Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line


Peaceful Coexistence and Proletarian Internationalism

First Published: Marxist-Leninist Quarterly No. 1, Spring 1972
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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In relations between states the application of the principle of peaceful coexistence may at times appear to contradict the requirements of proletarian internationalism, but the two in fact are complementary in Marxist-Leninist practice. It is a question of class analysis – whether one thinks in terms of bourgeois or of proletarian ’peaceful coexistence’. Just as questions of peace and war, of ’compromise’, of bourgeois or proletarian nationalism, of ’justice’, of ’freedom’ – these and many other concepts – all are class questions.

For Marxists everywhere, whether in socialist countries, in developing countries, or in advanced capitalist countries, the basic aim is the emancipation of all mankind from oppression and the advance towards establishing socialism, consolidating it, then attaining communism. The Communist Manifesto defines the aim by saying that when communism achieved:

in place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

The Manifesto also emphasizes that:

the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. Finally, they about everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries.

In the terminology of Marx and Lenin ’democratic parties’ and ’social democracy’ do not have the same connotation of liberalism and collaboration that they do today. It was after the betrayal of the revolutionary movement by the social democrats of the Second International, when they supported their own reactionary governments in the First World War, that the terms came to be used to describe revisionists and collaborators.

The objective of the revolutionary proletariat throughout the world is clear; the problem is how to achieve it. It is essential first to analyse the main contradictions in the world and in one’s own specific situation, so that the main enemy can be determined. Only then can correct tactics be evolved by the revolutionary movement to achieve the strategic goal. Also, only by such an analysis can actions and developments be tested; only in this way can those whose performance is ’socialism in words, imperialism in deeds’ be exposed.


It may sound trite to say that Marxists must see the situation as a whole, and to determine accordingly who is the main enemy on whom to concentrate at a given time and place; that they must ally themselves with all those prepared to fight him, even there may be many contradictions within that alliance and temporary allies for whom the ultimate goal differs from that of Marxists-Leninists. But, observance of these principles is fundamental in the revolutionary struggle, and generally extremely difficult and complex. Such an alliance against the main enemy is necessary in order to enable the revolutionary movement to concentrate forces against him and to be able to take every possible advantage of contradictions within the camp of the enemy.

The nature of the contradictions determine proletarian tactics, for example in the application by socialist countries of the principle of peaceful coexistence between states having different social systems. The main contradictions in the world today were set out in the leading report t6 the Ninth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, April 1969.They are between:
1) oppressed nations on the one hand, and imperialism and social-imperialism on the other;
2) the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in the capitalist and revisionist countries;
3) imperialist and social-imperialist countries; and among imperialist countries;
4) socialist countries on the one hand, and imperialism and social-imperialism on the other.

In detail the contradictions change, but fundamentally number one above remains. The balance of power in the world has indeed been changing, but these changes should not obscure this truth. The U.S. emerged from World War II as the strongest imperialist power but her pre-eminence has been eroded, with sharp competition from such countries as the Soviet Union, Japan, West Germany in economic, financial, and political fields. Since the end of World War II one can also see the increasing impact on world affairs of the smaller developing countries. National liberation struggles have developed on every continent, struggles for political and economic independence, breaking the shackles of colonial and neo-colonial domination.

In S.E. Asia the valiant people are winning their people’s war. In Latin America, the Middle East, Africa there is increasing revolt against U.S. exploitation of natural resources and appropriation of their own wealth – as in oil, fisheries, etc. The spurious ’aid’ schemes, which keep neo-colonial countries in subjection, are arousing every more resentment. The people of the Caribbean and Panama, of Palestine, Mozambique, Angola, the Philippines are in various ways in rebellion. No longer can Uncle Sam preserve his avuncular image.

The other super-power, the Soviet Union, is similarly meeting growing opposition among the countries of Comecon and the so-called ’socialist camp’ of Eastern Europe, while her own forms of exploitation in Third World development schemes are becoming more blatantly obvious. To an increasing extent the Soviet Union has also played the classical imperialist game-with show of military and naval force on China’s northern borders, by sailing her fleet into the Mediterranean and the Bay of Bengal, and by providing India with arms and planes for use against China and Pakistan.

At the same time in Asia Japan has become more aggressive, while China has become stronger in her economic base, with increasing consolidation of socialism during and since the Cultural Revolution. The capitalist countries have been compelled to accept China as a world power of importance, so that even Nixon has had to change his tactics (although not his hope of ’containing’ China). The dramatic defeat of U.S. manoeuvres at the United Nations, where the majority of countries rallied to China’s side, is clear indication of the changed balance of forces in the world and of the fact that the hegemony of the two super-powers has been severely challenged. This does not mean that the imperialist tiger has been chained and put behind bars, but he no longer is lard of all he surveys.


