Ted Grant

Russia and China—“Is war inevitable under capitalism?”

Source: Socialist Fight, Vol. 2 No. 6, October 1960
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Niklas 2009

A fierce if disguised dispute has broken out between the rulers of the Soviet Union and of China. The real essence of the dispute is veiled by both sides with an ideological cover. The argument had been carried on in the Russian and Chinese press, without directly naming the adversary. The essence of the dispute, at least on the surface, is whether the laws worked out by Lenin on the nature of imperialism and the inevitability of war under capitalism still remain in the present epoch, or whether there is a fundamental change in the situation as argued by the Russian Stalinists which means that war can be avoided even though imperialism still continues to exist.

Without mentioning names the Chinese are waging a fierce struggle against “revisionism”, with telling quotations from the works of Lenin, to demonstrate that so long as capitalism continues to exist the danger of war, especially from such mighty powers as the United States still threatens to overwhelm the peoples of the world. They are continually exposing the plots and crimes of the imperialists in relation to the colonial peoples. Their shafts against “revisionism” are clearly directed against the policy of the Russian bureaucratic leaders. In their turn the Russians have attacked “dogmatism” and “ultra-leftism”. The dispute has been proceeding for months and has now reached the stage where the Russian provincial press is openly attacking the Chinese leadership and making it unmistakably clear that the recent withdrawal of technicians from China is connected with this dispute. It is intended as a warning to the Chinese that unless they draw in their horns, the Russian leadership is even prepared for an open break with all the disadvantages that that would bring nationally and internationally.

The argument put forward by the Russian leadership, which by and large has been supported by the leadership of the communist parties in Western Europe and in the countries controlled by the Stalinists in Eastern Europe, has been that the strengthening of the power of the Stalinist states and the weakening of imperialism has made it possible for the continuation of “peaceful co-existence” till the growth of the industrial, technical and educational preponderance of the Soviet Union and its satellites will be such as to result in a peaceful transition to socialism on the part of the capitalist states.

Now it is clear to everyone that the situation is somewhat different to the epoch in which Lenin wrote. But the fundamentals of the situation in a class society remain the same. The nature of capitalism and of imperialism are no different than when Lenin wrote; Lenin’s main warning to the Russian workers was that it would not be possible to solve the problems of the Russian, or for that matter of any other of the world’s peoples, on a national scale. In this he was only echoing the idea of Marx that socialism by its very nature had to be an international system.

Marxism has always taught its exponents to look beneath the surface of arguments to see the real material interests, reflected in many cases quite unconsciously by the exponents of ideas. When Macmillan and Eisenhower prate about the defence of democracy and freedom, what they really mean is the defence of rent, interest and profit. Similarly when the leaders of Stalinist Russia talk about the defence of the working class and of socialism they really mean the defence of the interests of the hordes of officials who have usurped power from the workers. The national ideology of this caste has been summed up in the “theory” of socialism in one country. This theory was dictated by the interests of the ruling caste in Russia, which wished to enjoy the fruits of the revolution, at the expense of the workers, while conciliating the capitalists outside Russia, with the development of the power and privileges of the bureaucracy in Russia they were actively opposed to the development of the socialist revolution in Eastern Europe for fear of the example which this would provide to the Russian workers leading to their overthrow and the loss of their position of privilege and dominance.

It had disastrous consequences for the workers of Russia and of the world. The idea of building a Chinese wall between Russia and the West ended in the flames and destruction of the Second World War   it was touch and go whether Russian state ownership of the means of production would be destroyed by the Nazi hordes.

The second element in the disagreement between the Chinese and the Russian Stalinists has been over the attitude towards the national liberation struggle. The Russian bureaucracy has been competing with the great capitalist powers for the favours of the capitalist, feudal and tribal chiefs in the underdeveloped countries of Asia and Africa. There has been no support for any independent movement of the masses which might take a socialist turn, for fear of antagonising the capitalist great powers, with all the consequences which might flow from this.

Such policies in the past have always ended in catastrophe and the victory of reaction. It will be impossible in the next decade or two to maintain the status quo. The class struggle will break through all the restraints which the leaders of the Labour Party and the Communist Party try to impose on it. The present boom will not last indefinitely. The capitalists will turn to other methods, when they can no longer give concessions to the workers. Either the workers will destroy capitalism or the capitalists will turn to reaction as they did in the years between the wars. The victory of reaction, if it is not destroyed by the working class, would in its turn prepare the way for a new and perhaps final holocaust of mankind in a new war.

All the brilliant achievements, all the painful sacrifices of two generations of Russian workers and peasants would have then been in vain. No matter how great the advances in industry, technique and culture in Russia during the next 10 or 20 years, it cannot solve the problems of the Russian and world working class. The policy which led to the victory of Hitler, in its turn resulted in the work of two decades in Russia being reduced to ashes. Now the stake is far greater than that. In the epoch of the H-Bomb and other dreaded means of destruction, world war would mean the common ruin of all the peoples of the world   unimaginable slaughter and at the least the destruction of civilisation and of the culture built by mankind over thousands of years.

