Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

From Canadian Students in Peking: A Response to Wilfred Burchett

First Published: The Call, Vol. 5, No. 21, September 27, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Below we are printing an article written by Sigrid Bergenstein and Ellen Waxman, two Canadian students studying in China. The article is a response to Wilfred Burchett’s attack on Chinese foreign policy, particularly on the Angola question, in the May 5 issue of the Guardian newspaper. Bergenstein and Waxman asked that The Call publish their article, following the Guardian’s refusal to do so.

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We are two Canadian students studying in Peking. We disagree with Burchett’s article and would like to respond to a few of its key points.

Burchett admits that the African people face the possibility of having to deal with Soviet hegemonic aspirations, yet he also equates the Soviet relationship with the MPLA with proletarian internationalism. A country whose foreign policy is based on proletarian internationalism cannot also be a hegemonic superpower. The USSR is a social-imperialist country where capitalism has been restored. It is necessary to see both China’s foreign policy and the “aid” which the USSR gives to Angola and to other countries in his context.


To claim to oppose revisionism in words and then to fail to make an analysis of the world’s largest revisionist country; to claim to clarify the nature of the three Angolan movements and then ignore the imprisonment of those MPLA leaders who oppose Soviet domination; to claim that the USSR is supporting African movements and then make no mention of the exploitative trade agreements recently made with Angola–does this help move forward the revolutionary movement or destroy it? Burchett makes a number of analogies–the Alvor and Paris Agreements, China during the Cultural Revolution and now, Chinese volunteers in Korea and Cubans in Angola. These analogies are not valid. The Paris Agreement was between the Vietnamese liberation forces united under one organization and U.S. imperialism and its puppets. The Alvor Agreement is between the three liberation movements on one side and their common enemy, Portugal, on the other. Burchett ignores Portuguese colonialism and describes the FNLA and UNITA as the enemy, as behaving “exactly like the Thieu regime in South Vietnam.”

Burchett compares China during the Cultural Revolution with the present two-line struggle. But the two are not analogous. During the Cultural Revolution, power was seized in the Foreign Ministry for three months and foreign policy was in the hands of anti-Party elements. Burchett says that “there is no evidence to suggest linking these errors (China’s present foreign policy) to the current ideological struggle in China” but then goes on to hope that these “rightist errors” will be “investigated.”

As a “defender of the Chinese revolution since its inception,” Burchett knows that foreign policy has always followed Mao’s line. Mao is not mentioned once in the article, and Burchett implies that it was only through Chou’s personal interference that a correct policy was followed. Rather, than stating clearly that Premier Chou consistently carried out Mao’s revolutionary line in foreign policy, Burchett, by implication, sets them in opposition to each other and, in this, follows the bourgeois press.

Burchett sees the Cuban troops fighting in Angola and the Chinese volunteers in Korea as the same. He ignores the fact that the nature of the USSR is social-imperialist... If they sponsor the Cuban troops, then regardless of the Cuban’s subjective intentions, they are objectively playing the role of mercenaries.

Burchett justifies their presence in Angola because “most of them (are) blacks, whose forefathers were slaves from Angola” when he knows that this is an old imperialist trick, the most recent example being the U.S. policy of Vietnamization. In this sense, the Cubans are also victims of Soviet social-imperialism. In Korea, Chinese were fighting American troops who threatened to invade China. In Angola, Cubans were fighting Angolans.

Burchett openly admits that the USSR did little to help the Angolans in their liberation struggle against Portugal, giving only “small quantities of materials to the MPLA” and that “the big deliveries didn’t occur until quite a bit later.. . (once the Alvor Agreement was broken.)” Cuban troops were also sent at that point. The reason the USSR sent massive aid to one liberation organization after the defeat of Portugal was to further destroy the unity of the Angolan people and gain a foothold in Africa.

Burchett states that China favored the FNLA, but then contradicts this. He himself tells us that all three liberation groups visited Peking for talks and received aid from China. China ceased aiding all three groups when the agreement with Portugal was made.


During the first phase of the Angolan struggle for liberation, the principal contradiction was between the Angolan people and Portuguese colonialism. Now the principal contradiction is between the Angolan people and the superpowers. During World War II, the Chinese Communist Party united with the KMT in resistance to Japanese aggression even though the KMT was a puppet for British and U.S. imperialism. The Chinese have always had the policy of “unite the many to defeat the few,” to unite with 90% of the people against the enemy. The only way Angola can get rid of the superpowers is to unite 90% of the Angolan people.


A class analysis must be applied to groups leading the liberation movement in Angola and not simply assume that the MPLA is the “legitimate national liberation organization in Angola.” During the struggle for liberation, many forces can be united under one banner. But although independence may be the immediate goal of all, their long-term goals will not be the same. Independence for the native bourgeoisie to develop or independence for socialism to be built–this has characterized the two-line struggle in every progressive movement as it does in the MPLA today.

On the question of the FNLA, Burchett simply emphasizes Roberto’s relationship with U.S. imperialism. Thus he sees the nature of the FNLA as being an American puppet. Although Roberto has CIA ties, it does not make all Angolan supporters of the FNLA lackeys for American imperialism. We agree with the letter from Tsang Kwong Piu in the June 23 Guardian that acceptance of aid from superpowers does not necessarily mean that one is a puppet of that superpower.


One must make a distinction between the masses who comprise an organization and its leadership. The advanced elements must expose the leadership if it is counter-revolutionary and mobilize the masses to follow the correct line. The point is not to wipe out all Angolans who support the FNLA, but to carry on two-line struggle at both the base and the top, to isolate all those who stand for subverting the revolution.

To equate the membership of a group with one of its leaders is to see neither the relationship between the masses and the leadership nor the two-line struggle present in any progressive movement. While Burchett sees the FNLA as being only reactionary, he also sees the MPLA as being only progressive. He does not see that the two-line struggle is also present there, as the recent arrests in the MPLA show.


Burchett has made a fetish of being a “friend of China.” The point is not whether one is friendly or not, but whether the criticism is correct. Under the guise of a friendly discussion, Burchett and the Guardian have in reality launched an attack against the fundamental principles of Chinese foreign policy and its present one. But China’s policy has been consistent. His major error, however, lies in not seeing the Soviet Union as a social-imperialist power and in his incorrect analysis of the major contradictions in the world today.