Tony Cliff

Russia: A Marxist analysis

Chapter XVII:
Moscow and the international communist movement



Stalin’s bequest

At the time Stalin died the international Communist movement was unified, except for the small Yugoslav breakaway. Ten years later it was split from top to bottom with Moscow fighting Peking desperately for control.

There have been strong links binding the international Communist movement to Moscow. For a long time it suffered one setback after another: in Germany over and over again from the defeat of the revolution in 1918 to the rise of Hitler; in China the defeat of the revolution of 1925-27: the defeat of the Republic in the Spanish Civil War; the debacle of the People’s Front in France, etc., etc. The only Communist Party maintaining power was that in Russia. If man’s weakness in face of the forces of nature or society lead to his imbibing the opiate of religion with its promise of a better world to come, Stalinism certainly became the opiate of the international labour movement during the long period of suffering and impotence. Russia’s successes, or presumed successes, gave vicarious pleasure to millions of downtrodden and desperate people all over the world. This situation, however, changed after the end of the Second World War. Then more or less f till employment obtained in the advanced industrial countries, reinvigorating the working class, and giving it a new self-confidence. Such a working class, even if its horizon does not go beyond reforms, does not seek vicarious pleasure.

A second factor that held the international Communist movement together was its dependence of the new Communist powers on Russian bayonets. The Rakosis, Paukers and Bieruts in reality were governors of Russian gubernias. Mao was an exception,. although even he, in the face of United States imperialism in Korea, felt dependent on Russian military aid. This factor has largely weakened over the last few years. China has shown herself to be a mighty power in her own fight. The satellites under popular pressure from below and relaxed Russian control from above, exhibit greater independence.

Thirdly, in Stalin’s time Moscow needed the active support of the world Communist movement. Where Lenin and Trotsky had envisaged the Soviet state as a citadel from which world revolution would be promoted and the Communist Parties as the agents of the revolution, Stalin considered the movement as a means for the reinforcement and expansion of the Soviet empire and therefore still required its support. Khrushchev follows Stalin’s nationally self-centred view, but does not need the movement so urgently, as the existence of the H-bomb reduces the stature of all but the two major powers, America and Russia.

Fourthly, to unify a world movement as rent apart .by contradictions as Stalinism – nationally dominated but “internationalist” in ideology, totalitarian but appealing to humanitarianism – a central figure rising above all the contradictions was required, as arbitrator and demiurge. Stalin fulfilled this requirement. When, with the rationalisation of the economy and the accompanying relaxation of political pressure and police terror, the basis for such a “leader” crumbled inside Russia itself, the whole edifice of international Communist Unity tottered and fell.

Underlying the set-up in the international Communist movement in the post-Stalin period, especially during the last few years. has been the relations between Peking and Moscow.



Moscow-Peking rift

There are a number of reasons why Khrushchev and Mao differ sharply regarding “peaceful co-existence”. Khrushchev believes that as long as his sputniks and H-bombs can insure “peaceful co-existence” the dynamics of Russia’s economy will enable bet to overtake Western capitalism. But Mao is out of the nuclear rocket coteries, and it will take decades before China’s industry could possibly match that of the West. Indeed, it is China’s industrial backwardness that allows Mao to shrug off the danger of nuclear bombardment. Hundreds of millions will die, but the scattered, primitive “People’s Communes” could serve as a base for economic reconstruction.

Economically, “peaceful co-existence” means something else for China, too, even if her prospective rate of industrial growth were faster than Russia’s (which is not the case at present) the absolute gap between the two countries will increase and continue to increase for decades. This prospect cannot but displease Mao.

A national industrial base prescribes a certain investment policy. A million rubles invested in Russia will do more to surpass the U.S. than a loan or gift of the same amount to China. The same applies to the services of technicians. And if Russian capital is to be exported, it is much more fruitfully invested in the more advanced European “People’s Democracies”, which are largely integrated with the economy of Russia than in backward China. (It is no accident that neither China nor North Korea nor Vietnam belong to CMEA – the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance – that covers Russia and her European satellites.)

“Peaceful co-existence” also diverts Russian capital from China. In an effort to win the neutral countries from Washington. Russia tries to buy – not overthrow – the rulers of these countries. Hence Nasser can keep his Communists in jail and still get Russian aid. Sukarno outlawed his Communist Party without fear of economic reprisal. Rubles are required to flirt with these countries. But Mao is not being courted by the United States, so why waste rubles on him?

