Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Jack Scott

Two Roads: The Origins of the Sino-Soviet Dispute

Two Roads

The past puts its stamp upon the present and the imprint is carved well into the future. How we act at any given moment can influence events for years to come. In the light of that understanding, the external policy of the Soviets required an abrupt break with past practice, and a venture into untrodden paths in foreign relations – not just in theory, but in actual practice. Failure to develop an external policy with a revolutionary content that keeps pace with internal revolutionary objectives will, in time, turn inward and deflect the nation from its original aims. One cannot afford to equivocate or temporize, for real change is effected only over several generations.

Also, the act of liberation, the soil from which it sprang and the methods employed in reaching the desired goal, will play an important part in future developments. In this regard, there are some important differences between the course of revolutionary development in China and that of Russia. These differences are partly related, but not solely, to the fact that Russia played the part of trail-blazer, and later travellers could benefit from the lessons to be learned by her failures as well as her successes.

Two Roads to Liberation: Russia and China

The Soviets rose to power in an imperial Russia which was the oppressor of other nations. A crucial part of the Soviet heritage were the imperialist claims and conquests of the defunct Czarist regime. The ability, or inability, as the case may be, of the Soviets to handle the problems devolving from this situation in an effective and revolutionary way, could not help but affect the whole course of Soviet development, for good or ill.

China, on the other hand, had, several centuries before, ceased to be an oppressor nation and had itself become a nation oppressed. The act of social liberation in China was simultaneously an act of national liberation. It set foot on the revolutionary path unencumbered by the weighty baggage of an imperialist heritage and its attendant complex problems. As a consequence, China was more closely attuned to the fears, anxieties and problems of the oppressed, more knowledgeable of the strengths and weaknesses of the oppressor.

The circumstances of the Russian crisis and the disintegration of the bourgeois political base enabled the Bolsheviks to seize power at the centre, and then, after a relatively brief civil war period, social revolution was carried to the outlying areas, embracing an often uncooperative peasantry. The exigencies of compromise and tactical retreat, the necessity to rely heavily on trained administrators inherited from the previous regime, and the compelling need under the pressure of events to have recourse to coercive measures rather than persuasion, all made their vital contribution to the shaping of the Russian revolution.

In this respect also the Chinese revolution shows a markedly different line of development, which could well result in some differences in outlook, and in the way in which complex problems are coped with and solved.

Chinese Communists in 1949 emerged as the confident and highly-respected leaders of a victorious revolution in a major nation with a population several times greater than the combined population of the Soviet Union and the peripheral European states. The Chinese party was, moreover, unique in that it was the only Communist Party in the world that had, for more than two decades, fought an independent armed struggle for power, almost always isolated from international support, and, until the very end, most often against the advice of Soviet leaders. In the course of the struggle the Party built up its own armed forces skilled in many types of battle, held administrative responsibility over wide areas which afforded the opportunity to train administrators loyal to the cause, and acquired an immense amount of political and military experience.

Whereas Russian conditions had dictated the armed seizure of the political and administrative power centres, to be used as a fulcrum for social revolution, the dynamics of the Chinese revolution, on the other hand, demanded the mobilization of the popular masses for the conquest of the power centres. As a consequence, the Russians have come to place an excessive reliance on administrative methods, while the Chinese have tended to put more reliance and confidence in the masses of the people and place their trust in methods of persuasion.

These divergent experiences and profound differences in background and historical development of the two parties, the differences in strategy by which power was conquered and the methods afterwards employed, have produced different ideological climates, different forms of inner-party life and different styles of work. These differences are now reflected in wide, even totally separate, views on intra-party relations, and on all other forms of international relations as well.

Differences are not bad in themselves. But when the rift is so great as to indicate a wide disparity in final aims, then one must choose sides. Evidence at hand indicates that, after the first flush of victory, uncorrected errors and difficult conditions caused a drift away from revolutionary perspectives in Russia. No forces sufficiently strong and influential emerged to halt the drift and, in a time of crisis, marked by the death of Stalin and an inevitable crisis of leadership at a time when external pressures were mounting, the drift soon became a 180 degree turn. Big nation chauvinism and “super-power” politics replaced socialist ethics as the basis of international relations. The distortions wrought have become increasingly clearer in the light of events since 1949.

