Chris Harman


Border dispute aids
Moscow and Peking rulers

(22 March 1969)

From Socialist Worker, No. 114, 22 March 1969, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

RELATIONS BETWEEN Russia and China have reached an all-time low in the last two weeks. On their common far eastern border, their respective ‘socialist’ armies have been firing at each other.

In Moscow mass demonstrations have been organised outside the Chinese embassy. In Peking, the Russian leaders are called the ‘new Tsars’.

No one can be clear about the motives of either the Russian or Chinese leaders in the present situation. For no one – least of all the masses of workers and peasants in either country – has been told the significance of a few square miles of barren, snow-covered land.


But a few important points can be made.

First, a limited border flare-up, provided it remains limited, is of immediate advantage to the ruling Chinese group around Mao Tse-tung They can use it to develop a nationalistic fervour inside China in order to overcome the deep cleavages inside their regime brought about by the cultural revolution.

Loyalties within the Chinese ruling group have not recovered from the sharp divisions produced when leaders whose names had been inseparable from Mao’s for 30 years – such as Liu Shao-chi and Chu Teh – were denounced. An inflated ‘threat of war’ can easily serve to close these cracks.

If Chinese intentions must be suspect, so must be Russian ones. Stalin’s successors in the Kremlin have unhesitatingly continued his policy of using military force to subject whole nations to the interests of the Russian bureaucracy.


The most obvious examples of this were the murder of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 (with Mao’s support) and the invasion of Czechoslovakia last summer which Mao, with true Stalinist consistency, denounced.

But the same policies have been imposed upon the nominally ‘autonomous’ national republics inside the USSR itself through continual purges, Russification and suppression of national sentiment. Internally or externally, the aim of the Russian rulers has been to maintain economic control and to prevent any independent development of ideas.

If the recent clashes on the Chinese border represent a new aggressiveness in that area, it follows from the same policy that produced the invasion of Czechoslovakia: the need of the Russian ruling class to reassert its power bloodily and ostentatiously.


But the need to prove their power only expresses the fact that it has a shakier basis than ever before, as it is questioned not merely by Yugoslavs and Czechs, Chinese and Roumanians, but als by growing numbers inside Russia itself.

At the same time the Russian leaders hope to further safeguard themselves by ‘peaceful coexistence’ and increased agreements with the US, the other major imperialist power.

If a full-scale war developed between Russia ar China we would have to defend the right of the Chinese people to independence against the imperialist Russian bureaucracy. But this development is extremely unlikely.

The present bouts of fighting serve the interests of neither Russian nor Chinese workers and peasants. They are irrelevant to the problems facing either.

When rulers on both sides glorify such an irrelevant waste of life they merely illustrate how opposed they are to the interests of the mass of people and how hollow are their socialist pretensions.

Last updated on 26 October 2020