Once the main contradiction and the main enemy are determined, the proletariat is faced with the problems of how to achieve the goal of emancipation, and for socialist countries, how to prevent any return to capitalism and to consolidate socialist gains in order to advance further. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao Tse-tung have all recognised that revolution never develops along a single, straight road, but that there are zig-zags – with advance, set-backs, retreats, and again advance. They have all seen that the revolutionary process would extend from one to several, then to many countries; that the revolutionary movement would develop unevenly in different countries. Even though revolution did not spread from country to country as at first thought probable, the basic concept is correct. It is a matter of a different in scale, and an increasing understanding that revolution cannot be exported but is developed by the people themselves in their own environment. From Marx to Mao, proletarian revolution has been seen as a world movement, in which the more advanced have the duty to encourage and support others, but not blindly nor in a paternalistic fashion.

At the Second Congress of the Third International (July 26, 1920) Lenin stressed this point:

Communists should, and will, support bourgeois liberation movements in the colonial countries only when these movements are really revolutionary...the Communists in these countries must fight against the reformist bourgeoisie...The imperialist bourgeoisie is trying with all its might to implant the reformist movement also among the oppressed nations...so that very often... where the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries does support the national movement, it simultaneously works in harmony with the imperialist bourgeoisie.

In other words, proletarian internationalism cannot give indiscriminate support to all apparently revolutionary actions, and care has to be taken not to encourage opportunist trends.

At the same Congress (on July 19, 1920) Lenin had dealt with this thesis when he declared that opportunism within the ranks of the working class was a result of defence of the bourgeoisie by ’lackeys’ whom the working class thought they could trust:

Opportunism in the upper ranks or the working-class movement is not proletarian socialism, but bourgeois socialism. Practice has shown that the active people in the working­class movement who adhere to the opportunist trend are better defenders of the bourgeoisie than the bourgeoisie itself. Without their leadership of the workers, the bourgeoisie could not have remained in power.

Lenin was dealing here with class struggle within capitalist countries, but, in connection with the questions of proletarian internationalism and peaceful coexistence between states having different social systems, vigilance is necessary against those who serve the international bourgeoisie, who serve imperialism, deceiving the working people, and those struggling for independence with ’progressive’ or ’revolutionary’ slogans.

Moreover, in Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder he exposed, not only the dangers of opportunism, but also those of both ’right’ and ’left’ doctrinarism:

The Communists must exert every effort to direct the working­class movement and social development in general along the straightest and quickest road to the universal victory of Soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is an incontestable truth. But it is enough to take one little step further – a step that might seem to be in the same direction – and truth becomes error. We have only to say, as the German and British Communists say, that we recognise only one road, only the direct road, that we will not permit tacking, manoeuvring, compromising – and it will be a mistake which may cause, and in part has already caused, and is causing, very serious harm to Communism. Right doctrinarism persisted in recognising only the old forms, and became utterly bankrupt, for it did not perceive the new contents. Left doctrinarism persists in the unconditional repudiation of certain old forms, failing to see that the new content is forcing its way through all and sundry forms, to learn how, with the maximum rapidity, to supplement one form with another, and to adapt our tactics to every such change called forth not by our class, nor by our efforts.

Lenin was a skilled tactician, recognising in the October Revolution, as Mao Tse-tung did later in the Chinese Revolution, that victory follows correct, flexible practice. In the same work he also said:

The revolutionary parties must complete their education. They have learned to attack.Now they must understand that it is necessary to supplement their knowledge with a knowledge of how best to retreat. They must understand – and the revolutionary class by its own bitter experience learns to understand – that victory is impossible without having learned both how to attack and how to retreat correctly.

During the course of the Chinese Revolution and anti­Japanese War the comparatively weak Chinese forces learned well how to melt away as the enemy advanced, to isolate sections of his army and to pick them off group-by-group. Later, after the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, peaceful tactics were also flexible. First, it was essential to overcome the effects of over twenty years’ violent internal struggle and war against the invader. The Common Programme, adopted under the leadership of the Communist Party, provided for united action by all democratic parties and people to reconstruct and stabilise the economy and finance. Accordingly, those national capitalists who supported the new people’s government retained their private enterprises in order to enable them to contribute to essential national production – but there were restrictions on their exploitation of the workers. Expropriation would have turned them into enemies, whereas many have since been won for socialism. Since then, step-by-step, socialist transformation has taken place. These are tactics which can also be used in ’the international field to neutralise potential enemies, to win potential friends, and to take advantage of contradictions among the enemies.