What then is the future? The fate of mankind in the next epoch will be decided by the fate of the struggle of the working class   above all in Western Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union and Japan. The fundamental reason for peace, however unstable it might be at the present time is the class relation of forces and the strength of the working class, in the main capitalist countries. It is this which has stayed the hands of the imperialists. It is this which is the main force for peace. But by its very nature such a relation of forces cannot be maintained as it is forever. The capitalists are satisfied so long as they can continue to make fabulous profits to give secondary concessions, in living standards and increased rights, to the working class. But when the economic situation changes for the worse, as it inevitably will, the capitalists just as ruthlessly as in the past, will turn to other methods to defend their privileges and profits. If the workers do not take power in the West the capitalists will destroy their organisations, parties, trade unions and rights. The warning of the mild form of Gaullist reaction in France at a time of difficulties for French capitalism, is an indication of how easily the basic ruling stratum of capitalism can change its new methods of rule when they consider it necessary. The victory of new Hitlers would then make world war inevitable. Even the old capitalist fox Churchill understood that it would require such a regime as Hitler’s to wage world war under the conditions of today.

Far more than in the days of Lenin and Marx the fate of the world working class transcends national boundaries. Socialism is international or it is nothing. The Russian bureaucracy fears the victory of socialism, in a democratic form in the West, because their days of rule would then be numbered. That is why they were so frightened by the Hungarian revolution and its effect on the Russian and world working class. It is this which explains their policy. It does not differ in fundamentals from the policy of Stalin in the thirties. If it depends on the bureaucracy this policy would mean the death of the working class   indeed of all humanity.

On the other hand the policies and methods, the ideas of the Chinese Stalinists ore not fundamentally different to those of the Russian Stalinists. They have not criticised the Russian policies in order to put forward a policy of international socialism, and class struggle which is the only alternative. They have not put forward a policy of winning over the working class of other countries, while putting forward penetrating criticisms of the policy of the imperialists. The real reasons for their dissatisfaction at Russian policies, lies in the fact that they fear that the Russians are quite prepared to come to some sort of agreement with the imperialists, especially the American imperialists, without taking into account the interests and aspirations of the Chinese bureaucracy. Like the Russian bureaucracy they are principally interested in the privileges, power, income and prestige of their own ruling clique. They are national Chinese Stalinists, and they look at world events from this point of view. They wish to regain Formosa [Taiwan], the Chinese seat at the United Nations, and the recognition of the interests of the Chinese state. They are afraid that these objectives will be sacrificed by the Russian Stalinists in their endeavours to arrive at some sort of compromise and agreement with the imperialists of the West, especially the American imperialists.

In Cambodia, Afghanistan, the Yemen, they have made pacts and agreements with the reactionary feudal or pre-feudal ruling class on the same lines as the Russian have made with different capitalist countries. Their support of the Algerian revolution has been equivocal, and determined by their foreign diplomacy.

They have in no wise criticised the reactionary and undemocratic control of the Russian Stalinists, and their dictatorial rule over the Russian workers. How can they? Their own rule is at an even more dictatorial phase than the system in Russia, due to the greater backwardness of China.

For socialists the problem is to look underneath the words and see what interest or pressures are reflected in the policies of all classes, castes and groups in society. Any policies of the capitalist parties are in the last extreme dictated by the needs, interests and outlook of the capitalists. They cannot be in the interests of the workers. On the other side the history of the last 30 years has demonstrated that the policies of the Stalinist parties are dictated by the needs of the diplomacy of the Stalinist states. This in its turn is dictated by the needs, interests and outlook of the Stalinist bureaucracy, in the countries where they hold control.

It is true that there are tremendous internal pressures in Russian society which are forcing the bureaucracy to make concessions to the workers. They are demanding a share in the colossally increased production, which their sacrifice and toil over decades has made possible. Under those conditions the Russian leaders are genuinely interested in trying to get some measure of disarmament. Any resources saved from useless arms can be immediately used for productive purposes due to the advantages of a system where private ownership has been abolished.

On the other hand there are tremendous internal pressures in China, the tremendous burdens of the industrialisation programme can only be justified in the absence of an international socialist perspective and policy, by constantly emphasising the danger from the external enemy   imperialism. That is another factor in the policy of the Chinese Stalinists. But the main reason has been the demand that China be accorded equal status with the Soviet Union in any negotiations with the West so that her interests may be safeguarded. If tomorrow, and in the next period it seems inevitable, American imperialism tries to come to some sort of agreement with the Chinese bureaucracy, they would immediately alter their policy. It would become a replica of the policy of the Russian Stalinists.

One of the reasons for the continuous attack on the United States imperialists, and imperialism generally, is to try and justify the lack of workers’ democracy and workers’ rights in China, by pointing to the external enemy. So it has been with the policy of the Russian Stalinists.

In this connection workers in the left of the labour movement must criticise the attitude taken up by the Tribune and the New Statesmen. The Tribune supports the attitude of the Russian Stalinists on the question of coexistence. As if any agreements reached between the capitalist powers themselves, let alone with fundamentally opposing social systems, were worth more than the paper on which they were written! The long and bloody history of capitalism is the grim proof of this.

There is only one force which can be interested in peace, truth and fraternal relations between the nations, and that is the intentional working class. Their interests are the same. The hard facts of the class struggle and of international politics demonstrate that in the long run there is only one road to peace and plenty: the overthrow of capitalism and Stalinism and the organisation of a democratic socialist Britain, in a democratic socialist world.