Cofounded Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with Li Dazhou in 1921. Served as CCP General Secretary from 1921 to 1927.
Chen's political involvements began during his work as dean of the school of arts and sciences of Beijing University from 1917 to 1919. He is credited with influencing student radicalism through his publication New Youth.
Under the leadership of Li and Chen, the CCP developed a close relationship with the Comintern. The Comintern's directives to the CCP were provided by the Comintern's representative in China, Henk Sneevliet. At the direction of the Comintern, Li and Chen were inducted into Sun Yat-sen's Guomindang Party in 1922.
Chen followed Comintern policy in the 1925 - 27 revolution but concluded the Comintern's policy of allying with the Guomintang was the cause of the defeat of the revolution. He joined the International Left Opposition and was either expelled or withdrew (accounts of his departure vary) from the CCP in 1927. He was arrested by the Guomintang in 1932 for illegal political activities. Following his release in 1937, his politcal involvements were minimal to nonexistent up to his death. Considered the founder of Chinese Trotskyism.