded a resistance group against the German occupation, the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg-Front. For two years he managed to keep out of the hands of the Nazis, but in April 1942 they finally arrested a 52-year-old Sneevliet and the rest of the MLL-Front leadership. Their execution took place in the Amersfoort KZ concentration camp on April 12, 1942.

A socialist until his dying breath, it is reported that he went to his death singing 'The Internationale'.

Click here for more history stories.

See a listing for Museum of the First National Congress of the CPC.

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