In so doing, compromises, or apparent compromises, are at times correct. In 1918 Lenin and the Bolshevik Party were bitterly attacked for signing the Brest Litovsk Treaty with Germany, thus ending World War I for old Russia. The Second All Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies (Nov. 7-8, 1917) had adopted a ’Decree on Peace’ calling ’upon all the belligerent peoples and their governments to start immediate negotiations for a just and democratic peace’. Such negotiations were not undertaken then by all the belligerents, and the separate Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Germany was signed March 3, 1918. The Bolsheviks agreed to ’evacuate’ the Ukraine and Finland and to permit large sections of their country to establish their own governments - including Poland, Lithuania, some parts of the Caucasus. In effect, this meant leaving these areas under the control of the Germans. Accused of betraying their own people and the international proletariat for opportunist ends, the correctness of this action was proved by history. Later, in 1921, Lenin’s New Economic Policy was a tactical move made to give the young Soviet Union breathing time at a moment of extremely serious economic difficulties.

The idea that all compromises are wrong, whether enforced or voluntary has been combated from the early days of Marxism. In 1870 Engels severely criticised certain ’communists’ for opposing intermediate compromises intended to assist in the struggle to achieve final aims; these very same ’communists’ in 1873 actually broke away from the First International. In his Left-Wing Communism Lenin declared it to be ’childish’ to reject the admissibility of ’compromises in general’ and ’on principle’. He pointed out that ’there are compromises and compromises’, some correct, some wrong, and that it is not always a simple matter to decide. Any­ one, he said, who promised that no difficulties or intricate situations would be encountered ’would simply be a charlatan.’

The crux of the matter is, of course, how to assess the problems correctly, whether such actions are opportunist or flank attacks. Lenin challenged his critics:

Imagine your automobile is held up by armed bandits. You hand them over your money, passport, revolver, automobile. In return you are spared the pleasant company of the bandits.

That is a compromise beyond all doubt...(“I give you money, firearms, automobile so that you give me the opportunity to depart in peace”). But it would be difficult to find a sane man who would declare such a compromise to be “inadmissible on principle”, or would proclaim the compromiser an accomplice of the bandits (even though the bandits, having got into the automobile, might use it and the firearms, for new robberies).Our compromise with the bandits of German imperialism was such a compromise...

One must learn to distinguish between the man who gave the bandits money and firearms to facilitate the task of capturing and shooting them, and the man who gives the bandits money and firearms in order to share in the loot.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks had to face their critics; and so did Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese Communist Party. For example, in the period after 1949, as socialism was beginning to be shaped, leftists in China claimed that the tactics used were opportunist and too slow; rightists claimed each step to be premature and too fast. The criteria must be whether tactics used are in the interests of the bourgeoisie or of the proletariat, and on whether or not these tactics weaken and divide the camp of the main enemy. In applying the principles of peaceful coexistence and proletarian internationalism the bandits – the super-powers, the imperialists – are given by Marxists Leninists treatment appropriate at any given time and place.


From the contradictions listed earlier one can analyse the difference between the bourgeois and the proletarian lines on peaceful coexistence. In the Soviet Union capitalist forms with a new managerial class, material incentives and profits for enterprises controlled by this class, have led to the dominance of capitalist ideology and the need to expand imperialist relations with other countries. Khruschov’s ’peaceful competition’ has become imperialist-style ’join the grab game. The Soviet Union has become one of the two ’Super Powers’ from whom ’peaceful competition’ and ’peaceful coexistence’ with the U.S., other Western and Japanese capitalism in a political and economic necessity .At the same time domination over the East European ’socialist’ bloc and over potential victims in the Third World r quire her to maintain and burnish the image of the First Socialist Country in the world, in order to retain the respect and affection of these junior partners.

The Camp David talks of Sept. 1959 between Eisenhower and Khruschov were of especial importance in establishing the U.S.­U.S.S.R. collaboration, after which Khruschov extolled the sweet reasonableness of the U.S. President. On Sept. 23, 1960, at the U.N. General Assembly Khruschov asserted that the two countries could ’march hand-in-hand’ to bring about ’real international cooperation’ for peace. Logically following on, he said in a speech on July 5, 1961 that peaceful coexistence is ’the general line of foreign policy of the Soviet Union and the countries of the socialist camp’.

