First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 2, No. 2, April-June 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The contributions of the People’s Republic of China have been many. China was the first socialist country to break with Soviet revisionism. Playing a role similar to that of the Bolsheviks in the years 1912-19, our Chinese comrades initiated and led the struggle against the Khruschevite revisions of Marxism-Leninism.
At first the struggle was correctly held within the bounds of struggling for unity against opportunism in the communist movement. But when it became clear that the Soviets would not return to Marxism, the Communist Party of China brought the struggle against revisionism into the open. The critique of Modern Revisionism put forward by the Chinese in a number of documents in the early sixties remains the starting point of the Marxist-Leninist movement today.
Secondly, China has provided the world with a model of socialism. In contrast to the growth of bureaucracy and inequality in Soviet society, the Chinese workers and peasants have built a vibrant and democratic republic. In China, bureaucracy and its individualist philosophy are curbed by the direct involvement of the masses in the decisions that affect their lives. Factories and farms are run by elected bodies of workers and peasants and not by professional managers. The Communist Party maintains close contact with the people and really plays the role of their vanguard. And finally, the masses are politically conscious and consistently strive to strengthen their grasp of Marxism-Leninism.
Thirdly, China in the sixties provides a model of proletarian internationalism. The strongest imperialism in the history of the world was unable to intimidate the Chinese from their political responsibilities. The Chinese fully supported the struggles of the African peoples for national liberation, even when such support meant a real sacrifice for their people. They were a steadfast ally of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in its struggle for reunification of the Korean nation. And there was no country in the entire world who sacrificed more to aid the historic struggles of the Vietnamese.
Because of these (and many other) seminal contributions, the modern Marxist-Leninist movement has tremendous respect for China. China is seen as the main homeland of socialism and Marxism-Leninism in the world. This is as it should be.
However, many Marxist-Leninists have elevated China’s richly deserved respect to the point of sycophancy, denying that China, and by extension the proletariat, can make any significant errors in judgment. This deification leads them to overlook an important error. Today, while Chinese socialism remains as vibrant and electrifying as any in the world, China no longer provides a sterling example of proletarian internationalism. All thinking Marxist-Leninists (as opposed to the modern advocates of flunkyism) have become increasingly concerned as the Chinese Communist Party’s international perspective has strayed from the path of Marxism-Leninism.
The CPC, which once provided leadership in the worldwide struggle against imperialism and its revisionist allies, has recently adopted a policy which objectively plays into the hands of imperialism and unwittingly aids revisionism. Nowhere is this incorrect line more clearly advanced than in a recent interview with William Hinton. In an interview printed in the May 5 Guardian, William Hinton, President of the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association, made startling revelations. On the basis of what he described as “extensive” discussions held in Peking last fall, he reported the most recent developments in China’s world view.
According to Hinton (and there is no reason to doubt his credibility on this question), China no longer sees U.S. imperialism and so-called Soviet “social-imperialism” as co-equal impediments to the world-wide struggle for national liberation and socialism. The USSR is seen as “the main danger confronting the whole world today.”
Thus China no longer advocates the “united front against the two superpowers.” Today their strategy is in essence a united front against the USSR, which is summed up in Hinton’s words as follows: “Mobilize the third world, unite all the forces of the second world willing to struggle, neutralize the United States and strike the main blow at the Soviet Union.”
In accordance with this strategy, China sees only “all out struggle” between itself and the Soviet Union, since “no basis for unity on any major issue exists.” As a result of the new situation, Hinton said, “China judges world leaders by how well they understand the new relationship of forces. Thus they prefer Heath (the former head of the Conservative Party in Britain) to Wilson (Prime Minister and head of the Labor Party), Strauss (leader of the West German rightist Christian Social Union) to Brandt (former leader of the German Social-Democrats) and Schlesinger to Kissinger.”
However, what is even more incredible about China’s present world view is its attitude to the possibility of including U.S. imperialism in the united front against the Soviets. Hinton says, “while a united front of all forces (including the U.S.) is not ruled out in the future, the conditions for it do not exist at present.”
Nevertheless “unity [with the U.S.] is possible on certain specific issues and has in fact developed.” As examples, Hinton pointed to the maintenance of the U.S.-Japanese military alliance, U.S. troops in the Philippines and NATO strength. Events have shown that China also perceived its interests to lie generally, though not entirely, in concert with the U.S. in Portugal, the Persian Gulf and Angola.
That China is evolving toward a view that would include the U.S. in the united front is clearly exhibited in Hinton’s closing remarks. In the context of an appeal for unity between the U.S. and the Chinese peoples, he states, “America’s traditional leaders... will find it very difficult to unite with the wide coalition of popular forces necessary to contain the Soviet threat.” While he maintains unity with the world’s peoples will be “difficult for the U.S. bourgeoisie, he does not say it will be impossible. In fact, one sentence later he provides a clue as to what would make unity with the U.S. imperialists possible – a willingness on the part of the U.S. to give up its struggle for “American hegemony.”