The Civil War Period, 1945-1949

At war’s end Russia acquired an immense amount of territory. By the time the Germans capitulated Russian troops were on the Elbe, and very soon thereafter European boundaries were redrawn in order to satisfy the desire of the victors for territorial expansion. Whole populations, embracing several million people, had to be relocated as a result of shifting borders. Vast tracts of territory were directly attached to the Soviet Union, and the peripheral states, reaching into the heart of Europe were, as later events would prove, very much under Russian domination.

The secret Treaty of Yalta, arranged between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin – and in the absence of any Chinese representative – clearly showed that Moscow was determined to recover all of the territories and zones of influence lost by the Czars to other aggressive powers, or torn from Russia during the period of revolution and civil war. The Treaty stipulated that Russia would enter the war against Japan on condition that “The former rights of Russia violated by the treacherous attack of Japan in 1904 shall be restored...” This rather astonishing sentence refers to a conflict between two contending imperialist powers, a conflict for which the Czarist Minister, Count Witte, blamed Russian “jingoist adventurers” and Russian political aggression in violation of a treaty. The main points at issue were the return of certain former Czarist rights and privileges in China, namely:

  1. The status quo in Outer Mongolia: Russian control to be maintained.
  2. The commercial port of Dairen to be internationalized, the preeminent interests of the Soviet Union in the port to be safeguarded, and the lease of Port Arthur as a naval base of the USSR restored.
  3. The Chinese Eastern Railway and the South Manchurian Railway which provides an outlet to Dairen to be jointly operated by the establishment of a joint Soviet-Chinese company, it being understood that the pre-eminent interest of the Soviet Union be safeguarded.

In August, 1964, at a time when Peking-Moscow relations were anything but cordial, Mao Tse-tung bitterly assailed this type of Russian expansionism. In a statement to a socialist journalist from Japan Mao declared:

There are too many places occupied by the Soviet Union. In accordance with the Yalta agreement, the Soviet Union, under the pretext of assuring the independence of Mongolia, actually placed the country under its domination . . . In 1954, when Khrushchev and Bulganin came to China, we took up this question but they refused to talk to us. They also appropriated part of Rumania. Having cut off a portion of East Germany, they chased the local inhabitants into West Germany. They detached a part of Poland, annexed it to the Soviet Union, and gave a part of East Germany to Poland as compensation. The same thing took place in Finland. The Russians took everything they could...

. . . About a hundred years ago, the area to the east of Baikal became Russian territory, and since then Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Kamchatka, and other areas have been Soviet territories. We have not yet presented our account for this list...

Khrushchev’s son-in-law, Adzhubei, chose the locale of West Berlin to offer a reply to the Chinese. And his answer was couched in terms reminiscent of the most jingoistic of imperialist aggressors:

... there are border problems which cannot be the subject of political talks or of a political deal. This refers primarily to the frontiers which took shape in Europe after World War II. But then, this also refers to all our frontiers as a whole. There can be no appeal to sentimentality on this matter. Here justice triumphs, which is expressed for us in the single word which will be remembered all our lives – victory.

However, when Russia, in alliance with Britain and the United States, undertook to reshape the world, there was still no People’s Republic of China, and the Eastern European countries had no more power or authority than Moscow cared to grant them. There was, therefore, no effective moderating influence to check Russia’s appetite for territorial expansion.

Moscow had only to contend with the weak government of Chiang Kai-shek, ruling over a land devastated by war and torn with civil conflict. There was also an agreement that Roosevelt and Churchill would compel Chiang to accept the Treaty without change. In addition, Russia, under the circumstances, could offer at the very least a weak defence of her claims. It could be said that Chiang would be unreliable and incompetent in the event that Japan should again become belligerent and, besides, Chiang’s anti-Soviet past demanded that the Russians take minimum steps in defence of their own country.