Revolutionary struggles which might upset the applecart, therefore, have to be quietened, but in such a way as to give the impression of revolutionary proletarian concern on the part of the erstwhile ’socialist’ Soviet Union. For instance, in the Middle East the Soviet Union has frequently proclaimed support for the Arab cause, but has consistently backed the U.N. resolution of Nov. 22, 1967, which called for a cease-fire-and Israel withdrawal from seized Arab territories. In July 1970 a joint U.S.S.R.-Egypt communique stated that the two countries ’would give joint support for the efforts made within the framework of the United Nations for a political settlement’. The just demands of the Palestinian people for restoration of their homeland utterly rejecting this ’political settlement’ which ignores their rights, have been brushed under the carpet. ’Peaceful coexistence’ in this tender area is – bourgeois wise – the predominant consideration.

In Cambodia the Soviet Union maintains relations with the reactionary U.S.-imposed Lon Nol regime In Cuba the Moscow-line Communist Party held back from the confrontation with the U.S, Later, Moscow sought to control Cuba by making a dependent. Using typical colonial and neo-colonial methods, she tried to use Cuba’s vital sugar exports as a lever of central.

Also, under-developed countries in receipt of ’aid’ from the social-imperialist Soviet Union pay high prices for her supplies and equipment, while low prices are paid for the raw materials and manufactured products they are expected to produce for Soviet consumption, Often the Soviet Union sends old­ fashioned or unsuitable machinery of inferior quality which does not meet requirements. For example, in the 1950’s China was sent pumps for agricultural irrigation for which she paid, but the peasants found them unusable. Cuba was sent sugar-cutting machines urgently needed at a time of economic stress which had to be left aside as useless (K.S. Karol, Guerrillas in Power). Profits from these ventures are the ’loot’ assured so long as peace is maintained. At the same time, ’peaceful coexistence’ with the U.S. and other capitalist countries has not prevented sharp action considered to be in Soviet interests, such as the invasion of Czechoslovakia, economic blockade of Albania, the tearing up in 1960 of hundreds of contracts with China, military attacks on China’s northeast border, supply of planes and arms to India when India attacked China and more recently in the war against Pakistan. ’Peaceful coexistence’ with other capitalist powers has left her free to play power polices and the role of military aggressor elsewhere.

In these and many other ways the U.S.SR. and the U.S. have sought to strengthen their world hegemony. Although the U.S. in particular has been losing ground, the basic picture remains, with China the main obstacle. By going to Peking Nixon is hoping to use new tactics to achieve old purposes.


For Marxists-Leninists at all times and in all situations the primary consideration is the advancement of the universal socialist, then communist, revolution although immediate objectives may stand in the forefront at a particular time. The goal does not change, but the tactics do. At the Ninth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in April 1969 it was stated to be essential:

to develop relations of friendship, mutual assistance and cooperation with socialist countries on the principle of proletarian internationalism; to support and assist the revolutionary struggles of all the oppressed people and nations; and to strive for peaceful coexistence with countries having different social systems on the basis of the Five Principles of mutual non-aggression, non­interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence, and to oppose the imperialist policy of aggression and war.

Since socialism is essential for the emancipation of man- kind, it is an international movement although the details of struggle must vary in each country. At the same time, victory or advance towards victory in one country strengthens the struggle everywhere. This does not mean that revolution can be exported; it does mean that self-reliant revolutionaries learn from the experience of others and are supported by socialist countries and Marxists elsewhere in accordance with requirements and practical possibilities. The nature and quantity of the support and aid are determined by these considerations, guided by the basic Marxist principles that proletarian internationalism binds all revolutionaries together and that the main enemy must at all times be the main target.

In the course of this complex, long-term struggle set-backs are inevitable but in the long-term not fatal. China, for example, learned in the long bitter years of anti-imperialist and revolutionary wars that leftist, adventurist actions lead to serious defeats which can be overcome only by correcting the line. China does not support movements and actions which fall into this category and which therefore play-into the hands of the enemy, even though the rank and file involved in such struggles are embattled against local or national reaction. Into this category one can place the events in Ceylon where – rightly or wrongly – China saw a dangerous threat to the interests of the working people in foreign intervention to strengthen the ties and subservience to U.S. imperialism.