Since 1956 hardly any credit has gone from Russia to China. There was some flow before this, but its extent is shrouded in mystery. However, some light is thrown on the subject by figures for foreign trade. As trade between the two countries is bilateral. it is clear that where china has an adverse balance of trade, Russia is making up the difference in credit. This was the situation in 1953, 1954 and 1955. In the first year China’s imports over her exports to Russia came to 231 million dollars; in the second year, 181 million; in the third, 99 million. However, the picture has changed drastically. In 1956 China’s exports exceeded her imports from Russia by 31 million dollars, and in 1957, by 94 million. [1] During the same years. 1953 to 1957, Russia gave some 1,227 million dollars in loans to under-developed non-Communist countries. The European Soviet bloc countries contributed another 354 million. Of these sums India got 362 million, Egypt 208 million, Syria 184 million, Afghanistan 115, Indonesia 113 million. [2] While in 1953 the total supply of long-term credit (and grants) to the “non-aligned” nations by Russia has been $11 million, in 1960 it reached $1,542 million. [3]

China received from the USSR nothing like the aid the uncommitted countries got. Up to the end of 1959 Iraq had received 550 million rubles, the United Arab Repub1ic 4,000 million; China, since 1950, received altogether 6,200 million. On a per capita basis, the long-term credits received by these countries were as follows: Iraq, 78 rubles; United Arab Republic, 154 rubles; China, 9 rubles.

It seems a country gets much more aid from Russia if it puts Communists in prison than if they are in power.

The withdrawal of Soviet credits was probably the final blow that led the Chinese Communist Party, in its May 1958 Congress, to attempt a “great leap forward” toward industrialisation by developing a large number of primitive rural industries. The establishment of People’s Communes was a reaction to the scarcity of capital goods. In such a situation, Russia’s continuous granting of credits to backward non-Communist countries must have been particularly painful.

The agricultural calamities of 1960 forced China to drink the dregs of her bitterness: although the Soviet harvest, in 1960 was some 8.4. million tons larger than in 1959. [4] China had to look elsewhere for grain supplies. By the middle of 1961 she had placed orders with Australia and Canada for nearly 10 million tons of grain for 1961-1963. It was estimated that this would cost China about 150 million dollars a year. This was obviously a major setback for China’s economic plans. It is noteworthy that Russia sent scarcely any aid to China except for 500 thousand tons of sugar at a cost of nearly 50 million dollars to be repaid at some future date – and this at a time when Russia was flooding the West European market with cheap barley!

China’s extremely difficult task of pulling herself up by her own bootstraps makes heavy demands on the morale of her people. It requires maximum national unity under centralised command. An atmosphere of siege helps to justify the sweat and toil. Hence a border dispute with India is manufactured, although the tracts of land in question are strategically and in every other way worthless to China. So deep is the siege mentality in Peking that it has yet to accredit an ambassador to Britain some 13 years after recognition.

“Peaceful co-existence” breaks down this siege mentality. To accept tremendous sacrifices over decades is bad enough. But to have to do so without the conviction or illusion that it is dictated by a besieging enemy is worse. The loss of another element in the siege – the feeling of togetherness – will make it yet more difficult to discipline the Chinese masses. Khrushchev strikes at the heart of this feeling. In effect, he says to Mao: We are not in it together. While your people are practically starving we will gorge.

For China to belong to the same bloc while getting less and less materially from her rich partner is bad enough in itself. But as a morale-buster, the effect on Mao’s highly disciplined camp can be catastrophic in the long run. If one of the main functions of the iron curtain – from Stalin’s standpoint – was to prevent Russian workers from comparing their lot with Western workers, a much thicker bamboo curtain will have to be built to prevent Chinese workers making a similar comparison with Russian workers.

While the Russo-Chinese conflict should not be attributed to ideological motivations, the role of ideology should not be underestimated, nor visualised as a pure rationalisation of political behaviour. If this were the case the heated effort at doctrinal justification, largely made up of selected and adapted quotations from Marx, Engels and Lenin – and, in the case of the Chinese, Stalin – would not have been made.

The cleft between Russia and China brings with it the danger of a closer alignment of the Communist Parties in Asia, Africa. and Latin America with Peking, and the drifting of the Communist Parties of Western Europe towards a looser relationship with Moscow. This must have quite a serious effect on Russia’s ideological health.