But what if the Communist-led People’s Liberation Army should defeat Chiang and unify the nation? How, then, could Russia justify her claims? Besides, Mao’s statement on Outer Mongolia was well known, and long before victory was achieved the Chinese were declaring that all unequal treaties would be denounced. The Common Program of the Coalition declared:

The Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China shall examine all treaties and agreements concluded between the Kuomintang and foreign governments, and recognize, abrogate, revise or renew them according to their respective contents.

And although public declarations were always highly eulogistic about the Soviets, Moscow must surely have been in possession of private knowledge that a Chinese Government, led by Communists, would expect a friendly, understanding, and “Communist attitude” on the question of redefining Sino-Soviet borders.

Not only this; the Mongolian and Manchurian “rights and privileges,” and the undoing of the Russo-Japanese War measures, provided for in the Yalta Treaty, would be endangered. The Chinese Communists had openly declared they would review all treaties – no exceptions were listed.

The rise of a Communist-led Government in China would certainly upset the status quo. Such a prospect would obviously bring no joy to the hearts of the Soviets. While Moscow would probably have been prepared to welcome a strong party with a fair degree of influence, and prepared to accept Russian tutelage, there is ample evidence to show that they would prefer to deal with a weak Chiang Kai-shek ruling over a divided country. And a Chinese victory could well have repercussions far beyond China itself. A Communist China might decide, as Chinese Communists had decided so often before, to follow a course independent of Moscow’s wishes and advice. And if China did follow such a course, then smaller countries now safely under Mother Russia’s protection could take example and courage from China and declare: We too, want to have independence of action.

Moscow did indicate there would be no joy in Russian governing circles over a Communist victory in China, and tried to discourage the Chinese Communists from attempting the overthrow of Chiang. The official position in Moscow was that only Chiang could unify the nation. And Molotov, Foreign Affairs Commissar, was disparaging of Chinese Communists. In a statement to Patrick J. Hurley and Donald M. Nelson, Molotov declared:

In part of that country China the people were half starved and miserable; and thus they called themselves ’Communists ’, but they have no relation to Communism; they used the name as a way of expressing their discontent over their conditions; but if these were improved, they would forget that they were ’Communists’; and so if the United States helped these unfortunate people, there would be fewer Communists in China . . . The Soviet people would be very glad if the United States helped China.

It must have been by way of a reply to Soviet advice on desisting from civil war that Mao Tse-tung, in the course of an address given to a meeting of cadres in Yenan in August 1945, made the following statement:

During the past eight years the people and army of our Liberated Areas, receiving no aid whatsoever from outside and relying solely on their own efforts, liberated vast territories and resisted and pinned down the bulk of the Japanese invading forces and practically all the puppet troops . . . Chiang Kai-shek hid on Mount Omei with guards in front of him – the guards were the Liberated Areas, the people and army of the Liberated Areas ... we protected this ’generalissimo’. . . and gave him both the time and the space to sit around waiting for victory with folded arms . . .

On what base should our policy rest? It should rest on our strength, and that means regeneration through one’s own efforts. We are not alone; all the countries and people in the world opposed to imperialism are our friends . . . Relying on the forces we ourselves organize we can defeat all Chinese and foreign reactionaries. . . China definitely does not belong to Chiang Kai-shek, China belongs to the Chinese people...

A Japanese journalist reported a big character poster in Peking which quoted a 1962 speech by Mao, as follows:

The revolution was indeed victorious, and as of October 1, 1949, China stood up and Moscow, in common with the rest of the world, had now to reckon with the most populous nation on earth at last strong, united, and determined to build a new China. How would Moscow deal with this problem?

Relations After Liberation, 1949-1960

A few preliminary words of explanation of the first few years following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, under Communist leadership, may not be out of place.

The first important fact to be noted is that, for the initial six or seven years, little documentation or hard evidence is available to indicate the true nature of relations between China and Russia. But in the light of later events and statements developments during the first period take on a special significance, so that some definite conclusions as to the state of relations can be arrived at.

When China at last emerged from oppression and exploitation by feudalists and foreigners, and “stood up” united and independent, the Chinese Communists expected, as they had a right to expect, considerable support and aid of all types from the USSR. China’s foreign policy in this period has been described by Mao and others as “leaning to one side”; that is to say, China was not opposed to the establishment of diplomatic relations with all countries, including even capitalist and imperialist nations. But foreign policy was to be firmly based, first of all on a close alliance and friendship with the “socialist world” with which China anticipated sharing a world view.