This concentration on the main enemy can also be seen in China’s relations of non-intervention, peaceful coexistence, equality and mutual benefit with certain Third World countries such as Ethiopia, on the basis of mutual concern to oppose U.S. and Soviet imperialism. In the delicate situation which exists in the Middle East, unity against imperialist encroachment and U.S.-backed Israel aggression in the interest of the Palestinians and the Arab peoples is seen as basic. Within these countries serious contradictions exist which their peoples will resolve, but their struggle will only be held back if aggressive imperialism is not checked.

In this connection the changing roles of small, medium and super-powers are important. The pretence of ’peaceful coexistence’ on the part of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. is built on expected acceptance of their world hegemony. The proletarian concept presupposes the equality of all countries. While maintaining relations of peaceful coexistence with capitalist countries, China has consistently supported the demands of those who have been asserting their rights to own and control their own wealth – fishing and sea-bed resources, petroleum, other mineral and agricultural products. By contrast, Nixon talks ’peace’ and ’equality’ while issuing threats such as that on January 19th when he said that ’aid’ would be stopped to countries which did not compensate adequately and quickly U. S. firms ’expropriated’, and that the U.S. would block their applications for credits made to international financial bodies.

The question of control of nuclear weapons and arms in general is also loosely connected with the practical application of ’peaceful coexistence,’ At the United Nations China countered the proposal for a Conference of nuclear powers (including herself)with the insistence that such a conference must be a world meeting of all counties, and that a prior condition must be a declaration on the part of nuclear powers that they will never be the first to use such weapons. Moreover, disarmament cannot mean ·rendering revolutionary struggles helpless but require opposition to the ’imperialist policy of aggression and war.’ In his ’State of the Union’ message Nixon declared:

As we have throughout this century, we must continue our profound concern for advancing peace and freedom by the most effective means possible, even as we shift somewhat our view of what means are most effective...Our plans...call for an increase in defence spending....made necessary...in part by the need to proceed with new weapons systems to maintain our security... (The Times, 21.1.72)

(as in S.E. Asia, Taiwan, the Middle East, Latin America?) Nixon, the tired Tiger of Vietnam, is going to Peking to see how this ’shift of view’ works.)

Questions of nuclear disarmament and many others may well be discussed in Peking, but it is clear that China will not compromise on principles. Sharp attacks on U.S. policy, aggression, and atrocities have continued to be made even since the acceptance in July 1971 of Nixon’s request to come to Peking, and there is no question of relaxation of China’s support for Vietnam or demands that the U.S. get out of S.E. Asia and Taiwan. ’Peaceful coexistence’ extends to discussion but not to abandonment of proletarian international support against U.S. aggression.

The questions of opposition to imperialist aggression and support for revolutionary movements have been complex in various parts of the world – but nowhere more so than in S.E. Asia and the Indian sub-continent. Faced with diminishing strength and prestige in S.E. Asia, it has become all the more important to the U.S. reactionaries to dig wherever possible, hence real or attempted interference by such organs as the C.I.A. in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaya, and military aid to Pakistan. At the same time, the Soviet Union has been actively engaged in tying India to her apron strings, an India desperately in need of external aid. Both super-powers fear the growing strength of China, her socialist system, and her obvious prestige among Third World countries, as marked by the overwhelming vote at the United Nations last October. A foothold on the sub-continent against China is imperative z. Having withstood attacks from India in the south and the Soviet Union in the north, China’s vigilance to safeguard her territorial integrity is also to safeguard her socialist gains, and is therefore in the interest of the international proletariat.

Her support against Indian aggression, backed by the Soviet Union, for Pakistan independence and unity was a further implementation of her policy of confrontation with the main enemy, to oppose imperialist aggression and war.

The absence of expressions of sympathy or support for the oppressed people of East Pakistan and of condemnation of Yahya Khan’s genocide was under the given circumstances necessary restraint, as such intervention could readily have given India (and the Soviet Union) just the excuse to widen the war. It does not mean that China condoned the actions taken, nor lack of understanding that the people of Pakistan will themselves make their own internal revolution. Moreover, the adventurist actions of the Awami League and their close connections with India have led to the setting up of a regime subservient to imperialism in East Bengal.

In assessing situations it is helpful to recall Lenin’s comment that in revolution twists and turns occur, that come compromises are necessary and correct, and that one would be a charlatan to think there would be no difficulties, problems or contradictions. Peaceful coexistence between countries having different social systems and the practice of proletarian internationalism require dialectical analysis of the overall situation, spotting the main enemy, causing weakening divisions in his camp, and seeking to resolve the main contradiction. Only by using such tactics can the revolutionary movement advance step­by-step.