MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Events


Sino-Soviet Split

The political split between the Soviet Union and China began when the relatively harmonious relations between the two countries became acrimonious in 1959 after Khrushchev opened talks with the USA in pursuit of his policy of “peaceful coexistence”. In 1960, Khrushchev withdrew Soviet technical advisers from China, and in 1961 launched a public polemic against China’s ally Albania. In 1962, the dispute erupted into mutual abuse and hostile military actions and most significantly, splits in almost all the Communist Parties across the capitalist world.


Socialism in One Country: At first, the significance of ‘socialism in one country’ for Communist Parties outside of the USSR was that they were obliged to subordinate their own interests to those of the Soviet Union, to defend and build socialism in the USSR, an expression of working class internationalism. However, it became apparent that it was equally possible to ‘build socialism’ in China, Italy or Britain, and in the early 1950s all the CPs adopted the “Our-land Road to Socialism” as their national program and led to the growth of “Euro-communism”.

Twentieth Congress of the CPSU: In the wake of the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, the Chinese and Soviet bureaucracies were more and more at odds with one another. The Chinese leadership was fearful of the instability which could follow from Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin and the promised liberalisation.

The Differences: The main historical differences between the Chinese and Russian Revolutions at this time were:

  1. The different level of development of the productive forcesChina was more backward, with little heavy industry and only a small agricultural surplus. In 1956-1960, the USSR was at a stage in the development of the productive forces at which national resources were no longer able to develop the economy in isolation from the world economy, and the capacity of bureaucratic command to develop the economy was becoming exhausted (thus the promises of “liberalisation”), while China was at an earlier stage in the construction of a planned economy; Khrushchev adopted the policy of “peaceful coexistence” to defuse the Cold War and open up trade with the West;
  2. The dominant role of the peasantry in the Chinese revolution, as opposed to the Russian Revolution. The working class was the leading force in both cases, but the Russian Revolution was made in the cities, and was taken out to the countryside; the Chinese Revolution was made in the countryside, and rolled in from the countryside to the cities;
  3. The different perspective in relation to imperialism – the USSR now felt less threatened, both internally and externally, but wanted trade with the West, while the Chinese rightly felt threatened by imperialism, with Chiang Kai Shek and his Army just across the Formosa Straits; a vast American Army garrisoned in Korea, and more were pouring into Vietnam..

In 1958, the Chinese had launched the Great Leap Forward to address the backwardness of their economy and prospect that they may have to “go it alone” with Soviet support.


At the time of the international split in the Communist Parties, Maoism was clearly identifiable as a left tendency in Stalinism but embraced a wide range of political tendencies in its growth and differentiation.

The fundamental thesis of Maoism is that the USSR had been transformed into a capitalist state by the election of Nikita Khrushchev as its national leader. The other distinguishing feature derives from the nature of the Chinese revolution – a national democratic revolution, led by the Communist Party, based on a peasant army, which grew over into the establishment of a deformed workers’ state resting on the peasant masses.

Soviet-Social imperialism": The Chinese leadership felt obliged to carry their polemic against Khrushchev’s policies to the point of ascribing a bourgeois class origin to them, thus closing off all possibility of compromise, with fraternal debate replaced by “class struggle”. The Chinese characterised Khrushchev as a ‘capitalist roader’ and the Soviet Union as a ‘social-imperialist’ state. In its foreign policy, and in the propaganda of their sympathisers in the capitalist world, the USSR was portrayed as a worse enemy of the working class than imperialism itself, the ‘greatest danger to world peace’, etc. This criticism was based not on any analysis of changes in the relations of production in the Soviet Union, or the nature of the state, but simply on the policies of the government.

Communists in the capitalist countries who sympathised with the Chinese CP and split from the pro-Moscow factions, regarded their former comrades, not simply as ‘mistaken’, but as representatives of an imperialist power. Under these conditions, there was no possibility of a united front in the interests of the working class.

It was not long before the need to fight ‘Soviet social imperialism’ meant China making its own diplomatic overtures to the US, and making deals with the US aimed against any national liberation movement which chose to remain within the orbit of ‘social imperialism’ and accept aid from the USSR.

This diplomatic struggle led to a division of the world’s national liberation movements into rival pro-China and pro-Soviet camps. The USA was able to chose to make it a three-way fight or lend support to one or another party in the internal struggle, choosing their tactics solely in order to maximise the advantage for imperialism and most weaken the liberation struggle. One of the most scandalous episodes in this saga was the Soviet aid that never seemed to be able to reach the Vietnamese because it travelled through China.

The transition from ultra-left denunciation of Khrushchev in favour of a harder anti-imperialist line in 1960, to forming pacts with the US, took place over a decade.

Bloc of four classes": In 1949, Mao defined the nature of the Chinese Revolution and its task as follows:

‘... the people’s democratic dictatorship ... to deprive the reactionaries of the right to speak and let the people alone have that right. Who are the people? At the present stage in China they are the working class, the peasantry, the urban petit-bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. These classes, led by the working class and the Communist Party, unite to form their own state and elect their own government; they enforce their dictatorship over the running dogs of imperialism – the landlord class and the bureaucratic-bourgeoisie, as well as the representatives of those classes, the Kuomintang reactionaries and their accomplices. ... Democracy is practiced within the ranks of the people, who enjoy the rights of freedom of speech, assembly, association and so on’. [On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship, Mao Zedong, March 1949]

The same article also refers to the leadership of the working class, within the alliance between workers and peasants, within the ‘bloc of four classes’. In the early 1950s, the “bloc of four classes” meant attempts to incorporate bourgeois representatives in the government, limiting calls for expropriation of capitalists to ‘foreign monopoly capitalism’, in the interests of maintaining a bloc with the ‘national bourgeoisie’. In the 1960s, it meant the subordination of the urban proletariat to the peasantry. In the 1960s, it meant forming Popular Fronts with bourgeois governments at the expense of the working class.

The Chinese Communist Party engaged in very complex political manoeuvring during the 30-year-long national liberation and civil war. Once in power, the tactic of uniting as broad a front as possible against the common enemy was habitually taken to an extreme. Maoism was ‘Popular Front-ism’ par excellence.

Socialism in one commune": While pursuing a policy of national self-sufficiency, the Chinese set out to industrialise by each commune in the countryside establishing its own miniature self-contained economy with its own steel manufacturing, light industry and so on, and dispersing the urban workers and professional people into the countryside to ‘learn from the peasants’. The Great Leap Forward organised to implement this policy had led to a famine in which 30 million had died by 1962.

After the fall of Khrushchev in October 1964, his successors made unsuccessful efforts to patch up the split. From that time forward, the Communist Parties of the world were split into two factions. The break with the USSR generated tensions within China as well, and Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to consolidate his position.