In view of this outlook, and of general world conditions, it is not surprising that China refrained from public criticism of past and current errors of the Soviets. Based on their own concrete experience, gained in a difficult and protracted struggle of nearly three decades, the Chinese Communists believed that errors could be rectified between friends through methods of cool and calm debate, and without conflict. They considered that the differences were not antagonistic, and they had acquired the infinite patience necessary to conduct this type of ideological struggle. They were convinced that methods which had worked so well between contending viewpoints, during difficult years in China, would be as effective in solving differences between friendly socialist countries, without real danger of conflict. The Chinese can hardly be criticized for holding such an opinion at this time. Only time would show that there were unsuspected problems on the other side.

Whatever Moscow may have thought privately regarding the Communist-led social revolution in China – a revolution which owed little to Russian aid, training or material and certainly nothing to Russian advice – there was little choice but to voice public support and bid welcome to the new arrival in the socialist camp. Moscow and Peking rang with pledges of eternal freindship and cooperation between the two governments, peoples and parties. But one must go behind mere words to discover the basic content of practical activities.

It has been previously established that a host of contentious problems, many of them a heritage of Czarist times, were waiting settlement. In addition, China had just emerged from over a century of feudal and foreign oppression, the last three decades being a period of devastating war and Civil War. Obviously the country was in need of a vast amount of aid. In such conditions, and in view of the close relations that one would expect to govern affairs between fraternal socialist nations, it seems that the only problems requiring solution would be: a) How much and what types of aid China urgently required; b) How quickly the USSR and Eastern Europe could supply the necessary goods; and c) How cheaply supplies could be delivered.

Given the “Communist approach” to these problems, which China obviously expected to meet with, negotiations should have taken no more than a few days. Reality, however, did not quite measure up to expectations. Mao Tse-tung arrived in Moscow in December, where he spent nine weeks in discussions with Russian negotiators. The resulting thirty-year Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance was finally signed by Chou En-lai for China on February 14, 1950. So far as the content was concerned, it might properly be said of the Treaty that “the mountain had brought forth a mouse.” The basic features of the treaty were as follows:

  1. The rendering of military and other assistance in the event of a Japanese attack. This worked in both directions, but in any event was not a very important commitment in view of Japan’s very recent and overwhelming defeat.
  2. Consultation between the Soviet and Chinese governments on all major international issues. In such consultations Moscow, as “senior member of the socialist camp” always expected to be deferred to and, in the event of differences, have its opinion rule.
  3. The Chinese-Changchun Railway to be ceded to China, without compensation, by the end of 1952, twenty-three years earlier than in the agreement with Chiang Kai-shek.
  4. Port Arthurs The Russian command to be replaced by Chinese by the end of 1952. The Chinese to pay for all installations.
  5. Dairen: The naval base established by the Russians to remain in their control. But the civil administration, as well as some Japanese property, to be handed over to the Chinese. A mixed Sino-Soviet company to be organized for shipbuilding and ship repair.
  6. Sinkiang: Moscow accepted de facto Chinese authority, but secured an agreement for the creation of joint-stock companies for the exploration of Sinkiang’s oil and mineral resources, under the direction of Soviet experts.
  7. Mongolia: China to recognize the “independence” of Outer Mongolia, meaning acceptance of continued Russian domination - a situation which Mao had undoubtedly hoped to end.

It is obvious that even on paper Moscow retreated very little from established relations in the border lands. In practice the “concessions” generally amounted to considerably less. Just as surprising was the limited amount of aid granted by the Russians under the 1950 treaty. The total amount agreed to was $300 million, repayable over a 10-year period from 1955 in equal annual amounts with interest at one per cent. In relation to the loan there are several points worth discussing.

The interest rate of one per cent was purely nominal and not worth mentioning as to the amount. But on the question of principle governing relations between fraternal parties, even a nominal amount of one per cent becomes important. Moscow was coming through loud and clear that relations would be kept on a strictly business basis, with no nonsense about fraternal self-sacrifice in pursuit of common objectives. If there was any advantage to be gained it would go to Moscow.