The implications of these views for the future of China’s role in the world are profound. While opposition to Soviet great power chauvinism and hegemonism is a basic principle of Marxism-Leninism, China’s call for a united front against the Soviet Union plays into the hands of U.S. imperialism.
Even the most cursory analysis demonstrates that facts do not support the line that the Soviet Union is the main danger. In all the regions of the world where peoples have yet to win their independence, it is not the Soviet Union but the U.S. that presents the biggest obstacle. In Asia, the U.S. is the main backer of the South Korea, Taiwan and Philippine dictatorships. In the Middle East, it is the U.S. which props up racist Israel and supports the reactionary monarchies in Iran and Saudi Arabia. In Latin America, once again it is the U.S. that backs the Chilean and Brazilian fascists.
But no place so clearly demonstrates the qualitative differences in the role of the U.S. and the Soviet Union as well as southern Africa. The struggle to liberate Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), Namibia (Southwest Africa) and Azania (South Africa) is presently at center stage of the worldwide struggle against imperialism. And here, once again, it is the U.S. imperialists who are the main force striving to turn back the tide of national liberation, whereas the Soviets are providing material aid to the liberation movements there.
For revolutionaries to focus their main blows on a secondary enemy inevitably aids the main enemy. The recent struggle in Angola provides a salient example. In the legitimate interest of opposing Soviet attempts to boost its revisionist currency in southern Africa, China incorrectly concentrated its main blows against Soviet hegemonism. This stance led China to fail in fulfilling its obligation to support the only legitimate national liberation movement in Angola, the MPLA. China objectively sided with the South African invaders and objectively supported U.S. attempts at establishing a neo-colonial regime.
In addition, the net effect of China’s position was not to isolate and defeat the revisionists. Because the Soviets opportunely supported the MPLA while China took a wrong-headed approach, the Soviets were able to camouflage their chauvinist intentions behind a smokescreen of anti-Chinese rhetoric. The Soviets were able to brand the historic leaders of the struggle against revisionism with the label of supporters of South African fascism and U.S. neo-colonialism.
Thus the Soviets were able to gain at the expense of the Chinese in southern Africa. All the most progressive countries in Africa as a whole and southern Africa in particular, which had been historically close to China, felt their relationship with China strained by its Angola stand. Tanzania is, perhaps, the best example. In recent years, Tanzania has maintained the closest relationship with China of any country in Africa. As a result of China’s Angola policy, Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere has moved to strengthen his relations with the Soviet Union.
Since China’s Angola policy is entirely consistent with a world view that maintains that the Soviet Union is the main danger, the lessons of Angola provide good indications of what the future holds if China pursues this policy. It will inevitably lead to an isolation of China from the most progressive of the newly independent nations.
But what Angola also showed was that China’s incorrect perspective also leads to furthering estrangement between China and revolutionary socialist countries. While China’s relationship with Cuba has been weak since the late nineteen-sixties, it has recently reached new levels of deterioration. China’s grossly unjust charge that Cuba’s internationalist support of the MPLA amounted to sending “mercenaries” to fight in Africa, has brought Cuba to the point of an open attack on China–an exaggerated attack which is incorrectly posed in revisionist terms. China’s Angola policy has driven the Cubans ever more firmly into the arms of the Soviet Union.
Similarly, operating on a strategy of united front against the Soviet Union can only lead to worsening relations between China and such revolutionary countries as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. A rift between China and its sister socialist nations can only aid the imperialists and the revisionists.
For Marxist-Leninists to support an international line which 1) undercuts the unity between the working class and the most progressive third world nations; 2) undercuts the unity between the working class and the socialist nations and 3) plays into the hands of both imperialism and revisionism is – to put it mildly–a dangerous line.
It is for these reasons that Marxist-Leninists must part company with China’s international perspective and take a different path. Such a break, however, does not mean a break with China itself. Our principled disagreement with China on this important question cannot be allowed to blind us to the overall progressive and revolutionary role of the CPC. Nor can we be blinded to the real threat the Soviet revisionists pose to the sovereignty of China. We will continue to stand in active solidarity with the People’s Republic of China in the face of this danger.
Doubtless there will be those who claim to be Marxist-Leninists who will contrive all sorts of sophistry in order to retain agreement with China. But such a course is a disservice to Marxism and to China itself. China as a country which has proven its dedication to Marxism-Leninism deserves to be treated in a Marxist-Leninist fashion, that is, critically. Neither China nor Marxism-Leninism has any need of apish followers.