Russia will again have to revise her international role. Khrushchev, with his “peaceful co-existence” and coolness towards colonial revolutions, will in time have to admit that the USSR is not going to unify the earth around itself, that this is not after all going to be the Soviet century.

Internationalism of a sort is central to the ideology of Moscow. The fact that the schism shows Russia not to be fulfilling this tenet will take the Russian Communists some time to realise. But once it sinks in the effect can be quite serious on the efficiency of the Kremlin’s propaganda and the working of the regime. Therefore, while the Chinese arguments about “peaceful co-existence” will not in themselves impress any Russians,. they cannot be as callous about nuclear warfare as Mao can, it would nevertheless be very damaging for Khrushchev to allow the Chinese propaganda – accusing him of betraying internationalism and the colonial revolution – to be spread in Russia. (There is, incidentally, a secondary reason: independent of the merits of the “dogmatists’” argument, the unaccustomed need for discussion among Communists is repugnant to the Kremlin.)



The effects of the Moscow-Peking rift on the world communist movement

Whichever way the conflict between Moscow and Peking develops, one thing is certain-the international Communist monolith has crumbled. World Communism has two independent and conflicting centres.

Mao’s “revolutionism”, his rejection of “peaceful co-existence” for reasons of nationalist expediency, shamefully disregards humanitarian interests. Khrushchev, for his part, pursues a policy of summitry with Washington in order to maintain the status quo, to limit revolutionary activity everywhere. Yet he resumed nuclear testing on a grand scale. Khrushchev’s version of “peaceful coexistence” cannot but compromise his appeal to workers throughout the world-including those connected with the Communist parties.

In many ways Khrushchev’s chauvinism exceeds even Stalin’s. Stalin at least regarded the international labour movement as a useful “border guard” of the USSR. Even this is gone. The role of the international labour movement is to derive vicarious pleasure by watching the “building of Communism” go on in the USSR.

Many of the Communist parties of the backward, colonial and semi-colonial countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America will probably follow Mao. (Cuba, dependent on supplies from Russia, might be blackmailed into “supporting” Khrushchev, which wouldz have serious consequences elsewhere in Latin America.) The Communist parties of the industrial countries will tend to follow Moscow. However, there are bound to be fissures in these parties. Many, especially industrial militants not content to enjoy Russian “Communism” vicariously, will join the “China” faction.

Two authorities have risen in the world Communist movement, undermining the concept of the High Authority, the leader, as such. The appearance side by side between 1378 and 1417 of numbers of Catholic Popes, each attached to a national monarchy, did great damage to Catholicism. When Henry VIII quarrelled with Rome and decided to cut the connection between the Church in England and the Pope without greatly modifying the religious rites and dogmas, he opened the door to non-conformisrn. If every secular power imposes its truth as the absolute and only one, conformism as such is exposed.



In Conclusion

Russian state capitalism has come of age economically and militarily. It could now buy its way into the world as it is and has very little reason to upset the status quo. This is the main theme of Khrushchev’s “peaceful co-existence” policies.

If so, why should he worry whether or not he keeps control over the Communist parties all over the world?

First, internationalism of a sort is central to the ideology of Moscow.

Secondly, it would be hard for a Great Russian bureaucrat to admit that the present century is not, after all, going to be the Soviet century.

Thirdly, the Communist Parties outside the bloc still play a role as pressure groups on the Western powers in Moscow’s interests.

Last, and most important, the “peaceful co-existence” game, i.e., the economic race of Russia with the United States, under the protection of the “deterrent”, demands that all the pawns “behave”. In Khrushchev’s scheme of things the world Communist Parties could play a small positive role by preventing upheavals abroad, but if they broke from his control they could play a very, perhaps decisively, negative role in causing trouble.

The first successful rebellion in the international Communist movement against the diktat of the Kremlin – the Titoist rebellion – marred the last few years of Stalin’s rule. Khrushchev faces an incomparably greater threat: the total disintegration of the Moscow-oriented world Communist movement.




1. N.B. Scott, Sino-Soviet Trade, Soviet Studies, Oxford, October 1958; and United Nations, Economic Survey of Asia and the Far East, Bangkok 1958, p.103.

2. Joseph D. Berliner, Soviet Economic Aid, New York 1958, p.33.

3. ibid., p.39; H.J.P. Arnold, Aid for Developing Countries, London 1962, p.103.

4. Pravda, 26 January 1961.


Last updated on 6.9.2002