What China thought about such a policy on fraternal assistance is probably best reflected in its own program of aid to nations emerging from colonialism, a program which is, in every respect, totally different from that espoused by the Soviet Union. China gives real and unselfish aid, not connected with any thought of profit or advantage to itself, and certainly not disadvantageous to the recipient.

China’s policy on aid is to extend outright gifts where necessary, no interest charge on repayable loans, and conditions of repayment left to the discretion of the borrower.

On October 29, 1973, a Hsinhua News article criticized Russian aid as a form of imperialist exploitation, and cited some recent examples. Though China was not mentioned in the comment, Chinese experience with Russian aid is undoubtedly reflected by the Hsinhua correspondent’s article. Noted as highlights of plunder aspects of Soviet “aid” are the following:

The “Communist” No. 8, 1973, states clearly the Soviet attitude on aid, as follows: “The new form of running joint stock enterprises by the Soviet Union and the developing countries has ... taken priority and calls for international division of labour and cooperation in production.”

And the Foreign Ministry stated: “We have never sold goods at a loss in Asian, Near East, or any other countries.”

The examples cited in Hsinhua and declared Soviet policy clearly indicate that Soviet “aid” can lead only to Russian domination over a nation’s economy.

There are a number of areas where this criticism relates to China’s own experience in the early years of the People’s Republic, covered by the Treaty of Friendship and Alliance:

There seems no doubt at all about the fact that the commentary critical of Soviet “aid” policies, quoted above, constitutes not only a condemnation of present Soviet practice, but is also a denunciation of Soviet “aid” to China in the few years following the founding of the People’s Republic.

The loan of 300 million dollars was not only nowhere nearly sufficient to meet ravaged China’s basic needs – it is said that Mao had requested a three billion dollar loan – it did not even cover the cost of the capital goods the Russians looted in Manchuria after the disintegration of Japanese authority. What appears to be a careful American survey of equipment stripped from Manchurian factories, and seized by the Russians as “war booty,” had a total value of well over 800 million dollars, and a replacement value of more than two billion dollars. This seems to be a reasonable estimate, but even reduced by fifty per cent it would leave Russia a considerable profit on a loan that had to be repaid anyway.

Most western surveys that can generally be classed as impartial analyses and reasonably correct, concluded that Russian “aid” and loans to China up until 1960 clearly indicated that Moscow was concerned with keeping a brake on China’s economic devleopment. The East European countries, completely dominated by Moscow, and Iraq and the UAR, where Russia was trying to gain a solid foothold, all received greater loans from China – although they were not more advantageous to the recipient. According to these sources, of the loans to China (reportedly totalling about 1.31 billion dollars by 1960) only a small portion is definitely known to have consisted of long-term loans for economic development; and by the end of 1957 China had used up all past Russian loans and was paying the Soviets about 300 million dollars annually, in the servicing and repayment of past credits and loans, thus being compelled to support large surpluses in exports to the USSR.

From the record it seems clear that Soviet “aid”, far from assisting China to achieve rapid economic advance, appears designed to retard and restrict development in important areas of industrial manufacture and production of consumer goods. The chief Soviet concern was for development and intensive exploitation of sources of cheap raw materials to meet the growing demands of Russian industry, a distorted form of economic development with which Canada is not unfamiliar in its relations with the United States. The end result was to keep the Chinese economy out of balance and, hopefully, fully dependent on Soviet production, thus rendering China vulnerable to Russian domination in the East European style. In the end Soviet “aid” was to cost China dearly through the loss of tens of millions in investment capital when Russia abandoned half-finished enterprises and destroyed plans and designs for industrial development. But before that occurred there was to be a strange and still unexplained interlude, that would cost China enormously in economic terms and administer a twenty-year set-back in the development of normal relations with countries other than those in the “Socialist bloc”.

Chinese and Soviet Involvement in the Korean War

The Korean War, which broke out in June 1950, before the People’s Republic was yet a year old, reached out to involve China at considerable cost to its economic development, and to its normalization of relations with other countries. Even American analysts appear to be convinced that China originally had no intention of becoming embroiled in the Korean conflict. Cited as partial evidence in substantiation of this opinion are Chinese Government decisions on demobilization and related questions which strongly represented no intention of early involvement in any armed conflict. David G. Dallin assembles some evidence to prove that the Chinese were very reluctant to become participants, finally yielding to urgent Soviet requests and importunities, and the promise of extensive Russian aid. U.S. Commander of the Pacific General Douglas MacArthur’s aggression undoubtedly also played a large part in helping to shape China’s decision. The promised Soviet “aid” was supplied, but several years later the Chinese revealed they had to pay Russia the full cost for everything used in the Korean War.

In The Other Side of the River, Edgar Snow, confidant of a variety of world figures of varying political outlooks, summarizes some of the strange events surrounding the war. The least that can be said is that there is an atmosphere of suspicion around much of the detailed story. The three following paragraphs summarize Snow’s account of the war’s background.

In the spring of 1950 it appeared that the United States might be prepared to reach some understanding with the People’s Republic of China. In pursuit of that aim the Americans seemed prepared to entertain the idea of writing off Chiang and Taiwan as a total loss. President Truman indicated they considered neither Korea nor Taiwan vital to American security. During the spring Indian and Yugoslav delegates secured a United States commitment to accept an assembly decision – where no veto would apply – on China’s disputed seat.

But in May Soviet delegates suddenly withdrew from the United Nations with a declaration they were no longer willing to sit with Taiwan delegates (although they came back and sat with them for twenty years after), a singularly ill-advised action since a Soviet veto could have blocked United Nations’ action in Korea just over a month later. Since thousands of Soviet political and military advisers had been present in North Korea for some years, even occupying strategic administrative posts, it is inconceivable that Moscow could be ignorant of a military build-up, and the vast potential for conflict in the area. It was essentially Korea that heightened Sino-U.S. tension and served as “justification” for the occupation of Taiwan and continued aid to the Chiang Kai-shek military clique.

Russian advisers were hastily withdrawn from Korea as soon as hostilities erupted, to be later replaced, when the military situation for North Korea became critical, by Chinese volunteers. The end result of the conflict was China branded as aggressor by the United Nations and excluded from her rightful place in the Assembly and the Security Council for twenty years. Russia avoided direct involvement and resumed her United Nations seat without incurring any vote of censure. China bore the brunt of the Korean war, militarily and financially. Equipment supplied by Russia had to be paid for in full, with interest on credits and the unpaid balance.

To make further comment on this event, it is probable that China would have resisted Soviet importuning to become involved had the Americans not demonstrated overt signs of hostility and aggressive intent against the People’s Republic. The United States dispatched the Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Straits simultaneously with sending troops to Korea. China warned the U.S. it would not stand idly by if American troops approached the Yalu River. There was no Chinese physical support to Korea until four months after the United States had assumed military control in Taiwan and closed in on the strategic Yalu River.

Canada was on the point of opening discussions with China with a view toward the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1950. A number of other western countries would have assuredly followed suit, and there is no doubt China would have taken her rightful place in the United Nations. But Korea, and the unjustified brand of aggressor placed on China, brought a twenty-year postponement during which China was encircled and attempts made to isolate her from wider international contacts.

Before the Korean war had ended the Soviet state and Communist Party were thrust into a crisis of leadership and policy, brought on by the sudden death of Stalin in 1953, after 30 years at the head of the party and the state. Despite his many serious blunders in the conduct of relations with China, Stalin, perhaps aided by world conditions and a revolutionary success in China that was very recent, was able to avoid an open break with the Chinese. But the group that had become dominant in the party during the previous period, and therefore controlled the state, adopted policies in both state and intra-party relations that ultimately led to a rupture with China. They resorted to attempted coercion in state relations in an effort to force the Chinese, as well as others, to accept Russian Party policy and decisions as binding on all. But the Communist Party of China possessed the experience, the strength, the prestige and the courage to resist Moscow pressures, and give a lead in exposing the wrong course of action being adopted by the Soviet Party. Hatred born of fear prompted Moscow to launch attacks against the Chinese Party, in the hope that China would be isolated and her influence diminished.